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More Than I Hoped For

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Idiots,” Maggie hisses as she throws the car into park. “Goddamn foolheaded irresponsible—”

If Beth were a better friend, she’d be defending Amy and Jimmy right now. Instead, she unbuckles her seatbelt and refrains from commenting. When Maggie’s spitting fire like this, it’s best to just wait her out.

Also, Beth’s more than a little irked with her friends, herself. It’s a Wednesday, for God’s sake. They’ve got school tomorrow.

“—infants,” Maggie finishes triumphantly. She wrenches the key out of the ignition, twisting her wrist in such a way that it looks a little bit like she’s breaking somebody’s neck. She points the key at Beth like an accusatory finger and says, “I ain’t doin’ this again, you hear me? Next time, your dumbass friends can clean up their own damn mess, see how they like it when their parents ground them until they’re thirty.”

“You don’t mean that,” Beth says mildly, curling her fingers around the plastic door handle but not yet exiting the car. “And you didn’t have to come along.”

“Like hell I didn’t.” Maggie turns to face the windshield, glaring at the bar like it just insulted her mother and her stepmother. “As if I’d let you waltz into this damn cesspool on your own.”

In Beth’s private opinion, cesspool is a bit harsh. Sure, the Spotted Pony isn’t the sort of place she’d choose to patronize, but it’s pretty clean, as bars go, if a little rickety and slightly ancient. It’s a long, low wooden building with few windows and a tin roof, and, were business to suddenly tank, Beth suspects that the owner would simply burn the place down and collect the insurance money. It doesn’t look particularly dirty, no, but it definitely looks flammable.

Here’s hoping nobody drops a cigarette in the mulch.

“Mr. Dixon’s in there.” Beth finally climbs out of the Sable and waits for Maggie to follow suit before completing her thought. “He wouldn’t let anything happen to me.”

“You’re probably right,” Maggie allows, starting up the narrow, weed-choked sidewalk to the bar’s front doors. “Supposing he got to you before anyone else did.”

Beth rolls her eyes at the back of Maggie’s head and lengthens her stride, canvas sneakers smacking off the concrete, bare legs prickling in the late-night chill. She swears that Maggie likes nothing better than to sit around and fret over all the terrible things that could happen to Beth—and while she’s always been protective, she’s only gotten worse since Shawn and Momma died.

Beth’s got no one to blame for that but herself, though. If she hadn’t reacted the way she did—but there’s no use thinking on all the things she could’ve done differently, is there? She’s made her bed, so she’ll just have to lie in it.

So Beth just says, “I’ve got pepper spray in my bag,” and is unsurprised when Maggie scoffs.

“Won’t do you much good if somebody snatches it first.”

Instead of continuing to argue the point—they’ll just keep talking themselves in circles if she does—Beth sighs quietly and holds the door open for Maggie, then slips in after her, shoulders hunching around her ears at the sudden swell of noise.

It could be worse, Beth supposes; it could be a Friday. As it is, she’d hardly describe the bar’s interior as packed—just a little more crowded than someone who spent their childhood running around a sprawl of open farmland would prefer. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find her friends in this.

“Where’d Mr. Dixon say they were?” Maggie asks, looping her arm through Beth’s and leaning their heads together. The smell of spearmint toothpaste on her breath makes Beth’s nostrils flare. 

“Um.” Beth lifts up on her toes, for all the good it does her. “At the left end of the bar.”

“His left or our left?” Maggie wants to know, and Beth shrugs helplessly. Left or right, the bar’s only so large. Statistically speaking, they’ll have to spot them eventually. And if they don’t, Beth can always call Daryl’s cellphone.

Beth had just plugged her phone in to charge for the night when it started buzzing with an incoming message, and she nearly dropped the thing when she saw Daryl Dixon’s name flash across the screen. Daryl never called or texted her; she only had his number at all in case of emergency. And it turned out this was an emergency, if a fairly mild one.

Daryl had sent her a grainy photo of his big brother, Merle, who was grinning toothily at the camera, thumbs pointed up. Amy and Jimmy were tucked beneath his burly arms, their own smiles dopier than Beth had ever seen them.

These belong to you? Daryl asked.

He went on to say that he would’ve driven Amy and Jimmy home himself if he knew where they lived, but he didn’t, and he couldn’t get a coherent answer out of either of them when he asked. Apparently, Beth’s friends are lightweights.

Lightweights, and damn lucky. Some creep could’ve slipped either of them a mickey—instead, Daryl and Merle had found them and recognized them and agreed to babysit them while Beth dragged on a pair of cutoffs and woke up her extremely irate sister. When she wasn’t suppressing a panic attack, she was trying to put a lid on her welling disappointment—for a second there, she’d thought Daryl was texting her in the middle of the night just because.

Stupid. He rarely bothers to make eye contact with her for more than a second at a time—why in the name of sweet baby Jesus would he want to text her just because?

“There they are,” Maggie says, the arm she threaded through Beth’s losing some of its coiled tension. She drags Beth toward the left of the bar—their left, as it turns out—and as a couple of men in trucker hats shuffle to one side, she spots what Maggie, with her height advantage, already saw: Jimmy and Amy, balanced precariously on a pair of spindly barstools and flanked on either side by the Dixon brothers. Even with their backs turned, Beth recognizes all four of them—and supposing she hadn’t, Daryl’s hard biceps and leather vest would’ve clued her in.

She’s spent countless hours alone in bed thinking about that vest and those biceps. She’d know them anywhere.

Merle tilts his head and says something Beth can’t hear, and Amy and Jimmy burst into a flurry of giggles. God, but they must be seriously smashed; Jimmy’s never much liked Merle or Daryl, and she doubts Merle’s brand of humor would appeal to the extremely sheltered Amy regardless.

Not for the first time, Beth reflects that Daryl must have ears like a hound, because even over the not-unimpressive din of the half-filled bar, he still hears Maggie and Beth coming, swiveling on his stool to face them before the other three notice their approach. His narrow eyes slide over Maggie and latch onto Beth, and Beth is abruptly, achingly aware of the fact that she forgot to put a bra on before racing out of the house to retrieve her erstwhile friends. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem because her chest is flat enough that she can usually go without—unless it’s cold, or unless—

Well. Unless.

Blood races to the surface of Beth’s skin, scalding her throat and pulling her nipples into tight, bunched points. She crosses her arms in a hurry, fixing her eyes on the floor and hanging back behind Maggie, who’s thankfully willing to do all the talking, anyway.

“The hell were y’all thinkin’, pullin’ this kinda shit on a school night—you’re damn lucky Daryl and Merle were here to keep your asses outta trouble. Swear to God, if I had any sense at all, I’d be calling your parents—”

“Aw, Maggie.” That’s Amy, voice stretching into a slurred whine that sets Beth’s teeth on edge. “Don’t be like that. We were—we were just—”

“Just what, exactly?”

Merle jumps in, then, apparently having grown fond enough of Amy and Jimmy in the past half hour to intervene on their behalves. “Now, Miss Maggie, there ain’t no need t’fuss—”

“Excuse me, Mr. Dixon, but nobody damn well asked.” Maggie’s fingers catch in Beth’s sleeve and reel her forward till her legs bump Daryl’s, and Beth all but falls over herself trying to put some distance between them even as her eyes are drawn to his knees where his jeans are frayed the thinnest. “Beth, help me drag these damn fools out to the car.”

Daryl finally speaks up, and while they’re no longer touching even a little bit, Beth can still feel the rumble of his voice in her sternum like the aftershocks of an earthquake, and her nipples twist up even harder. Dammit. “Me an’ Merle got ’em. I ain’t had nothin’ to drink all night, so I’m good to carry ’em if I gotta.”

“I really appreciate that, Daryl,” Maggie says, and she even sounds as if she means it somewhere deep down beneath the bedrock of her irritation. “But I don’t think your brother can say the same.”

“Aw, hell, Miss Maggie.” Merle sets his pint glass down with a thud, and Beth’s finally startled into looking up. Merle scratches his stubbly cheek, lips stretching into a lazy smile. “Don’t tell me I look like some kinda lightweight, now. I could drink ten more pints’a this watered-down shit an’ still haul both’a these skinny lil’ assholes on outta here with one hand tied behind my goddamn back.”

Maggie rolls her eyes, but far from looking insulted at being described as a pair of skinny little assholes, Amy and Jimmy just start giggling again. As her laughter fades into hiccups, Amy’s bleary eyes finally focus on Beth, and she starts waving so enthusiastically that Merle has to duck to avoid an elbow to the nose.

Beth! Hey, Jimmy, look, it’s Beth! Beth, when’d you get here? You should have a drink, you should—”

“No, she damn well shouldn’t,” Maggie snaps before Beth can even open her mouth to decline. “And she’s been here the whole time, which you would’ve noticed sooner if you weren’t piss fuckin’ drunk.”

“You shouldn’t—you shouldn’t talk like that, Maggie,” Jimmy says, vowels dripping slow as molasses. He seems to be a more introspective drunk than Amy, going by the thoughtful pinch in his forehead. “Your daddy wouldn’t like it.”

Maggie purses her lips, and Beth contemplates sidling out of the line of fire. “You wanna talk about what my daddy wouldn’t like, Jimmy?”

That shuts Jimmy up, and even Amy looks momentarily sobered. But then she starts giggling again when Maggie steps forward to tuck her hands beneath her armpits and lift her off her stool like she’s hoisting up a toddler.

“Maggie, that tickles!”

Maggie throws Amy’s slack arm over her shoulders and grabs her around the waist. “Yeah, well, it sure as hell won’t tickle when I shove my boot up your goddamn ass.”

Amy thinks that’s hilarious—so does Merle, who laughs so hard it hurts Beth’s ears a little and makes Daryl wince. But when Merle climbs off his own stool to get a hold on Jimmy, he does it with a surprising amount of grace. Guess he wasn’t lying about his alcohol tolerance.

“C’mon, Farmer Ted. Up an’ at ’em.”

Jimmy’s face pleats like a rumpled blanket. “Who. Who’s Farmer Ted?”

“Anthony Michael Hall,” says Merle. “S’his stripper name.”

“Oh,” Jimmy says, nodding for a couple seconds longer than he would’ve if he were sober. “Alright.”

Daryl starts to get up, probably of a mind to take Amy off of Maggie’s hands—which is brave of him, because alcohol apparently turns Amy into an especially clingy octopus—but then Beth grabs onto her courage before she can change her mind and blurts, “Can I talk to you for a sec?”

The suspicion with which Daryl proceeds to regard her is, uh—not flattering. “’Bout what?”

Instead of answering the question, Beth shrugs and links her fingers. If her hands shake any harder, her bracelets will start to rattle. Her bracelets. She forgot her bra but remembered her bracelets. “Just for a second. Please?”

Daryl looks over Beth’s shoulder at Maggie, probably hoping that she’ll say no and save Daryl the trouble of rejecting Beth himself. But when Beth turns to look at her sister, it’s to find her regarding the pair of them thoughtfully, like she’s mulling something over. Or maybe she’s just praying for patience, since Amy’s grabbed a handful of her hair and won’t let go.

