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(Sleep)walker

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It had been a busy few weeks.  Ever since the Governor’s unsuccessful attempt to take over the prison, the group had been struggling to figure out an order to their new world.  Rick knew the Governor was not dead and could return at any moment.  Everyone was getting paranoid about it.  Sure, he didn’t have the resources he’d had when he led the small town.  But it wouldn’t take much to do a solo mission to break in to the prison and cause major damage.  Michonne and Daryl were the most invested in the idea of tracking him down and ending the danger permanently.  They spent half their time out looking for him and the other half looking for food to feed the ever-expanding group.

Incorporating all of the new people from Woodbury had not been easy.  Most of the ones who came were those who hadn’t been deemed fit enough to be in the Governor’s army.  They’d taken on dozens of new residents, mostly either very old or very young, who couldn’t defend themselves and couldn’t safely be trusted to go on missions outside the fences.  Rick’s original group had been doing a lot of back-breaking work to help them get settled and to keep them fed.

Many people seemed to be burning the candle at both ends, but none more so than Rick.  Even though he’d said that he didn’t make the decisions any more, most people still looked to him.  And he felt a strong responsibility to do right by them.  He’d convinced them they would be better off here.  Now he needed to make that a reality.

As soon as they could, they started working on the garden.  The soil had been difficult to till with no machines or animals to help.  They barely even had tools beyond basic shovels.  For a couple of weeks, anyone who could possibly help made their way outside every morning and didn’t return until sunset, hands full of blisters.  Glenn and Maggie hit every farm and farming supply store they could find looking for seeds and equipment.

Hershel seemed bound and determined to get Rick to be their farmer, but Rick was hard to pin down.  He did help out with preparing the ground, but he refused to stop going on runs.  They needed too much.  And despite the stress he felt about being able to feed and keep safe all the new people he’d admitted to the prison, anytime he found someone new, he couldn’t help asking them the questions.  He knew there was safety in numbers.  Maybe if they’d had more people to begin with, the Governor wouldn’t have tried taking them on.  So, more times than not, Rick’s new finds ended up coming back to the prison, too.  At least most of them were healthy enough to contribute.

Sasha was pulling the 12-3 shift in Tower 2 when she noticed what looked to be a walker in the yard, stumbling around.  But when she looked through the scope on her rifle, she could tell it wasn’t a walker, but rather, Rick.  She was confused and a little scared.  Something must be wrong.  He wasn’t scheduled to be on duty that night and she remembered him heading to bed shortly before her shift started. 

Sasha clambered down the ladder to investigate.  As she got close, it was clear he hadn’t turned.  He still had the coloring of a human and he was carrying a knife.  But his aimless shuffle told her something was definitely up.  Also, she noticed that he wasn’t wearing his boots.  In fact, he had nothing at all on his feet.  She couldn’t remember ever seeing his toes before.

“Rick,” she called when she got close.  He didn’t seem to hear her, so she jogged up closer.  “Rick,” she repeated more urgently.  He turned toward her and looked at her, but he didn’t seem to really see her.  “What’s going on?”

There was a long pause before he answered.  “I have to find Carl,” Rick finally said, his voice slurred.  If Sasha didn’t know better, she’d think he was drunk.

Sasha wrinkled her forehead in confusion.  “Isn’t he asleep inside?” she asked.  She was sure if Carl had come outside, she would have seen him.

Rick just looked away and continued walking.  “Gotta find ‘im,” he mumbled.

Sasha hurried around to intercept Rick.  “Let’s go look inside,” she offered.

Rick got an angry look on his face and pushed her away.  “Get outta my way!”

Sasha staggered back a few steps.  She and Rick had had a rocky start, but they’d become friendly in the past couple of weeks.  This seemed really out of character for him.  She decided it might be best to let him be and just find Carl on her own.  She jogged inside to start there.

She went to his cell and, sure enough, Carl was asleep on his bunk.  Judith was in a crib in the corner.

Sasha went back outside to tell Rick he could call off the search.  He was still walking around unsteadily in the dark when she approached.  “Rick,” she said, trying to get his attention by grabbing his elbow.  “Carl’s inside.  Come on.”

Rick looked down at where Sasha’s hand sat on his elbow.  Then he picked her up by the throat and threw her several feet away to the ground.

The air flew out of her lungs and she lay for several moments trying to remember how to breathe.  As soon as she could, she got to her feet, rubbing her neck.  Something was very wrong.  She went back inside and started waking people up.  She started with Glenn and Maggie.  They’d known Rick longer and were going to be relieving her on guard duty in less than an hour, anyway.

As she relayed her story to them, she caught several worried glances pass between them.  She figured this behavior must be something new to them, also.

“What should we do?” Glenn asked.  “You wanna wake up your dad?”

