Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 26: Angels, Saints, Monsters, Survivors
In the end, it wasn't tactics, strategy, some huge plan to outwit the enemy or even prisoners that mattered. It was just a series of events, fate...destiny...whatever in the fuck people wanted to call it...that decided who lived or who died. No matter how much he fought it, it never seemed to make any difference. They were so close when the two gunshots rang out...so close, but two gunshots close together...it could've been the end of his world. If Beth...if she decided to fight...she promised not to. If she fought, surprised someone, one shot in the body to stop her...one shot in the head to end her...put her down.
"Daryl, steady..." Rick cautioned from behind.
Steady. Steady? How was he supposed to be steady? And how in the hell was Rick so calm after everything? His two kids were in that house...Carl, Judith. How was he even breathing? Rick...maybe he was just numb.
Daryl's prisoner was reluctant to pick up the pace, but a hard jab from the business end of his crossbow seemed to be enough of an incentive. There wasn't even anyone guarding the backdoor when they got there. They could've put everyone down in the woods, and maybe they would've made it in time. A gunshot echoed. Then another shook the walls.
"Go," Rick yelled, realizing Daryl was no good to him when he had so much at stake...when there was fighting going on...when his heart was with Beth.
Rick released him, and he went.
It was mayhem. Nobody's plan was going as expected. The core of the conflict was focused in the hall, but everyone was dazed, Gareth's people especially, confused, not knowing how to handle a situation where they no longer held the high ground. Same thing as what happened in the woods. They lost the upper hand. With him and Rick and Michonne coming in from the back, they were being taken on three sides, and there was no forth side to escape to. Maggie, Glenn, Abe, and the rest of the rescue group were fighting the best they could still tied up, Abe cutting Glenn free. Rosita and Tyreese were charging down the stairs, pushing back what looked like Gareth and two others. Another man turned and ran down the stairs rather than face them, the powerhouse that was Ty looming from above.
There she was...alive...
It was wrong. He called out for her. She was in the shadows of the stairs; maybe no one had even noticed her, but when she heard his voice, that was the beginning of her end.
Moving forward towards the melee, unarmed, helpless in her state, and because of him, not paying attention, not seeing the one who just reached the bottom of the steps who was now at her rear.
He didn't have a clear shot, couldn't get a bolt off without hitting Beth. This was the last time he would feel her bright eyes on him, this split second...then she turned away. Daryl threw his bow over his back, drew his knife, and shouldered through the mass, not caring if they took him out...not even seeing. Something rammed him hard from behind. Daryl's knife was through its skull buried hilt deep. It could've been one of theirs. He hadn't even looked before he drove his blade, but a stranger's death mask was fixed on him as he jerked his sharp steel free and the body slid to the floor.
It was too late...always too late. By the time he was close enough to make a difference, Beth was hunching over...then she straightened, going so still.
She was dead...
He moved quick. He couldn't let her body hit the ground. But Beth was still standing. Still standing? She'd gone still, and her attacker...his eyes were dying. He was the one who was dead.
Drive the blade up, not down. Drive it until you can't push anymore, and don't pull back until you watch the soul drain outta the bastard's eyes.
Daryl was the one frozen now. He saw the corpse fall, its head cracking against the corner of the stoop, heard little Beth expel a breathy squeak as she drove the tactical knife from her boot, the one he'd given her, through its skull. This time Daryl couldn't save her because Beth didn't need him. She did it on her own, saved herself.
His heart was in rapid fire mode when he felt her arms lock around his neck, pressing close to him like it was the end of the world. Whether it was the beginning or the end, it didn't matter...he had at least one more moment with her...more than he thought he had, crushing Beth to his chest. Holding her tight, her feet weren't even touching the ground, and neither of them was willing to let go. When Daryl finally released her, stepped back, saw her swollen cheek and split lip...he reached out for her, but Beth shied away from him.
