"Mrs. Dixon – err, Greene? I'm so sorry. Ms. Greene? Telephone, line three."
Beth Greene snorted with irritation at the intercom on her desk and the voice of the frumpy secretary, Carol, that she'd hired a few months ago, who still couldn't get her damn name right. She'd only been Beth Dixon for a few weeks into Carol's employment, as she'd been waiting on the divorce settlement to be approved so that she could legally reclaim her maiden name, and she'd never even introduced herself as Beth Dixon to the woman.
She sighed and pressed the button for line three and was instantly annoyed by the caller, who didn't even wait for her to speak before opening his mouth.
"When can I pick up my shit, Beth?" The ex-husband himself. His voice was rough, tired maybe. Funny how, since they weren't together anymore, he'd been able to actually call her. Repeatedly. Talk to her, even if his conversation consisted mostly a few grunted words. It was a lot more than he'd spoken to her over the past six months of pure hell in which she'd been living.
"I told you, Daryl. Several times, I've told you, actually. You can come by tonight when I get off of work." Beth's voice was hard, even to her own ears. Good. And she'd spoken very slowly, as if he needed her to in order to understand the simplicity of her words.
There was nothing but silence from the other line for several seconds. She studied her manicured nails as she tapped them impatiently on her desk, waiting for him to respond.
"Time, Beth. Give me a fuckin' time." Now his voice was becoming impatient. And it made her want to laugh.
"The time when I get off of work tonight. I can't predict the future. Can you?" She retorted, scanning over the titles of the most recent manuscripts that'd been placed on her desk for editing. She had a lot of work to do. And it was only early afternoon; she didn't know if more work would demand her attention before the end of the day.
"Yeah, actually. I can. Leave your second fuckin' home at five o'clock an' drive your ass straight to your actual home. Be here by six. I'll be waitin'." He grunted in response with just the tiniest hint of arrogance.
Before Beth could respond, the line went dead.
3 years earlier
"Hey, babe. Can you throw me that pack o' nails?"
Beth and Daryl Dixon were newly-married and had just purchased their first home together. A little ranch house nestled in one of the up-and-coming suburbs of Atlanta. Three bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths, full basement, little fenced-in yard. Perfect starter home. They'd been lucky that Beth's father had stumbled upon it when he'd come to the city earlier that fall to deliver some crops from his farm.
Daryl was hanging up photos and pieces of art on the walls at Beth's request. Didn't complain either, even though Beth knew he was far more interested in creating his basement man-cave and hanging up his mounted deer antlers in the garage.
"Look straight?" He asked, standing back a bit from the portrait he'd just finished hanging – a large framed photo from their wedding day.
Beth smiled as she studied the picture. Found herself distracted by the way they were smiling, by the way they were looking at each other during the moment it was captured – specifically, the way he was looking at her in it, like she were the only thing keeping him alive.
She approached her husband – the man she'd met at some dingy hole-in-the-wall bar 5 years earlier, when she'd been a sophomore in college. With just a few shots of whiskey and some shy conversation, the rough, older man had swept her right off of her stilettos - which she'd gladly later replaced with biker boots. She wrapped her arms around him from behind, kissing a path from his shoulder blade to the lower part of his neck.
"Looks perfect, hubby," she responded, laughing at the nickname she'd given him since they'd exchanged vows. He wasn't fond of it, but she'd found that he was fond of the way it made her laugh. "I love you so much, Daryl Dixon."
"I love you too, Beth Dixon," he said, taking her face into his hands and pressing his mouth over hers.
Beth spent the afternoon at work reading through manuscript after manuscript, editing and filing and re-editing and re-filing. She must've drunk an entire pot of coffee since one p.m. to keep her going, which was just great since the reason she'd needed it in the first place was because she didn't sleep well. Hadn't been for several months. Now she'd be up all night and needing more damn coffee tomorrow.
She got up to use the restroom, answering Carol's overly-eager greeting as she passed by her desk with a half-assed wave.
After finishing her business, she took a moment to smooth out her clothes. She hated the dress code here. Always had. Pencil skirts and closed-toe heels that made her feel 69 instead of 29 years old. She washed her hands and checked the mirror – noticed the subtle bags under her eyes that'd once been so bright and blue and engaging. She really needed to get more sleep.
Sighing, she smoothed her blonde hair before moving toward the door. Few more scripts to go and she could get out of here. She wondered vaguely about the time, but then decided that she didn't really care.
She pushed the heavy bathroom door open – and directly into Carol's face.
"Oh my god, Carol," she started, placing a hand on the older woman's shoulder. "I'm so sorry, are you okay?"
Carol's features were twisted up into a grimace and she had one of her hands cupped over her nose – which didn't appear to be bleeding or broken or anything, thankfully – but nodded her head vigorously as she mumbled a muffled "yes ma'am, I'm fine!" All with a smile. Jesus – this woman was a human resource wet dream.
"I was coming to find you," Carol said, rubbing her forehead as her eyes filled with concern. "Your – uh. You have a visitor, Ms. Greene."
Beth glanced at the clock on the wall in the open area of the department.
"Fuck," she muttered under her breath. Six thirty-nine.
