This started off as a smutty little one shot and morphed into something else. It demanded more from me and I hope I did it justice. I really wanted to write a Daryl/Beth story where I could get inside Daryl's head and try and round him off, give a voice to the thoughts behind those lingering looks. I don't know if I succeeded but it's a start. So this is it. Take it for what it is.

I have a soundtrack for this fic, mainly songs that inspired me. It won't make any difference to your enjoyment (or lack thereof) but I'm adding it here anyway and will add more for future chapters.

Sun and Moon - Black Lab
Save Yourself - Stabbing Westward
Hurt - Nine Inch Nails

This is a Bethyl story, if you don't like the pairing you won't like this.

And yeah, I don't own Daryl Dixon (or any other WD characters, but he's the one I am most upset about)


Chapter 1: Hell

She's crying. He only realises it after the third time she says his name, the pleading in her voice, the hitch in her throat.

"Daryl," her voice is loud enough to get his attention, loud enough to cut through the adrenalin-fuelled buzz that has his muscles twitching and his mind racing.

He turns to look at her. She stands in the middle of the ugly square rug, positioned like a chess piece.

"Daryl, please," she says again. She moves slightly towards him, arms trembling, fingers flexing. He's not sure it's an invitation but goes to her anyway. No thinking, none of the dumbass voices in his head getting in the way. He just goes, pulling her into his arms, crossbow clanging to the ground as he allows her to wrap herself around him, while he breathes in the musty scent of her sweat, her dirty hair. He doesn't care. It's the best smell in the world right now.

The past 24 hours have been hell. At least the seventh circle, maybe the eighth but Daryl can hardly remember because he hadn't been allowed to read Dante's Inferno as a kid. His old man had called it "pretentious college boy trash" and tossed it away with all his Mother's other books when Daryl was twelve. Made a huge fucking bonfire out of her collection while his Ma had cried into the spent cigarettes festering in her ashtray.

So, no he hadn't read it, but his Mom had told him about it once, right before one of her religious episodes when she holed herself up in her bedroom with a bottle of Jack and prayed with all her being that God would take her away from his old man.

And then she'd gone and died in a fire.

Sometimes God has a shitty sense of humour.

Either way he knows the basics - she'd given him that much - even if his recollection was fuzzy. Souls in torment, fire and brimstone and gnashing of teeth, criminals assigned to various levels of torture depending on the misdeed. So he figures if hell is a real place - something he doubts - and there's specific digs for murderers and sadists, then he's somehow just run through it and come out on the other side. Not unscathed, not reborn, not rejuvenated. Just alive. And right now, that's good enough for him. In fact it's better than good, it's positively, fucking fantastic with a goddamned cherry on top. Because there's been a spot of heaven in this day of hell. No, more than a spot, a great big chunk of the divine. He's glad he's not a religious man, or he'd start calling himself blessed or something. He isn't, so he won't, but he can't deny that by rights he should be dead, they should be dead. And yet somehow they weren't, even though it didn't make any sense, even though they should both be lying together in a ditch somewhere, bullets in their brains. A tangled, putrid final embrace, a fitting end to them and the world they lived in.

When heaven and hell combine sometimes it spits out some crazy-ass shit.

He'd found her.

Or, more accurately, Len had found her. That was hell's little joke, its little kick in the nuts.

Len. Fucking Len.

Daryl had been following Joe's group for three weeks, maybe a month. He couldn't remember any more, time loses its meaning in the apocalypse no matter how many times old men in stupid hats wind their wristwatches. What he does remember was that he was looking for an exit of sorts when it happened, a moment to slip away from these post-cataclysm, wackjob cowboys. He'd known from the first day they found him that it wasn't going to end well. Couldn't end well. These guys, they were the worst kind of bad news before the world went to shit. Now the kind of bad news they were didn't bear thinking about. He'd figured he could handle it, thought they were like Merle. They weren't. Merle was a pussy cat compared to them. Sure, his brother could talk the talk, but when it came down to it, Daryl didn't think even he would have been able to walk the walk. And Merle was right, Daryl had always been the sweet one. Ain't no way he would have been able to keep up with these hooligans, sooner or later some shit would have gone down and he wouldn't have been able to stay quiet. Loneliness was one thing, but this? This level of depravity? That was another.

