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Title: Fall Right In
Author: Abelina/Abby/Abelinajt
Fandom/Pairing: The Walking Dead - Beth Greene/Daryl Dixon (Bethyl)
Setting: Season 4, Alone-divergence.
Rating: E/NC17
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
Notes: Chapter title taken from lyrics to Hopeless Wanderer by Mumford & Sons.

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 25 – I Will Share Your Road

*~*
Daryl kissed like a man starved. No finesse, just hunger. Passion so raw and desperate the rest didn’t matter. Something inside her reached for it with eager arms. Pulled it in, wrapped up in it until she couldn’t tell where her own need for it ended and where his began. Nobody had ever kissed her like this, as though his life, his every breath depended on it. He was starved, for her, for them and all that lay between them. For the fire just beginning to blaze now that they’d finally ignited those smouldering embers.

That same fierce longing surged up along her spine, burst out like lightning through every nerve in her body and she shook with the force of it. Daryl shook, too, tremors like waves through his arms, his thighs, every part of him that touched her, and in her mind she pictured a dam across a raging river, its concrete face shot through with cracks, bits of it tumbling loose, just barely holding up under the pressure from within.

Beth never knew a need like this before. Not just the kissing. Not even just for what she felt brushing against her belly whenever he couldn’t stop himself from pressing into her. And he was trying, trying to stop but he couldn’t, not entirely, and oh, she ached for that, too, a delicious wet ache that had her clenching her vaginal walls around nothing, last night's dream still vivid in her memory. A pulse of head burst in her belly as images from the dream became something else altogether.

A vision, of following Daryl up the ladder into the hayloft. Of them tearing off each other’s clothes before she pushed him onto his back in a pile of hay and sunk down on his cock. The look he’d have on his face as he stretched her, filled her up. The sound of his moans, the breathless way he’d whisper her name as she rode him, until they collapsed, sweaty and spent in each other’s arms. Or maybe right here, up against the post, her jeans dangling from one leg as he pounded into her, slamming her back against the wood until she saw stars and cried out his name, Daryl muffling his own groans into her neck while he shuddered deep and hard inside her. She’d have splinters in her ass but they’d be worth it, and she clenched again, tight enough to feel a ghost of the pleasure she craved, and whimpered into his mouth just thinking about it.

There’d been another thought, a moment ago, but she lost the trail of it amidst the images, the fantasies. Whatever it was flitted away like an elusive rabbit, and maybe she’d catch it, but—but there was Daryl. God, so much Daryl. He was everywhere, a giant wall of arms and chest and hot, peach-scented breath, surrounding her like the ramparts of a castle. Nothing could touch her here, nothing and nobody except him. Her belly quivered, melted, under the slide of his lips on hers, the scratch of his beard, that thing he did with his tongue that made her toes curl and pulled sounds out of her she didn’t recognize. Her pulse raced, pounding in her ears, surging hot through her veins, blazing in her chest, burning everywhere—burning for him. Every inch of where her body and his touched tingled with heat, with energy, with the thrum of barely dammed passion he poured out of himself and into her.

Deep groans as only he could make rumbled through his chest and the tremors of them rippled into hers, a vibration in her ribcage like an earthquake. A jackhammer. A stampede of horses. She tasted them on her lips, a buzz of heat and peaches and oh, god, Daryl. She tried to arch against him but he only pressed harder, his hands at her hips holding her back against the post. Holding him back from her but she felt him there anyway, that brush of his erection as he pushed against his own arms, so hard against the softness of her belly. He shook with it, the effort of holding back from what he clearly wanted to do. A needy whine leaked out past her throat, trickled thick and obvious between them, and she clenched empty around that ache, that desire, to know the press of his cock against her stomach, to someday find out how good he’d feel inside.

Daryl broke away, leaving her lips heavy and tingling as he dove for her neck. Beth tossed her head back, hitting the post with a thud that hurt but she didn’t care, because Daryl dragged his tongue up from her collar bone, through the still-sticky path of peach juice and sweat. Scraped his teeth where her pulse pounded and drew a moan out of her so loud it echoed around the empty barn.

He stalled, shuddered, lips still pressed into her skin, chest heaving against hers, fingers digging hard into her hips. “Fuck,” he breathed. “Beth...”

He trembled hard against her but stood frozen, like he didn’t know quite what to do with himself. Beth slid one hand up to cradle the back of his head, pressed into his hip with the fingers of the other.

“It’s okay,” she said, because it was. Because even if she didn’t completely understand what was going on in his head, he needed to know that. “You wanna stop?”

He chuckled, a heated, rumbling thing that shot straight to her clit, and it seemed to unfreeze him. His fingers flexed at her hips and he dragged the point of his nose along the same path his tongue had followed just moments ago. “No. Yes. God, woman...”

“C’mon.” Though her pulse was still racing and the thought of not carrying on with this had her trembling already in withdrawal, Beth nudged at Daryl’s knee with her own and pushed them both away from the post. Whatever the root of his indecision, right now they needed a bit of space.  “Let’s get some water.”

