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It’d been almost six months since he and Paul called it quits.

At the time, he’d been spitting – mad enough to watch Paul stalk out gates of Alexandria and not give a damn. Honestly, now, he wasn’t even sure what they’d been arguin’ about in the first place, only that he’d rather chew off his own damn tongue than be the one t’apologize.

Eventually, the silence between them had moved past stubborn pride and into the sort of stalemate where it just seemed impossible to bridge it. So. Daryl shoved all the thoughts of their brief relationship to the very back of his mind, buried it nice and good, beneath the other thoughts his mind had no business touching (the sound of Paul’s laugh when he thought Daryl had said something funny, that glint in his eye when he started spouting that philosophical bullshit – how he’d make sure to clock Daryl’s reaction, the way he felt pressed against him after Paul came back from a run, too tired to even take his damn boots off).

And he went on.

Sure, he saw him, sometimes. They mighta had more than a couple communities now, but the group of survivors still wasn’t staggering. There was still Maggie to see at Hilltop, the supply run frequent between the two communities. So, yeah, he saw him. He didn’t look long, eyes jack rabbiting off him like they’d catch on fire if he landed on him for more than two seconds, but he saw enough.

Saw him with Kal, shoulders pressed together as they walked back to the RV to grab more produce to unload.

Saw him with Al – one of them Saviors they hadn’t put down after the War, smirking at him with that dumb, stupid smirk he had, while said something that was no doubt sarcastic, Daryl too far away to make it out.

Then, once with some blond guy from The Kingdom, his hand lingering a few seconds too long on the man’s arm.

Wasn’t no reason for him to be jealous, though that didn’t stop the feeling from burnin’ in the pit of his stomach, hot and welling. He ignored it though, cos eventually it’d have to go away right? He and Paul had their shot and it’d blown up in their goddamn faces so there wasn’t no point moping about it.

It’d go away.

Daryl didn’t go on a whole lotta scavengin’ missions no more – his talents were more served toward huntin’ – but Gracie was sick (a few sniffles, nothin’ major, but the poor thing was miserable) and Aaron wanted to stay back with her.

He didn’t begrudge him that, least not until the car from the Hilltop pulled up t’the gates and he realized who was in the fuckin’ driving seat.

Paul.

Daryl felt like someone had jabbed a rusty fork into his chest, though it was less painful than it was annoying and he had to take a breath to keep from stomping past the car and out into the woods.

For his part, Paul looked just as surprised to see him stalking toward the car, big ol’ eyes all wide.

“I thought Aaron was –“ he started, as Daryl yanked the back door open and tossed his crossbow inside, slamming it shut with a little more force than necessary.

“He’s busy,” Daryl said shortly, and that seemed to answer that.

He climbed into the passenger seat, slouching down until his knees could touch the dashboard, staring through the windshield.

“Great.” Daryl didn’t look over but he could hear how sharp the word was could only imagine what Paul’s face looked like now.

“Look – Daryl,” Paul started and Daryl could see him turning to face him from the corner of his eye. He stuck the side of his thumb in his mouth, chewed at it a bit, refusing to look over.

“Best get goin’, got lotta ground t’cover,” he said, and his tone, at least, wasn’t any more abrasive than usual. He wasn’t mad. He wasn’t. There was no reason t’be. They were over and done and he was willin’ to behave like an adult so long as Paul was.

There was silence for a beat or two, and then the car was backing up, turning around, and heading back down the road. Daryl stared at the scenery, which was a whole lotta nothin’, empty pavement disappearin’ beneath the car, the exact same as all the other empty pavement in front of it.

If he looked (and he wasn’t) he could see Paul’s hand on the wheel, grip sure, and he didn’t know why he wasn’t wearin’ his gloves. Probably had them in his pockets or something. Anyway, he didn’t give a shit.

Eventually, Paul asked him to get the map out of the glove box and Daryl did so without comment. They were just gonna hit a few stores about fifty miles away. Somebody from another community had mentioned going to the strip mall before the world went to shit, said it was remote enough that it might still have a few things left. At the very least, there’d been a veterinarian’s clinic there and some of the drugs could be used for humans, if needed.

Daryl pointed it out on the map, keeping his eyes fixed on the map and nowhere else, and the miles piled on. By the time they made it to the strip, Daryl was fighting the urge to open the door and chuck himself out, just to get away from the silence that was only broken when he grunted out a direction.

