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The In Between Moments

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1.  A Stolen Moment on the road to Terminus

It was strange to Daryl that he could suddenly feel right about things simply by being back with Rick.  After the events at the prison and Beth getting taken, he had shut down.  Decided it was better for surviving if he didn’t let himself care anymore.  He had watched too many good people die - lost too many - and it just felt easier to tell himself he didn't care anymore.  And then Rick was there.  Rick, who never backed down or stopped fighting for the people he loved, and Daryl prayed that they would find a way out of this mess. 

And they had, but now Daryl wondered if Rick could forgive him for joining up with a group of psychos that threatened to kill his family.

“You did what you had to in order to survive,” Rick said.  He slid to the ground next to him, glancing off at where Michonne and Carl were sharing food before turning his gaze back to Daryl.  It was so easy to get lost in those eyes, to want to be a better version of himself because Rick believed in him.  Rick patted his leg and added, “I told you already.  There’s nothing you could do that would have me turn my back on you, Daryl.  It’s not how I operate.”

“That’s ‘cause you ain’t got a lick of sense,” Daryl commented.

Rick shrugged and said, “Smartest decision I ever made was to trust you to have my back.”

“I missed you,” Daryl admitted, feeling far more exposed than he usually cared for, but needing to make that clear.  He had so many regrets after the fall of the prison and while he would never be the man who wore his heart on his sleeve, Daryl knew he was at his best when he orbited Rick.  And leaving so much unsaid hadn't been worth it. 

Rick smiled and wrapped an arm around Daryl, pulling him closer.  Daryl buried his face in Rick’s shoulder, inhaling the man and feeling slightly more grounded with each passing second.  Rick said, “Missed you too.  With all the chaos that happened, I wasn’t sure if you got out.”

“I’m hard to kill.”

“Thank God,” Rick replied. 

“I saw the Governor attack you, but I couldn’t get to you,” Daryl said, pulling back to get a good look at Rick.  He asked, “You okay?”

“Nearly wasn’t, but I’m still here,” Rick replied.  He grabbed Daryl by the back of his neck and yanked him in for a hard kiss.  Daryl knew that he should probably stop, but he had missed this since the prison.  He wanted to hold onto it for as long as he could.  When they separated, Rick asked, “You know what you mean to me, right?”

Daryl kissed him again and said, “Yeah.  It goes both ways.”

“Not a lot in this world that matters to me these days outside our family.  It’s what keeps me going.  And I’m glad you found us.”

“Even if I was with a bunch of demented lunatics who were planning to hurt you?”

Rick shrugged and said, “It got you where you needed to be.  That’s what counts.”

Daryl wasn’t sure that was quite true, but now wasn’t the time or place to argue things like that.  What he and Rick had was complicated and strange at times, but it was also the easiest thing in the world.  One of the only relationships in his life where he felt he could be all of himself – the good, the bad, the twisted and ugly.  Rick never judged any of it and seemed to care about him all the more for it.

Rick grasped Daryl’s face and said, “Hey, we’re both still here.  That’s gotta count for something.”

Daryl rolled his eyes because the guy could be so damn sincere about things, but he leaned into Rick’s touch.  He said, “It does.”

 

2.  A Stolen Moment with a roof over their heads

Daryl wasn’t sure what to think about Alexandria.  Everyone in the community was so innocent and normal, somehow spared from the darkness that had touched the world, living as though everything hadn't gone to hell all around them.  He wasn’t sure how any of their group could fit in at a place like this, but especially not him.  Daryl wasn't sure if he was made for a life like this.  

Rick crawled into bed next to him and said, “You’re thinking too hard.”

“I can’t figure this place out,” Daryl responded, glancing over at Rick.  He had shaved and trimmed his hair at some point since Daryl had last seen him.  Reminded Daryl of the first time he met him…Daryl ready to kill him for leaving his brother behind and then a small thread of admiration at his willingness to go back for Merle.  Even back then, without knowing Rick, he had known his brother had probably deserved what had happened to him and somehow trusted this guy dressed up like a Sheriff to help him.

“They’re definitely not ready for what’s out there.  Caught up in some fantasy,” Rick muttered.

Daryl nodded.  He knew that Rick wasn’t wrong about that and it was some kind of miracle that this community had survived for so long.  It was a safe place when everything else was falling apart, but Daryl didn’t particularly want to think about it too hard because then he would be left with the long list of people that he couldn’t save. 

Rick leaned in and kissed him.  He asked, “You okay with the living arrangements?”

“Huh?”

“You and I together.”

“Pretty sure we are together.”

