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All Chapters Here

Fall Right In
Chapter 33 – It’s a Mess, It’s a Start, It’s a Flawed Work of Art


*~*
When she woke later, Beth was alone beneath the blanket. Not quite cold, but not nearly as warm as she was when she fell asleep, and when a gust of wind rattled the windows she pulled the blanket’s edges tighter to keep out the chill. A little pulse of panic fluttered in her chest, a couple of frantic beats before it faded to just a lingering heaviness in the background. Breathe, Beth. Daryl hadn’t gone far; she could hear his blowing breaths and some quiet scraping sounds coming from close by.

But he had gone.

Stop it. It probably meant nothing. It would be well into morning by now and just because she had fallen back asleep didn’t mean he had.

Be rational, Beth. Of course he hadn’t slept.

She rolled over, blinking her eyes open now to meet the stained drop ceiling panels above her, wincing at the pull of the muscles in her shoulders and back, the pressure in her bladder, and the stickiness between her legs, cooled instantly by the chilly air as they fell open. After a brief pause, the scraping sounds continued and Beth listened to them awhile, trying to talk herself out of this silliness before her brain started into one of those downward loops she couldn’t easily escape. It was fine. They were fine and there was no good reason to assume Daryl thought otherwise. He was still here, for Pete’s sake; if he was trying to run from this he’d be somewhere she wasn’t, not hovering close enough that she’d hear him when she woke.

No, if she could hear him he wanted her to. Wanted her to know he was there without having to wonder about it.
When she turned her head toward the door, she saw Daryl sitting on the pallet by the charcoal remnants of their fire pit, just outside the office, the familiar sight of leather and wings at his back, shoulders pulled in with whatever he was doing that made those scraping sounds. That little pang fluttered again, just when she almost had herself talked out of it. Jesus, Beth, of course he’d get dressed if their clothes were dry enough, especially since he left her with their only blanket. She had nothing to worry about, and even if he did feel a little unsure about what happened, so what? They’d gotten pretty good at figuring stuff out together and this would be no different.

She repeated all of that over again in her head, reassuring herself as she got up on slightly shaky legs and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders. Daryl stopped making those sounds, no doubt having heard her rustling behind him, and fumbled with whatever was in his hands a moment without turning around.

As she approached him silently on sock-covered feet, he kept his back to her. It was just a flash, just tail end of a thought. A remnant of a different life and a much younger Beth, which urged her to wait until he acknowledged her. To hold off from joining him there on the pallet until he looked up or said something instead of just staring at the wall of brick in the distance. But even back then, Beth wasn’t the girl who sat around and waited, and this? Not a school girl crush, as she’d long understood. Nothing so trivial as that at all, and Beth and Daryl—not some cutesy teenage romance playing out behind the scenes of a football movie. Pushing aside the irrational flutter of nerves in her chest, Beth stepped around the end of the pallet, and dropped down to sit beside him.

Daryl didn’t turn his head, but the moment she settled into place he lifted his arm to tuck it around her, and Beth let out the breath she was holding. Of course, there wasn’t anything to worry about. She curled into him, turning her body just enough to lay her head in that perfect hollow between his chest and his shoulder, and Daryl’s arm tightened even further, like he wanted to pull her right inside him. If she could, she’d burrow right in behind his ribs, make a little nest there next to his heart. Bathe in its warmth and its rhythm until she couldn’t tell where he ended and she began. Only fair, since she was pretty sure he’d climbed inside her a long time ago and she wasn’t meaning with his fingers. A lazy sort of smile pulled at her lips when Daryl tipped his head over, pressed his cheek to her forehead and let out a deep, sighing breath. He lifted his hand to tug at the hanging ends of her ponytail before sliding it up her back over the folds of the blanket.

“Hey, Daryl,” she said, tracing one of the buttons on his vest.

Daryl stroked down the back of her neck, a light brush of fingers that left behind a delicate tingle skittering over her skin. “Hey, Beth.”

The soft rumble of his voice settled right down into her bones, and his fingers kept moving at her neck. A slow slide up into her hair and back down, and Beth let out a little sigh of her own as the resulting shiver trickled over her shoulders and up through her scalp.  Beth pushed her face into his chest and breathed deep, filling her head with the scent of leather. Of the man beneath; sweat and dirt overlaying a fainter hint of something deeply musky. Something that had maybe existed before but was more, now. Richer. Daryl always smelled good to her, no matter where on the spectrum he fell between soapy clean and absolutely filthy, and though they’d barely done anything yet, she knew. That was the scent of them, there on his skin, and she wanted to bury her face in his chest and not come out for days.

