eyeus: (Rickyl)
Title: Love, Essentially
Fandom: The Walking Dead (TV)
Pairing: Rick / Daryl
Rating: NC-17
Words: 5850 (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.


It’s not long before Christmas is fast approaching.

Neither Rick nor Daryl bring up the talk they had that night on Thanksgiving, and Rick’s glad, even if a little disappointed, that they’ve returned to the status quo—but even then, the status quo’s since shifted.

Now, when they stay in, they snuggle under the same blanket because it’s cold out. Rick’s only got the one big one, warm and quilted with patterns of candy canes and Christmas wreathes, a present from his mother, and at Daryl’s place, they’ve only got the one fleece blanket that Merle hasn’t borrowed to jack off with, because according to Merle it’s too scratchy and would probably chafe his balls.

Small blessings, Rick supposes. But it’s a change from the accidental touches that happen when they share a bed, or when Rick secretly curls into Daryl’s side while he’s asleep, because this time Daryl’s awake and willingly sharing the same space with him. In more intimate ways than before.

Now, Rick doesn’t even have to ask Daryl if he’ll join him for the police department retirement party or the various charity events; it’s just assumed Daryl will come, even if Daryl will hem and haw and say that ain’t my thing before showing up, regardless.

And now, they’ve even started taking longer walks through the local park—because game, while easier to track, is harder to hunt in the snow for Rick—and made a schedule of old Christmas movies, one for each day they can spend together.

Rick had felt something bright and warm unfurl in his chest, when they’d compared lists and found more than half of them were the same. And Daryl had called the movie experience they’d planned The Marathon To End All Marathons, but Rick’s been hoping that maybe there won’t be an end to the marathons. To snuggling beneath cozy blankets with cups of hot cocoa.

To Daryl.

They’re on a rare day off together today—Rick, because holidays always brought a rash of poorly planned break-ins and Daryl, because more clients were stopping by to get their bikes checked before the snows set in too thick—and Rick’s working on gathering what’s left of his courage to show Daryl how he feels. Wracking his brain for some hints to drop, or a way to just bludgeon Daryl with the truth. The other alternative’s a middle-ground approach, where Rick finds a way to lead into the conversation, so he doesn’t dream up all the worst-case scenarios and panic, leaving Daryl hanging like he had on Thanksgiving.

But it’s still early, and Rick’s finding he’d rather enjoy the day for now, instead of struggling through the rest of it after a botched confession.

“Look at this,” Daryl breathes now, brushing Rick’s elbow with his fingers, light. “Just look at it.”

Their burdens of bags and boxes are considerably lighter now, since they’d stopped back at Rick’s to drop off the food they bought earlier, including spiced apple pudding Rachel swears is to die for, pecan pie baked to golden perfection, a rack of store-marinated ribs, and a quart of eggnog. And that’s not even including the deer they’d taken down before the snows set in, or the leftover beers Merle had ‘gifted’ them for the holidays, saying he’d be out of town with his buddies for Christmas, and someone ought to enjoy them.

Rick suspects Merle’s just giving them space, especially when he’d pulled Rick aside at the shop two days before—after several weeks of giving Rick the suspicious stinkeye, as if he’d finally cottoned on to how Rick felt about Daryl—and said, as if the words pained him, “Listen, officer. It’s awful nice of you to invite me to your dinner. But I ain’t spendin’ Christmas listenin’ to you two—” and here he made a rude motion with his hands, along with some noises Rick really could’ve done without, “—all night, so you better be treatin’ my baby brother right.” He’d followed that up with an awful cracking of knuckles. And while Rick had tried his darndest not to look intimidated as he nodded a will do, he found it a wonder how everyone assumed he and Daryl were together, when he had yet to make his feelings known.

Regardless, Rick thinks they’ve pretty much finished their Christmas shopping by now, in gifts and food and drink, but Daryl’s looking entirely too adorable like this, nose pressed up against the frosted glass of the bakery just outside the mall.

“Can’t see what you’re talkin’ about,” says Rick, even though he can see perfectly well what’s got Daryl gazing through the window, his expression soft and dreamy. “Let’s take a better look inside.” Hurries into the bakery before Daryl can pull him away.

Daryl follows grudgingly, the bell over the door giving a bright little jingle as they step inside, and all at once there’s an aroma of warm bread, the butter of perfectly iced cookies, and the sweetness of fruit in the freshly baked and decorated cakes.

