Actions

Work Header

Shifting Boxes

Chapter Text

Title: Shifting Boxes.

 

Author: Kerri.

 

Fandom: The Walking Dead.

 

Characters: Daryl/Beth.

 

Rating: Mature over all.

 

Disclaimer:  All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.  I’m just using them for my own perverted sense of fun.

 

Feedback:  Sure thing!  Feedback is always helpful.

 

Summary: Ten times that Daryl realizes that Beth is no longer safely tucked into the little girl category that he keeps her in.

 

1/10

 

Women, as a general rule of thumb, fell into three categories in Daryl’s mind; three separate categories that had their own rules.  Rules that were to be followed - adhered too – no matter what the pain induced image of his brother had said.  It never took him long to categorize the women in his life, and once tucked into those boxes in his mind, it was rare that he ever moved them.  It kept things simple, and in a world gone to hell in a hand basket, these simplicities were what kept him sane. 

 

The first box was the women he considered ‘Untouchable.’  .  Not fuckable – that was a different category.  No, these women were untouchable in every sense of the word.  These women that Daryl tucked into this box either belonged to someone else, or they meant something to him.

 

Carol was the first woman he tucked into that box.  And as the days went on, Daryl grew to love her in every sense of the word.  He respected her quiet strength, and her unwavering support toward him.  The way in which she transferred her love when she lost Sophia to him, both scared and humbled him.  It angered him at first, but as the days went on, Daryl finally grew to accept it.  He knew he loved her in return when he thought he’d lost her in the prison.  That aching thump in his chest told him that what he felt was the breaking of his heart, and he mourned her as silently as he had loved her until the day he found her in the cell.  His relationship with Carol was the one purity in his life, and under her nurturing hand, he slowly insinuated himself into the group until he became one of the leaders.  Because of her guidance, because she had told him to be more that what his brother had deemed him, people looked to him with respect in their eyes.  No longer was he the loose cannon – the one they didn’t know or trust.  No – now they sought him out for guidance and leadership and survival.  No longer was he the redneck hillbilly they had all thought he was – now he was someone they looked up too.  And in return, Daryl let Carol into his heart.  In his mind, she replaced the woman who had birthed him, and became the Mother he had silently wished for as a boy.   

 

Lori had also belonged in this box while she was alive, but in a different way.  She was Rick’s – it started and ended there.  He had liked her well enough, but she had belonged to Rick, and was there for, untouchable.  Andrea had also belonged in this box – she had started out in the Fuckable box, but Amy’s death shifted her quick enough to the ‘Untouchable’ box.  He didn’t do crazy, and Andrea was ten different types of.  Even after finding out she had survived, knowing that she had fucked the Governor was enough to shift her to ‘Untouchable.’  With Maggie being with Glenn, she too, lived in this box.  She sure was pretty to look at, but she was untouchable.  She and Glenn suited each other, but watching them gave him a toothache at times.  He didn’t know what being in love felt like, but he did understand the need to fuck for life affirmation; his pickings, however, were slim at best.

 

Michonne hovered between the Fuckable box and the Untouchable box – there was something powerfully arousing knowing that the woman would probably break your neck with her thighs if you didn’t go down on her the way she wanted.  Daryl liked her well enough – she reminded him of himself in a way.  She remained watchful and silent, yet when she did speak, you paid attention.  He liked watching her swing that shiny blade on the battle field; enjoyed the way she delivered death with grace and style.  That was when he desired her the most – when his blood was singing with the power of the hunt.  Yet there was a line between them that he would never cross.  Maybe it was the vibe she gave off, that told him she preferred women to men nowadays.  She certainly seemed to glow when Beth was walking with her; what they spoke about he didn’t know, but it certainly seemed to drag the misery from her shoulders and put a spring back in her step.  He enjoyed her dry sense of humor, and the knowledge that she could probably kill him in her sleep.      

 

Then there was the ‘Little Girl box’.  Little girls, who no matter the cost were to be looked after and protected; Sophia had lived in this box.  Not what she had become – no, when he thought of Sophia, he thought of her before she had died.  Judith, his sweet little asskicker lived in this box.   Beth Greene also lived in this box.  She reminded him of a pretty little palomino pony that had run in the field beside his family’s trailer when he was growing up – all golden and skittish, with a lithe frame and legs that seemed far to long for her body.  She was Judith’s main care giver, and it became second nature to hear her pacing the catwalk at night, and singing softly as she tried to settle the baby.  After the Governor had attacked and they had taken in the people of Woodbury, Daryl had little time to ponder the children of the group, as his role of hunter had grown much larger.

 

Days drifted into weeks.  And those weeks dragged out into months.  Daryl hunted, killed and squirmed uncomfortably in his seat when he was voted to help lead the council.  This task took some getting used to; Carol bore the brunt of that frustration, and during a long winded rant he finally admitted to his closest confidant that he was scared.  Carol never brushed these fears away – instead she reminded him of how far he had truly come.  How important he was to not only the group, but to her.  In the quietness of the night, Carol gently told him that the only thing that kept her going some days was the knowledge that he was there with her.  He was her friend – her family – the one consistent in her life that she treasured above all others.  The Daryl that walked out of the early morning fog that day was different to the one who had walked into the early evening mist.  He took up the mantle of leader, and led without ever looking back.  But in leading, he began to see things that threatened to shift the foundation of his boxes. 

 

He was used to seeing Maggie and Glenn together; he’d walked in on them a half a dozen times in the past.  They just laughed it off now, and he’d shake his head as he walked away from the heady scent of sex and the low moans that were torn from Maggie’s throat.  He was used to hearing the strangled grunts echo almost silently during the night, when a nameless person bought themselves personal relief.  Hell, he’d done the same in the past, right up until he’d fucked Karen within weeks of her arriving at the prison – a hurried experience in the showers one night when the need within him had threatened to rise up and strangle him if he didn’t get off and soon.  The almost violent slap of skin against skin, and the bite of her nails in his neck and he’d buried her face in her throat as his orgasm had been torn from him with a force beyond his control.  She’d appreciated the fact that he hadn’t left her hanging – using both his fingers and his mouth, her greedy cry of relief had been muffled by her own hand.  For several weeks they had used each other; but then Tyreese had looked her way, and by mutual agreement, they’d parted company.  Who was he to stand in the way of the chance of loving someone?

 

What he wasn’t used to, however, was hearing that same sound slip from the swollen lips of Beth Greene.  He’d sought the silence of the library one night – the heat was making him restless.  The sound of quiet footsteps told him that his hour of solitude was over, and he put the book back on the shelf with a sigh before rising to his feet and quietly making his way towards the exit.  A male grunt echoed in the dim light as he neared the door, and a breathy sound of need echoed; the sound drew his eyes, and Daryl glanced towards the couch.  It took him a moment to recognize who it was; in that moment, he let his eyes linger on the smooth length of leg he could see.  The toned calf and the shape of the woman’s thigh as it tensed under the hand currently running up the back of it.  But then the man moved, and Daryl froze.  He knew that head of blonde hair anywhere.  It wasn’t the fact that he was seeing Beth in the library – he’d shared this space with her numerous times during the night.  She’d kept to her corner, and he’d kept to his. 

 

What he wasn’t used to seeing, however, was Beth being stretched out under a man on the couch.  Her legs were currently locked around the rocking hips of the man who was lying between her thighs and kissing her almost brutally.  Daryl’s jaw dropped, as sheer shock rooted him to the spot and in that moment, the man shifted his weight, and began to tug Beth’s thin tank top up her ribs.  The move revealed pale creamy skin; Daryl blinked, and then blinked again.  But the picture he was seeing didn’t change.  It wasn’t until he felt the brush of cotton in his fist that Daryl realized he’d moved at all, and he yanked Zach away from Beth with a snarl and tossed him half way across the room before he could quite figure out what he was doing.  Beth squeaked in shock – it was the only name for it – before she scrambled to her feet.  But Daryl was already moving, and Zach was backing away from the loaded gun that was pointed at his head while the scent of his fear wafted up to tease Daryl’s already scrambled senses.  Beth herself had fallen silent when Daryl had pulled the gun, and she sank back onto the couch silently as Daryl slowly stalked Zach across the room.

 

“Daryl…”

 

Zach choked it out, and then stuttered when the cold barrel of the gun pressed between his eyes.  Without breaking eye contact, Daryl spoke calmly.

 

“You like fuckin’ little girls, Zach?”

 

Zach stuttered slightly, and then fell silent when the pressure of the gun increased.

 

“We were just kissing, Daryl!” Beth cried, and Daryl snorted.

 

“Does your Daddy know where you’re at, Beth?” he asked coldly, and then smirked slightly when her silence told him what he needed to know.

 

“I’m sure he’s lookin’ for you right now… get goin’.”     

 

Her footsteps had faded before Daryl lowered the gun slightly, yet the look in his eyes kept Zach pinned in place.  They stared at each other for a long moment, before Zach swallowed.

 

“She’s a kid,” Daryl said when Zach opened his mouth, and a look of confusion crossed Zach’s face.

 

“She’s eighteen…” he croaked out, and Daryl’s hand clenched on the butt of the gun.

 

At the look on his face, Zach gestured weakly.

 

“Beth…she turned eighteen a couple of weeks ago.”

 

Daryl shook his head slightly, even as his lips tightened into a scowl.

 

“We woulda done somethin’ for her…” he began, and Zach shook his head.

 

“Nah, man… she told me that everyone forgot her birthday, what with Woodbury coming here and all.  She didn’t care none, coz that’s the kinda gal she is.”

 

“She’s still younger than you,” Daryl interrupted, and Zach swallowed hard.

 

“Not by much…” he began, and then swallowed again when Daryl snorted.  “Alright, yeah, I’m a couple of years older than her, but it ain’t like I’ve got women linin’ up that I can fuck, is it?” Zach asked, and then grunted when Daryl smashed him across the jaw with a clenched fist.  The blow sent him sprawling, and he cried out when Daryl hit him again.  Fisting his hand in Zach’s shirt, Daryl jerked the dazed man half up off the ground.

 

“She ain’t like that… she ain’t the type you fuck and run on, and you ain’t gonna treat her like it, you hear me?” Daryl snarled.  “A couple of years… You’ve got nearly ten years on her, Zach!  You stay away from Beth, or I’ll cut your feet off and throw you outside the gates for the Walkers to feed on.  Clear?” 

 

He let Zach go, and left him lying on the floor nodding as he stalked out of the library; his temper almost under control, Daryl turned the corner and bumped into a warm body.  His fingers dug into slim arms, and Beth muffled a cry of pain as he jerked her forward to stop her falling to the ground.  In the seconds that followed, Daryl stared down at her up turned face; he carefully let her arms go and then pointed over her shoulder. 

 

“I said get back to your cell.  It ain’t open for discussion, Beth.”

 

Beth scowled up at him, and then stomped her foot.

 

“You ain’t my Daddy, Daryl, you don’t get to tell me what to do,” she said, and then yelped when Daryl grabbed her arm and began to drag her after him anyway.

 

“We were just kissing,” she said angrily, and then gasped when Daryl stopped still and looked back at her with icy green eyes.

 

“If you believe that, kid, you’re even more naive than I thought,” he muttered, and Beth jerked away from him as colour burned high on her cheeks.

 

“So it’s ok for you to… to have sex with Karen in the bathrooms, but I can’t kiss a man?” she asked, and Daryl’s jaw dropped.  “I’m not that naïve, Daryl.  You have needs, you took care of them.  At least afford me the same privilege,” she hissed.

 

“He’s using you,” was all Daryl could manage as his throat tightened at the thought of what she might have seen, and Beth snorted.

 

“You think I don’t know how to stop a man from getting too handsy?” she asked, and then shook her head scornfully.  “Please, you’re forgetting that Maggie’s my sister.  I’da nailed him one if he tried.”

 

A red haze covered Daryl’s vision, and when Beth glared up at him, he grabbed her again and backed her into the wall with a thud.  His mouth twisted wryly when she tried unsuccessfully to pull away from him, and he raised an eyebrow when she blew a strand of pale hair away from her mouth.

 

“Yeah… you woulda nailed him…”

 

Daryl broke off his speech; his lips parted slightly and he sucked a slightly pained mouthful of air into his lungs when Beth increased the pressure of her knee against his balls.  She hadn’t kneed him so much as pressed against him to prove her point.

 

“Yeah,” she said dryly.  “I woulda nailed him one.”

 

When her knee fell away, Daryl finally let go of the breath he’d been holding and resisted the urge to cup himself.  But Beth was lowering her eyes and sighing as she tucked her hair behind her ear.

 

“I know you’re only looking out for me, Daryl,” she said quietly.  “But… I’m lonely.  Surely you of all people know how that feels.  I like Zach… he’s nice.”

 

“Lonely?” he sputtered.  “You’re stuck in a prison full of people, Beth, how the hell can you be lonely?”

 

Beth scowled up at him then and bracing her hands against his chest, shoved him back a step.

 

“I can be surrounded by people all day, Daryl, and I’m still lonely,” she cried.  “I’m the mother to a child who isn’t mine; sure as shit brings a whole lotta new meaning to the phrase Immaculate Conception, doesn’t it!  Carl has a powerful sulk going on because his Daddy took his gun away.  The only other person even near my age is Patrick, and he stutters every time we cross paths!  Maggie’s too caught up in Glenn, and if we do talk, it’s me nodding as she tells me how dangerous it is for me to even consider going outside with Judith.  Who else is there, Daryl?  Everyone else is either ten years younger than me, or ten years older.  So if Zach wants to spend time with me, don’t you dare tell me that he’s using me… it’s more me using him so I don’t go mad from the how alone I really feel!” 

 

Beth’s chest heaved with pent up emotion as Daryl stared at her wordlessly; knowing she was right, her lips twisted into a bitter smile before she spun away from him and into the shadows, leaving him with a slightly sour taste in his mouth as he listened to her fading footsteps.

 

XxXxXxX

 

The run had gone bad.  And as he headed towards her cell, Daryl dragged a rough hand down over his mouth.  It had been two weeks since he’d had to speak to Beth after their encounter in the library.  Zach had initially avoided him at all cost, but when Daryl maintained his silence, he seemed to settle back into how things had been between them before the incident in the library.  He had, however, seen Beth watching him more than once with a question in her eyes.  It was a question he didn’t know how to answer.  Sighing heavily, he paused outside her cell, and peered into the dimly lit room.  He was surprised to see the drawings that covered the rough concrete of the walls.  Drawings of their rag-tag group.  Drawings that he recognised as the farm.  Drawings of a pond that was surrounded by the long fronds of trees and surrounded by bright bursts of colorful flowers.   And when he looked towards her bed, he saw that she was lying on her stomach and writing in a little book.  She looked up as he leaned against her doorway, and the automatic smile that lit her face faded slightly. 

 

“What is it?” she asked softly, and Daryl blew out a rough breath and looked away momentarily before he answered.

 

“It’s Zach,” he said quietly. 

 

Beth lowered her eyes slightly and shifted on the bed, before she looked back up at him.

 

“Is he dead?” she asked and when Daryl finally gave a tiny nod, she sighed once.

 

“Well… Ok.” 

 

Daryl felt the skin between his brows crease slightly as she shifted on the bed and then sat up.  She set aside her notebook and rubbed her hands across her thighs a few times as she stared off into the distance.  The first trickle of concern ran down his back, and as Beth stood up, Daryl subtly shifted his weight.  The move allowed him to see further into her cell; more drawings, and what looked like poetry covered this wall.  And as Daryl watched her, Beth slowly reached out and removed something from a board.  A tally board, one that now said there had been zero days without accident.  Glancing down at the counter in her hand, Daryl could see the three that she held, and the trickle of concern ran a little more freely when she looked back over at him.

 

“What?” she asked and Daryl shook his head.  Her lack of response was scaring the shit out of him.

 

“I don’t cry any more, Daryl.”

 

She said it softly as she took a few steps towards him, and then she shrugged.  “I’m just glad I got to know him, you know?”

 

He didn’t, but she seemed to expect an answer from him.

 

“Me too.”

 

What was he meant to say?   But before he could do or say anything else, Beth asked him a question that no one else ever had.

 

“Are you ok?”

 

The surprise of it caused him to look away and pause before answering.

 

“Just tired of losing people… that’s all,” he said finally, and Beth nodded slightly before moving under his guard and wrapping her arms around his waist.     

 

Her head nested against his chest, and Daryl shifted uncomfortably before he lifted his hand to move her along.  Cupping her elbow, he paused when she spoke.

 

“I’m glad I didn’t say goodbye.  I hate goodbyes.”

 

Daryl sighed, and for a moment, he let himself close his eyes and rest his chin on the soft mass of blonde hair that was resting so trustingly against his chest.  She smelled not of blood and gore, but of baby formula and soap.  Clean and innocent in a world so stained with blood that he no longer flinched at the scent of it.  It was selfish, but he stayed where he was for a few more moments; one hand cupping her elbow and the other hanging by his side, as the scent of her washed away some of the blood from his soul.  And as her warmth seeped into him, he released a deep sigh and spoke softly.

 

“Me too.”

 

Chapter Text

2/10

The second time the Little Girl box opened on Daryl was when he was caught in a bad situation with Beth that neither of them had any control over.  After Zach died, Daryl had found himself watching Beth more often.  Her passionate words in the dim corridor had struck a chord with him and the more he watched her, the more he found how true her statement had been.  She was lonely – the type of lonely that could drive a person to insanity.  She spent her days locked in a prison, taking care of a baby who wasn’t hers; singing softly as she nursed Judith, or writing or drawing in her book; reading in the library, or standing on the catwalk and gazing out over the fields.  The adults had little time for her, and the kids were too busy playing games.

 

The feeling that slowly took root in his stomach took him several days to name; when he finally did, he was dismayed to learn it tasted like guilt.  Thick and sour, and Daryl nursed it close to his chest as the warm weather slowly began to move towards the cooler months.  He had no idea how to help her; to show her that she was more than Judith’s surrogate mother.  But as the days grew shorter, he was helpless to do anything as the light that glowed inside of her slowly started to dim.  It was in the library one evening that he found not only Beth, but his answer as well.  She was curled up in the automotive section of the library, and Daryl tilted his head slightly as he watched her pour over a manual on how to fix cars.

 

“You even know how to drive?” he asked by way of greeting.

 

Beth simply shrugged, and Daryl smiled slightly.  She hadn’t jumped or gasped when he’d alerted her to his presence, and he took it as invitation to lower himself to the floor near her lamp.  Slumping against the shelves, Daryl watched as she ran her finger across the page she was reading, before jotting something down in the notebook beside her.

 

“Well do you?” he asked when she seemed content to sit in silence, and Beth finally sighed and looked up. 

 

“I know the basics of it, Daryl,” she said quietly.  “But I’ve never driven a car, no.  I had no need to learn when we were on the farm.  I rode a horse, or Daddy drove me to school.  I could drive the tractor, but have I ever driven a car?  No.”  She smiled wryly and shrugged.  “I necked with a boy in the back seat once… but don’t go telling my Daddy that.”

 

Daryl’s mouth twitched in amusement at her dry humor, and he shrugged when Beth arched her eyebrow at him in question.

 

“You wanna learn?” he asked finally, and rubbed a hand roughly over the back of his neck when a hesitant smile flittered across her face in answer.

 

The following day found him in the passenger seat of the truck at dawn, explaining how the gears worked and why as Beth watched and listened.  She only interrupted him twice, and both times were to ask intelligent questions.  When he finally let her turn the key over, he was surprised when she only stalled the truck once between gears.  Beth took it easy, but Daryl still watched her footwork like a hawk as she slowly did a lap around the field.  For the next two weeks, he taught her all that he knew; how to park was one of the funnier lessons, and he ended up sniggering when she continued to bump over the poles he had set out for her to practice reverse parking in.  But when she finally did get it, the smile she tossed at him warmed him more than the early morning heat had. 

 

For the next few days, however, he had very little time to spare as he organized a run that would take them back to the Big Spot.  They were running dangerously low on supplies, and Daryl knew that with the helicopter falling through the ceiling, many of the Walkers that had been inside would have been destroyed; it was one of the safer options that would bear the result they needed.  It was the only reason why he suggested letting Beth come.  The arguments that had flown in the face of his suggestion had been varied, but it all came down to the same thing.  Too young – she needed to be protected.   Daryl scoffed slightly and crossed his booted foot over his knee as he leaned back in his seat.  

 

“It ain’t up for discussion; she’s coming… she’s the only one who knows Lil’ asskicker’s size by sight alone.  ‘Sides… she ain’t a kid.  ‘Bout time yáll let her join in.”

 

“She’s seventeen years old,” Carol began, only to pause when Daryl shook his head.

 

“Nuh… she’s eighteen.  Seems that we missed a pretty fuckin’ important date in her life,” he said flatly.

 

Complete and utter silence ran the length of the table, and Hershel closed his eyes as he slowly shook his head.

 

“My God,” he finally whispered as he leaned back in his seat.  “What does that say about humanity, when you forget your own child’s birthday?” he asked.

 

Daryl shrugged, and picked at the dry skin around his nails as he watched Hershel.

 

“It says we’re fighting for survival,” he said finally.  “Now I don’t know ‘bout the rest of y’all, but I seem to remember a time when Beth took a knife to her wrist because life just got away from her.  Got too heavy.  Unless you wanna repeat of that period, she’s comin’ outside.  As I said - it ain’t open for discussion.  It’s a safe run, Hershel.  And she’ll be wit’ me.  You really think I’m gonna let any harm come to her?”

 

It took a long time for the others to come around to his way of thinking, but his argument had been made with Hershel, and Daryl knew that with him on his side that Beth would be allowed to go.  Sure enough, two days later Daryl watched as Beth slipped her hand outside the passenger window as he rode past; her eyes were at half-mast as the wind whistled through her fingers and tugged teasingly at her hair, and as he glanced toward her, they locked eyes.  Daryl’s reward in that moment was a blinding smile.  He wasn’t sure if she saw the small grin that curled his own lips, but he knew he would tuck the picture of her smile into his memory for the moments ahead where he had to fight to remember why he cared so much.  The beginning of the run itself wasn’t so bad – Beth stayed in the truck while the group dispatched the few Walkers who were shuffling around, before she slipped outside the cabin as Daryl walked towards her.

 

“You stay low and you stay one step behind me at all times,” he began, only to scowl when Beth bounced on her toes and nodded.

 

“Daddy and Maggie have already given me the same variation of this speech, Daryl,” she said with a cheeky grin.  “Stay close to Daryl, walk quietly, and do as he asks.  But if you see a Walker, shove Daryl into its path and run the other way.” 

 

Daryl could only blink, before he sighed and gestured for her to follow him.  Sasha, Michonne, and Glenn were already inside when Daryl led Beth through the doors, and he watched silently as Beth grabbed a large sack and began her perusal of the isles.  She was quiet on her feet and methodical in her approach; the first sack was filled with odds and ends that would make their lives a little more comfortable, and she passed that sack to Sasha before opening another one.  Baby clothes went into this one; warmer articles and larger sizes.  Formula, teething rings and bits and pieces that Judith would need. 

 

By the time she opened her last bag, Daryl was telling the others to get ready to go.  Sasha and Tyreese had already grabbed the tinned food and all the extra seeds they could find in the gardening section and Michonne had taken care of other necessities.  Rounding the corner of the toiletry isle, Daryl watched as Beth shoved women’s personal products into the bag, before turning to face the condoms.  When they began to get tossed into the bag without a word, Daryl nodded silently.  No one else had thought of that before – not that he knew of anyway.  He’d pulled out himself with Karen, and had hoped like hell that he hadn’t gotten her pregnant.  Crossing his arms, he watched as Bath shoved soap and shampoo into the bag, before nodding as she scanned the isle.  He saw the way her eyes lingered briefly on little pots of lip stuff, before they skipped over them and she turned to walk towards the end of the isle.  Daryl frowned and headed after her.  As he passed the pots, he glanced at them and saw that it was fruit flavored lip balm.  Grabbing one at random, he shoved it in his pocket and kept walking without breaking stride.

 

But as he rounded the corner, a noise caught his keen sense of hearing, and he was reaching out to grab Beth before she could take another step.  She stopped dead in her tracks when his palm slapped tightly over her mouth, but she remained fluid as he drew her back against him with one hand, while he unslung his crossbow with the other.  Complete and utter silence settled over them, and Daryl drew Beth backwards slowly.  His fingers stuttered slightly as he lowered his hand slowly from her mouth; over the slope of her neck and the fine bones of her clavicle, before he drew her slowly behind him in one fluid move.  He felt her grasp the back of his shirt in the light fist; the warmth of her breath ruffled the hair behind his ear, and he mentally applauded her for her silence as she melted into his shadow.  It was the shuffling of feet he had heard, and he began to back away from the sound silently.  Beth’s hand fell from his back to his hip, and Daryl blew out a slow steady breath as he raised his crossbow.  But when the Walker rounded the corner, Daryl swallowed hard.  He heard the hitch in Beth’s breathing, and ignoring the way her fingers had dug into his skin, he lined the crossbow up with Zach’s head.  And as Beth’s forehead lowered to his shoulder, he pulled the trigger.

 

“Stay here.”

