When Beth half-stumbles through the front door, it takes Daryl a second to relieve her of the covered dish — twice her damn hobbit size, easy — that made her half-stumble in the first place, because —
Look, he’s not gonna say he’s got a crush on her, alright, that sounds stupid as fuck and even though it’s the truth, he’s not gonna say it.
He knew she was gonna be here tonight, ‘course. It doesn’t help, though. For all his preparedness, for all his survival instinct (the one thing Dixons have in droves, the one thing they’ve got to their name that’s any good), Daryl’s never equipped to see Beth, to be in close quarters with her or, hell, the same general vicinity. She don’t take it easy on him, neither — nah, he knows the moment he claps eyes on her that he should’a begged off sick or somethin’, stayed home where it was safe, where shit made sense.
But. Okay, so, maybe it didn’t make all that much sense there, either, ‘cause even when Beth’s not around, Daryl’s thinking about what it’d be like if she was.
And what it’s like, is having a goddamn heart attack, when the too-big beanie she’s wearing droops over her eyes and she releases a little “ooof” of frustration when the dish wobbles in her grip. She’s not gonna drop it, that’s not the problem — no, Daryl’s problem is that she looks real fuckin’ cute and it sorta pisses him off.
Stubborn ass insisted on carrying everything into Rick’s house. Turkey’s probably heavier’n she is, but she still tells him off when he hefts it easily outta her arms, because maybe she won’t drop it, but Daryl’s gotta do something with himself that’s not just staring at her for no damn good reason.
No damn good reason he could explain, anyway, not with her family and Rick’s all around, though that doesn’t stop them from sniping at each other.
“You really think I can’t carry a damn bird?” Beth wants to know. She flexes her arm, too, as if to prove a point but Daryl don’t know what the hell it is, ‘cause he can’t see her muscle through the layers she’s wearing, like she’s gettin’ ready for the next ice age instead of a backyard cookout.
He knows it’s there, though, that muscle. Thought an awful lot about the way it strains whenever she lifts somethin’ heavy.
“Think you better watch your fuckin’ mouth, ‘s what I think.”
Beth huffs, levels her hands on her hips. “You got some nerve, Mr. Dixon.”
“An’ you got a way of pissin’ me off soon’s I see you,” he shoots back, without any real heat ‘cause it’s just a matter of fact.
“That’s not very gracious behavior, y’know.”
“Yeah, so you’d better thank me for takin’ this thing” — he gestures with the dish — “off your hands ‘fore you could fall flat on y’r ass.”
If Daryl had the presence of mind to notice — he’s good at that, noticing things, only his brain shorts the fuck out whenever Beth’s around — he might’ve clapped his stupid mouth shut, ‘cause the last thing he wants to do is call attention to this, this thing he’s got for her, and now they’ve got an audience.
“What’re they bickering about now?” Maggie mutters to Glenn, both of whom had poked their heads out of the kitchen to see what was taking Beth so long to follow them inside.
“I think…” Glenn squints, like that’ll help him to better ascertain what’s happening in the front hallway. “Daryl’s trying to flirt with her?”
Maggie rolls her eyes to high heaven, says dryly, “I will bet you a thousand dollars that’s not it.”
“It’d probably be easier if you just gave me the thousand dollars,” Glenn mumbles as she shakes her head, and he follows her back into the kitchen to plead his case.
Daryl, meanwhile, has got his own point to prove to Beth, who quirked an eyebrow at him soon as he mentioned her ass. It’d probably be intimidating, if she weren’t so goddamn little.
Not that Daryl’s immune to intimidation, no, ‘cause Beth manages to fuck him up in all sorts of ways. He doesn’t believe in any of that religious shit, but if he had to guess, Beth’s just that kinda powerhouse because, being the size she is and all, she’s that much closer to hell.
She probably wouldn’t appreciate him pointing that out, and anyway she’s got words she wants to have with him.
“You think you’re stronger’n me?” she ventures, like it’s the stupidest thing she’s ever heard.
Daryl snorts. “Know I am, girl.”
“Okay.” She nods, then jerks her chin at him, not in challenge so much as it is a bidding, and like hell is Daryl immune to that. “Let’s see your muscles.”
