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There Ain't No Christmas, Anymore

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When Beth was a little girl, with twirling blue dresses that needed barely any fabric to be able to reach the floor, a wide and white smile, and an uncontrollable sense of adventure, she'd run through the farm's back fields and towards the old pond with the beat up old wood deck. It was the walk way that her Daddy had built with his own daddy way back when, long before she or Maggie was born and before her granddaddy showed his true colors; his brutality and his love for the many dark brown bottles seemingly sewn to the flesh of his hand. The heat of the Georgia sun would beat down against the back of her neck, where her skin was exposed underneath the blonde strands of hair her mama had combed up and out of the way into a tightly wound pony tail. She'd be able to feel each singular bead of sweat, as it glided down from behind the backs of her ears and over the bumps of her skin.

Beth remembers being grossed out about the feel of it sludging down and catching all the dirt and grime from the day of play.

She can't feel like that anymore, though, even if she actually does pretty much all of the time. Being consistently outdoors and on the run, now the Georgia heat feels so much heavier than it ever had before the turn, for a reason she can't seem to explain. Sweat and dirt have become camouflage to the dangers of the forest, the dead, and the living. Second nature. A coating she's become accustomed to, even if she often finds herself daydreaming of a steaming hot bath, salts, and a trashy paperback that her Daddy would give her a good long talking to if he ever found it, to casually thumb through.

Back then, though, the bare of the bottom of her feet would slide off the silk of the green grass onto the rough of the wood and she'd be able to hear Maggie's voice hollering after her, telling her to slow down-to wait. But, Beth wasn't about waiting, then, when she was younger. The corners of her lips would twitch ever so slightly, skyward, as she'd bend herself at her knees and reach out little fingers to graze the water, below.

Cool.

Cool, against fired sun-burnt skin.

She grew up in these Georgia summers; from that little girl to the teenager she'd become.

There were only so many ways to deal with the rising temperatures when you lived off next to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, as she did. Sometimes, Beth would hunker down into the bench seat of Daddy's pick up. She'd drive through the winding back streets, with the window down and the wind blowing the blonde of her hair up and around her head; the radio on and her fingers taping out the tune on the worn leather steering wheel. She'd meet up with her friends at Mr. Steller's Soda Shoppe and they'd all get a cool drink or a two scoop cone. Laughing. Laughing and happy and sweltering away on the spinning stools. Pretending that school wasn't over for the time being and that they wouldn't all be heading out on their own, after their senior year's started and ended in just a few short months.

But, sometimes she wouldn't do that. Sometimes she'd simply sit in the plains of her bedroom in front of her one air vent and let the cool breeze glide against her skin; letting her eyes trail out the window to Mr. Otis and her Daddy working on a broken mill, with a busted gear. She'd watch them for awhile, grunting and sweating, just like the rest of the town did during the warm summers; working a long while at the ratty old thing, long after she would of given up, if she'd been attempting to do it on her own. She'd watch them and envision their skin, like her's, melting away from the hard surface of bone; sizzling, popping, bubbles of flesh, as all of them, herself and her loved ones, perished away and soaked sinfully into the earth's soil.

She'd think about the visual of it all in a surrealistic way.

Colorful and pleasing and strange.

Then, she'd pull herself out of her bed, where she'd feel her skin sticky and uncomfortable.

She'd shuffle down the creaky stairwell and out the screen door, always ending up back at the pond, sinking one foot in; toe by toe. Until, the entirety of her body was encased in the relief; her jeans gluing themselves to her body and the fabric of her blouse dancing behind her against the flow of the water. Those days it all felt too warm and she'd run out across that field, past the rickety old barn and the chicken coup. Past her mom who'd taken a brush to the brown mane of Beth's horse or the yellow mane of her own. She'd run past all of it. The long length of grass reaching up it's feathered fingers towards the dripping sun and the clouds and the open sky; trying to soak up some of that warmth for itself. That grass grazing against the length of her legs and then the water, as she sinks herself, below.

She never thinks she'll miss it.

The heat.

Until winter comes.

But, even then she's always had the warmth of the fireplace flickering through the night, or the actual heater on and ready if they're not feeling particularly cozy and just want to sleep the night sound. She's always had Mama downstairs cooking something hearty or sliding a mug of coco 'cross the counter, with extra marshmallows, because she'd forever known how much Beth loves them. She always had a closet full of sweaters and blankets and gloves and scarves and hats; ready to grab and snuggle herself in at a moments notice.

Because, that's how the world is supposed to work. You have your home and you have your things. And those things keep you comfortable.

She has none of those comforts, anymore. All of those precious moments and familiar materials of happiness gone away with the sudden sweeping of rotting flesh tumbling their way through the cracked wood of the far fence and onto the property while her beloved barn went up in flames.

Now, she has the biting cold of the wicked winter wind, as it nips nastily at the end of her nose.

Beth feels frozen to the Earth's ground and her blanket feels solid with melted snow that's hardened over, as she drags it tighter around her body and shoves it deeper into her face. Their fire is burning not too far away. But, it doesn't seem to matter, even though, for the first time in awhile, Rick's allowed the group to build a proper one. A fire that has actual burning flames and admits some sort of heat up to the bodies laying around it; still dug into the ground, of course. Beth's been put on camp fire as one of her main duties. She'd learned a trick, once, in her Scout's group, about how to reflect the light of the sun through glass, to spark the leaves. It's easy and wastes no supplies, which is the biggest plus and deciding factor of her involvement.

She's sure that everyone else can do it, as well, though. More than sure. There's literally no way the others of their group couldn't hold up a slab of glass and do the proper damage against the sticks and the grass.

But, Beth has a feeling the the other ladies had let her have it-let her have something to do.

It's nice, having something to be in charge of, even if she doesn't always feel of use in the other aspects of their day to day survival. But, their fire's are becoming more and more important, as the days go on and the nights grow worse.

Weeks and weeks ago, she'd heard T, Rick, and Daryl talking in hushed voices over a map, about flushing out the jobs between their group members. Rick's been adamant that they all have a purpose. That they all have to have a purpose and Beth couldn't agree more. She might not be battle strong quite yet, but she can damn well find another way to contribute and she knows it. So, Beth helps with what she can and stands out of the way for the things she's not yet ready for. Not yet ready to be a part of. When Carol and Lori start in on mending clothing and washing up the small amount of kitchenry that they've managed to carry around in their packs and trunks (a few forks and a flat pan), Beth hunkers right down next to them. When Daryl and, sometimes, Rick come back to whatever camp they've set up, with game, Beth makes sure that she's getting ready to help clean and cook up whatever it is; awkwardly sat a comfortable distance away from Daryl as she attempts to mimic the swish of his blade and the removal of the poor thing's insides and coats. When they pull over on the side of the road to refill their water jugs and look over their map to avoid herds and small whispers of people, she clutches the whole of whatever weapon she's got and stands watch.

Guards them.

Her family.

When night will eventually begin to fall and the chill sets in worse than it does during the day, Beth plants her knees into the dirt and scratches and claws her way against the surface of the earth. She doesn't think to complain about the dirt logging it's way seemingly permanently underneath her nail-beds. She doesn't whine that she could be doing something else to help them all survive. She doesn't wish Carl was appointed the task instead of her and that she was the one who got to wander through the woods with their leader shootin' things to eat.

She digs her hole. She stacks her sticks. She packs her leaves.

She grabs the piece of glass she's been carrying around in her pack.

She looks for the sun.

And she starts their fire; stoking it, whenever it dares to threaten dying out.

She does her part.

This winter is worse than any winter she can recall in her seventeen years of life, even though it's probably not actually so. But, being out here in the wilderness, with none of those things that she loves (except Daddy, Maggie, and these new people she's been considering family since before they had to scatter from the farm in a bloody and pointless battle with the dead) has her baffled to recall one. It frustrates her to no end, but everyone else on the ground around her seems to be perfectly fine in their own sleeping bags. The shadows of their body lumps can barely be made out through the flickering light; motionless and at peace, as if the fact that they're camping out in the middle of the woods with only each other and snow and wind and ice, is fun.

It's not.

Every single morning, she can see the continuous discomfort in her own eyes, reflected back from their's. She can feel every ache and crick in the core of her bones, from the hard soiled earth. She can sense Rick's desire to find a place that they'll be able to stay in for more than a few nights, burning into every task that they set out to do. Burning into them.

They shouldn't be outdoors, anymore. It's too cold.

But, none of that matters, because when the others have slid into their individual spaces around the fire, they somehow look perfectly fine. Comfortable. Warm. It's the complete and polar opposite of the way Beth finds herself tossing and turning throughout all of the nights; trying to make the span of flesh covering her bones magically sizzle, like she used to imagine it doing so, when everything was still okay and all was right with the world.

Even Lori and her slowly growing bump looks at rest where she's curled up next to Carol, who's helping to keep the both of them warm. She wouldn't want her to feel anything else, of course. All of them know that Lori's got enough problems to be dealing with, without adding the shivers to her growing list. Beth sees the looks the women shoots Rick, during every day, and she sees those looks un-returned. There's not a lot of them within their group and, although Beth is more than fairly certain that Carl doesn't understand what happened between his two parents, there's only so many things going on around them to focus on during the slump of their days. So, she knows, even if Daddy and the others think she's just as blind as her smaller companion. She knows about the stifling frustrations of their miscommunication. She knows that the baby might not even be Rick's. She knows of Lori's disapproval over Mr. Walsh's death. The way he died. What her husband did. She knows Rick avoids Lori and her gaze, at whatever cost.

She knows that Lori sleeps on one side of the fire and (when he can manage to fall under for a little while) Rick sleeps on the other.

She knows there's still some semblance of love there, even it will probably take the pair of them a long while to recognize it again. She believes in those things.

