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Wild Things (The Moonshine Poet)

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Wild Things (The Moonshine Poet)

 

They were good at running. It was all they’d done since the prison. Running from the carnage, running from the walkers, running from each other and now running from the fire. But they weren’t just running away this time. The fire at the shack echoed the fire burning hot and wild in his breast, stoked to a frenzy by the fiery woman running beside him. Running with him, away from the blaze, away from the walkers, away from the past and toward something new. Something different. Something born from the ashes of his broken soul like a goddamn phoenix, its colours reflected in Beth’s eyes, in the gold of her hair and the brightness of her smile.

 

Maybe that was the moonshine talking, making a poet out of him when his defences were down. Maybe it was something else altogether, the same something which thrust ideas into his thick head, whispered that to put away his past and leave it behind all he had to do was reach out and take her hand and never let go. But she beat him to it, reaching for him instead and winding her slender fingers through his, laughing in a breathless way that brought a grin to his face, unbidden and uncontrollable and wild.

 

They ran until they couldn’t run no more, until her legs gave out and he caught her up in his arms so they fell together into the soft, wet earth at the bank of a river, roaring as loud in his ears as the blaze in his chest. Her laugher hadn’t quit and he couldn’t laugh with her, couldn’t make the sound because he didn’t know how, but he could feel it inside, bubbling and weightless and freer than anything he’d ever felt before. And Beth laid her head on his chest, her warm cheek to his racing heart, laughter slowly fading into great, heaving breaths which matched his own beneath her. 

 

The world grew silent around them, though the fire still burned, both inside and out, fed by the weight of her, the heat of her where she lay over him, where his arms tightened across her back, where her fingers clutched at his shoulder and reached up to trace the line of his jaw, the flesh of his cheek.  He couldn’t see her, not in the dark, not with the trees above blocking the half-moon light, but she saturated his senses in a way he wouldn’t’ve believed if he hadn’t been living it. 

 

She was soft curves and lean muscle, tangled hair that caught in his fingers and still felt of silk, and smooth skin beneath where the grime didn’t reach. She was the tang of sweat and the burn of moonshine, a hint of smoke and dirt and the walker filth that coated them both. She was little sighs and shuddery breaths, and a beating heart he’d thought was his own, but knew now was only ever hers. She was salt and earth and something sweet but spicy, something vital, something only hinted at as he touched his lips to her forehead, unable to stop himself even if he wanted to. 

 

She gasped into the night, another sound to fill his ears and drown out the world, her fingers gliding around to cradle his jaw, thumb stoking, a soft but deliberate exploration of the contours and scruff beneath it. He whispered her name in the dark and she whispered his in return and lifted her head from where it lay on his chest. He felt the brush of her nose on his chin, felt the rush of her breath on his neck, and the all over tremble of her beneath his fingers. 

 

And he heard the crash from the brush behind them, smelled the rot and the char and almost didn’t care, until the spike of danger penetrated the drunken haze and they sprang from the ground as the walkers tumbled out of the woods. And he was still drunk, drunk on moonshine and drunk on her, but he found her hand and she found his and again they ran, together, into the night. 

 

*~*

 

Daryl woke with a groan and a splitting headache, to a sun barely peeking over the horizon, the first orange rays casting an odd glow through the hayloft window of the abandoned barn. He brought his hand up to cover his eyes, the one not currently holding a quietly snoring Beth Greene tucked up tightly to his side. He didn’t want to move, despite the headache, the foulness in his mouth and the urgent need to piss away last night’s indulgence. 

 

Because he remembered all of it. Didn’t know what the hell he was gonna do about it or even what Beth might think when her belly wasn’t full of moonshine. But where it used to be getting wasted meant leaving the night behind in a fog of lost time and actions best left forgotten, last night was as clear to him now as if he hadn’t drank a drop. After the walkers disrupted the spell, the two of them had run until they found this barn, climbed up to the loft and passed out together in the musty hay. But he remembered everything that came before, and even more alarming than that, he still felt the fire crackling away deep inside. 

 

It should’ve scared the shit outta him. Should’ve but it didn’t, because he weren’t that Daryl anymore. Weren’t some redneck asshole drifter or the Daryl who felt nothin’ ‘cause feeling nothing was easier than feeling weak or feeling guilty. But the burning in his belly wasn’t weakness. It was strength. It was life and everything he never knew he ought to want and goddamn it, maybe he was still a little bit drunk, or else Beth Greene was the strongest drug he knew. 

 

He watched her while she slept, head pillowed in the indent where his shoulder and chest met. Her hair made a wild halo, backlit with the rising sun, arcing up around her like a flame touched with gold. Beth had always been beautiful, in as much as Daryl noticed things like that, but the way she looked now—he might be a moonshine poet, but he didn’t know the words for this, only knew how the sight of her there, sleeping and peaceful and tough, tougher than anyone even knew, herself included, made his heart beat a wild, foreign rhythm in his chest, stoked the flames inside until they overshadowed the burning shack, stole his breath clear out of his lungs and filled them full to bursting with longing more powerful than anything he’d ever felt in his life. 

 

And fuck, the only part of it that frightened him was the part where maybe he had it all wrong, and maybe what he felt last night and this morning and what he was so certain she felt, too, was only ever him all along. But then he remembered her voice as she breathed his name, how she reached for his hand and pulled him in, and the electric touch of her skin on his. He hadn’t imagined that, couldn’t imagine it because he weren’t wired that way. He learned the hard way no good ever came from makin’ shit up, even in your own head. 

 

The sun had come up fully by the time Beth stirred, rubbing her face into his shirt with a soft whimper, hand shifting from his stomach to his chest as she arched her back and stretched. The length of her lean body slid against his and he was suddenly grateful for the hangover, because without it he’d’ve already been in trouble; the low-grade ache in his groin, which he thought might’ve been there all along, was about all the reaction his body could manage.  Then she froze, face still half-buried in his shirt, and peeled one eye open, blinking against the bright light before settling her gaze on his face. 

 

“Oh!” Beth said, her voice croaking out like her throat was full of sand. Her fingers swept through the little puddle of drool she left behind. “Sorry, I—”

 

Beth started to pull away, looking anywhere but at his face, and the little prickle of panic rose up in his chest. He’d been wrong and she hadn’t felt the flames licking at their heels, burning through them while they fled like wild things through the night. He tried to speak, tried to tell her—but tell her what? His dumbass fucking head stuffed full of useless words his tongue couldn’t handle, but then, then, his fingers at her waist tightened just a little, beyond his control, without his permission, and she stopped, frozen there with her palm pressed over his heart. She had to feel it pounding, had to—

 

Beth’s eyes sought his again and held, and something shifted in the air, like for a second when their eyes met the Earth stopped spinning and every bird in every tree suddenly fell silent. The she smiled, pained, sleepy, half confused, half relieved, but damn if that didn’t throw the universe back into motion. It made him dizzy and it brought a smile to his face, too, or more of one than he was used to. And his head pounded and his gut roiled and his whole body ached, and he could see the same misery reflected in the red heaviness of her eyes. But it all faded to the background when she lay her head back down on his chest, right back to her puddle of drool, and the tension melted right out of her. 

 

“‘S okay.” He forced the words out past the sand dunes in his own throat, and Beth’s eyes fluttered shut.

 

She slid her thumb back and forth, slow passes over his collar bone, then breathed out a sigh into his chest.  “Mmm. Gotta pee.”

 

She made no further move to get up, instead wriggling back into the space she left vacant when she’d gotten up before. Problem was, her talking about that particular bodily function drew his attention to his too-full bladder. “Me too.”

 

Beth groaned a little and buried her face into his shirt. “You first.”

 

Neither of them moved for a long time, Daryl lulled to an almost-sleep by the motion of Beth’s thumb and her deep, steady breaths. But when the light got brighter, and the warmth of the day settled in around them—they were laying in full sun, now—Daryl knew they needed to move but it felt like the last thing he wanted to do.

 

But he eased his arm out from beneath her because if not he was gonna wet himself or die of dehydration, and she sat up with him, just as sweaty and sick as he was. “Gonna get water.”

 

Beth, one hand pressed to her forehead, gave a little nod and said, “I’ll help.”

