Honey and the Moon

by Aireabella

Reaching out to touch the chimes, their high, clear tinkling in the breeze…no harmony to their music, but it was pleasing just the same…

         …but remembering…seeing her fingers covered in blood so deep red it was almost black, Beth retracted her hand before she could ruin the beauty of the slender silver cylinders and the creamy colored sand dollars and pale pink seashells.

         A deep breath of salty air whisk a nostalgic calm through her entire body. The warm breeze tangled her hair, wisps of blonde tickling her cheeks and the tip of her nose. Beth closed her eyes tight and let her other senses take over…soak it all in…

         The gentle changing chimes…

         The bright yellow sun, no longer blisteringly hot, softened by the breeze…

         And the soothing rhythm of the waves kissing the sandy shore…

         Beautiful, unspoiled nature…

         They’d been running so far…so long, always forward…ever forward…no turning back even if they wanted. All winter, just surviving, staying a night here or there if they were lucking to be able to catch a precious moment of sleep…abandoned stores, storage containers, vacant homes haunted by the specters of the families that once lived happy lives there. Daryl kept them moving…off the main roads when they could, no real direction it seemed except always away from what was an ever present danger. One herd after another, chased further and further from where they started, as if they were being punished for those rare moments of happiness at the funeral parlor and the words left unsaid. Chased so far that Beth actually realized where they were…realized perhaps somewhere they could go. Maybe safe, maybe not, but it was somewhere.

         Shirt sticking to heated flesh heavily beaded in sweat, pacing back and forth beside the Jeep Daryl had stopped long enough to try to hotwire, Beth struggled to find the words and courage to tell Daryl that she knew of somewhere. Both exhausted by the stinging Georgia spring turned summer far too quick, she knew tempers were high and hope was diminishing. Finally finding her words, she interrupted a darkly colorful string of curses spewing from Daryl’s mouth where he was lodged, laying under the Jeep’s steering column, legs ludicrously dangling out to touch the ground. Her own words were cut off, drowned before they were ever heard, as the car sputtered to life and Daryl crawled out with as close to a triumphant look on his face as desperate times would allow.

         “I know somewhere…somewhere we can go…maybe it’s safe…” Her nervous words strengthened one by one as they came out, looking down the familiar road of her childhood.

         Maybe it was fate.

         “Where?” Daryl never danced around anything so serious as something like safety, skeptically narrowing his hawk-like eyes at her.

         “And maybe…maybe the others might find there way there too…” Beth went in with the hard sell.

Daryl was gonna need convincing…would that be convincing…that the others might find their way there? He’d been the one afraid to look for the family they might never find. He’d been the one to suggest they stay together and make it work, just the two of them, at the funeral parlor. But since then…well, nothing had been the same as it was there…

“Where, Beth?” This time, more serious if that were possible, swiping sweat from his brow and shaggy bangs from his eyes.

In the end, he agreed, none too eager, but maybe because he had no better ideas…maybe because he was as exhausted as she was…or maybe because he just needed some hope…

Maggie’s Nana’s beach cottage.

         The beach cottage was still standing, steps away from where the rocky ground turned to soft sandy shore, a fair drive down a lonely dirt road. It was miles away from anything, backed by acres of spindly, brambly woods often found near the shore, but melting into more lush forest the further from the sea it got. And further than as far as anyone could seek either direction down the beach.

         Wiping her bloody hand on equally dirty jeans, leaving dark streaks on her thighs, Beth allowed herself to touch the chimes. This time she had no intention of running her fingers through the sand dollars, seashells, and silver cylinders to draw out their organic music, but to capture the wind chimes, instinct winning over want, pulling them from where they hung at the edge of the porch to silence them. Sighing slightly, Beth laid them ever so carefully on the sandy rail that ran around the porch, killing the music so they might live. From the corner of her eye…she caught it. The truth was there…the truth that was ever present, a grotesque, grey-green hand, fingers with decaying flesh clinging to brittle bone raking lines in the otherwise pristine sand…Daryl dragging the corpse away. It was dead now…or whatever it was walkers were when they were no longer reanimated…those terminologies were musings for future generations if there were ever to be any. Dead just like the other three they encountered as a welcome to this otherwise serene sanctuary, mindlessly drawn to the sound of the chimes clinging in the soft sea breeze. Beth didn’t look back to see Daryl making the world beautiful…removing the gruesome reminder of what the world was, taking the bodies somewhere they couldn’t be seen. She’d done her part…more than Daryl would’ve ever expected of her in those early days after the prison…took out one on her own and another Daryl caught a hold of…

         Again, closing her eyes…she remembered Maggie’s Nana’s house…her Nana too…never treated her any different than her own grand children even though they shared no blood. Summer days spent splashing in the shallows; jumping off the end of the splintered grey wooden pier, laughing and shouting and coughing up seawater swallowed in between. Sweet cold lemonade that tasted like sunshine. Long summer nights, covered in sand from head to toe, warmed beside a flickering bonfire, watching the moon rise and stars appear smattered against an endless …

         There were things she left here…not just a sundress in the closet in the room she always shared with Maggie, a swimsuit tucked away in a dresser drawer, not even Polaroids taken of her or that she had taken to remember those things she found beautiful or fun or funny slipped inside the frame of the mirror above the table beside the front door. No…there were pieces of herself she left behind here…smiles and laughter, childhood hope, joy in the simple things in life…things she lost little by little along the way after they lost home…

         But here they were, waiting for her all along, as if this place had been holding them in trust. Could she be that again…light and full of hope…the spirit of laughter and childlike innocence in her heart? Echoes of a past so fresh she could almost pretend nothing had ever changed…but yet so foreign they haunted her…scared her…because being those things brought so much pain along with them. Shaking it off… it was far too much contemplation. The simple truth of it all was that there were memories here. Memories she could hold close to her heart forever. But today was beautiful too. Today would be tomorrow’s memories…and maybe, just maybe they could set everything aside and get to live one, perfect day.

