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Crimson Hearts

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When his wristwatch ticks its way to the six-hour mark, Paul knows something has gone wrong.

He can't decide if the deathly silence of the town makes him more or less on edge. On one hand, there's no sound of walkers growling, no gunshots or cries, but on the other hand, that means no sign of Daryl. Not that Paul would even be able to him as the street Daryl was raiding is on the other side of the town.

Paul huffs as he looks out at the street and houses in front of him. He's in the attic of what he's sure used to be a beautiful family home, staring out a dirty window, hoping to see Daryl walk down the street towards the house.

They've been raiding the town for the past two weeks and staying in this same house each night. They only had one street of houses left to do today before they could drive the truck back to The Hilltop. Yesterday evening however, Paul had managed to slip and knock himself out after pulling a walker off Daryl, not spotting the spilled oil on the floor as he put his knife through it's head.

Due to the concussion Paul possibly had, Daryl watched him all night, making sure he didn't fall asleep until a safe number of hours had passed. And this morning, just to be sure, he insisted Paul stayed back at the house to pack up their gear and try and rest some more while Daryl raided the street at the other end of the town.

Paul argued at first, but when Daryl pointed out to him that if the roles were switched, Paul would be insisting he does the same, Paul sighed, swore at Daryl several times because he was pissed at him for treating him like he was weak, but ultimately, he found himself actually wanting to not be around Daryl for a while.

Now, he wishes that the both of them weren't so stubborn because he's worried, very worried. Daryl had left just after seven that morning, taking the truck with him to pack his finds, so Paul wasn't actually able to do anything more with their gear than pack it back into bags.

Now, it's almost one pm, and there hasn't been a sign of the man, Daryl had also forgotten to take to take his radio with him, so Paul has no way to contact him. Paul hasn't been worried for too long as he knew it would take Daryl time to raid the ten houses, but six hours, it doesn't seem right to him.

Finally giving into his stomach churning worry, Paul climbs down from the attic and folds the stairs back up, hiding his and Daryl's belongings. He checks all of his weapons before tying his hair back in a tight knot to keep it out of his way before making his way out of the house, knife out with his gun at easy access on his belt if something more drastic happens.

He starts making his way through the streets carefully to the other side of the town, knowing that because he's only jogging, it may take him at least an hour.

 


 

Paul's worries are confirmed just seconds after he turns onto the street. He can see the car three houses down, the storage door up revealing their findings, several knocked over boxes are by it and the passenger's side door to the truck is wide open. 

Paul checks his surroundings thoroughly and then makes his way to the truck, hiding behind cars, bins and the other things that litter the street as he does, keeping himself covered.

His stomach drops when he reaches the van. Things are strewn everywhere, boxes they had packed so carefully have been torn apart inside the truck and the ones that have been pulled out are mostly empty, their contents spilled over the concrete and Paul can see that several have been taken.

He looks around again, but see no signs of people watching him. He kicks a box with his foot out of stress and anger at the mess, trying to piece together what to do. When he looks down at the boxes again, his throat tightens after realising kicking the box has moved it enough to reveal a knife. A knife that Paul recognizes as Daryl's. The knife use to be Paul's but he gave it as a gift to the other man two and a half years ago at the start of their romantic relationship, and he knows just how important it is to him. He knows he wouldn't just leave it behind.

Paul swallows the lump in his throat and leans down to pick the knife up, sliding it into the spare sheath he has on his thigh. He looks around again and runs his shaking hands over his face, trying to think what to do. He takes a few seconds to properly calm himself down before taking a deep breath and looking around at the scene in front of him.

The boxes strewn everywhere prove a struggle had occurred. The lack of blood means it wasn't walkers, if it were, they'd still be feasting on Daryl's body or Daryl would be stumbling around with them. The knife being left behind and the complete lack of any signs of Daryl being around and the rest of the evidence cause Paul to come to possibly the worst conclusion. Someone has taken him.

 


 

After an hour of searching through the houses on the street, he still hadn't come up with anything. Not until he was on the final house. He was looking out the window of the master bedroom and managed to spot a field that was just over the backyard's fence, about two-hundred meters into that field, he could see an old red barn. 

He doesn't hesitate to rush out of the house and into its backyard. He makes his way to the tall steel fence and looks over it to the barn, he can't see anyone around it or making their way to it. The barn door is closed with just the windows open, and from this distance, he can't be sure, but he thinks he can see the outline of somebody in a high window.

The only cover to the barn is the field's thick long grass, it appears to reach Paul's shoulders, so if he crouched down, he more than likely couldn't be seen. While it gives him that kind of cover, it also makes him vulnerable to running into walkers that he couldn't see.

Sighing, he weighs his options before ultimately giving into the thought in his mind that reminds him that Daryl's safety is more important than his own. So, he puts both gloved hands on the top of the fence and then hoists himself over it.

He spends several seconds listening for any sound of walkers or people but doesn't hear anything, so he begins making his way through the field. About two-thirds of the way across, he comes across three already put down walkers, he checks them and realises that they're fresh, he becomes more and more convinced that who he's looking for is in the barn.