 

He breathed it out almost inaudibly, but he felt Beth turn away from the sight of what had become her boyfriend.  Moving quickly, Daryl retrieved the arrow, and after a final glance at the ravaged face at his feet he returned to Beth’s side.  They had barely taken two steps when a group of five Walkers rounded the corner, and the echo of hungry snarls began to echo.  Grasping Beth’s elbow as he drew level with her, Daryl began to lead her toward the doors.  The shuffling sound began to get louder and Daryl ducked away from the doors and down another isle.  Yet the Walkers following them turned down the same isle, and Daryl shook his head in bewilderments as he tugged Beth into the clothing section.  It was easier to hide in here, yet the Walkers followed them as if Daryl had left them a trail to follow.  It was only when Daryl pushed Beth ahead of him that he realized what had happened and why the Walkers were tracking them so doggedly.  In the split second it took for him to recognize the blood staining the pants against Beth’s inner thigh, the lid he had on the Little Girl box became unhinged, and he swore angrily as he continued to push her ahead of himself as he broke into a run.

 

“Fuck, Beth… couldn’t ya have plugged it up?” he hissed, and when Beth glanced at him in bewilderment, Daryl shook his head and dragged her out of the store as the Walker’s shuffled frantically after them.

 

Shoving her into the passenger seat of the truck, he tossed the bag he’d been carrying into the back of it, before swinging onto his bike as Michonne hit the gas and tore out of the car park.  In the hour long drive back to the prison, Daryl’s anger continued to grow.  When they got to the prison and he swung off his bike, his anger fairly shimmered around him as he stalked towards the truck.  Beth stumbled out of the passenger side of the truck and they locked eyes for a second before she broke into a dead run; not towards the prison entrance as he had expected, but around the side and towards the library section.  Daryl stalked past the driver’s door, intent on following Beth and shouting at her as he hadn’t been able to do before; he was forced to pause, however, when Michonne shoved her door open and he was confronted with a loaded gun.  Michonne’s eyes were glacial as she stared at him down the barrel of the Glock she held, and Daryl slowly raised his hands.

 

“You and me are gonna have a little chat.”

 

Silence fell on the yard as the other’s looked between Daryl and Michonne, and he nodded slowly as she slipped out of the truck.  Michonne deliberately backed him up until they were a fair distance away, before she shook her head angrily.

 

“How could you?” she asked coldly.  “And you were going to humiliate her even further, by bringing it up in front of all those people.  Fuck, Daryl… she didn’t know!”

 

Daryl’s mouth opened and closed a few times as Michonne’s chest heaved in pent up anger, and when he tilted his head in confusion, Michonne cocked her eyebrow.

 

“How… how the hell could she not know she was on her rag?” he exclaimed in disbelief, and Michonne scowled at the tone of his tone.

 

“It doesn’t matter how she didn’t know, Daryl,” Michonne began, and then hissed out a breath when Daryl went to step passed her.

 

Daryl paused when Michonne muttered something unsavory under her breath about stubborn rednecks, and lifted his crossbow to his shoulder when Michonne finally looked back at him.

 

“I’m breaking her confidence here, Daryl,” she muttered.  “She didn’t know, because she isn’t used to getting one… she hasn’t had one in over six months,” she said finally.

 

Daryl shook his head and when Michonne threw her hands up in frustration, he shoved his hands through his hair and swore softly.

 

“Is that normal?” he asked finally, and Michonne shook her head as she finally tucked the gun into the back of her pants.

 

“No… lack of sleep and living on one small meal a day does that to you,” she said in defeat.

 

Daryl jerked back a step in surprise, and then pointed his finger at her.

 

“We eat at least twice a day…the kids eat three times,” he said in denial, and Michonne shook her head slowly.

 

“We might, Daryl… Beth doesn’t.  She makes sure that all the kids have plenty of food.  Think about it…. how often do you see her eat?  And I don’t mean how often you see her feeding Judith while we eat.  How much sleep a night do you think she gets?  How often do you hear her pacing the cat walk with Judith, while that baby’s father gets a solid six or seven hours?  Look at how thin she is!  Am I seriously the only one who saw this?” she asked in exasperation.

 

“She looks fine,” he said slowly, and Michonne snickered as she raised an eyebrow.

 

“She hides it, Daryl, by layering her clothes.  Baggy tops that hide how skinny she is.  Her pants hide just how far her hipbones stick out by drawing the eye to the tears and rips across her thighs.  That girl goes hungry far more often than people realise, and it fucked with her cycle.  What happened today wasn’t her fault, and you humiliated her.”

 

Michonne shook her head and turned away from him.  But as she walked away, she spoke quietly.

 

“Just leave her alone, Daryl.  She already feels like she doesn’t belong here, that she doesn’t contribute.  She already feels like a burden…. she doesn’t need you adding to it, by shouting her personal business out in front of people.”

 

XxXxXxX

 

Daryl didn’t need Michonne telling him to leave Beth alone.  Beth did a pretty good job at avoiding him as it was.  For three days, he only caught glimpses of her as she disappeared into the distance.  She avoided the library at all cost, and the one time he did see her, she was sitting with Michonne during the evening meal.  The look on Michonne’s face promised him a world of pain if he went near the young girl, and his frustration mounted as he was forced to sit on the opposite side of the room while Michonne alternated between watching him like a hawk and watching Beth slowly eat.  It was during this meal that Daryl saw what Michonne had meant.  For every bite of food Beth put in her mouth, she drank several swallows of water.  It took him a ridiculously long time to figure it out, but he finally realized that she was filling up on water rather than food.  And for every bite of food she took, she fed one to Judith off of her own plate.  Michonne’s whole attention was focused on Beth now, and Daryl watched as she leaned in toward Beth and spoke softly.  Beth shook her head in answer to whatever Michonne had said, but when Michonne scowled, Beth finally began to eat properly.  Guilt coated the inside of his mouth, and Daryl pushed his plate away and licked his fingers as his appetite fled. 

 

People drifted away in groups, and when Rick asked him a question, Daryl glanced up at him momentarily to answer.  When he looked back towards Beth, however, both she and Michonne were gone, and Carol was bouncing Judith on her knee.  Rising to his feet, he caught a glimpse of Michonne as she walked outside and a flash of pale hair as Beth headed toward the opposite side of the prison.  Even though he followed the direction she had taken, he still couldn’t find her, and frustration burned through his blood like wildfire as he headed back for the council meeting.  Several hours later, knowing that most people were either bunked down for the night or on watch duty, Daryl headed for the showers.  He hated showering when other people were awake; it meant questions if they saw his scars, questions he couldn’t – wouldn’t – answer.  Entering the shower block, he stopped still when he saw Beth.  Wearing only a thin tank top and a pair of tattered shorts that hung below her hips, he finally saw what Michonne had meant.

 

He could see that she didn’t have any excess flesh to spare.  Her muscle tone was long and lean, and her hip bones stood out in sharp relief.  And as Beth bent over to brush the underside of her hair, Daryl winced when he saw each and every bump of her spine.  Not wanting to embarrass her any further, Daryl slipped away as silently as he had entered, and headed back towards the cells.  Haunting the shadows near her cell, Daryl waited silently.  But by the time Beth slipped through the stillness of the night nearly two hours later, Daryl had all but given up.  She was carrying Judith who was fussing restlessly, and Daryl sighed as he watched Beth enter her cell and turn the lamp she had on.  Making his way down the stairs on silent feet, he paused outside Beth’s cell and watched as she lightly rocked Judith in her arms as she yawned widely.  Fatigue haunted her delicate features; it carved out darkening shadows beneath her eyes, and in the flickering light of the lamp, she appeared fragile.  He knew the exact moment she felt his presence, because she stiffened and become motionless.

 

“Hey.”

 

It came out awkwardly, and Daryl rubbed a rough hand over the back of his neck as Beth slowly looked over her shoulder at him.

 

“Can I…?”

 

He gestures to the open door of her cell, and Beth shrugged as she shifted deeper into the room as Daryl hesitantly stepped inside.  But by Beth moving, she moved out of the light of the lamp, and it threw her face and body into flickering shadow as she resumed rocking Judith.  Leaning against the bunk that served as her bed, Daryl watched her silently.  Her eyes appeared enormous in this strange light, and he wondered briefly if the colour of them had always looked like smoke, or if fatigue darkened them that way.  Caught up in the way her eyes looked, Daryl almost shifted his weight to step closer so he could check.  But Beth’s eyes were lowering to the now sleeping baby she held, and the moment was broken as she turned to lower Judith into her crib.  When she straightened back up, however, she turned and bumped straight into him in the tight confines of the corner.  Caught between him and the wall, Beth lowered her chin.  Daryl sighed softly as he reached past her to skim his fingertips over the cap of baby fine hair that covered Judith’s head.  With his eyes on the baby, Daryl spoke quietly.

 

“I ah… I wanted to…”

 

“I’m tired, Daryl.  Can this wait?”

 

Beth’s voice was whisper soft and void of any emotion as Daryl stepped away from the cot.  It was that lack of emotion that he him looking at her though, and he reached out and palmed her elbow before he could change his mind.  Beth didn’t struggle, but he saw her chin jut out stubbornly as he tugged her outside the cell so that their voices wouldn’t disturb Judith.  Drawing her over to patch of weak moonlight, Daryl hissed out a breath when Beth pulled away from him and crossed her arms.  But when he looked back at her face, he saw that it wasn’t temper that had caused her to cross her arms; it was almost like she was shielding herself.  Her shoulders were rounded slightly, and before his eyes, she seemed to shrink into herself.  Daryl’s lips parted, and his breath whistled out weakly.  He knew this stance intimately; it was one he had taken whenever his father hit the bottle.  And while he might not strike out with his fist, Daryl knew that Beth was unintentionally shielding herself from the emotional damage his words and temper might cause.

 

Fuck…”

 

He breathed it out, and ran a shaking hand through his hair.  A pale curtain of hair slid across Beth’s cheek as she lowered her chin, and Daryl shoved his hands into his pockets as the silence between them grew thick with words unspoken.  His fingers brushed against plastic, and Daryl vaguely remembered shoving the pot of lip stuff into his pocket before their run had gone to hell in a hand basket.  Closing his hand around it, Daryl blew out a harsh breath and spoke quietly.

 

“Fuck…it wasn’t your fault.  I shouldn’t have taken it out on you.”

 

Beth shrugged in reply, and shifted her weight.

 

“Is that it?” she asked quietly, and Daryl tilted his head back in frustration. 

 

“Yeah,” he said finally, and then reached out to grab her hand.

 

Bath’s eyes flew to his when he closed her fingers around the little pot; she looked like a startled rabbit, and Daryl shrugged as she slowly turned her hand over and glanced down at what he had handed her.  But when she looked back up at him, Daryl’s shoulders jerked uncomfortably. 

 

“Saw you look at ‘em,” he muttered.  “Didn’t see why you couldn’t have one.”

 

Beth glanced down at the pot in her hand again, and tucked her hair behind her ear with one hand as she peered closely at the lid.

 

“Mango flavor,” she said quietly, and then she tilted her head slightly as Daryl shifted on his feet.

 

He saw the exact moment she forgave him; knew it by the way the tension in her shoulders seemed to melt away.  And in that weak light, he knew before she even moved what she was going to do.  Her arms slipped around his waist, and her head once more came to rest against his chest.  The warmth of her embrace seeped into him, and Daryl let out an unsteady breath as he finally lifted his own arms and wrapped them loosely around her.  Closing his eyes, he simply lowered his chin to the crown of her head.  Standing there, holding her and feeling just how thin she really was, Daryl unconsciously tightened his arms around her.  Her hair was soft against his skin, and he breathed in the scent of soap and shampoo.

 

“I really am sorry, Beth.”

 

It was mumbled, and Daryl felt her shift slightly as she curled into his embrace a little more.  Her fingers plucked lightly at the wings on the back of his vest, and Daryl shifted his weight so that he was leaning against the wall.  With Beth tucked securely against him, he barely heard her speak.  But those softly spoken words soothed the tangled guilt inside him, and he closed his eyes again and lowered his cheek back to the top of her head in silence.

 

“Me too.”     

Chapter Text

3/10

 

The moment that led to the lid on Little Girl box being blown sky high started out with an icy wind as fall bore down on them with the speed of a freight train.  The cold air had put the Walkers into a trance of silence; Daryl shifted his weight as he stared out over the gloom that morning had bought forth.  He was tired, but the change in shift wasn’t due for another two hours; his breath remained trapped by the bandana he wore over his lower face, and he squinted as movement near the prison caught his eye.  Confusion pinched his features when he saw that it was Beth who had slipped outside the prison walls, and she rubbed her arms briskly as she made her way down to the yard.  He tilted his head as Beth stretched her arms up over her head as if she was reaching for the sky; but when she flowed downwards so that she could grab her ankles and rest her head against her own knees, he cleared his throat and looked away.  Soft footsteps thudded away a few minutes later, and when he looked back down to where Beth had been standing, his eyebrows drew together when he didn’t see her.  Shifting in the tower, he spotted a flash of blonde hair and Daryl shook his head when he realized that Beth was running laps of the prison.  For forty odd minutes he watched her run silently.  Her first lap had started out as an easy jog, but by the time Beth stopped and leaned over to brace her hands against her knees fifteen odd laps later, her face was pink and her hair was a tousled, sweaty mess.  Daryl smiled slightly; he hadn’t known she could run like that – all leg and speed.

 

“Beth!  God damn it, Beth!”

 

Rick’s voice split the morning air at the same time Judith’s screams did, and Beth’s shoulders hunched slightly before she headed back toward the prison.  Daryl tracked her progress, and when Rick spotted her, he handed the screaming infant to Beth and gestured wildly with his hands as Beth started to bounce Judith against her hip.  Beth tilted her head as Rick spoke, but the snatching wind had her heading back toward the prison as she shielded Judith as best she could with her own body.  Yet when Rick reached out and gripped her elbow, Beth twisted away from him.  Daryl could see that her face was pinched, and whatever she said had Rick stepping back from her in defense or shock – Daryl couldn’t be sure.  But whatever she had said had Rick staring at her, and she hurried away from him without another word as Judith’s cries echoed off the concrete walls.  Daryl tracked her figure until she disappeared inside, before he cut his eyes to Rick; Rick had shoved his hands into his pockets, and he wandered toward the pen he had once kept his pigs in, before kicking at a clod of dirt and wandering towards the graveyard.

 

The hour in which he had to wait for Glenn came out to relieve him seemed to drag on forever, but eventually Glenn’s murmured greeting echoed as Daryl slipped outside the tower and he went inside to eat.  He spotted Beth almost immediately; she was sitting by herself, and trying to eat as Judith cried in her arms.  And as he watched, Beth set her spoon down and rose to her feet.  She swayed from side to side as Judith slowly began to settle down; even as her eyes shifted from the baby in her arms to the bowl of oats she had been eating, Judith’s cries pierced the air again.  As Beth sighed, Daryl picked his bowl up and made his way towards the table she had been sitting at.  Beth barely blinked as he scooped Judith out of her arms, but she did when he nodded to the bowl.

 

“Eat.”

 

Her lips parted, but at the look on his face, Beth sank into her seat and began to eat her breakfast.  Turning his attention to the child in his arms, Daryl bounced her lightly, but when that didn’t help, he simply stood up and curled her close to his chest.  Judith sniffled and buried her face in his shoulder; Daryl winced when her flailing fists caught a handful of his hair and she tugged sharply. 

 

“She’s teething.”

 

His eyes cut to Beth who was watching him; her bowl was empty, and when Daryl looked at her, Beth rubbed her fingers over her eyes.

 

“She’s tired; she didn’t get much sleep last night.  She’ll settle down once she naps later today,” Beth said quietly, and Daryl shifted Judith as she grew heavy against him as exhaustion finally took the little girl under.

 

“I got her,” he muttered when Beth stood up.  “How much sleep did you get last night?” he asked bluntly, and Beth shrugged.

 

“Some.  Not her fault,” Beth said, and then she reached out to gently slip the now sleeping baby out of his arms and into her own.  “I’ll put her down so you can eat.”

 

Daryl nodded and watched Beth quietly head towards the cells as he methodically began to choke down his now cold breakfast.  The taste didn’t bother him – he needed the fuel.  That was his mantra; fuel first, council check in and then sleep later.  His day was filled with planning and meetings, yet he managed to slip away for a few hours during which he dropped into a dead sleep.  By the time the evening rolled around, Daryl was mapping out a few possible runs with Michonne and Hershel.  The meeting took them into the middle of the night, and had fatigue causing his head to thump.  He had to walk passed Beth’s cell to get to his own, and Daryl paused when he heard her trying to sooth Judith again.  The baby’s sniffles were dying down behind the curtain that gave Beth her privacy, and Daryl continued on his way.  He had to be up in a few hours; as he had earlier, he dropped into sleep like a stone.  Yet unlike earlier, he was woken not an hour later as soft falls hurried passed his cell, and Judith’s sobs split the silence of the night.

 

“Beth?”

 

He didn’t raise his voice, but her voice floated quietly back to him.

 

“Go back to sleep, Daryl.  Sorry we woke you.”

 

Fatigue dragged him back under for several more hours, and when he finally did wake back up the prison was bustling with activity.  Making his way outside, Daryl spotted Beth walking through the yard with Judith wrapped warmly in her arms.  He knew when she spotted him; she tilted her head in greeting, before making her way back toward the prison.  He spent his afternoon killing Walkers along the fence line, before heading back to the prison for his evening meal.  It was during that time that he caught sight of Beth, and he locked eyes with Michonne who was sitting beside her.  Since their ‘talk’ after the last run, there had been a silent agreement between them; Michonne had taken to sitting with Beth during meal times to make sure she ate.  If she was in the tower, then Daryl would make his way past the table and nudge Beth’s bowl a little closer to her.  Between them, Beth had been eating on a more regular basis.  She was still very thin, but colour had started to bloom in her cheeks again, and she’d lost the fatigue that had caused her eyes to look like smoke.  But looking at her now, Daryl could see the shadows under Beth’s eyes from across the room.  And no matter how many times Michonne nudged Beth’s bowl back towards her, Beth had yet to take a single bite.  She continued to pat Judith’s back gently, yet her expression remained vacant.  By tactile agreement, Michonne tilted her head and Daryl nodded once.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

“She looks exhausted.”

 

It was bitten out, and Michonne kicked the concrete pillar in the middle of the room in frustration as her concern for the younger girl pinched her face.  She finally sighed and turned to lean against the pillar as Daryl cupped his hands around the flame of his lighter and lit his cigarette.  He allowed himself only a few cigarettes a day and he knew he’d have to find more on his next supply run.  Inhaling the smoke, he closed his eyes momentarily, before he exhaled and simply shrugged when Michonne crossed her arms as she looked at him.  It had taken them several hours to find a spare minute alone; nearly everyone was tucked in for the night now, with the exception of those who had meetings to plan, or those on watch tower duty.

 

“She was up late like us last night,” he finally offered, and Michonne snorted.

 

“And they call you the observant one,” she said dryly.  “That baby’s keeping her awake all night, yet she continues looking after her during the day because Rick’s too busy playing farmer.”

 

Daryl bit back the snort of amusement that threatened to escape at Michonne’s assessment of Rick, and shrugged again.

 

“So she’ll sleep tonight,” he said, only to look up when Michonne swore.

 

“Fuck, Daryl… She’s had barely any sleep in the last four days.  I made Carol take the baby yesterday morning so that Beth could clear her head, and Rick took Judith back off her… I know Beth likes to look after Judith, but it’s more than that!  She’s taken on raising that baby because it’s the only thing she can do that makes her feel like she’s contributing.  I know Rick’s had it hard, but he’s taking advantage of it!  He’s asleep right now, while Beth nurses the baby…  I figured she’d sleep during the day while Judith does, but no.  She then helps with cooking and washing and running herd on the other kids.  It ain’t right… it ain’t fair to put that much responsibility on her shoulders.  Hershel’s too busy dealing with the sick and elderly to realise what’s going on, and Maggie’s got Glenn and marriage on the brain.  Only people looking out for Beth are you and me, and that pisses me off most of all.  That girl puts everyone first… yet no one puts her first.  It ain’t right… how much longer do you think she can go on before she gets sick like Patrick did?  Or worse…”

 

Daryl winced as that day floated behind his eyes.  It had been bad enough putting Patrick down; but when he’d first come across a young blonde girl dead in the cells, he’d had to look twice to make sure it hadn’t been Beth he was seeing.  The same pale hair and doll like features, and for a half a minute, he hadn’t been able to breathe.  When he had inhaled, it had caused a pain in his chest, and for the first time in a long time, he’d had to close his eyes as he pulled the trigger.  Shaking the memory away, Daryl straightened up slowly.

 

“I’ll fix it,” Daryl said softly as he took a final drag on his cigarette and then crushed it out with his boot. 

 

“How are you gonna fix it, Daryl?” Michonne asked.  “Because they treat that kid like a God damn china doll.  Too young to go on runs or have any input into this place, but hey!  She can raise a kid, even though she ain’t had sex yet!”

 

Daryl winced at her words, but then glanced up.

 

“You said you asked Carol to mind Judith while Beth cleared her head… was it you who told her to go for a run?”

 

Michonne smiled then; it looked strangely brittle as Michonne smoothed away all trace of emotion from her face.  She and Daryl stared at each other for a long minute, before Michonne shrugged.

 

“She moves like the wind, doesn’t she?” she said softly as she turned away.  “All leg and speed… beautiful.”

 

Daryl cocked an eyebrow as she unintentionally echoed his own thoughts, and Michonne smiled again.

 

“Makes you wonder what else she can do… don’t it?” Michonne said softly as she left the room, and left Daryl to wonder what the woman had meant by that, and what else she and Beth had spoken about.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

It wasn’t as easy as he’d thought to track Beth down; she hadn’t been in her cell, nor had she been in the library.  In the end it was the almost silent sound of her tears that let Daryl track them to the old laundry room.  Beth was singing softly as she rocked Judith, but it was tears of utter exhaustion slipping unnoticed down her face that had Daryl’s hackles rising.  Beth didn’t look up when he entered the room, but when he crouched down in front of her, Beth’s voice stuttered and then stopped.

 

“Beth…”

 

“Don’t wake her.”

 

It as a plea, plain and simple, and when Beth’s voice cracked, Daryl’s temper began to bubble under his skin.  He scooped Judith out of Beth’s arms, and froze her in place with a single glance. 

 

“You stay there… don’t you fuckin’ move.  I’ll be back soon.” 

 

But as he rose to his feet, Judith started fussing.  And in the baby waking up, Beth’s eyes slid shut.  Faced with the exact moment of seeing when Beth gave up, Daryl spun on his heel and strode from the room as he bounced Judith lightly in his arms.  By the time he reached Rick’s cell, Judith was crying fitfully, and Daryl’s temper had reached boiling point.  The door to the cell bounced off the wall when he kicked it open, and Rick’s startled eyes jerked up from the book he was reading when Daryl strode into his cell.  The book fell to the floor as Daryl carefully turned Judith around in his arms, but the man remained motionless as Daryl glared at him.

 

“Just ‘cause Lori died, don’t mean you get to check out too,” he said coldly.  “This little girl is your daughter… yours.  Not Beth’s.  Stop dumpin’ her on Beth, and start actin’ like her father.”

 

Rick’s mouth opened and closed several times, before he gestured weakly.

 

“Beth doesn’t mind,” he managed and then fell silent when Daryl’s mouth thinned in temper.

 

“She don’t… I do.  That kid has done nothin’ but raise Judith since she was born.  She don’t sleep, she don’t eat… all she does is look after lil’ asskicker.  That’s your job… you go on a run; sure, maybe Beth could look after her.  But when you just expect it, Rick, so you can go and play farmer?  That’s where I draw the line.  You don’t go near Beth in the next twenty four hours.  You understand?  That poor kid has been awake for four days, with your daughter… I know she loves Judith, that she don’t mind helping you out none, but don’t you take advantage of it, or of the fact that she don’t ever say no.”

 

Rick looked at Judith silently, before he finally reached out to take the crying infant.  He bounced her lightly, and when Judith buried her face in Rick’s shoulder, Rick moistened his dry lips and looked back up at Daryl. 

 

“I didn’t… Beth said it was fine…”

 

His voice trailed off as he swallowed hard, and then looked back down at Judith.

 

“I’m telling you it ain’t fine,” Daryl said quietly.

 

He and Rick stared at each other for a long moment, before Daryl turned around and let the cell without another word; the walk back to the laundry room was a quick one, and when he entered the room he found Beth curled up on her side asleep.  Sighing heavily, he crouched down and gently shook her shoulder.  Tears still slipped down her face, even as sheer exhaustion kept her under; with a silent oath, Daryl pulled her into a sitting position, before scooping her into his arms.  Rising to his feet, Daryl shifted Beth within his embrace before turning to leave the room.  But when he saw Hershel standing there, Daryl faltered.

 

“I heard what you said to Rick,” the older man said quietly as he crossed the room and peered down into the face of his youngest child.  “I sure appreciate that.” 

 

Daryl’s face twisted into a scowl, and he shifted Beth within his arms again before he started to leave the room as her head lolled against his shoulder.

 

“Daryl?”

 

He could hear the bewilderment in Hershel’s voice and ignored it as he strode toward the cells.  He ran into a problem when he got to Beth’s cell though; he couldn’t raise the top bunk to make the job of putting her down on the lower bunk while he held her easier, and he hesitated.  Hershel solved that problem with one glance, and he lifted the empty bunk in silence before tugging the thin covers back on the bunk Beth slept in.  The silence between them thickened as Daryl rested his knee against Beth’s bed, and carefully lowered her into it.  A careless swipe of his fingertips swept pale hair away from her features, and Daryl swallowed hard as he shifted so that he was sitting beside her before he spoke haltingly.

