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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 f-bombs and a brief mention of male anatomy (gasp) 
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 Savin' Me by Nickelback.

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 16 – With These Broken Wings I’m Fallin’ (and All I See Is You)


*~*

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

Her fingers stilled on the jars and she breathed out a loud, shuddering breath before turning toward him, her face lit bright by the candles. Without taking her eyes off him she stepped back over, stopping when the toes of her boots touched up against his. She stood and looked down at him with that same unreadable expression, eyes so wide, lips held tight against the tremble tugging at their corners.

He put the vest on her before. Now, after he guided her down to sit in front of him, her slight body between his knees, he slipped it off her shoulders to let it lie between them on the quilt. The moment his thumbs pressed in between her shoulder blades, Beth moaned long and loud and pushed back into his touch. Ropey knots rolled and she stifled a cry of pain. Daryl paused but she grunted at him not to stop.

“I shoulda known,” he said, as she whimpered again. “Shoulda known you’d be hurtin’.”

“Doesn’t—ahhh—doesn’t matter.”

He remembered this game, and if she wasn’t hurting so bad he might’ve found it funny. “It does matter, Beth.”

Her giggle was half-sobbed, and she gripped his knees hard with both hands. “Okay,” she said, the word mostly breath. “Okay.”

She was a mess, tight and knotted and full of hotspots he could barely touch without making her whimper in pain. Anytime he tried to stop, though, she clenched her teeth and told him not to, just dug her fingers into his knees as he did his best to ease away the tension, to work her aching, abused muscles until they relaxed under his touch.

“You’re—ohhh, Lord—you’re good at this, Daryl,” she said, curling forward a little as his thumbs travelled lower.

He snorted as he touched on a spot to the left of her spine that made her jolt, only her grip on his knees keeping her from leaping up. “Ain’t good at nothin’. You’re just too sore to know the difference.”

“Still.” She all but hissed the word, holding her breath as he applied pressure, waiting for the knot to give a little before he worked it. She sighed when it did, and once again leaned into his touch. “You didn’t have to. Thanks.”

He did, though, but the words to tell her that died in his throat before he could speak them. She needed this, every bit as much as he needed her help before. Of course he would give that to her.

“Ohh, that hurts,” she whimpered, still pushing herself into the press of his thumbs despite the pain.

He had found the twin to the spot that almost made her jump and worked his thumbs there, on either side of her spine just below her shoulder blades. “What you get for lookin’ after useless old assholes.”

Beth snorted and squeezed his knee. “I don’t know about the useless part. Or the—ahh—the old part.”

Daryl let his hands go still for a moment. “I see how it is.”

She pushed back into his thumbs anyway, a little reminder nudge even though they both knew he wasn’t done. “Well, you’re the one who said it, I just didn’t disagree.”

“That’s a fine line of distinction, girl,” he said, with a snort, and moved his thumbs out from her spine toward her sides with a steady sort of pressure.

“And those are fancy words for an asshole.”  Beth groaned and pressed her fingertips into his knees. “Ohh, even an asshole with magic fingers.”

Something pleasant pulsed warm and low in his belly at that, bizarre and random but no less palpable for it. Daryl drove his thumb deep into a spot that made her gasp and tip her head up to the ceiling. “So I’m a magic asshole now?”

“Yep,” she said, still looking up. “I see the glitter. There might even be rainbows.”

He couldn’t help himself, letting out a laugh when the mental image of that slammed full force into his brain. “Fuck, that’s a picture in my head I ain’t ever gonna unsee.”

Beth’s soft chuckle, broken a bit with little sighs as he worked, seemed to come from everywhere at once. “I hadn’t thought about that,” she said, and he imagined the face she might make if he could see her, eyes rolled up to the right, index finger pushed into her lip as she pretended to think.

“Okay, maybe just a man, then,” she said, after a moment, the emphasis on man accompanied by a bit of a grunt when he found an especially sore spot.

He dug in and she whimpered, but pushed into the pressure like always. “Just?”

And she laughed, a gravelly thing which trickled right down inside him where that pleasant warmth lingered. Stirred it up into something a little warmer, a little more insistent on being noticed.

“You’ve still got those magic fingers,” she said, on the tail end of that laugh. “That’s somethin’. That’s—ohhha lotta somethin’.”

“Now you’re tryin’ to get on my good side,” Daryl said, taking the safe road. The teasing road that left the warmth in his belly simmering in the background—mostly. “I got you made, Greene.”

Beth craned her neck to look over her shoulder at him, though he could barely see the hint of one eye. “Yes, but is it working? ‘Cause I can up my game if I have to.”

