Daryl Dixon ain't afraid of nothin'. But when he bursts from the woods onto the road, with Beth hot on his heels, hears the snarls and moans of walkers - many, many, many walkers - coming closer, and feels his entire body trembling from exhaustion, fear washes over him like he's just been thrown in an ice cold lake.
There's an abandoned car, its driver lying dead next to it on the road, but of course the vehicle won't fucking start.
It's night, and thunder rumbles overhead. For a split second he stands there, gut churning as he drowns in the hopelessness of the situation. If it was just him he'd fight, hack his way through the walkers and take out as many of them as he could before he passed out. At least then it would be done. His eyes flick over to Beth. His throat tightens. If she wasn't here with him he isn't entirely sure that he wouldn't take on the next herd of walkers and go out fighting just to make it stop. But he can't, because of her. At this point she is the only thing keeping him moving forward, keeping him focused. He's here for her. Daryl sure as hell can't face losing anyone else today; he's already coming apart at the seams. But they're fast running the fuck out of options.
They gotta hide. Just try to hold out until morning. It's their only way forward. It's their only chance to stay alive.
Decision begrudgingly made, he circles round to the back of the car, keeping his crossbow raised and aimed despite the throbbing ache that's spreading down his arm.
Daryl yanks the already open trunk wider and waves her inside, keeping his eyes and crossbow trained on the dozens of walkers getting closer by the second as he climbs in after her. It's a tight fit. Even with her small frame, he watches as Beth curls in on herself, taking up as little room as possible.
Balancing on his haunches, he arches back and pulls the bent metal door down, but not closed. Leaning his crossbow next to him, he hastily grabs the rag from his pocket, threads it through the lock and ties it in place. His fingers are steady, adrenaline coursing through his veins, but even his best two half hitches knot isn't going to secure this battered hatch with the wind blowing like it is. It should hold for a moment though.
His eyes scan the trunk, searching for something he can use. It's nearly dark outside and what fading light is making its way inside might as well not bother because he can't see shit. A pale strip of light illuminates Beth's eyes as she watches the opening, hunting knife clutched tightly in her hand, her entire frame braced like she's ready to pounce. Her face is sort of mesmerising and he drags his eyes away when he realises they've settled on her.
His hand pats down the back of the trunk, starting behind his head and working his way across, desperately feeling for anything that he can use. When he reaches Beth, he leans over her to search her side of the trunk. Every trunk has cable ties. Where the fuck are the fucking cable ties? He grunts in frustration as he finds nothing. It's already been picked clean. Fuck.
He feels Beth's exhale as a rush of air flutters across his neck. Glancing down, it's only then that he realises he's all but lying on top of her, his chest pressing her onto her back. Another gush of warm breath strokes his neck. He can feel her breasts pressing up against his chest through his shirt as she breathes in. Her eyes are impossibly wide and even in the shadows he can see her face is flushed. She's watching him and he's suddenly very aware that he can feel her rabbiting heart beating against his own.
He sees a flash of lightening in his periphery and his mind is jerked back to the present. To the lack of cable ties. To the very real and very imminent herd of walkers that are about to pass the car and find them in the trunk unless he can keep it closed. Unless he can find something to secure it with.
Think, Dixon, think.
There's always something you can use. Most people just see things for what they're supposed to be but Daryl's always had to look at things for what they could be, in a pinch, if needed. That's one thing that was beaten into him from an early age; how to use your surroundings. If all else fails, use what you have.
Daryl practically throws himself backwards, hands reaching to his belt and tearing it open.
He doesn't miss Beth's sharp intake of breath, his eyes flicking up to lock onto hers as he tugs his belt out of the loops. The worn soft leather catching as he slides it through.
Her mouth is slightly parted, cheeks flooding a deeper crimson as he catches her staring at his undone belt. She doesn't look frightened, as he might expect her to in the face of what he's doing, but maybe she passed frightened a couple of miles back. She looks decidedly curious.
"Don' get excited," he snaps, his voice a low rumble, "Jus' gonna use it t' lock us in."
Her cheeks flush again as she clutches her knife tighter and watches him. Shuffling on his hip, he undoes the rag and feeds the strap through in its place as quickly as possible. The door to the trunk lurches open a few gut wrenching inches before he yanks it back down and secures the buckle. He pushes at the roof of the trunk to test it, letting out a shaky relieved breath as it holds.
Thank fuck for that.
He rolls back onto his elbows, taking in a deep breath, closing his eyes and scraping his hands across his face and through his hair.
