Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 15: Bittersweet
~Author's Note: Hey guys! This chapter is a little slow, but it is setting up for some storyline for next chapter and a bigger picture. Anyway, I was thinking about the dark tone of this story in general, the path I have planned for it to take from the beginning, and I was reminded of a John Milton quote that I really like: "Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell leads up to light". The plot is dark, but there is light. Hope isn't lost. As always, thanks for reading. BTW-everyone please make sure to read the end note after the story. It's important.~
"Peaches or Tropical Passion Fruit Medley? Tropical Passion Fruit Medley?" Daryl sat cross-legged on the end of the bed, a Dole fruit cup in each hand. "What in the hell's Passion Fruit Medley?"
He looked like a child in moments like this, when he didn't know something or in times when he questioned himself, allowed himself to be vulnerable, or sometimes even when he just let his guard down. Despite everything, there was a beautiful innocence about Daryl.
"I'll take it," Beth offered, Daryl passing her breakfast and a spoon.
The simple things in life were making all the difference for her. Sleep, a bed, something clean to wear that didn't cut into all her sore and tender spots...it was a long nightgown, something a grandma might wear, but it was warm and she was grateful, and Daryl...Daryl and everything he did for her...looking out for her, caring about her, staying by her side. Daryl was awkward, almost shy, as things were becoming less immediate and more normal...well, normal was relative, but it was Daryl, and she wasn't going to take anything for granted. Beth had learned just how finite life could be, and as soon as she got just a little better...stronger, she wanted to start living the life she was given, taste the sweetness if Daryl was willing.
"The runs yesterday...they stayed pretty close in...just in the subdivision. They didn't turn up much, didn't expect 'em to either." Beth didn't say anything. It didn't sound like the start of a conversation, so she just listened. "We've got some groups headed out today, going out a little further. Rick's gonna stay behind this time."
Beth felt panic welling. Rick was staying? Did that mean that Daryl was leading a run? Daryl had been on so many runs. There were times at the prison when he would go out with a group or by himself every other day if not every day, and he'd always made it back, but it was different now. The stakes were higher...for her.
"Okay..." Beth filled the silence.
Daryl took a sip of peach juice out of the plastic cup before continuing.
"There's a nice wooded area right behind us. There's probably a pretty good chance these people fed their cute little fur friends before everything went down. I'm gonna head out for an hour or two and see what I can bring back."
Beth didn't mean to, but a small squeak came out. It was out of relief. Closing her eyes, Beth thanked God, if he was listening. Daryl was just going hunting, that was his element. He was coming back. But Daryl read her relief wrong.
"Beth, I'm not leavin' you. I'm not going 'cause I want to." Daryl set his empty cup aside, going to his knees on the bed to be closer to her. "But I want you to get better and stronger, and to do that, you need better food than this."
She didn't feel the need to correct him, tell Daryl that what he interpreted was wrong. Beth knew he was new to feeling this way, so she let him feel, just nodding her head. And the way he was looking at her...he was so close, so solid, she wasn't even sure that she would be able to say anything. He took her breath away. A kiss before he left her. They were close enough to make it happen...but she didn't know what to do, and she couldn't face rejection. Daryl leaned in closer, and her breath caught in her throat...waiting...anticipating. It startled her...the clunk on the nightstand beside the bed. Beth turned, seeing his gun where he'd placed it. Daryl hadn't been planning to kiss her after all.
"It's fully loaded, one in the chamber, good to go. Sixteen shots." He was still so close, the muscles in his face were tense...it couldn't just be about the gun.
"I don't want it," Beth protested. She wasn't going to have Daryl out there without it.
"I've got my crossbow and knife. I've been in worse places than that." In another world, that comment would've been cocky. In their world, it was just the truth.
"I've got a big gun, and Rick's holding it. I'll be fine." Beth grabbed Daryl's gun, trying to force it back in his hands, but he refused.
"I ain't leavin' you here with nothin'."
