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the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift into me, choking my lost heart

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the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift into me, choking my lost heart

When Rick lets her go, Daryl is right back against her, even while the others file through giving her hugs or introducing themselves. No one says much, because Carol keeps reiterating that they have to go – she has to show them something.

Before they walk though, she turns to Daryl again, her eyes soft as she sighs with relief and searches his face. “I brought you back a present,” she finally teases, slipping his crossbow off her shoulder and handing it to him.

He takes it from her, his hands sliding over hers for a moment that lingers until Rick is clearing his throat and it makes Daryl jump back in surprise. He can’t help it – he looks at her and it’s like she is all he can see. He never thought he’d see her again – thought she was dead.

He should have known better. Not Carol.

“Sure you don’t wanna keep it, because I don’t think you got enough weapons there, Rambo.” He plays it off as a joke and she laughs with a shake of her head.

“Nope, that one’s yours. You could maybe take the rifle too though – I’m a bit weighed down.” She teases him as Rick distributes the weapons throughout the group quickly, checking ammo and prepping everyone.

“Nah, you carry it. You’re the strong one,” his voice is soft and her breath catches as she looks up at him. “Always have been.”

~*~*~*~

“I’ll take first watch, you all need the rest,” she offers the instant they find shelter for the night and Rick nods, exhaustion lining his face now that the adrenaline has worn off.

“Yeah, me too,” Ty speaks up quietly. “You all need it more than we do.” He pauses and looks at Carol quietly – the two of them communicating silently in a way that makes Daryl’s stomach clench and drop, sudden nausea overwhelming him as he staggers on his own feet, stumbling into the wall behind him. “I’ll take the front, you take the back.” Ty finally offers and Carol nods, gripping her rifle tightly.

“I’m going with you,” Daryl pushes off the wall even as Carol is shaking her head, moving closer to him and putting a hand on his shoulder.

“Daryl, you’re exhausted, you need to rest.” She chides him in a tone so quiet only he can hear it, and he knows she is right, but he can’t – he can’t-

“I will. Out there. With you. Just… please,” he finally pleads in a mumble, unsure how to say it and she stares up at him, her fingers curling into his shirt where her hand rests before she sighs and nods.

“Fine. But take a blanket, and a pillow. If you’re gonna be stubborn I’m going to make sure you have the most comfortable rest possible.” Daryl nods, feeling the tension drain from him as he avoids Rick’s gaze while he grabs a blanket and stumbles after her out on to the back porch of the building they’d cleared. The sky is dark, but the stars are bright and the moon is hung in the sky, heavy and low. She sits on the steps, placing her rifle to her left and when he drops his blanket right beside her, she doesn’t say a word.

When he wraps himself in it, trying to get comfortable, she tugs his arm until he rests his head in her lap. Her hands run through his hair as he falls asleep for the first time in what feels like forever.

~*~*~*~

“We need to make a run,” Rick heaves a sigh, staring at the map on the kitchen table in the fourth house they’ve stayed in since Terminus. Once a direction had been chosen, they’d made efforts to clear a house every evening – just to give people a sense of safety. “We need food, supplies. I want you to take Glenn-”

“No, he had watch last night. I’ll take Carol,” Daryl insists in a low tone, thankful Glenn had had watch last night. Rick is peering at him with an expression Daryl can’t read, so he shifts uncomfortably and shifts his crossbow on his back. “That mean we’re staying another night?”

“Yeah, maybe two. We’re almost out of Georgia now, picked up those vehicles – I’m going to scout for a bit of a better place this morning with Abraham. Find something to take a break in, you know? Catch our breath.” Rick pauses, looking at the map in front of him, his hands on his hips. “You’re sure you want Carol with you?”

Daryl makes a noise of disbelief at the question and shrugs. “Fuck yeah, I’m sure. Nobody’s gonna have my back better – she’s a god damn walker crusher. We’ll get it done.”

“Alright. Have her make a list of supplies – she’ll know better than anyone else anyway, head out as soon as you can.” Rick offers, clapping a hand on Daryl’s shoulder tightly. Daryl nods, stilling under the man’s hand carefully.

