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"Hot today," Beth says.

Daryl grunts. Master of the understatement, that girl. The sweat is dripping from the tips of his hair to trickle down his back and has plastered his shirt to his chest. There hasn't been a lick of a breeze all afternoon, just the thick soupy Georgia air making it difficult to walk, let alone breathe.

"Think we could—"


Beth sighs, shoulders slumping. She's already pulled off her boots and flopped down on the rock, letting her feet dangle in the water. Now she kicks out with one foot, but whether it's from a fit of pique at his answer or just because she wants to watch the ripples of water in the sunlight he can't say.

Still, he feels a twinge of guilt at the look of disappointment that crosses her face.

"Oughta be headin' back," he says. "Still got three more snares to check on the way back to camp."

"Uh huh," Beth says distractedly.

Daryl turns away, flexes his fingers on the crossbow strap at his shoulder. The weapon is a comforting weight but he hasn't actually had to use it in days, not since Rick and Sasha came across the little house tucked behind the apple orchard. They've been living in a walker-free pocket of time for the last week, using the rare opportunity they've been given to make clandestine runs into town, to stock up on supplies and catch their collective breath before they begin the push to DC. And once they're on the road again there will be no time for relaxed dinners around the picnic table or Carl's hapless attempts at apple pancakes or mid-day naps in the walled garden.

No time for dips in a secluded pond somewhere in the backwoods of Georgia.

Daryl shakes his head, glances at Beth over his shoulder. "Go on, then."

When she looks up, her eyes are sparkling. "Really?"

He shrugs. "Too goddamn hot for any walkers to be around, anyway."

She smiles up at him as she scrambles to her feet, and he turns his back, tries to focus on keeping an eye on the distant tree line and not the rustle of her clothing as she drapes it over a nearby bush. He can't miss the squeal as she dives into the cold water, though. Also can't help imagining what the view must be like when he sees her pale pink bra dangling by one strap from a leafy branch.

"It's freezing!" Beth calls. "It feels great! Come on in!"

"Keepin' watch," Daryl says without turning around.

He expects her to complain or tease or try to convince him to change his mind, but to his surprise she keeps quiet. After a moment he starts to relax, keeps half an eye on the horizon while he lets the sound of Beth's gentle paddling lull him into what he'll later realizes was a state of complacency.

Because it's exactly when he's at his most relaxed that the icy-cold splash of water drenches his back.

He whirls in time to see Beth duck her body back under the water, her eyes dancing and a mile-wide smile on her face.

"All right, that's it, girl," he growls. "You're dead meat."

She laughs and fades back into the centre of the pond when he drapes his bow next to her frilly little bra, strips off his shirt and leaves his pants pooled on the bank. But the laughter changes into something breathless and eager when he wades into the water. She meets him halfway, bites at her bottom lip and skims the tips of her finger across his chest. He shivers, and when her hand dips beneath the surface and finds him hard and wanting, she smiles again. "Isn't this better than keepin' watch?"

He's never been very good with words. So in answer he tucks his arm under her ass and lifts her up, laps at the water on her neck before dipping his head to her breast and pulling her nipple into his mouth. Her nails dig into the skin at the nape of his neck, anchoring him to the world and to her, and he shifts her closer as his other hand dips between them, making her ready, making her arch her back and close her eyes and gasp needfully against his ear.

She opens her eyes when he slides inside her. And if had something to say – if he wanted to tell her that he loves her, that he'll never hurt her, that he'll keep her safe no matter what – he would have been unable to utter a word at the look of awe and wonder in her wide blue eyes. So he pushes into her instead, and watches her eyes flutter closed, and finds that spot behind her ear that makes her squirm and writhe.

"If a walker came by right now," Beth breathes into his ear, "I'm not sure I'd even care."

His thrust falters as his head whips up from her neck at the thought, his eyes frantically scanning the bank. But there is nothing there but the overgrown grass and their abandoned packs. Not a geek in sight. And then Beth sucks his earlobe into her mouth in that way that makes him crazy. She wraps her leg more tightly around his hip and pulls him deeper inside her and he can't think about anything but driving into her, watching her face as his dick and his fingers shatter and remake her.

He feels the pressure building and pulls out quickly, and when she dips her hand between them to finish him off he's finally able to murmur her name, to whisper at least some of the things he should be telling her every damn day. So he breathes them against her hair and knows that she understands.

He's not sure if it's the grotto that's enchanted, or if it's Beth who has him under her spell. He just knows that he wouldn't change a damn thing.