Maggie’s eyes flick back and forth between Beth and Daryl. “Five minutes,” she eventually pronounces. “After that, I’m calling the cavalry.”

Beth nods a little too eagerly, ignoring Daryl’s stiff posture and Merle’s arched eyebrow. Maggie and Merle turn to go, only for Amy to point abruptly teary eyes at Beth and say, with better articulation than Beth would’ve expected, “Graduation’s soon, Beth. Once summer’s over, who knows when we’ll be able to do this kind of stuff again?”

Beth doesn’t know what to say to that—what can she say? Next fall, Amy and Jimmy are gonna leave for college, and Beth’s gonna stay behind on the farm. She’s probably gonna spend the rest of her life on it.

So she drops her head and picks at her cuticles and doesn’t look up again until she hears the shuffle of retreating feet. Then she turns back to Daryl, who’s reclaimed his barstool.

“Well?” he asks, the muscles in his arms flickering when he crosses them in front of his stomach. “What you want?”

A stream of people squeeze past Beth on their way to the bar, and she’s forced to sidle closer to Daryl until she’s standing in the V of his spread legs, rough denim scratching at her bare thighs and making her feel like a cat whose fur has been brushed in the wrong direction—only in a not entirely unpleasant sort of way. “I just. I just wanted to thank you. Y’know, for watchin’ out for my friends.”

Daryl plants his elbows on the bar and shifts on his stool, spreading his legs wider so they’re no longer locked quite so tightly around Beth’s thighs. If Beth wanted to, she could press her leg flush against his crotch. “Could’a thanked me in front’a the others.”

He’s got her there. Honestly, she wasn’t telling the whole truth when she said she just wanted to thank him, but she needs a minute to work up to the rest of what she wants to say. “Yeah, well, I know how you are about thank-yous, Mr. Dixon. Didn’t want you gettin’ bashful in front of your brother.”

“Ain’t goddamn bashful,” Daryl grumbles, and Beth seals her lips to hold in a giggle. Yeah, he is bashful, and it’s damn cute. Even more than his gravelly voice and hard arms, it’s one of the things she likes best about him.

But then Beth sobers, eyes flicking up to Daryl’s and staying there. “Were they alright? When you found ’em, I mean.”

Daryl nods, and a lock of hair flops into his eyes. He brushes it impatiently back, and the bar’s watery lighting plays along the scars on his knuckles. “Yeah. Some asshole was buyin’ ’em drinks and eyein’ your girl up, but Merle scared ’im off quick, just about made ’im piss his damn pants.”

Beth’s heart clenches up with retroactive fear, and she has to take a minute to compose herself. Mustering up a wan smile, she says, “Good thing you found ’em, then, huh?”

“Yeah, guess so. They gave Merle somebody to jabber at besides me, anyways.” Beth can’t hold in her giggle this time, and Daryl’s thin lips quirk before flattening out again. “Hell were they doin’ in a place like this, anyhow?”

Beth shrugs again, trying to look more blasé than she feels. She swears Daryl’s legs have tightened up around hers again. The crowd at her back has abated, so she should probably step away now. But she doesn’t. “You heard Amy. We’re graduating in two weeks. That kinda thing makes people antsy.”

“Wouldn’t know how that is,” says Daryl, and when Beth looks a question at him, he clarifies, “Dropped out.”

Beth’s pretty sure she knew that already, like maybe she heard her dad mention it, but she still asks, “How come?”

Daryl’s mouth softens with shock, like he’s surprised she asked—surprised, and uncomfortable. “Was gonna flunk out, anyways,” he mumbles, dropping his head so his hair hangs like a dark curtain across the top half of his face.

Beth’s gonna tell him that he can’t say that for sure, but then the crowd at the bar swells again like the tide coming in, and an elbow nails her in the spine, knocking her forward into Daryl. She braces her hands on his shoulders, totally reflexive, only to tense up and prepare to snatch them back—Daryl doesn’t like being touched, she thinks—but she doesn’t, in the end, because Daryl’s grabbed hold of her.

This isn’t happening, Beth thinks, mouth coming up dry.

But it is. It is happening, and it’s happening to her. Daryl’s hands are on her waist, steadying her, palms burning into her sides through her thin t-shirt, fingers curving around her back to meet at her spine, thumbs framing her navel. He’s staring at her like he doesn’t know how his hands wound up where they did—but he doesn’t let her go.

Even after Beth’s steadied herself out, he doesn’t let her go.

Beth curls her fingers against the cracked leather of Daryl’s vest, knuckles digging lightly into bunched muscle. Dropping her eyes to the level of his belt, she says, quietly, “I was gonna ask if you were comin’ to our Fourth of July party.”

Daryl’s snort stirs Beth’s hair. She’s wearing it loose; didn’t have time to bind it back. “S’May, girl.”

Beth shrugs, and Daryl’s fingers flex, like he mistook the movement for withdrawal and didn’t want her to pull away. But that can’t be it, can it? “Never hurts to be prepared.”

Daryl’s left thumb sketches a circuit on Beth’s abdomen, hands sinking farther down till they’re practically cupping her hips, and Beth’s guts clench. Her guts, her throat, her cunt. “Ain’t really big on parties.”

Beth realizes that she’s no longer staring at Daryl’s belt, but at his inseam, and her eyes bounce back to his face before settling on his brown neck. He’s a little sweaty, which isn’t really surprising; it’s stifling in here, and the stale quality of the air amplifies some of the more unpleasant smells that are native to bars. But Daryl smells good in a sticky sort of way that makes Beth want to plant her face in his throat and feel for his pulse with her teeth.

Blinking rapidly, Beth tries to put her brain back on track. “I mean, uh, party might not be the right word for it. It’ll just be my folks and Glenn and the Grimeses and maybe Carol and Ezekiel—and you and Merle’ve done so much to help out around the farm, it wouldn’t be right not to invite y’all.”

“Yeah, so? We do what your daddy pays us to do.”

“Yeah, and more,” Beth retorts, her annoyance allowing her to meet Daryl’s eyes again. She slides her hands farther up his shoulders, and the shaggy ends of his hair brush her knuckles, tickling her. “C’mon, please? Just think about it?”

“You gonna be there?” Daryl asks, voice rumbling like sullen thunder, and something about that voice and the way his lips move when he talks make Beth feel like he just reached out and slapped her on the clit.

She’s never reacted this strongly to anyone but him. This can’t be normal.

“Um.” She swears the smell clinging to his skin has gotten stronger, and it's making her dizzy. “I mean, my family’s hosting it, so. Yeah?”

Daryl’s shoulders hunch, and Beth’s fingers flex in response. “Right,” he mutters. “Dumb question.”

Beth should tell him that it wasn’t a dumb question, but she can’t get her tongue to cooperate. As the silence builds, Daryl pulls his lower lip into his mouth and releases it a second later with a wet pop, leaving it slick and shiny and dented with the impressions of teeth. Beth bites into her own lip without really thinking about it, and Daryl’s eyes flick up and down her face. Not lower, never lower, but somehow, Beth feels more exposed than if he was ogling her breasts and the outlines of her hard nipples. The hands on her hips sink, fingertips grazing the swell of her ass, and a gasp funnels up Beth’s throat and lashes the air between them like a whip crack.

Daryl’s ears flush an angry red, and he pushes Beth out of his personal space as easily as if she weighs nothing at all, leaving her cold. He stands up, but Beth doesn’t back away in time to keep the tips of her breasts from brushing up against his chest. He flinches when it happens, and his eyes finally, finally drop to her breasts, only to snap up again less than a second later. His fingers twitch and clench.

Jesus.

“C’mon,” Daryl mumbles, throwing a couple wrinkled bills down on the counter. “Les’ get outta here 'fore your sister calls the goddamn cops.”

“Well, so long as it’s Mr. Grimes who shows up, we oughta be good,” Beth jokes weakly. Daryl doesn’t even pretend to laugh.

He doesn’t speak to her at all on the way out, either, but he touches the small of her back a couple of times to steer her through the thicker parts of the growing crowd, and Beth feels each graze of his fingertips like an electric shock to the base of her spine. Swear to God, one of these days Daryl Dixon’s gonna kill her for real.

Amy and Jimmy are packed up in the backseat of the car, Jimmy’s head pillowed on Amy’s shoulder. Maggie’s sitting in the front with both hands chokeholding the wheel, but she relaxes a little when she makes eye contact with Beth. Merle pushes away from where he was leaning against the hood and waves, and Beth waves limply back, the knots in her stomach unraveling when Daryl peels away from her side to collect his brother like nothing happened back in the bar. Like he didn’t just give Beth the shock of her life.

Because, here’s the thing, and she’s pretty sure she wasn’t imagining it. Beth’s been flirting with Daryl Dixon for almost as long as she’s known him, but just now, just for a second, she could’ve sworn he flirted back.

Chapter Text

And then the Spotted Pony actually burns down, and Beth’s left to wonder if she jinxed it or thought it into existence or something, because that is just too pointed a coincidence right there.

Or maybe it’s not. Like she said before, the Spotted Pony wasn’t so much a proper building as it was a very large pile of dry tinder.

Beth’s failing to watch whatever’s playing on TV (Cupcake Wars?) and contemplating her possible latent clairvoyance when she’s punted back to reality by the sound of tires crunching over gravel. She uncurls from her slump and tilts her head, frowning. Maggie and Dad are both working, and it’s Otis’s day off. If Amy or Jimmy were coming over, they would’ve texted her ahead of time—

The growling engine cuts out, and two car doors slam, one after the other. Beth registers the rumble of deep voices, and she stiffens, clutching the remote control like she intends to use it as a blunt weapon. No. No way. No way did those damn fool idiots turn up here after what just happened.

But of course they did. These are the Dixons she’s talking about.

Beth tosses the remote onto the couch and jumps up, trotting down the hallway and throwing open the front door without bothering to stop and retrieve her boots first, chills racing up her legs when her bare feet land in the damp grass. For once, Daryl doesn’t hear her coming; his back remains turned to her as he lifts a toolbox out of the truck bed, head cocked while he listens (or pretends to listen) to whatever it is that Merle’s saying.

“Hey!” Beth shouts across the yard, and they both turn to face her, Merle with his hands in his pockets, Daryl with the toolbox still dangling from his fingers like an afterthought. Merle lifts one hand to greet her, only to drop it when he gets a good look at the expression on her face. “What’re y’all doin’ here? You’re supposed to be takin’ the week off.”

Because, right. Did she forget to mention? The Spotted Pony didn’t just burn down. It burned down while Daryl and Merle were inside of it.

Beth just about passed out when she got the news, flushing hot and cold with a slap of fear the likes of which she hadn’t felt since she looked at the open, gushing wound on her wrist and realized that it might be too late to turn back unless she got help, and quick. She only just managed to calm herself when her father explained that there hadn’t been any fatalities, and even then, it wasn’t so much actual calm as the performance of it, because she didn’t need Maggie force feeding her anxiolytics on top of everything else, thanks.

