“I don’t need it,” Rick groaned, weakly swatting his hand away. His sore throat making his voice sound raspier. His brow creased in a deep frown as it glistened with sweat.
“Yeah, ya do,” Daryl replied and grabbing Rick’s wrist this time to prevent him from swatting it away, he placed the cold, wet towel on the younger man’s brow for a few seconds then used it to wipe the sweat off of Rick’s temples and neck. Rick shivered, weakly protesting at the cold sensation.
“Gonna check yer temperature now,” Daryl informed and left the damp towel on the nightstand to open the drawer and fish out the rectal thermometer.
“Daryl―” Rick weakly complained but let Daryl maneuver him on his side and pull the thin sleeping pants down his hips to reveal Rick’s pale bum.
“I’ll be quick, love. Promise,” Daryl whispered lovingly and spread the taut mounds of flesh to expose Rick’s pink opening and gently inserted the tip of the thermometer. Rick whined a bit in protest and closed his eyes, but other than that he kept silent and still. His face was flushed but it could’ve well been caused by the fever or plain embarrassment.
Daryl caressed Rick’s thigh in a hopefully, comforting way as he observed the younger man’s fallen bearing with worry.
He’d been like that for a couple of days. First it was just a cough and a sore throat, but then came the sore limbs, chills, headache, and lastly, the fever― along with that irritatingly stubborn attitude that made Daryl want to slap the leader around a bit. He’d had to force him to stay in bed for a day or two after Rick had almost passed out on him.
It was the flue. Rick had picked it up from Lil’ ass kicker, but she’d merely coughed from time to time and felt a tad bit warmer than usual, faring much better than her daddy.
“Kay,” he said and pulled the thermometer out gently. Rick grunted in discomfort and brought his weak hands down to pull his pants back up. Daryl saw him struggling and pulled them up for him then checked the temperature in the small screen. He shook his head and sighed. It was higher than last time he checked.
Leaving the thermometer on a crumpled paper towel on the nightstand, he searched his pockets for the Tylenol Denise had given him.
“These are t’ bring down yer fever,” Daryl said, opening the plastic container and taking out two tables, “n’ yer gonna take ‘em without a fuss, ‘kay sweetheart?”
Rick’s drowsy eyes set on the tablets in Daryl’s hand and the water bottle in the other and he sluggishly nodded. Daryl would’ve smirked in triumph if not for the fact that Rick’s easy compliance meant he wasn’t feeling well at all.
“Alright, sit up, love,” he said and helped Rick up into a sitting position, the younger man moaning pitifully in the process and going lax in his arms, threatening to fall back down against the bed the second Daryl let go of him so he had to wrap an arm around Rick’s back to hold him up.
Rick arduously lifted his heavy arms to hold unto Daryl’s broad shoulders.
“Kay, open up,” the archer instructed and gently pushed the tablets through Rick’s parted lips, one by one, then pressed the bottle against them, tilting it to pour the fresh liquid into the parched mouth.
Rick mumbled what sounded like a thanks after at least five thirsty gulps of water so Daryl welcomed him with a kiss on his forehead before putting the bottle away to help the leader lie on his back again.
“Be right back,” Daryl said and went to the bathroom to re-wash the towel then returned to the bedroom and stepped closer to the bed to pull on the bedcovers Rick had thrown back over his shivering, sweaty form while he was in the bathroom.
Rick grunted, trying to hold unto the covers. “m’ cold.”
“Yer drenched in sweat, darlin’” Daryl explained, pealing the covers from Rick’s trembling body. “Gotta clean ya up and change yer clothes.”
“No―” Rick rasped, trying to hold unto the sheets but Daryl pulled a tad bit harder and Rick’s grasp gave. “I hate you.”
He chuckled at Rick’s childish antics. “Yer gonna feel better afterwards, love. Promise,” Daryl said and without waiting for an answer, started sliding Rick’s grey shirt up his torso. He worked the leader’s arms out of the sleeves and pulled the t-shirt over his head in a swift movement, mindful not to disturb Rick much, who still moaned in discomfort and complained about the cold and how much his skin hurt.
