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When Rick first proposed going to Noah's home in Richmond, it made total sense. The group had been through so much, lost so much. They needed to have something to hope for. A purpose. But, he didn’t think it would be anywhere near as difficult as this seemingly endless death march of a journey has become. When they’d had to abandon the cars early on, he figured they’d find more cars and more open stretches of road soon. It’s been weeks and it looks like they’ll have to do the rest of the 600 miles on foot at this rate.

And they’re hurting for supplies even more now than they had their first, lean winter. At least then, they weren’t trying to make it 15 miles a day on top of just plain surviving. Now they’re trying to make do with the tiniest of rations while expending thousands of calories a day. He may not have a mirror, but he can see the gaunt cheeks on everyone else and knows he looks just as bad. And winter is coming. They can’t keep this up much longer. He knows that. He knows they know it, too. But they keep playing this game where everyone pretends not to know anything and they just keep walking. Fake it until you make it, he guesses.

During the day, they walk as far as they can. After what happened in Terminus, they’re hesitant to make contact with strangers. So they’ve intentionally plotted a path that wends them through the countryside, avoiding bigger population centers as much as possible. Though, that means they’re avoiding a lot of the trappings of bigger population centers, also. Stores. Houses. Food. And it also means they’ve increased the length of their journey. It blows Rick’s mind that what was once an easy day trip in an airplane is going to take them months.

They try to keep to the roads for the safety of the sight lines, and on the off chance that they’ll run into some working vehicles or supply trucks that haven’t already been ransacked. But if they want a good place to rest for the night, they inevitably end up veering off course to find a cabin or barn, sometimes even doubling back.

On good days, though those seem to be fewer all the time, they don’t run in to many walkers and can make it pretty far. Daryl usually scouts ahead and tries to hunt a bit while he’s doing it. It leaves a pit in Rick’s stomach every time Daryl signals to him with a head bob and a gesture that he’s going to look for water or a place to crash for the night. Rick can’t seem to make himself feel right until Daryl is back where he can see him.

Rick’s taken to walking next to Daryl whenever he’s there. He knows he should probably be with Carl, but his son can’t seem to stand the sight of him half the time. He’s better off with Michonne. Besides, Rick thinks, Daryl needs someone to watch out for him. He knows that Daryl is capable of taking care of himself. But he also knows that, sometimes, Daryl doesn’t. He gives away too much of his food. He volunteers for extra watch – although he seems to be battling with Sasha for number of hours without sleep. Rick knows that Daryl took what happened to Beth hard – harder than Maggie even. They must have gotten really close. Rick’s not sure how to feel about that. He’d be happy for Daryl to finally find someone. But Beth didn’t really seem like the best match for him for some reason.

The nights have started getting cold, the closer to winter they get and the further north they go. When they’re lucky enough to find shelter for the night, it’s often drafty. One night, when they start to bed down, everyone starts coupling off to share blankets and body heat by some kind of mutual, silent agreement. Rick expects Daryl to try to tough it out alone, or maybe to bunk up with Carol. But she ends up with Sasha and, somehow, he finds himself glancing over at a corner where Daryl is holed up with a couple of cushions off the couch, looking at him expectantly.

“Don’t try to get out of sleepin’,” Daryl says, fluffing up the blankets. “You know you need it. And Abraham has first watch tonight.”

Rick isn’t sure what to say. If he had his choice of anyone in the group, this was who he’d be with. But he never expected it. “Only if you promise to sleep, too,” he says, trying to keep everything light.

It’s a bit awkward at first, but they get used to it. They practically live in each other’s pocket half the time anyway. This isn’t that much different. Or, at least, that’s what Rick tries to convince himself of. Whenever one of them is not on watch, they seem to gravitate to each other. And, as it keeps happening over the next few weeks, it starts to seem so normal that even spooning is not that unexpected.

But comfort generally leads to danger, as they’ve been forced to remember time and again in this new world. Rick has been sleeping better, which he would expect would have only positive outcomes. His nightmares have decreased, and every time he seems to start ramping up into one, Daryl nudges him awake and it floats away. Tonight, he is having one of those vaguely pleasant dreams that don’t make any sense when you actually stop to think about them. He is walking though a dense fog, but he’s not scared. He’s looking for someone. Someone he really wants to find. Only, he can’t think who the person is. He just keeps pushing through the fog until he hits a wall and wakes up.