When he opens them, he catches Beth staring down at where his belt used to be. His eyes follow her gaze to find his jeans have slipped below his hips, exposing the taught muscles of his Adonis belt and the absence of any underwear. He reaches down and pulls the front of his jeans up before looking back across the trunk and locking eyes with Beth. Her face is flushed again and there's a heat in her gaze that makes something flare down his spine. Something he hasn't felt in a long fucking time.
Lightening sends another flash of light across her face, making her eyes appear luminous in the dark as they stare back into his. For a moment he's caught in her gaze like a deer in the headlights and he feels something flare a little south of his spine.
All at once, thunder crashes and then he hears the walkers – dozens and dozens of them – retch and gurgle as they begin to stampede past the car. He reaches for his crossbow instinctively as a fresh wave of fear rolls through him and settles in his gut. He clutches his bow because his life depends on it and aims it at the opening as they wait for a painfully tense moment to see if his belt is going to hold. If they're going to make it through the next five minutes, not to mention the night.
Shuffling shadows flit past the opening in the trunk and occasionally bump into the car, but don't linger. The belt is holding. They are hidden. They are almost safe, at least for now, which is mildly remarkable.
He knows how to make ugly situations work. He learned early.
He feels something akin to relief wash over him, flooding his veins. He turns his attention to Beth, finds her bunched over, holding her knife so tight her knuckles are white. He sets his crossbow down within arm's reach, before pillowing an arm behind his head and leaning back. For a moment he watches her.
"We're locked in, get some rest" he whispers, keeping his voice low.
Her head flies around to face him, expression tight but slowly unwinding as his words sink in. She twists her gaze back to the opening.
The thunder has ceased. The walkers are thinning out. Their moans are becoming sporadic, less incessant now.
She swallows hard enough that hears her throat click. For a few seconds there's nothing. She doesn't move a muscle, the hunting knife seeming to be an oddly grounding weight in her clenched fist, if the way she's clutching it is anything to go by, and her gaze becomes unfocused. She's no longer really watching the opening; he's sure that she's not really looking at anything at all.
"Beth," he says softly, like she's an animal he doesn't want to spook.
She jumps slightly and glances over at Daryl, taking a moment to meet his gaze, having clearly pulled her thoughts from somewhere else entirely.
"Get some rest," he repeats, very quietly, "They can't get in," he adds when she continues to stare back at him with those half wild eyes, clenching the knife so tight that her knuckles stand out white as bone.
She doesn't say anything, but he watches her grip on the knife go from vice like to just a loose hold.
He looks at her and she looks right back. Her eyes look very large and very bright and under her piercing gaze he somehow feels the pressure of forces that he can't hope to understand. Something is different. There's something different in the way that she's looking at him. In his gut he feels something is approaching. Daryl looks at her again and tries to ignore the sudden tightness in his chest that's threatening to get in the way of his breathing. He watches her as she sheaths her knife, slowly, carefully, perhaps even reluctantly, and lets out a breath like she's been holding it for an eternity.
He sort of can't stop studying her. Her brow is furrowed and he can practically hear her mind whirring, can read at least four different feelings on her face and none of them remotely good. On top of it all she looks as tired and as hungry as he feels. That sends a sharp stab of guilt piercing through his stomach because he kept pushing for them to move on, spent the whole day running and didn't find her anything to eat. He takes in her bright doe eyes, follows the line of her throat all the way down to the dip of her collarbones, the way her skin gleams in the strip of moonlight. He watches her and a low, sweet ache settles in his chest. Leaning back as far as the trunk will allow him, he closes his eyes and lays his forearm across his face so that he can't see her any more, but it does nothing to dull the fluttering spark of pleasure and need that's hit him like a punch to the jaw.
He lies in the darkness and just breathes. Startling silence surrounds him. For a moment there's absolute stillness.
He's barely caught his breath when he hears the loud crash of a walker smashing down onto the trunk just above Beth's head. His eyes fly open just as the door bounces down with the impact. He thinks his heart stops as he watches the whites of Beth's eyes expand in the strip of light cutting across her face. His entire body tenses as he prepares himself for what's about to happen.
Don't scream. Please, don't fucking scream. He implores her with every fibre of his being.
She doesn't. Instead Beth hurls herself across the trunk, landing on top of him. He has to bite his lip hard so that he doesn't moan as her hands come down hard on either side of his face, bringing them nose to nose while her knees straddle his hips. Her face is so close to his he can feel how warm her cheeks are.
