First thing he saw, pushing his way through the big double doors out into the empty yard, was that the sun had fallen lower, sending up feeble streaks of gold into the encroaching purple-grey of the night sky. Lighting up a cigarette, he leaned back against the thick cement walls, crossbow leaned up against the wall by his feet. Exhaled out a cloud of smoke, and waited.
Daryl didn't think much while he waited. Just ignored the numbness in his fingers, the strange pulling in his belly. Kept all the thoughts in his mind even more covered up than usual. Just focused on the cigarette he was smoking, the feeling of paper between his lips and fingers, the rasp of inhalation and his exhaling sigh. Scuffed his boots against the crumbling concrete, eyes scanning from right to left, flickering over the walkers pressed up against the fences. Weren't too many, for the time being. Not after what they'd done the day before, with those goddamn pigs. And they weren't all bunching up in the same spot, either. He'd have to check really good, see if there was any signs someone had been out since he'd checked the fences last night, leaving mice like walkers were stray dogs to look out for.
The door made a soft screech as it opened, just as he was finishing off his cigarette. Beth's blonde head came out from around the door, a smile turning up a corner of her mouth when her eyes landed on him, the rest of her stepping out from behind the door as she gently shut it behind her, keeping it from slamming. Pushing off from the wall, he tossed the cigarette butt away from her and grabbed ahold of his crossbow, swinging it over his shoulder. Left his thumb hooked in the strap as he turned towards her. Beth had her sweater wrapped around her, a couple buttons undone and her ponytail falling over her shoulder, a little braid peeking out of the tangle of sun-bright blonde hair. Her smile was soft, but she seemed pretty relaxed, her arms loose at her sides, one knee bent as she scuffed her boot against the concrete. She had a knife on her belt, which made him breathe a little easier. Beth didn't always carry one. Too many of the people walking around the prison, including Rick, didn't always bother with keeping a weapon on them. Not being armed was a risk he didn't like her taking.
"You ready?" he asked.
Beth nodded, falling into step with him as he started down the yard. "Yeah. Just checking the fences?" she asked. Something they'd done together a few times. Course, it didn't feel the same as it usually did. And Daryl had the feeling that things were going to keep feeling different for him. Things had been different between them ever since that day by the laundry line when she told him how pissed she was at him for leaving with his brother. And now everything was different between them in more ways than before. He'd had his dirty hands on her, pulled her in close and hard, thumb on her pulse as her mouth opened under his. Things were really fucking different, now. Wasn't any way for them not to be. That's all there was to it.
"Yeah." Tilting his head to meet her eyes, he took in the baby blue color, still soft, like they'd been back at her cell. "Your sister tell you about those mice?"
Beth nodded, her eyes clouding up for a moment. "Glenn did."
"Alright," he said. Didn't have to tell her to keep her eyes open, then.
They lapsed into silence as they passed through the gate to the outermost fence. Now that she was out here with him, the air felt different. Charged, or something, like when there was heat lightning—no sound, just light that somehow echoed in yellow-brown streaks against a hazy sky. It was harder, now that Beth was walking alongside him, and Daryl felt that same pulling in his belly turn into a hollowness, like being hungry for so long that it wasn't even gnawing anymore. Tinkering with the first support beam pressed up against the fencing, he could see her out of the corner of his eye, poking around in the overgrown weeds climbing up the fence with the toe of her boot. Beth had her eyes on the walkers clinging to the fence, her mouth set in a hard line as they blindly tried to claw through the fence, their browning teeth closing around nothing but weather-worn metal fencing. He remembered being out here the day he gave her the fixed up heart necklace, when she'd asked if he ever got sick of killing walkers and he asked her if she got sick of being inside with the baby. Beth had been tough and sweet all at once that day, not for the first time showing him how this world had changed them all. Still as pretty as a picture, gentle with the baby and men alike, always caring about the little things, the soft things they all pretended they didn't need. But she had a darkness she carried in her eyes and a hard-won fierceness and protectiveness, a willingness to kill and hack her way out of this life. Keeping an eye on her, he watched the fading yellow light slide over her clavicle, lighting up the soft skin above the neck of her shirt, that leather bit of cord dark against her pale skin. Watched the bit of long blonde hair brushing against her jaw and the gentle swipe of her fingers as she brushed a tendril of hair behind her ear. Watched the shift of her hips, the motion of her legs from round ass to those damn boots as they worked side by side.
