Author's Note: Written for a prompt on TWD kinkmeme. Takes place after "Chupacabra". RickDaryl preslash, mentions of past physical and sexual abuse. Don't like please don't read.
Disclaimer: The Walking Dead is not mine.
Rick knocked softy on the door before opening it, not waiting for a response. Much of the room beyond was hidden amongst midnight shadows, but a small lamp beside the bed threw out a soft light, casting strange shapes over the still figure beneath the sheets. Rick closed the door behind him as quietly as he could manage, then circled the bed to the other side.
The gossamer curtains on the window were drawn aside, letting the nearly full moon illuminate what the lamp couldn't reach. The pale blue fell on Daryl Dixon's sleeping face, making him too pale, too young. Too fragile.
The black stitches, dancing just along the hairline on his temple, stood out starkly on his white flesh. Rick reached out before he could stop himself, letting the tips of his fingers touch the neat line of thread. Inches. Just a few inches, or even centimeters, to Rick's left, and this wouldn't be happening.
Those few inches would have meant Rick would be outside in the balmy summer night, staring at the top of six feet of dirt, and mourning the loss of this young man in front of him.
A shudder coursed through Rick, and he bent down, brushing the softest of kisses over Daryl's temple.
"Daryl..." He breathed, and just saying the hunter's name thrilled him in a way he hadn't felt since early in his relationship with Lori. Rick buried his nose in Daryl's surprisingly soft brown hair, inhaling the scent of earth and antiseptic and just the slightest hint of blood. "Daryl."
The former sheriff's deputy jerked back, immediately putting as much distance between himself and the injured man on the bed as possible. Daryl's eyes fluttered open, squinting in the dim light. The former sheriff grinned somewhat self-consciously.
"Hey. How're you feeling?"
Daryl closed his eyes again, pressing his face into the pillow. "Like shit." Rick laughed quietly.
"I bet." Rick snagged a chair from the corner and moved it to the side of the bed. Daryl's eyes didn't open, but Rick could tell the hunter was following his movements from behind his eyelids. Rick sat down, leaning forward with his elbows on the mattress. His hands came to rest beside Daryl's outstretched arm, so close he could feel heat radiating from the younger man's skin. Rick frowned, reaching out and pressing the back of his hand against Daryl's forehead without thinking. Daryl barely opened his eyes and looked at Rick, clearly lacking the energy to do anything more. "Sorry," The sheriff quickly removed his hand, resting it on the bed once more. "You're burning up." He observed with a concerned frown.
"Doc said I need ta take those meds at 10." Daryl murmured with a weak gesture toward the table beside the bed. Rick's frown deepened.
"Daryl, it's after midnight."
Rick huffed a small laugh before standing. "C'mon. Let's get you sitting up." Daryl groaned, but began pushing himself up on arms that still trembled slightly. When Rick gingerly took his arm to help him up, the younger man frowned but said nothing.
Together they got Daryl sitting up, leaning back against the pillows that Rick had carefully arranged. The hunter slumped back, breathing a little heavier than Rick liked, eyes closed, head tipped back. In all the moving the blankets had slid down Daryl's body to his waist, exposing the long red scars wrapped around his bare torso. Rick's eyes widened slightly before he could stop himself. His fingers twitched, itching to reach out and touch, to trace the lines of the younger man's clearly painful past. He ached to know the story those scars could tell so then, just maybe, he might be able to understand Daryl.
Daryl's blue eyes opened, and Rick jumped. He was surprised to find that he felt guilty, like he'd seen something he shouldn't have.
Maybe this was something he shouldn't see.
He turned away, busying himself with sliding the small pills into his palm. He handed the pills and a glass of water over to Daryl, who took them with unsteady hands. Rick watched dilligently, hands at the ready, as Daryl popped the white pills into his mouth and chased them down with large gulps of water. Rick's teeth worried at his lower lip, waiting for Daryl to choke, but the younger man drained the glass without incident. Rick quickly took the cup from his hand and set it down before turning back to Daryl, hands still hovering in the air, searching for something to do. The former sheriff finally settled for adjusting the blanket over the hunter's lap.
"Don't gotta hover, ya know. I'm fine." Rick flashed him a look of disapproval from under his brows.
"You're still running hot. I'm not leaving until your fever goes down." Daryl let out a huff of exasperation, but just laid back and closed his eyes again. Concern stabbed through Rick's chest at the lack of fight in the Dixon, but he just chalked it up to the fever and went back to smoothing his hands over the blankets for the hundredth time.
