His breath was hot in the darkness. It made a cloud exiting his mouth and dissipated in front of him. He was panting loudly but trying to quiet it, to still his breaths, stop the shivers that charged through his body. The cold air made the sweat on his face feel like ice and his damp hair clung to his forehead like a wet towel. His hands were steady, holding the crossbow close to him and peering into darkness over the sights, but the rest of him was quivering. The trees seemed to engulf him, their silhouettes pale against the night. Clouds had covered the dim moonlight and he had nothing but feel and his own sense of direction to guide him.
He could count on one hand the number of times he'd been truly scared in his life. Nearly everything that would send most people into panic attacks was just another obstacle to him.
But this time, Daryl Dixon could say he was truly scared.
The woods were deadly silent. All sounds and signs of wildlife had silenced, stilled completely. He was totally alone. He had no one protecting him, but that was how he liked it. All he needed was his crossbow and his hunting knife, and he had both to rely on right now.
A branch snapped somewhere to his left and he spun around, crossbow held deadly in front of him, ready to shoot at a moment's notice. But nothing emerged from the darkness and no matter how hard he squinted, how closely he looked and studied, he couldn't see any sign of life.
His breathing had finally slowed but he was still drenched in sweat. The cold air tingled across the drying perspiration and made him shiver more, even beneath a heavy, long-sleeved flannel and his leather vest. He tried to slow his racing heart but to no avail.
Suddenly, laughter cracked through the silence. It was maniacal and vicious. He would've described it as cackling if it weren't for the soft voice behind it, the youthful tone to the high-pitched amusement. It echoed around him and bounced off the trees, filled the night air. It rattled inside of his head and made goosebumps form up his arms.
She was here. She was everywhere. The laughter surrounded him, swallowed him; it came from all directions and assaulted all of his senses. He couldn't focus, couldn't think or plan. She was coming for him and he had no way out.
His strong grip on the crossbow tightened, and his finger hesitated over the trigger. The quiver filled with silver arrows weighed heavy on his back, reminding him of his mission. His lips pursed and every muscle in his body tensed, preparing for fight or flight.
He felt a presence dangerously close to him. He could hear her breathing - her ragged inhales and the hiss from between her teeth. She was close. Too close. He knew if he could feel her - which he did - that she could indefinitely see him, smell him, sense him. She was probably invading his mind at this very moment. Planning her attack. Imagining what his blood would soon taste like on her lips.
He slowly turned his body and his heart nearly stopped. The clouds had moved and revealed the moonlight once again and she was there, right in front of him, standing so close that he could feel the chill radiating from her body. His finger hovered over the trigger of the crossbow, its deadly arrow aimed straight at her heart. But for some reason he couldn't will himself to shoot.
She stood stock-still, blue eyes blazing and boring into his soul. Her lips glistened in the glow of the moon, stained crimson with old blood, while the rest of her blended into the dark woods behind her, her pale skin incandescent in the moonlight and white as paper. She was dressed in all black, leather and tight cotton, a stark contrast to the blonde hair that poured down over her shoulders. Jewelry shone all over her body, a long necklace hanging over her chest with an unfamiliar cross symbol attached to it. Razor sharp fangs peeked out from beneath her lips, contradicting the sweet and innocent face she possessed. Hunger dilated her pupils. Her beauty was misleading of the evil that lay within her.
"Here's your chance, Dixon," her voice was soft in the silent woods but sent chills up his spine. It was laced with maleficence.
In his mind, he'd already pulled the trigger ten times over; already seen her drop to the ground with dead weight. But for some reason, he hesitated. She noticed and her mouth spread into a grin, fully exposing her fangs.
"How long has it been now?" she cooed. "Five? Six years?"
"Nine," he corrected. It was an automatic reply. She'd been the one unattainable thing in his life for the last nine years, the one thing that kept grazing his fingertips only to fly far away from his grasp. He had counted the years, months, weeks since everything changed and this consumed his life.
