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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: the usual dropping of the f-bomb
Rating: M
Summary: If Beth hadn’t interrupted him when she did, calling him back with the melody of her voice, he might’ve done something dumb like opening the door for a doomed dog and maybe dooming them both while he was at it. Beth and Daryl escape the funeral home together. An Alone-divergence Bethyl story.
Notes: Chapter title taken from lyrics to Title by Artist.

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 15 - Somehow Knew These Wings Were Stolen

Rain fell hard as Daryl flattened his back against the trunk of the big oak tree. His fingers sunk into the thick moss and he hung on as the moaning, stinking bodies swayed all around him. Night fell so thick and black he couldn’t see them, could only hear and smell them, taste their stink in the air and in the rain on his tongue, feel the brush of rags and cold rotting hands as they stumbled past. He stood still. If he didn’t move, didn’t breathe, didn’t make a sound, he could still get out of this. Could sneak away into the dark, rainy night as though he wasn’t ever there.

They pressed in closer. Dead bodies bumping his shoulders, knocking at his knees. Pain surged through his legs, radiating out in gripping, crippling waves from his shattered bones and he fell, blind, helpless, as the black night erupted in mindless wailing. Rain pelted down from above, pooled in the dirt, lapping at his face, growing deeper and colder and all around him, stumbling feet and grabby hands closed in, reaching, searching.

He was done. Gone. As dead as the rest of them. The water covered his face now. Covered his whole body. He was floating, drifting away amongst the dead swimming mindlessly on like thousands of rotting fish on the journey upstream. But his arms and legs were useless and all he could do was drift. Helpless. Frozen.

A crack of lightning flashed overhead. It surged through the water, jolting into him bone-deep and setting all his nerves alight with a thrumming pulse of energy. All around him the walkers floated, adrift, deadly mouths opening and shutting without sound. But now Daryl could move, and he began to swim against the current, away from the monsters held motionless in it.
Another fork of lightning cleaved the sky, shooting down into the deep to cast the walkers away, parting the water until it rolled out in two giant waves. In its wake a shape, a bright shadow against the dark sky above, cut swiftly through the valley of the waves. He reached for it as it passed and something reached back—two arms, slender but so strong, lifted him out of the water.

He landed at the bottom of the boat, gasping for breath, fat drops of water patting onto the wood and soaking in until the whole thing glistened.

Breathe, Daryl. That’s it.

He could breathe at last, now that she kept speaking, her voice whispering into his lungs and pulling the air in with it. When he looked up she was waiting there in the prow of the boat, her eyes opened wide and so, so blue. Her white dress billowed around her in a luminous white cloud, all of her glowing bright like lantern lighting up the dark night.

What were you doing down there, silly?

Daryl had no voice, couldn’t speak, but Beth only laughed, a light, cheerful sound which swirled warm through his body and lit the dark even brighter. Her two strong arms reached out, drew him to her until he collapsed, warm and weightless in the pillowy cloud of her dress. She cradled his head to her breast, fingers combing through his hair, stroking his cheek. Her dress swallowed them up like a blanket, but it wasn’t a dress, it was wings, feathers downy-soft and glowing so brightly it hurt his eyes to look. So he kept them shut and let her hold him close, with her arms, her wings, her sweet warmth all around him. Beneath him, the steady beat of her heart drummed out a rhythm like oars on the water, propelling them and their little boat toward the light of the sun blooming on the horizon.

You saved me, Beth.

She laughed again, like chimes in the wind, the notes of it washing over him.

I got you, Daryl. You know I got you.

He did know. He could feel her all around him, and he breathed in deep until all he had was warmth and Beth and nothing else mattered.

You need to sleep, too, Daryl. Stay.

Already her gentle fingers, the steady beating of her heart beneath his cheek, the rocking of the boat as they drifted together through the night were soothing him under. She breathed out a breath so deep and warm it washed over him like sunlight and he knew this was where he wanted to stay.

I’m never gonna leave you.