Thus, he'd been planning his own extraction and the fancy-ass Atlanta house they were ransacking was as good a point as any to part ways. Not that he planned on a big farewell. Wasn't looking for a goodbye card or a cake. Keep things simple, uncomplicated. Wait until he was on watch and everyone was asleep and slip off into the night, down the road, into the forest, towards the tracks. With any luck, it would be early morning before they noticed he was gone.

At least that had been the plan.

It didn't work out. Not exactly.

He was stripping a red fleece blanket from a double bed when he heard Len shouting, "Claimed! Claimed!"

He'd ignored it at first even though Len sounded more excited than usual. Most likely it was something dumb, another cottontail, a doily, a deflated basketball. Who the hell knew what Len liked? The guy was wack.

But then he heard a small shriek followed by a thud and Len's increasingly agitated voice booming "Claimed! Claimed!" like some kind of mantra. It was the way he always said it, like he could somehow make things the way he wanted them if he just shouted loud and long enough. Daryl knew enough shitheads like that. Hell, there were times he was one of them - the more noise you made, the bigger dick you had. Asshole. And then he'd heard the shriek again followed by a short, clipped "Stop!"

His legs were moving before his brain was in gear. He knew that voice, knew it like he knew his own. It had done nothing but sass him and call him out and needle him since the prison fell. It had sung him to sleep at night and opened his eyes and heart in the morning. It was her, it had to be and he hated himself for a second when he realised he hoped it wasn't. As if there was another woman on earth that deserved whatever Len had in store for her.

Sometimes, the apocalypse makes you play fast and loose with morality.

It had been a clusterfuck from the second he'd set foot in the lounge.

It was Beth, he had to blink a few times and mentally slap himself to be sure, but it was her, clothes torn and filthy - that yellow golf shirt barely recognisable under the grime, cardigan gone, hair a greasy blond bird nest. But it was her and in a moment which he later identified as ridiculously whimsical, he thought she looked beautiful.

She was Beth, it wasn't like she could look anything else.

She lay curled up in a corner, next to a broken floor lamp, Len grabbing at her while she tried to shield her face.

He ran to her, saying her name like a dumbass lovesick schoolboy, giving away his weakness almost immediately as she raised her head and hope flared in those big baby blues. It damn near killed him,

But not as much as her bruises, her scratches, Len's filthy fingers pressing into the pale skin of her arms, so tightly that the little meat she had on her bones bulged like a plumped cushion on either side of his hands.

"Get off her!" he shouted pushing Len aside, wincing at the purple blooms appearing on her flesh.

His hand hadn't even brushed her skin before he was wrestled to the ground. Tony, Harley and Dan raining blows down on him, dragging him to a nasty chintz couch, immobilising him. Shutting him down.

Len was amused, more than amused actually. He stood up slowly, taking his time to spit blood from his mouth, eyes twinkling as he swaggered over to Beth, snapping his hand against her wrist, pulling her to her feet and drawing her close.

"I knew there was a bitch," his voice was gravelly, smug as he pressed his mouth to her hair, breathing deeply like she was his next meal. "No wonder you was walking around like a dead man. She's a fine one Bowman. A real fine one. Maybe a little skinny but oh so sweet where it counts."

She didn't flinch as Len pressed a hand to her chest, his lips ghosting close to her neck. She didn't do anything. She looked like she'd checked out, the way abused dogs do when it just becomes too much. When there's no more fight left and they go away to some safe corner of their heads. A look that says "do what you want, I won't fight you."

It broke his fucking heart.

But then Len grabbed her crotch, pressing a dirty palm against the faded fabric of her jeans. A hitching breath escaped her lips and there was a flicker in her eyes. He thought it was fear. Looking back he now knows it was anger. Rage.

He wrenched free, knocking Harley to the ground, stomping hard on Tony's feet as he hurled himself across the room.

He grabbed at Len's hair, filthy hands closing on the disgusting matted strands, and knocking his head against the wall hoping to see it pop like an overripe watermelon, before the rest of them regained their bearings and he was pummelled to the ground. They were harsher the second time round, using the butts of their rifles and a tyre iron they'd picked up from an abandoned gas stop. A searing pain exploded in his left shoulder as the iron came down again and again, bruising skin, spraining bone. He didn't care. All he wanted was to erase that glazed look from her eyes, wipe the crusted blood from her skin, soothe the purple bruises marring her flesh.

