WARNING: This is a work of Bethyl fanfiction, meaning that I'm making up scenes and situations that are not true to the show* and have the intended results of a Beth+Daryl pairing.

*also ignoring the comics because these characters don't exist in that world

If you like what I do, consider following/chatting with me on Twitter (Sintalion) or on here or pass the story along to others. I am an aspiring writer and I enjoy meeting new people!

SUMMARY: Weeks after the events initiated in Season Four wind down, the group is back on the road to Washington. Beth and Daryl go on their first hunt together since her return.

Mild winds of late September blew through the orchard, ushering hornets from rotten honeycrisp and tussling the hair of Beth Greene, who seemed unbothered by stinger and temperature. She took a long step through overgrown raspberries, wincing at what thorns snared her calves. "I never really liked apples, but momma would make these pies with cinnamon and brown sugar: when I close my eyes I can still imagine the taste of a hot piece dripping in vanilla ice cream."

Daryl Dixon paced the row beside, crossbow loaded and pointed groundward for the time being. The whitetail flushed from near camp outpaced them both, but with winter coming on and several mouths to feed, a couple snared hares and a blue jay were not enough to allow the deer a free pass.

"You know, I remember the recipe. Maybe we'll find someplace that has butter and flour and I can bake one. I'll even let you claim the biggest piece."

"Don't use that word."

Her prattling on about a pie hardly interested him and she knew it, but the occasional grunt provided a certain satisfaction that the connection from weeks prior remained. An actual sentence had been a mistake. He cursed to himself as Beth broke through the aligned tree barrier, ducking under a large branch. "Which?"

"Claim."

Even in the shade her eyes were bright. The word rolled around a mouth open in a grin that wasn't sure it should exist. Her pinched eyebrows indicated she was afraid she'd upset him and their delicate balance. He wished that was the case; would've made this hunt easier if she'd gone back to treating him the way she had at the farm.

"Claim? Why?"

For a long moment he stared, then shouldered his bow and walked forward. "S'go. Deer's getting on."

The sudden rattle of breath through a dead chest relegated her repeated question to a hushed whisper. Her footsteps fell to his right and a few seconds later stopped as her new bow creaked.

"Tell me, or I'm claiming her, too."

A sigh. "When I sto-" He quieted, tongue suddenly aware that every word mattered in a way it hadn't before. An arrow punctuated the silence; the approaching walker crumpled. "When I was lookin for you, the guys I was with, they followed a rule. First one to claim somethin owned it."

"That's a little barbaric, Daryl."

"It worked." He went on to retrieve the arrow, doubling back to relocate the deer, now that its tracks intersected with walker feet. She bent beside him, a diligent student as he explained how to find the right path.

"You shouldn't just not say something because of what it meant," Beth said, tracing blood off razor-edged grass- red blood, clean blood. No decaying flesh or fabric caught beside, only a bunch of hairs.

"Deer probably smashed itself on the rocks a half mile back."

"Daryl."

She wiped her finger on her jeans and the action snapped him into a brusque "You mean like fucking goddamnit?"

"Yeah." He waited, confident in victory a brief moment. And then her smile widened and she sighed a breathy "Like fucking goddamnit" as though Hershel himself peered over her shoulder.

Arrow at the ready, he headed for orchard's end. "If a leg's busted, the deer won't make it over the fence."

"What I'm trying to say is" and she jogged to catch up, "change the meaning."

He spun, catching her across the chest with an outstretched arm. "Am I the only one who's gonna provide tonight?"

Her eyes fixed on the grasses, and then turned on him with the determination she'd shown when he first taught her to track. "Daryl, we never talked about what happened. Rick says you haven't talked to anyone."

"Don't need to."

"Hershel was my dad, not you."She grabbed his wrist. His blood ran a little hotter beneath her palm. "I'm not your responsibility and I don't want to be."

He shrugged her off, eager to put space between their bodies. "Good, cause I ain't out here for you."

A graceful head rose behind the last tree in the orchard. One ear rotated towards them. Moments later his arrow ended the doe's life.

"Claimed!" Beth shouted as soon as they closed in.

Daryl gave a quick glance around the area before settling in to watch Beth's hips take her assertively toward the tree. "Nothin worth claimin that I see." A second walker, beekeeper, by the shambles of white fabric, fell to his shot.

"That's because you have your eyes on the wrong prize." A jump secured the branch and soon enough thin fingers twisted stem from tree. She rubbed the apple into a clean spot on her shirt, an old habit, one he wouldn't have bothered keeping. "Daryl Dixon you sure missed out," she said around a mouthful.

"Guess so." Foot braced against the walker's pasty skin and red lips, he yanked the arrow free.

"Death's got us all claimed." She said over his shoulder, offering the other half. He didn't accept, focus somewhere between her hand and the body. If he squinted, he could barely tell woman from corpse.

"Don't tell me you're afraid of germs."

"Nah." He rose. "S'claimed."

"Come on, I was joking."

"Your arm shakes when you shoot on an empty stomach."

"I know what you're doing." Of all the things he expected, a sharp slap across his chin was the least. "You see me and you see one of them. After everything I've been through, you still see the girl at the prison holding Judith. That's how Rick sees me. And Glenn and Maggie and even Rosita. I'm a countdown to all of you."

Daryl didn't deny the truth, just straightened to his full height. Beth he got along with; when she'd returned he expected more of the same, and it occurred to him now that the people who burned down the house weren't the people hacking a deer into manageable pieces.

"So?"

"Only Eugene sees a woman."

"He says that about anyone with a round ass and tits," he said, racking his brain to recall when he'd ever seen the two together.

"At least he looks." She dropped the apple at his feet. "Eat before it browns."

He did, because it was food and shouldn't go to waste, and sat to observe her work on the doe solo. They'd near crested the hill of the orchard; from this vantage point a pair of wandering roamers stood little chance. Spitting out the core, the man reached for his bow.

"Wait." A hand she'd made an effort to clean fell across his arm. "C'mere."

"Those things can kill someone."

"I haven't forgotten Dale." She tugged him further beneath the tree. "I'm not stupid. Just, come on."

There were only two, he supposed. And the deer wasn't going anywhere. "Jus for a minute." Because he was curious what the hell she was up to and there was plenty of time before nightfall. She pulled herself onto the lowest limb and then up a few more, beckoning for him to come and sit beside her on a sturdy branch. A longing look towards the ground was the only resistance to her will he showed.

Somewhere higher on a cardinal whistled. Untangling a leaf from her hair, Beth cast her eyes onto filtered sunlight, before finally pointing towards the stumbling dead.

"Surviving ain't just breathing. You gotta live, or you're no better than them."

"We're better." More of a question than an agreement or statement.

"Yeah."

They sat in silence for a time, until a soft gasp from Beth and her outstretched hand broke the silence.

"Claimed."He beat her this time, and his conquest felt so good he kicked his legs into empty air. Her hand dropped, but a smile teased the corners of her lips, lips that were chapped and pink and alive.

When his fingers brushed her spine on the way to the apple her eyebrows pinched together -afraid again- but why? He paused to consider the problem, stubble pressed against her throat as he leaned.

"Daryl, what're you doing?"

"Breathin."

He felt her shoulders tighten and relax into a laugh. "That's all?"

"Yeah" wasn't what he wanted to say, but all that came out. With a hand on his thigh to brace herself, she slid off the branch and landed safely. Pocketing the apple, he jumped down after her. "Hey, watch that ankle. Piggybacks ain't free with friendship."

"They should be." The curve between her elbow and waist framed the walkers. He made a mental note to pay attention to where Eugene slept tonight.