"You're getting older," she cocked an eyebrow and he felt the blood drain from his face. She was right, of course. "And I'm still nineteen. I'll always be nineteen. And you're - what, forty-four? Forty-five? When are you gonna give it up, Daryl?"
"When yer dead," he growled in reply, hands clenching around the crossbow.
She gave him a relaxed smile. "But I can't die."
"We'll see about that," he muttered, hands tightening around his weapon.
She seemed to be mocking him, taking control of his emotions, frightening him and challenging him at the same time. He couldn't seem to force himself to pull the trigger when the flashes of her old self kept running through his mind... When her eyes used to glisten with joy instead of carnal hunger. He couldn't shake the image of who she had been before this; how she lived in his head as the golden-hearted farmer's daughter.
"I'm all that's left and I'm the reason for all of this," she said flatly. "You killed them. Aren't you happy? All you have to do is shoot that... damn crossbow. And it's over. You got your justice. I'm all alone now. And you've spent almost a decade of your... pathetically short life chasin' me down."
She nearly spat the last sentence from her mouth. This was it, her human side that would always come through, always make it harder for him to do what he needed to. Made it harder to not see the fangs on her lips for the weapons that they were. She was full of so much resentment for him now but he still saw the essence of misery floating around her. She genuinely thought he'd killed her only family. But he knew her family and they weren't demons in dark clothing. He'd killed the monsters that had stolen her life and her body, her good-natured soul.
"They took you from me, Beth," he said, barely whispering her name because it hurt his lips to form. "You ain't one of 'em. They... killed you."
She saw the knot in his throat at that dreaded word and leapt for his vulnerability with malice on her tongue. "You're an idiot. They made me better, and they were all I had. You coulda been a part of it. You still can. You love me. I see it in your eyes. I see it in - in how you hold that stupid crossbow, an' how you haven't had the guts to shoot me for nine years."
His hands were shaking now and he tried to still them. "That's bullshit. This ain't you. Never was. Beth Greene never woulda killed people fer the hell of it."
"I had to survive!" her voice rose shrilly in defense and pierced his ears. "I did what I had to. Ain't that one o' your mottos in life? How can you not understand that?"
"I don't understand nothin' about what you are now 'cept you don't belong here."
"Well I got no place to go. No one to help me. You might as well kill me and finish the job," she dared him with her eyes. "That was your mission all along, wasn't it? Yet you can't do it. And here we are again, like we always are, and I can see it, Daryl... You wanna be with me. You wanna be like me -"
"I want who you were back," he blurted out. "Ain't never wanted t'be like you. Never will."
"Why d'you look at me like I'm an empty shell?" she snapped, a pent-up annoyance emerging. "I ain't dead, Daryl. I'm as alive as I'll ever be. As I ever was."
"I went t'yer funeral," he spoke the first thought that came to his head. "Saw the dress you were buried in. Found the empty grave... How you gonna explain that? Try t'convince me the real Beth didn't die when I..."
He trailed off. He might've continued speaking had it been his Beth Greene standing before him, listening. But this was the last person - or creature - he wanted to expose any sort of vulnerability to. And regret had always been his biggest weakness.
She seemed to know what he was going to say, what he was thinking. She smirked but it didn't reach her eyes - they were clouded in pain. Before he could react, she'd reached a hand out, sharply pointed, black-lacquered nails at the end of pale fingers decorated with gaudy rings. She placed her palm flat against his arm and he thought she might try to slap the crossbow from his hands like she'd done so many times before. But instead, her touch was gentle and sent an indescribable jolt through his whole body. Then his vision went black.
The dark woods around him disappeared and suddenly he was somewhere else. Everything was blurry, the edges of his sight bright like he was staring into the sun. He was paralyzed and his ears were filled with the sound of his own rushing blood and racing heart. But then a familiar scene appeared in front of him, playing out like a movie.