“Yeah, but now people know.”

Daryl chuckled and said, “Everyone already knows.  I think they knew before we did and you have the shittiest poker face in the world.”

“Everyone knows?” Rick replied, amusement evident in his eyes.

Daryl nodded and said, "Pretty much."  Daryl wrapped his arms around Rick and pulled him down so that he was on top of Daryl.  He said, “For a smart guy, you’re awfully stupid a lot of the time.”

“Fair enough,” Rick replied.  He looked Daryl over in that way that he had and asked, "How are you doing?  With everything since Beth, there really hasn't been time to ask."

"It is what it is."

Rick nodded because he understood the senselessness of it all better than just about anyone.  He said, "The others want us to give this place a chance."

Daryl ran his fingers over Rick's now-beardless face and replied, "That what this was about?"

"It's a step in that direction," Rick answered. 

"Look good to me either way," Daryl offered.

"You really know how to sweet talk a guy," Rick said, grinning down at him before closing the last of the distance between them.  Rick's lips found Daryl's before they continued to travel along Daryl’s throat and collarbone.  Daryl’s hands tangled in Rick’s hair and he allowed himself to get lost in the moment for a little while.    The rest could be figured out and Daryl didn’t doubt the lengths Rick would go to in order to protect their group.

 

3.  A Stolen Moment to take stock of what matters

Daryl still wasn’t sure how he managed to pull Rick away from Carl’s side, but he was glad for it.  Daryl knew Denise and Michonne would keep Carl safe and the kid had once again proven what a fighter he was.  Carl was tougher than the rest of them combined and he said as much to Rick as he pushed him up the stairs of their house and toward the shower.

“I should’ve forced Jessie to send Sam with Gabriel,” Rick said as Daryl scrubbed him down.

“You did what you could.”

“You weren’t there,” Rick replied, resting his forehead on Daryl’s shoulder.

"You can't save everyone."

"I know, but this was...there was nothing I could do to stop it and then my only thought was not letting the hoard get Carl."

"Michonne said there was nothing anyone could've done so stop beating yourself up about it."

Rick pressed a kiss to Daryl's shoulder and said, "Sometimes you're a bossy son of a bitch."

Daryl ducked his head under the water and said, "And you're damn stubborn.  Luckily, your son shares that trait.  He's gonna be fine."

"Thank God," Rick replied, allowing his hands to wander up and down Daryl's chest.  He met Daryl's gaze and said, "And thank God you were okay.  After those men attacked me on the road and none of you had returned...I was terrified something had happened to you out there.”

“Nearly did.  Still a shit show out there," Daryl responded.  He pressed a kiss to Rick's temple and then to his lips before pushing Rick back under the spray of water.  Daryl's hands ran over every bruise and cut on his partner's body, taking stock and thanking whoever was listening for not letting this moment destroy Rick.  Daryl met Rick's gaze and said, "We didn’t know what to think when we saw the town overrun like that.  Knew there would be casualties, but I also know you and our group.  I knew our people would be okay.”

“They’re all our people…and they proved it out there,” Rick said with a shudder.

“He really is gonna be okay, Rick.  You got him and little asskicker through it, like always.”

“Too close.  Don’t know what I would’ve done,” Rick said. 

“Stop,” Daryl replied.  Rick allowed Daryl to manhandle him out of the shower, to dry him off and push him down onto the mattress.  They’d all been going on empty while starting the clean-up of the community and he was starting to feel the exhaustion deep in his bones.  But he would fight through it if Rick needed him to.  He would do anything for Rick, who spent almost all of his time worrying about everyone else and trying to do the right by people.  Daryl tossed him some clothes and changed himself, throwing his clothes in a pile with Rick’s.  Tomorrow he’d see if they could even be salvaged or if it was one more thing they’d need to search for on the next run.

Daryl turned around to see Rick staring at him and he asked, “What?”

“Thank you.”

Daryl shrugged and said, “It’s what we do.”

“Yeah, but…” Rick’s voice trailed off and he pulled Daryl into the Vee of his legs.  He looked up at him and said, “…you keep me going most days.”

“That’s not true,” Daryl argued.

Rick nodded.  “Yeah, it is.”

“Rick…”

“No matter what I do, we lose people.  And I’ve mostly made my peace with that – this is the world we live in and we can’t save everyone, but…”

“…but it’s easier said than done.  I get it, man,” Daryl responded, running his fingers through Rick’s hair and offering up a chaste kiss.

Rick’s arms wrapped around him and he said, “I love you.”

