The decision to risk a trip to Atlanta is one based purely from desperation.
Their supplies are almost depleted, even the canned food, and the simple fact is that their options are limited. So when Glenn suggests a run to Atlanta, there’s a great deal of hesitation from some of the others, some more vocal than the others. Rick’s unsure of how dangerous it would be to send more than one or two in, Glenn’s insisting that he works best on his own, but no one’s listening to that suggestion.
Morales points out that Glenn will at least need backup, T-Dog volunteers to go with him and from there, the conversation disintegrates into a yelling match. Merle loudly refuses to be left behind like ‘one of the camp bitches’, and Christ, sometimes Shane wants to knock every tooth in the redneck’s mouth down his throat.
Unwillingly, he finds his eyes drawn to Merle Dixon’s brother. Daryl’s sitting at his feet, staring at the dirt like it’s got the answers to the world in it, his body tensed despite the blank look on his face, like he’s tryin’ to hide how much he doesn’t like the conversation that’s taking place above him.
He tries not to stare, but it’s hard not to. The situation between the brothers is fucked three ways from Sunday, and he’s never seen anything like it before. He’s heard of people dominating other people, in passing, really, but two brothers? He wrinkles his nose reflexively.
Daryl doesn’t move, not even when Merle’s shouting. He just kneels there, his shoulders slumped further down when Merle announces he’s going on the scavenging trip. Rick tries his best to convince Merle to stay put at the camp but he’s havin’ none of it. Daryl can handle the hunting while he’s away, don’t none of them worry ‘bout that.
Still no reaction vocally from Daryl, but there’s a slight tightening in Daryl’s jaw, a flicker that catches Shane’s eyes. He drags his gaze away reluctantly when Rick calls his name and the conversation continues.
It’s settled, Glenn’s leading the trip. Andrea, Rick, Merle and Morales are going with on the idea that more people means more supplies brought back. Shane doesn’t agree with that, not that Rick seems to care, he thinks bitterly to himself.
He tries not to think about it all, but it’s there, they’re all there in his head, Rick, Lori, Carl, they circle in his mind incessantly and he wants to climb out of his skin before his anger gets the better of him.
He can’t look at Rick dead on, can’t meet his eyes because Rick will know, he’s always known everything about Shane, there’s no hidin’ from him. He feels the burn of shame whenever Rick gives him one of his questioning stares, and he has to clamp his lips shut to keep the words from babbling on out.
Instead, he stalks about the camp, pretending he’s still responsible for the well-being of everyone there while Rick & Co. get ready to leave.
There’s Amy trying not to cry, hugging her sister for all it’s worth over by the RV. Morales is counting the dwindling rounds of ammo they have, Glenn is gathering the duffel bags and his favoured backpack for scouting and Rick is talking intently to Lori, his head bent close to her. Her expression is one of banked fear and understanding of the necessity.
Scavenging could mean death but death was comin’ if they didn’t try for supplies.
And then, sure enough, he finds his gaze drifting to the far end of the camp, spotting them by the fire pit. There’s Merle, a stern twist to his face, giving orders, no doubt. Daryl’s looking down at the ground an’ nodding every so often, gnawing away on his thumbnail. He feels the anger that buzzes under his skin surge up again and his fingers curl into a fist.
He hates everything about men like Merle Dixon, he hates the way that even Rick couldn’t break through Daryl’s loyalty to his brother, hates the way Merle smirks at them around the fire when Daryl rests his head to Merle’s thigh, lookin’ completely content.
He tries not to watch as Merle cups Daryl’s cheek, one big hand gripping him this side of rough. Daryl lifts his head enough to look at him and there’s more than fear in those blue eyes. He tears his gaze away, unwilling to watch the devotion on Daryl’s face.
Daryl disappears into the woods around them moments after Merle leaves with the others. He doesn’t look at anyone, doesn’t say one thing, just grabs his crossbow and travels into the trees, swallowed up from sight.
He doesn’t come back until the next day, doesn’t re-emerge from the woods until long after the others have returned from Atlanta and the cautious hope in his eyes fades when he doesn’t see Merle in the midst of the people around the campfire.
Rick’s told them all what happened and the pitifully few supplies that they’ve brought back are testament to how badly overrun the city truly is. There’s new shadows smudged under Rick’s eyes and Shane doesn’t have to ask to know that nothin’ good is headed their way.
There’s a long, horribly long moment, where Daryl stands at the fringe of the group, his crossbow hanging from one hand, his eyes searching out for the familiar sight of his brother. His eyes widen when the absence hits him and his lips part on a breathless denial.
Rick steels himself, turns on his heel to face Daryl, apology written all over his tired face.
“Daryl…” he sighs, shaking his head a little. “I don’t know any better way to tell you this, but Merle…”
Daryl takes a step back instinctively and his head moves from side to side.
“There was too many, we were overrun.”
There’s a hush that’s fallen over the campsite and Shane’s keenly aware that everyone is watching, like a collective breath held. He rests his hands to his hips, ready to move if needed. Merle never hid his explosive temper and he can’t help but wonder if he’ll be able to hold Daryl back should he finally lose it.
Daryl’s just standing there and he’s not looking at anyone. The hand holding his crossbow is slack and the air is as heavy and warm as ever, and Shane knows it, knows the explosion is coming.
Rick’s eyes are soft, sad and far too weary. “I’m sorry, Daryl, I really am. We tried; I couldn’t get to him in time.”
“No.” Daryl’s shaking his head back and forth, his eyes finally meeting Rick’s gaze. “No…No, he ain’t…”
Shane sees it happen before he can blink. Daryl’s hands are shakin’ and his eyes are wet and narrowed against the man who stands in front of him and suddenly he’s moving, screaming a litany of ‘no’s’, a whirlwind of rage and he’s slamming into Rick, attacking him with everything he has.
Rick staggers back, caught unaware by the force of Daryl’s rage and Shane wastes no time joining the fray. He’s got Daryl pried off of Rick and it’s no easy task and the man is screaming, wildly punching at everything in sight. He slings his arm around Daryl’s neck and he can feel the soft collar that runs around his throat, rubbing against his forearm.
Daryl lets out an unintelligible, guttural scream, one that sounds like it’s scraped the length of his throat on its way out. His chest is heaving up and down and Shane can feel the raw panic comin’ off him in waves.
“No,” Daryl chokes out, his face red, a few stray tears slipping down his cheeks and the mournful whisper of Merle’s name follows. The sound of his voice sends shivers down Shane’s spine.
The sun’s burning down, a ball of fire above them and Daryl’s still shaking in his arms.
He’s not fighting any more. He’s gone limp and the distressing sounds coming from him are too loud in the shocked silence that’s fallen over the camp. Shane’s aware of the stares on him, aware of the way Rick is studying him with those damned eyes of his and overwhelmingly aware of the fact that he’s holding an emotionally unstable man in his arms.
Rick kneels down in front of Daryl as Shane slides his arms back, releasing him from his grip. “Daryl, you’ve got to understand that I didn’t leave him behind because I wanted to,” he says in his authoritative voice, the one Shane’s heard him use countless times before. “There were just too many of them.”
Daryl shakes his head anew and swipes his arm over his face awkwardly. “Merle,” he mumbles brokenly.
Shane runs a hand through his hair, smoothing the sweat damp strands back. He meets Rick’s intense stare for a moment and he’s shakin’ his head. “He ain’t listening right now,” he mutters.
And he knows he’s right. Daryl’s there, but he’s not there. His face is eerily blank and the only sign of awareness is the pain and wild fear in his eyes. He’s moving and Rick tenses, prepared to dodge another attack if need be, but Daryl only moves from crouching on the ground to kneeling and that makes Shane take a big step to the side.
He hates how that’s Daryl’s go-to position, kneeling like…like that.
“Daryl…” Rick tries again, but there’s no response.
Shane watches as Daryl moves, slowly, gracefully even, until he’s standing. He picks up the crossbow he’d dropped during his scuffle with Rick and his fingers are trembling. He’s back to starin’ at the ground and his thumb has strayed up to his lips and he’s gnawing on the nail, his shoulders slumped downwards.
Rick and Shane exchange a series of wordless looks and the question is obvious: What now?
“Gonna hunt,” is the barely heard whisper from Daryl before he turns away and heads for the woods, the crossbow slung across his shoulder.
“Um, should he really be alone…right now, out there?” Glenn asks from a few steps behind Rick. “I mean, I know Merle was all…uh, you know,” he gestures a bit with one hand, the gesture falling short when it comes to explaining whatever the fuck relationship Merle and Daryl had. “But it’s still his brother,” he stresses, even though no one’s answering him.
“Glenn’s right,” Rick says, nodding once. “He shouldn’t be alone.” And he levels one of his patented looks at Shane, and Jesus Christ, why does it have to be him?
Shane huffs out a breath and tugs at his belted pants. “Damn it,” he sighs and he knows better than to bother protesting. Rick’s passed the torch to him clearly and dealing with Daryl Dixon isn’t high on his to-do list.
He trudges after Daryl, catching up to him in only a few strides. “Daryl…C’mon, get back here, man.”
To his annoyance, there’s still no response. Daryl keeps movin’ towards the trees, but Shane can see a tremor of something run across the man’s shoulders. He heard him; he knows that, sure as shit.
“Damn it, Daryl, I’m talkin’ to you!” he barks and to his surprise, Daryl’s boots stop where they are.
He’s looking down at the ground and Shane can hear his ragged breathing.
Shane runs his hand over his hair again, beyond annoyed. He’s not equipped to deal with emotionally fucked up men, he snaps inwardly, gritting his teeth when Daryl doesn’t say anything until it occurs to him that he probably doesn’t think he’s supposed to.
“Look man, things are gonna be different now,” he says, trying to think of what to say that won’t be the wrong things. “Merle’s…he’s gone an’ you ain’t under his thumb any more. You understand that?”
Daryl makes that soft wounded sound like before and Shane’s sweat slick back prickles anew. The sound makes him think of a hurt animal, a dog with one mangled leg in a trap. He swallows over the lump that’s risen up in his throat and he rubs his hand over the back of his neck, trying not to pace out of frustration.
“You aren’t his…his pet,” he adds, disliking the way the word feels on his tongue. “That shit wasn’t right anyway, an’ now you don’t hafta be like that.”
There’s a movement, and later he’ll be amazed at how fast Daryl can move and still be silent while doing so, and Daryl’s starin’ at him with eyes that are scared and angry at once. His fingers rub against the black collar ‘round his neck and Shane sees a tear fall down his cheek an’ something inside him twists uncomfortably.
“I wanted ta be,” Daryl whispers and his voice is so strained that Shane has to lean forward to hear him completely. “All…All I had,” he trails off and shakes his head, grief etched on his face.
And then he’s gone, bolting into the woods before Shane can think to offer some kind of platitude.
He knows better than to try an’ search after the man. If anyone’s gonna disappear into the woods and live to tell the tale when he chooses to come back, it’s Daryl and that’s what he tells Rick when he returns to the group.
Glenn’s shooting him accusing looks from the other side of the fire and he doesn’t like that one bit. He can still feel so many sets of eyes on him; it makes him itch to fucking scream until they back off.
“I can’t, Rick, you didn’t see his face.” Shane’s shaking his head when Rick corners him and asks him to keep an eye on Daryl whenever he gets back from hunting. “He’s not normal, brother. I can’t…I wouldn’t even know what to do.”
“And he’s also a human being that just lost his brother, his only family,” Rick says in that voice that Shane hates at times, that voice that says ‘you’re wrong and I want to help you understand how we can fix that’.
“We all know Daryl’s…damaged,” he adds carefully, “But we can’t turn our backs on him simply because it’ll be hard. He responded to you, when you told him to stop movin’, Shane. I need you to do this, not for me, but for all of us. We’ll help him heal by being there for him this way.”
And God, Shane wants to say no, he really, really does, but all he can see when he pauses is the look on Daryl’s face, the way he’d touched his collar and the mournful sounds that he wasn’t even sure Daryl knew he was making.
Even as he nods reluctantly at Rick, he hopes that Merle Dixon is burnin’ in Hell.
He tells himself that he’s not anxious at all about how long Daryl’s been hiding out in the woods.
Far too long for comfort’s sake, but he doubts Daryl’s all that concerned with things like comfort and the longer he’s gone, the more Shane starts to freak the fuck out. He doesn’t like this business of being tasked as Daryl’s handler for Christ’s sake. What does he know about…about what the hell Merle brainwashed into the man?
All he can say he knows is what he saw in the camp and none of that sits well with him. He hated the way Daryl knelt at Merle’s side, the way he would eat from his damned hand, the unwavering loyalty; it galls him to think of treating someone like that.
And what the fuck does Rick think he can do? Put a leash on the man?
He feels a sick twist in his belly at the idea. He’d rip that collar off if Daryl would let him close enough.
He avoids the other men at the camp and settles for walking along the perimeters they’ve staked out. He doesn’t like the way Glenn can make him feel guilty for not knowin’ what the right words were when Rick sent him after Daryl. He especially doesn’t like the way Rick’s studyin’ him and it makes his skin itch something awful.
The sun’s setting gradually and there’s still no sign of Daryl.
Shane keeps one hand on his gun and he finds his gaze drawn to the edge of the beginning of camp again. The tent is still there, Merle’s and Daryl’s, and he scowls at it for no reason other than because he could.
The area is neat; he can say that much for the pair of them.
He hadn’t liked Merle Dixon from the minute he’d seen the bastard swagger into the camp, actin’ like he was doing all them a favour by being there and it galled him even more when he had to acknowledge that without the Dixons, the camp’s food supply would have been even lower.
But Daryl…he wasn’t Merle. He was hidin’ behind Merle, even from the moment they pulled up, hidin’ and refusing to look anyone in the eyes, an’ yeah, that had bothered him as well.
Shane pauses by one of the trees when he hears a faint rustling. His gun is drawn and in his hand on instinct and he’s straining his ears, listening for that godawful groaning that the Walkers all seem to make.
Nothing follows and he catches his breath when the leaves and branches part, revealing Daryl to him and he find his gaze drawn to the leather collar. It stands out against Daryl’s skin, black and supple lookin’. He blinks and then puts his gun back into his holster.
“The hell is it with you, boy,” he mutters crossly. “The hell were you thinkin’?”
He doesn’t expect a response and he doesn’t get one either. Daryl makes this shrug-like gesture and he holds out his length of rope, a multitude of squirrels hangin’ from it, like some kind of offering.
Shane takes the hank of rope after a prolonged moment of silence. “That’s uh…that’s real good,” he finally says when it seems to him like Daryl’s waiting for something.
To some relief, he sees a twitch, a hint of somethin’ across Daryl’s face, an almost, not quite smile, but it’s gone so fast that he thinks he might’ve imagined it. He’s got his head down, like always, and Shane can’t help but wonder precisely how he’s gonna keep an eye on someone who doesn’t talk or make eye contact ninety-eight percent of the time.
“It’s gettin’ dark.” Shane tries not to look at the squirrels too closely. He’s not all that fond of eating road-kill but beggars can’t be choosers.
Daryl hasn’t moved. He’s gnawin’ away on his thumb, a silent, dirty statue and Shane can still see the tear tracks that snaked over his cheeks hours before. He hesitates a moment and it’s with a sinking sensation that he realizes just what keepin’ an eye on Daryl will involve.
“Go on back to camp,” he says suddenly and his voice is rougher than he intended.
And it works, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about it. Daryl’s off an’ moving, his crossbow slung over his back, head down, in the direction of the camp. Shane’s left standing there, holding the rope of squirrels, far past uncomfortable.
He finds his attention wandering during dinner and it’s hard to concentrate on some story that Dale’s blatherin’ on about when his gaze keeps landing on the far end of the camp, to where Daryl’s sitting on a large wood log, tending to the small fire he’s got goin’, separated an’ segregated from everyone else.
There’s something in Daryl’s eyes, a look of loss, of confusion and hurt. It makes Shane clench his teeth. Mourning a piece of shit like Merle is a waste of time, he fumes silently. It pisses him off to see the sadness that’s written all over Daryl’s face.
And for a reason he doesn’t care to think over, he’s up and movin’ until he’s standing at Daryl’s side, his plate in one hand.
“For Christ’s sake, Daryl, you don’t hafta sit over here by yourself.”
