eyeus: (Rickyl)
Title: Love, Essentially
Fandom: The Walking Dead (TV)
Pairing: Rick / Daryl
Rating: NC-17
Words: 8230 (63500 total)
Summary: To me, you are perfect.

Rick’s confession, made with snow-damp cue cards and every ounce of his devotion, had been perfection itself—except his perfect love belonged to someone else.

But spring’s in full swing now, and it’s the time for new beginnings. The first blooms of new loves. It’s the season for change itself.

Little does Rick know how much his life will change.

A/N: A Love, Actually fusion fic. Inspired mainly by this gifset here, and this scene from the Love, Actually movie.



~


As it turns out, the universe seems to be trying to give Rick a break for once. Because as worried as Rick is that he’s permanently run out of opportunities to make his feelings known, the chances just keep on coming.

Surprisingly, the first comes in the form of Merle, or rather the nuisance Merle makes of himself.

“Need to find a new place to live,” Daryl says one evening, when they’re out at the supermarket a block down from Rick’s. They’re here to pick up a variety of snacks for their weekly movie nights, because after the first time Daryl had come over, Rick’s started taking steps to make sure he’s got more than just old beer and expired pound cake on hand.

Rick pauses, his hand halfway to the cart, a bag of pre-popped kettle corn in it still, his gesture of is this one okay? “Why’s that?”

Daryl takes the kettle corn from Rick’s hand and drops it into the cart, a silent affirmation of yeah, that’ll do. “I’m tired,” he says simply, before an arch of Rick’s eyebrow forces him to elaborate. “Merle ain’t had a woman in a while, and I’m tired of overhearin’ him jackin’ off to bad porn at night. Some mornings too.” He rolls his eyes. “Been tellin’ him to use headphones or somethin’. But that only takes care of the sound from the television.”

Rick shudders at the thought of having to listen to the racket of Merle doing such a thing, day in and day out, and he can see the reason for Daryl wanting to leave. It’s on the tip of his tongue to say, You should move in with me. Hell, you’re probably at mine more than you’re at Merle’s these days, anyway.

But he’s not sure how Daryl will take such an invitation. If it’ll seem like Rick’s coming on too strong. And truth be told, Rick isn’t completely sure he can bear having Daryl so close, living in the same house, in the next room, when he’s got all these unresolved feelings kicking around. It would only take one night, of Rick losing all self-control, for him to wander into Daryl’s room and all but throw himself at Daryl.

At the same time, Rick’s mind supplies helpfully, it would mean Daryl being under the same roof. Being able to see him whenever they weren’t at work, instead of Daryl making the trek to Rick’s or the other way around. He’d be able to see Daryl in the mornings, soft and newly woken, and in the night before they’d go to bed—

Rick’s mouth goes dry at the last thought, and it’s only when Daryl prods him in the shoulder that he finds he’s been staring at the same tube of chips for the last minute.

“Hey,” says Daryl. “I ain’t lookin’ to crash at yours or anythin’.” And even as Rick’s stomach sinks a little at that, he’s relieved in equal parts. “Found a couple places in the classifieds that look all right, though. You wanna come with me to take a look?”

Well, there was that chance shot to hell.

But of course it’s all right with Rick, to take a look at the places Daryl’s narrowed his choices down to, so they find a day that works for both of them and check out the three units.

The first one is a bachelor apartment ten minutes away from Merle’s bike shop, with lovely wooden flooring, shiplap panelling, and a classic kitchen setup with bright overhead lighting.

“It’s nice,” Rick offers, even if he thinks it’s a little far from his own place. He tells himself that what matters is Daryl’s convenience, not his.

Daryl shrugs. “I guess. It’s a little outta my price range though,” he admits. “Not sure I need all this fancy stuff.” He points to the floor-to-ceiling lamps and the bay window that overlooks the streets below. The view’s admittedly gorgeous, and Rick thinks it’ll be even more so at night, but it doesn’t feel like a Daryl kind of place.

“Maybe we should look at the next place,” Rick says, relieved that he’s got a reason aside from it’s too far from me to disapprove of the place.

The second unit is a basement suite in one of the newer neighbourhoods that’s definitely closer to Rick’s, even if it’s farther from the bike shop, but Rick’s first impression of the place as he steps in, is that it’s cold as hell.

There isn’t much in the way of furnishings either, just an empty wooden shelf, a few dusty implements for cooking, and a dingy bulb that gives off light the color of old, yellowed photographs. Rick wonders if the upstairs owners had poured everything they had into the upkeep of the exterior and the upper levels of the house, because it’s as if they’ve spared every expense down here. Even the flooring’s the original concrete, with fissures along the corners, and the only effort made is a threadbare rug thrown over the entranceway, like a pitiful welcome mat.

No,” says Rick, before Daryl can even open his mouth to ask his opinion. “Just, no.”

Daryl rubs the back of his neck, and sighs. “The rent’s cheap,” he says. “That’s what it’s got goin’ for it. And their last tenant moved out after the mouse problem, so—”

“Is there even heating?” Rick demands. “Or do they expect you to be wearin’ a winter jacket in here all the time?”

