You Like It Hard Like Me by exoticdeviance

Thursday

“I want to take you home.”

The words are out of Beth’s mouth before she understands exactly what it sounds like.

“As my boyfriend.” Her brow furrows. That could be easily be categorized as worse. “Uh, fake boyfriend. I need to take you home as my fake boyfriend.”

When nothing but silence meets her declaration, her knuckles rap against the huge metal dome a pair of legs is sticking out from.

“Daryl, you hear me? You got your headphones in again?”

An overly dramatic sigh is the only response. Beth’s about to knock again because she knows from experience that sound carries painfully under that thing and she’s more than willing to annoy a real answer out of him. Her hand freezes mid-air when the rest of the body attached to the legs worms its way out. Daryl Dixon sits up and slides his protective eyewear off to ensure she sees his glare from his position on the floor. Beth smiles.

“Goddamn, I heard you. Very cute joke. Ha fuckin’ ha. ” His eyes roll, “Now quit aggravatin’ me and let me get back to work.”

“This ain’t a joke! Please, just—” The desperation in her voice piques his interest enough to give her at least half of his attention, “You know Maggie’s gettin’ married this weekend and Missy is in the wedding party and Maggie told me Missy’s goin’ through a divorce so she asked if her brother could be her plus one instead which means he’s going to be there. I need to have a date who can pass as my boyfriend.”

“Beth.” He’s lost count of how many times he’s said her name with that exact mixture of exasperation and irritation, “Why don’t you bring your actual boyfriend? Zach? Remember him?”

“Because…” Beth crosses her arms and shoots him a nervous look. “We kinda broke up two days ago.”

That takes him by surprise. Since she moved into the city three years ago and started working parttime at the gallery that houses most of his work, it’s known in their circle of friends that wherever one is the other is not very far. A majority of their unlikely friendship is arguing (with a pinch of highly personal drunk late night confessionals neither of them talk about in the sober light of day), but they’re still close. Close enough that he’s usually the first to know when she breaks up with someone and she needs a shoulder to cry on or in the case of one unfortunate soul—a large pair of fists that aren’t afraid to get a little bloody.

“You alright?”

Her face smooths out and a small but grateful smile spreads across her lips, “Yeah. I’m good. Wasn’t really all that heartbroken. Didn’t feel much of anythin’, which was obviously the problem.”

He stares at her as if he’s looking for something. Whatever it is, he must find it because he simply grunts and nods.

“No.”

Daryl already has his eyewear back in place and is sliding back under the metal dome, so he only hears her stomp her foot like an angry child.

“C’mon, Daryl! Didn’t you hear me? I said—”

“Some kid is goin’ to your sister’s weddin’ and you don’t wanna look like a single loser. I heard ya the first time, Beth.” His voice echoes against the metal and she has to strain to hear the last part when the hiss of a torch nearly drowns him out. She needed to change tactics.

Beth grabs a pair of goggles and tugs them on before sitting on the floor. She waits to hear a pause in whatever he’s doing before laying back, tapping his leg, and wiggling in next to him.

No.” Despite the affirmed rejection, he shuts the torch off and carefully slides it out and away from her. Unfortunately, the heat stays trapped inside, but she waits until she’s sure he’s listening.

“It’s Jimmy.” It’s a near whisper, but when he tenses next to her she knows he’s heard her. Her hand snakes up into the tight space to rub at the sweat forming on the side of her face. “Missy’s brother is Jimmy.”

They’re quiet for a long time, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t communicating. Daryl knows Beth well enough to know what she would be saying if she didn’t know he processed better without interruptions.

Please understand how hard this is going to be. I can’t face him alone.

His gloved hand flops to the floor between them. It’s the first sign of defeat, but Beth bites her lip to hold back. He hasn’t said yes just yet.

“I don’t fuckin’ own shit nice enough for a weddin’.”

Beth grins, grabs his hand and gives it a squeeze knowing what he would say if he was better with words.

I’ve got your back.

+++

He’s pretty sure he’s never looked more stupid. He says as much by mumbling every creative combination of cuss words he knows.

“Daryl Dixon, you better quit it or I’ll shove a bar of soap in that filthy mouth.” Beth brushes her hands across his shoulders and down the smooth lines of the formal jacket he’s cussing at. She smiles at him in the mirror and briefly squeezes his forearms. “Besides, I don’t know why you’re complain’. You look very handsome.”

That halts his mumbled tirade in its tracks. He clears his throat and averts his eyes wishing his ears didn’t stick out of his hair so damn much. His brother could always tell the best way to embarrass him because his ears would turn bright red.

“Enough of that.” He reaches up to pull at the stiff collar of his white button down, “You’re supposed to be helpin’ me figure out how to convince everyone I’m your honey pie.”

He smirks when the endearment earns him a bark of laughter from the blonde behind him.

“We already know enough about each other that we’ll be able to answer any questions my nosy family might ask. I’m not too worried about that.” She circles around him to smack his hands away and re-button the dress shirt he was tugging at.

“What makes you so sure we know all that about each other, Greene?”

Her eyebrows raise in amusement, “What’s my favorite color?”

“Purple.” Beth lets out a little ahem and he rolls his eyes. “Don’t start that again. I meant

Lavender. What’s mine?”

“Leather because you’re a freak and refuse to give me a straight answer.” She ignores his chuckle.

“What’s my biggest fear?”

“The one you tell people is heights.” He rolls his shoulders when she finishes buttoning him up.

“Damn, this shit is uncomfortable.”

The one you tell people.” She steps back with her hand on her hips. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means exactly what I said, girl.” He looks at her, “What’s my biggest fear?”

“You don’t have one big one. You have a bunch of little and really silly fears.” She catches his incredulous look and holds up her hand to tick off fingers, “Foggy windows, anythin’ touchin’ your eye, answerin’ calls from unknown numbers, Neti Pots, holdin’ babies—”

“Alright, Christ. I get it.” He grumbles, “Ain’t no reason I should be holdin’ a baby anyway.

What if I squeeze it too hard and its head pops?”

“Good lord.” Beth can barely get the words out between her fit of giggles. It wouldn’t be so funny if he wasn’t so utterly serious. “How many times do I have to tell you that’s not how babies work?

They’re not freakin’ balloon animals.”

“Yeah, well, I still don’t got any business holdin’ it.”

“Fine, I promise I won’t make you hold any of the hypothetical babies that’ll be at my sister’s weddin’.” Beth walks another circle around him to make sure everything is in it’s place, “This is the winner. You can change now. Then we’ll pick a tie.”

He resists shooting her a relieved look. He’s a grown ass man and he could have changed whenever he wanted, thanks. He did not need her permission. He shrugs off the jacket and places it in her waiting hands before ducking behind the curtain.

“Now that we’ve gotten all that super important stuff out of the way, let’s focus on what’s actually gonna be hard.” She hangs the jacket on the hook, admiring its elegant lines. She wasn’t kidding when she said he looked handsome, there was just something about a built man in a nice fitting suit. She doubted any of her female relatives would be feeling sorry for her this weekend.

“What’s that?” He steps into his jeans, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he pulls them up and closed.

“Mama, Daddy, Maggie, and Shawn already know about you since I’ve mentioned you before. So we’re gonna need to make up a story on how and when we started datin’. I figured the closer we stick to the truth, the less likely we’re gonna screw up. They don’t know about Zach, so that gives us about 7 months to work with.”

He pulls his t-shirt over his head and grabs his leather jacket. “You and Zach were only together 2 months. Wouldn’t it be easier to just say that?”

“I wouldn’t bring a guy I’d only been datin’ 2 months to my sister’s weddin’.” When he steps out, she reaches up to pat down his unruly hair. “Bringin’ someone I’ve been datin’ 7 months makes a statement. It says we’re still new, but definitely serious. The fact we were friends for so long before is even better ‘cos then that shows you actually respect me and aren’t just tryin’ to screw me. Get it?”

He doesn’t get it because he didn’t have the kind of family that cared about that, but he nods anyway as they head over to the tie section. He thinks this may or may not be one of the circles of hell. How many fucking tie colors does someone really need? He doesn’t even own a tie.

“So, I was thinkin’ that we say we got together the night of your last big show. I saw one of your pieces, thought it was about me, confronted you, you said it was, we admitted we had feelings for each other, and then we started datin’. We won’t have to change anythin’ else.” Beth picked up a few ties, all in varying shades of blue. “We already hang out, have the same friends, and go out to eat. All we have to do is start callin’ them dates and tada! We’re in a relationship!”

Daryl hums his agreement. It was a solid plan with minimal room for error. Sticking so close to the truth would lend credibility to the overall lie. The only part that made him hesitate was that the piece that what was easily the biggest hit of his last show was actually inspired by Beth. Zechariah 5:9. Strips of shiny chrome-plated metal twisted to form an intricate 6-foot tall silhouette of a sleeping woman with wings that spanned nearly double her height and curled around her nude form. The wings alone took him over a year to complete.

He’s never told her she was the inspiration behind the sculpture. Why would he? The idea struck during one of those deep, philosophical discussions you only ever have with friends when you’re the perfect mixture of intoxicated and thoughtful. They had both had a few drinks at Safe Zone where a mutual acquaintance was performing with his band. Somehow they gravitated toward one another despite having argued nonstop at work since Beth started, and a conversation on the latest artist renting the gallery space morphed into another topic and then another. When it came time for them to leave, he’d offered to walk her home. The friendship was fragile with newness, but when she asked him if he would be interested in sharing a bowl, he shrugged and followed her up to her apartment.

She was laid out on a couch that smelled like nail polish and he sat on the floor with his shoulders pressed against the side, the back of his head resting on a soft cushion. Each time she shifted to pass him the pipe, Daryl felt her hip bump the top of his head and he would laugh because at that point he was already pretty lit. Their conversation drifted when he noticed the beautiful leather and gold Bible on her coffee table. When she noticed him staring at it, Beth talked about her favorite scriptures and stories, pausing only to take a hit off the cute elephant pipe she affectionately called Dumbo. When she ran out of things to say and the bowl was kicked, he asked her if there were any female angels since he’d only ever heard male names in all her stories.

There’s gotta be, but there’s only one time it’s kinda hinted. Zechariah 5:9. I remember ‘cos I used to ask Daddy the same thing. She didn’t mention it was because she was afraid Maggie’s Mama wouldn’t get to be an angel and he didn’t ask why she’d be so curious.

He picked up the book, thumbing through it. He had never read the Bible before, but his curiosity urged him on. He read a few scriptures out loud and found the words oddly beautiful if a little over his head. Beth would interject with explanations every now and then when he stumbled over names or paused. When he had been reading for a while with no commentary, he looked up to find her curled up and asleep. He would learn later that the quilt he settled over her was handmade by her Mama’s quilting club but in the moment he paid it no mind, quietly closed the door behind him, and headed home. He sat at his drafting table until the sun came up, trying to capture the awe he felt earlier with a Bible in his hands and an angel at his back.

He didn’t think much of it. Plenty of friends had inspired him before. He had an entire series he’d created when he had begrudgingly befriended his neighbor Carol and found out just how much of a bastard her late husband had been. That not only had that man broken her while he was alive, but he took their daughter with him when he drunkenly wrapped his car around a tree with the little girl in the back. All the pieces in that series were abstract. Most were dark and sharp and angry because Daryl wasn’t very affectionate with most people but kids? They deserved love and they deserved to live. Then there was Untitled. He hadn’t been sure what it was and was deciding against including it in the series since it was so different. Yet, when Carol saw it in his workshop before they went out for lunch, she wept. She waved him off when he asked her what was wrong.

He would return to his studio later to find she had scribbled out the word Untitled on the paper name tent and flipped it over. He could see where she had written Sophia.

He put the piece back in the series.

Yeah, the people around him inspired him all the time. Beth was just another.

“Alright, which one do you hate the least?” Beth holds up three ties for his perusal. They all pretty much look the same to him: blue, blue, and blue.

“Can’t I wear a black one?”

“We’re going to a weddin’, Dixon. Not a funeral home.”


Friday

Beth wants to outright laugh at him for being too scared to ask until they were less than a minute away from the house, but she knew Daryl was not the kind of man that liked being laughed at and she didn’t want to introduce him to her family while he was having one of his moody temper tantrums.

“Well, don’t bring it up. It’s obvious you’re older but they don’t have to know how much.” She presses her cheek to her shoulder and stares at the familiar fields and houses whizzing by. “If someone does ask, tell them. It’s not somethin’ you should be ashamed of. I’m 25, Daryl. We’re both adults.”

“That ain’t what I asked, girl.” His hand tightens on the steering wheel and he turns onto the gravel road Beth points out. “I asked if your parents were gonna have a problem with me bein’ older. This is a family gatherin’ and I ain’t lookin’ to spoil anyone’s good time. The way you talk

‘bout your sister makes me think she’d kill me and y’all got plenty of land to hide my body.”

The truck eventually slows to a stop and he throws it in park, turning to look at her. The tilt of her lips is soft, but he can see that she’s pleased with him for some reason. Her hand reaches out to lay on his knee and give it a squeeze.

“The fact that you’re even worried about that sort of thing is exactly why it ain’t gonna matter. The spoilin’ a good time part. Not the murder.” Before he could protest and demand a real answer, she leans forward to press her lips against his cheek. He rolls his eyes to hide his urge to squirm. After years of friendship, he’s gotten used to her being in his space, but sometimes it was still hard to accept affection so freely given. “You’re a good man, Daryl. That’s all they’ll care about.”

He scoffs and looks away. “Well if I get shot in the ass, you’re pickin’ out the fuckin’ bullet.” “Deal.” Beth opens her door and hops out, the gravel crunching underneath her boots. The door is about to close before she pauses and swings it back wide. “Daddy’s got a good 10 years on Mama. There’s only 12 years between us. So bein’ mad at you would make Daddy a big fat hypocrite and Mama would never let him live it down.”

Her grin is vicious as she closes the door and circles around the truck. Daryl wasn’t sure if that information made things better or worse. Possibly worse. Fathers didn’t trust other men with their daughters because they remembered exactly how they acted when in that man’s position. This would be a little too familiar to Mr. Greene.

Beth knocked on the side of the truck, miming the opening of the back. Sighing, he got out to help her. It was too late to escape now.

+++

The first Greene he meets is Annette. She’s out on the porch waving wildly as they make their way toward the house. He hangs back, taking his time carrying their luggage, but finds it difficult to stifle a grin as Beth runs up the walkway and porch steps, their garment bags whipping behind her.

“Mama!”

Her slim arms wrap around her mother’s neck and the older woman’s bright, infectious laugh is nearly identical to Beth’s. “Oh, Bethie, I’m so happy to have my baby girl home.”

Daryl can only hang back so far without being awkward, so he makes his way up the steps as the two part.

“You must be Daryl! Beth’s told us so much about you. I’m happy you could join us this weekend.”

“Thank you for allowin’ me to escort Beth, ma’am.” He’s never been this nervous around a fellow adult in his life. There’s a good chance this might be the first time he’s meeting a “girlfriend’s” parents. The most important thing his past girlfriends have introduced him to are a new pair of bed sheets. He shifts Beth’s weekender onto his other shoulder and holds out a hand.

“Get a load of that, Ma’am! Oh no sugar, call me Annette or don’t call me at all, ya hear?” She knocks his hand back and brings him in for a short hug. He’s practically bent in half and he feels the bag on his shoulder slipping at the sudden drop in height. For such a small woman, she’s freakishly strong. “C’mon in. How was the drive from Atlanta?”

“It was good!” Beth saves him from answering and he follows her into the foyer. “Not a minute of traffic, but I think that has more to do with Daryl knowin’ the back roads so well.”

Beth hangs the garment bags on the coat rack next to the entry way, “Where’s Daddy and Shawn? Are Maggie and Glenn back yet? Mags texted that they were out pickin’ up some snacks. Y’all shoulda told us. We coulda picked up something on the way. I’m sure she’s driving that poor man crazy in the chip aisle.”

Annette’s laughter is loud and free and Daryl finds himself drawn into it, “You know your sister. She nearly had Daniel over at the florist in tears yesterday. Hand to God, I’m convinced Glenn has more patience than the Lord himself. And Shawn’s over helpin’ Otis and Patricia fix their roof up. Storm blew in a few nights ago and smashed a hole as big as Otis. He’ll be stayin’ over there tonight so Glenn can take his room since it’s the night before the big day.”

“Anne? That Bethie?” The deep voice carries from the back of the house and with a few heavy footfalls, a burly man with bright, white hair and a stern face appears. His face melts into a wide smile when he spots his daughter. “There’s my sweetpea.”

“Hey Daddy.” Beth allows herself to be enveloped in her father’s arms. Daryl swallows the sudden lump in his throat at the familial moment. As far as he’s concerned, he’ll be ready to dissect his own daddy issues exactly never. The hug ends and Daryl sets the bags down to give himself something to do, not because he’s nervous.

“Daddy, this is my boyfriend Daryl.” Her head whips between her parents and Daryl, and he hopes no one can see the strain in her overly wide smile.

Daryl clears his throat and extends a hand to the man, “Nice to meet you, sir.”

Hershel Greene takes the offered hand and shakes with a force that shouldn’t surprise any man brave—or stupid—enough to date one of his daughters. The farmer grunts when he drops his hand, and Daryl thinks he might be able to survive the weekend if Mr. Greene sticks to nonverbal communication.

“I’d call you son, but something tells me you’re closer to my age with that gray in your beard.” Maybe not.

Daddy!

Hershel Jeremiah!

Hershel has the good grace to look chastised when he realizes he’s pinned between the glares of both women.

“I’m just pulling the man’s leg.” Hershel steps up and slaps Daryl in the arm with enough force to make him twitch “Just a joke. You got it, right?”

He tries to force a smile, but when he sees Beth and Annette purse their lips to keep in a laugh, he knows must look more pained than humored. “Of course, sir. No offense taken.”

“Good man, good man.” He pats Daryl again and grabs the nape of his neck and nearly throttles him. All with a chuckle. Daryl attempts to join in with an awkward half-laugh of his own. Beth giggles at the strange noises coming out of his mouth, but manages to cover it with a cough that fools exactly no one.

Annette rolls her eyes and snaps the dish towel in her hands at her husband, “That’s enough from you. Daryl, sugar, you can call him Hershel. No need to be so formal, you’re with family.” Hershel harrumphs as if he has something to say about that but ultimately stays quiet and steps away from him.

“Well!” Beth claps her hands and makes her way to Daryl’s free side, intertwining their fingers in a silent show of comfort, “My bed made up yet or should I grab some sheets? Daryl and I should put our stuff away so we’ll be free when Maggie and Glenn come back. We could do for a nap, too.”

Beth’s father seems to visibly pale at the idea his youngest daughter will be sharing a room with him under his roof, so Daryl pipes up, “Ah, unless there’s another place I can…I mean, I will be sleepin’?”

“I was thinkin’ you could sleep on the couch if you want.” Hershel offers the idea a little too quick, but he’s not about to fight the man. He opens his mouth to agree but he doesn’t get a chance to the words out.

“I wouldn’t think too hard on that, Hersh. At the rate you’re goin’, the couch might be spoken for.” Annette lets that hang in the air, her pleasant smile never dropping. She waves them both toward the stairs. “Go on and get settled you two. I made up the bed this mornin’, Bethie. We’ll leave you so y’all can get some rest before supper.”

Beth takes that for the escape route it is and nods enthusiastically. She grabs the garment bags off the coat hanger and starts to climb the stairs, “C’mon, honey pie.”

It takes Daryl a moment to realize she’s referring to him and he nearly snorts at the silly endearment thrown back at him. He nods at Annette and Hershel before picking up their bags and following.

+++

The bedroom door clicks shut and Daryl leans heavily against it after gently dropping the bags.

Beth throws their garment bags over a chair and flops back on her bed with a loud exhale.

“That went way better than I thought! Daddy was nice.”

“That’s your Daddy bein’ nice?” He hisses. “Fuckin’ hell, girl. What kind of horror show were you expectin’ that what just happened down there is considered better?”

She rises up on her elbows to look him in the eye, “Trust me. You don’t want to know.” Daryl’s man enough to agree and leave it.

+++

Beth isn’t sure if this is really happening or if she’s still upstairs napping and having a nightmare.

“So what is it you said you did for a livin’, Daryl?” Hershel’s voice carries across the small dinner table with yet another question that can be heard well over any other conversation. It’s not exactly a surprise that everyone goes quiet. Again.

“I work in the same gallery as Beth.” He’s been managing the interrogation with most answers like this. Short. Simple. Polite.

“He doesn’t just work there, Daddy. Daryl’s one of their top selling artists. You would know that if you actually looked at the pictures and clippings I sent Mama of his show a few months ago.”

Beth takes a sip of sweet tea, “He’s only workin’ there ‘cos he likes helpin’ Karen out, anyway.

He won’t even let her pay him.”

“She’s kind enough to let me use the studio space in the back so it works out for everyone.” He focuses on his plate, cutting his chicken carefully to hide his surprise. He wasn’t aware Beth knew he wouldn’t let Karen pay him for the random jobs he did around the gallery. He wonders if Karen said something or if she’s been watching him closer than he thought.

“An artist.” Hershel hums to himself and forks some mashed potatoes into his mouth. “Isn’t that another word for unemployed?”

Daryl’s lips twitch up into a smirk at the dig. The man’s not entirely wrong. Before he started gaining traction, he survived more than a few months on peanut butter, jelly, and bread. The bread was a luxury addition, if he could afford it. Hell, he lived out of his truck for a solid two months once. He knows he’s told her those stories, yet he can practically feel Beth’s hackles rise beside him. To everyone’s surprise, it’s Maggie that speaks up first.