"If you don't come back, that's exactly what you're doing. If you don't come back, I'm dead."
It was the truth whether he liked it or not. A person might be able to make it alone in the world, but she was hurt and sick. Maggie, her sister, and her family, other members of their group had forgotten her...tried to make Daryl forget. To them, she was dead already, so how could her life have meaning. Rick...she knew Rick would try to protect her, but he had his family, and it was only right they came first. And the truth was, if Daryl was gone, she wouldn't have a reason anymore. Daryl seemed to understand that, taking the pistol from her hands and tucking it in his back waistband where it belonged. Still so close...why wasn't he pulling away? Beth had courage. Why shouldn't she kiss him?
"I meant it...I haven't said it since...didn't know if you wanted me to, but I do..." Daryl's voice was raspy and so unsure.
Beth was confused. He saw that.
"I love you, Beth. More than life..."
"I love you. Don't ever doubt that after...after everything." She touched his cheek gently with her fingertips, but he looked away.
Was this doubt he was feeling, or some other emotion she didn't understand? Whatever it was, she didn't know why it was there.
Beth didn't have anything to say to him; she just needed him to look at her. When he did, head slightly bowed, she leaned in under him, letting her lips barely meet his. Her lips were trembling...she was so afraid...of what she didn't know. Maybe it was just all the pent up emotion or that she'd never kissed a man like Daryl...well, he'd kissed her. She'd remember that for the rest of her life; even the fever hadn't blurred that experience...but it had been him, not her. Beth let the distance fall between their lips when Daryl didn't do anything. He was so complicated. He went tense and very still. She was about to retreat, move away from him...clearly having made him uncomfortable... refusing to look him in the eye when his hand caught the back of her neck and his lips were on hers.
Daryl wasn't shy about kissing her once he started, and he wasn't soft. He didn't leave much room for her to do anything except follow...and Beth knew he didn't feel confident in anything having to do with being close to someone...but maybe instinct just took over. Daryl didn't touch her face...the bruises were still too bad for him to miss...but she still wished for a soft caress. He pushed forward into her a bit, sending her off balance, forcing her to grab his upper arm to steady herself, but Daryl had an arm wrapped around her back securing her...instinctual reflexes. Beth didn't take her hand away though...his arm...it was all taut muscle. She felt giddy and flushed, warm all over like some stupid little girl. He was more man than she'd ever felt before. Beth knew he was strong. It wasn't the first time she'd ever touched him or had his arms around her, but she never had the time to appreciate him.
He went all hands on, grabbing her side, trying to pull her closer...but the sharp pain made her flinch away and suck in a sharp breath.
She didn't mean to pull away or cry out, but it hurt...she couldn't help it.
"Shit Beth...I'm sorry..." He pulled away from their kiss, retracted his hand from her ribcage, but kept his arm around her to keep her steady.
"I'm sorry..." She'd just ruined everything...why couldn't everything just be normal?
"No...it's me..." he shook his head like he was cursing himself on the inside.
"Please don't stop..." Beth encouraged softly.
She took the hand that had grabbed her side, guiding it to her hip so he had somewhere to touch her that didn't hurt. Daryl ran his thumb back and forth over her hipbone, just exploring...trying it out, watching her carefully.
"Is that okay?" He was even more unsure now.
Beth nodded, reaching up and brushing his dark hair out of his eyes. She always wanted to do that...it was just instinct for her.
"I can be gentle..." His voice was soft and hesitant, and Beth wasn't so sure whether Daryl was telling her or himself...but either way, those words coming out of Daryl's mouth, a man like him...hard, strong, violent...so lethal...they were beautiful.
