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talking about love (to a cigarette)

Chapter Text

It’d been three weeks since the war had ended. Negan had been captured, was wastin’ away in a cell in Alexandria, the Sanctuary was now a viable trade partner, no coercion or protection racket needed, and it seemed like everyone was taking the time to breathe a big ol’ sigh of relief, enjoying a much deserved period of rest.

It felt a little too much like gettin’ complacent to Daryl, well aware of what could happen the second things seemed to be falling into place. There was an itch in his bones, something that wouldn’t let him rest no matter how hard he tried.

The sun had just barely made its way over the horizon, bathing Hilltop in weak swatches of gold, when Daryl clomped down the steps of the trailer he’d been staying in, crossbow in hand and canteen threaded through his belt loop. His breath fogged the air in front of him and not for the first time he wished the condensation was smoke. A war wasn’t exactly the time t’be haring off after cigarettes and lately any scouting missions had come up suspiciously empty. Was like the whole damn area’d been wiped out when it came to tobacco.

He headed toward the gates, head down, scruffy fringe obscuring his face from the few people even awake at this hour.

“Going out again?”

Daryl squinted up at the guard post. It was Kal on duty – Daryl’d bounced around a bit during the war, leading groups from Hilltop and Alexandria and he’d gotten to know the people here pretty well. In a way, it made him think of the time back in the prison, when they’d gotten a buncha the Governor’s refugees – and the thought made him twitch. Gettin’ close to people wasn’t worth it anymore. He had his family – though they were spread out these days, a fact which made him anxious even though he knew everyone was where they were needed – and anyone else wasn’t exactly needed.

He gave a jerk of a nod, shifting his grip on his crossbow. “Gonna bag some squirrel, maybe a deer if ‘m lucky,” he said. It was his fifth run in as many days and the meat shed was full up with game, but with the way things were goin’, people trickling in from other communities, he figured it couldn’t hurt to have as much as it could hold. He’d help salt ‘em, later, to keep over winter if anything.

“Be back before sundown,” Kal said, the gates opening with a creak of wood.

Daryl grunted, which was as good as acknowledgement as he was gonna get, and headed out.

~~

Seven hours later, Daryl was back at the gates, a doe slung over his shoulders, a brace of squirrels threaded through his belt. He was covered from head to toe in dirt – courtesy of a bastard walker that’d had the indecency to be decomposin’ in a pile of leaves near a mud puddle – and all he wanted to do was get the doe strung up so he could gut it. Maybe he’d save some back to make some jerky.

Hilltop was a lot more alive than when he’d left, people bustlin’ around left and right. He could see Maggie goin’ over plans for the garden, Hershel Jr. on her hip, a few people tendin’ to the livestock, and the rest just milling about like they had some place t’be.

There was a lightness to the air that almost made him uncomfortable, like he was seein’ somethin’ nobody else could. How long would they get to enjoy this before it all went to shit again?

“Any deer left in the forest?”

Daryl started, a barely repressed flinch as he half-turned toward the sound of the voice. He took in the ridiculous beanie, the leather coat, everythin’ whole and undamaged, and refused to acknowledge the little kernel of relief deep in the pit of his stomach.

“When d’ya get back?” Daryl asked, voice slightly strained. It’d been a long damn walk and the doe wasn’t exactly no petite thing.

“About a half hour ago,” Jesus replied, doing absolutely nothing to offer Daryl any help at all.

“Did ya get any - ”

“Not this time,” Jesus replied before he could finish, and Daryl coulda swore the prick looked amused.

He huffed, adjusting his sliding grip on the legs of the doe, turning back toward where he was headed and moving on.

“See you at dinner?” Jesus called and Daryl grunted, hoisting the doe a little higher on his shoulders. He didn’t look back.

~~

When Daryl finally arrived back at the trailer, it was nearly dusk. It was the smallest by far, barely big enough to fit a bed, small kitchenette and a little washroom, stationed out near the wall. Daryl didn’t mind it, preferred it actually. Wasn’t nobody around to bother him, and he could do his own thing without worryin’ about somebody pokin’ their nose into his business.

He closed the door behind him, letting out a ragged sigh. The war hadn’t exactly been kind to him and he felt every injury as a bone deep ache, like he was some damn old man. Most of the time he was able to ignore it, but now, in the quiet, they all had a way of cropping up when his mind didn’t have nothing to distract it.

He lit the small lantern by the door. There wasn’t much to look at – a small couch, a bed on the other side, a rickety table with a leg propped up by an encyclopedia. He’d never had much and after the war he had even less. He took a granola bar from the little counter, having only grabbed a small plate before he’d gone off to eat alone. Much like at the prison, everyone seemed t’wanna talk to him. Thank him for the meat, ask him about his crossbow, that kinda shit.

Then there’d been Jesus, sittin’ on a bench with a seat open next to him, watchin’ Daryl like he expected him t’take it. Daryl couldn’t deny that since the war he’d gotten to know the scout a little better – occasionally, they’d end up together on runs or missions – but that didn’t make ‘em buddies or nothing.

He lowered himself onto sofa, muscles unwinding like there’d been a string cut. He sat there for a few beats, exhaustion heavy through his bones, knowin’ he’d be lucky if he could catch an hour or two of sleep that night. There was a tension simmering through him that no amount a’lyin’ in bed was gonna fix. It was a deep down itch, something he’d only barely been able to scratch with nicotine. Maybe he’d restring his crossbow, or come up with a plan to get one of those vans they’d scavenged up and running. Had to be an autoparts place ain’t anybody got to within fifty miles.

He let the thoughts trickle through his mind, nothing catching, when something caught his attention from the corner of his eye.

A cigarette.

His brow furrowed, hand reaching out to take it before he knew what he was doin’. He sure as hell knew it hadn’t been there this morning when he’d left. He held it up, squintin’ at in the dim light of the lantern, turning it to and fro like it might be some sorta trick. Looked normal enough, not even beat up like some of the ones they’d found and he got to his feet, moving to the window.

He twitched the curtain aside but there was nothin’ out in the dimness.

“The hell…” he muttered, back to staring at it. Well. He might as well, so long as he had it. He shook his head, pulling his lighter from his pocket as he opened the door to sit on the steps. The night air was chilly but he hardly felt it as he lit up, putting the smoke to his mouth and inhaling deeply.

Somethin’ settled inside him as he exhaled, smoke drifting lazily past his face. The burn was welcome, something to focus on, while he let his gaze wander. Most everyone was tucked up inside, settling down for the night.

Daryl took another drag and tried to remember how that felt.

Chapter Text

Despite spendin’ more time out of The Hilltop than in, Daryl found cigarettes popping up all over the damn place. Always somewhere where he would be sure to find ‘em, never more than one, and always right when the itch was gettin’ enough to drive him up the goddamn wall.

Didn’t matter how tight he locked up his damn trailer, or the fact that as a rule, he was hard as hell to sneak up on. It started up slow, but after a couple weeks Daryl started findin’ ‘em every day, rather than once or week or every other day. It got to the point where he might spend his whole day with his eye out, waitin’ to see the first hint of a butt.

It was almost a game, cos whoever it was sure as hell never left ‘em in the same place twice. Daryl was sure that there wasn’t that many damn places in his trailer, but he kept gettin’ proved wrong again and again. There’d been the cigarette in his toothbrush holder, one propped on the windowsill, one replacin’ the last granola bar he’d been savin’ for a run, one stickin’ out of the boot he’d left on the steps.

Then there’d been the one in his knife sheath – which had pissed him the hell off until he’d found his knife freshly sharpened on the kitchen counter. He wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth though – if there was ever a time he’d needed a smoke, it was now. Everyone was actin’ like everythin’ was peachy keen, like there wasn’t still signs of what had gone down all over the damn place.

Like Negan wasn’t fuckin’ in some shitty basement in Alexandria, biding his damn time. Daryl tried not t’think about that. It’d been Rick’s decision. Any other time, Daryl woulda deferred to his friend – they’d been through a lotta shit and Rick always came through for ‘em in the end, but this? Shit. Daryl thought he shoulda just put a bullet in his goddamn brain and been done with him once and for all.

Maybe that’s why Daryl hadn’t gotten around to headin’ back there yet.

Wasn’t sure he would, really.

So, he smoked. When he could. His goddamn cigarette a day.

~~

Lately, the cigarettes had been left in places Daryl was damn sure ain’t nobody could put ‘em without him noticin’. And yet. There’d been one in the pocket of his jeans when he’d woken up that morning. The day before there’d been one in the inner pocket of his vest, and it wasn’t like either of those items were ever far from him.

He had suspicions. Course he did. He wasn’t stupid or nothin’. There weren’t that many people in The Hilltop who could slip shit where it wasn’t supposed t’go. Fewer still who had access to cigarettes – and just one who’d be enough of a little shit to hoard ‘em and make some fuckin’ game out of it.

He just…wasn’t sure what to do with it.

So, he did nothin’.

The next night he found a cigarette lyin’ in the middle of his pillow when he’d come back from checkin’ some snares. They were empty, but gettin’ out from behind those wooden walls was always worth a trip, even if it was cold as hell out these days.

He was past doin’ anythin’ but picking the cigarette up and heading straight outside to light up on the steps of his trailer. The smoke settled thickly in his lungs, and he let it linger there, enjoyin’ the near-calm for as long as it would last.

“Hey.”

Daryl startled so violently he dropped the cigarette, the burning ember settling right in the goddamn crotch of his jeans. He swore, sharp, acrid words muttered under his breath as he struggled to pick the smoke up without burnin’ himself. He was still muttering as he looked up to find Jesus standing there, eyes wide and innocent, that goddamn ghost of a smirk at the corner of his mouth.

“Sorry,” he said. “Didn’t know you’d be out here. I was going to knock,” he said, and Daryl didn’t let up on the glare, even as he put the cigarette – slightly battered – between his lips again.

“This was you,” he said, a statement, words muffled.

“I thought you might appreciate them.”

“Appreciate the whole damn pack a helluva lot more,” he groused, flicking ash off the steps.

“Well, we are in an apocalypse. Should probably ration,” Jesus replied, that smirk still there, annoyingly in place.

“Could die tomorrow, don’t need no goddamn rationing,” Daryl retorted.

“Fair point. A bit pessimistic, but I can see where you’re coming from.”

“That mean you’re going to give me the rest of t’pack?”

“Weren’t you having fun? Anyway. I’ve just got one left.”

Daryl felt somethin’ sink in his stomach, and he told himself it was only the prospect of bein’ back to havin’ no cigarettes at all. He huffed, taking a long drag from the cigarette between his fingers. “Any chance yer gonna just hand the goddamn thing over?” he asked.

All of a sudden, Jesus was right next to him on the steps, sittin’ all close and leanin’ in, blue-green eyes wide and mischievous in the dim light and he couldn’t do anything but blink. “Well, since you asked so nicely,” he said, hand coming up as if he were about to tuck a strand of hair behind Daryl’s ear.

Daryl was sure his goddamn heart stopped beatin’, only to restart jerkily when the little prick pulled back with a grin, presenting a cigarette with a flourish.

He swallowed, eyein’ him narrowly.

“Prick,” he muttered, reaching for it.

Jesus deftly moved his hand out of reach, starin’ down at him with his head tilted slightly. “Are you just going to smoke this right now?”

Daryl shrugged. The way the little shit was gettin’ under his skin, he was gonna need to. “Pro’bly.”

“Let me, then,” he said, and without explainin’, plucked the battered cigarette from his mouth, crushing it against the railing before he flicked it out onto the grass. Daryl watched him, brows furrowed – a little annoyed because he hadn’t been fuckin’ done with that one – and then Jesus was leanin’ forward, pressin’ the cigarette toward his lips like he meant to put it there himself.

Daryl felt somethin’ start in his gut, a sharp jerk that had him feelin’ inexplicably hot. Cos Jesus wasn’t lookin’ at him, not really. He was lookin’ straight at his goddamn mouth, and in the split second he saw ‘im lean forward Daryl was scramblin’ to stand.

“Keep yer damn cigarette,” he said, voice goin’ rough to disguise the breathlessness.

“Daryl?” Jesus said, like he had no goddamn idea what he’d been about to do.

Daryl didn’t answer, merely turned and disappeared into the trailer, slamming it shut behind him. He hovered in the doorway, half expecting a knock, ears strainin’ for it. It never came.

He felt hot, like he had a fever, all flushed and clammy. Jesus had been about to kiss him. Shit. Daryl wasn’t – he ain’t ever kissed no guy before, and it wasn’t like he was payin’ no attention to how Jesus was lookin’ at him, but he was observant, damnit, and that look wasn’t too hard to miss.

He shoulda shoved ‘im back, asked him what the hell was wrong with him. But he’d wanted t’lean in, for half a second, and that scared the shit outta him.

~~

The next morning dawned, cold and gray. Daryl hadn’t slept a fuckin’ minute, and as soon as the weak light trickled through the window he was out of bed and haulin ‘on a flannel over his shirt, pullin’ his leather vest over top.

He grabbed his crossbow, the pack he kept by the door with a canteen, and opened the door. He half expected t’find the little prick waitin’ there for him, but it was empty. Daryl stepped out, his boot scuffin’ somethin’ off the step. Daryl peered down at it, teeth worryin’ his lower lip when he recognized it.

That damn cigarette.

He looked around, then once more for good measure, then dropped off the steps and leaned through to pick it up. He frowned, seriously considered just chuckin’ the thing, but eventually slid it into the inner pocket of his vest. Wasn’t gonna let that asshole ruin cigarettes for him.

He shrugged his crossbow a little higher on his shoulder, headin’ toward the gates so he could get out of here for a while.

“You going out?”

Daryl glanced up to find Kal sittin’ there, bundled up and barely visible beneath a scarf and beanie. Wuss, wasn’t even that damn cold. Daryl grunted, because what the hell did it look like?

“People are saying it’s going to snow. Might want to stay in. We’ve got more than enough meat from the last time you -”

“Open the damn door,” he bit out, the glare on his face borne more out of frustration and annoyance than any real anger.

It seemed to work well enough though, cos the gates swung open without another word from Kal.

Daryl stalked out, somethin’ easin’ in his chest the moment the gates closed behind him. He didn’t waste no time headin’ out into the surroundin’ woods, settin’ out for his traps first. He could feel the cigarette against his chest, like it weighed a goddamn ton.

~~

He’d been out for most of the day, the sun already startin’ to dip low in the sky. He hadn’t bagged anythin’ more than a tick infested squirrel which he’d tucked on his belt, and he felt a little less vibratin’ right out of his damn skin.

Whatever the hell that’d been with Jesus – wasn’t no reason he had to acknowledge it. He pushed it to the very back of his mind, focused on the cold against his face, the way his ears felt frozen solid and the tips of his fingers a bit numb. Shoulda brought some damn gloves, but he’d had worse. He was walkin’ along a shallow ravine, followin’ it it back toward The Hilltop. Wouldn’t take him longer than an hour or two to get back.

The sudden sound of a twig snappin’ stilled him, instantly on alert as he put his pack on the ground, makin’ no noise at all. He slipped his crossbow from his back, pullin’ back the string and notchin’ an arrow into place. He waited – probably just a walker or somethin’, it’d come right to him if he gave it a minute. The snappin’ grew louder and Daryl raised the crossbow to his eye, ready to shoot.

A walker appeared, rotted and snarlin’ from behind a tree and Daryl aimed up, almost annoyed. Couldn’t have no damn peace ‘n quiet anymore. He let loose an arrow, listenin’ to the satisfyin’ thunk as it cut through its skull like wet cardboard. Things were getting’ easier to kill, walkin’ around and decomposin’ right before their damn eyes.

All of a sudden, three more walkers came from behind the little copse of trees, maws gapin’, hands reachin’ out with clawed fingers and Daryl swore, lowerin’ his bow so that he could put another arrow in. He fumbled, numb fingers refusin’ to cooperate and his swearing took on a slightly desperate edge.

He glanced up to see them rapidly approachin’, lurchin’ toward him with one thing in mind. He looked back to his crossbow, willing the goddamn bolt into place. He got it, just about, but when he raised his bow he only had enough time to get one through the head before the others were on him.

He he struggled, usin’ his bow like a batterin’ ram, and managed to knock one away. The other came at him and he did the same, slowly edgin’ backwards as they kept comin’ – persistent as fuck. He shoved one away again, drawin’ back the crossbow to lunge forward with it, slammin’ it down on it’s head with as much strength as he could muster. Damp, wet brain matter splattered outward, but he didn’t have no time to be satisfied as the remainin’ walker came at him again. At one point he’d probably been one of them strong types, big and muscle-y – the type that spent their goddamn days at the gym (mighta just been the faded neon shorts the corpse was wearin’ though, fabric probably goddamn nylon or somethin’) but now he was just skin and bones. Barely put together at that.

Daryl shoulda been able to take him easy, but he hadn’t realized how close he was to the edge. He took one step back and started to slide.

“Fuck!”

He dropped his crossbow, hands clawin’ for the walker that was doin’ the same to him, tryin’ to get ahold of it to keep from goin’ over. But the walker lunged at him again and the momentum forced him over.

He didn’t realize he was fallin’ until it was too late, until he’d already hit the goddamn ground with enough force to knock the air from his lungs, to hear the sickening snap of bone givin’ way before the pain roared in and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

He awoke to the smell of decay, death wrigglin’ it’s way up his nostrils, burnin’ at the back of his throat. It took a moment for his vision to clear, and when it did there were rotting teeth snapping inches from his face. A high, startled shout left him, his body instinctively jerking backwards. His hands scrambled for his crossbow, or any sort of weapon, but came up with nothin’ but leaves. The movement forced another sound out of him, a low, strangled whine from the very center of his chest as his entire left leg exploded in pain. There wasn’t no time to give into it, quiet, strained whimpers trapped behind his teeth as he fought to keep conscious. Black spots swam in front of his vision and he panted, feelin’ lightheaded and sick to his stomach, though the growls of the walker were more ‘n enough to keep him from passing out like a goddamn wuss.

The stench only got worse as the thing clawed at him, hands raking the air with a chilling single-mindedness. The walker was caught on something, strainin’ toward him, not making any progress but it was only a matter of time before it managed to work itself free; those bastards were persistent if nothin’ else.

He had to get away, or find a weapon, or somethin’. He propped himself up on his elbows, scannin’ the ground around him wildly, tryin’ not to move more than he had to, but unless he could take it out with a goddamn leaf, it seemed like he was out of luck. Fuck. There had to be something he could do.

He gritted his teeth, attemptin’ to drag his body a little further away. Every goddamn part of him lit up in pain, the center of it comin’ from his leg and it was all he could do to choke back a desperate noise, fear and anger and frustration mixin’ together in his chest. He was stuck here, waitin’ for that sonofabitch t’get free and finish him off.

Hell, he wasn’t gonna just sit here and wait.

Pulling his lip between his teeth to stifle the sounds wantin’ to break free, he scooted back toward the walker, sweat breaking out on his hairline as a cold chill swept through him as the pain intensified, sending a wave of nausea through his stomach.

He reached out, avoidin’ gnarled fingernails, and grabbed a hold of the side of it’s head, grimacin’ as it tried to turn and bite him. He slammed it down, as hard as he could, a grunt forcing itself from the center of his chest, and then he did it again, his free hand coming over to hold back the walker’s arms. Maybe it was cos the thing was so goddamn rotted, or the ground so hard from bein’ cold, but pretty soon the skull started to cave in. The pain in his leg grew, and with every slam of the bastard’s head against the ground he gave a shout, wild and animalistic, his body nearly pushed past it’s breakin’ point.

“Daryl!”

Daryl didn’t stop slammin’ the skull against the damp earth, bits of brain matter splashing back and specklin’ his face, he didn’t stop until there wasn’t anythin’ left to smash, syrupy gore slushing between his fingers. A shadow fell over the mess, the edges of a pair of boots skirting the blood. Daryl looked up to see Jesus staring down at him and promptly emptied the contents of his stomach all over the boots.

Luckily, there wasn’t much in it to get rid of.

The pain started to die down again, from a wall of complete agony to a steady, unrelenting ache that had him clenching his teeth. He spat, avoidin’ Jesus’ boots that time and raised his eyes to look at him again.

“The hell ya doin’ out here?” he rasped, pale as a ghost and his skin shiny with sweat.

Jesus stared at him for a long moment, a furrow of worry between his brows, lips pressed together. “Kal said you’d gone out, that you’d looked pissed. I thought I overstepped, that you…went out because of me. I was going to let you be but then you didn’t come back after sunset. And everyone said it was going to snow.” He gave a little shrug.

Daryl grimaced, breath coming a little unsteadily through his nose. “I was comin’ back. Got caught up by some walkers, got two of ‘em but this asshole,” he said, nodding toward splattered skull nearby, “got the jump on me. Took me over,” he grunted, fighting the urge to shift, because he knew it’d send another wave of pain through him. “Think I fucked up my leg,” he admitted, a low grumble of sound, more than a bit pissed at his circumstances.

He realized that the last thing he’d been aware of, it was approachin’ evenin’, but now the sky was light with the grey of early morning. Which meant he’d been out here all goddamn night.

How long had Jesus been lookin’ for him?

“Let me take a look,” Jesus said, not waiting for Daryl to agree before he was crouching down beside him, hands reachin’ for his thigh. Daryl glared at him, eyes narrowed as he flinched away and immediately gritted his teeth with a growl. Jesus merely lifted a brow and continued on, pressin’ down his leg until he got to the point that made Daryl howl with pain.

Jesus sat back and Daryl eyed him through slatted lids, pantin’ against the urge to throw up again. The asshole kept pokin’, touch featherlight and gaze intent, like he was tryin’ to x-ray Daryl’s damn leg with his eyes alone. He was quiet for a few long minutes, gettin’ up and movin’ around him, tiltin’ his head this way and that.

Daryl was about to growl out a demand that he sit the hell down or do somethin’ when he stopped, kneeling down beside him.

“Do you want the good or the bad news first?” Jesus asked, drawing a glare from Daryl that rivaled the last half dozen he’d given him in the past five minutes.

“Jus’ tell me,” Daryl growled.

“Okay, well, your leg is definitely broken. There’s no way you’re going to be able to walk back to Hilltop like this.”

“’n the good news?”

“…The bone isn’t actually sticking out, so I should be able to splint it.”

Daryl tipped his head back for a moment, a frustrated growl hoverin’ in the back of his throat. “I can try ‘n walk it,” he said, and was immediately met with a scoff from Jesus.

“I…wouldn’t try that. You can barely move without almost passing out.”

“The hell ‘m I supposed t’do then?” he asked, really starting to feel the cold now that he had a minute or two to fuckin’ focus on somethin’ else besides somethin’ tryin’ to kill him.

“Just – sit there. I’ll find something to splint your leg and there’s a cabin, just a little way that way,” Jesus said, gesturing straight ahead.

“Fine,” he bit out, watching as Jesus pulled a knife from one of the holsters crisscrossed over his slim hips.

“In case you have any visitors while I’m looking for splints.”

Daryl eyed him for a moment before takin’ it, Jesus’ fingers brushing against his as the hilt slid into his hand. He rested it in his lap, fingers wrapped around the grip, knuckles white.

“I won’t be long,” Jesus said, and Daryl grunted, focusin’ on not movin’ a damn muscle.

Chapter Text

A half hour later, Daryl tensed as he heard the faint sound of disturbed leaves, hand still tightly curled around the handle of the knife. He relaxed fractionally when Jesus appeared over the ridge, dragging two long sticks and a thicker branch behind him, making his way down the incline that led directly into the ravine. At least he wouldn’t have to climb up the damn side.

“These are as good as I could get,” Jesus said, when he finally reached him, setting the wood down a couple feet from Daryl. “They should work though.”

Daryl grunted, not especially feeling like conversation at the moment. His leg was throbbing and the cold had settled in, bone-deep.

“The cabin’s a little closer than I thought, so that’s something,” Jesus continued, coming to kneel next to Daryl. He reached out to undo the ties at the ends of Daryl’s pant legs, nimble fingers making quick use of the knots as he continued to natter on. “The last time I was there it still had blankets and kerosene lamps, there might even be some stale crackers if we’re really lucky.”

The entire time he talked, his hands were moving and it wasn’t long before he’d set up the two longer sticks along the sides of his injured leg. “I don’t know about you,” Jesus continued, gently looping the borrowed string around the sticks and his leg, “but I never thought stale crackers would make me feel lucky.”

Daryl opened his mouth to bitch about how goddamn much the other man was talking, when Jesus tightened the string around his leg, and instead all that came out was a curse wrapped up in a whimper.

“Sorry,” Jesus apologized, not looking up as he fussed with the string. It probably wouldn’t hold for long, but it’d get them to the cabin, at least. Hopefully.

His stomach roiled and Daryl glared at Jesus through slitted eyes, though it lacked the heat he would have liked, due to the fact that he could actually feel his heartbeat in his goddamn leg and that wasn’t ever a sensation anyone should ever have to feel.

“Now comes the fun part,” Jesus said, glancing up at him with an apologetic smile, though he didn’t seem to be at all cowed by the intensifying glare coming from Daryl.

“Jus’ get it over with,” Daryl growled, shifting gingerly so he could slide his knife into his belt – if he kept it in his hand he might be too tempted to stab it into Jesus when he tried to help him up.

“Alright,” Jesus agreed, not wasting any time before moving behind him to hook his arms beneath Daryl’s shoulders.

Daryl hadn’t spent too much time looking at Jesus or anything. But he’d looked enough to know that Jesus had a small frame – at least compared to Daryl – and that he might be good at kicking and punching shit, but there wasn’t no way he was capable of doing any heavy lifting.

And yet.

Daryl wasn’t much help, struggling to get his uninjured leg under him after not moving so long, but Jesus’ arms stayed locked around him, his frame steady and unyielding behind him as he towed him upward as best he could. It wasn’t graceful – or pain free – and he could hear Jesus’ grunts of exertion right in his damn ear, but in the end he was upright, weight half against Jesus, half on his uninjured leg, breathing hard like he’d just run from an entire herd of walkers.

But he was up.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Jesus said, sounding annoyingly chipper – though almost as out of breath as Daryl.

“Shut up,” Daryl growled, once he could hear over the pounding in his ears. He could have sworn he felt Jesus give him a squeeze, but the pressure was gone before he could react, and instead Jesus was contorting himself so he could pick up the thick branch and not leave Daryl without support.

Somehow he managed, and managed gracefully. Daryl wanted to punch him.

“Walking stick!” he said, with a grin, looking proud as he handed the piece to Daryl. It…actually looked like it would serve the purpose well, fairly even, with a sturdiness to it that meant it wouldn’t snap in half the moment he started to really lean on it. Daryl eyed it, then eyed Jesus, then finally accepted it, getting used to the feel of it in his hand.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t manage completely on his own and still had to rely on Jesus, the man’s shoulder easily tucking under his, wiry arm secured behind his back. Daryl could feel the warmth of it bleeding through his vest, could feel the point where his fingers curled into the fabric of his shirt to get a better hold.

“Which way’s the cabin?” Daryl asked and Jesus quickly pointed them in the right direction.

~~
Forty-something minutes later, they came upon the cabin. Daryl was drenched in a cold sweat, each step resulting in a whine clenched between gritted teeth. To his credit, Jesus had shut up after the first half-dozen phrases of encouragement, probably because Daryl had threatened to beat him to death with the walking stick the next time he heard anything come outta his mouth, but in the end they did make it to the cabin in one piece.

By the time Daryl made it to the musty, moth-bitten sofa it was all he could do to lower himself down and not take Jesus with him on accident. His leg was on fire, sending waves of pain through the rest of his body and settling in the pit of his stomach as a swirling mass of nausea. The splint had held though; whatever magic Jesus had worked with the knots keeping it in snug in place.

Jesus peered down at him, beanie askew. “How does your leg feel?”

“Broken,” Daryl responded, gruff – pain making his tone annoyed. It felt marginally better now that his weight was off it, but there was no way to completely alleviate the sharp and relentless ache.

“I’m going to have to go back and get Dr. Carson,” Jesus said, mouth falling into a frown. “There’s no way you’ll be able to walk back to Hilltop and we can’t get a car back here.”

Daryl stared at some middle point, the weak afternoon light illuminating the sparse living room and kitchen. As much as he wanted to be alone, especially when in pain, he couldn’t say he was looking forward to being left alone here. He grunted, to show he’d heard, hoping it’d be enough to keep Jesus quiet.

It wasn’t.

“I’ll look for those crackers first and help get you settled,” he said, going to the kitchen to root through barren cupboards. Daryl watched, fighting the urge to tell him to just get the hell out of there, that he could take care of himself. The truth was he couldn’t, he could barely stand without wanting to throw up and the last thing on his mind right now was finding something to eat, despite not having eaten since he’d left Hilltop.

Jesus did manage to unearth a box of crackers. He brought them over, carefully opening the package and rationing out a small handful. Daryl ate them without fanfare, barely even flinching at the marked staleness to them – honestly, this long after the world went to shit, things being stale wasn’t something he tended to notice.

Hell. Even before the apocalypse, he’d had his fair share of things past their expiration date.

Jesus helped himself to a few crackers too, though he didn’t seem to be as immune and his nose wrinkled, his chewing a little more forced. “I take back what I said about feeling lucky,” he said, swallowing hard.

Daryl snorted, ignored him.

After that, Jesus fussed about a little more, bringing over a small pile of blankets and accosting Daryl with them. Daryl shoved off all but one of the ones Jesus had tried to burrito him in and eyed him from beneath his hair while he waited for the man to just leave already.

“I’ll be back soon,” Jesus said, turning from where he’d been readying a kerosene lantern to put at Daryl’s side. Daryl grunted. He didn’t doubt that Jesus would hurry back but he was also aware that there was plenty between here and Hilltop that could delay him, or keep him permanently.

