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Title: Fall Right In
Author: Abelina/Abby/Abelinajt
Fandom/Pairing: The Walking Dead - Beth Greene/Daryl Dixon (Bethyl)
Setting: Season 4, Alone-divergence.
Warnings:  There may be some f-bombs scattered about.
Rating: Eventual M
Summary: If Beth hadn’t interrupted him when she did, calling him back with the melody of her voice, he might’ve done something dumb like opening the door for a doomed dog and maybe dooming them both while he was at it. Beth and Daryl escape the funeral home together. An Alone-divergence Bethyl story.
Notes: Chapter title taken from lyrics to Maybe I'm Amazed by Paul McCartney.
This chapter overlaps the previous one by a little bit, starting from the point where Daryl leaves Beth alone in the cabin, so she can wash and he can go catch them some supper...
All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 6 – Maybe I’m a Man, Maybe I’m a Lonely Man

*~*

Daryl paused at the bottom of the stairs, standing still on the final plank of wood waiting to hear the sound of the door being barred before carrying on. He hadn’t told her to, but—good—the rasp of metal on wood was clear as day even through the heavy door, taking the slightest of edges off the cold block of worry weighing in his gut at leaving her alone. Beth had looked him in the eyes, forcing the contact when he tried to avoid it, and promised she would be okay. He had to believe it were enough. Had to believe the sharp clarity of her gaze beneath the horror-movie makeup meant she wasn’t gonna slip away while he was gone.

And here he was slipping away himself, differently he supposed but it was still an escape. He needed—well, he didn’t know what he needed, when the problem was an ache, a twisting tension in his gut he never knew before and didn’t know how to ease, shaking fingers he couldn’t control and restlessness in his legs begging him to just run run run. Daryl had enough self awareness to know he worried about things more than he should, more than others did even when maybe they needed to. Worry for Beth seeped into his body with every breath he took and he couldn’t stand it, leaving her behind, but he had to get out, had to do something, and fuck if it didn’t feel like running away. Problem was, he didn’t know what he was running from.

He wasn’t gonna leave her. This cowardly flight into the forest was a temporary insanity, not a permanent one. No, he was never gonna leave Beth behind and his resolve to that burned hot in his veins. The rational voice in his head reminded him they were out of food, that if they were going to stay in the cabin he needed more assurance about its safety, and he couldn’t drag her with him when the whole point of stopping was to rest her damned ankle. All the things he’d always done—think ahead, provide, protect—but he couldn’t shake the prickle of guilt that it wasn’t any of that at all driving him out into the woods with his pulse racing and his grip on his crossbow almost painful.

A low-hanging branch brushed across his shoulders and he paused, planting his palm against the rough bark, feeling again the pass of Beth’s thumb over the wings on his back, soft and gentle and repeated again and again as he carried her. An unknowing caress of the ugliness beneath and he was completely unworthy of the immeasurable comfort in that innocent gesture, but it meant nothing. Nothing. Beth didn’t know, couldn’t know, and it weren’t her cross to bear any more than it were his right to want to fall right down into her touch, soak up every ounce of it like a benediction she didn’t know she gave. No matter how he longed for it, to let her hold his soul in her warm embrace again like she had done that day at the moonshiner’s shack, and fuck, Dixon, pull yourself together.

But memory wasn’t kind to him today and even as he pushed away from the tree, pressed onward despite not knowing where or why, another rolled in on the heels of the first. In reality this one hadn’t left him for a minute and he doubted it would. Beth at the bank of that creek, scrubbing her sweater, the vacancy in her eyes, the inhuman wail as she throttled that walker’s skull to putrid jelly and that moment—that gut-wrenching, heart shattering moment—when he thought she was gonna turn to dust right there in front of him and it was all he could do to take down the last of the walkers and fucking get to her before she disappeared.

He didn’t know whether to admire her strength, ‘cause after she cried, cried so hard he couldn’t hold her tight enough to keep her from shaking, and later confessed her sins to him in the dark, he hadn’t seen a speck of vacancy, hadn’t felt like she were gonna up and vanish—or if the whole thing were just a cover, a flimsy façade about to crack and drag her back down where he couldn’t reach her, couldn’t pull her back.

She ain’t like that. She’s tough.

He didn’t think he’d ever prayed harder for anything in his whole goddamned life.