Daryl floated, warm and weightless for a while, the echo of those words ringing in his mind. Beth’s voice and his mixing together into one. He drifted for a long time in a sort of half-aware limbo until consciousness got its hooks into him and he realized he was awake, that instead of a boat over the waves it was Beth’s breathing rocking gently beneath him.


He remembered falling asleep with her, but not tangled up like this—curled around her warm little body, both sets of arms and at least three legs keeping her there. Daryl breathed deep, like he had in his dream, tilting his face down into her hair and drawing that scent of her into his lungs, sweat and earth and something inherently Beth. She nuzzled her face deeper into his neck, letting out a little sigh before getting back to the quiet snoring she was doing, breathing out over his skin with the same warm breeze from his dream.

This was nice.  A lot of thoughts jumped in Daryl’s brain right then, but that thought landed with the biggest force. Holding her, having the warmth of her there with him—that was nice. It was a lot of things other than that, too, but that was too much thinking for his tired head. It made the low-grade ache pulse a little harder, even just skirting the edges of what else it could be. He didn’t need to think about it now, though. Beth wouldn’t mind if he just let her sleep and enjoyed the niceness for a while longer. If anyone would understand that, it would be her.

She was warm in his arms and warmth simmered away in his belly, too. Not the blaze of arousal from before but something else instead, something calmer. Not less, just a different sort of heat, but it had as much to do with Beth as had the other thing. She stayed. He needed her and she stayed and that meant more than how good she smelled or how adorable she sounded when she snorted softly and murmured in her sleep.

Yeah, she was something, all right. One of these days he might have to figure out exactly what that meant, but for right now all he wanted to do was stay here and not think about a thing, except maybe how well she fit, wrapped up in him as much as he was wrapped around her. He dragged his eyes open, but all he could see of her was her messy blonde ponytail and the curve of the braid she liked to keep in it. Holding her was enough, though. He didn’t need to see her, and he let his eyes shut again, ignoring the dryness in his throat, the pressure in his bladder just so he could keep doing it.

Muggy afternoon heat surrounded them when he woke again, dampening his forehead and the back of his neck, turning Beth into a little woodstove burning away against his chest. So warm, and after being so cold before he wanted to pull her closer and soak it all in. He really had to piss now, though, to an uncomfortable degree, and waking her was the last thing he wanted, but fate or something intervened and Beth stirred. She groaned and stretched, arching her back until her hips and belly pressed into his. She froze, still stretched out like that, face tucked into the underside of his jaw and her breath hot on his skin. But it was okay, okay that she was there, and Daryl combed his fingers through her hair where his hand cradled the back of her head, fingertips grazing her scalp between the soft strands. The curve of her back settled and the tension in her muscles eased, and Beth pulled her face out of his neck to look at him.

She blinked her sleep-lined eyes and smiled in a lazy way, her cheeks flushed pink, hair damp and plastered to her forehead from the heat.

“Hi.” She stretched again, almost like she couldn’t help it, that damn lip caught up in her teeth and stifling the little groan that went with it. “You okay?”

Okay was relative, but he was sure she wasn’t asking his opinion on feel of her body arching against his. What she was asking though, that he could answer. His thoughts were sharper than before they fell asleep, head mostly normal instead of floating somewhere above him. The ache in his legs hadn’t gone away, and he could feel the muscles there and in his back pull and strain when he stretched a bit. No spasms hit, though, no gripping cramps.

If he’d been standing he’d’ve shrugged. Instead he smiled at her, just a little. “Yeah, I’m all right. Gotta piss though.”

Beth let out a little snort of laughter before turning over and easing her way out of bed, first untangling her legs from his, then ducking out of his arms. When she stood she stretched again, long and hard with a deep groan that must’ve come from somewhere down in her toes, and rolled her shoulders with a grimace. Daryl levered himself up on his arms, a little dizzy, watching her stretch, trying not to notice the way her shirt rode up to expose a little strip of skin above the red shorts, or how much longer her legs looked without her jeans on. When the wave of light-headedness passed, Daryl swung his legs out of the bed and Beth held out her hand to him. He didn’t need it but took it anyway and let her help him up.