“I promise,” Jesus said, like it was important Daryl believed him.

Daryl swallowed. “Alright…” he said, not sure what exactly Jesus expected him to say to that. Judging by the expression on Jesus’ face, that wasn’t it.

Jesus stared at him for a few long moments, long enough that Daryl started to get fidgety, gaze sliding away as he picked at some fuzz on the blanket over his lap. Eventually, though, Jesus started moving toward the door. “Get some rest, Daryl,” he said, softly, before he disappeared through the doorway.

Daryl could hear the sound of something scraping against the porch – possibly the bench that had been sat out to the side, which at least meant that no walkers would be getting in whilst Jesus was away.

And then everything was…quiet. No birds, no walkers, no nothing. It took a long while for Daryl to settle into something resembling an uneasy doze, on high alert for the slightest sound.

Eventually though, even the pain couldn’t keep him awake.

Chapter Text

A pained grunt caught in Daryl’s chest as he jerked awake, disoriented, the movement jostling his leg. His gaze settled on the lantern, the dim light barely illuminating the table it was set upon, and it took a moment or two before the events of the last day settled into place. He wasn’t sure how long had passed since Jesus had left, he couldn’t see the sky from his position – but given the darkness it sure as shit wasn’t morning yet.

It could have been hours, or a handful of minutes, or fuck, could have been days for all he knew. He fought against the unease growing in the pit of his stomach, the low throb from his leg a poor distraction. His throat was dry but there wasn’t no water in the house. He’d seen a rain catcher as they’d passed it on the porch, but with his leg like it was, there wasn’t no way he was gonna be able to get any by himself.

Then again, wasn’t like he hadn’t gone longer without it.

The night was still quiet, though if he concentrated he could hear the vague sounds of night animals, but none close enough to focus on for long. His pulse had started to slow after his abrupt awakening, but he couldn’t shake the feeling of alertness, the one that always accompanied him in the night. He was used to being on guard, keeping an ear out for potential trouble, it didn’t matter where his family was. Back at the prison, in Alexandria, he couldn’t rest unless he knew everyone was safe.

But there wasn’t nobody here but him.

He stayed up for a while, listening to the quiet, feeling on edge – the pain was easy enough to ignore, he’d had his fair share of practice, but he didn’t especially like the idea that he was waiting for Jesus to come back. And if Jesus didn’t come back, then Daryl was good as dead.