Beth's also aware, without bothering to crane her neck around, that Maggie's perfectly fine, as well. She knows that her sister has Glenn's arms securely fashioned 'round her, underneath the blanket they've claimed. It's heavier than Beth's is and it blocks more of the wind, which she thinks is unfair in the grand scheme of things. So, because she can't seem to help it, every morning as she's stoking the fire to prepare breakfast with Carol, she imagines stealing it for herself.

They don't all have the extra body heat to help them through the night, after all.

Without looking, Beth knows that T-Dog, who could and does sleep through anything and everything, is settled nearer the other end, happy as a bird plucking through the grass after a rainy mornin'.

And then there's Rick, who's been running on empty for the last four days and has finally settled down on the ground at his body's insistence, no one else's. Beth certainly wasn't telling him what to do. She doesn't need to look to know that his system is so shot that his body is still, just like all of the other's; settled contently in one of the sleeping bags that they'd found in a campsite a few weeks back.

Beth had helped scrub the blood out of them in a creek.

T-Dog had burned the bodies.

The only other person who seems to be awake to consciously deal with the sting of the wind, is Daryl; hunched down across the way on the outside of camp, at the bottom of a tree trunk, and tinkering with the crossbow forever attached to his arm. His entire being is quite still, really. The covered flesh of his back is rested against the bark of the tree and he's facing outwards towards the black abyss of the forest, at an angle. He wants to see both ways, if he can; on coming danger and his family behind him. Beth can't see much of his face from her position on the ground; he's too far away and her face is too mashed into the fabric that she's wrapped around her head. But, she can tell by the set of his brow, which has the smallest tinge of orange glow from the fire light, and the tense set of his fingers, as they swirl around a screw or something of the sort, that there's a frown placed promptly on the plains of his face. He does that a lot, she's noticed since before they left the farm, even though she's fairly certain he's not aware that the muscles in his face twitch 'round to make the expression.

Beth watches him for a bit, mindlessly narrowing in on the tips of blunt and calloused fingers grip carefully at something she can't see and twist around and around, again. She's not sure how long she lets her eyes spin along with him, but it's a constant motion. She wonders if he does it to keep the blood pulsing through his veins. It's possible, really, that he's trying to prevent himself from freezing permanently against the jagged edges of the bark, much as she's doing against the dirt. Daryl doesn't have a blanket with him, anywhere that she can see, either, which seems all sorts-of foolish. She knows from the earlier sunlight, as well as the days on days on days that she sees these people's faces and only these people's faces, that he's got multiple layers on - gotten more padded, just as the rest of them have. Especially as the weather continues it's rapid decline.

Beth's only seen Daryl without a shirt on, twice. When Andrea shot him up, like nothing more than a stumblin' walker, and he'd been subjected to bed rest he, just like all the others from the then strange group who had needed her Daddy's medical treatment, had been shuffled into Shawn's long forgotten bedroom; it had always been right across from her's when he was alive and after when she thought he was. And Beth likes her jobs, just as her parents taught her to. So, while Daddy tended to the fields and the barn and all the outsiders kept busy scramblin' eggs, washing up laundry, and not doing much to find little girls, she'd been on Daryl Duty. It was nothing serious; that was all kept to Daddy. She didn't change anything; no bandages or things of the sort. It was mostly intended to make sure she didn't find him hobbling down the stairs trying to bust free from the stability of four walls and to reprimand if she did.

Apparently it had been a genuine concern on Daddy and Rick's minds. She hadn't thought much of it, because Mr. Grimes surely knew the disgruntled member of his haphazardly formed group far better than she did.

Bringing an injured man a sandwich and a glass of lemonade shouldn't of been the task that it was. While Beth offered him warm smiles and open windows, to let some fresh air in, Daryl had offered nothin' but this same frown that he's got on now. This same frown and some quick paced shuffling to pull the sheets up 'round him, as if she was there fixing to catch a peak.

Since they'd left the home she'd known all her life, Beth had seen all the men (and the women) in some state of undress, actually. If you wanted a bit of a wash and they'd stopped by a creak or a pond, modesty couldn't be the first thing on your mind. The women went together and the men went together, to give them all the best chance at not being so obviously exposed, the semblance of privacy, but things happened. Daddy surely did his best to make sure that everyone was decent before letting the switch happen; someone had to keep watch, after all, anyway. More than likely, Daryl and Daddy were always the ones standing off to the side, not talking much, while the others tried their best to funnel the water up and over themselves, to get some muck off. Even with their haphazard attempts at the respect and privacy that they all deserved, though, she'd still seen her fair share of Rick Grime's chest.

But, when he did make a move to get the first layer of dirt, blood, and grime off of him, Daryl got down to a used-to-be-white tank top and not much less.

As the marker on Georgia's invisible thermostat plummeted downwards, Daryl'd done the same as everyone else had. He had on that same stained tank top, she was sure, and the two shirts that she'd scrub down from time to time, along with the rest of the groups belongings. His coat with leathered sleeves came next and his vest on top of that. But, now, to unhelpingly add to his getup, he's got his horse blanket settled down on the span of his shoulders, in place of a proper one.

She recalls last week when they'd held up in an old barn. It was as ancient as farm barns get, really. The front doors hung precariously on their hinges, dangling off at a strange angle, and the wind from the outside world whipped through the cracks growing further everyday between the planks of wood meant to hold the structure together. Rick had declared that it was okay for a night and no more, otherwise they'd probably still be there, with a semblance of protection from the elements. The building was a sorry sight to see to the majority of the group; it's dust and grime and lack of stability something of a threat in and of itself.

But, when Beth had stepped inside she'd felt the all too familiar pull of her chest of homeyesthisfeelsright at the sight of the horse stables. At the long lingering smell of what had been before. When they slept in them later that night, it felt like the rarest moments of normality; a small and secluded place to herself, for however short a time. The darkened walls of her stable felt comfortable compared to the hard ground of the outside world. But, she hadn't slept. Just being there reminded her of home and her own horse, Betsy; how her mangled and devoured corpse was more than likely rotting away on their old land.

She wasn't the only one who found comfort in their imagined privacy. Everyone had slept well that night, despite or unaware of Maggie and Glenn's pants of breaths and groans, that could be heard sounding out from the furthest corner, though they tried to keep quiet. No one else had noticed, though; too settled in their places and blanketed with exhaustion from the journey of the day. She heard Daryl, as well, who sat on watch, as he often does, hacking away at something he'd quickly pulled out from the stall that he'd claimed as his own; small tears of something or other quietly battling against Glenn groaning Maggie's name.

The next morning he had a poncho.

But, it's not a placement holder for a proper covering against the night.

As Beth braces herself against another gust of wind, she can't seem to understand how he isn't moving from the shock of it all - how no one is moving from the discomfort of the wind and the snow.

Ever since she was a little girl whenever it got cold out, her Mama made sure that Beth was well bundled. It didn't matter if they were going from the house, to the car, to another house, either. Her mom would tug a pullover down over her head, stuff her arms in through the coat sleeves, and make sure that her ears were probably blocked from the chill.

That's what she needs, now that Beth thinks on it.

It takes her a few minutes to make her brain connect with her body. For a little while, the glaze of her eyes stays settled on Daryl's form; the orange tinge of light holding her focus and the twirl of his fingers grounding her in their reality. She watches the wind whip the world around them and wills her mind to transmit the message to her arms and her legs. It comes slowly; the first twinge of connection allowing her to stretch out a leg. A few more moments of concentration and she moves it with more purpose than her first attempt, doing her best to ignore the way it pulls up from the ground-roughly from it's simply iced fusion. The sudden movement, however slight, catches Daryl's attention, of course, and he glances from the corner of his eye to the space where she, Daddy, Lori, and Carol lay. It only takes him a second to take in the sleeping forms of their group and Beth, as she pushes the top of her body up and off of the ground and tries to stagger to her feet, without losing the grip that she's got on her toughest protection against the elements, before he goes back to his fiddling.

Her fingers feel stiff under the fabric of her gloves, as she clutches desperately to the worn wool of her blanket. The drastic highs and lows of Georgia are remarkable, she thinks as she steps out of her area and past the people stretched out on the ground. The trip towards the outer edge of their camp feels like miles through the tundra, as she stumbles against the bumpy surface of the forest floor and tries not to trip over the places where her blanket skims the ground. Eventually, though, she can make out the features on Daryl's face, as opposed to her simple connect the dots game, from before.

He doesn't do anything to acknowledge her sudden presence, but she didn't really expect him to. He doesn't glance out of the corner of his eye, as she slinks down against the stretch of the tree to sit beside him; bark scratching lightly through her coat at her back. He doesn't stop the twirl of his fingers. So, Beth does nothing but close her eyes and lean her head back against the tree. She feels briefly appalled that winter is a season that exists, as the tip of her nose continues it's sad fight against the outside world. Beth notes that, even though it's not by much, it's colder by this tree on the edge of camp than it is in her wordlessly assigned sleeping quarters. She tries to recall if they've got anymore blankets in their vehicles that she can go to get for Daryl, but if they had extra's they'd be in use and him and his poncho still feign fine under the circumstances.

"You cold?" his voice has Beth dragging her eyes back open, slowly, and letting her head tilt sideways to look over the profile of his face. Unconcerned about those sleeping not too far away, his words are spoken at his regular volume. Beth knows that it doesn't matter much, though; Daryl's fairly soft spoken, anyway, when he isn't hollering about something or frustrated about a plan going wrong.

His words grumble out through the base of his throat, as per usual.

And he's still not looking at her.

Beth squints her eyes at the side of his head, in genuine confusion, and shivers back, her throat clenching with the effort of speech and her words muffled from where she's got her blanket practically shoved in her mouth, "How are you not?"