It’s then that he realizes he is excruciatingly hard and seems to have been rubbing against Daryl. He instantly starts to panic and withdraw, but is stopped by Daryl reaching a hand back to his thigh, pulling him back where he was.

“It’s okay,” Daryl says sleepily.

“What?” Rick asks, his whisper a bit harsher than he intended, his heart beating quickly. “It’s not okay, Daryl. I’m really sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Daryl repeats. “It ain’t gotta mean nothin’.”

Rick has gotten used to having to make life or death decisions seconds after waking. But this is a stumper. Did Daryl mean “it's okay” like getting a hard-on is no big deal and they should just ignore it and move on? Or did it mean something else? Like that putting that hard-on to use would be totally fine by him?

Rick starts to get the distinct impression it's the latter when Daryl continues to pull Rick toward him, and even starts rocking his hips backward. “Daryl, what – ” Rick starts, but is interrupted.

“Shhh,” Daryl says. “Everyone’s asleep. Let’s make sure they stay that way.” He reaches back even further and grabs at Rick’s ass. “Let’s just get ‘er done and go back to sleep.”

“‘Get ‘er done?’” Rick questions. “I’m not gonna just rub one out against you and go back to sleep.”

“Damn right you’re not,” Daryl agrees. “You’re gonna rub one out against me and give me a reach around and then you’re going back to sleep.”

Rick gives it a bit of thought, though honestly there’s not much to think about. He hasn’t had anything but his hand since Lori, and even that hasn’t happened that much. Partly, it’s hard to get the time and the privacy. But, mostly, he just hasn’t been that interested. He spends too much of his time wondering about his family’s safety and where their next meal is coming from to spend any time thinking about sex. Come to think of it, he doesn’t think he’s even been hard in quite a while. He doesn’t know what changed, but he can’t think of any good reason not to take Daryl up on his offer. He doesn’t want to jeopardize their relationship, but Daryl just said it wouldn’t. If this can be no big deal for him, Rick can do it, too.

So, Rick starts pushing into Daryl harder, and Daryl meets him just as roughly. He’s never had a partner in bed with so much muscle, so little give. Something about it is exciting. He’s not sure about the reach around part, though. He begins sliding his hand in circles on Daryl’s stomach.

“I ain’t got to be seduced, Rick. I’m a pretty sure thing,” Daryl says, taking Rick’s hand and pushing it down under his boxers.

Surprised, Rick grabs Daryl’s cock. It feels so weird, like when Carl came home from school one day and excitedly showed his dad the Dead Finger Trick. Not that he should be thinking about Carl right now. But, it’s like Rick’s touching himself, but he’s not. He tries a variety of things that he knows he likes to see how Daryl reacts. Does he like a firmer grip? Slow or fast? How much should he touch the head? Rick gets so into cataloging Daryl’s reactions that he almost forgets to move himself. But Daryl pulls in him again sharply and it all comes back to him.

“Yeah,” Daryl says. “That’s it. Stop thinkin’ so hard. Just . . . hnng . . . just go for it.”

“Okay,” Rick says, increasing the speed of both his hips and his hand.

“Close,” Daryl says, arching back into Rick’s arms. “Need somethin’.”

Rick’s not sure what that means, but he moves his mouth close to whisper in Daryl’s ear. “What do you need?”

Daryl gasps at the hot breath hitting his ear and seems surprised to find himself coming all over Rick’s hand. Rick is so entranced by sound that he comes himself.

After a few moments to catch his breath, Daryl reaches forward into his backpack to dig out a rag. He cleans off his dick and Rick’s hand, then hands the rag to Rick.

“Daryl – ” Rick starts hesitantly.

“Don’t,” Daryl interrupts. “I told you. Don’t overthink it. It ain’t nothin’ but what we needed. It don’t hafta mean more than that.”

