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on the steps of the moonshine shack

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I wouldn’t know where to start
Sweet music playing in the dark
Be still, my foolish heart,
Don’t ruin this on me

— Hozier // ‘Almost (Sweet Music)’ —

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It’s hot, stifling, out on the creaky wooden porch. But at least it’s quiet — no walkers shuffling or snarling or snapping their half-rotted jaws, just bugs buzzing and humming in the woods. Ain’t no nighttime breeze to disturb the treetops or give them any relief, but it’s always so damn hot Daryl doesn’t remember the last time he wasn’t sweatin’, anyway.

Across from him, Beth is covered in a fine sheen of sweat herself, tear tracks down her face, too. The moonlight catches on every rivulet, makes her look even paler than she is. Like she’s translucent or something. Like he could try to touch her and his hand would pass right through.

She licks the taste of moonshine from her lips and Daryl catches his thumbnail between his teeth, just to have something to do with his hands that’s not touching her. He did enough of that today, grabbin’ at her like he did when he was pissed and on the verge of breaking. Maybe he did break some. Didn’t notice it too much, though, since Beth wouldn’t let him go completely. She put them skinny little arms ‘round him and held him together.

He doesn’t know why she bothered or how she even managed to do it. He ain’t worth it. Never has been. All he’s ever done is try to keep goin’ ‘til he can’t anymore.

He wasn’t anybody back then and he isn’t anybody now, either. Just the same as he’s always been — always fighting for survival when he’s got nothin’ to live for, except maybe his own stubbornness. If he’s gonna die, it ain’t gonna be his old man or a walker what takes him out. He’s not gonna give anyone else the satisfaction of killing him, and he’s come so far now that dyin’ would just piss him off more. What’s the point of all he’s been through if he’s just gonna get bit?

He’d been ready to give up, let himself dry out here on his lonesome and die already — he was gonna do it on his terms, just gonna let it happen, except —

Well, yeah. Daryl chews on his thumbnail some more, chances a glance her way. It’s just that little Beth Greene wouldn’t let him.

Girl always gets her way. She was never used to bein’ told no before all this went down, he just bets. No wonder she’d been the one to snap him out of it — because ain’t nobody gonna tell her she’s not gonna get what she wants, not after everything she’s lost. And now, for some godforsaken reason he’ll never know, what she wants is for him to keep goin’, to stay livin’ with her.

He didn’t mean to tell her the truth, really, hadn’t planned on it (or much of anything else) — that he was a nobody back before who you were mattered. But she’s got his number, anyway, she made that perfectly damn clear. He thinks he owes her something real about him, something that’s not resentment or beating walkers down bloodier than he needs to. Things aren’t that hard to kill, but she was right about that, too — he did it because it made him feel something. Not better, ain’t nothing that’s gonna make him feel better, but it was something he could still do. Wouldn’t have done nothin’ at all if it weren’t for her, though, so…

He’s gotta give her something, doesn’t he?

When he tells her, she doesn’t make him feel like he was nothing, like he is nothing. He can do that just fine on his own. Beth might tell him he’s a jerk and that all that stuff in his head is bullshit, but she’s not gonna make him feel like he’s worthless because of it.

That’s somethin’, too.

When she speaks again, Daryl drops his hand from his mouth to fiddle with his fingers. They’re itchin’ to reach out to her again.

“I’ll be gone someday,” she says, all matter-of-fact, like that’s okay.

There’s a strange tightening in his heart that tells him it isn’t, and it’s sure as hell not okay with him. He doesn’t want to hear this shit. “Stop.”

“I will. You’re gonna be the last man standing.” She scuffs her booted toes against the rickety wood planks beneath them, kinda like she’s stamping her foot to insist her point, only she’s not kid enough to do that anymore. She’s a tiny slip of a thing, young, but she’s not been a kid in a long time. “You are.”

He doesn’t want to be. What’s he want to keep standing for, if nobody’s there with him? Fuck, he knows he’s a miserable son of a bitch, but —

“You’re gonna miss me so bad when I'm gone, Daryl Dixon.”

But she’s right.

He thinks he might need her.

That’s not something he knows how to say. Not really sure that he should say it, besides.

So he says something else, scoffs like they’re not talking about her dyin’, and tells her, “You ain’t goin’ anywhere, girl.”

