Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 11: What If This Storm Ends?
Two more slit throats didn't mean shit. What had been hard was putting Beth down on the ground with only Carl to watch her so he and Rick could deal with the guards. They didn't see 'em coming...had no idea what hit 'em. No alarm had been raised. No one paid any mind to the screams that had been coming from the church...that meant it wasn't unusual...that meant Beth...
"Daryl, the head," Rick reminded him.
Daryl was more than willing to let those fuckers turn, after the system they were a part of, but it did mean more walkers. He brought his booted heal down hard on his kill...one stomp and the brain was done. He should be feeling more satisfaction, but nothing. He just wanted to get Beth out...just Beth. It was all about her. Nothing else.
"She asked where you were," Carl whispered as Daryl knelt by Beth's side. She was going in and out of consciousness so she probably had no idea what was real or a dream.
"Beth...Beth, I'm here..." He pulled her back into his arms.
The sooner they got her somewhere warm, in a bed...Daryl didn't know if that would even matter. It would just be kinder...less pain.
Beth turned her head into his chest. He felt her hand come to rest over his heart.
"Daryl, please don't leave me. "
"God, Beth...I'm not gonna leave you ever again."
"Daryl, give her to me."
It was like he was waking from some strange walking nightmare. He'd been following the slender beam of white light from Rick's flashlight beside the road, so focused on Beth, making sure he felt her breathing, the rest of the world didn't exist for him, and that was dangerous. When he focused, he realized they weren't moving any more...why had they stopped? Then he saw. The car. Had Rick said something? He was there, in front of him, arms reaching. He wanted Beth.
"No." Daryl stepped back, bumping into Carl. He wasn't letting her go for nothin'...
"Daryl, you need to give Beth to me. It's okay."
Rick...his brother. Daryl allowed Rick to take her outta his arms...hold what was his.
"Give the car keys to Carl."
Daryl dug in his pocket, passing the key ring to the kid.
"Get in the back seat."
Well, Rick's simple instructions were working. They were about the only thing he was capable of understanding. Daryl realized what was going on now. He took off his crossbow, handed it to Carl, then slid across the back seat. Rick leaned in, laying Beth down, Daryl cradling her head and shoulders in his lap. Maybe they had a chance now.
Beth was somewhere in between again. It was strange this time because she was feeling pain...it was muted but still there. And it was dark...so dark and cold. When she'd been with her Daddy, it had been light and warm and beautiful. She'd felt secure, and now she felt like she was moving, but she knew she wasn't. Maybe this was Purgatory...the real in between...dark and alone because she hadn't been good enough to make it to Heaven. Was this the road to Perdition? But then she felt warmth...someone warm cradling her. Her eyes were closed, but she could feel the tears welling. It was him. She didn't have to see him to believe. To know the truth. His breathing was so steady, his arms so strong, and he smelled like Daryl, wild, strong, dangerous, the mixture of sweat and blood and woods just seemed to be a part of who he was. There was a crack followed by a loud rumble in the background. She startled, feeling the pain more severely.
"Oww..." she couldn't help crying out.
"Shh, Beth...you're okay. I've got you. It's just thunder." His voice was soft and calming. It was so real.
She heard the rain start spattering around them, but it didn't reach them. Beth opened her eyes just as another flash of lightening split the sky beside them and illuminated his face. They were in a car-moving. Beth remembered that silent, sweaty, terrible night they'd spent in the trunk of a car together as the never ending herd of walkers kept coming and coming. She could feel him, hear his breathing, but they didn't speak, and the only times she'd been able to see his face were when the lightening from the storm that followed the walkers struck. He'd been so still and focused then, so intent, his crossbow aimed steady. He had to have known that one bolt from his crossbow wouldn't save them if they were found, but when she'd been at her breaking point, he'd lifted his hand away from the trigger of his bow, raising it to steady her, promise her that everything would be okay. She saw his face now. He was beaten, bruised, and cut, but he was alive...with her. That night in the trunk, she'd thought it was her last, impossible to survive. Every breath they took would be the final one. But the walkers finally passed, the storm cleared, and the morning had come. There had been so many impossible nights since then, sometimes she prayed every breath she took would be the last...but here she was, still breathing, with Daryl who she thought she'd lost. Maybe this storm would pass too. Would she live to see the morning come for them?