"'hm..." he looks up briefly to scan the tree line and back down, again, to his bow. "Bit of a bite, 'pose."

Beth rolls her eyes back closed at his careful nonchalance, but she doesn't make to question his lie. He can't possibly be okay and she knows it; they're all in a bit of pain at this point, both mentally and physically. But, without another blanket to hand over or the ability to convince him into sharing hers, there isn't much that she can do to help. If it was anyone else on watch (besides Rick, of course, but even he might be persuaded), Beth wouldn't hesitate to scoot closer and closer until her leg hovered next to theirs, to swing an edge of the fabric up and around them. If it was anyone else on watch, she wouldn't hesitate to bump playfully at their side and tell them to get comfy - to settle in.

As time has gone on since Lori shoved her screaming, useless (so horribly useless) body into the old pick-up after T, Beth has realized that life on the road at the end of the world is vastly empty and miraculously full, all at the same time. The long and winding roads, weaving through the green of the trees are empty apart from the dead and living people are scarce to come by; hiding away and keeping to themselves, just as they are. Even though she knows that they ain't the only nice people roaming these roads, there's the constant fear that burns inside of them, that they might one day run into someone less then friendly. In fact, they have before. But, with Rick's guidance and heavy hand, they do everything in their power to prevent the possibility of confrontation.

The world feels empty. Still. And moments like this, bundled up in the middle of the forest in the middle of the night, with nothing but the fire and the wind to keep her company, remind her of that fact.

But, Beth has her family with her; those of blood and those of bond. While she spends a great deal of time paralyzed in her fear at the way things are and wondering how they manage to keep carrying on so strong, she knows that, in this world of vacancy, she's consistently around people-she's constantly around good people, who she can trust to stand beside her with a blade clutched in their grip and trust to accept her baggage of inexperience with slaughtering these beings that were once people; living and breathing people who shuffled awake every morning for pancakes or Lucky Charms and had wives, husbands, and children.

"...If you say so," she responds and slides her lids back open to look over to his form, without turning her head. She watches him for a few seconds, before speaking once more, "Hey, can I ask you a favor?"

Daryl twists his fingers two more turns before the screw he's been messing with pops out of it's spot and into his palm, "'mm."

"I was thinking about finding some ear muffs the next time we're near some housing?" Beth's voice shivers, just like the rest of her body. She can hear the shake in it, herself, without even trying to notice. So, she knows, without nothing of a doubt, that he can hear it, too. "I've been deemed more of "guard the car" member of the group, is all. So, I was wonderin' if you'd keep a watch out?"

"Ear muffs," he repeats and uses the blunt of his thumb nail to scratch dirt and dried walker blood out of the ridges that swirl along the spiral of the screw. He picks away at it with practiced ease and nods his head ever so slightly. "'mm, yeah s'pose I could do that."

The wind gusts once more, brushing strands of blonde into her eyes and the small fringe of Daryl's hair tickling across the span of his forehead.

"It was late Spring when everything fell apart. Coming in on summer, really," Beth speaks and reaches a hand up out of the protection of her blanket to try and tuck the strands away. "So, basements. Probably in them big clear plastic containers." Daryl nods again and continues scrubbing his nail back and forth. "I mean, if ya can only find one set, we can give them to Lori, of course," Beth shakes her head up and down, almost to herself. It's the right thing to do - handing over a layer of warmth to the member of their group who's currently the most vulnerable. The sting of her ears against the night yell differently, but her Mama raised her right.

It'd be bad manners to not to do the caring thing.

"...Lori's tough. 'Sides, she ain't never gonna let everyone else fall apart just 'cause she's knocked up. Besides," Daryl raises his voice up just a little bit higher to be heard over another gust of wind, but he's still remarkably quiet. He takes his eye off of his bow, for the first time since she sat down, to glance to Beth's side and she feels him scan over her face for a small moment, observing the strands of hair that have managed to escape and dance in the motion of the wind, once more. "...Your ears are red," he cocks his head forward to point out what she can't see.

Beth watches a small white cloud puff out of his mouth (which she knows she's emitting, as well), against the cold, and pushes her hand up out of the blanket, once more. Her fingers skim the slope of her ears, practically feeling the chill, and she smiles, small, "You should get two pairs, actually."

"Hmm," Daryl's eyes watch her fingers, before sliding back down to the screw he's tumbling in his palm. "We'll look 'round for the group."

"I mean for you."

"Nah, I'm good," the puffs of white continue and he adjusts the scratchy horse blanket tighter around his chest.

Beth shakes her head and let's out an amused sigh at the unconscious action, "Right, because you're not cold."

The corner of Daryl's lips twitch subtly, transforming the downturn of his mouth into something of a smile, while he looks her over, once more, before turning his gaze back. He shrugs his shoulder and attempts to flatten the line of his lips, "Right."

xxx

Beth hovers in a horrible place, while the moon hangs mockingly in the sky above the wooden sanctuary her family has found themselves in, until the sun rises. She's hovering somewhere between a tumultuous sleep and the same frigid agony they've been enduring every single day, as she tucks closer within herself and her blanket, in an attempt to block out the night.

After a day's worth of scouting for something more substantial - a place they can get their bearings for the first time in too long - they've settled inside a small shed that's stood alone out in the middle of a covered field. The cars are parked just inside the edge of a line of trees off a back road and, a few feet in, the clearing opens up to this. The snow lining the ground had been thick and smooth, without any trace or suggestion of human life stomping it's way across, and through a slow and graceful fall of snow flakes, this shed had been spotted by Carl. The walls are too thin and she can see the moonlight shining through the cracks in the foundation, without even a lick of effort. And it's small. It's so, so small that she's touching more than one person, as they all squish themselves desperately inside, to get out of the cold; one body half laying on another body half.

It's a terrible spot and not worth the effort that it took to trek out to it.

But, Beth will take anythin' at this point of the year and she knows that she ain't alone in the sentiment. She can hear Carol's teeth chattering into her ear, because they're all rolled on top of one another, and Rick's light snores from the back of the room (which is barely a couple of feet away), where's he's sat against the wall. And it's not what she expected - being close to other's in the middle of the winter nights. She's uncomfortable, where she thought, for the first time, she'd instead be warm.

There's only been a few changes in the past week that have worked out to her advantage. Beth reaches up to her ears, where they sit snug and warm in a pair of fluffy bright blue ear muffs, with dinosaurs on the sides. There's a green Stegosaurus on the left and a soaring purple Pterodactyl on the right. "They're a kid's, but they'll do," Daryl had growled out, in his familiar way, four days ago and ducked out of sight before she could say her proper thank you's. Apart from the lack'a sting in her ears, however, she's tossing, again. And everyone else in this tight space, as she's growing accustomed to, aren't moving one bit. So, Beth shifts just so, to turn herself out of Carol's line of fire and onto her back to look up above her head to the front door. It's holey and cracked, just like all the other three walls that box them in, and through one of the larger spaces, she can make out Daryl's shadowed figure, where he's perched on the bench outside.

On watch.

As he always is.

Beth sighs into the night and tugs at her blanket. It doesn't come up, easily; caught underneath Daddy's side and weaved between T-Dog's left leg and the ground. She works at it, as quietly as she can, for a few moments and it inches it's way out little by little, until the last corner of the wool jerks out after one last pull and Beth's hands ricochet backwards, almost smacking herself in the face, once it finally tugs free. She let's out a hushed yelp of surprise, immediately stills her body, and glances around the small room, worried if she woke anyone with the sudden noise. But, she hasn't. She does hear the creak of the bench, outside, though. And when she darts her eyes back towards the front door, it's to see Daryl's shadow turning back to face the field.

With one last glance 'round the room, she stumbles rockily to her feet.

"This gonna be your thing, Greene?" he asks, as Beth pushes her way out through the front door, to stand quietly beside where he's sat. She says nothing. Just turns to make sure she shuts the flimsy slab of wood closed, behind her, before decidedly settling herself down next to him-their thighs brushing against one another. Their combined weight causes the bench to wobble in it's place and she thinks, for a minute, that it won't be able to handle the pair of them. It eventually settles into place, though, after a few moments of unsure movement. So, Beth smiles behind the wool covering her face and settles into their newly formed familiar silence.

Daryl's not twistin' any screws on his crossbow, tonight. Instead, he's got a pile of sticks lined up at his feet and one in hand, where he's dragging the sharp edge of a knife along an end. The zing of the scrape is rhythmic in a way Carol's chattering teeth aren't and Beth likes the sound of it. It crashes over her, like the waves of the ocean water crashed over the sandy shore that one time the Greene clan made a trip to Florida on vacation, lulling her agitation. Beth can feel the stress dripping out of the silk of her bones, as she watches the form of Daryl's arm underneath his poncho moving up and down, with the motion.

"Thank you," she hums quietly into the night; her eyes drooping just so, now that she doesn't feel smothered by the other's presence. She watches his stroke stutter just slightly, with the sudden conversation, before it carries on as it had been. "- For the ear muffs, I mean."

Daryl's head dips once, with a nod and he rotates the stick in his hand, so that it gets sharpened out evenly on all sides, "Ain't nothing."

"It is, though," Beth's voice is gentle against the night. The night's air is still just as frosty as it's been for the past few weeks and she can still see her breath puffing out in front of her face. But, the wind is low and careful and the snow is falling soft. "You didn't have to find me anythin'." She watches a slight flush of red creep up from the bottom of his neck, where it disappears under Aztec print. Whether it's from stifled pleasure at the compliment or discomfort at the attention, she's not sure. But, Beth would be willing to bet her share of a can of sweet corn tomorrow morning, that it's the latter. "So, I appreciate it."

"'mm," Daryl nods and shifts in his spot.