 

They barely made it down the ladder before Daryl had to find a corner to piss in, and from the pink on Beth’s cheeks and the relieved look on her face, she’d done the same. Though the animals were long gone, a stack of metal milking pails sat in a corner of the barn, and the covered well in the pasture outside provided four bucketfuls of clean, cool water.  And it was a pain in the ass hauling them up to the loft, but even though they never said, they were gonna stay the day in relative safety and suffer the hangover without suffering anything worse.

 

So they sat in the shade in the hay, warm with the summer heat, drinking the cool water and avoiding the world for a while. And what came to life, the burn surging through Daryl’s veins, reflected back to him in little glimmers each time his eyes met Beth’s, when their shoulders touched, when her fingers brushed over his arm or the back of his hand for no other reason than she seemed to want them to. And though he didn’t think she was quite where he was, not yet—he pushed down the other voice in his head, the one who sounded like Merle, when it tried to whisper not ever—he couldn’t doubt her kindness, her friendship and empathy, her knowing where he’d been and sticking with him anyway, and he’d take it. He’d take anything she offered.

 

He didn’t know what it was, not really, and he didn’t know why—except he did, because it was Beth, Beth and her goodness and her words that got right up inside him, slicing like scalpels at the dead parts, cutting them out and leaving behind something new and delicate and so fucking poetic he could hardly stand to be in his own head. But he revelled in it, in the way it filled him up with lightness and stirred the heat in his veins each time she looked over at him and smiled.

 

Beth filled her little tin cup but didn’t drink, and nudged his shoulder with hers until he looked at her face. “I’ve never found a shack full of moonshine that I didn’t burn down.”

 

Daryl snorted, but lifted his cup and took a drink of the sweet, cool water. “I never met a Greene who ain’t a complete badass.”

 

Beth wrinkled her nose at him. “I’m not a badass. You drink.”

 

“You are.” Daryl nodded toward her cup, picturing her in front of the fire, middle finger raised like a great big fuck you to the past. “An’ if you don’t know that, you drink.”

 

But she left her cup where it was, an adorable pink flush colouring her pale cheeks and her smile shy, almost embarrassed.  And he felt the tips of his ears go hot, and knew he’d be pinking up, too, but he didn’t care because he’d said something right for the first goddamn time.

 

“Okay,” Beth said, giggling in a way that was more adorable than her pink cheeks or her little smile. “I’ve never tasted peach schnapps.”

 

“Playin’ dirty, Greene.” Daryl lifted the water cup to his lips and took a little sip. “I never wanted to taste peach schnapps.”

 

Beth narrowed her eyes and pretended to scowl at him before draining her cup. “I never had a headache as bad as this one.”

 

Daryl drained his own cup and said, at her amused look, “Done a lotta things, got a lotta headaches.”

 

The first time around, he’d wanted no part of this game, silly and meant for giggling teenage girls stealing their mama’s fruit wine and thinkin’ themselves grown up and rebellious. But it was different now, after, after the shack, after the tears, after confessions on the porch. After the fire, the fire still burning inside him. It was theirs, not just some silly waste of time, but something between the two of them now that meant so much more.

 

Daryl refilled his cup and waited until Beth did the same. “I never told anyone else who I was, before.”

 

Beth took her drink, but her eyes never left his, watching him over the rim of her cup. “I’ve never not kept a secret.”

 

Daryl didn’t drink, so Beth did, not once looking away from his face. “I’m not sorry I got out with you.”

 

“That—” Daryl’s voice hitched, and he swallowed it down, because he didn’t want to believe her but he knew she weren’t lying. He cleared his throat, still watching her, blue eyes shimmering, bottom lip caught up in her teeth. “That ain't how the game works.”

 

“I don’t care,” Beth said, breaking eye contact now to lean her head on his shoulder.

 

Daryl didn’t know what possessed him to shift so he could tuck his arm around her, but he didn’t question it when Beth curled up to his side like she had while they slept, only they were sittin’ up wide awake in a hayloft, drinking well water and hiding from reality for the day while their hangovers died a slow death.

 

He brushed the tip of his nose into her wild, golden hair, and maybe he imagined the way she took in a deep breath, or maybe not. But when he whispered his words into the tangled strands, and her fingers again drew slow patterns along his collarbone, he knew she believed him. Knew she understood the words for what they were.

 

“I ain’t sorry, either.”

 

*~*

 

That night Beth slept with her head pillowed on his chest and her arm thrown across his stomach, and when he wrapped his arm around her back all she did was snuggle closer. They’d secured the barn doors below and strung up alarms, pulled the ladder up into the loft and gave themselves an illusion of safety. Daryl could’ve slept, but he was so caught up in watching Beth sleep that his eyes wouldn’t shut, his brain wouldn’t stop thinking, writing poetry that should’ve made him wanna puke but instead just made his heart beat faster. He didn’t know how she’d thrown his world upside down and inside out in the span of one night, but he knew enough to understand how incredible that was, making him think about words like unlikely and miraculous and once-in-a-lifetime.

 

Toward dawn he drifted off for a short while, only to wake to the sunrise and the sight of Beth’s eyes open and watching him, instead. Without words, because he didn’t really need any and neither did she, they packed up and left the barn behind in the new morning light. He wasn’t sure where they were goin’, but for the first time since the prison fell, he felt like they were moving forward, heading for something instead of just tryin’ to survive.

 

And that, he knew, was entirely because of Beth Greene.

 

That night in the woods when they made their camp, Daryl took first watch and Beth didn’t hesitate to curl up beside him, laying her head on his lap and tucking in close. He let his hand settle on her shoulder and after a while he found himself running his thumb over the knotted muscles while Beth moaned and rolled her shoulders into his touch. And when he let his touch soften, to something like the way she’d brushed her fingers along his collarbone the night before, Beth drifted off to sleep right there beside him.

 

He was struck with the sudden thought that he would do everything in his power to keep her there.

 

*~*

 

“It’s no use. It’s too hard.” Beth’s arms shook from the effort of trying to draw the crossbow, which he’d already known was too much weight for her but let her try anyway.

 

He shrugged and took the bow from her, drawing back and not missing the way her eyes flickered toward his arms and the way the muscles flexed. “Don’t mean you can’t learn how to use it.”

 

“As long as you don’t mind reloading for me every time.” Beth took hold of the crossbow again, hefting it up like he’d shown her, almost perfect.

 

“Elbow out a little more,” he said, guiding her with his fingertips until she had it right. “Get good at this and maybe we’ll start looking for a bow of your own.”

 

That brought a smile to her face, albeit a distracted one, since she was sighting on the target he’d tied to the tree—a bit of rabbit hide he saved from supper a few nights back.  He stood behind her and sighted with her, hovering at her back while she breathed and waited to feel the shot, like he’d shown her.

 

She exhaled and loosed the arrow. It hit the target, imbedding in the bottom corner of the scrap of hide, which was her best shot yet. Beth lowered the bow and spun around to face him, trying not to look as excited as he could see she was, eyes wide but her lip caught in her teeth like she had a hope in hell of preventing the grin blooming there.

 

He grunted and pretended to be unimpressed, but Beth saw through it as easily as he saw through her, and she set down the bow and launched herself at him. Startled, he caught her around the waist as she hugged him close and laughed in his ear, and he relented and told her she’d done good.

 

The next day, she missed a rabbit by only a hair—and laughed after that she’d missed it by a hare, get it?  But two days later she got one, a good, clean shot, and afterward she’d skinned and gutted it like a pro—Otis hunted, Daryl, but who do you think did the cooking?  And she sat there while he got it spitted and hung up over the fire, because that was only fair since she’d done the rest, blood on her hands and a smear of it on her cheek, lookin’ so damn pleased with herself he coulda kissed her right then and there.

 

The idea both surprised him, and didn’t. Because even if he didn’t know much about this sorta thing, whatever this was brewing inside him, the heat in his belly that came from looking at her, or hearing her voice, or saying her name, of course it was leading to this. To taking every chance presented to him to touch her shoulder, her waist, the back of her hand. To rub her aching shoulders or stroke her hair while she slept with her head in his lap. Only natural—he guessed, because he’d never felt like this before—for that urge to go deeper.