Oh, girl, you got no idea.

That, he hoped, stayed in his head where it belonged. Out loud he tried to sound thoughtful or something, as he answered her. “You did make supper.”

She turned a little further, half her face visible now. “And got so sore and achy by being awesome, don’t forget.”

She was joking, he could hear the lilt of laughter in her words, the hint of doubt, too, like after all she done she still didn’t understand how amazing she was. He looked her straight in that one eye and couldn’t even pretend to be anything but serious. “Get all the back rubs you want for that, Beth.”

She turned more, to look at him now nearly straight on. It had to hurt, twisting like that when she was so sore, but she stared back at him like it didn’t matter at all. Like maybe she didn’t believe it, but it mattered to her that he did. That feeling was back, of being tethered, anchored to her by some unseen force, something which pulsed along with the warmth in his belly and rose up in the air to engulf them both. He couldn’t look away, couldn’t stop the slide of his thumb along her spine, or the way she shivered all over and made him shiver too.

The moment broke when Beth’s back gave a twinge which scrunched up her face and forced her to untwist. But she huffed a bit of a laugh through her nose as she resettled in front of him, and tapped his knee with her fist. “Will you use your magic fingers?”

He set his hands on her again, thumbs poised to pick up where they left off, but he chuckled when she spoke and let his palms lay flat to soak in the warmth of her for a moment. “Yeah, yeah, rainbows and all.”

“And the glitter,” she said, swinging her legs so her feet bumped his. “Don’t forget the glitter.”

Daryl pressed his thumbs in and Beth curled her back and moaned. “That enough glitter for you?”

“Oh God, Daryl.” She straightened out again, leaned into his touch, and tipped her face up to the ceiling. “Oh, that hurts so good.”

Jesus, girl.

He knew he said that out loud, and knew she heard him. Words weren’t something he ever cared for, ever noticed the way other men might. Not the dirty things the women Merle’d thrown at him would whisper, like they thought it was what he wanted to hear, or the milder things Carol used to say to tease him sometimes, before she knew he didn’t like it. This, though, outta Beth Greene’s mouth, sparked like a match, the flames licking at the edges of the slow burning wick already smouldering inside him. Beth was no little girl, she knew exactly how it sounded, and maybe she hadn’t meant it that way, but her soft little laugh afterward made him think she didn’t mind all that much.

Fuck if he knew what to do with that.

Once her laughter faded away, Beth didn’t speak again, but the lack of conversation didn’t feel awkward. More contemplative than anything, like she had just as many thoughts in her head as he had in his. Didn’t stop the sounds his thumbs drew out of her, though, moans and sighs and little whimpers, and he stared at his hands on her back to remind himself these were noises of pain and he should ignore the coil of heat in his belly drawing tighter with every sound she made.

She breathed his name at the end of a drawn-out moan, voice gone raspy in a way he never heard before. That heat pulsed hard and Daryl swallowed harder, knowing where this was going but sure he couldn’t do a thing to stop it. He wasn’t hard, just warm, belly alight with little frissons shooting out like starbursts, tickling over his skin and pushing that fluttering in his chest into deep, sweeping beats he felt right into his bones. It felt fucking good, and that was half the problem because he still didn’t know why he was feeling it at all, but he liked it. And if he couldn’t stop it—wasn’t fully convinced he wanted to—he could at least pretend nothing was amiss. She didn’t have to know. It was just a back rub and she didn’t have to know how she affected him, how something about her—maybe everything about her—took what he knew about his own body and drowned it in the creek.

What he needed was a distraction, something to pull his mind from where it best not linger and coax it back into his head where it belonged.

Sliding his hands up to work her neck might not have been the best idea, with how she sighed and scooted back just a bit—not too close, but close enough—but it got her attention, pulled her mind out of wherever it was. She reached up with one hand to give his wrist a squeeze, drawing her thumb across the back of his hand before letting it fall away.

“Tell me,” he said, his voice thickened like gravel and mud. “What happened?”

Beth breathed deep, pulled both her hands into her lap. He couldn’t see but knew they’d be clenched together, fingers tangled and white-knuckled from gripping each other. He almost regretted asking her, but he knew she had a story to tell. That moment, after he told her his story but before she pulled away from him, what she said then had something to do with it and she was probably only waiting on him to ask.

Still, she was quiet for a long time before she started speaking. “Nothing really, until the second day,” she said, voice low, probably in an attempt to hide the waver in it. “Not until afternoon, when the clouds were rollin’ in. I went outside to get a walker at the fence, and then there were people.”