He could feel her eyes moving across him as they worked. Knew without looking they were dark blue again, heavy like rock as they moved over him. Daryl knew she was waiting on something from him, but he kept his silence, moving quickly down the fencing, checking each beam one by one while she poked through the weeds, looking for mice and finding none. Beth didn't press him to speak, didn't speak herself, and he was thankful for that. Daryl had the notion she'd figured out well enough when to hold her words in around him and when to let them out. She could be around him better than anybody, touching him with her soft hands and saying things he wouldn't have heard from anybody else, not even Rick or Carol.
Finished up with the fencing around the time the sky was really starting to get dark, the pink and yellows all but gone from the sky. They'd just gotten back into the courtyard when the coyotes started raising hell out in the woods. As if they'd agreed upon it, they both stopped just inside the courtyard, both facing out over the woods, listening to the howling. Silence stretched out between them like a length of rope, tying them together and keeping them moving in tandem.
When he turned his head to look over at her, Beth hand her hands fisted on her hips, something like a frown on her face, like she was concentrating on the dogs out in the woods and the sounds they were making. He laid one hand on her forearm, and she turned her eyes up to his. Dark blue, just like he'd reckoned. Hard, but not cold. Heavy, but it felt good on his skin.
"You got time?" He didn't move his hand.
Beth nodded, and he slid his hand further down her forearm, down to her thin wrist and her hand fell into his. Wrapped his big hand around hers, engulfing it. "Come here," he said, watching the hardness in her eyes melting away a little, the blue looking more liquid.
Daryl led her to his corner of the yard, where he had his motorcycle parked next to that car he'd been working on. Her hand was cool and smooth inside of his, her thumb brushing against the back of his hand in slow, steady strokes. He leaned up against the car when he reached it, letting go of her hand and setting his crossbow down on the already dinged up hood of the maroon car. He dug around in his pockets for a smoke and his battered lighter. Beth just watched in silence as he lit the cigarette up before crossing his arms over his chest and looking out over the fences. She wasn't far from him, her blue eyes unreadable. Not pulling the cigarette from his lips, he carefully exhaled. Didn't meet her eyes but looked at her all the same, something he'd learned to do a lifetime ago.
That hollowness in his belly was worse than ever, and the stiffness in his hands was back, traveling up his arms and burning in his upper arms. He shuffled his feet a bit, settling his hips against the door of the car. Finally pulling the cigarette from his mouth, he blew out a harsh breath. Met her eyes. "Your father came'n talked t'me today. Came out while I was guttin' the deer. Had a lot to say."
Beth crossed her arms across her chest, plucking at the sweater where it folded over her elbows, something uneasy flickering across her face. "I didn't ask him to."
Daryl nodded. Took another long drag. Looked her over. The tumble of blonde hair, sun-bleached in some places and almost brown in others, a little wild against the porcelain curve of her face. Blue eyes staring at him, moving on his skin like melting ice in the middle of a too-hot summer night. Pink lips, a mouth he knew tasted and felt sweeter than any sin ever had. Her small body, thin and finely wired, like colt's. Those hips he'd held on to, praying for salvation while wanting to fuck her so badly it hurt. Those small breasts, pressed up against his chest. The curve of her waist and the small of her back. The insides of her thighs, which he'd dreamed about but never touched. Thought about the way she sang to the baby, that soft, tired and slurring singing voice she used in the middle of the night when the baby woke up and needed her. Thought about her laughter, the way she could even get Carl to crack a smile from time to time. Her smile, and the even, slow way it'd light up her face when she looked at him. How she warmed him up when she got close, her skin brushing against his, accidentally or not.