Daryl’s boot came down hard and snapped a twig, the sound of it echoing loudly, and he cursed his stupid head and reckless legs. Leaning hard against another tree, he pulled in deep breaths of woodsy air, drawing the calm of the forest into his chest like he’d always done, but after slogging through it for endless weeks he barely felt it. How the world had changed—and weren’t that a fucking understatement—when even the solitude of the woods couldn’t soothe the ache anymore, and when the woman he left behind brought him more peace in the pass of her thumb over leather than any forest ever could.

He was grateful when he found the rabbit tracks, a spike of relief burrowing into the bed of rocks in his belly. They needed food and he needed to get out of his head a while. The past few weeks had been a reprieve form the torment of his own thoughts and he shouldn’t’ve been surprised to find himself back here again, shouldn’t’ve let himself hope for any different. But if someone as good and as strong as Beth Greene could fall, how did he have a hope in hell of not falling with her?

He missed the shot. Knew he would before the bolt sunk into the packed dirt, the shaft splintering on impact and another one bites the fucking dust while the rabbit got away. Could never hunt with angry fingers and still couldn’t now, and if they were gonna eat tonight he needed to let it go—to put it away—before it burned him up.

Stepping away from of the rabbit path, Daryl leaned back against the largest tree, and after a minute slid himself to the ground beneath it. He closed his eyes and breathed, trying to let in the sound of the woods, feel it on his skin—the rustle of leaves, creaking of ancient trunks, scuffling of animals, and the melody of birdsong. Somewhere in the distance, the shuffle of a walker. But it was the sound he couldn’t hear he longed for the most, and the realization of that surged through him in a wave of heat tempered only by the breeze on his cheeks and the cool ground beneath him.

God, his head was a trash heap of junk and he couldn’t even begin to dig through it all, his past demons mixing with new ones and amidst all of it was Beth, and he didn’t know where she fit or how. His chest burned and his gut twisted whenever he thought of how close he’d come to losing her, back at the funeral home, and he shouldn’t be thankful, not with how torn up she was over it, but he was. He was glad she’d done it, killed that cop, because he didn’t want to know what woulda happened if she hadn’t. And that scared the shit out of him, the fear of losing her and the realization of how hard he was leaning on her, counting on her to hold him up like he’d never done with anyone or anything before.

And how could he lean so much on a fractured pillar and expect it to keep them both standing?

You fucking let her lean back.

He would. Thought maybe he already was, and just hoped to hell it was enough. He hadn’t thought twice about killing the man who attacked him inside the house, but he wasn’t Beth. Wasn’t good like her, and he didn’t know how to help her, not really, except by telling her dumb ass stories about lost dogs if that’s what she wanted or offering silly piggybacks and teasing words that made both of them blush even though he tried not to notice.

Thinking of the piggyback brought him around full-circle, and he felt the ghost of her thumb across his back, soothing the pain there that never went away, long, long after the physical wounds hardened into scars.

This time, he got the rabbit.

He bagged another one a short while later, and marked the spot to find again before stringing the cottontails over his shoulder. This would do, would feed them both fine, and it was past time he got back to Beth, anyway. When his foot caught in the twine as he stepped into the rear yard, Daryl spared only half a second on confusion before he figured it out, and he noted the care with which she’d constructed and secured the alarm. It was done how he would’ve, right from the corner of the house where the trees grew thick and around to the sparser growth of birches at the river’s edge, well secured and sure to alert them to anything attempting to threaten the cabin from the back.

When he knocked and said her name, she opened the door immediately. Good, she heard the alarm, must’ve heard his voice too, but she waited until she was sure. That meant, at the very least, she was focused enough to look after herself. Look after both of them, considering what she done out back.

Their gazes met as he stepped inside, and he fought the smile at the look on her face, half sleepy, half pleased, scrubbed clean now and so thoroughly Beth. Half his tension melted away just looking at her. “You do all that?”

She smiled a little as she answered him, and even though she hadn’t been resting, even though he called her on it, and even though he suspected they had both needed the busywork, she’d still done good. Real good.

The wave of guilt he felt over doubting her passed quickly, or maybe he just stuffed it down with the rest of what he carried with him always. And then there she was, reading his mind or sensing his mood or somehow knowing just what to do, ‘cause he was fucking smiling and she was well on her way to dragging out another one when he handed her the rabbits to dress so he could look around for something else to put in their stew.