Beth was able to kiss back this time, his lips softer, yielding to hers every so often instead of overpowering, his tongue less forceful, allowing her to shyly participate too. He tasted sweet, like peaches...so sweet...such a contrast to his exterior...what everyone saw. Daryl's beard felt strange against her face. She'd never been kissed by a man with one before Daryl, and his was sticky with syrup from the peaches. Beth was feeling more confident when Daryl started to pull away. She grabbed the back of his neck, kissing deeper, finally letting go on her terms. When their lips parted and there was enough distance between them that she could see him again, his eyes were sparkling like blue fire. Beth had to look away, feeling flushed, not knowing what had gotten into her.
There were a few moments of silence where they were just contemplating each other. Beth brought her fingers up to touch her swollen lips. The were sore...deliciously sore...how were his not? Her smile was shy...Daryl watching her touch her lips...like he was taking ownership of what she was feeling. His lips...he was smiling...and they looked little swollen too.
"Passion Fruit Medley...I like it." Beth half giggled and blushed away. Daryl, apparently realizing he'd said it out loud, shook his head and refused to look at her. He embarrassed himself. "I gotta go, Beth," he said reluctantly after the moment passed.
His lips briefly met hers again before they parted. He didn't say goodbye. She was glad he didn't say goodbye.
The knock on the door startled her. Daryl hadn't been gone very long. She could still taste the peaches, had to wipe the peach syrup off of her face, but she could still feel him. It was probably just Bob. Poor Bob was on house arrest because of her. Daryl wouldn't let him leave even if he wanted to. There was another knock. She'd been lost in a moment.
It was Rick. She hadn't expected it to be him, but for some reason, it wasn't really a surprise.
"Do you mind?" Rick gestured to the end of the bed as he approached.
Beth nodded, waiting to see what was coming next. She didn't have to wait long. Rick was always straight to the point. He didn't seem uncomfortable, but he was hesitant.
"Maggie's worried about you."
Beth froze. If Rick was going to try to get her to talk to Maggie...she couldn't handle that...not now...not yet at least. She didn't say anything though. She would hear him out.
"Maggie says you wouldn't tell her anything that happened...wouldn't talk to her at all," Rick paused, and it felt like he was waiting for her to say something...waiting for an answer.
"No. It's none of my business. That's your business. It's Daryl's business. Not mine." Beth was confused. She really didn't understand what he was looking for. "You don't have to tell Maggie anything, but have you talked to Daryl?"
She shook her head, looking away.
"I don't...I can't...I just...he blames himself..." And she just wanted to avoid it...forget about everything. She just wanted more normal and beautiful moments like her morning with Daryl.
Rick nodded, running his hand over a wrinkle in the blanket, looking like he was thinking about something deep.
"They taught us, back when I was a deputy, that sometimes in a crisis, it's helpful for victims of trauma to talk to neutral parties about what happened. I know I'm not exactly a neutral party, but I'm not Daryl." Rick's voice was solid and comforting.
Maybe she could try...maybe if she talked to someone, it would help dim the painfully fresh memories. But before she went there, she just needed to know.
"Why did you let Daryl come after me? Why did you go with him?" Maybe she was looking for some validation of her worth, something to balance what Maggie had said to her.
"Well, nobody lets Daryl do anything. Truth is, you're family, Beth. We take care of our own; we don't leave them behind. Daryl believed you were alive, and that was all the proof I needed." He wasn't lying, and that meant everything.
She felt tears in her eyes. She hoped he didn't see but knew if she was going to tell her story, there were probably going to be a lot more tears.
"What happened out there, Beth?" He looked at her, waiting for whatever she was willing to share.
Maybe if she started with something good...
"Our entire world fell apart...but we fell in love."
Rick gave a sad but knowing smile as he nodded...then she realized what she'd said.
"On...no...I shouldn't have...Daryl...he might not want anyone to know." She wished she could take it back. Beth didn't want Daryl to hate her.
"Hmmph...that's not the case, Beth. He's had no problem letting people know. It's Daryl, he hasn't come out and said it to everyone, but I don't think anyone doubts it." There had to be some story behind that statement, but she wasn't going to press him for much.
"You knew?" She would ask that.
He nodded. "Yeah."