“I doubt he’s got money troubles, Daddy.” She catches his eye and winks at him slyly. “When Beth first met him, I looked him up and while Glenn and I really loved his stuff, we didn’t have ten or twenty grand lyin’ around.”

“Your stuff, uh, art is pretty cool,” Glenn agrees. “I’m not really into that scene, so my opinion probably doesn’t mean much, but the sculptures are interesting without being too, uh…” “Stuck up in a way only weird rich people get?” He interrupts with a raised eyebrow.

The blunt honesty gains him a laugh across the table and Glenn nods, “Yeah. Pretty much. Not sure if I would have been able to take you seriously if you were charging ten grand for a blank canvas painted with a red dot. But morphing and shaping all that metal the way you do? I didn’t even know that was possible. How do you make them? I feel like I would melt my freaking hand off.”

The outright praise in such an intimate setting makes him a little uncomfortable, but he learned a long time ago that taking pride in what he did was necessary to keep him afloat. He spent half his life feeling like nothing he did was worth shit, but his art? That was worth something. Not just the money, although that certainly didn’t hurt. It’s worth came from people like Carol who could look at a mess of bright, pretty metal and see her daughter again. That’s what made him worth something.

“I nearly did melt my hand off, but y’get used to it.” He shrugs and carefully lifts a forkful of food off his plate, “‘Sides, Beth tells me if I lose a hand, it’ll only help my popularity.”

Annette quietly gasps her daughter’s name in faux-outrage, cuing a bark of laughter from Maggie across the table. Beth nearly chokes on a carrot at his unexpected joke and kicks him under the table. She’s glaring at him but he can see a smile wanting to break through out of the corner of his eye, “That’s not what I meant and you know know it!”

Except that it definitely was, and if he was being honest, he should admit that he agreed with her at the time. They also might have been higher than a kite in fucking space, but he doubts the current crowd would find much humor in that last tidbit.

“And what do your parents think about you being an artist?”

The question wipes the pleasant grin off his face fast enough that Beth’s hand finds his leg under the table and squeezes hard. He turns to catch her face and while she looks neutral enough, he knows that even if he rudely brushed her father off, she would back him. His shoulders loosen.

“They passed away well before I started, sir.”

It’s probably the kindest thing he’s ever said about his parents. Merle would die from shock if he was here. Actually, he’s pretty sure somewhere in Northern Georgia Merle is probably suddenly and inexplicably annoyed with his baby brother.

Annette makes a soft sympathetic noise and by the thump that preceded Hershel’s sudden need to shift in his seat, her subtle kick hit its mark, “Well, I’m sure they would be proud of you, sugar.

You’ve clearly made quite a name for yourself!”

Daryl doesn’t bother to correct her and without thinking too hard on it, his free hand finds Beth’s on his leg. The awkward moment carries everyone through the rest of dinner and when Annette sets a warm apple pie in the center of the table with a command to dig in, Maggie speaks up again. “So Daryl, Bethie said y’all got together after she found out you made a sculpture of her. She won’t tell us which one. Me and Mama are bettin’ it’s that huge angel that was all over the Atlanta Post. It doesn’t really look like her, but we thought it kinda felt like her, y’know?” She smiles as she sets a slice of pie on her fiance’s plate and reaches for her own. Everyone pointedly ignores the other end of the table where Hersel protests at Annette smacking his reaching hand away and quietly telling him he’ll get a piece when she feels like serving him a damn piece and right now she’s not feeling like it.“You plan to tell her that way or did you just get lucky that she noticed?”

Maggie, ugh. Daryl, you don’t have to—”

“Uh, yeah he does! Otherwise I’ll never get the details. You’ve been as tight as a clam and I’ve lived through your endless chatter long enough to know you bein’ so quiet means it’s a good story. Besides, can’t be that bad!” The sisters seem to have some sort of face off, but Maggie somehow wins and judging by Beth’s annoyed expression, this happens a lot. “So, Daryl?” Fuck.

Stick to the truth or make something up?

He waits for the pie server to reach his hands before attempting to answer. “It wasn’t planned. I, uh, wasn’t expectin’ her to notice.”

“Why an angel? I mean, if that was the one.” Annette butts in, just as invested in the conversation. He swallows forcefully and his palms start to feel damp. If he doesn’t sell this, Beth’s plan of him being her safety net around her ex could crash and burn before the wedding even starts. He clumsily serves Beth a piece and she’s nice enough not to laugh when it gets everywhere, or she’s as nervous as him about what might come out of his mouth. The blonde takes mercy on him and snatches the server out of his hand to lay a much neater slice on his plate.

“Ah, well, yeah. Beth and I were just talkin’ one night. I noticed she had this really pretty Bible and since I don’t know much about it she started tellin’ me all sorts of stories—” The narrowing of

Hershel’s eyes makes him reconsider, “I mean, she was tellin’ me about scriptures and…”

He can feel his ears burning, “Well, I asked if there were any female angels and she said only in one place—”

“Zechariah 5:9! I always wondered why you called it that instead of just Beth or somethin’ cheesy.” Despite the earlier tension, the sisters share a small secret smile.

“We read a few scriptures and it was really—Somethin’ bout the way the words were written was… When I got home, I sketched the rest of the night. I kept tryin’ to figure out what an angel would look like, but I just—” He clears his throat and shrugs. “I kept thinkin’ of Beth.”

He’s never told anyone that story before and laying it out in front of her family makes him feel raw and vulnerable. He’s never had to explain who or what inspires his work. He’s surprised he managed to get through the entire thing without cringing or getting up and leaving. He has a habit of walking away from conversations he doesn’t want to have, much to his best friend’s eternal aggravation.

“Oh, sugar.” Annette places a hand over her heart and sighs. Maggie isn’t fairing much better and even Glenn looks impressed.

“Bethie, you got yourself a romantic! Maybe he can teach my husband-to-be some pointers before I get sick and tired and divorce him.” Maggie snickers when Glenn shoves at her but then pulls her in to kiss the side of her head.

He turns to look at Beth on his right to share a look of relief because holy shit he pulled it off, but she’s staring at him with a strange look on her face.

“But that was almost 3 years ago?” The words are out there before she can stop them and Daryl shrugs in response. He wasn’t expecting her to bring up the actual timeline and he hopes her family doesn’t think too hard on the amount of time between the two events. Maybe he was just pining for all they know.

“Took me a while to finish.”

Beth nods and he stays very still when she leans over to kiss the side of his mouth. When she sits back, her eyes are on her ruined slice of pie and there’s a small smile across her lips.

The conversation finally steers away from Daryl and toward the wedding tomorrow, but Hershel keeps watching him for a long time.


Saturday (Early Morning)

It had been a while since he had enjoyed this.

A warm body to press his aching cock against, smooth delicate skin under his hands, the tickle of sweet smelling hair against his face. Daryl wasn’t the kind of man that needed a woman to warm his bed, but when he had one, God, it was so fucking good. It was really good right now.

He groans low when his girl circles her hips, the hot length of his dick pressing deeper between her ass cheeks. His hand slides down from it’s position on her breast to cup her sex and press until she’s gasping and rolling her hips away and then back into the sweet pressure of his fingers.

Another groan as her ass flexes hard against him. His nose nuzzles through her messy hair until he can feel the silky skin of her neck. He was already close.

How long had they been at this?

His fingers lazily circle and he can feel how slick she is under the fabric. She’s moving with purpose now and each movement sends sparks of pleasure up his spine. He hisses against her neck.

“Mmm, gonna make me come all over you, baby.”

A hitched breath and another long roll of her hips, “Daryl—”

His brain starts to flicker back to life at the familiar voice. His eyes fight his command to open in the unfamiliar dark room. They close again, his mind drowsily focusing on the heat between the legs of his partner. Her quiet moan encourages them open again, but when they focus all he can see is a strip of moonlight thrown from the curtain, illuminating the sparkle of the stickers on the mirror across the room.

Spelling out Beth.

He wrenches himself away so fast he has to pinwheel his arms like a cartoon to keep from falling off the bed completely. Now was not the time to make a ruckus so her family could come running and see exactly what he had been doing to their youngest. Boyfriend or not.

Fake boyfriend or not.

The tiny lamp on her nightstand flickers on, throwing the room in deep shadows and yellow light.

“Daryl?” Even her whisper sounds too loud. “What—you okay?”

For a hilarious moment, he thinks he was dreaming and has now embarrassed himself for nothing, but when wide eyes jerk to Beth, he can see her flushed cheeks and—his dick throbs at the sight

—her sleep shirt is rucked up high enough that the bottom swell of her small breasts is still visible.

“Beth, Christ. I’m sorry. I didn’t—” His hand comes up to violently rub at his eyes. “I wasn’t awake and I was—”

“Oh.” The soft sound shouldn’t be loud enough to stop him in his tracks but it is. He rubs his hand down his face to look at her. She looks mortified. “I didn’t realize you were asleep. Oh god, this is —I’m so sorry, Daryl.”

He squints at her. “What?”

“I—” He starts to panic at the wetness gathering in her eyes, “Oh Lord, I took advantage of you!” “What?

That must be a little too loud because despite her emotions, she shushes him. They both stare at the door and wait to hear if anyone stirs. After a few moments he looks back at her and she meets his eyes again.

“You, um, you kinda came up behind me and I thought you were just cuddlin’ ‘cos you did that before and I was gonna go back to sleep but then you, uh—” Her flush from before seems to be getting deeper, “Your hand started rubbing at my hip and then you slid it under my shirt and—”

As if realizing she’s still bare, she smooths her shirt down. “Well, you kinda asked me if you could and, well, I said yeah and then it just—” She shrugs and he tries not to choke on his own saliva because it’s two in the morning and he just violated his best friend, but apparently he really didn’t…?

He’s not awake enough to handle this delicately. “Beth, why the fuck would I suddenly decide to have sex with you in the middle of the night?”

It’s exactly the wrong thing to say because she instantly looks mad enough to spit.

“I don’t know, you big dumb bastard. Maybe I thought we were both adults and friends and maybe you just wanted to blow off a little steam or somethin’! Jesus, I’m not so repulsive that I would immediately doubt anyone who wanted to touch me!” Despite being delivered in a furious whisper, he winces as if she just screamed in his face.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” he exhales angrily. “I meant, why would you think I’d ever do that to you without really sittin’ down and gettin’ your full consent before I ever laid a hand on you? What I did tonight was disrespectful, Beth. I don’t—I wouldn’t fuckin’ put a woman in that situation.”

She still looked pissed, but her glare softens enough that when she rolls her eyes, he knows

they’re officially steering back toward a reality where this wasn’t completely fucking traumatizing.

“Well, you didn’t do anythin’ I didn’t want.” Her arms cross and even though she looks annoyed, her admission clearly embarrasses her. “I know you weren’t awake, but I was enjoyin’ myself.”

Daryl clears his throat and feels his ears warming up. He had never thought of Beth in that way. Well, not on purpose and definitely not after they became friends. When she had first started working in the gallery, yeah, he thought she was beautiful. Once their friendship actually developed, however, she was firmly put on the Off Limits list since she was seeing someone. The closer they became, the more comfortable he was keeping things the way they were even when she was single. He knew, objectively, that she had only gotten prettier as she gained her confidence back and he had even had some very, ah, adult dreams starring her, but people had weird sex dreams about the people in their lives all the time.

This would probably be going much better if it was a dream.

Beth had made a decision and found him attractive enough to cross that line, but she also made it clear she saw this as two friends doing each other a favor and that was it. Would he have done the same if it was her that toed the line first?

“Okay, we can go back to sleep and pretend this never happened and in a few months I’ll bring it up when we’re drunk and we’ll laugh at how we made this a bigger deal than it was.” Beth shoots him an awkward smile before leaning over to turn off her lamp.

“Just—” Her hand slows and she looks back at him expectantly, “Would you really have been okay with that? We woulda had sex and tomorrow we’d be normal. No weird shit?”

He expects her to laugh it off so they can do exactly as she suggested before and put this whole strange situation behind them, but she seems to be seriously considering the question. Finally, she nods.

“Yeah. I think we’re good enough friends that we could handle it.” She grins and he realizes a moment too late that it’s kinda ruthless before she says, “Besides, I’ve done it already. Me and Rosita were hookin’ up for weeks before I started datin’ Zach and you know we’re still really good friends.”

The words elicit the reaction she was looking for because his jaw drops a little and he gapes at her like she…well, like she just told him she had a secret female lover he didn’t know about. She’s laughing at the dumbfounded look on his face when she pats him on the cheek.

“You and Rosita? I didn’t even—Rosita is into women like that? You’re into women like that?”

“Sexually, yeah, maybe. We were hangin’ and ‘cos she had broke up with Abe a while ago and I hadn’t seen anyone since Aiden, we started talkin’ about how we both really missed sex.” She shrugs as if the next logical step is, of course, to sleep with each other. Daryl’s brain is going to fucking melt out of his ears. “Neither of us had been with a woman before and we wanted to try it. We ended up really likin’ it so we kept on until I told her I might start seein’ someone. She was fine with it and we went back to just bein’ friends. I think she’s about to start datin’ some girl named Sasha, actually.”

He wants to ask more questions because if anyone would be willing to give him answers on how two women have sex in real life without making fun of him for being curious, it would be Beth. However, he sits there because he’s painfully aware that while he might have deflated to a halfchub during the initial shock of waking up horrified and confused, he’s now very ready to go.

When Beth’s eyes flicker down to the tent in his sleep pants and back to his face, he knows that she is also very aware.

“So, it’s possible.” She licks her lips and he tracks the movement with apprehension. “Havin’ sex but stayin’ friends. Me and Rosita did it. Y’all had no clue every time we showed up late to the bar it was ‘cos we got sidetracked gettin’ each other off.”

He tries to hum in a relatively casual manner, but it comes out strained and high. Beth doesn’t even try to hide her snort.

“All I’m sayin’ is, if you want, we could fool around and I think we’d be okay. If you don’t wanna, I’ll turn off the light, go to sleep, let you go to the bathroom and handle that yourself, and I promise I won’t bring it up again.”

He thinks and stares down at the delicate floral pattern of her bed sheets. Could he do something like that? His painful erection tells him that, hell yeah, he could easily fuck her. The real question is if he would be willing to risk the best friendship he has ever had in nearly four decades of life for some sex. If his few moments with her earlier are anything to go by, it’s clear they would have great physical chemistry, but how do they know they wouldn’t cross some sort of line? Every single girl he had ever slept with, he had done so with the full expectation of it either turning into a relationship or keeping it strictly sexual. Long term friendship had never exactly factored into either of those situations.

“Are there, like, some rules or somethin’?” He chews the inside of his cheek nervously.

“Yeah, the first rule of sex club is that you don’t talk about sex club.” He shoots her an unimpressed look, but she just snickers, “Nah, we just do whatever comes naturally that we’re both comfortable with. At least, that’s what I did before.”

He nods and really takes a look at her. He had never really had the urge to openly look at her in the way he looks at women he wants to fuck. The kind of look that is 50% admiration and 50% imagination. He doesn’t just see hips, he sees his hands pressing bruises into those hips. He doesn’t just imagine a pair of thighs, he imagines what they would look like spread and his pelvis nestled snug between them.

“Wow.” His eyes snap up to her face at Beth’s breathy exclamation, “You know, Rosita and

Karen once told me that they could always tell when you were lookin’ to get laid, you know? They said you got this look, like you were hungry for somethin’. Never saw it, but that? Good Lord.” His lips twitch into a smirk when she raises her hand to fan herself dramatically.

“I could definitely eat somethin’ right about now.” Saying such sexually charged words to her for the first time makes his ears burn, so his eyes drop for another long look at her form.

Knowing she likes to have the last word, he expects some sort of snappy come back, but he has a lot to learn about this side of her because all she does is lean back so she can kick down the sheet and spread her legs for him. Her hands rest on her stomach for a moment before they drag her sleep shirt back up, baring her breasts before covering them with her own hands to knead at the flesh. She cocks an eyebrow at him.

Your move, Dixon.

Daryl releases a shaky breath and rolls onto his knees so he can shuffle between her legs. She’s only wearing panties, but the wet spot on them makes him suck in a breath as if he were seeing her bare. He trails his hands up her thighs and hooks his fingers under the fabric to drag them off.

She lifts her legs to help him and by the time he flings them to the side, she’s dropped her legs down and resumed her spread position.

He scoots back so he can comfortably rest on his stomach, sliding forward until his face is close enough to her center that he can feel her heat on his face. He wraps his arms around her thighs and splays his hands against the edge of her. His thumbs lightly part her lips and he feels her tense when her clit is exposed to his breath. He looks up at her to find her watching him with anticipation.

“Don’t be afraid to push me off if it gets too much. I been told I can get a little carried away.”

Her whimper at his statement morphs into a full out moan she has to stifle with her hand when he gives her a rough lick across her slit that ends with his mouth closing over her clit to suck. She realizes he wasn’t kidding when he works at her like he’s starved. He sucks at her outer lips, scraping his teeth against the sensitive skin and she jerks hard enough that he locks her in place with his arms. His head dips until he can circle his tongue around her opening before sliding it in deep. He alternates between fucking her with his tongue and sweeping broad, wet strokes over her entire cunt. The hand not covering her mouth tangles into his hair, pulling him up until he has his mouth back over that bundle of nerves.

“Oh, fuck.” Beth’s other hand slips down so she can hold him in place. Her whimpers are strained; she’s struggling to keep quiet.

His fingers slip up under his chin until he can finally press into her. He continues laving her as he builds up to three fingers. She must realize he’s not going anywhere because her hands slam against her mouth in time to stifle a loud moan at the sudden fullness. He hums against her and she keens, closing her thighs around his face and planting a foot on his back as leverage to rock up into his fingers and mouth.

He just barely has enough room to pull back to watch his fingers working hard inside of her. He grunts at the sight and spits on her pussy, grinning as he feels her clench hard around his fingers. His swollen lips return to work on her and she bucks hard as she climbs closer to that edge. For a while, she fights to hold her head up to watch him between her legs, but it drops heavy against the mattress at the next intense surge of pleasure up her spine. His head shakes wildly back and forth, his tongue practically vibrating on her clit. She’s about to tell him she’s close when he closes his lips and sucks hard before tilting his head up to drag the coarse hair of his beard against her sensitive flesh. It’s the perfect pleasurable pain and she goes completely silent and breathless as she arches high, hips wildly pumping against his fingers and face as she comes. Her hands slam against the bed, white knuckling the sheets as if she’s going to fly away.

Daryl’s free hand manages to wiggle out from under him and slap across her mouth in time to catch the guttural moans that erupt when she crests over that high. His lips and mouth work even harder, his fingers curling and pressing against her spot with an aggressive accuracy. She’s dissolved into shivering whimpers, but she opens her eyes wide to look at him when she realizes he’s showing no signs of stopping. It’s the first time they’ve made such direct eye contact, but he keeps his hand pressed to her mouth, knowing she’s about to need it. Her eyes roll at the sharp pleasure radiating from her cunt when his teeth drag across her abused clit and she comes again.

He’s practically growling against her flesh, his fingers making wet sucking sounds as they fuck her open. When she crests over her second orgasm, the pleasure tips dangerously toward pain and her hand weakly pushes at Daryl’s forehead. He pulls back immediately and Beth has to close her eyes at the sight of his face looking utterly soaked with her. Her trembling legs fall from his shoulders and he gently eases his fingers from her so he can rise back up on his knees.

Beth doesn’t open her eyes again until she hears a noise and watches him suck the taste of her off his fingers like he just ate a messy meal and didn’t want to waste a drop. She whimpers pathetically and kicks out at him.

“In the name of God, go away. I can’t even look at you without feelin’ like I’m about to fuckin’ come again and it hurts.”

All that serves to do is make him smirk down at her with a disgustingly smug look on his face. Much to her relief, he lays down next to her instead of continuing his special brand of torture. He makes a displeased noise at the growing wet spot at the front of his sleep pants and decides to tug them off.

Beth was trying to catch her breath, but now she’s going to pass out from lack of oxygen to the brain because she can’t stop staring at Daryl Dixon’s cock. Great.

He grins to himself before reaching back between her legs to slide against her wet heat. She jerks and slaps at his arm in annoyance. “Dixon, I said leave her alone before you kill her.”

“Just lookin’ for somethin’ to smooth the way, girl.” He chuckles lowly and removes his hand that’s now covered in her before wrapping it around himself. He hisses and gives himself a tug, “Fuck, that’s good.”

Beth’s bones still feel like jelly, but she finds she’s not so tired anymore as she watches Daryl jerk off in front of her. His eyes flutter shut when he finds a good rhythm, rubbing at his shiny slit every few strokes. She rolls to her side until she’s pressed close to him and his eyes crack open when he hazily grins at her.

She smiles back and that smile only widens when he’s the one stifling a groan when her hand reaches down to pull gently at the soft skin of his balls. She massages him as his strokes get rougher, her fingers dipping down to press at his perineum. His mouth goes slack, a flush high on his cheeks, and his motions freeze as pleasure ripples through him at the sudden pressure.

Her hands shove his away and she sits up to crawl between his legs and take him into her own fists. She’s already got him in a tight grip when she looks up to see him watching her, his breaths coming heavy out of his open mouth. She gives him a few experimental tugs before leaning over and swallowing him deep. His hips screw up hard enough that she gags and her eyes water. She thinks she probably should have warned him, but the bug-eyed stare he’s giving her right now is pretty worth it.

She comes up for air, a thick string of spittle keeping her lips connected to his skin, “Try not to choke me to death, ‘kay?”

