Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 28: Separate Paths
You always knew it was a good sleep if you woke up and couldn't remember your head hitting the pillow...well, if there was a hangover, that was a different story, but that wasn't the case. Still in the hazy somewhere between sleep and totally awake, Daryl realized he hadn't slept so well since the prison. Stretching his back against the hard floor, flexing the muscles in his arms...Fuck. Yep, he forgot that bullet hole that didn't hurt so much last night. He bit back the growl, not wanting to wake Beth up. It might have just been a flesh wound, but that didn't mean it was gonna sting like a som'bitch. Throwing back his blanket, sitting up quietly to check on Beth...and Maggie, Maggie was probably still gonna be there too...but nothing. They were both gone, the blankets on the bed pulled up all nice and neat, pillows all fluffed. Some hunter's instinct he had. He didn't just sleep through Beth and Maggie tiptoeing out, he slept through them cleaning house, stepping over him passed out beside the bed on his place on the floor.
Daryl worked at getting the sand outta his eyes...they were sore too, both in different stages of black, one new, one healing...before pushing up off the floor to go track down Beth. She should be in bed, especially since they were planning on leaving out, but sometimes Beth wasn't all that great at doing what she should be. It didn't sound like there was much noise coming form downstairs, but a stream of smoke caught Daryl's eye, drawing him to the window. They were outside. Everyone was outside. There was a pile of bodies burning in the backyard; they really did clean house while he was sleeping, and it looked like some sort of funeral was breaking up. Yep, a funeral. The group lost Tara. Beth was out there still wearing clothes stained in Tara's blood. It was a shame. She looked pretty in the blue sweater, but it was ruined now. Shit he was getting cold, feeling more loss in Beth's blue sweater than in the loss of a person. Well, sometimes you only had the capacity to care so much. Maggie was upset, crying again over Tara. It infuriated him, especially that Beth was beside her, watching her cry again over the death of her replacement sister when she'd given no fucks about Beth...and Beth knew that. But Beth, she'd somehow found a way past that. He didn't know if she forgave Maggie or if she just made peace with the way things were. She hadn't had time to talk to him about it, but either way, something changed between the Greene girls.
Beth had a supportive arm wrapped around Maggie's waist, hands clasped tight together mirroring the way he found the sisters sleeping last night. Beth was a better person that he'd ever be. It wasn't his place to forgive, but he would never forgive Maggie. That was okay though. Sometimes...a lot of times now...being a better person didn't keep you alive. Beth could be the better person and he would make sure she kept breathing. He just hoped that this reconciliation between Beth and Maggie didn't force him to drag Beth away from the group because she decided that she wanted to follow them to DC even if it meant she would relapse and die. He wasn't gonna let that happen. But then he stopped running all the horrible scenarios through his head remembering Beth telling him that he had to believe that she loved him and stop doubting himself. The brief flash in his head, the anxiety that if she reconciled with Maggie there would be no room for him in her heart, it didn't even have a chance to take root.
The creak of the heavy footsteps in the hall leading to his door broke him away from the window. The door wasn't closed, and Abraham's broad shoulders filled the doorway. Shit, you really wanna do this right now? Daryl straightened, going on the defensive, but Abe and his stance weren't confrontational.
"You still planning on running off today?"
What did it matter? Abe wasn't gonna do nothin' to stop him. He'd get a bolt square between the eyes. Well, his crossbow was laying outta reach, but his gun was still tucked at the small of his back. Daryl apparently slept with it there. He'd be feeling that later.
"I get you, Daryl. I know it's about the fight. You need it. You need that fight to survive, to feel alive. What are you gonna do now, give up that fight, go hole up somewhere, hide from fate until it hunts you down, cornering you like a rabbit in its burrow?"
He wasn't wrong about fighting. Fighting was...always had been how he stayed alive. The thing was, the reason behind the fight changed. Daryl wasn't looking for a fight anymore. He wanted a chance at peace. That meant he still had to fight and fight even harder, but it was different. Thinking on it, thinking why he fought, Daryl decided to give Abraham an answer even though he didn't have to. Didn't owe him one. Didn't owe him nothin'.
"I don't fight 'cause of the threats in front of me...the danger I'm facing. I fight 'cause of the people beside me...the people I care about standing with me."
Abraham narrowed his eyes, contemplating.
"Where in the hell did you hear that?"
He didn't hear it anywhere. It was his truth. It was who Daryl was. He didn't have to defend it.
