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Title: Fall Right In
Author: Abelina/Abby/Abelinajt
Fandom/Pairing: The Walking Dead - Beth Greene/Daryl Dixon (Bethyl)
Setting: Season 4, Alone-divergence.
Rating: 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 Let It Be by the Beatles (Lennon/McCartney).

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 18 – And When the Night Is Cloudy


*~*

“I’m not a man, Daryl.”

Something subtle shifted in the air, like a hint of a breeze across her shoulders when everything before stood still. A bit of pink crept onto Daryl’s face and he swallowed, throat moving so subtly she’d have missed it if they weren’t sitting so close.

“No,” Daryl said, the gravel of his voice rumbling out of his chest and right down into hers. “No, you ain’t.”

Heat bloomed in her cheeks, rising up so quick it almost stung, and Beth had to look away, a breathy little giggle following without her permission. The tone of his voice, something about the way he said it spread that same warmth through her belly, made her heart beat a little harder in her chest. Obviously she wasn’t a man, and obviously he knew that, but it almost felt like he was making a special effort to notice what she was instead.

No. No, she needed to stop doing that, putting meaning into Daryl’s words when it wasn’t a sure thing that there was any other meaning to be had. Lord knows she didn’t need any more fuel for this silly crush of hers, blazing away in her chest like a campfire, least of all something she made up. Beth took a big sip of her coffee, cringing at the sweetness but determined not to waste any, trying—and mostly failing—to will away her foolishness.

Beside her, Daryl drained the last of his and set the mug down on the step between his feet, the ceramic making a little thump as it met the wood. “Been thinkin’.”

“Hmm?” Beth didn’t look back up at him, staring instead out across the back yard, noting the places where the grass had yet to recover from this morning’s game. “What about, Daryl?”

“’Bout headin’ west for a bit, before we go north.” He lifted his far arm to gesture along the creek. “Follow it ‘til we find a good sized road.”

That made her look up, though he had his head turned, gazing to the west. “A road? But I thought we were gonna stick to the woods.”

He made a sound somewhere between the hum he used when they were hunting and a version of his yes-grunt. “Why do you think?”

His question wasn’t asked out of annoyance. Beth recognized at once the tone he used when they were in the woods and he wanted her to think about something. It was his way of teaching, to get her to put some thought into it before he gave her an answer, and she liked that. Beth didn’t think anyone had ever done that for her before, but it made sense in a Daryl sort of way. It forced her to practice finding the answers on her own, without relying on anyone’s brain but her own, and she enjoyed the process of putting the pieces together. Of looking at the signs and figuring how to read them.

Finding a road, that was a sign of something Daryl wanted her to track with her mind. Beth raised her mug to her lips again for another sip, considering his question. Why would he want to find a road, if he preferred to travel under the cover of the trees? What advantage would there be to having a road nearby, even if they weren’t going to be using it? It would be a northbound road, or northbound enough. Daryl had a good sense of direction and knew how to navigate, but he didn’t know these southern woods like he knew those to the north, and a road didn’t vanish when the clouds rolled in and obscured the sun or the stars. A road was a constant thing, like the creek. They didn’t have to be right on its edges to follow it, but Beth always knew it was there, knew all she had to do was find its banks to get her bearings.

“A landmark, right?”

Daryl made his affirmative humming sound, and leaned a bit more of his weight into her shoulder. “What else?”

“Um…” Beth swept her gaze up into the trees, watching the two crows in their big oak, hints of red already showing in its leaves. “Well, we might find somethin’ useful along the road, right? Oh!”  The answer just popped into her mind, and beside her Daryl was already nodding. “You’re hopin’ we can find a car.”

They’d come this far south because of one, so that only made sense. If they could find one that worked, at least for a bit, they could eat up a good amount of distance in a day that would take them weeks to travel on foot. The one they abandoned at the edge of that highway southeast of the cabin would still run if they had some fuel for it, but—ah, and now she understood that part too.

Prickling fingers danced up her spine and over her scalp, and she was sure Daryl noticed the way she shook with it. Beth looked up at him, unsurprised to find his sharp eyed-gaze already waiting for her. “We’re goin’ west so we don’t run into any more of those ‘cops’, right?”

He was chewing his lip, something she hadn’t seen him do in a little while. Not since before he left hunting and returned with some of the weight lifted from his shoulders. “Figured it’s best we don’t.”