It hit her then, rolling in like a full-body flush, only on the inside. A tingle in her belly, a flutter in her chest, a breath of laughter on her lips. The lazy smile pulled into a grin she couldn’t suppress as she thought about this morning. How he’d touched her so carefully, as though he wanted to memorize every inch of her. And even though he’d tried to tell her he didn’t know how, she’d never forget that moment when his tentative touches became deliberate, when he chuckled into her neck and thrust his cock against her ass and there’d been nothing tentative about that. Nothing to suggest he didn’t know exactly what he was doing because he did, and he did because he wanted to. Even if he’d never touched anyone like that before—and maybe he had, maybe he hadn’t, that didn’t matter—Daryl wanted to make her feel good and made damn sure he figured out how to do exactly that.

Beth sighed again, tried to burrow deeper into Daryl’s body. Into the rasp of his stubble as he rubbed his cheek up and down her forehead, the touch of his fingers at her neck, and the others just now reaching over to stoke across her brow. The fingers on her face were the same two fingers he slid inside her just a few hours ago. Daryl had to be every bit as aware of that as she was, as he brushed them down her nose and across her cheek. The scent of soap lay heavy on them. She could tell he had washed his hands but it wasn’t enough to rid them entirely of her, of the scent of her body’s pleasure still clinging to the very fingers which brought it to her. Another shiver came over her, starting at the base of her spine and rolling out in waves, and Daryl made a little sound in the back of his throat and tightened his fingers into her hair, where it had come loose from her ponytail.

She meant to whisper his name, but what came out was little more than a soft whimper that had him curling his fingertips into her scalp and pressing his cheek more firmly against her forehead. At once her throat thickened as a pressure built up inside her chest, quickening her heart, pricking behind her squeezed-shut eyelids. Oh, god, Daryl. She never knew she could feel so much, so many things for one man and now she didn’t know if she would ever understand just how deep this went. How thoroughly entwined her soul had become with his in so little time.

She knew how they ended up here because she’d lived it, they had lived it, but in that moment it struck her just how huge this was. When she left out all the steps, all that happened between the prison and now, when she tried to imagine the two of them as they were, now, only on the farm, during those months on the road, or even at the prison before it fell, it just didn’t fit.

But they weren’t any of those places and times. She wasn’t that Beth and he wasn’t that Daryl, not entirely. They had become something more and they’d done it together, walked that path side by side, step by step, and that path led them here. This morning was just one more brick, one more step along their journey. It wasn’t smooth. Wasn’t perfect. But it was, it was real, because they were. Because they wanted to be. Whatever happened from here, whatever steps they took, it was all part of this just like all the steps which came before, and she was ready for them. No matter when or where or how, or what they had to work through to get there.

Despite the persistent ache of emotions too complex to name, that smile pulled again, big and wide, plumping her cheek against Daryl’s chest. He answered it with a deep, rumbling hum, and traced her grinning lips slowly with those two fingers. A sharp breath burst out of her and she shuddered so hard she knew he felt it. His hum scaled up toward more of a chuckle, something warm and weighty with just the right edge to it to fire off a burst of heat low in her belly. It slid down between her legs, shivered through her labia, all the while Daryl’s fingers kept moving, gliding slowly back and forth. Beth couldn’t hold the smile and a moan tumbled out through her parted lips amidst now heavy breaths.

Daryl turned his face just enough to press an open-mouthed kiss to her forehead, and the rush of breath washed warm and heavy across her scalp. Oh, he maybe didn’t have the words for her, but he was right where she was with this. With all of this. He liked what he did to her every bit as much as she did, and he wanted her to know it. On his next pass, Beth caught one of his fingers in her teeth, pushed at it with her tongue and it was Daryl’s turn to moan and whisper near-silent words into her scalp. She imagined what he might have done if she’d licked these fingers clean after she came around them, and wished she had thought of that this morning.

Next time. The thought shivered right through her body and over into his.

When she released his finger, the wind gusted outside and the patter of rain on the roof doubled in its intensity. Beth cracked her eyes open to peer up at the high windows just visible beyond the edge of the loft, and the rivers of rainwater pouring down them. Remembered how it had sounded on the roof of the cabin before that storm blew away and brought Daryl back with it.

“Maybe all this rain can wash away the rest of the gloom.”

She didn’t have to say what she meant. Daryl knew well what lingered in her head, still, even with the elation of this morning pressing in at the forefront.

Daryl chuckled softly, and slid the hand in her hair down to rest between her shoulder blades where the blanket had fallen down, fingertips drawing little circles above the warm weight of his palm. His other hand moved to cradle her cheek. “Naw. You’re doin’ that all on your own.”

His words saw the return of her smile, full and uncontrollable. “I’m tryin’.”

Daryl swept his thumb across her cheek, and pressed in with the one at her back. “C’mere.”

She needed no more encouragement than that to sit up, to turn so she could seat herself in his lap with the blanket falling down to pool around her waist. Beth hooked her arms around his neck, ignoring the blanket, ignoring everything but Daryl and the look on his face as he settled his hands at her hips.

“You’re fightin’ it,” he said to her, meeting her eyes, his own holding more warmth than any scratchy old blanket ever could.

Beth couldn’t help the little shudder rippling through her as one of Daryl’s hands moved up and down her back, fingers stroking along her spine under her shirt. “You’re helpin’, Daryl.”

