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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

All Chapters Here
Fall Right In
Chapter 27 – Still the Rain Kept Pourin’, Fallin’ on My Ears


For the rest of the night they sat together in the rain and the wind, listening as the thunder got further and further away, breathing in sync until the sky began to lighten, from thick black to muddy grey to a drab autumnal monochrome that promised no relief.  With no reason to linger in camp, they climbed out from under their tree at the first hints of morning, and without a word resumed their journey through the woods.

The weather matched Beth’s mood, the dreariness in her heart she couldn’t shake outside of that secret space she and Daryl made beneath their tree. Beth tried to put the dream away, let the details go until they were hazy enough that she couldn’t remember exactly how it went. She was good at that usually, had been since the nightmares started. It was bad enough, waking near hysterics without also remembering the specifics of the terrors which left her that way, and there was a reason Daryl never asked her to talk about them.

But she couldn’t get rid of this one, not fully, and her mind kept flashing through a series of disturbing images. Now and then, she couldn’t quite breathe, as if the air around her had grown too thick to pull into her lungs, and she’d taste something foul on her tongue. Then that twist of panic would hit her, like a jolt of lightning to her chest, sharp and sudden and painful enough to make her stumble. A meat hook in her gut giving a hard, twisting tug that turned her stomach and threatened to eject the bit of rabbit she choked down for breakfast. A shiver down the back of her neck like thousands of insects crawling over her with tiny, pinching feet, causing her to shudder and wince and sweep her hands over her skin to make sure they weren’t really there. These vivid dreams had become her new normal but she never knew she was dreaming in the middle of one. Never knew the terror of not being able to wake up, until now, and maybe that’s what made it linger.

Not that the reasons why mattered when all she cared about was making it go away.

The rain persisted, shifting through the spectrum from a fine drizzle to giant fat globs to something like a fire hose pouring down on them from above. Beth fashioned makeshift hoods out of black plastic garbage bags to keep the worst of it off their heads. Deep in the trees, it wasn’t so bad, but whenever they edged toward one of the farms, the cover overhead grew thin.

Each successive property was closer to its neighbours, and the parcels of land grew smaller. Some of them weren’t even farms so much as country homesteads. And still no vehicles. No anything. All those farms, all those homes, just empty.

Beth stared at the latest one, a newish building fashioned after an old plantation house, tall and square with big white columns and a wrap-around veranda. There was a dog house, too, a miniature replica of the big house, columns and all, and nearby a decorative little two-horse barn, painted in a red so bright it stood out harshly against the stormy grey. There was some pasture here and a riding ring beside the barn, and outside the manicured lawn on which the house sat, the property was mostly just land, dotted with trees and wild grass, unused for anything besides living on—when someone had lived here, at least. Like all the rest, the yard was tidy aside from the marks left upon it by nature, and no vehicle sat anywhere in sight.

The shiver started at the back of her neck and rippled down along her spine. If she hadn’t been holding her crossbow, Beth would’ve wrapped her arms around herself to ward off the chill it left behind.

Daryl slid his hand beneath her garbage bag hood to cup the back of her neck, instantly suffusing her with a bit of his warmth, and he brushed his thumb up toward her ear. “All right?”

Beth shivered again, the chill slinking in even beneath Daryl’s warm palm. “I don’t know,” she answered, rolling her shoulders in effort to shake away the unease skittering across them, that same goddamned swarm of ants. “I mean, I guess so, but…”

She sighed, not sure how to put into voice what exactly she was feeling. The nightmare still hanging over her, clinging there at her back like that scratchy dark cloak she imagined it to be, made it impossible to tell whether something else might be pinging her Spidey Senses. Assuming she had any, that is. She remembered having the impression of something not quite right yesterday with all of this, and thought Daryl had, too. But was that what was bugging her now, or just the remnants of her nightmare?

Beside her, Daryl hummed, a sound just loud enough to be heard above the patter of rain on the plastic covering her head. “Ain’t lettin’ up at all, is it?”

“What, the rain?” Beth turned her head to look at him, only to be met with an expression that said really, Greene? In reminder of what he actually meant, another shiver rolled over her shoulders. “Oh. No. No, it’s not.”

Daryl’s gaze flicked toward the farmhouse quickly, then settled back onto her. “C’mon. Ain’t nothin’ here.”

The rest of the day brought more of the same. Gloomy grey skies, ceaseless rain, abandoned homes, and not much else. By late afternoon, on top of the dream still plaguing her without any signs of letting up, each step she took dragged and her head ached from lack of sleep. Daryl didn’t show it—he never did—but he hadn’t slept at all and he must be feeling the effects of that, too. The rain was so heavy it wasn’t even really worth leaving the cover of the trees for more fruitless searching, and just like yesterday, Beth couldn’t convince herself that she wanted to spend the night in one of the farms.