That thought was circling round his head as he eventually succumbed to sleep again.

~~~~

The next time he awoke, it was a lot like the first – disoriented and in pain, but this time it was light out and the sound of a scuffling scraping was coming from outside. Daryl tried to sit up a bit, gritting his teeth against the pain as his gaze zeroed in on the door, hand slipping beneath the blanket in case he needed to unsheathe his knife.

He doubted no walkers would be coordinated enough to get the bench outta the way, but there were plenty of living people he wouldn’t wanna get stuck in a cabin with.

The sound of scuffling on the porch increased, until finally it seemed like the bench had been moved and the doorknob started to turn. Daryl tensed, ready to leap up even if that meant his leg would have exploded in pain, only to stare as Jesus bust through the door, wrapped up in his leather jacket, holding his crossbow, his face splattered with blood.

“The hell happened t’you?” Daryl bit out before he could help himself, and Jesus’ blue-green eyes flicked to his face.

Jesus gave him something that could have resembled a smile, though it was more a quick upturn of his lips than a flash of teeth as he strode forward into the cabin, setting down Daryl’s crossbow inside the door. “Ran into a few walkers,” he said.

“I’d say just a bit more than a few.”

Daryl’s gaze flicked toward Dr. Carson, who emerged from behind Jesus, his own clothes splattered in blood, looking ruffled. He had a bag on his back, and Daryl was gonna assume it was shit that was gonna get his leg back in order, so he wouldn’t have to hobble around for the rest of his goddamn life.

“Okay, maybe a bit more than a few, but we handled them just fine,” Jesus conceded.

“A lot more than a few!” A voice called from outside, and Daryl watched as Kal poked his head in, took in the scene, and grimaced before resuming his post on the porch. Jesus shook his head, heading toward the kitchen table where he deposited a full jug and a bowl. Dr. Carson followed him and Daryl watched as the man set about cleaning off his hands with a rag.

Then, the doctor came toward him, attention fixed on his splinted leg, a flinch going through Daryl as he maneuvered his leg onto the coffee table.

Daryl’s eyes lingered on Jesus, who’d set about cleaning himself up. He was down to his white linen shirt, collar spared the splash of blood by the jacket he’d placed on the back of a chair. He had the sleeves rolled up to display his forearms, the weak afternoon sun swathing him in gold, and Daryl found his gaze inexplicably stuck on the sight.

Carson’s low words were a dull murmur that completely failed to register. Instead, he watched as Jesus dipped a rag into the bowl, squeezing out the excess water and dragged the cloth over his skin, short precise movements, efficient. Daryl swallowed, throat tight – although he wasn’t sure if it was the fact that he’d had nothing to drink since he’d fallen into that damn ravine or the evidence that Jesus almost hadn’t made it back.

“Shit!” he cursed, flinching, gaze breaking from Jesus to glare at Carson, who merely raised a brow at him. Daryl realized the guy had probably been talking to him throughout, explaining what he was going to do as he’d run his hands along his leg, but he refused to be embarrassed at the fact that he’d missed it.

“Like I said,” Carson continued, mercifully choosing not to call Daryl on his lack of attention, “it’s not a bad break from what I can see. A month, six weeks and it should heal just fine, as long as you keep off it. Ideally, we’d be able to cast it but we don’t have any supplies for it. I do, however, have a splint,” he said, pulling it from his bag.

“You’ll have to be more careful than if you’d had a cast – try to stay as still as you can. No moving more than you need to for a week or two,” he continued, beginning the process of removing the temporary splint from Daryl’s leg.

Daryl found his gaze inexplicably drawn back to Jesus, blinking in surprise when he found the man’s gaze intent on him. He’d finished cleaning himself off – his face was free of blood, slightly damp – and Daryl’s stomach twisted at the concern he could read on his face, at least until Jesus’ eyes strayed toward what Dr. Carson was doing.

Daryl did the same, frowning when he realized Doc Carson had cut through his jeans up to his knee without Daryl even noticing. His leg was bruised and swollen, and the sight made it hurt a little more than it had before. It made Daryl grit his teeth, muscles tensing as the doctor readied the splint, undoing the Velcro that held it together.

It wasn’t like Daryl’d never broken a bone before, or gone without pain meds for shitty injuries, but it was never a fun experience and he could feel a cool sweat break out on his hairline (not that it could be seen) as Carson eased the rope from around his leg. As it loosened, the pain got worse and Daryl’s mouth went tight, though he was able to keep a grunt from escaping.

His fingers curled into the meat of his palm, leaving crescent imprints as Carson switched the sticks out for an actual splint. He started to tighten the Velcro and that time Daryl couldn’t keep back a noise, gaze darting away, landing once more on Jesus, who’d crept a little closer and was watching Carson work with a slight frown.

His hands twisted together in front of him, and Daryl found himself watching those hands, the slight twitching as he fidgeted quietly. The distraction didn’t make the pain any better, but it gave him something else to look at and it wasn’t long before Carson had finished.

“I’ve got to get back. Jesus said he’ll stay with you, and I’ll come check on you as often as I can. I’ll leave you some Tylenol – it’s all we have at the moment, but if we get something stronger I’ll bring it.”

Daryl grunted – he didn’t really want to be in pain, but he wasn’t going to let the doc waste medication on him when he was perfectly capable of standing it.

“Thanks,” he said, sinking back a little into the couch when it became apparent that Carson wasn’t gonna mess with his leg anymore.

It took him a few minutes to collect his things and murmur quietly with Jesus near the door – presumably telling him shit Daryl wasn’t gonna wanna hear – and then he and Kal were gone.

Jesus returned to his side, bringing with him the bowl of water and rag. He sat himself on the table next to Daryl’s propped up leg, eyeing it carefully. “How does it feel?” he asked, voice quiet, concerned.

“Like shit,” Daryl replied, eyeing him narrowly.

Jesus gave a little nod, head dipping. “Do you want the Tyelnol now?” he asked and Daryl shook his head.

“Nah.”

“Okay,” Jesus said, though he didn’t seem very convinced.

Jesus was quiet for a moment, holding the bowl in his lap. His gaze flicked up toward Daryl, hovering along his jawline, the hollow of his throat. “You should get cleaned up too,” he said, dipping the rag into the bowl and squeezing the water out.

“You’ve got some blood here,” he said, reaching out to touch the rag against the side of his neck. Daryl tensed, pulling away slightly as he eyed him, not sure why the action made something swoop low in his belly.

“Sorry,” Jesus said, holding out the rag to him.

Daryl grunted, taking it carefully, and scrubbed it roughly over his neck and the side of his jaw. He hardly noticed grit and grime anymore, but the cool dampness of the water on his skin felt nice, and he ran the rag over his hands before he passed it back to Jesus.

“Much better,” Jesus said, with a gentle smile that Daryl’s eyes flickered too and then drifted away from, focusing on the bowl of pink tinged water instead.

“Got any I can drink?” he rasped after a moment, gaze flicking up again.

“Yes, of course,” he said, quickly rising from the coffee table and moving toward the kitchen to deposit the bowl and picked up a small canteen. “You can have the rest of mine. I’ll boil some from the rain catcher, maybe tomorrow I’ll see if I can find a stream or something in case it runs out,” he said as he brought it over and held it out.

Daryl took it, uncapped it and then took a long pull. He hadn’t realized how thirsty he was until the water his tongue and then it was all he could do not to tip his head back and guzzle the rest down. He took small sips, drinking enough to take the edge off and then handed it back to Jesus, wiping the back of his hand over his lips.

“Lemme see my bow,” he said, after a moment of Jesus standing there. Jesus went over and got it.

“I found it on my way back, over on the ridge.”

Daryl nodded, taking it back and eyeing it critically. It looked alright – not too scuffed, nothing busted – an arrow or two missin’ but they were probably rotting in a skull back up on the ridge.

“Thanks fer grabbin’ it,” he said, not looking up, running his hand lightly over it, just to reassure himself.

“Figured you might want it back,” Jesus said, and Daryl gave a light hum, distracted by his weapon.

He’d had it taken from him once before, by Dwight, and the idea of being without it again wasn’t something he wanted to entertain.

“I brought some soup and things back from Hilltop, you’ve got to be hungry.”

Daryl grunted, the pain chasing away the sharp ache of hunger, but it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to eat something if they had it. Jesus apparently took that as an agreement, because he immediately headed toward the fireplace, taking the pack he’d brought back with him, and set about making a fire.

For a moment, Daryl was distracted by the crossbow, watching as Jesus took a few cans from the pack, as he retrieved a small pan, as he set up the fire, gently blowing sparks into embers, into flames. He worked with practiced ease, apparently not noticing Daryl’s eyes on him, and Daryl chewed his lower lip, thoughts trickling slowly over in his mind.

He wasn’t sure where the slight swell of gratefulness came from – not just that Jesus had come out looking for him and managed to stumble upon him, or that he’d gone back and gotten Carson, or that he was staying here and fixing him dinner – but more that it was Jesus who’d been the one to find him.

Which was stupid as shit, because it wasn’t as if Daryl liked the hippie or nothin’ but if he thought about somebody else stayin’ here with him he felt…unsettled. Daryl shoved the thought away, dragging his attention back toward his crossbow, letting his fingers trail over every inch of it as he listened to the quiet sounds of Jesus readying lunch, feeling strangely at ease, despite the circumstances.

Chapter Text

Boredom and pain were a terrible combination.

It wasn’t long after he’d finished the soup Jesus had made that he started to chafe at being immobile with nothing to do. Daryl was perfectly capable of being still and silent. When he was out in the woods, tracking shit down, or holed up somewhere with walkers banging at the door it wasn’t no trouble for him to sit there and shut up, but now he nearly vibrated with the need to be out of this cabin. It didn’t help that every time he so much as slouched a bit, his leg would throb something awful.

The cabin was small, the kitchen and living room occupying one space, with two doors that led toward the bedroom and bathroom on one end. It didn’t matter where Jesus went, he was never very far out of sight. Daryl’d tried looking his crossbow over, but every time the other man moved, his eyes followed him like there were goddamn magnets attached. And Jesus wasn’t stayin’ still neither.

He flitted around the cabin, cleaning up the pots he’d used for dinner, poking his head about for things they could use (more blankets, some pillows, a closet with an array of board games that were older than shit, and some flashlights). Then he was checking the windows, though they were secure enough, double-paned and covered, though not completely, with reinforcing boards– and Daryl doubted there were any walkers round. At least, not enough to be dangerous.

From the state of Jesus when he’d come back, Daryl was willin’ to bet that he’d taken care of whatever group he’d passed through getting here. So he kept watching him, the cabin feeling increasingly claustrophobic. Jesus seemed pretty damn preoccupied with fussing about the cabin, and the fifth time he passed the back of the sofa, Daryl finally snapped. “Y’gonna sit the hell down or what?” he growled.

Jesus stopped abruptly, turning toward him like he’d forgotten he was there. “I’m just making sure we’re all set for the evening,” he explained, all nice and patient, like Daryl’d asked him what he was doing all politely. Daryl grunted, and Jesus’ eyes narrowed. “I’ll get that Tylenol,” he said.

Daryl’s jaw set – his immediate reaction to refuse it, but his leg really did hurt and he knew he’d never get no sleep if he didn’t at least get some relief. He tried not to think about the fact that Doc Carson had said his recovery time was a matter of weeks instead of days. Or how the cabin wasn’t gonna get no bigger the weeks he was in here. Though, really, it shouldn’t have mattered given the fact he wasn’t allowed to fucking move.

Jesus took his silence as assent and moved toward the kitchen to retrieve the bottle of pain medicine and the canteen, both of which he handed to Daryl without comment. Instead, he stood there, eagle-eyeing him while Daryl shook out two pills and down them dry, then chased them with water. The look Jesus was giving him, eyebrows all tight and mouth pursed implied he thought Daryl shoulda taken a bit more than that, but he wasn’t about to waste their pills when there wasn’t no guarantee they’d be able to find more – shit was getting scarcer the longer things went, and Jesus seemed to recognize it cos he didn’t say a thing, only took the bottle and canteen back and deposited them in the kitchen.

He came back and stoked the fire a little higher, flames licking over the logs, casting a warm glow on Jesus’ face. Daryl tried not to watch the light play against his face, failed, and wondered why the little ninja had come after him. Bein’ pissed wasn’t nothin’ new for Daryl, hell, he was at least annoyed with the man once a day and he was known to disappear outside the walls when everything got a bit too much for him.

And still, Jesus had come looking for him.

The thought occupied Daryl for a while, mind turning it over and over as Jesus went back to flitting around the cabin.

---

Two hours later and Daryl was shifting restlessly on the couch, free hand clenching and unclenching on his thigh. Jesus was boiling water from the rain catcher, bent near the fire place, brown-gold hair brushing his shoulders. They’d been more or less silent over the hours, Daryl didn’t have nothing to say and Jesus was apparently trying to let him ‘rest’ – though honestly being cooped up on the sofa was doing the opposite of resting him up. He felt like some sorta caged animal, chained down and left without anything to do.

He was bored stiff and in pain.

And he had to take a piss.

It was that last thing that had him shifting on the couch, tiny little movements as the pressure on his bladder grew, and all he could do was glare daggers at the back of Jesus and wonder how the hell he was supposed to ask the man to take him outside.

The idea of it made him bristle – he’d never been so helpless in his life. Daryl was a man who could hardly stand asking for help for things that weren’t embarrassing as hell, having to do so for this was just plain torture to him. He sighed, the sound edged with a growl – and he’d been doing it for the past ten minutes but Jesus only now turned and looked at him. He eyed Daryl for a moment, that same worried expression on his face, mouth all pressed together.

“Do you need another pill?” he asked, mistaking Daryl’s fidgeting for pain.

“Gotta take a piss,” Daryl forced out, jaw tight, and Jesus’ brows rose in surprise before he seemed to recover himself.

“I can get you a bottle,” he offered, and Daryl eyed him for a long moment, trying to figure out if the prick was serious. He wasn’t about to piss in a goddamn bottle.

Jesus seemed to read his expression and hurried on. “Carson said you shouldn’t mov – Daryl!”
Daryl started to move, turning slightly in an attempt to get his leg off the damn table, his progress immediately stopped as Jesus hurried to his side and put a staying arm on his shoulder.

“Fine, fine,” he soothed. “I’ll help you outside, but you need to let me help,” he said, eyeing him pointedly, like he expected Daryl to continue to attempt to make it out there without him. Daryl grumbled under his breath, letting Jesus gently lower his leg. He sucked in a breath through his teeth but made no other sound – it hurt, a jarring ache – but it was nowhere near the amount of pain he’d dealt with before.

Eventually, Jesus got him standing and Daryl reluctantly leaned against him, an arm looped around his shoulders as he used the shorter man for balance. It was a short distance to the porch, but it took awhile to get there. Daryl limped as best he could, leaning a little more on Jesus with every step. Every step took a lot of effort, and he had to concentrate on not moving his leg too much. The brace helped, but it obviously wasn’t as good as a cast in keeping his limb immobile.

When he and Jesus finally hobbled out onto the porch, Daryl was ready to take a breather. Instead, Jesus led him toward the porch railing, waiting until Daryl had a hand on the wood before he took a step back. Daryl unbuttoned his jeans, the movement taking longer with one hand, and was about to pull down the zipper when he glanced over to see Jesus still standing there. Daryl glared. “Ya gonna watch?” he growled.

“Just making sure you don’t fall on your ass,” he said, helpfully and Daryl’s glare got a little harder.

Jesus huffed out a sigh and pointedly turned his back, and Daryl glared at him for a few more moments before he turned back to the task at hand, trying not to be overly aware of how close Jesus was standing.

When he was finished, he awkwardly buttoned his jeans with one hand – fairly sure if he attempted to let go of the railing he’d end up on face. Or h is ass. He cleared his throat, mumbling something about heading back in and Jesus turned, slipping his shoulder back under Daryl’s arm.

Daryl avoided looking at him as they went back inside, Jesus overly careful with him as he headed toward the sofa, helping Daryl sit down like he was made of glass. “Do you need anything?” he asked, over Daryl’s grunt of pain as he lifted Daryl’s leg back atop the table.

“Nah,” he said, voice hitching as he shifted back into the sofa.

The afternoon light was starting to fade toward evening, shadows growing over the floor of the cabin. Jesus went about setting up the lanterns, some he’d brought from Hilltop, placing them about the cabin. Daryl kept his gaze on his lap, fingers clutched together. The trip across the cabin had taken more out of him than he’d thought and he found his eyes slipping shut.

He forced them open, but they’d just slip right on shut again.

The last coherent thought he had was wondering where the blanket on his lap had come from.

And then he was out.

--

“Daryl!”

Daryl jerked awake, the smell of copper heavy in the air.

Chapter Text

“Daryl!”

Daryl struggled, pushing against a weight that wasn’t giving, breath trapped on a shout in his chest.

“Daryl it’s – it’s just me – it’s Jesus, it’s Paul – hey.”

It took Daryl’s mind solid few moments to place the voice, to put the words in context, to realize that the hands holding him down weren’t trying to hurt him.

He panted, the fight leeching out of his body as his eyes adjusted to the dim light in the cabin, the lantern on the table throwing flickering shadows across the walls.

“You good?”

Daryl blinked, gaze focusing in on Jesus who hovered above him, slightly breathless, upper body all but lying over Daryl, in an attempt to keep his limbs still. He could feel the weight of him, the heavy press of surprisingly wiry arms across his middle. The skin below his nose was dark, blood streaked through his beard, and he realized with a start that’s where the copper smell had come from.

He grunted, shifting, his own version of an answer, his eyes straying back to the way the light glinted off the damp skin below Jesus’ nose. “You’re…” he rasped, hand giving an aborted jerk as he tried to gesture.

Jesus sat back, on his knees on the sofa, letting off the pressure on Daryl as he brought a hand to his nose, fingertips gingerly touching the blood and pulling it away to look, like he was expecting something else. He grimaced.

“Yeah, you were yelling. Trying to get up. Carson said you shouldn’t move so…” he trailed off with a little shrug.

Daryl fought back a wave of embarrassment. Nightmares weren’t nothing new to him, he’d had him even before the world went to shit, but usually he could keep his mouth shut during them. Some instinct, deep inside him, telling him that if he started yelling things were just gonna get worse than any nightmare tucked inside his head.

He grunted instead, gaze drawn back toward the blood. His fingers itched with the urge to reach out, though he didn’t know what the fuck he was gonna do.

“’s broken?” he asked, watching as Jesus tenderly prodded his nose, fingers glinting red in the dim light.

“No,” he said, blue-green eyes flicking toward Daryl, holding there. “I’ll be fine. What about you?” he asked, like Daryl was the one who’d got his nose busted up.

“Fine,” he bit out immediately – and that was true enough. He didn’t even remember the dream, at most there was just a vague after impression that left a dark feeling of dread deep in his gut. Then again, that feeling wasn’t altogether new.

Jesus looked doubtful, but eventually broke his gaze. Daryl swallowed. He felt restless, like there was something trapped beneath his skin. He itched with the urge to get up and stalk about the cabin, and the fact that he couldn’t and wouldn’t be able to for weeks had him clenching his jaw. Or maybe it was the way he could still feel the weight of Jesus over him. He wasn’t stupid, he’d seen the little ninja fight, seen him kill walkers with stupidass karate kicks, he knew he wasn’t weak, and yet he’d still been surprised by the strength with which he’d been held down.

And he didn’t know why his mind wouldn’t wander to literally any other goddamn topic.

“If you need another pill, let me know,” Jesus said, walking over toward the kitchen where the bowl of water was on the counter. “I couldn’t get to you in time to stop you moving completely,” he continued, slowly rolling his sleeves up his arms.

Daryl tore his gaze away, focused on the dying embers of the fire. “Said ‘m fine,” he replied, voice little more than a mumble.

There was no reply to that, just the faint sound of water splashing against the bowl. Daryl kept his gaze resolutely ahead, fighting the urge to get up, regardless of how bad it’d fuck up his leg. He wasn’t a person who should be caged, unless he was hunting he’d never liked being cooped up in one place for too long, and if the idea of having a permanently fucked up leg, unable to walk, ending up as walker bait, wasn’t so damn terrifying, he’d have gotten up anyway.

He couldn’t tell what time it was, just that it was still dark. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, there was no way he was getting back to sleep after that.

A few long moments of silence passed before Jesus reappeared, forearms damp, the blood on his face cleared away. Daryl could still make a little out in his beard, if he looked the right way, but he didn’t let his eyes linger there for long.

Jesus had a rag in his hand, droplets of water falling to the floor. “I think I got a little on you,” he said apologetically, approaching cautiously, like Daryl was a spooked horse. It wasn’t the first time Daryl’d had blood that wasn’t his on him, honestly he didn’t really give a shit – eventually it’d just blend on in with all the rest of the dirt that seemed to be permanently smeared into his skin, but Jesus was still coming at him with the rag and Daryl didn’t have the energy in him to fight it.

“Jus’ get it off and go t’hell t’sleep,” he growled, flinching despite himself when the cool rag touched his cheekbone. It was the second time Jesus had put a rag to him, only this time Daryl didn’t jerk away – he held still, too still, heartbeat speeding up. Jesus drew it over his skin with careful strokes, and he wasn’t touching him, not with his bare skin, but Daryl could almost feel him, somehow.

He swallowed, throat bobbing, and Jesus mistook it for lingering distress over the nightmare.

“Want to talk about it?” Jesus asked, unassuming, like it didn’t matter to him what Daryl’s answer was. He removed the rag, took a step back.

Talking wasn’t ever something Daryl’d done much of, certainly not about feelings. It wouldn’t do shit, wouldn’t bring back the people they’d lost, before and after the war. Wouldn’t erase the blood that slightly ringed one of Jesus’ nostrils. Talking wouldn’t do shit. And yet he still had to swallow down the inexplicable urge to just let something out.

What, he wasn’t sure, but just…he could say something.

Anything.

He didn’t.

“Nah,” he growled, gaze fixed stubbornly on the fire, willfully ignoring the glimpse he had of Jesus in his periphery. His arms were crossed, expression soft. He looked tired.

Daryl swallowed.

“Alright,” he said with a nod, settling himself in the chair next to the couch. Daryl watched, frowning. Jesus looked like he was settling in to be there for a while.

“The hell ya doin’?” Daryl asked, eyes narrowed. Jesus had closed his eyes, and only peeked them open the tiniest bit at the question.

“Sleeping. Or trying to,” he said, and Daryl scoffed.

“Don’t need ya watchin’ over me,” he growled. It was bad enough being stuck on this damn couch, unable to get up to even take a piss without Jesus having to haul his ass up. Now he had him babysitting him while he slept?

“I’m not,” Jesus said, and this time he didn’t even open his eyes.

Daryl glared, but it was a bit of a moot point when the person being glared at wasn’t even looking. Daryl glared harder, but it didn’t seem to do anything. Jesus didn’t open his eyes, just sat there, eyes closed, chest rising and falling rhythmically.

Daryl’s eyes followed it, the up and down motion, eyes narrowed into an ever weakening glare. Eventually, his brow smoothed, exhaustion curling over him, drawing him under, to a sleep that was nothing but darkness.

--

“Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty.”

An overly cheerful voice broke through the haze of sleep, drawing him out of his slumber with a little snort. He blinked, head rapidly clearing as he lifted his head. A muscle in his neck twinged, his mouth felt like something had died in it, and his eyes opened to the sight of Jesus kneeling before the fire, stirring a pot of what was probably soup again.

Daryl groaned.
“I was going to go out, see if I could get some water from that stream over the hill, make sure there’s no walkers hanging around,” he said, not even glancing at Daryl.

“Ya had to wake me up for that?” Daryl grumbled.

“Didn’t want you to worry if you woke up and I wasn’t here,” he said, brightly. “And I made soup. It’ll go cold if you let it sit,” he said, like Daryl might not eat it if it were cold. He’d had far worse over the past few years, hell, there were plenty of times when he’d have been damn lucky to have cold soup.

“Ain’t hungry,” Daryl said. Which wasn’t true, he was hungry, but hunger was a secondary thing by now. He’d eaten the day before and it wasn’t like he was moving around too much anyway.

Jesus finally did turn around to look at him then, brow knitted, like Daryl not wanting to eat was a symptom of something. Daryl stared back, refusing to shift uncomfortably under Jesus’ gaze.

“You need to eat, Daryl. Your leg can’t heal if you’re not taking care of yourself,” he said. He said it so matter-of-factly – and Daryl knew he was right, but he didn’t want to admit it. It didn’t help that the more he ate and drank, the more he had to rely on Jesus to relieve himself and he was so damn tired of feeling helpless. How the hell was he supposed t’last weeks of this?

“Fine, I’ll have some damn soup,” he groused, but only because he knew Jesus wasn’t gonna let up unless he relented. If there was one thing he’d learned about the scout over the time he’d known him, occasionally spent fighting at his side, was that the man wasn’t one to give up. Daryl didn’t think he’d ever seen him give up on anything – whether it was a scouting mission or a fight.

Jesus lifted a bowl from his side, spooned some soup into it and carefully brought it over to Daryl. He didn’t warn Daryl that it was hot – which was a good thing, because Daryl probably would have bit his head off for it. Instead, he backed off, leaving the soup in Daryl’s lap as he tended to the fire, served himself a bowl of soup and retreated to the chair.

Daryl eyed the soup for a long moment, the watery broth, lumps of meat – and shoveled a spoonful in his mouth. It was as good as anything was these days. He winced, slightly, at the heat, and was more careful with the next bite, blowing on it briefly before he slurped it up.
He’d never had table manners before the apocalypse and he certainly hadn’t gained any. He kept his gaze firmly on the bowl on his lap, ignoring the clink of Jesus’ spoon as it hit his bowl, the quiet sounds of him blowing on it, apparently taking a lot more care than Daryl was.

The silence lingered on for a few long minutes, the soup in his bowl rapidly diminishing. It settled warmly in the pit of his stomach, the warmth traveling outward through his limbs.

“Everyone was worried about you, at Hilltop, when I came back without you,” Jesus said, apropos of nothing.

Daryl paused, his last spoonful of soup deposited back in the bowl as he looked up at Jesus. “Worried they weren’t gonna get no more meat for winter, maybe,” Daryl said, with a frown.

The little furrow appeared between Jesus’ brows, blue-green eyes searching Daryl’s face. For what, he wasn’t sure, but it didn’t look like he was finding it.

“You matter, Daryl. To the community. To…people,” Jesus said, and Daryl’s gaze slipped away, feeling a little unsettled by the conviction in Jesus’ voice. “They’d miss you if you were gone, meat or not,” he continued, and Daryl could feel his eyes on him, could almost see the soft earnestness in his expression without looking up.

He swallowed, fingers playing absently with the spoon in his bowl. What could he say to that? He could spend all day arguing with Jesus about whether or not that was true and it wouldn’t do any good. And there was a part of him, a tiny, quiet part, that thought maybe he wasn’t just talking about the community as a whole. And he sure as hell didn’t know what to do with that sort of information.

“I better get out there,” Jesus said, after a few more long moments of silence. He stood, taking Daryl’s empty bowl and his over toward the sink, though he didn’t wash them. “I’ll be back in a couple hours. Do you need anything before I go?”

Daryl gave a grunt, a solid no without words. It seemed to be the answer Jesus was expecting, because he was out the door before Daryl could work his way toward any words.

Chapter Text

Daryl’d never had no problem sitting around before. He could sit around waitin’ for squirrel, or deer, or walkers to pass by. He could sit around on watch, or on one of them porches out in Alexandria (well, before) but sittin’ around when he couldn’t do jack shit – not even pick dirt outta his crossbow because it was around the damn room, that he couldn’t stand. Specially since it gave him time to think. That was never a good thing. His mind kept circlin’ round those words that’d come outta Jesus’ mouth before he left.

About Daryl mattering to people. He’d seemed so damn sincere, that no matter how Daryl balked at acknowledging that, he couldn’t outright deny it. It made something in his chest ache in a way he wasn’t sure he really wanted to look at too closely.

But his thoughts didn’t linger on just that. They wandered, the meek light from the window painting the cabin in a dull grey wash. He stared unfocused at a branch blowing slightly on a tree outside, winter bare and utterly uninteresting. Sitting here, it gave him too much time to remember. A lot of shit had happened to him over the years. Even before the world went down the fucking toilet, he had enough bad memories to make him permanently afraid of any time that inspired quiet reflection.

He wasn’t sure if it was some sort of blessing or not that he seldom dreamed about the belt his daddy wielded, or the words he’d hurled at him, sharp enough to cut like glass, even drunk slurred. He didn’t dream about what little he could remember of his momma, or spending nine days out in the woods and coming back to find that nobody’d even noticed he’d gone. Didn’t dream about the tweakers that Merle used to hang around with, the times he was sure that Merle’s dumbass mouth was gonna get them killed. Hell, he didn’t even dream about Merle no more either.

Nah, now he dreamed about a dark room and music so loud he thought it’d make his ears bleed. He dreamed about a bat crushing through skull (and he dreamed both sides of that – dreamed of the line up, and then of the pipe in his hands, metal sinking through meat like wet tissue paper).

The war hadn’t been no picnic either.

The second time the Saviors had captured him, Daryl’d almost told them to just go ahead and fucking kill him. He couldn’t go through that shit again. There hadn’t been a dark room that time – he’d been held at an outpost, but it was the same dog food sandwiches, hand shackled to a pipe to keep him from breaking free. Negan hadn’t even been there and yet somehow that’d been worse. The fuckers had taken pleasure in fucking with him, probably bored out of their damn minds waiting at that Outpost for word from Negan about their place in the war.

They’d been cruel, they’d -

“Daryl?”

Daryl jerked, blinking rapidly as he turned his attention to the door. Jesus stood with a bucket, obviously heavy by the way his shoulder dipped as he held it, his brow furrowed softly as he looked at him. “You alright?” he asked, moving toward the fire so he could stoke the flames and put the bucket over them to boil.

The concerned look didn’t abate when Daryl didn’t answer. “You look….” he said, quietly, kneeling down at the hearth, body turned away from the fire toward Daryl. “Is it your leg? We’ve got a couple pills left,” he said.

Daryl swallowed, a little unnerved at how deep into his own head he’d gotten, and how long it’d taken him to come out of it. This wasn’t a world you could get lost in your thoughts in, lest you wanted to end up dead. Jesus could have just as easily been some walkers bustin’ through, and he’d only have noticed when one was gnawing on a tasty bit of flesh.

“Nah, just…tired,” he replied, which was true enough in a way. He might be stuck on the sofa doing jack shit, but he’d slept fitfully and the frustration of not being able to get up and do anything was enough to make him weary.

Jesus eyed him for a few long moments, eyes wide and soft, and Daryl had to look away, chin ducking toward his chest.

“I’ll put the water to boil and then I’ll help you outside,” Jesus said, and Daryl flushed. He hated being helped around like some invalid. Hated that he couldn’t even stand to take a piss by himself without wobbling over.

His jaw set, gaze focused on a point deep in the flames, and didn’t say a word. Jesus didn't say a word.

A few minutes late, Jesus adjusted the pail over the flames and then stood, a graceful, fluid movement that Daryl knew he’d never be able to copy in a million years, not after all the shit his body had been through. He told himself the feeling in his gut was a stupid sort of jealousy, and nothing else.

“Alright,” Jesus said, hands clasped together in front of him, expression soft but encouraging. “Ready?” he asked, and Daryl would have refused to move if it didn’t feel like his damn bladder was about to explode.

He gave a jerk of his head, and leaned forward, lips pressed tightly together to contain a sound of discomfort. His leg really didn’t stop aching, but for the most part it was manageable. Moving, however, made the feeling crest until he could feel it in his teeth, his stomach clenching as Jesus put his hands around Daryl’s bicep, helping him stand.

It took more effort than Daryl felt was reasonable, a cool sweat on his hairline as he swayed into standing position, a good deal of his weight resting briefly on Jesus’ frame. The man didn’t so much as sway though, his stance strong and sure, grip like iron on Daryl’s arm.

Jesus didn’t say anything as he led Daryl out onto the porch (well, led was being generous, he was supporting more of Daryl’s weight than Daryl was comfortable with, but any attempt on his part to ease off had Daryl biting down a few choice curses as pain speared his leg).

Daryl was grateful, because he didn’t think he could stomach any words of encouragement or attempts at small talk. It was all he could do to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, his staggering limp requiring a great deal of effort. As they moved through the doorway, Jesus shifted his hold, ducking his shoulder beneath Daryl’s and curling an arm around his waist, the other hand holding onto Daryl’s wrist, forcing it around his neck. It pressed them together from hip upward, and despite the winter chill Daryl could feel the heat of him bleeding through the fabric of the coat Jesus had yet to take off.

He was close enough to smell stale sweat, copper, the earthy undertone of the forest around them, that had clung to Jesus’ skin, the crisp tang of bitter winter air only making the scents stronger. It wasn’t like he was standing there sniffing or nothin’, but every lungful of air brought the scent with it, made something settle heavy and dark in his gut.

Luckily, it wasn’t a very wide porch and they reached the edge in a handful of staggering steps (on Daryl’s part, Jesus steps were sure and measured). He edged away as best he could from Jesus’ hold, wrist twisting in his grip until Jesus’ fingers finally released as he got the message. Daryl’s head ducked, tilted slightly as he eyed the other man without quit committing his gaze to land on him, until he backed off a few paces and gave him privacy.

Daryl leaned awkwardly on the railing as he unzipped his pants one-handed, fighting the flush in his cheeks because it wasn’t like Jesus was lookin’ or nothin’. Wasn’t like anyone gave a shit out here. He took care of business as quick as he could, biting his tongue to keep from cursing as he tried to button his pants without letting go of the railing.

The quiet snap of twigs from the forest made him pause, gaze jerking up as he scanned the treeline. The forest started a few yards away from the porch, the land cleared by whoever had owned the place before the world went to shit – or probably someone a bit further back than that – but he could see well enough to make out the shambling shape emerging from deep within.

And suddenly Jesus was at his shoulder, peering into the forest as well. “Walkers?” he asked, voice hushed.

Daryl grunted. “Only saw one,” he said, voice pitched low although it looked like the bastard was on a straight course toward the cabin.

“Here, let’s go inside, maybe it’ll pass if it can’t see us,” Jesus suggested, already slipping his shoulder beneath Daryl’s again, disregarding the disgruntled noise that fell from Daryl as his fingers abandoned his jeans to cling to the fabric of Jesus’ shirt to keep from falling.

