She’s used to it by now; they all are. Living like pack animals that winter before the prison, sleeping in tangled huddles with intertwined limbs. It’s been easy enough to slip back into that near-wordless existence after they got her out of Grady. Comforting even. Easier than pretending she missed any of the relative safety of that place’s shabby sterility and the constant smell of watered-down antiseptic laced through with rot from floors below. If she could live in there alone or die out here with her family she’ll choose here.
Out in the wild, armoured by layers of dirt and sweat, sleeping in disorganized breathing piles of familiar bodies, she feels herself again in a deeper way than she has in a long time. She’d removed herself a little, she realized after the hospital. Removed herself to protect herself from Dawn’s beatings, from the crushing loneliness and fear of being without everyone she loved and who loved her, from Gorman’s searching eyes and hands. She had no safe place to be for a while, so she kept a part of herself locked away and absent. Untouched.
Now she comes back to herself as she lays with her family and breathes and feels them. They’re a little more spread out than they would sometimes get in winter when the only warmth to be had was under a thin blanket shored up with bodies on either side. It’s spring and it’s hot and sunny during the days and muggy at night. But she can feel Maggie’s steady breathing to her left no more than a foot away, Glenn wrapped around her on her other side, his fingers twitching through the grass at Maggie’s side as he jerks a little in his dreams. Daryl is on Beth’s other side, and he’s much closer to her than Maggie is, close enough that her head rests on his shoulder, his arm looped loosely around her, and she has one ankle hooked over his shin. They’ve slept like this every night since she’s been back, hands and feet tangled together, not plastered together but close enough that there’s no way one of them could stir without the other knowing.
She hasn’t been much concerned with anyone’s reactions to it but she’s seen Michonne and Carol give them some long quiet looks. Maggie’s watchful and affectionate and doesn’t seem to be giving it a second thought. When they travel during the day and Beth has Judith in her arms or strapped into the baby carrier against her chest, Daryl or Rick at her side while the other takes point at the front of their little walking caravan, she thinks about it. About being close to Daryl and wanting to touch him and feel him and how he hasn’t stopped reaching for her like he did more and more after the shack.
She can feel the sting of sunburn on her cheek resting on Daryl’s shoulder, his arm around her and his fingertips just barely tugging at the ends of her hair as he plays with it, like he’s trying not to disturb her. Whenever she stirs he stops, but he always starts again, and she wants to tilt her head back and press her mouth to his throat and tell him she likes it, tell him he can play with her hair as much as he wants, but there’s something cautious in all of this. Something that feels safe only in darkness and silence when they’re looking no one in the eye including each other.
This is the first night she’s laid awake for a while, unable to fall asleep but not really feeling any need or desire to do so. She’s aware, almost too aware, of the soft damp air pressing down on them, owl calls and faraway coyote yelps and insects buzzing and Daryl’s steady breathing. Her own pulse in her ear where it’s pressed to his shoulder. She’s restless, her body humming with it, and it doesn’t take long for her head to fill until she can feel it like something pressing on her skull from the inside: dark heated images of touching him. Letting her hands wander, letting his, stroking and tugging at him and feeling his weight and the width of his hips and shoulders pressing her into the earth.
She shudders suddenly as the pictures grow clear and sharp in her mind and his fingers stop in her hair. He pauses, and she can feel his head lifting to try to look at her even in the dark but she doesn’t look up at him. She presses her nose into his shirt and breathes, lets her hand flex on his stomach until he twitches. She bends and slides her knee up to hook over his thigh. He shudders a little himself and lays his head back down with a slight thump. She would smile but there’s this huge weight of anticipation, of awareness of his every reaction sitting on her chest and it’s all colored with worry, with a little bit of fear that he won’t want this, or he won’t want it yet.
She really doesn’t know. She hadn’t heard of him being with anyone at the prison, or before that, and when they sat at that table in warm orange candlelight and he stared at her hard and soft and resolute and needing her to just understand she had, but not in a way she could articulate even to herself. She knows what he meant but not what it means, now, curling around him in the heat and letting him feel the tension in her thighs, the nervous twitch of her fingers at the line of buttons on his shirt. She finds a gap between buttons and nudges her fingertips into it, trying to cover her tremble of anxiety by squirming still closer resting her cheek more against his chest.
