Lifeline – Shane/Daryl, Daryl/Rick, Shane/Rick

Chapter One

“Fucking pathetic,” Daryl mumbles to himself as he sets up his tent far enough away from everyone else that he can still see them, but that’s about all the contact he wants. “Shoulda left after they ditched Merle on top of the fucking building.”

“That’s no way to be, son,” Dale said from behind him.

“The hell do you know about it, old man,” Daryl asked, whipping around surprised by the sudden voice behind him. Shaking his head, he wondered how the hell he didn’t hear the fool come up behind him. Must be stuck in his own head more than he thought. That just wouldn’t do.

“I know that you’re a valuable member of this group and we’re happy to have you. Especially Carol. No one searches for her little girl like you do,” Dale continued, cautiously stepping closer.

 

Daryl grumbled inwardly, still fumbling with his tent poles before getting them snapped into place. “Fuck off, Dale.”

Dale just nodded, silently hoping the younger man didn’t disappear in the middle of the night. Walking back towards the others, he decided that something needed to be said to Rick about it, just in case. “Hey Rick, can I talk to you for a sec?”

“Sure, Dale. What’s on your mind?” Rick straightened up from looking at the maps, planning out their search grid for the following day. Shane straightened up next to him, subconsciously putting his hand on his gun at his side.

“I don’t think Daryl is feeling like he’s a part of the group anymore. He’s put himself away from the main camp,” he motioned towards the tent across the field, “and is grumbling about having left after losing Merle.”

Rick nodded, looking back down at the map and up at Shane. “I’ll talk to him. Make sure he knows how much we appreciate everything he does for us.” Shane just rolled his eyes and huffed.

Dale nodded, walking away. His job was done as far as he was concerned. Climbing back up on top of the RV, he sat next to Andrea to take watch.

Shane turned to Rick, hands on his hips. “You really going to go make nice with a Dixon?”

“Yeah, Shane, I am. He’s most of the reason why all of us still get at least one meal a day. Don’t really see much of a choice there. If he runs off, I can’t see any of us providing as much food.”

“He’s looking for a fucking ghost more than he’s hunting for food, Rick. What good is he going to be when he gets himself bit running after a lost cause?”

“Shane…,” Rick sighed. They had had this argument numerous times in the past two days and at least three times already that day.

“Forty-eight hours, Rick. That’s how long we were trained to search for a live person. You and I both know that you start looking for a body after that. And hell, in this world, I wouldn’t even give it 24 hours.”

“Dammit, Shane, I know. But if it was Carl I know you’d be singing a different tune. For Carol, we have to keep looking. At least until we have some answers,” he said, turning his back on the larger man. “I’m going to go talk to Daryl. See if he’ll rejoin the camp at least.” Shane watched as Rick walked the distance over the field to the tiny tent. He knew things could go south fairly quickly with the Dixon. He’d seen it plenty of times before Rick found them, but no matter what he told him, Rick would always see the good in other people. Shane scoffed. There was nothing good about the Dixon clan. In a quick decision, he followed his partner halfway, hand still poised on his gun. It may be the apocalypse but Rick was still his partner, dammit, and he would be there if he needed backup.

“Daryl?” Rick called out.

He heard some muttered cursing before a caustic, “The hell you want officer?”

“You don’t have to call me officer. I’ve told you that. But I would like a word with you if you have a minute,” he said, stepping in front of the zipped up tent flap.

Daryl zipped open the tent, stepping out to face him. “What? Kinda busy setting up shop if you haven’t noticed.”

Rick nodded, hands on his hips, looking around at Daryl’s few things spread out over the ground, noticing that some of Merle’s stuff was still there. “Yeah, I noticed. Was wonderin’ why you left the main camp.”

Daryl shrugged. “Like it better out here. ‘S quieter.”

“Well I can certainly understand that, but you know there’s safety in numbers and we like you to be a part of our camp.”

Daryl scoffed, turning around to pickup his crossbow, he swung the business end of it at Rick. Shane took a few steps closer towards the duo before he realized it wasn’t loaded. Rick noticed him out of the corner of his eye and hoped that he stayed away. Daryl and him didn’t seem to be too friendly. “You ain’t the boss of me, Sheriff,” he spat out, the last word sounding like a curse. “You can’t keep me under your fucking thumb like you can the rest of those hens.”

Rick cautioned a step forward, reaching a hand out. “‘S not like that, Daryl. We care about you,” he said, still moving forward slightly, hand extended. “We want you to be safe. You have to sleep sometime. We know you about kill yourself looking for Sophia and hunting game for the whole group.” Standing a few feet in front of the swaying, hostile man, Rick softened his face, trying to be as nonthreatening as possible. Even though the crossbow wasn’t loaded, he knew damn well it would be a handy, heavy weapon. When his fingers finally touched skin, he felt how wound up the younger man was. Gently, he kneaded the shoulder, trying to get him to calm down through his touch. “We appreciate everything you do, Daryl. You’ve kept us alive and there’s no proper way to thank you for that except to help protect you.”

Something in those words made Daryl’s face twitch as he yanked his shoulder out of Rick’s grasp. “Protect me?” he shrieked. “Fuck that. Been protecting myself my whole life. Ain’t never needed anyone to protect me before, ain’t gonna start now just because the dead’s walking.”

Rick let his hand drop back down to his side, nodded his understanding. “Okay, but at least join us around the fire and share in what you brought back. It’s only right, Daryl. We want you to be with us, as one of us,” he said, trying to extend an olive branch in response to whatever had set him off.

Daryl hesitated, glancing over at Shane. Of course he would know he was there. RIck cursed himself mentally for not blocking the other man with his body from his vision. The last thing he needed was for Shane’s mere presence to send this man off into a violent tirade, but the response he was given actually surprised him. Daryl nodded once, curtly, before turning his back on him. “Great! We’ll see you in a bit then,” he answered, his voice soft but hopeful, his hand hesitating slightly over the other’s back before just dropping it back down at his side. Rick sighed, turning away from the ramshackle setup and started walking towards Shane. “So what’d he say?”

Rick just shrugged. “Said he doesn’t need protecting, but at least he’ll be there around the fire tonight.”

Shane turned once to look back, catching Daryl staring at them walking away. There was a look on his face that bothered him. He couldn’t quite put the words to it, but he would almost say it was like… longing… Shane shook his head. Nah, Dixon’s weren’t capable of showing tender emotion, especially of that variety.

A few hours later found the small group clustered around a fire, the Greene farmhouse dark in the distance. Daryl had wandered over after mostly all the food was gone, but Carol had kept a small plate for him. He took it, not quite saying ‘thank you’ but nodding his appreciation none the less. Rick watched him from across the blaze, eating like he hadn’t in days when he thought no one was looking. He made a mental note to talk to him about eating more later. Right now, though, he was just thankful the man was around and semi-socializing with them.

A bustle of noise caused Rick to jump out of his stupor in staring across the flames. Shane had appeared next to him, propping himself up on a log. “It’s a damn shame. You see the way that boy eats? Like he ain’t civilized.”

“He’s starving, Shane. We all are,” he answered quietly.

“Yeah, but we don’t eat like we ain’t got manners. Look at him over there. I think he’s going to eat the damn paper bowl.”

Rick adjusted himself on his own log, the conversation making him a little uneasy and almost defensive. “I wouldn’t blame him. ‘S probably good fiber,” he half joked.

“Can’t have someone like that around Carl,” Shane finished, grabbing a log next to him and adding it to the fire.

For a split second, it looked to Rick like Shane had caught Daryl’s face on fire, the flames licking at his tanned, dirty skin, making those crystal blue eyes shine as he caught the other man’s gaze. “You really think Carl’s table manners are on my list of concerns right now? I’m just happy he has something to eat,” he whispered harshly. Before thinking, he stood up, looking down upon Shane for a beat before striding around the fire all sure about himself before sitting down in the dirt next to Daryl. “Never thought I’d be saying this,” he started, glancing at the startled look on the other man’s face, “but thanks for the squirrel. Made a tasty stew.”

Daryl shrugged, but continued to eat, a little more civilized now.

Turning his own blue eyes on the younger man, Rick continued, “No… really,” he said, placing a hand on the other man’s shoulder again and giving it an affectionate squeeze. “Because of you my wife and son have food in their stomachs tonight.”

Daryl sat for a minute, his body tense under the touch of the other man’s hand as he stared into the fire, his gaze flicking up to meet Shane’s over the tips of the flames. “Wasn’t nothing. Ran into a pack of squirrels on my way back from the search. Dumb luck.”

Rick squeezed again before letting go. “Well, it was delicious dumb luck. Which you deserve everything that is still in that pot. Don’t be shy now.”

Carol nodded her agreement. “Daryl, please,” she said, as she stood up to get the spoon and dump more stew into his bowl. “This meal is because of you anyways.”

Shane watched the spectacle, listening to their quiet words of praise for the redneck. He shook his head. He went through hell and killed a man, not that he’d tell anyone that, to bring back medication for Rick’s son and he didn’t get this much attention. Despite the dim lighting and the lick of the flames between them, Shane saw the muted smile flash across Daryl’s face before it was replaced with the stoic visage he always wore. Shaking his head, he stood up, unable to take this nonsense anymore he headed off for his tent. “Fucking ridiculous,” he muttered under his breath.

 

Chapter Two

Shane sat on the stump in the middle of the woods, silently cursing himself and all of those around him. For a split second he hated that he had shaved his head for the simple reason that he wanted to pull his hair so he could focus on a different kind of pain. A real pain and not the rip in the heart he had now.

A baby?

He knew it was his. It had to be. Rick had no right to claim that child. That was his child. Swiftly, Shane swung around, his fist connected with the nearest tree. Blood oozed from the open gashes on his knuckles, skin sticking to the bark from the impact of the hit. A sick, sinister smile covered his face as he stood up, poised with both fists against the tree. “That’s my fucking baby, Lori,” he howled throwing a three-two punch combination at the tree. He almost wished he could uppercut the bark, but settled for a branch. “Fuck Rick. That man ain’t your husband. I’m the one that saved you and Carl. I’m the man you can rely on to keep you safe.”

“I think you’re off your fucking rocker,” came the southern drawl behind him.

Shane whirled, surprised to see Daryl so close, squirrels swinging from his hip from his abrupt stop. His crossbow was loaded but pointed down at the forest floor giving Shane a false confidence that he could knock it out of his hand before he could raise it on him if need be.

“That fuck you know about it, Dixon?” he spat, flexing his bloody knuckles at his sides. His body heaved with the intensity of his breath and emotion. Every nerve ending was on fire and his body was ready. If Daryl wanted a fight, he was more than willing to go more than ten rounds right now.

Instead, Daryl just shrugged and tried to walk past him. “Just saw ya punch a tree yelling at a woman that ain’t here who ain’t yer wife.”

Shane was too quick, grabbing the younger man and throwing him against the tree he just savagely beat, disarming him of his crossbow without incident. “It ain’t none of your business, you got it?” he sneered. “‘Sides, ain’t like you don’t have secrets of your own.”

Daryl’s body tensed up, his fight or flight mode being thrown into full gear. Shane pinned him hard, using his full body weight to keep the struggling man down. “Ain’t got no

secrets,” he huffed as he twisted and tried to pry his way out of the steel strong, bloody grip.

Shane leaned in close, pressing his body flush against the other man’s, instantly ceasing all of his fighting. Strong hands still gripped the dirty biceps, flexing wildly underneath his fingers, keeping him trapped. “You think I don’t see the way you look at Rick? Huh? You think I don’t see how you’re like a damn lapdog all curled up at his side, waiting for any handouts you can get, even if it’s just a pat on the head. Fucking pathetic, Daryl. Is that the way your daddy and brother treated you? Huh?” he hummed.

Daryl’s face grew red hot, tears threatening to fall from behind slitted eyes. “Fuck off, Shane! You don’t know nothing!” he shouted at him, struggling against the larger man again. “Ain’t like that!”

But Shane continued, his anger finding a new outlet. “Naw, I think it is just like that. Rick all shows the smallest amount of affection towards you and you’re head over heels. Just one word of praise and you’re done for. Did you jack off in your tent last night after that little scene y’all had around the fire? Your hand stroking your cock, wishing it was the same hand that was all up on your shoulder?”

“Fuck off, Shane. It ain’t like that. I ain’t like that. I ain’t queer,” Daryl spat at him, finally dislodging the other man enough to get free but not before he was tripped.

Sputtering around in the dead leaves littering the forest floor, Daryl was back up quickly, crossbow in hand. Shane contemplated making another run at the man, but the look of dishevelment and the crossbow raised, pointed at his heart, stopped him. Fists clenching and unclenching at his sides, body still thrumming for some sort of energy release, he yelled, “You going to shoot me? Huh, Daryl? You ain’t got the balls, boy!”

Daryl grunted, eyeing Shane from the straightline of the bow, seriously contemplating ending all of their problems right here. But no, he knew Shane was looking for a fight and that he could damn well lose it quickly with the man as strung up as he was. Instead, he just mumbled, “Naw, you ain’t my problem to get rid of.” Making sure he still had the squirrels tied to himself, he lowered his crossbow down, swung on his heel and left, giving Shane his back.

“What? You going to run off and tell your boyfriend Rick I assaulted you?” he called after him.

Daryl stopped, turned his head slightly with a small smirk. “Nah, he’ll be pissed enough

when he finds out you’ve been fucking his wife and that ain’t his baby.”

Hours later Shane wandered back to camp, hands bloody and bruised and his clothes stained. The others already situated around the fire in the dimming sunlight eyed him as he walked straight back to his tent, unzipping it and disappearing inside.

Daryl watched from his own camp a little ways away from the others, shaking his head. Even the drama from the old world carried into this world. There was shit that he’d rather not get involved in and that three way relationship was definitely one of them. With a grunt of disapproval, he got up and dipped into his tent as he saw Carol stand up from the group, looking over at him. The ground gave away her soft footsteps as she neared his tent.

Cautiously, she called out, “Daryl? We have food ready. Why don’t you join us?”

Her shadow was just barely visible through the tent wall as he stared up from the ground.

“Naw, I’ll be all right.”

“Daryl, we’d really like it if you would join us,” she tried again.

He grumbled silently. Damn woman wouldn’t take a hint. Moved all the way out here for a reason and the fucking people still wouldn’t leave him the hell alone. “I said no.” A full minute ticked by before he heard her walk away. Closing his eyes, he let a semi-alert slumber take over, his body slick with sweat still from the stifling Georgia heat.

“Daryl?” Rick’s soft voice woke him up. He grunted in response, rolling over onto his side, hoping like hell the officer would go away. But alas, “I brought you some food. Carol said that you might be too tired to come over. I thought it would be nice to eat out here with you, and maybe have a conversation. Just the two of us.”

“The hell you want, Grimes? ‘M sleepin,” he growled.

“Daryl…,” Rick tried again. “You have to eat something. Please? I’m not beyond begging.”

He sat up with a huff, unzipping the tent to send the sheriff the infamous Dixon glare. He was met a soft, kind face, and a hesitant smile. “Well hello there.”

Daryl considered physically throwing the man out of his camp. Yelling at him for all to hear that ain’t nobody welcome over by his stuff unless he invites them and ain’t none of them ever invited. But as Rick pushed the plate of food at him, his stomach betrayed him as it rumbled at the smell of something edible that wasn’t tree bark or berries. Rick smiled knowingly, walking over to sit on an overturned log, taking the food with him.

“Fine,” Daryl relented, slowly climbing out of his tent, putting his boots on and zipping the tent back up to prevent any bugs from getting in. Sitting across from the sheriff after taking the offered plate of food, he ate silently, praying for the man to get the hint and leave him the hell alone.

“So did you find anything today? With Sophia I mean…” Rick asked, before shoveling a forkful of food in his mouth.

Daryl just shook his head as a response, but decided to add, “Still goin’ out tomorrow though. Ain’t givin’ up.”

Rick smiled at him. “Naw, none of us are giving up, but you’re the most dedicated I’d say. Would you like some company tomorrow?”

Company? Daryl froze, trying to assess the officer’s motive behind the offer. Eyeing him warily, he answered, “Nah, better on my own. Faster.”

Rick nodded but looked slightly disappointed. “You know, it’s safer to go in pairs.”

Daryl shook his head. “Not when the other half is loud as a fucking ox in the brush crashing into everything. Scare away the game and call the walkers. Might even scare away Sophia. She’d think you’s a walker.”

Slightly taken aback, Rick gawked at the man. Daryl just continued to eat, staring down into the dirt, wishing he had started a fire now just for something to stare at. “I… I think that’s the most you’ve said to me since Merle…”

Daryl scoffed. Putting his finished plate down next to him on the stump, he just shrugged. “Ain’t got much to say. Ain’t chatty Cathy like the rest of y’all. ‘S not like we have anything in common anyways.”

Rick shrugged back at him, putting his own plate down next to him. “We might. You never know until you try. You know, I used to hunt and fish, back before Carl was born. I was never very good at it though. Definitely nowhere near your level. It was a fun sport though. I enjoyed it.”

Daryl glared up at him through his slitted eyes. “Ain’t no sport. It’s how I eat. Always has been ever since I was big enough to hold a weapon. Think we got anything else in common there, Sheriff?” he asked, biting out the last word.

Rick shifted on his log, clearly uncomfortable by the turn in conversation. “Shit, Daryl, you know I didn’t mean anything by that. I’m sorry that you took offense. I’m just trying to make conversation. I want you to feel like part of the group. I want you to feel valued.”

Daryl just shrugged back. “I think you’d spend your time better handling Shane than me. Met him in the woods today beating the shit out of a tree.”

The look on Rick’s face was worth the anger he knew Shane was going to throw at him later. “The hell?” he asked. “Why was he doing that?”

Daryl just shrugged, now seriously contemplating that fire. Though now he kinda did want to wander over to join the others, just to see how the threesome acted around each other.

“I’ll deal with him.”

Daryl nodded.

“Why don’t we go join the other camp now? Return these plates and sit by the campfire?” Rick asked, standing up and collecting Daryl’s plate before asking. He extended a hand out, expecting the younger man to take it.

With a grunt of recognition, he took the offered hand, allowing Rick to pull him up to stand. In truth, Daryl was just wanting to watch the drama. He wanted to ignore everything that Rick had been saying to him about being a valued member of the group. The only value he brought to them was food. If it weren’t for him, they’d starve. That was what he reasoned. It was the only thing that kept Rick even talking to him or trying to keep him in the group. What other reason would there be?

With a simple nod to Rick he signaled that he would follow, but Rick held his hand out in front of him. As Daryl walked past, he felt the warmth of Rick’s hand graze over his lower back. A slight look back and he caught sight of the other man’s small smile as he dropped his hand down by his side, slipping the hand not holding the plates into the pocket of his pants.

“Is there anything we can do to make you more comfortable around us, Daryl?” he asked quietly on their way back over.

Daryl just shrugged, “I’m fine.”

Rick stopped, bringing the other to a stop as well. Here Daryl expected the fatherly talk about how he should treat other people as he wished to be treated and other nonsense his

teachers told him growing up until he dropped out of school. Instead, Rick just nodded.

“Yeah, I guess you are. Maybe what I meant to say was how can we rebuild your trust? I know after Merle… we didn’t intend for that outcome.”

Daryl waved him off and started walking again. “Merle’s a tough bastard. He’s all right. I’m all right. Trust y’all enough not to stab me in the middle of the night.”

They stopped talking as they strode into camp, approaching the fire. Surprised looks met them, glancing from Daryl to Rick. The incredulous and almost angry look on Lori’s face though made Daryl feel a little smug. Truth be told, he liked that he still made some people cringe. He was still considering heading off on his own to look for his brother, though who the hell knows where he had ended up, but he knew he still had his edge when people who somewhat knew him looked at him in horror.

Daryl sat in the dirt a few feet away from the fire, across from Shane. The blaze licked at his face from his line of vision, framing the already dark features in the shadows. Daryl felt the gaze bore into him as Rick sat himself down next to him. Everyone else cautiously avoided the man with the exception of Carol and Carl. Carl was already sent to bed, leaving the spot next to Lori vacant. Her eyes cast nervous glances between Rick and Shane, only occasionally landing on Daryl as if she was still confused by his presence.

The jealousy hung thick in the air, seeping its way through the embers. Silently, Daryl side-eyed everyone else in the group. No one seemed to notice the pure hatred and envy oozing from the man across the fire. Or if they did, they had learned the survival instinct of not poking the beast. Scooting half an inch closer to Rick, Daryl tipped his chin at Shane, watching the flames dance in the black irises of his eyes. Glancing over at Lori, he noticed her eyes watching him, that deer in headlights look continually present on her face that he so hated.

Almost on cue, Rick leaned in close to him, whispering something that he didn’t even hear but a grunted response was accepted as an answer. Bright blue eyes never lost contact with the browns that watched every move he made as he leaned in, feigning interest. A simple smirk and Daryl turned to Rick, whispering back to him, “Shane’s about to go off his gourd.”

Rick looked over at him. The man was in a half standing position, body taut and poised to pounce, hands clenched into tight fists. His eyes though… Rick recognized murderous rage when he saw it.

“Shane? Think we can talk for a minute?” Rick asked.

 

Chapter Three

“What’s he doing over here?” Shane asked hotly as Rick led him over towards their tents.

“He’s a part of our group,” he sighed back, hands going to his hips, body angled so he could see both the fire in the circle and the fire in Shane’s eyes. He noticed Daryl out of the corner of his eye, watching them from his sideways slitted glare. “He’s not a bad guy, Shane. He feels outcasted, like we don’t like and appreciate him. He’s not like his brother.” Rick stepped closer, sharing the other’s space as he leaned in and whispered, “We’d be starving even more if he left us.”

Shane closed his eyes, breathing in Rick’s scent- a salty musk mixed with sweat from a day’s labor in the Georgia heat. “He tell you that, huh? In your little powwow with him out there by his tent that he put separate from us? No one asked him to move out there. No one is asking him to hunt for us either.”

Rick shook his head. “No, he didn’t tell me that in so many words. It’s in his actions, Shane and you just said it yourself. No one iis/i asking him to hunt for us. No one is asking him to go look for Sophia. Hell, more people are asking him to stop looking than to keep going. All that shows that he cares about us and wants to be a part of the group. It’s high time that certain people stop pushing him out.” Rick sought out Shane’s downcasted eyes, trying to see the emotion flickering through the dark browns. “I’m asking you, Shane, to try for me.” His hand casually rested on the taller man’s strong shoulder before caressing down the bicep and coming to rest on the crook of his elbow. “Talk to him. He’s not a bad guy.”

Shane nodded, his head swimming from the scent of Rick, the feel of his hand on his arm. Fuck he hadn’t felt like that around this man since high school. “What’s your motive with him? Why are you getting so close to him?”

Rick sighed, looking back over the fire. The younger man sat staring at the fire, knees drawn up to his chest. Conversation went on around him but he seemed oblivious to it all. “Remember going into those houses on 273 calls?* We’d get there and see a child cowering in the corner.” He motioned over towards the fire. “That right there is exactly how I picture that child as an adult. You met his brother.”

“Yeah, Merle was a piece of work…”

“Exactly. Daryl was the youngest in the family. Think back on your training, man.”

Shane sighed, running his hand over his shaved head. “Yeah, Rick, okay. But if he puts anyone in danger, I’m taking care of the problem.”

Rick nodded back. “Yeah, okay, Shane. I hear ya, but I don’t think there will be a problem.”

Together they headed back to the fire, Rick taking his seat next to Daryl, bringing the other man out of his stupor. Shane watched from across the fire as Rick casually leaned in to talk so only he could hear. A feeling that he recognized bloomed in his core as he watched a small smile spread across Daryl’s dirty face at something Rick said. He wasn’t so sure he could try anymore.

The next morning dawned bright in the summer haze. It was hot before the sun was even up but Shane pulled on his boots and decided to make good on getting to know Daryl Dixon. If only for Rick’s sake, but especially because his partner had taken some sort of special interest in the other man and he didn’t like it. He wanted to know what made Daryl tick. Trudging out to the other man’s tent, he realized that it was empty. With a huff, he looked around, eyeing the treeline. “Fucking hell, Dixon. Can’t you wait for backup for just one fucking day?” he mumbled to himself.

Walking back to his tent, he picked up his sidearm and a knife before being stopped by Lori. “Where are you going?” she asked, accusations sharp as she stared daggers at him.

“Gotta go find Daryl. He shouldn’t be going off by himself. It’s too dangerous.”

“First Rick and now you? What is it with your fascination with that man?” she said hotly, arms crossing over her chest.

Shane sighed, trying to walk away from her but she stopped him with a small on his arm. The touch didn’t had the same fire behind it as it used to. It certainly didn’t hold the power over him that Rick’s had last night. “Why? Just let him go.”

Shane shook his head. “I can’t. I told Rick…”

“Shane,” she whispered harshly. “We can’t lose you too. Daryl is expendable. He’s nobody, he’s…”

“He’s the man who puts meat on your plate, Lori,” he interrupted. He had no reason to be defending the Dixon, especially to Lori, but now he could see where Rick was coming from. Daryl had been the man most put out and supportive of their group next to Rick and Shane himself. He earned his spot, but Shane had to make sure that he could mesh with the group and not be a complete asshole like his brother.

