eyeus: (Rickyl)
Title: Love, Essentially
Fandom: The Walking Dead (TV)
Pairing: Rick / Daryl
Rating: NC-17
Words: 3030 (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 another block, then another, before they even see a hint of the display Rick’s wanted to show Daryl, but as they near it, a soft, golden glow can be seen, warping around the edges of buildings that have no right to hide its light.

Daryl looks toward Rick, eyebrow arched, but Rick just squeezes his hand and shakes his head. You’ll have to wait.

And the wait’s worth it too, because Rick’s heart nearly leaps from his chest with fondness and affection, when they round the corner and Daryl stops in his tracks, mouth dropping into a stunned o as he takes in the view of gold-lit stars on high towers. Silver arches strung along bridges. Full-scale gingerbread houses, with patterns of gumdrops and candy swirls, all crafted from a hundred tiny bulbs.

He loves the way Daryl swallows hard, carefully touching with reverent fingers when he spots silver lights wrapped around bushes, trimmed artfully into the form of a stag, a rabbit, a seal. The way his eyes widen when they arrive at a grove of trees that have been twined from their bases to their canopies with colors of red and silver and green. The hilltop strung with lines of miniature blue lights, twinkling, each part of a mosaic that comes together to form a cascading waterfall.

Well? Rick asks with an arch of his brow, and the goofiest grin he’s grinned in years. Like it?

Daryl manages a grudging nod, like he’s not sure how to express all his childish wonder, how to channel it, but the look in his eyes says more than enough.

They spend the next while wandering through the displays, the myriad kaleidoscopic lights throwing flecks of red and green and blue on the snow underfoot, and the tinkling instrumentals of I’m Dreaming of A White Christmas rounding out the holiday ambience overhead.

They’re less than half an hour into their wandering of the light displays, when Rick decides it’s time. Starts leading Daryl through a tunnel, one that’s bright with twinkling silver, flashing gold and an adorable arch of pulsing pink hearts, something that’s probably meant to be the Lover’s Lane of the display. Turns to Daryl, hoping that everything he’s feeling is reflected in Daryl’s eyes, heart leaping in his chest when it seems like it is.

“Daryl, listen,” Rick tries. Winds cool fingers around Daryl’s, their knuckles and fingertips reddened from the cold, heartened when Daryl doesn’t pull away. Just waits with bated breath, his attention focused entirely on Rick. “There’s…there’s somethin’ I wanna tell you. And that’s the fact that…”

This day was perfect, Rick thinks, like most of his days with Daryl have been, whether they’re stalking prey through the woods, or curled up against each other munching stale pretzels and watching reruns of old classics. And he’s trying to find the courage to say something to Daryl, about how good they are together, about how Daryl puts the lightness in his step and the brightness in his heart, trying to find the right, the perfect words for it, when it happens—and blows his plans completely out of the water.

“Rick!” A shout echoes from behind them, and as the sound travels closer, it resolves into two voices, not one.

Rick sucks in a sharp breath, his fingers slipping away from Daryl’s; he’d seen Shane on occasion at the station, and run into him at a police charity event once, but it’s been an age since he’s run into Shane and Lori together. And never with Daryl at his side.

Shane and Lori are holding hands with all their fingers entwined and giggling, their cheeks flushed from the cold, and Rick feels something clench tight in the pit of his stomach. They’re fawning over each other like they haven’t a care in the world, and being so expressive with their affection that it’s almost over the top. Rick thinks he’d take Daryl’s smiles and quick, shy touches any day, over this.

Daryl, on the ice, flawless and perfect, the very picture of grace.

Daryl, beautiful in the glow of the lights, his smile a mile wide as he looked upon everything before them with the wonder of a child.

Daryl—

“Rick,” Shane’s saying now, dragging him back to the moment. “We saw you from over by the animal display and waved, but I guess you didn’t see us. Anyway, good to see you again, man. How’ve you been?” He claps Rick on the back, their old gesture of camaraderie. Jerks a nod at Daryl. “Who’s this?”