He finally met her eyes, blowing out smoke and scratching at his lower lip with his thumb, cigarette between his fingers and hovering just away from his mouth. "Told me you know your own mind."
"I do." Beth lifted her chin a little, blue eyes flashing.
"Alrigh'," he said, nodding slowly. Took one last long drag, tossing the cigarette away and stepping on it with his boot. Took all he had to keep standing there, leaning up against that car.
Beth's eyes moved across his face, shades of blue flickering in and out of focus, light and dark. She pressed her lips together for a quick moment, head tilting just a tiny bit as she studied him. "That all you got to say?" she finally asked, her voice soft, a little wry. She smiled a little when she asked.
"I ain't walkin', if that's what you're askin'," he managed, his voice soft and low. "Won't, 'less you tell me to." Felt that hollowness in his belly. The burning in his arms and the tension running the length of his spine. But he made himself meet her eyes, staring her down. Daryl knew he wasn't ever going to have many words for her. Knew plenty about himself, all the ways he could fuck this up without even trying. And he knew he wanted her, a bone-deep ache that went past blind need or lonely restlessness. Wanted her, body and soul, wrapped around him. Wanted her smiling, her laughing, and the sound of her singing. Wanted how soft she could be, curling against him like home. And he wanted how strong she was, balancing all those kids and killing when she had to. Just wanted all of her. Maybe he didn't deserve it, but she was offering it. And Daryl had decided to hold onto her with both hands. Offer a dying man salvation and he'd try to take it, for as long as he could fucking hold onto it.
"Alright," Beth said, stepping towards him, a smile curving up on those pink lips. She got close, right up against him, her boots tapping on the concrete until they were right up against his scuffed up boots. Soft fingers brushed the hair away from his eyes. "Alright," she whispered. Her fingers skimmed down the side of his face, and he leaned into the feel of her. Her eyes had softened some, the smoky blue where water met sky. Daryl's hands found their way to his hips, thumbs hooking under her shirt and sweater to run over the curve of bone above her belt. He was gentle with her, remembering that bruise and wondering if she'd ran her fingers over it. Held his breath and tugged her close, asking her with his hands to lean against him, and Beth did. Resting her hands just below his shoulders, she shifted up, standing on her tiptoes.
Her lips hesitated just below his, and he could feel her warm, shallow breaths brushing against his mouth, feather-light and sweet. Daryl kept his hands loose, thumbs tracing circles in the hollow of her hips, skin warm and smooth under his calloused fingertips. Felt her arching towards the movement of his thumbs on her bare skin. Felt her fingers curl into his shirt, gripping him, hard. The air around them seemed to tremble between their mouths, echoing with their breathing, hesitation and desire tangled up as one. Her hips shifted in his hands, skin moving like silk under the pads of his fingers, and then Beth had her mouth to his, her blue eyes closed and her hair brushing his neck. He let his eyes fall shut, let himself press back into her. Beth tasted good, like sugar in a world without it, and he slowly ran his tongue over her full lower lip. Daryl wanted to be gentle with her, taking his time in feeling the curve of her mouth, the trembling give of lips as she sighed into his mouth. Just wanted to feel how soft she was, delicate. Like the night before, when he'd realized there was more to it than just fucking her, he was coming to see that this wasn't something he was about to rush. Nudging her feet wider apart with his boots, he settled her against him, feeling better for it. Her hips rested against his and she melted into him comfortably, like coming home. He slid his aching hands further up under Beth's shirt, following the curve of her hips up to the indent of her waist. Her hands found their way to the back of his neck, nails scratching lightly against the sensitive skin before her fingers twined into his hair. Daryl's skin prickled at the touch, his hands pressing into her soft skin for a brief moment. Took the chance and let his tongue move against hers. Kissed her deeply, almost aching with how good she felt against him. He had her, in one way or another, and he didn't want to let her go.