He still ached, but nothing like before, more like how he did after a full day of running, and the swimming in his head eased off to just a tiny annoyance in the background. Daryl drained the other half of the salty-sweet water in the jar on the chest by the bed, then took slow, easy steps toward the door. Beth had already pulled back the chest and removed the bar, and opened the door for him when he got there. Daryl didn’t bother going down into the yard, vaguely aware that he mighta just reverted back to redneck asshole by pissing off the top step into the grass but the relief was so great he didn’t think he actually cared.

All Beth did when he came back in was raise her eyebrows at him while smothering a smile. “Well, at least we know your kidneys are working. Here.”

He took the jar of water from her—plain, this time—and drank some while she did the same. She got them both refills when they finished then announced she was going outside, but not before pulling on her jeans and boots, then throwing his vest on over her top. Beth glanced at him as she settled it across her shoulders, wearing his leather like she owned it and he wasn’t all that certain she didn’t, somehow. That one image rang clear from this morning, Beth standing in a sunbeam, hair alight, his wings at her back like they belonged there. Like before, he could only look at her, but whatever she saw in his face must have answered her unspoken question. She smiled gently just before she turned toward the door, smoothed her hands down the front of the leather and glanced back at him from the top of the steps.

Daryl watched her heading off in the direction of the outhouse, staring after her a good few seconds even when she disappeared down the path. His boots were still wet, so he kicked them closer to the stove, then crouched down to the pile of clothing he left on the floor by the bed. A spasm ripped up his back so hard it stole his breath and took the strength right out of his knees, and he had to hold onto the wooden bed frame to keep from falling onto his ass. It was late in the afternoon judging by the sun outside, not too far removed from his midday delirium. He should’ve known this wasn’t quite over, that even a few hours of sleep, no matter how blissful and solid, could fix what took almost two days to wreck, but fuck, now that his head wasn’t in the clouds this was already getting old.

He was just standing up when Beth came back in, her eyes finding him the moment she stepped inside, no doubt noting the tight set of his mouth when his back and thighs protested the movement with a spasm of warning. Out of the corner of his eye he saw her watching him as he got to his feet, but once he was up she turned to bar the door and stepped over to the counter area to gather up her own discarded clothing. Daryl followed her over to the front of the cabin as she headed there to hang her things up from the pegs in the wall.

“I was gonna do that, before we fell asleep,” she said, holding onto one of the empty pegs, half-leaning there as she watched him hang his clothes.

He grunted at her. Grunted. It came out of nowhere and left behind an unpleasant wriggle in his gut. Beside him, Beth bit her lip and twisted her grip on the peg, and the wriggling got worse, squirming inside like a bucket of worms, but he didn’t know what to do about it when he didn’t know where it came from in the first place. Fighting his fingers which were doing their best to stop him from accomplishing the delicate task of clothes hanging, Daryl ignored the squirm, tried to ignore Beth’s eyes on him, and tried not to swear when he dropped one of his shirts and couldn’t catch it in time to stop it landing on the floor at his feet.

Beth moved to grab it at the same time as he did, but he fought through the warning quiver in his muscles and bent down to get it, jerking the stupid thing away from her reaching fingers. “I got it, Beth.”

Shit. He hadn’t meant to snap at her but his fucking mouth had other ideas. He had the damn thing in his hands now, though, plus a new sharp pain in his lower back, and there wasn’t anything else he could do but shove the shirt onto an available peg. Beth stood there just looking at him, and he didn’t want to look at her because he was being a dick and he knew it, and he was just about to retreat somewhere in this tiny fucking cabin, just anywhere she wasn’t, when her fingers wrapped gently around his wrist.

For the first time in what felt like forever, he had to fight the urge to flinch away, to withdraw from her touch like she were someone else. Someone who wasn’t Beth. He stared at her slender fingers on his wrist and didn’t flinch, but the urge tugged at him anyway. He didn’t want to. Didn’t want to pull away from her, not Beth, no matter what the vestiges of old instincts tried to tell him, so where the hell was this all coming from?

If Beth saw his inner struggle, she didn’t let on, just gave him a little squeeze and released his arm.