The pail of water they drew from the well sat over by the coals of the fire Daryl built, a faint glow now that they no longer needed it for sterilizing bolts. Beth thought he might drown himself with how deeply he drank, until he passed her the little cup after knocking back his third one. The first sip became a gulp as the cool water soothed her parched throat, and she drank two more before giving it back, excess water dripping down her chin and neck like the peach juice before it. They passed the cup between them a few more times with shaking fingers before finally sating that particular thirst, though Beth’s heart still pounded, her body still hummed, with the other. Daryl tucked the cup back into his pack, and then just stood there, shoulders slumped, chewing on his lip as he stared ahead in an absent sort of way toward the ring of candles in the centre of the barn.

Lost in thought, again.

“Hey.” Not wanting to give those darker places a chance to reach him, Beth brushed her knuckles across the back of his. She didn’t think he’d go back to where he went before, but still...

The touch drew a little smile, just a hint of it at the left side of his mouth, and he turned his hand to twine their fingers together. A rush of relief washed over her, lifting a weight from her shoulders, and her heart fluttered as he looked toward her, still smiling.

“Hey, Beth,” he said, in a quiet voice, warm and rich like candlelight.

A delirious giggle, small and tinkling like the song of a little bird, trickled up and out of her before she could hold it in. The matching grin stretched wide and the back of her neck tingled as a swirl of light-headedness washed over her, just potent enough that the walls of the barn wobbled around her. With flaming cheeks, Beth planted her forehead into Daryl’s chest, still giggling and she didn’t know why. Except she did, because this was Daryl—Daryl and Beth and they were kissing now, and it wasn’t so warm in here but heat licked at her skin anyway, wicking up from the arousal still pulsing deep in her belly.

Why couldn’t she stop giggling? Her shoulders shook with it and she couldn’t keep it in, didn’t understand why. It wasn’t funny, not like that. Daryl’s arms wrapped around her and he pulled her in, his chest rumbling beneath her with his own brand of laughter. And he was warm and sweaty and hard and Daryl, and her lungs swelled up inside with that memory of the ledge, the broken porridge bowl and everything she dreamed that she and Daryl could be. Everything they were gonna be. Lord, everything they already were, and the giggle wasn’t a giggle anymore. She didn’t know what it was except she couldn’t keep it in, either, and it whimpered out past her lips into Daryl’s chest, tugging tight a little knot of terror in her gut at the sheer depth of her feelings for this beautiful man.

She wasn’t crying. She didn’t know what she was doing other than turning into a complete wreck, but Daryl pulled her closer and she burrowed in. Sighed and trembled at the brush of his fingertips across the skin at the small of her back. Murmured his name into his chest in a shaky little voice when his other hand slid into her hair from beneath her ponytail. She felt the press of his lips, his nose, his whole face into the top of her head.

“You okay?” His words rumbled through her skull, down into her chest where the trembling began and settled in like a coat of paint over a cracked wall. Turning the tables to take care of her, now that she was the one in the midst of some sort of emotional spiral beyond her control.

The sound she made in response was something like laughter, something like a sneeze, and she pushed her face even deeper into his chest. “I don’t know,” she said, hating the way it made her sound, whiny and young and stupid. But she didn’t know, because she’d never felt like this before about anyone and for some inexplicable reason, that not-so-little truth picked now to present itself.

This may have been building up for a long time, but it was only last night’s sunset, last night’s twinkle of stars which held vigil to her agonizing over whether or not Daryl felt the same. A day, just a single day. Less than, because only this morning they kissed for the first time and a trio of kisses—no, not just kisses but time spent kissing—littered the hours between then and now. God, no wonder.

It wasn’t just a crush. This wasn’t just biology. This wasn’t anything short of everything and Beth was giggling again now, bubbly laughter spilling into Daryl’s chest because as strange as this was, as huge as this was, it was also so right.

“I’m a mess,” she whispered, slipping her arms beneath Daryl’s to wrap around his back, pull herself closer with her palms pressed to his wings.

Daryl huffed into her hair. “Makes two of us.”

Two of us.

Something about the way he said the words swept a blanket of relief across her shoulders, calming the still-prickling nerves, at last soothing the tremble that hadn’t quite gone away. She didn’t need to explain because Daryl understood. Daryl was standing right here with her—two of us—and they’d be okay. They would. Beth and Daryl against the world and everything else in it, and that meant this, too, navigating the way after taking that first giant leap off the ledge this morning.

Beth didn’t try to temper her smile when she pulled her face out of his chest, grateful that she didn’t when it only widened his. She moved back, but only far enough to see him clearly in the flickering candlelight, and the hand that had cradled the back of her head skimmed down over her shoulder until it joined the other at her back, fingertips curling into the strip of skin at the top of her jeans.