 

He didn’t kiss her, but he wanted to. And that night when he took first watch, and she curled up like she always did these days with her head on his lap, knee drawn up so her leg draped over his, he wondered, not for the first time, if the glint he saw in her eyes, increasingly more often as the days and weeks wore on, meant she was fightin’ the same battle inside. If she was, he wondered when she was gonna loose the fight, ‘cause he was damn close to that already, but it wouldn’t do him a lick of good if she wasn’t there with him.

 

*~*

 

The next few weeks were some of the hottest he’d ever experienced, the height of the Georgian summer punishing them with cloudless skies and endless, stifling heat. Beth declared that the two of them looked like a couple of filthy drowned dogs, dripping with sweat from the horrible humidity, grimy from travelling and walkers and the rabbits they’d skinned last night for supper. So when they came across the river and the waterfall with the wide, deep pool below it, Daryl didn’t even attempt to dissuade Beth’s enthusiasm.

 

“Let’s go swimming!”

 

Despite the heat, her smile bloomed bright and energetic, and Daryl dropped the bag off his shoulders without hesitation. Only when Beth started peeling off her clothes did he freeze, sure his eyes musta been bulging right outta his head at the reveal of her back as she pulled off the dirty yellow shirt, at the long line of her legs as she struggled out of her jeans. And fuck, the way she looked over her shoulder, standin’ there in just a dingy old bra and panties, cheeks pink like she were bein’ bashful, but with a challenge burning in her blue eyes that dispelled the notion of bashfulness completely. He stood there gaping at her like a catfish but she only laughed, not the sort of laughter where she was laughin’ at him, but the kind that wriggled right down inside him like a shot of moonshine, stirring the coals until he burned with a heat that had nothing to do with the sun.

 

Beth jumped into the pool below and called up to him to join her, and he was out of his clothes faster than he would’ve thought possible, leaping into the water in just his shorts without caring at all. The shock of the cold water almost took away his hard-on, but the moment Beth swam up beside him to moan out how good the water felt, he didn’t notice the cold anymore and neither did the rest of him.

 

She swam in circles around him, floating on her back with her breasts peaking out of the water, distracting him with her hard nipples poking through the fabric and with flashes of her bellybutton. She dove beneath the water, the curve of her ass and the pink of her skin through the wet, once-white panties the last thing he saw before she disappeared. Or she floated up in front of him, water droplets clinging to her eyelashes and her nose and her smiling lips, and he tread water and watched her teasing him and let her laughter keep him afloat.

 

They used the fine sand at the edge of the pool to scour away the grime and sweat from their skin and their hair, then Beth climbed up the rocks to get their things from the ledge above and brought them down below where they’d be more secure. Daryl couldn’t leave the water just yet, not with the way his body reacted to the sight of her wearing nearly nothing, and stood there in the deep with just his head above the water, waiting for her to dress.  Except she dropped her clothes in a heap by the water and walked back toward him, stepping in at the shallow side of the pool, looking pink and clean and lovely in the glaring afternoon sun.

 

This time, she floated right up and draped her arms over his shoulders, and he couldn’t help but respond by gripping her waist beneath the water. He tried to hold her away from his body, but she was having none of that, and pulled herself in until she had to feel him there, hard for her and her alone. And though she bit her lip as she looked him in the eye, she weren’t surprised and she weren’t scared, and when he moved to kiss away the water drops from her eyelashes she giggled softly and let him do it.

 

“I’ve never kissed anyone in the water,” she whispered, when their foreheads met and all he could see of her was the blur of her face and flashes of cornflower blue.

 

Daryl dipped his tongue into the water, drawing a few drops into his mouth while Beth breathed out a shuddery breath. And he caught the end of it with his lips, touching down softly on hers, sighing into her mouth at the absolute heat of her. She caught his bottom lip in her teeth, nipping softly, playfully, drawing out a moan from him that made her shiver all over. And he slid his tongue along the line of hers, no invitation necessary to deepen the kiss, because she was already right there with him, breathing his breath and wrapping her legs around his hips until the heat of her engulfed him, just two thin layers between them that felt like too much and not enough at the same time.

 

But his tongue was in her mouth, and hers stroked along his, and when she rolled her hips against him, he decided on too much and groaned into her mouth as the sensation washed over him. She was gonna burn him right up, she was, and he was gonna enjoy every last minute of it.

 

*~*

 

They hadn’t seen a walker all day, and took the chance on scrubbing their clothes in the water and letting them dry in the evening heat by hanging them from the lower branches of the birch trees at the water’s edge, while they sat in their underwear and caught fish for their supper. And though they hadn’t talked about what happened, about the unknowable amount of time they’d spent kissing in the water before the moment came where they had to decide whether to cross that line, or let it lie, the little looks passing between them now, heated yet tender, left no question in his mind that Beth Greene felt the same burn in her soul as he felt in his.  He’d wanted to, wanted to bury himself deep inside her, into the heat of her he could feel blazing into him despite the cold water and layers of cloth, but the flash of uncertainty in her eyes was all he’d needed to stop. 

 

It wasn’t because she didn’t want him back. He knew she did, she just wasn’t ready. But she wasn’t frightened, either. Not of him and not of this, whatever this was that went so far beyond physical he couldn’t even tell where it started, he only knew it didn’t end. She pressed her back to his chest, leaning into him as they sat together in front of the little fire, eating fish, talking some, making a game of seeing which of them could make the other one shiver harder by brushing fingertips over warm, naked skin.

 

He didn’t know intimacy, never knew a touch like Beth’s, and it should’ve scared him but he’d come to learn that nothing about Beth Greene frightened him, except maybe how fully and irrevocably he’d fallen for her since the night of the fire. Since the night she’d burned away his demons and made a reluctant poet out of what was left behind.

 

When the sun set and their clothes were dry, they put on their layers again only because they’d already tempted fate too long. But tonight instead of curling up at his side, like she usually did, Beth settled right in against his chest, her legs drawn up together with her body between his knees. She propped her arms up on her knees and he trailed his fingers over her skin, back and forth from fingertip to elbows, long after she erupted all over in goose bumps. 

 

For a long time they sat still, listening to the sounds of night, the fall of the water and the leap of fish, the noises of insects and the faint rustle of the leaves in the breeze that finally came once night fell. Then Beth started singing, a song he didn’t know, but it poured out of her and swirled up around him and it didn’t matter what it was, because when Beth sang it was beautiful.

 

And though they hadn’t spoken a word aloud in hours, these ones came to him and he couldn’t stop. “I never heard a nicer sound than when you start singin’.”

 

Beth laughed softly, a sound he arguably enjoyed better but he wasn’t gonna say so. She reached back to bury her fingers in his hair, scratching her fingernails along his scalp as she did and drawing out a sound from him he didn’t even recognize, and giggled again before saying, “Drink, Dixon.”

 

He had no water, no moonshine, so he buried his nose in her hair and drank her in instead. And it was Beth’s turn to moan, then, and Daryl decided it didn’t matter what sound she made, he adored them all.

 

*~*

 

Daryl didn’t know the rules to this, but after a day or two he decided that rules didn’t matter. Beth didn’t need ‘em, neither did he. After the river the touches between them became freer, and he felt like he could be greedy, could stroke her arm without any purpose besides havin’ the desire to, since Beth not only welcomed his touches but did what she could to elicit them. They had yet to kiss again, hadn’t got to where it was something they did, like Glenn and Maggie all casual and, well, perfunctory, if the word meant what he thought it did. So he was glad of that, because while he longed to feel her lips on his again, to have her wrap around him like she had, the anticipation felt almost as heady as the moment itself and he was looking forward to when it billowed over.

 

He tasted gunpowder and knew they were gonna explode.

 

Their walker-free streak ended with a ravenous herd that snuck upon them early in the morning. Beth was on watch and he was asleep beside her with his head in her lap when she shook him awake violently. They’d barely had time to grab their shit before they were running through the woods, tryin’ to escape before the loose circle of the dead could close them in.