He stops just before the grass does, straining his ears to try and he something. For several seconds he doesn't, but then he begins to hear muffled voices, he can pick three, and none of them are Daryl's, but he knows Daryl could be gagged or simply not talking. 

He can't make out what the voices are saying, but he can pick the tones, a woman who sounds pissed, a man who seems scared, and another man who seems a mix of both.

Making sure he has a tight grip on his knife, he shrinks back into the grass a tiny bit and begins to circle the barn looking for the best place to sneak in. At the front of the barn there's the large sliding door, but it's closed, and there are two small windows at the front, both not a good place for him to sneak through, there's a large open window at the front but up higher, a big wooden slab swung open, Paul guesses it's the hayloft. He can see that what he thought was the outline of a man is actually just an old blanket thrown over something.

He thinks that getting up onto the hayloft would be his best bet, he just hopes there's another way to do it because climbing up that opening may get him spotted through the windows, or he might make some noise climbing up the sliding door to the window.

Coming to the left side of the barn, he finds more small windows along the bottom, but another slightly larger one at the top where the hayloft is, there's bales of hay stacked by it and if Paul arranged them properly he wouldn't have to hoist himself up as high, which would hopefully make less noise when he pulled himself through.

He finished circling the barn, not finding another better way, so he went back to the stacked bales of hay. The back sliding door was open, but he didn't risk entering that way or even staying near it too long. The worrying thing was, the backside of the barn was much closer to the tree line of the woods, only thirty meters away, and Paul could see several walkers stumbling around in the trees, at least seven that he can see.

Paul spent a minute or so moving the hay bales until he only had to hoist himself up a meter, taking a deep breath, he does so and then carefully pulling himself through the open window. He's relieved when the people's talking doesn't falter, and they don't appear to have any idea he's around, there's also more bales of hay on the loft, so he's able to hide behind them as he makes his way into a position where he can see down onto the barn floor.

He settles right by the edge and he pulls his bandana up over his mouth and nose so the dust covering the hay doesn't cause him to sneeze because that would screw him.

Looking down, he finds a bulky man sitting in an old wooden chair, head bent down towards his lap and holding a gun in his hand, Paul frowns at the sight of the weapon. That makes it harder. He spots the second man next, this one taller and slimmer and standing by the back-door smoking, the perfect place to have struck Paul if he had decided to enter that way. Finally, he spots the woman, holding a gun in one hand and a knife in the other, she's tall and appears to be made of muscle, pale skin caked with blood and gunk to match the two men.

Paul's lips part when he realizes what she's standing next to. Daryl is at her feet, laying on his side, facing away from Paul, with his hands bound behind his back to his pulled-up ankles. The position would be extremely uncomfortable for Daryl but effective for his captors as Paul can see it's a solid knot and he knows Daryl doesn't have the skill to get himself out of it.

There's some blood smeared down his left arm, and there's enough that there must be a reasonably big cut somewhere. He can see rope burn around his wrists that suggest he's been tied up for a decent amount of time, Paul wonders just how long he's been held by them, how long he was laying there scared and in pain before Paul finally decided to look for him.

Paul swallows at the thought and knows that if he sits around feeling guilty and not keeping his head clear, it won't end well for either him or Daryl.

"What are we going to do?" The smoking man says after the three of them had been silent for several moments.

"Kill him." The woman immediately answers and Paul clenches his jaw.

"Are you fucking stupid, Tina?" The bulky man in the seat says. "Look at him! He's well-fed, has ammo and decent weapons, clean clothes, a truck full of gas. He can't possibly be alone, someone's going to be looking for him and if they find out that we kill him, they'll kill us."

Paul nods slowly, the man's smart.

"Do you want to fucking let him go then? We've already captured him, beat him and tied him up, do you really think they'll be friendly to us?" The woman, Tina, replies, her voice firm and gesturing wildly with her arms. "We're best to kill him and then get the fuck out of here, his supplies will keep us going for a while."

Paul's stomach jumps a little, especially when the man in the seat stands from the chair. Paul watches with wide eyes as he walks over to Daryl and crouches in front of him, Paul can see how he tenses when the gun is held to his head. Paul pulls his own gun from his pants and takes his aim at the man, ready to shoot the second he removes the safety from his gun.

Paul's taken by surprise when there's a sudden movement to his left, the man who was smoking charging at the man by Daryl and tackling him to the ground right after the safety is removed, the gun fires and Paul's stomach lurches even though he can clearly hear the bullet connect with the wooden roof.

"What the fuck!" The tackled man screams and then shoves the other man off him, the both of them scrambling to his feet.

"Nick," The smoking man says, holding an arm out in a peace-seeking gesture. "If we could get him on our side, convince him that all we're trying to do is protect ourselves, he might forgive us, and help us, take us back to a camp if he has one."

Paul rolls his eyes, Daryl would have them taken back to Alexandria alright, and have them thrown into a cell. That will be if he doesn't kill them first. They don't allow people like this to walk around their communities.