He doesn’t even get a nod in before she has him back in her mouth, her lips creating a tight suction around the head of his cock. His vision whites out for a second and his hand tangles in her hair in a desperate search for something to hang on to. Her head begins to bob in a steady rhythm and he chokes each time she takes him in deep enough to feel her throat flutter around the tip of him. He doesn’t realize he’s even talking until he feels the vibrations of Beth’s whimpers around him. She picks up the pace, so he figures there’s no use in holding his tongue.

“Fuck, girl. You take my cock so fuckin’ good. Wanna give you my come, baby.” He groans low when she takes him in deep again, holding him until she has to pull back for air. “Such a fuckin’ cock slut, shoulda known you love gaggin’ on it, shit.”

He’s painfully close, so it’s a real shock to his system when she pulls off him completely and he feels nothing but cool air. He opens his eyes and tries to figure out what’s going on, but she’s already settling over his hips with his length in her hand. His chin jerks up when he feels her cunt slide over him and he grits his teeth so hard, he’d be worrying that he might chip a tooth if Beth wasn’t currently trying to kill him. She takes advantage of his position to lick a wet stripe up his straining neck, ending with a rough nip below his ear.

He opens his mouth to beg her to give him another moment because he’s about to fucking come and he’s only been inside of her 10 seconds, but the words die in his throat when she plants her hands on his chest and starts fucking herself on him in earnest. His hands grip her hips hard enough to bruise, but she’s ruthless as she slams her hips down over and over, taking her own pleasure. Distantly, he hears the bed squeaking and hopes to every fucking god he knows that her parents are heavy sleepers because he’s pretty sure he couldn’t stop this if he tried.

The relentless pounding stops, only to be replaced by a slow grind that makes his toes curl. His hand moves up to grasp the back of her neck and pull her down until their lips meet. It’s savage for a first kiss, all teeth and tongue and the exchange of moans from one mouth to the next. Their rhythm falls out of sync as they each fall further into the slide of tongues and lips. When he has her distracted enough, he rolls them until he’s settled on top. He gathers her legs around his waist and now it’s his hips that are relentless as he presses in as far in as she can take it.

His arms wrap around her shoulders and he keeps their bodies close enough that the sweat on their skin keeps their bodies gliding smoothly. His mouth finds her neck and sucks and licks until he finds the spot that has her cunt squeezing him even tighter.

“Like this cock deep in your cunt, girl? Fills you up good, stretchin’ your pretty pussy.”

“Daryl—” Her nails dig into his shoulders, holding on as his thrusts get faster. “Yeah. Feels so— feels so good.”

“Yeah, baby girl. I’ll take care of you and your sweet little cunt.”

A sob bursts out of her mouth at the words, making her hips stutter and buck against his. Daryl shifts his weight to his left elbow and dips his fingers into Beth’s mouth, letting her suck and tongue the digits until they’re covered in her thick spit. His hand slips down and settles over the top of her mound, pressing in hard tight circles that have her gasping.

“C’mon, wanna feel you come around my cock. Gonna feel so fuckin’ good. C’mon, girl. Let me feel it. Gonna come so deep in this pussy. Make you fuckin’ sloppy with it.”

Beth keens and he can tell she’s drawing blood when her nails scratch down his back, but he’s lost in the sudden tightness he’s buried in. He faceplants into her chest as he loses rhythm, fucking wildly into her fluttering walls until he is in as deep as he can go, a strangled groan muffled in her neck. His body jerks deeper each time he shoots before finally settling, his hips twitching each time she tightens around him with her own aftershocks. She pulls violently at the hand still pressed against her, so he slips his tingling arm out and to the side.

He thinks it’s okay to stay slumped against her for a few moments when her shivers begin to die down and hands start to smooth over his hair and neck. Once he’s caught his breath, he rolls to the side and on his back.

“That was…kind of incredible.” They lay there for several minutes before Beth manages to sit up enough to finally turn off the lamp. His chest rumbles in a tired laugh when he hears her flop back on the bed with a whispered Christ, so he’s expecting her when she moves to curl her body around his.

Daryl hums in agreement more than a beat too late, too busy enjoying the cool air on his body and the warmth at his side. He feels her wide yawn against his chest.

“G’night, honey pie.”

Her eyes are already closed and the room is dark, but Daryl smiles at her anyway.


Saturday (Afternoon)

Beth would normally say she’s never been more grateful for concealer after a night of such little sleep, but there’s something about the perfect soreness in her muscles that makes losing the rest so worth it. She’s feeling especially cheerful because she was right and she loves when she’s right. The morning started on a lovely note when she awoke and nearly groaned in annoyance, expecting to find a dried mess between her legs, but was pleasantly surprised at the lack of evidence. She peeked at her nightstand to see a still damp washcloth and knew what Daryl had done. She woke him up with a smacking kiss on the cheek and it’s exactly the same as it always has been. It’s how she’s woken him up when he falls asleep on her couch after they’ve both been drinking too much, or when they pass out on opposite sides of his huge bed after a night of bad horror movies. He had groaned at the abrupt wake up call and playfully shoved her face away before putting her in a headlock, called her a brat, and then released her when she jabbed at his ribs.

See? Exactly the same.

Except for the part where they were both naked, and when she hissed at the painful stubble burn on her thigh, all the smug jerk did was grin.

A grin of her own spreads across her face as she gives herself a small moment to enjoy the memory of exactly why she has beard burn on her left thigh.

Missy pauses mid-sentence at the lunch table when she catches the look and raises an eyebrow, “Well, well, well, don’t you look like the cat that ate the very delicious canary. Somethin’ on your mind, Miss Bethany Greene?”

“She’s got somethin’ on her mind, alright. My little sister conveniently forgot her room is right above Shawn’s, where Glenn was supposed to be sleepin’ last night.” Maggie throws her a dark look. “He came up to hop into bed with me because of all the noise in the middle of the night.” Beth positively flushes down to her toes as the bridal party erupts into a fit of giggles. One of Maggie’s work friends, Andrea, even throws in a low whistle.

Maggie, can you not!”

“You lost that luxury when y’all decided you just couldn’t wait until a more decent time to screw. The way Glenn described it, it sounds like you should be very happy you didn’t wake up Daddy or Annette.”

“Heavenly Father above! Who the heck is this fella you’re seein’? Must be good if you’re willin’ to risk your Daddy’s shotgun.” Farrah leans forward, her salad forgotten at the prospect of new gossip.

Farrah Puckett and her Mama were practically a two-person rumor mill in their tiny town. It’s how

Beth had found out Jimmy had been stepping out on her moments before her walk down the aisle. Anyone who speaks to the Pucketts might as well speak into a town-wide microphone. Beth glances at Missy and sees her almost as interested in the topic as the other ladies, only the faint tightness around her eyes letting her know she’s thinking about how her brother will also be hearing whatever comes out of Beth’s mouth. This could work in her favor, even if Daryl would be pissed she’s using him as gossip material. Maybe even pissed enough to punish her, given their new arrangement. Her thighs press together at the sharp memory of his voice in her ear, whispering the dirtiest words a man had ever uttered to her.

Good thing. Bad time. She clears her throat.

“His name’s Daryl. Met him when I moved to the city, and yeah, he’s definitely good enough to risk Daddy’s shotgun.” She lets the joke settle when everyone laughs and she shoots an apologetic look to Maggie, even though she seems to be back in good humor. “I really am sorry, Maggie. We didn’t realize we were bein’ so bothersome. I hope y’all didn’t lose too much sleep.”

“It’s alright. You weren’t the only reason we lost some sleep.” Maggie’s grin is enough to elicit catcalls from the women and an order to settle down from management.

+++

Glenn wouldn’t stop smirking at Daryl and it was starting to get annoying.

He tried to appreciate that despite not being one of his groomsmen, he had invited him to eat and drink before everyone had to get ready for the early evening ceremony. The appreciation only barely wins out when he thinks of how Glenn had glanced meaningfully at Hershel in the corner of his eye, giving him the option to come hang out with his buddies or stay in the house. The with Hershel Greene and his aggressive questions part went unspoken. Glenn loved the man like he was his own father, but he remembers exactly what it had been like those first few dinners. ‘Not fun’ did not even begin to explain.

“You given any thought to where you and Maggie are gonna settle down when this is all said and done?” Rick asked.

Rick and Glenn’s friendship was strange. They clearly weren’t the same age, so that ruled out college buddies. Rick’s entire being screamed responsible authority figure, where Glenn was more mischievous intelligence. Daryl was still trying to figure out exactly how these two ended up close enough that Rick was now the best man at his wedding.

“We’re getting closer to figuring it out. Michigan’s out, which won’t really make my parents happy but neither of us could afford to move out there on our own even if we really wanted it.” Glenn burps and crumples his burger wrapper, “I already told her I can’t do the country living thing for too long and we both agreed staying in Atlanta will start to get too expensive. We’re not really sure what the hell we’re going to do. My lease is up in two months but with all this wedding stuff, I haven’t brought it up because I was afraid Maggie would strangle me in my sleep.”

The guys laugh when he rolls his eyes, but with the way Beth talks about how intense her sister can get, he’s not sure if Glenn is actually joking. Two guys by the name of T-Dog and Tyreese sympathetically pat Glenn on the shoulder. When the soon-to-be-husband simply throws back the rest of his beer, Tyreese raises his hand to order another round of pitchers.

“I got a second place right outside the city.”

Five pairs of eyes snap to attention at his grumbled remark.

“Well, good for you.” Shawn Greene speaks up first and Daryl is wildly unsurprised to find Hershel’s distrustful nature has been passed down to his step-son. He shifts in his seat, refusing to be cowed by a guy in a fucking cowboy hat. He focuses on Glenn.

“I mean, I got a place I don’t use much right outside the city. I barely stay there, so if y’all need a place to stay while you figure shit out…” He trails off and shrugs. “Ain’t really used much is all

I’m sayin’. Call it a weddin’ present or whatever.”

Shawn eyes him. “You don’t even know them. Ain’t it weird to be givin’ a present like that and trustin’ people so easy-like?”

“Well, I know Beth and that’s good enough for me.” Daryl carefully sets his glass down and can’t help the amused twitch of his lips. “Ain’t it weird to be suggestin’ your own family ain’t trustworthy?”

Rick and Tyreese chuckle as Shawn looks to the side in embarrassment, mumbling about how he was just checking and there’s nothing wrong with his family. Beth once told him Shawn was especially protective of Maggie, despite her being older. She said something must have happened before she was born or when she was a baby to create the bond, but isn’t sure what. When she later mentioned Shawn was Annette’s son from a previous broken marriage, he knew that while the man might not have ever laid a hand on his family, he had hurt Shawn and Annette bad. See, men go one of two ways when their daddy sets a bad example. They either spend the rest of their lives trying to protect the ones around them being overly aware of themselves, or they become the man they hated.

It’s why the Dixon brothers now live a state apart and haven’t spoken in over a decade.

“I’m just messin’ with ya, kid.” He had always had the role of younger brother, so his delivery is awkward and clumsy. “Know you’re just tryin’ to make sure your sister ends up somewhere good. Be worse if you went and said nothin’. Ain’t no man worthy of respect woulda let it go.”

Shawn dismisses him with a grunt but he still decides to go quiet, the strain in his face relaxing into something a little more approachable. Rick stands up to let the waitress set the pitchers down and nudges Daryl with mumbled, good man.

“I’ll talk to Maggie about it and see what she thinks.” Glenn’s smiling at him as if he just discovered something very important. “She’ll probably want one of us to see it before saying yes or no, but…thanks for the offer, man. That’s really cool of you.”

Daryl shrugs and grunts noncommittally, picking up his glass to finish off his beer. If Beth were here she’d probably be poking fun at him for being so soft-hearted. He sets the glass down harder than he means to when he realizes she could very well be angry at him for extending the offer. Once this weekend is over, so is their “relationship”. If her sister and brother-in-law stay in his place, that keeps the line of communication open enough that they might have to tell them they were pretending to be dating at one of the most important events of her sister’s life.

He refills his glass to the top.

+++

“Glenn should really introduce me to all of this handsome friends. Especially that one, lord have mercy.” Farrah leans over to whisper in Beth’s ear, subtly pointing out the handsome friend in question.

It takes her a minute, but when she realizes who the woman is referring to a sharp stab of jealousy takes her breath away before she manages to shake it off. He does look good in his sharp suit and she can’t help but want to smile when she notices he even brushed his hair back from his face.

Technically, her and Daryl aren’t an actual item, so being jealous isn’t going to do her any favors,.

However, a small mean voice in her head that sounds suspiciously like Maggie says yeah, but Farrah doesn’t know that. You know that girl throws her cat at anyone who’ll catch it.

“It’s probably better to pray for forgiveness, Farrah.” Andrea interrupts, having overheard the conversation. “That’s Beth’s man you’re talking about.”

The woman reels back, an insulting amount of shock in her features. “That’s your Daryl?” She must realize how rude she’s being because she has the grace to look a little ashamed. “Sorry, girl. I didn’t know.”

Farrah gets that funny look when she thinks she’s about to hear some good piece of gossip. Beth has to grit her teeth because this is the woman who already helped ruin one relationship by being all too willing to share a juicy detail, yet here she is doing it again. Thankfully, her attention is on

Andrea. “How did you even know, girly?”

“I ran to use the upstairs bathroom before leaving for the church and I found the poor thing cursing his head off as he nearly strangled himself with his tie.” Andrea snorts at the memory, “He said Beth always did up the—and I quote—stupid piece of shit fuckin’ thing, but he didn’t want to pull her away from her sister so he found a video on his phone and was trying to do it himself. It was equal parts heartwarming and pathetic.”

Beth can’t help but find him again in the crowd outside. Everyone is shuffling inside, but he stands there fidgeting hard enough that she can tell he’s trying not to tug at his collar like she told him. He’s far enough that he can slowly inch his way behind the church, probably to catch a smoke. She knows crowds stress him out, so he’ll most likely sneak in the back right before everything starts. Adorable would not typically be a word associated with a man like Daryl Dixon, but it was the only word that was coming to mind. Something seems to grab his attention because his head turns and his brow furrows as if he’s confused at what he’s seeing. Beth turns away when she hears her Mama’s voice and when she looks back he’s out of sight.

“C’mon ladies. Everyone’s just about seated so we’re gonna start soon!” Annette is already dabbing at her eyes as if the ceremony has already started. “Maggie still in the powder room?”

Missy nods, “I told that girl it would be easier if one of us was in there helpin’ her with her dress, but you know how she is when she gets her mind to—”

The woman is interrupted by a loud crash. Beth is already picking up her skirt and running because after decades of coming here every Sunday, she knows that sound just came from the women’s bathroom.

+++

Between growing up in a trailer park with all sorts of fucked up things happening and then later becoming friends with the kind of creative types that get themselves into all sorts of strange situations, this is by far the weirdest shit that has ever fucking happened to him.

Because he just caught a bride who literally jumped out of the window of a church. The church she was supposed to be getting married in two minutes ago.

“Daryl!” Maggie manages to right herself and smooth down the layers of her skirt, “Thanks for the help! Damn, I didn’t realize it was such a hard drop. Haven’t had to go through that window since I was 16.”

“Girl, the fuck you doin’ jumpin’ out of windows? I ain’t been to a weddin’ before but I’m pretty sure this ain’t on the agenda.” He’s agitated, but he’s also afraid. If he just caught Beth’s sister skipping out on her wedding, that means he would have to deliver the news and knowing the family’s history with failed weddings, he doubts they would take it well at all.

“I—” Maggie chokes on whatever she was about to say and he cringes when he sees tears threatening to spill, “I just—My Mama is buried here and I realized I hadn’t gone to see her before. I wanted—I needed to—”

He stays quiet as she works through whatever it is she’s trying to express. He glances around and he’s grateful that they’re the only two here.

“You wanna go see her now? I can try and distract ‘em until you come back.” His eyes sharpen,

“If you’re comin’ back, that is.”

She seems to get exactly what this looks like and she looks hilariously stricken for a moment before nodding hard enough that he’s surprised her veil doesn’t come loose.

“Of course I’m comin’ back. I wanna marry Glenn more than anythin’ in this world and I love

Annette like she’s my own Mama, I do, but—”

“But she ain’t your Mama.” His chest squeezes as he thinks about his own mother. She wasn’t a good mother. She smoked too much and drank too much, but she always stepped in front of her boys when Will Dixon would slide off his belt. She even tried to protect Merle, who cussed at her more than their own father, as if he was angry their mother had the nerve to bring him into this fucked up world. After she burned and Merle left and his father’s belt finally found its target, he figured out maybe that was the only way she knew how to love him. Not with hugs or kisses, but with the view of her back and the sounds of her screams as she took pain that was meant for him.

“You wanna make sure your Mama’s here, too. I get it.”

Maggie looks at him and recognizes a little of her own pain in this man, so she stays silent.

“Go on, get. I’ll say you needed to get some air. Final walk as a free woman or some shit.” She snorts wetly through her almost tears and walks away quickly, heading straight toward the headstones.

“Daryl!” The shout is distant, but he hears the squeak of bare feet on wet grass heading toward him before he can shout out where he is. She rounds the corner hard enough that he reaches out to keep her from staining her light pink dress with grass and dirt.

“We can’t find her! Maggie just—you learned how to track animals with your Daddy—can you find people? She couldn’t have gotten far. Oh my god, we need to find her before Daddy or Glenn see that she’s missin’.” Beth’s hysterical voice sends a spike of fear through him before he remembers he knows that Maggie is just fine.

“Hey.” He pulls her into his chest when he notices she’s shaking like a leaf. “S’okay, darlin’. I just saw her. She’s gonna be right back. Ain’t no need to find her.”

His initial instinct is to smooth his hand across her hair but he doesn’t want to disturb the intricate twist, so he settles on her back. She wraps her arms around his waist and drops her forehead against his chest.

“Where the hell—”

“She went to go see her Mama.” He knows he told Maggie he wouldn’t tell, but he thinks Beth would understand. She always understands. “Make sure she was gonna be here. Uh, in spirit, y’know. Told her I’d back her up and say she went for a walk, lost track of time. I dunno, somethin’.”

Her body finally relaxes and she looks up at him. She isn’t sad or particularly lustful, so he’s not sure what expression she’s wearing. Her hand slithers up to cup his cheek, her thumb brushing the corner of his mouth.

God, you didn’t have to do that. I—” Whatever she was about to say stays lodged in her throat.

The moment feels heavy and with the way she refuses to let his eyes drop, he feels cracked open.

“Yeah, well, didn’t have a choice.” He shrugs, uncomfortable. “Kinda fell on me from the window.”

“No. You did it because you’re a good man, Daryl Dixon. Maybe the best.”

She’s said it when they first arrived here, but this time it nearly strikes him down. This woman who knows things about him—dark, mean things that he expected to take to the grave—really truly believes what she’s saying. She believes that he’s good with everything inside her, and he wants to fall to his knees because the way she says it makes him believe it too. He silently watches her lean up on her toes before leaning in to give him a slow and sweet kiss. Not the kind of kiss an appreciative friend gives another friend. The kind of kiss a woman gives a man because she knows he deserves it. When she drops back down, she gives his waist one final squeeze and steps out of his arms.

“I’m gonna go tell Mama that Maggie went for a walk. Went through the window like a freak ‘cos she wanted to make sure Glenn wouldn’t see her in her dress.” They share a smile.

“Sounds like crazy bride shit to me.”

Beth laughs softly and nods before turning away to jog back inside.

He licks his lips and feels the tackiness her lip gloss has been left behind. He turns back to the graveyard where he see’s a beautiful bride heading his way and he waits with his heart pounding in his ears.

He’s pretty sure he just fell in love with Beth Greene.


Saturday (Evening)

The wedding—runaway bride notwithstanding—goes off without a hitch. Glenn’s mother cries so loudly after he delivers his sweet vows that he looks positively embarassed up at the altar. Maggie’s laughing so hard at the display she can’t stand up straight, and Glenn mutters something desperate in Korean to his father. The man shrugs, but looks relieved when Annette Greene switches seats with him and he watches the mothers immediately bond over an entire box of tissues when it’s Maggie’s turn to deliver her vows.

Everyone is now back at the farm with what looks like twice as many guests and Daryl is watching T-Dog twirl Beth around the dance floor temporarily installed on the Greene’s property. When they pass him, he can hear Beth’s breathless laughter at his antics and T-Dog shouts— unnecessarily—that he should now call him Mr. Steal Yo’ Girl! Daryl valiantly resists the urge to give him the finger since he’s at a wedding and at least he knows how to be an adult. There’s no alcohol being served and anyone that remembers watching Mr. Greene stumble out of the bar in town doesn’t ask why and the clueless guests are smart enough to follow their lead. Lack of bar aside, everyone seems to be having a good time.

“I know what you did, son.”

Daryl turns his head slowly to regard Beth’s father, but the man isn’t even looking at him. He starts to sweat under his stupidly uncomfortable shirt because in the span of 24 hours he’s done more than a few things and not all of them are father-approved.

“For Maggie.” Hershel breathes a heavy sigh and finally turns toward him. There’s not much of a height difference between them, but he learned a long time ago that you didn’t have to be smaller to feel small.

“I saw you two outside the church after she fell out that window like a pretty sack of potatoes.”

He pauses. “Saw you and Beth, too.”

He violently shoves down the urge to drop his eyes because something tells him eye contact is the kind of thing that’s important to a man like Hershel Greene. The thought comes out of left field, but he realized he wants this man’s respect.

