Smoking was a dirty habit and it was something I had always been against. Never in my life had I placed my lips on the end of a cigarette and I never wished to. I’d seen what it could do to people, what withdrawal from nicotine could do to people without the proper support and help. Daryl smoked the damn things like they were going out of fashion, always grabbing as many packets as he could find when we raided a store or even homes. He always had a lighter on him, and at least two smokes. Though I cared for the man dearly and even loved him, his smoking was the one thing that constantly came between us. After sucking on a cigarette I would always refuse Daryl’s kisses until he’d either taken a good drink of water or washed his mouth out with what little mouthwash we could scrounge up. Though the taste of smoke, motor oil, and woodlands was distinctly Daryl, and made up part of the man I loved, I wished he would give up cigarettes, if only for his health. There were no hospitals anymore, no way to get him treatment if he developed lung or oral cancer. It would be just our luck for my hunter to be struck down with cancer rather than a walker bite. I wanted him to give up as soon as possible so that the risk of him dying from cancer was significantly reduced. I needed him to stay alive. I needed him to stay with us. I just plain needed him.
Every time I mentioned giving up smoking, the younger Dixon would shut me out, shrug his shoulders and scowl at me before he would move the conversation on. I’d even tried broaching the subject post-coital, when my hunter was more relaxed and at ease, but he’d still managed to shut me down. I didn’t think he realised just how important the topic, and his health, was to me, to all of us in our group.
It was on one of our runs that an idea struck me, a way to make my hunter see how his actions were damaging his body, reducing his lifespan. Glenn and I were scouring a house a few miles from the prison in a cul-de-sac that we hadn’t properly explored. While my Korean counterpart was searching through the kitchen cupboards for canned food I ventured upstairs to one of the bathrooms. Machete in hand I rounded the top of the stairs, greeted with the sight of two walkers – one dressed in a nightie that was bloody and torn up, and the other dressed in a suit. The matching bands on their fingers gave me a moment of sadness. Husband and wife had died together and had then reanimated together. My sadness was interrupted as the man lunged for me, but three swipes of my machete had them both falling to the floor, skulls open and brains splattered over the floor.
Stepping over them with caution, not wanting to run the risk of being bitten like Hershel had, I navigated my way to the bathroom. The bathroom cabinet was still closed so when I opened it I found it well stocked. Grabbing everything I could find I threw it into my ratty backpack, not sure what exactly we would need or not, but we wouldn’t be coming back into this house any time in the future so taking everything was the best thing to do. Reaching for the last item on the shelf I found a tube of extra strong Orajel. An idea struck me. Throwing the tube into the front pocket of my backpack, where I’d be able to reach it easier once we were back at the prison, I made my way back downstairs to Glenn.
“We good t’ go?” I asked the Korean, who nodded as he zipped up his bag, all the cupboards now open and empty. There was a pantry door open too and the shelves were all clear. We’d brought two big bags with us and Glenn had filled them both. It was a good run and we’d have enough canned food to mix with the vegetables we were growing to last us at least a week. The Woodbury group sent out their own group to search homes, but we let them have whatever vegetables we didn’t use until they could get their own vegetable garden going.
We left the way we’d entered, out through the back door and around the side of the house. The Hyundai was parked out front, the doors locked to make sure that no walkers got in. I’d witnessed them having the ability to open doors when Morgan’s wife, Jenny, had approached the house we’d been holed up in when they’d initially taken me in. I’d been looking through the peephole when she’d reached out for the door handle, turning it but unable to open it thanks to the lock. I wasn’t sure if all walkers had the ability to open doors, or if Jenny simply held some memory of opening the door given that it had been her home, but our group wasn’t about to risk having our main car taken over by curious walkers.
Glenn had both bags over one shoulder, the weight slowing him a little, but we were in luck as there were few walkers out on the street. Most seemed to stay in the homes they had inhabited before the world had gone to hell. Moving as a pair we headed towards the Hyundai. The keys were in my pocket so I pulled them out, moving to the trunk first. Glenn kept watch as I opened the trunk, putting all of our bags in there. Shutting it quietly, and with the coast clear, we ran to the sides of the vehicle. The beeping and flashing of the car as I unlocked it alerted some of the walkers out on the street to our presence. They turned in our direction, stumbling towards us. Glenn ducked into the vehicle and I followed, chucking my machete into the foot well as I sat in the drivers seat, slamming down on the locking mechanism inside the car, locking us in. Starting the car I pulled us away from the sidewalk just as a walker reached out for the back of the car. He stumbled, falling face first on to the tarmac.
