The fire burns low where they built it together, in the small hearth of the even smaller hunting lodge they've found themselves sheltering in this night. They'd discovered it just before dusk and quickly went to work; Daryl collected firewood while Beth found the kindling and with the flint she'd found on the floor of an abandoned shack, Beth set a spark that built to a roar. Daryl tempered it quickly, keeping the smoke down, feeding it only the wood it needed to keep itself alive.
Not unlike them, he thinks, trying to focus on something, anything but her sitting beside him. It's becoming harder and harder, not thinking about her; about how thin he knows she is beneath all those clothes, how she barely had any fat on her to begin with and this winter has not been kind.
They've been chased from every haven they've found, and so have been forced to make their own. Not anything as permanent as a home; not like the prison was, or the farm, at least for her. They almost found it there at the funeral home, where she sang him to sleep in a candlelit room, a sleep so deep he didn't wake until she put her hand on his arm at dawn. He'd looked up at her from the casket, following the line of her arm from the simple touch to her shoulder to her face and then the space she left as she moved on, already talking about ways to make herself useful, even with that damned sprained ankle. He knew what she was doing. He isn't blind. He knows she wants so desperately not to be a burden, and even though he should have been thinking about scoping out hideouts nearby so she wouldn't have to run too far or what would happen if he were injured too or how what she really needed to do was sit the fuck down before she sprained her ankle all over again–
He was thinking about her hand on his arm. How soft her skin was between the calluses, how casual the press of her palm, like she woke him like this every morning—like there had ever been a morning when he wasn't awake before her, like he had ever told her she could touch him like that, like it was only one of a thousand ways she could touch him—and he lay in that casket with his eyes on the ceiling for long enough that she came back to check on him and he stood up before she had the chance to get too close.
But he got close. He got close to her, closer, and he didn't even think—he didn't think. He put his hands on her and for once his head went quiet. He could feel the give of her flesh and the texture of her clothes and the warmth of her laugh and that was enough to fill him a thousand times over.
And then the walkers came, and now they have this: not a home, no, but a place—one in a long line of places, but a place with walls and alarms strung outside and enough space for each of them to stretch out even though Daryl doesn't want to. And she isn't. They're sitting shoulder to shoulder in the nest of blankets they found in the cabin's closet, Beth leaning on him a little, a little, little enough that if he doesn't move and doesn't breathe she might not notice she's doing it. Might lean a little bit more. Put her head on his shoulder, maybe, tickle his cheek with the hair she's toying with, looking down at the end of her ponytail as she flicks it between her fingers.
“You think I should cut it?”
Neither of them have spoken a word in hours but the sound of her voice doesn't startle him; it seems to emerge from the fabric of all the other sounds around them—the shifting fire, the wind brushing against the cans outside, his own breathing. He looks at her as she looks at him and he knows he once would have averted his gaze but he knows that now that would be as painful as losing a limb.
“You want to?” he asks, trying to make his voice soft like hers, not grating and harsh.
She shrugs, rolling her shoulder against his. “I dunno. Seems like I should. It's dangerous, isn't it?”
“Yeah,” he says, mouth quirking as he remembers the time he spent a few days ago untangling her from a passing thorn bush. She'd told him to just hack the hair off but he ignored her; took the time to free each strand—leave not a single one behind, keep them all unbroken. He'd brushed the back of her neck a few times as he worked and it made him want to go slower so he could touch her like that again.
“So I should?”
“It's your choice.”
“I'm asking your opinion, Daryl,” she says, voice amused and lilting, mouth tilted up at the side. She reaches up between them and tweaks a strand of his own hair where it hangs half in front of his face. He holds his breath but doesn't flinch, even when her knuckle brushes his nose. “Maybe you're worried if I cut mine you'll have to cut yours,” she says.
He shrugs, feels the fabric of their shirts shifting between them. “Don't care about that.”
“What do you care about, then?”
He looks at her and his brain whirrs but he can't find an answer; not an answer he could articulate, not one he could name. As the silence lengthens Beth's teasing smile falls away and she blinks at him in the firelight.
He half expects a walker herd to burst in on them. Maybe part of him wants it. It gave him an out the last time she asked a question he couldn't answer; couldn't, wouldn't, didn't know how, and he feels such a burst of chagrin that he has to look away, down to their laps seated side by side. He's never been one for words, not when it mattered; never knew what to say to get his pop to stop hitting him, to get him mom to put down the bottle; and now he looks at Beth and her little hand resting carelessly against his thigh and he knows all the words he knows would never be enough.