He can hear the fire popping and crackling. Daryl’s holdin’ himself so still that Shane thinks he might’ve stopped breathing. He moves his head ever so slightly and Shane can feel the weight of Rick’s stare on him from across the way. He knows Daryl can hear him, even when he acts like he can’t.
“You listenin’ to me?” Shane asks, banking the temper that he feels rapidly rising. “Polite thing to do is to say somethin’.”
Daryl flinches at that and he lifts his head, darting a quick look up at him and Shane hates this all the more.
“Look, I ain’t gonna stand over you all night,” he snaps and gestures at the fire pit nearby. “You need to eat so get your ass over there.”
There’s a smaller flinch and Daryl mumbles something under his breath.
“What’d you say to me?”
“Ain’t hungry,” is the barely louder whisper.
“Did I ask if you were?” Shane frowns down at the man, perplexed by him. How in the hell had Merle enjoyed this?
And maybe that was the right thing to ask, ‘cause then Daryl’s standing, waiting to follow Shane back to the camp fire. Shane sighs and shakes his head, glaring at Rick the whole way back to where his seat was, Daryl in tow.
This is your fault, he sends in his glare to Rick and he knows that Rick’s got the message.
It’s the sudden dead quiet that makes him look around and all he can see is the eyes of the others watching as Daryl kneels down next to Shane’s foldout chair, easy as can be, and the very act makes Shane want to run far, far away from the man.
Shane licks his lips, uneasy with this, so fucking uneasy with all this. “Uh, you don’t…why don’t you sit over there,” he nods to the space between T-Dog and Dale.
If he hears, Daryl gives no inclination. He just kneels right there, right next to Shane’s chair, kneeling as comfy as can be, watchin’ the flames of the fire flicker, unaware or maybe even uncaring of the way people are staring at him.
Shane’s standing there, a step away from his chair an’ he wants to sit down, but he kind of doesn’t want to. He’s no replacement for Merle and Jesus, that idea makes his appetite flutter away. He finally sits in the chair when it’s clear that no conversations are gonna start up any time soon.
Amy’s whispering something to her sister, and the pair of them are watching Daryl intently, and he doesn’t seem to care, but Shane can see the tension in his jaw. He wants to tell them all to back off, but this isn’t his problem, damn it.
“Ain’t y’all got better things to talk about?” he snaps and as if on cue, Dale starts up again, yammering on about star gazing, and he can see the tension melt away from Daryl when the stares end.
Try as he might, he can’t ignore the looks they’re getting and Shane decides that above all else, he’s gonna force Rick to talk to them all. This kind of attention, he figures it can’t be good for Daryl, forced to be their entertainment now. With Merle gone, what retribution would there be for staring and whispering?
He tries even harder to finish his dinner but he can’t summon up much of an appetite.
It doesn’t help that out of the corner of his eye, he can see the man kneelin’ away, a little too close to his chair. Shane grinds his teeth together at the worry that niggles at him and he’s nervous for fuck’s sake, nervous that Daryl might try an’ act the way he would if Merle was still here.
It’s becoming a mantra in his head, the thought of ‘I can’t do this’, it’s drivin’ him mad.
The food tastes like ashes in his mouth and he’s watchin’ Daryl stare at nothing for a long while before he feels guilt nudging at him. No one’s handed over a plate for the man and that bothers him as much as the stares do.
He knows there’s enough food for the time bein’ an’ it’s not like Carol to shaft somebody on portions. He frowns at his mostly untouched plate before glancing down at Daryl again. He clears his throat and it’s fucking uncanny the way Daryl’s head suddenly moves and he can tell that the man is paying attention to him.
He pushes the plate near him. “Eat,” he mutters briskly.
Daryl turns his head a bit further, staring at him with slightly widened eyes. There’s a look of confusion to his face and before Shane can think to question why, he sees Daryl shake his head an inch or so, a silent ‘no’ gesture.
“I know you didn’t have no lunch, so unless you were gnawin’ on raw squirrels, you gotta be hungry by now,” Shane pushes the plate closer to Daryl, willing him to take it.
And the guy just fuckin’ stares at him like he’s speaking Latin.
“Shane,” he hears the timid voice to his right and he sees Carol hovering close by. “He doesn’t eat that way,” she whispers to him, like she’s tryin’ to avoid having the whole camp hear.
He feels that now familiar sick tug in his stomach and oh hell no, he’s not gonna do that.
“You ain’t serious, Carol…”
She ducks her head a little and Shane’s struck by the submissiveness to that movement and he knows he’s seen Daryl do that move as well. “Merle never let him eat off a plate,” she murmurs.
Shane stares at her, recalling his own thought from before, how much it bothered him to see Daryl eatin’ whatever Merle fed him from his hand and his mouth curves down, stunned.
He’d known that, course he’d known that. Merle had laughed and laughed the first time Rick had asked him pointedly if he needed a second plate for his brother. Oh Jesus, she is serious…
“I…I can’t do that,” he hisses back, his voice as quiet as hers. “That’s not right; he’s not my damn …”
And it hits him, Daryl’s listenin’ to this whisper debate an’ his shoulders are hunched down, his jaw as tensed as can be. He knows they’re talkin’ about him. Shane exhales heavily and he’s not sure he can go through with this.
He’s about ready to admit defeat when he sees the flicker of interest in Daryl’s eyes, the half second of longing when he glances at the food just inches away from him. It’s the look of longing that makes up his mind for him and before he can chicken out, he sets the plate on his knee and grabs the biggest section of stewed meat between two fingers.
His ears burn and he knows a few people are watching but he can’t sit back an’ let the man starve. With a quick breath, he moves his hand and holds the chunk of meat down low, by Daryl’s head.
His heart skips a beat when he sees the movement, when he feels Daryl’s lips graze his fingers as he accepts the piece of food, when he feels a slight lick to his skin and his ears burn all the hotter for it because he thinks he might go crazy if he has to keep hand feeding the man kneeling next to him.
And when Rick looks at him with this gaze that’s halfway between pleased and concerned, he feels like chucking the plate at his head, promise be damned.
Daryl eats a few more pieces, as neatly as the first, before he lets his head drop low again and Shane takes a wild stab in the dark that this must be a sign that he’s full. Carol catches his gaze again and she gives him a smile that’s both sympathetic and understanding.
He wants to scream because this…this is too much.
It doesn’t occur to Shane just how he’s going to deal with all the aspects of his new responsibility until he’s stalking over to his tent. He hears the near silent boot steps and he turns automatically to see Daryl standing two feet behind him, eyes on the ground, arms loosely at his sides.
“The hell are you…” he starts to say when it hits him again, “Daryl, I wantcha to listen to me right now, ok?”
There’s that slow tilt an’ at least the man’s meeting his eyes.
“You go on back to your tent. I…you stay put there, alright? You don’t need to be sleepin’ in my tent.”
He feels a shudder run down his spine at the look on Daryl’s face and Christ, he feels like the world’s biggest heel right then. He might as well have punched him, slapped him around for a bit. Daryl’s head goes back down and there’s that sound, that mournful little noise that makes him want to apologize immediately.
Instead, he firms his resolve and nods. “You heard me.”
There’s a moment where he thinks that Daryl might protest but the only thing Shane’s thinkin’ about is dropping down on his sleeping bag and crashing until it’s time for his shift and if that means kickin’ the man over to his own tent, so be it.
He turns away and unzips his tent, ignoring the other man as best he can. He pulls his boots off, one by one and finally he hears the soft steps as Daryl walks away from his tent. As he strips, he feels the guilt flicker and he tells himself that the man won’t ever be normal if they keep indulging his behavioural quirks, if they keep treatin’ him the way Merle did.
He’s too tired to think beyond that and he passes out moments after his head hits his makeshift pillow.
He comes awake some time later when Morales shakes his shoulder, reminding him that it’s time for his watch. He rubs his face with one hand, grinding the sleepiness from his eyes and once he’s thrown on some clothes, he staggers from his tent, still doing up the belt ‘round his hips.
Shane passes the other tents, hears the light snores from some and sees the dim light of a stray flashlight, and despite his efforts, his eyes wander to the tent furthest away. The tent flap is partially open and his breath catches when he sees Daryl lyin’ at the foot of the still made up sleeping bag, curled up like a fucking dog.
He pauses there, watching Daryl run his fingers over his collar, stroking it, and he can see in the moonlight that the man’s face is crumpled up, as if he’s tryin’ not to cry, his shoulders twitching now an’ again.
Damn it all…
“Daryl,” he whispers and Daryl holds still. He closes his eyes, feigning sleep.
“I know you ain’t asleep. C’mere.”
Daryl moves smoothly and he’s kneeling on the tent floor in a mere few seconds. He looks up at Shane warily, like he’s expecting to be punished any minute now and the idea makes him want to shudder.
“If you aren’t gonna sleep, least you can do is keep watch with me,” Shane tells him, resting his hands to his hips. He doesn’t like the look on Daryl’s face, like he’s done him some kind of fucking favour.
He waits while Daryl grabs his gun and crossbow, and in the moment it takes for him to do so, he notices how neat the inside of the tent is. Everything is tidy, boxes an’ items stacked, the one sleepin’ bag off to the side and a thin pile of spare blankets neatly folded lyin’ close by.
It’s the one sleeping bag that lingers in his mind and he tries not to stare at Daryl’s collar, at the way that the band stands out all the more in the darkness of the night against his skin. He itches to yank it off and instead settles for rapidly walking over to the RV.
Daryl’s behind him, his shadow it seems. He follows him up the ladder and kneels down beside the folding chair that’s been set up. Shane sighs and grits his teeth as he sits down in the chair, his gun settled in his lap.
“I don’t think you’re gonna need that,” he nods to the crossbow.
Daryl’s chewin’ on his lip and it’s like he wants to talk; only he doesn’t. He takes the red rag from his back pocket and he reaches for his bolts, darting a look up at Shane as he begins cleaning them and, yeah, that makes sense, busy work while keepin’ watch, sure.
Shane stares at the horizon, trying to ignore the steady, quiet breathing beside him. It bothers him, the unending silence. It doesn’t seem right and he looks down at Daryl, watching him meticulously clean grit and streaks of God knows what from each bolt.
“This whole silent thing, it’s gettin’ old,” he hears the words come out and they catch even him off guard. “I don’t know what he told ya, but you’re allowed to speak.”
Daryl stills next to him and his bottom lip is caught between his teeth. He shakes his head slowly and fuck, it pisses him off all the more.
Shane grips the arm rest of his chair, tryin’ to swallow back his annoyance. “I tol’ you before, it ain’t the same anymore!” he snaps as quietly as he can manage. “You aren’t a fuckin’ dog, not some pet, so stop it, just fucking stop.”
The silence is deafening.
Daryl shifts his head and he’s starin’ up at Shane with those wounded eyes that say too damned much, that plead with him to understand. There’s confusion an’ anger, worry and fear and this…this look of desperation and it makes Shane’s skin crawl. He can’t breathe under the weight of Daryl’s eyes on him.
“S’all I know,” Daryl whispers. His voice is still ragged, uneven and Shane wants to jump right off the RV, move away from the man who’s staring at him like he’s got all the answers.
“Well it ain’t normal,” Shane chokes out. “You really wanna be like this all your life?”
Daryl makes that soft little sound and looks back down at his arrows. “Don’t know nothin’ else,” he mumbles and there’s somethin’ so damn sad in his voice. “Treated me better this way…”
He clams up after that, regardless of what Shane says, and spends the rest of the watch alternating between cleaning the bolts and watching the quarry around them for signs of intruders.
Shane clenches and unclenches his teeth while he thinks of Rick, sleepin’ easy with Lori cuddled against him, when he’s on the roof of the RV with Daryl, watchin’ and waiting.
Shane all but drags Rick to the far side of the camp the first chance he gets and even before he stops walking, he can see Daryl lurking a few steps behind. Rick’s amused, that much Shane is sure of, and good God, he’d like to hit him for it.
He looks over his shoulder and glares at the man. “G’on,” he says. “Go make yourself useful.” And try as he might, he can’t ignore the blink of hurt that crosses Daryl’s face before he’s assumed that blank look that he normally wears.
Daryl nods obediently and walks away, heading toward his tent.
“I think you might need to consider going a little easier on him, Shane.”
“Oh, that’s where you’re wrong,” he laughs and the sound is more brittle than he’d like.
“You see that?” he points in the direction Daryl’s walking, “That right there is one hell of a mess. I can’t fix that, Rick. Hell, you can’t fix that!”
Rick nods solemnly and he’s squinting as the sun burns down hotter an’ hotter by the second. It’s early still, but the Georgian heat is suffocating them all. “What I see is a man that’s spent his whole life under someone else’s thumb.”
“And you think you know how to make him be normal?” Shane snorts and he’s leanin’ away from Rick, arms crossed over his chest. “How you figure we can do all that?”
“That’s what you’re missing. This is his normal. He doesn’t know how not to be like that, Shane.”
“See that’s just it,” and he’s pacing now, rubbing one hand along his neck irritably. His skin is slick with sweat and he can still fucking see Daryl, out of the corner of his eye, sitting patiently by his tent, cleanin’ his gun while he waits.
“I’m not Merle fucking Dixon,” he spits the name and renews his wish that Merle should rot in Hell for all eternity. “I can’t do this. I can’t, I don’t know how to fix him! Did you not see that shit last night? The man was eating from my hand, brother, my goddamn hand! Do you know what that feels like?!”
Rick nods a little and he’s movin’ as well, taking a few steps to the side. “I know. We all saw it.”
“And that’s fine by you? You like watchin’ him eat like a dog?” Shane snarls and the sarcasm is dripping from his mouth. He wants to throttle Rick for this, for saddling him with this responsibility.
“Of course not!” Rick snaps back at him. It feels good to rile the man up, to see if he’s still got his temper under his good guy, ‘let’s all be reasonable’ attitude.
“What’s the alternative? We throw him out of the camp because it makes people uncomfortable? That’s a human being over there and he’s been abused all his life! Where’s your compassion, Shane? What happened to caring about people an’ what happens to them?”
Shane’s shaking his head and he’s gritting his teeth somethin’ fierce. “We don’t got the resources to handle this. I don’t, you don’t an’ don’t you act like I had some kind of say in all this. You dumped him on my shoulders! I don’t want or need someone like Daryl Dixon trailin’ around after me. I won’t do it, man; I won’t be Merle for him.”
“I’m not askin’ you to be Merle,” Rick reasons and Shane hates how that calmness settles into his brain, melting away his wall of anger, melting down his stubbornness. “I’m just asking you to remember what Merle’s done to him.”
Ahh, there’s the guilt, nice an’ heavy. He stops in his tracks and his stomach clenches tightly for a moment. Shit…He rubs his neck again. He can feel Daryl’s gaze burning into him, and he wants to punch somethin’ till his knuckles split and bleed.
“Fine,” he growls. “Fuckin’ peachy, that’s what this is.”
Rick sighs and Shane doesn’t look at him. He turns and faces Daryl, nodding to him. It doesn’t help when he sees the relief flash over Daryl’s face as he quickly re-assembles his gun and stands, makin’ his way over.
“Go easy on him, Shane, that’s all I’m saying.”
He licks his lips and there’s a halfway hysterical sound building in his throat. He jerks his head at Daryl once he’s close enough, an’ the man falls in line behind him, following him over to his jeep.
There’s a constant need for fresh water in the camp and one of the tasks that Shane takes upon himself is to provide that for their people. He drives his jeep down the old quarry path with all the containers they can find and fills them, and a small part of him feels proud when he brings back the water to be boiled for their use.
Daryl, a mute statue, sits next to him in the jeep. He squints into the distance and though there’s sweat beading along his forehead, he doesn’t seem bothered much by the heat. Shane feels like he’s meltin’ under the unforgiving sun an’ it pisses him off to see Daryl so stoically bearing the heat.
He brakes and cuts the engine abruptly, sliding out of the jeep just as quickly. As he grabs two of the containers, he sees Daryl glancing at him, a hint of curiosity visible in his face.
“What? What is it?” he snaps, wiping away droplets of sweat from his face with his forearm.
Stupid of him to expect an answer, he thinks, mentally cursing his own stubbornness when Daryl just looks away and lowers his eyes. He doesn’t have the patience for this today, not when he feels his control slidin’ away, not when the sun is cooking his brains.