Maybe she was overreacting, but one of the things Daryl always said was to trust her gut. Well, her gut was telling her to stay the hell away from tidy abandoned places right now and she was going to listen to it, even on the very good chance that this was all still dream aftermath at work. With a glance at Daryl to confirm he was okay to go along with that, Beth led them deeper into the woods in search of something that might serve as shelter for the rest of the day and the night beyond.

As they crossed over what looked to Beth like just a little ditch cutting perpendicular to their path, Daryl reached out to tug at her sweater. “This way.”

Since he clearly knew something she didn’t, Beth nodded and let him take the lead. They’d been navigating mostly flat ground since climbing down from that ridge the day before the barn. What she thought was a little ditch grew wider and deeper as they followed it, and she realized it was actually the start of a small ravine, the bottom of it mostly full of brushy plants, still green this early in autumn and sagging with the weight of the rainwater beading on them. Not very far along, when the furrow was just wider across than the spread of Beth’s arms, and just a bit taller than Daryl, a big evergreen tree was lying across the top. Most of its needles still clung to the branches, and the dirt and plants beneath where the trunk lay looked recently disturbed. Probably a casualty of either Daryl’s storm or the one that followed a couple days later.

Daryl rigged up their canvas beneath the tree branches, to make another barrier between them and the rain, while Beth used her knife to clear away the brush before gathering the driest bits of debris she could find to try to get a fire lit. It was smoky and small but eventually it caught. She and Daryl huddled close beneath their makeshift shelter, changed out their damp socks for dry ones, warmed their hands over the small blaze, and shared that package of not completely stale rice crackers for supper.

“I don’t know if I want to keep looking for a vehicle here,” Beth said, when the fire was dying and there wasn’t much else to do besides snuggle into Daryl’s side as she had the night before.

He had already tucked his arm around her, and now brought his other hand up to touch her cheek. “Still feelin’ off about it?”

On cue, the back of her neck prickled. She was going to have to start giving them names, the insects skittering over her skin, if they were gonna stick around like this. “Yeah, maybe. Or just off.”

The rain pelted down above them, a staccato on the canopy overhead, with occasional drops making it down as far as their canvas. Daryl’s thumb moved gently over her cheek and Beth shut her eyes and rested her head on his chest and let his touch drive away some of the prickling.

He made a good distraction most of the time, Daryl did, but it was better when they could talk. When they could touch, and already the weight of unease across her shoulders was lightening, as though Daryl could somehow stand guard, act as a buffer between her and her own brain. “You remember, before the cabin, when you told me a story?”

“The one about the dog? Yeah.” Daryl paused the motions of his thumb, and Beth cracked her eyes open, just barely able to see him looking down at her. “You after another one?”

Beth closed her eyes again and snuggled in. “Only if you want to.”

A rumble of laughter rolled through Daryl’s chest beneath her head. “Still ain’t no storyteller.”

“You don’t have to,” Beth said, slipping her hand beneath his vest so she could better feel the heat of his chest on her palm. “We could play a game instead.”

“Uh huh,” Daryl said, sounding less than thrilled about that idea, though she knew he would be. “‘Cause that worked so well the last time.”

Toying with one of the buttons on his denim jacket, Beth hummed quietly. “I could tell you a story.”

“Could.” Daryl continued moving his thumb over her face, that same light touch he seemed to know she liked. “I get to pick the topic?”

The shiver that came this time wasn’t at all cold, and Beth sneaked her fingers inside Daryl’s jacket. “Yeah, okay. Or…”

His breath hitched a little, and then again as she found the seam in his shirt and slipped her fingers past that, too. “Or?

“Well.” All his layers lined up, and she wiggled her fingers all the way down to his undershirt. He was so warm, this close to his skin, and Beth drew little circles with her fingertips. “You could kiss me.”

He didn’t answer right away, and Beth had a flash of worry that maybe she was pushing him again where he didn’t want to be pushed. She did want to. Kissing Daryl wasn’t just about the distraction it would bring, but she didn’t want him saying yes if that was his only reason for doing it. In her unease, Beth hadn’t thought much about it, but she remembered now, all right, everything she was thinking about last night. Except for maybe the first time, when they almost moved as one, Beth had pushed him into it each time, and here she was, doing it again.

Then Daryl hummed, that low rumbling one that made a little burst of heat fire off in her belly, and dragged his thumb across her bottom lip. Before Beth could move, he curled his fingers beneath her chin, applying just a bit of pressure to urge her to tip her face up. She did, opening her eyes at the same time and finding his there waiting for her. Daryl could do many things, but lying with his eyes wasn’t one of them. Even in the drab light, they blazed, and maybe she was pushing, but maybe that wasn’t always a bad thing.

“Only if you want to,” she whispered, pulling her hand out of his shirt so she could hook it around his neck.

He groaned and dug his fingers in at her waist, mouth dropping open a second before he spoke. “Beth.”

God, that man didn’t even know the power he had when he said her name like that—a word built of breath and gravel and not just a little bit of need. Her heart was already racing with anticipation and it pounded now, because yes, he did want this. He did want her, and feeling that again stirred the boldness back into her veins where the doubt had lingered before.

