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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: Daryl's pretty free with the f-bombs in this one, plus some sexual references. 
Rating: 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 Handle with Care by the Traveling Wilburys.

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In

Chapter 14 – You’re the Best Thing That I’ve Ever Found


*~*
“Daryl!”

Beth dropped everything she was carrying and shot across the clearing, a blur of dirt streaked blonde, before Daryl could force his cramping legs to move. But he caught her, the moment she leapt at him to wrap her arms around his neck, his palms touching down over the wings on her back. And he knew then he must be hallucinating, must’ve fallen back inside his thick, delirious head, still buried in the leaves beneath the big old oak. Beth was an angel, of course she was, but she didn’t have wings.

Hold up.

His vest. Christ, she was wearing his vest.

A gripping cramp lurched through Daryl’s calves and his knees buckled, sending them both tumbling to the ground. Beth smelled of dirt and leaves, sweat and leather, and he buried his face in her neck and breathed her in. One hand over her wings, one sliding up to cradle the back of her head, fingers tangling in her hair, strands like silk across his knuckles. Whispering, over and over, her name. Just her name, like it was the only word he knew. Beth’s shoulders shook. Her whole body shook, from her fingers clutching at the back of his neck, right down along her spine beneath his hands.

“Daryl. Daryl. I thought you were dead.”

Her words were a tremor in his ear, a sinkhole in his gut. 

Beth. Beth. I'm sorry. I’m so sorry, Beth. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Beth. Beth. Beth...

Daryl didn’t know anymore if he was speaking out loud or just inside his head, but Beth’s grip on him tightened, and her own voice or maybe just her thoughts whispered back at him.

Daryl, Daryl, oh god, Daryl, you’re alive, you’re alive. Daryl. Daryl. Daryl...

His sense of time was still fucked, he didn’t know how long they knelt there. When Beth pulled back, her eyes were red and shiny, open so wide. He slipped his hand from her hair to cradle her face, moving with some impulse he didn’t understand—he needed to touch her, to convince himself she was really here after all and not just some waking dream. Beth’s eyes drifted shut as he brushed his thumb through the wet of her tear-stained cheeks, and she leaned into his palm, her face so tiny in his large hand. She sighed, soft and breathy, and her lashes fluttered against him like butterfly wings.
Beth brought her hand up to his cheek at the same moment he leaned forward to rest his forehead against hers, and another sigh stuttered out of her, puffing warm over his face. Her thumb mimicked the path of his, the soft, warm pad of it tracing the line of his cheekbone in a feathery touch that tingled and burned, her fingertips scratching softly at the scruff along his jaw while those of her other hand twirled the ends of his hair.

Tell me you’re really here.

Again unsure if he was speaking out loud or not—his head still thick, everything blurred at the edges. He had legs, somewhere, long since gone numb, bent out at the knees with his whole weight on top of them. Really the only thing that felt real right now was Beth—her warm cheek against his palm and the flutter of her breath on his face, the press of her forehead to his and the brush of her thumb over his cheek; her body, knelt down in the space between the legs he didn’t have, the curve of her spine and the edges of her wings beneath his fingers. So real she had to be an illusion.

Please. Please be here.

But her fingers pressed into his skin and she pulled back again, dislodging his hand to take his face in both of hers, eyes burning like brilliant blue flames as she gazed into his. Something about that hooked onto him inside, hauled him out of the gelatinous state of mind and right back to the little pool and red dirt bank and Beth.

Oh, God, Beth.

“I’m here, Daryl. I’m right here.” He nodded, or tried to, and a soft smile flitted onto her face. “Lord, you look like hell.”

A little bark of laughter burst out of him, bringing out a little giggle from Beth in response. “Feel like it. Fuck.”

Beth’s hands dropped from his cheeks to settle on his shoulders. “Can you get up?”

A spasm of pain shot up his spine, and Daryl grimaced. “Might need help.”

“Are you hurt?” she asked, her voice gone real soft, gentle, thumbs stroking his shoulders through his jacket.

He shook his head, wincing with another spasm. “Naw, just...”

Daryl let the words trail off into nothing, unsure where to even start or what to say if he tried. But Beth only nodded, like she understood—and maybe she did. She mighta been fucking beautiful, but exhaustion clung to her like cheap cologne, written there in the dark circles ringing her eyes on her paler than usual face, in the little furrow etched into her brow that didn’t seem to wanna relax.