Rick's eyes slowly raised from his repetitive motions to Daryl's torso again. The pale skin, pulled taunt over lean muscle, was marked by random lines, some bright red while others were a duller brown. He had answered enough domestic abuse calls to recognize the marks of leather belt. Before he realized what he was doing, Rick's hand drifted up, stopping a hair's breadth from the younger man's skin. As his eyes slid upward from Daryl's stomach, over the slightly visible ribs to his chest, Rick's fingers followed his gaze, still remaining as close as possible without actually touching. There were a few longer scars, sharp white and sunken in. One circled the right side of Daryl's ribcage, from under his arm to the bottom of his sternum. The other two crossed his upper chest in an awkward X. The biggest was long and ropey, running just underneath the hunter's collarbone. Rick's fingers drifted just a bit too close, the tips brushing over the raised scar tissue. Daryl's torso suddenly depressed in a sharp breath and his cold, trembling hand closed around Rick's. The former sheriff looked up into Daryl's blue eyes, which was slightly glazed over from the effects of the drugs he'd taken.
"Don't. Please." Daryl whispered, his voice too soft and pleading for Rick's comfort. He withdrew without a fight, laying his hand on Daryl's leg instead.
"Who did this?" Rick whispered around a growing lump in his throat. Tears burned at his eyes, but he refused to let them fall.
They stared at each other for a moment, Daryl silently pleading with him to let it go. Rick refused to look away, feeling guilty for pushing this but needing to know the truth. His hand started to move, stroking the hunter's leg soothingly. Only in his doped up state did Daryl let him get away with it.
"My dad," Daryl finally whimpered, mentally cursing his weak voice and closing his eyes, turning his head away. "Some are from Merle." Something stabbed at Rick's chest, choking him. He cleared his throat and carefully lifted his hand once more. He brushed his fingertips over the short small lines dotting Daryl's stomach, only there enough to get his point across.
"These are from a belt, aren't they."
Daryl barely opened his eyes, but refused to look at Rick, instead examining where the older man had touched. "Dad drank. A lot. And I..." He worried his lower lip between his teeth briefly. "I got in the way."
Rick next touched the white scar ripped across Daryl's ribs. "This?"
"Motorcycle accident. I was fourteen. Merle was high."
Daryl watched carefully as Rick's rough fingers moved to the crude X on the left side of his chest. Something dark crossed over Daryl's face, making Rick hesitate, but he finally touched the scar with resolve. When he looked up into Daryl's face the younger man was looking at him with desperation in his blue eyes.
"You don't want to hear this, Rick. You really don't." Daryl spoke quietly, voice breathless and barely there. He looked like he was about to start crying, and part of Rick was screaming at himself to stop.
"Daryl," Rick laid his palm over the scar, gentle and reassuring. "What did they do?"
Daryl's face contorted, and Rick recognized that he was trying not to cry. He sat beside Daryl, their legs pressed together. Rick cupped his other hand against the side of Daryl's neck.
"Daryl," Rick urged, expression earnest. The hunter closed his eyes tight and bowed his head, hands curling into fists on the comforter over his legs.
"Dad was in jail. Merle was off on a bender somewhere. I was stuck home with mom and her drug-dealing boyfriend," Rick saw tears forming on the other man's eyelashes. "Mom was passed out and...and he..." Daryl swallowed hard. "Her boyfriend came into my room. I pretended I was asleep but..." Rick felt Daryl tremble beneath his touch.
"Daryl," He had to put a stop to this. Daryl was in no shape to deal with something this big right now.
"I screamed. I hit him, but it wasn't enough." Daryl's hands were suddenly twisted in the front of Rick's shirt, clinging to him too tightly. "It..wasn't..."
Rick bowed his head, placing his lips beside Daryl's ear. "How old?"
Rick's grip on the hunter tightened protectively, jaw clenching against the upswell of anger in his gut.
"I wouldn't hold still, so he stabbed me. Pinned me to my bed with his knife. I drifted in and out but...he didn't stop. Not until Merle got home."
The former sheriff suddenly understood the relationship between Daryl and his wild older brother. While Merle had made his own mistakes towards the younger Dixon, it seemed like he was the only one that had actually been there for Daryl in any way. And Daryl was the kind of man to remember things like that.
"When I woke up Mom and the guy were gone, and Merle was stitching me up. Never saw the guy again."
"Good." Rick growled, a dark part of his mind hoping that Merle had ripped that man apart. He pressed his mouth against the side of Daryl's head in something like a kiss. He could feel the hunter sagging in his arms, clearly exhausted after the long day. Rick eased him back, gently laying the wounded man down. Daryl's hands loosened on Rick's shirt, sliding slowly down his chest. Once Daryl was safely nestled amongst the pillows Rick caught the younger man's hands in his own, cupping them tenderly. "Get some sleep." Rick whispered, pointedly ignoring the unshed tears drying beneath Daryl's eyes.
