AN: Takes place about 4-5 days after Chapter 16. Everyone has made it back to the farm. We will touch on what happened with each of the groups while they were away from the farm in the next few chapters.
Also you will notice a change in tone with my Connor and Beth. Chalk it up to 5 months of getting to know them a little better in other stories. :) Enjoy! And thank you for your patience while I got myself and this story together.
Thank you to AislingIsobel, Annelisa, DeDe324, Incog Ninja, Rhanon Brodie, Sunsphershots, Valerie E Makin, and everyone else that has listened to me whine about this series. Thank you ladies. I wouldn't be the writer I am without you. Special thanks to DeDe for the edits on this chapter. If you have not read their stuff, you best get over to their pages when you are done here. It is so worth the visit.
Beth looked around the crowded house and couldn't help but smile. This reminded her of Christmas in a way. Lori, Carol and even Andrea were flitting back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room, loading the table with a humble yet lovingly prepared meal. Rick, Shane, Daryl, Maggie and Connor sat around the coffee table, each perched on the edge of their seat as they pored over the plans on the best way to fortify the farm house.
Murphy and Merle were out on watch. T-dog and Martinez were working with Scud to increase the kid's proficiency with weapons. While the group was scattered, T, Glenn and Scud ran into some trouble getting away from the herd of walkers. Scud was unable to use any weapons at all, and almost got the three of them killed.
Beth walked toward the kitchen from the front foyer. Connor's eyes never left Rick but his fingers subtly lifted from the back of the sofa and grazed her hand as she passed them. She smiled and blushed as she looked ahead, her stride never stuttering. In the kitchen, Carol winked at her, making her blush deepen. Grabbing a bowl off the island, she helped the other women get dinner ready for the horde of people.
Once the last of the bowls hit the table, Beth grabbed two mismatched plates and filled them with small samplings from each dish. She grabbed silverware and the plates before making her way out the door toward the RV.
"Well Darlin," came the drawl that made her skin crawl. She combated her uncomfortableness and smiled up at the leering man who had his foot on the edge of the RV roof. "Looks like pretty pretty princess has brought us eats!" he crowed.
Murphy shoved him back from the edge as he headed for the ladder. "Leave her alone, Merle," he growled. "Her name's Beth, and ye need t'be nice." He slid down the ladder and headed to the girl who gave him a small grateful smile. "Thank ye." He took the plates from her before nodding toward the house as they heard the metal of Merl's prosthetic thunk against the ladder.
Beth handed over the silverware and quickly headed back to the house without so much as a glance at Daryl's older brother.
"She don't seem to like me much." Merle snorted as he watched the small slip of the girl reaching the house.
"Leave her be," Murphy warned as he set the plates on the table by the RV. "She don't need ye hasslin' her."
"Ain't hassling if she likes it."
"She don't," Murphy reassured him, shoving a fork at him.
Beth stepped back into the house and found a mass of people around the table. She smiled as she headed back to the kitchen. It felt good to take care of everyone, her family. Standing at the doorway with Carol, the two made sure no one needed anything. The older woman gave her a soft smile without turning her attention to the table. "Boys good?" Carol asked.
"Yeah," Beth started. "Oh wait," she walked over and grabbed two glasses off the side board and filled them with water. She turned and headed back to the door. With a deep breath, she turned the door handle and headed out to the table where Merle was sitting.
"Couldn't stay away from Ole Merle could ya, Tiny Tits?"
Beth tried to smile but it didn't work. Merle Dixon was so very different than Connor and Murphy, and so very not like Daryl at all. He creeped her out worse than anyone ever had. And it had very little to do with his prosthetic. He was just unnerving to be around. She set one of the glasses on the table and made her way toward the ladder on the back of the RV.
"Hey," Murphy called.
