The dry rustling of the leaves under their feet slightly slowed their progress. The sound was common in the woods these days, ever since the season changed and the trees lost their coverings. Any creature that moved caused the dry leaves to crackle and crunch underfoot and while that alerted Beth and Daryl to other creatures' presence, it also it alerted those same creatures of theirs.
As such, their aimless wanderings through the woods did not get them as far as they used to. In summer they would walk for tens of miles on end, the cover of the woods hiding them from the hot sun. Once the leaves fell and the cold set in they found they could not cover the same distance. Walking burned away the cold but the leaves only brought more walkers to them.
They had been walking through woods for what seemed years to Beth. For weeks they hunted for any sign of other survivors from the prison. They scoured the woods for tracks until their own footprints were all that could be found. By unspoken agreement they never went back to the train tracks, not after finding the remains. After a while they gave up on finding anyone else. They had to have been the only two to make it out alive and stay alive. The day they turned north, away from the prison for the last time, Beth expected to cry, to feel something about finally admitting that everyone she loved was gone. All she felt though was relief. As they trudged through woods suddenly unfamiliar to her she felt a weight lift off her now that they had finally stopped searching for people they both knew they would never find.
The days grew shorter and colder as they made their way. They stuck to the woods, both more comfortable in the trees and wilderness than they would be in a house. When they began to see their breath in the mornings they decided that they should start looking for a place to spend the winter. They went to many places: houses, stores, restaurants. None of them had been suitable enough to spend an extensive amount of time in so they kept moving through the woods. Sometimes Beth thought that the reason they didn't stay somewhere wasn't because it was to dirty or to hard to defend but because it still felt to close to the prison: to the past and the ghosts they were both still running away from.
Trudging through an ankle deep pile of crumbling brown leaves Beth brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes and stared up through the tree line. The sky was a light gray, not with dusk which was hours away, but with clouds that could only mean the first snow of the year.
She was so enraptured with the sky that she nearly ran into Daryl when he stopped before her. Her hand fell on her knife hilt she scanned the woods for walkers. Seeing none she looked up at Daryl inquisitively. He pointed to their left where, if she strained her eyes, she could just make out a flash of red.
"Barn?" she whispered not even having to think to keep her voice low. Talking in whispers had become second nature to the both of them.
"Could be." He muttered, stepping in the direction of the building and tightening his grip on his crossbow. "C'mon Greene."
Minutes later they crouched behind the last of the tree line and surveyed the area in front of them. A tiny red shed stood close by with a small one-story farmhouse in front of it. Acres spread out in front of it, clear of trees and overrun with dead crops that were never harvested. Beth felt a stab of remorse at seeing so much wasted food. There were pens where animals used to be kept, empty now with a gate swinging mournfully in the breeze. Beth felt a twinge of homesickness, memories of her farm threatening to overwhelm her.
"Its clear of walkers." she whispered once she could control her voice.
Daryl looked at her, his brow crinkled. "You okay?"
Beth knew that he wasn't just asking if she was okay right now, but if she would be okay to stay the winter here. The memories were fighting hard against her mental wall, a snippet of Shawn's laughter made it through. She grabbed the laughter and tucked it lovingly behind the wall once more as she straightened her spine. "Its as good a place as any."
He was still staring at her, his blue eyes piercing into her as if he could smell the lie on her breath. "Let's check the inside, c'mon."
Slowly they crept towards the back porch of the house where they stopped and listened with baited breath. Minutes ticked by without any noise but the harsh sound of their own breathing. Slowly easing open the door Daryl looked inside before beckoning Beth to follow him. As she shut the door behind them they were plunged into darkness. Daryl muttered a swear under his breath before he lit one of their few matches that he kept in his pocket. The small flame told Beth the darkness was due to the boards covering the windows. Candles rested on a table next to the door which Daryl quickly lit. Beth frowned as she took one, fighting one handed was not ideal.
