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Stolen Moments

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He can feel the warmth of the summer sun on his back. Even in the early morning, Daryl can tell it’s going to be a hot one.

“Mmmmm,” Paul hums in protest, feeling Daryl shifting. His voice muffled by Daryl’s ribcage. He presses his face even harder into Daryl and snuggles closer to him until the younger man is practically on top of him.

Daryl smiles as he looks down at Paul. Topknot coming down, a few stray strands of hair splayed across his cheeks, mouth slightly agape. God, he’s beautiful, Daryl thinks. How’d he get so damn lucky? He doesn’t deserve him. Daryl tries to shake the negative thoughts away, choosing instead to keep taking in the expanse of his lover’s back.

His eyes trail down Paul’ shoulders and he can’t help but lick his lips as his eyes continue down the smooth valley of skin. He can feel a low heat beginning to burn deep inside himself. He loves the way Paul’s body tapers down into his hips and the two dimples on his lower back, which Daryl knows he will be giving extra attention to today. He particularly loves the way it all leads down to the swell of Paul’ ass. And what an ass it is. Heavenly, could bring an empire down to its knees. It’s certainly made Daryl do just that. There’s more than heat inside him now. It still amazes Daryl how much Paul can do to him without even trying.

“If you're gonna keep looking at me like you want to eat me then you better,” Paul says, eyes still closed but a smile spreading across his lush lips.

He is caught. Paul always knows. They have come to know each other so well it sometimes frightened him. Despite his repeated attempts to keep the younger man at bay, Paul had wormed his way in his heart and his mind.

Paul slowly opens one eye and gives Daryl a big smile as he runs his free hand along the side of Daryl’s body. He presses down into the soft, smooth skin where his thigh and pelvis meet. Daryl’s breath hitches.

Paul lets out a satisfied hum as his picks himself up. Daryl instantly misses the pressure of his lover’s body against his own, but Paul quickly solves the problem by straddling him. Daryl lets out an involuntary groan as Paul grinds down onto him. Daryl looks up at him and nearly loses it. Paul has his eyes closed, head thrown back, and mouth open. He looks over the ripples and planes of Paul’s lean and tempting body. Daryl’s positive there’s never been anything more beautiful in this world.

He feels the laugh that rumbles through Paul’s body.

“No need to flatter Dixon, you already have me, mind, body, and soul.”

Daryl’s cheeks turn red, he can’t believe he said that out loud. He throws an arm over his face in embarrassment, but Paul pulls it away.

“Hey, don’t…” Paul says softly. “Look at me.”

Daryl obeys what other choice does he have. Paul isn’t the only one who’s owned. Daryl was damned the second he laid eyes on the sneaky little ninja ass, he just didn't know it. He looks up at Paul’ face. The sunlight streaming in casts a soft glow around him.

“You never have to be like that, not with me,” Paul says running a finger over Daryl’s lips. “You know that right? I love you just the way you are.”

Daryl’s chest gets tight. He pulls Paul down to him and brings their lips together in a gentle kiss.

“To me you’re perfect…” Paul says breathlessly in between kisses. “Everything I’ve been waiting for.”

Daryl can feel the tears forming in his eyes. He breaks away, cupping Paul’s face in his hands and staring him in the eyes. “I - I love you Paul. I know I don’t always show it, but I do.”

Paul smiles at him. “I know.”

Just as Paul dives them back into a heated kiss, there’s banging at their door.

“Rise and shine lovebirds,” they hear a voice call out in a sing-song tone.

“Fuck off” “Five more minutes mom!” They shout in unison, before Daryl yanks Paul back and resumes their kiss.

“Yeah right! The last time you guys slept in we didn’t see you for two days!”

Paul laughs into Daryl's mouth and he responses by jolting his hips upward. A long and filthy moan escapes Paul’s mouth. They’re both sure everyone around the trailer heard, but they couldn’t care less.

“Ugh!,” the voice says. “You got to be kidding me! Don’t make me come in there. You know I will!”

They break apart but keep their foreheads touching. “We should get going,” Paul resigns.

“Just a bit more,” Daryl says sucking a nice little bruise under Paul’ ear. It makes the younger man squirm in his lap and just as he’s about to give in when Rick slams a closed fist against the window.

“Up and at ’em boys. They’ll be plenty of time for that later.”

Daryl lets out a frustrated groan as he helps Paul off him. There was no way they were going to get any peace.

Before Daryl is even out of bed Paul has his pants and a black tank on. Daryl watches him as he sits down to put his boots on. Paul looks around at him and he smiles. Daryl grabs his wrist and places a kiss over it.

“Catch you later?” He asked, as though he doesn't already know that the second they're done with their respective chores they’ll find themselves right back in bed.

“You bet,” Paul says as he lets his hair down. Daryl watches him leave. Right before he leaves the room he turns and gives the older man a wink.

Chapter Text

He’s got nowhere to go. Alexandria may as well as have burned to the ground with everyone in it because it was lost him. There was no way that he could ever go back and call it home. There’s no way he could spend another minute with Rick, at least not for a while. Just the thought of talking to Rick made him sick.

He was in his room, packing up what little shit he had into his backpack. He was being a fucking coward, slinking away in the middle of the night without saying goodbye, but he couldn’t do it any other way. He needed to get away from them. He was so hurt and angry he honestly wasn’t sure what he'd do if they tried to get him to stay and the last thing he wanted was he hurt any of his family, even if he thought they deserved it.

He stopped as he passed Judith’s room and turned back. There was no way he could leave without saying goodbye to his little ass-kicker. He gently turned the knob to her room and went over to her crib. She was asleep. A peaceful little angel. Her life was good, she knew nothing of the horrors that went on daily, and if nothing else happened Daryl knew he’d do whatever he had to make sure it stayed that way. He leaned down and placed a soft kiss on one of her chubby little cheeks.

“So that’s it huh?” He heard a voice behind him whisper into the darkness.

He turned to see Michonne leaning in the doorframe. He had nothing to say to her. He pushed passed her and made his way downstairs. She followed close behind. She wasn't going to let him go like that.

“You’re just gonna leave in the middle of the night? Just like that? It’s gonna hurt him you know,” she told him.

That pissed him off. Rick’s going to be hurt? And what about Daryl? What about how he felt? He guessed that didn't matter as much. His heart ached. He loved his family. He didn’t want to leave, not really, but they weren’t giving him much of a choice. He felt like he was going to be sick. It was too much. He was feeling too much all at once.

He paced back and forth in front of her, like an animal in a cage. There was nothing he could say to her that would make a difference. There was nothing he could say to make sense of any of it. So he didn’t try. He stopped dead in his tracks, shoulders slumped, eyes cast to the ground.

“We all gotta do what’s right fer ourselves.” It was the only thing that he could muster out. He hoped that she understood what he was trying to tell her. She doesn't try and stop him, so he thinks maybe she did.

He wheeled his bike down the road to the gates and let himself out. Once again, he’s out a place to live. He could go out into the woods. They’d always have a place for him. But it doesn’t feel enough this time. He wanted more. He started his bike and drove away. He gave Alexandria one final look before he hit the gas and took off. He didn’t know where he was going. He just let his bike lead him. He figured if he stopped thinking so much, he’d just let the road tell him where he should go.

And that’s how he ends up at Hilltop.

One of newer guards let him in. “Everything alright?”

“Yeah, everyone’s safe.” He grumbled as he turned his bike off and wheeled it in. He had no desire to explain what was going on to a fucking stranger.

The man tried to ask him more questions, but Daryl ignored him. He thought about where he could go. Who he could turn up on. He just needed a place that was quiet, where he was safe.

He walked up to the trailer. It was dark inside, not that he was surprised. It was really late. He cleared his throat and knocked on the door. He waited, heart beating out of his chest. He heard a bit of shuffling inside before the door opened and in front of him stood a disheveled and sleepily surprised Paul.

“Daryl?” He said sleep lacing his words. “Is everything okay?”

“I got - I can’t - I need a place to stay,” he finally managed to get out. He knew what he must look like, standing outside in the dark, broken and low.

Paul didn't say anything to him as he pulled him by the hand into an embrace, when what he should have done was the slam the door in his face. Daryl tensed but melted into the younger man soon enough. He was so tired and it felt so good to have someone care for him. Just him. Paul ran his fingers into Daryl's hair and held him tighter.

“Shh…It’s okay, come,” the younger man whispered.

He broke away from Daryl and for moment Daryl panicked. He needed this man, in a way he had never needed anyone before. It terrified him, but his desperation was stronger. Paul closed the door behind him. The room was pitch black and Daryl clawed in the dark for him.

“I’m here. I’m right here,” the younger man repeated desperately trying to reassure him.

Daryl pulled the smaller man into his arms, he was a lot rougher then he needed to be, but he couldn’t help himself. Paul didn't say anything. He took whatever Daryl gave. He buried his face in Paul’ neck and the younger man’s breath hitched in his throat. The heat coming off of Paul was grounding. Daryl didn't know how to tell him what he needed, but he didn’t have to, because Paul already knew. He wasn’t sure how, but he did.

He pulled back so he could look Daryl in the eyes. He held Daryl’s face in his hands. “It’s okay, let me take care of you.”

Daryl pulled him back to him, every inch of their bodies touching. Paul had his arms wrapped around Daryl’s neck as he whispered soothing words into his ear. Daryl was practically lifting the other man off the ground. But it’s okay, because right then, in that moment in Paul’ arms Daryl’s mind was quiet.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s walking down the street, he’s beat, not that he’d ever let anyone see it. There’s no time, or place for him to be tired. People relied on him too much. He’s half way towards the house, ready to catch just a few minutes of rest, when Jesus jumps out of nowhere, sneaky shit, making him jump.

“Hey, Daryl!” The younger man says.

“Hey,” he grumbles back. He doesn’t stop walking.

Jesus must take his acknowledgment as an invitation because he’s walking next to him, trying to catch up. Lately, Daryl felt like he’s acquired a new shadow. Everywhere he went the scout was a few steps behind. Daryl tried to find it annoying.

“So Rick said you’re going on a run tomorrow.”

“Yeah, so?”

Jesus is all smiles and ridiculous cartoon eyes, bugging out of his head.

“Uh, well, you know, I volunteered to go with,” he says in a nervous tone. Which Daryl finds strange because Jesus always exhumed confidence, to an almost annoying level, in everything he did.

“Why?” He’s fine on his own.

The smile drops from Jesus’ perfect face. He diverts his gaze from Daryl’s face. Looking anywhere except at him.

“Oh, I, just figured you could always use some help, not that you couldn’t manage on your own, but you know some company never hurt, right?”

Daryl isn’t a complete idiot, he could tell he said something to upset the other man, he just isn’t sure what it was. Nothing he said was mean or hostile, but the scout obviously was put off by something Daryl said.

“But, uh, you know, if you'd rather go alone I get it. I prefer to go on runs alone too…”

Daryl’s starting to worry. He’s never seen the younger man like this. He’s rambling and worrying his hands together. And Daryl has no idea what he’s talking about. So he just stands there looking at Jesus like he suddenly grew four more heads.

“So, yeah. I’ll just go let Rick know that I’m not needed… and then I’ll just go find the nearest cliff and walk right off.”

Before Daryl even realizes the scout stopped talking, Jesus starts to walk off. But he reaches out and grabs his hand.

“Whoa, slow down. I only caught ‘bout half that.” Daryl explains. He can’t let the other man just go looking the way he did.

Jesus looks completely flustered and out of his element. Which throws Daryl. It isn’t normal. The younger man obviously wanted to come on the run for some reason and Daryl guesses it wouldn’t be the worst thing to have Jesus with him. He’s starting not to hate the scout’s company… sometimes. And right now, he’ll do anything to get rid of the kicked puppy look Jesus has spread across his face.

“If you want to come, come,” Daryl tells the younger man, hoping it’ll fix everything.

“Yeah?” Jesus says, instantly perking up and far too excited for some everyday run. “Okay, great! I’ll meet you at the gates, bright and early.”

Daryl eyes him suspiciously. What the hell is going on with that man? “Sure.”

The scout takes off with a bounce in his step, reminding Daryl of a kid with an ice cream cone.

Daryl isn’t sure what had just happened. It was by far the strangest interaction he’s had with Jesus so far. “Lil’ weirdo,” he mumbles to himself as he continues his way home. He doesn’t think on why he can’t keep a small smirk from his lips.

He crawls into bed and goes to sleep thinking about the blue-eyed scout.


 

Daryl wakes up before everyone else in the house. The sun hasn’t come up yet as he makes his way down the block towards the gate. He figures he’ll be able to have some peace and quiet before heading out with Jesus.

He's so busy thinking about the younger man that he misses Ford and walks right into him. It’s like hitting a brick wall.

“Whoa, there..” The man chuckles as he clasps him by the shoulders. “Gotta stay frosty there.”

“Sorry, man,” Daryl says moving out of his way.

“Whats’ got your head goin’? I think I can see smoke,” he barks out. The smile on his face reaching his ears.

“What?” Daryl asks. Ford laughs again.

“Woo wee, you need to get some sleep my friend.”

Daryl just grunts at him. Ford clasps him on the shoulder again, before going back on his way. Daryl continues down the road.

“Oh hey, I hear you’re goin’ on a run with Jesus,” he says turning back towards Daryl. That gets his attention.

“Yeah,” Daryl says, his features softening at the younger man’s name.

“Huh,” Ford lets out a huff like he just figured something out. “Go easy on the kid, will ya. He ain’t bad.”

Daryl doesn't even have a chance to ask him what hell he’s talking about before Ford is half down the street. Why the fuck was everyone being so weird lately. When Daryl does make it to the gate, Jesus is already there waiting for him. He's sitting on the curb with a book in hand. He doesn’t notice Daryl coming up on him and for a second Daryl just stops to watch as a light breeze blows through Jesus’ half up hair. He watches as the man takes a bite out of something wrapped in tinfoil. The younger man smiles when he finally realizes he’s being watched.

“Morning,” he says softly.

“Mornin’” Daryl answers back.

The younger man immediately launches into something, but Daryl isn’t listening. All he can think of is what Ford said ‘go easy on the kid’ what had he meant by that.

“Daryl?” Jesus questions, “you still with me?”

“Huh? Yeah, sorry man, didn't sleep much last night,” he says rubbing his hand across his face.

He looks over at the scout who has a concerned look on his face. He looks like he wanted to say something, but instead, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another misshapen piece of tinfoil and hands it to Daryl.

“Here, I figured you wouldn’t eat breakfast, so I made you this.” Daryl takes the lump and unwraps it. “Its nothing special… it’s just an egg scramble. Finding those chicken was a God send. We should look for a rooster out there.”

“Thanks, ya didn’t have to,” Daryl says quickly, afraid that if he doesn’t Jesus will start rambling again and it was definitely too early for that.

Daryl takes a bite out of it and he’s pleasantly surprised. “It’s good,” he tells the younger man around a mouth full of food.

The younger man gives him a warm smile. His eyes shine brightly. Something in Daryl leaps at the sight.

“We should get goin’” Daryl says trying to fill the silence.

“Uh, yeah I got a list of things from a bunch of people,” Jesus says as he shoves the book he was reading in a backpack.

Daryl walks off to the side and wheels his bike out in front.

“We’re taking your bike?” Jesus says, eyes all big and round.

“Ya gotta problem? It’s faster an’ easier.”

“Uh, no, I just… I didn’t think we’d be taking it is all.” Nervous Jesus makes another appearance.

“Ya cool wit’ it? We coul-”

“NO.” Jesus says just a bit too loud. “No, it’s cool.”

Daryl did not have time for whatever was going on. He just needed to get out from behind the walls and let out some steam. If the scout said he was cool, he was cool. Daryl got on his bike and started it.

“Hop on,” Daryl tells him, but Jesus just stares. “C’mon.”

He watches as Jesus shakes his head and smirks. The younger man gets on behind him and grips the seat underneath him.

“Yer gonna wanna hold on ta me, the way ya are, yer gonna end up flyin’ right off.”

“Oh, right. Okay,” Jesus says as he loosely wraps his around Daryl’s waist.

Daryl lets out a frustrated huff and pulls on Jesus’ arms, wrapping them tighter around himself. The position closes the space between them. He feels the weight of Jesus’ body against his back. That thing inside him leaps again. He tries to ignore it. He whistles at the guards and the gates open.

He hits the gas and the jolt sends Jesus even closer. Daryl feels the younger man’s breath on his neck. He swallows the lump in his throat.

“You know, this is my first ride,” Jesus' velvet voice says into his ear. The younger man is smiling, he can hear it in his voice.

It shouldn't have any effect on him, but it does, and all of a sudden the warmth he’s feeling spreads through his whole body. Strange how it can go north and south at the same time.