The ride back to the prison was quiet. Glenn was still concerned about Maggie and her mistreatment at the hands of the Governor, even though she was adamant that she was okay. Hershel had checked her over when we’d all returned and given her the all clear. Glenn had breathed a sigh of relief, his main concern being that she’d been defiled against her will. I could understand the pain he felt for the mistreatment of his other half. When we’d gone back to rescue Daryl from the Governor, when he’d been in that arena with all of those walkers around him and his bastard of a brother beating him up, I’d wanted nothing more than to put bullets between the eyes of all of those who dared to lay a hand on him, even his worthless brother.
Carol was there to open the gate when we arrived back and soon the whole group was approaching the car, wanting to see the fruits of our labour. Before anyone could get too close I hopped out of the drivers seat, opening the boot and removing the tube of Orajel, sliding it into the back pocket of my jeans.
“Ya find much?” Daryl’s voice was the first I could hear as he moved around to the trunk, standing next to me. Offering a smile I nodded, flourishing my hands towards the full bags.
“Glenn found a huge stash of canned food, think the people who lived in the house were preparin’ for the end of the world anyways. Even found some medicine in the bathroom.” I handed over one of the food bags to Carol and the other to Beth. The pair of them had taken to mothering us all, cooking for us and cleaning our clothes. Glenn grabbed the medicine bag, disappearing with it towards the cell block and Hershel, who would no doubt want to go through it and see what was useful and what wasn’t. Michonne helped Beth haul her food bag as the young lady was still relatively weak compared to the rest of the group as she hadn’t had to physically fight very much.
“See any smokes while ya were there?” Daryl asked, grabbing at his back pocket and pulling out a cigarette as I slammed down the trunk of the car. Lighting up, Daryl took a few puffs, blowing the smoke away from me.
“Even if I did ya know I wouldn’t bring them back for you.” I pointed out, the younger man scowling at me as he puffed again on the cancer stick, the tip glowing ever so slightly.
“Runnin’ damn low on the things.” My hunter grumbled, blowing out smoke rings.
Trying to suppress a smile at the fact Daryl may soon have to give up smoking, especially if I ‘couldn’t find’ any more when on runs with Glenn, I glanced in his direction. “Shame that.” I teased, earning myself a light slug on the shoulder from the hunter’s free hand.
“Fuck ya, Grimes.” He shook his head, moving the cigarette from his lips to his fingers as he exhaled. Though his smoking was a dirty habit, the way his lips wrapped around the end of the damn stick was sinful and reminded me of all the wonderful things that mouth could do, and all the wonderful things it had already done.
Taking a step towards the hunter I crowded him against the back of the car. It wasn’t too long ago that being pinned to something would frighten him and he’d lash out, but he trusted me not to push him too far. “Ya did this mornin’, Dixon. Maybe I need to refresh your memory.” A well placed hand on the back of the Hyundai to the side of Daryl’s head stopped my hunter from looking away as that damn adorable blush coloured his skin. He was tough and talked smack when fighting walkers, but mention fucking and my hunters features went as red as the tomatoes growing in the vegetable patch.
Daryl lent forward intending to place a kiss on my lips, but the fact he’d been sucking on a cigarette had me turning my head, his lips capturing my cheek instead. Hurt and anger flashed in his eyes for a moment before he took one last drag on his cigarette, throwing it to the ground and stomping on it with the toe of his old boot. He went in for another kiss, his hands locking on my neck in a desperate attempt to force me into accepting his rare gesture of affection. “I’ll stop our morning fucks.” I threatened half-heartedly, not really wanting to remove such a privilege as it was my favourite way to start the day, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening tasting tar in my mouth.