“I asked you a fuckin’ question,” Shane manages to get out with some semblance of patience.
Daryl licks his bottom lip and hesitates a moment longer and Shane smacks one of the containers off the edge of the jeep. Daryl doesn’t flinch, but he does tense up an’ that’s so much more irritating.
“When I ask you somethin’, you damn well better answer me!”
Daryl’s throat works for a second before he reflexively raises his gaze to meet Shane’s. “Oughta be huntin’,” he murmurs, his fingers wrapped around the crossbow on his lap.
Shane pauses at that. Well shit. “We all need water more n’ food right now,” he nods to the containers. “You can hide in the damn forest after this.”
“Yessir,” Daryl says and it’s spoken so quietly that Shane barely hears it, but he catches it and his knuckles crack on his grip of the container and he’s definitely ignoring the small flutter in his stomach at the whispered murmur.
He doesn’t want to think on that one bit.
Long after he’s brought back the load of water, Shane makes his way through the camp, checking an’ double checking on things, things like their disturbingly small food supply, first aid materials, and the need for more firewood.
He knows damn well he’s only lookin’ for an excuse to avoid Daryl.
He rubs his tongue over his clenched teeth and grabs an axe. He heads for the woods, intent on finding more kindling for the fire pits and it’s only when he glances at the sky, that he realizes just how long Daryl’s been gone.
The man often stayed out, sometimes for a day or two, hunting for larger game, for more than enough squirrel meat to feed everyone, so the logical side of his brain is orderin’ him not to worry and Christ, didn’t he tell the man himself to get on with the hunting that he was so eager to do?
And he agrees with that side. He avoids thinking about the man for as long as he can and he chops a ridiculous amount of wood in the meanwhile and when Dale comments on the size of the haul he brings back, he has to clamp his lips shut to keep from tellin’ Dale exactly what he thinks of him.
He doesn’t feel relieved to see Daryl emerge from the woods late that night, not one bit, he thinks. His initial concern is far past that, well into anger and annoyance, and he wants to shout at the man, demand that he not take off like that for so damn long on his own, and before he knows what he’s doin’, he’s yelling those thoughts right at him, aware of the stares he’s drawing, aware of all the attention on them but he doesn’t care, he can’t care about that, not when Daryl’s lookin’ at him like he’s doin’ something right.
Shane stops yelling when Daryl kneels down, lookin’ contrite, a little concerned even, but there’s somethin’ in his eyes that makes Shane recoil, that stops him cold. This isn’t who he is.
This isn’t who he was.
Shane’s almost ashamed to admit that he wants nothin’ more than to hide.
He settles for gritting his teeth, grinding them back and forth while he stalks along the perimeter of the camp for the hundredth time that day. Better safe than sorry is his reasoning, and it’s only partially full of shit.
As he walks back and forth, following the rope lengths that they’ve attached to the trees, the tin cans tied to them swaying in the slight breeze, he does his best to pretend that the previous night hadn’t happened. His ears burn just thinking about it.
He’d been ready to let his fists loose, to grab Daryl by the throat an’ throttle him good and proper, when he’d felt Rick’s hand grip his shoulder roughly. The unspoken message was clear and he’d felt a wave of shame run down his spine.
Daryl had stared up at him, kneelin’ on the ground, waiting for his punishment and the fucker had had the audacity to look expectant of all things. That’d been precisely why he hadn’t followed through, that look had made him want to retch, in fact, it still does.
He’d hightailed it over to his tent, where he’d sat for hours, gripping his head, resting his elbows to his knees an’ breathin’ slow to keep from completely losing his shit. He hadn’t stayed to see where Daryl went, he didn’t care, didn’t want the man within two feet of him.
And God help him, he never wanted to see that look of expectation in Daryl’s eyes ever again.
He supposes the man must have some kind of self preservation, because he doesn’t come too close to Shane the following morning. He stays as far away as possible, an’ his gazes, tentative though they are, move from Shane to Rick occasionally.
Shane bristles at that but he won’t think too much over why. He refuses to.
He stops in his pacing, watching over the activity at the camp for a long moment. Carol, a large basket in her arms, heads towards her makeshift ironing area, her head down. Shane’s upper lip curls at that sight. She isn’t all that much different from Daryl, he reasons, shakin’ his head. Trained a little too damn well by some prick who thinks he owns her.
Shifting impatiently, he looks about, past the kids, past Andrea who’s talking to Dale, a bunch of fishin’ gear between them on the ground, past Jim who’s starin’ at nothing while he sits atop the RV on watch duty.
Finally he sighs an’ gives in, looking over at the last tent. He knows he’s there, can see that fuckin’ band of leather ‘round Daryl’s neck from where he’s standing in the tent. It stands out like some kind of horrible badge, that…that marker that’s visible no matter what. He hates it more than he can explain and that rage that’s always prickling away under his skin broils every single time he looks at the goddamned leather strip.
And it’s in the midst of brooding over the collar, that he sees Daryl emerge from his tent, tuggin’ a shirt on, his dirty jeans saggin’ a bit ‘round his hips. Shane pauses and wrinkles his nose. He can’t remember the last time he’s seen the man completely clean.
Does he have to tell the stupid shit to bathe as well? He fumes as he crosses the distance of the camp, his long legs bringing him over to the tent before his anger has a chance to settle.
Daryl’s head lifts long enough to assess who’s comin’ at him before he drops down gracefully to the ground, kneeling automatically, his arms hanging loosely at his sides.
“For Christ’s…” Shane sighs through his teeth. “Get up, man.”
There’s a pause ‘fore Daryl moves, an’ maybe he remembers that Shane ain’t his brother ‘cause he’s up and moving before Shane has to tell him twice. He keeps his head down, but he’s listening, that much Shane’s dead certain of.
“Didn’t he ever tell ya to clean yourself off?”
If it wasn’t so fuckin’ sad, he thinks he might’ve laughed by the perplexed look on Daryl’s face. There’s genuine surprise in the man’s eyes and his look turns wary when Shane merely shakes his head in disgust.
“Look at you, man! Just cause we don’t got any runnin’ water, that doesn’t mean you can run ‘round lookin’ like this,” he spits. “G’on down to quarry for fuck’s sake,” he adds when Daryl blinks at him.
“I gotta put a leash on you, that it?” Shane points to the path that leads to the quarry.
Daryl’s gnawing on his lip and Shane can see the internal argument the man must be havin’ in his head before Daryl rummages through the tent and pulls out a towel that’s long since lost its colour. He turns on his heel and walks down the path slowly. Shane watches him go, still vaguely annoyed by the fact that he had to tell him to bathe.
Shane lingers near the base of the water. He can see Andrea and Amy loading the little canoe up with fishing supplies and wouldn’t that be somethin’, he thinks longingly, freshly caught fish for dinner instead of fuckin’ squirrel.
Daryl’s walking past the open part of the quarry, further down an’ away from the main area. Shane frowns, watchin’ him go and then he’s moving after the man, making sure he isn’t up to doing something stupid.
He wanders on an’ on, further away from the open area, away from where he could be seen, and just when Shane’s ready to yell at him to stop fucking around, Daryl stops. He looks back, sees Shane and dips his head.
Daryl places his crossbow down on a flat rock with something akin to reverence and as he strips, he keeps his back to Shane, his shoulders hunched down. Shane frowns and there’s somethin’ tickling along his mind, a flicker of something runnin’ down his back and for a moment, he thinks of the mournful sounds Daryl had made when told of Merle’s death.
The man looks skittish as all hell and he’s darting looks at Shane that make him uneasy.
Shane huffs out a breath and rests his hands to his hips, makin’ a show of looking the other way. He can at least give Daryl some privacy for this, he figures, and studies the sky, watching the sun climb higher and higher.
It’s the gentle sounds of water splashing and he finds his attention drawn back over. Daryl’s clothes, filthy as they are, lay on the rock next to his crossbow, neatly folded, his towel beside them. Shane makes a note to force him to let Carol wash his damn clothes.
Daryl’s standin’ waist deep in the water, his back to Shane. He’s gathering handfuls of water and slowly pouring them over his face. There’s something hypnotic about the movements, something alluring about the way the water falls over his upturned face, across his closed eyes, beading down his face and wetting his collar.
Shane struggles to swallow over the lump in his throat and he feels his chest hitch in a breath.
The streaks of dirt are washed away, revealing the toned muscles that he’s seen many a time as Daryl seems to share his brother’s aversion to sleeves. Daryl leans down and dunks his head quickly, slickin’ his hair back when he stands up again and Shane feels the tightness in his chest grow.
He can’t help but stare at the scars that stand out, even from this distance. His hatred for Merle only increases and he runs his thumb over his knuckles on one hip. He’d bet anything that Merle put half those scars on the man himself.
Daryl turns finally an’ though he ain’t looking up, he’s clearly waiting for a signal to move.
He’s moving again and grabbing his towel. He hastily dries off as Shane approaches him, an’ there’s that skittish look again. And right as Shane’s about to tell him to calm the fuck down, there’s this moment, this split second before a look of resignation, kind of, flickers on Daryl’s face.
He drops the towel and kneels down in front of Shane, breathing shallowly. His hair is still wet and water droplets are tricklin’ away down his face, down onto his neck. Shane can’t look away, he doesn’t blink, he just stares and stares at the man, at the way the wet leather looks against his clean skin.
His hand darts out an’ he’s touchin’ it, touching the wet collar with only his thumb an’ his skin tingles on impact. Daryl’s not moving, seemingly not breathing, his eyes down, but his lips part and he lets out a soft murmur.
Shane’s rubbing his thumb over the collar, tracing it as he stares with wide eyes. He thinks of what Daryl had said…that he’d wanted to be Merle’s….thinks of the way Daryl touched his collar, strokin’ it like it would make this all better…and his chest tightens with a sudden raw surge of something sharp and electric.
His fingers brush the edges of the collar and Daryl makes this mewling sound of need. He’s pushing his face into Shane’s hand, nuzzlin’ his broad palm, his long fingers, and Shane can’t look away, can’t pull his hand back.
He’s aware of his own rough breathing, aware of the sun beating down on him, aware of how this must look but all he can think about is pressing his thumb down hard on Daryl’s throat, just to watch him swallow, to watch the collar tighten around his skin.
Daryl makes that sound again and the moment is broken.
Shane yanks his hand back like it’s on fire. He’s pantin’ and his eyes are too wide in his face. Heat and desire pool in his belly and the looks of raw need and hurt are horribly clear on Daryl’s face.
“Jesus…” Shane rasps, taking an abrupt step back. “I…Fuck.”
Daryl lets his head drop and there’s a rough sound to his voice, plaintive desperation clear when he speaks. “…Real good at it,” he mumbles so softly that Shane barely hears him.
“No!” Shane shouts. “Just…just get dressed! Fuckin’ hell…”
He’s walkin’, moving fast and he doesn’t bother to see if Daryl’s behind him. His heart is pounding like it’s gonna come outta his chest and he can’t catch his damned breath. He finally stops when he sees Daryl picking his way back over to the path at the bottom of the quarry.
There’s slick, panicky guilt sliding over him and he feels too warm for his own skin.
His thumb tingles for hours afterwards, from where he’d touched the collar.
As cowardly as it is, Shane’s all too happy to redirect Daryl over to Rick’s capable hands.
He mutters some bullshit excuse an’ he’s off, all but fleeing the man and his damned issues. He doesn’t care that Rick’s starin’ after him and he can hear him telling Daryl that he can go hunting, if that’s what he wants to do.
He snorts as he moves out of earshot. Like Daryl’s gonna answer him, he thinks and there’s an ugly laugh climbin’ his throat. Like he ever speaks ‘less you yank it outta him, pulling each word from him like it’s a hard won battle.
He’s pacing, hands behind his head in the somewhat private clearing, one he knows all too well. He swallows over the harsh laugh that emerges and he can still see Lori’s hair spread out in a dark fan across the ground, the glint of Rick’s ring hangin’ from her necklace as he’d pushed himself into her body.
“Fuck,” he mutters and his eyes burn. “Fuck!”
The anger he feels is overwhelming and he’s not sure if he hates Rick for proving him wrong, for not waking up when he needed him to in that fucking hospital bed or for swooping back in like a fallen hero and reclaiming his family.
His anger is thickly meshed with love, love for the three of them, and then there’s the darker side of his anger, and it boils over when he thinks of how easy it is for Rick to hand over this fuckin’ wackjob of a man, and ask him in that damned way of his to take care of him.
He gnashes his teeth together and paces faster, small branches snapping under his boots. The woods are quiet today and he can hear his own guttural breathing and it’s all he can do to tamp down the furious shouts that he wants to let loose, Walkers be damned.
Daryl, Daryl Dixon, with that look of raw need to his face, that collar screamin’ back at Shane until he thinks he’s sliding out of sanity, and really, isn’t he? Hanging by his fingernails, clinging to this illusion that he can still be here if he isn’t needed, if Lori and Carl have Rick, if they don’t need him to keep them from harm, if Rick doesn’t need him the same as he always has.
He can feel his chest tightening, there’s no amount of deep breathing for this and the sound of a branch snapping to his left has him spinning, his gun in hand, pointing straight to the head of the man who’s stepped into his line of vision.
There’s a long moment where Shane thinks he’s dreaming, sleep-walkin’ in the woods before he blinks, and Daryl’s looking at him dead on for once, blue eyes wider n’ normal, wary and understanding.
He holds still, his head tilting down a bit to the side, submissive to the fuckin’ end. Shane’s hand is shaking, his fingers are slick and sweat’s beading down his forehead. His lips work into a lopsided smile and he thinks if he starts laughing now, he might never stop.
“The fuck you want?” he demands through a stranger’s lips. His face feels tight, too big for his skin. His gun is still aimed at Daryl’s forehead.
Daryl’s just looking at him and he licks his lips, still wary, testing the waters, Shane thinks absently. He takes a step closer to Shane and it hits him that the man isn’t afraid. Wary, yeah, but he ain’t scared of him, isn’t lookin’ at him like he’s some dangerous bull chargin’ through the campground.
Shane’s hand lowers a little, his thumb brushes the safety back on and Daryl closes the distance between them. He drops his gaze to the ground, waitin’ for what, Shane isn’t sure. He can see the rope hanging around Daryl’s arm, a few squirrels tied on already, and there’s a fresh smudge of dirt on his cheekbone.
“G’on back,” Shane mumbles and it chafes at him that he can’t look Daryl in the face.
Daryl shakes his head, one slow shake, and he stands closer to him, biting on his lower lip and just before he moves, Shane feels that slow flick of somethin’, this electric something curl at the base of his spine. His gun-free hand comes up and he’s touching Daryl’s cheek without knowing quite why.
His thumb grazes Daryl’s cheekbone and the smudge of dirt wipes off onto his thumb. He exhales a shuddery breath as Daryl pushes into his hand, nudging and the small needy sound that comes from him is enough to make Shane wonder why the hell he hasn’t touched him more.
He really does like this, the thought floats through Shane’s mind and the bolt of lust that rockets through his body is a shock.
Daryl presses in closer and the muffled, whisper soft sounds of need are Shane’s undoing. He’s gripping Daryl’s cheek, thumb tracing his skin, his heart’s pounding against his ribs and he can hear the whispered ‘please’ from the man. He thinks only fleetingly that this isn’t right before he’s restin’ his forehead to Daryl’s, his hand’s moving into the man’s slightly damp hair, gripping a fistful of the strands, pressing him in tight.
His gun falls from his other hand and he barely hears it land harmlessly on the ground beside him, but he’s not focusing on that, not when he can feel warm puffs of air on his neck, Daryl’s mouth grazin’ his skin, the little flicks of arousal that course through his blood distracting him.
He’s pulling at Daryl, grunting as he feels Daryl nudging and nosing at his neck and the fucking sounds he makes, the desperate little whine that makes Shane’s skin prickle all over. He’s rock hard in his pants, rutting against the man with no shame. He brings his hand up and he’s gripping the collar like he thought of doing not long before, his thumb rubbing hard over the leather, pushing at it.
Daryl bucks against him, a deep moan surging up at the first touch to his collar. He swallows reflexively and the band pushes into his skin, and Jesus fuck, Shane feels his groin tighten. He closes his fingers over Daryl’s neck, holding him, forcing the collar to dig in and Daryl lets him do it, he’s moanin’ softly, rubbing back against Shane like it’s the best fucking thing he’s ever felt.
