Actions

Work Header

The 'What happens when Muse's laptop dies' Drabble collection

Chapter Text

She bit her lip, curious tongue smoothing over the rough bits as she watched Beth - all willow-lithe and bendy - set up one of the tents.

She shuffled her feet, thighs rubbing together, subtle and unobtrusive as she tried to take stock of the latest bombshell to befall them since they'd busted out of Terminus.

Jesus H. Christ, the chick was sin incarnate.

Why the hell hadn't Glenn warned her?

Chapter Text

"Will you quit squirming!" Daryl bit out, huffing and irritated from the sleeping bag beside him.

He watched the man's breath plume in the frigid winter air. Limbs jerking, too cold to shiver, as his body tried to normalize circulation the hard way.

Normally he'd just turn over, say nothing and just let it go, but tonight he was overtired, cold and so not in the mood for this shit.

So, naturally, he had to be a smartass about it and press his luck.

"You offering to make me?" He snapped, irritated when it came out sounding like his imminent smack down was more of an eventuality than a challenge.

Still, he had to admit he just hadn't seen it coming when Daryl grunted. Blue eyes flashing in the low ember-light the second before he leaned over, grabbed him around the middle and pulled him in.

"If we’re gonna freeze to death let’s give the others something to think about, eh Chinaman?”

Chapter Text

He wasn't good at all the little shit.

Hell, maybe he wasn't too good at the big picture neither.

But if there was one thing he wanted to be good at, it was her.

His Beth.

He'd planned it out in his head once. 

He'd had it all figured.

The words he'd say, the gestures - only she could shoot it all to hell with just a look.

One smile and he was gone, past gone.

Hell, he was putty in her hands.

Powerful woman, that one.

He figured it ran in the family.

Chapter Text

She rubbed sweaty hands on her jeans, feeling every inch of the sinuous rasp as nerve endings she didn't even know she had, sparked.

The mouth on her breast teased and licked.

Preacher's daughter had a mouth made for more than just singin', that was for damn sure.

Chapter Text

The feel of stubble raspin' across his own was new.

So was the press of thin lips and the signature scent that rose up between them when Rick's fingers started tuggin at his zipper.

He chewed on the inside of his cheek, conflicted but overeager.

Like he'd said, all this was new.

But he figured, that for this - for Rick - he could get used to it pretty damn quick.

Especially if the other man kept doing that, that thing he was doing right fucking now with his tongue and- 

oh fuck.

Chapter Text

He wonders sometimes what his life woulda' been like if none of this shit had ever happened.

It keeps him awake sometimes. Long nights spent thumbing that piece of jasper, the same one he'd taken to carryin' around since they'd lost the prison. 

He'd never been that guy.

The person that dwells on all the ifs, ands, and maybes.

But hell if the thought of never having this - her - Carol - didn't rub him the wrong way.

Wildfire or not, he'd take end of the world any day of the week.

Chapter Text

It was moments like this that she pretended to be asleep.

Fighting to keep her breathing even as callused fingers combed uncertainly through her long blonde hair.

He always started out like that - hesitant - as if uncertain of his welcome. 

It wasn't until he started braiding that he hit his stride.

He always left the braid untied - unfinished - like a guilty child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, he left the scene of the crime incomplete. The loose ends curling and mussin' as the strands slowly started unwinding themselves.

Perhaps he figured that so long as he didn't tie it closed, she somehow wouldn't notice.

No fuss, no muss.

No chance of getting embarrassed.

Of getting caught in the open, blunt tips tangled in corn-silk yellow.

So she said nothing. Letting him have his moment - his little game.

But lord help her if she didn't smile every time.

Chapter Text

He fucked up the first time.

He wasn't too hot the second round neither.

But hell if the third time wasn't the charm.

He'd managed to get a handle on her by then, figuring out what she liked and when, sussin' out her quirks and shit.

It was fine tunin' mostly.

Delicate work.

But it was worth it to watch her soar.

To muffle her cries under the weight of lips and tongue before dipping back down to her center for a taste.

A man could get drunk on the looks she gave him after that.

Chapter Text

She didn't know how they'd survived.

Making the choice to stay - to end things on their own terms - had sort of been the whole point.

The point of the relieved tears.

Of the trembling smile that'd spread across her face when she'd held his hand in hers - a gentle clutch as the numbers counted down. 

But then, she supposed life was all about making a mockery of the things you don't expect.

By the time they pulled themselves out of the rubble, the others were long gone. Leaving them alone admits a ruined landscape, bloody and uncertain. 

Jenner blinked - hedging and uncertain - in the blinding afternoon sun. 

His face was like a child's, uncomprehending and awed.

"I don't, I- now what?" He rasped, turning to her instinctively, pale face streaked dark with scoot and ash - lab coat burnt and singed around the collar.

She just smiled, lacing their fingers together. Strangely open to the idea as something dangerously close to hope fluttered in her breast.

"Now we make the best of it."

Chapter Text

The kiss was a rough press of close to thirty-five years of sexual repression.

It was too much and not enough.

It was that gray area between wrong and right.

It was one close call too many.

It was frustration and Daryl huffing into his skin. Tucking in like a starving man in front of a banquet.

It was their kind of right.

 He grunted as the sting of canines nicked his jugular. It was more of a bite than anything else - a vicious scraping of blunt edged teeth and inexperienced nails that raked like claws down his sides.

But it was good, too good. 

Good enough that neither one of them was going to last.

A moan hitched, warbling up from the depths of his throat when-

“Fuck, i’m gonna- Rick!

That was all it took.

And as he lay panting in the aftermath, he couldn't help but snort.

Because at the end of the day, he figured it made sense that Daryl would fuck the way he fought, rough, quick-shot and dirty.

Truth was, he wouldn't have had it any other way.

Chapter Text

He wasn't exactly sure what she had in mind when she rolled them, sittin' astride him - cocky, confident and nude as the first rays of dawn slitted themselves through the dusty blinds.

She hummed, pleased as he sat still, content to let her do her thing as she arched her back. 

Stretchin’ out the kinks that’d worked their way in while she’d slept.

Another shitty mattress.

Another night on the run.

The prison had spoiled them in a way, lettin ‘em get a shine for the finer things.

It was just the two of them now - just him ‘n Carol. Neither of them were okay, but they had each other.

These days that was sayin’ lot.

He didn't suppress the purr when her fingers scritch-scritched down his belly.

He didn't run from the things he wanted anymore.

He was done half-assing.

He'd learned that shit the hard way.

Chapter Text

There was a stuttered gasp.

A crash.

Distressed murmuring.

On the other side of the fire, Glenn started backing away, hands up in clear retreat.

Daryl winced.

Judith stared wide-eyed and uncomprehending from the shelter of Carol’s arms.

Everyone around the fire was looking at him like they didn't know him - like they'd never seen anything quite like him before and had no idea how to react.

The light wind chapped across the bare skin of his face, smooth in a way it hadn't been since that first shave after waking up in the hospital.

The one with Morgan and Duane, god, years ago now.

The sensation was strange, hyper-sensitive and long missed.

No one had believed he’d do it.

To erase the only constant in their lives, save for the stink of moldering flesh and the threat of old death.

But it had to go.

It was the end of an era. 

Ding dong, the grief beard is dead.

Chapter Text

He was sweet - sweet in a way that the world - both then and now - had a habit of swallowing whole.

He was conflicted, yet unexpectedly brave.

But most of all, he needed her - Milton needed her - and hell if that wasn't something worth living for.

Chapter Text

"Told you," she murmured. Nuzzlin' in all close 'n shit, diggin' herself deep into the curve of his shoulder as he caught her running. Pulling her in as the others caught up - happy - whole.

"Told you, you'd miss me," she hummed.

Her sweet blonde hair was a rat's nest, but he put his lips to it all the same.

He shook his head.

At the end of the day, he reckoned she wasn't wrong

Chapter Text

He still slept with one hand tucked underneath his pillow.

Blunt tips brushing across the hilt of his old buck knife - loose but present - despite the fact that'd been close to twenty years since he'd needed to use it, at least that way. 

There were some modes of paranoia that weren't meant to die, she supposed.

Lord knows that gut feeling had kept them alive more than once.

She didn't like to admit it, but it made her feel safe.

Protected.

It made her think of campfire nights - of the good times - of family. 

At the end of the day, that was why she figured the knife could stay.

As a mausoleum of remembrance to their past, present, and future.

An ode to peace of mind and better times.

She didn't talk much about the Glock she still carried around her with on the bad days.

With Daryl, she didn't have to.

Chapter Text

He wasn't into all the fucking gushy stuff.

He didn't do all the shit Maggie and Glenn seemed to get off on doing - the gestures - the looks - the public...whatevers.

And frankly, he didn't intend on startin' now.

It'd be weird as hell - outta character.

But sometimes, christ,  sometimes Carol would just give him this look, a look that somehow managed to say at least seven thousand different things at once and make him hard enough to pound rocks to boot.

And yeah, sometimes he figured he'd give her the fuckin' moon if she asked him to.

Chapter Text

Daryl had said he'd seen her back in Terminus.

He'd said it, but deep down, beyond the surface nod and the affirming grunt he'd given at the time, he hadn't believed it. 

He hadn't let himself believe it.

They'd all been through too much - too much to pin their hopes on familiar ghosts and waste away whatever time they had left hoping.

You didn't get second chances.

Even if the last thing you wanted in the world was to actually want them.


 

He told himself over and over that he wasn't sorry for what he'd done.

For how he'd left her.

That he'd been justified.

Righteous.

He wondered how many more times he could look at himself in the mirror and say it aloud - like he actually believed it.

He did a lot of wondering these days.


 

But when she emerged from the treeline - all hesitant steps and bashful eyes - Tyreese firm and exhausted at her side, he didn't think twice.

He stayed back as Daryl shot forward, one finger still half on the trigger of his Colt as he stared across the clearing, uncomprehending - still.

She was here.

Alive. 

Dirty and pale and holding his child high and triumphant in her arms. 

He choked on a shuddering exhale.

Unable to shake the feeling that it felt a whole lot like the universe had skipped a breath.


 

He breathed into the curve of her neck, greedy and unapologetic as he soaked her in. 

All of them.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, confused for a moment before he realized that the tears trickling down his cheeks were his own, and that her face - Judith's face - were glistening with them.

But she just tipped her head back, smiling, eyes sad but strong as a small smile trembled around the corners, soft but growing all the same as her hand cupped his cheek.

She brought him down until their foreheads brushed.

The sensation was feather-light and barely there but he didn't bother to temper the signature flutter in his gut.

He was done lying to himself.

"I know, I'm sorry too."

Chapter Text

"What are you thinking about?" she asked, voice velvet on midnight, hushed and tired. 

The light from the fire flickered, banking it'self on it's own rot as the log he'd tossed into the dinky, marble fireplace half an hour before - unused and practically decorative - slowly hissed into ember.

There hadn't been any time. No time to pick and choose the kindling slacked neatly beside the side door - desperate to grab what looked half decent and mostly dry before the storm set in.

His eyes flicked up, catching on the gleam of her half-closed lids, watching her watch him from across the fire.

There was never enough time.


 

"Will you come sit with me?" she asked, shivering under the pile of sweaters and blankets he'd tucked close around her after he'd secured the little carriage house they'd stumbled onto after the attack.

He could practically hear the echoes. The way he'd kicked the door shut behind him as he'd carried her to the couch, anger and denial screaming through each and every inch of him as she hummed some damn tune soft in the back of her throat, lying to the both of them when she told him that it didn't hurt. That she didn't need anything when he'd nudged the canteen close to her side.

That she'd be alright.

She just needed some rest is all.


"Daryl?"

He kept his gaze firmly on the floor, refusing to listen as her breathing grew shallow, coughing and rasping as her silver head retreated further and further into the mound of blankets.

"Daryl, please?"

His knees drew up tight to his chest on their own accord.

Counting the grains in the dirty hardwood as he watched the shadows shift and warp - spreading across the span of the tiny cabin as the hours grew small.


 

"I love you..."

His lips twitched.

But the words he'd meant to say in return, fled.

He looked down at the floor, trying to memorize the soft maple treads, realizing that somewhere along the line, he'd lost his place.


 

He didn't need the silence that spanned out afterwards - skittish and accusing - to tell him she was gone.

Chapter Text

The irony was she didn't need the surprised exclamations or the tears to know that the sweet little spit-fire with the messy blonde hair - rocking the 'girl next door' vibe like it was going out of style - was the old man's daughter. 

She had his quiet presence all over her.

Daddy's girl.

Fact was she could relate.

Still, it wasn't like she could use it as a starting point or anything. To sit down beside her for some good old fashioned girl talk and open with: 'hey, I just lost my dad and my entire family and oh yeah, I am also indirectly responsible for you losing yours, look at how much we have in common?' 

She might be a bit out of practice with the whole talking up a potential girlfriend thing, but hell if she was that bad.


 

She sighed, shaking her head as she turned away. Lilly had always known what to say. It didn't matter the situation, she'd always had the perfect Hallmark card reply.

God, she was doomed to be sexless and alone for the rest of her god damned life, she just knew it.


 

So, really, to say she hadn't been expecting it when the blonde in question sat down beside her that night around the fire, flashing her a sweet smile as she handed her a small little canteen, was a bit of an understatement

"Hi, I'm Beth."

She embarrassed herself by promptly choking on a mouthful, making them both laugh as she spluttered around the rim of the canteen and something that definitely wasn't water as the others shot them concerned looks from their sleeping rollings.

But Beth's eyes just sparkled, daring her to say a word as the little sprite mimed taking another sip.

The looks only made them laugh the harder.

And yeah, preacher's daughter might just have a bit of the devil inside her after all.

Chapter Text

The mornings were the sweetest, that handful of moments where everything about him was malleable - easy.

Moments where he'd let her pull him back under the covers, chilled toes tangling. 

Moments where she could warm him up to the idea of a lie in.


 

They'd all changed in some way since all this began - what with wildfire and the end of things - but she liked to think that out of all of them, perhaps Daryl had changed for the better.

Chapter Text

It was loss that brought them together. Mutual circumstances of shared tragedy that had no business being as easily relatable as they actually were.

He'd decided a long time ago, a few years after he'd lost Lori, that he wouldn't question it. That he wouldn't deny himself the possibility of solace - comfort - love -whatever the form it came in.

Retrospectively, it was probably the only decision he'd made since waking up in that hospital bed, a mess of pale skin and dead wires, that he hadn't come to regret.

What they had existed in the spaces in between.

In the quiet moments.

The ones where the darkness masked their expressions and they had to go by touch alone.

Touch to please.

Touch to comfort.

Sometimes, on the bad days, even wound.

He'd never said what they had was perfect.

But at least it was something.

Perfect was askin' a hell of a lot these days.

 

Chapter Text

Her hands whispered down sleeping skin, warm and damp as the body underneath shifted restlessly.

He was looking for her, that much she knew.

He liked to feel her against him when they slept.

Reassurance.

But in all honesty she lived for the moments like this.

When his skin was a dark canvas that was hers alone to explore.

Hers alone to taste.

To smell and burrow deep.

Hers alone to conquer.

She could be selfish in the dark.

Bold.

After all, it wasn't like he was complaining.

Chapter Text

She knew it sounded corny, but Tara's soft smiles and wiggling brow reminded her of college.

Of fall colors and experimentation behind closed doors.

You had to be quieter about things like that back then, a little more willfully blind. But they'd happened all the same.

It was human nature to be curious - to want.


The funny thing was that Tara wasn't anything like Rochelle. 

She was a smart mouth for one.

All quirky angles, subtle muscles and giving flesh.

Host to a fearless sort of bravado she hadn't known what to do with in the beginning, but had quickly warmed up to all the same.

Rochelle had been mouse quiet and unassuming, expecting her to take the lead when one thing led to another and suddenly they were sprawled across her mattress, fingers intertwined - a mess of tangled bra straps and crumpled chemistry notes. While Tara was a megaphone to Rochelle's tepid whisper any day of the week.

And honestly, just like she had in that tiny little dorm room all those years ago, she was forced to admit that she was completely out of her depth.


Only this time she wasn't the only one around to notice it.


"What 'ya doing with police academy hopeful?" Daryl asked one night, eyes at half mast as Maggie and Beth - still limping and scarred from her ordeal at the hospital - appeared on the edge of the clearing, an armful of kindling each.

"I don't know," she admitted, lacing and unlacing her fingers together as a frustrated sigh escaped from her lip unbidden. Tasting that possibilities on her tongue as Tara met her stare boldly - glittering cat-eyes in the half dark - as she unrolled her sleeping bag, smoothing out the wrinkles with a series of lithe movements that caused the front of her shirt to pull tight across her breasts.

It felt like the first honest thing she'd said in a months.

Chapter Text

He'd never seen harm in lookin' - in satisfying his curiosity the old fashioned way - with his god damned eyes. But hell if it wasn't eatin' him up inside. Because she smiled too easy, too bright, too open for the likes of him to understand

He didn't understand people like that. People who wore their intentions, their emotions, square on their sleeves. Parading around like they didn't care, like the idea of some asshole comin' along and rippin' it all down didn't even register. 

Only problem was, preacher's daughter had started lookin at him with that same god damn expression. Like she was tryin' or figure him out or some shit. Sending him promises he knew neither of them could keep when they met eyes over the fire. 

He weren't blind. He could see the invitation there plain as day. It was like teasing some old hound just to watch him crawl. Hell, part of him wanted to pick her up by those deceptively strong little shoulders and shake the sense back into her.

He weren't gonna stand for it though. No sir. He knew where he fit in in the scheme of things. For better or worse he knew his place in the world. And hell if sonny Christ boy was likely to throw him a favor now. Not after everything he'd done. 

She wasn't meant for the likes of him. Hell, she wasn't meant for the likes of anyone. She was too good for that. Too young and unspoiled. If heaven was real he reckoned it would have her sweet voice floatin' on the breeze.

She was the whole package and worse she didn't know what was good for her. She needed to be kept safe. From him. From everyone. Because the truth was, at the end of the day, he was just selfish enough to make sure the both of them died unhappy. 

Chapter Text

“What are you up to, four eyes?” Merle grunted, good hand braced across the counter in front of him, spread palmed – dominant. The crooked fan of his ring and pinky fingers caressing the edge of one of his notebooks as the sounds of the watch changing - a mixture of tired grumbles and forced laughter - filtered in from outside.

A bubble of hysteria rose high in his throat. Oh god, what had he been thinking? Exactly how had he thought this would be a good idea? That someone like Merle would be receptive to even so much as a hint of his-

“Merely posing a hypothetical question," he countered, adjusting his glasses carefully. Trying to own every inch of his steady expression, despite the fact that his skin was practically crawling under the weight of the man's squinty glare. 