She leans farther into him and now he wishes she wouldn't; wants some space between them, space to think, space beyond the swirl of light she seems to bring into the room. It doesn't mean he'll move. God, he wouldn't move.
He does turn back to her. Her face close enough that he feels her suck the air from his mouth when she breathes in, chest hitching as Daryl's arms come up around her. She drops forward into the cradle of his shoulder, not even trying to balance herself, and it feels so nice that Daryl almost forgets what he's doing.
But he remembers, and sinks his fingers into her hair. Holds it in his own ponytail close to her head so he doesn't hurt her scalp, uses the other hand to begin working the rubber band down. Like with the thorn-bush it takes some time; her hair is gnarled and knotted and matted with God knows what, just like his is, but it still makes him shake a little to feel it under his hands. Or maybe that's just her weight on him, of her body on his chest and her eyes on his face, still on his face as he works the rubber band down the last few inches and sets it aside, brings his hands back up and weaves his fingers into her hair, tugging through a knot or two, draping it across her shoulders like a cloak of sunshine. It hangs around her face lank and unwashed and he can't take his hands from it; trails his fingers from her scalp to the end of a strand curling against her neck, letting her pulse thunder through their skin, racing.
“I like it like this,” he mutters, and then he isn't touching her neck but cupping it, palm gentle on her artery and thumb pointed towards her clavicle, the tips of his fingers touching her cheek and behind her ear. He should stop, he knows he should, but his head is so quiet, blessedly silent and slow, slow as her own movements as she leans into his touch, eyes fluttering shut, lips quivering as she breathes.
“Long?” she whispers.
“Like this,” he says dumbly, not knowing if he means long or down or flowing over his hands or–
She hums deep in her throat, tipping her forehead against his neck as his fingers press into her scalp, exploring the shape of her skull. He thinks of his nightmares, of this scull warped and deformed, his own knife twisting through flesh and bone and brain as he rips the walker out of her, watches her crumple at his feet. Thinks that for both of them to be here and whole, as whole as can be, is as close a proof of that God of hers that he's ever going to find.
Beth lifts her head up to look at him and she's close, closer than before, closer than ever maybe, and with his hands around her head she isn't moving farther away. They've found closeness like this before, curled up together on the coldest nights, but Daryl isn't cold—he's warm, warm like someone's sipping a mug of hot chocolate inside him, and it isn't from the fire or the heat of her body; it's the knowing of her so close, closer than he thinks anyone's ever been to him, even the few he's been inside—and doesn't that image strike a bell in his chest, and it shouldn't, she's a girl, she's... she's Beth. And she deserves better than the sloppy bump and grind way he knows and has never really enjoyed but maybe with her he might...
“What are you thinking about?” she whispers, hair spilling across her shoulders, breath warm on his mouth.
“Fucking,” he says. Says without thinking, and when her eyebrows shoot up in surprise he realizes his mistake but he can't pull himself away. Swallows and looks down and when he looks up she's still waiting for an explanation, an amused grin tugging at her mouth. “Just... never been good at it,” he says. He moves his hand from her cheek, spreads her hair out further, and when his hand brushes her neck she shivers. “Never got why people sing all those songs about it. 'S just... just bodies, y'know?”
“It doesn't have to be,” Beth says, hushed. Everything around them feels soft, suddenly—the fire is low enough that it's stopped crackling and he really ought to build it back up, do something to get out of the way Beth's looking at him, how he's been touching her all this time but she's been touching him too, one hand curling against his thigh and the other at his lower back, seeking beneath his layers until she hits skin and smooths a finger across it, wracking him with shivers.
“What d'you know about it?” Daryl asks, then flushes anew at the forwardness of his question, almost like–
“Not much,” she says. Finally, at last, she seems like the embarrassed one; ducks down away from his eyes and they're so close her forehead brushes his lips as she moves. “It wasn't that great for me either,” she says. They both watch her hand on his thigh, over the blanket, feel the skin of her hand and his back merging. “But I always thought... maybe that was the problem, I was always thinking too much. Couldn't shut up and just be with someone.” He feels her eyes back on him but he doesn't look; feels like his whole body must be bright red by now, hearing her talk about these things. But he still strains towards her, doesn't want her to stop. “Was always... getting down to it. Doing what I thought he'd like best, cause...” She laughs shortly. “Cause I wasn't brave enough to ask for what I wanted. To think what I wanted mattered.”