His blood runs cold when he hears the whimper, the sound of that name passin’ Daryl’s lips and he jerks back, his hand still touching the collar. “The fuck did you call me?” he growls.
“I…” Daryl blinks at him, eyes glazed with desire and need, and there’s a creeping look of awareness to his face. He stares down at the ground, panting a little. Red floods his face and Shane resists the urge to haul off and smack him good.
“Don’t you ever, I mean fuckin’ ever call me that!” he shouts, his thumb digging in harder on Daryl’s collar. “I ain’t your brother, you hear me?!”
Daryl makes this sound, this panicky sound that cuts through Shane’s rage and he drops his hands, taking a big step back from him. He shakes his head back and forth, furious at himself, furious at Daryl.
“Get the hell outta here!” he barks, gesturing to the trees. “Go!”
Daryl’s head is dropped right down, his shoulders are slumped and there’s this slow hitch to his breathing and instead of walking away, he drops to his knees and leans forward, mumbling under his breath.
“No…No! I ain’t…I won’t do it, do you hear me, Dixon?! I ain’t gonna do this!” Shane yells down at him. He’s vibrating with anger, furious at everything. “I ain’t your fuckin’ Master, you twisted bastard!”
Daryl cringes and he’s rocking a little, thrown off balance. “Please,” he whispers and his voice is ragged. “Please…”
Shane reaches down and grips a fistful of Daryl’s hair, yanking his head back hard. “I said no! You even hearin’ me?”
There’s a glossy sheen to Daryl’s eyes, unshed tears that make Shane’s stomach flop over uncomfortably. The man’s throat is bobbing, the leather collar straining over his skin and Shane hates the new flicker of arousal that surges at the sight of the collar bitin’ in like that.
“No,” Shane breathes and his hands are shaking hard as he lets go of Daryl’s hair. “No, I won’t.”
He takes two big steps back, eyes wide. Daryl’s still waiting, trembling visibly. “I’m not gonna beat ya, I won’t do it.”
Daryl’s biting his bottom lip so hard a drop of blood drips down his chin. He doesn’t flinch when Shane looms over him, but there’s confusion clouding his eyes.
“Go back to the camp,” he orders, and his voice is this side of false calm, “Now.”
He turns away, listening to the slow movements behind him. Daryl’s moving and Shane can hear the branches rustling as the man leaves. He waits till he’s sure he’s alone before he crouches down, head to his knees.
He feels like he’s coming apart, like his brain is unraveling at warp speed.
“God, help me…”
He stays in the clearing until the sun begins to set that night and as the sun sets, he stares up at the sky through the canopy of leaves. He knows he’s hiding out here but that’s ok because he can stare at the sky and not deal with everything that has to do with Daryl Dixon.
He waits and waits, listening to the woods around him, listening until the noise in his head fades to a manageable drone. He can hear the distant sounds of the camp, the general hum of noise from the few humans left this side of Atlanta, and beyond that is the man who thinks he’s found a replacement in Shane.
There’s that lick, that curl of arousal and Shane wants no part in that. He’s never gotten himself off to the idea of hurtin’ someone, and truth be told, he’s got no idea what the hell he’s s’posed to do with someone like Daryl.
He’s seen the bruises, the vivid scars that mar the man’s skin and the idea of doing…that makes his stomach clench violently. Daryl…he’d wanted that, Shane thinks, his throat closing up at the idea. He’d stared up at Shane, begging with his eyes, begging to be punished.
His mantra of denial's failing him, he knows that. He can’t think straight, not when Daryl's...prostrating himself before Shane, askin’ to be hurt, not when all he can see is that collar, winking at him in the light, mocking him and he wanted to put both his hands around Daryl’s neck and watch the collar bite into his skin.
With a heavy sigh, he pushes up from the ground and trudges back towards the camp. He can feel the way the collar felt against his fingertips, feel the way Daryl had fit against him, tucked under his chin like that spot was made for him and it makes him clench his fists.
He won’t lose control, not like this, not again, he tells himself.
It’s as he approaches the camp that he feels the uneasiness coil around him, squeezing the breath in his lungs. Daryl’s kneeling by his tent, far away from the tent that Merle had staked in the dirt when he’d first strolled on into their lives.
He stops in his tracks and tries to breathe, but he can’t. He licks his dry lips. He can hear his own breathing rattling in his chest and the breath he’s holding burns deep down. That stupid fucking…he clenches his fists until his nails are cutting into the flesh of his palms.
Daryl’s kneeling by the tent flap, head down, shoulders slumped down, his body as still as ever. He’s waiting and the fact of that echoes through Shane’s mind, teasingly quick. Nothing he says makes the man back down, but there’s a moment where he thinks he should have expected that really.
Merle had been nothing but cruel to the man and that hadn’t stopped him, so why had he thought some nasty words would send the man scurrying away?
Shane’s keenly aware of Dale watching him, a mere few steps away. He turns to look at him when he hears the throat clearing noise he’s come to associate with the old man, and shoots him a dirty look before he can begin to speak.
“Save it, Dale,” he snaps, and he’s off, stomping over to the fire pit.
Glenn’s poking the small fire with a stick, adding a bit more to the flames. He shoots Shane a quick look, then darts a look in Daryl’s direction. He’s fidgeting and Shane kinda wants to laugh at him. He’s still teen like, kid like even, in more n’ a few ways. Like Carl when he’s got the itch to ask somethin’ he’s been told to stay out of. And with that thought, he feels the bitter pangs of loss and the dull ache of anger.
His gaze drifts across the camp ground to where Lori is sitting with Carl, her arm ‘round the boy as she watches him work on some math problems. She glances at him, sensing that she’s being watched. Her face stills, there’s a flicker of something in her eyes that makes Shane feel like breaking something, before her face closes off and she looks down at her son again.
He drags his gaze back over to Glenn and grunts out a semblance of ‘what?’
“I know this is completely none of my business, none of anyone’s really,” he says tentatively, darting questioning looks at him. “But I was…well I’m kinda worried.”
Glenn shrugs his shoulders, obviously uncomfortable. “I’m not gonna pretend that I understood why he let him do all that stuff before, but I, well I thought maybe it’s a good thing that Daryl’s attached to you. He needs a strong infl…” he trails off then at the scowl on Shane’s face. “That…That is, what I mean…”
“Why is that a good thing?” Shane bites off each word, his jaw tensed. He can’t stop the glances to where Daryl is kneeling, can’t stop from wondering how far Daryl would let him take things. The wave of arousal he feels is enough to make his head reel.
“I…I…” Glenn stutters, rubbing his hat off his head and back on, backpedalling in a hurry. “Uh never mind, look, forget I said anything, ok?”
He ignores him because all he’s thinking about is how Daryl had pushed against him, making those needy little sounds, letting him touch that collar, push into his skin, and his skin is too hot, he feels dizzy at the thought, at the idea of just what Daryl would let him do, things he’s never done, never allowed himself to do.
He’s up and moving, leaving Glenn behind without a second thought.
He approaches Daryl with intent. He can see the slight tilt and he knows Daryl’s paying attention to him, can see the minute twitch in his jaw. Shane squats down abruptly in front of him and he thinks he might be having an out of body experience when he sees his hand reach out and grip a fistful of Daryl’s hair.
He’s not gripping him too hard, firm enough to bring his head up and looking at him.
“You go on and sit by the fire pit. Dinner’s on soon,” he says and the look of muted relief is there for a moment in Daryl’s eyes. He thinks the man’s careful not to look too eager and he hates that maybe Merle used to withhold food from Daryl. He can’t be sure and there’s no easy way to ask the him.
Rick’s words echo back to him about Daryl being abused all his life. He feels a twinge of sickness at that, but flicks it away impatiently. Daryl doesn’t want his pity, he knows that for certain.
“G’on,” he snaps when Daryl hesitates.
He rises up from kneeling, as smoothly as ever, and walks to the fire pit, his crossbow bumping against his hip. Shane watches him go and the rush of thoughts that flood his mind makes his head spin faster than ever.
Dinner is a strained affair. Shane ignores the glances and if Daryl notices them at all, he doesn’t act it, not that Shane expects him to. He’s kneeling next to Shane, watching’ the flames in the pit flicker. His eyes are half closed an’ there’s something about the way the fire cast shadows and lights across the man’s skin that makes Shane’s chest tighten.
He waits and draws it out as long as he can before he gives in, knowing it has to be done. He can’t undo Merle’s training in only a few days and handing the man a plate is pointless, he knows this now.
Carol’s put Daryl’s share onto a plate and hands it to Shane without a word. She gives him the slightest of looks, that small, sad smile she often wears. Shane swallows over the lump in his throat. He wants to throw the plate down, but he doesn’t. He can’t bring himself to starve Daryl, regardless of his discomfort.
He scoops a small section of canned potatoes and lowers his hand, unable to watch as Daryl moves his head and takes the offerings with small, careful bites. Shane keeps his teeth clenched as he hand feeds Daryl his portions and the tightening in his cargos only increases his discomfort. Blood pools in his groin and he hisses out a breath when Daryl’s tongue flicks over the pad of his thumb.
A muscle jumps in his cheek and he resists the urge to move away from the man. Rick’s watching them and Shane can tell that he’s spoken to some of the people in the camp ‘cause there’s far less stares during the meal and when it’s finally over, Shane retreats from the fire pit, seeking refuge in his tent.
He’s not surprised at all to hear the near silent footsteps behind him when he reaches his tent and when he looks over his shoulder, Daryl’s standing there, looking at the ground, but his shoulders are tensed.
“Don’t give up easy, do ya?” Shane mutters. He exhales and rubs a hand over his own head, annoyed, but only just. He shakes his head when Daryl says nothing. “The hell do you want, Daryl? I mean it, what the fuck do you want?”
Daryl’s head lifts a little and he darts a look at Shane and it’s that same look from before. It’s a look full of need and sadness. Shane hates the little pangs he feels when he sees it.
He makes this sound, this sad sound and he looks up at Shane, one hand drifting up to touch his collar. Shane watches, hypnotized, as Daryl strokes the edge of his collar with one calloused finger.
Shane feels the air catch in his throat anew and he blinks. His mind is splitting in two, he’s sure of it. He takes a step back, into his tent and he sits down awkwardly on his sleeping bag, his chest hitching in and out with shallow breaths.
He’s not surprised in the least when there’s a soft shuffle of movement and the tent flaps shut behind the other man. Daryl’s a silent ghost, even when he kneels before Shane, letting his crossbow slid off and land at his side.
“What you want, I can’t give you,” Shane whispers. He doesn’t recognize the sound of his own voice. He doesn’t care much for the unevenness of his words or the way his throat clenches. “I…I know what your brother taught you, but that…I can’t give you that.”
Daryl says nothing. He leans in closer, with a wariness that comes only from years of experience, he reaches out one hand and rests his hand over one of Shane’s, his roughened fingers just barely touching the top of Shane’s hand.
He has a moment to see how ridiculously much bigger his hand is than Daryl’s before his fingers are lifted an’ Daryl’s bringing his hand up to his throat. He feels a rolling wave of arousal crash through him when his thumb touches the collar.
Daryl nudges at his hand, coaxing him almost. Shane stares…stares at the way his tanned fingers look against the paleness of Daryl’s neck, the way the collar flexes an’ moves with his breaths. He closes his hand around Daryl’s neck, gripping the collar with two fingers.
“You know what this fuckin’ thing does to me,” Shane says and again, it’s like it isn’t him speaking. “You know how much I hate it, even now. I wanna rip it offa you.”
Daryl makes a sound and Shane’s cock twitches in his pants. He’s hard, harder than he wants to be. He drags Daryl closer, ignoring the way his heart skips a beat when Daryl presses in closer to him.
“You’ll let me do anything I want, won’tcha?” Shane hisses, pressing down on the collar until Daryl’s lips part, those thin pink lips spreading open for him. “Any fuckin’ thing, right? That’s what he did to you and that’s what you want, right?”
“Please,” Daryl whispers in that rough, unused voice of his. “Need this…”
Shane’s entranced all the more by the way Daryl’s movin’ fearlessly closer to him, unafraid of what Shane might do to him, accepting, willing even. “You think you need it. You don’t know nothin’ else.”
“Want me to erase him? Claim you as mine, that it? You need a new master that bad?” Shane feels that spark, that lick of desire when Daryl gives him a tentative nod. “Want me to beat you an’ fuck you till you scream?”
Daryl stiffens against him before he lets his shoulders slump. “…If that’s…what ya want,” he says so quietly that Shane isn’t sure he heard him right.
Shane moves his hand from the collar, hardly aware of the movement. He’s cupping Daryl’s cheek, rubbing his cheekbone. “Doesn’t matter what you want, huh?”
Daryl gives the smallest of nods. There’s a feeling of anger, of hurt and an unending frustration in Shane. He wants to back away but the longer he sits there, the harder it is to let go.
“Be yours…whatever you want,” Daryl mumbles, nudging his head more into Shane’s hand.
Shane licks his bottom lip, hyperaware of the moment that’s stretching on and on between them. “I’m not him, never gonna be. So…So you just gotta understand that. I ain’t gonna treat you like a dog, Daryl.”
And by the grace of some God, Daryl looks up completely and meets his eyes for one endless second and Shane feels the urge to kiss him. His heart pounds against his ribcage, and he lets go of Daryl, his fingers shaking something fierce.
“Go to sleep,” he orders roughly, lookin’ away from the man.
Daryl doesn’t hesitate, he’s moving quick and quietly. He curls up at the foot of Shane’s sleeping bag, a hint of gratitude on his face. Shane scrubs a hand over his face, sitting silently for some time, waiting until he hears Daryl’s even breathing deepen into real sleep.
It’s a blur of days, most of them spent in strained silence for Shane.
For a man who doesn’t speak, Daryl’s silence screams around him. He sticks to Shane’s side, his mute shadow at all times. He doesn’t like it, can’t stand the looks as Daryl follows a step behind him, kneels at his side, eats from his hand. He never had a pet growing up and he can’t help the horrible little thought that if this is what it’s like, then why did anyone bother?
Daryl sleeps at the end of his sleeping bag, curled up with a look of cautious relief on his face, like he’s not sure how long he’ll be allowed to stay there and Shane kind of hates the way he ends up watching Daryl sleep, the way he can’t sleep till he knows Daryl’s out cold.
He tolerates the whole thing as best he can but the urge to dump Daryl into Rick’s tent is awful fuckin’ tempting. He still feels the ache, that dull pang in his chest when Rick’s got his arm ‘round Lori, when he sees the two of them bent close together, talking.
It eats at him, over and over until he’s tightening his fingers, till his knuckles are cracking and his throat is tight with bitter anger, till he wants to shake the pair of them for being together and he’s not sure who he hates more or who he still loves.
And it’s those fucking eyes of Daryl Dixon, those thoughtful gazes that rub over his raw nerves and leave him vibrating from keeping his emotions to himself. He’s more brisk, more abrupt with the man in those moments and even when he’s barking an order at Daryl, he hates the words that flow, hates how Daryl’s obedient no matter what nasty things Shane might say.
He hates that his eyes land on the collar when he looks at the man, that fuckin’ collar that’s been mocking him since day one. His fingers still itch to yank it off, make the man burn the goddamn thing in the pit, let him see what it’s like not to walk ‘round being someone else’s property.
He’s boiling up under his shirt, skin slick with sweat even though it’s hardly past noon when his anger roars to the surface. Daryl’s trudging along the outskirts of the forest, checking the tin can alarm ropes strung ‘round the property, his head ducked down, and no more than a few feet away from Shane.
Andrea and Jacqui are carrying laundry baskets with them down into the mouth of the quarry and Shane can see Carol already down there, scrubbing away at the clothes she’s got piled next to her. He runs his tongue along his teeth and continues walking, his boots scuffing ‘long the path, sweat trickling down his neck.
He can hear the women talking and his ears are catching every other word, even so, he’s tuning out most of it until he hears them talk ‘bout him, exchanging guesses as to why he won’t take that collar off, why he’s latched onto Shane like this, why Shane didn’t say no.
His ears burn red hot and his throat tightens. He doesn’t care, just idle chitchat is all, and who wouldn’t be wondering about all this? But the anger remains, simmering low until he hears the suggestion that maybe Shane’s looking for someone to take care of now that Rick Grimes made the unimaginable happen, now that he’s alive when he shoulda been dead.
