Title: Staring at the Embers
Disclaimer: I wish
Fandom: The Walking Dead
Theme set: Delta
Word count: 14,300
Summary: 50 sentences, one pairing. Daryl/Beth.
Note #1: For the 1sentence challenge. Very unbeta'd.
Note #2: This is an unholy mix of canon and AU, written between 409 and 415 (which means a lot of it is pure fanon/speculation for then-unaired episodes), because after shipping it since late season two I figured I'd pitch in and contribute something. If you've read any of my other 1sentence theme sets you know that I tend to go a little over the top with them (translation: brace yourselves for run on sentences), so I apologize for that. I'm always curious to know which sentence is your favorite, so when/if you review, feel free to tell me!
#07 – Despair
A tiny part of Beth – the part that was dyingdyingdead the moment her daddy hit the ground, squeezing her heart and lungs and throat – wants to stop, wants to sink to her knees and gather the bodies up in her arms and stay here, by the railroad tracks, until there's nothing left but sun bleached bones and wind torn scraps of clothes, but she knows Daryl won't let her; he crosses the tracks and heads for the edge of the forest and then he stops and looks back, to make sure she's coming, and she wants to scream and wither and die but she's stronger than that now, so she swallows her tears and breathes and then she moves, because her world has crumbled but somehow he is still there, solid and sure and safe, and one day, if they both live that long, she will tell him that there's no need for him to look over his shoulder, no need to try and catch her gaze, because as long as he'll have her she will stay close; as long as she's able to, she'll follow him anywhere.
#25 – Light
Sheltered in the gray of the prison, surrounded by steel and concrete, the farm seems like a far off place, an innocent dream bathed in sunlight under a clear blue sky; she'll see it now and again, in her sleep, the horses and the chickens, Patricia hanging laundry in the heat while her father reads on the porch, and sometimes Jimmy will be there too, keeping her father company with a wide smile, and sometimes (strangely), Zach as well, looking misplaced and foreign against the backdrop of her family's fields; Daryl fits right in, even though he rarely set foot in the house, and she'll descend the stairs in the morning to see him at the breakfast table, covered in dirt and motor oil, fiddling with his crossbow, and he'll look up when he sees her, the sun turning his hair a shade lighter, and follow her with his gaze as she nears him, and when she walks past she'll run her fingers along his shoulder and up the back of his neck to tangle in his hair and he won't mind – it keeps her awake at night, thinking about it, turning it over in her head and trying to put a name to the slow ache in her chest, but then she'll close her eyes and find herself at the top of the stairs again, content and carefree, and the promise of sunlight streaming through the kitchen windows will make her reach for the banister and hurry on down.
#45 – Ugly
She doesn't realize how deep it goes, how invested she is and how much of her heart she's committed to this one thing, until they reach Terminus; they're the last to arrive, the two of them, and her father would call it a Lord's miracle that they're all there – Maggie and Glenn and Rick and Carl and Michonne, Sasha and Bob and even Carol, with Tyreese and Judith in tow – and Beth wouldn't disagree, trading hugs and kisses and crying against her sister's shoulder; she loses sight of him in the reunion, between Maggie calling her name and Glenn laughing as he pulls her to his chest, and it's unsettling because he's been her focus for weeks now, her central point, but then she spots him again, on the outskirts, looking uncomfortable as Maggie releases him from a thankful embrace, and she's just about to approach him when Carol appears, at his side looking just as if she belongs there, hand coming to rest on his arm, and something in Beth's chest drops, dislodges and plummets, releasing something else – cold, ugly tendrils that spread and bore into her heart, suffocating and stinging – and she watches as he dips his head, says something that makes Carol laugh, and Beth is adrift, alone, a jagged hole in her chest, the realization so sudden that it hurts, but it's true, that her heart is not her own and hasn't been for quite some time.
#34 – Regret
Of all the ways she'd thought it'd happen, she never imagined he'd leave her behind – you're gonna miss me when I'm gone, Daryl Dixon – and of all the deaths she's never pictured, she never believed the dead would bring him down, and it's almost a relief that that, at least, remains true; they're the lone survivors, the two of them in the aftermath, but the bullet's lodged itself somewhere in his chest and he's bleeding out beneath her hands, so fast that she knows there's no use trying but she puts pressure on it anyway, puts all her weight behind it until he grips her arm and pushes her away, telling her to go even as she moves closer, hands coming up to cup his face and lips pressing against his temple – I'm sorry and we never got to and please no – and when she feels the hitch in his breath it strikes her that he doesn't even know – crazy, because how can't he know – so she kisses him properly instead, on dry, chapped lips, tasting the blood staining his teeth, and feels him ghost shaking fingers over her cheek and down her jawline before they drop to her shoulder and he's pushing her away again; the gun is heavy in her hand but there's no other way, and he's coughing up blood instead of words but it's been only the two of them for so long now that she knows what he's trying to say – waste of a bullet and don't let me – so she hefts his crossbow up, draping the strap across her shoulder, and when she places the barrel of the gun against his temple he leans into it, eyes clear and gaze still on her face as Beth pulls the trigger.
#48 – Welcome
They stay in the same area for weeks, moving and surviving, looking for signs of family and friends, but there's nothing to find and it's no way to live – Daryl slips out of the shade of the gas station and spreads the state map out on the dust covered ground, fingers trailing highways and rivers, and Beth kneels beside him, her shoulder brushing against his, skin warm under the sun; they head northwest, making their way slowly through the cover of the forest, squatting in abandoned houses and avoiding Walkers as best they can, and Daryl keeps watch as she sleeps, as she dreams of shelter, a permanent home, such safety as to give them both rest; it takes them a week to reach the state border, and she almost walks into the back of him as he slows to a stop, eyeing the sign with hooded eyes – Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful – and she laughs, reaching out to take his hand, tugging him forward and leading him across the invisible divide as, together, they leave Georgia behind.
#44 – Taboo
She's seventeen and she's in love and her father doesn't understand – it's like a damn romance novel; If you go, I'm coming after you, she tells him and it's not a lie, because somewhere along the road her world grew blurry and then refocused on him, and before that – long before – between entering the gates of the prison for the first time and then sitting in her cell, the soft weight of a sleeping baby in her arms, watching him thread the broken pieces of her locket onto that rough letter string, he stole her heart; I'm not gonna let you run from me, she tells him, so when it finally comes crashing down around them, as her sister spits fire and her father tells her no, she simply watches him leave and the next night she follows, murmurs a thank you as she brushes past Michonne (someone who knows all about chances lost) into the darkness and hears the chain-link barriers of the prison rattle closed behind her; she steals into the forest, easily reading the signs he left in his wake because he's taught her well, taught her everything he could – taught her to survive without him, when that's the last thing she ever wants to do.
#11 – Earth
C'mere, she says, reaching for him, and for all his huffin' and puffin' he lets her push him down and back against the trunk of the tree – the bark is coarse and catches on the back of his jacket, and the wet dirt is cold with dew, staining the seat of his jeans – lets her tilt his face back so that the sun hits his skin as she traces the cut trailing down his cheek; gotta be more careful, she murmurs, wetting a thumb and rubbing it against the drying blood, can't have you dyin' on me, can I – he grunts a laugh as she presses a kiss against the corner of his mouth, says can take care of y'self because it's true, and she shoots him a look like she thinks he's a damn idiot before she crawls into his lap, light as a feather, pressing her forehead against his, and he bring his hands up to rest on her hips, wondering if it ain't true after all, the things she never says – that when it comes to her he might just be the greatest fool left on earth.