“I’m sure you could hunt. Or Rick. Glenn can make more runs into the city…,” she tried to rationalize. “But I can’t lose you because of him. I’m pregnant, Shane-”

Shane hummed, “I know damn well you’re pregnant, Lori. And that might be my baby and it might not but how you going to explain that to Rick, huh? Regardless, I need to go find Daryl.” Carl gave him a funny look from under his dad’s old Sheriff’s hat as he stalked by him sitting at the picnic table. He nodded once, curtly. Lori’s words had been clear, but what she didn’t say was louder to him than anything she actually voiced. She wanted both men still. Well, he wasn’t very good at sharing.

Like a bull, he crashed into the surrounding woods, trying to not just scream out for Daryl and tell him what a fucking idiot he was for going out on his own like that. Hunting and a search party is better and more efficient when done in a group. That’s police work 101. And this fucktard has him going off in the bushes by ihimself/i now to try to find his ass. Suddenly an arrow whizzed by his head, lodging itself in a tree inches from his left ear. “Fuck, Dixon,” he breathed. The small amount of panic made him stop dead in his tracks as he saw the other man appear.

“Like a bull in a china shop. Thought that’d be the only way to make ya stop,” he answered, wrestling his arrow lose from the treebark.

“You could have just said something,” he breathed.

“And risk you taking a swing at me like ya did yesterday? Fuck that. Arrow was safer for me. So what happened this time? She tell ya that ya ain’t the daddy?”

Shane breathed for a minute, looking down at the forest floor. A beetle crawled across some fallen leaves, disappearing under a pinecone. He watched its full journey before deciding to answer. “No. I came looking for you. You left early this morning.”

“Gotta get an early start to find Sophia. Hafta make it to the river today. What did you want me for? Want to beat me for walking up on you yesterday?” he asked, starting to walk back to where he came from.

Shane shook his head, following the other man, much quieter this time in the brush. “Nah, thought you could use some back up.”

Daryl stopped and turned halfway, looking the other man up and down. He took in the pistol at his side and the hunting knife on his other hip. “Naw, I’m better on my own.”

“I also just wanted to spend some time with you,” he said before the hunter could turn around. “Christ, that sounded gay.”

Daryl snorted. “A bit. Why do ya want to spend time with me?”

Shane shrugged. “Because Rick made a good point last night. He said you bring us food and look for Sophia without asking and we just push you away because we don’t know you. I want to try, Daryl.”

He grumbled under his breath as he turned around again to keep walking. “I bring y’all food so ya don’t die. I don’t need that hanging on my fucking head.”

Shane trudges along behind the man, not having been told to leave him alone yet. He feels confident that he’ll be able to talk his way into the hunter’s good graces.

“Stop. Ya need ta learn to walk in the woods and not barrel through them like a bear. You’ll scare off everything within a mile radius and we won’t have nothin’ to eat and no Sophia.”

Shane sighed. “Ok, how do I walk then?”

“Walk like you’re sneakin’ up on someone. Ya did that a lot as a cop, right?”

Shane shrugged. He was a sheriff in a small county. He didn’t do a whole lot of sneaking up on anyone because there wasn’t many people to sneak up on, but he didn’t want to tell Daryl that. But fine, he would try to walk quieter.

Three hours later, Shane was tired and Daryl had a mess of squirrels and a couple birds hanging from a cord wrapped around his waist, but no Sophia. And Shane was bored out of his mind. “So you and Rick getting friendly, huh?” he decided to try conversation. Usually you start a conversation on common ground, but he wasn’t sure what common ground they had except for still being alive during the zombie apocalypse and Rick, so he tried for the later. Daryl just grunted in return. “You know, Rick. He’s been my best friend for like, ever, man. That man has so much dirt on me,” he laughed. “But he’s a straight arrow. Only thing he ever did wrong was drink a few beers in high school. I couldn’t even get him to smoke pot.”

“He don’t seem like the type,” Daryl muttered, watching his feet as he walked.

“Nah, I guess he wasn’t. But there was this one time, we scaled this old farmer’s fence. He had a water tower on his property that could be seen by like half the town. My buddy Jake had gotten ahold of our hot English teacher’s phone number. So we took a can of spray paint and plastered it on the side of the water tower. Rick got his pants caught on the fence when we tried to high tail it out of there. Our friends took off and left us, I had to pull him down off that fence post without his pants first and then we had to get those offa there. Couldn’t be leaving anything behind. His ma was so pissed when we got back to the house. Said he fell on the asphalt and ripped him. Rick was always a shitty liar,” Shane laughed at the memory. “That’s one of my favorite memories, man,” he sighed fondly. He wondered idly if that water tower was still standing and if Miss Jenkins had even survived. “You ever have friends like that? That you just fucked around town with?”

Daryl stopped in his tracks, turning back to look at Shane, but kept walking before he answered. “The only friends I had were Merle’s and they were all drug addicts or felons going in and outta jail. So no, I didn’t ‘fuck around town’ with anyone.”

Shane stopped and watched the other man, his shoulders slumped forward slightly, head dipped low. He walked as though he had had a few painful bone breaks in his life. Fuck, Rick was right. Carefully, Shane kept walking, minding to walk in the hunter’s tracks and attempt to not be as loud as he had been before. “You know, maybe we could be friends, Daryl. I’d like that. We could fuck off around camp some, you know…”

Daryl just shrugged. “Never really needed friends.”

Okay, this wasn’t going the way he wanted it to. “Hey, man, hold up a minute, stop.” He jogged up to where he was standing right in front of him, bodies about a food apart. Daryl stood patiently waiting for him, crossbow slung over his shoulder. “Maybe I’ve been going about this the wrong way.” Reaching his hand out, like he had seen Rick do to him a few times before, Shane let his hand fall on Daryl’s shoulder not holding the weapon. The younger man flinched but remained still. Slowly his fingers began to caress the muscle underneath the faded plaid shirt. “I’d like to be your friend. I’d like to get to know you better.” Moving his hand up, he cupped the side of his dirty neck, thumb stroking his jawline as he’d done with Rick and Carl so many times before. The man before him was tensed, his body in an involuntary fight or flight response mode, but thankfully he stayed and didn’t throw a punch. “Rick trusts you and wants you to be a part of the group. And well… I do too. I want you to be with us, Daryl. You’re a valuable member, man. We need you.”

Thin, chapped lips parted slightly. They trembled with a response but the words died on his tongue. Shane watched them, subconsciously licking his own lips in response. That familiar warming sensation was burrowing through his inner core again, except this time Rick wasn’t here and it wasn’t because of Lori. Daryl fucking Dixon.

Daryl just turned out of his grasp and continued walking in front of him. No response was given, but Shane felt as though he had made his point. At the very least he had done what Rick had asked him to do and even above and beyond by going out in the woods with Daryl and having his back. They had met very few walkers, but even less squirrel and no Sophia. Regardless, maybe he and Daryl could erase the hatred they felt for each other.

What he hadn’t told Daryl about that story with Rick and the fence was that was the first night that he had kissed the other man. On lonely nights he thought back to that kiss, Rick half naked in his arms, bodies pressed together, just so thrilled that they had gotten away with it. The adrenaline rushing through their bodies no doubt fueled their poor decision that night. That had been their first kiss, but certainly not the last. It was a dirty secret that neither man had ever shared but once Rick had gotten married it had all been over.

With his hand on the back of Daryl’s neck, warm skin underneath his fingertips, it was exactly like that night back on Old Man Johnson’s farm. Only that time, he had pulled Rick in for the kiss. Silently, he trudged along behind the other man, wondering what would have happened had he done the same with him?

*Code 273A is Child Neglect, Code 273D is domestic violence in the police 100s

 

Chapter Four

Shane and Daryl made it out of the woods, neither having killed the other one much to their own surprise. Shane would admit that he had enjoyed their little excursion, even given the few awkward moments and the long hours of finding absolutely nothing. Daryl hadn’t talked much but what he had said had spoken volumes. So maybe Rick had been right. Shane would give him the benefit of the doubt until he was proven otherwise, but that still didn’t mean that Daryl would move up into being Rick’s right hand man. That was his position and his position alone.

Rick eyed Shane as he walked over to his tent, stripping his sweat stained shirt off his body as he went. “Where ya been, Shane?” he asked hesitantly.

With a casual glance over his shoulder, he took some water from a pan that they had out and splashed it over his chest and face. The deep blue of Rick’s eyes followed the water droplets as they cascaded down to his waistline before flicking back up to look him in the eye. Shane smirked knowingly, “Been out with Daryl. You told me to make an effort so I did.”

Rick nodded, still not able to take his eyes off of the man in front of him. “Everything go okay?”

Shane stepped closer, leaning down so the rest of the camp couldn’t hear their conversation. “I think you were mostly right. He’s not like his brother, but I still want to keep an eye on him. I don’t trust him entirely yet.”

Rick nodded, moving his foot to take a step back to be out of each other’s personal space, but Shane’s hand caught him on the small of his back, bringing him closer. “Shane,” he hissed.

“What?” he asked coyly. “I ain’t done yet and you’re already trying to walk away from me.”

“What else?” Rick’s eyes danced from side to side making sure that no one was watching them. Quickly, he removed Shane’s hand from the small of his back but otherwise stayed put.

Shane glanced up over Rick’s shoulder to see Daryl wander into camp to drop off his load of squirrels and birds. He sat down on a stump next to Carol to clean them but cast a slight glance up at the two men. With a dry smile, he leaned in close to Rick, whispering softly in his ear, but never taking his eyes off Daryl, “Remember that night at Johnson’s farm when you got caught on the fence?”

Rick’s blush instantly spread. “Shane… that was a long time ago.”

Running his hand over his bare chest, Shane took a step back. “You still think about it. And everything else we did after that.” It wasn’t a question. He knew the other man did in just the small look he gave him as he splashed the water on his chest.

“Do you?” he whispered.

Shane shrugged, still watching Daryl from over Rick’s shoulder. He watched the two leaders closely, Carol babbling away at his elbow while his knife worked expertly even without his rapt attention to the squirrel in his hands. “Nearly every day but ‘s not like it matters now. You have Lori back and Carl and this new baby.” Rick nodded, looking around for his family before spotting them over by the wash station. “And looks like you’ve taken a shine to Daryl.”

Rick’s gaze flew back to him, eyes wide. “Taken a shine to Daryl?”

“Little touches here and there, that laugh, whispering in his ear. Come on, Rick. I ain’t blind. Just be careful where you put your dick. He probably has some kinda strange redneck disease.” And with that he stepped into his tent, leaving Rick gaping after him.

Turning around to check on Dale’s progress on the RV he saw Daryl quickly whip his head down. So what if he found the other man attractive? It wasn’t like he was going to act on it and fuck Shane for even bringing it up. That was a side of himself that he had barely even thought about for the past 10 years. Stalking over to the RV with Dale and Glenn working in front of it, he went about the rest of his day frustrated with Shane for even bringing up their year of experimentation.

Just a few hours later found Daryl lounging in his camp, fresh from a wash from a bucket of cold water one of the ladies had poured for him and left at his camp. The thought was nice enough and it did feel fairly good to not be as grimey as he had been. His little fire was roaring hot in front of him as he roasted a squirrel on a stick, choosing to be completely separate from the group that evening. He had spent far too much time with people for his liking earlier in the day. Given past experience, he also figured Rick would wander over at some point to try to get him to join the other group and he was determined to not move.

But to his surprise, Shane stalked his way over to his fire and plopped down next to him on a log. “Going out again tomorrow?” he asked by way of greeting.

“‘Course,” he answered.

Shane just nodded as he saw Rick approaching them slowly. “Daryl, Shane,” he said, nodding to each man in turn. Daryl looked up at Rick and over to Shane before looking back down at his roasted squirrel that was half eaten silently wondering if Carol was going to come over next to join the party he was apparently throwing. “Why don’t y’all join the big fire at the main camp?” he asked, shifting nervously on his feet.

Shane shrugged, answering for both of them, “‘S quieter out here. Daryl and I were just talking,” he said with a wink.

Rick’s back straightened as he glared daggers at his supposed best friend. “Talking, huh?” he said, knowingly.

Daryl looked up at Rick, noticing the carefully concealed emotion in his eyes. “Yeah, talking,” he answered, finishing off his squirrel and throwing the remains in the fire. “Goin’ out tomorrow. I think we got close today.”

“Both of you are going out tomorrow?” Rick asked incredulously as he sat across the fire from them.

Daryl huffed, as Rick sat down. His quiet night was turning out to be the exact opposite of what he had hoped for.

“‘S right,” Shane answered. Rick’s eyes shifted back and forth between the two men. Casually Shane reached a hand over, putting it on Daryl’s shoulder and squeezing as the younger man flinched slightly before relaxing. The heat from Rick’s eyes said it all as Shane’s thumb rubbed slowly along the sharp shoulderblade.

“Daryl,” Rick said, his voice harsh and authoritative. Daryl’s eyes snapped up to his. He hated all of this attention and he wished both men would just leave him alone but he felt trapped between them. A feeling he hadn’t had since before Merle left and he had been little, getting in the middle of fights between his brother and father. “You okay with Shane coming along with you tomorrow?”

Daryl just shrugged as best he could. “‘Sokay,” he said. “Did fine today.”

Rick noticed he was back to his short answers, a tell tale sign that he was uncomfortable.

“Shane, can I talk to you?” he asked, motioning with his head. “We gotta go over some stuff from today, if you’ll excuse us Daryl.”

Thank fucking God. “Sure,” he mumbled, poking at the fire with his stick.

Rick nearly drug Shane to the edge of the forest line, a shit eating grin on the larger man’s face the entire time. “Jealous much?” he asked.

“Fuck you, Shane. What’s that all about? You can’t bully him like that,” Rick hissed.

“I ain’t bullying him! We did do fine today.”

“Did he ask you to join him tomorrow?”

“Not in so many words but the man didn’t say no either.”

“Don’t run him off, Shane,” Rick said, stepping up to get into Shane’s face. “We need his skills and he’s a good fighter.”

Taking his opportunity, Shane grabbed Rick by the shoulders, flinging him around and putting his back against a tree. Bodily pinning him against the bark, Rick knew better than to put up a huge fight, lest someone from the camp hear or see the struggle going on. “Stop it,” he whispered harshly instead.

Grinding his body against his captive, Shane smirked. “Jealous of Daryl? Or jealous of me since I get to be alone with him all day tomorrow? You never know what happens in the woods, right Rick?”

Rick growled, using his body weight to try to get the larger man off but he was never any match for Shane. “I’m not jealous of either of you.”

Grabbing Rick’s wrists and holding them over his head against the tree, Shane whispered in his ear, “Then why are you hard right now?” Rick grunted with his efforts to get the other man off, attempting to wrestle his hands free, succeeding once before having them taken again. In a swift move, Shane flipped him, pinning his arms low on his back, resting his front against the tree, face plastered against the bark. Pulling Rick’s hands down, he thrust his hips against the clenched fingers. “Feel that? That’s what happens when I think about Johnson’s farm that one night. Those afternoons in the woods. The feeling of being inside you, sucking you off even.”

“Ain’t like that no more, Shane,” Rick grunted against the tree, trying to clench his hands tighter and escape from the hardness pressing against his backside.

“Bet you’d want me to fuck you right now. Bend you over out here in these woods. Make you scream my name as you cum all over yourself. I’ll send you home to your wife like that. Bet you’d like that, huh? Did she tell you she fucked me when you were dead? Huh? I thought of you as I fucked into her. Wanted to feel you…”

“Hey Rick, something’s wrong. Lori’s looking for ya,” came Daryl’s soft voice behind them.

Immediately Shane released Rick, righting his clothes and adjusting himself in his pants.

“Fuck, Daryl. You got a bad habit of sneaking up on people, man.”

Rick saw the loaded crossbow in Daryl’s hands, aimed low but at the ready. He nodded his thanks at Daryl before heading off towards the main camp, not entirely certain if Lori needed him or if Daryl was just looking for a way to get them separated.

With a short look at Shane, Daryl turned and walked back to his camp, crossbow lowered to his side, the arrow taken out of it. Shane followed him, sitting next to the man in the dirt.

“Look, Daryl, what you just saw-”

“Ain’t about Lori, is it?” he interrupted.

Shane shook his head. “Not entirely, but some of it is. In high school we both went after her but for some reason she chose Rick.”

“Kinda seems like you went after Rick too.”

Shane laughed softly but nodded. “Yeah. I didn’t tell you the whole story about Old Man Johnson’s farm that night.”

“Don’t need details.”

“Yeah, guess you don’t. Rick and I fooled around for about a year before he and Lori got serious. Then he just called it quits. Guess I never really got over losing both him and Lori.”

“Carl know?”

“Nah, you kiddin’? The last thing I wanna tell that kid is ‘so yeah I’ve fucked both of your parents.’ How damaging would that be to know your dad used to take it up the ass every once in awhile?”

Daryl just shrugged.

Shane turned, finally looking at Daryl for the first time the whole night. “You got cleaned up, man. Look good.” Daryl side eyed him before nodding, staring off into the fire, knees drawn up to his chest. Shane reached out, brushing away a stray piece of longish hair that had fallen down into the other man’s eyes. The expected flinch was subdued. Shane’s body still thrummed from shoving Rick up against that tree, adrenaline coursing through his veins giving him a false courage and strength. “You ever had sex with a man, Daryl?” he asked quietly.

“Fuck off, I ain’t queer,” came the equally quiet response.

Daringly, Shane ran his hand through the long locks at the back of Daryl’s head. “Ain’t asking if you’re queer. Asking if you’ve been with a man.” He waited for a response but was never given one as his fingers still lightly stroked the back of Daryl’s head. They sat there like that, one slowly getting used to the other’s touch as the fire burned in front of them. They only broke contact when Daryl got up to put another log on the fire.

“Ain’t never really had any interest in anyone,” Daryl finally said. “Was always worried about surviving. Had to eat, had to avoid my dad, ma burned herself up in a fire, and Merle was either high, drunk, or in jail. I was always on my own. Never figured anyone would really want someone like me anyways. Tha’s what dad always said. Ain’t never gonna bring a girl home ’cause no girl would want t’ come home with me.”

“So you ain’t never had sex?”

Daryl shrugged. “Fucked girls in the back seats of cars from the bar. Never really dated though. Never had the money to.”

Shane nodded. “So your sexual experiences were random hookups with bar whores? Man, we gotta get you laid.”

Daryl scoffed. “Ain’t fuckin’ no one here.”

“Male or female?” Shane asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Fuck off,” Daryl said, standing up just for something to do to get himself away from the other man.

“Hey, man,” Shane said, suddenly serious. “You ain’t gonna tell no one about me and Rick, right?”

Daryl shrugged. “Ain’t got no one to tell. ‘Sides, we all have our secrets.”

 

Chapter Five

“Yeah, I guess everyone has their secrets,” Shane said, looking down at the fire. “Man, I could really go for a drink right now.”

Daryl reached over and into one of the saddlebags of his motorcycle, pulling out a flask and tossing it over to him. “Don’t drink it all, man. ‘Sall I got.”

“Where the hell did you get this?” Shane asked incredulously, unscrewing the top and taking a long swig. He closed his eyes, enjoying the liquid warmth as it spread down his throat and into his chest. “Holy shit it burns.”

“‘S moonshine. Merle had a stash in the truck. Fucker drank most of it. That was all I could sneak away from him.” His fingers twisted in the back of his hair where Shane had been stroking it, smoothing it out from where his fingers had been entwined.

“Damn, never thought I’d be happy for the existence of Merle Dixon.” Taking another strong swig, Shane handed it over to Daryl, watching as he tried to smooth out his hair. “Come on, now. I ain’t gonna drink by myself.”

Shrugging, Daryl took the flask, taking a sip and wincing. “Damn, does burn, doesn’t it?”

“Like hellfire,” Shane smiled, looking back over at the main camp. The group was gathered around the fire. He could see Rick sitting next to Lori, but his gaze was on them. Shane knew the man had an interest in Daryl, whether or not he recognized it in himself, but he had Lori. What interest should he be having in this man? Shane was the one without anyone right now. With an eye still on the main camp, he decided he was going to try to make his move. He’d win Daryl over before Rick ever even got out of the starting gate.

But he would bide his time. He knew he had to with Daryl and just the information about his past that the man had shared with him. What hadn’t he shared yet? But he had been allowed to stroke the back of his hair. Shane smiled to himself. There weren’t many people who didn’t like the feeling of their head being stroked or hair played with. Maybe if he got a little drunker he could blame it on alcohol if it really came down to it. Then again, Daryl would probably be just as drunk as he was and the man didn’t seem like he’d be a happy drunk. The options were slim, but Shane figured he’d take his chance.

“How’s that recoil on that crossbow? Anything like a shotgun?” he asked, drinking more from the flask before handing it back.

“Yeah, it’s a lot like a shotgun actually. Hurts like a bitch at the end of a day,” he muttered, rotating his shoulder for emphasis before taking a long swig from the flask and holding it up in front of him. “This right here helps though,” he smirked before drinking more.

Shane smiled casually and snagged his opening. “Why don’t I rub that out for ya?” he suggested, laying out the innuendo.

Daryl shook his head, his gaze falling back down to the fire as he handed the flask back over, the warmth already coursing through his blood. He knew a snake when he saw one and based on what he saw in the woods, Shane was venomous, especially when it came to Rick it seemed. “What would Rick and Lori think if you started rubbing up on me?”

Shane just shrugged back, taking more of the liquid fire before putting the flask down in the dirt between them. “I ain’t back at the fire with them. Lori’s made her choice. Her husband came back from the dead. Apparently I was just a fucking stand in to get her and her kid out of harm’s way since my best friend was laying dead in the hospital. I listened for his fucking heartbeat, man, and I didn’t hear anything. You think I woulda left him if I had thought he was alive?” He didn’t really wait for an answer before he kept going. “And then to see Rick just come walking into camp. Holy shit.” His eyes went wide with the memory as he ran a hand over his shaved head. The fire danced in his watery irises as he stared down into it, Daryl never taking his eyes off his face as he watched the inevitable breakdown happen. “When I saw him come back, it was like the fucking walking dead. That man was dead when I left him. I swear to you. My heart broke…,” he choked up. “And when I saw him again. Daryl, man. Everything. It just started coming back. I kept it back for so long but I was just…”

“If ya thought he was dead, then… at least ya checked,” he tried. It was a helluva lot more than what he and his brother did for their dad and uncle, though he was pretty certain that they were dead. Or dying. Or rather he hoped they would be dead.

“I did, man. I swear I did. But now,” he swung his hand back towards the main camp. “I’m a fucking leper.”

“Maybe ya shouldn’t trap a man against a tree. Ain’t no expert, but I wouldn’t say that’s a way to get someone,” Daryl said, grabbing for the flask again. This night was turning into a shitbox. “Why dontcha go talk to him?”

Shane paused, turning his face up to look at the stars. The moonshine was warm in his body. His fingertips were going numb and yes, this was just about the right amount of drunk.

“Cause maybe I don’t want to anymore.”

Daryl looked down at the flask in his hand, not wanting to think about what that statement implied. “I think it’s best ya go on back to camp and get some rest if ya want to go with me tomorrow.”

“You don’t want me to rub your shoulder for you?”

“Nah, ‘s alright.”

Shane nodded, standing up to hobble back over towards the main group. “All right then. Thanks for the alcohol and you know…. everything.”

“Yeah, man.” Daryl watched Shane stumble across the grassy field, feet tripping over objects that weren’t there as his body caught up with the amount of alcohol he drank. Putting out his own fire, he fumbled with the zipper on his tent before falling into it and zipping it back up. He kicked off his shoes and shrugged out of his vest and shirt before settling into the sleeping bag. Shane Walsh was proving to be an interesting person suddenly thrust into his life. He wasn’t used to someone being so open and suggestive with their sexuality except for some women he met at the bar. The only men though that hit on him were his brother’s friends who had gotten out of prison. He remembered many nights where Merle had asked him to ‘spend time’ with a friend or two to pay off some of his drug debts, telling him that he just had to hang out with them, but Daryl knew that wasn’t the full extent of what they wanted. At first he told him to fuck off. Then one night, Merle didn’t come home. Their daddy beat him within an inch of his life; face, chest, and back all bloody from the buckle on his belt. With each smack, he screamed that Daryl was the reason Merle was gone and dead. If Daryl had just done what he had been told to do then Merle would still be around.

Three days later, Merle was kicked out of the tailgate of an F150 in their front yard before the truck sped off. Battered, bloody, and bruised, Norman was terrified he’d had lost his brother then, but he had his own set of problems to worry about, including his badly broken ribs and nose from the beating his father laid on him. From that moment on, Daryl agreed to help pay his brother’s debts. Some weeks it was with whatever extra cash he had earned. Other weeks… he didn’t want to think about that, but they left his brother alone and always said nice things to him whenever they saw him. He supposed that was something.

But that was years ago and for a brother he didn’t have anymore. Looking up at the ceiling of the tent, Daryl contemplated the power dynamics of their little group. Rick was undoubtedly their leader in his mind. Shane was a violent and temperamental substitute and always had been. Now without his brother he was stuck here and he had to pick a side and play to it.

The next day, Shane was up before daylight, wanting to get a jump on the morning before Daryl left him behind. His head only slightly pounded from the moonshine they had shared the night before, but his memory of his rant was still fresh in his mind. Now that the hunter knew something that could completely destroy him and his position in the group, he had to keep tabs on the man even closer than he had intended to in the first place. Stepping out of his tent, he was stopped by Lori, arms crossed over her chest, looking every bit the angry woman he remembered from Rick’s marriage pre-apocalypse. “Not now, Lori,” he said, trying to brush past her to go brush his teeth and get rid of the damn cottonmouth he had developed overnight.

