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Never Too Late

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I knew exactly where we was headed. The cell. A layover for Negan’s prisoners and a place that served as my home for weeks. I had no doubt that Sasha passed time there as well. Negan walked between Rick and I, an arm around each of our shoulders and that obnoxious smile on his face as we made our way down the familiar dingy hallway. Even though his men had disarmed us, and held Rick’s Colt and my shotgun to our heads as we walked, I considered briefly just fighting like a wild animal. Maybe try to rip out Negan’s jugular like I’d seen Rick do to a man before. I knew it was possible to take someone out that way. But then I pictured Glenn. And I knew I couldn’t let myself react like that again. We’d have to use more than muscle to try to get out of this one. And to be honest, after all the fighting between our communities, after all we’ve already been through, I wasn’t sure we was gonna get out of another one alive.

“We can be friends is what I’m proposing,” Negan said in his sing-songy tone. “But the thing is… we all know three’s a fucking crowd, right?” He stopped in front of the cell and I took a deep breath. Being tossed in there again was not something I thought I’d ever live to see.

“So here’s how we’ll fix this,” Negan said, reaching a hand out for one of his lacky’s to give Lucille back to him. He held the bat over his shoulder as he continued. “I’m not unreasonable. Ain’t that right, fellas?” he asked his surrounding men. They all murmured in agreement with their leader. Shit, they were more like fucking zombies than the actual zombies were.

“So you’ll be staying the night here in our special suite for newcomers. Daryl here is familiar with the accommodations. You two can take all night to make a decision.”

“A decision on what?” Rick snarled.

“On who gets a date with Lucille in the morning and who goes home.”

The hallway was silent, just the occasional shuffle of his men shifting feet or adjusting their weapons.

“Not gonna happen,” Rick answered, steadily.

Negan laughed slowly. “Yeah it will. And whoever is still alive will get on their knees and thank me for giving you the choice. When I open this door at 0800 I want a consensus from the both of you about who’s going home to a nice warm bed and who’s gonna be making love to my sweet fucking Lucille here. One lives, one dies. Shouldn’t be up to me to make all the fucking decisions around this place. You decide for me fellas,” Negan said as he gave both of us a hard shove into the dark, damp cell and slammed the door behind us.

It was immediately familiar to me. The smell was stale and pungent and the only light spilled in from the bottom of the door. I could tell Rick was against the far wall but I couldn’t see his expression or gage his mood. We’ve been stuck in worse. Terminus. Almost fell with the prison. Tornado. Walker Hordes. The wolves. But something inside me wondered… what if this is the time we can’t get out of it?

“We’ll figure something out, Rick. And worst case, he takes me and you go home to the kids,” I said but I could tell by his movements he wasn’t registering my words. “Rick. You okay?”

He stumbled over to the door and slid down to where the light was. “This where he kept you?” he asked with a shaky voice that made me nervous for his sanity. Rick tended to walk a thin line as it was between strong determination and crumbling emotion.

“Yeah, my home away from home,” I tried to joke. I watched as Rick ran his fingers along the bottom of the door where the light was.

“Not very big in here.”

“Yeah, well, the luxury condos were too expensive. Had to sell your soul so… I just took this place.” I waited to hear his soft laugh, but there was nothing and my eyes still hadn’t quite adjusted enough to read him. “Rick? You okay?” His breaths were heavier and louder than they needed to be and his hand reached up to jiggle the door knob unsuccessfully.

“Just tight in here,” he said.

“Ain’t no worse than the box car at Terminus.”

Rick laughed, nervous. “Definitely smaller than that.”

“You claustrophobic?”

“I’m fine. Just having a little trouble catching my breath,” he said.

“Rick, it’s just a room, man. You faced a town full of walkers with nothing but an axe and a bad mood. You can sit in here for a few hours with me.” I put a hand on his shoulder for reassurance. “Close your eyes,” I said tryin’ to address one thing at a time. Rick needed me so that was my focus. “Picture us being out in a field like that time we was runnin’ all winter. Stayed at that old house and you and I was out there lookin’ up at the stars. Big sky. All that fresh air and freedom.” I looked at him, my hand still on his shoulder and his chest still rose and fell a bit too frantically.

I stood up and gave him room. “Lay down. Stretch out. Don’t open your eyes. Picture the sky and just breathe, okay?”

He did as I instructed and I sat back down near his head, running comforting fingers through his sweat-soaked curls. “You seeing the stars, Rick?”

“Yeah.”

I rested my hand on his chest and felt his breathing slow to a normal pace.

“Thanks,” Rick said. “Sorry I’m such a pussy.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it, man. Shoulda seen what a mess I was the first time I was in here.”

I kept on running my fingers through his curls since he wasn’t complaining. I always wanted to do that, and figured my opportunities were winding down with each tick of Rick’s wristwatch. We stayed that way for awhile in silence. Rick finally putting his hand over mine on his chest while I twisted the fingers of my other hand around his thick curls.

“Daryl,” he finally said.

“Yeah?”

“I want you to go home. In the morning when Negan comes back. It has to be you.”