Wasn’t like they’d had long-drawn out conversations on car rides that often when they were…. before. Most of the times it was spent in companionable silence, classic rock flickering from the speakers (Paul knew all the words to every song, every single goddamn one). Once, Paul had held his hand over the center console.

That all didn’t mean shit.

After too many more miles, Paul pulled into the parking lot – half deserted, the cars left near rusted out and empty – and drove the car right up against the curb. The line of shops had dusty windows, but none of them were broken.

A good sign.

Daryl got out, retrieved his crossbow from the back and slung it over his shoulder. “Work our way down the line?” Daryl asked, gruffly, squinting against the afternoon sun as he looked over the car at Paul.

He wanted to pick a shop and clear it on his own, but he wasn’t planning on dying on this trip just to steer clear of Paul. He could handle himself with a few walkers just fine, but if there were more than that cooped up in one of these places he’d be shit out of luck.

“Okay,” Paul said, pulling his leather gloves out of his pocket and putting them on.

Daryl headed toward the nearest storefront and slipped his bowie knife from his pocket, used the grip to knock a few solid times against the glass.

And then he waited. He leaned back against the glass, gaze slipping over Paul and away.

One minute, then two, and there wasn’t so much as a peep. Daryl gave another knock – but before he’d finished Paul was moving past toward the door, giving it a yank. It was locked.

That’d never stopped Paul before and Daryl watched, despite himself, as Paul picked the lock in a handful of seconds.

The whole place was clear, and they managed a pretty decent haul from it – mostly self-care supplies like shampoos and soaps, but there were also cotton balls and antiseptic, and make up, though Daryl didn’t know why anyone gave a shit about that anymore.

The rest of the stores went much the same way – despite well, everything, he and Paul still made a decent team, clearing the buildings without much need for conversation – but they weren’t ignoring each other. At least, not in relation to clearing the buildings – hand signals and looks conveying more than words.

The car was almost full by the time they were done, with just the vet clinic left to hit.

That one was locked too, but Paul got in there as easy as the rest and Daryl eased in behind him. It was just a small shop, the waiting room with two exam clinics behind the counter in the back, a hallway leading to the recovery area and a store room Daryl was bettin’ they kept all the medical supplies.

“Jesus,” Daryl said, and he could see the flinch run through Paul’s shoulders – the name felt weird comin’ out of his mouth anyway, but he couldn’t take it back.

“I’ll go first,” he said, lifting his crossbow slightly.

Better he take anything out with a bolt than let Paul get handsy with them knives of his.

Paul eyed him for a long moment before he sighed and made an exaggerated ‘go ahead’ sweeping motion with his arm. Daryl rolled his eyes, headed down the hallway.

As soon as he opened the door the smell hit him and he had to take a minute, head turning against his shoulder. It was old and faded, but the room smelled like death and Daryl could see the outlines of bones and fur in the cages, gleaming white in the dimness. There was somebody – somebody human. Their decayed corpse was slumped over on the ground, near an open cage, one skeletal hand resting inside. Daryl aimed, shot off an arrow, went in to retrieve it. Then he came out, blocking Paul’s big blue eyes as he strained to see over his shoulder.

“Nothin’ there,” he said to Paul’s questioning look.

“Daryl I’m not some sensitive –“

Daryl huffed an explosive sigh, glared at him. “Go ahead and look if you want, Jesus Christ, ain’t nothin’ but a bunch of animal corpses.”

He could see the way Paul’s lips went white, beneath his beard, the way he’d sometimes do when he wanted to stay calm but was about two seconds away from making some comment that would make Daryl flip his lid.

Daryl pushed past him to storeroom, which Paul had gotten open while he’d been busy. It was lined with pill bottles, sterile supplies, the whole nine yards.

Fucking jack pot.

He shrugged his bag off his shoulder, started putting stuff in, ignoring Paul when started to do the same.

It was two minutes of golden silence, then Paul had to go and open his trap.

“So we never did talk about….us. About what happened.”

Daryl grunted, enough to say that he didn’t plan on starting today.

“It’s been what – six months?”

Daryl shrugged. “Ain’t been keepin’ track,” he said, though that was bullshit. He wasn’t countin’ days or anything pathetic like that, but he had a rough idea. He knew.