“Look for a place with some good woods – maybe a stream. Some fresh meat would be nice,” he reminds Rick as he pulls away, taking one of the maps and folding it as he strides off to look for Carol.

~*~*~*~

“I dunno, Rick found the place – cleared it with Abe,” Daryl speaks over her shoulder as they walk up the drive toward the estate house Rick had found. His hand hovers over the small over her back for a moment before he gives in, resting his hand there and absorbing the warmth from her with a sigh.

Carol pauses for a moment, but carries on without saying anything. “Woods look nice, you could hunt. I’d kill for a rabbit,” she laughs and he snorts.

“Not much incentive – the thought of you offing me for a little rabbit,” he chuckles, realising too late it’s not a very funny joke. Hits too close to home. She clearly agrees, because she stops, staring at him open-mouthed. He tries to convey silently that he hadn’t meant anything by it, and his hand rubs at her back a bit, as if he can convey the message into her skin like Morse code. She relaxes after a moment and smiles up at him teasingly.

“Maybe not kill for it then. Maybe just kiss,” she laughs at his flushed face, and strides on up the drive while he stands there watching her. “Come on or we’ll get the worst room!” She calls back and he scrambles after her, his face even redder now. She’d clearly noticed his hanging back in every new house they invaded, waiting for her to pick her room before he threw his stuff in with hers. He just – he can’t sleep without her in sight. Not yet.

He glances around them, wondering if anyone’s heard her teasing, but aside from Rick behind him, everyone else is ahead. Rick is looking at Judith, cradled in his arms, so Daryl hopes that maybe he’d been too far back. He’s not sure if he cares if he wasn’t, as he jogs lightly to catch up with Carol, nudging her with his shoulder as he grins and she giggles.

~*~*~*~

“Where’s Carol?” He drops the rabbits, freshly skinned, in the kitchen sink as Maggie’s eyes light up at the sight.

“Oh god rabbit, Daryl Dixon, if I wasn’t married, I’d kiss you!” Daryl simply looks at her, dead-panned and she beams at him, rolling her eyes. “Lord it was a joke. I doubt you’d look like that if it was Carol in here,” she teases, shoving him out of the way to get into a cupboard. “I dunno where she is though – somewhere. Take a look around? Rick, did you see her?” She asks over her shoulder to where Rick is sitting, feeding Judy quietly.

“I think she was upstairs, she found a sewing kit – trying to work a miracle out of our clothes. Mostly Daryl’s– she found some patches in one of the bedrooms. We found some new stuff in a few of the rooms too, she may have pulled some of it out for you,” Rick offers with a nod, and Daryl moves past Maggie instantly, heading to the door.

“Tell her we have rabbit and it will be way more edible if she stops sewing the lost cost that’s your clothes and comes down to help!” Maggie shouts after him with a laugh. Daryl doesn’t acknowledge her, he simply pushes out into the hall, passing open doors, nodding to Glenn as he makes his way to the study right by the back door. It’s a pull out sofa, but closest to the exit. She always seems to pick rooms closest to the exits, and he wonders if she feels like she needs to run. He wouldn’t blame her if she did.

She’s cursing at his jacket when he shoulders his way into the room, and she looks up, sucking on her finger as she arches a brow at him. “That my jacket?”

“Yeah, your elbows won’t be cold anymore,” she laughs as she holds it up, showing him the brown patches sewn onto the sleeves. “Found them after my watch – was looting for clothes in one of the bedrooms. Which – I also found some new pants for you,” she waves over to the sofa, where there are a pair of pants folded neatly. “For the love of god, burn the ones you have on, please.”

“Stop,” he grumbles, but starts shucking his boots off as he walks over to the new pants. His old ones are more holes than actual material at this point, he thinks. “Maggie asked if you could help with the rabbit I brought back.” He speaks over his shoulder as he unbuckles his belt, stopping when she gasps.

“Rabbit? Daryl Dixon, you do know how to treat a girl,” she laughs as she pushes closer, grabbing his arm and rising up to press a kiss against his cheek that makes his whole face hot. Thank god he’s not found razors yet.