It was Beth as he'd known her nearly a decade before. Young, innocent, kind. Her lips were the pale pink he missed, and her skin glowed with life. A flash of her laughing, vibrant face in the midst of her family, then it was gone, replaced with another scene. This one was familiar - he'd lived it himself. The young blonde was in the arms of his slightly younger self, who he'd been nine years prior. They were looking into each other's eyes, adoration and joy shining on their faces, a grin spread wide across hers. He saw the mouth of his past self move to form words that came out distant and full of static as if they were coming through a phone with a bad connection, her voice soon following.
"I love you, an' I ain't gonna let nothin' happen to you."
"Fer how long?"
Then it was gone in a flash, another scene quickly taking its place. She was near the barn on her farm, standing out in the pale darkness of night. She was oblivious to anything around her, mind set on whatever job she was doing. A faceless, shadowed figured cloaked in black approached her from behind. Daryl watched helplessly as the one image he'd never had to see came to life before him, making all his nightmares seem like fairy tales in comparison. The dark figure swooped over her, consumed her, overpowered her struggling form until she was lying on the ground. A silent scream echoed in his head from her open mouth and he watched the terror in her eyes as the figure set down upon her neck, sunk its razor sharp fangs into the tender skin. He watched her writhe and squirm painfully beneath this unknown monster until her flesh had grown pale, drained of life and warm blood. And then the figure was gone, and she was left lying on the damp grass, her blood pooling around her neck and beneath her, soaking into the ground, staining the silver cross that rested on her chest. He watched the life drain from her eyes as she stared out helplessly, an unvoiced cry for help evident on her face. He suddenly heard her bodiless voice in his head repeating that staticky question from before, "Fer how long?" as the image faded away into nothing.
He fought for control of his own mind now, of his own memories. He demanded the lead and soon, a memory of his own broke to the surface. He was standing with Hershel, the old farmer's mouth moving out of sync with the voice that filled the silence.
"She's gone, son..."
The past Daryl's face fell and turned ghostly pale, an uncontrollable shaking taking over his whole body. A flash of red and then he was screaming, tears flying from his eyes, his fists reaching out to make contact with the nearest wall as the anger poured out of him.
He recognized his own empty voice. "I coulda saved her. If I'd just been here, I could've - I shoulda been here. I coulda DONE SOMETHING!"
He watched himself crumble, fall apart, distraught and lost and mindlessly furious. He punched and kicked until his knuckles were covered in fresh blood and dripping all over his clothes. He exhausted himself until he was sitting on the ground gasping for breath, Hershel standing over him, helplessly watching him with teary eyes.
The scene faded out and a shiver ran through his body like a cold wind had suddenly blown over him. A new setting came to light, a memory he'd kept locked deep inside his head and private, only accessed in his darkest and loneliest nights. Beth - his perfect, youthful Beth - lay naked in his bed, covered only by a thin sheet and his large arms wrapped around her delicate frame, nothing but a small silver cross hanging from her neck. They were bathed in morning sunlight. She gazed into his eyes with pure admiration, a love radiating from her glowing face, looking at him the way no one else ever had or ever would. He slid the sheet down to her waist and laid a calloused hand across her flat tummy, rubbing it gingerly. He leaned down and planted a soft kiss on her forehead, sweeping her blonde hair away from her face with the other hand.
Again, he recognized his own voice, breathy and deep but unguarded and clear as day. "You've made all the dreams I never knew I had come true."
A sharp pain shot through his heart but it wasn't his own. He never felt pain when he relived this moment, only unbridled happiness and an elation he'd never been able to reach since. He'd tried to forget that he actually lost two parts of his heart the night she died, but this image brought the reminder like a dagger to his gut. All the unlived potential, the chance at a family of his own - gone, taken from his very grasp by greedy demons.
The sunlight disappeared along with the perfect image. It was dark now and he immediately recognized the calming, sensuous sounds around him, the tickling of cool sheets against bare skin, the rustling of muscles against a mattress. They were nothing but blurry silhouettes in the dead of night, all fingers and hands on naked bodies.
It was one of the many nights that drifted through his head regularly, that made him wake up in a feverish sweat only to find his bed cold and empty.