“Sir—”

“Beth is a bleedin’ heart and always had been. She likes to fix broken things. She likes to show people they can do somethin’ they never have before. It’s one of the reasons she became a music teacher even if the pay is next to nothin’.” Daryl nods because he knows this about her already. When Karen started kicking up a fuss about paying him for all his handiwork again, he told her to use that money to give Beth a pay raise. She was only part time at the gallery, the rest of her time dedicated toward tutoring sessions or job applications to any school that would take it. At that point, he had already seen how hard she worked and how little she was compensated for it. He knows that’s not something normal people do, even for their friends. The memory makes him wonder if he’s been in love with her this whole time and he’s just been ignoring it or even thought it was normal.

Jesus fucking Christ.

“I thought that’s what you were. A broken man takin’ advantage of a young girl who has always given too many chances.” They both grimace at the brutal honesty, but Daryl doesn’t take offense. He would have thought the same thing. He’s seen it happen enough with all the men she’s dated since he’s known her. “I’m man enough to know when to admit I’m wrong, son. Even if my girls would probably say otherwise.”

He knows a normal man would grin at the dig to lighten up this conversation. A fun and easygoing guy like Glenn would be able to do it, but he can’t. He doubts Hershel would appreciate the discomfort that is Daryl trying to be easy-going. So, he nods again.

“You are a good man, Bethie got that right. I know you’ll take care of her because you love her. Maybe all this weddin’ stuff has me feelin’ soft, but that’s all a Daddy really wants for his little girl. Maybe someday you’ll suffer—I mean, find out for yourself.” Hershel grins at the look on Daryl’s face before walking up into the dance floor where his wife greets him with laughter and a kiss.

+++

Everything is going great, until it is suddenly going very bad.

“God above, you let go of me right this instant Jimmy Calvin or I swear I will punch you in your good-for-nothin’ face.” The threat is delivered in a furious whisper because while they’re not in the thick of the dance floor, they are just on the cusp. Beth twists her wrist in his grip, but he holds on.

“Beth, please, I just wanna talk to you.” She pauses in her struggling to shoot him a nasty look.

“To say I’m sorry for…for the way things ended. What I did to you, it wasn’t right. I’m sorry.”

She sighs, looks pointedly at her wrist and he releases her when he understands she’s not about to run away. Night has officially fallen and the fairy lights create a canopy over the dance floor and tables, lighting everything in a soft glow. Beth crosses her arms and waits for him to finish. She was truly hoping that the news of her ‘boyfriend’ would spread fast enough to deter Jimmy from trying something like this, but she watches that hope die a slow and painful death. She tenses up and leans back when he steps closer, but he’s too wrapped up in whatever he’s saying to pay her discomfort any mind. His hot breath fans across her face and her fists clench when she figures out why he’s suddenly so forward.

“I didn’t know what to say right after. You were so—so upset and your family didn’t want me comin’ round to talk to you.” When he meets her eyes, something in her cracks at seeing the sweet boy she once loved suffocating in the man he had become. “When I found out you tried to kill yourself ‘cos you thought I didn’t love y—”

The slap is louder than she thought it would be and she feels her cheeks burn with mortification and anger as some of the guests register that something is happening between the two of them.

“You’re actin’ like a drunk fool. You need to leave.”

Jimmy’s hand comes up to his red hot cheek and she reveals in the few moments of pleasure at his dumbfounded expression before it morphs into an ugly scowl.

“Ain’t no more of a drunk fool than your Daddy.” He’s nearly snarling in her face, his lips wet with spit and she recalls the muzzles of rabid animals her neighbors would bring to her Daddy to put down. If you had asked her years ago, hell, hours ago, she would have said Jimmy Calvin might be a two-timing, rat bastard, but he would never lay a hand on a woman with violent intent, not even with a few beers in him.

When he moves to grab her arm, she’s stricken with the thought she might be more wrong about him now than she was three years ago running from a church in a long white dress that their 38 friends and family would never see.

“I’m tryin’ to apologize and you’re actin’ like a fuckin’ bitch for no reason, Beth!”

They’ve undoubtedly gained the attention of the entire party at this point and anyone who wasn’t watching them is doing so after Jimmy yells at her. She doesn’t want to cry because she knows he’s not worth it, but she’s so furious that he would do this to her at her sister’s wedding. Furious that he hurt her at all, that he thought her entire world was him, that he knew what to say to break her, that he even took something as private and painful as her suicide attempt and tried to make it his. She’s so mad and humiliated that she’s speechless.

Distantly she hears Glenn panicked shout of Rick’s name and for a moment she thinks that maybe he’s going to try and get the sheriff to kick Jimmy out. It would serve him right, she thinks miserably. When she looks over to see Glenn and his groomsmen fighting through the crowd, their eyes aren’t on Jimmy, but on someone behind her.

Daryl.

“The fuck you just say to her?” He shoves Jimmy hard, and instead of grabbing him, he presses his body forward uncomfortably close. In any other scenario it might have looked almost intimate with the way Daryl was forcing his forehead against the other man, but when Jimmy’s face goes slack in fear before packing on his bravado, she knows the proximity is pure intimidation. That even this close, he still wouldn’t be able to win against the older man. “You got somethin’ to say to my girl, you say it through me.”

“This ain’t none of your business.” The younger man shoves at Daryl until there’s space between them again. “You don’t own her. I can talk to her if I want. You don’t know what we got between us.”

The look on Daryl’s face makes her blood freeze. She looks around trying to find some guys to break this up before it gets out of hand, but to her surprise they’re already there and watching. In an even stranger turn of events, her Daddy has his arm out keeping them back. Maggie is standing next to him, looking about as worried as she is, but just as willing to let Daryl beat Jimmy to death if he so pleases.

“Jimmy, right? I know all about you.” He lurches forward as if he’s going to hit him, but merely bares his teeth when the other man flinches back. “She told me exactly who you are. How you didn’t realize just had good you had it. How relieved she was she didn’t marry your worthless ass.

You fucked up, boy. She got a real man now.”

Daryl’s expecting the swing, but Beth doesn’t because she shrieks behind him. He dodges the sloppy punch and grabs his arm, bending and twisting until he has his arm locked behind him and Daryl’s angry breath at his ear.

“Don’t worry, she still thinks about you,” The whispered words would be comforting in any other tone. He’s being quiet enough that he knows no one else will hear whatever he’s about to say. Jimmy winces as Daryl continues his quiet confession. “See, I fucked her last night right there in her Daddy’s house. Nearly woke up the whole damn house. Said she’d never gotten it so good in that bed before. Ain’t that where you used to go at it?”

“Son, let him go.” Hershel drops his arm to let the men forward.

He pulls the man’s arm tighter and uses every inch of willpower in his body not to break it. While Rick seems to like him, he’s still pretty sure he’ll arrest him for assault. “Looks like that drunk fool just saved your ass. If see you again, I’ll fuckin’ kill you. That’s a promise, boy.”

The scuffling of feet has him backing off, hands up as Rick and Tyreese grab a red-faced Jimmy to lead him to his car. Missy follows, her face flushed with anger and embarrassment, her own whispered threats filling her brother’s ear. T-Dog and Glenn look at each other before eyeing the angry man pacing back and forth. Neither of them step forward, afraid he’s ready to hit the first person that enters his space.

“You cool, man?” It’s T-Dog that speaks the soft question. He knows a thing or two about how rage can make a man reckless. Daryl’s nod is short and he only stops his pacing so he can silently walk out of the party area and onto the dark grass. Glenn almost moves to go after him, not sure if someone so pissed off should be wandering off on unfamiliar land, but his friend stops him and gestures at Beth jogging to catch up.

“Nothing we say will do him any good. Go to your wife. Either she’s gone crazy or she’s happy that a fight just broke out at her wedding.”

Glenn’s attention shifts completely when he smiles goofily at his beaming wife. “Nah, she’s happy. She really hated that guy.”

+++

Daryl hated when he got like this. When his rage seeped out of its chains and poisoned everything in him. He wanted to hit that man. He wanted to hit him until his knuckles split on the shards of his skull. He’s trying to breathe through it, but he remembers the raw hurt on Beth’s face and the fact it was her ex-fiance publically humiliating her at a wedding—her sister’s wedding—of all fucking places and he burns all over again. Part of him wonders if he’ll actually catch on fire, like his mama when she just gave up with that cigarette in her hand, or like his father when his rage got so big and hot, he had to beat it into his son’s back.

He needs a smoke.

He leans against the side of the barn, the furthest he could reasonably get from the party still in full swing.The half empty cigarette pack rattles in his shaking hands as he plucks one out and places it between his lips. He doesn’t fare any better with his lighter and he’s starting to get pissed off all over again.

“Gimme.”

The fact that Beth manages to sneak up on him is a testament to how out of it he is. When she had several failed attempts at trying to spook him in his studio, she demanded how he always knew. He told her that a stampede of elephants were more light-footed than her. He snorts humorlessly at the idea of a stampede of elephants catching him by surprise and hands her the transparent neon tube.

Her face is illuminated by the sudden appearance of flame and because he’s fucking weak, he doesn’t bother to be subtle about his stare as he sucks the thick smoke into his lungs. The flame flickers out and he feels her pluck his pack from his fingers. He stays quiet as she tucks the lighter beside the remaining cigarettes and slides it back into his pocket. She holds his now empty hand and leans against the barn next to him.

No words.

He’s finished his cigarette but he still feels like shit. Still wants to hurt something, someone. He never hated his father more than in these moments, not even when he was hitting him. Out of all the shitty things that pathetic fuck had to pass down, god gave him his daddy’s rage. Gave it to Merle, too. There was plenty to pass around.

Beth tugs on his hand and he follows her as she slips inside the barn, closing the door behind them. He notices her shoes are already hanging from one hand as she climbs up into the hayloft and Daryl follows. The strong smell of horses and straw fill his nose and despite never having grown up on a farm, the scent is strangely comforting. He stands and waits as she turns on a small light to reveal a picnic blanket and some pillows that have definitely seen better days. He feels a strange mix of agony and happiness when he imagines a younger Beth coming up here to hide from her siblings. A place that was all hers for a little while.

She stands in front of him and presses her hands against his chest, sliding up until she’s pushing his jacket off his shoulders. The material hits the floor with a muted thump, but she’s already untucking and unbuttoning his shirt, loosening his tie. She takes her time, watches her hands work to reveal his body to her. He lets her.

He toes off his shoes when his shirt is gone and her hands have moved to his pants. She shoves them down with his underwear until he has to step out, leaving his socks behind in the pile. He’s breathing hard and his cock begs for attention but he lets her.

Lets her run her small hands over his skin. They’re not smooth, as is to be expected of a girl who grew up on a farm and hard work, but he likes them. He loves them, even. She steps close enough that his breath hitches at his dick dragging across the silky fabric of her dress. Then loses his breath all together when her hands glide up and around, fingers pausing every so often to trace at the raised tissue of his scars on his chest and back. He had told her about them a long time ago, cried about them with her, showed them to her when asked, but he had never let her touch them so purposefully.

He’s ashamed to realize he’s trembling, but not with lust or love. He’s still angry. That there are people in the world who would hurt a child who couldn’t defend himself. That there are people in the world who would hurt a girl like Beth Greene. That God took Maggie’s Mama away before she could see her get married. That Shawn and Annette lived with a man who hurt them so much, but all it did was make them kind. That his brother would probably never recover from everything that was done to him, what he did to himself. That Hershel looks at his wife like he’s about to lose her at any second because he already has once before. That even strangers can see he’s in love with the woman in front of him, but he looked in the mirror every day for three years and saw nothing. That tomorrow, this will be over.

His jaw twitches as he swallows and Beth tracks the movement with her eyes. She steps back and pushes on his shoulders until he’s kneeling before her on the blanket. He watches her hands ruck up her dress to slide her panties down and off. She starts her own descent, but his nostrils flare when, instead of kneeling to face him, she turns to get on her hands and knees. She leans down on her shoulders and chest as her fingers gather the fabric of her dress at her waist and bares herself to him, swollen and lustrous.

He’s behind her now. Close enough to see that while she’s wet, she’s not soaked like she was last night when she took him into her. He splays his hands over hers.

“I’ll hurt you.”

It’s not a plea or a warning, just a fact. He knows if he lets himself have this, she’s going to see a side of him that he’s never shown any woman. Where he takes his own pleasure without consideration of how hard he takes it. Where hurting someone, hurting his best friend, hurting her, would make him feel good. Make him feel powerful when he feels vulnerable and shaken. And maybe he’s exactly the kind of mean bastard his father was, after all.

“I know. I can take it.”

The sound of him spitting onto his cock and the wet slide of his fingers is the only warning she gets before he’s pushing. He’s meeting a little resistance, so he rocks back only to push forward again with a single minded determination. When he’s as far as he can go, he pulls out slowly, staring down at how he’s shiny with her. The next thrust is hard and quick, and Beth has to let go of fabric of her dress to scramble against the blanket for purchase as he sets a brutal pace. Each thrust punches a sound out of her and he growls at how good the whimpers mix with each slap of his balls against her cunt.

It feels good for her, but it’s not great. Not like it was when he was laser focused on her pleasure. She relaxes into his bruising grip and the savagery of his fucking. Understands that he needs this, needs a willing body to work out all that pain inside of him. She’s more than willing to give it and let him shove her own hurt right out of her alongside his. Willing to let herself have this, too.

His thrusts stop suddenly and he hunches over her small body to grind in a little too deep. Beth jumps and lets out a pained sound as he fills her past the point of what she thought she could handle. They’re both gasping now.

His hand slithers up her side and over her shoulder until he can wrap his fingers around her neck. His free hand rests on her lower back as he forces her to arch her spine. Daryl feels her moan vibrate against his fingers and he answers it with his own and the hand on her back slides up to grip her nape. His cock jumps inside her at the picture she makes, how small and delicate she is that his fingers nearly overlap each other. How he could hurt her, really hurt her right now if he wanted. How she trusts him not to hurt her. How she trusts him to hurt her just enough.

His rhythm is tinged with a new desperation as he resumes fucking her, holding her in place by her neck. He relishes in every moan and whimper that tickles his palm and fingers. The slap of their skin is obscene now that her cunt is drooling, the slick being forced out of her each time he forces himself inside. He hears her struggle to cough when he holds her a little too tight and feels his balls draw up close to his body in response.

“Told that little prick about how good I fucked you right under your Daddy’s nose. How you had never had this pussy pounded so fuckin’ good.” He grunts as he swivels his hips.

He’s nearly yanked back to reality when he feels her jaw working desperately and he realizes he’s squeezing her hard enough to restrict her speech. His fingers loosen and her raspy voice fills the

still air.

“Yeah, yeah. Nobody ever gonna fuck me like you.” She shouts when his thrusts pick up speed,

Please. Wanna go back with it drippin’ out of me. Show ‘em I’m yours, baby.”

Daryl moans like a wounded animal, releasing her neck only to shove her shoulders into the scratchy blanket below. He leans on her hard as he raises up and fucks her as deep as he can get. His nails dig into her skin as he comes with a shout, humping his hips against her until his balls are achingly empty. His arms wobble and give out and he drops his weight on top of her, forcing her flat under him. He stays there longer than he probably should as the endorphins flood his body. When he rolls to his side, he pulls Beth with him and she sucks in a deep breath when he lifts her leg up and back to press his fingers on her clit. He rubs in relentless, tight circles until she lets out a hoarse cry, her orgasm as violent as their fucking and he groans as she clenches tight around his softening, sensitive cock.

Once she’s caught her breath, she pulls away from him to turn around. He braces himself for whatever he’s about to see in her face, but she looks surprisingly neutral. Her arms reach up to loop around his head and shoulders, and he follows her lead when she presses him against her chest. It takes him a moment to discern that she’s holding him to comfort him and his breath stutters and his eyes sting. His arm curls around her waist to pull her close because the space between them is almost unbearable.

They lay there for a long time.


Sunday

Wakefulness comes to her in slow pulls and she becomes aware of things in pieces, some large some small. The deep ache of feet that spent just a little too long standing in heels, the tickle in her throat from a well used voice, the bruised spot on her hip where Tyreese had overestimated his spacial awareness and bumped her into a chair while dancing. The swollen skin of eyes that cried once at a church in joy, once on a dance floor in humiliation, and once in a barn with the figure of warmth currently pressed against her chest.

Just like that, Beth is wide awake.

Her eyes don’t blink open slowly, but snap to attention. Despite the early hour, her heart squeezes at the memory of watching her best friend unlocking something dark he kept inside. He let loose something that he feared, all for…what? Putting a drunk guy in his place? Her nose crinkles at the thought and the thin white lines on her wrists throb in mutual disagreement. No, he did it to once and for all cure her of that plague known as Jimmy Calvin. The memory of what he had done to her was a careless, quiet sickness that had followed her for years and now it was just…gone.

But in its place?

The scratchy sound of her hair dragging against the cotton pillow fills her head when she pulls away from the sleeping body in front of her. Her hand reaches out to lightly press against the center of Daryl’s scarred back. Her pointer finger smooths across the raised pink and brown scar and her mind drifts to the man who caused them. She doesn’t really know much about Daryl’s family and she knows it’s because thinking of them hurts him in a way she’ll never understand. Beth’s sure she knows more than most, but that was a hand her friend showed very rarely and only in quick bursts of vulnerability.

She knew his mother—Nancy— had died in a fire when he was young, that he had an older brother Merle, and that his eyes would shine each time he let a happy boyhood memory of the older sibling slip. She knew his father’s name was Will and that he preferred to hit his son with the buckle end of a belt, but if he was too drunk to coordinate its removal from his waist, he had no problem making the boy go out and fetch a switch from the small and half dead trees that encircled their tiny community of mobile homes.

And now she knows Daryl carried his father’s misery on more than his skin.

Beth knew that she had lived a relatively charmed life in comparison. It must have been obvious to a man like him and it had shown in his dismissal of her during her first day at the gallery. She had only taken the job because music teacher positions were limited and luck had not been on her side. She managed to keep herself afloat for a while, substituting when she could and slowly building her personal clientele one private tutoring session at a time. Still, it wasn’t enough and she wasn’t about to run back home when it had taken months to convince her family that leaving and starting anew would help her more than anything they could do

When Karen called to let her know she could start part-time the next day, she cried the moment the woman hung up because she had done it! She was going to be able to stay and keep trying to figure out how to move on from a failed almost-marriage and a botched suicide attempt. She’d come in happy and ready to work the next day. Karen had been in the middle of giving her the basics of the front desk when it happened. A tall intimidating figure in leather with long brown hair and a mean look in his eye appeared before them. He simply stared at her in silence when

Karen had finally introduced them and Beth stood there with a dumb, awkward smile on her face. Daryl barely mumbled a halfway decent hi before walking toward a large metal door and slamming it shut behind him. When she’d turned to her boss with a bewildered look on her face, Karen merely laughed.

He’s an artist she had told her with a roll of her eyes, as if that explained everything.

Beth shrugged it off, but each day she came in, the more his outright rudeness started to bug her. It got to the point she found herself picking childish arguments with him every chance she got. She wondered if she had done something to offend him during that first meeting because she knew he only acted like that with her. She saw he was decidedly less rude—well, a more brotherly type of rude—when interacting with a gorgeous and tattooed girl named Rosita who helped a brutish redheaded man deliver giant slabs of metal to Daryl’s studio. He was downright nice when another equally stunning woman by the name of Carol would visit. She had even spotted him hugging her. He in turn had spotted her staring at them with her mouth hanging open, but well, what did he expect?

Hell, they once argued about how the way she answered the phone was too fucking happy. It had gotten out of control. When she’d taken Rosita up on her offer to hang out on a Saturday to watch her friend’s band play at Safe Zone, she hadn’t done so with the intention to mend bridges. She remembers polite but strained interactions at the beginning of the night, but by the end she was convinced she had been interacting with an evil twin this entire time.

Daryl was smart despite never finishing high school, and had a sense of humor as dry as it was sharp. He was also insanely observant, something that pleasantly surprised her when he asked her how long she had been teaching music. When she asked how he knew he had simply shrugged and looked embarrassed saying, you look like the type of girl parents love to throw kids at and then your hand moves as if it’s playin’ a piano when y’get bored, it’s annoyin’ as hell. She decided to take both of the statements as a compliment and accepted his offer to walk her home.

Now they are here.

Her fingers fall and she smiles at the ripple of goosebumps that break out across his skin. She quietly slips from the bed, tucks her feet into her slippers, and slowly opens the door to slip outside into the hallway.

+++

As expected, Annette Greene was already sitting in the kitchen at a small wooden table that had seen significantly better days. Her mother’s bare foot idly rubbed against grooves left by an infant Beth when her Daddy’s attention had slipped from her to a football game on television. She doesn’t remember, but he says her gums must have been sore from her baby teeth breaking through. Sore enough to chew on the first thing she could reach.

Unfortunately for the table, it had been its leg. “Mornin’, baby.”

“Mornin’ Mama.” She leaned down to kiss her cheek before shuffling over to the steaming pot of coffee to pour herself a cup.

“You sleep okay?”

She nodded and hummed at the question, dumping spoonful after spoonful of sugar in her cup. She never understood how her father and Daryl could drink the stuff black. She turned to lean against the counter and took a long and wonderful sip of sugary caffeine. The kitchen was silent for only a few moments, Annette taking small and measured sips from her mug before she finally broke.

“Listen, I know your relationship ain’t none of my business, but last night…” The older woman trailed off, a small frown deepening the fine lines around her mouth, “Well, you can’t expect me not to wonder if y’all are doin’ alright.”