Maybe it took a while for her to realise it really was him, maybe she hadn't had time to give herself that mental slap, maybe she only realised the gravity of the situation when she saw him go down under their boots but suddenly she was sobbing his name, shouting to leave him be, twisting away from Len's grasp, fighting and screaming and biting. Feral, wild but small. The smallest of the group. No match for a full grown man, even a cocksucker like Len. When he cuffed her she went down, almost immediately, head banging hard against the empty wall cabinet before she sprawled out on the floor.

Their eyes met briefly across the room. A moment that said nothing and everything as he thought back to their last encounter. The way she'd needled his feelings out of him, the way she'd even given him hope that they could have it, that she wouldn't reject him. All he wanted to do was tell her now, once and for all how he felt, before it was too late.

But the fact was, it was too late.

(So what change your mind?)

You, Beth. Fucking, you.

As the blows rained down on him, he wanted to laugh at the irony that yes, he had found a way out. After all the time he'd been looking, this was the easiest way to check out. It should have been funny. But it wasn't because he was leaving Beth behind. That was another of hell's little jokes. As always anything he touched turned to shit. She'd been drawn into the vortex of his cursed existence and now he was leaving her, alone and afraid. They'd abuse her and then discard her, if she was lucky.

If she wasn't, well...

Vaguely, he was aware of Harley's raised boot coming towards his face. This was it. This was the way it ended. He wasn't afraid of dying, hell couldn't be worse than this. The ninth circle was looking good right now, the ring for traitors, because that's what he was. That's where he deserved to burn for checking out on her now.

He just prayed they wouldn't damage his brain too badly … so he could come back and eat them alive.

And then Joe ordered a halt.

"We ain't animals, gentlemen," he said and Daryl tried to snort but a stream of blood erupted from his nose instead.

Joe looked at him, eyes cool, mouth set but not angry.

"Look at you Daryl," Joe's voice sounded like he was admonishing a disobedient child as he pulled him to his feet and roughly shoved him back onto the couch. He sat down with a wet thwack, his left shoulder jarring, blood running down his arm and seeping into the ugly flower patterned upholstery. He suddenly felt absurdly worried about dirtying the furniture, although there wasn't much that wouldn't be an improvement on the baby blue background and cerise roses. Christ, there were even dogs on it, beagle puppies with goofy grins. Some people man, some fucking people.

"Gentlemen, I need everyone to just calm down," Joe said evenly, sitting down on an overstuffed, yet equally ugly armchair across from Daryl. "Take a breath, sit your asses down and just reflect."

"I claimed her Joe," Len's voice had a petulant edge. "But he tried to take her anyway. He broke the rules Joe. He knows the rules and he broke them."

"Yes, Len, yes he did," Joe agreed never taking his eyes away from Daryl. "But let's all just take a moment here. Get our bearings."

They sat in silence for a while, all eyes on Joe, waiting for him to say something, anything. For his part, Joe remained still, looking out the window at the dreary grey sky, ignoring them all, leaning on the silence drawing it out. Outside the cutlery barrier they'd hung around the house tinkled in the wind but inside it was quiet. Quiet except for her small, hitching breaths and Len's heavy panting. Panting that would become heavier as the night wore on.

Harley shuffled. Tony scratched. Daryl seethed, watching Beth through bloodied eyes. She stared back, eyes locked on him as if he was some kind of answer, a blessing, a saviour. He wasn't. Because God sure as shit didn't answer prayers with Daryl Dixon.

Then, eventually, after what seemed like decades Joe looked up, his gaze drifting over each of them, barely registering Beth shoved into the corner, Len looming over her, watching her like some kind of rabid guard dog.

"Now, we know the rules. Claimed means claimed. That's how things work," his voice was even, measured, as looked Daryl directly in the eye. "Daryl, do you have a previous claim on this woman?"

Daryl spat blood.

"Daryl?"

"Yeah," he said eventually, trying to keep his eyes on Joe, away from Beth and the hope that was written all over her face. "She's mine."

"You claimed her?" Joe asked.

"We were together before."

"Before we found you at the roadside?" It was a stupid question. Of course it had been before they found him. What did they think? He'd been carrying her around in his backpack? And what? Decided now to let her out for air? Fuck these guys, fuck them with a bag full of salty dicks.

