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Maybe if he'd just left that damn door closed...

Eager to bail out of the conversation before he said something else he wasn't quite ready to--and goddamn, he hadn't said shit!--desperate to escape those bright eyes as understanding put new light in them, and scared, yeah, scared shitless of everything he felt as far as she was concerned, he'd heard that dog again and didn't stop to think of checking outside before he flung the motherfucking door open on a horde of snarling walkers.

"Beth!" he shouted out to her, holding the door shut while the weight of the bodies against it on the other side pushed back. "Beth!"

She appeared around the corner with his crossbow and tossed it to him; he caught it and adjusted his grip. "Run!"

He moved from the door and the walkers came rushing in. He took out a few before he started running, still yelling instructions to her while heading in the opposite direction, his one thought to lead them away from her to let her make a break for it.

He ended up back in the mortuary with nowhere to run, taking a quick glance around the room before firing a bolt at a walker as it came down the stairs. He flung the bow aside and put his back to the far wall, snatching a scalpel from a tray of instruments and wheeling a gurney between him and the horde spilling into the room, steadying himself before stabbing the nearest one in the head.

At the back of the swarm there was a flash of steel but he didn't have time for a second look, moving from one undead body to the next, his grip on the blade slippery with blood. Keeping his back to the wall and the gurney between him and them, he moved back toward the stairs, killing as many as he could, but fuck, there were so goddamn many, maybe too many--

And then he saw her at the stairs.

Knife in her hand, unsteady on her bad ankle, taking out as many walkers as she could from behind while they were focused on him trapped in the corner.

Terror gripped him tight, made it hard to breathe while his heart raced too fast to tell one beat from the next. No, fuck no, he'd told her to run, she was supposed to be safe! What was she doing?

" Beth, what the fuck?"

She didn't answer, stabbing left, right, and center to thin out the bodies and he went back into the fray with fresh determination, frantic to clear a path to her and get her the fuck out of here. He made it to the stairs and she handed him the bow just in time for him to get off a shot at one walker coming down and ram a knife through another's skull. "C'mon," he said, grabbing her hand and pulling her along up the stairs.

"Daryl, there's someone outside!"


"There's a car out there!"

Whatever the odds were of a strange car showing up the exact same time a bunch of walkers drove them out of the funeral home, they were bullshit. He changed direction, moving to the other side of the building. She pivoted on her heel as he hauled her after him and stumbled, crying out in pain. He steadied her, gripping her elbow and keeping her on her feet, and hurried on.

That bathroom window was just big enough to climb through. He slung his bow over his shoulder and checked his pace to lead her forward, intending her to go first--

There was a sudden loud growl and a walker lunged at him from the hallway, grabbing onto him. It threw him off balance and he staggered, losing his hold on her and slamming into the wall, the walker pinning him and he couldn't reach his fucking knife...

Something struck him and the walker and its weight vanished, a crash nearby making him turn with his heart in his mouth. Beth had thrown herself against the walker to pull it off him, and both of them fell into a side table with a lamp and a vase of dead flowers standing on it. The vase and the lamp smashed onto the floor and the table collapsed, and Beth fell, dragging the walker with her. She landed underneath it and let out a scream as it snapped and struggled, and he yanked his knife clear of the sheath and stabbed the fucker in the head before shoving it off her.

Her collar was torn and there was blood across her neck and shoulder and he couldn't hold off his panic, running his hand over her skin in search of a bite--

"Daryl!" she exclaimed, finally getting his attention. "It's not mine! I'm okay!"

He nearly collapsed with relief, but he got to his feet again and helped her stand and they hurried into the bathroom. He unlatched the window but it took both of them pushing up to get it open; he looked outside to make sure it was clear before giving her a boost through the window and tossing his bow after her before hauling himself through it.

It was a farther drop to the ground than he thought and he landed hard, immediately looking to Beth once he hit the ground. She handed him the crossbow and pointed wordlessly around the far end of the building, where the beams of flashlights were passing over the ground, searching...

Whoever the fuck those people were, he wasn't taking chances on them. He seized her by the hand and took off for the woods, bypassing the towering headstones, keeping to the shadows, and staying as quiet as possible.

They kept running once they reached the trees. He led the way, squinting in the darkness to see where they were going and hearing her occasional exclamation of pain at the strain on her ankle. They couldn't stop yet, they had a headstart on those assholes with the flashlights and he wanted to keep it that way. On and on and on some more, and he couldn't take a breath without a sharp pain in his chest but he kept going anyway, never letting go of her hand and steadying her when she stumbled.