There’s a young girl loading the display with kiwi-slice tarts, her shoulder-length blonde hair tied up in a neat bun to keep it out of her eyes. A furrow of deep concentration creases her brow, and Rick can tell that she must be new at working here, but she gives them a shy, genuine smile when she notices them.

“Mom,” she calls, ducking into the kitchens briefly. “Mom. We’ve got customers.” To Rick and Daryl, she adds, “Sorry, I—the cash register, I haven’t learned—” before a rose-red flush fills her cheeks, obscuring the smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and she disappears into the safety of the kitchens.

“Can I help you boys with anything?” says the lady that steps up to the counter, the name tag pinned to her apron reading Carol. There’s grey in her close-cropped curls, and the cord her eyeglasses dangle from is nearly frayed through, but her smile’s the biggest as Rick’s ever seen today. Christmas shopping tends to bring out the worst in retail attendants and other shoppers, Rick’s found, though he gets it, he really does. So this friendliness is a welcome change.

“Just lookin’,” Daryl grunts, tugging on Rick’s elbow like he’s in a hurry to leave. Like Daryl’s afraid he doesn’t deserve to be in here, somehow. “C’mon, Rick.”

Rick strokes a hold on a sec into Daryl’s arm, before taking a closer look at what had held Daryl’s attention so raptly.

It’s a strawberry mousse cake, with a layer of custard pudding hidden in the middle, and even if the sides are frosted with a simple sprinkling of icing sugar, it’s the top that really takes Rick’s breath away; spread on the surface is a thin layer of raspberry gel, a perfect circle formed with five dollops of whipped cream that look as soft as clouds, and strawberry halves adorning the rest of the cake, canted at minute angles from a second, smaller circle of whipped cream.

The icing on the cake, Rick reflects, taking a moment to excuse the pun, is that one of the strawberries has been replaced by a tiny, rotund figure of Santa Claus, in the exact same shade of red. Like he’s trying to camouflage himself within the strawberries somehow, which is, Rick has to admit, quite adorable.

But not as much as the one whose attention it caught.

Rick looks up at Daryl, not even bothering to disguise the love in his eyes, and Daryl must see something in his expression, something warm and soft and adoring, because he opens his mouth to protest, but Rick beats him to the punch.

“I’d like to buy one of these, please,” says Rick. He points to the second cake in the display, as he nods toward Carol.

No,” says Daryl, immediate. “We don’t need that. Got plenty of food already.”

Rick shrugs off his concerns with a laugh. “Look, it’ll go with the beer and eggnog we already got. And if we have leftovers, we can just eat it through New Year’s.” He hardly thinks about it now, making plans with Daryl like he just assumes they’ll spend the holidays together. And by the tiny curl of a smile on Daryl’s mouth, it seems he doesn’t mind either.

“Guess we could even save a piece for Lucas and Aury,” Daryl says, sounding shy, of all things.

“Yeah,” Rick agrees, beaming, because he knows Daryl loves those kids. Even volunteered to buy Lucas a pair of kid-sized motorcycle gloves (Lucas had wanted a pair exactly like the ones Daryl had had when they’d all gone sledding), and Aurora her animal plushes earlier, while Rick took care of Rachel and Greg’s presents.

“Sorry, boys,” says Carol, apologetic, as she shuffles through some papers behind the counter. Slides a slip of paper across the counter, a form of some kind. “Those cakes in the window have to be ordered, but it’s only a few days before pickup. Did you still want one?”

Yes,” breathes Rick, his eyes bright. They’re not really tallying who’s bought what so far, but Rick knows it’s probably his turn now, and he wants to take the opportunity to do something nice for Daryl. From the way Daryl had spoken of his childhood, he hadn’t had the time to just be a kid at Christmas, and somehow Rick can’t see Merle buying anything besides cheap beer and cigarettes when he’d had a little extra put aside.

Rick barely even looks at the form, just ticks a checkmark into every single box. And maybe it’s the excitement from their actually ordering a cake together that leads to it, but Rick even ticks one of the options at the bottom without reading too hard, because he sees the word peppermint, and he knows Daryl loves peppermint, so—

“Peppermint crunch costs extra,” Daryl frowns, nicking the form from Rick’s hands. Rubs out the mark Rick made until it’s only a greasy smudge on the page.