“Shut up and go cook me some dinner, woman,” he finally teases and she pinches his arm before rolling her eyes and leaving the room. Once she’s gone he presses a hand to his cheek and smiles stupidly for at least a minute before he can finish changing and go lend a hand.

~*~*~*~

He lingers before his night watch that night – his first that’s been assigned without her as his partner. He’d told Rick he wanted her with him – and the man had agreed, made it work until today. Daryl had to hunt, and Carol had volunteered for watch while he was gone. Rick couldn’t ask her to pull two shifts, and Daryl got stuck with Glenn. “I’m in the back,” he grumbles to the Korean, who simply looks at him in confusion and nods.

From the back veranda he can see the candle light flickering in their room. He tries not to focus on it, his eyes scanning the property instead, but he is always aware of it, glowing at the edge of his vision. One hour passes, then two – but the flame does not go out. He begins to shift – worrying that she’s fallen asleep with the candle lit, but he spots her shadow moving inside and he knows she’s still awake.

She ought to be asleep, he thinks as he focusses back on the yard. He manages to relax when the light finally goes out – good she’s getting some sleep. He sighs and rests his chin on the stock of his bow – but the yard is quiet, despite his restlessness.

The sound of the door opening behind him startles him, and he glances back in confusion – Rick isn’t due to take over from him for another two hours. But it’s Carol, wrapped up in her coat, with his newly mended jacket in her hands. “Thought you might be cold. I just finished it,” she hands the garment to him, and he wants to protest. Get after her for staying up to work on this when she should be asleep. But truth be told, he’s glad she’s out here, so he hands her his crossbow for a minute while he shrugs his vest off, and slides his arms into the jacket, elbow patches and all. He puts his vest back on, and takes the bow back from her silently.

“Thanks,” he finally mutters. “Thought maybe you’d fallen asleep with the candle in there,” he adds and she shakes her head, wrapping her arms around herself as she shivers in the chilly air. She tucks her hands under her arms and moves from foot to foot. “Come here.”

She sits next to him, and he keeps his left hand on his bow, but wraps his right one around her too-thin shoulders and pulls her closer. “Thanks, it’s cold out here. Can’t believe the temperature is going down so quick at night now.”

“Should go to bed,” he mutters, his hand rubbing up and down her arm briskly. “And eat more – there’s hardly nothing to you.”

“I couldn’t sleep – it’s why I finished that,” she nudges at his shoulder with her face as she leans in.

“Miss me, huh?” He teases her, his voice oddly serious. Maybe not odd at all – after all he knows he misses her.

“Bad dreams,” she shakes her head, tucking in to his shoulder further, her nose cold against his neck. His arm tightens around her, knowing she’s not been sleeping well. “Daryl…” she trails off, tilting her head back to look up at him. “Did Ty tell you too? Is that why you’ve not asked about the dreams?” Her voice is small and his chest tightens as he shakes his head.

“Rick told me. About the girls. It shouldn’t have been you – they were yours. He should’ve been the one to do it.” His voice is thick, choking him because he wants to tell her. If it had been him – he’d have done it. Not her. He’d not make her watch another child of hers die, not while he was breathing.

“He couldn’t.” She lifts a hand, wipes at her face discreetly.

“I would’ve,” his voice is so low it is barely a whisper but she sighs and pushes into his side closer, turning her head. He feels his mouth brush his neck – a soft kiss as she nods.

“I know.”

They sit, silent and still, until Rick comes to relieve him.

~*~*~*~

“Abe, you, Daryl and I will clear out this street. Carol, Glenn and Maggie will take this one-” Rick hunches over the map and Abe scoffs, shaking his head.

“Shoot, that doesn’t seem hardly fair,” Abe shakes his head. “I’ll go with Glenn and Maggie, Carol can go with you guys.” Daryl looks up in surprise, as does Rick. Abe’s face is open, honest as he looks at Daryl and claps him on the shoulder. “Only fair to keep the mr and mrs’s together, right?”