It felt like they'd been running for hours when he finally stopped, leaning against a tree and gasping for breath. She dropped to her knees on the ground at his feet, panting as hard as he was and eventually winding her arm around his leg and leaning into him. Holy shit, that was close. Holy. Fucking. Shit. He was nearly hyperventilating, adrenaline and fear running through him like he'd grabbed an electric fence and couldn't let go. Jesus fucking Christ, that was too close, but they made it.

He reached down to her, sliding his fingers into her hair and cradling her head as she pressed herself against him. He couldn't remember being as terrified as seeing her fall with that walker on top of her, all that blood on her and the utter certainty she'd been bitten trying to save his life. She could have died in front of his eyes and he'd never have told her anything, their last conversation cut short because he was too much of a goddamn coward. And the thought of that was way too fucking much to take.

"What the fuck were you thinking?" he demanded as soon as he had enough breath for speech. "I told you to run, goddamn it, not get yourself killed trying to come after me."

She looked up at him, still breathless and looking confused. "I told you, Daryl, I wasn't leaving you," she replied, a note of defiance ringing in her voice. "We look out for each other, we don't leave the other to fend for himself."

"Beth, there was a whole fucking swarm of them and you're already hurt! I was trying to lead them off and you go running straight to the motherfuckers! What the fuck were you thinking?"

"I was thinking I wasn't gonna let you handle all of them on your own!" she argued, getting to her feet. "They had you cornered--"

"I was handling it just fucking fine--"

"And I'm not about to let you die, Daryl Dixon! Not when I could have helped you!"

"Beth, I fucking told you!" he burst out, fear exploding into anger. "Get out, and I'd meet you! I coulda handled it, I ain't never broken a promise to you yet and I wasn't goddamn planning to!"

"And a hell of a lot of comfort that'd be," she raged, squaring up to fight back, "just standing there waiting for you while you were getting torn apart, because you weren't planning on it! What the fuck would I have done if you didn't make it out, Daryl? Huh?"

"What good would it have done me to watch them get you after trying to keep them away from you? You stop and think what it'd do to me, seeing you die when I fucking tried to protect you?"

She shoved him hard in the chest and they both stumbled, her on her bad ankle and him at her force. "Stop being so fucking stubborn! Why can you put yourself in danger for me but I can't do the same for you? How is that fair?"

"Fair?" he repeated. "Fair? You think that's got shit to do with it? Jesus Christ, girl--"

"And how selfish is that, taking risks like that because God forbid something happen to me and you'd rather I survive if you didn't, and to hell with how I'd feel about it if you got killed? Asshole!"

"Beth, I thought you got bit!" He nearly choked on the words, the terror he'd felt in the moment mingling with horror and despair. He tried to hold onto his anger but his voice cracked with emotion. "Thought that thing got you and I was gonna watch you bleed out, have to put you down, something--"

"Daryl, it almost got you--"

"You coulda died, Beth!"

"You would have!"

They stood facing each other, out of breath again from storming at each other, and he wondered too late how much noise they'd been making. He wanted to stay angry, that was easier to deal with than everything else, but he was running out of steam and still reeling at the thought of what could have happened. He could have lost her, whether to walkers or those people with those flashlights, and she'd never have known how much he cared about her.

She took a deep breath, trying to steady herself before going on, "Daryl, I'm sorry, but I can't sit back if there's a chance you're in danger. I can't. I care about you too much, damn it. And you can't expect me to do any less for you than what you'd do for me and if you try it again, I'm gonna hurt you real bad, you stubborn jackass."

"Beth, I--" fucking hell, couldn't he just get the words out? "You already did. I thought you were gonna die and it--it just fucking--goddamn it, Beth, I thought I was dead already. I thought you were gone and it was all over, and I never fucking told you, I--"

Just fucking say it, Dixon!

She stood watching him and there wasn't any candlelight, no white trash brunch on the table, but it felt the same to him, her waiting for him to come clean, and he'd have to be a fucking idiot not to know his second chance when he saw it. "Told me what, Daryl?" she asked.

"Beth, I...fuck..." He turned away from her, unable to look her in the eye and crumbling under her gaze. He clutched at his hair and covered his face with his hands, and he was going to say it if it killed him, but holy shit, it just might...

He felt her hand on his shoulder, gripping tight, and her voice fell hesitantly on his ears. "Daryl?"

"I think I love you."

The words were hardly above a whisper, but her sudden intake of breath told him she heard him, all right. He sighed and hung his head. "Shit, Beth, I dunno what's happening to me, but if anything ever happened to you, I don't...I dunno what I'd do..."

"Daryl...please look at me..."