He pursed his lips, already swimming in self doubt.

This wasn't what he'd practiced.

He'd been ready.

Prepared.

He'd made notes.

Weighed the probabilities and percentages. 

Only he'd gone and ruined it by just blurting it out all at once!

It wasn't his fault. How was he supposed to know the man was just going to stop by and be all - well - distracting.

"Maybe I don't swing that way, huh? Maybe I'll knock your squirrely little teeth in, just for the assumption?" Merle shot back, rocking back on his heels with a bare-toothed grin, something that made him think of a predator pulling back it's teeth. "Maybe I ain't used to being the prey, the one being pursued."

"Maybe its time to broaden your horizons," he challenged, taking the verbal hit and rolling with it. Unsure of exactly where the sudden bravery was coming from as he met the man's surprised stare dead on. Knowing instinctively that showing even the smallest sign of weakness would be a fatal mistake.

Silence reigned for a few long beats - enough that he felt the start of a half-panicked flush spreading down the curve of his throat - before the man himself finally broke it. 

 

"You've got a set on 'ya, I'll give 'ya that," Merle returned, barking out a laugh - all twisting lips and dark eyes - like his mouth was unused to the expression. "Let's just hope, for the both our sakes, that you've got a tool to match, four-eyes."

"Only one way to find out," he returned, firm and almost dismissive as he nudged the man's stump out of the way and tidied a stack of papers, feigning confidence - like he propositioned half feral red-necks every other Thursday - trying desperately to remember what he'd been doing before the man had startled him.

"Swing by my place tonight after I'm done on the wall then. Quiet like, understand?" Merle told him with a nod, sending him a dark look and a wriggling brow that did remarkably little to soften the tension lurking in his shoulders. "You can read me to sleep, science boy," he sassed, waving a book he hadn't noticed he'd come in with, in a lazy half circle above their heads.

It was only when Merle slouched out of the room, leaving him alone in the familiar comforts of his lab, that he allowed himself to slump. Falling back into his chair with an explosive rush of air that sent the dust bunnies scurrying for cover.

Oh god.

 

He did it.

He had a date.

 

A date with Merle Dixon.

...Now what?

Chapter Text

There were time when she wondered.

Wondered what her life would have been like if the world had stayed like it was.

Wondered what she would have done when she finished college - started college.

Daddy had always said that there was no use lookin' back. 

That the past was the past and there was nothing they could do to change it.

All they could do was try and make the best of the present. 

But she couldn't help it sometimes.

 

She wanted to remember.

Had to.

Sometime she swore it was the only thing that kept her going.

Remembering how things used to be.

Back when there wasn't a jagged scar on the inside of her wrist.

And the weight of one too many deaths keeping her awake at night.

 

But then Carol would turn over beside her - sleeping restlessly - stray limbs searching her out across the filthy mattress they were calling home this week.

Fingers sleepily mapping out the arc of her hip and the curve of her breast before settling - expelling a warm breath just behind her - on the center of her chest.

Adding another layer over her heart as the woman's breaths deepened, lulling them both sleep.

And honestly, she couldn't imagine anywhere else she'd rather be.

 

Chapter Text

She was dirty.

He was worse.

Then again, he was always worse.

Still, that didn't stop her from pushing close, crowding him into the closest room that didn't smell to high heaven and trying her best to rip what was left of his clothes clear off.


 

They didn't talk much.

Not this time.

Not any time really.

She hadn't had much to say since they'd lost Bob.

Since Tyreese had-


"Sasha," he rasped, post-coital and rough in that way that never failed to get her motor running. It was the kind of voice a man gets when he's positively swimming in that warm haze of satisfaction, prick limp and wet at the tip, threatening to drool across his quivering belly as he stared at the ceiling, hand over his eyes like it was the only thing keeping his lids at half-mast.

"Hmmm?"

There was a pause after that. Like he was figuring it out for himself before he spoke again.

"It's just- I always wondered. Never known nobody with that kind of name before."

She quirked a brow, wondering where that had come from as she shifted across the dirty carpet, ignoring the twinge in her back from where he'd slammed her up again the side of a desk, scrabbling for leverage after she'd wrapped her legs around his waist and nearly sent through right through the wallpaper.

"It's Russian or Greek - depends on who you ask," she replied, breathing in slowly. Trying to figure out where his head was at as the tart of unwashed skin melded with the deep moldering loam of old growth and wet wood.

Even fresh out of the shower, he still smelled like that.

Like the forest and wilder things.

Tyreese had commented on it once, back when they'd still had the prison. Saying something about not being able to wash away who you were.

The irony of that, now that she thought of it, was more than a little heartbreaking.

"It means 'defender of man,'" she said, voice trembling. Finishing the thought more because she knew if she didn't do something with her mouth she'd probably end up crying.

And while he didn't ask, she found herself offering the rest up freely.  

Realizing the same moment she said it that she wanted to. She wanted him to know. Wanted him to remember, just in case she-

"I asked my mom about it once," she told him, roughing the ragged point of her nail against the dusty shag-carpet. "She said it was because someone had to keep my brother out of trouble."

The breath he expelled across the back of her neck might of been a laugh.

Flirting with the musty dark as he turned away - close, but no longer touching.

With him it was always hard to tell.

 

Chapter Text

"It was in college, Daryl. College. Can we not talk about this?" Carol groaned, running a hand through her short hair. Rolling her eyes at him before trying to make a valiant escape out the door of the trailer they were sharing. Daryl hot on her heels and host to a stunned expression that seemed caught halfway between disbelief and a manic sort of awe that transformed his usual squinty expression into something like a kid on Christmas morning.

Glenn wasn't completely sure what he'd walked in on, but he knew two things immediately. 

One, he wished he had popcorn. Maybe even one of those cinema chairs with the arm rests that you could lean back in.

And two, was that the faded VHS cover Daryl was fisting - of an curly red head posing in a short blue dress and a whole lot of skin - did absolutely nothing to hide his boner.

Chapter Text

He wasn't sure why, but he always expected her to be quiet.

To articulate herself in melodious baseline grunts and streams of garbled nonsense as her fingers dug deep down to the quick and he could feel the skin trying to part - split.

Only she wasn't. 

She didn't.

She used words like knives until he was falling apart before her.

High on the heat of her pleasure as he shuddered into her and tried to make sense of the little death she'd just wrung out of him, easy as breathing.

Carol did a lot of that, come to think of it.

Catching him off guard 'in shit.

Chapter Text

It wasn't just that she wanted. It was that she wanted him to want.

She wanted him to show her he wanted. Wanted her.

She knew he did, of course, but knowing and seeing were two very different things and frankly she was tired of waiting for the curtain call.

At least, that was the excuse she gave herself when she backed him into the kitchen counter after he, Aaron and Eric came back from their run and kissed the stale right out of his mouth.

Smiling over her shoulder as she smiled and flounced away.

Leaving the ball firmly in his court as his chest shuddered through the aftermath.

Licking at his lower lip like he was chasing her taste as he struggled to take the ball back into her court and towards the hoop.

Chapter Text

He was sitting outside the pantry in the shadow of the eaves, taking a long drag from the stub of his cigarette when he heard it.

Those two new idiots Spencer had let in last week. Talkin' shit like usual.

Except this time he only had to listen to a handful of words before he was shooting to his feet, spittin' mad and just fuckin' waitin' for them to turn the corner.

"Think she'd blow me if I bagged that boar she's been yakking about?" Lucas asked with a clear sneer. Bean-pole tall, balding and lanky. Tone making his lip curl into a snarl when the man spat out a wad of chew with a sickening hork of sound.

"You'd probably just have to try and she'd treat ya," Jason replied, clearly uninterested as his bored New York drawl tripped up the syllables. The usual metallic click-clink-click-clink of that rose-gold lighter he was always dicking around with grating like the opposite of static in the background.

"You're right," Lucas laughed, spitting again as their shadows lengthened. Looming closer and closer as he tucked his hands underneath his armpits, leaned up against the wall and waited. "That fat bitch is probably desperate by now. Isn't like she was getting any before all this. Figures we'd get here just in time to be left with the scraps. Oh well, a mouths a mouth, right?"

His eyes narrowed dangerously.

Olivia was a god damned peach.

Aint hurt one no or nothin' and worked her ass off to boot.

She was a ball of sass - sharp when it came to wit but as sweet as creamed honey when it all came down it.

The two men startled when they rounded the corner and found him waitin' - hands automatically going to where their guns might have been a few weeks previous. He just glared. Content to watch them fumble around a bit before Lucas took a solid step back for good measure. Put off by his scowl as he straightened and threatened to close the gap.

He was just about to let 'em have it when the woman herself slammed the door to the pantry wide open. Surveying the two assholes with an arched brow and a withering stare. Vengeful and poised like only woman scorned could be as she shook her head and made a shooing motion at them

"Whatever you boys are plannin' to start you better take it elsewhere, now. My Pantry isn't the place. Understand?"

Lucas frowned, scratching at the straggling hairs on his chin like he'd already lost control of the situation before he'd even opened his god damned mouth.

Jason just looked bored, click-clicking that same lighter back and forth - back and forth - back and-

"Oh and Lucas? Don't you worry about that boar," Olivia added, diabolically sweet and with just enough inflection to kill as she adjusted the hang of her purple scarf and brushed imaginary crumbs off her shirt. "It's probably for the best. After all, I'd imagine it'd be pretty hard to tell you and the pig apart - especially when it came to the butchering."

The stunned silence that followed was a thing to behold. But Olivia seemed oblivious, turning to face him like the other two were no more important than the wet of morning dew on your clothes before the sun burned it off. Smiling so damn wide and kind the expression was in danger of getting swallowed by her dimples as she crooked a finger at him and smacked her thigh like a whip-crack.

"Now com'on inside, honey. I got something extra special for your food hamper this week."

He liked to think that the shocked looks on their stupid mugs would make 'em stay that way - all permanent like.

God knows it would certainly be an improvement.

Chapter Text

They'd been on the road for too long. 

Hell, he knew that was an understatement by now. But he was tired of nursing the bottle whiskey in his pack and listening to the mother dickin' silence.

Terminus had knocked them right on their ass. 

No food. No water. No nothing.

But after Eugene? The hospital? Maggie's sister?

The shit had hit the fan on an entirely different level.

Even the baby had clearly had enough. Sobs turning into wails, then downgrading to those muted little whimpers that turned out to be worse than the screaming.

He'd had to stop himself from reaching over more than once to snatch her up. Caught in that weird place that every parent finds themselves in when with an crying kid.

Hell, when his kids had been that age he'd-

Fuck.


 

He peeled off from the others with the excuse of taking a piss. Wading through the long grass until he couldn't hear anything from the road. Not the scuff of worn soles. No unhappy baby-gurgles. No distant groans from the small group of walkers that were tailing them. Just a different kind of silence. Better. Where he could take his thoughts one at a time and not have to worry about who was watching. Who was lagging behind. Who was losing the battle with dehydration and exhaustion the fastest and where the hell they were going to put up roots for the night with that herd still following close.

He hissed in a breath when a stick cracked somewhere just ahead of him.

 

Walker.

He raised his gun and crept forward.

 

Letting the subtle sound of the forest cover his approach as he rounded the side of a wide-spread tree and-


 

It wasn't a walker.

It was fucking Daryl Dixon with his pants around his god damned ankles, hand firm around his prick. 

It was Daryl fucking Dixon, cheeks red-flushed and pretty with arousal as a pearl of pre-cum pooled opaque just beside his thumb.

The curse building in the back of his throat strangled itself into something embarrassingly close to interest.

Daryl just stared, right hand caught red-handed, the other resting on the sheath of the knife strapped to his hip - weary but noticeably relaxing.

So, for lack of a better plan, he just stared back.

Tasting the difference in the silence as the younger man chewed on the inside of his cheek - considering.

He looked down, following the man's gaze as Daryl eyed him - dark and just a little bit promising - through the strings of his fringe. Taking in the bulge firming in the front of his trousers with a raised brow.

He forced himself to be damningly unapologetic about it when he tipped his chin and met the man's eyes straight on.  Challenging him to say something before Daryl suddenly dropped the sexual equivalent of a god damned bombshell and let the fingers of his right drift back to curl around his head. Thumbing the crown lazily as honest surprise made tracks across his face. Not exactly sure what he should be saying on the matter other than the fact that a sight like that could certainly do something to a man. Something like wanting to take one hell of a chance that this wouldn't blow up in his face and offer to replace the man's hand with his own. Wanting to see the expression when he came as that strong, sweat-slicked throat offered itself up for the taking.

His imagination always had been a little wild. 

Still, the fact that the man was still sporting those fucking bedroom eyes and not exactly hurrying to put his cock away certainly didn't fuckin' help.

Mother Dick.

Chapter Text

It was the god damned wedding ring that did it.

That brought everything back home.

That reminded him how he'd stalled - gotten stuck - ever since all of Eugene's lies had come crashing down.

Or at least that one big one.

Reg's wedding band was one of those rings that showed it's age but still shone bright.

Something that'd been tended to, preserved, just as much it'd been well loved.

It made him feel like shit.

Because in all honesty, even before all this, it'd always been Ellen who'd remembered to get on his case about that stuff - who'd cared.

Never him.


 

He hadn't realized how much he'd relied on other people to get through this mess - Ellen, the kids, Eugene - until he'd cracked his knees on that blacktop and died inches in the privacy of his own mind.

Staring blankly into a whole lot of nothing as Eugene's blood dried tight across his knuckles.

But he hadn't been alone.

Sasha had been right along there with him for the most part.

Misery loves company, he guessed.

Only now, she was smiling on her own again.

Working through it.

And he was left doing wheelies in the dust.

Call him a petty bastard, but he hated everything about it.

Hell, even hated her - if he was being honest.


 

That whole time in the car he'd just been itching to ask.

To know.

Manically desperate, but ultimately too proud to ask.

How?

How did you did you do it?

How did you get from where you were to where you are now?

Can you tell me?

Can you teach me?


 

Sometimes he wondered if the truth, her truth, whatever it was that had gotten her back on track was hiding behind her lips.

Just waitin' for the taking.

But then again, sometimes he had really bad ideas when he had a gut full of whiskey and nothin' much else.

Chapter Text

"I thought you were weak."

"You've proved me wrong."


She was reborn with the grit of dirt caught between her teeth.

Swallowing dark clumps of moist dirt as her hands wormed their way out of blanket she'd been wrapped in - choking and gasping.

Hands spearing up and up and up through the loamy soil as the songs sung out before the end rebounded inside her aching skull.

"Every sacrifice we make needs to be for the greater good."

"If we hadn't saved you, you'd be one of them right now, so you owe us."

The taste of iron-red was overwhelming as the loose soil crumbled - parting around her clawed fingers.

Threatening to rebury her - suffocate her - kill her - just like they'd tried to.

Just like they'd wanted to.

"If we take we give back, its only fair."

Her hand broke ground curled into a brutal fist.

Angry and violent as the open air cooled the rivulets of sweaty-red that streamed sluggishly from the ruined tips of her fingers.

"One of yours for one of mine."

She pulled herself out of the shallow grave like screaming.

Like dying.

Like she'd skimmed the barest edges of Hell with her toe-tips and had come out of it blessed.

"It wasn't me."

"It wasn't me."

"It wasn't me."

"It wasn't-"

"What was your name?" A man rasped, unfamiliar voice rebounding as her eyes snapped open. Blinding herself on the rays of a dying sun. Squinting through a field of wheat - long overgrown and gone to seed - as they stared right back. She hissed through dirty teeth, blinking past a fresh tide of red trickling down from the pulsing maw of splintered bone and matted hair that lined her forehead as she tried to make sense of it.

Was?

"Dawn, Dawn Lerner," she croaked, letting her hand curl up again - like a threat and a promise all melded into one as the two of them shared a look that went beyond knowing and tripped into recognition when she struggled to get herself up onto her elbows. Refusing to let herself crumple when everything in her was screaming for release.

"What is your name?" The other asked, long hair skirting high cheekbones. Host to predator-dark eyes that might have once even been kind. Suddenly reminded of something her father had told her before he'd passed. Something that'd stuck with her. Defined her. Made her. Even when everything she'd known had broken down into pieces and left her with less than nothing.

Who lives?

Who dies?

The only thing that matters is who tells your story.

Her voice was strong when she said it. Believing it, just like they did as the one who'd spoken first extended his hand - welcoming her home.

"Wolf mother."

 

 

Chapter Text

They'd built the walls to keep the monsters out.

To keep people safe.

To keep their children safe.

To recreate what had been lost.

To learn how to rise solid and safe from the ashes.

They'd never wavered from that.

Never regretted it.

Not once.

But when Spencer exhaled anger and whiskey-breath across her face, angry words wrong and over harsh as they left normally kind lips, she realized there was a difference between armor and a shield.

Chapter Text

His mouth was stale and desert-dry when both his girls came slinking up to claim him. Demanding his attention in that way they did. Pulling at his clothes to get him bare, cock fat and weeping-proud against his belly as he watched them kiss above him – on top of him. Smirking a bit as he watched their fingers intertwine before they slicked down his cock together with eager tongues. Mouthing along the head with curling kitten-licks before running their hands down him – each other – squeezing, pinching, twisting just like they’d been before-

They were still blood spattered and high from the fight. Still able to taste the sour tart of walking death on their tongues, ears ringing from the screams of the group of assholes who’d tried to rob them blind in the night. By the time he and his girls were done with them he almost felt sorry for them. Almost.

Carol had slit three of their throats before they’d realized they’d mis-counted. Panicking and stampeding around in the dark as Carol danced nude in the midnight shadows. Beth had been a vision in the arterial spray – bare nipples pebbled under a rain-soaked halter top and nothing else as her knife flirted with the same red. For his part, he’d stayed where he’d been from the start, pants around his ankles, cock out and slick with Carol’s juices, watching his girls work.

It was the noise that’d drawn them, the walkers and the group. And not for the first time either. It had become a habit. Getting off on the danger, the blood – the rush. In fact, the first time had been much the same. They’d been braced up against a tree when his bolt had pierced that walker’s eye. They’d been teasing him, stretchin’ things out as he buried his hands in Carol’s wispy-short hair and pretended like he was brave enough to tug. Beth had been as loud as anything after that – keeping nothing back – singing out her pleasure until she pitched into slurs and finally over-sensitive whimpers. Carol just smiled – quiet – more interested in the sounds she could rip from the both of them rather than the other way around.