Carol was still hovering and looked entirely alarmed at Beth's response, so Beth gave her a quick, reassuring nod and a brief smile before walking down the aisle dividing the cubicles, which were all but empty, toward her office.
The door was closed, so she took a moment to run her fingers across her brand-new name plaque.
Beth inhaled deeply and pushed the door open. She instantly recognized the back of her ex-husband, who was standing near her desk, his eyes undoubtedly roaming over the chaos of it all. Irritation bubbling strongly inside of her, she forcefully slammed the door shut to capture his attention.
A year and a half earlier
Beth fumbled with the keys to the front door, cursing Daryl under her breath for just not leaving it unlocked. Like she'd asked him to. Repeatedly. He knew she'd be home from work eventually. At least he'd left the front porch light on for her.
She walked into the dark house, feeling more relaxed instantly. Took off her sky-high heels and tossed them onto the ground behind her as she padded into the kitchen for some water. She glanced at the clock on the oven. Jesus Christ. Ten forty-five. Though her days had progressively been growing longer as she worked her ass off and up the corporate ladder with the goal of one day becoming an editor always in mind, the hours were becoming unmanageable.
She took a swig of water from the tap and ate a piece of bread before turning and walking down the hallway, feeling and probably looking like a zombie, to their bedroom.
She could hear Daryl's snores before she even reached the door. At least one of them had the luxury of sleeping. Not that he didn't work hard. He was a mechanic and worked long hours, too, as well as weekends and holidays and whenever there was an emergency. His older brother, Merle, whose health was declining due to a life-long alcohol addiction mixed with intermittent benders on hard drugs, owned the joint - though with the recent and quick deterioration in his health, Daryl had basically already taken over the company.
They had weekends to spend together. At least the weekends when Daryl wasn't working. But there was a distance forming between them. She had to admit, things had become more difficult since they'd grown up and become adults and had jobs and mortgages and car payments and bills to pay. And god, Beth loved him. And she missed him. Missed the days when they both got home at a reasonable hour, shared a meal, and cuddled on the sofa while watching trashy television shows. Missed the shared showers and the feeling of falling asleep with him. Nowadays, it felt like they only had time to briefly regard each other in passing. Which was ridiculous, because they were married. Lived together. Owned property and vehicles together.
She took a shower and climbed into bed with him, spooning herself as best she could against his near-lifeless body. She kissed the back of his hand as she wrapped it around her, touching her lips to each of his fingertips.
Daryl turned around abruptly after Beth slammed her office door behind her. She stood just inside it with her weight shifted to one side, thin arms folded over her chest.
He regarded her in silence for a few moments. And during those few moments, an unwelcome fluttering of emotions passed through Beth so quickly that she thought she may need to excuse herself to throw up.
He rolled up one sleeve of his plaid shirt, revealing his strong and tanned forearm (which had always been a favorite feature of Beth's, back when they were them and shit wasn't so complicated), checking the invisible watch on his wrist before he returned his eyes to her face, smug look in place. Asshole.
"Late." His voice was quiet. But she didn't sense any significant anger there.
Beth took a moment to look him over – noticed that he'd been neglecting his hair again, as it hung shaggy and unkempt to well below his ears. Still had the same strong body, same icy blue eyes - which at times could be so expressive that she'd just know what he was going to say before he even opened his mouth and still other times were so infuriatingly unreadable. She noticed the darkened skin below his eyes, and maybe Beth hadn't been the only sleep-deprived person in this former relationship.
She shrugged nonchalantly, tearing her eyes away from his face. "Told you. I can't predict what's gonna happen, what time I'm gonna get out of here. You just hung up before even giving me a chance to tell you that I'm fucking swamped right now, Daryl."
"Y'ever think 'bout my time? Ever? Nah. Not as important as yours. But I want my shit. Tonight. I will fuckin' sit here. Right here, 'til you're done, if I gotta." Ah. There it was - that angry, growly voice to which she'd become so accustomed.
Beth sighed. "I've got a few more pages to edit. Just. I don't know. Entertain yourself for thirty minutes." She passed him quickly, avoiding any eye contact, and returned to her desk.
9 months earlier
"Beth, I can't fuckin' do this anymore. Live like this. You're like a fuckin' – a fuckin' robot. Ya missed Merle's birthday party. You know that? It was last week. Ya also missed our fuckin' nephew's baptism."
It was late. Beth was still in her pencil skirt, sitting at the kitchen table. Eyes bloodshot. Mind wired though she was so exhausted in every other way.
"So why didn't you tell me any of this before? Might'a been more useful, don't ya think?" She snapped.
He stalked over to her, grabbing her purse from the table. Unzipped it and pulled out her cellphone, swiped the screen and showed her all the missed calls and text messages he'd sent her.
"Even use this thing? For anythin' other'n work?" He asked, slamming it back down on the kitchen table. It'd been Daryl's grandmother's table. Merle had restored it and given it to them as a wedding gift. She didn't know why that thought felt important enough to creep into her mind at that moment, but it did.
"Look, I'm trying here. But I can't not do my job, Daryl. I'm doin' this for us. For you. For our future kids and our future lives." She was angry. Sick of defending herself. Sick of his constant degradation of her ability to manage her life between work and – well, work.