Rick blinks. “It’s only a dollar more.”

Daryl hands back the paper, sans the peppermint crunch checkmark and snorts. “Don’t need none of that,” he says to Rick. “Just…just havin’ a cake with you’s enough already.” He shoves his hands in his pockets, and there’s the lightest blush forming on his cheeks, one that’ll soon rival the red of their cake’s strawberries.

“All right,” Rick concedes. Better to go without the peppermint crunch than without the cake altogether. He tips a nod at Carol, to go ahead with the order. And even though he’d worried that Carol might not sell them the cake after all, or at least give them a look of disapproval after overhearing them, it turns out he’d worried for nothing; Carol just takes the form and slips it into the organizing rack by the cash register and beams at them a mile wide.

“It’ll be ready by Thursday,” she says. “Someone from the shop will call the number you left us, and you boys can come on down.”

“Thursday,” Rick nods, smiling back. That’s perfect, because it means their cake will be ready just in time for Christmas Eve. He throws a quick glance in Daryl’s direction, and when Daryl gives him a tiny nod in return, Rick goes ahead and pays for their order.

They’re on their way out of the bakery when Rick catches sight of another cake, this one adjacent to the displays they’d been looking at earlier. It isn’t a Christmas cake, but it’s just as lovely, a white layered cream cake adorned with glazed mango slices and artfully carved kiwis for leaves, all in the shape of a heart. He wonders if it’s maybe too much to request that their cake be baked into the shape of a heart too, but Daryl’s already twitching his sleeve again, saying C’mon, Rick, you ain’t no Daddy Warbucks and I ain’t no lil’ orphan Annie, so he follows Daryl out willingly.

“All right,” Daryl says, pointed, when they’re a safe distance away from the evil temptations of the bakery. “We got enough now. For dinner on Christmas Eve, and Christmas. Hell, maybe even ten nights after.”

Rick hides the grin that’s threatening to streak across his face, because he hasn’t even had to say that all the food they’ve been buying was precisely for that purpose. Marvels at the unspoken understanding between them that they’ll be doing Christmas dinner together, because neither of their families will be in town. He doesn’t know where the hell Merle’s going, or if he’ll even be with the buddies he’s claiming to head out with, but he knows Rachel and her family won’t be back until late Christmas day, taking her kids on some skiing bonding trip that Rick had begged off on, because of his two left feet.

“Think we should do it at your place, or mine?” Rick asks, after he’s managed to tamp down on the grin, making it just a wobbly half-moon on his face. Thinks about how he’d like to use the words in the phrase’s usual context, after he’s brave enough to tell Daryl how he feels.

It’s clear Daryl’s gotten the innuendo behind it anyway, his cheeks flushing the sweetest hue of pink. “Don’t matter,” he says. “Maybe yours, since all the food’s there anyway.”

Rick nods his agreement, thinking it’s oddly poetic in a way. A lot of the movies they’re planning to watch are at Daryl’s, and it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from Rick’s for the dinner. He’s tucking his hands in his pockets to keep warm, when his fingers brush the leather of his gloves, and genius strikes him, then and there.

“My gloves,” Rick says, patting his pockets carefully, making sure he doesn’t pat so hard that the bulge of his gloves shows. “I must’ve dropped them somewhere. Daryl,” he says, looking up, his eyes wide in a show of helplessness.

“When did you have ‘em last?” says Daryl, brow furrowed, looking all kinds of concerned.

“I-I don’t know, I had them on until I—oh,” Rick says, a little breathlessly. “The bakery. I took them off when we were filling out the form.”

Daryl considers the possibility, before saying, “Maybe they’re still on the counter or somethin’. I’ll make a run back for you, check if they’re—”

“No, I’ve got it,” says Rick, though he’s touched by how quickly Daryl volunteered to go check. “Why don’t you wait here, and I’ll go?”

“If that’s what you want,” shrugs Daryl, though he blinks when Rick’s smile bursts out of its cage for a second.

Rick manages to catch himself, by clearing his throat. “Won’t be a minute,” he says, readying himself for the run back. His breath clouds from the cold, and Daryl’s too, but for a moment Rick’s tempted to lean in anyway, and press their lips together for an impulsive little I’ll be back kiss. Swallow the lovely cloud of warmth Daryl’s breathing out, as he stands there.