Nick groans and rubs a large hand over his face. "I seriously doubt he would go for that."

"Only one way to find out, Tina, take the gag out."

Tina sighs and does as she's told, squatting down and Paul fills with anger as he watches her pull a cloth out of Daryl's mouth. "Well?" She asks him impatiently once she has. 

Paul can just hear Daryl groan softly and then say something incoherent, Paul's gut fills with worry as he wonders just how badly these people had beat him up.

"He's probably fucking concussed!" The smoking man exclaims after a moment. "You two kept fucking going at it, even after I told you he had had enough!" He yells seeming fed up. 

Both Tina and Nick sigh. "Bet that's going to make him real fond of us, huh?" Tina says, sighing and tucking her gun into her belt as she runs her hands over her face.

It's then that Paul hears them, the growls of walkers approaching the wide-open door of the barn, and seconds later, the first two can be seen stumbling to the door. 

There's quickly sounds of shock and then guns fire as the three captors step closer to the door to take out the walkers pouring in, and there's definitely more than the seven Paul had seen in the trees.

There's a total of eight shots before they run out of ammo and pull out knives instead, in this time, Paul has been carefully lowering himself from the loft and onto the ground. Hoping to get Daryl out without the three of them noticing them, or at least get him untied. 

He drops down beside Daryl right as the panic seems to set in for the captors, who are desperately trying to take out all the walkers still flooding through the door.

Daryl, who had been squirming violently in his restraints, jumps in surprise when Paul lands behind him. 

"Shh..." Paul whispers right by his ear, not wanting the others to hear. "It's just me, try not to let them know I'm here." He tells the man as he cuts the ropes binding his body.

Daryl slurs something as Paul pulls him to his feet, Paul's eyes widen slightly at his appearance, his face is caked with blood from a wound on his head, and his lip is split with one of his eyes somewhat swollen. Paul's sure he would find forming bruises under his clothes as well. 

There's a deafening scream and Paul's head snaps over just in time to see Tina be taken to the ground by several walkers, them taking bites out of her flesh and due to her having gone down, more have managed to get through the gap now created and start to head towards them.

Paul presses on Daryl's lower back and directs him to the open window by the front sliding door. Paul pushes Daryl through it, the other man groaning in pain as he does. Paul takes one last look back before he climbs through the window, Tina has gone silent, Nick is still fighting with everything he has, and the smoking man has just spotted Paul as he tries to push walkers off him.

Paul watches slightly stunned as the man just nods at him with a sad smile, then lets his arms go slack, allowing the walkers to take him to the ground.

Paul turns away from the sight and his heart lurches when he hears Daryl cry out, he quickly climbs through the window and immediately looks for Daryl. He finds him just a few meters away from the window, falling to the ground with a look of pain on his face, hands clutching at his stomach with blood seeping through his fingers.

The man that holds the knife that just stabbed his boyfriend turns around, seeming ready to run but his eyes widen when they land on Paul. He doesn't have time to say anything before Paul is overcome with anger and grabs the man by the neck and plunges his knife into his skull.

Paul looks over at Daryl again and finds the man on his knees, bent forward with one hand on the ground to try and keep himself upright and the other against his bleeding stomach.

Paul rushes to him. "Daryl, we need to go." He says desperately, the growls of the walkers and the smoking man's screams a reminder as to how present the threat still is. "Come on!" He says as he helps the man get to his feet, Daryl slumping against him heavily and groaning deeply.

"Paul," He groans, as they begin to walk. "Can't." He says and falls forward, but Paul manages to catch him before he falls on his face.

"Daryl," Paul says desperately, adjusting his hold on the other man and then eventually giving up on trying to get Daryl to keep up with him, he's been beaten, stabbed and more than likely has a concussion. "You need to stay awake, alright?" Paul tells him as he lowers him to the ground. "I'm going to carry you, okay? We need to get back to the truck." Paul says, desperately trying to stay calm as he stands back up, now carrying Daryl bridle style.

Daryl mumbles in reply and looks up at him with heavy-lidded eyes.

Daryl's not light, but Paul strong and is able to carry him comfortably enough as he begins to jog through the field, keeping his eyes and ears peeled for any other walkers who were attracted to the sound of the gunshots.

 


 

Paul's panting heavily by the time he gets back to the truck, he approaches the passenger side door which is still opened, it takes him almost a minute to get Daryl sat down in the truck. 

Daryl lets out a soft cry of pain at the position and squeezes his eyes closed, the sound makes Paul's stomach drop, and he cups Daryl's cheek. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." He says, pressing a kiss to his forehead before stepping back and closing the door.

He jogs to the back of the truck to very quickly close pull down the door, not wanting to lose all their supplies, there are medical supplies packed at the very end of it, but it would take Paul far too long to get to them. They have a well-stocked first-aid kit back at the house they were staying at, so they’ll stop there before rushing back to The Hilltop.

Paul runs to the driver's side door and climbs into the car, moving Daryl's crossbow which had been left sitting on the seat and then slamming the door closed and turning the car on, beginning to speed down the streets with a hand on Daryl's thigh. 