She looked up at him and saw an empty bottle twirling through his fingers before he tossed it at her feet. She refilled the bottle and tossed it back up to him with genuine smile. Murphy caught the bottle and saluted her with it. "Tank ye, sweetheart," he said as he nodded toward the house again.
Back inside, she found almost everyone settled into chairs with their plates in hand or on laps. She felt her stomach drop as she caught sight of Connor and Andrea in quiet conversation in the corner. As the older woman glanced at her, Beth looked away, quickly heading to the kitchen.
After getting a few mouthfuls of food down, Beth put water on the stove to heat to do the dishes. As long as they could find propane, they could keep running the stove, thankfully. She flitted about the kitchen, setting up a wash and rinse station as well as a dry station. Others would be in to help her clean up, she just wanted to get it ready for when people started clearing their plates. Plus a watched pot never boiled, as the saying went. As long as it took for her to set up the wash stations, a wipe down and clean the cooking areas, and set all the dirty dishes accumulated during the cooking process on the island, the water was starting to steam. By the time she finished the small portions left on her plate, the pot was at a rolling bubble and ready for her to start washing.
As if on cue, T-dog came in with his empty plate. With a smile he set his dish in the left side of the sink, and offered to help her with the hot water. Together they started washing and rinsing the mass of pots and dishes left by the cooks. Others came in and soon the kitchen was filled with people scrubbing, chatting, laughing, enjoying. Beth had been bustled away from the rinse station by Rick, insisting he could handle this much of the kitchen duties. She laughed and walked toward the door.
"Already grabbed the dishes from Merle and Murph," Maggie called after her.
"Of course you did," Beth teased her sister, the atmosphere in the house a lot more relaxed and jovial than it had been the past week. Now that everyone was back together with the additions of Martinez and Merle, everyone felt more at ease. The house was more secure than it was before they got hit, they had supplies in vehicles and for the first time they had an escape plan in place.
Beth turned to watch where she was walking and she saw the only person not currently in the kitchen or dining room was Connor. He was watching her with a smile on his face, the residual smirk that made him look more appealing than when it wasn't there. It may have been smug and cocky but still made the butterflies in Beth's belly do the hula every time she saw it. She wandered over to where he sat by the fireplace and reached past him for his plate on the hearth. He wrapped his warm, thick fingers around her wrist holding her in place as she slid her fingers under the lip of his plate.
His name died on her lips as he kissed her on the side of her neck. He pushed the plate from her fingers and pulled her into his lap, his lips on her blushing cheek.
"I...I..." she stuttered. "I should..."
"Ye should take a break," he mumbled in her ear as she moved from his lap. "Yer gonna run that tiny ass of yers off, if yer not careful."
She shook her head and kissed him briefly. "Just doing what I can," she insisted as she rose, brushing away his hands and smoothing back her hair before she snatched his plate. "Behave," she hissed at him before someone could come out and catch them.
Beth wasn't embarrassed that they were together, persay. She just wasn't ready to deal with all the questions of what a girl like her was doing with a man like Connor. Maggie wasn't happy about it, but she would get used to the idea, Beth knew Maggie couldn't deny her anything she really wanted, never could. She had yelled, cursed and threatened to remove the part of Connor's body that Maggie insisted was doing all his thinking for him. She calmed a little when Beth insisted they had not had sex, yet.
Murphy seemed indifferent. Maybe he was too caught up in Maggie, maybe he was just too busy being Daryl's shadow when he wasn't with Beth's big sister. Maybe he just knew his brother knew what he was doing.
Carol seemed ok with it, though Beth was sure she wasn't going to be. Once Beth calmed down the day Connor cornered her, Carol got her to finally talk about what had happened. For the first time the Beth could remember, someone treated her like an adult. Carol didn't talk down to her, but talked to her, helped her get herself in order and not so scattered. Yes Connor was older than she was, but did that really matter anyway? Since it was quickly turning cool outside, Beth assumed it was going toward October, which meant it was past her birthday of August 18th, making her legal. Carol countered the term 'legal' was based on a authority system that was no more. Ideally it was up to her and Connor if they felt comfortable with the age difference.
