It starts out simple, quick, messy. A meeting of bodies not minds. A moment to forget the horrors of their world. A chance to force endorphin into their joy starved bodies. The winter months were long and this changed the pace the demands of leadership placed on both their shoulders. For Rick the leadership is taken and deserved. For Daryl it's forced something he reluctantly and grudgingly accepts for the good of the group.

The group's paranoia seems to increase on frozen cold nights. Everyone perceives the sharp intake of breath is a walker at the door. The slight shift for warmth is the bitters climbing the stairs. But on these particularly cold nights Daryl keeps his eyes locked on the frozen wasteland. He takes it upon himself to keep long watches those nights. Everyone's mind plays tricks on them. Everyone but Daryl. He keeps his eyes calm and focused. When he is on watch, there are no imagined foes in the woods.

Daryl seems to barely breathe on those nights. It's one of these nights when Daryl is sitting slumped and relaxed against the window frame. The group is asleep in the room two over. The house is cold and everyone is shivering against each other. Everyone but Daryl and as he quickly realizes Rick. The hunter's sharp ears can easily detect each member of the group's particular footsteps. Rick's quick, quiet, and controlled footsteps are just like the man himself.

The door opens without a sound but the hunter's sharp ears pick up on the movement of the door opening. It didn't need to make a sound for him to know that Rick was entering the room.

Daryl doesn't move when Rick stands at his side. The prickle on the hunter's neck means Rick is watching him and not the world outside the window. Daryl wonders if Rick intends to take watch. Instead, the man moves to the other side of the window and sits down on the frame. Daryl folds his legs up to make room for the taller man. He keeps his eyes on the window but Rick has his piercing blue eyes locked on Daryl's face. The hunter twitches under the gaze. Finally, after a long minute Daryl flicks his eyes quickly over to Rick's. A question in those seconds that their eyes locked. He doesn't ask. He doesn't need to. The pair had spent enough months fighting, hunting, and leading (much to Daryl's displeasure) together. Words were no longer necessary between them. Daryl's eyes asking if something was wrong. Rick slowly shook his head at the question.

Daryl would have probably believed the man if he had stopped his eyes from doing that thing they do. The whole police trying to get you to confess to a crime with their deep soulful eyes. Daryl resisted the urge to fidget under the man's continuing gaze. He titled his head back towards Rick. In a gesture that silently asked "What? What's the problem?"

Rick's response was to slowly run his tongue across his lips before sighing and finally looking away from Daryl to the winter wasteland beyond them. This just perplexed the hunter more. Rick was quiet sure but he didn't often mince words. When something needed to be said, he'd say it.

Dixon's by nature didn't like all the bullshit that people seemed to obsess themselves with. Daryl was no exception. It was a large part of why he refused to get into the little fights the group had fixated on when they were still at the farm. Daryl was a man of action, he wouldn't argue about what to do with a barn full of walkers. But the moment that he was given a gun and saw the danger that those walkers posed to the group he moved to eliminate the threat. Shane had seen it as a way to assert his control yet again undermining Rick. Daryl had seen it as a danger to everyone present. Had one gotten out before they could take it down then things would have gone to hell quickly.

"You ever think about that day on the farm?" Rick's voice broke Daryl out of his thoughts and memories. "The one in front of the barn?" Rick didn't need to clarify. The man seemed to be stuck on the same memories as Daryl. The hunter gave a slight nod. Every once in a while when he looked at Carol, at what a survivor she was becoming Daryl questioned how Sophia would handle this world. Would she come as strong as Carl and help them clear out houses? Or would she be drawn towards Hershel and trying to learn all the different ways to keep the living alive? He didn't often let those thoughts linger. There wasn't a point. No matter how painful it was their world would continue with or without them, alive or dead. Daryl personally would rather be on the living side of things.

"Before Shane opened the door I had the walker on that harness." Rick's eyes slid to Daryl's. "Do you remember?"

"Hm." Daryl grunted softly in response.

