Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 12: Stripped
~Author's Note: Here is your next chapter. Chapter 11 is a really hard act to follow...just saying! This one has its own merits though, I think. Thanks to all of you who are reading! I hope you enjoy.~
Her body was limp in his arms. He'd told Rick if he didn't find her, he wasn't coming back. Daryl had found her, but it...The least he could do was bring Beth back to her family...what good that would do, he didn't know. He'd failed. Nothing he did, nothing he said or felt was enough. Morning had come, but the storm didn't pass this time. He could feel the cold rain on his face, saw Maggie running out the front door. She grabbed at Beth's limp hand. Was she cryin', or was that just the rain? Daryl didn't have words for her...but at least he'd tried. He pushed past Maggie into the house.
"Beth...is she dead?" Maggie's voice came from right behind him, desperate and frantic. He couldn't answer her. He didn't know how.
Daryl climbed the stairs, not stopping, not paying attention to anyone or anything around him. He just wanted to lay Beth down so she could...rest.
"She's not dead yet, Maggie," Rick answered for him. "Get some clean towels, water, any blankets you can find, anything that we might need. Bob, upstairs now," Rick delegated.
Rick was in get shit done mode. That was good because Daryl was too numb to do anything on his own. People listened to Rick. He always got the job done. By the time Daryl laid Beth down on the bed, Bob and Rick were in the bedroom. He sat down on the bed beside her. He didn't know what to do.
"What do we know?" Bob was on this, but Daryl was ready. He made one wrong move...Daryl even caught a whiff of booze on him, he'd snap his neck.
"Doctor said broken ribs, not just cracked, something else," Rick relayed what they knew.
"Yeah. He said something about her being beaten making it worse, and she got pneumonia."
"There was a doctor?" Bob seemed to have been a little late catching that one.
"Yeah. He was looking after her. Gave her some medicine. Said she'd been out for a couple days but woke up. He thought she was fighting."
Fighting. Please fight now, Beth...Daryl wasn't really sure if he just thought it or if the words came outta his mouth.
Daryl looked over his shoulder at Bob and Rick. Where they waiting for him to say something? Was there a question?
"Was she coherent when she was talking to you?"
"Yes." He nodded his head too, just to make sure they understood.
She'd been entirely awake and aware. It had been the most heartbreaking conversation of his life.
But it wasn't time to talk now. It was time for Bob to be doin' something useful.
"When did she lose consciousness again?"
What with all the questions? They were wasting time...precious time...it was so fleeting...until he realized time was moving slower in his world. Maggie and Glenn were just now showing up on scene.
"This morning..." That was when she'd closed her eyes again even though he'd begged her to stay.
Maggie was kneeling on the floor beside the bed, beside Beth, very close to being in his space. She was frantic, crying...she was him from the night before. He was mad at Maggie for some reason, but he couldn't remember why. Did it even matter anymore?
"Beth...please...Beth...you gotta wake up..." Daryl watched Maggie, in his fog, until he snapped back into clarity, realizing what Maggie was doing.
"Stop...stop shakin' her," Daryl's voice was weak and raspy. He barely understood his words.
Maggie didn't listen.
"Beth...Beth...listen to me...we're all here...Beth..." her voice was loud, jarring, and she kept shaking Beth by a tight grip on the shoulders.
"I said stop shakin' her." He grabbed Maggie's wrists, jerking her hands away from Beth. Everyone heard him this time.
"No...no...let me go...Beth..." Maggie fought against him, but he wasn't letting go for nothing.
Rick came and pulled Maggie away from him to her feet.
"Glenn, take her out of here." Rick's voice was solid and final.
"No...Beth...she's my baby sister...no..." Maggie's voice faded as the door closed behind her.
"Daryl, you're going to need to move." Daryl glared at Bob before he stood, backing up only a step away from Beth. He might not like it, but Bob was probably the best chance she had. "Jesus...is all this blood hers?"
"Mine. Someone else's." He was numb. He didn't think any of it was hers. She was beaten and broken. He didn't think he could take blood being part of that mix.
Daryl watched Bob's every move. He grabbed a pair of scissors from the pile of crap Maggie left on the floor beside the bed before she was dragged out of the room. Bob cut the neckline of Beth's bloody dress, reached on each side, ripping it open. Daryl lunged...he didn't think...he just flew outta instinct...the need to protect her. Rick caught him from behind, mid flight, arms locked around his chest, but that didn't stop Bob from fallin' on his ass on the floor trying to put distance between them. Daryl was trying to get words out, but they were just growls and snarls like a rabid animal. He was fighting hard, struggling, anything to break free from Rick, but Rick was unrelenting.
"Daryl, stop. Now. Calm down."
"No...he can't..." Daryl felt hot tears on his cheeks. The anger was replaced with desperation. He was still fighting Rick, but his helplessness and Rick's steady strength were draining his...what little he had left. "He can't rip it...her dress...what if she was..." He couldn't even say the word. Thinkin' it was too painful. If that happened to her...he couldn't bear it...