I’d pushed my hunter too far though and with a growl the younger Dixon shoved me backwards and I stumbled a few steps, but he’d managed to free himself. Storming off he headed into the cell block, swearing angrily as he went. He scared Beth and Carol who were going through the canned food on one of the picnic benches in the yard. Scrubbing at my face I decided to give Daryl some time to cool off. During our winter on the run I’d cornered him when he was angry and he’d all but beaten me to a pulp. Once his anger had disappeared and he’d realised what he’d done he’d apologised in that awkward, unsure way of his. I’d learnt my lesson though. Daryl was like a tiger, all interesting and pretty when he felt free and unrestrained, but the moment you cornered him he was ready to strike, to attack and free himself regardless of the cost.
“He’ll come around.” Beth offered me as I passed her and Carol working through the food. With a small nod I ventured into the cell block. Daryl was nowhere to be found and I took the opportunity to enter our cell. Daryl hated sleeping in a cage, preferring the perch, but he’d sometimes come and sleep next to me if he was tired, or having difficulty falling asleep. He’d also taken to keeping his few belongings in my cell too.
Crouching down to Daryl’s bag I rummaged around for his pants, knowing he hid his cigarette’s in the back pocket. Removing the Orajel from my back pocket I emptied Daryl’s last four cigarettes on to the sheets of our bed. I felt a little bad for what I was about to do, but I could only hope he’d find the funny side of it and maybe realise how bad his habit had become.
Carol called us all for dinner an hour or so later. The exact time was difficult to keep track of, not that time really mattered anymore. It didn’t matter if it was 6am or 6pm, it’s not like any of us had anywhere important to be, or any important things we had to do at certain times. I hadn’t seen Daryl since he’d stormed off earlier in the day, and ever since I’d completed my little task I’d been worrying about him. It was hard not to worry about him. I knew he was able to take care of himself, and a lot of the time he took care of me too. Taking a seat at the benches in the yard, the rest of the group knew to leave a space beside me. Daryl and I always moved as a pair and he would always sit beside me, as close as he could damn well get. Sometimes I felt the temptation to just haul the man onto my lap, save him the trouble of all the shuffling over.
It was ten minutes before Daryl sauntered in, an angry scowl on his hard features, his eyes dark and murderous as they landed on me. We’d already started eating and the rest of our group had noticed that Daryl was missing from my side, but everyone started trading stories of their day anyway. Glenn was telling the tale of our run, filling in the other members of our group on the fact that most of the houses in the neighbourhood seemed to be untouched, and that it might be a good idea to get a big group together, including some from Woodbury, and raid the whole cul-de-sac before someone else did.
The hunter instinctively slid into the vacant seat beside me. Pushing the bowl between us I offered some of my food to Daryl, partly as a peace-offering and partly because I knew that if I didn’t then he wouldn’t eat this evening. He was always giving up his food for others, feigning innocence when I called him out on it. With a hefty shove he pushed the bowl back at me, making sure his elbow connected with my ribcage. Wincing at the sting of his bony elbow to my ribcage I stifled my grunt. His left hand landed on my knee under the table, giving a hard, vice-like squeeze. I was about to bat his hand away, about to shuffle over into the small bit of space left on our bench, but Daryl’s hand shifted, coming to grab at my crotch. His squeeze this time was a little gentler, but he lent over, his lips centimetres from my ear. “Ya thank ya so damn funny, Grimes.” He slurred, growling under his breath. Though in pain from his somewhat tight hold I still had to suppress my smile. The Orajel had worked.
Daryl was known for getting revenge though, and his tight hold on my crotch slackened a little and instead he began to rub, his thumb firm on every stroke, keeping his movement to his wrist so the rest of the group wouldn’t be alerted. “Fuck.” I hissed under my breath, dropping my head to my hands as I tried to compose myself. Daryl’s fingers were magical.
Needing a distraction I pushed the bowl towards Daryl once again, though this time I picked up a carrot stick, offering it out to him. He opened his mouth, ready to take the offered carrot. Our group didn’t even break conversation at our antics. On more than one occasion I’d had to physically force food into Daryl. One night, when we’d been on watch together in the guard tower, he’d let down his walls a little more. He’d opened up to me, told me that the reason he was so good with his crossbow was ’cause his old man would go out and get blind drunk and spend days between the legs of whores, not caring for Daryl. Merle would be off getting high somewhere, or would be locked up in prison for doing something stupid, and Daryl would have to fend for himself. It was why hunger didn’t bother him. He was used to it. His uncle had given him a crossbow for his 16th birthday though and he’d gone out hunting every time his dad and brother had disappeared so he wouldn’t have to go hungry again. He’d taught himself how to hunt and track, how to prepare animals so they could be eaten. His story only made me want to take care of him more, to remind him that hunger was no longer a problem for him, that I’d always make sure he was fed.
