Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 20: Not Today
~Author's note: Good morning! Sorry for the wait between chapters. This one has all sorts of stuff, sweetness, conflict, emotion...you get it all! I hope everyone has an awesome weekend!~
"Hey, you finally get that bike running?" Michonne was all cheery when they crossed paths in the hallway.
It was running. It was running nice and good. He was on his way to tell Beth the news. Didn't know if they were gonna keep it yet, but it was an accomplishment, and he wanted to share everything with her...everything happy.
"Yeah, got it purrin' like a kitten, not a miss one."
Feelin' just a little pride, Daryl looked down, wiping the grease from his hands off on the stupid flowered shirt. Had a new one, but wasn't gonna put it on till he was done working on all the cars. Wasn't no use if it was just gonna go and get all dirty. And the gauze on his hands, it was black with grime. Probably needed to have Bob or maybe Beth look at his hands and rewrap 'em.
"Hmmp...purring like a kitten? How about roaring like a lion," Michonne countered.
"Yeah, maybe. You heard?"
"I heard upstairs."
Well, all he could do was shake his head. He had no defense. It was noisy as hell, but it was a motorcycle. What did they expect?"
"Where've you been today? I haven't seen you," Daryl wondered.
He didn't keep tabs on everyone, but he saw most of them.
"Went on a run."
"Didn't know we had any runs goin' out today."
Even though he was absorbed with Beth, Rick was keeping him in the loop.
"It was just me, just around the subdivision. Beth asked me to grab some stuff for her. By the way, Beth, she's looking so much better. She seems good." Michonne didn't smile often, but when she did, it meant something and was genuine.
"She's feelin' better, at least I'm pretty sure she is. How she's acting and what she's telling me." The inside, he just wished he could help heal that part of Beth.
"You, you seem better too, different." It was a valid observation.
"I am." He was torn though. Outside, he was fine, but inside...some things might never heal...the same as Beth. "You shouldn't have gone out on a run just for Beth. She shouldn't have to ask you or anyone."
Enough of them resented him focusing on Beth. Very few of them had even cared enough about her that they were willing to let him go after her much less support him or offer to help. He didn't need to give them anymore reason to hate. Daryl could take it, people hating him, but Beth, she didn't deserve it.
"It's not a problem. It was no big deal at all," Michonne reassured.
"I can take care of Beth..."
"We know you can. Nobody's questioning that. Anyway, I don't think she wanted to have to ask you to go looking for what she needed."
The way she said it, she was just brushing it off, but how could he not ask, not follow up on that comment?
"What did Beth need?" What could she want that he couldn't provide?
Daryl prepared to be devastated..
"Just girl stuff."
Girl stuff? What in the hell kind of girl stuff could Beth need that she wouldn't want to ask him for? Girl stuff...shampoo, lotion, perfume...
Oh... He was so stupid...once he realized...
Daryl was feeling unsteady all of a sudden. Had to take a few steps back until he was pressed against the wall, closing his eyes so the world would go still.
"What's wrong with him?" Rick was in the hallway now.
"I don't know. We were just talking about his bike and Beth, and he was fine. Daryl?" Michonne's voice shifted to concern, but it sounded blurry...far away. "Should I go get Bob?"
"No, just give him some room. Actually, why don't you give us a minute."
Daryl slid down the wall until his ass hit the floor, breathing deep. The air...it was so sweet.
"Daryl, are you okay?"
Rick was on his level now. He could hear Rick right in front of him. When Daryl opened his eyes, it was a new and kinder world...a prayer had been answered. He couldn't talk...not just yet. It was too much...and he needed to process it himself.
"I was headed up to get Judith from Beth, don't want her to get overwhelmed. Why don't we get you up there so you can be with Beth for a while?" Rick was crouching down in front of him, waitin' for him to say something, respond in any way.
"She's not...Beth isn't pregnant..." Those words when he was able to say 'em, the weight, part of the pain and guilt that was crushing him was thrown off.
"Phhh..." Rick was at a loss for words too, shaking his head up and down slowly.
Really, what kind of words where there for a fucked up situation like this?
"She's not pregnant..." This time it was for himself, just relief, but he said it out loud anyway.
"It's all going to be okay," Rick finally managed, clapping him on the shoulder. "Come on, I'm gonna go get my kid, you go get your girl, tell her about your motorcycle...be young and free."
Daryl took the strong hand offered, Rick pulling him up off the floor. It was a good day...
