It's not even dusk yet when Daryl enters the cell block. He tells himself the reason is because it's getting colder, that’s why he’s started coming inside earlier. The reason is decidedly not the very strong gravitational pull of a certain teenage babysitter. He tells himself that what he feels in his chest is no a swell of excitement when he sees the lone candle glow in the cell next to his. He tells himself he definitely isn’t quickening his step as he crosses the cell block and makes his way up the staircase.
Daryl Dixon has always been a terrible liar.
For a week now he’s been sleeping wrapped up in Beth Greene’s scent. Each night he buries his face in her shirt, the one that she left on his pillow and inhales obscenely, before drifting out of consciousness. He doesn’t just sleep, he dreams. He actually dreams for the first time since he doesn’t know when. Not bad dreams about his daddy either, which is the only thing he ever remembers dreaming about before anyway. That was until he learnt to kill them with cheap booze and exhaustion. These dreams aren’t like that.
He doesn't actually remember what he dreams about. Trying to remember is like trying to hold sand in his palm; it just slips away. He only remembers flashes and feelings: blonde hair and fields of tall grass; the glow of candles and the sound of a piano. But whatever he's dreaming about he wakes feeling damn near peaceful.
They haven't talked about it. She left her shirt on his pillow and since then neither of them has even mentioned it, but each night she waits up and he stops at her cell and they talk. Each night he comes in a little earlier and their conversation grows a little longer.
Their conversations are no longer limited to their combined lack of sleep either. Although some nights Lil Asskicker does still keeps Beth up. She never complains about it. He doesn't think he's ever heard her complain about anything. Or ask for anything. When he asks her if she needs anything on a run but she always replies the same damn thing 'No, I'm good. Thank you'. That doesn’t sit quite right with him.
He's been trying to think of what she might need. Clothes? Toiletries maybe? But she'd ask for those. She'd ask Maggie because Maggie would know what to get. So then he starts to think about what she might want. He doesn't know. He doesn’t know her well enough for that. He'd like to though. He'd like to know everything there is to know about her, if he’s being honest. Which he decidedly is not.
When he reaches her cell he leans his crossbow against the wall that separates her cell from his. They sleep less than a foot away from each other, separated only by this thin wall. That thought makes him ache, and that ache spreads in his chest all the way down to his cock. Christ. The thought of her lying on the other side of that wall sleeping, or worse, not sleeping - does things to him that he’s struggling to control. He adjusts the front of his jeans, grinding his teeth as hard denim brushes over the sensitive head of his straining cock.
In her cell, Beth sits cross legged on the bed, leaning back against their adjoining wall with her face buried in a book.
His tread has always been near silent, and for a moment she doesn’t notice him. She just turns the page, bottom lip caught in her teeth as her bright blue eyes eagerly scan the text in front of her.
She looks cosy, wrapped in a big knit cardigan, still in her jeans despite how late it is. For a moment he just stares and he knows he shouldn't - it's verging on creepy - but he's just awed. Not because she's beautiful, which she is, she's so beautiful with her golden hair hanging loose down past her shoulders, covering the peaks of her breasts like a mermaid. He's awed because she makes this place, this literal prison, feel like a home. Up here, one foot away, just occupying the same space as her, he feels more at home than he has ever felt in his whole life.
The walls are starting to feel less claustrophobic every day and that has everything to do with what's inside them.
She looks up and catches him. For a moment he's embarrassed, feels his cheeks grow hot under the dirt. Then she smiles, she beams up at him and his breath catches in his throat.
"I think I’ve figured out what you were before," she says excitedly, dropping the book down on the bed and turning to face him.
He doesn't bother to hide the smirk tugging at one side of his mouth.
"Go on then," he rumbles, leaning against the door jamb, crossing his arms over his chest.
Her face is serious but there's mischief in her eyes.
"A stripper," she deadpans.
Daryl chokes. All the air leaves him in a gush and he's struggling to replace it because his airway seems to have closed. His throat makes a strangled sound as he reels in front of her.
She just continues to stare, expectantly, waiting for him to answer as though she just asked him a completely ordinary question.
He manages to suck in a shaky inhalation and shakes his head back and forth a little too fast.
"Uh uh. Don' think anyone'd pay t' see that mess," He says roughly, looking down and away.
His eyes snap up to hers. She's got a bright warm smile on her face that stretches all the way to her eyes.
He just stares at her for a second time because all he can think is Girl you wouldn't need to pay. But he can't say that. Nothing that comes to mind should come out of his mouth because she's joking and he wouldn’t be and that is where things get weird. She flirts with him; he knows she does, but he also knows it’s just for fun. They both know it’s a game, and games have rules.
He snorts softly and looks away again. Without her hypnotic blue eyes distracting him he regains enough mental capacity to change the subject away from his naked body.
"What about you?" He asks, directing his question to the floor.
