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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: E/NC17 (language, sexual content, violence)
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 Hell and High Water by Black Stone Cherry.

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 34 – And I’d Walk Through Hell and High Water


*~*

Daryl spent a good couple of minutes staring at the face of that rolling door after Beth hauled the latch into place, waiting for the hot, spiky thing in his chest to fade away. It lingered though, as he pictured her hunched over, all pale and shaky as she picked her way back to the office in the same state as she came out of it. Holding that cloth to her head to keep it from exploding, doing a piss poor job of hiding the fact that each step made her wanna puke. Seeing her like this had his guts squirming like a pair of scrapping weasels, and leaving her that way had them biting him raw, no matter how secure the building or how capable the woman hiding in it.

She was right, though. They needed something fresh to eat, something more than the rationed meals of the past couple of days, and if they were gonna stick around now that the storm was done, even just overnight, they oughtta know what might be lingering in their backyard before it had the chance to bite them in the ass.

Of all the fucking days to wake up with a headache, though. Goddamn it. Not Beth’s fault, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. She sure as hell weren’t jumping for joy about it, either.

He sighed, and tore his gaze away from the wall of rusted metal. Best get this done, and get back to her. The view from outside the door, up here on the elevated deck which ran the length of the front of the building, was about what he expected. As he took a couple of deep breaths, trying to shake the squirm in his gut, the sour taste in his mouth, Daryl stared down the stretch of empty single track running parallel to the building, north-sound through fairly dense woods to either side. Not much else around, aside the fluttering of the birds in the trees nearby, and the racket of a couple of crows in the distance. He and Beth had come from the southwest before reaching the tracks, through alternating patches of woods and farmland and he expected much of the same here, beyond the corridor of trees.

The rain made a muddy mess of everything, falling as long and as hard as it had, and the ground at the bottom of the steps, at the south end of the platform, looked like chocolate pudding covered in leaves. He hated to even think it. To put ideas like that out for the universe to fuck with, but the moment he considered how deep his boots would sink into that thick mud, he heard Beth’s voice in his head, telling the story of those two idiots who stumbled upon her at the cabin while he was gone.

Stop.

There wasn’t a point in thinking like that. Making up stuff to worry about when he already had plenty. Beth would be fine. He was only gonna make a quick sweep. An hour, two at most, and nobody was getting inside the building unless she opened the door. But he jumped down from the decking anyway, right onto the tracks. Bypassing the mud altogether and trying to ignore the way the impact on his knees echoed the ache in his chest as he cast one last look at those high brick walls before heading south down the tracks.

He didn’t want to leave her there. Plain and simple, the thought of heading somewhere Beth wasn’t topped his list of bad ideas. History proved his point well enough without him tempting fate, and out here where she wasn’t was the last place he wanted to be—and yet.

With a shake of his head to clear the pressure building there, Daryl pulled his gaze back outward, back to what was in front of him right this minute. Breathed deep, filled his lungs with the scent of the woods rising up around him, fragrant after the rain, the cool tint of autumn like an afterthought with each inhale. No, he didn’t want to be out here without her, but out here, at least, he could breathe.

It wasn’t as bad, anymore. Now that closed-in places meant far different things than they used to, and Beth being there with him actually made it better. But he’d never lose the gnawing restlessness that came from being trapped inside, just the same as the outdoors would never fail to knock the teeth off that feeling within seconds of stepping out in it. This wasn’t a new song and there wasn’t a part of him that didn’t know its rhythm. The open sky and the silent woods. The hidden life in the earth beneath his feet and the vibrancy of the sun after days of dark. The layers peeled back, like slabs of concrete sliding out of his lungs one by one. Taking away what held him down, what stole his breath, until what remained was, if not easy, at least it felt as though it belonged.

In the shade created by the walls of trees to either side, the cool air licked at his neck and chilled his fingers. It was a fresh cool, though, rather than cold. Damp, but lacking the bite carried by the wind. The moment he ducked into the trees to the west of the tracks, immersing himself in all that damp green, Daryl sucked in a deep, involuntary breath. Earthy, rich, full with the scent of rotten leaves. Everything wet and fragrant in the way it only could be after a storm.