He took the offered carrot, biting a chunk off before he tried to chew. Though his jaw was moving he was unable to feel anything, the Orajel that I’d smothered on the end of his cigarettes, as he always smoked before dinner, having made his lips, tongue, and gums numb. Unable to feel anything, he didn’t notice the bits of mashed up carrot slipping from the corner of his lips until they were down his chin, falling to the table. Everyone in the group stopping talking, turning to look at the tough redneck as he continued to chew and swallow, food dribbling from the corners of his mouth.
“What you fuckers lookin’ at?” He snapped, face clouding with embarrassment as he used his free hand to wipe at his mouth and chin.
“It seems like the walkers are staying in the houses they use t’ live in. I don’t know if they recognise them or anything, but there weren’t many on the street. There was a husband and wife in the house we raided, upstairs in the hallway.” I told the gathered group, steering the group back into conversation and off Daryl. I didn’t want to make him angry, or embarrass the hell out of him; I just wanted him to understand the dangers of his smoking. Plus, it was kind of funny watching him struggle to do something as simple as eating, not that I would ever laugh out loud at the man. I didn’t want to lose him, or hurt his feelings. He would always deny it but he had a gentle heart.
“We can work in teams of four, work back-to-back so someone always has ya covered, and have two enter the front of the house and two at the back. One pair then takes downstairs and another take upstairs, clear the place of walkers along with food and medicine. Should be quicker that way.” Maggie offered up, picking up that I wanted to steer the conversation back on track.
I felt Hershel’s eyes on me and I looked up at the old man, who tipped his head towards Daryl. “Orajel.” I mouthed in his direction. The corner of Hershel’s lips twitched upwards at my practical joke, but he understood my reasoning just fine. Though he was a vet and not a doctor he was bound to know the side effects of smoking.
With clean plates everyone left the table to get ready for the night, but Daryl stayed seated beside me, taking his hand back from my crotch. I couldn’t get up at the moment thanks to Daryl’s hand working away during dinner. I groaned at the loss of his dextrous fingers though. I needed my release and damn it I’d been so close! “Ya a’ arse, Grimes.” He fumbled out, his hand moving to wrap around my waist, pulling us closer. “Taintin’ ma smokes.” Daryl shook his head, a wry smile on his chapped, numb lips. It would wear off in a few hours but until then I could only hope he would understand why I’d done what I did.
“Your smokes are causin’ your veins and capillaries to constrict, making it harder for your blood to flow, and soon you’ll be experiencing that numbness without the use of damn Orajel. You’re slowly killin’ yourself, Daryl. Ain’t it bad enough that we have walkers chompin’ at the fence wanting to kill us, and the Governor and his lot wanting our heads?” I reasoned softly with my hunter, turning in my seat to put a hand to his face, swiping away the carrot remnants with my thumb. Making my hunter see sense was more important than the bulge in my pants.
A scowl decorated his handsome features, but his whole face softened as I touched him. Leaning into my hand his eyes found mine and I could feel him searching for something, though what he was looking for I had no idea. We sat silently for a few minutes before he sighed – a heavy, sad sound. Nodding he seemed to reach some form of conclusion. “Ya right, Rick. ‘m sorry. Will ya help me give ’em up? I wanna stick ’round long enough to see ya go grey and lose ya marbles, and I wanna be able t’ watch Judith kick someone’s ass when she’s big enough.” The way Daryl’s lips curved upwards when he spoke of watching Judith grow up made my heart ache. He was practically another father to her and I had no doubt in my mind that he’d teach her everything he knew about surviving, that he’d be there to batter any boy survivors we found in the future who wanted to date her and ended up breaking her heart.
Feeling proud that I’d managed to convince the hunter that his smokes were bad for him, even if I had to resort to embarrassing him to get the point across, I threw an arm around his shoulders, pulling him in so I could sneak a kiss to his dirty temple. Smiling against his skin I stroked a finger along the slender column of his neck, knowing I’d be making this up to Daryl once everyone had gone to bed. “I sure can Daryl, I sure can.”