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Title: Fall Right In
Author: Abelina/Abby/Abelinajt
Fandom/Pairing: The Walking Dead - Beth Greene/Daryl Dixon (Bethyl)
Setting: Season 4, Alone-divergence.
Warnings:  None this chapter.
Rating: Eventual M
Summary: If Beth hadn’t interrupted him when she did, calling him back with the melody of her voice, he might’ve done something dumb like opening the door for a doomed dog and maybe dooming them both while he was at it. Beth and Daryl escape the funeral home together. An Alone-divergence Bethyl story.
Notes: Chapter title taken from lyrics to Broken by Lifehouse.
All Chapters Here

Fall Right In
Chapter 5 – And I’m Hanging on to the Words You Say


*~*
They didn’t say much while they broke camp that morning and set out through the woods, but it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence. Not after sitting up through the night together. Not after all they’d been through. The weight of what she’d done still pressed on her shoulders, still lingered in her thoughts like an anxious flicker, a constant reminder of having lost part of herself in those seconds before she pulled that trigger. But she could acknowledge it now without letting it pull her under. Her gaze settled on Daryl as they picked their way through the trees. If he hadn’t been there…

Beth didn’t want to consider what might have happened if not for Daryl, but at the same time she didn’t need to, because he was there. Even now, as though she were a magnet and he built of iron, Daryl turned and met her eyes, holding the contact until she felt that curl of warmth flare deep in her belly, following up with the lightest brush of his fingers across her lower back, a wordless promise. I’m here. Keep going. I got you. No, Daryl Dixon wasn’t the kind of man to give up on someone he cared about, and if nothing else was certain in this world, at least that fact remained true. She knew he cared—they were family after all. Whatever else that might mean could only be a good thing.

Her ankle was not a good thing, however; aching constantly whether she had her weight on it or not and sending shooting pains through to her calf if she stepped too hard. She tried to keep distracted from the pain by looking for signs of animal tracks, which only sort of worked because she either had forgotten how or else there wasn’t much activity in this part of the woods. They needed to find shelter today, somewhere they could lie low for a few days. Daryl wasn’t sure, since he wasn’t as familiar with this area as others, but thought they might get lucky. Woods like these were often dotted with hunting cabins. She hoped so. Beth couldn’t take another day of walking even if she wanted to, and grunted in frustration and bit her lip as yet another spasm forced her to stop and wait.

“All right,” Daryl said, almost grunted really, realizing half a step later that she had stopped again. He adjusted his pack and crossbow, then dropped to a crouch in front of her. “Up you get.”

“Is this another serious piggyback?” Beth asked, not hesitating this time to grip his shoulders and hop up one-footed.

“Nah.” He hooked his hands under her knees and hefted her up higher. “This one’s silly.”

Beth carefully arranged her arms to hold on for the ride, curling her fingertips ever so slightly into the soft leather of his vest and trailing her thumb over the curve of one wing. “A silly piggyback? What’s the difference?”

Daryl started walking, weaving his way through the trees as gracefully as ever, despite the extra load he was carrying. “Serious piggybacks ain’t done us much good. Silly one’s gotta be better.”

He kept his tone light, and Beth couldn’t see his face, but it felt as though he wasn’t entirely joking. And the thing was, Beth didn’t blame him for thinking that way.

Still, there was no point in being dreary for dreary’s sake, and if Daryl could pretend, so could she. “What makes it silly, though?”

Daryl peered back at her over his shoulder, one corner of his lips turned up in a Daryl-sort-of smile. “You. Askin’ silly questions.”

She couldn’t help smiling at that, and the corner of his lip twitched higher before he turned back around. “Well, I never had a serious or a silly piggyback before,” Beth said, hoping to keep the conversation going. “For all I knew, it could’ve been just a regular old piggyback.”

“Oh, no.” Daryl’s tone held a note of laughter to it, something so rarely heard from him. “I don’t do no regular piggybacks.”

“I’m Daryl Dixon and I don’t do no regular piggybacks,” Beth said, trying to get her voice to do the growly thing Daryl’s did, but it only made her sound like she needed to clear her throat. She bit her lip, but not before a giggle escaped.

Daryl’s next step had a little extra bounce to it, jostling her a bit on his back. He peered over his shoulder again, very obviously trying to look annoyed, even though Beth knew he wasn’t. “Careful it don’t turn into a drop-you-on-your-ass piggyback.”