She stopped him, small hand on his arm, roughly turning him as he tried to brush by her. “Don’t tell me not now. You’re going out with him again aren’t you?”

Shane just nodded, hands on his cocked hips. “Yeah, what about it? Someone’s gotta watch his back. He’s the best hunter we got and I’m the best shot.”

“What is it about him, Shane? It’s not just the food or you wouldn’t be trying this hard.”

Straightening, he mimicked her pose, crossing his arms over his broad chest. “Leave it, Lori. Its way more complicated than you even need to worry about. It’s just me having his back.” With that, he turned and started walking off again until her quiet voice stopped him.

“Then what about Rick?”

Shane shrugged. “He has to keep all of his ducks in a row as the leader of our little ragtag group. Right now Daryl is the wiley duck that he needs to reign in. ‘Sall I can figure.” He wasn’t going to tell her about the little touches he’s noticed her husband give Daryl. Nor was he going to tell her about how he had Rick pressed up against a tree the day before knowing the other man was hard. No, that was hers to figure out.

Rick appeared next to him at the wash station, picking up the communal toothpaste to put on his brush. “So you’re really going out with Daryl again today?” he asked quietly. Shane just nodded. He was getting really tired of the question. “He doin’ all right?”

Spitting into the grass, Shane answered, “Doin’ just fine. Better’n the rest of us.” Rick just nodded as he started to brush, running his other hand through his unruly hair. “You always did look cute with bedhead,” Shane chided as he reached up to tame a flyaway curl.

Rick spat and smiled, ducking out of Shane’s touch. “Need to get Carol or Lori to cut it.”

For a second, Shane hesitated before reaching out again to run his fingers through the other’s growing locks. “Nah, I like it. You should let it grow. It’s sexy.”

Shaking his head, Rick put his tooth brush, handle first, into the back pocket of his jeans, resting his hands on his hips. “Guess you should get goin’ to Daryl then.”

“Jealous?”

Rick looked off into the distance, away from the camp, out to the fields surrounding the farm before answering. “Yeah… Guess I kinda am.”

“Me or him?” Shane asked softly, surprised at the actual admission.

Rick shook his head. “Not really sure yet. But what I do know is that what you did yesterday in the forest can’t happen again.”

“Daryl won’t say nothing, but I know. It was a slip, Rick. I’m sorry. It’s just been so long…”

Taking a step back, Rick nodded his understanding. “I know, but you can’t turn to me, Shane. And don’t… don’t run Daryl off either.”

Shane smirked, waving off Rick’s comment as he walked away towards Daryl’s camp. He could see the other man already gathering supplies to take with him into the woods, glancing over at him from across the field to see if he was coming. “He’s a grown man, Rick. Can decide if he wants to or not.”

Hours later, Shane was tired. He was tired of walking. He was tired of silence. He was tired of being the only one talking. He was tired of awkward. He was tired of hunting down a ghost. Hell, he was just plain tired. “Think it might be time we head back now, dontcha think?”

Daryl turned and looked at him. “Ya can if you want. ‘Sonly midday. Got a lot more ground to cover.”

Shane sighed. Midday. “Daryl, you know she ain’t out here. If she is, she’s done been dead and probably turned. Ain’t nothin’ left of her, man. Let’s just go on back to camp.”

Daryl stopped walking. His voice tightly controlled as he said, “Go on, Shane. I ain’t done yet.”

Shane huffed, roughly grabbing the man in front of him. “Look man, I know you want to bring something back for Carol, but she just ain’t here. Can’t you see that? You’re wasting your energy and time chasing a ghost.”

The fist connected with his jaw before he ever even saw it coming, knocking Shane back a few feet, releasing Daryl from his strong grip. What Daryl hadn’t anticipated was the fury that one punch would release. In seconds he was disarmed of his crossbow and down on the forest floor face first. Shane’s body a solid weight on his back, holding him down. A brush of hips against his ass, feeling the half-hard cock through the army fatigues had Daryl closing his eyes tightly, his own body tensing as he waited for the assault he figured would be coming.

Shane watched the tone of his body change as he pushed against him, holding him down to the ground. He saw his face scrunch as his hips brushed against his ass. He would be lying if he hadn’t pictured this very scenario a few times, cock in his hand when he was alone in his tent, but something about it just made him stop. If he was going to win Daryl before Rick ever got the chance, this wasn’t the way to do it. Instead, he released his grip, brushing his hands through Daryl’s unruly hair to get it out of his face. “Hey, I’m not going to hurt you.” Sitting back on his knees, Shane gave the other man space to get up, but he stayed put, face in the ground, ass in the air. “Daryl…”

Shane stood, taking a step back to really give the other space, but he still sat there, breathing heavily, eyes clenched shut. Suddenly, his police training kicked in and screamed panic attack and sexual assault victim in his head over and over again. Cautiously, he stepped closer, kneeling to the side of him and resting his hand carefully on his back without much pressure. With his other hand, he placed it softly on the side of Daryl’s face, brushing his cheek with his thumb before moving it around to stroke his hair like he had the night before. “You’re okay, man. Just breathe,” he said softly. “I’m not gonna hurt ya. I ain’t like that.”

“Ya woulda Rick if I hadn’ta stopped ya,” Daryl mumbled, eyes still clenched tightly shut but his body was slowly uncoiling.

Shane sighed. “I wouldn’t have. Rick knows how to win against me in a fight. He’s beat me several times. He’s a wiley fucker when he needs to be. Plus, it’s Rick. Sometimes ya gotta beat something in his head to get it across.” His hand was still moving along in his hair, but the other man was not moving from his position. Sighing, Shane sat back against the tree next to him, physically manhandling the other man to bring him up to his chest.

Daryl struggled, eyes flying open when he realized he was being moved. “Calm down,” Shane whispered in his ear. “I promise I ain’t gonna hurt ya. I bet no one ever held you like this.” Pushing the dirty blond head against his shoulder, he rested his chin on top of it, wrapping his arms around the still taut body as it lay against his chest. “Just calm down, man.”

Daryl’s eyes were blown wide as he was embraced. His head was on a rock-hard shoulder with Shane’s sharp chin resting against his skull. He laid sideways against the strong body, feeling his rapid heartbeat beneath his muscular chest as the arms flexed around him, trying to hold him in place. Softly, Shane kissed his forehead, forcing his breath to be slow and even, trying to get Daryl to match him. What felt like hours later, the body in his arms slowly started to relax as his head lulled against his shoulder, forehead dipping into his neck. Without the fear of the other man striking out against him, Shane released his arms, rubbing along Daryl’s back and arm.

“You didn’t pass out on me, did ya?”

“No…,” came the quiet reply.

“You ok?” When Daryl didn’t answer, Shane just continued rubbing his back. “We can stay like this as long as you want man. I didn’t mean to scare ya like that. Just wasn’t sure if you were going to try to kick my ass.”

“Woulda,” Daryl muttered.

Shane snickered. “Glad I subdued you then. You’d probably fight like Rick does, which is unfair by the way.”

“Kick ya in the balls?”

“Nah, he used to like them way too much to do any damage to them.” That made Daryl stifle a laugh. Cautiously, he brought a hand up, resting it on Shane’s chest. “Anyone ever hold you like this?” Shane asked softly.

“My ma when I was little. Not since then though.”

Shane brought his own hand up, resting it on top of Daryl’s on his chest, pressing it flatter against him. “You can touch you know.”

And just like that, Daryl shot up, putting distance between them as he marched over to grab his crossbow. “Shouldn’t sit any longer. Might be walkers around. ‘Sides, gotta keep lookin’ for Sophia,” he said, and stalked off.

Shane sighed. He had been so close.

 

Chapter Six

Just before dusk, Shane and Daryl emerged from the woods, filthy, exhausted, and with nothing to show for it except for a few squirrels and two rabbits that Daryl had bagged along the way. He took them back to the main camp, skinning them with heavy eyelids.

Shane sat on the picnic bench, watching the group gather and disperse at the sight of them and the fresh meat. Rick sat down next to him, never really leaving his side nor saying anything until most of the people had gone about their business. “Hershel asked that we not have our guns loaded and out on his property anymore. Said he this was his home not an armory.”

“Yeah well, Hershel ain’t been everywhere we have. He don’t know what its like anymore and every fucking place should be an armory,” Shane groused. He watched Daryl’s hands work with a few slips, showing his tiredness.

“Yeah, well it’s still his property. Said he wants us gone as soon as possible. I’m trying to convince him otherwise.”

“Better keep Glenn away from the farmer’s daughter then.”

Rick snorted. “I think it’s a little late for that. She’s done some pursuing of her own too.”

“Yeah, I seen that. Poor kid doesn’t know what he’s gotten into with that girl I think.”

“She’s got a strong personality, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah.”

“How’d it go with Daryl today?” Rick asked, casting his eyes sideways at Shane, checking for any body language that would give him away.

“Just fine,” he said. “He had a panic attack though. Had to hold him until he calmed down,” he added, turning to face Rick, daring the other man to say something.

Rick nodded as if he had expected as much, but the bright blue of his eyes showed his surprise. “He let you hold him?”

“Yeah, for a bit. Tight as a fucking wire but eventually he relaxed against me. Let me rub his back and stroke his hair even,” Shane grinned at the last part, stretching his legs out in front of him. “I have to say, it was nice feeling his head on my shoulder and his hand on my chest.”

Rick snorted, but turned to watch Daryl. “What’d he have the panic attack about?”

Shane shrugged, hands on top of his head as he got more comfortable on the bench. “I told him same thing I’ve been telling you. That we’re chasing a ghost. He swung on me, hit me square in the jaw so I grabbed him. Musta had flashbacks from his family when I got him pinned down to the ground.”

“That’s rough, man,” Rick mumbled, watching as the hunter stood, wiping his blade off on his pants. He looked over at the two men, first Rick then at Shane, blue eyes downcasted before he gave them a curt nod and headed off towards his camp.

Shane watched him walk away, enjoying the curve of his back as it smoothed over his round ass. As Daryl dipped into his tent, Shane stood, grabbing a bucket of water and a rag. “Gonna go make sure he’s all right,” he told Rick.

Rick stood, hand on his arm as the other reached for the bucket. “I think I’ll take care of that for you. Don’t need to be setting him off on another panic attack.”

Shane let him take the bucket out of his hand. He wanted to fight, but honestly, he was too damn tired. The Georgia heat had taken out any fight he had left and he himself needed to get washed up. He knew he stank ten ways to heaven. So instead, he let Rick take the bucket of water over to Daryl. Let him figure out on his own that Shane didn’t lie to him. He hadn’t actually tried anything with him in his vulnerable state except for holding him until he calmed down. Shane was pretty damn proud of himself for that too. Let Daryl tell Rick himself that he and Shane make a good pair. Rick can pour salt in his own wound.

Shane stood there and watched until he saw Rick call out to Daryl and see the man emerge from the tent, looking down at the bucket. He saw the look of confusion on his face as he looked back towards camp and return his gaze to Rick. Shane smirked. Maybe Daryl had expected him to come out to his camp. Perhaps the surprise of someone else out there might drive Daryl into his own tent later. Shane hummed as he made his way over to another bucket, taking a cloth and wiping his chest, arms and face down. Perhaps he’d go down to the lake in a bit and really wash up before he went to bed.

Daryl stood outside his tent, eyeing the bucket Rick had in his hands. “Shane was going to bring it, but I thought maybe you had had enough of him for the day,” he smiled sheepishly, holding the pail out.

Daryl just snorted, taking the bucket from his hands and mumbling his thanks.

“He said you had a panic attack,” Rick continued before Daryl could disappear again.

He thought about just ignoring the comment and going in his tent, but at this point he knew better. Rick was a persistent fucker. “I swung on him.”

Rick nodded. “Yeah, he said that too. Said he caught ya and got ya pinned down and you started to panic.”

Daryl sighed, sitting the bucket down and looking up squarely at Rick. “You wanna talk about my feelings now?”

Rick shrugged, trying to not look threatening nor defensive. “Just wanted to make sure that Shane didn’t overstep his bounds.”

“Like he did with you yesterday in the woods?”

Daryl’s look was challenging. Rick backed up a step, hands going to his hips. “Something like that.”

“He hurt ya before?” Daryl asked quietly.

Rick smirked, “Since we did this discussion get turned to me?”

Daryl shrugged, sitting down on the stump next to him. He figured if Rick wanted to talk, his bath was going to be awhile away. “He told me ’bout y’all and Lori. I won’t say nothing but thought it was only right for you to know.”

Rick nodded sitting across from Daryl in the dirt, knees drawn up, resting his arms on his legs. “Yeah, that was a long time ago. Once I got with Lori though, it was over between us. And no, he never hurt me physically. He’s a manipulative man, though, Daryl. You need to know that.”

“Kinda figured that out already,” he said, leaning forward to put his elbows on his knees.

“So did he overstep his bounds?”

“Nah.” Running the toe of his boot in the dirt, Daryl considered the events of the day. To be fair, Shane hadn’t really overstepped anything. Did he want to have a panic attack? No. Did he want to be cuddled in the other man’s strong arms? Not really, but it wasn’t an awful experience. Just fucking uncomfortable.

“He said he held you to calm you down. Did he try anything?”

Daryl snorted. “Can take care of myself.” Rick looked pointedly at him. “No, he didn’t try anything. Woulda knocked his block off.” Rick nodded at that. “Ya sure he never hurt ya?”

Rick nodded. “Yeah. I’m sure. I’ve fought against him before.” Daryl didn’t like the sound of that. He had fought against his dad and brother before, that didn’t mean that they didn’t hurt him.

“Lori?”

Rick sighed. “She gave him those scratches on his face back at the CDC. She said he tried to get up on her but he was drunk. He disappeared back to his room after that.”

Daryl nodded hesitantly. He had no good way of telling Rick that Shane reminded him of his dad and brother. They were both manipulative assholes who would promise you the world and then beat you into the ground if you tried to make good on it. Hell, even if you just breathed in their general direction. Daryl had many bruised ribs and broken arms because of walking through the front door at the wrong time. He sensed that Shane had that in him too and that if Rick wasn’t careful, it would be directed at him and at the wrong time.

Rick gave him a little smile, bending to catch his downcasted gaze with his own sapphire blues. “I can handle Shane. If ya don’t want him around ya anymore, just tell me.”

“Sure looked like ya can handle him with ya pinned against the tree yesterday. What woulda happened if I hadn’ta followed ya into the woods?”

Rick sighed, looking back over at the main camp. No one was really paying them any mind. “He woulda let me go. I doubt he woulda done anything with everyone so close.”

“So what if y’all go on a run? Huh? Ain’t safe, Rick. I know his kind. Hell, I lived with his kind. You’re our fucking leader. What would happen if we lost ya?” Daryl’s face burned hot with closely bridled anger and pent up frustration with the man in front of him.

“I didn’t want to be a leader-”

“Well ya are,” Daryl cut him off. “He’s trying ta take over. Ya can’t…” He sucked in a breath.

Rick moved over to sit next to Daryl. “I won’t. And you won’t. We’re in this together.”

Daryl scoffed, looking over at him. “Ya lose your mind back in Atlanta? In case you haven’t noticed, it’s every man for himself out here.”

Rick shook his head. “Nah, it ain’t. We all depend on each other here. Everyone does their part.”

“Yeah? What’s Andrea’s part? Dale? Huh, smart man? I fuckin’ feed y’all. Ain’t none of y’all made out for a world like this. I’ve always been in a world like this. Every damn day is about survival.”

Rick felt the tension coil in the man beside him. “Exactly. So we need you. I’d love it if you taught me to hunt and track like you can. Hell, even to be half as good as you. I admire you, Daryl. You’re a good man,” he said, resting his hand on the base of his neck. The tension in his shoulders surprised him.

Daryl huffed, the fight leaving him slightly at the warmth on the back of his neck from Rick’s hand. In less than 24 hours he had had two men care for him more than his own family ever really did with positive touches and words. It took the fucking apocalypse for him to find decent people? Arms crossed over his chest, he looked over at Rick, taking in the kind, soft features, gentle and encouraging smile. He didn’t fight back or raise his voice when Daryl had; he hadn’t raised his hand to him or shoved him down face first in the dirt. He had told him he was a good man and that he was needed.

Rick Grimes was one of the best men he had ever met.

Daryl broke eye contact, looking down at the ground, at his muddy boots and dirty pants. He felt like he wasn’t even worthy of being in this man’s presence like this. He huffed, standing up. “Ya can take the bucket back to someone else. I’ma head down to the lake to wash up proper.”

Rick nodded, watching as Daryl disappeared back in his tent.

Standing waist deep in the lake, Daryl took in the setting sun as its rays dipped beneath the treeline. In minutes it would disappear entirely, leaving the hazy dark blues and grays of the early evening. Taking his bar of soap, he continued to scrub his body and hair, trying to get the past few days worth of grime and walker blood off his skin. He’d never admit it to anyone, but it felt good to go to bed clean. Neither running nor warm water was ever really a luxury he had had growing up, so bathing in the lake was nothing to him. Most often the money meant to pay the electric and water had been used for meth or alcohol before it ever made it to the utility company.

Daryl sighed at the coolness of the water on his hot skin. Surely he was sunburnt in some patches, but that would disappear in a day or two. A minor sunburn was nothing to him. He dipped beneath the water to get the soap off his skin and hair, relishing in the feeling. Maybe once he found Sophia, Carol would let him bring her here so she could go swimming.

“Well, well, well, looks like I’m not the only one who wanted to take a real shower this evening.”

Daryl whipped around, facing Shane on the bank of the lake, shirtless with a towel thrown over his shoulder. “Shit,” he mumbled to himself.

“Don’t let me stop ya,” he said. “Just came to do the same thing.” He stripped down, leaving his clothes on the riverbank before wading into the dark water. Daryl watched as he peeled his underwear off, tossing them haphazardly up on shore. “Forgot to bring clothes to walk back in,” he said wading out to Daryl. “Hope the ladies don’t mind me walking back in just a towel.”

Daryl huffed, looking away. “Lake is yours, I’m finished.” Wading back towards shore, Shane reached out, grabbing his arm to stop him.

“Hey wait,” he said, pulling the other man back to him. “I just wanted to make sure you’re all right, after what happened this afternoon. Rick thought I had damaged the goods. ‘S why he wouldn’t let me bring you the bucket.”

“Yeah. I’m all right,” he said, turning to go again but Shane had yet to let go of his arm.

He pulled back once more, this time turning the other man so his back was facing him. “Fuck, Daryl,” he breathed, taking his other hand and running it over the long scars along his back.

Daryl twisted out of his grasp. “Ain’t your concern,” he grumbled, escaping from the other man and wading towards the shore.

“Might not be in your mind, but holy shit, man. Your brother do that to ya?” Shane called after him as he soaked his body in the lake water, working the bar of soap over his skin quickly.

The crickets chirped as Daryl refused to answer the question. As he approached the shore, Daryl realized he had forgotten clothes as well. And a towel. Fuck. He stood, looking at the shoreline, waist deep in the water. He could towel off with his dirty shirt and wear his dirty pants back and change in his tent.

“You can use my towel,” came Shane’s voice from behind him. “Can have you wrapped around me later then.”

Daryl rolled his eyes. “Your lines ever work on any women?” he called back, still not moving from where he stood.

Shane waded up behind him, his shaved head making showering a hundred times faster. “Like you wouldn’t believe, brother,” he grinned. “Come on, now. Let me dry ya off.”

Daryl snorted, but stayed put. “How about you just throw me my clothes?”

Walking up the shore and grabbing his towel, Shane shook his head. Daryl averted his eyes from the other man’s nudity. How could he be so comfortable naked? “Nah, I think I’d rather have you come get them,” he said as he bent over, toweling off his legs and then up his torso.

Considering his options, Daryl knew they were too far from camp to get someone else to bring him anything, not that anyone would anyways. Rick might and Carol, but the rest of those people could go to hell as far as he was concerned. And here Shane was, offering to share his own towel.

“Come on, man. I don’t bite hard,” Shane grinned, still naked on the shore but holding his towel out.

“Shit, fine,” he said. Goosebumps began raising on his skin as the evening breeze passed through. Slowly he came out of the water, quickly reaching for the towel in Shane’s outstretched hand.

Snatching it back, Shane laughed as Daryl nearly fell forward onto him. “Whoa there. Ya all right man? A little off balance there?”

Daryl grumbled and turned abruptly, heading for his clothing, but Shane caught his arm, bringing him back closer to him. and wrapping him up in the towel, rubbing his over his hair, face and shoulders before wrapping it around his back and pulling him in closer. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist.”

The air was electric around them as Shane pulled him closer in the towel, wrapping it around Daryl’s waist and securing it. Reaching up, he ran a hand through the unruly hair before cupping his face softly. “And now you look like an adorable drowned rat.”

Despite himself, Daryl blushed, trying to twist out of the other man’s grasp, realizing just how dangerously close they had become in the last few moments. Shane’s half-hard cock stood before him, and Daryl would be lying to say he wasn’t semi-stiff as well, but he pushed that thought away as an arm wrapped around his waist. “I had fun with you in the woods today,” Shane said softly.

Mild panic started to bubble through Daryl’s chest again. Placing both hands on Shane’s strong chest, he pushed back. “Ain’t like that, man.”

“Come on, man. Who’s going to know out here? I’m just saying I had fun with you is all. You going to run off and tell Rick now? That the way its going to be after I gave you my towel and everything?”

Rick. A warmth spread throughout Daryl’s chest at the mention of the other man’s name, his words from earlier ringing through his head. I admire you, Daryl. You’re a good man. If only Rick really knew him, he wouldn’t be saying those words, but he had said them often enough that even Daryl was slowly starting to believe him. But he knew Rick was a good man. A damn good one.

“You still goin’ after him?” Daryl asked quietly.

“Why?” Shane smiled smugly. “Ya askin’ if I’m single?”

Daryl really wanted to punch him, but he remembered what happened last time and here they were both naked away from the group. He doubted things would go in his favor. “Askin’ if you’re still goin’ after him like ya did last night.”

A minor flash of confusion darkened Shane’s features in the moonlight, loosening his grip on Daryl’s waist. He watched as the hunter back away, bending over to pick up his clothes, throwing them on quickly before handing him his towel back. “I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it,” he finally answered as Daryl was pulling his boots on.

Daryl nodded standing up straight and looking Shane in the eye. “Ya touch him, ya ain’t gettin’ nothin’ from me. Includin’ goin’ back out in the woods.” With that, he turned and walked away, leaving Shane standing there butt naked, towel in his hands, dumbfounded.

 

Chapter Seven

Ya touch him, ya ain’t gettin’ nothin’ from me. Includin’ goin’ back out in the woods. The words reverberated in Shane’s head as he lay in his tent, listening to the world wake up around him. He had been awake for hours now, wondering just what exactly Daryl had meant by that. Was he just meaning that he was going to ostracize himself from Shane or that he would consider doing other things with him.

It might be worth laying off Rick for a week to see just what the Dixon had in mind. Plus, that could really fuck with Rick’s head, especially if he and Daryl started spending more time together. Shane smirked at the jealousy that he knew would roll through his former police partner. The man was already jealous and they hadn’t even done anything! Though the opportunity had presented itself to Shane, he didn’t want to be that big of an asshole to take advantage of Daryl like that. He wanted to gain the other man’s trust, lure him in, make him want this because Rick couldn’t have another one. No, that wouldn’t be fair. He had dumped him and stolen Lori from him. The least he could do was let him have Daryl.

The zipper on his tent slowly started to move down, the person on the other side trying to make as little noise as possible. Shane quirked an eyebrow, wondering if Daryl had gotten bolder overnight and maybe wanted to show him what he could possibly be having…. or maybe that was just the fantasy that he had wanted to be true. To say he wasn’t at least a little disappointed when Lori’s head popped into the opening would be an understatement. “What do you want, Lori?” he asked, closing his eyes and laying his head back down on the mat.

Lori climbed in the tent, zipping it back up just as slowly as she had opened it. “The camp’s still asleep,” she whispered.

“Yeah? So?” A soft hand ran down his nude chest to the waistband of his pants. Before it could get any farther, he grabbed it, holding her delicate hand in his before letting go. “Don’t. You need to go, ya hear? We ain’t doin’ that no more. Go fuck your husband.”

“The hell, Shane? First you were pissed because I wouldn’t still fuck you and now you’re throwing me out?”

Shane growled and turned on his side away from her as she sat, anger evident on her pale features. “Is it because I’m pregnant?”

He actually laughed at that. “Lori, do you have any fucking idea how happy I am that you’re pregnant?”

“Sure don’t show it.”

Shane sat up. “I want that baby to be mine, but now that Rick is back… Shit, Lori,” he muttered, running his hand over his shaved head. “But no, it ain’t because you’re pregnant.”

“It’s Daryl isn’t it? You’re fucking Daryl,” she laughed quietly. “That’s why you and Rick are after him.” Lori sat back on her feet from her kneel beside Shane. “I should have known you both would want that again. I just thought you’d find each other…” She sighed.

Shane blinked, completely blind-sided by her comment. Grabbing her shoulders and pulling her close, he lowered his voice to make sure he made his point with her. “Ain’t no one fucking Daryl. He’s a damn lifeline for this camp and we know better than to fuck that up.”

She recoiled from him, brown hair pressing against the side of the nylon tent. With venom in her voice she said, “What happened to you? You used to hate the Dixon brothers. Now you’re best friends with the man?”