A cold prickling rushed up his spine and he stilled his fingers on her neck. “Beth—”

“Just let me tell it, Daryl,” she said, cutting off his concern but not unkindly. She pulled her hands apart and reached back again for his wrist. “Okay?”

He took a very deep breath. “Okay.”

“They didn’t see me,” she said, voice a little bolder now. “I heard their voices on the wind and went inside…”

She was telling him how it felt, waiting in the cabin, knowing there were people on the way, and that seemed to be the point of what she was saying. As she said it, though, as he felt an echo of her adrenaline rush coursing through his body while he listened, she was telling him so much more than that. Securing the cabin, organizing the weapons, settling her thoughts so she had a calm head to face the potential threat—she didn’t even know, didn’t even get it, how strong she’d been right from the start. How brave.

“There were two of them. A man and a woman,” Beth continued, sniffling a bit. “At first, I couldn’t tell if they were really that pathetic, or if they were puttin’ on an act, tryin’ to trick me into opening the door to an ambush, or somethin’.”

Daryl’s hands stilled on her neck and he waited, wanting to ask, wanting to tell her that was a good instinct, not to trust the first appearance of a thing until she had more to go on. But she’d asked him to let her tell it, so he didn’t, he kept his mouth shut and stroked his thumbs along the line of her vertebrae, up into her hair.

Beth shivered, a soft little shudder rolling out from shoulders to fingertips, and glided her thumbs over his knees. “I didn’t open the door,” she said, in a whisper. “Stayed inside, stayed awake through the night in case they tried something. I was okay, though. I had water. I caught a rabbit that morning so I had food, and—”

“You got a rabbit?” He couldn’t stop the interruption, the words were out before he remembered he promised just to listen. “With your crossbow?”

She twisted again to look at him, eyes a little moist, but crinkled just a bit along with her smile as she nodded at him. “My first kill.”

In this, she looked pleased with herself, as she shoulda been, and his smile came on full and easy. “Told you. Badass.”

Her grin widened even as her cheeks flushed pink. “Best rabbit I ever ate. Or it would’ve been if I wasn’t so distracted.”

Beth turned back around, and Daryl got back to massaging her, now working across the top side of her trapezius muscles. The knots there were large rolling things that made her pull her shoulders in and whimper, but he knew by then that she didn’t want him to stop, no matter how much it hurt.

“But the people. Pam and Jake, they were called. They were loud, and so awful to each other. I don’t know if I believe in luck, Daryl, but these two. Only luck coulda kept them from being dead. Oh, oww...” She paused for a minute, panting through the pain of the particular spot he was working now. “They—ahhhthey lit a fire in the yard—an effing bonfire—and in the morning they just kept right on being awful and noisy.”

Daryl couldn’t help it, he had to ask. “So we're they? Trickin’ you?”

“No.” She breathed in deeply and the breath shuddered out. “No, they weren’t. I don’t know if I believe everythin’ they told me, but they really were just two idiots trying to stay alive.” She pulled her shoulders in again, forcing his hands to pause their motions until she relaxed a moment later. “They didn’t know how to kill walkers. Didn’t even have a name for them.”

She told the rest of her story in a hushed little voice, speaking fast as though she didn’t think she had enough time to get all the words out. Various things warred inside him as she spoke; hot spikes of anger in his chest, cold, squirming dread in his gut, and a rush of pride at how she held her own, how she took charge of the situation and handled it far better than she even knew. That ripped through him like adrenaline, throwing his heartbeat into overdrive, boiling over in his chest and spilling out everywhere, a powerful surge of blood which heated him up from head to toe and filled his cock so fill he ached. All he wanted to do in the first place was forget about his unruly body but he didn’t stand a chance against Beth Greene. She didn’t think she was brave, didn’t think she was strong, but she was. She was so much more than he even had words for and all he could do was just feel it and hope someday she might understand.

But beyond all of that, above the blazing pride and the deep thrum of arousal, a gripping, twisting guilt sunk its teeth into his belly, gnawing away like an ulcer inside. She handled it, she did, so fucking well—but she should’ve had to, not like that. If he’d been back when he said, she’d never have had to face them alone.

“I shoulda fuckin’ been there.”

He knew that time that he spoke aloud, but the words weren’t meant for her ears. She heard anyway, and twisted around, half turning toward him so she could see his face.

“You were there,” she said, swallowing hard, her palm pressed over her heart. “You were with me the whole time, Daryl.”

Like the vest, like so many things with Beth, it meant something that he should be in her head at the same time as she was in his. It had to—he didn’t feel like this for nothing. He never felt like this before at all and she was the beating heart in the centre of it and that wasn’t nothing and neither was this. Not even close. Beth turned back around and he rolled his thumbs up her neck, pressing them in at the base of her skull. She groaned loudly and it rippled right down through him to his aching cock, but he didn’t even care anymore.

