A/N: Picks up after the fall of the prison with major canon divergence after that. Hope you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Daryl was the first to outwardly acknowledge their predicament.
"We need to find a place for the winter." His voice, as always, was rough, like sandpaper.
Beth looked up from the small fire at her feet. She tightened her arms wrapped around her knees. As if to punctuate his words, a sharp gust of wind tore through her thin jacket and she shivered.
Autumn had descended faster than either of them anticipated. In the weeks since the fall of the prison, the air had turned from humid and sticky to crisp and blustery. Now more than ever, the leaves beneath their feet crunched with every step. The water they drank from trickling creeks was cold to the teeth and shot straight through to the stomach like ice. Winter was coming––and they'd be fools if they let themselves get caught by the approaching storm. They needed to find shelter, sooner rather than later.
"I don't know the first place to look," Beth admitted. She thought back to all the ground they'd covered since escaping the prison. She could count on one hand the number of realistic shelters they'd passed along the way. She could also count on one hand the number of times Daryl suggested they stay put. Moving on, it seemed, was the only way he knew how to survive.
In that thoughtful way he did, Daryl chewed his lower lip. The firelight cast an orange haze over his face, molded in its perpetual scowl. "We'll keep going," he said. "But we'll keep our eyes peeled for somethin' good. We still got time."
The silence between them stretched taut. Beth returned her focus to the fire and wondered why she couldn't bring herself to talk about the past. In all their weeks of trudging through the forest, not once had they spoken of the day it all went to hell or of the people they'd lost. Perhaps it was easier that way, but when the dark of night descended, she wanted nothing more than to commiserate with someone who might understand her pain.
She looked across the fire again, judging the moment. Daryl sharpened his knife against a rock. A dull grating noise filled the void where conversation could have been. The quiet was deafening; it rung loud in her ears.
She cleared her throat before speaking. "Your hair is gettin' too long. I can barely see your eyes."
The sharpening paused, and he tossed her an annoyed sort of glance. At once, Beth was thankful for the dark. He wouldn't be able to see the color rising on her face. She shifted, embarrassed but not discouraged. The sharpening resumed.
"You know, we've be out here for weeks and I still don't know where we're goin'."
"We're just... goin'." He spoke as if it were the most obvious explanation she'd never considered.
Rising from her spot, she tossed the remains of her dinner––fish tonight, a blessed reprieve from squirrel or snake––into the nearby brush. She swiped her hands across her pants, resisting the urge to roll her eyes skyward.
"Right," she mumbled. "We're just goin'. Goin' to hell in a handbasket."
"Hey!" His barely contained shout brought Beth to a standstill. She stared at him, sure her eyes were wide and startled. Her heart hammered against her ribcage. "You got any better ideas?"
She blinked. Hearing the frustration in his voice gave her pause. So often they spent their time in strained silence she'd almost forgotten he was a man, a man with emotions no matter how far he shoved them down.
She shook her head hard, feeling like a child scolded. "No, I don't. I'm sorry."
A beat passed before he grunted. He motioned with the tip of his knife for her to sit down again. She took that as a sign of an apology accepted. No harm, no foul. She sat down.
"If it makes you feel any better, we're gonna be near the border soon."
"We've traveled that far?"
"If my math's right, yeah." He shifted, his jacket tugging against the bark on the log behind him. "We've gotta cross the mountains but Tennessee is where we're goin'."
"What's in Tennessee?"
He shrugged. "I dunno. But I'm not interested in stayin' in Georgia. Are you?"
Beth thought on it a moment. She'd never been to Tennessee, never had any reason to go. Her family was in Georgia––both before and after the outbreak. Now...
She didn't know if she had any family left.
"What if they're still out there?" Her voice wavered as she spoke, and she kept her eyes glued to the flickering fire.
Daryl's brow tightened. "Who?"
Her eyes snapped to his. "Don't play stupid. Maggie, Glenn, Rick––they could've made it out too."
For the first time in their weeks of walking, he didn't steer the conversation away. He flicked a piece of wood into the fire. "Yeah, maybe."
A sudden burst of hope flared in Beth's chest. She scooted to her knees and leaned closer. The heat of the flames washed over her cheeks. "Well, we should go after them! If they made it out, we should go back and find them."
"Ain't no chance in hell I'm goin' back."
"But if Maggie's out there––"
He cut her off. "Even if they did make it out, they're probably headed the opposite direction. We can't go back to the prison. It's too dangerous."
"So we're just supposed to forget about them? Keep goin'?"
"That's about how I see it." At her glare, he sighed. "We're at least a hundred miles from the prison. I'm not wastin' our time by turnin' around."
"We wouldn't be wastin' our time. We'd be finding our friends."
"I said they might have made it out. There's no way of actually knowin' they did."
"Unless we went back!"
"Beth, we're not goin' back!" This time he did shout and the sound startled her. The use of her name made her blood run cold. She froze for what felt like the hundredth time in an evening. He meant business; she'd be dumb if she argued any further.
Well, no one in high-school had ever called her smart.
"You aren't my dad. You can't tell me what to do." Beth flopped to the ground, arms crossed over chest, pack under her head as a pillow. "I can go back if I want to."
"I ain't your daddy and I sure as hell ain't your husband." Following her lead, he stretched out along their patch of grass. He put his hands behind his head, unaffected by her arguments. "Go back if you want to but you'll be by yourself."
Beth's jaw worked back and forth. Tears stung the corners of her eyes. Rolling to her side, she turned her back to him. "I'd never marry anybody as mean as you, Daryl Dixon."