She wants a tree. He gets a tree.
Here’s the truth, which he will never tell her but which he’s certain she knows perfectly well - and this may be why he feels no need to begin with - he wants a tree too. He wants one and, like so many other things these days, he might actually do something with that desire. Ordinarily he would sit with it and stare at it, stare at it until he closes his eyes and all he sees is its outline in purple and green, burned into his retinas, but she makes him want to let it into the light, where maybe he might see it a little better. Have more space to let it breathe, do some breathing of his own.
He wants a tree and she wants a tree, and her wanting gives him permission, and he grumbles about it but he goes out there with her, a gun and an axe and his bow and their knives, armed to the teeth to get a fucking Christmas tree.
Laughter follows him like the whisper of the wind. He doesn’t actually laugh but it strokes through him, a tickle beneath his breastbone, and it feels good.
The dog follows them.
The forest around the funeral home isn’t a goddamn tree farm - something he muttered at her when she caved him in and got him to agree, which took absolutely no effort on her part - but it’s not like she’s picky, and she’s unpicky in the best way he can think of. She’s unpicky in the sense of simple joy in possible pleasures, in what they can have rather that what she’s going without, and since they got here that joy has been blooming in her like a winter flower. He’s watched it, silently wondering.
Which he does so often with her.
That was a long time ago now. A long time since her own internal spring began. Through the months of autumn she’s spread herself into her own summer, glowing in the candlelight as her fingers move rapidly across the piano’s keys. She was already good but she’s getting better and better, and more than once he’s listened to her in the dimness, her song echoing through the empty halls, and thought with a degree of bemused amusement about the possibility of living out the end of the world in a funeral home with a pianist who could have played at Carnegie Hall.
For him. Playing for him. And for herself, and for their combined pleasure - joined and amplified like perfectly balanced acoustics.
She wants a tree. For her pleasure. So she’ll have one.
And he wants one too.
They had one once that he can remember. Once in the prison - a weird Christmas, a Christmas everyone frankly guessed at, because by then no one was sure what the hell day it was anymore. Everyone just sort of decided and they got a tree and threw on profoundly makeshift decorations of colored paper and scrap metal and strings of plastic beads and some cheap ornaments picked up on a run, and an actual string of lights. And it was crap, and he didn’t feel like he was part of the whole deal or ever could be, but he found her on the catwalk and she sang, and he held Judith in his arms and listened to her and felt something stirring in him. Turning over. Stretching.
Spreading its wings.
After that, nothing. The prison didn’t make it to another guessed-at Christmas. So this is the one after, he supposes. The next one. The only one. And once again they’re guessing, once again it’s just sort of something that’s been decided - by her - but it feels real. As real as any Christmas he ever had. More real, maybe.
I never got nothin’ from Santa Claus.
That isn’t really true. Not anymore.
Her voice echoing softly through the cell block, above and beneath a slightly discordant a capella rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing. A warm baby in his arms.
And now he’s hacking down a scrubby little pine while she stands watch with her gun, and she’s singing under her breath.
oh to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be
let that grace now like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to thee
He doesn’t want her to sing under her breath. He wants her to sing to send the birds from the trees.
No snow. It doesn’t matter. It feels like it’s there anyway, because they’ve come out to do this in darkness drenched in moonlight, and everything is silver and ivory and unreal. He puts the tree over his shoulder and she laughs to match the laughter swelling in his chest and says something about him being a show-off, and he kicks dry leaves at her, because it’s not that big a tree, and the damn dog circles them, ragged tail wagging furiously.
In the distance, very faint, he hears growls. Hisses. But it’s very faint indeed, and it gets no louder.
They don’t have a tree stand. They don’t have lights. They were completely unprepared for this and it’s ridiculous. He tells her and she knows it and she informs him of this fact and she gets one of the big cooking pots from the kitchen and fills it with water. Which won’t work very well and he tells her that too, and he’s still explaining to her at some length what a stupid idea this is as they prop it up in the pot in the corner of the big parlor - the one with the fireplace - and by some miracle it stays up, though he has fantasies of it crashing down in the middle of the night and startling the shit out of her, and then he’d get to give her a hard time for about a week. Which he would enjoy.
And she would let him. Because she would know that he enjoyed it. Feel its gentleness, feel what’s behind his teasing, and not mind at all.
No lights at all this time. No ornaments. He builds up a fire and she brings down red gold-braided rope from a storage closet upstairs - something he either hadn’t seen when they first went through this place top to bottom or hadn’t cared about enough to remember - and she unwinds the rope and lays it out the disparate strands.