“Look,” Paul said, stepping right up in his space, trapping him toward the back corner. The only light was some weak tendrils filtering in from a grimy window on the other wall. Daryl could still see him though, see the look on his face. That we’re going to have this conversation and there’s nothing you can do about it set to his jaw. “I’ve given you space. I’ve given you plenty of time. You can at least talk to me.”

“Ain’t got a lot to talk about,” he said, trying to reach around him to shove some sterile gauze in his bag.

Paul grabbed his arm at the elbow, ignored the warning look that flashed in Daryl’s eyes.

“Daryl. We were good. We had one fight and that was it. You were gone.”

He could feel his face getting hot. He fucking hated talking about this shit.

“Didn’t go nowhere,” he bit out.

Paul looked exasperated. “I tried to talk to you –“ he said, and Daryl opened his mouth to protest because he’d never come to him. “No – I did – you were always out when I came over, or I’d see you out and about and you’d be gone before I could get to you.”

Daryl frowned – wasn’t how he remembered it. Sure, he’d been huntin’ more and more since they’d split, but that was only because it helped him blow off steam. And they needed it, with the communities growing like they were. And he’d only ever left when he saw Paul because he’d been all over those other guys.

“You seemed plenty occupied enough,” Daryl bit up, then immediately wished he could swallow his words. He wasn’t gonna get into this, it didn’t matter.

“Occu – Daryl, come on.” Paul said, those big blue eyes of his wide and disbelieving.

“What?” Daryl said, chin tilting defiantly as he eyed him. “Saw you with Kal, whats his face from The Kingdom.” He left off the Savior because that was a can of worms best left unopened.

“Daryl that’s – I went two months before I figured out that that was it. The end, of us. Because you wouldn’t talk to me. I took the hint.”

“Y’didn’t try so hard, did ya?” Daryl asked, feelin’ cornered and caged. “Bet ya just couldn’t wat t’get done with me so ya could try them on, huh?” he asked, feeling cruel and unable to stop it.

Paul went white.

“Shut the fuck up, Daryl,” he said, voice unsteady and Daryl blinked at the glossy sheen to his eyes. “Yeah, alright, I kissed them, okay? I kissed Kal and I kissed Al and I kissed Daniel. I did, but I was only ever imagining that they were you!”

He felt like he’d been slapped, head jerking as the words echoed round his head. Paul had let go of his arm, looking shamefaced and sad. Daryl’s chest gave a violent, brutal ache, his throat tightening until he was afraid he would choke.

Paul turned to walk away and Daryl reached out, quick as a snake and yanked him back, shoving him against the shelf as he kissed him. It wasn’t sweet, or nice, it was teeth and pressure and making up for every single day they hadn’t been able to do this.

“Like that?” he panted, mouth burning, nose aching where it mashed up against Paul’s face. “That what you were imagining?” he rasped, but it came out all vulnerable like, less a flirty question than an honest, raw plea for an answer.

“Yeah,” came Paul’s breathless reply, forehead pressed against his. “Daryl I’m –“ he started, and Daryl couldn’t stand to hear Paul’s voice sound like that anymore, so he kissed him, and he kissed him.

And he kissed him some more.

Chapter Text

Daryl doesn’t know what he did to piss Rick off, but it must have been something really fuckin’ awful.

He’d clapped a hand to Daryl’s shoulder as he went on and on about sharing skill sets and expanding horizons and all this bullshit, honestly, as soon as Rick had said he’d be teaching Jesus how to trap he’d stopped listening.

He doesn’t have anything against the prick, not really. Just that he runs his mouth a lot and he’s wily, and oh, yeah, he threw Daryl against a damn truck.

It’s been a while, but Daryl’s never really liked the feeling of getting his ass handed to him.

Or maybe it’s because that day’s been stuck on replay every night, except sometimes it’s not the truck he’s being slammed against.

It’s something he doesn’t think about in the light of day.

He’s definitely not trying to see the outline of Jesus’ biceps beneath that stupid leather duster he insists on wearing, even though it’s fucking summer and hotter than Satan’s asshole, as they tramp through the woods toward the snares Daryl’d set up the day before.

And he’s not thinking about how Jesus had thrown him against that truck like a damn rag doll. Effortlessly.

Definitely not.

“You do this often?”

Daryl nearly trips over a perfectly visible branch, eyes narrowing in Jesus’ direction – he’d managed to keep his mouth shut during the twenty-minute walk out here, but apparently holding out for the entire time was too damn much to ask.

“Hunt,” Jesus clarifies when Daryl doesn’t do much more than stare at him.