“Daryl is different from Merle. It’d do everyone a bit of good to spend time with him, but ain’t like he gon’ let all y’all now that you’ve basically pushed him out. Man does nothing but put food on your plate and you hate him.” Shane scoffed, shoving Lori slightly before unzipping the tent and leaving quickly. “Fuck off back to your husband, Lori. He’s the reason, all right? Woulda thought he’d be a reason enough for you too. Don’t come in my tent again,” he hissed, walking away to brush his teeth.

Rick lay in his tent, maybe ten feet away from Shane’s. Tent walls were nothing like the plaster of his house. Everything could be heard loud and clear through the thin nylon. He had felt Lori leave and immediately knew where she was going, but made no move to stop her at this point. He knew what had been going on between them after the turn. So they had thought he was dead, he could forgive that. In his mind, Shane was a good man, still was, and if they had ended up together after his death, Rick would be okay with that. Hell, if something were to have happened to Lori, he may have ended up back there in those strong arms that he remembered from their senior year of high school.

In the here and now though, he was proud of Shane for telling her no and standing up for Daryl and for their marriage, but the idea that Lori immediately thought that they were fucking Daryl… Rick shifted uncomfortably in his sleeping bag. Not that the thought hadn’t crossed his mind, though he would never admit it to anyone, but was he that obvious? He knew Shane had recognized the touches. Hell, he had been on the receiving end of them a long time ago, but the wedding band around his finger had stopped him from going any farther than the few touches he had allowed himself and that Daryl had allowed him.

But had Daryl recognized them as flirtatious? Running a hand through his messy tresses, part of him wanted to know. Because if he had, then Rick was never stopped or told that he wasn’t like that or anything else. Rolling over onto his side before sitting up, he thought he needed to get up. It struck him just how much time Shane had been spending with Daryl and how he had been acting around him. Stroking his hair? Holding him? Rick knew what Shane was doing now and he needed to correct this and quickly before Daryl was even more square in the crosshairs than he already was.

He found Shane as was he was making his way back to his tent from the washing station. Looking over the other man’s shoulder, he saw Lori helping Carol make breakfast, glancing over at them nervously every few seconds. “Shane, can I have a word?” he asked.

Nodding, Shane stepped over towards Rick. The man was still shirtless, not having dressed quite yet from the night. Rick took his time, admiring the physique before him, not quite masking his attention to the other man’s body. “What’s up, Rick?” Shane asked, smirking as he cocked a hip out.

“Want to talk with you about Daryl.” Shane nodded, leading them off away from the camp a little. He had a feeling he knew where this conversation was going to go and he wasn’t sure that the others would want to hear what they were going to say. Rick sighed, looking out over the farm fields before speaking. “You know, Daryl ain’t another Lori.”

Shane scoffed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He turned to walk back to camp.

“Shane, you know I’m interested in Daryl.”

That stopped him in his tracks. Slowly he turned back around to face Rick, an evil grin spreading across his face. “Well, well. You finally admit to it.”

Rick nodded, looking over at Daryl’s tent in the distance and back at his wife at the food station. “Yeah… it’s taken me a bit, but I’ve come to terms with it. Lori and I ain’t been the same since even before the dead started walking and you know that.”

“So what do you want me to say?”

“Nothin’. I just want you to lay off Daryl. I know you’re only going after him because you sensed that I saw somethin’ in him and that ain’t fair to him.”

Shane just shook his head. “Now, you see, that ain’t entirely true, Rick. There you go gettin’ all self-absorbed again. Maybe I have an interest in Daryl. Ever think of that? We have spent a lot of time together out in the woods. He’s funny when he gets relaxed around ya. Ain’t that right? Was thinkin’ about moving my tent out there with him.”

Rick just stood there, looking out in the distance, not at anything in particular, processing the words Shane was saying but understanding everything he didn’t say. After a long moment, he nodded his head. “Everything you do, you get permission from him first. If I even hear anything from him about you say or doing anything out of line or I see a mark on his body-”

“You mean on top of the ones that are already there?” Shane interrupted. “How you going to know, huh? Going to ask him to strip for ya so you can make a map of his scars? Damn it, Rick. I ain’t gonna hurt him. I can’t believe you’d even suggest something like that.”

“I know you, Shane. Sometimes better than you know yourself.” Rick nodded, effectively ending their conversation before turning to walk back towards camp.

“What if he volunteers to scratch an itch?” Shane baited him. He saw the way the other man’s shoulders tensed but he never stopped walking, giving Shane his back the entire way.

“If you got an itch that you just can’t scratch yourself, I’ll let you come into my tent,” Rick threw over his shoulder before he hit the encampment.

Shane watched him round the tents and head towards the RV. Dale had been watching them suspiciously from the top of the RV, alternating between sitting, standing and walking in circles. The man was a nosy piece of shit that Shane wouldn’t even think twice about letting fall to the hands of walkers. What would he tell the others about this little conversation between him and Rick? Could he even hear them? Shane ran his hand under his nose, sniffing the sweat away. It was barely even morning and it was already balls-ass hot. With a short grunt, he walked with purpose to his tent to grab a shirt and over to Daryl’s tent. But first, he had to clear the air on something.

“Hey, Dale!” he called up. The older man’s head, complete with bucket hair, appeared from the top of the RV. “Can ya come down for a second so we can have a chat?”

“Rick asked me to be on watch…,” he stalled.

“Won’t be longer than 2 minutes, honest,” Shane smiled up at him. Dale looked over towards where he was Rick disappear to before nodding and slowly climbing his way down, though still with his rifle in his hands. Standing before the imposing man, he stood, waiting for the conversation to start. “What you just heard between Rick and I needs to stay between Rick and I, ya hear?” he said, standing closer to Dale, getting into his personal space.

Dale nodded. “I didn’t even hear your conversation to share it with anyone.”

Shane looked at him hard for a minute before nodding, placing his hand on the other man’s shoulder and squeezing it briefly before letting go. “All right then. See, I told you it wouldn’t be longer than 2 minutes. ‘Preciate your time.” He watched as Dale scrambled back up on top of the RV and scan the horizon for any changes in the few seconds he had taken from his watch.

Making sure he had his weapons on him, Shane headed towards Daryl’s tent, seeing the man just emerging from the opening. “Daryl!” he called, picking his gait up to an easy jog. He saw the glare and the hard lines of the other man’s face before he was within even 15 feet of him.

“You alright, man?”

“The hell you want?” he grumbled, shouldering his crossbow and collecting the arrows he had made during the night.

Shane shrugged, patting the weapon on his hip. “Goin’ out with ya again. Good backup. Hey you don’t look like you slept well last night.”

Daryl just shrugged. “Don’t need back up today.”

Standing his ground, Shane knew better than to back down but he didn’t want to push the issue too much either. “Man, you don’t need to be goin’ out alone, especially if you didn’t get any sleep last night.”

“Daryl, I have to agree with Shane.”

Both men spun around, Rick standing about ten feet away from the both of them, arms crossed over his chest defiantly. His eyes were trained on Shane with a hard glint. Daryl knew that look. His brother had given it to people nearly every day of his life. It spoke of threats and promises. With a soft snort he wanted to ask what happened between them but thought better of it. Instead he answered, “Just had nightmares. I’ll be alright.”

Shane reached his hand out, just as he had done to Dale, squeezing Daryl’s shoulder. “Hey man, seriously-” He wasn’t expecting the fist that connected squarely with his jaw, nor the snarl and attack that followed it. The crossbow was dropped in the dirt, along the arrows, seemingly forgotten at the moment.

Rick was on them in an instant, pulling the two men apart, though Shane didn’t appear to be fighting back. Angry words fell out of Daryl’s mouth that neither officer thought he was aware of. “I know your type” was the loudest, followed by a nice right hook. “Ain’t layin’ down for ya again” was the second understandable phrase with other sporadic words mixed in that neither could decipher. Rick was able to get Daryl’s flailing arms pinned to his side and pull him out of kicking distance of Shane who had taken up a submissive stance on the ground, arms in the air with open hands.

All three men were breathing heavy, but Daryl’s eyes never left Shane’s body, following his every movement as he stood up. “Just wanted to help you,” he said softly, risking a step closer.

Rick tightened his grip as Daryl attempted a lunge. “Go on, Shane, just get outta here,” Rick nearly screamed at him.

Daryl tried to watch as he walked away though there was only so much movement Rick was willing to allow him. A full minute ticked by after the other was out of sight before Rick whispered calmly in his ear, “Want to tell me what that was all about?” Though he didn’t loosen his grip, he did allow for his lips to brush the shell of Daryl’s ear.

Daryl just shook his head, body still tense in Rick’s arms. “Wanna let me go?”

Rick sighed but held on. “You mean you don’ t like being wrapped in my arms? First Lori, now you. I’m beginning to get a complex,” he joked. He earned a soft snort as Daryl’s body slowly untensed and leaned back into him slightly. Rick took the cue and lessened his hold but didn’t remove his arms. “Want me to keep Shane away from you?”

“Been tryin’ ta keep him away from you,” Daryl muttered so softly that Rick wasn’t sure he heard it right.

“Away from me? Why’s that?” He just shrugged, trying to sit up in the process. He let him go, but stayed on the ground, considering the response. “Daryl… you know what happened in the woods… that had something to do with what happened between us a very long time ago. Before I was ever even married to Lori-”

“I know. He told me,” came the curt response as he picked back up his crossbow and arrows.

Rick nodded, not at all surprised by that. He figured Shane would let Daryl know he was bi in some way to test the waters and see his response. Though he had to admit that he was outed in this matter as well but it did make life a little easier. “I don’t think I have to ask you to not tell anyone about that.”

Daryl shrugged, turning to fully look at Rick, squaring off his broad shoulders. “Don’t think I gotta tell you that baby ain’t yours either.”

Sucking in his bottom lip, Rick judged his next move. That had been a low blow, but he nodded anyway. “That’s between Lori, Shane, and I, but I am well aware of their affair.”

Running a hand over the back of his neck nervously, he watched as Daryl gathered his necessary equipment to be gone for the day looking for Sophia and hunting. “Does it bother you… about Shane and I?” He really wanted to know why he was saying ain’t gonna lay down for ya again but he figured that subject could be broached later. It wasn’t like he was going to get an honest response at this point anyways.

“Nah,” Daryl shook his head before turning and heading towards the forest.

“Want company?” Rick yelled after him but the other man just kept walking.

 

Chapter Eight

Rick was cursing himself for the stupidity of what he was doing. Following Daryl was like following a mountain lion, though he was only semi-certain that his claws were not as sharp. The brush he was tromping through was loud beneath his feet. He had contemplated following Shane instead and questioning him about what the fuck that had been about back at the camp, but no he had to be an idiot and follow Daryl out into the woods armed with only his friggin’ knife. Rick held his hand on the handle of if, ready for any dangers to come his way, but he wasn’t expecting Daryl to come from behind him. “Why ya followin’ me?”

Spinning around, Rick found himself just feet from the hunter, caught completely unaware that the man had circled back around him. Of course he should have known. Daryl was damn stealthy when he needed to be. “Wanted to make sure you were all right. Kinda stormed off there.”

“Better than you would be out here unarmed. The fuck’s wrong with you?” he said, coming closer to him.

Rick shrugged, not moving his hand from his knife. “Worried about you.”

Daryl just stood staring at him, as if trying to determine if it was a lie. “I’m fine. Go on back. Your wife is waitin’ for ya, I’m sure.”

“She ain’t much of a wife anymore.” He wasn’t sure why he said it, but once the words were past his lips he couldn’t take them back. Daryl still stood just staring, but gave a slight nod.

“I get that. Doesn’t change the fact that you’re an idiot for bein’ out here with just a knife.”

“Well now that you’re here I don’t have to be so worried.”

With a single snort, the hunter walked past him. “Go on back ta camp.”

“Nah. I’m here now.”

Stopping in his tracks, Daryl stood, shoulders tense. “First Shane, now you. What do y’all want from me man? Want me to just lay down for ya both? Is that what you’re both after? ‘Cause Shane made it pretty clear last night.” The anger was flowing as Daryl turned back towards him, blue eyes hard and challenging as he stared down the older man.

Rick tried his best to look non-threatening, but stood his ground as the other man stalked up to him. “I ain’t like that, Daryl.” He sighed. “I’ll admit, I’m interested, but I ain’t touching what I ain’t allowed. What did Shane do last night?”

“So that is what it’s about,” he whispered, taking a step back. He couldn’t help the warm feeling spreading in his chest at Rick’s admission that he was interested. Surely it was just sexual. He just wanted a fuck. That was all he was good for anyway, he told himself.

Rick risked a step closer. “What did Shane do?” he said, his voice taking an edge to it that Daryl had only heard used against Shane.

“Lent me his towel,” he said.

“That ain’t all.”

Daryl shook his head. “Don’t matter. He didn’t get anywhere,” he said, turning back around on his heel, but Rick’s hand caught his upper arm, forcing him to stop.

“Daryl.” His voice still held that edge and it made his heart pound and the tightness turn into a firm clench in his chest.

Throwing his crossbow and arrows down on the ground, he turned. “You want it right here? Huh? Ain’t no one gonna see ya. The big bad fearless leader following me out in the woods to take advantage. That how its gonna be? Fine. How do ya want me officer?” As he spoke his words became more rushed and higher pitched, anger and fear evident.

“Ain’t like that, Daryl,” Rick choked out.

“You’re a fucking liar,” he spat, stepping closer. Getting into Rick’s face, his words took on a more dangerous tone.

Rick still stood his ground. He knew he was reaching a very dangerous point and he had to step carefully with his words to avoid what could be a very dangerous fight for him out here in these woods. “I ain’t. I’m interested inyou. I ain’t gonna take advantage. I ain’t Shane. I’m not going to throw you down in these woods. I care about you.” Daryl’s body was tense as he breathed fire through his nose. He clearly had no idea how to react to those words. Rick hadn’t moved since Daryl had advanced on him. There was no immediate shedding of clothing and he wasn’t pushed over in front of him with his pants roughed down his legs. Rick watched as the thoughts and emotions flashed through the hunter’s eyes, taking in and processing his words.

“Ya can’t care about me. I ain’t nothin’.” His voice was so small. Rick barely heard it over the beating of his own heart hard against his ribcage, but the fierce defenses were not let down in his eyes.

“That’s a lie. Whoever told you that was the liar.” Rick watched Daryl’s face contort. “You’re smart. I mean, shit, Daryl. None of us can do what you do. And you… you care about us even though most of the people in the camp don’t realize it. The way you look for Sophia. The food you bring back for us. You don’t even eat anything you bring back unless Carol or I make you eat it. You’re one of the most giving people I’ve ever seen.”

Daryl took a step back. “Ain’t givin’. Ain’t worth nothin’.”

Rick advanced this time, holding his hands out and taking the other man’s shoulders in his firm grasp. “You are. Why can’t you see that?”

“Why? Why ya interested in me? Why ya sayin’ all these nice things to me all the time, man? I ain’t done nothin’ to ya.”

Rick shook his head incredulously. “Who ever knows why they get interested in someone, Daryl? And like I said, it’s just interest. I don’t want it to change anything between us. I don’t even know if you… I just care about you, ok?”

Daryl’s shoulders slumped a little in his grip. The fight slowly leaving his body as he finally seemed to realize that Rick really wasn’t going to hurt him that there was no real danger here. Off in the distance they heard a walker crash through the brush, shaking bushes as it walked closer to them. The silence hung heavy in the air between them as they watched it amble forward slowly. With it being only one walker, neither man moved much, waiting for it to get close enough before Rick dispatched it with his knife to its skull in one swift movement. Daryl seemed to deflate with Rick’s hands off of him.

“You’re a good leader,” Daryl said quietly, watching as the walker went down easily beside them. “Best man I ever met.”

Rick smiled slowly, wiping the blade off on his pants before resheathing it at his hip. “That means a lot coming from you.”

Daryl nodded, a small smirk playing at his lips.

“I hope you don’t think differently of me now, Daryl. I don’t want my feelings to get in the way of any type of friendship that we had built.”

Daryl shook his head, sucking in his bottom lip and scuffing his boots in the dirt. Looking off in the distance, he thought for a full minute before he responded. “Might be interested too.”

Shane sat at the picnic table, a cold rag held to his face by Lori since he didn’t even want to be bothered by it. “I told you. He just flew off the handle. We all saw it, Shane.”

“Wasn’t unprovoked, Lori,” he muttered. His jaw hurt like hell and Daryl had gotten in some good licks on his ribs. But he hadn’t fought back. Rick saw that. Daryl saw that. He hadn’t fought back. Hell, he was almost proud of himself.

“Bullshit it wasn’t unprovoked. All you did was offer to go out there with him and protect him in the woods while he looked for Sophia. How was that provoking?” she twittered away, concern and anger lacing each word.

“Wasn’t about that. Was about before. I know exactly why he flew off the handle,” he said, shifting his weight on the bench. He moved his head to the side, dodging her dabbing fingers in the cloth. “I’m all right, I told ya. Why don’t you go help Carol with the laundry?”

At that moment, Rick emerged from the woods. The smile on his face could be seen from camp. Shane stood up at the same time as Lori. “Go help Carol. I’m gonna go talk to Rick. See what happened.”

Lori looked torn. She wanted to run to her husband and make sure he was okay since he had fled into the woods following Daryl without his gun. He hadn’t made it back into the tent since he went to brush his teeth. Rick was rarely an impulsive decision maker and his choice to run off in the woods after Daryl surprised many people in the camp. Except for Shane.

Shane stood watching his former partner walk back up towards their camp. His hips held that sway that was a telltale sign that Rick had gotten his way with something that he had wanted. “Fuck,” Shane breathed, walking out to meet the other man outside of the camp line.

As Rick approached Shane, he raised his head, nodding his acknowledgement as he tried to walk by. Shane caught his arm, but he didn’t turn. He just stopped in his tracks, patiently waiting for whatever he had to say. “Did you?”

“I caught up with him. I suppose he’ll be all right. He said he’ll be back before night fall.” Rick tried to pull away again, but Shane still held him tight.

“‘s not what I meant and you know it,” he growled.

Rick wrenched his arm free, standing up straighter to match Shane’s height. He knew he’d never have quite the commanding presence his friend had, but he could stand toe to toe with the best of them. “Ain’t none of your concern anyway.”

“I think it is. See, Daryl and I have been building a relationship the past couple of days-”

Rick scoffed. “You call him trying to knock your block off this morning a relationship? He told me about last night, Shane,” he stepped closer, making sure his quiet words could only be heard between them as their hot breaths mingled. Both men knew how this looked to the rest of the camp, as if their two leaders were having a quiet fight, which is exactly what it was. They just probably wouldn’t believe what, or rather who, it was over, nor why.

“Oh yeah, what about last night? How I saved his ass because he didn’t bring a towel or a change of clothes to the lake? Huh?”

Rick nodded. “Yeah, I know you and your fucking ‘lend a hand’ moments like that.”

“Hey, last night was nothing like-”

“Just stop, Shane. Leave Daryl the fuck alone. I think this morning made it pretty clear that he don’t want you around no more.” Rick turned and walked away, his footsteps punishing the ground as he walked. Shane just watched him go. This was not the way he wanted to end this. He wasn’t going to let Daryl just have some bad nightmares about past experiences to make him push Shane away. He didn’t go down like that and fuck Rick if he thought he was going to be the savior in this twisted story. Shane needed to make something happen and fast.

“You know Rick, he’s usually back by now,” Carol said softly from stirring the pot over the fire.

Rick looked up at the setting sun. The indigos were starting to fade into the oranges, yellows, and pinks. Silently he agreed. Daryl was normally back by now, so he had to have a damn good reason to not be back yet. Shane paced the edge of the camp like a lion at the zoo. He had been on edge since before the sun even started setting. A few times he had gone off on a tirade that Rick had completely ignored. He had been yelled at for leaving him, for not making him come back with him, for letting him go in the first place, and the last one had been the classic “you can’t stop me from going out there right now and finding his ass!” The entire camp got on that one and told him it was pointless. And it really was. They would never find the hunter because, hell, even in camp he was elusive.

At first, Rick had thought it was funny and a damn good show that Shane was putting on to try to convince him that he cared. Now, however, as the hours ticked on, and Shane’s path killed the grass beneath his feet, Rick wondered if the other man hadn’t actually begun to develop these feelings like he had been talking about. Maybe for once, Shane Walsh wasn’t all talk, but he shook that thought out of his mind.

“I’m sure he’s fine, Carol. He should live in the woods. He’s happiest there,” Lori chimed in from the picnic bench, opening some canned vegetables to warm up.

Rick shook his head. “He is happy in the woods, but it’s killing him that he can’t find Sophia. Maybe he got on a good trail and isn’t willing to let up yet. If he ain’t back by morning, Shane and I will go out.”

“Fuck morning, Rick,” Shane said, stomping his way over to them. “Something’s wrong. We need to go. He would be back by now.” He ducked inside the RV, pulling out the bag of guns they had stashed and taking out his favorites.

Right then, Andrea screamed from the top of the RV, “Walker! Rick, walker!”

Everyone at the camp turned. Rick squinted, grabbing his knife from his hip before looking back up at the Greene farmhouse. “I got it Andrea. Don’t shoot it.”

Shane bitched beside him, grabbing his own knife and the two men ran out towards the walker ambling slowly towards them.

“It’s dragging something,” Andrea muttered from the top of the RV. “I think I can get it.” She angled her sights just like Shane had taught her.

“Andrea! Don’t!” screamed Shane, looking back only once as they ran out.

As the two men approached, the walker stopped, and stared at them. “The fuck are y’all doin’?”

“Daryl?!” both men exclaimed.

“Fuckin’ welcoming committee now?” he spat.

Rick took a step forward but Shane held him back. The man was filthy; his shirt sleeves were ripped off and tied around his slim waist with blood seeping through the thin cotton. His wifebeater would never be mistaken for white anymore. The dirty blond hair was caked in blood and plastered to his forehead. His whole coloring was more than just a shade paler beneath all the dirt, blood, and grime. Around his neck, he had four ears on a piece of string. “The hell happened?” Rick whispered.

A shot rang out from behind them. Daryl’s body contorted sideways before collapsing in a heap. Both Rick and Shane screamed and rushed forward. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. Rick turned towards the RV, looking at Andrea on the roof, standing up tall now, obviously proud of her shot. A soft look of confusion overtook her at their reaction. Beside him, Shane was bending down, pawing heavily at Daryl’s limp body, looking for a bullet wound or any other kind of wound, tears threatening to fall as he searched.

Rick turned back towards the man on the ground, “It’s Daryl,” he whimpered. “You idiot, it’s Daryl.”

“He ain’t bit,” Shane said, running his hands over every inch of the other man’s body. “Looks like she grazed him on the side of his head, here.” He pointed to the left side where fresh blood was running down, mixing with the dirt and dried blood. The red seemed too vibrant on his skin.

Shane laughed slightly, motioning to Rick to move to his other side as they both pulled the limp man up. “He’s all right. He’ll be all right.” Rick picked up the dropped crossbow, swinging it around his shoulder before taking Daryl’s arm and draping it over his neck.

Rick started yelling as soon as they were walking back towards camp, Daryl lifeless in their arms. “Get Hersel! Somebody go get Hersel! Right now.”

 

Chapter Nine

“He’ll be all right. Looks like he’s had a time of it in his life.” Hershel handed his medical equipment to Patricia in a once white towel now stain pink from the bloodied instruments. “That bolt when right through his side. No idea how he managed to shoot himself like that but he’s lucky he made it back here. We might need to give him some more blood if he doesn’t come around in about an hour. We’ll monitor him closely.”

Rick sat in the chair closest to the bed, worry etching the growing lines on his face. Shane leaned against the wall close to the door, arms crossed over his broad chest. Hershel’s gaze flickered between the three men before he told them to find him when Daryl woke up. He left the two men to watch over their charge, quietly closing the door behind him. It only took moments before Shane started in. “You know, if you hadn’t-a left him out there in those woods alone, he wouldn’t be here.”

“Well if you hadn’t-a pissed him off to the point of inciting violence, he wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t have had to go after him in the woods alone either. Anyways, he told me to come back,” Rick retorted, never taking his eyes off Daryl’s peaceful face. Whatever the old Vet had given him had sure knocked him out. It was hard to resist running his hand over his soft cheeks and petting his hair as it lay clumped with blood still. Standing up, Rick took a rag from the clean pile Patricia had laid out before the surgery started and dipped it into the water basin.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Shane asked.

Rick shook his head at him. “Going to wipe the blood off his face and out of his hair. They just cleaned the area of his wound, but look at him.” Rick motioned toward the still body on the bed. “He looks awful.”

“He was clean last night. Saw it myself. He was washing down in the lake,” Shane muttered, actually seeming to really look at the whole man this time instead of just his wounds.

Rick placed the rag on his face, careful not to get too near the stitches in the side of his head where Andrea shot him. “You know, Shane, you don’t have to be here.”

“What? And leave you alone with him? Like hell. What happened in those woods, Rick?”

He sighed, scrubbing a little hard at the dried bits in his hair, scraping off clumps of dirt as well. “I’ll tell you if you tell me what really happened at the lake last night and what this morning might have been about.” Shane adjusted himself against the wall, seemingly considering his options before nodding once. “He found me before I ever found him. We had a little bit of … disagreement… He had some strange idea that I was just following him into the woods for sex.” Quickly, Rick glanced over towards Shane against the wall before continuing with his administrations to wipe off Daryl’s slack face. “I can’t imagine where he would get that idea from. But then I told him I was just interested in him and that I cared about him. I don’t touch what ain’t mine. He said he might be interested too and we pretty much left it at that.”