“We’d better,” Maggie said, nodding.  “It sounds like he’s sleepwalkin’ and all I know is you’re not supposed to wake someone up when they’re sleepwalkin’.  I wouldn’t want to hurt him.”

When Hershel heard the story, he didn’t look nearly as surprised as Glenn and Maggie had.  The first thing he did was check Sasha out and make sure no permanent damage was done.  Then he said, “That’s actually a myth that you shouldn’t wake a sleepwalker.  They just advise against it because people who are sleeping aren’t at their most rational and sometimes, as we see here, get a bit violent.  But we can’t just leave him out there to wake up on his own.  We have to get him back inside.  He probably won’t even remember this in the morning.”

“It’s not like I didn’t try!” Sasha said defensively.

“I know you did,” Hershel said reassuringly.  “He just hasn’t known you as long.  I think we should wake Carl up and have him try.”

“What if Rick hurts him?” Glenn asked.  “Even if he doesn’t mean to, he’ll never forgive himself if something happens to Carl.”

“That’s true,” Hershel agreed.  “But I don’t think Rick’ll hurt him.  And we’ll all be out there to step in if we need to.  Sasha said he was looking for Carl.  If he finds him, he might feel better.”

Glenn agreed to wake Carl.  By then, half of the rest of the people in the block were awake, too, listening in and watching all the goings on.

Carl got dressed quickly when he heard his dad was in trouble.  “I think this used to happen before,” he said, “when Dad had to pull too many overnight shifts.  I remember one time I had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and found him polishing his shoes in the dark.  When I asked him what he was doing, he just gave me this real blank look and never did answer me.  And then when I asked him about it in the morning, he didn’t even remember doing it.  Mom used to just let him do what he was going to do.”

“Well, I think he’s raised the stakes a bit, son,” Hershel said.  “He’s out there with a knife.  And it’s too dangerous for him to be out there like this.  If he came across a walker, he might not know what to do.”

“Okay,” said Carl.  “Just tell me what to do.”

They all walked back outside to where Rick was still stumbling around.  “Just go call his name,” said Hershel, nudging Carl forward.

Carl shrugged and walked toward his father.  “Dad,” he said.  When Rick didn’t look, he repeated himself more loudly.

Rick looked over with bleary eyes.  “Carl?” he asked, looking around him.  “Where have you been?”

“Inside,” Carl said with the tone of disdain that seemed to be reserved for teenagers talking to their parents.  “Where you should be.  Let’s go.” He motioned and Rick started walking. 

Once they were all back inside, Carl told everyone he could handle it and got his father back in his bed.  Sasha was quick to take Glenn and Maggie up on their offer to start their shift early and she went to bed herself.

Carol, who had been trying to quell any gossip among the new folks, walked up to Hershel.  “What was that about?” she asked.

“Not sure,” Hershel said.  “Hopefully, it was a one-time occurrence and we won’t need to worry about it.”

“Yeah,” Carol agreed.  “Hopefully.”  She told everyone to get to bed and followed her own advice.

Of course, things being what they were, it was far from a one-time occurrence.

~~*~~

When Rick appeared in the morning, he wondered what all the whispering and not-so-sly glances in his direction meant.  He figured it out shortly after Hershel pulled him aside and told him what he’d been up to the previous night.  He was confused and embarrassed and ashamed for what he’d done to Sasha, but has Hershel had expected, he didn’t remember a thing about it.  Everyone convinced him not to worry too much, even though they weren’t sure they believed it themselves, then moved on with their day.

That night, Rick had guard duty and everything seemed fine.

The following night, Rick was found wandering around the tombs with a hatchet.  Even Carl couldn’t get him to come back to bed and they just left Tyreese down there with him in case he ran into trouble.  When he woke up a couple hours later and noticed where he was, he sheepishly thanked Tyreese for his support and went back upstairs to bed.

The nights that followed seemed to get worse and worse.  Rick tried not sleeping at all during the night, but catching naps during the day instead.  Two days later, he collapsed outside while working on the garden and they realized that wasn’t a good solution.

They tried having Carl sleep in the top bunk in the hopes that Rick would see him and settle quickly, but Rick still snuck out in the dead of night and Carl didn’t even know he was gone until Glenn started screaming bloody murder from the bathroom where Rick had him pinned to the wall.

They tried handcuffing him to his bed and he rubbed his wrist raw and bloody trying to get out of the cuffs.

They tried looking his cell door and he screamed and pounded on the bars for hours, waking everyone in the block.

After nearly two weeks, no one was sure what else could be done.  It was clear that Rick’s sleeping problem wasn’t just his problem.  It was everybody’s problem.  No one could sleep the night through with all the disturbances.  Plus, having Rick looking so ragged was causing dismay among the residents.  He was supposed to be the one protecting them.  Who would protect them from him?  Some of the newer people were talking about leaving if the group didn’t eject him.