Personally, if he was being honest, he liked it even better when Beth settled herself on his face - suffocating, demanding and velvet-warm - while Carol rode him home. Like the second time it had happened where Beth and Carol had gone for their guns before the walkers could make it out of the treeline and he was left with a sore jaw when he nipped her clit mid-aim and her thighs had clenched around his face.

Hell, just thinking about it on the off time he was alone never failed to make him come with a brutal, visceral sounding grunt he could always feel building like a thunderstorm all the way down in the curl of his toes. Blurting a generous smear of milky-white across his fist because honestly, he was getting too god damned old to be coming in his fucking trousers.

His girls were works of art without owners.

Wild, free, and completely uncompromising when it came to hinging on their creativity.

And hell if he’d have ‘em any other way.

But this time, neither one of them asked about the angry, raised little scratch that stood out on Beth’s delicate little wrist. Highlighting the virgin-pale just below the bold of the vein - leaving her with matching marks of regret – twinned scars of two very similar fights. One she’d won and the other she would not.

Instead they came together like it was the first time.

Like it was their last time.

After all, they’d made that promise to each other a long time ago.

It was together, or nothin’.

Chapter Text

After the accident in the warehouse she tended to find herself hanging around Carol's more often than not.

It was one of those slow building things.

A lot like the low, throbbing headaches she still got.

She liked watching Carol move, mostly.

It was stupid, wrong even, but she got off on it.

Watching those capable hands in disguise.

It made her itch for the day half of her hoped never came and the other half yearned for.

Because hell if the thought of those same hands curling around the barrel of a Glock didn't do it for her.

Chapter Text

Juliet Marillier once wrote "Nothing comes without a price."

And while it wasn't exactly Shakespeare, she figured it got the point across.

Nothing was free.

Especially when people said it was.

These days sometimes not even kindness.

Favors were done with the intention of a return - a standing IOU to be collected at a later date.

Obligations. A cup of sugar. A spare bullet. A meal. A kind ear. It was all the same animal.

So when Spencer sat down on the bench beside her, a tanned blur of stubble and faint frown lines illuminated by the lantern at her feet, the first thing that came to mind as she wiped angrily at her cheeks - clearing her throat like it wasn't obvious she'd just been crying - was how much his solidarity was going to cost her.

Then he started talking.

He told her about charity dinners and fake people.

About things she'd never really thought about, things that came part and parcel with being a Congresswoman's son.

And in the end, when he moved a couple inches closer, face open, maybe needed this just as much as she did, she forgot about obligations, favors and IOUs.

For once, she just accepted what was being offered and let it draw her out. 

Shaking with quiet sobs into the strong of his chest as he did the same.

Easing each other through it as the night lost it's hold and dawn streaked the sky with the colors of a new day. 

Reminding her, whether she was ready for it or not, that new possibilities - better ones - might come rolling in right along with it.

 

Chapter Text

The tricky thing about a life - about saving a life - was that it didn't have a price.

There was nothing he could do or say that would ever measure up to what she deserved.

For what she'd done - for him - for all of them, well, there was no word or gesture in existence that could ever measure up.

So maybe it was a personal failing, but after the moment the expected words flew free from his tongue, honestly- he didn't even try.

He just had to trust she knew.

And she did.

In her own way.

Resolution was a word used by liars.

A word for petty people with petty problems, petty apologies for petty crimes.

Not for this.

Not for them.

For better or worse, they were beyond it.



Chapter Text

He lost something when they fell.

Almost like the life Nicholas took had been an act that'd leeched through to affect his own.

Like for that small, smattering of seconds he'd followed him somehow.

Straying down pathways and alleys that weren't meant for the living - but rather, the dead.

He blinked, ears ringing, seeing double as Nicholas - a figure now cut entirely in shades of grey - rose up from inside his own skin. 

 

He choked on the man's name when Nicholas paused, half crouched beside him - caught in the act of trying to touch as pale fingers seemed to slip right through him.

But the emotion that passed through in it's wake was like words.

Regret. Sorrow. Determination.

The image of him flickered like a flame guttering in it's own melt as he looked around, the cords in his neck straining.

Frowning like every part of him was struggling to hang on just a little bit longer before the man suddenly froze.

Face warped between a smile and a scream as Nicholas' arm streaked up and pointed towards-

 

He slammed back into his own body as blood fountained up from the ruin of Nicholas' chest.

Pinned down and screaming as the walkers tore at him.

At Nicholas.

He scrabbled away, sliding slickly on the pooling red as he threw off the man's dead weight and dragged himself away.

Barely aware that he was squirming towards the gap that stood out between the dumpster and blacktop behind him as a group of the walkers broke away from the body.

Snarling. 

Reaching.

Trying to drag him back out into the open as he kicked out and curled himself tight underneath.

Safe.

 

He breathed.

Great shuddering, painful sobs that devolved into retches as the taste of Nicholas' blood coated thick across his tongue.

Everything hurt.

Nothing was quiet.

Nothing made sense.

But at the end of the day, he figured that was a good sign.

If life was still like this - still hard - that probably meant he wasn't dead.

Yet.

Chapter Text

It’s juvenile.

She knows it is.

But that doesn’t stop her from giving Rick’s back the middle finger as he ambled out the door with that same stupid swagger he had when he’d come into their lives the first time. Unraveling everything from the seams out like he expected them all just to start fresh. To recycle the old and get with the new like it was breathing.

Him calling it off - whatever this was between them - had been the last thing on her mind when he’d shown up on the other side of her door just after dark the day Daryl, Sasha and Abraham had gotten back. They’d barely fought off the walkers that’d managed to get inside when the tower came down. They were all a little worse for wear. Bruised. Battered. Tired. Needing something to get them through it as the uncertainty of their futures loomed thick and heavy in the murky fall air.

She wasn’t sure if she’d even heard all of what he’d said. She didn’t have to. All she’d really needed was Michonne’s name coming from his lips and everything else slotted neatly into place behind it.

Christ, she sure knew how to pick ‘em, didn’t she?

Chapter Text

He slumped inside the house with a grunt that was 60% pain and the rest annoyed. Feelin’ monumentally put upon as he toed out of his boots and padded down the hall towards the kitchen, holey socks stinking rank as anything as he shrugged out of his vest and left it perched on the banister that led upstairs.

Carol said something about dinner in the fridge. Some casserole shit or something-

“Abaaaaaaaaaa!” Judith screeched, entire body wrigglin’ at the sight of him as she made up-up-up motions from her playpen. All insistent and shit.

His lip quirked up in spite of himself. Finding him doing just that as he scooped her up and let her lean against his shoulder. Hefting her easily as he slumped over to the fridge and fished out the container. Peeling off the lid before hunting around for a spoon.

He paused, spoon hanging out of his mouth when the sound of a gunshot echoed outside. Then another. Before angry shouting rose up in it’s wake like echos. He glared, pissed off enough that he flipped the bird and turned his back. Having no desire to get involved in whatever the hell was going on now as he jabbed his spoon back into the dish. Hunger gnawing a hole in the pit of his belly as his brain simmered in the background - still dwelling on his stolen crossbow and bike like that would somehow fix matters.

He nearly spat out his mouthful of casserole when she did the same. Jutting her little chin and sticking her middle finger out in front of her like a god damned banner.

He laughed - full out. Snorting through the urge to let it evolve all the way into a full out belly-laugh as she giggled. Clearly catching on to the excitement as she looked at her hand curiously. Flexing her fingers before she got the curl just right.

“Not bad kiddo,” he muttered, speaking through another spoonful of cold ass leftovers. “You coulda’ given me ‘in Merle a run for our money back in the day for sure. Ain’t nothing like being ahead of the learnin’ curve.”

She just grinned gummily, chubby little finger waving happily through the air while the other curled tight around the biscuit she’d been fisting. Flipping the bird to the world in general - monkey see, monkey do - as it slowly settled in that he might have created a monster.

“Common, kid. You aimin’ to get me in trouble?” he huffed, flickin’ gently at her nose as she squealed with glee. Mashing her soggy biscuit into his filthy shirt before her other hand came up - middle finger still high and proud as the devil reflected back at him in her pretty doe-eyes.

Aw shit. 

He plunked the squirt square into Eugene’s arms when the man came around the corner a few minutes later. Muttering something about building ratios before stuttering in surprise. Holding Judith by the armpits in front of him - like she might be combustible - while he made a quick exit off stage left. 

Maybe they wouldn’t think it was him.

Maybe she’d find something else to do other than-

“What the- Daryl!!!

He winced, eyes darting back up the street as Rick’s irritated yell carried. Quietly making tracks towards the downed side of the wall they hadn’t gotten around to fixing. Half wondering if Olivia would still be in the pantry so he could sign out a peashooter or somemat’.

It was about time he got Aaron and Eric those rabbits.

Yeah-

A lot of ‘em.

Chapter Text

Don’t let go.

Don’t let go.

Don’t-

He didn’t realize he’d closed his eyes until a soft hand curled around his cheek. Thumbing at the crease where the tears should be - the blood - only they came back dry. Whole. 

Like everything had somehow been rewound to a better time as the smell of freshly baked pie and a thinning lavender harvest turned every breath into an experience rather than a struggle.

“Noah?”

His eyes snapped open. 

And, for the first time in what felt like a very long time, he smiled.

 

Chapter Text

“You ever have one of those moments where you wish you could have gone back and done something differently?” she started, making an aborted reach for the glass of water in front of her before she realized her hands were shaking. Jamming them firmly between the throw pillows on the couch underneath her before looking up and meeting the woman’s eyes. “But- the terrible part is that it is only because you are where you are- now - that you’re able to recognize it?”

“Are you having one of those moments now?” Denise asked, setting own glass down with a surprisingly steady clunk. Expression mercifully non-judgmental and beautifully open. Looking more in her element than she had since, well, she’d known her. Serenely ignoring the sound of Sam's record playing the same song over and over and over and-

“Yes, godyes.”

Chapter Text

“You ever think about things? Like, if this was really how it all was supposed to go down?” Heath asked suddenly, looking out the window in the infirmary as Scott breathed quietly between them. Sleeping the sleep of drugged people everywhere as she changed the dressing on his leg. Spending more time than usual inspecting the wound. Taking advantage of the fact that the man wasn’t in a position to feel her fumbling as she made sure the stitches were still tight and showing signs of healing rather than more infection.

She pushed her glasses farther up her nose, blinking. Momentarily wondering what context he meant it in before going with the safe bet and following his gaze outside. Back towards the wall and whatever was lurking beyond it these days. Personally, she honestly had no idea. She’d never gone outside. Not once. Since they'd gone up she’d been content to be disgustingly insular. No risk. No reward. Just a steady sort of reality she’d found comfort in. She knew it wasn’t enough for everyone, but it had been for her.

“Sometimes,” she replied carefully. Remembering the feel of her pastel-colored office and it’s welcoming, neutral furniture. Remembering the clients she’d had booked the day the distant wail of sirens had seemed never ending and the sudden, brutal blare of the gunshot that’d echoed from the adjoining hall made her spill coffee all over her blouse.

The man shook his head, black hair wisping across his shoulders as he took off his glasses and scrubbed his eyes. Tired. “Because I keep thinking this isn’t it. It can’t be. This world? Those things? Hell, even me and you right now. It just feels like it should be different. That it was supposed to be different.”

She swallowed, tasting stale mouth and the bite of antiseptic that seemed to follow her around these days like a second shadow. It was a scent-memory that took her back there again. Back to when she’d asked Charlie to clear her schedule for the rest of the week. Telling him to go home and be safe and not bother coming in until things calmed down.

There had been someone slumped over in the entrance to the alley across from her building when she’d made outside. She nearly hurried past before she realized who it was. The same homeless woman she slipped her spare change to a couple times a month. She paused, reaching out. Wanting her shake her awake as people started running on the street behind her. Pushing and screaming even though she was sure half of them didn’t even know what they were running from. 

Herd mentality. 

The woman had a crude tattoo of an hourglass etched on her palm. She’d noticed it before. Even wondered about it every so often as the woman smiled gap-toothed at her and promised that she’d buy herself a hot meal and a warm place to sleep that night before swaying back down the alley to her little cardboard box and the faded Christmas tinsel she’d hung around the entrance even though it was the middle of July.

But the thing that made her pause. The thing that made her heart stop when she looked down at it, was that she could have sworn that the black line that showed the sand still left to fall was noticeably lower than it’d been the last time she’d looked. Standing out like a metaphor she hadn't understood yet as the wold shuddered on it’s foundations. Changing.

“It’s stupid,” he said after a moment, scratching at the back of his neck in discomfort like he regretted saying anything in the first place.

No. No it isn’t,” she insisted, surprising herself when the words came out belligerent and firm. Like it was important he know she believed him. That she felt it too. That in this, there was that same consensus - the same connection. Something she suspected they all felt some way or another. 

“It’s human. Thinking like that? It’s human. And no matter how much things have changed. We still have that. We are still that. That’s something we can hold on to. We have to.”

But instead of a smile or a nod, his eyes got distant. Like he was seeing something she couldn’t as he turned his gaze back towards the window and the wall that loomed in the distance.

“Not all of us,” he answered quietly, fingers tightening around the railing of Scott’s bed as the moment lengthening into something that threatened to make her skin crawl. “Not all of us.”

Chapter Text

When Rick hit the ground - slumping unconscious - the hush that fell over the street was thick. 

Hell, to be honest it was damn near suffocating.

Michonne just breathed, harsh and uneven into the aftermath. Expression conflicted as she folded herself smoothly and checked Rick’s pulse. Movements careful and undeniably compassionate as she turned him onto his side. Thumb brushing - soothing-tentative - across the back of his neck like an apology as Deanna cleared her throat behind them. Telling Nicholas something about the unfinished house and to keep him under watch as Carl rushed forward and rested his hand on his father’s shoulder. Looking up at Michonne questioningly until the woman shook her head. Both of them deflating as they looked around at the edging crowd with an expression that said everything.

What now?

How were they going to come back from this?

How was Rick?

Something firmed, cementing itself in the back of him mind like a tell as he looked down at the three of them with an unhappy expression. Neatly shunting aside the fear that had raised it’s head when the man had pulled his gun on them in favor of taking action. Finding himself stepping forward and sinking down on his haunches between them before he could even think it through, eyes kind.

First things first, they needed to get him off the street. 

The man had gone and had some sort of mental break.

He didn’t deserve to be stared at like an animal in the zoo.

“Lets get him somewhere more comfortable, huh? It’ll be easier if I take him, is that alright?” he asked gently. Ignoring the rise of conversation behind them as Michonne looked to Carl. Waiting for his nod before she inclined her head in response.

“Do you need a hand?” she asked, slipping to her feet before she leaned over and picked up Rick’s Glock. Shoving it into her waistband as he slung Rick’s arms into the v of his lap and lifted him up enough to get his arms underneath him.

He just smiled, hefting him easily as he lifted with his legs, feeling it in his thighs before he raised himself to his full height. Waiting until gravity settled him into the curve of his broad chest. Head cradled in the crux of his shoulder before he started walking in the direction of the unfinished house at the end of the row.

“Nope, it’s not a problem,” he hummed. Glad for the distraction as they ranged ahead of him. Struggling with the realization that for a man with such heavy problems, Rick Grimes was actually surprisingly small in comparison.

Huh.

Imagine that.


 

 

Chapter Text

“It was an accident,” he replied automatically when Carol leaned over his shoulder and looked down at his tray. Eyebrows threatening to disappear into her hairline as they looked down at well- whatever it was.

“I would have to disagree,” Eugene drawled, flinching away from Tara’s spatula when he got caught trying to pinch some dough. “It is scientifically improbable for the cookies to have melted that way accidentally. Not to mention fused together so that the bottom looks remarkably like a man’s-”

“But not impossible then,” Daryl growled back, tone threatening sulky-violence as he entertained whipping the contents of his tray across the room and ‘accidentally’ catching Eugene in the chin with the-

“Hey guys, how’s Baking 101 coming?” Eric hummed as he breezed through the front door. Making appreciative noises as he passed the others trays. Smelling the air with an easy smile  before he stopped dead in front of his tray.

“Um, Daryl? Why is your cookie shaped like a-”

“WE AREN’T TALKING ABOUT IT.”

Chapter Text

“Hello, gorgeous,” she murmured, eyes heavy and stinging as she blinked up into Carol’s face - blood spattered and quietly breaking as the woman pulled her gently onto her lap. Trying to stop the warmth from leeching out onto the snow as the slick iron of her own blood trickle-trailed between her fingers.

It was irony, really.

That asshole had shot her with her own gun.

Rude.

It was snowing again. Big ‘ol fluffy flakes that made the best packing for snowball fights and winters forts. She loved winter. Not the driving in it part, but the smell? The crispness of the air? Yeah, that was her jam. Winter reminded her of better things - better times. Like Megan in her too big winter boots, running around trying to catch the flakes on her tongue. It reminded her of fuzzy socks and boozy hot chocolate with dad on the weekends. And roasted marshmallows in the den fire place whenever mom was gone overnight for work.

“Tara, look at me!”

Part of her knew it was over.

Part of her was even ready.

But part of her was angry too.

They’d only started.

It wasn’t fair.

Carol had already lost so much and now-

“Tara, please-”

But she just smiled, needing to keep it that way for the both of them as her eyes gradually eased closed. Feeling the empty dark rushing in, soothing and warm, as a hand smoothed back her hair - shaking her. Dappling her parted lips with the tang of salt before-

Chapter Text

“Maggie?!”

The stranger was a son of man. That much was clear from first glance as the mayfly turned circles in the elder woods. He watched from the treetops as the man’s features - delicate and intriguing for a mayfly - furrowed in confusion. Calling out unfamiliar names into the thick air of the Greenwood as the heartbeat of the great forest thrummed on without interruption around them. The only true constant to the moment as his brothers and sisters cocked their heads in confusion as they observed the trespasser. 

“Rick?!”

It wasn’t until he was poised on a branch directly above that he realized there were layers to this one that he’d never seen before. He was dressed strangely. Clothing made without any visible stitches, once good quality, now worn to threads around him like the Rangers of the North - the sons and daughters of forgotten kings. But this son of man also carried strange weapons made with unfamiliar iron. Metals so far removed from the rock it had been born from that it’s echoes were barren of the world’s natural voice. Even his body it's was strange - his visage both above and below the skin. Scenting loss, despair and exhaustion as the man’s empty belly growled painfully into the muted quiet. But worse still was the smell, the unholy taint of spilled blood that trailed unsteadily in his wake - pebbling across his pale skin in half-dried splatters. Far fouler than any orc’s. Any servant of Mordor. Something that curdled the very sweetness of the air. Silencing the birds in the distant canopy as if even nature it'self saw fit to hold it's breath.