And while Daryl and Merle have been granted clean bills of health, that doesn’t mean they should be straining themselves so soon after getting their lungs roasted from the inside out.

Daryl has the grace to shuffle his feet and look at least moderately caught out, but Merle folds his arms and gives Beth a not-now-honey-the-men-are-talking look. “Girl, quit your cluckin’. I wanted to get nagged half t’death, I’d find me a goddamn wife.”

Beth pulls herself to her full, if unimpressive, height. It used to be that Merle frightened her something awful, and maybe there are times when he still does, but she’s not about to let anyone talk to her like that, least of all on her own land. “No offense, Mr. Dixon, but you won’t ever find a wife at all if you don’t learn to watch your mouth in front of a lady.”

Merle’s thin eyebrows fly up, and a raspy chuckle erupts from his throat. “You got yourself a mighty fine pair’a balls on you, Miss Beth. Guess you an’ your sister got more’n common than I thought, huh?”

“What’d I just say about watchin’ your language?” Beth crosses her arms and taps her bare foot, knowing that the stern look she’s going for is severely mitigated by her raggedy cutoffs and wilting ponytail, but, dammit, she’s gotta try. You can’t show your throat to men like Merle Dixon if you don’t want it ripped out.

But Daryl steps in, then, probably afraid that the situation will devolve into a shouting match if he doesn’t (because it has in the past, at least between Maggie and Merle). Brandishing the red toolbox like a white flag, he says, “Can’t leave that roof alone for much longer. S’almost done, anyways. Shouldn’t take us long.”

Beth’s eyes slide away from Daryl and Merle and latch onto the barn’s sturdy bulk. The Dixons were in the middle of repairing the damage wrought by a violent thunderstorm when the Spotted Pony burned down and (theoretically) put them out of commission—and Daryl’s right in saying that the repairs can’t wait much longer, especially if another storm rolls in. Daddy could always enlist the help of their other farmhands, but the fact is that the Dixons are the ones you want when something needs fixing.

What’s really annoying, though, is that Beth can’t even gauge how much smoke Daryl and Merle inhaled by the sounds of their voices, because they’re both so raspy and growly to begin with. She also has a feeling that they’ll refuse to scat unless she turns the hose on them, and she doesn’t actually want to do that, as momentarily satisfying as it might be.

Oh, hell.

Beth won’t allow her shoulders to slump—she just won’t—but she can’t entirely stifle her air of defeat when she says, “Y’all eat yet today?”

“Stopped by McDonald’s earlier this mornin’,” Merle says, cheerfully and shamelessly mercenary. “But we wouldn’t say no to lunch, now, would we, Daryl?”

Daryl glares across the truck bed at his brother, and while it’s not exactly a look fit to kill, Beth wouldn’t be surprised if it could at least break bone. “Don’t listen to ’im, Beth. We packed our own lunches.”

“Yeah, that’s true.” Merle doesn’t even have the grace to pretend to look ashamed, but Beth never expected that he would. “But Lebanon bologna and Kraft fuckin’ cheese ain’t got nothin’ on a homecooked meal served by a pretty lil’ lady.”

Daryl’s arms ripple, and for a second, Beth thinks that he might actually hop the truck bed and punch Merle on the nose. “Jesus Christ, asshole, she ain’t Betty fuckin’ Crocker—”

“Come back to the house in an hour,” Beth tells them before Daryl can follow through on the look on his face and actually deck his brother. It’d be funny for about five seconds, but the cleanup wouldn’t be worth the entertainment value. “I’ll have somethin’ ready by then. Don’t expect four courses, though.”

Now Daryl’s scowling at Beth like she did something wrong. Merle, meanwhile, is grinning at her like she just stripped naked and handed him a winning lottery ticket. Beth doesn’t know which of those things annoys her more.

She should’ve turned the hose on their sorry redneck asses, after all.

“Much obliged, sweetheart,” says Merle, and Beth rolls her eyes at him and his brother before turning away to trudge back into the house. On the way there, her toe bumps something squishy, and she winces. Whatever it is, please don’t let it be cat shit. That’d just be insult to injury.

Ensconced in the cool house once more, Beth leans against the front door for a second and waits for her breathing to steady out. So, she managed to hold a coherent quasi-conversation with Daryl Dixon. Not too shabby, considering that she’s still recovering from that night at the bar when he cupped her hips in his big hands and looked at her breasts like they’d just been served up to him on a silver platter.

Snap out of it, Greene. Beth pushes off the door; detours into the living room to turn off the TV; then loops back to the hallway and takes the stairs two at a time, raking her fingers through her hair to check for excess oil. And if she proceeds to redo her ponytail, run a razor over her legs, rinse off her feet just in case that really was cat shit she stepped in, and change into her favorite sky-blue sundress with the opalescent buttons down the front, well. Obviously, she does all that because self-care is beneficial to her mental health, and not because she has any ulterior motives, like, say, wanting to look cute for Daryl.

Okay, fine. Maybe she does have an ulterior motive. Sue her.

All that aside, she’s happy to have something productive to do. Humming the Dixie Chicks under her breath, Beth stirs lemonade mix and sugar into a pitcher of water before setting it inside the fridge to chill, then gets to piling stacks of fresh chicken and cheese onto slices of sourdough bread that her daddy baked himself. As she works, the foggy apathy that’s been plaguing her all morning slowly fades, even if it doesn’t dissipate entirely. It’s good to have company.

Company knocks on her front door—has it been an hour already?—and Beth calls, “It’s open,” as she sets the third plate down on the kitchen table before turning to the fridge to retrieve the pitcher of lemonade.

Beth hears the thud of thick rubber boot soles on hardwood, and without pulling her head out of the fridge, she says, “I know y’all ain’t trackin’ dirt into my daddy’s clean house.”

Thick, guilty silence.

“Boots off,” Beth sing songs, and hip checks the refrigerator door shut.

There’s some vague grumbling from the hallway, but when Daryl and Merle shuffle into the kitchen, it’s in their stockinged feet.  

Merle’s surly expression melts into a grin when he gets a good look at Beth, though, and he lets out an admiring whistle. “That’s a nice dress you got on, Miss Beth. Y’look real pretty. Don’t she look pretty, Daryl?”

But Daryl doesn’t even glance at Beth; he just shrugs and ducks his head, taking a seat at the table and tucking into his sandwich. Disappointment rises in Beth’s throat like vomit, but she swallows it back and tells herself not to take Daryl’s lack of reaction to heart. Daryl’s real shy; even if he does think that Beth looks pretty, he wouldn’t say so out loud, at least not in front of his brother.

Actually, he probably wouldn’t be making such a pointed effort not to look at her if her dress hadn’t affected him in some way. That thought cheers Beth up a little, and she’s smiling for real when she comes over to the table with the pitcher in hand.

“Thanks, Mr. Dixon,” she says to Merle, pouring lemonade into each of their glasses before pulling out a chair and sitting down directly across from Daryl. Just try to avoid looking at me when I’m right in front of you. “I guess I just figured, pretty day, pretty dress.”

Merle knows better than to talk with his mouth full in front of Beth, so he just nods, chewing industriously on a giant bite of sandwich before washing it down with a swing of lemonade. “Speakin’ of pretty—how’re Farmer Ted an’ his cute lil’ girlfriend doin’? They been behavin’ themselves?”

Amy and Jimmy aren’t actually dating, but Beth doubts that Merle would bother to absorb the information if she told him otherwise. So she swallows a hunk of her own sandwich, then says, “Uh-huh. They’ve sworn off drinkin’, although I dunno how long that’ll last once they leave for college. But they both came into school hungover, and then Jimmy threw up in a trashcan durin’ math class, so they probably won’t touch a drop of alcohol for the rest of the summer, at least.”

Merle laughs so hard he nearly chokes, and Daryl has to pound him on the back for a few seconds, eyes lighting up with a more subdued amusement than his brother’s. Beth should probably feel bad, since it’s at Jimmy’s expense, but it gives her a warm feeling right under her sternum to have put even a tiny smile on Daryl’s face.

But then the warm feeling bleeds away, leaving Beth to duck her head and frown at her half-eaten sandwich. “At least they weren’t there when the Pony burned down,” she murmurs, tracing circles on the tabletop with the tip of her index finger. “I don’t even wanna think about what could’a happened otherwise.”

“So don’t,” Daryl says, and Beth’s startled into looking up at him. He’s braced his elbows on the table—she should probably scold him for that—and the look he’s giving her from under his bangs is fierce in a way that makes her want to squeeze her thighs together and seek out friction. She usually isn’t this aware of the touch of cotton against her vulva unless she’s already coming down from a sticky, self-induced orgasm. “Ain’t no use in thinkin’ ’bout shit that could’a happened. You just gotta move the hell on.”

Instead of telling him to watch his language, Beth rolls her lips together and drops her eyes to the tabletop, to Daryl’s hands lying so close to hers, curled into loose fists. They aren’t the kinds of hands you see in advertisements for rings and bracelets and watches; they’re heavy and scarred and gnarled, but Beth’s always liked them, because they’re the hands of someone who works honestly for a living. Lately, she’s found herself particularly fixated on the widths of his fingers and the thick veins that run so close to the surface of his sun-browned skin.

Because his fingers make her think of being held open to make room for his dick. Because the veins in his hands make her think of the veins that run through other parts of his body, unseen and unknown to her.

Beth pulls her own hands into her lap and digs her fingers into her thighs. “You’re right,” she says quietly, and talking hurts a little, almost like she’s coming down with strep. “Sorry.”

Merle chooses that moment to let loose a mighty belch, and Beth wrinkles her nose, flushed face cooling. Gross.

Merle leans away from his cleaned plate and laces his fingers behind his head, lips bending into a sly smile. “Hey, while we’re still talkin’ 'bout it—dunno if you heard, Miss Beth, but Daryl here decided to play hero when shit was goin’ down. Yup, he sure did. Ran back inside to help the others an’ wouldn’t come back out till the firetrucks showed. Ain’t that right, boy?”

Daryl’s face tightens, loose fists curling into the suggestion of restrained violence, and Beth just stares at him, a surge of retroactive fear like what she felt that night at the bar twanging at her heart.

“You could’ve gotten hurt,” she says, almost accusingly, even as she privately gives up one more piece of herself to the man sitting across from her. Because of course he’d run back inside a burning building to help other people out of it. Of course he would.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t,” Daryl mumbles, the tips of his ears coming up redder than a sunrise. “Ain’t no big deal. Anyone halfway decent would’a done the same.”

“I didn’t,” Merle says cheerfully.

“Yeah. Like I said: anyone decent.”

Merle makes a rude noise and shoves at Daryl’s shoulder, then pats his stomach and pushes back from the table. “I best be gettin’ back to work. Thanks for the meal, honey. ’Preciated it.”