But then Daryl’s waving him off with a go on, then, so Rick breaks into a jog back to the bakery, letting the grin that’s trying to break free of its confines shine bright.

He bursts back through the door of the bakery, letting in a gust of cold air, and Carol winces a little, but then Rick’s there, rubbing his hands and muttering, “Sorry, sorry, I just—the form, I need to—”

Oh.” Carol just laughs, sorting through a few papers to find the form for their cake. “The peppermint crunch, I’m guessing?” she says, sliding the form across the counter.

“Yeah,” Rick beams, grabbing the stubby golf pencil. He makes sure there’s a bigger, darker checkmark than the greasy stain Daryl left when he rubbed the original away with his thumb. Rifles clumsily through his pockets for change, his fingers numb from the cold.

“It’s all right, hon’,” Carol smiles. “It’s on the house, see?” She points at the red PAID that’s already stamped on the sheet, and Rick can’t stop beaming, he can’t stop, and he can’t even remember how many times he says thank you—making sure he buys a little bag of Carol’s Chocolate Chip cookies, because one good turn deserves another—before running all the way back to where Daryl is.

“Well, did you find ‘em?” asks Daryl, his eyes narrowed, suspicious.

Rick draws the pair of gloves from his pocket like they’re some kind of rare prize and slips them on. “Sure did,” he says. And this time his smile’s for something else. This time, he’s looking forward to Thursday and seeing the surprise and pleasure on Daryl’s face, when he finds out that they got that sprinkling of peppermint crunch, after all.

Daryl rolls his eyes. “You know, other people are gonna start callin’ you Officer Friendly real soon,” he says. “Seein’ as how you’re smilin’ so damn hard.”

Rick’s about to tell Daryl that he hates Merle’s pet name for him, when he notices the way Daryl’s shoved his hands in the pockets of his jacket, hunching into the collar of it, shivering.

“You’re cold,” Rick says, blinking stupidly.

Daryl glares a thanks to you, jackass at Rick, but shrugs. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not,” Rick insists, since by now he’s grown better at telling when Daryl’s just suffering in silence or when he’s actually fine. And now when he thinks back, Rick’s left feeling all kinds of stupid; he’d made Daryl wait in the cold, while he was busy adding to their cake, his excitement crowding out every other rational thought. “Why didn’t you wait inside?” Rick asks, as he unwinds the scarf from his own neck. “There’s a gas station across the street that you—”

“Didn’t want you to think I’d gone and left you here,” Daryl says. “Thought I better stay put. Since you’re shit at trackin’ in snow and all.”

This time it’s a real grin that graces Daryl’s face, and Rick’s chest fills with such warmth and affection that it feels fit to burst any moment.

“I’m sorry,” Rick says, as he loops his scarf around Daryl’s neck once, twice. He’s standing close enough to see the redness in Daryl’s nose, and he can’t tell if it’s from the cold or if it’s the warmth of Daryl’s blush shining through, but Rick finds himself thinking that he’d like to kiss the tip of Daryl’s nose, that sweet, rose-red flush. Wants to pull him in by the edges of the scarf, tug him close and kiss him within an inch of his life.

But then Daryl catches him staring, holding his gaze with those shadow blues of his, curious, and Rick ends up simply tucking the end of the scarf at the back of Daryl’s neck. Lets his hand linger there, his palm warm against the nape of Daryl’s neck, as he leans in and touches their foreheads together. “I’m sorry,” he breathes again. “I shouldn’t have made you wait.”

And god, Daryl’s leaning into him too, sharing his warmth, his breath, and they’re close enough to kiss, if only Rick will take the leap of faith he needs to make this work.

Rick pulls away instead, his heart beating far too fast, his hands sweating into his gloves, and he’s only hoping that Daryl won’t notice the beads of sweat that have broken out across his brow. Wills himself to ignore the soft, hurt sound Daryl made when Rick had pulled away, because Daryl couldn’t possibly—couldn’t mean

“I know what else’ll warm you right up,” says Rick, trying to hide the tremble in his voice. He’s struck the by distinct feeling that he’d had a chance there, and he’d blown it.

“Yeah?” Daryl says, his voice too hoarse. “What’s that?”

“Come on,” says Rick. “I’ll show you.” He peels his right glove off as they walk and gives it to Daryl, who hasn’t got any. “Here. At least it’ll keep one of our hands warm, each.”