What? “Fuck outta here.”
His ears are on goddamn fire, but Beth doesn’t seem to give a fuck. “I mean it, c’mon, Daryl.” She smacks his bicep. “Flex your arms for me.”
He knows she means it, ‘cause she stopped calling him “Mr. Dixon” like she does when she’s teasing him, like she knows that shit sends him straight into a fit of sexual frenzy. Or what he thinks a sexual frenzy must be; shit never happened to him before Beth showed up.
“C’mon,” she wheedles him. “How else you gonna prove it?”
Well, if it’s proof she wants… Fuck it, right?
Daryl clears his throat, and — pointedly ignoring the heat ticking up all across his face — tucks the dish under one arm, and wraps the other ‘round Beth’s waist, hoists her up to his hip. She yelps and clings to him like a damn spider monkey or somethin’ but, hey, she asked for it.
Hell, maybe he asked for it, too.
“No no no no no no no,” Beth’s muttering in his ear. Her bubblegum breath skates through his stubble, tickles his jaw, and now he’s goin’ and gettin’ ideas, especially when her legs tighten around his middle, one pressed into his stomach and the other in his lower back.
It hurts, y’know, kinda punches the breath outta his lungs, girl’s got some muscle to those thighs, but her legs are literally strapped around him, so he wouldn’t be able to breathe no matter her goddamn muscle mass.
“This is too high,” Beth’s saying, like she’s poised on the first drop of a damn rollercoaster or somethin’. “How ain’t you scared all the time?”
Daryl adjusts his hold so his hand’s tight on her hip and his other’s secure around the dish she’d hauled in, and snorts again as he makes his way down the hall. “Don’t be a smartass.”
“I’m not. I don’t like heights, Daryl —”
“Ain’t even two feet off the ground, for fuck’s sake —”
Soon as they join the rest in the kitchen, when it takes Daryl a full minute to bother dropping Beth in a chair — no, he deposits the turkey on the counter first, ruffles Carl’s hair and drops a kiss in Judith’s, accepts a beer from Rick — Glenn shoots a smug look Maggie’s way.
“See?” he mouths at her across the broccoli casserole he’s prepping. “Flirting.”
Maggie just flips him off and snags her own Bud Light from the cooler. She’s too sober for this shit.
It takes a beer and a half before Daryl’s stopped panicking over being around Beth all night. Ain’t like they’re alone — between Rick and the kids and Michonne and Glenn and her shotgun-toting sister (Maggie doesn’t have the shotgun on her, but still) and her Bible-thumpin’ daddy, Daryl’s survival instinct implores him to be on his best behavior — but all the same he’s got something like a self-destructive streak when Beth’s around.
He’s aware of it, at least.
It doesn’t help, though, that she’s sitting right next to him, curled up in one of Rick’s Adirondack chairs on the back patio, toasting her goddamn sixth roll over the bonfire. Daryl knows it’s her sixth, too; he counted.
“Ain’t gonna be hungry for dinner, rate you’re goin’.”
Beth whistles. Impressive, since she does it around a mouthful of bread. “Oooh, yes, I will.”
“Where you gonna put it?” Daryl snorts, elbows on his knees, takes another bracing swig of beer. “Skinny ass an’ five-foot-nothin’.”
“Five-foot-one,” she corrects him, and lifts her chin again, haughty this time, “and that ain’t no way to talk to a lady. Worry ‘bout your own ass, Mr. Dixon.”
“Says you.” She tosses what’s left of her roll at him, but it ain’t much and Daryl’s got good reflexes, so he catches it in his mouth. She laughs. “You coulda been in the circus.”
He huffs. “Fuck off.”
That only makes her laugh harder. She fuckin’ hiccups, covers her mouth and giggles through it ‘til the hiccups subside, which is all of thirty seconds and suddenly Daryl’s whole life is ruined.
Doesn’t think he’s used the word cute in all his years, never had a use for it, and then he makes Beth laugh so hard her cheeks go pink, and he knows it ain’t just the bite of the late November breeze that’s doin’ it to her, and now his head’s all full up on rainbows and fleece blankets and soft kisses and shit, god damn it.