He watches her, getting the idea.
He leaves for a while. Makes more noise than he wanted to but she doesn’t come to investigate, and he knows why she’s decided not to and it warms that laughter into tiny tongues licking the insides of his chest. He comes back with his arms full of towel-wrapped crystal liberated from one of the smaller chandeliers in an anteroom they never use.
Once he never would have done this, but a long time ago they determined to their own satisfaction that no one is coming back.
This place is theirs and theirs alone.
She’s winding strands of rope around the tree - clumsy, because it’s not even remotely free-standing - and she pauses and turns and looks at him with her arms full of red and gold and something passes across her face that he can’t name, can’t even begin to find a category for.
Except for a moment she looks like she might be about to cry.
He crouches and puts the towel full of crystal down without a word - puts it down in front of her like a gift. It clinks softly. A log in the fireplace cracks into a sudden flare of sparks that dance up the chimney. And she looks at him and he looks back up at her, lit up like fire herself, and he can’t quite breathe.
This is ridiculous.
Crystal like icicles, crystal like frozen drops of rain. Beads. They distribute them over the tree, and they’re too heavy for a lot of the branches because the thing isn’t exactly robust anyway, and a lot of it sags and looks uneven and doesn’t really work at all, but he stands back and she stands back and they gaze at it together in the red and gold light of the fire, and without looking at him she takes his hand and interweaves their fingers.
And it’s ridiculous, and it’s perfect.
There’s no snow but it’s cold, and she settles by the fire, still looking at the tree, as he goes to get blankets. They each have a bed upstairs - narrow and creaking and far more comfortable than any prison cot or coffin - but more and more as the nights have gotten colder they haven’t been using them. They stay down here together, and while one of them curls up on the threadbare rug by the fire the other one keeps watch. And for a while there was a few feet of space between the nests of blankets and pillows they made but gradually that space ate itself away until it was gone completely, and neither of them missed it. These nights it’s just them sitting close, lying close, not touching and yet touching foot to shoulder, blankets between them but not much else.
Last week he woke up and his head was practically in her lap. It didn’t bother him nearly as much as he might have expected.
Didn’t bother him really at all.
He kneels next to her, drapes a blanket over her shoulders, and she doesn’t take her eyes off the tree as she pulls it around herself.
This is fuckin’ ridiculous.
In her ear. Very soft. She leans back against him and whispers I know. And it’s not strange to put an arm around her. Not strange to put both of them around her. Not strange for her to lean back against his chest, the crown of her head nudging the side of his jaw.
The fire catches the crystal and the gold and they twinkle and shimmer and shine.
She wanted a tree. So did he. She gave him permission to want it. Let his desire out into the light where he can see it better.
He presses his cheek against her. Nuzzles at her hair, inhales. That’s not so strange either, and she smells like smoke and evergreen and dust and the gentle age of this place. She smells like whatever kind of Christmas he can imagine, whatever kind he can want, and maybe the first one he can really think of as his.
He can think of things as theirs, and that’s not strange at all. It hasn’t been strange in weeks.
He shakes his head, vaguely confused. He has no idea what she would be thanking him for. Says as much. She abruptly pushes up on her knees and turns, blanket still around her, and gazes at him in the firelight.
Because this is ridiculous.
And he laughs. Finally lets that out, warm little tongues playing up his ribs on their way to his throat, and his hands find her slender shoulders beneath the blanket and it feels like the most natural thing in the world for them to be there.
Has it ever not been ridiculous? He pauses and she’s made it okay, she’s given him permission to let his desire into the light, so he reaches up and fingers a strand of her hair. Winds it around his thumb, strands of woven gold. It’s always been absolutely fucking ridiculous. With us. We never made no damn sense.
Talking about everything.
Nothing does. Not anymore. She leans into a touch that’s barely a touch at all, his knuckles against her cheekbone, skin every bit as soft and smooth as her hair, and it’s not a surprise and it’s not strange when her own fingers slide through his hair and she ghosts her lips across his.
He never thought about kissing her.
He’s not sure he’s ever thought about anything else.
Once this would have been impossible. Anxiety is still rippling through him because what if. If. If he.
But her wanting gives him permission.
Her name on a breath, not even a whisper, and she swallows it, blanket slipping down to gather in folds around her hips. It’s clumsy as the tree is, him sitting and leaning up and her on her knees, tangle of covers and pillows all around them, and it’s clumsier when she presses in harder, sealing their mouths together with both hands cupping the back of his head. If he’s been thinking about kissing her he has no idea what he expected it to be like, but it’s like the tree, like the fire, like crystal and gold, silver and crimson, it’s like fucking Christmas, and as his hands settle on her hips and his tongue strokes along hers he laughs again, and it feels so good.