His eyes blazed, even in the shadows, a look in them that was as familiar as it was thrilling, driving out the remnants of whatever that was before. Beth’s pulse quickened all over again, heart fluttering like a rabbit’s behind her ribs. It wasn’t anything new, the same internal riot stirred up by Daryl looking at her that way, but it was different now. They hadn’t put it into words and Beth didn’t know when they would, but it was out there and they both knew it. She could still taste it—taste him—on her tongue.

As much as she wanted to give in to the urge to lean up and kiss him again and see where it took them this time, the little tremble in his fingers held her back. The quivering at the corners of his mouth despite the genuineness of his smile. On the heels of her own moment of being completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of this, it was enough to give her pause. Maybe they needed a distraction to let the heat fade a bit, clear their heads and get some rest after a long day.

“Anything else interesting in your loot bag?”

Daryl let out a long breath, dragging his gaze from her to glance over toward the middle of the barn, where their two cloth bags and the pile of peaches lay abandoned.

“Nah. Just junk.” He cleared his throat and looked back at her, not smiling now but his eyes still glittered brightly, even in the dim light. “Gettin’ late, though.”

Beth nodded. All she had left in hers were random things they couldn’t spare the room for anyway. “All right.”

Not the distraction she thought of, at first, but it would do, gathering up their stuff, packing the things to take with them and throwing what they wouldn’t into one of the cloth bags. The other Daryl stuffed into his pack for another day’s use, another house waiting to be looted. Though Beth wished she could take all the candles, they were too heavy, too bulky, so she grabbed one of a medium size to take along, blowing it out and pouring the hot wax into the dirt before she tucked it away. Another she picked to carry up into the loft with them, at least until they got settled, and a third she left where it stood after blowing out the others, burning for Daryl in the middle of the dirt floor as she made her way toward the ladder.

While Daryl checked the barn door, Beth climbed up into the hayloft above. Earlier she brought up the bedding she grabbed from the house while Daryl gathered firewood, knowing they would spend the night up here. Before the turn, many of her neighbours who farmed used modern equipment and baled their hay in those large round bales, all wrapped up in white plastic like giant marshmallows in the fields before being stored away. Haylofts like this got repurposed for storage or just left empty. Beth thanked whoever might be listening for this particular farm and its simple square bales like the kind they’d used at home, stored up in the hayloft away from the moisture of the dirt floor below.

She sniffed a few of them and couldn’t smell any mould, then cut the baling twine with the blade on her new multi-tool and spread three bales’ worth of hay out into a corner of the loft. It was no cabin bed, but with the blankets laid out over the hay it would be so much nicer than sleeping on the ground or atop the plank floor. She was about to crawl into the makeshift bed when she heard the hiss of steam from below, as Daryl doused the remnants of his fire. And it was silly, Beth knew it, but the thought of him climbing up here and sliding into bed beside her kicked her pulse into overdrive yet again.

As though they hadn’t spent weeks already sharing a bed, the latter of them wearing far less clothing than this, but the vision she had earlier still hovered there in her mind. Still burned in her belly no matter how much she tried to suppress it.

By the time Daryl made it up the ladder, Beth had her pack and crossbow arranged beside her as she lay on her back beneath the blanket, fingers locked together across her stomach to keep them from fidgeting. Daryl’s lip twitched as he set eyes on her, a moment or two after his head appeared through the hole in the floor. He pulled up the ladder and then strode over and Beth’s heart pounded harder.

Beth looked at him, eyes travelling up the lean length of his legs to the erection pushing at the front of his jeans, on past the slim hips and narrow waist leading up to shoulders broader than any man had the right to possess. Too-long hair framed his face as he gazed down at her, features in shadow though she felt him looking, as always his gaze sparking like a campfire on her skin.

“Guess I’m takin’ first watch?” he said, voice full of gravel, though they both knew he always did.

Beth heard the smile in his words despite the gruffness, and it brought one to her face in response, but it didn’t settle the squirming in her belly. Before she could think about it, the words fell out of her mouth in a rapid-fire whisper. “Lay with me awhile? Until I fall asleep?”

The tremor began in his toes, or at least it looked that way from down here. Daryl made a little sound in the back of his throat but even then he nodded quickly. As he set down his own belongings, Beth’s heart pounded harder in her chest, enough that she was certain Daryl would see it jumping beneath her skin if he were to look. It happened every time they fell into bed together, but this time there was no question.  No waiting and wondering. Beth turned onto her side and Daryl settled in behind her, his breath shaky and warm on her neck as he tucked his face in and slipped his palm beneath her shirts to splay out, big and warm on her bare belly. Beth wiggled to close the space and Daryl pulled her back against the wall of his chest.

Fingertips resumed their familiar arcing touch across her skin, feather-light and just shy of tickling. With her jeans on he couldn’t lay his palm as low as usual, but still plenty low, considering, still more than enough to draw out those same shivers, same sighing breaths, same burst of heat as he always did when he touched her like this. Except he must know now, without a doubt, what it did to her. What he did to her and what he was doing to her now. She hadn’t been shy when she sat in his lap before and rocked against the erection straining between them, or about wanting to feel him pressed into her belly, though he’d held back. Lying here with her now he had his hips angled away as he always did, just enough that she couldn’t feel what she knew was still there. What she saw with her eyes as he stood above her.