I knew this was going to happen. “Rick, I understand that I’m… you know, your brother and all that shit but there ain’t no way in hell I’m going back to Alexandria to look Carl and Judith in the face and tell them their Daddy’s dead. This ain’t no conversation. Decision was made before he even asked the question.”

Rick sat up slowly, still focusing on his breathing, clearly uncomfortable in the small confines but at least distracted by the conversation at hand.

“You are the one that can take care of them, Daryl. You don’t break, I do. I did after Lori. I did after Jessie. I did after Negan took you away. I break. And I get weak. I need someone strong, who loves my children, alive on this earth to protect them and I’m not the best one for the job, you are.”

“You’re the leader, Rick. This ain’t no discussion. And shit, why the hell you talking about letting Negan win? Shouldn’t we be coming up with a plan to get out of here?”

“It never ends, Daryl. It never ends.”

“Rick. You don’t give up.”

“No, YOU don’t give up. That’s why you need to be the one that lives, the one that keeps fighting.”

We sat next to each other in the cell, shoulders touching. “He wants us both to agree. I won’t agree to it and then we both die and no one will be able to take care of your kids.” I hated saying it. It tasted like blackmail and I felt nauseous when the words left my mouth. He didn’t respond and I couldn’t stand the silence.

“I’m not supposed to be here if you’re not,” I said.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

I sighed. There was a strong chance one of us would be dead by morning so I shouldn’t leave anything unsaid. The chances of Carol showing up again with a bazooka to save our asses were slim to none.

“I’m in love with you,” I said.

I could feel Rick turn to me in the dark room. “What?”

I wasn’t sure I could conjure up the guts to say it again, so I didn’t say nothin’. Let the silence be my answer.

“What do you mean you’re in love with me?” Rick asked. I still couldn’t see, but I could picture him with his eyebrows pinched in confusion and his head cocked to one side.

“Christ, Rick. It means what it means. Don’t make me write ya a fuckin’ sonnet or some shit. I’m in fucking love with you and I WON’T be able to be strong and keep it together to take care of anyone if you ain’t on this earth. Don’t matter if the feelin’ ain’t mutual or not. I won’t let you die.”

This time it was Rick’s turn to be quiet. Usually I like silence but not after I poured my heart out to the only person I ever loved. That’s a time I’d like hear some damn kind of response.

“Thought you didn’t ever think about things like that. Never showed interest in anyone, girls or guys,” Rick answered.

“That’s because you are oblivious, Rick. My interest was always in you. Every. Damn. Day. And if my time is up tomorrow, I just wanted you to know. You gave me something I’ve never had before, made me want shit I never wanted before and made me feel like I’s worth somethin’. So, thank you.”

I heard him swallow and instead of pulling away from me, he scooted closer and reached in the dark until he got one of my hands. My heart was poundin’ like a goddamn jackhammer, had that annoying flutter in my belly.

“It’s okay if it’s one-sided. It’s still the best thing I ever had,” I said quietly.

I felt him kiss the back of my hand. “You just didn’t seem like the kinda guy that falls in love… with someone like me.”

“You mean a guy?”

“Yeah, I suppose so,” Rick said as he turned more in my direction. Frankly I was surprised he was still willing to sit so close, and touching my hand at that.

“Can I try something?” he asked.

It was the end of my world. At 0800, no matter what Rick thinks, I’m going to be the one that pays the price to Negan. And with this little bit of life left, I would let Rick do about any damn thing he wanted.

“Yeah,” I answered. It was barely a word, more like just a breath of air.

I felt Rick’s hand travel up my arm in the dark and his fingers running through my hair. And I felt him moving towards me in the dark. Hell, I might die of a heart attack before morning and that would solve this whole problem.

Rick pressed his lips to mine, slowly, cautiously, experimentally. It took my breath away. Rick Grimes, who I’ve admired and followed and fell madly in love with… he was kissing me. Ain’t never been kissed before and between the soft velvet of his plump lips and the fact that it was Rick fucking Grimes, I parted my lips, a way of begging for him not to stop.

I felt him exploring the edges of my tongue with his own, felt the way his lips moved like he was trying to devour me. Why? Was he just giving me one last gift before the end? When he pulled away, I leaned into him trying to keep the kiss going and he chuckled in the dark room. He ran a hand through my hair again and it gave me chills. Fucking 140 degrees stuffed in a room with no windows in the Georgia summer heat and I felt chills. That’s what this man does to me.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“What was the point?” I asked.

“The point was I could have kissed you that much sooner. Not just a few hours before I die.”

I wanted to respond to the part about kissing me sooner, did that mean that he’d wanted to kiss me before my admission? But I pushed that foolishness aside and stood, trying for my best angry Dixon voice. “I said it ain’t gonna be you. There ain’t no way. Never. I’ve laid my life down for you before and I’ll do it again, every goddamn time you're in danger. You’re the reason we’ve gotten this far, the reason your kids have gotten this far.

“That’s not true, Daryl. Judith would have died if you weren’t there to take care of her when I was working things out. You were more of a father to her in those first five months than I was-”

“Rick, I just had my first fucking kiss ever and I don’t want to have to spend the afterglow trying to convince you that I ain’t gonna watch you die.” I hit the hard metal wall with my fist. Probably not a great idea, the sting of bleeding knuckles was immediate.