 

In the end they had to stop and fight, standing back to back because walkers lumbered in from all sides, both of them using knives because the fight was too close for his bow. He didn’t know how many he’d taken down before the one got hold of him, and for one horrible second he knew this was it, he was gonna get bit and that was the end of him, but Beth got a handful of its hair and hauled it off him before the teeth could bite down and thrust her knife right on through to its rotten brain. And they might’ve been standing in a forest full of stinking dead bodies, but right then the only thing in the world was her, Beth, covered in gore and sweat, his moonshine goddess savin’ his life once again.

 

She was in his arms before he could blink, and all he knew was the heat of her breath, the slide of her lips and the clacking of teeth on teeth, the scrape of teeth on lips and the tipping of the world as he fell on his back and took her down with him. Then it was needy groans when his hands found her breasts, rolling hips over rigid flesh when he pinched her nipples in his fingers, her hands in his hair as they burned together on the forest floor.

 

*~*

 

That time, they’d talked about it.  Beth had grinned and blushed, even darker than the flush that still coloured her cheeks, and said, “If you’re gonna kiss me like that every time we’re gonna have to set up alarms.”

 

And the statement was both thrilling and sobering, because she was right—they’d fallen to the ground amongst the corpses without even caring to check what else might’ve been lurking in the woods, and that alone was enough to make him wonder at the wisdom of going forward with this.

 

But then he’d taken another look at her, kiss-swollen lips, a flush of red that coloured her from forehead to chest, and he knew that not going forward wasn’t an option. They would just have to be a little more careful, from now on.

 

*~*

 

After the walker attack, they’d walked all day and straight on through the night, their path guided by the moon which hung full and bright in the cloudless sky, stopping for a short rest at daybreak before they kept walking through the heat of the next day.

 

“I never…” Beth drew out the last syllable of the word as she tipped her eyes up toward the sky, thinking. “I never rode on a train.”

 

Daryl took a sip from his water bottle. “Jumped one, once, when I was fourteen.”

 

It was his turn now, but he was more than a little distracted by Beth and the way she almost skipped when she walked, the way her jeans hugged her just so, the way her hand fit into his like it belonged there—which it did, and he’d think it were all too damn cute to be his cuppa tea, except he’d be lying if he tried.

 

‘Cause he suddenly got it, just now, when she wrinkled her nose up and said, “God, we stink. Think we could find a place to swim?”

 

It sounded innocent, the question spoken in her sweet little voice, the voice that could sing like an angel—but also moan like the devil, and it was the latter he saw peeking out through her eyes when she glanced sidelong at him and asked about swimming.

 

And amidst the physical reaction—because that was easy and frequent and impossible to hide these days—was the other sort, the swelling of heat inside that happened no matter what his body was doing, whether she was awake or asleep, whether she was by his side or across the a clearing setting up camp. It was the part he’d been struggling to figure out since this whole mess started, and once the answer fell into his brain he coulda laughed, if he hadn’t been such a blind fool.

 

Daryl Dixon was completely, unequivocally, madly in love with Beth Greene.

 

He must’ve been making a face, because Beth cocked her head to one side with her question-face on, and asked, “What is it?”

 

But it wasn’t time, not yet. Besides—he was certain she could feel it, because the other half of his revelation was that he could feel it from her, too. So he just shook his head and smiled at her, the expression coming so naturally these days it didn’t even feel foreign any more.

 

“Ain’t nothin’,” he said, bumping her with his hip. “Let’s find us a swimmin’ hole.”

 

*~*

 

Daryl wasn’t surprised when Beth didn’t stop with her shirt and jeans, and instead reached around her back to unclasp her worn old bra, dropping it on the pile before bending, stepping out of her panties and leaving them there on the shore as she strode naked into the water. He watched her, as he was meant to do, given the exaggerated sway of her hips that drew his eyes to the soft curves of her ass before they disappeared into the water. She turned, then, breasts in full view, perky and perfect and already familiar to his hands, if not his eyes. And she said nothing, just issued the challenge with her eyes and he knew he wasn’t gonna back down, even with her watchin’ his every move.

 

Because the thing of it was, he didn’t have anything to hide. Oh, she maybe hadn’t seen what was beneath his shorts, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to her and he wasn’t ashamed, anyway. His most private parts she already knew—his crappy childhood, the scars of his father’s hands upon his back, his hopeless heart and bottomless guilt—and as far as  he was concerned, he’d stripped naked in front of her long before he stepped out of his shorts and joined her in the water.

 

Still, there was no denying the way her eyes widened at the sight of him, cock standing full and hard out in front of him as he walked toward her. But Beth Greene wasn’t afraid, if she had been they’d never have got here, and her arms wound around his shoulders and her legs around his hips without hesitation.

 

“I’ve never had sex,” Beth whispered, even as he felt the slick wetness of her beneath the water.

 

And maybe Daryl had, but never like this, never with someone like Beth, and he was pretty certain she understood that, so he said, “I never wanted anyone as much as I want you.”

 

Beth let her head fall forward until their foreheads met and their breath mingled in the middle. Daryl shifted her a little, just enough so he could glide the head of his cock along her slit by tilting his hips, teasing a little moan from her lips, bringing on a shudder that started in her toes and rolled up through her shoulders and out in a shaking breath.

 

And when the shudder stopped, Beth sucked in another breath and started moving, too, sliding more of her along more of him. “Me either.”

 

He wasn’t going to do this in the water, not her first time, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t do anything. The way Beth moaned and the heaviness of her breathing whenever his cock passed over her clit told him there was plenty they could do here and now.

 

“It never—oh—never felt this good when I did it my—myself.”

 

Beth’s voice was equal parts husky and equal parts breath, and if that alone wasn’t enough to make him wanna come already like a fucking teenager, the thought of her touching herself could’ve almost done it.

 

But he had a tad more self control than that, and trusting her to hold herself up, he took his cock in hand so he could concentrate on her clit, circling his head over the swollen nub and moaning right along with her.

 

Her whole body trembled now, and even under water she was soaking wet and just so warm. “Oooh, Daryl…”

 

It didn’t take long before Beth’s fingers dug into his shoulders and her body drew tight like a bow string, and when she let go, she didn’t scream, like he knew she wouldn’t—no, she let out a series of long, gasping sighs while she shuddered around him, and it was a fuckin’ miracle that he hadn’t gone over with her, she felt so good falling apart like that.

 

When she relaxed, boneless in his arms, Daryl carried her out of the water and back to the shore, settling her sideways on his lap, not caring that he hadn’t come because he didn’t matter, it was always only Beth. She recovered quickly, though, and looked up at him with her eyes narrowed and wrapped her fingers around his cock and squeezed.

 

“I never made someone come before,” she said, moving her hand slowly, sliding his foreskin up and down like she’d done this a million times, despite her declaration.

 

And Daryl couldn’t stop the groan she caused, stroking him like that. “Better get my drink before you make yourself a liar. Fuck, Beth…”

 

She giggled, she fucking giggled, drawing her hand up and over his head and back down, stroking him like a pro even though he knew otherwise, turning so she straddled his lap, one hand braced on his shoulders, forehead touching his, her thighs a cradle he wanted desperately to fall into. And she maybe couldn’t draw his bow, but what she was very good at was drawing moans outta him unlike anything he ever thought he’d make, and it felt so fucking good that he came with a groan loud enough to wake the dead, spilling all over himself and her and the dirt beneath them.

 

When he could see again, he watched Beth playing connect the dots with the semen on her belly, and wondered at a universe that would bring someone like him together with someone like her.

 

*~*

 

The next couple of days were spent travelling and avoiding an increasingly alarming number of walkers. Daryl began to wonder whether they shouldn’t rethink their trajectory, since the moment they started north again the walkers just kept coming.  He’d been pondering this when they found the train tracks, lost in his thoughts so he hadn’t seen it time.

 

Beth gave a little sob, turning and falling into his arms before he knew what happened. And they sunk to the ground in the centre of the tracks, Beth crying so hard she could barely get a word out when he asked her what was wrong.

 

But then she said, “Maggie,” and he finally saw the words, scrawled in walker blood—a message for Glenn, but not a message for Beth.

 

I know you look at me and see another dead girl.

 

Beth hadn’t given up on her sister. She hadn’t given up on any of them. But they’d given up on her—just another dead girl. But they were wrong, all of them. So wrong. Because there wasn’t anyone more alive in this entire world than Beth fucking Greene, and to hell with anyone who thought otherwise.