That little-bit-breathless, little-bit-fluttery feeling washed over her again, making her cheeks go warm the moment Daryl looked away. She tightened her hold on him, knowing he wouldn’t drop her but playing along at the same time.

“I promise I’ll be good, Mr. Dixon.” As she said it, she felt him take a deeper than usual breath and she found herself doing the same, and it caught in her lungs and held as Daryl jostled her again, though more gently this time.

“You better,” he said, in a low voice full of breath and gravel.

And, God help her, Beth leaned in right close to his ear and whispered, “Yes, sir, Mr. Dixon.”

The first time she called him that, those weeks ago at the moonshine shack, she hadn’t been teasing—at least, not like this. No, this felt like flirting, with her warm cheeks and racing heart, and that little bloom of heat flickering away in her belly. She hadn’t meant to, but it just came out that way, but Daryl, Daryl didn’t flirt. Did he? Would he? With her? The breath of lightness in her chest didn’t lie, or the flutter of excitement. And, well, didn’t Daryl’s ears look a little pink where they peaked out through his hair? She could feel his deep breaths through his back and saw the glimmer in his eyes as, once again, he looked over his shoulder.

“Good girl.”

The words rumbled out of him from somewhere deep and warm, and the look in his eyes sent her right back to the kitchen and the candles. Beth swallowed down the word, but it came to life in her thoughts anyway. Oh. Because Daryl Dixon didn’t flirt, no, this was nothing so calculated as that, not from either one of them. But it was something, something that left her heart pounding in the same sort of way.

It ended there, but Beth kept replaying the whole thing in her mind, her insides still fluttery and warm and every bit of her now acutely aware of the closeness of their bodies in this silly piggyback—her arms over his shoulders, the heat of his back against her front, and the curl of his fingers behind her knees and the way they pressed in a little harder whenever the terrain got rough. She was struck with the realization that Daryl was a man, which she knew, obviously, but just, she hadn’t ever really considered him that way, as anything other than Daryl. And she didn’t have a clue what it meant now, either, but as distractions went, this man-shaped one far surpassed anything she could’ve come up with on her own, and she surrendered to the desire to let it consume her and drown out everything else.

A little while later, sometime past noon judging by the sun’s position overhead, Beth spotted the little cabin. She might have missed it, considering the way her focus was drawn inward right then, but a pair of crows squawking at each other in the trees made her look up at just the right moment. They’d been following this fast flowing creek for a little while, looking for a place to cross and Daryl stopped here, where the creek bed widened and the water got shallow. Then the crows startled her, and she looked up from staring at her dirty fingers against soft, worn leather and saw, beyond the pair of crows in the near distance, the corner of a roof peeking through the trees, across and upstream from their fording place.

“Daryl, look.”

He turned his head to follow where she pointed, over his shoulder to their left, then straightened his back. Beth took the hint and slid to the ground, taking all of her weight on her good leg and letting Daryl go once she was certain of her footing.

Daryl set his hand on her shoulder while she arranged her feet, then said, “Gonna have a look. Stay right there.”

He headed upstream toward the structure all but hidden by the layer of trees growing in front of it. The river bent around a curve just where the corner of roof peeked through, and a little ball of nerves tightened in her gut when Daryl disappeared from view around the bend. That was... interesting. From here, Beth could see anything coming long before they arrived. So she wasn’t afraid, not any more than usual these days, and she knew well the anxiety of waiting and never knowing when danger might cross their path no matter how well they could handle themselves around walkers. This wasn’t that, though, it was different and Beth didn’t understand.

Perhaps it was just the idea of separating, even temporarily, from the only family she had right now. Beth gingerly set her injured ankle down, took a bit of weight and winced at the shooting pain through the joint. Or maybe it was this, her stupid ankle. If it wasn’t for her injury she’d be beside him right now, watching his back, maybe noticing something he missed—as unlikely as that was—instead of standing here lame and useless.

Daryl reappeared soon, though, and hurried back to where she waited—not an urgent, let’s get outta here kind of hurry, but more of an excited one despite the lack of expression on his face.

“Looks good,” he said, breathing a little heavier than normal when he came to a stop in front of her. “Looks real good. You can walk a bit?”
Beth nodded. Even though it hurt she knew going in on piggyback was a bad idea. “I’m good.”

