When Daryl blinked his eyes open, he was sprawled haphazardly in the bed. He had managed a sleep so deep that it was almost disorientating to wake up from it. He was flat on his stomach and a quick assessment of the situation reminded him he hadn't been wearing clothes when he had dozed off. The sheet was just barely covering his lower half.

When his vision cleared, Daryl realised he was being watched. Beth was leaning in the doorway, looking freshly showered and holding a steaming mug of coffee.

"Morning," she greeted him.

"Were you watching me sleep?" he rasped, his mouth partly muffled by the pillow.

"You're cute when you're unconscious."

"That's vaguely threatening."

"So you are scared of me," Beth teased.

Daryl tried to muster up a scowl. Its impact was diminished by his disinclination to move. "I could throw you over my shoulder if I wanted, Greene."

"So do it," Beth invited, playfully running her toes along a line in the wooden floor.

"I said if I wanted to. I just don't happen to wanna right now."

Beth bit her lip and smirked at his obvious evasion. She slid her way into the room, all light on her feet and coy smiles. Daryl watched her, noting the mischievous glint in her eye but not questioning her motives.

The mug of coffee was carefully deposited on the bedside table and Beth flopped down next to him. She leaned over him and Daryl could feel the length of her hair tickling against his bare back. It wasn't until then that he even gave his back a second thought.

He felt a fingertip tentatively brush his skin once briefly before there was a more solid touch. Daryl fought to keep still but his muscles hardened into stone. Unexpectedly Beth didn't trace any of his scars. Her fingertips gently ran the length of his spine, ending at the napping of his neck and lightly tangling in the hair there.

"Is this ok?" Beth asked. All her previous confidence had faded and she sounded just as unsure as he felt.

"Yes." He managed to pry the word from his throat. Daryl expected to feel her fingers on his scars and was somewhat surprised when they lingered on his neck, kneading the muscles carefully. Daryl inhaled slowly and carefully, and when he released the breath slowly he tried to will some of the tension out of his shoulders. He wasn't exactly successful but Beth didn't call attention to his discomfort.

When her touch drifted lower, she was still avoiding his scars. Instead she traced the lines of ink spilling down his back.

"I like this tattoo," she commented softly. "It's kind of sexy."

Daryl half snorted, half laughed at her comment.

"What?" Beth asked, humour warming her tone.

"You. Talking about liking tattoos when you look like the kind of girl more likely to marry a farmer in his overalls."

"Haven't you ever heard the expression don't judge a book by its cover?" Beth retorted dryly.

Daryl chanced a look over his shoulder and was treated to wry expression from Beth. It made him grin a little. "You're sweet on the inside and out."

Beth rolled her eyes but he could tell that she was secretly pleased he had called her sweet. She leaned forward and pressed her lips to his back, not on the dark design decorating his shoulder blades but directly to scars now. Daryl found he didn't mind the sensation of her warm lips brushing his damaged skin.

"I'm not always the good girl,' she challenged him and Daryl didn't argue with her. When she was touching him sensually like this, he was inclined to let her say what she pleased.

When he felt a light nip at his neck, he decided he'd been passive for too long. He rolled them swiftly, easily manoeuvring underneath him. Her leg hooked over his hip naturally. Her smiled was lovely when he looked down on her.

He ducked his head to capture her mouth with his own. There was a rush of electricity through his body as her pliant lips yielded to him. Her hair was a tangled around her but Daryl couldn't help but think that this was the closest to perfection he was ever going to get. His eyes must have darkened because Beth pressed a palm to his cheek.

"What are you thinking about?" she murmured seriously.

"Stuff," Daryl replied cryptically, still hesitant to share the depth of his feelings with Beth.

To her credit she didn't push him or get frustrated with his taciturn habits.

Instead she flicked her eyes downward, her forehead creasing. "Are you wearing any underwear?"

"Nope," Daryl confessed slowly, over annunciating that single word. He couldn't fight the smirk that crossed his face when he noticed the flush of colour in her cheeks.

Daryl ghosted his hand up her arm, pausing when he brushed the large bandaid which was all that was covering her stitches.

"Did that hurt?"

Beth shook her head. "Not anymore. If anything it's kind of itchy. Has been for about a day."

Daryl sighed and sat back on his heels. "Come on, let's take them out."

"Right now?"

Daryl's grinned widened. "Only one thing on your brain?" he teased.

Beth squared her shoulders defiantly and rolled out of bed. "You're not that irresistible," she informed him primly with a flick of her hair.

Daryl chuckled as she flounced out of the room. "Liar," he called at her retreating back.

He grabbed some jeans and tugged them up over his hips, following Beth out into the main area.

