The bell over the door dings as it opens, signaling the arrival of a new customer. Rick watches Dave glance over at the door, curious as to who it is. He’s a pretty big guy, at least six feet tall, with big bulging muscles and gray hair tied back in a ponytail that trails down his back. The man’s leather boots thud against the wooden floors as he walks over to the bar, the sound resonating throughout the building. He’s clad in dark jeans and a sleeveless leather vest over a checkered long sleeved t-shirt.
Rick doesn't like to make assumptions about people based on what they're wearing, but the guy looks like he's walked straight out of a biker magazine. Rick knows from experience that not all bikers are like the ones you hear about on the news, his boyfriend being the prime example of that simple fact, and his presence doesn't bother Rick one bit. His partner, on the other hand, seems to be of a different opinion entirely.
Dave scoffs and shakes his head, disregarding the man as just another trouble maker before he even sits down. Rick can tell he’s already judging the guy and he frowns, hiding his expression with a quick twitch of his lips. The supposed biker hasn't done anything wrong, hasn't so much as glanced over at the two of them, and Rick doesn't get how Dave could be so judgmental.
“Guy gives me the creeps,” Dave says, taking another sip out of the beer bottle in front of him. His voice is quiet, Rick can tell he doesn't want to draw the attention of the man who is now sitting on the other side of the bar from them, and he glances over at Rick, already expecting him to agree. "I know we aren't on duty, but it might be a good idea to keep an eye on him. You know, just in case."
Rick’s a new cop, has only been officially on the force for a few weeks now, and him and Dave are partners. Rick hasn't known him for long but he seems like a good guy and he's a fantastic cop to work with. Dave's experienced and has a lot of tips for Rick and he likes that. The only problem he’s got with him is his tendency to be a bit judgmental, it just bothers Rick.
“Why?” Rick asks, his tone light. He doesn't want to say anything that’ll tick off his partner. Dave is a good cop, a better person than most of the guys on the force, and Rick’s lucky to have someone like him to teach him the ropes. The last thing he wants to do is fuck it all up. “‘Cause he’s a biker?”
“Yeah,” Dave says, glancing over at Rick. “Nothing but bad news, bikers. Never met one who wasn't into something illegal. They cause all sorts of problems, go out of their way to break the law. They’re a messy lot to deal with, I'd much rather avoid them as much as possible.”
“Eh." Rick doesn't want to bring too much attention to the subject, but he feels he's got to do something to defend them. “Bikers ain't all that bad, there’s just a few bad seeds that ruin the image completely,” Rick says, shrugging nonchalantly in an attempt to brush off the subject.
The topic of Rick’s sexuality hasn't come up in the few weeks that he and Dave have been partnered up and Rick hasn't told him he’s got a boyfriend. Now that he knows how Dave feels about bikers, he’s even more wary to introduce him. Daryl’s a good guy, the best man he’s ever met in his life, but he’d definitely fit into the biker category, or at least he'd fit into Dave's biker category. Daryl would be pissed if he knew that Rick was going out of his way to protect him, but the last thing Rick wants is to subject him to any sort of discrimination. Daryl already gets enough shit because of who his brother is, he doesn't need hell from Rick’s partner as well simply because of what he looks like.
He’s not ashamed of Daryl, there’s absolutely nothing at all to be ashamed of, but Daryl means the world to him and he can be a bit overprotective. He knows he's got to tell Dave about him eventually, he's just not ready to do so yet. He’s only been on the force for a couple weeks and he really doesn't want to switch partners yet, especially not now that he’s finally starting to settle into his role.
Dave doesn't say anything more, just changes the topic to the game this weekend and Rick’s glad for the subject change. They make idle chitchat for half an hour in-between watching the rerun of the game from earlier on the flat screen hanging on the wall before Rick decides he better get home. He hadn't wanted to come out for drinks anyway, but Daryl’s shift at the garage ran late and Rick had nothing better to do so he had agreed when Dave broached the subject. Now he just wants to go home and spend time with his boyfriend.
Rick bids Dave goodbye and heads out the door, tightening his jacket around him when a gust of wind sweeps in from the east. There’s a motorcycle parked out front that hadn't been there when he showed up the first time and Rick expects it belonged to the man Dave had scoffed at. Rick doesn't know much about motorcycles, that was Daryl’s forte, but it looks nice and he’s sure it’s something that Daryl would admire.