He glances up at her through his hair.
"What did you wanna be?"
Her smile widens.
"I hadn't decided yet. I guess it didn’t really matter after all," she shrugs, her smile losing its warmth as she looks down at the book in her lap.
"What were you thinkin' of?"
Beth looks up from the book with a quizzical expression on her face.
"You really wanna know?" She asks, and he doesn’t miss the disbelief in her voice.
Does she think that he doesn't want to know or that the answer itself isn’t worth knowing? He doesn't know which is worse. He does know that neither is remotely true.
"I really wanna know," He says, tilting his head back a little so that he meets her gaze.
She smiles again, and then sits up a little straighter.
"I was thinking about being a teacher. I used to teach Sunday school sometimes."
He nods. Makes sense.
"You're good with kids."
"I know," He grunts, his eyes wandering over to Judith sleeping peacefully in her crib. Girl has a magic touch when it comes to that baby and she isn't even hers. She's got Carl eating out of her hand as well. Although he suspects the kid’s motives aren’t entirely innocent as he's becoming less of a kid by the day.
"Thanks," She grins, her eyes following his to the sleeping baby.
“Or I was thinking about maybe training to be a nurse. I used to like helping daddy with the animals, and playing with the medical supplies," she says thoughtfully.
"You'd make one hell of a nurse," he says before he can stop himself. The visual alone is something he's never going to get out of his head. Even if he wanted to. Which he in no way does.
"Is that right?" She quirks a brow at him.
"I'd like to have you as my nurse," he says, voice coming out so low he should be embarrassed, his eyes raking over her body as his tongue darts out to wet his lips.
Beth grins and rolls her eyes at him.
"Well, let's hope you don't need a nurse, circumstances what they are," she says as primly as she can but there's a wicked smile tugging at her lips. There's a knowing look in her eyes that is so much older than her years, a quickness that he wants to play with.
"But if I do?" He asks, catching her eyes.
She gives in, wicked smile beaming back at him.
"If you do, I'll be at your bedside mopping your brow," She says, her voice is innocent but her eyes are anything but.
"Giving me a sponge bath?" He says thickly, surprising them both.
Beth bites her lip as she holds his gaze, eyes narrowing, searching, stretching the moment out. Her gaze is sharp, almost challenging.
Then she huffs a laugh. "I'd do that now, Daryl, you smell terrible."
He snorts and looks away.
He can hear her flipping the pages in her book. For a moment neither of them says anything. Daryl is used to silences; he's used to them quickly growing uncomfortable as people expect them to be filled. But he's not used to this. They’ve fallen into a comfortable lull. He can talk or remain quiet, there's no pressure for him to do either. He doesn't feel as though she expects him to do anything at all. He can just be.
After a few more moments Beth speaks, her voice pulling him from where his mind had drifted into nothing much at all.
"If I could have been anything though my dream was to be a singer," she says quietly, hushed as though divulging a great secret, not looking up from the book she's turning in her hands, "Which is ridiculous I know but I just love singin'," she adds, pressing her lips into a line, fingers tightening around the book like she’s pushing something down and away.
Her dream. She’s pushing down her dream because it won’t ever come true, he realises.
"You've got a pretty voice," he says softly.
She looks up from the book and blinks at him slowly. Her eyes are wide and her lips are slightly open as though he's said something to startle her. His stomach somersaults under her gaze and he swallows, trying to push down whatever strange feeling is threatening to explode from his chest.
Finally, she tilts her head back and smiles, narrowing her eyes at him.
"I thought my singin' annoyed you?"
"You think you know me girl?" He grunts, knowing she won't miss the teasing in his voice as he jerks his chin at her.
There’s a beat and then Beth bursts out laughing, discarding the book and bringing her hands up to drag across her face and through her hair.
Daryl glares at her.
"The fuck’s so funny?"
Beth takes a deep breath as a few more laughs shake their way out of her chest and she wipes her shining eyes.
"I was just rememberin' somethin’, it's a bit random," She shakes her head dismissively.
He continues to glare at her, his scowl deepening with every passing second.
Beth sighs, "It’s just that the biblical term for sexual love is "know""
He doesn’t miss the way that her cheeks turn a little pink at that or the way the mood changes and suddenly there's tension in the room there wasn't before. That was random. What the hell made her think that?
"I didn't know there was smut in the bible but trust a naughty girl like you to find it," he mutters, pinning her with eyes narrowed to icy slits.
Beth ‘s mouth falls open in feigned outrage, before she tilts her head back and starts laughing again. The giggles come thick and fast, shaking her tiny frame like an earth quake. Daryl feels a small smile breaking his frosty facade as he watches more laughter bubble up and spill from her lips. The sound is like distilled joy. If there's one thing Daryl wants it's to make her laugh like that as often as he possibly can.
"Stop," Beth pleads weakly, wiping tears from her eyes and attempting to get herself under control.