Beth would love this. Would probably have something real delightful to say about it, too. The kind of something only she would think of but it’d be the most fitting thing he ever heard. He could picture her, walking ahead of him as those pearls of Beth-wisdom fell from her lips, leading the way with that set to her shoulders back where it belonged, now that she was having her own sort of sunrise after a storm. That little sway to her hips, too, which he fucking loved and she knew it, so she’d be swaying extra ‘cause she could, ‘cause she knew he’d be looking, making too much damn noise but he wouldn’t care. Too busy watching her shut her eyes and tip her face up toward the sky, breathing deep, drawing that fresh forest air into her lungs, too, just the same as him.

Daryl gave his head another shake as he picked his way through the underbrush. It shouldn’t’ve surprised him that even in the woods, his head would be full of her.

The scent of evergreens and decomposing leaves lay heavy in the air as Daryl pulled in another deep breath. The good kind of decay, without even a hint of the other. No doubt Beth would pick up on that, too, if she were out here with him. The lack of walker stench when some days it seemed they’d never get away from it, but she wouldn’t talk about that. No, she’d be talking instead about the way the beads of water still clinging to the leaves shone like bits of glitter, or something, wherever the sun managed to sneak its beams in through the trees. Then she’d give that wild blueberry bush a shake and watch the droplets fall like tiny rainbows, and turn to him, grinning, all her teeth showing, ‘cause it was pretty and she wanted to make sure he saw it. Daryl shook his head again, fighting a smile at the same time as he fought off the urge to scold himself for thinking about shit like that. But it was an old urge, and not even his to begin with. An urge best forgotten, like a lot of things.

As he passed by the blueberry bush he did give it a shake, watching the droplets as he pictured Beth doing. If her head weren’t hurting too bad when he got back, maybe he’d tell her about it. For now though, time to get this damn sweep done so he could go back to her. He picked the few blueberries clinging to the bush, survivors of the storm, beckoned the Beth-in-his-head to follow him for a while instead of tempting him astray with thoughts of pretty things, and carried on walking through the woods.

The landscape was a mess of fallen branches, downed trees, scattered needles, and leaves of all colours torn prematurely from their limbs, but the underbrush was sparse enough not to hinder his movements. He planned to make a clockwise loop that’d bring him back to the railway building and at this rate, he’d make that in decent time. When he found the little path, bisecting his own westward trajectory, Daryl paused to examine the narrow strip of well-packed dirt. The plant life grew in close beside it, looked to be overgrowing it in places, but whatever tracks might’ve been on it before the storm were long gone now and he couldn’t see anything fresh, in neither the damp dirt nor the plants alongside. This close to the tracks he suspected it might’ve been human-made, but that didn’t mean people were still using it now.

Not exactly what he hoped to find, so near to their hideout, but at least it hadn’t seen any traffic today. After a good couple of minutes staring along the corridor of it, looking for any signs he might’ve missed, Daryl turned to follow it north, keeping to the side to avoid laying any tracks of his own. He popped the few blueberries he picked into his mouth, the tartness of them exploding on his tongue. If he could find some more bushes he’d pick some for Beth. She might not want them right now, with the headache making her sick to her stomach, but she liked blueberries, and she’d probably appreciate them later when she felt better.

Something Merle once said about women and headaches tried to prod its way into Daryl’s thoughts, poking at his head like an obnoxious child or a buzzing insect. He shoved it down, the ghost of that wheezy laughter with it, but not soon enough to keep away the memories of Beth’s body pressed to his, hips rolling, grinding into him as he rutted against her. Without realizing it, he had brought his fingers to his nose. He couldn’t smell her anymore, not really, but just like the memories, the scent of her would never leave his brain, no matter that he felt like a dirty fucking creep even thinking it.