“I’m not goin’ to apologize for what Daryl did. He took it a little far, but—”

“Lord, child!” Annette’s bright laugh filled the airy kitchen, cutting off whatever speech her daughter was about to give, “I wasn’t tryin’ to suggest the man was out of line. Jimmy got his just desserts if you ask me. I wouldn’t have minded if he had roughed him up a little more considerin’ all the pain he put my baby through.” Her mother’s delicate hand patted the table in front of her, inviting her daughter to sit. “C’mere.”

Beth made her way over and sat heavily on the creaky chair.

“I was tryin’ to be delicate about it, but, well, it’s just you both seemed a bit distressed when you left for a bit. I wanted to make sure you were both… that y’all didn’t fight too much.”

Beth is touched by her mother’s concern, but she can’t help the confused noise that comes out of her. “What in the world makes you think we were fightin’?”

“Oh Bethie,” She shoots her daughter a knowing look, a sly smirk on her face, “I know what a couple looks like after makin’ up. I might be agin’, but I ain’t blind, and your dress was more wrinkled than an old bloodhound’s face when ya’ll snuck back over to the party from the barn.”

Her face heats up so fast she’s surprised her head doesn’t explode. Sweet Lord, her mother knew she was having sex in the barn. Her mother knew! She was having sex! In their barn! Her hands move to cover her face and a long horrified sound leaks out of her mouth and between her fingers.

Despite the embarrassment, her mother’s responding giggles are infectious.

“Christ!” She falters at the stern look her mother throws for taking that name in vain, “I mean, no, we weren’t…” She hasn’t stumbled this bad since her mother gave her the birds and the bees talk,

“We didn’t fight. We just…it was… We’re fine. Can this be over please?

The woman nods thoughtfully. “I didn’t think he was the type, but a Mama has to make sure.”

She finishes off her coffee, smiling around the cup. “I figured he was too busy bein’ crazy about you to hold anythin’ so stupid against you, and you’re clearly head over heels yourself.” She snorts and rolls her eyes. “That Farrah girl disagreed when I mentioned it, of course, but we all know that girl’s got good looks and that’s about it. Bless her little heart.”

Beth laughs awkwardly at the suggestion and looks down at her mug. She moves to casually swirl the contents, but she jerks her arm too hard and some splashes over the side. “I mean, I wouldn’t say head over heels. Sure, I like him, but it’s not…I’m not…”

Annette doesn’t hide her amusement as she watches her daughter struggle with the words, “Honey, you don’t have to hide it with me. I’m happy someone finally appreciates how wonderful you are. You deserve to be happy, baby.”

She swallows the sudden lump in her throat and shrugs, “You have to say that.”

“Oh no, I don’t.” Annette stands and makes her way across the kitchen to refill her mug, “The thing I do have to say is that if you don’t make your move and make this whole charade the real deal, Bethany Greene, you’re gonna lose out on somethin’ people look for their whole lives.” What?

What?

The woman turns, a deceivingly innocent look on her face, “Oh, I’m sorry, am I supposed to still be pretendin’ you didn’t rope that poor man into bein’ your faux-beau for the weekend?” The judgemental at your sister’s wedding goes unsaid, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t hear it. She hears it, alright. Loud and clear.

Beth opens her mouth to argue, but the dark look that flits across her mother’s face stops her in her tracks. She thinks she ought to be humiliated or even guilty for getting caught in such a lie, but she’s mostly just curious, “How did you even know?” A horrific thought occurs to he. “Does

Daddy know too?”

“That man is the love of my life, but he’s not nearly as observant as I tell him he is.” The admission makes her laugh. “I knew when I saw the way he looks at you. Like he enjoys it, but it also kinda hurts? It’s how I knew your Daddy was interested when I first met him because, well, you know it took us awhile.”

She does know. Mama had still been with her first husband—Shawn’s biological father—when she met Daddy. When she was a child, she used to think their story was the ultimate romance.

Just when Hershel thought he could never love again, he met Annette Darby. She had just moved to the area with her family, and she immediately signed her son Shawn up for the church’s Youth

Group on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons. The same times a little girl by the name of Maggie Greene attended. The Greenes and Darbys became fast friends.

Anne would later confide in Hershel her motive to join in all the church activities was to make sure her son was out of the house and away from her husband as much as possible. Finding out she was married had been disappointing, but finding out her husband treated her and their son like garbage nearly crushed him. When Beth was young, her parents would tell her that at this point in their story, they admitted they had feelings for each other and mother decided she needed to leave her husband and her father agreed to wait so they could officially date.

Now that she’s older, she’s absolutely positive they were having a very discreet, but passionate affair during the months he helped her sort everything with a divorce lawyer. Her parents had been married over two decades and they still couldn’t keep their hands off each other. Her father is a God fearing man, but he’s not a saint.

Regardless, the story of how they managed to find each other in the most unexpected of places, only to have to wait over a year for Hershel to take her out to dinner became a running joke between the two. Each time he rushed her and she snapped at him to wait, he’d press a kiss to her cheek and say I waited for you then and I’ll wait for you now… but only five minutes because I’m not gettin’ any younger, Annie.

Her mother knows she used to desperately wish for a love like that. It’s why she’s pushing now.

“Daryl and I are just friends.” Her mother snorts. “Uh, special friends.”

“That story he told at dinner about that angel sculpture, that true?”

“Yes, but, only part of it. That was the whole point of this thing working.” Her hand comes up to her lips and she starts to chew at the nail before she processes what she’s doing and jerks her fingers away. Friends pick up each other’s mannerisms all the time, right? Not a big deal, “So, we did hang out that night and, yeah, we sat together and talked about that bible you and Daddy gave me, but the idea that I was really the inspiration is not— It’s just—”

“Completely possible and most likely true?”

Beth exhales forcefully through her nose. “Mama.”

“Did he even tell you he was goin’ to say that story?” Annette crosses her arms, her fresh coffee forgotten on the counter, and looks expectantly at her youngest. “Did y’all plan that too? Daryl is a sweet man, but even I know it’s unlikely that someone so awkward managed to think up a lie that convincin’ on the spot under the glare of your Daddy. He wears his heart on his sleeve, baby, and you know it.”

The points hit their mark and Beth sits quietly.

However Annette’s on a roll. The woman raises her hand to tick off her fingers. “This weekend alone, he kept your sister from breakin’ her damn leg on her weddin’ day and then covered for her to boot.” True.

“He had Jimmy Calvin nearly peein’ himself because he made the mistake of layin’ his hands on you. I highly doubt that boy is ever goin’ near you again.” Her rant gets side tracked a bit when she adds an aside. “I’m also pretty sure Daryl had every woman at that party ready to shove you over and throw themselves at his feet after that display. I know you’re a strong woman who coulda handled it, but Lord even I had to take a minute.” True. Ew, but true.

Anne shakes her head as if to refocus thoughts. “Did you know he offered his second home to your sister and Glenn as a weddin’ gift?”

The way her mother stresses the word second lets her know she’s obviously very impressed with Daryl, but all Beth can do is shake her head because she’s being told her extremely private best friend just gave his get-away-from-the-city space to two strangers…and then called it a gift. Maybe she isn’t as awake as she thought.

“He did it because he knows keepin’ Maggie worry free means you’ll be worry free.” The woman waves her hands wildly as if to say wake up, girl! “And I would be willin’ to bet this house and everythin’ inside that even though he had a rough night himself, the first thing that man is gonna do when he wakes up is make sure you’re okay. Oh honey, don’t tell me you haven’t seen that he’s been puttin’ you first this whole time?”

Jesus Christ, she can’t handle this. Daryl was doing her a favor by agreeing to this. She literally had to ask multiple times because he kept saying no. He technically never even said yes! Yet, she trusted him to help her do something that scared her more than moving to a city with no friends and no money did. She must have trusted that even when he said no, he would eventually agree because he has always been on her side.

Always.

Just like that, she’s wide awake.

Despite its absurdity, she thinks of grade school. The children’s museum they visited every year was full of fascinating exhibits, but her favorite had always been the illusions. She had fought with Jackie Telford for fifteen minutes over one of the images. Jackie swore she saw an old woman with a big hook nose and Beth was equally as sure she was looking at a young woman in a fancy hat and fur coat. It wasn’t until the argument had escalated to the distinct level of loud that their teacher made her way over and pulled them both back and told them where and why the other was seeing something different.

Right before her eyes, an old woman with a hook nose appeared.

And this? This was kind of like that.

+++

He’s still out cold when she walks back into the room. She sets his coffee on the nightstand and sits down hard, bouncing violently enough that he groans and turns onto his back to keep from rolling into her and off the bed.

“Mornin’!”

No.

Yes. I brought you coffee.” His sighs deeply, but his eyes remain closed and for a moment she thinks he’s gone back to sleep before he sits up, locks his arm around her waist, and pulls her down on top of him. She shrieks and slaps at the forearm still around her stomach. “That wasn’t funny.”

He smiles against the bare skin of her shoulder. “Then why you laughin’?”

“I’m not laughin’,” she tries, she does, but the tickle of his responding chuckle breaks her resolve. “You’re worse than wakin’ up a child, you know that? Get up, drink your coffee, and take a shower. We gotta head out soon.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He rolls her off and over to his side so he can sit up and place his feet on the floor. Her hand swipes across her face to brush her messy hair back so she can admire him openly as he rolls his shoulders and neck, the scars and tattoos on his back stretching and rippling with the movements. Her gaze is decidedly more lustful when he finally reaches for his coffee, doesn’t even flinch at the slinky writing on the side claiming the user of this mug is a Classy, Sassy, Grown Ass Woman, and takes a long drink. She wiggles her way to the middle of the bed and pinches his side, making him jump and pull the ceramic away from his mouth before he chips a tooth. He side eyes her over his shoulder. “You want somethin’, girl?”

“You’re gonna burn your tongue off one day.” He raises an eyebrow and takes another long drink, his adam’s apple bobbing with each swallow. She laughs at his stubborn display and tries to shove him, but he sees it coming and is practically immovable. “You think you’re cute, but you’re not.”

He finishes his coffee with a dramatic smacking of lips and sets the mug on the table.

“I think your exact words were somethin’ like very handsome.” He grins when he sees the moment she realizes her own teasing words have come back to bite her. “But I think I’m feelin’ more like a classy, sassy, grown ass woman.”

She guffaws at his audacity and he actually joins her for a bit, his smile wider than she’s ever seen. Their laughter dies off into a comfortable silence, both of their smiles never quite leaving their faces. It occurs to her this is probably the lightest she has ever seen him. Beth blinks when the thought nearly makes her want to cry. She wonders if it’s ever been like this for him before; quick to laugh, to smile, to touch someone, and allow their touch in return? Is she really as special to him as her mother says?

“You doin’ okay after last night?” She can tell he’s trying to keep his tone as light as the previous moment, but the question is undeniably weighted. She bites her lip, considering her answer. Did he mean what had happened in the barn? Is he worried he hurt her? Was he completely freaked out by what she asked him to do, and is only now bringing it up? Does he—, “What he said to you, the way he disrespected you…I shoulda been there ‘fore it got that far.”

Oh.

And I would be willin’ to bet this house and everythin’ inside that even though he had a rough night himself, the first thing that man is gonna do when he wakes up is make sure you’re okay.

She must be taking too long to answer because he twists to face her to make sure she’s still with him. “Yeah. No, I mean, no. It wasn’t your fault, Daryl. You did more than enough. Thanks for not beatin’ him bloody at my sister’s weddin’.”

Beth can feel the strain in her smile, but she holds it in place. She’s not panicking. She’s not. He nods, leans forward to place a chaste kiss on her forehead, and moves back to head to that shower, but her hand presses on his shoulder before he can get too far.

“You okay?”

He considers for only a moment before an almost boyish grin stretches his face. The instant change makes her stomach flip and it feels as if her entire world is collapsing before her eyes.

God, he really is handsome, isn’t he?

“Yeah.” There’s something with the way he’s looking at her that is almost too much, too happy, too good and for the first time since they’ve met, she can’t hold his gaze. Her hand falls away when he finally rises from bed and makes his way across the room to start the trip down the hallway and into the bathroom. He’s nearly rounded the corner when he pauses to look back. She rises up on her elbows expectantly when she sees he looks almost shy. That’s when she realizes she’s unintentionally recreated her very physical invitation from Friday night. She flushes, but refuses to move. Something tells her it would only make things worse.

He clears his throat. “Thanks. For askin’, I mean.”

She doesn’t get a chance to respond before he’s gone. Beth lets out a very long and low groan before rolling over and covering her head with a pillow, and even though he’s left the room, all she can see is the way he looked at her as if she had been the one to do him some great favor. She doubts she will ever call what she’s done this weekend some selfless act, even if he does look better for it.

Because she’s pretty sure she’s fallen in love with Daryl Dixon.

+++

Beth is zipping up her bag when he returns from his shower. She pointedly ignores the way the towel hangs low off his hips, but she can’t ignore the careless way he walks around her room without trying to cover up like he has in the past. She feels hyperaware of every movement he makes, every difference between Before and After she thought the words love and Daryl Dixon in the same sentence.

It’s as if she’s teetering on the edge of something. Tense and bracing for some sort of impact and she’s already exhausted from how goddamn nervous and unsure she is.

When he brushes past her, Daryl leans in to kiss her on the cheek and she flinches. It’s barely a twitch, but she flinches and he notices. He slowly leans back, watching her, and she tries to smile but it’s awkward. How the hell do people do this? How did she do this all those years ago?

Daryl doesn’t comment on it. He stays quiet and walks toward his bag, digging out his clothes with a single-minded focus. She can’t see his face, but the rigid line of his shoulders says everything she needs to know. Her heart sinks into the pit of her stomach.

Something has shifted out of her control, and the room falls under the heavy blanket of his doubt.

 

+++

She really, really needs to get her shit together.

Calling this car ride tense would be a vast understatement. Beth can’t manage to shake herself out of whatever weird funk they entered back in her bedroom. and it’s showing. She doesn’t know how to stop making it so obvious. He would probably deny it until his last dying breath, but Daryl is highly attuned to those around him. She can see him growing more and more distant each time she fails to open her mouth and just say something, anything. When he looks at him, any plans for conversation she had been building scatter like ashes in the wind.

It’s a vicious cycle.

“Daryl.” He doesn’t look at her, but when she sees his hand tighten on the steering wheel she continues, “This weekend… Um, things obviously happened and I—”

“You ain’t gotta explain yourself.”

The interruption flusters her, but his sharp tone is what really throws her off. She snaps back.

“You don’t even know what I was gonna say.”

“It’s already been said.” He won’t look at her and that ignites her anger like a flame kissing gasoline. She’s watching this turn a hard left from Manageable Disaster to Complete Fuck Up and for once she doesn’t know what to say. She knows there’s no getting through to him when he’s in one of his moods. It’s why she was trying to approach him so gently, but his clear dismissal only increases her irritation. She doesn’t respond because she’s sure she’ll say something mean, so she glares at the side of his face until she can see the tip of his ear flush in embarrassment.

Good, she thinks.

“M’sorry, alright? I know I’m bein’ an ass. I’m just tired or somethin’.” He finally glances at her and the weariness she sees in his face extinguishes her anger like a bucket of cold water. “I don’t wanna talk about it right now. We can, if ya really want, but can we do it later?”

The icy-hot feeling of rejection lodges firmly in her throat and swallowing it takes monumental effort, nearly as much as it takes to shove down her humiliation at being so incredibly wrong. She needs to back away from this quick. They will be stuck in this car for the next hour, and if she starts forcing answers out of him, she’s not sure what shape their friendship will be in once they reach city limits. She let her mother’s comforting words sway her too far and she’s assumed…what? That after a few days of intimacy he would have feelings for her when she was the one that stated they should simply stay friends? Beth shifts in her seat to face forward again. She focuses on the burn of her seatbelt slicing across her neck, on the dusty dashboard, the half empty water bottle lodged in her door’s drink holder, on anything but him. Looking at him only reminds her that while she knows him more than anyone, she abruptly feels like she’s barely scratched the surface.

“It’s okay.” She wants to touch him, but instead she slides her hands between her knees and presses them together until her fingers go numb and her palms turn a bright red. “We don’t have to. Nothin’ has to change, right? We’re still friends. It’s probably best we don’t…” “Yeah, probably better off.”

“Right.”

Whatever this was, it’s over. She waits for the relief at not having to confess, at the idea her discovery will probably fade into an awkward memory.

She keeps waiting.

They arrive in Atlanta a very tense and silent hour later. He drops her off with a grimace instead of a grin, and she pretends not to notice. She doesn’t remind him about the lunch plans they set for the next day, and he pretends he’s forgotten. She drags herself up to her apartment and collapses on her creaky mattress. She lays there and listens to the familiar sounds of her apartment, not thinking about much of anything at all. But each breath comes quicker than the last, until the air nearly chokes her and she has to just stop and hold it in. Her eyes squeeze shut, but the tears come anyway and her chest burns with lack of air because she doesn’t want to feel sorry for herself over something that never even happened. She wraps her arms around her stomach trying to hold whatever this is inside, but it doesn’t work and it spills out of her like blood from a wound.

Eventually her sobs die down to small hitched breaths and a sore throat. She rolls over, carelessly pushing the wet pillow off her bed. Strands of hair stick to her cheeks and temples where tears spilled, but she’s too exhausted to be bothered.

That careless, quiet sickness was suddenly gone.

But in its place?

Her hand reaches out, but the bed is empty.


Two Months Later

“Is this going to be awkward?” Maggie’s twang is extra harsh as her stress pushes through the speaker and into Beth’s ear. She’s also kind of shouting, but that probably has more to do with the noise. She can hear the grating sound of packing tape being pulled from its roll and the thump of the dispenser hitting the top of cardboard as her sister closes another box. Then, the squeak of a marker.

She rolls her eyes and responds before Maggie can start on another box. “No, I told you it was an amicable break-up. Besides, we’re still friends and if you make me say it again I’ll drop every single box labeled fragile in that moving truck tomorrow.”

She’s glad she’s on the phone because the words make her physically cringe. She pretty good at masking her voice, but she’s never been the best liar in person. Hence the phonecall.

“Okay…but are you lying to me, Bethie?” The rrrrrrip of the packing tape punctuates the question and she pulls the phone from her ear with a wince. “It’s just weird. Y’all seemed so happy. I mean, he had to have done somethin’ to you for it to end so suddenly?”

She flops back on her couch and resists the urge to scream bloody murder into the receiver. She’s had this conversation more times than she can count. If Beth was being honest, she did expect her family to ask questions when she decided to finally put an end to the painful charade and announce that her and Daryl had ‘broken up’ shortly after the wedding. She even conveyed the news gently with a it’s okay because we’re still friends. She also expected the Skype call from her mother, who merely sat there—in complete silence—for four minutes and thirtyeight seconds with her eyebrow raised and arms crossed before announcing she had officially reached the end of her rope with her children and hung up.

What she didn’t expect was the absolute and resounding disappointment, as if they had been looking forward to seeing him again. If anyone asked, what she felt was strictly annoyance at all the but why’s being thrown her way. It was no one’s business if she wanted to scream I would have kept him if I could! each time someone asked her about it.

“For the last time, I’m not lyin’ and nothin’ happened. We still work together for heaven’s sake! We see each other all the time!”

Lie, lie, lie.

“Yeah, but do y’all still hang out like you used to?” Maggie’s smug tone makes her sister’s cheek twitch. There are few things in the world more insufferable than a sister when she knows she’s right. She lets the question hang in the air, trying to figure out if she should gamble another lie or just admit that things have been completely fucked up ever since that torturous ride back to Atlanta. The only problem with telling Maggie the truth is that she would have to explain how her and Daryl hadn’t really been dating, but oh, did she mention that didn’t even matter because she went and developed feelings for him like she was gunning for the title of Georgia’s Biggest Fool and now he can barely look at her?

She’s been silent too long.

“Goddamn it, Beth,” she huffs into the phone and it comes out crackly and too loud on Beth’s end and she knows she’s in for a speech since her sister just took her off speaker. “Y’all are not still friends and somethin’ definitely happened between you two. I’m tellin’ Glenn to just call Daryl and tell him we decided to live somewhere else. I don’t care, I’ll make it happen. This isn’t fair to

y—”

“No!” Her sister falls silent and waits, so she uses the moment to collect herself. At least this won’t have to be a lie because keeping up with it all is exhausting. It’s beyond confusing trying to keep everything she says in this perfect balance of true enough. “Mags, we’re just takin’ a breather, alright? We’re not gonna just go back to bein’ friends so fast. It’s gonna take time. We both agreed splittin’ would be for the best, but that doesn’t mean we were just magically over it, you know? It’s not a big deal. Do what y’all planned to do. He’ll feel terrible if he thinks y’all are out on your asses because of what happened between us.”

Maggie seems to be rolling the words around in her brain because she’s quiet long after she has finished speaking. “Well, Glenn did see the house and he said it was super nice. There’s two and a half bathrooms! You know I how I feel about decorative bath towels. It really is much nicer than we would be able to afford if Daryl wasn’t practically givin’ it away…”

“I’m sure it’s gorgeous.” Beth’s relieved smile is genuine. “Plus, you’ll be closer so we can see each other and go out on sister dates like we used to, and we won’t even have to worry about havin’ too many cocktails because Daddy won’t be waitin’ at home with a breathalyzer.”

They both laugh at the memory. “Okay, okay, I’m sold. No need to butter me up further.” A pause. “Bethie, I know I’ve been caught up in my own stuff with the weddin’ and then movin’, but I’m here, okay? You don’t have to do everythin’ alone. I love you and I know I you think I’m annoyin’ when I bother you, but I promise it’s ‘cos want you to be happy.”

