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Daryl can’t remember when he last saw a lawn like the ones in Alexandria—grass so green and shiny it's practically boasting all the attention it gets. Hell, they must get mowed more often than Merle used to trim his pubes.

Daryl is no stranger to nature, of course. He’s seen his share of green all right; broad fields of it growing freely at the side of the roads, its tall leaves trembling in the wind. He’s seen the dark greenness of the thick woods, its soil feeling cold and moist under his feet, rich with all kinds of stuff being born and dying, too. It used to be just plants and animals, but lately, it’s easier to find walkers’ guts than a squirrel’s remains. Probably because critters are everyone and everything’s prey, while nothing and no one feed on the rotting creepers. Who’d have guessed the dead ones would end up rising to the top of the food chain? 

The world’s scenery gradually changed after the Turn. And not just the death and decay present almost everywhere you look nowadays, or the looted homes and stores—lifeless traces of past violence and war. As humankind crumbled, nature slowly started to retake all the spaces where civilization tried to overcome it. Back on the road, their group had passed by hundreds of places—suburbs, small towns, neighborhoods—that had clearly been just as stuck-up as Alexandria prior to the apocalypse. Yet they all had the same feel of abandonment as the weeds spread freely amid the yellowish overgrown grass. 

But a lawn like the ones in Alexandria, with that whole white picket fence shit, so snobbish it’s like these people don’t even know the world has gone to shit… Daryl hasn’t seen one like that in a long time. And being who is—redneck white trash, a Dixon—he can’t even blame it on the apocalypse. Nobody cared about lawns in trailer parks. 

In this new, fucked up world, fancy landscaping is useless; walls, on the other hand, usually mean safety. The prison had fences on top of fences, and barbed wire crowning those, with solid walls of pure concrete. No matter how bleak and gray, it still is the closest he’s ever got to feeling at ease—to being at home. Alexandria has walls too, tall ones of compact steel surrounding the entire community. Daryl has no trouble with those. The ones grating on him are the houses’, like the one the rest of the party is sleeping in right now. The well-kept paintjob annoys him, but not as much as the stupid junk hanging everywhere, serving no purpose other than pretty decoration. They’re walls from the world before, and they spare no effort in making sure he knows Dixons don’t belong there. 

It’s been a while since he’s thought of himself as anything more than Daryl. His past life, everything he was—used to be—all the things he thought defined him… That had started to seem unimportant. But now he suddenly feels out of place, a dated version of himself—more Dixon than ever, like he’s just Merle’s little brother again, following him around because he’s got no clue what to do with his life on his own. 

The late night wind blows softly on Daryl’s face as he sits on the front porch, drumming his fingers on the crossbow’s stock. He hasn’t moved from this corner all day, except to get interviewed by the Monroe lady, and even that was short and to the point. Daryl didn’t have much to say, but that was okay. She seemed to have plenty of words for the two of them. 

Inside these walls, instead of safe, he feels like a feral animal forced into captivity. 

Getting to Alexandria, the group’s reaction had been equal parts relief and suspicion. Even after a day, it still feels like winning the grand prize in a shifty-looking contest: mostly, they just want to let go and enjoy the five-star resort all they can, but it’s nearly impossible to shake the feeling there’s a fine print somewhere they didn’t read—that their stay at the fancy hotel doesn’t come for free after all, and the check will end up costing them an arm and a leg. Still, as it turns out, no one but Daryl was wary enough to refuse sampling the amenities. 

And how could they not? How could they say no to hot showers and sheets that smell of lavender instead of mold, after weeks of sleeping in the open and barely having sufficient water to keep them alive? Granted, Daryl’s palate has always been way more flexible than most people; possums were part of his diet long before the world ended. Still, he can’t fault the group for wanting to eat something actually intended for human consumption for a change. But that’s just makes the contrast between Daryl and everyone else even more glaring. To him, stuffing their faces like that was a mindless waste. 

The last time Daryl had a chance to eat that much food (enough that he could choose what to eat) happened ages ago, back at the CDC. It’d been the first actual break he had since reuniting with Merle after the apocalypse, and damn, did he enjoy it. With the amount of wine he drank, he was bound to have the mother of all hangovers the next day. Luckily, the adrenalin of maybe blowing up in a million pieces took care of it. But that was then. Now, something has shifted inside of him, and getting wasted whenever things get too intense doesn’t come as naturally as it did before. He doesn’t miss it, but it sucks not knowing what to do with himself instead. 