“Michonne!?”

This one was not of this world.

The song his footfalls made was jarring and ill-timed.

Like a rhythm out of sync.

“Daryl?!”

He dropped down seamlessly behind him. Silent and with his bow at the ready. He sensed no ill-intent in the man’s movements. Rather a good heart and a sharp mind pressed close to his limit. But was wary of the man's strangeness all the same. 

“You are lost,” he remarked simply. Keeping his face impassive as the son of man yelled and whirled in place. Strange weapon aimed up like a bow - shaking in he’s filthy hands - one finger curled around a strange looking notch in the metal. 

“Who are you!” the son of man demanded, eyes wide - yawning and deep - threatening to pull him into a fathomless chasm of darkness that seemed wrong for someone so young.

He repressed a shudder.

What horrors had this mayfly witnessed?

It took a moment for the next question to spill forth. Seeing his fears proven right when the man’s eyes stuttered over the curve of his ear and the armor that befitted his station as Prince of the Realm and showed no recognition. The man did not know what he was. For him the Eldar were not known. What did that mean?

“What are you?” the man whispered uncertainly.

“Peace, son of man, neither me nor my people wish you any harm this day," he answered, hand to breast. Aware of the rabbit-quick of the man's heartbeat. "I am Prince Legolas of the Woodland Realm, son of the Eldar, the first children of Eru. Guardians of Middle Earth."

The man simply blinked, scrubbing his free hand over his eyes like he was hoping to wake from some sort of dream.

“My people, I was with others,” the man started, turning around in another circle as the other wardens of the watch descended from the trees and sheathed their weapons. “My- where am I? This isn’t right, I-”

He held up a hand, sensing weakness - sickness - spreading through the youngling’s blood as the man wavered in place. 

“You are alone,” he told him gently, broaching the distance between them as the man looked at him - pleading for something that was not in his power to give. “Come, I will take you to my father’s halls, you will be safe.”

They walked in stuttered silence until the man’s legs gave out underneath him. 

Ignoring the looks from the others when he took the man up in his arms and carried him through the living gates of his father’s kingdom himself.

Bringing him to the healers and staying with him through the night as they cleansed his body with sweet smelling oils and songs of heart and healing. 

Looking to the stars for guidance as something in his heart splintered for the future this one was destined to return to.

Unable to shake the feeling that it was a fate no son of man deserved.

Chapter Text

“Whatever it is ye're running from, it can't be worth trying your luck in the wilds. The forest is no place for a woman. Especially one of your ken,” the man asserted, dark hair stringed wet across his face as he stared at her through the downpour. Eyes ember-hard as she took another tentative step backwards, hissing as the bark of a moss-covered tree dug harshly into her back. His face was uncompromising but not completely unkind despite the hand that rested on the pommel of his sword. Suddenly very aware that every inch of her soaked through as she eyed his thick cloak and voluminous kilt with envy. Nipples pebbling with the cold as she tried to turn her body away from his piercing eyes.

She didn’t know where she was.

But she knew it wasn’t where she was supposed to be.

Her and Ed had been arguing by the stones in Craigh na Dun.

He'd had his hand raised to hit her, then-

”If ye run, I will find 'ye,” he growled, as she shivered in her thin white dress. Missing her belt and blanket-shall and looking more like a shift every second as she crossed her arms over her chest defensively. “So try ye're luck, lass. If that’s what ‘ye wish. But if 'ye make me chase ‘ye in this downpour the cold will be the least of 'yer worries, understand?.”

And he would.

That truth was written plain as day across his face.

She was sure of it. 

“Com'on now,” he urged, voice soft and low like one might use on a skittish horse as she took a small step towards the thick yarn of the saddle blanket he was holding out to her. “That’s a lass.”

Suddenly struck by the idea as she looked up at him and found his eyes absolutely no where else.

Expression firm, but alive with dark questions.

Wondering if she truly looked wild enough to fit the title or if it was simply a matter of him having never talked much to a woman before.

Perhaps it was both.

She supposed that in the end it didn’t much matter as he shook the blanket over her shoulders and lifted her bodily onto the back of his horse. Forcing her to throw her trembling arms around his waist as he clicked his tongue and urged the animal into a watery canter. Closing her eyes into the worn felt of his jacket as flashes of the Red Coats, the sound of gunshots and the suspicious face of the man who'd looked so much like Ed flicker-flashed across her closed lids like an uneven reel of film at the cinema. 

She had lost her little Sophia to the Spanish Flu before the end of the war. 

She had survived Ed. 

And now she was lost in another place, another time with no idea how to get home - even if she wanted to.

There wasn’t much left of her that anyone could break.



As it turned out, like all truly ironic things do, as long as she was with Daryl, she came to realize that even if there was something out there that could hurt her now, he would always be there to help put her back together again. 

She might have fallen through time and stumbled through a thousand impossible things along the way, but funnily enough - the longer the months stretched - she had the feeling she'd finally found where she belonged.


 

"Aye, we're married, right enough,” Daryl started, looking much like he’d frozen to the flagstones of their room. Standing stock still beside what was soon to be their marriage bed as his hands covered hers and grasped them firmly when she reached for the intricate sliver pin that kept his kilt fastened around his hips. "But it's not legally binding, ye know, not until-”

The candles flickered from the depths of their own melt on the walls around them. Bathing the white-wash in a warm, tallow-golden glow that for once didn't make her homesick for electricity.

Only adding layers to the moment as the sounds of the wedding party carried on in the tavern underneath them.

"Carol- lass," he tried again, voice throaty and perhaps even a bit nervous as he looked down at her. Eyes skating across the arc where her night gown hugged across the curve of her hips. Capturing her chin in the calloused roughness of his palm as he cupped the point and tipped it up so that her eyes could stray no where else.

"Ye really sure now? When this is done, ye will be mine and mine alone. And I mean to keep ye', understand? This is an oath not meant to be broken. I dinna care what the fates say on the matter. And if th' stones tak' ye haem and away from me, know that I will follow 'ye."

She smiled, chest tight as the emotion filled her up to bursting. Something that made her feel ten years younger and almost new again. Whole. Something that made it impossible to resist stretching up on the tips of her toes to kiss him slowly. Digging her hands into his hair and pulling him down as he hardened against her. Thick and twitching under the folds of his kilt before she shocked a grunt of air from his throat when she squeezed him gently through the fabric.

She wasn't going anywhere.

She was already home.

“Je suis prest,” she whispered, murmuring his own words back to him as the muscles under her hands slowly started to relax. "I am ready."



Those were the last words spoken aloud between them for quite some time.

And frankly, they were both glad for it.

Chapter Text

"Self destruction, whatever this is - whatever you're doing - isn't an attractive quality, you know," she remarked, handing him his half of their last granola bar as the sun dipped low on the horizon. Highlighting the spotty film on the window in the worst way.

"I don't know about that," he returned, riding the lighter side of crass as he gave her a clear once over. "You made it look pretty damn good."

It would have been an easy enough thing to dismiss.

But the words and his expression were showcasing two very different things.

His expression was playful.

Promising.

But the words were needling.

Purposeful.

Stinging deep.

Still, she didn't let it show on her face.

This wasn't about her, after all.

"You think you're dealing with it? Figuring it out? Letting yourself feel it? But you aren't. You haven't got there yet. All this is the just a distraction. Desperation," she asserted, leaning forward in her chair, legs spread wide. Not quite caging him into the corner, but body language leaving little doubt to her meaning. "You're afraid. You're afraid because you know that if you let the fight go there is a chance...a chance you won't have anything left. Believe me, I know."

His chair squeaked, a weak metallic protest as his spine hardened against the plastic back in fractions.

"You've lost. I've lost. We've all lost. But you can't stay this way. The way I was? The way you are? It can't go on."

"Like two peas in a pod," he remarked with a wry smile.

But she shook her head.

"No, grief isn't a mirror. What I felt was completely different from what you're wrestling with. And personally, I think you lost far more than a mission, am I right?"

His face was stone.

Craggy.

Hard.

But cracked somewhere in the middle like the precursor of a devastating fall.

"We all lost people," he answered slowly, offering absolutely no more than that as he leaned back a fraction. On edge and wanting to retreat despite the usual fiery stubbornness that kept him firmly planted.

"Yeah we did," she agreed, palms flat on top of her thighs as she looked back at him without censure. "Some more than others. Some of us are still dealing with the first ones. Everyone is different. But the way most people heal - if they let themselves heal - is like a tapestry. In stages. Over time."

Somewhere outside, a walker growled. Idle and listless as it wandered off into the growing dusk.

"So what's it going to be, Abraham?" she continued, spreading her arms out to gesture at the two of them and the ransacked office around them. Calling him out as unsteady reels of memory pulsed like a heartbeat in her mind's eye.

Her settling back on top of the pile of walker bodies she was supposed to be burying.

Bob's jacket cuff fraying.

That lonely grave beside the Weeping Willow.

Her brother's hat lonely amidst the encroaching green.

“Here we are, two people alone in the middle of nowhere with only time to kill, sounds like an opportunity to me,” she hummed easily - openly.

"This ain't no honky-donk high school sleepover," he growled, standing up so abruptly that the chair toppled backwards. Straightening to his full height as he towered above her. A mess of control issues and barely tempered anger. "And there ain't no point in waking the dead. I'm going to do a patrol around the building. Stay put and keep a look out"

She watched him go thoughtfully.

The dead could wait.



It wasn't until later, when he was on watch and she was curled in the corner trying to sleep that he replied. Hours late and anguish-quiet as the words aired out softly into the humid summer air.

"My daughter would have liked you."

She stared at the wall for a long time after that.

Chapter Text

She cracked an eye open sometime later, deciding to take it as a win when Daryl groaned and flopped awkwardly, half off the bed. Looking about as thoroughly destroyed as she felt as they came down together. She turned her head slowly, savoring it, feeling the satisfied throb of his echo in her center as she took him in, unashamed. 

His bare chest was still heaving, beaded to an appealing shine with a film of cooling sweat. His arm was tossed over his eyes, hiding his face. Bare toes playing with the carpet-scruff as he swung his leg back and forth into the midnight-quiet. 

It was so oddly comforting that she laughed. Startling him enough that he lost his precarious perch on the edge of the bed and would have fallen if she hadn't reeled him in at the last minute.

It was a testament to how far they'd both come than neither of them flinched.

And when Daryl ended up rolling back on top of her a few breathless moments later - looking down at her, eyes heavy-lidded and dark as he snaked a hand underneath her and brought her hips up to meet every thrust - she saw her own lazy-pleased smile reflected back two-fold.

Everything was as it should be.

Chapter Text

She was on the curb in front of her house having a smoke before they left to deal with Negan and his Saviors as dawn broke.

Her face was tired.

She felt tired.

All those things were true and definitely not anything new in the scheme of things.

But what was new was the low hum of satisfaction coiled warm in the pit of her belly as her eyes strayed down the road towards Tobin’s house on the corner. Either unable or unwilling – she wasn’t sure exactly which – to help the cat who’d got the canary grin that’d so far refused to fade since she’d woken up to his warm weight, solid and gently-kind beside her, less than an hour before.

She’d left while he was still sleeping - snoring, somehow not obnoxiously – so she could get ready before they headed out.

And she had to admit, leaving all that, naked and barely covered by the mess they’d made out of the sheets, was a crying shame.

It'd been a long time for both of them but Tobin still managed to give her exactly what she didn’t know she’d even needed until she was moving in for that kiss on his front porch.

She was so distracted she didn’t notice Rosita coming around the corner until the disconcerting jerk of fear threatened to wrench her insides out through her navel.

Making her flinch for her gun before the hazing shadow she’d only really caught out the corner of her eye abruptly took shape.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s alright,” she breathed, letting her heart-rate slow naturally as she retrieved her half-smoked cigarette from the grass. Giving the younger woman a forced smile as she took in the rest.

All she needed to see was the red-rimmed eyes and the angry line of Rosita’s lips to get the gist of it.

A woman didn’t need to ask to know that look.

She handed over the cigarette without question. Staying quiet when a conflicting mess of expression flickered across the woman’s face as she took it from her. Watching it burn down between her fingers for a long moment before speaking.

“I stopped because Abraham didn’t like it,” she started, shaking her head like she wasn’t sure who she was more pissed at. Abraham or herself. “Said there was nothing worse than kissing an ashtray with lips. Christ, that hijo de puta.”

She took a purposeful drag like it was an act of aggression – defiance – only to cough and wrinkle her nose. Looking so ridiculously young she had half a mind to snatch it back and tell her she’d be better for it. That she shouldn’t start. That it wasn’t a good pastime to rediscover, even if you were just trying to punish someone – or maybe yourself.

“Ugh, that’s awful,” Rosita exclaimed, handing it back with clear distaste as she coughed again and spat discretely behind them in an effort to get rid of the taste.

It startled a laugh from her.

Unexpected and jarring before mirth trickled in.

Because yeah, they really, really were.

“Are you okay?” she asked when the moment had sobered.

“I will be,” Rosita answered, smile shallow and wan. Color coded in shades of unhappiness that was such a silent scream for help than she couldn’t help but toss the rest of the cigarette on the ground. Grinding it back into the earth with her heel as Tobin's words came back to haunt her - reminding her what she still was at the core, even after everything. Poisoning the ground with the leftover chemicals, just like she was poisoning herself as she reached for the woman instinctively.

“Come here,” she murmured, bringing Rosita into the thin of her chest as she hugged her tightly. Feeling the muscles in the woman's back tense, then finally slacken as she let herself sink into it.

“Never be ashamed to ask for what you need,” she whispered, pressing a quiet kiss into the woman’s dark hair before they separated.

She’d learned that the hard way.

But she liked to think that recently – with the warmth of another person, a good person, still fading from her skin - she was on the right track to getting better at it.

Because while her conscience wasn’t exactly quiet, it had stopped screaming.

And believe it or not, for her, that was progress.

Chapter Text

"Eugene, hon- you got a bit of- ah...oh- viscera on you, sweetie," Olivia opened, eying him from head to toe despite her own self being just as messed up. White blouse, skin, even her black patented shoes had all bore the brunt of it. Splattered from head to toe in air-drying crimson.

It was her expression he got caught on though. Seeing the same thing reflected back as they stood together in the middle of it. Coming down from the adrenaline and hiccuping through the delayed lurch of nausea as the walkers they'd faced head on ringed around them like-

Honestly, he didn't even have a comparison.

Tired was the name of the game and he had a feeling things had only just started. They'd fought right through the night. They'd won. But from where he was standing, it was already a new day and the very real possibility that something else could go equally as wrong in the intervening moments was more than just a very real possibility. Experience had taught him that. Being out on his own had taught him that. This world had taught him that. Taught him that-

"Com'on hon, lets get'cha cleaned up, hmmm?"

When he looked over, forcing himself to focus, he was surprise to realize she was holding out her hand. Machete still drizzling red over the piles of dead in her left as he crossed that last little divide and cupped her palm awkwardly. Relieved when she simply laced their fingers together and made it easy. Tugging him forward.

"My shower is more than big enough for the two of us."

And oh-

Well then.

With an offer like that, he'd be a fool to refuse.

And he was no fool.

Not today at least.

Chapter Text

"Glenn? Oh jesus chr-"

By the time Rick and the others found him it was too late.

The thing called Negan was dead.

He'd killed the monster, the dirty spark that'd been hidden inside.

But he'd left the man alive.

Left him stripped.

Raw.

But frustratingly, still not broken.

It was a learning process, he'd come to realize.

Truly breaking a man.

He'd tried to immolate what the monster had done to him.

He'd killed his people.

He'd sprayed bullets through the harem.

He'd ripped him apart piece by piece. Keeping him alive and alert through every single minute of it as he'd screamed with him into the eves until the echoes melded together and not even he could tell where his voice ended and the monster's began.

He didn't say a word when the others stared at him, wordless, as he rose to his feet. The action smooth and composed as he sheathed his hunting knife with a practiced flip. Muting the silence with their startled horror as he leaned down and wiped the blade of his machete clean on the man's shirt while the asshole still breathed. Being sure to exact the smallest amount of hair-line pressure as he let the blade sink through in fractions with every swipe.

The smallest cuts always hurt the most.

That was what Negan had taught him from the very beginning.

Sometimes it wasn't about the weapon or the wound.

It was about what you took when you did it.

They parted like water, hushed and frightened as he approached. Feeling nothing when Rick stumbled back, blinking, looking at him like he'd never quite seen him before as someone- maybe Tara strangled his name in the background.

He didn't blame them for it.

He was a creature of pitted steel and unending red now.

He'd accepted that.

But neither would he tolerate anyone stopping him from leaving either.

Which, of course, they tried.

Something which had him shrugging off Michonne's hand with a half-violent jerk that turned into bared teeth and an animal snarl when Daryl circled close. Looking like he wanted to say something - do something - before the expression on his face stopped the man cold.

He was beyond them now.

For the first time in a long time, he was looking at the world exactly as he should be.

Behind him the dead man gurgled through a crimson-slick laugh, choking on it's own insides as freshly blinded eyes stared off into nothing. Blacked out pits of tar-thick sludge that trickled thick down his bloody cheeks like a mockery of tears.

He still felt nothing.

"Let it turn," was all he said before he walked out alone into the cooling dusk.

His work here was done.

Chapter Text

Fact of the matter was, there just wasn't a bed made big enough for four.

Now that certainly didn't stop Tara and Spencer from trying mind you.

Perusing through the stores, even people's homes, mostly just for the hell of it.

I mean, there had to be other freaks like them out there, right?

Like in those reality TV shows Tara never shut up about?

But that didn't change the fact that in the meantime, trying to fit four full grown adults on one king-sized mattress didn't present more than a few challenges.

Challenges which often included waking up with a set of feet in his face because someone had gotten the bright idea to try fitting in sideways.

Or startling himself awake when someone shifted during the night and he suddenly had a lap-full of sleeping Carol and a boner that was being extra persistent about where her hands had landed.

It also meant falling clear off the bed hours before he was due on watch because Spencer had decided to stretch out like the worlds biggest asshole star fish.

Or getting half suffocated under a warm pile of leech-limbs and clammy skin come summer, everyone all extra clingy and shit after his latest close call out on the road .

So yeah.

The bed was too fucking small.

Not that he minded.

Much.

Chapter Text

It wasn't funny.

That was the saddest part when he reflected on it as he rinsed out the sink. Leaning heavily on the counter to offset the lingering aches and pains in his broken ankle as Aaron showed Daryl around the garage. Mostly just
procrastinating starting on the drying as he look out the little window above the sink and listened to the sound of the party at Deanna's carry on at full swing.