"It was right after we met back up. I was with Carl and Michonne. Something bad went down..." Rick wasn't willing to share what happened. "Daryl was there. We were able to get out alive. The morning after, I asked him a question that had nothing to do with you. I didn't even know you made it out alive. His answer started with 'I was with Beth. We got out together. I was with her for a while'. I heard it in his voice, the pain, loss, love...saw it in his face."
"Oh..." Men could see that in each other?
"Daryl was changed. Broken, but changed."
Her questions were done. It was her turn to answer. She tried to take in a deep breath before she started...it was too deep, pain shooting up her sides. Beth was starting to take breathing for granted again, now that everything was getting better...she was feeling better. It was a timely pain though, a vivid reminder of everything that had happened to her...Brother Allerton's torture. Even though she might never be able to forget him, she would never say his name again. She closed her eyes, exhaling, fortifying herself.
"Take your time, Beth," Rick offered calmly. His voice was soothing.
Time...too much time had been stolen from her. She may have only been separated from Daryl for ten nights, but those nights were the beginning...they should have been the beginning of their love, their life together. She and Daryl would never know what could have happened. So she wasn't going to waste anymore time. Beth was going to say it now, and it would be over. It was their time, and Allerton wasn't going to have another second of it after this.
"He kidnapped me...the man Daryl killed...I don't really know what happened. Daryl told me to run and wait for him by the road. I did. Then I woke up handcuffed to a bed. He was kind to me at first, but I knew he was dangerous..."
Beth had to take a second before continuing.
"He thought he was like God. 'You will respect me as you respect your God...you will love me as you love your God...you will obey me as you obey your God...I am as God to you.' He told me that every day. I defied him, told him he wasn't God. He beat me for it. I was already hurt, but it didn't matter." Beth rubbed her wrists. They were still sore. Just another memory. "He'd hook my handcuffs to a chain from the ceiling and beat me. I couldn't do anything. The...the only way I could fight was by...not crying out..."
Rick gave her the moment she needed, watching her...making sure he wasn't pushing her too far. Beth was surprised at herself for holding it together so well. Rick was probably surprised too...
"What did he want from you?"
Why did he have to ask that...that was the worst part...that fear of something worse than the beatings...that at any moment, Allerton could have decided he didn't care and taken the only thing she had left except her life. It would've been worse than death. She didn't think she could tell Rick anymore...but it was over...it was the past. What more damage could it do?
"He said I was the wife God sent to him...he wanted me to...he wanted me..." It wouldn't come out, but Rick got the idea.
She saw his forehead wrinkle as he rubbed his eyes. The memory...Allerton's voice...her defiance...they were all bouncing around in her head.
As the Lord Our God created Eve for the comfort and companionship of Adam, so too has he released you from the heavens to be my bride amidst our dark world. Will you cometh to me this night as a bride cometh to the bridegroom?
I'm not your wife.
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, as you do in the sight of the Lord Our God!
Beth closed her eyes, shaking her head, trying to make the memories go away. She felt Rick's sturdy hand on her shoulder.
"Are you okay, Beth?"
"Yeah...he's gone now...I just have to remember...he's gone...dead..."
"Your back...why...why did he cut you?" It sounded like Rick didn't want to know, but he needed to hear.
"He said he wouldn't force me...that I would go to him eventually...he cut me every night I rejected him..."
One cut for each night you deny your place beside me. You will remember .
Beth was there ten nights...he didn't cut her on the first night...she rejected him nine times...
Even though it was a painful memory and her voice was breaking, saying it, knowing she had fought in the only way she could...it made her feel stronger...
Rick didn't say anything. He just looked away, shaking his head. He looked as helpless as Daryl had when he thought the end was near. Beth thought about the slices on her back. She could still feel her flesh being cut, the blood dripping down her back in warm streams...the fresher ones still hurt now. Then...what she hadn't considered...what she hadn't really had time to think about...the scars they'd leave. She was marked forever. She'd thought she would cry telling her story to Rick, but she'd held it together. Now the thought of the scars was breaking her.