His hands wrap around her waist and his hips jerk up as if by instinct, pushing himself up as she presses down against him. He hisses at the not entirely unpleasant feeling of having Beth Greene lying on top of him, her entire body pressing against his.
Her piercing eyes lock onto his and she doesn't move. For a moment neither does he. He merely looks at her. He sees something flickering in her eyes, almost glowing.
The soft smoothness and the warmth of her body is comforting and not smothering as he might expect. Daryl has never liked being touched and he doesn't like that she's touching him now. He doesn't. Except there's a traitorous part of him that is responding to the contrary. He's pretty sure that if she hasn't noticed that already then when she does their proximity is going to make her uncomfortable.
With his hand on her waist he lifts her easily, turning his own body at the same time and pushes her onto the floor of the trunk. Then he scoots back and all but shoves her face first towards his crossbow, putting as much distance between them as possible, which isn't much at all. They're crammed together like a couple of sardines, bodies scrunched parallel to one another, not touching but only just.
The wave of arousal that crashes through his body is immediately chased by a flood of exasperation. Been seeing Beth every day at the prison for god knows how long but his body chooses now to respond to her like she's the last woman on earth. Why? Seriously, what the fuck?
Because the universe refuses to give Daryl Dixon a fucking break.
In fact, this is the first time he can remember his body reacting like this to anyone. Daryl is no stranger to self-hatred, but the erection straining at his jeans barely an inch away from Beth's ass makes him feel like a total creep. He feels like the biggest creep in the universe.
She's so scared she's actually shaking. When that thought registers in his thick head his unwanted hard on stops straining, but it doesn't disappear completely. It takes him a moment to realise that he's shaking too, despite the warmth he's shivering slightly. It's just his body coming down from the adrenaline. At least that's what he tells himself. Merle would tell him to stop being such a Goddamn pussy. He'd tell Merle to fuck right off. But Merle ain't here. A lot of people ain't here no more.
Thing is, she should be scared. They're not safe out here. Nobody is safe anymore. They weren't safe in the prison and they sure as hell aren't safe out here. They're vulnerable. There's just the two of them, and it's not even the two of them really because she needs his protection. It's not her fault. She never once left the prison after they got there, never had to fight, stayed shielded behind its walls. She never had to protect herself, always had someone to do it for her. But now he's the only one left and that responsibility has fallen squarely on his shoulders. He's not angry at her, not really. It's the situation, but he feels the weight of it on his back and it's crushing. He almost wants to be angry at her, in a sick kind of way, just to have something to feel other than despair. But he's not. It takes energy, and he doesn't have a whole lot of that right now. He's so tired. He's physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and failing her will be the end of him. He can't keep her safe out here without shelter. She's going to die and that's on him. He knows it and she knows it. He can feel his inevitable failure breathing down his neck every time he looks at her.
He's all kinds of tired and he just wants to sleep but he can't. It's not the ever present groaning of the dead or the flashes of lightening in the periphery that's keeping him slipping out of consciousness, no, it's Beth Greene's sharp uneven breaths like she's having a panic attack. He wants to be mad at her for keeping him awake, for being such a goddamn burden but each shaky inhale tugs at something in his chest. Part of him wants to yell at her and tell her to grow the fuck up but he's too damn tired and she's too damn tired. He doesn't have any fight left in him. He's stripped raw and he feels a crazy desire to soothe her. To hold her to him and tell her everything is going to be alright even though it sure as shit fucking isn't. But that's not her fault and she's scared shitless and he can't help himself when his arm reaches out and lands on her waist.
The trunk falls silent in an instant. Her chest stills for an uncomfortably long moment before rising slowly.
Maybe she feels better knowing she ain't alone out here. Maybe she's just trying not to piss him off.
Even though they're not touching he can feel her warmth against his body.
He can faintly hear her breathing, slow and rhythmic. He can feel her chest expand under his rough palm, still curled around the bottom of her rib cage, feels the soft smoothness of her skin radiating heat like she's on fire beneath it. He ought to move it. Touching her is making him feel strangely warm inside. Touching her is not helping his body to calm the fuck down and stop misbehaving in a way that makes him a total creep.
Reluctantly, and with great effort, he slowly lifts his hand.
Only to have it pushed back down, as her own much smaller hand grabs his. She doesn't say anything, just presses his palm back where it was against her waist and holds it there, trapped between the warmth of her body and the surprising heat of her palm.