When he dared look up to meet her eyes she wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t not smiling, either. “Okay, Daryl,” she said, without looking away.

From her tone she wasn’t angry, at least he didn’t think so. Wasn’t defensive, either. It was just words, but words like only Beth could say them, warm and soft, a soothing balm to the prickle of nerves in his chest. Beth and her voice and those wide eyes of hers that he knew could see right down inside him.

It wasn’t completely gone, that unsettled feeling in his gut, but he shoved it down and tried to swallow but his throat had gone dry. He followed after Beth, his agitated back protesting with each careful step, joining her over at the counter where she was opening up a jar of peaches. One good twist on the ring and the seal released with a generous pop, the sweet scent of home canned fruit filling the cabin. She offered him a spoon and a smile this time, and Daryl took both and tried to forget what just happened before.

“She knew what she was doin’, the woman who lived here,” Beth said, around the slice of peach in her mouth. She hopped up onto the counter and nudged the chair over toward him with her foot. “Lord, these peaches are so good. Mmm, here, Daryl, try some.”

He took the jar from her once he eased himself into the tall chair and scooped a slice out with his spoon. They were good, perfectly ripe and juicy and the flavour exploded in his mouth. “Damn. You ain’t wrong.”

Beth only giggled and held her hands out, fingers wiggling. “Don’t hog them all!”

He only ate the same as she did, but her exaggeration coaxed out a bit of a chuckle and he made a point of taking one more slice before holding out the jar to her.

“Oh my god,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I ate something so delicious.”

Despite teasing him about hogging the peaches, she gave him back the jar after taking just a couple of slices. “Wonder if there’s an old orchard around or somethin’,” he said, watching her watching him as he took his turn. “Peach is good wood for smoking meat.”

Beth nodded. “Otis used to use it for smokin’ pork.”

She took the jar back and bit into another piece, a trail of juice dribbling down her chin. She shut her eyes and leaned her head back and almost moaned as she chewed, and a little pulse of heat replaced the squirm in Daryl’s belly. He looked away, gaze landing on the deer carcass hanging over in the corner and he made an effort to admire Beth’s tidy job of dressing it.

So much so she was halfway through speaking again before he realized he should be listening. “...downstream somewhere maybe, since you didn’t see anything up. Oak will work though, right?”

“Yeah,” he said, answering before he was fully caught up to the topic at hand. He turned back to her, taking the jar she held out to him. “Yeah, we got lots of oak out in the woodshed.”

“We should probably get going on that now, right? So the meat doesn’t spoil?” Beth reached behind her while he had the jar, using both hands to pull open the window. “So warm in here.”

A bit of breeze drifted in, bringing with it a lingering hint of that after-rain scent and chasing out a bit of the stuffy afternoon air inside. Beth shut her eyes again and took a deep breath, and Daryl could imagine the way the breeze must feel on her face.

He thought about suggesting they open the door, too, but she’d been so oddly vigilant about keeping it closed and blocked with that chest, so he kept that to himself. “Yeah,” he said instead. “Best to just get it done.”

Beth, her eyes still shut, tipped her face up a little closer to the breeze. “What do we do first?”

“Make a salt rub. Dries the meat out and keeps it from growin’ bacteria, then we smoke it up hard. It’ll keep for a long time, that way.” Daryl took one last peach and passed the jar back to her to finish, nudging her leg with it so she would know. “We get that mixed, then we can start butchering.”

Beth finished the last few peaches, then tipped the jar up to drink the juice left behind. It was still half full when she slid it back across the counter to him. “All yours.”

He drank it, remembering the fruit salad from earlier although the peaches tasted better. If they had time to explore he was sure they would find that orchard, probably some remnant from an old homestead long since gone wild. No grocery store peach tasted that fresh out of a jar, even in Georgia, especially out in the deep woods like this. No, lady walker had a source close by, he was sure of it. While he mused on the freshness of their breakfast—well, supper, probably—Beth filled them both a jar of water to drink and hauled the bag of salt out onto the counter.

