Beth felt the smile blaze across her face, her middle finger thrust into the air towards the house that was slowly being devoured by flame. She'd never felt so liberated, so free and refreshed. This little gesture was something of a "screw you" to her past… both their pasts.
She tilted her head and, grinning at her partner, nudged him. He met her eyes for a second before switching his crossbow to his other hand and thrusting the bird.
They stood there like that for several seconds, soaking in their newfound freedom and the strengthening of the bond between them. The flames engulfed the house completely and the heat became unbearable. Daryl finally nudged Beth towards the woods at the first sight of walkers ambling curiously toward the fire.
The sensation of heat faded from their skin as they wandered further into the woods, the only sounds being that of their carefully placed footsteps in the grass and the rhythmic clank of Daryl's crossbow. As night fell deeper, fatigue washed over them.
"I never realized how cold it gets at night," commented Beth after several minutes.
"Nah," rasped Daryl, "That'll be the moonshine."
Her eyes wandered the darkening forest before her as she hugged her elbows. Really, she didn't think she was supposed to get this tired after some alcohol. If anything, wasn't she supposed to be energetic? The mere idea of aimlessly traipsing through the woods and setting up camp exhausted her, but she dared not complain.
Luckily, Daryl voiced her thoughts. "Jesus, was that alcohol or Nyquil?" He set his crossbow in the dirt and momentarily took a seat.
"You tired too?"
He uncovered his face and studied her through the sheet of night. After several beats, he hoisted himself up and grunted, "We ought to clear a house for the night. Too much work settin' up camp."
Gratefully, Beth followed her companion through the expanse of trees and vegetation until they came upon a house just as run-down as the one they'd burned. Daryl circled the perimeter, checking for open doors or windows or perhaps a hole in the wall that could pose danger. Once satisfied, he cocked his crossbow and warily entered the front door, Beth following closely behind.
The interior was cleared of any unwanted inhabitants. Daryl found a dead body on the back porch but chose not to disturb it, instead shutting tight all doors to the house and boarding up what he could with his limited energy. Beth lit an oil lamp she'd found in the backyard and gathered some dusty blankets and pillows, spreading them in the living room.
"There," she stepped back to admire the wonder that was her makeshift bed, peering at Daryl with a tired smile as she said, "Sure beats sleepin' out in the dirt and cold, now."
He grunted with a hint of appreciation and laid the hammer and nails aside.
After a few beats of silence, Beth looked up at him. "We could… do something."
Daryl stretched himself out along the blankets, removing his shoes. "Like what," he said absentmindedly.
Beth produced a mason jar brimming with moonshine from her bag, a shy and somewhat shameful smile on her face. "I… I saved one jar of booze," she explained in response to his expression of surprise and apprehension.
"We don't have to play I Never again," she promised.
He stared at her. "We still got moonshine in our systems," he said with the slightest tinge of amusement in his voice. This girl was a persistent one, wasn't she?
"I never got drunk," she argued. "I want… I want to get drunk. I want to get crazy."
"Oh, no you don't."
"I just want to know what it feels like. And what better place than this? We're safe in a house, all boarded up, all warm and cozy and together-"
"You already sound plenty drunk, Greene." Daryl suppressed a slight smile and turned away from her, reclining on his own blanket.
Beth sighed, putting her hands in her lap. "Looks like Mr. Dixon's back."
Daryl said nothing.
"C'mon, Daryl, you can have the first sip."
"What happened to you being tired, girl?"
She laid down on her own blanket, eyeing the transparent jar of booze near her. Her eyes wandered the dimly lit room until they landed on Daryl's back. Even preparing for sleep he clutched his crossbow, ready for the first sign of danger. That's what she liked about him. His entire essence radiated protection. She liked the idea that if she were in true danger, he wouldn't desert her. That was a certainty.
Eventually, he descended into a deep sleep.
As the booze trickled into her bloodstream and soaked into her brain, she watched as his breathing slowed and the rise and fall of his chest became something of a rhythm in his unconsciousness. She thought of other things she liked about him. His handling of Judith, him calling her "asskicker" and "sweetheart". Her heart had just melted when he first held the baby in his arms-his big, gruff, manly arms that had stabbed zombies in the head and shot arrows from a crossbow. He'd seemed like he could crush her, and he could, but he held Judith with the most delicate and tender touch.
She remembered the excitement and wonder in his eyes when offered to hold the baby, as if he had never been offered something so special before. She realized he probably had never held a baby, not with the life he'd led before the apocalypse.
There were other things too. He was so introverted, so stoic, yet when confronted, he became something else. Daryl had never seemed capable of controlling his aggression, yet in his eruptions Beth saw not blind belligerence but vulnerability. He cared so much, too much, and those emotions could get the best of him.
Of course, then there were his physicalities. She thought of him as attractive before the alcohol hit her system but now it seemed her thoughts on him were something different entirely. His back, broad and facing her, rising and falling with each intake of oxygen, appeared beckoning. His head rested lazily on the pillow she'd dusted for him, his arm draped over his own body with his fingers tracing the crossbow's rough frame. She knew it must be the moonshine taking over, but in that moment, Beth couldn't physically stand being alone on her side of the room.
Carefully, she hoisted herself onto hands and knees and crawled over the blankets to Daryl's figure, craving his warmth and protection, his touch. Approaching him, she watched him breathe for a few seconds before resting her head on his shoulder.
He woke instantly. Disoriented and groggy, he shifted slightly, feeling the weight of Beth's head on his shoulder. "Wha- th-" he turned more, looking at her and clutching at his weapon. "Did you hear something? What happened?"
"I think I'm drunk," she replied honestly.
He sized her up for a moment, sitting up. "Y'want some water?"
"I want to sleep next to you."
His thumb grazed the stubble on his chin. "Ya scared?"
"Something like that."
The silence of the woods clung to the air as he studied her. He always seemed to be doing that, studying her, deciphering her with his eyes. Finally, he leaned back onto his pillow and opened one arm awkwardly. Beth occupied the spot gratefully, holding on to him for dear life as a wave of headaches washed over her. She groaned into his side, repressing the pain. He curled his arm over her, staring at the ceiling.
"Sleep, Beth. You'll be fine."