He did want her, in the same millions of ways she wanted him. She didn’t question that, not anymore, especially not with the way he kissed her—practically made love to her with his mouth. So much had happened in such a short amount of time and it was too soon to go any further. Bodies might be aching for it but her heart needed her to wait and she suspected his did, too. Taking a bit of time to settle and figure things out together before that happened was the smart thing to do, the mature thing to do. Stopping down there at the stall wasn’t what she wanted, but she was glad they had. Daryl meant too much to her—and she was pretty sure she meant too much to him—to rush into it.

Something else nagged at her, though, something she felt maybe she could piece together if she thought on it for a while. She was too tired now, too confused by her weird moment earlier, and too hyper-aware of Daryl’s body wrapped around her to be clear-headed enough to sort through it tonight. It wasn’t just the way Daryl held back physically that had her wondering, but something else, something she sensed ran a whole lot deeper than trying to keep a few inches between them.

Beth drew little circles on the back of Daryl’s hand with her fingers, while his stroked her belly with that feather-light touch. He whispered her name into her neck, barely audible enough to hear, and afterward his mouth continued to move against her skin, forming silent words with every motion. Beth couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, could only feel it, the slide of his lips, the scratch of his beard, and the heat of his breath, but it seemed, somehow, that he was trying to give her answers to her questions when didn’t even know them himself.

Answers would come, and Beth tried to breathe deep and forget about the questions for tonight. He was here. They both were. Everything else could wait.

“Goodnight, Daryl,” she whispered, heart pounding away as it always did to the tune of his name.

And she thought she could hear, as he bid her goodnight in turn, the steady pounding of his. Could feel it, the shape of the words beating strong and steady at her back.

Beth – Beth – Beth.

Daryl – Daryl – Daryl.
*~*

Despite the whirling thoughts in her head, it didn’t take long for Beth to fall asleep. Daryl woke her a few hours later, just as her subconscious began to tread toward what likely would have become a nightmare, but well before it could get its hooks in her. The little swirl of darkness dissipated with the first stroke of Daryl’s fingers across her forehead, and Beth lay there with her head in his lap—having migrated, at some point in her sleep, to using him as a pillow instead of the actual one she snagged from the house—and indulged in his touch for a long moment before pushing herself up and out of the blankets to take over watch so Daryl could grab a few hours of sleep, too.

He didn’t bother with the pretence of using the pillow. When she sat up he slipped down under the blanket and laid his head on her thighs, turned half way onto his stomach so he could curl his arm around her waist and snuggle right in. At least, in this, he felt confident to act, and Beth couldn’t stop smiling as she combed her fingers through his hair and he rumbled contentedly. Barn cat turned lap cat, soon snoring softly beneath the glide of her fingers.

Beth kept combing her fingers through his hair long after he fell asleep, thinking on everything that happened between them today. It really had been a whirlwind of emotions on both their parts, but for Daryl most of all. She might not be privy to his darker thoughts but she could piece it together well enough to at least have an idea of what might have plagued him. But he pulled himself out of it, put it away as best he could, came back to the barn instead of drowning in the past and that was good. And he could do this, relax and sleep, lay his head in her lap and trust her to keep them both safe. No matter what happened today.

That was something, and not something small. Beth held onto that as she replayed the day in her mind, from the kiss at the ledge at sunrise to this moment here, when Daryl burrowed his face into her jeans and mumbled something in his sleep. The man had so many layers to him she’d never figure them all out.

When he woke on his own just before dawn, like the rooster he was, Daryl turned over on his back and Beth touched his face with gentle sweeps of her fingertips like he had done for her. His eyes stayed closed and a sleepy smile pulled at his lips, tugging wider around a groan when she raked her nails across his scalp. Once again he rumbled out something to the effect of don’t stop and pushed his head deeper into her touch.

They did need to get moving, though, and while Beth wanted to lean down and kiss him good morning, she decided against it. Gave the scruff on his chin a good long scratch instead before the two of them gathered up their gear and set out for the day. They breakfasted on peaches as they left the farm behind, picking their way through the woods in the grainy grey of pre-dawn.

Walking today was much the same as the past two, though Daryl spent most of it at her side instead of trailing behind. He hadn’t changed his mind about her leading the way. That job remained hers, and he deferred to her decisions as they went along, but Beth would rather have him doing so from beside her, anyway. He kept quiet this morning, talking very little, mostly his usual soundtrack of low hums and soft grunts. But he wasn’t distant, and showed that with frequent brushes of his knuckles on hers, sometimes a palm at the small of her back or the stroke of his fingers on her neck or wherever he could find a bare strip of skin. Wasn’t shy about looking at her, either, and Beth felt his gaze like the skitter of fireflies on her skin more often than she didn’t. They didn’t have much time to get caught in those long lingering looks, mostly because they didn’t stop walking except to survey the places they came across. But whenever they made eye contact, shared that tiniest of smiles between them, it only deepened the warmth of the ember burning away in her belly for the man at her side.