Lori nods too. “Is this your…?” she tries, before trailing off. It’s clear that she’s surprised, as much as she tries to hide it, and Rick finds himself annoyed by the way she asks, the question itself loaded—like she’s waiting to be proven wrong, and Daryl couldn’t possibly be someone to him. As if she’d assumed Rick wouldn’t ever move on from her.

At least it’s not as bad as the Is this your brother he sometimes gets when they’re out at the deli or the bakery trying to buy food.

“This is Daryl,” Rick says simply, because he’s not sure about saying boyfriend, or partner. Not yet. Not until he knows how Daryl feels—if he even feels the same way.

“Nice to meet you, Daryl,” Lori says, and she’s polite enough, even if she doesn’t offer to shake hands. Even if Shane frowns and mouths at Rick, Is that one of the Dixons?

Rick wants to roll his eyes at that, because what does it matter that Daryl is? It doesn’t make him any less selfless, and kind, and all the things that no one notices about Daryl at first glance. “What’re you two doin’ here?” Rick asks instead, hoping to deflect the conversation from themselves.

“We’re just taking some time to relax,” says Lori. “Been busy shopping for baby supplies and a crib, since we’re expecting now.” And Rick can see the round swell of her belly through her coat now, since she’s pointed it out. Feels a tiny pang of jealousy lance through his heart—that is, until Daryl presses in close, and squeezes his hand once, reassuring.

It warms Rick up from the inside, that motion alone. Makes him stop wishing the ground would swallow him where stood. Makes him feel less like a fool, confessing to a woman who’d belonged to someone else, even if that feels like a lifetime ago now.

“Yeah, what about you guys?” Shane asks, nodding at Daryl. Rick twitches a shadow of a smile at Shane, appreciating the fact that he’s trying to include Daryl in the conversation.

“Just been around,” Daryl shrugs. “Window shoppin’. Tryin’ to get Rick to skate.” And while Rick gets why Daryl doesn’t want to share that they’ve been shopping together, looking at and ordering cakes together, something about hiding what they’ve been doing just doesn’t sit right with Rick.

“Skating?” Shane laughs, even as he narrows his eyes, somehow knowing, and Rick blushes at the memory of Daryl’s hands around his, hot from the mug of hot cocoa they’d been sharing; Daryl, gently leading him around the ice, like it was no big deal, like Rick wasn’t a burden, but someone with whom he could share in a magical ice adventure. “Did you share a hot chocolate too?” Shane teases. “Hold hands in the park?” He jerks a nod at their sharing of Rick’s gloves, one each, before punching Rick in the shoulder, playful. “Sounds like a pretty hot date to me.”

“We’re not—” Rick says, before remembering that he doesn’t need to explain what he and Daryl are to each other. Not to Shane. Not to Lori. That the only thing that matters is what Daryl thinks.

Except Rick’s denial must hurt Daryl more than it has any right to, more than any of Shane’s tasteless jokes, because Daryl’s hand shrinks back from Rick’s and he steps away, like it’s wrong, backtracking out of there in a hurry. And Rick has to fight himself to keep from reaching out and taking Daryl’s hand again. Figures it’s time to make their exit, so he can make things right with Daryl.

“Listen, there’s a party we gotta get to,” he says, making his most apologetic face, though he doesn’t feel bad at all, because god knows how often Shane and Lori pulled this on Rick and the others, when they wanted to make out or get some alone time. “We’ll see you around.”

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” says Shane, clapping a hand to Rick’s back absently, because Lori’s already making excited come here motions and pointing at her stomach. Probably to say the baby’s kicking, come feel.

Rick wants to roll his eyes at the sight of it, hoping he won’t become someone who forgets his friends just because he’s found some kind of wedded bliss. Then Daryl’s speaking, which commands all of Rick’s attention at once, because that’s what he does—takes up all the space and attention around Rick when he speaks and acts. Because Daryl only says what he means and does the things that need doing, every action of his nothing but genuine, every word of his worth listening to.