~~*~~

The next day, Daryl and Michonne finally returned from their latest trip to look for food and, at the same time, try to track down the Governor.  They hadn’t had any luck with the latter and Daryl was ready to give up the search.  But at least they’d found a lot of food.  Their truck was loaded down with several cases of canned vegetables, a pallet of instant mashed potatoes, and two deer Daryl had hunted.

Hershel was given the job of being the bearer of the news about Rick’s condition.  Daryl scoffed at first, but knew must be true when he looked over to where their leader was digging in the dirt and Rick instantly reddened and refused to meet his eyes.

“It can’t be as bad as all that,” Daryl said.  “You must be exaggerating.”

“I wish I were,” Hershel said, shaking his head.  “We’ve tried everything we can think of and nothing seems to help.”

“We’ll just put someone on duty to watch him,” Daryl said.

“We tried that with Carl.  We can’t really assign people to stay up all night just to watch him sleep.  We’re already spread so thin.  We have to constantly be on the lookout for breaches from walkers, or from another group of humans trying to break in.  We can’t really spare someone.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Daryl said, exasperated.  “I’ll do it!”

“And who will do it the next time you go out on a run?” Hershel asked, meeting Daryl’s exasperation with calmness.  “And when will you sleep?”

“I’ll sleep when he does.  I’m just a light sleeper.  Always have been.  If he gets up, I’ll know.”  Daryl thought back to all the nights he’d had to sleep with one eye open, ready to run on a moment’s notice if his dad stumbled home drunk. 

Michonne had observed to the whole exchange silently.  She knew quite a bit about sleepwalking.  Her own son had suffered from it.  It was pretty common among children, but not as much as people aged.  She hesitated to say anything, though.  They didn’t know about Andre, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to talk about him.   Still, she owed it to Rick to help if she could.

“Have you tried getting him on a schedule?” she asked.  Daryl and Hershel turned to look at her, almost surprised to find she was still there.  “It’s supposed to help,” she continued softly.

“What do you know about it?” asked Daryl hotly.

“I had . . . someone who had the same problem.  I did a lot of research.  From what I remember, the best things are to sleep more, on a regular schedule, and establish a calming bedtime routine.”  She remembered the routine she’d established for Andre.  Three stories, two songs, five kisses.  She could tell she was going to cry soon.  “I’m going to start unloading the truck,” she said quickly, walking away.  “Hope you figure it out.”

“See,” Daryl said.  “It’ll be fine.  Y’all just ain’t been doin’ it right.”

“Okay, Daryl,” Hershel said.  He was far from convinced that Daryl would be able to do anything, but he was willing to try anything at this point.  “We’ll try it your way.”

Daryl nodded and headed over to Rick, who had been working on digging that same spot of ground for the last ten minutes while pretending not to be paying attention to the conversation he was sure was about him.

“Ten o’clock tonight,” Daryl said without preamble.  “You’re in your cell, ready for bed.”

“I have guard duty,” Rick said.  “I won’t be off until midnight.”

“No, you don’t,” Daryl said with authority, stepping closer to Rick.

“There’s no way I’m not pulling night shifts,” Rick said firmly back, stepping closer himself, nearly chest to chest with Daryl.  “Everyone has to do their part.”

“Right now, your part is to stop scarin’ the bejesus outta everyone.  Go a week without causin’ a scene and we’ll talk.”

Rick’s shoulders sagged.  “Fine,” he said.  He just didn’t have it in him to keep fighting this.  He knew Daryl was right.  He was scaring people and it had to stop.

“Good,” Daryl said.  “See you then.”

“Wait, what?” Rick said.  Why would Daryl be in his cell when it was time to go to bed?

“I’m sleepin’ in your cell with you,” Daryl replied.  When Rick screwed up his face to protest, Daryl burst in over him.  “Save it.  I’m takin’ the top bunk.  If you start walkin’ around, I’ll hear.”

Rick looked at Daryl for a long moment, then nodded and returned to digging.  Daryl huffed and walked off to help Michonne unload the truck.

~~*~~

When Rick entered his cell at 10:00, Daryl was already installed on the top bunk.  Rick heaved a sigh and sat down on the bottom bunk, head in hands.

“Come on,” Daryl said, hopping down to the floor.  “It ain’t as bad as all that.”  He sat down next to Rick on the bed.

“I don’t wanna go to sleep,” Rick said.

“I know.  But you gotta.”  He patted Rick roughly on the back a couple of times, then stood and grabbed something from the top bunk.  “Here,” he said, handing three books to Rick.  “I picked these out from the library.  You got your choice.  You read for twenty minutes and then it’s lights out.”

“Why are you doin’ this?” Rick asked, looking through the books.

“You’d do it for me,” Daryl said.

“You wouldn’t need it,” Rick said, a bit bitterly.  He couldn’t believe his mind was betraying him like this.  All the work he did to keep it together during the day, why couldn’t he just stay put at night?