How long will his people keep sleeping in the living room before they loosen up enough to get separated? There are more people than rooms, so some of them will have to share. Rick will probably stay with Carl, but he can’t not wonder what it’d be like sleeping in the same room as Rick. There would be no need to sneak around; no more trying to come up with yet another excuse to the group as to why they need to go somewhere distant, alone, again. They could just wait until everyone fell asleep and slide into each other’s bed, fuck as many times as they wanted, and just hang for a bit. No need to go rushing back to avoid raising suspicion. It’s just a thought, though. The houses in Alexandria smell of chemicals and cleaning products, and it makes his nostrils itch. 

Being outside is easier on his nose, but not so much on his ears. Thankfully, the noise died down after nightfall, but in the daytime, their nonstop chatter felt like an old lady’s coin purse rattling inside his head. Daryl can never understand how some people never run out of things to say, while sometimes it’s hard for him to utter the shortest sentences. It’s of little importance, though. Out there, one moment of bad luck, and next thing you know, there are a hundred rotting bastards ganging up on your loud ass. After that, if you live to tell the tale, you’ll know to keep your mouth shut. 

Daryl still hasn’t eaten any Alexandria’s offerings, but the possum he shot that morning made for an okay lunch, so at least he isn’t hungry. Gutting and skinning it took a lot longer than usual as he dragged it on as much as he could. It gave him something to do with his hands, but mostly, he just wanted something familiar to take the edge off. But then people started to give him that look, like he was an uncivilized savage or something, and he ended up more worked up than before. 

The group has been through all kinds of shit, but Daryl always felt they were the ones calling the shots; even in Hershel’s farm, they always stood their ground. But in Alexandria, there’s someone else in charge and she seems pretty set in her ways. The others will probably adapt sooner or later, but Daryl will always be the odd one out. And then what? Can the bonds he built resist to the test?

Carol will be there for him, that’s for sure—come hell or high water, they’ll always be able to count on each other—and the partnership he developed with Glenn on all those runs isn’t so easily cast aside. As for everyone else, he’s on good terms with them, but it's no guarantee they’ll put their asses on the line for him. 

Which leaves Rick. 

It should be a no-brainer, with Daryl being his right hand man and all, but it’s hard to know where he stands with Rick. They’ve always had each other’s backs, have saved each other’s lives too many times to count… and for over a month now, they have this thing. It’s supposed to mean they’re closer than ever, steadfast allies. So why is Daryl in this fucking dither? 

Through the flu, the attack on the prison, that wretched week he thought Rick was dead only to have him at the Claimers’ mercy, sinking into the Terminus hellhole and clawing their way out, slowly wasting away on the road… None of it put a damper on whatever it is they’ve got going. They rode out the shitstorm together, holding on to each other like it was the only thing keeping the afloat. So why now that they finally got a breather, he’s stuck with this hopeless feeling, like he’s losing something? 

The wind is still blowing, and it makes a faint whistle now. Daryl is listening, but he hasn’t heard the hoot of a single owl so far. Fucking Alexandria. 

The door lock clicking shut is the only thing that tells Daryl he isn’t alone anymore. Rick joins him on the porch, quiet like he’s clearing a house. Daryl feels like he’s been caught red-handed, like he was thinking loud enough to wake him up. 

“You’ll have to sleep at some point,” Rick says, voice barely above a whisper, as he leans against the white railing of the porch.

“You’re awake.” Daryl shrugs.

“Point taken.” Rick sighs, shaking his head, and continues, “It’s hard to let yourself slow down.” 

Daryl scoffs. “Last time I seen this many people in one place was in Woodbury, and we all know how that turned out.” 

“It could be different here. We can make it so.” 

Daryl lays the crossbow on the floor, and looks up at Rick’s beardless face. It could be different, sure, but that doesn’t mean Daryl will have a place in it. He keeps quiet and looks away again. They stay that way for a moment, in silence in the dark porch. 

He’s itching to light a cigarette, but Rick must’ve come there for a reason, and Daryl won’t say no to putting his mouth to a better use. Things can change, but sometimes the shit that matters stays the same. On the road, alone time was getting harder and harder to come by, and every time they sneaked out for a quickie—desperate for something to feel good in all the misery—their chances of getting caught increased. Who knows, maybe there’s an upside in Alexandria after all; having a fixed settlement again might get them some privacy. They can look for an empty house tomorrow, or go on a run just the two of them. God knows Daryl has been aching for them to fuck without being on the lookout for a change. 

Daryl looks up at him again, nipping at his right thumb as he stares at Rick’s parted lips. 

“Wanna go ‘round the back with me?” he blurts out. Right now, Daryl would kill for a hard fuck, but he’s willing to settle for whatever he can get under ten minutes. 