Both he and Rick stood back quietly, just watching from the doorway unnoticed, Beth sittin' in the middle of the bed playing with Judith. It was the first time Beth had Judith since before, but Judith was babbling and reaching out for Beth like no time had passed at all...her world had stayed the same. Beth gave in, scooping Judith into her harms, pulling her close, laughing. Beth was absolutely glowing. She was gonna make a good mother if their world allowed her to get there...if that's what she wanted after everything, and Daryl was determined to make sure she lived long enough to get the life she deserved. He was at least gonna make sure she outlived him. That was how it had to be, how it was always going to be...how things were supposed to go. But right now, their world wasn't made for children...babies. Beth had Judith, but there didn't need to be any others just yet. Beth, she didn't have to face that horrible uncertain future that before today was a possibility. Despite everything else, all the demons that haunted him, all he could think about now was that Beth got to live. He'd torn the man apart who'd broken her. He was dead, and now Daryl knew every part of the bastard was gone. There was no chance that Beth was carrying a child that could rip her apart from the inside out, killing her, finishing its father's job and taking her away from Daryl forever.
Maybe now...because Beth wasn't...he could even let himself want that future...a kid of his own. But now, he didn't have to be a father...not today.
"She's beautiful," Rick complimented from behind him.
"She is..." And so very alive.
A few minutes ago, the scene would've ripped his heart to shreds, but now...now it was just beautiful and hopeful...life...
If there was any way possible, Daryl and Rick went even more still. It wasn't Beth who said it.
Rick shifted out of the doorway, away from the possibility of Beth seeing him, and Daryl followed suit.
"Sorry..." Daryl didn't know what else to say to him after he realized what happened.
It had to kill Rick, Judith calling Beth mama, but Rick, he was smilin' all proud.
"My daughter just said her first word. There isn't anything to be sorry for." There may have even been a tear in his eye, and Rick wasn't a crier.
They were all still beating the odds. Their group had kept a baby alive long enough for her to start talking...these little things, the normal things that people took for granted, they were what kept you moving forward, giving you hope.
"Sometimes life doesn't turn out like you planned, but life, it still turns out." Daryl couldn't have said it better himself. Rick touched his upper arm, guiding him away. "Let's give them a few more minutes."
Judith was laughing and gurgling in her arms. It was comforting, having Judith, holding someone who wasn't jaded. She had absolutely no idea how dark the world was, the impossibility that everyone was facing every day just trying to stay alive. For Judith, life was simple and only filled with possibilities. But then, Beth was starting to feel that too...the possibilities.
It caught her off guard. It didn't sound like just senseless babble, but Beth shook it off after a moment.
When Rick had brought her in, putting Judith in her arms, Judith had reached out for her like they'd never been apart, like the world hadn't changed, and now this.
"Ma...mammaa..." Judith squealed in delight, grabbing at Beth's hair with her tiny hands.
This should be a happy moment, but it was nothing more than bittersweet. Beth should be telling Rick that Judith was talking...said her first word, but that first word...mama...Judith didn't have one of those. Lori was dead. And Judith was directing that first word at her. Beth, she wasn't her mother. Never could be. She didn't want Rick thinking she was trying to take Lori's place.
"Judith, say 'da'." It was just a little change, just a different sound. "Da. Dada."
Judith just smiled up at her, oblivious. "Ma...ma..."
Before Beth could try again, there were raised voices coming from downstairs. Raised voices meant something serious because noise drew walkers, and as far as she knew, they'd been mercifully free of walkers since she'd been there. Maybe it was the wrong choice, but Beth held Judith close and descended the stairs to listen. She wanted to hear. She'd always been quiet, unassuming, could go unnoticed if she needed to, and nobody noticed her as she stood at the edge of the doorway just listening.
"The girl's up and about. She looks damned fine to me."
Beth recognized that voice. Abraham. The one who proclaimed to be 'friend', not foe.
"She's getting better. If you wanted to find somewhere close that was more secure, I think Beth would be okay, but a trip, a march to D.C., that would be a death march. Beth wouldn't make it. I'm not even sure she's close to being over everything. You make her head out now, even if she was better, she'd relapse," Bob explained, and Beth knew it was the truth.
No matter how much better she was feeling, she wasn't there yet. And she didn't want to die, not now.
"That's it. Bob said no. Beth's not ready to travel. We're not going anywhere," Rick pronounced.