The pain wasn’t gone but she could bear it for a while, long enough to cross the creek and clear the building. She let Daryl guide her across the stream, carefully choosing her footing while he hovered behind her, as though ready to catch her if she stumbled, but she reached the opposite bank without incident. Side by side, they approached the structure in the woods.

It stood up on an elevated bank, about ten feet from where the ledge dropped off to the riverbed below, with dense trees seeming to grow all around it. It wasn’t large, maybe about half the size of the barn but only one floor. They paused just before slipping out of the ring of trees at the front of the building, Beth instinctively looking for signs of living inhabitants and knowing Daryl did the same. Just the thought of another conflict with living people sent a tremor of anxiety through her chest.

She trusted Daryl, though, and when he touched her wrist and gave her a slow nod meaning all-clear, she followed him out of the trees into a small, grassy front yard. A set of steps led up to the porch spanning the width of the cabin and a solid wood door set into the windowless front wall. They had seen a few places like this before the funeral home, mostly crudely constructed and poorly maintained structures with the roofs fallen in or the walls knocked down. This one, though, looked pretty solid despite the aged wood and moss-covered shake roof. It seemed quiet, but neither one of them had survived this long by trusting the safety of a thing on first impressions alone.

Daryl cocked and loaded his crossbow and motioned for Beth to follow him up to the porch. He positioned himself by the opening side of the door and Beth moved toward the hinges, meeting Daryl’s eyes as he rapped his knuckles on the solid wood. Beth got to the count of twelve before they heard the growls and felt the thump of bodies ramming into the door from inside. It sounded like two of them, and when Daryl held up two fingers, Beth nodded to say she understood.

Beth pulled her knife out of its sheath and touched the door handle. At Daryl’s nod she turned the handle, feeling the catch release, and shoved the door in as hard as she could before backing away from the opening, flattening herself to the wall. Daryl whistled as the first walker shuffled out, drawing its attention to him at the other side of the doorway. He brought it down with his crossbow, and when the second lumbered out the door after him, Beth darted up behind it and took it out with her knife. Daryl stepped around the bodies after retrieving his bolt and reloading, and he entered the shack with his crossbow raised and Beth bringing up the rear.

No other walkers lurked within, though the stench of them lingered. Daryl pushed the font door shut and secured it with the iron bar propped up in the corner, while Beth surveyed the space. It may have been small, with only a single room, but the inside of the cabin was packed with stuff.

Hanging objects covered the walls to either side of the front door—tools, axes, a couple of shot guns, bunches of dried onions, a mosaic of usefulness they would need to explore later. The wall to their left faced the creek and had the only window, a small square of light brightening the dim interior. A row of closely grouped river birches grew just outside, screening the window from anyone on the opposite bank while still allowing anyone within a view to the outdoors. Along this wall and halfway around the back wall ran a solid plywood counter, braced with what looked to be hand-cut two-by-fours and standing on legs made of logs with the bark still on. Beneath the counter, top warn smooth from heavy use, sat a row of wooden trunks.

At the back wall, there was another door set just where the counter top ended, solid and wooden like the front door and barred across with the same type of heavy iron. Beside it was one of those old-time cast iron cook stoves, the type Beth had only ever seen in old movies, above which hung cast iron pots and pans and some utensils. Taking up the rest of the space between the stove and the back right corner was a low, wood-framed bed made up with an old patchwork quilt.

The right hand wall had no window, only floor-to-ceiling shelves, the highest two extending into the corner over the bed, packed full of items Beth would have to investigate. Already she could see some jars of food and other things they could probably use.

The middle of the room, aside from the clutter likely scattered there by the movements of the two walkers, was largely empty. A worn-looking rag rug filled the very centre, and there was no table, just two wooden chairs, one tucked beneath the counter, and the other lying splintered and broken in a pile on the worn plank floor. Whoever lived here liked things organized, and it might’ve been a simple little home but they had kept it well supplied.

Daryl must’ve been thinking along the same lines as she. After his own slow appraisal of the room, he dropped the canvas bag down on the rug and turned to catch her eyes. “This ain’t no hunting cabin. Someone lived here.”

Beth felt herself nodding slowly, eyes scanning the rows of shelves. “Is it wrong to just… use this stuff?”

They both looked toward the door, toward where they’d brought down the two corpses haunting this tidy cabin, a little pang going through Beth’s chest. Those two had been so prepared to survive out here and in the end they became just like everyone else—dead.