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         I’ve never seen the ocean…

         A silly game…I Never

         All those months ago, got him all riled up…those things Beth assumed ‘bout him, innocent as they may have been in her heart, they hurt his pride. And even worse, those things he blurted out about himself after…an outburst fueled by every single horrible loss that had been building up in him, emotions someone like him wasn’t made to understand…new losses, old losses, new feelings, old feelings, pain he felt and pain he’d long repressed, feelings that he knew were brewing, losses that he feared were to come and didn’t know how he was gonna swallow that…all dry tinder just threatening to ignite. Just needed one small spark, and Beth hit him like an inferno. The dam that broke after…the hot tears burning down his stubbly cheeks and all those things that bubbled to the surface…all his failures flooding him at once…

         …Beth wrapping her arms around him ‘til he was safe, feeling like she was the only thing keeping his head above water…that was something entirely different. That changed things. She became both the spark that kept hope alive…hell, she was the embodiment of all the hope he had left, maybe all the true hope he’d ever had in his sorry excuse for a life, and she was his one shelter from the storms that rage around him…within him. He sure in the hell was becoming one sorry, poetic som’bitch.

         Despite hanging on to her…that hope…that wasn’t to say the things the world threw at ‘em didn’t seem like a constant shit show, they just didn’t do anything to temper that newfound pansy-ass bullshit fluttering in his gut, ‘specially after that night at the funeral parlor. That night he’d almost said…almost let those things run away with his good sense and survival instinct…almost got her killed. Seeing her swarmed by that herd of walkers out on the road. Almost didn’t get to her in time. Lucky that it was only ever almost. Just needed to focus on keeping alive…no…keeping her alive.

         He didn’t much keep track of the days, much less the months, every moment was a win if they were still breathing, but the cold months were hard…not much game to hunt even when they had a moment to stop for that sort of luxury, barley had a second to catch a breath and a wink of sleep. By the time it started to get warm, it just got damned hot, and Daryl stopped to realize it hadn’t just been months, it’d been seasons they’d been on the run…together.

         And if truth be told, when Beth mentioned trying for a specific place, somewhere she knew, rather than just trying to run in one direction or even worse, just frantically chased like desperate prey in whichever direction the walkers weren’t…he was almost on empty…too tired to say no. At least it was a plan, and at that, it wasn’t the worst plan ever, but whether it was his innate cynicism or equally innate realism that told him there was no such thing as the paradise that Beth was describing left in their fallen world, there was surprisingly only one thing he’d had left to hold onto…hope…Beth. And he’d never seen the ocean before…

         “Beth! Beth…” Daryl had downed two walkers he’d drawn away from the quaint little seaside house with the taunting little whistle when he frantically realized Beth left the safety of where she’d reluctantly promised she’d stay…back in the treeline…while he cleared away the only walkers they could see. Two followed him…two stayed near the house, mesmerized by some little chimes jangling in the wind.

         She always thought taking out walkers should be a ‘team effort’, and she wasn’t helpless by any means…had to learn on her feet all the time they’d been running from what seemed like an endless herd that constantly had ‘em on radar. But when was she gonna get it through that thick skull of hers that when he told her to stay back…when he could take care of it himself, she should listen. Because he was stronger, knew what he was doing. It was his job to protect her…because if he lost her…

         “Beth!” It was the only word his mouth seemed to be able to form.

         She’d handled one quickly on her own, but her blade lodged too deep in its skull, Beth grunting, desperately trying to yank it free…the knife the only weapon she had. Shouldn’t have tried to take on two at once…what was she thinkin’? What was she trying to prove…

         And all that thinking of his own…Daryl charging forward like some knight on a big white horse, grabbing the only walker still standing by the shoulder while trying to flip the grip on his knife to make it easier to brain the damned thing…he lost his own close-quarter weapon.

         The flesh ‘round the shoulder socket broke free and sloughed off in Daryl’s hand. Didn’t even take the time to fling the goo from his fingers, bear-hugging the corpse from behind and taking it down to the rocky ground away from Beth. To her credit, there was no panic in her…smooth as sweet cream and swift as a doe, she freed a bolt from the quiver strapped across his back and drove it through the gelatinous glob that was the walker’s eye. Shoving the body away when it stopped it’s convulsing and looking up at her…she was as cool as a cucumber, well, except for being drenched in sweat earned by fighting in the sweltering southern heat.

         Her hair was wild and falling loose from her ponytail, sticking to the side of her face, her neck, and any ‘spanse of bare skin it could reach, but she didn’t mind it or move to swipe it away…just panting a bit and subconsciously wetting her chapped lips with the tip of her tongue. She offered him a hand up from where he was still sitting on his ass.

         Daryl wanted to yell at her…tell her he told her to stay back, it was his job to protect her. He wanted to praise her…to tell her ‘good job’…but neither of those things felt right. All he did was nod at her as he took the hand she offered. When he found his feet again, he looked in all directions, assessing the situation and buying himself some time…not liking the realization that Beth could hold her own…well, not the realization that she could, he’d know that a long time. She was resourceful and smart and brave…capable in her own way. But if she realized she could hold her own, she’d put herself in situations where she would have too…and Daryl wasn’t okay with that risk.