Beth lets her eyes drift back down to the arrows that he's making, "You want any help?"

"Nah, it's fine," his voice grumbles out and he turns his stick, in hand.

"...Okay," she says and settles back to watch him work. There's something about the twitch of his fingers that Beth finds herself drawn to. It's an inherent thing that he does seemingly all day; during the daylight and during their rare moments of immobility. But, she's never noticed just how much his body seems to rely on the constant motion. Ever since he first drove up onto her farm on his motorcycle (which is strapped into the back of a scavenged pick up for the winter), it's loud and rumbling engine startlin' the cattle, Daryl's scurried around with his frown, his fingers twitching to do something, and his mouth twitching to shout off. But, she's noticed more in these past few nights, of some of the why. They pick up under the steady focus of one's gaze and she wonders, not for the first time, if he's waiting for her to just leave him alone. "Do you mind me sitting with you?" she asks, as she adjusts her spot on the bench, so that she's settled back against the shack.

Daryl's fingers stop twirling the forming arrow and his brow furrows in thought, "...No, you're okay."

"Are you sure, Daryl?" she looks up at him, eyes drooping with sleep, but understanding all the same. "'Cause if you'd rather I stop cutting in on your watch...just can't seem to sleep, you know? Feel like I'm freezing from the outside in." His fingers twitch. "Oh, that's right, I forgot," her voice slips out, laced with barely concealed humor, and Daryl huffs a breath. "You're perfectly warm in your poncho. Don't need a blanket or earmuffs, do you, Mr. Dixon?"

"Got warm blood, Greene...But, you're not botherin' me, none," Daryl's chin tilts down, towards his chest, and he suddenly drops his arrow into a smaller pile, before reaching down to grab another. He clutches it between worn fingers for a few moments, seemingly debating on if he should continue on. "...You okay, though?" he croaks out, quieter than normal, and the tips of his ears tinge red, in the dark. "Need anythin' else?"

"Don't think so," she hums quietly and rolls her neck on her shoulders, to keep it up and out of the hunter's space. Beth can feel the tones of her voice getting lower and slower with each uttered syllable. But, she's sat with him, now, on more than one occasion, in the middle of the winter wind and the black of the night, and Daryl doesn't often speak to her when she hunkers her way over to him. This past week, Beth's spent a lot of time sitting next to him in near silence; the only sounds scattering from whatever his ever motioned hands are doing to secretly keep himself warm and the sparks and crackles of the fire sat in the distance. So, despite the pull and tug of the slippery syrapped molasses that glides into her being and attempts to drag her under, she pushes on. "I've been planning a robbery, to be honest," she yawns, her mouth dropping into her right shoulder to block it.

Daryl's interest peaks at her strangely placed sentence and he cranes his neck to the left to look at her sitting next to him. Her hair is wildly placed from the small bit of sleep she'd managed to secure, earlier, and her eyelashes rest gently against the flesh of her bone. "You don't have to steal nothing," Beth feels his eyes flicker over her face in masked concern. "If you need a bigger serving...ya can just take part'a my portion. Don't mind, none...You're too skinny, anyway."

"No, Daryl, it's just-" Beth struggles against the pull; her body subconsciously pressing closer against the mass of Daryl's and her head falling carefully against the width of his left shoulder. Through the fog of the night, she can feel him tense underneath her at the contact. But, she doesn't make to move. "Maggie and Glenn have the best blanket," Beth's voice comes out against the fabric of the horse blanket. "Not really fair...considering..."

"Considerin' what?" Daryl questions, his voice tight and unsure at being this close to his friend's youngest girl. But, Beth doesn't respond to him, just accepts her fate and slowly drifts away under the canvas, while Daryl's fingers twitch over the stick in his right hand and the blade in his left. He stays like that, for a little while longer, not allowing himself any movement that might jerk her back awake.

He ain't been this close to someone, in a non-dire situation, since the world went to shit; fire and dead blazing across the span of the earth, consuming them all. And he ain't so sure that the first person he should break that streak with, with the type of thoughts he keeps having, is Beth Greene of all people.

She's young.

Like, she's really fuckin' young.

Jail-bait, Baby Brother. Damn straight. Ya know that's what we call little youngin's like this. Just lookin' at her's gonna get you in some real trouble, Darylina. Yeaaaah, she's persistent, too. Not that any of that matters, 'course. She wants'ta lean on ya when the lights go out, cozy on up, maybe suck ya somethin' fierce when her daddy ain't looking? Be a real shame for ya ta not man up and just go with it. Real disrespectful, that'd be. Don't wanna hurt a fine piece'a tail like that's feelings.

But, each night she stumbles up and outta her spot (which she's ridiculously loud at and he don't understand why the others never spring awake in her process), she sits closer and closer to him and he feels silly and he feels stupid and he feels all sorts of fucked, like every single request that slips outta her mouth is something he needs to jump on - something he needs to do for her. The girl wants earmuffs? He spends the next run scouring through every bargain basement box he comes across, 'til he manages to find a pair. She's cold? He'll work on looking for some warmer layers. She's hungry? He'll scrape his piece of wild turkey off of his plate and onto hers.

Then again, she's already forcin' ya do her bidding, ain't she? Like, she's your old woman or some shit like that. And you're listening, like some pansy ass, too. Embarrassing as shit, boy! Clingers ain't good, ya know. Remember that, Baby Brother. That right there's some wise words from me to you.

Every time her eyes train on him or her leg brushes against his or he can see her trying to decide if wrapping her blanket 'round his shoulders is worth whatever reaction he gives - he can feel the blush that races up the curve of his ear and his Pa laughing at him and spittin' thunderous hell fire from the grave and Merle in his head, talkin' stupid.

She probably notices it, too.

She has to notice it.

Seems a bit too pure, though, now I think on it. Probably ain't all that much fun in the sack. Best to just fuck'er and be done. Then again, she might surprise ya. Who knows? Gotta have a little spunk to be crawling out after you, a Dixon, night after night after night.

Beth ain't as dumb and useless as some of the rest of the group sometimes seems to unintentionally pass her off as, like Carl's some grown ass man and she's still something soft and fragile to treasure and protect. Beth ain't dumb, at all. But, she don't ever say anything 'bout it. She sits next to him, as he tries his best to not look like the cold is killing him just as it is her, and settles casually into the silence; her small presence lighting up the dark of the night watch in a way he'd not ever expected it to and, "Nah, you're okay...Like the company."

xxx

When Beth jerks awake the next morning, it's to Lori's delicate hand carefully shaking her by the shoulder. Her first thought is to hastily explain why she's cuddled up next to Daryl, but when her eyes manage to focus away the blur that comes with a sudden awakening, she sees that she's been settled back into her silently designated spot, inside the shack - with Daryl's poncho tucked underneath her flimsy wool blanket.

xxx

Beth grips her covered fingers tighter around the blade in her hand and keeps her eyes trained out on the horizon, towards the bleeding dark line of trees and forever space and distance. The sun's hanging low and sunken in the sky line, as the rough of the day casually washes away into a calm late afternoon; simple and familiar, as if they aren't constantly surrounded by hidden threats and heightened conditions. She likes it like this, though. She likes it when the painted layers of the land and sky contradict the weathered world they're fighting to survive in. To live in. She likes it when the pinks and yellows and oranges of the sky tints the white of the snow that's clutching every blade of evergreen and every span of the ground crunching below her feet.

It's quiet out; sounds of nothing but the shuffled branches of the forest and the lowered hum of voices a few feet away from where she stands alone on watch. They've moved away from the shack, as a large enough influx of walkers started in through the field and they'd rushed back towards their cars. They're settled back along in the woods, once more.

"I know, I know," she hears Rick's voice from the far edge of camp, quiet but focused, as he leans himself further over the trunk of a parked truck and eyes their waning supplies. They're running low on a lot of things, lately. Their roll of medical wrap and antibiotics has been spiraling way down and Daddy's insistent on looking around for more; the ever present threat of injury and infection not ever too far from his mind. She gets that, truly. It's best to be safe when it comes to cuts and scratches, living out here in the woods, like they are. They never knew what was gonna be just fine and what was gonna turn into something of a nasty infection. Then there was the taught stretch of fabric pulling tensely at the slope of Lori's bump, that they've had on their minds. She was feeling uncomfortable at the tight fit and so they needed to find some larger shirts and pants to handle the her constantly changing span of weight. But, Beth wasn't involved in any of that; the soon to be necessary run or the conversation about it or decisions in general. "We need to find a place to hunker down for a few weeks and bundle up on supplies; medicine, clothing, blankets, food. I get that."

"This weather has got us all on edge," her Daddy speaks, considerately. "It's not good for Lori's condition, or any of us, to still be out here...Rick, we've got to leave this area...But, it's up to you, of course."

"Running around like that ain't no good," the low thrum of Daryl's voice breaks in, and she hears the tapping of his fingers against the inside panel of the bed. Beth doesn't turn to look over but, at his voice alone, she feels the heat of a blush at the memory of the night before and the morning after, when Maggie had stared at Beth tiredly and cocked a confused eyebrow in her direction.

When she'd first been shaken awake this morning, by Lori, the corner Daryl's poncho was sticking out, just so, from underneath the edge of her blanket. She'd thanked everyone and everythin' in the world that Lori hadn't noticed it laying there against her thigh; that she'd done nothing but give her a small smile and pull the flimsy wood of the door open and shuffle outside to get started on helping heat breakfast. But, she hadn't been so lucky with Maggie, who'd sat up across from Beth and tightened the knots of her boots, before spotting the patterned fabric. Beth had hastily pulled herself out from under her covers and reached down to ball the both of them up at once - Daryl's poncho hidden away as best she could manage - and followed Lori outside.