“‘Sides,” she goes on when she’s got control of herself again, so seamlessly it’s like she never lost it in the first place, “I made that dinner. I know how good it is, ‘m definitely gonna eat it.
“Hey,” she switches tack before Daryl can take a breath, because god knows he can’t get his shit together so well as Beth can, apparently. She nods at the bottle in his hand and asks, “Can I have one’a those?”
He narrows his eyes at her. “How old are you now, anyway?”
“Be twenty-one in the spring.” She holds out a hand, wriggles her fingers. “C’mon, close enough.”
“Nuh-uh.” He shakes his head, leans the Bud out of reach. “Your daddy’s gonna shoot me, I give you a beer.”
“I’ll drink it real fast.”
Her wriggling fingers desist, but she still whines, “You’re ruinin’ my life.”
Serves her right. If he didn’t know it from all her damn giggling a minute ago, he’d still know, because she’s been ruinin’ his life for months, maybe even a year or two by now. He’s not sure, ‘cause Beth’s made herself nice and comfy before you even know she’s got under your skin.
She’d smiled at him one too many times, maybe. Truth is, Daryl doesn’t know the how or when or why, it’s just that she smiled at him one day and suddenly it felt different, like he’d been fallin’ for who knows how long and then, bam, he hit bottom and knew he was in trouble. It is what it is. Only thing he’s gotta figure out is what the hell to do with it.
Nothing, more’n likely. Nothing’s been doing him just fine so far. He’s kinda bent outta shape about it, sure, but the chip on his shoulder’s nothin’ new. He’ll handle it. It’s easier than handling Beth smilin’ at him like she does. Like she is right now, like he’s done somethin’ to make her happy, and ain’t that notion a damn trip.
Because, yeah, she hadn’t gotten her way this time, but it must be in a way she thinks is funny or some shit like that, because now she’s smiling at him. Twirling her collapsible toaster fork between her fingers like a baton, like she’d need anything else but that damn grin of hers to spear him straight through the heart. Just in case but, swear to god, she don’t need nothin’ else.
He’s so busy looking at her, matter of fact — so busy tracking the curve of that smile — that he doesn’t notice, again, the thoughtful gaze of someone else. Not like he’d pay much mind to it if he did, because what the hell does Carl know, anyway?
Enough, so it happens.
Carl likes Daryl, ‘course. He’s teaching him how to hunt, and he’s real bad at video games, so Carl always wins (and usually learns a couple new swear words, too, when Daryl can’t figure out the controller). They don’t got a lot in common, but it works out, except the one thing they do like the same is Beth.
He’s pretty sure, anyway, what with how Daryl can’t stop lookin’ at her unless she’s lookin’ at him, and then his ears go all red and he talks to her shoulder or his shoes. That’s how a lotta boys in Carl’s class act when they like somebody, so it ain’t hard to figure.
And he knows Beth likes Daryl, on account of how he read her diary while she was givin’ Judith a bath not too long ago. He was just curious, alright, only not curious enough to keep reading after the part about how Daryl makes her feel all fluttery. Carl knows what butterflies are but, blech, he doesn't wanna read about it.
Doesn’t really wanna watch it happen, either, but it’s kinda funny when Mr. Greene comes by to sit with his daughter, and Daryl kicks his own chair a whole foot away from Beth like Hershel’d almost caught them kissin’ or something.
Carl snorts, loud enough that Daryl shoots him a scowl. Used to be that’d scare him straight, but Carl’s not afraid of Daryl anymore, ‘specially when his face’s gone all red like it is and his eyes keep darting back to where he’d been sitting a minute ago.
Yeah, Carl thinks, Daryl’s definitely got a crush on Beth.
He’s not gonna say anything, though, and neither is anybody else. Not to Daryl’s face, anyway, which is a good thing, because he’s too busy fighting a probably losing battle with his self-control to bother dispelling anyone of their suspicions.
Even with his chair pushed a safe distance from Beth’s, Daryl’s coaxed back into conversation by Hershel during dinner. Rick tosses a couple more logs onto the fire, so the flames flare and crackle and the light catches in Beth’s big bright eyes.
Daryl blinks, looks away, responds to what Hershel had been saying about prepping the farm for the cold front that’ll be coming in. Thankful he’s got the presence of mind to respond at all, but he’s always been good at focusing up.
