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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.
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 Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse.

Once again I have written too much, and LJ tells me my post is too large. Read this piece FIRST. Second part linked at the bottom.


All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 19 – Just Hanging by a Moment Here with You (part 1/2)

(part 2/2)
*~*

Beth picked her way carefully across the creek, avoiding the sharp rocks jutting out like islands, breaking the already fast-flowing water into little rapids, swirling with white, droplets launching in the air to catch rainbows and soak through her jeans. The opposite shore seemed so far away with the path ahead strewn with bigger and bigger rocks.

Daryl’s voice rumbled from behind her, but she couldn’t hear what he said over the rush of the water. From somewhere far away came the groans of the dead, but Beth wasn’t afraid. She had her knife and she had Daryl. As long as she didn’t turn around she knew he was there at her back, and she kept walking, kept moving through the water to reach the other side.

She stepped out of the water onto the lawn, the once tended grass grown long and unruly amidst the graves. The sun beat down overhead, a blistering heat across her shoulders and not a tree around to throw even a sliver of shade. Beth picked her way through the headstones toward the house in the distance. If she could only get there she could get out of this heat, get away from the sun before she burnt.


The graveyard stretched out long before her, the house growing further and further away and no matter how hard she tried Beth couldn’t walk any faster. Her legs wobbled beneath her. She couldn’t get them to work right, and the sun was so hot. It scorched her neck and her shoulders, burnt her hands. She stumbled on her useless legs and caught herself on a headstone with hands all blackened and oozing, skin peeled away in big rotten strips hanging off her like rags, and she screamed and screamed and screamed but all that came out was a wheezy, inhuman growl.

She lurched forward, the house so distant now she couldn’t see it except for the tiniest speck on the horizon. Bodies wandered through the field, bumbling amongst the headstones, turned toward her now, drawn in by the sickening sound tearing out of her throat. Beth spun around, searching for Daryl. He had been right behind her before, but she lost track of him somewhere.

There. Wandering a few rows behind her, his face caked in dark blood, deep gashes slashed across his body. He saw her when she turned, snapping his cloudy gaze up to her face, and staggered forward with his rotting hands outstretched.

Dead. Dead like the rest of them, wandering all around her now, wearing faces she knew and loved on the bodies of monsters.

Rick, there in front of her, dragging one mangled leg behind him as he shuffled forward, head cocked to the side, milky dead eyes flickering over her face.

Maggie, down the aisle to the right, lurching up from the ground between the stones where she hovered over Glenn’s steaming, twitching body, a great big hunk of his flesh dangling from her lips, caught in her teeth as she chewed.

Carol, creeping around the bottom of a giant cross straight ahead, weeping holes where her eyes should be, torn nose raised to smell the breeze in search of her.

Michonne, marching slowly in from the left, snarling and snapping her teeth, leading two more Michonnes behind her on chains, their mouths and arms all chopped away while their passive eyes stared dead ahead.

Daddy, a stumbling body behind her which ended at the neck, strong old hands carrying his own head upside down, fingers tangled in the bloody thatch of once white beard.

Carl, sheriff’s hat tipped to one side as he crossed the grounds, striding between the stones and leaving bits of his body behind, falling off him in squelching chunks.

Everywhere she turned, they surrounded her. They were coming for her.

Judith cried up at her from the ground, tiny hands like claws digging into Beth’s ankles, leaving deep, festering pits where her flesh used to be. Beth tried to pick her up, but her hands wouldn’t work, wouldn’t hold. She tried to tighten her grip but her fingers broke off, dangling bits of tissue and bone, one at a time as she struggled to hold onto Judy’s little body.

But it wasn’t Judy any more, just a tiny dead thing wearing her sweet baby’s face, wriggling and gasping and devouring Beth’s fingers as fast as they fell.

The others kept coming. Groaning. Reaching. Beth tried to move away, tried to go toward the house but as they closed in, the house on the horizon vanished completely. The scent of copper rose up thick in the air, billowing in on a gust of chill wind that also carried with it the cloying stink of bad cologne over something dark, oily, and dead.

“There, there, sweet birdie,” said Gorman, stepping in between Beth and the others.

Maggots crawled out from the hole in Gorman’s forehead, and he raised his gun at Daryl and shot. Daryl collapsed in a heap of rotting flesh and old black blood, and when Beth tried to scream she could only wail like a dead thing instead.