“Yer a damn baby when yer sick, ya know that?” Daryl teased.
“I bet you are too,” Rick teased back, cracking his eyes open just the slightest and letting a small smirk form on his lips.
“Nah. I don’ get sick. My body learned a long time ago that it can’t get sick,” Daryl said simply. “Lie on yer side.”
“Why?” Rick said in confusion while he complied, exposing his naked back to the older man.
“Couldn’t afford it… even less now,” he shrugged and started wiping Rick’s clammy back with the damp towel.
“You didn’t have anyone to take care of you?” Rick asked with a frown.
“Nah. Had t’ fend fer myself,” Daryl replied. “On yer back.”
Rick laid on his back again and smiled up at the archer as he wiped his neck, chest and stomach with the wet towel and put his hand on top of Daryl’s to get his attention. “If you got sick…I’d take care of you. You can count on it. You can count on me.”
Daryl stopped his fussing to lock eyes with Rick’s, searching, finding nothing but pure sincerity in them. It made his heart flutter so he allowed a tiny smile to graze his lips.
“Yer still too warm,” he said suddenly, feeling the temperature on Rick’s hand.
Breaking their stare he turned on his heels to hide the blush creeping up on him with the excuse to look for one of Rick’s clean t-shirts in the drawer. He grabbed a white one and helped Rick into it.
“You’re gonna stay with me?” Rick asked, outstretching his hand to reach for his as Daryl made to walk away.
“Ya want me to?” he grunted, standing there awkwardly.
“Of course,” Rick smiled and scooted to the middle of the bed to leave more room for Daryl.
He shed off his vest to lie down behind Rick then wrapped a protective arm around the leader’s waist, pulling him closer. Rick went easily, snuggling back against him and sighing in contentment.
“Thank you,” Rick muttered.
“For taking care of me, you dork.”
He grunted. “s’ nothin’. Now get back t’ sleep. When ya wake up, I want ya t’ feel much better, ya hear?”
“Yes sir,” Rick chuckled and nuzzled against him again.
Daryl delved closer to bury his face against Rick’s damp curls then kissed the warm skin of his neck, letting out a sigh of relief as it felt much cooler to the touch than before. He tightened his hold on Rick and nuzzled his face against the back of Rick’s neck, closing his eyes and letting sleep claim him.
He woke up to something soft stroking his face and grunted in warning, cracking his eyes open. The sight that welcomed him warmed his heart. Lil ass kicker was playing with his beard, smiling happily at him while a smiling Rick behind her played with her hair.
“Hey,” Rick greeted and smiled at Judith. “She’s much better.”
Daryl stretched slightly and sat up straighter. “I know. She barely had any symptoms,” he said and reached over to tickle Judith. She let out an adorable squeak. “Unlike ya…”
“She’s stronger than me,” Rick shrugged smiling. “I’m better too, though. I took a shower and all.”
Daryl frowned, annoyed at himself. “How da hell didn’ I wake up?” He was supposed to be ready at all times. Always alert.
“You barely slept the last two days taking care of me. You were just exhausted, I guess,” Rick argued, reaching over to caress his upper arm in a comforting way.
Daryl bristled. “s’no excuse. All those times we were out there. We were exhausted. Didn’ make a difference.”
“Daryl,” Rick grabbed his hand, staring intently at him, “it’s okay to let your guard down here. We’re safe. At least in here. We’re not out there anymore.”
Daryl nodded but kept silent, letting the words sink in. He met some resistance, of course, but overall, Rick was right. Maybe it was okay to let his guard drop if only a little bit. And only here; only in moments such as these. They had lives now. He had a home; a family. He had to learn how to balance the surviving with the living. There was no guaranty that what they had here in Alexandria would last. It could end tomorrow. They didn’t know. If any threat showed up that could destroy it, Daryl would be ready to destroy it. But in the meantime, he had to let himself live it, enjoy it and seize it. He had more now that the world had ended than in all the long years of his life prior to it. What was the point of it all if he couldn’t let himself live in it?
He looked at Rick’s smiling face as the leader played with his daughter and a warm fuzzy feeling filled his chest.
Yes. He could let his guard drop for this moment.