It’s come in handy more times than he could count, and never more so since this thing he’s feeling for Beth had kicked up. She’s goddamn always on his mind, so he’s had to learn to keep those thoughts on the back burner during his everyday, otherwise he’d get fuck-all done.
She’s not just white noise for long, though; nah, girl’s too pushy for that. Too present. Like now, when she’s in the middle of her third plate and Hershel’d excused himself for a cup of hot cider, Beth scoots her chair so she’s sitting a right side closer to Daryl again — closer than she’d been before, even, but she just blinks those goddamn chibi baby eyes at him, all guileless and shit, like she’s never done a thing wrong in her life and, fuck him, but Daryl would be inclined to agree.
She grins at him around a mouthful of mashed potato and bread and says “Hi,” like she fuckin’ knows what she’s doing to him and she thinks it’s funny to watch him squirm.
That oughta piss him off, only Daryl knows she’d never do anything like that on purpose. She wouldn’t make him uncomfortable. Ain’t her fault he’s goddamn putty in her hands, is it? No, that’s nobody’s fault — just the way it is.
He huffs, rolls his eyes at her. Lifts his beer to his lips and asks, because he can’t just stew in his own thoughts all night or he might actually go batshit, “You make that whole dinner, huh?”
“Sure did.” Beth swallows her food, and wipes a smudge of potato off her grin. “What, you think Maggie can cook? Nuh-uh. I think she’s marryin’ Glenn just so she can eat.”
Daryl huffs again, a laugh this time, just as Maggie shows up with Judith on her hip, right at the tail-end of Beth’s supposition. “What’s that, now?”
“Nothin,’” Beth sing-songs. She blinks up at her sister, all sweet and innocent, the same bullshit she’d pulled on Daryl a second ago.
Maggie’s not buying it, either, but she only shifts Judith off her hip and says, “Uh-huh. Here, take this baby, would you? I gotta go help Carl beat Glenn at cornhole. He’s weirdly good at it.”
“I’ll take ‘er.” Daryl’s already nudging Judith into his own arms before Beth can so much as move the plate off her lap. “Sister’s eatin’ ev’rything she can get ‘er hands on.”
A strangled sort of gasp breaks from Beth’s lips, sorta like she’s laughing, and she protests, “I’m not gonna eat a baby, gosh.”
“Uh-huh,” Maggie says again, not totally listening, because… Well, she’s busy looking, is the thing.
She squints at the pair of them, starting to think there might be some truth, after all, to what Glenn had said earlier. She should probably get involved, if that’s the case, but Dixon’s looking nervous enough as it is, which is just how Maggie likes him where her little sister’s concerned, so really all’s as well as it can be. She can let it alone for now.
So she leaves them to it, whatever the hell it is they’re doing, but Maggie suspects neither of them know, either. And that works for her just fine.
Daryl clears his throat, bounces Judith some on his knee to keep her from fussin’ — kid doesn’t like to sit still for too long — and because his anxiety demands it, anyhow.
Nothing fazes Beth, though, and nothing could deter her from being a pain in his ass, so she tells him, all matter-of-fact, “You got your hands full now. I could just take your beer and you couldn’t do nothin’ about it.”
“You do that an’ I’m gonna kick your skinny ass,” he replies mildly.
Beth leans forward to poke Judith on the nose, making her squeal. “Keep that up, Mr. Dixon, and I’m gonna start thinkin’ you’re an ass man.”
Yeah, her ass, maybe. But she don’t need to know that shit, so he keeps his trap shut and just huffs some more.
Things wind down after dinner, when the leftovers have been packed away, and after Glenn’s trounced everyone at cornhole. Used to be Daryl’d be the first one out, but he’s… comfortable, maybe that’s the word for it. He’s comfortable with these people, and his empty apartment ain’t much to be runnin’ back to.
His gaze flicks to Beth again, like a compulsion, like a habit that ain’t half as bad as the chain-smoking, but it’s got a better chance of killin’ him, Daryl’s sure, when the firelight catches on the golden halo ‘round her head and she laughs, bright and pretty, catching on the nighttime breeze, at some dumb joke Carl’s tellin’ her.