Hadn’t stopped him from doing it, though. Wasn’t stopping him now, either, breathing deep, desperate for even a lingering trace of her on the fingers he’d plunged inside her. Once coated with the evidence of what he’d done to her, the scent of her cunt, her come left behind. If that made him some kinda pervert, there wasn’t a thing he could do about it now, and this new bold thing glowing in his chest pushed back against the idea that he even ought to try.

No. No. He’d been over this so many times he knew it verbatim. Beth wanted this, from the top of her messy blond head to the curve of that perfect ass grinding back on his cock. She sniffed those damn fingers herself, for fuck’s sake. If he wanted to, he could, ‘cause she said it. It wasn’t wrong. Nothing about this was wrong and he had to quit letting those thoughts nibble at him. Had to get it through his thick skull one of these days that Beth Greene knew what she wanted and what she wanted was him.
In all the times he thought about touching her he had no idea, no fucking clue it’d be like that. That Beth would be like that. So fucking wet. Christ, he never knew a woman could even get that wet and it blew his mind how in the world he’d managed to get her there. How he made her come not once but twice when he barely knew what to do. Just touch me, Daryl. Remembering it, hearing her rasping voice inside his head made his heart pound, warmed his belly with tiny swirls of heat. He wanted to spend the next century learning how to make her come even harder, and he could.

He could, because she wanted him to. Because she wanted them and this and all that went along with it. Not just sex, but everything. And maybe he didn’t have much to offer her, but there wasn’t a doubt in his heart that all he had was hers to take.

The path split off into two forks, and Daryl jolted back out of his head when he reached the junction. One carried on parallel to the tracks while the other angled toward them, and he followed this angled path. It reached the tracks, resumed on the other side, but instead of turning back toward the railway building it arced outward, more or less in the same kind of loop he’d planned on making himself. Only made sense to follow it, keep an eye out for any signs of people or animals, though he’d yet to see any. That in itself was a reassurance, since there was no further doubt in his head that these trails were man-made. But they weren’t no nature trails—even new, they’d have always been narrow. More likely paths made by hunters before the end of the world.

If people hunted these woods, it wasn’t likely they were too close to a town or a major road, which meant less likelihood of both walkers and people. And where there were hunters once, there’d also be game, so they might get lucky that way, too. Might, because he hadn’t seen much in the way of four-legged traffic, either, aside from the chatter of squirrels high up in their trees and he was so fucking sick of eating squirrel.

The better part of an hour had passed by the time the path he was following reached the bank of a creek, something of similar size and depth as the one from the cabin. It resumed alongside the water on the opposite bank, but rather than crossing, Daryl opted to follow the creek southward while keeping to this side of it. Though he kept an eye on the far bank, he saw nothing of note there or anywhere else, until he began catching glimpses of water through the screen of tree trunks up ahead. The closer he got to it, the larger the expanse of glittering blue became, and his suspicions were confirmed when he reached the end of the creek as it spilled into a long narrow lake.

The far end of it disappeared around a curve in the distance, and where the creek entered in seemed to be the top curve of horn, like the shape of a crescent moon arcing out to his right into a  crescent-shaped grassy field, the bottom third of which was actually under water. Not a true marsh, but marsh-like. A good place to find river otters or water fowl. Ducks, or—a distant honking sound drew his eyes away from the grassy shoreline—geese, like the flock of them angling their way across the otherwise glassy water.

As he picked his way through the tall grasses of the field, Daryl spotted definite signs of animal traffic, and he set a few snares as he went. The path he’d followed to the creek had turned to follow along the shore of the lake leading away from him, but there didn’t appear to be any sort of human-made paths at all on this side. Not through the field or into the trees bordering it, and it was almost enough, by the time he reached the pointy end of the ‘horn’, to convince him of their safety.

The woods resumed here, or rather, the crescent shape of the field reached its natural end right where the lake curved, too, and a creek about a quarter of the size of the one spilling in now flowed out and led off through the trees. No signs of a path here, either, either this side of the creek or the other. No signs of nothing but the vague promise of fresh food, but before any of that was gonna happen, he had to get back to Beth.