Rick hadn't drank anything, but he and Dave had only taken one car so he decides to just walk the rest of the way home. It’s not far, only a few minutes’ walk, and Rick knows he could use the exercise. He turns left on the street in front of the bar before he turns right at the next stop light. A few short blocks later Rick finds himself in front of the house he shares with Daryl. Daryl’s motorcycle is parked out front so Rick knows he’s already home.
“I’m home,” Rick calls out, setting down his keys on the end table as he steps through the door. He kicks off his shoes and shrugs out of his jacket before he hangs up his sidearm.
“Living room,” Daryl calls out from the side of the house and Rick follows the sound of his voice into the living room.
“Hey babe,” Daryl says as Rick walks in, smiling up at him from his position on the couch.
Rick sighs and collapses next to Daryl on the couch, automatically sidling up next to him. “Long day?” Daryl asks, wrapping an arm around Rick’s shoulders.
“Tiring,” Rick says with a sigh, head falling to rest on Daryl’s shoulder. “I don’t even know why I agreed to go out for drinks, it just made my day worse.”
Daryl is good at knowing exactly what Rick needs, it’s like his sixth sense, and he springs in to action right away. “Come on,” he says, clicking off the TV. Daryl stands up and reaches out a hand for Rick. “I think there’s a really big bathtub upstairs with our name on it.”
Rick smiles and let’s Daryl pull him up. Once Rick’s standing he pulls Daryl against him, resting his hands on his hips. “I love you, a lot, you know that Daryl Dixon? You’re an amazing person, I’m lucky to be with you.”
Daryl’s face turns bright red like it does every time he receives any sort of compliment and he hides his face in Rick’s shoulder. “Shudd'up, am not.”
“Are to,” Rick says, tone teasing as he lifts Daryl’s face up. “You’re amazing and I love you.”
“You’re just saying that ‘cause you want sex,” Daryl says. His tone suggests he means it as a joke, but Rick can tell there’s an underlying belief in what he’s saying. Daryl’s never been one to have a lot of self-confidence, and he wouldn't be surprised if sometimes he tricked himself into believing Rick only stuck around because he’s good in bed. And yes, Daryl was excellent in bed.
“Nah,” Rick says, tightening his hold on Daryl. “The sex is just a bonus, you’re the only reason I stick around.”
“Whatever,” Daryl says with a laugh, rolling his eyes. He takes Rick’s hand in his and starts pulling him towards the back of the house where their bedroom is located. “Now do you want that bath or not?”
“Most definitely,” Rick says with a twist of his lips, letting himself be pulled into their bedroom.
A few days later, Daryl's in the middle of fixing the engine of a Ford Mustang when his cellphone goes off. The sound startles him enough to make him jump and his head smacks painfully into the metal hood above his head. Daryl bites back the curse that threatens to slip out of him as pain flairs up in his head. Today's a slow day and the garage is short on staff, there's only been three customers in the six hours since Daryl's started his shift and the only mechanics scheduled to work today are Daryl and Jim. It's no surprise that he'd be startled by the sudden noise.
Daryl keeps his cellphone on him at all times, volume cranked up no matter what the situation is, because it's too risky not to have it on him. The shrill ringtone resonates throughout the semi-empty garage, loud and startling, and instantly his heart starts to pound and his palms start to set. He recognizes that ringtone immediately, the ringtone he has specifically set for when Sophia or Ben calls him because it's the loudest thing he's ever heard in his life. Whenever it goes off he knows something bad is happening.
Daryl's a member of Bikers Against Child Abuse, something he takes great pride in being able to say. He knows what it’s like to grow up in an abusive household, to be so scared you can hardly even function properly, and Daryl relates well to the kids in the program. He'd joined the organization a few years ago simply because he wanted to help kids who couldn't help themselves and he could honestly say it was one of the best decisions he’s ever made. Even though Daryl is the only BACA member in this town, he only sponsors two kids. Not much happens in the small Georgia town he lives in, but Daryl's built a strong emotional bond with the kids he protects. Whenever they call, Daryl panics. Sophia and Ben mean the world to him and the idea of them being put into harm’s way is something he doesn't want to think about.
Daryl backs out from underneath the hood and straightens up. His fingers fumble with his phone as he pulls it out of his pocket and his hand shakes so hard he almost drops it. Daryl only looks at the number long enough to identify it as belonging to Sophia before he brings it up to his ear.
"Hello?" Daryl answers, already making his way towards his motorcycle parked outside. Jim, the other mechanic who works here in Dale’s shop, is talking on the phone in the front room. He knocks on the window to get his attention and gestures towards the phone in his hand. Thankfully Jim gets what he’s trying to convey right away and gives a thumbs up in acknowledgement. Hopefully he’ll be able to cover for Daryl without any problems until he gets back which, depending on how bad the situation is, could take hours.