         “C’mon…” Daryl tapped Beth on the lower back with the butt of his bow after he retrieved it from beside him, guiding her toward the house. “Let’s check inside together.”

         So here they were on their MTV Spring Break: Apocalypse Edition, all because he was holding onto hope. He’d never seen the ocean, and there it was in all its natural glory. Sunset was coming…not quite there yet…pinks and light purples washing across the horizon where the sea met the sky. How many times had he seen the sunset in his life? He couldn’t count, but none ever looked like this…simplistic and majestic all in one. And none of ‘em ever felt like this neither. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he’d heard the plop of the blanket on the sand behind him, the soft sound of Beth’s footsteps bringing her ever closer until she was right beside him…but she didn’t touch his world until her fingertips grazed his palm…so delicate her touch across his callouses…his hand fallen naturally at his side like it was asking for something…this. She slid her fingers between his…he didn’t think on it, it just was; he didn’t let her hold his hand, it was just as if their hands were made to fit together. He did, however, choose to close his hand around hers, hold her hand too so she wouldn’t let go. No sunset had ever felt like this…ever…like magic.

         And the things that came after…his heartbeat quickening…they’d done this before, before all the almosts…the butterflies beating tickling wings in his stomach, those things he didn’t understand, but he’d felt…wanted to feel. But then there was the fear creeping up in his gut…the fear of losing…the anxiety and panic gripping his beating heart so mercilessly it was about to burst…the fear of losing her. He actually allowed his brain to form that fear; that was something he had to learn to handle or he was gonna lose her either way. Trying…

         Swallowing the lump in his throat…

         “I’ve never seen the ocean before…” Barely comin’ out as a croak, Daryl could feel Beth smiling shyly beside him, could feel the red blush rising in his cheeks at the simple admission.

         Suddenly, “I Never…” became innocent again.

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         When all was said and done, Daryl sat beside a crackling fire staring out at the darkening horizon…darker pink, some more purple…and a few threatening clouds rolling in, but mopping the sweat from his brow and the rest that was dripping down his face…maybe it was too hot to rain, but it would be a welcome relief. Either way, the threat was there…but then again, the threats always were. Trying to banish his skepticism and the feeling of foreboding that rooted their way into his gut every time they had a moment to breathe…every time the quiet came, Daryl tried to focus on the good right in front of him…the cottontail he shot after dragging the walkers off into the scrubby woods behind the house. Damn thing hopped out right in front of him like it’d never encountered a human in its short little life. It was a plump one…didn’t suffer none since it was born; now it was roasting slowly on the spit over the fire, fat sizzling and dripping down it the dancing flames. Every time it popped, Daryl’s stomach rumbled.

         The heat…from the fire and the day…could drive anyone to distraction, but it left Daryl both sharply alert and paranoid. Was that an oxymoron? They needed an escape route…a plan. Something it never seemed like they had time for during their entire winter on the run. And when they did have a place…before…

         “What changed your mind…?”

Daryl clenched his eyes tight, trying his best to forget that moment…that sweet lilt in her voice, the innocence in those baby blue eyes…the whole moment that changed him…and he fucked up.

         When they had a place and could’ve had a plan when it could’ve mattered…well, there was no use rehashing that debacle. Daryl would rather be fighting his survival instincts in this particular moment than taking that painful trip down memory lane. But was this just gonna be the same thing over again? What, was he planning to sit around here playing beach blanket bingo, ignoring the end of the world?

         Memories not utilized as lessons fucked you up…case and point…Beth…that night he almost lost her..  

She was suddenly sitting on the blanket beside him…didn’t sense her coming much less hear her. She didn’t say nothin’, just stretched her bare, shapely legs out in front of her, wiggling her toes in the sand.

         Bare feet.

         Bare legs.

         Daryl’s eyes drifted up to catch a glance of the hem of her dress…


…grazing the top of her thighs. What if they had to run? What if a herd came along? Or people? What if they had to fight?

         All Daryl’s self-control successfully pulled it together to keep him from yelling at her, chastising her like she was a child. That didn’t stop all sorts of snarky comments from running through his head…just shook ‘em away.

         …she wasn’t a child…

         And taking in the rest of her …the gauzy sundress loose around her waist, light blue…so close to the color of her eyes, clinging snug to her breasts…Beth’s pale hair tumbling over her shoulders, all wavy from the salty sea water. She never wore her hair down. Beth looked…was…every bit the woman. She didn’t look his way, but the softest smile graced the corners of her lips, the profile of her face illuminated by the fire. Daryl didn’t look away…weren’t many moments in life when he got to enjoy gazing at something…someone so pretty. But there must have been something in his face or his manner…something that made Beth dip her head the tiniest bit and the gentle smile turn down on her lips even though she didn’t give him a glance. It was there…that distance that was so often between them now…since the funeral parlor…no matter how close they sat. There was something in him, even if it was subconscious, although most of the time it was entirely conscious, that pushed her away.

         Daryl took up his stick and started poking at the fire just for something mindless to do…and Beth…she started humming. She hadn’t done that in a long time. She lifted her chin, tilting her face up towards the rising moon like it and the music brought her life…and hope, even though the melody, sweet as it may have sounded, carried an air of melancholy.

         “What’s the words to that…?” Daryl rasped it out, wishing he’d just said nothing, hoping she didn’t hear, turning his gaze from her to the flames when he realized he’d been looking at her again. He felt flushed from more than just the fire.

         “Hmmm…?” Her humming stopped…did she really not hear his question? Was she gonna make him say it.