Beth inhales a sharp breath and holds it in when she feels the telltale sting behind her eyes. If she starts to cry, Maggie will lose it and they’ll spend the next hour sobbing over nothing. She looks up at the ceiling and blinks until she’s sure she can talk without a wobble in her voice. “I know. I love you, too.”

She hears her sister sniffle anyway and snorts at how predictable they are. “We’re bein’ dumb, I’ll see you tomorrow. I’ll even bring bagels from that place you love.”

“Great!” It’s one word, but Beth immediately switches from relaxed to alarmed. She sits up and listens. Something else is coming.

“Before I forget, um, Glenn said Daryl’s gonna be over tomorrow to help us move some of the heavier stuff. We didn’t want to ask Daddy since his leg’s been botherin’ him. So, um,” No, no, no– this is not happening, “he’ll be there, but we’ll be doin’ stuff in a different part of the house anyway. It’ll be like you’re in two separate houses! Hah… Oh, hey! Don’t forget the cream cheese and bring knives ‘cos I don’t know where the hell our utensils are in this mess. Alright! Great! Love you! See you tomorrow!” Click.

+++

Beth G (SENT 8:31 P.M.): hey heard you’re helping us move tmrrw!

Beth G (UNSENT 8:32 P.M.): i’m glad. i rly wanted to see you

Beth G (SENT 8:34 P.M.): maggie&glenn dont know anything still… dont forget we “broke up” right after the wedding.

Beth G (UNSENT 8:35 P.M.): hey, are you busy rn? can we talk?

Beth G (SENT 8:36 P.M.) don’t wanna deal with maggie’s wrath on moving day, right? haha.

Daryl D (UNSENT 8:39 P.M.): i been trying to forg

Daryl D (UNSENT 8:42 P.M.): i know i fucked everythi

Daryl D (UNSENT 8:48 P.M.): i can’t stop fucking thinki

Daryl D (UNSENT 8: 52 P.M.): i wanna see you. i have something to

Daryl D (UNSENT 8:59 P.M.): i miss you. im sorry.

Daryl D (SENT 9:01 P.M.): k

+++

The only positive that can be found in this situation is that they sailed passed fucking awful and weird at a speed that was almost impressive. Once again, they managed to get caught in the small foyer at the same time. At least this time Daryl was the one one carrying something. Someone who’s named starts with a B and ends with eth was already banned from carrying anything made of glass when their last run in ended with a pretty vase meeting a very sudden and unfortunate demise.

Yeah, this was getting out of hand.

“Sorry! I—”

“My bad—”

Neither of them finished whatever they were trying to say and instead stood in silence trying to look at anything but each other. Daryl awkwardly shifted the box slipping in his arms and his knee came up briefly for support as he hoisted it back up. Beth’s empty hands pressed against cardboard and skin as her body automatically moved to keep it from falling. The sudden contact felt like a shock to his system, but to his relief, she didn’t seem to be faring much better if her wide eyed expression was anything to go by.

“I got it.” His forearm tingles at the brief touch, and when she snatches her hands back, he silently prays that whatever his face is doing, it’s not completely embarrassing. He clears his throat. “Uh, but thanks.”

“Yeah, ‘course! No problem!” Beth’s eyes and smile are almost cartoonish and he barely manages to hold back an amused twitch of his lips. She tucks her hair behind her ear and points to the front door, “I’ll just, um, the truck. Maggie’s probably waitin’ for me, I mean.”

He nods and shifts the box again, but neither of them move. He’s already looking at her when Beth finally turns her head to face him again because it’s been weeks since they’ve interacted this much and he’s drinking in the uncomfortable moments like a man who hasn’t seen water in months. Her strained smile softens at whatever expression he’s wearing and the corner of his mouth lifts in a responding grin. Daryl’s tongue swipes across his dry bottom lip and she tracks the movement with her eyes. The moment almost slows down, suspended in the air as it stretches between them and his chest constricts with hope when her mouth opens to say— Cough.

The two startle and bump into each other when they turn to face the front door and he’s actually grateful when Beth reaches out again to help steady the box in his hands. Maggie and Glenn stand at the doorway, each of them holding an ornate, wooden dining table chair. His friend’s eyes glance back and forth between the two, while his wife hovers at his shoulder with a positively manic grin on her face. Daryl promptly turns and walks further into the house without comment. If befriending Glenn these past few weeks has taught him anything, it’s that he’s not even remotely prepared to deal with whatever is going through Maggie Rhee’s head. He’s already in the next room, but the empty house carries Beth’s voice.

“Get that stupid grin off your face, Margaret.”

“Yeah, well, my grin ain’t the stupidest thing here, Bethany.”

“The fact you just used the word stupidest proves that—”

He’s not surprised when Glenn follows him, now holding two chairs.

The sister’s bickering fades as they walk back outside. Daryl sets the box down carefully and shakes out his arms, waiting for whatever the other man is about to say. Another thing that he’s learned is that Glenn has no problem letting him know exactly when he thinks Daryl is being a fucking idiot.

Glenn sets the chairs down and his fingers curl around the sides of the smooth wood, “Dude.”

He sighs and scratches his chin, “Don’t start.”

Dude.” He lets go of the chair to wave his hands and stares in disbelief. “You said you were going to talk to her before this.”

“I know what I said.” His hand drops from his face and he doesn’t even try to hide his annoyance. He would say their friendship surprised him, but Glenn was the kind of guy everyone got along with whether they wanted to be his friend or not. Even people like Daryl, who—for the record— definitely did not fucking want to be his friend.

Not too long after he was back from his short honeymoon, Glenn took him up on his offer to take a look at his house outside the city. Unfortunately for him, the day he came to check it out also happened to be the day Beth decided to tell her family their “relationship” had ended. The younger man kept that particular detail quiet until they were sitting at a bar and he asked him if he was doing okay after the breakup.

Part of him had been angry because she hadn’t even bothered to shoot him a warning text, but his guilt ultimately won out when he realized there was no way she could have known he’d be with her new brother-in-law. It probably hadn’t helped that he had avoided her at every turn with a determination and finesse that he would be proud of in any other situation. He’d even been locking his studio doors, much to Karen’s vexation. Each time he dodged her, he heard Merle’s mean voice in his head reminding him he was being a complete and utter punk ass bitch.

It also probably didn’t help that despite never having actually dated Beth, he sure felt like he had been dumped.

Regardless, he hadn’t managed to cover his reaction in time, so the other man started asking questions. A lot of questions. He knew, on some level, that Glenn was just trying to be helpful, but he wasn’t prepared and his answers got sloppy. Eventually he wore him down enough that Daryl took the risk and told him the truth. He listened without judgement and occasionally offered a sympathetic nod every now and then. It felt good to finally get it off his chest, even if he mumbled his way through the more embarrassing parts. When he was finished, yeah, he still felt like shit, but it was more manageable. The younger man didn’t say much, just enough to ensure Daryl that he wouldn’t tell his wife anything he shared, and he thought that would be the end of it.

God, was he fucking wrong.

He wouldn’t share any details, but Beth must have been talking to Maggie and she was turning around and sharing with her husband because Glenn was extremely adamant that Daryl man up and simply talk to her. He agreed, and he’s not ashamed to admit it was mostly just to get the guy off his back. He figured the Rhees would eventually give up, go back to being obsessed with each other, and that would be that.

In related news, he was getting very good at being wrong.

“It ain’t that easy, alright?” He clenches his fists in agitation and Glenn tracks the movement with a raised brow. “Longer we go without talkin’, more I feel like a fuckin’ ass. What the hell am I s‘posed to say to her, anyway?”

Glenn rolls his eyes, “How about, hey, sorry things got weird after fake dating you, but it turns out I wanted it to be real. I was too chicken shit to say it. Also, Glenn is the best.

The withering look Daryl throws him does nothing but make him smirk. “I told you she’s the one who called it off. What’s the fuckin’ point of even askin’ when I already know the answer.”

“Yeah, well, who’s brilliant idea was it to start having casual sex with the best friend they’re in love with?” Glenn was smart enough to lower his voice on the last part, but it didn’t stop the other man from nearly running over in a panic to shush him, and he snorts at the display.

I didn’t fuckin’ plan it— y’know what?” His eyes close because the mere sight of the other man is going to give him a fucking stroke. He’s starting to understand why people pray for strength because he truly might need Jesus to descend from the skies to keep him throttling Glenn. “Shut the fuck up.”

Oddly enough, it’s Maggie complaining outside that saves her husband’s life.

“Y’all better not be sittin’ around drinkin’ beers or I swear to God—”

The two share a long look before starting toward the door, but it’s Daryl that stops him with a hand to the chest before they get very far. “Not another word ‘bout this. This ain’t your business to handle, Short Round.”

Neither of them say anything, but the agreement is understood. The tension between them eases at Daryl’s half-assed attempt at a joke and Glenn pats him on the shoulder with a close-lipped half smile.

“By the way, Short Round is fucking Chinese, dumbass.”

“I know.”

He manages to duck the first punch. He’s not so lucky on the second.

+++

Beth quietly opens the bathroom door she ducked into and steps out into the hallway, still reeling from the conversation she most definitely had no business eavesdropping on.

…turns out I wanted it to be real.

She chews on her lip and contemplates any possible way she could have interpreted this wrong.

She briefly considered that maybe Glenn was projecting. She knew Maggie was convinced that if Beth was telling the truth and neither of them had cheated, they should have no problem giving it another shot. However, Glenn already knows the truth, so what would be his reasoning? There’s also the fact that they technically never said her name, but the chance that Daryl had entered into another faux-relationship in the last two months was slim to none. Right?

…the best friend they’re in love with.

Her hands come up to her chest to press against the solid bone beneath and she truly feels like she’s barely managing to keep her heart from exploding out of her chest because, oh, Daryl is in love with her, no big deal. Whatever.

Part of her wants to be pissed off, actually, part of her is pissed off. She spent two months feeling sorry for herself for no damn reason, had cried herself silly over something that she kept telling herself wasn’t real, but at least it seems like he was doing the exact same thing. The lock on his studio door these last few weeks is starting to make a lot more sense.

Honestly, they kind of deserve each other.

She’s still standing there with a dumb, wide smile on her face when everyone comes back in with more boxes and furniture. For a moment, she’s irrationally afraid that they knew she was hiding in the hallway listening, but when Glenn walks by with nothing more than a smile, she sighs. It’s jarring to remember that while Beth’s world just violently tilted on its axis, everyone else is having a perfectly normal day with no life changing declarations of love in sight. Daryl splits off from the two others to enter the living room to drop off whatever he’s carrying and without hesitation, she follows.

It’s been a while since she’s allowed herself to really look at him and it’s strange to see the small changes that must have happened in her absence. A steady hum of tension seems to have bled into his shoulders and back. The new, unkempt style of his hair. The overgrowth of his facial hair where he normally shaves.

He looks tired, but that doesn’t stop the ball of want from settling in her stomach at the mere sight of him. Daryl doesn’t appear to have noticed her, so she walks over.

“Um, hey.” Beth’s standing behind him, so she waits until he turns around before moving forward and wrapping her arms around his waist. The contact nearly brings tears to her eyes and she wants to feel foolish, but she truly didn’t realize how much she missed him until this new information forced her to stop and really consider it. Daryl’s arms moved up when she stepped into him, so they’re still hovering as if he’s unsure what the hell is happening and she bites back a smile at the picture they must make. Slowly, he winds his arms around her shoulders and she knows she’s not imagining it when he melts into her smaller form. His chin rests on top of her head and the huge gaping space that’s been festering between them for two months starts to heal and close. She pulls back just enough to look up, and his puzzled yet pleased expression makes her laugh.

“Come over tonight.” Her newfound confidence is making a very obvious appearance, so she dials it back a bit. “Um, I mean, you don’t have to if you don’t wanna or if you’re busy, but we haven’t really talked and I, just um, I miss you—”

“Yeah.” His breathy interruption has her smile coming back full force and she takes shameless pleasure at the flush on his neck. “I mean, uh, yeah, ain’t got no plans after this, uh, except maybe a shower.”

“Great! Come over whenever. I’ll order somethin’ and we’ll, um, hang!” She can hear how ridiculous she’s being, but she’s too busy being relieved that he agreed to really care. She doesn’t have anything more to say, but he stares at her, uncertainty and hope warring on his face like he’s waiting for her to deliver a punchline to a joke and he’s not sure if it’ll be at his expense. She refuses to dwell on it, her mind already set on tonight and the knowledge that in a few hours, he won’t ever have to feel unsure about her ever again.

“We better get back.” Her words jolt him out of whatever trance he was in and he nods.

Neither of them move and her breath stutters when she feels his thumb move to stroke her lower back. The look on his face is still a little shell shocked, so she doubts he even knows what he’s doing to her. Blood pounds in her ears in time with her rising blush and she glances down at his arms. Daryl lets out a soft oh before releasing her from his hold. Her laugh is quiet and she wants so badly to say fuck it and have this conversation right here right now. She wants to kiss him and tell him she’s sorry for letting him be such an idiot (because let’s face it, at least 50% of this is his fault), but if it goes as well as she hopes, they’ll want to be alone. Really alone.

Daryl finally steps back but misjudges his surroundings and his foot hits the box he just set down, briefly tripping him up.

“Uh, so—”

“Right. I need to—”

Beth moves toward the foyer and she walks outside. She double-takes when she sees him still watching her through the wide windows of the living room and raises a brow when he lifts a hand in an awkward wave. She waves back with a smile before walking out of sight and on to the bed of the moving truck. Glancing around to make sure she’s alone, Beth closes her eyes and flails wildly, needing to release some of the overwhelming energy building inside of her. She allows herself one very small and very dignified squeal before stilling her movements and taking a deep breath. Despite being alone, the action is still embarrassingly childish, but she can’t help it. It’s been so long since she’s felt this giddy, this certain that for once things might actually go right for her.

She takes another deep breath and presses her fingers into her cheeks to sooth the ache of smiling so damn hard. She needs to stay cool or she is not going to make it through the next two hours, and going home without injury was vital because tonight Beth was going to gain more than just a best friend back.

Maybe one more flail was in order.


Two Months Later (Night)

Daryl wasn’t sure what was more ridiculous; the fact that he was standing outside Beth’s door holding a fucking gift despite this being a normal hang out, or the fact that earlier he had taken the longest shower he’d ever taken in his goddamn life to spend extra time shaving the scraggly stubble that had built up around his usual facial hair. Carol had taken to affectionately calling it his ‘grief beard’ because she was the kind of jerk that took one look at him the Monday after That Weekend and said you finally figured out you’re in love with Beth? Karen owes me 50 bucks! She was also the kind of jerk that made sure to drag him out for lunch twice a week because she knew he missed the company. Not to mention how she had no problem waltzing into his apartment to turn off his television and shove him out of bed because she was going to scream if she heard the Law & Order opening credits through her bedroom wall one more fucking time.

Fine, she wasn’t that bad.

He had stepped under the spray and started the process of shaving without even thinking about it, until he was thinking about it, and what he was thinking is how Beth had winced at the stubble burn he had left on her thigh the first time he tasted her. The blade jerked in his hand and he nearly sliced his neck open when he fully processed the thought. He was psyching himself out for nothing but a normal night between friends.

He’s been standing in front of her door an uncomfortably long time now. Typically he would do a courtesy knock and walk in, but he hadn’t stepped foot on her block in eight weeks. Would it be weird if he just walked in? Would it be weird if he didn’t just walk in?

Good fucking Lord, his hands were sweating. Maybe he should—

His whirlwind thoughts freeze and his head tilts at the sound of a creaking floorboard.

Specifically, the floorboard that resides just inside the threshold of her apartment. The floorboard he always remembers to step over when it’s 4am and they’ve spent too many hours watching weird horror movies on Netflix and he doesn’t want to wake the passed out blonde when he leaves. It’s faint, but another shuffle of feet and he’s feeling very confident that Beth is standing on the other side of that door because he knows that floorboard.

Daryl is practically holding his breath waiting for confirmation, and when he gets it with another shift of small feet, he has to bite the inside of his cheek hard to keep his grin at bay. He doesn’t feel nearly as foolish as he did a minute ago, and he manages to raise his hand to knock twice. The flaky green paint on the door scratches his knuckles when it’s yanked open just a touch too soon to be casual and he startles.

They stare at each other with matching expressions of surprise.

“Sorry.” Beth finally speaks, an endearing smile on her face, “I was, um, standin’ at the door waitin’.”

Her honesty wins her a chuckle and she shrugs helplessly before stepping aside to invite him in.

She doesn’t move back very far however, and when he side-steps in his chest briefly brushes hers. He’s very glad he decided to wear layers because Beth is in her usual comfort clothes sans bra, which he didn’t find nearly as enticing two months ago. The universe is out to punish him with the shortest shorts known to man and a t-shirt of a Botticelli painting with Beyonce lyrics. She shuts the door without taking her eyes off him and a vivid memory of Merle teaching him the basics of hunting while their father dozed drunkenly back at camp pops into his head. How his brother explained the difference between hunter and hunted. Predator and prey.

Shaving might have been a good idea.

“What’s that?” Beth gestures to the paper bag he’s holding and he looks down at it as if he’s equally amazed to see it in his hands.

“Nothin’.” He holds it out to her anyway and the moment the crumpled bag is safely in her hands, he moves toward her kitchenette where a very promising stack of take out boxes are waiting for him. He would much rather focus on eating than her reaction to what’s inside. “Did’ya ask for extra—”

“Your extra sauce is in the fridge, weirdo.” The exchange is so painfully familiar it almost bowls him over. He briefly wonders if this is what his brother felt like each time he came out of rehab and tried to get high for the first time. Unsettled but comforted. Brand new but intimate. Afraid but aching.

He grunts, “S’not my fault you eat wrong, girl.” Daryl falls into a routine learned from years of dinners, lunches, and even some breakfasts. The plates are already out and he’s already piling on the barbecue and sides when he hears the crinkle of the bag opening. His hands falter for only a moment before continuing to serve their dinner. Move her coleslaw to his plate, extra scoop of macaroni and cheese for her, extra sauce for him, make sure her cornbread doesn’t touch anything because she’s weird like that.

There was nothing he could do about the gift now, other than snatch it from her grip and run. He decides to ignore the fact that last option even crossed his mind and he violently disregards

Merle’s sneering don’t be such a pussy Darylina! in his head.

Beth has been quiet for a while, so he picks up their plates and walks out to her small red table with it’s two mismatched chairs. He doesn’t think he’s ever seen anyone sit there but them. Even when their friends are over, they’re piled on the couch or the crooked rocking chair in the corner that he’s had to fix half a dozen times because a drunken Dennis always forgets the rickety chair was made for one person, not one person with a Tara in their lap within kissing distance.

Daryl sits in one of the chairs and clears his throat obnoxiously to grab her attention. “You gonna stand there all night or grab us a drink?”

“Wow, Dixon,” She walks to her fridge and opens it, pulling two beers from the bottom, “Glad to know your dazzling charm is still intact.”

He snorts. “Glad to know you’re still a shit hostess, Greene.”

The dig earns him a sharp jab to the arm with the cap end of a beer, but when he catches her eye she’s smiling softly. He snatches the beer out of her hand to set it on the table. Soon, she’s sitting across from him, opening her own beer with the tacky magnetic bottle opener he gave her for Christmas two years ago after a trip to New Orleans. He doubts he’ll ever get over the hilarity of

Beth owning a bottle opener that was basically a pair of giant breasts covered in music note beads. He had expected her to chuck it, but in true Greene fashion, she simply laughed, told him she loved it, and placed it right in the center of her fridge next to a picture of her family and her music tutoring schedule. She’s reaching for his bottle and he notices she’s already wearing the gift. She pops off the cap of his beer and catches his stare on her arm.

“Thanks for the charm.” Her left arm raises up and shakes, the metal charms tinkling together like small bells. “I lost my cross the weekend of Maggie and Glenn’s…” She trails off before starting again, “um, well, you know. You didn’t need to buy it. I would’ve replaced it eventually.”

“S’fine.” He knows he should leave it there. He knows. Saying anymore would be so excruciatingly obvious but he opens his mouth to mumble an explanation. “I didn’t buy it, anyway.”

Daryl starts to dig into his food and he can feel Beth’s assessing eyes on him, but she simply follows his lead. He nearly sighs with relief. There’s a good chance she’s letting him off the hook because she knows his feelings for her grew to something more all those weeks ago and she doesn’t want to embarrass him by bringing it up, but he’d take her mercy over that conversation any day.

The rest of dinner continues so normally it’s strange. It’s as if they’re picking up where they left off, and even though there are a few awkward pauses in conversation when they’re reminded of how much time they’ve spent apart, it’s nice. It’s fucking fantastic, really. There’s no other person that knows him as well as this woman and his gut clenches at the idea he nearly fucked this all up and lost it because he wanted to get his dick wet. And yes, it might have been a little more complicated than that but it didn’t change how that decision had not been his finest moment.

When they’re finished, they empty their plates into the sink. As usual, he nearly burns his fucking hand off at her temperamental faucet. Christ, he should really fix this for her, if for nothing other than his own selfish desire to keep the first few layers of his skin. He grumpily finishes rinsing the plates with her beside him and is drying his hands when it happens.

“Daryl?” Her voice is close but he still didn’t process how close she is because when he turns his head to look at her she’s practically already in his face. He almost flinches back but his movements are halted by Beth’s warm, damp fingers at his neck and her mouth on his.

He wishes he could say he froze, that it caught him by such surprise that he couldn’t respond, but that would be a lie. He responds the moment she fucking touches him. Daryl’s pushing into her space with all the desperate want he’s felt for the last 56 and a half days. His hands come up to cradle her face and tangle in her hair, and Beth moans when she gets her free arm wrapped around his waist to pull herself flush against him. Their mouths open in unison, falling so easily into the rhythm they established after that first fumble in her childhood bed and when his tongue gets a taste of her he thinks he won’t survive leaving this behind again when it has to end.