He and Beth, exploring each other's bodies in the dark silence of his bedroom, wrapped up in sheets and one another's limbs. Moans and heavy breathing filled his ears and sent old, unfamiliar tingles to abandoned parts of his body, sparking desires he hadn't felt since he'd lost her. The memory was vivid, almost real again. He felt the warmth of her soft skin and the tickling of her hair on every part of him. Her gentle, wet kisses on his neck and his torso.
"I love you," he heard her whisper, throaty and filled with lust. "Oh, Daryl..."
He'd always loved the way she said his name, half-pleading and half-admiration, but all desire. He could revel for years in the way she squirmed and writhed beneath him, and the pleasure he got from knowing it was him - solely him - that brought that reaction from her was unmatchable. She made him feel like the king of the world and the best lover in history. Being inside of her was like being enveloped in satin, something he could never replace. It was heaven beneath blankets every time.
When the image began fading out, he tried to grasp it, to hold into it and drag it back, make it last just a little longer. But it dissipated like smoke around him, merciless to the pain throbbing in his chest.
Darkness filled his vision, moonlight soon breaking through. He saw her grave, the freshly dug dirt surrounded by wet grass, her tombstone sadly declaring her full name. Something moved beneath the soil, and soon, a muddy hand broke through, emerging. He watched her fight and struggle, finally escaping the ground and lifting herself up. She was covered in dirt and tears, her pale pink dress - the last dress he'd ever seen her in - muddied and ripped, but her eyes glowed red with hunger. Newly formed fangs peeked out from her mouth. She looked frightened and lost, even more so when a dozen shadowy figures appeared from nothing and surrounded her, standing tall and menacing. They closed in on her, offering pale, clawed hands. Daryl watched as she hesitantly took one of them and the image blurred until it was nothing but a swirl of faint colors and shadows.
Now he was in her head, a dark place full of screaming and bloodlust. He felt a hollowness in the pit of his stomach, a deep hunger he'd never felt before in his life. He was looking through her eyes, hearing her thoughts as she wept silently, miserable and starved. She was perched in a tree in the dark woods, full moon high above her, watching two hunters - older men - as they swept through the forestry searching for some kind of game. In a flash, she had dropped from the branch she was on and ambushed the men, disarming them with quick swipes of her sharp claws, their weapons flying from their hands to land in the dirt a few feet away. There was a guttural scream as a deep red filled her vision and her fangs sunk into the tender skin of an exposed throat. Then a flash of light and suddenly, she was standing still. The hollow feeling was gone, replaced with a satisfying fill and a rusty taste on her tongue. She was gazing at the scene she'd left - the men lay on the ground, pale and cold, blood pooled beneath them and two deep wounds in their necks, sucked completely dry. Remorse engulfed her mind but only for a split-second before it was completely gone and nothing but shameless satisfaction took its place. She had been alone but now she felt a presence, someone nearby. She turned and looked all around, searching the shadows with her remarkably clear vision. Then she spotted him - Daryl. He emerged from behind a tree, crossbow aimed at her and ready. She saw the shaking in his hands, the fear in his blue eyes. Before he could step closer or make any other move, she had jumped up into the night and was gone again.
He remembered that night but had always tried not to... The first time he'd witnessed her kill humans, feeding her new hunger in the most malicious of ways. He knew she'd seen him, but had been unable to react in time before she fled, frozen by shock at what she was capable of. That was the night he'd been assured the real Beth Greene was dead and her body was possessed by a murderous demon.
He thought it might never end - the string of torturous scenes playing like home movies deep inside his head - when he found himself in the woods again, sometime not terribly long ago. He was hunting, closing in on them, their voices barely audible through the trees. His crossbow was held ready in front of him, guiding him as he searched all around, stepping softly and undetectable despite the slight crunching of leaves beneath his heavy boots. He was numb to the fear, anger pulsing through him and preparing him for a kill... or many. The voices got closer as he neared. Laughter echoed around him, bouncing around in the darkness, falling painfully on his ears. Their laughter was malicious, hungry, mocking. It was devious. Mostly male with slight echoes of a more feminine voice. Then he saw them.
