Daryl can't remember the last time that he slept. There's a dull ache behind his eyes that tells him that it was a long fucking time ago. Now that they've got the protection of four walls and roof, not to mention several locked gates, he should be able to sleep. He should be able to relax a bit. He should be able to get a decent rest. Except that all those shoulds don't mean shit apparently because each time Daryl's head hits the pillow his brain starts to think so much he can almost hear it whirring. His brain won’t shut the fuck up.
He thinks about all the stupid shit he did before all this. He thinks about a myriad of ways in which he could have acted different and wonders if his life could have been different, or if he was just doomed from the womb. He rolls his regrets over and over until he’s not sure what’s real and what’s imagined. He thinks about Merle. He thinks about Merle a lot. It’s not all bad, either, though none of it is good. His mind flits from useless thought to useless thought until the sun starts to creep through the barred prison windows signalling another day has begun.
He spends the day killing walkers on the fence until his arms are aching. As he feels his muscles throb and burn he hopes vaguely that he will just pass out from exhaustion. He waits until the sun has sunken below the horizon then he sits in the yard smoking and making bolts until dusk. He doesn’t like to go inside the prison until night fall. Then again, he doesn’t like going in there ever. But it's winter and it's fucking freezing out.
He managed to keep himself out of prison in spite of Merle’s destructive orbit doing its best to drag him there, and yet he’s ended up behind bars anyway. Fucking irony.
He knows that this is where they have to be. That it's a good place, as far as shelter goes. He knows that. But that doesn't stop his skin from crawling every time he steps inside the prison and the doors close behind him. It doesn't stop him from pacing restlessly, the deeper into the prison he goes, the further he gets from those closed doors. It doesn't stop his eyes from darting to the nearest exit as often as breathing. He just can't get comfortable in his own skin when he's inside those walls, because as safe as they are, they feel as though they're closing in.
Daryl always thought he had nothing growing up but since they got here he's come to realise that's not true; he had fresh air and he had the stars. Now he's here and those things have been stripped from him, he's got to leave those things at the door and it's only then that he realise how much those things mean to him. How much those things are a part of him. Without them he's in a constant state of unrest.
When he eventually makes his way into the cell block he finds it dark and quiet. Everyone has gone to bed. Well, almost everyone, he thinks as he notices the amber glow of a candle coming from one of the cells on his row.
His legs feel as though they're made of lead as he drags his feet up the iron staircase towards his bunk. He moves slowly as though moving through quicksand. He's in no hurry to get to his cell; he’s already dreading the moment his head hits the pillow and sleep begins to taunt him again.
Once he has climbed the stairs he sees that the gentle glow of candlelight is coming from Beth's cell. His gait slows to a stop as he reaches her curtain, which is left half open and shows her sat on her bunk with Judith in her arms. She lifts her eyes to his and he sees his own exhaustion mirrored back at him. Turns out he's not the only one running on no sleep. Despite how tired she clearly is she flashes him a warm smile. He finds himself gravitating towards it and the threshold of her cell.
"Lil asskicker not sleepin'?" He asks, voice low and rough, leaning on the door jamb.
"Oh, she sleeps just fine," Beth says with a sigh, her eyes dropping down to the baby sleeping peacefully in her arms. "When I'm holdin' her. Soon as I put her down she wakes up and starts cryin'."
His eyebrows raise without him meaning them to. Beth narrows her eyes at him.
"Don't believe me?"
He rolls a shoulder. I mean, it seems unlikely.
Beth stands up, walks over to the crib and lowers the baby down onto the mattress. There's a beat. Two. Then the baby's mouth pops open and she starts to cry. Beth lifts her barely one centimetre above the mattress. She stops. Snuffles. Beth lowers her down again. One. Two. An ascending whinge erupts from the baby's mouth. Beth lifts her off the mattress, but just barely. Silence. Beth swings her tired eyes back to his and arches a brow at him.