"Yeah."

"Ok," Joe's voice was oddly comforting and he turned to look at Len and Beth. "I think we'd all do well here to consider Daryl's point of view for a moment. This was his bitch. He's had her, they were together and she belonged to him. So he sees her now. In his mind she's already claimed. Claimed by him."

"Aw, hell no Joe," Len said, dragging Beth closer. "I saw her first. I claimed her. I don't give a shit if he's had her a hundred times over. She's mine because I claimed her. Those are the rules."

"Screw the rules," Daryl growled.

"Yes, Len, yes you did," Joe agreed but the irritation in his voice was clear. "And she's yours now. I ain't disputing that. No one is. All I'm saying is that, in this case, there ain't no reason to beat a man to death. Tony, imagine it was Lenore. Or what if it was Betty? What I am saying Gentlemen, is that Daryl ain't breaking the rules. This is more of a property dispute. And Daryl, we can talk about your role in this group in the morning. We have a good thing here and I for one don't want to lose it. You're valuable, but you got to follow the rules man, ain't no other way around it."

Daryl looked up blinking away blood.

"But Daryl," Joe said evenly, "This Beth here, she's Len's now. You gotta let it go. "

It took a few more punches to subdue him.

XXXXXXX

Len was a strange cat. Long after Joe, Harley, Tony and Billy got bored and went to bed, he was still parading Beth around like she was some carnival prize at a long forgotten funfair. He gave her bizarre orders: "bring me that vase", "break that picture", "sit on the stairs". It made no sense until you realised he got off equally on the anticipation than the actual deed. He liked the power, the ability to enforce his will, to scare her with her complete lack of autonomy first before settling in to show her what he could actually do to her.

For the most part Len's show was really nothing more than childish taunts, more to piss Daryl off than anything else. Yeah, he'd eventually take it further but he had a hard on for making Daryl watch first. It was a subtlety Daryl hadn't expected. But when he'd given it a moment's thought it made some kind of sick sense.

But it had to escalate. Daryl knew that. There was no way Len would allow himself to be the brunt of any limp dick jokes if he didn't seal the deal. And frankly, there was no way he wasn't going to rape her to prove a point to her, to Daryl, to himself.

The others had left Dan both on watch and to keep an eye on Daryl but chances were that a herd could take down the house before Dan would be able to tear his gaze from Beth. He'd done little more than tie Daryl's hands and feet and pretty much left him on the couch while he got all leery watching the little spectacle Len was putting on.

It must have been around two in the morning when Len decided to rev things up a notch. He grabbed Beth around the neck and kissed her face, sloppy wet kisses that left a sheen of saliva on her skin. She recoiled and he laughed pulling out his knife and cutting her shirt off before forcing her to kiss him again, threatening to shoot Daryl in the head if she didn't make it good. She did. She came through like a fucking champ but the disgust on her face couldn't be disguised.

"Oh this ones a peach ain't she? Sweet as freshly baked apple pie," Len sniffed at her as she flinched.

Daryl shifted against his bonds.

"You want a slice of my pie Daryl?" Len asked as he wrapped a hand around her neck. "You wanna taste?"

This guy. This fucking guy.

And that was when she put a knife through Len's eye.

(You gotta stay who you are)

The problem was, Daryl realised later when he had a moment to think, people underestimated Beth, they always had. Sure, give her someone else's baby to raise, put her in charge of bringing up the next generation while everyone else messed about farming and running councils, but all hell broke loose if she suggested going on a run.

"Oh she can't, what about the children."

"Oh she doesn't know anything about guns."

"She'll slow us down."

"She'll hold us up."

Yeah, so let's leave her like fucking Sleeping Beauty in a fucking ivory tower. Don't sweat it, the men will save her. Caveman style.

So she was small and slight, so she was young. So goddamn what? The meek shall inherit the earth and all that.

And that's why no one thought to frisk her for weapons. Sure Len was feeling her up but from his glazed eyes and slack jaw, he wouldn't have been able to find a rocket launcher if she'd strapped one to her ass.

So truth be told Daryl hadn't been surprised when she'd pulled his hunting knife - that goddamn hunting knife he'd spent ages looking for - out of her boot and driven it hard and fast into Len's eye. He tried to scream but the sound had been cut off abruptly as she gave the blade a vicious twist and withdrew it, his blood spraying from the wound and gushing out all over her face and bra in a messy red wave.