His breathing is faster now as her fingertips tap and skate over his bare skin, cool and damp with sweat. He doesn’t twitch away, doesn’t use his free hand to stop her, and he could, now that he’s realizing she’s moving purposefully. He could have not slept with her tucked along his side every night for the last week but he has and his heart is pounding and his fingers curl in the ends of her hair until they’re clenched in a fist.
She turns her face up until her nose brushes his throat and she can feel him swallow, and she closes her eyes against the vague shadows and shapes she can make out in the barely glowing embers of the fire and the little patches of weak moonlight that trip through the thick cover of the trees. She doesn’t say anything, can’t think of what it would be other than his name, but she knows she doesn’t need to alert him of anything, knows he’s so tuned into her he can probably feel every twitch and shiver so she turns fully on her side and presses into him, hitches her knee up until it must be right below his crotch and her legs are spread enough that she’s got his thigh between them and she scratches her nails against his skin.
He clenches and a little sound escapes his throat and she does smile then, scratches again affectionately and lets her hips roll just slightly. His hand that had been in her hair untangles and then she feels it big and wide and hot spanning low on her hip. He’s pressing her closer, telling her to stay, giving her more of his body and she almost whimpers in relief and sudden overwhelming unambiguous need and clutches at him with her hand and her thighs and grinds on his leg. He lets out a breath that’s almost formed into a curse and she hears a sound from where Rick is sitting up keeping watch with Judith sleeping in his arms.
They’re both still, frozen for a moment, and Beth is just deciding she really doesn’t care if Rick looks over and sees them like this, doesn’t care and knows he won’t and Daryl likely won’t care either - or wouldn’t after a day, if Rick even said anything about it, which he wouldn’t. Rick knows Daryl well enough, as well or better than Beth, and he wouldn’t prod him about something like this unless he was concerned and he has no reason to be. Has shown no concern to Beth about how close she and Daryl have been since they came to get her and she went from Rick’s arms to Daryl’s in that hallway and they jointly wrestled her out when Noah stayed back.
She scoops her hips against Daryl’s thigh again and his fingers dig into her hip, his index finger sliding under her shirt that’s ridden up and starting to sweep over her skin in little circles. She wants to whine and keen and roll over on top of him and ride him but this is quieter and somehow more innocent than that and not quite shy but not bold either. They’re still surrounded on all sides by their family - and she’ll never roll her eyes at Maggie and Glenn again because all things considered they are very quiet most of the time. Maybe she should feel chastened by the fact that they are quite literally in the middle of the group spread out asleep over the clearing where they’d strung up their tin can alarms and dug out their small fire holes. Maybe it should feel brazen or wrong to think of Rick on watch barely yards away and not feel embarrassed or ashamed that he might see, might know what they’re doing. But they’ve all almost died so many times. They’ve lost each other, and found, and bled and wept and fought together, and this feels so inconsequential compared to all that. Moreover, it feels just as inevitable. The night sounds, the thin grass patchily covering the dirt beneath them, and the rustle of leaves in the soft breeze all around; this is what feels right for now, even though they haven’t even kissed yet.
She squirms against him and tries to get the pressure just right and it’s good, it’s something, it’s him, his firm warm muscle between her legs nudging back against her increasingly frustrated little thrusts. But it’s not enough and she sighs at his throat. She thinks she hears, could swear he huffs out something like a laugh. As affectionate as it is incredulous as it is shocked. But then he’s rolling to his side facing her and her eyes fly open to catch just a glimpse of him lifting his head and throwing a quick glance around their camp. He must have seen Sasha asleep on his other side and Rick either oblivious or pretending well enough to be because then his free hand not pressed to her lower back is closing around her knee and lifting it almost to his hip, opening her up wider. He slides his leg forward and she doesn’t even breathe as she shifts with him until his thigh is clutched tight between hers, pressing the seam of her jeans against her in a way that will be just right when she can move. Right now she’s still breathless, hands searching numbly until she can grasp at his shirt and when he whispers to her, barely a breath of sound, she can feel his nervousness under all the heat in it.
“Go on,” he murmurs, encouraging. Almost indulgent.