“You’re welcome,” Beth says, noting wryly that Merle doesn’t even pretend to offer to help clean up before sidling on out. He disappears down the hallway, and a few seconds later, the front door claps shut behind him.

Daryl doesn’t leave right away, though, and Beth thinks distantly that she could stretch out her foot and nudge her bare toes against his ankle if she wanted, could drag the ball of her foot up his leg and press it gently against his inseam. She doesn’t, but she thinks about it so hard she can practically feel the friction of denim on her skin.

Daryl drums those thick fingers against the tabletop. “Uh.” He jerks his chin at the emptied plates. “Y’need any help washin’ up?”  

Beth could say yes. She could say yes and force Daryl to spend another few agonizing minutes in her company. He’d do it even if he didn’t want to.

But, again, she doesn’t follow through on the impulse. She never does.

“Nah.” Beth shakes her head, gets to her feet and starts stacking plates. “You g’on and get back to work, Mr. Dixon.”

At least Daryl doesn’t waste any time asking her if she’s sure. He just nods and stands and disappears down the hallway, same as his brother. There’s a pause as he collects his boots, and then he’s gone. 

Beth shuts her eyes and indulges in a protracted moment of self-pity before getting to work on the dishes.

When she twists off the faucet and sets everything in the rack to dry, though, she’s struck by how…quiet it is, and not just because she’s the only living soul in the house; the outdoors are too quiet, as well. And then it clicks: the rat-tat-tat of hammers striking nails has cut out. Have Daryl and Merle finished already? She couldn’t hear the truck’s engine over the thunder of the running faucet, so she has no way of knowing for sure unless she looks out a window—but it’s not like Merle, at least, to leave without saying goodbye (if only to wheedle some food for the road out of whoever’s home).

Beth drifts into the front hallway and peers through a window to confirm that the truck is, indeed, gone—but she swears she can make out a figure standing by the barn. She deliberates for a moment, then shoves her feet into her cowboy boots and waffles by the coatrack.

Her mother’s old gardening hat is hanging two feet in front of her face, untouched since before she died. It’s wide and floppy and garnished with a pretty pink ribbon; it’s the kind of hat that sweet-faced ladies in old pastoral paintings are always wearing. Beth used to envy her mother that hat, would try it on as a little girl and make her mother giggle because of course it was way too big on Beth and would slide right over her eyes to rest against the bridge of her nose. After Momma passed, Daddy said the hat was Beth’s, if she wanted it, but she didn’t want it. She doesn’t want a goddamn hat. She wants Momma and Shawn to be alive.

Beth leaves the hat and walks outside bareheaded, the strong June sunlight seeping into her hair and warming her scalp. A light, humid breeze stirs her dress’s skirt; sets it to fluttering around her knees, tickling her like playful fingers.

It’s Daryl who’s standing by the barn, a cigarette smoldering between his fingers. Seeing it, Beth scowls and starts walking faster, not stopping until she’s stomped right on up to him.

Daryl squints through the sunlight and arches his eyebrows in silent question. Settling her hands on her hips, Beth says, “You really gonna smoke that damn coffin nail after what just happened?”

“Watch your goddamn language,” Daryl drawls, smoke trickling out from between his lips like fog from a machine, and Beth huffs and ticks her chin up higher. “An’ quit ridin’ my ass, wouldja? If a burnin’ building couldn’t kill me, then this won’t, neither. ’Least, not right away.”

“Oh, because it’s fine and dandy so long as it only kills you slow.” Daryl’s lips quirk in clear amusement at Beth’s expense, and she levels a repressive finger at his chest. “I can’t stop you from smokin’ those things on your own time, but you ain’t lightin’ up on my family’s land, y’hear? And if this barn goes the way of the Spotted Pony, I’ll know who to blame, won’t I?”  

Daryl rolls his eyes. “I look stupid to you?” he grumbles, but he stubs the cigarette out on his bootheel and tucks the remains away in his pocket. “You just come out here to nag me, or you got somethin’ important to say?”

Daryl probably wouldn’t piss her off this badly if she didn’t like him so much. “Where’d Merle run off to?”

“Into town to pick up some supplies. Figured I’d have a smoke while I waited, but now that’s shot all to hell, so I guess I’ll jus’ sit around here with my thumb up my goddamn ass till he gets back.”

“You could always try doin’ something productive with your time,” Beth suggests sweetly. “Like reading up on the nine kinds of cancer you can get from chronic smoking.”

Daryl crooks one leg and props his foot against the barn wall. His knee graze’s Beth’s skirt, not quite touching her properly. “You always this much of a smartass, or d’you save that shit up for me?”

A shy smile blooms on Beth’s face. She links her hands behind her back, and if the movement happens to make her chest stick out, and if Daryl happens to notice that it’s sticking out—well, that’s just a happy coincidence, now, isn’t it?

“I save it for you,” she tells him, and feels like she’s actually saying something else, something bigger. “Why? You gonna do somethin’ ’bout it, Mr. Dixon?”

A month ago, she wouldn’t’ve had the nerve to be this forward with him, this brazen. But a month ago, he hadn’t yet held her by the hips and hinted that he’d only be interested in attending her family’s Fourth of July party if she was gonna be there. Not even hinted. All but stated outright.

And she can see the way it shocks him, her brazenness, although she can’t help but think that he’s not quite as shocked as she expected him to be, like he’s been wondering this whole time whether or not she had this in her. Wondering, imagining, hoping?

God, please let him have hoped for it. Let him want her half as badly as she wants him.

Daryl ducks his head, but not, Beth thinks, in an overtly bashful way. No—right now, he reminds her of a charging bull looking up at you from under its horns. “You best watch yourself,” he says, voice thick with the smoke he just inhaled, and Beth presses her knees together beneath her skirt. Unfolds one hand from behind her back and touches all five fingertips to his chest, right over his heart. His shirt’s unbuttoned almost all the way down to the center of his chest, and Beth drags her hand to the right, feeling for sun-warmed flesh and wiry hair.

When Beth’s fingernails scrape his collarbone, Daryl goes still as a hunted buck.  

“You wanna do somethin’ about it?” Beth repeats, flexing her fingers like a cat flexing its toes, like she’s got claws hidden in her nailbeds just waiting to be unsheathed. She does feel a little bit like a cat in heat right now. Like, at any second, she’ll get down on all fours in the grass, arch her back, and yowl at him to pin her by the neck and fuck her.

Daryl swallows hard, Adam’s apple shifting beneath his skin. His hand comes up and wraps around Beth’s wrist, and she tenses for a second, thinking that he’s going to throw her off. He doesn’t. Instead, he rubs his thumb over her veins like he wants to commit their pattern to memory. Or maybe he’s feeling for her pulse; maybe he wants to know whether it’s pounding as hard as his is.

Daryl drags his hand farther up her wrist and slips his thumb into the cup of her palm. “The hell’re you thinkin’, girl?”

Beth can feel her mouth trembling—not just her mouth; she’s shaking all over—but she firms her chin and presses her other wrist against his chest, beaded bracelets biting into his skin through his shirt. “I’m thinkin’ about you. I always am. All the time.”

The hand on her wrist stutters. Daryl’s mouth works silently for a couple of seconds, like he’s trying and failing to form words, but then he says, “What. What d’you think about?” in a voice so rough it’s like he’s already been fucking her for hours.

Beth’s eyelids flutter. She bites down on her lower lip even as the corners of her mouth pull up. “Guess.”

The noise Daryl makes when she says that—Beth’s never heard anyone make a noise like that before, although she doesn’t so much hear it as feel it, feels it between her legs like the slow, molten drip of arousal, because that’s what it is. He sounds like she feels, and she made him sound that way.

Daryl darts his head forward like a striking snake, and for a dizzy second, Beth’s convinced that he’s gonna kiss her—but he doesn’t, not on the mouth. His fever-hot forehead drops onto her shoulder, and he noses her dress’s spaghetti strap aside. There’s the smooth wet brush of an open mouth and the sandpaper grind of scruff, and Beth’s hips jolt forward like somebody jerked them on a string. They jerk forward and collide with his.

Daryl makes another one of those noises that Beth can feel in her cunt, and he lets go of her wrist only to lock his hand around her hip, to lock both hands around her hips. He turns her, lifts her, shoves her into place and traps her between his body and the barn. He crams his thigh between her legs, pinning her skirt to the barn’s exterior wall like a butterfly to a corkboard, and brings a long solid line of muscle flush against her crotch.

Beth grabs onto his shoulders, dragging her fingers over his neck and snarling them in his sweaty hair. She shoves her cunt against his leg and makes a high, thin noise of disbelief that vibrates in her throat like a struck tuning fork. She gets another flash of that image from earlier, only ten times more visceral and twice as vivid: her, on her hands and knees, skirt bunched up around her waist, panties pushed to one side so she can drip all over Daryl’s fingers and then his dick, howling into the crook of her elbow while his hips work like a piston.

But when she moves her hips, Daryl flattens her against the wall, knocking the wind out of her with the weight of his broad body and pressing his thigh harder against her overheated cunt until she can feel it grinding against her pubic bone. She can feel his dick too, his stone-hard dick, pressing into her hip. Beneath the lingering burn of tobacco, he smells like he had in the bar, musky and sticky and fucking mouthwatering.

Girl. You keep that up an’ I’m gonna make a fuckin’ mess in my goddamn pants.”

I wish you’d make a mess in me, Beth thinks, and she doesn’t know where that thought came from, but it makes her panties wetter, makes her hold onto him tighter. She tries to kiss him, but he turns his face away from hers, into her neck. His fingers fumble at the first of her dress’s pretty buttons, practically tearing it off its thread in his desperation to get at her, and then his hot wet hard tongue is licking down her collarbone and across the upper curve of her left breast like he could eat her pulse out of her skin if he tried.

Beth grabs at his hair and pulls, riding his thigh like she’s riding his dick, and she gets a flash of a damp chin and hot blue eyes and then he’s kissing her with lips and a tongue that taste like tobacco and lemonade, all bitter sweetness. And for a second, just a second, it’s like they’re fucking already, because this kiss feels the way good sex is supposed to, hot and wet and sticky and lingering, a smooth slide that stands in stark contrast to the painful-in-a-good-way scrape of stubble. She knows that stubble is going to bring her skin up red, and she wants, she wants, to feel it all over, wants the burn of it but not as much as she wants the burn of his dick stretching her wide open—just, please

She doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get either of those things. She gets solid ground beneath her feet and Daryl’s leg pulling out from between her thighs. Beth’s eyes flip open, and she grabs at him, but he pins her wrists to the barn wall and holds her in place with his hips and pants wetly against her cheek.

“What—Daryl, what—”

He’s so close that she can feel it when he swallows. “Merle, he’s—he’s gonna be back soon. We can’t start this shit up right now.”

Right now. Beth latches onto the qualifier like a drowning man to a raft. She rolls her hips against him just to feel him crush her harder against the barn, buries her nose in his hair and asks, “When can we?”

