Beth hums distractedly along with the radio as she hunches over the steering wheel, peering through the snow flurries blanketing the crisp Georgia afternoon. The anxiety of slippery roads melts into the more general tension seething in her gut as she drives home from college for the first time. She's running late and the sun will set in less than an hour, and she wants to be home before dark.
The thought of home is complicated to her now, in a way it's never been before. It's not like it had ever been anything horrible to begin with, and it still isn't, despite the darker memories her mother and brother's deaths have left; and part of her is happy to be going home, even for this short while she has off from her part-time job at the department store. But the rest of her—the rest that remembers the first day of school, when hers was the only family to stay past eight on moving-in day, when Daddy interrogated every boy on her floor to guarantee they'd never talk to her again, when Jimmy was called in to help move boxes even though they'd been broken up for a month—that rest of her has been glad to get away, to live on her own as much as she can, with Maggie texting every other hour.
She knows, deep down, that this over-protection is warranted. Her breakdown, two years before when Annette and Shawn died in a plane crash—an inability to leave the house, terror of every suspicious noise, the anxiety of which collapsed into an exhaustion that led to her slitting her wrist in the bathroom one summer afternoon—it had frightened them, and rightly so, even though the suicide attempt had been half-hearted at best. She just needed relief—from the mourning, the despair, and most of all from the fear. She was tired of living indoors; and even if the sun was the same one that had shone on the wreckage of her family’s burnt and shattered bodies—that didn’t mean Beth didn’t long for it on her face, in her hair. Beth lived six months, terrified; if she carried anything out of that bathroom, it was the conviction to never let herself be that scared again.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t chafe, the over-tight grasp on her wrist as they maneuver through crowds. She still can't believe they let her have her own truck; didn't insist on Maggie chauffeuring her everywhere, never mind the farm is an hour away when the weather is best.
Today, the weather is certainly not best, and her grip on the steering wheel is white-knuckle-tight as the backwoods Georgia road slips and slides beneath her. Her focus is so intent that she nearly misses the dark figure walking hunch-backed along the side of the road.
When Beth sights him, she frowns. He's walking in the same direction she's driving, shoulders drawn nearly to his ears in the chill. It's hard to make out what he's wearing from this distance, but it doesn't look near warm enough, and it clenches her charitable heart to think someone would be this cold on Christmas Eve.
Before she can think better of it, Beth is slowing down and pulling over to the side of the road, a little ahead of where the man is. She looks in the rearview mirror and sees that he's stopped; stands frozen with his hands in his pockets, watching her through the snow. With a huff Beth clambers over the middle console and throws open the passenger side door, sticking her head out.
“Get in before you freeze to death!” she yells. For a moment she isn't sure whether he's heard her; then he starts walking forward slowly and Beth plops herself back into the driver's seat, fiddling with the volume on the radio as she waits.
What the heck you doing this for, Beth? she thinks, heart suddenly beating faster. This guy could be an ax murderer for all you know.
Even ax murderers deserve to be warm on Christmas, says a voice surprisingly like her father's. Beth forces herself to relax. It's her truck, fully equipped with Maggie's pepper spray and an auto-dial 911 system. She'll be fine.
It doesn't stop her heartbeat from racing when the man clambers into the truck and slams the door shut. He isn't a huge man, but his shoulders are broad and his presence takes up space. He glances at her from beneath his shaggy hair and her breath catches at the blue of his eyes. Her red felt dress suddenly feels decidedly too warm.
“Hi,” she says, as chipper as she can. The man pulls down the hood of the hoodie under his jacket and grunts back at her, breathing into his hands. They sit in silence for several long moments, Beth's smile freezing and cracking on her face.
Come on, chatty Cathy, say something.
“You looked real cold, I thought you might want a lift somewhere.”
Beth waits for more, but the man just sits there, shuffling uncomfortably. Beth raises her eyebrows.
“Oooookay. Anywhere you're going in particular?”
The man shrugs. “There's a bar 'bout a mile up. Don’t live that far away, thought I'd take a walk, stop in.”
“A bar? You aren't going home?”
He snorts. “Rather be at a bar,” he mutters. He raises a hand to his mouth to chew on the thumbnail, glancing at her out of the corner of his eye. “You gonna get going, girl, or should I get back out and walk?”
“Oh, right.” Biting her lip, Beth presses down on the accelerator and eases off the shoulder, not relaxing until they've reached the straightaway. She blows out a triumphant breath and grins at the man, only to find he's looking out his own window. She frowns, and huffs.
“What's your name, then?”
“Daryl,” he says, not looking away from the window.
“I'm Beth,” she says. “You like Christmas music?”
He snorts again. “No.”
“Aww, come on!” She turns the radio back up a little louder and sings along: “I hear those sleigh bells ringling, ring-ting-tingling tooooo, come on it's lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with yoooou.” She looks to the side and finds him looking at her; not head on, but it's a start. “You telling me you don't like that song?”
He shrugs. “Ain't much for music.”
“Well, we're gonna change that.” She turns back to the road, humming along and tapping her fingers on the wheel to the beat. “My mama always sang me Christmas songs when I was little. She wasn't all that religious, not nearly as religious as Daddy, but she always liked how they sounded. Happy and homey, you know.”
“Shawn and Maggie—they're my siblings—they never cared about it very much, but Daddy says whenever she sang I'd light up like a Christmas tree, always babblin' along. Don't know if I've gotten much better.”
“Ya got a nice voice.”
Beth looks at him and finds he's looking out the window again; she doesn't miss the blush creeping up the back of his neck, and it makes her own face heat.
“Say something nice and it’s back to grunting, I see how it is.”
She means to say it under her breath, but he clearly hears; he huffs a laugh, and when she looks over again he's looking more comfortable, leaning his head on the headrest.
“Gets the job done.”
Beth smiles, leaning back a little herself. She feels strangely more secure on the road with someone in the car with her. “My family talks too much. Talks about everything. Put too much jam on bread and they think I'm having an emotional crisis. That's family, though.”
Beth frowns and looks at him. He's looking out the front windshield with her, watching the flurries. “You don't have any family?”
He shrugs. “Mama died long time ago. Don't know where Pop is. Brother's gone. Nah, no family.”
“So... that's where you'll be on Christmas? At a bar?”
“Don't need much more.” He sits up a little more in his seat, nods towards a grouping of lights ahead. “That looks like it.”
Beth follows his gaze. It's a dilapidated little place, covered in flaking black paint, a small number of trucks and beat down cars gathered in the parking lot. Beth tries to imagine what it would be like to spend Christmas in a place like that—it's not like she's been in many bars in her life, but she can imagine—chipping booths and a cloudy counter, rough men and crumbling drunks all gathered in their corners, staring glazed-eyed at Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer playing above the bar.
