If you’d told Daryl even a year ago that one day he’d be ass over tit in love, he’d tell you to fuck off, whilst admittedly kind of hoping it was true.
Now all Daryl wanted to do was go back in time and punch his past self in the face for being a fucking idiot.
Turns out that love sucks and he’d rather have no damn part in it. It was confusing, it messed with his sleep, it made him want to puke and more than anything, it really, really fucking hurts.
Because unlike in the damn movies, the people you love don’t always love you back.
Case in point; Paul and Aaron sitting on a blanket in the sun with little Gracie playing in front of them as they chatted, looking like the shiniest couple you could think of.
Daryl had kind of suspected this for a little while now if he was honest, but seeing it properly in front of him was like a damn knife in the ribs. He was an idiot for ever thinking it could go any other way.
But really, how else could it have unfolded for him? What else was he to do or think? Daryl had been drawn to Paul even at the start, back when he was still Jesus, even if Daryl refused to call him that on account of it being fucking dumb.
He hadn’t known what it was back then, that weird feeling in his stomach, the odd undercurrent of energy that sent him chasing after a thief in a field like a kid, just as it had him pacing about and staring once Paul was telling them about where he came from.
Daryl thought it was suspicion at first, that there was something dodgy about the guy that his instincts were picking up. It didn’t take him all that long to realise that was wrong, even if it took him longer to admit it. Then of course, everything that could possibly go wrong did, with added shit on top, leaving no room in his brain to think any further on it.
So colour him surprised when he saw Paul on the roof of that truck. Granted, he wasn’t the one to actually open the door of Daryl’s cell, but he’d stayed. He’d fully intended on risking his life to find Daryl and he had been the one to help him leave, even after watching Daryl freak out and beat Fat Joey’s head in.
Daryl never could have expected how things would go from there. By all rights, Paul should have shoved him at the people already obliged to put up with him and washed his hands of the whole thing. But he didn’t.
Paul took him back to his own trailer and let him finally get clean, something he’d cherished a hell of a lot more since. He’d given him clothes, food, a place to actually sleep. More than that, he’d slowly but surely worked his way into Daryl’s life, seemingly without even trying.
They worked well together, Paul looked after Daryl’s family with a fierce protectiveness and he was almost freakishly capable. He was just so damn nice too, kind even in the hell they were living through.
As the months went on and the shitty hits just kept on coming, Paul was always there, always working his ass off, always being strong and calm and caring. Granted, Daryl wasn’t best pleased with him once he’d found out about the Saviour POW’s, but by the time that had come to light, there were far bigger things on Daryl’s mind.
Alexandria had been bombed almost to the ground, the rest of them only getting out thanks to Carl, even as they nearly lost him in the process. They’d all limped, dejected but alive to Hilltop, welcomed in even as they were informed about what happened on the road with the Saviours. Hilltop would be their last stand.
After the meeting, Paul sought Daryl out straight away, taking one look at him and gently leading him into his trailer. Since then, the two of them had teamed up more often than not as they fought the last stretch of the war.
Daryl had a sneaking suspicion about what it was he actually felt towards the scout during that time, but he was happy to ignore it. However, when Paul nearly died saving Maggie in the last battle with Negan and the Saviours, he was forced to admit it, if only to himself.
He loved Paul.
Waiting with Maggie and Enid to see whether or not he would survive was one of the worst experiences of Daryl’s life, and he’d had more than his fair share of them. But by some fucking miracle, Paul survived and Daryl knew he wanted to be with him, wanted the chance to love and maybe even be loved by him.
For a while, he actually thought he’d get that. Once Paul was well enough to leave the medical trailer and Carson’s care, Daryl finally got to pay him back for all the help he’d given him. Despite the other man’s grumbles, Daryl appointed himself to helping Paul heal, which was honestly a job he should have been awarded for. Turns out Paul was a terrible patient and simply getting him to stay still long enough to rest was a damn battle.
But all that time together gave them the chance to grow closer, to learn more about each other. Daryl just kept falling harder and didn’t even try to stop it.
Now Daryl wanted to go back and just plain shoot that him in the head for getting his damn hopes up like an idiot.