A beat passed, in which Daryl just stared, the corner of his lip fighting to stay neutral and the tips of his ears growing pinker by the second. The shade matched the flush of heat she felt rising up from her belly into her cheeks, as she relived, in flashes of colour and sound and scent and a fluttery jolt of heat through her belly, exactly what kind of help he thought she’d meant.

“Not that,” she whispered, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth to keep the smile from splitting her cheeks, fighting the urge to duck her head. “Well. Not only that.”

Daryl let out a little huff of breath, his own bashful little smile winning out, pulling at his lips as his gaze dropped away a moment before he flicked his eyes back up to catch hers. Though his cheeks had gone as pink as his ears, his gaze was steady. Steady and warm and just so blue, even in the shadows beneath the loft. A look which stoked the coals already blazing away inside her, set her skin alight with thousands of tiny fingers dancing across her body, and dissolved away any lingering worries about what the so-called morning after might look like.

She ought to be laughing at herself, for calling it that, but in the same way things looked a little different after their first kiss at the ledge, after yesterday afternoon and now this morning, something new existed in the shared spaces between them. A knowledge of each other they hadn’t had before, not entirely anyway, and awareness of that buzzed warm in the air around their heads. She held Daryl’s gaze, that look shining back at her from his hooded blue eyes. She wanted to live in that look, in the warm, fluttery space it created, at the same time as she wanted to gather it up and hold it to her chest and keep it there forever.

They moved together, Daryl bringing his palm up to cradle her cheek at the exact moment as she did the same to him. His breath whispered out through his parted lips but he didn’t look away from her, even as he tilted his face toward the warmth of her hand. Even though she longed to hear his thoughts, to hear the words she knew he had for her locked away inside his head, this was enough. Being here with him, knowing he was here with her, too—feeling it, in the way he looked at her. The tender way he touched her, thumb sweeping gently across the warmest part of her cheek—it was enough.

It was pretty much everything.

She leaned down to kiss him, catching his little sigh on her tongue as their lips met. They knew this, now. Where before he’d gotten by on passion alone, Daryl’s lips moved with hers in something she would, in her more poetic moments, like to call dancing. He’d laugh at her, maybe. Or maybe he’d smirk and snort and sweep her up with the same flourish as he swept his lips in time with hers, and twirl her across the concrete floor. In her dizzy head they already were dancing, two warm bodies wound together, so tied up in each other where one ended up the other would follow. Beth clutched at his shoulders and tilted her head, deepening the kiss, inviting him to carry her away wherever he’d like to take her.

He once kissed her as though his life depended on it and she felt the tendrils of that now, in the way he held on, in the little groans rumbling up from the back of his throat. The tremble was there, shaking delicately through the arm wound round her back, the fingers buried in her hair, but so muted she only felt it because she knew to look for it. But there was something else there, too. Something new. Something a little wild. A little bolder than he’d allowed before. A warm palm sliding down to cup her ass, fingers pressing in, urging her closer. Closing the little bit of distance between them until there wasn’t any left. He was hard. She knew he would be but she hadn’t presumed but—oh, Daryl—he swept his tongue across her bottom lip and pushed his hips up into hers and just like that, all traces of tentative flew out the window, and their twirling little dance soared up into the sky.

She would never get enough of kissing him. Never. Never not crave of the feel of him beneath her like this even after she finally got him inside her. His chest, heaving with shuddery breaths, those groans in the back of his throat rolling out into full-bodied rumbles she felt everywhere they touched. His cock, hard for her, pressed into her through these little shorts, and she was wet for him all over again—always so wet for him—and oh, this felt good, rocking down on him as his tongue delved into her waiting mouth, stroking along hers, drawing out all sorts of sounds she couldn’t control. God, what else would he do with that tongue if she asked him? What else could she—

Another hard grind against him jarred her out of the moment, as her bladder gave a warning ping. She squeezed her thighs around his hips and stilled herself, breaking from the kiss to drop her forehead down onto his shoulder, the both of them panting hard.

“Christ,” he whispered, tightening his fingers in her hair a moment before withdrawing them altogether, cupping the back of her head.

“Just Beth, thanks,” she breathed, smiling when his breathless laughter shook through his shoulders.

When their breathing evened, Beth pulled back. Daryl’s hand resettled at her waist and he looked up at her with the tiniest of smiles tugging at his lips. She swept the fringe of hair out of his eyes, gazing up at her half-opened, traced her fingertips across his brow and smiled when he had to fight to keep his eyelids from fluttering all the way shut.

“Should take those stitches out,” she whispered, drawing a circle around the healed wound above his left eye, revealed now with his hair pushed aside.

“Huh.” Daryl chuckled, not much more than a little puff of breath. “Forgot about that.”

Beth let her gaze slip from his to wander around the space between the rough brick walls. “There’s enough light by the stairs.”

“It can wait,” he said, pressing his thumb to her cheekbone until she met his eyes again. He nodded with his chin toward the pallet where her now-dry clothing hung. “Why don’tcha get dressed. Eat somethin’.”