"Shane gave everyone guns. You remember? Everyone was in such a panic. No one really knew what he was thinking. Not really sure Shane knew what he was thinking either. He was like that you know? Get all derailed by his own emotions and swept up in what he thought was the correct path." Rick mumbled softly. His eyes had a faraway look like he wasn't really there. Daryl shifted not wanting to stop Rick but at the same time, Shane was a psychotic dick and then he died. Nothing to think about in Daryl's mind. Rick suddenly turned to Daryl and locked eyes with him. "You kept your gun on the walker I was holding. Why?"

Daryl shrugged hoping that would be enough of an answer. Rick kept staring like he wanted more. The man never seemed satisfied with the Dixon way of talking through shrugs and grunts.

"I mean everyone else didn't seem to know what to do with themselves but you just kept that gun on my walker the whole time."

"Cause someone needed to make sure ya didn' get yerself killed." Rick chuckled softly to himself at that. Daryl licked his lip quickly. "Cause if that walker got ya the group would be broken."

"You said that to Dale once right?" Daryl nodded. "Do you still think we're broken?"
Daryl considered his words carefully for a moment. Were they broken? Sure things had changed and sure things weren't ideal. The farm had seemed like a dream (even to Daryl) but it turned out to be like everywhere else they'd been. It turned into reality. The group had lost people (some more missed than others in Daryl's opinion) but they were still together. They were still alive. Rick had taken complete control of the group but he hadn't steered them wrong so far. He did what was best for them. Even if the group didn't see that yet.

"Nah." Daryl replied. He meant what he said to Carol after the farm. Rick has honor. Rick's honor was to protect his family. The group was his family and Daryl had no doubt that if the situation called for it Rick would die to keep his whole family safe, not just Lori and Carl. Daryl realized that sooner than anyone it seemed. It was why Daryl kept his gun on Rick's walker. Why he would have killed Randall for Rick had he asked. It was the reason why he did kill Dale. If Rick was going to put himself in position where he'd get killed protecting the group then Daryl would die so Rick didn't have to. If Daryl died the group would suffer a food source and a fighter. If Rick died the whole group would suffer not just Lori and Carl. The group might not realize it but Rick's death would cause the whole group to become unstable. With Rick's death they'd fracture and drift apart before eventually meeting death. Daryl didn't have a family outside of Merle. This group was his family (despite his resistance) he cared about them. He wanted to keep them safe and if that meant taking a mortal blow for Rick then that's the way it was supposed to be. Daryl didn't consider himself suicidal though and preferred an opinion that kept both him and Rick alive.

That was why he stuck close to their leader. If he eliminated the danger before it got to Rick then it was a win win. Daryl kept Rick safe and Daryl didn't have to die to keep him safe. The group didn't lose either man and would be safe for a few more days.

"Sometimes I think the group would do better with someone else in charge." Rick murmured to himself. "Someone like you." He stared pointedly at Daryl. Daryl huffed at the statement. He could feel his body twitch uncomfortably at the idea.

"Nah. Ya'll need someone else in charge. No damn good at leadin'."

"I think you'd make a fine leader…" Rick started before Daryl shook his head.

"Nah. Don' even think about puttin' me in charge. I won' do it." Daryl narrowed his eyes at Rick. Rick's lip quirked slightly at him. The two were silent for a moment as Daryl returned his eyes to the darkness outside. Rick kept darting his eyes between Daryl and the wall behind his shoulder.

"I never thanked you." Rick said suddenly.

"For what?"

"For standing by my side during all this. You could have easily left and survived on your own. You didn't." Rick's eyes seemed to be trying to pull apart Daryl's mind. It made the younger man feel uncomfortably watched. Daryl shrugged. "Everyone still seems so angry about my choices."

"I wouldn' say that. They're scared. Ever'things changed so fast. Takes time to adapt." Daryl mumbled keeping his eyes fixed on the spot behind Rick's right ear. There was some whispered resentment toward Rick's power play. But it seemed like the group largely accepted that Rick was keeping them alive.