“We should get back to the cabin,” she said, the furrow deepening.

Daryl gave a grunt he meant to mean yes, and Beth moved out of the triangle of his knees. His hand at her back fell away as she stood up, landing heavy on his thigh. He craned his neck up to look at her. “Need to finish dressing the deer.”

Beth glanced down at him, then turned her gaze to the deer behind him. “I’ll do it.”

Her fingers combed through his hair, nails scratching lightly across his scalp. Daryl’s eyes drifted shut and he found himself leaning into her touch. A warm shiver rolled through him as she repeated the motion and he groaned, unable to stop it from rising up out of his chest.

Beth’s breathy little sigh floated down to him, “You tell me how, Daryl, and I’ll do it, okay?”

Daryl remembered well what he shouted at her, before, about never relying on nobody for nothing. And he’d been drunk and sad and angry at himself and had taken it out on her. He might’ve said once that he meant his words to wound, to imply she was just some useless girl who couldn’t fight her own battles. If he were honest—and he rarely was, when it came to his own shit—what he screamed at her was about himself. He ain’t ever relied on nobody because nobody’d been reliable. It wasn’t her weakness—it was his disadvantage.

He could rely on Beth and it didn’t even faze him. Everything he knew since he was old enough to know it wanted to tell him otherwise. He heard the voices there, tinny and distant, crackling like the static of an old radio, but shoving them away was easy. So fucking easy when Beth Greene’s fingers brushed across his forehead, right before she crouched back down to help get his legs out from under him. He could rely on her. He could. Beth with her angel wings and that wild halo of hair, and yeah he was skirting the edge of delirious again but that didn’t change the facts.

He could rely on Beth. They could rely on each other, him and Beth, and that pulsed deep in his chest and settled around him like every warm embrace he never had.

With Beth’s help he moved to sit with his back against one of the straighter growing birches at the edge of the woods. Beth left his side once he got settled there to get the stuff she dropped right before she ran to him, and knelt back down beside him now, digging around for something inside her pack. Moments later she passed him a bottle of water and something in a Mason jar.

His gaze landed on the tidy writing across the top of the sealer, then flicked up to meet Beth’s—who was, not unexpectedly, smirking. “Fruit salad?”

“Start with the juice,” she said, pressing the Washington, D.C. spoon into his hand. “If you can keep that down, then eat the chunks.”

Juice meant more of a thin syrup, and though it was sweet it tasted all right, like fruit juice and honey. He probably needed the calories anyway, so he sipped a little at a time, alternating between that and the water, while he talked Beth through field dressing the doe.

She already knew how to do this with smaller things—rabbits, possums, squirrels—and she had a deft hand with her knife. She continued what he started, making the long incision through the doe’s skin, her hand steady and precise, before slicing through the muscle and membranes to open up the doe’s belly. As good as he would’ve done it, too, and Daryl couldn’t stop the stupid grin from pulling at his lips as he watched her, up to her elbows in blood and guts as she pulled the organs out.

When just the intestines remained, pulled out but still connected inside, Beth looked up at him for her next instruction.

“Gotta cut away the diaphragm now, get into the chest.”

She made the cuts, heedless of the rush of warm blood pouring out of the chest cavity and over her hands, instead glancing up at him again.

He nodded at her, wiping a dribble of sticky fruit syrup from his chin. “That’s it, girl. Like you always been doin’ this.”

A half smile, a pleased-with-herself little grin bloomed on Beth’s face, followed by a flush of pink across her too-pale cheeks. She said nothing while she reached up into the chest to sever the windpipe and pull out the doe’s lungs and heart, but the grin lingered. The flush, too, and something about it, about all of it—her smile, her skill with the knife and her determination to dress the deer and do it right, his wings across her back, and fuck, probably just her—spread a warmth through him hotter than any amount of sunshine on his face, driving out the cold, the numbness he hadn’t been able to shake since he tumbled down from the oak tree in the middle of the storm.

Beth’s cheeks darkened when she next looked over at him, having cleared the chest cavity. In her hand she held the doe’s heart, and her eyes flicked over his face before finally catching his gaze and holding there a minute until she spoke.