 

“She’s stronger than so many of them give her credit for, Hershel.  Wiser too.  But… it only takes a small crack for a building to start to crumble.”

 

He deliberately brushed his fingertip over the raised purple scar on the inside of her wrist, and when Hershel sucked in a pained breath, Daryl licked his lips.

 

“I know she ain’t my kid, that she’s your daughter.  I’ve got no say in how you raise your family.  But if she was mine, Hershel, I’d be gearin’ up to make some noise right about now.  Demandin’ that she gets treated like the adult she is… givin’ her a way to contribute, to make sure that she felt like she was an equal rather than a burden, so that I didn’t find her dead from her own hand one day in the shower stalls.”

 

Daryl looked up then, and managed a humorless smile as he shrugged.

 

“But she ain’t mine, Hershel.  So all I can offer is this; if she takes that path and rises again, I’ll make it quick.  I’ll make it as humane as possible.”  Daryl’s eyes iced over, and his voice hardened.  “And if it comes to that, if she takes her own life, I’m gone.  I won’t sit back and watch as your child suffocates under the pressure of being locked inside with the responsibility of raising a kid that ain’t hers, while you sit back and remain oblivious to just how much she’s been suffering.”

 

Hershel staggered slightly in the silence that followed, and he leaned against the wall as his chest heaved and he shook his head, a quick movement of denial.

 

“Suffering?” he wheezed, and Daryl huffed out an impatient breath before he reached over and jerked Beth’s top up from the waistband of her pants.  Hooking his fingertips into the top of her pants, he tugged them down far enough so that when he brushed his thumb against the sharp angle of Beth’s hip, Hershel could see what Daryl meant; Hershel did a double take and he sagged against the wall in shock.

 

“How long has… how long has this been going on for?” he managed, and Daryl shrugged at the strange tone that coloured Hershel’s voice.  

 

“Dunno.  A while.  You’re better off askin’ Michonne.”

 

Hershel nodded, and in the weak light of the cell, Daryl could see just how pale the old man had gone.  Glancing back down at Beth, Daryl shrugged.

 

“I’ll watch over her for a bit,” he said after a while, and then glanced back at Hershel.  “I meant what I said to Rick; he has to start raisin’ Judith himself.  And you have to start lookin’ out for your daughter.”

 

Hershel nodded and when he hesitated, Daryl shifted slightly so that he could watch Hershel patiently. 

 

“She’s lucky to have you.”

 

Daryl’s brows drew together at Hershel’s choked tone and he when he ran back over the conversation in his head, he blanched and shook his head in flat out denial.

 

“Ain’t like that!  What’d you take me for?” he demanded, and as Hershel spluttered out an apology, Daryl’s eyes turned glacial.

 

“I might be a redneck and a hillbilly that never finished school and all the other things I’ve been accused of,” he began in a voice that shook with barely concealed rage.  “I might be a thief and killer… but I don’t fuck little girls, Hershel.  I care about Beth; I won’t lie and say I don’t.  But it ain’t like that.”

 

Hershel could only nod, and Daryl dismissed him entirely when he turned his back on him and looked back down at Beth.  After a few minutes of strained silence, Hershel shuffled over to the opening of the cell and stepped into the dark.  But his voice floated back to Daryl; an almost silent thread of words as the old man walked away.

 

“While it might not be like that, Daryl, I am glad that she has you looking out for her.  You might be a thief and a killer, one who didn’t finished school…. but she could certainly do worse in finding a friend.”

 

Daryl’s jaw tightened and he shifted from the edge of Beth’s bed and he made his way to the doorway so that he could release the curtain Beth had up for privacy.  Turning the hurricane lamp off, Daryl plunged the cell into darkness.  Just as he went to step outside the cell, however, he heard Beth shift restlessly; making his way back to her side, Daryl sat beside her again.  She didn’t gasp when she brushed her hand against his; instead her fingers tightened within his, and her voice was laden with fatigue when it whispered through the dark between them.

 

“Daryl…where’s Judith?”

 

Daryl didn’t question how she’d known it was him; he simply squeezed her finger slightly before answering.

 

“Where she should be; get some sleep.”

 

The bed squeaked as Beth shifted, and the brush of hair against his jaw was all the warning her got, before she curled against him and buried her face in his shoulder.  It was the light trembling of her shoulders that spoke of tears in the dark, and Daryl sighed heavily as he wrapped his arms around her in a light embrace.

 

“I’m so tired.”

 

It was whispered; a warm brush of confession breathed against his chest, and Daryl nodded as he tilted his head slightly and rested his chin against the soft crown of her head.

 

“I know.  Sleep, Beth.”

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

He was warmer than he had been in a long time.  That was the first thing that swam into his mind.  Pieces began to slowly click into place; he wasn’t alone.  The slim body he was curled around was a testament to that.  The skin against the callused palm of his hand was smooth and warm, and as he shifted his hand slightly, he felt it pebble; the slight curve of a woman’s breast was what he could feel.  Desire thickened in his blood, and he tightened his arms around the slim body he held as he unconsciously rocked his hips forward against the narrow hips that were cradled in the curve of his lap.  More than one part of him was waking up, and he shifted his hand slowly.  The trail of his fingertips over the gentle swell of a breast had him shifting closer as he lightly closed his fingers around the nipple that had tightened at his touch, and as he did, he breathed in the scent of soap and formula; he knew that scent anywhere, and even as his brain cried out in denial, his body was betraying him.  Daryl’s eyes snapped open, and he wrenched away from Beth with a startled oath so violently that he fell off the side of the bed and hit the floor with a thud.

 

She remained asleep as Daryl stared at her in shock.  For a half a dozen heart beats, he hoped that he was dreaming, but after scrubbing his hands over his face, Daryl knew he wasn’t.  It had been Beth he’d been curled around.  It had been Beth’s breast that had been cradled in the palm of his hand; the same warm flesh he had scrapped with his thumb.  It had been the tightening of that soft skin that had caused his own reaction; as Daryl swallowed the bitter taste in his mouth, he willed the reaction his body had had to hers away.  He didn’t even know how he had ended up curled around her.  She’d fallen asleep in his arms.  That he knew.  But how the hell had he ended up stretched out behind her?  How the hell had he fallen asleep holding a young girl, and woken up with a burgeoning erection?  As he scrapped his hand down over his mouth, Beth moaned in her sleep as she shifted onto her back; the sound caused his flagging erection to twitch again, and Daryl scrambled to his feet as he panted.  No… she lived in the Little Girl box.  But as he backed out of her cell, the twitch in his pants told him that Beth no longer lived there, and that the only thing to do was shift her to the Untouchable box.  Because he didn’t… couldn’t see her that way… no way in hell.  A thief and a killer, yes… Daryl shook his head and headed for the showers, hoping like hell that the icy water would shock him back to a reality where eighteen year old girls didn’t tempt him while he slept.  Because this reality?  It sucked.  

 

Chapter Text

4/10.

 

Thanks for all the lovely comments and such, guys. xx

 

Author’s note – this chapter deals with the aftermath of rape.  Be warned; nothing graphic, but still.

 

Fall came on the wings of an icy wind; the leaves on the trees changed with that wind, and the outside world exploded with colour.  But with that colour came a different kind of danger.  The falling leaves made it harder to hunt, and Daryl found himself organizing runs far more frequently.  He didn’t mind; after the incident a few weeks earlier, he had done everything within his power to avoid Beth.  The only time he saw her during the first week was at meal times when she was surrounded by people.  By the time he allowed himself to relax, he had made the decision that it had all been in his head.  He wasn’t attracted to Beth; he simply wasn’t used to sharing his person space, and the reaction his sleep addled mind and body had had to her, was a reaction that he’d not intended to have.  But when he had tried to stuff Beth back into the Little Girl box in his mind, he was horrified to learn that she had no longer fit there.  Knowing that gave him several restless nights and had him on edge.  He refused to entertain the idea that he thought far too often about how warm her skin had been under his hand; that he thought about her.  

 

It was during the isolation of a night in the tower that Daryl finally moved her.  How could he not?  He knew just how soft the skin of her breasts was, and it was that knowledge, however innocently gained, that had him finally shifting her to the Untouchable box in his brain.  While she might not belong to anyone, and she might not mean the same thing to him that Carol did, Beth was Untouchable in every sense of the word.  Age didn’t even factor into it, even though he knew he was at least twice her age.  It had been the look on her face the first day after he had stepped in on her defense, and had told Rick to stop taking advantage of her.  The shy smile that had graced her face when they had locked eyes over their evening meal had caused him to shift guiltily in his seat, even as he’d tracked careful eyes over her face.  Her features were still too pale, but that night Daryl watched as Hershel had joined Michonne and Beth for the first time; even after Beth had finished eating, she and Hershel had talked for a long time.  Long enough, that after checking the perimeter fence and muttering under his breath for several hours, Daryl found them exactly where he’d left them; heads close together, hands clasped, and voices blending together into a low melody in the shifting shadows.

 

For two weeks Daryl managed to avoid Beth as he firmly tucked her into her new box.  That avoidance came to a halt one morning, however, as he climbed down from the tower.  Beth had been waiting for him, and when Daryl had glanced at her and then turned away, Beth’s voice had slid like smoke through the early morning air as she asked him if he was angry with her; had she done something or said something to upset him, because if she had could she please apologise?  In a world where she hovered between being too young for one group and too old for the other, she missed her friend.  She missed seeing him in the library.  She missed talking to him.  Whatever it was she had done, could they just move past it, so that she wouldn’t go out of her mind worrying over something she had obviously done to cause him to pull away from her.  In the pale morning light, Daryl had turned back to face her.  Beth’s shoulders had been hunched forward, while her arms were wrapped around her midsection tightly as she worried her lower lip with her teeth.  Staring at her, seeing the naked fear of rejection lurking in her eyes, Daryl had been helpless to do anything but nod once; a simple jerk of his head, and Beth had closed her eyes and sagged.  

 

They had never spoken about the rift between them; Daryl had seen Beth watching him on more than one occasion though.  Her head tilted to the side as she stared through him; it made him feel as though she could see into the tangled confusion he carried inside himself, but she never spoke about it, and neither did he.  They simply fell back into routine; reading together in the quiet stacks of the library.  The occasional locking of eyes over a meal.  The poke of a slender finger into his ribs as she walked passed, while her laughter drifted to him on the cold breeze at his attempt to stifle his yelp.  And as the confusion in his gut tightened yet unknotted, Daryl pushed all thoughts of her skin and its warmth out of his mind and simply enjoyed the way she could lessen the burden he sometimes felt that he carried with nothing more than a simple smile over the top of whatever book she was reading.

 

Laughter tore Daryl out of his musings, and he swept his eyes across the perimeter fence as a single set of feet came running around the base of the tower.  He knew that laughter – had heard it directed towards himself more than once.  A minute later a second set of footsteps came towards the tower at a slightly slower pace.

 

“Damn, Beth, you run like a gazelle.  Dunno why you want me to train you… you could just out run the fuckers, whether they had a pulse or not.”

 

Beth’s answering laughter drifted to where Daryl was sitting and he lowered his steady gaze from where he had been keeping watch, to where Michonne and Beth stood beneath the tower.  Michonne had her hands braced on her knees as she breathed deeply, yet Beth was bouncing on her toes.  Her face was flushed, and she smiled as Michonne straightened up and rotated her head a few times as she loosened up her muscles.

 

“You’re training me, because you said yes when I asked,” Beth said with a grin.  “You’re training me, because you knew I’d bug you about it until you caved; Daddy says that when I set my mind on a something that I want, that I’m very persistent.  And finally…. You’re training me, so that if I ever get stuck out there, I can defend myself.”

 

Michonne simply nodded as Daryl looked between them; he hadn’t known Michonne was training with Beth – hell, he hadn’t known Beth wanted to train.

 

“You never asked her what she wanted.”

 

Daryl shook his head as that sly little voice whispered in his mind.  No, he hadn’t asked.  But as Michonne picked up two poles used for killing Walker’s through the fence, he wondered if maybe he should have.  Wrapping his arms around himself in an effort to keep warm, Daryl watched as Michonne took up a fighting stance.  Snatches of speech were tossed toward him on the wind as she spoke, but not enough for Daryl to make sense of what she was saying.  But he knew his jaw dropped behind his bandana when Beth took up the same stance, and then blocked an overhead thrust of Michonne’s pole.  For fifteen minutes he watched as Beth not only blocked but parried.  The mock fight was over, however, when Michonne kicked Beth’s feet out from under her, and Beth landed on the ground on her back.  Michonne didn’t pause – she swung in low so that she was crouched over Beth’s body, and she lightly tapped the fallen girl’s chest with her pole.  Beth’s hands fell to the ground, and Michonne laughed softly when Beth mimed being dead.

 

Michonne rose to her feet, and then helped Beth to hers; it wasn’t over, however, as Michonne dropped into a fighting stance, and nodded.  And as Daryl watched, Beth seemed to listen as Michonne gave instruction, before she grinned and went after her instructor again.  This time she went down harder, but Daryl still silently applauded her efforts.  Michonne hadn’t held back this time, and in giving Beth the full force of her strength, she had forced the other girl into a retreat and advance style of fighting.  They were finishing up by the time Daryl broke out of his musings, and he watched as they headed back toward the prison.  By the time Glenn shuffled out to relieve him, Daryl was starving.  Breakfast was a warm affair of thick oats, and he cradled the bowl close to his chest and turned to find a seat.  When he saw Beth sitting by herself and feeding Judith, he headed towards her before his brain could tell him it was a bad idea.  He sat down with a groan, and Beth looked over at him in concern.  

 

“You all right, Daryl?” she asked, and when he grunted around a mouthful of oats, Beth’s lips curled slightly, before she rose stiffly to her feet.

 

“Oi… sit,” he said, and when Beth sank back down into her seat with a wince, Daryl swallowed his food and took a mouthful of water before he spoke.

 

“More to survival that hitting a Walker with a stick,” he said softly, and when Beth’s face whipped toward him, Daryl shrugged.  “More to defendin’ yourself… more to learnin’ to fight, especially when it leaves you walkin’ like you’re ninety…”

 

“I know that,” Beth said quietly as Daryl scooped a fingerful of oats out of his bowl and stuck them in his mouth.  “That’s why I wanna learn.  I know that being in the prison gives a sense of security, Daryl, but it’s a false one.  I want to know how to defend myself before that security fails.  I don’t want to have to rely on others to keep me safe.”

 

Daryl nodded slowly as Beth stared at him.  And when he huffed out a breath, a small smile flittered across her face.

 

“After lights out… library,” was all he said as Beth stared at him, before she nodded.  And with that single nod, Daryl went back to eating his breakfast, while Beth sat beside him in companionable silence.

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

The library seemed like the best place for what he had in mind.  He told Beth to hide, and when she tilted her head, Daryl shrugged.

 

“Half the battle in survival is staying out of your opponent’s way.  Let’s see how good you are at staying out of mine.”

 

He gave her a good two minutes head start with his eyes closed, before he lifted his head and sniffed the air.  The library was a fairly decent size, but it still only took him five minutes to find her.  She had her back to him when he turned down the stack she was in, and Daryl moved forward on silent feet.   

 

“You weren’t sneaky enough,” he murmured near her ear when he came up behind her, and was rewarded when Beth jumped near clean out of her skin. 

 

 “I didn’t move a muscle!” she exclaimed, and Daryl nodded.

 

“That’s half your problem.  You stayed where you were,” he said bluntly.  “Keep movin’, keep quiet.  Try again.”

 

This time it took him ten minutes to find her; he heard the soft tread of her feet, and the half breaths she took as he followed her progress down a parallel stack, and when Beth turned the corner and bumped into him, she bit back an oath and glared at him.

 

“Now you’re trying too hard,” he said quietly.  “Walk quietly, yes, just be aware of how you place your feet.  And breath steadily… half breaths, Beth, make you pant.  Slow and steady breathing through your nose; it allows you to smell what you can’t see.”

 

Beth nodded, and then tossed her ponytail over her shoulder as Daryl gestured for her to try again.  Ten minutes into it, Daryl swore softly when the lights of the library flickered on and off once, before they were plunged into darkness as the sky outside lit up as lightening streaked across it.

 

“Daryl?”

 

He heard the hesitation in Beth’s tone, and sighed.

 

“Power shortage, Beth, it’s all right.  You wanna head back?”

 

Beth fell silent, and Daryl tilted his head as her voice drifted towards him from the left.

 

“Nah, is it all right if we keep going?”

 

“A’ight,” he said and then headed towards where he had heard Beth’s voice come from. 

 

The darkness added to their game; Daryl could smell her on the air.  The scent of the soap she used and the lingering sweetness of the pot of lip stuff he had given her.  But even after he had searched the stacks to his left, he was still unable to find her.  A small smile drifted across his face as his eyes drifted to the opposite side of the library.  It wasn’t her breathing or her footfalls that alerted him to her presence this time; Beth was standing in clear sight on the second tier of the library, with her fingers linked in the chain mesh that covered the windows as she stared outside.  But as he climbed the metal staircase that led to the second level, Daryl could see the tension in her shoulders and their game was forgotten.  Coming up beside her, Daryl braced his hand against the chain mesh, and leaned forward to peer into the darkness.

 

“What do you see?” he asked softly, and Beth shifted her weight so that her shoulder brushed his.

 

Cool fingertips touched his jaw, and Daryl let Beth guide his face slightly.  And as he swept his eyes over the ground, he caught sight of what she was staring at.  Long shadows moved fluidly, and Daryl swore when he realized that their power outage wasn’t due to a shortage.

 

“Come on.”

 

Beth didn’t hesitate.  She turned as he did, and followed him down the stairs at a run.  And as the first shot rang out across the yard outside, Daryl and Beth skidded into the main room of the prison.  Daryl didn’t see where Beth went; too concerned with gathering weapons as he spoke quickly, he trusted that she was getting the kids together to hide them from the Governor and his men.  The resulting shit storm that went down under the cover of darkness set his teeth on edge.  Gun fire echoed loudly, and when the lights suddenly flickered back on, Daryl had little time to figure out who had braved the storm outside to get the power back up and running.  He was too busy ramming his knife up under the jaw of the man trying to choke him.  For over two hours they fought; the groans of the dying sent shivers down his spine as he wondered briefly how many Walkers had risen already.  The stutter of gunfire eventually died down, before halting completely.  It was Rick’s voice who eventually called out the all clear.  And for the next twenty minutes, Daryl made sure that the dead stayed dead.  They had lost four of their own; he left Tyreese to make sure Karen didn’t rise again as he wiped a blood stained hand across his jaw.  But when Carol led the kids down from the second level, Daryl felt the first trickle of fear when he didn’t see Beth amongst them.  He swept his gaze across the room, and met Hershel’s eyes briefly; when Hershel took a step forward, Daryl swore and turned to face Carol.

 

“Where’s Beth?” he asked, and Carol glanced over her shoulder in surprise.

 

A little blonde girl stepped forward; Mika rubbed a filthy hand over her eyes and spoke in a voice that was thick with unshed tears.

 

“She took us up to the second floor of the library, and hid us in the cupboards there.  Do you know the ones I mean?” she asked, and when Daryl lifted an eyebrow, she shrugged and sniffed back her tears.  “Beth said she had to turn the lights back on… that she knew how to do it, and that we had to stay inside.  To stay quiet and not move until one of the adults came and got us.  Michonne went with her.”

 

Daryl swore softly, and without a word he shouldered his crossbow and headed for the main doors.  But try as he might, it wasn’t him that found Michonne.  It was Carl who found her; Carl, whose white face painted a heartbreaking picture as he knelt in the long grass behind the prison.  It was Rick who spotted him, and his hesitant steps took him closer to his youngest child as Beth and Michonne’s names were called in increasing desperation by the others.  Kneeling down, Rick traced his fingers gently over the bruising that was already marring Michonne’s face as Carl shrugged out of his shirt and draped it as best as he could over Michonne’s naked legs.  While the cop in him knew what he was seeing, the father inside him cried out in denial as he watched his son try to shield Michonne’s body and failed miserably. 

 

Tugging the twisted bandana from between her lips, Rick’s eyes blurred with grief as a fresh trickle of blood ran down the side of Michonne’s face.  In the end, it was Carl who wrenched the stakes out of the ground that had kept Michonne’s arms and legs stretched out; the rope had bitten into her skin cruelly, and Michonne rolled onto her side and curled into a ball as Rick hesitantly rested his hand on her shoulder.  Her lack of tears was scaring him; but as she lay there trembling, Rick lifted his head and scanned the prison grounds for help.  Carl staggered to his feet, but before he could run for help, Michonne spoke.  Her voice was barely audible, yet the command in her voice had Rick’s eyes widening.  Not a plea – an order.

 

“Carl… I need my pants.  I don’t want them to see me like this.”

 

Carl shook his head even as he searched the ground for them.  They lay in a tangled heap a few feet away, and Carl’s hands shook as he handed them to Michonne.  She sat up slowly; the pain on her face was evident, but she still managed to hook her legs into the warn denim.  As Michonne tried to rise to her feet, Rick’s attention was dragged away from the thought and onto the woman before him as she slowly pulled her jeans up her thighs.  The denim covered the hand shaped busies on the backs of her thighs, and Michonne bit back a cry of pain as she pulled them the rest of the way up.  There was nothing she could do about the state of her torn top.  But when Carl pressed his shirt into her hands again, Michonne managed a wobbly smile as she slipped into the dark cotton and wrapped it around herself.  But when Carl batted her hands away and buttoned it up, Rick bore witness to the exact moment any lingering innocence his boy had died.

 

“Who was it?”

 

Carl’s voice was like ice, and when he tilted his head so that he and Michonne locked eyes, Rick swallowed as Michonne turned her eyes away and stared out across the yard.

 

“The Governor…he took Beth.  An eye for an eye, he said.  I took his daughter… he’d take mine,” Michonne said flatly, and Carl’s lips compressed into a white line.

 

Rick continued to kneel there as Michonne rested her hand on his shoulder for support; Carl helped her step back into the boots she wore, before he draped Michonne’s arm across his shoulders and wrapped his arm around her waist.  Tears ran down his face as Rick staggered to his feet and he watched silently as Carl supported Michonne on the walk back to the prison.  A dozen steps later, Michonne‘s fingers tightened within his own as Rick helped her to walk; her gait was wracked with pain, and more than once they had to stop as she wobbled on her feet.  Glancing down at her, Rick winced when he saw that the crotch of her pants were already stained with blood.  Carol met them at the main door, and it only took a single sweep of her eyes for her to realise what had happened.  Her touch gentle, she pushed Rick away and took Michonne’s weight as she guided the other woman towards the showers.  And as they disappeared around the corner of the cell block, Daryl burst through the main doors with Glenn, Hershel and Maggie on his tail. 

 

“Is she a’ight?” he demanded as Rick sank into a chair.

 

Rick could only shake his head, and as silence descended on the room, Maggie knelt down in front of him and touched his hand.

 

“Rick?  Is Beth all right?”

 

Her voice was small, and when she reached up and brushed away the tears that ran freely down his face, Rick closed his eyes.

 

“He raped Michonne.  She isn’t all right.  But she will be.  As for Beth… the Governor has her.”

 

Carl’s voice was flat as he voiced what Rick couldn’t, and Hershel looked towards Carl as he left the room with some clean clothes clenched in his hands.  Maggie’s hands flew to her mouth, and she started to scramble to her feet.  But when Rick tightened his grip on her hands, Maggie stilled.

 

“Carol’s with Michonne right now,” he said quietly, and then cleared his throat when he heard how rusted over his voice sounded.  “She knows what to do to help her…”

 

Rick looked over at the others then.  Hershel was standing there with a look of helplessness on his face, while Glenn was witting on the steps with his head buried in his hands.  Daryl’s hands were clenching and unclenching, and his mouth was a tight line of pure rage as he fairly vibrated where he stood; Rick saw the look that passed between them when Daryl looked at Hershel; he saw the silent plea as it flew from the older man’s eyes and was answered with a curt nod.  While Hershel would help Michonne, Daryl would track her rapist down and castrate him, before taking Beth back.

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

“He threatened to kill her.  The bastard had a knife to her throat… he waited until I was… down… before this slimy white guy he called Dwight belted her one.  She was unconscious when Martinez carried her out of here.”

 

Daryl looked away when Michonne winced as she shifted on her bunk, but impatience and fear had his eyes straying back to her not a minute later.

 

“He uh… he wanted to hurt me, because I hurt him.”  Michonne looked down at her fingers, and when she saw that she had twisted them within her blankets, she made a conscious effort to untangle them.  Smoothing the blanket out with her hands, she took a deep breath and then looked at Daryl as he knelt by her bed. 

 

“The… the rape itself was meant to humiliate me.  But he knows I care about Beth.  He knows that we run in the mornings and that we often walk the perimeter and talk together.  He knows things about us, Daryl, things that he shouldn’t know.”

 

Michonne pressed her lips together into a firm line to stop them trembling, and shook her head.

 

“He called her Penny… I killed his daughter in Woodbury.  She’d reanimated as a Walker, and he… he… he kept her chained up in his house like a god damn pet!”

 

It burst out, and when a tear spilled over the bruised skin of her cheek, Michonne swept it away with an impatient hand as Daryl averted his gaze.  But when those cold green eyes locked with her own again, Michonne reached out and grasped his arm in a deceptively tight grip.