They arrive at the house in a few minutes and Paul leaves the car running, telling Daryl he'll be just a second. He rushes through the house and struggles to pull down the stairs due to his shaking hands, he stops for a second and forces himself to take a few deep breaths. Him being a panicking mess will just make it much more difficult to get back to The Hilltop safely and will more than likely stress Daryl.

Once he has the stairs down, he makes his way into the attic and collects both his and Daryl's pack before running back to the truck.

He pulls the door open once he's reached it and climbs inside, throwing his pack behind the seats but opening Daryl's that holds the first-aid kit. 

"How're you doing, love?" Paul asks him, managing to keep his voice even as he looks over at the other man. He swallows the lump in his throat when he sees just how pale he is.

Daryl groans in response and looks over at him. "Tired, dizzy." He mumbles, blinking slowly.

Paul nods as he pulls out the first-aid kit. "I know, but you've got to keep your eyes open, don't you dare go to sleep on me." He warns the other man, sighing softly in relief when Daryl nods. "Here," Paul says, sitting the first-aid kit on the dashboard for a moment and then helping Daryl lay down on his back across the seats so he can tend to the wound. "Put your head on my lap." Paul says as he rips open Daryl's shirt, buttons flying.

Paul reaches for the first aid kit again and pulls some gauze and sterile wipes from it. He uses the gauze to wipe at the blood over Daryl's torso, he finds the stab wound in his lower abdomen, the wound appears to be cleanly done and not jagged, Paul guesses the man who stabbed him didn't have a serrated knife.

After cleaning up as much blood he can, he applies pressure to the wound as he pulls a sterile wipe from its packet. Once he has it, he removes the gauze. "This will sting," Paul warns Daryl as he presses the wipe to the wound, cleaning the edges and immediately feeling guilty at Daryl's soft whines of pain. "I'm sorry, love, I'm so sorry." Paul says softly as he cleans the wound, feeling tears of fear and guilt behind his eyes. 

Daryl mumbles something in response, but Paul can’t understand him.

After a few moments, he considers the wound clean enough and he proceeds to wrap the man up as best he can with bandages and gauze. Daryl groans every time Paul has to lift him slightly to get the bandage under his back, from the jolting to his stab wound and Paul guesses he's also pressing against sore spots from his beating.

Once he has Daryl wrapped up, Paul shifts in his seat slightly and then begins to drive, keeping Daryl laid down because it would be more comfortable.

He uses another bunch of gauze and holds it against Daryl's wound over his bandages for pressure. 

He drives as quickly as he can through the town without crashing. It's two and a half hours to The Hilltop.

 


 

An hour and a half he's been driving, driving ridiculously fast that if he crashed they would both be dead but he doesn't think about that. He tries not to think about anything except the road in front of him and getting Daryl back to The Hilltop so Siddiq can help him. Save him.

Daryl's head is still in his lap, eyes still open and staring up at Paul as soft groans of agony are continually slipping from behind his lips, and with every groan, Paul finds it harder and harder not to cry.

"Paul?" Daryl suddenly says, his voice so soft Paul barely hears him.

Paul looks down at him, finding it safe enough as they're currently on a long and straight stretch of road with no sign of anything in their path. 

"Yes, love?" He asks softly, glancing back up at the road for a moment. "Are you okay?" He adds, a tremble in his voice and a bottomless pit of guilt in his stomach.

Daryl just blinks up at him, and Paul watches as tears leak from the corners of his eyes. "I love you." He finally whispers so much pain and sadness in his voice.

Paul manages to stifle a sob and he looks away from the other man and back at the road as he shakes his head. "Don't." He manages. "Don't say that to me right now, don't say it like it's going to be the last time you do."

"It might be." Daryl replies, his voice a pained whisper.

Paul shakes his head. "Daryl, please." He says, looking back at him for a moment. "You keep fucking fighting for me, Daryl." Paul tells him firmly, and after a few moments, Daryl gives him a tiny nod. 

The words continue to rattle around in his head, and he takes a deep breath to try and remove the lump in his throat. He can't help his mind from wandering to all the times Daryl has said the words before, especially the first time, because Daryl was crying then too.

 


 

Paul's teeth chatter as he closes the large wooden door behind him after stepping into Barrington House, pulling off his gloves as he does so. It's late, somewhere around two am and he's just getting off a watch duty where he was much warmer. The Watchtower had plenty of blankets and coats for those taking a watch, and Paul very much wishes he could have continued to wear them as he rushed back into the house after Alden took over for him.  

Or if he's wishing for things, he wishes the heater in his and Daryl's trailer would start working again, so they didn't have to continue staying in the small cramped attic that Maggie has squeezed them into.

It's nearing the end of winter, six months after the end of the war, three months since he and Daryl had become a couple.  

He makes his way down the candlelit hallway of Barrington House towards the main living area where he plans on sitting in front of the fire for a while to warm up before he joins Daryl in the bedroom.