Chapter Text

It’s pouring rain. The wind is whipping around them. They hear thunder rumbling in the distance. Daryl has Paul’s arm in a vice grip and the younger man has an equally strong grip on his own arm. Daryl can feel the scout’s nails digging into his forearm. He hauls Paul up the steps to the trailer, they now both call home. The door bursts open and Daryl drags the younger man in behind him. They are drenched to the bone. But there’s a fire burning in him. He’s pissed and relieved all rolled into one. It’s confusing as hell.

He makes quick work of slamming the door shut behind them and shoving Paul against it. Paul lets out a forced gasp when his back connects with the door. The younger man’s eyes are blown wide, there’s a wild look in them, his chest rising and falling at a desperate rate. A mix of emotions run across his face as he stares at Daryl. Daryl’s throat goes dry. He feels completely out of control.

They had been moving in such a frenzied pace, but now in the quiet of their home, it all slowed down. The only sound that can be heard is their labored breaths. A flash of lighting and a crack of thundered breaks through the silence and sets them back in motion.

Daryl grabs at Paul’s stupid leather coat and pulls it down his arms, as the younger man pulls at Daryl’s shirts. It’s all happens in the blink of an eye. Daryl is pulling on the hem of Pauls shirt and the younger man lifts his arms up. Paul is running his hands up and down Daryl’s naked chest. Hands are everywhere skimming over raised flesh searching. But they're okay. They’re both okay. No cuts, no scrapes, no bruises. Just endless, rapidly heating skin.

Daryl moves closer to Paul. He presses his hands against the door and cages the younger man in between his arms. They’re inches apart. He can feel Paul’s breath on his lips. His tongue slides and runs across his lips. The scout’s hands freeze on his hips. He stares up at Daryl and then closes what little space is left between them and kisses Daryl with everything he’s got. Paul pulls away with a look of shock and a bit a fear written across his face. They both know this one is different, the promise behind it. The desire to claim and be claimed that has been festering inside is clawing to the surface. It’s a beast buried deep within that has gone unchecked since this dance between the two men began.

He lunges forward, grabbing the back of the younger man’s head and crushes their lips together again. He pulls their hips together and grinds into Paul. The younger man’s body goes limp between him and the door. Paul moans deep and long into Daryl’s mouth. It's clear Paul has much more experience as he licks his way into Daryl’s mouth. He tastes amazing. Paul’s lips are smooth, wet and inviting. He never wants this to end. This is what they were meant for.

But they both need air and pull apart to rest their foreheads against each other. Panting and sharing the same air is making Daryl feel lightheaded. Paul’s hands begin to unbuckled his belt and soon he's undoing his pants too. Daryl’s heart is pounding, adrenaline coursing through his veins. He runs his hands down Paul’s arms and grabs him by the wrists, lifting to hold both of them over their heads. He needs more, to feel all of the younger man. He has no idea what he’s doing, but it must be right because the scout smiles and lets out a huff that turns into a moan as he bucks his hip out and rolls into Daryl.

He can feel how hard Paul is against his thigh, and it sends sparks up and down his spine. They’re kissing again and nothing has ever felt better. He’s never been kissed this way. If Paul is trying to consume him, Daryl is resigned to it. If it’s what he wants Daryl is ready to give himself over completely. The younger man breaks free and snakes an arm down between them to take Daryl’s painfully hard cock in his hand. Daryl nearly chokes as the younger man begins to stroke him. Every part of him freezes up. He can't blink, think, speak. All of his brain cell’s have gone south.

Paul moves to leave a trail of kisses along Daryl chin and neck. Daryl yelps when Paul bites down on the spot where his neck and shoulder meet. If it’s possible he gets harder in Paul’s hand. His body is on fire. Paul licks the entire length of Daryl’s neck, before he slides down onto his knees, yanking Daryl’s pants down with him. He knows what Paul is doing, but he still can't believe it. The younger man doesn’t hesitate, not one bit before his mouth is all over Daryl. Passing tentative licks along the tip of Daryl’s weeping cock. His knees go weak.
“Oh, fuck, Paul,” he moans out.

He has to throw an arm out to brace himself against the door. His eye close. He thinks he might pass out under the scout’s skilled ministrations. Paul licks him from base to tip, moaning the whole time. His tongue is like velvet against him. Daryl bangs his fist against the door as Paul’s sure mouth sucks him down. Daryl lets out a low and hungry sound that only spurs the younger man on to increase the suction.

It’s too good and Daryl knows he won’t last much longer. He wants to see.

He risks the chance and looks down to see Paul’s lips stretched over him. His cock pulses in the heat of Paul’s perfect mouth. He knows he should look away, but he’s mesmerized by the view. He watches himself glide in and out of Paul’s mouth and follows a trail of drool that dribbles from his mouth and into Paul’s beard. The beard that is brushing lightly against Daryl’s balls adding little shocks of pleasure to the mix. He looks away but hears the clanking of metal and the rustling of clothes. He looks down and sees Paul jerking himself off, just as he feels his cock hit the back of Paul’s throat.

“Oh, shit, Paul, stop,” Daryl says as he tries to push Paul off him. “I’m gonna cum.”

But he doesn't. He reaches up and pulls Daryl’s hand down to place it in his hair. He closes the hunter’s hand around a bunch of hair and yanks it back. The scout lets out a moan that sounds very much like a long, drawn out yes. The vibrations in Paul’s throat push Daryl over the edge. The scout backs off a bit and gives one final suck before Daryl is spilling down his throat.
“FUCK!” Daryl cries out. He’s pretty sure he blacks out for a second.

When his brain finally turns back on, he looks down at the magnificent man in front of him. Paul’s panting, lips swollen, hair a mess. He looks wrecked and Daryl loves it. He looks up at Daryl through hooded eyes, still stroking himself.

“Just, gimme a second,” Paul says breathlessly.

No, that’s not how this is going to end.

“Don’t be stupid,” the hunter responds hauling the younger man up and kissing him.

Daryl quickly kicks off his shoes and steps out of his pants before pushing them towards Paul’s bed. The back of the scout’s knees and he falls back, letting out a small shaking laugh. Daryl gets down on his knees and removes the rest of Paul’s clothes.

“Please, Daryl, I'm not gonna last long,” the younger man begs. “Please, I need you.”

He’s never heard anything better than his name falling from Paul’s lush and desperate lips. He climbs on top of Paul and latches onto his neck. Sucking and licking at the spot which is undoubtedly going to bruise and purple. It’s exactly what he wants. Paul is his. He closes his hand around Paul’s cock and feels it jump in his hand. He does his best to remember what he likes and hopes it’s enough.

“Holy shit! Daryl! Yes, don’t stop, don-”

Paul’s beautiful pale skin is blushed from his neck to groin and Daryl has the overwhelming desire to run his tongue over every inch of it. He doesn’t know what makes him do it. Where it comes from. He's never done anything like it before. He runs his tongue along Paul’s ear and whispers to him.

“That’s it, Paul, cum for me, let me feel it.” His voice is low and rough and all Paul needs.

The younger man cries out. Daryl watches as thick whites ropes of cum coat the younger man’s stomach. The look of bliss on Paul’s face makes Daryl’s chest tight, knowing he had a hand in it. Paul sits up on his elbows.

“That was,” he lets out a small laugh. “Fucking incredible.”

Daryl grunts in agreement. It makes the other man laugh again.

“I’m a mess,” he says to no one in particular.

Now that the adrenaline and lust his gone Daryl’s back to feeling off and completely out of his element. Most of his limited sexual experiences had ended with Daryl cutting out and running before anyone could say anything. He doesn’t want to do that, but he’s not sure what Paul wants. So he takes it as his cue to get something to clean up with and get out of Paul’s space. But when he tries to get up the other man stops him.

“Hey, where you going?” He asks softly, running the back of his hand along Daryl’s forearm.

“Gonna get somethin' to clean ya up an' get out of ya hair,” he mumbles.

Paul smiles at him and reaches over to grab a random piece of clothing at the end of his bed. He runs it across his stomach.

“Come here,” he says as he pulls Daryl to him and kisses him softly. He shifts and brings Daryl’s head down to rest on his chest. Daryl’s stiff at first but melts into Paul as the younger man reassured him. “If you think I'm gonna let you out of this bed, Daryl Dixon, then you’re completely insane.”

They’re exhausted, sated and happy. It doesn't take long before he feels the scout’s breathe even out in sleep. Daryl spends what feels like hours listening to the beating of the other man's heart. He does his best not to feed into the doubt that is lingering in the background of his mind. He doesn't want to fuck whatever this is up again. The feeling of Paul shivering underneath him breaks him out of his thoughts. The temperature of the room starting to affect them. Daryl props himself up and with a little work, he manages to get the blankets out from underneath them. Paul turns and Daryl comes up behind him, spooning him. He drapes his arm across Paul’s stomach.

“‘m cold,” Paul murmurs in his sleep, seeking the warmth of Daryl’s body and pushing back against him.

“Shh, sleep, Paul. I’ve got you,” Daryl whispers into the other man’s neck and means it.

He feels Paul’s hum of approval more than he hears it. He's content, more so than he’s ever been in his whole life and if he’s honest, he’s scared shitless. But it feels so right. Paul feels right.

Chapter Text

The thing about Alexandria that Daryl hates and loves is that it forces you to let your guard down. It makes you believe you’re safe, with its nice houses, hot water, and warm beds. It makes it easy to forget the shithole that’s no more than 30 feet from them, on the other side of a wall that has no business making anyone feel safe because they weren’t. But it makes it easy.

He’s never felt right in a place like it before and he still doesn’t completely. But he’s tired. Bone deep. And it means he’ll take a false sense of safety for a short while. He keeps how tired he is to himself, or at least he tries. He seems to have everyone fooled and he’s happy with that. Everyone except Jesus. Somehow the little prick sees right through him.
He was always coming by and checking in on him. And at first, it had pissed him off. Like making Daryl chase him and rolling around in the dirt somehow made them friends. Like it was a bonding experience. But no matter how many times Daryl brushed him off or was meaner than he had to be the scout always came back.

Eventually the younger man wore him down. His weird and unnerving positivity was too much for even Daryl’s moodiness to dampen. Plus he was always doing little annoying things like figuring out ways to help Daryl, going on runs with him and finding all these stupid little things he thought Daryl might like. He did, but it wasn’t the point. So begrudgingly, at some point, Daryl had to admit Jesus had, in fact, become his friend.

- - - -

“Yer takin’ another helpin’?” Rick asks, eyebrow raised, as Daryl scoops what’s left of dinner into a container.

“Nah, ain’t fer me, it’s fer Paul. He’s been outside in the garden with Maggie all day,” Daryl informs him in between licking his fingers clean.

“Who?”

“Paul? ... ya know, Jesus.” Daryl rolls his eyes as he hovers in the doorway, trying his best to get away.

Rick has the dumb look on his face he always puts on when he’s ready to bust Daryl’s balls about something.

“Oh, it’s Paul now, is it?” Rick says, barely containing his smirk.

Daryl looks at him like he’s crazy. “Yeah, it’s his name.”

“Right, right,” Ricks responds, eyes squinting, all laughs.

“What’s wrong wit ya,” Daryl says, starting to feel uncomfortable.

“Me? Oh nothing, but ya know ya better get on yer way. Don’t want ta keep Paaauuul waitin’”

Daryl doesn’t answer, he just bolts out the door as he feels his cheeks beginning to redden for some unknown reason.

He hears Rick’s laughter getting louder and him calling Michonne’s name as he hops off the porch and heads off. He tries not to dwell on the look Rick had on his face as he said Paul’s name.

When he reaches the garden Paul is busy impaling vine stakes into the ground. He’s wearing his hair in a bun. Daryl can see the sweat dripping down the back of the man’s neck. His tongue involuntary runs across his lips at the sight.

The sun is beginning to set behind the younger man casting him in a warm yellow glow. Daryl feels something low in his stomach. Something he’s never felt before. He’s so wrapped up in his thoughts he doesn’t see when Paul spots him and makes his way over.

“Hey, what are you doing here? I thought we were meeting up later?” the younger man says, a warm smile spreading across his face.

“We’re still good fer later, I just thought ya might be hungry.” Daryl says, shoving the container of food at Paul.

If it’s possible Paul’s smile becomes even wider. He closes the space between them and takes the container from Daryl. He looks down at it and then up at Daryl again. His face softens and his big seafoam eyes glaze over. He shakes his head like he’s having some sort of internal debate.

“Aren’t you the sweetest.”

He knows the tone the younger man is going for. The scout often teased him using it, but it doesn’t quite land this time. The words come out soft, but powerful and full of praise and affection. They do nothing to help stop Daryl’s already flushed skin. No one openly praises him the way Paul does. It makes him feel like he swallowed a bag of rocks. He has to look away for a second.

“Thank you for thinking of me,” Paul says as he takes a seat on the curb. Daryl sits down next to him.

“It’s nothin’,” he quickly retorts.

They aren’t looking at each other. Daryl is picking at some loose gravel and Paul busys himself with the food.

It isn’t out of the ordinary for them to sit in silence. Sometimes the younger man would ramble on about anything that popped into his head, driving Daryl crazy as he forced him to be a part of the conversation. And other times he knew when Daryl needed his silent company. No matter what they did Daryl felt content and he just knew the other man did too. But lately, something had changed between them and he can’t put his finger on what it is.

Lately, Paul had been casting questioning glances his way. They made Daryl’s gut twist. What if Paul was finally getting tired of Daryl’s lack of social skills and general assholeness?

“This is really good, tell Michonne I said so,” Paul says, eating the last of the food.

“Yeah,” Daryl says bringing his thumb to his mouth.

Paul reaches out and stops him. Their fingers brush together and Daryl’s mouth goes dry. It’s stupid he’s touched much more of the man before, but somehow fingers make him feel like he stuck his head in a bucket of water. It’s a new feeling, or at least it is for him. Either way, all he knows now is that he actually gives a crap about what someone, what Paul, thinks about him and it makes him feel sick.

But Paul knows him too well. He’s good at knowing when Daryl’s about to hightail it out of there and he just changes the subject and brings them back to lighter territory.

“So I’m gonna go clean up and I’ll catch up with you later?”

“Sounds good. Whatcha wan’ do?” The words feel thick and foreign in Daryl’s mouth, despite the fact he must have said them to the scout a thousand times by now. He really just wants to bail.

He wants to make up some dumb excuse and go hide in his room, like a bitch, and try and stop whatever’s going on with him.

“Actually, a bunch of people are meeting around the fire pit to hang out, I thought we’d go? Sounds like it could be nice.”

Daryl’s shoulders drop. He hadn’t realized they were even up. He’s relieved at the suggestion of spend time with other people around. He wasn’t sure about spending alone time with Paul the way he was feeling. But then he thinks about what people. The group could be just as bad.

“What people?”

“Uh, Maggie, Glen, Tara, Denise, Aaron, and Eric... maybe some others?”

Daryl could definitely deal with that crowd. He was also happy Rick and Michonne wouldn’t be there. Something told Daryl he would not enjoy the night if Rick was there annoying him.

“Yeah, that sounds fine,” Daryl tells him.

He couldn’t be sure, but Daryl swore Paul looked relieved at his agreement.

“Great, so do you want me to come by or we could meet there?”

“Nah we’ll go together,” Daryl says, ignoring the way Paul’s face lights up like the fourth of July.

Daryl doesn’t wait for an answer, he just takes off back to the house.

- - - -

Daryl goes back to the house and spends the rest of his time sitting on the sofa biting his nails.

He thinks about Paul and his hair, the way it moves in the wind. He thinks about how easily Paul has found his place in all of their lives, in Daryl’s life. He thinks about the way Paul’s eyes crinkle when he smiles or laughs. He thinks about the way Paul looks at him. It’s different. He doesn’t look at anyone else the way he looks at Daryl. He knows because he’s looked hard.
A knock at the door breaks Daryl from his downward spiral.

“Hey!” Paul says, smiling when Daryl opens the door and goes out to meet him.

“Hey,” Daryl answers.

“Everything okay? You’ve got this look,” the younger man asks in concern. He places a hand against Daryl’s chest to stop him.

“Yeah, I’m fine, let’s go.”

They make their way to the fire pit in silence. Daryl is grateful that Paul doesn’t try and fill it. The closer they get the louder the laughter becomes. The others are already there and having a great time.

“Hey guys! You finally made it!” Tara exclaims, clearly inebriated.

Daryl looks over at one side of the circle they have going around the fire and sees a cooler filled with beers. He can definitely get behind that. He feels Paul move away from his side as the younger man goes around to say hi to everyone.

He knows he shouldn’t but he can’t help the fire the rises in him as Paul hugs Eric closely and tightly. He knows Eric and Aaron are committed to one another, but it doesn’t make him feel any different to see Paul hug the man so freely.

