“Daryl, do you know what love is?” Carol asked him.
They had been talking about the garden and having food to eat that wasn’t canned and the intense possibility that he wouldn’t be the sole provider of meat here soon with the hogs coming up to age. The question had kind of come out of left field… at least for Daryl. “The hell you goin’ on about, woman?”
Carol shrugged and smiled that damn smile that meant she knew something he didn’t. He hated that smile. “Just a question.”
“The hell it is.” He took a bite out of the peach he had in his hand, adjusting his crossbow on his shoulder. “Should get goin’ anyway. Runnin’ out of morning and quiet.”
“Go see Rick before you leave. Make sure he knows you’re going,” Carol called over her shoulder before he got out of earshot. He just nodded. He was headed that direction anyway, wasn’t sure why she had to remind him.
He found Rick stretching, fresh out of bed, his t-shirt pulling up from his pants as his arms stretched over his head. “Morning, Daryl,” he rasped, voice still husky from sleep. “Ya seen Judy?”
“Beth got her about 20 minutes ago.”
Sitting back down on the bed, he pulled his sleep t-shirt off, throwing it towards the foot of his bed. Daryl watched how his muscles flexed with each movement, the bruises standing out on his skin from misusing a tool or two or getting on the wrong side of mama hog. “Ya headed out again? So soon? We have enough to last us a few days don’t we?”
“Yeah but I just figured-”
“Nah,” Rick smiled, grabbing another shirt from the pile, but delaying in putting it on. “Need ya here today. Come help me in the garden.”
“Why ya gonna be in the garden again? Look at ya,” Daryl gestured towards his side at the line of bruises around the bottom of his rib cage. “Marked to all hell. Take a day, Rick. Ain’t no one gonna blame ya for a 24 hour vacation. ‘Sides ain’t much to do in that garden anyway.”
Rick snorted, pulling his t-shirt on over his head and standing up to grab at his jeans. “There’s always something to do in the garden, Daryl. We got fresh beans and tomatoes coming in the next few days, some lettuce, potatoes, and carrots. Tyrese and Sasha said they think they saw cows on their last run so we’ve been working on expanding the animal area… we could have beef.”
Daryl’s heart kind of hurt at the mention of someone else bringing in meat, even if it was in a round-about way. Wasn’t he doing the best he could to provide for him, for them? Daryl stiffened, jutting out his jaw in defiance, and tightening his hand on the strap of the crossbow. “Well maybe I’ll go talk to them and ask them where they saw the cows and I can shoot one.”
Rick dropped his sleep pants, leaving him in his tshirt and boxers. Daryl politely looked away, but side-eyed him, making a note of his chicken legs, already mentally giving the man more food at dinner tonight. Finally fully dressed, Rick faced Daryl full on. “You’re not going out again today and that’s that. You need a break and for at least one day, I’d like to know where you are.”
“Ya always know where I am,” the hunter huffed.
“Yeah, either here or not here,” Rick mused, turning Daryl around by his shoulders and shoving him towards the stairs. “So today you’re helping me and Carl in the garden whether you like it or not.”
Three hours later had Carol bringing them glasses of water, clucking at them that they needed to stay hydrated if they were going to be in the sun all day long. “Hey, Daryl,” she smiled that damn secretive smile again, “you got an answer for that question I asked you earlier?”
“Yer damn crazy, woman,” he muttered, grabbing the shovel back up to go help Rick put the fencing in for the potential cows.
“Sounds like a serious question,” Rick mused, a small smile of his own playing at his lips.
Wiping his hands on his thighs before gripping the handle of the shovel, Daryl grunted his answer. “‘S bullshit.”
“What’d she ask you? If I can be nosy.” Rick sank the post in the hole Daryl dug, holding it down while he pushed the dirt back over it.
“Asked me what love is.”
Rick’s laugh could have been heard clear across the compound, Daryl was sure of it. His ears and cheeks burned bright red as he dug the shovel in a little deeper, purposely throwing the dirt on Rick’s cowboy boots. The old man sashayed out of the way, kicking the dirt off. “Aw, Daryl, come on. She’s clearly makin’ a move on you.”
“Nah, ain’t like that.”
“You sure about that?” Rick’s grin stretched across his whole face as he leaned into the hunter’s space.
“Completely. We ain’t like that. We was talkin’ ’bout-” Daryl stopped midsentence, his own mind flashing back to their conversation that morning, finally piecing two and two together.
“You’ve been out for the past three days, Daryl. You don’t need to be going today. You’re going to run yourself down and then we’ll have to strap you to your bed.”