 

*~*

 

They decided to follow the tracks, in the end, unsure about this Terminus place, but despite the heartache accompanying it, they just couldn’t leave behind their first real sign of their family’s survival.  Beth didn’t say much over the next couple of days. Daryl could tell she was thinking, mulling stuff over in her head, and he gave her the space even though she stuck close to his side.

 

When she did talk, a couple of nights later, they were holed up in an old boxcar, the side doors closed to the walkers but the roof open to the sky.  She tipped her head onto his shoulder, burrowing in when he slipped his arm around her.

 

“I’m gonna prove her wrong,” Beth said. “And then I’m gonna forgive her.”

 

He might’ve said she was being too generous. Might’ve said Maggie didn’t deserve Beth’s forgiveness. But he’d had the same time to think it through as she did, and he’d known even before she spoke that this is what she would do. Maggie was her sister, and a damn sight better sibling to Beth than Merle’d ever been to him. And he’d taken Merle back, time and time again despite everything. Difference was, he was pretty sure Maggie would have the good sense to feel ashamed, to feel guilty, for giving up on Beth and he supposed that made her worth some of Beth’s heartache in the first place.

 

“She’s already wrong,” Daryl said, after a moment, dropping a kiss into her hair. “She just don’t know it yet.”

 

*~*

 

The bounce was back in Beth’s step after that, once she’d settled things in her heart enough to carry on.  The bounce, and the mischief, as he discovered when they were trying to hunt the next day, when she kept forgetting how to hold the bow and he kept having to correct her. Only when she wiggled her ass against his crotch did he catch on to her plan, and at that point he basically forgot about hunting.

 

He slid his fingers over her belly, beneath her shirt, and she shivered with the touch. Beth reached back, slid her fingers up his neck and into his hair, the motion baring her neck to him on the opposite side. He fastened his lips over the pulse point beating there, tasted the salt and spice of her skin in wet little kisses trailing up to her ear. She moaned and arched her back, pressing her ass into his erection when he took the lobe into his mouth and swirled his tongue along its contours.

 

She ground back against him again and moaned his name, before turning in his arms and slamming her mouth against his, her kiss hungry, demanding, and she went willingly when he walked her toward a tree. When her back hit the trunk she let out a little oof into his mouth, but instead of breaking the kiss she just bit his lip and hauled him back in.

 

Oh, this girl was fire, and he was rock hard already even before he lifted her up so she could wrap her legs around his waist, before he felt the heat of her through her jeans as he pressed his erection into her. And she breathed his name into his mouth and slid her hands into his hair, raking his scalp with her fingers in that way that always made him groan.

 

He broke away to breathe, pressing his forehead to hers. “I never been inside you,” he said, pressing her hard into the tree.

 

“No,” she whispered, raking his scalp again. She glided the point of her tongue along his bottom lip, breath pouring out of her in deep gusts like warm wind. “But you’re gonna be, Daryl Dixon.”

 

“You some kinda prophet, now?” he teased, mimicking the stroke of her tongue with his on her lip.

 

“Yes,” she said, shifting her head, smiling against his lips. “And it’s gonna feel so fucking good.”

 

Her use of that word sent a jolt of desire through him, ridiculous because he was so fired up already. But he wasn’t gonna fuck her up against a tree—at least, not the first time—so he set her down on her feet and pressed in close, dropping kisses all over her face like some sort of love-struck fool.

 

“Let’s find somewhere to go,” he said, feeling her shiver in his arms. “‘Cause I never fought off a walker while having sex, and I ain’t about to try.”

 

*~*

 

They found the little cabin not long after, and it was either their biggest stroke of luck or else it meant they were completely fucked and not in a good way, but the look in Beth’s eyes when she spotted it told him it really didn’t matter which. Nobody was in it, living or dead, and hadn’t been for some time considering the dust that billowed up when he shoved the door open. But it had a lock, had walls and a roof, and it had a bed, and Daryl wasn’t gonna waste time wondering at the workings of the universe.

 

The fire had cooled in the time between kissing at the tree and finding the cabin, but it hadn’t gone out. And it coulda been awkward, starting something now when it wasn’t in the heat of the moment, but it didn’t happen that way at all. Beth just sat down on the bed and he joined her there, and between soft, wet kisses they got each other out of their clothes until both of them were naked.

 

Beth lay back on the bed and Daryl followed, sliding his fingers from her waist to her hip, through the wetness on her inner thigh. She gasped softly when he parted her, rough fingers gentle on her sensitive flesh. And he wasn’t practiced at this, didn’t know what he was doing but Beth made it easy, Beth and her slick heat, so wet she coated his fingers. She moaned and sighed and he followed her sounds like a beacon to learn what she liked, until she was panting quick and tensing up, teetering on the cusp, and all it took to send her over the edge was him sliding a finger inside her. Her muscles fluttered around him, clenching his finger so tightly while she breathed out those long, gaspy sighs.

 

When she came down, he made gentle, almost feather-light passes with his thumb over her clit and withdrew his finger slowly before pushing it back in. 

 

“Oh-oh-oh,” she breathed, reaching out to grab his arm, fingers digging in. “Oh, Daryl…”

 

The way she groaned his name shoulda been illegal, and he had to grind his cock into the bed just to relieve some of the pressure. She kept groaning as he teased her with his finger and thumb, kept saying his name like she wanted to devour him up and he wanted her to try it, too. Then her second orgasm rolled through her before he knew it, like a tropical storm that knocked the world on its side, never quite the same again.

 

When her body relaxed, Beth pushed his hand away and pulled him down to her, pressing his cheek to her breast, fingers stroking along the scars on his back.

 

“I never felt so loved,” she whispered, and her words settled over him like a blanket, like some place he never wanted to leave.

 

And he couldn’t help the hitch in his breath or the prick of tears in his eyes, but he didn’t care, because this was Beth, and every part of him, the good and the bad, was hers to know, to feel, to bear witness to at the end of the world. “Me neither.”

 

Then Beth crawled out from beneath him, pressed on his shoulders so he turned on his back and she slid one leg over his until she hovered above him, hair glowing like that fiery halo in the light of the old oil lamp. His angel, his goddess, his wild warrior woman. She reached between them to grip his cock, stroking it although he was still so hard she didn’t need to, then she drew his head through the slickness of her labia until he arched up beneath her. She took him in, sliding down his length slowly, but with confidence she shouldn’t have had—yet it didn’t surprise him one bit.

 

Her eyes fluttered shut and her mouth fell open when he thrust up into her, filling the last little bit of her full of him. But then she opened them again to look down at his face, and what he saw shining back at him through her glistening eyes was the purest, most beautiful thing he’d ever witnessed.  He gripped her hips as she started to move, helping guide her into a rolling rhythm above while he met her from below.  And they weren’t perfect, weren’t always in sync, but she was liquid fire around him and every time he bottomed out she cried a soft little noise that sounded like music and maybe, maybe it was.

 

He felt it building, the tension in his belly, and he knew better but that wasn’t gonna change things. Not this time and maybe not ever, and he wasn’t thinking straight, not really, because he was gonna come and she was gonna go with him, so he reached between them where their bodies joined, circled her clit with his fingers until her body drew taut. When she came around him he was hopeless to stop, and he thrust up once more into her quivering body, coming inside her and shouting her name until his voice broke and he couldn’t make another sound, and Beth collapsed on him, sweaty and spent and beautiful.

 

*~*

 

They were kinda like idiots over the next few weeks, the sort of clingy lovebirds he’d’a laughed at once upon a time, except he got it now. But Daryl didn’t think they really understood what it was like to find your other half, those morons back when the dead didn’t walk, when the most trouble they were gonna have was over not gettin’ extra sauce on their burger. 

 

So he figured they kinda had the right to be obnoxious, especially since nobody else was around to be bothered by it. And truth be told, he liked the feel of her fingers in his, liked the way she giggled and how she made him grin like a fuckin’ lunatic. Really, he just fucking loved her and he let that out in whatever way it wanted to shine. 

 

They couldn’t always risk it, making love like that first night—and they’d called it sex, but they both knew better—but that didn’t stop them from revisiting the tree idea, or whatever they could manage to accomplish with whatever time they had. And they tried to be careful, they did, but even Beth had to admit it wasn’t that easy.