“Guess,” Daryl grunts back, because he doesn’t know what Jesus would consider a lot. He’s out most every day, or every other if there’s something going on around Alexandria (though Daryl was pretty sure he could have skipped helping Aaron and Eric coax a hen from under their porch after the coop got busted into by a raccoon).

“You guess you do or you want me to guess?” Jesus asks, and Daryl can hear the smirk in his voice, so he doesn’t reply aside from an annoyed huff. And when he moves aside a branch to pass by, he lets it go without looking and if it hits Jesus with a resounding thwack then that’s just a very satisfying coincidence.

Finally (finally!) they make it to the snares – one of which has a limp rabbit and the other empty.

He takes the rabbit out, looping a string around its neck he’d brought to tie it to his belt, and then beckons Jesus over to show him how to reset the snare.

Jesus manages it pretty quick, which isn’t a surprise since all he has t’do is set it back on the trigger mechanism and disturb some leaves around the noose.

No, that goes just fine.

Showin’ Jesus how to make his own snare has him wanting to put his head through a tree trunk (his or Jesus’ he’s not actually sure) in about five minutes.

“Jesus christ,” Daryl snipes, glaring at him. “It really ain’t that complicated,” he growls, bending over Jesus’ shoulder so he could grab the mangled noose from his hand. Only, Jesus takes that moment to half turn where he’s crouched on the ground, forcing Daryl to either tip head over ass or grab onto Jesus’ shoulder for support.

Leather crinkles beneath his fingertips.

“It’s not,” Jesus says, sea-greenblue-whatever-the-fuck-they-are eyes glinting playfully. “Just wanted to get you over here.”

Daryl stares at him, feels like his heart has suddenly put on a damn pair of running shoes and went sprinting.

“I’ve seen you watching me,” Jesus says, like that’s a normal thing to say, like he doesn’t mind.

Daryl licks his lower lip; watches Jesus mirror the movement and fuck. Fuck.

Daryl’s fingers clench, and he tugs, a little too hard, and Jesus topples over, spread out on his back, stupid beanie toppling off his stupid head.

He ends up lookin’ a lot like when he and Rick had finally subdued him after getting their asses kicked, propped up on his elbows with his duster open just enough to get a tantalizing view of the pale skin of his arms.

Daryl growls, forgets every single reason why he shouldn’t do what he’s about to do and fists a hand in that leather duster and hauls him up for a kiss that’s more teeth than entirely necessary, at least until Jesus manages to get his tongue involved. One of Jesus’ hands curls into the hair at the nape of his neck.

Daryl melts at that, distracted enough so that Jesus can do some weirdass ninja move and topple him over, straddling him with a cocky little smirk that does things to him it has absolutely no right to do.

“Just so you know,” he says, knees clamped around Daryl’s sides like Daryl might try to impersonate one of those bucking bulls. “I’ve been watching you too.”

“Well ya can quit watchin’ now,” Daryl growls, impatient, sliding a hand around the nape of Jesus’ neck and tugging, grip gentle, but pressure firm, until Jesus laughs and lets himself be tugged down, making Daryl forget all about the damn snares.

---

“Yeah, he’s useless,” Daryl tells Rick later, after he’s left Jesus at the gate and picked all the leaves out of his hair. “Gonna have to take him out a few more times, see if he can get the hang of it.”

Rick nods and mhms, and Daryl turns to go find his knife so he can gut the rabbit.

“Hey, Daryl,” Rick says, and Daryl turns back to him, looks at him expectantly.

“Got a little somethin’,” he says, gesturing toward the curve of his own jaw, blue eyes damn near dancing even as he looks relatively straight faced.

Daryl reaches up reflexively, and immediately turns about seven shades of red, fingers pressing against the hickey Jesus had left like he could make it disappear.

Chapter Text

Life was settling into a sort of normalcy after the war ended. Or at least, as normal as it could get and still be the apocalypse. There were still runs to go on, supplies to collect, and communication between the communities was doubly important now that they had the opportunity for unrestricted trade.

Jesus was happy to help, but that didn't keep him from being bone-tired when he got back from a two-day run, managing only the most perfunctory of polite small talk with the people who helped him empty the car he'd taken before he was cutting through backyards and between houses to get to his own.

Well. It wasn't so much his as it was Daryl's but he stayed there whenever he visited. They'd talked about picking one place permanently, or at least talked about talking about it, but as of yet that hadn't made any headway.