Daryl went stiff, on guard when Abe pulled the gun from behind his back, but he wasn't pointing it; he was offering it.
"It ain't mine," Daryl rejected quickly. He'd never seen that gun in his life.
"No, it's your girl's...it's Beth's."
Daryl took it just to get it out of Abraham's hands.
"She doesn't have a gun."
Well, Daryl had a gun to give her today, the extra gun he got off the 'hunting party' in the woods last night, but he'd had no gun to give her yesterday when he left her....when she needed it.
"She does now. She must've took it off one of the guys she killed."
But Beth, she'd only killed that one person before he got to her, that one he thought took her out...
One of the guys she killed? That's what he said. Abe must have seen the confusion on his face.
"She took out one of them in the downstairs bedroom. Something went down. It must've happened just before everyone got back here last night. This morning we found his body, and Tara; Beth must've put her down too. When they drug our sorry asses in, your girl, well, she's one hell of a shot. Took out two of them when they were about to slit my throat. Shot them right between the eyes."
Beth...she took out three...no four of 'em last night.
"I'd be dead, but your girl, Beth, saved me. I'm man enough to cop to that."
He looked up from the gun to Abe thinking about all the horrible things he said about Beth, how he wanted to leave her behind, and now...Daryl didn't have any words for Abraham.
"She threw it to me after she blew their brains out, but it's hers now. She killed for it. She took it. It's fully loaded. Reloaded it with my ammo."
Finally, he got tired of having a conversation with himself and made to leave, just stopping with one final comment. Daryl hoped it was a good one.
"Girl's tougher than she looks....tougher than I gave her credit for. I hope she makes it."
There wasn't much at all for Beth to pack. Basically, it was just sorting through the duffle bag Carl brought to her a few days ago with clothes. A few days, a week, maybe more...she didn't have such a great grasp on time. She pulled the clothes out folding them nice and neat. There were the meds she had left, some bandages and medical supplies...what the rest of the group could spare for her and Daryl's hurts...a little water, some food, precious ammo...it was all they really needed, just trying to get it all organized. She was dirty, her clothes stained, but there was no reason to change now. They would save the clean clothes until they got wherever they were going...well, at least the first stop on their journey together. Together. That made Beth smile. She had no regrets. They were both on the same page even though she barely talked to Daryl today, only long enough for him to hand her a gun, telling her Abraham wanted to return it to her. It was the gun...the gun from...the gun she killed with. Last night...before the screams stopped...it was all so blurry, but the knowledge of what she did, the memory of what she had to do...it made it hard to breathe...panic welling in her chest. No. She wasn't going to think about it now. Not now. Another morning dawned. She was alive. Daryl was alive. They got to live. There was a chance. That was all that mattered.
Daryl, he was gone now. He said he was going on foot to check and see that the roads were clear. Beth couldn't decide if he really wanted to check the roads or if he was just going to give her space, private time to say her goodbyes. Daryl didn't seem like one for extended goodbyes, so maybe he didn't want to make her feel like he was rushing her. But now she was just stalling, smoothing her hand over the clean clothes, wasting her own time. No matter how happy she was to have Daryl, leaving with him still meant saying goodbye to everyone else she knew.
I hate goodbyes.
After giving herself a second, Beth bucked up and stowed everything she and Daryl had to their name in the bags...saddlebags, is that what they were called for a motorcycle...that he'd given her when he brought her the gun.
Beth grabbed those bags, stopping in the doorway, looking back before she pulled the door closed. So much happened here...so much was said, but it wasn't their beginning. It might have been a new chapter, but not the beginning. They started their story the day they ran from the prison even though they didn't know it then. Turning away...still no regrets.
"Beth, can you come here a sec?" Maggie caught her as soon as she came down the stairs.
It was okay. They were on good terms. Beth realized to move forward, she had to put the hurtful past behind. There were still some things she needed to talk about, things she would no doubt need help getting over, and Daryl said she could tell him anything...she just had to get up the nerve...but Maggie was her sister, and that was how they were going to end. She followed Maggie's voice to the front room, brightly lit by the sun streaming through the picture window. This must have been the spot where she and Glenn staked their clam, makeshift bed on the floor, Maggie sitting cross legged on a crumpled blanket where Glenn had slept alone last night. Beth took a seat on the floor beside her.
"You can still come with us you know," Maggie's voice was soft and pleading.