Daryl reached his foot up to nudge Rick’s knee with his boot.  “We’re gonna get through this, like we’ve gotten through everythin’ else.”

Rick looked at him steadily.  “Not all of us have gotten through.”

“Shut up and read,” Daryl said, jumping back up to the top bunk and getting out his own book.

Rick remained sitting for a couple moments, then kicked off his boots and lay down.  He was having a hard time getting into his book.  His mind kept wandering to what he was sure was going to happen again tonight.  Somehow, he’d get away from Daryl.  Maybe tonight would be the night he would really hurt someone.  Maybe they’d be better off if he just left.

“Okay,” Daryl said gruffly, interrupting his musing.  “Light’s out.”

Rick looked at his watch.  It was 10:20 on the dot.  Daryl wasn’t kidding about sticking to a schedule.

“I ain’t tired,” Rick said.

“Well, the lights are goin’ out one way or the other.  You try and sleep or don’t.  But you ain’t leavin’ this cell until morning, so you may as well get used to the idea.”

“Fine,” Rick said grumpily, leaning over and turning off the Coleman lamp.  “Happy?”

“Oh, me?” Daryl said, matching Rick’s sarcastic tone.  “I’m ecstatic.  Over the moon.  Never had a better night.  Go to sleep.  And stop thinkin’ so hard.  I can hear the fuckin’ gears turnin’.”

Rick rolled over to face the wall.  He didn’t think he would be able to sleep.  He just kept thinking about why he would be doing this.  Why now?  This was the best they’d had it in a long time.  If his mind was going to play games with him, why didn’t it do it before now?

Something about the circular patterns of Rick’s thoughts eventually lulled him to sleep.

~~*~~

Rick and Daryl had been asleep for a couple of hours when Daryl heard the springs of the bed frame squeak.  He saw Rick get up and start walking out of the cell.

“Oh no, you don’t,” Daryl said, hopping down and rushing after him.  He jogged past Rick and put himself right his path.  “Where do you think you’re goin’?” he asked.

Rick looked at him blearily.  “Daryl?” he said.  “What are you doin’ here?”

“Never you mind,” Daryl said.  “Get back in bed.”  Daryl pointed back toward Rick’s cell.

Rick just smiled a little dopily.  “Okay,” he said, and turned right back around and went back to bed.

What the hell? thought Daryl.  This is what Hershel was bellyachin’ about?  It can’t be that easy.  But when he looked, sure enough, Rick was sleeping soundly in his bunk.

Daryl climbed back up on top and went back to sleep.  He had to chase Rick down two more times, but each time, as soon as Daryl told him to go to bed, Rick just went.  There were no arguments and certainly no violence.

The next morning, when Rick got up, he looked grimly to Daryl.  “Well?” he asked leadingly.  “How bad was it?”

Daryl screwed up his face in confusion.  “Don’t you know?”

“No,” Rick said, shaking his head.  “I never remember.  I just have to wait to hear from Hershel and the others what I did.  And sometimes I have the mystery bruises to help me figure it out.”

“You was fine,” Daryl said dismissively.  “You got up three times, but you went back to bed easy enough.”

“I didn’t try to punch you?” Rick asked, surprised.

“Naw,” Daryl said.  “You even smiled at me.”

“Huh,” Rick said, smiling a little bit now.  Maybe he was over the worst of it.

“Didn’t none of them think to just tell you to go back to bed?” Daryl asked.

Rick shrugged.  “They said they did and I just wouldn’t listen.  I mean, I guess I listened sometimes if it was Carl.  But not every time.”

Daryl looked over Rick’s shoulder for a bit, thinking, then shook his head and met Rick’s gaze.  “Well, I said a week.  So we’ll do it again tonight.  I’m goin’ huntin’, but I’ll see you later.  All right?”

Rick nodded and started pulling on his boots.  He had a lot of work to do.  And he was feeling more well-rested than he had in a long while.

~~*~~

Their routine continued for the next several days.  Rick kept sleepwalking, but he always responded to Daryl about going back to bed.  The deep circles started disappearing from under Rick’s eyes.  People stopped staring at him like they were worried he would kill them in their sleep.  Everyone started to breathe more easily and settle in to life at the prison.

Daryl, however, was starting to look a little peaked.  As much as he’d said it was no big deal for him to keep Rick under control, he hadn’t slept more than an hour at a time in days.  Even when Rick was staying in bed, Daryl’s sleep was restless.  Every sound he heard or shadow that crossed his face made him pop up, ready to get Rick.  Sometimes, it was Rick.  But sometimes it was just someone in another cell turning over or the moon coming out from behind the clouds or a mouse squeaking in the corner.  Being on high alert all night long was beginning to take its toll.

Hershel approached Daryl one evening after dinner, leading him into the library for a private conversation.