“Oh, no?”

“Nah.” He clears his throat. “Who else’s gonna be this much a pain in my ass, huh?”

Her smile’s not so watery now. He’s grateful for that. Doesn’t know what to goddamn do with her when she cries, especially now that there ain’t no bottles of peach schnapps to smash. The drink’s shit and so are her tears, so is this whole goddamn mess of a world they’re livin’ in. His world was never much to start with, but hers… Beth had somethin’ before all this.

Maybe that’s what pissed him off so bad earlier, or maybe it’s that she’s never gonna get any of it back.

She should have it. She should have whatever she wants. She’s good — too good to be sitting here drinkin’ old moonshine with the likes of him, but they’re all they’ve got now.

But she’s so good that he thinks she might sit with him even if they had more. He’s not good enough for any of it, but Beth don’t think like that. She sees something good in everybody so much that she’s got him thinkin’ he could, too. Right now it’s enough that he sees the good in her, because good’s all she’s got. It’s everything she’s got.

She’s the sun, all bright and yellow and warm. She does something funny to his skin, too, makes his ears go red and his fingertips tingle whenever he touches her — but he can’t seem to stop touching her, neither, no matter what it might do to him.

He clenches his hands into fists in his lap. Don’t know what’s gotten into him. Maybe it’s the moonshine or the way she wipes her eyes dry. Maybe it’s her snifflin’ or her smile, the one that’s got something real in it. Like maybe they’ll be alright, after all, somehow. He don’t know how, but…

The porch shudders, creaks, and when Daryl looks up from his hands it’s to find that Beth’s scooted closer. Her eyes are still shinin’, all unshed tears and booze and bright white moonlight, but there’s a little bit of her old hope back in them, too.

If he can be happy about anything these days, he’s happy about that. He doesn’t know what he’d do if she stopped believing in… whatever it is she believes in, he doesn’t particularly know. Just that it’s something, which is more than he can say for himself.

“I’d miss you, too,” she tells him. The side of her knee bumps against his. “If I didn’t think you’d be the last of us, I don’t think I could watch you die. Wouldn’t want to.”

“You think I wanna watch that shit?” Daryl wants to know, gruff as he can, even when it feels like his damn heart’s in his throat as he looks up at her through the mess of his hair.

“No.” Her toes scuff against the wood again. “But I think you’d find a way to survive it. You’ve found a way to survive just about everythin’, haven’t you?”

He swallows. “Not like that, I haven’t.”

Beth cocks her head at him, thoughtful like. “You sayin’ you can’t live without me, Daryl?”

That’s not it — not quite. It’s more than that. A lot more, so much more that the words come before he can think about them, before he knows what they really mean —

“Sayin’ I don’t want to.”

Beth blinks. “Oh.”

Oh. That’s it.

And then she leans forward. She leans in.

When her lips touch the corner of his mouth, almost on his cheek, almost innocent, Daryl doesn’t know what to think of it. He’s not thinking at all. His head’s full of cicada song and nothing else, just an incessant humming with no words behind it all.

Why’s she so close to him?

That’s about the extent of it, before it’s not even so much as almost innocent anymore. She tilts her head, just the once, and her mouth is on his so absolutely that neither of them could pretend it’s not on purpose.

He freezes.

She notices, right away, and retreats like that spark between their lips shocked her back into sense. She plants her hands on the porch, prepared to scoot herself back, further away, shaking her head as she makes a move to reopen that chasm between them, the one she’d stitched up and made him feel like he could be close to someone. Close to her.

“Daryl, I’m —”

She’s gonna say she’s sorry. He knows it and he doesn’t want that — doesn’t know what he wants, or what he should want, but it’s not that.

So he touches her now, again, the way he felt like he needed to all night. It’s just his hand on her arm, fingers curling in a firm grip to keep her from going anywhere, because —

“Hold up.” His voice is hushed and it feels like gravel coming up from his throat. “Gimme another minute here, girl, jus’ — stay put there.”

She nods and leaves it be. She sits and waits without another word, not even a blink of her big blue eyes to disrupt whatever’s happening between them. His own gaze flits from hers down to her mouth — a little pink, a little trembling. She’d tasted bitter like moonshine and salty, heady, like dry summer sweat. And he — he takes a breath, licks his lips to chase that taste she left behind — he wants to know what else there is.