He swallows, forcing down another ache in his chest at Beth's barely caged joy that he is somehow responsible for.
"I'm goin' on a run tomorrow, you need anything?" He asks.
She smiles and shakes her head.
"No, I'm fine. Thank you.”
He barely contains a growl at her automated response.
"You want anything?" He presses, bringing his thumb up to worry the nail between his teeth. There must be something this girl wants that he can give to her. There must be something. All of a sudden he feels compelled to please her somehow.
He's looking at her, waiting for her to answer him and she's looking right back at him. She's staring at him so intensely as though there is something obvious that he's missing. She holds his gaze, her eyes boring into his, and there's that quickness, that spark dancing back at him so intently he thinks she might be trying to communicate by telepathy.
"Girl?" He prompts.
What do you want? Just tell me. He wants to shout.
Beth blinks slowly, and then sighs heavily.
"I'm fine, thank you." She smiles, but this time it's small and laced with disappointment. She suddenly seems deflated and he feels like he's the cause but he has no idea what he's done. No fucking idea.
He shifts his weight from foot to foot uncomfortably for one awkward moment as the silence stretches between them. An awkward silence. He’s familiar with those.
"Ok. G'night then," He grunts, ducking his head.
"Good night, Daryl," she smiles, this one reaches her eyes and its warm. “Sleep well.”
He pushes himself off the door jamb, grabs his cross bow and ducks into his own cell. Leaning his bow against the door with a heavy clunk, he falls backwards onto the bed.
What the fuck was that? He thinks, running his hand across the concrete, thinking about the girl on the other side of the wall, knowing she's barely a foot away.
He reaches under his pillow and pulls out her shirt. Pressing it to his face he drags in a long, shaky inhalation. He feels calm pour through his mind as the smell of her floods his senses. For a moment everything goes still. Everything disappears. He's somewhere else. He's not in the prison. He's somewhere better.
He takes another painfully slow inhalation. Her scent is there, but only just. The shirt is losing her scent. Soon it won't smell like her at all. What then?
The run involves a few too many close calls and leaves Daryl feeling rattled. Although on the outside he knows he appears to take each ugly situation in his stride, the reality is whenever a hairy situation nearly takes a family member he feels the weight of it on his chest. He imagines what he'd have to say when he got back to the prison. How upset the rest of the family would be. How they'd look at him wondering why it was them and not him. He'd be thinking the same damn thing.
He spends the rest of the daylight killing walkers on the fence and thinking about ways to make runs safer. You’re safe until you're not. They can do everything they can and still end up as walker food- he knows that. He just wants them to do everything they can. He just doesn’t want to lose any more people.
In the back of his mind he's looking forward to getting up to his cell and the chance to talk to Beth. He won't tell her about what happened on the run; he doesn’t want to worry her, but just talking to her makes him feel hopeful. Hearing about what Judith has been doing reminds him that they have a home here. That everything ok, relatively.
When he enters the cell block it's dark except for a cast of starlight trickling in through the barred windows.
Disappointment washes over him. His feet feel significantly heavier as he drags them across the cell block.
Maybe Beth's candle is just so low he can't see if from down here. He picked her up some candles on the run. He chose ones that are supposed to smell like honey because he remembered her saying that she misses collecting honey on the farm. Banged on about how sweet it smells fresh from the hive. No candle is gonna smell like a bee hive, he knows that, but maybe it will make her smile or something. Maybe he can give her that.
When Daryl reaches the top of the stairs he feels another wave of disappointment crash over him. As he gets closer to Beth’s cell he can see that the curtain is drawn and it is completely dark inside. His heart sinks as he passes her door frame and keeps walking.
Then as Daryl ducks the curtain and slides into his cell he almost has a heart attack.
He's frozen to the spot while his eyes are instantly drawn to the blonde mane pooling across his pillow. On his bed - no, in his bed- Beth is fast asleep, curled on her side, wearing the shirt he keeps under his pillow. Wearing the shirt and little else judging by the long, slender legs spread across his bed.
She's curled around the book she was reading last night, as though she was reading it and fell asleep. He feels a shuddering ache in his chest that is almost too much to bear. She's wearing the shirt almost like she read his mind and knew it stopped smelling of her. He sure as hell hopes she can't read his mind because the sight of her lying in his bed, with her shirt barely covering her rounded ass has his mind sinking to depths a choir girl shouldn't follow.
He's already half way hard as he sets his crossbow down silently against the wall and crosses the room. He lowers himself onto the cot with the care one might take when disabling an explosive and curls himself around her back.
He buries his face in the back of her head and breathes in a deep lungful of her hair. Of her. She smells phenomenal. She smells so much better than the shirt.
As her heady sweet scent overpowers every one of his senses and saps away his consciousness he thinks fleetingly that this might be heaven, being curled around Beth, and falling asleep without the wall between them.