He'd smiled at Aaron over dinner as Daryl had dug in, slurping spaghetti and wiping his mouth with his sleeve hurriedly before repeating the process all over again. He'd bitten down on a laugh because at the time, it had been funny. Table manners, or whatever. Things about the old world - conceptions, practices, expectations - that they were still holding onto for some reason.

He'd thought it'd been funny.

But it wasn't.

It wasn't funny because when he and Aaron had come across them they'd been starving. Not just hungry. Not just dehydrated. But as close to starving as he ever seen another living thing in person.

He remembered huddling next to Aaron as they'd listened to the groups conversations through the reciever a couple days before they'd decided to try leaving out some water as an opener. Nose wrinkling when one of them, Eugene, mentioned how the dogs had been days ago and that was the last any of them, save for the two youngest, had had by way of food.

At the time he'd been horrified. They'd never met a group this big, that bad off that hadn't turned on each other yet for what little was left. But they were different. Cohesive. They were a family. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that the younger two always ate first.

As it was, he couldn't imagine it.

He'd been hungry before.

They all had.

But not that hungry.

Not hungry enough.

He'd heard the others talking about it.

Gossiping.

Little comments here and there.

How they'd seen Carl sneaking away bits of his dinner for later.

How the baby had apparently gone all this time without trying banana mash.

How-

He shook his head.

The point was they were here now.

Safe.

As safe as you could be.

And he hoped more than anything that none of them would ever have to go hungry again.



Chapter Text

When he'd been a kid, before the fire, their next door neighbors had been some old couple with Danish-lace drapes and green porcelain bathroom sinks. They'd been decent people. The kind that looking back maybe paid a bit too much attention to other people's business, but with his family, he figured it was hard to really blame 'em. As a kid though, they'd been golden. The old man had never raised his voice when he and Merle fucked up his rose bushes or flattened his front hedge that one time by sending a wheelbarrow through it. And the wife always seemed to have freshly baked cookies waftin' out the window like you see in those old tv shows. All good smells and better vibes when things at home had been anything but.

So naturally, when the old lady had gone and broken her hip and there went a week or two without any of them cookies on the sill to pinch, he and Merle went to investigate. She got them mostly cleaned up and huddled together in the breakfast nook with heaping plates of peach cobbler as she tottered around on a walker, still feisty as anything. Ranting about her new hip and life in general. Going on about having some fool metal in her now that she was just sure was going to make her joints ache all the worse come winter.

It was Merle who'd finally asked. Managing to get a word in edge wise between mouthfuls of thick pastry and sugary peach syrupy when she was finally forced to take a breath. Sounding surprisingly curious about the entire thing as the old bat tapped the side of her walker smartly before starting up again.

"What kind of metal?"

Titanium.

And that was kind of how he felt on any given day.

Strong and needed, but unasked for and intrusive all the same.

Especially when it came to what he had with Glenn and Maggie.

He was an extra piece.

An addition.

A snap on unoriginal.

But to their credit they never made him feel like that.

They'd always been good that way.

That particular brand of self-loathing was all on him.

It'd taken a long time for him to start thinkin' different.

A long time for him to understand that this was more than just some fling.

That they weren't complete unless he was right there with 'em.

Now it was like breathing.

They just worked somehow.

So when they got her and Carol back from Negan's bitches, he could help but have her as many times as she was willing to put up with as the three of them tangled up the sheets and filled their room with the sound of flesh against flesh in only the best way possible.

It was only later, when he'd somehow gotten sandwiched between them and was dealing with their off-kilter rhythms. Breathing low and sleep-heavy on either side of his chest, that he realized he felt the same. And for more than a few reasons.

They were building something here.

Something more than just a future.

After all, didn't they say that titanium was one of the strongest things out there?





Chapter Text

She fingered the beads of the rosary through the rough-thin of her canvas pants. Counting them steady-slow as the words to the prayer rose like a familiar ghost in the back of her mind. It used to be self-soothing. She remembered that once. But not now. Not today.

She was leaving.

Before dawn.

While Tobin was still sleeping.

She’d already written the note.

She had everything she needed.

The only thing left to do was wait.

She hadn’t counted on that being the hardest part.

The sad truth was that anxiety turned wolves into dogs. And like all animals - all anxieties - they tended to multiply. Turning into more than just one mouth to feed when you had nothing left - emotionally, mentally, spiritually, even physically - to spare. 

The world had left her in a thousand pieces without a dust-pan or a broom.

Without a reason.

And she just couldn't-


Daryl’s eyes were wide when she caught him in the doorjamb.

Feeling the slack in his jaw when she kissed him full.

Demanding it as he huffed into the slant of her neck and gathered her in.

But she wasn’t interested in gentle or soft. And soon enough, he joined her in that place where her nails made red furrows down his back. Repatriating old scars and making them new under her hands as he lifted her up and cussed his way through the ruin of her name when she took him in with a single hiccuping glide. Living for the expressions on his face that flirted coy with the shadows of his room as his hips hitched up and the blunt of his teeth caught on her lower lip and pulled.

Every kiss was a goodbye he didn’t know about yet. 

And she figured that out of all the things she'd done, if there was anything she was going to burn for, it was that.

Chapter Text

They say your life passes in front your eyes before you die.

That you get it all back.

All the important moments.

Forgotten moments.

Bittersweet regrets.

Everything.

She'd had patients who'd suffered from near death experiences.

She'd sat across from car-crash survivors and victims of assault and attempted murder.

Lord knows she'd proscribed enough anti-anxiety and anti-depression medication to tranquilize a fully grown African elephant.

But it wasn't until that moment, that split second or awareness that something was terribly, awfully wrong, that she knew all those those stories had been full of shit.

Her life had been flashing before her eyes ever since the world ended.

She didn't know what that said about her.

About her life.

About everything.

But it was what it was.

All there was for her now was Tara.

She never reached the nothing part.

Chapter Text

"You don't have to," she started, a mess of hairline tremors and kiss-swollen lips that were just begging to get redder under the sharp of his teeth as she looked down at him.

Stuck on the sudden quiet.

Neither of them really acknowledging the way he'd froze up halfway to the prize.

Stiff and awkward as the nearly trimmed v of her slicked wet and interested square in front of his face.

The proof of how much she was into this glistening like a secret on the very plush of her lower lips.

Fuck.

He swallowed hard, shaking his head as he squinted up at her through the mess of his fringe.

"I want to- I got this."

It was so juvenile sounding he could have slapped himself.

He finally had her.

They were finally here - now.

And here he was acting like he'd never seen a god damned pussy before.

He licked his lips, nervous. Tongue smoothing over the chaps and cracks as he reached forward and traced his thumb down the seam of her. Memorizing every pretty, encouraging sound she made as he settled in for the long haul.

He wanted to do this right.

Do right by her.

Hell, as far as he was considered she would be a first time every time.

Because god knows this had been coming for far too long for him not to make a big deal about it.

"Sit back," he rasped, easing her down. Jamming a pillow underneath hips as she watched him through pleasure-slitted eyes.

Ready and waitin'.

He started off easy. 

All teasing flicks and gentle laps as he wrapped his arms around her thighs and spread her wide open.

Remembering one of the few things Merle had ever told him that'd been worth listening all the way through.

Pleasing a woman - especially like this - well, the thing was, there was an art to it.

Chapter Text

"I’m like 20% sure this plan will work. The other 80% means we could die horribly and violently, but honestly it’s a really solid plan,” he babbled to himself, fumbling with the fuse as the tiny beam from Aaron’s pen light shone half-heartedly into the undercarriage of the RV.

Well, the others might die.

Specifically the very people he was trying to save.

But not him.

Probably.

He’d already proven he had a particular immunity to large explosions.

Not like that fact was particularly helpful given their current situation. 

Which apparently included a mass murder with a proclivity for baseball memorabilia and barbed wire. Something that, if you asked him, was tacky on top of tacky. But considering the man was calling the shots around here, he was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

For now.

He could almost picture Uncle Fester’s expression. Knowing without having to think too hard what criticisms would pour right out with it. The man’s technique was terrible of course. Torture was an art. Not a cheap sideshow amusement. It needed the proper lighting, timing and atmosphere. Probably decent plumbing if he could be so forward to suggest it. And the use of leather? Overdone to say the least.

Ah, family.

“Maggie...Maggie...no...don’t!”

He looked up, peering through the gloom as Glenn lurched forward, trying to take Negan’s attention way from where Maggie was curled over. The exquisite tang of her pain tarting the air like the sweetest perfume. Delectable even from this distance.

But his eyes narrowed dangerously when Negan just laughed.

He needed to work faster.

Ugh, having human friends was so much work.

 

Chapter Text

He wasn't a patient man.

He'd admit to that.

The only chain he liked around his neck was the one he'd linked around himself. And, if he was being honest with himself, usually accompanied by someone of the female persuasion holding the other end. All silky and sultry because she'd gotten it in her pretty little head that there was no such as teaching an old dog new tricks.

So, naturally, listening to this bag of dicks monologue like he was on center stage somewhere was stepping so far on his last nerve he might have well have been floating in outer space.

He'd known people like this. He'd served with a handful of them in the force. Even hustled their asses over the green during track and field when he'd taught gym before the world went tit up and started waving the white flag, hollering mercy. Snot nosed privileged, self-absorbed little shits that liked the sound of their own noise.

Under normal circumstances he would speak his mind, but, with a gun against his head - so to speak - and the current threat of the leather loving mother fucker getting all 'three strikes and you're out' on them? Well, when you kept in mind the alternative, he was content to bite and swallow his way through the shitty part of today's crap sandwich.

For now.

He looked around, taking in as much as he could as fast as he could. Trying to get the lay of the land and the breadth of the situation as the dark threatened to swallow the others further down the line.

Maggie looked like pounded shit.

Daryl looked worse.

Rick looked like he'd seen hell up ahead and there was no detour.

Sasha and Rosita were-

He frowned, forcing the thought away.

Wasn't this just a peachy little vacation?

The man was in mid-song when he turned his attention on the pack of dogs that surrounded them. Something deep in his heart of hearts chilling like a deep freeze cranked to max when he saw less loyalty than he originally figured. 

Instead, fear was the common denominator.

Like they'd all been here once and part of them was still on their knees in the grass, wondering-

When it happened, when the rhyme stopped and the bat swirled in front of him - barbed wire catching the light, a mockery of a pretty thing - he only had time to square his shoulders and look up, firm and without fear, before the world went red stained and dark.

Chapter Text

He didn’t realize how quiet things were in his head until he and his dad stayed overnight in that house after the prison fell. 

If he was telling the truth, quiet was the exactly opposite of what he felt right now. 

But here he was, getting lonely inside the silence as his dad slept downstairs. 

The room he was reading in wasn’t anything like his old one back home, but it could have been. 

It could have been something he might have grown into - grown up in - if the world had given him the chance.

Chapter Text

She was waiting in the living room when Rosita open the door.

She listened as the woman eased the door through it's premature, geriatric creaks before they met hollow, red-rimmed eyes in the low light.

It was like looking into a mirror.

"We need to talk," she said shakily, not sure if she was more surprised or grateful when Rosita sucked in a breath - hitching through a swallow that could have been tears if she had any to spare - before nodding jerkily.



"I'm not going to make excuses for him. That man wasn't in his feelings half the time he should have been and the other half he was too much. A man should know better. Anyone should," she finally spoke. Seeing no reason not to get right to the point. To dig right down to the festering soreness that had been building between them ever since Abraham had shown up outside her house with the right words and the right face. The one she hadn't realized she'd been waiting for until it was right in front of her.

He hadn't been hers for long, but he had been hers.

"He did you wrong. How he left things between you? That's on him. Just because he's- just because he's dead doesn't make him beyond approach. I know he'd understand  if he were here," she murmured, losing the hard edge of determination as the flickering-dark of the storm building outside flashed the afterimage of spreading red and the strong line of his back in front of her. Threatening tears as her sore eyes compounded the headache building between her temples.

She watched Rosita work her way through a swallow. Eyes sheened with tears as she eventually nodded. Daubing at the corners before she sighed and - eventually - huffed a laugh. Taking a deep breath before speaking for the first time since she'd opened the door.

"I was never mad at you, not really. I was mad at him. Mad at myself. Everything. But now-"

But now.

She nodded, understanding.

What now?

It was a question they were all struggling with.

They weren't strangers to loss, not by a long shot.

But this had felt different right from the start.

It was different.

They hadn't lost Abraham to walkers.

They'd lost him to a mad man with a bat.

That same mad man they were going to have to deal with - sooner rather than later.

"How's Eugene?" she asked. It wasn't changing the subject. Not exactly. It was just she couldn't help thinking about the noise Eugene had made in the back of the RV afterwards. Something between a howl and a terrible, strangled silence.

"The same. He thinks it's his fault," Rosita answered, scrubbing her face with her hands. Shaking her head before straightening again. "Tara is with him. He needs her right now."

The silence that lapsed wasn't strained. It was just aware of itself. Enough that she could hear the wind whisking the blinds in the kitchen from where someone had cracked the window a half inch. Enough to highlight the quiet of an empty house. Rooms with no people. No things. No-

"I think- I think he had kids. A wife. Before all this," Rosita whispered softly. Expression jumbled between pain and a far more complicated thrum of discomfort as the words made her look up. Chilled heat cramping her fingers as they tightened around the arm rests in spite of herself.

"Eugene told me this morning...he told me how he met him. How he found him. He said he couldn't be sure, he was exhausted and it was from across a parking lot, but he said he had a gun and-"

Rosita cut herself off abruptly, swallowing thickly. Blinking fast and looking up at the ceiling like she could stave off the tears. Just for a few more seconds. Like it would matter somehow.

"I know Abraham...knew-" the woman's voice cracked. "He was a soldier. A fighter. He wouldn't even think of going out that way unless..."

Unless he had something left to fight for.

Something left to live for.

Take that away and what were any of them?

She'd never been the type of person to shy away from honesty. From the truth. Even if it was hard. But right now she hated the taste of it in her mouth. Just like she'd hated the dead weight of him rattling loosely beside her on the mattress in the RV on the way home. Wrapped up in a blanket that still managed to stain the cheap foam red.

They'd all lost something - someone - when things ended.

But some people had lost more than others.


Neither of them said very much of anything after that.

They let the silence do the rest.

Chapter Text

"You know, there's a perfect possible future out there where everything will turn out just fine," Tara told her, completely out of the blue one morning while they were still in a bed - toes tangled. More or less ignoring their responsibilities as the sound of daily life in the Kingdom carried on outside their trailer. Nosy and bright as always.

She blinked up at the ceiling, smiling small for a long moment before turning her head. Getting a face full of messy brown as Tara shook her hair free from it's pony tail. Rubbing her toes together with that nervous tic she hated to love.

"Perfect possible future, huh?"

Tara nodded, expression somewhere between smarmy and a leer as her eyebrows wriggled. Apparently dead set on fishing for laughter today as she couldn't help but snort up at the ceiling. Treating the water stain above the bed to the full breadth of emotions as she tried not to let any darker thoughts take root.

"Let me guess the odds on that," she hummed playfully, getting a shove for her efforts. Realizing, not for the first time, that her life included a lot more laughter since Tara had contentedly bulldozed her way into it.

"My point is, who's to say we aren't in it now?" Tara pointed out, eyes crossing as she blew at a stray wisp of hair hanging stubbornly over her eyes. "That this is as bad as things are going to get and from here on out everything is going to be-"

"Good?" she supplied, knuckling the thatch of hair back behind her lover's ear with the curl of her forefinger.

"Yeah," Tara murmured, dozing off a bit. "Good."


She thought about that for a long time.

Deciding that at the end of the day, she certainly liked the sound of it.

Chapter Text

“It’s freezing,” Eric complained, cheeks tinted freckle-red as he peered out from underneath what looked like at least three different scarves.

“You’re wearing four layers,” he pointed out - mildly amused when Eric sniffed unhappily. “Oh come on, lets just catch the bus home and I’ll make soup.”

“And hot chocolate,” Eric demanded, nose as red as his cheeks - actively trying to bury himself deeper into the snow-coated tangle of scarves. “With booze.”

“Deal,” he hummed warmly, taking his arm as they started off towards the bus stop.

Chapter Text

He wanted to wait.

To ease 'em into it

You know, do shit the right away instead of the way they usually did things.

But the truth was, he was too greedy not to start pushing the boundaries a little - especially after Carol came back to Alexandria with him. After everyone’s wounds were more or less healed and she was home, with him, where she belonged.

It was nothing bad, mind you.

Nah - nothing like that.

It was just- stretchin’, ya know?

Feeling each other out as they negotatied the rest with their bodies and tried to figure out where they stood with each other when everything was said and done. 

It wasn’t easy. Hell, his heart had been pounding like a son of a bitch the time he eased his fingers through her hair and tugged. Tense and eager all at once as he waited to see how she’d respond.

If she’d curl away or-

But she didn’t. 

And suddenly it wasn’t just him that was fucking gagging for it.

Because she was right there with ‘im.

Her little moans of pleasure ringing out all the louder as he knotted his knuckles in that mess of sweet silver-tint and pulled.


 

Maybe that was the thing, maybe there weren’t no right way.

Chapter Text

He was wedged between her theighs - tongue curling around the pearl of her - slick down his chin when he heard it.

That first, stuttered, surprised little moan.

He looked up, panting into the half dark as she shuddered. Body trying to follow him as he watched her. Licking his lips and owning her taste as her breasts quivered.

And hell if that didn't light a fire in 'im.

Not sure if he was more aroused or in danger of drowning in his own god damn pride when he finally leaned down and did it again.

Finding a strange sort of pleasure in knowing she was reaching her own when she started grabbing at him.

Making noise.

Sounds.

Needing it.

Needing him as she tugged at the long of his hair, begging him to be just that much closer.

To kill any distance that remained between them and just fucking dive right in the same time as her lithe little hips started hammering forward like the kick-back of one of the semi-autos.

And yeah-

He figured this right here was the kind of shit that made the rest of this sorry ass world worth it.

Chapter Text

The truth was, nothing ever happens the way you expect it to.

It keeps her up sometimes, toes tangled in the sheets as Rosita slept close beside her.

That they only got here because people died.

People they'd loved.

People they'd cared about.

It wasn't the way she'd wanted things to happen, but they had.

She figured it was on her - on them - to accept that. To make good use of what they'd been given as the weeks since Denise and Abraham's death turned into months, years and so on. Even when there were days - bad ones - where that was honestly the last thing she wanted to do.

Yeah, survivors guilt was a bitch like that.