Connor had given her ample space to square away her head after her freak out. He had tried warning her against him but once she thought about it, it seemed to make sense to her that they should be together. When she joined him that night on his watch, she found herself speaking of very valid points, and convinced him that maybe the two of them were a good idea. By the end of her seamless argument, she had won the reluctant Connor over, with certain caveats. They would go slow, slower than what had happened the other night, and they would take the time to get to know one another. Until now, they had merely been siblings standing outside of Maggie and Murphy's relationship and just two survivors in the same group. Connor wanted to make sure she knew what she was getting herself into before she decided he was the one she wanted. And he made her promise if someone else came along that suited her better, they would end it.
Promises and caveats were all well and good, but the fact that they shared her bed did little to keep her mind from wandering where he said they were not headed yet. The feelings that he dredged up in her teenaged over hormonal body that one night constantly dogged her. She found herself thinking of his hands and his tongue during all the wrong times. Her mind wandered while she was cooking, earning her more than a few burns on her fingers.
And when they were in her childhood bed together, after he came off watch, it was all she could do to not reach out and touch him. They cuddled, they kissed, but that was all the further Connor let them go, even though she expressed a willingness for more. She took to fixing her own needs before he came off his shift, but all it did was make her eager for more when he slid between the sheets. And when they woke he was always hard against her ass, and she knew he wanted her as much as she wanted him.
But for now Beth would play by his rules.
As night fell, people started drifting to their beds. They had all opted to not use any more fuel than they really needed to just in case they needed it later. So that meant that as soon as it got dark, unless they were working on an essential task, no lanterns, no candles, nothing.
Murphy and Maggie were one of the first to head upstairs to bed. Carol and Beth grinned and giggled like school girls as they watched the pair barely making it up the stairs before falling into each other's arms. It was sweet to see, heartwarming, that two people could find moments in this hell the world had become.
Beth, Carl, Lori, and Andrea had gone to bed not terribly long after the pair. It had been a long few days and everyone was very tired. Shane had gone to the downstairs bedroom that he shared with no one and could be seen sitting up in bed, staring out the window, thinking. T-dog, Scud and Glenn took out their bed rolls and tried to make themselves as comfortable as they could in the living room. The living conditions were not ideal, by any stretch of the imagination, but they were making due with only the minor amount of complaints.
Daryl grunted something to Connor about waking him when it was his turn to be on watch before heading to the RV with Merle and Martinez. Carol didn't like the fact that he was sharing such close quarters with his brother again. It made sense to keep Merle out in Dale's old beat to hell RV, away from the rest of the group. Daryl had said he wanted to be out there incase they needed him, and Carol had sighed and nodded. It was logical, practical and very Daryl. But it put him in close proximity to his brother again, and she worried what Merle would say without anyone else around to be the voice of reason in Daryl's other ear.
Rick did one last check in with the two men on watch before heading upstairs to join his family on the full size bed in Hershel's room.
With a heavy sigh, Carol rose from the rocking chair on the front porch. She deposited a quick kiss on Connor's check before heading in to bed. She quietly climbed the stairs, listening to the sounds of her family in their beds. Beth's room was silent, but Carol knew it would sound differently when Conn came off watch. Lori's snores echoed through the hallway, despite the closed door.
Her footfalls brought her closer to the bed she shared with Andrea, and she felt herself grin at the soft rhythmic noises coming from Murphy and Maggie's room. They did try their best to keep quiet, she admitted. But somethings just couldn't be helped. She did not mind much sharing a wall with them as much as some people might have. She was just tickled to witness such young love, which warmed her heart, as well as her lady parts, giving her hope she could have that sort of affection again.