Rick isn’t sure how he would have finished that sentence, anyway. Something about the whole exchange makes him feel like he’s on his back foot – and halfway off a cliff to boot. Although, if he were to fall off a cliff, he’s knows for damn sure that Daryl would be the one to drag him back up.

He has to admit, he does feel lighter than he has in a while. Maybe he should just focus on that and take Daryl’s advice to avoid thinking about anything else. He takes a couple of swipes at his own wet cock with Daryl’s rag, but knows that he’s just going to have to live with most of the wetness that has seeped into his underwear.

He falls back to sleep, trying to maintain more distance from Daryl’s body. When he wakes up some time later, he finds himself plastered to Daryl’s back even more than before.

As the weeks drag on, they continue in much the same routine. The group continues snaking their way toward Richmond. Rick and Daryl don’t end up sleeping together every night. Sometimes one of them has watch, or Judith. But, when they get a chance, they wind up frotting against each other. Rick tries his hardest to put the orgasm part of their relationship in a separate box, but he can’t seem to not think about it.

Despite what they get up to at night, during the day, nothing seems different. Daryl offers advice, but defers to Rick whenever he makes a call. That feeling of wrongness Rick has whenever Daryl goes away from the group has gotten worse, but he can’t say anything about it. It’s stupid anyway. They need Daryl to scout. He’s the best one for it. And he’s the one most able to handle himself alone.

Rick knows that getting off regularly should be reducing stress. But it’s not working, given the way he can feel the crinkle between his eyebrows deepening. When they come across a relatively well-stocked house one day, Maggie comes down from the bathroom with a small jar of wrinkle cream, which she hands to him with a smile. “I think you need this more than I do,” she says, pointing to the bridge of her nose.
Glenn laughs and agrees. “Yeah, man. You’re starting to look ancient.”

Despite the ribbing, that day is finally a good one. The supplies they found in the house won’t last long for them – one single woman was obviously not expecting to feed 15 – but they can stretch it. They’re down to less than 100 miles between them and the outskirts of the city.

Of course, who knows what they will find when they finally get there. The group decides to stay an extra night and try to catch up on eating and sleeping, just in case.

All that extra time leaves plenty for Rick’s mind to start working in overdrive. Daryl will accept Rick’s teeth on his ear or tongue on his neck, but shies away anytime Rick tries to kiss him. He flat out refuses to try anything facing Rick. He won’t even acknowledge that they are anything other than friends until everyone else is asleep. Rick’s not sure he can take much more of it. He knows how much he relies on Daryl in their waking life. And he could easily come to rely on him for more than a quick tumble. But Daryl doesn’t seem to want that. And Rick’s not sure he can continue with half measures as they have been. He’s confused and frustrated and, most of all, totally unsure how to communicate any of that to Daryl. Normally, they are able to communicate with barely any words. No one has ever just understood Rick like this in the past – not even Shane or Lori. But for whatever reason, Daryl doesn’t seem to pick up on the signals Rick’s trying to give to show he’s ready for more.

After dinner that evening, as the sun is setting, he searches Daryl out and finds him on the porch, leaning on the railing and staring into the woods.

“Hey,” Rick says, moving to Daryl’s side.

“’Sup?” Daryl asks, turning toward Rick.

“Not much. I’ve just been thinkin’ and I wanted to talk about, you know, us I guess,” Rick says, running an awkward hand over the back of his neck.

Daryl crinkled up his nose. “What do you mean, ‘us’? There ain’t no us.”

“Daryl,” Rick said, reaching toward the man. He backed away to avoid the touch. But Rick continued, unswerving. “You know that ain’t true.”

“I told you, man, it ain’t gotta mean nothin’,” Daryl says loudly.

“I know what you said,” Rick says, matching his volume, “but that doesn’t mean it has to mean nothin’. Doesn’t mean I want it to.” Rick stops and exhales roughly, eyes on the ground at Daryl’s feet. This isn’t going well, he thinks grimly. He forces his eyes up, only to find Daryl’s not looking up, either. He moves close enough to nudge Daryl with his shoulder, and smiles grimly when their eyes meet. “I’m sorry,” he says quietly. “I don’t have a lot of experience with this. Lori and I, we got together so young. And I’m not the type to fool around, you know? Not that I’m saying anything bad about her. Or you. Or . . . never mind. I’m just saying that I don’t really know how to do casual, or whatever it is people call it these days. Friends with benefits or something?”