The area between the lake and the railway building held nothing but undisturbed forest, aside from the expected storm damage. Daryl suspected that the lake and the field were of more or less equal longitude and the trek back confirmed it. He approached the tall brick structure from the long back side and spent a couple of minutes watching, still concealed in the woods, before stepping out. Everything was as he’d left it. No tracks through the mud, no footprints trampling the overgrown grass that might’ve once been a yard of sorts, before nature crowded in. He hopped up onto the platform from the grass on the north side and peered in through the bathroom window, placed just high enough on the wall that he had to stand on his toes to see anything. The office lay along the north wall, facing the woods instead of the tracks, so he couldn’t see into it from here. Just the black stain on the bare concrete floor from their pallet fire. Couldn’t hear nothing, either, as he dropped back down and stood beneath the window, listening, but he didn’t expect to. If Beth was awake, she’d keep quiet until he gave her the signal, and if she was still asleep...

Daryl paused, hands halfway to his mouth. If she was still asleep, maybe he ought to just let her rest, instead of waking her up. Now that he had an idea of what was out there, and what wasn’t, might be worth heading back toward the lake. Try his hand at crossbow goose hunting. It’d give her more than a mere hour and a half of time to sleep her headache away and as long as he left her a message, she wouldn’t worry later, if she woke up and he wasn’t back.

So he made the whistle, but quietly. Just loud enough that she’d hear it for sure if she was already awake. Repeated it once, just for good measure, but the minutes passed and she didn’t stir, and that settled the decision for him. He’d let her sleep, and do his best to catch her a nice fat goose to eat.

He kept an old bolt in his pack, one of the few left over from what he’d had on him when he fled the prison. The shaft was broken, but the broadhead was good enough that he hadn’t wanted to throw it away. He took it out now and snapped the shaft in two at the break, then wedged the fletched end of it through the cracked open bathroom window. Didn’t show from the outside, but Beth would see the green vanes on it the minute she stepped out of the office, would know he’d been back and left again and that he wasn’t gone, just out. The other half he jammed into the wooden post at the south end of the platform by the stairs, high up so she—and anyone else—would have to be looking up to find it, pointed in the direction he was going to go.

That ought to ease her mind, Daryl figured, as he once again left the brick building in the distance, following the same self-made path he’d created on his way in from the lake. She might even like to try following him, if she woke up feeling good, and he could picture the little grin she’d have on her face, stepping out into the grassy field after she successfully tracked him to it. He left her a few signs to follow; low-lying knife marks in the trunks of trees, bushes bent the wrong way, boot prints pressed into tiny patches of damp dirt where no footprint ought to be.

By the time he reached the lake, the sun was high enough in the sky to beat down on his shoulders, and he settled himself amongst the tall grass at the edge of the woods, near the out flowing creek, with a clear view down the lake, and of the flock of geese swimming in it. Big Canada geese with their distinctive white chins, and good eating, too, roasted over a fire. The trick was gonna be shooting one close enough to shore that he wouldn’t get too wet retrieving it, without bringing down the wrath of the rest of the flock. Best bet would be getting one right up on the shore, since the grasses would hide him enough not to spook them, and he could wait to retrieve his kill until the other geese had moved on. That, or catch two, and his stomach rumbled at the thought of that, reminding him that he’d yet to eat today.

Nothing to do now but wait, though. He had some venison strips with him, but he held off on digging one out. The promise of fresh goose might make the hunger pangs a little worse, but it wasn’t like he wasn’t used to going hungry.

With waiting, came thinking. Thoughts mostly unbidden but he’d been expecting that. Without the focus needed for scouting his head wandered on its own and naturally settled on Beth. On him and Beth, on what happened yesterday morning. His sight was clear as he watched the geese, but that place in the back of his head spun softly with the memories, an echo of the way it crashed over him the first time around.