"I feel like this –" he gestured between them, "is a fuckin' business deal. Just sharin' money to pay for the shit we gotta. Don't fuckin' talk. Don't fuckin' touch. Don't fuckin' fuck-"
"Oh," she interrupted him, voice sharp. "And that's all my fault? Didn't know I could fuck you all by myself. Maybe if you didn't go out to the fuckin' bar with your stupid fuckin' brother every Friday night, we'd have time to do any of that."
"My brother's dyin', you fuckin' heartless bitch," he spat. Beth's mouth dropped open, tired blue eyes flew open wide. He'd called her a name or two in their years together, but never like that. Never like he actually meant it.
"Goddamnit," he sighed quietly, stepping towards her hesitantly. "I didn't mean that, Beth."
She let him get close to her, just barely close enough, so that she could stand up and look him right in the eyes. Right before she reared her arm back and smacked him across the face. Hard. And, to a part of her, it felt good. Even as the tears welled up in her eyes and began spilling down her cheeks.
"No, Daryl. You did mean it. Shit's been bad for a long time." She plopped back down in her chair at the kitchen table, idly tracing the patterns in the smooth wood with a fingertip.
She lifted her eyes to him then, tears flowing down her pale face. And the anguish in his face made her heart hurt as much as the thick tension that was hovering above them did. As much as all the shit they'd done to each other did.
"I saw you." Her voice, though thick with tears, was venomous then.
His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. And it pissed her off.
"In the bar. Two weeks ago. I left work early – demanded to leave work early. Knew you'd be with Merle. Came home and got dressed in that black dress you love, the one you used to tell me was so beautiful. Put your favorite leather boots on." She wiped at her face, furious with herself for crying but even more furious with him. Furious that she'd been planning to let this go. To never mention it. But if he had the fucking nerve to talk to her like she wasn't even there, wasn't even trying, then fuck it. Fuck him. They were fucked.
"I looked in the window at Tappy's. Wanted to surprise you. Was hopin' to catch Merle's attention. But then I saw you. Saw you with some woman wrapped around you, big tits and big hair and way too much makeup on. She was sittin' on the barstool in front of you, and you. You were standin' there, in between her legs, with your hands on her thighs."
She sucked in a breath, holding her hand up when Daryl opened his mouth.
"No. I'm not done yet. Wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. But then I saw you, Daryl. I saw you kiss her. Her lips, her neck. Saw your hands all over her."
"Beth," he breathed, voice stilted, maybe stuck in his throat. "It was a mistake. It didn't go any further. Shit's just been so hard. Merle was fucked up, gettin' me all worked up-"
She didn't hear him. Didn't care about what he had to say. "And I'm so incredibly stupid," she said, cutting off his weak-ass justification. "I just stood there on the street, like some idiot. All dressed up for you, 'cause I know I've been such a bitch. Just like you said. Such a shitty fuckin' wife. And I kept watchin'. For a while. 'Til I couldn't. And you know what hurt the most?"
Beth could see his own eyes glistening with unshed tears, lips trembling as he bit the insides of his cheeks. She stared at him, not willing to continue until he responded in some way. Because she at least deserved that, after admitting she was well aware of her own faults. Her own contributions to their crumbling marriage.
And finally he shrugged a shoulder and shook his head.
"Wasn't that you were all over some – some whore. I could'a let that go. Was gonna. 'Til tonight. But what broke my fucking heart, Daryl? You were wearin' your goddamned wedding ring. A ring I put on your finger when I told you I'd love you forever," she slammed her hands down on the table, punctuating and emphasizing the things that'd been plaguing her mind – hear heart – for two weeks.
"And I will," she continued, shaking her head sadly. "Love you forever. But I can't stay married to you." Her voice was cracking. But this was it.
"Baby –" he pleaded, his own voice trembling and rough but wet and pained.
"No!" She screamed this time. The rage that'd been coiled up inside of her, about which she'd felt so guilty, was unraveling. "No, Daryl. I want a divorce. I want you outta here."
Beth had a strong feeling of déjà vu as she unlocked and opened the front door of their – well, her – house. He'd given her everything she'd wanted in the divorce. Had moved into Merle's apartment across town.
She flipped the light on and he followed her inside. And it must have been strange for him, being here after nine months. It was strange for her, too.
She hadn't changed anything. That picture from their wedding day was still displayed in the same spot where he'd hung it up years earlier.
He shut the door behind him, removing his shoes at the door. Beth walked to the kitchen to throw on a pot of coffee. Even though that was ridiculous. And she should not be drinking any more caffeinated beverages today, especially at this hour. But Daryl had always been able to drink it, all hours of the night, and still sleep.
"I didn't have the chance to organize or box any of it up or anything." She admitted, keeping her voice even and her eyes averted from him.
"'S fine," he mumbled. "I'm just gonna go – uh. I'll be in the bedroom." He turned away quickly and made his way down the hallway.
Beth stayed in the kitchen, filling up the coffee pot, trying to will away the traitorous tears threatening to form in her eyes. Why the fuck was she about to cry?