Daryl presses a hard kiss to her thundering pulse but doesn’t answer right away. Beth’s just about to start squirming when he says, haltingly, “Your folks’ Fourth of July party.” Beat. “You gonna be there?”

It’s just as well that Daryl’s got his face buried in her neck, because if he could see the manic smile that yanks at Beth’s mouth right then, he’d probably have second thoughts about starting something up with her.

She rubs her cheek against the top of his head, back to acting like a cat in heat. She feels just as lazy and contented as a housecat, too.

She’s got him. He’s hers. She still can’t believe it, but he wants her and he’s hers.

“Only if you are,” she says, and means it.

Chapter Text

Daryl was the one who drove Beth to the hospital after she tried to kill herself.

This was before Daddy hired Merle on, and Daryl himself had only been helping out around the farm for a little under a year. Beth was having trouble keeping track of the dates by that point, and if she’d known Daryl was coming in that afternoon, she wouldn’t’ve carved into her wrist with a steak knife. Not that day. But she hadn’t, so she did, and when she heard tires crunching over gravel, her first thought was that she’d lost enough blood to start hallucinating, even though she hadn’t actually lost that much at all.

Daryl turned the color of sour milk when Beth came tearing out of the house, tears coming out of her eyes and blood coming out of her wrist, but he didn’t panic, and he didn’t yell. The cut Beth had made wasn’t going to bleed her out immediately, but it was deep enough to need stitches, so Daryl did some basic first aid with the kit he kept in his truck before buckling Beth into the passenger seat and breaking upwards of ten traffic laws driving her to the hospital. 

It was the first time he’d ever touched her—and the last, for a good long while. 

He stayed with her while they waited for Hershel and Maggie, who were each caught in separate traffic jams. He stayed until visiting hours were over, and Beth spent that night in observation thinking about how steady his hands had been when he’d cleaned and bandaged the cut on her wrist. Like he’d patched people up before.  

It’s not exactly a secret, but only Beth and Daryl and her family and her therapist know that he was the one who helped her that day. Not even Amy and Jimmy know, although they do know that Beth tried to kill herself. Everyone knows about that. Her entire graduating class knows about that. The school held a suicide prevention assembly because of her. She wasn’t there to see it, but she heard about it. Boy, did she hear about it.

Here’s something that is a secret: after Beth came home from the hospital, she pressed her stitched-up wrist against her mouth, buried her fingers deep in the underwear she’d worn to bed, and touched herself to the memory of Daryl’s sure hands on her skin.

Beth’s got a lot more material to work with these days, thanks to those few precious minutes up against the barn wall, but she’d very much like to stop relying on that one memory to get herself off and start making new memories, memories and moments that aren’t cut short by a family member’s impending arrival.

But the longer the evening goes on, the louder Beth’s doubts become. Maybe Daryl’s changed his mind. Maybe he’s decided that starting something up with her would be a Mistake with a capital M. Maybe they won’t be making any new memories, after all.

Beth loops around the farmhouse and approaches the driveway at a trudge, moving away from the light and noise of the party and towards the deepening purple twilight. She wasn’t lying when she told Daryl that it wasn’t going to be much of a party; at the time, she really hadn’t expected more than a few folks to show up. But at some point over the last month and a half, a few turned into a couple dozen, and now Beth’s afraid that Daryl will take one look at this congregation of people he barely knows and promptly turn his truck around, supposing he shows up at all.

Yeah. Supposing.

The driveway is dark—although Daddy left some lights burning in the front of the house—and spots are dancing across Beth’s vision courtesy of the sparklers that the kids (and Amy) were playing with when she left, so she waits for her eyes to adjust and the spots to fade before fishing her phone out of her shorts. And even though she swore that she wasn’t going to get her hopes up, her stomach still sinks when she sees that she’s got no notifications.

Wait, no. She has one notification, actually: Duolingo wants her to practice her Spanish.

Hell.

Beth powers down the screen and shoves her phone back into her pocket, then plants her hands on her hips and sways absently along to the music that’s playing out back while she tries to decide what to do with herself. Beth knows all the songs on the playlist by heart, and Glenn and Maggie tried to coax her into singing for everyone, but she’s not in the right mood for it—too anxious.

She thinks she’d sing for Daryl, though, if he asked. If he was here.

She’s being silly. It’s not even that late—the sun just set, and she can still make out a pale glow on the horizon, its way of saying goodbye as it slides towards another hemisphere—and if Daryl couldn’t make it for whatever reason, or if he didn’t want to do this with her, he would’ve said something. He’s too decent to drop a person without explanation.

Of course, he also tends to shy away from feelings—not anger, never anger, but the softer emotions, the ones that leave him vulnerable—so maybe he would drop her without warning. Not out of malice or ambivalence, but because he couldn’t handle letting her down in person.

Beth’s just about turned herself inside out when her wandering eyes catch on a bulky silhouette that she’d swear wasn’t there before, sitting right at the end of the row of parked cars, farthest from the house. Seeing it, her heart gives a hard, almost painful, thump.

That first giddy rush of adrenaline aside, Beth doesn’t permit herself to hope until after she’s gotten close enough to make out the familiar shape of Daryl’s Ford. He’s perched on the lowered tailgate, and even if Beth hadn’t recognized the truck, she would’ve recognized him. Like his vest and his arms, she’d know the slope of his shoulders anywhere, even in the dark.

“Hey,” Beth calls softly as she rounds the truck bed, not wanting to startle him—although he probably heard her coming. She isn’t half as quiet as the deer he hunts, not even when she’s trying to be.

Daryl tilts his head. “Hey. Whatchu doin’ out here?”

This is Daryl, so it’s not a line. It’s a serious question, but Beth doesn’t give it a serious answer. She doesn’t give it any answer at all. “I could ask you the same question, Mr. Dixon.”

Beth’s eyes have mostly adjusted to the deepening dark, but she still can’t make out much of Daryl’s expression. She’s got to rely on his body language, so it’s his body she watches, and right now, he’s shrugging. “Ain’t interested in seein’ any’a them.”

Beth’s heart thumps even harder at the subtext. He’s not interested in seeing any of them because he’s only interested in seeing her. “Not even Carl and Mr. Grimes?”

Daryl makes a noise that reminds Beth of an irritated horse. Best not to draw that comparison out loud, though. “See ’em all the damn time.”

“You see me all the time,” Beth retorts, full-on grinning now.

“Yeah, well, you’re a helluva lot prettier than either of ’em,” Daryl says, then ducks his head real quick like his brain’s only just catching up to his mouth, like he only just realized that he said that aloud. More than anything, Beth wishes she could see the blush that’s gotta be painting his handsome face a vivid red.

She’s blushing something awful, and even though Daryl’s night vision is probably better than hers, she doubts that he can see well enough to make out changes in her complexion. And because of that, she finds that she’s still feeling brave enough to tease him. “You keep talkin’ like that, Mr. Dixon, and I’m gonna start thinkin’ you like me or somethin’.”

Daryl lifts his head. “Guess I do.”

At this rate, she’s gonna go into cardiac arrest, and he hasn’t even touched her yet. “Yeah?”

“Yeah. You ain’t bad. For a smartass.”

Beth grins the manic grin from that afternoon up against the barn, and finally ventures closer, saying, “Scoot.” Daryl makes some very ungracious noises, but he slides over to make room, and Beth hops on up next to him, and they aren’t touching but they’re almost touching. Beth’s found, with Daryl, that the almost touching’s nearly as good as the actual touching, in a painful-but-good sort of way, like the ache you get when you press down on a bruise, the kind of ache you can feel in the backs of your teeth like a really good orgasm.

Beth kicks gently at the air and asks, real casual like, “Merle ain’t with you?”

“Nah. He’s got a date.”

Something about the way Daryl says date strongly implies that Merle and his partner for the night won’t be holding hands and going for milkshakes. Or at least, not just that.

“Oh,” says Beth. Then, “Ew.”

Daryl actually laughs quietly at her evident disgust. The sound grates like a purr, and Beth wants to plant her face in his neck to feel it vibrating in his throat. She doesn’t, but she does scoot a little closer, close enough for their hands to brush, and Daryl doesn’t pull away. No, he loops his pinky finger over hers, and that fragile point of contact is enough to have Beth sweating in the cool evening air.

They haven’t touched since that afternoon by the barn. They haven’t had the chance.

“He told me to tell ya happy Fourth,” says Daryl, and Beth rolls her eyes.

“Tell him I said thanks, I guess.”

“Mhm.”

Something occurs to Beth, then—what Daryl was doing when she got here. Or rather, what he wasn’t doing. Could be that he just stubbed it out, but he doesn’t smell like tobacco, so probably not. “I’m surprised you weren’t out here havin’ a smoke.”

“What, you complainin’?”

Beth wrinkles her nose. “Definitely not. Just curious, I guess.”

“Girl, you gotta learn to mind ya damn business.” A beat passes. “Been tryna quit, I guess.”

Beth perks up, equal parts pleased and surprised. “Yeah? Why?”

Daryl sways, and maybe he didn’t mean to nudge his shoulder against Beth’s, but maybe he did. “Got this girl on my case. Always tellin’ me ’bout the nine kinds’a cancer I could get.”

Beth stifles her smile and nods seriously, like a scholar conceding a point made by a colleague. “This girl. She cute?”

Another, harder nudge, and he definitely did it on purpose this time. “She thinks she is.”

Jerk, Beth thinks fondly, and tosses her nose in the air. “Well, this girl sounds like she knows what she’s talkin’ about, so you should probably trust her judgment on that one.”

Daryl tangles his fingers up with hers, and, oh, God, Beth hasn’t felt his giddy since—since the last time Daryl Dixon got his hands on her, actually. “Yeah, alright, smartass. Whatever you say.”

Beth giggles and leans her head against Daryl’s shoulder, inhaling the smell of his sweat and leaching up his body heat. They’re both quiet for a minute, and then Daryl says, “Never did tell me what you was doin’ out here. Don’t you got a captive audience to sing to or some shit?”

Beth shakes her head. Her cheek’s cushioned by flannel and nothing else; Daryl’s not wearing his vest. “Nah. Didn’t feel like it. I wanna be out here.” With you.

“Should be hangin’ out with your friends.”

He doesn’t say while you still can, and he probably isn’t even thinking it, but it’s what Beth’s thinking. And she hates burdening people with her crap—it took her forever to stop apologizing to her therapist, and only after Denise gently explained that it was her job to listen to Beth—but something about Daryl. She doesn’t know. Something about him makes her feel like she’s not burdening him by being honest.

She’s never felt that way with anyone else. Not even Denise. Not even her family. 

That’s got to mean something, so Beth winds up saying, “Y’know, I. Outta all my friends at school, Jimmy and Amy were the only ones who really stuck with me, after—y’know. After.”

The shoulder Beth’s leaning against turns to granite. “Your other friends sound like a bunch’a assholes.”

Beth’s startled into laughing, and she buries the sound against Daryl’s shirt. But her laughter fades when she says, “Nah, they aren’t. I mean, I can’t really blame them, anyway. I was. I was tough to be around.”