Of course Beth was going to be okay. Might take her some time to get there, but she was, and he wasn’t gonna doubt that again.
*~*

They thickened the stew with potatoes Daryl found in the garden out back, flavoured it with some of the onions, garlic, and dried herbs hanging on the wall by the door, and bulked it up with carrots and turnips from inside one of the wooden chests. By the time the sky darkened into night, he and Beth had eaten most of it, though it was too rich for either one of them after weeks of never enough to eat, and his gut ached like a son-of-a-bitch. He wouldn’t have done it any different, though, and Beth rubbed at her belly like she suffered the same rabbit-filled fate and wasn’t complaining either.

Beth slid out of her chair, hobbled over to the bed, and fell down on it face first with a muffled groan. Daryl wasn’t sure what possessed him to follow, to slide down from the countertop and do the same, falling beside her on the saggy old mattress and groaning, too, like making noises could relieve the bellyache.

Beth pulled her face out of the bedding to look at him after his landing bounced her toward him, and blinked a couple of times before settling her face into an almost blank expression. “I think I OD’d on bunnies.”

He couldn’t help it, neither the smile nor the little bark of laughter that followed it, but it was worth it for the way Beth’s eyes sparkled afterward. Impossible as it was right now to look at her without remembering how broken she’d been a little more than a day ago—still was, but mending—at least he knew she wasn’t gonna slip away again, not if she could tease smiles out of him the way she’d been doing all afternoon. Not when that light shone there again, dimmed for sure but still brighter than anyone he knew.

It made his heart race, the sheer strength simmering inside this woman, when even all stuffed full of guilt and doubt she would make a mission out of trying to cheer him up, and that she’d even notice he needed cheering in the first place. He wouldn’t have thought he did and never would have asked for it, too used to things wearing on him like that. Wearing him down inside where nobody knew, nobody saw him crumbling, except Beth. Beth knew, Beth saw, and here she was again, picking him back up before he even hit the ground. He still worried, couldn’t help that, but the steel in her soul was staggering and it took the edge off, more than a little, knowing she wasn’t gonna stop fighting.

A couple of minutes passed before he realized he was staring, that they both were, gazes locked across the short span of quilt between them. And he knew he oughta move, should put some distance between them, but his heart just wasn’t in it tonight and neither was hers, since she wasn’t moving away either. So he stayed, and he stared, and a flock of geese beat their wings inside his chest. He should move, he knew he should. But now that he was down, exhaustion seeped into his bones like water into sand, turning his legs, his whole body, into concrete.  Warm, full for once, as safe as he’d been in a long time, Daryl felt a million miles away from the man he’d been that afternoon.

He hadn’t slept last night, barely at all since they ran, and Beth hadn’t done much better. She wore on her face a reflection of the same warm drowsiness he felt in his. “Daryl?”

Beth’s voice almost woke him enough to listen to reason. Almost. He still couldn’t force his legs to work. “Mmm?”

She blinked her blue eyes slowly but didn’t look away. “What are we goin’ to do now?”

That question had lingered in the back of his mind for days, even when his concern for Beth overrode everything else, since they had to run from the place he thought they could stay, the two of them. The place with the piano and the little white candlelit kitchen, the place where Beth sang him to sleep and met his eyes over a white trash brunch and read his mind. Oh. She was looking at him like that now, as though his guard had slipped so far down she could read every thought in is head.

Beth reached across the space between them and brushed the hair out of his eyes, fingertips barely grazing his brow as she did, but leaving his skin tingling in their wake. Then she froze, sleep-heavy eyes gone all wide, hand hovering in midair a moment before she let it fall to the bed between them.

“What—” He had to clear his throat, his voice gone too raspy to speak properly. “What do you wanna do, Beth?”

She didn’t answer right away, just lay there blinking slowly, her cheeks flushed with pink as she looked right into his eyes, as if she were trying to see right through to his soul. And maybe she could, and that alone should’ve made him pull away, but instead Daryl breathed out a heavy breath and looked back at her, searching her eyes like she did his. He could see the hurt there, behind the sleepy contentment. But he could see the strength of her, too, and the sweet, caring heart of her glistening at the corners.

“Do you really think they’re all dead?”

He had forced himself to believe that, right after the prison when it was just him and Beth and an insurmountable wall of grief and guilt. So much had happened since then—Beth. Beth happened—and maybe he didn’t believe it, not fully, but it weren’t impossible. He could admit that, now, that it weren’t impossible that some of their family might still be alive. Could almost let himself hope it were true. Beth believed it, though, and Daryl believed in her.