This was familiar territory by now, the way things were between them. A crackle of energy that only needed the connection of blue on blue to ignite no matter how great the physical distance. Still unnamed, but acknowledged now for what it was, for what they were to each other. Beth wasn’t sure she could put it all into words just yet, and they would have to try at some point, but she wasn’t ready to do that and neither was Daryl.

Beth didn’t know how she knew this, but that knowledge went beyond merely taking into account Daryl’s tendency toward saying few words. It did tie into the other thing, the shade of something else she didn’t quite have a word for. It wasn’t reluctance. It wasn’t resistance. The closest thing she could come to was hesitation—and even that wasn’t quite right, but it helped, having a word she could use to think about this. Daryl, or some part of Daryl, remained hesitant about them in a way she hadn’t noticed before, since they’d taken that first leap off the ledge, although Beth felt he didn’t want to be.

The day had dawned cool and stayed that way, overcast with low hanging clouds and just enough of a breeze to keep away the heat even into the afternoon. Beth’s right side ached from the bruises she couldn’t see but knew she got from falling into that hole yesterday, but it wasn’t enough to slow her down. The soreness in her muscles from working with Daryl eased as she moved, and what didn’t stretch away served as a reminder of the importance of knowing how to defend herself against somebody stronger.

Yesterday’s farm was the first of many, the outlier in a swatch of farmland nestled between the woods and the road. Eventually the woods on the other side began to give way to fields and structures, too, at least from what they could see. They didn’t stop to search these places, not while they still had a long day’s travel ahead of them, just saw what they could from the edge of the woods or up in a tree, and moved on each time they didn’t find a vehicle.  Beth wished she had brought along her crossbow’s scope after all, even if just for its usefulness in seeing things from a distance.

“Nothin’?” said Daryl, unnecessarily, as she climbed back down the tree, hanging off the lowest branch before dropping down the final few feet to the ground. He caught her, sort of, hands just skirting her waist as she landed.

Also unnecessary, but she didn’t mind, and the little brush of his fingertips even through her layers of clothing set off a little flutter in her belly. “Nah. Not even a tractor this time.”

Daryl hummed, but didn’t say anything. Yet another farm in a long line of them without a single vehicle parked outside. Beth never gave much thought to placing bets, to what it meant to consider the odds of something, but had anyone asked she’d have said the odds of finding at least one vehicle amongst all these abandoned places, even a beat-up old truck, were pretty good. Daryl caught her eye as this thought wriggled into her head and she read his meaning as clearly as if he’d spoken it aloud. He didn’t like how this felt, and neither did she, and a prickly little shiver rolled across her shoulders.

She sighed and glanced around, taking in the grey sky and the wind whipping the tops of the trees. The sun wasn’t visible, but she could mostly make out its position in the sky where the clouds glowed a bit brighter. If the spacing of the farms remained the same they could at least reach the next one before they’d have to stop to make camp and find some food.

“Let’s go,” she said, stepping back into the woods. Daryl gave an almost imperceptible nod and moved to follow, pressing his hand to the small of her back a moment before letting it drop to his side.

That unpleasant prickle didn’t entirely go away even with the pleasant shiver brought on by Daryl’s touch, and for that reason Beth led them deeper into the trees, further from the fields than they’d been for most of the day. If Daryl noticed he didn’t say anything, but she didn’t expect him to.

“I don’t understand,” Beth said, once she felt they’d put enough distance between themselves and the fields. “Not even one car?”

Beside her, Daryl shrugged, not committing to it either way. He didn’t know the answers either, obviously, but he must have already formed his own theories. For the most part the farms just looked abandoned. Like the place they spent the night, none of them showed much in the way of damage, just neglect. Long since vacated and left untouched, or mostly so, thereafter. They hadn’t gone into any of the other houses but Beth remembered the picture frames, sitting empty above the mantle, in the one they had. The kitchen cleaned, dishes put away, shelves cleared of food aside from one or two items forgotten.

The farmyard, empty. Animals gone. Everything left tidy, put back in its place at the end of the world.

Somewhere out there, Beth’s childhood home stood ruins, destroyed by the herd which chased them out. There hadn’t been time to grab photographs, to take anything but the clothes on her back. They left the house as it was—dishes in the sink, clothes on the line, food in the pantry, memories on the mantle. Fled with the horses still in their stalls and the yard in the disarray of everyday use.

“Maybe—maybe all the neighbours got together, got out together,” Beth said, after a moment. “Before it got really bad, maybe they all just got in their cars and left in a group. Safety in numbers, right?”

Daryl gave a quick nod, a soft grunt. Maybe, that grunt said. Whatever else he was thinking, Beth wasn’t quite sure she wanted to know. If it mattered, he would say something. Until then Beth just kept walking and hoped the niggling sense of something not-quite-right would pass.