“You know,” Hershel said, “we all appreciate what you’re doing.  I didn’t think it would work, and you’ve proven me wrong.  Maybe it’s time to let Rick try to sleep on his own again.”

“Naw,” said Daryl, shaking his head.  “He got up twice last night.  He ain’t ready yet.”

“I’ll stay up with him,” Hershel offered.

Daryl furrowed his brow.  “Why?” he asked.

“I think you need a night off,” Hershel said plainly.

“I’m fine,” Daryl said curtly. 

“It’s clear that’s not true,” Hershel started, and continued over the sound of Daryl’s huff.  “You don’t have to bear the weight of this by yourself.”

“I owe it to Rick.  We all do, after everythin’ he’s done for us.  To get us this far.  He’s just startin’ to trust himself again.  When I tell him to go back to bed, he goes.  No big deal.  What happens when you watch him tonight and he doesn’t listen and he ends up hurtin’ you or someone else or himself?  He’ll be right back where he was.”

“You can’t help him forever at your own expense.”

“Hell I can’t.  It’s easy.  We done?” Daryl asked, looking intimidatingly at Hershel.

Hershel shrugged.  “It would appear so,” he said.

Daryl stalked off to the fence line and told Tyreese he would take the rest of his shift.  Daryl desperately needed to work out some aggression and spearing walkers in the head through the fence was going to have to do.

~~*~~

When Daryl got to Rick’s cell that night, it was clear someone had gotten to him, too.  He was pacing his cell anxiously and pulling on the back of his hair.

“Daryl, good.  You’re here,” he said, smiling nervously.  “You know, I think I want to try goin’ it alone tonight.”

“No,” Daryl said in a no-nonsense tone, easily swinging up to the top bunk and picking up his book.

Rick started to say something, then stopped, then tried again.  “Maybe Carl – “

“No,” Daryl interrupted, not looking up from his book.  “You said you already tried that and it didn’t work.  This works.  I don’t get what the fuck you’re all so worried about.”

“Have you looked at yourself lately?” Rick asked, and Daryl leveled a glare at him.  “Sorry, I just mean, you look tired.  What’s the sense of helping me sleep if you can’t?”

“’Cause when I don’t sleep, I don’t go around tryin’ to rip people’s arms off.”

Rick cringed.  “It’s just.  I mean, we’re not gonna do this forever, are we?”

“It ain’t even been a week, man.  Give it a rest,” Daryl said, digging into his pocket and pulling out a watch.  “You only got two minutes before you need to be reading.”

Rick threw up his hands. “I don’t think this is an exact science.  It doesn’t have to be down to the minute.”

“It works this way.  I ain’t messin’ around with it.”  Daryl went back to reading his book.

Rick sighed and sat down heavily on his bunk.  “Hershel had another idea,” he said tentatively.

Daryl turned a page aggressively and said nothing, so Rick continued.  “He said, maybe if you slept down here and I was against the wall, I’d have to crawl over you to get out and you’d be able to stop me faster.”

Daryl popped his head over the side of the top bunk and stared at Rick upside-down.  “You want to sleep with me?” he said incredulously.

“Well, I mean, whatever works, right?” Rick said, shrugging.  “You wouldn’t have to worry over every little sound ‘cause you know there’s no way I’d get away without wakin’ you up.  Maybe that way we could both sleep.”

Daryl thought about it for a few moments.  He knew it was weird, but what about their lives wasn’t these days?  It wasn’t a horrible solution.  “Fine,” he agreed, nodding.  “Budge over.”

Rick kicked off his boots and scooted toward the wall.  Daryl swung down and started to get into the bottom bunk.

“No boots in my bed,” Rick said.

Daryl rolled his eyes, but bent to start unlacing them.  “Whatever you say, your highness.”  Rick swatted Daryl’s shoulder lightly.

Daryl lay down on his side and tried to get comfortable.  “Tight fit,” he said.

“Yeah,” Rick said distantly.

Daryl looked over his shoulder at the other man, who was just staring into space.  “Read,” he ordered, handing Rick the book that was lying on the floor.

They continued reading in silence until Daryl decided it was time to turn off the light.

Rick could tell Daryl dropped off quickly when his breaths became slow and even.  Usually, Rick had a hard time falling asleep, but this time, instead of letting circular thoughts get the better of him, he just listened to Daryl’s even breaths and fell asleep shortly after.

Daryl slept soundly until he felt Rick trying to climb over him some time later.  “Nope,” he said, pushing Rick back into the bed.

“Daryl?” Rick asked.  “Is everything okay?”

Daryl laughed a bit to himself at how surprised Rick always seemed to be to see him during his spells.  “Yeah, everythin’s fine.  Back to sleep.”

“Okay,” Rick said easily, settling back down.

Huh, Daryl thought to himself.  That was better.  He lay back down himself and fell quickly back to sleep.