 

“Thinking that she’s his daughter might keep Beth safe for a little while, but it won’t keep her safe forever.  That bastard’s sick, and he needs to be put down before he realizes that Beth isn’t his daughter.  I’ll come back from this… you know I will.  Beth wouldn’t... it’d destroy her, Daryl.  It’d destroy everything inside her that is pure and good… you know what I mean when I say that.  You need that light inside her just as much as I do.”

 

Daryl shifted on his knees, but when Michonne’s hand tightened again, Daryl blew out a deep breath.  He did know what she meant by the light that Beth carried inside herself; it was what made being around her so addictive.  After a day of killing and planning and fear, simply spending time with Beth could lighten the load he carried.  Nodding, Daryl simply turned his hand over and gripped Michonne’s for a minute before he rose to his feet.

 

“I’ll get her back, Michonne.”

 

Michonne nodded and as Daryl drew level with the curtain that gave her privacy, Michonne spoke; an almost silent plea that showed grief and fear and the love she felt for the younger girl.

 

“Do you promise?  Promise you’ll bring her back, Daryl.”

 

Daryl stilled, and glanced slowly over his shoulder.  A simple nod of his head and then he was gone.  But his voice floated back to her, and caused Michonne to curl onto her side and close her eyes as tears finally spilled down her face. 

 

“Promise.”

 

Chapter Text

5/10

 

If he had been a psychopath hell bent on revenge, Daryl figured he would have holed up in the woods somewhere; gone to ground with his quarry, so that any rescue mission would fail to yield results.  But if he was a psychopath with a girl in tow that he thought was his dead daughter?  There was only one place he’d take her; home – Daryl had ended up pushing his bike the last mile, so that the powerful roar of his engine wouldn’t attract unwanted attention before he was ready.  Daryl crouched in the shadows, and quietly spat out the taste of bile as he made sure the gun he carried had its safety off; the spare clips he carried were tucked into the waistband of his pants and within easy reach.  His knife was strapped to his hip, and his cross bow was resting at his feet.  Tucking the gun into his pants, Daryl lifted the crossbow and scanned the night sky.  Woodbury was silent as he crept into the town; the shuffling of Walkers was absent and Daryl licked his bottom lip slightly when he saw the corpses that littered the streets.  Seemed someone had made his job easy then; pity.  He could have quiet easily caused a blood bath with the mood he was in. 

 

Michonne had laid out the route he had to take to find the Governors house; the windows of the houses he crept passed were all dark.  Yet in the distance a single light shone, and Daryl swiped his hand across his nose.  He could hear low voices as he grew closer; an argument by the sounds of things.  Heated words in the dark, and Daryl winced when he stepped on broken glass and it tinkled softly under his foot.  The sound went unnoticed, however, and as he crept closer, words finally began to drift towards him.  And there in the distance, two men stood together a few houses down from the one that had the light on.  Martinez he recognised, which made the one with his back to him Dwight; Michonne was right – the bastard was slimy.  Martinez spat on the ground and shook his head; the look on his face was one of cold anger, and when he pointed at Dwight angrily, Daryl blew out a silent breath.

 

“…wife… kids… I didn’t sign up for raping little girls, or for half the shit we do.”

 

While Dwight snickered, Daryl froze in his tracks; his heart had skipped a beat, and he exhaled painfully as he swayed where he was crouching. 

 

“She ain’t no little girl, Martinez… the Guv’s gonna figure that out quick smart, and once he’s done with her?  Mm mmm, we is gonna have ourselves a mighty fine time.  Did you see how that bitch reacted when the Guv first grabbed her?  I never thought she’d give herself up, but like I said, it’s gotta be that she ain’t into men.  She must wanna get between those milky white thighs almost as much as I do.  I thought she was gonna break her back trying to break free when I popped the blonde one; only the Guv fuckin’ her kept her pinned while you was carryin’ the girl away.”  Dwight snickered again and spat on the ground.  “She went nuts while I was fuckin’ her; mighta had somethin’ to do wit’ the fact that I told her I’d think about her while I was givin’ it to her little friend in the ass.”

 

Martinez turned away and shook his head in disgust; but when he looked back towards Dwight, he looked directly at Daryl.  Daryl froze when recognition flared in the other man’s eyes; the moment hummed between them, before Martinez seemed to come to some sort of decision and he gave an imperceptible nod of his head before he deliberately looked away from Daryl.

 

“She’s a kid,” he said coldly, and Dwight snorted as Martinez continued to stare at him.  Daryl stood up slowly as he unsheathed his knife.  And as he crept forward, Dwight spoke again. 

 

“If you think so.  But legal or not, I bet she’s a screamer… can’t wait to find out while how much of a little hellcat she is while ridin’ this!” he said with a grin as he grabbed at his crotch.

 

His laughter abruptly died when Daryl twisted his hand in the other man’s hair and yanked his head back.  Putting his lips close to the other man’s ear, Daryl spoke coldly.  Calmly.  “That’s my little hellcat you’re talking about,” before he neatly slipped the knife into the man’s lower spine and dragged it upwards in a quick movement.  Dwight managed to gurgle in agony as he fell to his knees with his spinal cord severed, and he stayed that way as Daryl kept his ironclad grip on his hair.  Walking around the kneeling man so that he could crouch in front of Dwight, Daryl stared at him for a long moment before he spoke quietly as he wiped his knife on Dwight’s shirt.

 

“The first mistake you made was hittin’ my girl.  The second was comin’ to the prison at all.  But the fatal mistake you made was thinkin’ that you could put your hands on Beth, and live to tell the tale.”

 

Dwight drew breath to scream as blood ran freely from between his lips.  But before he could draw breath to do so, Daryl was resting his knife tip against his chest and leaning on it.  The blade had been honed so that it was razor sharp, and it sank through muscle and bone slowly as Martinez’s tanned hand slapped over Dwight’s mouth to trap any escaping sound; Daryl continued to stare into the man’s eyes as the knife sank into his chest, even as they began to roll in his skull as pain eradicated most of his senses.  And as it sank up to the hilt, Daryl leaned forward so that his cheek brushed the other mans; he spoke softly while praying that whatever deity was listening, they would forgive him the small white lie that he had learned from witnessing something private what felt like a life time ago.

 

“She’s not a screamer… but her breath does tend to hitch in the sweetest way when she’s touched just right.”

 

Carnal recognition flared in Dwight’s eyes as Daryl pulled back slightly, even as death stole the light from them.  Martinez stepped back as Dwight’s breathe rattled out from between blood soaked lips, and when Daryl yanked his knife free from the man’s chest a minute later, only a small spray of blood coated his cheek.  Dwight’s body fell to the ground and when Daryl rose to his feet, he unslung his crossbow and put a bolt through the back of Dwight’s skull.  Silence fell on the night, and as Martinez drew breath to speak, he faltered and slowly raised his hands when Daryl yanked the gun out from the waistband of his pants and pointed it straight at his head.  For a long moment, tension hummed between them; Daryl tilted his head and narrowed his eyes.

 

“Gim’me a reason,” was all he said, and Martinez swallowed hard as Daryl stepped closer to him so that the gun was pressing against the skin of his head.

 

“I didn’t know he was gonna take your girl… Beth,” he stuttered, and Daryl’s mouth tightened.

 

“I don’t… she ain’t…”  Daryl broke off and shook his head before blowing out a harsh breath.

 

“You took a kid from her home.  You stood back while a woman was raped… and you say you’re a family man.”  Daryl shook his head in disgust, and lowered the gun slightly.

 

Martinez swallowed hard, before he shook his head.

 

“You’re nothin’ like your brother, are you?” he asked, and when Daryl looked back at him, Martinez swallowed again.  “The Governor killed your brother,” he said quietly.  “And while I might not have pulled the trigger, I was there.  I didn’t stop it.”

 

He lifted his chin when the gun was jammed back against his forehead; lifted his chin and thought about his wife and children waiting for him in the next world as Daryl’s face twisted with grief.  The blow that came didn’t come from a bullet though; it came in the form of a clenched fist that knocked him clean off his feet.  It was followed by heavy boots that rained down a series of blows, blows that were directed at his stomach and rib area, and he bit back his pained cries as more than one of his ribs broke under the force of Daryl’s fury.  When the blows stopped several minutes later, Martinez could barely breathe; Daryl’s face swam into his wavering line of sight, and the coldness of the man’s tone sent a shiver down his spine.

 

“I won’t kill ya; nah, you gotta live wit’ this now.  You come near me or mine again though?  I’ll gut you like a fuckin’ pig.  Only thing that saved you tonight, was what I heard you say about Beth.  But I promise you this; I go in there and he’s raped her too?  I’ll come back.  There’ll be nowhere on earth you can hide… I’ll find you.  And I’ll take my time finishing what I just started.”

 

Daryl stood up and sheathed his knife, before he tucked his gun back into his pants.  And as Martinez stared at him through the blood in his eyes, he saw Daryl turn back to face him.  The booted foot swung towards his face in slow motion, and the blinding pain that exploded across his face when it connected took him under without another thought crossing his mind.  

 

XxXxXxX

 

The silence of the night was broken by the sound of music when Daryl broke into the house.  Bye, baby Bunting floated through the dark rooms as Daryl walked carefully down the hall.  He held his breath when he saw the master bedroom; it was released silently when he saw that the bed was neatly made, and he continued down the darkened hall toward the light he could see.  But as he crept passed the bathroom, he paused; the scent of soap hung heavily in the air, and as he pushed open the door with the muzzle of his gun, Daryl’s chest constricted.  Beth’s clothing lay in a tangled heap on the water soaked floor; there was a smear of blood on the edge of the bath, the red of it a startling contrast to the white of the porcelain.  Crossing the bathroom on silent feet, Daryl swiped his finger across the blood and then swallowed when it came away wet against his skin.  Backing away from the bathroom, he continued to search the house.  And as the music grew louder the closer he got to it, Daryl followed the sound on silent feet.  It was only when he could see through the open door that he paused as a rage so hot stole over him and had him swaying momentarily on his feet.

 

Beth was kneeling on the floor; the jumper she wore did up like a straitjacket.  Her arms were crossed across her body, and the ends of the sleeves were buckled behind her back.  And while she was slim, the clothing she wore obviously belonged to a younger girl.  The skirt came to mid-thigh and strained at the seams as Beth knelt at the Governor’s feet.  A twisted bandana was tied tightly between her lips, while another covered her eyes; she blind to everything but the man who sat behind her running a small brush through the ends of her damp hair.  Daryl swallowed hard as metal clinked against metal, and he swayed again when he saw the collar that was cutting into the skin of Beth’s throat; a chain ran down her back, and was lightly coiled across the Governor’s knees as he continued to sing softly and brush Beth’s hair.  Daryl took a calming breath, but before he could take a single step, the Governor was setting the brush aside and gripping Beth’s arms.  The cry she uttered was muffled behind the gag, and Daryl froze when the Governor turned her so that when she tottered on her feet and then collapsed, she fell across his lap.  The Governor hushed her, and as Beth tried to struggle free, he simply arranged her on his lap so that she was curled into him; wrapping his arms around her like Daryl had seen Beth do to Judith before, he began to rock slightly.

 

“Hush, my love,” he crooned as he continued to sweep his hand down over Beth’s hip and thigh.  “Daddy’s got you, you’re safe now.”

 

A look of confusion momentarily stole over his face as the song playing died away, and his hand tightened against Beth’s thigh.  She cried out, a muffled sound of pain as the Governor’s knuckles whitened against her leg.  But as the music started back up again, his hand relaxed, and he released Beth’s flesh from his painful grip.  The sound of the front door opening had Daryl melting into the shadows of the room beside this one, and he held his breath as a large man strode down the hallway.  As he walked past the room Daryl was hidden in, he recognised the man; Shumpert paused before the Governor and shuffled his feet a moment before he spoke.

 

“Sorry to disturb you and… Penny, Sir, but we have a problem,” he said, and Daryl slipped further into the shadows as the music abruptly stopped.

 

The creak of an armchair echoed, and the Governor spoke calmly.

 

“What is it, Shumpert?” he asked, and the other man cleared his throat uncomfortably.

 

“I just found Dwight; he’s dead.”

 

Silence grew and thickened, before the Governor spoke.

 

“And what of Martinez?” he asked.

 

Shumpert shifted on his feet, before he spoke carefully.

 

“He’s…uh… he’s out there lookin’ for a breech.  He said he thought he’d seen a group of people near the center square; he sent me to come and get you, while he went on ahead to scout the area.”

 

Daryl stilled at the obvious lie, and clenched his hands into fists when a muffled cry echoed.  Shumpert shifted on his feet and looked away from what he could see, and as images of what the Governor was doing filled his head, Daryl fought to relax the clenching of his jaw.

 

“You stay here, princess, Daddy’ll go and kill the bad men who have come to try and steal our town.  Be a good girl, you hear; you don’t want Daddy to get angry now, do you?”

 

The Governor pushed past Shumpert a moment later and as his footfalls faded, Shumpert spoke almost inaudibly.

 

“Martinez said to tell you that your terms were… acceptable.  You’ve got five minutes to get her out… after that he’ll find out we’re lying and he’ll come back here.”

 

His footfalls were deliberate as he followed the Governor down the hall as the Governor called out for him; Daryl didn’t hesitate.  He moved into the other room quickly; but faced with Beth kneeling in the ground with the chain padlocked to the wall bought him a moments real fear.  But then he was crossing the room at a run and dropping to his knees before her.  Beth flinched away from his touch when Daryl ran his hands up her arms; he ignored that as he briefly cupped her face in his hands, before slipping the blindfold away from her eyes and over the top of her head.  As he tossed the cotton material away, Daryl saw Beth wince as light flooded her eyes; recognition flared in her eyes though when she saw who was kneeling in front of her.  Tracking his eyes over her face, Daryl scowled when he saw the bruise that rode high on her cheek.  He had no time for comfort though, and he pulled Beth forward so he could undo the collar.  Her head tilted down against his chest, and when he saw a second padlock, he swore viciously.

 

Rising to his feet, he gripped the chain in both hands, and pulled.  It didn’t budge; swearing again, Daryl braced his foot against the wall and pulled with all his strength.  Knowing he was against the clock, Daryl finally let the chain go when it wouldn’t give and sank back to his knees.  Tracking his eyes over Beth, he sighed once and shook his head as he reached over to finger the collar around her neck.  But when he touched leather instead of metal like he had expected, Daryl swallowed once as an idea exploded in his mind.  Dropping his thumb to her throat, he brushed it along her carotid artery, before tugging the gag out from between her lips where it slipped down around her throat.  Beth’s lips parted as she drew breath to speak, but wisely stayed silent when Daryl slapped his hand over her mouth.  He shook his head before he removed his hand; Beth licked her lips, and when Daryl withdrew his blood stained knife, she swallowed once and raised her eyes to his.  Brushing his thumb across her neck again, he moistened his suddenly dry mouth.

 

“I nick this, and you’ll bleed out in a matter of seconds.  I don’t wanna hurt you… you gotta stay real still for me, Beth.”

 

She nodded as Daryl slipped his hand around the back of her skull; Daryl pulled her head forward again, and swept her hair out of his way so that the back of her neck was exposed.  As he slipped the knife between her skin and the collar, he heard Beth’s breathe hitch painfully in her chest, but she stayed still as he cautiously turned the knife.  The copper scent of her blood perfumed the air, and Daryl swore softly as he carefully cut through the collar.  As cautious as he was, however, by the time the collar fell away blood was running down the back of Beth’s neck and staining the pale pink sweater that kept her trapped the way she was.  Moving the knife further down her back, he cut through the buckles that held her prisoner, and Beth slumped forward against his chest.  Running his hands down her arms, Daryl helped Beth wind her arms around his neck, and holding her close, he rose to his feet.  With his arm around her waist, Daryl turned to leave.  The sound of running feet had him swearing though and he sheathed his knife.  Her arm dropped from his neck to his waist as Daryl unslung his crossbow in a fluid movement and he tightened the hold he had on Beth, as he held her against him. 

 

The Governor burst through the door and fired the gun in his hand without thought as he barreled down the corridor.  But when the bullet missed Daryl and slammed into Beth’s shoulder, the Governor faltered when she screamed.  It gave Daryl enough time to fire the crossbow once; the bolt flew from his crossbow and hit the Governor in the chest with enough force to knock him back several steps.  Beth was sagging against him, and Daryl tightened his grip on her as he stalked towards the Governor.  The man slowly fell to his knees as Daryl drew closer, and he reached up to grasp the bolt that was sticking out of his chest.  A second one joined the first, causing his hand to fall away and he rocked there momentarily as he stared at the man stalking towards him.  The madness that clouded his mind so often cleared slightly, and he recognised Daryl in the dim light.  But when he glanced at Beth, his confusion was clear; Daryl’s jaw twitched as he hitched Beth closer to his side, and as he looked between them, the Governor managed to laugh.

 

“I was wrong, wasn’t I…? She wasn’t my Penny… and she wasn’t Michonne’s girl either,” he wheezed.  “She was always yours… I shoulda fucked her after all.”

 

He laughed again; what happened next occurred in slow motion for Daryl and would give him many an uncomfortable night in the days to come.  He felt Beth move against him; felt her hand drift across his lower back, before it snaked away from him as she withdrew her hand out from between their bodies.  And as the Governor rocked on his knees and laughed, Beth pointed the gun she had taken from Daryl at the Governor.  She swayed once, and as Daryl opened his mouth to speak, Beth pulled the trigger.  The bullet slammed into his upper chest and stole the Governor’s breath; Beth’s hand shook slightly as she slowly moved it, and when she pulled the trigger again, another bullet tore through the man’s shoulder.  The Governor did cry out this time, and as Beth swayed momentarily on her feet as she lowered the gun so that she was aiming at his groin, Daryl slowly slipped behind her so that she came to rest against his body.  The Governor let out a high pitched scream when Beth shot him again, and he lurched forward to the ground as inhuman sounds continued to spill from his mouth.  Daryl ran his hand down Beth’s arm to her hand; the motion of his hand against hers steadied Beth’s arm, and as Daryl guided her hand, Beth tilted her head slightly.  Staring at the man convulsing in agony on the ground before her, Beth sneered once; a look that often graced Daryl’s face, and was out of place on her finer features.

 

“You’re a psycho,” she managed.  “And my Daddy taught me that you put the sick down so they don’t infect others.”

 

With Daryl’s hand steading her own, Beth pulled the trigger for a final time.  The bullet hit the Governor’s head, and he twitched once before he fell silent.  For a long minute, Beth stood as she was; with Daryl’s hand supporting her own, and her arm outstretched.  But then she swayed into Daryl and the hand holding the gun fell to her side.  Daryl took the weight of the gun and slipped it out of her hand a she lowered her chin.  Tucking the gun back into his pants where Beth had taken it from, Daryl slipped his arm around Beth’s waist and guided her past the man she had killed without a word.  Yet as they grew level with the bathroom, Beth faltered mid step; her eyes swung toward the room, and even as Daryl tried tugging her toward the from door again, she was pulling away from him and staggering into the bathroom and turning on the light.  Daryl scrubbed his hand down over his mouth; he expected her to be sick – nausea had his own stomach churning - but when Beth began to tug at the restricting clothing she wore, he frowned.

 

“Get them off me.”

 

Hysteria coloured her words, and Daryl entered the bathroom hesitantly.  Beth’s right arm remained hanging by her side, and when she looked over her shoulder at him, desperation darkened her eyes to smoke.

 

“Daryl… help me.  These were her clothes… I’ve gotta get ‘em off.”

 

Daryl simply nodded, and crossing over to her, he tore the sleeve from the jumper on the right hand side and tugged it free from her arm.  It fell to the floor as he hooked his fingers into the bottom of the jumper, and with a muttered apology, he yanked it up and over her head.  Beth hissed out a breath, and Daryl caught sight of far too much creamy skin before he averted his gaze.  Spotting Beth’s wet clothes just behind her, he untangled her top from her pants and then faltered when Beth’s soft sound of distress echoed as he handed it to her; with one arm hanging uselessly by her side, Beth was unable to do anything but stand there and stare at him with her other arm pressed over her chest.  Left with no other option, Daryl swallowed; colour rode high on her cheeks, and Daryl was horrified to realise he was blushing himself as he shook her top out and then tugged it over her head.  She bit back a scream when he forced her injured arm through the sleeve, but she nodded once when Daryl gripped her elbows as she swayed and her face turned grey.  Colour finally seeped back into her cheeks, and Daryl let her go as if the touch of her skin burned.

 

“He made me… uh… Daryl… I’m not wearing…. Shit…”

 

Beth’s mortification was clear and Daryl closed his eyes and then nodded; the skirt proved more difficult to remove, and in the end, Daryl simply took his knife back out and crouching down, he ran it up the tautly stretched material between Beth’s thighs.  The knife clattered to the floor, and Daryl averted his eyes as he gripped the material in his hands and then wrenched them apart as hard as he could.  Beth’s good hand rose to rest against his shoulder, and with his eyes on her feet, Daryl shook her underwear out; her bare feet rose one at a time as she stepped into the panties he held, and Daryl closed his eyes helplessly as he guided them up her thighs.  The skin of her thighs was soft beneath his fingers, and Daryl swallowed hard as he kept his eyes trained on the ground.  He repeated the motion with her pants and then her boots, and when he finally rose to his feet, he saw that her pants were gapping open and exposing the pale skin of her stomach.  The skin beneath his knuckles was as soft as her upper thighs had been as he carefully buttoned her jeans back up, and without a word he bent over to pick up the knife.

 

“Let’s get the fuck outta ‘ere,” he finally muttered, and Beth nodded as he wrapped his arm around her waist for support.

 

By the time he got her out of Woodbury, Beth was staggering; blood soaked the front and back of her top, and ran down over his arm as he guided her to the fence.  Headlight lit up his bike as he ducked through it, and Daryl jerked the gun out of his pants and pointed it at them as he tried to shield Beth with his own body.  The sound of a car door opening sounded as the lights dimmed, and Daryl made out the sight of Martinez slumped in the passenger seat as Shumpert rose from the driver’s side and stared at Daryl.

 

“Did you kill him?” he asked, but before he could answer, Daryl’s gun hand faltered slightly when Beth swayed against him, before falling away completely as she became an almost dead weight. 

 

He swung around to catch Beth and sank to his knees as Beth’s teeth chattered in the cold air.  Rushed footsteps drew closer, and Shumpert crouched down beside them.  Quick eyes took in the gunshot wound, and he nodded once as Daryl pushed Beth’s hair away from her face.  Shumpert hurried away, and when he returned a minute later, it was with a battered first aid case.

 

“Sit her up,” he said briskly, and Daryl did as the man said.

 

Holding Beth against him, Daryl bit back the need to lash out as Shumpert tightly bound Beth’s shoulder with a bandage; Beth cried out as he made her rotate her arm, and he nodded once.

 

“Through and through,” he said flatly.  “It should heal up fine in a week or so.”

 

Sitting back on his heels, he cocked his eyebrow and then jerked his thumb at Daryl’s bike.

 

“How she gonna ride on that wit’ you?”

 

“I’ll manage.”

 

Beth bit it out, and Shumpert smiled slightly.

 

“I can drive you…”

 

Beth’s fingers tightened on Daryl’s arm, and he shook his head as Beth’s body jerked against him.

 

“She’ll manage,” he said with a tone that broke no argument.

 

Helping Beth to her feet without another word, Daryl led her over to the bike.  But when he sat on the low slung bike, he steered Beth forward so that she sat in front of him, rather than behind him.  Shumpert simply nodded and Daryl guided Beth’s hands forward, his voice a quiet murmur of reassurance as he showed her where he wanted her to hang on.  Shumpert stepped forward again, and he paused with his hands raised when Daryl pointed the gun at him again; a jacket hung from between two fingers, and when Daryl hesitated, Shumpert strode forward and handed it to Beth. 

 

“She’s in shock; blood loss’ll do that to ya.  Her sittin’ there is a good thing; but without your body to shield her from the wind, she’ll go down fast.  That’ll keep her warm enough until you get her home.”

 

Daryl shrugged but helped Beth slip the jacket on without comment; it was only as he peered over her shoulder to zip it up that Daryl finally spoke.

 

“Why’re you helpin’ us?”

 

Shumpert shrugged.

 

“Like Martinez… I don’t do little girls.  Even if you hadn’t come here tonight, we woulda killed the Governor and gotten her out.  We woulda returned her when it was safe.”

 

Daryl snorted softly.

 

“Then why’d he take her in the first place?” he hissed, and Shumpert smiled slightly.

 

“Better to be wit’ him and safe, than wit’ the likes of Dwight.”  Shumpert tilted his head and made his way back to the car as Daryl started the bike.  But as Daryl kicked the kickstand back up into position, Shumpert called out.

 

“I know we ain’t welcome.  I know what you said you’d do to Martinez.  But I’m gonna follow you back, so I know that little girl don’t fall off your bike and become road kill.”

 

Daryl hissed out a breath as he eased the bike into a turn, but as he drew side by side with the car he paused.  Leaning down so his face was level with the window, he spoke coldly as he held the bike with one hand while the other rested on his thigh.

 

“Beth ain’t a little girl.  Not anymore.  Not thanks to you and yours.  Any little girl she had lingering inside her died in that fuckin’ bathroom.”   