There were five of them. They were gathered around four lifeless corpses, blood all around them, spattering their black clothing and pale faces, mouths dripping with the fresh red of their recent meal. He knew who the bodies belonged to - he'd found their abandoned campsite nearby. It was a family, two parents and two young boys. One of the dark figures moved slightly and he spotted her, looking so terribly out of place with her angelic blonde hair and black leather clothes. She was covered in blood, too, and her eyes were completely blacked out. She laughed with them, fangs bore without inhibition, a wide grin spread across her face.
His heart skipped in his chest and he sunk lower to the ground, taking cover behind a tree, keeping his weapon aimed and ready. But he knew she smelled him - she always did. Her grin disappeared and she shared a look between the group. His finger hovered over the trigger, ready to fire an arrow straight through the back of the creature nearest to him. But before he could act, they had swept away in a flash, blurring into streaks of color as they disappeared into the night.
Suddenly, the laughter returned, and it was everywhere. It fell down on him from above, audible from every direction. They were in the trees, on the ground, maybe even in the sky. He was surrounded and vulnerable now.
Beth was the last to flee. She stayed in her position for a moment while the laughter filled the air around her, then her smile was back and she glanced in Daryl's direction for a single fleeting moment before disappearing like the others. Now he was really worried.
"Daryl Dixon... The prey that hunts the predator."
A deep, male voice came from every direction, as if the speaker were in ten places at once. It mocked him, shriveling his confidence to almost nothing. This was a lost battle. He had to escape while he still could.
He quickly stood up and spun around, holding his crossbow at his side while he ran back toward the direction he'd come from. Trees passed by in a blur as his own heavy breathing filled his ears, but not loudly enough to push out the laughter, the sing-song taunting.
"Daryl and Beth..."
He dodged a large tree, nearly tripping over a rock but managing to maintain his balance and continue.
"Sitting in a tree..."
He urged his legs to move faster. His hair flew back from his forehead, flying behind him in sweaty locks.
His lungs were tightening. How far had he come into the woods? How many miles had he tracked?
Piercing laughter from multiple different voices. "You're nothing but food to her now!"
Something dropped down in front of him, directly in his path. He stopped dead in his tracks, panting heavily, to see her. She stood before him, calm and composed, eyes blacker than the sky above them, not a trace of blue evident. She smiled with her bloody mouth.
And then it all went black and the scene was gone.
Now he was looking out from her eyes again, the night clearer than it had ever been. He watched himself, winged vest on his back, as he emerged from behind a tree to corner a small group of the familiar, shadowed figures. He heard the thoughts in her head as she named them, knew them, recognized them as her new family and the creatures that had turned her and taken her in, taught her how to survive in her new form. She seemed to be helpless as her eyes stared intently at the scene before her - Daryl piercing the heart of every single figure one-by-one in the small group with his shiny, silver arrows, reloading his crossbow in a flash as the creatures attempted to fight back, to jump him and disarm him. But he was too quick, too agile and prepared, and before she could react or help, they all lay motionless on the dark ground of the woods, arrows sunk deep into their chests.
He felt a pain that he knew was hers. The pain of being alone, left without guidance from the only ones who understood what she was, the only ones that she had of her new kind. It had been a short time ago, though he couldn't recall whether it had been a month or a year since the days blurred together anymore. He remembered that night with joy; triumphant that he'd conquered the last of his dangerous prey. But seeing it through her eyes caused him a new sadness that he couldn't recognize or understand.
When he watched his own back spin around and saw his own face in her vision, he watched himself panting heavily, crossbow held at his side, sweat covering his face and making his clothing cling to his body. His face reflexively lit up with recognition at the sight of her but immediately fell when he remembered just what she was and the things she was capable of doing. She turned and bolted into the darkness, and the memory faded away again.
