Title: take my yoke upon you (ye who are labour and are heavy laden)

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T/PG-13

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.

Summary: Rick don't sleep so much anymore, Daryl's noticed. 1600 words.

Spoilers: The Walking Dead, through 3.01 "Seed"

Notes: So ... I may have stumbled headlong into yet another fandom. Emotionally constipated heroes FTW? TV canon only; set sometime between seasons 2 and 3, with influence from the season 3 premiere. Title from the book of Matthew, Chapter 11.

Rick don't sleep so much anymore, Daryl's noticed. He's always on his feet doing something, checking over the guns and supplies when he ain't hunting or walking the perimeter.

Not that any of them get much sleep, really. But with Rick, it's like some switch got flipped when he killed Shane, and he can't- or won't- turn it off again. He won't rest if he ain't sure everyone's safe, and if he's asleep, they ain't; it's that simple. After the one person he'd always trusted to have his back had tried to put a knife in it... well, Daryl ain't surprised he refuses to give anyone else the opportunity.

A little surprised he hadn't done something before things got that far, maybe. But if Rick's got one failing that drives Daryl crazy? It's that he don't want to see the bad things coming. Refuses to, until they're right up in front of him. He's capable of making the hard choices, doing what's gotta be done, no matter what; he's proved that. But he don't want to, not until he's got no other option. He'd cut Shane too much slack, way too much, and the idiot had gone and hung himself with it.

But people are who they are, and don't none of them change their spots, not for the wishing; and no amount of laying blame afterward's going to change that. He's a Dixon; he knows how that song goes. And a group their size, living on top of each other the way they do under so much pressure, is bound to have its share of personality conflicts gone sour. Only real surprise, Daryl supposes, is that nobody's ever turned on him like what happened with his brother. He has a bad habit of running off at the mouth when he's pissed or tense, and he ain't hardly been anything but since the world ended.

He scans outward again from his perch on the old, half-fallen wall abutting their campsite and spies Rick making yet another pass around it, shoulders hunched against the falling temperature. They haven't run into any geeks since mid-afternoon, but the last pack they skirted by ain't all that far behind them; they'll have to push on and find better shelter soon as they have enough light to move again. Man would be better served catching a wink or two like the others, no matter what he says about not bein' tired. His eyes are sunk deep in his face, like he's halfway to bein' a Walker already.

'Course, that's not as far to go as they used to think, is it? Carol's still pissed about that, and some of the others have been muttering about it. Daryl gets why, but he thinks they're being dicks about the whole thing. So Jenner told Rick that all the survivors are infected. So maybe Rick thought the man was just trying to scare 'em, so they'd be more inclined to lay down on that funeral pyre with him. So maybe Rick had been carrying the burden alone, like the self sacrificing idiot he is, until he'd seen the proof for himself. But when the hell would he have had the chance to find some? They ain't thinking it through.

Salt in an open wound, in Daryl's opinion. It don't take a scientist to put two and two together.

It all comes back to Shane: that their group is still in pieces, even if now they've only got the one man trying to lead them. Hershel won't fight Rick, not after losing Patricia and Jimmy and everything else he cared about but his daughters. And the others are too tired or wary to speak up, after Rick's outburst and the months they've spent running from the herds pouring out of Atlanta. Even Carl's changed; he's more his father's son than his momma's now, though Daryl figures that's mostly because he's figured out why Shane turned on his old man than any real understanding of the bigger picture. He don't speak to Lori now, and Rick ain't tried to tell him otherwise, and that's just one more hint how badly they've all been fucked since they fled the farmhouse.

Lori could probably fix that particular problem, if she made an effort. Could have stopped things from ever getting that bad, if she'd really wanted. Problem is, the woman don't know what the hell she does want, and never did, far as Daryl can figure. And unlike her husband's blind spots, it's not from trying to do the right thing, whatever the hell that might turn out to be on any given day.

She just... don't want to live like they're livin', but don't quite have the nerve to clock out of it either, so she just keeps twisting their best chance at survival up in knots. And they're all going to pay the price for that when Rick finally gets sick, or bit, or just drops in his tracks trying to hold them all together. Burning his guilt for midnight oil, pacing in circles.

He sighs as Rick passes him by yet again, fingering the stock of his rifle in tense, repetitive motions. Man's wound tight as a spring. It makes Daryl twitch just to look at him.

"Rick," he rasps, abruptly losing patience. Probably the first time he's actually spoken that day, caught up in the routine of survival; the sound startles him as much as it seems to startle the former sheriff.

Rick flinches to a halt, then furrows his brow in Daryl's direction. He looks even more weary and strung-out than usual in the chilly darkness, clutching that rifle like it'll kill him to let go of it.

Daryl frowns, then lifts a hand off his crossbow to give a beckoning wave. "Makin' too much noise," he hisses. "Can't hardly hear anything coming."

Rick shakes his head, but don't move away when Daryl jerks his chin at the bit of wall next to him.

He don't need to suggest that the sightlines are better from up there, nor that it'll make it easier on Daryl if Rick takes half the field of view so he won't need to keep watching every angle. They had that argument the first time Daryl made this offer; they don't need to have it out again, one macho dude to another. Besides, it ain't like that's what's really going to happen, and they both know it. Daryl don't do this every time they stop for a rest, only when Rick's driving him crazy; and Rick don't always take it, only when he knows he's reaching some kind of hard limit.

Tonight, Daryl's peeved enough, and Rick's worn enough, that the other man gives up without a fuss and approaches, stopping at the foot of the structure to rest one hand on the rough surface next to Daryl.

He pauses there a moment, leaning forward to press his forehead against the stones, just breathing in and out, the sound as raspy as Daryl's voice is. His knuckles are still bloodless on the stock of the rifle, grime worked into the creases visible even in the deep shadows cast by the wall; his back is bowed under the weight of the world. But he only rests a moment. Then he takes a deeper breath and heaves his own weight upward, arm straining with the effort.

Daryl don't reach a hand to help him. Don't even look, when a foot slips and pebbles patter onto the leaf mulch below; he's already turned his face back to the forest. But he does turn so he's taking in the view to his left, rather than staring straight away from the camp, resettling his seat on the uncomfortable surface. And a moment later, a warm, wiry back, all knobbly bone and tense muscle, presses up against his, its owner facing directly opposite.

Nothing much changes in the next few minutes; a little rustling of branches, some shifting as blood settles, the faint whistle of breathing from the nearest sleeping bags below. Then the spine pressed against Daryl's abruptly loosens, and a heavy head tips backward, falling against Daryl's shoulder.

Daryl carefully glances back, barely turning his neck, just enough to make sure Rick ain't about to lose the rifle. Then he sighs and glances toward the camp below. He catches the glint of one pair of eyes in the twilight, watching; Lori's, a grim, bitter tilt to the mouth underneath them.

Whatever, he thinks, looking away. The situation can't last; he knows that. Lori's only got so long before she pops, and her water won't be the only thing that breaks when that happens. But until then, Daryl's doing his part to keep the wheels turning, which is more than any of the others seem able to give him.

Carol can mutter about insiders and outsiders all she wants. But he can hunt; and he can kill; and he can do this, whatever the fuck this is.

Rick don't trust anyone with his back, not anymore. But he'll trust Daryl at it, knowing he'll get woke the instant anything happens. The pretense will only hold so long as they don't actually give a name to it; anything else would threaten Rick's death grip on his sense of duty. That's fine with Daryl, though; it gives him half a chance at covering some of those blind spots for Rick. Man's done all right by him; it's only fair to return the favor.

He stifles a yawn, listening to the soft exhales over his shoulder, and waits patiently for moonrise.