“I had to help them,” Beth said, in a quiet voice that somehow kept the strength, the boldness, he knew her capable of. “I couldn’t just let them go on with nothing.”

He might have done that, sent the two idiots on their way without so much as tossing them a scrap. At one time he knew he would’ve, before Beth, before she made him want to attain even a sliver of that goodness she carried in her heart. She was right to help, though, and he could hear it in her voice that she didn’t think she had done enough. And the guilt twisted again, but not for the same reasons—because she had, she’d done so much and he hadn’t said a word about it.

“You did good, Beth. So good.” He drew circles with his fingers on her neck, feeling the little tremble rolling through her. “Kept the cabin safe. Kept you safe.”

“I tried,” she whispered, voice shaky. “I tried so hard.”

“You did good.” He couldn’t say it enough. He couldn’t say enough to tell her how much he meant it.

She understood that, though, because she knew him. Knew him better than anyone. She leaned back, reaching up until her fingers slid into his hair and the back of her head met his forehead, and she whispered his name, just his name, but he heard the gratitude there. Heard the words she couldn’t say, either.

When she released him, she settled in front of him and Daryl again put his hands on her back. His thumbs ached but she ached more, and he retraced is path over sore muscles, listened to the noises she made, felt them warm in his belly and in his cock and just let himself feel it. She didn’t know. She wouldn’t know and it wasn’t going to hurt her.

When she spoke again, her voice had lost its waver of tears, but remained soft, almost a whisper in the quiet cabin. “I couldn’t help thinking about you and me, when they were out there,” she said. “All they had in the world was each other and they couldn’t find a kind word between them.”

Daryl didn’t know how to answer that, but it didn’t really matter. Beth carried on without needing one.

“We make it work, Daryl,” she said, thumbs tracing soft, tingling little circles on his knees again. “Even—even before the moonshine, we weren’t like that, you know? And now…”

This was the first time either of them had mentioned the moonshine out loud. It was a turning point for a lot of things, more than his tired old brain could ever pick out, but wasn’t something they spoke about. He knew it, though, knew she knew it, that neither of them came out of that fire the same as they went in and it seemed like too powerful a thing to try putting into words. But something happened that day, from that moment she stood solid up against his grief and his rage and raged right back, angry and hurting and somehow just what he needed.

And he still needed her.  He might’ve been delirious before, but not amnesiac. A part of him broke inside this morning when he thought she was gonna leave him alone in the bed, when the thought of her across the room was too much to bear. He needed Beth like he never thought he’d ever need another living soul. Then, at the moonshiner’s shack, today when he thought he would stop breathing if she went away, now, tomorrow, next week, next year.

It was scary as fuck, but there it was, flayed and bleeding and lying there for the world to see. And Beth Greene gathered up that frightened, trembling, broken piece of him and cradled it in her arms every bit as gently, every bit as fiercely, as she once cradled Judith. She wasn’t just strong. She saved his fucking life and he didn’t deserve a bit of it, but she thought he did and that—that was enough. It had to be.

He nodded, not trusting his voice, realizing only after that she couldn’t see him. The way she held him back at the shack pulsed fresh in his memory, and he slid his arms around her shoulders from behind and tipped his forehead down on top of her shoulder, where she was as warm and woodsy smelling as she was when they woke up so tangled together.

Beth pressed her face into his arm where it lay across her chest, her hands coming up to settle over top of his. “Now I kinda think you and me could take on anything, you know?” she said, her words vibrating into his skin.

He did know, and he murmured something like that into her neck and shivered in response right along with her.

After a long time of just sitting together like that, Beth pulled slowly out of his arms and crossed the room, heading for the pot of stew. As she started dividing out the rest of it into two bowls, Daryl eased himself off the bed, his body protesting the movement after sitting for so long.

“Stay there a minute, Beth,” he said, trying to hold his hands in a way that didn’t make it look obvious what he was hiding from her, in case she looked back. “Don’t turn.”

Beth didn’t ask why, just finished what she was doing and leaned up against the counter to wait. Daryl’s boxers were dry now, and clean enough, not caked with mud and filth like his jeans. He couldn’t tolerate these too-small shorts any longer, with or without the erection that didn’t seem to want to go away, and he had to bite back the groan of relief when he tugged them off at last and his cock sprang free. He glanced down at it, bobbing full and heavy out in front of him. Couldn’t remember a time he’d been even half as hard as he was right now without somebody’s hands or whatever on him first, and even then he never felt warm like this, body blazing with those pleasant bursts of heat from deep in his belly that hadn’t stopped all night. Wasn’t gonna touch himself, not here, not now, but he wanted to, and that was new, too, as new as all the rest of this. Just the thought of how that would feel, the weight of it in his hand, the glide of his foreskin as he stroked himself, rolled through him like a warm wave, stirred the heat in his belly and sent a fresh surge of hot blood straight to his already rigid cock.