#06 – Dark
It's heavy, she says and readjusts her grip on the crossbow as he steps away, large hand covering the small of her back and lightly pushing her onward; that morning, still a little hungover, watching him kick dirt over the ashes of their campfire, she'd asked him to show her how to track, and he'd agreed without any cajoling, with such ease that it unsettled her – he surprises her again, later, when he pushes the weapon into her hands, showing her how to hold it, how to position her shoulders, letting her get used to its weight before he carefully lets go, when all she'd asked him to do was to teach her how to read the forest floor, and there's more to this than tracking, she's sure, because there always is with Daryl – I have a gun, she says, and he replies, voice gruff, don't matter, you should know this – and later that night, as he sinks into a restless sleep and she stares past the tree trunks into the dark, she'll reflect over how terrible it would be to face this world alone, and know that if the choice was between the two of them, that's exactly what he'd have her do.
#12 – End
Oh, she says when she realizes; oh, because she's been entertaining the thought, been considering it for a while now, even before everything fell apart but more so after, when they set fire to their pasts and walked away, and she's been reveling in it – feeling the warmth left behind by the occasional touch, enjoying how easy and pleasant their conversations were, the way his hands were gentle on her ankle and how he swept her off her feet, gathering her to his chest and carrying her through the house as all she could do was laugh – she thought she might have been falling in love with him, even though it felt different than anything she ever had with Jimmy or Zach – wilder, more desperate – and all she could think of was how to make him feel the same way, how she could carefully, over time, coax him to meet her halfway, so caught up in the thought that she didn't even notice; oh, she breathes, because the look he gives her is lingering, full of things he's never dared to say out loud, so shy and skittish for such a commanding presence; oh, because it never occurred to her that he would be the one waiting for her; she thinks about these things now, in the dark – walks around the room once more and carefully checks the door (still locked) before returning to the thin mattress in the corner – thinks about what would have happened if she'd reached out and grabbed his hand, had kept him from going to the door, had realized sooner that the way he looked at her was like as if she was the lone shining star in a pitch black sky; oh, she thinks, wrapping her arms around herself, oh, what a shame, that it'd all end like this.
#21 – Head
One moment she's trailing after Daryl through the trees, pace fast and eyes on the ground, minding roots and sticks and burrows, and the next she knows she's being yanked back by her hair, feet slipping out from under her and breath catching in her throat as her hands fly up to grab at her scalp – it's like out of one of her dreams, rotten hands reaching out for her from the shadows, flesh stripped fingers clawing at her throat and face as nails catch on her skin and break off even as they rake and draw blood, and she's whimpering, reaching out behind her and imagining the crunch of bone as decayed teeth snap down on her flailing fingers – and then Daryl's there, grumbling and pulling at her hair, blonde locks disheveled even though she tried to tame them into a pony tail that morning, and he seems more annoyed than anything, batting her hands away as he untangles her from the low hanging branch that managed to snag hold of her – it's embarrassing, the pointed look he shoots her, and the heat in her face stays with her for quite some time, because he's brought this up on a good few occasions and she's stubbornly always said no – this time, once they've made camp, Beth retrieves his knife herself and bows her head, goosebumps dotting her arms as she feels his hand slide up to cup the back of her neck in a strangely intimate gesture before he's gathering her hair back and twisting it around his wrist; she lowers her head further, daring to rest her cheek against the warmth of his thigh, fingers tracing the outside seem of his jeans and ignoring the pull at her scalp as he slowly begins to saw at her locks.
#30 – Peace
Six weeks after the prison falls he kills a man for her, and Beth lets him; cornered, she raises her hands and tilts her head, trying to appear young and meek, and it seems to work because the stranger lowers his guard for a brief moment, and that is all that Daryl will ever need – she doesn't look away as the hand comes up to cover the stranger's forehead, as his head is pulled back and the large knife cuts along his exposed throat, and Beth watches the whites of the man's eyes roll, bright against the grime covering his face, and she feels nothing but relief; she's there as Daryl drives his knife through the stranger's eye socket, penetrating the brain, and when he rises she steps into his arms, feeling the tension strung tightly beneath his skin unravel as he exhales against the top of her head – it's a strange place to find peace, standing over a cooling body, blood still staining his blade, but when she nudges closer she can feel his free hand come up to gently touch her arm, just like so long ago, and she can breathe again.
#20 – Green
Sometimes she thinks back, recalls the tight confines of the prison and pictures life – pictures Daryl – amongst the steel bars and concrete walls, tucked away behind heavy doors and locks, barbed wire and chain-link fences, and she remembers how wrong it had felt, seeing him there – how wrong it still feels – and she thinks she gets it now, finally; she stopped counting the days a while ago, but she can feel the nights getting colder, the stars shining brighter overhead, twinkling down at her through the thick canopy of the forest as she curls closer to the warm, solid body beside her, and she knows that winter is coming; living in the forest does something to you, breathes new life into you, and she can follow him through the thicket now, can keep up and move nearly as silently as he does, can clean and prepare the meat he brings home, can touch him whenever she wants to, knows exactly how, and can claim hitched breaths from his lips – it's a new lease on life lived against a backdrop of green leaves and coarse bark, and the cold might drive them out, send them seeking the kind of shelter only a roof and four walls can provide, but she knows that as soon as spring breaks through they'll be back where they belong.
#23 – Honor
She tries to be quiet, but the empty dishes rattle as she lifts the tray and for a moment she is terrified that he'll wake, that he'll open his eyes and see her because the thought of his eyes on her is a terrifying one, but he doesn't even stir – an arrow to the side and a bullet to the head, her daddy had said, and the man in the bed does look beaten, skin all scratched up, dirt and blood still caked into the sweat covering his scarred chest – he's a new face in the house, the one who won't come in for dinner, the one who camps out in the fields, makes campfires she can see from her bedroom window and whose name she scarcely knows, and it makes her sad, that he would distance himself from others when there are so few still left in the world, that he'd spend days out in the woods, throw everything he has at finding that poor little girl who Beth in her darkest moments has long since lost hope for, that he'd claw his way home half dead just to show a grieving mother a mud covered doll; her daddy's told her to be careful, to keep her distance, that these end times bring out the worst in man and will turn even those once honorable into sinners, but she thinks that he might just be wrong, because surely there are still righteous men left on this earth – you just have to know where to look.
#19 – Grave
It's been months and months since she last saw a piano, and she didn't realize how much she missed playing until she stumbles upon the one in the funeral home – she tries to be quiet, to not press down on the old, worn keys too hard, but Daryl doesn't seem to mind at all – and once the last notes fade she looks over her shoulder, imagining the feel of his eyes on her, but they're closed and he seems to be dozing, looking as comfortable as can be in the padded casket; she can't resist playing a few more songs, keeping her voice low so she won't disturb him, before rising and walking over to gently prod at his shoulder, her voice a soft whisper – it's my turn now, Daryl – and she expects him to wake up and get out or maybe just push her away and keep on sleeping, but instead he shifts to one side and murmurs something like c'mon then and she knows he's trying to get a rise out of her, but the casket is wide and Beth's ankle still throbs and she's tired enough to call his bluff; it's a tight fit, and he tenses as soon as she starts climbing in, but once she's lying on her side, head pillowed on his shoulder and arm stretched out over his chest it's not so bad – she listens as his heartbeat slows, as the tension in his body melts away, and for a split moment she thinks about reaching up and closing the lid, of locking them both in, keeping them safe, and imagines them buried six feet under, warm and snug together in the dark, far out of reach of any Walker, hiding from the dead in the most unlikely of places.