But here they were.

Together.

Practically breathin' in sync.

Smelling Rosita's familiar smell in the crease between their pillows.

The evidence of them strewn all around the room in form of clothes and knick-knacks.

A couple of years worth of togetherness.

The type of thing that was enough on the good days and just painful enough to sting on the bad.

But at the end of the day, they had each other.

And that was enough.

It had to be.

Chapter Text

She couldn’t help but get stuck on it when he licked his lips and eyed her through the mess of his fringe. Worrying at his lower lip with his teeth as his thumb made tracks towards her center.

Anyone who didn’t know him better might think he was putting on a show. That he knew what he was doing enough to be cocky about it. That he was teasing her somehow. Building the molten warmth pooling in her belly hotter and hotter.

But she knew better.

This was him.

Daryl.

Pure and simple.

Hedonistic, uncertain and careful in spades.

And christ if he wasn’t worth the wait.


 

She had no real point of reference for what happened next. When Daryl slid down the blue-veined pale of her. Stubble rasping down the red of more than a few healing wounds before he came to a stop.

Breathing hot and humid against her center through the thin of her panties. Turning the air muggy and thick as he nosed into the damp cotton. Looking up at her for a long, deliberate moment before he pressed his tongue against her. Firming it up against the nub of her clit through the layer like an introduction.

Her throat dipped like an unvoiced cry.

Ed hadnt-

Not ever.

Not once.

But Daryl-

“You gotta say it,” he chided, hiding his face in the curve of her. Voice so wrecked already that she was sure one of them was going to die. “Please…Carol. You gotta- I need to know this is okay. That yer-”

The cieling above them was a patch-mark tapestry of old water stains and home renovation regrets. But it was enough. Enough to remind her that the worst wounds were the ones left untended and gaping. The ones you didn’t think you needed to treat - that they would go away eventually - rather than turn gangerine-inked and infected.

She opened her mouth as he nuzzled back in. Nose rubbing just so as she buried her hand in his hair and arched. Letting everything else go.

“More…”

And he gave her everything.

Chapter Text

He was still panting, chest heaving with one hand slung over his face, when he finally looked up at her through the cracks between his fingers. 

“I didn’t.. I didn’t know you liked it like that...” he rasped, still just a little bit out of breath. Enough to be endearing rather than a reflection of the fact that - strictly speaking - they were both probably a bit too old to be steadily ticking off the boxes of mutual sexual discovery.

She just grinned, stretching out across the mattress as her ass burned pleasantly. Cheshire-wide and almost disgustingly pleased with herself as she slung her thigh over his. Feeling his cock - now soft and dripping into the crease of his thigh - twitch at the pressure of skin to skin as she nuzzled close.

Finding a delicious little thrill in the fact that she would be able to feel it - him - every time she sat down for the next couple of days at least.

Chapter Text

The dinner party was still in full swing outside when he slowly made his way up the steps and into the house. His son sleeping fitfully in his arms. Too exhausted to keep his eyes open, but too excited to be deeply asleep. Not yet anyway.

He eased the door open and inhaled, smiling. Following the lingering scents of dinner and Maggie’s perfume up the stairs and into their room. Familiar house. Familiar smells. Only now starting to thin out - vanishing slowly like shifting dunes and warm mist on a cool morning. An impermanent reminder that everything fades, given enough time.

His son squirmed across the mattress of his almost too small crib. Admittedly, they’d been putting off getting him a ‘big boy bed.’ They’d wanted to hang onto the pudgy cheeks and constant ‘mum-mum-mum dad-dad-dad’ phase a little while longer.

The disparity in the light and dark made him pause in the doorway before he closed it. Realizing, not for the first time, that they’d all made it. That the world might not be perfect, but it had given him this. His son. Maggie. His family. Before he shook his head and closed the door.

He had what he hadn’t realized he’d always wanted. Strange how the end of the world can rewire your priorities. How when Maggie hesitantly brought up the idea of trying again the other day, his first reaction wasn’t full out panic, but a spreading flush of warmth.

Either way, it gave him a lot to think about.

Abraham was on the front porch, lighting a cigar with a threesome of matches - palm curled to protect the flame - when he closed the door and stepped back out into the growing evening.

“Got banished from the land of the den-mothers,” Abraham grunted, not seeming too put out by it as he mimed Sasha booting his ass for even so much as thinking about lighting up at the table.

He leaned against the railing, keeping the man company as Daryl smacked the table uproariously at something Eric had said. The entire party dissolving into laughter and full out giggles as Aaron mimed talking the wine away from his boyfriend.

“Ever think all this could have turned out differently?” he asked softly, unsure of where the words were coming from as a small frown took up a fleeting residence on his face. Getting the strangest feeling that-

“Nah, man,” Abraham hummed, drawing him soundly back from where ever the thoughts had originally been leading him and firmly back into the moment. Puffing contentedly as a blue-grey haze of cigar smoke wreathed around the man’s head like something centuries old and half hidden in the gloom of the porch. Adding a layer to the moment as the high, tinkling sound of Maggie and Sasha’s laughter reached them. “Shits exactly where it should be…”


image

 

Chapter Text

“No, dude- I mean- you gotta...like- compliment the spread, you know?” Glenn told him seriously. Staring into the bottom of his glass with one eye closed like the tunnel vision would somehow help. Earnest in that way only the truly smashed can be as he reached over and refilled the kid’s glass with another overly generous shot of Jim Bean.

“You gotta set the table, right? Fold the napkins, set out the trivets. Get everything ready and THEN- then you can sit down and eat,” Glenn added, wavering slightly as he missed his lips with the glass and kissed the rim against his cheekbone with an awkward clunk he didn’t even seem to register.

He blinked.

Then blinked again.

Trying to process it as Glenn hiccuped and finally knocked back his shot.

It didn’t make a fucking lick of sense.

And he had no idea what the hell a trivet actually was.

He didn’t even know what they were talking about anymore.

Whatever it was, he was sorry he’d asked!

Chapter Text

“Yer nothin’ but a screw up, boy!” his father snarled. Thin lips pulling back to highlight crooked teeth and a white-slime tongue. “Live with the fact it or go out like your fucking coward of a mother did, huh? Drinking herself stupid every night till poof- gone. Yer weak like her, I knew it the second you came out of the bitch. Always cryin’ - just like now. Stop yer blubberin’ and get out of my sight!”

He ran. Throat burning with the acid re-flux of the dinner he’d stole from some idiot who had his back turned for too long. So hungry he could have died. So hungry he couldn’t even regret it when the man shouted and grabbed him by the arm. Sinking deep hand-print bruises into his skin as he kicked and clawed and bit. Remembering everything Merle had ever bothered to teach him before-

The cop hadn’t be nice when he’d 'im tossed in the back of the car, but he hadn’t been bad neither. It wasn’t until he recognized the turn they made at the fork in the road that he realized it was worse than that. Worse than jail. Cop figured he was doing him a favor by bringing him back home. By not pressing charges. By slipping a crisp five dollar bill into his pocket for his father to find and use for god knows what before he swatted him on the behind to get him going when they finally pulled up and his old man swaggered down the porch steps with an ax in his hands.

“Next time I won’t be so nice, kid. So get your act together, you hear?”

No one was nice.

No one was kind.

Everyone left.

Everyone who mattered anyway.


 

He could still taste the whisky that’d been on his father’s breath back in the house when he tripped into a muddy hollow and muffled his sobs in the brackish dirt.

He just had to hold out until Merle got back from juvy.

He could do that.

Once Merle was back everything would better. 

He would make everything right, just like he used to.

Chapter Text

"Where there is life, there is life. I hope that's not what you're walking away from."

She sighed, restless across the sheets as Daryl and Ezekiel kissed hesitant-soft above her. They were still new together. Still figuring each other out. But they wanted. God, did they want. Like all good, genuine things, it’d been slow to grow, but present from the very beginning. Just like Ezekiel had been for her until Daryl had shown up on her door-step, animal and grief-wounded. The man had always been safe. Warm. And now he was theirs.

Salt and pepper dreads trailed across the cream of her stomach. Kissing his way down her belly towards the apex of her thighs as Daryl's tongue laved over a nipple. She squirmed pleasantly at the wet when one of their exhales pebbled cool air over the sensitive tip. Making her sigh as Ezekiel pressed a knowing smile into the soft of her thigh.

She knows if she looks up now she’ll see them gazing at one another in the dark. All masculine-confident as her throat leaks with the soft of her femininity. And for now, she lets them have their moment. Lips stretching full with a secret of her own as Daryl’s thumb brushed lightly over the pearl of her clit. Knowing that with less than a single word, she would hold court and the two of them would follow her lead.

Her boys.

Chapter Text

“Then let me make it official! A royal proclamation for all to hear. Welcome, young maiden, to the glory of my kingdom!”

The girl blushed, tipping a wobbling curtsy before hiding her face in the warm bulk of Jerry’s side. Shy but still smiling as the big man reached down and scooped her up. Making big talk about scrounging up some peach cobbler before the kitchen cleaned up for the afternoon. 

She was already looking a far cry from the painfully skinny little thing that had nearly took his hand off when he and Ben had found her holed up in the rotting ceiling of looted convenience store a couple of weeks back. She barely allowed Jerry out of her sight these days, and frankly Jerry hardly seemed to be fussed about it.

Ezekiel was still smiling - genuinely pleased as he watched them go - before he made his presence known. Making sure not to startle Shiva as the big cat whuffed a regal greeting.

“Hey,” he opened simply, staff steady and at rest in his free hand as he watched Ezekiel’s smile grow even wider. The type of expression that was his, and his alone. Watching the kingly act drop slowly - fraction by fraction - until it was just the man again. 

The same one he’d been waking up next to for the last little while and couldn’t deny he hadn’t been loving every second.

“You have a minute?”

Ezekiel grinned, knowing and coy in a way that somehow managed to reach his eyes first.

“For you? Always.”

He raised a brow when the man rose out of his chair and treated him to a graceful bow. Costume robes swirling as he cut a dramatic figure across the creaking auditorium stage.

“You try any of that King Ezekiel of the Realm bullshit when I have my hands on you and I’m gone, you hear?”

Ezekiel’s laugh was pitch rich, rolling and a complete pleasure to listen to as he allowed himself to be drawn into a warm, rough-lipped kiss as Shiva snuffled a long suffering sound somewhere behind them.

Chapter Text

As these things so often do, it started innocently.

His wish for her well-being, in all it’s modes and mediums - had been sincere. It had been refreshing to be on equal footing with someone again. Someone who knew what it meant to play the game and win.

Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.

It hadn’t exactly been elegant - and certainly not kingly. 

But perhaps that was the point. 

Around her he could just be. 

In fact, she insisted upon it.


Her friendship had been slow to reap a harvest. But undeniably rewarding when she’d gifted him with that first true smile months after they’d gotten her settled in the outskirts of the Kingdom,

She was a complex woman. 

His favorite kind if he was being honest with himself. 

But she wasn’t a challenge or some prize to be won either. 

It hadn’t been like that.

Like he’d said, the rest had kind of creeped up on him until one day, almost by accident - he realized exactly what he’d been feeling. He realized exactly what he’d allowed to grow almost to fruition right under his god damned nose.

By that point he was in too deep not to try.


He didn’t realize she’d been waiting on someone else until the day he brought her a bar of chocolate rather than his customary piece of fruit. Watching her shoulders slump like a tell. Too distracted to pay any mind to Shiva was the big cat brushed against her. Making herself comfortable on the rug by the fire.

His smile fell only slightly as he watched something flicker behind her eyes.

“I hope I don’t disappoint,” he offered softly. 

She stared at him for a long time before letting him in. 

But when she did, it was with a smile.


“Someday the fairy tale will end,” she warned, tracing the light brown ridges of the old scars that adorned his chest in off-center constellations. They were battle scars from another life. She had them too. He knew that much. Making the nerves under his skin twitch and laugh before she pressed her lips against the one that was by far the most ugly. Puckered, time-pale and deep, before clambering on top of him and straddling his chest. Letting go of an appreciative sound as she slithered lower and lower and-

Ah!

“But not today,” he rasped after an unsteady pause. Inhaling shakily as her lips wrapped around his length. Taking him deep as his back tried to arc under her delicate feather-weight.

“No, not today,” she agreed.

The darkness swallowed the rest.

Just like it always did.

Chapter Text

It wasn't until Daryl was splayed across the sheets, every muscle soft and loosely pliable, that she chanced asking. Enjoying the twitching play of his skin against hers as Ezekiel snored softly into the creases of Daryl's pillow. One arm draped gently over the scar-studded skin of Daryl's back like weight-downed comfort. Keeping the both of them grounded in a way she'd never felt anything quite like before as Daryl seemed to thrive under the attention.

"What do you think of him?" she asked softly. Splitting her attention between the two of them as Ezekiel slept on, more or less between them. "Really?"

Daryl huffed into the pillow. Breath humid and only slightly stale. Creating a temporarily domestic eco-system that centered them in her bed in the road-side house. Still decorated in the style of another woman from another life now long since gone to rot. Buried in a fresh plot outside in the cemetery. She'd made sure of that.

"Figure he's found his, you know?" he answered after a pause. Not moving even so much as an inch from the contented curl of limbs and naked skin despite the fact she knew he was starting to feel crowded. "I just hope someone doesn't take a siege engine to it someday, you know?"

She nodded, wordless. Knowing deep in the heart of her that someday someone would and there would be no way to save him from it.

From how it felt to lose everything  - all over again.

Especially when you were the one responsible.

The one in charge.

The one who had the most to lose at the end of the day as each and every life that was lost weighed heavy and suffocating in the center of your chest.

She knew.

Daryl knew.

They all knew.

But Ezekiel?



That was what life was now.

Good followed by bad followed by good again, and so on.

And there was nothing they could do but be here to help him make sense of the pieces when it all came crashing down around him.

She did have a secret though.

A secret, impossible wish that somehow- between the three of them, they might just come out whole this time around.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

"Who are you?"

"Negan."

"Negan!"

"NEGAN!"


He woke with a stuttered jerk. Something dipped in violence and previous experience. Laced thick with the echos of that damned song he already knew would be in the background for many nightmares to come.

He rubbed his eyes with the heel of his palm. Flaking sleep out of the pillow creases and squint lines. Hands curling like desperate, clawed anchors around an unfamiliar mattress as every muscle hackled itself high. Freezing in place as the weather-beaten drapes fluttered behind him like tattered ghosts.

For a strange, almost unnaturally long second he almost forgot where he was. Forgetting that he wasn't back there. Listening to that prick's name rebound like the world's worst case of a broken record. Forgetting everything that’d come after Alexandria, after the key Sherry had slipped under his door, all of it- until the warm weight of her trickled back to him like water over parched soil. Spreading wide before slowly - ever so slowly - sinking in through the cracks.

"Everything okay?" Carol asked, voice pleasant and hers as the weak light of a late stage moon filtered in through the window. Casting shadows on the wall across from them.

A rough edged "yeeah" was on the tip of his tongue. Primary and truthfully negligent. But then he remembered the last thing Glenn had said to him. The way Abraham had stood tall- how he’d gotten back up after the first hit. How Maggie had cried - wrenching and terrible and sick. He remembered the look on Carol’s face in the Saviors compound. He remembered her face when he’d asked her the same question and all at once he just couldn't.

"No," he rasped. Low and defeated - like a whisper. Something that tanked whatever was left of the peaceful, easy mood they'd been building over the past few days and had her shifting across the uneven box-spring. Filling the air with the soft rasp of bare legs across shitty sheets and suddenly- suddenly he couldn't breathe-

It was dark.

When had it gotten so dark?

The room was small. With a slit of light under the door that led out into the hallway, just like the cell. Just similar enough to make everything that much more real as the world spun and Carol’s hands were splaying out into empty air as he struggled himself upright. Naked and vulnerable against the closing weight of the room.

He couldn’t do anything else but swallow down the phantom re-flux of half digested dog food and stale bread. Pulsing racing as pin-pricks of sweat slush-slushed across his skin. Making him feel dirty. Unclean. Tangy and offensive to his own senses as he clenched his hands into brutal fists. Chest rising and falling as his throat grew thick with it. Turning every swallow into a panicking nightmare and-

He came back to her with a belated flinch when her hands gentled around his shoulders. Pulling him down and in until his head was resting in her lap and her hands were carding gently through his hair. Slowing everything back down on him in that way only she seemed capable of doing.

“Neither am I,” she admitted softly.

And maybe that was okay.

For now.

Chapter Text

He was slick across the tiles when he registered the gentle woosh of the shower door opening behind him. He smiled even though he could see him - eyes tightly closed as the last of their shampoo rinsed itself from his hair - when Aaron wrapped his arms around him from behind.

"Hey," he hummed, tipping his head up into the luke-warm spray. Something tight easing in his chest now that he was back home.

"Hey," Aaron returned, mouthing the words into the the freckle-dusted skin between his neck and shoulder blade. Like he needed them to permeate the skin in order to make it real. Hips canting awkwardly into the flush of his ass in a way that was more self-comforting than it was an overture.

He cracked a lid when Aaron's hands tightened around him spasmodically. Like he was desperately trying to hold back a shiver as he registered two things in quick succession.

First, Aaron still had his clothes on. Pants and shirt now suctioned to his skin in a living layer.

And second, the water between his toes was tinted with a washed-out red. Swirling down the drain as dirty, crimson flakes told him everything he needed to know.

More than he needed to know, honestly.

He looked up at the shower head and the comforting haze of surrounding steam with a sigh before he turned around in Aaron's arms and pulled him close. Saying nothing when the hot gush of tears finally started. Mingling with the water and the lean curve of his skin as he soaked up everything Aaron had to give and returned that needed comfort tenfold.

The war was never over.

Chapter Text

Whatever he'd been expecting when the door creaked open in the middle of the night, it certainly wasn't Merle's yellowing Cheshire-wide smile staring back at him in the near dark.

He blinked through the greasy tendrils of his hair, then blinked again. But every time Merle stayed solid. Real.

Huh.

"Com'on little bro, get yer shit together," Merle hissed. Looking down the hall at something he couldn't see. "We don't have much time before this place goes tit up like an angry ant-hill."

He grunted when Merle yarded him upright. Wobbling into the firm of his brother's side for a long moment before his bare skin registered against Merle's bloody clothes and he flinched back like someone had him on a string.

He was naked in the dark.

His old man had laughed when he hadn't been able to sleep in the new house. The one their mother had never stepped foot in. The one that didn't have her sounds and smells. The sound of her laughter on a good day and the tissue-snuffle of tears on the bad. It hadn't been right. And things had never been right again after that. Like the fire had taken more than just her somehow.