"Who did this...which one...who touched you?" Seeing Beth beaten again, bleeding...
Rage. It seemed to be his constant companion.
"It doesn't matter." Beth brushed his cheek lightly, the touch she denied him, but her touch, it grounded him.
Daryl could feel the warm blood on Beth's hand from her kill. She wasn't shaken yet; she wasn't falling apart because of it. She was strong, and Daryl, he was proud.
"It's over." Daryl looked back.
It was still chaos, but they were all going down, dying or forced to their knees. They weren't hunters; they were just dead. Chaos had never been so beautiful.
Daryl stayed beside her. He didn't make to move away; they didn't need him. But she did...her nerves were shaken even though she forced herself to hide it. She needed Daryl close...needed to feel his presence beside her. He wasn't holding her or even touching her now, consumed by the scene in front of them, but it was okay...he was there. It was ending, just like he promised, and they were together.
It was like a movie was playing out in front of her...she knew it was life, but she didn't feel it. The blood...the metallic scent of it heavy in the air...the bodies, more heads bludgeoned or smashed in than stabbed...even so, she had no sympathy for them. They needed to die...and death, it was there with them now. Beth welcomed it.
But Maggie, Tyreese, even Glenn standing by Rick...they looked affected...impacted by the carnage around them.
Gareth and three others, the only ones left breathing, were on their knees in front of Rick with Michonne, Abe, and Glenn near, the rest of their group standing some distance back, acquainting themselves with the reality that they were going to live. Beth watched, focused in the dim light on Rick's machete, already stained red and dripping with blood from the fight that came before.
"No point in begging, right?" Beth hoped those were the last words Gareth would ever utter.
A throaty groan flew from his mouth when the handle of Rick's machete crunched against Gareth's forehead, his hands bracing himself against the cold, hard floor.
"I guess that's my answer, but we're still alive. That has to mean something." Beth wondered if he actually thought he could talk himself out of this one. "You could've shot us straight away when you came in." Still so calm and calculating, even faced with impending death.
"Not worth the bullets." Rick sounded hoarse, his voice so full of grit and gravel.
He glanced to Michonne, just a look, her sword answering, swinging through the air silently, slicing through flesh and bone with barely a sound as it cleaved the head from the shoulders. The severed head thunked on the wood planks of the floor, blood fountaining from the neck as the headless body tipped and fell forward. So slow...it didn't seem to be playing out in real time...that just made it all the worse. Beth gasped, stepping back, bumping into Daryl. She wanted to be strong but hadn't expected it...and it...it reminded her of Daddy. Daryl wrapped his arm around her, steadying her.
"Beth." It was only meant for her to hear...just a reminder that he was there and that everything was going to be okay.
Michonne finished the job, pinning the head to the ground with her booted foot, driving her sword into the brain, flicking the remnants from the blade after she pulled it free.
The blood was pooling quick, spreading out like a flood towards the prisoners kneeling beside the body. The two to the left tried to scoot away, but Gareth stayed steady, letting the blood flow around his knees, soak into his pants, staring straight forward at Rick.
"You don't have to do this. We can all walk away, and we will never cross paths again. I promise you."
Rick looked again to Michonne, but the next person in line for the kiss of her steel scrambled forward, away on their knees, as best they could with hands bound.
"No...no! You promised..." He looked up towards Daryl. "You...you said...you promised if we helped you, you'd let us live."
Daryl...did he make that deal?
"Promised he would see another day," Daryl directed towards Rick, his voice not sounding like he felt one way or another.
"Man's only as good as his promise," Rick relented. "Ty, Abe, after we're done here, take those two away". Rick waved his machete indicating the only other two men breathing besides Gareth, splattering their faces with blood. They both flinched away. "How long to midnight, Daryl?"
"Two hours at most," Beth could feel his growl from behind her.
"Better get to enjoying them, these two hours until you see another day. There won't be a last meal; you'll be dining in hell."