~~*~~

In the morning, Rick looked anxiously to Daryl.  He always wanted a report first thing on what outrageous things he’d said or done.  “So.  How’d it go?”

“Good,” Daryl said, tone displaying a bit of surprise.  He stretched his arms high over his head and something popped in his shoulder.

Rick just stared and waited for Daryl to elaborate.

“You only woke up once, and I stopped you ‘fore you even left the bed,” Daryl said, stepping into his boots and starting to lace them up.

“And you,” Rick said.  “Did you sleep okay?”

“Yup,” Daryl said, shrugging it off like no big deal.  But he had to admit, if only to himself, that Hershel had definitely been right.  Now that he’d had a good night’s sleep, he could tell how awful he had been feeling.  “I’m hittin’ the Big Lots with Glenn today.  Later,” he said, nodding at Rick and grabbing his crossbow from the chair it had been leaning against.

“Later,” Rick echoed, raising his hand to wave awkwardly.

~~*~~

After another week passed by with their new sleeping arrangements and nothing bad happened, they decided to re-evaluate.  Rick hadn’t even tried leaving the bed for the last four nights.  Maybe he was cured.  They thought now was a good time to test out the theory.  Daryl took the 12-3 shift in the guard tower.  He’d been in Rick’s cell when he went to sleep and everything had been fine.

At around 2:00, Daryl saw Rick stumbling around in the yard. “Fuck,” he said, practically flying down the ladder to get to him.

“Rick,” he said, but there was no response.  He repeated himself, as he got closer, an edge of desperation leaking into his voice.  “Rick, stop!”

Finally, Daryl was able to get in front of Rick and put his hands on Rick’s shoulders.

“I know you ain’t real,” Rick said sadly.

“What do you mean I ain’t real?” Daryl asked, and pounded a fist to Rick’s shoulder.  “That feel real?”

Rick looked down at his shoulder, then back to Daryl.  “Visions can feel real sometimes.  But you’re not real.  You’re like Lori.”

“What?” Daryl asked, confused.  “I ain’t dead.”

“You are,” Rick said simply, and started walking again, toward the gate.

“Where are you goin’?” Daryl asked, trying to stop Rick without hurting him.  But Rick kept shrugging him off and walking toward the gate.  He seemed very determined.

“I’m goin’ to be with Daryl,” Rick said.  “You can’t stop me.”  With that, he pushed Daryl away hard.

“Hell I cain’t!” Daryl said, and tackled Rick to the ground and placed a knee to his chest, easily pinning his wrists over his head.

“Get off’a me!” Rick shouted, trying to squirm out from under the tight grip Daryl had to his wrists.  He bucked and swayed and even tried to headbutt Daryl, but the hunter was able to easily evade his escape attempts.  Rick was formidable when awake, but this version was but a shadow.

“Look in my eyes,” Daryl said, staring intently at Rick.  “Wake up, Rick.  I need you to wake up.”

Rick’s struggles continued and Daryl put more weight into the knee on Rick’s chest.

“Wake up!” Daryl said loudly.

Finally, Rick stopped flailing and started to come back to himself.  “Daryl?” he asked confusedly.  “Why are we outside?”

Daryl started laughing and couldn’t stop, though he wasn’t sure why.  This really wasn’t funny.  He ducked his head to Rick’s chest and tried to get his breath back.

“What did I do?” Rick asked, glancing around and noticing that several people were gathered at the entrance to the cell block, staring at them.

“It’s okay,” Daryl said, looking back up at Rick.  “I guess you just ain’t ready yet.”

“God damnit,” Rick said.  “God damnit!”  He lifted his head and punched it hard back into the ground underneath him.  He made to do it again and Daryl quickly put a hand between him and the ground.

“Hey,” Daryl said soothingly.  “It’s okay.  You didn’t hurt anyone.”

“It’s just, I thought it was over,” Rick said, squeezing his eyes closed tightly, a frustrated tear coming out of each.  “I thought you fixed me and it was over.”

“We just got a little more work to do than we thought.  That’s all.”  Daryl released his hold on Rick’s wrist and patted his shoulder.  Then he stood up, offering Rick a hand.

Rick exhaled loudly, then grasped Daryl’s hand firmly and used the leverage to stand. 

“Let’s go to bed,” Daryl said easily, trying to play it off like nothing had happened and ignoring everyone’s stares. 

~~*~~

That one bad night seemed to set off a string of bad nights.  They tried to stick to the routine, but neither of their hearts were in it.  Both had a hard time falling asleep and Rick’s sleepwalking incidents increased.  Plus, Rick was becoming much more difficult to talk down.  He seemed convinced that Daryl was a ghost every time and tried his hardest to get away from him.  Rick was never very successful, but it led to a lot of sleepless nights for both of them.

Finally, Daryl had to admit that it wasn’t working.  They weren’t disturbing others, but neither of them were getting the sleep they needed.  Maybe just being there for Rick wasn’t enough anymore.