Things were still a little too new for that - their relationship not defined so much in words as it was actions.

That was fine, Jesus could definitely live with that, but it meant that any permanent plans would just have to wait until they'd settled into it.

Right now, though, all he wanted to do was take off his boots and crawl into the bed he sometimes convinced Daryl to share with him (how Daryl could exist on the amount of sleep he got truly baffled him - surprisingly enough, considering Jesus himself tended to be both a morning person and night owl) and sleep for at least twenty-four hours.

He made his way up the porch steps, stripping off his leather gloves and jacket, only to pause when a familiar voice drifted through the screen door.

"She's stronger than she looks, isn't she?"

The response was a sound Jesus had heard, fleetingly, and would do quite almost anything to hear more often - the low, amused laugh of Daryl Dixon.

He couldn't stop himself from opening the door and creeping inside, padding near silently down the hall until he reached the living room and stopped dead. His stomach did a slow flip, warmth filling his chest in a wave that nearly prompted him to put a hand to his heart.

It took a lot to surprise him these days, but seeing the normally surly hunter laying in the middle of the floor with a chubby nine-month-old sitting on his chest, tugging his hand toward her mouth to gnaw on it, left him staggered.

"Hey, Jesus."

Jesus nearly jumped, gaze flicking toward Aaron to give him a warm smile, murmuring a hello back, before looking to Daryl and the baby. Both of whom were now staring at him, the baby with wide, startled eyes and Daryl with the faintest hint of a smile, his finger still trapped between her gums.

"Hey," Daryl said, voice all low, a warmth evening out the edges of it. "Good run?"

Jesus felt like his brain might have turned to mush and started leaking out his ears. "Yeah, it was...good. Got a lot of...stuff." Words didn't seem to want to come out right, and he could tell Daryl was amused, a little tilt to the corner of his mouth, those blue eyes sparking.

"You haven't met Gracie properly yet, have ya?" Daryl asked, steadying the little girl as he sat up and got to his feet.

Jesus shook his head.

"Gracie, this is Paul," Daryl said, coming over to him, the chubby infant snug against his chest "Everyone calls him Jesus, but between you 'n me, I think he's better than ol' JC," he said, lowering his voice, like he was telling her some secret.

For a moment, Jesus wondered if he'd maybe hit his head on the way back. If he was seeing things.

Daryl Dixon, good with kids. Not that Jesus didn''t know how soft that heart of his was, but for some reason it's just not something he expected to see.

He liked it though. He really, really did.

"Hello, Gracie," he said, using that voice that kids seem to like - he wouldn't say he's good with kids, per se, but he liked them and most of them around Hilltop seemed to find him plenty amusing.

Gracie, however, looked at him with her big, blue eyes, then buried her face against Daryl's shoulder with a wail.

Jesus jumped, glancing guiltily toward Aaron.

"It's okay," the other man said. "It's the beard."

Jesus wasn't sure how Aaron knew that - if he had some sort of sixth sense as Gracie's parent or if he was just guessing, but it seemed about as good an explanation as any.

"Oh - I can go if it scares her that much it's - " Jesus offered, gaze moving toward the stairs, where a nice, comfortable bed awaits.

"Shhh, it's alright Gracie," Daryl's voice soothed, and Jesus stopped midsentence to stare at him. "That beard ain't nothin', see?" he said, and he waited until the little girl had lifted her head from his shoulder to reach out and tug on Jesus' beard. It wasn't enough to hurt, though he hadn't quite been expecting it, but the protest died on his tongue when the crying stopped abruptly.

Gracie eyed him cautiously, eyes wet, before she leaned toward him. Daryl, of course, helped her out, bringing her within striking distance and soon enough the baby had a hand full of beard, tugging so enthusiastically that his eyes watered.

"Thanks, Daryl," Jesus managed, though he couldn't help a twitch of a smile.

Chapter Text

“Jesus!” The yells coming from the gate had Paul’s head snapping up and he was running toward them before he’d realized he was even moving. When his moniker turned toward cries of ‘Paul’ he ran faster, tearing across Hilltop’s grounds, pulling up short at the gates. They were open and the road was empty. At first, Paul couldn’t figure out what it was that had got everyone yelling, couldn’t figure out why it’d been his name. And then he saw it – saw him. Leaning up against the wall like he couldn’t go any further, Harlan and a few others clustered around him.