He's pleasantly surprised to find the living area empty except for Daryl, who for whatever reason is also awake. "Hi, love." Paul greets him softly as he makes his way over to the recliner chair Daryl is curled up in, the large fire crackling away in front of him. 

Daryl's head snaps up at the sound of his voice. "Hey." He mumbles lazily, blinking heavily a few times as he lifts the thick blanket covering his lap as an invitation for Paul to come and join him.

Paul smiles and steps over to him. "What are you doing awake?" Paul asks, placing his hands on his shoulders as he leans down over him for a second to kiss him gently in greeting.  

"Couldn't sleep." Daryl murmurs as Paul carefully climbs onto the armchair, sitting with half of himself against the cushion and the other against Daryl, a leg over the other man's own and settling with his head just under his chin after Daryl realising that reclining the chair back would make them both a lot more comfortable.

"Are you alright?" Paul asks concerned as he settles, a cold hand sneaking up below Daryl's sweater to seek warmth against a soft stomach. Daryl tenses at the contact for a moment before he relaxes.

Daryl hums and pulls the blankets up over their bodies, managing to get it to Paul's shoulders. He wraps his arm around Paul's shoulders and Paul smiles when he sniffs his hair.

Paul remembers the first time they did this, cuddled. They were two weeks going strong and awkwardly splayed out over Paul's (now theirs) bed, Daryl's head on Paul's chest and his entire body tense against him as Paul kept his arms wrapped around him and slowly stroked his hair until he slowly calmed down and allowed himself to melt into the affection.

"Do you want to go to bed?" Daryl asks softly after a few moments as Paul noses at Daryl's jaw, kissing it a moment later.

Paul smiles softly. "In a minute, need to warm up a bit first." He whispers in reply, snuggling a little more against Daryl's warm body.

"Kay."

It's about fifteen minutes later when Paul carefully climbs off Daryl's body and takes his hand to pull him up too. They make their way up three seemingly four endless staircases before arriving at their space in the attic. It's not a bedroom, the two men had just moved their mattress and some of their belongings into it.

It's still cold because there's no heater but it's much more pleasant than the trailer at the moment. They have each other's body heat and as long as they sleep with several blankets, they're just fine.

Daryl sits down on the mattress as Paul makes his way over to the old dresser that they have they're keeping their clothes in. He pulls out sweatpants, t-shirt and a hoodie and places them down on the mattress as he pulls off his leather duster and pulls his green sweater from his pants and then up and off his body. The chill immediately settles against his skin as he sits down on the mattress beside Daryl and leans down to unlace his boots.

He's just pulled the second one off when a warm hand presses against his back and then there are slightly chapped lips pressing against his bare shoulder.

Paul turns to face him and he smiles softly at the man who is now looking up at him with soft eyes, the dim yellow light from the lanterns around the attic falling across his face.

Daryl glances down at his lips and Paul leans forward and kisses him softly, just for a second before he pulls away to look at him again. Daryl's lips twitch slightly, and then he leans forward and presses their lips together again, a little harder. Paul drops his boot to the ground and turns to face Daryl more, cupping his cheek in one hand and stroking his thigh with the other.  

It continues for a while before Paul breaks the kiss and shifts back to be able to look at Daryl's face. Daryl's eyes are still closed and he's breathing softly out of his parted mouth. Paul reaches forward and tucks some hair behind his ear and out of his eyes, smiling when Daryl leans into the touch slightly.

Paul feels three words sitting on his tongue, as they have for the past couple of days since Paul saw him hold Hershel Jr for the first time. The baby looked so small and precious in Daryl's arms, and the smile on Daryl's face as he rocked the tiny boy, Paul swears he almost melted. To see Daryl like that, carefree and gentle, Paul could consider it an honor.

Paul leans forward again and kisses Daryl's cheek, just below his eyelid, for several seconds before doing the same to the other. He moves up, and presses his lips against the man's forehead, smiling softly when he feels two hands land on his waist and thumbs stroke his bare skin nervously.

"I love you, Daryl." Paul sighs, closing his eyes and resting his forehead against Daryl's. He feels a weight move off his chest at finally speaking the words.

Daryl tenses and his thumbs stutter, it's deathly quiet for several moments before Daryl lets out a deep breath and pulls his head back. Their eyes meet and Paul frowns when he sees that Daryl's ocean blue ones are wet with tears, he reaches up and gently brushes away a droplet that had leaked out.

Daryl's lips twitch in a tiny smile but he ducks his head, thumbs slowly starting to stroke again. "I love you, Paul." He whispers, so quiet that Paul barely hears him.

Paul's lips spread wide and he wraps his arms around Daryl's shoulders and pulls him closer, and he just hugs him.

And Paul's a little terrified because he's in love with someone, but it's Daryl, and he knows that Daryl's probably just as scared as he is. And being honest, he knows they're right for each other.

 


 

Paul sits outside the med-trailer, a lump in his throat and watery eyes, his face buried in his hands. 

Maggie's sitting beside him, her hand on his back and gently rubbing. He's sweating through his button-up shirt, the late-spring sun beginning to set but still burning the skin at the back of his neck.

