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You Were Better to Me Than I've Been to Myself

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Daryl’s been scraping snow off of Rick’s front porch for either a small eternity or the better part of an hour—his phone’s in his pocket and he hasn’t stopped at any point to check it, so who the fuck knows—and he can hardly believe his own damn eyes when the shovel’s business end meets bare concrete with a hollow clang and a bright burst of orange sparks. He blinks hard and rubs at his eyes just to make sure he isn’t hallucinating or some shit, but, nah—he really has hit pay dirt.

Fuck, yeah. He nearly whoops out loud. But only nearly, ’cause he ain’t drunk.

You wouldn’t think he’d have it in him to be something approaching jubilant, because his back hurts like a motherfucker, he’s got a splinter the size of a small log lodged in the heel of his right hand, and he’s sweating like a pig through his fleece coat even though it’s colder than a witch’s tits out here, but none of that shit matters anymore, alright. Daryl likes feeling useful, gets kinda moody—yeah, alright, moodier—when he doesn’t, and it don’t get much more useful than digging your buddy’s kids and babysitter out of a snowed-in house.

Shit, but it’s been one nasty bitch of a winter. What the fuck is this, North goddamn Dakota?

He could fumble his phone out of his pocket and give Beth the all clear, but his fingers are so numb from cold and exertion that whatever message he tried typing would turn into word salad, and he hates texting anyway, so he sets the shovel aside and grabs his copy of the housekey instead, missing the lock on the first couple tries until it finally slides home with a satisfying click. If Rick bitches at him about the scratched-up doorknob, Daryl’ll just tell him to shovel his own damn porch next time, he thinks he can do any better.

And, yeah, he didn’t text Beth to let her know he was finished, but she must’ve heard the click of the lock turning over—or maybe she was just watching him through the window, and don’t that make him want to duck deeper into his collar—because she’s waiting by the door when he steps inside, a blanket—two blankets?—draped over her thin shoulders like a cloak. She looks like she just stepped out of a movie about wizards and dragons or some shit, dressed like that.

She ain’t no damsel in distress, though, for all that she looks the part. Nah, Beth’d sooner take on the dragon herself than wait around for someone else to rescue her, and God knows she was probably spitting mad about being forced to wait around in the house while Daryl did all the work outside. Not mad at him, mind—Beth’s too sweet to go blaming folks for shit that ain’t their fault—and the smile she gives him is unsurprisingly sunny with gratitude.

“Hey, Mr. Dixon. Thanks for diggin’ us out.”

Shit. Daryl grunts something that tries to be an acknowledgment of her thanks and averts his eyes, swiping the back of his hand across his nose. Damn thing’s started to run now that he’s stepped out of the cold and into the warm indoors.

Not as warm as they should be, though, now that he thinks about it, and he risks making eye contact with Beth to frown a question at her.

She shrugs one shoulder. “Power went out a few minutes ago.”

Because of course it fucking did. “Kids alright?”

Daryl would say that Beth smiles again, except she hasn’t really stopped smiling since he walked inside, and fuck if he knows why. Folks generally don’t look this excited to see him, ’cept for Lil’ Asskicker, and she still claps whenever she sees Barney on the TV, so no accounting for taste there.

“They’re fine,” Beth says. “Carl’s got Judith, and they’re all bundled up in the living room. They were building a fort, last I checked.”

Carl’s getting a little old for pillow forts—he seems to think so, anyway—but there ain’t nothing that boy wouldn’t do to make his baby sister happy, so Daryl just nods, unsurprised.

“Y’all got a fire goin’?” he asks, knocking his boots against the hardwood floor to shake off clinging bits of snow and ice. His thoughts on gas fireplaces are ambivalent at best, but the mesh grate oughta keep the kids outta trouble, at least.

“Yeah,” Beth says, and ventures closer, kinda sidling like she’s approaching a skittish pony or some shit, like she’s afraid he’ll bolt if she doesn’t take it slow. He doesn’t bolt, ’cause he ain’t about to let her know just how badly she shakes him up, staying doggedly rooted to the floor when she tilts her head to meet his eyes. Has to crane her neck more than usual to do it, too, ’cause she ain’t got no shoes on—just a pair of blue socks. Wool, from the looks of them. “You run into any trouble on the way here?”