"Well regardless thank you. Lori acts like I've done something unthinkable with Shane. Killing him I mean." Rick suddenly didn't want to look at Daryl at all. The way he kept his eyes on the floor screamed prey and weakness to the hunter's keen senses.

"He tried to kill ever'one. Maybe not all at once. But he put ever'one in danger. I don' pretend to know what happened that night but ya wouldn' have done it if ya didn' see any other way." Rick nodded slowly with Daryl's words. Almost like he was trying to convince himself that Daryl was correct. "I mean he killed Otis." Rick's body tensed like he'd been shot. "He tried to kill ya. His stunt with the barn coulda killed ya'll. I woulda killed him too."

"I never knew for certain if Shane killed Otis. Lori thought he did but I never really knew. Didn't really want to know. I mean he was my best friend. We grew up together for Christ sakes. I didn't want to think that he could do something like that. Maybe I was too busy trying to hold onto the way things used to be to really see the way the wind was blowing. Didn't see how far he had fallen." Rick took a deep breath and looked at Daryl. His eyes were desperate and vulnerable. Something Daryl had never seen in the other man since they had first met. "Lori blames me for killing him. For not being the bigger better man and letting him live. She told me herself that he was dangerous. That he was going to take her and Carl from me. If I were stronger I never would have let those words get to me. I let myself give into paranoia and killed him. But really I just got tired of him putting us all in danger. I couldn't take it." Rick exhaled slowly. "I think Lori wishes Shane were alive instead of me."

"If she does she's an idiot." Daryl cut in. His eyes were narrowed almost to slits. "Shane didn' care about anyone but hisself. Sayin' that ya should be a better man is dumb. People were killin' each other before all this shit went down. Bein' a better man only counts if there's a way to be that man. Things have changed too much for ya to let a danger to the group live." Daryl stared at Rick trying to convey how important he is to the group. Just not with the whole touchy feely crap. "Truth is its all 'bout adapting. Somethin' we need to get used to. Things ain' like they were. Can' think they are else ya die."

"Adapting. I didn't think I could adapt to this world but here I am. Shane said we couldn't survive by being the good guys anymore. I wonder if this world was better suited to someone like him than someone like me."

"Nah." Daryl disagreed. "Shane wasn' adaptin'. He could barely hold on in the end. Adaptin' means more than bein' alive. Means more than survivin'. Means you live and protect what's important. You did that. Shane couldn'. He only thought 'bout him, Lori, and Carl. Not the whole group. Like I said he only thought about hisself." Daryl swallowed once while keeping his eyes locked with Rick's. "Ya, Rick ya protect what's important and ya don' let all this shit ruin ya. It's not just 'bout livin'. Ya didn' break like Shane did. Ya kept goin' strong even when it's difficult ya adapted just fine."

"Maybe not as good as you did." Rick laughed softly. Daryl shrugged.

"This world's just like the one I've always lived in. Only difference is there's more reason to use a crossbow than a gun." Rick quirked his lips in a slight smile. One point of tension between them had been the use of the guns or not. Daryl had argued that the noise and waste of ammo wasn't worth it. That they were more likely to attract walkers with guns. Rick argued right back that crossbows and knives could only get you so far, especially if you were facing a herd. The argument had gone on for a while before Glenn and Maggie made a dangerous trip into town to get silencers. It had become something of an inside joke between the two of them.

"Thanks." Rick murmured softly. "No one's ever said the things you've said. You know how sometimes you know something but you really need someone to tell you that you're right? I think it's a little like that." Rick trailed off. "Only I wasn't sure I was right." Daryl nodded and Rick sighed deeply. His whole body sagged with the movement. "You know I really just came here to ask you if you wanted me to take over watch for you." Daryl quirked an eye brow. "Really! I did! I guess I just find it easy to talk to you." Rick shrugged. "You don't tell me what I want to hear or blame me. You just tell me the truth. A valuable trait in a person." Daryl's ears and neck seemed to burn at the man's words. He wanted to fight the blush that was quickly taking over his face but didn't know which part of his body he should hit in order to kill the blush. "I feel at ease around you Daryl. I don't have to try to keep calm or controlled around you. I don't have to worry about leadership or anything. I can just exist in the moment. Right here, right now." Rick smiled warmly at Daryl. "It's a rare thing to find in this world."