She was hungry, and as much as she wanted to just stay here in his lap for the next few centuries, she really did have to pee.

“Okay.” Beth unwrapped from the blanket and stood up, rubbing her palms down her arms to keep away the goose bumps. Yeah, getting dressed and being warm would also be a good thing. “Did you eat yet?”

“Nah.” The smile that had been threatening now cracked, big enough to show a hint of teeth. “Waitin’ on your lazy ass to wake up.”

Beth knew she was blushing, reminded again of exactly why she’d fallen back asleep, and of the way he grabbed at her ass just a few minutes before. The heat of it glowed in her cheeks, but that was okay. She wanted him to see it. “You don’t fool me, Daryl Dixon,” she said, watching as his grin grew wider, bringing more of his teeth into view. “You like my lazy ass just fine.”

She didn’t wait to see his response, but her heart fluttered happily when she heard his amused little snort as she darted away.
*~*
After a trip to the bathroom, Beth cleaned up with the rainwater and rag Daryl left out for her, scrubbed her red shorts with the bar of soap and then traded them for her clean panties. Once she finished dressing, she rejoined him at the pallet and they shared a meagre breakfast of canned pineapple and a strip each of smoked venison. Daryl’s stitches came out next, more or less easily although they’d definitely been in a few days too long. Beth hoped the storm might have blown over by now, but it raged on as hard as ever outside. Stuck here another day, at least, so they made the most of the open, empty floor space and practiced fighting.

The more they practiced, the better she felt about it. She knew she was strong—in some ways, she’d always known that working on the farm made her more capable than some of her friends when it came to the physical stuff. But she looked at this like a resource, or a tool, just as essential to her as her knife or her crossbow. Not just being strong but knowing how to use that strength, that was where it counted, just like having a crossbow meant little if you couldn’t aim.

But it was good keeping active, too, keeping moving. Even though they’d established that both of them were good with the way things between them were unfolding, she didn’t think she ought to just spend the entire day staring into Daryl’s eyes. They did enough of that already as they fought, gazes meeting all over the place. She threw the sparks she got from that into working that much harder. Her muscles still ached from yesterday and she made plenty of new ones today, but it was a good ache. An ache that meant something, and she threw herself into it with the type of determination that made Daryl’s eyes shimmer whenever she landed a good blow or broke free of a tough hold.

She got her knee up into his hip, a solid hit meant to mimic a blow to his groin without actually doing that, and ducked away from his grabbing hands to take off for the safety wall. He wasn’t far behind her, despite the yelp he’d let out when she made contact, but Beth reached the wall without him having gained much distance, and slammed into it at full-speed with her hands up to brace for impact. Daryl didn’t bother slowing down and his palms smacked into the brick on either side of her head as his chest collided with her back.

Beth hit the wall with a little oof of breath, and Daryl leaned forward until his lips hovered by her ear, his breath tickling the shell of it before trickling down inside to make her shiver. “Caught ya.”

“Still counts,” she said, craning her neck around to try to see him, though all she got was a blur of skin and hair.

“Yeah?” He pressed her forward a little more to pin her against the brick, and closed his hands tight around her wrists. “You sure about that?”

While her heart pounded away from more than just exertion, Beth flexed her wrists, knowing he’d feel the contraction in them as she tested his hold. Breathed slow and deep against the wall of chest at her back while her belly fluttered in anticipation. “Maybe—maybe you did catch me.”

As she said it, she pushed against the wall of brick in front of her, pressing her sweaty back into Daryl’s even sweatier chest. He probably only meant to challenge her, to give her another scenario, playing off the fact that safe didn’t ever count as safe, but when she spoke his breath hitched and a low rumble rose up behind her. This game had no rules, because the world didn’t have any, either, and if he could change things up on her, she could do the same to him.

“Girl,” he said, in a voice full of gravel. He squeezed her wrists tighter and a coil of heat curled in her belly. “You ain’t gonna get away doin’ that.”

Beth craned her neck around a little more, still blinking slow, the corner of her mouth turned up just a bit as she finally got a glimpse of his lips at the exact moment his tongue swept out to wet the bottom one. “Maybe I don’t want to.”

She really didn’t, and as that heat quickly spread outward, she wondered why she hadn’t tried this earlier.

Daryl groaned lowly and pushed back against her pushing, just enough that he could probably feel the strain shaking her arms as she tried to resist. He tilted his head to rasp the scruff on his cheek against hers. “That ain’t how the game works.”

Her little laugh was so, so soft and so involuntary, as she tilted her hips to pushed her ass into the cradle of his hips and the erection just beginning to strain against his jeans. “It’s not a game,” she whispered.