Merle had been too angry to notice.

He wheeled away, almost delirious. Noticing for the first time that the song had stopped playing. So tired he could barely think straight.

"You with me?" Merle demanded, over loud and trumpeting. "Hey- pay attention. I didn't nearly die three times gettin' here so tall, dark and dickhead could get the better of ya' did i?"

A bundle of clothes whupped against his chest as the familiar scent of stale nicotine, sweat and leather nearly made him believe in miracles.

"Tell me I didn't, cause shit, Darylina. That would be a sad state of affairs."

He pulled on the shirt and stepped awkwardly into the loose pair of jeans. Shoving bare feet into grungy looking hikers that were still warm off someone else's feet. They fit. Barely.

"How-"

His brother just clicked his tongue. Smirking low into the basement quiet. One eye on the empty hall. Standing sentry with a lazy stance that to anyone else might have been mistaken for over-confidence.

"Remember what I taught you? There's always a way out. Always an angle. All you have to do is find it."

The dig was silent. That there had been an angle but he hadn't been smart enough to find it. He let it go, but his jaw tightened all the same.

"Where are the others?" he grunted.

"Rick is still trying to extricate his balls from his insides so I figured I'd make it easy for him. I left in the middle of the night. Slipped over the wall all cat like. But shit man, I'm gettin' old," Merle complained, tossing him a Glock and a spare huntin' knife he vaguely recognized as-

Glenn.

It was his fault.

Glenn was-

The cuff on the back of his head was jarring. Smacking him back to the present in a way that had him baring his teeth. Almost spoiling for a fight because he knew from experience that would be easier.

"Don't you do that on me, you hear? Shit happens. Shit happened. The kid is gone. So is Mr. Military. That's the facts. They ain't nice or kind- they just at and you gotta swallow that. You think they'd want you to die naked in some hole in the asshole of the world because you're too broken up about what happened to make it mean somethin'? Man up!" Merle hissed, towing him out into the hall with an angry jerk. Silver grey stubble rasping across the leather collar of his vest. Something he'd picked up not long after they'd lost the prison and Merle had managed to meet him and Beth on he road before-

The words - once they'd sunk in - were surprisingly deep. Enough to startle him out of the static-strewn haze he'd been living under for the past week, maybe longer.

It wasn't until they'd made it out of the compound that he replied. Coughing a bit through the stale of his breath and the parched raw of his throat as he chewed at the words before setting them out into the open.

"Merle?"

"Yeah?"

He waited until the clouds shifted and Merle was looking back at him - anticipatory.

"Thank you."

He was surprised all over again when Merle just nodded. It was more of a shallow dip of his head than anything. But it was free of all the usual lies and resting sarcasm. Bold as brass with an unusual truth.

"Out of everyone here, little bro, 'yer the one who'll always be worth savin'. And I'll kick in the teeth of anyone who says different, you hear?"

He swallowed hard before nodding.

It didn't make things better.

Not even close.

But it was a start.

Chapter Text

"Jesus christ- it's a kid. Open the gate!"

"What? A kid? Did he say a kid?"

"Spencer, she bit?"

"No, no- she's fine. She has a backpack. She's holding it. Let her in. We won't hurt you- hey, it's okay. You're safe here. I promise."

She didn't knock.

She didn't have the energy.

There were words.

Words the man was speaking.

But she couldn't hear them.

She'd forgotten how to listen.

She'd made a bargain with silence when she'd been out on her own and now her body was holding her to it.

"What's your name? My name is Spencer. My mother is the leader of this place. Alexandria. The people behind the gate won't hurt you. It's just Tobin, Nicholas and Sturgus. They're going to open the gate now, it's going to be a bit loud, is that alright?"

She was weakness on legs that were knocking back and forth. Trying to crumple on her as the man in the tower set his gun aside and showed her pale hands. Smiling with white teeth and ducking his chin into his chest like he was trying to prove it in real time as the front gate rattled and parted. Slowly rolling open to reveal clean blacktop, white picket fence houses and a handful of people slowly trickling down from their front porches.

"Sturgus, get Deanna and Aaron. Tell them we have a guest. Nicholas- get Pete. She doesn't look so-"

The acid-re-flux of her last meal rose up in her throat. Forcing her to swallow it back down again as the crusts of old blood smeared across her face caught and pulled taut as her expression shifted.

It wouldn't last.

Good things never did.

But she could have it while it lasted.

She could survive for right now.

The tallest one caught her before her legs gave out.

And when she turned her face into his chest - away from the eyes, the sounds and the jarring sunlight - the only thing she could smell was the lingering ghost of her father's cologne.

Chapter Text

The first time had been an accident.

She’d been restless in her sleeping bag. Half suffocated as Ed snored. Somehow managing to take up most of the tent as Sophia slept beside her. Curled up like a little pill-bug against her chest. She managed to wriggle free without waking either of them. Pressing a kiss across her daughter’s temple before slipping out of the tent flaps. Wrapping her arms around herself as she looked up at the RV. Barely able to see the lit butt of a cigarette glowing pale ember-rose on the roof as the nighttime sounds of the quarry made her feel small.

Merle was on watch.

Or maybe T-dog?

She couldn’t tell in the gloom.

But she knew they could see her clear as day.

It didn’t make her feel better.

She shivered.

She walked over to the edge of the quarry ridge, rubbing at her arms. Wondering, not for the first time, if someday she was going to wake up and all this was going to turn out to be some sort of terrible dream. That she’d blink awake and find herself in their bed back home. The only one who remembered the entire world coming to an end.

She was looking down at the water when something - something flaring and pearl in the casting moonlight - caught her attention. Her breath caught in her throat as the distant sound of splashing helped her focus. There was someone in the water. Getting a glimpse of a curving back and-

No.

No, that was impossible.

_______________

The second time had also been an accident- after a fashion.

The next night she couldn’t sleep was after Sophia and the highway and all she could hear was the nighttime sounds of the Greene family farm through the thin of the RV windows. She didn’t really think about it when she slipped outside and into the main house. Wincing every time she hit a creaky floorboard or got momentarily lost in the dark. Imagining every hulking shadow to be Ed’s ruined face- or worse as she quietly eased her way upstairs and into Daryl’s room.

She wasn’t sure why, but the moment she entered she started to breathe freely again. Like just being here, with him, was akin to an audible sigh of relief. It wasn’t a feeling the others seemed to share, even after everything he’d done for them - for her - so far. But for her at least, it had always been like this. Long before what she’d seen- what she thought she’d seen back at the quarry that night.

She watched him cautiously. Knowing that if he woke up her presence would not be welcomed. Settling herself down in the chair beside his bed as he slept on - frowning even now. It took all her willpower not to reach over and smooth the budging lines. Soaking in the grudging serenity he so often seemed to provide as exhaustion threatened to take her for it’s own. Lulling down, further and further, as he shifted across the mattress. A slowly building hush-hush-huuush filling the air around her like a thousand nesting doves as she slowly closed her eyes and let sleep have her.

The last thing she remembered was the sensation of being held and the blinding flare of an enduring, fracturing light on the other side of her eyelids. Knowing two things like breathing as the salt-tang of tears trickled down her cheeks. First, that her daughter was dead. And second, that she’d never been safer in her entire life than she’d been cradled in that singular, rushing moment.

He was gone from the sheets by the time she woke up.

Two days later, a demon wearing her daughter’s skin stumbled out of the barn.

And for the second time, Daryl was the one that caught her before she fell.

_______________

The third time was deliberate.

She had no excuse for herself when she walked in on him in the showers at the prison. Feeling something in her curl like pleasure as his wings stretched out - ruffling and flaring under the spray. Feathers puffing up like preening as every mighty beat swirled the haze of steam around them like dust-motes.

Star stuff.

The white and brown speckled plumage arched high like a threat display when he turned around and found her watching. Eyes blazing fierce as water dripped down the scarred lines of his chest and the quivering bare of his thighs. Cock flaccid and nesting between them before he seemed to realize everything he was giving away. Tucking his wings behind his back like whiplash as the air around them seemed to shimmer, blurring the edges in a way that made her realize how he must have been hiding them all along.

“Oh, please don’t...” she breathed, giving everything away as she took a careless step forward. One hand reaching out as he flinched. “Please...you’re so beautiful.”

He stilled. Watching her cautiously through the wet of his fringe. Wings twitching, uncertain, as he allowed her to take another step, then another.

“I ain’t what you think,” he rasped, skin trembling when she stepped close enough to touch. Looking up at him as the water from the shower suctioned her clothes tight to her skin. Beading wet down her face as his wings arched above her like a feathery cloak. Protecting her from the worst of the cooling spray.

“I’m a stray- ain’t even properly nothin’. I got bit in the beginning. I was in the between place. And the man upstairs- he- he asked me if I wanted to-”

“I don’t care,” she told him. Asking permission with her eyes before reaching up and running her fingers through the shuddering of his primary feathers. Never once looking away from his face as his knees threatened to wobble. Expression momentarily transported before he grabbed her wrist in a gentle hold.

“Something went wrong up there- no one is listening. We’re alone.”

She didn’t quite understand the smile the spread across her face in the aftermath. Feeling something expand inside her rib-cage as the warm-damp of feathers and skin melded together and made her bold. Wrapping her arms around him as her cheek found a tenuous home against his chest. Existing there alone for a long moment before the careful, impossible bones that made up his wings draped around her like she’d been made to fit inside that exact space. 

And strangely enough, she found strength inside that brand new niche of understanding as Daryl breathed shallow and loud against her. Realizing that perhaps there was something about everything that’d happened which made sense somehow.

Maybe they were on the wrong side of heaven with sheared wingtips for a reason.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Whenever she closed her eyes she could see him.

It was so clear.

Accessible.

Death was a road that stretched on as far as the eye could see.

It was the rattle of an RV and the humming background noise of old, familiar friends.

It was the smell of sweat and the same stick of deodorant they'd had to share for a long smattering of weeks out on the road.

It was soft black hair feathering across her cheek whenever he leaned in for a kiss.

Death was like life, only it was paved on the ghosts of memory.

It was the past.

The present.

But never the future.

And it was always, without fail, just out of her reach.

She supposed there was a reason for that, at the end of the day.

But for now, the dreams would be enough.


Chapter Text

Honestly, the end of the world had been a whole lot like a kick in the teeth as far as he was concerned.

He'd been two years away from retirement for Christ sakes!

Two years!

He'd earned it.

He'd been entitled to it.

Entitled to that life.

He'd spent his entire life following all the little rules.

Save.

Invest.

Watch the stocks.

Wear this brand.

Date casually in the upper tiers.

Have large wardrobe.

A by-weekly cleaning service.

Drive a nice car for four years, trade it in and buy the new model.

Own property.

Have a chair on the city council.

And what had it got him?

Absolutely nothing.

Nothing good at any rate.


It'd got him out of breath, stinking with sweat and his neighbor's blood as he took the stairs two at a time. Being chased up and up and up towards the penthouse of his apartment building. It got him in a car accident on the side of a deserted road. Forced to pull himself out of the passenger seat of own his Mercedes, all flashing lights and a steaming hood as the solider who'd gotten him out - who'd seen him stalled in traffic as the rest of his unit disappeared under a writhing pile of ripping flesh and camouflage greens - remained slumped against the steering wheel. Drip-drip-dripping messy red across the leather interior. It got him retching behind the manor after he'd cooked the eggs he'd found in the staff refrigerator without even thinking about it. Every sound lonely and echoing as a dead man in a black business suit and a very expensive yellow tie shambled down the long driveway towards him.

The end of the world had been unkind, messy and downright inconvenient.

And frankly he was tired of it.

He had enough to deal with just keeping this place running and clean, and now the Alexandrian's were pressing on his last nerve and god damnit- he wasn't afraid of saying so!

Chapter Text

The rustle of bed-sheets from the other room caught his attention. Hearing that same rattling, dry cough as he levered himself up off the couch. Wincing a bit when it turned sharp and vicious, the kind of cough that hurts leaving you, but bothers you worse if you don’t get it out.

He padded barefoot into the kitchen for a glass of water and a mug of that broth he’d been slow cooking for a while now.

He knew he was fucking hovering.

But hell if he could help it.

He’d never had much in the way of self-control whenever she was concerned. 

Especially when she was like this.

She’d never exactly made a habit out of being vulnerable, but whenever she was - regardless of the reason - it always bothered him like an itch he couldn’t quite scratch.

Shit just wasn’t right, is all.

Still, when he eased open the door with his foot and stepped inside, she still managed to give him that same, tired smile she always did. The good one that made it all the way up to her eyes. Runny nose, or not.

He figured that was something, at least.

Chapter Text

The first time Eric called him babe he went red in the middle of the Starbucks drive-thru. And not a gentle blushing red that you could excuse on the weather or a mild allergy. He meant a full on ugly, sweating, tomato-red.

Eric had laughed for the better part of an hour and repeated it for the next two days straight until he honestly couldn't fathom why no one had ever called him that before. Or, perhaps more to the point, why he liked it so damn much.

After that Eric made a point never to stop calling him that. Slowly changing his preconceptions about the world, and perhaps more importantly- himself one blush at a time.

He'd even said it on the phone the day everything had fallen apart. Shakey and harsh with the vowels as he tried to understand him through the garbled pitch of distant sirens and confused shouting.

"Babe- don't- I'm coming home. I'm going to try'- they are evacuating the subway. They wont tell us- Don't go outside. They lied. It isn't riots. It's not- don't let them- babe? Aaron? Aaron?!"

He was used to hearing that word come out of Eric's mouth all sorts of ways. Sometimes it was breathy and stuttered with building pleasure as his body curled underneath his. Sometimes it was tight and frustrated - like it had been in the house in Alexandria before he'd left with Rick and the others. Sometimes it was pitched low and soft with kisses. Light and fluttering happy as he breezed through their apartment before he left for work. Smelling like coffee, hazelnut creamer, and that bottle of cologne he'd gotten for his birthday a couple months before.

But for some reason, when the people from the junkyard closed in around them, something told him he'd get to hear it again.

This wasn't Negan.

They weren't Negan.

So that meant they had a chance.

A chance to get out of this alive and maybe even for the better.

Maybe.

Because god knows at the end of the day, he needed that - he needed Eric - like oxygen.

Chapter Text

He had her god damned panties half off when he was forced to admit something he'd managed to get this far pretty much avoiding. Mostly because of the screaming bullshit that was their life these days.

He didn't have a single fucking idea what he was doing and that wasn't even the worst of his problems. The worst was the hard on he was trying not to grind into her sheets. Knowing at this point he was probably going to stain 'em anyway. Which she'd figure out about sooner or later and never mention because that was how she was and fuck if any of them really deserved her.

Especially him.

The underthings she was wear were light blue with small patterned flowers that kind of made his eyes cross when he tried to get a good look. And he had. A lot. Taking in every inch of her he could without making it obvious he was gawking. But yeah- he had to admit his priorities had ranged south of the border pretty darn quick.

The elastic was just tight enough enough against her navel to pull slightly sheer and see through. Giving him a damning glimpse of neat dark hair and-

He swallowed hard. Coughin' slightly into the curl of his fist as his lungs decided to chose that moment to get on his case about that half pack of cigarettes he'd gone through waiting on the sly for Ezekiel to finally fucking leave. Knowing that he'd already broke whatever fraction of a moment they'd had when she shifted across the mattress and lifted her head to look at him. Expression soft, encouraging, and fuck- yeah, even challenging with that god damned raised eyebrow of hers.

Fuck, man.

She knew it too.

Course she did.

Only thing was, the next time his eyes darted down, there was a dot of wet across the fabric right at the center of her.

And shit- it wasn't like he was some virgin or nothin'.

Fuck, no.

But- christ, he might as well have been when it came to this.

It wasn't like he didn't know nothing. He'd seen the wank rags and the pornos. The ones where men- hell even other women went down on the leading lady. Both sides seeming to enjoy themselves a hell of a lot in the process. There'd been a reason Merle had shelled out cash every month to keep the internet running. But that didn't change the fact that he'd never-

He thumbed the spot of wet with a careful stroke of his thumb. Tracing the seam of her as she shifted again, hungry this time. Hips moving into the press fractionally. Like half of her was already playing hard to get.

He had a feeling there was a learning curve involved.

And yet-

Fake it till you make it, lil' bro.

He frowned, not wanting Merle's ghost anywhere near any of this. Choosing instead to test out his shiny new sack as he dragged his stubble soft-like down the inner of her thigh. Making her hum and sigh as his cock throbbed in response.

He cocked his head, considering, before he did it again.

Still, Merle usually had a point when it came to the important shit.

Chapter Text

She didn’t collapse against the door when she closed it behind her. 

She’d never been that dramatic.

Or just that kind of person, she supposed.

But what she did do was take a deep breath. Lungs flirting with the candle-flickering oxygen and carbon as the last hints of him filtered off into the nothing. Wondering off-handedly what the rest of the hours left before morning might have looked like if she’d given in to that quiet little part of her that wanted him to stay.

Because god- had she wanted that...

Chapter Text

They were walking the shore looking for tidal pools and mussels when they saw him. A lone figure wavering on the smooth plane where sand met water. Letting the waves hush over his bare toes - legs almost painfully pale where his jeans had been rucked up to mid-calf. Something that her and her friends might have made fun of before all this, giggling about how how and hairy, now just looked painfully and endearingly human.

She yanked Rachel down with her. Hiding behind some driftwood as the figure gradually took shape in the morning haze. She fixed Rachel with a hard look - something she hoped the girl wouldn't mouth off to - before pointed at him through the bare, overturned roots of the stump they were hiding behind.

The truth was he was hard to miss. He was tall. Taller than anyone back home - even before the Saviors had come. He had broad shoulders and a strong looking chest. More to the point, he didn't look like the people they usually saw these days. The ones with the hunger-pinched faces, tattered clothes and dry coughs. The ones that were just passing through, on their way to somewhere better. She liked to think so, anyway.

The sea seemed to draw them here, even if it was only for a little while.

Just like it had drawn people when the world was still what it used to be.

And this man was no exception.

He wasn't a bobber, that much was obvious. Least not yet. He was in that between place. With the look of someone who'd been more or less well fed until a couple weeks ago. Someone who wasn't used to an empty stomach. Someone like Tara. He'd had a place. A good place. But he wasn't there anymore. Instead, he was was dirty and blood spattered. Body language wavering tired and hunted as he faced the sea. The salt-breeze kicking up the strands of his hair as he closed his eyes into the early warmth of the sun.

She wondered if he'd always liked the sea.

Had he ever been here?

Had he stopped here before, when the world was still theirs?