Laying on the floor of the RV, Daryl looked at the picture Merle had taken from his tent. It was the only picture he had of him and his momma, even before the dead rose to wander the earth. They had lost all of their pictures in that fire that destroyed their house and took his momma. This picture he found in some of his aunt's things.
He laid there, listening to the snores coming from the bed in the back of the RV. Merle was alive. It was something Daryl had insisted was true all along but in the back of his mind he had had his own doubts. And part of him moved on from the bullshit hell Merle was keen on keeping his baby brother in. Daryl had grown as a member of this group, a contributing member, not just looking out for himself any more. With the backing of the MacManus's he had stepped up. Connor and Murphy didn't work against him to keep in him check. They pushed him to be all he could be, Who would have thought a man like him could have earned the respect he had? He knew he was going to have figure out how to keep Merle form smashing that the same way he smashed everything else of value in Daryl's life.
Merle had done little to ingratiate himself back into the group. Yes he and Martinez had saved Andrea, but he tried to jump Rick as soon as he and his family arrived back at camp. Merle had snarled and snapped about the prick leaving him to die on that rooftop in Atlanta. He didn't listen to a word Daryl or Andrea, Murphy or Connor had to say. They all vouched for Rick, and all that did as piss Merle off even more. Those he had trusted turned on him he claimed. Rick and his family steered clear of him fo the time being. And for now that seemed enough.
Scud, the shit for brain tag along, seemed scared shitless of Merle and Martinez both. None of them were too keen on sharing whatever had transpired between the three of them but it was clear they all knew each other. Scud kept to Glenn like stink on shit, poorly assuming that Glenn had some sort of magical powers to keep the elder Dixon at bay. Maybe the kid thought there would be safety in numbers. Hell if Daryl could figure it out.
Connor scrubbed his hand over his face as he leaned against the porch support. He stared out over the fog filled fields of the Greene farm. He was tired. He was so very tired. It had been a long day. It had been a long couple of days. He needed to get his head screwed on straight for a bunch of different reasons.
When the door opened, Connor assumed it was Beth come to keep him company the way she had a few of the past nights even though he knew she was exhausted when she went to bed earlier.
"Brought ya something," a deeper female voice greeted his ears. He turned to find Andrea extending a steaming cup of something.
Connor propped the rifle in his hands against the white painted railing. "Tanks," he mumbled, sipping at the bitter dark liquid. Wasn't quite coffee. It was some sort of tea substance from items Maggie had gathered in the area.
"How are things going?"Andrea asked, moving to stand beside him, one hand on the railing.
He nodded and looked out away from her. "Quiet, juss the way I like it."
"Where's Martinez?" she asked after his watch parner.
Connor thrust his chin toward the RV, toward the dark shadow in a chair on top. He sipped his cup again. "What are you doing up? Ye and Daryl don't have watch fer a few more hours."
Andrea shrugged. " Haven't had a chance to talk to you since we all came back."
He turned towards her, watching her step closer to him, her wide eyes on his face. "We talked during dinner," he reminded her, suddenly feeling uncomfortable. "Whut did you want to talk about?"
She stepped further into his personal space and reached past him to set her mug on the railing. "Been thinking," she started.
Andrea was so close Connor took several steps back, clutching his cup to his chest. He was off kilter and didn't like that feeling at alll. "Talk," he said his eyes darting from her to the horizon.
She sighed. "Look, I've been thinking," she started, again. "I know I've been a real bitch lately," she admitted, her eyes down cast for a second before searching his. "And I want to say I'm sorry." She laid her hand flat on his chest. Connor tensed like a rabbit sensing danger ahead as she slid her hand up his chest, over his neck. She held him there as she stood straight and kissed him.
He did not respond in kind. In fact, his hands gripped her shoulders and pushed her back from him, ripping her lips from his.
"Connor!" she gasped.
He wiped the back of one hand against his mouth. "Whut t'feck was dat for?" he growled.