Shane blew air out through terse lips. “That all that happened?” Rick nodded. “All right. Guess it’s my turn then. I came on to Daryl last night at the lake. We may have both been naked. I didn’t force the issue or anything, and I mean anything like that, Rick. I know I can be a dick but I’m not a rapist.”

“Not sober anyway,” Rick cut in.

“Hey, that was… that was a mistake.”

Rick stood up, flinging the rag back towards the basin, watching as it fell short. “Ain’t all rapes a ‘mistake,’ Shane?” He stalked up on the taller man, pushing his face inches from the other’s. “I swear to God Himself if you lay a finger on Daryl-”

“Rick? Shane?”

Both Rick and Shane nearly fell over themselves to get to Daryl’s bedside as his eyes cracked open slightly, the mood in the room suddenly changing. “It’s us. You’re okay, Daryl.”

“Andrea fuckin’ shot me.”

Shane laughed a little at that. “Yeah, guess I didn’t teach her how to aim very well. She only nicked the side of your head.”

“‘S a good thing,” he mumbled, closing his eyes and laying his head back down on the pillow. “Feel weird.”

“Hershel gave you a shot to ease the pain. They stitched up your side where the bolt had gone through and your head. Cleaned you off pretty good,” Rick told him, risking running his hand over Daryl’s hair.

It was a good minute before Shane murmured, “Think he fell asleep again.”

“Well at least know he’s all right, just drugged up.”

A soft knock on the door interrupted them as Lori poked her head in. “Rick?” Upon seeing her husband, she opened the door farther, surprised to see Shane in the room as well. “How is he?”

Shane rolled his eyes but avoided the biting comment he wanted to make. “He’ll be all right. He was awake for a minute, but the drugs Hershel gave him knocked him out again.”

“That’s good. Rick, we need you back out at the camp. So you know, whenever you’re done here….”

Rick sighed heavily, hands on his hips as he looked down at Daryl’s sleeping form. “I’ll be right there.” Lori closed the door as quietly as she came in. Silence overtook the room once again as both men settled in to watch their hunter sleep.

“You know, you can go. I’ll be right here when he wakes up. Won’t do anything to risk his virtue, I promise,” Shane whispered as he sat down in a chair across the room.

Rick sat still for a moment, looking down into Daryl’s soft face before he nodded. Silently he wondered how often the man got to sleep this deep and peaceful in his lifetime. “Yeah, okay. I’ll go see what she needs and then I’ll be back.”

Shane watched as Rick went out the door, his footsteps echoing down the hallway on the hardwood floors before the screen door slammed shut. Slowly, he moved over to the chair that Rick had vacated, looking down at the dirt-smudged face deep in sleep. “You are something special Daryl Dixon,” he murmured, stroking his fingers through his dirty hair. He leaned over, picking up the rag that Rick had thrown on the floor. Rewetting it, he stroked it over Daryl’s hair, working the dirt clumps out of it.

“Feels good,” Daryl muttered sleepily, rolling over onto his back.

“You awake?” Shane asked, slightly surprised. Did he hear the little argument he and Rick just had? Shit. Daryl just hummed the affirmative, eyes still closed, making Shane believe that he was awake but not entirely conscious. He scratched a little harder on the man’s head, dislodging some dirt stuck to his scalp. “The hell did you get in to?”

“Fell.”

“From what?”

“Horse threw me o’er a cliff,” Daryl mumbled, leaning his head subconsciously into the touch.

Shane stopped his administrations briefly, gawking down at the man laying prone in front of him. He only moved again when Daryl whined slightly, opening his eyes a little and moving his head against the hand in his hair. “No wonder you’re so filthy then,” he quipped, trying to hide the fear that struck his heart at the admission. Daryl groaned when Shane started scratching his scalp again. “Need to get you in a bathtub.”

“You jus’ wan’ me naked again,” he mumbled, turning his face into Shane’s hand, resting his cheek on the warm palm.

“I’d never say no to having you naked again, but you really are filthy, man. Can’t believe you’re laying on these white sheets even.” He smiled down at him, caressing his sharp cheekbone with his thumb. “You had me scared there, Daryl. I was so afraid we’d lost you.”

“Ain’t gonna lose me,” he mumbled against the palm. “Just gained two-a ya.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ya like me. Rick likes me,” Daryl smiled slightly at that. “Ain’t ne’er had anyone like me ‘fore.”

Shane blushed slightly, but moved his hand from underneath Daryl’s head, flexing his fingers to get the pins and needles out before leaning down and whispering, “I think those drugs are going into your brain.”

Daryl rolled onto his back again, his eyes slitted open, staring hazily up at the ex-sheriff. “Ya like me. You were half hard last night.”

“So were you. Woulda kissed you last night too if I didn’t think I would have gotten punched for my efforts,” he admitted. He was like 99% sure that Daryl was not going to remember this conversation given his slightly slurred speech and dazed look.

“I mighta then, not now.”

“What? You want me to kiss you now?”

Daryl shrugged with his non-injured shoulder as best he could against the pillow. “Now might be your only chance, Officer. Doc gave me the good shit so I’m in a good mood.”

Shane scoffed. “You want to kiss me when you’re drugged outta your head. I see how it is.”

“So ya gonna do it or what?”

Rolling his eyes and licking his lips, Shane leaned down, pressing his lips softly against Daryl’s. He hummed appreciately as the other man parted his lips slightly, deepening the kiss for an instant before pulling back. He didn’t want to lose control; he couldn’t get ahead of himself.

Daryl hummed, licking his lips and smiling up at him. “‘S good.”

Shane laughed, running his hand over his shaved head and sitting back heavily against the chair. “Man, you are something special. In less than 48 hours you’ve done something to me, Daryl. I don’t know what it is.” He shifted in the chair, rubbing a hand over his crotch as his dick started to harden in his pants. Now was so not the time. He told Rick he wouldn’t do anything to compromise Daryl’s virtue and dammit he meant that.

“You wanna touch me.” It was a statement, not a question. The little voice in Shane’s head scream Yes, fuck yes I want to touch you and it communicated directly with his dick as it officially made his pants uncomfortable.

But fortunately, his larger brain was still semi-functional. “I can’t, Daryl. I promised Rick.”

“But ya wanna.” He shifted closer on the bed, the bedsheet pulling away a little, showing more of his chest and the scars that littered the tanned skin. The bolt wound bandage was glowing bright red. Shane contemplated calling Hershel to ask if it needed changed already but the hesitant hand reaching out from the bed towards him stopped any chance he had for movement towards the door. Taking the stretched out hand, Daryl pulled his arm, placing it over his covered crotch. “Touch me. Done it before. Ya won’t be the first.”

“Yeah, I kinda got that when you were yellin’ at me this morning. I don’t want to do anything against your will, Daryl. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t want to be that kind of person,” he said, subconsciously rubbing his hand over the stiff cock beneath the sheet.

“I put your hand on my dick, didn’t I? Would think that would give ya a hint at what I want.” He smirked up at Shane, looking at him through his long eyelashes. “Just a hand job, officer, to help me sleep. Let ya touch what you were wanting last night.”

Shane groped a little harder, hearing the other man hiss and move his hips up against his palm. “I think you’d sleep just fine if you’d stop talking and close your eyes.”

“Ugh, fuck you, Shane. Where’s Rick? He’d get me off,” Daryl played, looking towards the door.

“Oh fuck you, Dixon. That ain’t playin’ fair.”

“Come on then!” Daryl grunted, thrusting up against his hand.

“What the fuck kinda drugs did they give you? You’re going to hurt yourself more! Stop moving!” Getting up on the bed, he straddled the other man, hoping to keep him pinned to the bed and not moving as much as possible. Both Hershel and Rick would kill him if Daryl popped his stitches on his watch. Pulling down the sheet and Daryl’s pants, Shane licked his palm before wrapping it around the reddened shaft. Precum was already dripping from the mushroomed head. “Fuck, you are needin’ this.”

“‘S been months,” Daryl groaned, trying to thrust up into the too-light grip. “Merle’s friends died. Ain’t needed to pay off any debts. Ain’t been touched since then.”

Shane tightened his grasp, flicking his wrist as he neared the head on every stroke, holding onto a slim hip with his left hand. “You paid off debts like this? Shit, Daryl… I didn’t know.”

“Aw come on, man. ‘S not like I’m a dollar whore or nothin’,” he grunted, still attempting to move his hips to get more friction. The touch was almost teasing.

Shane stopped his administrations, leaning down to look in Daryl’s blue eyes, black pupils blown impossibly wide. “You are not a whore at all, Daryl. You need to know that.” His mind flicked back to the panic attack in the woods and the scared posture he had taken on when Shane had pinned him down. It had definitely screamed rape victim and now here he was, straddling this man and stroking his dick. Daryl licked his lips and leaned up for a chaste kiss that made Shane think of summertime romances in high school. Sitting back up, he pumped his hand faster, needing to get the other man off so he could process this whole mess.

The smell of sex hung heavy in the air as precum oozed out of the head of Daryl’s cock, lubing up the shaft for Shane’s hand as he worked faster and faster. Daryl’s hands pulled at the bedsheets, soft gasps escaping his lips with each tug. In a matter of seconds it was all over. Daryl’s body relaxed back into the bedsheets, a sheen of sweat coating his chest and a soft smile on his relaxed face. Slowly he drifted off to sleep as Shane cleaned the cum off of both of them. After replacing the bedsheet over Daryl’s body, he snuck out the door.

The girls were in the kitchen cleaning up from dinner when he interrupted them. “Would y’all mind listenin’ for Daryl? He just went back to sleep but I gotta go take care of something out at the camp real quick. Back in less than an hour,” he told them. With that taken care of, he stalked out towards the camp, a hitch in his step as he hunted his prey.

Rick stood talking with Dale by the RV, glancing over at Shane once as he approached before the thought struck him that he had left him with Daryl. “Shane, what are you doin’ out here? Is everything okay?”

“I need to talk to you, Rick,” he grunted, gesturing out towards the woods. Rick nodded, excusing himself from Dale and leading the way to a secluded spot for their conversation.

“What’s wrong? Is Daryl ok?” he asked once they were out of ear shot.

When they came up to the wooded area, completely invisible from the camp, Shane pushed Rick up against a tree, covering him with his larger body and grinding his hard cock into his hip. “You told me to come into your tent if I needed that itch scratched,” he whispered, huskily. “How’s about now?”

 

Chapter Ten

Rick grunted as Shane rutted against him. “We can’t,” he whispered, hands already working furiously at his own belt.

Shane smiled wickedly as his hands pulled the white t-shirt up and over Rick’s head, tossing it down to the ground. “Then why you taking your pants off?” With a low growl, Rick’s hands immediately switched positions, pulling at Shane’s belt buckle and unzipping the rough material. Hands became a blur as clothing was ripped from their bodies, discarded about them haphazardly. With a soft whine, Rick pulled Shane down into him, attacking his lips with a fervor as their hips ground against each other.

“Wanna feel you. Wanna be inside you,” he groaned, gripping the slim hips hard enough to leave bruises as he turned Rick around to face the tree, allowing his fingers to dance around, groping the non-existent ass cheeks. “Need to get some food in you so you can get some meat back here again,” Shane hissed as his index finger brushed gently down the other’s ass crack, fingering his hole slightly. “Spread your legs for me, Rick. You remember this don’t you?”

“Fuck you, Shane,” Rick cursed, pressing his hips back into the touch.

Shane smiled, pushing his index finger inside the tight pucker. “Nah, not tonight.” The night air filled with grunts as fingers pushed and prodded, trying to get Rick as open as possible without alerting their group or any passing walkers.

One finger became two with a wad of spit, pressing in three when Rick shuddered against the tree. “Ain’t got much time.”

Shane nodded, “Ain’t got no lube either.”

“‘S all right, just go slow.”

Rick braced against the tree as he felt Shane line up against him, brushing his cockhead down his crack. Jacking his dick in his hand, he let precum ooze down past the hole, using it to press his head inside. “Fuck,” he breathed, rubbing his hands down Rick’s ribcage on either side, down to his narrow hips. “I forgot how amazing you feel.”

Rick choked off a laugh as his eyes watered from the pain of Shane pressing himself inside slowly. Bringing a hand down to cover one of Shane’s on his hip was enough of a signal to tell the other man to hold still for a minute, let him adjust. Interlacing their fingers, Shane rested his forehead on the back of Rick’s neck, pressing his chest into his back. There were no whispered words of love or encouragement between them. This wasn’t about that. Wrapping his free arm around Rick’s waist, Shane thrusted shallowly, trying to help him get used to the feeling of being so intimately invaded.

Rick grunted, tightening his grip on Shane’s hand and tearing at the treebark with the other. “If you’re going to do this, you better touch me.”

Shane laughed, pressing hot breath against Rick’s ear. Taking his hand wrapped around his waist, he reached between Rick’s open thighs, pressing his fingers against where they were connected, rubbing around the edges of his hole stretched tight around Shane’s cock. He could feel the balls against his forearm twitch as he pressed against the skin there, tracing his touch up and lightly petting them as he slowly started to move his hips. “Touch you like that?” he breathed, tracing his lips up Rick’s need to suck on his earlobe.

“Fuck, Shane,” Rick whimpered, pressing his body back into the man behind him. Turning his head, laying it on Shane’s strong shoulder, he sought out the hot lips as their bodies moved against each other.

“Shit, Rick. I ain’t gonna last long,” Shane grunted, pushing the other man forward slightly, moving his hand from the soft balls to the hard muscle of Rick’s shoulder.

Rick laughed breathily, “We just started. You turning into a teenager again?”

Shane closed his eyes, resting his forehead against the top of other man’s spine. He focused on the tight heat surrounding his cock with every rough thrust, running his hands down the other man’s chest to wrap around the cock he had gotten to know so well so many years ago. He heard the audible gasp as his fingers found purchase, rubbing, tugging, stroking, all of the tricks he vaguely remembered the other liking. Shane tried desperately to keep his mind in the present, on this man right here in his arms and not back in the house in the room he had just run from.

But the memory of Daryl beneath him, body pressing up against his as Shane worked his cock in his hand… Daryl practically begging him to touch him, get him off. He came silently, eyes squeezed shut, his mind’s eye holding onto the image of Daryl letting go beneath him. He felt Rick’s hand join his around his cock as the channel around his cock tightened, signaling the other man’s release.

Carefully, Shane pulled back, watching his softening cock slip from the tight enclosure. Both men redressed themselves, Rick a little slower bending down to pick up his clothes. “What happened with Daryl?” he dared to ask.

Shane bit his lip as he refastened his belt. Looking towards the house through the trees, he considered not telling Rick, but what would it matter anyway? The three of them were in this together now anyway and clearly Daryl was beginning to enjoy the attention of both men, whether his non-drugged state let him show that was another matter altogether. “He begged me to jack him off, so I did.” He turned to look at Rick then, almost challenging the other man. “Then I came out here to find you.”

Shane reentered the bedroom several hours later where Daryl slept, brushing a hand through his dirty hair and kissing his forehead. He left Rick going into his tent, his body too relaxed for much after their moment in the woods and Lori’s questioning looks thrown at his back.

He took up the chair left by the bed, crossing his arms over his chest. Shane hadn’t even realized he had fallen asleep until a hand brushed his leg and he jolted from the chair. Daryl’s arm shot back under the covers, his own innate reaction to cower from the sudden movement. When Shane’s heart fell back into his chest from his throat, he sought out Daryl’s hand under the blankets. “Sorry. Didn’t realize I had fallen asleep. How ya feelin’?”

Daryl shifted awkwardly. “Hurts.”

Shane nodded, “Yeah, I bet it does.” Daryl shifted again, clearly uncomfortable, bringing his hand up to his mouth and chewing on the cuticle of his thumb. Shane stood up, looming over him, “Can I do anything?”

Daryl looked up at him, a questioning look in his eyes before looking away again, guilty. “Naw…”

Shane smirked. “What, Daryl?”

He sighed as Shane took the hand away from his mouth, clasping it between his own. “Would you… maybe… Nevermind…”

“Anything.”

Daryl hesitated, not able to keep the other man’s gaze. “Would you hold me like you did…?”

“In the woods?” Daryl nodded, still not able to lift his eyes up. “Yeah, yeah of course. Scoot over a bit.” Daryl moved over a little in the bed as Shane kicked off his shoes and pulled off his shirt. Sliding in on the soft sheets next to the injured man, he readjusted the pillows against the headboard. “Okay, come ‘ere.” Wrapping one arm underneath the injured man’s nude back, he pulled him against his chest, taking Daryl’s top arm and pulling him gently across him. “You can adjust how you want. I don’t know what hurts and what don’t.”

Daryl moved a little, hesitantly laying his head down on the strong shoulder. Taking a deep breath, he nuzzled in a little closer, clinging a bit with the hand on his chest. Shane rubbed down his back, taking care not to brush against the arrow wound. Laying a kiss to the other man’s forehead, he laid his head against Daryl’s, feeling the other man sigh a little as he settled in. “This okay?”

Daryl sat still for a minute, his breathing slightly ragged as Shane’s hand travelled down his back and up again, repeating the motion. “Yeah.”

“Feel good?”

“…Yeah.”

Shane smiled, closing his eyes as he let his fingertips wander, feeling Daryl’s breathing come easier. “You know you don’t have to be shy about asking for anything from me,” he said softly. “I don’t want to hurt you, Daryl. Ain’t no one here who does.”

He shrugged as much as he could in the embrace, letting silence over take the room once again. Half an hour easily passed before Daryl whispered, “You smell like Rick.”

Shane shifted uncomfortably. He didn’t think about washing up after his encounter with Rick in the woods. Daryl had told him not to go after Rick or he wouldn’t have anything to do with him and shit he had shot that to all hell. “Yeah,” he said simply. Daryl just sighed into his chest before inhaling the scent. Shane didn’t want to explain. He didn’t want to betray the other man’s trust any more than he already had.

Daryl settled into him a little bit more, his breath ghosting over the other man’s clavicle sending little shivers down his spine. He felt himself stirring, the familiar warmth growing in his stomach. He tried to mentally curb it, but Daryl noticed, shifting slightly as he rubbed his hand down his chest. “Don’t,” Shane breathed.

“I can…”

“No, it’s ok. You’re hurt. You just feel so good against me. Love having you here,” Shane whispered.

“But you did for me.”

Shane snorted, kissing the other man’s forehead again and closing his eyes as he inhaled the scent from his hair. “I know. I wanted to. You have no idea how much I wanted to.”

“You want me to now.” Daryl’s hand coasted down further, trailing a finger down the line of hair to the waistband of his pants.

“Daryl, I-”

The door opened, letting light into the room and Daryl’s hand flew back up to the other’s chest. Rick stepped in the room, quietly closing the door behind him. “Shane?” he asked, not at all surprised the other man was already there, but slightly surprised he was in the bed.

“Yeah,” he breathed, mentally kicking Rick for breaking in on their privacy and also silently thanking the man for ruining the moment. He didn’t want Daryl to feel obligated to jerk him off or anything else he was thinking, especially after what he had told him earlier in his drugged out state. He didn’t want to seem like another of Merle’s debts. He wanted Daryl to actually want to touch him and not feel like he owed him anything.

Rick sat in the chair next to the bed, gingerly perching on the end of it. “He asleep?”

Shane shifted slightly, but Daryl didn’t stir. He wanted to follow his lead, not sure how much he wanted Rick to know. “Yeah, I think so.”

“Why you in bed with him?”

Shane smirked at him, feeling slightly victorious. “He asked me to hold him like I did in the woods. Probably comforting.”

Rick nodded. “We should talk… about earlier.”

Shane shook his head, now really hoping Daryl was asleep. “Nah, man. Not here. Not tonight. I know what you’re going to say anyway and it’s not worth your breath, but I’ll let you say it tomorrow, all right?”

Rick sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah, I guess you would know part of what I’m going to say, but not all of it. I guess we can leave it for tomorrow though.”

Silence enveloped the room once again as Rick leaned forward, inspecting the bandage on Daryl’s side. “We should let Hershel change that.”

“Yeah, in the morning. Let him sleep, man. He needs it. He’s done a lot for us. We at least owe him a night’s sleep while he’s injured.”

“Glad to see you’ve come around on him,” Rick started, a slight smile playing at his lips.

Shane shrugged with one shoulder, trying not to disturb Daryl who really did seem to have fallen asleep on him as his breath had evened out. “He’s not a bad guy.” He continued rubbing his back, resting the side of his head against the matted hair of the hunter’s. “He’s a harmless little teddy bear actually.”

Rick laughed at that. “It’s drastically different than he was this morning.”

“Yeah, about that. I think I figured that part out too. We can talk about that tomorrow though.”

“Yeah, we probably should. I want to deal with the demons as they come up and not let them hang around.” Shane felt the double meaning in those words as they let them hang in the air. He knew the conversation they were going to have tomorrow was going to be a long one.

Rick sat perched on the chair, just watching them. Leaning forward slightly, he brushed a hand through Daryl’s hair before rubbing it over Shane’s bald head. Standing up, he leant over, brushing a soft kiss to Shane’s lips before striding over to the door. With one more look back at the bed, he left the room, closing the door as quietly as he came in.

 

Chapter Eleven

Walkers in the barn. They were so not prepared to have this danger so close to where they had been sleeping. They had Carl and numerous women. And Lori was pregnant. What if one of them had gotten out. All it would take is one.

Shane ran his hand over his bald head. He was done. Daryl emerged from the house, still limping slightly but growled at anyone that tried to offer him assistance. Approaching the other man, Shane felt himself soften slightly, seeing the bruises and the marks as evidence that he had almost died. “Walkers in the barn,” he told him simply. “We gotta clear it out.”

Daryl looked at him, full on blank stare before muttering a quiet, “What the fuck?”

“Get your bow, man.” Stalking off towards the RV, he had one purpose. Obtain a weapon that had enough rounds to clear a hoard.

“Shane!” Rick came running. “You can’t do this. Those are Hershel’s people. He thinks they’re just sick. We gotta talk to him. We’re on his land.”

“Fuck his land, Rick!” he bellowed. “You want to just be walker bait, be my guest. I can’t have Lori and Carl next to a disaster waiting to happen. I’m clearing it out with or without your help and Hershel’s permission. The man is fucked in the head if he thinks he can save them.” Grabbing his gun and bolt cutters, he stalked off towards the barn, already seeing Daryl checking his bow and arrows out in the field.

As he walked, he shouted at others to get their weapons. It took one squeeze of the bolt cutters to open the door. Stepping back, he readied his aim as the hungry bastards pushed the door open, slowly stumbling out, sniffing the air for their next meal in their new found freedom.

Hershel came running down with his daughters Maggie and Beth at the sound of the first shot. There was nothing they could do now as the men raised their weapons and fired. Hershel screamed as the bullets riddled walker after walker. “Stop it! Just stop it! These are my people! Get off my land! Rick, control your men!”

Shane turned to face the old vet, rage building in him. “You think they’re just sick?” He took aim and fired at the chest of the closest walker, shooting a hole right through the heart. “There’s the heart. She’s still coming. Still think she’s just sick?” He fired again, this time aiming lower. “Kidneys and stomach.” He fired again, up and to the left in the chest. The walker stumbled but still kept coming straight for him. “Lungs. Still think she’s sick?” He took aim one final time at the head, shooting her in the middle of her forehead. She finally went down in a heap. “You think she’s still sick, Hershel. You better wake up old man. You have a disaster waiting to happen.”

Rick raised his weapon along side him, killing the walkers as they emerged. There was nothing else to do. The fight was over. If they didn’t kill them all now, they wouldn’t survive the day. Maggie and Beth wailed as they saw their mother come stumbling out, looking around at the small group gathered. Shane took aim and she went down. The last of the herd slowly came out, moaning and groaning, looking for their next meal at the rich, sweet smell of flesh engulfed their nostrils. Quickly each one met their fate.

Then she came out. Daryl paused, lowering his crossbow. Carol screamed somewhere behind him but he paid her no heed. There was Sophia. She had been here the entire time. Time seemed to slow down as she stumbled forward. Carol tried to rush past him but he grabbed her, holding her to his body as the sobs of her sorrow wracked through her. The field had gone quiet with the lack of gunfire. Rick stepped up, tears in his eyes as he fired the trigger, dropping Sophia where she stood.

Daryl let go. Carol rushed forward, grabbing at the body of her lost daughter, sobbing quietly.

Both Shane and Rick turned towards Hershel. “I didn’t know…,” he tried to reason.

“You had that little girl here the entire time?” Shane screamed.

“Shane-” Rick started.

“No, man. Daryl nearly killed himself looking for her and she was here the entire time. You never thought to tell us that you had a little girl in there?” He shook his head, walking away.

They buried the ones they knew and loved underneath an old tree. Kind words were said about their lost ones. Daryl loving placed a Cherokee rose on Sophia’s grave after everyone had left, thinking that he would be able to say his goodbyes in peace. The heavy crunch of the ground under a hard boot behind him though gave Shane away as he approached. “Bull in a china shop,” Daryl muttered.

“Can’t sneak up on you, man.”

“You can’t. Walk like an ox.”

Shane stood silently staring at Daryl’s back. The blood staining his shirt through his bandage made him grimace. “I’m sorry man.”

Daryl stood, turning to face him and gave a one shoulder shrug. “‘Sall right. Least we know where she is.” Stepping forward, he risked raising a hand to try to touch the hunter’s face, but he pulled away. “Look man… last night… I was high…”

Shane smiled and looked away. “Is this the ‘it’s not you its me’ speech? Gonna fuck me and leave me?”