When she led them back toward the edge of the trees a while later, about the time she thought it would take to reach the next farm, they came out of the woods at the far end of what looked to have been cow pasture, once upon a time. The farmyard stood back the direction they had come from, too far to bother backtracking without good reason, but a leafy copse of trees blocked their view of the yard. Aside the splashes of blue and white of the house’s siding visible between the wind-blown branches and gold-tinged leaves, they couldn’t see a thing.

Beth let out a huff of breath and glanced over at Daryl, standing at her shoulder. “Guess I’m climbin’ again.”

His lip twitched a little, but before she could even think to ask what, he was sliding his crossbow off his shoulder. He handed it to her and dropped his bag at her feet, turned and headed for the nearest tree with big enough branches.

He wasn’t a climber like she was, didn’t scurry up the tree like it was second nature, but he had the strength and the agility to get him up where he needed to be. Even if he looked a bit like a housecat, perched up there waiting for the fireman to come with their ladder truck to rescue him. Beth wasn’t really worried, though, and after a few minutes of looking, Daryl picked his way down, hanging the way she tended to do from the final branch before dropping to land with barely a sound on the leaf-strewn grown below.

“Nah,” he said, tossing his head in the direction of the buildings.

Beth gazed out that way for a moment, not really looking. Daryl took a step closer and hooked a couple of fingers around a couple of hers, not quite holding her hand, but it was enough to remind her he was there. Always there, and waiting on her to make the next move—probably, she thought, in more ways than one.

It hadn’t gotten any warmer, but the idea of traipsing into the yard even just to clear the barn made that prickle across her shoulders push in a little deeper. She didn’t understand why, but she didn’t think she needed to. As much she wanted shelter for the night, her instincts—if that’s what this was—urged her to turn away from the buildings and head deeper into the woods. Beth looked back at Daryl, unsurprised to find him already waiting to catch her eyes, but instead of telling him, she just nodded, a sense of certainty washing over her that he already knew what she was going to say.

He turned his hand to fully catch hers and together they headed back amongst the trees.
*~*

Snares weren’t something they had practiced yet, even though Daryl used them pretty much exclusively for their rabbits at the cabin until the end, when Beth wanted crossbow practice. After leaving that last farmyard behind, they walked until they reached a good camping spot near the bank of that same meandering river, and before Beth could start setting up camp, Daryl claimed it was time to learn. He still owed her a rabbit, after all, so they might as well.

“If I set the snares, doesn’t that mean I’m the one catching the rabbit?” she asked, poking her tongue out the corner of her mouth when he pretended to glare at her.

“You wanna learn it or not?” he asked, grumbling, but Beth knew better.

Maybe at one time he defaulted to that tone of voice, but these days he had to work at it. All it took was her bumping her shoulder into his to knock the put-on scowl off his face and replace it with Daryl’s own brand of smile. Subtle, just that little lift, higher on the left than the right, but no less genuine because of it.

“A’right, you,” he said, bumping her shoulder in return, a sparkle in his eyes even in the flat light of a cloudy evening. “C’mon.”

Tying the snares wasn’t difficult, once she practiced it a couple of times. Finding places to set them up wasn’t either, in a way, because she’d already been learning to hunt, to see the signs and know how to read them. She set hers where she thought she might have some success, two places where some sort of small creature left signs of its passage through the underbrush. Daryl set his own and they left them for the time being to make camp. Daryl went to check them sometime later and came back with two small cottontails—one from one of her snares, he said, and one from one of his—enough to share one for supper and save the other for breakfast.

As darkness fell, the temperature dropped, a colder night than they’d had in some time. They couldn’t risk a fire, not one large enough to throw the kind of heat they needed, so when Daryl took his place beneath his chosen tree to take watch, Beth settled down close beside him. Barely a breath passed before he lifted his arm so she could scoot in closer and tucked it around her once she settled. His fingers curled in at her waist, pressing into the layers of fabric until she felt the weight of his fingertips on her skin.

Beth turned into him a little more and laid her head in that perfect indent at the join between his chest and shoulder. Because she thought she could, she snaked her arm across his stomach, slipping it beneath his vest, and curled her fingertips in like he did with his. Beth’s heart pounded, spreading a heat as only Daryl could inspire through her chilled body, and a little tremor rolled through her.

He noticed the shiver, and pulled his arm tighter. “Cold?”

“A little.” She closed her eyes and smiled as Daryl breathed deep beneath her cheek. “Think summer’s over for good?”

“Dunno,” he answered, after a bit. “Been wrong before.”

“I wonder what day it is. What month it is, even.” She snorted as she realized how far away the concept of time-keeping really was. “I’m not even sure what year it is.”

That drew a little chuckle out of Daryl, too, and he swept his chin across the top of her head. “Don’t matter no more.”

“Just another thing left behind when the world ended,” Beth said, thinking on that for a bit.