She had been worried for nothing however as the small house did not take them very long to clear. There was only four rooms: a kitchen, bathroom, front room and bedroom. The place was devoid of life, living or reanimated. They were lucky enough to not have any dead bodies to clear out either. Many of the other places they had stopped had not been so clean.
"People must've left in a hurry." Daryl remarked as they took stock of the supplies they had now gained and he opened the kitchen cupboards on a ration of canned goods.
"You don't think people are staying here and on their way back right?" Beth asked as she shook a blanket free of dust and wrapped it around her shoulders with a shiver. The inside of the house felt even colder than outside.
"Nah, whole place is covered in dust. Ours are the only footprints, see?" Looking down she saw his point, their tracks crisscrossed over each other on the otherwise dirty floor. "This place is pretty isolated too. First thing we've seen in days. Hard place to just stumble upon, we should be alright here." he continued, still counting the cans before him.
"So." Beth questioned moving to open another cupboard and finding an assortment of boxed products, she nearly began drooling at the sight of a box of penne noodles. Grabbing them she turned to Daryl with one of the first smiles she'd worn in a long time. "Home sweet home?"
With a grin of his own he swiped the box from her hand. "Home sweet home."
Cooking the pasta was laborious work as they not only had to clear out the fireplace but build a hot enough fire, find a pan they could actually put in the fire, boil the water and then wait for the noodles to cook. Eating the noodles though made every grueling instant of it worth it.
"God, I missed carbohydrates." Beth sighed contently leaning back against the armchair where Daryl sat and closing her eyes in bliss. "I could die happy right now."
Daryl snorted. "I've never missed a food so much I'd die for it."
"I never said I'd die for it." she said opening her eyes for the sole purpose of rolling them. Biting her lips she stared down at what was left in the ceramic bowl in her hands. "But I probably would die for these they're so good. Point for you."
"That puts me at what? Fifty-four? Damn Greene you need to catch up."
Beth slapped his shin lightly as she leaned her head against his knee and closed her eyes as the two fell into a companionable silence.
Once they left the woods around the prison they had become a quiet pair. Some of it was out of necessity, they were in unfamiliar territory and did not want to draw the attention of anything living or dead to them. Most of it was out of sadness. The duo retreated into themselves as they walked, their thoughts still at the prison with the people they were in the process of writing off as dead. They did not break this silence for over a week until they left the woods to gather supplies at a gas station they passed. As she was scanning the shelves Beth found a shot glass boldly pronouncing in neon letters, 'South Carolina'. The sight of it reminded Beth of the disastrous game of 'I never' her and Daryl had once played so she tossed it to him.
"Looks like you can't use your Georgia one anymore."
That night as they lay on the hard packed earth of the woods Beth was almost asleep when Daryl's voice broke the still air.
"I've never been to a high school football game." his voice was so quiet Beth thought she imagined it. For a moment she was confused by the randomness of the statement but then she remembered the shot glass and the game that it had reminded her of. It appeared Daryl had remembered it as well.
"I've never smoked a cigarette." she whispered in response before she drifted off to sleep.
And thus their silence was broken and their game began. It took a while for them to truly break out of their grief but even if they went all day without exchanging a word, at the end of the night they always whispered something they had never done. After a while a points system was created. If one of them said something that the other person had not done than they lost a point. If they said something that the other had done they gained a point. On the other side, if they had done what the other person hadn't they lost a point and if they hadn't done what the other said they gained one. The highest score was the winning score.
Keeping score was a tough matter as neither bothered with writing it down and some nights they forgot to redo their tally. Either way, they both were well aware that Daryl was constantly in the lead. Not only was he better at coming up with things he had never done he also knew how to aim them at something Beth was likely to have done. She was not so talented and the fiasco that had come after she had suggested jail was still fresh in her mind even after months had passed. She would guess more generic things that it would turn out Daryl had never done either so she was constantly losing points. At one time she had even been in the negative numbers and digging her way out of that one was painful. She would spend all day staring at Daryl's back as they moved through the woods trying to come up with something, anything, that would get her a point. More often than not it didn't work.