They turned to head back to the door when the smell of rot hit his nostrils, seconds before a straggling little group of walkers rounded the wall of the cabin – at least seven of ‘em – their moans startlingly loud in the quiet of the forest. The scent of fresh meat must’ve been riling ‘em up.

“Shit.” Daryl glanced over to see Jesus’ brows furrowed as he took in the new threat, and he tried to back Daryl up toward the door. “I can’t just let them mill around out here, they might get in a window or the door,” he said. “You get inside; I’ll take care of them.”

Daryl planted his feet as best he could (well foot – the other leg was goddamn useless) and Jesus bumped against him with a startled, then angry, grunt. “Daryl,” he hissed.

“Ain’t lettin’ you take ‘em all on yer own,” he growled. And it was stupid. He wasn’t in no shape to fight, but he was fucking tired of sitting on his ass, and he wasn’t going to hide away behind that door while Jesus kicked the shit out of them and saved his ass again.

He wasn’t gonna.

“Daryl- ” Jesus said, obviously about to start pressing the issue, when the first walker made it to the stairs.

“Gimme one of them knives,” Daryl said, eyeing the knives on the holster around Jesus’ slim hips.

Jesus bit off a noise of frustration but jerked one free, pressing it into Daryl’s hand. “Stay back,” he said, voice firm, eyes meeting Daryl’s for a solid second. Daryl didn’t bother nodding, didn’t bother responding at all and there wasn’t nothing Jesus could do except turn back toward the walker and lash out at it.

He felled the first one quickly, landing a sharp blow to it’s knees with a kick and then finished it off with a knife to the head. But two more lumbered up the stairs, gnarled hands clawing the air as they advanced on Jesus. On the both of them. Jesus managed to engage both of them, but another one shambled past, heading straight toward Daryl.

He adjusted the knife in his grip, his heartbeat thudding in his ears. He just had to wait. That was all. Wait until it got close enough.

The sound of Jesus letting out a pained grunt distracted him for one second – his gaze flicking over to see Jesus knocking the both of them back was all it took for the walker to get close enough to him. Decaying hands clutched at his shirt, trying to pull itself toward him (or him toward it?) and Daryl let out a startled noise, bringing the knife up immediately.

The things shouldn’t be as strong as they were. They were fucking dead. But Daryl still struggled to get out from it’s grip, not helped at all by the fact that the walker was the only thing keeping him from crashing to the floor at the moment, his balance precarious. He could hear the short punched out grunts from Jesus as he fought his own walkers, but all he could see at the moment were those snapping teeth coming at his face, jaw exposed as the skin rotted away, stringy hair in clumps on the scalp.
Couldn’t even tell what the damn thing used t’be. It was just rotting flesh atop a skeleton.

“Fuck,” he breathed – he couldn’t push the thing away unless he wanted to end up on the ground, but he couldn’t let it any closer because it’d sink it’s teeth into whatever part it could reach. He kept trying to angle the knife up, to jab it through an opening, but he couldn’t get it, and his muscles were starting to burn with fatigue.

“Daryl!”

He didn’t think he’d ever been quite so relieved to hear the man’s damn voice. In the next moment Jesus was stabbing the rotting corpse through the head though Daryl didn’t exactly have time to be relieved because as soon as the bastard started sinking toward the floor, Daryl lost his balance. He gave an aborted noise of surprise, arms wind milling – his body starting to tilt toward the ground and he knew it was going to hurt like a bitch, it was gonna fuck up his leg he was gonna end up on that goddamn corpse and – he jerked to a stop, the fabric around his throat going uncomfortably tight before it started to tear, the sound overly loud at least until it was covered up by Jesus’ swearing.

Cool air flooded his skin as his shirt tore down the back, a jagged uneven rip – but that brief moment’s reprieve was enough to let him put an arm out, to catch himself on the bench Jesus had been using to barricade the door when he left, instead of landing on the ground.

It was still jarring, his position awkward as he leaned over it, arms braced on the wood, legs spread wide. He couldn’t move, couldn’t get his leg back under him, but he wasn’t on the ground.

He didn’t have long to feel grateful for that, the winter chill hitting his bare skin like tiny knives, but that was nothing compared to the weighty silence he felt behind him. He could feel Jesus’ eyes on him, a tension rising through the silence that made his ears ring. Heat flooded his face – there were so few people who’d seen the scars littering his back. And hell, by now he knew it shouldn’t matter.

Everyone had shit, he’d found that out over the years. Far worse shit than getting hit by a belt had happened to him since the world had gone to pieces. He’d watched people be torn apart by monsters, screams dying on their lips as blood filled their lungs, seen people he cared about mowed down by assholes who thought this new world gave them the opportunity to be cruel, to kill just because they could – he’d seen shit.

“Are you alright?” Jesus asked, and Daryl flinched. “Were you bit?” That question shouldn’t have flooded him with relief, but it did. Jesus wasn’t askin’ bout the scars.

Daryl grunted. “Nah. Stuck though,” he said, and then Jesus was behind him, offering him an arm. With his help, Daryl managed to stand straight, the ache in his leg growing worse by the second.

“Come on, let's get you inside,” Jesus said and started toward the door. Daryl caught a glimpse of a pile of corpses on the porch, blood soaking into the wood. Seven of them. Jesus had taken them all out and saved Daryl’s ass too. Part of him wanted to be resentful, because he’d never done well being someone who needed help, but the rest of him was just grateful. And impressed, though he shouldn’t have been. He’d seen Jesus in action over the course of the war plenty of times, seen him take down impossible numbers of those bastards with ease, like he was dancing or some shit.

When he finally sank down into the cushions, he couldn’t help the uncomfortable sigh that escaped from his lips. Every muscle in his body felt tired, the ache in his leg matched by a general ache throughout his entire body. Like it didn’t know how to do work no more, just cos he’d spent a few days immobile on a couch.

Jesus stood above him, speckled with blood but unharmed and unwinded. “I’ll get you another shirt,” he said – in addition to being shredded down the back, the front was splashed with blood. Daryl grunted, watched as Jesus disappeared into the bedroom and returned a minute later with a thick flannel shirt.

“C’mon, lean forward,” he said and Daryl did so without thinking, blinking as Jesus grasped the shoulders of his shirt and tugged, the last few threads holding the back together ripping as he pulled the shirt off. Guess it was easier than making him raise his arms and all that shit.

“Daryl…”

The sound of his voice stopped Daryl dead, his body stilling with a cold chill in his gut. The pity that should have followed the sight of his scars earlier that had been absent was here now, the word almost a gasp as Jesus stared down at him with wide eyes.

“What?” Daryl bit out, face flaming, defensive. He’d tried so hard to forget about all the shit he’d gone through during the war, pushed it out of his mind, let it be buried by all the other shit. But the marks were hard to ignore, and he kicked himself for not insisting Jesus turn away while he changed his shirt, or made a fuss about him ripping the sullied one off.

It was too late for that.

“Daryl I didn’t….” he said, and Daryl felt his jaw clench.

Jesus’ eyes remained fixed on the center of Daryl’s chest. Jagged lines marred his skin, scar tissue raised and ugly, healed, but only just. It was only one word, mercifully short, but they’d taken time carving it into his skin. It was deep, something that would scar, and be recognizable. Daryl didn’t look – couldn’t – but he knew what was there, like a brand.

It made him sick.

Negan

Chapter Text

When it’d first happened, Daryl had wanted to claw his chest apart. Would have, too, if his wrists hadn’t been handcuffed. Now, he tried not to think about it. If he showered, it was with his eyes closed, washcloth brisk and efficient, fingers never touching skin so he didn’t have to feel the jagged scars. Most of the time he was alright though. Scars were just scars and even with that name on his chest, it didn’t mean shit. He hadn’t bowed down to Negan, hadn’t become one of his stupidass followers – but someone else seein’ it? It made his cheeks flame, an embarrassed rage trapped in the center of his chest.

“Was this from the first or second time?” Jesus asked, his voice deceptively gentle. Daryl looked up, startled to see a cold, hard anger in his eyes.

He didn’t say anything for a long moment. The last thing he wanted t’do was have this conversation with Jesus. Hell, he didn’t wanna have this conversation with nobody. Talkin’ shit over had never done him any good – he worked better with sobbing out in the woods alone, or using his skin as an ashtray. It all came out in his nightmares anyway. Shit, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a good night’s sleep without some sort of interruption. Then again, it was probably the same for everyone these days. They’d all seen shit. All done horrible things. It was just the way life was now.

“Daryl...” Jesus’ voice was soft, but firm, head ducking in an attempt to meet his eyes.

Daryl chewed his lower lip for a good second or two, the pain hardly noticeable. His hair had gotten even shaggier over the course of the war, bangs hanging over his eyes like a goddamn curtain. He’d gotten hell from Carol when she’d saw him, said she was gonna cut ‘em off in his sleep one night, said that if he didn’t take care of ‘em he wasn’t gonna be able to see any walkers and get his damn self bit. But at the moment, they were pretty useful. He eyed Jesus through ‘em, knowin’ that the other man wouldn’t be able to really get the eye contact he wanted.

“Second,” he finally said, voice rough, a razor edge to it. A warning. He didn’t wanna talk about it. But Jesus had just saved his goddamn ass.

“Are they dead?” Jesus asked, some of the quiet rage seeping into his voice. It sent a shiver up Daryl’s spine, an odd feeling in the very center of his chest. He had a feeling if the answer was no, Jesus would hare off after them, ninja kick them to pieces or something. He swallowed.

“Yeah,” he said, with a jerk of his head. He hadn’t been the one t’kill ‘em, and part of him regretted that. They were small fish, hardly nothin’, just assholes, but he’d spent so many hours thinkin’ about sinkin’ a knife into their damn faces that he’d practically been able to feel it. And when he’d been rescued, and the two of them taken out by bullets, he’d felt cheated, somehow. But in the end they were dead, and he guessed that was all that mattered.

Jesus kept on looking at him, sea-glass eyes steady, and Daryl fought the urge to squirm. “I ain’t…” he started, voice comin’ out near hoarse. He chewed his lip a little more, a sick feeling in his gut as he thought about how it’d burned when they’d carved him up. “I ain’t gonna talk about it s’you can just…” he hissed, feeling trapped. Jesus continued to be silent, the only sign he was affected the roiling rage in his sea-glass eyes and a tiny furrow between his brow.
“You don’t have to,” Jesus assured him. “I think it would help-” he continued on despite Daryl’s bitter, dismissive snort, “but I won’t force you to.” Daryl stared at him, startled to realize at some point Jesus had parked himself on the coffee table, right in front of him. Jesus was quite for a few more moments, obviously waiting for some sort of response from Daryl.

He didn’t get it.

“You’ve got blood,” Jesus said, flicking a hand toward Daryl’s neck, over his shoulders.

“So d’you,” Daryl retorted, eyes catching on the droplets flecking the other man’s face. There were some in his beard too, matted into the strands, and Daryl was over come with the urge to take a cloth to it, wash him clean. He shoved it down and away, a squirming feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“How about I get us both cleaned up then?” Jesus asked, rising from the coffee table. He only stood in front of Daryl for a few moments, but close enough that Daryl could feel the heat coming off him, his thighs nearly touching the other man’s legs. He set his jaw, gave a vague sort of shrug and hoped that Jesus would just go clean himself off, leave him alone. Didn’t think there was a chance in hell, but it didn’t stop him from hoping.

He didn’t watch as Jesus went over to the water he’d brought in earlier. Didn’t watch, but he could hear the sound of him emptying some of the bucket into a smaller bowl, water sloshing against the sides. Could hear him dip something into the water, his footsteps across the floor of the cabin before he came into view again, situating himself right back on the coffee table. Daryl seldom washed up – before they’d found Alexandria he could go weeks without so much as a dip in a creek, and he’d never minded a layer of grime or two. But when he did wash up, he sure as hell didn’t let some other guy do it. He scowled, reaching for the cloth Jesus had lifted, only to have him move it out of reach.

“I’ve got it, Daryl,” he said, ignoring Daryl’s immediate grumbled protest. “Just – let me, okay?” he said, and his ears were probably playin’ tricks on him, but it almost sounded like Jesus was pleading. He swallowed, looking away as he gritted his back teeth, a perfect picture of aggravated acquiesce.

The fire kept the area around the sofa warm enough, but gooseflesh still rose on his skin as he waited for the first swipe of the cloth. Jesus was careful about it, dipping it into the slightly steaming water and wringing the excess from it. He regarded Daryl intently, like it was a matter of life and death where the cloth landed. He scooted forward on the table, his knees nearly touching the sofa between Daryl’s legs. Daryl felt like his heart was gonna come out his damn throat. Weren’t too many people that got close to him these days, weren’t too many people he let get close these days. Now, he didn’t really have a choice (he ignored the voice that said he could easily shove the other man away – the voice that told him Jesus would definitely back off if he said anythin’).

A low noise got trapped in the back of his throat when the cloth swiped against his neck, slow and gentle like he was somethin’ easily broken – the water almost hot. Daryl swallowed, gaze fixed on Jesus’ shoulder, where he could see the movement of his arm, but didn’t have t’look at his face. The air was cool against his skin when Jesus removed the cloth to rewet it, though he quickly returned, wiping at the specks of blood along his jawline. The silence was heavy, settling over Daryl like a damn blanket, making everything feel significant in a way he knew it wasn’t.

Jesus didn’t stop at his neck. He brought the cloth back again, working it lightly over Daryl’s collarbone, the jut of it too pronounced. They’d all had to ration during the war, and even if they hadn’t, there hadn’t been much time for rich, hearty meals. Just whatever they could scrape together. Jesus’d look the same, probably, if he took his shirt off. Every breath was a bit of a struggle for Daryl, his eyes flicking briefly toward Jesus but immediately darted away, the soft, open, almost reverent expression, void of the earlier hard flint of anger, too much for him to process. The cloth made its way over his shoulder, the pressure hard enough to take away the first layer of grime. He twitched as Jesus brought the cloth over his chest, skimming over the scar without a pause, though it felt different, somehow, for those few seconds.

Daryl swallowed again.

He should tell Jesus to fuck off. He’d busted his leg but he wasn’t an invalid. Could wash his own damn self, like he had been since he was fucking four years old. But he didn’t say anything – couldn’t say anything – words trapped in the back of his mouth. The only sound in the room was the crackling of the fire, the slight catch of the cloth over his skin, the sound of his swallow, every couple of minutes.

Jesus worked the cloth all the way down his arm, his other hand coming up to cradle Daryl’s wrist. At that movement, Daryl’s eyes scanned his face, an apprehensive, almost fearful tint to his expression, his mind flickering back to that moment on the porch back at Hilltop, when he’d watched Jesus’ gaze fall to his lips. Jesus seemed to be fully concentrating on his task, expression open but intent. His heart thudded in his chest as Jesus gently wiped the grime from his hands, over prominent veins, faded circular scars, all without pause. And then, for a brief moment, he stilled, merely holding Daryl’s hand in both of his, warm cloth pressed against his skin.

He twitched – he couldn’t help it – and it seemed to spur Jesus back into motion, the cloth sliding back up his arm like he’d never stopped moving. “’m clean enough,” Daryl grit out, voice coming out far hoarser than it had any right to. Jesus eyed him, a brow raised, but set the cloth back in the water.

“You know, most people wash off more than once every couple of months,” he said, voice light, and Daryl wondered how he did it. If maybe Daryl’d just imagined the tension that had stretched between them.

Daryl grunted, jerking his gaze away, though not before he saw the hint of a smile on Jesus’ face. it was short work to help him into the new flannel, Jesus’ touch nearly business like now. He was warmer though, once he was settled, the chill on his skin more mental than anything else.

 

“Do you need any more pills?” Jesus asked, picking the cloth back up, scrubbing at his own face with far less attention than he did to Daryl. In the end though, he was free from blood, and he stood up again.

“Nah,” Daryl said. His leg ached, but he needed t’feel it at the moment. To keep him grounded. Keep his mind from wandering places it shouldn’t (and honestly, he didn’t really know if those places were back in that Outpost, knife carving into his skin, or places involving Jesus).

“Alright,” Jesus said, taking the bowl. “You hungry?” he asked, and Daryl’s stomach growled despite the denial on the tip of his tongue. He swallowed, reconsidered.

“Could eat, I guess,” he allowed, settling back into the cushions. He ignored the pleased sounding noise from Jesus, closed his eyes, just for a second.

“Daryl…” He flinched awake, a hand on his shoulder keeping him from jerking upward. He blinked, gaze quickly finding Jesus, squinting as he fought through the confusion, mind groggy. “I said your name a few times, but you were out of it,” he said, seeming to sense Daryl’s disorientation. “I would have left you, but your stomach was awfully insistent earlier,” he said, a smile on his face. Daryl blinked a few more times, willing away the fog.

“Yeah,” he said, roughly, shifting a bit into a more comfortable position. His neck ached from how it’d fallen back against the sofa. Shit he felt old. He guessed that was a privilege nowadays. Most people didn’t make it that long. He shoved the thought away, frowning as Jesus set a bowl of soup in front of him. He hadn’t even noticed he’d gone back toward the kitchen.

Jesus took his own seat in the chair, soup bowl cradled on his his lap. Daryl eyed his own bowl, scooted forward a bit awkwardly to gather up a spoonful. Steam rose from it and Daryl blew on it, shoving it into his mouth without waiting quite as long as he should have. It burned, but he hardly felt it, now quite aware of how hungry he was. He slurped it up, table manners not something he’d ever had (and if he did, well the apocalypse sure as hell wasn’t no place to keep ‘em).

He darted a brief glance at Jesus, almost unwillingly, and found that he was taking it a bit slower, blowing on each spoonful before he ate it. Daryl didn’t spend long looking, going back to his own soup and in a matter of minutes the bowl was clean or at least it was after Daryl lifted it to his mouth and slurped down the rest of it.

When he looked up again, he found Jesus eyeing him amusedly, his own bowl still half full on his lap. “What,” he groused, heat blooming to his cheeks like he was some goddamn teenage girl.

“Nothing,” Jesus replied, a smirk on his face. “Just…glad I made the right decision waking you up to eat,” he said. Daryl scoffed, pushed his bowl a little bit away (at least his leg guaranteed he wouldn’t have to take no damn turn doing dishes) and settled back into the sofa. The light was already starting to fade – the hours of daylight were brutally short in the winter – and with his stomach full he was starting to feel drowsy again.

His eyes started to slip closed again, his mind drifting as he listened to the occasional sound of a spoon hitting ceramic. Eventually the noises stopped, replaced by the rustling of fabric, and then, without warning, a blanket draped across his frame. Daryl was too far gone to do anything about it.

---

Awareness came slowly. He was warm, comfortable. It took a few minutes for him to work his way fully awake, and it was a rare feeling. A slow, natural awakening, versus the sudden sharp blast of terror that accompanied waking up after a nightmare. He kept his eyes closed, stubbornly, but he could tell it was light out. Shit. He’d slept the entire night. More than an entire night, because it hadn’t quite been evening after the entire fiasco on the porch.

He shifted, a sigh trapped in the back of his throat. His body really didn’t appreciate sleeping in a sitting position, an ache rising up from the base of his spine, through his hips, to his shoulders. His neck, at least, didn’t hurt. He opened his eyes, vaguely surprised to find a blanket tucked in around him. The surprise didn’t have long to take hold, because he was distracted by something else.

Someone else.

Jesus had fallen asleep in the chair, legs kicked up on the coffee table. His head was resting on his chest, hair a mess, arms loosely crossed over his chest. His face was soft though, unlined and peaceful. Daryl almost felt like he was intruding, watchin’. Still. He didn’t look away. Their bowls were cleaned up from yesterday, which meant Jesus had put everythin’ away and then sat down again.

It was early, Daryl could tell that much. There was weak light filtering in through the windows, and it just had that early morning feel to it. Soft. Fragile. He glanced out one of the windows, brow furrowing as he noticed the thick, fat flakes drifting past. Snow. It didn’t look like it was stopping neither, the sort that came down heavily, settling over everything like a big wet blanket. It made Daryl feel trapped, though it wasn’t like he could go anywhere with his leg anyway.

A soft sound from Jesus drew Daryl’s attention and he watched as the other man’s eyelids started flickering. His eyes blinked opened, obviously not taking in much of anything for a few moments before he seemed to come alert all at once, gaze rising immediately – straight to Daryl. It startled him, bein’ caught starin’, so much so that he didn’t even jerk his gaze way. Jesus blinked a few times, staring at Daryl like he was some sort of puzzle, or a question he didn’t have the answer to.

“Morning,” he finally said, the corners of his mouth tilted upward in such a soft, open way that it made Daryl’s stomach do a slow flip. Or maybe that was the soup from last night. That definitely seemed like the safer option.

Daryl grunted something that might have been a mornin’ as well, his gaze finally retreating toward safer territory, such as the blanket over his knees.

“You sleep all night?” Jesus asked, and Daryl gave a short jerk of a nod. When he glanced up, Jesus looked pleased.

“Good. Maybe I’ll go out and…” he started, trailing off. Daryl eyed him, realizing after a beat or two that Jesus had finally looked out the window and had seen the snow. “Or maybe not.”

Daryl snorted, biting back a comment about bein’ afraid of a little snow. He hadn’t dealt with much – his part of Georgia hadn’t seen a whole lot of it, but he….didn’t really want Jesus to be going out in it. Only because if he got stranded somewhere, it’d be Daryl on his own, slowly rotting away on this damn sofa because he couldn’t get on his damn feet.

“We’ve still got soup,” Jesus continued, standing up from the chair. He stretched, all lithe and agile, like squashing himself up in a chair wasn’t no thing to him. Daryl watched, a bit jealous, and then a bit something else when Jesus raised his arms and his shirt rode up. His gaze skittered away, going back toward the window. The snow still didn’t seem like it was going to be stopping.

Daryl kept his gaze fixed there as Jesus started walking around the cabin, searching for who the fuck knew what. He disappeared into one of the back bedrooms and was gone long enough for the silence to make Daryl start to feel a little suspicious.

For good reason too.

Five minutes later Jesus popped back out, a grin on his face, something held behind his back as he walked back into the room.

“How do you feel about board games?” he asked enthusiastically.

Daryl groaned.

The light in Jesus’ eye told him that Jesus knew exactly how Daryl felt about board games, and he didn’t give a shit.

Chapter Text

“Ain’t there cards or somethin’ back there?” Daryl groused, eyin’ the board game with suspicion.

“Sorry, just this,” Jesus said, and there was a grin on his face which let Daryl know he wasn’t sorry at all. “I mean, they had Twister but I didn’t think you’d be up for playing,” he said, trailing off like now he wasn’t sure. Daryl scowled at him.

He brought a beat up box over, dragging a foot rest over to the other side of the table so he could put the game between them. Battleship. His childhood hadn’t exactly been filled with board games, most of the time he’d been outside followin’ the other kids around, or taggin’ after Merle, but he’d heard of it. Daryl eyed Jesus across the table as the other man started to take pieces out of the box. It was yellowed with age and obviously hadn’t been played in a long while, but Jesus didn’t seem to mind at all.

“You ever played?” Jesus asked, divvying up little plastic ships.

“Nah,” Daryl replied, wondering what good it would do to say he didn’t wanna play. He imagined it wouldn’t make no difference, Jesus would just keep on setting the game up like he hadn’t said nothing. Might as well save his breath.

“It’s pretty easy,” Jesus said, tucking a strand of hair behind his ear as he looked up, pushing a box toward him. “We used to play it all the time in the group home,” he added, dropping that little bit of information with no hesitation. Daryl eyed him, hand resting on the game box, wondering if he was supposed to say something to that. He didn’t know much about Jesus, the guy was tight lipped about his past, though it mostly just came off as him being mysterious. He hadn’t really thought about where the guy came from – wasn’t like it mattered in the shit world they lived in anyway, but he couldn’t help but wonder if his upbringing had been anything like his. Daryl hadn’t ever gotten out of the hellhole that was his family, at least not until the dead had started walking, and he couldn’t imagine what it would have been like.

Then again, who knew. Maybe it woulda been worse, the stories he’d heard.

Jesus didn’t seem to notice his hesitation, giving Daryl’s box a little tap. “You have to lift it up like this,” he said, lifting the lid of his own and putting the back toward Daryl’s. Daryl copied him, feeling like an idiot. They were about to sit around playing board games. Then again, what else did they have to do? The cabin was only so big and it wasn’t like Daryl could go anywhere.

It took a bit for the game to be set up, Jesus guiding Daryl over the set up of the game. Daryl didn’t really see the point of it – didn’t really see how it’d be fun or nothin’, but Jesus seemed enthusiastic, explaining everything with such ease Daryl wondered just how often he’d played it as a kid.

The rules were easy enough to follow, even if the game itself made him feel like he should be at some kid’s birthday party. Not that he’d ever gone to one. Hell, he’d never had one himself, neither. Jesus let him have the first go, since he’d never played before, and Daryl squinted at his board, then at Jesus, and then just called out a random letter and number. Jesus made a show of looking over his own board, then grinned at him.

“Miss,” he said.

Daryl glared and stuck a little white peg in the hole.

Jesus went next and Daryl peered down at the board, scowling when he realized the little shit had gotten a hit on his first try. “Hit,” he grumbled, sticking a red peg in the spot with ill grace. Jesus merely grinned, putting a peg down on his board.

On Daryl’s next turn, he missed again. There had to be some sorta trick to the game, but he wasn’t sure what the hell that was. Jesus apparently knew it though, because he got a hit on the next turn – on the same damn ship – and Daryl all but growled as he stuck the stupid red peg in it. For someone who hadn’t ever really played board games, it didn’t take long for Daryl to figure out he didn’t like losin’. They went back and forth a couple more times, with Jesus missin’ one and getting another two, and Daryl missin’ all of them. He stared at the board, with its stupid white pegs everywhere and looked up to glare at Jesus.

“You even put any damn ships on your board?” he asked.

“Daryl, are you accusing me of cheating?” Jesus asked, all mock offense. Daryl growled, reaching over to try and turn his board around and Jesus laughed, pulling it out of his way. “I promise, there’s ships on my board. Go ahead, I’ll let you do a double turn.”

Daryl grumbled, rolled his eyes, but called out another position. Jesus looked at his board, looked back at him, and then at the board again.

“Miss,” he said, and actually sounded goddamn apologetic. Daryl shoved his board away, leaning back into the sofa with a growl, arms crossing over his chest. He didn’t think he wanted t’play anymore. He glared at Jesus, watching the other man try not to smile, and despite his annoyance he felt something give in his chest, an odd sort of warmth filling him up.

“I take it you don’t want to play anymore?” Jesus asked, and seemed to take Daryl’s grunt as an affirmation. Daryl slouched on the sofa, watching as Jesus put the pieces away, a little sorry he hadn’t shoved the board hard enough to scatter them all over the floor. Once he’d put everything back in the box, Jesus looked over at him, mouth tugging upward at once corner.

“Hungry?” he asked, and Daryl gave a shrug in response.

Jesus apparently took that as a yes because he went into the kitchen and started bangin’ around with some pots, leaving Daryl to sink a little further back into the sofa and stare out the window, where the snow was continuing to fall. It’d already completely covered whatever ground Daryl could see and was beginning to pile up along tree branches. It made everything feel cozy, almost too much so. The light filtering in through the window was dulled and gray, the fire crackling in the hearth, it’d been a long, long while since Daryl’d been anywhere that felt this calm. Even the sound of Jesus messin’ about in the kitchen seemed muted, somehow.

That didn’t mean Daryl was as calm as the atmosphere though. Hell, as long as he lived, he didn’t think he’d ever be truly calm. There’d always be something nagging at him, some little twitch of a feeling that wouldn’t let him rest – whether it was worry bout his family, or whatever shit was going down in the aftermath of the war (and he wasn’t stupid enough to think that there wouldn’t be no shit) or other feelings that he ain’t had no right feelin’. Felt like he’d lost his zen a long damn time ago.

He twitched as Jesus appeared, kneeling down to put a pot over the fire, stirring up some embers to stoke the flames. Daryl watched him, wondered if he was as calm as he appeared. It didn’t seem like anythin’ ruffled the guy – not back when he’d stolen his and Rick’s truck, not when he’d been sittin’ on those steps with two guns pointed at his face, not any time he could recall during the war. There had to be something under there though, Daryl thought. He caught glimpses of it, in snatches too short to be sure he really saw anything at all. The way his hands twisted together sometimes, curled together in front of him, or the vague furrow between his brows – and shit, Daryl had to stop thinking about this.

He turned his attention toward the pot, feeling a curl of hunger in his gut.

It wasn’t long before the soup was warmed up and Jesus served it up, handing a bowl and spoon carefully to Daryl and then perching himself on the foot rest he’d used during their game. They ate silently though, despite that, Daryl slurping at his noisily, blowing occasionally to keep from burning the hell out of his tongue. After they’d finished, Jesus took him out so he could piss (and he was startin’ to feel like a damn dog), the cold making him hurry, wary eyes scanning the tree line just in case anymore dead bastards felt like wanderin’ up. But the woods were quiet, and they got back inside without incident, Daryl shivering as he all but collapsed back onto the sofa, one of Jesus’ hands heavy on his shoulder to make sure he landed alright.

And then Jesus covered him with a blanket, even going so far as to tuck the edges around him. Daryl glared at him, though there was an edge of gratefulness to it, and he found himself feeling drowsy. He never used t’sleep this much, but he guessed his body was healing, or maybe he was just bored (hell, maybe he just didn’t wanna play more board games with Jesus and his body was giving him a way out) but in a matter of minutes he was dosing off again.

----

The first thing he saw when his eyes opened was a bottle of whiskey, sitting where his empty soup bowl had been. He squinted, blinking sleep outta his eyes, and glanced around. He didn’t see Jesus around, and he couldn’t hear nothing either. He frowned, trying to sit up without jostling his leg, and almost succeeded. An uncomfortable noise left him, teeth clenching against a grunt, but it didn’t hurt quite as badly as it had that first day. He was gonna count that as a win.

It wasn’t even five minutes before the door was opening, Jesus spilling in with a bucket in one hand, cheeks flushed from the cold. “Got some snow to melt for water,” he said, when he looked up and noticed Daryl looking back at him. Daryl grunted, then jerked his chin toward the liquor.

“Where’d ya find that?”

Jesus put the bucket on the kitchen counter, coming over with a grin. “Was looking for something to put the snow in, found it hiding in a cupboard. It’s a little early to drink,” he said, like they had any idea what time it was. Daryl didn’t, at least, his sense of time fucked by his nap and the fact that there wasn’t no sun shinin’. “But I figure we have nothing better to do, right?” he said. “Unless you wanted to try Twister after all?”

Daryl snorted, eyeing the whiskey bottle. “Y’got anything t’put it in?” he asked, and Jesus quickly disappeared to the kitchen. It probably wasn’t a good idea, drinking with the other man, but it wasn’t like he was on any pain medication and if he drank enough, he’d maybe put himself out for the rest of the day, maybe some of the night too. He couldn’t think about the idea of having weeks left of this, slogging through days like a goddamn turtle. Didn’t know how he was gonna get through it without losin’ his damn mind, or stranglin’ Jesus.

He’d have to find a fuckin’ way.

Jesus came back with two coffee mugs, offering Daryl one that had ‘Have a Nice Day’ in bold print on the side. Daryl huffed, rolling his eyes. Jesus had claimed one with a picture of the actual Jesus Christ on it, and that nearly made him snort. He managed to refrain though, leaning forward so Jesus could poor a healthy measure into his mug.

He waited until Jesus had poured himself the same and then took a healthy sip, nearly spitting it back out when Jesus let out an honest t’god cackle. Daryl lowered his mug, glarin’ over at him. “The hell’s so funny?” he asked.

“Sorry I just – I was trying to be ironic giving you that mug but it’s actually – it’s actually a perfect fit,” he said, and Daryl scowled at him in confusion. “Just – look at the bottom,” he said, and Daryl frowned, reluctantly doing as he said. On the bottom of the mug was the outline of a hand with a middle finger raised and Daryl rolled his eyes.

“Who the fuck lived here?” he grumbled, the clashing of this mug and Jesus’ holy one a little glaring. That only made Jesus laugh again, and Daryl tried not to stare at him.

He took another swig of whiskey, ignoring the smothered laughter from Jesus, and let the liquor settle in his stomach. It’d been a while since he’d drank – back at Hilltop there wasn’t much in the way of liquor, save whatever hooch some of the guys had been making in their damn toilets, and it wasn’t like there’d been a lot of time for it anyway, during the war. Couldn’t afford to be caught drunk off their faces when Negan was ready to strike at any minute.

Jesus finally seemed to pull himself together and started drinking his own whiskey, leaving them in silence for a few moments. It didn’t last long though.

“How’s your leg?” Jesus asked.

Daryl took another swig of whiskey. “Still broken.”

“Funny,” Jesus said, pausing for a sip of his own drink. “I meant does it hurt.”

“Nah,” Daryl said and he wasn’t really lying. There was a dull ache and he was sure if he moved too much he’d aggravate it but the whiskey was doing its job, smoothing out the edges and making him feel just removed enough not to be bothered by the pain.

“Good,” Jesus replied, looking satisfied as he rested his mug on the table between them.

There was quiet for another few minutes, stretching out between them. Daryl finished off his whiskey, tilted it toward Jesus in a silent request for more and then settled back against the sofa when Jesus filled it back up. He was beginning to feel warm around the edges, though he knew it’d take a lot more to get him properly drunk, and it probably wasn’t a good idea to be like that round Jesus anyway. Christ knew what he’d say.

“Hey, do you still have that cigarette I gave you?” Jesus asked, out of the blue. Daryl eyed him, eyes squinting up in wary suspicion. He’d almost forgotten, after all this, the tricks the shit had been playing with the cigarettes. That last cigarette was still in the inner pocket of his vest, which had been discarded at some point over the last couple days, and was now on a chair in the kitchen.

“’s in my vest,” he said, voice gruff, unsure if he was admitting to something more somehow. “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Jesus said with a shrug. “Just – cigarettes and whiskey seem like a thing. I was just wondering though,” he added, before Daryl could get his hopes up that Jesus was gonna go get it for him. “You shouldn’t smoke with a broken bone.”

Daryl snorted dismissively, gave him a glare.