He’s not even sure how or when he became so attuned to Daryl in this way, but Rick doesn’t mind it in the least.

“That’s them, ain’t it,” says Daryl, his voice oddly quiet, as they reach the end of the Lovers’ Lane, leaving them in an odd patch of darkness before the next light display begins. “And she’s the one that got away.”

Rick knows he hadn’t said a damn thing before Shane and Lori made their way over, so Daryl must’ve read it in the way his shoulders stiffened. The way Rick’s smile faltered just the tiniest bit. And he knows just from that, how attuned Daryl’s become to him too.

“Yeah,” says Rick, with a sigh. “That’s them, all right.” But he’s already let that go, thinking instead about how he’s going to get Daryl to let Rick’s hand near his again. Thinking up all manner of excuses. Got a gift for you—my hand. Or, you look pretty cold, I got some other gloves here somewhere—nope, just my hands.

He’s got to fix what he’s just messed up, because Daryl is…Daryl is hurting. Rick knows that much.

“Oh,” says Daryl. He shoves his hands in his pockets and Rick feels something crumple in his chest in disappointment. “Guess she’s quite a looker. Can see why you loved her.”

“I didn’t…” Rick’s shaking his head already, not sure why he feels the need to clarify how he felt to Daryl, just knowing that he needs to correct that wrong impression right now. “I didn’t love her,” he says. “Not the way I—”

He stops, because that’s too close to what he’s been thinking all this time, too much he can’t reveal now because the moment’s gone.

She was beautiful and bright, and maybe I wanted her like the moon pines after the unreachable sun. But now I’ve found a star in the night that burns brighter and hotter and leaves a light lasting far longer in my heart than hers ever did.

But how does he put this into words? How does he say all this without sounding like an utter fool? Speak, Rick demands of himself. Speak.

“Maybe I loved what they had,” Rick finishes lamely. “I think that’s what it was, in the end.” He’s decided his first words of love to Daryl shouldn’t follow a comparison to Rick’s loves from the past, because maybe he hadn’t meant to earlier, but he’s done with hurting Daryl for today.

Daryl nods, like that’s the end of that. They don’t say another word about it on the way back to Daryl’s place, the location they’ve chosen for tonight’s movie because it’s closer to the park.

Rick toes off his boots in the doorway after Daryl, and before long, they’re back to what they’re used to again, weaving around each other in the tiny kitchen, Daryl taking out pots and saucepans while Rick pulls the ingredients they’ll need for tonight’s movie refreshments out. It hasn’t escaped Rick’s notice that they do this with the same practiced ease that they’ve gained during hunting, or fishing, or anything else they do; they just seem to move easily and in tune with each other, and that’s something Rick thinks they couldn’t force if they tried.

Daryl spends a moment simmering milk while Rick melts chocolate over a saucepan, because they’ve both had enough of packet hot chocolate mixed with water. They’d been four nights into their Christmas movies marathon before Daryl challenged him to the making of real hot chocolate, an occasion Rick thinks he’s risen to pretty well, but only by working together with Daryl. And Rick won’t ever admit it, but more than once he’s watched Daryl, humming Lady by Kenny Rogers under his breath as he stirs the milk, and thought of wrapping his arms around Daryl’s waist. Of brushing a kiss to the column of his neck, and another behind his ear, before breathing in the scent of his hair as Rick turns the lyrics of that song around and croons you’re my knight in shining armour, and I love you.

But then the chocolate and milk are ready to be mixed together, and Rick can’t find it in himself to be brave just this once, so they take turns mixing and pouring the steaming goodness into two tall mugs instead, and Rick picks them up, ready to bring them out to the couch.

It’s then that Daryl flicks his wrist out at Rick, a tiny command to stop, before reaching over to him and dropping a handful of mini marshmallows into Rick’s cup. Huffs and grins a silent you forgot into Rick’s shoulder. Because it’s hot chocolate just the way Rick likes, the marshmallows melting and forming a gooey white layer of sweetness.