His throat goes dry and the room goes silent for a moment. “Pardon?” Rick finally asks and Abe chuckles.

“Well I mean – you’ve been sending Maggie and Glenn on the same schedule. I get that – a man loses his wife like that, it’s a terrible thing. No need to split Dixon and his wife up either, I’ll just take point on team B.” Abe shrugs, glancing to his left where Rosita nods.

“And we’ll keep guard here – Tyreese, Michonne and I,” Rosita adds. “Easy enough.”

“Abe, Daryl and Carol-” Glenn starts in a whisper, glancing fearfully at Daryl as he speaks quickly. Not quick enough though, because Daryl talks over him.

“Appreciate it, man.” He nods – the fuck does he care why Abe is switching teams? He can keep a better eye on Carol this way, and he intends to. The room falls silent again and Glenn gapes at him while Maggie elbows him with a shit-eating grin. “What y’all looking at? Can we finish the god damn meeting?” Daryl growls and he glances around to be sure Carol hasn’t come in off watch in the middle of this cluster fuck.

Rick shakes his head before continuing to lay out the plan – supplies they need, vehicles to look for. Eventually the meeting breaks up and Daryl ignores everyone as he shoves his way out of the room. Glenn is a fast fucker though, and catches up with him in the hall. “Dude you realize that you just totally called Carol your wife, right?”

“Shut up, Glenn,” he growls at the younger man, who holds his hands up, laughing breathlessly.

“Hey I am just saying – all they had to go on was what they saw. The never ending hug and the fact that you’ve been stuck to her like glue – bunking with her. And now you just up and said that – I mean… are you guys…” Glenn pauses, his face furrowing in confusion as Daryl huffs and adjusts his shoulder strap.

“It’s none of your god damned business what we are or aren’t! None of any of y’alls! I wanted her on my team, I thanked him for it. End of fucking story. Stop being such a gossip queen – this isn’t Real Housewives of Atlanta Glenn, Christ!” He is irritated and Glenn’s eyes widen as he points at Daryl with a grin.

“How do you even know what that show is?!”

“Shut up,” he grumbles again as Carol pops her head in the door, glaring at them.

“You’re loud enough to wake the dead, and that is not a metaphor anymore. Both of you – pipe down!” She hisses and they both shut up, casting their eyes down as they fidget. Daryl is inwardly panicking, wondering how much she overheard while Glenn is sniggering behind his hand. He glares at the Korean, giving him a sharp shove before he follows Carol out the door and across the yard as she climbs the huge sugar maple they’ve been keeping watch in deftly. “Meeting’s over I take it?” Her voice is dry as she sits on a thick limb. “Up or down Dixon?”

He sighs, clambering up the tree after her, situating himself on the branch just below and to the left of hers. “Rick set teams for tomorrow. You, me and him on one team, Abe, Glenn and Maggie on the other. The rest stay behind for watch.” He doesn’t mention how the teams got shook down, and she nods, nudging his shoulder gently with her knee.

“What were you and Glenn hollering about?”

“Nothing, he was just being a fucking idiot,” Daryl mutters, keeping his eyes on the drive leading up to the house they’ve moved into. They’re pretty far north now, he thinks. “We’ll be out of Georgia soon.” He speaks his thoughts aloud and she nods, letting out a sigh.

“I’ve never been out of the state, you know that?” She confesses wistfully with a laugh. “Married almost straight out of high school and well – we weren’t the waste money on vacations sort.” She glances around as she shifts on the tree and looks down at him. “Never even been this far north, really. I like it – the hills – it’s pretty.”

“Well you’re gonna see half the fucking country now. You can go wherever you want to,” he shrugs and she smiles in the moonlight, her foot swaying from her perch and nudging him gently in the ribs repeatedly. He can’t say as he minds.

“Just wherever you go is fine,” she speaks in a preoccupied tone and he freezes below her, glancing up with an intense expression. “I mean – all of us. We’re a family now.” He lets it slide, smiling at her as he nods and slouches against the tree’s trunk.

“Who’s relieving you?” He finally breaks the comfortable silence and she looks back down at him.