“Are you supposed to eat this, or something? I mean…” Her gaze dropped away, glancing down at the heart in her hand, then up to him for a second before settling somewhere on the ground between them. “I heard sometimes hunters do that…”

Fuck, she was adorable, flushing harder even now than she was before, thinking her question was silly but it weren’t silly at all. The lazy stupid smile pulled into something that felt a little less brainless and a little more pleased. “You gotta, when it’s your first kill.”

She looked back up at him now, cheeks still red but she had lost that hint of embarrassment, replacing it with that inquisitive little tilt of her head. “What do you do with it when it’s not?”

He shrugged. “Could eat it, still. Take it back with us. Cook it up for supper since we ain’t gonna be eating the rest of it yet.”

Now she smiled, gave the muscle in her hand a little squeeze. “Whatcha think, heart and potato soup?”

“Think that sounds fuckin’ wonderful.” He raised the Mason jar up, then took a big swig of syrup.

Her soft giggle floated across the bank and settled around him as she made quick work of the rest of the deer.  In her pack, Daryl found a bundle of rope, and she managed to use it to hoist the body up to hang from one of the sturdier birches. They let the rest of the blood drain while Beth tidied up the bank and he finished his fruit and took some more water.  The cabin wasn’t far away, if he remembered right, but he couldn’t carry the carcass back. Even resting here, his calf muscles threatened to cramp up on him and his head kept drifting between fully here and kinda not. Despite her size, Beth was strong—he would have to coax her into tearing off her sleeves one a these days—but she couldn’t pack the doe, either, not easily.

“I see you thinkin’,” Beth said, sinking down beside him after washing up in the creek, stretching her legs out alongside his and leaning over until their shoulders met.

He turned his head just as she tipped hers up toward him. “That obvious?”

“There’s smoke, Daryl,” she said, holding the deadpan expression for only a second before the smile broke out. “But really—how are we gonna get her back?”

“Be best if we had somethin’ to drag her with. Could build somethin’, but—”

“I have somethin’,” Beth said, teeth sinking into her bottom lip. “I have to get it…” She pulled up onto her knees and half-turned to face him. “You’ll be okay? I’ll only be gone twenty minutes, maybe half an hour, tops.”

“Shit, woman, you got a cache buried in the bush, or somethin’?” he asked, mostly joking until she started nodding her head. He breathed out slow and reached to cover one of her hands on her knee with his. “Beth.”

She shrugged, like she was trying to brush it off as no big deal, but her lip shook, just a little until she caught it in her teeth again, and the dark circles stood out stark on her pale face. “Gotta be prepared for anythin’, right?”

There was more to that. A whole lot more. Whatever she dealt with while he was gone, it wasn’t just waiting around being worried, but he wouldn’t ask her now. They could talk later about what happened to them both. Right now they just needed to get back and if whatever she had buried was gonna help—

“Course I’ll be okay. Got my crossbow and the world’s greatest fruit salad,” he said, pausing to wait for her little giggle and grin.

She didn’t disappoint. Even with exhaustion weighing on her, she flashed her teeth and rolled her eyes, her little breath of laughter washing warm over his face.

“Anything wanders by, I’ll get it with a peach half.”

“I’d use the cherries,” Beth said, her smile lingering, sparkling a little behind the exhaustion in her eyes. “They’re sneakier.”

Because he thought he could—because if she was gonna go he needed to convince himself once more that she was real—Daryl reached out to cup her cheek, fingertips slipping into her hair. She leaned in as he did and pressed their foreheads together, her own hand sliding round to the back of his neck.

“Be safe,” she whispered, fingertips making small circles beneath his hair.

Daryl brushed his thumb over her cheek and Beth sighed softly. “You be a quick sneaky cherry and get your ass back here.”

Beth’s soft laughter lingered in the air even after she left, leaving him her pack and the shotgun but taking her crossbow with her. She wasn’t away long, just like she said, only about twenty five minutes by his best estimate. She sneaky cherried her way back to the bank, stepping out of the woods so silently he was hit with a rush of pride at just how good she was getting at all of this. How much of a survivor she really was now, probably more than she even knew. And he was grinning stupidly up at her again, but it made her smile, too, so he didn’t fight it. Honestly he didn’t have the strength and he wasn’t certain he even wanted to fight it in the first place.

“Whatcha got?”