"Shit," Daryl curses in disbelief.
"Yeah. Shit," Beth's mouth twists as she cradles Judith in her arms and walks back to her bunk, sitting down slowly with a heavy sigh. She looks as exhausted as he feels. Her usual sunny disposition appears muted, as though he’s looking at her through clouds.
Daryl brow furrows as he starts to roll the situation over in his mind. "So let her cry."
Beth looks back at him, bemused.
"Uh ok. I'll let her wake up the whole cell block shall I?" She quips, fixing him with those big doe eyes. Even under the sheen of exhaustion they’re still striking.
Girl's got a point and she ain't afraid to make it.
"So let Rick deal with her," he shrugs. Lil Asskicker is his kid. Why should Rick be sound asleep while Beth suffers?
She’s quiet for a moment, stroking the baby’s crown gently, then she meets Daryl’s eyes again.
"Rick's got a lot goin' on," she says softly.
Daryl just stares at her as it takes a little longer than usual for her words to sink in. When they do his brow furrows deeper. That's not her problem. But he has a feeling Beth Greene is the kind of person who sees other people's problems and makes them her own.
"So let Carl deal with her."
She tilts her head and gives him a look. It's not hard exactly but there's a seriousness in her eyes that wasn’t there before like he's overlooking something he shouldn’t.
"He's been through enough, dontcha think?"
Girl's got another goddamn point. He can't argue with that so he just grunts and gives a small nod. She meets his gaze for a moment and then turns her attention back to the sleeping baby. The way she looks at Lil Asskicker makes Daryl think that "babysitting" is a heinous understatement for what Beth is doing for Rick's daughter, in a role that she didn't choose but has taken on without complaint. He waits, watching her, until she yawns. Then he’s yawning and he feels his eyes begin to droop with another layer of exhaustion.
He pushes himself off the door jamb. "G’night," he grunts.
Beth looks up at him and smiles. "Goodnight, Daryl."
Daryl drags himself into his own cell, which is next to Beth’s, collapses on his cot and stares blankly at the bunk above him. His mind drifts to Beth Greene and her unfathomable kindness. He’s never met someone who was so kind and all the while acts like it’s the obvious thing to do. Like it’s not a special thing at all. He’s never met anyone who would do so much for another person without getting at least something in return. He wonders about whether being kind is something you are or something you do. He feels sure that if he looked up kind in the dictionary he’d find a picture of Beth Greene smiling back at him.
He continues to stare at the bunk above him and tries to will himself to sleep.
That goes about as well as it usually does.
Daryl thinks that the exhaustion he feels has somehow seeped deeper, if that’s even possible. Yesterday it was in his bones but tonight it is in his marrow. He spends the day feeling as though he is wading through a thick fog.
As he enters the cell block after dusk he sees that Beth is still up, if the flickering amber glow coming from her cell is anything to go by. He quickens his pace on the stairs, summoning energy from some deep reserve, dragging his lead feet one in front of the other through the unrelenting fog.
When he reaches Beth's cell he sees her sitting in the exact same spot as the night before and wonders for a moment if any time has actually passed. He slumps against the door jamb, face set in a frown because now he’s convinced time is fucking with him.
Beth looks up, her eyes flare just a touch and then she smiles.
"You look like crap" she says, her smile widening. There’s mischief in the curl of her lips that’s teasing.
"Look who's talkin’'" Daryl smirks back at her as she drags a hand through her hair which is looking uncharacteristically wild and unwashed. He thinks she kind of suits looking a bit wild, and he’s not sure she could ever actually look dirty even if she tried. She smiles even wider as he matches her teasing, and then looks thoughtful.
"Have you tried... y’know," She dips her head at him, arching a brow and gives him a pointed look.
Daryl blinks at her. He does not know.
She gives him another rather pointed look that only makes his face twist in confusion. Beth lets out a little exasperated huff which would annoy him if it wasn’t so adorable.
