Disclaimer: I don't own AMC's The Walking Dead or any of its characters, wishful thinking aside.

Warnings: Please see original chapter for a complete description and other related information. Contains season three spoilers, references to Daryl's past, issues with touch and physical contact, UST, adult language, minor allusions to child abuse and neglect, as well mature content.

Flinch

Chapter Three

"This might hurt some." She cautioned, mercifully changing the subject as she leaned over to retrieve the tin of bandages from the kit. It took a bit of finagling, but it wasn't long before she was balancing his hand and the bag of cotton balls in her lap, sopping up the last of the blood as she started rooting through her bag for the bottle of disinfectant.

He snorted, half in amusement and half in derision. He'd hurt himself worse fuckin' shaving. Hell, worse wrestlin' with Merle when he was a kid and he had the scars to prove it. He had a tougher hide than the lot of them put together, pock-marked with more scar tissue than skin. - For fucks sakes, he'd fallen down the side of a ravine, pierced his side with one of his own arrows and nearly taken a bullet to the brain all in one day, and the woman thought he couldn't handle a little pain?

City slickers.

The only thing was that he'd been so busy watchin' her that he hadn't noticed her free hand going for the iodine. And as a result he yelped and jumped halfway to the moon when she daubed the stinging liquid onto his skin.

He watched the muscles in her cheek pull taunt when he grunted. Exhaling harshly as she pressed the soaked cotton into the cut and held it there. Her eyes growing unsettled and guarded as he nearly yanked his hand away on pure reflex. Gnawing on the inside of his cheek as his hand fuckin' burned.

It was the expression on her face that finally did it. Because that was the moment when he suddenly realized that it wasn't all one sided. That they'd both come into this with their own reasons for keeping their distance. It was an expression that told him in no uncertain terms that this moment; this gesture wasn't really about him at all. It was about them. It was about how far they'd come and how much they were willing to risk on this. ...Whatever this was.

It was about taking a chance, not looking before you leaped, and taking it on faith that it was all going to work out in the end. It was about everything he wasn't good at, but willing to try if it meant having her. …If it meant having a chance. Slim or nothin' he'd take it.

Because wasn't until she bit her lip and pulled back. Watching him carefully from behind the fan of her lashes that it suddenly occurred to him that while they'd once had good reason to flinch and shy away, those reasons were long gone. They'd died with Ed, his Pa, Merle, and the whole fucking world the day virus had gone airborne.

Hell, maybe it was even time to start doing the opposite for a change. Maybe it was time to start taking ground instead of giving it.

And as if she sensed the nature of his thoughts, she caught his eye as she reached for the gauze. Her full lips curving upwards into a tentative smile as she captured his gaze and held it, bold as fuckin' brass. And he'd be lying if he said he hadn't stared right back.

All else considered she was a weathered mess of big blue eyes and fire-brightened cheeks. Her skin was smudged with dirt and her short hair was spiked into off-centre cowlicks. Clashing oddly with her faded blue tank top and the peach colored pullover she'd tied around her waist. She was tired and dirty, yet strangely content all at the same time. And to be honest, he wouldn't have had her any other way.

There was just something about her that made him want to-

He was pulled out of his thoughts when her fingers ghosted over his. Capturing them one by one as she brought them in to the palm of her hand, washing them from cracked nails to bruised knuckles without even so much as a word to the contrary. Apparently immune to his proximity as he bit down on the inside of his cheek and watched. In fact it was all he could do just to keep up. Because she seemed to have about six hands and just enough flexibility to keep pressure on the wound as she worked. Apparently set on stemming the worst of the flow before she dressed it.

He choked on his own spit when the underside of her breast brushed against his arm, feeling remarkably as though as all the air had just been sucked out of the room as thin fabric met with naked skin. He bit down on the inside of his cheek until he tasted raw copper, motionless and barely breathing as she replaced the cloth with a handful of gauze. Giving no sign she'd noticed his reaction as the sound of the others unloading the vehicles somewhere behind them echoed through the clearing.

For fucks sakes, the woman was going to be the fuckin' death of him!

In the end, he wasn't sure how it'd happened. Having been hyper vigilant of everything from the thrum of her heartbeat to the nervous twitch in her right knee, but somehow he got lost in it. Lost in the thrill of her nails coasting across his skin and the tiny pin pricks of pleasure that followed in the wake of every touch, every breath, every god damn inadvertent caress.

He got lost in the feeling of being tended to. Drinking in that handful of moments that marked where their faces were only inches apart. Moments where he could smell the scent of her, musky and sharp as the wind teased through her greying hair. There was a sort of intimacy to the moment that he didn't quite understand, but ultimately craved at the same time.

Hell, he was already convinced that even if he had the rest of his life, he'd never make sense of it - even if he wanted to.

