When Daryl steps out into the yard for a smoke his eyes are immediately drawn to the cascade of golden curls on the lawn. Beth Greene is sitting on the grass and her hair looks like spun gold as it catches the last of the sunlight. It's mesmerising. It's also odd. This time of day Beth is usually sitting around a table, holding hands with her family and praying or some shit. Singing to the cell block maybe with that voice of hers that somehow makes everything feel better than it is. Instead she's out here. Alone. Hunched over, head hanging low between her shoulders. Shoulders that are shaking.
As he watches her shoulder blades tremble, Daryl's fingers clench without him realising, crushing the filter of his cigarette almost flat between them.
Then all of a sudden, and without his permission, his feet are crossing the yard, closing the distance between them. He takes a hard pull on what's left of his cigarette, smoking it down to the filter before flicking it away as he comes to a halt a few yards to her left.
He rocks awkwardly on his feet as he waits for her to notice him. The fuck is he gonna do now? Her knees are drawn up to her chin and she's hugging them, face hidden behind her forearms. Her hair is even brighter up close. It's come loose from her usual ponytail to run down her back like a waterfall. A waterfall made of gold that sparkles and shimmers, reflecting the light in a way that makes it look like its glowing. He's not sure he's ever seen anything so beautiful in his whole sorry life and he can't help staring, enraptured by each strand and every wave.
Gold is replaced with blue as she turns her head and meets his gaze.
Her eyes look huge against her flushed face as they shine back at him. She wipes her hand across her face hurriedly, looking embarrassed and turning away to avoid his gaze. She's crying. He's never seen her cry before. She's usually smiling. He doesn't like it. It makes something inside him ache.
"Y'alright?" He asks. The voice that comes out is low and gentle. It's a stupid question. He knows that as soon as he says it. She's clearly not alright. But he doesn't know what else to say.
"S'nothin'," She says quietly. Her voice is thick and there's a quiver to it like she’s trying not to cry again.
Daryl frowns. "Don't look like nothin'"
He's starting to feel uncomfortable hovering over her. He thinks that he should probably just leave her to it. Whatever it is, she doesn’t want to talk about it, at least not to him of all people. He’s about to turn and go when he hears her sigh. It’s a sad sound and it tugs at something in his chest. He thinks that he really should go but he also knows that he can’t. Instead, he plants himself on the grass in front of her, tucking one leg under him and leaning his arm across the knee of the other. This seems to surprise them both.
Beth looks up, her eyes are still shining but they're no longer pooling and he can see that because her face isn't buried in her arms anymore. That’s an improvement. She doesn’t look at him like she wants him to leave so he doesn’t. He starts ripping up the grass in front of him just to have something to do with his hands. She watches him do it. After a moment he lifts his eyes and meets her gaze. Holds it. Waits.
"Zach cheated on me," She says finally. The quiver is gone, it’s her normal voice but it sounds small, defeated. "It's stupid," She adds, pulling a face and looking embarrassed again.
Daryl feels his eyes go wide without meaning them to as he stares back at her dumbfounded. His hands cease their onslaught on the grass. He's the embodiment of shocked and it must show because a curious expression takes over her face.
"What?" She asks, sounding herself again and narrowing her eyes at him a little.
What can he say? That what she just told him is the single most ridiculous thing he has ever heard in his whole damn life? That he thought Zach was smart but he must have shit for brains if he had a girl like Beth Greene and let her go? That there are no girls ‘like Beth Greene’? That she's perfect and she was too fucking good for him anyway? That she's probably too good for any man as it happens? That she's a fucking goddess with her hair made of gold and her magic voice that he’s pretty sure can cast spells?
He can't say any of that.
"Want me to rough him up?"
Beth stares at him for a moment and then huffs a laugh.
"I'm not kiddin'. Jus' say the word."
Beth snorts, her face breaking into a grin. Her eyes are still shining but they’re soft and warm as she looks back at him.
She smiles, and its small but its real because there isn’t a shred of artifice in Beth Greene. What you see is what you get. That's what he likes most about her. That's one of the many, many things that make her too good for the likes of Zach.
"He's a fuckin’ dumbass," He spits, scowling, his accent coming out thick, like it always does when he's angry.
Beth’s eyes widen. She looks a little taken aback, and then maybe just a little bit pleased. "Yeah?"
"Hell yeah. I wouldn't kick you out of bed."
Beth’s cheeks turn pink as she stares back at him and it's almost hypnotic watching the colour flooding into her face. Her mouth is twitching like she's suppressing a smirk.
Daryl looks away when he realises what he just said. No fucking filter. He feels his cheeks getting warm as he rips up more grass, with maybe a little added force this time. He feels a tightness run from his gut up to his chest. Now it's weird. Why’s it gotta be weird? Because he made it weird. He frowns down at the ground like it’s the grasses fault.
Beth scrapes a hand across her face, wiping her eyes again. He hears her take a deep breath, like she’s building herself back up. Then she turns to him and she smiles. Its small but it reaches her eyes.
"Thanks, Daryl." She says, and she sounds genuinely grateful.
He looks up through his hair and gives a small nod. Doesn’t really trust himself to speak again.
Sitting up, she glances towards the prison before looking back at him. "I better go give Judith her bottle."
He nods again, lips pressed in a tight line.
There’s a pause and then Beth leans forward and closes the space between them. He forces himself not to flinch when she kisses his cheek. Her lips feel impossibly soft against his rough skin. He inhales just at the moment her hair brushes against his face and his senses are flooded as he gets a lungful of her scent. Beth smells clean, like soap, faintly sweet and also of something else he can't place but which is somehow very distinctly Beth. He holds the breath in for longer than is necessary, savouring that little piece of her.
When she pulls back she catches his eyes with hers. She doesn't look sad anymore, she looks bright and the look she's giving him now pulses with a low heat. The look she’s giving him is smouldering and it sets his body aflame. His breath catches in his throat and suddenly his blood is roaring in his veins. Maybe she can cast spells.
"I'll be seein’ you," She says, thick with promise as she rises to her feet. Then she turns, starts walking back to the prison with her head held high and he watches her because he can't look away.