"Does Daryl know about the cuts?" Her voice was trembling.
Rick nodded, and the tears came. Bruises and broken bones would heal, but those marks would be permanent...ugly and real...reminders.
"I'm scarred now...damaged...how could Daryl ever love me?"
Rick came closer to her on the edge of the bed, putting his arm around her so she could cry into his chest. It reminded her of when Daddy used to be there to comfort her.
"You and Daryl...you'll get through this."
There was emotion in Rick's voice...he was a little bit broken too...why she didn't know. She wasn't his responsibility, but like he said, they were family. He didn't say anything else. He let her cry, being there for her, just being strong. That was all he could really do.
"Daryl, you got a minute?"
He'd just come back with a haul of squirrels and a few fat rabbits, all cleaned and gutted even. Somehow, today, bringing back all the decent food, it felt extra satisfying. And he'd only taken down two lonely walkers. It had been a really good day, but Rick, he sounded serious. When Daryl turned around and saw him, he knew he was serious...dead serious.
"Yeah. Just let me go tell Beth I'm back." Daryl headed toward the kitchen door but Rick wasn't moving outta the way. He was solid.
"You've got that minute now, before you go to Beth." It wasn't a question, and Rick really wasn't moving.
"Beth...what's wrong with her?" Daryl's heart was sinking.
"Nothing's wrong with her..." Rick hesitated "...now."
Daryl didn't know what to do. He needed to get back to Beth, but he knew Rick wouldn't keep him if it wasn't major. He followed Rick to the deserted living room. No one else was anywhere to be found.
"Why don't you have a seat," Rick suggested calmly, but there was an edge to his voice. Daryl was observant enough to pick up on that.
He started to panic. The only time anyone ever told you to sit was when bad shit had happened. Rick was going full cop on him.
"I think I'm fine," Daryl protested, watching Rick sit on the couch where Maggie and Glenn had been cuddled when he'd first told 'em why he was going after Beth.
Crossing the room because he just needed to move, he looked down at the floor at the spot where he'd laid Abe out for tryin' to stop him from leaving...trying to go after Beth. He remembered all the horrible things Abraham said about Beth. Someone had wiped the blood up off the floor.
"I went and talked to Beth while you were hunting. Maggie told me Beth wouldn't talk to her about what happened. I knew she probably didn't tell you...and I thought she might need someone to talk to."
Daryl wasn't looking at Rick, but he nodded anyway. He knew Beth wasn't like to tell him what happened. She knew how guilty he felt, and even if she needed to talk to him, she would hold it all inside. Suffer to spare him. That was Beth. And Rick was a cop...trained to handle shit like this better than he was. Daryl probably would've broke down too right alongside Beth...all the help that would've been. Daryl was glad Rick went to her.
"What...did she say?" He wasn't even sure if he wanted to hear, but he needed to know.
Daryl decided taking a seat might be a good idea after all, sitting on the edge of a armchair, turned so he could face his brother. But Rick was smiling...it was a small smile laced with sadness, but it was a smile all the same. What in the hell was he smiling about?
"I asked her what happened out there, and after everything she's gone through, the first thing she told me was the she fell in love with you." There was hope in Rick's voice.
Maybe there was hope for everyone...for their world if someone like Beth could still love after what had been done to her, if someone like him could love when he'd been born to hate and raised to violence. Daryl rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger, trying to hid his weakness. He took a moment to just soak in what Rick said before...he knew what was coming...he wasn't stupid.
"Did she tell you what happened to her?"
"Most of it we knew. We saw the wounds...he beat her...often. He beat her because she was strong and fought." Rick put a lot of emphasis on fought.
Beth fought. Of course she did. It should've been him fighting for her. Daryl put his forehead in his palm. His head felt too heavy to hold up on his own. Rick was silent for a long time, then he sighed. Daryl knew he hadn't said the worst.