They still hadn’t talked about this, not in so many words. Not in a way that acknowledged this coming together of theirs, though he didn’t doubt its existence. They were, him and Beth, this big unlabelled thing that was undeniably a thing for two. But he had so much in his head he wanted to be able to tell her. Things in his brain that wanted out just so they could curl up warm inside Beth’s heart. So she’d know. Except—that was the thing. The thing that made no sense and perfect sense all at once, because she did know. She knew it in the way he knew it, looking at her, seeing all the shit locked inside his head shining back at him in her eyes like the damn romance novel that they were. Even if they couldn’t see the shape of the words, they knew the rhythm, ‘cause this wasn’t his song or hers, it was theirs, no matter that they hadn’t written all the words yet.

And it had burrowed in to stay, beating there in his heart alongside the pulse of the woods. Right where it ought to be.

It was easy, not talking. Not struggling to make sense of feelings that couldn’t ever be rendered into the right words, ‘cause he suspected they didn’t exist. Being with Beth was easy, too, in a way he’d never have believed in a million years if he wasn’t immersed in it, no matter that he had no fucking clue how to do this. How to be part of a—a twosome—like this. Beth made it easy. She joined him in the quiet spaces instead of trying to break through them. Pulled him out of his head when he needed it but let him linger there, too, somehow knowing the difference. Pushed when he needed pushing, and stepped back with him when he needed that, too, and he didn’t know what sort of magical creature that made her, except that he knew he was the luckiest damn man left on this godforsaken planet, to have her at his side.

It’d taken a while, but the geese were finally making their way to the shore, the excited honking of the youths announcing their impending arrival. Making use of his screen of grass, Daryl lifted his crossbow and waited for the big goose in front to take those first few steps onto semi-dry land. 
He took the shot, and as he followed it through he thought his eyes had gone funny, or something, the sun so bright it was making him see things. But no—he lowered the crossbow, and that was definitely an arrow sticking out of his goddamn goose, landing there a split second before his bolt. Two green-fletched shafts stuck out of the same big gander and there wasn’t time to load the crossbow again before the sound of splashing water came from the creek beside him. Daryl turned, knife in hand, heart hammering in his chest, to find himself staring at the business end of a loaded compound bow.

His eyes shifted down the arrow shaft, to the person wielding the weapon, and if he wasn’t absolutely certain that any hint of movement right now would earn him an arrow between the eyes, he’d have given his head a shake.

A pair of sharp dark eyes narrowed at him from beneath an unruly mop of deep brown curls, and the fingers of the boy holding Daryl at arrow-point flexed pointedly on the bow’s grip. “You’ve got a lot of nerve hunting my lake, asshole.”

Kid was all of maybe twelve, with that short but lanky frame and the youthful voice, face smoother than Beth’s without even a shadow of a beard, but he wielded that bow like he knew what he was doing—and he did, considering he’d bullseyed the goose. The stance, too, and his grip, the way he drew back and held without the faintest hint of a tremble. Kid knew his way around that weapon, all right, and had the skill as well as the bravado to use it.

Daryl held out his free hand and slowly lowered his knife until he could slip it into its sheath. “Didn’t see no signs.”

The boy snorted and rolled his eyes, but kept his aim steady. “Are you that dumb? No, wait—of course you are. You tell Dane—”

“Hang on,” Daryl said, just keeping from flinching as his interruption had the boy flexing his fingers on the grip again, like he was just waiting for an excuse to loose his arrow. “I ain’t who you think, kid.”

“Right. And I’m Santa Claus.” The boy’s expression hardened suddenly into something well beyond his years, that youthful face turning to steel right before Daryl’s eyes as the kid shifted his stance ever so slightly.

Just enough that Daryl felt the threat of that arrow looming now, too fucking close. “Hey—”

Another slight shift, and the broadhead at the end of the arrow caught the sunlight in a way that felt far from accidental. “You get the hell out of here, and tell Dane he isn’t getting any of our geese.”