“It does,” Daryl says. He looks up at her and is surprised again by how close she's gotten. But he doesn't move away. “It matters, Beth, it...”
He can't take how she's looking at him, can't take her breath on his face anymore, so with a clearing of his throat he begins to disentangle himself. She holds on; for the briefest moment she holds on, digging her fingers into him like she doesn't want to let him go, and then suddenly releases like she's realized how she'd forgotten herself. He pulls himself away from her, struggling with the blankets for several agonizing seconds until he's free, crawls over to the fire and feeds it the wood resting in a messy pile by its side. Doesn't give it much; just enough to make the flames rise again, to feel the heat on the face as he closes his eyes and leans forward from the rustling behind him until tears stand out on his cheeks from the burning.
He sniffs in and looks back just as her hair falls out of the neck of her sweaters, sweeping down over her naked back and framing her collarbones and the acres of pale skin and dotted bruises that flicker in the firelight.
She looks nervous, hunched, but doesn't hesitate to meet his eyes. And he has to meet her eyes, for if he doesn't he'll look somewhere else and she...
He's used to the beauty of her face. Used to seeing her face as beautiful like he first did when another, harsher flame licked at her skin. It doesn't knock him on his ass like it used to, at least not all the time; doesn't make him want to put his hands on her and learn her as well by touch as his eyes do, thumbing her eyelids and tracing her cheeks with hardened fingertips.
But with everything else, now—her face and her neck and below, below where he isn't looking because she's Beth and she doesn't deserve to be looked at like that, not by him, not by anyone, not like she's something to be masticated and consumed and spat out the other side—but she's hunched over and is crawling towards him now and he can hear his heart in his ears when she grabs hold of the front of his sweater with a desperation like it's stopping her from falling—but she's still falling, falling towards him and he catches her, hands strong and dry on her waist and a small cry bursts from his lips as his fingers clench.
Still holding his shirt she shuffles backwards and, and lord, he follows, stumbling on his knees because his hands are on her waist and he can feel the bottom ridge of her ribs—standing out, too many of them, stark under her under-nourished flesh, and he's about to suggest he go hunting when he realizes they're back where they were—in their nest of blankets, the skin of her shoulders pebbling and her stomach muscles trembling where his thumbs press on them.
But whatever he could say, she isn't listening—is pulling at his layers now, hands implacable as she reaches beneath his sweaters and his shirt and meets the skin of his stomach and he trembles too when her movements slow, her eyelids droop and her palms press against him for a moment, a moment—and then she's tugging upwards and like an automaton he follows, lifting his arms and rolling his neck to escape the fabric, feeling the chill air wash across his suddenly naked skin.
And it continues like that. Boots and socks and her hands on his belt and his clumsy fingers pulling her jeans down her hips and their clothes are kicked aside and he still hasn't looked away from her eyes. Not for long, anyway; not to register or understand even as he knows what he'd find, can guess, but she isn't looking at him so he doesn't know–
“Daryl?” She brushes his hair from his face and shuffles closer again and her—her legs are hooking over his, her thighs on his thighs and he grabs hold of her waist again so she doesn't fall because he knows he's about to—and he doesn't realize how fast and and how loud he's breathing until her hand lands on his naked heart. “Are you ok?” she asks.
And he huffs a laugh, because he doesn't know, he doesn't know; doesn't know the territory she's forcing him to explore. No, not forcing, not... she's leading him. His hands are on her waist but she's leading him, hair tumbling down from her head and licking his chest as she sways closer, looking in his eyes, her eyes–
“Daryl?” She licks her lips and his eyes follow the movement and want to continue down... but he wrenches them away, back to her face, back to her eyes as lost and as wanting as his. “Daryl, tell me if I'm making a fool of myself, please. Tell me and, and we can stop and we don't have to talk about it again. We don't.” She licks her lips again, but he's better prepared; squeezes her waist instead of looking, thinking how skinny she is, how he should be feeding her better and if she were with someone right she wouldn't look half a ghost ready to blow away–
But she doesn't look ghostly, is the thing. Her skin glows in the firelight and the air is hazy around her but her body is solid; maybe the most solid thing he's ever seen, ever felt as he continues to test the give under his hands. And her eyes in the dead of winter bloom like the loveliest flowers and he wants to put his mouth on them to keep them safe from the cold.
“You're so pretty,” he says. Her mouth snaps shut and she gazes at him, wills him to continue. He swallows, and does. “Prettiest thing there is.” One hand comes up off her waist, presses the outline of her hair; tangles a strand around his finger, rubs it between his knuckles, brushes her cheek as she leans in. “Didn't know there was anything could be so pretty.”