Beth unfolded the large square of thick canvas with reinforced grommets set along its edges, which he recognized from the crossbow chest at the cabin. “She’ll fit on this, right? And we can tie it up so she doesn’t get dirty, and use the rope to pull her.”

Daryl’s heart fluttered in his chest and the stupid smile lingered. “Good, Beth. Real good.”

He started to get up to help her, but Beth pressed her palm into the centre of his chest and pushed him back against his tree.

“You are smiling way too much right now to be well enough to help me,” Beth said, and if anyone else had done so he’d’ve grunted or scowled or something in response.

But it was Beth, and all he did was keep grinning, which—yeah, he supposed she was right about that. He wasn’t completely out of his head, but the edges of his thoughts had gotten a little fuzzy again, sneaking up on him like Beth and her cherries. So he leaned back into his tree, sipped at his water and ate the fruit, and watched as she went off to do it herself.

Beth spread the canvas out beneath the doe and then lowered her onto it, using the leverage of the rope around the branch to do it slowly, get her positioned right. No easy task, that—he could see the beads of sweat forming on her forehead already, and the little tremor in her arms from the strain of managing the doe’s weight. But she got her in place, and used the bundle of twine from her pack to tie the doe in, making a little pouch to keep her clean inside. Before he could say anything, Beth detached the strap from the shotgun and used it and the hanging rope and made a little harness, whipping the thing up into a complicated mess of rope loops without any hesitation at all and attaching it to the canvas bag.

He must’ve been giving her a look, because when she turned back to face him, a little half smile slipped onto her face and she shrugged. “I used to make them for the dog so she could take my stuffed animals on hayrides.”

Farm girls.

Was a good trick, though. After she made sure his legs were gonna keep him up and arranged her pack and crossbow on her back, she handed him the shotgun to carry and stepped in. The wide, padded strap from the gun lay across her chest in the same way a backpack strap would, and once she had it settled there just above her breasts, she tied the loose tail of the rope so it rested across her hips.

She’d put on little looped rope handles, too, which would help her pull and distribute the weight over four points instead of just two. Funny—‘cause last he looked, dogs didn’t have hands—but she must’ve been reading his mind because she looked over at him as he hobbled up beside her, grinning around the teeth in her lip.

Her eyes swept up in their sockets before meeting his again. “Sometimes I used to give the dog hayrides.”

He couldn’t stop the laugh that spilled up out of him, but it made Beth’s cheeks flush pink again, and she ducked her head and giggled, so he didn’t mind all that much.

“C’mon,” he said, his laughter fading in sound but not in feeling, still bubbling away in his chest, next to the ever-present warm flutter that he thought now mighta been Beth’s wings. Daryl glided his palm over those wings and the curve of her back beneath them, and Beth looked up at him with her tired eyes and a smile full of teeth. “Let’s go home.”

They weren’t more than an hour from the cabin, when his legs weren’t weak and cramping and when Beth wasn’t dragging a hundred and fifty pounds of deer. Even with the harness and the way it lifted much of the deer off the ground, it was tough going. Beth stopped after twenty minutes to pull off her knit sweater and the blue and grey plaid flannel. She glanced over at him when she slipped his vest back on over her yellow polo, standing there in a beam of sunlight cutting through the trees above. It lit up her hair, a wild tangle of shining gold above the battered old wings, and it stole his words right out of his head. All he could do was nod, and follow after as she resumed walking, hauling the deer he was too weak to manage, grunting with the effort, her skin flushed red, drenched in sweat with his wings still resting there on her back like they were always meant to.

It took hours—he thought. He might’ve left his sense of time back in that oak tree—to finally reach the cabin, between his fucking useless body and Beth’s heavy load. A couple of trees had succumbed, either to the storm or the herd, thinning out the approach along the path to the back yard. Beth stopped just before the trees got thin and stepped out of her harness, then dropped her pack to the ground at his feet.

“Stay here.” She waited until he nodded before sliding her crossbow off her shoulder and creeping away, picking through the brush toward the outhouse.

She wasn’t planning on taking a piss break, either. Took him a few seconds but he realized she was aiming to sneak into the yard closer to the cabin itself, and more importantly out of view from the only window. Daryl couldn’t see everything from where he stood on the path, but did catch the flash of yellow marking her entrance into the yard and a couple of glimpses thereafter. Wasn’t long, though, before she came jogging along the path, looking more exhausted than he ever remembered seeing her but wearing a smile so bright it bloomed over her whole face.