The burning was all over Daryl's face as the man Daryl respected and admired continued his praises. He'd never been praised or complimented like this before. The last time was probably when Daryl skinned his first kill correctly at the age of seven and Merle's praise tended to be a hard slap to the back or a smack upside the head. Rick didn't seem to notice how his words were affecting the younger man. "Thank you really." Rick said reaching forward. His hand closed around Daryl's which was clenched tightly around his crossbow. Daryl tried to repress the flinch he really did. But it was so ingrained in him he ended up banging his elbow against the window in instinctual jerk backwards. Rick noticed his movement and his eyes widened nervously. He bit his lip and almost seemed like he was going to pull away but instead he seemed to have come to a decision and kept his hand atop of Daryl's.

Daryl in contrast was breathing heavily through his nose trying to keep his heart beating normally. The stubborn organ had a mind of its own however and started to beat erratically. Ever since Daryl had fallen down the cliff and gotten shot by Andrea the group had been more open to him and more physical with him. A kiss on the forehead from Carol. A hand clasp from Glenn. Ever since then he tried to control his natural flinch that came with close contact with people. Daryl knew it made the group feel guilty and hurt but his reaction had been beaten into him from an early age. Rick squeezed his hand gently and that kept Daryl grounded. It kept him locked on the present and not on childhood terrors.

Rick's hand was warm and quite large when compared to Daryl's own slightly smaller hand.

"Is this okay?" Rick whispered his eyes locked on Daryl's shuddering form. Daryl breathed quickly in and out forcing himself to calm down. He reminded himself that this was Rick touching him. He wouldn't do anything to hurt him. (Aside from point a gun at his head. Though admittedly he'd never shot. Andrea did though.) Rick didn't hurt people he cared about. (No but he killed his best friend) A voice that sounded a lot like Merle's said in his ear. Daryl licked his lips and focused on the pressure of Rick's hand on his. His hands didn't try to hit him or crush his bones. There's nothing to fear from Rick. He went back for Merle even when Shane and Lori tried to convince him otherwise. He was willing to face the Vatos alone to save Glenn. Rick is a man of honor. He reasoned with is fears. A man to be protected because of the value he was to the group. With a deep exhale Daryl nodded shakily at Rick.

"You sure?" Daryl nodded again a little steadier. Rick squeezed his hand again. "Good. You know I'd never hurt you right?" Rick whispered but his voice sounded so close to Daryl's ear that he trembled slightly. "No matter what, I need you. This group needs you. You're important to us. You're important to me." Daryl's face burned again. Rick gave one final squeeze before he stood up. "If you need some rest come get me and I'll take over okay?" Rick was at the door before Daryl could respond.

Daryl's heart was pounding but for a completely different reason now. He pressed his flushed face against the cold window in an attempt to chill the heat coursing through his body. Needed? Daryl had never been needed let alone wanted before. Rick was needed and wanted by the group but him? He blew out a heavy breath and closed his eyes.

"Needed huh? Somethin' to get used to I guess." Daryl sighed and looked out the window. One thing he knew was that he would not be getting any sleep tonight. Rick's words would be bouncing around too much for any sleep to get through tonight. The thoughts of the group needing him? That would be something for him to consider at length. Daryl hoped the answers he wanted was outside his window in the frozen land below him.

Well this is my first fanfic. Hopefully it's not too bad. I've spent too long with this story stuck in my head so I thought why not? Any mistakes made are all mine. I try to look over the story but somethings slip past me. Yes this is probably going to end up in a slash story but I'm planning for a slower build up before getting there. Hopefully you enjoyed the ride so far. Thanks for reading and review if you have the time.