"I asked Beth about the marks on her back..."
"And?" Daryl forced himself to look up at Rick.
This one was gonna be painful, but he was gonna listen.
"Do you know...how long were you and Beth apart before the night you found her?" His question was hesitant, and that made the knot growing in Daryl's stomach worse.
What in the hell did it matter to Rick? They were apart long enough that he couldn't protect her...save her from the torture she went through. Rick just needed to spit it out...yank the Band-aid off. It was gonna hurt no matter what.
"Fifteen days I'm sure of...sixteen more like." The days...they mattered to him though, so he knew...he knew every day he'd failed. Things got a little blurry in and after Terminus...but fifteen for sure.
Rick shook his head, shoulders slumped, looking at the floor. The time they were apart clearly meant something...something horrible...
"What were the marks from, Rick?" Daryl was a mix of anger and devastation that he didn't understand yet. It came out as confrontational.
"She fought, Daryl, you know that..."
Daryl knew...he wasn't blind, he'd seen too.
"What are the marks for..."
"He wanted Beth, beat her every time she defied or denied him. He told Beth he wouldn't take her against her will..." Rick was explaining in a circle, and Daryl was trying to block what he knew was coming.
"The marks...?" His voice was cracking. He knew. Why did he need Rick to say it? To torture himself?
"He cut Beth every night she said no..." Saying it, Rick sounded as broken as he was.
Daryl was numb. He knew the breakdown...the flood of emotions that would disable him would come later whether he wanted them or not...but now, the numbness. Beth had fought. She'd been beaten, tortured, mutilated...almost to the point of death. She'd been strong, but none of it mattered...made any difference. Daryl wasn't stupid. Rick didn't need to say anything else. He could do the math. Beth was stolen from him at least fifteen nights before he was able to find her. She was cut nine times.
...seven...eight...nine...Nine precisely inflicted lacerations. I don't think they need to be stitched, but...they'll probably scar. He could still hear Bob's words in his head. He would never forget them...he couldn't ever forget them now if he tried. After nine nights, Beth hadn't given in...she'd given up...at that was on him. He didn't know how to face her.
"No...no...no, no, no..." Daryl murmured, pressing his palms against his eyes so Rick couldn't see his tears...he was tryin' to be strong, but he wasn't fooling anyone. He had to be strong for Beth...she'd been the one who'd suffered...who'd been...he couldn't even think it.
Life is bittersweet. Daryl'd heard that a million times. Thing was, there'd been so much fucking bitter for him...more than a lifetime's worth. Where was the sweetness, because there sure in the hell didn't seem like there was any in his future. He'd had a small taste of it this morning...small moments of sweetness amidst the pain and loss he'd suffered with Beth had been keeping him going, and now...now it had all been drowned out by the truth. Sweetness was deceptive...a fucking liar...it made you forget that reality was bitter.
~End Note: I just wanted to make it really clear that Beth was not raped during the time she spent apart from Daryl. I can't do a rape storyline with Beth; that is just far too cruel. The thing is that Rick and Daryl think that she was. Beth was unconscious from being sick before Daryl found her which she never really realized (Being unconscious-she lost track of time), and even though the doctor told Rick that Beth had been unconscious for some days before they left the church, the events there probably didn't lead to Rick remembering that little piece of information. Beth thinks they were only apart 10 nights, and when keeping track of the nights they were apart, Beth always clearly remembered that she wasn't marked on the first night. Daryl lost track of time a little bit, but he knows they were apart for more than two weeks. That time difference is where the misunderstanding is coming in...in Daryl and Rick's mind, there were several nights Beth wasn't marked. Rick didn't flat out ask Beth after she told him what the marks were for, that's why he asked Daryl how long they were apart, and Rick and Daryl did their own math from there. It was meant for the characters to be on different pages, living in different "realities" for the coming chapters. It's going to all play out. I could never really have that happen to Beth...so I just wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.~