Daryl just shrugged and was silent a moment, before he looked back up at her and said, “Shame not to, all this just goin’ to waste. Here.”

He tossed something at her, and Beth caught it—his lighter—in her hands, looking back up in time to watch him lift a metal pail from the floor by the back door. Daryl nodded toward the pile of wood in the chest next to him. “Get the fire lit, I’ll be right back.”

She did as she was asked, first scraping the old ashes into the bin beside the stove, then finding enough kindling to get a small fire going by the time Daryl returned with a pail full of water. He set the pail down on top of the stove, its shape fitting into the rusted ring already there, then his gaze swept over her briefly before settling somewhere past her head.

“Thought you might wanna wash up, when the water warms,” he said, not quite looking at her as he reached to pull a half-used bar of soap off the little shelf behind the stove. “I’m gonna try and get us a rabbit or something."

Beth could hear the question there, the one he didn’t want to have to ask. Are you gonna be okay while I’m gone? It seemed like ages ago, her breakdown after the walker attack, and the incident that caused it, but it wasn’t, it was only a matter of days and she understood his concern, so Beth took the soap from his hands and gave him back his lighter, looking him in the face until he met her eyes at last.

“Thank you,” she said, hoping her smile would reassure him. “I’ll keep the fire goin’ ‘til you get back, okay?”

“Mm.” But he nodded, seemingly satisfied, hefted his crossbow went out through the back door.

Beth barred the door behind him and stared at the solid wood of it for a while, wondering at Daryl’s now solemn mood, when he’d seemed almost cheerful earlier. But she had gone quiet, too, thinking about that conversation, thinking a little too much about Daryl in ways she never had before. He could’ve been thinking, too—about that, maybe, or about them being almost out of food, or any number of other things. Daryl was different these days, but he was still Daryl, and try as she might Beth couldn’t read his mind, at least not all the time.

Her fist had tightened around the bar of soap, fingernails digging into its surface, and she remembered what Daryl had suggested she do. They were both covered in walker guts after yesterday—she’d been almost right inside the gaping abdomen of that one—more than her quick wash in the creek could fix. Though the light was dim inside the shack, she peered into the water pail and nearly recoiled at the creature staring back at her with wild, blood-caked hair and streaks of gore smeared everywhere.

The water could not warm fast enough.

Beth found some rags, stained from long use but clean, and stripped out of her clothes, leaving everything in a crusted pile at her feet. Weeks had passed since she’d last been completely naked, not since the prison and its showers. Their time on the run left her thin, ribs and hips sticking out through pale skin, a contrast to the more well-defined muscles in her legs and arms from the running and the fighting. It was like everything she used to be was gone and in its place, this new Beth—this wild woman made of blood and sweat and hard edges ingrained with dirt.

She huffed a little breath through her nose. I wish I could just... change. It happened when she wasn’t even looking.

Beth washed away what she could, letting the filthy water run through the cracks in the floor until the pail was empty and she was as clean as she could get without refilling it. If only the rest of it could wash away as easily as the filth, as though she could just pour a bucket of warm water over her soul to clean out the wound still bleeding there. Reality wasn’t like that, especially not now and maybe not ever, and if she were being honest she didn’t want it to go away, not completely. If she couldn’t feel the scar and remember the sting, she really might become that creature in her reflection.

Shaking away those frightening thoughts, Beth picked up her shirt, only to drop it back down into the pile of clothes when she realized how caked with filth it was. She couldn’t put any of her clothes back on, so she pulled the ratty quilt off the bed next to the stove and wrapped up in it while she searched for something to wear. One of the walkers outside was female, and sure enough, in one of the bed’s built-in drawers, Beth found her clothes.

The underwear and bra weren’t going to work, since the woman who owned them also owned more generous curves, but she found a pair of men’s boxer briefs in the next drawer which fit well enough over her slim hips and she doubted Daryl would even notice if she went without a bra until she could get hers clean. Nothing else really fit, either, but she rolled up the sleeves of a thin, faded grey and blue plaid shirt and cinched the smallest pair of shapeless blue jeans at her waist using her own belt, from which she wiped away the dried blood with one of the still-damp rags. Then she rewrapped her purple, swollen ankle, slipped on a pair of socks from the drawer, and tied her boots back on.