It’s a vague question, but what he means is obvious. There have times neither of them had to say a word; a knowing look and a tilt of the head as invite, and a moment later, they were eating themselves up somewhere. 

Rick isn’t done nodding and Daryl is already on his feet, leading the way to the back of the house, where hopefully the tall bushes and the looming house will shadow them in the dark. His stomach is fluttering like the first time he felt the roar of a bike between his thighs. 

Daryl chooses a spot by the house’s foundation behind a bush with the thickest foliage. He leans against the wall and immediately pulls Rick closer by the hips, crushing their bodies together. He’s needy, desperate for it. His mouth closes on Rick’s eagerly, sucking the bottom lip between his teeth. A soft gasp in response is all he needs to push his tongue inside, his kiss forceful and demanding. They’ve barely begun and Daryl is already pushing for more, rubbing himself against Rick’s crotch, anxious to feel the known pressure of a hard cock against his own. 

This is Rick. His Rick. But it’s still hard to ignore how different he feels. His unshaved face is unexpectedly soft. Before, Rick’s coarse beard—scraping on Daryl’s neck or between his thighs—was a constant reminder it was a man’s mouth on him, and who that man was. But now Rick’s face is smooth, and the smell of shampoo in his hair is sickeningly sweet. Rick must have used whatever was in the bathroom, but the heady scent reminds him suddenly of Kristen, one of the girls with overly wet kisses Merle shoved his way. She had tried to give him a handjob, but the moment her long nails slid into his underwear, his already feeble erection went completely limp and he couldn’t get it up again. 

Trying to chase the memory of her sneer off his mind, he went at Rick even harder, grabbing the nape of his neck with one hand while the other pulled at his belt clumsily, getting nowhere, like he’s forgotten how buckles work. Rick is kissing him back, but his touch isn’t nearly as possessive as usual; his hands are resting on the sides of Daryl’s hips, instead of on the small of his back and the back of his head, holding him so close it’s like he wants them to merge together. This is not how they do it, it’s is all wrong. 

Wound up, he sucks Rick’s lower lip between his teeth again, harder this time—to provoke the intensity he needs—but the bite is too sharp and the taste on his tongue is unmistakable. Rick hisses, breaking their kiss with a step back, and the abrupt distance feels cold. 

“Daryl, what the hell?” Rick says, wiping his blood off his split lip. 

A warm wave of embarrassment washes the cold away. Still, he resists it enough to give it another try. “Take it out on me then. Come and make me pay.” 

Rick shakes his head. “This was a bad idea. There are fourteen people that could catch us on the other side of this wall. Christ, my own kid could walk in on us.” 

He’s right, they need to stop being so reckless, but it stings to hear him say it. 

“You didn’t care about that on the way to Washington when you fucked me against a tree, while Carol stood guard less than thirty feet from us.” He meant it as snark, but it ends up sounding hurt. 

Rick sighs. “That was different. We hadn’t done anything for days, and I couldn’t take any more of your teasing. You were driving me crazy.” 

Daryl should cut his losses and go lick his wounds alone with his crossbow somewhere, but he’s already gotten this far. “And now I don’t?” he asks, cupping Rick’s dick through his jeans, palming the hardness that thank God is still there. “Now that you’re all dolled up, that changed too?” 

Rick closes the distance between them again and says, with a hint of laughter is his voice, “You should give getting dolled up a try. You stink, Daryl.” 

His tone is casual, like it’s nothing but a joke—playful banter between best friends, or an old married couple. In a different situation, it might as well be, but here and now, it feels like a low blow. Daryl bites back, bitter, “Never bothered you before. Am I too dirty for you to fuck now?” 

With the clap back, he’s dangerously close to picking up a fight; he’s bracing himself for Rick to lash out at him, give him a final rejection. But when Rick’s fingers brush Daryl’s cheek again, it’s a soft touch, caring even. 

“No, never. We’re together in this. Always. Till we’re dead and gone.” Rick stares at him, brow furrowed, looking slightly insulted. 

Daryl already got the reassurance he’s come for, so there’s no need to lose face asking for something he may not get. Only, isn’t the lack of mindgames the core of what they have? With Rick, there’s never any pride to lose—not even when Daryl is on all fours, begging to come or to be fucked, and Rick keeps saying the dirtiest things just to watch him squirm. It’s never about humiliation; Daryl might be on his knees, but it still doesn’t feel like Rick is looking down on him. Hearing the words is nice, but not enough; he needs to feel it in his bones that he and Rick won’t change. 

