Transformation: a change of nature.
Daryl is hurt and Glenn is his caregiver.
It flashed through his mind as he was thrown that the angle was wrong but there was no time to twist and roll before he landed. He knew he was hurt bad before the pain started. He lay there for a moment, winded, not feeling anything but the need to breathe. Then he felt too much, including his leg bent under him in a direction legs don't bend naturally. Out of the corner of his eye he was aware of the rodeo clowns drawing the bull's attention. Then the medics were there with a stretcher. They put a brace on his neck. He lost consciousness when they straightened his leg.
He came to in time for paperwork at the hospital. A woman read the consent for medical care. It wasn't the first or fourth time Daryl had heard it. It seemed to him that the words made the doctor into James Bond with a license to kill. The hospital was more like Mission Impossible. They would be disavowing all knowledge if anything went wrong. Still, Daryl had no problem with the actual care. Medical people had always put him back together good as new, although they warned him the beating he was giving his body would bite back in old age.
His wrist hurt as he scribbled his name. "How bad is it?"
"Doctor will be with you in a moment," the woman with the folder of papers said. "Is there someone we can call for you?"
"No." Daryl didn't have to think about it. Everybody that might be interested had seen it happen.
The doctor was an orthopedic surgeon. "Your left shoulder was dislocated. That was taken care of while you were out which is the best time anyway. Your left leg is very broken. That's all I know right now. You'll be taken to imaging and probably directly to surgery depending on what the pictures show."
Daryl woke up woozy and sore but with no real pain. Live better pharmaceutically. A woman took his vitals and gave him water. She said it was two in the morning and he was doing fine and the doctor would talk to him at morning rounds. Daryl drifted off.
The surgeon was proud of the job he did on Daryl's leg. Daryl was glad he would walk without a limp. Probably. Eventually. The dislocated shoulder would need to be immobilized for a few weeks because it was the second time it happened and it needed more time to heal. There was a hairline fracture of his right wrist and it hurt to breathe deep but his ribs were bruised not broken.
Daryl started to realize how restricted his life was going to be. "If I can't even get on crutches for a month and I can't use either arm for two weeks, how do I feed and dress myself?" Daryl didn't ask about shitting and pissing. He was sure a bedpan and bottle would be involved and he didn't want to talk about that.
"You'll be in bed so dressing won't be an issue. You'll need help for everything else. And then you'll need rehab. No movement for a month means a lot of work to get back in shape plus therapy for the leg."
"My insurance won't cover all that. I got catastrophic coverage but the deductible will take a lot of my savings." Daryl had never been hurt this bad all at once and the prices hadn't gone down since the last time. He was getting worried.
"I know a guy," the surgeon said. "He's a physical therapist but he can also do home care and he doesn't mind living in long-term. It still won't be cheap but you'll save some money and it will be convenient for both of you. If you're interested I'll have out-patient make the arrangements."
"His name is Glenn Rhee. He'll call you."
"Is he Chinese?" Daryl stopped himself from saying 'Chink.'
"Korean, actually. Is that a problem?"
"Nope." It was true. Daryl wasn't prejudiced but he was a product of his upbringing. He knew the words he grew up with sounded bad. He thought them sometimes but didn't say them.
As the day passed Daryl was thankful this happened on one of his rare rides in Georgia instead of halfway across the country. It would have cost plenty to ship his ass back here, or maybe he would've had to stay in some rehab center or rented a place. He was gone a lot on the rodeo circuit but home was near Atlanta.
Glenn Rhee called that evening. A nurse held the phone to Daryl's ear. There was no discernible accent. Daryl had been afraid he might be an immigrant and they would have trouble communicating. The next day Glenn came to his room. He was in burgundy scrubs. He looked like a kid but he was polite and professional and by now Daryl knew he was 28. They were tentative with each other but it seemed clear that they would get along so Daryl handed over his keys. Glenn would get the Dixon place ready and Daryl would be transported by ambulance the next day.
Daryl was placed in the larger bedroom. It was Merle's but Merle was away in the Army. Glenn would use the smaller bedroom that was usually Daryl's.
I'm taking care of a cowboy! Daryl Dixon is the most interesting person I've ever met and I don't even know that much about him yet. He's quiet and it seems natural rather than a result of his injuries. He looks like the type to watch and listen more than he talks.
Even in casts and bandages Daryl is built. His shoulders are broad and his arms are strong from holding onto a ton of bucking beef with horns and hooves. His brown hair is lightened by the sun and there are crinkles at the corners of his blue eyes. I have to stop myself from licking my lips when I look at him. Why are all the good ones taken or straight? He doesn't seem to have a girlfriend but he's probably fucking cowgirls and rodeo groupies. There's a Southeast circuit but Daryl rides the Texas one because it's hardcore. Well, they're all hardcore but Texas is the toughest. I've seen pictures of him in jeans, boots, western shirt and the requisite hat. I've also seen him naked. It's all good.
