Daryl wasn't sure when it was he'd made the mental note that Beth loves tinned peaches, but he had, squirrelling it away in the back of his mind with other important facts like don’t wipe your ass with poison oak. From that moment on he was on the lookout. His eyes subconsciously zoned in on tins and he checked every label, even detouring down the canned goods aisle when they were on a run for something else. Just in case.
Finally, he lucked out while searching a house in a town they hadn’t been through before. In the untouched kitchen, he found his bounty hidden at the back of a cupboard and decided that particular can was destined for Beth Greene. He let Maggie and Glenn pack up the rest of the food into the car as he forcefully squeezed the tin into his inside pocket, close to his chest, and got on his bike. They were combing further out looking for survivors, weapons, meds; not food. They had enough of that at the prison now they were growing their own. They had enough for now, but it was always good to have reserves to fall back on. They weren’t just living day by day anymore; they were planning for the future.
When he rumbled through the prison gates ahead of the car, his eyes were drawn to blonde hair glowing in the sunshine as Beth sat on the steps bouncing baby Judith on her knee. As a flurry of helpers flocked towards the car to see what had been brought in from outside, Daryl slipped past them and across the yard. Beth looked up as he approached and flashed him an easy smile. When he stopped in front of her she blinked up at him curiously.
Without saying anything, he handed her the can. Her face lit up instantly and it felt good seeing her smile reach her eyes like that. He knew it couldn't be easy being cooped up inside these walls looking after a baby day and night.
After that he looked for peaches on every run with such determination they might as well have been the cure to getting bit. They had a purpose, and it meant as much to him as anything else he went out there for. Maybe more.
The next time he walked up to her in the yard and pulled something from his pack she smiled before she even set eyes on the tin. That same smile that made her eyes sparkle in a way that caused his heart to beat a little faster. She’d gushed a thank you and he’d scurried off as he felt his cheeks grow warm at the intensity of the gratitude in her soft voice. He hadn’t done anything deserving of that. It wasn’t anything special, not really. Just a can of peaches.
He’s out on a hunt when he stumbles across a little cabin in the woods. The place is trashed, blood covered furniture scattered everywhere. There’s only one walker hidden away in the back room and it’s hanging from a noose. Beneath the swinging dead there’s a backpack, as though he’d been thinking about moving on and thought better of it. Wrong call.
Inside there’s a few protein bars, a can of spaghetti, and a tin of Georgia peaches. With a crooked smile he takes the lot. It more than makes up for the five rabbits on a string he’d previously been going home with, and he shoots the dead fucker through the forehead to show his appreciation.
When Daryl gets back to the prison the sun is sinking low in an amber sky, and Beth is sitting on the prison steps, without Judith this time. Her hair is glowing rose gold in the last light of the dying day. The yard is deserted, the others gathering for dinner by the wisp of smoke trailing up from the back of the prison and the lingering smell of stew in the air.
He wonders why she’s out here on her own for a moment until she looks up and smiles at him.
“Hey,” He grunts as he comes to stand in front of her.
“Hey. Looks like you’ve got a good haul,” She says, nodding to the string of rabbits.
Daryl’s mouth slides up, reaching inside his pack for the real prize of today, the only one he really cares about.
Her gaze drops to his outstretched hand and a grin breaks out across her face. Her eyes flick back up to him and he jerks the tin at her, feeling his chest tighten under the gratitude in her eyes. She reaches out and takes the can, her soft fingers brushing his rough knuckles for the briefest moment.
He’s turning to go when she calls his name, stopping him in his tracks.
Slowly, he swings his gaze back to where she’s now standing.
“You wanna share it?” She asks, holding the can out between them.
He sees the can in the periphery of his vision because he can’t tear his eyes away from her hypnotic cornflower blue gaze.
He nods, helplessly, because he doesn’t think he can deny her anything while she’s looking at him like that. Eager, expectant, enthused by his presence alone. She beams at him in response, perching on the steps and scooting to the side to make room for him.
Untying the rabbits from his belt, he slings them over the railing before cautiously lowering himself down beside her. His hip is pressing against the side of the steps as he tries to leave a little distance between them but it’s a tight fit and there’s barely an inch in the middle of their denim covered thighs.
Beth digs out the ring pull with her nail and peels the lid off, bending it back until it snaps off.
She carefully plucks a slice of fruit from the can with her thumb and forefinger before passing it over to Daryl. He takes it, reaching in and grabbing a piece with his thick fingers. Beth smiles around the fruit in her mouth as she watches him throw the wedge down his throat without swallowing and pass the can back to her.
They stopped using utensils out on the road and it's a habit that's stuck. He feels a great surge of affection when he sees her eating like this; a girl with her upbringing and carefully honed manners eating out of a can the same as him. Not exactly the same as him, though. There's something dainty about the way she pinches the fruit between her fingers and brings it to her mouth. As though it were something worth savouring, and not just tinned fruit.
She passes the can back and he drags another piece up the ribbed side with his fingers before tossing it in his mouth. He can feel juice running down his chin as he watches her lick the same syrup from her lips.
In silence, they carry on like that, passing the can back and forth between them until he’s fishing the final slither from the bottom.
"Drink up," Daryl says, passing her the can of juice with an expectant look as he sucks his fingers and then licks his palm clean.
"S'my favourite part," She smiles, taking the can and looking down at the amber liquid.
"I know," He murmurs, watching the apples of her cheeks grow full as her smile widens.
Her eyes fly up to his and cause his breath to catch in his chest.
"How'd you know that?" She asks, smooth forehead creasing as she knits her brows together in confusion.
Daryl runs his tongue along his bottom lip, savouring the last of the juice.
"Remember you sayin’. Out on the road," He offers, ducking his head and scuffing his feet on the edge of the concrete step.
"That was... that was months ago," Beth says, sounding awed as she blinks up at him with her impossibly huge blue eyes.
Daryl shrugs, looking up at her through his hair and just barely meeting her gaze.
"I can't believe you remembered that," Beth says quietly, wrapping her slim fingers around the can of juice as though it were something incredibly precious.
"Why wouldn't I?" He asks, watching her fingers knit together around the can.
"I always thought I annoyed you," Beth says, her mouth pulling to the side, "Jus' another helpless kid that needs protectin’."
Daryl frowns at her curled fingers and then lifts his gaze to meet hers.
"You ain't helpless an' you sure as hell ain't a kid,” He says.
Beth's eyes flare, becoming penetrating as they bore back into his. He wants to look away from the intensity of it but somehow finds he can’t.
"No?" She asks, tilting her head to the side like a bird.
"Fuck no," He huffs, shaking his head at the audacity of her statement.
Beth giggles and Daryl feels the corner of his mouth twitch at the sound.
“Good ‘cause I really wouldn’t want you to think that,” She says.
Daryl frowns in confusion and his mouth opens around a question that doesn’t pass his lips.
Beth tips her head back and pours the juice down her throat, a little trickle escaping the corner of her mouth. Daryl watches her tongue flick out to catch the stray drops and then she’s springing to her feet.
He tilts his head to look up at her, the empty can clutched tightly in her hands.
“Thank you, Daryl,” She says, with enough sincerity to make his heart race.
“Ain’t nothin’,” He grates out.
Beth blinks down at him slowly, tilting her head to the side again, persistent gaze locked on his
“It’s somethin’,” She says softly, eyes sparkling with the smile that’s curling her mouth; that, in this moment, is just for him alone.