Sunlight shining in through the window signals the start of a new day, bringing with it the cheerful sounds of chirping birds. Rays of sunlight warm Rick’s face and he sighs with contentment. He keeps his eyes closed, enjoying being able to wake up at his own leisure and not on dangerous terms for once. Instead of moving, he lays still, his left hand moving to glide over Daryl's side. He smiles at the familiar warmth of the hunter's skin and chooses now to open his eyes.
Their room comes into view, it’s not much different from their room at - well, their room before this one. That's not a place Rick allows his mind to wander to just yet. The wound is still blown wide open, raw around the edges and throbbing painfully inside. Quickly, he sets those horrible thoughts aside and settles on watching the even breaths Daryl makes in his sleep. Memorizing for the thousandth time the sound of his quiet snores, the gentle rise and fall of his broad shoulders moving in time.
Rick moves his hand slowly to Daryl's hair, using only a finger to toy with a strand of his dark locks. It’s free now of the dirt, sweat, grease and blood that had clung to each strand like a second shade of hair color. Rick is grateful for that, grateful there is still such a luxury as showers and complete shelter each day. For a while, he was sure they'd lost that again. He was afraid they'd be on the road searching for yet another beginning.
He raises himself onto an elbow now, leaning over a bit to watch Daryl's profile. He’s surprised to find a frown there instead of the peace he’s expecting but assumes Daryl is suffering from bad dreams. With all that's happened over the past few months, they've all got a great amount of nightmare material to add to the horrors of before.
Daryl shifts, his bare shoulders hunching inward, almost like he’s curling in on himself. His muscles twitch from where Rick traces fingertips down his upper arm, the sparse hair there raising a little. There's that same frown again but he continues his slumber, seemingly unaware to Rick's light touch.
So the leader’s exploring becomes braver, his hand sliding across taunt skin to press flatly against Daryl's stomach. When he gets no response, Rick smiles and guides his hand lower, the tips of his fingers teasing under the top of Daryl's sweats. Now, the lines on Daryl’s forehead deepen further and Rick retreats, opting to press a kiss to the hunter’s temple but is stopped. His hand is shoved completely away and Rick wonders what he could have possibly done wrong when they haven't even left bed yet.
In the next moment, Daryl is sitting up, grunting as he stands to his full height. Rick makes to reach for him, concern already in his eyes but Daryl ignores him and stalks off to the bathroom. The slamming of the door makes Rick wince and he sits up against the headboard to wait for his return. When he hears the shower kick on and minutes go by without an invitation to join, Rick gathers his clothes with a sigh and heads out of the room. He won't allow this to hinder his good mood, though. Daryl is always snarky in the morning and if it’s something deeper they'll get through it like always. He's sure of it. Rick has something more pressing on his mind this morning.
He's going to get an old friend back.
Rick makes a quick detour down to the infirmary first, he can’t help but look in on his latest accomplishment just to make sure it’s real. Upon his arrival, the assigned guard looks up and gives him a firm nod. The leader leans against the door frame and watches the pitiful shadow of a leader laying still on his cot. The man’s eyes are closed and sunken in. The newly changed bandages wrapped tight around his throat look almost too white against his paling skin. His clothes are newly changed as well and Rick knows he should still be feeling the old hatred for this man but all he can truly feel is righteousness at how he was able to tear him down as promised. Negan took so much from him and he should be dead, he would be if not for honor and mercy. Rick is so proud of being the better man he can barely stand himself. He proved himself to be the better fighter and leader. He gave the ex-Saviors a place of shelter and a second chance. Rick hopes Carl can see all he’s done from wherever he is now. The sentiment brings sorrow back to the surface so instead, he nods at the guard, tells him to keep up his good work and makes his way back down the hallway.
Outside the leader can’t help but notice the disapproving looks generously thrown his way, they can all be interpreted the same. He knows most if not all of the residents here thinks he should have made a different decision, but that is why he’s the leader and they’re not. Rick has always been willing to make unpopular decisions in the best interest of everyone involved. The only grateful looks he receives are from the ex-Saviors, obviously overworking themselves to earn their place despite everything they did. He walks past them all with his head held high, meeting each side eye with a grin of his own, daring them to say differently now.
That old Bee Gee’s tune pops into his head and Rick can’t help but sing that famous song as he struts, Ah, Ah, Ah, Ah. Stayin’ Alive. Stayin’ Alive
Rick hums on the way to the car and slides in wishing for the old CD he used to play on runs with Daryl before things went bad. He pulls off and heads for the old trash heap he hears is vacant now, except for one lone man.
He arrives without incident and finds Jesus making his way back to his car. He’s just getting in and closing the door when Rick walks up to the side and leans his forearms on the car door. Jesus uses a hand to block his eyes from the sun and squints, “Tried to talk him into coming back with us but he wouldn’t. He says he needs to be alone for a while, doesn’t know when or if he’ll be back.”
Amateur. Rick grins,“ That’s alright, I’ll get him to see reason. Don’t you worry.”
Jesus gives him a disbelieving look and starts the engine. Rick watches him leave then heads for the door, banging hard three times on the entrance. He waits with his hip cocked to one side and his fingers gripped loosely through his belt loops. It takes a minute but the door slides open revealing his friend.
Rick puts on his best smile, “Hello, Morgan. Mind if I come in?”