He hadn't been capable of taking in much when he met Glenn at the hospital but at home he noticed the kid was nice looking with brown eyes and that straight shiny black hair Asians seem to have. He looked lean but he must have the muscle to move patients around.
Personal care was as humiliating as Daryl expected but he was in other discomfort as pain meds were adjusted. The second day was smoother and after that it didn't seem worth it to get embarrassed when Glenn was practical about the process. He had a good bedside manner.
There was more embarrassment in store when Daryl was hard the third morning. Glenn acted like nothing was different but Daryl felt like he should apologize. When he muttered "Sorry about that," Glenn just said it was normal and meant he was recovering. Daryl's dick softened after he peed but then he thought about the two weeks until he could use his hands again. He was almost always hard when he woke up but he was still on pain pills. Maybe that would keep him from getting horny.
It didn't. He was hard again the next day and it didn't go away. His left arm was strapped to his chest to keep weight off his shoulder. His right wrist was in a cast that extended halfway up his forearm and down most of his hand. His fingers were useless. He tried rubbing with the cast but the alignment was off and he couldn't move his left leg to compensate. He was anxious every time Glenn's gloved hand touched his dick which happened several times a day.
That night after Daryl used the urinal Glenn turned off the lights but instead of saying good night and leaving the room he asked quietly, "Do you want some help?"
Daryl knew what he was offering. "Is that part of the service?"
"I could lose my job just for suggesting it."
"But you don't think I'll report you?"
Glenn shrugged. "You don't seem like the type. I'm a guy – I know what it feels like. It's your choice."
"Well, I can't stay like this."
"There is an alternative," Glenn said. "Seeking help for an erection lasting longer than four hours involves draining blood from the area with a needle."
Daryl winced. "So how would the other way work?"
Glenn reached for the gloves. "You could try the advice Victorian mothers gave their daughters: Close your eyes and think of England."
"Or think of whatever you usually think of when you do this yourself."
Daryl thought of Glenn's hands on him and wished he wasn't wearing gloves. He tried to be quiet but he was afraid it was pretty obvious that he'd enjoyed it more than he should have.
"I'm not gay," Daryl said afterwards.
"I know," Glenn said.
"It was just … it's been awhile …"
"And it felt good. I understand. Friction is friction no matter who or what is doing the rubbing."
I did something illegal and unethical but it didn't feel wrong and I don't regret it. It needed to be done and I'm not saying that to justify it. Daryl was injured almost a week ago but other than that he's a normal healthy 36 year old male and the inevitable situation arose. Literally. So I gave my client a hand job. I maintained professional behavior by wearing disposable gloves although I would have been happy to leave them off. I also would have been happy if it lasted longer. I thought the pain meds would slow Daryl down but it was over too soon. Not quick like premature ejaculation, he just needed release. He tried not to make any noise and afterwards he told me he wasn't gay.
I've never done that before. Never even considered it. Of course I've never had a client like Daryl Dixon.
The next afternoon Daryl woke from a nap to a familiar sound. For a moment he thought he was back at the rodeo. But the song wasn't blaring through the speakers or being performed by a musical guest. Simple guitar chords came faintly through the closed bedroom door.
"Hey," Daryl called out. The music stopped and Glenn appeared.
"Was that you playing?"
"I'm sorry I woke you," Glenn said. "It won't happen again."
"You didn't wake me, I was done sleeping. You know that's like the national anthem of rodeos?"
"Are you sick of hearing it?"
"Naw, it's a good song."
"Is it true? The lyrics, I mean."
"The good ones are always true."
"Well, you certainly broke your leg."
"But not in Santa Fe."
"Did they take your saddle in Houston?"
"Nope, I sold it in Tulsa after some bad luck. Bull riding is bareback anyway."
"Lose a wife and a girlfriend along the way?" Glenn asked.
"Never been married. And I don't have a girlfriend."
"I wondered. I thought she might have to stay on the circuit but no one has called either. What about rodeo groupies? Do you have those?"
"They're around but I haven't messed with them for years."
Glenn gave Daryl a hand again four days later. It was better than the first time and Daryl had more trouble keeping quiet. Afterwards he said half jokingly, "Maybe I am gay."
"A couple of hand jobs in these circumstances don't make a straight man gay."
"How do you know?"
Daryl felt like he already knew that or at least had suspected it. Now that it was out in the open he didn't know what to say.
"I didn't offer because I'm gay," Glenn said. "But I hope it isn't weird for you knowing that I enjoyed it more than you did."