Rick just laughs, wishing he could kiss the smirk off Daryl’s face, but before he can, Daryl’s turned away, dragging a sack of supermarket cheese popcorn out of the cupboard. There’s making everything from scratch and then there’s making everything from scratch, and nobody’s got time for that, so they make their way out to the couch, homemade hot chocolate and store-bought snacks in tow.

This one? Rick raises a brow at the DVD Daryl owns, when they’ve set all the snacks down. Or this one? He holds up the remastered BluRay in his other hand.

Daryl jerks a nod at the DVD with a shrug that says Might as well go old school, and Rick pops the disc for A Christmas Story into the DVD player, before settling into the couch. Drops his head on Daryl’s lap without thinking, because they’ve become so accustomed to it, and lets the bowl of popcorn rest on his stomach, where they both pick at it like birdseed.

Except three-quarters of the way through the movie, Daryl reaches down blindly for the popcorn, and instead of getting the popcorn, his fingers land in Rick’s hair.

Maybe it’s the fact that Rick looks asleep, his eyes mostly closed, just listening to the movie’s dialogue and the steady rhythm of Daryl’s breathing, that lends Daryl a certain boldness, but he starts stroking Rick’s hair, his fingers surprisingly soothing. Just weaves them through Rick’s hair like a fine comb, letting them tangle in thick curls, gentle, like Rick is something precious and rare.

And Rick, partly asleep from the movie, partly from being so warm and comfortable where he’s sprawled out along Daryl, rolls into his touch and honest-to-god purrs.

Daryl’s hand jumps away instantly, like he’s been burned, the soft, yearning look in his eyes replaced with horror at once. Rick wants to say wait, but Daryl’s already sprinting off the couch, mumbling, “I gotta take a piss” before Rick can reach out for him and pull him back.

The movie’s rolling the end credits by the time Daryl returns. And Rick, who’s completely awake now, wants to ask what was that all about.

But before he’s opened his mouth, Daryl feigns a yawn—Rick can tell, damn it, he’s catalogued most of Daryl’s grunts and snorts and yawns by now—and says, “Merle just called. Needs me to open the shop early tomorrow. Sorry,” he adds, sheepish.

Rick knows he’s lying, and he wants to say, Yeah? Did Merle just call to say your refrigerator’s runnin’ and that you better go catch it too? But he holds his tongue and nods, shrugging his coat on without a word, because he knows if he corners Daryl about this, they’ll argue, and he can’t take an argument tonight. The fact that Daryl doesn’t ask Rick to stay over stings a little too, but it’s clear Daryl needs his space. To mull over whatever it is that’s spooked him so thoroughly.

It doesn’t keep Rick from eyeing the couch and wishing he could be lying in Daryl’s lap again, warm, and he has to force himself to look away from the couch in the end. Push away thoughts of how they’d gone from comfortable domesticity to this, in no time at all. “We still on for Thursday?” Rick asks instead.

They’re supposed to help Rachel pick up some of her holiday shopping, including her special-order gifts for Lucas and Aurora, and pick up the cake they ordered.

Our cake, Rick thinks, a tiny flicker of warmth glowing bright in his chest. It’s quickly doused by the fear that Daryl’s going to say he’s busy, or out at the shop.

“Yeah,” Daryl says, and Rick can see the apple of his throat move, as he swallows hard. As if just saying this takes an immense effort. “We’re still on.” But he doesn’t meet Rick’s eyes as he speaks.

Rick remembers that, even as he heads out to his car and drives away. It’s one of the few times Daryl hasn’t been able to meet his eyes.

One of the few.


(tbc - Chapter 12)

End Notes:
- The ‘Lover’s Lane’ in this fic is similar to the one found here. The park they visit was inspired by this one here.

OST:
- At the Light Displays: Happyville (White Christmas)
- What Could Be: Lady – Kenny Rogers

P.S. I don't want to give too much away, but the title of the next chapter is...The Turn of the Tide. ^3^ ~ 🎶 Thank you all for reading so far!
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