“The new girl. Rosita? Is that her name?”

“Yeah, she’s alright,” he acknowledges and Carol goes silent again for a moment before she speaks.

“She’s… really pretty. Like who looks that good in the apocalypse, seriously?” She sounds incredulous and Daryl laughs, nudging his shoulder against her knee as he grabs her ankle with his hand.

“Stop,” he shakes his head, but what he really wants to say is you. Somehow she’s just grown more radiant since the start of all this – like a caterpillar shedding its cocoon.

“Hey! You two lovebirds gonna climb on down here?” Rosita is standing below them, hip cocked to one side as she peers up, her gun in her hands. “Shit, newlyweds, man,” she teases and Daryl can feel the heat crawl up the back of his neck as he jumps down, glaring at her before he turns and helps Carol jump as well. “Sleep well Dixons,” she calls over her shoulder as she climbs the tree quickly. Carol frowns at him as they walk back to the house.

“You know what that’s about?” She asks with a slight laugh, but it doesn’t last long and he thinks he may be imagining it – but maybe she doesn’t find it that easy to laugh off.

“Not a fucking clue,” he lies smoothly, his hand dropping to press against her back, fingers pressing into her spine. She lets out a soft groan at that and he stills as she laughs.

“Sorry – my back is killing me. That tree is not a friend to these old bones,” she jokes as she leads them inside. She stops, glancing over her shoulder with her teasing grin fully back in place. “Rub it for me later, Pookie?”

He swallows and doesn’t say anything, letting her giggle about it as they move past Rick and Abe to the kitchen to grab her some food before bed. Maybe he will, he thinks.

Maybe he will.

~*~*~*~

“Daryl, do we need to talk?”

He stills, his rag in his hand and his crossbow in his lap as he squints up at Rick, who is standing there, his hands on his hips as he stares down at him. “About what?” Daryl asks slowly, carrying on cleaning his weapon with slow methodical strokes.

Rick settles next to him, his legs sprawled and his elbows on his knees, hands dangling. Daryl watches him out of the corner of his eye, an odd tension keeping his frame coiled – ready to spring. He pulls his bolts out next, cleaning those as Rick sighs heavily. “You and Carol.” He finally speaks and Daryl feels the tension within curl that much tighter as he abandons any pretense of casualty and lifts his head to meet Rick’s gaze head on.

“What about us?” He asks carefully, and Rick flinches at the pronoun. But it’s what he’d meant – there is no more Daryl and Carol anymore. Not for him. They were a unit – one. He’ll make damn sure Rick knows it.

Rick lifts a hand, rubbing his fingers across his forehead and down his nose as he avoids Daryl’s stare. “You barely leave her side any more. You’re my strongest asset-” Daryl snorts at that and Rick pauses. “My brother,” he stresses as he looks up at Daryl. “You spend too much time watching her back, you’re gonna forget to watch your own. You’re putting yourself at risk.”

“No I ain’t,” Daryl scoffs, shooting Rick a disappointed look. “I spend too much time watching her back, that’s true. But I don’t gotta worry about my own – cause she’s watching it for me. Goes both ways Rick. Not distracted – not making stupid decisions. Just don’t want to go anywhere without her.”

“She don’t like to be tethered like that Daryl, and you know it. You’re going to smother her,” Rick leans forward, attempting a different tactic. “I know you – you missed her. But it wasn’t more than two weeks-”

“Fuck that, it was forever Rick, and you know it,” Daryl hisses the words out with enough force that Rick sits back, retreating in the face of his anger. “You’re my family, but her –” Her pauses, struggling with the words to describe her. Nothing comes, so he shakes the thought of trying away and looks at Rick who is blinking at him warily. “I thought she was gone, man. Dead or alone or worse.”

“Worse than dead?” Rick chuckles dryly, but Daryl is in no mood to lighten the atmosphere as he glares at the other man.

“You and I know there’s a lot worse than death out on the road. Especially for a woman alone. I convinced myself she was dead – gone. Had to, because thinking of worse things would have got me killed. Thought at least she was happy – with her girl again,” his throat tightens and Rick shakes his head in rejection of the thought, his hands going up.