It doesn't take Beth five seconds to decide to hit the accelerator, skid a little on the ice, and zoom past the bar.
“Yeah?” she says, sweet as can be, even as her heart pounds.
“Ya missed my stop.”
“...You fucking kidnapping me?”
She chances a glance at him and finds him staring at her straight on. The sight makes her gulp, a little. He's older than she thought he was, from the little she'd seen of his face, but also breathtakingly handsome—it sends little shivers through her stomach, realizing just how alone she is in this car with him.
“You gonna explain?”
“I'm taking you home with me.”
Silence. She looks at him again, and he looks pissed.
“Let me out.”
“Let me the fuck out, Beth!”
Even as he raises his voice, she feels strangely calm—like despite the short time she's known him, the strong hands gripping his jeans and the mean set of his jaw—she's safe. She feels safe, and she hasn't felt that way in a long time.
“No,” she says, simple, stubborn. “I'm not letting you spend your Christmas in a place like that.”
“I don't even fucking celebrate Christmas.”
“Well, you are this year.”
“What're you gonna tell your family, huh? You picked up a heap of hillbilly trash off the road and decided to take it home with you?”
“No. I'll say I met a nice man with nowhere to go on Christmas, and I thought he deserved better than that.”
He's quiet for a long time, eyes heating Beth's cheeks. She suddenly feels very much her 18 years of age; how naïve he must find her.
When he speaks, though, his tone isn't derisive; it's confused. “How d'you know I'm a nice man?”
“Just a feeling.”
“What kinda feeling?”
Beth blushes a little, glancing at him and the knit in his brow. “It’s like I said—like you’re the kinda person, deserves a nice Christmas.” There are a few moments of nervous silence, and Beth forces a laugh. “Besides, you haven't tried to rape or murder me yet. So I'd say your track record is pretty good.”
He snorts, shifting in his seat like he’s trying to shake the tension out of his shoulders. “Got a pretty low standard there, Goldilocks.”
The nickname makes Beth shiver a little, which she covers up by adjusting the thermostat. The heat sputters out of the vent in little whining bursts. Beth chuckles awkwardly. “Damn thing never works right,” she says, yanking the dial back and forth. She's about to give up and turn back to the road when she suddenly feels rough knuckles skimming her cheek. She freezes as he pulls at her beanie, tugging it down to cover her ear. She looks towards him with red cheeks. He seems equally stunned by the action, yanking his hand back to rub at his neck.
“Figured you'd be warmer,” he mutters, looking at his lap.
Beth slowly raises a hand to adjust the other side of the hat, leaving only her ear lobes sticking out. He's right. She is warmer, but not all from the hat.
“Thanks,” she says. His head jerks in acknowledgement. He glances at her.
“Watch the road,” he says gruffly.
She does. She can feel his tension ratcheting up the longer she drives; by the time they turn off onto the dirt road leading to the farm, he's practically humming with nerves, fingers tapping on his thigh as he watches the scenery go by. Despite his anxiety, the silence is not an uncomfortable one; Beth feels strangely at ease in this stranger's presence. She feels nearly inclined to take his hand.
Way to chase someone out of a moving vehicle, Bethany Ann, she thinks, cross with herself. She'd always prided herself on having a good head on her shoulders when it comes to boys—especially compared to Maggie, who goes from zero to 60 before the poor guy can blink. There's something about this man, though—his craggy cheekbones, the iron cut of his jaw, the large hands picking at a thread in his jeans—that makes her want to kiss him silly.
What a twist, she thinks, pulling up to the farm besides Maggie's sedan. Teenage girl kidnaps 30-something man to have her way with him. Details at 10. Really, Beth. When he turns to her as the engine cuts out, however, she wonders who could blame her. He still looks pissed, but there's a deep vulnerability in his eyes—and Beth realizes she might have done something really awful.
“Listen,” Beth says, wringing her hands a bit. “You don't have to do this if you don't want to. I can take you back to the bar. It ain't right to put you in a situation you aren't comfortable with; I really don't know what I was thinking.”
Daryl considers her for a few moments, looking between her face and her writhing hands. Finally, he says, “Tell me the real reason you want me there. And if you say Christian charity I'll knock you on your ass.”
Beth surprises both of them with a giggle; the way he looks at her after makes her blush and fiddle with her beanie. “Well...” She looks at him. Thinks what he'd look like in her frilly pink bedroom, on her flower-coated coverlet; screwing her into oblivion behind the duck pond.
At Christmas you tell the truth, she thinks.
“My ex-boyfriend's gonna be there,” she admits. “It ain't like that,” she says to his raised eyebrows, “I ain't asking you to pretend to date me or anything. But it would be nice not to be alone. And I think you feel the same way. And I couldn't leave you in the cold like that.” He stares at her with that piercing blue gaze that seems to see right through her; she blurts, “And maybe I wanna see where this goes.”
He watches her with that fathomless stare for several long moments, before nodding his head jerkily and glancing at the house.
“Ok?” Beth asks.
“Yeah,” he says. His mouth quirks. “Never got a free meal out of some chick thinking I'm hot before.”
With that he opens the door and swings out of the truck, leaving Beth gape-mouthed behind him.
In an entire life of being a dumbass, this is for sure the dumbest thing he’s ever done.
Daryl stands tapping his foot as Beth unloads a veritable cornucopia of gifts, wrapped in an absolutely offensive amount of red and green, from the back seat. It occurs to him that perhaps he should lend a hand—but when she gets around the front of the truck to smile at him, beanie falling nearly into her eyes and cheeks already flushed from the cold, he finds his limbs have turned to jelly; he can barely stand, let alone carry presents.
He's fucked. He's old, rude, and dirty, and he is certifiably fucked.
“Well, com'mon,” she says, jerking her head at the door. She seems in a much better mood about this shindig than she was previously, and he can't help but wonder if it has something to do with him. It'll be nice for her, rubbing an older man in an ex-boyfriend's face, no matter how she frames it; and maybe she's just happy she was able to strong-arm him into this. He can already picture the conversation he'll have with Merle, next time he gets down to the Pen for visitation.
Sheeeet, son; l'il bro got the mooooves now.
Ain't like that, Merle, she forced me—
Forced you, uh-huh. Ya mean you melted under the allure of a tight little body—
Don't talk about her like that.
Aww, a Dixon bein' chivalrous, don't that stop the heart. You don't get a piece of that, bro, Ebeneezer Scrooge won't have nothin' on the haunting I'll give you.
You ain't dead, Merle, you're in jail.
Oooooo, Daryl, ooooooo, it's the ghost of Christmas pussy—you gonna tap that ass or do I gotta do everything myself?