Daryl snorts, muttering something about how he don’t need no princess gloves, but he slips it on anyway, and Rick can see, as he leads them to their destination, the beginning of a smile making its way across Daryl’s face again, small but hopeful.

Hold his hand, Rick instructs himself. It’s even easier than a kiss. He glances at their ungloved hands—his right, Daryl’s left. It’s the perfect situation, and Rick couldn’t have set it up any better if he’d tried. Just…reach for his fingers. Hell, I don’t care if you just touch your pinkies together, just do something.

Except the entire way there, Rick frets about his palm being sweaty, or Daryl flinging his hand off, ashamed. And by the time they reach the place he’s wanted to lead them to, there are so many other couples holding hands, perfect, fingers entwined or palm in palm, that anything he could try now would be vastly inferior to what he’s seeing here.

“You took me to the park?” says Daryl. He’s not disappointed, but he’s certainly surprised, and he’s only even more so when Rick fishes out some change and herds them over to the truck selling hot chocolate out the back. Buys them one to share, because it’s become something of a custom between them—that when they’re at the park, dependent on the weather, they’ll get the appropriate drink to share.

“How is it?” Rick asks, as Daryl warms his fingers with the cup, breathing in the liquid and lovely warmth steaming out from inside.

Daryl takes a small sip and closes his eyes, as if he’s letting the heat from the hot chocolate slide easy through his veins, warming him from the inside out. “Guess you were right, for once,” he admits.

“For once? You mean for always,” Rick says, with a false indignation that has Daryl throwing a loose fist in front of his mouth, to hide a too-broad grin. Has Daryl handing him the cup while he turns and chuckles into his hand. It warms something in Rick to see Daryl enjoying himself again, but hurts something in him too; the idea that Daryl thinks he’s got to hide his happiness. Can’t let the world see, in case it tries to take it from him, by force.

“All right, Laffy Taffy,” says Rick, huffing. Finds the name strangely fitting, a term he’d learned from one of Aurora’s animated movies—living taffy that was attracted to whatever made them laugh. Wonders if there’s truth to that description after all. “You keep goin’ like that, I’ll be finishin’ this before you get another sip.” He makes sure to take an extra large gulp of the drink, but when Daryl doesn’t stop him, Rick starts becoming vaguely aware that Daryl’s simply watching him drink. Tracking the motion of Rick’s Adam’s apple with his eyes as Rick swallows, the blue of them nearly annexed by black.

Daryl catches himself staring, two smaller sips of hot chocolate in, and as if they’re still carrying on the same conversation, manages a quick, “Have what you want.” He nods toward the cup that Rick’s slowed down on draining, because this had been to share. “I’ll take the rest.”

“I’ve had enough now,” Rick says, holding out the cup. Rolls his shoulders to hide the electric shiver that passes through his body when Daryl’s fingers brush along his.

Having tugged loose Rick’s scarf from around his throat, Daryl finishes off the rest of the cup with small, leisurely sips. And it’s now, during this short moment of reprieve, that Rick lets himself study the same landscape of Daryl’s body. The size and shape of Daryl’s Adam’s apple. The way it moves when he drinks. The way it’s centred within the muscles of his neck, perfect. Finds himself tempted to brush fingers against the lovely curve of it, and feel its movement as he swallows, before letting his fingers dip into the hollow of Daryl’s throat. To just rest there, touching, warming, feeling.

There’s a popping noise as Daryl flicks the cup’s lid off and dredges up the remainder with his finger, tracing the inside rim of the cup until he’s gathered a thick froth of hot chocolate on his index finger. Licks it off slowly, like he’s savouring it, the motion completely and utterly sensual.

Rick can’t help but wonder what it’d be like if he was that finger. Or if Daryl’s mouth could be on his fingers instead. But then Daryl’s smacking his lips as he finishes off what’s left of the hot chocolate, and the moment’s gone—at least, Rick thinks it is, until Daryl looks up and catches his eye.

On the tip of his nose, right where that sweet, rose-red blush was before, is a tiny smudge of cocoa, one that Rick finds all kinds of endearing. He’s caught between wanting to kiss it away, or more boldly, lick it off, and either action requires only the tiniest effort on his part.

Along with a gargantuan amount of courage.