"Daryl?" is the answering reply, Sophia's voice so soft he can hardly make out the words.
"Heya kid, what's up?" Daryl asks, though there's really no need to do so. There's only one reason Sophia would be calling him, her father's decided to make yet another terrifying reappearance.
"He's back and I'm scared." Daryl can hear the absolute terror in her voice which only makes him angrier. No kid should feel fear like that. Sophia's only nine, she shouldn't have to cower every time her father shows up at the door.
Daryl runs a hand through his hair as he climbs onto his motorcycle. He slides the key into the ignition and kicks up the stand. He needs to leave right away, but he can't ride this thing with only one hand and he can't hang up until he knows Sophia's in as safe a place as she can get.
"Can you get to your safe place?" Daryl asks. The first time Sophia's father had shown up after he and her mom split, Daryl had found Sophia nearly inconsolable. To help keep her calm, Daryl had helped her come up with a routine. Whenever things got dangerous or she got scared, she'd hide in the small cubby hole carved into the wall of her closet until he got there.
"I'm already there," she says, and Daryl lets out a sigh of relief he hadn't known he’d been holding in. It isn't much, but it's the best protection she has until Daryl can get there. "I called 911, just like you taught me."
"That's good," Daryl says with a small twitch of his lips. "Good job Soph, I'm proud of you. Now I need you to stay there, don't leave until I get there. Remember to breathe, deep breaths just like I taught you, yeah? Nothing can get you, not when you're in your safe place."
Daryl can hear Sophia’s breathing start to deepen as she works to get herself calm. "Hurry, please," she says after a few seconds. Her voice is calmer and she doesn't seem as scared as she’d been just a few seconds ago, Daryl’s glad to see it's working.
"Of course," Daryl says, "I'll be there in five minutes." The second Daryl hangs up the phone, he slips it into his pocket and hightails it towards Sophia's house. Daryl breaks every speed limit there is and nearly runs a red light in his haste, but he doesn't care. He'd pay any traffic violation if it meant he could get to Sophia in time.
True to his word, Daryl reaches Sophia’s house in five minutes. He doesn't see Ed’s car in front of their house, but that’s really no indication if he’s there or not. Daryl steps off his motorcycle and walks quickly towards the front door. Carol’s on the steps, one of her eyes already starting to blacken, and Daryl takes that as a sign Ed's already left. She would never leave Ed alone in the house with Sophia inside.
Daryl feels anger flow through his veins. Technically he’s only here to make sure Sophia is taken care of, but he’s grown close to her mother as well and knowing that someone’s hurt her makes him all the more angry.
“He still here?” he asks, stopping to stand next to Carol.
“No,” she says, gazing off into the distance. She looks like she’s a million miles away, and Daryl figures her mind is probably a million miles away. “He’s gone, left as soon as I mentioned the cops were on their way. This is the second time in a month he’s violated his restraining order, he knows what that means.”
“Don’t worry,” Daryl says, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "How's your eye?"
"Oh this," she says, gesturing towards her face. "It's nothing, I've had much worse. I guess he found out I started seeing Tyreese, didn't like that very much."
“I’ll make sure he can’t wiggle his way out of it this time," Daryl says, trying to provide Carol with as much comfort as he can. "The police will find him and they'll nail him. He can't keep getting away with this.”
Carol smiles up at Daryl, resting a hand on the one that rests on her shoulder. “Sophia’s still in her room. I tried to check on her once Ed left to make sure she’s okay, but she refuses to come out and unlock her door until she knows you’re here.”
Daryl’s lips twitch into a sad smile and he gives Carol’s shoulder a comforting squeeze. He lets his hand linger on her shoulder for a few more seconds before Daryl makes his way inside and towards Sophia’s bedroom. He can hear the sound of sirens getting closer as he steps over the threshold but he doesn't care enough about them right now to even look back to see who got the call. His only priority at this point is Sophia.
“Sophia?” he calls out, knocking on her bedroom door. He hears shuffling from inside the room and the soft falls of her footsteps sound as she makes her way towards the door. The door unlocks and opens a fraction of an inch, Sophia peeking out hesitantly from the crack of the door.
“Daryl?” she says, quietly trying to reassure herself that it’s just Daryl and not anyone else. In the back of her mind she knows that Daryl would never come get her unless Ed was gone, but she's still wary of leaving the safety of her bedroom. Daryl can relate to that.
“Yeah, kid,” he says, stepping away from the door a little bit so Sophia can get a better look at him. “It’s me.”