One hand found its way to the small of her back, tracing the bumps of her spine, her skin warm under his fingers. Beth made a soft noise against his mouth, shifting restlessly as her hands curled harder into his hair. After swallowing her cry, Daryl pulled away from her mouth, burying his nose in her hair and pressing his mouth to her ear. Took a deep, shaky breath, inhaling the warm scent of her. Tried to clear the hot haze from his mind. Tried to slow the blood rushing through him, the fast beat of his pulse. Loosened his fingers from where they were digging into her back, let them slide against her skin just a little.
"Daryl," his name fell from Beth's mouth, a soft sound halfway between a plea and a whisper that went through him like a bolt of heat.
Turned his head back to her, his lips brushing against hers but not quite kissing her. Put his hands on her thin shoulders, almost thinking he should push her away before he went and made an ass of himself.
He couldn't do it, though, and in the next moment, Beth had her mouth to his again. Harder, this time. Nipped at his lip, and Daryl had his hands on her ass, grabbing her hard and hauling her closer than before. Groaned into her mouth as his fingers dug into her soft body, him hard and her hotter than a Georgia summer against his jeans. Didn't think, just dragged his mouth down the side of her jaw, taking a wet path to her ear and down to her neck. She let go of his hair, her hands fumbling between them before she quickly shrugged her sweater off, leaving her in just her thin tank top, rucked up by his restless hands. Her hands were back on his shoulders, gripping him restlessly as he licked a slow path down to her collarbone, his nose running along her skin. Daryl bit just above the bone, lightly, tasting the salty sweetness of her skin and the bitter taste of leather where her necklace had gotten caught under his mouth. He lifted Beth to her toes as he bit down, then let her slide back down against him, his hands on her ass dragging the motion out. Fucking torture. He ran his tongue over the flesh he'd bitten, half-apology, half-desire. Beth shook in his arms, giving a soft cry as her bare arms shivered against his. He looked up from her neck to see her biting down on her lip, hard. Her eyes were dark, dark blue, her pupils dilated. She looked too goddamn good under the fading sky, eyes bright and cheeks flushed, her shoulders bare, his arms wrapped around her. Too goddamn good for him.
Daryl let out a sigh, rested his forehead against her neck. Pressed one last wet kiss to the skin under his mouth. Felt her dragging in deep breaths, her chest brushing against him as it rose and fell. Just let himself breathe in that raw scent of hers, too hot by far, burning him up. Loosened his grip on her ass, just letting his palms rest lightly against the curve. He could still taste her skin on his tongue, could feel the beat of her pulse against his skin. Beth's fingers combed through his hair, one hand twined in the hair at the back of his neck, nails scratching at his skin.
He let one hand trail up the back of shirt, his palm huge against the bare skin he uncovered. Started at that narrow, inward curve, stroking his hand downwards to the flare of her hips. Again and again, until her breathing calmed. Worked on him, too. Felt himself resting easy against her, his breath coming in steady against her soft skin, bare above the neckline of her tank top, his body calming down.
Felt good, giving into her. Giving into how badly he wanted her. Still wanted her, but Daryl was fine just running his hands down her back, holding her close. Breathing her in. Didn't need anything more. Just wanted to uncover her, a little piece of soft skin at a time. Just wanted to learn her little cries one by one, one shudder of her tiny body at a time. Daryl had fucked plenty of women, done plenty of different things with them. But this would be the first time he'd memorized a girl before, the first time he'd ever wanted to learn someone inside and out. Didn't seem right not to, for once. Just wanted her, and he wanted more. Wanted to remember, for a change. Wasn't just fucking like it was something to be done. It was something sweeter than that, something to hang onto with both hands.
"You promise?" Beth's voice was a shaky whisper, breaking the silence. His hand stilled in the center of that inward curve of her back. He traced a small circle against the delicate vertebrae there, holding in his breath. When she spoke again, her voice was stronger, just a tiny bit louder. "'Cause there's no going back this time. No walkin' away."
Daryl lifted his head. Pressed his whole hand against her back, fingers digging in and palm flat to her skin. Met her hard blue eyes, and nodded. "Alrigh'."