Daryl had done this before, though not for a long time. It had been a while since he had enough salt available to even attempt it, but they were well supplied here. So well that the couple who lived here could’ve gone on for a long while if they hadn’t ended up getting bit. Beth gathered up all the spices she could find, setting aside those she wanted to use, plus some of the garlic from the front wall since she said it was antibacterial, too.

“And delicious,” she added, as she ground some up to add to their salt and spice mixture.

Butchering the doe inside the cabin wasn’t ideal, the light too dim and the temperature too hot, too humid. But the yard was full of rotten corpses, he didn’t have dry boots, and Beth still had that unspoken something fuelling her reluctance to spend too long outside. She wouldn’t look right at him when she said it, that she felt better staying in, instead rummaging around searching for her favourite knife which she eventually found right where she always kept it. Later. He would ask her about it later, once the deer was dealt with. He didn’t press the issue and she flashed him a look full of gratitude.

Together they skinned the doe where she hung, Beth picking it up quickly based on what she knew from skinning smaller kills. It felt good, working, even though he was sore as hell and his back complained if he moved the wrong way. It felt normal, anyway, preparing the deer, working at keeping them fed. The rest of it, the weakness tugging at his joints, the ache in his calves, the occasional moment of light-headedness, it was fading, maybe not fast enough, but it was. They’d eat well tonight, though, probably sleep better. By morning, he’d feel more like himself.

Despite his assurances to himself, or maybe because of them, a wave of dizziness washed over him when they were just about through. It hit him as he reached up above his head to free the last bit of skin, forcing Daryl to shut his eyes against the spinning of the room. He tried to breathe through it, and the worst of it passed as quickly as it hit him. Stomach queasy, all-over prickly with sweat, Daryl pried his eyes open and pressed on. He didn’t fucking have time for this.

The hide came free, dropping onto the canvas below. Beth set her knife down on the counter and wiped her hands on a rag. “Gonna hit the outhouse,” she said, already headed for the door. “Be right back.”

Cooler air burst in when she pulled open the door, the cross-breeze from the window cutting a path right through where he stood. Daryl leaned back against the counter and let it blow over him, shutting his eyes, trying to ease away the nausea one deep breath at a time. When footsteps on the stairs signalled Beth’s return, he pushed away from the counter and forced his eyes open, not entirely recovered, but recovered enough. She didn’t need to worry, she’d done enough of that.

“Let’s leave it open,” Beth said, filling their water jars and handing one to him. “It’s too hot in here.”

The breeze helped, and instead of making his nausea worse the water soothed it, and he sipped at it as they butchered the doe. Beth kept both their jars full, drinking so much herself she ran out to the outhouse again before they were through. Just as well, though. His legs were cramping again, his back gone tight, and he used the reprieve to walk off the strain of standing in one place, to stretch and rub the offending muscles.

She had a load of oak wood in her arms when she got back, and stacked them over by the stove. “Figured, since I was already out and all,” she said, when he looked over at her.

She helped herself to a carrot and passed him one, took some water and watched as he did, too, and then they got back to work. It didn’t take long, with the two of them. By the time the afternoon heat cooled into a warm evening, they had the meat off the bones and portioned into strips, ready for salting. His boots were mostly dry and he stuck his bare feet into them to trudge outside for the smoker, still waiting where he’d stashed it at the back of the woodshed. Beth came along and hauled in another load of wood, then dashed out again to refill the water pail while he got the smoker set up.

Was kind of a brilliant little rig, once he got a good look at it. Could build the fire right inside for a hotter smoke, but there was also a series of pipes meant to hook up to the woodstove. More distance from the heat of the fire made for a cooler smoke and that’s exactly what he was after. A good dose of salt and a long cool smoke made for a hard-smoked meat that would stay good for as long as they needed it to. Didn’t need no cold, no preservatives that way, which made some sort of sense. The cabin had no power, no cold room that they could find. They’d have relied on this sort of technique to keep meat through the summer.

He got the thing set up in the middle of the cabin—not its intended location, but they both agreed it was best to keep everything inside as much as possible. Beth said she felt better knowing their meat was inside with them, especially after all they had gone through to get it.