 

Often, though, they just sat together through the evening, between eating supper—if they caught something that night—and when Beth would lay down to sleep, talking most nights, playing their game of ‘I never’ and sometimes—lotsa times—kissing each other breathless. Then Beth would sleep, laying her head on Daryl’s lap or sometimes cuddled up in front of him. Daryl always took first watch, not for any reason other than they’d sorta always done it that way. 

 

"I never heard you laugh, before that night at the shack," said Beth. 

 

It didn’t really matter anymore whether anyone drank anything or not. ‘I never’ had become a way to tell each other things they might not have had the balls to say otherwise, though that was more his problem than Beth’s. 

 

"I never knew how."

 

Beth didn’t take another turn once he answered, instead just tucked her head beneath his chin and snuggled into his side. He tightened his arms around her and looked up to the sky, to the stars shining down on them and thanked whoever up there might be responsible for bringing Beth Greene into his life. Because lord knows he didn’t deserve her, but he wasn’t gonna let that get in the way. 

 

*~*

 

They’d been following the railroad tracks for a while when the weather started changing. The leaves had been turning brown for weeks now, but it had still been hot as hell out until today. There had been cloudy days of course, over the months they’d been travelling, but today’s overcast sky came with a chill. 

 

So they’d diverted from the tracks into a little town, taking on the risk of walkers in order to find some warmer clothes. When Beth found the sporting goods store, looted yes but still with a ton of crap inside, her eyes practically begged him to look. 

 

He really should’ve questioned things when they found the bow. The fucking deluxe ladies model that was more than good enough for Beth to use, and even better than that was she could draw it herself. The place had no guns and no bullets, but a full stock of arrows and arrow tips and they loaded as many as they could into their bag. Amongst the former merchandise littering rest of the store, which had been picked over but not fully, they managed to find a couple of long sleeve shirts each plus a fleece-lined hoodie that fit Beth. 

 

She didn’t say, but they both knew the smaller stuff got left behind because the smaller people didn’t always make it. 

 

“Good thing you’re tough,” he told her, tapping her nose with his finger and making her giggle. 

 

He should’ve known, when Beth drew the bow with ease and bullseyed the target he’d drawn outside on the post, that their luck was gonna run out. 

 

But he didn’t know it until later, until they’d decided to chance searching the gas station for some canned goods instead of getting out of there like they should have. Didn’t know it until the group of men charged down the street at them, an angry horde demanding their arrows back because they were claimed, whatever the fuck that meant. And by then it was too late, he had an arrow pointed at his face and one of the fuckers had Beth’s arms pinned behind her back, talkin’ shit about claiming her.

 

And Daryl should’ve known, but he didn’t, not fully, just how strong a woman Beth Greene really was. 

 

*~*

 

“I’m nobody’s claim!”

 

Beth’s words pierced through the shouting of the men, but they didn’t stop to listen, they merely stopped to laugh, and that was their mistake. 

 

Before he could blink, Beth headbutted the man holding her, and when he cried out and let go, she whirled on him and buried her knife in his belly. And the archer on him wavered for a second, a split second but long enough for Daryl to loose his bolt and shoot the guy through the head at close range. Before he fell, Daryl shoved both dead man and crossbow into the others behind him, knocking them off balance so he could draw his knife. 

 

And then they were on him, and he lost sight of Beth in the melee, but he couldn’t stop to look for her now because it was five to one and he didn’t like the odds but he wasn’t about to go down without a fight. He took one out with his knife, which he lost when the man went down, and he took a blow to the kidney and was struggling to stay up. If he went down they had him and then—then Beth.

 

He heard the thunk of an arrow. Then another. And a third, and suddenly it was just him and this other guy, a silver-haired asshole lookin’ like some sorta cowboy biker. And even though his buddies were all dead at his feet, Beth’s arrows in their heads, the asshole had the balls to smirk at him like he was still gonna win.

 

And that’s when he drew a gun.

 

“She’s out of ammo, and you’re down to just your fists,” drawled the man, looking Beth up and down over Daryl’s shoulder. “Can’t say the odds are on your side right now, though points to you for your well-trained bitch.”

 

Daryl clenched his fists until his rough nails dug into his palms, but he was stuck, again, because there was nothing he could do that didn’t end with him dead and Beth left on her own with this asshole and his damned intentions.

 

“So here’s how I see this going down.” The man was cocky, confident, his grip loose on the gun like he knew it didn’t matter. “You’re going to get on your knees, and you’re going to beg. But ah, no, not for your life. You’re gonna die no matter what, you understand that, don’t you? Good. No, you see, you’re gonna beg me for hers.”

 

“No. He won’t.”

 

Daryl didn’t understand, at first, what happened. After Beth spoke, the douchebag wannabe cowboy dropped to his knees, the gun clattering to the pavement. And he made some strange wheezy, gurgling noise before he fell over sideways. It was then that he saw Beth’s knife sticking out of his throat, the fucking thing still quivering from its flight through the air.

 

He whirled around and she was there in an instant, up and in his arms, and they dropped to the pavement together in the middle of the carnage. But they couldn’t stay here—if there weren’t walkers now where would be soon. Beth scrubbed her hand across her teary eyes and nodded, and as quick as they could they retrieved their bows, knives, and arrows, the dropped gun, and got the hell out of there like they should’ve done in the first place.

 

 

*~*

 

Beth didn’t cry, not after that moment when it ended and they made it out alive when they both should’ve been dead. But she also wasn’t hiding how much the incident upset her. Even knowing they were bad men, she’d had to kill most of them and it rattled her. Because she was Beth, and she was good, and that was something about her he couldn’t, wouldn’t, ask her to change.

 

“But it was you or it was them,” she whispered, huddling for warmth beside him in the little grove of trees. “And I wasn’t going to let you die, Daryl.”

 

Daryl dropped a kiss to her forehead and pulled her in close, until she curled up on his lap with her head on his chest. “Sorry you had to. But, Beth, you were fuckin’ amazing back there. You know that, right?”

 

She sighed, the sleepy sigh she always made except this time it was laced with something else he couldn’t quite read. “It’s because of you. It’s all you.”

 

“No.” He shook his head and tightened his arms around her. “You can look after yourself, remember?”

 

That made her giggle, even though it was a weak one, and her lips tugged up in a little smile. “You taught me how.”

 

“An’ you wanted to learn.”

 

She was quiet after that, for a little while. Long enough he thought she might have fallen asleep. But then she spoke, her voice soft and tremulous. “I never knew I could love you this much.”

 

Daryl smiled into her hair, felt his goddamn eyes start to water like the lovesick idiot he was. And he whispered, “I never believed in love, ‘til I burnt down a moonshine shack with you.”

 

*~*

 

What he loved best about making love to Beth, besides making love to Beth, were the noises she made. She weren’t a screamer—her loudest sounds barely competed with her laughter for volume—but she made lots of them. Soft sighs and drawn-out ones, breathless gasps and those almost musical cries when he buried his cock deep inside her. This sound, though, this guttural groan she dragged up from somewhere in her belly, this was his current favourite.

 

He’d never done this before, but going by the soundtrack—there it was again, that new groan that made him want to come into the floorboards—he wasn’t doing a bad job of it. Beth’s heels dug into his shoulders and her fingers clutched fleetingly at his hair, sometimes pulling, sometimes digging in and tangling ‘til he thought she might scalp him, but it’d be worth it for the taste of her alone. He would walk around for the rest of his life with a big bald head if it meant getting to hear her groan like that.

 

He thrust three fingers inside her, curled the way she liked best, while he teased her clit with the point of his tongue. Her thighs clamped around his head like a vice, and she pulled at his hair again, groaning that way while her stomach muscles clenched beneath his palm. 

Fuck, Daryl! Oooh, oooh I’m gonna—”

 

Beth came with a series of those groans, each one drawn out longer and longer until the last one ended in a breath of air, and he worked her through it with fingers and tongue until she relaxed her legs and the pull in his hair became a gentle tug. He crawled up until he was lookin’ down at her, and she smiled back up at him in that sleepy/satisfied way she had that pleased a part of him he didn’t even know he possessed.