Beth ran her fingers over his cheekbone, fingers tripping over his face lightly before sliding down the scruff at the edge of his jaw. She smiled, scratching lightly. "Good."
After a long moment of leaning into each other, Daryl started to straighten up, sliding his hands down her hips before letting them fall away. As much as he wanted to, they couldn't stay out here all night. Been out for long enough as it was. Just because Hershel had given him a blessing and a warning all in one, didn't mean Daryl was about to drag out all his business in front of god and everybody. Beth took a step back as well, smoothing down her top with unsteady hands, and he bent to pick up her sweater from where she'd dropped it. Held it out to her and watched while she slipped it back on. As Beth did up the buttons, Daryl let himself reach out. Let himself put his hand against her skin, fingers cupping the back of her neck while his thumb swept lightly over her exposed throat. Beth lifted her head, hands stilling. Daryl's eyes locked on hers, trying to read her, the shifting blue tides that moved through her eyes. Wasn't really sure what he saw in those damn eyes of hers, but he felt her shiver all the same. That felt good enough for him.
It was pretty late by the time they got back into the prison. Beth had tucked her hand into his, their fingers laced together, and he could feel his palm getting sweaty, sliding against her own cool palm. But nobody was out and about, and so he didn't try to let go of her hand. Just followed her up the stairs to the cells, trailing slightly behind her because he enjoyed the feel of her tugging him along, the give and take of her fingers against his, and the tilt of her head when she looked back at him.
When they reached her cell, she leaned forward, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "'Night, Daryl," she murmured into his ear.
"Night," he mumbled back, not sure what to do with himself. But Beth just gave his hand a squeeze, gifting him with one last smile before disappearing into her cell.
The early morning sun felt good on his face, the pale yellow light streaking past the leaves and lighting up the forest floor in shaky patches. Warmed him up enough, kept him moving through the woods, crossbow on his shoulder and knife on his hip. It was quiet, today, and Daryl let himself amble a little slowly, checking the traps he and Rick had set a while ago. They caught a pretty good number of rabbits this way, so long as the traps got checked often enough. Usually found a couple of traps that they were too late getting too, with the rabbits mangled and ripped apart, messy walker tracks all over the place, scattering leaves and viscera around. Hadn't been a bad day for that, at least. So he just kept moving along, following the usual path. Reset some snares, moved a couple, putting rabbits into a bag as he went.
Daryl caught sight of some coyote tracks a mile or so out from the prison, a few sets of prints of different sizes. They'd been getting pretty close to the prison lately, howling most nights. Smart animals, the damn things. A good challenge, back when a man could go tracking for the hell of it. So he didn't really think about it too much, just hefted the bag over his shoulder, already following the tracks through the woods. He'd headed out earlier than usual this morning, and he had the time to spare. Might find something useful, wandering off the path for a while. Kept his ears open for walkers or animals while he followed the prints for maybe another half a mile or so. Worked on trying to figure out how big the pack was, looking at the sizes of prints and how deep they pressed into the soil. The best he could reckon was maybe five or six coyotes, none of them unusually big.
Daryl remembered back before, the pack that used to run close to the shithole he lived in. That was a small pack, too. Troublemakers, which only made Daryl like them more. Used to piss off some of his fancier neighbors, like the rich assholes that had a hunting cabin a few miles out from Daryl. Rich fuckers never knew how to clean up after themselves. And coyotes were too damn nosy to stay away, and too smart by half. Weren't going to give up a perfectly good meal just because rich assholes with fancy guns didn't want them nosing around.
Soil got more damp after a while, the plants a little greener, so Daryl wasn't surprised when he came up on a small, marshy pond in a spot where the trees had thinned out some. There was quite a bit of sun coming down on it, and he could see a couple of dragonflies, big ones, lazily dipping up and down to touch the flat, murky water. He was a few yards away from the pond when he caught sight of a heron, one of those big blue ones. It was slowly wading along the edge of the pond, surrounded by the tall reeds, all but invisible. It hadn't caught sight of him yet, and he wanted to keep it that way for as long as he could. The huge bird was mostly grey-looking, with some black and brown markings, but when the light hit it just right, the grey feathers would shine slightly blue. Moving as silently as he could, he eased forward a couple of feet to get a better look.