"Greene. Greene. Beth c'mon." Daryl's voice broke through her haze of sleep and Beth blinked up at him in confusion. "We gotta secure this place for the night."
Securing the house was easy as the windows were already boarded. There were only two doors, which surprisingly still had working locks. At Beth's suggestion they moved the couch in front of one door and a table in front of the other. When Daryl argued they might need to get out in a hurry she pointed out they could always go to the door that had less of a threat surrounding it or they could unboard a window to which he reluctantly agreed. The small window in the bathroom that was big enough for them both to fit through and high up enough that a walker couldn't break into became their escape route plan.
As the snow finally began to fall outside they decided to move the mattress from the bedroom out to place it before the fire since the house was so cold in the other rooms their breath misted out in front of them. Even though she had slept next to Daryl every night since leaving the prison, slowly getting closer as the weather grew colder, Beth had to fight off a blush as she settled down on the thin mattress next to him. The house was not only stockpiled on preserved foods but also on blankets so they were each wrapped in their own collection of various covers. Feeling slightly as though she was in a cocoon Beth stared at the fire in front of her, Daryl having insisted that she take that side. Whether it was the intoxicating warmth or the pleasurable feeling of a full stomach, a bed, and a night of uninterrupted sleep stretching before her Beth felt herself brave enough to admit. "I've never shared a bed with a man I'm not related to."
Daryl was silent for a moment before answering, "Point for you. I've never had someone in my life I look up to."
Her father's face rose in her mind as Beth closed her eyes. "Point for you."
The days grew even shorter and ever colder. They had stumbled upon the house at the best moment because the snow fell for two days as they settled in. Using left over snow gear in the shed (where they found a veritable gold mine of hardware, tools, farming equipment and winter gear) Daryl hunted them fresh meat to freeze as they settled in for winter. While he hunted Beth went through the seeds left in the shed and read through one of the self-help farming books she found in the house or gathered wood to use for the fire. Neither of them mentioned it but as days passed the idea of being out in the woods again grew more and more distasteful. Being able to sleep on a warm bed in front of a warm fire, with full bellies and not having to look over their shoulder every second began to shake them from their quiet cages.
Neither had been the most talkative person before the outbreak and getting used to talking at anything above a whisper took them time but they began to exchange words and stories outside of their nightly 'I never'. Beth found herself telling Daryl stories she had once deemed to embarrassing to be told aloud, such as the story of her first kiss. In return he regaled her with tales of the antics he got into with his brother. As winter took force outside, growing colder everyday, inside they began to warm up to each other.
Like the previous winter the cold slowed the walkers down. Only twice in what Beth assumed to be five weeks since they got to the house, did they have a walker stumble close enough to be a threat enough to have to kill it. Daryl's assumption that the house was to isolated to be found proved correct as no living person made it through the deepening snow to them.
The short days began to drag on, filled with nothing but mundane tasks of gathering wood, water and meat. The house had only six books, which both of its new occupants read through quickly. Soon their only entertainment was each other and Beth found herself admitting more to Daryl than she had even Maggie. She told him about how much she missed her family and the group from the prison, how she used to write her own songs. They once even had an hour long conversation about how she wished she had tried coffee. Daryl began to open up to her more as well. He told her how sometimes he was glad the world went to shit because it was the first time in his life he felt like he could do something right, that he was actually worth anything. He told her how he had once dreamed of being the first person in his family to go to college but instead he never even finished high school.
She couldn't pinpoint when it had happened but at some point during their stay Beth began to look at Daryl in a different light. She began to picture his face in her head the few hours a day when he wasn't with her. She would think of excuses to touch or bump into him. She even started to have daydreams about what it would be like to run her fingers through his hair or to kiss his lips.
