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Be still my beating heart

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There's a lot of things that have made Beth Greene's heart stop in her lifetime and it's happened more in the last few years than ever before, for several reasons. Near death experiences being the main one, such as walker teeth inches from her flesh, but there has been one other reason, wheedled down to one man in particular: Daryl Dixon. The very first time was when she saw him riding up to her house on the farm, hair short and blonde, face less lined and weathered. The very last time was when she said that word, that word weighted in everything that could happen between them, soaked in memories to come and a love yet to be shared.

Oh.

After that, she was taken and she wasn't sure her heart was going to be beating for that much longer anyway. There wasn't another chance for him to stop it with surprise, with excitement, with terror. Until now, as she faces him for the first time in a long time, so different from the very first time, everything different now. His hair and his clothes, the fight gone from his shoulders, the sky dark and cold, unfamiliar in a way the farm could never be. Most different of all is how she feels inside, like a scooped-out shell, waiting to be filled, dirty and bedraggled, hungry and exhausted and aching.

On a lonely road on a lonely night they meet eyes and even though before it had been racing with adrenaline, her heart stops. For a moment, there's nothing but Daryl's yawning pupil until a bush rustles close, too close, close enough for her to panic; then the voices of several men fill the space, push out the silence, loud enough to make her flinch; her hand to tremble at her side. Daryl's eyes flicker to the bush and then to her and the panic she sees in them, in the eyes of a man not easily scared, makes her throat close in terror.

"Claimed."

The word rings through the air like a gunshot and Beth flinches again, even rocks back on her feet like she's been hit. The group of men come to a stop, take her in stood not a few feet before them, covered in blood. Then they look at Daryl, who said the word, who is vibrating so hard Beth's eyes hurt to watch him.

A much older man in a rose shirt and with grey hair steps forward, takes the centre, directly between Daryl and Beth, and she watches Daryl tense up as the man speaks. "What'd we got here then? You lost, little girl? Looks like you got yourself in a right mess, huh?"

"I claimed her, Joe. Rules are rules," Daryl spits, taking a step forward.

The man -Joe- holds up his hand and Daryl stops. Beth's stomach clenches at his submission. Who is this man, to make Daryl Dixon do as he's told?

She takes a step forward and falters when Joe's eyes turn sharply to her, pinning her with a look that freezes her whole body. "Let the lady talk, Daryl. Go on, doll."

Beth's hand falls to her knife at her hip, the skin of her fingers crinkling with dry blood. "Ain't none of your damn business who I am."

"Ho-ho, she's got fire boys!" Joe crows and there's raucous laughter from the group of men further behind Daryl. He turns back to face her with a smile that makes her skin crawl. "How 'bout you tell us how a pretty little thang like you got covered in all that blood, hmm?"

The world swims a little in her vision like a filter has been lifted for her and Beth clenches her knife, still sheathed. All those screams ringing in her head until her eyes water and she glances at Daryl, at his tight eyes, his hands on the crossbow. He nods at her, just a tiny bit, only an incline of his head but she knows what she has to do, knows without conferring the plan they must put in place.

Beth swallows, releases her knife, sets a quiver to her voice that isn't quite fake and takes a step forward. "I k-killed people," she stutters and Joe's eyes tighten. "I didn't mean to!" She shouts on the tail end of a sob, two more steps closer. "They were tryin'a hurt me."

"Aw, doll, s'alright, we'll look after ya, won't we boys?" Joe turns to the crowd again, like he can't resist it and gets a holler before he turns back to Beth, startles a little when he sees how close she is. The look slides away as he reaches out a thick hand and curves his fingers over her cheek.

She whimpers; falls against his chest despite nausea rolling around in her stomach, the acid pooling in the back of her throat. "You promise?" She simpers.

"I promise, honey. Now, what's your name, huh?" His fingers stroke her skin and her whole spine goes rigid, despite her best efforts, as he swipes through dry blood.

"Beth," she breathes against his mouth, stretching on her tiptoes. Her stomach tightens at his breath but a smirk curves her mouth as his hand falls to her ass cheek; squeezes it. "I gotta tell you somethin' important."

She can see Daryl out the corner of her eye, so tense, his fingers tight on the crossbow, feet planted.

Beth tilts her neck back a little, resists the urge to grit her teeth as the man uses her ass to roll their hips together, feels his cock growing hard. "What's that, honey?"

She smiles, sweet as can be, rolling her hips back and watching Joe's eyes alight with lust. "You should never have let me this close to your face."

The world floods red as she dives for his neck, clamps down on the flesh and tears.  Fresh blood soaks her face over dry blood and she recoils, her insides screaming in horror but for now, her brain shutting off and her body turning on to autopilot. Joe spasms, grips her hard then falls slack, staggers to his knees as he tries to cup his throat which is spraying blood through his crimson stained fingers. Beth's body pounds with adrenaline and the world floods back into her, the sound of fighting and flesh being hit, grunts and bodies impacting with the ground.

Turning, she finds that Daryl has disposed of most of the men, leaving bodies strewn on the floor but he's still fighting two and Beth pulls out her knife, runs and slides it straight through the back of someone's neck. The last one fighting with Daryl glances at her with gaping eyes as she presses her foot into the back of her victim and slides him off of the knife, letting his body fall and his face explode upon contact with the ground. His distraction allows Daryl to head butt him where he tumbles down and Beth drives the knife straight through his forehead, breathing hard.

When the last body drops, all sounds dissipate and the night is silent once more, bar hers and Daryl's panting. "Girl, the fuck happened to you?"

Beth turns her eyes on him, fingers clenched hard on her knife. "It don't matter. We gotta go."

"Like hell it don’t," he hisses, curling his hand free of the crossbow around her bare arm. "Jesus, Beth, you take a fuckin' bath in blood? The fuck happened?"

She jerks her arm free of his hold with gritted teeth. "We just killed these guys so we could get free, so lets stop fuckin' 'round an' go before they turn!"

Daryl looks like he wants to argue, pacing a little in a small circle of three steps before he jerks his chin. "C'mon."

They run.