“Uh,” Daryl starts, before Rick makes a motion to follow him back out to the car, and all but pulls Daryl out of there. Never mind the lack of furnishings and the cracked flooring, Daryl would probably freeze to death before even moving all his things in. And if something were to happen, Daryl probably couldn’t even escape from the tiny corner window of the basement.

No, Rick wouldn’t want anyone to live there, much less Daryl.

Rick’s of a mind to flat out suggest that Daryl should come live with him, his own personal issues be damned, especially if the last place doesn’t work out. But when they pull up to the third place, there’s a small, secret smile tugging at Daryl’s mouth. One that makes Rick think something’s up.

“It’s a little far from the bike shop,” Rick says finally, when he can’t stand Daryl’s oddly secretive silence. In fact, it’s a good twenty minutes out from the shop.

“I know,” says Daryl. He offers Rick a twitch of a smile before adding, “C’mon, let’s take a look.”

It’s starting to strike Rick that this is feeling more and more like they’re shopping for a place together, for the two of them instead of just Daryl, but he figures Daryl’s just asking for his opinion since Rick’s over at his half the time anyway. So he takes a breath and steels himself for the worst, before following Daryl up the stairs.

Daryl spends a moment fumbling around in the mailbox for a set of keys. “Basement’s already rented out,” he explains. “The owners, though—that’s who usually lives up here—they’re movin’ out to Arizona to retire. Wanna keep the place for when their kids get a little older, but that won’t be for a few years yet.”

The house is located in one of the older neighbourhoods, and the age of it shows, especially when Daryl creaks the door open. But when they walk in, it occurs to Rick that the place is oddly homey, like it’s a place people could live in. There aren’t fancy floor-to-ceiling lamps like the first place, but the lights Daryl turns on give the living room a soft, warm glow, illuminating the hall that leads to the kitchen. And there’s a small fireplace with a sufficient supply of firewood at the side, that Rick imagines could have a cozy fire.

A plasma television’s been mounted on the wall above the fireplace, and across from that is a plush leather couch, signs of wear starting to show in the sag of the seat cushions, but still managing to look invitingly comfortable.

“I can’t imagine how much rentin’ a place like this costs,” Rick admits. If Daryl was going to have trouble with the first place, this one couldn’t be far behind in terms of the rent.

“Actually,” says Daryl, “when I talked to ‘em, they said it was pretty much like I was just lookin’ after their house anyway, so they’re willin’ to cut me a deal on the rent.” He gestures to the empty shelving and cabinets. “They’ve moved most of the stuff they’ve needed out anyway, but they’re leavin’ things like kitchenware and some of the furniture. So there’s room for my things too.”

More than enough room, Rick figures. Almost enough for…

Daryl takes in Rick’s open-mouthed expression and laughs. “Yeah, I know. More space than I need, but at least it ain’t a cramped bachelor pad. Or a cold ass basement.”

“Yeah,” Rick says, looking around. It feels like a place he wouldn’t mind coming to, to spend some quiet evenings with Daryl. It feels like a home certainly, even a little like Rick’s home, and he’s pretty sure that even if it’s more space than Daryl needs, it’s just the right amount for the two of them. Except there’s still one thing that’s been bothering him all this time. “Daryl,” Rick starts. “I know you wanna get away from Merle for a bit, but it’s twenty minutes out from the shop. Factor in traffic, and you’ve got at least half an hour to go each way.”

Daryl’s shoulders slump just a little, before he’s standing ramrod straight again. “I thought about that, yeah,” he says.

“And you still—”

“Just thought I’d, you know.” Daryl shrugs, but there aren’t any other words forthcoming, and Rick has to nudge his elbow to get an explanation out of him. “It’s five minutes out from the police station,” Daryl says finally, all in one breath.

Rick can only blink at him. “Daryl, you’re not choosin’ this place just because of that.” It’s true that it’s only five minutes from the station Rick works at, and only fifteen from Rick’s, but Daryl couldn’t possibly have chosen this house for that sole reason.

“’Course not,” snaps Daryl, jamming his hands into his pockets. “I like the place. And I’d be gettin’ a deal on the rent, too. Just…” He sucks in a breath and casts his eyes toward the ceiling. “Just thought if you came over for a movie, maybe you wouldn’t have to go home. You could just stay over if the movie’s a long one, or if it runs late. And head to work from here in the morning.”

Rick notices Daryl doesn’t mention stay on the couch when he says ‘stay over’, and it takes him a few seconds to remember that Daryl’s still waiting for an answer. “I’d like that,” Rick says finally. “But only if it isn’t gonna be extra trouble for you.”

“No trouble at all,” says Daryl, beaming brighter than the sun, a rare but lovely treat that Rick takes a minute to memorize.

There’s no question about which place Daryl will choose in the end—though funnily enough, it’s his new place that presents the situation for Rick’s next opportunity to confess.

~


It’s doesn’t take long before they’ve moved Daryl’s humble collection of old movies, clothes and other effects to his new place, but they’ve just finished buying some hardware to help fix up the place, when it happens.

The store’s just closed for the evening, and they’re out in the parking lot, making their way to the car, shopping bags in tow full of nails and screws, and a set of doorknobs to fix the doors leading to the kitchen and master bedroom. One moment, Daryl’s squinting up at the sky, eyes shielded against what little sunlight isn’t obscured by the clouds, saying, Think that looks like rain, and the next, they’re caught out in the open in what must be the downpour of the century.

