"Can we turn the heat on for a few minutes?" Beth wonders, teeth chattering.
She looks around the car briefly but she can’t focus, she's so soaked and frigid. Rick sits staring at the steering wheel for a second, mottled faint light reflecting on his face from the rain pouring in sheets down the windshield.
"Can't waste the fuel." He takes a deep breath. "We'll get in the back, fold down the seat. There's a pack with blankets and some food. It'll be more than enough for the night. If we stay close we'll warm up."
Beth can feel him eyeing her as if this is some grim terrifying prospect she'll have to hold her nose for. Which figures, for Rick.
"Yeah okay," she agrees easily. "But I have to get out and pee first."
Rick cringes a little but waves her off. She doesn't go far from the car, and makes no attempts to stay out of the rain. When she climbs back in the passenger side Rick's kneeling in the back opening the stuffed pack he'd mentioned. Beth sits and pulls off her boots, then her jacket, sweater, gloves, and hat, piling everything up on the dashboard while she pulls her hair carefully out of its elastic band and wrings out the ends, leaving it loose around her shoulders. Rick's boots are on the floor of the driver's side and his coat spread over the back of the seat.
"If you lay on those blankets with wet clothes we'll just be layin' on wet blankets all night."
Rick sighs a little. "Yeah, I know, I'm tryin' not to make it awkward."
Beth rolls her eyes and twists around to look at him. "I can think of worse things, can't you?"
Rick glances up and catches her eye, grins a little and shrugs, nodding. Beth smiles and turns back.
"Throw 'em up here, I'll try to lay everything out so it'll have half a chance of drying out by morning," she adds as she pulls her button down out from her jeans and starts to unbutton it.
A moment later Rick's shirt flies into the front seat, landing in a soggy heap on the gear shift and it makes Beth laugh for a moment, stuck in the middle of nowhere in a badly camouflaged car, and unsure of who might come across them before they can get out. Peeling off her jeans is almost impossible especially while trying to keep from snagging her underwear down with them but she manages, grabs Rick's jeans from where he'd tossed them over the back of the driver's seat and then works on wringing everything out as much as she can and spreading it all over the seats and dashboard. When she turns back to carefully climb between the seats Rick's spread one blanket out on the floor of the car and is sitting up fiddling with his holster with the other blanket spread on top and covering up to his waist. Beth steadies herself with a hand on his shoulder and he reaches back without looking up to grasp her hand instead as she scoots under the blanket next to him.
"You have your gun?" Rick asks.
"Oh, I left it-" she starts, but he cuts in, "I got it," twisting back to reach into the front seat and grab her holster. Beth glances quickly at the expanse of his bare freckled skin, the pronounced tan line at the base of his neck, the flex of muscles in his lower back above the waistband of his boxers. She looks away quickly when he turns back and accepts the holster, pulls the pistol out and makes sure it's dried off and ready if needed. She looks up and sees Rick watching her, his expression unreadable.
"Nothin'," he murmurs after a pause, setting his own gun aside and scooting down to lay back with his head propped on the rolled up empty pack.
Beth sets her gun down and wriggles down to lay down next to him. The floor of the car is hard, the blanket doesn't help much, and the one on top of them doesn't help much either. She shivers and holds her hands up to her mouth to blow on them.
"Come 'ere," Rick murmurs, holding his arm out, and Beth moves closer, neither of them looking each other in the eyes as he turns on his side and wraps both arms around her and starts rubbing up and down her back over the blanket while she leans into his chest with her arms folded between them. Their knees knock together and she laughs a little nervously, but it already feels better to be curled up against him, the blanket tucked tight around her at her back and Rick's solid body emanating warmth.
"Now tell me what you were thinkin'. Worse things, right?"
Rick huffs out a humorless laugh. "I was thinkin' how rare it used to be, seein' a pretty girl hold a gun like that."
Beth grins and hums, squirming a little to try to find a comfortable position where her hipbone isn't jammed too much into the seam where the backseat is folded down. They're quiet for a few long moments, Rick still running his hands more gently now up and down her back, and it is making her feel warmer.
The past few months as Rick had evened out, come out of the severity of his reaction to Lori's death there had been a different weight to his steps, a purposeful calmness that Beth hung on to. Morning and evening meetings to hand off Judith, soft words and gentle touches from his now perpetually dirt-stained hands had become part of her everyday and the exchanges always made her feel a welcomed warmth, even on the hot sunny days of Georgian summer.
She hums a little under her breath, a few bars, and then sings the words softly, "If you like pina coladas, and gettin' caught in the rain . . ."
Rick snorts and then keeps chuckling, tired giddy laughter that soon Beth can't hold back either. "I don't even know what's in a pina colada."
"No clue," Rick agrees, and sighs out the last of his laughter. Beth straightens and flexes her fingers, her joints still stiff with the deep lasting cold that came with getting soaked to the skin. Rick leans back wordlessly, sandwiches her hands in his and rubs them a few times, then cups them to his mouth and blows a warm breath out.
"Thanks," she murmurs, and leans into him as he wraps his arms back around her, this time under the blanket.
