Daryl took as long in the shower as he possibly could, trying to somehow will his heartrate to slow, to stop the quivering of his body. It was no use. He couldn't do this on his own. He needed Rick.

It was a foreign thing, to so readily admit that he needed someone else. But then, for the first time in his life, such admissions wouldn't get him ridiculed, or worse. He'd be welcomed with opened arms, even praised for being so open. Years and years of building walls around his heart and soul made it so much harder to ask for what he needed, and maybe that was why Rick was so forgiving. So gentle. He understood what kind of willpower it took for the archer to come to him, to lay his very core into the deputys hands, and know that he wouldn't be shattered into pieces. Once again, Daryl had no choice but to be awed by the older man once again.

"Daryl?" Ricks voice shook him from his thoughts, and for a second, the redneck felt the insistent urge to snap at the cop to leave him the fuck alone. Instead, he took a deep breath and shut off the water, mourning its warmth only for a second.

"'Almost done." He replied, just loud enough so Rick could hear. "Just need ta dry off, 'n get dressed."

"You want some of my clothes?"

Daryl glanced at the pile of clothing he had left to lay on the floor, chewing at his lower lip. They weren't dirty, per se, perhaps a bit sweaty, but not enough to justify making Rick wash them. But the thought of wearing something of the deputys, to be wrapped in the mans scent, to look like maybe, just maybe, he, somehow, belonged to Rick...

" ." He answered, stepping out of the shower, grabbing a towel to dry himself off.

"I'll put them outside the door. Just come on back downstairs when yer done."

As always, Rick was being considerate, not assuming he could simply come in and hand Daryl what he had offered, but giving the archer the privacy he had once asked for, back when he had showered here for the first time. Much had changed since then, some thing becoming easier, while others had become seemingly infinately more difficult. And still, the small gestures warmed the hunters heart, just as it had back then.

Once he heard the footsteps down the stairs, indicating Rick had made his way back to the livingroom, the archer opened the door and snagged the clothing from the floor. For a few moments, he simply help them in his hands, rubbing his thumbs along the soft material of the offered T-shirt and sweat pants, lifting them to his face to take a wiff, once more finding the others scent damn near intoxicating. Even the boxers that had been placed between pants and shirt was softer than anything Daryl had ever owned. Had Rick purposely chosen these items, perhaps to make him feel more comfortable? He had to have. Everything Rick wore and owned was nice, but Daryl had yet to see him adorned in anything this.. cozy.

He slipped into the clothes quickly, not bothering to dry his hair or even try and tame it with a brush. Rick didn't care what he did to his hair. Rick had called him beautiful the first night they met, when Daryl had been sweaty and tired, the grim of the motor oil still stuck under his nails. Rick didn't need him to try and be someone he wasn't.

The fabric felt incredible against his skin, and he would have to thank Rick for being so kind , once the more important things were talked about and taken care of. They'd have to find a place to meet, somewhere Shane wouldn't come looking for them. In fact, visiting the deputy here would probably be out of the question all together, now that his ex-fuckbuddy was back in the picture. It was a somber thought, not being able to share Ricks home for however long he stayed, to move freely in the deputys space, knowing he had the right to do so. Daryls place would be a better choice, but Daryl loathed to think of his deputy in that place, especially with the temperatures dropping. With limit hot water, and a matress so worn through it was barely better than sleeping on a blanket, winter would be hard. And while Daryl was very much used to it, he was certain Rick was not. Perhaps they could meet at a motel, somewhere outside of town, where at least they had a functioning heater and a bed soft enough to not put their backs through the grinder when slept on.

All these thoughts were buzzing in his mind as the archer finally made his way downstairs, bare feet padding over the hardwood floor. Rick was sitting on the couch, looking up at Daryl with his beautiful smile that the hunter could never help but return.

"Feel better?" Rick asked, and the archer nodded, moving closer until he was seated beside the older male, running a hand through his hair to keep it out of his face.

"Guess we got a lot to talk about." The hunter said, lowering his eyes to the ground before forcing himself to meet Ricks gaze once more. "'bout hoiw we're going ta do things from now on."

"Wish we didn't have ta." Rick sighed, moving his hand to gently brush across Daryls knee, gaze focused on the hunters face, making sure he wasn't overstepping. As it happened, it was very much the opposite. Rick wasn't touching him nearly enough. And so, Daryl took hold of the deputys hand, interwining their fingers, and holding on.

"Wish we didn' have ta, either." Daryl responded quietly. "But we do. Prol'ly shouln' meet here no more. Don' need him seein' us tagether again, not if we wan' ta keep this quiet."

"Not want to, Daryl. Need to." Rick interjected, giving a small, frustrated huff. "If I could, 'd tell the whole world about us. Tell 'em how lucky I am ta have ya. How much I.." He trailed off, shaking his head. "Could jus' keep meetin' at yer place."

"My place 's a dumb. Won' be warm enough durin' the winter. Don' need ya gettin' sick or somethin'."

"Could just run away together." There was humor laced in the cops words, making it clear he was just joking, but god if that didn't sound like the best fucking thing on earth right now. They could just leave, start over somewhere new. Rick could become a deputy anywhere else, and Daryl could find a job as a mechanic wherever they relocated. They could be together openly, could hold hands and kiss in public..

"Know we can't." He said instead, turning his upper body so he was facing Rick, leaning his forehead against the officers shoulder. "Shane and Merle, they'd find us. Know they would. Don' think there's anywhere far 'nough to run to."