#26 – Lost
She feels the loss like a physical pain at times, her arms achingly empty, missing the curl of tiny fingers around the collar of her shirt and the softness of the fine hair brushing her chin, the warm weight on her hip gone like it was only ever her imagination to begin with – she knows he feels it just as keenly because she's watched him with her, has looked on as he's gathered her into his arms like there was nothing to it when even Beth had felt awkward and strange at first, has welcomed him into her cell during a quiet afternoon or after he's returned from a run, those large hands carefully cupping the tiny body close and how he had smiled and how his face had changed, had lost years, the look in his eyes so foreign to what she expected his nature to be that she had to look away; she's grieved for her daddy, and believes in her heart – knows it – that Maggie is still alive, but the baby is lost to her, so helpless and fragile that she can't imagine how she could have possibly survived, and she hides her face against Daryl's shoulder and lets her tears soak the fabric, clutches at his vest as he rests a hesitant hand on the back of her neck and turns his head to sigh against her temple.
#28 – New
Beth watches him with Carol sometimes, marvels at the ease in which she approaches him, the casual touches to his arm or shoulder, and the different ways in which he responds, allowing the intimacy one day just to shy away the next, face pinched and uncomfortable as he ducks his head; Carol seems to revel in it, the ability to make him squirm with with just a touch and a few spoken words, and Beth envies her that, her ability to sometimes get it right, to now and then manage to force a quirk of his lips, to draw out an elusive almost-smile that captures Beth's imagination like nothing else – she's tactile where he's not, and it eats at her, at times, how she's not as brave as Carol, who dares risk laying hands on him in the face of rejection; when he stops by her cell to tell her the news she doesn't cry, because she's past that by now, she's someone else – someone new – stronger and wiser than before, and she might even be braver still, judging by the way his hand rises to cup her elbow like he can't quite believe she did that, that she walked right past his defenses and dared rest her cheek against his chest, just because she thought he needed it – he's warm and solid and he doesn't push her away or pull her close, but that's okay because Beth knows that not even Carol's been here, this close, this safe, and it makes her feel like the bravest person alive.
#50 – Wood
They've been on the road for a couple of months, aimlessly wandering eastward, focusing on surviving each day and losing themselves in their isolation, when they come across the abandoned gated community and the plywood boards strung up along the fences, large signs with bold letters proclaiming Alexandria and Washington and I love you, and Beth has never been more certain of anything in her life; she traces the words with her fingers, scratched into the wood and then painted over for good measure, the color already faded and flaking under the harsh Georgia sun, and Daryl squints at her from under the fringe of his too-long bangs – one of these days she's gonna talk him into letting her take a knife to them – and asks her if she's sure; I am, she says, wondering how many more signs there are, spread out all over Georgia, and it makes something warm bloom in her chest, Maggie wrote this; later that night, in the glow of the campfire, they consult the map and Beth's heart drops at the sheer distance, at the thought of how many weeks or months behind they are, because Washington is 700 odd miles away the way the crow flies, but when Daryl looks at her and asks you up for this she clenches her jaw and meets his gaze, and he's the one that looks away, that nods and folds the map back up and suggests they get plenty of sleep because tomorrow will be an early start.
#08 – Doors
He saves her and she never expected anything less, though she thinks he might've, taking in the way he drops heavily to his knees beside her, the way he almost touches her face, almost tilts it his way to check the bruise on her cheek, before catching himself and starting work on the cuffs restraining her wrists instead; when he pulls her to her feet she wraps her arms around him and rests her forehead against his shoulder and he doesn't push her away, supporting her weight as the feeling returns to her legs and she's ready to go – he's left bodies in his wake, corpses like macabre breadcrumbs from an old, twisted fairytale, leading from the small closet they kept her in all the way to the front door of the house, and it's strangely satisfying to ignore the high road and let her boots dig into their sides as she passes them by, to kick and step and transfer some of her rage and fear into pain that they won't even feel, but that's okay because Daryl's already taken care of it for her (you did miss me, she says, looking down at the destroyed face of one of the men who took her, you missed me like crazy, and he doesn't deny it, simply retrieves her knife from the table in the hall and pushes it into her hands, but she knows – can see it in his face, the light returning to his eyes and the way the corner of his mouth twitches – it's alright, she says, I can keep a secret); he saves her, again and again, and Beth likes to think that she's getting better, faster, that she saves him too, that they break down doors and barriers together, the two of them standing strong, shoulder to shoulder, in the face of the undead and the living alike.
#09 – Drink
The walk back to camp is long and dark and silent, the path wide enough for them to walk side by side, and the buzz of the moonshine has long since worn off; she can smell the smoke still clinging to their clothes and it stings her eyes but is better than the alternative – putrid Walker guts smeared across her once clean shirt, the odor sticking to the back of her throat, so sour and spoiled she can almost taste it, and she wishes she had something to wash it down with, to burn it away – I don't think I would've minded some peach schnapps, she says, keeping her voice low and soft, you could've at least saved me some to taste for later, and he huffs a laugh and knocks his shoulder carefully against hers, and she feels good all of a sudden, feels safe and full and warm, and maybe it won't be so bad after all, to be stuck at the end of the world with Daryl Dixon.
#49 – Winter
Winter is coming faster than either of them expected, frost turning into snow overnight, and for the last few days they've been following the signs and pushing hard trying to reach the settlement; it's worth it in the end, the utter exhaustion and the cold that seeps into their bones and never seems to go away, because the walls are tall and thick, cement sturdy in a way chain-link fences never were, and after a brief stand off at the gates they're admitted – it turns out to be a low-rise apartment complex, with plenty of people and enough housing to spare, and soon they're ushered into a one bedroom apartment and left to their own devices; Beth lets her bag drop from frozen, useless fingers and fumbles with the hem of her top as Daryl sinks down onto the large bed and buries his face in his hands – he's been running himself ragged, forgoing sleep in his frantic attempts to get them to safety before winter hits full force – and she kicks her jeans off and starts on the buttons on his shirt, going slowly, making sure he's alright with her this close, but he lets her, lets her pull him to his feet and help him undress and when she throws back the covers and tugs him down onto the mattress he follows silently, his hands ice cold as they trail down her bare back and pull her closer, and she smiles against his chest, entwines her legs with his, and reaches out to wrap the thick blanket around them as best as she can.
#13 – Fall
She bites and she scratches and in the end she manages to somehow kick the door open, because the next thing she knows she's hitting the asphalt back first, the impact knocking the breath out of her, and the world rolls violently as she tries her best to tuck her chin in, to cover the back of her head with her hands, and it seems like an eternity before it all stops, before she's up and running because there's no time for her to catch her bearings, no matter how much she'd like to simply lie there and stare up at the night sky – she can see the red break lights of the car and can hear its doors slamming, and there's nothing to do but crawl to her feet and head for the edge of the forest, get off the road and escape into the safety of the trees; they look for her, but she knows how to hide and how to do it well, and once she's able to she moves, darts from tree to tree as she follows the road back towards the funeral home; it's dawn before she spots him, before she dares step out onto the road again and break into a light, limping jog, and he looks exhausted, chest heaving and hair damp with sweat, plastered to his forehead – he looks broken, expression open like she hasn't seen since that night with the fire or when the girl stepped out of the barn – and when she launches herself into his arms he collapses under her weight, pulling her down as he falls onto his knees, and she can feel him panting, exhausted, against the side of her face, so she threads her fingers through his hair and pulls his head down, feeling strange comfort in the way his shoulders shake as he tucks his face away against her shoulder, large hands coming up to clutch at the back of her sweater as if she might disappear at any moment should he let her go.