It was so dark, but she could make out the edges of his face, tipped down towards her. He was watching her. Beth needed to say it...while she had her wits...what she hadn't had a chance to say the last time they were torn apart.
"I know," she said softly, just for Daryl. She was coherent enough to know what she wanted to say and that if they were in a moving car, someone was driving.
Rick. Carl. She remembered now. They were there too.
"Know what?" Daryl was being so soft spoken with her...so calm. Was that what he was feeling, or was he pretending for her?
"What changed your mind." Daryl didn't say anything. Beth just felt him take a deep breath. Maybe Daryl thought she was delusional, but she was awake...her mind clearer by the moment. Or maybe he didn't remember. What if he didn't want to remember? "That night, in the funeral parlor," she just wanted him to say something...anything..."before the walkers..."
"I know...I remember," he cut her off softly. It sounded like there was pain in his voice.
"All I said was 'oh'...I should've..." Beth was going to get it out while she had the chance, before it was too late. She'd promised herself. "I..."
Another flash of lightening...the crack of thunder so close that the car shook rattling the windows. Beth clenched Daryl's arm tight.
Beth's breathing was shallow but steady. He couldn't say how long they'd been driving, but Rick was hitting all the same road blocks and bumps he'd ran into on the way in, so he knew they'd gotten absolutely nowhere, especially since it was full dark. Daryl was grateful Beth was out, where ever she was. She wasn't feeling any pain...all of the bumps, jolts, and rough off-road driving they were having to do just to move forward. But she was still breathing.
Then the storm hit. the lightening was so close that they could hear the crack, and for one tiny instant, the whole world was lit up. The thunder that followed made it feel like the earth was quaking around them. Daryl felt Beth jerk against him at the crack and boom, and his heart broke when she cried out in pain.
"Shh, Beth...you're okay. I've got you. It's just thunder." He tried to soothe her, gently brushing her hair back from her face.
Daryl was helpless. There was absolutely nothing he could do for her...do to make it better. There was no one for him to fight...no one and nothing at this point to kill. The rain came, and another flash of lightening illuminated the car enough that he could see her face, see her cradled in his arms. Her eyes were open; she was looking up at him. He couldn't look away...even when there was no more light and he could barely make out the shape of her face. Every moment he had...with her...he wouldn't waste it.
The world had stolen almost everything they had. The rest that he had with Beth...it was his...no matter...no matter how short the time.
Beth's words caught him off-guard. Maybe she was talking in her fever dream. But the words had been solid, just quiet.
"Know what?" Daryl kept his voice low, to make sure nothing jarred her and because of Rick and Carl. There was no way to keep whatever was going to be said private, but that didn't mean he couldn't keep it intimate.
"What changed your mind." Daryl's heart seized, and a shuddered breath followed.
He had no words. That night...that night, before his world fell apart, he'd tried to tell her. It'd all just happened so fast. One day, he was pissed at the world, pissed at her for making him go forward, keep moving on...he just thought she wanted her way, and then, after that night, the night with the moonshine, that night he'd shared all of himself...his past with her, and she helped him burn it all away. There was no going back. Before she was stolen, he thought she'd known, thought she understood what he felt, but he needed to man up and tell her. All she'd said was oh, so she didn't know despite what he'd assumed was obvious about what he was feeling, and he couldn't find the words then either. Now, here he was again. She was clearly awake.
"...that night, in the funeral parlor...before the walkers."
He felt like a prick for thinking instead of saying, forcing Beth to explain herself, think that he didn't remember the moment she was talking about when he played it over and over and over again in his mind.
"I know...I remember," he didn't give her a chance...let her finish her explanation. There was no need.
He could hear the pain in his own voice, just how affected he was by everything. What he'd thought he'd had that night...a future...a life full of...but that had been taken from him, and he'd spent every moment since hating himself for not being strong enough to protect her. Now, he had her in his arms...thinking he knew what she'd been through...what she'd suffered, but not knowing the full extent, helpless to do anything but wait until the end came to rip her out of his arms. Daryl was so afraid. He'd just gotten her back, but she wasn't his. Death was coming on dark wings, and while he could deal death, Daryl couldn't fight it.
"All I said was 'oh'...I should've...I..."