Daryl sits down on the only spot on a bench left. Paul joins him. The nights are getting cooler by the day and he can feel Paul, ever so slightly lean into him for warmth.

They’re all laughing and having a good time. They’re talking about what life was like before everything went to hell. The clubs they went to, the people they interacted with. The good times and the bad. At some point, Tara handed Daryl a beer.

They continue to talk about the things they used to do, the things they liked. The restaurants and bars. He listens closely as Paul talks about how one of his best dates had been to this upscale bar in D.C that had live burlesque dancers performing. The thought that he’ll never be able to top that pops into Daryl’s head and it scares him beyond belief. He has no idea why his brain is going there.

His second beer in Daryl’s feeling comfortable enough to lean back and bring his arm to rest on the other side of Paul. Basically trapping the younger man, not that he seems to mind.

“Hey, Jesus want another?” Denise asks him.

“No, I’m good,” the younger man responds as he takes the beer out of Daryl’s hands and takes a swig.

“Oh, okay then,” She answers with a bit of surprise.

Everyone around the pit let out a little laugh like they’re all in on a secret. Daryl doesn’t think anything of it. He’s used to Paul snatching things out of his hands. But it’s clearly a big deal to everyone else because now they are all staring at them. Daryl almost wishes the ground would swallow him whole. It doesn’t seem to faze Paul though.

Paul hands the beer back to him and smiles. His eyes conveying a message of calmness that Daryl is thankful for. Without realizing what he’s doing Daryl brings the beer to his lips and drinks.

He can see a look cross Maggie’s face. Her already doe eyes getting bigger at some unknown revelation. He watches as she turns to whisper in Glen’s ear. Whatever she says has Glen smiling and looking over at Daryl and Paul.

When Denise offers Daryl a third beer he graciously excepts. Besides the weird looks and glances Daryl’s getting, it’s a good night. They’re having a few laughs about all the dumb things they’ve done. Paul is happy, that much he can tell, and if nothing else Daryl’s happy about that.

Daryl doesn’t contribute much to the conversation and it’s okay. They’re happy to accept whatever Daryl grunts at them. Paul seems particularly ecstatic whenever Daryl chooses to participate, which is evident in the way he leans into Daryl and nudges him.

The conversation turns over to music and they all begin talking about the music that got them through rough times and the music that got them up and dancing.

They all seem to be in agreement that they miss dancing. They miss going to nightclubs and just letting loose. Much to Daryl’s surprise even Maggie has some stories to share.

“You know what I miss the most?” Eric says with a far off gaze. “Theme night. God, the costumes alone.”

Daryl isn’t really sure what “theme night” is, but it makes everyone else break out into laughter. Tara starts talking about all the songs that apparently played on repeat at every sweet 16 and quinceanera she’d ever been invited too. Daryl’s happy to just sit back and listen. He doesn’t have much to contribute to the topic. He’d never had happy times, but he’s happy to hear about what life was life for everyone.

They start singing random lines of songs Daryl’s only heard of in passing. They can’t remember all the words and they’re getting a kick out of it, messing the words all up. The songs are getting cheesier by the second. The alcohol clearly playing its part.

They all get up and start swaying and dancing to their incredibly off-key singing. He can feel Paul itching next to him. He’s bouncing up and down like a kid. He wants to dance and Daryl has the sinking feeling that he wants Daryl to too. And that is just not happening. He’d need a hell of a lot more than two and a half beers.

He turns to chance a look at Paul and he gets a face full of puppy dog eyes. He looks away. He can’t do it. He feels like crap. But Maggie’s his saving grace. She comes over and pulls Paul up.
Paul is all smiles and it kills Daryl that he couldn’t be the one to put it on the scouts face. It seems to be Paul’s turn to pick a song, as he starts singing.

Hey kids, shake it loose together
I didn't come here just to contemplate the weather
Everybody's talkin' now, so stick around

Daryl’s definitely heard the song before, but he’s not quite sure why they’re all cackling as they spin around the fire passing a beer bottle around like it’s a microphone.

Got some electric boots and a mohawk, too.”

“Those are so not the words!” he hears someone choke out.

Say, Sandy and Bonnie, have you seen them yet
Uh but they're so fazed out, B-B-B-Bennie and the Jets”

“Oh but they're weird and they're wonderful
Oh Bennie he's really clean

The lyrics are getting crazier with each verse and the volumes getting higher too. It stopped being funny four verses ago. He's sure the song isn’t really this long. Around the 8 or 9th butchered verse Daryl snaps!

“God, if yer gonna bring the dead in could ya’ll least try singin’ somethin’ good like Freebird!”

They all go silent and turn to stare at Daryl. His ears go red. They burst into hysterical laughter and tell him how funny he is, except he wasn’t trying to be funny.

The beers are all gone and Aaron and Eric are the first to bail. They’re all giggles and soft touches. Everyone knows exactly what they are slinking off to do. It must be contagious because Tara and Denise quickly leave in the same way. Soon after Maggie and Glen start to make their departure. They try and attempt to clean, but Paul shuffled them away.

It isn’t until that moment that it occurs to Daryl they’d spent the night with couples. It means something, but Daryl alcohol filled brain can’t connect the pieces.

After Paul collects all the bottles, he plops down next to Daryl. He’s definitely had more than his share of alcohol. Daryl’s positive of it when he has to catch the younger man before he tumbles backward off the bench.

“Whoa, easy there,” Daryl says wrapping his arm around Paul’s waist.

They’re leaning so far back Paul has to wrap his arms around Daryl’s neck. At least that’s what Daryl tells himself.

“My hero,” Paul says. The words ghosting from his lips. Lips that Daryl is acutely aware of at the moment.

Daryl clears his throat and pulls Paul up. He instantly regrets it. They’re faces are extremely close. Daryl’s heart is in his throat. Paul moves closer and nuzzles his head into Daryl’s shoulder.

“Alright, I think it’s time ya go,” he tells the younger man, pulling him up off the bench.

“My ride already left,” Paul mumbles. “Also I don’t want to be there to hear all the sex.” Daryl can’t fault him there.

“‘specially since it’s not fair. Just ‘cause they have boyfriends...”

Daryl does his best to ignore everything that’s spilling out of Paul’s mouth as he shoulders both their weight, puts out the fire and heads down the street towards the house. Paul is fairly light, but it still takes a bit of work to get him up the steps without tripping. Daryl has never regretted taking the attic room more so than now.

When he finally gets Paul into the room, pouring him onto his bed he’s annoyed that Paul drank so much, but not enough to do anything about it. He huffs, trying to catch his breath.

“Soft,” Paul mumbles, running his palms along the sheets of Daryl’s bed.

He’s useless. So Daryl gets to work removing Paul’s shoes. When he’s done he lifts Paul’s legs and drags him so he’s laying in the right direction.

“Hey! Whataya doin’?” Paul props himself up to look at Daryl standing at the end of the bed still holding his legs.

“Gettin’ ya into bed, ya friggin’ light weight,”

Paul looks around confused. “This isn’t my bed.”

“Damn right, it’s mine,” Daryl says laying down next to him with a thud. “now, lay down an’ sleep it off.”

Daryl closes his eyes. It shouldn’t matter that Paul’s in his bed. He’s had to share worse sleeping space with plenty of other people. Men and women alike. It’s just how things were. But this is different. They’re in Daryl’s home, in his room, on his clean sheets.

Paul lays down and closes his eyes, rolling into Daryl. He brings his head to rest on his shoulder and his arm is draped across Daryl’s waist.

Daryl is frozen stiff and it only gets worse.

“You know of all the ways I imagined us ending up in bed, this was not one them,” Paul whispers out.

Daryl forces out ragged breaths through his nose. His jaw clenches. Paul’s drunk, it doesn’t mean anything. He has no idea what he’s saying. He had way too much to drink, the man’s 5’ nothing and a buck 50 soaking wet. He probably thinks Daryl is someone else.

“Goodnight Daryl.”

Daryl groans. He spends most of the night staring up at the ceiling trying to figuring out how the hell there. He watches the shadows of the trees blowing in a breeze play across his ceiling.
It hits him out of nowhere, his brain finally sobering up. He likes Paul. He likes Paul more than a friend. His gut churns and he regrets drinking at all. He has feelings for Paul. Paul is in his bed. Paul wants to be there. He feels a massive headache coming on.

He doesn’t know how long he spends ruminating over the revelation, but Paul’s warmth gets to him and he can’t fight off the sleep he so desperately needs. They’re going to have to deal with whatever was happening at some point, but for now, Daryl was going to close his eyes and pretend he wasn’t fucking up one of the only close friendships he had.

He brings his hand up to rest on Paul’s wrist and listens as the man lets out a small hum. Daryl drifts off to sleep easier than he has in a long time.

Chapter Text

Everyone is reeling from Denise’s death. But it’s eating Daryl alive. He was there, she was standing in front of him, yelling at him to take a chance and then it was all over. It was his fault. That arrow was meant for him. What was going to happen to Tara? She’d already lost so much. Daryl worried how terribly she’d take it when she got back. Daryl would apologize and beg for forgiveness.

Sleeping becomes impossible for him. Every time he closes his eyes, the scene keeps replaying. He keeps hearing her words. He’s closing in on himself. He hasn’t left his room in days. He’s even turned Rick away.

It’s late, the house is so quiet it’s easy for noise to carry. He hears the front door open and the muffled sound of Rick, Michonne and other person speaking. There’s urgency in all their voices. Their footsteps are heavy on the steps. They’re making their way up to him. Daryl’s prepared to tell all of them to go the fuck away until he realizes who it is.

“Thanks for calling for me,” he hears Paul tell Rick.

“I didn’t know what else ta do, he’s takin’ it hard. He feels responsible. He always feels responsible.”

“I shouldn’t have left,” Paul says with a heavy heart. “I should have just stayed.”

“Well yer here now,” Rick says relief filling every word.

“Yeah, I am,” Paul responds.

“We’re gon’ give y’all the house fer the night.”

“Oh, uh, thanks.”

Daryl hears Paul making he way towards his room.

“Daryl likes his privacy,” Rick says softly.

“I know.”

Paul is right outside his room when he hears Rick call out to him again.

“An’ listen, when this is all over, you an’ I are gonna have a chat. Daryl’s ma brother.” His voice is calm and even, but it isn’t hard to hear the threat in Rick’s statement.

“Rick, I think you're getting ahead of yourself, we’re - it’s...”

“I don’t think I am. Take care o’ him.” He hears Rick shuffle off before Paul can say anything else.

Daryl’s heart is racing. He’s torn between wanting to tell Paul to just leave him be and the deep needy desire he has to crawl into the other man’s arms and just stay there.

He listens as Paul hesitates before opening the door. Daryl turns his body to face the window, his back towards Paul. He’s too ashamed to look him in the face. The room is dark except for the moonlight streaming in through the window.

“Daryl?” the younger man calls out cautiously.

He hovers in the doorway waiting for an answer. The sound of his name on Paul’s lips makes his chest ache. But he can’t answer. He doesn’t think he can find his voice.

“I’m coming in, but if you want to me go just tell me and I will,” Paul says as he takes small steps towards Daryl.

The thought of the other man leaving makes him want to turn and yell at him. Instead, Daryl sits on the bed, one knee bent and his other leg straight out in front of him. He’s got one arm wrapped around his knee. He just stares out the window. Paul let’s out a sigh when Daryl still doesn’t answer.

It’s quiet in the room as Paul tries to figure out the best way to approach Daryl. The silence makes Daryl nervous. It’s the sound of zippers being lowered and laces being undone that finally makes him turn, ever so slightly, to see what the younger man is doing. Paul is sitting in the chair in the corner of Daryl’s room, undoing his shoes. He quickly turns away when he sees Paul stand up and take his jacket off, throwing it on the chair, before making his way over to the bed. Daryl’s breath stops when he feels the bed dip under the scout’s weight.

He comes up behind Daryl and wraps his arms around him, resting his head on Daryl’s shoulder. His hands instantly come up to Paul’s trying to get them apart to push him away. But it only makes the younger man press flush against his back, tightening the embrace.

It feels so good. He doesn’t deserve it.

“Stop Daryl, just stop.” He tries to break out of Paul’s arms a second time and fails. The scout’s a lot stronger than he looks. “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t.”

Tears fill his eyes. He doesn’t want to cry in front of Paul.

“You have to stop blaming yourself. You’re a good man,” Paul whispers into his ear.

It breaks him. He couldn’t stop the whimper that rips through his throat if he wanted to. Tears stream down his face. Paul feels the sob rattle through Daryl’s body and acts quickly.

“It’s okay, come here.”

Paul turns him around and brings Daryl’s head down to his chest. Daryl clings to him like his life depends on it. It feels good to have Paul’s so close, and he feels so guilty. Why should he get what he wants when Tara will come home to nothing, because of him. It’s like Paul can read his mind because all the other man keeps repeating is how Daryl is not to blame.

Daryl snuggles down onto the scout’s chest. Burying his face is the comforting smell of Paul. The young man lets him. He holds him until Daryl has nothing left. He falls asleep at some point. He must have because he wakes up with his head in Paul’s lap, the younger man’s hand buried in his hair. Paul’s asleep, his heart a steady pace and his breath even. He tries to move without waking him, but Paul jolts awake at the slightest movement.

He sits up and looks Paul in the eyes. His chest feels warm. He thinks about what Denise said about taking chances, and about how he owes it to her to follow through.

“Why are you here?” he manages to get out. He has to know. He needs to know what they’re doing.

“‘Cause Ric-“

“No! I mean why are ya -here-. Right now, like this?”

Paul sits up, fully alert now. He looks like a deer caught in the light. He can see the younger man’s chest rising and falling. It’s picking up speed.

“I... I don’t know,” he says looking away from him.

“Nah. That ain’t an answer. Tell me why!” Daryl insists. “Why?!”

“Because...”

“Because, what?” Daryl insists. He’s more forceful than he needs to be, but he feels like he’s flying off the rails. He needs to know if what Paul said that night after the firepit meant anything.

Paul runs his hand across his face and lets out a sigh of frustration.

“Because I like you and I care about you, you asshole.”

It’s like having cold water dumped on you. He’d wanted an answer, but now he wasn’t sure what to do with it. It’s Paul’s turn to turn away.

“In case my embarrassingly pathetic crush wasn’t enough I’ll say it again, I like you Daryl Dixon, and it scares the shit out of me.”

Paul hops out of the bed. He reminds Daryl of a squirrel hopped on caffeine. He’s spinning around like he’s losing his mind. Daryl gets up out of the bed and grabs the man by the shoulders, holding him still.

His heart is pounding against his ribs. Be honest, take a chance. “I’m scared too.”

Paul freezes in his arms. He looks up in Daryl’s eyes and Daryl sees himself. They’re both there, terrified but together. He decides to through caution to the wind and drags Paul to him and kisses him. It’s soft and unsure.

Paul’s stiff at first, but then he kisses Daryl back and he feels like he can breathe for the first time. It’s everything and nothing he could have ever imagined. Paul moves into Daryl and wraps his arms around Daryl’s neck. Daryl brings his arms around the younger man. The scout’s lips are soft and full. Their lips move against each other and he can’t help wonder if they were ever meant to do anything else. Paul pulls away to catch his breath, and Daryl pulls him right back. Paul lets out a little laugh.

“Hey, hey,” Paul says pulling away to look into Daryl’s eyes.

Daryl tries to pull him back. He can’t think, he doesn’t want to. Daryl scared that if they stop to think or talk it’ll all fall apart. This is fragile.

“Daryl,” Paul says as he cups his face forcing them to look at one another. “I want this, I do. I mean I -really- do. But I have to make sure that you want this too. And that this isn’t some weird try everything I can, before it's too late thing."

And there it is. He was right, mood killed. He pushes Paul’s arms away. Daryl feels like he’s been punched in the gut. He’s filled regret. It had been a terrible idea.

“Yeah, yer right, ya should go,” Daryl says turning away from him. He doesn’t want to see Paul’s face. He hears Paul coming closer to him. "LEAVE!"

“Fuck you, Daryl,” Paul spits out. “I laid myself out here and all I’m asking is for you to be honest... with both of us." He’s hurt, Daryl can hear it in his voice. “But you know what, maybe you’re right, maybe this was a mistake. I’m sorry. I always mess everything up.”

Paul rushes over to grab his things. This isn’t what Daryl wants. How could Paul think he fucks everything up when it was clear Daryl was reigning king in that department. The sight of a slightly hysterical Paul sends Daryl into motion. He rushes over to the other man and slams his hand on the door blocking his exit. Paul looks angry. There’s something dangerous lingering behind those blue eyes. He can’t deny he likes it. The younger man looks at his hand and then at him. He stares at him as Daryl slaps the clothes out of Paul’s arms.