I could sense his movement in the room as he stood, too. “That was your first kiss?”

“Yeah, so?” I barked, getting defensive now.

“I’m just happy to be the first,” he answered. When I didn’t say nothin’ he sat back down.

“When? When did you realize you were in love with me?”

I sat across from him, almost afraid of getting too much of what I wanted. Dixon’s ain’t supposed ta get nice things and happy ends.

“Christ I don’t even know. When I was out there with Merle, realized where my home was and it was more about you than the four walls and a roof at the prison. Maybe then. Maybe when you called me brother. Maybe a dozen different times. Hell maybe when you went to Atlanta with me to get my brother off that building in the first place.”

Rick took a deep breath. “When Negan had you, brought you to Alexandria and pranced you around like you were his. I never felt myself deflate like that. I wanted to talk to you so bad and I can still see that truck driving away with you in it. That was the worst feeling I’ve ever had. Ever. A lot of different moments when we would separate and come back together and I didn’t know what it was. Didn’t know what it meant, this feeling. When you let me hug you at Hilltop, when I laid eyes on you and knew you were safe, I finally realized that feeling was love, pure and simple. I just didn’t know what to do with it.”

I was almost stunned silent. He loved me back? That was the one thing I hadn’t been prepared for. He loved me back and it was all almost over that quickly.

“Well, great,” I said, trying to keep from getting too mushy myself. “Now we’ve told each other and we got like five hours for me to try to get to third base.”

Rick laughed and the sound of it echoing off the cell walls, made me almost want to cry. Don’t get to hear laughs often in the apocalypse. And I’d sure as hell miss Rick’s when I was gone.

“We’re at a crossroads anyway, aren’t we? I’m not gonna agree to let you go and you’re not gonna agree to let me go.”

“So Negan just kills us both, “ I added, “which might be his plan all along.”

I could sense Rick nodding in the dark room. He stood, walked over to me and reached down to pull me up. He put his hands around my waist and kissed me again like they do in the damn movies, intense and hot and needy and passionate. I became clay in his hands, my body, my lips, molding to his every move. We stayed like that for while, until Rick started to pull off my shirt.

“What are you doing?” I asked, my throat raspy from all the kissing. Never knew how dry it would make your mouth.

“Thought we could… I don’t know. Just, I want to be as close to you as I can right now. Want to take my mind out of this situation for just a few minutes. Want to take yours out of it too. He didn’t move, waiting patiently for my response. I didn’t know jack shit of what to do with a naked Rick Grimes but he seemed to be my lead, as always, with the kissing, so he’d probably lead in whatever was next as well. I fumbled in the dark to unbutton his shirt and then we both fought our way out of our pants.

He grabbed me and pressed me into the wall, kissing like we only had minutes to live, which made sense. The soft groans and sighs I heard from him as he rutted his body against mine were delicious. I felt the heat of his length against mine, the warmth of his body. We were both whimpering in the sensations that came with skin on skin contact. It was heaven. This would be my heaven, Rick’s body holding mine, his lips against my lips. The smell of him, outdoorsy, like hard work and blood.

I felt him grab both of our lengths together as we writhed against one another until I felt the most amazing orgasm I’d ever had. It was nothing like being alone, it was amplified ten-fold and I could hear my cries as I spilled, Rick gasping in my arms as he joined me. And then it was just soft lips against mine, gentle hands roaming up and down my back, my sides.

“Thank you,” I said for lack of any other words existing in my brain at the moment. “I can die now, after that,” I said, still feeling so dazed that my voice sounded strange in my own head.

“I’ve got a better idea,” Rick said as he pulled away, reaching down for our clothes. “Let’s not. We just charge when he opens the door, use teeth and hands and knees. Go for the balls and the eyes. Maybe the surprise of it will give us time to get the weapons out of the hands of his men. Shoot our way out.”

“Sounds like the last moves of a desperate man.”

“Well, I am a desperate man. You may be able to die after that but I want to live, want us both to live so we can have this thing.”

I frowned a moment thinking back to the entire conversation we’d had in that cell. “Hey, why’d you make me wait so damn long ‘fore you said you was in love with me, too?” I stumbled in the dark as I pulled on my pants.

“Thought the suspense would be fun,” Rick answered.

“Well I think kicking you in the nuts would be fun but that don’t mean I’m gonna do it. Dick.”

“Let’s save our first fight for when we get out of here,” Rick said.

I thought back to the first moments we were locked in, thinking muscle wasn’t going to do it this time. I was wrong. It was muscle, strength, but not that alone. It was strength and the desire to live and those were the only things that would get us out of the situation. Those were the things that kept us alive so far.

We took shifts lightly sleeping as the other listened for footsteps. By the time we were both awake we heard them coming.

“Maybe three? Negan and two of his men?” I whispered to Rick and he nodded back. We stood right up against the door ready to strike. We heard the clink of the key.

“I love you,” I said.

“I love you, too.”