“Hope this doesn’t turn into hail!” Rick calls over the sound of raindrops striking the asphalt of the parking lot, like a giant sack of ice pellets upended over a granite countertop.

Daryl shakes his head. “It won’t.” He points across the parking lot at the bigger problem they have at hand. “Worry ‘bout that instead.”

It was Daryl’s idea to walk over from where they’d parked by the theatre, and they’ve got a hell of a walk back, with two giant parking lots’ worth. The hardware store has only the barest inch of overhang, and it’ll be impossible to wait out the rain there.

Rick sucks in a quick breath, and shrugs out of his jacket. “Come on,” he says, hefting it over both their heads. It’s just enough to cover their heads and shoulders, which is a stroke of luck, since they don’t have the mercy of newspapers or other magazines to use instead. “We’ll use this as cover to make it back to the car.”

Daryl looks like he’s caught between and a snort and a smirk, and his next words are just the right amount of flippant to make Rick laugh in his stead. “This like in the movies, when them couples share an umbrella?”

And Rick wants to say, It’s exactly like that, but then Daryl’s looping the bag he’s holding in the crook of his arm, and huffing All right, we’ll do it your way, like Rick won’t find any argument here. Supports Rick’s jacket on the far side with one hand, and wraps his other arm around Rick’s waist, tethering them together like they’re one giant, multi-limbed being. Tugging him out and away from the pitiful protection the hardware store offers. Then they’re off, running through the stinging cold rain like they’re racing in a three-legged relay, completely in sync and never a step off-beat from each other.

Before Rick knows it, they’ve reached the car, and Daryl’s slammed the passenger’s side door shut with a long rush of breath, somewhere between a laugh of exhilaration and annoyance at having gotten soaked despite their cover.

“That ain’t happened in a long time,” Daryl says. “Bein’ caught in the rain like that.” He shakes the droplets that’d gotten through Rick’s jacket from his hair, his grin too wide and his cheeks flushed red from the cold of the downpour.

Rick’s breath catches in his throat at the sight, because Daryl looks beautiful like this, hair raked back from his brow, the pale evening light throwing the smoky blues of his eyes into sharp relief, casting just enough shadow to highlight the fullness of his mouth.

He wants to reach out, to cup the back of Daryl’s neck and kiss him so badly it hurts. To say I want you and I need you and all the things he’s been holding back for so long, because this proves more than anything, how different Daryl is from other people, how unique he is—other people take pleasure from a new shirt, or truck, or television show, but Daryl—Daryl finds his from being caught in a thunderstorm, like it’s the only thing that makes him truly feel alive.

And Rick wants all of him, all his differences, his imperfections, all the things that make him Daryl, and he wants it all forever.

Rick gets as far as I, before the other words die in his throat, because Daryl leans in, nodding at Rick’s jacket between them, his fingers brushing a quick thank you against Rick’s on the stick shift.

At that, Rick’s brain short circuits momentarily, because he can only imagine the same whisper-soft touch of lips against his, and all he manages in response is a breathless, dazed, “Yeah.”

I—yeah.

It’s not high on Rick’s list of proud moments.

It’s also the second chance shot to hell, because afterwards, Daryl turns away, listing off a few other things they need to get to make the place habitable, and the moment’s gone, just like that.

Rick swallows down his disappointment, because what’s one more bitter pill to swallow after all the opportunities he’s missed already? He can’t help but notice the rivulet of rainwater that marks a path down the column of Daryl’s throat, into the open collar of his shirt, but it’s already too late. Rick can’t just stop the car now and crush his mouth to Daryl’s without any preamble at all, so they drive on to the next place, fogging up the windows of Rick’s old Jeep, but not in the way he’d like.

There’ll be more chances, Rick assures himself. There will.

Except then the month’s almost through, and Rick realizes that he’s dug himself into a hole. That the time they’ve spent together is a double-edged sword and the longer he waits, the more it’s going to hurt if Daryl’s answer is no.

He’s got to do something, and soon; Rick can’t just keep waiting for the next opportunity to fall into his lap, because at some point the universe is just going to shudder a sigh and say time to pull your own damn weight¬.

In the end, though, it throws him a bone in the form of one final, obvious opportunity.

~


By now, they’ve finished moving all of Daryl’s things into his new place, managed to fix the leaky faucet and broken doorknobs—it was Daryl who’d fixed most of it, Rick just stood there and handed him the tools he needed—and built up Daryl’s humble collection of old movies on the mantle above the fireplace. So Rick decides they’re well justified in celebrating with treats from the bakery a block down from the station, one they haven’t sampled from often.

Rick grimaces at the taste of the cookie in his hand, one of Greener Pastures’ specialty spiced varieties. The Greene sisters make the softest, plumpest cheesebuns and cinnamon rolls this side of town, but their talent simply doesn’t translate to their cookies. Which is a shame, with how often Rick and Daryl plan to stop by, since their ingredients are certified ‘100% fresh’ from their parents’ farm.