"Cuz I'm sorry." Connor wouldn't have been surprised if she batted her eyelashes when she said that. He liked Andrea, he really did. But this, this wasn't happening. All he needed was for Beth to wake up and come down to sit with him. It had been hard enough for them to settle into where they were. The self-doubt still lingered on Beth's side, and he doubted he did much to rid her of it. Her finding him with Andrea like this... No. Not happening. If anyone was ending their 'togetherness' it was going to be Beth's doing, not his.
"Dat how you apologized to Daryl fer shooting 'im in t'head?"
She grinned and shook her head. "No, you think I should?"
Connor stepped away from her and pressed himself to the railing of the porch. He wasn't giving her the opportunity for another frontal attack. "He might like it more den me."
"What the hell has happened with you, Conn?" she bitched, her hands on her hips. "Less than a week ago, I couldn't shake you off my tail for anything. Now you are cold and distant."
"Ain't distant." He shook his head. "Am right here. I got yer back, same as I got everyone else's here."
"That's not what I mean," she insisted.
"Look," he said. "Tings change, they always do."
Andrea clenched her jaw. "Is it cuz Beth is making moon eyes at you?"
With his jaw set, Connor didn't answer. He didn't know how to answer. His thing with Beth was still new and they were dancing around each other in a fashion that left them both wanting something else, but neither of them voiced it. He reached for his rifle and set it next to him for easy access as his eyes scanned the area.
"Fuck, Conn," Andrea sighed, disappointment coloring her tone. "It is cuz of her. What the hell are you thinking? If you just needed a soft place to lay-"
Connor's hand tightened around the rifle, suddenly regretting all the times he defended Andrea to anyone who said a sour word about her. "Ye might want t'tink careful first, Andrea," he growled, cutting her off.
"Oh my god, Connor," she scoffed, her tone unbecoming in Connor's opinion. "She is all wrong for you."
"'N whut? Yer perfect fer me?" he snarled still not looking at her. He really wished she would go to bed already. This conversation needed to end, but he could not walk away from his post. He snatched up his rifle and paced down the porch, his eyes searching the darkness.
"If you're feeling guilty about her daddy," Andrea hissed. "Give her to Glenn, Scud or someone else to take care of."
Connor twirled to stare at her disbelievingly. "She's not a baseball glove."
"Not what I meant."
"'Sides, I wouldn't give me dead dog to Scud to take care o'." he growled. "Beth is a good girl, who don't deserve any of t'shit dats happened to her."
"And you are fixing that by fucking her-"
His cold hard eyes silenced her. His hand shot through the air pointing to the door "I tink ye might wanna go back t'bed, Andrea."
"Connor," she tried on her best smile. "You know she's gonna be heartbroken when you move on. She's too young for you."
He smirked at Andrea. "If Amy isn't one to spin tales, I tink Beth is closer to my age den you are."
Andrea cocked her hip to the side and crossed her arms over her chest. 'I can't imagine Maggie's very happy with this," she tried.
"And breaking Beth's heart by hooking up with you is gonna fix dat?" he countered, his hands gripping the railing tighter.
She ran a hand through her blonde hair as Connor turned away and downed the rest of his cup. "Less than a week a go you spent every waking hour keeping track of my every movement," she said bitterly.
"Cuz of your sister. I explained dat t'ye. Murphy explained dat t'ye."
"C'mon Conn," Andrea said, her voice taking a soft seductive tone. "You know there's more to it than that. I've seen how you look at me."
Connor turned to face her, annoyance painted across his face. "It may have been. But ye decided ye didn't want me or me help, 'mmeber?"
"I've changed my mind," she admitted softly, reaching out to finger the button on the front of his shirt.
He knocked her hand away. "No, you are being a spoiled bitch," he growled. "Now dat you can't have me, ye decided dat ye do. It's too late."
"C'mon Conn. What can that little girl possibly have that I don't?" Andrea held her arms open wide and did a small turn.
He held his empty mug out to her. "A heart."