Daryl snorted. “It’s not like that. We didn’t…” He stubbed his boot in the ground. “Did we? I don’t remember that part…”

Shane snorted. “No. I jacked you off and then you wanted to return the favor but Rick walked in the room.”

Rick. Daryl sighed as he remembered their conversation in the woods. He wasn’t lying that he was interested. Rick was the kindest, strongest man he had ever met. Shane was intriguing, but he reminded him a lot of his brother and dad. All brute with kind words to try to soothe you over to trust him. He shook his head. He wasn’t sure where any of this was headed but it was probably best to stop it all before anything else got started. “I just can’t man… I’m not gay. ‘S nothing against you or anything like that.” He looked back over at the camp as the women busied themselves making the evening meal. “And ya got Lori and the baby.”

“Now we both know I could never claim that baby. That’s Rick’s kid in the end, even if it has my blood.”

Daryl nodded. “Yeah, but still. You should care about that more than some lowlife like me.”

Shane shook his head, unable to believe the words coming out of Daryl’s mouth. “You ain’t no lowlife, Daryl. You nearly killed yourself looking for that girl when everyone else had given up. You’re every bit as good as Rick and me.”

Daryl shook his head, trying to end the conversation and walk back to camp but Shane’s strong hand on his arm stopped him from walking past. “I mean it, Daryl.” He ducked his head slightly, trying to catch the downcast blue eyes. “You are a good man.”

There was no dirt to hide his blush this time as he pulled his arm out of the other’s grasp and walked back towards camp, Shane’s words rolling through his mind on repeat.

Rick caught him as he walked past camp. “Daryl, can I have a word?”

He sighed. He was really getting sick of people trying to talk to him today. Giving a single nod of approval, Rick stepped in next to him walking over to Daryl’s camp. “I’m sorry about what happened today. I know how hard you were looking for Sophia.”

“It’s all right. Nothin’ we could do.”

“No. And I know Carol appreciates how you continued to look for her. We all do. You sacrificed a lot for her.”

“Yeah, now I guess we can move on since we found what we were lookin’ for.”

Rick ran his hand through his hair, looking back up at the house. “Yeah… I don’t know how much longer Hershel will let us stay here, but its worth asking still I suppose. This is a nice setup.”

Daryl snorted. “Yeah, barn full of walkers. Wonder what else he’s hidin’ from us.”

With a long sigh, Rick stepped forward, taking Daryl’s shoulders in his hands. “We appreciate you, Daryl. I want you to know that. I hope today, and last night, didn’t change your opinion of us.”

“Naw. Always knew you were a good man, Rick.” Warm, work-rough hands ran down his arms, sending a chill down Daryl’s spine.

“As are you. I wanted to talk with you a little bit more about what we said in the woods, but I know today probably isn’t the day.”

Daryl pulled away, walking towards his tent. “Don’t need to talk about nothin’. Was just words. Your wife is alive and pregnant. You should go be with her.”

Rick’s face scrunched as he moved to follow him. “No, Daryl it ain’t like that. That’s not what I wanted to say.”

“Well it should be what you say. Your wife is pregnant, Rick. You shouldn’t be fuckin’ around with someone like me. Give you some kind of redneck disease, isn’t that what Shane said around the fire that one night?”

Recoiling from Daryl’s words, Rick wasn’t sure what should be his next move. This wasn’t the way he was hoping for this conversation to go. He knew he shouldn’t have brought it up right now. Today was not the day. Daryl was hurting and it was evident, whether he wanted to admit to it or not. Sophia had become his purpose and now he had lost that. He watched as the hunter grabbed his bow and arrows from his tent. “Daryl. Shane didn’t know what he was saying and you shouldn’t believe that at all. Yes Lori is pregnant and I think we both know whose baby that is. We were having problems in our marriage before this whole… before the world went to shit, okay? My marriage wasn’t salvable then and it’s not salvable now. I wanted to ask you for a chance, not push you to the curb.”

Daryl nodded, looking down at his bow. “It’s ok. I said it for ya. Goin’ huntin’. I’ll be back before the sun goes down.”

And with that, he turned and headed for the woods. Rick watched his back as he walked away, dumbfounded at the turn in conversation. Turning back towards camp he saw Lori staring at him intently, Shane a ways behind her looking towards him as well.

 

Chapter Twelve

Shane watched as Daryl stalked off into the woods, only slightly surprised at the bewildered look on Rick’s face as he turned around from the hunter’s camp. He could only assume that he had a similar conversation with the wily man as he did earlier at Sophia’s grave. In front of him, Lori watched her husband as he walked by them, not once looking at her. She moved to say something to him, raising her hand as if to grab his arm, but he walked past her without any indication he even saw her.

Shane sniffed, adjusting his stance, placing his hands on his hips. He didn’t let Rick pass him by. Quickly he grabbed the other man’s arm, forcing him to look at him. “You just goin’ to let him go out there like that? Man’s injured and his heart hurts. That little girl had become his mission. We could lose him.”

Rick stood there, still in a daze as he looked into Shane’s brown eyes. “He didn’t even want to talk to me, Shane.”

“Man, fuck this.” He tossed Rick’s arm back at him before pulling out his sidearm and checking the amount of rounds in it. Patting his other hip, he made sure his knife was securely attached. “I’m going after him. At the very least he shouldn’t be out there alone.”

Rick just nodded at him. “I know. Bring him back Shane.”

Shane nodded and stalked off in the woods after Daryl, giving Lori a look that could have been taken as disgust as he walked by her.

He had been tromping in the woods for what he believed to be hours, fully convinced he was lost and Daryl-less. However, it had only taken him half an hour to regret his decision to go stomping after the ever-quiet hunter. He had no where near the skill that Daryl did in the woods, between the tracking and the hunting. No, Shane knew how to take someone down and make them submit, not how to get them in the first place. That was pretty much Rick’s side of the partnership though Rick was shit in the woods as well.

An arrow whizzed by his head lodging itself into a tree nearby. Breathing a sigh of relief, he said, “Ya know, you coulda just said somethin’.”

“Much more effective that way,” Daryl muttered, stomping up beside him to retrieve his arrow.

“How’d you find me?”

“Been trackin’ ya since ya left the camp. I didn’t intend to go far, but then you walked in the woods and I just followed.”

Shane wanted to smack himself and then smack Daryl for letting them get this far out. “Where are we?”

Daryl shrugged, shouldering his crossbow. “But the farm’s back that way.”

Shane breathed another sigh of relief. “Well thank God you know the way. I been wondering how I’m gonna get back if I didn’t find you.”

“Yeah, you need to stop comin’ after me. Might be a day when I don’t know you’re out here.”

“How about you stop wanderin’ off? Ya know, you don’t need to hide in the woods.” Daryl grunted and turned around, fixing to walk back towards the farm, but Shane’s hands on his arms stopped him. “Daryl, stop. We need to talk this out.”

“Don’t need to talk ’bout nothin’,” he grunted, yanking himself out of the other’s grasp.

Shane wouldn’t relent. Roughly, he grabbed Daryl, spinning him around and slamming him up against the nearest tree. Knocking his crossbow down to the ground, Shane crowded his body against the bark, his blue eyes wide with fear. “Why are you runnin’ from us all of a sudden? We aren’t here to hurt you, man. Why ya out here? You could tear your stitches and then we’d never be able to find you! You’d never come back to us and we’d never know what happened!”

Daryl startled at the rough, whisper-shouted words from the other man. “I wouldn’t not come back,” he muttered, body still stiff against the tree.

Shane’s face softened, his hands releasing the death grip he had on Daryl’s shoulders and moving down to stroke his bare arms. “I know you’d try. Daryl, you know Sophia ain’t your fault.”

That struck a cord in the hunter. Twisting away from him and the tree, he spat back, “I coulda done somethin’ had I known.”

Shane caught his hand, pulling him back into his strong body, wrapping his arms tight around the hunter’s smaller frame. “You couldn’t do anything,” he whispered in the other’s ear. Daryl fought against him, trying to release himself from the iron-grasp, but to no avail. Shane tightened his grip, resting his head down on Daryl’s dirty shoulder, riding out the waves of body jolts until his body sagged in the strong arms, finally giving up the fight.

Shane raised his head, noticing Daryl’s chest heaving in his arms. Pressing a soft kiss to the shell of his ear, Shane whispered, “I will always be here to protect you, Daryl. Always, but there are some things I can’t change and one of those is Sophia bein’ in that barn.”

“Don’t need protectin’,” he muttered under his breath.

Shane adjusted his grip, letting his arms move more into a hug than a hold. “No, you don’t need it, but I want to do it. I want to keep you safe, Daryl.” The words that Daryl had said to him the other morning as fists were flying hung in the forefront of his mind, but the last thing he wanted was to trigger another emotional outburst like that. He didn’t want to have to slam him down to the ground to protect himself out here so far away from the rest of the group, but the need to protect this man was strong in his heart. Shane didn’t have Lori anymore, but he could have Daryl. Turning him in his hold, Shane pressed his lips to the chapped ones before him, wrapping his arms around his waist. “Let me protect you?”

Daryl snorted, the blush from all this attention creeping down his neck and down past the collar of his shirt. “Sounds like you need protectin’ out here.”

Shane grinned, leaning forward and stealing another, less chaste kiss. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I can kill the walkers but I’m shit on direction.”

“You ain’t much for huntin’ either.”

“Yeah okay, this ain’t hate on Shane day.” Still grinning, despite Daryl making fun of him, Shane refused to let go, enjoying being able to hold the other man in his arms once again.

“I’m sorry I hit ya. I just… I didn’t sleep, and I was just thinkin’ ’bout things and the way they were before.”

Shane shushed him. “I’m all right, just a black eye.” Daryl hesitantly reached up, gently touching the purplish bruise that had formed around his left eye. “Ya got me good. Remind me to never really piss you off, ‘specially when ya got that crossbow in your hands.”

Daryl shook his head, a small grin on his face. His mind kept wheeling, churning, considering all angles, but his heart wanted to trust this man. His touches were gentle and loving, just like his momma’s had been. Even when Daryl had been wailing on him, fists flying, Shane hadn’t fought back. Finally he let his body relax, sinking into the embrace, even allowing his hands to rest on the strong biceps. Shane leaned in and Daryl let his lips explore, silently enjoying their softness as they skated along his jawline to his lips. He fully returned the kiss, getting lost in the feeling of someone actually enjoying kissing him, loving on him.

The sound of branches cracking in the distance broke them apart, Shane instantly turning, moving Daryl behind him and drawing his gun from its holster. Daryl grunted at the protectiveness of the other man, drawing his crossbow in the small space he was allowed between Shane’s body and the tree he was pressed against. Putting the base of the bow on Shane’s broad shoulder, he felt the other man tense and then relax when he realized it was loaded. The leaves crunched louder as whatever was coming up on them drew closer. “Too fast for a walker,” whispered Daryl. “Animal or human.” Shane just nodded in agreement.

Sure enough, a dirty person rounded a tree in the distance, knife drawn at his side. “Fuck,” breathed Daryl, shoving Shane to the side. “Merle!”

Merle looked up, a wide grin appearing on his face. “Well hello, baby brother. Wasn’t expecting to find you out in these woods.”

Shane cursed inwardly. Fucking Merle Dixon. “Merle,” he greeted.

“Well hello Officer. Good to see you again. Where’s your partner? Got a thing or two to say to him.” He waved the bloodied stump of his arm, wrapped tightly in what was once a white t-shirt.

“Fucking, hell, Merle. How the hell did you get way out here?” Daryl asked, approaching his brother. The older man gave him a one armed, stiff hug, patting him on the back roughly.

“Stole a car but ran outta gas up the road. Thought I’d wander until I found a house. Haven’t seen any walkers around these parts.”

Daryl nodded. “We got a farmhouse. The people are letting us camp on their property.”

Shane groaned inwardly again. He really didn’t want to reintroduce Merle back into their camp. The man was a nuisance and a general pain in the ass. Daryl had changed into such a better man since his brother had been left on that roof, not to mention the things Daryl had told him about what his brother had made him do.

“Well, officer, looks like we’re going to be a family again,” Merle grinned, smacking the officer on the back as he walked by, Daryl leading the way back to their camp.

Shane wrinkled his nose as they passed. Merle obviously was in need of some soap. Holstering his weapon again, he watched the retreating backs of the Dixon brothers. Daryl looked back at him once, stopping in his tracks until he started to follow them. What the hell was Rick going to say when they brought back Merle?

Around the campfire that night, everyone’s nerves were on end. No one took kindly to the reemergence of Merle Dixon. Even Daryl was on edge and reverting back to being the snarly man that he had been when they had all met him. Shane and Rick exchanged a glance over the fire. Neither man had been able to drag Daryl away for a conversation without Merle. The other man was clearly worried about being outcasted again, but they knew that they couldn’t cast out Merle without Daryl leaving as well this time and that was not something anyone wanted to do.

“Well, baby brother, I think its time we head back to our camp. It’s been great, y’all. Real nice to see everyone again. Even you Officer Friendly. We still need to have that promised conversation though.” Merle stood, practically dragging Daryl up from where he was sitting in the dirt. The motion spilled the unfinished squirrel stew from his bowl as he was yanked up.

“Why don’t you let Daryl finish his dinner, Merle. He needs to eat to heal,” Rick said, putting an authoritative tone in his voice. Shane stood where he was, looking forward to enforcing Rick’s command, but Daryl shook his head, handing his bowl off to Carol.

“Nah, it’s all right. I’m done anyway.” He turned towards Merle and was lead away from the camp, fully knowing all eyes were on the brothers as they walked back. Daryl cast one glance back, casting his eyes down towards the ground before turning around and following his brother. That was the best, unspoken ‘I’m sorry’ they were going to get from him.

“Fucking asshole,” Shane muttered under his breath, sitting back down.

Lori took the unfinished bowl that Carol offered to her, taking her own spoon and finishing the little bit that was left. “If they want to leave, then let them leave. Merle Dixon is bad news and Daryl is right behind him.”

If Shane hit women, he would have backhanded her right there. Instead, Rick turned to her, “That food you’re eating is because of Daryl. If Merle leaves then Daryl leaves and I don’t want that to happen. I don’t trust Merle.”

“Merle is bad news and he treats Daryl like shit. There’s no way I’m leaving him alone with that asshole.” Shane stood, throwing his empty bowl in the pile of dishes to be done later.

Carol stood in front of him, blocking his way back to the Dixon camp. “Whether we like it or not, that is Daryl’s brother. Let them have at least one night together before you go storming in there to break them apart.”

Shane sighed, hands on his hips as he stared over at their camp. Carol had a point. Daryl had been without Merle for a long time now and he supposed they needed some time. Maybe Daryl could pound into his brother’s head that he needed to behave in order to remain in the group, but Shane stood by his word. He was going to protect Daryl even if it was from his own brother.

Merle was the first into the tent, opening the sleeping bag that Daryl had claimed as his own. “Sure good to be back with ya, baby brother, but I don’t think those fuckers like me none.”

“What was your first clue, Merle?” he asked, zipping up the tent and grabbing the blankets since his brother stole his sleeping bag.

Sighing, the elder Dixon settled into the warmth, crossing his arms beneath his head. “I need ya to get me a ticket back in.”

“You need to get yourself a ticket back in. Try being nice and helpin’ out around camp. Can go huntin’ with me. Bringing back food is always helpful.” Daryl closed his eyes, listening to the group in the distance as his stomach rumbled from hunger. He had wanted to finish his meal, but it wasn’t worth the fight between Shane, Rick, and Merle. Plus, he knew the extra food would go to Lori and she needed it more than him for that little life growing inside of her. “Ya know Lori is pregnant.”

Merle grunted. “Bet it’s that asshole Shane’s baby.”

Daryl fidgeted. “He’s not that bad, Merle.”

“Like hell. I saw the way he looks at you. Him and Officer Friendly. Ya fuckin’ them?”

Daryl rolled his eyes. “Nah, Merle.” It wasn’t really lying anyways. He hadn’t actually fucked either man and handjobs don’t count.

“Well maybe if you’d open your legs for them, they’d let ole Merle back in their good graces.”

Daryl sighed, bringing a thumb to his mouth to chew on the cuticle. Why did Merle have to turn something he was already considering into something that made him feel so dirty. “Ain’t fuckin’ them for you.”

Merle rolled over on his side. “Come on, baby brother. Don’t you love your brother? Don’t you want me to stay with you? I’m sure if you opened your legs for either of them, they’d let me stay. Your little man pussy has magical powers for me. Always done right by me.”

Daryl grunted, rolling over onto his side, away from his brother. “Ain’t fuckin’ them for you.”

Merle sighed. “Fine. Your little Officer Friendly cost me my hand. Maybe I should repay the favor.”

Sitting up, Daryl smacked his brother on the chest hard. “Don’t you fuckin’ touch him.”

“Ah, so you are fuckin’ him. Or at least ya got feelings for him. He your knight in shining armor? He save you? Huh? Save you from ole Merle? He’s a fucking asshole and will cast you out just like he handcuffed me to that roof. Don’t you fall for his gallant bullshit.”

“He’s a good man, Merle. Maybe if you weren’t such an asshole you’d see that.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Put your little asshole to good use and show me what a good man he is.”

Daryl grunted, laying down again and closing his eyes. “Fuck off, Merle. Go to sleep.”

“Good to be back, baby brother. I hope for your sake I can stay longer this time.”

 

Chapter Thirteen

“Well there, Officer Friendly, nice to see you this fine morning.” Merle grinned wide as he wandered up to the washing station. Splashing some water on his face, he eyed Rick as the other man stepped back from him, just giving a nod of acknowledgement. “Ya seen my brother? He managed to sneak out of the tent without me knowing at some point.”

A light of something flashed through Rick’s blue eyes which Merle believed could be worry. Well, I’ll be damned, baby brother, you done found yourself some people, Merle thought to himself. He sighed, wondering if these people cared enough for Daryl to let him stay with them without even having to offer himself. But then again, he could have something to hang over their heads if one of these two men fucked his brother. Blackmail always wins.

“No… maybe he went hunting early this morning, but he normally tells us when he’s going to do that.” Those blue eyes darted over towards Shane’s tent. The two men had taken to going into the woods together. Rick briefly thought that surely if Shane were still in camp that would mean Daryl had just gone wandering on the farm property somewhere and they couldn’t see him. As if on cue, Shane emerged from his tent, pulling a t-shirt on over his head.

“Ah well, he’ll be back, just like a lost little puppy. Need to talk to you anyway.”

Rick rolled his eyes, not willing to hear a damn word that this man had to say. Taking a purposeful step forward, he crowded Merle’s space as Shane walked up to them, whispering to him in a deadly tone. “I don’t want to hear anything from you, Merle. The only thing that’s keeping us from putting a bullet in your head is your brother.” Turning quickly, Rick walked away, hand on his holster at his side, almost regretting not pulling his gun on the son of a bitch just for emphasis.

Shane sidled up to the wash basin, completely ignoring Merle as he stood there staring at him. “You lookin’ to put a bullet in me too, there Sheriff?”

“Ain’t no sheriff, Merle.” He splashed some water on his face, pulling his toothbrush and some toothpaste out of his back pocket. “‘Sides, if Daryl hadn’t-a been in those woods when we met you out there, I would have shot you and left you for dead without a word to anyone.”

Merle scoffed, looking appropriately offended before turning his back on Shane to head back to the Dixons’ tent. A hand on his arm stopped him. Shane pulled him back in, whispering in his ear, “If you even so much as give Daryl a dirty look I will kill you on the spot, no questions. You got that?”

Merle snorted, shaking the other man’s grip from his arm. “Well well, looks like my baby brother has gotten himself some protectors, huh? What makes you think I’m gonna hurt my brother when I just got him back? Sounds like you guys don’t like me none. Goin’ to kill me in my sleep there, officer?” That shit-eating grin was back on his face and Shane just wanted to smack the snot out of him just to get that look gone.

“Daryl changed after you were gone. He’s a good man. Better than you ever were, no doubt.” Shane spit on the ground, close to Merle’s shoes, the smell of mint lingering in the air.

The grin turned into a snarl. “He such a good man you been lustin’ after him, huh? Ever since Officer Friendly came back to claim his wife? Bet you ain’t had a good piece of pussy since then. I’ve heard Daryl’s got a nice little man pussy, but I’m sure ya already knew that.”

Merle never saw the first swing coming, but he sure as hell felt it as it jacked his jaw bone to the side. The second and third swings hit their mark and finally he started fighting back. Both men fell down to the grown, wrestling in the dirt, trying to get the best of the other. On one roll, they spilled the wash basin, all of their fresh water for washing for the day going to waste. On another roll, they hit the wood pile for the fire. Merle saw his advantage and took it, taking up a large piece of wood from the pile and smashing it over and over again into Shane’s head as he straddled the larger man. Large hands were pulling him off as blood began to stain the wood and his hand with people’s screams echoing in the background.

He was pulled over on the ground and laid on his back, staring up into the pissed off face of his brother. “I leave you for a fuckin’ hour to go and shoot some breakfast and you’re fighitng all ready? Jesus fuck, Merle.” Daryl stormed off, tossing his squirrels in the general direction of the kitchen area. “Shoulda never brought your ass back here.”

Merle looked back at Shane, blood running down the left side of his face like a faucet had turned on. “Might need stitches in that, Sheriff,” he mumbled, following after his brother. Daryl was busy throwing things around in their camp, grumbling to himself. “Look, Dar-”

“No you look here, Merle. These people took me in and kept me after you were gone. You didn’t even come back to look for me. We went back up on that roof that same day to come and get you and you weren’t there. You’d think I’d just let them leave you out there like that? But you didn’t even come look for me.” Tears were threatening to fall from cerulean eyes as he tossed a log at their fire pit.

“Look baby brother, he provoked me. Said I’m not allowed to talk to you. You goin’ to stand for that? How the hell am I not supposed to talk to you. That’s why I need for you to do me that favor… get me back in their good graces. They like you. Use your magical powers for me again, Darleena,” Merle pleaded, getting closer to his brother and trying to make himself look as pathetic as possible, waving his stump in the air to drive the point home. “Blood is blood.”

Daryl grumbled, tossing another log before losing his steam. “I don’t know, Merle. These ain’t your kinda people. I don’t think something like that would work.”

“Baby brother, Shane would throw you down and fuck your ass until you bleed. It’d give us leverage at least.”

Daryl stared down at the dirt. If his shitty ass brother could see what was going on between the three of them, then surely everyone else in camp is on to them. Why hadn’t anyone said anything? He snorted to himself. They were probably afraid of getting an arrow in their asses, which served them right for nosing into their business. He looked back over at the camp. What harm would it do? He had already been thinking about doing it anyways. Shane was clearly interested, being the more tactile between him and Rick. Rick might need some coaxing and planning but if he even mentioned it to Shane, the man would probably drag him into the woods. Daryl sighed, long and deep before standing up, grabbing his crossbow. “Ima take Shane and go huntin’. You keep your ass here and help out. Play nice, Merle and maybe they’ll let you stay just ’cause-a your winnin’ personality.” With that, Daryl left, wandering into camp towards Shane sitting on the bench, holding a cloth to his face.

“Ya know,” Shane mumbled as Daryl approached him, “I’m about tired of gettin’ into fights with Dixons.”

Daryl smirked at him, sitting down on the bench and giving him a playful tap with his shoulder. “Come huntin’ with me.”

Shane quirked an eyebrow. “After your brother just tried to kill me? My face is fuckin’ throbbin’ and you’re here all ‘come huntin’ with me.'”

Daryl nodded, looking back over at his brother sitting on a stump at their camp. “Yeah… wanna make it up to you. Finish what we started yesterday in the woods.”

Shane’s already raised eyebrow, arched dramatically higher. “Oh… hunting. I dunno, man. I’m throbbing… Don’t think I’d be able to think straight.”

“Ya ain’t gotta do any thinkin’…”

Shane grinned, tossing his rag on the table. Daryl was finally able to see the extent of the damage his brother had caused. The entire left side of Shane’s face was swollen; his lip and eyebrow were bleeding but it looks like they were starting to scab over. He wanted to stomp back to camp and just beat the shit out of Merle. Bringing a hand up to Shane’s neck, his gaze softened. “Damn ya need some ice.”

“Yeah well, ain’t got much of that considering that we’re in hell and all.”

Daryl just nodded. “Well if ya don’t feel like it…”

Shane grunted, but stood up. “Let me see where Rick is and let him know we’re going. Just give me like five minutes.”

Not twenty minutes later they were deep in the woods, Daryl leading the way, being as quiet as necessary to avoid walkers, but not really looking for game. Shane trudged along behind him, being only slightly diligent about his noise. Shane stopped in his tracks suddenly, sitting on a stump off the path. “Look, Daryl,” he said, once the other man turned around to see why he had stopped. “Can I talk with you about Merle?”

Daryl grimaced but nodded, waiting patiently for the other man to continue as he adjusted his crossbow and shifted in his stance for a long conversation.

“I know he’s your brother and all and blood is blood… but he ain’t a good person man. You’ve become such a better person since he’s been gone and I’d hate to lose that now. And what you said before about what your brother made you do to pay off debts… I don’t trust him, man. I don’t want him to hurt you.”

Daryl stood, stunned. When had he said how he helped pay off Merle’s debts? Fuck… “Ain’t like that no more…,” he lied, shifting his feet in the dirt. “I know Merle is a dick, but I can’t just kick him out. If he goes, I go.”