Beth shifted again, using her arm around his neck to pull herself up onto her knees beside him, never breaking eye contact as she moved until they were face to face.

“That mean yes?” she asked, reaching up to drag her fingernails across his scalp.

Daryl’s eyes drooped shut and he leaned his head into the touch of her fingers. “Yes.”

He was making those sounds again, that rumbling almost-purr, and Beth scratched a little harder. Belatedly, Daryl remembered he had hands, too, and the nearer one settled at the small of her back while he used the other to hook a finger through her belt loop, where her hip rested up against his thigh.

Maybe it was unfair of her. Probably it was, but some part of her wanted to hear him say it. “Yes, what?”

Daryl dragged his eyes open, stared at her, mouth slack and his expression one she couldn’t read. A beat passed, then two, and he swallowed hard. “Beth.

A weight dropped in her stomach and she wished she’d never asked. Sliding her hand around to cradle the back of his head, Beth leaned in and pressed her forehead to his, mindful of the wound above his brow. “It’s okay, I’m sorry, you don’t have to—”

“Beth,” he said again, this time with a bit more volume, and he slid one hand up along her spine to cradle the back of her head, too. “Been wanting to kiss you all fuckin’ day.”

Oh, his voice. That gravelly rumble zipped through her like last night’s lightning, setting her nerves ablaze with the same sort of spark as his eyes did whenever he looked at her. Already she was warm inside but his words left her awash with heat, and it was all she could do not to smash their faces together right the hell now. All day. He’d been thinking about kissing her all day and she was too distracted to notice, and Beth didn’t want to wait any longer but she needed to tell him just one more thing first.

“You can kiss me anytime you want, Daryl,” Beth said, her own words half lost to the heaviness of her breathing. “Anytime.”

Daryl swept his thumb up the side of her neck. “Yeah? Just come up and kiss you?”

The thought of that, of Daryl tugging on her arm and reeling her in for a kiss sent another burst of heat through her, down low into her belly. “Yeah. Just do that. I want you to.”

“Mmmm.” Daryl’s hand flattened out across her back and he pushed, just a bit, urging her to move a little closer. “How ‘bout now?”
“Now’s good,” she said, and tilted her head to meet him.

Daryl’s lips slid against hers, slow and unhurried, like maybe now that this wasn’t as brand new anymore, he wanted to explore. There was a boldness to him that hadn’t been there before, though he hadn’t lacked in passion. It was subtle, but as Beth glided her tongue along his lower lip, Daryl refused to be budged. The flutters in her belly deepened, became the swooping wings of birds as she fell back into his rhythm. He groaned into her mouth and curled his fingers into her ponytail and kissed her, slow and deep.

When they broke apart she wasn’t starving for breath, but she was breathing hard anyway. She touched her forehead to his and his own deep breaths puffed over her face. She was gonna kiss him again, but first she pushed up on her knees and swung one leg across his where they stretched out in front, so she could sit in his lap just like before. Daryl didn’t stop her, just followed her with his eyes as she settled in place, leaving enough space between them to keep things from escalating faster than maybe he would like.

Still, his eyes blazed with heat as they stared up at her, and Beth scratched her nails across his scalp again, felt his rumbled response beneath her palm on his chest.

“Thought I was supposed to be distracting you.” As he spoke, he slipped his fingers beneath the edge of her shirt, stroked along her skin just above her jeans.

That made her shiver, and one corner of his mouth twitched. “Mmm. You are. Never said I wasn’t gonna try, too.”

Her response drew a warm chuckle out of him and the twitchy lip shifted into a smirk. He gave her ponytail a little tug and continued that glide of his fingers, his touch tingling up along her spine. Beth dragged hers across his scalp again and Daryl groaned, low and rumbling, as she hoped he would. When their lips met this time neither one of them held back.

They knew better than to get carried away like this, out here in the open with darkness coming on quick, but the moment their lips touched, it was like the barn all over again. Gone were the rain and the wind and in their place, the rumble of thunder from deep in Daryl’s chest. Her little moan into his mouth was answered immediately with one of his, and he pushed past her lips with his tongue and Beth quit thinking about anything but Daryl. He saturated her senses, muting everything else around her and that was dangerous. It was so dangerous out here in the woods but she didn’t care as long as he didn’t stop. As long as he kept tugging like that on her ponytail and sliding his tongue just like that, stroking the underside of hers in a way that made her whimper without meaning to every single time.

God, he was so hot. His mouth, his skin where they touched, his neck beneath her hand and his palm, now splayed out flat against her back beneath her shirts. Heat pulsed deep in her belly, between her legs, bursting out like rivers of lava in her veins until her fingers trembled and she couldn’t take a steady breath if she tried. She slid closer, couldn’t keep from closing a bit of that space she’d tried to give him, but he didn’t stop that, either. Maybe if she didn’t move, if she kept still, maybe he’d let her feel him, just like he did before.