"Gettin' yourself off," she says quietly.
Daryl frowns even deeper. "Gettin’ myself off what?"
For a moment Beth just stares at him and he stares right back. Beth's face is frozen, except for her eyes which are growing wider by the second.
"Jerkin’ off," She whispers, then shakes her head with a grin.
His breath catches. He drops his gaze and his head and he feels heat rushing into his face. He cannot believe the words that just came out of Beth Greene's mouth.
"Girl, you really are tired”
Beth rolls a shoulder, she shoots him a look, bemused. "That's what I used to do when I had trouble sleepin’ back on the farm"
All Daryl can do is gape at her. He doesn’t blink, he doesn’t breathe. He doesn’t think he can breathe.
A long moment stretches between them.
Beth tilts her head at him and narrows her eyes. "Did I break you?" She asks, a small smile toying on her lips.
Daryl snorts, a gush of air rushing out of him.
"Yeah," He finds a breath and puts a word behind it. "Think ya did a li’le," he admits. His mouth twists. Sort of a smile. Beth smiles wider, clearly amused.
Daryl huffs a shaky laugh and then pushes himself away from the door jamb. "G’night"
Her eyes are practically glowing as she smiles back at him. "Goodnight, Daryl"
Daryl’s feet drag him to his neighbouring cell, pulls the privacy curtain closed behind him and he sinks onto his cot. He studies the bunk above him, all the while thinking about Beth Greene's favourite insomnia cure. He wonders how many times she’s done that on the other side of the wall while he’s been lying here wide awake. Without noticing, his hand has drifted down to palm his cock though his jeans.
He thinks about her slender fingers sliding into her panties as she touches herself and as he does so he opens the front of his jeans and his own rough digits slide into his underwear. He shouldn’t, he’s vaguely aware that it’s wrong, but his hand moves without conscious thought and he doesn’t stop it. He thinks about Beth rubbing her clit with a quickening pace and his hand circles his hard cock and starts to pump slowly. He tries not to think about how she’s on the other side of the wall right now as his other hand flattens against the cool concrete that separates them. Knowing she’s there sends a wave of arousal shuddering through him and his eyes flutter closed. He imagines Beth moaning into her pillow so that nobody hears her and he bites down on his bottom lip to suppress a groan as his hand on his cock beats a frantic rhythm. His hips roll, fucking into his hand as hot spurts of cum shoot across his stomach while he thinks about Beth arching her back off her prison cot as she brings herself to orgasm.
Drawing in ragged breaths, Daryl tucks his spent cock back into his jeans as his eyes fall closed and he dozes off.
In the morning Daryl is feeling remarkably more human. He didn't sleep well but he did sleep some and the throbbing behind his eyes is now more of a dull ache.
When he steps into the cell block at dusk he ignores the flutter he feels in his chest when he sees Beth's light guiding him up the stairs. He feels the pull of it as he stands in her door way, noticing the curtain has been left open and his brain files that away as a slightly odd thing to do.
Beth is lying on her front across the bed, head down as she writes in a spiral bound notebook. His eyes swing to Judith's cot and see the baby sleeping sprawled on her back, arms up around her head. For a moment he watches the gentle rise and fall of her chest. He's about to comment when Beth looks up at him and a smile works its way across her face, stealing the breath right out of him. She looks pleased to see him and he finds himself returning her smile with a small smile of his own.
"You sleep?" She asks, but it's more of a statement as her keen eyes scan him.
He rolls a shoulder, eyes flicking downward and away.
"You jerk off?" She teases.
He doesn’t trust himself to look at her. So he doesn’t.
"You did!" She exclaims in something like mock indignation but underneath that she sounds pleased. Then she grins so wide he doesn’t think he’s ever seen to many teeth.