What was he thinking about?

Who?

"I want to see!" Rachel hissed, worming her way under her arm to peer through a gap in the driftwood. "Who is it? Is it a-"

She didn't think much of it when Rachel went quiet beside her. Not at first anyway. Too busy sending up a mental prayer that he wouldn't come this way. That he'd just leave and she could tell Natania the truth when they got back. That they saw a man but he moved on - just like the others.

There'd only been one since Tara.

An old man with fresh vomit air-drying down the sides of his jeans and a wrapped up cut on the side of his right thigh. Beatrice had been convinced it was a bite. Watching him poking at the innards of one of the cars left abandoned on the side of the road. Kathy had disagreed, pointing at his screwdriver as the man unscrewed a part from under the hood and stuffed it in his backpack. Saying what infected person would be carrying on like that? Like they had a future?

"Daddy," she breathed.

Her double take was about three seconds too late because by then Rachel was already moving. Scrambling through the sand with scuffed knees and elbows. Hair flying out behind her like a banner as her stick clattered to the ground. Point bouncing, nearly clipping her ankles as she sprinted across the pebbling sand.

"Daddy!"

The man's head jerked up. Faster than static shock lancing from the finger tips or a gun blast to the temple. Bare feet temporarily burying themselves in the sand as his heels rotated through a wobbling turn. One hand coming up, shading his eyes from the glare before-

"Rachel? Rachel!"

The most surprising thing was that he said it.

Not her.

And that he met Rachel running. Swinging her up in his arms like she weighed nothing. Like he didn't even mind her wrapping herself around him, clinging faster and tighter than she'd ever seen. Crying into his neck as he whispered her name like a prayer. Holding her like she was everything until his legs gave out and they were half sprawled across the sand. Pressing kisses into her hair and shuddering with deep, racking sobs while she just stood there - gun in hand. Wondering if the world was really gone after all.


 

"Where did you come from?" Natania asked later. Looking surprisingly fond as the man - Tobin, his name was Tobin - tucked into his forth helping of fish stew. The house seemed jammed packed, like all the women in the camp wanted to meet him. Whispering not to subtly to one another as he smiled at them shyly every so often. Like he wasn't used to the attention but didn't want any of them to think he was being rude. She would already seen Sissa more or less oogling him. And considering the odds she really didn't want to be around when the interested parties figured out there was only so much to go around.

"A community. We found it not long after the start. We made it ours. But it's gone now. They're all gone. Taken," Tobin answered, sobering slightly as Rachel looked up at him. Hands not once leaving his empty belt loops. Like if she looked away too long he'd be gone and this would just be some dream she'd almost allowed herself to believe.

"I owe you all, for taking care of Rachel," he started again, shaking his head and setting down his spoon in mid-bite. "I've been trying to find the words, but I don't think they exist. This is more than I ever thought-"

A collective murmur spread across the room when he broke off, overcome. Tipping his head against Rachel's with an affectionate hush. Tucking a strand of her hair away from her face before she buried back into his chest. Clutching him tightly.

Natania clearly had more questions but politely allowed the conversation to split down a different stream. Seeming content to let the current take them where he wanted for now as she patted his arm encouragingly.

"How did it happen?" she asked gently. "Rachel's mother...your wife...she was with us for a long time. I'm sorry she isn't with us now. She was lovely."

Tobin only nodded, shaking his head near the end like the conflict was necessary.

"This is enough," he issued, blinking quickly until the gleam of tears looked more like an accessory than a threat. "I've spent all this time believing I was the only one left. That I was alone. I even- I let myself forget sometimes. Pretending they were all with me. Back where I was, I found myself slipping, talking about them like they were there. Sometimes I'd wake up in a cold sweat and turn the house upside down looking for them before I realized. So, to have Rachel, it's everything."

"I understand," Natania replied quietly.

"When it all started we were headed to the safe zone, we heard about it on the radio. There was a bunch of us from the neighborhood. People we'd known all our lives, we all went together. People all over were splitting up and taking their chances and we watched through Ray's binoculars as they were picked off one by one. The roads were too congested. So we all decided to try for it together. Safety in numbers and all that. Me and Ruby took both cars. She didn't want too, she wanted us to stay together. But I told her- I told her it just made sense. That if something happened she could still get away with the kids. We made it to the safe zone. We were in line for registration when Ray and I got pulled aside by some of the military there. They wanted to know where something was- never did figure out what. Because after that, before I could even find them in the crowd, everything just- imploded. They let someone in, I guess- someone bit and-"

"We couldn't get to you," Rachel murmured waveringly, tears clinging to her lashes as she looked up at him. "The biters got Trey. I couldn't stop them, Dad, I couldn't-"

"Shhhh..." Tobin hushed, pushing back in his chair and bringing her up into his lap as he held her tightly - cheeks wet. A private memorial that seemed to thin the crowd of watchers out of pure deference alone. "It's okay. I have you. And I'm not going anywhere. Never again, got that?"

He'd lost a son and a wife.

But he'd found Rachel.

That had to mean something.

It was a piece.

God knows what all of them would give for the same.

"We can talk in the morning," Natania murmured, rubbing Rachel's back soothingly as the man slowly got to his feet. Holding her with the kind of grace that was both practiced and effortless. "Cyndie will show you to your cabin. Take your time, Tobin. You're safe here. I know its early and we're strangers to you, but please believe me when I tell you, your home."

She wasn't sure who Tobin surprised more when he turned, smile wan.

"No where is safe anymore, ma'am. Not even here. I used to think that. But I was wrong. The place I was from? Alexandria? We thought we had it all figured out. We had the walls. The guns. Even the people. We learned. We fought. And it still wasn't enough. No where is safe. That's just a lie you can believe until the world proves different. Believe me, I should know."

The silence he left in his wake made her think of the spaces between the breathes Tara had taken before she'd taken off running across the bridge.

Alexandria.

Tara.

If Tobin noticed the looks they exchanged he didn't say anything. Leaving them to their thoughts as she closed her eyes on the tears threatening to fall. Fists clenched as she tried to imagine Tara how she'd been. Safe on the other side of that bridge.

It had been the end of one story and the start of another.

That was what she'd always liked to imagine, anyway.

That Tara was out there somewhere.

That she'd made it back home.

Back to her girlfriend.

And now-


"Are you the only one?" she asked, as Rachel slid sleepily off Tobin's shoulder and wandered into the cabin to get the flashlight. Catching him in mid-turn with a hand on his arm. The plaid of his shirt dark with streaked dirt and old blood. "From your community, I mean?"

Tobin ducked his head, waiting until Rachel was safely out of earshot before he answered - eyes punched dark with hollows that warped and deepened in the low light.

"The ones the Savior's didn't kill outright when our leader's plan didn't work were fed to the walkers while we watched. They laughed while they did it. Laughed. I only got away because when they pushed me over the wall someone was screaming - they'd missed taking one of the knives, I guess. Someone - Eric, I think - managed to stab one of them before they tossed him over. I was able to hide under the bodies - the one's that hadn't turned yet. The walkers didn't notice and the Saviors didn't seem to care. Figured I was already dead or something. Those the walkers didn't get got picked off from the walls before they could make it into the trees. I managed to wait till sundown. I made a break for it when the others started turning. I stayed in the area for a couple days, thinking there had to be others. That I couldn't be the only one. But there weren't. There all gone, all of them. And honestly, I wouldn't wish that feeling on anyone."

She nodded mutely. Saying goodnight before turning back into the leafy-dark.

It seemed appropriate, in a sad way.

That someone from Tara's community would make it here.

That someone from her community would end up meaning so much to theirs.

It felt like a sign.

A symbol to something she didn't want to put a name too quite yet.

Not putting it past the world to make a mockery of it before the night was over.

But oh, if she were a betting woman...

Chapter Text

The rush of bare feet against the tiles woke him up.

But if it hadn’t, the sudden rush of her vomiting into the toilet would have.

Not even she could make that sound anything less then ugly.

He released his grip on the buck knife he kept under his pillow in stages. Rubbing at his eyes as sleep crusted off - filtering down across the creased linen sheets that still smelled like her. Hearing a sigh and then the sound of the toilet flushing as his feet curled in on themselves - hovering just above the fall-cold floor like the part of him that wasn't worried was looking for an excuse to hunker back down under the covers.

It wasn’t until he realized she wasn’t coming back that he finally committed to the idea. Deliberately leaving his shirt where he’d left it the night before - crumpled on the floor. Refusing to give into the temptation to cover himself as the bright lights above the bathroom mirror reflected just about as damning a reflection as he was used to.

“Alright?” he asked, voice raspy-rough as he peered around the half-open door. Nose twitching at the lingering curl of upset stomach acids. Taking a quiet step inside when she didn’t move from where she was sitting on the floor. Head on top of her arms. All pale skin on freckles, surround by more pale skin. A hundred thousand constellations that now included more then it’s fair share of spidering scars.

“I’m late, Daryl,” she said, more or less muffled in her arms as the sound of someone tip-toeing down the hall echoed into the early morning quiet. 

Oh.

For a long moment he didn’t really have the words.

They were too heavy for him to hold.

Caught somewhere in the middle of every single emotion that rose up, before-

“Okay,” he said. Wincing a bit at how it came out. Flippant and not much of anything in the scheme of things. Nothing that equaled the fact that both of them knew this was the fifth morning in a row and that they'd been dancing around the fact that neither of them had even thought about using condoms. Not that you could find then much these days, anyway.

“Okay?” she parroted. Looking up at him for the first time. Face basically saying it all. That she had no idea how to deal with any of this fucking mess. But there was only one of them who hadn't made an art form out of running away from their problems. And it sure as shit wasn’t him.

"Yeah," he answered. More sure of it this time around as he inched a bit closer. Weary, like he knew things could turn wrong on him at any moment, but willing to get bitten anyway as he leaned down and helped her up. Hands flirting with the thin of all those porcelain bird-bones she had for ribs. Just another reminder of how breakable she was underneath that strength they all relied on. Himself included.

He got her settled back in bed before padding over to the sink to fill up the glass of water she'd left on the counter the night before. Bringing it over for her to slip before he slunk back around to his side and slipped in beside her. Skimming cold toes down her calf as she jumped minutely at the chill - nearly spilling water everywhere.

"Daryl-"

The thing was, it was okay.

Surprisingly.

He wasn't stupid.

And well, if she was- they'd deal with it the way she wanted.

He'd be here either way.

"Daryl?"

This time it was gentle. Careful. Apologetic. Different enough that it made him look over at her from the crux where his face met the pillow. 

"I don't know if I am.... but- I also don't know if it's-"

Yours.

The pause was loaded.

"It don't matter," he told her quietly. Meaning it in the only honest way he really had.

The truth was, having a kid had never been something he figured he'd ever get around to. No less want. He figured he would have landed in jail or just plain died before he had to worry about any of that bullshit. The Dixon name wasn't really something he'd ever thought was worth passing on anyway. Just a whole lot of shit, bad blood and the lingering taint of his mother's tears and the singe of fire that had the ability to turn the past into some sort of a weapon. He wasn't a fucking scientist. But he knew that some family lines didn't need to be passed on. The world was better without them.

It did matter, though.

Just not in the way she might think.

He thought about Shane and the way you could see the crazy building in the back of his eyes on the farm.

Still, if she was, he didn't take Tobin to be that kind of man.

He'd never asked her about that part.

Why she'd taken up with him in the first place.

Weren't none of his business.

But he knew enough to know that when they'd finally gotten around to putting a label on what they'd been working up to all the way since that camp outside Atlanta, what they had was the real thing. 

She didn't say anything.

She didn't have too.

Her eyes did it for her.

"Try 'n get some sleep," he coaxed, as she slowly unspooled and found him across the mattress. Snuggling close as the feathers of her hair tickled his chin. "We'll talk to Maggie in the morning."

Chapter Text

Death was a tart.

She flirted between the realm of life and death like a puff of seeds fresh off a weed.

Drowning those that forgot to respect her.

While saving others, seconds from tipping into the yawning brink.

In the same way life was so often depicted as a doting mother, so was death.

Just as attentive.

Just as nurturing.

Just as womanly with her hidden curves and secret ways.

She gave, but she also took away.

Just like any parent would, for the good of their child.

It was the way of things.

At least that was what some drunk asshole in a rundown bar on the hind-end of Georgia had muttered into his whiskey like some sort of slur one night just before closing.

And while he wasn't really someone who gave much of a crap about all that deep, profound shit, it'd stuck with him anyway.

Not that he figured any woman out there was a tart.

Fuck that.

He might have lost his momma young, but he'd been raised right, at least where that shit was concerned.

Merle's voice was strong in his head sometimes.

It was stronger than it outta be, if he was being honest.

But at the end of the day he was still his momma's youngest.

And that meant something.

If death was a woman, she was worth the same respect as anyone.

'Sides, he'd seen enough shit in his life to know not to bite the hand that fed him.

Still, he wondered sometimes- especially when the world had gone to shit, exactly who'd been responsible for hurting her.

Chapter Text

He watched as she skimmed her fingers down the worn, glossy print of the Polaroid. Tucking her dirty blond hair behind her ear as he waited. Every line and shadow precious as Carl’s smiling face looked up at him. Young and perfect in spite of all the years that’d passed since they’d lost him.

Judith was his age now.

Seemed impossible, but she was.

She was the best of them in a lot of ways. Stronger. But harder too. She’d spent a long time holding onto his old hat, but now she wore her own. A baseball cap with a logo she didn’t understand. She told him she just liked the color. She’d never asked what the words or the design meant. Just like a lot of things that’d come before, she didn’t care to make the connection. It didn’t matter to her in the same way it did to them.

She used to be curious.

He missed those days.

These days she was learning the ropes from Maggie. Buzzing between Alexandria and the Hilltop- sometimes spending weeks at a time at the Kingdom with Carol and Daryl before cycling back home. He had a feeling she would be the one to take over for him here someday soon. And he figured they’d be better for it. She had her mother’s heart, but the kind of steel that ensured no one- not even the living could do much to phase her.

Shane would have liked that.

She shrugged, breaking him out of his thoughts as she pressed the photo back into his hand. Fingers brushing his as Carl’s face looked up a him. Reminding him that right there, in that moment, his son had known this would be the last-

“Sorry Dad, I just don’t remember.”

Chapter Text

The mattress creaked like brittle bones when they fell down on it together. It was threadbare and stripped. No musty sheets. No suspicious stains. No smells that clung in all the places you didn’t want them too. Just- clean. Theirs.

He kissed her hurriedly - awkward with a mess of bad angles and beard burn. But she didn’t care. She’d had better kisses that’d ended up worse that anything Daryl could give her.

She caught his chin in her hand and kissed him softly - cock hard against her thigh. Giving him permission to slow down a little. To let himself feel it, rather than give in to the urge to rush now that this was finally- oh god- finally happening.

Not that she blamed him. No. They’d both burned too bright for too long to make it out to the other side gracefully. And they weren't. They were a mess. Daryl was shaking and she was fighting not to call attention to it. Both of them too damn old to be this self-conscious as they pulled each other’s shirts over their heads and Daryl got his fingers tangled in the straps of her bra. Mouthing at the swell off skin rising over the lace cups before the flat line of her belly enticed him downward.

Oh.

Oh.



She grinned up at the ceiling later, passing him their last cigarette for a puff as he turned to look at her. Dark hair spiked up with sweat from where she’d run her fingers through it. earlier. Definitely on purpose.

“What?” he questioned, inhaling throatily as he knocked the ash off the side of the mattress with a practiced flick.

“Oh nothing, I just have a song stuck in my head is all.”

Chapter Text

The scars that slashed and blurred down his shoulders twitched as she ran her hands down the small of his back. Mapping him out with slow, gentle fingers as his fists clenched hard on either side of his thighs - suffocating the sheets.

"I aint never...not really."

She wasn't surprised.

The way he'd kissed her that first time had given that much away, right off the bat. The lack of finesse hadn't been about enthusiasm or desire. Not even close. Nerves, maybe. But more to the point, he'd gone about it like he had no frame of reference for the little things. Like how to navigate noses or know how much pressure to use. He didn't have the experience to turn the act into something that could tingle down to your core if your partner did it right.

Instead, they'd knocked heads and she'd gotten stubble burn across her upper lip. Overwhelmed by the blast of minty toothpaste that was so strong it'd made her lips threaten to swell. It had been a hot mess of clacking teeth and Daryl being so skiddish after the fact that he'd nearly toppled off the deck railing he'd been leaning on.

She smiled at the memory. Cheeks tinting rose-red at the second hand embarrassment it brought up. Tickling at his sides in light retaliation until he huffed at her. Smelling like sweat and simpler things.

But she hadn't cared then.

And she didn't care now.

"We can stop," she told him, open and warm and soft in all the ways he still needed. Reminding him that this happened at his pace and no one else's. Pressing a kiss into the knobs of his spine as the muscles and sinews tensed, then relaxed. "We've got all the time in the world now..."

She didn't need to see his face to know he was smiling after that.

Chapter Text

The ceiling was covered in graffiti.

Not the walls.

Just the ceiling.

He hadn't noticed until Carol and Connie had tumbled him onto the mattress and gently attacked his clothes. Stripping him down as his thighs rubbed together in a stupid-ass bid to help. The friction against his dick making his toes want to curl as his girls did their best to drive him outta his mind.

Mostly it was just gang-style tags.

Names.

James T was here. Rachel Scott. Trevor. A foreign sounding name he couldn't pronounce surrounded in blue hearts

Sarcastic comments about dead ends and no way out.

About the walkers and the end of the world.

There was even a melted looking smiley face someone had sprayed into the top corner that looked like it was bleeding.

He didn't have that long to dwell on it though. Because Carol had straddled him, hungry, letting Connie hush in from behind. Cupping her breasts and urging her shirt up and over her head.

He inhaled quick-like, mouth drier than it had ever been as Connie gripped him at the base. Squeezing like a reprimand when his hands settled on Carol's hips, trying to hurry things up.

He signed her a cuss over Carol's shoulder, making both women laugh.

They could be downright evil sometimes.

Just the way he liked them.

Carol let go of a high sound - almost a whine - when she sank down on him. Making him grunt and hitch his hips at the tightness. Feeling the pinch of skin against skin as Connie's leg grazed his, kissing down Carol's neck. Making her tighten around him like-

Yeah.

Like that.

Just like that.



Still - when everything was soft and quiet and they were curled up asleep on either side of him - he couldn't help but look up at the sentence someone had spray painted in white over the rest. Square in the middle and standing out like a bright sort of beacon.

"I hope the world will remember us someday."

And yeah, he hoped so too.