         Looking at him with those impossibly wide doe eyes, catching his, Daryl dug his booted toe in the sand while he manned up…asked for something he wanted.

         “Why don’t you sing the song…?” There was more substance to his voice…she heard him just fine…but she wasn’t gonna make it easy.

         “Why? ‘’Cause there ain’t no jukebox?”

         Daryl was good at reading people…but Beth was complicated…or maybe it was them that complicated everything.

         In her voice, was it sarcasm…?

         No, not entirely.

         Some sort of odd defiance…frustration she sowed in into her words that mimicked his from those fateful days of bliss at the funeral parlor. Every time he thought about what almost happened on the road when she was forced to run alone…surrounded by walkers…too many for her to ever handle on her own no matter how capable she was…his heart seized and horrible twinges of pain stabbed in his stomach. They hadn’t ever talked about it since…that almost failure that changed whatever course they had been on…and he wasn’t planning on talking about it. But it seemed to be eating at her.

         “No, ‘cause it sounds pretty…and I wanna hear.” Daryl swallowed hard after telling the truth, a truth that would hopefully temper whatever anger was burning in her.

         She sighed, apparently deciding on a course of action.

         “Don’t know why I’m still afraid, if you weren’t real I would make you up, now…”

         And her voice…just as he knew it would be…was even more beautiful than her humming…

         “I wish that I could follow through, I know that your love is true, and deep as the sea…”

         Just as sweet as he remembered…never could resist listening to her sing no matter how gruff a show he put on…

         “But right now, everything you want is wrong, and right now all your dreams are waking up…”

         A voice so clear and pure and honest it could soothe the demons raging in any man’s soul…Daryl lost in her music…

         “Remember when we first met and everything was still a bet…”


         “In loves game…”

         It wasn’t just a pretty, melancholy song…it was about him. It was like she was trying to put the words in his mouth.

Don’t know why I’m still afraid…wish that I could follow through…I know that your love is true…

That’s what she thought he was feeling. Afraid. Couldn’t follow through…Afraid, he wasn’t afraid of nothin’!

That she loved him, and he knew she loved him…last thing outta her mouth when he tried… “Oh”

Love’s game… He wasn’t playing no game. He never played games with that…with what? What was boiling inside that he couldn’t say or even think. One thing her stupid song got right…But right now, everything you want is wrong…there wasn’t any room in their world left for it. It was survive or die.

“But right now, everything is turning blue, and right now, the sun is trying to kill the moon…

Stoic and stone still, Beth wasn’t the only one with some apparent pent up emotions. His were all an indefinable jumble roiling in his chest…but he gave her one courtesy. He asked her for the song…had the good grace and manners to let her finish.

“And right now, I wish I could follow you, to the shores of freedom, where no one lives…freedom. run away tonight…”

Silence…a cold, strained silence for long moments after her song trailed off into the night air. Biting deep into his lip…blood threatening to well…

“That what you think of me…that I’m afraid? That what you think I feel…that I…” Surprisingly soft in his words…but there was no emotion inflected in his tone…at least not yet.

         Beth was calm, like she poured out all that was brewing inside her with that song…turning to him and drawing closer.

         “What do you want from me girl…huh?! What do you want from me!” There it was, he cracked, swinging to face her directly…so close now he caught the sweet scent of the even breath passing over her lips.

Beth batted her eyes slowly…seductively? Clearly very purposefully. She was gonna kiss him…he knew it and didn’t make to stop her…

“If you don’t know the answer to that, Daryl Dixon, you never will…” Her lips didn’t touch his…her words soft and smooth like he imagined her kiss was gonna be, but they bit in and stung deep like a viper.

Standing from where she sat with such grace and composure, Beth swept her wavy locks over her shoulder, walking towards the house without so much as another word. Daryl stood too, propelled by such force and ferocity that he almost landed face first in the sand, not because he was gonna follow her but because he needed to be on even ground.  

“So what, you gonna run away now?” Daryl spat out, striking a chord with her like she’d done with him…always did with him.

“I’m not runnin’…” Beth spat back, from cool and calm to all fire and fury. “You’re the one who’s been running away from me!” Turning back to face him.

“Runnin’ away from you! What the hell you talkin’ about girl?” Finally steady on his feet but not steady at all…fists balled up beside his legs, tryin’ to white-knuckle the anger away. “I’ve been runnin’ with you every single day since the Governor rolled up to our gates and tore our world apart.”

Throwing his arm out angrily, Daryl furiously pointing in the general direction of the way they came…from where they started. Might as well have been a world away…all they lost starting to rush back to him. “Just you…runnin’ with just you…” Goin all hoarse, knowing he was gonna say somethin’ he should…somethin’ he’d wish he could take back, but he couldn’t stop it… “Just you…and that was okay…”

“You might be beside me running, but ever since we lost the funeral parlor, you’ve been running away from me…” Taking a step towards him, “…from this…” How quickly her rage turned soft…

Gentle words leaving Daryl all the more furious…sensed she might try to reach out to him, but Beth read him like a damned book from cover to cover, retracting a hand that never started to extend towards him when he bristled and stiffened from her tender nature.

“…because you’re afraid to get too close…”

The fire was burning hot at his back, but it had to be burning through his eyes…saw Beth seeing him at his worst…again. At his weakest, dangerous like a wounded animal that had nothin’ left to lose. But she stood her ground.

He’d heard those words before…and this time, he wasn’t gonna lie to her and say he wasn’t afraid…

“That’s what you think…?” Stepping forward, leaning in…not aggressive, just trying to regain some control…maybe only trying to retain some of his pride. Pride was a fickle thing.