His legs wobbled in warning when he stood up from attaching the final length of pipe connecting the smoker to the stove, and he took careful steps over to join Beth. She stood at the counter, pounding the salt mixture into the venison strips, the cabin’s one chair stationed beside her. As he eased into it, trying not to groan as the throbbing in his calves settled to a dull ache, Beth glanced at him side-on, and it hit him like a baseball bat to the skull.

The peaches. The water. The too-frequent piss breaks. The open door, the chair, even the armfuls of wood. That sneaky goddamn woman had been taking care of him all fucking day and he didn’t even know it, and now that he did he couldn’t even be angry. Something let go in his belly, something he realized he’d been holding onto all afternoon. That tight, ugly, wriggling thing that made him grunt and snap and want to pull away from the only person in the world he had ever wanted to keep close.

It was okay, she was telling him, without ever saying a word. Okay to need help sometimes. Okay to need her, to rely on her just as much as she did him.

“We wouldn’t have this, if you hadn’t gone out to get it,” Beth said, like she could read his mind. “Thank you, Daryl. For doing this for us.”

For us. For Beth and Daryl against the whole fucking world.

He hated every bit of feeling weak and useless, and she knew that. Knew, too, that he had to get here on his own. Fucking knew him so well he almost couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t find a word in his head if he went in with a net and tried to catch one. But Beth didn’t need words, did she? No, she didn’t, and when he reached for her hand she reached back, simple as that, twined their fingers together and squeezed tight.

The sky was fully dark outside by the time they laid the last strips of salted venison into the smoker and secured the door. His stomach growled but Beth solved that problem, too, having whipped up her promised heart-and-potato-soup sometime between getting back to the cabin and him basically passing out on her, and it had simmered away all afternoon into something rich and oniony and thick and delicious but she only let him have enough to settle the hunger pangs.

“You will get sick if you eat too much, too fast,” she said, setting his bowl aside on the counter with the rest of the things she planned on washing in the morning.

The fact that she was probably right meant he only grumbled a little as she tidied up the rest of their mess and rearranged the candles so they had more light over at the bed. She joined him where he sat at the edge with a fresh jar of water for both of them and his vest, which she had been wearing all day until now, tucked beneath her arm.

“Here,” she said, speaking quietly, sliding it onto his lap. “I-I thought maybe you might want it back.”

Daryl looked down at it, at the wings showing between the folds of leather. Inside, a fresh bloom of heat rose up, stirring that fluttering in his chest that was always there these days, grown right in like an extra limb. He lifted the leather into his hands, unfolding the vest so he could look at the wings, aware of Beth’s eyes on him. A great many thoughts swirled around his head and he couldn’t make much sense of them, but one thing stuck out—Beth in the woods lit up by the sun and Beth from his dream, ethereal and glowing in the dark.

“Why don’t you keep it for a while?”

He didn’t know when he became such a sentimental motherfucker, but at least he knew why. If anyone was worth going sentimental for, it was Beth, and as he passed the vest back into her hands, their gazes met and held. Her fingers closed around the vest, brushing against his and he swore he could feel them trembling, just a little. Which was why next found himself helping her into it, settling the worn old leather across her shoulders, smoothing down the wings over her back with his palm.

Looks better on you anyway.

Saying things in his head only to realize he’d said them out loud was starting to become a habit, and Beth ducked her head away but not before he caught sight of her pleased grin, lip caught in her teeth as though she was trying to keep it contained. His cheeks felt warm, as warm as hers looked, flushed so deeply he could see it in the dark. But he said it, it was out there, and Beth didn’t let him feel awkward for too long before she tipped her head to rest it on his shoulder, finding his hand and twining their fingers together.

“What happened, while you were gone?” Beth asked, in a quiet voice, after a very long time of just sitting together in the stillness of the night, listening to the soft crackling of the fire in the woodstove, sipping water and staring into the flicker of candlelight around them.