"Let's do it out front where there's good light."

Once they were both seated, Daryl carefully pealed the protective seal away from her arm. He didn't want to catch any of the sutures on the sticky surface.

Daryl looked over the wounded area closely. He would have left them in a day or two longer but the last thing he wanted was her skin healing over the stitches. That had happened to him once and it had created almost an entirely new problem digging them out.

"How does it look?" Beth asked tightly, looking straight ahead.

"Fine. I think you'll live."

Beth shot him a look over her shoulder but a smile was teasing the edges of her mouth. Daryl had a very small pair of scissors that he could hook just under the stitch to cut it.

Beth hissed and Daryl stopped immediately.

Beth noticed and blushed. "Sorry. I didn't hurt, it just felt weird," she explained sheepishly.

Daryl accepted that and went about easing the little black threads out of her arm. He was right when he'd said it would scar. Maybe if his hand had been a little steadier then the whole thing would have been neater. Still the woman he was in love with had just been shot.

The thought hit him like a crowbar to the stomach and his hand dropped to his side.

"Are you alright?" Beth asked with concern.

For a second Daryl couldn't answer her.

"Daryl? Don't tell me you're getting queasy."

"I don't get queasy," Daryl scoffed quickly, hoping to cover his silence. Beth seemed to buy it, examining her arm. Daryl made a show of packing away the first aid kit, trying to make sense of his reeling mind.

He was in love with Beth? Was it new or had he been for a while and only just figuring it out? His heart was lurching in his chest, irregular and painful. And how long did he think he could hide this from her exactly? Beth knew him well enough to know something was up. Even as she was sitting there, her expression was turning contemplative.

Just as she was opening her mouth, probably to demand answers, his phone rang.

"Yes?" he spoke eagerly into the phone.

"Hey asshole."

"Martinez! Are you back in town?"

"Yeah man, got back in last night."

Beth was signalling that she wanted his attention. When Daryl glanced at him she mouthed 'Karen?'

"How's Karen."

"She's alright. It went clean through her arm but she has to keep it in a sling, which is driving her crazy."

"I can imagine." Daryl knew exactly how stir crazy Karen was probably going, Martinez probably had her cooped up in the house. It was amusing to consider.

"She was protecting Beth, I won't ever forget that," Daryl said gruffly.

Beth met his eyes and she nodded jerkily.

"Don't sweat it. We're family and we look out for each other."

Martinez's words were another painful jab to his very being. People just complicated the crap out of life when you let them in.

"Anyway, I need you back here."

Daryl rubbed the back of his neck. He had known there would come an end to this dream out at the cabin but he had hoped it would last a little longer.

"We can be back by tonight."

Beth bit her lip and her smile became a little forced.

"Good. Things are gonna start happening soon."

"Things like what?" Daryl couldn't help being a little wary.

"We're to expect an envoy within the next week."

Daryl's eyebrows lifted. An envoy of the international contact. That was the closest they'd ever been to finding out who it was. He'd have to call Rick and Walsh soon.

"We'll hit the road," Daryl promised.

"Send Beth round to visit Karen."

"Ah so that's the real motivation," Daryl joked.

"You know how scary my wife is."

From the background Daryl heard some shouting and he guessed that Karen had overheard that last comment.

Martinez managed a rushed, "I gotta go," before the call ended.

Beth wrapped her arms around her knees. "We're leaving." It was a statement not a question.


Beth sighed and pushed herself to her feet. Daryl caught her hand as she attempted to walk past, his panic from earlier vanishing in the wake of forlornness.

"I don't want to but I have to."

"I understand," Beth said sincerely.

His fingers tightened around hers. "When it's all done and my dumb ass brother is out of trouble, we can come back here if you want."

Daryl felt a guilty twist in his gut, worried he was making a promise he couldn't possibly follow through on. There was no telling what would happen if they stopped the gang. That didn't mean Beth was safe or that he'd be left to be her guardian. That wasn't even addressing what was between them. Daryl wasn't certain he'd be able to let her go if it came to it and that was frightening. He hadn't wanted to be dependent on anyone but this teenage girl had waltzed into his life like sunshine. Even grief stricken she had been something special.

Beth's arms were winding around his neck and her body was curving into his. Without hesitation he wrapped his own arms tightly around her. He was holding her so close he could feel her ribs. He must have been hurting her but she didn't complain. There was a lot being said with this simple embrace.

"I won't let you get hurt," Daryl whispered into her hair, not certain she even heard him. If he could promise her nothing else, than he would make good on delivering this one.

AN: I had no time and yet I still managed to get this done. It is shorter than usual but please forgive me. Yeah Daryl thought the L word. I liked having him acknowledge his feelings first.