“It’s all clear, Daryl,” she said, talking like she expected otherwise. “C’mon. Let’s get inside.”

The yard was a mess of waterlogged corpses with knife holes through their heads, tree debris and broken fence boards. Beth ignored it all, making straight for the door, pulling that doe across the overgrown lawn like if she stopped she wouldn’t be able to go again. He helped her get the doe inside and hung up on one of the hooks set into the ceiling, fighting a wave of spotty light-headedness just to get it done. Ideally they’d have a cold room or something set up to hang her in. She’d be okay for a bit, hanging there, but they’d have to get her skinned and smoked soon to keep the meat from spoiling. For now, though…

Beth narrowed her eyes at him where he stood, bracing his hands on the counter to keep his head grounded even though it wasn’t working too well. She lifted his bag over his head, then his crossbow, and pointed at the bed. “God, Daryl, sit down before you pass out.”

Daryl wobbled his way over and eased down onto the edge of the bed, his lower back and legs protesting with various bursts of pain, head still swirling somewhere in the atmosphere above him. He sat and watched as Beth lit the fire in the stove, then grabbed the water pail, her limp noticeable again as she disappeared out the door. Over the next little while she came in and out, emptying the pail into the two big soup pots, then the washtub until it was full, too. She made one last trip, returning with the pail itself full of water, which she set on the stove alongside one of the pots to warm. After casting one last glance outside, Beth shut and bolted the door and, strangely, pushed one of the chests up against it so it wedged between the door and the stove.

Beth looked over at him where he sat on the bed before crossing the room to grab a pile of clothes from the counter.

“You gotta get out of these damp things,” she said, dropping down to her knees in front of him, that furrow grown deep between her eyebrows again. “Can you do it?”

He had to do it. Had to. ‘Cause the alternative meant—no. No, he could do it. He would do it even if he passed out trying—

“…Daryl?”

Beth’s face swam back into view. Daryl blinked and gave his head a little shake, and some of the muddiness slipped away. “Yeah. Yeah, just—”

“Let me get your boots,” she said, voice soft and low. “Then I’ll turn around, okay?”

All he could do was nod at her. She had to get her knife out to loosen the knots in his bootlaces, swollen tight from the rain, but she worked them free and tugged the boots off one at a time. His socks were soaked and when she peeled them off, his feet alarmingly white and wrinkled beneath them.

“You’re so cold,” Beth said rubbing his left foot between her palms. “You can feel that, though, right? They’re not numb anywhere?”

He honestly hadn’t paid much attention to his feet in so long he didn’t know immediately. Maybe they were, a little, but it was a waterlogged kind of numb. A cold kinda numb that would go away if he ever got warm, and he could feel her hands on him, so he shook his head.

Her concerned look didn’t ease, and she let his foot go to rub the right one. “We gotta warm you up, get some more fluids into you, and then you’re gonna have a nice long nap, okay?”

“’Kay, Beth,” he said, reaching out to twirl his finger around a curl of hair that came loose from her ponytail.

She felt the tug and looked up, the tight set of her mouth easing into a soft little smile. “Let me know when you’re done changing.”

Daryl let his hand fall back to his knee and Beth gave it a little squeeze as she stood up, before she crossed the room back to the counter. He watched her pull off her own boots, then climb up to check out the window. Forgetting, for a moment, what he was meant to be doing while she had her back turned, he was struck once again by the fact that she was wearing his vest and probably had been since he left it with her. More than just his vest, he remembered thinking, days ago now but it felt like longer.

So much more.

But. Right. Clothes. Daryl struggled out of his layers, each one a little damper than the last, but he didn’t really feel it until his undershirt came off and the still-cool air hit his clammy skin. A shiver so violent his teeth knocked together rocketed through him and he struggled with shaking fingers to drag the dry t-shirt over his head. The scrawny fellow who used to own it liked his shirts fitting large, but it was snug on Daryl and the edges rolled up, caught on his sticky back. His arms wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t bend enough, fingers too weak to hold on long enough to roll it down, and fuck, this wasn’t happening, not now. Not here, not like this. His already swimming head plunged deeper beneath the water and a stab of pain lanced through his chest to steal what was left of his breath. If he could just—

His fingers caught the edge and held, and Daryl drove his teeth into his lip hard enough to draw blood. But the pain there tore his thought out of his head and air rushed back into his chest, and he curled his fingers deeper into the rolled edge of the shirt and inch by inch, pulled it down to cover his exposed back. He tried not to make a sound, but a flash of movement caught his attention and his bleary eyes focused on Beth in front of him, standing still, holding a Mason jar full of water still swirling around the spoon stuck in it.