"You've gotta be dicking me! How many times do I have to say it. This is a time sensitive situation. Every day we stall, not getting Eugene to D.C., the legions of the dead are recruiting. Right now, we still have a world to save. We've got the man with the cure, and we're still strong."
This Abraham, he was driven by the conviction of his cause, but Beth knew she was the one standing in the way of his plans. That was dangerous for her. And a cure? They were talking about a cure. Was everyone actually believing this? Beth remembered how stupid she felt, sitting in her bed at home after Shane let the walkers out of the barn. Shawn...and her Mama. Her Mama tried to kill her. All she could think about then was how misguided Daddy had been, just waiting on a cure, and she'd believed him. That was only a few weeks after it all started, and they still had reason to believe. Now...someone...one person claimed to have a cure?
"A few more days won't matter." Rick still had the upper hand because he was calm.
Abraham, that was a different story. Beth watched his jaw grinding and his face burning in anger.
"A few...a few days won't matter?! Ever day matters. Even those other idiots who left Terminus with us, pussies who didn't know the ass end from the business end of a firearm, they left the day after Prince Charming here went after Sleeping Beauty."
Beth could only see Daryl's back, but he was stiff standing next to Rick, his shoulders squared off and tight. Rick's arm went across Daryl's chest in a preemptive strike.
"They left because they weren't part of us. Beth is family..." Rick didn't get a chance to finish.
"Family? She's no blood to you. We almost lost one of our strongest fighters, running off on a suicide mission like a love sick puppy. Then you went and ran after him. Makes me wonder if you aren't fucking her right along with Daryl..."
Beth saw quick movement...Maggie...Maggie's hand made contact with Abe's face, the sharp sound of flesh smacking flesh stilled the room.
"That's my sister!" Maggie burst out angrily as Abe snatched up her wrists to stop her from slapping him again.
Everyone started shifting uneasily. The pot was about to boil over. Maggie fought for her. Beth wasn't even sure what that meant. Beth watched her sister jerk free from Abe, and there was fire in his eyes...even a little upturn of his lips.
"Go ahead, Maggie. Fight. Get mad. That's what we need. What this world needs if we're gonna survive. If the human race is going to survive. Fighters...not little girls who are just gonna lay there and take it without a fight like your sister did."
Abraham had his hands on Maggie, and Glenn wasn't moving fast enough to stop it. Daryl's first instinct as a man was to lunge forward, but Rick kept his arm across his chest.
"Daryl..." he warned.
Rick was right. This wasn't his fight, and Abe wasn't stupid enough to do anything to hurt her. Then Daryl processed what happened. Maggie hit him. She hit him for her sister. It shocked him that Maggie was doing anything to defend Beth. Didn't matter in his book. Too little, to late, but it still surprised him. He'd been about to go on the attack after Abe said Rick was fucking Beth, but something made him stop...something instinctual, and instinctual for him usually meant fight. These were just words though...words that in the scope of things weren't true and meant nothing. He needed to save his fight for when he really needed it...in situations where it was necessary. It was tense though. Everyone was on edge. What made it worse, they were all one group, but they were broken...divided. That made them weak no matter how many of them there were. Two who stood together were stronger than fifteen who couldn't.
"...not little girls who are just gonna lay there and take it without a fight like your sister did."
Now that one hit home. What was he supposed to do? Just stand there and let Abraham say that about Beth when he didn't know nothin'...didn't know how hard Beth fought. But Daryl was too slow to the draw. Rick flew into Abraham, barreling him to the floor. This was a fight that had been in the makings for a while, since right after they fought their way out of Terminus. Rick and Abe, they just clashed from the beginning. Nobody was gonna let it get too far between them, not like Rick had let it go between him and Abe before Daryl went after Beth. That had been Daryl's fight...and this...this wasn't really Rick's fight, but sometimes it was better for men to just beat that aggression out. Daryl knew that from life. They all needed Rick in one piece, not gettin' all gnarled up defending Beth's honor, but they let a few punches make contact before other bodies were thrown in the mix, pulling Rick and Abe apart.
They were both on fire, foaming at the mouth, trying to get back at each other, Tyreese and Glenn attempting to subdue Abe and Daryl trying to calm Rick.
"Rick...it's enough...stop..." Rick was fightin' hard against him, about to break away. Daryl had to make him understand. "This ain't doin' Beth no good."
Daryl wondered how it was that he was now the voice of reason. Reason...he was in a very real place. It was falling apart. It was the end. It wasn't doin' anybody any good. He knew they had to leave, and if he was gonna have any chance of making it away quietly with Beth without a fight, he needed Rick in one piece...on his side. Rick's breath was heaving, but he went still enough that Daryl loosened his hold so that Rick could stand up straight.