"If we don't know where we're goin' travel in this weather's gonna wear everyone thin." The heat of his covered shoulder against the chilled flesh of her skin, hovers at the forefront of her mind and she twists her fingers tighter around the sheath of her blade. She hadn't remembered Daryl waking her up during the night and getting her to shuffle back inside the shack. So, earlier in the day, before her watch, the realized knowledge that he carried her back and tucked her in had her stuttering on her feet (almost dropping the bundle of sticks she'd been carrying in her arms) and whipping her head 'round to where the man in question had been calmly cleaning a small pile of squirrels.

How an occurrence like that - Daryl Dixon placing his hands onto her body and lifting her into the air - could happen without her noticing, is beyond Beth. In fact, sometimes while they're trekking through the trees or sitting around the fire at night, eating whatever dinner they'd managed to scrounge up, Beth can actually feel any and every moment that he looks over at her, after all. It wasn't something new, really. Even way back to their last few weeks on the farm, when her head had been foggy with misinformation and then when her head had been foggy with grief, she'd feel it.

He had watched her when he first rolled up on his bike and shut the roaring beast down on their front lawn. His eyes had scanned over her and Maggie and Patricia and Jimmy and her Daddy. He'd taken in their clean clothes and well fed frames and he'd taken in his own group's dirt ridden bodies and blood stained pants and the drastic difference of it all. After being around Daryl Dixon for awhile, Beth suspects he'd hated them, or at least resented their ignorance, right off the bat, for being what he wasn't.

Safe and comfortable and unaware, instead of tired and weather worn and soaked through to the bone in the reality of their world.

They're all like that now, though.

So, she feels it evens out in that regard.

His eyes on her during Otis's funeral had been something she noticed, right away, even through the muddled static fuzz in her head. Through her disbelief that they'd lost someone else. That Otis wasn't just sick like her Mama and Shawn. That she couldn't shuffle him on in the barn, for Patricia's poor heart, and know that he'd be alright just as soon as the cure was found. That he was actually gone...She'd been so stupid just a few months ago and Beth cringes whenever she thinks back on it. Daryl had watched her place a stone upon the grave and he had followed her path back towards the edge of the group. Observing. Observing her, before he moved on to watch Mr. Walsh lie about their friend. He'd watched her after she'd finally found her way out of bed, his eyes squinted dangerously and his mouth set in a thin hard line; a complete polar opposite to the looks everyone else was shooting her, like he was angry or something.

Daryl looked at everyone with such intense concentration that she didn't understand why the others didn't burn under his gaze.

"I say we stay out here one or two more nights," Daryl's voice pulls Beth back out of her thoughts, but she still feels her the fire in her cheeks. "Wind ain't so bad. Snow, neither. 'sides, we've already set up camp."

Beth risks glancing over her shoulder, only to see the sight of Maggie, covered carefully in a thick coat and scarf, making her way over. Beth turns back out to the treeline and waits for her to come nearer. Only looking over once she feels her sister right at her side. "Hey, Bethy," Maggie nudges her shoulder, gently, and settles next to her. But, Maggie's not one for subtlety and dives in, without a moment's rest, "What was up with you earlier? You alright?"

And she should've known that once Maggie woke up and started in on her day, that she'd remember Beth's flustered retreat, "What do you mean?"

"I can't believe you got that poncho," Maggie huffs a small laugh and tilts her head. "Or did ya steal it from him? That'd make more sense, to be honest. Daryl ain't one to share."

A quiet laugh of her own echoes in the bottom of Beth's throat and she nods knowingly. "Yeah, don't I know it," she complies and turns her eyes back out. Her job. "Was just real cold, I think. And Daryl's got this thing where he's been putting everyone else before him, lately..."

Maggie looks over her should, briefly, and scans the width of the man in question. "I kind-of feel like he's making up for being a constant asshole, back at the farm," she hums lightly - her voice laced with an old tone of gossip that has Beth remembering Before when they'd always found the chance to gab about something. "Why else would I of watched him ransack a basement for twelve minutes, only to come up for air with these," she flicks a finger against the muffs clasped securely against Beth's head. "Suit you, by the way. For some reason."

Beth just shrugs and tries to control her face.

"Maybe it's 'cause you're my baby sister."

But, with all of the thoughts Beth's having about Daryl Dixon, she isn't so sure. A baby she is not. "Yeah...maybe."

xxx

"You shouldn't of done that, you know," Beth states, as she twists her legs to cross them, as she slides down next to Daryl. He's got a leather belt wrapped tightly around a closed fist, stretched out taught to where he's tied it against his shoe. Six knives are stabbed in the ground next to him, while the one in his hand makes smooth transitions up and down the stretch of tanned animal skin. It's quiet out save a few night birds singing out to each other, somewhere deep in the forest that surrounds them, and the familiar crackle of the flames of their fire back at camp a few feet away and there's a gentle snowfall parading down around them; large and heavy flakes that sit heavily on her blanket and his shoulders.

She wonders what Daryl hears that she doesn't. She always wonders what Daryl hears that she doesn't; so much more in-tune with the world around them, than everyone else seems to be. She wonders if he can hear the wheezing whistle her Daddy makes every time he breathes in deeply through his nose, while he sleeps. She'd heard it laying down next to him, but it had faded away with her every step to the outer edge. She wonders if he can here the quite mumbles Carl makes while he dreams. Rick's snores. Carol's chattering teeth. She supposes he does. She figures he does. His observations of the world around him make him the perfect choice for late night watch, when everyone else is at their most drowsy and most distracted. But, sometimes Beth wonders if it's part of the reason he volunteers so often - wonders if he can't find it in him to sleep through all of the noise, still so used to being stationed out on the edge of their home, away from all the others, with nothing but the sounds of nature to keep him company. "Giving me your poncho in the middle of the night, I mean."

Daryl's silences have become familiar. His presence has become familiar. She feels no anxiety when he doesn't answer her right away, as anyone else in their group would of done. She doesn't feel ignored as he does nothing but continue the lines of his actions; strong hands squeezing against the hilt and sharply edging the iron of the blade. "You needed it," he finally speaks and presses his thumb gently against the point, before carrying on.

"You needed it, too," Beth whispers back and shifts in her place against the ground. "You can't just protect the rest of us, Daryl, and forget all about yourself. Even Rick takes nights here and there."

"Told ya, Greene. I got warm blood," he pauses for a long minute. "Used to bein' cold sometimes, anyway. It's okay." When Beth fixes him with a small glare, he continues, despite the fact that there's not a lot of heat behind it. "You were shaking something fierce - ain't gonna just let you freeze to death on top of me." He lets out an uncharacteristic grin. It's small and she can barely see it in their lack of light. But, it's there. "Don't wanna be dragging you around like that for the rest of my life...Rather you walk."

His mention of their contact the night before has Beth tucking her chin into her neck and fighting back an embarrassed grin of her own. Her chest feels tight at the thought of him allowing her to stay and taking care of her so thoroughly afterwards. She shifts a little closer to him, which she's positive he notices. He notices everything. He can probably tell she's blushing even though her face is in the shadows of the tree they're leaning against. He can probably tell the way her breath hitches just so as she watches the movement of his hands. "It's not okay," she manages to breathe out after a few moments of trying to contain her breathing. "'Feel like you're always over here away from everyone else, where it's not nearly as warm. And now you're giving away your only barrier against the wind? It's sweet," Daryl cringes carefully at the word, "...just doesn't feel right."

"...If you're cold...I don't mind if you stay by the fire," his fingers tighten. "Ain't gonna hurt my feelings or nothing."

"No!" Beth's voice rises just so, before she burrows herself further into her blanket. "That's not what I mean, at all. I just...I just mean..." her voice trails off and she pauses over her indecision, before biting the bullet. Rising up on her knees, Beth shuffles the rest of the distance over, until her form is right next to Daryl's, and she can settle herself back down to the ground so that their legs flush together. His hands stop moving all together, as he stares at the point where they meet, while Beth adjusts the complicated twist of her blanket out from around herself, to fling it around Daryl's front, as well. She reaches up to cross him as she tucks it over his shoulder, his even and untelling breath ghosting across the left side of her face.

"I just mean," she stays hovering and trails her eyes up his face to find his staring back at her. It's jarring, blue against blue. One soft and the other probing and observant, as always. So close, Beth gets a proper chance to do some observing of her own.

When he'd first driven up to her farm, his loud bike scaring the horses and rattling the chicken and bothering the cattle and piercing through the drowning grief ridden fog that encompassed them all as they collected stones for Otis's grave, he'd pulled himself off of his bike and she'd had one simple thought drift through her head without question: That's a man Mama wouldn't approve of. He was filthy, just like all of the other strangers, but noticeably attractive underneath all of that muck, even if Maggie had initially made a comment under her breath about 'Damn rednecks causing the animals to stir about, a little consideration would be welcome'. But, there was something else about him. He was long and present, despite the fact that he wasn't actually too tall or too loud and he carried himself with that specific air - the one folks on the wrong side of town always held. He almost always looked angry at everyone around him and Beth hadn't understood why, at the time. She still doesn't really understand why; he's so quiet all of the time. But she remembers a few whispered conversations, back then, between her Daddy and Patricia. Conversations she knows she wasn't meant to hear. "Scars" and "I get people like him's" and "I am people like him's" she'd heard floating through the cracked doorway or her Daddy's room, while she'd meant to walk past with the man's lunch tray.