“It’s what I know. What I’ve always known.” So matter-of-fact…so sure of herself…that naïve little thing that knew so little of the real world. It infuriated him. She infuriated him. He lashed out because…

“You don’t know nothin’, girl!”

…because she was right. He was afraid of getting too close. He was afraid of losing her most of all. He was running from her…running from all the things he’d never felt before…the butterflies beating in his stomach, the constant lump in his throat when he tried to talk to her, his heart skipping a beat when she touched him…all that cliché shit that wasn’t him. The closer he felt to Beth, the further he drew away, because when he felt, he fucked up, and he’d rather have her alive beside him than dead and feeling for her.

         There wasn’t no hug to break down his walls…she wasn’t offering…would he have wanted her to? Maybe he’d run too far. She didn’t have anything for him, just staring at him incredulously…left him stewing in all his emotional breakdown bullshit.

         “Why don’t you just go play with your dolls and have a kitten tea party…” Still lashing out and he couldn’t say why…losing the part of himself that was even close to being worthy of her friendship.

         “I’m not a little girl…I’m a woman,” Beth asserted, proving her point by keeping her composure. Locking eyes with him, her baby blues gone icy cold even in warm night. “You don’t think that either; you wouldn’t look at me the way you do if you did.”

         Beth managed to call him on it…and there was shame consuming him, knowing that he wasn’t as good at not looking at her like that as he thought he was. Daryl was the one who broke the gaze.

         “I’m going inside…” She didn’t have to say it…where else would she go? But there was nothing else left for her to say.

         “Fine.” Daryl wasn’t gonna stop her.

         “Fine.” She mimicked.

         And ever one to make a bad situation worse…

         “Try not to burn this one down,” Daryl snarked when she’d crossed half the distance to the porch.

         The look she threw at him over her shoulder…it wasn’t a glare…there was pain in her eyes. She walked away wounded, and in wounding her, Daryl wounded himself. Turning to face the dark waters, Daryl drew closer to the fire and plopped down on the sand, missing the blanket, just in time to hear the wooden screen door clatter shut behind Beth. He was left with nothing to do but stare blankly into the flames.

         Everything was definitely not fine

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         Dropping her head so heavily in the old down pillow that she seemed to remember from the very first time she could remember visiting Nana’s house as she rolled over on her back…well, it felt like her head hit a bed of stone. The mattress had never been comfortable as far back as she could remember, but in all those days of summer childhood, the bed didn’t need to be soft. She and Maggie just collapsed exhausted fro their days in the sun. Restless…restless couldn’t even begin to describe what Beth was feeling tonight, letting out a deep and discontented sigh while swiping a sweaty lock of hair from her eyes.


Mama always had a saying that touched on the subject of proper etiquette and personal perception… “Horses sweat. Men perspire. Women glow.”…could hear Mama’s words in her head as clear as if she were sitting on the bed right beside her, holding her hand, and smelling like her clean Ivory soap…

But Beth was feeling none too glowy.

Just because it was dark outside and the sun had set, didn’t mean the air had cooled in the night. The world had changed, or maybe it went back to its original state…man rose with the sun and slept when it set. She wasn’t much good at telling time by the sun or moon…Daryl was…but it didn’t really matter. If they could stop safe when darkness fell, they slept no matter how early. But sleep wasn’t going to come easy to her now. Throwing the sheet violently…if something as flimsy as a sheet could be thrown violently…off herself and tugging at the top of her thin blue dress, Beth huffed again, masochistically attempting to recall a time she’d been so uncomfortably hot. Running from the prison with Daryl, both falling down, exhausted and drenched in sweat in a field full of ragweed…that was definitely a close contender…but something very different. This was different…not just the elements. Then, they, or at least she wasn’t feeling anything except the instinct to survive, literally running until her lungs were about to burst. This…there were emotions…deep rooted feelings attached…and the closest that could begin to compare…

The trunk of the car…the never ending herd of walkers surrounding it as they passed by, every time they bumped or rattled it, Beth thought it was going to be their last moment. After hours of not moving, not speaking, just cowering and praying when the moment came, when the end was upon them, it would be quick…but knowing that wouldn’t be the case…there was no escaping their fate…Beth was breaking to pieces. Just her and Daryl, Beth with Daryl’s knife and Daryl with his crossbow…if that trunk popped open, it was game over. But Daryl was so steady, never taking his eyes away from the sights of his bow. He knew the same truth she did, knew her nerves were frayed, but he was so calm. In that second, when she knew she was going to lose it…every rivulet of sweat dripping down her face driving her to madness…she couldn’t take it anymore, she looked to Daryl in the faint light, not knowing what he could give her, but she needed something. Daryl didn’t look at her, didn’t take his eyes from the direction their death would be coming, staring down his sights, but he took his finger off the trigger, raised his hand away from his bow, telling her to be calm, steady, that it was all going to be okay. It felt like a lie, but in the end they made it.

This night…Daryl wasn’t the calm and steady one. Neither was she really…maybe it appeared that way…but it took everything she was not to push Daryl past his point of breaking. That night in the trunk of the car was full of fear of pain and death…a gruesome and horrible death…emotionally traumatizing. Tonight was full of frustration and need…just needing some recognition that they were something…that there was something there, and she wasn’t just imagining it all…she wasn’t just imagining. That…that night in the trunk was the closest…different feelings, different fears, but somehow tonight she felt more confined than when she was stuck in the trunk of that car with Daryl…not physically confined, far from it…now she craved that closeness…but confined by her circumstances, confined by what she wanted but didn’t know how to get, confined by Daryl’s stubbornness.