 

Shumpert’s face paled, and he took in the vicious look on Daryl’s face slowly, before he nodded.  Daryl straightened up as he reeved the bike, and after briefly touching Beth’s hip, he reached past her for the handlebar and guided the bike out into the night with a roar.  Headlights lit up the road in front of them a minute later, and with those twin lights showing him more than his own single would, Daryl was able to use more speed.  Beth’s weight rested against him as the wind teased strands of her hair across his nose and lips; she shifted within the cradle of his thighs once, and Daryl let go of the bike with his left hand.  Wrapping his arm around her waist, Daryl held her steady as he slowed down a bit; he didn’t need Shumpert telling him how easy it was to take a spill from the bike.  He’d picked gravel out of his own skin often enough.      

 

“Stay wit’ me, Beth,” he shouted, and felt her jerk against him.  But she nodded, and after a moment, Daryl lifted his arm from around her waist and grasped the handlebars again.

 

The prison loomed out of the dark twenty minutes later, and Daryl dropped his arm around Beth’s waist again as she fought a losing battle with staying conscious.  The gates slowly began to swing open as he came closer, and Daryl steered the bike through the opening without slowing down.  Gravel spat out from under his wheels as he rode up the path, and the doors to the prison eased open as he rolled to a stop.  Beth sagged against him, and she rolled her head where it rested against his shoulder.  Daryl looked down at her, and swallowed as she brushed her hand along his knee.

 

“Thank you.”

 

She whispered it, the sound barely reaching his ears.  And as the doors to the main building swung open, Daryl reached up to skim his thumb across her jaw lightly.  He continued to sit there as the others ran towards them; he felt Beth loose the fight and go limp in his arms; as she did, the knot in his chest eased.  He’d found her.  She was safe.  She was home.  But at what cost, he couldn’t be sure.

 

Chapter Text

6/10

 

Getting Beth back had been the easy part; saving her was an entirely different story.  Daryl hadn’t known how true his words to Shumpert had been; the light inside of Beth had dimmed down so low, that Daryl felt fear lick at his shoulder blades whenever he thought about her.  Bleakness settled over the prison as fall gave way to winter, and Daryl and Hershel had spoken quietly about perhaps moving on and finding somewhere else to live.  In the face of how easy it had been for the Governor to penetrate their walls, the statement Beth had made about the prison not being safe was all the more profound.  Shifting his weight in the guard tower, Daryl swept his eyes over the grounds, before he glanced over his shoulder; a thin mattress was tucked against the wall, and curled deep within a mound of blankets Beth lay sleeping.  She no longer felt safe within the prison, so much so, that if Daryl had guard duty overnight, she slept in the tower while he kept watch.  But during the day, she preferred her own company or that of Michonne’s; pity was a scraping knife against her carefully constructed walls, and an emotion she wanted no part of.  Glancing down at her again, Daryl let his mind wander back over the last three months.

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

After Hershel had examined and then sewn together the gunshot wound, he had ordered bed rest; the shuffling of feet had barely faded before he had gathered Beth close to his chest and he’d wept out both fear and exhaustion into the crown of her head.  For well over an hour Daryl had sat on the catwalk above Beth’s cell, keeping watch over her; he had heard Hershel’s tears, and the questions he had asked Beth that she hadn’t answered.  In the end, however, both he and Daryl been called away to a council meeting.  When Daryl had finished recounting a doctored version of what had happened and answering the questions that had been thrown at him, the need to wash away the last few days had been overwhelming.  The dirt on his skin was normally a comforting blanket – on this day, however, it was suffocating.  It was late enough that he wouldn’t be disturbed, and Daryl unbuttoned his shirt as he walked down the corridor towards the shower block.  Pushing the doors to the showers open, Daryl didn’t hesitate; he stripped down to bare skin and turned the water on as hard as it would go.  Dirt and dried blood was ruthlessly scrubbed away, and Daryl shook his head, sending water flying in all directions when he finally turned the taps off.  The towel was coarse against his skin, and he enjoyed the brief prickle of pain it bought – it reminded him that he was alive.  Tugging on the mostly clean pants he had bought with him, Daryl turned around and froze in the middle of pulling his vest on.

 

Beth made a poignant picture in the moonlit room; she stood with her back to him under the steady stream of water, and while she was wearing underwear and a thin tank, she might have well had been naked.  He could see the bruises, turned silvered by both moonlight and water, that littered her body; the handprints and fingermarks that ran across the span of her slender hips, down her legs and under the band of her panties – the bruises that circled both wrists and peppered her arms.  She stood under the water with her head tilted back, and as she ran her good hand over her tilted head, the fall of her saturated hair appeared longer than he’d ever seen it; Daryl flinched when he realized he was watching her.  He must have made some sort of sound, because Beth slowly looked over her shoulder at him.  For a long minute, the only sound that broke the silence that lingered between them was the spattering of water on concrete.  Daryl’s muttered apology died on his lips unuttered when he saw the lack of expression on her face.  Her face was carefully blank and he moved cautiously towards her without thought.  The touch of her skin under the pads of his fingers still didn’t break the silence, but Daryl reached past her to wrench the tap off to stop the flow of ice cold water; violent tremors wracked her frame, and Daryl grasped the slightly ratty towel on the bench and folded it around her in one brisk move.  Later, he wouldn’t be sure if she stepped into him, or if he drew her towards him, but as the towel settled around her shoulders, Beth bowed her head against his chest.  Her skin was like ice against his, and as her arms slipped around his waist, Daryl couldn’t hold back the flinch that escaped him when her arms touched his bare sides.  But Beth’s shoulders were shaking, and Daryl patted her on the back awkwardly.

 

“Oh, kid… you’re gonna be a’ight…”

 

It was all he could manage, and as Beth shook against him, Daryl tilted his head back in defeat.  Wrapping his arm around her, Daryl silently led her back to her cell.  The silence between them thickened and grew and when Daryl let her go, Beth remained silent and steady on her feet; her silence bothered him, and as Daryl tracked his eyes over her, he saw that the bandage that was wrapped around her shoulder was soaked with both water and blood.  Dragging his hand down over his jaw, Daryl gestured to her shoulder, and then spoke briskly.

 

“That’s gotta be changed, Beth.”

 

Her eyes were luminous in the dark, and when she finally nodded, Daryl tracked her eyes when her gaze shifted and he saw the medical supplies her father had left behind.  Licking his suddenly dry lips, Daryl gestured towards them, and then shook his head.

 

“You want me to get your Daddy?” he asked.

 

Beth’s answer was to turn her back on him and reach across her body so that she could tug the strap of her tank down her arm.  It was harder with the one on the left, but as Daryl stared at her slack jawed, Beth shimmied the tank down slightly so that her shoulder was bare.  Crossing her chest with her good arm, she slowly looked over her shoulder at him again.  The picture she made slammed Daryl in the gut; he sucked in a deep breath, and bit back the cough that wanted to escape when the air in his lungs heated.  Willing his hands steady, hating that he had to momentarily clench his hands into fists, Daryl finally stepped forward and unwound the old bandage.  It was the sight of the stitches marring her pale skin that eased the tightness in his gut, and Daryl blew out a silent breath as he reached for a clean bandage.  His movements quick, he kept his eyes on her shoulder as he re-wrapped the ugliness of what had happened to her.  It was only when he was pinning it in place that his eyes strayed; over the creamy skin of her unbound shoulder, and down the curve of her spine.  He caught sight of a small cluster of freckles riding along her left side, but when he felt the coolness of her skin under his thumb as he brushed it over those freckles, Daryl jerked back to reality with a silent oath.  But Beth wasn’t moving away from his touch.  Instead she stepped into it – into him – and lowered her chin slightly.  He could smell the soap on her skin as it warmed due to his closeness.  He could see the rosy tone her skin took on as they stood there; and as the softness of her skin slid under his thumb again, Daryl swallowed and let his hand fall away from her side. 

 

“You’ve gotta get dressed, Beth,” he said finally, and she sighed but nodded.

 

Before he could move, however, to give her some semblance of privacy, Beth shimmied her hip slightly; the tank made a plopping sound as it slid down her thighs and hit the ground.  Daryl hissed out a quiet breath as Beth reached out with her left hand and plucked a jumper out of the pile of clothing she had.  He knew she’d have trouble with it before she even shifted and he reached out to take the jumper from her.  He heard the soft sound of pain she bit back as he helped her maneuver her injured arm through the sleeve, and muttered an apology.  Her panties were still slightly damp, but Daryl drew the line at helping her change those; instead he helped her step into a pair of warn sweat pants.  And when he looked her over a second time, Daryl finally relaxed.  Beth moved past him, and curled into her bed without a sound; yet when he went to leave, Beth reached out and tangled her fingers with his; Daryl’s eyes locked with hers at the innocent touch, and when she tugged once, Daryl sighed heavily.  It had been an unspoken plea that he was helpless to deny and Daryl let her guide him down onto the narrow cot beside her.  Lying there, holding her hand as her eyes glittered in the dark at him, Daryl licked his lips and spoke quietly.

 

“I’m here.  You’re safe wit’ me.”

 

Beth nodded, and when her voice finally sounded, it was so quiet that Daryl had to lean forward to hear it.

 

“Do they know what I did?”

 

Daryl simply shook his head and Beth sighed as her eyes slid shut; when her head shifted on the pillow so that their foreheads touched, Daryl closed his own eyes.  He would leave at dawn to go hunting; but for the night, he would guard Beth.  It was a mostly restless night; Beth whimpered in her sleep as she fought the monsters that only she could see.  But every time her eyes flew open, they would lock with his; she found strength in those angry green eyes, and safety in the arms that were wrapped around her as she fought her own private demons.  And when he slipped from her bed as dawn split the sky, Beth kept her eyes shut and breathed in the lingering scent of him as he sat down on the edge of her bed to pull his boots back on.  A careless swipe of his fingers across the top of her head was all the farewell she got, but as Daryl’s footsteps faded into the distance, Beth closed her eyes and continued to breathe him in.

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

The blurring of lines came on silent feet the following night; he’d had guard duty during the afternoon, and it was late when he finally slipped back inside after Maggie had relieved him.  That had been an uncomfortable conversation – she had heard something in his voice during the meeting the night before, and in the confines of the tower she had demanded that Daryl tell her the truth.  He had no right to keep it from her.  And in that confining place, Daryl’s temper had finally bubbled free.  Would it make her feel better, knowing what had really happened?  Or would she look upon her sister with sorrowful eyes?  Would it change how Maggie felt about Beth?  And as Maggie’s lips parted, Daryl had barreled on as his own fear and temper stole his ability to stop; he didn’t think the Governor had raped her, but had he touched her?  Of that, Daryl wasn’t so sure.  She had the classic signs of someone who had endured something traumatic, and she would need time and patience to heal.  When Maggie had asked him if he’d killed the man, Daryl had laughed mirthlessly, before shaking his head.  

 

“I didn’t pull the trigger, Maggie - Beth did.  Does that make her a criminal?  Does it make her less somehow?  She killed him, and she’ll come out the other side of this stronger for it; it’s better to kill your own monsters, than cower in the dark waiting for them to come back at you.  Do you feel better knowing?  Are you absolved of all guilt somehow?” he asked bitterly.  “Because I’m not.  But I ain’t gonna treat Beth no different, to how I treated her before - no matter how sick watching her do that made me feel.”

 

He’d left Maggie standing there with silent tears rolling down her face as he walked back inside.  The food he choked down sat heavily in his stomach, and for the first time in a long time, he actively wished for a bottle of something – anything – to numb how he was feeling.  Instead he smoked heavily as he walked around the silent prison.  Several times he passed Beth’s cell, but it sat silent and empty.  It was outside Michonne’s cell that he heard the soft sound of voices; private whispers between two damaged souls.  He left them to it – it felt like he was intruding on an intimate moment somehow – and sought solace in the silence of his own cell.  When they had first moved into the prison, the others had clustered together; Daryl’s cell was on the second level, and set further away than the ones being used by the first group.  He needed his quiet and he needed his privacy almost as much as he needed to draw his next breath.  It was his space – Karen had never come here during their brief time together, and as he sank into his bunk, Daryl let out a muffled groan; he was glad she hadn’t come here.  Not when her death was still so fresh. 

 

He sank towards sleep slowly; images of a curved spine and a cluster of freckles made the journey harder.  He could smell her; in this quiet space, between wakefulness and sleep, he could somehow smell her.  The scent of soap and the sweetness of summer fruit that she wore on her lips, and Daryl’s eyes flew open when the mattress beneath him shifted marginally.  Beth’s eyes were luminous in the dark; her skin glowed slightly, and her hair tumbled around her shoulders as she knelt at his side.  Staring at her, taking in the sight of her in his space, Daryl had to blink several times to make sure he was awake; the sight of her remained, and he let out a careful breath as Beth shifted.  She tracked her eyes over his face slowly, before she licked her lips and plucked lightly at the sheets and blankets that covered him.  And in that fragile moment of silence, he knew what she was going to say before her lips even parted.  He wanted to shake his head, to deny her the comfort she was seeking as an unnamable emotion started to twist inside his gut; he could see the fear of rejection lurking in those shadowed eyes, however, and he knew he was helpless to deny her anything. 

 

“I know that you don’t owe me nothin’.  I know that you prefer your privacy.  But I… I can’t… I don’t wanna be alone…” 

 

She licked her lips again as Daryl continued to stare at her, before she lowered her head.  Her hair swung forward, a soft curtain that she could hide behind; the silence stretched out between them, and Beth slowly rose to her feet.  And as she stepped away from him, Daryl’s hand closed around her wrist.  They stayed as they were for several moments before he lifted the bedding without comment; inviting her into his bed and into the safety she had sought.  It wasn’t graceful; Beth turned awkwardly as she sat on the edge of his bed, before she slowly curled downwards.  The bedding settled across her body, and Daryl moved his arm quickly as he shifted so she could have more room in the narrow bunk.  While Beth slept with her head near the door in her own cell, Daryl slept the opposite way; he had a clear line of sight of the door, and the gun that was tucked under his pillow could be reached within a nano second if need be.  But in sleeping this way, it also remained darker; he couldn’t see Beth, but he could smell her.  Hear her subtle movements as she shifted within the bunk.  And as she tucked her head under his chin, Daryl let out a careful breath.  But she wasn’t touching him in any other way; he could hear her breathing him in as they lay there, and as those breaths slowed, Daryl finally let out a deep sigh.

 

It took him several hours to finally drop into sleep; Beth stayed as she was - curled on her side, with her hands fisted under her chin.  Completely innocent.  But in sleeping, the line between them blurred.  And when Daryl woke, he was curled around her once more.  His hand was splayed across the warmth of her stomach, the cotton of her tank covering his hand completely.  His face was buried in the tousled strands of her hair, and as he drew in a sleepy breath, Beth shifted closer to him.  Her hips brushed against his, and Daryl froze as his groin twitched.  His brain cried out in denial, even as she turned within the circle of his arms; Beth’s lips brushed across his collarbone, and her arm curled across his waist as she pushed her knee between his in an effort to get closer to him.  Panting slightly as his stomach tightened with nausea, Daryl shook his head silently; it wasn’t right.  It wasn’t true.  But desire bit down hard as Beth mumbled softly in sleep, and his body reacted accordingly.  Nausea faded and was slowly replaced with need.  Daryl shook slightly with the effort it took to not let his hands slide anywhere they shouldn’t; to keep his embrace safe and innocent.  And as he stared across the dimly lit cell, he let out a shuddering breath as he fought his own body for control.      

 

     XXxXxXxXx

 

It became their routine; Michonne grew stronger, as did the relationship she shared with Beth.  Confidant, in every sense of the word.  And as the days stretched out, Michonne would sometimes stare at him with a strange look upon her face; it was almost as if she was trying to tell him something that she couldn’t voice.  Day after day, they would talk and share secrets and burdens.  But the nights?  It was during those dark hours that Beth would seek him out and slip into the circle of his arms.  Innocently sleeping beside him, as he fought an internal war over how he was feeling.  Resignation was a bitter pill to swallow; he knew what he felt.  Knew that it would tear the prison apart if his feelings became public knowledge, just as he knew those feelings would drive Beth away from him.  How did you tell the one person you’d sworn to protect, that you wanted nothing more than to explore every inch of creamy skin that covered her body?  You couldn’t – you didn’t - so Daryl suffered in silence as his bond with the girl grew deeper and more tangled with every passing day.

 

It was Hershel who found out first; he approached Daryl while he was doing a perimeter check.  And as they walked together, Hershel’s hesitation warred with his concern.  He’d gone to check on Beth the night before, only to find her cell empty.  Fear had him heading straight to Daryl’s own cell, but it was within that shadowed room that Hershel found his daughter.  Daryl had been flat on his back, Hershel said with a frown; flat on his back and fast asleep, while Beth’s head nestled against his shoulder.  Her hand, Hershel murmured finally, had been resting over Daryl’s heart, and caught within the confines of the man’s hand whose chest she slept upon.  Daryl had squirmed uncomfortably while Hershel stared out across the yard.  And when he finally voiced a question, Daryl had been hard pressed to answer him truthfully.

 

“I dunno how to answer that,” he said finally.  “I can’t say there ain’t nothin’ goin’ on, Hershel, ‘cause she’s sleepin’ in my bed.  But if you’re askin’ if I’m… if me and Beth are… we ain’t.  It ain’t like that between us.”

 

Hershel had nodded once; and in nodding, he spoke quietly.

 

“I believe you when you say that it is innocent between you and my daughter, Daryl,” he said finally.  “And I’d like to think you and I are friendly enough that we can have this conversation.  Because what I’m asking is, while it might not be like that now, it might be one day.  Am I correct in that statement?”

 

Daryl’s lips parted and he wheezed out a fractured breathe of air as Hershel continued to watch him.  But when Daryl’s lips pressed back into a firm line, Hershel sighed.

 

“I might have been ignorant to what my daughter was going through some months ago, Daryl, but I have since been watching her closely.  And in watching her, I have been watching you.  You have feelings for her.”

 

It was a statement the other man made, not a question; Daryl looked away, and when he finally spoke, it was strained.

 

“Don’t matter none how I feel, Hershel.  She ain’t for me.  She feels safe wit’ me, and I ain’t gonna damage what ground she’s clawed back by kickin’ her outta my bed.  I can control myself wit’ her… I ain’t ever gonna make her feel uncomfortable.”

 

Hershel nodded, and when he looked down at the ground, Daryl let out a heavy sigh.

 

“How well do you know my daughter, Daryl?”  The question came out of nowhere, and as Daryl jerked his eyes back to Hershel, he was surprised to see the slightest sparkle of humor in the other man’s eyes.  “You have no idea how Beth feels… do you?” he asked, and when Daryl’s eyes narrowed, Hershel shook his head.  “She won’t talk to me; not about that night.  I can stitch her up, Daryl, but I can’t save her.  Not this time.” 

 

Clapping the other man on the back, Hershel slowly turned away.  “I told you once that she was lucky to have you as a friend.  That still stands.  And I know I have no right to ask, but if she won’t talk to me, maybe she’ll talk to you; I trust you, Daryl, as does Beth.  Maybe you should learn, however, to trust not only her but yourself.”

 

Daryl turned away from the sight of Hershel walking away, and jammed his knife through the forehead of a Walker in response.  He did trust her; he trusted her, as he trusted so very few people.  And that there in, was his problem; because while he trusted a few, Beth only trusted him.  There was nothing on this earth that he would do to betray that fragile trust she had in him – not a damn thing.

 

XXxXxXxXx

He breathed her in silently as she lay curled in his arms.  Her hair was soft against his skin, and her warmth was seeping into him; warming his blood and Daryl groaned silently as Beth shifted.  Her hips were pressed back against the curve of his lap, and as she shifted against him again, Daryl’s jaw clenched.  He was used to holding her during the night now; was used to feeling the slow burn of need crawl over his body as he held her during the long hours.  And as he lay there, Beth rolled over within his embrace.  The thin tank she wore rode up at her movement and Daryl closed his eyes as Beth settled against him.  He could feel the silkiness of her skin, and with a silent oath, splayed his hand against her side.  He was unable to stop the motion of his hand – that slow slip and slide of palm over skin, and in the silence of the cell, he heard the sound that spilt from her mouth.  Half groan, half gasp, and the muscles in his stomach clenched painfully as Beth lifted herself up onto her elbow.  Her eyes gleamed in the dark, and for a long moment, they stared at each other.

 

“Are we ever gonna talk about this?” she whispered finally.

 

Daryl rolled away from her and sat up on the edge of the bed as Beth waited patiently behind him.  He knew what she meant – and he had too much respect for her to play dumb.  Shoving his hands through his hair, Daryl finally sighed and spoke gruffly.

 

“Nothin’ to talk about, Beth.”

 

He felt her shift on the narrow bunk, and her warmth seeped into him as she rested her chin on his shoulder.

 

“Why?”

 

Daryl dragged his hands down over his face, and then reached down to pat the hand that rested against his stomach.

 

“We’re friends, you and I.  That’s all we can ever be.”

 

He felt her shake her head, even as he pulled her hand away from his stomach and rose to his feet.

 

“You want me,” she said quietly.  “So why can’t we have that?”

 

Daryl sighed again, and reached out to turn the small lamp on.  The light caused shifting shadows to play over her face as he leaned against the wall and lit a smoke.

 

“It ain’t real… what you’re feelin’,” he said finally.  “At best, Beth, it’s gratitude for me comin’ to get you from Woodbury.”

 

Beth’s face twisted with anger, and she glared at Daryl for a long minute before she crawled from his bed and braced her hands on her hips.

 

“That’s really sad, Daryl, that you can reduce what we feel for each other down to something so basic and benign.  It’s sad that you don’t think you deserve what I feel for you.”

 

Daryl blew out a steady stream of smoke and then shook his head.

 

“It can’t happen, Beth,” he said finally.  “You’re eighteen… you got your whole life ahead of you to find someone…”

 

“Oh, bullshit!” she spat, and laughed bitterly as Daryl stared at her in shock.  “Maybe I should go and tame myself a Walker.  I’d have better luck with that, than with gettin’ through your thick skull.  I don’t want anyone else.  I want you; even with your filthy temper and lack of brain to mouth filter.  And I know you feel the same way; we ain’t hurtin’ anyone, Daryl, but ourselves.  And I’m sick to death of hurtin’; I’m sick to death of waitin’ and wonderin’.  You think I don’t know you want me?  I might not be the most experienced person around, but I know when you…react… you roll slightly and press your thigh down between us so that I don’t feel you.  You’ve been doin’ that since the first time we shared a bed.  I want you… you’ve basically admitted that you want me… so what’s the problem?”

 

Straightening up, Daryl shook his head stubbornly.

 

“Ain’t gonna happen,” he said finally.  “Not now, not ever.  It’s hard enough as it is, Beth; don’t make it harder by offerin’ somethin’ to me that I know would cause a war within these walls, no matter how much I might want it.”

 

Stubbing out his cigarette, Daryl cursed angrily, before reaching to grasp the back of Beth’s neck.  Jerking her forward a step, he rested his forehead against hers and inhaled the sweet scent of her skin.

 

“We ignore it, Beth; it’ll fade away in time, and we’ll laugh about this in the future,” he said finally.

 

Beth reached up to grasp his wrists in her hands, and staring into his familiar green eyes, she smiled slightly and then spoke.

 

“We’ll see; because while you might feel like that now, Daryl… that if we ignore it it’ll go away?  You won’t always.”

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

Daryl was jerked out of his thoughts and back to the presence as Beth groaned and sat up within her makeshift bed.  Her hair was tousled as she rose to her feet, and she yawned softly as she wrapped a blanket around her shoulders.  Daryl stayed where he was; leaning against the rail and staring out over the yard as she walked up behind him and rested her chin against the width of his shoulders.

 

“Wanna take a ride later?” she asked, and Daryl simply nodded as she brushed her fingers over his side and headed for the trapdoor.

 

“Yeah… maybe see if we can’t find some stuff,” he mumbled.

 

“You want oats?” she asked, and Daryl nodded again as she disappeared from sight.

 

She was right, he mused silently as he lifted his gaze back to the fence line.  He’d been so sure that if he ignored how he felt that it would fade away.  It hadn’t.  It had grown stronger; tangled around him like rope, and bound him to the pretty blonde more tightly than anything else.  He was having a harder time keeping her in the Untouchable box lately; it felt too natural to wake up with her in the mornings, and to fall asleep with her fingers lightly dancing over his side.  The reaction his body had to hers was second nature now; he was used to the burn in his blood, and the tightening of his groin when they lay curled together.  He was used to waking up with an erection, while her skin slid like silk against his hand.

 

Everyone knew they shared his space; Michonne had simply cocked an eyebrow at him when it had come to light.  Glenn had scratched his ear before shaking his head, while Carol had pursed her lips.  It had been Rick and Maggie that had predictably gone mental.  Only Hershel speaking up had saved him from a beating; the older man admitted that he knew Beth was sleeping in Daryl’s cell.  Had been for two months by that stage.  And as her father, wasn’t it up to him to speak to Daryl, rather than humiliate the man by calling him out during a council meeting?  Rick had spluttered, before falling silent when Hershel had leaned forward.

 

“That’s my daughter you’re discussing there, Rick; mine.  Not yours.  I know what’s been going on; they’re friends.  And even if they weren’t, that is none of your concern.  I don’t appreciate you doing this to Daryl and Beth, and I’ll thank you to keep private matters just that in the future – private.”