“Daryl, I-”

“We bunk together, Rick. We take watch together, we do runs together, we stay together because the last time I left her she was just gone.” Daryl speaks in a low voice, his hands clenching around his bolts as he fights to remain calm.

“We’ll watch out for her, Daryl-”

“You were watching out for her last time Rick,” Daryl spits the words out. “I don’t much care for how you looked after what was mine.”

Rick recoils at that, pulling back enough that he actually slides two inches away, his hands clutching his knees. “You know why-”

“Not digging that shit up again. Yeah I know why. I don’t agree with it, don’t want to fucking discuss it to death either. You fucked up. You apologised to her and I’ll let that lie. What happened, happened. But if you think it’s not gonna take me a hell of a long time to trust you with her again, you don’t have a fucking clue.”  As soon as the words are of his mouth, Daryl feels the tension within him ease, his frame loosening and relaxing as if the mere act of laying it out like that for Rick eased the stress on him. Rick is quiet for a long moment, and Daryl goes back to cleaning his bolts, the repetitive motion soothing him.

“Okay,” Rick finally speaks, nodding his head. “Okay. I’ll – I’ll bear it in mind when scheduling things.” He pauses, scuffing his boots along the worn boards on the stairs before he sighs and looks up. “You will eventually though right? Trust me with her?” Daryl doesn’t speak, he simply nods silently and Rick stands slowly, easing back up the stairs. He pauses by his shoulder and drops a hand, squeezing it. “For what it’s worth – I didn’t know. If I’d known I would have approached it differently – talked to you first.”

“You knew, Rick. Everyone knew – what she and I were to each other? All y’all knew. You didn’t want to risk me leaving with her. Making a tough call for the good of the group,” Daryl feels Rick’s hand leave his shoulder as he huffs out a laugh. “Fucking ironic, huh? But it was the right call, because your instincts were right. I’d have left with her and never looked back. We’re family, but she’s more.”

It is so quiet in the early twilight that he can hear Rick swallow behind him, clearing his throat a few times before he can speak. “I understand,” Rick finally speaks in a hoarse voice and Daryl shrugs.

“Good.”

~*~*~*~

She is eerily silent as they prepare to go to sleep that night, a disquieting tension hanging in the air around her as she fidgets. She doesn’t say much as they lay in bed, instead she twitches and tosses and turns, restless energy hanging around her like a cloud. “You gonna spit it out or drive me to distraction over there?” He finally rolls over to look at her as she shoots him a glance, her eyes wide.

“I heard you and Rick earlier,” she finally blurts it out, her voice low and he nods.

“And?”

“And? God Daryl, some of the things you said... why?” She demands a response in a hot voice, and he closes his eyes, sighing. How is he supposed to explain? He doesn’t do this shit – hasn’t she been paying attention all along? He thought she had – the constant touches and soft kisses in places she thought he wouldn’t notice.

“It needed to be said,” he finally grumbles, not willing to explain his god damned flowery pathetic reasons for what he’d said to Rick that evening.

“No, you idiot, why’d you say all that to him and not me?” Her eyes seem impossibly blue, and he realises that she’s actually hurt by it, so he reaches out carefully, taking her hand in his.

“Why’d you tell Rick what happened with the girls and not me?” He counters, and she lets out a sodden little laugh.

“I didn’t. Ty did – I couldn’t talk to anyone about it – still can’t. But when I do, it’s going to be you. You should have talked to me, Daryl.” She chides him and he is at war with himself because she’s hurt by it, but she’s also clearly not pissed enough to not hold his hand or slide her body closer to his. Her hand untangles from his and she slides them onto his face – cradling it like she had that day in the woods.

“I’m sorry,” he apologises clumsily. “I just thought you knew. Understood.”

“God Daryl, of course I did. I do. I do understand – I’m yours.” His heart squeezes in his chest at that – it’s almost painful how it seems to compress and leap straight up into his throat. “And you’re mine. I’ve always understood that – since the farm. I just wanted to be the first to hear, whenever you decided to finally say it out loud.”