Daryl looks at him closely, eyes narrowing, but stays silent.

Rick waits a while, but can’t help but continue once he’s sure Daryl won’t talk. “The friends part of that is really critical to me. But, I can’t say I don’t appreciate the benefits,” he adds, smiling wryly. “I know I’m not what you . . . I mean, I’m not Beth –”

“What the fuck has she got to do with it?” Daryl interrupts hotly.

“Well,” Rick says, passing a hand through his scruff, “I thought you two, you know, when you were together after the prison.”

“Man, you ain’t got a clue!” Daryl replies defensively.

“At least I’m trying! I don’t know how you expect me to know anything when you won’t tell me anything.”

“Whatcha need to know for, anyways? What business is it of yours? Why you always got to know everything?”

“How am I supposed to lead if I don’t know what’s going on?”

“This ain’t got nothing’ to do with you being able to ‘lead.’ You’re just tryin’ to be a pain in my ass,” Daryl says, crossing his arms in front of him.

Daryl has a point there. Rick guesses that it had to do with all his years as a deputy, trying to get to the root of every problem. Or maybe it’s just that the thought of Daryl with someone else doesn’t sit right with him. He knows it isn’t his place, but he can’t help his feelings.

“I know you just about moved heaven and earth to find her. And I know you haven’t been the same since we lost her. I just need to know that you’re okay,” Rick finishes softly. Daryl scoffs, but doesn’t say anything else. “Or that you’re going to be okay.”

“Sure. I’m fine. Fuckin’ dandy. I’m still alive and fuckin’ breathin’. Don’t matter what trouble I get up to. I always seem to skate right on through. Like my daddy always said, I’m slipperier than a greased pig. And Beth. She didn’t make it though. And that’s on me.”

“It’s not your fault that we lost Beth,” Rick starts.

But Daryl is on a roll now and won’t be stopped. “Fuck yeah, it’s my fault. She was just a babe. She didn’t know nothin’. It was on me to get her back to Maggie. To bring her back to you. And I didn’t do that. So . . .”

“Daryl,” Rick says, reaching out for his shoulder, “that’s not you. That’s those people at the hospital. You did everything you could. It was a miracle that any of us found each other after the prison.”

“Fuck that! Miracle my ass! Like God’s watchin’ over us now or some shit. As if,” Daryl starts pacing across the porch, pulling on his hair. “Where was He when this was all goin’ down? Where was He when they was snatchin’ that pretty, young thing just about from my hands and takin’ her away to be some sort of slave? We make our own miracles now.”

“You’re right. We just keep going and fighting to stay together. But I can’t bear seeing you torn up like this,” Rick hesitates to say this next part out loud. He’d thought it many times, about how it would be for Daryl’s own good, but was too selfish to give voice to it. He watches Daryl continue to pace and know that selfishness has to stop. “If we get separated again, maybe it’s best if you don’t try to find us. For you, I mean. You don’t really need us. You’d do better if you didn’t have to worry about us.”

That makes Daryl stop in his tracks, looking at Rick with an intensity that is something new. “I won’t never stop lookin’ for you, Rick. You’re my people. I ain’t never been able to say that before. But you are. I don’t wanna do this without you. Don’t know if I even could.”

“Of course you could. You’re so fuckin’ strong. You’re always there for me, for my kids. You pick up my slack.”

“And you let me be me. Better even. I don’t know how to explain it. There’s safety in numbers, but who the numbers are matter even more. When I was with them Claimers, I knew it was only a matter of time ‘fore one of ‘em tried to gut me. Or, I had to do it to them. Even though they’s pretty much the same as the folks I grew up with, they weren’t never gonna be friends, family. Not like I got here. Here I don’t have to watch myself every second. Here I can at least pretend I’m important.”