“Shut up, Merle,” Daryl growls under his breath.
“You say something?”
Beth's standing by the hood of the car; he realizes she's waiting for him, and he strides forward.
“Nah, nothing.” He reaches her and shoves his hands in his pockets, glancing at the house. Soft yellow light is filtering out through the curtains; he can see the shadows of movement inside, and hear the sounds of merriment. He feels the anxiety rising again in his gut, until he's near to choked. “You still sure about this? I ain't against walking back.”
“Come on, Daryl; you can't back out now.” She nudges him with her elbow; it’s barely a tap, but it makes him grunt. “Might be good for you, a little Christmas cheer.”
“What’re you, the ghost of Christmas abductions?”
He winces at how that little bit of Merle slips through, but she seems to enjoy it, giggling through her red cheeks. She starts walking towards the porch steps, and he follows, keeping pace.
“I did steal an ornament from Home Goods when I was in grade school.”
Daryl raises his eyebrows. “You?”
“Yeah. Shaped like a peach. Friends said I’d be chicken if I didn’t.” She’s still smiling at him with her pink, pink lips; but as they reach the top of the stairs and duck under the porch roof, her smile fades. “Listen, uh…” She shifts a little on her feet, not looking at him. “I have some… history, and… my family’s a little over-protective. So if they look at you weird, don’t take it personally.”
Daryl shrugs. He can feel that the snow on his shoulders has started to melt through his coat, and he’s strangely anxious to get inside and get it all over with already. “I’m used to people lookin’ at me weird, ain’t nothing new.”
Beth tilts her head, and Daryl has the sudden urge to check the eaves for mistletoe. “Why?”
“Ain’t exactly the kind of person you’d trust on a dark night, am I?” She opens her mouth, and he amends quickly, “Well, maybe you would.”
“Yeah, but I’m not most people.”
She’s smiling again. He realizes he likes that, making her smile. Get a grip, Dixon, he thinks nervously, resisting the urge to take a step back, frightened by the glow of her apple cheeks, her teeth white as the snow bank. He remembers the feel of her cheek on his knuckles—soft as goose-down and warm as a fire, despite the chill. The thought that he’s fucked is going to be a constant litany this afternoon, he can tell.
“Sure ain’t,” he says hoarsely.
He could swear she’s looking at him fondly, but he might just be delirious from being in the cold so long. With a last glance, she turns to the house again, and takes a deep breath. She worries her lower lip as she stares at the door; he notices her rubbing at her left wrist as she shifts from foot to foot.
“Sure you wouldn’t rather go the bar with me?”
She huffs out a surprised laugh, glancing at him. “Wouldn’t be allowed in.”
“We’d work something out.” He wonders suddenly exactly how old she is. She must be at least 16, to be driving by herself; but that isn’t much comfort, the way he finds his hands shaking when he looks at her.
Ain’t no better than Merle, he thinks bitterly, shoving his trembling hands in his pockets; but he still can’t bring himself to look away from the snowflakes melting in her eyelashes.
Fucked. So fucked.
He takes a deep breath with her as she leans forward and knocks on the door.
It isn’t half a moment before the door is ripped open and a tall brunette lunges through to envelop Beth in a gigantic hug, nearly lifting her off her feet.
“Ahh, Beth, I’m so glad you made it! With the weather—”
“I know, Maggie, I’m fine, it wasn’t that bad—”
“Come in, come in, it’s cold—”
And with that she’s gone, whisked inside the house.
Daryl stands in place, shifting on his feet, biting his lip as the voices inside rise in happiness and love. He feels a strange sort of burning rise in his chest; it twinges, but isn’t wholly unpleasant; something like sitting too close to the fire on a cold night. Clenching his fists, he takes a deep breath, and steps forward.
As he comes into the doorway Beth is hugging an older man, white-haired with a cleanly trimmed beard and kind lines around his eyes. An array of people stand around them, watching fondly. Daryl still feels like he’s sitting at a fire, but on the very edge of its reach; the hint of warmth on his front, spikes of ice on his back, and his heart straining to and fro in between. He clenches his fists at the strange pull he feels towards the inside, like he wishes the older man would step forward and embrace him too.
“Can I help you?”
He’s been noticed. The brunette that had hugged Beth steps into his line of vision and folds her arms, looking him up and down.
He opens his mouth to reply, then closes it, not exactly sure how to explain himself. He looks over her shoulder towards Beth, who meets his eyes as she extricates herself from the older man’s hug.
“That’s Daryl, Maggie,” Beth says, and with that, the attention of the room is on him. “I invited him.”
“Daryl Dixon?” Daryl looks for the man who spoke and quails—it’s Deputy Grimes, one of the two men who arrested his brother for gun running. He’s standing with a young boy. Daryl can tell from the man’s shaded eyes that he’s not entirely happy to see Daryl. At least it’s not Deputy Walsh, he thinks—even before Merle’s arrest, the man made it his personal mission to make the Dixon brothers’ lives a living hell, no matter that Daryl’s record is clean as a whistle. He didn’t get quite a read on Deputy Grimes; he’d stood back and let his partner do the interrogating while he stood in the corner of the room, cool blue eyes leveled on Daryl’s face and fiddling hands.
“Yeah,” Daryl says roughly, glancing at Beth where she stands calmly beside him. He has the sudden thought that she might take his hand.
“You know him, Rick?” asks an Asian guy who’s come to stand by Maggie.
Daryl meets Rick’s eyes, then lowers his gaze. He refuses to beg. He’d rather be run off the property than shamed like that.
“Met him doing some canvassing,” Rick says. He steps forward and takes Daryl’s hand. Daryl stands, shocked, as the man shakes it, shooting a crooked smile at Daryl’s dumbfounded face. “Didn’t expect you all to know him.”
“They don’t. I do,” Beth says. She turns her young face towards Daryl. “My truck’s been having problems, and he’s been fixing them. We got to talking and when he said he didn’t have anywhere to be on Christmas, I said he could join us.” She looks towards the older man. “That alright, Daddy?”
“Of course, Bethy; it’s a kind thing you did.” Beth’s cheeks pink a little. The man—her father—steps forward, extending a hand. “Hershel Greene. It’s nice to meet you, Daryl.”
“You too,” Daryl mumbles, just barely managing eye contact. The next few minutes are a rush of introductions; Daryl wishes he’d managed to wash up before this, all the hand shaking he’s doing. The Asian guy is Maggie’s boyfriend, Glenn; Carl the sheriff’s kid, Otis and Patricia the family friends. Beth tenses up next to him when the last person approaches him, and Daryl watches him warily as he shakes Daryl’s hand with a sweaty palm.