“What the fu-“

“Don’t,” Daryl mumbles. “Please don’t go. I don’t know what I’m doin’.”

Paul’s stance relaxes. He looks down at Paul and tries to convey what he can’t verbalize. “I want ya ta stay.”

Paul’s features soften. He gives Daryl a soft smile, taking his hand and leading them back to the bed. They sit down.

“I -“ Daryl starts. He’s not even sure what he’s trying to say.

“It’s okay. Let’s not talk about it. Whatever it is. Let’s just forget everything and just be us tonight. Just for one night,” Paul says leaning in to give Daryl a quick peck.

Daryl tries to deepen the kiss, but Paul stops him. Daryl is confused.

“Come, lets lay down,” he says maneuvering them so they can lay down, pulling Daryl with him.

They just lay there, heads resting on soft clean pillows, staring at one another. Daryl reaches out and brushes hair out of Paul’s face. He lets his palm hover next to his face, the younger man turns into it, rubbing his cheek against it. Then scout places his hand over Daryl’s heart. Daryl covers it with his own. His breath staggers.

“I know there’s nothing I can say to make you stay... but I wish you would,” he whispers to him softly.

“I hav’ ta,” Daryl says.

“I know, that’s why I won’t stop you. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Paul scoots toward him and kisses him. Daryl kisses him back. This is fleeting, but he’ll take whatever he can get.

“You just make sure you come back. Come back and we’ll talk,” Paul says in between kisses.

Daryl doesn’t answer. He knows better than to make promises. He’s learned the hard way.

He wakes up early. Paul’s still asleep. He gets up, puts his boots on and heads out the door without ever looking back, scared if he looks back, at Paul, he wouldn’t be able to leave. But he has to, he has to do what needs to be done.

Chapter Text

“We need to find medical supplies, anythin’ that we can”, Rick is telling them, at a meeting.

Even with all the help, they’re getting from Hilltop, there’s still so much they need. They’ve been going out on runs in rotations and Daryl’s up this time. He doesn’t mind, in fact, he wishes they’d give him more to do. He knows these meetings are important, but he honestly can’t stand them.

Rick is getting to the part where he says who’s up this round, but Daryl cuts him off before he can.

“Right, we’re up,” he says taking his thumb out of his mouth to wave it between him and Jesus.

Rick looks surprised like he wants to say something, but Daryl doesn’t give him a chance. He gets up and reaches over to Jesus and grab him by the arm and pulling him up.

“Okay then, looks like I’m up?” The younger man says shruging his arms, conveying a bit of confusion at the situation. He allows himself to be pulled away until they’re outside.

“Hey slow down, where’s the fire?” he asks Daryl when they’re halfway down the street.

“Huh?” Daryl gruffs out, giving him an annoyed look.

“What’s the rush? Are we leaving now?” Jesus asks.

Daryl doesn’t know how to tell him that he isn’t as shitty as he thought he was and that Rick would have roasted him for it.



They sit down against a tree. Their run had been a failure. They would have to start going further out. It was risky but necessary. Daryl was pissed, Jesus could tell.

“They can’t all be winners. This is the first time out of what? And you know bagin’ that stag is a huge plus,” Jesus tells him trying to pull him out of his mood.

Daryl doesn’t really see it that way.

“I mean the way you tracked him and took him down was truly impressive,” he says as he nudges Daryl with his elbow. “You were definitely in your element. You looked good.”

Daryl feels his cheeks heating up. He was shit at taking compliments from people. He was even worse taking them from Jesus. Each time the went out Jesus found all these little things to point out about Daryl that he liked. Daryl wasn’t sure how to take it.

“Yer pretty good with all that ninja shit you do. How’dya learn it?” Daryl asks genuinely, surprising both himself and Jesus.

The younger man looks up at him through the fullest fanned eyelashes Daryl’s ever seen. He gets a funny fluttering feeling in his stomach. Apparently, Daryl isn’t the only one who doesn’t know how to take a compliment.

“I took classes... before. Started when I was young. I had too, you know.” It’s obviously taking a lot of him to talk and Daryl understands so he tries to be respectful.

“Why?” he asks encouragingly. He really wants to know about the other man. They’d been on 6 or 7 runs and they were still strangers to each other in so many ways.

“Never had parents, family. I grew up in the system. Forster system, but I guess I was too much to handle. Never was adopted. I spent most of my time moving group home to group home.”

Daryl doesn’t know what to say. To say his childhood was shitty didn’t even cover it, but at least he’d had Merle. The younger man didn’t have anyone. Daryl couldn’t imagine how he went through life on his own and then surviving the end. He was strong.

“Damn that’s shit,” he sympathizes.

“Yeah, poor lil’ orphan gay boy,” he says like it’s a line he’s heard on repeat.

He’s gay. Not that it makes a lick of difference to Daryl. It’s just he’d never met anyone who just came out and said it. Aaron, Eric, the girls, they lived their lives openly, but they never just said it like that - out loud without hesitation. No wonder he needed to be a ninja. Georgia and Virginia were different, but he couldn’t imagine them taking to gay men much better.

He looked over to find the scout staring at him expectantly. “No, reaction huh?”

“What?”

“Me being gay and all that, sorry to just throw it on you like that, but I find it easier just to say it and let the chips fall where they may,” he explains.

“I don’t care. That shit means nothin’ ta me,” Daryl makes very clear.

“Cool. So yeah, growing up in the foster system and being a gay man meant that I had to take care of myself. Too many people around thinking they owned me or that I owed them.”

“Pricks,” Daryl’s hisses, venom lacing every word. He didn’t want to imagine the fucked up shit the other man had to deal with. Jesus smiles at him.

“Wasn’t all bad though. I made a few friends, fucked around - a lot. Didn’t graduate high school, but I managed to get my act together and get my GED. Then I met this guy and he helped me out, got me to take the SATs. He helped me write an essay about my life that got me a full ride to George Washington University. I ended up graduating with my bachelors in Fine Arts and a minor in Art History.”

Daryl was surprised, they had so much in common and yet their paths lead them in much different directions. It made Daryl wonder if he hadn’t spent so much time up Merle’s ass if his life would have been different. But then again, here they both were at the end of days, sitting against a tree scavenging for scraps.

“I can see that the whole college thing, yer smart,” Daryl tells him.

“Thanks,” Jesus says. Daryl’s sure he sees a blush forming on the younger man’s cheeks.

He doesn’t know why and he knows he shouldn’t care but he wants to know about the ‘guy’. “So that guy, he still around?” Fuck. He shouldn’t have asked, Jesus’ smile falters. He looks away.

“Uh no, he was older than me and he wanted to se- and I’m shit at - I was a total fuck up,” he’s shaking his head with a far off look in his eyes. “I ruined things long before all this happened... I don’t know what happened to him.”

Daryl feels like an ass for asking. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he says resting a hand on Daryl’s arm. “Really, it feels like that was a different life. I’m different now. Better, I hope. But what about you? How were you before all this started?”

Daryl’s honest with him, more so than he’s been with anyone. Tells him about his Ma, and Pops, and Merle. The never-ending piles of shit that kept coming into his path. He tells him about having to put Merle down. He tells him about how it got better. He tells him how he met Glen, then Rick, Maggie, and all the rest. Daryl tells him about all the shit they’ve been through. The whole time the younger man just sits quietly listening. It’s easy to talk to him. He wants to.

“You’ve been through a lot... you’re incredibly strong.” It makes Daryl flinch a bit.

“We all have to be.”

 




Jesus is quick. They’re out on another run. They managed to get more than they expected, but when it was time to head back neither of them was ready. So instead they decided to put their skills to the test against one another. Daryl’s tracking skills against Jesus’ Houdini like vanishing skills. They’re both good at what they do and they keep each other on their toes. They’ve been in pursuit of one another for miles.

Daryl tracks the younger man through a pack of trees. The tracks stop, he tries to catch his breath as he looks around. He lets out a yelp, he’ll fully deny, when Jesus jumps down from a tree right in front of him. The scout smiles ear to ear, before taking off running.

“Come ‘ere!” Daryl growls as the scout slips through his fingers.

The other man never slows down. Daryl hears the other man laugh out and it sounds like a bell ringing clear through a dark morning. They run on into an open field and they’re instantly reminded of the day they met. Jesus hasn’t stopped laughing.

“Keep laughin’ boy, ya ain’t gettin’ away this time,” Daryl tells him as they circle one another. “ Imma get ya.”

“Promises, promises,” Jesus says always one step away.

Daryl can’t wait to bring the man down a peg. He fakes him out and goes for the left instead of the right and manages to grab a hold of Jesus’ jacket. He uses it like a rope and pulls him to him. They end up a tangled heap on the ground. Daryl on top of Jesus. It turns into wrestling and apparently, the scout is very ticklish. Jesus is full on giggling and much to Daryl’s dismay he finds it infectious.

Jesus has one of Daryl’s arm in a lock. Daryl’s trying to get out of it before he falls flat onto the other man. “C’mon Paul,” he growls out.

The scout goes rigid underneath him. He’s not laughing anymore. He’s looking up at Daryl with his stupid blue eyes all big like Daryl did something to him.

“What? ya’kay? Did I hurt ya?” Daryl says starting to get concerned.

The younger man shakes his head and smiles. “You called me Paul.”

Daryl’s confused. “It’s yer name...”

“You’ve never called me anything.”

“I sure as hell wasn’t gonna call ya Jesus,” Daryl says finally noticing that he was still on top of Paul and moving off him. Paul’s gaze and smile is starting to make Daryl feel like his stomach is tied in knot.

“Stop lookin’ at me like that or I’m gonna come up with a different name for ya,” Daryl huffs, giving him a shove.

“Sorry, it’s just... no one calls me Paul.”

“Oh, I guess I could call ya som-“

“No! I like it. It’s nice to hear is all,” the younger blushes.



The day has been slow for them. They decided to go outside of the walls, into an open field not far. Today was all about them, no scavenging, no walkers, no worries. Just the two of them and the stars. Paul had made a good case for them to enjoy some well-deserved rest time.

They lay out in the sun all day, Daryl sits by and watches as Paul collects flowers to bring back for Michonne, Judith, and Maggie. He sticks them in a water bottle and hopes they make it. He is always thinking of others. It’s one of the things that soften Daryl to the other man.

They lay out in silence, just listening. It had been so long since either one of them had a moment to just be and listen. To listen to the wind blowing through the tall grass, the sounds of birds swooping overhead. At one point Paul takes out a book. He loves to read, anything he could get his hands on, Daryl noticed. He asks him what he’s reading, but instead of telling him Paul reads to him. It’s a book of quotes.

"When you fall in love, it is a temporary madness. It erupts like an earthquake, and then it subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots are to become so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the desire to mate every second of the day. It is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every part of your body. No ... don't blush. I am telling you some truths. For that is just being in love; which any of us can convince ourselves we are. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away. Doesn't sound very exciting, does it? But it is!"

The words singe his chest. They’re too much for him to take in. This isn’t the right time for love. He understands what Paul is telling him. He’s not a moron, he can finally put all the pieces together. The gifts, the time spent together, the days, the nights, the reluctant laughs and smiles, the need to be with one another. He feels it too, it eats away at him. He tried to push it away, pretend it wasn’t there, but he isn’t strong enough. It’s wrong, but he wants to give in. It’s not the right time to lose someone. He can’t find the words to tell Paul that he feels… something or that he can’t give him what he wants. It’s wrong of him, but he takes what Paul gives feely.

The day turns to night in comfortable silence. When it does they build a small fire. They lay on their backs looking up at the sky. Daryl can’t remember the last time he took the time to look up at the stars. They’re beautiful. In the quiet of the night, they can pretend they’re the only two people on Earth, there’s no danger, fear, loss. There is only them in the stillness of the night gazing at the stars.

He feels guilty for even thinking it. For having the desire of something so selfish, but he and Paul could be happy alone in a world of their own. He’s starting to feel like he’d give anything to experience that world and it’s horrifying to him. He doesn’t understand or want this desire, the desire to belong to another person. No one owned him. Screw all of this bullshit, he thinks, but then Paul turns to face him, and he gets lost in the pools of seafoam blue the younger man calls eyes. He watches as a small smile spreads across Paul’s face and Daryl feels it, the pull and he wants it. If it’s with Paul then maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible.

He doesn’t know what love is. The thought of it scares him more than the walkers, more than the saviors. Love is madness. It’s not what he feels it isn’t. He can’t become entwined. He can’t let someone in to lose them. The world of his fantasy doesn’t exist and the pain isn’t worth it.

But Paul reaches out and takes Daryl’s hand into his own and all his thoughts are blown away in the breeze.


 


They came back from their hunting trip exhausted. It was supposed to be a relaxing thing for them to do. Neither one of them liked to stay behind walls too long. They needed to be outdoors. But thanks to an unexpected herd of walkers, they’re trip had been cut short.

“What the hell happened to you two?” Michonne asks as they drag themselves into the house and collapse onto the sofa. “I thought you were on a hunting trip?”

“Got cut short,” Paul says, throwing his head back and sinking in next to Daryl.

“Clearly,” Michonne says as she crosses her arms in front of them and takes in the state of them.

“Damn herd came outta nowhere.”

Her eyes go wide. “Well, I’m glad your both okay, but you’re both disgusting and making a mess of the sofa so go shower.”

“Where’s Rick?”

“Putting Judith back to sleep. So be quiet okay,” she says going back to the dishes.

They get up simultaneously and head up the stairs. Paul follows Daryl into his room. They turn and look at themselves in the full-length mirror on the wall.

“Wow, we really look like shit,” Paul says rubbing his beard. Daryl smirks, he has to agree with the other man’s assessment.

“Do you have anything I could borrow? Clothes I mean, these are all I’ve got with me.”

“uh, yeah, sure,” Daryl says as he opens drawers and pulls a few things out. “Here,” Daryl says handing him a bundle of clothes.

“Thanks, if you don’t mind I’ll shower first and head down to sleep.”

“Wait? what?” Daryl asks.

“I’ll shower and then head down to the sofa to crash,” the younger man explains.

“Ya don’t hav’ta” Daryl murmurs. “Ya could stay here.”

His heart is pounding. He doesn’t know what he’s suggesting exactly, but he knows he wants he doesn’t want to spend the rest of the night away from Paul.

“Daryl I couldn’t ask you to give up your bed.” Oh, he thinks. Daryl’s shit at explaining himself.

“I’ll be fast,” he says as he walks out of his bedroom and heads downstairs to the bathroom.

He turns the water on to hot. He steps under the scalding water. He wants to burn whatever he’s feeling away. Whatever it is about the other man that keeps him going back for more. This isn’t what he needs right now, even if it is what he wants. He scrubs himself vigorously, turning tanned flesh red. He gets out, dresses and goes back to his room.

He finds Paul sitting on the edge of the bed. He looks tense. He looks up when Daryl enters the room.

“All yours,” Daryl says sitting down.

It’s a while before Paul comes back. The Hilltop didn’t have consistent warm water so he figures the scout is taking advantage of what Alexandria has to offer. It’s Daryl’s turn to look up and go speechless. He looks up to find Paul standing in his doorway, hair in a wet bun, wearing Daryl’s clothes. His mouth goes dry at the sight. Something about seeing the younger man in his clothes makes Daryl want to reach out and grab him. Something about how Paul looks in Daryl’s oversized shirt and sweatpants.

“Hey,” he says sitting down on the bed. “Sorry about taking so long, hot water is wonderful.”

“Nah it’s cool.” Daryl doesn’t know how to tell Paul that he doesn’t plan on leaving his bed and that he wants to Paul to stay too.

Paul winces a bit as he sits down and Daryl is on him instantly. He’s lifting the scout's shirt to unveil a purpling bruise that is spreading across Paul’s ribs. Daryl run his hands across it.

“Daryl, I’m okay, it’s fine, I landed funny on that log is all,” Paul tells him as he tries to pull his shirt back down.

Daryl’s panic is evident on his face. Paul takes Daryl’s hands in his own and lowers them on the bed. “I’m really okay. I promise. I’m just exhausted and I really want to get some sleep.”

Daryl’s resolve waivers, he’s bothering the other man. He tries to move off the bed, but Paul keeps him there.

“I don’t have the energy to pretend to argue about who’s gonna sleep on the couch when we both know it’s gonna be neither one of us. There’s plenty of room here, let’s just go to sleep.”

Daryl forces himself not to think as he settles down on his side and helps Paul ease down into his. They land their hands down in between each other. He feels Paul’s thumb brush against his own. It doesn’t stop.