Comfortable’s a strange choice of word, when the anxiety kicks up in his gut just ‘cause he’d gone and looked her way, but it still fits. Probably should tell him all he needs to know — about Beth, about this feeling stirring up deep inside of him whenever he sees her, but not so deep that he can keep on ignoring it — but he already knew all of that, didn’t he?
God damn it.
Maggie and Glenn head out to his parents’, and Hershel follows with the excuse that he’s not as young as he used to be. Judith’s passed out cold — a miracle in and of itself, and nobody’s inclined to be the one responsible for waking her up — so Carl’s tasked with tucking her in.
Daryl tries to help Rick and Michonne clean up the kitchen, otherwise he’ll be left alone with Beth, who’s curled up with her mug of hot apple cider (probably with a shot’a whiskey, ‘cause she can talk Glenn into just about anything) by the bonfire, since she really did make that whole goddamn dinner, so no one’d let her help clean up if she offered. They don’t let Daryl, either, come to it.
“Go on and keep Beth company,” Rick insists, already ushering Daryl right back out the door. “We got this.”
Daryl tries to argue, he really does. Not because he doesn’t wanna be alone with Beth, just that he don’t think he can handle her all on his own. Doesn’t think he can handle himself on his own, not in this case. Ain’t much’a her to handle, but Daryl’s weak, alright, Christ.
Not like Rick cares. Forget everything Daryl’s ever thought about what a good guy he turned out to be, ‘cause the reality of the thing is that Rick lives to see him suffer.
He wouldn’t deny it, even, as he clips the door shut behind Daryl and turns, grinning, to look at an exasperated Michonne.
“You really think that’s a good idea?” she wants to know. “Think they can’t get there on their own?”
“Hey,” Rick says, voice riding on half a laugh, “if you wanna deck the place out in mistletoe for the Christmas party, be my guest, but I’ve had enough of his pissin’ and moanin’.”
“He’s talked to you about this?”
“No, he’s just being an ornery son of a bitch.”
Michonne snorts. “Yeah, he’s Daryl.”
“And he’ll lighten the hell up once he quits two-steppin’ around Beth,” Rick concludes, like it’s an obvious means to an end, and he’s probably right.
He tosses a dish towel over his shoulder and fills up the sink with suds and dirty platters. “Swear to God, watching the two of them make out would be less painful than this.”
“You’ve been hanging around Glenn too much,” Michonne teases, shaking her head. “Daryl’s lucky to have a couple of romantics like you guys on his side, hm?”
“Got that right.” Rick slants another grin her way. “Alright, gorgeous, we got dishes to do. Let’s get to it.”
Outside, just about the last thing Daryl’s doing is getting to it. Wouldn’t even know what that meant, let alone how the hell to go about it. So it’s a good thing Rick didn’t say it to him, otherwise the mild panic attack that’s been stewing in his gut since Beth first tripped into the front hall earlier would’ve long since ventured into the express-need-for-an-inhaler territory.
Not for Beth, though, no. Daryl’s not gonna say he resents her or nothin’ like that, but this whole thing might be a little easier on him if she were half as nervous around him as he is around her.
But then… Nah. Fuck it. He doesn’t want her to be nervous. Part of what he likes so much about her is how easy she is to be around, how effortless, natural, she is. And if he even thought for a second that he made her nervous or skittish or — or anything, most like he’d shoot himself between the eyes with his own crossbow, ‘cause he’d damn well deserve it.
Beth wouldn’t think so. Girl thinks the best of everybody. Daryl used to figure shit like that was naive, but then he got to know Beth and a lot of the shit he thought changed. And he knows, now, that she ain’t naive, ain’t any kinda sugar-coated, no matter how sweet her manners are; she just thinks good begets good, and who the hell is he to discourage her of that? He likes that about her, because it’s all no-bullsht with Beth; she’s genuine, she means it, and that’s what makes her such a good thing — ‘cause she’s real about it, no frills or pretense, just bone-deep honest.
Drives him fuckin’ crazy for her, is what it does, but he reels that in before he can lose his head completely and lunge at her tongue-first. That’s some feral, visceral shit he’s not used to, but while Beth can bring out the best in him, seems like she can inspire the worst of his baser instincts, too. He’s gotta keep that in goddamn check.