This guy. This fucking guy.

Dan, never quick off the bat at the best of times, was still flailing around for his gun when she made it to the couch. As he stood to grab her Daryl threw his head back connecting with the cartilage in Dan's nose. More blood sprayed, a loud shriek as he lost his balance and Beth buried the knife in his chin, up through his skull.

He could already hear beds creaking upstairs as she sliced through the bonds tying his wrists and ankles.

She said his name and her voice was a little breathless. Sure it was mostly relief but there was something more, something he wasn't sure he knew how to deal with right then. Luckily, he didn't have to as he threw her his angel wing vest.

He told her they had to go and it was like they were back at the prison and he's watching her father get decapitated by a mad man. If she'd noticed, she said nothing, just looked around and grabbed Len's pack, slinging it over her shoulder and he could swear he heard her whisper "Claimed, Douchebag" as she did.

He wanted to tell her she ain't gonna find nothing good in the bag. It's Len's after all. Probably got an ant farm or a half a bottle of self tan in there, probably both, he'd seen Len claim a Barbie doll once. Guy was wack. But he didn't, just hoisted his crossbow and backpack, wincing as pain shot through his arm, and held out his hand to her. She took it and he hadn't had the time to contemplate how much he's missed this, missed her. So he didn't. He couldn't because then they'd never leave and Joe would find them in a pool of dead men's blood.

Instead, he just twined his fingers through hers as they ran to the front door, down the steps, under the chain of cutlery and hubcaps and into the woods. When he'd heard Joe, Harley, Billy and Tony behind them, he just held tighter and ran faster.

And they'd run all night. Thinking back, he doesn't know how they did it. It was dark, they slipped, they fell, they collided with low branches and tripped over exposed roots. She was exhausted, he was wounded, but they hadn't stopped, not once, not even to take a piss or a drink of water. They'd just gone for it, ignoring the scrapes and the bruises, navigating the uneven terrain trying to put as much distance as they could between them and Joe, between them and the walkers haunting the woods, between them and anyone. There were times she wanted to give up, swearing that her legs couldn't handle it any more, that she was too exhausted and even though his muscles were burning, his knees threatening to give way beneath him, he told her to shut the fuck up because there was no way on God's earth he was losing her again and he'd carry her if he fucking had to. They both knew there was no way he could do that so she just kept up.

(Sooner or later, we always run)

The car was a lucky break, the luckiest since the prison fell. Beth saw it in the hazy dawn light, parked next to the railway tracks. A black Yaris, small and compact, a girly car, but it had a three-quarter tank of gas and a spare key under the licence plate. And as Daryl leaned down on the accelerator he had a wild thought, a crazy, messed up thought of Hershel telling him to look after Beth, to keep his girl, their girl, safe.

He shook his head, gotta keep moving, can't let the stink of sentimentality get in your way. You just gotta go. And he went. Voices roaring in his head over the adrenalin pumping in his veins.

Sometimes the only way out of hell is through.

And through he went, the little car jerking along the gravel of the tracks, choking, grumbling and screaming its objections to his manhandling. He knew it wasn't made for this but he didn't care. He hoped the noise attracted more walkers, a whole herd of them directed at Joe. A herd that would tear them apart, destroy them the same way they'd wanted to destroy his girl.

He almost missed the road, only seeing it at the last second while swerving to miss a group of four walkers, two adults, two kids. A family group. He wondered crazily if walkers did retain memory somewhere, if somehow they stuck together in the groups they knew in life, the ones they were dimly drawn to. He shook his head. Don't let the madness in, Dixon. Once it's in it never gets out, once it's in you start seeing chupacabras and hallucinating about missing family members and quoting books you never read.

He didn't need that now.

Beth didn't need that now.

Initially he just wanted to get away, his focus completely on getting Joe off their trail, but when he hit the actual road and the car stopped wailing at him, all he wanted to do was drive until there was no more distance left to put between Beth and Joe. He knew he wasn't thinking right, they needed to find a place to stop, a place to sleep before the gas ran out. The car was a hell of a find and they'd need it again but every time he thought of slowing down, every time they passed a house that looked empty he sped up a little, telling himself just one more mile, just one more minute and they'd be safe.