This is what she'd wanted. He'd betrayed her. Broken his vows to her. And she'd been shitty to him. Distant and uncaring and unengaged in their marriage. Focused solely on her career. Practically drove him away from her. From them. Didn't mean she still didn't love him.
She sniffed and took a deep breath and plugged in the coffee pot.
And then the entire house went pitch black.
"Fuck," she muttered to herself.
"Uh—" she yelled down the hallway to Daryl, "um, sorry about that. It's that damn breaker again."
Daryl came back into the kitchen and grabbed the flashlight, which was in the same spot it'd always been on top of the fridge. He clicked it on and walked through the house. Made his way to the garage with Beth on his heels. Partially so she could keep an eye on him, or so she told herself, and partially because she'd never learned how the fuck all the switches in that stupid box were labeled or worked.
"Meant to fix this years ago," he muttered around the flashlight he held between his teeth.
He noticed her then, trying to peek over his shoulders to get some idea about what he was doing in there.
He half-turned towards her, grabbing her by the elbow. She could feel the roughness of his skin, which she'd once known so well, through the thin material of her shirt. She gasped a little at the contact, which had sent an electric shock up her arm from where he'd touched her. She'd just recently begun seeing a man, just a few days ago actually, and they hadn't quite progressed to sharing any intimacy or physicality of any kind. So she chalked up her reaction to the prolonged period of time she'd spent having exactly no physical contact with a man.
He didn't appear to notice her reaction in any way, thankfully. Or he ignored it. He pulled a little harder at her arm and moved her directly in front of him, keeping the flashlight pointed at the box filled with complex switches and numbers that'd been written and carved in no particular order.
She tried hard to suppress the shiver that threatened to run through her body as he leaned his face down by her ear, whispering about which switch controlled the power for which rooms and which switch to flip if all the lights blew. And as he continued talking, murmuring in her ear, she got the sense that his breaths were becoming deeper. Rougher. And she hadn't really been listening to what he'd been telling her before, but now she'd stopped completely. Focused only on the proximity of their bodies. The sound of his voice. The pattern of his breathing.
And then, at some point, he stopped talking.
But neither of them moved.
Until he did.
And she should've slapped him or ran the fuck away. But as he slowly, so slowly, moved one hand to the front of her hip, just resting it there lightly, and tilted his head down so that she could feel his nose lightly – just barely, really – tracing the side of her neck and his hot breath causing small goosebumps to erupt everywhere, there was nothing she could do. There'd always been this. The physical attraction had never been the problem – until he'd started feeling it for someone else. Or acting upon it, at least. And she'd stopped acting upon it, with him.
Beth must've temporarily lost control of her sanity as well as all motor control, because she actually pushed back against him, against the front of him, against his hips. Reveled in the subtle tightening of his hand on her hip, in the feel of him, in the hardness of his muscles and his body. Some kind of noise escaped her, and it was inevitable. Outside of her control. It'd been so long.
It was still pitch black, save for the beam that shone from the flashlight, which Daryl had dropped to the floor of the garage.
"Jesus, Beth," he whispered, breaths becoming ragged as he squeezed her hip a little harder, pulling her against him again and this time holding her in place.
This was fucking crazy. Stupid crazy.
He pressed his lips – the only person's lips she'd ever known – against her neck. Right against the spot that he knew could drive her completely mad. And his tongue against her skin was like a drug.
And she'd been clean for so long.
"Goddamnit," she whispered. And it didn't sound angry, but she was so angry. At him. At herself. At them.
She forcefully pushed herself forward, toward the wall of the garage, away from him.
"Beth—" he whispered, hand still lightly anchored to her hip despite the small distance she'd created between them. And she couldn't tell which emotion she felt – not just heard – the most, there in his voice.
He sighed and reached an arm forward, over her shoulder. Flipped the switch. And then there was light.
And she forced herself to turn around then. To face him. And she felt as though she were looking into a mirror. Anguish and desire and pain and love and so much hurt reflected through his eyes and into hers.
She shook her head, cutting her eyes away from his face and directing them to the dirty concrete beneath their feet.
"We can't, Daryl." Finally forced her voice to work. Meager as it sounded. Eventually brought her eyes back to his face. The same face she'd seen in her dreams and her memories and her past and, once upon a time, her future.
His face hardened slightly, but his eyes conveyed understanding. And then he nodded. Slowly. Sadly.
She didn't see Daryl again for several weeks. And the encounter hadn't been planned.
She'd all but brushed off her momentary lapse in judgment that night at her house. He'd packed up the majority of his shit quickly while she sat in the kitchen, at his grandmother's table, and drank coffee. And then he left. And she gave herself the night to think about it, to wash away the tingles that remained on her skin long after he'd left, long after he'd stopped touching her.
She went about her life. Worked. And worked. Tried to tolerate Carol and all of her good intentions.
She'd finally set aside some time in her schedule to go out for dinner with Zach, the man she'd been seeing casually for a few months now. They hadn't gone out yet on any real dates.
She wore the black dress, the one her ex-husband had once loved, simply because she didn't really have anything else to wear. Her wardrobe consisted of sweat pants, t-shirts (most bearing the logo of the Dixon Brothers' Garage), pencil skirts, and business suits. She didn't shop much for herself. Not anymore.