It’s not too hard, when they keep up a pretty steady stream of conversation as they sit together out by the fire. Daryl throws a couple more blocks of wood on the pit to keep them warm, and Beth polishes off her mug of cider, sets it aside on the glass patio table when she’s done.
She rubs her hands together, blows in her palms and rubs them together some more. She’s wearing gloves, the fingerless kind, but the mitten tops are folded over to cover her hands and she’s still cold. Little thing like her, Daryl’s not surprised, it’s just that he doesn’t know if he’s supposed to do something about it.
He does, sort of, eventually, right after the breeze bites a little too harsh and she sneezes. He coughs into his fist, swipes at his mouth, gears up his nerve all the while just to ask a simple question.
“You cold or somethin’?”
Beth tugs the beanie snug around her ears, wraps her arms around her middle. Shrugs. “It’s cold out.”
Smartass. Daryl tilts his head, looks at her sideways. “Looks like you’re wearin’ half your damn closet.”
“Hmph.” She sticks her tongue out at him. “Shoulda worn all of it.”
She could’ve, and he still would’ve been having the same exact crisis over how bad he wants to kiss her.
Fuck. He grits his teeth for a second, grinds them back and forth, debating whether or not he should swallow the words or nut up and say it out loud, and then he’s spitting ‘em out because his self-control only goes so far, alright?
“You wanna, uh.” He tries to clear his throat again, but it sticks. “You wanna come sit over here?”
He doesn’t look at her straight-on when she turns her head. Can’t do it, just glances at her outta the corner of his eye while she studies him, scrutinizes, her shoulders all bunched up against the cold.
“Not like you take up a bunch’a space or nothin’,” he grumbles. He shifts over in his seat to make room for her so she knows he’s serious. “Damn Keebler elf.”
A grin cracks across her wind-chapped face. “Alright,” she says. and hops on over like she hadn’t meant to hesitate in the first place.
She curls up next to him, folds her legs underneath and to the side, ‘cause there’s enough space for them both but not quite enough that they could leave room for Jesus. She’s pressed to his side, and he’s gotta wrap an arm around her shoulders to keep from cramping up. Not that it’s a chore to hold her, but if anybody asks, Daryl could say he didn’t have a choice.
Would’ve done it even if he did, but that’s another thing on the long list of shit he intends to keep to himself.
“Mmmm.” Beth’s cold nose nudges his jaw when she cuddles up closer, practically burrowing into him. The shiver that passes through him’s got goddamn nothing to do with the temperature. “You’re like a toaster oven, jeez.”
“Warm-blooded, I guess,” Daryl mutters. Sure as hell feels that way right about now. His fingers flex into the arm of her flannel coat, kneading the material almost mindlessly, only he catches it when Beth shivers, too.
He tilts his head a little to look at her, chin bumping the thick wool of her beanie. “Better?”
“Mm-hmmm,” she hums, pleased as punch. She rests a hand around his waist and doesn’t seem to notice it when his stomach muscles clench. “You’re a real big softie, Daryl, y’know that?”
“Yeah.” For her he is, yeah, truth is she’s got him wrapped around her little finger and somehow it hardly bothers him. “Don’t let that shit get around.”
He feels her mouth twitch up, and she’s gotta feel the nervous bob of his throat in response. “Secret’s safe with me.”
“Hm.” He’s got nothing else for her but that, so he keeps his arm tight around her and his gaze steady on the bonfire.
Her breath ghosts across his throat, his jaw, and he can smell it, all tart apple and sweet cinnamon, and he wonders if he’d be able to taste that shot of whiskey on her tongue if he kissed her right now.
God damn it motherfuck —
Beth straightens up some, so that Daryl’s gotta move, too, shift his chin off her head because she wants to look at him for some reason. He has a hard time meeting her eye — usually does — but the girl doesn’t need much in the way of encouragement to talk, anyway.
“What d’you want for Christmas?”
What? Daryl’s brows pinch together. “‘S November.”