Daryl met the clever gaze starting hard at him from behind the bow’s risers, tried to figure out how to make his face look honest, or whatever the hell it’d take to make the kid believe that he had nothing to do with this Dane he kept talking about. “Look, kid—”

“No, you look, asshole—”

From somewhere very close behind came the sound of snapping twigs, jolting Daryl’s focus away from the current threat to whatever else lingered there in the woods. The boy’s once narrowed eyes widened as Daryl met them again, then that baby-smooth brow furrowed and the kid’s gaze shot down to the crossbow lying at Daryl’s feet.

“Since when...”

That hardened look fell and Daryl caught a flash of something like real fear for a split second before the mask dropped down again, and the child whirled around at the exact moment the four men burst into the clearing. Greasy haired and filthy, stinking like none of them had seen a bar of soap since the dead started walking, and armed. There was no time to reach for his crossbow. No time to do anything but breathe and stand still and try to figure out what the hell was going on as he stared now down the barrel of an ancient Winchester that’d still take his face off at point blank range.

“Shit,” the boy whispered, bow still raised even though he, too, had two guns pointed at him.

Whoever these assholes were, the kid wasn’t with them, and it didn’t take more than a glance to understand that even without the standoff. Kid was clean—a little rumpled, the way a boy out hunting oughtta be—well fed, dressed for bagging geese rather than just wearing most of what he owned. And if Daryl thought he’d looked tough before, that had nothing on the hard set to the kid’s face now as he held his ground against two grown men.

“Well, well,” said the rifleman. Tall and skinny, aside from the paunch around his middle, and bald; the oldest of them by a good three decades, scars and lines crisscrossing his face like a roadmap beneath the scraggly grey beard. “Li’l bulldog’s givin’ ever’one trouble these days, ain’t he?”

Before Daryl could work out any sort of answer, the kid spoke through a jaw clenched tight, words shooting out of him like bullets. “Screw you, Victor.”

Shit, kid. That was a sure way of getting a bullet for lunch, if Daryl ever saw one, but the guy—Victor—only huffed, and offered a humourless smile.

The younger man standing just behind Victor, the one holding a handgun on Daryl, let his aim fall just slightly as he smirked and cocked his head, pale green eyes meeting Daryl’s like they were sharing some inside joke. “Y’all might wanna consider keepin’ a better handle on that pup.”

Beside him, the boy snorted, and Daryl spared him glance. Arrow still pointed at the other two men, he’d turned his head to level the speaker with a glare that could’ve cut stone. Scary fucking child. “I can handle myself.”

The two men holding guns on the boy let out quiet derisive chuckles, and green-eyes’ face split into a grin, showing a missing tooth right up front and a mouthful of others stained with rot. “And how’s that workin’ out, ya li’l shit?”

“Lyle.” Victor’s tone brooked no arguments, and if Daryl had any doubts about him being the leader of this little gun party, they’d have ended there, as Lyle, and presumably the other two, now stood stock still and stone-faced, once again holding his gun like the threat it was meant to be.

Victor’s gaze settled back on Daryl, and something in those moss-coloured eyes made his guts squirm. “Looks like y’all picked the wrong day to walk the dog, friend. Pity for you. Fortunate for us.”

“But I don’t even know—”

“Kid.”

Daryl still hadn’t worked out exactly what they were dealing with, but whoever these men were, they weren’t any kind of friends, and they weren’t messing around. Whatever was gonna happen was gonna happen, and Daryl could see no advantage to letting them in on the fact that he was just as much a stranger to this boy as he was to them. When he heard the boy gasp softly, then shut up, he nearly breathed a sigh of relief. Nearly, because they were still in a world of shit, but at least the kid was smart.

And if these assholes thought he came from the same place as the boy, they wouldn’t be going off looking around for Beth.

“Whatcha want?” Daryl asked, stalling, hoping he could see a way out of this but nothing at all presented itself.