Daryl relaxes, but only by a fraction, like he’s still seriously contemplating hunting a bunch of barely legal teenagers down and beating the stuffing out of them. Which, weirdly flattering. “Still shitty of ’em.”

Maybe, maybe not. That’s not the point, anyway. “I guess I’m just tryin’ to say that Amy and Jimmy were there for me when I needed them, even if they didn’t really know what to do or how to help. At least they tried, y’know? And they’re gonna leave for college soon and I can’t go with ’em because I fu—messed up my grades real bad when I was—when I was sick, and I’m gonna miss ’em so much. And I don’t. I guess I actually don’t know what I’m sayin’. Sorry.”

She really doesn’t know what she’s saying, and she was wrong. It was wrong of her to unload all this on Daryl without warning. He showed up here to be with her and they should be kissing or something but instead, Beth’s practically crying on his shoulder about how much she’s gonna miss her best friends like some kinda whiny baby. Way to look mature and desirable, asshole.

But Daryl just wraps his fingers tighter around Beth’s and says, a little hoarsely, “Yeah, well. Like I said. Should be spendin’ time with them, not me.”

“I wanna spend time with you,” Beth says in a very, very small voice.

Daryl shifts in a way that Beth can’t help but interpret as uncomfortable, and she’s just about to apologize again and leave when he says, haltingly at first, but then with increased conviction, “You can, uh. You can hang out with me as much as you want after they leave. Before, too. I ain’t real good company or nothin’, but. You need me, I’m here.”

Oh, God. As if she wasn’t half in love with him already. As if she wasn’t going to fall for the quietly kind man who drove her to the hospital and kept treating her the same afterwards, like she was a whole person and not just her depression. Now he’s gotta up and say that.

She never stood a chance against him. None. Beth doesn’t really believe in fate—doesn’t believe in anything that subverts free will—but she almost wants to call this thing with Daryl inevitable. Like she was made to love him. Like he was made for her, too, and how beautiful is it that they found each other in a world this big?

“Uh. Unless you don’t wanna.” And that’s when Beth realizes she’s been silent for too long.

“No!” Beth says, squeezing Daryl’s hand and staring intently at his profile like she can blast the sincerity of her words directly into his brain if only she wills it hard enough. “No, I’d like—I’d love that. I’d love to spend more time with you, Daryl, and not just when you’re workin’ around the farm.”

Daryl’s shoulders hunch. “Yeah?” he asks, sounding so adorably shy that Beth kind of wants to nibble on him.

Maybe she will. Not just yet, though.

Right now, she settles for pressing her lips against his cheek, not quite a kiss. “Yeah,” she murmurs against his skin, against the sharp slant of his beautiful cheekbone, giggling softly when his scruff tickles her. “I’d like to do a lot more than just hang out, though. Y’know. If you wanna.”

Another quiet laugh, more of a hard exhale than anything else. “You’re shameless, girl.” He doesn’t say it like that’s a bad thing. In fact, Beth would venture to guess that he sounds kind of…turned on.

“Only with you,” she says, but what she means is, Only for you. I’m all yours if you want me.

Either Daryl hears the subtext, or he’s had enough of talking, because he wraps one heavy hand around the nape of her neck, blunt fingernails catching in her hair, and holds her face still so he can find her lips in the dark.

But he doesn’t kiss her on the lips. Not right away. His mouth lands first on her chin, and then on her cheek, and then on the bridge of her nose, before finally nudging up against hers—and by then, she’s all but panting for it. He doesn’t taste like tobacco or lemonade this time. Doesn’t taste like much of anything, other than himself.

Beth’s glad for it, though; means there’s nothing to distract her from the way he’s opening her up with slow, sweet thrusts of his tongue, like her mouth is actually her cunt and he’s eating her out, making her bloom, getting her wet enough to take his dick.

Jesus, she really is shameless. But that’s alright; Daryl likes her shameless. She likes her shameless.

Beth gets the hand that’s not pinned beneath Daryl’s tangled up in his shirt, thumbing at the undone top button and tucking her fingers under his collar, sighing happily when skin finds skin. She’d kiss him forever if she could, just like this, halfway to innocent, one hand holding his and the other resting over his heart, but she’s starting to get lightheaded, so she turns her face to one side, but not before planting a parting kiss on his swollen lips so he knows she’s not finished with him yet.

She’ll never be finished with him.

Beth licks Daryl’s saliva off her lips and chin, catches her breath, and says, “D’you wanna. D’you wanna go inside?”

She hears him swallow. “Ain’t your folks gonna miss you?”

Beth shrugs. “They’ll just figure I went to bed.” Which: technically true. “Actually, hold on—” Beth lets go of Daryl and slides her phone out of her pocket. She composes a message to Maggie, telling her that she’s tired and that she’s gonna turn in for the night, then sends it off. Done.

“There,” Beth says, putting her phone away and hopping out of the truck bed. She holds her hand out to Daryl, but he doesn’t take it or follow after her, and uncertainty hits her like a kick between the eyes. “Unless you don’t want to? Because that’s—that’s totally fine. I’m sorry if I assumed—”

Daryl climbs down from the truck bed before Beth can fumble out the rest of her apology, but instead of taking her dangling hand, he slides a heavy arm around her shoulders and tucks her into his side, drenching her in the smell of him. And, okay. This is nice. Like, really nice.

“Didn’t assume wrong,” Daryl says, so quietly that Beth probably wouldn’t have heard him if she wasn’t standing close enough to feel his voice vibrating in his chest. She wraps her arm around his waist and squeezes herself harder against his side, laying her head on his shoulder and inhaling the scent of his soap, which is strong enough to make her think that he must’ve showered right before coming to see her.

Why he’d want to shower before coming to see her hits her like another kick, but between the legs rather than the eyes, and she burrows closer, stifling a wanting noise. Daryl drags his fingers up and down her bare bicep and presses his cheek against the top of her head, and then they get moving.

It strikes Beth that someone could wander out front, see Daryl’s truck parked in the driveway, and go looking for him; but if Daryl’s willing to take the risk, then so is she. She’s willing to take a lot of risks where he’s concerned.

Speaking of risks: instead of getting their behinds in the house quick, like they should, they keep stopping to kiss, unable to keep their lips off each other for more than a few seconds at a time. They make it to the front porch without incident, though, and the house is unlocked, so Beth just has to pull the screen door open, twist the knob—Jesus, but it’d be a lot easier for her to concentrate on simple tasks if Daryl would just stop rubbing his erection against her hip—actually, no, she doesn’t want him to stop doing that—and then they’re tumbling inside and Beth’s eyes are struggling to adjust to the lit-up hallway. And when her vision clears, and she looks up at Daryl, she just about drops to her knees for him on the spot. Probably definitely would, if he wasn’t holding on to her so tightly.

Because his sleeves are cut off and frayed like always, but something about this shirt—it looks newer, not yet worn from repeated washings, like he went clothes shopping with tonight in mind. His jeans look cleaner than usual, too—but of course looking at his jeans is a mistake, because now she can see the erection that she felt, can see that his hand’s flexing like he wants to rub himself through the denim.

Her eyes dart back to his face, which is also a mistake—there’s no winning here, clearly—because his cheeks are flushed feverish pink, because his lips are red and swollen because of her, because his pupils are way too wide for a room this bright.

He looks a question at her, but Beth just wraps her other arm around him and presses her face against his chest. He’s so warm. He’s warm and he’s here and he’s gonna be so good to her, she just knows it.

He grazes his fingers against the crown of her skull, as gently as if he were stroking glass. “Beth? Y’alright?”

Beth nods without looking up. “Yeah. Just happy.”

Daryl doesn’t say anything, but Beth swears those were his lips she just felt against the top of her head.

Beth eases back, no longer hugging him but still holding his hand, and leads the way up the dark stairwell. Halfway up, she turns around and plants kiss on his mouth, then releases his hand and bolts for the second floor, giggling. Daryl cusses her out, boots hitting the floorboards like strikes of thunder as he gives chase.

He catches her right outside her bedroom and latches his arms around her waist, lifting her feet off the floor and burying his bristly face in the crook of her neck. Beth giggles harder and squirms playfully in his hold, backside smacking at his hips. He groans, and the sound buzzes through her to vibrate in her clit.

Beth squirms again, a little less playful, a little more desperate. She wraps her hands around his thick wrists and says, breathlessly, “Daryl, c’mon. Lemme down.”

He doesn’t. He hoists her higher up in his arms and carries her over the threshold, not like a bride but like a dangling ragdoll, and Beth starts giggling again, pleased and dizzy. Daryl kicks the door shut behind them, blotting out the residual light from the downstairs hallway, and then he’s tossing her gently onto the mattress. She scrambles around to face him, but instead of following her onto the bed, he crosses to the door and locks it—her clit pulses just from watching him do that, just from knowing what it means—and turns back around with his hands stuffed deep in his pockets.

He clears his throat. Shifts his weight, making the floorboards creak. “You, uh. You want the light on?”

Yeah, she does—she’s shy about her body, but she wants to look at his—except her folks will see the light burning in her bedroom and wonder why she hasn’t gone to sleep like she said she would. Besides, there’s enough moonlight trickling in through her window for her to see by, at least to a certain extent.

Next time, she wants them to do this in the daylight. Even if it means being embarrassed by her own body, it’ll be worth it, if she gets to see all of him. 

So Beth says, “Uh. Nah. Don’t want the others seein’ it.”

More awkward shuffling. “Yeah. Guess we don’t.”

Beth swings her legs over the side of the bed and kicks off her boots, shunts them out of the way and plants her bare feet on the floor. “You wanna, um. You wanna come over here? Or were you waitin’ on an engraved invitation?”

“That smartass mouth’a yours’s gonna get you into trouble one’a these days,” Daryl grouches, and Beth has half a second to reflect that she wouldn’t mind getting into trouble with him before he’s kneeling to untie his boots, then standing back up to kick them aside.

He crosses to the bed and crouches in front of her, and she spreads her legs to accommodate him. His arms go around her waist, and her arms go around his shoulders, and their mouths seek each other out in the dark and connect with what feels like a burst of static. The rough drag of his stubble sets her toes to curling, and she decides right then that she’s never gonna let him shave his face smooth. Ever.

Wanting to feel more of that friction, Beth pulls her mouth off of Daryl’s to drag her lips through his scruff, turning her face back and forth so she can rub both cheeks against him, not even caring that she’ll have to cover the inevitable beard burn with more makeup than she’s usually comfortable wearing if it persists till morning. The arms around her waist tighten, nearly squeezing the breath out of her, and then thick fingers are fumbling at the hem of her shirt.

Beth’s heart gives a hard, anticipatory kick, and she leans back, lifts her arms, lets Daryl drag her shirt over her head with a crackle of actual static that has her hair clinging to the collar. Beth shivers at the shock of chilly air conditioning, but then Daryl’s there, warming her up, burying his scruffy face in her chest and tonguing her nipple into a hard point through her bra’s soft cup. Beth makes an involuntary noise under that tongue, a noise that Daryl answers with a hoarse groan.