He didn't know how far they drove but the gas light was blinking by the time she put a gentle hand on his arm.

"Daryl, stop," she said softly. "Stop."

It took him a moment to snap out of it, to realise what had been going on, to remember that they hadn't said two words to each other, even though it felt like they'd been speaking forever. Even though he knew it was all in his head. His questions, his confessions.

"We left them behind hours ago," her voice was steady but there was a catch in it. A catch that told him she wasn't nearly as calm as she wanted him to think. "You can't drive with that arm."

"S'fine," he mumbled as the newly remembered pain rushed to his shoulder.

"Daryl, I got this. If you want to carry on driving, let me."

"S'fine," he said again.

"Daryl, I killed two men back there. I can drive a car," her voice was sterner, agitated.

He looked at her, her bloodstained face, her bruised arms, the way his vest gaped open and the grimy bra underneath. He thought it had once been pale pink, pale pink and girly, with a smattering of polka dots and cream lace. It was just a dirty smear now, a brown mess of Len's crusted blood.

"Yeah," he said, putting his foot on the brake. "Yeah."

They swapped and she drove, slower than him, carefully, looking out for somewhere they could stop.

She asked once if he was ok and he'd grunted a response. He tried to ask where she'd been, what happened but she asked him if they could talk about it later. She was here now and that's all that mattered. And he'd said ok, that was all that mattered. Ain't nothing in the world that mattered more.

It was past noon and drizzling miserably, when she found a small gated housing complex on the outskirts of some town where rich, old people went to die. He'd sat mutely by her side, trying to make sense of the day, still not believing she was here, with him, alive. He wondered if this was some kind of divine trick and she was an illusion. She was hell's real kick in the nuts.

"We can stay here," she said as the car came to a stop.

(Maybe we can stay a while)

He waited listening, a bird singing, the gentle pitter patter of the rain, the gurglehiss of stray walkers.

Her gentle breathing over the thrum of his own heart.

The silence stretched and he turned to her.

"Beth, I…," he began not knowing where he was going or what he was going to say.

She looked at him expectantly. And her eyes were so big and so blue and so deep, that he swallowed whatever words may have come to him.

"Nothing," he said and was he dreaming again or did she look disappointed?.

And then he was all action. Don't think, don't consider, don't be a goddamn dumbass like you were the last time, just do what you do best Dixon. Just do. He jumped out of the car, and pulled the gate open and stabbed two lonely walkers on the drive. She drove in and turned the car 180 degrees so that they could get away quickly if they needed to and in that moment he wanted to tell her how impossibly proud of her he was. Sure, she'd killed two men, God knows how many others, she'd held her own under impossible circumstances but somehow the simple act of turning the car around spoke volumes more about her instincts for survival. Yeah, it was crazy and stupid and his priorities were really messed up but he couldn't give a rat's ass.

He bolted the gate. It wouldn't keep humans out but it'd do against walkers and maybe he could find a padlock or a chain of some kind to secure it.

She climbed out of the car and stood next to him surveying the row of houses in front of them. Eight identical white terraced houses, opening out onto an enclosed communal garden at the back. He could make out a greenish swimming pool and a set of swings, a small barbeque covered by a tattered blue and green beach umbrella.

"Which one?" she asked.

He pointed to the one closest to the gate. "This one's as good as any."

She nodded, pulling her knife out of her boot, walking up the stairs to bang loudly on the front window. They waited a minute, but the house was empty and slowly they crept inside.

It wasn't what you'd expect from houses like these. He'd thought it would have been fancier, maybe not as fancy as the ones he'd ransacked with Joe but not quite the dump it was. To be fair, it looked like it had been abandoned long before the world went to shit and never opened again until now. It smelled musty but not of death and rot and walkers which was a nice change. The only furniture was a sagging couch, an old stained mattress, a broken mirror and an ugly square black mat. Everything else from the cupboards to the grimy bathroom had been stripped, except for some plastic ice-cream tubs, which he somehow had the foresight to stick out on the windowsills to collect rainwater. Other than that there was nothing, not even an empty shampoo bottle or a tattered shower curtain.

In his periphery he noticed that she'd stopped in front of the broken mirror, eyes locked on the jagged shards that distorted her features into something monstrous and unrecognisable. If he was thinking straight he would have gone to her and pulled her away, given her a task to occupy her mind and hands.