Just thinking about it had her vaginal muscles fluttering, and she clenched them tight, already so wet for him and it was ridiculous, how quickly he got her there without even trying. She slid closer still, moving slow, giving him time to stop her if she tread too far toward discomfort, but all he did was dig his fingernails into her back. When she felt him at last, when she angled her hips to press herself against the erection already straining at his jeans, a shudder rushed through him and he whined, low and long at the back of his throat. But he didn’t stop kissing her, no matter that his body trembled on with that impossible combination of restraint and barely caged need she felt in him before. That alone doubled the heat already blazing in her belly.

He was so hard, and maybe this was a bad idea because now that she had him there, now that pressing against him like this had the seam of her jeans pushing right where she needed it, she wanted to move. But she promised, she promised herself and even though she hadn’t said, she promised him.  He wasn’t stopping her yet and she didn’t wanna mess it up again by pushing too far, no matter how good it would feel. That wasn’t helping at all, thinking about friction when her body was screaming for it.  When that familiar empty ache pulsed deep and urgent inside her. Beth whimpered again and locked her legs as tight as she could around his hips to hold herself still. Her fingers trembled with it where they pressed into his shoulder and raked through his hair.

Daryl tugged hard at her ponytail and rumbled deep in his chest, as only Daryl could. His palm at her back flattened out. Flattened and pushed and pressed her down on him, and his seam and her seam together struck her clit just right. Oh, Lord, just right, and the resulting moan rolled up from her belly and into Daryl’s mouth. She clutched at him, trembling now just as hard as he was, trembling and holding back because he needed her to. But she couldn’t shake the thought that maybe he needed her to help him break through that dam instead and let the flood carry them away together. And it was as maddening as it was thrilling as it was the best thing ever—the reality of him and her and where they were, where they were going, what he made her feel in her heart and her head and her body. The weight of it crashed over her, a sensation so palpable she felt it down to her bones. In her belly. Felt it inside, where she ached for him.

Lord, she needed to move. They didn’t have to go farther than this, than jeans on jeans. This was enough. Just like this, him and her and it was enough, and oh—oh hell.

Beth tightened her grip around his neck and rocked against his election, breaking away from his mouth to let out an explosive breath, to clamp her teeth down on her lip before the sound pulling at her chest could escape into the world. Daryl’s lips found her neck, teeth scraping, tongue lapping at her skin as he clutched at her belt and tugged hard. A sound like the whine of a steam engine poured out of his throat, barely muffled into her skin, and Beth ground down on him again, so hard he shuddered and groaned and lifted his hips up to meet hers. Curled his hand around the back of her head and crashed their lips together again. Another shudder rocked him, and it rolled right into her, from the impact of his cock, his jeans and hers shooting sparks from her clit right up her spine, to the shudder itself, shaking right through to her fingertips.

Yes. Oh, god, yes.

Daryl’s hands gripped her hips, stopping her, a low, pained moan on his lips as he broke away. He stared up at her, breath ragged, his brow so furrowed it cast shadows over his abnormally wide-open eyes. He looked turned on and terrified and confused as hell, and the swoop of wings in her belly sunk like a dozen lead weights.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…” Beth stroked her thumbs over his cheeks and his eyes fell shut, and she hadn’t meant to do it. Hadn’t wanted this to happen again but she did it anyway, demanded more from him than he wanted to give. “Daryl, I’m—”

He kissed her again. Hard. Urgent, his tongue gliding in deep, sweeping strokes as he held her hips still. Thrusting into her mouth and biting at her lips and she poured herself into the kiss. Into that wall of Daryl all around her, into that hunger burning through him and into her.

She was gasping this time, when she pulled away to breathe, the light around them noticeably dimmer. The rain pattered on above and Beth dropped her forehead down onto Daryl’s shoulder. “We should stop.”

He tucked his face into her neck and swept his thumb across her back, inciting one final shiver, which trembled through his body as well. “Yeah.”

They stayed that way for a while, holding on while their breathing settled. Beth curled her fingers into the long hair at the back of his head and Daryl traced patterns on her back with his fingertips. He was still hard between them but made no move to pull her away. Made no move to hide how much she was affecting him.

Beth sighed deeply, and Daryl answered her with a shuddery little breath, washing over her like a warm breeze at her neck. “Daryl?”

She needed to know. Needed him to know, before it could eat away at her any more than it already was. “You’ll tell me, right, if I do somethin’ you don’t like?”

His breath shuddered out again and he didn’t answer for a moment. A moment, which drew out, silent and weighted between them, while his fingers continued drawing shapes into her skin. Beth heard him swallow, and then his palm flattened over her back again. Pressed in gently, not pulling her to him, but holding her there, right where she was.

“Y’ain’t done nothin’, Beth,” he said, in that low, gritty voice, lips brushing her skin as he spoke. “Don’t think you could.”