“You are important!” Rick exclaims. He feels like this is a recurring theme. He’s thought he’s told Daryl, shown him, what a valuable part of the group he was. What would he have to do to get Daryl to understand that? “You’re important to me and to everyone else. You help keep us fed and alive and movin’ in the right direction.” Rick lets out a frustrated breath. “Look, I’m sorry, all right? How did we get so off track? You’re right. I don’t really have to know what happened with Beth. I just thought, if I knew how you felt, how you feel about her, I could understand.” Maybe Daryl is still in love with Beth. Maybe he just doesn’t have enough space in his heart to accept Rick, too.

“Understand what, exactly?” Daryl asks. He seems to have settled down a bit, but it’s obvious he’s still uncomfortable.

“What it is we’re doing.”

Daryl rolls his eyes. “I don’t know what you want me to say, man. You looked to be on your last legs. You weren’t eatin’ or sleepin’. You wouldn’t talk to nobody. Half the time, I could barely tell you apart from the Walkers. I just thought I could, you know, help you out a little. I don’t always have much to offer, but . . .”

“So you thought if you got me off, I’d be happier?”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what I thought. And tell me I’m not right. Tell me you haven’t been sleepin’ and eatin’ better. Hell, I even heard you jokin’ it up before with Maggie and Glenn.”

“You are right. I have been doing better. I guess I thought it was because . . .” Rick stops the words from coming out. He’d tried not to think too hard about specifics until now, but he’d had a sense they were falling for each other. It had given him even more hope and purpose than this trip to Richmond had. He’d started planning out a life. Now that he knows that it’s not true, at least not for Daryl, it will only hurt to keep talking about it. Best just to keep it to himself. “I don’t know what I thought. And here I come to find out you’re just servicin’ me, like some kind of ornery bull. Well, you can relax. I’m better now,” Rick finishes, a hint of bitterness seeping in no matter how much he tries to hold it back.

“Rick – ” Daryl starts, but Rick can’t stand to listen anymore. He got what he wanted. He got his conversation. He’s certainly not confused anymore. But he just doesn’t have the heart to keep up the impression that he’s not disappointed as hell.

“No, it’s okay. You’re right,” he interrupts, unable to look at Daryl while he says it. “It didn’t mean nothin’. I think I’ve had enough fun, though. Don’t want to be a burden. I’ll find somewhere else to sleep.” Rick turns quickly and walks back inside the house and straight to the bathroom.

He needs to pull himself together. It’s not like it's the first time he’s been rejected. He didn’t get what he wanted. So what? This whole life is full of things he doesn’t want. And, that’s it, he guesses. That’s the true root of it. He thought Daryl was going to be that one thing that he could choose. But, he was wrong. It’s okay. He still has Carl and Judith. He has the whole family. He even still has Daryl’s friendship and respect, if not everything he wanted from the man. But he knows it’s up to him to keep those things. He can’t let this disappointment ruin everything he has managed to scrape together in this horrible world.

He makes his way back downstairs and finds a seat on the couch. Half of the group is over at the table, playing rummy and laughing.

“We just finished up a hand,” Michonne calls over, smiling. “Want us to deal you in?”

“Naw,” Rick says. “I’ll just watch.”

“Come on, Dad,” Carl says. “We’re trying to see how many times we can play without Glenn winning a hand. It’s hilarious!”

“Hey!” Glenn exclaims, dealing out the cards. “I did pretty well last time.”

“Yeah,” Abraham agrees. “You only had 7 cards left in your hand!”

“You have got to stop taking so much from the discard pile, honey,” Maggie adds.

“If I don’t take it, someone else will!” Glenn says. “Back me up here, Rick.”

Rick looks over and knows that, despite his pep talk to himself in the bathroom, he’s not up for joking around right now. “I’m gonna go do a perimeter check,” he says, and walks toward the front door.

“I’ll come with,” Michonne says, grabbing her sword from the table and swinging it over her back.

They walk together in silence for a while making their way around the property. “So, what’s your deal?” Michonne asks. “Is this about your little spat with Daryl?” she asks.

“What little spat?” Rick asks, trying to play innocent.

“Don’t think we didn’t hear you. Well, not everything, but you two got pretty loud there at parts.”