“Shit, Carol, I didn’t – I didn’t mean to-” He stumbles over his words in his rush to reassure her, his hand grasps at her waist, pulling her tighter against him as her fingers stroke over his cheeks softly.

“I know,” she breathes the words out, her breath tickling his face.

“I told him you were more. But I’ll tell you how much more,” he finally offers the words and her thumb presses against his mouth as she shakes her head.

“No, Daryl, it’s fine-”

“Shut up, and let me talk. It’s not like I ask to do it often,” he complains and she laughs, shaking her head slightly as her fingers ease away from his lips. “Abe called you my wife the other day. I didn’t correct him, Carol. You are – you are more important to me than any other god damned person in this whole group. You’re it for me. My partner, my mate, my wife – I don’t give a shit what they call it. You are the most important person on this entire fucked up planet to me. Nothing else comes first. No one ever will. Your life is more important than mine.” He pauses as she shakes her head, her eyes glittering in the low light. “And I know you feel the same way. I almost lost you so many times. I thought I had Carol. You didn’t – you didn’t have to live with that. That idea in your head. Me, dead. I didn’t want to – I just wanted to fucking exist until I died, because what the hell was there worth living for? You were gone.” His voice cracks at that, and he shakes his head, trying to hide his face from her, but her grip was strong on him. “You were gone,” he repeats the words and she moves suddenly, her whole body against his as her arms wrap around his shaking frame. Her hands card through his hair, stroking soothingly and he clutches her, burying his face by her chest as he fights to control his emotions.

“You’re right, I didn’t think you were dead, Daryl,” her voice is soft above his head and his arms tighten around her as he feels her press a kiss to the top of his head. “I knew you’d live.  Just out of my reach. I’d never get to see you again, or touch you, or talk to you, or hear you tell me to stop when I teased you –” She laughs softly at that as he sniffles softly, burrowing into her skin until his lips are pressing against the hollow of her throat. He purses them, brushing them across her skin in a soft kiss and she sighs above him.  “Comparatively, I’m not sure which is worse. At least I could look for you. Follow where I thought you were headed. Have hope. But then I wasn’t sure you’d even want me after what I’d done. So I walked slower than I probably could have, because being away from you hurt, but the thought of you telling me to go – I couldn’t live with that. I love you so much, so much more than I ever thought I’d be capable of again, after Sophia.” Her hands clutch at him as she says it, and he feels like his chest is filled with helium – so light he could burst. He wants to hear her say it five more times, right now. To never stop saying it.

He lifts his head at that, surging forward with no finesse or skill whatsoever, just raw emotion moving him forward until his mouth lands on hers. It is sloppy. It’s wet from their tears and his teeth hit her bottom lip awkwardly and it doesn’t get any better. It is desperate hands on skin, pinching and pulling and his head angling the wrong way as his lips press too hard into hers. But she sighs softly into his mouth, her hands on his neck tightening even as she melts into his fumbled attempts at this.

It’s possibly the shittiest kiss ever, but he feels like it’s the best thing he’s ever done. His heart beats and heat runs through his veins and she feels so fucking good against him. When he parts from her, they’re both breathless and she giggles, her hands scratching through his beard as she hums, pushing her body into his. He kisses her once more, slower this time, the urgency burned away by that first attempt. She hums against his lips, and his hands slide down over her too-prominent ribs to slip under the hem of her shirt. Her skin feels like nothing he’s ever touched before – soft and hot against his palms.

“I love you too,” the words slip from his mouth in a rough voice, far easier than he’d ever have imagined. He’d thought it would be painful to expose yourself like that – make yourself that vulnerable, but he had been so wrong. All he felt was an intense need to make her feel what he’d felt upon hearing her say them. “It’s us now. No matter what, you got me?”

She smiles at him, so bright it is blinding in the darkened room, and when his hands slip over her small breasts, he can feel her heart thundering under his palm as she groans and arches into him. He hands slide into his hair as she pulls his mouth to hers again.

“I got you.”