"You didn't. Enjoy it more, I mean."
Glenn thought that over. "Is that why you keep mentioning being gay? You worried that you are?"
"I don't know."
"You've been with girls?"
"A few times when I was younger. The groupies, remember? It wasn't so good."
"What about guys? Have you ever …?"
"A couple of times. It was better than girls but I didn't like what that meant."
"I don't know what to say, Daryl. I'm sorry if I made it worse for you."
"You didn't. I never had this much time to think about it. I been hurt before but not bedridden."
"I wasn't going to bring this up until we begin rehab but if you need something else to think about you might consider what else you want to do in life. If you get hurt this badly again you could end up in a wheelchair."
"Bull riding is all I can do."
"I doubt that."
"It's all I want to do."
"But you know you can't do it forever. It's the same with all sports."
"I never made a fall-back plan."
"Why is that? If you've really never thought about the future, about getting older, maybe there's a connection to other issues."
Daryl had always dismissed such stuff as psychobabble but Glenn was smart and Daryl liked and respected him so he thought about it seriously and started to realize that his profession might have been a distraction. He rode bulls for a living. It kept him from thinking too much about anything else happening between his legs. And now that he was coming to grips with his sexual orientation, he'd gone and fallen for his caregiver. It didn't feel like a cliché, though. It felt real. Getting hurt had never been good luck before. But what if Glenn didn't feel the same? All his patients probably got attached to him. How could they help it?
In two days Daryl will have a hand free to help himself but tonight he's hard again and this is my last chance.
"My hands are tired," I tell him. "I'll use my mouth instead."
I've been fantasizing about it since the first time I made Daryl come. Reality was even better. But the memories will have to last a long time because we'll start rehab soon and six to eight weeks after that Daryl won't need me anymore.
Daryl's voice interrupts my melancholy thoughts.
"I can use my hands in a few days. I could return the favor. If you want."
Oh god yes I want. It would be nice to come at the same time instead of me ten minutes after Daryl, alone in my room.
Eventually we talk about being together. All along we were both thinking the same thing but were afraid it wasn't mutual. I wasn't sure Daryl could accept being gay and he thought he was a patient I would leave behind for my next client. We got it sorted out.
Daryl isn't quiet in bed anymore and neither am I. He says it's the first time sex is fun and satisfying. He never thought he was good and was always afraid he'd disappoint his partner. I wish we'd met 10 years ago but better late than never. It scares me to think we might have missed each other but Daryl says as often as he got hurt, it was bound to happen.
Daryl has been thinking about his future as well as ours: "I like the rodeo life. Merle and I own the land around this house. I could raise bulls instead of ride them."
"It's a great idea. You could call it Dixon Stud," I suggest.
"No," Daryl says firmly.
"Why not? Truth in advertising for you and the bulls."
Later I ask Daryl to tell me about his brother.
"Merle's in the Army." Daryl hesitates. "Actually he's in military prison at Fort Knox. He'll get a bad conduct discharge when his sentence is up."
"What did he do?"
"Assaulted his commanding officer."
"Were there extenuating circumstances?"
"He was tweaked out at the time."
"That doesn't sound like it would help his case."
"It didn't. Merle tends to get in trouble. He's eight years older than me and he quit school to work when our folks died. He pretty much raised me. He lost his job about the time I went on the circuit so he joined the Army. I'm not making excuses for him but he's still my brother."
"Maybe you can raise bulls together when he gets out."
"You wouldn't mind him being around?" Daryl asks.
"Of course not. A better question is, will he mind me being around? I assume you haven't told him about us yet."
He couldn't believe it hadn't occurred to him that he would have to tell his brother he was gay. Maybe the pain meds had made him slow.
Merle called to let Daryl know he'd be getting out in a month. There would be a discharge hearing and then he'd come home.
"I got some news for you," Daryl said.
"You healin' up okay?" Merle asked.
"Yeah, it's not that. I'm … uh … involved with my physical therapist."
Merle cackled. "Takin' care of all your needs, huh?" His laughter trailed off. "I thought Glenn was a boy's name."
The silence stretched.
"Jesus Christ all fucking mighty," Merle said. "Are you tryin' to tell me you're a …" Merle was unable to squeeze the word out.
"You did this on purpose! You timed it so I couldn't say much since the Army is kicking me out."
"If I thought that would shut you up about my sex life, I would have planned it that way. But I didn't figure your problems would stop you from giving me grief."
"Aw, shit. Is this for real?"
"Yeah. Do I still have a brother?"
"I guess. And I got a sister."
Daryl laughed. "You're taking it better than I expected. Maybe you weren't so surprised?"