 

Hershel’s statement had rocked Daryl to the core, and he found himself thinking over his words more and more often.  What they had…. Daryl blew out a harsh breath.  What they had scared him more than the Walkers some days.  Walkers he knew how to deal with; his feelings for a teenaged girl?  Daryl shook his head and sighed again.  Those… not so much.

Chapter Text

7/10

Winter died away with a final gasp of icy winds and dead leaves.  Spring, however, bought forth all manner of new life.  Animals waking up made hunting easier.  The warmer winds bought forth fresh growth.  And as the days steadily warmed and the ground slowly thawed, Daryl gradually made his own changes.  After their talk during the night when Beth had made him question not only his own strength of resolve, but his own sanity, Daryl had tried putting some distance between himself and his ever growing feelings for the Greene girl.  She had simply nodded when he’d quietly suggested that maybe she should start sleeping in her own bunk again; understanding had shone out of those blue eyes, and perhaps a little bit of amusement at his own expense.  But she hadn’t argued.  And for hours that night, Daryl had tossed and turned.  Two nights later, after cursing up a storm in his cell, he found himself pulling back the covers of Beth’s bunk as he slid in behind her; she hadn’t said a word to him as he curled down behind her.  Instead she’d laced her fingers through his, and brought their joined hands up under her chin.  Her lips had brushed across the scarred skin of his knuckles, and Daryl had dropped into a dead sleep at her touch; they’d been woken the following morning by the sound of pounding feet and laughing children, and Daryl had simply shrugged at the question he saw lurking in in Beth’s sleepy eyes, before he’d pulled her closer and closed his eyes again. 

 

Beth hadn’t said a word either, when she found him pulling the bunk in his cell out of the wall.  She’d simply left him to it as she and Michonne had gone for their morning run.  Daryl had grunted and cursed himself for a fool, as he stacked several of the thin bunk mattresses together and side-by-side.  While it was no King sized bed, at least they’d be able to share the space without him falling out of bed like he was prone to doing at least once a week.  The look on Beth’s face had been reward enough; he’d slept better that night than he had in a long time - with Beth curled into his side, he’d been able to stretch out himself.  Muscles and tension he hadn’t even known he carried slowly released during that sleep, and he’d felt as weak as a new born kitten the following morning when he had slowly woken up.  Startled enough by how weak he felt, he’d mentioned it to Hershel – memories of that killer flu still lurked, and Hershel had listened without comment before he’d smiled and clapped Daryl gently on the shoulder.  “Perhaps, Daryl, what you need is to stop being so stubborn,” he’d suggested, before ambling away as Daryl stood there and scratched his head in confusion, while the need to deny how stubborn he was burned the tip of his tongue.

 

It was in this new space he shared with Beth that she took the first step to healing herself, and in doing so, changed the course of their relationship.  He’d come back to the cell late; he hadn’t questioned the addition of a chair to the space.  What had caused him to step cautiously, however, was the fear that radiated out of every one of Beth’s pores as she perched on the edge of said chair.  A brush had been clenched tightly in her hands, and as she sat there, she had spoken plainly.  Would he mind brushing her hair for her?  She hadn’t done it in a while.  The memory of her kneeling between the Governor’s legs while he brushed her hair swam through Daryl’s mind with crystal clarity, and had caused him to rock momentarily on his feet.  Beth had taken to wearing her hair in a braid or bundled up on top of her head; full of knots, and the simple pleasure she had once taken in brushing the thick strands had been ruined by a psychopath.  Daryl had finally nodded, and had crossed the room towards her slowly as Beth had lost all color in her face.

 

It was only as she knelt down in front of the chair that Daryl realized she was trying to replace that memory with a better one.  Sitting down carefully, he’d barely laid his hands on her when he heard a noise he’d never heard her make before. Her diaphragm hitched, and it was half gasp - half moan; Daryl had sank to his knees behind her when she’d folded in half on herself, and wrapped his arms around her without thought.  Beth simply shut down on him in that moment; unsure of what to do, of how to step, Daryl had briefly fingered her hair, before he’d hauled her to her feet and dragged her down to the kitchen.  Carol had been there, and in hushed tones Daryl had told her what the problem was.  Understanding and compassion shone in Carol’s eyes, and she’d murmured an idea.  It hadn’t taken much to heat up some water; so used to showering in cold water Daryl had almost flinched when he’d washed his hands.  But under Carol’s calm instruction, he’d washed Beth’s hair several times over the sink.  Had washed out grit and sweat and fear; had clumsily worked the conditioner that Carol had pressed into his hand through those clean strands of hair, and used his fingers to try and work out the bigger knots.

 

He’d wrapped the towel around Beth’s shoulders and moved her to a chair when Carol suggested it; standing behind her, he’d spoken hoarsely about all manner of things as he worked a comb through the conditioner heavy strands while he gradually smoothed out the remaining tangles.  His life before the world had gone to shit.  His brother and the fact that Merle had done his best to raise him while in between Juvie and Jail.  The best way to track animals in the woods, and the fact that he missed eating oranges of all things; he missed the tart sweetness of the juice as he bit into it, and the fact that he could still taste it on his skin hours later.  He missed shooting pool and drinking cold beer in summer, while watching the hem lines of the women he knew get shorter and shorter as the days heated.  He missed baseball.  His voice had fallen silent when he’d steered her back to the sink to rinse her hair for a final time, and Carol slipped away as Daryl stood behind Beth and patted her hair dry with the towel.

 

He found a rhythm and fell into it; lulled by silence and the monotonous stroke of the brush, Daryl had stood there for an hour.  Beth’s hair had gleamed like silk under his fingers in the end, and he’d walked around the chair in silence to crouch at her feet.  Her eyes had been aware, and as he’d knelt there, Beth had managed a wobbly smile before she whispered that she missed apples.  A tear had streaked down over her cheek in that moment, and Daryl became uncomfortably aware of the fact that this was the first time he had seen Beth cry since before Zach had died.  Perhaps it had been inevitable; perhaps it had been fate.  But as she closed her eyes, Daryl had stretched up and lightly brushed his lips over the tear that lingered on her cheek.  He reached up to brush his knuckles across her jaw when she stilled under the innocent touch of his mouth, and he felt the drop of moisture slide under his fingers as she fought back her tears.  Her lips had curved slightly; a heart breaking curve, when he pulled back to peer down at her. One tear had left a long track down her face and now clung to the corner of her lips.  Daryl had bent down again without thinking.

 

His lips had just touched the corner of her mouth when Beth turned her head slightly.  For Daryl, it had been more than a simple brushing of lips; it had been closer to a religious experience.  The proverbial light had been switched on, and he absorbed the jolt he felt with nothing more than a sigh.  For a moment, her mouth remained still and closed against his.  Only a moment, but it was long enough that Daryl thought he’d read the situation wrong.  But then her mouth trembled under his; trembled and softened, and as he slid his hands through her hair, he felt the cool touch of her fingertips against his face as those soft lips parted slightly under his.  He’d thought about this moment during long hours in the tower; how it would feel, and how she would taste and react.  And as the tip of her tongue flicked lightly over his, Daryl knew he hadn’t given either of them enough credit.  The kiss, as breathless as it left him, was surprisingly chaste; he knew others would follow.  Other kisses that would lead to touching and tasting and more

 

He never saw nor head Carol pause in the open doorway – she’d returned on quiet feet to check on them both, and as she unintentionally witnessed that first hesitant meeting of lips, she felt her heart crack a little.  She’d watched Daryl grow and change during the last few years; had always wondered if he would ever view her as anything more than his friend.  But a beautiful smile still crossed her face as she stood there, and when Beth finally pulled away, she nodded silently as two broken souls rested their foreheads together and simply breathed each other in.  This was right, she mused silently as she backed away – this tug and pull between Daryl and Beth that she had been watching for the last year; on the outside, it should have made no sense.  But knowing Daryl and knowing Beth, knowing them as separate people and as a single unit – it made sense.  And as Beth tilted her chin up and Daryl lowered his head again, Carol silently applauded them for taking a chance together. 

 

Daryl hadn’t said anything as Beth rested her head against his, and neither had she; she didn’t say anything when she lifted her chin.  He swallowed the soft sigh of contentment she made, and slid his fingertips across the arch of her throat as her lips warmed under his.  He could feel the blunt ends of her nails as she scraped them across the back of his neck, and shuffled closer to her on his knees as the kiss they shared darkened slightly.  In the end, when Daryl abruptly dropped away from the sweet temptation of her mouth, they still hadn’t needed words.  Daryl had simply braced his hands against his knees for a moment as he blew out a silent breath before he’d risen to his feet, and with Beth’s hand tucked into his, he’d led her back to their cell; that’s what it was now.  She might keep some of her things in her old cell, but she lived within the concrete walls of Daryl’s; it was his bed she shared.  His arms, which always kept her safe.  It was within that space, within the warmth of the bed they shared that Daryl had finally broken the silence.

 

“I ain’t used to this kinda thing, Beth.  You ain’t the kinda girl I’m used to dealin’ wit’,” he said quietly as he toed off his boots, and Beth paused in the middle of pulling back the sheets.

 

“No,” she said slowly, running her gaze over him frankly.  “You’re not used to letting people in, are you Daryl?  Not like this; not like with me.  Not even Carol got this close to you.  You care about people, that’s no secret… but with me, now, you’re unsure of your footing.  If it was any other woman, if it was Karen, you’d be having sex with her right now.  But because this is new… you don’t know how to step and neither do I.  It feels like we’ve been leadin’ towards this from the first moment in the library when you caught me wit’ Zach.  This slow build-up of anticipation has made me feel like I was crawling within my own skin.  And now we’re here… I don’t know what to do; I don’t mean the physical side of it.  That’ll be as natural as breathin’ wit’ you, I think.”

 

She crawled into bed as Daryl slipped his vest off and hung it over the chair she had bought in to the cell.

 

 “I know you’re more used to what you had with Karen,” she said quietly, and then trailed off and tugged the bedding over her legs when Daryl’s sharp gaze swung towards her.  The silence between them thickened for a moment, before Daryl unsheathed his knife and set it on the shelf.

 

“Meaningless sex?” he asked dryly when she faltered, and Beth shook her head.

 

“Is that what it was?” she asked hesitantly, and Daryl hummed in answer. 

 

“This ain’t somethin’ I’m used to havin’ to explain,” he said finally.  “I liked Karen well enough; she was a nice woman.  But… she never came here, Beth,” he said, and then frowned when Beth slowly nodded in understanding.

 

Daryl simply shrugged as he tugged his tattered t-shirt over his head and sank into bed beside her.  Beth’s head came to rest against his shoulder when he wrapped his arm around her, and Daryl shifted slightly so he could meet her eyes.

 

“It ain’t ever mattered before,” he said roughly, “and it ain’t gonna matter again.  I won’t give this up, Beth; not now.  Not now that I know…”

 

He broke off, unable to voice what he meant; but as always, Beth saw through his unspoken words and when she smiled slightly, Daryl ducked his head and caught her lips again.

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

The whole experience was new to him; holding her, drifting off to sleep with her, that he was used too.  Waking up with an erection was nothing new either.  But knowing he could let his hands linger on bare skin was new, and Daryl huffed out a strangled breath when Beth shifted her hips against his lap and whispered his name sleepily.  The rasp of calloused hands against her stomach caused her back to arch, and Daryl grunted in reaction.  Pressing his lips to the base of her neck, he breathed in the clean scent of her hair, and scrapped his thumbs along her ribs.  Allowing her to feel how turned on he was?  That was new too.  And as Beth wiggled her hips further into his lap, Daryl’s voice strangled him and the words he’d been about to speak died unuttered as he rocked his hips against hers in reaction.  The need was there; to touch, to taste and to possess her completely.  But he enjoyed the light motion of her hips; the way in which she reached behind her to wind her arm around his neck to pull his mouth harder against her skin.

 

“I gotta go,” he whispered finally, and when Beth mewled out her frustration, Daryl chuckled softly.

 

He left her sprawled in bed, her mutters unintelligible when she pulled the blankets over her head; a morning person, his girl was sometimes not.  Heading outside into the warm morning air, he sat on one of the low benches and lit a smoke as he watched the sun crawl over the horizon; it was something he hadn’t done in a while, and he enjoyed the solitude it bought him as the morning breeze stole wisps of smoke from his mouth and sent them dancing around his head.  It was only when Hershel eased his weight onto the table beside him that he realised why he had come out here in the first place.  Hershel took a mouthful of the steaming mug he held, and then offered it to Daryl.  Peering into the mug, Daryl shook his head when he saw it was a drink made out of crushed grains that Carol had concocted.

 

“Thanks, but I’d rather drink cat’s piss,” he bluntly, and when Hershel choked on his drink and then wheezed out a laugh, Daryl jerked his shoulder and stubbed out his smoke.  

 

“I’ve got too much respect for you, Hershel, to beat around the bush wit’ this,” he said after squinting at the sun, and when Hershel fell silent, Daryl shifted his weight and spoke quietly.  “You asked me once if what was between me and Beth might change one day.” 

 

Daryl broke off and shook his head as he stared down at his hands.  And when Hershel remained silent, Daryl rubbed his hand roughly over the back of his neck and jerked his shoulders again.

 

“I see,” Hershel said finally, and then he blew out a deep breath.  “I can’t say I’m surprised, Daryl; I know how my daughter feels about you, and how you feel about her.  I can’t warn you to be careful with her, because you already are.  I can’t ask you to take care of her, because you already do.  I can’t even threaten to shoot you if you hurt her, because we both know we can’t spare the ammo.”

 

Daryl snorted slightly, and Hershel clapped him on the shoulder.

 

“Thank you for telling me, Daryl,” he said a moment later, and Daryl chewed on the corner of his mouth for a minute, before shrugging again.

 

“I won’t hide it, Hershel,” he said finally.  “I ain’t the grand gesture type; I ain’t Glenn and she ain’t Maggie.  But I won’t hide it; not from her and not from you.  I don’t rightly care what the other’s think; ain’t none of their business.  But you’re her Daddy; so I’ll let you use the crossbow if I ever hurt her – won’t even run.”

 

“Will you give me a lesson on it first?” Hershel asked dryly, and Daryl snorted as the tension seeped from his shoulders.

 

“Yeah,” he said finally, and when Hershel choked down another mouthful of the drink, he sighed and set the cup aside.

 

“You’re right… I’d rather drink cat’s piss too,” he muttered as he left the table, and Daryl’s lips curved into a quick grin as he watched the older man shuffle away.

 

    XXxXxXxXx

 

Michonne approached him later that night as he checked the perimeter fence; the muscles in his shoulders burned as he dispatched Walker after Walker along the fence line, and when he heard the whistle of a keenly honed blade fly through the air, Daryl knew who it was.  He maintained his silence as Michonne worked her way towards him, and simply grunted in greeting when they had finally downed enough Walkers that he didn’t feel like the fence was going to cave in at a moment’s notice.  Patting his pockets for his lighter, Daryl lit his smoke as he watched Michonne; the woman gave stoic a whole new meaning, and as he exhaled, she shifted her weight and nodded.

 

“Spoke to Beth,” was all she said, and Daryl nodded.

 

“You tell Hershel?” she asked and Daryl nodded slightly.

 

“Yeah,” he said finally, and Michonne looked down at the ground and toed a lump of dirt out of her way.

 

“I was thinkin’ I shoulda maybe told you too, but you were sleepin’,” Daryl said, and then reached up to rub his shoulder when Michonne lifted her eyes to his.  “I know some mighta thought you wanted Beth…like that, but I know different,” he continued and then squirmed when she stilled.  “I recon you lost someone along the way.  I recon you see that person in her.  And in thinkin on it, I recon Beth sees someone in you too.  You’re kinda like Maggie is to her, but different.  You ain’t her Ma, but you kinda are, what wit’ how you care for her and all.”

 

Michonne nodded slowly, and when she shifted her weight, Daryl lifted his chin as she fingered the handle of her sword.

 

“Thing I hate about you sometimes, Dixon?” she said suddenly.  “You might be some dirt poor redneck, but you’ve got brains hidden in that skull of yours.  You see too much sometimes; see through to the heart of a person, rather than what covers them on the outer.  I came out here tonight to give you an asskickin’, ‘cause I couldn’t figure out how you’d gotten Beth to fall in love wit’ you.  And then you opened your God damn mouth.”

 

She turned away without another word and melted into the night; Daryl was left standing there with wide eyes and a hesitant grin on his face as he listened to her stomp away.

 

“Quit grinnin’, Daryl; I can come back.”

 

Daryl was hard pressed to school his expression when her voice floated out of the dark, but he finally managed and was rewarded by her answering husky laughter.  Heading back towards the prison himself, he ate quickly, before bypassing the kitchen to wash his hands and face before the council meeting.  That done with, he headed towards the library; he found Beth coming down a dimly lit corridor before he could get there though, and enjoyed the small smile she gave him as he drew level with her.  Beth leaned her shoulder against the wall and Daryl mirrored her position as they eyed each other.

 

“You spoke to my Daddy,” was all she said, and Daryl hummed softly when she reached out to finger the edge of his vest with her fingertips.

 

“You spoke to Michonne,” he said finally, and she smiled slightly; a crinkling of her eyes as amusement danced in them, and Daryl snorted as he snaked his hand around the name of her neck.

 

“Did she threaten you?” Beth murmured as Daryl drew her towards him.

 

“Hmm.”

 

Just as he bent his head, Beth spoke again.

 

“Bet she had ya quakin’ in ya boots.”

 

His laughter was muffled against her mouth, and he could taste her answering grin as she slipped her arms around his waist.  This kiss was less chaste than the other one they had shared; it tasted more of need, and less of hesitation as he flicked his tongue over hers.  And as Beth arched up into him, Daryl turned her so that he could lean into her while she leaned against the wall.  By the time he finally withdrew from the warmth of her mouth, Beth was all red lipped and swollen, and she made a soft sound of protest before pulling his mouth back to hers by tugging on the lapel of his vest.  He discovered the smooth skin of her spine under his fingertips and the curve of her hips as he brushed his hands down over them.  He learned that her stomach would concave if he scraped his thumbs across it, just as she learned that his breath would hitch when she pushed herself up onto tiptoe and in doing so, pushed herself more firmly against him.  It was only when Daryl found himself beginning to rock his hips into hers that he pulled back.  Wrapping his arm around her, they began to quietly walk together back to their cell.  Any other woman, he mused silently as Beth rested her head against his shoulder, and he’d have fucked them against that wall where they stood.  But this woman?  Daryl smiled slightly and ushered Beth into the silence of the night.  She deserved more than that.   

Chapter Text

8/10

Hey guys, sorry for the delay in updating, and in letting you know that it’ll be new year at least before I update again. I manage a Jewellery store, and we’re in full fledge Christmas mode. That’s a seventy hour work week for me, and I’ve only just come off a thirteen day stretch since my last day off. I am very tired. But I wanted to say Thanks for such positive feedback, and to wish you all a lovely Christmas, and I’ll see you on the flip side. Enjoy. xx

 

 

“Oh God…”

 

Beth breathed it into his ear, and Daryl hissed out a breath through his teeth as her arched back slowly relaxed, and she melted like warm candle wax beneath him.  Her thighs, however, were still tightly clenched either side of his hips, and Daryl slowly lifted his head to peer down at her.  Her eyes were slitted, all blue smoke and dark lashes against her flushed cheeks; he shifted his weight, and Beth swallowed in response and tilted her head back against the arm that was supporting her neck in invitation.  Not one to ignore such an offering, Daryl skimmed his mouth over that smooth column of flesh; he could taste the sweat that was beaded on her skin.  Licking lightly at her pulse, Daryl began to move again.  The heavy scent of sex hung in the air; thick and heady.  But under that, he could smell himself on Beth’s skin, a scent that was rapidly becoming his favourite.  The muscles in his back and shoulders bunched and shifted as he moved; he could feel his stomach tightening, and as Beth’s voice broke on a fractured sound, Daryl buried his face in her neck again and laced his fingers with hers.  Beth’s nails dug into the skin of his arm as her head lifted slightly, and she turned her face into his throat.  Her breath gushed over his heated skin, quick and jagged, and Daryl groaned deep in his throat as the motion of his hips began to lose all semblance of rhythm.  Her soft sounds spurned him on, and when he finally jerked within the cradle of her body, Beth shuddered.  Time grew heavy for them; slow and quiet and Daryl gradually relaxed as Beth drew light designs over his side with her fingertips.  Muscles lax, Daryl rubbed his lips over her throat slightly, before sighing heavily. 

 

“Don’t you go falling asleep on me again, Daryl.”

 

Daryl’s laughter huffed breathlessly from between his lips, and reaching between them, he carefully withdrew from her body; he tossed the spent condom with a slight grimace, before collapsing facedown beside her a minute later. 

 

“Guy does it one time….” he mumbled finally as he slung his arm over Beth’s stomach, and she snorted softly as she turned onto her side to face him.

 

“…and he never lives it down,” she finished for him, and Daryl cracked one eyes to look at her. 

 

Her face was schooled into one of innocence, but he could see the laughter dancing in her eyes.  Shaking his head, he simply closed his eye again.

 

“What time do you have to be up?” she murmured, and Daryl yawned into his pillow before answering.

 

“Dawn.  Got tower duty tomorrow morning; I’m relieving Michonne.”

 

Beth nodded, and as Daryl rolled onto his side, he pulled Beth into the curve of his body.  He felt her drift off; sleep, however, continued to hover just out of his reach.  Trailing his fingers lightly over Beth’s belly, Daryl yawned as he shifted.  Normally, a bout of sex like that with his girl was a sure fire way to knock him out cold.  It had been since the first time.  Daryl smiled slightly; he’d planned on taking it slow with her.  To take his time, ease them both into it.  That had lasted all of ten days.  Maybe it was the fact that he was so used to having Beth in his space; maybe it was because she already trusted him with her life.  Maybe it was because they already loved.  Whatever the reason, his resolve had melted away as their exploration of this new aspect of their relationship deepened night after night.  Kiss after kiss.  Each kiss they shared led a little deeper; led to a little more.  Each touch lingered a little longer; the skim of his hand over her side, or the touch of her fingertips to his chest.  The way her lips lingered against his, even after he’d eased himself away from the temptation her body held. 

 

And before he knew it, before he could quite figure out how to slow things down again, she was lying beneath him; naked and flushed, with swollen lips and trusting eyes as he’d fumbled for a condom.  He was sure there were better men out there for a girl’s first time.  But he hadn’t hurt her when he’d eased into her that first time, and the night had been filled with soft laughter and her breathy moan echoing beautifully in his ear as he lost himself in her.  Spring had been a time for discovery.  Beth had turned nineteen, and they’d spent the night exploring each other.  She’d laughed when he’d given her another little pot of lip stuff as a present; orange flavoured this time, along with an apple he’d been eyeing off in the woods behind the prison.  For the last three weeks, they had shared a bed in every sense of the word.  They shared the space and Beth shared her body with him as easily as he shared his with her.  As his girl had once said; sex was as natural as breathing between them.

 

He liked the sounds she made; the softness of the skin on her inner thighs, and the fact that she was so open with how he made her feel.  He liked that she would spend hours running both her fingertips and her mouth over his skin; touching scars, both newly healed and ones that were almost as old as she was, and went bone deep in pain.  She would ask questions as she explored – did he like this, or how about this - while watching him from beneath her lashes.  He had told her on more than one occasion that she was his own little nympho, and Beth had arched an eyebrow and simply grinned as she told him quite matter of factually, that if she was a nympho, what did that make him?  Daryl had grinned, and told her that it made him very, very smart.  Outside the privacy of their cell, not much had changed between them.  They occasionally ate together at meal times, and they still read in the library.  Their sex life was private, and as Daryl had told Hershel all those mornings ago, he wasn’t Glenn and Beth wasn’t Maggie; they didn’t need public displays of affection; those they shared within the privacy of their cell.  Maybe his fingers would linger on her side briefly, or she’d touch the back of his hand a little more than usual, but for them, those casual touches spoke volume.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

The days grew warmer as summer threatened to burst onto the scene.  But with the warmer weather came new people.  Not a lot –a dozen at most.  And amongst those people came a boy; late teens, very early twenty’s at most.  Daryl had sat back and watched as the newbies integrated into prison life.  They worked hard, and stayed out of his way; but by God they made his brain hurt.  Lisa was sweet, and tended to stay close to the women.  But her eyes – large, trusting and filled with kindness – would follow Liam whenever he was nearby; the blonde had arrived several weeks after Rick and Daryl had taken Sam and his family in.

 

“How’d it go, Liam?”

 

Liam… Young, blonde, and all Dude!’s and Like Totally!’s, Daryl thought with a sneer and his ever present sidekick Mikey… Lisa’s brother was younger, brunette, and just as dumb.  Not a hard day’s work done between them before this had all started – he was willing to bet his smokes on it.

 

“She like… just smiled at me, all soft and pretty, before walking away.”

 

Mikey laughed, and Daryl clenched his jaw when the sound grated on his nerves.  For ten seconds, he allowed himself the fantasy of firing a bolt between the kid’s feet and watching him scamper away, but that fantasy faded when he thought about having to go and collect said bolt before climbing back up the tower.  But when Mikey spoke again, Daryl seriously considered his options.

 

“Dude!  Shot down by the prom queen!  How many times is that now?  Like, a dozen?”

 

“It’d be so much easier, if we were just allowed in where the main group stays; I kinda get why Rick said we had to bunk in another section for now and all, but if I could get inside, I could totally speak to her in a more private location.”