Beth’s fingers go to Daryl’s buttons, and he lets her undo them, but when she tries to push his shirt off his shoulders, he goes so still it’s like he caught an eyeful of Medusa, and when he finally starts moving again, it’s not toward Beth, but away.

What? No. Beth clings to him in a blind panic, fingers catching in his shirt like claws. “Wait, Daryl, I. I’ve—I’ve seen ’em before. You know that. They don’t bother me—I mean, they do, but they don’t bother me like that.”

She was home that day when Daryl took a tumble down a ravine in the woods and impaled himself on one of his own bolts. She saw him come limping toward the house, looking half dead already. She saw the abuse that’d been carved into his back when she helped Daddy patch him up, and the only thing that kept her from crying for him right then was the certainty that he’d hate her for it.

She cried later, though, that night alone in her room. She cried until her eyeballs hurt; cried so hard she woke up feeling dehydrated, drained down to a husk.

Right now, Daryl’s chewing his lower lip raw and very deliberately not looking at her. Chest coming up tight with a seed of panic, Beth brushes her hand across his cheekbone and fights to steady her voice. “You don’t gotta. I’m just sayin’ you can.”

Maybe something she said made him feel better. Maybe he’s trying to prove something to himself, or to her. Either way, he rolls his shoulders and shrugs off his shirt, quick like he’s ripping off a bandaid, and Beth clings to him, hands sliding down his shoulders to brush the rough end of one scar. Daryl’s skin twitches on his bones when she does that, so she withdraws her hands and places them on his shoulders even as she struggles to process this display of vulnerability, of trust.  

For a minute, she feels like crying again. She doesn’t, but it’s a near thing.

Instead, she smiles at Daryl, but he won’t meet her eyes for long—buries his face in her throat and nips at her skin, fingers going to the button at her fly. When he unsnaps it, Beth stiffens, and Daryl must feel that—of course he does; they’re so close—because his fingers immediately fall away from her crotch.

“Y’okay?” he asks, finally looking at her. Checking on her.

“Yeah, I, um, I just.” Daryl tilts his head and squints at her, and, dammit. He was vulnerable with her, so she’s gotta be honest with him, even if the state of her virginity is no one’s business but her own. “I, uh. I’ve never done this before.”

Daryl goes so still, so quiet, that Beth would’ve sworn he’d stopped breathing if she couldn’t feel his shoulders rising and falling beneath her hands. She thought he felt petrified earlier, but that was nothing compared to this. “You. Y’mean, like—”

“Yeah. Um. Yeah.”

Daryl’s voice cracks a little when he says, “How. How come?”

How come? How come? Beth almost laughs, albeit hysterically. “I. I dunno. ’Cause I didn’t want to do it just because I could? Not that there’s anythin’ wrong with that. I just. I wanted it to be with someone I really liked, I guess.”

She’s mumbling by the time she gets to that last sentence, face planted in Daryl’s sweaty neck while he drags his fingers up and down her bare back, tucking them under her bra straps to stroke her shoulder blades. Beth shivers, and the slow burning arousal in her abdomen flares up again, subsuming most, if not all, of her anxiety.

Daryl clears his throat. “I, uh. I ain’t a virgin or nothin’, but I only done it a couple’a times before, so I ain’t—I ain’t much better off than you.”  

Surprise grants Beth the strength to lift her face off Daryl’s shoulder and look him in the eye. “R-really?”

Daryl’s eyes are downcast, but his lips are twisted up in a wry smile. “Yeah. Really.”

Because fair’s fair, Beth asks, “How come?”

Daryl starts chewing on his thumbnail, prompting Beth to tug his hand away from his mouth and cradle it against her sternum.

Daryl curls his fingers around hers and says, “Iunno. Same reason as you, I guess. Usually didn’t want to.” Her finally looks at her, eyes glittering like pale stones through his flickering lashes. “Till now, anyways.”  

Beth couldn’t keep from smiling if it meant the difference between life and death. Daryl blinks rapidly, like he just looked directly into the sun, but he doesn’t take his dazed eyes off her face when he says, “Beth. You sure you want it to be—to be m—”

Beth eats the words right out of his mouth, licks them off his tongue, and replaces them with her own. “Yeah. I’m sure.”

Daryl gives her leg a gentle smack, then rubs away the fleeting sting. “Get on up there, then.”

Beth complies a little too eagerly, but she doesn’t think there’s any shame in letting Daryl know how much she wants him, so she unzips her shorts and kicks them off her legs, real quick before she can chicken out, then undoes her bra and flings that off into parts unknown, too. She scoots back and lies back on top of her embroidered comforter, head sinking into a pillow. Daryl crawls after her, belt undone; pants unzipped; erection pushing at the front of his underwear, across which spreads a growing damp spot. Beth takes one look at that stain and crooks her legs a little wider, wanting him to see the filmy stain on her underwear, wanting him to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that her pussy’s fucking weeping for him.

He looks. He looks at her soaked underwear, shudders all over, and falls into the space between her legs, cupping her breasts and pushing them together and licking from one nipple to the other, leaving a trail of cooling spit behind that has her skin erupting in goosebumps. Beth feels the suction on her breasts like phantom lips on her clit, and she saws her legs and pushes her swelling cunt against Daryl’s swelling dick, hissing at the scrape of metal teeth on her inner thighs. This feels good but it’s still not good enough; she needs their underwear off; she needs his dick to settle between her fanned pussy lips, she needs his ridged cockhead to catch on her clit and tip her that much closer to the orgasm that’s spooling up in her pelvis like the sweeter cousin of a menstrual cramp.

They must be on the same wavelength, because Daryl gives her breast a parting suck that she can feel down in her clenched toes and sits back on his haunches, hooking his fingers in her underwear and dragging them down her to knees, her thighs, her ankles. And then those thick fingers that she’s dreamed about are cupping her cunt, dipping shallowly into her folds to gather up moisture and spread it over her hard clit like paint.

Beth’s back bows into a shallow, inverted U, mouth catching around a whine, fingernails carving trenches in Daryl’s hard forearm. Daryl whines, too, even louder than Beth did, fingers slipping on her wet clit before pressing down harder, hard enough to make her leg kick like someone just brought a rubber mallet down on the spot below her kneecap. Daryl’s staring at her cunt like it’s the holy goddamn grail, and if Beth wasn’t positively gagging for it, she’d probably start giggling again.

But she doesn’t feel like laughing when Daryl says, “I. I’m the one who done this?” Then, less like a question and more like a statement, like he’s claiming something, he repeats, “I’m the one who done this.”

She doesn’t feel like laughing, no, but her lips still tremble into a smile. Daryl starts playing with one of her lower lips, thumbing it aside like he wants to get a better look at the tight funnel he intends to push his dick into, and Beth’s entire body quakes, warmth spreading through her hips like magma. “Yeah. Yeah, you are.”

He shakes all over too when she says that, and the hand that isn’t busy between her legs rubs his dick through his shorts. His thumb pushes up against her clit, but his index finger digs deeper between her lips, peeling them open and sliding into her, hard and stiff and thick, knuckles bumping her walls, and Beth braces her feet against the mattress and fucks herself on it.

And then Daryl pulls his finger out of her, raises his hand, and slaps her on the cunt. On the clit.

It doesn’t hurt, doesn’t even sting, but it startles her, has her latching wide eyes onto Daryl’s face as the shock of impact reverberates through her body. Jesus. Jesus Christ. When he did that, her clit spasmed like it was about to rock her into an orgasm. It didn’t. But it almost did.

The way Daryl’s looking at her—half scared, half intent—heralds his halting question. “Was that. Was that alright? I—”

“Do it again.” Daryl’s mouth drops open, teeth and tongue glinting wetly like a mirror of Beth’s pussy, and she grabs his wrist and pulls his hand back to her cunt, pushes her aching clit against the hard heel of his palm. “C’mon, Daryl, do it again, please—”

She doesn’t have to ask a third time. Daryl pulls his hand off of her only to bring it back down, hard, still mostly a tap but definitely harder than the first time, and when Beth jumps and cries out, cries out loudly enough to be heard on the first floor if only there were people inside to hear her, he does it again. And again.

It is starting to sting now, heat flaring and spreading across Beth’s cunt with each successive smack, and the noise they’re making is obscene, almost like the sound of fucking—Beth doesn’t like porn, but she’s seen enough of it to know what fucking sounds like—and every time he slaps her, her clit spasms harder, and more wet drips out of her, slicking the way for his cock. She’s squirming like a dying thing impaled on a hook—no, not squirming, writhing, panting for it—God, please

God, please, Daryl, c’mon, I wanna, just, please—”

Daryl smacks her cunt hard when she says that, harder than all the other times, hard enough to make her squeal so loud it drowns out the music filtering in from the party—oh, God, she forgot all about that, forgot about everything that wasn’t this—but he doesn’t follow it up with a successive slap. No, he pushes two fingers into her cunt with a squelch so obscene it’s like he just stuck them in her guts, and her body parts easily for him before clamping down tightly like it doesn’t want to let him go. He crooks his fingers like he’s beckoning and jams his thumb up against her overheated clit, and Beth.

Beth comes so hard her heart goes briefly still. Her cunt seizes up once, twice, and then she loses count; just knows that it’s spasming, that she’s shaking, that she’s drowning in endorphins so intense it’s like she’s been shot up with some potent, black market drug. Her cunt gushes, and her hips rock, and through her fluttering lashes she sees Daryl pull his dick out of his shorts and wrap his sticky hand around its base. He’s heavy and dark and beautiful, shot through with thick veins just like the ones in the backs of his hands, and if he doesn’t get in Beth soon, she might actually literally die.

“C’mon,” Beth croaks, privately surprised that she can speak at all. She lifts up on her elbows and hooks her legs around Daryl’s hips, and he sways and swears, dick bumping her inner thigh and smearing pre-come on her skin. “C’mon, Daryl, I want you to f-fuck me, c’mon, please.”

Daryl’s face twists up like he’s in pain, and he folds his free hand over her shoulder and shoves her back down against the mattress with a bounce. His hair is in his eyes, and those eyes are wide and wet and crazed.

“I’m gonna, girl, I’m gonna. Just—Christ—gimme a minute.”

A minute. A minute’s too long, but Beth figures she can give him at least thirty seconds, so she nods and lies back and slicks her fingers through the mess between her legs, slips the longest one into her still-spasming cunt and thinks that they probably should’ve put down a towel. Daryl doesn’t take his eyes off of her, not even once, not even as he kicks off his pants and shorts and goes digging in his pockets for his wallet, for a condom.

He tears into the packet with his teeth like a wolf ripping into a deer’s underbelly, then tugs his foreskin back, tugs the condom on, pulls it tight around his shaft like a second layer of skin shrunk too small. He’s so beautiful it makes her eyes burn, but she doesn’t get to look at him for long, because now he’s falling onto his elbows over her, panting in her face and flattening himself out on top of her. His body hair catches on her tits and stomach, and his dick settles into the cleft of her cunt, and she groans, whines, digs her nails deep enough into his shoulder blades to leave scratches behind like new tattoos.