There are so many things Rick wants to do, needs to, but isn’t sure he has the right to. Can’t bring himself to just take the leap to find out. But he could, he should, and—

“You’ve got somethin’ here,” Rick blurts out, before his nerve deserts him completely. He’s about to point to it, before remembering that opportunities have been falling in his lap all day, and he only needs reach out and take one, to make it count. Draws in a small breath of courage, before reaching out and cupping Daryl’s cheek in his palm, a motion more intimate than anything they’ve done so far. Wicks away the offending smudge with his thumb.

He hears the tiny hitch in Daryl’s breath, and even though Rick had been thinking yes, good, going well, it’s enough of an interruption to make his hand dart away, like an air raid siren’s gone off in his head and everyone is panicking.

No. No, only Rick was panicking here.

“There’s somethin’ we oughta try,” says Daryl, too loudly into the silence that follows, and Rick thanks his lucky stars that Daryl’s not going to call attention to it, whatever that little aborted motion was. “Before we lose the light.”

“Yeah?” says Rick, glad to play along, like nothing just happened. Like he hadn’t been cradling his best friend’s cheek in his hand, like he was treasured and dear. “What’re you thinkin’?” And as Daryl nudges him toward the shallow pond nearby, frozen over now that it’s winter, Rick digs his heels in, hard. “No. No, no, no. Two left feet, remember?”

Around them, couples and children and even teenaged girls aspiring to be the next big star of figure-skating stop and stare. Like they’ve never seen anyone treat a natural rink of ice like a visit to the doctor’s.

“Best time of the year for it,” Daryl says, tugging him a little closer. There’s a wooden fence around the pond that acts as an enclosure for ducks during the summer, but even now, Rick can see the smallest of children clinging to it like a lifeline as they shuffle along the ice. “Look, even kids a tenth your age are doin’ it.”

“A tenth my—” Rick sputters, and that is it. Now he has something to prove, and he makes an ill-advised hop over the low-leaning fence, arms pinwheeling at his side as he tries to regain his balance and fails. Miserably. Crawls back out to where the grass has frozen over, clinging to the fence all the while, and sits down. “I’ll just watch you,” he decides. “Let me know when you’re done.”

Daryl snorts and hauls him up by an arm. “I’ll steady you,” he says. “Don’t worry.”

And even if Rick figures his next while will be spent floundering on the ice, Daryl actually shows him how to stand properly, on the slippery surface. How to sweep his feet along, like his boots are actually skates, because it’s the best they’ve got, since this isn’t an officially-sanctioned ice rink with actual skate rentals. And when Rick’s finally learned how to stand by himself, to move his feet without clutching the wooden fence for dear life—baby can sit up by himself now, Rick thinks—Daryl kicks off, gliding a fair distance away, and turns back toward Rick.

“All right,” Daryl calls, with a wave of his hand. “Skate over to me now.”

What,” says Rick. He’s only just gotten the hang of not falling on his ass like an idiot, and Daryl’s left him here, he’s too far, and— “Daryl,” he calls. “Daryl.” He thinks a cry of help is coming down the line soon too, but won’t give Daryl the satisfaction of that just yet.

Rick flounders a little more, trying to find his feet again, his boots grinding back and forth like they’re trying trying to claw through the ice beneath him, when suddenly, people around him pause, like they’re holding a collective breath. Watching as Daryl skates over, graceful, each swivel of his feet perfect, measured, as he glides toward Rick, like a mystical silver stag in the woods.

Christ, Rick thinks. Did I just compare Daryl to a mystical stag?

“I’ve got you,” says Daryl, his voice low, calming, as he winds an arm beneath Rick’s. Helps prop him up, a beam of support and warmth, and everything Rick wants right now. Rick can’t help but cling a little, because he’s completely out of his element here.

“Never told me you were a professional ice skater,” Rick says, teasing.

Daryl snorts. “Never was. Just practiced on the pond behind the house, when it was freezin’ out. Easier when you’re little, I guess. Now c’mon,” he says. He straightens up so he can take Rick’s ungloved hand in his. “Keep up.”

Rick stumbles his way after Daryl, feet catching and scraping along ice, and people around them laugh, but they stop when Rick finds his feet halfway through—though not without needing Daryl’s other hand too, from time to time.

“See?” says Daryl eventually. “You’re a natural at it.”

Rick hums, but it’s not in agreement; he’s only enjoying the warmth of Daryl’s hands around his. The wind through his hair as they glide along the ice together. Imagining Daryl as a child, and wondering if he’d felt this way too, in a rare moment of joy, as he spiralled and looped his way across a pond so many years ago, far from the burdensome cares of his home.