“No, it’s true,” Jesus said, voice a little slower than Daryl was used to, a little lazy like the liquor was already getting to him. “I read once that smokers take up to sixty percent longer to heal from broken bones.”

“Sounds like bullshit,” Daryl grumbled, though he wasn’t overly fussed. He didn’t feel much like smoking anyways.

“I swear,” Jesus protested. “The internet doesn’t exist anymore, or I’d show you,” he said.

Daryl huffed. Wasn’t really a way to end their little disagreement without proof, and he wasn’t gonna sit here debatin’ with Jesus all night. Hell, could be true, he guessed. Still sounded stupid though. And it wasn’t like one cigarette was gonna make a difference when Daryl’d been smoking long before the world ever went to shit.

Daryl took another long swallow of his drink, watching as Jesus got up from the foot rest and came over to the sofa. “Can I sit?” he asked, and Daryl stared at him, not able to comprehend why the hell Jesus would come round the table just t’sit next to him. He stared, but Jesus just stared back, offering no explanation, clutching his stupid Jesus mug in his hand.

“Can’t stop ya,” Daryl said, looking away as Jesus settled in, leaving a respectable distance between them.

“Oh, I think you could,” he said on his way down, flashing a smirk Daryl’s way. “If you wanted to.”

Daryl looked up, narrowed his eyes at him. That was his cue to say somethin’ along the lines of he definitely wanted to, just couldn’t do nothing with a broken leg, but the words fell short. “Whatever,” he grumbled, instead, downing the rest of his whiskey.

Chapter Text

There wasn’t nothing said for a long while. Daryl had Jesus refill his mug and stared down at the amber liquid, overly aware of the feeling of the other man on the couch. He could feel Jesus lookin’ at him, see him lifting his mug to his lips out of the corner of his eye, but he kept his head down, trying not to think about the knot of nerves in the pit of his stomach. Wasn’t like he ‘n Jesus hadn’t spent time together during the war – there were plenty of quiet nights, waiting for something to happen. Granted, there’d always been at least one or two others with ‘em, somewhere, and there’d been that thin edge of anticipation, the knowledge that sooner or later the quiet was gonna break and they had t’be ready.

Here?

There was just nothin’. Time stretched out before them and the only thing within it was sitting on this damn couch, waiting for his stupid bones to mend. His restlessness was buried by the liquor, settling heavy in the pit of his stomach, but it was still there down deep, came out in the scrape of his nail against the mug, the desire to put the hangnail on his thumb between his teeth and worry it til it bled. He didn’t, cos he was drinkin’, but the urge was there.

He could hear Jesus refilling his mug, took a reflexive sip of his own. The warmth was settling in his gut, drawing him nearer to the edge of drunk, though he sure as hell didn’t wanna be drunk here with Jesus. It was less that he was worried what he might do (he was) but he wasn’t a nice drunk, and if he had to be stuck here with the guy for weeks on end he didn’t want him pissin’ in his soup or nothin’. And that’s what he kept tellin’ himself, even though he knew Jesus wasn’t that type of guy.

“You think you’ll go back to Alexandria?”

Daryl turned, brow furrowed at the unexpected question. It’d been one that’d been at the back of his mind, ever since the war ended, but not one he’d thought of discussin’ with anyone.

“Ain’t goin’ any time soon,” he said, gesturin’ vaguely toward his busted leg. Even if he managed to get back to Hilltop, he doubted he’d be up for any trips over.

Daryl finally looked up, watching the corners of Jesus’ mouth turn upward as he ducked his head. “Okay, well after you’re all healed up. Will you go back?”

For a moment Daryl didn’t answer, just chewed on the inside of his lip and focused on a piece of the sofa over Jesus’ shoulder. The honest answer was he didn’t think so, not so long as Negan was livin’. Maybe he’d visit, because they were still his family, but he couldn’t see himself stuck behind those walls with that monster, knowin’ that Rick wanted him t’live, knowin’ that it wasn’t his damn place to put his hands around the fucker’s neck and squeeze until somethin’ broke.

In the end he shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, noncommittally. Jesus seemed to expect it, nodded, took a drink from his mug.

“I think you fit in at Hilltop,” he said, and Daryl snorted. “No really, you do,” he said, earnestly, making Daryl shift a bit uncomfortably. “People have gotten used to seeing you around,” he said. Daryl picked at a chip on the mug. “Maggie likes having you around,” he added, and Daryl repressed the urge to tell him to shut the hell up. “I like having you around,” he said, quieter, and he didn’t mean to, but Daryl looked over at him, found Jesus starin’ back, with those stupid blue-green eyes, soft and sincere, vulnerable like he was admitting something.

Daryl stared for a long moment, felt somethin’ stir in his gut, a warmth rising through his chest.

Jesus shifted, turned his body toward him, leaned forward, and Daryl felt like somethin’ had zapped up his spine, his face flamin’.

“I gotta take a piss,” Daryl blurted out abruptly, all in one breath, and he watched as Jesus drew back, brows furrowed, a confused laugh escaping the other man.

“Alright,” Jesus said, pulling back and getting up.

The trip outside was cold, miserable. The snow looked pretty but it’d piled along the porch, made his steps slippery, forced him to hold on tight to Jesus’ arm to stay upright. Jesus had the good grace t’look away as Daryl pulled himself out of his pants and bit back a hiss at the cold, and he pissed as quick as he could so they could get back inside. By the time they made it back to the sofa, Daryl was shivering and Jesus topped up his mug without even asking, settling back into his side of the sofa like nothin’ had happened.

And it hadn’t.

Daryl avoided looking at him, held his mug in his hands and drank until he didn’t feel like he was gonna shake apart, listened to the sound of the flames crackling and the shift of Jesus’ clothes as he moved. He drank until his mug was empty, shook his head when Jesus went to pour him another. The quiet wore on and on and it was awkward, but not in a way that made Daryl wanna break it. So they sat there, as the afternoon wore on toward evening, the sky growin’ dimmer and dimmer, until the dark and the booze lulled Daryl toward sleep.

Nightmares weren’t nothin’ new in this world, and they sure as shit weren’t anythin’ new for Daryl, who’d been havin’ them as long as he could remember. It used t’be he thought dreamin’ bout his daddy leaving bloodied strips of skin on his back was bad enough, after having t’live through it, but it turned out that shit could get a hell of a lot worse.

These days his nightmares were filled with blood, and teeth, screams of people who’d made him family, the wet squelch of blood and bone caving in – and sometimes he wasn’t sure in the dream just who it was, the walkers or his family. And then, just for kicks, he had other shit to pile on too, the walkers just background noise. There was the thud of a baseball bat, the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach that told him he couldn’t do nothin’, that he’d already done enough, over and over again. Sometimes it was the dark of a room with no lights, music loud enough to rattle his teeth, the feeling of a knife slicing through the skin of his chest.

That’s what it was tonight, played on repeat like some bad sitcom, only it wasn’t funny.

The images went round and round his head and somewhere in there he knew he was dreamin’, but it was hard to fight through it, hard to escape the fear choking him. Usually he woke himself up, knockin’ against somethin’ – always quiet, cos that was one thing he’d learned even before the dead started walkin’, screamin’ yer head off was only gonna cause you more trouble in the long run – but tonight there was somethin’ different.

Someone different.

“Daryl, hey, Daryl, you’re alright, you’re okay, it’s Paul, you’re alright.”

The words broke through piece by piece, until he wasn’t hearing the music anymore but Jesus’ voice, low and steady in his ear. Just like the last time he’d woken up like this, there was the strong pressure of Jesus’ arm over his chest, but his face was much closer, words said almost directly into his ear. Unlike the last time, he couldn’t breathe – his lungs burning as he struggled to get in a solid breath. He felt like he was dying, like he was still back in that cell even though he knew he was here with Paul, and he drew in shuddering rasps, a hand coming up against Jesus’ arm, nails curling into skin.

“You’re okay, Daryl,” Jesus repeated, and then he started to let go a bit. Daryl found himself tightening his grip, starting to feel light headed. “Shh, hey, it’s okay, I’m here,” Jesus kept on, easing up on the pressure on his chest. “Just let me, Daryl, here,” he said, and it became clearer in a moment when he grabbed Daryl’s hand and placed it over the center of his chest and started taking deep, clear breaths. “Like me Daryl, just breathe like I do,” he said, his voice soft like there wasn’t nothing wrong. “In and out,” he said, and any other time Daryl woulda socked him, told him to shut the hell up, just let him think, but it was working.

Inoutinoutinoutinoutinout...in..

outinout

in

out

in

out

in

out.

He latched onto the feeling of Paul’s chest rising and falling, drawing in his own and at first it was hard, he kept inhaling too fast, but Jesus kept on, until Daryl’s chest stopped hitching, until he could get in a deep breath and ease the burning in his lungs.

“You’re okay,” Jesus kept repeating, long after Daryl finally got himself under control and he should have pulled away, should have told Jesus to go on and go to bed, sit in his arm chair or better yet take the bedroom, but he didn’t. He kept his mouth shut, focused on the rise and fall of Jesus’ chest, on the scratchy fabric of his shirt beneath his fingertips, the warmth of Jesus’ hand atop his, and eventually sleep started to pull him down again, drowsiness heavy in his bones, until his eyes slipped shut.

---

The next time he opened his eyes the room was filled with dull grey light. Everything felt gritty, his head ached, his neck stiff. He let out an uncomfortable breath, forcing gummy eyes to stay open, and froze. He could feel Jesus’ heart beating beneath his fingertips, still pressed against the center of the man’s chest. It was slow, steady with sleep, and Daryl swallowed against some tight, unnamable emotion deep in his gut. He felt awkward, watching him like this, but he couldn’t look away. His brow was smooth, bits of his beard moving with each breath he took, and he looked so goddamn young. It made Daryl feel battered, old. Made him feel like he had to protect the guy, even though he knew damn well that if he really wanted to, Jesus could beat his ass six ways from Sunday.

There was nothin’ holding his hand there. Jesus’ had fallen away sometime during the night, lay curled loosely against his stomach and still Daryl didn’t move. He didn’t know if he could. He could feel his heart rate start to pick up, as his mind wandered. As he thought about what it’d be like to lean forward and press – shit. Jesus started to twitch, a tiny furrow appearing between his brows and Daryl slammed his eyes shut, forcing himself still, pretending to sleep.

He was overly aware of each minute movement from the other man, the increasing heart rate beneath his finger tips as Jesus became aware of their position. He could feel Jesus shift, hear the explosive exhale he made – feelin’ his own hangover, or realizing that Daryl’d been like this all night? – could practically feel Jesus’ gaze on him. He willed himself not to move, to keep breathing steadily. Luckily, Daryl’d had his more than his fair share of practicing how to feign sleep. It was second nature, even though he hadn’t had to use it in a long, long while.

Eventually, Jesus started to move. He took Daryl’s hand gently and it was all Daryl could do not to start, not to squirm as his thumb traced once, so, so softly, across the back of his hand before he moved it back to Daryl’s person. Inexplicably, Daryl felt his throat tighten. He kept himself still as Jesus moved, as he stood up, only let himself twitch the slightest bit, like Jesus would expect him to. Everything felt less, somehow, as Jesus left the sofa. Daryl fought the urge to reach out and pull him back, because that was stupid, and pointless.

He listened to the quiet sounds of Jesus puttering about the cabin, his soft sighs, the hushed clank of a pot as he got himself water, or more soup. The longer Daryl listened, the more tired he got, until he was sinking back beneath the blanket of sleep again, powerless to stop it.

----

“He’s been out for a while,” Jesus voice bled through his drowsy haze, brought him back toward consciousness. “He’s been sleeping a lot.” He sounded worried.

“He’s healing, he needs it.” For a moment Daryl struggled to place the voice, lids cracking open just enough to let the light in, so he could see Doc Carson messing with a backpack on the table.

He shifted, letting out a tiny groan as stiff muscles protested, and both men stopped what they were doing to look at him. Carson gave him an appraising look, while Jesus was softer, a pleased smile on his face, still slightly shadowed by an air of worry.

“Doctor Carson was just bringing some more pills for you. He wanted to check on your leg,” Jesus said, like he was checking to see if it was alright with Daryl. Like he had a choice. Daryl grunted, eyeing Carson as the man knelt down next to the sofa and started fussing with Daryl’s leg. Daryl looked away.

“Swelling’s gone down, that’s good,” Carson remarked. “It’ll still be a few weeks but there doesn’t seem to be any complications.”

“How long before I can head back to Hilltop?” Daryl asked, voice raspy, not watching the way Jesus’ hands twisted as he stood behind Doc Carson. The expression on the doctor’s face wasn’t exactly reassuring, mouth pinched all tight like he was trying to figure out how to say something without making Daryl mad. All it did was annoy him.

“I wouldn’t advise trying to walk on it that distance for about as long,” he said, slowly. “If we had a hard cast it’d be different, but this brace here isn’t meant to protect the bone like you need it to,” he said, steady and professional and Daryl regretted asking, shoulders already tightening as he clenched his jaw. He’d expected as much, honestly, but hearing that he wasn’t gonna be able to go hopping along through the woods in a week was disappointing to hear. It meant at least a few weeks stuck here with Jesus, though Daryl realized there was nothin’ stopping the other man from leaving. Wasn’t like Daryl wouldn’t be just fine, holed up here by himself. Jesus could go back to Hilltop, send someone else to take a shift.

The idea made Daryl’s stomach twist.

“Let Maggie know we’ll be out here that long,” Jesus said, stepping forward, talking more about some kid who could go on runs if she needed someone, that Jesus could make a list of places to hit.

Carson gave a nod, finished up with Daryl’s leg and left with instructions to continue taking it easy, to use the pills if he needed. Daryl took in the advice with a dismissive grunt – the pain wasn’t so bad now, as long as he didn’t move too much, and there were people back at Hilltop who could use ‘em a lot more than him.

The sound of the cabin door closing was overly loud and Daryl flicked his gaze from Jesus toward the window, feeling awkward. He sure as hell wasn’t going to bring up what’d gone on that morning, the night before, but he wasn’t so sure Jesus wouldn’t and it made him want to get up and pace. Course, he couldn’t do that, he could only avoid Jesus’ gaze and chew at the inside of his lip until he was nearly squirming in the silence. And Daryl wasn’t a man who was usually bothered by it.

At last, Jesus took pity on him.

“Hungry?” he asked, and Daryl gave a grunt. He wasn’t starving, but he’d gladly take any excuse to have something else to focus on.

He ignored Jesus as he fixed up some more soup, staring out the window like something interesting might happen out there. The snow had stopped, at least, though he could still see it piled high on branches where it hadn’t yet been disturbed by birds or other animals still awake for the winter. This was the sort of place Daryl could feel at home – though it was far nicer than the place he’d grown up. He couldn’t imagine nobody decorating the place with busty ashtrays or home brewed moonshine in the shed. Whoever’d had this place, before the world went to shit, probably used it as a vacation – a place to come t’do some fishing, get away from everything for a bit.

Daryl’d never had nothin’ like that. Shit, he’d never left Georgia until they’d ended up out here, making slow, painful progress toward D.C. Daryl guessed he wasn’t never gonna see that place neither – figured he’d be lucky if he made it long enough to settle down here. That was the thing about life now, there wasn’t no guarantee he’d be around longer than the next couple breaths. A herd of walkers could come through right now, tear down the entire place, quicker ‘n they could blink.

Sometimes he wondered, how it’d ended up that he’d only done anything with his life after the world had gone to shit and it didn’t matter no more.

The clink of a bowl as Jesus set it in front of him on the table distracted him from his thoughts, brought his gaze skittering toward him and then away. He mumbled something like a thanks, leaned forward to snag the bowl toward him and started slurpin’.

Jesus used a spoon, but Daryl only knew cos he could hear the ding of it against the ceramic.

It took until Daryl’d reached the last of his soup before Jesus said anything.

“Do you want to talk about your nightmares?”

Daryl sat up, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and eyed Jesus through narrowed lids. The hell sorta question was that? Anyone who’d known him longer than a handful of seconds knew that he wasn’t the type that liked t’talk about things. Hell, he barely managed it with Rick, or Carol, and he’d only done so with Beth because he’d been fucked up on moonshine and grief.

“Nah,” he said, bristling.

“It might help,” Jesus said, either not getting the warning signs or not caring.

“Ain’t gonna talk about shit,” Daryl replied, jaw set. He hated being stuck on this couch, unable to get up and stomp away from a conversation he didn’t wanna have.

“I just think-”

“It ain’t none of yer business!” Daryl exploded, jerking his chin up to level Jesus with a glare, half hidden by greasy hair.

“You punched me in the face after one of them,” Jesus pointed out, wisely avoiding mentioning the panic attack Daryl’d awoken to the night before. He sighed, stared Daryl down. “You’re my friend, Daryl, I just want to help.”

“Ain’t yer friend,” Daryl growled, feelin’ cornered, like there was nowhere to go. There wasn’t. “Ain’t none of yer business what goes on in my head, don’t need ya playin’ therapist or whatever the hell it is ya think yer doin’,” he spat. “Why don’t ya go on back to Hilltop, huh?” he demanded. “You and yer goddamn cigarettes, pokin’ yer nose where it don’t belong ya fuckin’-”

“Daryl!” His voice was sharp, sudden, and it shut him up with an audible snap of his jaw. “I get that you’re –“

Daryl twitched, suddenly sure he didn’t want to know what Jesus thought he got. “Fuck off,” he spat, looking ready to lurch to his feet and make him if he didn’t shut the hell up. He didn’t expect it to work though, brow furrowing as Jesus got up, set his bowl down. The other man didn’t say a word, his mouth a thin line as he stalked over toward the kitchen table, grabbed his leather jacket and tugged it on. Daryl felt something lurch in his stomach, getting worse with each passing second. Jesus yanked the door open, looked back at Daryl for one long moment, and Daryl jerked his head up, his own expression set in a mulish scowl.

The door shut with a click far too quiet to be satisfying. Jesus was gone.

Chapter Text

It was quiet in the cabin, quiet in the way it could only be in the dead of winter when there weren’t no animals fucking about outside. There was no wind, no growling groans of bastards looking to rip him t’shreds, the only thing he could hear was his own breathing, harsh in a way it shouldn’t be, and the crackling of the fire as it burned down to embers.

Anger flickered in his gut, his jaw clenched like he expected Jesus to come back through the door but the seconds rolled by and nothin’ changed. Daryl was used to making it on his own. Growing up, he’d never had to depend on anybody – couldn’t depend on anybody, not even Merle when he was around – and despite the way his family had been slowly changing his view on that, it wasn’t something that completely went away. Now though? Shit. He stared at the door, the scowl on his face slowly softening into something different, something unsure.

He didn’t care if the hippie left. Didn’t need him here. Except, damn it, he kind of did. Part of him knew that Jesus wouldn’t just abandon him out here, no matter how much he pissed him off, but the other part of him wasn’t so sure. Why not abandon a piece of shit like him out in the middle of the woods? Wasn’t like he’d been nice to Jesus, after all the guy was doin’ for him. Wasn’t like he was making it easy.

But that didn’t mean he appreciated the asshole pryin’ into things he shouldn’t be pryin’ into. Who the fuck gave a shit about Daryl’s nightmares? Talkin’ about them wouldn’t do shit. Talkin’ about them wouldn’t undo anything that had already been done. He could lay it all out there, talk until he was damn blue in the face and in the end, Glenn would still be dead, Merle would still be dead, his daddy would still have used his back as a damn canvas for his belt.

So why the fuck did that asshole think he should say anythin’ at all?

Daryl ran those thoughts through his head, an endless cycle of feeling guilty, then angry, then guilty again until he wasn’t sure what the fuck he was feeling. And time kept going on, seconds passing by in silence, until enough of them passed that he started to feel uncomfortable. Uncertain. Deep down he knew Jesus wasn’t gonna abandon him, that if he really was that fucking pissed he’d send someone else, but that wasn’t to say it’d be his choice. By now, everyone that was livin’ was more or less equipped for it. All the weak ones got weeded out in the beginning, or were still hiding behind walls unseen somewhere, but Jesus?

He could take care of himself.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t no danger. There were other people, rogue saviors that hadn’t gotten the memo the damn war had ended. Wild animals – Daryl was pretty sure Jesus was skilled at self-defense, but he wasn’t sure anyone could ninja kick their way out of a fight with a black bear or cougar, and hell, just because everyone was more or less used to walkers, didn’t mean they still couldn’t fuck you up if they got the drop on you, or if there were enough of them.

His brow furrowed, thumb working its way between his teeth, mind churning.

The light outside the cabin started to dim, enough to let Daryl know at least a couple of hours had passed with him just sittin’ on his ass. At what point was he gonna have to see if he could hobble over t’the kitchen and get soup himself? Cos there wasn’t no way he was getting out of here by himself. Could he really make it a month out here, on his own?

The door slammed open, Jesus spilling in over the threshold. He was clutching his arm, soft, bitter words accompanying his arrival. Daryl sat up straight, forgetting the lingering anger he’d been holding onto at the sight of him. There was something wrong, an instinct that had Daryl leaning forward. A flash of red, trickling between Jesus’ fingers.

“Paul are you – were you bit?”

There was no answer, just Jesus yanking at the sleeve of his jacket, mouth tight. “Hey!” Daryl called, voice sharp, anger masking fear. “Y’hear me? Asked if you were bit!” he said, and he leaned forward, fully prepared to launch himself to his feet and hobble over there.

Jesus let out a dismissive snort, not bothering to look in Daryl’s direction. “I got caught on a tree trying to get away from some walkers. Don’t worry, I’ll still be around to heat up your soup,” he said, and Daryl sunk back against the couch under a wave of intense relief. His heart was still in his throat, he could practically feel it, and he struggled with the very real desire to demand Jesus get his ass over here and let Daryl take a look for himself.

Instead, he swallowed, fear still acrid and sharp on the back of his tongue.

It’d be easy to dismiss the fear as a realization that if anything happened to the scout he’d be stuck wasting away on this sofa, helpless. Easy to box it all up and pretend like that was all it was, but he knew it was a lie. The idea of the other man being bit filled him with a fear as strong as if he’d been Rick, or Carol or one of the others in his tight knit family group. Shit, he didn’t know what to do with that.

Jesus continued to strip off his jacket, putting the ruined article over the back of the chair. His movements were sharp, jerky, annoyance bleeding through. Daryl knew it was his fault, knew he shouldn’t have said that shit because Jesus was only tryin’ to help, but he didn’t know how to fix it. The idea of apologizing made his stomach twist, shame prickling against his skin. Dixons didn’t do apologies, and it was only something Daryl’d been learnin’ after the world went to shit. So he watched Jesus instead, frowning as the other man pushed his ripped sleeve up – Daryl couldn’t see real well from his position, but there was enough blood that it wasn’t no scratch.

The other man’s face was tight, lined with pain and Daryl had to clench his back teeth, feeling even more helpless than he already did. He wasn’t no doctor or nothin’, but he sure as hell had picked up some vague first aid skills over the years. He kept his trap shut as Jesus moved about, brought some dusty ass first aid kit over by the fire. Daryl couldn’t stop watching, like he expected Jesus to take his hand away and reveal a row of teeth marks despite his assurances to the contrary.

In the end, when he finally took his hand away from his arm he only revealed a deep, nasty scratch. It bled sluggishly, and Daryl could only imagine how hard Jesus had to have hit that damn tree branch for an injury like that. And how the hell had walkers gotten the drop on him in the first place? Daryl coulda asked all this, but he kept quiet, his mouth dry.

Jesus didn’t say nothin’ either, tending to his wound without fuss. He cleaned it, bandaged it, all without looking once in Daryl’s direction. It made Daryl feel unbalanced, on edge, an itch at the back of his mind. All this time wishin’ for some damn quiet from the other man and when he finally got it, it felt wrong.

They sat in silence as Jesus cleaned up. He put everything away and busied himself in the kitchen, not saying a word in Daryl’s direction. Daryl could feel the silence like a weight, gettin’ heavier with each passing minute, and he’d never been the type to be bothered by quiet before. Could spend a whole day not sayin’ shit, if the situation called for it, but right now? He’d take anything, even if it was Jesus callin’ him an asshole.

But he didn’t. He didn’t say shit. And neither did Daryl, though he knew he probably should. He just sat there, feelin’ like a dick. Course, eventually, nature started callin’, leavin’ him trying not to squirm on the couch. How the fuck was he supposed to ask Jesus to take him out (and he still hated feelin’ like a goddamn dog) so he could piss?

In the end, he didn’t have to.

“Let’s go,” Jesus said, offering his uninjured arm, his face still set in an unwelcoming mask, appearing in front of him without warning. It made Daryl feel cold, and he’d have rejected the assistance, except he’d probably end up pissin’ himself and like hell he was gonna let that happen. He grabbed ahold – and at least Jesus wasn’t annoyed enough to let him struggle up on his own – and between the two of ‘em, got him on his feet. Jesus didn’t say nothin’ as they made their way toward the door, as he helped him outside, he didn’t even say nothin’ as he guided Daryl to the railing and let him grab onto it before he let go and stepped away, back turned.

It was exactly what Daryl’d been wantin’ for the past few days, and now that he had it, it was far from satisfying.

He took his piss and buttoned himself back into his jeans, clearing his throat so that Jesus would know he was done. He watched as Jesus turned back around, as he offered his arm – and Daryl went to take it without thinking, without realizing that Jesus had offered him the injured one, and he froze with the tips of his fingers touching the bandage, his other hand still loosely clutching the railing.

Something went funny in his gut, made him swallow, and he stared at the bandage for a few long moments. It’d stopped bleedin’ – the bandage was still white so he guessed there wasn’t no need for stitches or nothin’ like that, it must’ve looked worse than it was, but he couldn’t help but think of what it could have been. Shit, there’d almost been a scenario in which Jesus would’ve come back with bite marks. That he’d be fightin’ a fever right now. That Daryl would have had to put him down.

Shit.

“Daryl?” Jesus finally spoke, and he didn’t sound annoyed, or angry, just...curious, a little unsure.

“I ain’t...” Daryl said, swallowing again, fingertips trembling slightly. “Didn’t mean nothin’ I said, before,” he said, still staring at the bandage. Fuck apologies, but he owed ‘im one. Didn’t mean he’d be able to look Jesus in the face while he said it though.

“Daryl, I know we’re not –“ Jesus started and Daryl shook his head, once, sharply.

“I was bein’ an asshole,” he said, quietly. “I don’t – before all this I never had no friends. Not real ones, at least. ” he said.

“Are you saying we’re friends, Daryl?” Jesus asked, and Daryl did look up then, caught the amused smile on Jesus’ face, and he wasn’t ever gonna admit it, but a bolt of relief went through him when he realized that Jesus wasn’t gonna keep givin’ him the silent treatment. He huffed, looking away.

“’m just sayin that I don’t know how – I’m not good at havin’ friends.”

“I’d say Rick, Maggie, and Carol to start with would disagree with you.”

Daryl shook his head. “Nah that ain’t – they’re family, ‘s different.”

“Well. We’ve got a few more weeks to get some one on one practice in,” Jesus said, and Daryl turned his head again to eye him, mouth twisting.

“Shut up,” he said, though there wasn’t any malice in it. Jesus smiled.

It was cold as shit out though and after a few moments of eyeing Jesus he grunted, jerking his head toward the door. Jesus took the hint and started leading him toward the cabin.

Chapter Text

The next few days moved by at a slow crawl, filled with the same things over and over again. Jesus would make their soup for the day, take him out for a piss, and they’d wile away the hours mostly in silence. It was a comfortable one though, like their fight had smoothed out the edges of somethin’, and occasionally they even had conversations. Jesus didn’t bring out the whiskey again, but he’d unearthed some peppermint tea that wasn’t dust yet, though certainly on its way.

It wasn’t nice, Daryl wasn’t ever gonna say it was nice, but it was....somethin’.

“Tastes like Christmas,” Jesus said, peering at him over the mug from the chair he was sitting in. Daryl took a sip, winced at the burn and made a vague sort of grunt in response. “Don’t you think?” he asked.

“Dunno,” Daryl said. Christmas to him didn’t taste like nothin’ in particular, hell, they were lucky if they even realized it was Christmas. If anything, Christmas tasted like booze and cigarettes and the smoky atmosphere of whatever bar Merle dragged him to. There was always some poor girl all alone on Christmas, waiting for some man to come snap her up, or so Merle said. Daryl never picked anyone up and he let Merle have the trailer for the day, which he supposed was a gift in its own way.

“Not big on Christmas?” Jesus asked.

“Nah. Never had much of one anyway,” Daryl finally admitted. He took another sip, the burn settling into something easy. Jesus merely nodded at him.

“My family was,” Jesus said, and Daryl found himself staring at the sad smile on his face, wondering what kind of memories were playing in his head. “We used to do the tree, the presents, all that.” He took a sip of his tea, looked pensive. “They tried at the group home, but no one ever had any money. I never really could get into it there,” he said.

Daryl chewed his lip, eyeing Jesus from underneath his hair. “We never did nothin’ for Christmas,” Daryl said, feeling a little unbalanced. He wasn’t the sharing type, and he sure as shit had never been the sharing type with Jesus, but there was something about being stuck on a couch, day after day, that made it a little easier to talk to the other man. To make him want to talk to the other man. “I guess my ma did, before she died, but I don’t really remember.”

“We should do something.”

“What?”

“I mean – it’s almost Christmas, right?”

Daryl eyed him, a furrow between his brow. He’d stopped keeping track of the date when the world went to shit, so for all he knew any cold day could be Christmas. Obviously, the habit hadn’t fallen by the wayside at Hilltop. “Dunno, could be, I guess.”

“We could do something for Christmas.”

Daryl snorted, squinting over at him. Was he off his rocker? “The hell y’want us t’do? Go out ‘n cut down a tree? Make each other some damn macaroni pictures as gifts?”

Jesus frowned at him, though didn’t seem terribly put off by his reluctance. “I was thinking more getting a pine tree branch from outside and decorating it with stale popcorn I found in the cupboard. We can worry about gifts when we get back to Hilltop,” he said.

“’s pathetic,” Daryl said, though he didn’t sound near as dismissive as he could have.

“More pathetic than sitting here every night in silence until you need a pee break?”

Daryl huffed. “Fine, whatever, we’ll do yer damn Christmas.”

Jesus grinned. “Good. Two days from now seems pretty Christmas-y to me, what do you think?”

“Whatever.”

“Good, it’s settled.”

--

With nothing better t’do, Daryl took more naps than a damn cat. Drowsiness would sneak up on him and he’d find his chin nodding toward his chest and he’d be out before he could resist.

Sometimes he’d wake up and Jesus would be puttering about, other times the cabin was empty. He would have thought by the time night rolled around that he couldn’t possibly keep his eyes shut another damn second, but as the sun set he found his eyes growing heavy, barely able to shovel down the soup Jesus handed him before he was nodding off.

He should have expected the nightmare. Sleep had never been no safe space for him.

It started off benign enough. He was sitting on the sofa, only there wasn’t no cast on his leg. There was a fire in the fire place, lanterns on the coffee table brightening the room slightly.

And Jesus.

Jesus was sitting next to him, staring at him with his big ol’ eyes, like he could see down to Daryl’s very soul. He wanted to tell him to fuck off, ask him what he was looking at, but instead he only found himself staring back. Something started squirming in his gut, a whole herd of butterflies or worms or something, and Jesus wasn’t blinking. He had that look in his eye, the one Daryl had seen that night on his porch, when he’d put the cigarette behind his ear.

And he knew what was going to happen.

And he wanted it to.

The realization made his stomach drop, but he couldn’t take his eyes away from Jesus. Not even when he started getting closer. And closer. Despite himself, he leaned forward, a buzzing sound between his ears.

He couldn’t feel Jesus’ lips on his, but he knew they were there, a phantom pressure. He shut his eyes.

“Hold up a minute there, Daryl.” Ice water spilled down his spine, eyes popping open to find Jesus had disappeared. Instead, Negan stood in front of the couch a few feet away, his stupid ass baseball bat leaning on his shoulder. “You think you get something like that?” he asked, voice loud, like he was talking to a goddamn audience.

“Think again,” he crowed. “Your ass belongs in my cell, eatin’ Alpo sandwiches. Don’t think any different. Ain’t nobody gonna want a dog like you,” he said, spine bending back as he leaned, like he was a tree in the wind. “Anywhere you go. Anything you do,” he barked. “Take a look at what my boys carved into your chest.” Daryl didn’t want to look, but he found his head turning anyway, his shirt pulled aside so he could see the nasty scarring, letters carved through his skin. “Now I know that ain’t a lesson easily forgotten.” He pressed the tip of Lucille to Daryl’s chest, barbed wire poking against his skin. And he kept pushing, and pushing, until Daryl was sure it was tearing through his skin like tissue paper, blood running in rivulets down his chest, soaking into the sofa, Negan’s face with a dumbass grin staring down at him.

Daryl’s eyes flew open, breath shuddering in his chest. Someone was saying something, his name, but it took him a few long moments to realize who it was. Not Negan.

Jesus. His face swam into view as Daryl forced his eyes to focus. The scar on his chest twinged.

“Burn it off.” The worlds tumbled out of his mouth before he even thought about it.

“What?” Jesus stared at him, confused, hair a messy curtain across his face.

“This,” Daryl said, gesturing toward his chest. “I want it off.”

It took a moment or two for that to sink in, for Jesus to grasp what he meant, and he could tell the moment it did, as the other man straightened up, eyes widened, head already shaking.

“Daryl,” he started, brow furrowed as he stared at him. “I – I can’t do that,” he said, sounding apologetic and unnerved.

“Just take the damn thing,” Daryl growled, throwing a hand out toward the fireplace, suddenly desperate. “’n burn it off. I’d do it myself but I can’t fuckin’ get over there,” he said, his mind stubbornly stuck on it. Scars were just scars and all that shit, but ever since Jesus had caught a glimpse of it he was overly aware of its presence, branding him like some sorta animal. It didn’t mean shit, but at the same time he felt the urge to just scratch at his chest until his fingers came away bloody, until the raised flesh was ruined. He could hear Negan’s voice, on repeat, in his head.

“Daryl I...” Jesus said, reluctance coloring his tone.

“Y’wanted t’get me a Christmas gift? This is it. Burn it off.”

Jesus was silent for a long moment, jaw set, eyes wide, like some damn puppy he’d just kicked.

“Y’don’t I’ll jus’ find a way t’do it myself. Break my damn leg even more.”

“Daryl....”

Daryl swallowed, pressure mounting in his chest. “Please.”

Jesus was silent for a few long moments, regarding him intently. “Okay...I’ll do it.” Daryl felt something curl in the pit of his stomach, and he realized some part of him had expected Jesus not t’give in, no matter how much he bullied him. But it was what he wanted – no, shit, what he needed. Jesus held up a hand. “But – not right now. Carson’s supposed to stop by again soon. I’ll ask him for some ointment, some antibiotics if they have it. I’m not having you get an infection over something so –” he cut himself off, a muscle in his jaw twitching.