Daryl felt the familiar warmth of those words spread through his chest.  He knew how Rick felt about him.  Never really needed the words, especially since he was never good with saying important stuff, but it still hit him right in the gut every single time Rick made that offering to him.  Daryl kissed him again and said, “I know.”

 

4.  A Stolen Moment before the shit hits the fan (reunited and it feels so good)

Daryl sat in the barn, enjoying the body heat radiating off of Rick.  Daryl still marveled at the fact that Rick was there, sitting next to him with his hand casually placed on Daryl’s leg.  Rick’s way of letting Daryl know that it was real, that Rick had his back like always.  Since the conversation with Gregory, Rick had been practically attached to Daryl’s side, and Daryl realized how much he had missed him.  Rick was his partner and best friend, the person that kept Daryl going even in that hole in the Saviors’ compound. 

Daryl still had no idea how Rick could forgive him for what had happened, but he was grateful for it.  And damn thankful that somehow, despite all the horrors of this world, they managed to find their ways back to each other time and time again.

Not that Daryl was some wide-eyed romantic or anything.  He knew that one of these times, one of them wouldn’t come back.  That was the nature of the world they lived in…but he’d hold on for as long as he could.

“What are you thinking about?” Rick asked, his hand resting at the nape of Daryl’s neck.

“Not sure how you can stand to look at me,” Daryl answered.  Daryl had thought about going back to Alexandria from the moment he arrived with Jesus at the Hilltop, but he knew that would be the first place that Negan looked for him.  Daryl had already been responsible for Glenn’s death – still wasn’t sure how Maggie could even look at him when he arrived at the Hilltop with Jesus – and he couldn’t bring that on anyone else.  Daryl wasn’t scared of dying, never had been, but he couldn’t carry the weight of another loss solely on his shoulders.  He wasn’t that strong.

Rick frowned, as though he could hear every thought running through Daryl’s head, and squeezed Daryl’s leg hard.  Rick said, “You did what we all wanted to do.  It wasn’t your fault.”

“That’s a lie,” Daryl argued.

Rick yanked Daryl in for a bruising kiss, biting down on Daryl’s bottom lip for a battle of teeth and tongues.  When they separated to catch their breath, Rick said, “Seems to me that the only one blaming you for what happened is you.  I can’t absolve you of that, Daryl.  It’s gotta come from you.”  Rick ran his fingers over the bruising underneath Daryl’s eyes and said, “Glad you stopped letting that bastard punish you for it though.  And I’m damn happy that you got away from him.”

“He’ll come looking for me.”

“Let him.  Negan is done taking from us,” Rick replied.

Daryl nodded and pulled Rick in for another kiss.  Daryl said, “Thought we lost this.”

“Me too,” Rick admitted.

Daryl wrapped his arms around Rick, pressing kisses to his partner’s throat, biting down and marking what was his.  There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for this man and his family.  And if that meant Daryl had to keep going, he would do it.  Daryl said, “I love you.  Hated that I never said it; that I might not get the chance.”

“I knew, Daryl,” Rick replied, pulling back enough to get a good look at Daryl.  Daryl wasn't sure how Rick always did it – how he could break through every wall that Daryl had ever put up and make Daryl feel okay about it.  He said, “I love you too.  No matter what.”

“Even after-“

“-no matter what.  If you haven’t noticed, I’m not that easy to get rid of,” Rick replied with a small smile.

“No kidding.  You’re the most stubborn shit I’ve come across,” Daryl conceded.

“Takes one to know one,” Rick replied with a chuckle.  Daryl loved the smile that was on Rick’s face for a moment before it disappeared behind a serious expression.  He said, “This is gonna be a war.  And while Jesus says the Hilltop will help, I don’t trust Gregory.”

“I don’t either.  Maybe this Kingdom place will be a better ally,” Daryl said.

“Hope so, but we’ve fought through worse on our own before.  No matter what, Negan doesn’t get to live.  I tried to hold it together and play by some set of rules in hopes of keeping people safe…it didn’t work.  And it’s not who I am…not who any of us are.”

Daryl kissed him, as much a response as he was capable of providing, and allowed himself to get pulled into Rick’s lap.  Daryl felt Rick’s hands slide under his shirt and Daryl nearly sobbed from the feel of his partner’s rough hands back on his body.  Daryl muffled the moan that escaped from Rick’s mouth with another searing kiss as his hands went to work on getting Rick out of his clothes.  He still wasn’t sure he deserved to get this back when Maggie and her baby had lost Glenn, but he was done running from it.  This thing with Rick had always made Daryl stronger and better…and they would need that to finish this with the Saviors.