She smiles. Smiles like she knows what he's saying when even he doesn't, and to be fair that wouldn't be a first—and she turns her head and kisses her own hair wrapped around his finger.
“Look at me then,” she says. Bold. She's trying to be bold, he can tell, he knows the tremor in her voice when she's pushing. And she's still hunched a little but when his eyes flick down she sits up tall and brave, chest sticking out and on her chest...
He can't help it, not when she's offering herself like this, not when he still feels her eyes hot on his face, not when the fire crackles at his back and the wind howls outside—he can't help the hand that drifts up from her waist, presses into her nipple twisted and wrinkled by the cold and maybe something else. And she lets out a gentle sigh and drapes her arms across his shoulders as he looks down farther, at the golden hair thick and soft in her lap and wet—as wet as he is, hard and leaking into the blankets, but it doesn't embarrass him, not like it should, not when she's there with him. He's never liked the look of his own body but he likes himself with her and his cock gives a jerk when her hand enters the picture too; slides through her own public hair until it finds something inside and she sighs, sighs in a breath that hits his face and he looks up and she's kissing him.
He can't remember the last time someone kissed him. And that isn't hyperbole; he really doesn't remember. He remembers the haze of alcohol and cheap bars and cheaper back rooms and asses bent over sofas in a self-destruction as delirious as his—but he doesn't remember being kissed. Maybe he never has been. Maybe this is his first.
And he wants to tell her. Wants to tell her that no one's ever pressed their mouth against his like this; has never exchanged breaths in long, sloping sighs, silver and clean but for the slick of their saliva. He wants to tell her when she opens her mouth for him that no one's opened anything for him before but then her tongue is touching his and he decides the telling can wait.
He focuses on what he's doing instead, knows he needs to focus, make this good—and if not good, tolerable, something she'll look back on and not mind, maybe think of fondly—and his hands tighten on her waist and on her breast as she sighs into his mouth, and he remembers the fingers she has between her own legs and shivers all over.
“Beth,” he mumbles, not meaning to, wanting to make some noise and that noise is her name and she pulls back from kissing him and he didn't want that he didn't—but the way she's looking at him, eyes darkened by the shadow of her hair around both of them but still somehow shining with a light of their own—and her lips are shimmering and he realizes that it's because of his mouth and he's still looking at her parted lips when a sudden heat closes around his cock.
He gasps and looks down—like a dolt, because what else could that pressure be, that sliding warmth—and seeing it is almost worse. Her hand, her small slender hand wrapped around him and he doesn't like it, he doesn't, doesn't like letting her touch something so ugly like the column of flesh straining towards her and dripping over her hand–
“Daryl,” she says, and he looks up to see her watching herself in... in awe, firelight on her face and in her eyes as she circles him more strongly and drags her hand up towards the tip.
Daryl groans—he can't help it, not when someone's touching him there, when she's touching him there, and the fact that it's her, that she sees him and his ugliness and with all her grace touches him anyway...
Her other arm is still slung over his shoulder, fingers playing with the ends of his hair. Trailing down to the knob of his spine and lower like she wants to meet herself in the middle, and he doesn't even notice when she finds a scar; only notices because he realizes he can't feel her so well anymore, the pressure of her fingers but not the warmth or the softness, and it makes sense, doesn't it, that those marks would gobble all that up—but she keeps touching it, following the smooth line of dead flesh as she strokes his cock, coaxes more pre-cum onto her wrist, tilts her hips so his head nudges against her like her fingers had before.
“Beth,” he says again, but this time with an edge of panic, and she looks up at him even as she pulls herself closer—legs tightening around his hips and hand splaying against his back and now her nipples are kissing his chest and he almost forgets what he wants to say. “Beth, you–“
“Shhh,” she breathes, kisses his nose, his cheek. She leaves her forehead leaning against his and he can't see her anymore but he can feel her—the hand guiding him up and down, wisping through the golden hair and deeper, deeper to where he feels her flesh too, so warm and dripping that he gasps into the space between their mouths, runs his hand from her waist to her back and he's holding her close too and his cock is trapped between them, pulsing in time with her heartbeat where he can feel it against his own heart, thundering away–
“I want it,” she whispers, and he opens his eyes and she's so close and he can smell her now, the two of them mingling and rising in the air. “I want this, Daryl. I want you... I want you inside me, I want it–“
She's raising herself up before he can stop her—before he realizes he doesn't want to stop her, before his hands circle under her ass and help lift, shift her forward, let her handle the position and the angle—and when she sinks down around him he thinks the person that sobs is him.