(We all have jobs to do)

But he was still riding his adrenalin high, tearing around the small house, looking for something to build a barrier, a lock for the gate, anything to keep them safe. He shouted random commands at her, not really knowing what they were or why, all he knew was that he wanted them secure, her secure. She wasn't listening, he could see that her attention focused on the broken mirror, but it made him feel better to shout something, to keep them moving because he was petrified of what would happen when he stopped.

And that was when she started to sob. He wasn't sure why but he thought it had something to do with seeing her mangled image covered in blood, seeing how badly his vest covered her and understanding how this had all come to pass.

And when she said his name, he knew he couldn't ignore her, couldn't pretend she was just some girl having a meltdown. And that's when he went to her. That's how he ended up holding her tightly on the stupid square rug, how his arms had locked around her and nothing could have pulled him away. That's how he remembered how good it was to be with Beth Greene and how he'd let the whole damn world burn if it meant keeping her safe.

(We should burn it down)

And now? Well now, he knows the hug has gone on for much longer than appropriate, even for people trying to deal with every demon they ever had inside them. But he doesn't care. If Beth Greene needs him, that's where he is, if the gods deign that she should find comfort in him, then that's what he'll be for her. Comfort.

This is for Beth, it's only ever been for Beth.

Eventually she pulls him to the couch. It's old and broken on the one side but hell, at least it's not blue chintz. Her crying has stopped, but her face is still stained with blood and tears. He holds her, even though his arm is killing him. His vest looks ridiculous on her and probably exposes more than it covers, but he likes that she's wearing something of his so he doesn't say anything, although eventually lets go of her long enough to give her a Henley from his pack. It was once a pale blue, now it's a grimy grey but it's cleaner than anything either of them have on.

He lets her look at his shoulder after she insists. It's bruised but he can move it and she uses some of the bottled water from his pack and a rag to clean the blood off him. He does the same for her, hands shaking as he wipes her face and neck, fingertips brushing her cool skin as he reaches her delicate collarbones before handing her the rag to clean further. He looks away out of force of habit when she changes out of his vest and her bra, although he suspects that this is really nothing more than an artificial show of modesty between them and one that will soon be discarded. His shirt is ridiculously big on her and she swims in it but it's not covered in blood and the smell of himself on her does things to him he finds worrisome and exhilarating at the same time.

When she's as clean as she will be for now she moves back next to him on the couch.

She rests her head on the backrest and smiles wanly, letting out a deep sigh. And he's still not sure that she's really here, that she's back with him and he starts to worry this is a dream and he'll wake up in a cold garage with Len claiming something or other out of his pack and this whole screwed up cycle will start all over again. He has a crazy thought that maybe he died and this is the waiting room, purgatory or some shit like that. And Beth is an angel, waiting by his side until his fate is decided. He wonders how he will fare. He guesses not well. Too many failures, too many broken promises. He'll end up standing beside men like The Governor, Len … Merle. And all the good people, Hershel, T-Dog, Lori, Dale, Andrea, Sophia will be somewhere else, somewhere far away. And then soon Beth will be gone too. He's destined to lose her over and over again.

He shakes his head, his thoughts are becoming fractured and crazy even for him. He feels himself being pulled into an abyss of despair and insanity, losing his grip one finger at a time as he tries desperately to make sense of everything.

And then she's there, like a goddamn lifeline out of his mind. She takes his hand in her own, fingers twisting around his, grip tightening and it's like she's reeling him in, pulling him back to land. He looks down at their laced hands. His, dirty and clumsy covering hers, small and delicate. She's tiny and that makes him feel boorish, hulking, even though he's neither particularly tall nor broad.

"What happened Daryl? Why were you with them?" She asks and her voice is another thread to follow back to reality.

He sighs and, meeting her eyes, suddenly he can't help but think of the day he found Bob. How he'd waved away their concerns that he didn't know them, didn't know the kind of people they were. He felt that way when he met Joe. Anything to not be alone. Anyone to fill that void. He told himself that what kind of people they were didn't matter. But it does matter. Like how it matters to cover a dead woman's naked body, how it matters to write thank you notes and remember that walkers were once people, people like him. People like Beth.