“Ya wouldn’t dare,” he grinned, knowing full well that Carol would knock him on his head and use his belt against him if she had to.
“Maybe Rick could use his handcuffs on you.”
“Thought he lost those in Atlanta.”
Carol shrugged. “He had some in his bag in his room. Anyways, you don’t need to go. Stay your ass at home today, Pookie. We miss you around here.”
“Stop it,” he gruffed but grinned at the stupid nickname she gave him when they first moved to this prison. “AIn’t no one missin’ me. ‘Sides, y’all like meat on the table and Rick don’t need to be in that garden anymore. He’s lookin’ like the fuckin’ scarecrow and poppin’ his joints at night. His back is killing him.”
“Oh I see. So you’re going out so Rick doesn’t have to spend as much time in the garden?”
“He does enough for us.”
“Ah huh. Well you know he has a lot of good, fresh vegetables coming up and some hogs that are coming of age. No more living on canned food.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, just watching the sun rise over the trees. “Daryl, do you know what love is?”
Staring at Rick over the handle of the shovel, he grunted. What was that woman getting at? Throwing the shovel handle towards Rick, he thought he’d go and find out. “Be right back,” he grumbled as he tore off towards the prison.
He found Carol with a basket of laundry on her hip as she was coming down the stairs. Her eyes wide with surprise at the sight of the filthy hunter, blue eyes blazing. “What’re you gettin’ at with that question?”
That damn secretive grin was back as she brushed past him on the stairs. “Come outside with me to the basin and we’ll talk about it. Don’t think you’ll be wanting many people to hear it.”
It took Carol five long minutes to get her washing station set up enough that she would even pay him any mind. He busied himself with watching Rick in the field where he had left him. Apparently with his partner gone, he had decided to take a break and go talk to the hogs. He could hear their squeals from where he was seated on the shady hill. “Now, what do you mean what am I getting at?” Carol finally addressed him as she sat down next to him, taking a tshirt to the washboard.
“I ain’t gay.”
“Never said you were.”
Daryl was quiet for a moment, pulling at the blades of grass, listening to the hogs squeal and the soft sound of Rick’s voice on the breeze mixed with the slush-slush of the shirt in the water in Carol’s hands. “You was talkin’ ’bout Rick and I though weren’t you?”
“Askin’ me what love is, cause I don’t want him breakin’ his back in the garden.”
“And he doesn’t want you getting lost to us in the woods just to put meat on the table. That’s why he spends so much time in that garden. That’s probably why he pulled you into it today. I knew he’d tell you that you couldn’t go out today and that he would be the only one you’d listen to.”
“So you think he loves me?”
Carol tossed the shirt down into the water, splashing suds out onto the grass. “Daryl, I know he loves you. That man was lost when you went off with Merle. It was as bad as when Lori died. Maybe even worse. But when you came back, you put all his pieces back together. Hell, I’m scared of what will happen to him if we lose you again.”
“What makes you think I love him?”
She full on stared at him with that mother look that he hated but he wasn’t backing down this time. “He is the only person you look to and actually listen to. You look after his kids like they’re your own. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised if Judy calls you dada too once she starts talking. I think she loves you the most but don’t tell Rick or Beth I said that.”
Daryl smirked. He would definitely claim Asskicker. Carl was a teenager who needed to have his head smacked back down on his shoulders some days but he was a good kid. Rick and Lori had given him a good foundation even if she was batshit crazy. Yeah, he’d claim him too.
“See that smirk right there,” she continued, this time poking a wet finger at his chest. “You’re thinking about Rick and his children. You are head over heels and you don’t even realize it.”
“I ain’t gay.”
“Never said you were.”
Daryl huffed standing up and dusting himself off. Without a word, he walked back down the hill towards Rick. The other man saw him coming, but didn’t move from where he was leaned against the hog pen, scratching behind a giant pig ear. “So what’d Carol say? What’s love?”
Daryl just grunted, watching the hogs lay in the afternoon sun as it beat down on them. “Apparently its about trying take care of someone who doesn’t even acknowledge they need to be taken care of.”
Rick laughed at that. “What’d you do now that made her say that?”
“Fell in love with you, ‘parently.”
It was a feeling Daryl knew well. The feeling of rejection. He had felt that most days of his life, either in failed relationships, friendships, jobs, or even just passing people on the street. But he had never gotten so far as he did with someone only to have them turn on him like that. “Not right now, Daryl.” Or, “I want to sleep alone tonight, okay?” Those words stung more than he thought they would. But he was Daryl Fucking Dixon. He didn’t let a stupid thing like feelings get in his way so after three days and nights of that bullshit, he said fuck it.