He sleeps well that night. For the first time in his life is mind is quiet. And when he wakes up, he’s pressed against the most delicious heat. His arms wrapped around Paul, the younger man pressing back into him.

Chapter Text

He wakes up knowing he is alone. He runs a hand over Daryl’s spot, it isn’t warm, but it isn’t cold either. It hasn’t been long since he left.

If Paul were a different man he’d run out after Daryl and beg him to stay. Tell him he loves him and that he should just stay back, stay with him, at Hilltop or in Alexandria it wouldn’t matter as long as they were together. But he isn’t that man, he wouldn’t trap Daryl like that. Daryl would go regardless, he has no doubt, but he’d be distracted thinking over Paul’s words. It would make him sloppy and that’s just not something Paul’s willing to risk. So instead, he sits in Daryl’s bed. He picks up the blanket and inhales the scent of clean sheets and a smell that is 100% Daryl all blending with his own. He knows who he’s falling in love with. He knows what comes along with loving a man like Daryl.

Eventually, he gets his things together and makes his way through the house. It’s quiet, save for Olivia and Judith in the living room. He slinks passed them without them ever knowing he was there. He leaves out the back and climbs over the wall. He’s heading back to Hilltop, without Daryl Alexandria doesn’t have much he’s interested in. And if he was going to wait for Daryl he was going to do it in his own home.

When he finally gets back to Hilltop, he throws himself down into his bed. It doesn’t smell like the two of them. He doesn’t like it.

He hadn’t given himself a chance to stop and think about what had happened between the two of them the night before. But now in the quiet of his trailer he can’t stop thinking about it. Daryl had kissed him. It had finally happened. He’d been waiting so long for it and then when it did happen he freaked out. He’d handled all of it like shit. He was lucky that they both we crap at what they were doing. He couldn’t believe Daryl had been the relatively calm one.

He thinks about the actual kiss. The soft, unsteady, yearning kiss Daryl had placed on his lips. The second their lips touched every nerve ending in Paul’s body lit up. He wanted more, he wanted everything and his stomach was in his ass. He could have fucked it up. He could have pushed Daryl, the old him would have. He would have taken what he needed and run, but he didn’t want that with Daryl.

At first, he though he just had a crush on the hunter, and he was happy enough to see if maybe they could have some fun. But somewhere along the way, he’d fallen for the surly older man. Somewhere in between Daryl calling him an ass and Daryl blushing as he reluctantly accepted his small affections, Paul had started to have real feelings. The more time he spent with Daryl the more he appreciated the man. He was fiercely loyal, skilled, smarter than he let on, with arms to die for, and a kind heart. And when it was already too late, Paul realized it wasn’t a crush. He wanted something real, and he wanted it with Daryl.

That’s where he finds himself now. In love with an emotionally constipated, closeted man, who’s vengeance tops everything else.  

He’s so stupid. There’s a part of him that wishes and hopes that this can work out. It’s the optimist in him, but the pessimist knows otherwise. Daryl holds all the cards now, even if he doesn’t know it. Paul is too deep to back away now and the hunter could destroy him with a few words. The two part of his brain rage against one another.

Daryl’s invited you into his bed.

He doesn’t know what he wants.

You see the way he looks at you, he feels the same.

He’ll never accept himself or you.

He just needs help.

He’ll crawl deeper into that closet. Who are you kidding? You’ll never be enough for him to hold your hand out in the world.

He wants to be with you, you know it, help him, be at his side. Don’t rush him.

Only a fool would fall in love with someone who’s embarrassed of who he is, of what he is, who you are.

It doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s too late you already love him.

You’ll take what little he can give and when it isn’t enough anymore, when you get bored like you always do, you’ll leave and you’ll destroy him along with yourself... like you alway do. You ruin everything. Mark, Alex, and an even longer list before them.

That’s not who you are anymore. It’s not. You didn’t love any of them, not like Daryl.

Paul takes a pillow and puts it over his face and screams into it. He insides are in knots. They need to talk, he doesn’t want to push Daryl, but they have too. He’s not sure what he even really wants from the other man, but he knows the want is there.

He gets up and goes out to work in the gardens, anything to take his dad off the raging storm in his brain. It’s menial, repetitive, work but it does the trick, and by the time night comes he’s exhausted. He eats alone and in silence. The others notice but say nothing. And when he goes to sleep it’s somewhat peaceful.


Whatever healing he’d done overnight dissolves into nothing when Rick and the others show up. The first thing he notices is the lack of Daryl. He isn’t there. He heart sinks. They look like death, they’ve been through something. It isn’t until they unveil two headless corpses that Paul internally loses it. He can’t let them see the terror that he feels. And when he learns that it’s Abraham and Glenn he feels relief and then guilt for thanking God it wasn’t Daryl. He feels their loss, he does. They were good men, and Glenn left behind a pregnant Maggie, who they rush to Dr. Carson, but they aren’t Daryl, they aren’t his.

Negan, the saviors, they did this. They had Daryl. He immediately wants to rush off when he’s told by Aaron, he doesn’t know where he has to go, but he doesn’t care. But Aaron and Rick convince him he has to stay. They need him there to protect  Maggie and the baby. It’s what Daryl would want. Fuck, he can’t argue with that and he knows they’re right. Daryl would be pissed if he ever found out Paul left Maggie vulnerable to try and find him.

He gives Maggie and Sasha his trailer. They can’t be anywhere near Gregory, the idiot that he is.

“Maggie, I’m so-“ he tries to tell her.

“DON’T. Please?” she says, voice cracking and eyes filling up with tears. “We need to stay focused. We need to be ready.”

She’s hiding, he knows all about it, so he doesn’t push her. “And we will be. We just need something to go off of.”

They just need one bit of information and then he can get Daryl back. He has to get Daryl back. The though of what he might be doing to him is driving him insane. He has to get him back, alive... or dead, he’s bringing Daryl home.

“We’ll get him back, you know that right?” Maggie asks, full of confidence.

Paul looks at her, it’s like she can read his mind. “Yeah,” Paul says more out of niceties than belief. It’s not that he doesn’t believe, it’s just hard too after hearing and seeing what the saviors are capable of.

They bide their time, waiting for the perfect opportunity as they plan. He helps in every way he can. The saviors come and they take and lucky for them Gregory knows how to kiss ass and be pathetic. He’s their perfect cover, in more ways than one. The visit gives him the perfect opportunity, he can follow them home. He can’t get Daryl back.

He hides and Carl’s there too. It’s turning into a fucking disaster. The compound is much larger than he could have imagined. His heart sinks. This is more than they thought. He does his best the memorize all the paths so he can report back. But priority number one is Daryl. It’s by sheer luck and nothing else when he comes across Daryl beating the brains out of a man in the parking lot.

It’s like he isn’t there. Daryl doesn’t even notice him at first and then all at once he’s there, inches away from him. He looks terrible. God, what have they done to him? Paul’s heart aches. He wants to touch him, but he knows it’s not a good idea. Daryl grabs him and Paul flinches. It’s different, Daryl’s different. The hunter pulls him over to a bike and they hope on. He wraps his around Daryl and feels the man tense underneath his touch. He never relaxes. Paul can feel the erratic beating of Daryl’s heart.

When they get back to Hilltop Daryl sulks off in a corner, away from everyone else. Paul is at a loss with what to do with him. He asks the girls if they’d stay in the extra room in Barrington House so Daryl can have the trailer for the night. They don’t hesitate to agree.

It takes Paul a while to coax Daryl into the trailer. He’s skittish. He won’t let Paul come close. He knows he shouldn’t take it personally, but it still hurts. Paul gives up, he leaves out food and clean clothes shows Daryl where the shower is and leaves him to his own devices.

He knows Daryl needs time and space, but a part of him had hoped that maybe Daryl would have run to him, pull him into his arms and seek comfort there. It’s stupid, he’s making it about himself, when he doesn’t have any right to.

He sits out side the trailer door, on guard, protecting. He sits there for hours. The girls come by, they want to check on him, but Paul doesn’t let them through. Daryl’s in no position to have company, not yet. He sits there through sun set and into the night. He wakes up with a jolt when he feels the door hit him.

“Come ‘nside,” Daryl whispers to him.

Paul doesn’t answer, he just follows Daryl in and lays down on the couch. Daryl doesn’t say anything either. He goes back to Paul’s bed and turns his back to him. The next few days are the same. They don’t speak. Daryl avoids him like the plague, but he avoids everyone too.

It’s over, he thinks. Whatever they had is gone. The saviors beat it out of him, along with everything else. Daryl was more shut down than ever. He calls out Daryl’s name, but he doesn’t turn around, he doesn’t even stop.

He feels like he’s been stabbed in the chest because at that moment he knows he loves Daryl and he knows nothing will come of it. He runs past Daryl and yells for the gates to be open. He runs and he just keeps running. Tears stream down his face. He feels like a fool. How could he have been so stupid? He stops when his legs ache and his lungs burn. He sits down next to a tree and lets himself have a pity party.

He thinks back to all the moments they shared. He thinks about to the few times he saw Daryl smile and he wonders if anyone will ever see it again. He tries to engrain what it felt like to have Daryl’s body close to his in his mind. What it felt like to kiss him. He feels like an idiot. He makes the decision to be Daryl’s friend. He can be whatever Daryl needs him to be, no matter how much it hurt. There wasn’t any time for broken hearts and feelings. They were about to fight a war.

It’s late when he gets back, everyone’s settled in for the night. He waves the guards and they let him in. They’re concerned he knows, but he waves them off. He isn’t really thinking when he makes his way back to his trailer. His hand is on the doorknobs when he realizes and walks off. He walks back to where the empty trailers are. He’s about to go into one when he’s grabbed and pulled aside.

Daryl. It’s Daryl. His hair is hanging over his eyes, but Paul can still see the desperate look in his eyes. He watches as the hunter’s lip quivers. Paul shivers under the gaze.

“Why’d ya leave? ... Where’d ya go?” Daryl's voice is soft. “Ya left.”

“Daryl...”

Daryl lets out a broken breath before he grabs Paul and pulls him in and kisses him hard. It’s desperate and full of teeth and fire. He’s got Paul pulled so close against him the younger man can barely breathe. He doesn’t care. He's afraid to even move. He’s afraid anything he does couldn’t end it. He kisses him back and Daryl melts into his arms.

Daryl breaks away and buries his face in Paul's neck. Paul can feel Daryl’s tears in his neck, but he doesn’t say anything. He just holds the man.

“Ya can’t do that,” Daryl grunts. “Ya can’t just leave, without sayin’ nothin’. Without tellin’ me.”

Paul’s winded. He isn’t sure what to say. How was he supposed to know? He can’t help but be a bit angry. “You mean like you did?”

Daryl pulls away like Paul just hit him. He stares at him. It’s unnerving.

“Yeah, like me. Yer suppos’ta be smarter than that,” Daryl chokes out. “It’s ma fault. I got Glenn killed. It was me. It’s always me. Ya don’t want me. I ruin everything.”

“Don’t tell me what I want,” Paul counters. He sighs in frustration. “I know what I want. What I don’t know is what you want from me, Daryl. Okay, because this, all of this, is confusing. And I’m at a loss here. You can’t just keep pushing me away and pulling me towards you. It just hurts too much.”

Daryl just keeps staring and it kills him.

“Just tell me what this is so I know what to do with myself. So I can protect myself. Because you know of all the things going on right now, the thing with the most power to hurt me is you,” Paul confesses.

“I thought ‘bout ya,” Daryl says softly, breaking the silence after Paul’s confession. He rests his forehead on Paul’s. “When I was there. Yer all I thought ‘bout. Yer all that kept me goin’. Comin’ back to ya.”

Their hearts are pounding in competition. “Ya said we’d talk. An’ I know I’m terrible at this but I’m tryin’, I am Paul.”

Daryl let’s go of Paul, to cup his face. Paul can’t stop the tears from falling as he looks up at Daryl. His memory was what kept Daryl going, coming back to him. It’s terrifying and wonderful all at once. He’s scared. He reaches up and brushes the hair out of Daryl’s face.

He places a gentle kiss on the hunter’s lips.

“I’m scared and I hate it. I was scared before I left, an’ then I was scared that wasn’t gon’ see ya again, and I’m sure as hell scared now, of this.”

“So am I,” Paul tells him.

“Ma Pops, my brother, if they where here they’d beat the shit out of me, hell they’d kill me.”

“They’re not here, but I am. You’re not wrong, this isn’t wrong, we are not wrong.”

“I know yer right, ‘cause there’s no other way I would ‘ave kept goin’. But it don’t change how I feel.”

The fear and doubt rises in Paul. This is what he was worried about. Daryl is conflicted. He wants him, but he full of bullshit from his family.

“An' that don’t change how much I want ya or need ya neither,” Daryl tells him in between kisses. “Tell me ya want this too.”

Paul doesn’t think he has any words left. He deepens their kiss. He’s pulling at Daryl. He hopes that Daryl understands what he’s telling him. He moans into his mouth and it sets Daryl off. He’s press Paul into the wall behind him. Hands are everywhere, pull and caressing. There’s a fire burning between them.

“Stop, Daryl, come,” Paul groans out, as Daryl sucks a bruise onto his collar bone. “Let’s go, inside.”

Daryl lets him lead them back to the trailer. Daryl sits down at the edge of the bed and he holds out his hand. He takes it and straddles Daryl’s lap. Paul wants to show Daryl how good they can be together. He kisses Daryl’s forehead, his cheeks, and then his lips. He starts off soft and then licks his way into Daryl’s mouth. He takes his times. It’s risky, but he throws caution to the window and sinks down into Daryl laps, grinding down. They moan together at the contact of their erections.

Daryl’s hand cup Paul’s ass, he squeezes hard, making Paul grind down even harder. Daryl pulls Paul’s shirt off and throws on it on the ground. He latches on to Paul’s shoulder and bites down. He throws his head back and lets out a yelp, mixed in pain and pleasure. They move against each other with purpose. They rutting against each other like a couple of teenagers, but Paul’s sure nothing has ever felt better. It’s been so long, Paul knows he won’t last much longer. He unbuttons Daryl’s shirt and tries to push it off, but the hunter stops him. Paul’s settles for running his hand up and down his flanks and eventually into Daryl’s hair yanking hard. He pulls hard enough they break away. Daryl’s head is back, his eyes are blown wide with lust. Paul loves the way it looks on him. He keeps moving, pressing into Daryl bringing them to the edge. He licks his way back into Daryl's mouth before he bites down on Daryl’s bottom lip.

And that’s all it takes. Daryl moans low and hard into Paul’s mouth as he cums and Paul is close behind. They stay molded together panting. They’re bare chests pressed against one another.
 
Paul’s laughs small and quiet.

“Made a mess,” Daryl huffs.

“But what an amazing mess it was,” Paul says as he cleans himself with a warm cloth before handing it over to Daryl. He walks to a trunk and pulls out a pair of pants and tosses them at Daryl.

“They’re clean,” Paul says before he turns and strips his own soiled pants off and puts on a new pair on. Daryl quickly does the same.

There isn’t time for thinking, there isn’t time for much these days and Paul isn’t about to waste what little they have. It’s strange but they almost have a routine now. Paul lays down and Daryl lays down after him. It’s smaller than Daryl’s in Alexandria. He tries to give Daryl as much room as possible, but the second Daryl is in the bed he pulls Paul closer to him. He pulls him into him, so Paul’s head is resting in his chest. The hunter runs his hands up and down Paul’s back. The younger man smiles into his chest. He leans up and kisses Daryl.

“Goodnight.”

“‘Night.”

Chapter Text

After that first night, they can’t stop. Every second they find for themselves is a flurry of hands, lips, gasps, and groans. Every moment feels like it might be their last and now Daryl’s afraid if they stop it’ll all just fade away. They’re walking through Hilltop and Daryl pulls Paul behind a trailer and slams him against it.

Paul lets out a short laugh before he attacks Daryl. They don’t have time for soft caress and languid kisses. No, what they have is hungry and wild. No less real, no less perfect, just surrounded by fear. Daryl feels like every inch of him is on fire. How can something that scares him so thoroughly bring him peace at the same time? It shouldn't be possible. It doesn’t make sense, but it’s how he feels every time they’re together.

Daryl runs his fingers through Paul’s silky smooth hair and yanks a bit, he’s learning. He knows Paul likes it as he moans into his mouth. The scout seeks entrance into his mouth and Daryl lets him. They go on that way, kissing and panting until they’re forced apart by the sounds of approaching footsteps.

Paul grabs his hand pulls him away from the sound. They carefully make their way behind Barrington House without anyone noticing. Paul is slumped against the wall. Daryl places himself in between the younger man’s open legs. He a mess, hair all crazy and sticking up, pupils as big as saucers, and beautiful lips swollen and bitten. There’s no mistaking what Paul’s been up to, not looking the way he does and Daryl likes that. He loves the way Paul’s already plump lips fill up and redden each time they kiss. He smoothes out Paul’s hair and tries to press out the crimps he made in the scout’s shirt. Paul looks up and smiles at Daryl. He pulls Daryl close and kisses him quickly, before standing up.