Beth was waiting, though, and indulging in his body’s delinquency was so far removed from the concept of a good idea that he resisted that increasingly pressing urge and pulled on his boxers, the rasp of the fabric on his sensitized flesh enough to make him shudder hard. With shaking fingers he pulled the faded black sweats over top, though he knew they weren’t hiding anything. At least he could breathe as he returned to the bed, moving to sit back against the wall with his legs drawn up, counting on the shadows and the dark fabric to conceal his current state.

“Okay, Beth.”

She turned, eyes flicking over to the wall where he had, in his haste, left the tight as hell grey boxer briefs lying on the floor. Her lips twitched a little but she didn’t say anything, just came back across the room with the two bowls and handed him one before crawling onto the bed to sit beside him.

“There’s more,” she said, a few minutes later, halfway through her bowl of stew. “If you want to hear it.”

Daryl looked down at the woman sitting beside him, her head leaning on his shoulder and tipped up to look at him. So close, always so close, and every inch of his body tingled with awareness of that.

“I wanna hear it,” he said to her. “I wanna hear all of it.”

She smiled just before she faced forward again, then drew her knees up like his and leaned further into him. “The storm and the herd hit a few hours after Pam and Jake left, and all I could think about while I hid inside was you alone out there in the middle of it…”
*~*

There weren’t any tracks to follow, not after the storm and the herd ravaged the landscape. The sun was at her back, for now, though it didn’t reach far into the thick trees and even layered up, the damp, shady chill whispered at her skin. The remnants of the trapline proved difficult to find, damaged as they were, but Beth knew how long it took Daryl to run it, remembered where he said he first found it. Once she spotted the first couple of traps the rest came easy, and she travelled the arc of it out away from the cabin to where she thought the apex must be, or close enough to it. From there, she walked a path roughly perpendicular to where she thought the line continued, looking for a landmark that survived the storm and the herd and might resist another.

What she found was a little hill where the tree roots grew over it like lace. The source of the lacy roots, a giant hemlock growing at the top of the slope, created a small clearing above where the underbrush grew thin or non existent beneath the carpet of needles. The earth here was soft after the storm, moist and easy to disturb when she dug the shovel into the ground. It didn’t take long to dig down deep enough, even working around the roots, to bury the hiking pack full of supplies and cover the whole thing back over with soil and debris. With the extra dirt scattered down over the hillside and the roots, an untrained eye wouldn’t notice a thing.

She had to hide the shovel next. Somewhere far enough from the bag that someone wouldn’t find both of them easily, but close enough to be useful if they needed to find it again.

That flicker of thought for Daryl made her pause, heart pounding in her chest, but she pushed it back just as she pushed away from the tree she had fallen against, made herself keep going. She was going to find him. As soon as she got this job done, she was going to find him. There just wasn’t another option.

She dipped her nose beneath the edge his vest for a moment and breathed in the scent of him still lingering there, then tugged the open front as snugly as she could around her body and kept walking. Her eyes swept over the ground, the trees, everything, looking for something even remotely recognizable as a sign. Other than the abundance of walker tracks, an overlapping mess of vaguely discernable footprints moving in the opposite direction, the woods yielded nothing.

It was getting warmer now, but still damp enough in the trees that she didn’t feel the need to pull off her sweater. Still, she’d done enough walking to warrant a water break, and sat down at the base of a tree at the edge of a small creek which cut through the woods on a diagonal. Her crossbow jutted into her back as she leaned against the tree trunk and she swung it off, noting as she did the fresh marks her bow left in the bark, and the slightly older ones beneath it.

Her heart launched itself into a pounding beat again and she twisted around to run her fingers over the marks, both sets. Daryl was here. Days ago now, because this must have been from when he first set out on his hunt, but those marks in the tree, nearly identical to the ones she just made, were from his crossbow, of that she had no doubts. And it didn’t matter that this was an old sign, it was still a sign, evidence that Daryl had come this way, that he existed three days ago in this very spot. It was something. It was more than she had all morning. More hope than she’d had in three days, fluttering there in her chest and skittering like tiny wings all over her skin.