He found himself stuck inside her head, seeing her memories play out and take over him as if she were repaying him for showing her his own mind and reminding her of the things she'd almost forgotten. Now he saw himself from behind, scar-riddled back bare in the safety of his own bedroom. The sight through her eyes shook him, sending a chill straight to his bones - she saw everything so unnaturally clear and tinted in red. And looking at himself from the view of someone else, he realized how sad and weak he looked with the long, raised skin of the scars that painted his back, his tattoos faded and unclear. He was sitting on his bed, hunched over with his face in his hands. His body shook with silent sobs and he figured out that she was standing outside his bedroom window, gazing in at him undetected. He remembered this night - one of the nights he'd returned from hunting, his mission weighing heavy on his heart as an internal battle raged over whether he could actually kill the demon that looked like the angel he'd loved so deeply. On nights like this, it would consume him and crash down on him like a wave of guilt and remorse, and he would let himself cry and yell and take out his anger in lonely peace.
A hand appeared in his vision - it was hers, reaching out and placing her palm flat against the window. Her fingernails were black and sharpened to lethal points, paper-white fingers stained red with someone's blood. Her eyes drifted from his form on the bed to the mirror on the wall directly across from the window. He realized she was staring at it longingly, and wondered why. Then it hit him - the mirror showed the reflection of the dark night outside of the window, but where she should've been standing, there was nothing but empty air.
She had no reflection. It was as if she wasn't even there.
A light frost appeared on the glass of the window in the shape of a small handprint that reflected in the mirror and she jerked her hand back, the handprint fading soon after. Her eyes moved back to watch him on the bed, but he was turning around now to look in her direction. Then the image went black and the memory was gone.
He finally opened his own eyes and found himself where he'd been before the montage of pain had taken over his sight. The woods were still dark, and Beth stood in front of him, hand withdrawn from where it had been placed on his arm. Her pupils were smaller, eyes almost the sky blue they used to be so long ago. She stared at him unwaveringly and he clutched the crossbow that now rested at his side, trying to assure himself he was really back in the present reality. Her eyes grew wet with what should've been tears but he quickly noticed it wasn't the usual saltwater - it was fresh, crimson blood that pooled in the corners. A single drop escaped and rolled down her cheek, leaving a red trail in its wake. The sight struck fear into his already racing heart.
"I'm alone," she said. "You killed... all of them. I have no one."
He didn't say anything, choosing to keep eye contact with her, staring back into the blackness of her soul that shone through.
"I have to... turn someone. I can't be alone. It's dangerous," she continued. "You're not the only one hunting me. You were just the most successful."
He pursed his lips, choking back a million angry words before murmuring, "I'm alone, too..."
Had she forgotten? Or just failed to notice? He'd lost everything else that meant anything after losing her. Her family had abandoned him, the only blood relation he'd had left - his brother - had died of his own selfish stupidity, and now all he had was his mission to keep him going every day, his pain being the only motivator. What did she expect, that he'd find another girl who could love him and just move on?
Realization crossed her face and she seemed almost sad for a split second, then it was gone.
"Be with me."
The phrase penetrated his skin, caused an aching all over his body. "I can't - I won't. You ain't the Beth I loved."
"THEN KILL ME!" her voice was suddenly shrill and piercing, anger hiding the hopelessness. "You got me right where you want me, just do it already! We both got nothin' anymore, so just finish this an' move on with your life -"
"You were my life!" he growled. "Only real thing I ever had was you, then... Yer family moved away. They stopped talkin' to me. Couldn't even look at me once I told 'em what really happened t'you and what I planned on doin'. Yer damn dad thought you was sick - begged me ta just bring ya back to him, like he could fix you... But there ain't no fixin' you. Ain't no bringin' you back. You been gone fer nine years."