“Jimmy,” he says shortly. He barely looks at Daryl—his eyes are on Beth, seeking hers where they’re glued to the floor. Daryl suppresses a growl, sensing her obvious discomfort; but before he can put his foot in his mouth, Jimmy’s shuffled away.
“Now that we’ve made Daryl feel welcome, Patricia—any idea when the roast’ll be ready?” asks Hershel.
“Just a few more minutes,” she says, putting a hand on Beth’s shoulder. Beth smiles a little, leaning into the touch. “Why don’t we all go back to the living room, have some more of Rick’s quiches?”
“Won’t be asking me twice,” says Glenn.
With that they finally filter out of the opening area, Daryl takes in his first real breath since he entered the house. It smells like pork and old wood and something like the scent of Beth’s car, perhaps of Beth herself; he takes a moment to get lost in it, gather his bearings, and by the time he comes back to himself he and Beth are the only ones left in the foyer. They can see directly into the living room; Maggie still has her eyes on him, expression not hostile enough to be suspicion, but not friendly, either. Beth wasn’t kidding about a protective family.
He looks down at her, and is surprised to see she looks as shaken up as he feels. He just resists putting a hand on her back.
She jumps a bit and looks up, like she’s surprised to find them alone too.
“Not really,” she says quietly. She forces a small smile. “Lotta memories.”
Daryl thinks back to the last place he could ever have called a family home—the trailer in the park on the outskirts of town. It was a shitty place; beside a few feet of yard, the trailers were packed together like so many sardines. The Dixons had a prime spot, with one side of their trailer facing the open woods. There’d been a hitching post on that side, shaded from the trailers to either side by laundry lines.
His memories of that post are spotty at best, but he remembers the aftermath; when Pop would lumber off to sleep and he could finally work the twine from around his crossed wrists, crawl inside to his end of the trailer and lie on his stomach, closing his eyes and counting the drops of blood as they trickled down his sides.
He knows from one look around that Beth doesn’t mean memories like that. The framed photographs, the hardwood floor, furniture that’s likely sat in the same space for three generations—even without the embraces and warm hands, blood has no place in a space like this.
He does wonder, though, what’s been torturous enough for her that it would put that look in her eyes; wonders what she’s thinking of when she slides her hand into his, running her thumb once across his wrist.
“I hope you weren’t hurt or anything, me lying about how we met. Just thought it would ease things along.”
Daryl shrugs, every nerve in his body alight with the feel of her hand. “Was fine. Not the only lie, anyway.” She opens her mouth to ask, but something in his expression must speak, for she closes it, and settles for squeezing his hand. “How’d you know I work on cars, though?”
Beth smiles, running her finger across his fingernails. “Saw the grease under your nails. Lucky guess.”
Daryl’s mouth quirks against his will. “You like lookin’ at my hands, huh?”
His grin grows at her desperate blush, and she ducks her head, looking at their joined limbs. Her thumb is still moving across his fingers, soothing in its regular motion, and he fights the urge to close his eyes, enjoy the feel of his hand in hers.
“What if I do?” she mumbles, glancing at him through her lashes.
He shrugs, struggling to suppress the bubbles rising in his stomach. “Yours ain’t that bad either.”
Her shy smile stirs something inside him, and he wonders. Wonders what it would be like to come to this party as a real guest, on her arm; help her out of her coat like she’s doing now on her own, taking his too, leaving his hand to dangle; slide his hand down the sides of her red felt dress; feel the hard line of her underwire and the curve of her hips; lean down to kiss her, with or without mistletoe above.
She’s looking at him now, coats hanging over her arm and light on her face, like it’s something she wouldn’t mind; like it’s something she wants too.
He’s just tensed his neck, just reached for her arm, just leaned down for her ear or her lips, not even he knows, when her sister’s voice rings out:
“Come on, Bethy, we haven’t seen you in three months, get in here!”
Beth blinks towards the living room, like she’s forgotten they have company; Daryl straightens, clearing his throat and trying to dampen his blush. The room’s gone quiet in the wake of Maggie’s call, and once again, all focus is on them. It makes Daryl squirm, especially from Grimes—especially if the girl isn’t legal, he really ought to ask that—and he’s about to take a step back when he feels her hand on him again, this time on his wrist.
“C’mon, Daryl; Rick makes the best quiche this side of Georgia.” Daryl swallows. With a last glance towards the door, he nods. Her smile is worth it, her hand on him is worth it, holding him still for the longest moment before tugging him towards the living room; her soft warmth as it settles down beside him, an anchor in an evening of such turbulence.
It gives Beth a perpetual flush, the half hour she and Daryl spend pressed together on the sofa—the hard muscle of his arm against her shoulder, pantyhose all that separates her thigh from his rough jeans. She is acutely aware of every breath he takes; the way his scent mingles and melds with the familiar smells of home, until she can hardly remember a time they were separate. She wonders if he shares the same awareness of her; wonders what he would do if she reached over to grasp the hand twitching against his knee. She never would, of course, not with so many eyes on them. But she wonders.
It isn’t by any decision on their parts, sitting so close; with so many people in a room with such old furniture, the only other option would have been to stand, which Patricia precluded with a gesture and a wink. Beth wonders exactly what Patricia thinks of her and Daryl, the way she looks between them; Beth wonders what they all think, the looks they gather throughout the night. Maggie looks at Daryl with something akin to hostility, while Glenn tries to distract her (really the best future brother in law Beth could ask for); Rick keeps his gaze leveled on them consideringly, which she doesn’t think is fair, considering he knows very well she’s 18 and can do what she wants (not that she’s thinking of what 18 year olds do, not at all); Daddy glances over from time to time, stroking his beard thoughtfully. Jimmy avoids looking at them at all, nursing a glass of seltzer in the corner.
The only ones who seem truly unconcerned are Otis and Carl. As soon as they sit down, Otis ropes Daryl into some conversation about the ancient Ford he’s been trying to revive. It takes Daryl a few minutes to move beyond mumbles, but when it’s clear that Otis really values his opinion, he speaks—quiet, but clear and with confidence, the talk of a man who knows his trade. It makes something in Beth’s belly warm, to know he does something so well. Carl seems absolutely fascinated with Daryl, ignoring his father in favor of staring at him. Daryl glances at him from time to time; he seems amused at the attention, but wary of engaging, shooting looks at Rick all the while. Beth wonders, about what Daryl said, about lies; hopes she’ll have a chance to ask him, before the night is through.
By the time they move into the dining room, Daryl’s relaxed a little; goes so far as to smile down at Beth and brush his fingers across the back of her hand, as they wait for Otis to find him a seat. Again, he goes next to Beth, with Hershel at the head of the table on his other side. Beth herself is sat directly across from Jimmy, who’s still avoiding her gaze. Maggie must have done the seating arrangements, and she feels a twinge of annoyance at the matchmaking; although with Daryl at her side, it doesn’t make her as mad as it might.