 

Liam’s tone screamed petulance, and Daryl rolled his eyes as he lit a smoke and scanned his eyes across the perimeter fence.

 

“She runs this way, doesn’t she?  Isn’t that why we’re out here at the ass-crack of dawn?” Mikey asked, and Daryl straightened up when he put two and two together.

 

“Yeah, every morning she runs with…Michonne?” Liam mused, and the sound of rock hitting the tower told Daryl the young man was kicking at the dirt in boredom.  Across the yard, Glenn walked out of the main room in the prison and headed towards the tower to relieve Daryl from watch duty. 

 

“Now that’s one woman you wouldn’t wanna piss off!” Mikey crowed, and Liam snickered.

 

“Nah, man, it ain’t her you gotta watch out for,” he said finally.  “It’s totally the kid with the attitude and the scary dude with the crossbow.”

 

“How’d you figure?” Mikey asked and Liam shrugged.

 

Dude!  It’s a crossbow!  I thought he was her Daddy at first, but he ain’t; they’re close though, him and Beth; same as she’s close with Michonne.  As for the kid, he told me to back off of Beth; she was spoken for.”

 

“By who?” Mikey asked, and Liam shrugged again.

 

“Dunno.  Maybe Carl was lying; I figure he’s got a crush on her and all.  It’s a bit pathetic if you ask me.  I mean… I’ve never seen her with anyone like that.  There ain’t anyone here her age other than us.  Hey…here she is.”

 

As Beth came running around the corner with Michonne, Glenn drew level with the tower and murmured a quiet greeting to the two young men.  Daryl made his way down out of the tower as Beth braced her hands on her knees and panted, while both boys swaggered across the yard towards her.  With his crossbow was slung across his back, Daryl jerked the tower door open; Glenn paused to speak with him in the doorway, his voice a low drone of information as Daryl stayed within the tower and watched as Liam and Mikey spoke to Beth.  Their full attention was on Beth, who waved Michonne on; Michonne glanced at Daryl as she headed towards the fence line for a bit of stab and release, and she tilted her chin in greeting as Glenn finally stopped yabbering and entered the tower.  The quietness caused Liam’s voice to drift towards him on the warm breeze, and Daryl rolled his eyes as he headed towards Beth on silent feet.

 

“So I figure we could… Ahh… like, you know… spend some time together… totally get to know each other.”

 

Daryl knew Beth well enough to know that she was laughing on the inside as she shifted her weight.  Boredom was evident in her eyes, and her amusement was solely focused on how stupid the boy sounded.  Suave, this kid was not.  Her eyes drifted over his shoulder and met Daryl’s, and he was treated to the full force of her grin, before she glanced back at Liam as Daryl jutted his hip and waited patiently.

 

“I’m busy; I’ve got a garden to tend to with Carol, because that’s what we do if we wanna eat.  And after that,” Beth said when it looked like Liam was going to interrupt, “I’ve got fence duty with Michonne.  Sorry,” Beth said gently, and brushed past the boys without another word.

 

Daryl couldn’t help himself; he snorted with laughter as Beth drew level with him.  The sound caused the boys to turn, and they both took a step backwards when they saw him.  Smirking slightly, Daryl turned on his heel as Beth passed him, and he nudged her lightly with his elbow as they made their way back towards the main section of the prison.

 

“Wanna go on a run wit’ me in the next day or two?” he asked, and Beth grinned again.

 

“Like…totally!” she mimicked quietly, and Daryl snorted again as she shook her head.  “Like, learn to speak!” she continued, and Daryl snickered as he unslung the crossbow and reached for the door to pull it open.  Motioning Beth ahead of himself, he followed her towards the mess hall for breakfast. 

 

“They been bothering you?” he asked quietly when they sat down together, and Beth shrugged slightly as she absently handed Daryl a spoon.

 

“A bit; it wouldn’t be so bad, if he could buy a clue and figure out that when I say no, I ain’t flirtin’; I really do mean no.  But not in the way you mean,” she said gently, when Daryl’s eyes narrowed.  “Liam’s harmless; he’s a Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure reject, and most the time he’s too busy stuttering or staring at my boobs to ask me to spend time with him.  Believe me, Daryl; if he was bothering me, you’d be the first to know.”

 

Daryl relaxed under the hand she rubbed along his thigh and spooned some more of his breakfast up as Beth ate silently.  But as she finished up and went to stand, Daryl glanced up at her as Liam’s earlier statement echoed in his head.

 

“Moron one said that Carl told him to back off… he said you were spoken for,” he said quietly, and when Beth snorted at Daryl’s assessment of Liam, Daryl looked back down at his bowl.

 

“I am spoken for, Daryl.”  When his gaze snapped back to hers, Beth smiled slightly.  “It just ain’t Carl I’m spoken for by.”

 

She tossed him a quick smile that promised him all sorts of delight later that evening, before she turned and walked away.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Fuck, Beth…”

 

“Shhh…”

 

Her nails dug into his chest at the same time that his dug into her thighs;  Daryl’s hips arched at the light pain, and he hissed out a breath as Beth tilted her head back and bit back the moan that trembled on her lips as she fell over the line that blurred pleasure and pain together.  He could feel the rhythmic clenching of her inner walls, and as she continued to tremble, Beth curled down across his chest.  Little twitches of her thigh muscles told Daryl his girl was spent; even her purr sounded tired when he flattened his hands across her lower back, and then skimmed them up her spine.  Arching his hips in a testing thrust, Daryl groaned hoarsely as Beth shuddered.

 

“Hold on.”

 

He bit it out, and carefully rolled them to the side; the need to thrust, and hard, was still there, and Daryl dragged Beth beneath him with a curse as her limp hands slid from his back and fell to the mattress.  Hitching her thigh further up his side, Daryl gave another testing thrust, and when Beth couldn’t hold back the sound that spilt from her swollen lips, Daryl settled the width of his palm over her mouth to muffle her voice and then moved again.  Burying his face in the crook of her neck, Daryl continued to move; smooth motions of his hips that gradually roughened, and he lost all semblance of rhythm as his own release burned down his spine like liquid fire.  And as it coursed through him, he wrenched his hand from her lips and held Beth close as he shuddered; held her tight within the circle of his arms, as her lips brushed softly across his pulse as it hammered in his throat.  The come down was slow; the relaxing of clenched muscle was gradual, and Daryl continued to lay there and breathe her in.  By the time he could move again, Daryl could only peer down at Beth and smile; nearly asleep, with flushed cheeks and a drowsy smile on her mouth.  He couldn’t think of a better sight, and tucked the picture she made into the box that was reserved only for her.     

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

“Ahh…like, is there anything I can do to help?”

 

Daryl wiped his wrist across his brow as he looked up; Moron one was standing by the grave he was digging.  Fear turned his tan a slightly muddy colour, but his knees were locked, and Daryl shrugged and gestured to the ground beside the hole he was digging.  The boy picked up a shovel, and began to break the hard earth up without comment; for an hour they dug, and by the time Daryl hoisted himself out, Liam had dug a fairly neat shallow grave.  Daryl headed to the other end of it, and continued to deepen the hole.  The boy kept his mouth shut right up until the second grave was finished and without comment, he helped Daryl bury the dead.  They’d lost the last two elderly people from Woodbury last night; unused to the heat and the hardness of prison life, their hearts had simply given out.  Tapping the dirt back into place, Daryl leaned against the shovel and blew out a hard breath.

 

“So, uh… you know Beth right?”

 

Daryl cut his gaze towards the kid; dirt was smeared across his face, and sweat had darkened the blonde of his hair to brown.  Bright blue eyes flickered away from the chill in Daryl’s own gaze, and Liam shook his head slightly.  Perhaps fate smiled down at Liam that day – or maybe Daryl had just spent far too much time with Beth, so much so that her wicked sense of humor had rubbed off on him - Daryl could never be sure.  But as the kid went to walk away, Daryl hid a grin and spoke.

 

“Yeah, I know Beth.”

 

Liam glanced back at Daryl, and after squaring his shoulders, he nodded.

 

“What does she… uh, you know…like to do?”

 

Daryl shrugged slightly as he shouldered the shovel, before turning his gaze and peering out across the yard.  Unbidden, an image of her bracing her hands against his chest as she slowly rode him the night before entered his mind, and Daryl licked the corner of his mouth at the memory.

 

“She likes to draw,” was all he said, and the Liam’s shoulders slumped slightly.

 

“I can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler,” he muttered, and Daryl snickered softly.

 

“I uh…heard she has a boyfriend,” Liam said finally, and Daryl paused. 

 

He wasn’t a boy, and the last time he’d checked, he was pretty sure he and Beth were more than just friends.  She was his woman.  He was hers, in every sense of the word.  But did that make him her boyfriend?  Daryl shook his head slightly in answer to his own question.  No; that made him her lover, her confidant.  Boyfriends held your hand, fumbled with where to put their own hands when kissing, and jerked off in the dark as they thought about you; a lover, however… Daryl sucked in a breath, and then shook his head when Liam looked at him expectantly.

 

“Nah…no boyfriend,” Daryl murmured, and when the kid grinned, Daryl felt a moments stab of guilt.  That guilt flickered out pretty quickly as amusement won out, and he shook his head.

 

“So, uh… you recon she’d like to take a walk?” Liam asked, and Daryl shifted his weight as the dangerous though of burying the kid where he stood flashed through his mind.

 

“Ain’t many places to walk too, kid; scenery’s pretty shit,” was all Daryl said, and Liam sighed again.

 

“I just wanna get to know her,” Liam said with a frown, and Daryl mentally groaned as he scrapped his hand down over his jaw.

 

“She wanna get to know you?” he asked finally, and Liam toed some dirt away from the grave he’d been digging.

 

“She seems pretty busy,” Liam said finally, and Daryl shrugged.

 

“Ain’t we all,” he said, and then shrugged again.  “If Beth’s sayin’ that, maybe she ain’t interested,” Daryl said finally and Liam’s shoulders jerked again.

 

“She needs to be cherished,” Liam said fiercely as he scuffed the dirt with his foot.  “She needs to be looked after; girls like Beth need to be cared for.  That’s all I wanna do.”

 

Daryl felt his shoulders tense up, and blew out a harsh breath; the kid was skating on thin ice here, and didn’t even know it.

 

“Lisa seems to like ya,” he bit out, and Liam snorted.

 

“Please, she’s fifteen.  I’m twenty; she’s a kid.”

 

“Age is irrelevant out here, kid,” Daryl said dryly, and Liam shrugged.  But he nodded his thanks to Daryl and walked away; when he was out of earshot, Daryl let out a sharp bark of laughter.  He wouldn’t have to do anything; if Beth didn’t set the kid straight, Michonne would eat him alive.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Daryl’s legs threatened to give out; he could taste the sweat that ran down the side of Beth’s neck, and he licked it away without thought.  His fingers were still tightly laced with her own, where Beth had gripped the shelf of the stack in front of her.  Another memory added to the box; another fantasy replaced Daryl thought wryly as Beth continued to tremble slightly.  She’d been too short to face him here in the stacks; but the curve of her hips had spurned him on, and when she bent slightly from the waist, she was the perfect height.  With sunshine playing over her bare shoulder, yet her body hidden by the clothing she wore, Daryl had shown her the delight of a quickie in the library.  Even though she’d blushed at the possibility of being caught, she hadn’t been able to keep her hands off him when she’d tugged him down this stack; the wolfish grin that had crossed Daryl’s features had caused the blush to deepen when he’d knelt down and tugged her panties down her thighs from under the long skirt she wore so low on her hips.  But when he’d delved between her thighs with his fingers, she’d been slick enough that he’d commented low in her ear that if knowledge and learning was her kink, it was one he fully supported if this was the result.

 

“Never gonna look at the irrigation system the same way again.”

 

Daryl huffed out his laughter as he carefully withdrew from her body, and after disposing of the condom, he tugged his pants back up from where they had sagged around his thighs.  Glancing back at Beth, he watched as she looked around and frowned; he knew what she was looking for, and crossed his arms as he leaned against the shelves and grinned.  Beth only had to look at him once; she scowled at him and held her hand out for her panties.  Daryl had tucked them into his pocket when he’d removed them, and his husky laughter confirmed her suspicions.  But it was the opening of the library door that caused him to near choke on laughter when Beth’s face flamed bright red.

 

“Daryl!”

 

Slinging his arm around her neck, he brushed his lips over her temple.

 

“Relax, will ya,” he said quietly.  “Ain’t like you can tell.”

 

Letting Beth go, he continued to lean against the stack as Beth blew out a frustrated breath of air and pulled the book about water irrigation off the shelf.  She had just opened it and was tracing her finger down over the page when Liam walked around the corner.  He stopped still when he saw Daryl and Beth, and his cheeks reddened slightly.

 

“Ahh…Carol asked me to come and tell you that dinner was ready,” he said finally when Daryl cocked his eyebrow, and Beth shot Daryl a dirty look as she nodded and Liam looked at Beth.

 

“Ahh…Beth?  You wanna…maybe…like…eat together?” he asked, and after shooting Daryl a look that promised retribution, Beth sighed.

 

“I’ll be there in a minute,” she said finally, and Liam nodded as confusion darkened his eyes. 

 

But he walked away when Daryl and Beth lingered where they were, and Daryl took pity on Beth as she shifted from foot to foot; pulling her panties out of his pocket, he handed them to her without a word.  Beth smiled slightly then, and raising up on tiptoe, she brushed her lips over his.  Skimming his hand down her side, Daryl closed his eyes and breathed her in for a moment.

 

“Got a council meeting tonight after dinner,” was all he said, and Beth nodded as she tugged her panties back up her thighs.

 

“How do I look?” she whispered, and Daryl grinned.

 

“Well and truly fucked,” was all he said, and Beth snorted back her own laughter as they turned and walked out of the library.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

 

Dinner was a fairly subdued affair; losing people, no matter the cause, always put a dark mood over the prison.  Daryl sat on the stairs as he ate; Carl sat on the step above him, and as Daryl swallowed a mouthful of vegetables and grain, Carl snorted.

 

“Douchebag,” he muttered, and Daryl glanced at Carl before following his gaze and snorting in agreement.

 

Liam was sitting beside Beth and chatting away as she ate her dinner.  He could see the slightly glazed look in her eyes, and chuckled softly as he continued to eat.

 

“Why haven’t you told him to back off and leave her alone?” Carl asked, and Daryl swallowed his food before speaking.

 

“Beth don’t need me to fight her battles for her, Carl,” he said finally.  “She’s more than capable of takin’ this guy on; she don’t need me marchin’ over there and causin’ a scene, beatin’ on my chest and pullin’ some hero type shit; girl’d kick my ass for me if I tried.”

 

“Doesn’t it make you angry?” Carl asked, and Daryl hurried to swallow the food in his mouth. 

 

“Nah, the guy’s as harmless as a puppy; what’s he gonna do, Carl?  Talk her ear off?  Beth’ll walk away before that.  Nah; kid don’t bother me, none, so don’t let him bother you.”

 

Carl jerked his shoulder and then scowled.

 

“He is harmless, ain’t he?” he said finally, and Daryl hummed quietly in agreement.  “What if he tried touchin’ her?” he asked, and had the immense satisfaction of seeing Daryl’s eyes ice over.

 

“I’d break his hand off at the wrist,” was all Daryl said, and Carl nodded.  “Anyway, ain’t like I have to worry ‘bout Beth when she’s got a rabid pit-bull like you in her corner,” Daryl said quietly, and when Carl grinned and nudged Daryl’s shoulder with his knee, Daryl simply smirked and continued to eat.

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Ummm…”

 

Daryl sucked a breath in between slightly slack lips as Beth purred; his hands slowly relaxed against her hips, but not before he knew he’d left marks on her creamy skin.  They all had a sexual trigger; for him, it was the curve of her spine, and the naked length of her back.  Add in her looking at him over her shoulder in the half light of their cell, and Daryl had been helpless to stop what had happened next.  By touch and taste he’d explored the shifting muscle of her shoulders, back and the long length of her legs, before curving her down onto their bed.  The sight of the scar on the back of her neck had been the next trigger, and Beth had muffled the sounds that spilled from her mouth in the pillow as Daryl had simply shoved his pants down his thighs and entered her as she knelt before him.  He’d known the scar was there; it had caused many a moment of guilt in the past, before Beth had finally put him straight.  It was the scar he had given her, when he had saved her life; it was his mark, one no other man had ever put on her.  A mark only they knew the cause of; a mark that showed he was willing to do whatever it took to keep her with him.  With his eyes on that mark, Daryl had simply given into base instinct, and had, in Beth’s own words, fucked the hell out of her.

 

His legs shook slightly as he reached between them to hold the condom in place as he pulled out of her; Beth hissed in response, before letting her body fall flat as Daryl shoved up onto his feet to throw it away.  Tugging his pants back up, Daryl stared down at Beth as she lay there silently.  Sweat beaded along her skin; the concrete walls retained the relentless heat of summer, and Daryl shoved at his own sweat soaked hair impatiently.  Beth’s laughter whooshed out of her lungs in a gush when he bent down and hauled her up on her feet, but her hand went to his willingly when he mumbled that a shower would do them both a world of good.  Gathering some clean clothes, she wrinkled her nose as she redressed, and then followed him down to the shower block.  It was empty, as he had known it would be in the middle of the night, and Daryl had stripped silently as Beth turned the water in the corner shower on.

 

Under the cold stream of water, Daryl washed away a days’ worth of grime; sweat, blood, and the tacky remnants of his own release.  It was only as he shoved soap covered hands through his hair that he began to settle.  Beth’s arms slid around his waist; her arms were slick and cool, and when she brushed her lips without comment over his back, Daryl stilled slightly.  They’d never spoken about his scars.  Probably never would.  But he could finally handle her touching his back, and not step out of her way.  Instead he nudged her out of the steady stream of water as he ducked his head to rinse his hair, before pulling her back into the circle of his arms.  The water sluiced down over them; chilling their skin and cooling them both as Beth tucked her face into his shoulder.  Daryl sighed once; a heavy sound as he bent his own head so that the water ran down the back of his head and across his neck.

 

“You make me feel like you could eat me alive some nights,” she murmured, and Daryl shivered slightly as her lips rubbed over his skin.

 

“Considerin’ I’ve still got a pulse and all, I can’t see that happenin’,” Daryl said dryly, and then chuckled when Beth slapped the back of her hand lightly against his stomach.  Beth tilted her head back to peer up at him, and Daryl smiled slightly and lowered his mouth to hers. 

 

The need that always warred with lust in his blood flared, and Daryl mumbled softly under his breath as he eased her away from him and then reached out to turn the taps off.  He’d always been careful with Beth in this aspect of their relationship; he always made sure she was soaked before he entered her, that his movements were easy within the cradle of her body.  But how he’d taken her in the library only that afternoon and again earlier… he knew she’d accept him into her arms again.  Knew he could make her bone weak and helpless under his hands and mouth.  But knowing she would ride with him tomorrow for over an hour?  Daryl slicked his hair back and grinned at her as she reached for a towel.  She wouldn’t be able to walk properly by the time they got back, and Daryl just wasn’t willing to do that to her.  He wasn’t willing to do anything to put his girl at risk. 

 

“You scare me.”

 

He mumbled it, and Beth glanced at him sharply, before she relaxed and nodded.

 

“How you make me feel, Daryl?  Scares me too,” she said quietly.

 

Relieved she’d known what he meant, Daryl took her hand when she held it out to him, and let her lead him back to their cell.  Pausing in the doorway, Daryl peered down at Beth.  His lips parted, and Beth simply smiled as she laid her fingers over his lips.

 

“I know.  Me too.”

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Liam stood within the crowd that had gathered that morning to see the run party off.  Sweeping his gaze over those going, he watched as Daryl bent slightly and made an adjustment to his bike; Sasha and Michonne were readying one of the cars, while Daryl made sure his bike was in working order.  Tyreese was hidden beneath the bonnet of the car that the women worked on, and when he stood up and slammed the bonnet shut, he locked eyes with Daryl and nodded before he, Michonne and Sasha slid into the car.  But it was Daryl that Liam continued to watch; he saw the sawn off shotgun that Daryl slid into the holster on the side of his bike, before attaching his crossbow to the front bars of the bike; the bike started with a powerful roar, and Liam felt the slow curl of jealousy as Daryl slung his leg over the bike and settled onto the leather seat – what he wouldn’t give to ride that bike he thought, as Daryl shifted the bike and then let it roll down the hill slightly.  Shifting his weight, Liam caught sight of Beth and smiled slightly as the sun glinted off her hair; moving through the crowd of people, he sidled up so that he could get closer to her.

 

Beth was standing with Hershel; his arm was wrapped around her shoulders, and she was nodding seriously at whatever he was saying.  And as Liam paused behind Rick, Carl and Carol, Daryl stopped his bike in front of Hershel and Beth.  Hershel nodded  in greeting to Daryl as Beth reached up to kiss her father’s cheek; it was in that moment that Liam was forced to open his eyes, and he watched in confusion as Daryl held his hand out to Beth.  Beth took the hand Daryl offered and walked to his side; she stood between his thigh and the bike, and Liam’s jaw dropped as Daryl casually ran his hand across the curve of her ass, before looping his arm around her hips as she leaned into his side.  Disbelief warred with curiosity, and Liam remained where he stood as Daryl peered up at Hershel, while Beth absently toyed with the hair that curled down over Daryl’s collar.

 

“You a’ight?” he asked, and Hershel nodded.

 

“She’s grown up on me, Daryl,” was all he said, and Daryl nodded as he shifted his eyes up towards Beth’s face.

 

Beth tucked her hair behind her ear as she grinned at her father, and as Daryl looked up at her, she turned her eyes towards him; she lowered her head and brushed her lips lightly over his as her father shook his head but grinned all the same.  Quick, but deep with love, and words unspoken, and Daryl gripped her hip lightly, before Beth shifted away from his side and swung her leg over the back of his bike.  Looping her arms around his waist, Beth settled herself, and then tightened her grip.

 

“You keep our girl safe, Daryl; bring her home,” Hershel said, and Daryl nodded.

 

“Always do, Hershel,” he said, and Hershel reached out to skim his hand over Beth’s hair briefly before he stepped back as Daryl restarted his bike.

 

Liam continued to stand where he was as Daryl skimmed his hand across Beth’s thigh; words unspoken again, but a language they seemed to understand as Daryl glanced over his shoulder at Beth briefly and she nodded to his unasked question.  A rev of that powerful bike, and then they were moving.  And as they left, Hershel moved to join Carol as Rick walked away with Carl. 

 

“You all right?” Carol asked, and Hershel nodded.  “You know Daryl’d die before he let anything happen to Beth,” Carol said gently, and Hershel nodded again. 

 

“I know,” he said finally.  “I know how much he loves her, Carol; a man’d have to be blind to not see it.  But she’s my daughter, and I feel like I’ve only just gotten her back.”

 

“I know that she’s your daughter, Hershel, and that for a while there we all thought she was lost to us.  But she’s his lover,” Carol said quietly.  “You know the lengths he’s gone to in the past to protect, Beth; hell, Hershel, he tore Woodbury apart to find her; he brought her home, and in one piece.  A run is the least of your worries where that man and your daughter are concerned.  I rightly recon Daryl’d tear hell apart to find her.” 

 

Liam breathed in sharply and turned away as Carol’s words caused a pain to spread in his chest; all the missing pieces fell into place for him in one fell swoop.  The looks shared between Daryl and Beth.  The fact that her cell sat empty, when he’d finally seen it.  The fact that they always seemed to be only a few steps away from each other.  The sharp warning Carl had given him that Beth was spoken for.  And the look of pity in the older man’s eyes when Liam had asked him about Beth while digging graves; the gentle suggestion that maybe he was better off leaving Beth be, and that Lisa seemed to like him.  Swallowing his humiliation, Liam turned and melted into the crowd as all fantasy of getting to know Beth shriveled and died in the morning heat.    

 

Chapter Text

9/10.

**Author’s note; **Author’s note; thank you so much for all of your patience, guys. I know it’s been a bit of a wait, but Christmas is over and done and I’ve caught up on the sleep I missed out on during that manic period with work. We’re nearly done. Enjoy. xxx

 

Sam watched as the sun slowly rose over the mist covered grounds.  For three months now he had lived within the concrete walls of the prison with his wife Natalie and his children Mikey and Lisa.  He had been wary of joining the group, but his van had broken down and Daryl had found them while on a supply run.  The gruff offer of refuge had been made and Sam silently thanked God that he’d ignored Daryl’s rough appearance and had taken the man up on his offer.  From where he stood, he could see Daryl – eyes wary as he watched the walkers that were shuffling along the fence line and his crossbow held in a deceptively relaxed grip as he stood within the watch tower.  Yet tension seemed to seep from every pore as Daryl shifted his stance slightly to slip a smoke between his lips.  His lips moved slightly as smoke curled around his face and Sam’s eyes widened in surprise as Carl shifted from within the shadows and appeared at Daryl’s side.  Daryl gestured with his head and Carl nodded once as Daryl lifted the crossbow that he held and peered down the sight line.

