Claimed – Chapter 8

As always, I do not own any part of The Walking Dead. That's all Kirkman and Gimple. I'm just borrowing for a while.

I've gotta say, I was really apprehensive about keeping the story going, but now I can't seem to stop writing. Part of the reason I'm sure is because I just made a HUGE checkmark off my "list of stuff to do," part because it's really crappy weather where I am, so I'm hunkered down with my lappy top, and part because I'm having serious withdrawals from the show (has it really only been 2 weeks?) and this story at least lets me pretend. *sigh* October cannot get here soon enough. With that, thanks for reading, leave a review if you like.

Later that night, the fire was starting to die down. Chester was getting ready to take the first watch of the night. Daryl hadn't found any blankets or sleeping bags to make the nights any more comfortable, and Beth only had the few extra clothes that happened to be in her rucksack, so they were both roughing it on the cold hard ground. Never wanting her out of his sight – or reach – Daryl offered the spot next to him to Beth, and she shyly accepted. He laid down by the same moss-covered log they had sat near earlier, turning his back to it. He stretched out his right arm, his hand resting on his crossbow, and positioned his ear against his shoulder. Beth sat down, then stretched out next to him, her back to the fire, and laid her head on his bicep. Her arms were curled up to her chest, her delicate fingers tracing along the seams of his vest. Their knees kept knocking into each other as they both tried to get comfortable until finally they relaxed, letting their legs rest against each other.

Daryl brought his left hand up to brush a loose hair from Beth's face. She looked up at him meekly, painfully aware of how close their bodies were, and felt a shiver, but not from the cold. On the contrary, she could feel herself warming up in Daryl's arms, not sure where these feelings were coming from, but not fighting them either. When her eyes caught his, she swallowed the dryness out of her mouth and softly whispered, "Daryl?"

"Yeah?" He couldn't pull his eyes away from her. She was so damned beautiful, especially now with the low fire light dancing behind her, with her so close to him. He tried his hardest to control his breathing, and was having a hell of a time with it.

"I'm scared," she whispered.

"No need to be. This'll work. I gotcha. We'll be fine." He tried to sound reassuring, but truth be told, he was worried they'd be able to pull this off, too.

"I know. Still, just nervous. I hate the idea of staying with these...these..." they weren't men, and animals weren't this creepy. Each one of them was giving off a very bad vibe that Beth could feel surrounding her.

"Ass hats?" Daryl offered.

She smiled at that. "Yes. Total ass hats." He returned her smile.

"Don't worry, girl. I won't let 'em get to ya." He wrapped his arm around her waist, and pulled her close to him, hoping to keep her warm as well as secure. He ran his hand lightly up and down her back, trying to get her to relax, to get some sleep. They wouldn't be sleeping much the next night, so she needed to rest up now.

A few quiet moments went by. He could hear the other men starting to doze off. He was reaching that point, too. Again he heard her, "Daryl?"

"Yeah?" He wasn't upset in the least. Well, maybe a little upset that she wasn't getting sleep yet, but he loved hearing that sweet voice say his name, especially now that he was so literally wrapped up with her.

"Thank you," she replied, adjusting herself to get a little more comfortable and, he noticed, a little closer to him.

"Fer what?"

"For just being you." She wrapped her right arm under his leather jacket and around his back, pulling him into a weak hug and running her fingers lightly up and down his back.

Daryl looked down at her as she looked up at him again. Their faces were dangerously close. Good Lord, he wanted to kiss her, but didn't trust himself enough to be able to pull away. He just closed his eyes tight and fought for control.

Suddenly he felt her lips barely graze against his, just one soft, swift peck was all it was. His eyes snapped open to find her looking up at him through her eyelashes. He took a minute to reel in his gut reaction to haul off and kiss her with everything he had in him, but it was apparently a minute too long, because he felt her lips on him again, just a little more pressure than before, just a few seconds longer. That did it.

He leaned down to press his lips against hers, lightly, but locking them to her sweet mouth. He felt her start to kiss him back. He ran his fingers from her back, to her hip, up her arm to her shoulder, before finally resting along her neck, her jaw, his thumb landing on her cheek. He increased the pressure against her lips, fighting like hell to keep control. His right arm bent, bringing his hand up to wrap around her shoulders, drawing her even closer.

His tongue gently slid along her bottom lip, and her mouth opened immediately to him, allowing him to deepen the kiss. Their tongues tasted and twisted around each other, neither seemed to be able to get enough. A delicate sigh escaped from her saccharine lips that almost did him in. He grasped at what little control he had left and pulled away, reluctantly breaking the connection between them. The look on her face almost broke his heart, but he knew he had to do it.

He pressed one more soft kiss to her lips, then to cheek, her temple, before resting his lips against her ear and murmuring, "Soon, baby. Soon. Get some sleep."

"Fat chance," she replied sardonically. He chuckled at this, took a deep breath, and started to release her from his grip. She never moved away from him, which he had to admit, he appreciated. He noticed her breathing start to even out, then to slow, until she was unmistakably asleep in his arms. He pressed one last kiss to her forehead before closing his own eyes and nodding off to sleep.