A gentler swoop of wings took flight in her belly, and Beth curled her fingers into his hair. Okay. Okay. Quit thinkin’ so much, Greene. Figure it out together, as she told herself before. Like they were already doing and had been all along.

“All right.” Beth pressed her lips to his shoulder before pulling back to see his face. “You should sleep. You didn’t get any last night.”

Daryl was smiling, something a little wider than his usual one, but in a soft sort of way. An almost dreamy way, given how he was gazing up at her with slightly drooping eyes and that little grin. “You sure?”

“Yeah. I’m good.” She returned his smile, wondering if she had the same look on her face as he did. She felt like she did, her head still floaty, belly still fluttery, cheeks warm despite the chill in the air. Before shifting off him, Beth gave his scalp one final scratch, the flutter in her belly deepening a bit at his expected groaning response. “I don’t mind takin’ first watch tonight.”

As she settled beside him, he turned to look at her, and her dreamy smile bloomed into something else, something a little giddy. Something reflected on Daryl’s face, too, though he was trying to contain it. He bumped his shoulder into hers with a little snort, because yeah, they were kinda ridiculous. A good kind, though, even if sometimes it felt like neither one of them had a clue how to do this. Beth laid her head on his arm, letting out the little giggle that wanted to bubble free, and slid her hand into his to twine their fingers together.

After a minute, he gave her hand a squeeze. “I’m, uh…” Daryl cleared his throat, and Beth looked up to see him staring out at the world beyond their little shelter. “I’m gonna take a piss. Uh, unless you gotta?”

Daryl’s focus shifted back onto her, and her pulse fluttered in her chest as their eyes met and held. “Nah,” she said, squeezing his hand in return before pulling away. “You go on.”

A moment passed where the air between them thickened and her gaze anchored tight to his. Then he gave a quick nod and tore himself away, and the shock of the separation rolled across her shoulders like a rippling wave. Beth watched after him as he ducked out from under the shelter and climbed up the bank, followed the path of his legs and that distinctive stride until he disappeared amongst the drizzle and the trees. She could feel it there, the nightmare, that awful dark cloak hovering at her back. Poking its chilled fingers at the base of her skull, looking for a way in. But blocked, for now, by the buzz of excitement still roaring in her veins. She could work with that, Beth thought, as she arranged her pack and reached for her crossbow.

With her heart still pounding away in her chest, and that blaze of arousal still burning in her belly, Beth settled back against the steep wall of roots and dirt and shrubs to await Daryl’s return.

She had a feeling he was going to be awhile.


The rain failed to let up through the night, and morning brought more of the same dreary landscape as the day before. With it, that familiar weight pressing in at the back of her head, returned to her in full force though she hadn’t dreamt. Had actually slept well when her watch ended, curled up warm beneath the canvas with Daryl for a pillow. Still, waking up to this again, the wet, grey weather and that nagging sense of wrongness seeping down from the base of her skull to spread across her shoulders, felt a little bit like a scene out of that movie she only half remembered watching as a child—the one with Bill Murray and that lady who used to do commercials for Cover Girl. The days were becoming more or less copies of each other, and Beth was ready for something to give, even just a little.

The wall of grey dulled even the brightest of the early autumn leaves, where normally they’d warm up the woods with their jaunty reds and oranges and yellows. Instead, all that grey pressed in thick around them as they trudged on through the morning. Despite Beth’s misgivings, they had agreed to keep checking the farms, at least as far as whichever rural hole-in-the-wall town these places led up to. Beth tried to shake the heavy feeling in her head but it pressed in just like the weather, a pervasive mist seeping into every tiny crack in her armour.

She hadn’t thought much about those days, the ones right after she killed Gorman, but something about this one recalled them to her now. The details weren’t clear, the scenes in her head choppy and abrupt, like a movie where the cuts made no sense. Parts of it gaped empty, a black hole, a void in her memory she knew she would never recover. Maybe it was all this grey, filling up all the spaces in between, reminding her of the fog in her head that hadn’t cleared until her breakdown at the creek. Except then the fog had been her refuge, the place she retreated to hide from what she had done. This one was more like purgatory.

It wasn’t what she did that plagued her now. Not in that way at least. She had thought not long ago that she was starting to forgive herself, and she didn’t think that was untrue. But part of her must’ve kept on feeling guilty, feeling sad. Some piece of her soul still punishing itself for being forced to take a human life, even though the life she took was the same one who forced her into it. How else could she explain the nightmares? Even if they weren’t coming nightly anymore, they were getting worse, despite what Daryl said. This one sticking with her dredged up lost images from others, or at least, it felt that way, with the flashes in her head like a gruesome slideshow. Of Daryl, a thousand ways dead, and of Gorman, always wearing that terrible grin upon his rotting face. Of her family, just as dead, foreheads ripped open and bleeding, ragged holes from a never-ending supply of bullets.

She smelled rot, yet no walkers lurked nearby. Tasted blood but there were no wounds. Felt the kick of a gun yet she did not fire.  Heard Gorman’s oily voice whispering to her, sweet birdie, sweet birdie, but there was nobody there except Daryl.