“And we don’t want that, Daryl. We’re willing to work with you and Merle, but he’s gotta work with us too.” Shane stood up, pulling Daryl into him, wrapping his arms around his waist. “I don’t wanna lose you ’cause of him.”

With a soft smirk, Daryl chided, “Who said ya had me?”

“I gotcha right here, don’t I?” Shane joked back, tightening his hold. He swooped in, pressing his lips chastely against the hunter’s.

Daryl deepened the kiss, holding Shane’s body ever tighter. He pushed the words Merle said to him out of his head. There was no way his brother was going to make this about him. The words had been following him out here deep into the woods, echoing in his mind and haunting him. With each step he took, the Merle in his head added another ounce of guilt to the mantra. He was certain that this would be where he and Shane, or he and Rick, would have ended up at some point. Shane was just much more… available given the fact that he didn’t have a pregnant wife and a ten year old kid hanging around. Perhaps Merle’s reappearance and sudden need to be a part of the group again may have pushed Daryl into this position, his hands suddenly gaining confidence in roaming the broad chest and tracing the defined lines down to the waistband of his cargos.

A soft growl emitted from Shane as he nipped at Daryl’s lower lip. “We shouldn’t…”

“Bullshit. You been wantin’ to.”

“Yeah… I ain’t gonna lie. I’ve been thinkin’ about it, but I don’t want it to be because of Merle.” Shane stepped back, adjusting himself.

The blood in Daryl’s veins went cold. “What do ya mean cause of Merle?”

“I don’t want you to try to get in my pants for him. Believe me, Daryl, I’d fuck you right here in these leaves if I thought you really wanted it, but I ain’t about to do something you ain’t ready for just ’cause Merle wants you to use my dick to get him back in the group.”

Daryl didn’t know whether to swing on the man or thank him. Instead, he settled for what he had always done. His left hand came up to his mouth as he reshouldered his crossbow, chewing on the cuticle on his thumb. “Ain’t ’bout Merle,” he mumbled, sounding very much like the teenager he used to be whenever Merle’s friends would be pawing all over him.

“Bullshit, Daryl. You were damn near terrified of me back at the lake. Then you were stoned out of your head on those pain killers and I jacked you off. Then you tell me that we can’t be doing whatever it was that we had goin’. Now we’re here in the woods and you’re trying to get my pants undone. Either somethin’ ain’t right in your head, or Merle is puttin’ you up to this and I’m going with the Merle theory.” Shane huffed, hands on his hips as he squinted in the midday sun cascading through the branches of the trees.

Daryl just shrugged, finally relenting. “He saw that there was somethin’ going on between you and me and Rick and wanted me to get you to let him stay.”

Shane shook his head, pulling Daryl back in close to him and kissing him softly. “I’d let him stay because he’s your brother, not because you let me fuck you. If and when we fuck, I want it to be something you enjoy, not something you feel you have to do for anyone else.”

Daryl gave a quick nod, instantly back to feeling awkward about the whole thing. He hated how when he knew that he was supposed to be playing the role of the seductor for his brother, that he could feign confidence but when he was back to being just Daryl, he had no idea how to be so he fell back into old habits. Turning on his heel, he stalked deeper into the forest, this time quieter, looking for game. Shane, in all of his boorishness, picked up on it, and mimicked the hunter’s motions, quiet enough to impress even the most seasoned of hunters.

That night the group ate on a decent amount of quail that the two men had happened upon in the forest. A nest of about 6 birds had remained undisturbed until Daryl cleared them out, complete with a few untouched quail eggs that were being saved for the morning. With full stomachs all around everyone was in good spirits, laughing and joking around the fire. Rick sat staring at the farmhouse in the distance as the merriment around them began to die off as people started to retire to their tents for the night. His conversation with Hershel had not gone well that day. The old vet was keen to have them off his property as soon as possible to leave him and his daughters alone. Looking back over at his wife, pregnant with another man’s baby and his son, he knew he had to make some decisions for the betterment of the group. He just wasn’t sure what those decisions were at the moment. Stay and continue to plead with Hershel? Move on and try to find another place as plentiful as this area? Perhaps the old man would let them stay while they scouted the area for another location.

Daryl stood up across from him as Merle stood, the two glued to each other’s side it seems since Merle reappeared. That was another enigma Rick was not prepared to figure out. Though Daryl had still taken Shane hunting with him that morning and early afternoon, which they were all thankful for their success. He wondered what was going through the hunter’s mind about his brother. Was he afraid he was going to be tossed out? Probably why they hardly left each other’s sides… Hell Daryl probably felt the need to convince Shane to not kill his brother after their fight this morning.

Rick nodded at the brothers as they left and started walking back towards their tents. Merle, for the most part, kept to himself most of the day. His snide comments had been kept to a minimum and he even helped Carol with a few things around camp. Rick sighed, standing up and stretching. He was on first watch tonight. Kicking dirt onto the fire to snuff it out, he grabbed a blanket to fight off the cool night air, kissed his wife and son goodnight and climbed up on top of the RV, relieving Andrea of the duty.

The time alone on top of the RV, eyes staring off into the distance always gave him time to think and consider their future. It felt like that was all he was doing nowadays. Especially with his marriage nearly disintegrated and whatever this thing was with Daryl that they had going… or maybe not going. Shifting in his chair, he grunted at the thought. Daryl was just confused and hurt. First he lost his brother then got shot and lost Sophia and now he got his brother back. His emotions were probably fucked to all hell. A sound of a zipper being pulled down slowly echoed in the still night air. He figured it was probably someone heading for a tree to pee on, but was surprised to see Daryl step out completely clothed and shuffling his boots on. For a split second, Rick panicked, thinking that maybe this was it. Maybe this was Daryl making his great escape with Merle. They were going to leave without a goodbye. But Daryl bent over, zipping the tent back up and leaving Merle inside. That made the ex-sheriff rest a little bit better, but he watched the younger man, just in case. Instead of going for the treeline though, he came towards the camp, staying in the shadows. If Rick hadn’t of heard that zipper, chances were he would have never known the hunter was there. With a keen eye, he watched the thin shadow skulk through the few trees and tents scattered around until he stopped, standing awkwardly in front of Shane’s tent. Rick shifted in the chair again, sitting up straighter to watch and wait for action.

Daryl shifted on his feet for a good five minutes until another zipper, this time less careful and more forceful was pulled and Shane poked his head out. To his credit, he looked as though he had been woken up and was confused as to why this man was essentially on his door step. It only took seconds before Shane’s head disappeared back inside and Daryl slowly stepped into the tent, leaving his boots on the outside. As he disappeared into the tent, Rick caught a glimmer of those blue eyes as they locked in on his, a look of challenge, hurt, and pain all etched in that one look. But in a flash it was gone as the zipper was pulled back and he was once again left to the cicadas in the night.

 

Chapter Fourteen

“Daryl?” Shane blinked in the moonlight. He had awoken to the feeling of being watched. Rolling over, he saw the shadowy outline of a figure just outside his tent. With a hand poised on his knife, he weighed his options. It obviously wasn’t a walker because it wasn’t growling and trying to rip open the tent, so it must be a person from their camp otherwise Rick would have shot him or shouted. Slowly, he had unzipped the tentflap, revealing a rather awkward looking Daryl standing just outside of it. “Everything ok?” Daryl just gave a curt nod. Sucking in his lower lip in thought, Shane guessed that everything wasn’t okay with the way the hunter just stood there awkwardly. “Want to come in?”

Daryl started to toe off his boots so Shane unzipped the tent the rest of the way, allowing the other man to enter. Once inside, Shane lay on his side, eyeing Daryl in the darkness as he lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. “Want to tell me what’s wrong now?”

“Can I sleep here tonight?” The words were spoken so quietly that Shane wondered if he had made them up.

“Course you can. I warn ya though, I might try to snuggle with you,” he joked, trying to lighten the mood slightly.

“Please?” Blue eyes searched out his, shining in the darkness.

Shane didn’t have to be asked twice to pull the younger man into him, pushing Daryl’s head to rest against his chest- the position he knew he liked. Stroking a hand up and down his back, he felt the taut body untense against him, relaxing into his warmth. “Want to tell me what’s wrong now?”

Daryl sniffed, his words mumbled into Shane’s chest. “Merle wants ya to let him stay.”

It was hard to suppress the laugh. Shane thought he deserved an Academy Award for barely even cracking a smile. “I’ll let Merle stay if you agree to stay.”

“Can’t leave. Done told you already.”

“Yeah yeah. Ya ain’t been liked by two people before and all that. But I’m serious. You can’t go wandering off, especially not with your brother, alone. I don’t trust that jackass.” Shane’s hand had become more aggressive in his administrations, pressing firmly against the muscles as it moved.

Daryl grunted, nuzzling into the older man. “You trust me?”

“Course I trust you. Ya ain’t hit me with an arrow yet,” he laughed.

Sitting up, Daryl grinned down at him, throwing a leg over Shane’s hips and straddling him. “Nah. No arrows.”

Shane grinned up at him, setting his hands on his hips. “You here cause-a you or for Merle?”

Leaning down to rest on his elbows, hovering just over luscious lips, Daryl smiled, thrusting his hips slightly. “Me.” He was most certainly here for him. Not Merle. Never Merle, not anymore.

Shane’s arms wrapped possessively around his back, bringing him down flat against him. “I don’t want you to do something you don’t want to do.”

Daryl grunted and thrusted against him. “Does it feel like I don’t want to do it?”

“Fuck, Daryl. Keep going like that.” Shane met each thrust, arms still tight around Daryl’s back as they moved together, lips claiming each other. Their tongues met in a wicked duel as their thrusting became more aggressive. Shane’s hands tugged and pulled on the back of Daryl’s plaid shirt. “I wanna…”

Daryl just nodded, sliding off the other man to undo his pants. Shane ripped down his sleep pants, pulling his undershirt over his head before the other man even undid his zipper. Daryl’s hands trembled as his fingers tried to work the button of his pants. Strong, tanned hands enclosed his, helping stop the motion. “Are you ok?”

Daryl nodded, a crimson blush rising to his cheeks. “Just ain’t never… you know… intended to enjoy it. Don’t know how to be.”

Shane smiled softly, lifting the other’s chin and kissing his lips softly. “I will be very disappointed if you don’t enjoy it.”

Daryl snorted, turning his head to the side, avoiding Shane’s intense gaze. “No promises.”

Hands confidently found their way to Daryl’s button and zipper, quickly ridding him of the garment. “Oh I make promises. I’m going to have you screaming my name in this camp, Daryl Dixon.”

Briefly, the image of Rick watching him go into Shane’s tent flashed through Daryl’s mind. The look of confusion turning to betrayal on the other man’s face was going to haunt him tonight, but he swore in his heart that he would make it up to him. Shane was just a… fuck he didn’t know what Shane was to him. He’d been saying all the right things, trying to draw him out, getting in actual fights that he knew were about him. Tenderly, Daryl reached up, brushing a thumb over the deep purple of Shane’s black eye. “Ya didn’t have to fight for me, ya know. I can handle my own.”

Shane shrugged, as he worked Daryl onto his back, pulling his pants and boxers all the way off his feet. His hands danced along the buttons on the plaid shirt, making quick work of undoing them. “I know you can fight for yourself, but I also know that no brother should say the shit he was saying about his little brother.” Pushing open the last layer of cotton separating their naked bodies, Daryl’s hands stopped him.

“On… This stays on.” His voice was firm, no indication of hesitancy whatsoever.

“I’ve seen you naked. You’re beautiful.” Hands stroked over the abused skin. “Every inch of you.”

“Oh fuckin’ hell, man. It just stays on, okay? Ya got any, um…”

“Lube? Nah, but I got lotion.”

Daryl nodded, running his hands up and down Shane’s strong arms, holding the other man up above him. “That will work I think.” Reaching into the pocket of one of his bags, Shane pulled out a small bottle of pink, girly lotion. Daryl snatched the bottle out of his hand, looking at the label, squinting to read it in the dark. “Fucking plumeria?”

“You’re gonna smell like flowers.” Shane tried not to laugh. He really did.

“Asshole.”

“Yeah, that’s where it’s going.”

Daryl rolled his eyes. “Yeah, well then your dick is going to smell like flowers.”

“That’s all right. I’ll take it.” He leaned down brushing his lips over a protruding collarbone. The exposed skin held a stark coloring contrast from the rest of his lover’s body. His chest was a ghostly white in comparison to the arms and hands flexing on his forearms as his mouth dipped lower. Shane flicked his tongue over a nipple, feeling it perk as Daryl arched into him.

His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides as Shane’s tongue continued to torture him, dancing from one nipple to the next, teasing and nipping with his teeth. “Breathe, baby. I don’t need you passing out on me,” he muttered, interlacing their fingers with one hand while taking Daryl’s other hand and placing it on the back of his head. Daryl let loose a long thin stream of air as his hand flexed on the stubble of Shane’s head. “Don’t tell me ya ain’t done this before.”

Daryl shifted uncomfortably underneath him, trying to push the other man off of him. “Ain’t here to be laughed at.”

“Not laughing at you, just kinda notice you’re a little uncomfortable is all. Don’t want ya to be uncomfortable, just feel.” He smiled up at him now that he settled back down into the blankets. Shane kissed his way down the flat stomach to the nearly too-thin hips. He figured he needed to get this show on the road before Daryl bolted back out of his tent. Licking a solid line up the underside of the hard cock before him caused Daryl’s back to arch beautifully as he sucked in a deep breath. “Remember what I said about breathing…,” he chided. “Now open your legs and hand me that lotion by your head.”

Daryl flipped him off but did as instructed, passing the lotion down. The feel of fingers against his hole was something he had gotten used to. He knew how that part went and how to not tense at the first press into him, but what he wasn’t used to was the care that went into it. This whole foreplay thing was something he had sorely missed out on and holy shit why wasn’t he in this tent earlier. Shane’s head bobbed on his cock with a delicious suction going as cool fingers pressed into him. In a matter of seconds it felt like, Daryl felt his balls tense. Shoving Shane’s head off his cock, he grunted, “Fuck, I’m ready, I’m ready. If ya don’t do it now it ain’t happening. Jesus fuck.”

Shane grinned brightly above him. “You almost came.”

“Fuck off. Just.. give me a second.” He grunted, thinking of walkers’ rotting bodies and Merle in ladies underwear to try to calm himself down but not much was helping as Shane settled his body over his own, thrusting his cock once over Daryl’s before nestling it between his cheeks. “Like this?!” he grunted again, spreading his legs wider.

Shane took his legs, wrapping them around his waist. “Yeah, why not?”

“Ain’t never, uh… face to face before.” Fuck this was so awkward.

“Don’t want ya to think you’re fucking anyone but me.” With a gentle press, Daryl felt Shane inside, slowly filling him inch by inch and yes, oh yes, this was a feeling he knew, but it was so much better. When he was seated comfortably inside, Shane leaned down, pressing a soft kiss to his lips, whispering, “Tell me when.”

Daryl flexed his sphincter muscle, causing Shane’s head to drop down to his chest and a litany of curses to emit from his mouth. “Ready,” he snorted.

“Fuck, don’t do that.”

“What? This?” He flexed harder this time, making sure to squeeze with his legs a little for added emphasis.

“I swear to God, Dixon. I will blue ball you if you make me blow my load early.” And just for that, Shane thrusted hard, making his lover’s body move two inches up on the blanket.

“Oh fucking hell. You won’t blue ball me. You love being balls deep in my ass,” Daryl grunted back, thrusting back against him.

“Shit, you get mouthy in bed don’t you. Need to shut that mouth up later.” Shane started a hard, pounding rhythm, slamming their hips together as Daryl rolled his hips down, hands clinging at the strong arms wrapped around his shoulders.

“Fuck yeah I get mouthy. Holy shit.” Words jumbled in his head as they moved. His body tensed with each thrust, pulling at Shane to get impossibly closer until they were chest to chest, breathing each other’s humid air and wiping sweat off the other’s forehead. This was the part he was familiar with, but not nearly this close; not this intimate. All of Merle’s friends just bent him over whatever the closest flat surface was. Most didn’t even care if he was all the way prepped so he had started prepping himself before meeting them. But this… Daryl leaned forward, claiming Shane’s mouth with his, losing himself in the ferocity of the kiss. Shane’s hands on his hips yanked him down hard several times before stilling.

Daryl’s head fell back against the blankets, body arching as he let himself go, feeling the hot strings of cum coat his insides as his own streaked across his abdomen. Coming down from his high, he heard through the haze, “Fuck you’re beautiful.”

He felt Shane pull out only to be replaced by something soft wiping at his entrance and around his thighs then up across his stomach and chest. “I should go back,” he mumbled, but Shane was there, wrapping an arm around his waist and pulling him into his chest.

“No. Stay here tonight. I don’t care what anyone says about you comin’ out of my tent in the morning.”

That thought hadn’t crossed Daryl’s mind. Merle would see it. He would think this had been about him. At first, it might have been, but what it had turned into… He wouldn’t let the thought of Merle tarnish that. This time had been different. It was about him, not his dumbass brother. He had wanted Shane, but he couldn’t stay here. He couldn’t let Merle think this had been about him. Merle couldn’t know or he’d be an impossible smug asshole, even moreso than he was now.

Daryl waited until Shane’s breaths had been even for awhile before slinking out of the tent, only half dressed. He knew another pair of eyes would be on him as soon as he stepped out, but he wasn’t as worried about those.

Rick stepped down off the top of the trailer when he saw the zipper of Shane’s tent being pulled down. A million thoughts ran through his head. He was 90% sure he knew exactly what had gone on in that tent, but he wanted to know. Once he saw the moonlight reflecting off the pale skin of Daryl’s bare chest, he knew, stopping him in his tracks.

Daryl saw him. Of course he saw him. He knew exactly where Rick was at all times. This was his role and he was damn good at it. He knew every move to make with someone who was hunting him and he wanted to be caught. Striding confidently over to Rick, standing still between the tents and the trees, Daryl stopped in front of him, dropping his shirt and his boots. No need to pretend at this point and hide his scars anymore. The world knew what he was now.

He nodded at Rick, who nodded back at him. They stood staring at each other for what felt like a lifetime before Daryl just pulled Rick’s shirt, making the other man crash against him. He claimed his mouth as they fell together, Rick throwing his anger and jealousy all into that kiss. His mouth dominated Daryl, claiming him as his own. He could taste Shane on his lips, smell him on his flesh and that kicked something in him into overdrive. With a solid grunt, he pushed them backwards, pressing Daryl up against a tree. Hands immediately went to his belt and pants, dropping both of those, leaving the hunter bare. It only took seconds for him to get his own pants loosened enough to pull his hard cock out, pulling up one of Daryl’s legs and securing it around his waist. It was trickier to align himself with someone that was about his height, but with some twisting, he was able to slide in and immediately knew his suspicions had been right. But no, this was wrong. So wrong. Pulling up Daryl’s other leg, he wrapped them securely around his waist, leaning his back against the tree.

No words were exchanged between them throughout the whole encounter. The intent was clear in Rick’s actions. He was claiming Daryl, fucking into him roughly in the middle of camp against a tree. Quiet grunts escaped his mouth as his hands held Daryl’s ass apart, practically feeling his cock slamming into the tight hole.

Daryl didn’t complain. His own arms were wrapped tight around Rick’s shoulders, hands clasping and tearing at his skin. He wished he could scream because holy fuck, but he knew better. If anyone found them like this it would be over entirely. In a final showing of dominance, Rick licked at Daryl’s sweat slick neck before biting down hard, leaving teeth marks in his wake that he knew would bruise nicely by morning. They both came in a sweaty, sticky embrace, lips and tongues abusing each other as Rick’s shirt was soiled between them.

In an instant it was over. Daryl was sliding down off of Rick’s hips, trying to find and maintain his footing as Rick righted himself, shoving his spent cock back in his pants and shucking his shirt to add to the laundry pile. He was certain that this was something he wanted to wash himself. Or hell, make Lori do it.

Daryl rested against the tree, allowing Rick to help him pull his pants back up. The other man even went and picked up his shirt and boots, handing them back to him. Daryl watched him as he still tried to catch his breath, his legs not quite ready to try to walk yet. He saw it the moment it flashed in Rick’s eyes. Guilt. “Don’t.”

“Daryl, I-”

Daryl lurched forward, pulling Rick against him and kissed him hard. “I said don’t. Just don’t tell my brother. ‘Bout either of you.”

Rick nodded, wrapping his arms around the other man. “I’m still sorry. That was too rough. Shit I’ve never…”

Daryl rolled his eyes, finally able to really pull himself back together. “I ain’t Lori, Rick. I ain’t gonna break. Fuck you think that was too rough? You ain’t shit. Now get back on watch. Try not to fall asleep until T-Dawg comes to relieve you.” He had to admit, it hurt to walk. It wasn’t the roughest night he had ever had, but it was damn close. He wasn’t about to tell Rick that though and give the man something else to worry about.

No.

But Daryl did wonder how Rick was going to handle Shane the next day and his brother was always a variable in any unstable equation. As he made his way back to his tent across the compound, a flash caught his eye. Looking over, he saw Andrea sitting on the picnic bench, eating something out of a tin can. When she saw that he noticed her, she set the can down and stood up, clapping at him silently and motioning in Rick’s direction with her chin.

Fuck.

 

Chapter Fifteen

Daryl stayed on the periphery of the group the next morning, not willing to venture into the main camp after the night before. He was still walking stiffly, feeling like he had been ramrodded and he knew that he pretty much had been. It had been years since he had two men in one night before. Hell, it had honestly been years since he had had sex with a man in general. Merle was grinning wide at him, sticking close to his brother the whole morning. He knew that Merle knew.Fuck.

“How ya feelin’ there, baby brother? Look a little stiff.” He threw a log on their stack for their fire later, turning to eye his brother.

“Fuck off, Merle. Just slept wrong is all.” Daryl tried to busy himself with making new arrows, sitting a little off the log so as not to aggravate his sensitive flesh.

“Naw, that’s not a slept wrong kind of walk. That’s an ‘I got fucked ten ways to Sunday’ kind of walk. Which pig ya fuck last night? I know you wasn’t in the tent for most of the night.”

Yup, he had been caught. “Ain’t like that, Merle.” He tried to put the warning in his voice, but he knew that it wouldn’t do anything.

“Like hell it ain’t. I bet it was Shane. That fucker has been all up on your ass. Gave him a nice black eye for it. Looks like you did good work there baby brother.” Daryl really just wanted to knock the grin off of his face, but when he looked back up, he saw Merle’s grin turned towards the main camp.

Turning to see what he was looking at, Daryl nearly groaned. Shane kept looking over at their camp, cleaning their guns on the hood of a truck. His act of looking at them uninterested was failing miserably.

“Fuck off, Merle. Ya don’t know nothin’. Leave it be.” Daryl went back to making arrows, not willing to have this conversation with his brother, Shane, or Rick for that matter. Thankfully, the latter man was no where in sight. He still wondered what was going to happen between Rick and Shane, especially considering Lori was already pregnant with Shane’s baby. It was a mess he wasn’t really happy about being in.

“I know when my baby brother has been laying down for a pig. It looks like he did a number on your ass. Want me to beat him a little more for ya?” Merle was baiting him now and he wasn’t going to rise to take it.

“Leave him alone. He ain’t your concern. You’re staying as long as I’m here so get over yourself. It ain’t cause I fucked him that you’re here so get that outta your head. I fucked him cause I wanted to.”

Merle howled with laughter, drawing the attention from the members of the main camp. “So ya went and got yourself a little boyfriend. Well then…” He patted his chest, poking his stomach out as if in pride. “Perhaps I should welcome him to the family then.”

Daryl stood up, approaching his brother quickly. “Ya say one word to him about anything and I’ll make sure they leave your ass on the highway for the walkers to eat.” Merle’s eyes widened at his brother’s sudden brazeness. “Now I’m goin’ huntin’. I suggest you come with.”

Andrea eyed Rick from across the camp as she sat on the picnic table, damn close to the spot where she had been last night. She knew that his relationship with his wife was strained, as any relationship would be after finding out that your wife had been fucking your best friend and wound up pregnant. Everyone knew that baby wasn’t Rick’s, but pretended like it was all the same. She thought Rick would go for one of the other ladies in the camp, or at least one of the Greene girls, but apparently he was done with women for the moment. She couldn’t rightfully blame him, though. Daryl was definitely a man of interest even as closed off as he had been. He had that whole mysterious and dangerous charm to him. And honestly, she was surprised that he swung that way, but it was always the ones you’d least suspect.

Rick walked by her, nodding politely. Within minutes, he was back, apparently having grabbed a bottle of water from their supply. He sat next to her on the bench, sighing loudly. “‘Nother day,” he said, taking a drink.

“You seem happier.” She was considering bringing it up… she didn’t want it to come out, especially since Daryl had seen them. She figured that it would come out at some point and it was always best to not catch someone like Rick off guard.

Rick nodded. “Yeah, just got a couple of problems to take care of but I think we’re making headway with the Greene’s on getting them to let us stay here. No problems as of late between us and them. Glenn’s just gotta watch himself with the eldest daughter, but at least he’s found someone.”

Andrea nodded. “Seems like you have too.”

Rick’s whole body stiffened, but his face remained a practiced nonchalance. “My wife and I are all right.”

“Ah huh. Ya know, Rick… When you relieved me from watch, I couldn’t go to sleep right away. I was up last night, sitting right here…”

Rick bowed his head before looking back up, finding his wife and son in the camp, but he was listening quietly.

“I’m not going to say anything to anyone, but he saw me so I thought it only fair that I tell you I was here. It’s not my business, but… I’m happy for you. You know, if you need to talk, I’m here.”