That thought hangs around in his foggy brain long enough to catch his attention, until Daryl has enough sense to pull back. He doesn’t have that much sense, though, because all he does is press his forehead against hers and squeeze his eyes shut. His hands drop from her face to her hips, fingers briefly digging in before settling.

“Beth, we can’t—”

“I’m in love with you, okay?” Beth’s hands slide up to hold his face and her smile is so beautiful that when he opens his eyes he’s convinced he’s having some sort of fever dream after suffering severe burns from that fucking demon faucet. The words must feel good coming out of her mouth because she keeps going. “I love you, too. It’s okay, we can.”

The words rip through him like a tornado, destroying everything in it’s path from the moment they leave her lips to beat against his brain and chest. He knows he should be overjoyed because holy shit, she loves him and he loves her and it’s just that fucking simple. Except it’s not. He swallows the lump in his throat when he moves his hands from her hips to her elbows, pulling her arms back and away from him. He feels like screaming when she fights him, holding on tighter.

“What—” Her shock is obvious, but her irritation makes an appearance when she realizes he’s successfully pushing her away. “Would you cut it out!?”

“No.”

Yes. Good Lord, why are you—”

“I fuckin’ said no, Beth!” The brutal response hits her like a bolt and she snatches her hands back to retreat from him like he dealt her a physical blow. Despite being the cause of it, the movement makes him sick and it only gets worse when her eyes start to shine with tears.

“What the hell is your problem? Why are you acting like this?” When he opens his mouth to respond her hand flings up to hold her palm in his face in a silent shut up motion. “Those were rhetorical questions, Daryl. I know you feel the same way, and don’t you try and say that ain’t true because I heard you talking to Glenn not even four hours ago!”

Daryl exhales forcefully and presses his palms into his eyes until he’s seeing spots. This entire situation is starting to make a little more sense. The way she practically flipped like a switch this afternoon after she heard them, heard him. The way she said she loved him too. He knew he shouldn’t have let Glenn speak so openly. His hands drop to his sides and he glares at her.

“I fuckin’ do, alright?” His face is flushed with embarrassment because he’s never said the words to a woman before, never said the words I love Beth Greene out loud either, even though he’s spent hours mouthing them to himself because he’s a masochist. “But I shouldn’t have slept with you. I shouldn’t have done that. It was a mistake.”

She hesitates for just a moment at his admission, but her anger rises when Daryl tacks on the regretful statements. She stares at him for what feels like hours before huffing and walking right out of the kitchen. When she doesn’t return, he follows her out to the living room. He knows she must be considering what to say. Beth tends to take words seriously, whether it’s a sincere conversation or not. She once drunkenly called words life’s song lyrics and he’d laughed so hard at the ridiculous statement he snorted beer through his nose. Daryl spent the rest of the night bitching about the sting because she’d giggle and kiss his nose each time he mentioned it. She took care of him for something so small and stupid, as usual.

Yet this is how he is paying her back.

“Why are you doin’ this to me?” Her voice isn’t small or hurt, even though she is those things. It’s accusatory and even though he hates it, he feels his own indignation flare up in response.

“Why am I doin’ this to you? Girl, you’re the one who had to fuckin’ go and start this. I woulda been fine.” Daryl’s lying through his teeth and she knows it. She lets out a humorless bark of laughter and rolls her eyes, but when he steps up to her, she doesn’t back down. “And you woulda been better off.” There it is.

That ugly thought that’s been swelling up inside him since the moment she kissed him like he was worth something and he almost, almost, believed it. The thought that has been kept well-fed with 8 weeks of agonizing silence. It’s out there and the rest follows like the breaking of a dam.

“You know what your real fear is, Beth? Not the one you tell everybody, that stupid shit about heights. You wanna know what really terrifies you?” She’s staring him down and the way she’s looking at him makes him want to crawl away somewhere and never come out, so he turns from her to collect himself. He’s rubbing at his chin in agitation, but that hand flies up to point at her when he finally turns back, “You’re afraid you ain’t gonna live enough. Live hard enough. You let some prick make you believe you ain’t worth havin’ a good life when that’s bullshit! You think the moment you sliced your wrists open, somethin’ bled right outta you and you been tryin’ to get it back. ”

“Stop it! Stop being such a…such a—” If they were any other situation, he’d laugh at seeing her so flustered.

“You ain’t ever ever gonna find it with me, girl! That shit in the barn? The way I hurt you and liked it? That’s who I am.” His fingers dig painfully into his chest when he gestures toward himself, as if he’s trying to drive a point home. His voice is cracking and he’s humiliated and ashamed and he wishes he could just be fucking normal and tell a girl he loves her and leave it there. He knows he’s practically screaming at her from across the room but he doesn’t stop. “You ain’t ever gonna live good enough if you’re with me!”

Beth’s chest heaves as she sucks in a shuddered breath. For a horrifying moment, Daryl thinks he’s done it. He’s said what needed to be said to make this stop and his body goes cold with fear. This is what he’s been trying to do with cruel dismissive words, isn’t it? So why does idea of being successful paralyze him? The sudden dread is distracting enough that he misses her grabbing a beaded throw pillow off her couch and chucking it at him with near-lethal accuracy and a frustrated shout. He cries out when the damn thing hits it’s mark, the heavy beads slapping him in the face.

“You have some fuckin’ nerve, Daryl Dixon! You tortured me for two months by stayin’ quiet. TWO MONTHS!” Beth gestures wildly at him, her blonde hair whipping behind her at the jerky movements. His hand is on his cheek as he watches her outburst. “Here I am tryin’ to change somethin’ but you coulda said somethin’, too. You just did nothin’!”

Daryl is watching very closely this time, so he catches the next pillow that comes flying his way.

“Would you fuckin’—” He slams the fluffy weapon on the floor, “You think I fucked up so bad, why don’t you just fuckin’ let it go, huh?”

Because you’re mine!” She’s crying now and he’d be horrified—he is horrified—but the words being thrown are much more frightening than a couple of pillows. Beth doesn’t let the tears stop her, furiously wiping at her eyes with the back of her hands. “You’re mine and you ain’t gonna take that away from me just ‘cos you’re too scared to try! You ain’t ever have someone fight for you, but I’m gonna. Daryl, if you want me to have better than all you gotta do is let me have you.”

The declaration, the stuttering words pushed out through wet hiccups and tear soaked lips, make him want to stumble back and hold onto something. His knees wobble dangerously at the look on her face because he can’t fucking handle it. Daryl can take weeks of silence, he can take her anger, even suffer through her tears, but the way she looks at him like she needs him, he can’t take that. No one has ever needed him. Even later with the money and the success, he wasn’t worth needing. He didn’t know how to take care of someone, anyway. A point further emphasized by the fact that they’re not even together and he’s already hurting her.

He’s near enough to her small dining table that he moves to sit heavily on the chair he had vacated only—fuck—ten minutes ago. Ten minutes and nothing has changed, yet it’s also worse somehow. He rests his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, trying to slow down his thoughts, trying to process this new angle, trying to process without letting his instincts guide him because they’ve proven to be fucking useless around Beth Greene. It takes a while, he’s not sure how long, but long enough that his back aches from his hunched over position and the skin of his knees are numb where elbows dig in.

A shadow falls over him and when Beth’s small feet coming into view, he stares at the purple— no, lavender—polish neatly brushed across each nail. His eyes flutter shut when he feels her fingers gently comb through his hair, pushing the dark strands back from his forehead. She keeps at it, nails massaging his scalp, then fingers grazing his ears until she has her hands under his, cradling his face so she can tip his head up.

Her face blurs and he doesn’t understand why until her thumbs swipe his cheeks and come away wet. When his eyes refocus, she’s softer. Whatever frustration that had been boiling inside of her has calmed with her confession, when they did nothing but shake him to his very core. Daryl’s hands move from where they rest on hers until his fingers slide across the skin of her her wrists. Calloused fingers encircle the fragile bones and now it’s his thumbs what swipe across skin, feeling the thin scars of her past.

“Okay.” Beth seems to steel herself against whatever she’s about to say. He wonders if this is where she decides it’s not worth the bullshit and he’s already cringing away. “Okay, let’s just take a minute and figure out how we can do this. We can… we can start small? We don’t have to tell anybody at first. You don’t even have to say it back. We can hang out like normal but like…with, um, kisses? God, I don’t care— no, I mean, I do care. I mean, I don’t care what we do as long as

—”

His jaw goes slack because she’s really not letting it go. Daryl listens to her talk herself in circles. She giving him options, for fucks sake. How we don’t have to call them dates and she can be more professional at work and it’s okay if he doesn’t want to put a label on it and we can figure out holidays so he doesn’t feel pressured. As far as Beth is concerned, this is happening. Hell, it’s already happened.

Something inside him gets knocked loose.

“I love you.” It’s small and shattered open, but he’s said it. He understands how Beth found it so easy to say it again because now that it’s out, it’s impossible not to. “I love you so fuckin’ much that it hurts. I wanna be good for you. I wanna take you out on dates and call you my girl and sit through weird as fuck dinners with your insane family. But I don’t fuckin’ know how, okay? I never done this shit before.”

Daryl’s eyes drop because of course it must be obvious to her he’s never done this before. Never been loved like this before. Isn’t that the kind of thing that changes people’s minds? He’s above and beyond a fucking challenge. He’s a book whose pages are all out of order, something that should be enjoyable, easy, familiar, but made difficult and seemingly impossible because he wasn’t fucking put together right. His fingers drag up to her elbows until he’s reaching for her, wrapping his arms around her waist. Beth steps forward until his face can press into the soft cotton of her t-shirt, until he can breathe in the smell of familiar detergent and flowery soap. His arms wrap around her waist and takes. Takes the comfort she’s giving him, the love, and even though he feels so undeserving, he can’t help it.

“You are good, you are, but being good is hard and we fail sometimes. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna love you any less. We can figure out the other stuff.” He snorts at the understatement, but the way her voice wraps around the word love has him holding her tighter. Her fingers are back in his hair and Daryl shivers when he feels the scratch of nails at the nape of his neck. “So, you gonna be mine, then?”

His eyes are closed but he can hear the smile in her voice and the knot in his stomach loosens because maybe he can do this if it’s with her. Maybe he can have this if she leads him, if she shows him how? Daryl turns until only one side of his face is pressed into her flat stomach and his mouth is free of the fabric. “ Yeah. Yeah, I’m gonna be yours.”

His head moves with the delighted laugh that flexes her abdomen and when Beth’s fingers grip his hair to tilt his head out and up, he moves easily, standing from his chair. The height difference jars him because he’s bigger—of course he’s bigger—but right now her presence fills the room. Beth’s confidence in this new, fragile love dwarves him and he looks at her desperate for guidance. She doesn’t look nearly as terrified as he feels, but he can still see a sliver of fear in the way she holds him, as if he’ll run at any moment.

Daryl can’t blame her.

It’s like deja vu when she’s pulling his head toward hers to press their lips together again. They can taste the salt of each other’s tears, but that doesn’t stop Beth from smiling against his lips. His arms are still wrapped around her and he pulls her closer, letting out a trembling breath at how good her body feels against him. Hands press and caress her, feeling everything and everything he can reach; shoulders, back, ass, thighs. Daryl swallows her groan with wet lips and tongue, feeding her his own moan when her fingers dig into his shoulders to pull herself up into the kiss.

Their movements have made the smooth transition from passionate to downright impatient, so Beth is quick to respond when his knees dip and hands grasp the back of her thighs, hoisting her up and against him. She wraps her legs around his waist, enjoying her new height as his head tilts back to keep her lips on his. Daryl gasps when her hands find his hair again, pulling his neck taunt, trailing kisses and bites against the column of his neck until she finds the spot that nearly sends them both to the ground.

His feet move and somehow they make it to her bedroom with minimal injury or bruising. Her old mattress creaks when he sets her down and the moment she’s free, Beth pulls off her shirt and wiggles out of her shorts. It’s a sight he should be somewhat immune to by now, yet his hands pause on his own clothing to drink in all of her smooth skin, the pink nipples topping her pretty little tits, and the neat trim of dark blonde curls that are already wet with her slick.

Due to his rather intense stare, Daryl doesn’t miss the pleased smile and the flush blooming high on her cheeks and chest. He also doesn’t miss the way her eyes drag down his form like a physical touch before flicking up with something new and hard in her gaze.

“C’mon, keep goin’.” Her soft encouragement gets him moving. He slips out of his flannel, grabs the back collar of his shirt and pulls forward until it’s off and on the floor. Daryl’s forgotten about it until the removal of his top means that the air chills the metal and goosebumps break across his skin at the contact. He’s never worn jewelry before, so he’s not surprised when Beth perks up, spotting the new addition right away. She sits up and forward, reaching for the long necklace until she has it in her hand. “What’s…”

She doesn’t need to finish the question once she gets a good look and his ears burn for some ridiculous reason. He just told her he loved her for fucks sake, this should be nothing in comparison, but it still feels like peeling back a layer of skin before the wound has had time to heal. Her fingers rub against the smooth metal of the cross. Beth’s left hand raises and twists until the matching charms are side by side.

“We match! You made these?” The way she says it, as if this new information is a better gift than the replacement charm itself, makes him want to squirm and he’s not sure why.

“I said I didn’t buy it.” He mumbles shyly, “S’not like it was a lotta work to make.”

Beth gently rests the necklace against his skin and leaves her fingers splayed across his chest, moving until her legs are tucked beneath her and she can rise up on her knees. Her hand slithers up to rest on his neck and he watches her red bottom lip catch and then slip from her teeth, “It’s somethin’ that’s ours. Somethin’ secret. I love it, Daryl.”

The praise actually does make him squirm this time, and it’s like a light bulb flickering on when he gets it. So much of their time together, their friendship, was enjoyable because he liked taking care of her. God, he feels so fucking stupid. All that doubt over not being enough for her when it’s in his power to be better, to work harder to give her what she deserves.

Daryl thinks he might be able to do it, if it feels like this. He’s always been a hard worker.

She gives him a quick, chaste kiss and leans back, her legs sliding out from beneath her until she can stretch one out to press her toes to the soft skin above his waistband. He jerks at the way it tickles and she laughs. “Now these.”

He toes off his boots as his fingers undo and unzip his jeans, but when he starts to pull everything down, her foot nudges his hand. Daryl shoots her a questioning look, wondering if she changed her mind.

“Jeans and socks.” Beth places her foot back on the bed, trusting he’ll play along. He’s blushing, but he nods, tugging down the denim and pulling his socks off. He leaves it all on the floor with the rest of their clothes. His cock throbs at the intensity of her stare when he finally stands upright and his hand twitches with the urge to grab himself. When her eyes dart to the side, he knows she’s caught the movement and the smirk that stretches her lips makes his breath hitch. “Go ahead.

Show it to me.”

Before he can second guess the request or the pleased tingle that curls around his spine, his hand comes up to grip himself. Daryl sighs at the temporary relief; fingers press and stretch the blue cotton, until he nearly has his fingers encircled around the base of his cock. Daryl doesn’t realize his eyes have fallen shut until they snap open at a soft whimper from the figure on the bed. His hand tightens with purpose at the picture Beth makes, her fingers rubbing between her legs and her mouth soft and open. Her fingers slip free, leaving a wet trail up her stomach and between her breasts until she can suck the digits into her mouth.

He thinks he might collapse from the sight alone, but he somehow he stays upright. Waiting.

Beth reaches out to him and he nearly trips over himself in his haste to crawl onto the bed. She spreads her legs and they both groan as his clothed dick presses against her wet warmth. His face nuzzles into her neck and shoulder, kissing and sucking the sweat damp skin at his leisure, enjoying the way she writhes against him. Hands trail across her bare skin, thumbing and pinching her nipples until she gasps. His lips soon follow his fingers, and he gets lost in the simple pleasure of kissing every inch of skin before him; from her arms to her chest to her stomach. By the end her skin is red from the scratch of his facial hair, but when he finally meets her eyes, she smiles indulgently at him through the haze they’ve both fallen into.

God, she was so fucking beautiful.

She pushes at his shoulder until he gets what she wants. He rolls over and onto his back, the blonde following the movement until she’s straddling his waist. Daryl’s eyes roll when Beth circles her hips, searching for the right pressure on her cunt and he almost misses her question.

“You wanna make me feel good?” Beth presses her hands to his chest, her flush now a deep red on her cheeks. His answering nod and breathy yeah must look ridiculously overeager but she simply smiles and reaches for his hands, intertwining their fingers as she lifts them above his head. She starts to shift her weight forward, her knees catching under his arms before lifting up and over to tuck her calves under his biceps, her pussy hovering inches from his mouth.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

Daryl’s fingers squeeze hers when he realizes what’s going on and as if on autopilot, his hips swivel and jerk up into nothing, seeking friction that isn’t there. His eyes focus on the display before him and he swallows because, fuck it, he’s salivating at the mere idea of having the taste of her in his mouth again. He can’t wait for her to finishing lowering herself, instead lifting his head so his mouth and chin are finally against slick skin. His flat tongue laves at her, tensing to a point as he drags it up and under the sensitive hood of her clit.

Her nails dig into the tough skin of his hands as she nearly shrieks, grinding more firmly on his face. His head moves with her and his arms press against her smooth calves so she’s only able to move so far. It’s doesn’t seem to be necessary, however, because Beth practically rides him, grinding her hot cunt against his chin as she gets closer. He can feel her wetness coating his face as he sucks and tongues at her, closing his lips around her clit and humming the way she likes.

“Oh—” She yelps at the new sensation, pussy pressing closer to his mouth, “Fuck, I’m gonna come, don’t—”

He’s losing air with how close she’s pressed against him, but he doesn’t fucking care, mouth working furiously against her until he hears her go completely silent, body tensing in a hard arch above him. Her hands are still pressing his into the bed, so Daryl doesn’t worry about quieting her as she screams. He groans at the flood of warmth on his lips, the bed creaking as his hips rock up just to feel the way the fabric of his underwear tightens across his sensitive cock and balls. Beth bows forward to press her forehead into the wall and whimpers, watching him work her through her orgasm despite his own desperation, his face shiny and flushed but showing no signs of stopping. She lets him devour her until she’s quivering so violently she can’t stay upright and releases his hands, falling to the side in a graceless heap.

They both stay put, catching their breath. Daryl raises his arm, swiping it across his messy face the best his can and when his breathing has slowed, his head turns to look at the woman still shaking beside him. His lips quirk into a small smirk when he sees she’s lying exactly as she landed, eyes closed and a lazy, satisfied smile stretching her mouth. Beth catches him looking when she comes back from wherever she’s gone, head dropping to the side to stare back.The charms on her wrist tinkle as her left hand slides across her stomach and breasts, as if she’s simply enjoying the sensation.

He rolls onto his side and scoots closer to her, craving the contact. She lets him drape an arm across her waist before she returns the favor, the cool metal of her bracelet tickling his ribs.

“I love you.” Beth’s casual use of such powerful words still make his heart pound, but he shoves down his anxiety to return the favor.

“I… I love you, too.” His tone is downright timid, which must amuse her considering where his mouth has been, but she doesn’t laugh at him. In fact, she glows. It’s like watching the stars turn up to their brightest setting. Watching it happen is dazzling and he’s sure he looks as struck dumb as he feels.

He shivers as her hand moves from his waist and tucks into the waistband of his boxer briefs, teasing the skin below it. The cotton is still sticky-damp from her rubbing against him, but it doesn’t stop her fingers from trailing across his length. His hips jerk in response, a low groan tearing from his throat at finally having something to press against.

“Take ‘em off.” Beth playfully snaps the elastic at his hip, but her voice is decidedly more wicked when she tacks on. “I want you to fuck me.”

He doesn’t need to be told twice, so he shifts on his back, shoulders taking his weight as he lifts his hips enough to slide the material down and off his legs. He’s hard enough that his cock slaps wetly against his lower stomach once it’s free, his hand reaching down to grab the base when even that feels a little too good. He’s closer than he should be considering they’ve barely gotten started. The distraction he needs comes in the form of Beth sitting up to shove all the pillows off her bed, except for one. He watches her lay back down, slipping the lone pillow beneath her hips.

Once she’s settled with her feet flat against the bed, she looks over at him, “C’mere, on your knees.”

Daryl sits up and shuffles forward until he’s nearly between her thighs, waiting for instruction. Her right leg lifts and he reaches out to steady it as Beth rests her ankle on his shoulder. At her insistence, he moves forward until he can feel the heat of her against his dick and her left leg lifts to wrap around his waist, pulling him in until the tip of him slides through her slick.

“I need it, c’mon.” Her breathy encouragement has him roughly grabbing his cock to guide and she’s so wet he’s not surprised at how quickly her cunt sucks him in. Beth’s whines at the feeling of him filling her, using the leg around his waist to pull him forward until he’s buried to the hilt. He lets out a strangled moan at the sudden tight heat, his head turning to nip at the skin of her ankle.

It’s clear who has the control here and it’s definitely not him.

“I don’t—shit.” The words are hard to get out, but he has to set a realistic expectation or this will quickly go from mildly embarrassing to outright mortifying. “I ain’t gonna last long, girl.”

Beth’s answering grin is as sharp as a knife. “You’ll come when I say you can.”

His eyes squeeze shut at the words and his hips grind against her as if he can’t control himself, and considering the situation, that wouldn’t be too off base. “Girl.”