One by one Gorman shot them all, each one reverberating amongst the headstones until her ears rang so badly they burned. Rick. Carol. Maggie. Glenn. Michonne. Carl. Daddy. One at a time each face dissolved into a puddle of putrid, stinking flesh until Beth was the only one left standing, cradling to her chest the thing that wasn’t Judith but wore her face.

BANG

Gorman’s bullet made a splattered mess of that tiny body, nothing left of it but the dark red stain splashed across Beth’s white sweater.

She stared down the barrel of his gun, at the smirking face behind it with the skin peeling away, grey, slimy muscle just visible beneath. His other hand tapped the hole in his head, festering there beneath his slick greasy hair.

“You owe me, Beth,” Gorman said, fingers poking at the wriggling mass of maggots crawling around the wound. “Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth. Beth—”

“Beth!”

With a gasp she popped awake, the echo of the bullet that meant to end her life bouncing around inside her head. Beside her loomed the shadow that was Daryl, a blacker shape against an already black background, and she rolled over into him just as the first tremor hit her. Daryl murmured something she couldn’t hear over the ringing in her ears, but she felt the rumble of his voice where she pressed her face into his warm neck. She burrowed in deeper, fingers clawing at his shirt to try to get closer; to climb inside him maybe if that would keep the images out of her head. Tiny dead Judith, Daryl reduced to a pile of filth, Gorman’s awful smirking face—

“Beth. Beth, shh, it’s over.” Daryl’s arm wound tight around her, and he glided his thumb along her spine, right up beneath her shirt so she felt the warmth of him, the life of him right against her skin.

“It’s over,” he said again, voice rumbling through her skull, down along her nerves. “I got you.”

She thought she spoke, some words not in English, not in any language she knew, muffled into his skin and wet with the tears she didn’t realize had started flowing. Daryl kept whispering, soothing things she couldn’t quite hear, and when he turned over she went with him, unable to pull herself out of the groove she dug into his chest. His fingers tangled into her hair and his thumb kept moving along her spine, laying down a path of warmth slowly driving out the cold and easing the violent shaking until it became just the softest of tremors.

If she could climb right into his chest she would, dig a hole between his ribs and slip inside to wrap herself around his heart and let its beating pound out every last thought from her head besides Daryl - Daryl - Daryl. Instead she held on, wrapped herself around his body since she couldn’t get inside, a trembling mess of legs and arms and she didn’t know which were hers and which were his and didn’t care.

Don’t let me go. Don’t let me go.

He held on tighter, as though he could hear her pleas, as if maybe somehow her thoughts came out through the muffled words she breathed into his throat. Or maybe he just knew. No. No. Of course he wouldn’t let go. He promised. He promised, and his fingers curled tight in her hair, and his thumb kept stroking, and she couldn’t climb inside him but she could hold on. She could hold on and he held right back.

Daryl – Daryl – Daryl.

“I got you, Beth. I got you.”

He did. He did.

God, did he ever.

*~*

Beth woke again slowly, vaguely aware of Daryl shifting beneath her, turning the both of them onto their sides. She had moved in her sleep, face now pressed into his chest instead of his neck, and against her cheek his heart beat hard and fast. Not quite ready to fully commit to wakefulness, Beth nuzzled into the warmth of him and listened to its pounding, groaning into his shirt when his fingertips brushed across the bare skin of her lower back.

“Beth,” he murmured, voice dry and rough as though he’d only just woken, too.

She wriggled in deeper, pinning his leg between her knees when he started to pull it away. “Mmm, sleepy.”

He chuckled into her hair, pausing there a moment after to take in a deep breath. He didn’t try to move away again, though, and Beth celebrated her temporary victory by squeezing the arm she had thrown around his back, reeling him in just a little bit closer. He came unresisting, burying his face right down into the top of her head with a little rumble. Daryl’s other leg, the top one, which had been draped over hers a moment ago found its way there again, and he flattened his palm over her back the same way he did with her belly at night when they fell asleep.

They lay there awhile, Beth listening to the beating of his heart, still running fast despite the stillness of the rest of him. Daryl’s breath ruffled her hair and his fingertips drew lazy patterns on her skin. A bit more aware now, even though she had yet to open her eyes, Beth could hear the birdsong drifting in on the breeze through the open window. Morning, and therefore time to go, but her arms and legs had lead weights dangling from them, inert, heavy, and not just with sleep.