And on that, Beth agreed, nodding at him without feeling the need to say anything else about it. She didn’t want to let the thoughts of Gorman and all that happened at the funeral home burrow in too deep and spoil her good mood of this lovely day, and did her best to push them away. Still, the faint brush of those prickly fingers lingered on her neck as they sat in silence, both of them looking out into the yard and listening to the squabbling of the crows in the near distance while Beth nursed the last of her too-sweet coffee.

She looked up when Daryl spoke again a few minutes later, lifting his chin to gesture toward the creek. “You good with that? The plan?”

It took her a couple of seconds to answer him, and she couldn’t quite keep the surprise out of her voice when she did. “You’re asking me?”

“You got just as much say in this,” Daryl said, meeting her eyes now, speaking almost at the level of a whisper. “Ain’t got Beth and Daryl against the world without the Beth part.”

There it was again, that swirl of butterflies in her belly, that slow spread of warmth trickling through in their wake. Something about his easy use of her silly saying, the way he made it into just one word, Bethndaryl and—

Focus, Greene.

Beth bit her lip and tried to push it away to concentrate on what he actually said, outside of her Daryl-coloured glasses. She did have a say and she always had, when she thought about it. Maybe she followed Daryl’s lead a lot, especially in the beginning, but he considered what she wanted even when it was something as ill advised as traipsing all over the countryside just to get a damn drink. He hadn’t told her he was going hunting, simply what he found and what he wanted to do about it, but he didn't decide to go until they talked about it first.

Daryl always put so much thought into things before he ever put them into words, and it just made sense, going west to stay away from the trouble they found to the east, following the general path of a decent sized road in the hopes they might find a car. They could always go deeper into the woods if they needed to and nothing was set in stone, but it was a place to start. Beth could not find fault in Daryl’s thinking, though she rarely did when it came to stuff like this.

“Yes,” she said, nodding once, feeling the beat of something pleasant in her chest at simply being asked. “I’m good with the plan.”

Daryl nodded, too, that same quick bob of his head as she made, and the tight line of his lips relaxed a bit. “A’right. There any more of that coffee?”

“Enough for another cup each.” She started to get up, but Daryl grabbed hold of her wrist and tugged her back down.

“I got it,” he said, making a give-it-here gesture toward the mug in her hands.

With Daryl gone for the moment, Beth looked back out across the yard. She meant it when she said she would miss the cabin, in more ways than she could adequately find the words for. She was in such a dark place when she first set foot on these steps and laid eyes on the now familiar scene in front of her. It still lingered there, that darkness, in her nightmares and in those quiet moments when she let her thoughts get the better of her. Even now the sharp little fingers poked at her, digging tiny bleeding holes to remind her of what she did. What she had to live with.

Her memory of that moment had grown fuzzy with distance, the details bleeding into one concussive mess of confusion, until really the only part of it that felt concrete anymore was the recoil of the gun after she pulled the trigger. She knew what happened. Gorman grabbed her from behind, held his gun to her head, dug his fingers into her belly to show her what he wanted and what he was willing to do to get it. She shot him to get away. Ended his life with a bullet to the head to save her own, but aside from the gun’s kick, she barely remembered any of that. No details, just facts. All she saw when she tried to make herself look back was Daryl standing motionless across the yard, crossbow raised even though he didn’t have a clean shot. His voice, quiet and deathly calm, demanding Gorman let her go—and the desperation in his eyes when they landed on hers.

Daryl, the man who could get through anything on sheer force of will, thought she was done for.

She hadn’t had a choice. Part of her had known it all along—that same part that brought her hand to her gun and made her fire it—but it couldn’t sink in when everything was raw and aching. Daryl’s insistence, the slide of that look into the forefront of her memory, and enough mental distance to sort the facts from the emotions, helped her truly believe it.

She would never forget what she had to do, never forgive Gorman for being the sort of reprehensible excuse for a human being to force her into taking his life. But she thought she was starting to forgive herself, and that was enough to patch the little holes, heal the scratches left behind by those lurking dark thoughts.

The soft creak of hinges brought her back to the present, and Beth tipped her head back to watch Daryl’s approach, her hair pooling on the step behind her.  He smiled down at her, an easy smile the likes of which she never would’ve thought him capable of, before all of this. He eased down carefully beside her with a mug in each hand, placing his on the step before holding out hers.