She could barely breathe as she shoved her bottle of water back into her pack and kept walking, but she forced herself to take slower, more even breaths. Excited heads missed things; calm ones read the signs and she couldn’t afford to miss any, not when they were hidden beneath the devastation wrought by the herd. Daryl was tracking deer when he came this way, but there wouldn’t be any signs of that now; even without the herd, the storm would’ve obliterated those. But she did see something as she walked—a path of sorts, showing here and there as a distinct swath of bare, hard-packed mud amidst the soggy, debris-strewn underbrush.

A game trail.

Beth shivered, but she wasn’t cold. No, everything inside her pulsed warm and excited. He wasn’t here, probably not for daysbut he had been. He followed this trail, and the deer that used it, set his feed down in the same place as hers. If she kept it in her sight, if she kept following it, she knew she would find him.

When she saw the pair of oak trees, or what used to be two separate trees but had long since twisted their trunks around one another until they fused into one big tree with a deep hollow beneath it, Beth paused and glanced at her shovel.  It was as good a place as any to stash it, far enough from the hidden bag, and the tree itself was something she would remember. The shovel fit snugly into the gap between the trunks and after packing some dirt around the blade with her hands, she couldn’t tell, just glancing, that it was even there.

Her dirty hands left muddy streaks on her already soiled jeans, but Beth didn’t care how filthy she got. All she cared about was finding Daryl—and finding him alive. The bark of the tree felt rough beneath her fingers as she ran her hand along it to step around to the other side of the clearing. Since stepping into the woods that morning, wherever exposed ground peaked out from the underbrush and even where it stayed covered, she saw blatant evidence of the herd’s passing. Trampled foliage, overlapping footprints, bits of rotten flesh clinging to trees, unidentifiable gore mixing in with the mud on the ground. It was a sign of many, not signs of one singular thing. Even the stragglers blended in with the masses, in something this devastating. And that was why this made her pause, caused her breath to catch in her chest and stick there until her lungs burned.

Something, or someone, had fallen here, disturbing the already disturbed mix of needles and soggy earth, well after the walkers passed. The marks of a body landing hard, just there, right where it would’ve broken into the clearing from the woods, and there, a pattern of marks in the ground, the press of knees and the swipe of forearms—that same body, crawling away from where it had fallen to curl up into the hollow of the tree. The detritus here had been pulled into a pile, and even though something had later crawled out of it, she could see that clearly enough. Whatever bedded down in there had been aware enough to cover itself.

Walkers don’t do that.

What burst out again, though—of that, she couldn’t be certain. The footprints, clear even where they landed atop those of the walkers that came before it, staggered off in the direction of the creek. Beth’s heart pounded and she still couldn’t breathe, not really, her head just a little bit dizzy as she followed the tracks.

She knew those boots. That wasn’t wishful thinking. One of the first things Daryl taught her, when she asked him to help her learn to track, was how to recognize her own footprints so she wouldn’t end up following herself. The second thing he taught her was how to recognize his, in case she ever needed to find him. Daryl’s boots made these tracks. Those were Daryl’s footprints zigzagging toward the creek.

The sun was bright in her eyes when she broke out of the woods and onto the bank, and the rocks clunked noisily beneath her feet. Very little earth showed here but when she found the toe of that familiar boot print, pressed deep into the mud in a space between two rocks, Beth knew she was on the right track. She ducked back into the woods, breaking her trail as quietly as she could, parallel to the water’s path. Watching. Listening. Walking for what seemed like forever without finding a single thing.

Half an hour later, give or take, amidst the birdsong, cheerful still well into morning after the violence of the storm, Beth heard noises down by the creek; a thud of impact, dulled by distance, the rustle of something moving that wasn’t leaves. Just ahead the trees thinned and she picked up her pace, following the sounds until a flash of movement showed in the spaces between the trunks. Beth peered through the trees when she reached that place and saw a familiar shape crouched down at the edge of the water, muddy boots, lank hair, crossbow across his back. Her pulse beat in her throat, whooshed in her ears, and she pulled her own crossbow off her shoulder before creeping out of the woods and onto the red dirt bank, where Daryl Dixon—or what looked like Daryl Dixon—knelt down over the body of a deer.

She was still dizzy, and watched from over her own shoulder as her body took a deep, silent breath and hefted her crossbow. Thought, objectively, that it was a good idea for her body to set its foot down hard on that twig, snapping it so the noise rang out unmistakably against the sound of the birds and the rippling of the creek. But it wasn’t until Daryl spun around, until those blue eyes in his pale face landed on her and recognition flared in them, that Beth flew back down into her body.