Daryl just stayed still once he got close enough. No sounds but the buzzing of bugs, or the occasional rustle of leaves. The bird had all but stopped, staying still in the water. It would raise and lower its head, neck curving into an s-shape as its beak darted under the water. It'd then raise its head, neck straightening as it rapidly shook its head from side to side, water droplets spraying everywhere. He watched, quiet. It felt longer than a fucking lifetime, longer than just a handful of years, since the last time he'd been able to just stand around and look at something like a blue heron fishing in a pond. The world had cracked open, and he'd forgotten that shit like this still happened. Coyotes still ran around making noise and keeping the pack together. Herons still waded through ponds, hunting for fish and frogs. Forgot that shit like this still happened around him.
Wished Beth was here to see it. And he didn't feel bad for wishing it, either. Too late for that.
He'd fallen asleep easy last night, still almost able to feel her under his hands, the way she smelled lingering on him. Didn't think about much more than that, and the fact that she'd said there'd be no going back this time. No walking away. And he'd agreed to it.
I don't want you to break her heart by walking away from her. That's the only way you ever wouldn't be good enough for my little girl.
Hershel's words felt right. Daryl didn't let himself think too hard on it. Wasn't going to try to untangle the words of man like Hershel. Daryl wasn't much for talking, but he could listen. And he could try to give Beth what she wanted. If she wanted him around, she could have him. Couldn't figure out why, but that wasn't any of his business. He'd just take what he could get and be grateful for it. Try to make it nice for her. Could try as best he could to treat her right, whatever shit like that meant these days. And, if he was being honest with himself, he was going to make the most of it, for his own sake. Never thought he'd kiss a girl like her. That a pretty girl like Beth could be in the cards for him, even for a split second. For the first time, something he really wanted was his, even if it was only until she came to her senses.
Didn't take long for the sound of a walker to break into his thoughts. A decent sized fuck, half his belly missing, came crashing through a huge tangle of ferns to Daryl's left, yanking the plants up by their roots. The heron let out a startled croak, shaking its head and taking off. Sighing, Daryl dropped the bag of rabbits and lifted his bow up to his shoulder. The walker was looking around, head bent at an almost unnatural angle as it tried to figure out where all the noise was coming from. He watched as it stumbled towards the pond, then dragged itself towards Daryl, crusty and yellowed eyes rolling around in their sockets, groaning the whole time. He took a breath, shot a bolt straight through its eye. Lowered his crossbow when the walker dropped like a sack of rotten potatoes and the woods fell silent again.
Shouldering his bow and the bag of rabbits again, he walked over to the walker. Wrenched his bolt free of the oozing eye socket and wiped it off in the grass. May as well head back to the prison. He'd had his time. Seen some tracks, saw the heron, and saw a walker. He'd followed the tracks for as long as he could, the walker was just a rotting pile of mush now, and it was like the heron had never been here at all. Nothing much else out here for him anymore.
He was putting the bolt back on his bow when something in the reeds caught his attention, a little flash of color. Reached out, fingers closing on the hollow shaft of a single long feather. Pulled it from the reeds, careful not to bend it. The grey feather was huge, longer than his forearm. Turning it over a couple of times, the light hit it just right, making the feather shine steel blue.
Daryl huffed out a laugh, one side of his mouth turning up. Proof the heron had been there, at least for a moment.
"Need any help?"
Daryl looked up, squinting a bit as he met Carol's eyes. Shrugged his shoulders before pulling back on the rabbit skin. "Guess so," he nodded.
Carol sat down on the grass next to him, reaching for a rabbit. "Haven't seen you much lately," she said. "You've been keeping yourself busy," she said, a teasing lilt in her voice. She nudged him with her elbow, smiling.
"Yeah," he mumbled.