He never used to laugh like this.
Never used to kiss girls in front of ugly fucking Christmas trees, either, but here he is.
At another time and in another place he might still have been reticent. He might have pulled back, been nervous, been uncertain and wanted to slow down, even stop, perhaps proceed very very carefully until he was sure he wouldn’t fuck everything up, but while he’s not any less uncertain and nervous about basically everything, he cares a fuck of a lot less than he used to. And while sure, he might fuck everything up, he’s already done that about as badly as he possibly could, and he came out the other side. They both did.
And here they are, and he doesn’t want to slow down. He hasn’t done even this much in so long it feels like he might as well never have at all, but he doesn’t want to slow down, and he moans deep and rough when she slides her swollen lips free from his and drags them over his jaw, breath hot against his ear and sending a wave of shivering all through him.
Which is when he hauls her into his lap and she’s already clambering over him, straddling him, arms around his neck and her body flush with his and so warm, so hot, all the heat of the laughter that followed him out into the woods and back again.
You can. Daryl, it’s alright, you can- Guiding his hands under her shirt, up her sides and back and forward again, the bumps of her ribs and then the worn cotton of her bra and her small tits so perfect beneath his palms, and it’s not strange. She fits him.
It’s alright. It’s all right, God, it is, his thumbs swiping over her nipples and feeling them harden through fabric so thin it’s almost not even there, and it’s all right when she runs her own hands up his back and fuck it, he’s not even thinking about what she’s touching except that it’s him, she’s touching him, and that’s all that’s ever mattered.
They get to decide when Christmas is. They get to decide what this means.
She gave him permission to want this and he does. He does. It’s all he fucking wants.
The crystal clinks softly under the whisper of the pine needles as her shirt hits them and her bra follows, his shirt, so much bare skin under his hands - a feast of it. Her gasping I wanna see you, let me see you, like this isn’t spontaneous, this is something she really has been wanting, her hand fumbling between them and cupping him, and at this point the whole clothes thing just seems like a stupid idea.
Her falling back and shimmying her jeans off, washed in red-gold. Shimmering. He stares at her and it’s like the crystal when he gave it to her, laid it down in front of her like a gift - he can’t breathe. Because she’s laid herself down and he’s fumbling with his belt, with the rest of the ridiculous concept of pants, crawling over her and whimpering when she reaches down and closes her hand around his cock, when she gasps, her eyes wide.
Lowering himself, rolling against her belly and making her gasp again, releasing his own shuddering breath as his eyes fall closed. Except he wants to see her, needs to, and he forces them open and meets hers - wide to match, it feels like - and thrusts shallowly into the tight, hot circle of her hand.
It’s for you. It’s all for you.
He has no idea whether or not he actually says it and it doesn’t in the least matter.
Because she knows.
His hand in hers, gripping his; he only really notices it when she’s already tugging it down and he strokes over tight, damp curls and then the slick folds of her cunt as she guides him, presses him where she wants him and arches her back and whispers oh god, please, please, that- as he slowly circles her clit with a fingertip.
He thinks he remembers how to do this.
Then again, he’s never done this before at all.
She’s so wet, she’s so wet and soft and open for him that he’s only half aware of his own cock in her fist and the way she’s exploring him, tracing his length with her soft little fingers, squeezing him at his base and dragging her grip slowly up to the head. He can practically feel her pulse throbbing in the swollen nub under his touch but there’s so much more, so much he hasn’t gotten to know, and she twitches under him and then arches and releases his name in a sweet little cry as he pushes a single finger into her.
Do you want-
You can. She’s smiling - grinning - jerking at him and clasping him against her belly when he grinds downward, thumb wet with precome gliding across the head of his cock. Yes. God. Yeah. I want. Rocking up with her hips and pushing him deeper into her, tightening around him when he withdraws like she’s trying to hold him inside her. His name, his name in a cascade of laughing moans as she wriggles so delightfully under him, as he starts to fuck her with his finger and then - because he wants to, because she says he can - with two, curving them upward and watching utterly rapt as she tosses her head back and squeezes him tight, as she fumbles for his wrist.
Like that, like that likethatlike- And she’s convulsing under him, every tendon in her neck taut and her mouth wide as she sobs his name and clenches and releases and soaks his hand. Like something she’s giving him. Like a gift laid down in front of him.
But he doesn’t want her like this.