Daryl's been in surgery with Siddiq and another nurse for the past forty minutes, and Paul hasn't heard anything yet. 

His hands are shaking with fear for his love. 

"He's going to be okay, Paul." Maggie whispers, pressing a soft kiss to his temple for several seconds as she strokes his hair and back.

"He can't leave me." Paul whispers brokenly, a shake in his voice.

"He won't, Paul. He won't." She assures him, and it's strange for him to hear her calling him by his real name because she very rarely does, using his real name is usually reserved for Daryl.

They both sit in silence for several moments until there's a squeaking sound, both Paul and Maggie look up in time to see Siddiq walking down the steps towards them. Paul and Maggie immediately stand up and Paul's legs feel weak and he swallows a lump in his throat. 

Siddiq gives them a small smile, and Paul hopes that's a good sign. "We've stabilised him, he's going to be just fine. He's still out from the meds and probably will be for a few hours, but you can come and see him."

Paul's up the steps within seconds and is charging into the trailer. He makes his way to the bed at the back of the trailer that sits behind curtains for privacy, not letting himself look at the blood covered operation table as he passes it.

He can hear Maggie thanking Siddiq, but he pays no mind to it, he pulls the white curtain back and gasps softly at the sight of his boyfriend. He slowly makes his way over to him as he looks over his body. Daryl's laying on his back and slightly propped up on some pillows, he's shirtless and the bed's blanket is pulled up just over the bandage covering his now stitched up wound. He has an IV in his arm that's feeding him painkillers, and Paul can't help the worry that spreads through him at the paleness of his face, injuries and swelling decorating it.

He sighs as he sits down on the bed beside him carefully, grabbing Daryl's hand with his own after he has. He breathes out shakily as he brings the man's bloody hand to his mouth, and he presses a soft kiss against his bruised knuckles, a sign that he fought back against his captors. 

Maggie arrives a second later and places a hand on his shoulder and another on Daryl's cheek as she leans down and pecks both their foreheads. "I'll let you have some time with him, I'll go let everyone else know he's okay." She tells him quietly, strokes some hair back from Paul's face and then leaves, he hears her pulling the curtain closed again.

Paul drops Daryl's hand after a moment and moves his own to cup his cheek with one hand and tuck some hair behind his ears with his other. He leans down and begins to kiss him, his cheeks, jaw, forehead as he finally lets some tears drip down his cheeks. 

He sighs shakily once he's finished and pulls himself back under control. He moves then, sitting on the chair beside the bed instead but moving it close enough to the bed that he can rest his head against the mattress by Daryl's chest. He retakes Daryl's hand and closes his eyes, the exhaustion in his body is heavy and he hopes to get some sleep before Daryl wakes up.

 


 

Paul's awoken sometime later by gentle fingers playing with his hair, he lifts his head expecting Maggie, but finds Daryl looking at him with heavy-lidded eyes and a small smile twitches at his lips when Paul meets his eyes. 

Weight seems to be lifted off Paul's chest as looks at Daryl, seeing that he's alive, breathing, with him. Paul quickly stands up from the chair and sits on the bed instead, he cups Daryl's face with both his hands and leans down. He kisses him firmly and passionately, the sounds of their lips smacking together filling the quiet trailer as Daryl kisses Paul back slowly, trying to put as much energy into it as he can muster.

Paul pulls back after a minute and a sob breaks through his lips as he rests their foreheads together, his lips trembling. 

"Paul," Daryl whispers weakly, a hand carefully landing on his waist. "Don't cry."

The words only make Paul sob again and he leans back up, removing his hands from Daryl's face and uses them to hide his own instead. Chest lurching as he sobs into them. He feels his face flush with embarrassment because crying is not something he does a lot and is definitely not something he lets Daryl see. In the two and a half years they've been together, Daryl has seen him maybe cry twice. 

Right now, Paul can't help it. The fear, guilt, and concern that had been consuming him finally causing him to break down. Daryl lets him cry and strokes his waist over his shirt carefully.

Finally, after several minutes, Paul calms down and he lifts his head from his hands, using his sleeve to wipe the snot from his nose and lips. He looks at Daryl finally and cups his cheek again, leaning a little closer. 

"I'm so sorry," He whimpers. "I'm so sorry I wasn't there. I’m sorry it took me so long to find you."

"Hey," Daryl whispers, reaching up and wiping another tear from Paul's eye. "It ain't your fault, I woulda been taken out by those walkers if you hadn't of got me."

"But you got stabbed because of me!" Paul argues, and Daryl flinches at the volume of his voice. "I pushed you out the window and didn't follow straight away, I could have stopped him, or seen him before I pushed you out! That was my fault." He exclaims, throat tightening again.

Daryl shakes his head. "No. It ain't your fault, it was the fucker that stabbed me. Not yours, you didn't force his hand, he made the decision himself." He slowly, his voice raspy and weak.

Paul's silent for a while, knowing he should believe Daryl's words because he would tell the other man the same thing if the roles were reversed, but he can't believe it right now.