She set it down between her feet, knowing it would be far too hot for her to drink yet, and turned to look at Daryl. He was waiting, already facing her, his eyes laden with that look. The look of warm honey and tingling fingers and fluttering butterflies. The one she couldn’t explain away no matter how tightly she tied her rational hat on.  It reached right inside her, dug in its hooks, and tugged until she couldn’t tear her gaze from his, couldn’t control the things her eyes were probably telling him anymore than it seemed he could control his own. And it was like that now, too, except there was a different glimmer there, something new which drew a little smile across Daryl’s lips and had that usually steady gaze flickering, though no less intense for it.

“What?” she asked, whispering even though she didn’t intend to.

“Ain’t ever remember seein’ your hair like that.” He almost sounded shy, the way he said it, and though he had lifted his far hand up a bit as he spoke, he let it fall back down onto his knee.

She’d almost forgotten his weird mood from earlier, when she found him here on the steps well in the middle of some sort of meltdown. Really he’d been a bit off since the walk back from hunting, and at first Beth wondered if it hadn’t had something to do with her own stupid good mood, if in trying to make him smile, trying to share some of the happiness bubbling inside her chest, she had taken it too far. She didn’t think that was it, though. He seemed distracted, not irritated, before the panic or whatever it was set in, and she felt the tension ease out of him after when they sat together on the steps. No, he’d had something on his mind, and not something little, either, for it to rattle him like that.

She had let it slip her mind sometime around the moment she dared herself to play with his hair, so soft-looking and shining with strands of gold amongst the brown, the way the light caught it. And he had decided to let her, and now here he was, pointing out the state of her hair, like that was something he did every day. It was quite like Daryl to notice little details but not at all his habit to comment on something like this, something specifically about the way she looked. Definitely not in a way that made her think he liked it, with his ears all pink where they poked out from beneath his still-tousled locks, and the adorably bashful way he wouldn’t quite meet her eyes afterward.

“Too dangerous to leave it down, usually,” Beth said in response, taking the safe approach, smoothing her hand down the back and trying to ignore the quickening of her pulse. “It’s silly, even keeping it this long, but…”

But. It wasn’t practical. Long hair was just another thing to grab, another thing to get caught up on, and maybe Carol had the right idea about hair these days. Beth had let go a lot of things from the old world, but not this. Maybe it was silly, but she liked her hair how it was. Liked the feel of it on her neck, liked keeping the little braid as a reminder of how Mama’s fingers would weave through the strands every morning when she was small, fixing her up all proper for school. She wanted to hold onto that part of her that could still be pretty, still be that girl from before even when the rest of her wasn’t, and couldn’t be, not with the way things were now.

In this heat and with the awful humidity, Beth feared what she had going on up there was turning into a frizzy blonde mess that was far from pretty, though. She let her hand glide over the damp strands again, and Daryl’s eyes followed its path as he shifted just a bit on the step, turning in toward her.

“I ain’t one to talk,” he said, the little smile slipping into more of a smirk.

He puffed a bit of breath up to ruffle the fringe of hair that would’ve been hanging in his eyes if he didn’t push it apart in the middle, and Beth couldn’t help but let out a little puff of laughter as she reached up to sweep it further out of the way. God, his eyes were so blue in this light, so pretty, even if that wasn’t something she would ever dare tell him out loud. They didn’t at all suit who he was supposed to be—who anyone who didn’t know him thought he should be—but they suited who he was. A man all kinds of rough around the edges but beautiful inside.

A little tug on the ends of her hair made Beth blink, and she realized she’d been the one staring this time.

Daryl’s eyes crinkled just a little, and when he opened his mouth to speak he couldn’t quite hide the hint of a smile lifting the corners of his lips. “I gotta ask you ‘what’?”

The flushed feeling from before hadn’t fully gone away, and now a fresh flood of heat filled her cheeks, reaching all the way up toward her ears. She wasn’t embarrassed, not in that stomach-squirming way that would make her want to hide, but in a heart-pounding sorta way, a way that prickled with awareness. Of Daryl’s boldness, drawing attention to this thing that happened between them, and that thing itself, a thing of staring and long, weighty looks. That was both of them, now, throwing it out there. Acknowledging with words each other’s lingering gaze. Beth hadn’t meant to, it just slipped out and she thought it was the same for Daryl, too.  Her breath caught in her chest and a shiver of lightheadedness rippled through her, because Daryl’s eyes still hadn’t left hers and she had yet to look away, either.