“’S okay,” he managed to grind out, pulling his trembling fingers into his lap in the hopes of stilling them.

Beth’s breath left her audibly, even from here across the room, and she resumed her stirring, the spoon clinking rhythmically against the sides of the jar, the water rushing around the spoon like a tiny whirlpool.

He could still hear the clinking in his head when Beth set the jar down, and only when she was halfway through pulling her polo shirt off her head did Daryl’s brain jolt back out of the depths of wherever it was hiding, focus drawing in on that now-bright scrap of yellow folding in on itself to reveal a long stretch of lean, pale skin broken only by straps of faded pink. His gaze followed along to where the defined muscles of her shoulders and arms flexed first to pull the shirt over her head, then again moments later when she covered back up with one of the man’s dingy white undershirts, hanging big and long on her slight frame.

When she wriggled out of her jeans, with some effort to get the dirt-caked denim down off her legs, he should’ve been surprised, because she needed to be warm and dry just as much as him. But knowing it didn’t stop the jolt of heat hitting him like a kick to the belly, heat that boiled over and spread quickly south. She was wearing hand-me-down men’s underwear for fuck’s sake, boxer briefs in a ridiculous bright red, on top of her own ‘cause he could see the lines, except now he was half-hard in his dirty wet jeans and wasn’t that a fucking joke?

He almost laughed, but held it in, sure it was gonna come out as a groan and then he’d be done for. The one part of his wretched body still working, and him the guy not exactly known for thinking with his cock—something Merle liked to remind him of as often as he could.

You forget you even got a dick ‘til you gotta take a piss with it.

Shut up, Merle.

“Daryl?”

Beth straightened up again, the hem of the undershirt falling to cover only about half the red, and Daryl dragged his gaze up to the ceiling. He must’ve spoken out loud, talking to the ghost of his dead brother no less.

He cleared his too-dry throat, tried to swallow. “Don’t—don’t turn around.”

Daryl dumped his jeans on the floor and held up the underwear she set aside for him. Same as hers, but dark grey. A bit small, considering they fit Beth—a little too well, the way the bright red stretched across the soft curves of her ass. He did groan this time, low and pained, and on second thought maybe something constrictive was a good idea. Not taking his eyes off her, where she stood still and quiet with her back to him, Daryl tugged off his damp boxers, grateful for the cold air this time, and fought his way into the dry briefs and the faded black sweats.

Not knowing exactly what to do now, Daryl just sat, eyes set on Beth even though he wasn’t sure that was wise, either. This wasn’t—this wasn’t him, wasn’t how he was wired for this to just happen like that, but here he was, cock hard, belly thrumming warm and deep with a need he ain’t ever felt before, not like this. It had to be her, something about her that made his body forget its own fucked up rules, or maybe it was just his loopy goddamn head except this wasn’t the first time, was it? She was fucking beautiful, she was; beautiful and strong and kind and good, but when had that ever mattered, before? Before Beth?

Nothing fucking mattered before Beth.

Of course it was Beth. He knew that. Knew it last time this happened, too, and the time before that. How he felt about her wasn’t like anything he’d ever known before, and maybe he was just so full up inside with feeling things about Beth they had nowhere else to go sometimes—and that was a load of bullshit, probably, but nothing else made a lick of sense.

You’re fucking delirious, Dixon.

He was pretty sure he’d said that out loud, too, because Beth let out a little huff of laughter. “You really are. Are you all dressed now? Can I turn around?”

“Y-yeah.” He coughed, clearing his throat again. The sweats were dark—she wouldn’t see unless she really looked, and that wasn’t a possibility he was gonna entertain.