He pulls out of her grasp to put his arm around her drawing her against him so that her head rests in the hollow below his shoulder. She's a perfect fit against him as she winds around him in that special Beth way, that way that makes him feel like a terrified schoolboy and the biggest badass of all time simultaneously. He wants to laugh at himself from a few months ago, the dumbass who barely managed to touch her elbow and tried so hard to stop his gaze from resting on the perfect flesh of her creamy shoulder.

He drags her closer wrapping his other arm around her, resting his chin on her head, thinking he should kiss the dirty mop of hair before realising that he already has and that her hand has slipped under the edges of his shirt, resting against the sweaty flesh of his chest. His heart is racing and he knows she can hear it.

The cat's out of the bag and he's fucked if he knows whether its an indoor or outdoor one.

"I was waiting," he says, his mouth dry.

"Waiting for what?"

"You," there's no use denying it any longer. She knows, she has to.

She does. The truth of it is in her "oh" like it was once before.

He waits. This is her chance. Her chance to untangle herself from him, from this inappropriate embrace where she's wearing no bra and a shirt so big the tiniest movement causes it to gape.

But she doesn't, she just presses harder against him, turning her face so that her cheek rests against the flesh of his chest. He thinks she might have kissed him as she moved but he's not sure.

He wants to ask her again where she's been but he doesn't want to make her uncomfortable, so he runs a hand up her arm, across her shoulder and to the back of her neck where he fingers the downy strands of hair. She sucks in a deep breath and he thinks she'll pull away, part of him wants her to pull away. But she doesn't. She touches his collar bones lightly with the tip of her index finger and his skin tightens into gooseflesh beneath her hands. He can feel the heat rising on his face as his cheeks flush and then racing downwards, a mile a minute, to his groin.

He tries to shift, conscious that he has seconds before his body's betrayal becomes plain to her, but she moves with him, oblivious of his intentions or discomfort.

He swallows, makes a show of looking out the window. It's gloomy and rainy. No change then.

"You should get some sleep," he says and even as he says it, he's wishing he hadn't because he's already anticipating the cold emptiness she'll leave behind when she goes.

"So should you."

"Saw a mattress in the spare room," he tells her but she burrows harder against him and he knows there's no way she's missed his arousal. For a second he's wildly embarrassed. The need to push her away and say something awful wrestles with his need for her to stay right where she is. But not very hard. Or very diligently.

"I'm not leaving you."

(I won't leave you)

"All right."

He lets go of her long enough to grab the blanket from his pack and pull it around them. It's thick and warm and she trembles against him as he covers her.

He's tired and his body, especially his shoulder, aches. But he holds her, scared that if he lets her go, she'll just be gone again. And this will all be a dream and he'll be back with Joe and Len, raiding houses and fighting a losing battle against his demons.

She shifts against him and he gasps as her head bumps against his bruises and he knows he can't do this for too much longer.

"Beth?"

"Hmmm?"

"I need to..." He makes a vague gesture at the couch, and grimaces as his muscles cramp up with the movement.

"Yeah," she says, scooting over as he lies down on his unwounded side. He waits to see if she'll balk and decide the mattress is a better idea after all but she doesn't miss a beat, stretching out next to him, pulling the blanket with her, head against his chest, legs pressed against his. He hesitates for a second not knowing where to put his hands but she snuggles again and takes his arm, draping it over her waist, lips fluttering against his skin.

He pulls her a little closer, hand splayed on the small of her back, and she looks up at him and her eyes are enormous in the gray afternoon light. He stares back, waiting. She kisses his jaw once and then his cheek. When she moves to touch her mouth to his chin, he moves with her, ever so slightly so that his lips brush hers. He can't explain it. He's already cursing himself for being such a damn fool, for pushing his luck with her, but she falls into him, allowing her mouth to linger on his, lips parting slightly before pulling away and locking that cool blue gaze on him. He stares back, afraid to move, afraid to even breathe, wishing he could find a way to keep his heart in his chest and not his throat. Wishing there was somewhere else to look other than her face, those pink lips, high cheekbones and cornflower blue eyes.

And then seemingly satisfied with what she has seen, she rests her head against his chest, planting a chaste kiss on his skin. And despite the fact that he can't hear anything but the pounding of his heart as it pounds away like a freaking jackhammer on steroids inside him, it's seconds before he's asleep.