“Somethin’ wrong with the cookies?” Daryl asks. He eyes his own, suspicious, like maybe there’s a dose of rat poison in there, before looking up at Rick, ready to spring into action and make him cough it back up if need be.

“Just a little too heavy on the nutmeg,” Rick sighs. He sets it down regretfully. It’s a shame, because the last two places they’d tried, Bunanza and Pie In the Sky, hadn’t gotten the taste right either. Bunanza had gone so lightly on the spices that the cookies might as well have been sugar cookies or shortbread, while Pie In the Sky must have dropped their entire cinnamon shaker into the batter.

Daryl hums thoughtfully, even as he continues to scarf down his own cookie, since his motto is paid good money for it, might as well eat it. “Maybe,” Daryl suggests, mouth half-full, as he wicks crumbs from the corner of his mouth with a thumb and sucks those down too, “we oughta try makin’ our own.”

“You know how to bake?” Rick asks, all but gawking. Is there anything Daryl can’t do?

“Hell no,” says Daryl, dispelling the idea of it instantly. “But I figure if we got us a recipe, we’ll be all right.”

They spend the next minute bickering about whether they should make them from scratch—Daryl’s idea—or cheating and buying premade mix from the supermarket—Rick’s suggestion—before deciding that the only things they’ll be cheating in the process are themselves and their mouths, so Daryl’s idea wins out in the end.

The rest of the afternoon’s spent wandering the baking aisle of Dell’s Grocery, picking up ingredients they’ll need, like brown sugar, vanilla, a carton of molasses, and spices like ground ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Daryl catches Rick sliding a pre-mixed bag of chocolate chip cookie mix into their cart, and yanks it back out, shooting a what the hell is this? in Rick’s direction, before tossing a sack of flour in, instead.

They have to circle back to the refrigerators, of course, to find butter and eggs, and as they pass the pharmacy, the pharmacist gives them an understanding look, like he’s fine with ringing up their purchase at the counter, if they’ve got items they want to be discreet about. Blinks, confused, when they pass the section for condoms and lube and don’t stop to pick any up.

Rick has to duck behind Daryl, his cheeks warm, because god, it’s like Rick’s feelings are transparent and everyone knows, except the one he’s trying to tell.

That instance aside, it’s all comfortably domestic, no different from when they shop for food or snacks together, and Rick’s struck by the sense that he’d like for them to do this together, for the rest of their lives. Wonders if it’s just oddly sentimental of him that he loves quiet moments like these, in between the things that make his heart race and crank his adrenaline to high, like fishing, or hunting, or the latest action flick at the theatre.

“Think we’ve got most of what we need,” Daryl says, after they’ve paid and loaded their groceries into the back of Rick’s car. He nods after consulting the printout of the recipe they found online, for molasses spiced cookies. “They left pans and sheets in the oven, so we’re good.”

And if Rick thought simply shopping for the baking supplies together was surprisingly comfortable and domestic, it’s nothing compared to when they return to Daryl’s and actually get down to the nitty gritty of the baking. Of measuring out ingredients, and making sure things are mixed together in the right order. They split the tasks, working around each other in the little kitchen; Rick mixes and beats the butter, while Daryl readies the dry ingredients on the side, before they switch and Daryl continues to mix the butter, while Rick adds in vanilla extract, egg, and molasses, careful.

If Rick thinks Daryl looks utterly adorable with flour powdering his nose and cheeks and the tips of his hair, he keeps it to himself.

It’s really starting to come together, and the kitchen’s filled with warm sweetness, the aroma of butter and vanilla and sugar combined. Finally, it’s time to add the dry ingredients, and as Daryl passes over the bowl where flour, baking soda and all their spices are mixed in, Rick furrows his brow, just the smallest bit, after a quick sniff of the batter.

“What’s the matter with it?” asks Daryl.

Rick hums to consider his answer, before saying, “Think it needs more cinnamon.”

“I just threw in a teaspoon,” says Daryl. “Since you said one of the last places used too much.”

“Yeah, but the recipe says one and a half,” Rick replies. He points at the water-stained sheet they’ve perched on top of the kitchen faucet. They’re too early into this ‘baking’ thing to start experimenting, and Rick only remembers too well his sister’s attempt at cutting sugar here, adding cocoa powder there, and ending up with gnarly charcoal lumps that should’ve been brownies.

Daryl snorts and rolls his eyes, rummaging through the cupboard to find the cinnamon again, but when he goes to press it into Rick’s hand, Rick’s too busy trying to reach for the recipe from where it’s fluttered behind the faucet. Ends up blindly grasping Daryl’s hand instead.

While Daryl simply blinks at the contact, not saying anything one way or another, Rick’s mind goes through the three-alarm system of oh my god, it’s happening, and I’m not ready, and instead of holding on like he’d told himself to if ever such an opportunity presented itself, Rick leaps away like he’s been burned, before mentally kicking himself with a damn it, damn it, damn it.

“I, uh,” Rick tries with a weak laugh. “Didn’t see what you had in your hand there.”

Daryl, for his part, sighs, and empties out enough from the cinnamon shaker for half a teaspoon, and tosses that into the bowl Rick’s holding, one Rick’s glad he didn’t upend when he’d jumped away in a panic. Then he slinks away, seemingly hurt, his shoulders drawn in, head tucked closer to his neck. Like Rick’s rejection of his touch was a rejection of him somehow.