Not like this. And she’s blinking, confused, her hair a tousled mess still confined by the elastic band, and he pulls it free and lets it tumble in waves around her neck and her shoulders, all down her back as he pushes up onto his knees and pulls her with him.
Before. Like before. She knows. She’s sighing into breathless laughter as she lowers herself back into the cradle of his lap, one hand on his shoulder as her other finds his shaft. Like this, because this was first and this felt best and this felt right, and he’s seized by a wave of trembling that almost crests into something violent when she takes hold of him and tips her head back and keens softly as she eases onto his cock.
Part of him does wish this was slower. Part of him does want to take his time here. There’s so much he can do for her, so much he hasn’t done, and he’s sucking her thick juices from his own fingers as he clings to her, every muscle tense and loose and tense again like he’s already coming into the hot, slippery sheath she’s made of herself. But then it’s past slow and into deep calm, and she’s not moving at all and neither is he. Simply breathing, her arms around his neck and her mouth open against his throat, and he pulls her closer and buries his face in her hair.
They could stay like this, he realizes. They could just… stay. He didn’t have to slow down; they also don’t have to speed up if they don’t want to. She wants. He wants. They give each other permission. They can want a ridiculous fucking tree on a random winter night and they can want this, him hard to aching inside her wet cunt and just resting there, eyes half open and watching the light break through and over the dangling crystal as he strokes his fingers lightly up and down the bumps of her spine.
This is theirs. They get to decide what this means now. Like the days. Like this place. Like everything.
He’s whispering her name as he frames her face with his hands and tips her head back, just enough to see her and to let her see him as he moves inside her. Just once, one slow rock of his hips, but she drags in a breath and her face twists like she’s in pain, only he knows better.
He knows what her pain looks like.
Slow. Slow. Feeling every inch of it as she lifts and lowers herself, moves with him and moves hardly at all - feeling him with a look on her face that he can’t mistake for anything other than wonder.
He’s never seen her look like this. Never.
He wants to make her look like this for the rest of his life.
It feels like it goes on for a long time, these slow rolls of their bodies - not always in sync, often not graceful, frequently clumsy, and she shifts and squirms a bit, breath catching when his cock nudges her wall at a different angle. And right around then is when she finds a position that does something for her the others didn’t, and she moves faster and he lets her, fucking into her to meet her rhythm, deep and hard as she seems to want it - as she’s making it, arching back into his hands and tossing her head and sighing his name in steady panting breaths. Her tits are standing out on her chest, hard little nipples eager for his tongue, and he ducks his head and sucks at them until she’s clutching at him and whimpering and groping between them for her clit even as the second spasm takes her and slowly works through her, drawing a low wail from her as he exchanges his lips and tongue for the careful pressure of his teeth.
Careful, because he can. Because it’s all for her.
But then she’s clawing herself back up and digging her fingers into his shoulders, bucking against him and gasping you, you now, come, oh my God, come for me, come in me, Daryl, come, and this is for her, even this: Seizing him at the base of the spine and shaking him from the core outward, mouth wide in a ragged groan against the side of her neck as he pulses hot inside her, pulses into her, gives her everything he can.
Aware on some level, as he collapses against her, of what he’s done.
What they’ve made it mean.
No talking. Not after. They don’t need to, and all he wants to do is look at her; pulling the blankets and pillows around them and curling up facing her, legs tangled, gaze drifting slowly across her features. Not quite studying her. The fire is dying but the last of the light is catching every facet of crystal and sending rainbows dancing across the walls - a thing that shouldn’t be possible and yet is.
Like so much else.
Her eyes are closed but she’s not asleep, and she first stiffens and then opens to him when he slips his hand between her thighs and nudges his fingertips between lips still slick with her - and with him. Fingertip at her entrance, he can feel it. Or he imagines he can. The heat he’s left there inside her.
It might not mean anything.
At least not this time.
But something happened. Something changed. Maybe out there in the woods. Maybe on the way back, tree over his shoulder and the dog running in the moonlight. Maybe on his knees in front of her, giving her his gift. Maybe the tree itself. Or maybe it was there the whole time and this is nothing new at all.
These are all days. It’s what they want that makes them what they are.
He presses his finger gently into her and she releases a breath and closes her thighs, holding his hand in place.
So he leaves it there.
This is ridiculous. Gradually falling asleep with his hand against her cunt, wet with his come. The tree. The damn dog snuffling at something upstairs. The whole thing. All of it. But he’s part of it, it’s his, and as he drifts off into darkness wound through with red and gold, he thinks about her voice, her song, and a warm baby in his arms.
All of this might mean anything.
praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it
mount of thy unchanging love