She did know, to be honest, but it wasn’t immediate. She had to actually think about it to bring the right combination of numbers to mind, and they tasted foreign. Wrong. Birthdays and holidays and ringing in the new year couldn’t really factor in when every day was spent making sure you lived to see the next. Survival by the day, sometimes by the minute. Beth didn’t even remember now when she stopped keeping track, but after a time even the early days on the farm had begun to blend together.

Once Mama got bit, and Shawn, well, even then it hadn’t seemed important.

Daryl let out a little ah, drawing her out of her own head as he shifted, searching for something in his pack on the ground beside him with the arm not tucked around her.

Beth lifted her head off his chest to watch. “What’re you—oh!”

Daryl pulled out the roll of Life Savers he found yesterday, holding it so she could reach to peel open the foil at the end.

“What colour’s your favourite?” she asked, pulling the red candy ring out and holding it between her fingers.

She wasn’t surprised when Daryl offered a mumbled I dunno and punctuated it with a shrug, but she wasn’t having that.

“C’mon,” she said, tipping her face up to meet his eyes. “You gotta have one.”

His lip twitched, just a bit. “They ain’t got no peach one, so...” The twitching lip shifted into that subtle smile and he tipped his chin toward the candy. “You pick.”

Beth let the flush of warmth wash over her in the wake of his words, and she curled the red ring into her hand to reach into the roll for the next one in line. Keeping her eyes locked on Daryl’s, she pulled it out and watched as his gaze shifted to her fingers and the Life Saver she held in them.

“Here,” she said, lifting the candy up to touch it to his lips. “I think maybe you’d like the green one.”

Daryl took the green ring between his teeth but before she could pull away, his lips closed down over her fingers, dragging warm and moist on her skin. Beth shivered against him, stamped down on the giggle trying to bubble its way out of her chest by shoving the red Life Saver into her mouth instead. The burst of artificial cherry flavour made her salivary glands ache with effort as she swirled the candy around her mouth.

It wasn’t peaches, definitely could not compare with fresh peaches from the tree, but this could be the last cherry Life Saver she ever ate and she was gonna enjoy it. “Mmm.”

Daryl’s candy clacked against his teeth. “Mmhm.”

If they were smart they would save these. Ration them, make them last by having just one each after supper every night until they were gone. But sometimes it wasn’t worth withholding something when there was nothing to lose from a bit of indulgence.

Beth had a pineapple one next and Daryl got orange. He took it from her fingers the same way he took the green, and silence fell around them, aside from the clacking of candies against their teeth, the rustle of foil and paper when Beth pulled the next round out of the roll. Each time when hers was down a skinny, sharp-edged little ring, Daryl crunched the rest of his with his teeth. He waited for her to finish, then they would start all over again, until the last one dissolved into a lemon-flavored memory on her tongue.

“You should sleep,” he said, after a long while of sitting together in silence. The darkness was absolute, now, here beneath the trees without moon or stars to shed any light.

“I will.” Beth tightened her arm around his middle, pushed her face a little deeper into his chest. “Warmer like this.”

“Mmm.” Daryl brushed his thumb over her cheek, cool where her face felt flushed, then traced a line from her ear to her chin. “You are. Warm.”

She was, even though the timbre of his voice made her shiver. “Yeah?”

Daryl tightened his arm around her waist, drew her even closer. His thumb skirted just beneath her bottom lip without quite touching it, then followed the shape again as the first pass pulled her lips into a smile. “Yeah.”

She couldn’t see him in the dark, but that didn’t matter. When she lifted her head from his chest, she knew just where to find him, where to brush her nose so that it glided along the underside of his. Daryl’s breath washed over her face, hot and shaky, sweet from the candy, and before he could turn his trembling palm to cradle her cheek, Beth leaned up that last little bit to capture his mouth.

They couldn’t get carried away, not out here, even though the familiar stirrings of heat in her belly tried to urge her to reconsider. But she could kiss him. She could have this, and as she pressed her palm to the cool leather over top his pounding heart, she knew it was okay. Already their lips knew one another and they glided in sync, heads tipping at just the right moment to deepen the kiss that little bit further. Daryl moaned into her mouth and a tremble rolled through him, just beneath the surface like the rumbling of an earthquake, a shifting of the earth from where it used to be, and Beth was once again reminded of that fractured dam across a river.

He held back now for the same reason as she—because they had to. Because giving in to the urge to straddle his lap and just go with it was not an option. But that other thing lingered there, too, undefined, even as the kiss wound down instead of up. When they broke apart, the trembling in Daryl’s body hadn’t stopped. Beth snuggled in and he pulled her close, buried his face into her hair and just breathed. She didn’t know if she was helping him or not, with whatever might be on his mind right now, but he didn’t seem inclined to let her go.