She did let her gaze drop away, though not to hide. No, all Beth wanted to do was fall right into Daryl’s insanely blue eyes so she did the only other thing she could, and leaned over into Daryl’s body instead, shifting a bit on the step to lay her head in that space where his chest and shoulder met. Instead of tugging at her hair, Daryl glided his fingers through the loose strands, tips grazing her neck, her back, laying a tingling path as they travelled. She could try to blame the heat in her chest and her racing pulse on the coffee, but she knew better. She could only fool herself so far.

“I take after my mom,” Beth said, shutting her eyes as Daryl’s fingers combed higher, scratched at her head like she had with his. The tingling skittered across her scalp and her breath came out shaky. “Everyone always said so. Except for my eyes. I got Daddy’s eyes.”

Daryl’s fingers paused for a brief moment, hardly more than the span of a heartbeat, and beneath her Beth felt his chest rise deeply and hold before falling back down. Then he was moving again, fingers pulling gently through her drying strands, breaths coming slow and deep and even.

“Don’t much look like either one of ‘em did,” Daryl said, his voice an odd mixture of soft and strained. “Eyes’re hers, though.”

He wouldn’t want her to say what she was thinking just then. Wouldn’t want to hear about the little knot untying in her belly, one she didn’t even know she’d tied, with knowing that this part of him hadn’t come from the man who hurt him in ways she couldn’t ever truly understand. He hadn’t said, but Beth knew. Beth knew more than he probably thought she did, about the scars he kept hidden and how they came to be there. He spoke rarely of his father, though his shadow forever loomed over Daryl’s shoulders, so palpably at times Beth could almost see his shade hovering there, a swirling darkness in the periphery of her vision. Daryl spoke even less of his mother, but there was a sense of affection there, buried beneath all the bad. She wouldn’t ask him, not ever, but Beth hoped somewhere, amidst his horrific past, he’d seen those same eyes looking down on him with even a sliver of the care Beth saw when Daryl looked at her.

But that was Daryl’s story, to keep or to tell, and she wasn’t going to push him into saying any more. Still, she felt like talking, felt like she had to, and her thoughts flowed naturally from one type of family to the other.

“Do you think they’re wonderin’ about us?” she asked, turning her face just a little more into his chest, debating whether he’d notice if she buried her nose in his shirt and sniffed. “The others, I mean?”

“Dunno.” She felt the shrug of his shoulders beneath her head. “Depends, I guess. Who made it. What’s goin’ on for them.”

It was the practical answer, of course. The Daryl answer, because she knew he didn’t want to put too much faith in anyone’s survival but theirs, protecting himself from being completely let down if it turned out differently.

“I’m wonderin’ about them,” Beth said, undeterred by his pessimism on the subject. “So I’m goin’ to believe they’re wondering about us. Maggie will be, and Rick—”

“Rick’s dead.” Daryl’s fingers tightened in her hair with the hard explosion of those words, but his grip—which was never truly tight to begin with—loosened immediately.

A pang of regret burst behind her ribs, billowing out like cool mist over the warmth swirling there. “I know,” she whispered. Even though she desperately wanted to keep faith, she knew that in this, at least, Daryl could not be moved.

She shifted a little more, turning so she could reach up to cradle his jaw in her palm. “I know, Daryl. I’m sorry.”

Daryl’s chest shuddered beneath her, and Beth brushed her thumb over his scruffy cheek while he breathed out audibly into the stillness of the afternoon. After a while, his breathing settled and Beth let her hand drop down to rest against the warmth of his chest, over the steady beat of his heart, and gave into the urge to bury her nose in his shirt and inhale. Daryl’s fingers travelled from her hair to stroke up the back of her neck, a light, barely-there touch that got a little firmer on the way down. Beneath her hand, his heart raced, and hers kicked up into a matching gallop.

She kept waiting for it to fade away, this idea in her head that what she felt for Daryl was anything but friendship, or camaraderie of shared existence. It was just the remnants of that silly schoolgirl crush all mixed up in the emotional train wreck of having almost lost him to the storm and a walker herd. Once they settled back into things, her feelings would fall back where they ought to be.