If she looked up, Beth knew Maggie's eyes would have been watery. Maggie was dealing with a lot. She just buried Tara. She was losing her sister again. Even though Maggie would still be alive, Beth accepted the fact that she was never going to see her again. Maggie was dealing with that reality too. The thing she wasn't realizing was that in asking Beth to go with them, she was asking her to die. Beth was feeling good...better, but good and better weren't healed or well. Daryl knew that, maybe better than anyone else, and he was going to take their trip easy on her, going just far enough to find a safe place to stay for a while. Maggie's group, well, they were on a mission, and that mission didn't need her to survive. The little sister in Beth, the part of her that still needed Maggie's protection and love wished for her to say the one thing that would make a difference in this moment.
I'll wait here with you until you get better.
But Maggie and the rest of her group, it was selfish for her to wish they would wait around. They all almost died last night, and she would never ask that of anyone.
"I could go with you, but I'm not." Beth didn't have to put on a brave face to tell Maggie that. Her face was solid and her resolve strong. She was strong. If she'd learned anything about herself, it was that.
Beth didn't want to die. Journeying with her sister would result in her death, but that wasn't the reason she refused, the reason she wouldn't. It was something else. Even if death wasn't the case, she would still choose Daryl, choose to follow him. It didn't seem like Maggie was surprised or expecting a different answer, she just had to make that one last effort.
"Here, you should have this back."
When Maggie set in front of her, Beth didn't know what to do except smile at the small unexpected gift from the universe. She forgot the black backpack even existed.
"Where...where did you find it?"
It was dropped that night outside the funeral parlor before everything went dark.
"I didn't. Daryl, he gave it to me the day he left to go find you. He said he thought I might want to have it. He told me it had all the stuff that was important you...all the things you picked up while you were together..."
Beth ran her fingers over the smooth surface, the cool leather, hesitating to open it, why she couldn't say.
"Is my journal in there?"
It was random, but it just popped into her head. Her journal, the tie to all her hopes...the hope she'd had at the prison, part of her life before, and it represented her future hopes. The idea that it might still exist...that it might not be lost...
"I don't know, Beth. I'm sorry. I could never bring myself to look in it."
Then, it didn't matter because Beth remembered something that she knew should still be in the backpack, something she had to find.
"Just a few days after...after the prison, Daryl and I...well, things were pretty bad. We had no reason to keep going really. That's when I decided that if we were just going to die, I wanted to do some things I never got to do before..."
Maggie raised an eyebrow. Beth knew what she was thinking...things she never got to do. Trying to avoid, she went back to her task. Rummaging through the bag, she couldn't find it. It was like it had no bottom. It went on forever.
"Anyway, I was determined to have a drink, a real drink, and after some convincing..." Beth tried to hold in her smile. Convincing. There had been screaming, cussing, and storming off...that was the extent of convincing him. "Daryl decided to help me. We ended up at this country club where I picked this up."
Still, she couldn't find it. It was proving more difficult to locate than that first drink.
"My baby sister. First drink at a country club..." Maggie was getting all nostalgic.
"Well no...not at the country club. We ended up somewhere else...it was moonshine." Just uttering that word made her stomach turn over on itself.
Her hand closed around the cool metal. "Found it!"
Looking at it, contemplating it, Beth remembered picking it up, not really knowing then why she decided to keep it. Now, even though she knew it wasn't anything more than a coincidence, it belonged to Maggie.
"You should have it. For luck."
Taking the spoon, Maggie turned it over in her hand, examining it close.
"Washington, D.C....You found this?" Maggie was contemplative, quiet in her question.
Glancing toward the window, Beth saw that Daryl was back now, standing in the front yard talking to Rick.
"Beth, Washington D.C....this is a sign. You have to come with us."
She only half heard what Maggie said, only really hearing this is a sign, so focused on Daryl and what she saw.
The signs are all there, you just gotta know how to read 'em.
When Daryl said that, he was talking about hunting and tracking...but those words meant so much more to her. Beth didn't need a sign to know that she should follow Daryl; her heart was all in already, but there it was all the same. She could barely see it, but it was there, the edge of her green journal peeking out of the top of Daryl's back pants pocket. Had it been there all along?
But I've been keeping my backpack. Keeping my gun close. I've been afraid to get my hopes up...The thing is, I've been starting to get afraid that it's easier just to be afraid. But this morning Daddy said something. "If you don't have hope, what's the point of living?"