#24 – Hope
Daryl leads them away from the railroad tracks, into the safety of the woods, and what had been the best decision at the time turns out to be a mistake; it's two weeks before they get turned around and stumble upon the tracks again, and another few days after that before Beth spots the sign and they realize they've been traveling in the wrong direction all along; it's not something they have to talk about, turning back and covering ground they thought they'd left behind, because it's such an obvious choice – Rick would have put his hope in Terminus, and so would Maggie and Glenn – and Daryl squints down the tracks, in the direction they were heading, before swinging his crossbow over his shoulder and turning around; she reaches for his hand as they walk, shoulders bumping as they step over the wooden ties, and doesn't fight her growing smile – it feels good, having a definite, fixed goal, and she imagines a bustling community filled with new faces and old, dear friends – and as they follow the soft bend of the rail through the hills she feels the hope grow larger still and dares to imagine quiet, shared meals and light kisses under a safe sun, a soft bed and shared breaths, and when she tightens her grip on his hand he returns the gesture with no sign of pulling away.
#46 – War
Beth knows all about the Lord's guidance, has heard her daddy speak of it oftentimes since the dead began to rise, and thinks she might just have felt it now and again, this irresistible pull towards a certain goal, a yearning that only grows stronger the more she tries to ignore it; Shawn had a horse once, a large white mare that liked to jump the fences of the farm and was too skittish to let anyone too close, and she remembers watching him work with the animal, watching him learn its trust through soft words and softer hands, and it seems silly, but Daryl reminds her of that horse, sometimes; she sits at his table during meals, makes sure to be the one to accept whatever food he's been able to find on his supply runs, and lingers in her cell in the mornings as he walks by, because more often than not Judith will lure him in, will coo in delight as he takes her in his arms, tiny hands reaching up to grab at his hair – Beth circles him, lets him get accustomed to having her near, using first words and then the occasional touch, as light as she can manage, and when he comes to her cell to tell her about Zach she risks a hug, and he doesn't shy away; there's something to find here, something pulling her closer, and she doesn't know what it is but she can't seem to stay away – it's a slow burn, a war of attrition, cutting down his defenses and letting him know it's alright to trust her, to let her this close, but it's a war Beth knows she's going to win.
#10 – Duty
Are you sure that's him, she can't help but ask and Glenn shrugs and says that's Merle Dixon, alright, and she still can't wrap her head around it; he frightens her, this tall, one handed man, whose eyes are the same color as his brother's but whose face is so much harsher, weathered and unkind, smile wide and sharp like that of a shark, who calls her Blondie when she brings him his food, and who, if Daryl hadn't been there to head him off, she's afraid might have reached out and tried to touch her face or her hair; she thinks Daryl must love him, because it's difficult not to love one's siblings, even if sometimes they don't deserve it – he left them for him, compelled by code and honor and duty, and even though he came back the memory still stings – but love is not the same as like, and she's heard Glenn's stories about how volatile the two of them were in the beginning, and she wonders if Daryl sometimes looks back at that, at what he once was, and if he likes seeing it brought to life in his brother; it's an uncharitable act, wishing Merle Dixon had never appeared back in Daryl's life, but knowing that her thoughts are unkind don't make them any less true, and she doesn't regret it, not even when Daryl leaves to chase after him and comes back alone the next morning, dusty and blood stained, shoulders weighed down as if by a thousand of Beth's wishes.
#22 – Hollow
It's dark and the night air is cold and he keeps on running, runs until everything hurts, until he makes himself sick, stopping by the side of the road to empty his stomach, wiping at his mouth with the back of his hand before he starts up running again; he follows the ribbon of asphalt as it cuts through the hills because that's all he can do, with no tracks to follow and no light to see by, and he's lost her and that's all on him, damn fool to let himself relax, let himself hope, to consider that dog anything but meat fit for dinner, but that's what she does to him – she's good, so good, and she doesn't seem to mind, seems to be alright with spending the end of the world with him, and it makes him feel uncomfortable and nervous and he doesn't like it but at the same time he never wants it to stop – it's like falling, like following her down as she collapses in exhaustion after their initial escape, like dropping into sleep surrounded by a dozen flickering candles and the sweet sound of her voice, like lowering his defenses and allowing himself a smile, a touch, daring to be assertive and the thrill of amazement when she lets him – it's like coming undone, in the middle of the crossroads, because he can't do this anymore, he can't, and he needs to think, just to have a moment to think this through, because there's no way he's giving up on her, not this time, not when his chest feels all hollowed out and she's the only thing that can fit in that empty space, not when she's all he's got left.
#36 – Secret
He doesn't touch her much when they're around the others, not like he did before they were all reunited or when the two of them are alone – then he'll reach out and trail a light touch down the side of her neck just because he can, catch her hand and pull her down onto his lap and run his fingers through her hair before tugging her down for a kiss, the look on his face pleased and content and sometimes perhaps a bit amazed that she'll let him have this – and she doesn't mind, almost likes it at times, having that all to herself, that touch starved side to him that she somehow managed to convince him to share with her, that no one else sees or would be able to guess lived under the aloof air he puts on when out in public; doesn't stop her from teasing him now and again though, and she sidles up next to him on the bench in the dining hall, her sister just a table away, and smiles when he shifts away from the brush of her shoulder against his arm; you keeping me a secret, she murmurs, and he squints at her from under long bangs, hand coming up to rest firmly against the small of her back, steadying her on the bench; ain't no secret, he mutters, and she scoots closer, smiling, before pressing a quick kiss to the bare skin of his shoulder.
#29 – Old
The end of the world drew a clear line in the sand, and she thinks about it sometimes, about the Old and the New, a strange juxtaposition, Beth and Beth, the same yet so very, very different, and it's like looking back on someone else's life; Old Beth – younger Beth – turned vegetarian seven months before the dead started walking, in part because her best friend did but also because Old Beth believed that the sanctity of life extended to animals as well as humans – she had her heart set on becoming a veterinarian after graduating high school, just like her daddy, and New Beth can only laugh at that now, because she's got more blood on her hands than most, carries a knife and a gun and has used them to cut down animals and humans and undead alike, and she doesn't miss her, that young blonde girl who'd turn down a plate of freshly cooked meat without thinking twice, who'd have died out here in the wild, savagely ripped apart, who'd have taken one look at this man in front of her and turned on her heels and walked away, frightened, this man almost twice her age, hands stained red as they dig into the stomach of a squirrel, yanking tiny intestines out with quick and deft movements, this man who Beth relies on, who she trusts and keeps close and who makes her heart skip and then beat faster; he looks up when she suddenly starts laughing – annoyance dancing across his features, warring with suspicion – but she can't help it and she can't stop, and he indulges her when she gets up and walks over, reaching out to tilt his face up and press her lips against his as he crouches over the squirrel, carefully balanced, hands holding the still-warm entrails of what will soon be their dinner.
#17 – Food
He leaves the table, leaves Beth floundering at the sudden revelation – oh – and she sits in silence, trying to wrap her mind around it, distracted by the sound of the front door opening and Daryl's voice, low and calm, soothing like when he'd hold Judith back at the prison; when he returns he's followed by the dog, a mangy little thing, all skin and bones and matted, dirty fur, but it seems friendly enough, tail wagging as Daryl reopens the jar of pigs' feet and fishes a couple of pieces out to throw at it, and once it's done eating it allows Beth to run her hands down its back, to scratch behind its ears and, once the initial shyness is gone, dares to press closer and put its head in her lap, tongue lolling and one brown eye staring up at her with effortless trust; should have a name if we're gonna keep it, Daryl says quietly, and she'd almost forgotten about his suggestion, about the two of them giving it a shot, staying in this house and making it a home, and she can feel his eyes on her as the heat rises to her face because they could do that, she's willing to try, honestly wouldn't mind staying here forever, spending the rest of her days in the company of Daryl Dixon and this old dog, and she digs her fingers into its wild coat as Daryl sighs and starts putting out the candles – Lee, she says later, once they've bedded down in the king sized bed in the master bedroom upstairs, the dog occupying the space between them like a physical barrier, he looks like a Lee, and Daryl shifts in the darkness, mutters as good a name as any before turning on his side away from her – Beth lies awake a long time after, blinking against the darkness, listening to the soft snores of dog and man and tracing the outline of the wings stretching down Daryl's back.