She wasn’t mad at him, not really…just frustrated or flustered or whatever the name for this feeling was combined with angst and the terrible fear of losing something she may have never had to start with. They’d fought. She’d said some things she regretted, things that were true but she shouldn’t have been so blunt about, and there had been no resolutions as she walked away from the conversation and Daryl reverted to a darker version of himself…

“Try not to burn this one down…”

It was like a shot to the heart. Deep down, maybe she knew he didn’t mean it, but burning down that moonshine shack had been such a pivotal moment in the relationship, like burning down their pasts and everything horrible that had come before and scarred them and starting anew together.

         When Daryl had followed her in shortly after, Beth had softened her heart to him again, kindness was in her nature, offering Daryl the bedroom where Daddy had stayed when they visited. And perhaps Daryl had gentled to her again too…

         “Nah, I’ll take the couch, make sure you’re safe…” Daryl indicating the wicker sofa in the living room right outside her bedroom and in front of the main door would be his bed for the night.

         Beth said a quiet “Goodnight” and Daryl gave his usual gravelly “mmm-hmm”.

         All the rest had been left unsaid as so much seemed to be.

         Exasperated, Beth threw her arm over her forehead and half contemplated running to the water again, bathing under the stars. That pleasant thought was broken by the front door ever so quietly creaking open, then very deliberately and carefully being closed behind, Daryl clearly trying not to disturb her. When left to shut on its own, it would’ve clattered closed like old bones precariously strung together.

         The floor was surprisingly cool on her feet…sitting on the edge of the bed, Beth told herself she was going to the window to try to catch the refreshing sea breeze…that’s what she told herself, even when she looked out, pulling the country lace curtain aside to see Daryl crossing the sandy expanse, so clear under the full moon now rising higher in the night sky. He didn’t so much as take his boots off to walk in the surf when they first arrived…when he saw the ocean for the first time in his life, but now, alone, he was barefoot, leaving footprints in the sand, and pulling his crossbow off his back without so much as missing a stride. Beth made no noise, but Daryl must’ve sensed something, because he paused…listening…barely turning his head back, Beth freezing in the window like a frightened animal, heart beating inexplicably hard in her chest, thudding in her ears. There was no way he could’ve seen her. His world was bright with the moon and stars bathing their little paradise in an ethereal glow while the little cottage window was dark as a moonless night. As he finally shook away whatever had caught his attention, he laid his crossbow in the sand just out of the reach of the surf.

         Watching Daryl watch the ocean, like he was observing nature…observant like he always was, but this time it was different…his shoulders rising and falling with his deep, steady breaths…

         With two people traveling alone in a fallen world…well, on the run, there wasn’t much privacy to do the things people usually liked to do privately. But Daryl was a private bather…not that they actually had the luxury of bathing…bird-bathing it most of the time at small water sources or with bottled water at whatever shelter they found. But even then, Daryl always found his own private spot or went in another room…or waited until she was asleep many times she assumed. He always had her back though. He’d made an art out of watching out for her while not actually watching her in any state of undress. Today had been no different…

         She held his hand and he held hers…it was enough to fill her heart…to fill the emptiness bored out by the hard times in all the months since they ran from the last place they were safe. It felt like beginning again. No other sunset had ever touched her so, sharing a first with Daryl…

         ‘I’ve never seen the ocean…”

Not daring to look at him in fear of stealing this sublime moment from him, but from the corner of her eye she caught it…Daryl’s face usually so serious, drawn, or worried…all that faded away, replaced with what Beth could only describe as wonderment. But never one to linger too long on simple pleasures of his own, Daryl loosened his grip where their fingers were entwined, and a practical “I’ll build a fire. We should eat,” returned to her the Daryl she knew.

         But the ocean called to Beth, grabbing Daryl’s forearm to steady herself as she stepped off her well-loved cowboy boots and peeled off her socks.

         “Come in with me…” Beth practically begged, excitement lacing her voice gone high, still holding onto his arm as if that would sway him.

         For a moment, she was almost certain he would as he hesitated.

         “Nah, you go ahead. I’ll be around keeping a watch out.”

         He stiffened beside her when she freed his arm and went to pull her shirt over her head, and she even had a tank top on under that…shying from her undressing. Beth paid him absolutely no mind, stripping down to her bra and underwear, out of her sweat-stained clothes, and waded into the welcoming waters as Daryl found things to do while he was watching her without ‘watching’ her. Coming out of the sea, she was finally cool, physically and emotionally refreshed…clean from head to toe…feeling more like herself than she had in months. It was full twilight, and true to his word, Daryl had a fire going and dinner cooking. He noticed her…glanced at her once, then deliberately away to pay attention to something, anything, not in her direction.

         Wondering in her trek through the sand to the house if he looked away because he thought she was shy or vulnerable, trying to protect her modesty. Maybe in a different context, running around outside in the open in just her bra and panties, she would’ve been embarrassed or shy of herself, but it was the beach, and her underwear were not much different than any swimsuit she was sure she still had tucked away in a dresser drawer inside. Maybe she should’ve been shy, but she wasn’t. The way he looked away…maybe he was the shy one…

         Daryl drew his undershirt over his head with swift, masculine elegance, tossing it to the sand beside his bow, but made no further move to undress. There was no pretense now, Beth wasn’t lying to herself anymore. She wasn’t at the window for the cool air. She wanted to see…him. Rolling his shoulders back and stretching his tight muscles, Beth took in her first sight of Daryl without his shirt. He was beautifully built…something she could’ve guessed every time she saw him in a shirt he cut the sleeves off. Massive arms run with tight sinew and muscle beneath taut skin…how many times she’d imagined those arms around her, holding her safe and close to him. Daryl’s body was made for and by the world they lived in. Nothing artificially sculpted by gym weights and machines…he was a man built to survive. A dark space on his shoulder…his tattoo, nothing more than a blurry shadow; she’d always known it was there, seeing it peek out from beneath his shirt from time to time, wondering what it was, and tonight she was kept wondering.