He shuddered at her back, and Beth picked that moment to shove against the wall as hard as she could, slamming into Daryl’s chest. The motion had him rocking backward on his heels, unsteady enough that he had to take a step back to balance. Beth broke free of his wrists, but instead of running, she used  the moment of surprise to turn and plant her back against the wall, a smirk just as uncontrollable as her giggle stretching across her face because she won. But the flush burning in her cheeks didn’t lie, either. She might’ve been playing it up for him but she had no intentions of running away, and when he closed the gap between them again she didn’t try to escape.

She flattened her arms back against the wall instead, hands open on either side of her head, inviting him to pen her in once more. He covered her hands with his, fingers sliding into the spaces between, hovering there with barely an inch between them.

As he leaned in, Beth’s heart pounded in her throat. The tip of his nose brushed along the bridge of hers and then he hovered there, so close he was just a Daryl-shaped blur whose breath fluttered warm across her face. When his lips met hers there was no hesitation, just warm wet mouths and eager tongues sweeping deep. The kind of kiss that curled her toes inside her boots for all it was lazy, slow, unhurried as he pressed her back into the brick. Daryl’s fingers tightened, laced themselves with hers there against the wall beside her head, and she swept her thumbs over his at the same time as she swept her tongue along the underside of his tongue. The same way he did to her and it made him groan low in his throat and push his erection into her belly.

“What am I gonna do with you?” he said, leaning his forehead against hers as he broke away to breathe, voice an awed sort of whisper she had never heard before.

A breath of laughter rose up and out of her chest and she tightened her grip on his fingers. Really, he should know by now the answer to that question.

Daryl,” she said, arching her back until he moaned. “Whatever you want.”

*~*
Beth had never done this much kissing, ever. Never had the time—in either life—to just spend hours at it. After the wall they tried to keep up with the fighting, but soon found themselves right back where they left off and after a few instances of that they called it a day. Her sore muscles dissolved under the sweeps of Daryl’s tongue and they broke apart long enough to light a fire and have a couple of bites to eat before Daryl all but hauled her into his lap and crashed his lips to hers all over again.

That same sense of something new in him persisted, like he had broken free of a part of what held him back. She could almost feel the shackles crumbling to dust beneath them as they kissed and kissed and kissed. The tremble in his arms, when she felt it, never stayed long, and instead of stopping if she went too far he just held her back or grabbed her hips to keep her still and kept right on kissing. Long into the night they stayed by the fire, only ever separating far enough to shift off of a leg gone to pins and needles or rest their foreheads together to breathe, until Daryl pulled away from her tingling lips and whispered, in a more gravelly voice than she’d ever heard, that they oughtta get some sleep.

And maybe it was strange, after literally spending hours making out like teenagers beside the slowly dying fire, that they should simply curl up together beneath the blanket as they had every other night, with the intention of actually sleeping. The press of his palm to her belly, the little sweeps of his fingers, they stirred her up inside as they always had, but that was okay. It was enough, just feeling it, knowing he wanted her to feel it. Daryl seemed to be on the same page as he settled in behind her, erection nestled against her but without any of the urgency of this morning. Beth sank back into the warmth of his body as he breathed slow and deep into her neck. Felt his want for her and delighted in it as they drifted off to sleep.
*~*
Pain erupted in her chest, burning and heavy, pressing in to steal her breath as she jolted upright. Panic reached for her with little grabby fingers, gouging at her with nails like claws, but she forced herself up onto her knees and pushed her hands into her belly, nearly falling forward when the air rushed out of her chest like a deflating balloon, a spasm tearing through her lungs as she fought the urge to suck it all right back in.

Slow. Slow. Breathe slow.

She eased a breath in, holding her hands tight to her stomach to keep from inhaling too fast, Daryl’s words in her head guiding her. Reminding her to hold the air in for a count of three before letting it out just as slowly. Slow. Slow. Slow. Another breath, this one a bit easier, lessening the burn just a bit as she exhaled. The voice in her head was was joined by the real thing, Daryl murmuring in her ear as one of his hands came to rest over both of hers. She leaned back into him, let the measured rise and fall of his chest guide her breathing until she no longer had to force it.

They stayed like that for awhile, Beth relaxing back into Daryl’s body, letting him hold her up as she kept her focus on her breathing. Only when Daryl moved to lie down again and pulled her with him did she notice the lack of wind outside, and the subdued tapping of the rain on the roof. Finally, the storm was ebbing, and about time, too. As Beth curled up against Daryl’s chest beneath the blanket, on her side facing him instead of lying back to front, she thought about how that was kind of fitting. Her own storms were dying down at the same time, and a rush of relief coursed through her at last, tugging a hint of a smile onto her face, making her want to grab hold of it and float up into the atmosphere to dance amongst the parting clouds.

A shiver rolled across her shoulders, too, and Daryl tipped his head to press his face into her hair. “Y’all right?”
“Yeah,” she whispered, curling into him and that rumbling whisper just a little more. “I really think I’m gonna be. I did it.” The smile broke out in earnest now, just as wide and uncontrollable as ever. “It—oh, god, it still sucked—but I did it again.”

His soft hum sank down inside her, just as warm as the brush of his fingers at her back. “What’d you mean, before? About bein’ tricked?”