At one point, while Patricia walks around pouring the cider, Daryl leans towards her. Time slows down and Beth feels her heart begin to thunder. He stops an inch short of her ear.
“Where’s the booze, anyway?” he asks. She can feel each word on the small hairs of her earlobe, and she bites her lip against a shiver.
“Daddy had some trouble, few years ago,” Beth whispers back, barely turning towards him; she can see the thick column of his throat out of the corner of her eye, the beat of his pulse under his chin. She imagines that, under her gaze, it speeds up.
“Don’t have any in the house, then?”
“There’s some wine in the cellar,” Beth says. He smirks, and she shoves him a little. “Maggie told me. I never had a drink before.”
His eyebrows raise. “Never?”
She shakes her head, lips curved. “Maybe after dinner we can sneak some.”
The slow slide of his smile, so close, makes her wonder if this is what being drunk feels like. “Want me to help you with your first, Greene?”
The sound she manages is embarrassingly close to a whimper. His grin only widens as he laughs at her, and she shoves him again, looking down to hide her blush as Patricia reaches them.
“You ok, Beth? You look a little flushed.”
Beth looks up at Maggie’s pointed tone, frowning, her good mood rushing out of her like rapids. “Fine, Maggie, how are you?”
“No need to get fresh, girls,” Patricia murmurs, filling Beth’s glass.
“Nothing fresh around here,” Maggie mutters, looking at Daryl. Beth feels him tense up next to her, and she feels a flash of anger.
“Why don’t you just say what you wanna say, Maggie?”
“Beth, it’s a’right—”
“No, Daryl, I want to hear it. We have problems with each other, we say them, right, Daddy?”
“At Christmas dinner—” starts Patricia.
All eyes turn to Hershel. He reviews the table calmly, looking between his daughters with steady eyes.
“Say your piece, Maggie.”
She doesn’t look so confident in her recalcitrance, now; she looks at Beth and Daryl, and then at Glenn, who’s looking at her with concern. She straightens with a sniff.
“I just don’t think it’s fair to Jimmy,” she says, making the boy in question jolt up with wide eyes, “you springing another guy on him like this, Beth.”
“Daryl’s a friend,” Beth says, cheeks heating, remembering his breath on her ear. She looks at Jimmy. “Besides, we’ve been broken up for four months. You’ve moved on, right, Jimmy?”
He pales as the attention of the room falls on him. “I, uh, yeah. Of course.”
“There’s a ringing endorsement,” Maggie says flatly.
“This ain’t about Jimmy, Maggie, this is about me. About Mom and Shawn.”
“Beth—” says Rick.
“Isn’t it, Mags?”
Maggie glares at her, clutching the tablecloth. “You aren’t healthy, Beth. You ain’t thinking right.”
“But I was thinking right when I started dating Jimmy before I could even leave the house?”
“We knew Jimmy, he wasn’t a—” She stops, looking at Daryl. Daryl is sitting hunched in his seat, hands thick fists on the table, avoiding everyone’s eyes.
“I think that’s enough, Beth,” Hershel says quietly.
“I’ve been better for a long time, Maggie. I’m not perfect, but I promised you nothing like that would happen again. And if Daryl and I were together, I’d think you’d be supportive of anything that’s helping to keep it that way. You think I’m weak, you tell me that—don’t insult Daryl to do it.”
“I wasn’t trying to—”
“Daryl’s a good person,” Beth says strongly. She feels Daryl’s eyes on her face, his hot, incredulous gaze. “You don’t have any right to judge him, or me. You’re better than that.”
Beth’s words ring into the silence of the room, and she sits back in her chair, suddenly spent and shocked that she feels the urge to cry. It would be the first time since she started leaving the house again, and she’ll be hecked if she does it in front of everyone.
Maggie shifts around, looking suitably contrite and avoiding everyone’s eyes. “Sorry,” she mutters. Then, sitting up and looking between Beth and Daryl, says, more strongly, “I’m sorry.”
“Good girl, Maggie,” Hershel says quietly. “Everything alright now, Beth?”
“Yes,” she says.
“Ok, then.” Hershel looks up and down the table, surveying every person, eyes pausing on the two empty chairs in the corner before moving on.
As Beth reaches to either side of her to grasp their hands for prayer, she feels a sudden rush of warmth. Despite Maggie’s judgement—despite the people missing—she’s home, she’s with family; and it makes her happy, when Hershel’s gaze lands on Daryl, that her father might think him, if just for one night, a part of it.
When Beth was younger, her favorite part of Christmas Eve was always the washing up after. When the guests had retired to the living room to watch It’s A Wonderful Life, she and her mother would gather the plates, the wine glasses, the cutlery, the napkins and pitchers, and lay them out across the kitchen. Methodically, they would go through them; Annette scrubbing away, Beth drying, stacking dishes high in the drainer like their own little Christmas tree. Maggie and Shawn were too high-strung for such mundane work, but Beth loved it: to stand in their quiet kitchen, her holiday dress brushing her mother’s skirt; to every so often receive a kiss on the cheek or a warm hug that smelled of peppermint, listen to Annette hum under her breath as she always did, without realizing, and startle her by beginning to sing along. Those were always Beth’s best memories of Christmas.
Now she stands in the quiet kitchen, alone, ignoring the sanctity of her nail polish to scrape dried potato off of Glenn’s plate. The sounds of warm goodbyes drift in from the foyer; Jimmy had left silently right after dinner, and Otis and Patricia had already been in to hug her and say good luck with the coming term. Patricia had lingered a few moments longer, hand rubbing soothing circles in Beth’s lower back, smiling at her with her kind eyes. All she had to say was that Beth could call her, anytime, any day, and she would come for her; it brought Beth near to tears, again, as she hugged her, breathing in her scent and the familiar flutter of her blonde hair. They aren’t blood, but Beth finds that doesn’t matter; especially not on Christmas.
Intent on her task, she doesn’t realize she has company until a voice says:
“What are you humming?”
She glances over her shoulder at Maggie where she’s hovering by the island, tapping her finger on the granite.
“Didn’t realize I was,” Beth says.
Maggie smiles and walks forward. “Mama used to do that, remember?”
“Was just thinking about that.” Beth puts the clean plate into Maggie’s reaching hand, watching her dry it for a few moments before reaching for the next plate; it must have been Carl’s, with all the spinach left behind. She scrapes it off into the garbage and starts scrubbing, holding down the urge to hum. She feels like Maggie is building up to something, and needs silence to do it.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” she finally blurts. Beth doesn’t look at her except out of the corner of her eye—Maggie’s head is down as she concentrates on the plate, but Beth recognizes the signs of her nervousness.