#42 – Strange
The pendant looks small and fragile in the palm of Beth's hand, the delicate metal hoop connecting the two silver hearts torn open, pieces scattered by the impact to the concrete floor, and Judith laugh in delight, tiny fist still holding on to the silver chain with its broken lock – Beth should take this to Zach, should ask for his help because he'd be all too happy to give it, but for some strange reason she doesn't; if the hearts looked small in Beth's palm they look tinier still in Daryl's, and she doesn't know why she's come here, driven to their improvised workshop by some desperate impulse, but he doesn't turn her away and it makes her glad – she busies herself by untangling the chain from Judith's fingers as Daryl settles down with the pendant and some string, and she can feel his eyes on her, quick glances that never linger long, questioning and appraising, and she's relieved that he'd never ask; the end result isn't pretty, coarse black string wrapped around the remains of the silver chain, tiny hearts strung onto it and knotted in place, but it's better than nothing – can you, she says and lowers her head, catching Judith's wrists in one hand, and he carefully loops the necklace over her head, fingers lightly brushing against the side of her neck before he quickly steps back, pulling away like the touch burned, looking everywhere but at her, and she thanks him and leaves, skin tingling and a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach, and knows that she should have gone to Zach instead.
#14 – Fire
Twelve days after the prison falls they come across another shack in the woods, and while there's no moonshine this time, there are blankets and a fireplace with plenty of wood, and once they check all the windows and doors and make sure they're secure it's an easy thing to start a fire and allow themselves to relax, to crawl up close to the flames and let the heat wash away the chill of the night; Daryl finds a half-full pack of cigarettes in one of the bedrooms and she watches as he lights one up, the motion all practiced ease, and thinks back to the drink they shared; never tried smoking, she says, and he turns to look at her, gaze measuring, before he plucks the cigarette from his lips and holds it out for her to take – it goes as well as she'd expected, and she coughs just as much as her friends did way back then, daring to drink and smoke – to try – while she stood on the sidelines watching, Daddy's good little girl, but the world is over now, her friends most likely dead and Daddy gone to meet his maker, so she doesn't like thinking about that anymore – and Daryl huffs a laugh as she tries to catch her breath, reaching out to take the cigarette back, and she wipes the tears from her eyes as he exhales a long plume of smoke; never drank, never smoked, she murmurs, voice hoarse, daring to add never did a lot of things, and it's like testing the waters, feeling him out, so obvious that even Daryl seems to get it, judging by the way he suddenly won't look at her, tapping the cigarette pack against his knee and staring into the fire, and she turns to look as well, at the dancing flames just like the ones that devoured both of their pasts, wondering what he might see in there, what ghost still left unexorcised might lurk in the glowing embers.
#27 – Metal
He knows men like these, knows what they're capable of, but he can't do it on his own no matter how desperately he wants to turn his back and walk away; he keeps his head down, keeps quiet, because he knows how to blend into this kind of group, knows how to project asset without a hint of weak, and so he listens as they talk around the campfire that night, gathers that they're drifters, roaming from house to house, scavenging what they can and killing what they want, wandering around aimlessly, just like the dead, and he thinks that they might want a mission; he keeps it short, doesn't mention her name, drops the information like it doesn't even matter and lets them come up with the idea themselves, Joe smiling broadly in the fading light – well, how 'bout we go rescue us a sweet little thing – and they're good, he'll give them that, and it feels better, knowing he's getting closer, even if he has to spend his time with these men; there's one in particular, the one who eyed his vest with such interest, and Daryl doesn't even know the man's name but he's already trouble, running his mouth when he shouldn't, looking to start something, and Joe sends them off hunting to sort out their differences and the man doesn't know when to shut up; Bitch, he calls her, and Daryl's known Merle to kill a man for less – while he always had his brother's back he didn't quite understand it until now, that feeling of red hot rage that burns him from the inside as he presses the blade of his knife to the hunter's throat, studies the whites of the man's eyes as the metal digs into skin, drawing blood, says you best shut your mouth because she's not theirs to have and he's not one of them, he's not, and she knows that, will convince him of it when he finds her again, will make him use his words, but she's not here right now, and until he gets her back again Daryl will let his knife do the talking for him.
#38 – Snow
The temperature drops as the daylight hours grow shorter, and Beth's tried her best to keep track of the passing days but still fears she might have missed one or two – Daryl thinks it's closing in on December, and she's inclined to agree, not that it matters – and they've talked about heading north, because while Georgia's winters are enough to slow the Walkers down they're not cold enough to make them stop coming, and it might be better to leave, to head up through Tennessee and Kentucky and keep on going until they can feel the crunch of snow beneath their boots and see their breaths mist in the air; they've been moving in hesitant circles so far, slowly inching northward, and in the weeks since the prison fell they haven't run across anyone but strangers, groups of survivors passing by as they watch from afar, and Beth knows Daryl's kept them here, close, for her sake, even as he itches to move on (she knows Maggie is alive, knows it deep in her bones, but she's starting to believe that he might have been right when he told her she'd never see her sister again); they find a cabin not far from a river, and Beth curls up close to him on the narrow bed, resting her head over his heart as his fingers run up and down her back – she dreams of winter, of blizzards, of walking past dead things encased in frost and frozen in place, grotesque statues lining the streets of cities, thick brain matter dripping down to stain the white dusting beneath their feet while they remain upright, immobile, blood black as soot seeping through thin cracks of ice, and when she wakes she thinks that maybe she wouldn't mind it after all, leaving this all behind and heading towards the promise of snow.
#35 – Roses
In the beginning, when Judith was young and Beth was unsure, Carol would be the one to stop by her cell and teach her how to properly care for a newborn, how to hold it and feed it and soothe it, now and then lingering until Judith fell asleep, staying long enough to watch the baby snuggle up against Beth's shoulder, and sometimes her eyes would take on a faraway look, and they'd turn sad, and that's when she'd sit down beside Beth and she'd tell her about Sophia; Beth knew how it ended, with the dead clawing their way out of the barn, and she'd been to the highway where it all started, row after row of abandoned and ransacked cars, but the middle part of the story was muddled, pieced together from overheard conversations and whatever information she could coax out of her daddy, so she'd listen with interest, hand stroking down Judith's back as the baby sighed softly in her sleep; the Cherokee Rose is nothing more than a side note in a much larger story, but Beth's mind latched onto it nevertheless, turning it over and over in her thoughts, trying to understand, wanting to, desperately needing to reconcile the idea of Daryl's rough hands and that delicate white flower, but in the end coming up with nothing; it's more than a year later, weeks and months after they lose everything, home as well as family, that they come across the large house with the rose garden – Beth stops, her bag ladened with nonperishables, reaching out to tilt one of the flowers up to face the sunlight and leaning down to smell the sweet fragrance, better than any of the weak perfumes scattered across the dresser in the house's master bedroom, and in the corner of her eye she can see Daryl stop and reach out as well, lost in thought as his fingers trail over soft and rosy petals, and she doesn't have to wonder this time, doesn't have to imagine a thing, because it's just the two of them now, and Beth knows that his touch is much gentler than anyone could ever imagine.