 

Sam’s eyes darted along the fence.  When he saw the cluster of walkers leaning against the fence, he saw the danger they presented immediately.  The fence seemed to sag against their combined weight, but before he could take a single step to raise the alarm, he heard a soft pop and one of the walkers crumbled.  Another pop and another walker fell.  It took him a moment to find the source of the noise, but when he saw Carl shift his stance slightly, Sam heard the soft sound once more as Carl pulled the trigger of the riffle he was using.  Sam’s jaw dropped – he couldn’t help it.  There was a homemade silencer fitted to the end of the riffle and as Carl pulled the trigger a final time, Sam mentally applauded the boy as the final walker fell.  It took real marksmanship to hit a swaying target at that distance, but Carl had done so without missing a single shot.  The boy was lowering his rifle now, and his lips moved slightly.  Whatever he had said caused Daryl to grin, and Sam watched as Daryl clapped Carl lightly on the shoulder before returning his gaze to the fence line.  Watching them, Sam was reminded of the first few hours he had spent within these walls. 

 

XXxXxXxXx

 

He had walked with Hershel, listening intently while the older man explained the rules and the layout.  Where Sam and his family could – and couldn’t – go.  How the group ran things, and why they ran it the way they did.  If Sam and his family could understand that, then they were welcome to stay for as long as they wanted.  Standing on the rise with Hershel, Sam had nodded.  He could see Daryl – half under the van, and cursing up a storm as he began the laborious task of trying to fix the aging motor.

 

“This is a really nice set up,” Sam offered at last, and Hershel nodded.

 

“We’ve fought for it,” he said quietly.  “We’ve fought the dead and the living.  There are days where we mourn the dead so fiercely we can taste it.  But it was worth the loss, Sam; this is a safe place, in a world that wants to annihilate us.”

 

Sam sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose briefly.

 

“I just want my children to feel safe,” he said finally, and Hershel smiled in understanding.  Sam was a father first, a survivor second, and in the past, he had been a top ranking psychologist. 

 

“My girls live here with me,” Hershel said gently.  “They’re all that remains of my once vast family.  But in losing the rest of my family, I gained these people.  Maggie gained a wonderful man in Glenn; I know that when my time is done, I’ll go to my grave knowing she’s loved.”

 

“And Beth?” Sam asked softly, and Hershel smiled slightly when he realized that Sam had figured out that Daryl and Beth were together. 

 

“Beth even more so,” he said quietly.  “I know what it looks like to an outsider, Sam; the age gap between them and the fact that they come from worlds polar opposite in many ways.  But don’t go judging.  I have all the time in the world for that man; as crass and as uneducated as he appears, I still couldn’t have picked a better man for my youngest.”

 

“But he is a man,” Sam said, and Hershel shrugged as he gestured towards where Carl was standing in the tower with his riffle.

 

“That’s Carl; Rick’s son.  I met Carl when he was nearly twelve.  He’s sixteen now, nearly the same age as your Lisa.  Yet while Lisa retains her childlike innocence, Carl is all man.  Daryl once told me that in a fight, it would be Carl he wanted at his back.  That young man has seen and done more than one his age should have.  While young in age, it’s the experiences he’s endured that have made him a man.  My Beth is the same; young, yes.  But so much older than she should be.  Again; don’t judge, Sam.  You don’t know the people, and you don’t know the circumstances that brought them together.  Daryl has my blessings, as does Glenn.  If I were you, I’d pray that your daughter finds someone in the future that loves her half as much as those men love my girls.”

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

For the next few days, Sam sat back and observed; at first glance, Rick appeared to hold the reins of leadership.  But as the days crept past, Sam came to realise that it was Daryl who was reluctantly in charge; the man was an enigma.  He trusted few, and kept his council close to his chest.  Carl was indeed Daryl’s left hand; Carl seemed to simmer slightly as Sam watched him.  His appearance was youthful at first glance; yet his body was hardened from the life he led.  It was disconcerting to see one so young with a rifle strapped over his back and a gun strapped to his thigh.  It was around Daryl that Carl would relax; the anger that simmered in him seemed to die down, and Sam could see the young boy Carl might have been if the world hadn’t ended.  And around his tiny doll of a sister, Sam finally saw what had turned Carl into a man, when he learned of the circumstances of Judith’s birth.  It became normal to see Judith walking along on sturdy legs as her brother held her hand firmly in his.  Judith would babble away at a mile a minute, while Carl listened silently and nodded his head gravely as Judith stared up at him; her bubbly laughter would echo out across the prison when Carl would swing her up onto his hip, or crouch down to give her a piggy back ride.  And in watching Carl, Sam would later admit that he missed the moment that his daughter stopped watching Liam and started watching Carl instead.     

 

Then there was Beth; sweet, and kind, and she belonged to Daryl in a way that Sam was hard pressed to dismiss.  They weren’t open in displaying their affection for one another.  That, it seemed, was kept private.  But there was closeness between the pair that was blindingly obvious.  There was intimacy, in the casual way that Daryl would skim his fingers across Beth’s lower back as they walked together.  There was trust in the way that Beth would ride on the back of the bike that Daryl owned without a helmet or protective gear.  There was love, in the way that Beth would curl between Daryl’s thighs on the catwalk in the library; her voice would rise and fall in quiet tones as she read out loud to her lover, while he skimmed his knuckles gently along the bare length of her arm.  And in witnessing these moments, Sam saw the moment when they had their first real argument, and the fear inside Daryl that threatened to tear them apart.

 

It wasn’t a public argument; no, it showed in the way that Daryl’s anger seemed to ride on his back like a demon.  Sam saw it in the way that Beth seemed to shrink into herself as she put some distance between them.  And it became glaringly obvious when Carl turned on Daryl in the yard one morning, and jabbed his finger into the older man’s chest, while his snarl of “you broke it, now you fix it!” echoed in the early morning air.  Whatever had caused the fraction between them caused unspeakable pain.  Everyone felt it; Hershel looked like he was torn between comforting his daughter, and comforting the man he had come to call friend.  Michonne on the other hand had no problem with that – Sam saw the anger the woman carried as she sat close to Beth during dinner three days after Daryl had Beth had fought; the look she aimed Daryl’s way promised a world of pain, a look the Daryl acknowledged with a lowered head as he scowled while Michonne skimmed her hand comfortingly over Beth’s lower back.  

 

It was the following day that Sam finally learned what had caused the fight when he inadvertently over-heard a private conversation between Daryl and Hershel.  Hidden in the upper stacks of the library, Sam heard the door open and collide with a loud bang as footsteps stalked into the library.  Peering around the edge of the stack he was in, he caught sight of Hershel as he sank onto the couch.  Daryl was pacing restlessly and as he paced back and forth in frustration; his voice rose and fell as Hershel sat there silently and listened to him as he ranted and gestured wildly with his hands.

 

“After everything we’ve been through, and it ends like this?” he muttered.  “Fuckin’ bullshit, that’s what it is.  She won’t even look at me!”

 

Hershel sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose, and when Daryl paced past him again, he reached up and gripped Daryl’s vest in his hand.  With a non to gentle tug, he forced Daryl to sit down, before he spread his hands and shook his head.

 

“When are you going to learn, Daryl?  Beth don’t look at you like that.  She never has.  Those thoughts are your own private demons, ones that present themselves to you in the form of sheer stupidity.”

 

Daryl’s jaw dropped in shook, and Hershel shook his head as he reached out to pat him shoulder.

 

“Beth isn’t like your brother, Daryl.  Her offering to teach Judith wasn’t a slap at you.  She didn’t mean it as an insult.  She probably realized how much you enjoy listening to her read, and wanted to offer you the same chance to share with Judith the escapism that she finds within her books.  She wasn’t calling you stupid, or dumb, or uneducated.  It was an offer made by a young woman in love with a man whose head is as hard as a concrete block.  Besides, this is a conversation you should be having with her.  Now; are you really going to sit there and tell me that you and Beth having seemingly split over her teaching Judith to read, or are you going to tell me the real reason my daughter looks like you told her that Santa doesn’t exist?” 

 

Sam’s lips parted in surprise as Daryl blew out a frustrated breath and scrubbed his hands down over his face.  The silence between them was thick, and when Daryl finally spoke, it was as if he had to force the words out past his lips.

 

“Maggie’s pregnant,” was all he said, and Hershel hummed softly as he crossed his arms and sat back.

 

“Hmm… so let me get this straight.  My eldest daughter is expecting a baby, and this caused you and my youngest daughter to split up?” he asked, and when Daryl jerked shoulder in response, Hershel shook his head and sighed.

 

“So which of you wants the baby, and which of you doesn’t?” he asked softly, and Daryl shrugged.

 

“I don’t want one,” he finally said and Hershel’s lips pressed into a thin line for a moment before he spoke again.

 

“And Beth does?” he asked gently, and Daryl shrugged.

 

“I dunno.  She said she don’t want one, but then she’s offerin’ to teach Judith to read, and it’s not that far of a stretch, Hershel,” Daryl spat out as his anger tangled in his blood again, and Hershel snorted in response.

 

“Daryl, you of all people should know that when my daughter makes a statement like that, she don’t normally say one thing and mean another.  Is it really over her offerin’ to teach Judith to read, or is it you havin’ those second thoughts about a baby?”

 

Daryl shook his head as he stared down at his hands, and when he spoke, Sam could hear the fear underlying the man’s every word.

 

“Who’d have a baby durin’ these times anyhow, Hershel?  Why risk bringin’ a baby into this world, when the danger is as high as it is?  Look at lil’ asskicker; growin’ up in a fuckin’ prison, surrounded by barbed wire, and things that wanna suck the flesh from her bones.  The monsters under her bed do exist, Hershel.”

 

Hershel nodded slowly, and then he reached out to grip Daryl’s shoulder in his hand.

 

“They do exist, Daryl.  But the ones we kill in reality are the only ones we should fear.  The ones that lurk in our mind?  Those we can destroy, once and for all.  The ones that tell us we aren’t fast enough, or strong enough.  The ones that tell us we just don’t deserve to be happy and to be loved.  The ones that tell us that we belong in the gutter, because we’ve got dirty hands.  The ones that say you have no right to be touching someone as pure and gentle as Beth.  Those ones we can destroy, Daryl; it’s because of those seemingly dirty hands that I can say I have two daughters.  Did you know that Beth finally opened up to me, and told me that it was her that killed the Governor and not you?  That she told me that she had shared with you months ago that he had bathed her, and redressed her in his dead daughter’s clothing?  You saved my daughter’s life, Daryl, yet by her loving you, you seem hell bent on tossing it away.  Why?  Do you really think that you don’t deserve her love?  That you don’t deserve to love her in return?  Because you do deserve her in every aspect of life, Daryl.”

 

Daryl blew out a harsh breath and gestured helplessly.

 

“What would I know about being a father?” he finally asked.  “Mine was a mean assed drunk who beat me for sport, Hershel.  The only thing my Pa ever did right was teach me how to dodge a fist.”

 

Hershel shifted his weight and reached out to lightly touch Daryl’s knee as he spoke quietly.

 

“He taught you more than that, Daryl; he taught you how to not treat a woman.  He taught you how to not treat a child.  He taught you not how to speak to the woman you love.  He taught you the evil nature of alcohol, which is why I can honestly say that in the four years I have known you I have seen you drink it once.  The scars your father put on you go deeper than the skin on your back, my boy; they go deeper than bone.  It’s the mental scars that you need to deal with, Daryl, not the ones you can see in the mirror.  And unless you let Beth all the way in, she’ll never know just how much you truly love her.  If you don’t let her all the way in, Daryl, you’ll never know just how much she loves you.  Stop being so scared…go to her.  Tell her the truth.  And stop letting your father and brother win.”

 

XxXxXxXxXxXxX

 

Sam had managed to escape the library without Daryl knowing that he’d overheard such a private conversation.  And in the hours that followed, Sam had watched Daryl walk back and forth along the fence line and kill the Walkers.  From the set of the man’s shoulders, Sam knew that Daryl was mulling over Hershel’s words.  It was during the last of the evening’s meal that Sam saw Daryl slip inside the building and crouch down beside Beth; he rested his hand on her thigh, his fingers in slow motion over warn denim as he spoke quietly.  Sam would never know what was said between them; he would never know the words spoken or the touches they exchanged.  But for two days Daryl and Beth locked themselves away in their shared cell and talked.  Hershel or Carol would take them food during meal times and the others all stepped up to cover Daryl’s guard tower duty.  And on the third morning, as Sam sat on the bench and watched the sun rise, he heard the low roar of the bike’s engine.  Glancing towards the sound, he watched as Daryl swung onto the bike, and he smiled as Beth settled onto the warn leather seat behind him and wrapped her arms around him.  And as the bike rolled down the hill and disappeared through the gates, Sam finally realized what Hershel had meant all those weeks ago when he spoke about not judging.  Hoping for the best and wishing them well, Sam smiled as he watched them ride out of sight.   

Chapter Text

10/10.

**Author’s note; Thanks so much for the warm welcome and the reviews, guys.  And for those of you who simply read each time, I hope you enjoyed the ride as much as I did, even though these last two chapters were ridiculously hard to write – seriously like pulling teeth, guys!!. I suppose that happens when you have new material to gain ideas from, and the feel of it is the complete opposite of this fic -  I’ve got another fic in the pipe line, so keep your eyes out for it – dark, gritty, and it’s pulling ideas from me so sharply, that it makes my brain hurt – I hope you enjoy that one as much as you’ve all enjoyed this.  Much love.**

 

Women, as a general rule of thumb, fell into three categories in Daryl’s mind; three separate categories that had their own rules.  Rules that were to be followed - adhered too – no matter what the pain induced image of his brother had said.  It never took him long to categorize the women in his life, and once tucked into those boxes in his mind, it was rare that he ever moved them.  It kept things simple, and in a world gone to hell in a hand basket, these simplicities were what kept him sane. 

 

The first box contained the women he considered ‘Untouchable.’   The women Daryl tucked into this box either belonged to someone else, or they meant something to him.  They had clawed their way past the iron armor he had wrapped around himself, and lived within the iron shell of his chest.  Carol.  Maggie.  Michonne.  Women he would fight to keep safe.  These were the women that he viewed as mother or sister.  As his confidant or his as friend.  These were the women who held his council; who knew him better than his own brother had.  These were the women he turned to for guidance.  For advice.  And in Michonne’s case, when he needed an ass kicking or to dish out a whaling on a Walker, she was the one who stood back and guarded him while he took life’s frustrations out on the dead.     

 

The second box was the “Little Girl” box.  Judith – sweet, and unbearably pretty, would permanently live in this box in his mind.  Six years old, and she would still sit on his lap during dinner and comb her fingers through the scruff on his jaw while telling him about the fairies that lived in the vegetable patch.  Carl’s girlfriend Lisa had told her about them, and Daryl would catch sight of them hunting together for those elusive little folk, while Beth and Carol pulled weeds.  Lisa lived in this box; even after Daryl had seen the first time Carl had tossed his hat aside and yanked the pretty brunette close to steal a kiss in the shadows of the tower, she remained pure and lovely within his mind.  Six months after that first kiss, Daryl had refused point blank to discuss sex with Carl – no way, no how.  The slash of red riding high on Rick’s cheeks was tell-tale sign enough that Carl had finally screwed up enough courage to approach his father for advice – not the actual act, mind you.  Carl knew the mechanics of it – but the timing and the setting and the “Oh, gawd, what if he gets her pregnant?” had been all Rick could manage later that night.  Three years later, Carl was still managing to not get Lisa pregnant.

 

Little Mai lived in this box – as beautiful as her Mama, with an exotic tilt to those startling blue eyes that was a trait from her Daddy.  Mai was pure in a way that Judith had never been.  But in the birth of Mai, Lori’s ghost had finally been put to rest, and Carl had finally forgiven himself for killing her.  The crack between father and son ran deep, and would never truly heal.  But Mai’s laughter went a long way to brightening the walls of the prison.  Glenn was in awe, and Hershel doted on his granddaughter in a way that turned the wisely spoken man into a pure cream-puff.  And Maggie?  After the birth of her daughter, Maggie turned into a warrior in a way that no one had seen coming.  She presented ideas – ideas that were carefully planned and executed, to turn their home into an actual fortress.  By the time Mai turned three, the barbed wire was nearly all gone; in their place, brick walls stood tall and strong.  Bricks that had been forged by hand and left to bake in the unrelenting heat; their home was safe and secure, and would stand for decades to come.

 

Then there was the “fuckable” box.  This box had stood empty for a long time; various women had drifted in and out of that box over the years.  Some were fantasy – some were reality.  And as the years drifted past, that box slowly splintered, and turned to dust.  In its place, was the box reserved simply for her; Beth’s box.  It was filled with thoughts and fantasy and hope; filled with the memories that they made each day.  Each month.  Each year.  For six years now he had lived within the walls of the prison.  And for nearly five of those years, Beth had belonged to him; she grew more and more beautiful in his eyes every day.  He saw her laughter and he saw her anger.  He saw her hopes and he saw her despair.  He saw her courage and her determination to keep those she loved, safe.

 

Sitting up in the tower Daryl idly rubbed his hand across his heart.  Beth’s name was permanently etched upon his skin now, the way she was permanently etched upon his heart.  The initial D was etched upon her ring finger too – they may not have exchanged vows, nor had a wedding day, but she was his in every way that counted.  He had told her that several years earlier, when fear had nearly torn them apart.  Fear and the ingrained belief that he just wasn’t good enough.  It had been Hershel who had set him straight on that matter.  Had helped him see the proverbial light and how to swallow his fear and pride and ask for the one thing he didn’t think he deserved.  Three days later, Daryl would head out on a run with Beth being his lover, and Hershel’s blessing in his ears.  He would return a week later, with her being his wife.  She’d only winced once as he’d etched the D upon her finger in place of a ring.  It wasn’t done within the sanitary setting of a tattoo parlour, with the traditional gun.  No, Beth endured the pain of etching of his name on her finger – done by the very tip of his knife and rubbed over with ink; it was surprisingly neat when it eventually healed.  As was his; Daryl did the knife work, yet it was Beth’s fingers who smeared blood and ink together.  In those early days, Daryl didn’t know if a baby was on the cards for him and Beth.  Even now he didn’t know.  He did know he couldn’t live without her.  He did know, he wouldn’t be able to – she was the air he breathed.

 

        XxXxXxX

 

If Daryl was to open the Beth shaped box in his mind, he was sure there would be memories in there that could still make her blush.  He had touched and kissed and tasted every single inch of her body over the years.  Had experienced many of her firsts – had shared the wonderment of those firsts with her, while the sounds she couldn’t – wouldn’t – contain spilt from between swollen lips. 

 

In his youth, he had scoffed at the thought of being tied down to one woman.  He’d learned about sex through the drunken antics of his brother; had learned from the bored girl who had lived in the trailer next to his.  Madeline was jaded, and thought of as the town bike – everyone had had a ride at some point.  Daryl had fifteen when she took it upon herself to teach him all she knew.  It was second nature for him to drop off drugs or alcohol when she asked for them; Merle had tried getting into her pants many a times, only to be told to fuck off quite bluntly.  Over shadowed by his older brother, Daryl had simply done as she had asked; never muttering more than simple sentences when she tried engaging him in conversation.  But once he turned fifteen, Madeline had asked him quite bluntly one hot afternoon if he wanted to fuck – for the next year, she taught Daryl everything she knew.  It was between her thighs that he poured his misery and hatred of life.  It was there, that he equated fucking as just that – there was no room for feelings in his life, and as the years went by, Daryl took those lessons he learned with him.  Even Karen had been seen as an outlet – a quick fuck in the shower rooms. 

 

And while he was Beth’s first and only lover and he taught her all that he knew, it was her that taught him about feelings.  It was with her, that he learned to equate sex with love.  He didn’t pussy up and call it making love, but with Beth, Daryl was able to separate when they got down and dirty and fucked for life affirmation, and when he would lose himself in her for hours during the night.  He couldn’t call it fucking then – he refused to call it making love, but it wasn’t fucking.  He learned that the glide of her palm over his bare stomach in the middle of the night could turn him on more than a head job from a woman he barely knew.  While he had let the women of the prison inside the armor of his chest, it was only Beth that he let within the concrete walls of his heart.  She knew what scars he carried, and as time drifted past them, Daryl would no longer flinch is her hand brushed across the raised skin of his back.

 

During the time they spent trying to exercise his ghosts, Daryl had stared at the wall while explaining the abuse he had endured at his father’s hand; Beth hadn’t said a word as he stumbled over the misery of his past, nor had she shed any tears.  She hadn’t gotten angry, nor had she called his father any names.  When the words ran out, when Daryl sat there panting slightly with fear and self-loathing twisting in his stomach, Beth had risen to her feet and crossed the room to kneel between his thighs.  The hand she had laid upon his cheek had been cool and Daryl had leaned into her touch with his eyes closed.  Her lips however, when she brushed them across his brow, were warm.  Daryl’s breath had stuttered out when she brushed those satiny pillows across his brow, over the sharp slash of his cheekbone, and finally, whisper soft across his mouth.  With her lips resting against his, she had finally told him that she loved him; so many times she had smiled when looking at him, and told him that she knew.  They both did.  But the actual words had never been uttered – until then.    

 

In her own sweet way, she had laid a balm across the jagged tears in his soul, when she told him that if he wanted to have a baby, she would have one with him.  That she would be proud to be called Mrs. Daryl Dixon.  She loved him.  She would always love him.  Didn’t he know that?  She loved everything about him; from the iron shell he had wrapped around him, to the tears and scars he carried.  She loved his ability to cut through the bullshit, and get to the heart of the matter.  She loved his fighting spirit, and his refusal to give up.  And as a flush worked its way across her cheeks, her voice dropped to a murmur and she swallowed hard before speaking again.  She loved what he could do to her within the privacy of their concrete walls; the way he could reduce her to nothing more than a mass of shaking limbs and whimpers with the slow stroke of his hand along her body.  That within those moments his soul was laid bare for her and she could see everything that made him the man he was.  It didn’t matter none to her that he was damaged – weren’t they all?  In that soft voice, she had told him that she wanted to spend what was left of her life with him; be it five minutes, five years or five decades.  When they eventually walked out of their shared space, it was with a bond that only death would break.  And as they made their way towards Daryl’s bike, he was content with the knowledge that if Beth died, he would follow soon after – a single shot would help him on his way.    

 

XxXxXxX

 

People came and went.  Others stayed and their family expanded.  The dead still walked the earth, but some days seemed quieter than others.  It was on one of those nights that Daryl saw the rest of his life unfold.  Beth had been quiet for several days; she had brushed aside his concern with a smile and a soft kiss.  She was all right – she just had something on her mind.  At twenty four, she was still sylphlike – all leg and slim lines.  Those lines weren’t as perfect as they had one been.  No, the years had marked Beth’s skin – scars from running through bramble, and fighting for her life left silvery lines upon the smooth length of her body.  A body that Daryl knew every single inch of – he knew every dip and curve.  Every shadow that played across shifting muscle.  And as Beth lay beneath him shuddering, Daryl moved to the side and collapsed as he fought to gain his breath back.

 

Long minutes drifted past; he heard Beth sigh, a long, drawn out sound in the dim light, and Daryl reached out to skim his hand across her side.  His fingers scraped over her hip and along the top of her thigh, before trailing back up again.  It was as he lightly trailed his hand across her stomach that he felt it.  A slight rounding, where there should have only been muscle.  And as his hand stilled, he heard the shuddering breath that left Beth’s body.  That sound was tinged with fear, and Daryl swallowed hard as Beth rolled onto her side.  Hauntingly beautiful; ethereal in that dim light, as she peered at him through eyes that were shadowed over with fear and longing.  He could see his own demons reflected back at him on the face of his lover, and as they stared at each other, her voice whispered through his mind in the form of a memory.

 

“You think ‘coz your Daddy didn’t raise you right, that you’ll be a bad parent?  Jesus, Daryl, you couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s because he was a bad parent, that you’d be a brilliant one, can’t you see that?  You think I don’t want a baby, ‘coz of that?  I don’t want a baby, Daryl, ‘coz you don’t want one…if you did…I’d have one with you tomorrow…”

 

Daryl swallowed once, and then straightened his fingers so that they skimmed across her stomach again.  They had perfected the art of silence over the years, and as they stared at each other, asking those silent questions that only lovers can, Beth simply smiled as his fear shone back out of eyes that she loved.

 

“Yeah,” she whispered.  “I’d have one with you… be proud to, Daryl…”

 

 XxXxXxX

 

What they had wasn’t perfect.  There were days where Beth could have quiet cheerfully beaned him on the head with a spoon.  There were days where Daryl beat Walkers to a pulp with his fists alone.  But they loved.  And as Beth’s slight frame changed, as she grew rounder and softer, that love took on a fierce determination to keep those he loved safe.  No matter the cost.  Fear still choked him at the best of times.  Patience and love would set him straight.  Daryl would eventually put those fears to rest after his child was born; eleven months later, his second would arrive.  Two boys under the age of two, and both would grow up to be as bad ass as their father.  A daughter would eventually give Daryl back some of his innocence and light.  A wife, who looked at him and smiled as he watched over his young family; a wife he had killed for, and would die to protect.  Days would turn to weeks and months and years.  Decades would flash by in the blink of an eye.  Death would come in the form of old age for those who lived with in the solid walls of the prison.  There would be tears and laughter and hard work to stay alive in a world that wanted to wipe them out.  But watching over them, Daryl wouldn’t look at that.  Instead he looked at his memories, at the dusty images he kept within his boxes; and in looking at them, he finally found the one emotion he’d tried finding all of his life – he was happy, and he was content.  There was nothing more he could ask for, when he had everything he’d ever wanted.  And that was enough.     

 

~Fin.~