Carol rolled her eyes at him. "You know, I've been waiting to see if you'd ever bring up Beth on your own, or if I'd have to drag it out of you, kicking and screaming. Guess I just won a bet with myself that it'd be the latter."
Daryl felt the back of his neck heat up. Concentrated on the rabbit under his hands, just offering her a wordless grunt as a reply. She stayed quiet for a couple minutes more, both of them working together like they had so many times before. Carol had gotten good at most things around here. Didn't want to be weak, dead weight. She had come a long way, and Daryl respected that. Maybe cared too much about him, poking at him all the damn time. But he knew why she did it, and he wasn't going to begrudge her that. Everybody had changed after the farm, and that was it.
"I'm happy for you," Carol said after a while, losing the joking glint in her eye, looking at him steadily. "That girl has a heart of gold." He turned his head a little, looking at her. Daryl caught her easy smile, the corner of his own mouth turning up in response. And then they settled into work.
"What kind of bird is this from?" Beth asked, turning the feather over in her hands. The light streaming in from the big windows from across the hall made the blue-grey vane shimmer a bit, and she ran a careful finger over it, following the grain, looking up at him curiously.
Daryl was standing next to her in her cell, hands shoved into his pockets. "Blue heron. Saw it out in the woods when I was checkin' the traps." She lifted the feather up, letting more light hit it. He watched her face, watching the smile that played on her lips as she considered the feather.
"It's beautiful." Her voice was quiet. Maybe it was just the lingering feeling of standing there in the woods, watching that bird wading in the water. Maybe it was the way the light was shining off her hair and thoughts of kissing her. Either way, Daryl heard something reverent in her voice, and it was almost like she had been standing there with him this morning. Like they'd been seeing the same thing, the same heron wading in the water, the same coyote tracks, same early morning sunlight on their faces.
He'd stopped by her cell after finishing up those rabbits with Carol, feather in his hands and stomach curling up into knots. But when he'd shown up at her door, she'd just smiled at him, getting up from playing with plastic cups on the floor with Judy. And when she'd caught sight of the feather, asking him what he'd found, he'd handed it over wordlessly, his fingertips brushing her palm for a quick moment. And while Beth studied the feather, Daryl just watched the light hitting her eyes. Pale blue today, the light-as-glass blue that made the muscles in his shoulders tense up restlessly.
After a moment, Beth lowered her hand, looking back over at him. Her cheeks turned a little pink under his gaze, and she made to hand the feather back to him.
"Nah," he said, keeping his hands in his pockets and nodding towards the feather. "Saw the bird already. May as well hang on to it for me."
The smile she gave him was dazzling. And then she put her arms around his neck, feather still caught in one hand. The shaft scratched against the back of his neck, the edge of the feather tickling briefly against his skin before her hands rested against him. Daryl's hands moved automatically to her back, enjoying the warmth of her skin through her t-shirt. "Thank you," she said. And then Beth pressed a kiss to his lips, a gentle pressure that lingered just long enough before she pulled back.
"S'nothing," he mumbled, able to still taste her. Didn't let go of her back, and she still had her arms twined around his neck.
Beth rolled her eyes a little at that. "Alright," she said with a grin.
Daryl's mouth pulled up at that, a half-smile he couldn't help. "Alrigh'," he repeated back to her. Tugged gently on the end of her ponytail. "Alrigh'."
A/N: Okay. Well. I don't have a lot to say except I have so much anxiety about this chapter and could probably nitpick that first section for the rest of my life and never be satisfied. Many thanks to JenniferCarolyn from keeping me from going full-Gollum on this chapter. Without her, I'd still be holed up with my laptop, anxiously rearranging every single sentence letter by letter. But, there are plenty more chapters to do that with, so we're moving forward! Onwards and upwards and all that jazz. (Once the semester's last paper is handed in on Friday, at any rate!)
So. Leave me your thoughts here, or at my tumblr! CoraRochester. As always, I appreciate the feedback, the favorites, the follows. You guys are awesome, and I love you all!