The door flings open and Sophia barrels into Daryl, skinny arms coming up to wrap around his waist. She buries her face in Daryl’s stomach, breathing getting heavier the more worked up she gets, and it sounds like she's starting to cry.
“Hey,” Daryl says, pulling back slightly so he can bend down in front of her. “You’re okay, Sophia, he’s gone. He can’t hurt you or your Mom if he’s not here.” Daryl lifts a hand and brushes her hair out of her eyes, trying to comfort her as much as he can.
Sophia’s eyes fall closed and she swallows. Slowly she starts to calm down, Daryl always had a safe and calming effect on her. “Thank you,” she says softly, opening up her eyes. “Thank you for coming.”
“‘Course kid,” Daryl says with a laugh. “That’s my job. How about we go check on your Mom, I know she’d like to see that you’re okay for herself.”
“Are you coming to?” she asks, voice shaking at the mere thought of Daryl leaving her right now, and it feels like a vice has latched onto Daryl’s heart. Like he'd ever leave her in this state.
“Yeah,” he says. Daryl stands up and holds out his hand for Sophia. She takes it, squeezes it tightly, and together the two of them make their way towards the front of the house. “I’ll always be here when you need me.”
They walk in front of a big bay window that faces the front yard. The officers are blocked from view by a tree, but the squad car out front is clearly visible. Sophia’s got that scared look on her face again, she’s always hated having to talk to cops, and Daryl can tell she's about to start freaking out.
“It’ll be alright,” Daryl says, tightening his grip on Sophia’s hand. “You don’t have anything to be scared of. If you want, we can just stay inside until they leave.”
Sophia doesn't say anything, just shakes her head no. She knows as well as Daryl does that she’ll definitely need to talk to the police, especially since she’s the one who called 911. Daryl just hopes the cops who show up aren't going to make matters worse for Sophia and Carol. They've already been through enough, they don’t need the situation to be made worse by incompetent officers who don't know what the hell they're doing.
Daryl waits a few minutes while Sophia calms down a little. She's already been through so much and she usually acts pretty tough, sometimes it's hard to believe she's so young. His number one priority is making sure Sophia’s okay. If he feels she’s not able to talk to the police it’s his obligation to keep her away from them, no matter how much she needs to speak to them. It's not long before she’s starting to relax again and Daryl feels she’s okay enough to talk to the officers. The two of them step outside and Daryl’s relieved to see Rick standing there. At least he knows this time things’ll get done right.
Carol’s already talking to Rick and his partner, Daryl’s only just now realized he’s never met him before, when they finally make it outside. Carol looks up when the door opens and smiles at the two of them. There’s tears in her eyes and she wipes at them quickly, not wanting Sophia to see her cry.
Daryl leads Sophia over to Carol and the officers, hand still resting loosely in his. “Hey Sophia,” Rick says as they stop in front of them. “You okay?”
Sophia nods and smiles up at Rick. She’s met him a few times and the fact that she’s familiar with him means she’s more relaxed.
“Well that’s good,” Rick says, smiling. He glances over at Dave, worrying his lip between his two teeth, and Daryl can tell he’s debating whether or not he should bring something up. He must have finally come to a decision because after a few seconds of internal deliberation he opens his mouth to speak. “Dave, this is my boyfriend Daryl.”
Daryl looks over at Dave and hopes this revelation isn't gonna make Rick’s job harder. The world may be starting to change, but this is still Georgia and a large portion of the population is homophobic. Dave looks him up and down, studying his appearance, and Daryl suddenly feels incredibly self-conscious. He’s dressed in his usual attire, jeans and a plain t-shirt with thick black boots and his leather BACA vest, the one with the angel wings on the back and BACA sewn into the front of it.
“BACA?” Dave asks, voice slightly hesitant. “What does that stand for?”
“Bikers Against Child Abuse,” Daryl says, shifting uncomfortably where he’s standing. He feels weird, like his entire appearance is being scrutinized and Daryl doesn't like it one bit.
“Huh,” Dave says, apparently coming to some sort of conclusion, before he turns to Rick. “I reckon you’re right, they ain't all that bad.”
Daryl has no idea what the man’s talking about but Rick must have at least some idea because he suddenly breaks out in a grin like Daryl’s never seen before. “Told you.”
Daryl’s still confused and he wants to ask what the hell the two of them are talking about, but he’s still got Sophia clinging to his hand. Right now, she’s what important and he[s got to make sure she gets taken care of before anything else happens. He’s sure Rick will explain what the hell just happened later on, and that's enough for him.