Zach picked her up, right on time. Opened doors for her. It was strange. Not bad. But strange.
He was in the marketing business. Independent. Good-looking. Funny. And he made her feel like she was still young – not that she wasn't, but most days she didn't feel young anymore – and she liked him.
They had dinner at a fancy restaurant in the city. Zach made jokes and spoke about current events and popular culture with wit. Told her she looked gorgeous. Paid for their meal.
And Beth had enjoyed herself - for the first time in a long time. And she wasn't quite ready for the night to end, so she invited him out for drinks at the one establishment that was close enough to her house that neither of them would have to worry about driving under the influence.
She didn't care that it was once their place. The bar where Mr. and Mrs. Dixon had once been regulars, known by all the patrons as well as the bartenders. It was a bar. And she wanted to go grab a damn drink with Zach.
She hadn't been there in years, but she still recognized most of the faces she'd seen when they walked inside.
They sat at the bar.
"And what will my gorgeous girlfriend be drinking this fine evening?" Zach asked, flashing Beth the charming smile he'd been working with all night. She flinched a little at the label he'd suddenly given her, but decided to let it go for now. She was going to let herself have some fun.
"Well, let me see," she said, tapping her fingers against her cheek, feigning indecisiveness as she studied the bottles behind the bar. "I think I'll have a—"
"She likes cranberry vodka and sprite."
Beth choked. No, really, she choked on her own saliva. For several minutes. While Zach rubbed her back and furrowed his brows at Daryl, who was standing behind them – almost in between them – wearing a smug look. And that leather jacket Beth had bought for him for their one-year wedding anniversary.
"Are you okay, hon?" Zach asked when Beth finally stopped coughing.
"Yeah, Zach. Sorry, I – uh, swallowed my gum." She whipped around in her barstool then, coming face-to-face with her ex-husband.
"Hi, Daryl." She greeted him cheerily before turning her head back to Zach, sweet smile plastered across her face. "Sorry. He's really rude, Zach. This is Daryl, my—"
"College buddy," Daryl finished, smiling just as sweetly at Beth as he extended a hand toward Zach. Beth's eyes widened for a moment before she slipped a mask of calm over it. Whatever. If he wanted to play games, so be it. She wasn't stooping.
Zach smiled – genuinely, goddamnit – and accepted Daryl's hand, giving it a firm and friendly shake.
"So nice to finally meet one of Beth's friends!" He said, excitement and curiosity in his voice. "Would you like to have a drink with us?"
"No." Beth answered quickly. "Uh – I mean, I'm sure Daryl has some other friends to get back to," she amended in a calmer, more natural voice, again looking toward Daryl. "Don't you?"
The smug look on Daryl's face disappeared then. Beth noticed the rate of his breathing had increased slightly. And that wasn't a totally weird thing to notice right now.
"Yeah, I – I wouldn't wanna interrupt nothin'," he said, voice quieter, face unreadable.
"Nonsense," Zach answered. Ugh, god, he was so fucking friendly. Beth would need to educate him on strangers offering him candy at this rate. "If you change your mind, Daryl, come on over."
Daryl nodded, giving Beth one last look – one that she couldn't even begin to decipher – before walking away.
After a few hours of drinking, Beth could say with absolute certainty that she'd discovered Zach's one – probably his only – flaw. Man could not hold his alcohol.
His words had begun to slur a while ago. Beth had attempted to get him to drink some water or eat some crackers, but he insisted on continuing his binge, even after admitting that he was never much of a drinker.
"But tonight, well - I'm in the mood," he'd said, goofy smile on his face.
If Beth had to identify her current mood, she'd probably go with pissy.
Zach was arguing with a fellow customer about the stock market. Beth couldn't keep up with the conversation, and it wasn't because she didn't know anything about the stock market. It was because they were both sloshed out of their fucking minds and making absolutely no sense.
She propped her elbows on the bar and rested her chin in her hands, sighing heavily. The conversation would apparently never end. Until they got kicked out of here, maybe. Hopefully. Oh god, but then they could take it to the parking lot. And Zach would probably have the guy's fucking address by the end of the night.
Beth was a little buzzed, but Zach's behavior and quick spiral from tipsy and cute to slurry and sloppy had sobered her up a bit.
And, of course, Daryl would choose that exact moment to appear at her other side. She heard the screeching of the barstool's legs as he scooted it out and the heavy plop as he sat down on its seat.
"Your boyfriend's wasted," he said, mockery in his tone. She snapped her head toward him. He was looking straight ahead, watching the television mounted on the wall behind the bar. But she could see the shit-eating grin easing itself across his face.
She sighed again. Honestly, she was so tired from work and this entire evening that she didn't have the energy to be a snarky asshole.
"Hope you weren't plannin' on gettin' laid," he continued, amusement in his voice.
"And why's that, Daryl?" She asked, voice conveying her obvious disinterest.
"'Cause he's got whiskey dick written all over him." He turned his face toward hers then, smirk in place. And, god, she wanted to smack him.