 

She reached up and trailed her fingers down his chest, heading toward his belly where she knew damn well he was ticklish even if he tried his best not to admit it. “I thought you said you never did that before?”

 

“Can’t help it if you fall apart whenever I touch you, can I?” And he was teasing, but only sort of, because it weren’t a lie. He couldn’t believe how responsive she was, how she seemed to ache for his touch and how wet she was before he ever got there, but he weren’t gonna question it. He loved her for it, for trusting him enough to let go like that when they were together.

 

Judging by the extra flush of pink colouring her cheeks, she knew it too. But she was Beth. Beth who loved sex and wasn’t afraid to admit it, and she dragged her heels down the backs of his thighs, dug them in behind his knees and pulled.

 

They both groaned when he slid inside, when he filled her up until she surrounded him completely, buried in the heat of her, the desire of her. And he looked down at her and she looked up at him, that little smile still shining there that was all for him, the smile that did funny things to his insides.

 

“C’mere,” Beth whispered, her hands gliding over his shoulders to pull him down to her.

 

He tucked his face into the crook of her neck and Beth did the same, and wrapped her legs around him while they rocked slowly together on the floor of this little shed in the middle of nowhere. Her breath flitted over his skin, cooling the sweat and making him shiver while she shivered beneath him in the same way. He barely withdrew before sinking in again, but she tightened her muscles around him, squeezing him tighter each time he pushed back in, moaning into his neck and scraping his flesh with her teeth when he pressed in hard right at the end.

 

It wasn’t long before Beth was coming around him, and he was helpless to stop his own orgasm once he felt hers began, rolling through her body and into his where they were joined. She arched her back and he plunged into her, his groans drowning out hers as he spilled inside her. As hard as it was, tryin’ to pull out when he felt the end coming on, the truth of it was, as stupid and dangerous as it was, he never wanted to come anywhere but inside Beth, and Beth never made a move to stop him.

 

*~*

 

“I don’t even think it could happen,” Beth said, as she walked along the rusted rail, arms out beside her for balance.

 

The comment came out of nowhere, yet he had no trouble at all following along and jumping right in. “You haven’t… had that… since the prison, right?”

 

Livin’ on top of one another like this, even before the night of the fire, he couldn’t help but be aware of stuff like that. Made it easier to take the lack of evidence now when he knew she hadn’t bled at all in months.

 

Beth made a motion as though to shrug her shoulders, but it threw her off balance and she had to swing her arms around to recover. “I learned about this, in biology class,” she said, once she started walking again. “Women in survival mode, lack of body fat, bad diet. Even happens to like, extreme athletes. Kinda our reality right now.”

 

“Still,” he said, clearing his throat a little.

 

“Still.”

 

She was quiet for a bit, and he knew that meant she was thinking about what she wanted to say next.

 

“I don’t want it to happen,” she said, finally, hopping down from the rail to walk beside him on the ties. She looked up at him, eyes wide, worrying her bottom lip a little with her teeth. “Having—” Her cheeks coloured pink, and she cleared her throat as though forcing herself to continue. “Having a baby, when things are like this… It’s terrifying, and, like, what kinda life is this for a child?”

 

She was thinking about Lori, about Judith, and he knew it because he was thinkin’ about them, too. The list of what could go wrong, that made something once normal, mundane, into the riskiest situation they could encounter, was longer than he cared to consider. But—

 

“But if it wasn’t like this,” Beth said, voice dropping almost to a whisper, “if things were different and, it happened, Daryl—if it happened, I think I’d be okay with that.”

 

Her eyes were shiny when she looked back up at him, a bit of uncertainty there as though she thought this might be the thing that finally drove a wedge between them. She was wrong, though. Oh, it terrified him to the point sometimes where he couldn’t sleep after once again not pulling out, a fact he wouldn’t deny even if she asked though he was sure she knew it. Being a father weren’t something he ever wanted, and not just because he never thought he’d have the chance. But this was Beth, logical when she needed to be and still very much a woman who cared deeply, deeper than he thought any one person could, and if she felt this way, if she thought that having his baby could be something she’d be okay with—

 

And that was just the thing of it, because he didn’t want it to happen—neither did she—not now, not with the two of them on their own like this, without support, without shelter, without any sort of certainty. But if he took all that away, if he considered the idea in absence of the danger—yeah, he could feel the same warmth in his belly as he felt in her whispered words. Beth, with his baby…

 

So he wrapped his arm around her waist and reeled her in until she tucked up into his side and slipped her arm around him, too. And he couldn’t speak, because he didn’t really know what to say, but the thing about Beth was she didn’t ever need him to say a word.

 

“Because it’s you,” she said, speaking for him in the end—because that was the truth of it. “Because it’s us.”

 

*~*

 

Mid-afternoon on a cloudy day, they came across the final sign before reaching Terminus. They could easily get there by nightfall, but the idea of the place still made him uneasy, and Beth felt the same way.

 

“Can we just stop, for the day?” she asked, eyes following the coloured-in track lines toward the centre of the map. “Go in early tomorrow and check things out first?”

 

Relief settled onto his shoulders, because he weren’t ready to find the end of the line yet, either. Too many questions—what was Terminus, could they really trust it, were any of their family even there?—but if Beth had wanted to go tonight he’d have pressed on despite his misgivings. He should’ve known better. The two of them had fallen more and more in sync and now, more than four months since the prison fell, he could barely think a thought without seeing it written across her face, too.

 

So they left the tracks and headed into the woods, backtracking from the sign a ways, too, since it felt like a boundary, like the edge of guarded territory. They walked for a while, looking for a cabin or a structure of some sort. Nothing man-made appeared to them, though, so they made their camp as they usually did, except instead of a clearing, this time they stopped beneath a bit of a cliff, where a rock overhanging provided a bit of shelter from the wind and the trees grew thick around them, hiding them from view. Terminus within walking distance kept him a bit on edge, and he could see it in the way Beth kept glancing over her shoulder while she set up their alarm.

 

Having the cliff at their backs helped, and once they got their little fire going it was almost cozy beneath the little ledge.

 

“I hope they’re all right,” Beth said, sipping at her fire-warmed water.

 

Daryl stroked the back of her neck with his fingers, smiling when she shivered a bit beneath his touch. “Me too.”

 

He didn’t know what they’d find, once they reached Terminus. Two months ago, Maggie was alive. Maggie, Sasha, and Bob, lookin’ for Glenn. Of the others, they’d seen no signs, but that didn’t rule anything out, just made it less likely. Beth held onto the hope that they would find everyone, eventually, alive and as well as they could be, surviving out here just like the two of them. Part of him wanted to deny that, but mostly he found his heart leaning toward hers on this. It was unlikely, so fucking unlikely, yet the hope that burned in her heart had seared into his, and all he wanted was to prove the universe wrong, to let it find out the hard way that Beth Greene was right all along.

 

*~*

 

Nothing. In the end, Terminus was nothing. Just burnt out ruins and walkers amongst the wreckage. Something had gone down here, something terrible, but he couldn’t make heads or tails of it now, weeks or maybe months later. And he didn’t try, either, just gathered Beth up in his arms and let her cry into his chest.

 

*~*

 

The day after Terminus, Beth caught her first deer. The light in her eyes, the light that had dimmed for a while, flared to life again when her arrow hit home and the deer fell dead on the spot. And she breathed out a deep, heavy breath, fighting the grin that eventually took over, lighting her face up until the smile ran over onto his face, too.

 

“Did you see?” she asked, sounding kinda breathless.

 

“I saw,” he said, setting down his own bow because he knew where this was gonna go. “Good shot, Greene.”

 

He wasn’t surprised when his back hit the tree a moment later, arms full of Beth, her lips hot on his, her tongue pushing through the loose seam of his lips. Daryl dug his fingers into her hair and spun them around, landing her back on the tree without breaking the kiss. She practically climbed up his body, then, digging her heels into the backs of his legs, shimmying up with her arms around his neck until she was positioned just right, and he ground his erection into her, both of them groaning even though still fully clothed.

 

Didn’t take long to get her out of her jeans and unbutton his, and when he slid into her it was like coming home, as fucking cliché as that sounded, because Beth Greene was the only home he needed.