Might have, if not for the snow chains on his tires coupled with a damn good bit of cautious driving. Sure, the main roads’ve been cleared, but there’s always black ice to watch out for. “Nah. Roads’re plowed.”

“That’s good. I’m glad.” Beth hitches her blankets up higher around her shoulders and looks Daryl up and down—but not, he’s dismayed to notice, in any particularly heated way. As if he could tell the fucking difference, Christ. “You gonna change outta those wet clothes or not?”

Just like that, any lingering chill Daryl was feeling is immediately scorched away. Jesus fucking Christ, is this girl even hearing herself? “Don’t got nothin’ to change into.”

“You could always borrow some’a Mr. Grimes’s clothes. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”

That’s almost funny enough to distract him from the anxious heat stirring in his gut. “Nah. Rick’s too skinny. None’a his shit would fit me.”

Beth looks like she’s trying very hard not to laugh. She ain’t exactly succeeding, but Daryl still appreciates the effort. “Not even his pants?”

No way in hell is he taking his pants off within fifty feet of Beth, not even with a locked door between them. “Give it a rest, girl, damn.”

Yeah, she’s definitely laughing. Silently, sure, but her bright eyes are dancing, and Daryl can’t even be pissed off about it because she looks that goddamn cute. Shit.

“Okay, alright. At least take your coat and shoes off, huh? We got plenty’a blankets to spare.”

Yeah, and then maybe he’ll smother himself with Judith and Carl’s pillow fort, just put himself outta his and everyone else’s misery.

“Uh-huh,” he mumbles, and goes to strip off his gloves, only to wince when he inadvertently tugs on the splinter he forgot all about the second he saw Beth’s pretty smiling face. She sees him grimace and wraps her warm hand around his wrist before he can even think to step out of reach, slim fingers just barely circling ’round far enough to meet her thumb.

Shit, but how in the hell is somebody this goddamn little the undisputed champ of knocking him fucking sideways?

Oblivious to Daryl’s internal spiral, Beth turns his hand over and frowns at his palm like she’s trying to read the lines in it or something, soft fingers skittering across the heel. That feels kinda nice, actually—until it doesn’t, and Daryl can’t even tell which of those feelings makes him hiss.

“You got a splinter.” Now she’s frowning at his face instead of his hand, and he wants to smooth the little pinch between her eyebrows away with his thumb, or maybe his mouth. Which—what the fuck? Who even is he anymore?

“Yeah,” Daryl says, hoping like hell that she’ll attribute the roughness in his voice to the cold weather. His fingers curl toward his palm and graze the backs of her knuckles. “No shit, Sherlock.”

“Don’t be a jerk,” Beth says lightly. She’s still touching his hand. He doesn’t know what the fuck to do with that.

Well. Aside from putting her off by acting like an asshole, which is easy enough, seeing as asshole is kinda his default. “Lost cause there, girl. M’ always a jerk.”

“Not always,” Beth counters. She finally lets go of his hand, then, and Daryl tries not to feel too disappointed about it. Tries, but doesn’t entirely succeed. “C’mon, I’ll get it out for you.”

“It don’t—”

Beth was turning toward the kitchen’s open archway, but now she spins back around to face him, scowling up a storm. If she wasn’t holding up those blankets, Daryl suspects her hands would be on her hips.

“It doesn’t what? Doesn’t matter? ’Cause it actually does. You want it to get infected, tough guy, is that it?”

Daryl suppresses a smirk, because the last thing he wants is to encourage that smartass mouth of hers by giving away the fact that he actually thinks she’s pretty funny. Tough guy, huh? Yeah, that’s him. A regular Clint fucking Eastwood.

And, alright. Fine. Girl ain’t about to leave well enough alone, so it’s better for everyone if he just goes along with what she wants. He’ll quietly panic through the whole damn procedure, but if it makes Beth happy, he’ll consider it a square deal.