"Mexico is warm." Rick replied smoothly, wrapping his arm around Daryls back, hand coming to rest comfortingly against the archers waist. "An' if yer place is too cold fer me, its too cold fer ya, too. Gotta find ya a better place ta live."

"Ain't about where I live right now." Not that he could afford to live anywhere else with Merle constantly draining his funds. "Could meet at motels. Not the nicest 'a places, but it's better than nothin'."

Rick was silent then, prompting the archer to lift his head, shooting the deputy a questioning look. Ricks face was solemn, brows furrowed, lips pressed into a thin line.

"Hate that we have ta do this. Hate that 'cause of Shane, my life is this... this mess. An' I hate puttin' you through it, too. Don' deserve that, Daryl."

"Don' deserve that, neither. And because of me, ya got Merle ta worry about." The hunter shook his head. "Maybe not right now, but once he's outta jail, thing's are gonna get a lot more complicated."

"Seems like thats the motto of today." Rick snorted, running a hand over his face, for the very first time looking older than he was. "We'll figure it out. From now on, we can meet at motels. Jus' until we figure out somethin' better."

Daryl wanted to say "I don't think there's anything better to figure out". But he couldn't bring himself to break this truth to the deputy. Realistically, even if Shane disappeared in a poof of smoke, that still left Merle. And once he was back, if the archer wanted to avoid calling attention to their relationship, he'd have to act as he always had. Be at Merles beck and call, whenever, and however, the older Dixon demanded. He'd end up sneaking out of the house at night, whenever he could, to see Rick. But between work and Merle, and Ricks own schedule, their time together would be cut down to an absolute minimum. There was no way he was willing to risk the others safety by being greedy and tipping Merle off. All scenarios he could think of, saw their relationship, eventually, ending. The thought alone caused a pain so great in Daryls chest, it felt as if he couldn't breath. But now wasn't the time to let on just how fucked they were. Rick didn't need to think about their bleak future.

"Jus' until we figure out somethin' better." He agreed instead, willing his breathing to remain calm, and his face free of any doubt.

A month had passed since that conversation, and still Daryl could feel the strain it had left on him. They had been at each others side whenever they could, meeting in motels on their days off, and sometimes just to sleep next to each other.

Daryl had refused all of Ricks offers to help find him a new place to live, or to improve the place the lived in now. The archer couldn't deny that with the dramatic drop in temperatures, the nights had become increasingly uncomfortable, but he'd be damned if he let Rick spend money on something that wasn't absolutely necessary. Rick would mention it from time to time, but he never pushed Daryl. All in all, things were going smoothly.

Tonight was one of the nights they were meeting at a motel (always different ones, to avoid detection, paying in cash and using false names), Daryl being the first to get there. The room wasn't the nicest he had ever seen, but it was clean, and the bed was soft. The Tv worked, and so did the remote, a feature not all the previous rooms had included.

After a quick shower, Daryl was laying on the bed when he heard a knock, then silence, then two more knocks. Their own little code that they had come up with, just in case someone else came knocking. Daryl was quick to rise from the bed, and hurry over to the door. It had only been three days since they last saw each other, and yet it felt like an eterinity. He wasn't prepared for what he saw when he opened the door.

"What the fuck?!"

The entire right side of the deputys face was bruised, cheek swollen, lip busted open. He was smiling at Daryl, and the motion only served to intensify the beated look he was sporting.

"Good ta see ya too, sweetheart." He rumbled, gently moving past the archer to enter the room.

"What the hell happened?" Daryl groused, closing the door so quickly the sound resonated throughout the room. " Rick was hurt, it looked like someone had slammed his face into the wall, and the man was just smiling at him as if nothing had happened. "Who the fuck did this?"

"Jus' a rough day at work, Daryl." Rick soothed, reaching up to brush his thumbs over the archers cheeks. "Busted a guy for drunk drivin', an' it got physical. Ain't nothin'."

"The fuck it's nothin'." Daryl spat, grabbing the deputys hands and holding them tight. "Did ya get it looked at? Did ya put ice on it?"

"EMT cleared me, darlin'. I'm fine. Just bruises, maybe a small concussion. Hurts like a bitch, but it ain't gonna kill me." Rick replied softly, leaning closer to the archer until their noses brushed. "Missed ya."

"My ass yer fine." The archer huffed, releasing one of the deputys hand to gingerly place it on the others uninjured face. "Should'a called and cancelled. Would'a felt a lot better at home."

"Wan'ed ta see ya." Rick was smiling again, as if he didn't have a care in the world. "Wasn' gonna let that jackass get in the way of that."

"Well, ya tell me that fuckers name, I'll put a bolt through him." Daryl ground out. "If ya got a concussion, ya should be restin'. Jus' go home, we can meet 'nother time."

"Ya gettin' bored with me, Daryl?" It was clear Rick was joking, and still, the mere thought that perhaps he believed the words he'd just said rubbed Daryl in all the wrong places.

"Worried 'bout ya. Bet ya got time off work, should' be drivin' back an' forth just cause of me."

"Don't have ta worry 'bout me, sweetheart." Rick was trying to sooth him, this Daryl knew, and still, he couldn't help how irritated he was with the cop. Why didn't Rick for once just think of himself? Daryl could have waited, he could have spent the night at the room he had already paid for to avoid the cold, and Rick could have been at home, where he was comfortable, where he had painkillers and ice packages to put on his face, that was no doubt sore and aching.

"Always gonna worry 'bout ya. 's what ya do when ya love someone, ain' it?" He snapped, only to freeze a second later, right along with the deputy..