"We just need to get her out of these wet, bloody clothes so she doesn't get colder and sicker, and so I can see what's wrong with her, how she's hurt," Bob explained softly, getting to his feet and backing further away from him and Rick.
Daryl tried to lunge again...he didn't really know why...guttural sounds escaping his throat. He was more wounded animal than man. He almost broke free from Rick...almost.
"I will put you out that door and lock it if you can't pull it together." Rick was dead serious. Daryl knew that much. "This is about Beth, not you."
Daryl clenched his fists tight, his hands shaking. He needed to hit something...anything.
"I know it hurts." Was that supposed to make him feel better?
"You don't know nothin'," Daryl spat back, but the fight was leaving him. He knew Rick was right. This was about Beth.
"I know plenty." Rick's reply was calm, and he kept Daryl restrained until he'd gone still.
"Please...just don't...don't rip her dress off..." Daryl's voice came out as a plea as Rick released him.
Bob nodded. "I'll be as gentle with her as I can," he promised as he went back to work on Beth.
He cut Beth's dress instead of ripping it, making no quick or sudden movements, glancing Daryl's way every few seconds. Bob was an army medic...knew how to work in volatile situations. When Bob stripped Beth's dress off, Daryl's soul was stripped bare. She was just laying there, barely covered in bra and panties. This wasn't how it was supposed to be...how he was supposed to see her the first time...he brought his palms up to his eyes, brushing the wetness away, not giving a shit what Bob or Rick thought. Her body was covered in green, black, and blue bruises. Her wrists were rubbed raw and bloody from what, being chained? Bob laid his head on Beth's chest, listening, then pressing at her sides and feeling...her rib cage...that was the worst...all purple with black and blue here and there.
"You're gonna hurt her," Daryl winced at the pressure Bob was applying.
Bob just ignored him.
"She can't feel the pain. She's not here right now," Rick assured him.
Bob reached around Beth's side, towards her back, feeling, then furrowing his brow. He pulled his had away, bloody. Was she bleeding? Was that her blood? It looked fresh and bright.
"Daryl, come here," Bob called. Daryl didn't hesitate. "Sit down. Take her, yes...hold her just like that so I can see."
Daryl cradled Beth against his chest, looking down to see what Bob saw. Horizontal slices running down the side of her back, some scabbed, some read and raw, some now broken open and bleeding. It wasn't enough for the bastard to beat her until she was broken. He had to mark her too...
"...seven...eight...nine..." Bob counted out loud. "Nine precisely inflicted lacerations. I don't think they need to be stitched, but...they'll probably scar."
So now, even if Beth beat the odds and lived, she was gonna be scarred for life on the inside and out...all his fault...all because of him.
"You got her for a minute Daryl, so I can clean and bandage her wounds?" That was a stupid question. He wasn't letting her go.
Daryl didn't remember Bob finishing with Beth's back or laying her down on the bed, leaving her side. He was standing in front of the dresser mirror, staring at his reflection. Bloody, beaten, black and blue, lethal, nothin' he didn't expect. Too bad mirrors didn't tell the truth of what was on the inside...show failure and weakness. Beth was scarred now. Her abduction was his fault, and now her scars...he couldn't run fast enough, track far enough, fight hard enough to spare her...never enough. And what about the wounds they couldn't see...would never know. What if they...took all of her...There were some fates worse than death...was that the reason she wouldn't fight now? She would've been helpless to stop it, forced to endure...helpless like he was...had been his entire life.
"You ain't nothin'. You ain't never gonna be no one. You hear me boy?"
Daryl was on his knees, brought his fingers up to his bloody lip where his old man's fist made contact. He packed a punch. Daryl did too, but he knew if he hit back, he was as good as dead. He heard his old man's belt unbuckle, being pulled through his belt loops. This time he used the buckle...the business end. He felt the prong of the buckle dig in deep and tear through the flesh of his back on the first lash. Daryl's hands went to the floor to brace himself, trying to grab at it, clench something...anything, but it was cold and unyielding...solid...what he needed to become to survive. He wouldn't cry out. He wouldn't scream. He wouldn't beg. Daryl wouldn't give his old man that satisfaction. He wouldn't give him...anyone nothin' they could ever use against him. After the third lash, Daryl stopped feeling and started becoming.
Was Beth able to stop feeling, to fight in her own way, or had she felt and suffered through every agonizing, brutal second of it? Beth was him now...just like him...they were the same, damaged and scarred. He couldn't stop it. Daryl drove his fist into the mirror. He didn't feel it...he'd wanted to...needed to...but he didn't. Through the fractured mirror, he could see Bob jump up from where he sat beside Beth, and Rick made to move towards him.
"Take care of Beth. I'm fine." Daryl was content to wait and bleed.
Daryl watched his blood drip down onto the dresser. Something caught his eye. He picked up the thin gold chain with a heart hanging from it, a small red stone at its center. It was so delicate, this bleeding heart, now slick with his blood, as fragile as the real thing. Nothing could've been more appropriate. He shoved it into his pocket.