They needed to leave, that was not in question. Her ankle was long healed, their deer now preserved and ready for travel, they had no more reason to stay, not when they both agreed they wanted to try to find the others. She would miss the cabin and the pleasant little sliver of life they’d eked out here, and she would miss this. This little bubble outside the world where all that lay between them could just be and they didn’t have to question it. Nights spent in quiet conversation, curled up together as they fell asleep, and these lazy, close mornings, waking all tangled with Daryl in one way or another. They were more knotted up than usual this morning, but she couldn’t quite mind that no matter how horrible her nightmare was leading up to it. If it bothered Daryl, he did a good job of pretending otherwise. Aside his initial attempt to roll away, he had yet to try to make them any less entwined.

In fact, the way his fingers slid up her back, slowly tracing each bump of her spine, Beth thought he might be trying to get closer.

Maybe he was going to miss this, too.

But they did need to go, to make the most of the daylight since they wouldn’t risk traveling at night, and after a few short minutes of indulgence they separated, pulling apart at the same time, moving through their morning routine on autopilot—dressing back to back, sitting up on the counter to share a breakfast of leftover rabbit and turnips and water, a trip outside to visit the outhouse then fixing her hair while Daryl made the trip himself, meeting back inside to begin their day. Except this time they were leaving for good, and Beth couldn’t force down the little lump in her throat or the swell of tears in her eyes as she put away the borrowed clothes and made the bed for the last time.

The sleepy contentment left her as soon as they dragged themselves out of bed, and looking down at it now, the lump in her throat grew thicker. Beth didn’t remember her dream, just the aftermath of it. That almost feverish need to crawl right into Daryl’s body to escape the horrors of her subconscious. Left behind now was the heaviness in the base of her skull, details lost beneath a scratchy dark cloak. Outside the parallel universe of what used to be their bed, it settled in and promised to stay awhile, alongside the whirling snatches of familiar thoughts, sharp little knife blades marking her with tiny precise cuts. The what ifs and the how could I’s and if onlys that had plagued her since this all started.

Put it away, Beth.

If she didn’t shut it down now, it would worry at her all day, a squeezing fist of dread in her gut she wouldn’t shake, and it would only make tonight’s dream that much worse.

You had no choice. Put it away.

“Hey.” Daryl set a hand on her shoulder, solid and warm, squeezing just enough to draw her thoughts away from the swirling darkness. “You ready?”

She wasn’t, not really, but they had no reason to linger aside from silly sentimental ones. So she nodded without looking back at him, reaching for his vest where it lay atop her pack. Beth lifted the soft old leather into her hands and the back of her neck tingled with awareness of Daryl’s gaze on her as she traced the edges of the embroidered wings with her fingertips. There was a certain sense of pride she felt, wearing these wings at her back. Almost surreal, in a way, these wings that were so much a part of Daryl as a whole, and while he hadn’t actually given them to her, he hadn’t let her give them back, either.

Why don’t you keep it for a while?

Still, wearing them herself couldn’t displace the little glow of comfort that came from the image in her mind, burned into all her memories of the time before, of these wings across Daryl’s back. Safety. Strength. Heart. They were all those things to her during that long winter after the farm and throughout their time at the prison, and they were still those things now, just differently. In a deeper way, maybe. Richer. Bursting with new facets and layers and details she never had the chance to see until her world shrunk down to just the two of them. Even when the wings lay across her back, that didn’t change—and they were never hers to keep.

Beth turned around to face Daryl, and he shifted his gaze to meet her eyes.

“I don’t wanna give it back, but out there…” She paused, holding out the vest toward him. It just seemed the right thing to do. “Out there I think you should wear it.”

Daryl hesitated a moment before he took the vest from her. He put it on, looking away a moment to tug it properly into place, sliding his hands down the front of it the same way she did. When he tipped his face up again, a hint of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Maybe you can borrow it sometimes, a’right?”

Beth leaned against him for a moment before she pulled away to gather up her things. “All right.”

She had found, in her exhaustive search of the cabin and its contents, a pair of matching padlocks with four keys. There was enough hardware around to rig up a way to lock the doors from the outside, and they’d done so during the hours spent out hunting together over the past week. They left the cabin unlocked now as they descended the stairs for the final time, setting down the padlock and one key atop the stove just inside the back door. The cabin had saved them, being here when they needed it, and maybe it could help save someone else, too.