Once things settled, Daryl would start pulling back, too. He would wake up one of these mornings and realize how damn close they’d gotten and finally find it too much. He would push her away, not unkindly, but there’d be no more of this. This easy comfort between them was just another side effect, and she might have believed that, too, except every time she pushed him, with or without consciously meaning to, all he did was pull her in closer. Like today, in the yard, when she called him Mr. Dixon and pretended to nap in his arms, and he’d held her there until she decided to move.

And these unexpected things kept happening while the expected kept not happening, and it was getting harder and harder to explain it away. More than a week had passed since she found Daryl in the woods, dehydrated and delirious but beautifully alive, and while she was busy waiting for it to fade, it only beat harder. Instead of starting to shy away from her touch he only seemed to seek it out more.

This whole week, God, honestly she didn’t know how to reconcile the fact that her heart felt lighter, happier, than it had in a very long time. That spending her days with Daryl like this could make the end of the world seem not such a bad place after all. Hunting, tracking, finding landmarks and playing chasing games, working together to prepare for their journey, having quiet conversations and holding hands beneath the trees. This easy coexistence they’d fallen into like breathing didn’t take away all the bad things—the prison, Gorman, Daddy and Rick and Judy—but it made the hurt easier to live with. Made it easier, as Andrea told her so very long ago now, to make room for it.

No. This wasn’t going away any time soon. Maybe not at all. Because—back to not fooling herself—this was no schoolgirl crush.

There wasn’t anything girlish about the way Beth felt, not the pulsing, sparking entity in her chest which beat to the tune of Daryl’s name, or the rest of it, either, the part that stole her breath and warmed her up with a heat that had nothing to do with the weather. She wasn’t ready to take a leap and say what she thought it was, though, not to herself and certainly not to Daryl. Not even at a time like this, when it was difficult to imagine he wasn’t feeling something of the same. She’d never seen him like this with anyone, not once in the two years she’d known him, not even close, but—no.

No, she wasn’t going to go there. Analyzing it wasn’t going to change what it was or what it wasn’t.

Just let it be, Beth.

Letting it be was easy. Easier than she would have thought, had anyone presented her with the scenario of cuddling with Daryl Dixon on the steps of an abandoned cabin in the middle of the woods, nurturing this not-a-crush and wondering what was going on in that shaggy head of his. He hadn’t quit with his fingers on her neck, his strokes bolder now, deliberate, tracing the rise and fall of her vertebrae from her hairline down past the edge of her shirt and back again, changing directions sometimes to follow the frayed ribbon holding her heart pendant. Beneath her palm, his heart pounded, his breathing as deep as hers and completely in sync. A shiver of tiny feet danced along her nerves, radiating out from beneath his fingers to spread over her skin, sinking right down inside to coil deep and tight in her belly. An involuntary little moan escaped her as she breathed out, floating so softly into the air she barely heard it herself, but Daryl’s breath caught, just for a second, before he breathed out her name.

“Beth.”

A crow squawked overhead, loud, raucous, invasive, and as Beth jerked her eyes open, a whirl of black streaked by with a whoosh of wings and a plunk of something landing in liquid. The splash of coffee on her bare feet wasn’t hot enough to burn, but the expectation of it had her jumping up and away from the fluid spilling down over the steps. In the grass, the second crow joined the first, cawing its displeasure at the other one hopping toward the steps—and the acorn floating in the centre of her mug.

She couldn’t help it. The spike of irritation faded and as the crows flapped their wings and shouted at the acorn-stealing coffee cup, Beth started laughing. A stuttering little giggle at first, soon launching into the full-on, breathless sort when the crows scattered, only to circle back around looking for their lost treasure. Because the only acorn in a forest full of oak trees was the one floating in her mug, right? She tossed it out at them and they resumed their battle there in the grass, and she sunk back down on the steps, meeting Daryl’s gaze as she did.

The moment was broken, and she knew they wouldn’t speak of it, but whatever was going on inside Daryl’s head, he wasn’t irritated, at neither what they’d been doing nor the interruption—or didn’t seem to be anyway. Just looked mildly amused, mouth turned up at the left side in his usual almost-smile.

“Figures,” he said, tilting his head toward the birds in the grass. “Gettin’ ready to leave and they finally welcome us to the neighbourhood.”

“Better late than never, I guess.” Now that she remembered its existence, Beth picked up her mug and took a sip of her warm and acorn-free coffee. A hint of sweetness balanced out the bitter, just a touch, enhancing the flavour instead of masking it like her heavy-handed sweetening from the first cup.