He pushes at the backs of her thighs, and she draws her knees up to her chest, heels bumping his flanks. He lifts up on one elbow and fumbles in the narrow space between their pelvises, dick slipping up and down her drenched pussy lips but failing to catch in her cunt. Daryl spits out a passionate “Son of a bitch” and scrambles back on his knees, holds her open with two fingers while he uses his other hand to notch his cockhead against her and guide his shaft into her pussy.

Oh, fuck.

Beth wants to watch. More than anything, she wants to watch him sink into her for the first time, wants to watch him squeeze his thick dick into her wet cunt, but her head slams itself against the pillow like somebody jerked her back by the hair, pointing her eyes at the ceiling, at the top of Daryl’s head. Her cunt’s still burning from being slapped, and between that and how unbelievably thick he is, her every nerve ending feels like it’s been stripped raw. God, Jesus, but she swears she can feel him stopping up her throat. And she’s half convinced that he won’t be able to fit all of himself inside of her, but he does, pushing and pushing until her thighs are spread wide enough to ache, until the flat of his sweat-slicked pelvis slaps down on hers. He doesn’t move right away, though, going real still like he’s afraid he’ll come too soon if he doesn’t take a minute to breathe.

Beth will never forget the noise he makes when he’s all the way in. Not for the rest of her natural life.

Daryl rests his full weight on her for a minute, crushing her into the mattress and panting into the crook of her neck, and then he fucks her. He braces himself on his palms like he’s doing a pushup, dick shifting around inside her with the change in position, and he fucks her.

His first thrust pushes her up the bed, and she has to brace her hands against the shaking headboard to keep from cracking her skull open. His second thrust is shorter, shallower, and that’s the rhythm he settles into, quick hard fucks that bounce Beth’s hips against the bed, that make her cunt gush and her tits jiggle.  

“Y’okay?” he grinds out, and Beth can only nod, unable to bend her tongue the way she needs to in order to form words.

She can’t offer up anything coherent, and she can’t do anything about the noises she’s making, either, because even if she covered her mouth, they’d still hum in her throat like the beginnings of a song. She can cover her face, can cover up the embarrassing expression she’s surely making, muscles twisting like she’s being tortured, so that’s what she does. Or tries to, because no sooner has she curled her fingers over her eyes than Daryl’s grabbing her wrists and pinioning them to the shrieking mattress.

“Nuh-uh.” Daryl’s short, stuttering thrusts smooth out, get slower and deeper, stroking Beth’s cunt so good, making her squeal. “Don’t—fuck—don’t do that. Wanna watch you, girl.”

Beth scrunches up her face, teeth sinking into her lower lip hard enough to make it sting as hotly as her slapped cunt. She turns her cheek against the mattress, tossing her head in denial, then gives in and faces forward and slits her eyes open.  

And if she thought that the noise Daryl made would stick with her till she died, then the look on his face is gonna follow her into the afterlife.

Daryl nods when she meets his eyes, nods and shifts his rhythm again, thrusts still long and deep but faster now, hips and stomach slapping against hers. He lets go of her wrists only to lace their fingers together, and he lowers his head and noses her bracelets out of the way so he can lick her scar and worry it between his teeth. And for a second, Beth thinks she’s gonna cry, because this.

This. This is why she wants him. Because he likes every part of her, even the difficult parts. Because he’ll run into a burning building to rescue a stranger. Because he drove a suicidal girl he barely knew to the hospital and stayed with her until the nurse asked him to leave. Because he’s strong and smart and funny and good, so goddamn good.

God,” she says, pants, voice vibrating in her throat like she’s trying to talk while riding a roller coaster. “God, God, fuck, Daryl, you’re so good, so so good, you’re makin’ me feel so good, fuck, please—”

Daryl’s hips start working faster, like he’s rewarding her for talking, or maybe encouraging her to do it some more. He pulls his lips off her wrist only to arch his back and drag her nipple between his teeth, sucking her breast into his mouth like he intends to literally eat her alive and thinks that her tits are as good a place to start as any. But then he releases it with a pop, and just when Beth’s started to learn his rhythm and meet his thrusts, he grabs her hips and rolls them onto their sides.

He shoves one arm beneath her neck, cradling her, and brings his other hand down on her ass, fingers digging into her furrowed muscles and showing her how to move with him like this, leg slung over his hip, fingers sliding up and down his spine.

He presses their foreheads together while he rocks into her, slower now, letting her feel every inch of him through the condom, every thick vein and beautiful ridge and even the catch and drag of his foreskin. His fingers dip into the crack of her ass, press up against her perineum and make her squeal some more, and she can feel him smiling against her jaw—an open mouthed, panting smile—so she retaliates by clawing her fingers and tracing her nails down his back, making him shiver.

Fuck,” he grunts, and flops over onto his back, dragging Beth with him. His dick slips out of her, and they both fumble to push him back into her cunt, and she’s so sopping wet by now that he goes in even easier than he had the first time. Beth sprawls out across his front, nose buried in the crook of his neck, teeth sunk into bunched muscle, tongue lapping up his sweat. She clings to his arms while her cunt clings to his dick, panting and trembling as he draws up his legs, thighs jostling hers, and braces his feet against the mattress. He wraps one hand around the base of her mussed ponytail and anchors the other on her ass, and then he’s fucking up into her.

Beth grunts, nails biting into his biceps, cunt making a mess all over his dick and stomach as he punches into her, skin getting rubbed raw by his wiry body hair. She can’t even try to keep up with him like this, can only hang on for dear life while he pants and growls and swears, voice grating in her ear and rumbling through her chest cavity, and she’s just about to tap out when he buries his face in her throat, screws his dick in hard, and huffs through a shuddering orgasm.  

Oh, Jesus, Beth thinks, because he’s coming in her. There’s a condom in the way but he’s still coming in her, hips spasming, cock jerking in the fist formed by Beth’s pussy. And even as he comes slowly down, he keeps rocking his dick in and out of her, like he’s taking her bare and wants to stop her up with his come.

Beth’s pussy spasms just thinking about it. God. God. She needs to get on the pill. She needs to find out how it’ll work with her anti-depressants and then she needs him to fuck her raw.  

One day.

Daryl finally lifts her off of him, and when his softening dick flops out of her, her cunt makes a loud sucking noise that would be embarrassing if she had any room left in her body for that kind of emotion. He plants sloppy kisses across her neck, her shoulders, then rolls them over with a drawn-out groan and just lies on top of her for a second before sitting back on his haunches to dispose of the condom.

That’s not all he does. His eyes lock on her fucked-out cunt, and he licks his lips, and that’s all the warning Beth gets before he’s stretching out on his stomach and burying his face between her legs.

Beth cries out—from shock, from the feeling of his beard abrading swollen, sensitive tissue. He doesn’t lick her right away—no, first he presses his nose into her pussy and inhales, deep like a hunting hound being put on a scent, and then he opens his mouth. He opens his mouth and drags his tongue through sweat and come before rolling it across her clit.

Beth shrieks, squirms, braces her feet on his shoulders as if to push him off of her—and she’s got strong legs, and if he were almost anyone else, she probably could shove him away, but this is Daryl. This is Daryl, and he’s got her pinned in place with one heavy hand on her stomach and the other wrapped around her hip, blunt chin nudging at her pussy lips while he nurses her clit, the push of his tongue clumsy and inexperienced but so enthusiastic, like he’s been starving for exactly this. He’s even groaning into her cunt like he’s the one who’s getting his dick sucked.

And it feels so goddamn good, all that sloppy intensity, but it’s too soon, and Beth’s still too sensitive, and no matter how hard Daryl tries she really doesn’t think she can come again already—

But then he gives his hardest suck yet, like he’s trying to pull a thick milkshake up through a narrow straw, and he proves her wrong. He proves her so goddamn wrong that her vision fuzzes out for a few seconds while she shrieks into the sticky crook of her elbow.

Daryl pulls off her cunt with a parting slurp and rests his head on her abdomen, apparently content to stay sprawled between her legs while they catch their breath and wait for their heartbeats to slow. Somebody’s phone buzzes. They both ignore it.

He thumbs at her clit without any real intent, but Beth’s sore pussy still clenches through a second round of aftershocks at the touch. She sinks her fingers into his sweaty hair and scratches his scalp, and he hums low in his throat, practically purring. 

Outside, ground fireworks pop like gunshots, and Beth blinks her eyes open, a dopey smile breaking out across her face.

“God bless America,” she whispers, snorting and then giggling and then outright cackling, and then Daryl starts snickering, too. They laugh so hard they shake like they’re both orgasming again, and when Daryl crawls up her body to muffle his snorts against the side of her face, Beth turns her head and kisses her own musky come off his lips.  

As their laughter subsides into hiccups, Daryl’s hand finds Beth’s wrist and strokes over her scar. Beth smiles at him through the dark, and he smiles back, eyes crinkling, teeth glinting.

He really is beautiful.

 


 

Daryl’s in the middle of mending a fence that a particularly ornery steer knocked over, and when he lifts his head to wipe sweat out of his eyes and sees Beth coming, he doesn’t exactly grin, and he definitely doesn’t wave, but his lips quirk into a quietly pleased expression that’s just for her. Only ever for her.

“Hey,” he says when she gets close enough for him to reach out and touch. He doesn’t touch her, but he does grab the brim of her mother’s gardening hat and gives it a gentle tug. “S’pretty hat.”

“Thanks,” Beth says, linking her hands behind her back. She double checks that no one else is around, then tilts her chin and arches her eyebrows at Daryl, who rolls his eyes but obediently flips the brim of her hat farther up so he can lean down and kiss her.  

“So,” Beth says as she falls back onto the flats of her feet. “I’m headin’ out with Jimmy and Amy this afternoon. We were gonna go to the mall.”

“Yeah, so?” Daryl’s acting like he doesn’t give a shit about Beth’s plans, but she can tell that he’s happy for her. “Why you tellin’ me? Y’all need ta bum a ride or somethin’?”

“Nah, Amy’s got it covered.” Beth shrugs, faking casual as her heart thrums in her throat and in the newly sore space between her legs. “But, y’know. The Main Street Diner’s havin’ a special today. Free dessert with every meal. You might wanna check it out later.”

“Might. Might not.” Daryl’s eyes drip down her breasts and land between her legs. “You gonna be there?”

Beth grins so hard her face hurts. “Only if you are.” But then her smile fades, and she pokes her pointer finger into his chest. “Just, promise me one thing? If the diner catches on fire, please just stay outside and wait for the professionals to show up.”  

Daryl smirks at her. “Can’t make no promises,” he says, before grabbing her by the waist, swinging her up and over the half-repaired fence, and laying her out on the ground beneath him.

Her pretty dress is covered in grass stains by the time he lets her back up, but she’s not about to complain.