By the time Paul was finally fully healed, eagerly throwing himself back into his damn ninja work outs and outrageously long lists of jobs, Daryl was fairly certain that they were both on the same page and just happy to meander their way slowly forwards.
Again; fucking idiot.
Because then, like some bad fucking sitcom, along came Aaron and the adorable Gracie.
God Daryl hated himself for even holding the slightest bit of bad feeling towards Aaron, especially with how much he meant to Daryl, but with his arrival, everything changed. Daryl couldn’t have known it then, but it was the beginning of the end.
After around two weeks in his new home, Aaron finally started coming out of his room in Barrington and socialising. Daryl was glad he was away from Alexandria, knowing it was just a ghost town of bad memories and the burned out skeleton of a house that used to hold so much love. Being in a new place would help him, just as much as taking over the parenting of Gracie already seemed to.
When Paul said he was going to go welcome Aaron and see if he needed anything, Daryl thought nothing of it, just getting the familiar warm rush of feelings that came from seeing Paul care about Daryl’s family. He came back half an hour or so later, said what a nice guy Aaron was, how Gracie was just delightful and that was that, Daryl and Paul heading out together to get dinner before they turned in for the night.
It started slow at first; just an hour here and there, then it was working together on a project or meeting up for dinner when Daryl was busy, until soon Paul was offering his help babysitting Grace when Aaron needed a break.
Once Daryl noticed the increased amount of time Paul spent with Aaron, he couldn’t stop. He also couldn’t help but notice that Paul acted very shifty when Daryl brought it up once after catching them talking quietly together on the picnic table outside the trailer, the two of them suddenly stoping talking as he came near.
Daryl had hoped it wasn’t what he thought it was, but looking at them now, he had no choice but to accept it. Paul and Aaron were obviously together. Daryl had missed his chance. And despite how much it hurt, because it really, really did, Daryl couldn’t even find it in him to be angry.
They looked happy.
Aaron was laughing at something that Paul had said, both of them watching Gracie giggle and play with her little stuffed bunny. Some sort of perfect family.
Yeah Daryl was surprised Aaron had moved on from Eric so quickly, part of him indignant on the dead man’s behalf, but he’d also hated seeing Aaron so depressed. He’d always been kind to Daryl, welcoming him before anyone else had, so if this made living easier, he could accept that.
And Paul? Well, he’d always deserved someone better than Daryl. He’d been fooling himself to think otherwise, no matter how it had seemed.
Chest tight and burning, Daryl turned away and left, unable to watch them together a moment longer.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of hard but not nearly distracting enough work, Daryl making sure he stayed far away from where he knew the two men to be and then carefully avoiding Paul once he was working on his own jobs again.
By the time night fell, Daryl had steeled himself for seeing Paul in their trailer. He’d also realised that he needed to back off, both for the new couple and his own sanity. But still, seeing Paul sat at their table, scribbling away in his notebook with his hair damp and tied up in a bun, hit him like a punch to the face.
Daryl had thought that one day he’d get to come back, come home to this and greet Paul with a kiss. It was stupid and Daryl cringed at himself for how clearly he could see it, how many times he’d imagined it.
That wasn’t for him now. Those kisses belonged to someone else.
Daryl knew he practically ignored Paul’s greeting, grabbing his sleep clothes and retreating into the bathroom. He just couldn’t look at him right now.
Daryl wasn’t too proud to admit he hid in the shower for longer than normal, hoping the water would wash away the horrible ache in his chest. It didn’t though, and Daryl was fairly certain nothing would, not for a long time at least. Turns out heartbreak is just as bad as everyone said.
When he finally dragged himself from the shower, he changed and left the bathroom, forcing himself to keep it together. Even so, the soft smile and concerned eyes that were immediately on him took Daryl’s breath away.
Daryl just grunted, not trusting himself with words right now. Paul could always read him too well.
“You wanna talk about it? Anything I can do to help?”
“Nah, ‘s fine.” He dropped onto his little cot in the corner, staring at the ceiling.
“Are you sure? You don’t seem fine.” Paul sounded so sceptical, so kind and concerned that it knocked Daryl sick.