He meets her eyes finally, keeping his as neutral as possible. She’s smiling back at him but she’s not laughing. She’s teasing, very gently, but she’s not mocking him. She seems alarmingly pleased at the idea of him jerking off. It’s kind of weird. She’s a weird girl. It makes his stomach lurch guiltily as in the back of his mind he remembers the fantasies that pulled him over the edge last night.
"Stop" he grunts, but he finds himself suppressing a smile. He thinks he should feel uncomfortable, deserves to even, but finds that he doesn’t, somehow. He doesn’t feel uncomfortable at all standing here.
Beth gives him a wicked smile that sends a new wave of heat rolling down his spine. He clears his throat, pulling his eyes away from hers. They land on the baby and find that she’s still asleep.
"You sleep?" He nods to Judith's crib. More of a statement than a question.
Beth's eyes swing over to the sleeping baby and she smiles softly. "Yeah"
"How'd you get lil asskicker to stay in her crib?" He asks.
"I put one of my shirts in there."
Daryl's eyes trail back to the crib and find the familiar blue denim of the shirt she was wearing yesterday creased underneath Judith's chubby cheek.
"Guess you must smell good," he murmurs. His eyes absently follow the line of her throat down to her collarbone and fall on the inviting swell of her breasts. He finds himself imagining what it would feel like to bury his face there and take a deep inhale of her scent and commit it to sense memory.
"No need to look so surprised," she says, dragging his thoughts and his eyes back to her face. The look she’s giving him is difficult to read, but if she saw him looking she doesn’t seem bothered by it.
"I'm not," he says, voice coming out a little huskier than he'd like. Beth is watching him, studying him might be a better word, and she looks pleased as she kicks her legs lazily back and forth above her in a way that should be childish but isn’t. As she pins him with her gaze he starts to feel that heat in his spine again as it pulses and simmers.
He turns to go, dips his head at her. "G’night."
Beth smiles. "Goodnight, Daryl"
Daryl walks the remaining distance to his cell, throws himself on his cot and studies the ceiling while thinking about what Beth Greene might smell like.
He'd like to get close enough to find out. He thinks he'd sleep pretty well wrapped up in Beth Greene.
He thinks about how lil asskicker thinks that Beth is her mom. She pretty much is her mom. He deliberately doesn’t think about how Beth being the mom of Rick's daughter makes him feel suddenly jealous of Rick in a way that he doesn't fully understand.
He's actually jealous of lil asskicker for getting to sleep wrapped up in Beth Greene's scent. He vaguely considers going into Beth’s cell while she's on lunch duty so that he can take her shirt out of Judith's crib and put it in his own bed.
He drags a hand over his face and sighs heavily.
He realises that he’s reached a new depth of sleep deprivation as he lies there contemplating stealing from a baby.
His head is full of thoughts, raging and floating, crashing into one another, and he doesn't sleep.
Dawn comes too soon, but dusk doesn't come soon enough. Daryl drags himself through the day. He feels the ache move back in behind his eyes and every muscle in his body protests louder with every passing minute.
Same as every night he waits until the sun has set to make his way into the cell block and same as every night he finds that everyone is asleep. Almost everyone. He feels a little shot of adrenaline spur him up the stairs and towards his cell as he sees the familiar flicker of Beth's candle glow.
It's lower, he notices, as he comes to her door frame and he makes a mental note to pick her up some candles on the next run. Making a mental note of anything seems laughable right now but for some reason he knows he won't forget. Might forget his own damn name soon but he won't forget that.
Her curtain is half way open again and it makes him curious. Part of him wonders, perhaps hopes, that she leaves it open as an invitation for him to come and talk to her. That she looks forward to this time of day as much as he's starting to. Which is fucking ridiculous, he knows. Still.
Beth looks up at him from where she's sat cross legged on the bottom bunk, book on her lap. She actually cringes when she sets eyes on him.
"You're startin' to look like a walker, Daryl," She says, wrinkling her nose a little.
He shoulders the door jamb, not entirely trusting his legs to keep him up unsupported for much longer.