XXXXX

The next day was uneventful for the most part. Daryl and Beth kept up with the group, though continued to trail further and further behind. Beth seemed to be having difficulty walking, making the others believe her ankle was not as steady as she had let on yesterday. Other than that, business carried on as usual, stopping to refill their water when they came to a brook, grabbing a few handfuls of berries each as a small snack on the go, taking notice of the signs for Terminus. They made little progress, thanks to Beth dragging behind. Daryl offered for them to go on ahead, that they would be able to catch up, but Joe wasn't hearing it.

Beth could feel the lurid glances the men kept shooting her way, but now she noticed they were both creepy and angry, and she did not like that combination at all. She gripped Daryl's hand, and he squeezed back, trying to be reassuring. "Ankle still hurtin' ya?"

"Yeah. I must've stepped just right on it or something. Not sure what happened. It was doing better yesterday." She made sure her words would carry so the rest of the group would hear.

"Ya probably just over-worked it, 's all. We need ta get you off it for a while."

Joe called over his shoulder, "We ain't stoppin'. We got some miles ahead of us to go while it's still daylight. You best start hoppin' or healin', I don't much care which, but you've slowed us down enough."

Beth could tell they were testing Joe's patience, and didn't want to tempt fate any more than they needed to. She looked at Daryl worriedly. Daryl fought to keep the smirk off his face. This was going perfectly with their plan. He moved his crossbow to lie across his chest, then bent over, silently offering Beth a piggy back ride. Her arms wrapped loosely around his neck, her thighs just above his hips. He tried to push the memories of last night's kiss to the back of his mind, with little luck, and his imagination began to come up with thoughts...like what if Beth and the crossbow traded places? He shook his head, focusing on selling her hurt ankle to the group, even grumbling a little just to try to convince them.

Even with Beth on his back, Daryl was able to keep up with the group better, and he could feel the tension in the group start to recede. After a few more hours, Joe decided it was time to start setting up camp again. They veered off the train tracks and headed into the woods. Daryl took out his hunting knife and cut a mark into the trees they passed, trying his best to be inconspicuous. Gladly, no one noticed what he was doing. They came to a level spot amidst a circle of trees that the group decided was good enough to spend the night in. Daryl carefully let Beth down onto the ground and helped her over to a spot on the edge of the circle.

Now came the scariest part of the plan. Even though Beth still had the cans of fruit and an unopened pack of jerky hidden in her bag, they couldn't guarantee they'd have many chances to find more food after they left the group, meaning Daryl had to go hunting tonight. He hated leaving her here, even if the other men were hunting, too. There were just too many variables. He handed his larger hunting knife to Beth for protection, then bent over and kissed her, hard, in front of the rest of the group. He pulled away abruptly and glared at the men around him, hoping his actions were speaking clearly – "The girl is claimed. Hands off."

With that, he shouldered his crossbow and headed off with the hope that he could find a squirrel or a bunny or two, and quickly, so he could return to Beth. He walked with his hunter's tread, careful not to make unnecessary noise. His thoughts kept returning to her...to that golden hair, that smile that lit up his world, those eyes that saw all of him, inside and out. His focus snapped back as he saw two walkers shambling toward him. He reached for his knife before remembering that he had left it with her. He instead raised his crossbow, already loaded with a bolt, and fired, easily taking out one of them, then rearing back to swing the butt of the crossbow against the other walker's skull. Satisfied they were dead...again...he bent down to pull the bolt out of the first walker's head, wiped it off on the tattered clothing, and reloaded the crossbow. He hoped Beth's time at camp was less eventful.

XXXXX

After a few hours, Beth's ears pricked up at the sound of someone returning. Hoping it was Daryl, she spun toward the sound, only to see that creep, Tim, followed closely by Joe. She automatically had her guard up, feeling slightly better at Joe's arrival, hoping he would at least keep Tim in check until Daryl got back. She didn't miss the gawking stare Tim sent her way, nor the unnerving smile that accompanied it. She worked to keep any expression from showing on her face. A smile would only encourage him, but so would any fear that showed. Luckily, both Joe and Tim set to work cleaning their kills and settling in for the night.

One by one the men returned, each commenting on what food they'd found and where. As they all began to settle in, Beth felt more and more stares shot her way. Daryl still hadn't returned and she was getting very nervous. She focused on trying not to attract any more attention to herself, though each minute that passed without Daryl's return proved it didn't matter what she did or didn't do. The group of men looked at her hungrily. She kept her eyes on the trees around her, not daring to make eye contact with any of them. She had Daryl's knife tight in one hand, and had palmed the pair of scissors in the other.

"Hey girlie. Whatcha lookin' so nervous for?" Her eyes shot up at the sound. Apparently Chester had kept quiet long enough. "Worried yer man left ya? Don't you worry, sweet thing. Me and the boys'll take good care 'a ya." The rest of the men began chuckling menacingly. They all seemed to have the same thing on their minds, and Beth wanted no part of it. Rather than responding, she just returned her view to the trees, praying Daryl was on his way back soon.