Beth shifts on her feet. “I’m not feeling any better about you right now. So don’t expect everything to be ok just cause you said that.”
“I don’t. I know.” She puts the plate in the stack, waiting for the next one. “I just wanted to say it.” She’s quiet as Beth works, the only sound the quiet strain of orchestral music from the living room, the scrape of Beth’s sponge on the plate. “You didn’t meet him working on your car, did you?”
Beth pauses, glancing at her sister. “What makes you say that?”
“I’ve known you for 18 years, Bethy; I know when you’re lying.” Beth hands off the plate, not looking at her. “So what’s the story? A one night stand you feel bad about or something?”
Beth whips around, staring at her. “No, Maggie!”
“I dunno why else you’d be so secretive—”
“I met him today,” Beth says. Maggie pauses, brow furrowed. “I saw him walking along the road on my way here. He was gonna spend Christmas Eve in a bar, Maggie. I couldn’t let him do that.”
“But you didn’t know anything about him; he could’a been a rapist or—”
“Which is why I didn’t tell you.”
Maggie huffs out a breath, running her rag over the plate. “What made you trust him?”
Beth shrugs, picking at a bit of turkey. “I dunno. Something about him seemed… missing. Like bad stuff’s happened to him and he has a lot to make up for. And that he wants to.”
“And you’re gonna be the girl to give it to him?” Maggie asks with a raised eyebrow.
Beth scrunches her nose. “I’m not looking to fix him. I just think he’s worth knowing.”
“There’s knowing and there’s knowing, Beth.”
“Can you hear me out before getting offended?” Beth sighs. Maggie takes it as assent. “Jimmy’s the only guy you’ve ever dated, and that only lasted a few months. I don’t know if you have the experience to be with a man like this. He isn’t some harmless kid.”
“He has history.”
“So do I.”
“I almost lost you once,” she says softly. They’ve abandoned the dishes and are looking at each other, both leaning on the sink. “I just don’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I’m not who I was back then,” Beth says. After a moment, she reaches forward and takes her sister’s hand. “I don’t know what’s going to happen with Daryl. I don’t even know if he’d want to be with me.”
“Oh, he wants you, alright,” Maggie says, arching her eyebrows. “You weren’t looking when you dropped your napkin before dinner.”
Beth blushes, fighting down a smile. “Well, ok, there’s that. But the thing is, I don’t know what’s going to happen—I just know that whatever it is, I want your support.”
“You have it, Beth, you know that,” Maggie says. “I might not be happy with it, but… I’m your sister. I love you.”
Beth reaches over to hug her. “I love you too, Mags.”
Maggie returns the hug with relief, squeezing her almost too tight. When they pull back, she’s smiling. “And who knows; maybe next year you’ll come home with an octogenarian and I’ll wish you’d stuck with Daryl.”
Beth rolls her eyes. “Shut up, Maggie.”
Maggie squeezes her arm, then looks at the sink. “I’ll take care of the rest of this. You go talk to him. He was looking a little lonely.”
“Ok. Thanks.” Beth hugs her again, and walks out of the kitchen, feeling a little lighter.
Beth comes to the living room on quiet feet, peering in from around the corner. She’s surprised to see Rick and Daryl standing together by the window, Carl playing his PSP in the corner. Rick’s talking to Daryl in low tones, bent over Daryl’s bowed head. Daryl’s worrying his lip, listening carefully with his hands in his pockets; as Beth watches, he nods, then turns towards Rick and straightens, taking Rick’s offered hand. There’s a light of respect in his eyes that makes Beth smile.
“Beth.” Rick’s spotted her, and she comes fully around the corner sheepishly. Daryl glances at her, then away.
“Hey, Rick,” she says. “You bringing Carl back to Lori’s tonight?”
Rick smiles wryly. “Bringing both of us there. She wants to keep Christmas morning a family thing.”
Beth grins. “Pumpkin pancakes?”
Rick grins back. “You know us too well.” He walks forward to pull Beth into a one-armed hug, kissing the top of her head. “You have a good time at school, kiddo.”
“Thanks, Rick,” Beth says, hugging him back. “Merry Christmas.”
Rick kisses her again, then looks at Daryl, a more sober look on his face. “And remember, Daryl, any time you or your brother need anything, you give me a call.”
“Don’t know ‘bout what Merle needs,” Daryl says, rounding his shoulders. “But I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks, Sheriff.”
After getting a shy hug from Carl and another hug and a kiss from Rick, the two leave; Beth stands at the open door until she sees their headlights vanish into the distance.
Beth’s acutely aware, then, of how alone she and Daryl are; Hershel’s gone up to bed, and Maggie’s making a pointed amount of noise in the kitchen. She takes a deep breath, then closes the door and kicks her shoes off.
“Mmhh,” she says with a smile, turning and wiggling her toes on the carpet. “Thought they’d never leave.”
Daryl raises his eyebrows. “Gonna drive me back shoeless?”
“Thought you could stay the night,” Beth says, as casually as she can with her pounding heart.
She blushes under Daryl’s quiet, considering gaze; then he snorts a laugh and looks away, rubbing his nose.
“Yeah, alright,” he says. He glances at her, then kneels down to untie his own boots, tossing them into a heap by hers. He wears socks that might once have been white, almost worn through at the big toe. Beth wonders absurdly whether there’s time to drive to the store and buy him a new pair by morning.
“I’m going up, Beth,” says Maggie from the kitchen, pausing to look in on them. She meets Beth’s eyes, before looking towards Daryl’s avoidant gaze. She looks back at Beth, and smirks. “Make sure to have all your clothes on by the time Dad gets downstairs, he ain’t so young anymore.”
“Maggie!” Beth hisses, but she’s already gone, up the stairs and out of sight.
Beth expects Daryl to be smirking at her sister’s comment; instead, he’s looking at his feet, seeming unaccountably shy. It stirs Beth’s heart, the vulnerability on his face; and without a word, she steps forward to take his hand and lead him to the sofa, press him down softly until he’s sitting against the arm. Beth sinks down onto the opposite side, drawing her knees to her chest and hugging them, being careful to cross her ankles so she isn’t flashing her underwear. Aside from the music playing quietly from the speakers and the sound of Maggie’s footsteps overhead, all is silent. Daryl’s still looking at his feet; but slowly he raises his gaze to take her in, skipping away from her crossed ankles to glide over her knees and curves like a lover’s hands. By the time he reaches her face, Beth is shivering.
“You cold?” he asks, voice deep and husky, sending another tremor through Beth’s bones.