He sighs and kisses Daryl again. "I love you, I love you so much." He whispers.

Daryl lifts his head just slightly to kiss Paul's bearded jaw. "I love you, and I'm sorry for scaring you." He whispers.

Paul shakes his head and sighs, kissing him again.

 


 

Two weeks later, Daryl is still very strictly on bedrest, but he's allowed to leave the med-trailer as long as he agreed to come back for a checkup every day. 

Daryl had agreed because his and Paul's little house had just finished being constructed a few weeks before they left for the run, and Daryl loved it, it felt like a real home and there was no way he was going to be staying in a med-trailer if he had a comfortable home just a hundred meters away.

Paul steps out of the bathroom as he ties his hair into a knot, smiling at the sight of a shirtless Daryl laying in the bed and reading, his hair tied back into a small knot, it’s grown long enough over the past couple of years that he can do so without strands falling around his face everywhere.

"What're you reading, love?" Paul asks him sweetly, stepping over to him and pressing a kiss against his forehead before stepping away again to collect his bottle of water sitting on their dresser. 

"Some murder mystery." Daryl replies, watching him take a drink and then closing his book and placing onto the nightstand beside him.

"How did it go with Siddiq?" Paul asks him, stepping over to the bed and sitting down beside Daryl. 

"Good," Daryl replies, humming lowly when Paul kisses his bare shoulder affectionately. "He said I don't need to be in bed all the time, still need to rest plenty but I need to get out of the house more and get some strength back.

Paul nods. "Okay, that's good." He replies happily, glad that Daryl's making progress. They sit in silence for several moments with Paul's head gently resting on his shoulder and gently kissing his neck, not in a sexual way, more in appreciation him still being alive. "How 'bout we start now?" He asks quietly after lifting his head. 

"Hmm?" Daryl asks, blinking at Paul lazily as he brushes his hands over his warm skin.

Paul stands up from the bed and holds out his hand to help Daryl stand as well. "Let's go now, we'll put some clothes on and go find somewhere nice to sit and have dinner." Paul says, their stew that he had put on before he got in the shower should be done by now.

Daryl sighs, "Okay, help me get dressed and then I can go get the food while you do." He replies, allowing Paul to pull him up.

"Are you sure? I can get dinner." Paul says, stepping over to the dresser and pulling out a simple pair of jeans and a t-shirt for Daryl to throw on.

Daryl nods as Paul begins to dress him, it's still quite painful if he moves wrong and pulls at his stitches, something he does quite often if he attempts to dress himself.

"Alright, I'll be down in a minute." Paul says after he's dressed the other man, petting his butt once he's turned around and making his way to the door to head down the stairs to their small kitchen.

Once Paul has finished dressing, he takes several deep breaths and reties his hair up in a bun, fidgets with his fingers some more before stepping over to his nightstand. He pulls the drawer open and digs right to the back and then pulls out the small box when his fingers find purchase on it.

He opens the box and pulls out the two immaculate silver rings from the box, one bigger than the other, and tucks them into the pocket of his cargo pants.

He had asked Earl the day after Daryl was stabbed if he could make them a pair of rings, he agreed and told Paul he would just need a measurement of ring sizes. Paul gave him his, and then measured Daryl's with some string when he was asleep and dosed up on pain meds.

He's been going back and forth with the idea of asking Daryl to marry him for almost six months now. Wondering for a long time if marriage even suited him and Daryl, or if it would be something Daryl is even interested in. But the more Paul thought about it, the more he realised that he and Daryl may as well be married already, and he wants to make it official. He wants them to become bonded to each other in the way where they wear matching rings, he wants people to see the rings and know they belong to each other. He wants them to be dedicated to each other in such a meaningful way. It was nearly losing him that made Paul finally decided to ask the other man to marry him.

Paul takes a deep breath and then finally makes his way out of the bedroom and down the stairs, he finds Daryl in the living room sitting down on the couch, holding a large container of stew in his hands, along with two forks and a large bottle of water for them to share.

"Ready?" Daryl asks and stands up from the couch.

Paul nods and takes the container and bottle of water off him, and Daryl rolls his eyes but lets him, keeping a firm grip on the forks so he doesn’t feel completely useless.

 


 

 

They found a peaceful place to have dinner, one of Barrington houses balconies where they're able to look out at the sunset as they sat at a metal table and chairs, sharing their container of stew and bottle of water. 

"Feels good," Daryl says, finishing eating and putting the fork down into the container. "Being outside, breathing fresh air."

Paul smiles at him. "I'm glad you're enjoying yourself." He says softly, finishing up his own last couple of bites.

Daryl smiles softly at him and then carefully stands up from his seat, he approaches the balcony and braces his hands on it as he looks out at the community and woods below them.

Paul watches him for several moments as he sips his water. After a while, he stands up from his own seat and joins Daryl at the railing, connecting their hands and gently turning Daryl to face him. Daryl does so, leaning down and pressing their foreheads together.