He slides down against the wall, crouching before Rick. “Show me, then. Put your money where your mouth is.” 

Rick rolls his eyes. “You’re a brat, you know that?” he says and grabs Daryl’s chin, tilting his head up. “But I guess that’s on me. Should’ve known not to leave you dry for so long.” 

“Goddamn tease,” Daryl grunts. 

“Hey, if you want it, you gotta work for it,” Rick says with a shit-eating smirk. 

Daryl reaches for his belt, but Rick smacks his hands away like he’s teaching boundaries to a puppy. Then, he undoes his belt and fly, lowering his dark blue briefs just enough to pull his cock out. Daryl leans forward, greedy for the treat dangling in front of him, but Rick closes a fist in his hair, keeping him in place. Daryl leans forward again just to feel the sting of pain spreading on his scalp. 

“You got a big mouth for back talk, but is it good at begging?” His voice is lower than usual, a breathy whisper that tingles down Daryl’s spine. “How ‘bout you ask me nicely?” 

“Please, “ Daryl gasps readily. “C’mon, Rick. Ruin me like I need you to.” 

Rick’s cock is leaking at the tip, close enough for Daryl to smell it, and he never craved anything so bad. When Rick finally gives it to him—salty and warm, throbbing in his mouth—not even the faint taste of piss turns him off. Fuck, after smelling that shampoo, he actually kind of likes it. 

The first thrust is short but hard, and Daryl knows he’s getting owned exactly like he was hoping for. Rick moves again, fucking his mouth, exhaling heavily through his nose every time he goes deep. It makes Daryl gag the first few time, but even that feels good—a frenzied rush as his throat convulses, spitting drool all over Rick’s cock. 

Their pace is mind-blowingly good—Daryl gets the occasional breath in, but is still overwhelmed by Rick’s cock choking him. It’s rough, his throat struggle to take the invasion, and Daryl aches for every second of it. He sucks and swallows all he can, but Rick’s the one in charge, taking his mouth like he would his ass. He’d moan, but his mouth is so full it smothers all of his sounds, and that seems even dirtier somehow. 

Daryl’s own cock is almost sore with how tight his pants have become, begging him to do something about it. He tries a tentative touch on himself, cupping his erection gently through the denim. Rick sometimes likes him to ask permission before touching himself, and Daryl can never decide which he likes best—doing as he’s told and hearing how good he is, or disobeying on purpose so Rick can teach him a lesson. 

This time, when Rick notices him rubbing a palm over his dick, he’s pleased. “You’re just dying to beat one off, huh? Go on, take it out. Fuck your own fist while you blow me. Let me see how much sucking me off turns you on.” 

If the abuse of his lips and throat hadn’t already gotten him so close to the edge, all that talk would definitely have. But since he’s already so geared up, his dick is out the second he’s told to, palm moving up and down at once. Less than ten strokes, and he’s already about to come. 

With the way the cock in his mouth is twitching, Daryl is not the only one. 

Rick pulls back, holding Daryl’s head in place while the other hand works fast on his hardness. The sudden emptiness in his mouth disorients him for a second, and he swallows repeatedly, the hand on his own cock working faster. 

He barely has time to close his eyes before warm come hits his face. Rick shoots streak after streak on him, aiming nowhere special. Daryl can feel them landing on his cheeks, lips, tongue, and even his neck. He licks his lips and his free hand scoops the rest, so he can lick his fingers clean. Rich come is all he can taste, all he can smell. Rick has branded, claimed him. Daryl is not alone anymore—there’s a man who wants him and makes sure he knows it. Suddenly, it’s all too intense and he can’t last another second. 

He comes so hard his skin tingles. He feels dizzy, surrounded in a fog that’s all Rick—his scent, his taste, the warmth of his skin, the sound of his breathing. His heart is racing and it’s a long time before it starts to slow down.

When he opens his eyes, the way Rick’s staring at him throws him off for a second. Over the years, they’ve learned to read each other well, but the look on his face is plain for anyone to see. It’s devotion. 

His hand is still on Daryl’s hair, but he isn’t grabbing anymore, just running his fingers through the locks lazily. 

Daryl tucks himself back, and then Rick, before standing up. They usually scram right after they’re done, especially when they’re so out in the open like this. But when Daryl turns to leave, Rick pulls him back for one last kiss—passionate, but caring as well. 

Later, long after Rick went back inside, Daryl is dozing off at the front porch when a loud screech cuts the nightly quiet. He looks up and sees an owl perched on a tree across the street. 

Things might be all right after all.