She's tugging the blanket up higher to cover his bare shoulder as he flattens his hands on her back and sweeps one up and down her spine and she squirms under his firm steady touch, restlessness tickling in her middle.
Beth can't stop moving, can't make herself settle and anchor into the wall of heat building in the narrow spaces between their bodies. She fidgets her fingers curled between their chests, overly aware of the tickle of his chest hair on her knuckles. She flexes her toes and scrubs one foot against the other; her feet are still too cold to be comfortable. She gets a sudden wave of chills and Rick presses her closer with one arm still locked around her back and reaches down with the other to scrub briskly from her knee up her thigh a few times. It's not a sensual touch, not even gentle, and she tries to hold onto that and keep her head on straight.
The simultaneous chills and heat are making her dizzy, making her feel suffocated suddenly and she's pushing at his chest before managing to half-explain, "hold on," as she flips to her other side with her back to him. She stays propped on one elbow for a moment, takes a breath and gathers her hair over one shoulder so it won't be in his face when she lays back down and begins the delicate process of fitting herself against him again, reaching back to draw his arm around her waist after he pulls the blanket back up.
"Alright?" he asks, his voice even.
Beth closes her eyes. She didn't know when she'd tucked in so far, when her nose had nestled at the base of his throat and her mouth pressed, closed, to his collarbone, but the smell of his skin, the almost-taste lingers.
She licks her lips. "Mm-hm."
He nods, lets out a long breath in a slow measured stream. It does feel better to have him at her back now, to feel like maybe her body can balance out the hot and cold and just get warm, even and settled. Rick's hand lays loose and open a few inches in front of her stomach and she takes it between both of hers, flattens it out and studies it for something to focus on.
"How far away are we?"
"Full day's walk. We'll drive as far as we can once it lets up. Might only get a hundred feet but it's somethin'."
"They'll be worried."
"Yeah," he says softly, absently. She's tracing a fingertip along the back of his hand, up each finger and looping back down, circling his knuckles and following the small bones down to his wrist and up again.
"It'll be Judith's bedtime soon," she says. She thinks about sliding her hand into his and feeling his firm grip enveloping her hand, but she keeps tracing instead.
"Carol can usually get her down."
"Carol's good with her too. But you're the one she knows."
"Yeah," Beth whispers. Rick's hand twists and closes gently around hers, his fingertips curled into her palm, thumb sweeping down over the sensitive skin of her wrist. "I miss her," she adds. "What if somethin' happens, what if we can't get back-"
"We'll get back, Beth."
She nods and sniffles, drawing in a deep breath. She feels Rick run his hand gently over her shoulder and then he presses his mouth there in something that’s not quite a kiss.
"We'll get back," she murmurs hollowly.
She doesn't feel it, doesn't feel anything beyond the fear and immediacy of being in the car, stuck in the car with night falling blacker over the windows with each passing minute. Sometimes the dark brings more walkers. Sometimes it brings people hoping to come across a sleeping camp.
Rick's still running his hand slowly up and down her arm, long gentle strokes of his rough palm It starts to ground her, to touch more than her skin and soothe her.
"The rain hasn't let up," she says quietly.
Rick hums in reply before settling back, his hand still resting open and heavy along her shoulder, fingers tapping gently on her collarbone. Beth shifts back too, pressing her legs against his, the bristly hairs on his thighs tickling her skin, and the lack of sound he makes when there's full contact from knees to shoulders is probably more telling than if she'd heard him grunt or sigh, but he's silent. She pulls his arm back around her over her stomach and tries to regulate her breathing, to make the trembling in her chest subside. She focuses like that, on being still and quiet and on Rick's moderate breathing, his chest against her back and air tickling down her neck.
"You should try to sleep," he says eventually.
Beth blinks, gives falling asleep some thought. She is tired, bone tired from the running and the cold but she's also coiled tight inside, too much feeling clenching and tugging, to really calm down. She knows what it is, she's not that naive even though it's barely ever worth it to slip a hand into her underwear in her bunk at night when she just ends up holding her breath the whole time, praying no one can hear it echoing off the cavernous cement walls. She knows, and she clenches her thighs tight together and swallows.
"Don't feel like sleeping," she whispers.
She leaves it hanging there against the static of the rain sheeting down over the roof of the car and slapping at the windows. The wind clatters through webs of bare tree branches.
Now it's Rick shifting, curling and uncurling his fingers and sighing into her hair. Beth smiles to herself, cautiously amused at the idea of Rick being bothered and restless and twists back to look up at him. He blinks and stares down at her, eyes dark and mouth parted.
"I can think of worse ways to pass the time," she murmurs, and he lets out a dazed huff of incredulous laughter.
She rolls her eyes, makes a show of turning to face him again, letting the blanket slip down and sliding an arm over Rick's side to flatten her palm on his back between his shoulder blades.
"It's not supposed to be like this," he adds, eyes slipping closed.
Beth tucks in under his chin and feels the slow shift as his hands start again to glide over her back from shoulders to waist.
"Nothing's how it's supposed to be now. I think . . . maybe this is the only thing that's still close to how it should be. We can have somethin' good if we want it." Rick seems to hold his breath for a moment. His hands still on her back and it feels like his arms clench a little, gathering her closer. She feels him swallow. "We're not hurting anybody, it would just . . . just be nice for right now. Just for right now."