He didn’t need to elaborate any more than that, and Beth squeezed her eyes shut. As quickly as it appeared, her smile fell away, chased off by the familiar cold prickle crawling up the back of her neck. Before the shiver had time to form, Daryl’s hand settled there, sliding up from her lower back to ease away the prickle beneath his touch. Beth knew why he was asking, even if the idea of giving voice to any part of her dreams still skittered like a swarm of ants across her shoulders. But she knew she should; not talking about this had only made it worse. No, she couldn’t continue stuffing it down, not after what happened.

Daryl brushed his fingertips up along her neck, pressed a kiss to the top of her head through her hair. “Gonna tell me?”

Beth took in another deep breath, deep enough to feel the edges of the burn from her awakening creeping in. The time had long passed for a new path. Her morning ritual, being thankful for the good things she had, that was one of the bricks. Not keeping the dreams stuffed down, not being afraid to talk about them—that was another.
She swallowed down the lump in her throat, and tucked her face deeper into his chest. “It’s a different dream every time,” she said, plucking at one of the buttons on his shirt. “Like, the setting, the little details, who’s all there, except—”

She paused as the contents of her stomach gave a startling little roll and the prickle in her neck flared anew even with the soothing presence of Daryl’s hand. As she took a couple more deep breaths to settle herself, Daryl gave a gentle squeeze.

“Go on,” he said, voice low, thumb moving now in a slow track up and down.
Her breath shuddered out, beyond her control, but she pressed on with her answer. “Except you’re always there, and you always die.” Beneath her head, Daryl hummed softly but didn’t comment, and Beth willed away the squirming eels in her belly so she could get through this, have it out there at last and be done with it. “Sometimes—sometimes I kill him before he can do it, but he tricks me, and it’s not Gorman, it’s you. It’s me killin’ you.

He didn’t answer. Mostly, she assumed, because he wanted to let her talk, but he couldn’t hide the way his body stiffened in the wake of her admission. Even his thumb, that comforting up and down at the back of her neck, faltered in its rhythm for the span of a heartbeat before picking up again. Despite that, though, he was still there. Still that beacon she needed to keep her from diving too deep into the flashes, the images, the sound of that oily voice forever locked inside her head. His touch at her neck, the warmth of him against her body, the beating of his heart, all of him an anchor that kept her from drifting away.

“That’s what I changed,” she said, pressing on because she knew she needed to. “I killed him like I always do, and he tried. He tried, he looked like you. But I—” Damn it. The lump rose up in her throat faster than she could hold it back, and she had to suck in a shaky breath before she could carry on. “I told myself it wasn’t gonna go that way, and I remembered. In the dream, I remembered, so I took of the mask and it was Gorman instead.”

A long few seconds of silence ensued, before Daryl let out a long breath. “Beth.”

She wasn’t ready to look at him, but she couldn’t fight the urge to pull back, the draw of his eyes like magnets to hers. Even in the dark, she could see how they shimmered, full of all the things he couldn’t say. Beth swallowed hard and stared right back, hoping he’d see in her eyes the answers to everything blazing in his. “I’m not gonna let you die again, Daryl. I’m not gonna let him win.”

Once the words were out, something new settled into her chest. Something light yet massive all at once. Something warm. It still wasn’t gone, that weight she was carrying inside, far heavier than she even knew considering how much lighter she felt just for having talked about it. But she could see it again—feel it, like fingertips brushing when reaching for a hand to hold or a gentle touch of noses while waiting on lips. She remembered how it was, those final days at the cabin with Daryl, the two of them together and happy and alive. Just thinking about it now let a bit more of that lightness in to fill up the heavy spaces inside her chest. She could have that again. She would, because there was absolutely nothing stopping her from reaching out and taking it.
She nuzzled back into Daryl’s chest, and with a deep breath and he tipped his face into her hair again. Beth sighed as his breath warmed her scalp and slipped her hand beneath her cheek to lie over his heart. Even though she couldn’t feel its beat through the layers of cloth, she knew the rhythm because hers held the same one. There was so much she had to be thankful for. So many good things even in a world that always tried to take, and she was done letting some dead man get the better of her.

Daryl’s fingers, those fingers, swept across her cheek and along the underside of her jaw. “Hmm?”

Had she said that out loud? Daryl was always saying things he didn’t notice when he had a lot of thoughts in his head, like some of them were just too much to contain. Acting on the assumption that she had spoken, Beth carried on with the thought. “I’m done with just existing, you know?”

He hummed again, fingers now following along the line of her brow.

Beth waited until the little shiver passed before she spoke again. “Like I was tellin’ you that first night here—I’m glad I’m alive. I wanna be, and I want both of us to feel like we’re livin’ instead of just survivin’.”

“Mmhm.”

They lay there awhile, neither of them speaking, the only sound their synced-up breathing and the rustle of fabric as Daryl slowly stroked his fingers along her spine. Beth reached up to scratch at the scruff along his jaw, smiling at the little rumbling sound he made in response.