His trembling eased, after a time. Beth stayed curled up with him, head once again resting on his chest. Palm over his heart, which gradually slowed down to its usual steady beat. Beneath her head, his chest moved smoothly with deep, even breaths. High above the leaves of the trees rustled in the wind, though it didn’t penetrate down into their camp below. No insects tonight, just the nearby ripple of the slow-moving river and the sounds of their breathing. It was cold, but not unmanageably so, not with Daryl’s body heat and his arm, big and solid, wrapped tightly around her.

Daryl kept watch and Beth tried to sleep, but the questions she put aside last night still played heavily on her mind. A different Beth, a younger Beth, the Beth she used to be instead of the Beth she was, might worry that she was the cause. That Daryl hesitated because his feelings for her were something he didn’t want, something he was ashamed to feel. That he didn’t actually want her at all and held back because of that.

But she wasn’t that Beth and she knew better. More importantly, she knew Daryl.

No, it was something else. A set of dots she couldn’t quite connect in her head. Beth sighed into Daryl’s chest and buried her face in deeper. She didn’t get it. They both wanted this. Beth knew that Daryl knew where she stood because he stood there with her, and she’d been pretty clear—she thought—that the physical aspect of all this was something she wanted just as much as the rest of it. So he couldn’t be worried about her, concerned he was somehow pressuring her into something she wasn’t ready for because that wasn’t the case at all. So if it wasn’t that, then what?

Use your head, Greene. C’mon, now.

Oh.

Oh, of course. Of course.

Daryl was older than her, but that wasn’t something she thought of most days. He was Daryl, and Daryl meant a great many things to her but he wasn’t a number. She didn’t know how old he was and didn’t care. The years stretching between them weren’t important, not when they stood side by side. Beth didn’t like to assume and prided herself on her attention to not doing so. Preferred to form opinions based on fact, on what she learned instead of what she was supposed to think, but she had done that here, she saw now. Some part of her subconscious looked at older and assumed a great many things that maybe—more than maybe—weren’t true.

Two nights ago she mused on the Daryl she remembered from the farm and from the prison versus Daryl as he was now—the Daryl at her side. Thought about what they had together and how that wasn’t something she had seen from him before. She had thought it a million times lying in his arms in bed at the cabin, how special it was that he would hold her close when he held everyone else away.

Beth knew about the scars, and how they came to be there. Knew where he came from, who he’d been and who he hadn’t. Read between the lines and figured out that the only good people he ever knew were the ones he met at the end of the world.

Whatever he’d known before, it wasn’t good. Wasn’t healthy. At best uncomfortable and at worst, well, scars like that don’t just happen by accident. The voices in his head, the marks cleaved into his skin, the way he was—that was done to him, and he would never be free of that.

He wasn’t worried about her, about how she would handle where they were going. He was worried about himself.

Maybe that was simplifying things. It probably was, but Beth held onto that little glimmer of understanding because it just made so much sense. A great many lines had been crossed between the two of them, in their time alone together. She already knew that. Already saw how this was different. But she missed, somehow, what was staring her in the face all along.

Daryl had never done this before, embarked on a journey of the heart with another living soul like the one he was travelling now, with her.

Oh, Daryl.

A lump thickened in her throat and her next breath caught in her chest and stuck there, pulling back against the need to exhale with a cool, sharp-edged ache. Because she could never truly understand just how bad it was for him, even though she wanted to. Because this beautiful man had gone most of his life without knowing a touch that didn’t hurt. A voice that didn’t wound. Another heart that beat, even for a time, in tune with his own.

Until now.

She wasn’t immune to feeling overwhelmed. Her moment last night, her double-talking doubts of the night before, proved that well enough. And even though she’d had a Jimmy and a Zach and everything that went along with that, neither one of them were Daryl. She wasn’t comparing ‘cause there was no comparison to be made. That little knot in her belly hadn’t gone away, pulled taught against the impossible depths of her feelings for him that grew stronger by the day.

If that’s how it was for him, too—and she was sure, now, so sure that it was—then no wonder.

He was trying. He was trying so hard. Some of it came easy now, like this, cuddling with her beneath this tree, lying with her at night. All the little touches, the looks, the trust he placed in her—but it took a long time getting here. He wanted this every bit as much as she did despite the demons of his past whispering god-knows-what into his mind. Every tremor in his body, every hitch in his breath, every moment when he held himself back even though he looked at her like he wanted to fall right into her and never come out, all of it signs of the war he waged within his own head.

Beth didn’t know how to help him or even if she could. All she could do was try, try like Daryl was trying, and hope that would be enough. Two of us, she remembered, navigating the way side by side.

He was worth it. They were worth it.

Beth and Daryl against the world—and everything else in it.
*~*

So when your hope’s on fire
But you know your desire
Don’t hold a glass over the flame
Don’t let your heart grow cold
I will call you by name
I will share your road
        - Mumford & Sons


to be continued in chapter 26 >>

Comments

( 1 has spoken — take the speaking stick )
slaymesoftly
Oct. 7th, 2015 02:16 am (UTC)
*sigh* :)
( 1 has spoken — take the speaking stick )

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