Merle grunted. "Maybe not. I mighta wondered once or twice years back but nothin' happened and you never said anything so I was happy to be wrong."
"You were right after all."
"I ain't all that happy about it, though. You gonna live together?"
"Yes, but this is your home, too."
"I'm not livin' with homos. There's no walls thick enough to stifle my imagination. I'll fix up Granddaddy's hunting shack."
"It's two rooms and an outhouse."
"That's all I need."
"It's small. It's barely livable."
"It's bigger and cozier than the cell I'm currently occupying."
"Glenn will buy your half of the house. You can put in a bathroom." Daryl paused. "I been thinking what to do when I can't ride anymore. How about we go into business together breeding bulls?"
"Well, we both got a good eye for cattle. That could work. Hey, we could call it Dixon Stud."
Daryl sighed. Merle didn't know it yet but he and Glenn were going to get along fine.
There was one more thing to discuss with Glenn.
"Cowboys been comin' out of the closet since 'Brokeback Mountain' but I'm not there yet," Daryl said apologetically.
"It's all right."
"You don't mind if people think I'm straight?"
"Women won't know they don't have a chance with you and men won't know they do have a chance."
"You're the only one has a chance with me."
"See why I don't mind? Although they'll start to wonder why I'm still around. How much PT do you need when you're retired?"
"I'm not retired."
"Retired from bull riding I meant."
"I'm not retired from anything."
"You're not riding bulls anymore!"
"Yes, I am."
"Daryl, you can't. It's too big a risk." Glenn sounded anguished.
"I know I can't go much longer but I got some rides left in me."
"Is it really worth it? You haven't ridden for months."
"That's why I have to. You've heard about getting back on after a fall."
"That's a horse not a bull."
"I ride bulls not broncs."
Glenn wasn't happy about Daryl's decision but he didn't argue further. The same stubbornness that made Daryl determined to ride again also made him diligent with his exercises. He was improving daily.
The sun was high in the Texas sky when Daryl dropped into the chute at the Amarillo tri-county fair and strapped himself to the bull. Glenn was praying for eight as they pulled the gate but Daryl just hoped not to disgrace himself. He didn't. The bull was an active one. He tried sunfishing but Daryl maintained balance. He even spurred the bull a couple of times for style points. He covered the full eight seconds and, still in control, managed the dismount without injury. It was damn near perfect. The judges weren't blind and they gave him the scores to prove it.
Afterwards Daryl and Glenn stood behind the rails to one side of the arena.
"I did something," Glenn said nervously. "I hope you can forgive me."
Daryl looked nervous, too. "We'll talk later."
From the announcing booth Big Bob Hosteen's voice rang out: "Folks, that was a beautiful sight and I hope you were paying attention because I've been asked to tell y'all that it was Daryl Dixon's final ride. Daryl is a Georgia boy but we don't hold that against him. He's been a fixture and a favorite on the circuit for 18 years. Daryl wants to thank his friends and sponsors and all the fans for the best time of his life, and he's grateful to his physical therapist Glenn Rhee who got him ready for one last ride."
Bob went on to review Daryl's career.
Daryl and Glenn looked at each other.
"I didn't say that about the best time of my life," Daryl said.
"I didn't put that in about me," Glenn said.
"You handed in a retirement notice for me?" Daryl said.
"I didn't think you were smart enough to do it yourself," Glenn replied.
"Gave it to Big Bob first thing this morning," Daryl said.
"I gave him mine a couple of hours ago. I told him it was from you."
"He must have wondered what was going on."
"Sounds like he just combined them. It was nice of you to mention me."
"Big Bob is exceeding his instructions. Nobody wants to hear all them numbers."
"Yes, they do. And it's his job to give the stats. Besides, they love you."
It was true. People saw Daryl and pointed and eyes turned in his direction. If they noticed the young man near him, it was for his clothes not his ethnicity. Glenn was in jeans but they weren't boot cut and he had a cap instead of a hat, a tee instead of a western shirt and sneakers instead of boots. He had told Daryl that he couldn't carry off the cowboy look and Daryl agreed.
The crowd went wild as Hosteen finished: "We wish Daryl Dixon all the best and hope to see him at the rodeo even if we can't see him in it."
Daryl was embarrassed but tried not to show it. He smiled and lifted his hat. The applause died away and the crowd's attention turned to the next event. Daryl and Glenn walked away. No one noticed when Daryl slung his arm around Glenn's shoulders.
"It sounded good what you put in about the best time of my life but it's not true."
"I don't believe that," Glenn said.
"Best time so far, maybe. But it's about to get better."
A/N: I hadn't listened to Amarillo by Morning for years but when I heard it recently I knew Daryl would be a great cowboy.