But there…just there when he flexed and stretched and the moon caught his back just right…lines across his skin, some crisscrossing, silver in the light…they were…scars. Too many and too uniform to be from any accident, Beth’s stomach knotted up…realizing Daryl had been beaten. And those scars were so healed…so much a part of his skin…that there was no way they were recent. Daryl as an adult would’ve never let someone do that to him…he must’ve been a child when he was beaten. Beth found herself sitting in the middle of the bed, legs drawn up, and arms wrapped around her knees, holding herself tight for comfort…knowing the only scenario was that Daryl’s dad must have abused him when he was little…it was the only conclusion that could be made. Shedding a tear, closing her eyes to blink away the wetness, but in doing so, only seeming to make it worse. Seeing little Daryl…his dad cutting lashes into his back with the buckle end of an old, cracked leather belt…Daryl biting back his tears and trying not to cry out, hardening his heart with each strike. What kind of monster would do that to a child?

Saddened, Beth cried for little Daryl and she cried for Daryl now. She cried because she pushed, provoked, and antagonized Daryl, a man who’d known no gentleness or love in his life. Beth cried because she thought she knew Daryl and what made him tick, but the secrets he was hiding were darker than she could’ve ever imagined. Beth cried.

                     *                  *                  *                  *                  *

         Shaking his hair dry like some sort of stay mutt then running his fingers through it to comb it back away from his eyes, Daryl wandered at the effect the cooling, salty waters and gentle waves had at clearing his mind and soul. Actually allowing him to think. To find courage. Stopping on the porch, Daryl rested his crossbow against the same porch railing he’d left his winged vest draped over, digging a cig from the pack he’d stashed safe and dry by the little seashell wind chimes resting there. Just a couple left. Simple pleasures from the world before were getting scarce, but tonight the indulgence was called for. Taking a long puff, leaning back against the railing, letting the smoke fill his lungs and the nicotine soothe his nerves that were starting to fray…he tried to focus on the burning ember at the end of the cigarette…focus on it because everything was changing so fast, and he had to do something. Watched that orange glowing ember ‘til it was burned almost down to the butt without taking another puff. Focused until he heard soft singing…a song drifting out of the open bedroom window…singing he was sure wasn’t meant to be heard. 

         “We’re made out of blood and rust. Looking for someone to trust without a fight…”

It was the same melancholy song she sang earlier about him…but she never made it to this part…the lyrics stirring his heart because they were the truth…

“I think that you came too soon, but you’re the honey and the moon that lights up my night…”

The truth about him that he wanted Beth to realize.

Daryl was left full of resolve…

Beth was awake, and he’d done nothing to try to quiet the complaining, creaking, rattling front door like he did when he’d went out, but she must’ve been too preoccupied with her song to hear him.

“Ever since I’ve been with you, you hold me up all the time I’m falling down…”

She startled from where she sat, hugging her knees in the middle of the bed when he stepped in the doorway…

“Oh…” and as simple as that, her song ceased again.

Bathed in the moonlight streaming in through the window, waves of pale, white gold hair tumbling over her shoulders…hair she never wore down, creamy skin so fair it was almost translucent…she was otherworldly…somehow right in front of him, but she should’ve been entirely out of his reach. Hmmphing silently to himself…damn, that song she sang had him pegged perfect, whether or not he liked it. Remembering how it started out…

If you weren’t real I would make you up…

He’d be a liar if he said that wasn’t the truth of what he was feeling.


         Maybe there was something that was supposed to come after that, but if he didn’t say what he had to say now, he might never say it.

         “I do…I do feel…for a long time, I’ve…” He couldn’t say it all. Thought he’d had it all worked out in his head, but here he was a fumbling, tongue-tied mess. Should’ve known his thoughts would’ve never come out right. But these words…they were better than nothin’, right? ‘Cause these words were everything.

         In his chest, the frantic beat was threatening to either stop that damned feeling thing…or his heart was gonna break right outta his ribcage. After all the hurt he’d spewed at her, there was the softest look of recognition on her face…something else too…never had a woman look at him like that before other than Beth.

         “But when I feel…I fuck up…” Fuck…he shouldn’t have cussed, not with what he was trying to say. “And you’re right…I have been running from you…because when I let myself…I almost lost you…because I was feeling then, so hard, back at the funeral parlor, and I couldn’t protect you. I can’t protect you if I let myself…” His voice cracking…emotional…

         Beth was standing beside the bed now but made no move to breach the short distance to get closer.

         “Daryl…” When his name crossed her lips, with that sweet voice of hers turning it to music…he would’ve given anything to have just been touching her…innocently. “You’re more than just a body to protect me…you’re…”

         He couldn’t let her finish, his words too urgent now…

         “If I lost you…I…” All his fears, anxieties, and doubts, silenced by his tongue, but sometimes all those words weren’t needed.

         “We could both be dead tomorrow, Daryl.” Beth said it like it was an eventuality…not scared, just accepting of the hard realities of the world, and he wasn’t gonna have it. That wasn’t gonna be her world.

         “I ain’t gonna let that happen!” Stepping closer without even thinking.