“We’re gonna be late.”

Daryl doesn’t say anything, he doesn’t need to. They make themselves somewhat presentable and walk out to meet with Maggie. They have plans to make.

. . . .

They’re outside the walls. They are supposed to be hunting, supposed to be. What they’re actually doing makes Paul feel just a bit guilty. But not enough to make Daryl stop sucking on the spot behind his ear that turns his legs into jello. Not enough to make Daryl lose the tight grip he has on Paul’s hips.

The hunter’s got him pressed up against a tree, one leg in between his while he bites and sucks every bit of exposed skin he can find. Paul’s helpless to do anything besides run a hand through Daryl’s hair and pull it in his fist. It makes Daryl moan. Paul is incredibly hard, but it’s nothing new. Since they’ve started on this new part of their relationship, Paul’s been in a perpetual state of painful arousal. He doesn’t fault Daryl in any way. He’d never push him beyond his comfort. He just wishes Daryl would loosen up before his balls exploded.

So far they hadn’t made it passed over the clothes rutting and groping. He wants so much more. He knows he could make the other man feel so good, but he also knows Daryl needs time. He takes whatever Daryl is willing and able to give happily. So if it means they make out against every wall and every tree they come across, well Paul will deal with it.

“I love the way you taste,” Daryl grunts into his ear. Paul almost comes on the spot. To hear something like that coming from Daryl is almost inconceivable. Daryl barely says anything at all, let alone something so amazing dirty.

“Oh God Daryl, if you keep saying things like that this is going to end a lot quicker than you thought”, Paul manages in between moans.

It only spurs Daryl on. Paul isn’t the only one who’s hard as a rock. “Kiss me, please, I need to feel your mouth,” the younger man whines out.

Daryl gives him what he wants. It’s a filthy kiss, hot and wet. Daryl doesn’t waste any time slipping his tongue in Paul’s mouth. The hunter will be the death of him. He realigns himself so each inch of them are touching. Now Paul can feel Daryl’s hot, thick dick through all their layers and clothes. What he wouldn’t do to feel them against one another without all the layers.

Paul reaches around and grabs Daryl’s ass and he bites his lip and it’s all over. He feels Daryl tense against him and grunts out his release. It shouldn’t turn him on to think about the mess they’re going to have to walk around in all day, but it does.

Then Daryl shocks the hell out of him and reaches down between them to cup Paul in his hands and Paul’s cums harder than he thinks he has in his whole life.

They’re going to have to work on Daryl’s ‘pillow talk’ because just as they’re coming down from their orgasms Daryl’s already onto to the next thing like. They didn’t just get each other off in broad daylight against a tree while they were supposed to be looking for food.

“We should get moving. Dinner ain’t gonna hunt itself,” he says stepping away from Paul and adjusting what Paul knows to be very uncomfortable pants.

Paul’s sighs, but before he has a chance to say anything else Daryl comes back a places a quick peck on his lips. It’s enough for Paul. He moves to catch up to where the hunter is and quickly squeezes his hand before he lets go.

. . . .

It’s all about these bursts of uncontrollable passion and it isn’t. At night, in the quiet of their home, it’s slow and healing. It’s warm hands running overheated skin, stroking, and kneading, and cleansing. Daryl does his best to keep in the small whimpers Paul brings out of him.

The younger man has Daryl splayed out underneath him. He never felt the way Paul is making him feel. Paul’s down to only pants and he has Daryl’s shirt completely unbuttoned. He flattens his palm over Daryl’s heart and kisses him. He can feel Paul’s nimble fingers locate every little forced imperfection. They’re followed by Paul’s lips. He kisses every one of them. It brings tears to his eyes. He feels raw under Paul’s touch. He doesn’t say anything and Daryl is happy. He doesn’t think he could say anything.

Paul moves him around and Daryl ends up on his stomach with Paul hover over him. He pulls Daryl’s shirt off and he tenses up. These scars are different. He tries to stop Paul, but the younger man is determined. Daryl’s breathe gets caught in his throat as Paul’s fingers brush across them. Paul moves slowly, trace each one. First with his fingers, then with his lips and then with his tongue. Daryl can’t stop the tears now. He feels the loose strands of Paul’s hair moves against his oversensitized skin. His body trembles and Paul stops to cover his body with his own and hugs him.

“You’re beautiful,” Paul whispers. His holds on to Daryl kisses the side of his neck. “I won’t push you, but you can talk about them, with me. You can tell me what happened. You don’t have to carry it alone. I’m always gonna be by your side.”

Chapter Text

If Paul is being honest he’d gone further in his first sexual encounter than he and Daryl have in weeks. Frustration didn’t even begin to describe what he is feeling. He so desperately wants their relationship to move forward, but he knows how hard all of it was for the older man. His head is filled with doubt and bullshit from years of abuse from both his father and his brother. Daryl didn't like to admit it, but Merle had been just a dangerous to his mental state as their father had been. So he waits and waits, patiently. It doesn't help that he doesn't have anyone to turn to talk about it. He wouldn’t do that to Daryl either. Neither of them is ready to let people know that they are…. Something. He feels like he’s overreacting or misreading things.

And that’s when Alex shows up.

Months ago a visit from Alex would have been an inconvenience riddled with snipping and passive aggressive comments, but things were different now and Paul was actually happy to see the other man. There were no romantic feelings left, and Paul wonders if there ever were to begin with or if it had just been about convenience. He’d hurt Alex and he regretted it. He watches as Alex’s smile falters for a second when he sees Paul before he composes himself again. He hesitates before he comes over.

“Hey,” he says softly.

“Hey, it’s nice to see you,” Paul answers, a small smile on his face. Alex lets out a little huff. “No, I mean it,” Paul continues as he shifts from one foot to the other.

Alex looks at him skeptically. “That’s surprising,” he answers back. The words are simple, but there’s miles of subtext beneath them.

The other man is obviously waiting to see if Paul will have the typical response he’d become used to. “Not going to lie, I wasn't entirely looking forward to seeing you again.”

“That’s fair,” Paul says as he looks away. He feels like an ass. He’d really hurt the other man and to make things worse he’d never apologized, mostly because he hadn’t previously thought he had anything to apologize for.

“You look good though,” Alex says with a faint blush in his cheeks.

“Thanks,” Paul answers quickly, “you too.”

They stand in front of each other in silence. Strange how two people who knew each other in such a physically intimate way, could become people who barely know each other. It’s making Paul antsy. They can’t just stand there forever.

“There’s a bench over there,” he says pointing at the small wooden bench off to the side of the trailers. “We could sit.”

If Alex recognizes Paul’s awkwardness and discomfort he says nothing. “Yeah, that’s fine.”

They quickly make their way over and sit down. Paul makes sure to leave a decent amount of space between the two of them. He doesn't think that Alex is still interested in him that way anymore, but he doesn’t want to leave anything open to interpretation.

“So, how have you been?” Paul asks. He hopes Alex takes it as genuine.

“I’ve been good. Took a while after… us, but I’m definitely good now.”

“I know it might be hard to believe, but I’m happy to hear that. You look good, better than you did at the end,” Paul says taking in the brightness of the other man’s eyes and skin.

“I’m seeing someone now, his name is Dan,” Alex shares, a bit too willingly, in Paul’s opinion. “That’s great.”

“Yeah he’s great. We’re happy,” Alex adds on. Paul smiles. Alex is bragging and listening is the least he can do. “He’s smart and funny and hot as hell.”

“Full package huh?”

“Yeah definitely, but more importantly we want the same things. It’s nice. It makes things easy in a way I didn't know was possible.” That makes Paul roll his eyes. There it is the gabbing. He does his best to still civil. “But anyway, how have you been? Things took a big turn haven’t they? And I heard you’re the one who found the Alexandrians.”

“Haha, found, yeah that’s one way to put it,” Paul laughs. “But yeah it was me.”

They spend time catching up and it gets easier. Alex stops sniping and they have a few laughs, mostly at Gregory’s expense. Things had gotten so bad at the end that Paul forgot what a fun time Alex could be. He felt like maybe there was some hope of them being friends again one day. He was so wrapped up in a story about a runaway horse, he didn't notice Daryl coming his way until the other man was right next to him.

“Hey,” Daryl said as he placed his hand on Paul’s shoulder, fingers subtly grazing his neck. He doesn't mean to but he can’t help it anymore, its natural instinct to lean into the touch.

“Hey Daryl, what’s up?” He says as he looks up and smiles at the hunter. All the while noticing Alex’s focused gaze.

“Nothin’, I’m goin’ huntin’. Didn’t mean to interrupt. I didn't wanna leave without lettin’ ya know.”

“You’re not interrupting, Daryl this is Alex, Alex this is Daryl,” he says introducing the two men.

“Hey,” Daryl says extending his hand. Alex takes it and responds in kind. “I haven’t seen ya ‘round before, how do ya know Paul?”

That surprises Alex. It’s clear on his face. He’d only known him as Jesus and Paul was sure that it all meant something, but he didn’t have time to unpack all of it as his ex and current boyfriends were casually talking in front of him.

“Paul is it?” Alex says giving him a sideways glance. Daryl has no idea what’s going on and Paul just prays Alex doesn’t say something to send the other man running. “Paul and I go way back. Been friends for a while, but we haven’t spoken in some time, ever since I moved to the Kingdom.”

“Oh, well it was nice to meet you,” Daryl says without a doubt to anything Alex said to him. He turns back to Paul. He wants to kiss him, Paul can see it in his eyes. He knows it because he wants to kiss Daryl too.

“I’ll see ya later. Ya don't have to wait up, just leave the door unlocked, “ Daryl tells him.

He doesn’t know how Daryl will take it, but Paul doesn’t care. He reaches out and grabs his hand as he goes to leave. “Please be careful.” He rubs small circles in the back of the hunter’s hand.

“Yeah,” Daryl counters as he shoots quick little glances down at their connected hands. If Paul didn’t know where to look for it he would have missed the tiny smile that crosses the other man’s lips. He does something to his insides and he can’t stop looking at Daryl until he's completely out of sight. He’d completely forgotten Alex was even there.

“Paul, huh?”

“What?”

“Since when do you go by Paul?” Alex asks quizzingly.

“I don’t go by….” Paul says confused for a moment before he realizes Alex is referencing Daryl. “Oh, yeah. Daryl refuses to call me Jesus.”

“And you're good with that?” Alex asks accusingly. Paul had stopped Alex from calling him by his name, which in hindsight should have told him where the relationship was heading.

“Uh, yeah, I mean it’s…” Paul fumbles.

“Him… Daryl.”

“Well, yeah,” Paul says unable to look Alex in the eyes.

“I’m surprised. He really isn’t your type. I mean don’t get me wrong, I see the appeal. He’s got that bad boy thing going strong.”

“IT’S NOT LIKE THAT,” Paul says too forcefully. “And I don't have a type.”

“Woah! Relax. I didn't mean to piss you off. Who you choose for your flings are your business.” The way he says ‘fling’ rubs Paul the wrong way.

“He’s not a fling, Alex. He's my boyfriend.”

And there it is, the first time he’s ever labeled his relationship with Daryl out loud it’s to his ex, a person he’d adamantly refused to define their relationship for. He cringes as he watches the looks of shock, confusion, hurt, and anger play across the other man’s face.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t…”

“Know, it’s okay,” Paul finishes for him.

“No, I was going to say that I didn’t think you were capable of calling yourself someone’s boyfriend, let alone willing to be one. His dick must be magical.” It’s a low blow, and he probably deserves it, but he can’t stand Alex’s dumb comments. He could fire back and break Alex down, but he won’t, that’s the old him.

“Okay, look, Alex, I know I probably deserve that -”

“Probably?”

Remain calm, he tells himself.

“I deserve that, I treated you terribly, I know that now. You deserved better and I never apologized. But I am now. I’m sorry for how I treated you, truly.”

Alex looks away from him for a second, he’s blinking rapidly and Paul knows that move. He’s trying not to cry. He hates that he knows the beginnings of Alex’s tears so well.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t give you what you wanted.”

“But you can give it to that?” Alex spits out pointing the direction Daryl left in. “I mean my God Jesus, what the hell? That guy? I’m sure he’s great at holding you down and fucking your brains out, he’s got the size for it, but him? Really?”

“HEY! STOP!” Paul says shooting up from his seat. “You can say whatever you want about me. I don’t care, but DON’T YOU DARE TALK ABOUT DARYL OR OUR RELATIONSHIP LIKE THAT!”

Alex is looking up at him frozen in shock.

“YOU DON’T GET TO TALK ABOUT HIM LIKE THAT JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE HURT. I APOLOGIZED AND I MEANT IT. YOU DON’T GET TO TALK ABOUT THE PERSON I LOVE LIKE THAT, YOU JUST DON’T. I WON’T LET YOU,” Paul’s voice is even, he never shouts and Alex knows very well that this is his version of it.

“You love him?” Alex’s voice comes out a choked squeak.

The fire in him disappears. FUCK. What is it about Alex that made it so easy for him to admit all the things about Daryl that he knew in his heart, but couldn’t say out loud. He’d just admitted to being in love with Daryl and it wasn’t even to him.

“Shit, Alex, I’m sorry,” he says putting a hand on Alex’s shoulder. Which the other man instantly brushes off. “I shouldn’t have said that, not to you.”

“No, it’s fine. You love him. That’s… great. I’m happy for you. Obviously, he can offer you something that no one else was capable of.” He can hear the hurt lacing ever word.

“Alex, you’re a great guy. You really are. Dan’s lucky to have you. And we had good, great, times together, but I just never felt that way about you. And it wasn’t anything that you did or didn’t do. I’ve never felt the way I feel about Daryl for anyone else in my entire life… Not even Mark, okay? So please, don’t carry this with you. There wasn’t anything you could have done differently. We just weren’t meant to be.”

Alex wipes the tears from his cheeks. Paul sits back down and hugs him. Alex accepts it. He feels the other man let out a rough little sigh. “This definitely wasn’t remotely close to what I was expecting when I woke up this morning.”

“Yeah,” Paul agrees. They break apart and look at one another.

“Daryl’s a lucky man. I hope he knows that,” Alex says composing himself. “You’re a wonderful man, Paul. A lousy boyfriend, but I guess he fixed that.”

Paul smiles. “He has. I mean don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go, and I’m terrified most days that I’m gonna fuck it all up somehow, but he makes it worth it. All the waiting, the patience it takes.”

“Waiting?”

“Um, well, we haven’t, Daryl’s new,” Paul rambles trying to figure out the right way to say everything without betrayal too much of Daryl’s confidence.

“Wait, you guys haven’t had sex yet?!” Alex is leaning in closer now.

“Technically, no,” Paul admits. “We’ve done some stuff, but Daryl’s spent a lifetime hiding who he is from his dad and his brotherand himself so it’s not the easiest of transitions for him.”

“Wow,” Alex comments. “That’s gotta be rough for him. We’ve all been there. But it must be hard for you too.”

“It is, but I’m okay. He tries to push himself. I’m just worried I’ll do something, push him too far and freak him out or something. I don’t know what I’d do without him. Now that I have him in my life I can’t imagine ever living without him. There’s no going back.”

“You really love him don’t you?”

“I do.”

“This is really weird for me, man. You gotta know that right? I don't think I can give you advice on how to seduce your new boyfriend,” Alex says looking away.

“I know, this is so strange for me too. I admitted things to you that I haven’t even said to him yet.” Paul turns on the bench to lean against the trailer behind them and bangs his head against it.

“You should probably let him know how you feel. Especially in this world. Nothing’s permanent.”

“You're right,” Paul looks over at him. “Thanks for listening.”

“Sure, kind of wish I didn't know as much as I do, but I’ll live.”

“I know this is probably crazy, but I really hope we can be friends again on day Alex.”

“Maybe… one day. I just don't think I’m quite there yet.”

“I understand. I just have one favor to ask.”

“Really? You need something else from me?” Alex says. His voice is filled with humor and Paul is grateful to hear it.

“We, me and Daryl, we aren’t out, his family doesn't know, well most of them, and we’re just not ready to be in the spotlight yet, so if you could just keep all this between us that would be great.”

“Of course, Jesus. I’d never betray your trust. I never have and I never will. Besides I don't out people.”

“Thanks.”

“No problem.” Alex stands up. “I should get going, Dan is around here somewhere. He’s probably ready to head back.”

“Okay, despite everything, it was good to see you, Alex.”

“Same.”