“But it’s what I want.” Her voice is just a touch too innocent and casual to not be absolutely calculated. Just like the barn, she knows what he needs, what he can handle, and he wonders if once again this truly aligns with her own needs. “Don’t you wanna please me, Daryl?”

He’s not sure what the hell he’s done to deserve this woman, but he’ll do it a million fucking times over if it means he gets to keep her.

Daryl grips her hip with his free hand, the other still wrapped around her ankle, and rears back until just the tip of him remains inside. He takes a few moments to enjoy the feeling of her fluttering around the tip of his dick before thrusting forward. His jaw flexes with how hard he’s gritting his teeth, focusing on fucking her the way she needs. Beth squeals and arches when he grazes what he’s looking for and his grip on her hip turns bruising as he locks her in place, picking up speed. His head is tilted down, watching the drag of cock, the way her pussy stretches and grips him as if it’s desperate to keep him inside. Daryl releases a low, guttural sound and his balls draw up tight when Beth’s hand reaches down to tease and rub her swollen clit.

Beth.” Daryl momentarily loses his rhythm and uses his tight grip on her ankle and hip to pull her hard onto his cock. She arches high, the crown of her head digging into the soft bed below and his eyes gorge on the curved line of her body, the bounce of her small tits with each snap of his hips.

“I’m gonna fuckin’ come. I can’t— “

“Talk, just— I need you to—” He moans and has to look away as her hand works in tight hard circles, the tips of her fingers bumping against his cock each time he fucks into her. His brain is fogged with pleasure so it takes him longer than it should to realize what she’s asking. The request has him so close to the edge he has to halt all movement with a gasp. Daryl’s not sure if stopping makes it better or worse, because now that he’s stock-still, he can feel the rhythmic squeeze of her cunt around him.

He pushes her leg off his shoulder and wraps it around his waist so he can lean forward and press his hands on the bed on either side of her small waist. He licks his lips, gripping the covers below as Beth uses the new position to leverage herself up to grind on his cock. She mewls in frustration when she can’t replicate the feeling from before. His resolve fractures at her whimpered please and he closes his eyes, resuming a slow, steady rhythm in a desperate attempt to give himself more time because one wrong move will end this and— Beth hasn’t said he could come yet.

Daryl opens his eyes to stare down at her through the fringe of his hair and he registers she’s been watching him. Watching him and rubbing herself raw because he’s what turns her on. Finally, he gives her what she wants. “You feel too fuckin’ good, girl. Wish you could see how good your little pussy takes it, stretches wide around my cock.”

Her eyes flutter shut at the sound of his voice and yeah, he’s got her now. He shifts his weight to one arm to bring his other hand up to his mouth, gathering spit on the tips of his fingers before pushing her hand aside to replace it with his own. Beth keens high, muttering nonsense to herself as he rubs her clit hard, picking up the pace of his thrusts until the wet slap of skin nearly drowns her out.

The arm holding him up wobbles, so he lets it fold and he’s resting on his elbow. His face rubs into the skin of her chest, teeth nipping at her small pink nipples. He’s fucking her with everything he’s got, but he mind feels somewhere else, somewhere high above the clouds. Jesus fucking Christ, he’s never had to wait this long to come before. “Please, baby. S’gonna feel so fuckin’ good when you come. I promise. I-I promise I won’t come till you tell me. I’m be good.”

Beth’s hands shoot out to grip his ass, pulling him tight against her as she wails, her pussy clenching hard as she comes hard and fast. He’s grateful for the painful bite of her nails in his skin because he sobs at how tight she is around him. He can feel the flood of her slick sliding down his balls and the soft sucking sounds of his cock fucking her are almost too much. Daryl rubs his face against her smooth chest, tongue laving at the salty skin before he finally gives in and begs.

Please let me come, girl. Please, please.

He’s sure she’s still flying high somewhere, but she hears him and finds it in her to fucking ruin him.

“You can come, but not inside.” Her hand swipes his sweaty hair back so he can look into her big blue eyes, pupils blown wide. “Want it on me, I wanna see it.”

If he didn’t need to come so fucking bad, he would have probably passed out at the imagery alone. As soon as she’s given him permission, his back arches high as he fucks into her savagely, chasing release. He whines pathetically when the tension finally snaps, and it’s almost fucking painful pulling out of her, but he manages to push himself up and back again so she can see. She rises up on her elbows to watch and when his hips jerk forward again, his cock nestles between her swollen, red lips. He grinds against her and it must be how long she made him wait because his entire body fucking throbs in time with each rope of white that falls across her stomach. Beth reaches down to rub the tip of him and his legs tremble violently with over sensitivity because he’s still fucking coming. The uncontrollable shakes only settle down into occasional shivers when his balls are finally empty, the final weak spurts running down his softening cock to pool on her skin.

Daryl watches as she reaches down to run her fingers through the spill on her stomach, but that’s all he can stand so he tips his head back to stare at the cracked ceiling instead, his chest heaving as he tries to catch his breath. He might fucking pass out after all.

“I can see why they do this in porn.” Beth states, laughter in her voice. “That was hot as hell.”

He grunts in agreement, tapping her thighs so she can loosen her hold on his waist and drop her legs open. They both shudder when he finally pulls away and he’s too exhausted to be embarrassed by the way his thighs are still trembling when he drops down next to her. Her clean hand finds his and he laces their fingers together, lifting so he can press his lips to her knuckles. The two of them lay sprawled, enjoying that pleasant hum that only comes from a good fuck and the comfortable silence that only comes from being with someone you love.

After a few minutes, Beth sighs happily, detangles their hands, and sits up to slide off her bed. He watches the lean muscles in her back shift when she stretches her arms above her head. Her arms drop to her sides and she walks out of the bedroom and to the bathroom around the corner. He wonders if he should feel weird when she leaves the door open and he can hear the sounds of her using the toilet, but he’s too busy smiling at her dorky humming to really care. When he hears the screech of the shower curtain sliding open and the groan of the pipes before the cascade of water, he closes his eyes, figuring she’ll wake him up when it’s his turn.

“Wake up, we’re takin’ a shower.” Daryl pops one of his eyes open to look at the tiny blonde leaning against the doorframe. “You are not gonna lay there all gross in my bed, Dixon.”

He sighs dramatically and sits up, “Whatever y’say, Greene.”

Beth grins and disappears back into bathroom. The sound of the water changes as she steps in and he’s slow to rise, his muscles straining from overuse. He finally makes it into the steaming room, taking his chain off to rest it beside her charm bracelet on the sink. She’s left the curtain partially open for him, but he stands and watches her instead. Enjoying the way the water slides over her figure and how easily her hands glide across her skin. She turns to tip her head back and get her hair wet when she spots him. She doesn’t pause in her movements, simply watches him back, a

pleasant tilt to her lips.

“What?”

He shrugs, “Nothin’. You’re just beautiful.”

It’s his turn to smile when she rolls her eyes, but he can tell the compliment has flustered her.

“Get in here, Casanova.”

Daryl steps in the shower, closing the curtain behind him. Thankfully, his confidence is returning to him in bits and pieces, but his uncertainty still lingers beneath the surface, even now with Beth naked in front of him after she’s made it clear she wants him—needs him even—in every way a woman can need a man. She winds her arms around his waist and urges him to move with her, switching their positions in the small shower until the water is beating against his back. Beth grabs her soap and presses the bar against his chest to start a lather. She’s worked up quite a few bubbles when he gets finds the nerve to speak up.

“M’sorry about before. The way I acted, the stupid shit I said. I wasn’t expectin’— “

“For me to say I’m in love with you? Yeah, I got that part.” Beth halts her movements and catches his eye. “I’m sorry, too. I shoulda told you that weekend. I got scared, I guess.”

He nods and stays quiet when she resumes her movements, her slippery hands gliding over his arms and chest. Daryl thinks it should make him uncomfortable, but when she pauses over his scars as if she’s giving them extra care, his heart squeezes in his chest with that bad-good hurt he’s coming to associate with Beth. He thinks of all those times he laid in bed or walked down the street or worked in his studio, mouthing words he never thought he’d ever get to say out loud, let alone to her face.

“I love you, Beth.”

Beth looks up at his sudden declaration. It’s the most confident he’s said the words and he knows she understands what it means. Why it’s different from the other times they’ve said it tonight. How much more important it is because she didn’t need to say it first. His head dips until he can press his forehead to hers and repeats the words. Repeats them over and over until Beth quiets him with a kiss.

+++

Later when they’re curled up in bed, and he’s in the middle of another long-winded rant over what weapons would be most ideal in a zombie apocalypse—it’s official, Shaun of the Dead, Resident Evil, 28 Days Later, and every damn zombie movie in existence is banned from bedtime Netflix— she interrupts him when she bursts into a fit of giggles that is part amusement and part agony.

“A knife’s gonna be the best bet si—What’s so funny?”

“Heavenly Father above,” Beth covers her face, muffling a groan, “my Mama is never gonna let us live this down.”

“Speak for yourself, girl. Your Mama loves me.”

For the second time that night, Daryl gets a pillow to the face.


Epilogue

Merle and Daryl Dixon haven’t spoken in nearly two decades.

If someone were to ask Daryl why—which Beth has only done once—he would say it’s because his older brother thinks what he does for a living disgraces the family name. That the last thing Merle had said to him had been the following:

That shit is for queers. You some sorta fairy now, Darylina? I ain’t gonna be seen with ya if you’re gonna be takin’ it up the ass. You can fuck off if your gonna be some fuckin’ artist.

The way Merle had spat the word artist like it was dirty had snapped something inside him, but it built something up, too. Determination. So that’s exactly what he did. He fucked off to Atlanta like some sort of wounded runt that had been rejected from its pack. Too wild for the city folk, but too much heart for his ignorant, redneck brother. Those first few years had been the toughest, but he had figured it out. For once he didn’t have to rely on his brother’s shitty choices, he could decide for himself. Daryl wasn’t always good at it, but he sure as fuck made it farther than he had thought he would.

The only problem with asking someone to tell a story involving other people is that they’re an unreliable narrator, even when they don’t mean to be. That might work for fairy tales and songs, but life was a little more complicated. She started to realize Daryl’s story might be more than a little incomplete when she had been cleaning out the gallery’s files from years past and saw a name that shocked her so much she nearly dropped the file.

Buyer: Merle Dixon

Note: Wishes to remain Anonymous

INVOICE NUMBER: AN01386

TOTAL: $389,000.00

PAID October 15th, 2004

ITEMS: Sophia by Daryl Dixon

+++

It takes Beth exactly one year and four months to make it happen. She can’t tell him outright. It was not only a severe breach of her contract and Karen’s trust, but she doubted he would take the news very well. Add on the fact that his estranged brother had purchased one of the most cherished pieces Daryl had ever created, well, Beth wasn’t ashamed to admit she didn’t want to deal with that kind of fallout. Not alone. That’s how the plan was born.

The plan that is finally coming to a head a year and four freaking months later.

“I can’t fuckin’ believe we’re doin’ this.” Daryl grumbles beside her. “Can’t believe I’m back in this shitty fuckin’ trailer park. Can’t believe I let you drag my ass up to the fuckin’ country so you can watch Merle tell me to fuck off. Christ, he’ll probably try and molest you after he’s done if he’s been hittin’ the pipe.”

Beth tuts at him, walking up to the yellow and brown home of one Merle Dixon. “It’s a mobile home community, Daryl. Don’t be so damn rude. Would it kill you to have a little faith in your brother? Maybe he changed. It’s been almost 20 years.”

She hears him petulantly mumble a yeah, it might kill me like he’s five and he’s afraid his Mama might hear him talking back. Beth rolls her eyes and ignores him. He’s nervous, which is making him extra moody or that’s what she tells herself to keep from smacking him upside the head. She raises her fist and only gets two knocks in, the door wobbling so much she’s afraid she’ll knock it off it’s hinges. She lets out a squeak trying to steady it and Daryl watches over her shoulder with a muffled laugh.

“The fuck you want—” Merle’s raspy voice carries through the broken door and only gets louder when he yanks it open. He freezes at the pretty blonde on his doorstep and Beth watches as he struggles between concerned and lecherous, but the latter seems to win out when he presses a dirty forearm into the doorframe and grins. “Eugene sure is steppin’ up his game if you’re the pretty pussy he’s sendin’ my way, baby. Somethin’ tells me you’re top dollar.”

Beth blushes furiously at the suggestion that she’s a prostitute before glancing down at her sundress. Heavenly Father, does she look like a prostitute? Would Daryl tell her if she looked like a prostitute?! Her internal rant gets cut short when Daryl’s large hand grips her bicep, pulling her behind him as if Merle was going to snatch her up and lock him out.

The lusty expression drops when his face goes slack at the sight of his brother. The two stare each other down, Daryl furious and Merle stunned. The older man shakes himself and glances into his trailer before stepping down onto the dirt and shutting the door firmly behind him.

“Well, ain’t this a fuckin’ surprise.” Merle crosses his arms over his dirty tank top, his biceps bulging at the moment and Beth idly thinks the two are nearly identical in build. She manages to hide her wince when she discerns that it’s because they must both take after their father.

“Merle.”

They go quiet and the silence is tense, awkward.

Beth steps until she’s at Daryl’s side and holds out a hand. She shoots Daryl a glare when he moves as if he’s going to slap her hand down and thinks better of it. Merle snorts at the exchange.

“I’m Beth, it’s nice to finally meet you. Daryl’s told me a lot about you.”

Merle untucks one hand and grasps her palm to shake. She’s expecting his rough skin, but the gentle grip is a pleasant surprise. “I’m sure he has, girly.”

Their hands drop and the older man gestures to Beth while eyeing his brother, “You her sugar daddy or some shit? Seems a little sad, baby brother. Woulda thunk you could get somethin’ a little more filled out, but if skinny blonde bitches do it for ya—”

She barely has a moment to gasp out his name before Daryl’s fists slams into his brothers face. Merle takes the hit better than she expected and when Daryl swings again, the man dodges and catches him in the ribs. They grapple for a bit, the sick sound of skin hitting skin drowned out by her shouts for them to stop.

This is going…not well.

“Lord above, that’s enough, y’all are actin’ like children!” Beth steps forward and reaches to grab one of them, but one wrong shove and someone’s elbow hits her in the face with a solid thump. She cries out and flies backwards, landing hard on her ass and back because her hands are too busy holding her face.

“Beth!”

“Shit!”

The two men pull apart and she feels Daryl’s familiar hands on her forearms trying to pull her hands away from her face. The moment she releases the pressure her face throbs painfully and she flinches. She doesn’t see any blood on her hands, which is a good sign. She’ll probably just bruise. Beth blinks up at Daryl and feels like she’s been hit all over again at his crushed expression.

“Babygirl, m’sorry. God, I didn’t see—” His fingers drag delicately over her skin and she tries not to wince because it’ll only make him feel worse and this is already going to be hard to come back from. “Does it hurt bad?”

“Hey!” The slam of the wobbly door catches Beth’s attention, but Daryl’s eyes stay locked on her. She sits up when he comes near. “Goddamn motherfucker, you took that like a champ, girl. Here, for ya face. I ain’t got ice or any of that other shit.”

Merle holds out what appears to be a frozen dinner—Salisbury steak with corn and mashed potatoes by the looks of it. Beth purses her lips and holds back a laugh at the shy look on the older man’s face, but she takes it, flipping it over to press the bottom of the tray to her cheek. She’s careful not the press too hard and break the plastic wrap. Despite being so ridiculous, it works pretty well.

She can see Daryl’s anger mounting again and an idea comes to her. She might be able to flip this around. Beth swallows and looks up at Merle, reads his shame in the submissive arch of his shoulders and again she’s amazed at how similar the two men are despite having spent so many years apart.

“Can I come inside and sit down? I fell pretty hard.” The tremble in her voice isn’t entirely faked, but it’s certainly…amplified. “I understand if you don’t want us to come in. This must be a real shock to you.”

Merle pushes his shoulders back and he dons his bravado like a piece of clothing. “Aw hell girl, o’course. C’mon. Might got fuckin’ bandaids or whatever.”

Daryl looks ready to lay into his brother and if she knows him as well as she thinks, he’s fixing to say something like what the fuck would she need a fuckin’ bandaid for, shithead? So, she smiles and grabs his hand, gesturing for him to help her up.

“Girl—”

“It was an accident, Daryl. I shouldn’t have stepped in. It ain’t your fault.” She’s trying to assure him but she’s not sure if it’s working. He helps her dust off her dress and when he stands upright she moves the frozen food away from her face to press a kiss to his lips. “Hey, love you.”

He softens like he always does at the words and she nearly sighs in relief. “Love you.”

Beth spots Merle watching the exchange over Daryl’s shoulder and the man quickly looks away, but not before she spots the almost proud look on his face. The three make their way inside and despite knowing about it, it’s Daryl that spots it first.

It’s impossible to miss. It nearly takes up the entire freaking trailer. Beth turns when she feels her boyfriend freeze and finally see’s it up close. Sophia. It was created and sold well before she ever met Daryl, but she can see why so many fell in love with the sculpture. There’s something youthful about it. Something joyous, loving. Things you would never expect in a pile of twisted shiny metal.

“What the fuck?” It’s whispered, but Merle hears it anyway. He clears his throat awkwardly and Daryl spins to look at him.”What the fuck is a four hundred thousand dollar sculpture doin’ in your fuckin’ trailer? Did you fuckin’ steal this?”

Beth nearly giggles at the affronted look on Merle’s face. “Listen you little shit, I fuckin’ bought

it.”

She watches the exchange, the TV dinner still pressed to her face. Daryl looks at her but all she does is widen her eyes, tilt her head, and mouth go on. He swallows and his voice is smaller than she’s ever heard when he turns back to his brother and asks, “Why?”

The older man shrugs and stands there silently, looking wildly uncomfortable. When it’s clear Daryl’s not going to say anything else he grunts. “Y’know I don’t know about this shit, but I thought it was nice and—and you made it so… Whatever, man, I had some cash and decided to get it. Damn, fuckin’ take it back if you care so much.”

Daryl waits a beat before stepping forward and grabbing his brother in a rough hug. Merle fights just enough to make himself feel better before giving in and wrapping his large arms around the younger man. The two grip each other tight and Beth can’t hold back her stupid tears when she remembers this is the first time they’ve even touched in sixteen years. She sniffles and they pull apart to look at her, noses red and hastily swiping forearms and hands across eyes because they’re not crying, okay?

“Ignore me.” Her breath hitches and she sniffles again, her voice thick with tears. “It’s just, um, my face. It hurts.”

Neither of them buy it, but it’s the excuse they need to lift the heavy moment. “Quit bein’ such a pussy and take care of your girl, Darylina.”

+++

Daryl’s staring at the ornaments hanging from his sculpture, a mixture of confusion and annoyance painting his features. Merle’s in the bathroom, so it’s the first time he’s really noticed.

“The fuck did he put on my…?” Daryl squints at the circular discs in a variety of colors. To be fair, they’re pretty hideous.

“You don’t know what they are?” Beth’s tone suggests he should know exactly what they are, but he’s stumped.

He shrugs, “Should I?”

“They’re sobriety coins, Daryl.” The words are quiet and gentle, but he sits back as if they physically pushed him. “Recovering addicts get ‘em each time they reach a new, um, I think they’re kinda like goals? Different colors for months and years. I don’t know too much about ‘em. I just know my Daddy’s got a bunch from AA. Looks like your brother’s been sober a long time and still attendin’ group, though, if he’s got so many.”

He doesn’t say anything. Doesn’t mentioned it when Merle returns from the bathroom yelling about something or other. Refuses say a word when they’re sitting drinking sugary kool-aid and Merle’s howling at the story of Maggie’s wedding. Keeps it inside him the entire three hour visit, and Beth slowly understands why he keeps it to himself.

Before her eyes, he starts to heal.

+++

Beth hugs Merle goodbye and because he’s an asshole, the man lifts her off the ground and squeezes her tight, shooting his baby brother a suggestive wink. Daryl rolls his eyes but stays quiet when all Beth does is laugh and kiss him on the cheek with a sorry, Merle. I’m already spoken for.

It shouldn’t make his heart flip, but when the fuck has that useless organ listened to him?

The Dixon brothers watch the blonde step down and walk toward the car, her dusty skirt blowing in the light breeze.

“Y’know, she did this for you.” Merle frowns and Daryl marvels how how much deeper the lines in his brother’s face are. “Might’ve done it for me too. Girl don’t even know me but she seems the type.”

Daryl nods because, well, he’s not wrong.

“Listen, you better fuckin’ marry that girl quick ‘fore she gets smart and leaves you.” He would think it was a joke if it weren’t for the deadly serious look on Merle’s face. “Sons-a-bitches like us don’t get to keep girls like that. Don’t fuck this up because that’s the best you’re gonna get. Shit, s’better than most men get.”

Daryl looks back at where Beth is leaning against the passenger door, smiling down at the phone in her hands. He turns to his big brother, voice low because Beth has a tendency to overhear things she shouldn’t. “I already, uh, I already made the ring.”

By the car, Beth startles at Merle’s obnoxiously loud whooping you smart motherfucker! and looks up to see Daryl struggling to get his older brother off him with an exasperated grin. She wonders what they’re talking about, but forgets to ask on the ride home. Doesn’t matter anyway, Daryl’s small smile tells her everything worth knowing.

+++

Merle accidentally ruins Daryl’s proposal when he gets the dates wrong and says something during his weekly call with Beth. He realizes he’s fucked up when the line goes deadly silent and he cusses before he scrambles to fix it with a shit, girl, act surprised. He’ll fuckin’ kill me an’ you don’t want ol’ Merle in an early grave, do ya? then a pause you better say yes.

She does.

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