Despite that mishap, their efforts at following the recipe pay off, because it all comes together to create a sweetly supple dough, that they roll into balls and sprinkle with sugar, before pressing them into the ungreased cookie sheets.

Except that, they do in awkward silence, with an I guess neither one of us is going to talk first kind of tension.

Rick knows it’s up to him to speak first, but he can’t find the words, and he’s not exactly sure what he’d be apologizing for, anyway. So he just rolls more dough, tosses a pinch of sugar onto each ball, and smacks it down into the sheet, flicking a glance up at Daryl here and there, waiting to see if Daryl will speak first.

He doesn’t.

Instead, Daryl just pushes the baking pans into the oven when they’re done with the dough and announces that he’s got some messages to check, but he’ll be back, so watch those cookies.

Rick decides not to mention that any messages Daryl might have could only be from Merle, and he’d probably phone them on the land line, but he doesn’t call Daryl out on his excuse. Chooses instead to keep an eye on the cookies from the living room, because he can see the oven well enough from there, so when Daryl disappears into a room to do whatever it is he’s escaped to do, Rick sits on the couch and runs the scenario that’d happened earlier through his mind.

Yes, he could’ve simply held on to Daryl’s hand and gauged his reaction. To see if Daryl would fling off Rick’s fingers in disgust, a what the hell are you doin’ and keep a healthy distance from him the rest of the time, though from the looks of things, Daryl’s managing the last item well enough already. Alternatively, Rick could’ve apologized, and made up some excuse, a simple I was just surprised, sorry. That might’ve gone a long way toward patching up the rift that’s opened up between them just now; certainly farther than the clumsy silence Rick had met him with instead.

Rick must be pondering the situation for longer than he thinks, because all of a sudden, Daryl’s running out of his room, phone in hand, and snapping some mixture of I told you to watch ‘em and Don’t you know molasses burns real easy? So when Rick remembers to rush to the kitchen after him, he’s just in time to see Daryl yanking the oven door open in a hurry, and foolishly reaching for the baking pan without gloves.

“Daryl, wait—” Rick calls, but he’s too late, because Daryl’s yelped motherfuck and sucked his fingers into his mouth, his fingers burnt from the heat of the pan.

Rick snaps the oven door shut immediately and herds Daryl to the bedroom, after asking where’s the first aid kit and are you okay. Cranks the bathroom faucet to its coldest, highest setting and forces Daryl’s hands to cool under the jet of water. It’s only when he sees Daryl starting to shiver from the frigid water that Rick shuts off the tap and pats Daryl’s hands dry with a soft towel, and leads him to the bed, making Daryl sit while he hunts for the first aid kit hidden somewhere in the room.

Once he finds it, Rick yanks it from the drawer it’s hiding in and spreads the needed contents out on the bed, including a roll of bandage, adhesive tape, blunt-end scissors, and a tube of ointment he found while rooting through the kit’s side pockets. The ointment claims to be good for cuts and burns and blisters, and—god, he’s just realized Daryl’s fingers are going to blister from this, as he stares at the reddened tips.

“I’m sorry,” Rick says, all in one breath, “I’m sorry, I shoulda been watchin’, and I know you said to, but I was…” It’s a torrent of words he can’t hold back, and he just manages to stop himself short of I was just thinking about you, how to make things up to you, how to make them right. Rick takes a deep breath, to collect his thoughts, and continues to wind bandages around each of Daryl’s burned fingers. “Anyway, I…I’m so sorry, Daryl.”

He doubts he’s even come remotely close to saving the situation from earlier with this apology, but it’s something he has to say, because Daryl’s right; Rick should’ve been watching the cookies, instead of spacing out on the couch, reflecting on how he’d made a mess of things. Because this—this is an even bigger mess than Rick’s anticipated, since Daryl’s hurt, and Rick’s fairly sure it’s his fault.

But maybe all isn’t lost, because in the middle of what must be Rick’s fifth apology, Daryl finally grunts and says, “You’re takin’ awful long to do up a few bandages.” Rick glances up at Daryl’s face, where there’s a teasing half-smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Gonna kiss my fingers better, or what?”

And that’s when Rick looks down, only realizing now he’s been finished with bandaging Daryl’s fingers for a while now. That he’s been holding onto Daryl’s hands all this time.

“Oh,” Rick blinks. It’s on the tip of his tongue to ask Is that what you want me to do? but he’s pretty sure all Daryl will do is snort and give him the same kind of evasive non-answer that he does when isn’t sure what to say either. Like it ain’t about what I want or it’s your call. So Rick just grins and says, “Think I will. If you think it’ll help you heal faster.” Just touches his lips to Daryl’s bandaged fingers, a gentle, feather-light kiss that doesn’t have to mean anything if Daryl doesn’t want it to.

When Rick looks up again, he finds Daryl studying him for a good long moment, before the faintest of roses bloom into his cheeks and he clears his throat. ‘Yeah,” says Daryl. “Think it will.”