He looked rough, all the time, like he was one second away from swearin' about something or starting a fight (and often he was). She'd felt him watch her and, while she was intrigued and curious about all of them, just like he seemed to be about her and her family, she'd been nervous. Who knew what this man would do? Who knew who this man was? But, Daryl Dixon wasn't any of the learnt things that initially filtered through her mind. He wasn't someone her Mama would've turned her nose down on. He was rough and dirty and closed off, but there was often a touch of an insecurity that filtered through his eyes. Insecurity and determination to survive and for those around him to do the same. He'd looked through the woods, single mindedly, every day for that little girl and did everything in his power to force himself out of his comfort zone to comfort Carol during the whole of the traumatic event. He turned back around when the farm was falling and he'd heard his own in peril. He'd immediately volunteered to go scope out the farm and hunt his own down, when they'd lost track of Andrea during the commotion. He did everything Risk asked him to. He spent all of his time on watch and hunting for them and taking care of them and thinking of them.

And, while he was family and everyone cared so deeply for everyone, the group just let it happen. They let him take on more than his fair share. They let him sit out here every night, protecting them, protecting her, without his own blanket.

"That you need to be taken care of, too." The sudden and overwhelming thought that she'll take care of him, whatever he wants, slams Beth in the chest - hard - and she can actually feel the blood filling her face and turning her pink from the tips of her ears to the tips of her toes. It feels like a filthy thing to think. It feels like something she's never really felt, before. It feels like something Mags would've whispered sinfully over her shoulder, while Beth sat on her sister's bed and watched her slather on some lipstick or adjust her push-up bra (that'd she'd hide with a sweater to get past Daddy and out of the house), about a date with whatever Joe Smith had asked her out that time. And Beth feels her flush deepen as Daryl's eyes widen ever so slightly at her accidental double meaning he apparently picks up on, as well, (which of course he does; so observant) and glances minutely down to her parted lips and back.

He seems inclined to stay as still as he can; his breathing still so very even, his eyes sharpened out to stare steadily at her, and his shoulders tightly pulled, waiting for her to pull away and sit back down and let them both breathe.

Beth decides to do the opposite.

She slides her eyes slowly closed, not wanting to witness the impending rejection, not wanting to see it happen (he's Daryl Dixon, after all, and she's Beth Greene and he can't possibly want her to do anything of this sort), and allows her body to lean further against his. Even at her strange angle of approach, his chest rises and falls against hers and stutters just once as she presses her lips against his. For a few painful moments, it's just her pressing against him. It's just her stepping out on a ledge only to find that there was never one to begin with. It's just her falling downdowndown the air being sucked suddenly out of her lungs and her body spiking with the knowledge that, sooner rather than later, she'll make contact with the long land, below. It's suffocating and nerve wracking and she can't remember a first (or maybe last, based on Daryl's reaction) kiss ever hanging on so little. But, just as she's resigned herself to her fate and decided to pull away, she feels the hesitant press of Daryl's lips pushing gently back against hers.

It's elation, pure and simple, and it surges something inside of her to push forward and take. She moves her hand away from where she's tucked the blanket over his shoulder, to the crook where his neck meets his shoulder, and rests her palm there - nails scratching just so at his skin. And he groans, quietly, like he doesn't think he's allowed to respond and it makes her smile against him before pushing him further, tilting her head towards a better angle and working with him. She can hear the clink of the knife, as it gets placed on the ground off to the side, and she feel the ghost of his fingers slide up along her side. Hovering. Hovering as close as he can get without touching her. But, when she parts her lips and he follows and they have their blissful first glide of wet tongue against wet tongue, a sudden sensation that has the base of her belly throbbing, his hands pull to her waist and clutch at her skin and she sighs warmly as he loses himself and blindly leads her atop of him. It's slick and it's wet and his right hand is absentmindedly rubbing circles at her thighs and she doesn't ever want this to stop. She wants to stay here, in his lap, where she can...feel him, where he's touching her, where she knows what he tastes like, until the sun rises. And she thinks she will.

But, suddenly, she feels Daryl's hands dig in a little too hard, for a moment, and then fly away from her all together. She can feel his uneven and labored pants of breath against her face, but no longer against her own chest, because he's pushed her out and pulled himself back and is looking at her with wide, horrified, and, once he realizes she's pressed quite clearly against his tightened jeans, embarrassed eyes.

She's on her feet before she can get her bearings - he's pulling her to her feet before she can get her bearings and haphazardly shaking the snow out of her blanket and shoving it in her arms and avoiding her gaze. "Best get some sleep," his voice is thick and he's still avoiding her gaze; desperate to not take in, what he can through the night, of the flush of her cheeks and the fly aways of her hair. "Get by the fire, girl. Stay warm."

She's about to bite out that that is what she was doing! She was staying warm with him! But, he decidedly turns away from her and picks up his bow and aims it out into the woods and wraps himself tighter under his horse blanket with a hole and grunts his order out, for the last time. "Go."

xxx

He avoids her for the whole of the next day, just like she expects him to. If she walks near him, he turns and strides off in the other direction, as if their camp is big enough for him to actually go anywhere. If he's talking to someone and she walks up to them, he stares straight forward into the eyes of whoever's across from him. At one point, Hershel wavers just slightly under his gaze and asks, "Are you alright, son?" To which he has no response. If she asks him a direct question, his responding answer is nothing more that a hastened grunt, which (on one memorable occasion) has Maggie, who's sitting right there, turn to Beth with a intrigued raised brow - both of them watching the hunter shuffling away. "Guess, we were right," Maggie comments and nudges her shoulder. Beth's not sure what that means - her mind too muddled to think back on any conversations they've had in the past few days.

All Beth knows is that they'll be sleeping outside for one more night, before starting in towards a development Rick has circled on the map.

And she doesn't want to spend it with her teeth chattering.

xxx

It takes the same amount of time as it always does for everyone to settle down for bed. No one changes, because clothes are protection just as any roof is - shoes are protection - coats are protection. And they never knew when they needed to run, anyway. No one wants to be trekking through the wilderness in a pair of cotton pajama bottoms, unless they were their six layer over a pair of jeans. The idea of being able to change for bed and sleep in one is every bit more appealing than the cold hard ground, but that's over. You sleep in what will save you. Just in case.

Everyone finishes their rations for dinner and spend the following half hour talking quietly amongst themselves. But, as the sky darkens and the wind blows, people start settling in; more comfortable with the conditions while they're tucked away in their dreams.

It's not long until Beth finds herself in the position she's found herself in every night since the chill first came and the snow first started to fall. She's shaking uncomfortably and rocking in her place and shifting on the ground, unable to find a position where the hard earth isn't pressing painfully into her sides and back. Carl's next to her with an arm thrown over his face and his blanket falling down his body and Beth startles at the sight of her twitching hand as it reaches out to pull the wool back into place. She can feel Daryl's presence, behind her, where he'd hunkered down two hours ago when everyone first went to bed. She's settled into a new routine, lately, and it's messing with her mind to change it. She's not supposed to be laying here. She's supposed to drag herself away from where the snow falls down to blanket her shaking form. She's supposed to trip on the tail of her wool, while she hobbles through her family sleeping around her. She's supposed to plop herself down next to Daryl and talk about nothing in particular or not talk at all.

So she does.

Beth pushes up from the ground, her bones aching in the cold and her nose pinching uncomfortably. The first thing she does is glance to where Daryl's just barely lit by the light of the fire. His shoulders are pulled tight and she knows, she always knows, that he's heard her rise. That he's bracing himself for her arrival. He seems to wind tighter with every step forward, he can hear them, he's counting them out. His hands look red clutching a bolt, as she takes the final few steps and slides down beside him. His eyes are hard and focused out into the black, waiting for her to say something - to do something - so he can tell her to go back to sleep.

The silence hangs heavy between them, creating a bubble around their persons. It's not comfortable, not really. It's hearty and present in a way they're not familiar with. It's noticeable in a way it's never been. But, Beth's pleased to note, it's not overtly strained. It's not comfortable, but it's not uncomfortable. So, she allows them to sit in it awhile - to feel it out.

"Do you think Christmas is coming?" is what she finally asks.

Daryl doesn't flinch or startle (she didn't expect him to), as if he'd been poised and ready to combat whatever exclamations she made about the night prior. This isn't anything he's expected her to say, though, and it makes him pause, "...What?"

"Christmas," Beth's voice is light against the night. "It feels like it should be just around the corner. You know when you were a little kid and you didn't know the date or nothing, but you just...knew? Like, you could feel it comin'?" She's watching him, watch the woods. When he doesn't look particularly put out (just a sort-of...sad, that she can't explain) she carefully carries on. "It's obviously winter, after all," she gestures underneath her blanket, to the weather. "And that's when it comes...Christmas."

"There ain't no Christmas anymore, girl."

"Of course there is, boy," she whispers back, pointedly. "You just gotta put in the effort to celebrate it...We should celebrate it...when we pack up and settle down for a bit in that housing development Rick's decided on, we should. Don't know what we'd do about presents. Presents these days are probably switch blades and packets of cigarettes. It's like we're in prison or something," Beth thinks she's just talking to keep warm - to remind him that she's here. "But, you could hunt us down somethin' real special to eat? That's enough Christmas cheer, right there, you know? A nice hearty meal?"

"'mm," Daryl responds softly. Merle's voice is ringing in his head about "old woman" and "pussy whipped" and all that. But, if Beth Greene wants to celebrate Christmas, they'll probably end up celebrating Christmas and he'll do his part, because she asked him to. But, he doesn't have anything to say to this conversation and he's still thinking about the night before and what he never ever should'a done and who he never ever should'a touched and he's supposed to be watching to make sure they're not attacked by anything living or dead which is a fuck ton more important and he knows that, so he looks back out and continues to not speak. Continues to do his best to pretend she isn't right next to him: leg brushing against his own, breath painting the night alongside his, heart hammering in her chest as she stares at him so damn close and bites at the plump of her bottom lip, thinkin' 'bout something he doesn't want to know nothing about. Can't know nothing about.