When she looked back at Daryl his smile had lifted up a bit more, and he shrugged as if to brush off what he was about to say. “Wasn’t gonna make you go cold-turkey, but...”

“Are you saying I’m sweet enough on my own, Daryl Dixon?”

The words were out before she could stop herself—once more pushing him when she didn’t intend to—and Beth could feel the renewed flush blooming in her cheeks, but she didn’t break eye contact, didn’t allow the rush of adrenaline to turn her daring into nerves.

She wasn’t expecting him to answer, and he didn’t, just snorted at her and turned back to face the yard. But he was smiling, and not at all trying to hide it, and that was good enough for her.

They finished their coffee in silence and the rest of the afternoon passed with a comfortable sort of quiet, aside from the ongoing antics of the crows. They swooped in and out of the yard while she and Daryl made their final preparations to leave in the morning, tidied the yard and cabin and cooked up their rabbits for an early supper. They ate together out on the steps, sitting out there while the hot afternoon faded into a warm evening, until the sun dipped down below the trees.

Neither she nor Daryl spoke much, but that was okay. Sometimes they just didn’t need to, and Beth wondered if he wasn’t as lost in his own thoughts as she was in hers. Leaving this place, its relative safety even if that wasn’t absolute, the unknowns of traveling and the inherent danger in it, the unlikelihood of even finding their family well over two months later, by the time they got close, and of course, as always, Daryl – Daryl - Daryl. So many times she’d look over at Daryl to find him looking over at her, too. Was she still in his head like he was in hers?

It wasn’t dark yet when Daryl stretched and suggested they go in, ‘cause tomorrow was gonna be a long day and it was best they settle in early. He stood and held out his hand for her and she let him pull her up, and together they walked inside for the last time.

Her pulse was already racing by the time she had the door barred behind them, and it didn’t stop as they changed for bed, standing back to back in the middle of the floor. She pulled the too-big undershirt over her head and thought of how her shirt’s twin looked on Daryl, stretched tight on his bigger frame, highlighting his well muscled build. The reality was better than memory, as they turned back around and that lean form came into view. She let her eyes roam over him, lingering tonight in a way she hadn’t let herself before, and as she looked, he looked, too. The two of them staring across the cabin, her in her undershirt and little shorts, him in his matching one and those same faded sweats.

She admired the strength simmering there, the kind forged from years of hard work. As she took in the broadness of his shoulders, the elegant lines of his collarbones, and those arms—oh, those arms—a little twist of regret curled in her gut that she didn’t have more to offer him in return besides skinny legs and small breasts, bare tonight beneath her top but hardly making a swell in the folds of fabric. But she pushed it away, because it shouldn’t matter, because no good ever came from wishing to be something you weren’t. Maggie’s words from another lifetime but Beth did her best to take them to heart now.

She slipped into bed, settling down on her side facing the wall, heart beating even harder as she listened to the sound of Daryl’s feet patting across the floorboards. The quilt lifted, fluttering a wisp of a breeze across her shoulders and drawing an involuntary shiver through her. Daryl slid into bed behind her, the mattress dipping a bit as he settled down, and Beth fought to keep her breathing controlled. Oh, but it was hard, so hard, waiting here on that edge, wondering if tonight was going to be different.

Wondering if he was wondering the same thing.

But she couldn’t just wait, with anticipation drumming in her chest like a marching band. This whole thing was something she started in the first place and she knew she had to be the one to keep it going. So Beth slid backward in the bed, her body rustling against the sheet only a little louder than the sound of her breath rushing out. She barely made it an inch before Daryl’s hand pressed big and warm at her hip, and he tugged at the same time as she closed the distance, settling back against the warm wall of his chest. Daryl moved his hand down to her belly, slipping beneath the edge of her shirt to splay his fingers out over her bare skin, and another full-body shiver rippled through her as she covered his hand with hers.

They weren’t talking about this, even though it had happened every night since that first time, when they were both exhausted and emotional. She had only wanted to know he was there with her and he surprised her by wanting that just as badly as she, by not pulling back from the intimacy of this but sliding deeper into it instead. Him touching her like this, the way he stroked her belly with his fingertips, pressed his face into her neck, and whispered into her skin, wasn’t meant to be anything more than that, even now after so many nights. She felt that as tangibly as she felt the warmth of him at her back, the press of his hand against her skin. He never let his hand stray, never gave any indication he wanted anything but to hold her and know she wasn’t going anywhere.