Daryl wasn’t back yet, so Beth banked the fire and then took the pail to the creek to refill it, lugging it back half-full to warm on the stove for him, in case he wanted to wash when he returned. Then she checked the walkers on the porch, dragging their bodies one at a time to block the stairs and maybe mask the scent of her and Daryl should any more happen by. The man-walker had a knife at his belt, a big hunting knife like the kind Daryl had. Beth cut it free along with its sheath and brought it inside, tucking it into the canvas bag.

Hanging on one of the pegs by front door was a roll of twine, and Beth used it to string an alarm across the porch, tying on empty cans and bits of noisy garbage she found in a dented old trash can outside, plus wooden dowels from the broken chair and a couple of the wrenches hanging by the door. The fast moving creek offered protection on the one side, and the trees grew so thick along the other that walkers couldn’t easily get through. That left the back door exposed, since it had no porch and no railing, just a set of stairs leading out to a little patch of grass and an overgrown garden, but she had enough twine and enough noisemakers to run an alarm along the tree line from the blind back corner of the house all the way around to the tree closest to the water’s edge.

By the time she finished securing it, her ankle was throbbing and she knew she’d done too much. That moment replayed in her head during the quiet times, the moment she shot the man called Gorman and killed him. It felt different today, both more real and yet more distant, a bit disconnected, and she didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, or if it just was. Either way, doing something with her hands, contributing anyway she could while Daryl was out trying to keep them both fed, was the only way she knew to stop the memory from playing on a constant loop.

But the whole point of stopping here was to rest her ankle, and she wasn’t doing that by puttering around like this. So she went back inside, barred the door, checked the fire, sat down on the bed and wrapped herself up in the old quilt to wait, and once again her thoughts drifted back to that moonlit yard and all that happened there.

The clatter of cans jarred Beth out of a light sleep she hadn’t meant to fall into. She jumped up from the bed, dislodging the quilt and retrieving her knife, pressing herself against the back door to listen. The alarm jangled again and her pulse raced, but then she heard the unmistakable rumble of Daryl’s voice and her breath came easier. She waited, though, just in case, listening for a shout signalling danger. It never came, but a moment later a sharp knock sounded on the door, followed by Daryl’s voice.

“Beth?”

She unbarred the door and Daryl stepped inside, catching her eyes immediately. His lip twitched, something like the Daryl Dixon not-smile that still meant he wasn’t displeased and might even be impressed. And he nodded his head toward the woods as he shut and barred the door and said, “You do all that?”

“Mmhm. I did the front, too, and I found a good knife. It’s in your bag.”

She watched Daryl’s gaze slip down to her booted feet before travelling back up toward her face. “Mmm. S’pposed to be resting that.”

Beth sighed. “I know. Just couldn’t sit still, is all.”

He said nothing in response, but the way he was looking at her made her believe he understood what she meant, and he held the contact for a minute before breaking away.

“Got some supper.” Daryl pulled the string of furry things from over his shoulder, revealing a pair of decent sized rabbits. “We can cook ‘em up with some of them onions, make us a nice redneck stew.”

With the return of Daryl’s voice, Beth felt the tension in the air dissipate. “There might be other stuff we could put in, too. This could actually be good.

Daryl nodded, lip quirked up a little. “Real stove. Almost like home cookin’.”

“Well this was somebody’s home, so I guess it will be.” Beth held out her hand, and when he just looked at her, said, “Let me do that, at least. Since you went and got them.”

She could see the protest on his lips, but held up her hand to stop him from saying it. “I can sit at the chair over there, okay? I’ll let you look around for something tasty to go with it.”

That drew a real smile, just a flash of teeth behind an upturned open lip, but real, reaching right up to his eyes. It looked so good on him, and Beth vowed right then and there that she was going to do her best to make him smile, really smile, at least once a day.

When it faded, but didn’t quite disappear, Daryl said, “Oh you’ll let me, will you?”

Beth pursed her lips and crossed her arms in front of her and knew she looked ridiculous but didn’t care, because Daryl’s eyes were still smiling. “Yes I will. But only if you’re good.”

He snorted and handed her the carcasses, turning away, but not before Beth caught a glimpse of another smile. She felt a little rush, like a surge of warmth in her chest at the sight of it, and it only made her mission seem that much more important.

After all, the world couldn’t be so bad, could it, when Daryl Dixon was smiling.

*~*

Hanging on another day, just to see what you will throw my way. And I’m hanging on to the words you say, you said that I will, I’ll be okay.


to be continued in chapter 6 >>

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