He whispered her name, clear as day across the space between them, and after that she didn’t remember anything, nothing at all, except the feel of his face in her neck, his arms around her back, as they fell down together into the soft, red dirt.
*~*

She wasn’t even hiding her tears as she finished speaking, stopping at the point when she saw him kneeling through the trees and not quite able to get the rest out. He was there, though, and he could fill that in himself. How she must have felt, coming down onto the bank, thinking he’d gone into that tree well a dying man and crawled out a walker. He knew so fucking well how that felt, without even needing to imagine. No matter that he hadn’t been, in the end—the hot stab of fear, that gut-wrenching twist of grief, it gnawed inside him as keenly as it did then, when he found Merle, when the thing that used to be his brother stood up where it was crouched over that body and came at him instead. Daryl knew without her saying a word that she’d felt the same thing, standing there at the creek as he knelt over the body of the doe.

But the depth of what she felt, even now when she knew the outcome, was surprising. Humbling, daunting, a million other things at once, and it tugged at him somewhere very deep inside. But as much as he regretted every action he had taken that contributed to that moment, to her finding him there and thinking him dead, it paled beneath that renewed surge of pride in her, in all she had done. In how she had embraced everything he taught her and used it, gone out into the woods and breathed it, became it, and found him not by chance as he only now realized he had assumed, but by reading the signs.

“Beth,” he said, voice all gravel again as he reached up with his thumb to swipe at the wetness on her cheeks. “I ain’t dead, and you found me.”

She smiled, watery and weak, but real, and smushed her face into his shoulder, clinging to his arm. “Not lettin’ you go again,” she murmured, smile widening against his skin.

“Takes more than a storm and a herd to get rid a me.” Even though they both knew how close it really had been.

She moved to gather up the bowls after a minute, but Daryl batted her hands away to do it himself. He might’ve been the one close to death in that tree, but he didn’t miss the part of her story where she hadn’t slept in days, aside from the nap they shared that afternoon, even if she hadn’t made a point about it.

“My turn,” he said, crawling off the bed with a groan. “If I ain’t dead, I best start actin’ like it, hmm?”

She giggled and fell back on the bed while he crossed the room to put the bowls down with the other dishes and refilled their water jars. It was warm in the cabin, with the fire burning for the smoker, so he pushed the window open as wide as it could go, before adding more wood to keep the smoke going through the night. Beth had tossed off her boots and wiggled out of her jeans—he turned just in time to see her throw them off the edge of the bed—and settled on her side on top of the quilt, facing the wall, those damn red shorts standing out like a beacon in the dark.

Daryl set down their waters and climbed in after her, not daring to strip down to just his boxers even if it was hot enough to want to do so. His erection was long gone by now, but not the simmering heat which led up to it, and he didn’t trust his body enough anymore to risk it. So he kept the sweats on and lay down facing her, watching the motion of her ribs, her shoulders as she breathed in and out, deep and steady, fought the itch in his fingers urging him to reach out, to stroke the smooth skin on the back of her neck or trace the contours of her bicep.

Minutes passed where he just watched her, not ready yet to close his eyes and not see her there. After a bit, Beth lifted up onto one arm and looked over her shoulder at him, lip caught in her teeth, eyes catching his and holding in that way they did that made it hard to look away. Except she did, settled back onto her side after only a second, but he didn’t have time to really feel the beat of disappointment in it before she was sliding backward, moving closer, stopping only when her back met his chest.

His arm went around her without his permission, moving with some instinct he didn’t know he had. Sliding across the bed caused her shirt to shift and when his hand touched down on her, it was warm, smooth belly beneath his palm. Before he could pull away, her hand pressed down on top of his, keeping him there, flattening his fingers out over her bare skin.

Beth,” he whispered, not quite able to breathe.

She burrowed back deeper and threaded her fingers through his on her belly. “Daryl.”

His breath came out a shudder, puffing into her hair, onto the back of her neck, and Beth’s breath shuddered out, too. He felt it against his chest and beneath his palm, and wondered if her heart was pounding as fast as his, if she felt the same flutter of wings behind her ribs, the same spark of heat in her belly.

For the first time since this all started for him, he thought maybe she did. If he wasn’t so tired, so worn, so completely unable to move away from her, he might have thrown that bullshit idea right out the little window. And yet there she was, breathing hard, snuggled back into his chest because she wanted to be, holding his hand to her belly when he might have pulled away, and he was just exhausted enough not to question it. He couldn’t stop the glide of his thumb, tracing an arc across the curve of her bellybutton. She couldn’t stop the shiver that rolled through her in response, and he buried his face in the back of her neck and willed his body to relax, to calm down and stop the all-over tremor rippling through him.

Didn’t want to make more out of this than it had to be, but—but it wasn’t nothing. Even if he didn’t know what, it was something.