“What about next time?” he asked, when she stopped scratching to rest her palm back on his chest. “Whatcha gonna change?”

That was a good question. She should probably leave it as it was, keep insisting that Gorman wasn’t gonna trick her, and just hope it would work again. It was probably too soon to attempt to force Gorman away from her dreams altogether, so she’d have to settle for making sure it was his face she punched those gaping holes in, until she had enough dreams behind her to know that change was permanent.

Although—

The idea took root, slowly, growing up from a tiny seed of a thought into something like a vine, little tendrils unfurling and reaching into places she hadn’t thought to go. She pulled back just enough to look up at Daryl, found him waiting on her with an interested lift to his brow. “Since we’ve been workin’ on my fightin’, that’s been tricklin’ into my dreams, too. Like, I’m actually hittin’ Gorman most of the time now instead of shootin’ him. I wonder...”

She paused, considering. Imagining a scenario in which she didn’t have to kill Gorman at all. Yes, yes, she knew, she understood, in reality there wasn’t another way out of the situation he put her in. Gorman’s death was his own damn fault, but why did it have to be the same in her dreams? Why couldn’t she do with the Gorman in her dreams what she practiced with Daryl while awake? Hit him, hurt him, but grab hold of Daryl and get away before Gorman forced her to do anything else. The thought of that raced up her spine, a shiver that was hot and cold and soft and prickly all at once. ‘Cause that’s what the worst of this was, knowing she had no choice when she ended his life. Gorman had taken that from her just as forcefully as he would’ve taken everything else, and what kind of choice was that?

But maybe she had a different one now. Because—oh, oh because—this was her head. Beth’s, not Gorman’s. Time to take control of what was hers. Beth could just see him in her mind, the real Gorman overlaid by the rotting, slimy one, the literal stuff of nightmares, standing in a shaft of moonlight, smirking at her with that disgusting, oozing grin. Taunting her with that oily voice—sweet birdie, sweet birdie—except she wasn’t afraid anymore. She knew what he didn’t. Beth Greene wasn’t just some weak little girl, wasn’t some prize to be won, some debt to be paid, and any minute now she was gonna wipe that awful smile off his horrible face. She wasn’t going to let him win. She wasn’t even going to let him get to the finish line.

For the first time since it happened, the thought of Gorman, the image of him in her head, didn’t prickle at her neck like the heavy, scratching thing it had become. No, something bubbled in her chest instead, something warm and weightless, something which quickened her pulse and near stole her breath as she explained this to Daryl. And she watched his eyes brighten as the words tumbled from her mouth, fell over each other in the rush to get out, to be spoken, to become something that could never be undone. Daryl didn’t say much, just hummed and nodded but she knew. She could see the glimmer in his eyes even in the dark and knew he was proud of her. Knew that somewhere in his head right now he was calling her strong, and she was. Strong enough to fight Gorman all on her own, on her own terms, and win.

When she finished speaking, Daryl once again hummed at her. A pleased sort of sound which rumbled through his chest beneath her chin. Beth snuggled back in, closed her eyes, and sent out another silent thank-you to whatever or whoever set this building in their path. They’d so desperately needed this breather. A place to stop and recharge. She’d never have been able to take this step forward with the dreams—or the ones with Daryl, either—had she stayed stuck in that dreary mental loop without reprieve.

Soon, Daryl was asleep again, trading his gentle touch at her neck for soft snores beneath her head. Beth burrowed into him, listened to the steady thump of his heart. Went through her ritual to offset the lingering unease from the dream, that heavy little ball of lead hiding beneath the thrill of having changed another one for the better. Of adding an exciting new facet to her plan, too. They still weren’t good, after all, but changing them was. An exceptionally good thing, and it was only going to get better.
*~*
An ache pulsed behind Beth’s eyes when she awoke again later, after a couple of hours’ worth of strange dreams, like a disjointed slideshow full of odd imagery, with the same vivid detail but lacking the cohesion she was used to from her nightmares. Brightness flooded the room, brighter even than the days before the storm, and even through her shut-tight eyelids it hurt. Beth pushed her face deeper into Daryl’s chest, wincing when that slight movement made her head throb harder. Of course, the first day in what felt like ages when the sun came out, she’d wake up with a headache.

Daryl woke a moment or two later and Beth tightened her grip around his waist, hoping to keep him from moving too suddenly and jostling her unhappy head. Ever observant, even half-asleep, Daryl froze on the verge of stretching, murmured something thickly before sweeping his palm down her back.

“’S wrong?”

Ugh. Headache.” She couldn’t quite keep all of the whine out of her voice and hated the way it made her sound, but, well, ouch.

“Mm.” Daryl’s fingers moved carefully up the back of her neck, trailed gently over her scalp. “Bad?”

“Pretty bad,” she whispered, as her head gave another hard throb. “I get ‘em like this sometimes, when I’m thinkin’ lots, or worryin’ too much.”