He turned to her and she was still watching him, that look of understanding back on her face, and he still couldn't hold her gaze longer than two seconds. "I never...I ain't felt something like this before and I don't--don't know what it's supposed to feel like or nothing, but..."  He risked another look at her and she was staring at him the way she'd stared in that kitchen, but times ten. And before he could figure out what that look meant, she leaned up on her toes and kissed him.

Apart from catching him off guard, she had also thrown herself onto him and he stumbled back against the tree behind him. She reached up and buried her hands in his hair, pulling him closer, and she tasted like peanut butter and felt like good dreams and summer storms and stolen moonshine. He had just made up his mind to kiss her back when she pulled away, taking a step back and looking down at the ground. "I'm...I'm sorry, Daryl," she said. "That wasn't right, I shouldn't have--"

He cut her off by snatching her back into his arms and slamming his lips against hers. Her fingers clutched at the front of his vest and he turned them around to push her back against the tree. The impact knocked her breathless for a moment and her mouth opened in a gasp and he slid his tongue inside; peanut butter, and bonfires under the stars and running through open fields and quiet hunts in the woods.

She bowed her body into his and he'd been hard since she kissed him but had he really noticed until she was pressing herself against his cock? She started rocking into him and he let out a long, low moan. "Beth," he said, breaking his lips away from hers, "Beth, you gotta stop..."

"I don't want to," she replied, so fiercely he had little doubt what she meant. His common sense argued there was a time and a place and this was neither, but then she kissed him again and common sense could go fuck itself for all he cared.

He slid his hands under her shirt to trail his fingers across her warm skin, and she was candlelight and words unspoken and everything he'd never felt before and didn't have enough words for. She went for his belt and after a beat of hesitation he did the same, both of them fumbling at the other's clothes until her jeans were off and his were out of the way. He lifted her up and she wrapped her legs around his waist, holding on tight while reaching between them and guiding him into her, and he didn't think either of them breathed as he pushed slowly inside her, slow enough he could raise his hand to her face and brush his thumb along her cheek. "I love you, Beth..."

Her eyes were closed and he could feel her stretching around him, and it finally occurred to him that maybe she'd never done this before... He held still, waiting for some kind of signal from her before he kept going, and she opened her eyes after a moment and nodded.

He tried to keep it slow, pressing her back into the tree while he moved gently in and out. Every breath she took was shaky and deliberate and she clung tighter and tighter to him, nodding again and he moved a bit faster, a little harder, and that little moan she gave told him he was on the right track. He pressed his lips to hers again, breathing her in as he kissed her, feeling his control begin to unravel and moving rougher and harder still...God, she felt fucking perfect...

Her breaths got sharper, and she held on even tighter, moving against him and trying to adjust to his pace until she burst out, "Daryl, please, slow down!"

He froze, pausing a moment before holding onto her and turning around, lowering them to the ground until he was sitting with his back to the tree and she was astride his lap. He moved his hands to her thighs and squeezed gently; "Go on," he urged her. "Whatever you need."

She braced her knees on either side of his hips and her hands on his chest, leaning forward slightly as she moved herself up and down, setting their pace. He reached up to her face, outlining her lips, stroking her cheek, running his fingers through her ponytail, glad he let her take the lead. It was much better watching her take herself higher, slowly start coming apart, her entire being lighting up as she chased her pleasure. He felt the way her body changed, opening gently before winding tighter and she was almost there, and she was gonna take him with her...

Barely a heartbeat later, she was just gone. She threw her head back, her eyes fallen shut and her mouth fallen open but there was no sound coming out, and she broke on him like water on rocks, rushing on and falling back and lost in the steady rhythm, pulling him along on her current. He held his breath and held onto her as it poured through him, releasing all the fear and love until his head was spinning, and if it wasn't for her touch, combing her fingers through his hair, he might not have found his direction again.

"Probably should have told you," she said, "I love you, too."

He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the tree. "I think I heard you anyway."

She chuckled softly and leaned forward again to kiss him, softer and sweeter this time. "What happens now?" she asked.

"Gotta find someplace to stay the night," he answered. "Someplace to rest that ankle. After that, I dunno yet."

" and me?"

He opened his eyes and gave her a long, long look with the weight of his conviction behind it. "I'm taking care of you as long as I'm still breathing," he told her, "but don't ever fucking scare me like that again."

She nodded. "Same goes for you, Mr. Dixon. You gotta let me take care of you sometimes."

He hummed an agreement before they got to their feet and prepared to leave. With any luck, there was some kind of shelter nearby, and he might have time to figure out the words for everything he wanted to tell her. He'd kept his mouth shut once, and he damn sure wasn't gonna make the same mistake twice.