Rick shrugs. “I guess.”

“So, trouble in paradise, then?” she asks, wiggling her eyebrows suggestively.

“It’s not like that,” Rick hastens to say.

“It’s not like what? We all know you two have gotten rather, close, let’s just say. You two aren’t exactly discreet.”

Rick thought they had been. “I didn’t think anyone knew. No one’s been treatin’ me or Daryl any different. I figured if you thought we were up to somethin’, somebody woulda let it slip.”

“I guess we thought it was about time and that you’d tell us yourselves when you were ready.”

Rick laughs humorlessly. “Not much to tell now. Not like there was much to tell before, but it’s done now.”

“No way,” Michonne says. “Not after all that build up.”

“Huh?” Rick says, confused. What build up? They weren’t anything, then they kind of were, and now they’re not again.

“You two look at each other like you’re the last people on earth, sometimes. I mean, I know the population has declined, but, come on. It’s been that way as long as I’ve known you. And to hear Maggie talk, it was going on long before that.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s obvious that you’re in love.”

“Well, obvious or not, it takes two.”

“That’s what I’m saying. It’s obvious you’re both in love. With each other.”

Rick scoffs. “I don’t think so. I mean, yeah, I am. But not the other way around.”

“Are you kidding me? Daryl always looks for to you for everything. He wants your advice. Your approval. He’s forever standing up for you when Carl or someone gets snippy. When you’re not there, all he does is talk about how ‘Rick wants’ this or ‘Rick said’ that. His eyes follow you wherever you go. That man is gone over you.”

“He just got done telling me that ain’t the case. So I guess you’re wrong. I mean, we’re friends. He’s invested in the group. But beyond that . . .”

Michonne iss about to reply, but as she turns to Rick, her expression tightens. “Walkers,” she says, unsheathing her sword.

Rick looks to his left and sees a small herd, maybe twenty, shambling toward them. He takes out his gun, silencer on, and starts shooting. Michonne walks into the thick of it and starts swinging her blade. As they get closer and he runs out of bullets, Rick draws his knife and starts impaling them in the eye sockets. They hadn’t made a lot of noise, but what they had must have drawn some more from the woods. Rick is turning to deal with the newcomers and trips over one of the dead ones.

And that’s the last thing he remembers before passing out.

He comes to and finds himself facing upside down. Michonne is taking him back to the house in a fireman’s carry. He’s just starting to tell her to put him down so he can walk when the front door opens and everyone starts rushing out.

Daryl is the first one to reach them. “What the hell?! What happened?” he asks, concern obvious on his face.

“It’s fine,” Rick says, finding his footing as Michonne puts him down. He raises a hand to his head and touches a tender spot.

“We ran into a small herd,” Michonne supplies. “We had them mostly dealt with when Twinkle Toes here tripped over his own feet and went down for the count.”

Rick scoffs. “I didn’t trip over my own feet,” he says defensively. “I tripped over a walker.”

“That’s just as bad!” Daryl says. “Where the hell was your head at?”

“I don’t know,” Rick says pointedly, looking at Daryl. “I must have been thinking about something else.”

“Well snap out of it!” Daryl exclaims, then turns and stomps back into the house.

“Wow, what got into him?” Carl asks, looking first at Daryl’s retreating back and then his father.

“Who knows?” Michonne says, easing her way between the Grimes men and putting a hand over Carl’s shoulder and starting them walking back toward the house. “Let’s go finish our game. Don’t tell me Glenn won while I was gone?”

“Hardly!” Carl says with a laugh, the tense moment forgotten.

Maggie looks at Rick. “You sure you’re okay?”

“It’s just a bit sore,” he says, touching the bump on his head again. “Nothing a few aspirin won’t cure. We got some in the house now, don’t we?”

“Sure do,” she agrees, walking back with him. “This lady musta had horrible cramps or something. She had six different kinds of pain killers!”

“We’re set for a while, then,” he says, walking up the steps into the house.

“Maybe not at the rate we need ‘em,” Maggie says.

“Yeah,” Rick agrees, not having much more to add. “I’m just gonna . . .” he points to the bathroom upstairs.