After twenty minutes of sitting in complete silence, Daryl can feel the shift in Beth's entire demeanor. She's been thinkin' and now she's done. Now she's decided and he's gotta brace himself to stay strong against whatever it is, because he ain't got any business putting his unworthy hands on something so clean, ever again, and her Daddy's only a couple'a feet away. But, he can feel it in her entire energy. She's decided on somethin' and she's gonna speak her mind.

"I - I wanna do what Maggie and Glenn do...with you," Beth juts her chin forward and gives him her most confident set of eyes. But, she's nervous. The tumbles and rumbles of her stomach are swirling around in place and turning her throat tight at what he might say; if he'll push, again, to get rid of her. If he'll take the waver in her voice as a waver in her mind and say she ain't in the right head space to make a decision like this, even though she knows she is.

Daryl's eyes flick quickly to her, before he snorts quietly and shuffles his shoulders dismissively, "If ya can't say it, you shouldn't be doing nothing of the sort, girl-"

"I want to have sex with you," she cuts in over him, her voice soft against the heavy whistle of the wind. It feels small - she feels small - and she doesn't want to. "You want to fuck me," it comes out like a question and her curse drips out in nothing louder than a whisper. So small, she doesn't like it. "And stop calling me 'girl'...It isn't like you'd be the first person there."

It's not the proper thing to say.

Daryl shakes his head, wrings his hands tighter around the arrow he's been playing with (his hands always at work), and groans low in his throat, "You don't want nothing like that from me, Greene."

"That's bullshit," she hums even quieter than before, as if her Daddy's gonna magically spring upright from his sleep to find it in himself to scold her on her fowl language, and pulls her knees up against the flat of her chest - angling herself closer and closer into Daryl's side. He's just as warm as she remembers him to be - the heat of his being blistering off of his skin and comfortably warming her side, in a way her blanket continues to fail to do night after night.

She knows, now.

She knows why Maggie shuffles herself so completely into Glenn, each and every time the sun falls away from the sky and the brisk wind blows through the branches of the trees. To Beth, it's no longer just the idea of someone else's warmth, that she's been so jealous of - the embodied impression of what sleeping casually through the night must be like, that holds onto her. Now, the memory of her lips gliding across his invades her thoughts - the memory of the flat of his hand tightly gripping, for just that small moment of lowered guard, against the span of her knee and the way the contact burnedburnedburned through the fabric of her jeans occupies her mind during the day. It's no longer a brief idea or simple longing for something warm, material or human, to wrap itself around her and keep her snug.

It's the knowledge of him - of this man. This man and the way she felt her body sing swelteringly hot against their fevered proximity, however short. The knowledge of the burning distraction from the night and it's weathered horrors.

She feels, for the briefest of beats, as if she should feel guilty, thinking back on that feeling that he brought her. Thinking back on that moment where Beth could swear on God, himself, that the pads of Daryl's fingers seared through the denim and grazed her skin. Jimmy's not been lost two months, yet, and his touch and the fizzled focused passion-something of his touch has been so suddenly replaced by another - a sensation and a desperation that she'd never experienced from those shaky and quick fingers. For the briefest of beats, she thinks she should feel bad and feel wrong at tossing him aside so surely.

But Jimmy, bless his sweet and familiar heart...Jimmy Jones is dead and Daryl Dixon is alive and is here and is sat next to her and she remembers so painfully of his scalding hold.

And she knows.

She gets it.

She understands.

Daryl tenses just so against her touch, as he did the night before - unsure and nervous and unsure - and Beth feels his brief silent huff of laughter when his shoulder, which brushes settled against hers, bounces; lifting and settling back into place. It's forced and strained - a drastic juxtaposition to the way his eyes flick from his hands to her face.

"You liked it...right?" Beth tilts her chin down and raises her eyes, to take in and challenge the conflicted expression he's stapled across his face. She feels them watering against the wind and hopes with everything that she has, that he doesn't think she's crying over his hovered rejection. She's not. And, most importantly, she notes that he's, once again, rejected nothing of her suggestion - of her advance. Instead, Daryl's own eyes continue the sudden path they've taken, from his hands to her face to over her shoulder, where their family all lay in the snow, to her lips to his hands and back again. She watches him think; boars into his indecision and the way he spins the arrow that's constantly settled between chilled fingers.

And suddenly...she doesn't care.

She doesn't care what he thinks they'll think if they manage to catch them (even though somewhere in the back of her fuzzy minded head, she knows she should be somewhat concerned at being caught in the act, as well) or how long he plans to mull over the situation that they've somehow found themselves in. Because, she remembers the way his fingers dug roughly into the bone of her knee and she remembers the way his breath stuttered, in complete shock, when she'd leant into him in the dark and claimed his mouth with hers. So, he might not know - he might be pretending he doesn't know.

But, she does.

When Daryl's gaze settles back towards his hands, Beth lets her knees fall away from her chest and rock her body forward, up and away from the bark of the tree. She uses the momentum of the fall to sway a leg up, until she manages to settle one on each side of his waist. It's awkward, with the blanket she's got wrapped around herself getting tangled somewhere during the transition. But, when she feels the hardened lines of his stomach rise in a breath of disbelief and sees his eyes - an edge of panic and an edge of understanding - flick up to meet hers, she doesn't let herself worry. Instead, she raises her arms to get her hands out from underneath her wool coating and glide along the exposed flesh of his neck. He's cold - much colder then he'll ever admit to her. And the second her fingertips meet his skin, small goosebumps raise up along the path she makes towards the line of hair that she weaves between her fingers - tugging him closer and hovering in space.

"You liked it," Beth repeats, breathing against his skin, before gently slotting her lips over his. Daryl stutters the same way that he did, last time. But, now, there's something solid in his frame; something decided, just like her. Instead of breaking away, as he did before, Beth smiles against his mouth as he pushes himself closer - finding a worn and weathered hand underneath her covers and brushing against the smallest sliver of exposed skin he can find, between where her jeans lay flat against the bone of her hip and her sweater rides up. The pads of his fingers feel rough against her and her body hums at the contact - the fact that he's not walking away, not pushing her away and telling her to go back to her silently designated spot. He presses himself into her, turning his head slightly to the right and melding them together - his neglected slightly wind chapped lips carefully pressing against the smooth of hers. The scruff of the hair fluttering his chin scratches at her, lightly, and it's so delicious and welcomed - the sensation of it all - that Beth finds her body stuttering, itself.

It's quick, still.

Chaste enough in execution.

Beth is the one to draw back, this time; her heart thudding painfully in her chest when she sees him, eyes closed and lips parted, unconsciously trying to follow her form. Her tongue darts out, briefly, to wet the span of her lips, before giving him a pointed once over - the lids of her eyes falling heavy and her fingers tightening their hold, "Right?"

Daryl worries his bottom lip between his teeth for a moment; his thoughts grabbing hold of him - dancing through his head, as they always seem to do. Beth allows him to have it; watches his eyes flick over to the group, once more, as he weighs the circumstance of their timing. He watches Rick turn once over, his back facing Lori and his face settling in their direction. All their leader would have to do is open his eyes and he'd see. He observes the way the light of the fire flicks over Carol and T's faces - content and quiet and heavily fallen into whatever better places that their dreams have decided to take them, tonight. All they'd have to do is hear something. All they'd have to do is sit up. All they'd have to do is look over.

He takes in her Daddy and the weight of his head settled back against his makeshift pillow. She watches Daryl and the flash of fear that flicks through his eyes, so much more obviously expressive than she'd ever given thought or mind to, at the prospect and possibility that her Daddy, his friend, will wake up in the middle of the night and see Daryl fucking his seventeen year old daughter on the side of camp.

She watches the set of his jaw, as he grinds his teeth together and pulls his brows inward.

She watches him over think all the reasons that this could be wrong.

But, it's cold out coldcoldcold and Beth doesn't want to lose the warm flush that swells through her every time he subconsciously rubs his thumb against the skin of her hip - doesn't want to not chase that feeling down. So, she pulls one hand away from the nape of his neck, to rest two fingers in the space between his eyes. Daryl snaps his attention back towards her, as she smooths away the lines of worry and his internal frustration and flattens out the tension in his forehead.

He melts, like butter on a hot day, and lets his eyes drift closed. Beth smiles small at his reaction and carries on. If he's really uncomfortable, if he really doesn't want to touch her, she'd leave. She'd climb off of his form and clumber back into her spot and leave him alone to relax away from her persistence. But, the pressure against the inside of his jeans that presses against her inner thigh says different. The pressure pressing into her lays between them, literally, physically showing her that she's not alone. That she's not the only one who wants it.

She's dragged from her thoughts at Daryl lifting his chin, eyes still faintly shut, and lightly puckering his lips against the length of her fingers.

It's gentle.

It's so incredibly gentle and shy and personal and not what she'd ever considered to expect from whatever this moment is and will be, later, between them; when the sun rises, with their family right along side it, and they can plainly see the lines of the other's face without squinting through the black ocean fog, that encompasses their every moment. The shock of it - of the modest display of affection - startles a scorched gasp out of the depths of her throat. When he pulls his eyes open, Daryl raises the arm not fluttering the side of her waist to move her hand out of the way, so that can reach up, himself.

His hand is large against the side of Beth's face. She can feel the way the weight of it encompass the entire side; fingers bracketed along the side of her neck and thumb languidly circling the lobe of her ear. She has a few seconds to live in the sense of it, before he's dragging her down to him with a newly sparked intent; a decision made, the slick of his tongue running once along her bottom lip, before pulling away to kiss a trail down the length of her neck. There's something about the way his breath glides across the wet trail he leaves behind, that makes Beth's core shake.

She's not the only person, here, who's wired and restless.