That night, as they both lay in bed, not sleeping, Daryl huffed out a breath.  “Maybe we should talk about it.”  As much as he hated the idea of talking about anything, it wasn’t about him.  Rick needed to hash this out.  Daryl had purposefully waited until they were in the dark, not looking at each other, to bring it up.  He thought it would be easier for Rick that way.

“What good will that do?” Rick asked in a frustrated tone.

“I dunno.  Why do people get their head shrunk?  It must work sometimes.”

Rick flopped over onto his back and put an arm over his eyes.  “What do you want me to say?”

“I know you don’t remember what you really do.  But do you remember what you’re dreamin’ about?” Daryl asked.

“Not exactly.  I have kinda hazy memories.  I used to dream that we weren’t safe.  That Carl was in trouble or the prison was being attacked or there was some big herd bringin’ down the fences.  And then, when I saw you, I knew things were okay.  ‘Cause things are always okay when you’re around.” Rick seemed to notice what he said a beat too late.  “I mean, in my dreams, things are okay when you’re around.  I mean, aw fuck it.  I don’t get it either.  But you make me feel safe.”

Daryl colored a bit, and then was embarrassed that he felt embarrassed.  Even though it was dark inside the cell and he wasn’t even facing Rick, he didn’t want Rick to notice.

“What, uh,” Daryl cleared his throat.  “What happened then?  The other night?  Why didn’t seeing me help?”

“Hell if I know,” Rick said, aggravated all over again.  “It’s not like it makes any sense.  I guess my brain is crossing wires.  I used to see Lori, you know.”

“I didn’t know that,” Daryl said, though thinking back, it made some of Rick’s irrational behavior a few months ago make a lot more sense.

“Huh.  I woulda thought Hershel would tell everyone,” Rick said.

“I think he takes that doctor-patient thing real serious.”

“I guess,” Rick agreed.  “Anyway, after. . .after, I thought I saw her a bunch of times and started followin’ her all over the place.  I wasn’t really all there at the time.  I ain’t seen her since the Governor came back.”

“That’s good,” Daryl said.

“Yeah.  I stopped hallucinatin’ during the day and started doin’ it at night,” Rick said sarcastically.  “Great progress.”

“So,” Daryl continued, trying to ignore the tone, “I die in your dreams?”

“Sometimes,” Rick says, rolling back over to stare at Daryl’s back.  “Sometimes I see you die.  Sometimes I just know it happened, you know, in that way you just know things in dreams.  So I guess seein’ you when I’m sleepwalkin’ doesn’t help anymore.  Nothing helps.”

Rick sounded so sad, Daryl had to turn over to look at him.  “Something will.  We’ll figure this out.”

“Since when are you so optimistic?” Rick asked.

“Since somebody’s gotta counteract all your negativity.  It was workin’.  We just need to try a new routine.  You need to know I’m alive, even while you’re asleep.  Let’s try this,” Daryl said, rolling back over and pulling Rick’s arm over him.  He placed Rick’s hand over his heart.  “Feel that?”

“Yeah,” Rick said, marveling a bit at the feel of the organ beating beneath his hand.

“You fell that and you’ll know I’m okay.”

“I can’t depend on you to be here for me like that forever,” Rick said, starting to pull away.

“It’s not forever,” Daryl insisted, tugging Rick’s hand back.  “It’s like how you need a cast on a broken leg while you’re healing.  When the leg is better, and the cast goes away, you don’t break your leg all over again.”

“I did last time.  We thought I was fine and one night away from you and I turned back into that mindless creature.”

“I think we were doin’ okay before,” Daryl insisted. “We just took the cast off too soon.”

Rick was exhausted and he just didn’t have any more fight in him.  He knew this wasn’t right.  He shouldn’t take like this from Daryl.  But Daryl was offering and hell if he didn’t need it.  He needed to be okay for Carl and Judith and everyone else.  If Daryl’s sacrifice made that happen, then he’d have to take it.

Rick settled in to their much closer spooning position and Daryl let out a breath of relief.  This is just temporary, he told himself.  Don’t get too used to it.

~~*~~

Their new routine was awkward at first, but as it became the new normal, they both stopped waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Instead of reading, they would spend every night talking for a little while in the dark, spooned up against one another.  They mutually agreed that the body heat from spending all night so close together made wearing jeans uncomfortable and switched to sweats.  Daryl felt ridiculous the first time he put them on.  He’d never really worn them before.  When he’d drifted with Merle, he always either wore his jeans or he’d just strip down to his underwear, or even his altogether.  But that seemed a step too far for this case.

Their discussions sometimes lasted only a few minutes, but could go on for a while.  At first, Daryl found it weird to talk so much, but it always helped that it was only to Rick and it was in the dark.  They’d talk about what they did that day or how the new people were settling into the group or what they wanted to do to improve the prison.  Sometimes they’d talk about their pasts, though Daryl tended to skirt away from that.  His favorite topic was always talking about whatever Judith had gotten up to that day.