"...but I think she might live..."
What? He'd been so zoned out that he'd missed talking about Beth's prognosis. He swung around to face Rick and Bob.
"She's gonna live?" There was hope.
"Uh...well...from what you've told me, she seems to have made it through the worst. Her fever's broken. She needs to rest now, have some time to recover, let the meds start working again. We can't be on the move though. That would kill her and kill her quick."
"We're not going anywhere until Beth's better," Rick got the words out before he could.
"When's she gonna wake up?" If Bob thought she was gonna live, it seemed safe to hope...to ask that question.
"When she wants to. When she's ready. It's up to her now."
What if she didn't want to wake up? What if she liked where she was, away from the pain and fear? But she'd said she wished they could've stayed together in the funeral parlor. She didn't blame him for what happened. She thanked him for coming for her. And she said she loved him...no one had ever loved him. All those things she said...she wasn't just making her peace before she drifted away. He would let that be the end. They were going to fight together. For each other...for a future.
"We're probably going to need to limit who sees her. She's sick, so her immune system's weak. She's already been exposed to us. And whoever sees her, there can't be any stress. She needs her rest...so there won't be visitors all hours of the night," Bob looked specifically at Daryl. In the first part, Bob made perfect sense...the last part...
"I ain't goin' nowhere." Daryl felt Rick's arm across his chest, steadying him as he stepped forward.
"Daryl..." Rick warned him. "Daryl's gonna stay," Rick directed towards Bob.
Bob was smart enough not to object. He just nodded.
"Give me your clothes," Rick insisted once everything possible was done for Beth. "We'll find you something else to wear until we can get these clean."
Daryl didn't argue. He stripped off his coat, vest, and shirt, leaving him in just his wife-beater. It didn't have a spot of blood on it. Small miracles. It was just enough shirt to cover the scars on his back. Even if it had been stained, he wouldn't have taken it off. That was a part of himself that he wasn't about to bare if he didn't have to. Beth's condition was updated for everyone who waited outside the door, and Rick eventually let Maggie in. She was sitting beside her sister, wiping away the blood with a soft cloth and warm water. Daryl could hear her speaking softly to Beth...hear her soft sobs. Rick told her not to put any stress on Beth, but her quiet tears weren't hurtin' no one, so Daryl let it be. He was glad Maggie was feelin' something. Beth deserved that at the least.
His chair was facing the bed so he could see her...keep a careful eye on Beth. Bob sat down on the chair in front of him, but Daryl refused to look away from Beth.
"Let's get you cleaned up so when Beth wakes up, she doesn't see you like this." Bob grabbed the hand he'd slammed into the mirror.
"Don't matter. She knows what...who I am..." Daryl didn't fight though. He was drained, but hopeful. As happy and hopeful as he could be in this fucked up situation. Beth was going to make it.
"Do they hurt? Your hands," Bob questioned, picking the shards and slivers of glass out of his skin.
"No...not enough." Daryl didn't know if he needed to hurt to block out the emotional pain or if he thought he deserved the physical pain as a punishment. Didn't really matter. It wasn't there either way.
"Can you bend your fingers? Make a fist?"
Daryl had been in worse shape than this before...even before the turn, and he'd survived then.
"Nothing's broken. I'm fine."
Daryl felt the sting of alcohol dripping into his open wounds, Bob examining closely as he disinfected.
"These are jagged. They probably should be stitched, but I don't think I could pull enough skin together to sew. What happened?"
Daryl took his eyes off Beth, staring at Maggie until she felt him, looked at him, and they locked eyes. Her face was puffy and stained with tears. He needed Maggie to know. He'd lost Beth, but he'd been willing to go after her. He'd made it right in the only way he could, and Maggie was going to hear.
"Bones. Splintered ribs. I ripped his heart out." Daryl's voice was calm and even. He wasn't bragging...just telling the truth.
Bob didn't have anymore questions after that. He just finished cleaning out the old wounds and the new, wrapping his hands in soft white gauze before leaving. Daryl felt awkward being in the room with Beth while Maggie was there. He wanted to be by her side, sit with her, take her hand in his...but Maggie...he just needed her to leave. He stood at the foot of the bed just watching over the two sisters until Maggie came to him. He had no idea what to expect...what she wanted. She didn't invade his space, stayed a little more than arm's length away. Her eyes met his, and he didn't look away. This was his place, his Beth, and Maggie was just visiting.
"Thank you," Maggie offered.
"Didn't do it for you." Daryl was torn. When his mind had cleared, he'd remembered why he hated Maggie, why he was so angry at her before he left...because she'd done absolutely nothing to try to save her sister or even look for Beth. But that was over now.
Maggie watched him. She didn't know how to respond. But there was no reason for him to be cruel to Maggie. Beth didn't belong to her any more. Hadn't for a long while.
"You're welcome," he forced out. It wasn't convincing, but it was the best he could give her.
Maggie hugged him, and Daryl froze. It was unexpected and made him uncomfortable, but he let her hug him. She was family. Didn't mean he had to hug back though.