“A little,” she lies, eyeing the space between them. Daryl hesitates, then reaches for the throw along the back of the sofa. Meeting Beth’s eyes, he leans forward to sling it around her shoulders. She feels the cool wind of his breath on her lips as he passes close; the way his eyes flicker to her mouth, she knows he hears her own breath catch. But instead of continuing down, planting his hands on the arm of the couch and ducking his head to take her lips with his, like she half-hopes he would, he pauses with his arms wrapped nearly all the way around her; smoothes the fabric across her shoulders with a press of strong hands; and sits back, cheeks red in the dim lighting.
“Thanks,” she says quietly, pulling the blanket across her front so she can relax her legs.
“Welcome,” he says. His eyes travel quickly across her covered form, then fall back to his own hands.
They sit in silence for a time, Daryl watching his lap, and Beth watching Daryl. She wonders, not for the first time, whether it was silly to bring him here; whether they both might have been better off if she had dropped him at the bar like he asked. She and Maggie would have gotten along, he could be chatting with friends, and she wouldn’t have these fluttery feelings springing around her gut like feathered slinkies, bouncing inside her rib cage until it feels like it’s her lungs that beat and her heart that breathes. She’s barely breathing now, as his eyes come back to her face, catch her staring. His features are heavily shadowed in the dim light, his eyes nearly black. She wonders how she appears to him.
“You work things out with your sister?” he asks, hushed, like anything more would wake those sleeping above.
“Yeah,” Beth says. Her mouth quirks up, and he seems to unconsciously mirror it. “Told you my family was over-protective.”
“Seemed just the right amount of protective to me,” he says.
“I guess.” Beth fiddles with the throw, suddenly filled to the brim with memories threatening to spill. “Jimmy was my first real boyfriend,” she says, glancing up nervously. She imagines how she appears to him—skinny and frail, wrapped in a blanket like a little girl hiding from monsters. But he isn’t looking at her like a little girl; he’s looking at her like he wants her to continue. Like his heart hangs on what she has to say. “We’ve known each other since we were in diapers. Never all that close, but after… when things were bad, he came around a lot. Maggie thought being with him could help.” Beth shrugs, not looking at him. “I think really she was just sick of dealing with me, hoped he could be some magical fix that would make things easier. I dunno. He made a lot of things harder. But I got better.” She looks up at him, and her breath catches at the intensity of his gaze. She giggles a little, nervous. “Sorry I’m being so cryptic. I can’t… I dunno how to start at the beginning.”
“‘S alright,” he says. He reaches out to finger one of the tassels on the blanket, flipping it nervously between his fingers. Beth feels the tug it makes, across her shoulders, and leans forward a bit to make it easier on him. “I didn’t meet the sheriff canvassing,” he says suddenly, looking up. “He arrested my brother. Gun charges, felonies. Brought me into the station. I lied about a lot, but they had enough on Merle, the dumbass; didn’t need me.”
“Your brother’s in jail now?”
“You miss him?”
She feels the fingers of Daryl’s eyes across her cheeks, along her brow. He’s looking at her like a wonder.
“Yeah,” he says hoarsely. He blinks heavily, looks down. “No. I dunno. ‘S complicated.”
“Always is,” Beth says, smiling softly. His lips twitch, like he isn’t sure whether he wants to smile or not. “Rick seemed ok with you, though.”
“Dunno what I did to deserve it. Dunno what I did to deserve any of this.”
“Tonight.” He bites his lip; says so low she nearly misses it, “You.”
“It’s Christmas. Everyone deserves nice things on Christmas.”
“You really believe that, huh?”
“You think I’m one’a your nice things?”
Beth smiles. Not giving herself time to think, she grabs hold of the ends of the blanket, scoots across the couch. Daryl’s whole body is like wood as she leans against him—but slowly, he relaxes; brings a hesitant arm around her shoulders. Beth cranes her neck, looks up at him. Her eyes shine.
“You’re the best thing, Daryl Dixon.”
Sunlight filters through Beth’s eyelids, tinted red and brown by the flicker of her brows. She’s always been an easy riser, but this morning is slow—she makes a soft moan, low in her throat, stretching her awareness across her limbs. She’s warm, comfortingly so, like the seat by a fire on a cold night; she’s pressed against something hard, hard and moving, breathing; the pounding beneath her ear is a heartbeat.
Beth’s eyes flicker open and she sees her own hand, resting on a slowly rising, black-shirted chest. Her red-painted nails scratch at the fabric, and a deep rumble rises from the body beneath her. Beth closes her eyes again, a smile on her lips; she tilts her head to press a kiss to the triangle of skin by her mouth. The pressure on the small of her back increases, a thumb sweeping back and forth; she sighs, snuggling in deeper, content.
“Well. Least you listened to me about the clothes.”
Beth’s eyes snap open and find Maggie standing before her, hands on her hips and eyebrows at her hairline. Awareness comes flooding in. From the clock on the wall, it’s 8am; the throw rests casually over her back where she’s sprawled across Daryl’s chest, curled up between his legs where they’re bent to fit on the small sofa. One of his hands sits dangerously low on her back, and she can feel the scratch of his jeans high on her thighs where her dress has ridden up nearly to her panties. As she comes awake, his hand slides up and into the open zipper of her dress, settling warm and alive against her shoulder-blade.
As Beth blinks up at Maggie, the night before comes filtering back. She and Daryl had stayed up talking till well past midnight. She told him about school; he told her about life at the garage; she said more about her illness than she’s spoken even to Maggie; he showed her the ligature marks on his wrists where twine had rubbed near to the bone. She’d kissed them, she remembers; she didn’t kiss his lips, but she kissed his hands, overcome by tenderness for this man she’d picked up on the side of the road, then by the heat of his hand on her back as he drew her forward to rest against him; her casual mention of the pull of her dress, his hand careful and light as he drew down the zipper, lingered at her bra strap before adjusting the throw and sliding to the small of her back with a sigh.
She feels him slowly coming awake beneath her, shifting his bones and quickening his breathing. She feels the moment he remembers where he is; she bites her lip as his whole body tenses, his fingers digging into her skin. Careful of her knees, Beth adjusts her weight so she can look at him. He blinks at her, eyes comically wide as he snatches his hand away from her.
“Morning to you too, old man,” Maggie says. Daryl looks at her, then back at Beth. She sees the track of his swallow work its way down his throat.
Clearing her throat, Beth sits the rest of the way up, shimmying her dress down over her thighs and reaching back to rezip the dress, avoiding Maggie’s eyes as she does. Daryl scoots to his butt and swings his feet to the ground, rubbing his eyes and groaning softly.
“Daddy’ll be down in a minute; thought I’d give you some warning,” Maggie says, looking between them.