Ugly anger builds in his chest; he can hear his breathing, sharp and raspy, echo in his ears. Daryl’s coming closer again, straying back onto the path as Shane struggles to pull the anger back, tuck it under his control, keep calm, keep steady but he can’t, he can’t when he hears the titters of feminine laughter on the wind.
Daryl steps to his side and one hand scratches at his face, swatting a mosquito that’s landed on his cheek. He’s shuffling one leg a bit and his head is bobbing and Shane knows he’s waiting for permission to talk.
“What?” he spits out, hanging on to his patience by the skin of his teeth.
“Gonna set more snares,” Daryl mumbles into his chest and Shane can feel his patience crumble up and whisk away.
“What, you need my say-so? Then go do it, for Christ’s sake!”
Daryl’s head lifts and he peers at Shane, wary as ever, blue eyes gleaming despite the dirt that finds its way onto his skin. He says nothing but the question’s there on his face, the wonder, the scrutiny as to what’s wrong.
“You deaf?” Shane snaps. He can feel the roar of his anger rushing up through his body. He wants to pound the man before him, hurt him, make him suffer and the realization of it sweeps cold nausea over him. “G’on, stop fuckin’ asking me for permission to breathe!”
Daryl’s lips part and he exhales, exhales that breathy sound that sends a pulse of arousal right through Shane and it’s as he feels his dick harden that he reaches out and fists his hand in Daryl’s hair, gripping him tightly.
“I didn’t ask for this shit,” Shane mutters, holdin’ the fearless man close, closer than he’s been since he pressed against him in the forest clearing however many days ago. “You’re fucked up, fucked up like nothin’ I ever seen b’fore. I’m not your Master, Dixon, thought I made myself clear on that.”
There’s no response but Daryl pushes up against him, eyes narrowed a little and Shane thinks that he’s either real brave or real stupid cause Shane’s hand is moving down from Daryl’s hair, down to touch that fucking collar and he’s stroking the edge of it, his heart pounding in his chest.
He can’t breathe over the rushes of anger, over the pounding of his heart or the way his cock is hardening in his pants. He feels that wild, primal lust, that urge to fuck this man ruthlessly, fuck him the way he can’t to Lori or to Rick and he knows Daryl will let him, knows he can use him anyway he wants to and damn it all if the man isn’t pushing against him, making those little sounds.
Shane drags a harsh breath in and he hears the sound of a scandalized gasp behind them and knows that one of them saw him all but groping the dog collar that circles Daryl’s neck, saw him dragging the man in, head bent in close.
He swallows thickly, his throat tight, and looks behind them, only to see Andrea staring at them like she’s seen a ghost. He tries to think of something, anything really but no words come to mind. His mouth opens and closes and he licks his lips, but there’s no words coming out to explain this.
Daryl presses in against him, his head resting on Shane’s shoulder, a cold look to his face and he’s all but sneering at Andrea.
“I…sorry,” she blurts, her face bright pink.
Shane has a second to think that she looks embarrassed, curious and shocked, all at once before she’s saying sorry again and hightailing it away from them. He hears the huff of what he thinks might be amusement from Daryl and before he knows what he’s doing, he’s shoving the man away from him.
“The fuck are you doin’? We aren’t…” Shane’s words fade, dry and crumble at the way Daryl’s looking at him, actually looking at him, his head a little to the side, eyeing him real thoughtful-like. His skin is still burning hot, there’s more sweat beading down his face, and under all his anger, he wants that primal lust back.
Daryl slides down to his knees, his head bumping against Shane’s thigh, almost nuzzling at him and Shane sucks in a shaking breath. He’s so hard, achingly hard, and he can’t seem to keep his thoughts in order, can’t tear his eyes away from the collar that’s rubbing against his thigh, and through his pants, he can feel his skin burning.
“Fuck,” he whispers, mouth bone dry when Daryl’s lips brush the crotch of his pants, and he can’t seem to stop him, can’t think ‘bout the women not far from them, down below in the quarry, not when Daryl’s rubbing his mouth over the swell of his pants covered dick, not when he can feel his cock pulsing in time to his heartbeat.
“No…” he manages, lickin’ at his lips as best he can, his fists hanging loosely at his sides.
Daryl rubs his mouth up a little more, looking up at him briefly, need and desire blazing in his eyes, a need to please all but written across his face.
Shane jerks feebly back, his heart pounding hard against his ribcage. “No…” he whispers even as Daryl’s tongue is darting out, rubbing against the base of his cock, wetting the fabric of his pants.
He sways and there’s a second where he thinks he might come in his pants, a moment where he feels lightheaded from the near rush of release before Daryl makes this soft sound, this soft, pleased sound an’ it’s enough to remind him that they’re on the path to the water, exposed and out in the open.
“Stop!” he hisses and cups Daryl’s chin with one hand.
Daryl’s lookin’ at him, cheeks dusted with streaks of dirt, eyes so blue, begging for approval. He’s staring at him, asking without words to continue.
“You don’t, Daryl, you don’t need to do this. You understand me?”
“Wanna,” Daryl mumbles, his tongue flicking out and lapping at the underside of Shane’s thumb, sending a dart of wild desire down Shane’s spine. “Need to.”
“Why?” he asks, even as the other side of his brain is screaming at him to shut up, to let the man suck him good and proper.
Daryl blinks at him, his lips moving to suck Shane’s thumb past his lips, his slick tongue rubbing expertly over the pad of skin. He doesn’t answer and Shane can’t think past the feeling of Daryl suckling on his thumb. His cock pulses anew and his hands are shaking.
“I…I ain’t, I won’t ask you for this, you don’t need…you’re your own man now. He’s gone, he ain’t comin’ back, so…” Shane trails off; his gaze solely on the way Daryl’s working his thumb between his lips.
“Please,” Daryl says around his thumb. He reaches blindly for Shane’s free hand and grips his fingers, bringing them up to his collar and that’s his moment, the moment where he can’t stand it any longer.
He grabs Daryl by the scruff of his neck, all but dragging him into the edge of the forest, forcing him past the line of trees. He pushes Daryl against the nearest tree, one hand already reaching for his belt, the other touching the collar, rubbing over it, pushing down on it as Daryl makes this sound in his throat, this sound of need that Shane needs to hear.
Daryl drops to his knees again, pulling Shane’s pants and shorts down with him and it’s all Shane can do to stay steady as Daryl descends on him with a desperation born of necessity. He’s sucking him in, mouth gloriously warm and wet; his lips tugging over the length of his cock. Shane can only stare down at him, watching his head move.
He grips the collar, pushing down on it as Daryl’s tongue is flicking and rubbing perfectly over the head. He can’t keep still, can’t stop his hips from thrusting forward a bit. Daryl grips him in closer, nuzzling’ his face to his groin, and even though the thought of Merle doing this to Daryl flickers along the edges of his mind, Shane can only focus on how good it feels to thrust into Daryl’s willing mouth, to come down his throat with a ragged gasp, to feel his throat workin’ under the collar as he swallows.
“Fuck…” Shane pants as he leans back. The tightly wound anger is banked and the noise in his head is muffled by the languid suckling between his legs.
Daryl releases him with some reluctance. Shane can’t help but look at his lips, still slick and a little swollen, and touch them with his thumb, feel his warm breath ghosting over Shane’s skin.
There’s nothing but silence between them. The forest is quiet, no birds chirping, nothing but the muted breaths between them and Shane feels that same prickle of apprehension he did when he’d first held Daryl in his arms, at the moment when he’d been told of his brother’s death.
He closes his eyes and tries to remember that this wasn’t what Rick had in mind when he asked him to help Daryl heal.
For a long few minutes, Shane leans against the tree that he’d pushed Daryl against only moments before. His breathing is still uneven but his mind is calmer than it has been in awhile. A drop of sweat rolls down his cheek, down to his mouth, and he licks it away absently.
Daryl’s on the ground, his head to Shane’s thigh. He looks content kneelin’ there, his head pressed in close, little puffs of air hittin’ Shane’s bare skin. His lips are close, so close to the sensitive flesh on the inside of Shane’s thigh, and his eyes are half shut, slow, steady breaths comin’ from the man.
It’s the silence that unnerves him enough to jerk his hands away from Daryl’s neck, from the collar that had drawn him in, the collar that Daryl had coaxed him to touch. He runs his hands through his damp hair, pressure re-building in his chest.
Daryl shifts a little and peers up at him, the tiniest hint of a smile quirking his lips up. He looks pleased for fuck’s sake and Shane feels his hand itch to slap the man for his audacity.
“Fuck…” Shane licks at his lips again and reaches for his shorts and pants, knockin’ Daryl back from him an inch or so. “The hell you think you were doin’, huh?” he demands as he tugs his clothes back on, hurrying to cover the evidence of what had just happened.
Daryl shrugs a little, wiping at the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. The pink tip of his tongue darts out and slides over his bottom lip. Shane can’t help the little flicker of arousal he feels as he thinks of how that tongue felt licking and sliding over his palm at every meal time.
“You can’t do that,” Shane mutters as he zips up his pants. He hates that his fingers are shaking, that he gave in and let Daryl do this, that he could be persuaded so easily.
“Wanted to,” Daryl whispers an’ the son of a bitch still looks like he might be a bit pleased with himself. “S’posed to…”
Shane settles for glarin’ at him but the glare feels hollow. The bitter pangs that he carries with him at all times are muted and quiet for once and his brain isn’t screaming any more. He shivers, suddenly cold in the sweltering heat around them.
He’s losing control of this and the thought of what Rick might say lingers in his mind, nudging, worrying at him until the guilt starts to turn his stomach. Andrea saw them…saw them on the path, saw him holding Daryl close and saw him touching the collar…
“G’on an’ get up,” he says as he pushes away from the tree, his shoulders hunched. “Just…let me make this real clear to you, Dixon, an’ you best be listenin’ good. You’re not my pet. You hear that? Do you understand me?!”
Daryl looks at the ground. There’s no acknowledgement that he can see. Shane feels that flicker of anger run up his neck and he’s grabbing the man, yankin’ him off the ground with one hand, shoving him back against the tree and the irony of the movement isn’t lost on him.
“I don’t want you this way,” he growls in Daryl’s face and Christ, he wants to see Daryl flinch, but he doesn’t. “You understand that, boy?”
There’s something though, something in Daryl’s eyes, this wounded, hurt look that he blinks away in a hurry and Shane thinks of Merle and hates him more for it. He can’t spend a moment with Daryl without remembering Rick’s words, without remembering that Merle did this to Daryl, and probably laughed while he did it. Years of training, years of abuse…The angers slips back over him until he sees nothing but red right then.
“This ain’t normal,” he says through clenched teeth, his hands gripping Daryl’s shoulders and giving him a right good shake. “How many times do I gotta say it ‘till you listen? I’m not gonna be him for you, ever! You don’t hafta be like this anymore! Are you even listenin?!”
He’s damn near shouting by then, shaking Daryl with every other word and the man is limp in his hands, his head down, eyes on the ground and it’s too much, Shane’s hand is moving before he can stop it, slappin’ Daryl upside the face as hard as he can, forcing his head up. He’s got a fistful of hair and he’s gripping him hard enough to rip the strands loose but all Daryl does is make a sound somewhere between hurting and nervous.
Shane blinks and sees the red mark that mars Daryl’s face, Shane’s long fingerprints across his skin, imprinted by the force of his slap. He hitches in a breath. The urge to shriek is crawling up the length of his throat.
“Fuckin’ listen to me!” he growls, grabbing the edge of the collar, near the buckle, fumbling with the clasp on it. “You’re not some dog! You don’t need this!”
And with that, he sees it happen as if he’s floating above their bodies, sees his fingers unbuckle the edge of the collar, sees him yanking the strip of leather away and even when he hears the fearful cry come from Daryl, he flings it into the dirt, his fingertips burning all the while. He thinks blindly that this is punishin’ Merle, this is for hurting Daryl so badly that he doesn’t know better any more.
“NO!” Daryl lunges, come to life by the loss of his collar, and he shouts, fighting against Shane frantically, as frantic as he was when Merle had died, a horrible sound of ‘no’s’ and desperate keening wails that chill Shane right to the bone.
“No…No!” Daryl’s all but begging, punching and kicking wildly, throwing himself against Shane with an increasing fury till Shane’s struggling to keep him pinned to the tree.
“I said no!” Shane roars back, yanking Daryl’s hair back harder. “No more!”
Daryl throws himself against Shane again and it’s with the sudden flare of pain to his face, Daryl’s head butt catching him off guard, blood trickling down from his nose that causes him to let go, let Daryl fall to the ground, fall to his knees, scrambling for his collar in the dirt.
Shane closes his eyes, bolts of pain pulsing in his face and his nose hurts something fierce, but he can’t watch Daryl pick up the collar, can’t bear the look of mourning on the man’s face or the tears that are gleaming in his eyes.
There’s silence, unending silence until he hears the sniffles beneath him, hears the whisper quiet sound of Daryl moving to kneel in front of him. Shane shudders as he opens his eyes to the sight of Daryl kneeling, his collar at Shane’s feet. He’s got his head bowed, his shoulders are trembling and Shane feels guilt, such guilt, sucker punch him hard.
“Please,” Daryl’s voice is breaking, his few words jagged and rough. “Don’t…don’t do this.”
Shane stares down at him, watching Daryl, watching him nudge the collar closer to Shane’s boot, the unspoken plea to put the leather collar back on him. His stomach twists and flops at the idea even as a lick of lust rolls through his groin. He can’t…can’t do it, he won’t.
Daryl lets out this broken sob and lowers his head further, resting his forehead to Shane’s boot. “Please…”
“No,” Shane rubs his hand over his mouth, feeling all the sicker for denying the man. “It ain’t right, Daryl, y’know that deep down,” he manages to say though his throat is dry as dust.
Daryl’s making these sounds that rip at Shane, these awful pained sounds and he can hear the hysterical little cries in-between. It’s all he can do to keep from screaming. This is too much, far too much and his love-hatred for Rick only grows stronger.
“I can’t, I can’t,” he’s shaking his head, the words are tumbling over his lips. “Stop askin’ me, fuckin’ stop!” he shouts and drops down, squatting down in front of Daryl.
The man’s on him in an instant, nudging at his legs, that fucking soft begging noise that’s making Shane’s heart crack, that desperation about him. Shane’s fingers brush the collar lying by his boot. There’s an electric shock that he feels when his fingers graze the leather strip and he’s picking it up almost against his will. Daryl lifts his head enough to see and the look on his face is shattering.
The whisper floats by his ear, caught on the wind. He lets out a small breath, gripping the still warm collar. He swallows over the lump in his throat as he holds a hand to Daryl’s chin, gripping him, holding him in place. “Why?”
Daryl’s eyes beg him, beg him with all the words he can’t make himself say, that he needs this more than air, that he doesn’t know any way to live but like this, that he’s afraid to try. Shane holds his gaze, aware of how hard his heart is beating.
“This isn’t right,” he forces past his lips, the collar higher now, the hand clutching it near Daryl’s face. “You…You’re not this anymore.” He wiggles the collar for emphasis.
The bleakness on Daryl’s face is unending. “I wanna be.”
Shane thinks only that he’s lost his goddamned mind because he’s nodding; his hand is moving to lift Daryl’s chin up as a tear streaks through the sheen of dirt on his cheek. He rubs the collar over Daryl’s skin, to the space where the skin is lighter than everywhere else on the man.
Daryl leans his head back, eyes closed in the sunshine. There’s still no other sound around them, no birds chirping, no voices from the campground. There’s thunder rumbling a few miles away. Shane can’t seem to catch his breath as he fumbles with the collar, runs it ‘round Daryl’s neck and fastens it into place.
Shane presses his thumb to the leather, feels the snug fit and his chest hitches. He tries to speak, but nothing happens. Daryl’s eyes open and as he reaches up a shaking hand to touch his collar, his thumb brushes over Shane’s, his eyes on him, tentative.
He wants to tell Daryl that this changes nothing and that he’s only doing it for Daryl’s sake, but the words still won’t come. Daryl dips his head down, resting his forehead to Shane’s thigh, his body starting to calm, his gaze at ease.