More thunder. More lightening. Beth flinched against him, reaching for him, gripping his arm. It was fear followed by pain, again things he couldn't fight for her.
"Rick, pull in the next driveway. It took me all day during the light. Driving in the dark ain't gonna do none of us any good. We need to find somewhere for the night."
If they got stuck somewhere in the dark, they'd be on foot. If the car was overrun by walkers in the middle of the night, they wouldn't stand a chance. And the truth was, if Beth was awake and stayed awake, he couldn't bear feeling her in pain with everything they hit on the road. Tomorrow, in the light of day, it might be the same shit, but after what had gone down, he just couldn't deal anymore. And Beth deserved a few moments with less pain, surrounded by people who loved her, not afraid, wondering when the beatings and abuse would start again.
Rick wasn't about to argue with him. He probably knew their night flight in a storm was a catastrophe waiting to happen.
In the dark of the car, Daryl couldn't see, but he could feel Beth moving against him. Still, he was surprised when he felt her cold hand come to rest against the side of his face. He didn't pull away though, not from Beth. Never. It was the nightmare again, where Beth had been dying in her bed of blood, except this time there was no blood on her hands for her to trail on his face. Instead, he was covered in the blood of the monster he'd killed for her. He brought his hand up to cover hers, wanting her to stay right there with him forever.
"Last man standing." Beth's voice was clear and soft.
Her words bit deep, straight to his soul. His fucking nightmare was becoming his reality. Maybe his love was a curse. Since his fate was to be alone, maybe the world would destroy everyone he loved until he accepted it. That was one of his fears. He always told himself he wasn't afraid of nothin', but he'd even called himself of that, through Merle in his dream. He was afraid of being alone. What if accepting his fate, choosing to be alone, would save the people he loved...give Beth her life back, the chance to live?
A rumble of thunder and the car coming to a stop brought Daryl back to reality. He still had Beth's hand, but they were now fingers intertwined, resting against his chest. Fuck fate. He'd been fighting for everyone else, bleeding his own blood for them since the beginning. If he was being punished for that, he would take whatever was thrown at him and fight it because he was on the right side. And now, he was going to fight for himself...fight for something that was all his...Beth. Every man needed to have a reason to believe, something to fight for, and she was his.
If Daryl's fate was to be the last man standing, so be it. But that fate didn't dictate he would be standing there alone, watching the world burn. Beth would be there, standing beside him, holding his hand. That was the way the world got him, or not at all.
Daryl was sitting on the floor beside the bed, back against the wall. She couldn't see him, but she knew he was there. She could sense his presence. It had been the same with Brother Allerton, except when he was near, she was filled with fear, terror, defiance...with Daryl, it was something entirely different, warmth, safety, hope...love. Once again, they'd left their conversation unfinished. Daryl had brought her to bed, covered her in warm, heavy blankets, then stepped out into the hallway with Rick and Carl, talking in hushed voices. Daryl came back alone, finding his spot on the floor. They were alone. Did he think she was asleep? Or maybe he didn't have anything to say to her. He was tired, that was a given. The thing was, Beth was exhausted, but she was fighting it. Her mind was clear and alert. If she was dying, she wanted to be awake, spending her last moments with him.
"Daryl..." She said it just loud enough so that if he was sleeping he wouldn't be bothered.
"Beth..." He was sitting beside her on the bed before she even had time to consider what she was going to say next.
The storm was still raging, a clap of thunder reverberating around the room. Storms had always scared her when she was little, even when she got older. Well, truthfully, they still scared her, but she didn't let anyone know...and there were so many other things to be scared of in their world now...walkers...people...And in this moment, she wasn't scared, at least not because of the storm. Daryl was with her.
"Do you think you could find a candle?" She wanted to see him...see his face so she just didn't have to use her senses to feel him near.
She heard his lighter and then saw the flickering flame of a small candle on the nightstand. He was back, sitting beside her, looking down on her, just waiting.
"Did you mean it?" Seeing his face...that's what she wanted.
But his face was wrought with worry and pain. Still, he was with her. Beth knew he didn't know what she was talking about. And it seemed that now that they had a quiet moment together, she couldn't bring herself straight back to what she needed to tell him. She had to fix the oh before she left.