Beth remembered Daddy saying that so clearly, like he was still standing right beside her. If you don't have hope, what's the point of living? She remembered writing it after he said it, after her need for hope struck her so hard that she couldn't think about anything else. Writing in her journal, writing down her hopes and wishes, praying that they would come true...
Hope. Daryl...she didn't need her journal anymore because Daryl, he was the embodiment of all her hopes.
Two years of his life. It was the most stability he'd ever known. True, they didn't always have a stable home, more often than not they looked at death on a daily basis even if there was a fence between them, but one thing remained constant. Daryl knew Rick was there. He was more of a brother than Merle ever was, more of a brother than Daryl ever deserved, but sometimes life lead you in different directions. Just waiting out front, giving Beth the time she needed, standing by Rick, Daryl found words weren't coming easy...for Rick neither.
"Last night...what you did...what you stopped me from doing..." Rick was the one who broke the silence, but the words weren't all the way there. Daryl got the drift though.
"We've all been there."
"After last night, well, after everything, we're going to stay another day or two to rest and recover. Even Abe isn't fighting me about it. Are you sure you and Beth don't want to stay with us until we all go?"
It was an enticing offer. Daryl knew Beth could use another day. Hell, he could use another one to start out totally rested, but the instinct was too overwhelming to fight. There were too many gunshots last night. More walkers could've heard. More people. They could be on their way. It was a reality Rick knew and accepted but he couldn't.
"We can't. I can't. Rick...I left her as bait last night. I know there was no choice, but I can't...I won't let that happen again."
Rick nodded, understanding. Daryl wondered if Rick wished he were free of the group, the responsibility he felt towards them, leading them, so he could make decisions for himself and his family.
"Come with us." He had offered Rick before, but it he hadn't asked.
He knew what the answer was gonna be. Rick was still driven by duty, no matter how misguided, but the fact that he hesitated and was clearly not content with the answer he was forced to give meant something. It meant it wasn't a rejection.
"I want to, but it seems like we're on separate paths."
"You keep that map, Rick. Things go south or you change your mind, you know where to find us."
Goodbye was getting even closer. The whole herd of 'em, Beth and all the rest, made their way out onto the front lawn.
"Hmmph," Rick chuckled softly.
"Beth and your motorcycle."
Daryl looked over, watching her and Carl trying to figure out how to secure the saddlebags on the back of the bike. They were failing epically. It was enough to make him grin.
"I would've given anything to see you pull up in front of Hershel's house, come to take his Beth away on a motorcycle."
"Pfft..." As much as he knew that would've never happened, it was an amusing thought. "I would've gotten an ass full of buckshot running from Hershel and his shotgun. Wouldn't even have made it to the porch. Hershel, for a man of peace, he sure did like that shotgun. He was a tough som'bitch."
"Yes he was." They were both smiling now, nodding in agreement. "Beth, she's tough too."
It wasn't the first time Rick said that, but everybody seemed to be noticing now, that Beth was strong.
"Truth is, I wouldn't have made it within a mile of Beth before..."
"That was then, Daryl. Hershel, he would've been okay with this, with you and Beth. Maybe not happy to lose his daughter. I don't think any father can be prepared for that, but knowing she had you..." Rick wasn't just saying it. Something in his voice said he believed it.
"I know..." He surprised himself with that, but deep down, despite all his guilt and self doubt, Daryl knew Hershel would've accepted him.
He and Hershel, they'd been good. And if it was what Beth wanted, he wouldn't have stood in the way. Above anything, Hershel wanted his daughters safe and alive. In any other reality, he may have been the last on Hershel's list for what he wanted for Beth, but now, things were different.
"Phhh..." Shit, he didn't actually mean to sigh out loud.
Of course Rick heard.
"Yeah...it's just Beth. Me and Beth. I..." Wow, this was hard to cop to, but it was Rick. He'd helped him through some of the most private things with Beth he could ever imagine. No reason to hold back now...this wasn't even delicate. "I don't know what happens now. I've never been here before."
Making eye contact with the ground, if anyone saw his eyes, they'd be able to see his weakness, his concern.
"You just love her and protect her the best you can. That's all any of us really have to offer."
So, that was the grand extent of advice that Rick had to give him? Just proved that these kind of things...relationships...were a damned mystery to all men. And Rick, he was in the advanced class. He'd been there, done that all before.