Daryl went about his business, ignoring the pitying looks from other members of their group. He knew that they knew something was wrong between their supposed two leaders. They weren’t blind to it and it wasn’t like Rick and Daryl had been particularly shy about their relationship the past few months. It had been developing over the course of a year. They had finally been shoved into it by Carol and once the words had been spoken, they couldn’t be taken back. Looks turned to touches, touches turned to holding, holding turned to groping, and well…
But Daryl couldn’t think on that now. Sitting hidden on a tree branch, he felt he had watched the deer grazing below him long enough. In a swift move he felled it, watching it drop to the ground beneath him. Quickly, he gutted it, effectively cutting out at least 50 pounds so it was a little easier for him to get back to their group. After burying the entrails to detract the walkers, Daryl hitched up the kill the best he could to be the easiest to carry.
A couple of hours later, he walked up on the gates with the doe, but no one was as happy to see him with food as they usually were. “‘S wrong wit’ y’all?” he grunted, dropping the doe off for other people to skin and cook.
Carol put her small hand on his arm with a soft smile. “You were gone for a whole day, Daryl,” she answered softly.
“Ain’t nothin’ new. Ain’t easy all the time,” he huffed, reshouldering his crossbow, but thinking twice about everyone’s solemn faces. “Someone die? They starve?” he asked, suddenly feeling guilty. He was out there wallowing in his self-pity of losing a relationship when he could have been bringing food back to save someone’s life.
Carol shook her head, but took a step back. Daryl could already feel him approaching. The energy rolling off Rick’s body was a powerful force and it radiated anger. Turning around, Daryl was met with the piercing blue eyes and set jaw of his former lover. “Daryl, a word?” he asked sternly, walking away before receiving an answer, hand poised on his hip holster.
Daryl seriously considered not following, but he knew Rick would seek him out later so it was best to get this over with now so he could sleep. With a soft grunt to Carol, he followed suit.
Rick led him to a private area of the courtyard, effectively secluding themselves from everyone else for the first time in over five days. “You were gone for 22 hours, Daryl.”
He just shrugged his response. It was pointless to argue about this. “Came back, didn’t I? Brought food. What more do you want from me?” Daryl turned, ready to head back into the prison, but Rick caught his arm.
“I ain’t done yet,” he warned.
Daryl wrenched his arm free. “Yeah ya are. Ya don’t have the right to be worryin’ ’bout me like that anymore.”
The look of hurt surprised him. “The hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You’re done with me. I get it. Ya don’t need to say it.”
“What gave you that idea? I ain’t done with you.” Rick stepped closer to him, trying invade his personal space, but Daryl stepped back.
“Yeah, ya are. Ya don’t want me anymore. That’s fine, but ya coulda at least said so four days ago and not kept me thinkin-”
“Daryl!” Rick reached out for him then, pulling the unwilling hunter closer to him. “Stop this. I ain’t done with you, with us. I just… needed some time.”
“Yeah, time,” he snorted, shrugging out of his grasp. Turning, he started to walk away, steeling his face from the emotions raging within him.
“Don’t you fucking walk away from me. I told you I ain’t done,” Rick tackled him down to the ground, shoving the crossbow off his arm. He held him there, pinned in front of everyone in the yard. “Now ya listen. I needed some time cause I… shit… there’s no easy way to say this. I started this relationship cause I liked you, now I’m in fucking love with you and that scared me. It killed me that you were gone for so long and I thought… I thought I’d never get a chance to tell ya.”
Daryl just stared up at him. Rick’s words had been quiet, shared just between the two of them, but he could feel that multiple eyes were upon them, with Rick straddling his waist, hands holding his arms beside his head. He knew it looked like they were in for a show, either a fight or something far more kinky.
“Ya ain’t in love with me,” he groused, trying to dislodge Rick’s thin frame from his hips.
“Daryl fucking Dixon,” Rick sighed. “I. Love. You. And I’d appreciate if you’d stop being a pain in my ass.”
“Then get offa me.”
“Kinda like it here.” Rick grinned down at him, grinding his ass down on Daryl’s hips. “”S been awhile.”
“Yeah, well your communication skills suck.”
Rick raised an eyebrow at that. “So says the man who ran off in the woods for a whole day because he thought I didn’t like him anymore.”
“Yeah well I thought ya didn’t like me anymore cause ya kept kickin’ me outta your bed.”
“How about we go to my bed now?”
Rick sighed, leaning down and kissing him roughly. “I could just take you right here.” Daryl grunted, seriously considering it if it wasn’t for the audience around them. “Ya can shower afterwards. Then I can make ya dirty again.”