Beth had a key stitched into her pocket and Daryl had one in his, and they buried the third one out in the woods, protected inside a small mason jar, in a spot they would both recognize. Just in case they didn’t find what they were looking for out there.

Just in case they needed to come back.

Daryl asked her to lead, so he didn’t question her when she took them along the path lined with river birches overlooking the creek below, around to the front of the cabin even though their journey would take them the opposite way. There in the middle of the grassy front yard, surrounded by a patch of fresh, dark earth, were the two wooden crosses marking the place where she and Daryl buried the bodies of the couple who had lived here. Whose hands had built this cabin and gathered everything in it, the people who made a home for themselves out here in the woods.

Beth touched the top of each one in turn, and knelt down in front of them. She didn’t know their names. If they had identification, they’d hidden it so well that even her thorough search couldn’t locate it, but Beth had wanted to mark the crosses somehow. She settled on Charles and Caroline, since the tiny cabin on the banks of a swift little creek reminded her of the books she’d read when she herself was a small girl in braids. It wasn’t a perfect fit—there were no daughters, no rolling prairies, no brindled bulldogs named Jack—but these two people deserved to be remembered as something other than nameless walkers.

She traced the letters of the names she picked, which Daryl had carved carefully into the horizontal pieces of each cross. He hadn’t said much about her need to do this, but he hadn’t brushed her off as being silly, either, just went about her request with as much determination as he did everything else. Now, he dropped down to crouch beside her and reached out to push a couple of acorns into the soft dirt at the base of each cross.

“Ain’t got no flowers,” he said, when she looked up at him. “Thought you’d want ‘em to have somethin’ though.”

Oh, that sweet, beautiful man—and nobody could ever tell her he wasn’t, not even Daryl himself. Beth felt a fresh flood of moisture rising in her eyes, and a fluttery feeling in her chest as she found his hand and twined their fingers together.

He squeezed her hand when she squeezed his, and Beth gave in and let her head fall to rest on his shoulder. “Maybe someday they’ll grow an oak tree,” she whispered, looking at the little piles of disturbed dirt where he pushed the acorns in. “And when the cabin’s long gone, it’ll still be here, this giant old tree watchin’ over this place.”

“Yeah,” Daryl said, brushing his thumb across her knuckles. “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

They knelt there together for another few more minutes, Beth’s eyes retracing the path her finger took over the names carved there.

“Thank you,” she whispered.

Beside her, Daryl hummed softly, then reached out to peel away a tiny splinter from the edge of one of the letters. “We should go.”

“Yeah,” Beth said, her voice thickened around the growing lump in her throat. She swallowed hard, and met Daryl’s eyes as they stood, hands still held tight between them.

He wasn’t teary. He didn’t show his emotions as overtly as she did sometimes. But she could read it there in his eyes, his reluctance to leave despite all the reasons why they needed to, the same as her. They could stay. They could stay here and make it work and turn that little sliver they’d built into some sort of life, out here together in the woods like Charles and Caroline before them.

But that wasn’t how their story went, or at least, not the whole of it. Something whispered in the back of her mind, a spark like the one beating in her chest, about just what sort of together that might be, no matter how she might try to rationalize it away. That was harder to do in times like this where everything she was feeling, the good, the bad, the so enormous-it-was-terrifying, just wanted to tumble out of her in a roaring flood. But if they stayed they would always wonder about the others. Always regret not trying to find them before the trail went even colder. The conclusion to this chapter would write itself, but they were still here at the beginning and needed to find out how it ended before turning the page.

Beth led the way back along the tree lined path into the familiar backyard with its dew dampened grass. She couldn’t look back at the narrow stairs or that solid wooden door, though the image of them would forever live inside her head. She didn’t glance up at the tree bunny, roughly carved there into the birch bark, bolt holes marring its little face, as they passed through the fence into the woods. Would not look back at any of it, because she knew if she did the lump in her throat would grow big enough to choke, and the ache in her chest would burst, and she’d never be able to keep the tears from flowing.

Maybe Daryl wouldn’t mind. He’d probably understand, because he wasn’t looking back either. But now wasn’t the time for tears.
We all got jobs to do, Beth. And this one’s yours.

Daryl wanted her to lead the way, so she would. Beth set off through the woods, making her own path which followed the creek, one good man’s words in her head, another’s footsteps at her back.

*~*


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