Her eyes showed sadness, an empty loss at the mention of her family she'd nearly forgotten about. But her lips tugged into a cocky smirk. "You still love me. I saw it in your head. You will never let go... We could be together, Daryl. Forever. We could live for eternity, just you an' me. I'm more alive than I ever was, and I'm better, stronger. You won't have ta protect me anymore, or look out for me. We could protect each other. We could have the family we almost -"
"SHUT UP!" he cried out, gritting his teeth. Her words were too painful, trying to sway him, making her horrible existence seem almost desirable. She knew what he wanted most and she was trying to use it against him. But Beth Greene had never been manipulative. This demon girl played terrifying mind games and wasn't who he'd loved so deeply.
She reached her hand out once more and the heavy leather jacket she wore fell open in the front, revealing a stark white shirt and her pale chest peeking out. She hesitated, slowing as she neared him, expecting a reaction. He forced himself to be still, eyes narrowed and glaring at her. She continued until her cold palm was pressed to his warm, stubbly cheek.
"You promised to protect me," she whispered, carefully stroking his cheek with her thumb. "I've missed you... so much."
His eyes fell shut and for a moment, he tried to convince himself it was his old Beth with her soft, warm hands on his skin, so comforting and accepting. But the chill of her flesh wouldn't allow him to get lost in the delusion for long. Her voice still sent ice through his veins, even as she whispered, and he half-expected another torrent of memories to come flooding in. But they didn't.
He opened his eyes to find her face inches from his own, lips barely parted and blue eyes hooded. His blood rushed to his groin as something took over him, weighing his mind down with lust and carnal need. Everything else fell to the wayside, somehow unimportant in comparison. Her touch was deadly and he should've known before letting her get so close. But she seemed so harmless without the gang of creatures at her back, and he'd given in to what he'd had to avoid for nearly a decade.
She pressed her mouth to his and he didn't move for a second, then kissed back, tasting the coppery blood. Even when the rest of her was so lifelessly cold, somehow her lips still radiated warmth. His crossbow dropped from his hand and landed on the ground with a soft thud in the dirt. He wrapped his arms around her slender form and pulled her in until she was pressed against him, lips clashing in a desperate attempt to drink each other in, deprived for so long. Sharp nails poked at the skin of his face as she gripped him tighter.
Next thing he knew, he was on his back on the ground, her weight on top of him. She'd shed her leather jacket and pulled off his vest as well. Her blonde hair fell down around their faces as she bent down and kissed him more, grounding her pelvis into his. He groaned into her mouth, trying to ignore the pulsing in his jeans and the occasional poke into his lips from her fangs. This was the least deadly he'd witnessed her being since it all began.
A feeling of dread mixed with an unreal déjà vu passed through him and he thought of Beth in his bed, beneath the sheets, writhing in front of him. When he opened his eyes, he saw her dreamy blue gaze fixated on him, filled with a hunger that didn't make him fear for his life, but for his own self-control.
She pushed his shirt up to reveal his torso and began planting kisses all over his exposed skin, fingers running up and down his sides, cold and lovely at the same time. He groaned in defeat, feeling himself being swallowed up by a dark cloud of pent-up sexual frustration. When he looked down at her, she had pulled off her black pants and her thin, white shirt was nearly transparent. She hovered above him, unbuttoning his jeans slowly and carefully. He couldn't place it - could barely get his mind to think straight and focus for more than two seconds at a time - but there was something in her touch that made her dangerous. She'd gained more power than just immortality and vicious hunger; she'd gained something that helped her dig into the darkest parts of human brains, using every weakness to her advantage.
"I want you inside me." The soft whisper threatened to make his whole body fall apart right there.
He felt her hands on his erection now, pulling him free of his jeans and boxers as they rested around his thighs. She steadied herself above him and he was trembling with nervous sweat, the aching in his gut built up to a throbbing hardness that she was teasing. The cavern between her thighs emitted heat that made him shake with anticipation, and before he could think for another second about what he was doing, she'd slid down onto him and he'd grabbed her hips, thrusting his own upward to bury himself inside of her.