"Glad to know that your skills at identifying the various kinds of dicks are still as sharp as ever," she quipped. Maybe she wasn't too tired to be an asshole.
"The hell are you doin' with him, anyway?" He turned his head away when he'd asked the question with a quiet but curious voice.
"What do you think? We've been seeing each other for a little while. Went out to dinner. Thought it'd be fun to get a drink or two." She shrugged.
"Jesus. I know I must'a set a low standard, but c'mon, Beth." He scoffed, taking a swig of his beer. Which she knew was a Heineken, without even looking.
"Why? What's wrong with him? He's successful, funny, and nice. Makes me feel beautiful. What's wrong with that?" She asked, voice a bit more serious. Not that she cared what he thought. Because in what world does a woman give a shit about her ex-husband's opinion on her sort-of boyfriend?
"You are beautiful," he replied, voice softening to a rough whisper. And she'd loved that tone of his voice, back when she'd known it so well. It was one that she'd only ever heard him use when it was just the two of them, alone in their bed.
She felt the crimson bloom at the base of her throat and, before she could even do a damn thing, spread to her neck and up onto her face. And she could feel him staring. Like he was following the path of the blood rushing to the surface of her skin.
"God, that blush," he breathed. And she couldn't look at him. "Makes your skin feel so hot."
She inhaled sharply and kept her face down, praying he'd let up. Before she became powerless.
"Why you wearin' that? My dress. For him?" His fingers skimmed along the skin of her thigh, pinching a small piece of the silk material of the dress between them.
"'Cause it's actually my dress. And I like it," she murmured. And god damn her stupid, breathy voice.
"I love it. So fuckin' sexy." She turned her face to his then, because she had to do something.
But it was a mistake. Because, fuck, his fucking eyes. Fuck his fucking eyes and the way they were almost absorbing her, consuming her, chewing her up and spitting her out – outside and in. He was looking at her like he did in that stupid wedding picture that she couldn't remove from her wall. The way that he'd always looked at her. Like he wanted to worship her and eat her and bring her to hell with him.
She slid off of the barstool abruptly. Zach didn't even turn his head. He was still waist-deep in meaningless conversation. She didn't spare Daryl a glance as she stalked off towards the bathroom.
She stood at the sink in the restroom and splashed cold water on the skin of her face, which was still glowing and rosy and yeah, Daryl was right, it was hot to the touch. She rolled her head around on her shoulders, cracking the bones there. She wanted to sit on the ground and smoke a cigarette or cry or hit someone.
This night had not gone in anywhere near the direction she'd hoped for.
She thought about escaping through the small window that was nestled at the top of the small room. Thought about just walking out the front door, because it was likely that Zach wouldn't notice anyway. Wasn't a far walk to her house. She could take off this stupid dress and burn it and go to bed.
She was pacing when she heard a soft knock at the door. And she knew she'd been in here a while and it was just a one-holer and she was being rude.
She sighed and made her way over to it. But as soon as she unlatched the lock, it swung open quickly, knocking her backwards a bit. And she would have screamed out in surprise if he hadn't covered her mouth with his hand as he shut and relocked the door behind him.
"Daryl, what the fuck?" Though she should've known. He was hitting it pretty hard tonight. And she wasn't handling it well at all.
He looked at her then, no smugness or mischief evident, which was actually surprising. He looked as confused and unsettled as she felt as he ran his fingers through his messy hair.
"I don't fuckin' know," he admitted.
"Well, look, let's just – let's get out of here. I gotta get Zach home, and – "
"Why the fuck did you bring him here?" Anger saturated his voice even as he asked her the odd question quietly.
"It's the closest bar to my house," she responded honestly.
"Yeah, but ya could'a just got some goddamn wine coolers an' took the kid back to your place." Now he was the one pacing.
"I wanted to go out. I haven't been able to in a really long time."
"And you wanted to wear that. And come here. And bring him." He spoke the words as if he were figuring out some mysterious puzzle inside his head. He stopped pacing and stepped closer to her even as she backed away toward the gross wall that probably hadn't been cleaned in a really long time.
"Daryl, what's the problem?" Damn her shaky voice.
"You know." He answered, glaring at her, nostrils flaring at bit with the intensity of his breathing.
"Obviously, I don't," she replied, voice sharp.
He stepped even closer to her then. Got right in her face.
"You are fucking torturing me," he all but growled, slamming a fist into the wall behind her. It startled her, but she wasn't afraid he'd do anything to hurt her. Not physically, anyway. "You know I'm still in love with you. That I'm always gonna be in love with you." His voice became louder with each word, more desperate.
"Daryl—" she couldn't even form a coherent response. To any of this. And they'd been in here a really long fucking time.
"No, Beth." His voice had softened, though the undercurrent of hurt beneath was palpable. "This is it. One chance. You can walk the fuck out of here, get him and leave, or –"
He pressed his face forward, letting his lips lightly graze against her jaw, as if he'd had no other choice - and she felt him trembling. And she felt hot all over despite the confusion. They'd been married. And before they were married, they'd been together for 5 years. It's not something either of them could just get over. But she wasn't sure what he wanted. What he expected, after everything. So she had to ask.
"Or?" She asked, voice barely a whisper.