So he blinked slowly, as she had done, and chose his words. “Maybe they coulda made it. Coulda got out, like you an’ me.”

Beth’s eyes got a little shinier after that, and without looking away she reached up to pull one of the pillows down from the top of the bed. She was close enough to him that when she lifted her head to slip the pillow beneath he had to do the same, and the shock of that, of staring at Beth across a pillow, was what first kept him motionless. But when the shock faded, it was the gentle smile on Beth’s face that kept him there.

“Let’s talk about it tomorrow,” Beth said, still without having looked away.

He knew he should get up, away from Beth and the breathless sort of anticipation building in his chest as he stared back at her across that damn pillow. He should be sitting watch, searching the shack, doing anything but this, lying in bed with Beth like it were somewhere he had any right to be.

Maybe she really could read his mind, because he hadn’t so much as blinked, but Beth’s fingers curled around his bicep, her hold gentle yet deliberate. “Everythin’s alarmed and the doors are barred. You need to sleep, too, Daryl. Stay.”

Stay. The word trickled right down through his bones, into his chest where the fluttering lived, and he finally gave in to the truth. He wasn’t gonna move because he didn’t want to, because Beth’s voice in his ears asking him to stay drowned out the ones in his head telling him to go, and Daryl was pretty sure he was fooling himself if he thought he wouldn’t try to give Beth whatever she wanted, if she asked it of him.

So he stayed, letting his eyes drift shut at last, feeling the warmth of her breath on his face, letting the sound of her breathing settle inside him until they fell into rhythm, his chest rising and falling in time with hers.

*~*

Daryl woke partway through the night, returning to consciousness so gradually that by the time he blinked his eyes open, he knew exactly where he was even though he couldn’t see a thing. The lack of urgency in the waking kept him cradled in the comfort of the bed while he listened, but nothing moved or made a noise outside, and on top of that his sense of alarm remained silent.

His other senses, though, weren’t nearly so quiet. Sometime in his sleep he’d rolled on his side, and now Beth slept pressed up against his back, one hand resting on his arm and her breath tickling his neck. He felt the warmth of her through his ratty shirt, felt every breath she took, and his next one caught in his chest and shuddered on its way out. Maybe he’d spent more time piggybacking her across graveyards and through the woods, but it never made his heart pound like this.

Never made him hard, either, but lying there, saturated in her, he couldn’t do a thing about it. Behind him, Beth sighed and burrowed even deeper into his back. Daryl’s breath shuddered out of him again and the pounding in his chest beat out an answer to the question he didn’t want to ask. ‘Cause it wasn’t just the warm body behind him. He weren’t no horny teenager and even when he was… No, it was Beth, of course it was Beth, but he hadn’t even thought of her—not that she weren’t—’cause she was, she really was, but—fuck.

Daryl dug his fingers into the quilt beneath him, trying and failing to take a breath that wasn’t shaky. He didn’t know whether to get out of bed or stay put, and every muscle in his body itched, but he didn’t want to fucking move, he really didn’t, and that was half the problem. The other half mumbled something in her sleep and somehow snuggled even closer, and he knew he wasn’t gonna get up. Wasn’t gonna wake her when she was sleeping so good no matter what it did to him. So his heart thundered in his chest and his cock strained at his jeans, but fucking let them, wasn’t hurting anything except his chances of getting back to sleep anytime soon.

How the hell did he get here?

Daryl finally dragged in a breath that wasn’t ragged, and when he exhaled, so did Beth. Relax, Dixon. Easier said than done, but he let go of the quilt and tried to let go of the tension in his muscles, too. Beth’s breath on his neck didn’t exactly help the problem, any part of it, but it weren’t so urgent that he couldn’t ignore it—or at least, he maybe couldn’t ignore it, but didn’t need to do anything about it either.

Right. Relaxing.

She was so warm, though, and her fingers curled around his arm like they had when she asked him to stay with her, and the dangerous thought slithered into his head that he could get used to this. But he couldn’t. None of this was going anywhere and he shouldn’t even be thinking it, and—fucking hell.

He felt like laughing, actually. Beth had turned just about everything else in his world upside down, why not this, too?

Breathe.

Daryl pulled in another deep breath, tried to get his lungs back into some sort of working rhythm, one that didn’t leave him quite so lightheaded. In the end he let Beth set the pace, because he could hardly not be aware of her, but it worked after a while and he felt the tension start to slip away, little by little each time he breathed out, until his body melted back into the softness of the bed and the pillow.