“You can do this, Rick,” Daryl says, encouraging. “You can do this.” And before Rick can ask what it is Daryl thinks he can do, Daryl lets go, and sends him careening into the wilderness, rudderless and lost and alone.

Except he’s not rudderless, and he’s definitely not alone, as Daryl’s there every step of the way, watching as Rick manages a sort of wobbly glide by himself.

“Look at you,” Daryl breathes softly, in wonder, voice likely a touch louder than he intends. “Christ, you’re beautiful.”

Rick blinks because he doesn’t think Daryl meant for him to hear that. And it’s too late when he realizes he’s going to slam straight into the tree overlooking the pond—he hadn’t been paying attention, just blinking and thinking this is it, this is the moment—but Daryl shouts something at him, and reaches out to yank on Rick’s arm, hard. Before he knows it, he’s landed on top of Daryl in an awkward heap of limbs and shoes, but layers of soft clothing and Daryl, instead of a tree.

“You all right?” Daryl asks, his brow furrowed, like the position they’re in doesn’t bother him at all.

His hand’s resting lightly on Rick’s back, fingers stroking along his spine, gentle, like they’re searching for injuries that don’t have to bleed to hurt. And the warmth from Daryl’s breath warms Rick’s face, because his mouth, god his mouth is right there, and Rick could just close the distance between them like it was nothing at all.

“Yeah,” Rick answers, swallowing hard, feeling the rapid hammer of his heart in his chest. This could be the moment, he decides, if I make it so.

He savours their closeness for long moments, before, with the deepest regret, drawing away slowly. Because he can’t bear the thought of their first kiss being in such a public place, surrounded by so many people, when it should be something secret and safe and just between them.

So Rick braces his hands awkwardly on Daryl’s jacket to shift his weight onto his knees. Tugs at his coat and pants until he can get his feet out from under him, before offering Daryl a hand to help him up. “I’m all right,” says Rick. “Though I should be askin’ you that, since you broke my fall.” Rick grins, hoping it’s disarming enough that Daryl won’t notice the profuse blush he’s sure is working its way across his face right now.

Daryl gives him something that probably passes for a smile. “I’m fine,” he says. “Think we oughta call it a day, though. Losin’ the light pretty soon.”

But Rick doesn’t want it to end, because they hardly ever get a whole day off together, not without pulling a few strings, or in Daryl’s case, pulling a few no-shows at Merle’s shop.

“We won’t lose the light,” Rick promises. “Come on.” He tugs Daryl with him by the hand. “There’s somethin’ I wanna show you.” It’s a little something that the police station, the county’s firefighters, and the local hospital had put together for the children’s charity this year, and Rick’s pretty sure Daryl’s never seen anything like it.

In a way, he’s catching Daryl up on the childhood he’d never gotten to enjoy, because Rick knows Merle couldn’t have done much for Daryl between stints in juvie. And the mere mention of Daryl’s father has Rick up in arms, because if Will Dixon were alive, Rick might’ve marched over there and struck him dead a second time, for daring to do to Daryl even half the things he’d done.

Daryl rolls his eyes now, because they’re walking in nearly total darkness after leaving the safety of the park’s jerry-rigged floodlights, but Rick just keeps on grinning and tugging him along, with gentle touches to Daryl’s fingers. His coat. The ends of Rick’s scarf around his neck.

You’ll like it, I promise, beams Rick, all the brightness of his heart that he can’t contain spilling into rosy cheeks and a smile that’s a mile wide. He’s going to do this, he is. Enough with the chances wasted, aborted—he’ll take Daryl to the perfect place for an opportunity of his own making.

You’ll like it, Rick thinks, his fingers curling tighter around Daryl’s, determined, even if the thought’s more of a hope than a surety now. And when we’re there, I hope you’ll like what I’ve got to say, too.

(tbc - Chapter 11 )

End Notes:
- Rick and Daryl’s Christmas cake is inspired by the cakes here and here.
- The concept of Laffy Taffy is from Wreck-It Ralph. They laugh when they find something hilarious. And they’re attracted to whatever makes them laugh! :3
- Daryl’s graceful movement on the ice is inspired by that of Harry Potter’s Patronus charm—a silver stag.
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