Her moan echoed in the dark woods around them and he was sure it could be heard for miles, barely louder than the sound that escaped his throat at the same time. He was inside of her, a place he never thought he'd reach again outside of his own dirty dreams. Dead leaves and sticks dug into his exposed lower back as he thrust up into her again, demanding more, deeper. Her breathing quickened and he was already panting.
"Beth..." the name rolled off his tongue in a gasp while his eyes stayed tightly shut, afraid to look up and destroy the moment. He imagined her as she'd used to be, and it made him hungrier for her, made his pumps faster and rougher, more desperate.
He didn't expect the soft voice to breathe out in reply, "Oh, Daryl..."
The image of her in his bed became clearer at the familiar sound and his hands dug into her small hips, gripping her harder and demanding control as he guided her movements - up and down, deep into the wet warmth and back out. He was building to an explosive climax with every thrust, every roll of her pelvis into his.
His mind was completely clouded in lust and he felt the pressure building inside of him. She leaned down to put her mouth next to his ear, kissing that spot on his neck that made his whole body shiver.
"I love you," she moaned, sending him over the edge. He grabbed her and held tight as he sat up and pumped into her a few more times.
His last thrusts were rough and demanding, his knuckles turning white from gripping her so tightly as his climax swept over him and he spilled inside of her. He grunted loudly, his breathing labored as he gripped the edges of the orgasm, her muscles tight around him and milking him for all he had.
He let out a long breath of relief and she wrapped her arms around him, kissing the spot where his shoulder met his neck.
His vision was just beginning to clear past the stars and spots when she whispered out, "Be mine forever."
Everything seemed to slow down. His sharpened hunter's senses rose to life and he swore he could feel the change in her body, the way her muscles rested and her skin turned icy. He felt the light brush of her hair across his shoulder blade and then heard her lips part and her jaw open wider above the spot she'd been kissing seconds before. He didn't have to see it, didn't need the glow of the moonlight to recognize his sudden need for survival.
His hands were still in place on her hips and he quickly lifted her up off of him, freeing one hand and slipping it to the sheath on his side that held his knife. She hadn't even dropped to the ground when he sunk the pure silver blade into her chest, his elbow bending close to his side as she stayed frozen in her pre-feeding position, fangs bared and ready to puncture his flesh, arms still around him and holding him against her.
She let out a surprised gasp and went limp against the arm he held her in. His breath caught in his throat when he felt her fangs graze his shoulder as she fell back.
He slowly pulled the knife from her chest, moving to cradle her in his arms once he'd dropped the bloody weapon to the ground. She was dying... again. But for the last time.
His sight grew blurry from the forming tears and he realized he'd been holding his breath the whole time, finally letting it out to inhale shakily. Her eyes seemed to focus again and moved to meet his, the darkness in them fading quickly and returning to the familiar blue they'd originally been. Her cheek was still smeared with red from the tear that had escaped earlier. He tried not to look at her fangs but to see her for who she'd been before and give her what she deserved - a peaceful death.
"I love you," he choked out. "An' I'm sorry... I shoulda protected you better."
She blinked, comprehending his words, chest rising and falling with shorter, more fleeting breaths. "I... always loved you - but... I could never say goodbye."
Her quiet statement surprised him and fed his guilt, but he recognized a spark of Beth Greene in her and it somehow comforted him, even as she grew paler and her blood pooled around them.
He whispered so softly he wasn't sure she heard him as her eyes drifted shut.
"...I never wanted ya to."
He didn't finish filling her grave back in until sunrise. The dirt put six feet between him and the finally resting body. Her blood stained his hands and arms, drenched his shirt and jeans. He was sticky with sweat and his hands shook with exhaustion and trauma.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the necklace he'd been carrying with him for nine years - a small silver cross on a simple chain - and placed it in the dirt in front of the headstone.
He gazed into the soil, picturing the smiling, young blonde, her face lit up with laughter and full of color. He could almost feel real, physical weight being lifted off of his shoulders.
A memory she'd reminded him of came to the surface and he sighed heavily as her voice filled his head. Then he spoke out into the calm, morning air, hoping she was listening somehow.