 

Her eyes bored into his and refused to let go, and he pounded into her, slamming her body into the trunk as hard as she drove herself onto him. And she mighta been full of him but he was full of her in a different way, a way that bubbled up and out of his chest in between the moans, between the noises their lovemaking drew out of them both.

 

Daryl…” Beth groaned into the woods, tightened her legs around his hips, tightened her muscles around his cock and pulled him in, into her body and just into her. “God… don’t stop.”

 

Never. He’d never stop. Loving Beth Greene was the greatest thing that ever happened to him, the easiest, the best thing he’d ever done. No matter what happened, he wasn’t letting go.

 

*~*

 

“We better start looking for somewhere to spend the winter.”

 

The rain hadn’t let up all day, and there was a chill in the air that seeped right into their bones. The past month they circled the area around Terminus, but found only remnants of things that had gone on, never any of the people involved. He was really starting to wonder about what she’d said, those months ago at the shack, about him bein’ the last man standing. Last man and woman standing, he amended, watching Beth staring up at the statue of Christ in the ruined church they found.

 

He didn’t want to stop searching, not for either one of their sakes, because he hadn’t known how much her hope, their hope, kept him going. But they couldn’t spend the winter on the run, not without the support of a group like that first winter after the farm. Their best chance was to find somewhere to stay and start gathering supplies and hunting game to see them through to spring.

 

Beth turned away from the statue, eyes a bit shiny. “We’re not giving up, though,” she said, echoing his thoughts more than she could realize.

 

Daryl reached for her, and she tucked herself into his arms. “No,” he whispered. “I never will.”

 

Beth smiled against his chest and giggled softly. “I never thought you could.”

 

*~*

 

The decision to leave Terminus and the surrounding area was not one made lightly, but the sort of place Daryl hoped to find, a good solid cabin in the woods, close enough to a town that they could make supply runs, but far enough out to hide them, just didn’t exist around here. So after months of travelling, they ended up heading back the way they came.

 

Frost covered the world in the mornings now, and today, though the sun shone bright overhead, the frost lingered in the shade throughout the day and even in the sun the ground didn’t quite thaw out all the way. A large group of walkers forced them to take a detour out of the woods around midday, and they avoided them successfully. Their detour brought them out onto a road, which Daryl tried to avoid when he could, but he wanted to put a good-sized river between them and the herd and the quickest way to do that was to stick to the pavement and head back to the woods once they crossed the bridge.

 

“A few miles, maybe,” he said to Beth, when she glanced at the road and looked at him with her eyebrow raised.

 

“All right,” she said, reaching to take his hand. “Kinda nice for a change, havin’ the sun on our backs.”

 

It was, actually, even though being so exposed made his belly tighten with nerves. Leave it to Beth, though, to come up with the silver lining. ‘Cause he might be nervous, but at least he was warm now, out of the cool shade of the woods. And he held her hand and let her swing it between them, like the obnoxious lovebirds he knew they were no matter how hard he tried to tell himself otherwise, and he could almost pretend, right then and there, that the world wasn’t shit, that the frost on the trees was just something beautiful and not a harbinger of the hard winter ahead, and that he and his girl were just out for a walk in the afternoon sun.

 

Lost in the daydream, he didn’t see the vehicle until they’d almost reached the river, tucked off the side of the road just before the start of the bridge. And by then, they heard the walkers below, heard the shouts of people fighting them and then—then—the cry of the baby.

 

There wasn’t time for discussion. They pulled their crossbows from their backs and ran onto the bridge, loosing their arrows into the fray below. A dozen walkers, more of them pilling out of the woods even as the previous waves fell, trapped a group of five—four adults and the baby—between them and the fast-flowing river. They looked like they knew how to fight, and walkers were falling everywhere, but they were so outnumbered Daryl was certain they’d be dead soon if he and Beth hadn’t shown up to even the odds.

 

A shout came from below. “Run!”

 

Daryl kept shooting, he and Beth providing the cover the little group needed to scramble back up the steep path to the road. The guy with the baby came first, then the others, and he was almost out of ammo by the time the last of them made it to safety. Beth’s crossbow clattered to the bridge deck, and he looked over at her standing there, eyes wide, mouth open like she’d seen a ghost. And it occurred to him, after a moment where nobody spoke at all, that he better turn around.

 

Rick. Michonne. Carol. Carl—tall, grown-up Carl—holding Judith.

 

There. Standing on the same goddamn bridge in the same middle of nowhere highway on the same fucking day. Alive. Alive like she fucking knew they would be.

 

Daryl’s legs stopped workin’ right, and he dropped to his knees on the pavement. He didn’t know if he was laughing or crying or some stupid combination of both and he really didn’t care. Because they were alive, and she was right.

 

Take that, universe. Beth was right. She was right all along.

 

*~*

 

They all piled into Rick’s SUV after reuniting on the bridge and taking a few quick minutes to gather up some arrows, and headed for what turned out to be a temporary camp just a few miles further down the road. They were all there—Glenn and Maggie, Tyreese, Sasha, and Bob—plus half a dozen new faces. Daryl caught Beth’s eyes from across the clearing, over Maggie’s shoulder where, ten minutes on, the elder Greene sister still hadn’t let go. And behind the tears, both his and hers because they were kinda flowin’ freely right now and he couldn’t stop it if he tried, he saw her joy, her pride in herself that she hadn’t given up and that they’d gotten here at last.

 

When they’d all shed their tears, shared their hugs, everyone gathered around the fire. Beth extracted herself from Maggie to tuck in beside him like she always did, and Daryl noticed the curious looks that drew from the crowd, especially when his arm went around her to pull her in close, but he didn’t care. It wasn’t like they were gonna try to hide it anyway.

 

The stories came, then, about what happened to each of them when they left the prison, how they met up in Terminus and what had gone down there. Beth gasped softly when she realized that Gabriel’s church was the one they’d stood inside, just a few short weeks ago, when they made the decision to stop for the winter. They heard about D.C., and the aborted attempt to go there. On the reasons why, people were mostly silent, but the strange guy with the mullet seemed to shrink back a little when the topic came up.

 

“So we came back,” Rick said, his gaze travelling back and forth between Daryl’s and Beth’s faces. “And we found you two.”

 

Beth giggled and Daryl laughed at the same time, making Rick’s eyebrows shoot up a little but Daryl paid that no mind. “Think the two of us found you, brother.”

 

“And something else too, I think?” Carol suggested, and Daryl might’ve scowled at her if not for that stupid sweet smile on her face.

 

The stories continued on and Daryl mostly listened, holding Beth close while she told their story, at least the parts of it she wanted to share, about getting out together from the prison, running from a herd for a full day until they’d hidden inside that car, about living rough and learning to hunt and even what happened the day they found her crossbow—since Carol had remarked how surprised she’d been to realize the second archer was Beth—right up to finding the remnants of Terminus, searching for signs and finding nothing.

 

“So we headed back, and found you.”

 

The conversation that settled around after that was the general kind, and though a question or two travelled their way, mostly he and Beth retreated into each other. She’d started to cry, sometime after the end of her story, not with big heaving sobs, just a flood of tears and quiet, almost giggly little breaths. She was happy, he knew, so happy she couldn’t keep it in, and there were other things in there too but he wouldn’t push her about it now.

 

So instead he rested his cheek on her forehead and with gentle fingers swiped away some of the moisture on her cheeks. “I never thought I’d be so glad to see you cryin’.”

 

Beth laughed, turning to hide her face in his shirt because she was now crying and giggling and getting snot everywhere. “I never—”

 

She couldn’t finish, but that was okay. He knew what she meant. “I fucking love you, you know that, right?”

 

She did, and the clutch of her fingers at his chest was proof enough. “I love you, too, Daryl Dixon,” she whispered, kinda blubbered actually, her words wet and emotional and muffled in his shirt. “And I’m not gonna stop.”

And the only response was the simplest one, even though the poet inside him wanted to write her sonnets about burning fires and the light in her eyes and the warmth inside where her love for him lived. Instead, he smiled into her hair and whispered, “Never.”

 

Beth’s next breath held a hint of a sigh, and she burrowed even deeper into his arms. “Never.”

 

*~*

 

The End (Finally)

 

Lovely artwork created by the fabulous dynamicsymmetry