She can smell sweat and soap on him, and faintly the sun-baked fabric of his shirt even though he's not wearing it. He nods, almost too small to notice and runs a hand over her hair as she leans back a little so she can look at him again.
He looks different, face solemn, dark, and focused and he's never looked at her like this before. She gets a little lost in it, suddenly pinned in place by the unyeilding force of his eyes, bright sharp blue even in the rapidly fading light. He starts running his hand through her hair, fingertips snagging on tangles here and there and Beth sighs in contentment.
She realizes he's waiting, waiting for her to take the first move, and she wonders what he's restraining himself from.She tips her head back when he reaches up next, leans into his touch.
Rick's eyes trail over her face and he slides his fingers into her hair again, this time cradling the back of her head and gently massaging her scalp. Beth couldn't hide her reaction if she tried, her eyes flutter and a groan falls from her parted lips. She foggily hears Rick expel a breath that hisses a little through a smug grin and smiles in spite of herself as she slides her hand up his back to grip at his shoulder.
His fingertips press along her scalp again, finding a spot with his thumb behind her ear that makes her nerves all light up and suddenly it feels like everything has started, like they're going to catch fire under this blanket in the back of the car in the rain on the side of the road before they've even gotten as far as she had with Jimmy behind the barn a lifetime ago.
"Don't stop," she whispers.
Beth arches her back, stretching up in his arms and Rick mouths down her throat to alongside the strap of her tank top, following the neckline down to her chest and pausing to press slow soft kisses to the slight swells of her breasts. He runs his hand up from her knee slowly, from her thigh to her hip, up her ribs on the outside of her shirt and then to palm at her chest, eyes on hers when she looks down at him. He leans up slowly, drops one more kiss over her sternum on the way, and his thumbs are brushing over her nipples through her shirt when he pauses and watches her for a moment.
Beth squirms and mews a little, brings her hands up to press over his before she loops them around his neck and lets him hang there over her, waiting. When he lowers his head, angles to one side and kisses her cheek she closes her eyes and scratches at the back of his neck and up into his hair and he groans, arching into it and closing his eyes.
"Beth," he murmurs into her neck.
She "mm's" in reply, and realizes that moment that she's warm all over, Rick's hands large and hot on her and beard burn stinging a little on her neck.
"Okay?" he asks, his voice a low rumble at her ear.
Beth takes a deep breath and nods, tilts her head for him and slides one foot up his calf, hooking behind his knee and tugging him closer between her legs. He stops her, bracing back even as he scrapes his teeth lightly on her skin.
"Can't do that," he murmurs. "Can't even think about that."
Beth scoffs. "Well I know you're at least thinking about it," she teases, trailing a hand down his chest.
"Not - that's not what I meant," he eyes her warningly. "We can't."
"I know. I wouldn't risk it either. But," she pauses and palms him through his boxers, answering his groan with one of her own when he rolls his hips into her touch and leans down to rest his forehead on her shoulder.
It all still feels like it doesn't count, like even though she's rutting against his leg and his teeth are grazing her ear, that it's not them or not real.
"Can't leave it like this," she whispers. "I can't take it, I need-"
Beth catches one of his hands again and guides it slowly down over her stomach, over the waistband of her underwear and down. Rick looks pained and dazed when he lifts his head again, and she lets her hand fall away from his to trail her fingertips up his forearm and feel the muscles there twitch and shift as he cups between her thighs. Rick draws his fingertips up and down slowly, watching Beth's face carefully, taking note of every flutter of her eyelids and the way she purses her lips to exhale and squirms slowly against his touch. She catches his eye again and nods, pulling him down to put her mouth at his ear and whisper, "more."
He reaches up and slides his fingers under the waistband of her underwear, glancing up at her face again before he stops. "Now?" he asks, suddenly still and gentle.
"Yes," she grits out, raising her hips to meet his tentative fingers.
He hums low and raspy at her ear, a hot fast breath puffing out when he finally slips his fingers against her skin to skin.
"Oh, Beth," he whispers, delving deep and slow, spreading slickness around with every touch.
She wraps her arms tight around his shoulders and arches her back, eyes screwed shut and her mouth open and panting already, weak groans with every breath. She digs her nails into his skin when he carefully presses inside her, aware of the deep revelatory groan that rumbles through his chest only vaguely because it's overwhelming having him inside and moving, working at her with the pad of his thumb and biting less gently now at her earlobe and down her throat.
"Beth, look at me."
She opens her eyes and stares into his, lost deep within herself for a moment, blind to the bolts of lightning cracking through the blackness outside, deaf to any thunder other than her heart hammering in her chest or Rick's breaths turning to gasps at her ear. Her eyes flick down to his hand working between her legs, and when she looks back up at him she catches one fast breath before it happens, blooming and breaking in her middle, washing out through her chest and tingling through her arms and legs, suddenly making the brush of Rick's beard at her neck too much until she shrugs away to lay back limp against the blanket.
When she glances towards the windows, they’re fogged over, and she realizes suddenly she’s warm all over.