He didn’t sleep. Arousal lingered but didn’t rage, and he mentally made a list of everything he wanted to do after daybreak, focusing on something other than Beth, to try keeping it that way. He got as far as planning to set up some snares out where he got last night’s rabbits before the sky began to lighten outside, just a hint of it outlining the small, tree-screened window across the room. By the time he reached about lunchtime on his made up timeline, the sun was definitely up, and that’s when Beth finally stirred.

The first thing on Daryl’s list was let Beth wake up. He didn’t know how she’d react, didn’t know what to expect at all, and the only thing he could think to do was keep his breathing even and pretend to sleep. Weren’t like she meant to cause him any discomfort and he wanted to spare her of her own as much as he could, even if that meant playing possum.

Beth groaned and stretched, then went still. He heard a sharp little intake of breath before the warm weight of her left his back, and the bed bounced a bit as she resettled. A couple of minutes passed where the only sound in the entire cabin was their breathing.

“I know you’re awake, Daryl.”

She nudged her elbow into his spine and his ears went hot, and he slowly turned until he was lying on his back beside her. He tried not looking at her, wasn’t sure he could trust himself not to give away everything, but her blue eyes bored into the side of his head, a beacon he couldn’t resist. He tipped his head over and their gazes met across the pillow.

A flush of pink coloured her cheeks and her sleep-heavy eyes opened wide. “Hey,” she said, in a half-whisper, sinking her teeth into her bottom lip.

Daryl’s throat had gone dry, but he choked out a response. “Hi.”

They were staring again, just like last night. And just like last night, Daryl didn’t move and neither did Beth. He didn’t understand it, this inability to break away despite the squirm of nerves in his gut and the flush of heat in his face, or the stillness in his legs when he shoulda been long gone out of that bed, up with the sun and doing something, anything, but thiswhatever this was. Anyone else and he would’ve already vanished, woulda never have fallen into the bed in the first place, but something in Beth’s gaze hooked into him, anchored him to her, motionless on the outside while his heart ran a marathon inside his chest.

When Beth spoke, her voice pierced through the sleepy quiet of the cabin, making his belly lurch and his breath catch.

“How long was I…?” The flush in her cheeks deepened as her gaze swept downward before snapping back to his face. “I mean…”

She didn’t finish and Daryl’s first instinct was to brush the question off, mumble some non-answer, but he swallowed that back as he stared at her, at those wide blue eyes and pink cheeks and a hint of white tooth in her bottom lip. She maybe wouldn’t push him, being all embarrassed like she was, but it weren’t a mumble she were after. He already knew he couldn’t do anything else but answer her.

His voice caught in his throat again, dragging out of him low and gritty and far more intense than he meant it to be. “For a while.”

Her flush darkened and she dropped her gaze, pulling at her own fingers where they lay across her stomach, sighing softly, shakily. “Sorry, Daryl, I didn’t—”

“How’d you sleep?”

It was her worry that made up his mind as he cut her off, the question coming out as gruffly as everything else. It was stupid, fucking stupid, when all she’d done was sleep and all he’d done was let her.

Beth met his eyes again, her lips parted in surprise as she blinked rapidly for a second or two before answering. “Good. Real good,” she said, sucking in a deep breath. “No nightmares either.”

“Then it don’t matter.”

Because it didn’t. It couldn’t, not when the only thing they had in the world right now was each other. No matter what, it was just him and her, two broken souls against the dying world. So who gave a fuck where she slept?

Beth’s cheeks were still stained pink, and in his peripheral vision he could see the deep rise and fall of her chest which matched his own. She smiled, a little hesitant, but slow and sweet. “Did you get some sleep, too?”

“Yeah,” he said, feeling the pull of a smile tug at his lips, while hers bloomed even brighter. “Yeah, I did.”

“Good.”

They said nothing else after that, just stayed there for a while, both of them staring up at the ceiling, elbows just touching on the bed between them. It didn’t feel like avoidance, more like indulgence, lying there when they had an entire world of other things they shoulda been doing. Daryl couldn’t remember the last time he hadn’t been up with the light of day. Beth probably couldn’t either.

So they stayed, and they breathed, and let the world pass them by for just a little bit longer.

*~*

Maybe I’m a man, maybe I’m a lonely man who’s in the middle of something, that he doesn’t really understand ~ Paul McCartney

to be continued in chapter 7 >>

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