Rick looked at her, his face unreadable as his mind worked over the information. “I appreciate that, especially your silence. It’s not… It’s complicated.”

Andrea snorted. “I bet it is. Ya know, I was a lawyer. I could draw up some rough divorce papers if you want to make it semi-official if you want to go that far.”

“Thanks…,” he sighed again. The conflicted emotions finally showing on his face.

“Ya know, I was going to go walk the perimeter, check the fences to make sure the barbedwire was still in tact. Why don’t you come with me?”

He nodded, standing up. “Yeah, we can do that. Always better to go in pairs anyways.”

They walked for a half an hour in complete silence, occasionally pulling on the barbedwire to check it for inconsistencies and tension. “I’m glad you could pull him out of his shell, you know,” Andrea started. It was the elephant in the field and it was damn near taking up the whole area.

Rick nodded. “Yeah, he was a tough nut to crack. Still working at getting the shell off.”

“Seems like you had him completely de-shelled last night,” she joked, bumping him with her shoulder.

He snorted.

“I had no idea either of you swung that way.”

“Yeah well, it was a surprise to me too. About both of us. Been with Lori ever since I can remember… junior year of high school just about. She’d been my whole world.”

“Yeah, I know what it’s like to have your world turned upside down. I was engaged once. Found him in bed with another woman that he had been seeing on the side. I wanted to chop his dick off, but I just threw his ring at him instead.”

“Probably better for both of you.”

“Yeah… it’s probably hard to still see Shane and Lori around, sleeping in the same tent as her.”

Shane. Shane. Rick shook his head. The image of Daryl going into Shane’s tent the night before was burned into his mind. He wanted to know why. Why him first? Why him at all? What was it about Shane? He couldn’t deny it himself. Hell, he had been with him in the woods only a few days ago and even thought about it since then. The man was like an infestation in your bloodstream. But he had one advantage, Shane had no idea that Daryl had come out to him. He didn’t like the idea of sloppy seconds, but he had made his mark. That bite mark on his neck was undoutedly a dark bruise by now. Rick wasn’t sure that he had consciously intended to mark Daryl. It was a feral instinct, marking his territory.

Andrea was still looking at him as they rounded the final corner of the farm, coming back up on the house and camps. “Every day is a struggle, Andrea. We’re all still trying to figure out how to survive in this world. Sometimes we just do what we need to do to make it another day.”

Shane met them as Daryl and Merle walked into camp with their haul of rabbits and squirrels. It wasn’t much but it was something to put food in their stomachs. Merle didn’t miss how Shane’s brown eyes followed his brother. He could almost feel the thoughts in the former officer’s mind as Daryl just walked right by him. They conversed for a few moments with Carol and Lori, Daryl not being able to catch the latter’s eyes. He knew the look of guilt on his brother’s face. So he had fucked her side piece of ass, so what? He couldn’t add up why Daryl should care. She had her husband back and they could continue to live in their little happy married world as long as they would have it.

“Daryl, a word?” Shane asked, his hands fidgeting with the pistol in his hands.

Daryl nodded, glancing at Merle before going over to him and wandering off away from camp a ways. “You all right? You’re walkin’ a little stiff today. Did I hurt you last night?”

Daryl winced at the amount of concern in Shane’s voice, smacking his hand away as it went to grab his arm. “I’m all right. Ya didn’t do nothin’.”

Shane’s hand came back as he tried to turn away, forcefully pulling him back towards him. “Fuck, where did you get that mark on your neck? Did I do that?”

Daryl snorted. “Nah, it’s nothing, don’t worry about it.”

But Shane was persistent, tugging at Daryl’s arm even as he tried to pull away from his strong grasp. “That’s a bite, man! There are teeth marks! Fuck, Daryl have you been bit?”

“I’m fine, Shane. Jesus, fuck. It’s not a walker bite.” He still tried to squirm out of the other’s hands, only to be pulled into the strong body. He grunted as he relented, allowing Shane to look at the bite up close. He knew Rick had bitten him multiple times last night and he knew at least one was bad. He just didn’t realizehow bad. Shit.

“Then who bit you? Did you get into a fight with Merle? That bastard say something to you? Did he hit you?”

“Oh fuck off. I can handle my brother. Ain’t Merle.” Daryl finally succeeded in shoving him away, righting his clothes and looking back at the camp nervously. Rick stood, looking at a map on the hood of the truck, completely ignorant to this conversation, but Shane followed his eyeline.

Stepping back up into his space, Shane pushed him slightly. “You were with Rick too weren’t you?”

“Ain’t your concern.” Daryl stared hard at him, trying to intimidate him away, but the idea that Shane was similar to his brother and father flicked across his mind once again. This man could do damage to him and Rick and not think twice about it. Hell… Otis.

“It is my concern when you’re fuckin’ someone else behind my back,” he hissed.

“Didn’t realize we were exclusive. Shoulda made that clear last night.”

In a surprise move, Shane stepped back, cracking his jaw before putting his hands on his hips. “All right, fine. Ya wanna play that game, we can play that game. You usin’ me to keep your brother in the group? Usin’ Rick too?”

“Ain’t like that.”

“Then what is it like, Daryl? Because I’m fuckin’ tired of this shit. Between you and…” He swung his hand toward the camp in the general direction of Lori. “I’m tired.”

“Then you shouldn’t play it. My brother and I can be gone in a few hours.”

“You say that shit like you’re actually gonna leave. You gonna leave us to go play man of the wild in the woods with your brother, be my guest. Two less bodies to worry about.” With that, Shane stomped off, directly towards Rick.

Warning bells were sounding in Daryl’s head, bright red sirens going off. Sure enough, he stepped right up to Rick, with a single glance back at Daryl before leaning in, a wicked grin on his face as he whispered something to the other man.

Daryl’s feet were running before the first punch was ever pulled.

 

Chapter Sixteen

Merle stood beside Daryl as he gathered up his supplies, yanking down their tent. “You’re just gonna let them kick you out like that?”

“Ain’t kickin’ us out. We’re leavin’. Ain’t worth it, Merle.”

“Look, Darleena, ain’t your fault that those two pigs got their dick in something sweet and are fightin’ over you.”

Daryl whirled on his brother, poking his finger in his chest. “It is my fault. Fuck, Merle. I didn’t have to…” He sighed, defeated, turning his gaze towards the ground. “I shouldn’t have fucked either of them.”

Merle whistled low. “Aw, now don’t be like that baby brother. I told you that you have a sweet man pussy.”

“Shut the fuck up, Merle. You’re nothin’ but a pain in my ass.” Daryl wiped the back of his hand across his face, trying to get the sweat away from his eyes. Just as he pulled the main support pole from their tent, Rick’s voice behind him caused him to tense.

“Daryl, can I have a word?”

“Well, there Officer Friendly,” Merle started in. “Back for some more?”

Daryl just shook his head at his brother and nodded at Rick, leading him away from their camp with a pointed glare at Merle silently telling him to stay put. “Rick, I know what you’re gonna say and it don’t matter. It ain’t worth it for me to stay.”

Rick’s hands never left his hips as he shifted his stance, looking back towards Merle who was watching them, amused, and back at the camp where it felt like all eyes were on them. “It ain’t worth it for you to leave, Daryl. Shane just-”

“Don’t, Rick. I ain’t comin’ ‘tween you and him. I ain’t Lori.”

Rick snorted, motioning for them to go a little deeper into the woods, away from the prying eyes of the whole camp and sharp ears of Merle. Daryl turned back, noticing that Shane was leaning against his Jeep, arms crossed as he watched them with an eagle eye. He knew what it probably looked like to everyone, like he and Rick were going to go into the woods and get a good-bye fuck in. Well Daryl Dixon wasn’t going to lower his pants for anyone again.

Once they were far enough that they couldn’t see the open field, Rick reached for Daryl, trying to pull him in close, but the other man danced away, smacking his hands down. “Rick, don’t.”

“Daryl.”

“No. I can’t. I told you I ain’t gonna be like Lori.”

“I know you’re not going to end up pregnant with another man’s baby,” Rick grinned.

Daryl snorted. “Ain’t that.”

Rick sighed, placing his hands on his hips as he leaned against a tree. “So you’d rather it be Shane out here in these woods with you?”

“Ain’t sayin’ that either.”

“You ain’t sayin’ a whole bunch-a anything.”

Daryl sighed, silently wishing he hadn’t of left his camp. “Look… I ain’t… you deserve someone that isn’t white trash like I am. Why don’t you-”

Rick advanced quickly, yanking Daryl into him and crashing their lips together to silence his self-deprecating rant. He forced their bodies together, holding onto Daryl’s forearms with a death grip, though still gentler than he had been the night before. Breaking the kiss for air, blue eyes stared into blue eyes, both men looking for understanding. “You’re not white trash, Daryl. Whatever you thought you were, that was the old life. God hit the reset button for us. He’s throwing you a lifeline right now. I suggest you take it. Take me. Unless you really wanna be with an asshole like Shane.”

Daryl smirked, shaking his head slightly before leaning in for another kiss. “Shut up, Officer Friendly.”

Rick’s hands finally let go of Daryl’s arms, wrapping tightly around his waist instead, holding him close as he peppered kisses all over his face. “Now are ya gonna stay, or do I have to beg?”

“Rick!” Lori’s panicked voice echoed on the wind, shaking the trees around them. Rick immediately spun, looking towards the sound of her voice, before turning back to Daryl, worry etched on his face. The men broke apart instantly, both breaking into a heated run back towards camp.

Lori was running around camp, the other women hot on their heels, Carl’s name on their lips. She fell into Rick’s arms as he ran up to her. “I can’t find Carl!” she screeched. “He’s not here! He’s not here!”

Rick looked around frantically, trying to mentally feel out his son, figure out where he could be hiding when his eyes lit on Shane coming out of the RV. He nodded at Rick and Daryl, guns in his hands as he approached them. “My bet is he run out into the woods. Daryl you’re our best tracker. Help us find Carl.” The look in his brown eyes pleading, almost begging him to put their past behind them and help him in this instant.

Of course Daryl would help track Carl. He fucking lost Sophia, he wasn’t about to lose Carl too. That was Rick’s kid and basically Shane’s too. Fuck, they both had a piece of him, he couldn’t just let the child get lost in the woods. Not this time. Grabbing his bow and a bottle of water he nodded, looking back at Rick. “We’ll find him.”

“I’m going with you,” Rick said, checking his weapon at his side and his knife on his other. Glenn stepped up too, next to Shane. Together the four men headed for the woods in the dying light of the day. “We’ll do better if we split up.” Rick looked between the other three faces, holding Daryl’s eyes just a little longer.

“Glenn and I will go to the right, y’all take the left. Hoot like an owl if ya see anything,” Daryl said, hitching his bow a little higher before turning on his heel, followed closely by Glenn.

“Why’d he run, Shane?” Rick asked as they walked deeper, looking for any sign that an upset preteen came through the woods.

“It just came out that his daddy was fucking a redneck behind his and his momma’s back. Why do you think he ran?”

“You were fuckin’ that same redneck,” he spit back.

“Yeah, but at least I didn’t get sloppy seconds.”

“Look, I don’t think this is really about Daryl at all.” Rick stopped walking, placing his hand over the butt of his Python. “I think this is about Lori.”

“Man, fuck Lori. This ain’t about her at all.” Shane whirled on him.

“The hell it isn’t! You’re pissed because she left you when I came walking out of that truck back at the quarry. So now what, Shane? Now what? You got me out here alone. What do you want?”

“Fuck that! I’m pissed because you think you can have every fucking thing! Just once, Rick, just once let me win.”

“You had every cheerleader on the squad in high school!”

“Yeah but you had Lori, the head cheerleader and you knew how bad I wanted her.”

“Yeah as another number on your bedpost. I loved her and now we’re here.”

Shane shook his head, pacing in circles around Rick. “You know I’m a fucking better person than you. I’m a better father than you, a better man than you. A better lover than you. And you know it. Even you couldn’t stop coming back to me!”

“You want Lori now? You can have her. Our marriage… it was in a shambles before the world collapsed. You knew that. We talked about it on patrol.” Rick saw the nerves in Shane unravelling. He saw the other man coming loose and he knew what would happen if he completely frayed.

Around them the woods grew quiet as the sun set. It was a scene befitting a movie in a time not forgotten but longed for. The last rays of sunlight streaming through the trees with the coolness of the air meeting the warm ground, causing steam to raise.

Heat rose in Rick’s bloodstream. So this is how it ends, he thought. By the hand of my best friend over jealousy. “Look, I’m not going to do this with you like this.” Carefully he unsnapped his gun belt, dropping it down to the ground along with his knife at the same time Shane drew his weapon. “I’m not going to argue while both of us are armed. I don’t think we’ll make a wise choice.”

“What choice do I have, Rick? I was trying with Daryl. I thought we were getting something going, something that you finally wouldn’t be a part of. And then you come out of the woods one day telling me that Daryl told you he was attracted to you. And then that mark… This morning I see that on his neck knowing that I didn’t put it there last night.” He stopped talking, continuing his pacing, waving his hands with his loaded weapon. In the silence, Rick watched and analyzed. He tried to determine a set pattern with the movements, trying to see if he could head him off at the pass and disarm him.

“No, Rick. You just take everything from me. Everything I wanted.” Shane’s voiced cracked with emotion, tears starting to slowly roll down his cheeks. He raised his weapon at Rick, pointing it directly at his chest. “It’s time I take something from you.”

“You can have Lori but a person’s heart isn’t something to be given. It’s something to be earned. Daryl came out to me, man. I don’t know what it is you have started but I will back off of him, give him room to decide. If he wants you then take him man.” Rick tried to talk him down, using every technique he learned at the police academy to negotiate.

“Naw, see that ain’t how this works. He’s dirty now. You’ve tainted him. He’ll never be the same.” Shane stepped closer with his gun almost inches from Rick’s chest. “But if you’re out of the picture, then both Daryl and Lori will be free. See I got it all planned out.”

“They’re going to notice if I don’t come back with you, Shane.”

“I’ll tell them you got bit. I’m sure by the time we come out to find your body in the morning something will have eaten from you. It will hold up. I’ll tell them I had to put you down. It was humane. I didn’t want you to turn. It will work.”

“Like hell it will.”

“Not like they’ll be able to do anything about it.”

Rick knows that Daryl would kill Shane if he weren’t to come back tonight. He needed to get the other man to calm down, breathe, think things through rather than react on emotion. “We need to be looking for Carl, not talk about our personal issues. We can work this out later.”

“Yeah now you care about Carl.”

“Hey, Carl is my son and I will always care about him. I don’t care who I love in any adult relationship, I will always love my son.” Rick stepped forward, into the muzzle of Shane’s gun. “If you don’t believe me, then go ahead and shoot me.”

Shane’s split second hesitancy was enough time for Rick to knock Shane down to the ground, effectively knocking the gun out of his hands, but also causing a misfire, the sound echoing in the surrounding woods. The gun spun out on the leaves, out of their reach. Rick wanted to end it here in a submission hold, but he couldn’t get the other man to submit, fighting for dominance from the ground.

Shane’s knife reflected in the few last rays of sunlight behind them. In mere seconds the decision for survival was made, unsheathing the knife and lodging it quickly in between Shane’s ribs. He lost the fight for dominance in the process, but the amount of pain stopped Shane’s fight all together. “You made me do this,” Rick whispered into his face, his voice rising as he repeated it over and over again. “You made me do this; you made me do this.” Tears streamed down his cheeks as he took out the knife, only to plunge it in one more time.

Shane’s eyes burned holes into his. The anger in them dissipating as he held onto his side, feeling the blood seeping out into the leaves. Rick just laid on top of him, holding him as he lay dying, crying as he felt the other man’s last breaths leave him.

This man had been his best friend, lover at one time, confidant all the time. And now, love and sex broke them apart. The irony wasn’t lost on him, but he was not ready to face it. His best friend lay dead beneath him, Daryl wanted to leave the group, and now his son was lost in the woods.

All Rick could sit and do was sit on the fallen leaves and cry.

 

Chapter Seventeen

“Dad?” Carl stepped out from behind the trees, moonlight taking over the night sky.

Rick sat on the ground, Shane’s head in his lap. He had sat and prayed to a God he wasn’t sure he believed in anymore. If there was a God, why would he let the world go to such shit? Why would he take Shane’s mind from him and twist it like he did? Was He really hitting the restart button like he told Daryl? Why would God make him take his best friend’s life in self defense?

His heart bled for this man. He wished he could change it. Even if he could just rewind time. Give him another hour, even fifteen minutes. Maybe he could have done something different. Maybe he could have saved his friend’s life.

Now, he had his son. He wasn’t lost in the woods anymore. He was right here, looking at him, horror in his eyes as he watched Rick stand up from the ground, coming towards him slowly, hands out stretched. “Carl, it ain’t… it’s not what you think,” he stammered.

“Dad, what happened to Shane?” His voice took on a high pitched, almost panicked tone as he rushed forward, Rick catching him in his arms.

Bending down to be on eye-level with his son, he looked him over carefully, checking to make sure he wasn’t hurt or bit before answering his question. “Your mom said you ran away. So we went looking for you, Shane, Daryl, Glenn and I. Daryl and Glenn went one way, Shane and I another.”

“Why’s he… did he get bit?” Tears started to cascade down Carl’s cheeks as he tried to get away from his father over to Shane’s body but Rick held on tight.

“No… he didn’t get bit.” Rick sighed, checking his own emotions, trying to not let his own tears start falling again, but his face betrayed him. “Why don’t we get you back to your mom? I bet Glenn and Daryl are wondering where we are. I’m so glad you found me.” Rick held his son tight to his chest, enjoying the warmth of his body and the beat of his heart against his own. His flesh and blood, his child; at least he still had this. Carl held just as tightly to him, hands clutching at the back of his shoulders as he sobbed quietly, eyes never leaving the corpse of his second father figure. He watched long enough to see the first twitch and question it.

At the second twitch, he gasped, wondering if what he saw was real. Rick just squeezed him tighter, whispering to him that everything was going to be all right even though they both knew that now everything was royally fucked. Carl pushed at his father’s shoulders, stepping back from him as he pulled his gun out. Rick’s face went from pained to anguished in an instant. “Son, please. It ain’t like that… I didn’t mean to… It wasn’t my fault…,” he pleaded. Rick thought this would be the most ironic ending in his life story. After having just cheated on his wife with a man, murdering his best friend for sleeping with both his wife and the same man and sleeping with the same best friend, his son now kills him in the woods to leave him for zombie chow.

The shot echoed in the night, deafening Rick’s ears as it flew by, landing square in the middle of Shane’s forehead as he stood up from the ground behind them. Rick stood and turned just in time to see Shane fall back down, dead eyes open to the world.

“Carl?”

“He was going to eat you, Dad. I had to,” Carl dropped the weapon down at his side. Rick took it, disarming it and putting it back in the holster on his son’s hip.

“No, you did what you had to do. I did what I had to do. This…,” he gestured all around them. “This world is unforgiving now. Old rules don’t apply anymore. Let’s go on back to camp.”

With an arm wrapped around his son’s shoulders, they walked together back towards camp, both completely unaware of the scene less than 100 yards behind them.


Daryl paced around his old campsite, tent and supplies all thrown in the back of a car Merle had snatched from the road. His motorcycle was geared up for departure as well, but he couldn’t leave yet. He and Glenn had come up empty and wandered back into the main camp, figuring Shane and Rick would wind up there if they found Carl or if they hadn’t. What Daryl hadn’t been expecting was a weepy, angry Lori all up in his face about how this was his fault. He was the reason why Shane and Rick were fighting. He was the reason why Carl ran away. Daryl just shook his head at her and walked away but his brother wasn’t nearly as polite.

“Now there, Missy, ain’t my brother’s fault that the same two men that you were fuckin’ went off and decided that he looked mighty fine too.” Merle spit at her feet, making sure to get nice and close to her. “Now if’n you want to make it a fair trade, I’d be happy to roll with you-” Daryl wasn’t surprised by the loud smack that resonated, effectively cutting him off. “Well I guess that’s a no, huh?”

“You and your brother are nothing but pieces of shit that have infected this camp. We will be better off without you here.”

“Now, from what I hear, my brother nearly lost his life looking for a little girl. Then after being called every name under the sun by you and some other members of his camp, he went out in the woods lookin’ for your boy. You best watch what you say about my brother. He’s a damn sight better man than I am and I ain’t below hittin’ a woman.”

“Merle!” Daryl hollered, trying to yank his brother out of yet another situation he shouldn’t be in, but the sight of Merle actually standing up for him kinda made it a little better.

With a small grumble, Merle started walking back over towards Daryl leaning against his bike, waiting for any kind of sign of one of their three lost souls. “Well I’ll be damned,” Merle whistled, staring at the tree line.

Daryl turned just in time to see Rick and Carl emerge, the moonlight throwing shadows on their faces. Silently, Daryl wondered what happened to Shane, but his heart already knew. He knew when he left them alone together in the woods that one of them wouldn’t be coming back that night. It was a sickening feeling. Shane had been so kind and caring and he wanted to believe it. He wanted to think it wasn’t just a game, a charade to get into Daryl’s good graces just to get into his pants. Then last night… it was just so surreal. But this morning it all spiraled out of control and he knew it was a matter of time. Shane had always been at the frayed edges of his sanity.

Now he questioned Rick’s sanity.

Lori ran past him, taking Carl into her arms and checking him over before clutching him to her chest tightly. Rick sought him out, catching his eyes and nodding. Daryl saw the pain in the bloodshot blues and immediately knew. Rick had killed Shane in cold blood. Shuddering, he looked to Merle. “All right.”

“What? One of your boyfriends just comes sauntering out of the woods minus one and you’re going to just get on my bike and ride away? Like hell.” Merle pulled out a cigarette, lighting it and sitting on a log. “We got time.”

Daryl sighed, looking between Merle and Rick as Lori escorted Carl back to their camp, hearing him telling her that he didn’t run away, he just went for a walk as she scolded him for disappearing. Rick walked slowly behind them, used to his wife ignoring him at this point. He stopped in front of Daryl, hands in his pockets, eyes tired and bloodshot. “I’m sorry,” was all Rick said.

Daryl just shrugged. “Figured somethin’ would happen out there. He wasn’t holdin’ together too well.”

“He tried… It was self defense.” Rick’s shoulders slumped. Daryl wanted to pull him into his body, but he knew all eyes would be on them and it wasn’t the time.

“Rick…” Andrea’s voice rang out in warning from behind them. Looking over towards her, she pointed back the other way.

Coming from the forest where Rick and Carl had just emerged, walkers straggled out. First a few, then tens, and more shadows moved slowly behind them. “Holy fuck,” breathed Daryl.

“Walkers! Holy shit, walkers!” Rick screamed. “Get your weapons!”

Everyone armed themselves, rallying the Greenes and attempting to fight for their survival. Daryl climbed on his motorcycle; Glenn and Maggie took to the Sante Fe; others took to their cars, shooting at the massive herd from their windows. Rick lured about 30 of them into the barn, lighting it on fire, condemning them to their second death, before being rescued by Jimmy in the RV. Only seconds later, the RV was overrun, Jimmy’s screams echoing in the night, calling over more of the herd. T-Dawg and Andrea drove their pickup over, giving Rick enough time to jump into the bed before speeding off, getting away from the immediate danger.

The roar of Daryl’s motorcycle circled the farm until he couldn’t in all reality survive another minute without being overrun. Grabbing Carol as she ran by, he took off down the dirt road, back to the highway, his brother hot on his trail in the pickup truck with all of their previously packed supplies. Slowly, each car gave up on the farm, one by one taking off on the dirt road, trying to find their way out of the middle of a giant dinner call.

Panic roared through all of the them, unable to see anyone else in front of or behind them. Had the others gotten out? Were they still there fighting? Should they go back and see? Maggie broke down behind the wheel, Glenn needing to take over, trying to calm his girlfriend that her father, sister, and friends made it out somehow without fully believing it.

Rick, with Carl and Hershel panicked inwardly, but showed as much composure as he could on the outside. Daryl had to have made it; Lori had to have made it. They all had to have made it. Their group was made up of nothing but fighters. They could do this. They would be here. Rick brought the truck to the place where they were last on the highway, having full faith that the others would find themselves here, somehow, some way.

It was an hour. An hour of fighting, desperate praying, and heated discussions with Hershel before he heard that roar. Never in his life had he been so happy to hear a motorcycle. The noise was ridiculous in this world, surely drawing walkers their way, but it also met that Daryl was alive. Daryl was alive and had found them. Rick ran towards him, Carol climbing off the back of the back. The line of cars behind them holding his extended family, minus one. Shane’s body was left behind in the madness. His body no doubt devoured by this point. Rick wished he could have given his friend a burial, but given the series of events, it was not possible.

But he was very thankful that everyone was here. Lori ran out of the car, hugging Carl to her. Hershel held his girls, Glenn standing awkwardly to the side but happy that everyone was safe nonetheless. T-Dawg nodded at him as Carol hugged him.

Rick decided it was pointless to hide it. Daryl and he had made it out. He closed the distance between them quickly, breaking up the Dixon brothers conversation as he pulled Daryl into him, kissing him passionately, throwing all pretenses to the wind. Some people hooted and hollered at them. Lori held Carl to her chest, turning her back on them. Rick was certain he’d hear about this later, but he didn’t care. Right now, he had Daryl in his arms, his son was safe. His friends and family were safe. They would be ok. They had to be okay.

After all, they were all they had left.

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