"Hey, bitch, he's talking to you." Tony stood up and took a step toward her. She tried like hell to keep her composure, but felt her cheeks and ears redden. "Don't be fuckin' rude. Here we took your ass into our group, no questions, and you ain't contributed at all. You done nothin' but slow us down. Seems to me it's time for a little payback." He stepped around the fire towards Beth's spot on the outer rim of the circle. Her breathing quickened, hoping she wouldn't have to fight for her life again. "Daryl, where are you?" she worried to herself. She heard the rest of the men starting to get restless.

Joe spoke up, half-heartedly. "Come on now, boys. Play nice."

"Oh, I'll play nice, alright." Tony made his way to her, wrapped his hands around her upper arms and dragged her to a standing position. Beth kept her gaze on her feet, not wanting her eyes to betray just how terrified she was. "Come on, ya little slut. Let's see what's so damned good that Daryl thinks he can keep all to himself."

Beth's arms were trapped at her side; she couldn't use the knife on Tony if she wanted to, the way his fingers were digging into her arms. She could feel his breath on her cheek, dangerously close. She refused to look up at him; he dropped one arm and brought his hand up as if to strike her. She braced for impact.

"Don't you fucking touch her!" Daryl appeared to her right, crossbow armed and ready, pointed straight at Tony's head. She couldn't relax just yet, but her heart skipped a beat at the sound of his voice.

"Seems I'm already touchin' 'er. What the fuck you gonna do about it?" Tony snarled.

"You want me to tell you or just show you? Let her the fuck go." Daryl was positively growling, his aim still trained directly at Tony.

Beth started to struggle away from Tony, not brave enough to raise either weapon with all these men so riveted on to what was happening in front of them. She knew if she tried anything, it'd be her and Daryl against the rest of them, and she didn't like those odds. Tony suddenly broke his hold on her arm, causing her to fall to the ground. The group broke out in vicious laughter as she picked herself up, remembering to favor her hurt ankle, and thankful she hadn't landed on either weapon she was holding. She hobbled over to Daryl and stood behind him; he kept his bow ready to fire.

Joe tried to reason between Daryl and the group. "Alright, let's just everyone calm down. The boys were just havin' a little fun. Can't say I blame 'em. You been rubbin' this girl in our faces the past couple days, an' we aren't supposed to react? Claimed or no, that's just damn cruel."

"Don't seem like he's 'claimed' her anyway. He's wound tighter than a god damn spring, and she's too damn innocent to have done anything." Tim retorted. "You ain't hit that yet, have ya?" Daryl didn't reply except to tighten his grip on his crossbow. Beth couldn't stop the blush from creeping up her face. "Thought so," Tim acknowledged.

"Don't matter what I do with her. She's supposed to be fucking hands off. What the hell are the rules for if ya ain't gonna follow 'em?" Daryl was ready to unload on all of them. He wished, not for the first time, that he had a pistol, something that loaded faster than his crossbow.

"Settle down, there, Daryl. Ain't no one hurt," Joe said, trying to defuse the situation. "Tony, back off, leave 'em alone. Everyone just relax. Daryl, I'm takin' you off watch duty tonight. Tim, Tony, you two up for it?"

"I'll keep the watch duty. Don't want no one to say I don't contribute," Daryl spat out, revealing just how much he'd heard from Tony's conversation earlier.

"I'll stay up with him, too," Beth piped up, causing a few of the men to snicker at her suggestion. She stepped out from behind Daryl and shot them all a steely glare. She took a breath to steady her nerves. She had to sell this. "What? Just 'cause I'm a girl I can't fight? Well, fuck you all! Did you forget I got out of that hell house on my own? That I survived out there before? I'm standing watch with Daryl, dammit!" She was shaking, not with fear, but obvious anger at the men.

"Alright, little lady, alright. Good luck to ya," Joe said condescendingly with a smirk. "Boys, let's hit the hay. We got some miles to catch up on tomorrow. Get some shut eye." With that the men split off to their own areas, grumbling at losing their chance at a little excitement tonight, whether from a fight or anything else involving the young girl.

As the group dispersed, Daryl lowered his bow and regarded the young woman at his side. He nudged her with his arm to get her attention and mouthed, "Ya did good." She soundlessly responded, "Thank you." He nodded approvingly at her. Together they silently made their way to stoke the fire to cook up Daryl's offering for dinner. He'd managed to bag 3 squirrels and 2 rabbits – more than enough food to last the two of them through the night and probably the next day. This also meant they wouldn't have to spend time hunting, giving them more time to get away.

Beth knew it was necessary for Daryl to find the extra food, but hated him being gone for so long. She was glad nothing had happened to either of them, but things had gotten too close for comfort with these guys. She could feel herself relax a little as the sounds of their snores became more pronounced. Soon it'd be time for them to make their break for it. She couldn't get out of there soon enough.