Sometimes she wanted to act on her desires and jump on him but she held back. Having no idea if he returned her feelings she could not bare the thought that he would reject her and she would have to spend the rest of her life(no matter how short it might be) burning with that knowledge. Slowly an idea came to her and every night as they said their 'I never' she dared herself to do it but every night she chickened out.
Finally one night as the snow and wind howled outside she couldn't take it anymore. Clutching her hands into fists in her blankets Beth dealt the only card she was left holding. "I've never had sex." In the silence that followed Beth pushed her embarrassment aside by congratulating her voice on not shaking. As the silence stretched on she closed her eyes in disappointment. She began to understand her desire was one sided and was glad she hadn't thrown herself at him. Waiting for him to tell her she got a point she was surprised when she felt the mattress shift as Daryl sat up behind her.
Her blue eyes snapped open and she rolled over to stare up at him where he lay propped over her on one elbow. His brow was furrowed in either confusion or disbelief, Beth wasn't entirely to sure which.
"Yes really. What did you think since the world ended I'd just give it up to anyone?" Beth kept her tone light but in reality she had considered this. Jimmy had wanted to but the one time they found themselves alone on the farm she found she couldn't do it. She had always wanted to wait until marriage and at that time she still thought the walkers could be cured and the government or military would save them. Once she realized that no one was going to save them she gave up on the idea of marriage but the thought of giving her virginity to just anyone felt wrong. Zach had never felt right either. He tried once, in the cell, but she merely reminded him her father was only one cement wall away and there weren't closed doors on the cells. In truth she had never truly romantically cared for either boy. With Jimmy she had felt pressured to continue the relationship. They had been on a few dates before the outbreak and once it hit she felt to guilty to call it off no matter how much she wanted to. With Zach, as cruel as it seemed, she used him as a distraction. Whenever she was sad or confused by everything kissing him managed to curb her worries.
"So what, you waiting for marriage?" At first Beth thought that he was mocking her but then she realized that he wasn't smiling. Daryl was just actually curious.
Her breath caught in her chest as she shook her head and tried to gain control over herself. Just because he hadn't brushed off her comment didn't mean anything."I was just waiting for the the right person."
Daryl opened his mouth to say something before he shut it again with a deepening furrow of his brow. He looked down at her, his blue eyes reflecting the fire light. "You were waiting?"
Cursing her mistake Beth tried to think of a way to explain her previous statement without telling him that she would willingly give her virginity to him. Before she could come up with something Daryl leaned over and pressed his lips to hers.
Gasping into his mouth her brain went haywire at the feel of his mouth on hers. She couldn't move for a moment she was so floored by this unexpected response. Beth felt him begin to pull away from her and something inside clicked. Her arms wrapped around him pulling him down on top of her, her hands tangling into his hair as she tried to push some of the many blankets out of the way as the need to be closer to him nearly over powering her.
Daryl seemed to be possessed by the same animalistic drive as he began to pull and shove the mess of blankets off of them. Finally free Beth felt the cold bite into her for only a brief second before Daryl's body rested over hers. Kissing him wasn't like any kiss she's ever had. He tasted like the rabbit they'd ate for dinner and the fresh snow they used for water, his beard stubble scratched against her face and it was still the best kiss she'd ever experienced.
Running her hands up his arms she found to her pleasure that his biceps were as hard as she had always imagined. She gasped into his mouth as his cold fingers brushed her waistline and he pulled away to tug off her shirt, leaving her bare from the waist up. His eyes roamed over her bare breasts in a way that should have made her blush but instead only made her smile. He moved to kiss her again but Beth caught his shirt in her fingers and tugged it off of him before she caught his mouth again. A shiver ran through her at the cold air but Daryl pulled one of the blankets over them, that and his warm body beat off the chill of the winter air.
His hands ran over her torso slowly as though he was trying to imprint every inch of it in his mind. Her own hands moved freely over his back and chest, her fingers skimming the raised tissue of numerous scars. Part of her heart ached at the feel of them but then Daryl's hand cupped her breast and a different part of her ached. His fingers rolled her nipple slightly before he pulled away from her mouth to kiss a trail down her neck. Beth twisted her hands into his hair again as he took one of her nipples into his mouth. A small moan rose from her throat as he swirled his tongue over her before moving to do the same to her other breast.