Paul pulls him in for a hug. It’s short and quick, but he feels Alex melt into it. They break apart and Alex turns to leave. He watches as the other man heads towards Barrington House.

“See you around, Jesus,” Alex calls out before going inside.

Chapter Text

They’re out scouting with Eduardo. It’s no longer safe to go out in small groups anymore or so Rick and Maggie decide. They aren’t wrong, but Daryl still doesn’t like it. He was hoping to spend of quality alone time with Paul outside of the walls where they could be themselves openly and freely. 

Eduardo isn’t a bad guy and in fact he’s among the few people on the short list of people he doesn’t hate. But it doesn’t mean he wants to spend the day with guy. He’s had a sour look on his face all morning, which prompted Paul to give him a quick kiss and a laugh.

“Be nice,” he whispers as he pats Daryl’s cheek.

He’s going to try. “Not making any promises.”

“I’d expect nothing less,” Paul says.

They edging closer and closer to D.C, which is risky, big cities always are, but they’re desperate. And desperate times call for desperate measures. 

“Have you guys ever come out this far?” Eduardo asks.

“Nah,” Daryl answers.

“We’ve been going further out into the suburbs, but most of what we’ve come across has been picked clean. We’re hoping that the difficulty level will increase the chance of us finding usable stuff in the city.”

“Seems like a pretty dangerous ‘if’” Eduardo adds on.

“Yeah, which is why it’s better with fewer people. Gotta be able to make a quick getaway,” Daryl informs him.

Daryl moves forward, leaving Paul trailing back with Eduardo. 

“He doesn’t like me very much does he?” Eduardo asks. Paul lets out a laugh and clasps him on the shoulder.

“That’s not true. It just takes him a long time to warm up to people and he barely knows you,” Paul says kindly.

“He took to you right way,” Eduardo says making Paul break out into a huge grin. “What?! Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Because couldn’t be farther from the truth! The day we met Daryl held a gun to my face, called me a ‘prick’, tied me up, chased me around a field, punched me in the face, then tied me up again and put me in a ‘cell’. So if that what you call ‘taking to me right away’ you’re absolutely right.”

Paul goes on and fills in the rest of the details all while Eduardo has a look of shock and amausement on his face, which is exactly how most people look when he tells them about that day. 

“Wow, that’s.....”

“Hysterical?” Paul finishes.

“Yeah, especially since I haven’t really seen you guys apart since he showed up.” Paul can’t help the blush that rises from his neck to his cheeks.

He isn’t really sure what to say to that because the reality would be ‘yeah I’ve been working hard to get him and now that I have him, they only place I want him is under me/over me/behind me’. He’s probably over-reacting, it’s just a friendly conversation.

“After a while of being shoved together (with a lot of manipulation on my part) we realized we had a lot in common. And you know it’s hard to avoid your roommate,” Paul explains.

If Eduardo thinks anything of how uncharacteristically quiet he is after their conversation he doesn’t say anything. After a while they catch up to Daryl, and he can’t stop himself as he softly brushes their fingers together as they walk side by side. He watches as the corner of Daryl mouth twitch, which he knows counts as a smile. Neither of them notice Eduardo studying them. 

They finally make it to a warehouse that looks like it has potential. Eduardo bangs on the door and they only hear faint rumbling.

“Doesn’t sound bad,” he says. 

“Alright, here’s the plan. I’ll go in first and you can come in on the side and Daryl can cover me,” Paul tells them.

“Hell nah,” Daryl says moving closer to Paul.

“What does that mean? Why not?” Paul asks.

“Don’t make no sense,” Daryl counters. “I’ll go in first ‘nd ya can cover me. Eduardo can cover you.”

“Daryl, why you just said makes no sense! Why would I cover you? It’s makes more sense for me to go in and take down whatever is close by while you take out any coming in the distance.”

“Nah, I go in first, take out anything close by and then ya follow up,” Daryl says firmly.

“Or you go in high and I go in low and Eduardo can cover both of us.”

“Go in low? What are ya gonna do? Tumble inta them, like a bowlin’ ball?” Paul watches as Daryl actually rolls his eyes. “Great plan.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! If you go in high, you can take out anyone in the distance and from my position I can bring down anyone else and clear a path for you while you reload.”

“Gonna roll right inta ‘nother hole,” Daryl grumbles at him.

“Hey, come on! How was I supposed to predict that the floor was rotted out?” Paul says indignantly.

Daryl turns to the door and yanks it open. Before turning back to Paul.

“By usin’ yer eyes! I tried to tell ya, but no Mr. Karate’s too good ta listen ta my advice,” Daryl says huffing.

“Advice? I wouldn’t exactly call telling me to shut up and stop moving advice!”

“Ya never listen anyway. If ya had I wouldn’t have had to fish yer ass out of that damn hole!” Daryl shouts.

“Uh guys?!” Eduardo says speaking up for the first time. 

“So what? Now every time we go out you’re gonna hover over me? I’m not a kid, I can take care of myself! I’m not your responsibility! 

“Ta hell yer not!” Daryl says inches away from Paul’s face. “I don’t even know what that fuckin’ means Paul!”

“Guys?” Eduardo trues again. 

“That’s not how I meant it and you know it Daryl! But I’ve been taking care of things for myself long before I had any to back me up. It was an accident. Shit happens. I won’t have you holdin’ it over my head!” 

“I ain’t holdin’ anythin’ over ya,” Daryl says softening. 

“Feels that way. You know that my way is better,” Paul says as he runs a hand down the older man’s arms.

“So ya say. I don’t know nothin’ like that,” Daryl says a smirk on his lips.

“GUYS!” Eduardo shouts.

“WHAT?!” they shout back in unison. 

“While I’m enjoying the daytime emmy moment so so much! There’s a huge group coming right for us and I don’t think it matters who cover who anymore.”

Paul and Daryl turn just in time to take out two walkers the from of the group. They launch into fighting and with the three of them it’s only slightly difficult. When it’s over there’s about twenty walkers laying around them.

“There better be somethin’ worth a damn in there,” Daryl says as he slides down a wall and lights a cigarette. 

Paul slides down next to him. “Don’t be so negative. There’s gotta be something, anything in there that can help us out.” 

Daryl takes the cigarette from his lips and passes it to Paul who happily accepts and takes a pull. “Sure, if ya say so.”

Paul smiles big at Daryl and hands him back the cigarette.

“Oh!” Eduardo says from his spot across from them. They both up look at him. “I get it now.”

Neither of them are sure what it is the other ‘gets now’.

“How long have you guys been together?” he says, a smile on his face.

It’s like all the air was sucked out of the room. Daryl chokes on a puff of smoke and Paul’s doing his best impression of a looney toon character.

“What?!” Paul managers to get out.

“How long have you guys been dating?”

Daryl’s face has gone completely red. He’s frozen in place.

“What makes you-“ 

“Oh so this is like a secret or something? Guys, I won’t say anything. But I gotta tell you it’s pretty easy to figure out when you start fighting like an old married couple about who should be protecting who.”

“I-“ Paul doesn’t know what to say.

“Don’t stress. Really. You guys are, don’t beat me to death for saying this,” he says looking at Daryl, who has taken to intently staring at the ground in front of him. “But you guys are cute. You remind me of my parents.” Eduardo laughs when Daryl shoots him a pisssd look. 

Paul can’t help but laugh either, not when he looks at his partner, and sees him looking like an angry puppy. Daryl’s eyes are soft, but he’s trying to stay threatening. 

“But seriously guys, no one’s gonna find out from me. You do you. Enjoy it.”

“Thanks,” Daryl mumbles out, shocking all of them. 

Chapter Text

Going on runs has officially come to an end. It’s “too dangerous” with all the saviors out and about but they’re both going stir crazy. Daryl’s pretty sure he’s just going crazy. He’s been so short with Paul lately he’s positive they’re going to have it out any second. As much as he’s enjoying his new found relationship with Paul, he’s also starting to wonder if it’s such as good idea living together. He remembers Merle telling him the fastest way to end any relationship was to stick two people in a room together, day in and day out. He’d said it was the fastest way for two people to discover what they hated most about each other. He can’t help think that maybe Merle had been right about that. The problem is that Paul is just so damn wonderful. He’s patient and he’s kind and he’s understanding and he’s beautiful and he’s so damn tempting that it all makes Daryl want to put his fist through a wall.

He’s a fucking mess.

Most people think Daryl doesn’t have much going on up in his head and he’s perfectly happy that way. It makes it easy to avoid people and even easier for people to avoid him. Everyone except Paul. No matter what he did it never worked on Paul and lately, he’s been wishing that it did. Which is insane because one of the things he loves most about Paul is how well he knows Daryl. He loves how he doesn’t have to go into great detail for Paul to know how he feels.

That’s why it sucks. He’s been working double time to keep Paul in the dark about what’s going on with him. He may not have much or any experience when it comes to relationships, but he’s pretty sure dumping all the horrible nightmares of your dead father and brother beating on you and calling you a faggot is not a great way to begin anything. He knows that Paul knows something is wrong, but he’s too good to say anything and that makes Daryl feel even worse. Instead, Paul goes on like everything is okay and Daryl spends most of his days and all of his night worrying. Paul invites him into his bed every night, but Daryl refuses a majority of the time. It’s not that he doesn’t want to. Sleeping next to Paul is one of the single most greatest experiences in his life, but the further they go in their relationship the worse his dreams get and the worse his dreams get the more violent his "sleep" becomes.

He keeps asking himself, what the fuck he’s doing. He feels like an idiot. He’s distracted and doesn’t hear Paul call out his name as they finally approach one of the few empty trailers left.

“Daryl?”

“Yeah, uhh, sorry,” he grumbles.

“What’s going on with you?”

“Nothing,” he answers quickly.

“I’m not buying it Dixon, spill,” Paul says in a no-nonsense way.

Daryl pushes past him and makes his way towards the door.  He turns and looks at Paul, he’s standing with his arms crossed in front of him. Everything about his body language says he’s angry, but Daryl looks in his eyes and only sees concern.

“We don’t have time for this Paul, we got shit to do. Okay? We’ll talk about it later,” Daryl says desperately trying to convince Paul.

“We’re always working. There’s always going to be a reason for us to put things off, Daryl. I don’t want to wait. I’m tired of waiting. We could be dead tomorrow or in minutes. Who knows? Just please talk to me, Daryl. You haven’t come to bed in days. I hear you suffering at night.”

Paul follows him to the door. He knows Paul isn’t wrong, but what is he supposed to do? “What do you want from me, Paul?”

“What do I want? Jesus, Daryl! I l- I want to help you. We’re together, in this- whatever it is, we’re… partners. I want you to let me in. I want to stop having these conversations only when there’s the potential for one of us to die.”

Paul’s voice is a bit higher than either one of them would like, but it’s clear the other man doesn’t care. Daryl hisses and pulls them into the trailer.

“Would ya fuckin’ quiet down!” Daryl barks at him as soon as the door closes. “What the hell’s the matter with ya?”

Paul huffs in frustration. “Oh I’m sorry are you worried someone might find out that another human being cares about you? Has something invested in you? I’m sorry, how stupid of me,” Paul spits out.

“What the fuck Paul? Seriously?”

“Yes, seriously. I’m tired of all this bullshit Daryl. Okay? I know something is up, and the fact that you either don’t trust me enough to tell me or you’re choosing not to is killing me.”

“I’m…” Daryl attempts to explain.

“I know you’re trying. I really do know that, but this, whatever is going on with you right now. This is freaking me out. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do when my boyfriend keeps turning down my invitation to come to bed or even worse just touch me. I’ve told you from the beginning, Daryl, that if this isn’t, if we aren’t, something you’re sure of or want, just let me know.” Paul sounds defeated.

Daryl’s terrified now. He’s never been broken up with before, but if he had to guess, the things Paul is saying definitely sound like the things someone would say before they break up with another person. “Fuck, Paul. I - “

“Just tell me please, Daryl, I know I shouldn’t beg you like this, but I don’t care. I need you to talk to me. I need to know if this is too much if I’m too much.”

“NO! Paul, yer not…” Daryl rushes to assure Paul. But the truth is that maybe it is too much for Daryl. Maybe he’s just not built for it. He wants to give Paul what he wants, what he deserves, but he isn’t sure if he can.

 “This isn’t about - ya didn’t do anything. If anything yer too good for me…”

“Please don’t start that again,” Paul pleads.

“It’s true. I’m sorry I’m shit at sharin’ things with ya, but I’m just… scared…”

“Just talk to me.”

“What do you want me to say, Paul? That every night I go to sleep I dream about my family beatin’ the shit out of ya. Cavin’ my head in as they say all kinds of shit about us? Because that’s what’s goin’ on in my head. That an’ a whole bunch of other shit. The Saviors. Are we gonna live? Are any of us gonna make it? What the fuck’s the point of any of this shit? What the fuck are we doing?!”

“Daryl,” Paul whispers as he goes to wrap his arms around the older man.

It isn’t well received. Daryl’s really not in a touching mood. Daryl leans against a wall and pulls out a cigarette.

“It shouldn’t be like this, right?” Daryl asks, exhaustion laces every word. “I dunno shit, but it shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t be this hard.”

Paul’s heart is racing. They both feel like they’re going to throw up.

“I don’t know,” Paul says, broken. “Maybe we’re going too fast.”

Daryl’s chest aches. He can feel the tears building up behind his eyes. He breaks the silence with the one thing neither one of them really wants to hear. “Maybe yer right.”

Paul sucks in a breath and exhales wet and shaky. “Daryl…”

Daryl looks over at Paul to find him in a very similar state. The younger man looks broken. His beautiful sea foam eyes are glazed over and he can see the tears forming.

“Is this really happening?” Pauls chokes out.

Daryl rushes over to him, pulling him into his arms. This hurts, more than he thought possible. He’s so used to physical pain. He could shoulder any torture, but not this. His chest is aching, it’s a deep throbbing. He feels like his body is being ripped apart.

“Oh god,” Paul mumbles. He has his face pressed into Daryl’s shoulder. They’re both clinging to each other. “I lo-”

“Please, don’t, please…” Daryl begs him. It all already hurts too much without Paul making confessions.

He does the only thing he can think of. The only thing he wants to do. He leans in and captures Paul’s lips. It a consuming and desperate. They’re clawing at each other. Daryl pulls way. He has to make Paul understand.

“I want ya, I want what we got, but it feels like it’s breaking down an’ I dunno what to do. I don’t wanna hurt ya. But I can’t do this,” Daryl doesn’t hide his tears. He doesn’t even want to try.

Paul is silent as he blinks and sends a wave of tears spilling down his perfect face. Daryl wipes them away with a thumb.

“I guess this just isn’t the right time,” Paul whispers. “I don’t want to lose you,” He finishes knowing that everything has already crumbled down and burned to ash.

“I ain’t goin’ away. I’ll be here… but not like this,” Daryl tells him, hoping Paul understands. “I always got yer back. Ya know that right?”

Paul balls Daryl’s shirt in his fists and nods yes.

“I’m gonna go pack up my things an’ I’ll be out before ya get home.”

Paul looks like he’s been kicked, unbridled shock is written all over his face as though their living arrangement hadn’t crossed his mind. He opens his mouth to protest, but  Daryl stops him, knowing exactly what Paul will say. Paul will try and convince him that they can be friends. That they can still live together, and Daryl will let him. He’ll fall for it because he wants to. Because he so desperately wants to believe they can be close without it hurting.

“Ya know we can’t. It ain’t gonna work.”

A fractured hiccup escapes Paul’s lips. It’s a fucking disaster. Seeing Paul this way is killing him.

“Don’t cry, baby. Please, don’t cry.” It makes no sense to say because they’re both crying uncontrollably.

He kisses Paul’s forehead and quickly turns to leave before he loses the nerve. He doesn’t look back to see Paul standing frozen in place, before slumping down against the wall and crying into his hands. No, he keeps moving and doesn’t stop. He’s rushing around their - Paul’s - trailer grabbing what few things he has or feels okay about taking. In his frenzy he knocks over Paul’s sketchbook, it opens as it hits the floor. Daryl bends down to pick it up. He looks at Paul’s work. It’s a sketch of him asleep on the sofa.

The tears start again. He can’t seem to make them stop. He holds the book to his chest and lays down on their bed. He buries his face in Paul’s pillows and lets himself break down completely.

This is the right thing. He knows it, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

Chapter Text

Daryl goes to Maggie, not out of want, but out of necessity. He needs a place to sleep. The second she sees him in the doorway she goes to him and take him into her arms. He knows what he must look like. They’ve known each other long enough for her to know Daryl’s spent a huge chunk of time crying. He hates that his stupid puffy eyes always betray him. He wants to cry, but he has nothing left. It feels good to have her arms around him, a reminder that he is loved and that despite what’s going on in his head he has friends, he has family. He asks her if she thinks it’s possible for her to find him a mattress or a sleeping bag even.