They stay like that for a moment longer, and Rick thinks, This is it, this quiet. There’s no one else around. It’s just you and Daryl.

If there was ever a moment to do what you needed to, this is it.


The universe was being kind to Rick today, giving him not one chance, but two, all within the same day.

But just as Rick’s opening his mouth, to venture a Daryl, if I were to tell you that I—Daryl sniffs the air, wrinkling his nose as he says, “You smell somethin’ burnin’?”

Rick pinches the bridge of his nose, and shuts his eyes for a moment.

The universe giveth, and the universe taketh away.

It doesn’t take them long to find the source of the problem, because when they’ve rushed back out to the kitchen, there’s smoke billowing out from the oven, silver streams of it thick with the sick-sweet smell of burnt cookies. Cookies they’d forgotten all about and left burning up inside the oven, because the moment Daryl had hurt himself, Rick had whisked him away for treatment, like nothing else mattered—and truly, nothing had.

Rick yanks the tray out of the oven with the frayed oven mitts hanging from the cabinet over the sink, and gets started on scraping the harshly browned discs from the pan, their edges burnt like they’ve suffered a bad tan. He’s only thankful they hadn’t set off the smoke detector, because they’d have a lot of explaining to do for that. The rest of the time he spends cleaning up the mess of spatulas, measuring cups and mixing bowls, making sure Daryl stays out of the kitchen, because he doesn’t want Daryl pulling any heavy duty while he’s hurt.

“You all right in there?” Daryl calls anyway, peering into the kitchen from the living room couch.

“I’m fine,” Rick answers over his shoulder, as he scrubs down the scorched baking pan. They’ll probably have to buy a new one to replace it, since it looks beyond saving, but he can’t find it in himself to mind—he’d rather have the pan be the casualty, in the face-off against Daryl. “Just relax in there,” he adds, more than a little sternly, when Daryl makes to creep into the kitchen again. “I’ll be right out.”

In the end, Rick manages to save some of the cookies he’s scraped from the pan, leaving them to cool on a rack before snapping off the burnt edges and crumbling the edible bits up like granola mix. They have enough ingredients to try again another time, but for now, Daryl breaks open a bag of ready-made popcorn after they’ve shared a look that says no more of this baking nonsense tonight, let’s just do a movie. Mixes the popcorn and over-crisp spiced cookie bits together, for a savoury-sweet combo Rick’s actually pretty enthused about trying.

“This don’t taste half bad,” Daryl says, chewing on the handful of the combo Rick lifts to Daryl’s mouth, his own injured hand resting gentle along Rick’s knee. They sit through the opening credits of Pulp Fiction, the two of them slumped together on the couch, exhausted.

“Not bad at all,” Rick agrees, crunching through his own handful of the mixture. There’s just enough sweetness and bitter to the cookie pieces to complement the salt of the popcorn, and all in all, he’s happy that they’ve made the most of a bad situation, even if that’s his third—third and half, maybe, considering he’d had a chance to redeem himself and blown that too—chance shot to hell. Again.

If this could be compared to a game of baseball, Rick would’ve been lobbed several curveballs, and he would have struck out on all of them, leaving him with a batting average of zero.

At this point, Rick’s pretty much given up on the idea that anything will happen tonight, setting aside that foreboding sense of destiny for another time. Decides he’ll do better by just enjoying himself and Daryl’s company instead.

Of course, that only makes it worse for what comes next. Because by the time the movie’s over, it’s past midnight, and they both know Rick’s got to be up at the ass crack of dawn to get his paperwork in for the month-end at the station tomorrow. God knows what’ll happen if he’s even a minute late handing his files in to the secretaries.

“Well?” Daryl says, looking over at Rick with the sleepy-soft smile Rick knows he can’t say no to. “You can, if you wanna.” He yawns, blinking slowly. “Stay over, I mean. You can even take the bed, if you want.”

Rick knows from experience that the couch isn’t exactly the best of places to sleep. “I can’t kick you out of your own bed,” says Rick, incredulous. “I oughta get goin’ as soon as we clean up here.” He’s starting to stand up, clearing away some of their snack bowls, when Daryl speaks again.

“Maybe we can share,” Daryl says. He fiddles with the remote, his gaze fixed firmly on the television. “It’s big enough for two.” He looks up at the clock, before finally, finally meeting Rick’s eyes. “I know you got a ways to go, and you’ll need your sleep if you gotta deal with them harpies down at the station tomorrow.”

Rick laughs at Daryl’s description of the receptionists at the station, since he’s encountered them more than a few times while waiting for Rick to get off work. “Guess you got a point there,” he says, giving in.

He’ll have to steel himself against temptation, sharing a bed with Daryl, but Rick’s sure he can manage that. Somehow.

He’s surprised to find that Daryl’s already set aside a new toothbrush for him in the bathroom—even if Daryl simply snorts and says, “Told you you’d probably end up stayin’ over now and then”—and a soft, worn T-shirt that smells like Daryl to use as a pajama top, if Rick wants.

They ready themselves for bed, brushing their teeth together in front of the mirror, and Rick changes into Daryl’s T-shirt so he doesn’t roll into work with a sad mess of wrinkles where his shirt used to be. Takes a moment to consider how thoughtful Daryl’s being, having all these things ready for him, and secretly revelling in the smell of the shirt, the soft warmth of it enveloping him, like it’s Daryl’s arms around him again, wound gentle around his chest, his waist.