"No...that's not what we meant...we thought...you promised we would live..."
Their words and pleas meant nothing as they were left to witness whatever was going to happen to their leader...what would no doubt foreshadow their fate to come. Rick's attention flipped back to Gareth.
"We can all walk away, and we with never cross paths again," Rick repeated Gareth's offer.
Beth couldn't get a read on his voice, and the irrational fear in her heart, the fear that Rick was going to set this monster free set in deep, made her tremble even though she knew it was never going to happen that way.
"But you'll cross someone's path. If you did this to us, you'll do this to anyone." Rick paused.
It wasn't a question, but it seemed like it was an opportunity for last words. Gareth had none, just cold, dead eyes waiting for his fate. Daryl seemed to know what was coming next.
"Beth, look at me." His voice was soft...the voice he used with her.
Turning around, she found the blue pools of his eyes to focus on. The man who would die for her, the man she would fight for, the one person she wanted to live for and with. He didn't want her to see; he wanted to shield her from the darkness she didn't need to experience.
"A man's only as good as his promise," Rick repeated the words he had just said to Daryl. "And I made you a promise. Do you remember? 'A machete with a red handle.
That's what I'm gonna use to kill you...'"
Daryl's warm hand brushed her hair aside, cupping her neck gently.
The first strikes were crunches, thick, heavy steel driving through bone.
Gareth screamed through all of those. So did the people on their knees beside him...it was a chorus of wails.
Beth kept her back turned not because she was weak but because she didn't have to be strong.
Now there was some crunching, but mostly the sound of the blade hacking through flesh.
There was no more noise from Gareth.
She would let Daryl be strong. Beth would let him protect her from this necessary brutality. She had seen enough to fill her nightmares already.
Gushing and slushing now, wet noises, plops as butchered flesh hit the floor. There was nothing left for Rick's machete to chop at. The others...they were screaming and crying, gagging, but those sounds seemed to be drowned out by the other horror...the slopping of the flesh and blood.
Daryl held her gaze. Beth remained fixated on him, trying to tune out Rick's feral grunts and heavy breathing, his effort to entirely eradicate Gareth's existence.
She remembered something, something she shouldn't have been able to recall because she'd gone to a dark place of nothing then. But it seemed like, in this moment, it was something she needed to remember, something she needed to remind her of who they were...something Daryl said to Brother Allerton.
I wasn't born an angel...She wasn't born an angel neither!
That's when Beth realized, the darkness in their world...it was a part of all of them. They couldn't escape it; they just had to decide how they lived with it, what they did with it, who they became because of it. They weren't ever going to be angels or saints, but that was okay. It didn't make them monsters. They were survivors, and they were going to stay that way. Daryl pulled her close now, Beth pressing her face against his hard chest.
Men like him...men like Daryl, before, and especially now, the only way they know to love is through violence...Daryl, he's the monster they're going to tell their children and children's children about, the beast that will rip out their hearts. The man you love is going to be the evil that haunts them in the dark. What will Daryl be to you then...this thing of nightmares?
Everything...he was everything...would always be everything, as long as they lived. She couldn't help smiling to herself. Those words were so wrong, Gareth couldn't even know. Beth could hear and feel Daryl's heartbeat against her cheek, so strong, steady, rhythmic. Hearing it, feeling it, hoping it belonged to her, it helped her ignore the rest of the world around her. And maybe she was wrong too...about not being angels, because Daryl, he was pretty damned close. He might not have been born an angel, but he earned those wings he wore on his back.
~Author's Endnote: So, with Gareth's end and Rick's brutality, I wanted to stick really close to what we were given in the series. I wasn't trying to rip it off or anything; I just thought it was a really poignant moment for Rick and should stay as close as possible. Also, I know the chapter was a little short, but this was the natural place for it to end, and the last chapter was really long. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed! A new chapter for "I Will Follow..." is coming soon too