After a few weeks, Daryl thought it was time to start thinking about sleeping apart again.  But every time he brought it up, Rick would change the topic or rush off to take care of some farming chore.  Daryl didn’t really want to separate, anyway, so he didn’t push the issue.  But Rick was bound to start feeling tied down soon and eventually, Daryl decided it was time to pull off the Band-Aid.

One night, Daryl looked at Rick settling in to bed against the wall.  “You know,” he started more confidently than he felt.  “I think I’m gonna try sleepin’ up here again and see how you do.”

Rick sat up so quickly, he hit his head on the bottom bunk.  “Did I do somethin’ wrong?” he asked, rubbing his head.

“No.  It’s just time,” Daryl said, moving to the top bunk without taking off his boots or changing his pants.  He looked a bit longingly at his sweats.  But, it wasn’t a good idea.  If Rick took off, he needed to be ready to go after him.

Rick came out and stood so he could look at Daryl.  “I’m not ready.”

Daryl picked up his book and started reading like everything in him wasn’t screaming at him to let Rick have his way.  But he knew this was for the best.  “I think you are.  Don’t worry.  I’ll still be here in case I’m wrong.”

“But last time,” Rick started quickly and desperately, then seemed to notice his tone and stopped.  “Last time,” he said again, more slowly and softly, “you were wrong.  And it made things worse that we tried to soon.”

Daryl put his book face down to hold the page and looked at Rick.  “Last time we tried after less than two weeks.  It’s been almost two months.  You haven’t gotten up in the night in almost that long.  I thought you’d be happy at the prospect of havin’ your bed to yourself again.  You don’t have to worry no more ‘bout me pressin’ my sweaty feet on your legs.”

“That doesn’t really bother me,” Rick said, placing a hand on the bed near Daryl’s hand.  

“We gotta try sometime,” Daryl said.  “Eventually, you’re gonna pick one’a these ladies that’re throwin’ themselves at you all day and you’re gonna wanna be sure that you can sleep on your own by then.”

“What ladies?” Rick asked.  Who in the world could Daryl be talking about?

Daryl propped himself up on one elbow and started ticking them off on his fingers.  “There’s Susan who does your laundry and is forever feelin’ on your chest, ‘Lookin’ for stains.’” Daryl quoted her in a ridiculous high voice, then rolled his eyes.  “There’s Anna who helps with the weedin’, but spends more time lookin’ at your butt than lookin’ at the plants.  There’s Bobbi who brings you coffee while you’re workin’ and giggles at all your jokes like you’re the funniest person she’s ever met.  And trust me.  I done heard those jokes.  They’re not that funny.  Do I need to go on?”

“I haven’t noticed any of that,” Rick said.  “And it wouldn’t matter if I did.  I’m not gonna want any’a them.”

“Sure you will,” Daryl said.  “One day, you’ll get over Lori and be ready to be with someone new.”

“I am over Lori, and I am already ready to be with someone new,” Rick said, leveling Daryl with a heated glare.

“See, there you go.  All the more reason,” Daryl said, picking up his book again, thinking the conversation over.

Rick decided to try a new tack.  “How is it you know so much about ladies that have been flirtin’ with me?  You jealous?”

Daryl’s face reddened quickly, and this time he didn’t have the dark to cover it up.  “No!” he blustered defensively.  “Just observant, that’s all.”

“What if I want you to be jealous?” Rick asked pointedly.

“Why would you – ” Daryl started to say, then finally noticed the heat in Rick’s stare.

“For someone so ‘observant’, you’re bein’ awful blind now.”  Rick hoped he was reading the clues right.  He lifted his hand from the bed and moved to cradle Daryl’s cheek.  Confusion and hope warred in the glance he got back, but Daryl seemed stunned into silence.

Rick stroked his thumb over Daryl’s cheekbone.  “I’m more than ready to be with someone new.  I actually already started bein’ with him.”

“Oh, thank Christ!” Daryl exclaimed, and quickly rolled off the bed.  He seized Rick by the back of the head and brought him into a domineering kiss.  Rick gave back as good as he got and grabbed Daryl by the hips to push him into the bottom bunk.

“Uh-uh,” Daryl said.  “No boots in your bed, remember?”

“Let me take care of that for you, your highness,” Rick said, quickly undoing the laces and throwing the boots into the corner.

“You’re the highness,” Daryl said glibly.  “Remember?”

“I think we’re going to share the throne,” Rick said, pulling Daryl’s pants off and following him into bed.

~~*~~

In the months that followed, they did occasionally have a reason to sleep apart.  So they knew that Rick’s sleepwalking days were over, for now at least.  But, just because they could do it didn’t mean they wanted to.  And so, they didn’t.