“Thanks, Maggie,” Beth says, not looking away from Daryl, at the way his hair sticks up at the back of his head, the way the undone top buttons of his shirt list to the side, revealing a long line of collarbone. She undid those buttons, she remembers, sometime around the time he unzipped her dress; she remembers the way he shifted, the hard weight that rose against her stomach—not needful, but there, as present as the hand on her spine. She remembers the time she had felt Jimmy’s hardness, pushing against her as they fumbled together on this very couch—the way he had jerked away from her, stammered, took extra care from then on to angle himself away, ignorant of the fire that had erupted in her gut at the press of him. When she felt Daryl, the night before, she just resisted the urge to squirm against him—just, because the weight of his hands and press of his hips lit her up brighter than the Christmas tree shining in the corner of her eye, and she knew with anything more she would fly apart. She met his eyes—two hot balls of blue in the darkness, hesitant but calm, giving to the extent she would take—and knew that whatever she decided, he would accept with open hands.
All they did was sleep, no matter what Maggie seems to be thinking as she pads away to the kitchen, shaking her head—but something in the air between them feels post-coital, intimate; Beth slides towards him to press their shoulders together, smoothing down the hem of her dress until a hand reaches towards her, flattening one of her own against her knee. She turns towards him, a shy smile on her face, sees his own mirrored back. He ducks his head and chuckles.
“Never done that before,” he says.
“Slept with someone without fucking them.”
Beth’s cheeks flame up, but she nods along, understanding. She covers his hand so they’re stacked atop and between one another, intertwined.
“It was nice,” Beth says softly. He doesn’t nod, but the look he gives her out of the corner of his eye tells her all she needs to know.
“I ought’a get going,” he says, squeezing her hand lightly. “Don’t know how your dad would feel, knowing I slept over.”
“I’m sure he’ll figure it out,” Beth says, smiling. “He tends to do that.”
Daryl chuckles, shaking his head. “Still. I think…” he pauses, trails off, glances at her again. “I think I might go see my brother; bring him some extra Raisinettes for the holidays, or something.”
Beth rests her chin on his shoulder, enjoying the way his skin flushes under her breath. “That sounds nice,” she says.
He nods. Pushing her away gently, he stands and pads over to his shoes. Beth gets his coat, then hovers by the couch as she watches him put them on; admires the curve of his spine and the tug of his jeans on his ass. When he stands, she doesn’t even try to pretend she wasn’t looking; just grins and holds out his coat. He takes it from her with a barely suppressed smile.
“My pleasure, Mr. Dixon.”
She’s not sure if she imagines the way his eyes darken at that, but he doesn’t reply; just slips into his coat and walks to the door. Beth follows, leaning on the doorframe.
“Want me to drive you?” she asks.
“Nah. Like I said, I don’t live too far anyway. It’ll be nice to walk. Besides, you ought’a be with your family.”
Beth nods, looking out towards the drive. It’s a breathtaking scene: White blankets the landscape, the leftovers from the day before and a soft dusting left overnight. The snow’s still coming down, barely perceptible against the light sky.
“I’m glad I met you, Daryl,” Beth says softly.
Daryl glances at the eaves above Beth’s head; before she can follow his gaze, he’s stepping into her space, hands coming to rest on her shoulders.
Beth’s breath catches as he leans in, brushes the softest of kisses against her cheek; then another, slow, and another, scruff prickly against her skin. Beth puts one hand over his on her shoulder, the other on his waist, holding her breath as he moves across her cheek, ghosting closer and closer to her mouth. He hovers there, and she opens her eyes to his blue, blue gaze.
“What’re you waiting for?” she breathes.
“Ain’t no mistletoe,” he says.
“Screw mistletoe,” she murmurs, and leans forward to kiss him.
The kiss is far more chaste than any she has imagined with him, but it lights her up like a blazing fire; the way his hands squeeze softly on her shoulders, the step he takes to get closer that allows her to slip a hand around his waist. He’s making a noise deep in his chest like a cat and she can’t help but shift closer to it, pressing her front against him and breathing out a sigh when she feels her breasts flatten against his hard chest. His hands leave her shoulders, one falling down to caress her hip, the other rising to cup her cheek and angle her face so he can kiss in deeper, tangling their tongues and making her moan, fall against him and clutch him desperately.
By the time they pull apart each of Beth’s breaths is chasing the next. His chest rises and falls against her. He looks down at her through heavy lidded eyes. She flattens a palm against his cheek, sliding it up to his forehead to sweep back the hair hiding his eyes. On the way down she touches her thumb to the edge of his gapped mouth, bites her lip as she resists the urge to kiss him again.
“How old’re you anyway?” he asks, sliding a hand to her lower back.
“What would you do if I said 16?”
“I’d throw you over my bike and get the hell out of town.”
“You have a motorcycle?”
Daryl smirks and pulls her tighter against him. “You like that?” She can feel his hardness against her hip again, more insistent than before, and it thrills her.
She bites her lip, leaning into him. “I’ve never ridden one before.”
“Never had hooch, never ridden a bike—”
“Never had sex,” Beth murmurs.
He freezes for a moment, looking down at her with wide eyes. Beth feels her cheeks begin to burn, but she doesn’t break his gaze; matches his look with open eyes, softly rocking her hip.
“I’m the one’ll show you the world, huh?” Daryl says hoarsely, trailing a finger along her artery.
Beth slides her arms all the way around him, going up on her tip-toes to whisper against his lips, “And I’m 18, too. So no need to kidnap me.” She kisses his chin, and grins. “Unless you want to.”
“Only fair to return the favor.” Beth shivers; and although it wasn’t from the cold, it reminds Daryl that she’s standing on the open porch in her pantyhose. He nudges her back until her feet are on the hardwood, rubs his hands up and down her arms.
“Your dad’ll be down soon,” he says.
“I know.” She can’t stop smiling. The same brightness is mirrored on his dark face, and it makes warmth spread through her limbs; warmth that remains, even as he pulls away.
“I’ll be seein’ you, huh?” he asks, sticking his hands in his pockets, looking inexplicably shy again.
Beth nods more enthusiastically than is perhaps acceptable; but for the relief on his face, it’s worth it. “Definitely.”
“A’right.” He looks at his feet, nods at her, and without a word, turns to go.
Beth can hear the sounds of her family moving about inside; knows Daddy will ask why she’s still in her dress, a knowing glint in his eye; knows Maggie will interrogate her about the night before, about the chest she found her pressed against. But it isn’t time for that, not yet. For now, it’s time to watch Daryl walk off through the snow, long back straight, hands in his pockets and head bowed to the breeze. It’s time enough.
She’s just about to head inside when he stops and turns.
“Ya know,” he calls, “I never got nothin’ for Christmas before.”
Beth frowns. “Never?”
He shakes his head. A small smile grows.
When he turns again, her own follows, kindling.
The snow falls.