But Paul could see the vest, the crossbow in the gaps, and he was moving forward, people parting in front of him like water.

“Daryl…” he breathed, staring in uncomprehending horror.

There was so much….blood. It should have been something you got used to, after so many years where you couldn’t go a day without seeing it, but the sight of it, the smellwas enough to turn his stomach. His legs kept moving even though he didn’t want to, bringing him closer and closer until he was up next to Carson.

“Daryl,” he said again, voice quiet, wrecked, knees bringing him down toward the ground without his consent. He managed to stay out of Carson’s way, but only just, one of his hands reaching out to touch Daryl’s leg, to hold onto something. “Can you cut it off?” he said, gaze still fixed to Daryl, question directed at Carson, near pleading. “It’s not too close – he’ll be okay –“

“’s too late…”

Paul jerked in surprise, crowding in closer as Daryl’s eyes opened, blue depths unfocused and hazy, struggling to find him. “Hey, hey,” he said softly, a hand coming up to rest on his uninjured arm, nearly flinching at the heat that radiated off him. It was like he’d put his hand straight on an open flame. He swallowed, terror twisting in his gut. “Don’t say that, we can –“ he started, and Daryl grimaced, gaze finally sliding toward him.

“Said it’s too late, Paul,” he said, voice sounding like he’d chain-smoked his way through a dozen packs of cigarettes. “Been walkin’ –“ he coughed, crimson staining his lips. “Been walkin’ all night.” He wheezed, and Paul made a shushing sound, both because he didn’t want to hear what he was saying and because he could tell it was hurting him.

“Paul…” He finally tore his gaze away to look at Carson, and he could see the pity in the other man’s eyes. It made his stomach churn.

“He’s not…” he started, his throat clicking as he failed to finish the sentence.

“We need to get him inside,” Carson said. The he doesn’t have much longer went unsaid, but Paul could hear it like it’d been shouted.

The next half hour was a blur – people coming round with a cart, loading Daryl up. Paul held his hand through all of it, fingers clutching his like a vise, every grunt of pain or stifled whimper sending a flare of hurt straight to his gut. When they finally got him settled, Paul didn’t know what to do. Everyone cleared out – and that’s when Paul knew there wasn’t anything he could do.

“I ain’t never…” Daryl rasped, a hand reaching out blindly, feeling along til he could grasp at Paul’s hand. Paul clutched it back hard, swallowed around a hard noise in his throat.

“It’s okay Daryl, you don’t need to…” he soothed, because every word sounded like it was torn out of him, like glass shards. It hurt to hear, he couldn’t imagine how it felt for Daryl.

“Nah lemme…lemme…just…” he said, breath catching every other word in a way that made Paul think it was a bout to all stop. “I ain’t never…felt nothin’….like I…do for you… I…” It seemed to take him a long few moments to get his breath back, his eyes closed tightly as his brow shone with sweat, matting his hair to his forehead. Paul swiped it aside gently. Swallowed.

“I know I ain’t never said it….”

Paul swallowed against a raw sob in his throat, swallowed it down so deep he could feel it in the pit of his stomach. “Daryl…” He didn’t want to hear it like this. He’d known – he’d known it was hard for Daryl and he’d been waiting, known he would get there eventually, but he wasn’t in a hurry. He wasn’t blind. It was so easy to see how Daryl felt, feel it in every kiss, the way his hands could be so goddamn gentle when they – shit. He couldn’t listen to this.

But he had to.

“Paul. I – fuck –“ Paul pressed a soothing hand against his forehead knitted with pain, and wished he could do something to take it all away. Daryl drew in a few more rasping breaths before he was able to continue. “I love you,” he said and those words were clear as day, though immediately followed by a painful sounding cough. “’m sorry, Paul, I’m s-” His brow creased up and he stopped talking, breath rattling in his chest.

“Shh, it’s alright Daryl. It’s alright,” Paul said, leaning over him, his hand still smoothing his hair away from his face. “I love you too,” he said, quietly forceful. Daryl coughed, but there was a tilt to his lips, something that was a far cry from a smile, but as close as he was going to get.

There was quiet for a few long minutes, only the sound of Daryl’s raspy breathing filling the trailer. Paul watched him, studied the face he’d gotten to know so well,

“Please,” he rasped, eyes opening for a few brief moments, gliding past his face. Paul didn’t know what he was seeing. “Please I can’t – can’t turn into one of ‘em, can’t….” he said, words turning to mumbles.