He tried. He did. Just as he had before when she broke out of the fog and he was doing what he could to keep her from going back there. That wasn’t happening now. The hitch of her breath and the tug of panic in her belly weren’t going to tug her down to where she couldn’t return. But Daryl’s efforts at conversation fell flat and Beth couldn’t pick them up, no matter how hard she tried to grasp hold. Her brain moved slow, half-frozen by the chill in the air, just like the fingers she kept tucked into fists inside her sweater.

Keep singin’, sweet birdie...

The shiver tore through her strong enough to make her knees wobble, and she stumbled over a root hidden beneath a pile of slick leaves. Daryl shot his hand shot out to steady her, encircling her wrist even as she regained her balance on her own. He swept his thumb over the soft skin of her inner wrist, lying down a little swath of warmth, but the shiver left behind a cool sting through the rest of her, cold like metal on a frozen winter’s day.

Beth tried to keep from looking at him, ‘cause she knew the moment she did he would see everything, but Daryl’s stare drew her eyes anyway, like a compass pointing north. Wasn’t the same, couldn’t be with the cloak of gloom she was wearing, but the spark caught anyway, the tiniest of flames blooming in the depths of her belly.

Daryl gripped her other wrist, fingers closing down over the bracelets she kept there, and pulled until she stood facing him. His lips jiggled as he chewed at them inside. “C’mere.”

He pulled her in and she went unresisting, pushing her face into his leather, curling her fingers into it as he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, resting them atop her pack. She breathed deep, the scent of leather and wet leaves filling her head. Maybe it would drive some of the other stuff out while making itself at home.

“Gotta shake this, Greene,” Daryl said, speaking into her hair. “Lettin’ it get to you again.”

He was worried about her. To be honest, it worried Beth, too, and her concern for herself and his concern for her only added to the weight swelling in the back of her head. “I’m tryin’, Daryl.”

His lips pressed into her hair. “Kick its ass, girl. You’re little but you’re tough, remember?”

Beth huffed a bit of a laugh into his chest and snuggled closer, just long enough to breathe him in one more time before pulling out of his embrace. His expression hadn’t changed when she met his eyes again, except now he traded his thumb for his lip. “Thanks, Daryl. For helpin’.”

He nodded quickly, still looking at her past his hand, half covering the bottom of his face as he mumbled something she couldn’t quite catch.

“What, Daryl?”

“Don’t like it,” he said, tearing his gaze away to look out ahead, into the grey nothing in front of them. He pulled his thumb from his mouth and shook his head, the motion casting off some of the water drops beaded on his plastic bag hood. “Bastard’s still got his hands on you.”

So simply put, yet so true. True in a way she hadn’t considered before. The Gorman in her head had a different intent than the Gorman she left behind to rot in the grass, but she hadn’t been free of him since it happened, not fully. Beth wrapped her own arms around her stomach to ward away the chill brought on by his words. “I don’t like it, either.”

She didn’t want to dwell on it—no matter that it wanted to dwell on her—so she tossed her chin toward at the gray haze between the slightly less grey trees, and together they moved on.

A couple of minutes passed in silence, before Daryl spoke. “You still owe me a story, Greene.”

Beth remembered a time when Daryl wouldn’t have bothered. Maybe he hadn’t had any luck so far, trying to distract her, trying to find a way to pull that heavy cloak from her shoulders, but he wanted to, and she appreciated that. Just knowing that chased away a bit of the chill clinging to her skin.

She had nothing to talk about, though, that wouldn’t just deepen the gloom. Sure, she could tell him stories about the farm or from the prison, ones he hadn’t heard already. About her family, the one she was born into and the one she made when the world went to hell. People she loved who she would never see again, ‘cause most of them were dead and the ones who maybe weren’t might as well be, for all the odds stacked against them finding each other again.

Fighting another shiver, Beth glanced over at the man walking at her side. The last man standing. “I don’t much feel like tellin’ stories.”

Rather than push, Daryl just nodded, worrying his lip so hard she had to look away, if only to keep from feeling even worse. What was wrong with her? This wasn’t who Beth Greene was, this miserable creature cowering inside her own head, not even a little bit. This goddamned rain needed to get lost, and take with it these effing dreams. It was bad enough when she was only tormenting herself, and now she was dragging Daryl down, too.

She almost jumped when he started speaking. She recognized the tone, that fluid one, which smoothed the edges off his words and allowed them to flow out like a stream instead of landing abruptly with their ends chopped off, like little rockslides. Daryl Dixon might not be much of a storyteller, but he was still going to try.