"Did you mean it, when you said we could stay at the funeral parlor together...make a life there?" Every breath took her strength, but she needed to know.
"Umm-hmm..." Beth could see him nod too.
She felt him take her hand, his fingers lacing between hers...just like the first time he'd held her hand in the cemetery. Feeling how warm his hand was against hers, she realized just how cold she was. Her fingers were ice. It didn't matter anymore.
"I wish...I wish we could've stayed there..."
Daryl nodded his head again, but this time there were no words or even a sound. He was biting back something. He squeezed her hand he held in his lap too hard...it hurt...but she wouldn't say anything. Daryl was changed. He was covered in blood and gore and wounds of his own, but he was the Daryl who'd been with her when they were alone together. Beth would let him break every bone in her hand and not make a sound because he was with her...holding her hand...Daryl Dixon...in that moment, he was hers. There was a long silence as she watched Daryl in the faint light of the flame trying to gather himself.
"I'm takin' you home Beth..." his voice was low and raspy...like it was when he was trying to hide something...how he was feeling. "Everyone's waitin'...Maggie, Glenn, even Judith...all of 'em..."
They were alive? It made her happy, but it didn't change the truth.
"Daryl, I'm not going to make it back...you know that." He did, didn't he? He could see. And she knew. She was fighting it now...the exhaustion and pain making the darkness calling her all the more appealing.
"Don't say that Beth. This storm's gonna end, and tomorrow..." He didn't finish because he knew.
The thing was, even if she lived, even if she did make it back to the group, she would never really make it back...after everything. Maybe it was better this way...for her family to remember who she was, not who she became. That didn't make it easier though. She'd stopped being afraid of dying...but now...now that Daryl was beside her, holding her hand, so very real...she didn't want to die. Beth had been fighting so hard for a memory, a dream...maybe a hallucination that told her to fight for him when there had been so little hope of ever seeing him again. And here he was, and she had no more fight left. Beth felt the tears come. She hoped Daryl couldn't see. She didn't want him to think she was afraid...weak...crying for herself.
"Thank you, Daryl..." She still couldn't bring herself to what she needed to say. She knew it would be her breaking point...there were tears already...and that would be the end.
"No...I didn't do nothing'. It's all my fault." He looked away from her for the first time, and she could feel the hate he bore for himself, but there was no reason.
"...for taking me away from the prison, saving my life, being there for me, putting up with me when you were so pissed you didn't even know what to do..." Beth smiled at that one, through the tears. That Daryl hadn't been equipped to deal with some of the stuff she put him through "...for holding my hand, trying to give me something normal...and you came for me."
Daryl still wasn't looking at her, but she heard him choke back a sob.
"It's all my fault...everything...and you're the one gets punished for it..."
How differently they saw that night. Daryl blamed himself, but he was the one who told her to run while he drew the walkers away. He'd had no expectation of living. She knew that; how could he have? And she knew his life and safety hadn't even crossed his mind in those moments. The only thing he'd been thinking about was her. That was just who Daryl was.
"...I should be...be asking you to forgive me...but it's unforgivable..." He finally turned his face towards her again. In the candle light, it looked like he was crying tears of blood.
"I won't forgive you. There's nothing to forgive. Thank you..." Beth tried to force her tears away. She wanted to be strong for him, but she just couldn't pretend.
All Beth could think about was all the things that weren't meant to be. She'd kissed a boy, but she wanted Daryl to kiss her. Before the world went to hell and she'd still been very much a child, she'd wondered about sex in an odd and curious way, but she'd never even thought about going there with anyone...never wanted to...until those quiet moments she'd shared with Daryl just before their reality was shattered. She'd known then that she wanted it to be him...but that life was over. All she had was now...these last few moments while she lingered...to make it right.
Daryl cursed the world. He fought a losing battle with himself, and finally, the tears just came. He felt 'em burning hot tracks through the leftover blood on his face. There was no shame in his tears because he felt, but he turned away from her...didn't want her to see...He just wanted to be strong for Beth...it was just too damned hard. But her hand, he couldn't let it go.
And she'd thanked him...fucking thanked him...he couldn't protect her...couldn't saver her...and she still said Thank you. He had to tell her now because...the truth ripped his heart out...what was left of it. If she didn't hate him for his failure, maybe it would mean something. Maybe she possibly felt something too. She'd been trying to tell him something about that night...before she'd been taken and sentenced to death...