"That's the easy part. Those things just seem like instinct. It's all the rest I don't know shit about. And Beth, she still won't even talk to me about..." Daryl dug his toe into the ground, kicking the dirt loose, trying to avoid but still needing to hear what Rick had to say.
It was Rick's turn to sigh now, trying to come up with the right words. Even though it couldn't ever touch Rick as deeply or personally as it did him, it tore Rick too.
"Look at her Daryl." He did, watching Beth move among the others, kind words and farewells to each and every person who didn't give a shit whether she lived or died. And after every one, she was glancing over her shoulder back to him. "See how she looks at you? That's how every man wants to be looked at, how every man wants his woman to see him, the way Beth sees you."
Daryl shook his head, still not understanding how Beth could see him any way after his failures.
"No, don't shake your head. What happened to Beth, none of it's changing how she sees you or what she feels, She might never talk about any of it, but you can't let it change how you see her...how you see yourself."
He was trying...trying to accept it, nodding right as Beth made her approach. She wanted to say her goodbyes too, and he'd been monopolizing Rick. This was it...goodbye. They were past shaking hands; that didn't even cross his mind, going in for a real hug.
"You're my brother..." Daryl repeated Rick's own words to him.
Rick's eyes, when he pulled away, they were watery, and dammit all to hell anyway, so where his. Beth saw it in his face. She saw the emotion in his eyes when he turned towards her, but he was okay with that. She wasn't gonna judge him for it.
"I couldn't...Carl and I couldn't figure out how to get the bags secured..." Her voice was soft and full of inflection like she wanted to comfort him but knew she couldn't...not now, so she tried to let her voice soothe him if not her words.
"I got it, don't worry..." Daryl touched her softly on the shoulder as he passed, leaving her to Rick.
He kissed Judith on the head and addressed Carl like the man he was becoming.
"Take care of Lil' Asskicker. And watch out for your dad. Make sure if things get tough, you remind him he knows where we'll be." Carl acknowledged, all stern and solemn.
He was gonna be one hell of a fighter when he grew up.
"And you watch out for Beth." Daryl looked back, watching her go to her tiptoes to kiss Rick on the cheek. "You break her heart, I'll break your face."
There was some lightness in the kid's voice, but mostly, he was fucking serious. Daryl raised an eyebrow, the thing that spread across his face somewhere in between a grin and a scowl.
"Got it." He decided to let Carl have this one, let him fill the boots of the protector. The world needed more of those.
A nod to Michonne and Tyreese, a handshake for Bob, Bob helped save Beth after all, that was the extent of his goodbyes. They didn't expect any more of him, Bob, Michonne, and Tyreese. He'd never been the touchy-feely type. And the rest of 'em, he didn't give a fuck what they thought. He gave Beth a few minutes, busying himself tying down the saddlebags, flipping down the passenger foot pegs for her, but he couldn't wait forever. Straddling his bike, looking back, seeing her embrace Maggie, Maggie having a hard time letting go, Daryl called out to her.
"Beth, come on. We gotta go."
We gotta go, Beth. We gotta go.
That's what he said to her when they ran...the words that started everything. And here they were. They didn't have a choice then. And Beth, she really didn't have a choice now. When she pulled away from Maggie, Daryl braced himself to see her tear stained face. There had been so many tears, enough sadness and fear to fill a hundred lifetimes. He would give anything just to keep her safe and happy. But as she got closer, he saw there were no tears. She wasn't crying. That's when he realized Beth wasn't leaving with him because it was her only choice, to survive, but because this was it. This was them. Beth made the choice she wanted, and that choice was him. She was smiling...a soft, almost shy smile just for him. When she stopped by the bike, her smile shifted a bit, she went a little nervous, but that had nothing to do with leaving, it had to do with riding.
Beth was scared, she'd told him...never been on a bike before.
"What...what do I do?" Her voice trembled a little, and for some strange reason, her nervousness made him feel so alive.
It wasn't nervousness because there was the fear of death. Beth was feeling something besides fear and pain; she wasn't numb, she was feeling. And it was all new...so beautiful.
"Feet there and there when you're seated," pointing out the foot pegs. "Get on."
Daryl extended his arm so she could steady herself crossing over behind him. Hearing the engine rumble to life, feeling the vibration between his legs, Beth holding him tight...it was all how it should be. Taking off, Daryl had no desire to look back. Everything was forward...the open road, life, and no regrets from here on out.