Daryl’s own jaw was tight but he gave a nod. “Fine, whatever,” he grunted. He didn’t want to wait because now that he knew he could have Negan’s name off his fucking chest, he wanted it done, and now but he didn’t have a choice. And he had to admit, he didn’t really wanna end up sweating through a fever and dying of no goddamn infection because he was in a rush to burn himself up.

His gaze strayed away from Jesus, but he could still feel the other man’s eyes on him. He ignored him.

---

The next two days crawled by, the air thick with tension. Jesus wouldn’t look at him, wouldn’t say anything aside from the necessary, and kept looking at the fire like he thought it might jump out and bite him. It was driving Daryl crazy, and he shoulda just looked away, but there was a squirming in his gut, something skittering at the back of his mind and the only way to calm it was to distract himself.

Staring at his hands wasn’t gonna do shit, so he watched Jesus instead.

He didn’t exactly like that his request seemed t’be eating the other man up, and he wished he’d pushed, made Jesus do it right then and there so he wouldn’t have to wait. Pain wasn’t nothin’ new to him, but there wasn’t nothin’ worse than the threat of it, just hangin’ over his head.

When Carson finally showed up, Daryl was ready to snap. The knock on the door made the both of them jump, and Carson looked between the two of them with raised brows at the heavy silence, though he didn’t comment.

He poked and prodded and eventually told Daryl that his leg was healing up, slowly but surely, and that in a few weeks’ time he’d be ready to hobble on over to Hilltop. Or something like that. He wasn’t really paying much attention to him. He saw him take a quick look at the wound on Jesus’ arm, but he didn’t seem too worried about it. He only perked up when Jesus took the doc aside and they whispered with bowed heads, and he thought the little ninja was gonna tell Carson about what he’d asked him, so that Carson would talk him out of it, but Carson only nodded, said something about sending some supplies in a couple days and left.

And then it was back to waiting.

After Carson left, Jesus spent a lot of time outside the cabin. Daryl could hear him out on the porch sometimes, the sound of his boots on the wood. It was boring as shit but Daryl didn’t dare let his eyes close. He didn’t want to end up in that dream again. The end of it had been so fucked up that he’d barely spared any thought to the beginning, although the longer he sat there doing jack shit, the harder it was to ignore it.

As early afternoon turned toward evening on the second day of waiting, Jesus came in with a pine tree branch. It didn’t look half bad, full of needles and a rich green color. Perfect for some shitty table-top ‘Christmas tree’. Daryl’d kind of thought that his request would have killed their plans, but there Jesus was, bringing it in and setting it on the kitchen table.

Maybe he needed somethin’ to distract him too.

After a few minutes with nothin’ but the sound of Jesus rustling through some cabinets, he appeared with a tin of popcorn kernels and a pot, and settled himself in front of the fire. He didn’t so much as look in Daryl’s direction, just set up the popcorn over the fire. When all of them had popped, filling the air with the scent of oil and butter, he brought the bowl over and set it on the table.

Then he disappeared again, back toward the bedrooms and emerged five minutes later with a sewing kit.

Daryl eyed him, brow furrowed, until Jesus perched himself on the other side of the sofa and put the popcorn bowl between them. He watched as Daryl sorted out two long strings of black thread, put each one through an eye of a needle and tied it off.

“Here,” he said, handing one over, and Daryl nearly flinched at the sound of his voice after an entire day of silence.

Daryl took it reluctantly, not sure he really wanted to spend the day poking a needle through popcorn just to put it on a shitty pine tree branch.

Then again, wasn’t like he had anything better to do.

Still, he didn’t start until Jesus did. He grabbed a few pieces of popcorn and put them on his lap, picking up the first one. He poked the needle into the piece, only to have it crumble. He scowled and picked up another one. His fingers felt too thick, the popcorn too fragile in his grasp. He glanced up to find Jesus had already threaded three pieces on, and was going for more.

Daryl wasn’t useless with a needle – he could patch up his clothes well enough if he really, really had to, but it wasn’t exactly no delicate work. With painstaking care, he managed to get the needle through the piece without shredding it, only to look up and see Jesus had another three on the string.

“The hell you so good at this?” he growled, frustration making him forget that Jesus had basically been ignoring him all day.

Apparently, his outburst was enough to startle Jesus from his pretending there wasn’t anyone else in the room. “I’m good with my hands,” Jesus said simply, looking up for a brief moment. He looked innocent, but Daryl felt the tips of his ears burn at where his mind was taking that statement.

Goddamnit.

He grabbed another piece and forced the needle through, steadfastly keeping his gaze on it and nothing else. He kept his eyes down, even when the urge to check up on how Jesus was doing got overwhelming. Instead, he methodically took piece after piece and threaded them onto the string, his frustration growing at the care it took to get them on without crushing them.

He finally had enough when he stabbed himself with the needle, focusing too much on getting it through to pay attention to where it came out the other side, and he tossed them down on the table with an annoyed grunt.

“You lasted longer than I thought you would,” Jesus said, and Daryl looked up to glare, eyes narrowing at the amusement hidden on Jesus’ face.

“Ain’t no point to this,” Daryl grumbled, unwilling to acknowledge the knot in his chest that was slowly unravelling due to the fact that Jesus was actually talking to him, aside from necessary perfunctory statements. That he’d looked amused.

“Is there a point to anything?” Jesus asked, thoughtfully, though Daryl could see the teasing look hiding behind his stupid beard.

“Shut up,” he said, though his tone lacked the bite he wished it would have.

Throughout the exchange, Jesus had continued to put the damn popcorn pieces on the string and Daryl eyed him through a narrowed gaze, feeling a bit like the prick was just showing off now.

“How much damn popcorn d’ya need?” Daryl asked. “It’s jus’ a damn twig.”

“I figured one string would be good enough,” Jesus said picking up popcorn with ease, fingers guiding them onto the needle and down the string without hesitation. It was almost hypnotizing. “But I didn’t want you to feel left out.”

“Asshole,” Daryl huffed.

Jesus merely smirked and kept putting popcorn on a screen. Daryl settled back into the sofa, trying his best not to watch him. Instead, he distracted himself by plucking up a few pieces to put in his mouth. They were a bit chewy, but by this point any food was going to be good enough. There was no room to care about freshness or any of that shit.

Then again, that’d pretty much been the case for Daryl even before the world had gone to shit.

--

The next morning, Kal turned up on their porch with a bag of supplies. He handed it over to Jesus, made an annoying bit of small talk and then headed off again, assuring them that Doc Carson would be back to check on them within a week.

Jesus stared at the bag, an expression Daryl couldn’t quite read on his face.

“What’d he give us?” Daryl asked, just to say something.

Jesus opened the bag and took out a half full pill bottle with some strong ass pain meds, a tube of ointment and some fresh bandages. Daryl eyed the haul, chewing at his lower lip. They must’ve hit somewhere good, to score all that shit and have enough to send to middle of the woods.

“What’s with the pain killers?” he asked.

Jesus’ lips pressed together for a moment, a thin, white line, before he answered. “I told him your leg was hurting more than you were letting on. That you couldn’t sleep because of it,” he said. “Trust me, once I – you’re going to need it.”

Daryl frowned. He wasn’t no stranger to pain and he didn’t like the idea of being high off his rocker on no damn Oxy or whatever the shit it was.

“Let’s get it over with,” he said, jaw set.

Chapter Text

There was a beat or two of heavy silence, the type that had the hair on the back of his neck raising, before Jesus nodded, looking physically pained. Daryl averted his eyes, didn’t watch as Jesus disappeared into the back bedroom and returned soundlessly with a belt held limply in his hands.

He set it to the side, then knelt before the fire. Daryl’s eyes found him then, stomach in knots as he watched Jesus stoke the embers higher. Watched him take the iron and place it near the flames to heat it. Watched the trembling through Jesus’ normally steady hands, the way he curled his fingers in toward his palm. Watched the way the fire glowed golden over one side of his face, illuminating his furrowed brow, Daryl knew it was a shit thing to ask him. Knew that it’d weigh heavy on ‘im, a man like Jesus, who, despite being an annoying prick, was kind-hearted and good in a way Daryl thought was becomin’ real short in supply these days.

He regretted askin’ him, but he was selfish and stubborn, and now that he’d set it into motion, it was gonna happen whether either of ‘em liked it or not.

After a few moments, Jesus got up, picking the belt off the floor, fingers twitching around the leather. He wondered if Jesus was thinking about the scars that marred his back as he stared at it, the furrow in his brow even more pronounced (and Daryl wished he could stop starin’, but he couldn’t, eyes stuck on him like glue), or if it was just the idea of what he was about to use it for.

Daryl’s own fingers curled into his palms as he fought the urge to reach out and steady Jesus’ hands.

There was another moment or two of weighted silence, and Daryl could feel the tension growing in the room, setting his teeth on edge. He wanted to get it over with, but he wasn’t about to rush Jesus, not now.

Eventually, Jesus seemed to pull himself together, shoulders straightening as he finally managed to look at Daryl. His eyes were too big, too bright, and Daryl swallowed, chin tilting as he looked away.

He moved forward, and Daryl flinched without meaning to as Jesus’ knees hit the sofa in front of him. A low noise left his throat, disgruntled and unsure, as Jesus’ fingers curled shakily around the button on his flannel shirt, but then his brain pointed out that Jesus couldn’t exactly burn him through his goddamn shirt. He forced himself to relax, taking in too slow breaths through his nose as Jesus popped the buttons one by one, Daryl’s mouth getting dryer and dryer with each one. He wanted to point out that he could do it – he wasn’t no invalid, despite his leg, but the words wouldn’t come.

Occasionally, Jesus’ knuckle would jolt and knock against bare skin; the dip in the center of his chest, the bit of skin right above his belly button, each one drawing a little shiver from him that he tried to ignore, or at least blame on the cold. Jesus didn’t seem to notice, just kept at it until each button was undone and he unfurled the two sides of his flannel, tucking them away from his body.

Jesus’ expression was pinched as he held out the belt, folded up enough to provide some resistance, so he wouldn’t just bite right through it. Daryl took it, inhaling stilted breaths through his nose. He knew it was gonna hurt like a bitch and he could handle pain, but that didn’t mean he was fucking lookin’ forward to it. He swallowed, placing it between his teeth as he leaned back against the couch, drool pooling in his mouth already.

Fuck.

He held Jesus’ gaze as the man stared at him, brow still pinched, looking like he would rather be doin’ anything else in the world right now. But Daryl didn’t break his gaze, stared back steadily, gave a short, jerky nod – a ‘get on with it’ gesture, and curled his hands into the fabric of the couch. Jesus shook his head, but turned toward the fire, grabbing the small iron off it with an oven mitt Daryl hadn’t seen him grab. Everything in his body was tellin’ him to get the fuck outta there, but he ignored it, the seconds ticking by coiling inside him, making his muscles tense more and more.

He watched Jesus’ fingers shift, grip sure around the handle but the whole thing trembling slightly and he swallowed against an impatient noise, sweat springing up along his hairline. He felt clammy, sick to his stomach, which was stupid. He could handle this – had handled worse – and he’d asked for this. There was no point being a pussy about it now.

He thought Jesus was gonna draw it out, until the tension in the room became overwhelmin’ and Daryl backed out.

But he didn’t.

He pressed the iron to Daryl’s skin.

Daryl screamed.

----------

When it was finally done, the entire cabin smelled of burnt flesh. Daryl’s jaw ached from where he’d clamped down on the leather belt, and his chest felt like it was on fire. There was a soft buzzing between his ears, everything just ever so slightly disconnected, though that was quickly fading. He kept swallowin’ against the urge to gag, drool pooling in his mouth as he curled his fingers against the sofa, hard enough to pop a few stitches in the fabric.

Jesus knelt by the fire, angled away from him. He could see his hand pressed against his mouth, the way his shoulders bent inward. All at once he was up on his feet and out the door, taking the iron with him.

He came back without it.

“Here,” he said, appearing at Daryl’s side with a glass of water and a couple of the pills the doc had left.

Daryl grunted, reaching up one hand to swat him away. It made the wound on his chest pull, pain making his eyes water and he winced. “I don’t –“

“Daryl.” There was no room for argument in that tone, though the look in his eyes was near pleading.

His chest throbbed, and he might have aggravated his leg when he’d jerked around a bit – but it wasn’t – it wasn’t so bad he’d had worse and he’d never had to choke down no stupid pills, but Jesus was looking at him and he found himself taking the pills from his hand.

He swallowed them, chasing each one down with water then handed the glass back to Jesus with a grunt that coulda been annoyance or thanks, dependin’ on how Jesus took it.

He watched as Jesus took the supplies out of the bag Kal had delivered, ointment and gauze and gloves. Jesus didn’t say anything as he readied the supplies – Daryl wasn’t sure what he expected him to say anyway.

A low noise got stuck in his throat as Jesus dabbed the first bit of ointment on the ruined flesh, and he bit his lower lip until he tasted blood to keep from making another noise. Jesus’ expression didn’t waver, brow furrowed in concentration as he made sure to get every last bit of the wound, and Daryl’s hand twitched at his side with the urge to smooth it away.

Instead, he just watched him, until his eyes slid closed and he slipped into a black, dreamless sleep.

----------

When he awoke, everything was fuzzy. There was no pain and moving required just enough effort not to be worth it. He blinked, eyes focusing on Jesus, settled in a chair across from him, a book open on his lap but his gaze fixed on Daryl. Something sparked in his gut at the sight of those sea green eyes, the indescribable look on his face morphing into concern once he noticed Daryl’s eyes were open.

Daryl didn’t want him to look like that. Didn’t like when his face was so serious.
He liked when Jesus laughed. There wasn’t much reason for it now, when the world was so shit, but the other man’s smile was always a welcome reprieve.

He shifted, just a bit, and Jesus abandoned all pretense of looking at the book, closing it with a soft snap and putting it on the table between them.

“How are you feeling?” he asked.

Daryl blinked, long and slow. He thought about it. And thought about it some more. “High,” he finally decided on, the corner of his mouth tilting upward into a smile, an expression that didn’t quite know how to be on his face after so long.

Jesus didn’t seem to find it amusing, mouth pressed in a thin line.

Daryl looked at his mouth. He wondered what’d it’d be like to feel his mouth against his. Jesus had such a bushy beard. Would it tickle? Daryl’d never kissed anyone before, not while sober, at least. Jesus had a smart mouth, always spillin’ bullshit like he was some sorta philosopher, but it was a nice mouth. He wished he hadn’t been such a coward back on the porch at Hilltop. Wished he’d let him kiss him. Then he wouldn’t have to wonder. He wondered what it’d be like to make Jesus moan.

Jesus cleared his throat, a dusting of pink high on his cheeks. “I think you should stop talking now.”

Daryl blinked. Had he been talking? He couldn’t remember. He was tired.

“Mmk,” he slurred, and drifted off again.

-----

The next time he woke up, it wasn’t any better than the first. The drugs were still coursing through his system. Daryl didn’t mind though. It was nice. Peaceful. His gaze slowly tracked the room, looking for Jesus. He’d looked around the entire room, only to start slightly when he turned his head and Jesus was on the other end of the sofa. He blinked a couple of times at him, eyes glassy.

“Hey,” he said. Just to say something.

“Do you need some water?” Jesus asked. Daryl frowned, shook his head. His mouth felt like it was filled with cotton, but he didn’t really want to drink anything. Jesus brought him a glass anyway, pressed it against his hand, helped him curl his fingers around it when they didn’t want to stay.

He took a sip, and then another, and then decided that he was thirsty and downed the rest of it. Jesus took the glass away and set it on the table, reclaiming his spot on the other side of the sofa.

“Thanks,” Daryl said. Jesus smiled. Daryl smiled back.

He felt like he was floating.

Jesus’ hand was lying there on the sofa at his side, palm up toward the ceiling. He wondered what it would be like to hold it. It seemed like something he could do at the moment, when nothing felt quite real, and so he reached out, hand clumsy as he dropped it over Jesus’. His hand was warm. He could feel it twitch beneath his, but Jesus didn’t pull away. He had soft skin. Daryl stroked his fingers over his palm, a furrow appearing between his brow when he saw the contrast. Daryl’s hand was covered in scars, dirt that seemed permanently etched into his skin – Jesus had perfect hands, smooth, clear skin, thin fingers, and Daryl thought it was a shame he covered them up with gloves so often.

After a few moments, Jesus slotted their fingers together and squeezed, and that was even better. Daryl stared at the connection for a long time, something warm building in his chest, skin hot where it pressed against Jesus’.

He drifted off again, staring at their hands.

----------

Daryl slept through the night, the drugs keeping him under, waking only every so often for a handful of minutes – during which Jesus would make him drink some water, inquire about how he was feeling. He didn’t hold his hand.

When he awoke again, dull gray light filtering in through the window, the fuzzy feeling was gone. Every breath was a bit uncomfortable but it wasn’t unbearable. He remembered the iron, the pain, but didn’t feel motivated to push too hard at the time between then and now. Jesus was on the sofa next to him, curled up with his feet beneath him, head tipped back. Sound asleep.

He deserved it, Daryl thought, so he didn’t say anything, even though he had to take a piss. It looked like it’d stopped snowing outside, everything so, so quiet – the fire was still going, the crackling of the logs the only sound breaking the silence. This was the closest thing to a vacation he’d ever had, Daryl realized. Isn’t that what people did? Went somewhere where they could just sit on their ass and do nothin’? No responsibilities or any of that bullshit?

Not that Daryl had really had much of that before the world went to shit. Unless he counted followin’ Merle around and getting drunk. Didn’t really need a vacation from that, did he?

Course, most people on vacation could probably get up and take a piss by themselves. Daryl chewed at his lower lip, debatin’ wakin’ Jesus up, when the wooden steps on the porch gave a creak.
Jesus’ eyes flew open, and the man was on his feet before Daryl’d so much as blinked. Jesus looked from the door to him, raised a hand to his lips in a quiet motion, and then crept toward the door. Daryl saw him pick up a knife from the kitchen table. He pulled back the curtain and Daryl watched as the hand holding the knife dropped abruptly.

The door opened, and in stepped Rick Grimes.

Daryl stared, hands jerking toward his shirt to pull the sides closed over himself, hiding his gauze covered flesh from view. Didn’t really feel like explaining that at the moment.

He listened to the low rumble of Rick’s voice as he greeted Jesus, but his eyes were already looking for Daryl. Daryl swallowed when Rick’s gaze found him, watched as Jesus looked between the two of them and then made some excuse about checking the rain traps for melted snow.

The door closed behind him and left the two of them alone, for maybe the first time since the war ended.

“Came as soon as I could,” Rick said, long legs making short work of the distance across the cabin.

“Ain’t ya got more important stuff t’worry about?” Daryl asked, and he wasn’t tryin’ to make him leave or nothin’, just couldn’t fathom how trekking through the woods to check up on him was more important than keeping Alexandria runnin’.

“Making sure you’re alright is important, Daryl,” Rick replied. Daryl averted his gaze, grunted to show he’d at least heard him.

“Was thinking of borrowing a horse from The Kingdom, get you outta here, back to Alexandria,” Rick suggested. Daryl’s head jerked up to stare at him, eyes all squinted up for a second. The thought of haulin’ himself up onto a horse seemed implausible at best, even if he had wanted to go back to Alexandria. It seemed like a reach. Daryl went to shrug, winced instead.

“Ain’t too bad here,” he said. He thought about going back to Alexandria, with Negan locked up all cozy in a cell. Thought of Jesus going back to Hilltop. He swallowed. “Ain’t gettin’ up on no horse with my leg like this anyway.”

Rick frowned, hands on the holsters at his hip, and Daryl watched his gaze travel round the cabin as if looking for some excuse, some reason to bring him back anyway. “Jesus takin’ care of you?” he asked and Daryl felt his ears burn for no reason.

“Found me, brought me here. He’s alright,” Daryl said. Rick nodded.

“You got enough food?”

“Got some soup, don’t really know what else. Jesus would know,” he said. Rick nodded again, glanced toward the kitchen.

“I’ll ask him,” Rick said.

Daryl nodded, adjusted the blanket over his lap.

They talked for a little while more. Rick looked older, after the war. He’d gotten his share of wounds too, hair a little grayer, but he seemed happy enough. He asked about Judith, Michonne, avoided the topic of Negan and sidestepped any inquiries about when he’d be coming back to Alexandria. Daryl didn’t really wanna have that conversation when he was stuck sittin’ on no couch.

Eventually, as the afternoon wore on, Rick had to go. It was a long way back to Alexandria and a more difficult journey at dark. Rick clapped a hand to his shoulder as he said goodbye and Daryl bit back a moan of pain when it pulled at the wound, gritted his teeth and clapped a hand around his arm and squeezed, said his goodbyes too.

Daryl listened to the sound of his boots on the hardwood floor as he made his way to the door, listened to it open, close, then open again a minute later, turned his head to see Jesus closing it behind him.

Jesus stared at him for a long moment, opened his mouth to speak.

Daryl beat him to it.

“Gotta take a piss.”

Chapter Text

No matter how many times he did it, he didn’t think it’d get any less embarrassing hobblin’ out to the porch to take a piss while Jesus stood there in silence. Then again, havin’ him yappin’ at him while he was tryin’ not to piss on himself mighta been more awkward. He was getting the hang of it though, no longer wobbling quite so bad and he only had to hold onto the porch railing for a second as he zipped and buttoned his jeans.

He cleared his throat, turning in preparation to be escorted back to the couch, except Jesus wasn’t even looking at him, starin’ out into the woods like his damn life depended on it. Daryl gave him a second, then another, then finally cleared his throat more forcefully and Jesus jumped like he’d been goosed, wide eyes swinging back to Daryl.

Daryl eyed him, eyes narrowing as Jesus sidled up to him with a too fake smile on his face. He could see it, the way it didn’t reach his eyes.

“Ready?” Jesus asked, too bright, almost enough to make Daryl wince.

Daryl grunted, a furrow appearin’ between his brow when Jesus took ahold of his arm, but all gentle, like he didn’t actually wanna be touching him. Wasn’t like Daryl wanted him cuddling up to him or nothin’, but he was used to a bit more support on the hobble back, and he couldn’t help the vaguely questioning looks he shot toward the other man as they made their way to the sofa.

He all but collapsed into the little divot he’d made where he’d been sittin’, Jesus letting go a few seconds too soon. He landed with a pained grunt, gaze swinging back toward Jesus, who at least looked a little apologetic.

“Christ, the hell’s yer problem?” he said, with annoyance but little bite.

There was no quippy comeback, but instead a pale pink spreading over Jesus’ cheeks. Well, that was....something. Daryl frowned, eyeing him, confused and suspicious. The hell?

“Seriously, what?” he all but barked, and he could see Jesus take in a deep breath, like he was preparing to do something he really didn’t wanna.

“Nothing just you were....you were very talkative on those pills.”

For a moment Daryl just stared blankly – as a slowly creeping horror started to crawl over him. He ain’t never had much use for painkillers, had never liked how loose they’d made his tongue, and maybe he’d been overly optimistic in thinking that he coulda kept his damn mouth shut for one damn night. He swallowed, suddenly feeling as if he’d stuffed his mouth with ash. He didn’t want to ask, shit, he really didn’t and it didn’t look as if Jesus felt any more eager to answer, but he felt the words falling out of his mouth anyway.

“What’d I say?”

“Nothing just –“

“Ain’t nothing if you’re looking like that,” Daryl replied, watching as the pink spread all the way across the bridge of Jesus’ nose.

“Fine.” Jesus said, biting the word off. “You want to know?” He trailed off like he was giving Daryl an out. Daryl’s jaw clenched, and he gave a jerky nod.

Jesus swallowed visibly, and Daryl tried not to watch the way throat bobbed. Shit, what the fuck had he said? He watched Jesus seem to steel himself, and he did the same, as best he could.

“Alright, fine. You said you wanted to kiss me. You held my hand.”

Daryl blinked once. Then twice. He felt like he’d been smacked over the head by something blunt and heavy. “Yer lyin’,” he said, immediately, reflexively.

Jesus laughed, but it didn’t sound too nice. “Why would I lie about that, Daryl? I don’t know why you said it, okay? You were high. That’s – it’s fine, it’s not a big deal.”

Daryl couldn’t get anything else out of his mouth. His jaw felt like it was set with tar, expression near blank. He knew Jesus wouldn’t care about any of that shit – he was gay wasn’t like he was gonna break Daryl’s jaw for liking guys himself, but there was some paranoid, overwhelming fear squirming in his gut that if this got out – that he thought Jesus was hot, everything would come falling down around his head.

Fucking years on and the ghost of his daddy’s voice was still ringing in his ears. It wasn’t even just thinking Jesus was hot though – cos that was, he’d dealt with that shit before, by shoving it down so deep it suffocated, but this wasn’t just thinking he was hot. This was wondering what it’d be like to have the sort of thing Rick and Michonne had. Or Maggie and Glenn. He wanted that and that was – hah, shit that was terrifying.

“Daryl are you – are you alright?” Jesus asked, and suddenly he was standing right in front of him. Daryl blinked, tilting his head back to look at him. “Daryl?” Daryl swallowed.

“I’m not...” he said, but he couldn’t bring himself to finish that sentence. I’m not one of them like you because he was. There was a furrow between Jesus’ brow, a little indentation that Daryl suddenly felt the urge to smooth over, to drive that look away. Jesus did look worried, Daryl thought distantly. Did he really look that scared?

There was quiet that kept on building. Daryl couldn’t force anything out of his mouth and the longer it went on the harder it felt, like some giant weight resting in his throat. After a minute or two, Jesus seemed to take the silence to mean something and gave a short little nod, and Daryl watched something get locked up, all of a sudden, his expression clearing as he gave Daryl a tight smile.

“I should change your bandage. There’s only so many antibiotics to go around, can’t have you getting an infection,” he said, and Daryl only nodded mutely, feeling as if he’d lost his voice.

He could still feel the tension in the room as Jesus went to get the little first aid kit. Daryl stared down at his hands, turning the words over and over in his head. You said you wanted to kiss me. He’d said that. He’d said that right to Jesus’ face. Why the fuck had he said that? He didn’t want Jesus to be all weird now – sure they weren’t best friends or nothing, but he’d been growing to actually not mind him (alright, fine – he liked being around him, alright? And it wasn’t just cos he had some dumbass crush on him) and the idea of Jesus avoiding him after his leg healed up made his stomach sour.

“Got it!” Jesus said, unnecessarily as he reappeared, brandishing the kit.

He didn’t seem disheartened when Daryl did nothing more than nod, although the tension ratcheted up another notch when Jesus undid the buttons of his shirt and pushed them aside. He was so close Daryl could see every one of his eyelashes, until his hair shifted, fell in front of his face. He swallowed, tried to look away, jaw setting as Jesus pulled back the corner of the bandage and frowned at the inflamed skin beneath. Daryl imagined it didn’t look pretty, even as he kept his gaze averted, but it was no doubt better than what had been there before. Even with all the pain and the shitty ass painkillers he didn’t regret asking Jesus to do it.

The first touch of cool ointment on his heated skin made him hiss through his teeth, ignoring the apologetic noise Jesus made in response as he carefully spread the cream. He could feel his heartbeat start to trip in his chest, though he ignored it. This wasn’t – he was just putting shit on his chest, because apparently, he didn’t want Daryl to die of an infection.

He meant to keep staring at the sofa, but his gaze slipped, falling back to Jesus’ face, the way his eyes were fixed firmly on Daryl’s chest, his mouth tilting into the slightest of frowns. The pink from earlier was gone.

Jesus kept spreading ointment.

Daryl thought it was probably well past good enough, but he didn’t open his mouth to say anything. It hurt, just a little bit, but Jesus was gentle, barely applying pressure, and Daryl felt like there was a vise squeezing his chest. When Jesus’ hand still but didn’t leave, Daryl felt like he’d swallowed a rock.

“That should do it,” Jesus said, voice too soft.

Something shifted, broke a little inside him. He let out a breath, feeling nervous and jittery all of a sudden, his hand reaching out like it had a life of his own. Fingers slightly shaky, he pushed a lock of hair from in front of Jesus’ eyes, watched him still suddenly, gaze frozen on where he’d left his hand on Daryl’s chest. Could he feel it? His heart beating like a fucking jackrabbit?

The pad of his thumb brushed against the skin of Jesus’ forehead and it felt a little bit like when he’d fallen onto one of his own bolts, a sudden shock. His throat went dry, his tongue snaking out to wet his lower lip as he waited for Jesus’ sea green eyes to meet his, the seconds ticking by until Daryl thought he’d ruined things.

Jesus looked up.

Chapter Text

The moment Jesus’ eyes locked with hit it like something had knocked Daryl off kilter, like a bout of vertigo after a night of drinking. There was something soft and vulnerable in them, something that made Daryl swallow reflexively. He felt like something had scooped out his stomach and replaced it with a squirming, hollerin’ thing, every nerve on red alert as they just stared at each other.

You said you wanted to kiss me. You held my hand.

The words echoed around his head, his mouth as dry as a damn desert, only getting dryer as willed himself to do anything except look at him. For his part, Jesus was just looking back at him, open and patient, and it made him feel like he’d swallowed a rock and some whisky at the same, warmth flooding through his face.

He didn’t know how to want somethin’ like this. He couldn’t wrap his head around how much he wanted to lean forward and press his mouth against Jesus’ – like it’d be the easiest thing in the world. Was this how everyone else felt, all the time? How the hell had they gotten anything done, with this want so strong it made his teeth ache.

And yet he couldn’t even fucking lean forward three fucking inches. He was fucking chickenshit, his heart doing its best to beat its way right out his chest.

You said you wanted to kiss me

He couldn’t take it back, couldn’t deny it – he’d tried and the words had dried up on his tongue. The seconds stretched out between them, tension rising with each passing second, and Daryl thought there was a good chance he might just pass the fuck out, lightheaded and short of breath.

Jesus blinked, slow, and then his gaze dropped. So did Daryl’s stomach.

Fuck.

But Jesus didn’t do nothin’, just looked, and it was then Daryl realized that Jesus wasn’t gonna make the first move.

What did that mean?

He was lookin’ at him like that, but he wasn’t doin’ nothin’ about that. Did it mean he didn’t – did it mean that this bullshit was only one-sided? Daryl wasn’t sure he could stomach that, not after blurting out his goddamn feelings like some angsty teen while high on pain medication. He might have been able to handle that knowledge if he was the only one who had it, but now it was out in the open.

He’d taken on fucking hordes of walkers and this was still the most terrifying thing he’d ever faced. His thumb felt numb, frozen against Jesus’s forehead, and he swallowed one more time, watching as something shifted in Jesus’ expression, got a little more distant, the skin beneath his thumb furrowing just a tiny bit. He was losing him. Losing this moment. Daryl didn’t know what scared him more – leaning forward, or not.

Jesus’ hand twitched on his chest, started to pull away and Daryl reacted – his hand sliding around to the back of Jesus’ head to draw him in, tangled in his long, ridiculously soft locks, leaning up to press his lips to his rushed, nearly frantic, with no skill to it at all.

Their noses knocked and their teeth clicked and Daryl thought for sure that Jesus was gonna pull back and ask him what the fuck he thought he was doing. But he didn’t, he was kissin’ him back, with just about the same amount of desperation, and even though their teeth kept clicking and Daryl thought for sure one of ‘em was gonna come out of it with their lip split, it was the best thing he’d ever felt in his whole goddamn life.

His fingers curled helplessly through Jesus’ hair, unsure where the fuck he was supposed to put his hands or do with his mouth and fuck he wasn’t good at this – he didn’t know what the fuck – and then all of a sudden something changed, Jesus got control of the kiss somehow, his mouth gentling, and Daryl nearly whimpered with the feeling of it.

Somewhere at the back of his mind he realized Jesus’ beard tickled just like he imagined it would.

After a few long moments, in which Daryl slowly got used to the feeling of Jesus’ mouth against his, to the little, nudging touches of his tongue against the seam of his mouth, Jesus pulled back. It was just as well, cos Daryl realized he hadn’t taken a damn breath since they’d first locked lips.

“Are you still high?” Jesus asked, but all Daryl could look at was the way his lips were red and a little puffy, color high in his cheeks. Daryl had done that to him. Daryl.

He managed to pull himself together after a moment, brow furrowing. “I ain’t – “ he cleared his throat, words piling up on the back of his tongue, like admitting it now was somehow too much. “I ain’t high,” he rumbled, voice rough, gaze flitting from sea green eyes to the floor before he forced it back again.

“I didn’t think you – “ Jesus started.

“We ain’t – we ain’t gotta talk about it, alright,” he interrupted. “Didn’t think either...” he muttered, although that wasn’t strictly true. He’d always known, somehow, in a way he wasn’t willin’ to admit aloud. The idea of it still made him feel like his pa was gonna come swinging from the grave, ready to bust him up.

“Okay,” Jesus said. Like it was that simple.

Daryl eyed him, feeling some of that tension come back and all he could think about was how it’d felt to have Jesus’ mouth against his. He swallowed.

“So you’re not high,” Jesus said, consideringly. “Does that mean you want to –“

“Ain’t got nothin’ better to do,” Daryl bit out, face already feeling warm.

He watched the corner of Jesus’ mouth tilt upward and wondered how the hell they’d gotten here from where they’d started. From some damn cigarette. This time, it wasn’t him who leaned in, it was Jesus. It was better this time, easier, and Daryl found his eyes closing, the only thing he could feel was Jesus’ hand on his chest and the wet slide of his tongue, which oughta be gross – but it wasn’t, it lit up his nerves like gasoline and he gave in with a stilted noise through his nose.

They kissed and they kissed. And they kissed some more. Daryl’d always wondered how people could stand to suck face so long, but right now? Hell, the only reason he eventually pulled back was cos his chest was starting to burn with the need to get in a full breath.

The light through the windows had started to dim, evening rapidly approaching, and sometime along the way Jesus had sidled up to him on the sofa. There was quiet now, but it wasn’t the tense kind and Daryl just sat there, idly eyeing Jesus, waiting for his mouth to stop tingling.

“Hungry?” Jesus asked and then when Daryl hesitated, eyes narrowing, “Soup?”

“Could eat,” he said, with a nod.

When Jesus got up off the couch he felt a little colder, and that didn’t go away even when Jesus started up the fire again. It was cozy though, watching Jesus stoke the flames higher before bringing the pot over to start heating up the soup.

His leg hurt a little, not enough for pills, and his chest throbbed occasionally, but Daryl realized, with a slow, easy dawning, that things were alright. He felt, if not happy, almost content. Maybe it was all those chemicals floating around his brain and shit from kissin’ Jesus. That was a thing right? He vaguely remembered it from some science class – or maybe it was some dumbass magazine he’d read waiting for Merle at one of his brother’s junkie’s houses. Didn’t matter.