         And it was then he actually took a good look at her face…she’d been crying…leftover wetness where tears had been streaming down her face. Suddenly ashamed…knowing he must’ve done that to her. He wanted to reach out a wipe away what was left of those tears. But then, a little breathy laugh crossed her lips, the tiniest little noise…she wasn’t laughing at him; Daryl knew that at least.

         “What’s the point of you keeping me breathing if we don’t get to live…to taste some of life’s sweetness.”

         Daryl didn’t know how to answer that. His life had never been sweet before her. Bittersweet now because he was too afraid to lose her to actually let himself have that sweetness. He didn’t say nothin’ for long moments after, lowering his head and peering at her through the safety of his bangs fallen in his eyes until finally he was able to croak out another admission.

         “I don’t know what to do…”

         “Stop being afraid of getting close.” She made it all sound so simple, but he could feel the love pouring through the deep wells of her soft blue eyes…all he had to do was accept it. It gave him courage.

         One foot in front of the other…another Daryl would have yelled her down for saying he was afraid…almost quivering when he finally found himself standing just inches from her. A nervous, bated breath catching in his chest, head dipped down…  “Getting closer in here…” almost a whisper, but so close it didn’t matter…so close he could feel her warm words just as she touched a gentle hand over his trembling heart.

         She was so small beneath him…his head bowed and shoulders arched over her, Beth must’ve felt like he was looming…intimidating…the way people often felt about him. An innate fear pulled inside him…urging him to take a step back, but something truer told him to stay, Daryl placing his calloused hand over Beth’s small one at the center of his chest. Was her heart as unsteady as his?

         Her lips shook him…so silky…warm touching his…she kissed him?

         It was all done before he had a chance to move his lips, take her in, enjoy that sweetness…it was a memory before it even happened. Left gape-mouthed, looking down at Beth and those questioning eyes, so unsure… But of course…she was unsure. He didn’t even kiss back. Those eyes were killing him. He was a man…a grown man…he should’ve known what to do…but he’d never been much of a kisser. Never wanted to be. But now…now he did. His hand went to the small of her back, quelling a rougher urge to pull her up to him, all nice an snug…feel her small curves pressed up against him…but instead, he just rested it there, his other hand laid gentle against the side of her face. Beth leaned into his palm, closing her eyes, and breathing deep and slow as if the world had stopped around them. Maybe it had.

         Allowing himself to move, raking his fingers through the beachy waves in her hair, Daryl kissed her, and this time, he felt. This time it was as real as could be…nothing but innocent, but he didn’t want it any other way. This time he kissed. This time he kissed back, marveling at not just the kiss but the closeness it allowed him to feel…a closeness, that, in that moment, was not coupled with fear. Her lips parted slightly, tentative tongues barely touching…and just after, Beth broke away.

         Looking up at him with those eyes that in one turn burned him with their anger, in the next killed him with their sorrow, and just now…those wide eyes, pools any many would be happy to drown in, filled him with hope. She took her hand from his chest from where he realized she’d been clinging to his shirt, and drew a delicate fingertip down between his cupid’s bow and over the middle of his freshly kissed bottom lip, tickling and tantalizing all in one. A small laugh escaped him, despite himself, and her breathy little giggle followed.

         Just a little of her sweetness was all he got. He had to earn more. And maybe, just maybe, he deserved to go slow and savor every moment of sweetness life…living…allowed them to share.

                     *                  *                  *                  *                  *

         “Beth…” Daryl snapped her hand up in his and took off ahead of her. “Run!”

         She didn’t question, running right behind him.

         They sprinted down the splintered, grey wood pier, so hot from the sun it felt like it was blistering the bottom of his feet…

         Until there was nothing beneath them, and for the briefest moment, his stomach was in his throat…before plunging into the cool waters, Beth splashing beside him just a second after, still holding hands.

         Resurfacing, both sputtering and coughing out the salty water, they threw their heads to face the bright sun. And Daryl…he laughed…still choking out water from his windpipe. He laughed a full-bodied, whole-hearted laugh, a laugh caused by nothing other than pure joy and unadulterated happiness…the kind of laughter that he’d never experienced. Smiling so big he thought his face was gonna crack…he must’ve looked like an idiot, but he didn’t care. Because he felt. And he was living. And he…

         “Beth…I love ya…”

         Because he loved.

         They were treading water, circling each other, Beth giggling at his outburst of laughter…her giggles ceased and she just stared at him for a moment when he spoke, head going under water a little like she forgot to tread. Daryl caught her elbow to keep her head above the surface.

         He said it…didn’t even think about it. Said it because it was what he felt. And he wasn’t afraid. Didn’t need nothin’ in return. He drew Beth close, for once leaving her speechless, but it was a calm, contemplative speechlessness. Wrapping her arms around his neck, pressing her forehead to his…

         “I think I’ve always loved you…”

         How that was possible…loving someone always when they hadn’t know each other forever…well…maybe that was the same as the lyrics that touched him so…If you weren’t real, I would make you up

         It was just meant to be…it only took the end of the world to bring them together.

         Daryl smiled to himself since she couldn’t see him, then nudged her head back just far enough that he could dip down and steal a kiss…just lips. Hers tasted sweet and salty all at once…like summer. He still wasn’t any good at it. Maybe someday he would get better.

         He wasn’t good at hoping neither, but…

         “We can stay here…at least a little while…” He was trying.

         “We can stay here. We can stay here for the rest of our lives.” Beth, ever hopeful…his hope…proclaimed with every part of her that she believed it to be true…

         They would stay as long as they could. And no matter where they were, they would live. They would love. She would be his honey, and he would be her moon.