He moved his head back, just a few inches away from her face. "Or," he breathed. "Or, you can tell me you still love me. 'Cause I fuckin' know you do. We can take care o' him, get him home. And then we can talk. 'Bout us."
She inhaled sharply. Was he really fucking serious right now? They'd both fucked up so much. There was so much resentment here, between them. So much anger. Beth didn't know if it'd be too much to overcome. If they could ever build something remotely like what they'd had, before. But in that moment, she couldn't think of anything worse than not feeling his lips on hers. Even if it were the last time. Even if it weren't.
She wasn't lying when, finally, as a tear rolled down her cheek, she whispered: "I love you."
And then she pushed away from the nasty bathroom wall and covered his mouth with hers.
2 weeks later
You ready for this? Cuz I am.
It was Friday when Beth received the text message from Daryl. She smiled and packed up her belongings, shoving what she hadn't had the time to finish into a pile that she'd start to tackle the following Monday. Because work wasn't always the most important thing. She waved happily to Carol and wished her a good weekend as she left the office.
They hadn't jumped into anything. Or back into anything. But after that night at the bar, when Beth had finally voiced the truth – to herself and to him – they'd been talking. Seeing each other, here and there. Mostly lunch "dates". They'd had a few serious conversations, apologized to each other – didn't delve into specifics, not now, but they both apologized. Over and over. Caught up on one another's lives. Beth showed Daryl the newest pictures she'd received of Rick, her nephew (or their nephew, or something). Daryl told Beth that Merle had retired and was living clean out in a cabin on the lake. That his business was going well.
Tonight would be their first "date". Something they'd been joking about for a few days now. Daryl had smirked when she mentioned it again earlier this week and said he'd "let her know" when he was ready.
She felt a little high – a little wired – as she drove home. She knew he'd be there; she'd given him back his copy of the key a few days ago.
She walked inside the house and there wasn't anything out of the ordinary. No rose petals or candles or soft music playing. Just him. Cooking.
She entered the kitchen and sighed in irritation at all of the cabinet doors hanging wide open, primed for her to knock herself out with one of them. She'd asked him to just fucking close them so many times.
"Hey, you. Spaghetti okay?" He didn't look up from the boiling pot of noodles on the stove. Still had on his work clothes, which weren't exactly clean. Moved around the kitchen like it was still his. Like it had been, even after all these months apart.
"Sounds good," she said, feeling slightly nervous and very foolish for it.
They ate at the kitchen table, the one that'd belonged to Daryl's grandmother. Laughed at each other's stories about their work weeks. Beth told Daryl about Carol, and he'd laughed and said he'd have to thank her for "fuckin' up your name so much" one day.
After dinner, they washed the dishes. And it felt so normal that it was almost uncanny. Because this hadn't been any version of Beth's normal for nearly a year.
They watched television afterward, and Beth sensed a bit of a nervous energy in the air. Anticipation, maybe. Apprehension, maybe.
It was getting late when he finally wrapped an arm around her and leaned back a bit into the sofa, pulling her head against his chest. He kissed her temple, and it was nothing, but Beth felt it everywhere.
And as if he could sense it – her reaction – he hesitantly repeated the action, letting his lips linger a little longer. He slid one hand down her arm, lacing his fingers with hers. And it felt right.
"Can I stay?" He whispered.
He exhaled a shaky breath and grabbed her hand, shutting off the television and lights with the other. Like he'd been doing it every night for the last decade, without the hiatus of nearly a year. Like he hadn't missed a beat.
He pulled her behind him to her bedroom, which looked exactly the same as it always had. Except for his missing clothes, his missing things. But he was here now.
They didn't ravage each other – though Beth felt like her body was becoming a rubber band reaching its point of yield as each moment passed by. She hadn't been intimate with anyone since the last time she'd been with him, and that'd been well before everything had gone to hell.
She changed into her pajamas in the bathroom. Washed the light makeup off of her face. Her negligee was nothing fancy, just a white cotton shirt and some sleeper shorts. And Daryl stripped to his boxers, because that's how the man had slept since she'd known him.
He looked at her with awe as she stood in the middle of what'd once been their favorite place in the entire world to be together.
"You're so fuckin' beautiful." He shook his head as he spoke. Like he couldn't quite believe it. Like it hurt him.
Beth slowly stepped forward to him and flattened her hands against his muscled chest. She felt him shiver as strongly as she did at the contact. And it was like a fucking match had been lit because, suddenly, they were both in this, on the same page again. And she'd been craving him, like the drug that he was to her. Begging him with her eyes to touch her, just a little – anywhere – over the past two weeks.
She pressed forward and sealed her mouth over his. And she knew it would be intense, after so, so fucking long, but she hadn't expected the hunger she felt. In herself. In him. In their mouths that were wet and their tongues that slid up against one another. She was moaning before they'd even done anything more. Because of the way he clamped her bottom lip in between his teeth, just the way he knew she liked it. Because of the way he tangled one hand in her hair, just like he used to, while the other yanked her lower body forward and into his own. Because of the way his tongue explored every inch of her mouth, every time they'd ever kissed, and now it was as though he was re-exploring what'd always been his.