Daryl huffed. “Which you have been.”

“Don’t suppose you got any Excedrin hiding anywhere?” she asked, trying for cheerful and regretting it instantly when speaking prompted a wave of nausea to accompany the fists pounding inside her cranium, like a dozen walkers trying to break through her forehead.

Daryl’s soft snort made her smile, though, despite the discomfort. “Got some water and a rag.”

“That—mmm—that’d be nice. Thank you.”

Daryl carefully extracted himself from their tangle of limbs, taking extra care not to jostle her even though even the smallest movement hurt.  When he returned she propped herself up long enough to drain the half can of water, not stopping even with the jackhammer trying to pierce through her skull or when every mouthful of water roiled in her gut. Keeping her eyes shut tight—even that hurt, stretching her skin even tighter across her already tight forehead—Beth eased back down, using Daryl’s thigh as a pillow. He pressed the damp cloth to her forehead, covering her eyes with it as well and darkening the room enough to let her ease back on the tension. His fingers combed carefully over the crown of her head, slowly as though he was taking care not to catch them in her hair, and that was just glorious enough to elicit a small hum of contentment despite the ongoing pain. That went on for awhile, and Beth relaxed enough that the pain wasn’t evident unless she moved.

Outside, filtering in through the cracked open window above, songbirds chirped and tweeted their morning tunes. It’d been so long since she’d heard them—even longer since she had appreciated them—so she listened to them now, imagining their little feathered bodies hopping from branch to branch, or flitting down to the ground in search of something tasty for breakfast. She’d forgotten, with the weather, that it was still relatively early autumn, by their best guess, and she was pleased now to hear that not all of the birds had migrated away. It was a shame they had to let this morning go to waste.

“Daryl?”

The stroke of his fingers paused. “Mm?”

“Sorry we gotta waste the day now,” she said, keeping her voice at a whisper so she didn’t disturb the calm.

“Don’t matter,” he answered, voice equally quiet as he started stroking her hair again. “Just another day.”

She sighed. “Still. You should go out, at least, see what’s around. Maybe hunt something.”

“...Beth.”

“No, you should,” she said, reaching out blindly for his other hand, which rested atop his thigh. “Doesn’t feel right, not knowing what’s out there now that the storm’s over.”
Maybe it was a little unfair of her, appealing to his sensibilities like that, but she knew she had a point and so did Daryl. There hadn’t been a need to scout the area during the storm, since the weather would have kept away all but the most determined of threats. Now, though...

Daryl let out a grunt, one that suggested he knew she was right but didn’t like it. “You’re gonna have to lock me out. Ain’t leavin’ you here like this with the door open.”

“I can take care of myself, remember?” she said, though her attempt at humour fell flat and Daryl just grunted again.

“Can’t even open your eyes, woman,” he said, nonetheless easing out from under her.

Beth curled up on the carpet, trading the warmth of Daryl’s thigh as her pillow for his vest, the leather balled up and gathered into the crook of her elbow. He puttered around, probably making a bit more noise than he needed to. She knew he wasn’t thrilled with this, and while she didn’t much like the idea of separating again, it had to be done, and it wasn’t as though he would be going very far. She would feel a lot safer about staying here, knowing there wasn’t a camp full of cannibals or something waiting in their backyard.

A grunt from the doorway drew her thoughts back outward. “You ready?”

Beth blinked her eyes open beneath the cover of the cloth. “Yeah.”

It took more effort than she let on to get up, and of course the throbbing started up again tenfold the moment she pushed herself onto her knees, and her stomach clenched as she got to her feet. She kept the cloth over her eyes, though, shielding the worst of the light as she followed Daryl out toward the rolling door, watching his heels through squinted lids so she knew where to step, pausing when he did in front of the still-closed door.

“I’ll give you the all-clear whistle when I’m back,” he said, following up a moment later with the tee-weet sound of the whistle in question.

Beth tried not to flinch at the way the shrillness of it bounced around inside her head, but Daryl clearly noticed anyway, as he sighed and flexed his fingers against his leg.

“Get some sleep, girl,” he said, after a moment, reaching out to cup her cheek with a gentle palm. “Won’t be long.”

*~*
To be continued in chapter 34>>

Comments

( 4 have spoken — take the speaking stick )
slaymesoftly
Feb. 3rd, 2016 11:23 pm (UTC)
Hmmm - I'd missed a chapter or two. Had to go back. I guess I'd better be more careful about checking LJ every day. :)
abelina
Feb. 3rd, 2016 11:26 pm (UTC)
You've missed a few, for sure, but I get it - sometimes I only come on here to post stuff. If it's easier you could subscribe on FFN or AO3, since I post there, too.

http://archiveofourown.org/works/3275168/chapters/7143974

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/11016532/1/Fall-Right-In
slaymesoftly
Feb. 4th, 2016 12:47 am (UTC)
Done!
abelina
Feb. 4th, 2016 02:47 am (UTC)
Yay!
( 4 have spoken — take the speaking stick )

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