With permission granted, Beth's clutch tightly at Daryl as he continues the worship at her neck. It's not smooth, necessarily. It's everything she expects of him, careful and slightly unsure. But, there's a determination and an unexpected enthusiasm that has the breath caught in her throat and her thighs tightening around his. further, and her body grinding down into his all on it's own and her hands trailing downdowndown until her fingers graze the metal of his belt buckle.

Daryl pulls back to stare at her hands for a beat, his eyes flicking to camp and back again. But, he steels himself, once more, and leans to press his face into the crook of her neck, while she fumbles with the clasp. "You said you've done this?" she hears him breathe against her and she nods feverishly yes, yes she has. "Hmm?" he wants her to speak. He needs her to say it.

"Yes. Once," Beth finally gets the clasp out of the hole and tugs it out the rest of the way - belt clinking open quietly. "Jimmy," she adds unnecessarily.

The sound of his zipper being tugged down feels like gunfire in his ears; loud and obtrusive to the cold windy night. He feels like everyone should of heard it. He feels like it shook the earth. He doesn't have long to think on it, though, because Beth's fingers are trailing lightly down the flesh of his stomach and dipping below the waist of his jeans. Daryl tries to suppress the whimper that bubbles in his throat when she wraps a hand around him, but the pleased smile on Beth's face says that she heard quite clearly.

This isn't Daryl's strength; he's never been quite sure what's expected whenever he stumbles through into his bedroom with something trashy and drunk on his arm, under Merle's watchful gaze. Usually he can think of nothing more to do than push his pants down and turn her over and take care of himself. But, when he starts kissing softly at Beth's neck and he feels her pulse quicken under his lips, he swallows back some of his nerves and runs his hands underneath her shirt upupup. The bra she's wearing is worn fabric that's too easily pushed out of his way and her breath hitches when he sweeps the rough pad of his thumb over her nipple.

"Cold," he hums almost to himself, distracted at the feel of her soft skin under his hands and her soft skin touching him and pulling him out. "Sit up," he whispers and she does as he asks. The blanket wrapped around her falls off of one shoulder and the rush of snow and air has her shivering in place. But, Daryl's leaning up to unhook the button of her jeans and tug them down her legs. It's slow going, the knees of the fabric wet from where she'd straddled him into the snow. He eventually gets them down to rest against the top of where her boots sit, though, and no further - still very aware that he might need to get up and explain and apologize and at a moment's notice. He pulls her back to him and reclaims her mouth with his own. And then both of his hands grip at the elastic of her underwear, his fingers grabbing on too tight, before he glides them over the front and down to run along the wet fabric.

He pushes the fabric haphazardly to the side and presses a finger against her bare skin, just to be sure. Just to know that she's not lying to him. That she wants this to happen. Beth rips her mouth away from him and lets out something of a sob into his neck, as he pushes a finger inside. It's not something he's familiar with, not something he usually does, so he thrusts it in and out a few times, before withdrawing completely and pulling her over him.

Beth doesn't have much time to think, before Daryl's hands squeeze at her waist and pull her down (underwear still to the left), sinking himself inside. Her sudden gasp of choked breath as he fills her and his groan are too loud and Beth takes half a moment to pray that no one heard either of them over the wind. When she looks down at him through her lashes, she sees him spare a focused glance back to camp to see if anyone has stirred. When he gets his answer his eyes flutter shut and he rests his forehead against her covered chest. "Fuck, Beth," he groans and begins to move - his fingers burning into her skin and her hips doing their best to lift alongside him.

It's hard to move with her jeans around her ankles and the blanket dangling precariously off of her body, but he pushes in and out of her in slow short bursts, her hands pulling at the base of his hair and their quiet moans of pleasure threatening the night. It's been a long while since she's felt anything in relation to this and Jimmy's unknowledgeable romp in her bedroom one day while her Daddy was out with the cattle and her Mama was at the market, doesn't even come close. And she feels herself reaching the edge she didn't get to fall over last time. She just needs...more. Just wants more. She wants Daryl to touch her, she wants him to push his hand back up through her shirt and grab her, "Please, just...please."

Daryl doesn't do any of that, though. Instead he squeezes once more at the base of her hip and lifts her off of him. The loss of contact has her letting out a whine, but he's moving the blanket out of his way and to the side, turning her around, and kneeling her into the ground. The snow against the bare skin of her knees and hands is a shock to her system. Her skin stings against the cold while the rest of her body is burning with daryldaryldaryl. When she lifts her head, she realizes she's facing camp, now, and Daryl's settling himself behind her, grabbing the flesh of her ass, and pushing back inside. "Oh my god, Daryl," Beth buries her face into the crook of her elbow and tries to block the sound she makes, "Yes."

His name spoken in her breathy moan spurs Daryl on, and he leans his chest down over her back, bringing them closer, and presses against her harder. His thrusts are rough and long and deep and she's just feeling herself tip over the point of no return...when Rick's loud cough echoes around them.

Daryl's assault pauses abruptly, his hard pants of breath ghosting across her ear, his entire body tensing behind her, and the sudden deafening silence makes her realize just how loud their skin slapping together, has been. She wants to snap her head up and out of her arm to see if Rick's staring at them in shock - to defend Daryl's being literally inside of her - but she's already tripped the rope and her eyes are squeezed shut and her mouth is dropped open in a silent cry and she's gripping and pulsing around Daryl's cock and she can't help it - she's gone. As she's coming, she's vaguely aware that Daryl is clutching her flesh each time she compresses around him, she's vaguely aware he's trying not to whimper as he squints in concentration on Rick's form to see if he's awake or not, she's vaguely aware that his body is rutting against her, seemingly without his permission. She's mostly focused on the way the heat of him burns her from her toes to her belly to her throat - searing her alive - scorching her very being - keeping her warm and safe.

And then he's moving, again, having decided that they're safe. He's burrowing himself into her at an even more desperate pace and digging dirty nails into her skin as he fucks her into the ground, lips brushing against the sweat on her neck, his hair dipping down and tickling at her, whispering her name back to her, like a prayer. She's slowly lulled out of her fog and her body droops contently in the aftermath of her orgasm as Daryl tenses behind her. She feels him start to empty inside of her, before remembering himself and racing to pull out and finish against her back. She can feel it sticky on the inside her thighs and it's filthy and she should be more worried, but all she wants to do is sigh happily and throw a satisfied smile back at him over her shoulder.

Daryl's face pulls up from where he's looking at where she's exposed and his eyes soften. "You good?" his murmur is scratchy with exertion.

Beth wants to stretch out and fall asleep, despite the fact that the snow underneath her is beginning to feel like snow, like an element she shouldn't be exposing her bare body to. She scrambles slowly to her knees and leans into Daryl to kiss at him softly, before burying her face into his neck, "So good." He smells sweaty and musky and strongly of dirt and blood and it shouldn't make her heart flip, but it does.

His hand awkwardly pulls around her back to hold her to him for a moment, before reaching into his back pocket for a rag for her to clean herself. While she does, he tucks himself away, looks back to camp to make sure no one's moving, and goes to retrieve her blanket. When Daryl turns back 'round, Beth's fixed herself up, pants back in place, bra settled over herself. He can see that the ends of her hair are damp from where it rested in the snow, but she's smiling. "Get on back to the fire, Greene," Daryl holds out her blanket. "Too cold over here...Don't want ya to get sick."

She doesn't argue with him, this time, just presses a small kiss to his cheek - smiling shyly when he reaches out a hand to clutch once at her arm.

She listens to Daryl settle himself back against the tree and look out into the woods, while she carefully maneuvers herself through the bodies of her family. Her spot is completely covered in snow and Carl's blanket has fallen down to his waist, once more. When she reaches a out to settle it back into place, her hand is still.

She falls asleep without turning.

xxx

She was the last person to wake up this morning, when she's usually one of the first. Her body was concaved in on itself like a baby kitten; her head tucked down underneath her arm and her knees pulled up to her chest. And she was comfortable. Her blanket felt soft and warm and the snow melting into the fabric didn't feel slimy and cold. She was exhausted, so far into her sleep that she didn't even dream.

Maggie had kicked lightly at her back, repeatedly, until Beth finally managed to drag open her eyes, squinting up into the sun filtering through pine trees and the empty branches, muttering out something that was supposed to sound like, "What do you want?"

Lori and Carol, who had been nearby maneuvering sleeping backs into tightly sprung rolls, chuckled at the whine Maggie kicked out of her. "You okay, sweetheart?" Lori's motherly tone had hummed. "This is a lot later than you normally get up."

Beth had assured that she was fine...before she made to stand. Her legs ached and her knees hurt and she felt sore all over. It was a good sore and the memory of how it came to be sent a flush up her neck. But, she didn't want anyone to notice her wince softly with each step. Everyone in their group, save Carl, had obviously had sex before, and Beth had been certain they'd know immediately. They'd know what she and Daryl had done, when he was supposed to have his eyes trained out through the snow.

And so, while she did nothing to hide her pleased smile, she did do her best to hide the vague limp in her step while she helped pull up camp and pile everything away.

Beth had never been more grateful that they have the cars to travel in, because she was able to spend the entire distance to the development sitting in the comfort of the back cab.

She'd never been more grateful that she guards the cars, because she didn't want to run up and down a bunch of stairs to clear out the building and make sure it's safe for them to settle in.

It's late that night - her family sat around the living room lit dimly with candles, eating dinner - that she hears Daryl's first real sentence of the day. She does her best to stay where she is, picking at her beets when she hears the low thrum of his voice, on the other side of the room, leaning into Rick. "I think Christmas is comin'," his eyes quickly scan the room, finding hers for a small second, before focusing back on his friend. "We should celebrate it, yeah?"