"Who is she to you that you're willing to risk the fate of the entire human race on one little..." Whatever word Abe was thinking on using, he thought better...stopped himself.
Ty and Glenn released him since it looked like everybody was trying to communicate again.
"Who is she? She's my family. Has been since the beginning. She's Daryl's family, and he's my brother. And Beth...she's my daughter's mother..." Daryl felt the full effect of Rick's words, all of them...family, brother...and Rick, he was feelin' them too, especially the mother part, after hearing Judith...what she said. "If Beth's life has no worth, no one's life is worth anything."
"It ain't worth it because she's already dead. Might as well be. Beth's not strong enough."
I know you look at me and you just see another dead girl...I'm going to be gone someday...
That was the trigger that launched Daryl...
"If Beth's life has no worth, no one's life is worth anything."
She knew what he meant...it wasn't just about her. Rick meant that for any life to have meaning, all lives had to have value, but Rick's voice was so full of conviction and belief that Beth wanted to go to him, hug him, thank him for caring enough to fight for her like Daryl. But then...
"It ain't worth it because she's already dead. Might as well be. Beth's not strong enough."
Daryl was at Abe, fists flying. There was blood, whose she couldn't tell, the sound of bones crunching, and if it went on, they'd tear each other to bits. Beth didn't want Daryl in pieces over her.
"Stop...just stop!" Everyone knew she was there then.
Beth wondered what would have been said differently if they knew she'd been there all along? Judith who'd been silent the entire time, through everything...the entire commotion, started to cry in her arms, apparently reading and feeling Beth's emotions. The room went still.
"Carl, will you take her?" Beth passed Judith to her brother.
All eyes were on her now, Daryl and Abraham being pulled apart. Daryl came closer, forgetting all about Abe behind him. His expression. He was torn up, on the inside, Beth knew. He realized she had heard it all. There was no way she could ever forget it.
"I'm not stupid, and I'm not blind. I was supposed to die. Everyone was waiting for me to, but I didn't. Now no one knows what to do or what to say to me. You thought I was gone, already dead. I'm okay with that now. I get it, but you don't. I survived. I'm stronger than you think. I'm strong."
Daryl and Rick were both fighting so hard for her. Now it was time for her to stand up for herself. What she said, it was the truth. Daryl was in front of her, close, looking down, mixed emotions in his eyes. She could read him now, like an open book. He was upset because of what she'd heard, but she saw pride too...pride not because she stood up, fought for herself, but because she recognized her own self-worth...her strength. The whole world was quiet around them for a few beautiful moments, ceasing to exist. Daryl's eyes asked the question, if what he was going to say was okay, and Beth nodded knowing it was the only way it could ever be...the only way it could work. He laid his hand softly against her cheek, leaning in, letting his forehead touch hers. It took her breath away. It was the first time Daryl had ever shown her affection in front of their family...and it was over far too soon as he turned back to everyone.
"You don't gotta worry about me and Beth anymore. We're leavin'." There was no regret...not an ounce of doubt in what he said.
"NO..." Maggie's voice broke.
Had she never considered this a possibility, going their separate ways? Maggie had already given up on her, decided to believe she was dead once. This was really no different, except this time she would know Beth was alive.
"What? You can't leave. Not now." Carol was the next person in a long line to speak up, everyone trying to talk over each other.
"Rick, you can't let them..." Maggie tried to appeal the decision.
Rick nodded his acceptance to Daryl. "The decision's already been made. Daryl and I've already talked about this. I wish him and Beth all the best..."
"You gotta be kidding me. You're letting him go? When we make it to D.C., there's a life waiting there for each and every one of us strong enough to make it. A real life," Abe preached. "The strong have to stick together to find that life."
"My life's standing right here beside me," Daryl asserted, moving closer into her, hand barely coming to rest on her lower back.
Daryl guided Beth out of the room. She wasn't going to look back. They were moving forward.
"You walk away and your killing your group," Abe warned.
Beth knew it wasn't true. So did Daryl. He was just trying to scare Daryl into staying, but Daryl was smarter than that. Everyone would make it just fine without them, each to their own fate. But Daryl did stop, he looked back over his shoulder even if Beth wouldn't.
"After we leave, if I ever see you again in this world, you better either keep on moving or make peace with your God 'cause I will put a bolt between your eyes."