Daryl saw her tears. He reached to wipe them away, and she flinched from him. Her involuntary response, a response learned from pain...he knew it from his life...that broke what was left of him. She was broken too, but he couldn't fix her.
"I...I just wish there was more time..." Daryl was barely able to force the broken words outta his mouth. They weren't the words he needed to say, but he was getting there.
More time. He needed more time. He would give everything, everything he had, everything he was if she could have more time...time with him. Just more time...just a little more. Why would they let him find her just to rip her away again...
"The best things always end too soon, your favorite book, your favorite song, even your own life..."
What the fuck, she was goin' all poetic about death...death wasn't pretty, this wasn't some tragic story where the beautiful young heroine drifted off into oblivion, everyone smiling and holdin' hands 'cause she accepted her fate. She was too young...hadn't even seen twenty...too gentle...too kind, everything their world set out to destroy, and Beth was next in line. He couldn't stand it.
"...brevity is what makes those things beautiful...the best things always end too soon..." she ended where she began.
He put his head down, shaking it, clenching his eyes tight, trying to flush the tears out. It wasn't beautiful at all. He refused to accept it. Why was she giving up?
"What about...love..." His voice sounded hoarse and strained, but it was the best he could do in his state...the only way he could get it out. Just say it God Damn it. This is the only chance...the only chance you'll ever have to tell her.
"Love..." Daryl could probably count the times he'd said that word on both his hands...and he sure in the hell had never said it about a woman. He'd been thinking it plenty though...about her.
"We bury our dead...but love...our love for them...their love for us...we can't leave it behind. We carry it with us...them with us...it's part...part of being alive..."
How was she so calm now when he was falling to pieces.
She was right though. He'd love her 'til the day they put his body in the ground. There would never be another.
"Beth...please fight...fight for me." It was selfish. Daryl knew it.
Beth was quiet. He could barely hear her shallow breathing over the heavy rain assaulting the roof.
"Beth, what I should've said...what I wanted to say that night..." Daryl stopped himself. This wasn't a time for pussyfooting around the subject, all the could'ves, should'ves, and wanted to's. It was time to be real. They both deserved that. He started over again. "Beth, I love you."
He heard a sob, her shuddering breath...she wasn't as calm as he thought. She was breaking too...but he'd said it and meant it. She knew now without the shadow of a doubt. Beth said that the living carried around the love of the dead...but was there somewhere after...a place where she would remember...know and feel his love? Or was it just now...in these short moments that she would have it. It wouldn't kill you to have a little faith. She had faith. Maybe it was enough to carry her through...not fearing the unknown...but his faith...it was gone before it ever really existed.
"Daryl...I...love you..." Beth's words were shaky. Barely a whisper.
His heart stopped. He almost wished she hadn't said it back. It was all too much, too hard. Daryl knew that he loved her...knew it deep down for what seemed like a long while. She deserved to hear...to know. Most of all, she deserved to be loved, maybe not by the likes of him, but she deserved it. Him...he never deserved her love in the first place...and now especially...he may not have struck the fatal blow, but he killed her all the same. Daryl accepted it though...her love...with everything he was.
He didn't know how to go about it. Daryl never really kissed women. Well...the few women who'd found themselves in his life for a few moments or so...they'd kissed him, but he always pulled away...that had never been part of his deal. It'd been about taking, not giving...and that was part of himself he'd never been willing to give. Hell, he didn't even wanna look at them, so face to face had never been his thing...he just didn't do it that way.
Daryl leaned down towards her slowly...didn't want her to be afraid...flinch away. Her lips were warm and so very soft when he found them. Her small cold hand came to rest on the back of his neck. And she kissed back...unsure and even more self-conscious than he was, but she kissed back. He was slow and gentle with his kiss, the only things that he knew that were right to do. This kiss...it was more than a first kiss should've been...especially with someone like him kissing someone like her...in the old world, it would've never happened...but he couldn't pull away...couldn't let her go. In their world now, it shouldn't be happening, but if this, their first kiss, was gonna be their last...it had to be worth it...
~Author's End Note: This chapter stole a piece of my soul! I hope it spoke for itself. Thanks everyone for reading. I hope you enjoyed!~