Daryl’s eyes narrow as he glares at her, but there's no heat in it. "Fuck you"
Beth laughs. Not a huffed breath like he’s heard her make before but a real laugh that makes her shoulders shake and her eyes shine.
"Could try that," She says, closing her book and blinking up at him with those bright but not so innocent eyes.
He feels like he's missing something as he looks back at her. "What?"
"Havin' sex. Helps you sleep."
"Like you'd know," he says incredulously.
Beth raises her eyebrows a little but otherwise just continues to look at him like he's an idiot. He can feel his eyes growing impossibly wide in his face. He's also faintly aware that he's stopped breathing.
Beth rolls her eyes at him. “I’m eighteen, Daryl. I've had boyfriends."
Daryl shrugs at her.
"Thought you were a good girl" he says, teasing, mouth twisting into an almost smile, ducking his head and looking up at her through his hair. He feels like he needs to hide from this minx.
"Been thinkin' about me a lot?" She smiles.
If Daryl didn’t know better he'd say she was flirting with him.
"Didn't know you were so naughty," he says, eyes locking with hers. If Daryl didn't know any better he'd say he was flirting with her.
Beth's smile widens into a grin. She rolls her head back as though she's exasperated and bites her lip.
"Wouldn’t you like to know,"
Daryl's gaze narrows as he holds hers. That was definitely flirting.
"Girl, I'd like to find out" he rumbles, voice so rough he should be embarrassed. Fuck.
Beth laughs again and looks down at the book in her lap. "Stop"
But she doesn't really want him to, he doesn’t think. He watches her for a moment as she smiles at the book in her lap, cheeks maybe just a little pinker than before. Maybe. He sighs and pushes himself off the door frame. This conversation isn’t going to help him to sleep, its waking him up.
"G’night," He murmurs.
Her eyes fly back up to his. "Goodnight, Daryl." She says softly. She sounds almost disappointed as she watches him leave.
Daryl goes to his cell, lies down on his cot and studies the ceiling all the while thinking about Beth Greene havin’ sex.
Knowing that she's had sex, that she enjoys sex, makes him feel a little less guilty for thinking about her like that. Thinking about her like that makes his cock hard and soon it’s straining against his jeans. But he doesn’t take care of it. He feels the simmering heat and he lets it burn.
The next night it's Daryl’s shift in the watchtower. After a day on the fence and a night in the tower he's dead on his feet. This has become his default state. He's starting to forget what not being exhausted feels like. When he gets back to the cell block it's dark except for a sliver of moonlight that's crept in.
Beth’s curtain is drawn when he passes her cell. He feels a twinge of disappointment in his gut. He didn’t realise until now but he'd been looking forward to their little night time chat all day. He misses it more than he thinks he should.
As he walks to his cell he wonders if she fell asleep or if she had to use her sleep aid of choice to get her there. He feels heat grab the base of his spine as he thinks about Beth Greene touching herself. Now that he's got that image in his head he's definitely not going to be able to stop thinking about it. He doesn’t think he really wants to.
When Daryl ducks his own privacy curtain and goes into his cell he freezes. He sees it straight away.
Beth's shirt is on his pillow.
Not the one from Judith's crib; it's the one he saw her wearing earlier today. The pink one with no sleeves. He crosses the cell and sits down on his cot. He brings the shirt to his face, closes his eyes and breathes in deeply.
He is flooded with the scent of Beth Greene. She smells zesty, a punch of citrus maybe from her body wash or shampoo and also clean, like sleeping in a freshly made bed.
She smells new in a world where everything is old. In a world where everything is dead, dying and decaying she smells of life.
He lies down on his cot, still holding her shirt to his face. He closes his eyes and for a moment he's not there. He's gone. He's somewhere better. He thinks he's gonna sleep just fine tonight wrapped in Beth Greene.
And with his face buried in Beth’s shirt, Daryl finally sleeps.