He squeezes her arm. Her skin’s just as hot as his, lighting a match deep in his gut that warms him up more than moonshine, faster and better, a little more like the happy drunk that she is, even when she’s been crying. He rubs his thumb, all calluses and rough edges like the rest of him, up the smooth skin of her arm, and she leans back in. Just a touch, just a little, just in case he freezes up on her again.

But he’s not going to now. Not ever again, if he can help it.

“Alright,” he says, all gravel still, but he touches her soft and he thinks that matters more. He pulls her in just as slow as she’d leaned, urging her back to him if that’s what she wants. “Alright, c’mere.”

He should say something better, but he doesn’t know what. He’s gonna have to show her.

So he presses his lips to hers, parting them only slightly and only because she does it first. He’s following her lead. Wouldn’t know what the hell to do otherwise. He’s never kissed anyone because he wanted to before. He probably shouldn’t want to kiss her, either, but who doesn’t wanna touch the sun some time?

His hand lifts tentatively to touch her hair. It’s all up in tangles and knots but it’s soft, too, the kinda soft that’s always there, the kind that’s so much Beth that it don’t matter how long they’ve been runnin’, how much they sweat without ever showering it away, she’s still always gonna be her.

He’s been frying in the Georgia heat for two lifetimes now — the one before and the one after — and he doesn’t think anything else has ever felt so warm as Beth. Doesn’t think anything else has ever made him feel as warm as she does. Not the buzzing humidity around them, not the moonshine pooling in his stomach, not the blood of anyone or anything he’s ever killed… It’s all nothin’, compared to her. She’s in his veins, in his blood, in his bones, so deep in there it’s like she’s always been, but he’s been too wrapped up in all the bullshit to notice.

But now she’s here in his arms, too. Lips sealed to his. Knee knockin’ into his. All that. It’s all her and him and he can feel her now.

Even if that’s wrong. Even if he shouldn’t want it. He hasn’t wanted a damn thing that’s happened to him, that’s happened to any of them, so what’s it matter if he wants something that he shouldn’t? It’s better, she’s better, than all the rest of this bullshit.

Why shouldn’t he want her when they’re all that’s left? More importantly — more relevant — is why shouldn’t he go on and admit it, when there’s nobody left to tell them no? Ain’t nobody left to stop them, so they might as well take what they want without worrying about what anyone else would say if they were here.

They’re not here. But Beth is. And maybe she’s all he ever needed, anyway.

He ain’t good enough, but if she wants to kiss him then he’s gonna let her.

He takes a sharp inhale through his nose, and releases it in a gruff, almost subdued sigh into her mouth. He’s holding back, the way he does when he wants something and it seems like he’s gonna get it, because why should he get it? He doesn’t trust it.

But when one of Beth’s hands curls tight into his hair and the other splays itself over his thrumming heart, he thinks he might believe in something, too.

It’s his turn to tilt his head, to slant his mouth more purposefully against hers, though still clumsy, but he takes the kiss deeper because she’s holding onto him like she needs it. Like she needs more. And she makes him think, makes him believe, that he’s got more to offer — more to give, and he’ll give it to her if that’s what she wants. If she wants him.

When they stop, it’s with rough, shallow breaths hotter even than the air around them. Their lips cling another moment before they break apart, but not far. He can still taste her, still feel the brush of her lips, all dry and cracked but soft, because soft is what she is.

He runs his hand through that ragged ponytail of hers, tugging at the end of it when he rests his forehead against hers. He wants to keep her close.

“Girl” — he’s almost laughing, this disbelieving, reverent sort of sound, doesn’t know why but it’s almost there and he thinks she’s the one who did it to him — “if anything’s gonna kill me, think it’s gonna be you.”

Beth really does breathe out a chuckle. Her hand twists in his shirt and he could swear his heart’s tryin’ to leap out of his chest to get to her.

“Nah, I won’t,” she tells him. “I’d miss you too bad to let you go.”

He never thought he’d believe that somebody wouldn’t drop him soon as they could, soon as they’d had enough. But when Beth tells him that she’s in this with him all the way… Well, he thinks that’s just the sort of thing he could put his tattered faith in.

Just another thing he doesn’t know how to say, so he doesn’t put it into words. He’ll figure it out later — they’ll figure it out.

For now, this time, he kisses her first.