Not lettin’ you go again.

“You were there,” he said, speaking before he knew he meant to, before his mind caught up to what his voice was trying to say. Beth hummed softly and stroked her thumb over the back of his hand, and the rest of the words, everything he wanted to say before but couldn’t get out came tumbling forth now in a breathless rush. “In the tree. You were there with me. Singing, tellin’ stories. Ordering me to breathe.  Makin’ sure I didn’t give up.”

I only made it ‘cause of you.

The sound she made was something kind of like a sigh, kind of like a soft little whimper that sounded anything but pained. “I told you,” she said, thumb still moving over his hand. “I’m not lettin’ you go. Not now, not ever.”

That broken part of him reached out with grabby hands and hung on to those words, pulled them in as tightly as he held her body to his, begging, pleading—please, please don’t let go. And she wasn’t. She wasn’t going anywhere. No, Beth clung to him like a lifeboat and he clung right back, and it didn’t matter if her heart beat as fast, if her body raged inside with the same storm as his or not, as long as she stayed.

As though she could hear his thoughts, Beth squeezed his hand and turned her head, pressed her brow to his forehead, the whole side of her face right up to his.  “Don’t let me go, either.”

“No,” he rasped out, his words and his breath spilling over her cheek. He couldn’t say anything more than that but it was okay, because she knew, because she already said it all for him. “No.”

Her laugh was soft, almost entirely made of air, and he felt it through his chest more than he heard it. She faced forward again and wiggled back impossibly closer, pressed his hand so tight to her belly he wondered that she could even breathe. “Promise?”

Promises, at the end of the world, were dangerous things. But this, this was a promise he would do whatever he could to keep. He stroked her belly again, just to feel her shiver, pressed his face into her neck and inhaled a lungful of that deep scent of sweat and earth and Beth, and whispered his answer into her skin.

“Promise,” he said. “Promise.”

*~*
To be continued in chapter 17 >>

Comments

( 4 have spoken — take the speaking stick )
slaymesoftly
Jun. 20th, 2015 12:35 pm (UTC)
*sigh....* I will love Spuffy forever, but these two are really pushing them as a favorite pairing. I caught a rerun of TWD the other day and took a peek, but then worried that having a vision of real people instead of the ones in my brain, might mess with my enjoyment of your version, so I didn't watch it. Did catch a glimpse of both of them, and a brief interaction, but kind of know what happens eventually, so didn't want to watch.
abelina
Jun. 20th, 2015 12:56 pm (UTC)
Oh! Now I'm curious about which episode—what was the nature of the brief interaction?

Anyway. I can't tell you enough how thrilled I am that you're reading this, but it's nice to have you along. I know what you mean about Spuffy, but these two. I've not felt so inspired to write in years.

Thank you, really. And if you ever want to read more, I'll carefully select some fic recs for you :)
slaymesoftly
Jun. 20th, 2015 01:38 pm (UTC)
Ah, but your Daryl and Beth are now my head canon! How could I read anyone else's? LOL Um, I don't know what the episode title was, but I think it was early in the series. They were still in the prison, but getting ready to leave? There had been deaths, and one of the men was a bit overcome with grief and went back into the prison with an axe. Darryl (Daryl?) was leaving on a motorcycle to find somebody or something (don't remember, sorry) and Beth's sister (I think) went with him to help. He leaned down and whispered to Beth to keep an eye on the grieving guy, but it was a very short scene. Certainly indicated they had something (mutual respect?) for a fanfic author to build on, but no idea what came before or after. There was a guy keeping his zombie daughter in his home, and something about a governor? That's all I watched. I turned it off after Daryl and the sister (I'm guessing from some brief summaries I've read) left the prison and the axe guy went in to whack walkers.
abelina
Jun. 20th, 2015 01:46 pm (UTC)
Ah yeah, that was one of their earlier on-screen interactions, but it's something that always makes me think that there was that respect there from what we didn't see on screen.

The sister is Maggie. Axe guy is Rick, whose wife Lori just died having baby Judith. Daryl and Maggie are going to find formula for the baby and Daryl asks Beth to keep an eye on Carl, Rick & Lori's son/Judith's brother, because Rick is shut down and his mother just died.

The Governor is the same guy keeping the zombie daughter, and he's the main villain of season 3 (where this takes place) and the first half of season 4, which is where Fall Right In is set.

You should have watched to the end though, because you would have seen tough ass Daryl feeding Judith her first bottle and actually smiling as its happening, and also naming her Li'l Asskicker since they haven't come up with Judith yet.
( 4 have spoken — take the speaking stick )

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