He can practically hear Merle accusing him of being pussy whipped without the pussy, but Beth’s a helluva lot more than that to him, so it’s easy enough to tune out his brother’s phantom taunts. He caves with a shrug and ducks his head to avoid Beth’s triumphant grin, then slouches after her into the kitchen, which smells like hot chocolate and Pledge.

“Hold up a sec.” Beth crouches to rummage through the cabinet under the sink, and the blankets slide down her back to pool around her thighs. Daryl leans against the counter and tries very, very hard not to check out her ass.

(Obviously he fails, but at least he put up a token fight before giving in, and when it comes down to a fight between him and those damn painted-on skinny jeans, the jeans are going to win every. Fucking. Time.)

Beth stands in a fluid ripple of compact muscle, clunky first aid kit in hand, and Daryl jerks his eyes away from her ass in a hurry and pretends like he was staring at his boots this whole time. If Beth caught him in the act, she doesn’t acknowledge it—and Daryl doesn’t know if that’s better or worse for him—just nudges the cabinet shut with her foot and steps over the abandoned heap of blankets and into his personal space.

“Lemme see,” she says, setting the kit down on the speckled countertop and flipping it open to sort through its jumbled contents. Her shoulder brushes his, and he tries not to be too conspicuous about sidling away from it. Busies himself with shrugging off his coat and unbuttoning his sleeve so he can roll it up and outta Beth’s way.

“You done this before?” he asks, cursing himself when his voice comes out sounding all husky like he’s asking her the same exact question but in a totally different context. Swear to God, he never spent this much time with his mind in the gutter until he started feeling whatever he’s feeling for Beth.

Never spent this much time trying to figure out what someone else was thinking, either, but that’s exactly what he does when he sees Beth’s ears flush pink. He tries not to read too much into it. She’s probably just chilled without her blankets.

“Nope,” she admits, sounding unaffected enough as she disinfects a pair of tweezers, the smell of rubbing alcohol rising to burn in Daryl’s nostrils. “But I’ve watched other people do it.”

He swallows past the lump in his throat. Feels like a goddamn chicken bone’s stuck in there. “You, uh. You get a lotta splinters?”

“When I was a kid, yeah.” Daryl almost tells her that she’s still a kid, but he doesn’t, because he knows it’s bullshit. She ain’t no kid. Ain’t been a kid for a good long while, now. “I was always playin’ around outdoors, so splinters were kinda inevitable. You ready?”

Ready for this to be over with, anyway. It’s not that he’s afraid of the pain—he’s endured much, much worse—it’s just that he can’t stand much more of Beth being this close to him without doing something about it.

“Yeah,” is all he says, and sticks out his hand, palm up.

Beth bracelets his wrist with her hand again, and she holds the tweezers poised over the splinter, tongue sandwiched between her teeth in a look of intense concentration. Like most things about her, it’s almost too cute for Daryl to cope with.

Beth touches the tweezer’s tips to the end of the splinter, so delicately that Daryl doesn’t even feel the pressure. “Hey, Daryl?”

Is now really the time to start up a conversation? “What?”

Instead of answering him, Beth rises up on her toes and drops a smacking kiss onto his cheek, lips soft and smooth against his stubble, and he’s too busy gaping at her like a damn fool to feel it when she yanks out the splinter and flicks it into the sink.

What. In the good goddamn fuck. Just happened.

In the face of Daryl’s incredulous stare, Beth blushes like debutante and sinks her teeth into her bottom lip—lip, lips, she just fucking kissed him, what the fuck—but her shrug looks unrepentant.

“Sorry. I was just tryna distract you. Figured it’d hurt less if you weren’t payin’ close attention.”

Oh. Well, yeah. Fucking obviously. Why the hell else would she wanna kiss him, even on someplace as innocent as the cheek?

He gets it. He gets it, so why’s he so pissed off?

“Yeah, alright,” he says, and if it comes out a little mean, well, they’ve both already acknowledged that he’s an asshole. “You done, Florence Nightingale, or are you gonna kiss my fuckin’ booboos now too?”