Four armed men against him, with neither his bow nor his handgun in reach, and one spitfire of a boy. The kid could easily take one of them out with that arrow, but not without getting himself killed in the process, and he knew it for all he kept his bow aimed at the head of the closest man to him. No option here. Nothing to be done but see how this played out.

The crow’s feet at the corners of Victor’s eyes deepened very slightly as he scanned Daryl slowly head to toe. “Y’all know what we want, friend. What Dane wants, an’ you an’ the li’l bulldog’re gonna help us get it.”

The boy growled. “Uncle Greg won’t give you shit.”

Victor’s lips tightened into another humourless smile. “Oh, I think he will. Whatchu think, friend?”

“I think y’all don’t know Greg as well as you think you do,” Daryl replied, grateful for the name drop so he could maybe play along until they could find a way out of this.

That earned a chuckle, and a flash of true mirth in the otherwise hollow eyes. “Well. As fun as this is, it’s time to go.”

Before Daryl could ask where, Victor stepped forward, pressing the rifle to Daryl’s sternum until he had no choice but to back up. Lyle darted forward to snag the crossbow and relieve him of both his knife and pack. Another jab with the Winchester and Daryl sunk his teeth into his lip and stood still as Lyle’s greasy hands wrenched Daryl’s wrists together behind his back and tied them with something like coated wire. He kept an eye on the boy as this was going down, watched him lower his weapon, finally conceding defeat. Despite the stormy look on his face he allowed one of his two gunmen to take the bow from him, along with the quiver of arrows over his shoulder and the hunting knife strapped to his belt.

Once the kid’s hands were tied, too, the men marched the two of them back through the woods alongside the creek, heedless of the noise they were making. All four of them stomped through the brush like wild hogs, Victor and the two gunmen behind, Lyle leading the way. Five minutes on they crossed the creek, Daryl prodded on by the barrel of the Winchester, where a path appeared. Newer and wider than the others he’d crossed that day. With a grunt and a glare aimed Victor’s way, the boy was pushed up to walk beside Daryl.

Sorry, the kid mouthed, gaze darting quickly toward Lyle’s dirty back. Not good.

Daryl had that much figured out, but the raw worry etched now into the boy’s face sealed the deal. Whatever he’d fallen into here, he’d best start thinking of a way to get out of it before there wasn’t one—and his options were already limited.

From behind them, back toward the lake, came a sound that sent a chill up Daryl’s spine worse than that from any of the guns at his back. His pulse leapt up into his throat and his stomach dropped so fast he mighta left it behind him on the trail, for all it even mattered.

The melodic tee-weet of a very specific bird.

Recognition of the call for what it was flared in the boy’s sharp eyes. “That's a—”

Tanager, yeah,” Daryl said. “You should know that by now, kid.”

The call came again, and those brown eyes widened just a bit more, flicking briefly back toward Victor before seeking Daryl’s again. “Right, a tanager. I knew that.”

Daryl breathed out. This might just work. “You know what a mourning dove sounds like?”

He nodded, curls bobbing up and down as he did—looking, in that moment, like nothing more than the child he should’ve been.  “Yessir, they’re all over these woods.”

“Show me then.”

Daryl held his breath, waiting. The boy made the call, two intonations of the dove’s deep ewoooh, going so far as to angle his head so it would carry better behind them.

“How was that?” he asked, blinking slowly. “Did I get it right?”

Just right. Daryl tore his gaze from the child’s tender face, and sunk his teeth into that almost-healed place on the inside of his lip. Tried, and failed, not to think about how Beth’s face would look when she heard the call they had practiced, but hoped never to have to use.

Keep away.

*~*

And I’d walk through hell and high water
Wash away with the tide
I can lose a damn war all by myself
If you were on the other side
So, in the morning when the rooster crows
Pack your bags and get ready to go
If you’re walkin’ through hell and high water
Please don’t do it alone


Please note: I don’t do rape stories, so please don’t worry about that happening here. This is gonna be something else entirely.



To be continued in chapter 35>>

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