“I was maybe six or seven, don’t remember exactly, but that don’t matter. I know it was December, ‘cause the neighbour lady had this awful homemade Christmas wreath thing on her door and she only ever had it up around then. Fuckin’ bells on it woke me up, real early when the door slammed.” Daryl paused long enough to glance at her, to make sure she was listening, and carried on once he saw that she was. “I looked out the window, see some asshole takin’ off on her like usual, but then I saw it snowed. It was so early, the trees and shit were still all covered in it and nobody’d got to messin’ with it yet…”

He spoke and she listened, walking with him through the dreary woods as he told her about how he had gone outside just to wander in the snow. For those few brief minutes, Beth had a picture in her head of this tiny Daryl in his plaid pajamas, enthralled with the magic of an overnight snowfall just like any other small boy. The story didn’t end, though, so much as he just stopped talking about it. A few breaths followed, a couple of mostly silent footsteps, and he began all over again with another little half story. It took a few of these for Beth to understand, and when she got it, her heart constricted inside her chest, an ache which beat for this man at her side as he paused yet again to tease another little tale from a past full of unpleasant memories, all so she didn’t have to drown in hers.

It was that thought which stuck with her, slipping into her head to smother some of the other things lurking there. More than the stories themselves. This beautiful man had so little of his past worth remembering and yet he pulled what he could from the rubble just to make her feel better. It wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for him, if the situation was reversed, but that was the point. She’d needed this, this reminder that no matter what, they were in this together.

“Hey.” He reached out for her hand, hooked a couple of his fingers around a couple of hers, and tugged a bit. “C’mere.”

There was nothing concrete telling her what he wanted, and yet her heart kicked up its pace as he tugged gently again on her fingers. She turned to him, already leaning up for the kiss as his other hand settled on her cheek. She curled her fingers against his vest as their lips met, falling into an easy rhythm, as though they’d been doing this for years. He broke away after only a few moments, but it was enough, and she smiled—maybe the first one all day that she hadn’t had to force.

Just come up and kiss you?

“Yeah, just like that,” Beth said, leaning her head on his chest again. “Just ‘cause you want to.”

His only response was a contented hum she felt buzzing beneath her cheek, but that was enough for her, too.

He kept talking as they moved along, mostly the same sort of stories, either cut off before the ending or scattered with obvious holes throughout. This was probably the most talking she had ever heard Daryl do, and as the afternoon wore on, more gravel tumbled into his voice until he was almost hoarse. It wasn’t easy for him, the talking or the content of it, and sometimes she’d hear the strain in his tone or see it etched across his brow or in the tightness of his jaw as he picked his words with care. Like navigating a mental minefield full of things he’d rather not unearth. But he kept up, because she needed it, and his voice, his stories, and the pictures they painted in her mind gradually covered over most of the other things. They were still there, but the blanket of his words helped her tuck them away, allowed her to them hide for a while, and she was grateful for his help with what she hadn’t been able to do on her own.

After a while, the rain lessened from an open downpour to a light drizzle. It finally broke mid afternoon, the clouds above splitting apart to allow the sun to poke through, trickling down in broken beams to brighten the spaces beneath the canopy of trees. To chase away the clinging grey fog with splashes of red and orange, brown and green, and to fill the dull silence with the chirp and chatter of birds.

Daryl finished yet another abridged story as they came out of the trees at the end of a field full of tall, brown grass, mist rising above the stalks. More patches of blue littered the sky overhead and the sun shone down in streaky beams, something she’d have snapped a photo of once upon a time when photographs were a thing. Actually, it looked a lot like those inspirational posters she used to see pretty much everywhere, like the one at church in the pastor’s office and in the counsellor’s waiting room at school. Ubiquitous images of the sun bursting out above an impossibly fluffy cloud, brightening the world below—a reminder that things might get dark sometimes, but eventually the sun would always shine.

Another thing she would have to remember, at times like these when the dreams weighed her down. Beth took a deep breath, drawing the moist air into her lungs, no longer chilling but refreshing, now that the grey was fading as fast as the sun could burn it away.

Through the rising mist, a building of some sort appeared at the other end of the field. Past that, the area was still difficult to make out, but there were signs of a homestead. Buildings, at any rate, worth checking out. Beth kept her eyes on the structures as she and Daryl approached, following the fence line at the edge of the trees. A glint of metal flashed from the nearest one, but she couldn’t see exactly what might be reflecting the light.

Beth hadn’t dared to hope, but as they neared the building and she saw the two cars parked inside the open-fronted shed, excitement pulsed in Beth’s chest. Finally, after days of searching, they had something to show for it.

Both vehicles were older—80s models, Daryl said. A white Corolla and a light blue Taurus, both with unlocked doors. Beth stood by the corner of the shed, keeping watch while Daryl searched unsuccessfully for the keys to either one, before attempting to hotwire first the Taurus, then the Corolla. He couldn’t make that work, either, but the whys of that became clear when he popped the hoods and found empty spaces where the batteries should be.

Daryl stared long and hard at the two cars before backing out of the shed and shifting his gaze to her. “Whatcha make of this?”

There was an obvious answer, which she supplied despite the fact that she knew he knew it. “Somebody took them. But you can’t tell how long ago, right?”