Beth’s warm eyes turn flinty, and the next thing he knows, she’s dragging his hand up to her mouth and dropping a kiss onto the palm, right below his sluggishly bleeding wound. The kiss she pressed to his cheek was quick, over before he could even really feel it, but not this. No, this is lingering, is what it is, makes him all shocked and compliant, and he doesn’t fight it when she straightens up and leads him over to the sink.

She twists the faucet on and sticks his hand under the stream of water. “You always get so grouchy when people try to take care of you, y’know that?”

“Don’t like bein’ fussed over.”

Beth turns the faucet off and pats Daryl’s hand dry with a dishtowel, then digs through the kit until she unearths a (plain, thank God) box of bandaids. She tapes him up, then crosses her arms over her chest and looks him straight in the eye.

“You’re always lookin’ out for other people, Daryl. I’ll bet Mr. Grimes didn’t even have to ask you to dig us out; I’ll bet you contacted him soon as you saw the snow pilin’ up.”

Daryl sucks his lower lip into his mouth and refuses to admit that he did exactly that.

“You’re always lookin’ out for everybody else,” Beth says again, softer now, “but who looks out for you?”

He releases his lip with a pop. Swipes his tongue across the indents left behind by his teeth and tries not to look at Beth’s mouth while he does it. “Don’t need no lookin’ after.”

Beth’s hands clench against her biceps like she wants to throttle him, and she probably does. “Bull. Everybody needs lookin’ after, even mean old grumps like you.”

Daryl’s hackles lift. “Watch your damn mouth. You don’t like me mean, you can fuck off on outta here.”

Beth’s lips twist, but she doesn’t march off in a huff, and Daryl guesses that he shouldn’t’ve expected her to. Nah. What she does is kiss him.

On the mouth, this time. Not on the cheek.

Her lips are cool and chapped, but he can feel the humid warmth of her mouth, too, wet and slick and welcoming, and his brain stalls for only half a second before kicking into overdrive and propelling him into the kiss, gets him sinking his fingers into Beth’s ponytail to hold her still, to hold her to him, as he steeps himself in all that warmth.

He’s probably lying passed out in the snow right now, dying of hypothermia and hallucinating all this shit, but just in case it is real, he’s not about to fuck it up. Not if he can help it.

It only lasts a few seconds, though, before Beth’s falling back onto the flats of her feet, cheeks redder than Daryl’s ever seen them. He kind of wants to follow the path of that blush with his mouth, to slick his tongue below her flannel shirt’s collar and mold his lips to the sweet curves of her tits.

“Um.” Beth’s lips push into a pout, more distracting than ever now that he knows what they feel like under his. “Was that okay? I—”

Yeah, no. Daryl wraps his hand around the base of her ponytail and hauls her back in for more, and she hums low in her throat and plasters herself to his front, arms snaking around his neck, scrambling to stand on his toes she doesn’t have to crane her neck quite so far. And since he’s an obliging kinda guy, he coils an arm around her waist and tugs her closer, supporting her body weight and putting her face level with his.

Beth breaks away from his mouth to catch her breath, panting against his neck and nuzzling at his skin like a kitten seeking out warmth. “So, uh. I’d ask if you wanna get outta here, but I’m kinda on the clock.”

Jesus Christ. Daryl drops his head against her shoulder and grumbles his discontent, ears pricked for the sounds of scampering little feet. He doesn’t hear any, just the hum of Carl’s voice and Judith’s answering laugh.

Beth rubs her cold nose against his temple, and he jerks his shoulder up defensively. “Later, though?”

Later—well. Later, he’ll do whatever she wants him to do, because whatever she wants is whatever he wants. “Gotta text Rick, anyways, let ’im know what’s what. Should’a done it earlier.”

“It can wait.” Beth cups his face in her hand and drags him into another kiss, soft and slow and sweet this time. His heart’s beating fit to bust right outta his skin, and he doesn’t think he’d care if it actually did. “Right now, Mr. Dixon, you’re gonna let me take care’a you for just a little while longer.”

And, yeah, alright. Guess being taken care of ain’t the worst thing imaginable, if it’s Beth who’s doing the caring.

Nah. It ain’t the worst thing at all.