“I’m goin’ Black Friday shopping tomorrow,” Beth explains, with a little roll of her eyes. “And if you’re gonna be difficult about tellin’ me what to get you, I’m gonna make you take me.”
He could say somethin’ about how she can’t “make” him do anything, but he’d be full of shit. So instead he tells her, equally truthful, “Don’t like shoppin’.”
“So you can come an’ beat people up for me.”
He’s not gonna laugh at that, no way does she need the ego boost. “Or I could stay in my damn house.”
“Pick me up at six.”
“We ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Now it’s Beth’s eyebrows furrowing, mouth pinched a little like she’s trying not to smile when she pushes it, “Then what’re you pickin’ me up for?”
“Girl” — he’s not laughing, she’s just fuckin’ ridiculous — “you’re gonna piss me off.”
“You’re gonna piss me off.”
“‘Cause I ain’t doin’ what you say?”
It’s Daryl’s turn to roll his eyes. “Jesus.”
He hasn’t laughed and he hasn’t agreed, but Beth’s still looking at him like she’s won, all flushed cheeks and pleased little smile. “You gonna tell me what you want for Christmas now?”
She’s fixin’ to drive him up the damn wall, Daryl knows it. He shifts in his seat again, and her knee bumps his. “You ever stop talkin’?”
“You wanna shut me up?”
Well, that freezes him right the fuck up, don’t it?
He doesn’t know what she means by it, and if it were anyone else saying it, he wouldn’t think anything about it at all. But this is Beth and she’s lookin’ at him like she meant somethin’ by that.
Daryl’s pretty good at reading people, but he’s used to Beth being more straightforward than just meaning something. If she wants somethin’, she says so; she don’t play games like he’s almost sure she is right now. Like maybe she could brush it off if he doesn’t catch her meanin’, play it like a joke if she needs to.
He doesn’t know where he’s getting this shit. Merle’s been ‘round to his place too often lately, watching all them dating reality shows. Shit’s getting in Daryl’s head.
Or maybe it’s just sittin’ this close to Beth’s making him stupid.
He swallows. Realizes it’s been a few too-long seconds since he’s said anything, and Beth’s still looking at him like that, like she’s waiting for him to do something about it.
Fuck, he ain’t no good at this. He swallows again and his eyes flick down to her mouth. “You want me to shut you up?”
Beth’s lips curve up into a gentle smile. The apples of her cheeks are pinker, and he’s pretty sure it doesn’t have much to do with the cold anymore.
“I think this’s the part where we start talkin’ in circles,” she says, and now she sounds nervous — not the scared kind, but like she’s waiting on him and she doesn’t know which way this is gonna go.
And, yeah, truthfully Daryl doesn't even know what they’re talking about anymore. He should know, it’s not like it’s complicated or nothin’, only Beth gets his head all messed up and she’s real close to him now, all he can smell is the stale but still sweet linger of her perfume, the tang of hot apple cider, the thick, brisk kick of bonfire smoke…
Jesus Christ, but she’s got him so high up that damn wall now he can’t imagine ever comin’ down.
Beth’s squirming, feet shuffling and fingers twitching, firelight sparking in her eyes as she looks at him and he looks dumbly right back.
“We don’t gotta, um —” She sucks her bottom lip between her teeth, sucks in what sounds like a near-on hysterical bubble of laughter and, fuck, he cannot stop looking at her mouth. “We don’t gotta talk anymore, if you don’t want.”
“Uh-huh.” His tongue swipes across his own lips and, dammit, they’re dry. Is she gonna care about that? “You, uh, jus’ wanna…”
Fuck him, what’s he even tryin’ to ask her?
Turns out he doesn’t have to ask her anything, doesn’t have to finish the half-assed thought that started tumbling past his lips, because Beth rears up, just a little, just enough, to press hers against his and catch that question before he can finish it, before he can fuck this up.
The relieved rush of breath that leaves him is enough to concave his fuckin’ chest. That breath crashes against Beth’s lips ‘til she parts them, to swallow up all that relief and replace it with something hotter, something better — her own apple cinnamon sigh that fills him up better than if he’d taken that shot of whiskey himself.
She doesn’t let up and neither does he, neither of them pausing to ask if this is alright, because it’s more than alright. It’s just what he wants, just what she’s been waiting for.