“We oughta get back,” Shane finally says. The words are broken glass in his throat. “Set up the snares tomorrow or somethin’.”
Daryl nods but he doesn’t move until Shane starts to, moving from kneeling silently. His hand is still touching his collar, tracing the material again and again. He doesn’t look at Shane, but he’s as close behind him as ever as Shane leads him out of the clearing.
He’s forgotten about the sticky blood that’s slowly drying under his nose, completely forgotten about it until he hears the gasp from Lori as they approach the camp, Daryl two steps behind Shane.
It takes a second or so for Shane to wonder why the hell she’s bothering to look at him before he remembers being on the receiving end of Daryl head butting him to break loose and save his collar.
His nose pangs anew as he rubs his hand under it, smearing at the not quite dry blood drops. “S’nothin’,” he says in her direction, watching with some interest as Daryl hovers by his shoulder, another of his mild glares levelled at Lori.
“Nothing?” she blinks at him, wide eyed. “Blood coming from your nose is nothing? Were you attacked?” At that, her voice goes up a notch, fear seeping in fast.
“Nah, s’nothin’, honest,” he makes a half hearted attempt to clear the blood away again. “I uh, I ran into somethin’ hard.”
“Like what, a tree?”
Daryl’s pressing in closer to him, his left arm brushing over Shane’s side. He’s tensed, Shane can feel that through the lightest touch, tensed and coiled like he’s waiting to attack. For a moment he wants to laugh at the absurdity of having this bodyguard at his side.
“Yeah, something like that,” Shane nods.
He reaches back with his left hand and grips Daryl’s wrist, holding it tightly with two fingers, warning him to stay put. Daryl makes a low sound and Shane would bet his last bullet that it’s more of a growl than anything else. He knows, just knows that it’s not aimed at him, but at the distrustful look on Lori’s face.
“Shane, I don’t…”
And whatever she had in mind to say is cut off by Rick coming through the campgrounds, his mouth turned down, the curve of it gives Shane that sinking feeling something fierce. Rick’s not looking at anyone else, he’s focused on Shane, and he has a moment to throw vengeful thoughts at Andrea and her damned big mouth before Rick comes to a stop in front of him.
“I need a word with you, right now.”
He’s bristling at that, that Rick would pull rank on him, even in the apocalypse. He stares back at Rick, his lips are drawing back in a parody of a smile. He doesn’t want to explain all this, the way Daryl’s all but glued to his back is discomfortin’ at best.
“That so, huh? Well, let’s hear it then.”
Rick sharpens his gaze on Shane and it’s like he can’t breathe with the weight pressing on his chest. “I think we need some privacy first,” he declares and he’s off, walking to the far side of the R.V.
Shane’s moving on autopilot even as he feels the prickles of anger under his skin. He hates that Rick expects him to fall into line like always. He hates even more that he always does, even when it chafes at him to do so.
Rick’s waiting for him not more than ten feet from the shady side of the R.V., hands loosely resting on his hips. He’s looking at the water that glimmers down in the distance, almost too perfectly aqua blue to be real. His lips are set in a thin line, forehead furrowed in concentration.
He’s darting a look over Shane’s shoulder when the two of them stop there, looking right at Daryl. “You’re gonna have to excuse us a minute, Daryl. I need to speak to Shane alone.”
Daryl doesn’t look up him, just shakes his head ‘no’, his arms at his sides. He’s tensed and Shane thinks he can see Daryl’s heartbeat above his collar. His mouth goes dry at that. With some effort, he drags a hand over his lips and exhales loudly.
“Damn it, g’on,” he orders at Daryl.
He sees the man lift his head an inch or so, sees the confusion on Daryl’s face. He remembers then that Merle rarely went anywhere without Daryl at his side and he’s clearly more than a little caught off guard by this sudden demand.
“G’on, go get the snares ready for t’morrow.”
Daryl lingers a second longer, obviously torn by the order that he’s gotten and the routine he’s used to, but instinct wins in the end cause he’s walking away slowly, shoulders slumped low.
Rick’s waiting and Shane looks at him, shaking his head. “You see that? That’s what I gotta deal with every damn day thanks to you.”
“I understand that Daryl isn’t easy to handle…”
Shane bursts out laughing at that, sarcastic chuffs of amusement. “Oh you do now? Lemme tell you somethin’, you all, you don’t have the first goddamn clue what’s it’s like to have that in your life.”
Rick’s nodding, firming his jaw. “There was a reason I asked you to look after him, Shane.”
“Good, good,” Shane nods, smilin’ broadly now. “That’s a real relief, brother, cause here I was thinkin’ you were jus’ screwin’ around with me. That’s a real load offa my shoulders. If that’s all you were gonna say, I gotta go back to my tent now an’ deal with a guy that thinks he’s my fuckin’ slave!”
“Damn it, Shane, I know this is hard, alright? I get it, I understand that this is…something else, but I’m startin’ to wonder if I made the right choice after all.” Rick’s spitting his words out, low and intense.
Shane thinks fleetingly of T-Dog, who’s perched on the roof of the R.V., stuck on look-out duty. He paces, jamming his hands onto his hips to keep from swinging at Rick.
“An’ why’s that?”
Rick lets out a breath. Shane’s guessed the words that fall from his lips before they even come. “I talked to Andrea. She, she was concerned, worried about you, about what she saw on the path…”
“Oh that is bullshit!” Shane spits and he’s reeling on his boot heel, glaring back at Rick. “She didn’t see anythin’, and whatever she thought she saw, she’s fuckin’ wrong, Rick. You hear me? She’s wrong; I don’t care what she says.”
Rick’s giving him that look, one of his ‘tell me why I should believe you’ looks and Shane wants to smack it offa him in a hurry. He can’t tell him, can’t make him understand why just being next to Daryl, why just touching that collar makes his skin burn.
“I don’t think Andrea has a reason to lie or exaggerate, Shane.”
“The fuck does it matter what she says? You dumped Daryl on me; I’m dealin’ with him as best I can. You got any suggestions; I’d love to hear ‘im!”
Rick’s staring again an’ Shane feels his back go stiff.
“What is it? Whatcha really wanna know, Rick? You wanna know if he’s been doin’ for me what he did for Merle, is that it?”
“Of course not,” Rick hisses at him, “They…that was different!”
Shane’s in his face instantly, all patience pushed to the edge, and his anger is dancing around him, chattering and screaming to do something to the man and he’s shouting for everyone to hear, letting the words roar out of his mouth.
“He fuckin’ begged me for it, begged me, brother! He wants to be fucked an’ hurt an’ be my slave, be my lil' puppy, jus’ the way you think he does, he wants it so bad, he’s fucking gaggin’ for it!”
And as his voice fades, he hears only the sound of his own harsh breathing, the sound of Rick strugglin’ to find the words to bring Shane back from the edge of his anger. He takes a step back from Rick, shaking a little. He can hear T-Dog’s whispered ‘damn’ above them and he doesn’t care, not one damn bit, let them all know what the man’s been at him for.
“I’ve told him an’ told him that I ain’t gonna do this, but he’s not hearin’ me,” Shane’s staring Rick down, forcing him to listen. “I did my best but he’s so far gone that he ain’t ever comin’ back to normal. Maybe if Merle bit it a long time ago, but now…?”
Rick’s looking ashy, his face wan as he takes it all in. “What did you do?” he’s asking finally, his gaze on the now dry blood above Shane’s lip.
“He head butted me when I took his collar away,” he mutters, “He’s a fast lil’ fucker.”
Rick’s eyes widen and Shane swallows, his throat dryer than ever. “You took his collar off? Why? Why would you do that?”
“I dunno,” he sighs, pacing some more. “I thought I could break through to him if I shocked him, y’know?”
“Did you give it back?” Rick’s suddenly in his face, eyes bluer than ever an’ cuttin’ right through him. “Shane, did you give him back that collar?”
Rick’s staring for a quiet minute before he swears under his breath. “Christ, Shane…You don’t…” he runs a hand over his face and nods. “Look, all I can say is you’re gonna hafta try and move slower with him, start smaller. One step at a time, you got me?”
Shane’s nodding, walking away from him before he can blurt out exactly what Daryl did to him in the forest clearing. He can feel the weight of everyone watching him walk, like it’s some walk of shame to where Daryl’s kneeling by the far reaching tent that Merle set up, going through his supplies to make more snares.
His skin prickles at the gazes aimed at his back, his ears burn bright pink at the knowledge that they’d had to have heard him yelling about Daryl, and it’s infuriating all the more. They don’t know what it’s like, he fumes to himself, stomping through the camp.
He hates them for what they might be thinking, for what Andrea must have blurted to everyone, and he hates that the sight of Daryl kneeling with his back to Shane sends a pulse of arousal to his groin.
“Hey!” he shouts and Daryl stills, hands on the ropes he’s been coiling.
Daryl tilts his head, peering up at him. There’s a look of somethin’ that Shane thinks could be shame in his eyes and it occurs to him that Daryl would have heard what he was shouting, but the look is gone again and he’s grateful for it.
“Got them all?” He asks, clearing his throat carefully.
Daryl nods once, holding out the neatly coiled ropes.
“Let’s try somethin’,” Shane says to him as he crouches down to examine the ropes. “You don’t need my permission to speak, got that?”
Daryl’s blinking at him, his forehead creased with confusion. He shakes his head, thumb nearing his mouth, ready to be gnawed on while he listens.
“No, listen to me, alright?” Shane says through clenched teeth. “Merle’s dead, so that means you’re gonna listen to me when I say so an’ I say you don’t need my approval to open your mouth.”
“Why?” it comes out whispery, but Shane counts it as progress.
“Cause I want you to, that’s why,” he mutters gruffly. “You can talk to anyone you want, whenever you want, got it? You want this collar to stay out for now, then you're gonna do it, ok?”
Daryl’s looking at him like he’s gone ‘round the bend but he gives a tentative nod.
“Yessir,” he murmurs and Shane feels the rush of arousal like nothing else at that simple word.
He stands once more, swallowing and breathing slow until he’s sure that his next words won’t be an order for Daryl to come back with him into the clearing.
Shane counts the small step as progress when Daryl hands his freshly killed rabbits over to Carol and mumbles that he knows how to cook them, if need be. It’s been a few days since he’d all but demanded that Daryl obey him and stop lookin’ for permission to speak every time and Shane all but smirks with pride at that tiny little step.
He knows that the man hates it, hates the change, but he doesn’t care and damn right he’ll count this as a victory.
Not that the guy's become a chatterbox, not even close. He keeps his mouth clamped shut most of the time but that doesn’t bother Shane nearly as much as it used to, not when he knows the man won’t disobey him, not when he’s been ordered to do something.
Little steps, Shane tells himself when he feels his patience thin, little steps or else.
He can see the struggle, the way Daryl’s watching everything, the way he moves, like he’s carrying some kind of weight on his shoulders, a weight he can’t quite shed. It should be easier, he thinks, but he hears the distant cackle of laughter from a dead man when he looks for signs that Daryl might be ready to move past being someone’s pet.
He lets Daryl sleep in his tent, lets him sleep at the end of his sleeping bag and he doesn’t let his brain ponder the why’s behind that, he just lies there listening to the man breathe as he sleeps and when it gets a bit chilly at night, he drapes an extra blanket over Daryl.
And if that means ignoring the way Daryl peers at him when he does so, then so be it. He’s no monster, won’t leave him to suffer at night when the sun’s gone and the air is cool but he keeps his distance in the mornings, ‘specially after he woke up one day to find Daryl nosing at his stomach, head bopping lower and heading for his thighs.
Temptation had reared its head, he could feel the warm puffs of air on his bare stomach, felt the tips of Daryl’s hair brushing over his skin and even though he’d been hard before he opened his eyes, he’d refused, barking at Daryl to back off and get to the other side of the tent.
The look of confused hurt on his face, that had twisted the guilty knife in deep that morning, the look that told Shane everything he needed to know right then about what Merle had wanted from Daryl in exchange for even the basics. He’d scowled at the ceiling of the tent and prayed for even a fraction of patience to deal with the way Daryl was pushing at his frayed control.
But even though Daryl had followed through with his demand to not try and suck him off for simple things, to just open his goddamned mouth and speak, Shane could see the internal war waged in his eyes, see him fighting the battle inside his head even while he remembered just how fucking good Daryl’s mouth had felt on him in the forest.
He fights the temptation every day but it doesn’t get any easier, not with Daryl at his side, at his feet, constantly. His skin crawls when he thinks about giving in and using him the way he desperately wants to be used. The images won’t leave him alone, not when he knows how good it would feel. Those are the times that he forces Daryl to sit by the fire pit, to do some busywork while he paces off his frustration alone.
It’s nearly a week after that when Shane decides he’s had enough of feeding Daryl by his hand. He can’t stand the way Daryl’s tongue flits over his palm, those tentative, light licks that send his blood racing; those movements that make him hunch forward to hide his reactions.
He listens as Rick makes noise about them heading away from the camp, to the CDC of all things, and the very idea makes him want to scream. Going into the city? Atlanta’s a deathtrap, they all know that and he says as much when Rick’s gaze falls on him for his opinion.
He tries not to think about Daryl’s tongue rubbing over his palm while Rick’s talking to him, tries to focus on telling Rick exactly why the CDC was the worst idea, but all he can feel is the slow, dragging licks as Daryl finishes the handful of stewed squirrel meat.
Shane stares at Rick, willing his brain to co-operate, and it takes a few tries before he gets it all out, tells Rick that he’s crazy to even suggest going into the city when they should be heading away from that mess and up to Fort Benning, that the CDC is nothing but a dead-end, no way it hasn’t been overrun by now.
And all that really gets him is one of Rick’s speeches about how they need to consider all the possibilities and that the CDC is always prepared for worst case scenarios. Shane doesn’t roll his eyes like he wants to but the whisper of a snort from Daryl makes him smirk despite his efforts.
After the dinner, after the speech, and the group has gone back to pretending like nothing's amiss, Daryl presses in closer to him, his head tentatively resting to his knee. Shane’s heart is thrumming a fast beat in his chest and as much as he wants to push Daryl away and force him to sit in a fucking chair like a normal human does, he kind of likes the way Daryl’s head feels resting against him.
It eats at him, the knowledge that he’s letting this charade carry on too far now, letting Daryl behave the way he did with Merle. He clenches his jaw as his fingers itch to smooth Daryl’s messy hair back from his forehead. He said he wouldn’t be Merle for him, but he thinks he understands how easy it was for Merle to keep the man in line.
It takes most of his control the next day to keep from blowing his temper when Daryl simply stares at his plate of food. There’s a pressure buildin’ in Shane’s neck and he wants to throttle the man good and proper for just kneeling, staring like the plate’s gonna bite him.
“I said, I want you to start eatin’ like regular people do,” he growls instead, shoving the plate at him. “It won’t kill you to try!”
There’s no response, but that doesn’t surprise him. Daryl’s holding the plate gingerly, looking all kinds of uncomfortable, but Shane can’t bring himself to let Daryl win the war on this one.
“You musta eaten off a plate at some point in your life,” he says and he kind of hates the coaxing tone to his voice. He’s aware of the stares, the stares that follow them constantly, and there’s a part of his mind that can’t believe these people don’t have better shit to do with their time in the apocalypse.
Daryl gives him a small nod, a mere jerk of his head. “Uh huh,” he mumbles hesitantly. “Till I was…till he started trainin’…”
“Figures,” Shane can’t keep the venom from his words. “Right, so then you know what to do. Just like b’fore, Daryl.”
It’s a foolish wish to think it would be so easy, but Daryl doesn’t immediately dig in. He eyes the food and his shoulders hunch up. He keeps the plate in a gentle grip, his face forlorn an’ lost.
“Eat,” Shane stresses the word, gritting his teeth until his jaw aches, “Or else.”
Daryl flinches and hunches in on himself more, his shallow breathing audible to Shane. His hands are trembling and the plate is twitching and even though his eyes are narrowed, hiding the gleam in them, Shane sees a glimpse of that mulish, stubborn attitude that he knows is still there, hiding under his carefully trained mind.
And right when Shane thinks he might lose all patience and actually hit Daryl, the plate steadies and Daryl reaches for the fork, holding it awkwardly for a moment. He firms his grip on the fork and it’s not long after that when he begins to eat, slowly, steadily.