They had come a long, long way from those two broken people who escaped the prison. Hell, they’d come a long way from the two ragged souls who showed up on the doorstep of this little cabin less than three weeks ago. It made her kind of breathless, the reality of how close she and Daryl had grown, and every subsequent night she lay warm in his arms, tingling from his touch, she thanked whoever or whatever might be listening for this man and what he meant to her. What she hoped, maybe, she might mean to him.

His thumb brushed in a slow arc, just grazing her skin enough to set an involuntary quiver rolling beneath, drawing out the little sigh she knew he liked because he always seemed to try to make her do it. She hadn’t put her hair up tonight and he took his time burrowing in, rooting through the strands until he found her neck at last and breathed in deep. His hot breath washed over her when he exhaled, and that combined with the torturously light glide of his thumb on her belly brought on a curl of heat and a hard, pulsing jolt that hit her like a physical punch, leaving her trembling all over, throbbing and wet and wondering whether Daryl even knew what he did to her.

“Think you oughtta take the lead tomorrow,” Daryl said, lips touching her skin as they moved, and she heard his words with her ears, felt them like air on her neck and as vibrations rippling out along her nerves. “Mark your own path, right from the start.”

Beth had to take a couple of steadying breaths before she answered, but even then her voice came out a bit shaky. “You think I’m ready for that?”

Daryl huffed into her neck. “Ain’t a matter of bein’ ready, Beth.”

No, she supposed not. He’d always operated under the theory that she learned best by doing and he had yet to steer her wrong. “All right.”

“Promised you’d know how to find your way back,” he said, drawing little circles now with the tips of his fingers.

It tickled, and she let out a soft little giggle in response, even as the tickle settled in to deepen the ache between her legs—her nightly companion, since this spooning thing started. She’d noticed Daryl before, of course, with a growing realization during their time at the cabin that she was attracted to him more than just casually, a fact made particularly apparent to her thanks to Daryl’s magic fingers and one hell of a back rub. It was all mixed in with how she felt about him, that not-a-crush she’d been brewing far longer than she probably even knew. The way Daryl always positioned his hips, drawn back just enough to leave a space between them, meant she couldn’t tell if it was the same for him, if lying here with her all these nights had him as hard for her as she was wet for him.

His breath poured out hot onto her neck, though, just as shuddery as hers, and Beth bit back a little whimper. She just wanted to push her hips back and feel him. God, she wanted to shove his hand down lower and let him feel her.

That was definitely not her rational side speaking, and she did neither of those things. Just drew her knees up higher, clenched her thighs together tighter, pressed her fingers into the back of his hand without giving in to the urge to move it southward. She wasn’t going to force this into becoming something it wasn’t when what it was meant so much already. She felt cherished, here in the arms of a man who kept most people at arms’ length. Cherished and safe.

As if sensing her thoughts, Daryl rumbled lowly into her neck, like he had on the steps while she played with his hair, and he pushed his hand more firmly into her. That hard press on her belly deepened the throbbing beneath it and pulled a little whimper out of her that she couldn’t contain, but she welcomed it. The feel of his hand on her, reminding her he was still there with her.

“Can’t promise we’re gonna find them, Beth,” he whispered.

“I know,” she said, and she did. They hadn’t found anyone in the weeks spent searching, before the funeral home stay that went awry, and the chances were even slimmer now. “I have to believe somebody else made it out, though. We can’t be the only ones.”

Daryl hummed, more a buzz at her neck than a true sound. “Still might not find them.”

She understood why he felt the need to tell her, she did. He only meant to protect her from potential disappointment, and she couldn’t fault him for that. But still— “I have to try, Daryl.”

“I know,” he said, a little bit louder, though the gruffness remained. “I wanna find them, too.”

“We’re goin’ to,” Beth said, putting as much conviction into her voice as she could muster. “Mark my words, Daryl Dixon.”

There was a long pause, during which time Daryl just breathed into her neck, fingers gone still against her belly. Beth pushed down on his hand, pressing him into her even harder.

“And if we don’t?” he asked at last, hesitantly, as though he almost didn’t want to push her but just couldn’t let it go.