“Said I’m fine!” He snapped, desperate to not have to hear Paul’s voice. “Shut up an’ let me sleep yeah?”
“Oh. Sorry then, I’ll err, stop bothering you.”
Fuck Daryl hated hearing the shocked, hurt tone to Paul’s words, guilt flooding him even through his own hurt. From the corner of his eye, Daryl watched as Paul put his book to one side and turned off the light, plunging them into darkness.
Though no sound could be heard, Daryl knew neither of them slept for hours.
Daryl was the first out of the trailer the next morning, hoping to not have to speak to Paul, especially after last night. But he still found himself hesitating as he walked past the bed, chest burning once again at the sight of Paul sleeping.
For the rest of the day, Daryl worked himself stupid with every job he could find, hoping like hell he wouldn’t have to see or talk to Paul for as long as possible. They usually met for lunch but now that Paul and Aaron were more openly a thing, it wasn’t fair for him to take up that time.
Plus, if he stopped it first, maybe it’d hurt less than having Paul do it.
So he made himself scarce, leaving Hilltop completely on a hunt that basically just involved him wandering through the trees and trying to let the peace calm him down. It didn’t work but at least it got him out of the way of the happy fucking couple for a few hours.
He shot some rabbits and squirrels on his way back for appearances sake once the sun started setting, taking them straight to the kitchens, inwardly sighing as he spotted Martha. He never escaped quickly when she was there, the old gal always wanting to talk or feed him up more.
“Oh so that’s where you been boy!” She said, eying his meagre catch. “Jesus was lookin’ all over for ya.”
Daryl just scoffed, a muttered “yeah right...” under his breath.
Martha smacked him with her dishcloth. “Don’t you be mumblin’ at me kid. And you know damn well it’s true. Poor boy looked mighty disappointed you weren’t around, moping about like a basset hound. That new guy with the kid kept him company eventually. Real cute little girl she is and very fond of poor Jesus’ hair. In fact I thi-“
“Gotta go,” Daryl just about managed to growl out, turning on his heel and leaving, even as he knew he’d get his ass kicked for being rude sooner or later. He just couldn’t bare to hear anymore of that sentence right now.
It was almost dark as he headed back to the trailer, the stars beginning to poke through the clear night sky, just the smallest shade of light blue left as the sun finished disappearing.
Oh for fucks sake.
Daryl looked up at Paul, sat on their roof in a blanket with a warm but hesitant smile on his face that slowly dropped as Daryl didn’t answer.
“Erm, do you want to come sit with me for a bit? It’s a lovely night.”
Daryl was pretty sure even his fucking bones were hurting by now. The two of them had spent so many clear nights sitting or lying on the roof of their trailer, either chatting or just relaxing in silence.
Daryl has always thought it was quite romantic. He shuddered at his own stupidity.
He managed to grunt out a negative, looking away from Paul and stomping into the trailer, throwing his stuff down and sitting on his bed. Not three seconds later, Paul opened the door with a frown, having jumped off the roof as silently as always. Could Daryl not catch a single fucking break tonight?
“What’s the matter with you huh? And don’t say nothing, I know you.”
Nah, he obviously didn’t.
“Look,” Paul tried again, quieter as he moved to stand closer to Daryl, hands doing that little nervous tick Daryl had noticed long ago. “Is it something I’ve done? You just... you seem like you’re avoiding me or pissed with me. Have I done something wrong?”
Seeing Paul look so unsure, Daryl realised something. He couldn’t stay here. If he did, he was afraid of how he’d end up, if he’d turn into a bitter, nasty bastard. He loved Paul, it’s true, but that’s no excuse for being a dick to him just coz he doesn’t love him back.
And Aaron, fuck, he’s one of Daryl’s closest friends that wasn’t already family. He’d welcomed him, helped him and Daryl couldn’t stand the thought of fucking resenting him or something. It wasn’t fair on him.
If he stayed, if he watched them together as he felt now, Daryl knew there was a chance he could get mean. He needed time to cool off, to get used to the idea and accept it. It was the only way he had a chance of still getting to be friends with either of them.
“I’m leaving,” he blurted out, eyes focusing on his boots and not Paul. “I’m going back to Alexandria, stay with Rick for a bit.”