"There's one more," Daryl whispered, taking one of Rick's hands and bringing it to the final scar on his chest.
"Daryl, you don't-"
"I was eighteen," The hunter forged ahead, still holding Rick's warm hand against his chest. "Merle was in lock-up. Dad had been in prison for two years. He got to the house in the middle of the night," Rick felt Daryl's heart quicken beneath his fingers, but said nothing, holding the other man's gaze evenly. "I woke up to them fighting. When I heard him hit Mom I ran downstairs. He had a broken bottle in his hand, trying to stab her. I kicked him in the side, and he slashed me," Something cracked in Daryl's cool facade, and Rick's heart was suddenly in his throat. "I tried to run back up to my room to get my shotgun. He caught me at the top and threw me down the stairs. Snapped my lower leg and dislocated my shoulder. Barely managed to stay awake while he..." Pain bloomed in Daryl's blue eyes, his fingers curling into Rick's hand. "He wrapped his hands around her throat, choking her. My mom was almost dead when he bashed her head against the floor. Even when she was gone, I knew she was gone, he just...kept doing it." Rick's hand was starting to hurt from Daryl's hold, but he didn't dare say a word. "I told him to stop. Begged him. Instead he...he started choking me."
Daryl suddenly released Rick, burying his face in his fists. Rick cupped the side of Daryl's head in his wide palm, carefully avoiding the stitches hidden beneath the gauze wrapped around his skull. "Daryl..."
He heard the hunter mumbling to himself behind his hands and leaned in closer, straining to make out the words.
"Why didn't I die?"
Rick jerked back, shocked. "What did you say?"
Daryl slapped his hands away, twisting away from Rick. The former sheriff saw the younger man grimace in pain as he rolled onto his bandaged side and grabbed at his shoulder in an effort to keep Daryl from hurting himself further. When Daryl tried to slap his hand away Rick was ready, catching the hunter's wrist in his hand.
"You listen to me, Daryl Dixon," Rick said lowly, voice firm and leaving no room for arguement. Daryl glared back, but said nothing. "I never want to hear you say that again. Ever. You understand?"
"You're not my family, Grimes!"
"I may not be related to you by blood, but don't you dare think for one second that you mean any less to me than my wife or son," When Daryl snorted and rolled his eyes Rick gripped his chin tightly, forcing their eyes to meet. "Whether you like it or not you're my friend. Hell, you're family. We care about you. I care about you. I would do anything in my power to protect you and if something happened..." Rick swallowed, releasing Daryl's chin to cup his cheek gently. "When you went down, my heart stopped, Daryl. The thought of losing you is more than I can stand, don't you see?"
"Why do you care?" Daryl finally murmured, fighting to stay awake. "My own father wanted me dead. Mom didn't care. Merle couldn't wait to get away from me," He was mostly talking to himself at this point. "Why don't you see what they saw?"
"See what?" Rick asked kindly, smoothing back some of the unruly hairs that stuck out in random angles from the bandage on Daryl's head.
"That I'm broken. I deserved what they-"
Rick suddenly leaned in, laying his fingers on Daryl's lips to silence him.
"Never say that. Nobody deserves what they did, least of all you. Everything that happened to you, what they did? Family doesn't do that." Rick stared firmly into Daryl's eyes as he spoke, pouring every ounce of his heart and soul into the words. "I would never hurt you like they did."
"Of course you wouldn't," Daryl whispered. "You're a good man, Rick."
The former sheriff smiled fondly, running his hand carefully over Daryl's temple, where the line of stitches marked his brush with death. "So are you," He leaned in, pressing his forehead to Daryl's. "One of the best I know. If there was only one good thing about this whole hell, it's that you're here with us," Rick's fingers followed the line of Daryl's jaw to his chin. "I'm happy you're by my side."
"Rick," Daryl reached up hesitantly, barely daring to touch the man over him.
The man folded the younger hunter into his arms, pulling him close to his chest, and shifted around so he was laying on the bed beside him. Daryl's arm slid around Rick's neck, face pressing into the side of his throat. Rick laid back, easing Daryl over to lay along his side. The heat emanating from Daryl's body had gone down some, soothing Rick's concern. He reached behind himself, turning off the lamp beside the bed and throwing the two men into darkness.
"Sleep now," Rick murmured, stroking the fine hair on the back of Daryl's neck. "You've earned it."
"Will you be here in the morning?" Daryl asked, so quietly Rick nearly missed it. The former sheriff turned his head, pressing his lips to the cool skin of Daryl's brow.
"I will. I promise."