#32 – Pretty
She saves herself in the end and she thinks he'd have been pleased by that, that he might have found pride in the way she didn't hesitate, the way she gritted her teeth and put all her force behind it, how she wiped the blade clean on the stranger's shirt once she'd made sure he wasn't coming back; it's his knife she uses, the one from that very first night, the one she grabbed and claimed as her own as she stalked off into the forest, knowing he'd follow; she loses her bag and her gun in the struggle but she manages to keep that knife, feels the weight of it on her hip as she's thrown into the trunk of the car and hears the locking mechanism click into place, and she unsheathes it there in the dark, fingers running down that sharp blade, reassuring herself that it'll get the job done, as she waits; the man calls her pretty, calls her innocent and pure, and loudly tells her what he'd like to do to her, things that makes Beth's stomach curl as the muted words seep into the trunk, promises of violence and vulgar acts that make her grip the knife even tighter, and it might just be what spares her, the stranger's fixation on her purity and the youthfulness of her face, because he looks surprised as the trunk lid swings open, lips parted and eyes wide, bonelessly collapsing onto the ground as she pulls the knife back out of his neck; it's a large blade, sharp and wide, and she likes the feel of it on her hip, a solid reminder that she's not alone or helpless – it's hers now, she grabbed it that first night, before she knew what it'd all lead to, and even after they find the others she never offers to return it, but that's alright, she thinks, because Daryl never asks for it back.
#18 – Foot
He's careful as he tugs her boot off, as he puts his hands on her waist and helps her hop onto the counter, kneeling to cup her foot by the heel and pressing his fingers into the muscle, glancing up at her hiss of pain – sprained, he confirms – and it's strangely intimate, looking down at him like this, at the top of his head, studying the way his hair parts as he deftly wraps her ankle, touch quick and efficient and never lingering longer than it has to; she's good enough to walk but he still helps her up the stairs, large hand spread across the small of her back, steadying her, and she thinks she must have been imagining things, the way he almost hesitates to pull away once they reach the top; she's slowly learning to read him, learning to decipher his lingering looks and his silences – thinks he says a lot for such a taciturn man, his body speaking volumes simply through the way he carries himself – but he still manages to catch her off guard at times, letting her closer than she thought he would, wanting her closer, like he's pulling her into his orbit, and she's good enough to walk but he still sweeps her off her feet, hoisting her up as if she weighs next to nothing, gathering her close to him as she clings to his shoulders and laughs, because it feels good, unexpected and welcome, and she thinks that they might both find that a little bit surprising.
#15 – Flexible
Her brother's favorite movie growing up had been one about time travel, and the two of them had worn the tape out, watching it again and again, because Shawn could never get enough of it and Beth, still too young to understand much of the plot, could never get enough of curling up on the couch close to her big brother – he'd loved explaining it to her, the way time was a fluid thing, flexible and changeable, and that all actions had consequences – and she thinks about that at times, after the prison break, because time splits there, in the moment her daddy's body hit the ground, divides into three paths running parallel to one another into the beyond; when she runs after Judith she finds her exactly where she left her, strapped into a baby carrier that turns out to be too cumbersome to carry with her, and so she escapes into the woods clutching the toddler to her chest, following Daryl's lead, and she can almost feel the tiny body, warm and soft, nestled between their bodies now as they rest, safe and sound bracketed by the two of them, only that's not true, because she never leaves the safety of the bus, and as the prison fades into the distance Daryl fades into the forest, alone, and he never lasts long in there, never makes it out on the other side, and she doesn't like thinking about it, so she doesn't, runs instead, finds him instead, and they go together, just the two of them, and he lets her save him and then returns the favor; it's wishful thinking, all of it, but she still knows she did right, taking the path she did, and she could wish for many things, many different outcomes, but in the end none of it makes any difference, because she doubts she'd ever feel safer than right here and now, curled up on the floor of a deserted cabin in the dark, fist clenched around the material of his shirt and head resting on his chest, heartbeat a reassuring thud thud thud in the silence.
#40 – Spring
They check the traps in the morning, Beth pulling him down for a quick kiss before they split up, she heading into the woods north of the cabin while he disappears into the underbrush to the south; it's springtime and the forest is waking, coming alive again, life bustling everywhere Beth looks, critters darting back and fort overhead and underfoot, busy gathering food and tending to their nests and burrows, filling the traps she and Daryl spent most of the winter setting, and it's all coming full circle, she thinks, because she can sympathize with them, the birds and the squirrels, with their feverish urge to provide and prepare; by the time she reaches the stream she's got two rabbits hanging from her belt – a good haul, and she can't wait to show Daryl – and that's when she hears it, the gurgling moan of the undead and the yells of many still alive, and she breaks into a run, ignores the voice in her head that tells her to let it be, to be careful, and when she steps out into the glen there's a split second where she wonders if she's still back in the cabin, head pillowed on Daryl's shoulder, sound asleep, but then her sister – so very much not a dream – turns to plunge her knife into the eye socket of another Walker, and when it goes down their eyes meet and then it's Maggie's turn to hesitate, to freeze as if the rest of her group – Glenn and Rick and Carl and oh, Michonne, too – weren't still busy dispatching the small horde they'd run into; Beth forgives the lapse in concentration, unsheathing her machete and burying it in the skull of a Walker coming up right behind her sister, because she knows how different she must look now, two years on, her hair cut short and pulled back from her face, dead critters strapped to her belt, the knives Daryl insists she carries on her person, and the soft swell of her growing belly straining against her shirt.
#39 – Solid
There's no wedding and there's no ring, but she doesn't mind; he slips a knife into her boot one morning – just in case – and his hand is large and heavy on her thigh as he looks up at her from where he's kneeling on the floor, and that's the way it is, his old knife a solid weight hanging from its holster on her hip, a gift and a promise, as much of a reassurance as his presence at night, pressed up against her back as she sleeps, as he leads and she follows except when it's him trailing after her – she, who kissed him first, rising up on her tiptoes and pulling him down to meet her halfway – and why would she need anything else, a party or a piece of jewelry, when he steps back and lets her handle a Walker on her own, trusting her to be able to, when he lets her slip his shirt off his shoulders and doesn't shy away from her fingers tracing over raised scars, when he pushes her down against the mattress and presses a kiss to the base of her throat; there are a lot of things she thought she wanted but none of which she needed, and it's enough, the flowers he sometimes brings her just because, telling her he loves her in all ways except through words, and it's something she doesn't need to hear him say, it being so plainly clear to everyone who has eyes to see, immovable and unshakable, because Daryl Dixon doesn't do things by halves, and she knows that this is for life, the two of them.
#41 – Stable
She dreams about it often in the first few months after the farm, memories mixed with something else, the sun bright overhead and the sky clear and blue – the noise of the animals and the soft smile of her mother, walking outside to spread a blanket onto the grass and settling down with a good book – and suddenly, as always, looking past the fluttering sheets hung out to dry, looking towards the forest, she can see it, can see the trees shrivel and die as a shadow spreads, splintering their trunks, and then Rick steps out of the darkness of the woods, Carl cradled to his chest, a pale stranger covered in blood with the dead on his heels – and she wakes choking on her breath beneath a starry night sky, shaking, and crawls out of her sleeping bag, stepping over the others as she quietly makes her way to the edge of the camp; Daryl's on watch tonight, and she can see his breath mist in the air, winter looming close, and she shivers, multiple layers of shirts and sweaters doing nothing to dispel the cold, and takes a seat on the forest floor by his feet, back against the trunk of a fallen tree, needing the company of someone, anyone, even this man who's not quite a stranger but not yet a friend, and she doesn't think he'll mind if she's quiet, if she tries not to shiver, won't hold it against her if she just closes her eyes for a moment, if she rests; she dreams of Nelly and of the stables, of sugar cubes in the palm of her hand and soft bristles tickling her skin, horses whinnying and the sound of their hooves hitting the wood floors of their boxes, and she can still smell it when she snaps back into consciousness, can still smell the horses and the hay, and she realizes that she's wrapped up in Daryl's poncho, the one he made out of the old horse blanket he brought back from one of their runs, and he's crouched in front of her, the light of dawn painting him a golden outline, hand leaving her shoulder before she even recognizes the touch – sun's about to rise, he says, and she nods, pulling the poncho tighter around her shoulders, not ready to relinquish it just yet, feeling warm and rested and safe, like she slept through the night, like someone stood guard over her dreams and kept the Walkers at bay.