But her answer was easy, so damned easy she didn’t need the time she took to think about it because it was always right there at the front of her mind anyway.

This wasn’t about sex, her and Daryl, no matter what her body might think it wanted right now. That was genuine, not just a side effect of being eighteen or due to her only companion being male, but wanting him this way was such a small speck on the surface of everything else. Maybe he felt the same, but maybe not. Beth didn’t know and she wasn’t going to push to find out. Even if that was the direction they were heading, they weren’t there yet, and anyway it didn’t matter.

What they were to each other was so much more than that, and maybe it wasn’t something Beth could put into words, but that didn’t make it any less real, not with everything she and Daryl had endured together to get here. She knew what she saw when Daryl looked at her and what she felt when she looked at him. The unlikeliest of duos but they made it work, and they made it work well.

That was what mattered, the two of them in this side by side no matter what lay ahead, whether they found their family or not, and it exploded in her in her chest, like a helium balloon filled up ‘til it burst. She opened her mouth to speak but couldn’t quite make the words come out, just another quiet whimper floating up toward the ceiling, lighter than air.

Daryl’s thumb again moved across her belly in a gentle arc which made her shiver all over, and he sighed into her neck. “What, Beth?”

She swallowed hard and mimicked the motion of his thumb with hers on the back of his hand, knowing he could feel the way she trembled. “I still have you, Daryl.”

His next breath tumbled out, loud and ragged, and he dug his fingertips into her skin, as if he needed to show her that he heard her, that he understood, that he felt the same way.

“Yeah,” he whispered, voice low and gravelly and rumbling in her ear. “Yeah you do.”

Here in their own little world, these small confessions that weren’t small at all came easily. They wouldn’t speak of it in the light of day, outside of the place where they slept each night, a place out of time where the real world couldn’t touch them and nothing mattered but Beth and Daryl. That was okay, though. It didn’t change anything, not where it counted.

Beth burrowed back into his chest as far as she could, and let her fingers slide in between his. “Beth and Daryl against the world, remember.”

She thought she felt him smile against her neck, and when he spoke, there was a note of humour in his voice. “No matter what, huh?”

“No matter what. Goodnight, Daryl.”

“Night, Beth.”
*~*


And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow
Let it be
     -Lennon/McCartney

  
End notes: I wrote the bit about Beth taking after her mother before I thought to look into that a little more closely. While one could argue the validity of Emily Kinney’s resemblance to Amber Cheney, the actress who played Annette Greene (really Emily looks more like Jane McNeill, who played Patricia), at the very least, I was right about the eyes. Amber Cheney’s eyes are brown or hazel, while Scott Wilson’s are a beautiful blue.

Also, I am not in any way intending Beth’s thoughts about her body to be body-shaming. She has a slender build and a small chest, that’s just how she is and there is nothing wrong with that. Realistically, though, Beth might wish she had more in common with Maggie in a situation like this, where she’s admiring Daryl and thinking herself a bit inadequate. Don’t worry, it’s not going to bother her forever—and Daryl definitely doesn’t find her inadequate.

And also—in case anyone is wondering how Beth makes coffee when there’s no power—behold the coffee percolator.

To be continued in chapter 19 >>

Comments

( 3 have spoken — take the speaking stick )
slaymesoftly
Jul. 8th, 2015 01:24 am (UTC)
*sigh* They might not be ready for more, but I am! LOL
abelina
Jul. 8th, 2015 01:59 am (UTC)
God, me too. I have NEVER done a slow burn like this. I've never written anything this long. I've never thought it was possible to write a story, where the characters are definitely going to be having sex at some point, and to break 100K words without more than some not quite innocent touching in non-x rated places and a kiss on the cheek/forehead.

I just can't rush these two even though they are definitely starting to heat up now.

I do believe that more is going to begin soon. I literally had to throw a prop (crow) at them there on the stairs to write them out of the moment they wrote themselves into.

Still very pleased you're reading this. I haven't forgotten about the list of episodes for you to watch, just haven't gotten there yet.
slaymesoftly
Jul. 8th, 2015 02:22 am (UTC)
Don't you just hate it when the characters start deciding what they'll do and when they'll do it? LOL Who do they think they are?

No worries. I've got my mental image of these two, as well as the AU situation, so watching episodes might just mess it up for me. :)
( 3 have spoken — take the speaking stick )

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