Paul shh’ed him again, withdrawing his knife with shaking fingers. “It’s alright. I won’t – I won’t let that happen.” He said, stroking a hand through his hair one last time, leaning forward to press a kiss against his lips. He pressed another one to his forehead, and almost couldn’t make himself lift his head. But he did.

“You’re so good Daryl,” he said, his voice strong, although he wasn’t sure how. He wasn’t sure Daryl could hear him anymore. Wasn’t sure it mattered. He clutched the knife harder in his hand and it felt like something he’d never done before. “I’m glad you didn’t leave me up a tree. Glad I got to know you. How good you are…” He swallowed hard, knew that he’d keep talking just to prolong the inevitable. He raised the knife.

He brought it down, the squelch of the knife lost beneath the sound of his sob.

Chapter Text

“Yer supposed t’talk me out of this,” Daryl muttered, nibbling at his thumbnail as he stared at the door of the trailer like it might come t’life and bite his head off.

“Do you want to be talked out of it?”

“Nah. Just – seems like y’should be.”

“Well…you can’t just stand here, Daryl, he’ll notice eventually.”

Daryl grunted, trying to will his legs to do something other than be rooted to the spot. It ain’t hard – it shouldn’t be hard. People did it all the damn time. Just…not him.

He and Paul (he wasn’t gonna call him Jesus, ain’t no way in hell) had been goin’ on scouting missions together, and he had to admit the little ninja wasn’t half bad. Always had his back, good in a fight, never seemed to keep his hands to himself.

Well, that last one had been a problem for Daryl. Couldn’t figure out why he always had to be brushin’ against him, gettin’ into his space, like it was nothin’. He’d complained about it at one of his dinners with Aaron and Eric after they’d started spoutin’ off how nice the scout was and – well.

At first he’d thought they were taking the piss, had gotten angry, stomped off from their spaghetti dinner. Aaron had found him later, chain smoking on the back porch and he’d explained things. Said he didn’t know for sure, but it sounded like Jesus had a big ol’ crush on him.

Daryl had stomped off again.

Eventually though, he stopped stomping off. Started listening.

And now here he was, standing next to Aaron, wonderin’ if it was too late to hop that damn wall and crash off into the woods.

Aaron gave him a nudge and Daryl grunted, glarin’ at him from beneath his hair (freshly washed – well, recently washed anyway – in the last two days). “Go on, Daryl,” he said, smiling encouragingly.

Daryl’s fingers twitched, reaching for cigarettes that weren’t there.

“Fine. Fine,” he bit out. He didn’t even know what he was going to say.

He swallowed, headed up the stairs of the trailer and knocked, a little too loud. He winced. He resolutely did not look over his shoulder. And then the door was opening.

“Daryl, hi,” Jesus said, a smile on his face, like he was pleasantly surprised. Daryl’s head ducked and he missed the subtle wink Jesus made over his shoulder, and definitely didn’t see the thumbs-up Aaron returned before he slipped away.

“Hey.” he said, chewin’ on his lower lip. He was quiet for a moment before he gathered the courage. “Did ya maybe want t -”

“Yes.”

“I ain’t even said nothin’ yet,” Daryl said, eyein’ him warily.

“Sorry,” Jesus said, blue-green eyes sparkling.

Daryl cleared his throat. “Did ya maybe…wanna come t’dinner with me?” He couldn’t quite look up, starin’ at Paul from beneath his lashes. God, he was so stupid, he shouldn’t have asked him – guy probably didn’t even –

“Daryl, are you asking me on a date?” Paul asked, teasing, brow raised, a grin hiding at the corner of his mouth.

Daryl flushed, losing his nerve. “No,” he bit out, huffing. “Just – Aaron ‘n Eric were sayin’ how they wanted t’see you and I figured since y’ain’t never been to one of their sketti dinners y’could-”

“Yes, I’ll have dinner with you.”

“I told ya, it’s Aaron ‘n Eric -”

“Daryl,” Paul said, stepping out from his trailer, the teasing light to his eyes softening. He reached out to put a hand on his arm and Daryl startled, tremblin’ like some damn colt. “I’d like nothing more than to go on a date with you,” he said, with a smile, and Daryl couldn’t have looked more like a tomato than if he’d grown on a damn vine himself.