She turned, and he remembered then just how exhausted she was, even if she was pretending otherwise in her determination to take care of him. He was already breathing a little harder than he should, but he was pushed into even deeper breaths as she crossed the room, a Mason jar of water in each hand, worry still etched into her forehead.  She had to be aching after hauling that deer all by herself, and he should be telling her off for bothering with him when she oughtta be looking after herself—he didn’t deserve it, didn’t fucking deserve any bit of it but Beth, Beth wouldn’t hear it. He saw it there in her sharp-eyed gaze that she knew what he was thinking and what she would say about it.

That’s bullshit.

Thing was, she believed it. It weren’t just lip service and that made his already pounding heart beat harder and his chest flutter like a jet engine. He didn’t think he could feel any warmer inside but another wave of heat rolled through him, followed a second later by an electric jolt deep in his belly when she sat down beside him. Daryl leaned into the warmth of her, thought he might melt right into her if he could. She still smelled of sweat and dirt, a tang of doe’s blood, a hint of something deep and woodsy—how a woman named Greene should smell—and he was hard as rock now, painfully so in these tight as hell shorts, but all he wanted to do was burrow his face into her neck like he had at the creek and breathe her in.

“Drink this, Daryl,” Beth said, passing him the first jar, wrapping her fingers around his when his hands shook too hard to hold it steady.

The water—a warm mixture of salty and sweat—soothed his dry throat, and he drained half the jar before she pulled it away to let him breathe. He was so thirsty, but his head was swimming again, so he let himself fall into her, his face in her soft sweaty neck, that warm woodsy smell of her filling his empty head. She let him, only shifting a little to keep him from pushing her right over, before combing her fingers gently through his hair.

“You’re gonna be okay, Daryl,” she said, speaking so softly he could barely hear her, but even his ringing ears didn’t miss the little waver there. “You’re gonna be okay.”

He finished the rest of the jar and part of the second, and Beth helped him lay down, his head still floating somewhere above his body. The swipe of a hot, wet towel over his face brought him back down and he blinked his eyes open, unaware he’d closed them, watching her as she scrubbed him wherever his skin showed. Her lip was caught between her teeth, face so pale and worried he wanted to reach out and pull her in, but his muscles had gone to jelly the moment she laid him down, evaporated into air beneath the scrub of her cloth, and he couldn’t move if he tried. She pulled the quilt over him, tucking his cold feet in last with a warm dry towel wrapped around them. He didn’t see her do it because his eyes had shut again, but he felt the press of her lips, cool and dry on his forehead and then—then nothing, and he forced his eyes open as she moved away.

Somehow, he caught her leg in his hand, fingers he could barely work digging into her bare skin, and she stopped, her blurred face turned down to look at him. He found her eyes through the fog but he couldn’t drag the words out past the tightening in his chest. But he got it now. He understood why she clung to him when the dreams ravaged her sleep because he didn’t know what was gonna happen if she left right now, but he wasn’t going to be able to keep breathing if she got any further away. Except he couldn’t speak, couldn’t tell her, could only stare mutely up at her from the depths of the fog he was rapidly falling into.

Beth didn’t need words, and if his head wasn’t so thick he’d’a remembered that. She slipped beneath the quilt, into the sliver of space between his body and the edge of the bed and curled into him, tucking her head right up beneath his chin, cheek to his chest, arm across his stomach and her leg up over his, so close to where he was still so fucking hard for her but he didn’t care about that. He just needed her here like he needed air and when he dragged his arm up around her, his fingers finding the dip of her waist, she snuggled in closer.

“I got you, Daryl,” she whispered, pressing her palm over his pounding heart, pulling his thoughts back round to when he told her the same thing. “It’s okay. I’m not goin’ anywhere. I got you.”

She did. She had him. So many more ways than she maybe even knew. Daryl covered her hand on his heart with his and turned his face into her hair, letting the strands tickle his nose, his lips, his cheek. She was warm, so wonderfully warm and the cold seeped out of him as quickly as sleep sneaked in, and he imagined, just before he fell under, the whisper of Beth’s voice wrapping her words of promise tightly around him.

I got you, Daryl. I got you. I got you and I’m never gonna leave you.

*~*

Been beat up and battered around
Been sent up and I’ve been shot down
You’re the best thing that I’ve ever found
Handle me with care


(The Traveling Wilburys were a “supergroup” made up of George Harrison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne.)

to be continued in chapter 15 >>

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