When his grip drops from her arm down to her hip, he squeezes and pulls her in tighter. She touches her tongue to his in a soft caress that snatches the rumbling groan from deep down in his gut, rolls it right into Beth’s mouth so she can taste how good wanting her makes him feel.
And it does feel good — so fucking good, so unbelievably good, to want her and to know that that’s just what she wants from him.
He pushes a hand into the low ponytail curling out from underneath her beanie, wraps it around his fingers and tugs, changing the angle of the kiss to keep it going. He licks into her mouth like she’s a well, full up to the brim with clean cool water, and he hasn’t had a drink in days, weeks, months, however long it’s been since he started wanting her.
One of her arms snakes around his neck, and her free hand rests atop his thrumming heart, mittens curling into the fabric of his jacket. She tugs him in a little closer, moans softly when his teeth nip at her lip to leave a mark, when his tongue flicks out to soothe the ache and swallow another one of her pretty, content sighs.
“You make it real hard to have a crush on you sometimes, y’know that?” Beth murmurs into the kiss.
She’s got a what on him, now?
“Hm?” Daryl’s hands span her back, chases the tremor in her spine and nudges her further into his personal space. He releases her mouth to trail his own down her neck. “Fuck you talkin’ about, girl, ‘m kissin’ you right goddamn now.”
“Took you long enough, huh?”
He swats at her ass, making her jump, making her shimmy closer ‘til she’s got a leg slung over his lap, so he can slide a hand up and down her thigh. Sucks on her earlobe and mutters into her skin, “Fuckin’ brat, gotta have your way all the goddamn time.”
“Think you’re gettin’ your way, too,” she points out, and yanks on his hair, a little sharp but just enough to bring his mouth back to hers.
And, you know what, he’s not gonna argue, ‘cause he is gettin’ his way. He’ll let her be a smartass about it if it makes her laugh, like she does right now, the giggle muffled against his mouth when he grips the back of her knee. She must be ticklish there.
She can give him all the shit in the world if she wants to, ‘cause he plans to find out every other place she’s ticklish, too. Gonna figure out every spot that makes her moan the way she does when he kisses behind her ear, and all the ones that get her panting like she does when his hands travel up her thighs. Gonna find out every which way to make her breath stutter out like it does when he toys with the hem of her shirt, how to get her to arch closer like she does when he smooths his thumb across the waistband of her thick fleece leggings.
He wants to know every last fucking thing he can do to keep her busy, keep her happy, because she went and kissed him and now he figures he owes her his entire goddamn life on a silver platter if she wants it.
His thumb’s still rubbing circles against her hip bone when they stop — when they pause, lips sticking a little when they break apart to catch their breath. His head’s dizzy with the scents of cinnamon and bonfire smoke, with the taste of apple and the remnants of dinner on his tongue. His mouth’s tingling and it’s not the bite of the late-night breeze, nah, it’s just Beth’s aftertaste and how badly he wants to chase after it.
“That was —” Beth giggles some more, high and pretty and breathless, when he drops his forehead to hers. “Good, that was… real good.”
“Yeah.” Daryl’s voice cracks when he says it, and what the hell else can he say? It hurts to breathe and somehow that feels good, too. “Yeah, it was.”
She plucks another kiss from his buzzing lips, short and sweet and full of promise. “You wanna do that some more, an’ I won’t make you come shoppin’ with me.”
He goes ahead and laughs this time, just a huff of warm breath that breaks apart against Beth’s lips. Fuck no is he about to brave the hellscape of Black Friday when he could have Beth all to himself instead.
“Think you’re gonna be too busy to be goin’ out t’morrow, anyhow,” Daryl tells her.
“That so?” She laughs again, light and breezy this time, when he nuzzles into her hair, and she strokes her hands through his. “You got big plans for me or somethin’, Mr. Dixon?”
“Somethin’ like that. yeah,” he says, and kisses the next laugh right outta her mouth.
Doesn’t stop this time, either, ‘til the crackle of the bonfire dies out. Leaves behind nothing but a few bright orange sparks, plumes of blue-grey smoke, and the sweet stale taste of Beth’s ChapStick all over Daryl’s lips.