She exhales a soft gasp and tucks her forehead down against his collarbone as she starts to move, and then she does feel a little embarrassed of being so bold, of taking like this, grinding and thrusting on his leg. But his hands on her are hot and he’s not quite tugging her into motion but there’s tension there, gripping and holding her tight against him and he wants it, she knows he does. He can give her this, and he is. Daryl ducks his head down, chin on her forehead and the anticipation is still there but the anxiety melts away; he’s there with her, and it’s okay, and he wants this.
Her hips have been making little twitches almost without her knowledge and when she lets herself sink back out of her head and into her body, she moves against him more purposefully until everything aligns just right. Then she does whine just the tiniest bit in the back of her throat, hands closing into tight fists in his shirt and she moves more earnestly, circling and finding a rhythm that strokes the seam of her jeans against her clit. It’s barely enough at first but the more she works at it the more little sparks of pleasure flash through her and the more she leans into the pressure and the heat of his thigh spreading her legs open.
She lets her mind go entirely, using it only enough to move, to press and grind and chase the heat spreading low and aching through her belly. It’s barely a sound when he starts, barely more than just a breath let out through half-closed lips but she realizes he’s not only clutching more tightly at her, bringing her closer to his chest, but he’s breathing, “fuck, fuck,” over the crown of her head, and when she focuses on how twined together they are, how much she can feel of him, she realizes he’s pressed hard and long against her hip. He’s barely moving, obviously trying to keep still for her but she scoots still closer, impossibly so, until she can feel him even fully pressing against her stomach.
She wants to touch him, wants so badly to reach down and just press her hand over his aching hard cock even through his jeans and give him something more to thrust against but somehow that feels like too much for right now even though she can feel how wet she’s getting, her underwear slick and stuck to her, shifting against her skin independent of her jeans. She just wraps her arms around him and tilts her head up slightly to nudge under his chin until her mouth is pressed to his neck, open and breathing against him, moving again and harder, reaching down to hook her nails into the seam of his jeans along his outer thigh and get him to thrust up against her. It’s too hard and not enough all at once, and this might not even work, might not give her any release in the end but it’s so good having him, any of him, between her legs and the thought is so blunt and shameless that she smiles against his throat and swirls her hips against him, feels him buck up against her stomach and then he’s shuddering, hands closing painfully hard on her hip and leg and crushing her into him.
She can feel his whole chest pounding with his heartbeat like a bass drum, and in contrast his breath is weak and shaky even though he’s silent, caught in a soundless powerful burst of tension and release so deep and hard it must be painful.
“Fuck, I’m sorry,” he murmurs as he starts to come down, just loud enough for her to hear, and he’s repeating it, very nearly whimpering it, over and over, “‘M sorry, I didn’t-”
“Daryl,” she whispers back, reaching up touching his cheek to quiet him. “It’s okay, it’s good.”
“Gimme your hand.”
He freezes just for a moment, but lets her reach down and move his hand from her knee, shift back so she can guide it between them and wiggle off his leg enough so that his wide palm and thick fingers can replace it between her thighs, pressed against her jeans. She doesn’t even expect it’ll feel that different but it does, of course it does, because when she guides him with her smaller hand to press, to cup her and give her something to move against he does and moreover he presses in with his fingertips, giving her more than he had with just his leg and the difference is startling, sending sparks all through her so she has to bite her tongue to keep from moaning.
She clings to his shoulders and moves again, hips working against his hand, moving with him and they don’t have much of a rhythm but she’s close already, close to whimpering and when he mumbles into her hair, “fuck, so hot,” she knows he can feel her through her jeans and she can feel him, and it happens, launching her out of the delicious confining heat of Daryl wrapped all around her and into the black star-punched sky, ripping through her so much more harshly than she’s expecting and zipping hard and fast up her spine over and over.
She has no idea if she makes any noise by the time she’s coming down, floating gently back to his arms again. She feels shaky and loose, almost sore, and her underwear were damp before but now they’re drenched, slick and sliding against her slow-throbbing clit and she twitches violently when Daryl pulls his hand away to replace it on her hip.
They lay there, clutching at each other, still completely intertwined, and a few times Beth starts to feel like she should say something, like they need to, but slowly the tension drains away. The night closes in around them, and when a little chill creeps into the air she snuggles closer, Daryl’s arms heavy around her, and when she opens her eyes again sunrise is lightening everything around them a soft hazy gray.