All of Daryl’s small gestures of kindness make Rick’s heart hurt, because this easy togetherness is everything Rick wants, but isn’t quite, and it’s killing him inside.

It’s just about time for them to turn in for the night, and Rick gets into the bed gingerly, careful to keep close to the edge—he’s got to maintain his sense of propriety, after all—before Daryl gives him a look that’s all kinds of unimpressed.

“You plannin’ on sleepin’ in the bed, or on the floor?” Daryl asks. “Don’t matter to me if you fall out during the night.” He shrugs, and with a cheeky half-grin, adds, “More space for me.”

Rick shuffles a little closer to the center of the bed. So much for propriety. “The bed,” he says decisively. “And the only way you’re gonna get more space is if you push me off.”

“Mmhn,” Daryl says noncommittally. “We’ll see.” He raises his eyebrows, like it’s a challenge, though he’s fighting a losing battle with the smile threatening to break free across his face. It’s one that spreads from ear to ear and is every kind of endearing, though Rick chooses wisely not to say anything.

He also doesn’t call attention to the fact that they’re bickering about bed space like an old, married couple would. Just keeps the moment in his heart, a tiny pearl of warmth he’ll keep locked away, a treasure, because fantasies like old and married don’t feature in the kind of life Rick’s had. Not the way realities like heartbreak and pain do.

Of course, that means Rick has to keep his quip about which one of them is going to steal the sheets to himself, which is a pity.

Daryl’s the last to slip under the covers, and there’s a rustling sound as he settles beneath them in his soft flannel shirt, the sleeves torn from it to make a rustic-looking tank top. He prods Rick with a bandage-padded finger, and motions for him to turn off the lamp on his side. “There’s a time for stayin’ up and talkin’,” Daryl says, with a twitch of his lips, like there’s nothing he’d rather do more. “But this ain’t it.”

“Right,” says Rick, reaching up to switch off the light. With the lights switched off, it’s suddenly too dark and quiet in the room, and it strikes Rick all at once that Daryl is less than a foot away. In the same bed. “Well, good night,” he adds, feeling somewhat sheepish since he’s waited until practically the end to say this. He could’ve said it as they were getting into bed, or turning out the lights, but of course Rick had to wait for the last possible moment, for some unintended dramatic effect.

“Yeah,” says Daryl softly. “It is one.” And before Rick can say he’d simply needed a good night back, rather than an affirmation that this night was indeed an enjoyable one, Daryl says, “Now go the hell to sleep, before I…”

Daryl’s never able to make good on his threat, whatever it is, because as enjoyable as the day’s been, it’s also been an exhausting one, and it’s only a few seconds later before Rick hears the beginning of a soft snore from Daryl’s side of the bed.

Rick folds his arms behind his head, and stares at the ceiling for a while longer, just listening to the sounds of Daryl’s breathing as it slows, his breaths lengthier and deeper as the minutes pass. And when it seems like forever has come and gone, Rick dares to shift gently on the mattress to look at Daryl.

Daryl’s turned away from him on the bed, but from where he is, Rick can still see the outline of his shoulders in the moonlight spilling in through the curtains. The sculpted curve of his arms. The long line of his neck that Rick would die a thousand times to kiss. He reaches out to brush his fingertips along the hair at the nape of Daryl’s neck, wondering at its softness. Because, sure, he’s had it in his face when they’re sharing a ride on Daryl’s bike, or felt it against his neck when Daryl’s fallen asleep against him, but he’s never touched it like this, so directly and so…intimately.

And maybe it’s the easy courage that Daryl being asleep lends Rick, because suddenly the brush of fingers against his hair isn’t enough anymore. Rick needs to know more than just how Daryl’s hair feels between his fingers.

He needs to know how Daryl feels in his arms. And he needs it so badly it hurts.

So he shifts as close as he dares, before reaching out and slipping his arm over Daryl’s waist. Tucks himself right up against Daryl, his chest and belly hot against Daryl’s back, their hips aligned together, gentle. Breathes in the smell of Daryl, stronger than any scent he could leave behind in an old shirt, and smiles, because this is the source of Rick’s comfort, the wellspring of everything he’s ever needed and wanted.

Daryl’s arm twitches in Rick’s hold, and Rick stills instantly, afraid that Daryl’s woken up and will find them in this position, but then Daryl whimpers, the way he does when he’s having a nightmare, the only time Rick’s ever seen him vulnerable in such a way. And to make up for all the times he’d wished he could hold Daryl, could soothe him when Daryl had whimpered and tossed and turned, before finding comfort in curling against Rick’s sleeping bag on long nights in the wilderness, Rick tugs him in closer. Pulls Daryl into his arms, slowly, where it’s safe and warm.

“Shh,” he murmurs, too soft for Daryl to really pick up the words, but hoping the sound of his soothing will make it through. “Shh, I’ve got you.”