Shane watches him eat like a hawk, crowing inwardly all the while. One small step, he thinks and even though he’s proud, he feels a pang of something he’d rather not think about at the realization that Daryl won’t be eatin’ from his hand any more.
Looking back, if he’d known, if he’d been able to see into the future, he would have made the most of the somewhat peaceful days in the camp. If he’d known, things would have gone differently.
Progress was progress even when it was in steps so small that Shane felt sure he would burst trying to be patient. Daryl had to be coaxed at every single meal time, reminded that he was to eat like the rest of them, and still he resisted, balking at the idea until Shane would glare at him, growl and demand for him to eat for fuck’s sake.
He hadn’t tried to creep into Shane’s sleeping bag since that first time and he was slowly, painfully slowly, opening up a bit more when other people spoke to him, little snippets of words until it wasn’t that unusual for Daryl to answer when spoken to without looking to Shane for confirmation that it was ok to open his mouth.
Even Rick seemed impressed by Daryl’s progress, going so far as to tell Shane that he was happy to see Daryl emerging from his training inch by inch, but the words felt hollow to him. Shane felt nothing but a false happiness, though Daryl was doing what he wanted him to do. Under it all, he could feel that creeping anger, those uneven emotions, coiling low in his belly.
He didn’t push the man away when he knelt close to him at meal times, Daryl’s head resting against his thigh. He couldn’t. He told himself he ought to, that this was not helping anything, that Daryl ought to be sitting in a chair by now, but when Daryl’s head rested against him, he spent more of his time fighting not to touch his hair, to not smooth the ruffled strands back into place.
There was something in those moments; those quiet moments where he couldn’t take his eyes off of Daryl, couldn’t look away from the way the light of the fire flickered against his skin. And if he let his hand rest close to Daryl’s hair, he tried not to think about how much his fingers itched to touch him.
He knew all too well that he was being watched during these times, that Rick was keeping an eye on him, that Andrea was giving them both those wary, thoughtful gazes and it burned at him more than he liked. He knew also how it had looked to Andrea when she’d happened upon them on the trail that day.
His teeth ground together slowly and he could feel Daryl nudging at his thigh, a questioningly soft sound emerging from him. No doubt he could feel Shane tensing and it bothered him that Daryl could be so attentive despite his façade of zoning out while kneeling.
“S’nothin’,” he murmured, almost under his breath an’ his hand lifted, hoverin’ in the air before he let it fall, dropping onto Daryl’s hair hesitantly. There was a hitch in his chest, a pause in his breathing before he felt Daryl push into his touch, a breathy sound escaping as he did so.
Shane exhaled, his breath a stuttered gasp, and he closed his eyes, smoothing Daryl’s hair back ever so slightly. Rick’s eyes were burning a hole into his head but he focused only on the feel of Daryl beneath his fingers and the way the fire crackled and popped in front of them.
“We have to talk sometime,” Andrea says to him the following morning as he’s roaming the perimeter of the camp, on one of his daily checks of their string alarms. He’s memorized the whole of their area, could do this walk in his sleep and sometimes the camp makes him itch, living like they all do out of tents like nomads.
Daryl’s not far away, no more than fifty feet from him, eyes restlessly roaming back and forth over the ground. A hank of rope is wound over his shoulder and he’s starting to veer off deeper into the trees, on the lookout for potential meals. Shane spares him a glance when he hears Andrea. He thinks briefly that he must have been crazy to pretend that he could escape her inevitable questions.
“Not so far as I see it,” he says, not bothering to look over at her. He knows where she is, a few paces behind him. He licks his bottom lip and keeps his gait steady. Her eyes bore holes into him every day and he’s not sure how much longer he can stand it.
“I know you’re upset with me,” she tries again. It bugs him that she just won’t let it go.
“What makes you say that?” he drawls and stops in his tracks, hands loosely resting on his hips.
She’s close to him, too close for his own comfort. She’s mimicking him, her hands on her hips as well, her chin lifted up as she stares at him. “It wasn’t right for me to speak to Rick about…well, about what I saw.”
“You didn’t see nothin’!” he snaps before he can stop the words. He scowls at her, willing her to walk away.
“It didn’t look that way to me,” she fires back, her eyes daring him to think of something else to explain. “You looked awfully cozy right then, touching that…that collar,” she adds and Shane can hear the venom in her voice. “Why is he even still wearing it? I thought the whole point of this was to make him stop acting like some kind of dog?!”
He’s all too aware that Daryl can hear all this, that he’s not that far from either of them and anger burns hotly through Shane. He’s embarrassed for Daryl, for the way no one understands his needs, for the way that he himself had treated the man in the beginning, but above all that, he feels righteous anger burn brightly, sparking up and down his spine.
He hates her, hates them all.
“He likes the fuckin’ collar, Andrea,” he hisses through clenched teeth. “It’s not a big deal, not the way you people make it out t’ be. It’s just a strip of leather and if it calms him down, then so what? That doesn’t mean I like it, alright?”
“Oh, I think you like it,” she leans in closer and he wants to smack that look clean offa her face. “I saw you touching it. You were all but stroking it, Shane. Are you really going to stand there and tell me that I didn’t see you doing that?”
He clamps his mouth shut because no, he doesn’t have an excuse for that. A curl of shame adds to his anger and he knows that he misses touching that collar, misses feeling it dig into Daryl’s neck like it had in the forest. His cock stirs in his cargos and he hates it but the image is deep in his brain.
“You see?” Andrea shakes her head at him, her blond ponytail bobbing from side to side. “I know what I saw and it makes me wonder how far you would have gone if I hadn’t come up the path right then. You were practically on top of him!”
And maybe she sees something, a flicker of guilt in his face because her eyes widen as her lips part on a gasp. “You didn’t…”
He swallows over the lump in his throat. He distantly hears Daryl’s whisper quiet footsteps behind him. “I don’t owe you nothin’, Andrea, no explanations, nothin’, you got it?” he says carefully. “He’s my problem, not yours, not anyone else’s. I don’t see none of y’all steppin’ up to help, so you just back off an’ let me deal with him.”
And Daryl’s at his side then, pressing against him, his blue eyes all but shooting sparks at her. There’s desire curling low in his groin, that instinctive flicker he feels whenever Daryl gets close and even though he’s used to it, his blood still runs fast and hard, thrumming a steady beat in his veins.
“It looks like you don’t think this is much of a problem anymore,” she says and her voice is quiet now, pointed sharp at him.
“If I need advice on how t’ handle anythin’, I’ll ask,” he snaps back.
Daryl’s rubbing his cheek against Shane’s shoulder and he resists the urge to pull the man in closer, to grip his collar and show him off to Andrea, to push Daryl to his knees and have him nuzzle at his thighs the way he’s always trying to, just to watch her face change. It’s too close to how Merle was, too close for comfort. He feels sick and aroused at the same time.
He can hear peals of Merle’s laughter ringing mercilessly in his mind and he flushes deeply, colour flooding his cheeks. She’s staring up at him still, her lips parted in shock, and he thinks she might be able to read minds or intent by the way she’s gaping at him an’ his ears burn at that thought and he knows she’ll run back and tell Rick just as sure as God made little green apples. His blood boils and he flexes his fingers, staring her down.
“Leave ‘im be.”
Andrea’s head swivels to the side, beat for beat as Shane does, the pair of them staring at Daryl. He’s not looking at her, not looking at Shane, eyes fixed on the ground, but he’s biting at his lower lip, his face tight with banked anger, eyes narrowed. There’s sweat trickling down his cheeks, his jaw tensed.
“What?” she manages, bewildered.
“Leave ‘im be,” Daryl lifts his eyes a moment and glares at her. “Know you heard me.”
“Daryl…I’m only trying to help you,” Andrea’s eyes are wide. “This way of yours, Shane’s not helping by letting you behave like this. You’re more than a pet and no one has the right to treat any human that way.”
“Don’t want yer help!” he’s glaring harder. Shane’s throat clenches with a snort of amusement, the laughter running with his urge to scream, to shake some sense into Andrea or chase her off ‘fore Daryl gets too riled up. “Don’t need help from people like you.”
“No,” he says, shaking his head once. “Don’t need yer opinions neither.”
Shane can feel the hysterical, sarcastic laugh bubbling up in his throat and he clamps his mouth shut to hold it back. “You’re wastin’ your breath. He’s…he’s this way an’ you can’t make him be anythin’ else but.”
And he knows she knows it, as much as he knows that Daryl himself doesn’t want anything different, that he wants to stay this way cause it’s easier to do what he’s always done, what he’s spent his life doing and if it means being Shane’s pet rather than Merle’s, so be it.
His skin itches in the moment of silence that drags on between the three of them. He can feel Daryl’s cheek rubbing against his shoulder again and he knows without looking that Daryl’s still glaring at Andrea. He grits his teeth, nodding with a quick jerk at her.
“You got any other pearls of wisdom hanging around?”
There’s a flare of temper in her face and he thinks in that second that she looks beautiful when she’s angry, pink flushing her cheeks, her eyes sparkling. He looks away, Daryl’s presence fucking with his senses like always, and she huffs out a breath of annoyance, her hands gesturing a little, like she’s at a loss for words.
Shane stares down at the ground until he sees the edge of her boots move out of his line of vision, till he knows she’s gone now. He lets out a breath that he wasn’t sure he was holding and he looks at Daryl, shaking his head.
“You know she’s got a point, don’tcha?”
Daryl shrugs and shifts the crossbow on his back. He darts a glance up at Shane, his lips twitching a little. “Nothin’ she’s gonna say, I ain’t already heard b’fore.”
Shane exhales heavily and locks his hands behind his head, pulling on his hair to bring his focus back in. Daryl’s waiting, a statue in front of him, looking all too pleased with himself. Sweat’s beading down Shane’s forehead, trickling down to his cheeks and he feels the dull rage settle in his chest, his heart pounding a bit at the thought of facing Rick back at the camp.
“C’mon, we ain’t got all day,” he says gruffly, nodding to the forest.
Daryl’s moving through the trees, silent as ever as he steps deeper into the woods, two steps ahead of Shane. “Yessir,” he whispers as he goes, focused on hunting like he turned on a switch.
Shane looks up at the sky, watching the sun burn above them. Despite the soaring heat, he’s chilled to the bone.
He keeps him out there for hours, tromping deeper and deeper into the trees, until they can’t hear the camp, till there’s no noise but the small sounds of birds, of nature sounds. Shane follows Daryl, watching him hunt with the smallest bit of awe.
Daryl hunts like he breathes. It’s as natural for him as can be and Shane knows he’s only really there to keep an eye on the man. He follows him, deeper still into the forest, the back of his neck prickling as the silence of the trees around them seems to swell. Daryl’s not caught much yet, four squirrels hanging from the length of rope ‘round his shoulder. There's creases of annoyance on his face as the day draws on.
Shane stops when Daryl stops, his breath catching when Daryl frowns and stares off into the distance, like he’s heard something on the wind. There’s nothing, no birds chirping, no rustling of leaves. A cold chill settles over the sweat dampening Shane’s t-shirt, the material clinging to his skin.
“Nothin’,” Daryl murmurs ‘fore shouldering his crossbow. He looks to Shane, shifting on his feet. “Wind ain’t right.”
Shane rubs a hand over his jaw and nods, looking around. He doesn’t feel right, the forest doesn’t feel right, and his heart is beating this side of too hard since Andrea had stomped away. “We oughta head back then. Call it a day.”
Daryl doesn’t answer him. He’s standing off to the side, worrying away at his thumb in that way of his, shifting every so often, eyes darting about. Shane sighs and jerks his head at him.
Daryl turns, like he’s hearing him for the first time and there’s this look in his eyes, this look of banked fear, like he’s holding it all back and Shane feels that sensation run down his spine, that same one he’d felt the day Merle had died. The sun’s retreated, sinking beyond the horizon and Shane feels a chill sweep over him.
“Daryl,” he says through stiff lips. “C’mon.”
He hesitates a moment longer ‘fore his thumb slips from his lips and Shane can’t tear his eyes from the way Daryl’s lips gleam in the last of the daylight. He’s moving without thought, striding over to him, his collar a dark beacon against the pale underside of Daryl’s throat.
Shane reaches, touches it, touches the collar that’s been screaming for him. He hooks his finger under it. He can feel Daryl’s heartbeat pounding against his skin and there’s a second where he thinks he might give in again, push the man down to the ground and shove his cock down his throat the way he’s been dying to, but he doesn’t.
He licks his lips. Daryl’s nuzzling in closer, encouraging him. There’s a deep part of him that wants this as bad as Andrea thought and it scares him but the way Daryl presses against him is hypnotic, the way he pushes up into him, making those little sounds, it’s too much for him to deny how fucking much he wants it.
He leans his head down, closing the couple of inches between them and Daryl’s lifting his head, those blues eyes looking at him full on. He feels a small breath puff past his lips as he leans in, his free hand coming up to grip the back of Daryl’s neck when a shrill scream floats on the wind, startling them both.
Daryl’s staring off in one direction, eyes wide and as Shane feels the question form on his own lips, another scream, and sharper this time, floats their way.
“Came from t’ camp,” Daryl mutters, his words barely audible.
The screams rise and ebb on the wind and the branches from the trees he’s crashing past rear back, slapping at him, battering at his face and arms. Daryl’s running, dodging the trees in that way of his, crossbow bumping every so often against his hip. He’s wide eyed and his skin gleams in the rising moonlight, pale between the streaks of dirt.
It’s endless, the running back to the campground, and a million thoughts run through Shane’s mind, and all of them revolve around the worst case scenario. His fingers are steady on his gun, sweat slicked though they are and as they break through the woods and back onto the outskirts of the camp, Shane knows that their illusion of peace has been shattered.
He remembers the hospital in that moment, remembers the armed men gunning down patients and nurses and the sound of shambling feet that drowned out any heartbeat he might’ve heard with his head pressed to Rick’s chest. The sound of Daryl’s choked breath cuts through the memories as he stares at the massacre happening before them.
Bodies litter the ground, sprays of blood streak across the tents, across the tamped down dirt, and there’s walkers, dozens of them roaming, stumbling and chasing after the living. For an endless moment, Shane stares at the body closest to the woods that’s been mangled beyond recognition and he utters a laugh that’s past hysterical.
Daryl’s moving then, crossbow instantly in his hands as he aims, fires, reloads and fires anew. Within seconds he’s swallowed up by the rush of people, lost in the darkness of the camp where hardly any lights are shining, and the fire’s dying out.
Shane can hear Lori screaming for Rick, her arms locked around Carl’s chest as she staggers unevenly backwards, nearing the R.V. and he can see tears streaking down Carol’s face as she screams for Sophia in the chaos.
And he doesn’t stop moving, he doesn’t stop to think as he fires bullets into the heads of the walkers. He takes one down after another and he can hear Andrea shrieking ‘no’ as she runs towards the R.V. and Shane can only watch in horror as his bullet comes too late, hits the walker a second too late, as blood spurts in huge gushes from Amy’s neck, drenching her upper chest with slippery sheets of red.
Morales runs past him, firing at the walkers closing in on his wife, who’s desperately shielding her children, pushing the kids back into their tent, as if the nylon will protect them from the grasping fingers of the dead.
It’s chaos, bloody chaos and the campground is Hell and he thinks of the tin can rope alarms they’d set, stupid, useless alarms, as if those would protect them forever, and hadn’t they been living in a bubble world, pretending that this was their safe haven just because they were less than an hour from Atlanta?
There’s a blur of a little blond girl, Sophia, he thinks, that runs, dodges past a walker, pale and small. She zigzags around two walkers, shrieking for her mother, and Shane aims his gun, his ammo dangerously low but how can he ration his bullets now. He fires, dropping one of the walkers and it’s just enough for the girl to run into the arms of her weeping mother by the R.V.
He can see Glenn, just barely see his hat in the distance and it occurs to him that he can’t see Daryl, not anywhere. There’s panic now, new panic fluttering under his skin and he tells himself not to be so stupid, Daryl’s no damsel in distress, he can hold his own, but the panic is overriding his brain. He pushes his way further into the camp, stepping over bodies, the scent of decay flooding his nose.