As he moved back up her chest to kiss her Beth hooked her fingers into the waist band of his jeans and pulled him closer to her. Her fingers shook slightly as she unbuttoned them and began to push them off his hips. Daryl caught her shaking hands in his own and pulled away from her.
"We don't have to do this." his pupils were blown wide and his voice was far from controlled yet Daryl still looked ready to pull away at the slightest word from her. That knowledge only made her want him more.
"No, but we want to." Beth placed her hand on the back of his neck and pulled him down to her but he resisted her.
"We don't have protection." his voice held almost pain as he spoke this realization.
"I haven't had my period in three months. The likelihood of me getting pregnant is pretty rare." Beth explained leaning up to close the distance between their mouths.
"You really want to risk that?" Daryl asked lowering his head to rest against hers.
Running her fingers down his face Beth whispered, "Every breath we take is a risk."
Apparently run out of arguments Daryl kissed her again and helped her rid him of his jeans. Hers followed shortly after and she marveled at the feel of him pressing against her, even through their underwear. Kissing him slowly Beth removed his boxers, now with steady fingers. Daryl let out a hiss of breath as she wrapped her fingers around him. She had never felt a man like this before and as she moved her thumb over the tip of his penis and he let out a groan she smiled at the feel of power it gave her.
As if he sensed the change in her Daryl moved his fingers to the waistband of her underwear slipping his fingers in slowly. It was her turn to gasp as his fingers moved slow circles against her nub and slowly slipped one finger inside her. Wrapping both her arms around him Beth kissed him deeper as he slid her underwear off her hips and tossed them behind him at the growing pile of clothes. Positioned at her entrance Daryl moved to look down at her. She ran her fingers down his face again as she nodded.
As he slipped inside her she felt a brief sting of pain that made her bite her lip. He stilled for a moment as she adjusted to the feel of having him inside her. When she began to wriggle underneath him he bent down to kiss her again and slowly began to move inside of her.
Daryl moved painfully slow at first, probably afraid that he was hurting her. When she whimpered for him to move faster he happily obliged. Soon they were both panting and Beth found herself glad this hadn't happened in the woods because they would surely have brought a horde of walkers down on them by now. It felt like it was over far to soon, she cried out his name and felt like she basically came unglued into his arms. He followed her not soon after having just enough sense of mind to finish on her leg and not inside of her.
After cleaning themselves off they bundled their blankets together into one giant nest. Beth curled against his side as he ran his fingers through her hair softly. Smiling with contentment a thought occurred to her and Beth propped herself up on one arm to look down at him.
"I got a point for my never right?" She asked with a sly grin.
He opened his eyes to laugh at her. "You would have if your statement was still true."
Beth's grin only widened as he looked up at her. "But it was true when I said it. So I got a point right?"
Daryl rolled his eyes and leaned up to kiss her. "Yes you got a point. So now we're what, ninety-eight to thirty-six?"
"Something like that." Beth said as she settled against his chest again. "Its your turn you know."
There was a brief pause before Daryl spoke, his voice suddenly unsure. "I've never been in love."
Beth was silent for a moment as she considered this. She had never been in love before either but she was beginning to question if she was in love now. She had always said she would give her virginity to someone she loved and she had just given it to Daryl, that meant something to her. Besides she told him everything without fear of judgment and laying in his arms at that moment felt like the most natural thing in the world. Daryl made her feel safe while also making her feel strong. If this wasn't love than she had no idea what was.
She propped herself back up on her elbow and looked down at him. "Point for you." Beth whispered her blue eyes searching his.
Daryl smiled and reached up to brush a strand of hair behind her ear. "Hell who am I kidding?" he whispered. "Point for you too."