He’s caught off-guard when Daryl flails in his grasp, but eventually Daryl settles and Rick’s satisfied enough when Daryl’s breathing evens out again, like Rick’s arms are a comfort indeed. Is even more pleased when Daryl shifts back against him, like his body’s honed in on the source of warmth in the bed and is trying its darndest to cling in hopes of more heat.

This is what it could be like, thinks Rick. You and Daryl, like this every night, for the rest of your lives. You could have this, if you just tell him the truth.

And you won’t have to pretend, or wait until he’s sleeping, to hold him like you want to.


But then he’s revisiting the endless loop of what do I say and what do I do if he says no, and in the end, it frustrates Rick even more, because these feelings he’s been bottling up have had nowhere to go, and he needs to get them out, needs to tell him, needs him. Rick’s tempted one day, over coffee, or cookies, or nothing at all, to just say There’s someone I’m in love with, and before Daryl could say anything about it either way, he’d cover Daryl’s hand with his own and add, It’s you.

At the same time, he’s more afraid than ever that if it all goes south, like Rick’s half-sure it will, he’ll lose Daryl—and in him, lose not only the one he’s cherished for so long, but a confidante, a friend. Maybe his best friend.

It’s easy enough to wish like he always has, that the burden won’t fall on him; that maybe Daryl will just take Rick in his arms one day, and snort, Christ almighty, you’re thinkin’ too hard again, and kiss him under a harvest moon, or some other fantasy fairytale backdrop that serves just as well.

Except Daryl hasn’t done anything of that nature. Nothing obvious that’d tell Rick, you’re not alone in this, because I’ve fallen for you just as hard.

And then Rick has to wonder about that, because as he breathes in the gentle kiwi scent of Daryl’s shampoo—bought on discount because the bottle cap was broken—he thinks of Daryl moving to a place that’s between Rick’s and the station he works at. Thinks of Daryl offering him the bed first, or pretending he needs a drink when it’s Rick who’s thirsty, and always, always offering him the first, the best of everything.

Offering the best of himself, through his small, nearly unnoticeable kindnesses.

He has to wonder if Daryl is trying to say the same things, but without words.

Rick lets himself enjoy the heat of Daryl’s body resting snug against his as he ponders that thought for a while. But of course, it’s not long before he recalls Your place, or mine? after they’d finished fishing, and how badly Rick had misinterpreted that.

In the end, he decides it’s better to be safe than sorry later, but he’s found his resolve, at least: he’ll take a page from Daryl’s book, because if the telling’s not working, then Rick’s going to try showing him, like he thinks Daryl’s doing.

And if that doesn’t work, well—Rick will deal with the fallout from that later.

It’s with this thought that he finds his eyes drifting shut, and even though he means to release Daryl, to resume their original positions on the bed, Daryl warm against him feels so good and Rick can’t find it in himself to let go. So he buries his face in Daryl’s hair, and breathes in the combination of kiwis and clean sweat and motor oil. Tugs Daryl closer to his chest, and lets himself drift off deeper and deeper, until he’s reached the quietest depths of sleep.

~


Rick’s woken by the vibration of his phone beneath his pillow, a reminder of the alarm he’d set the night before, but the biggest surprise he wakes to isn’t that.

It’s Daryl.

Somehow, during the night, Daryl’s wound his way further into Rick’s embrace, pressing himself snug against Rick’s chest and stomach, until there’s no space left between them. Has a hand resting light against Rick’s on his waist, like he’s closing the circuit they form.

Rick’s not quite sure what to make of it. Maybe Daryl was used to having a bedmate and this was how he slept when he had one? But Daryl said there hadn’t been anyone else, ever, and Rick’s pretty sure he doesn’t share his bed with Merle.

There isn’t much time to ponder this, though, because he’s still got to make it to work and finish his paperwork, all while avoiding the sniping of his chief and the shrews doing the filing at the front desk.

He watches Daryl for a minute, two, and when he’s sure Daryl’s still asleep, Rick lets his arms slide away from Daryl, gently. Shifts his way off the mattress, careful, so he doesn’t wake Daryl up as he leaves. And because Daryl looks so warm and adorably sleep-rumpled, Rick can’t not give him a little goodbye kiss. So he kisses his palm and touches it to Daryl’s feather-soft hair. Pretends as he’s leaving for work that they’re sharing a have a good day kiss.

Daryl, for his part, just shifts in his sleep, and curls into the space on the bed Rick’s vacated, a tiny furrow forming in his brow. Like he’s disappointed that the warm body that was just there isn’t there any longer.

It’s an expression that Rick can’t bear to see, so as quick as he dares, he brushes aside the hair that’s fallen over Daryl’s brow. Leans in to press the lightest, breathiest kiss to his forehead. And wonder of all wonders, it works, because it relaxes the furrow in his brow, and Daryl makes a soft, snuffling sound, turns over, and burrows back into the sheets, safe in his blanket nest once more.

One day, Rick decides, as he tiptoes toward the bedroom door. He looks back once before leaving, taking a moment to appreciate the image of Daryl sleeping, his eyelashes fluttering golden against his cheeks and his hair the hue of polished mahogany in the coming dawn.

One day, I won’t have to hide, and I’ll kiss you like I just did every morning.

But only if you want me to.

And I sure hope that you
do.


(tbc - Chapter 9)
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