He hadn’t had a lot of time to dwell on the details. The morning passed in a delirious fog and they’d been so busy through the afternoon, prepping the deer, that he hadn’t let it in. But in the quiet now it all rushed back, a dizzying flash of image memories and a thundering in his chest like the footsteps of a thousand walkers. Beth’s fingers tightened on his, pulling him back out of his head a bit, and he looked down at her just as she tipped her face up to look at him.

She was so close, leaning there against his shoulder, cheeks still flushed, pupils wide in the low light. “You don’t have to tell me, if you don’t want to.”

Here was his out, if he wanted it. But looking down at her, at those big eyes staring back at him, he wanted to tell her everything. He needed to touch her, the urge coming upon him like a tingling rush in his chest, an itch in his fingers he couldn’t shake, and he lifted his hand to draw his thumb across the reddest part of her cheek.

“I want to,” he said, repeating the motion on her soft skin, smiling when she let her eyes drift shut and snuggled her cheek deeper into his shoulder.

Beth squeezed his fingers and sighed, her face so close to his he felt the breath of it wash over him. “I’m not goin’ anywhere, Daryl. Take your time.”

With her eyes closed he felt daring enough to stroke her cheek one more time, letting his thumb linger there a minute before dragging his hand away. Beth shivered, the tremor rolling through her shoulder and into his where they touched. No, she wasn’t going anywhere.

Not a storyteller, no matter how Beth might tease him, Daryl told her in halting sentences about tracking the does all day only to lose them to walkers. About finding the buck the next day and making camp. Her hold on his hand grew tighter the more he spoke, almost to the point of pain when he got to where the herd appeared and he had to sacrifice the buck to keep himself alive. The more he spoke the easier it came, except for what mattered. When he tried to tell her about her voice in his head he forgot how to make sounds, all clammed up like he ain’t ever spoken a word in his life, throat thick and dry, lungs collapsed on themselves, crumpled like tinfoil inside his chest. The day spent in the tree with the walkers marching below, passing in and out of consciousness, waking to the storm and stumbling toward the creek, that all poured out of him as easy as water rushing in the creek.

“Oh, Daryl,” Beth whispered, her breath hitching around the words. She shifted beside him, turning her face into his chest, reaching up to wrap her arm around his neck. Between them their joint hands rested over her heart, which thudded away behind her ribs like a stampeding horse.

Daryl pressed his face into her hair and his palm between her wings, ran his thumb along her spine how she liked after a nightmare. Beth sighed into his chest and whispered his name again, told him to keep going.

“Storm wasn’t lettin’ up, barely knew where I was, couldn’t walk no more,” he said, clearing his parched throat. “Fell down under a big old oak and didn’t think I’d make the night.”

At Beth’s sharp intake of breath, Daryl pulled his face out of her hair. She looked up at him, but not the way he expected, not wearing the look he imagined her to wear at the thought of him so uncertain of his fate. It affected her, it did—eyes red and glossy with unshed tears, that furrow etched so deep it might never relax. But that weren’t what made her react.

“I know,” she said, sliding her hand up from his neck to rest along the line of his jaw. “You fell down, just where the clearing opened up and then crawled into the hollow, and you covered yourself with leaves and dirt, and you made it. You got up in the morning and you made it.”

There was a logical explanation for her words, for all of this, and of that Daryl was certain, but his brain was spinning a million miles a second and he just couldn’t get there. Something lurched in his chest and he just stared at her, and her trembling lip caught up between her teeth and her eyes, shouting a thousand things at him that he couldn’t read. “Beth?”

She pulled away, grabbing their half-empty water jars, and was across the room before he could reach out and stop her. Her fingers trembled as she took her time refilling the water, her back turned to try and keep him from seeing. But he saw. He couldn’t look away and when rolled her shoulders and groaned, he remembered again that only this morning she hauled a deer out of the woods all by herself.

This woman. God, this woman. Would she ever stop surprising him?

“Beth,” he said again, not a question this time. “C’mere, sweetheart.”

You looked at me as you walk in the room
Like a red sea you split me open
Somehow knew these wings were stolen
All you did was save my life

to be continued in chapter 16 >>


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