#02 – Apples
They find the farmhouse in late spring, just as the apple trees start to bloom, and Beth spots the grove as they climb the stairs to the porch (I'll make you an apple pie, she says, smiling up at him, it'll be the best one you've ever tasted, and he can't name half the ingredients that make a pie, has no idea where to find them all, but still can't help but believe her); she keeps her diary in her back pocket, uses it to keep track of the days and list the names she likes the best, and he reads it after, clothes still streaked with dirt and fingers leaving smudges on the pages, trying to pick the right one, but she's circled a good four of them and he can't tell which one she preferred; the baby is soft and pink and impossibly tiny, smaller than Lil' Asskicker was, even, and it stirs up something new in his chest, something stronger and more desperate than Judith ever did, and he figures it's different when it's his own kin, his own flesh and blood, when it's only the two of them left; Beth doesn't like being confined to the bed, but she's too far along now, tires too easily, and the thought of her falling while he's out trying to find baby supplies makes him feel sick to his stomach – she always asks about the apples when he returns, and it's become a thing, a remember to check the apples instead of be safe and apples ripe yet instead of I'm glad you made it back okay, reassurance through routine, and he unloads the baby formula, the tiny clothes and nappies, and says not yet; he buries her there, in the apple grove, beneath the clear fall sky and the old, knotted branches of the trees, ladened with ripening fruit, as their baby sleeps, and he thinks she would have liked that.
#04 – Bugs
She still has the spoon, and if she tilts it just right she can see the inscription in the light of the fire – Washington D.C. and the picture of the Capitol building etched into the surface – and it's a wonder she's been able to hold on to it this long, through kidnappings and rescues and reunions; Daryl follows Rick into the woods, trailed by Glenn and the strangers he arrived with, and Beth moves away from the campfire, leaves her sister and the rest behind, drawn to the fireflies dancing at the edge of the camp – they're beautiful, untouched by death or bloodshed, and it's becoming more and more difficult to remember that life goes on in the face of humanity's struggles, the rest of earth's living things so far beyond the reach of a fallen society, unconcerned by man's plight; she watches them a long time, until she hears him approach, and she knows how to tell the sound of him apart from the others by now, doesn't start when he joins her on the ground, shoulders close but not quite touching – he doesn't tell her that they've decided to head to D.C., because she already guessed it, knew they were as good as on their way the moment Glenn told them about the strangers' mission – and so she keeps her eyes on the fireflies as Daryl studies her, his gaze running over her face in the sparse light, taking in the bruising, the black eye and the split lip that's healing up nicely, and she reaches out to cover the top of his hand with hers, because she can't stand having him beating himself up over it, not when it's in the past, but she knows there's nothing she can do; he pulls away and stands, reaching down to help her to her feet, mindful of her sprained wrist, and she places a hand on his arm and steps closer, feeling him stiffen as her chest brushes against his, says I'm still here, and hesitates before placing a chaste kiss at the corner of his mouth, whispers you got me and doesn't pull away until she feels his hair brush against her face as he nods, turning his head so that his nose brushes her cheek and she can feel his exhale against her lips.
#47 – Water
The Georgia summer's not letting up, and Beth's shirt clings to her back, her hair sticking to the sides of her neck and forehead – she feels hot and sweaty under the afternoon sun, dusty and smelly and tired and increasingly short tempered, annoyed with Daryl who's just as grimy as she is but doesn't seem to mind one bit, who simply squints at her when she snaps at him, and she'll regret it later, she will, but at the moment she just can't seem to help it; when he suddenly turns off the path they're following, heading off into the underbrush, she reluctantly follows, thinking uncharitable thoughts as she pushes her way through tall grass and saplings, until she catches up with him and finds herself standing on a riverbank, clear, cool water slowly floating past – it makes her feel bad, being so short with him, so she breathes a heartfelt thank you and lets her bag slip off her shoulder onto the ground before she starts pulling her shirt off; she's too tired to be modest, too warm to be bothered by the uneasy lines they've drawn in the sand during the past few weeks spent alone together, and so she strips down to her panties before heading down the bank and wading into the river, far enough that the water reaches her waist – looking over her shoulder she can see Daryl standing petrified where she left him, still fully dressed and face flushed red as he tries to look anywhere but at her bare back; no amount of coaxing will convince him to join her, so she leaves him there, on the bank, and turns her attention to washing, to rinsing out her hair and scrubbing the dirt and sweat off her skin, enjoying the heat of the sun on her face and pretending that she doesn't notice or feel the burn of his lingering gaze trailing down her spine.
#31 – Poison
No, Baby, she says, don't put that in your mouth, grasping tiny hands and pulling them away from the tantalizing red berries, and it's like she's on repeat, like she hasn't been saying anything but variations of the same thing for the last few months – no, stop that and that's poisonous, Honey, don't eat it and put that down – and in front of her Daryl laughs, shouldering his crossbow like he knows what's coming, and of course he does, Beth thinks as she pushes the baby into his arms and takes the lead; they're close enough to home now that she allows herself to relax, trusting their traps and barriers to hold the Walkers at bay and allowing herself to turn an ear to the soft murmurs and the resulting coos trailing behind her – they look good, the two of them, small blonde head resting against Daryl's shoulder, delicate fist curled around the collar of his shirt, as two pair of blue eyes almost identical in shade gaze back at her – it tugs at something primal in the back of her mind, a slumbering instinct suddenly jostled awake, like a giant lioness examining her mate and offspring and roaring mine across the savanna to whoever would dare to think of challenging her claim, and she can see Daryl turn his head to hide a smile in the soft blonde locks, knows that he's seen the darkening of her eyes and finds it just as amusing every time, and once they get home and get the baby settled he'll throw an arm across her waist and tug her to him, call her mama lion just to rile her up, and won't resist when she shoves him down on the cot and bends down to nip at his jugular, pushing back against his hands as they try to tug her closer.
#05 – Coffee
The stranger who pulls her into the car and speeds away tells her he's rescuing her, that he's taking her somewhere safe, and then, to her surprise, he actually does; Terminus is large and well fortified and offers shelter to more people than she think she's ever seen in one place, even before the world ended, and she's free to leave whenever she wants to, can walk out those gates in the next five minutes if she had half the mind to, but she doesn't know how she'd ever find him again, miles and miles separating them, and she'd never survive out there, not all alone as fall turns to winter, so instead she shuts herself in the room they've assigned to her and cries into the pillows of her soft new bed; all roads lead to Terminus, Dear, one of the women tells her at breakfast one morning and at the time Beth doubts it but it turns out to be true, because a week later her sister staggers in through the gates, limping badly and supported by Bob and Sasha, but alive nonetheless, and with that it's like the floodgates open and Glenn appears not two weeks after that, a group of strangers in tow, the first of many more reunions to follow; she waits for Daryl, still believes he'll find her, that he'll never give up, knows it – just knows – even as temperature drops and the sky overhead turns darker, and she waits for him, up on the wall, cup of coffee cooling between her hands because the days are getting colder and he'll surely want something hot to drink when he arrives, waits for him even as Maggie grows worried, her voice turning softer as time slips them by, her touch comforting, but Beth doesn't waver and she's proven right, in the end; he comes with the first snow of the season, walks out of the blizzard like some kind of old silver screen hero, and she thinks he might just be, despite his haggard clothes and wind-worn face, loyal and true, trying to rise to his feet from where he collapsed in the courtyard, trying to get up to greet her, and she doesn't care that she lost the coffee in the process of climbing down the wall because if nothing else it gives her two free hands to pull him closer with as she stumbles towards him, as she falls to her knees and, finally, back into his arms.