“Uh..” he started, not sure where to go from there. “I uh-” he said, reaching up to nibble on a thumbnail. His hand was intercepted and he looked up from his very close inspection of the middle of Paul’s chest to find him grinning at him.

“Pick me up at 5,” he said, teasingly. They were all gonna head over back to Alexandria tomorrow, but apparently Paul just liked fucking with him. “Don’t be late,” he said, and then kissed him straight on the mouth. Just a peck. There one second and gone the next

“Gotta go, my turn on watch,” he said, off quicker than a jack rabbit, and Daryl was left standin’ on his doorstep with a dazed look in his eyes, mouth tingling like he’d just bit into something hot.

Chapter Text

they’d been staring at a small roadside bar for twenty minutes, waiting to see if the herd of walkers around it was going to clear off any time soon. someone had stashed some medical supplies there on the way back from a run gone bad and they were desperately needed. jesus had volunteered - he'd wanted to get out from behind the walls, and apparently daryl had the same idea because he'd shown up just as jesus had been walking out the gates, with nothing more than a grunt of explanation.

jesus found he really didn't mind.

right now, it was just a waiting game.

jesus leaned against the log they were ‘hiding’ behind, watching daryl watch the herd. he's very good at looking all focused. jesus almost expects lasers to come shooting out of his eyes with how intently he’s looking at the mass of walkers, though he knows that daryl will also see the exact moment the herd starts to turn, if it does, therefore saving both their asses in that hypothetical situation.

it’s also really hot.

he watches daryl push his hair out of his face for the sixth time and wonders how the man exists without a nice topknot or a bun. jesus has an extra hair tie in his pocket, just in case he loses his on a mission. daryl must be used to peering past hair to see anything but jesus finds it annoying, just looking at it.

he also finds it annoyingly attractive.

he’s never been into the whole rough and tumble type, but that had been before the apocalypse. now? now he could definitely see the appeal. even with all the dirt on daryl’s face.

he taps an absent rhythm with gloved fingers on the log for a few moments, but then daryl pushes hair out of his face again and jesus lets out an explosive sigh. he takes his gloves off, shoving them into his pocket for later.

daryl turns his squinted gaze on him.

“your hair keeps falling into your eyes, do you know that?” he asks.

the look daryl gives him is blank. his hair is still in front of his eyes. can he even see him?

“here, lemme just -” jesus reaches into his pocket for a tie and then sits up on his knees, leaning into daryl’s personal space. god, he can practically smell the motor oil and leather from here and it makes something in his gut tighten.

“the hell you doin’?” daryl rasps, and he looks like some sort of defensive wild animal, like he might bite at any moment. jesus ignores it, because he’s not been bitten in all the time he’s known daryl, and anyway, he’s quick on his feet.

“just let me,” he implores, a hint of steel to his voice and he’s tickled when that seems to shut daryl up, his mouth snapping shut audibly. “thanks,” jesus says, and he moves behind daryl, keeping low just in case the herd cares at all what they’re doing over here.

he combs his fingers through daryl’s hair to work it up into a ponytail, and he can feel the man trembling. his hair is greasy and jesus is pretty sure he doesn’t want to know how long it’s been since daryl had last washed it. he sweeps it away from his face, pulling it back, and he doesn’t know if daryl cares any which way about it, but god if he doesn’t feel better just seeing the hair out of his eyes.

it doesn’t take long for him to pull it into the tail and then a tight bun - although he easily could have spent the rest of the day running his hands through daryl's hair - and his work is done.

he edges back around so he can stare at him head on.

“that’s much better, doesn’t it feel better?” he asks, watching a blush spread across daryl’s cheeks. he hadn’t known the man was capable of it.

daryl’s gaze drops, his head ducking and jesus puts two fingers beneath his chin, feeling bold all of a sudden, nudging his face upwards.

“there’s a reason i wanted to see your face, you know,” he says, a smirk tugging at the corner of his mouth. there wasn’t really - he just couldn’t stand watching daryl's hair falling in his eyes - but there’s an opportunity here.

daryl scoffs.

jesus leans forward and presses their lips together, his hands coming up to cup daryl’s cheeks and they’re flaming hot beneath his fingertips. daryl makes a noise like someone’s kicked him, but he doesn’t pull away.

he gets to see a lot of daryl's face that day.

(daryl never does let him tie his hair up when they're in any of the communities, but he's fairly agreeable when they go out on runs together. jesus will take it).