It might wear off, but for now, he wasn’t panicking at the idea that Jesus knew he liked him. Cos Jesus liked him back. Or whatever – it sounded juvenile, like they were in middle school, cept, Daryl’d never done none of that in middle school. Never passed no notes, checked those ‘do you like me’ boxes – and wasn’t like he’d have wanted to anyway, but ain’t nobody talked to him back then.

It was whatever.
He forced himself to pay attention to the present, chewing at his lower lip as he watched Jesus stir the soup. When he’d first met him, he’d thought he was some scrawny thing, even though he’d certainly seemed to get the better of Rick and had had no trouble slamming him up against a truck. But he’d been wrong – Jesus was far from scrawny. Daryl’s gaze lingered over the broadness of his shoulders, his gaze darkening before he snapped himself out of it.

Shit, he’d been ten seconds away from drooling.

What the hell was wrong with him? Maybe those neurochemicals and shit didn’t mix well with lingering pain meds. That had to be it. His gaze drifted back toward Jesus, eyes narrowing when he saw the corner of a smirk on Jesus’ lips. He’d been caught.

“Ain’t it done yet?” he asked, roughly, to avoid having to endure any teasing about it.

“Just about,” Jesus said, magnanimously.

They were quiet through the rest of dinner, spooning soup into their mouths as they sat side by side on the sofa.

The fire crackled and the soup settled warmly in his gut and Daryl couldn’t remember the last time he’d had this. Peace. There was always something going on – and yeah, he had a busted-up leg and third-degree burns on his chest, but it almost felt like everything was gonna be alight. Like it wasn’t the end of the world anymore, but something different.

Jesus cleaned up and Daryl sank back into the sofa a little bit, feeling drowsy but not enough to drift off. It was quiet for a few minutes and Daryl stared at the fire, feeling warm in a way that wasn’t just on the outside. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but he didn’t hate it.

The sofa dipped as Jesus sat down next to him again, a book in his hands. Daryl raised a curious brow.

“I found it in the bedroom,” he said, tilting it so that Daryl could see the cover. A Wrinkle in Time.

“Never heard of it,” Daryl said. He’d never been a huge reader – more for necessity than anything else. It didn’t mean he didn’t like to read or nothin’, just he’d never gotten the time, and Merle would probably have had a few choice words for him if he begged off going to a bar to stick his nose in a book.

“It’s one of my favorites,” Jesus said, easily. “I had a copy of it for a while before it went missing after some new kids came into the group home,” he said.

Daryl frowned. He wondered, not for the first time, what sort of childhood Jesus had had. Obviously not one all sunshine and daisies and shit. He didn’t pry though – he was sure Jesus didn’t want him askin’ questions any more than Daryl wanted Jesus to. Daryl chewed his lower lip, watching as Jesus turned on a lantern, obviously setting himself up to do some reading.

“Do you wanna.....” he paused, feeling stupid. “Wanna read it to me?” he asked, tips of his ears flaming when Jesus raised a surprised brow.

“Ain’t got nothin’ better to do ‘n it’ll probably put me to sleep anyway,” Daryl said, but Jesus merely smiled.

“Okay,” he said, settling in next to Daryl, not quite close enough to touch, but enough so that Daryl could easily feel the heat of his body.

“It was a dark and stormy night.....”

Jesus read with a steady, melodic voice and despite himself, Daryl found himself being drawn into the story. He couldn’t quite relate to it – some girl going off to find her disappeared daddy – but it was easy enough to get caught up in it, listening to Jesus read. He didn’t do voices or nothin’, but he was no less captivating as a storyteller, and Daryl listened with rapt attention, even as his body started gettin’ more and more tired, bit by bit leaning a little closer to Jesus, shortening the gap between them until their shoulders were pressed together and Daryl was just about resting his head on his shoulder.

He read on and on but Daryl didn’t get tired of it, even as the light through the window faded completely, darkness filling in the room outside the spaces brightened by the lantern and fire. He did wonder, at one point, whether Jesus might be getting tired, but his voice didn’t waver, remained steady and soothing and Daryl realized with a start that he didn’t want to go another single day in his life without hearing that voice.

”I love you. Charles Wallace, you are my darling and my dear and the light of my life and the treasure of my heart. I love you. I love you. I love you.”

It was part of the story, the girl saying it to her brother she had to rescue from some planet, but Daryl’s stomach still twisted at the words, hearin’ them come from Jesus’ mouth. He went still, trying not to breathe in a way that seemed out of the ordinary, focusing on the rest of the story as it came to a close. It’d been a good story – probably not one of Daryl’s favorites, but he could see why Jesus liked it. He still felt like he’d swallowed a rock, those three little words rolling around in his head. They seemed too big to fit, something that Daryl would never be able to say himself. Even thinking about it – hell, it made fear curl in the it of his stomach.

Jesus deserved something better than that.

He shoved the thought away as Jesus snapped the book closed, a soft, crooked smile on his face. “Did you like it?” he asked.

“Was alright,” Daryl said, but maybe Jesus knew him well enough to read between the lines, to see the lack of bite in them because his smile grew.

“I definitely need a drink now,” Jesus remarked. “Did you want another pill before we go to sleep?” And just like that the squirming feeling in Daryl’s stomach drifted away.

Daryl declined the pill.

It was cold as balls outside and Daryl hurried as best as he could to get back to the warmth of the fire, Jesus’ presence steady at his side. Jesus settled some blankets over his lap, put some water on the table and then hesitated before he leaned down to press a kiss against Daryl’s lips, chaste and sweet, although it still made him blush.

He didn’t know if he was ever gonna get used to that. Or if it was a thing he was gonna be allowed get used to – and he had to stop his thoughts there. He had to focus on right now, not what might not happen after they left this cabin and went back to the real world.

Jesus settled into the chair next to the sofa and Daryl shoved away a flicker of disappointment.

“Good night, Daryl,” he said.

“Night,” Daryl echoed. But he didn’t close his eyes like Jesus. Didn’t fall asleep. Instead, he could only watch, gaze drifting over Jesus feeling something warm and aching spread through his chest.

Chapter Text

The forest was just starting to lighten with hints of dawn and the air was cold enough to make his chest hurt every time he breathed in. He did his best to hurry, piss steaming as it hit the snowy ground, and he was overly aware of Jesus's presence behind him on the porch. It felt different now that they'd had their tongues in each other's mouths, though he wasn't sure how. He knew Jesus wasn't gonna try and catch a peek or nothin' – he could be mischievous sometimes, but he wasn't like that – but the thought of being this close to him with his junk out in the air.... well, it made him start thinking about some other things.

Other things that made him shove himself back in his pants so fast he caught himself on his zipper, shoulders hunching against the pain. Another moment or two and he might just have embarrassed himself. After carefully zipping he turned to find Jesus looking perfectly innocent – except, Daryl had known him awhile now and could see the amusement hiding in the curve of his not-smile and the way his dumb eyes danced.

"Shut up," he groused as Jesus hooked an arm and let him lean on him back into the cabin.

Daryl dozed a little bit more after he'd been deposited back on the sofa, startling awake when there was a knock on the door. He watched Jesus answer it, easing up a bit when Doc Carson came through. They exchanged the usual pleasantries (well, Daryl grunted, Jesus made polite small talk) and then the doc was taking a look at Daryl's leg.

Daryl ignored the slight worry squirmin' in his gut. What if his damn leg never healed? What if he wasn't ever gonna be able to walk on it again, or if he did he'd have some limp? He couldn't do shit beyond the walls with no damn limp. Daryl didn't want to be useless.

"Looks good."

Daryl blinked, his worries grinding to a halt at Carson's words and the pleased, slightly relieved smile on the doc's face as he got to his feet. The way things went in his life, he'd been expecting to hear that he was gonna be in a cast forever, or he'd fucked his leg up so bad he might as well be better off without it.

"You're on track as far as healing goes," Carson said, putting things back into his bag. "It's too soon for you to be making any long treks out to Hilltop or Alexandria, but you can start walking around the cabin. Just take it slow and ease off if it starts to hurt too much."

Daryl thanked him – a genuine, non-grunting thanks – and then Doc Carson was gone, leaving Daryl with a bubble of relief in his chest and the tender, cautious hope that maybe shit was gonna work out this time after all.

"Help me up," he said, almost as soon as the door closed. Jesus had been standing close by – near enough to hear everything but far enough to be out of the way and Daryl watched his brow rise in surprise at the sudden request. "Can't stand sittin' still any longer if I don't have to, 'n I wanna see the rest of the place," he said, like they were holed up in some fancy hotel and not some dusty cabin in the middle of the woods. He held Jesus' gaze as he regarded him, probably trying to figure out if there was any chance Carson had been wrong and letting Daryl hobble somewhere besides the front porch to take a piss might undo all his recovery.

Jesus turned and walked toward the porch, prompting an annoyed grunt from Daryl. "Hey-" he protested, only to snap his mouth closed when Jesus returned with one of the walking sticks he'd used to get to the cabin in the first place.

"Figured this might make things easier," Jesus said, simply, coming over and resting it against the couch so he could help Daryl up. Daryl clutched at his arm, trying to do most of the work himself, but it ended up being about fifty-fifty as Jesus lifted him, and for probably the hundredth time since they'd been stuck in the cabin, he tried not think about what Jesus' arms must look like under his sleeves.

Daryl could just...ask. They were...well, they were doing whatever it was they were doing now and as far as Daryl understood, it wouldn't be a leap to see each other shirtless. The thought made his heart skitter for half a beat, and he focused instead on the rough feeling of the bark beneath his fingertips. He tried a step, aware of Jesus hovering at the periphery of his vision. It went alright, so he tried another, only to put too much weight on the stick, lurching suddenly in that direction.

Of course, Jesus was there with a hand at the crook of his elbow, catching him, and Daryl ducked his head, grumbling something that might be a thanks, if Jesus was payin' real close attention and cared to interpret it that way.

"There's just a bedroom and a bathroom back there," Jesus said, hand still on his arm, nodding toward the hallway past the wall with the fireplace. "Everything is dusty."

Daryl shrugged as best he could, limping toward the back of the cabin, the impromptu cane thudding on the wood. When he got to the bedroom, it was just as Jesus said. A double bed, with a comforter and a thick coating of dust on all the wood in the room (it was a cabin, and rustic, so there was a shit ton). There were places he could see that Jesus had been – the little book shelf in the corner had books missing, trails in the dust, and the dresser had a few fingerprints on top. The closet was open a crack and Daryl imagined that was where Jesus had procured the board games.

He thumped his way over toward the bathroom, aware of Jesus standing back just in case he needed to keep him from falling again. There wasn't really anything they needed, but Daryl took a little look around just in case. Face wash and q-tips, the former dried out and the latter only a couple in a little box.

He took a few more steps down the hallway, the motion of leaning on the cane and hefting his leg around becoming more and more uncomfortable. He didn't want to admit it, but he was ready to sit down again.

"Let's eat," Jesus said, appearing behind him. Daryl side-eyed him, trying to figure out if he was mother henning him – if he could sense his waning energy or something – but then decided he didn't give a shit.

"Alright."

Instead of sitting his ass back on the couch, he hobbled over toward the kitchen table, struggling with the branch as he tried to sit down. He managed, eventually, with Jesus' help, and it felt good to sit in a nice, firm chair while he slurped soup for once. They didn't talk, but it was a comfortable silence. Jesus's knee knocked against his under the table and Daryl pressed his a little harder against him, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on his soup.

He rested a little when they were finished, watching Jesus rinse out the bowls with the bucket of water by the sink. He could see the muscles in his shoulders shift beneath his shirt and something went a little tight inside him. He swallowed.

After a few minutes, Jesus turned, wiping his hands on his pants. "What do you say we get you out of those clothes," he asked.

Daryl felt his face go up in flames.

He could tell Jesus was trying not to smile.

"I just meant the clothes in the bedroom seem pretty close to your size and you might like some pants that you don't have to fight the zipper on every time you have to..."

Daryl cut him off. "Yeah – fine, alright." He still felt like his face was on fire.

Jesus smiled, pleased. "I'll get some water and warm it up, might as well wash up. Can you make it to the bathroom?"

Daryl swallowed. Nodded.

He watched as Jesus took one of the buckets on the kitchen counter and headed out to the rain catcher and then headed to the bathroom himself, leaning heavily on the branch as he did. It was nice to be able to walk around without needin' to hold onto Jesus' arm like some little old lady, and he took the long way toward the bathroom (which really just meant hobbling around the other side of the sofa). By the time he'd gotten in there, he could hear Jesus hauling in the bucket, his steps labored with the weight of it, and then there was silence, presumably so he could warm it up by the fire.

He realized that he wasn't gonna be able to plop himself down on the toilet seat, or even the edge of the bathtub without possibly falling on his ass, so he shifted, placing his makeshift crutch against the wall and leaning slightly against the bathroom counter while he waited. It wasn't a huge bathroom – he doubted more than one or two people had ever stayed here at the same time, just room enough for him 'n Jesus and maybe one other person if they squeezed in real tight. Luckily, it was just the two of them.

"Oh," Jesus said a few minutes later as he appeared in the doorway, holding an overfull bucket. "Sorry, I didn't realize you wouldn't be able to –"

"It's alright." Daryl cut him off, watched him set down the bucket.

"We should probably take these off before you sit down," Jesus said, gesturing toward his jeans. "Well, shoes first."

Jesus knelt down in front of him to unlace them, and Daryl felt like he'd swallowed his tongue. He put a hand on the counter as Jesus guided his boots off his feet and set them carefully aside, and by the time Jesus stood up again, Daryl was shaking, ever so slightly. Jesus gestured for him to start on his jeans.

Daryl swallowed. He put a hand on Jesus's shoulder to keep his balance this time and then popped the button on his jeans, and it didn't take more than a gentle tug from Jesus' hands before they fell to his knees – as far as the brace on his leg would let it go.

"Here, sit down for the rest," Jesus said, and then he was crowding into Daryl's space, close enough that Daryl couldn't help but get a whiff – he smelled like sweat and fire, and, inexplicably, mint. Daryl swallowed, allowing himself to be guided back until he was perched on the side of the tub. He clutched onto the tub while Jesus worked his jeans off the rest of the way, gently guiding once side over the rest of his leg, until his they were in a pile on the floor. He could see the dirt from here.

It was a lot easier to get his shirt off – Daryl even managed a couple buttons himself until he started to feel a little unbalanced and let Jesus finish them. It was cold – there wasn't any heat from the fire in the bathroom, but the cabin seemed well insulated enough so that he wasn't shivering.

Jesus turned, digging in the cabinet under the sink before pulling out a couple wash rags and a still wrapped bar of soap. Daryl hadn't seen those on his look through, but then again, he hadn't gone nosing around in the bottom cupboard either.

He felt a little exposed – the bandage on his chest and the boxers he was wearing the only cover he had. It made him feel twitchy, and he looked at Jesus, covered from head to toe in clothes – his boots, pants, hell, Daryl was pretty sure he had an undershirt under his long-sleeve.

"You too," he said, voice coming out a little rough. He didn't know why he said it.

"What?" Jesus asked, a brow raised, bluegreen eyes wide and guileless.

"Just uh – you should probably get cleaned up too. Since yer in here and all."

"Oh."

Daryl felt like his heart was gonna climb up his damn throat. He hadn't meant anything by it. Not like – not like that it just made sense. And maybe Daryl didn't want to be the only one exposed right now.

He could see Jesus considering it, a tiny furrow between his brows, before his expression cleared and he started removing articles of clothing. He did it nonchalantly, folding them neatly and placing them on the sink as he took off each one – boots then his shirt, then his undershirt, leaving him only in a pair of tight black boxers. He was pale – probably from wearing his damn leather jacket all the time, even in the heat of summer, and Daryl realized a moment too late that he'd been staring the silence between them growing.

"Here," Jesus said, sitting on the closed toilet lid, pulling the bucket over so it was easy for both of them to reach. The bathroom was small enough that their knees pressed together where they sat. "I'll do you first."

Daryl swallowed.

The first drag of the cloth over his shoulder made him shiver, breath constricting in his chest. It all felt a little too much, the tension filling up the slight space between them, stretching and stretching until Daryl wasn't sure he could get a full breath in anymore. And yet – the smooth, firm movements of the cloth were soothing, and Jesus was nothing if not thorough as he made his way from one side of Daryl's body – chest and ribs, and just the slightest glance over his stomach because he'd flinched, just a little at that – and skirted the edges of the bandage on the way over. His skin prickled with the cold, the warmth of the water chased away by the cool air, but Daryl didn't mind. Before Alexandria, before the farm or the prison, they'd always taken their baths in the creeks, and there wasn't no warming those up by a fire.

Jesus made quick work of his legs, and then stood, dipping the cloth back into the bucket. He wrung it out and then stepped into the tub, putting a gentle hand on Daryl's shoulder before lowering the cloth to his back. He bit back a gasp, although it shouldn't have been any different from when Jesus did his front. And Jesus didn't even linger over the scars, just wiped the cloth efficiently over them. When Jesus stopped and nudged the cloth into his hand, he didn't realize what he wanted until Jesus pointed toward the bucket.

Daryl leaned forward and dipped it in, wrung it out and handed it back.

Jesus finished the rest of it quickly enough and returned to his spot on the toilet seat. "I can get you some clothes from the bedroom then finish this up my-"

"Nah," Daryl said. "Wanna do it." He couldn't look up to meet Jesus' gaze, but he did see the man's hand give the cloth in his hand a quick jerking squeeze.

"Oh. Okay. Um...here," he said, dipping the cloth into the water and wringing it out again before he handed it to him.

Daryl eyed him, trying to figure out what to start with. He decided on Jesus's shoulder, because that's where Jesus had started on him, and he dragged the cloth lightly over him, over his muscles, and he wasn’t no body builder or nothin' but it was obvious that all those punches ninja shit he did were doing wonders. Daryl swallowed, dragged the cloth down his arm, using his other hand to turn Jesus's and swipe the cloth over the palm of his hand. He didn't need to be so thorough – Jesus wasn't nearly as dirty as he was, but he liked the feeling of it, touching Jesus without really touching him, the barrier of the cloth between them – aside from when his hand would slip, as it did running down Jesus's rib cage and both of 'em would tense.

The tension between them was so thick, Daryl swore he coulda cut it with a knife.

He kept on though, but when he tried to lean forward to get the other side of him, he nearly toppled off the tub.

"Wait, let me..." Jesus said, and then just like that he was nudging the bucket a little bit away and kneeling down in front of him, nestled between his spread thighs, putting both his hands on either side of him just in case he needed to catch Daryl.

Daryl realized he was hard in his boxers and shoved the thought away. If he didn't say nothin', it wasn't happenin'.

He swallowed again, moving the cloth over the side he'd been trying to get before, down the other arm and then back to his neck, gaze skirting over Jesus's as he ran the cloth to the edge of his beard and back. Then, he leaned forward, wiping the cloth down his back, breath hitching when he realized how much closer it'd brought him to Jesus. To his mouth. He told himself not to turn but he did, gaze catching on Jesus's for a long moment – and then that moment stretched into another and before he knew it they were kissing.

He grabbed ahold of Jesus's shoulder, crushing the cloth against him. It started off more heated than the other kisses they'd shared, Jesus's tongue swiping at his lips right off the bat. Daryl could do nothing else but return it, opening against him, and his mouth was warm and wet, and Daryl couldn't do anything but kiss him.

He kissed him until Jesus started to lean up into it and the movement unbalanced him, nearly sending him sprawling back in the tub.
"Oh, shit, sorry," Jesus said, cheeks rosy, eyes bright, a laugh in his words as he sat back. "Think we're both clean enough?" he asked.

Daryl took a moment, feeling like his brain cells were a little fried, and nodded.

Jesus took the opportunity to change his bandage, although the reprieve did little to settle either of them down, Jesus' fingers warm on his skin, lingering just a beat too long every time.

After that it didn't take too long for Jesus to help him into the bedroom, letting him lean against the bed while he rifled through the drawers for a stretchy pair of pajama pants and a shirt. Neither mentioned the twin tents in their boxers.

Jesus was especially nice not to say anything as he helped Daryl into the flannel pajama pants, kneeling to work the fabric over the brace before Daryl stepped into the other leg. The shirt was easier. After Jesus helped Daryl onto the bed, covers pulled aside, he found some clothes for himself. They were a little too big and Daryl couldn't help but snort at the bagginess of the pants, or how the t-shirt hung off one shoulder.

"If you're ready to sleep I can bring your pills and then I'll just sleep out th–"

"Don't need 'em. You can – you don't have to sleep on the sofa. Bed's big enough for more 'n one person."

He watched Jesus consider that, gaze flicking between him and the empty space in the bed, before he gave a decisive nod.

"Okay. I'll just clean up first," he said, disappearing into the hallway, presumably to empty the bucket and make sure the cabin was locked up tight for the night.

The light inside was dimming by the time Jesus got back – without seein' the sky, Daryl couldn't tell what time it was, but it wasn't like it mattered – and he came with the lantern, which he placed on the bedside table.

Daryl stared up at the ceiling as Jesus slid in on the other side, fussing with the covers for a bit until they were both still. He could feel the heat of Jesus's body, even if they weren't touching, and he didn't know what was so hard about this. Why he couldn’t just bridge the distance, like they hadn't been all hot 'n heavy just ten minutes before. It was like he had to work his nerve up again every time, and it was exhausting.

His thoughts were derailed when something knocked against his hand, and it took him a moment to realize it was Jesus's hand. He didn’t look over at him, but he slid their hands together, fingers intertwined, and felt something settle in his chest.

"Night, Daryl," Jesus said softly. Daryl didn't turn to look at him, but he wanted to.

"Night," Daryl said, voice barely more than a rumble.

It didn't take him long to fall asleep, hand still curled in Jesus's.

Chapter Text

It took a while for Daryl to get the hang of the walking stick. He hobbled around the cabin as much as his leg would let him, feeling like a caged animal. Somehow, being able to move around made it worse, not better. Days turned into a week and he got stronger, more capable, but every visit from Carson was another disappointment. Not ready yet. He was starting to get a little antsy, thinking about what was happening in the communities - he might not have any desire to go back to Alexandria, but a good part of his family was there, and he wanted to know they were alright. That they didn't need him for nothing.

Carson said things were fine, but Daryl didn't quite trust it. The truce between everyone had seemed so damn fragile, and Daryl was more 'n used to things not working out. So, he could probably be forgiven for being a little wary.

Jesus made things better.

Whenever Daryl got too anxious, cooped up behind the four walls of the cabin, he'd take him over to the couch and make him sit down. Sometimes he just held his hand and distracted him with books, other times he'd kiss him, until Daryl got so caught up in it he couldn't think of anything else. He was getting used to the press of his mouth, learning all the things Jesus liked. All the things he liked.

"I'm going to go get some food," Jesus said, pulling away from a kiss that had made Daryl feel like butterflies had set up camp in his stomach for good (wasn't that supposed to stop? It wasn't his first kiss, or third, hell, wasn't even his fourth, he needed to calm the fuck down).

"Makin' somethin' besides soup tonight?" he asked, trying to resist the urge to pull Jesus back for another kiss. They'd had soup for the past week, but the cans were dwindling, and Daryl was damn tired of slurping his dinner.

"You'll see," Jesus said, complete with an eyebrow waggle.

Daryl rolled his eyes. "Better get goin', don't wanna get stuck out there after dark," he warned.

Jesus made some sort of agreeable noise and got up, leaning down to press a kiss to the center of Daryl's forehead. Daryl's face scrunched up and he huffed, giving him a little shove, though there was something light in his eyes, a smile at the curve of his mouth that wouldn't quite come out.

"See you in a bit," Jesus said, grinning, as he headed out the door, grabbing his duster on the way.

Daryl didn't like being in the cabin alone. It used to be that he had no problem being solitary. Hell, sometimes he preferred it. Sitting his ass on a couch for an hour while Jesus went out to get food shouldn’t make him restless - shouldn't make him glance at the door every five minutes like if he looked hard enough Jesus would suddenly appear.

He worried the side of his thumb with his teeth for a few long minutes, letting his thoughts run in circles. Things had been real nice the past few days. As nice as they could be when he was still trapped here, anyways. Jesus had started reading him more of the books from the shelf in the bedroom. It kept them occupied and there was something nice about having Jesus read to him. Maybe it was just cos he liked his voice, or how Jesus got drawn into the story too. Sometimes it was like he forgot he was even reading it to somebody, his voice goin' all loose and distracted until Daryl nudged him to get him back on track.

At night, they strayed from the fire to the bedroom. It was warmer beneath the pile of blankets in there than it was on the sofa and more comfortable too. Daryl had been starting to get a crick in his back and neck from spending every night sitting up while he slept. It'd been a while since he'd shared a bed with anybody else. Never had, growin' up, but after the world had went to shit sometimes there was just nothin' to do when it got cold but all cuddle together in a little pile.

Daryl hadn't really joined in on 'em until after the farm - before that he'd kept watch and made sure everyone was alright but the idea of sleepin' next to a bunch of strangers had irked him. After the farm, they weren't strangers no more. They were family.

Sleeping close to Jesus though - that was different. He wasn't family. They hadn't done much more than what they'd done that night sittin' by the tub, though Daryl found he had no trouble fallin' right to sleep after making out a little. There was tension though, Daryl hyperaware of every shift Jesus made next to him on the bed. Sometimes they fell asleep with their hands clutched together, but mostly they were a nice respectable distance apart.

At least until they fell asleep.

Daryl didn't move while he slept - maybe his body knew it would hurt like a motherfucker if he tried to roll around with his leg still in the brace - but Jesus? Jesus always ended up as close as he could to him. Never touching though. Daryl was pretty sure he wouldn’t have minded if he'd woken up with Jesus sprawled across his chest, but the most he ever got was his head resting on his bicep, hair tickling his nose.

It was nice.

Maybe that's why he was so twitchy with Jesus bein' out of the cabin. Like sleepin' next to each other had made him hooked on his presence. He was pretty sure he'd read something about endorphins or some shit once. Makin' people get attached. Maybe that was it. He couldn't even remember where he'd read it - probably some shitty ass magazine he'd perused waiting for Merle to get done doin' whatever dumb shit he was gonna do.

A lifetime ago.

He let out an annoyed sigh, hefting himself to his feet with the aid of the couch arm and the walking stick that was never far away. He'd been getting better at goin' around without Jesus' help - even though every time Jesus came back and saw him hobblin' around by himself he got that little furrow between his brows that Daryl wanted to smooth out with his thumb. He was fine though. It was a small space - plenty of shit to rest on and wasn't nothing to trip over.

He did a circuit of the cabin. There wasn't much to look at - he'd already eyed everything there was to see the first week or so but being up and moving gave him something to do at least. He grabbed some water from the bucket in the kitchen - pre-boiled, courtesy of Jesus, and drank it whilst leaning against the counter. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and hobbled on a little more, stopping to peer through the slats of one of the boarded windows. It was quiet out - a blanket of snow coating the ground, though not quite as much as they'd been getting. He hoped it'd keep up - he was just waiting on the final word from the doc about being able to head back to one of the communities and if he got stranded here because of some damn snow he'd lose his mind.

He did a couple more circuits around the cabin, wishing there was some way to keep track of time. It always seemed to go by so much slower when Jesus was out of the cabin. He'd probably only been gone a couple hours but to Daryl it felt like half the goddamn day. He frowned, leaning into the walking stick as he eyed the front door. It wouldn't hurt to go outside for a bit, would it? He had to take a piss anyway - by now he was able to manage it mostly on his own, though Jesus still liked to stand guard, should any wayward walkers show up.

Luckily, Jesus hadn't left the bench in front of the door so Daryl was able to open it and walk outside. It was cold, the chill of the air ripping right through the flannel pants he had on, though the sweater Jesus had unearthed for him was a little more insulating. He hobbled over to the porch railing to do his business, attention mostly focused on the woods around him. It was just trees as far as he could see, though he could follow the tracks that Jesus had left for a fair distance off the porch. It made him feel marginally better.

The feeling lasted until he turned to go back inside, about halfway to the door, where he hit a patch of ice and went down harder than a sack of spuds.

Pain radiated outward from multiple directions as he stared up at the rotting wood of the porch ceiling, a little dazed. His mouth tasted like copper, but his leg wasn't hurtin' any more than it usually did. He grunted, the shock from the fall slowly dissipating.

Fucking winter.

He hadn't even realized the porch would be iced up. He'd just had to find out the hard way.

It took a moment or two to get his wits about him enough to push himself up on his elbow, and then into a sitting position. He didn't think he'd broken nothing else, though that woulda been just his luck. He eyed the railing, close enough if he scooched just a bit and wondered if he'd be able to get himself up just holding on to that. Jesus had been letting him be pretty independent walking around, but he still always helped him up. And Daryl hadn't had to get up from the floor yet.

He set his jaw, wriggling a few inches closer.

He reached up to grab ahold of the railing and -

"Daryl!"

He flinched, gaze swinging toward Jesus, who had somehow made it up to the porch steps without Daryl hearin' him approach. The next thing he knew, Jesus was kneeling in front of him, careful hands seeking out all the soft parts on his body, like he expected him to be bleedin' out or something.

"Hey, 'm fine," Daryl assured him, as Jesus' hands fluttered over his leg like a baby bird, too afraid to land. "Jesus, hey - Paul, seriously, just fell on some damn ice," he said, ducking his head and trying to get Jesus to look at him.

It took him a moment, but he did.

There was fear in his eyes, the half-second before he managed to school his features back into something more neutral. It was like watching a shield go up. Daryl frowned.

"Don't do that again," Jesus said, plainly.

"What, take a piss?" Daryl asked, reflexively, eyes flicking warily over Jesus' face.

He could see the bob of Jesus' throat as he swallowed, though his expression remained placid enough. It made Daryl twitch, knowing that there was something behind the firm pressed line of his mouth. He'd seen it in his eyes.

"You know what I mean, Daryl, I told you I'd be back. You could have - " he cut himself off, looking down at Daryl's leg. Hair fell in front of his face and Daryl fought the urge to push it aside. He curled his hand, fingers to his palm instead.

"I could have what?" Daryl asked, feeling a little prickly at the idea that Jesus didn't think he could take care of himself. He could - he'd managed just find in a shit ton of situations before he'd even known Jesus existed, he'd have found a way back up.

Would have found a way outta the damn woods too, without him.

"Anything could have happened!" The tension snapped, Jesus' eyes wide, nostrils flared as he met Daryl's gaze squarely. He could see the fear again, and it hit him straight in the gut. He blinked, swallowed hard. "When I looked at the porch and I saw you - I thought - I thought you were -"

Silence hung between them in the air and Daryl chewed at his lower lip. It wasn't like he wasn't used t'other people caring about him. Ever since the farm, when he'd really become part of the group, he'd known he'd been a part of a family that would die for him, easily as he'd die for each and every one of 'em. But he wasn't used to someone like Jesus - who had no group obligation to him.

He thought about how he'd felt when he'd seen Jesus come in with blood on 'im, after being out there with walkers, and his stomach twisted.

He got it.

"'m alright," he said, softer now, gaze hooking on Jesus'. "I'll wait for you next time, swear," he said.

Jesus stared at him for a moment, then another, then seemed to accept it, giving a short, jerky nod, gaze skittering away from his face.

"Let's get you up," he said, and Daryl took his hand, letting himself be pulled up onto his feet. He grabbed the walking stick, but allowed Jesus to support him with a shoulder beneath his armpit. Was the least he could do for making him worry.

They hobbled their way inside and Jesus deposited him on the sofa, in his well-worn spot which would probably be sporting imprints of his ass long after he made it out of there.

"What took y'so long anyway?" Daryl asked curiously as Jesus took off his pack and went rummaging inside.

"These," Jesus said, pulling out three dead rabbits. "I set some traps yesterday but there were a few walkers wandering around, so I had to take care of them first."

Daryl eyed the rabbits, impressed. "Where'd you learn to trap?" he asked. It was a helpful skill these days, but Daryl hadn't met many that could manage it.

"You, actually," Jesus said, and Daryl blinked, gaze moving from the rabbits to his face.

"Me?"

"Yeah, I do pay attention you know."

Daryl bit back a smile, feeling inexplicably proud. Wasn't like he'd been teaching him or nothing, but he realized Jesus had been around some when Daryl'd been setting up traps. He'd just never thought he was paying attention.

"Y'did good," Daryl said.

"Thanks," Jesus said. "Wanna help me skin 'em?"

"Sure."

----------

It was nice to eat something he didn't have to slurp. The rabbit was tender and Jesus had paired it with some canned carrots Carson had brought the last time he'd come.

Now, sitting in front of the fire with a full belly, Daryl found himself a little drowsy, listening to the sounds of Jesus cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen. He'd never been so lazy in his entire life - he felt like he was pushing seventy, being so close to drifting off all the time. All he needed was a TV and some game show to fall asleep to. Maybe he was just catching up on all the sleep he'd missed since before the world ended. Hell, he wasn't sure he'd felt well rested since the day he was born.

The sounds in the kitchen tapered off and there was silence for a few moments, then the soft sound of Jesus crossing the cabin - tiny creaks of wood that were quieter than they'd be if anyone else were walking across it - and then the dip of the sofa as he took a seat next to him. Daryl cracked an eye open to find Jesus looking back at him.