“Ohh,” Beth breathes, kissing his jaw, the column of his neck, and he does the same to her, what he can reach, and she's still working herself down even though she's so wet, open and wet and dribbling all along him as she drops slowly into his lap, arms tightening to hold him close, the blankets rising around them like waves. “Oh, Daryl, fuck–“
“Watch your mouth, girl.”
Beth huffs a laugh into his ear, her arms circled around his neck again and pelvis working in gentle rocks. “Fuck, Daryl,” she whispers, and he shivers down to the bottoms of his feet. “You're fucking me. I'm fucking you, oh my god–“
“You ok?” he asks, hushed as she is, hips moving with her in small little jerks. “It doesn't hurt, it–“
“It's perfect,” she whispers, kisses under his ear. She seems to like kissing—likes kissing him, dragging her mouth down his jaw until she finds his lips again and rises almost all the way off his length before sinking down like she sinks her tongue into his mouth, drawing moans from them both. “You're perfect,” she says.
Daryl huffs a laugh, but doesn't dispute her; doesn't have the presence of mind to find the argument, not when her slender fingers are working into his hair, pulling his face to hers as she rocks up and down and he realizes the reason it's feeling even better is because his hips are rising to meet hers.
“That's it,” she murmurs, hand dropping from his hair to his lower back, gasping sharply as he follows her prompt, bouncing her in his lap until they're both moaning and mouths searching and he wants to touch her breasts but that would put too much distance between them so he settles for pulling her tighter, feeling her nipples on his chest and her breath on his face and her, fuck, her pussy on his cock as he bounces her again, pushing little gasps out of her even when she catches the rhythm, helps rise and fall on her own.
The sounds they're making filter through his swimming head—the slap of skin against skin as they go faster, the squelch of him sinking inside her, both their breathing so loud in the quiet room with the fire crackling behind–
“Daryl,” Beth mouths into his neck, buried into him now, cunt muscles clinging to him in the most exquisite torture as he lifts her and lets her fall, breath speeding up as she grows tighter and tighter and her gasps climb–
She comes with a whimper and a great pang through her whole body, vibrating like a bell and squeezing him wherever she can like she's fighting a gale looking to rip him away, and it's with her cunt still pulsing around him that he feels his balls pull up and he squeezes her back, squeezes the breath from her, screams silently into her neck as he fills her.
They collapse to the side. With no need to hold themselves up they collapse, still wrapped in each other and the blankets and the sweat slick between them with the cold pressing from without.
Her heart gentles as his own does, pumping together, following each other into soft thuds like footsteps in the forest. He's tangled in her—he doesn't know where his body ends and hers begins and even when his cock slips from inside her he doesn't think it matters; thinks that they've each left pieces of themselves wherever their hands have wandered.
Beth sighs, and Daryl's eyes flicker open. She's lying in front of him, eyes closed and in the hazy focus of a fire-lit room, lips soft-looking and even softer as he leans forward and kisses them, the lightest touch that she catches and holds, hand cupping the back of his skull so that even when he's done he can't pull away—can only breathe into her mouth as she breathes into his, both quiet as snowfall and loud as hail.
He wonders if it's snowing outside. He wonders if their people are wandering or dead or bedded down like they are. He wonders if the walkers have all frozen still and when he and Beth emerge in the morning their corpses will have melted with the sun.
But there's no emerging needed now. Daryl reaches behind himself, finds the edge of the blanket and pulls it up until it covers the two of them. Beth's eyes are open, open and hazy as she watches him, her hair spread all around her like the makings of a nest.
Daryl pauses tucking the blanket in as their eyes meet, and for a moment he's unsure. Knows they should get dressed, no matter how good her skin feels, how smooth and warm and melting like a million small kisses. Wonders if they made more noise than he thought they did, wonders if the wind pounding against the door is a herd of walkers instead, wonders if she's going to slap him and roll away and close herself against him–
She touches his cheek. With just the pads of her fingers she touches him, and it's like the cutting of a laundry wire—every line in him goes slack and he falls into her, pushing an oof out of her chest, a chuckle from his, a giggle from her own.
And he smiles. And he feels. And as the fire burns low behind him he lets himself follow, flowing like smoke up the chimney or a twig down golden falls, tumbling and tangled in Beth and her golden hair.