It was only when he chanced a look down and found the wound already bandaged that he realized she'd finished some time ago. He blinked. Christ, when the hell had that happened? He hadn't even noticed when she'd put away the gauze and started wrapping.

But then that meant that-

And sure enough, when his eyes flickered back down he found his hand, bandage and all, still cradled in hers. And for a long moment everything just stopped. Because the meaning behind it was unmistakable, there wasn't any more dirt to clean or wound left to mend. It was just him, her, and her fingers rubbing slow circles into his skin. She was laying her hands on him of her own free will. This wasn't about his wounds or something born of consideration and misguided kindness – it was about something else. …Something more.

It was soothing, he decided, soothing, thrilling, and just a little bit terrifying all at the same time.

He didn't say a word when her hands curled around his shoulders. Forcing himself to still and look straight ahead as her fingers kneaded into his skin. Sending bolts of pleasure shooting down his spine as she got into it, digging in and showing no mercy as the length of her front pressed flush across his back.

Jesus fucking chri-

She was so close that he could feel her breath on his skin. Little gusts of exertion that chased the goose bumps that were spreading across the span of his shoulders as her palms rasped across his skin - seeking every knot of muscle, every abused patch of skin that had even so much as twinged over the past year before soothing it into obscurity. A strange mix of pain and pleasure coasting in the background as his nerves fuckin' sang.

He muffled a groan into the back of his hand as her fingers dipped low; rubbing circles into the small of his back as every nerve he didn't know he had throbbed into the forefront. Nearly squirming in place as a strange mix of pleasure and distress rocketed through him, sending tension and uncertainty leaching from his skin like water from a sieve.

He bit back a moan of appreciation as her nails raked across a knot of scar tissue, smoothing over the raised skin before circling back and digging deep. He was able to muffle the sound, but only just. – Except something in his posture must have alerted her because right in the middle of tracing her fingers down the length of his spine, she suddenly stopped.

She cleared her throat as the moment dragged. He could practically hear the alarm bells as she stiffened; putting a modicum of space between them as if she'd only just noticed how close they'd strayed. The tension in his shoulders felt like lead weights as she swayed to her feet. Appearing to come to some sort of decision as she bent down and started collecting her things, zipping up the first aid kit and tucking away the rest of the supplies as she moved away. …The moment effectively broken.

He looked down at his feet, cursing venomously under his breath as he curled his injured hand into a tight fist. A caustic mix of anger, self-loathing, and disappointment flooding through him as his hand burned and the bandages bled clear though. Tinting the world with a haze of red that seemed to envelop everything it touched. Stinking of cowardice and missed chances as he sat there and listened to her walk away.

But then, before he could even so much as catalog the movement, she was suddenly just there, standing right in front of him as if she'd never left, lips curling upwards into a knowing smile as she smoothed her dirty shirt over the span of her hips. Playful yet guarded. Almost as if she was just as unsure as he was, but willing take that slim-forget-to-look-before-you-leap-type-of-chance just so long as it meant that at the end of the day she got the opportunity to try for something more.

Something like this.

He inhaled roughly as a flush of heat rose up her neck. Spreading across her skin like a blush as he finally met her eyes. This time finding himself unable to look away, no matter how much his brain was screaming at him, as she sunk down on her haunches and extended her hand towards him.

"Com'on, I want to show you something." She hummed, indicating off towards the circle of tents with a roll of her shoulder. Breaking the silence almost flippantly, like it hadn't cost her anything to speak first. To take that first step, the first leap into that grey area he'd been so careful to avoid.

At least until now.

For a long moment he simply stared. Seeing everything on her face that he imagined was on his own. Trepidation, fear, confidence, longing, uncertainty and determination, all wrapped up in the type of feeling that comes when you suddenly realize that everything you're feeling is mutual. And that win or lose, you're going down together.

So in the end, perhaps that was why he took her hand. His grip feather light and gentle as he finally let her pull him to his feet. Leaving his crossbow where it'd fallen as the silhouette of the woman's tent peeked through the haze of wood smoke and fog.

Only instead of releasing her, his hand lingered, holding her small palm in his as he cleared his throat and straightened. Showing her, in his own way, as her eyes flickered down to where they were joined, that he'd taken that first step with her.

She laced their fingers together without a word. Cool and easy as his hand tightened around hers. Squeezing once before loosening his grip, his hands nervous and unsure until a small smile spread across her face at his boldness. Making a pleased sound in the back of her throat as she squeezed his fingers in return, apparently content to let the moment stand before she started tugging him forward. Leading him, like the Pied Piper to his flock, towards the ring of tents that was just visible through the late night fog.

And for the first time in a long time, the feeling of someone's hand closing around his was a good thing.


A/N #1: Thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think! Reviews and constructive critiquing are love! This story is now complete.

"I have spent much of my adult life flinching with pain as I tried to pull out the threads that bound the shadows of my past to me." - Lorna Luft