There was no sound in their trailer but breathing. Daryl risked a glance up and wished he hadn’t; Paul looked shocked and worse, hurt.
Daryl did not like that voice, Paul sounding like Daryl leaving was a bigger deal than it was, like it meant something to him. Daryl knew by now he obviously had a gift for looking too deep into things and everything Paul said or did just twisted the knife further.
“Yeah,” he shrugged, doing everything he could to appear unaffected. Like it wasn’t anything serious, hoping Paul would follow his lead. “‘Bout time I went back. Rick said he could use my help, last I saw him.”
He hadn’t, but Daryl knew it was true in any case.
“Oh. Right. I thought- well,” Paul broke off, arms folding over his chest like they always did when he was uncertain but didn’t want to seem it. “Guess I just thought you liked it here is all. At Hilltop and here, with... with me.”
God Daryl hated that he sounded like it meant something. “Yeah I did. Jus’ time to move on now. Ain’t no big deal.”
Paul looked pained for a moment before he plastered on a small and fairly forced looking smile. “Gonna be weird not having you around. Spent so much time with you over the past few months.”
A thought came to Daryl then, one he wasn’t all that happy about. After Paul had recovered and things started to settle, Daryl had been in a state. His PTSD or whatever seemed to hit all at once, everything he’d been feeling that he’d put on hold till the war was over, till Paul was better, till Hilltop was doing okay, all came flooding in.
Paul had stuck by him through it and having the other man around helped Daryl immensely, helped him sort himself out at last. Paul had always been incredibly observant so he must have realised hanging around helped Daryl. Maybe he thought Daryl still needed that. Maybe he’d just hung around lately because he felt obliged or something.
He hoped it wasn’t the case, never having thought so before, but as recent events had proven so spectacularly, Daryl obviously didn’t know how to read this whole damn situation. Well, best put Paul’s mind at rest then. Let him be free to spend his time with Aaron instead and not feel guilty for leaving Daryl.
“I’m grateful for that yeah? For everythin’ you done.” Paul looked slightly confused at Daryl’s words, but he soldiered on. “But I don’t need that no more. Don’t need y-”
Daryl cut himself off, realising that with his current emotional state, that probably came out harsher than he really meant it. But it was too late, Paul had obviously caught on to what he was going to say.
“You don’t need me.”
Daryl said nothing, hating how flat Paul sounded. He wanted to clarify, to speak plainly and say he was happy for him and Aaron, he just needed to get out of the way. That he’d miss every second he didn’t spend with Paul. That he always needed him.
But he couldn’t, he didn’t have the words. Maybe he could say it after this clean break, when he’d found some way to accept it and deal with it.
Daryl watched then, with a dull kind of grief, as the mask Paul had long abandoned with Daryl fell over his face again. They were physically no further apart but in a matter of seconds, Paul had gone far away from him.
“Right. Well, it was nice having you here Mr Dixon. Hilltop will miss you.”
Pain pulsed in Daryl’s chest, Paul sounding like Jesus again, Hilltop’s scout and emissary as he stepped back and turned to the door. “I’ll leave you to your packing. It’s a beautiful night, be a shame to waste it.”
And then he was gone, door shutting behind him and leaving Daryl alone in their trailer. No, it was just Paul’s trailer now.
Daryl stood up, body weighed down with heartache even as his muscles pushed him to do something, too full of nervous energy. He busied himself packing the essentials he’d need, trying very hard not to think about where Paul had gone and who’d he’d be spending the beautiful night with instead of wasting it on Daryl.
The rest of the night passed slowly and silently. Paul never reappeared before Daryl finally managed to drift off into a restless sleep.
Daryl left the trailer the next morning at dawn. Paul’s bed was still empty. He didn’t look back as he walked towards the gates, not wanting to see the trailer or the rest of Hilltop. He’d leave out the goodbyes. Daryl knew Paul would tell Maggie he’d gone and he was sure he’d be back eventually. For now, he just needed to get away.
He collected his bike from the makeshift garage and nods to the guard at the gate, finally speeding off towards Alexandria. Daryl hoped he’d leave the aching pain in his heart behind him too, but he suspected that’d be with him a long while yet.