They made it to the bed eventually. Any pretenses of fear they'd felt had been replaced with pure, raw desperation to feel each other. And he stripped her to her underwear and sheer camisole, hands shaking, and shoved the comforter and sheets down to the foot of the bed so he could see her. Like this. After so long. And the look in his eyes sent a shock down her spine, connecting to her nipples and clit and belly, so full of the insatiable hunger.
"Fuck, Beth," he swore when he finally let his hands feel her, how wet she was, how badly she wanted him.
She whimpered as he entered her with one finger and then another, and he groaned along with her as he glided them in and out, circling her clit with his thumb here and there, and it wasn't enough to send her over the edge. But it was so much more than enough to make her impossibly slicker between her thighs. To make her want him so much more, if it were even possible. And he moaned and whimpered right along with her as he fucked her with his fingers, leaning down to swallow her ragged breaths into his own lungs.
She felt him thrusting up against her hip as he lay on his side beside her. Trying to relieve a little of the aching she knew he must've been feeling. She felt him, hard and solid and waiting under the fabric of his boxers.
He continued working her with his hands while he licked and bit at her chest and her nipples and her neck and her arm and anything else he could reach with his mouth.
And somehow she hadn't come yet. And she didn't care about multiple orgasms or doing everything this time. She just -
"I want you," she whispered, voice thick and needy. "I fucking need you, Daryl."
And he groaned again in response before pulling his boxers down with one hand while she shimmied her underwear down from her hips in a frenzy.
He moved to hover over her. "I – fuck, Beth – Iain't gonna last long, baby. You feel too fucking good. Too fucking wet." His voice was as strained and tense as his cock that she could feel against her, lingering right over lower belly. And she couldn't wait another second.
She grabbed him and guided him to her entrance. And the amount of wetness there was insane. It was coating her thighs and his hand and up onto her lower belly, and it made her feel even hotter – and needier – for him.
"Please," she begged. "I can't wait."
"I love you," he whispered as he pushed forward, entering her in one long, thick stroke.
And they both groaned at the sensation of him filling her after so long. And it felt different but somehow the same, familiar and pleasant and so, so good. Because they were different, maybe. But they were still them.
"Shit. Jesus, Beth-" He swore again, grimacing almost as though he were in pain. And her breaths started coming faster as she felt herself stretch around him. And her body sang, rejoiced in the return of this. The return of him.
"Ugh, goddamnit. Feels so fuckin' tight. Y'alright?" He was almost whining, pleading, begging her through gritted teeth, to let him move against her - without actually asking. She knew what he wanted. What he – what they both – so desperately needed. And she nodded, because she was so much more than alright.
"I'm gonna move, baby. Okay? Gotta fuckin' move." A tenderness so thick was there, in his voice, that it made her sob even as she nodded again.
And then he started moving. And she wrenched her body up off of the pillows to capture his lips, let her tongue slide out of his mouth and down further - down his jaw and neck, because she knew how much he liked that. How much it turned him on, how just that action could somehow make him feel even harder inside of her.
She met him thrust for thrust and his movements were becoming shakier and jerkier and so she reached down, finding and circling her clit in rhythm with their movements.
And his face went from awe to slack-jawed to fucking pained and she knew it wouldn't be long. And the thought of that – that he couldn't hold out much longer because of her, because of the way she made him feel - caused the waves of pleasure start to take shape inside of her.
His sweat was dripping onto her face and hers was rubbing onto his chest as she leaned up and then bit down, hard, on his shoulder, and swore.
"Oh, fuck. Daryl, fuck – " she said, voice muffled in the slick skin of his arm, low and shaky.
"What, baby?" He asked, in that growly voice that she loved and hated in equal measure, depending on the context. "Tell me, Beth."
"You're gonna make – I'm gonna – fuck – oh god, I'm coming," she whined, hips bucking against her hand, muscles fluttering and contracting against his cock as the waves that'd been forming started to rise up inside of her.
"Yeah? Yeah, come, Beth. I want it so bad. All. Over. Me." His words were punctuated by his thrusts that keened higher into her, hitting her in the spot that broke open the final floodgates of her release.
She may've blacked out with the intensity of it, though it was more like she was hovering over herself, as the waves pulsed through her, concentrated at her cunt but radiating out into her limbs, her center, flowing into her blood. Over and over and over. And she was being loud but she had to be. Because it was burning her bones from her body and leaving her weightless beneath him.
And then he was groaning, "I'm gonna come, baby, fuck - I'm gonna come." And he threw his head back and let himself get lost in it, in the sensation of it, thrusts becoming uneven and somehow harder as he pumped his release into her. And she watched in wonder at the focus in his eyes that first strayed away and got lost in the depths of pleasure that she'd known very well and then returned to her, piercing her, letting her know that this – this – was all for her. Because of her.
He collapsed on top of her, kissing her neck and face and chest and shoulders. Letting the bodily fluids between them mix together for a while. And then they'd take a shower and go back to bed. And it was like riding a bike, all of this. And Beth knew that this part had never been difficult. And this wouldn't fix everything that'd gone wrong.
But for now. For now, they embraced and kissed and whispered about love and beauty and promises and forever.