Daryl shook his head, and Beth leaned her head away from the wall of the shed, peering into the hazy space beyond the fence. She could make out the outlines of a number of buildings, one of which was definitely an old barn, an array of outbuildings and sheds and pens surrounding it. Beyond that, the house—a typical huge old farmhouse of the type she knew intimately well. Past those, there might have been another field, partially hidden by an overgrown hedgerow of ornamental trees.

“Let’s check out the yard?” she said, making it a question.

Daryl nodded. “Lead the way.”

They climbed back over the fence to follow it onward, once again walking just inside the line of trees, as was their habit. Daryl hung back when they reached the centre point of the yard, halfway between the house and the barn, while Beth crept forward to take a look, crouching down to use the fence post and the tall grass for cover.

The house was about as old, about as large, and painted the same farmhouse white as the Greene family home. That vague resemblance, even with its different shape and the boarded-up windows on the lower level, was enough to thicken her throat a bit as she looked at it. A pair of rubber boots sat abandoned by the back door, just like the ones Daddy had, though his always sat out front when the weather started getting rainy in the fall. The yard amidst the outbuildings—numerous small sheds and two large ones similar to the one in that field—and the barn was more or less a muddy mess after all this rain. The old farmer would have been glad of those boots on many a rainy autumn morning as he made his way down to the barn, a structure so old Beth couldn’t see even a remnant of what colour it used to be.

Her gaze shifted from the barn to the lean-to attached at its side nearest the fence, and that’s when she saw it.

She would know a bumper like that anywhere.

Hot summer days speeding down gravel roads, dust billowing up behind them and her hair blowing in the wind. Shawn blasting Iron Maiden over the cassette player or Beth singing along to Daddy’s old favourites, all scratch and static from the am radio. WKNGYour home for the legends of country music! They had all learned to drive on that old Ford pickup, though by the time she had her license it wasn’t street legal anymore, but she had already been driving it around the farm for years. She remembered her excitement, thirteen years old and helping Daddy move the year’s first cut of hay, when she hopped into the driver’s seat for the very first time and Daddy showed her how to coax it into gear without stalling. Daddy had sold it for scrap and replaced it with another old truck that ran better just before the turn happened, but she had so many wonderful memories of that original truck and now there was this one right here in front of her. It was even the same colour, from what she could see of it, that much-loved two-tone red and white.

She needed that truck. It was going to be the thing to carry her away from these stupid endless days trudging through this stupid rainy forest. That truck would carry her and Daryl back to their family. There’d be no radio, but maybe she could still sing, and she could have the window down, let her hair fly free as they sped along these abandoned roads, if the weather cooperated. She might even let Daryl drive sometimes, and choked back a laugh at the thought of him playing the role of her scowling shotgun. That truck—it had to be that truck. It was just what she needed to brighten up this day, a good thing, a good memory, amongst the badness of these nightmares. Of Gorman, and his figurative hands still tugging at her mind.

Shaking off the shiver skating across her shoulders, Beth hopped the fence, not bothering to see if Daryl would follow. She knew he had her back, and sure enough, she had only taken a few steps across the muddy grass before she heard the sound of his jeans sliding over the wooden fence. He rasped her name and she smiled at the hoarseness in his voice from an afternoon of non-stop talking when he wasn’t used to it.

With any luck, the truck would still have its battery, unlike the two cars out back in that field, and gas in its tank that wasn’t too stale. Keys would be nice, but if Daryl could hotwire it and teach her how to do it, they could make that work, too.

Beth!” Daryl hissed again, as she slipped past one small shed and headed straight for the lean-to.

Close up, the truck was so much like Daddy’s, Beth almost couldn’t breathe looking at it, but she reached out to set her trembling hand on the hood and its familiar red paint, bold against her pale skin. Daryl grabbed her wrist and tugged, almost growling her name this time. It was that which made her look up, startled out of her memories by the urgency in his tone. That prickle of insects rushed in full force and before she could turn toward him, something flashed in the periphery of her vision, flickered, like objects blocking out the sun.

Not objects, but men. Four stern-faced strangers emerging from the surrounding buildings, heading right for them—and a fifth one charging across the muddy yard from the house, rifle in hand, rubber boots on his feet.

Something sank in her gut, cold and leaden.

What had she done?

Heard the singers playin’, how we cheered for more
The crowd had rushed together, tryin’ to keep warm
Still the rain kept pourin’, fallin’on my ears
And I wonder, still I wonder, who’ll stop the rain?

          -Creedence Clearwater Revival

The movie referenced is Groundhog Day, and the ‘lady who used to do commercials for Cover Girl’ is Andie MacDowell.

To be continued in chapter 28>>


( 1 has spoken — take the speaking stick )
Nov. 2nd, 2015 09:00 pm (UTC)
Oh yikes! This chapter felt so ominous all the way through, I'd like to say I wasn't surprised by this... and yet, I kind of was. What have you done, Beth?
( 1 has spoken — take the speaking stick )


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