Paul breaks the space and presses their lips together, kissing him gently and stroking his cheekbone for several moments before he pulls away again. "I love you." He whispers once he's pulled apart and he presses his lips against his cheek before moving back to be able to look at him.

"Love you too." Daryl responds, reaching up and tucking some hair that had fallen from Paul's bun behind his ear. 

Paul sighs, looking at Daryl, to the healing cut just above his eyebrow and being in awe at just how gorgeous he looks in the light of the sunset. "I want to ask you something. I don't want you to feel pressured, you can say no, okay?" Paul says, his voice slightly shaky and his gut churning in circles of nerves.

Daryl's brows furrow slightly. "Okay?" He asks confused. 

Paul takes a deep breath and reaches into his pocket and pulls out the rings, Daryl's eyes following the movement and then they widen when he sees what Paul has.

"Don't get down on one knee, please." Daryl quickly says, and Paul very immediately feels his stomach drop and twist with pain along with a thump in his heart. 

"Right." Paul whispers and begins to tuck the rings back into his pocket, ready to go and hide in Maggie's room before he attempts to try and talk to Daryl again.

"No!" Daryl says and Paul's taken by surprise when he reaches out and grasps Paul's wrist, stopping him from putting the rings away. Paul looks up at him with eyes he's refusing to let water and finds Daryl looking at him with widened ones of his own. "I didn't mean don't do it." He says softly, letting go of Paul's wrist and holding his hip again instead. "I just don't want to be looking down at you, I wanna see you and touch you properly." He replies quietly, cheeks flushed in embarrassment.

Paul can't help his lips from spreading in a broad smile. The pounding in his heart stops, and he's instead overcome with relief that it was merely a small misunderstanding. "Okay." He says softly and the leans forward, he kisses Daryl quickly before looking back at him. "Daryl, I've been thinking about doing this for six months, and once I finally decided it's what I wanted, I just kept worrying about if it's what you wanted." Paul begins, he's taken Daryl's hand now, the one for his ring, and is stroking his thumb over his knuckles. "And then I nearly lost you, and I knew I had to ask. So, this is me asking you..." He says finally, looking into Daryl's ocean blue eyes and finding them a little watery, but the small smile on his face lets Paul know he's okay. "Will you marry me, Daryl?"

Daryl's lips finally turn into a broader smile and he squeezes Paul's hip. "Gimme my damn ring." He answers.

Paul laughs as he slips the ring onto Daryl's finger because he can't think of any other way Daryl would accept a marriage proposal that would make sense. Paul looks at the silver against Daryl's tan skin for what seems like a long time, absolutely falling in love with the sight. 

Paul looks up when he feels lips press against his scruffy cheek for a second. "Give me yours." Daryl says quietly, and Paul smiles softly as he hands his own ring to Daryl. Daryl looks at the ring between his fingers for a while before he takes Paul's hand, looking at him. "Will you marry me, Paul?" He asks, smiling at him so sweetly that Paul wonders how he ever became so lucky that this man fell in love with him.

"Of course, love." Paul replies, his voice a whisper and he feels himself be overcome with such intense happiness as the ring's slid onto his finger, he's close to crying again. 

"I love you." Daryl says, wrapping arms around Paul's waist and pulling him closer.

"I love you." Paul immediately replies, cupping Daryl's cheeks and pulling him down for a warm, love-filled kiss. 

They kiss for a long time before they finally pull apart, keeping their foreheads rested together as they stroke each other's skin. "Hey?" Daryl asks after a few moments, and Paul hums in response. "We don't need to have a ceremony, do we?" He asks, nerves evident in his voice.

Paul can't help smiling fondly. "No, we don't. I'm sure Father Gabriel would happily do it, but I don't want a ceremony either." Paul replies, stroking his thumb over his stubbly cheek. "Isn't no law now that says we can't just start going as husbands." He says and has an involuntary stomach swoop when he says husbands.

"Okay, can we do that?" Daryl asks quietly, nosing at Paul's temple and then smiling when Paul kisses him again.

"Yes," Paul replies once he pulls away. "Suits us I think." 

Daryl hums and then pulls Paul even closer, Paul can see that he seems to be struggling to stay standing up, still weak, it's been the most he's stood up since his accident.

Paul rubs Daryl's back as the man rests his head on his shoulder, he mumbles something, but it's too muffled for Paul to understand, so he asks Daryl to repeat himself. Daryl lifts his head from Paul's shoulder and looks at him again, cheeks flushed red. "Can I take your name?" He asks. 

The question thrills Paul and he smiles so hard it hurts. "Fuck yes you can, Daryl Rovia!" He exclaims and throws his arms up around Daryl's shoulders, and pulls him close.

He had never even thought about Daryl taking his last name, but now that Daryl's asked, Paul so glad he did because he loves how the name rolls off his tongue.

They don't stay up on the balcony for much longer, Daryl getting uncomfortable and tired, so they make their out of Barrington House and back to their house.

They curl up in the bed and kiss each other softly until they're practically falling asleep against each other's lips. They hold each other close and whisper to each other until they fall asleep, warm and comfortable and very much in love.