She eyes him suspiciously but thankfully doesn’t push him. She’s good like that. She’s able to find him a mattress, a sheet, and a thin blanket. He thanks her and leaves. She tries to stop him, but she changes her mind and for a second Daryl wonders if it’s because Paul will come to her with tears in his eyes and an identical broken heart, seeking comfort in her arms just as he did.

He leaves with a small goodnight.

He goes to the empty trailer where it happened, partially because he’s obviously a twisted masochist and partially because there isn’t anywhere else available. He throws the mattress and blankets down in the farthest corner of the trailer and crawls onto them. This he can do, this is more of what he’s used to, then a bed filled with a warm body and blankets.

Somewhere in between beating himself up and utterly hating himself, he falls asleep. It’s the furthest thing from restful. He father and brother still haunt his dreams. Except now they both seem thrilled with the fact that they managed to ruin the only loving thing Daryl managed to carve out for himself.

“Boo hoo,” Merle mocks. “What’s the matter Darlene? Where’s your big strong boyfriend? Let him go fast did ya? Didn’t even fight. Didn’t even try, you just gave up. Haha!”

Daryl covers his ears. He doesn’t want to hear it.

“Ya made it so easy. Didn’t he Pops?” Merle crouches down to whisper in his ear. “Ya know why? Because yer weak. Ya just ran away like the little bitch ya are. I knew I wouldn’t have to work hard. Man, it was the easiest 50 bucks I ever made! Pay up Pops.”

Merle turns to face their father who’s sitting in the corner laughing as he chugs whiskey straight from a bottle. They’re both laughing. Daryl’s gut twists.

Daryl shoots up. He’s covered in sweat. He blindly reaches out looking for Paul. He feels nothing and looks around in confusion. For a second he forgets where he is. He throws himself down onto the thin mattress and wipes the sweat from his forehead. The trailer is cool and empty. It highlights everything that his home with Paul was. He never thought he’d miss the comforts of a home. The concept, having been foreign to him for so long. But it’s true what people say, it’s hard to go back once you have something good in your life. He tries his best not to think about what Merle said to him, but sleep evades him and his father’s cackle floods his mind. Had he let them play him?

No, it didn’t matter. He’s a fuck up and he made the right decision. If it wasn’t this it would have been something else. Daryl wasn't built for this kind of stuff. He’d made the right decision for Paul. Paul was perfect and deserved so much better than what Daryl could offer him.

His days drag on, he fills them with as many jobs as he can get. He’s doing his best to fill his time with anything that will distract him. He tries hard to avoid Paul as much as possible, but in a place as small as Hilltop, that strategy is limited. The first time they come across one another they both end up frozen in place, like two deer caught in headlights. They exchange hellos, but as soon as Paul looks he might say something else Daryl runs away like the pussy he knows he is. He leaves Paul standing there with a hurt look on his dace. He runs, actually runs away, chanting over and over again in his mind how he is doing the right thing.

His nights aren’t any better. Merle and his father are with him every miserable night. They taunt him and somehow it’s worse than before. They attack him for being weak, for letting them take what was his so easily. His father’s voice fills every space in his mind telling him how disgusting he is, what an utter waste he is. Ain’t it bad enough yer a faggot? But yer weak and pathetic too. There’s fagots out there who woulda died than do what ya did.

As if Daryl didn’t already know that. It takes everything for him not get up and run back to Paul. To not go home and crawl into their bed, into Paul’s forgiving arms. Because Paul would take him back. Kind and loving Paul would take him back and let Daryl keep hurting him, all because he loves Daryl. He knows it. There were moments when he truly felt it, and maybe he even returned the feeling. But Daryl knows that kind of love. He’s seen that kind of love before. It eats away at people. Paul would give and give and give, and eventually loving Daryl would destroy him. He loved Paul too much to let it happen. Daryl wouldn’t be that selfish.

The days pass and the hole in his chest gets bigger and bigger. The pain of being without Paul becomes a constant dull throbbing pain. He comes to welcome it. It’s a reminder that he was doing the right thing.

Masochist, a voice in his head screams at him.

The next time they bump into each other it’s on purpose. He barely makes his way out the front door when he runs into Paul.

“Shit, sorry,” Daryl exclaims.

“It’s okay, didn’t mean to scare you,” Paul says apologetically.

Daryl doesn’t say anything back. He doesn’t trust himself to. The sounds of Paul’s voice sends him in a tailspin.

“So how have you been?” Paul finally manages to get out.

“I’m fine,” Daryl lies and hopes it doesn’t show on his face how much he doesn’t want to be there.

He doesn’t want to do this, the weird small talk. He’s always been terrible at it but it’s worse when you have to do it with someone you’ve been intimate with.

“Good, good, that’s good,” Paul says, nodding his head.

He know he should ask, it’s what normal people do, but there’s no answer Paul could possibly give him that would sit well with him. Paul could either say he was good and Daryl would know he is lying because he knows his boyfriend- ex-, ex-boyfriend that well, or Paul could tell him that he’s miserable and it would just kill Daryl to hear it. So no, Daryl doesn’t ask Paul how he’s doing. He doesn’t want to know.

“Yeah, I brought you some stuff you left behind,” Paul says breaking the awkward silence that fell between them.

That surprises Daryl because he’s pretty sure he took everything of his from the trailer. He went through everything making sure he wouldn’t have to go back. It’s then that Daryl realizes Paul is holding folded items in his arms.

“I was wearing this shirt, the other day. I didn’t realize until I got home, and you know. Sorry I took so long to get it back to you. I haven’t had a chance to do the laundry.” Paul explains. “And I also brought you a pillow, we’ve been low. Figured you probably wouldn’t ask for one.”

He holds out his arms and offers up the items. He’d complete forgot, that morning, Paul had grabbed one of Daryl’s black shirts off a chair and put it on.

“Thanks, coulda kept it. Didn’t even know it was missin’”

“No, I couldn’t.”

Paul doesn’t need to explain because Daryl understands completely. The constant reminder of Paul would be too much. As it is Daryl’s positive he won’t ever be able to wear the shirt again. He opens the door and throws the items inside.

“Wow, I love what you’ve done with the place,” Paul says peering over Daryl’s shoulder. “It’s got that whole Saw vibe to it. Nice.”

“Shut up, Martha Stewart,” Daryl says as he shoves Paul. “I’m still waitin’ on my order of weird crap and lobster bibs.”

A small smile passes across Paul’s face and he laughs a bit. Daryl’s heart sinks. He misses Paul so much. He wants to reach out. Paul’s eyes get big and round and Daryl’s heart skips a beat.

Paul reaches out and grips Daryl’s forearm. It’s instinct, they come together. All the tension in his body disappears as they melt into one another. It feels good, this part is easy. It’s seductive.

“I miss this, I miss having you in my arms, I miss you,” Paul confesses.

“I miss you too,” Daryl says aloud before he can catch himself. He’s so fucking weak.

Daryl doesn’t stop Paul when he feels him wrap his arms around his neck. He doesn’t stop Paul from pulling him down to him. He doesn’t stop Paul from bringing their lips together. Daryl kisses him back. His blood races through his veins. It’s everything. Paul’s everything. It’s too much.

“Paul…” he whispers as he pulls away. This is a mistake.

They don’t get a chance to express regrets, because they hear the gates open. They walk from behind the trailer to see Rick coming towards them. It takes all of Daryl’s strength not to run to him, to cling to his brother, to break down. He does his best to keep himself in check as his hugs Rick. There’s no time for regrets. There’s no time for anything.

They’re going to war.

Chapter Text


Paul stands motionless where Daryl left him. He can feel the bile rising in his throat. There’s a battle raging in his mind. It fractures as part of him fights to pretend it didn’t happen and the other steels itself against the reality of the situation. But his heart knows the truth because it’s pierced him. He knew something was wrong, he knew that Daryl was conflicted, but somehow he’d convinced himself that what happened never could. His chest tightens and for a moment he thinks he might be having a heart attack. But his lungs sieze and he knows what it is. A panic attack. Fucking amazing.

He hasn’t had one in 20 years, and in those years he’s seen more than his fair share of horror, and yet it’s Daryl that triggers it. He knows what he’s supposed to do. He's supposed to find something to focus on, envision a circle slowly contracting and expanding. He’s supposed to try and regulate his breathing. Yeah right. The only thing he can focus on is the pain he feels. It’s like being thrown into freezing water, it’s dark and vast, and where he’s surrounded by nothing but pain and sadness.

The dank little trailer spins in his eyes. Everything is black. He reaches behind him, grasping for anything to hold him up. He stumbles against the wall and slides down. He folds into himself, bringing his knees to his chest, hugging them tightly. He tilts his head back as a howl forces its way through him.

He has no idea how he manages to make his way back to the trailer. He’s a step above crawling as he makes his way in. He looks around in the dark. Daryl’s been there. His bow is gone, his clothes, his boots. He goes to the bed and feels warmth there. Daryl hadn’t  been gone for long. One of the pillows is wet. The image of Daryl crying on their bed brings another bout of pain through him. He lays down on the bed, moving into the same position he pictures Daryl was in. His tears mix with Daryl’s in the fabric. 

For the first time, he knows what it’s like to truly have a broken heart.

Eventually, he passed out from exhaustion, but his sleep is far from restful. When he wakes up he immediately looks over at the sofa in search of Daryl. Nausea comes back. His sits up in bed. He’s still fully dressed, shoes and all. He looks over at his clock and it reads 8:23 am. Paul can’t bring himself to care, even though he knows that someone will come looking for him soon. His face feels dry and tight from hours of crying.

There’s a knock at his door and his body clenches. Go away, please, just go away. He doesn’t think he can handle talking to anyone right now. But then he hears Maggie’s gentle voice calling out for him. He’s torn between wanting her to, needing her to come in and comfort him and the overwhelming guilt of putting anything else on her already heavy shoulders. In the end, she makes the decision for him by letting him know she’s coming in. He doesn’t attempt to make himself look any different. He couldn’t if he tried.

The second she lays eyes on him in the murky light of the trailer, her face contorts, a frown spreads across her lips and her eyes get big. They’re filled with sadness and he hates himself for it. She sucks in a deep breath and rushes over to him, throwing her arms around him and pulling him close.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers over and over again.

She places kisses all over the top of his head and rocks him back and forth. The tear comes back full force under Maggie’s care. It hurts to hear her say those words to him. It feels wrong, coming from her, someone who’s lost everything. He feels guilty. True to the amazing woman she is, Maggie doesn’t ask any questions and he’s infinitely grateful for it. He wouldn’t even know what to say. None of it seems real. They end up with Paul’s head resting in her laps as she strokes the top of his head. She lets him cry without shame and if he feels her breathing hitch and her nose sniffle he doesn’t mention it. He can’t help but wonder how things would be different if Glen were still with them. He tries to picture it. Glen would have found Daryl and told him off, hell he would have told both of them off and then forced them together. He would have told them what assholes they were being. Glen would have known what to say, what to do. Thinking about him just makes Paul ache even more.

He doesn’t know when Maggie leaves, but the next morning he wakes up alone. There’s a plate of food sitting on his table. He’s hungry, probably, but food has no appeal to him. He drags himself to the bathroom and grimaces at the sight of himself, hair clumped and crusted, face puffy and swollen, circles under his eyes so dark he looks like he’s been attacked. He strips down and turns on the shower. He stares at his hands. He can feel his skin vibrating. It spreads a terrible feeling through him. He gets into the shower and scrubs at his skin, trying to make the feeling go away. It doesn’t work and he ends up sitting on the floor struggling to breathe. He spends his time sitting there wondering how anyone made their way through this. This was why he’d never let anyone in. He’d forgotten how much it hurt to let someone in and have them leave.

He keeps telling himself that it will get easier. He’s good at pretending. He’s great at faking it. He’s Paul Jesus Rovia for fuck’s sake. He convinces himself, even though the pain does more than linger in his chest. He tries to keep himself busy, but it seems that they are birds of a feather. He manages to keep away from Daryl for a decent amount of time before he runs into him. The first time he comes across Daryl he’s working to clear some space behind Barrington House. When he realizes Daryl is coming his way, he dives, dives! behind some metal sheets. Pathetic, he screams at himself. In the end, all it leads to is more pain. He races home to hide in his trailers where he beats himself up. He falls into a deep, dark hole. Maybe it’s what I deserve. After all the bullshit I pulled, after all the pain I caused, maybe I’m getting exactly what I deserve. All I did was take.

The next time they run into one another, Paul isn’t prepared for it. He turns around and there he is, there Daryl stands. They stand there wide-eyed, staring at each other. It takes a while for his senses to come back to him. They exchange tense hellos, but when Paul tries to say anything more Daryl turns and leaves him standing there. It hurts. Everything hurts, it always hurt. He spends the next few days, agonizing overseeing Daryl. Being so close to him, even for a minute overwhelmed him and now it was all he could think about.

Maggie comes by and they talk of nothing of importance. He knows that she comes by to check on him. He wonders if she does the same for Daryl. At some point, in their conversation, she mentions that someone managed to find more pillows on a run. She casually mentions that Daryl is staying in one of the unused trailers and that she’s happy she’ll finally be able to give him one. Paul tenses at the sound of Daryl’s name, but he says nothing. After she leaves he realizes he still has one of Daryl’s shirts. He pulls it free of the pile of dirty laundry on the floor and presses it to his nose. He can still smell Daryl, though barely. At that moment, he needs to see Daryl again. It’s stupid and it’ll just hurt even more later, but he doesn’t care. He misses him so much. He misses the older man’s Neanderthal grunts. He misses the way he blushes when Paul does something he likes, but can’t admit. He misses the subtle smiles he has only for Paul. He misses Daryl’s odd and well-hidden sense of humor. He misses the warmth of him, the feeling of their bodies pressed against one another, the smell of his skin, the taste of him.

It’s a terrible decision, but that’s all he seems to make lately. So he washes Daryl’s shirt, dries and folds it. He brushes his hair and puts on a shirt he knows Daryl likes. On his way, he stops by storage and picks up a pillow. It all seems like a good idea until the second he’s standing outside the trailer. He’s about to chicken out and leave all of it in front of the door when it swings open and Daryl crashes into him.

“Shit, sorry,” Daryl exclaims.

“It’s okay, didn’t mean to scare you,” Paul says apologetically.

Daryl doesn’t say anything, and Paul’s definitely regretting the whole thing. All his dumb fucking brain is telling him is to kiss Daryl. He settles for asking him how he is. Daryl tells him he’s fine, but he looks like someone kicked his puppy. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, and Paul tries not to take offense. He gets it.

“I brought you some stuff you left behind,” Paul tells him. “I was wearing this shirt, the other day. I didn’t realize until I got home, and you know… Sorry, I took so long to get it back to you. I haven’t had a chance to do the laundry… And I also brought you a pillow, we’ve been low.”

He holds out the shirt and the pillow. Daryl seems confused for a second, as he looks down at the items he holds out. Daryl thanks him and tells him he could have just kept the shirt.

“No, I couldn’t.“ Paul doesn’t have to explain how much having a reminder of them would hurt.

Paul watches as Daryl opens the door and he peers around the hunter’s shoulders. It looks like shit. There’s a mattress on the floor and nothing else. It makes him ache to see Daryl going back to what he knows best, to his horrid and spartan beginnings. He tries the lighten the mood.

“Wow, I love what you’ve done with the place. It’s got that whole Saw vibe to it. Nice.” He can feel the mood change. For the briefest of moments, he sees a smile pass across Daryl’s face.

“Shut up, Martha Stewart,” Daryl says as he shoves Paul. “I’m still waitin’ on my order of weird crap and lobster bibs.”

That makes Paul laugh. Before he knows it, before he can stop himself, Paul is reaching out and gripping Daryl by the arm. They’re like magnets, nothing can stop them from coming together. They embrace and it’s all bittersweet and perfect.

“I miss this, I miss having you in my arms, I miss you,” Paul tells him.

“I miss you too,” Daryl’s confession spreads warmth through his body and plunges a dagger in his heart.

He wants to, he needs to. Paul wraps his arms around Daryl’s neck, pulls him down and brings their lips together. His hearts fills when Daryl returns the kiss. But eventually, Daryl breaks the kiss.

“Paul…” Daryl whispers.

Paul never gets the chance to hear what Daryl was going to say. They’re interrupted by a commotion at the gates. Paul follows close behind Daryl as they make their way from behind the trailers to see Rick coming towards them. He watches as Rick greets everyone until finally it’s Daryl’s turn and he watches as Daryl melts into Ricks' arms.

Whatever hope Paul had dissolves. It’s time to fight.