"Hi."

"Hi," Daryl said back, something like a smile curling at the corner of his mouth. It fell off soon enough, but only because Jesus leaned forward and kissed him, slow and sweet. Daryl melted into it, eyelids fluttering closed again. It remained unhurried, just gentle presses of their mouths together. It felt odd, that they could do this. Just sit here and kiss and it was okay. He still couldn't wrap his head around how easy it was, how much he wanted it. How good it made him feel.

Warmth bubbled up inside him, trickled through his veins like syrup.

Eventually, Jesus pulled away and it took a minute for Daryl to open his eyes again. Jesus was still looking at him, an elbow propped up on the back of the couch, his gaze so soft that Daryl felt something inside him tremble, not sure he was ready to be feeling as much as that look made him feel.

"Doc's supposed to come by again this week," Daryl said, to break the tension, his voice too soft, stuck in his throat. "Might be ready to go back," Daryl said, and he couldn’t keep the note of hope from his voice.

"Back to where?"

Daryl blinked. He hadn't really thought about where he'd be going - he'd just assumed, hell, he'd just assumed he'd be going back to Hilltop. He knew Rick wanted him back at Alexandria and he ached to be there with his family but - god, could he really be there with a monster lurking in the basement?

"Hilltop. Figured wasn't no reason to change anything."

"Not Alexandria? Rick seemed pretty set on you coming back."

Daryl huffed, fingers pulling at a loose thread on his flannel pants. "Yeah, well I ain't interested in livin' no place Negan is," Daryl said, and the name came out a little rough. "Shoulda just put a bullet between his eyes when we had the chance," Daryl continued, unable to stop himself. He didn't get why that prick got to live. It wasn't even about himself - nah, sure he'd been tortured, fed dog food sandwiches and then later recaptured and fucking branded, but he'd suffer it all again and again for his family without a second thought.

It was about the people they lost. Abraham. Sasha.

Glenn.

Wasn't no getting them back.

"I understand," Jesus said, brushing his hand lightly against the sweater, right over the bandage on his chest. "I hope you can work things out with Rick, I know how important he is to you but -" Jesus paused, seaglass gaze drifting over Daryl's face. "You're always welcome at Hilltop. We like having you there. I like having you there," he paused, seemed to be considering something. "The trailer you have is a little small for anything permanent but there's plenty of room in mine."

Daryl let that sink in. It was one thing to live at Hilltop where Jesus also happened to live, but another thing to live with Jesus.

But then again, hadn't he been doing that for the last six weeks anyway?

"Alright," he said, easy, like it was no big deal.

Jesus smiled, teeth and all, and Daryl couldn't do anything else but lean forward and kiss him.

----------

Darkness had settled in firmly by the time Jesus interrupted their kissing to suggest they head to bed. They made a quick stop in the bathroom where Jesus changed his bandages, and the quick stop turned into a longer stop when Daryl kissed him just as he was finishing up. There was an itch beneath his skin and it only seemed to settle when his mouth was on Jesus.

It took Daryl almost falling in the tub to settle them down enough to get to the bedroom, where Jesus turned on the lantern on the bedside table and then helped Daryl into bed.

"Ain't that tired," Daryl remarked.

"Want me to read to you? Think we have a few more pages of Treasure Island left."

"Nah, don't really feel like listenin' to no story right now."

"No? Is there something else you'd rather be doing?" The hint of a smirk on Jesus' face made Daryl flush, teeth worrying at his lower lip. He knew what he wanted to be doing but asking for it was a whole other story.

"Jus' helps me sleep is all," he muttered.

"Are you saying kissing me bores you to sleep?" Jesus asked, a brow cocked, that smirk still curling at the corner of his mouth.

"Nah, that ain't what I'm saying I just - " Thankfully, any further words are muffled by a kiss, Jesus finally taking pity on him.

Gently, Jesus guided him back to the mattress. Daryl went willingly, one hand clutched lightly in the oversized shirt Jesus had on for a top. Jesus was absurdly good at kissing - and if Daryl weren't so caught up in it he'd feel a little ashamed of his own skills (or lack thereof).

Just kissing him was enough to get him hard, same as it had every fuckin' day that week, but it was something they'd ignored. Eventually it'd go away, when they'd finally peter out and try to get some shut eye. So he focused on kissing back, mouth opening pliantly as Jesus' tongue swept inside, wet and messy and far more pleasurable than it had any damn right to be.

After a while, Jesus broke the kiss to move his mouth across Daryl's jawline, eliciting a breathy exhale from Daryl as he tilted his head a little, eager to give him access wherever he wanted. There was a searing trail down the line of his throat, with special attention paid over his pulse point, and Daryl's hand curled over the top of Jesus' head, featherlight, barely ruffling the fine strands of hair, but he just - he needed something.

He was vaguely aware of Jesus' hand atop his chest, aware of the subtle slide as he moved it lower, a little more aware when it stopped over his belly, heat bleeding through the fabric of the sweater, but then Jesus nipped at the hollow beneath his jaw and he squirmed, a cut off noise dying in his throat.

"Fuck!" The word spilled out of him, his whole body jerking as Jesus' hand trailed over the tent in his pants.

"This alright?"

Daryl forced his eyes open to see Jesus looking at him, mouth red, strands of hair in his face.

"Y-yeah, 's alright," he managed, his head immediately thunking back to the pillow when Jesus' hand started to move, just small, easy rubs that made pleasure spark up and down his nerves. Christ. If that felt that good, how was he supposed to handle anything else? Jesus distracted him with a kiss, but Daryl was all but useless, his attention split between the wet slide of Jesus' mouth against his and the slow, exploratory way his hand rubbed him through the flannel pants.

He arched up a little, the heel of his unbraced leg digging into the mattress.

The kiss disintegrated completely as Jesus slipped his hand into his pants, Daryl's mouth going slack as he choked on a noise in the back of his throat. His hand was cold, but Daryl barely noticed, eyes squeezed tightly shut as Jesus stroked him once, from base to tip.

"Still alright?" Jesus asked, and Daryl bit back a whimper.

"Y-yeah," he said.

That was all the encouragement Jesus needed as he began to stroke him steadily. Daryl forced his eyes open to see Jesus watching him, and the sight was enough to force a groan from his chest. It didn't get any easier after that. Jesus continued his pace, and Daryl tried his level best to keep himself still. His leg didn't hurt, but he didn't want to push it, so he tried to squirm without disturbing anything else.

It became harder and harder as the pleasure mounted. He was helpless against the inexorable slide, the slow, steady pace that reduced him to cut off whines. It was near silent in the room, save those noises, the sound of their breathing - Daryl's a little more wrecked than Jesus' (though not by much), the faintest hint of slick as Jesus spread precum to soften the glide of his hand. It went on and on, unyielding.

He could feel it - the tension cresting, and reached out, a hand clenching on Jesus' shoulder as he took in a shuddering breath. He squirmed, heel sliding on the bed and stared at Jesus, who hadn't looked away from his face since he'd broken the kiss.

It only took half a minute of Jesus' hand jerking him before he was spilling over with a strangled grunt, head tipped back against the onslaught. It seemed to last forever, probably cos Jesus kept stroking him until he groaned, the pleasure sparking into something a little too much, nerves jangling with the too sharp ache of it.

He panted, chest heaving as he went boneless against the mattress, half-slitted eyes staring up at Jesus as Jesus took his hand out of his pants. Daryl couldn’t see much from his position, but he could see the way Jesus' shoulder worked, the way his mouth dropped open and his eyes closed, hear the hum of a noise that didn't quite escape his throat.

He gathered the last of his strength to lean up, press a kiss against Jesus' mouth, and was immediately met with a low moan, the sound whisper-soft but so fucking hot. Daryl pulled back as he watched Jesus shake apart, body bowing as he curled in on himself until it was all over.

Daryl met his gaze, flushed and out of breath, and leaned in for a lazy kiss, leftover pleasure skipping across his nerves.

"Definitely better 'n a book," Daryl muttered against his mouth. Jesus laughed.

They traded lazy kisses until Jesus got up and headed into the bathroom, coming back a few minutes later with a warm damp cloth that he used to clean the both of them up. When he finally got back into bed, Daryl tugged him closer, a hand in his shirt until Jesus got the message and scooted over accordingly.

"Good night, Daryl."

"G'night," Daryl said, and as soon as Jesus settled with an arm looped around his middle, he dropped right off, mind filled with hazy thoughts about how nice it was to be all cuddled up like this.

Chapter Text

"Give it a day or two, make sure nothing feels off," Carson said, carefully undoing the Velcro on the brace. "There might be some discomfort and weakness at first, that's normal, but it should ease off in a day or so," he said. "You can wear the brace on your way back to Hilltop, for added protection, but after that, I'm pretty confident you won't need it anymore."

Daryl's gaze darted from the doc to Jesus, who was standing there with his arms crossed, watching the proceedings carefully. Daryl felt his mouth curl toward a smile, helpless against it, and watched as an answering one bloomed on Jesus' face. He'd been waitin' six damn weeks to hear those words, and now that it was here he almost felt - hell, almost felt a little giddy.

"Let's get you up," Carson said, and Daryl gladly took his hand as the doc pulled him up. He could see Jesus in his periphery, ready to jump into action if he faceplanted. At first, he kept his weight on his good leg, almost afraid of shifting it. What if it still hurt? What if it gave out on him and it turned out he couldn't walk on it after all? What if?

But Daryl wasn't no scaredy cat, and he'd done plenty of stuff far scarier than this, so he took a breath, teeth catching on his lower lip as he took a step. Carson had backed up, but Jesus was still hoverin', watching him with the same expression they'd all used on Judith when she was first starting to walk, ready to rush in the moment she wobbled.

It felt...weird. A little tender, and he couldn't help but limp as he took a few steps into the room, but it didn't immediately buckle under his weight.

"Ain't too bad," he said after a moment or two, easing his way around a circuit of the sofa. He looked over toward Carson, giving him a nod. It'd hold him up - he didn't feel like he was about to tip over or nothin' and after he gave himself a bit to get used to it, he didn't think he'd have no trouble making it to Hilltop.

"Good," Carson said. "If I don't see the two of you back at Hilltop in the next few days, I'll come back to reassess. You two take care hear me?"

Daryl nodded with a grunt, Jesus assured him they would, and then Carson was packing up his things and heading to the door, Daryl limping along after him just because he could.

The door shut with a click and Daryl turned back toward Jesus. "Let's go out," he said, jerking his head toward porch. Limping around the cabin was one thing, but he was itching to go out beyond the railing he'd been pissing under.

Jesus looked skeptical. "Let's eat first," he said.

Daryl eyed him, weighing his desire to get the hell out into some fresh air against the practicality. In the end he sighed. "Fine, but just somethin' quick."

----

The ice from earlier in the week had melted, leaving the porch thankfully hazard free, though Jesus still looped an elbow through his as Daryl limped toward the stairs. He allowed it, but just so Jesus wouldn't fuss.

It was cold out, but Daryl hardly minded as he made his way down the steps, taking each step with both feet because he didn’t feel quite steady enough the usual way. He could see snatches of blue through the bare bones of the tree limbs, weak winter sun filtering through. He'd brought his crossbow with him just in case they ran into any walkers along the way (Jesus had tried to tell him that he'd get any that came along, but Daryl wasn't gonna just stand by in that situation).

They headed out through the trees, taking the path with the least incline. Daryl let himself relax - this was where he was supposed t'be, the place he was most comfortable. Out in the wilderness. It was quiet, save the crunch of twigs and the remaining snow under their boots - Daryl couldn't quite manage the silence of his usual tread, and Jesus wasn't even trying.

Jesus' elbow remained threaded through his, a steady support as they walked along. Daryl didn't think he needed it, even if he was hobbling a little bit, but he didn't move to shake him off. He'd come a long way since the end of the world, where any physical contact was met with wariness, a flinch - but over the years he'd gotten more and more used to it. Not quite like this though - there wasn't no intent behind the hold, but Daryl still felt an extra awareness of the heat of Jesus' arm bleeding through the leather duster and the sweater Daryl was wearing. It warmed him to his very center.

"Hold up," Daryl said, all of a sudden, slipping his arm out of Jesus' and taking his crossbow off his back.

"Wha -" Jesus started, but Daryl held up hand to hush him. Up ahead there was a squirrel, sittin' nice and pretty on a tree branch. They'd already had lunch but they needed somethin' for dinner and Daryl was tired of feelin' useless, sittin' around the cabin while Jesus had to go out and get all their food when they weren't eatin' what Carson had brought. That'd never sat well with him, not contributing. It was how he'd earned his place in the group, part of the reason why he'd even been allowed into the inner circle of a group made up of people a thousand times better 'n he'd ever be.

He loaded up a bolt, taking a moment to aim, getting used to the weight of the bow in his arms after so long without it. At this point in his life though, usin' the thing was like instinct, as natural to him as breathing, and he pulled the trigger, hittin' the squirrel dead center. It flopped off the branch and hit the ground with a thump, and Daryl gave a ghost of a satisfied smile.

"Dinner," he said, looking over at Jesus, the corner of his mouth crooked before he started limping his way over to collect it.

"Nice shot," Jesus said as Daryl returned to his side, limp squirrel clutched in one hand, his crossbow back over his shoulder.

Daryl grunted, hint of a smile on his face.

After that, they walked a few more minutes before Jesus suggested they head back. Daryl agreed - not cos he wanted to, or cos his leg was sore, but because daylight didn't stick around for long during winter and there was no way in hell he was staying out here at dusk just so he could trip over something he couldn't see and fuck up his leg.

So, they went back.

----

The cabin was still warm, the fire low but still burning in the fireplace. Daryl sat himself down at the kitchen table with his knife and set about skinning the squirrel while Jesus heated up more soup. He made quick work of it, even if his gaze kept straying away from the bloody work he was doing to watch Jesus, watched how the firelight cast a golden hue to his skin. He had half a mind to get up and go right on over there - cos he had a suspicion that it'd feel real, real nice to press a kiss right against a fire warmed cheek - but he still had squirrel guts to clean off his knife and anyway, just cos he could go over to Jesus whenever he wanted and do just about anythin', didn't mean he should.

Mostly just cos they'd never get to dinner if he got himself distracted.

Jesus came over to grab the squirrel meat, nose scrunching at the sight of blood on the table, though it wasn't nearly as messy as it woulda been if it'd been something a little bigger. "I'll clean it," he assured him, and that seemed to satisfy him as he went over to cook the rest of dinner.

They ate it at the table, the crackle of the fire in the background. Daryl wasn't much for conversation while eating - he wasn't particularly chatty by nature and he'd never grown out of the habit of eatin' like he wasn't sure where food was gonna come from next. Jesus was only just starting on his soup by the time Daryl was halfway through slurping his, the squirrel bits on his plate long gone.

He cleaned up his own plate and bowl, grateful that he could do that for once, and by the time he was done washing it with the water from the bucket near the sink, Jesus had finished his soup and Daryl took his dishes to the sink, shrugging off the thanks and the attempt on Jesus' part to help. Jesus had been damn near waitin' on him hand and foot for the past six weeks, the least Daryl could do was pull his own weight and then some, least for a little bit.

"I'll heat up some water so we can wash up," Jesus suggested, and Daryl glanced over his shoulder to give a nod. His bandages needed one last change before they made the trip back to Hilltop - the burn was healing, slowly but surely. It still pulled if he wasn't careful, and it was hard to forget about it, taking up just about half his chest, but it coulda been a lot worse. He didn't even need the pills anymore - not that he'd have taken them again if he had, things had all worked out after he'd gone blabbing while high off his ass, but he didn't need to go around sayin' shit he wasn't sayin' sober.

He finished the dishes, dried them and put them away, though he wasn't sure why. Wasn't like they were gonna come back after this, though he guessed someone could use it for shelter during a run. Anyone'd probably be thankful for some dishes that weren't covered in rotted food or layers of dust. So he put them back in the cupboard and then headed into the living room, where Jesus had the bucket of water at the fire.

"All done," he said.

"Good, this is just about warm enough."

Jesus insisted on carrying the bucket into the bathroom and Daryl grudgingly accepted it - his leg felt alright but maybe a bucket full of water wasn't the best way to test his limits.

He toed off his boots at the mouth of the hallway, padding the rest of the way in his socks. Jesus set the water on the ground and Daryl watched as he took his shirt off, in one smooth movement that highlighted the play of muscles that usually spent the day hidden under layers of leather and cloth. It took him a moment or two to follow suit, wincing as his wound pulled as he brought the shirt over his head and then discarded it on the counter. Pants were easier and he let them drop, then stepped out of them, looking up to find Jesus had done the same. He swallowed, softly, hesitant gaze trailing over him, like he still couldn't believe he was actually allowed to look.

"C'mere," Jesus said, reaching out for him, and Daryl went willingly, melting into the soft, chaste kiss that Jesus offered him. "You first," Jesus said, pulling back, and Daryl took his place on the bathtub ledge. They'd done this what felt like a million times by now, the routine of it well worn. He could do this himself now - he didn't need Jesus to dip the cloth in the bucket, or trail it lightly over his skin, taking away the layer of accumulated grime, but he wasn't about to insist he do it himself.

Nah, he watched as Jesus cleaned him with soft, steady strokes, Jesus' gaze fixed on the path that the cloth took. Gooseflesh rose in the wake of it as cool air rushed over heated skin and Daryl felt himself holding his breath a little as the cloth dipped over his collarbones, skirting the edge of his bandage. From there, it was dragged across the other side of his chest, down, over his side. He twitched, hand coming up to clutch at Jesus' arm, and he watched the corner of his mouth quirk into a smirk.

"Ticklish?"

"Ain't,"

Jesus merely hummed a noise that didn't seem at all believing, but thankfully didn't push it (probably cos he knew testing that out while Daryl was balanced precariously on the edge of the tub was a surefire way to ensure they spent another six weeks stuck in the cabin).

Daryl grabbed the rag from Jesus when he was done, switching out so Jesus could take his place on the side of the tub. It was kinda soothing, the steady rhythm of it. He trailed it over Jesus' shoulder, down over well-muscled biceps, and Daryl may have accidentally dragged a bare knuckle over it just to feel. Jesus didn't so much as twitch as Daryl moved the cloth, slow, over his side, but there was something pinched about his mouth that made Daryl file that away for later.

When they were both as clean as they were gonna be, Daryl set the cloth back in the bucket. Tension had built up between them - which wasn't new - Daryl'd gotten real familiar with handjobs the past couple days, even got his chance to get a hand on Jesus himself. He could already feel a flicker of heat in the pit of his stomach at the prospect, and he could see it reflected in Jesus' gaze as he looked toward him.

The tension flickered, drawing out as Jesus removed his bandage and slathered the burn with ointment - touch so gentle Daryl hardly felt it. It took no time at all for him to smooth a new bandage over his chest, fixing it into place with the tape Carson had left.

"Let's go to bed," Jesus suggested, and Daryl was all too happy to comply.

----

Jesus' hand curled around him and Daryl grunted, bucking up into the dry heat of it. That was how the past few nights had gone, Jesus' hand down his boxers, stroking him until he came and then he'd finish himself off - though last night he'd let Daryl do it, Daryl's hand clumsily stroking him until Jesus hips had stuttered and he'd come over his hand, and just thinking about it made his cock twitch. His head tipped back against the pillow as Jesus continued to stroke him, slow and steady with a bit of a twist that had muffled groans choking in his throat. Jesus followed his mouth, kissing him lazily, tongue flicking into his mouth, though Daryl's wasn't in no state to reciprocate.

"Hey," Jesus said, and Daryl barely managed to pry his eyes open, lids heavy.

"Huh?" he grunted, a little strangled, cos Jesus hadn't let up any on the steady rhythm he had going, stroking him from root to tip.

"Now that we don't have to worry about the brace, you want to try something different?"

Daryl blinked, and Jesus must have sensed that was the sort of question for which Daryl needed a little more brainpower, cos he pulled his hand out of his boxers, ignoring his frustrated groan.

"Different like how?" he asked, trying to ignore the ache in his balls. Fuck, he'd been real close too.

"You could fuck me," Jesus said, matter-of-factly. Daryl twitched. "Or I could fuck you," he continued. "Or I could put my mouth on you."

Daryl blinked, feeling a little like Jesus had just hit him over the head with some sorta sexy frying pan. His brain was having a hard time processing that menu, but his cock was still hard as a rock, leaking a wet spot into his boxers.

"Uh..." he said, helpfully.

"Or we could just keep doing what we've been doing, that's fine too."

Daryl mulled it over, mouth dry. "Think uh," he decided after a solid minute of consideration, teeth worrying at his lower lip. "Think I might like if you uh - if you fucked me," he said, trying to get the words out through an increasingly tight throat. He could feel his heartbeat in his temples and he was hot all over, embarrassed at havin' to ask for it, but the kiss Jesus gave him after that settled him right down.

The kiss bled into more, until Daryl was thoroughly distracted, palms curled against Jesus' sides, letting the warmth of his skin bleed into his.

Jesus' mouth trailed away from his, sliding over the patchy hairs on his cheek before he finally pulled away. "Alright," he said, and Daryl swallowed.

He frowned, watching as Jesus leaned over, stretching toward the bedside table. He grunted as Jesus leaned hard on him, squinting as Jesus settled back, a bottle in his hand.

"What's - what's that?" he asked eyes narrowing.

"Lube," Jesus replied.

Daryl considered it for a long moment.

"Ain't it weird usin' someone else's.....stuff?"

"I don't think they'll miss it."

"Oh, Jesus."

"Save that for later," Jesus said, and Daryl flushed at the smirk on his face. He leaned up to kiss it off.

Jesus allowed it for a few long moments before he pulled back, wriggling his way down the bed. He pressed a kiss to his belly that had Daryl tremblin', and he propped himself up on his elbows, curious and a little nervous.

He flushed more as Jesus pulled down his boxers, flinging them off to the corner of the room. Daryl's throat clicked as he swallowed, trembling as Jesus nudged his knees apart. He felt exposed, vulnerable, but there was nothing but want and affection in Jesus' eyes, and that helped, a little. He twitched at the sound of the cap opening, watching as Jesus squirted out a bit onto his fingers, then rubbed them together, presumably warming it up - which Daryl appreciated.

Then he was putting his hand between his legs and Daryl let his arms give out, thumping him back to the mattress.

"I'm going to use one finger first."

"You don't gonna narrate every step," Daryl said, throwing an arm over his flushed face.

"I just want you to be aware of what's coming," Jesus explained, pressing a squeaky kiss to the inside of his knee. "So you can let me know if you're not comfortable."

Daryl grunted. "'ll let y'know, alright?" he assured him. If Jesus kept talking, it was all gonna be over before he ever got anythin' in.

The first press startled him, the lube not quite cold but not hot neither, and then there was pressure that had him grunting uncomfortably until Jesus got a finger in. He wasn't sure he liked it, fingers curling into the sheets, crumpling them. "I-" he started, only to break off with a surprised little noise as Jesus dragged his finger out and then back in, and it - it wasn't earthshattering, but there was a flicker of something there.

Jesus worked him open, slow and steady, the flickers of pleasure turning into steady pulses. When Jesus dragged two fingers against some place inside, Daryl let out a muffled little shout, biting at the meat of his palm reflexively to quiet himself.

"Prostate," Jesus pointed out helpfully and Daryl sucked in a ragged breath.

"Fuck."

"I'm getting there."

Jesus continued until Daryl was close to begging for it, the brief presses against his prostate that Jesus threw in every other minute or so stoking the flames that had started to engulf him.

"Ready?" Jesus asked.

"B-been ready," he got out, and Jesus merely smiled, crawling up his body to kiss him thoroughly. He tasted like mint and sweet, and Daryl threw himself into the kiss, ignorin' the way his heart started to trip a little faster in his chest. Wasn't nothin' to be worried about.

He inhaled sharply as Jesus shifted, a blunt pressure buttin' up against him. He kept his gaze focused on Jesus, how blue his eyes seemed in the dim light, the way they were dark with heat, and he could see the little twitch at his brow when the pressure started to increase.

It wasn't exactly comfortable, Jesus' cock stretchin' him open, the blunt pressure giving way to an aching burn that had him wanting to squirm away. But he steeled himself, unable to stop the little grunt from escapin' the back of his throat.

"That's it, Daryl, relax," Jesus said, his voice soundin' mighty tight. Daryl didn't feel particularly relaxed, his body instinctively tensin' up against the intrusion, but then Jesus started stroking along his thigh with the hand he wasn’t usin' to guide himself in and Daryl focused on the shivery feelin' of his fingers over skin instead of the burn.

And then Jesus was all the way in, hips stillin', his lip caught between his teeth, though that didn't stop a pretty little moan from escapin'. Daryl stared up at him with wide eyes, feelin' uncomfortably full - but there was somethin' - there was somethin' about it that made something spark in his gut, a flutter that sparked into somethin' else as Jesus pulled back, easin' his hips almost all the way out until only the tip of his cock was holdin' him open.

The slide back in made Daryl groan, pleasure sparkling up and down his nerves like fire crackers.

After a few more thrusts, slow and steady, the pleasure had replaced the burn. Jesus kissed him, tongue flickin' against his with every thrust, mimicking the rhythm.

The slide of Jesus' hand, smoothing up his thigh and over his side only added to the pleasure, subtle but not ignorable. Daryl's hands remained curled in the sheets, holdin' on for dear life.

"Oh..." Daryl grunted, when Jesus' cock bumped up against that place he'd mentioned. His mouth dropped away from Jesus', pressed messy kisses against the nearest part of him. His knees clenched against Jesus' sides, holding him there, or maybe holdin' himself together. "Again, right there, fuck," he said, and Jesus immediately complied. Pleasure jackknifed through him and he moaned, a noise louder than he'd ever made in his whole damn life.

"Yeah, that's it, Daryl," Jesus said, his voice high and rough, broken up by panting breaths as his hips snapped into him again 'n again.

He could feel the tension gathering in his gut, spreading through his pelvis, just tantalizingly out of reach. He let out a frustrated little groan, fingers sliding up Jesus' neck to tangle in his hair.

He was so caught up in what Jesus' cock was doing that he didn't realize Jesus'd wriggled a hand between them until it was closed around his dick, pulling with rough, dirty strokes in time to his thrusts. Daryl hollered, eyes nearly rollin' back in his head as everything seemed to implode, his cock pulsing in Jesus' grip as he started to come. It went on and on and he wasn't aware of anything but the expanding pleasure workin' it's way outward from his dick.

The next thing he knew, he was staring up at Jesus' face, watching the furrow of his brow, his eyes all squeezed up tight with effort as Jesus continued to fuck into him. There were flickers of pleasure, almost too sharp, and he brought a hand up from the bed to rest against Jesus' side, which immediately brought Jesus to the edge.

Jesus was quiet through it, a soft strangled sigh pressed into Daryl's shoulder, and Daryl stroked his hand down his side and then up through his hair as Jesus' hips rocked, chasin' the last of the sensation before he finally collapsed on him. Daryl was perfectly fine with the weight.

----

Morning was spent packing up the few things they'd managed to scatter around the cabin. Daryl was eager to get goin', even though Jesus suggested they take another day to let his leg rest up.

He raided the bedroom for a pair of jeans (slightly too big), sorted through the mess of sweaters until he found one that didn't personally offend him, and then topped it off with his vest, which Jesus said looked ridiculous on top of that outfit.

After they finished up their breakfast of cold beans in a tin, Daryl stood between the kitchen and livin' room, taking in the room he'd pretty much spent the last six weeks in. He wasn't gonna miss it.

"Should we bring Battleship back with us?" Jesus asked, appearing at his elbow.

"Hell no," Daryl said with a sort. He'd caught Jesus taking a few of the books off the shelf in the bedroom, nestling them at the bottom of his pack. Those were the only things worth bringin' - though Daryl was pretty sure Jesus had more 'n enough books back home anyway.

There wasn't much more to do after that. The door closed behind them with a solid click and Daryl took in a nice deep breath. It was like some weight had dropped off his shoulders, leavin' that cabin behind. He adjusted his crossbow over his shoulder, clomping down the stairs and into freshly fallen snow.

"Hey, slow up a bit," Jesus said, and Daryl glanced over his shoulder to see him trotting down the steps. He hadn't realized he'd been speedin' along, although as he slowed he noticed that the tenderness in his leg wasn't quite so pronounced.

"Jus' wanna get home," he said, glancing over at Jesus as he sidled up beside him. He had that leather duster on, his hair tied up in a bun at the back of his head. Daryl was pretty sure there was some ugly ass Christmas sweater beneath it, he'd thought he'd caught a peek of garish green and red before Jesus had shrugged the coat on earlier.

Least they were both warm.

"Well, we can get home a lot easier if you don't trip and break your leg again," Jesus pointed out.

Daryl huffed, looked away, but kept his steps slow and measured, careful where he put his feet.

It was a nice walk, all things considered. Daryl knew the way back, though adjusted his course to take them far away from that damn ravine he'd walked along on his way out six weeks ago. Wasn't gonna repeat that again.

They didn't say much as they walked, though Daryl glanced over occasionally just to watch Jesus. Something warm curled in his chest each time, kindling bright until Daryl had to look away. He wasn't sure how this was all gonna work once they were back at Hilltop, where Jesus wouldn't be stuck in the same room with him all day. The worry tugged at him, but it didn't have room to take root, not when Jesus smiled at him every time he caught his eye, or how every few minutes or so he'd sorta drift over just so their shoulders could brush.

He was sure the insecurity would crop up later, but for now he was just fine ignorin' it.

The sun was high in the sky by the time things started lookin' real familiar - back to the grounds near Hilltop - even when he didn't go out huntin', he usually got outside the walls for a few hours most days, just to scratch that itch.

Daryl was focused on that last fifteen minutes - could almost picture those big wooden gates openin' for him. Hilltop wasn't home the same way that Alexandria or the prison had been (places where his family was all there), but it was damn near close. He couldn't help but speed up a little, ignoring the twinge in his leg as he stepped over a fallen log and ducked around some trees.

Only to come face to face with a walker that'd been takin' a nap against the bark, partially grown into it. He let out a yelp, stumbling back a little, tripping over his own feet. He went down with a thud, the pained grunt caught in his throat. No more than a second after he landed, there was Jesus, hovering over him with his mouth pressed into a worried line.

"You okay?" he asked, one hand resting on Daryl's knee as he crouched down next to him.

Daryl grunted, shifted a little. Relief filled him - his ass was sore but there wasn't nothin' wrong with his leg. He nodded.

"'m alri - fuck!"

Rotten, bony teeth sank into Jesus' upper arm as Daryl watched in horrified confusion, barely processing the sight before he was up and slamming the corpse away, bashing its head into the ground with brutal force. As soon as it stopped snarling he turned, scrambling for Jesus, who was in the same spot he'd left him.

"Lemme see - Paul, fuck lemme see," he babbled, pawing at his arm, ignoring the sounds comin' outta Paul's mouth because he couldn't focus on anything else but the fact that he'd seen those teeth sink in.

Only, when he'd hauled off the duster sleeve and yanked his arm so he could stare at his bicep, there was nothing there but a reddened mark, one that would bruise, but nothin' like the bloodied teeth imprints Daryl had expected to see.

"It's okay, I'm okay - it didn't go through the leather."

The ringing in Daryl's ears finally subsided enough for him to hear what Jesus was saying and he let out a ragged breath, turning to catch him in a hug, face buried in his shoulder. He clung to him for a long moment as his heart rabbited in his chest, the swirl of dread that had accumulated in the pit of his gut slowly dissipating.

"Fuck don't - " he rasped, when he finally pulled away, Jesus' hand slipping from his hair, where he'd been stroking lightly. "Don't scare me like that, asshole," he said.

Jesus looked amused as he shrugged back into his duster. "I'll do my best."

Daryl got to his feet, holding out a hand to help Jesus up. He looked a little shaken around the edges, but alright, and Daryl allowed him to sling his arm around his side, even though he didn't need the support.

----
The last fifteen minutes to Hilltop went quietly enough - not even a hint of a walker. Kal was up on the wall when they reached the dirt path and Daryl could hear him shout something down before the doors started to open.

By the time they got there, there was a small crowd gathered at the gate.

There was a chorus of welcome back's as they moved inside, people surrounding them shoulder claps and excited exclamations. Daryl wanted to hang back, but Jesus' arm was still around his waist, so he grunted and nodded, Jesus fillin' in and usin' actual words to answer the questions lobbed their way.

He remembered Jesus tellin' him that everyone had been worried about him when he'd gone back and told 'em all what had happened to him out there. He hadn't quite been able to believe it then, but lookin' at the genuine relief on the faces starin' back at him, the insistence that just holler if he needed any help at all as he and Jesus finally ducked out, hell, it was enough to convince him. It left him with a strange feelin' in his chest, touched and awkward at the same time.

Instead of heading back toward the wall, where Daryl's trailer was, Jesus turned toward his own. It wasn't like he'd never stayed in that trailer before - he had, few times, like when he'd come back from Sanctuary, or when he'd been visitin' durin' the war and hadn't wanted t'bunk with nobody in Barrington. But there was a difference now. He'd be livin' there.

With Jesus.

There was a skittery feeling in the pit of his stomach as they got closer to the trailer, half excitement, half nerves, though he wasn't sure what there was t'be nervous about.

Jesus' arm slipped from around his waist as they got to the porch steps and he headed up. Daryl followed, frowning as Jesus stopped in front of the door.

"Wait, hold on," he said, and Daryl felt the nerves in the pit of his stomach riot. Was he gonna take back his offer? Say that it'd been nice, but Dixons really only were good for huntin' cabins in the middle of the room?

Jesus didn't say any of that, instead he reached into the inner pocket of Daryl's vest and pulled out a battered cigarette.

Daryl gaped.

He'd forgotten it was there. He stared for a moment, then another. A soft, crooked smile curled over his lips.

"Don't need this," Daryl said, plucking the cigarette from Jesus' hand and tossing it over his shoulder, onto the porch. "Got you," he muttered, backing Jesus through the trailer door as he kissed him.