Maggie nods. “Let us know if you need anything.”

“Will do,” Rick says.

He enters the bathroom and finds the aspirin, which he takes quickly with a couple of swigs from a water bottle someone left on the counter. Then he heads into the upstairs bedroom and lies down on the mattress.

He’s just closed his eyes when he hears the floor creak. He looks up and sees Daryl in the doorway.

“You can’t do that,” Daryl says.

“Do what?” Rick asks. “It’s barely anything.”

“This time,” Daryl says. “You gotta take better care of yourself.”

“Why do you care?” Rick asks, pissed at himself to hear that bitterness entering his voice again.

“Why do I care? Didn’t I just tell you I can’t do this without you?”

“No, you said you can’t do this without the group. You’d be fine if I wasn’t here.”

“You are a total asshole. You know that, right?”

“What?” Rick asks, sitting up. He thought he was finally getting it, that Daryl doesn’t want anything more than friendship. But this is not how friends act. At least, it’s not the way Rick has ever acted with any of his friends.

Daryl takes several large steps into the room to eat up the distance between them. He grabs Rick roughly by the sides of his face and pulls him into a kiss. Rick is shocked momentarily, but just as he’s about to respond, Daryl lets go.

“There. Are you happy?”

“What?” Rick asks again. “What am I supposed to be happy about? Are you just giving me what you think I want again?”

“No, you idiot. I fuckin’ love you. I didn’t mean to ever tell you. Don’t want to pressure you into anything. We’re gonna be around people again soon and I’m sure ladies’ll be fallin’ all over themselves for someone like you.”

“Someone like me?”

“Don’t be an asshole and make me say it,” Daryl says gruffly. Rick just stares at him. “What am I sayin’? Of course you’re gonna be an asshole. You’re sexy, all right? You’re strong and motivated. You’ve kept us together in this world of shit. You could have anyone you want.”

“I want you!” Rick says. “I don’t want anyone else. You’re not some placeholder until someone better comes along. No one better is coming.”

“Yeah, right. You don’t know. You told me yourself you don’t have much experience, certainly not with guys. What we have is not meant to last. But, I figured, if you were offerin’, I’d take it while it lasted. Do you know how many nights you were pushin’ up against me before you realized? I wanted to hold out. I did. ‘Cause ain’t no good can come from this. But I couldn’t do it any more. I wanted you too bad.

“When I used to do drugs, I didn’t get how everybody got so addicted. I could take ‘em or leave ‘em. I didn’t do ‘em ‘cause I had to, or wanted to even. I did ‘em ‘cause they were there and I was bored and too stupid to know any better.

“But, you. You’re like what everyone says drugs are to me. I want you so bad sometimes, my palms itch to touch you. I think about you constantly. I can’t do nothing without thinkin’ ‘what would Rick do? What would Rick think? What does Rick want?’ God dammit!

“Is this love? Is this what it’s supposed to feel like? Cause I can’t stand it. What are you doing to me?”

During Daryl’s tirade, Rick just sits on the bed, mouth open. Now he stands and faces Daryl. “I think in all of this, you forgot one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“I love you, too,” he says simply, and raises his hand to Daryl’s cheek and leans his forehead into Daryl’s. “I ain’t doin’ this to you. I’m doing this with you.” He kisses Daryl on the lips gently. “You make me just as crazy.”

“You callin’ me crazy now?” Daryl asks with a chuckle.

“Maybe not as crazy as me, but yeah. You’re right. I don’t know what’s gonna happen when we get to Richmond. But I know you’re the one I want to face it with. Good or bad, I wanna be by your side.”

“I’m there,” Daryl says.

“Let’s go to sleep,” Rick says, and drags Daryl over to the bed.

“I don’t know about sleepin’,” Daryl says, easing off his clothes. “But yeah. Let’s.”

Rick takes off his clothes as well and slips into bed with his lover. He doesn't know who he has to thank for making this a reality, but he knows enough to be grateful. It might all slip away from him tomorrow. In this world there are no guarantees. But he finally has what he wants, and he isn’t about to give it up without a fight.