It seems to last forever even when he knows it’s been no more than a few minutes since they stepped into the camp, and he thinks of how he’d been close to Daryl, touching that collar when the screams had floated over to them. He feels that flicker of panic licking at the back of his mind, telling him that he’s responsible for the man, Rick told him to keep an eye on Daryl, to help him, and he’s not, not when he’s pushing the man away all the time, refusing and denying everything he thinks about when Daryl’s on his knees, looking up at him in that way he does.
He licks his lips and shoves the butt of his gun down hard on the head of a walker that’s too close for his liking. He hears Rick shouting above the noise, doing his best to call anybody that can hear him to head for the R.V. and in the dim light of the fire, he sees Lori pull Carl with her inside the vehicle and a small knot in his chest loosens. They’ll be safe, he knows, Rick’s there, and it hurts a little knowing that he’s been pushed aside when he’s done everything he can to keep them safe before.
There’s a horrible gurgling sound to his left and he can’t look away as T-Dog slams back against a tree, narrowly missing the snapping jaws of the walker that’s on him. Shane fires and there’s gratitude shining in T-Dog’s eyes as the walker slumps down to the ground.
He turns and aims again, seeing Rick a few paces away, his arm as steady as ever, and as he hears the grunts to his left, he sees a glimpse of the collar ‘round Daryl’s neck. He freezes, his mouth falling open when he sees Daryl grappling with the walker that’s gotten too close and he can’t breathe then, can’t reconcile what he’s seeing.
He’s moving again and it’s like he’s running in a dream, uphill in molasses, his feet are slow, ungainly, and he lets out this roar of denial as Daryl smacks his crossbow against the jaw of the walker that’s snapping and snarling at him, blood dripping from it’s lips, but it’s not enough and Daryl’s run out of ammo but there’s no fear on his face, just concentrated rage.
Shane’s aiming as the walker snaps at Daryl’s neck, nearly grazing the collar that he hates even when he doesn’t really, and he screams as he fires, the last of his bullets speeding into the skull of the walker, dropping the thing where it stands. The blood droplets splatter across Daryl’s face but all Shane can see is his blue eyes, wider than ever.
He’s panting, sweat soaked and chilled to the bone by the howls of agony and loss around them, and his gun hangs limply at his side as the sounds fade, as the screams give way to sobs. Daryl’s still watching him, his chest rising and falling in fast jerks.
There’s silence, a deafening silence as the last of the dead are taken out, and the sound of Andrea’s panicked cries rip into Shane’s mind. He pants for air but he can’t look away from Daryl, not as he takes three huge steps and grabs the man by one arm, yanking him nearly off his feet, searching for bites, for scratches, for any sign that he’s failed Rick in his job, that he’s failed Daryl.
Daryl stares down at the ground, his chest still rising and falling unevenly, but he’s not resisting Shane’s manhandling. He lets out a long breath and leans in, pushing against him, as if worn out from the sudden assault on the camp, and it’s with a rush of something Shane can’t deal with, that he’s tugging Daryl in tighter, so fucking grateful that he’s alive.
He rests his head to Daryl’s, his breath coming in jagged gasps, his arm is wrapped tightly around the man like he can’t quite believe that he’s alive, that he’s not a corpse on the ground just waiting to reanimate. He drops his gun and wraps his other arm around Daryl, breathing him in.
He closes his eyes and listens to the sound of Daryl’s breathing slowly even out.
The smell of decay is nothing compared to the smell coming off the burning bodies. He avoids looking at the piles, avoids looking at how few people are left at the camp, and he can feel his skin itching at the thought of how fucked they are even as he drags a walker over to the growing mound of bodies.
He can hear the steady thud of the pickaxe not far from him and he tries not to think about the tip of it slamming into the head of each victim, destroying the brain to keep them from turning, instead, he watches Daryl’s arms rise and lower over and over as he moves down the line of bodies.
They’ve been at it for hours, burning the walkers, getting the people from camp ready for burying, and part of Shane wants to scream, if only for the sake of releasing the tension that’s building. The fear hangs over them all, chokingly thick, thicker than the smoke wafting from the bodies that burn under the sweltering sun and just when he thinks he can’t stand it a second more, Daryl drops the pickaxe and shifts on his feet, darting a glance over at him.
“C’mon,” Shane mutters, all too grateful for the excuse to step away from the horror show in front of him.
He knows the others will want funeral rites for their own and he can see the mounds a ways up that Jim had been digging like a madman the day before. He feels a sick twist to his stomach when he looks at the holes. He doesn’t trust the man, never has in fact. There’s something more than a little fuckin’ off about him.
With sweat trickling down his neck, he heads away from the camp and he knows without checking that Daryl’s a step behind him. He walks, down onto the path that leads to the water, as far as he can get from the blood soaked camp grounds. His hands form fists as he goes and his chest is tight, every muscle tensed. He can’t stand the streaks of dust and blood that coat his fingers, can’t stand the tears or sobs or the haunted looks on the faces of the survivors.
He comes to a stop abruptly by the edge of the water and squats down, cuppin’ a large handful, the blood sliding from his fingers in that instant. He lets the water sluice off his fingers before grabbing another handful to scrub between his palms.
“Can’t do it no more,” he says absently, shaking the water droplets off. “Pretendin’ like we’re safe here. No place is safe anymore an’ he knows it, but here we are, acting like we was always gonna be safe, so long as we had our night watches, our rope alarms. It’s bullshit, that’s what it is!”
He’s angry now, fury lacing his words and he spins around to face Daryl who’s gnawing on his thumb, wary eyes watching Shane’s every move. His face is still blank but Shane sees more in Daryl’s eyes. He knows it’s a fake, how couldn’t he after all this time when the man’s holding his emotions in tighter than can be?
“How long did he think we could stay here? We ain’t any safer at the CDC, if it’s even still runnin’, not on the road, nowhere!” he rages on, eyes alight with rage. “This wasn’t s’posed to be some permanent home! We’re sittin’ ducks here, waiting to get picked off, one by one!”
Deep down he knows he’s being irrational, that it’s not all Rick’s fault any more than it’s his own, but it feels damn good to let it all out and as he rants, Daryl shifts closer to him, closing the distance little by little, until he’s right in Shane’s face, wary but not afraid. He stops mid-sentence when Daryl’s dirt streaked fingers close on his wet palm and his heartbeat stutters for a moment like it always does when he’s this close to Daryl.
His breath catches in his throat when Daryl takes his hand, bringing it down to his neck, to that supple leather collar that he’s been trying not to look at. He feels the breath slip out as his fingers brush over the collar and it’s with a shock to his skin that he feels arousal under his anger and suddenly he can’t recall why he was so damn mad.
He licks his bottom lip and all the images of what he could do right now run through his mind, a series of images, each one more tantalizing and teasing than the last, telling his brain to go right ahead, take him, he won’t care, he’ll enjoy it, he wants it, wants you to do it…
He can’t look away now, his fingers rubbing and stroking as he watches the skin around the collar pink up from the attention. God, he wants to give in and even as the rational side of his brain screams for him to back up, what in the fuck does he think he’s doing but there’s lust pounding in his veins, lust and desire and affection, and how close had he come to losing Daryl? He rubs his thumb down harder and there’s that sound, that needy little muffled moan coming from him, that’s all he needs to ignore his saner side and just give in.
“Fuck it,” he mutters and leans down, his lips dragging over Daryl’s earlobe, down to his jaw, nipping a bit at his skin and he feels his cock begin to stiffen as Daryl moans again, low and sweet, pushing into his touch, rocking against him. “Can’t say no anymore, can’t fuckin’ resist it.”
He feels Daryl rubbing against him, feels those nimble fingers stroking over the length of his cock through his pants and he gasps out a sharp breath, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. “Jesus…”
It’s a blur of motion, of him pushing Daryl down to the ground, down to his knees, his hand still stroking over the collar, up and along his chin, tracing his lips, the lips he can’t stop staring at, and suddenly it’s not enough. He drops to his knees as well; one big hand gripping Daryl’s cheek, pulling him closer, and his gaze is fixed on Daryl’s mouth, on the pink lips that part under his scrutiny, on the small smears of dirt that he’s wiping away with the pad of his thumb.
He’s pressing his mouth to Daryl’s in a heartbeat, his eyes half open, watching the look of shock flit across Daryl’s face. There’s no thought past that as Daryl reacts, pressing himself in tight against Shane, sliding his lips over Shane’s with a throaty growl of pleasure, his lips parting and moving with him, tentatively at first, then firmer, his body pushing up against Shane all the while.
Shane thinks only that he needs this, needs this reassurance that they’re both still alive, that maybe he needs this the way Daryl does, that he wants it just as bad, and who was he to try and pretend that he didn’t want to do this every fucking day and as he’s pulling at his clothes, tearing at his own shirt to get it off, Daryl’s moving down low, his lips brushing over his abdomen and fuck, if that doesn’t make his groin ache.
There’s no patience and he’s thrusting down into Daryl’s mouth the second his zipper opens, pants and shorts bunched around his thighs, gasping aloud with relief at the feel of the slick wet mouth enveloping him and he thinks of how Daryl had been in the forest, nearly wild with the need to please, how good it had felt to use his mouth like that, even when he’d thought he hadn’t wanted to.
He’s damn close in seconds and he shakes his head at that, he hasn’t been so desperate to come since his teen years and he pushes those thoughts away because he’s staring down at Daryl’s mussed hair and he doesn’t want to think back to then. He grips a fistful of Daryl’s hair, tugging him back even as his dick twitches in the air as it slides over Daryl’s swollen lips.
“Stop,” he rasps, chest heaving like he’s been running for hours.
Daryl whines low in his throat, his tongue flickering out to rub over the head of Shane’s cock and sweet Jesus, it takes every inch of his being to keep from slamming back into his mouth, fucking his throat.
“Please,” Daryl’s whispering, his tongue flicking out again, trying his best to capture the tip and guide it back into his mouth. His throat tightens against his collar and Shane can feel the band rubbing back against his hand.
There’s an electric shock cruising through him at the feel and he pushes Daryl back, shoving him down to the dirt with one hand, the other yanking Daryl's pants down. He spares a moment’s thought that they have nothing to ease the way, so he settles for wrapping his fist around the length of Daryl’s straining dick, jerking him roughly, his thumb smearing the wet tip.
Daryl’s biting his lips, struggling to stay quiet by the looks of it, and his eyes are fixed on the way Shane’s still rock hard, and Shane knows damn well that Daryl wants nothing more than to have the attention offa him, to be back between his legs. He tightens his grip and curves his fist, sending Daryl closer to the edge.
“Yeah, you want it,” Shane murmurs affectionately. Daryl hunches his shoulders, shuddering as his body gives him away despite his silence. He’s scrunching up his face, gasping a little as he tenses and bites at his lips like he’s afraid. Shane leans down, kissing him messily, lips sliding over Daryl’s, tongue tracing them as they part on an exhale and right then he curves his fist again. Daryl comes with a choked off sob that rips from him, chest deep, hot liquid flowing down over Shane’s fingers, dripping down to mix with the small streaks of dirt he missed earlier.
There’s barely a moment before Daryl’s shifting and licking at Shane’s cock, sucking him back in greedily and that’s when Shane leans back, his mouth open as Daryl sends him spiralling into his own orgasm, one that steals his breath clean away. His back tenses and flexes under the strength of the release running through him and he thinks of the camp and the first time he saw Daryl a step behind Merle, head down, shoulders down, his collar drawing Shane’s attention even then.
And as he shudders, coming down, Daryl kneeling between his legs, licking the last traces from his skin, his tongue moving to Shane’s slick fingers, he remembers the way it had gleamed in the sunshine, obscenely pretty in a way that he’d tried not to think about at the time.
He strokes the collar now, Daryl’s heartbeat steady and reassuring under the warm strip.
The sun’s pounding down, obscenely bright and gleaming, turning the grounds gold with its beams. The trees shimmer and shake in the slow gusts of hot wind and Shane scowls at it all, at the expanse of dirt that they’d lived on since escaping from the deadlocked traffic jam that had been the highways skirting the city.
The dirt floor’s marked with footsteps, drag marks and dried maroon splotches of blood, the only evidence remaining of a battle once fought and he grimaces at the sight of their abandoned camp, his hands resting to his hips. He can feel sweat dripping down his neck, hear the hum of the mosquitoes in the air and there’s a solid presence to his right, Daryl, steady and loyal, eyes on the ground despite his wary stance, and there’s a ragged laugh that wants to come out but he ignores that and settles for watching Rick speak to Morales.
There were discussions about safety and where to head and that laugh grips him anew because he knows, oh fuck, does he ever know that Rick sincerely thinks he’s got the right idea about leading them back into Atlanta, into the city where there’s nothing but the dead and that possibility of the CDC still running.
It’s a pipe dream, no better than this camp they’d had, no safer, and he’s grinding his teeth down at the knowledge and the way Rick’s been brushing off his insistence that they were safer making a way towards Fort Benning. He feels this urge, this prickling urge to tell Rick to fuck himself and leave, just fucking leave, and as he thinks this again, his gaze wanders to Daryl and he knows he’d bring him along no matter what and that soothes the dull ache in his chest.
Daryl turns his head, asking without looking up in that way of his, questioning the shifts of Shane’s moods, an uncanny ability that Shane can’t help but be intrigued by. He lets his body shift ever so slightly closer to Shane, a soft sound of curiosity passing his lips.
“Nothin’,” Shane murmurs, disgusted with his inner vile mood. He rubs a hand over the waistband of his cargos, scrubbing his fingers over the edge of his gun, reassured by the weight of it. “Killing daylight right now,” he adds, watching Carol bundle Sophia into Rick’s car, both of them a few shades paler than they had been days before.
Daryl makes a low sound of agreement and Shane finds his gaze drawn to the man. He tries to fool himself that he can resist it, but the collar draws him in all the time and he thinks that maybe Daryl’s the one thing keeping him from losing his sanity. He looks him over slowly and his lips quirk in an almost smile, Daryl’s gaze flitting up to meet his eyes, those blue eyes of his catching Shane’s breath every time.
There’s so much that he wants to say at times, but the words catch against his teeth and he settles for gripping Daryl’s chin, his thumb rubbing along his cheek in a gesture that’s gentler than it looks and damned if Daryl doesn’t push into the touch submissively, eyes half lidded with pleasure. He feels little licks of hatred towards Merle but he understands now why it was so easy to keep Daryl this way, why it feels so right and that’s as far as he’ll think on it. He doesn’t want to think on what that means about his own state of mind or why he enjoys having Daryl submit to him like this.
And when they’re packed, the cars loaded, the last of the survivors tucked into the vehicles, Shane leans to the side of his jeep, staring at the ground, then up to the trees where their rope alarms had been woven and his stomach clenches. He can see the space where his tent had been, where Daryl’s and Merle’s had been and there’s a bitter lump in his throat. He turns his head, glimpsing Andrea in Dale’s R.V., blonde head bent down, slumped at the fold down table and at that he jerks his gaze away, thinking only that her grief is unbearable to watch and that he’d felt that brand of pain when he’d been unable to lift Rick from that hospital bed, pulse or no pulse.
Daryl’s in the truck that he’d rolled up in on that first day, hiding behind his brother, and there’s a somewhat forlorn look in his eyes, but there’s more room in the back of his truck for their living supplies despite the bulk of Merle’s motorcycle, and Shane hadn’t had the heart to make him leave the bike behind. He can’t stop glancing at the beat up truck and a part of him wants to yank Daryl from it, push him into the passenger seat of his jeep, but he can’t, he won’t do that.
Not yet anyway, and he chews on that as Rick gestures, starting the engine of his car. The caravan begins, pulling away from the campground and Shane stares at the windshield of his jeep, pulling into the line of cars, his senses alerted to where Daryl is pulling up behind him, face solemn and closed off. Morales honks his horn as he and his family break from the pack as discussed, turning at the fork in the road.
The sun’s still shining and it’s still obscene how bright and cheerful the scenery looks around them, mounds in the hill slightly above them where they’d buried their dead, the grounds behind them barren when only a day before they’d been bustling with small attempts at life when the world was collapsing around them and Shane lets out an uneven breath, his heart hitting against his ribcage and he lets his gaze wander back to his rear view mirror where he can see Daryl safe behind him.
And he thinks then that he’ll stay, if only because he can’t bring himself to leave Rick like this, as fraught as his love and anger is for the man he’s known longer than he can remember, and if he has Daryl at his side, always at his side, right where he belongs, then he’ll be alright until their last day comes.