#01 – Air
The air is thick with black smoke and gunfire and Beth can't breathe, can't get enough oxygen into her lungs, feels lightheaded and detached because it's all gone, suddenly cut down in one fell swipe, her daddy and her home and these people she calls family, wrenched away, and she needs to find Judith, but she can't because the baby's not where she left her, none of the children are, and her vision goes black for a moment, standing there alone in the middle of battle, the prison walls crumbling under the assault of tank fire, and it strikes her that she might just get left behind, forgotten in this massive chaos, left to share the fate of the gray walls around her, overrun by the dead – she heads back the way she came but she can see that the bus is already gone, and she has time to think that's it, this is how I go, and then the tank explodes; she told Carol once that they were weak without him, and she does believe that, considers him the best kind of survivor, the kind who keeps others alive as well, so it lights a spark inside of her when she spots him through the smoke, tall and resolute, because suddenly she knows she'll make it, that he'll guide her through this – all she has to do is nurture that flame, keep the hope alive, and he'll do the rest.
#16 – Flying
It had been easier in the beginning, finding abandoned cars with enough gas still left in their tanks to keep their own vehicles moving, and that's what they had done in the months after the farm, a practice continued once they reached the prison, but now they find themselves hard pressed to find a car functional enough to drive, let alone enough gas to get them anywhere; Beth notices the way he hesitates when they find the restaurant, once they've scavenged whatever they can from its shelves and step back outside, the way he looks at all the bikes lying discarded in the parking lot out front, weighing the pros and cons – he let her ride with him once, after the farm, when she'd gotten into a fight with Maggie and couldn't stand the thought of spending the day next to her sister in their cramped car, and she remember how surprised he'd looked, as if she'd been the first one to ever ask, but he'd let her hop on behind him and it'd almost been like riding her horse, but not really, the wind in her hair and the world roaring past, and she'd missed the sensation of almost-flying, the feeling of being fast enough to outrun anything – you wanna, she asks, because there are at least fifteen bikes scattered across the asphalt and between them there might be a chance that they can siphon enough gas to fill maybe half a tank, and she knows he misses his bike, the way she misses her desk back in her cell, the way you can miss any inanimate object, no matter how silly it is, and she bumps the top of her hand against his, feeling his fingers twitch; nah, he says at last, turning away and looking down at her, best keep on foot, and she nods and reaches out to take his hand as he brushes past, lacing her fingers with his and letting herself get tugged along as they step back onto the road and start walking.
#33 – Rain
The rain always makes me tired, she says, and then she curls up against his side, slipping under his arm and leaning her head against his shoulder as she closes her eyes and lets out a soft sigh; he can't do much more than stay right where he is, feeling the warm weight of her press against him and the wild hair at the crown of her head tickle his chin – she smells of sweat and smoke and rain, nothing like how she did back at the prison, back when they still had access to showers and scented soap, and he thinks she might be embarrassed if she knew, even though he finds that he doesn't mind – they've been on the road since the night at the funeral home, making camp each night and sleeping beneath the stars, and it's new, this closeness between them, nothing they've talked about – nothing he's given them a chance to talk about – but she doesn't seem to care judging by the way she's thrown the need for personal space out the window, coming at him with soft touches and small smiles and God help him he lets her, can't do nothing else, welcomes the heat of her against his side at night, the press of her hand against his as they wander down deserted roads, the way she leans against him like she does now, head tucked under his chin, whenever they settle down for the day, wet curls stuck to her forehead and water dripping down her nose, eyes impossibly blue as she looks up at him, and he's lost the ability to say no a long time ago; she shivers against his side and he runs his hand down her arm, nudging her closer as he leans back, and she goes willingly, almost eagerly, resting more of her weight against him, and he can feel her nose bump against the collar of his jacket as she turns her head, can feel the warmth of her breath against the base of his throat and can almost imagine the smile pressed against his chest.
#37 – Snakes
The end of the world tears across humanity like a wildfire, driving whatever's left alive before it until it catches up and engulfs it whole, leaving but charred remains and ashes in its wake, earth fit for nothing but slithering things, things that crawl on their bellies, and Beth thinks a lot about snakes at night, picking scales out from between her teeth and feeling the tough meat rest heavy in her stomach, because that's what they've all been reduced to, those who still survive, becoming snakes or the animals they devour; she's not quite there yet, she thinks, hasn't willfully killed a man yet as far as she knows, though she certainly tried back at the prison, when the Governor came for them – he's some kind of viper, filled with a brutal aggression, something that'll hiss in warning after it's already sunk its teeth in you, and she's nothing like that, still all softness and warm skin, but she thinks she might be on her way, that she started molting that day when she saw her daddy kneeling before her; she doesn't know what'll come of it but she's not worried because Daryl's there, and he'll teach her right – he's all rattler, all caution and avoidance, biting only when provoked and keeping to himself as best he can, and he won't mind having her there with him – hasn't minded so far – and she blinks up at the stars and feels it slither around in her chest, the thought of what she'll have to become to survive whatever is in the wildfire's wake, and she wonders if maybe she can be a rattler too, if he'd mind that, the two of them, rattlers hiding together in the tall grass.
#43 – Summer
They spent eight months on the road after the farm fell and she didn't like it, didn't like the cold encroaching more for every month, winter driving them to seek shelter from its frozen, bony fingers, forcing them to make tiny fires and huddle close, never warm enough, never enough layers of scavenged clothes between them and the elements; summer is better, with its soft breezes and long days, nights so lukewarm you can sleep outside if you'd wish, without having to worry about the frost creeping closer in the dark, and it's an easy thing to do when she sees the barn in the distance, to say let's sleep there tonight, and have it be so; the box stalls are all empty, horses either eaten or escaped, and Beth hopes for the latter, imagining them galloping across the pastures, as Daryl climbs the ladder to the hayloft before signaling that it's Walker free, and she climbs up after him – the hayloft is still full of hay, to her delight, and it smells surprisingly fresh as she collapses next to Daryl, lying on his back in one big pile of dried grass, as she shuffles forward until she's draped half across him, pillowed on his chest, and he grunts but places a heavy hand between her shoulders, his way of telling her she's heavier than she looks but don't she dare move; maybe we should head east, she whispers, fingers lazily playing with the buttons of his shirt, undoing them and slipping her hand inside to trace the name inked across his chest, find a boat and head out to one of the islands, and he turns his head to bump his nose against her temple, manages to sigh a maybe across her skin before she shifts and crawls up to capture his lips with hers.
#03 – Beginning
They run, they escape into the forest, and she can still hear the gunshots echo in her mind, an erratic tattoo that mimics the beat of her heart, and she's out of bullets – ran out a long time ago – but still grips the gun as tightly as she can, aims and pulls the trigger just to hear the hollow click of an empty chamber and the low whine of a bolt cutting through the air as the Walker drops and Daryl brushes past her; they flee, run until the forest is behind them and they're out in the sun once more, and she collapses onto the ground, Daryl going down with her, the world off-kilter and breaking apart around her as it bleeds out, a feeding ground for the birds circling above – if she were to reach out her hand it would meet bloodied cloth and solid flesh, and if she were to trail her touch down his arm and wrap her fingers around his wrist, grip tight and let his presence steady her, she thinks he might just let her; the sky above is clouded, and Beth can't decide whether this is the end or merely the beginning.