Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 29: Man Enough to Make a Fist
Well, it was as good a place as any. Beth would've never said nothin', but a couple hours on a bike were wearing on her. He could feel it in the way she gripped him. Not used to riding would've been enough to make anyone a little shaky, but there were other things factoring in for her. And the bike wasn't as smooth as he would've liked it to be...he wasn't used to it, didn't know how it handled neither. He was fine, but it wasn't gonna make it the best experience for Beth. Even though it was just late afternoon and they could still make some miles, it was best not to push. The extra hours would do them more good to rest...her to rest, him...well, just some quiet time. It was enough for the day.
They'd gotten maybe twenty-five miles out, navigating some unfamiliar side streets early on, then the main road wasn't as open...as clear as he had hoped...a significant amount of off-road riding on the easement to avoid jams, a bunch of stop and go to try to figure the best, not necessarily the quickest way around. Twenty-five miles was enough though...enough distance between them and what happened last night, between them and the possibility of being tracked, between them and the rest of the group...all the people Beth...they left behind.
Stopping, just looking around, Daryl scanned the area. It seemed quiet, but then it always did until it wasn't. It was just a little house setting back just a ways from the blacktop at the junction where a country lane met the main road, a pool of gravel at its mouth spilling over onto the pavement. There was nothin' special about the house, and house hunting now meant you could have any sort of house you wanted if you could find it. But curb appeal didn't matter none anymore. There had to be other selling features. What Daryl was seeing, what caught his eye, two points of escape, two roads both leading different directions, tree cover not far away on three sides, and an ordinary chain link fence around the whole perimeter of the yard. Just an ordinary fence, wouldn't take much for people...him and Beth to get over, but it would stall walkers, even a small herd until they all started pushing, long enough that they could get away.
Taking the turn, the bike slid out in the gravel on the asphalt. It wasn't like they were going fast...they weren't gonna eat it. Just skimming his foot down on the road kept it from going over. But Beth, that sudden loss of traction, that feeling of a motorcycle going out from under you, the normal things that kinda worked nice pumping up the adrenaline for experienced riders...it scared her. Beth was glued to his back, hands clasped together in the middle of his chest, even though they were coming to a stop, the bike turned offbefore she could process everything.
"You're okay, Beth."
She held on tight for a few more seconds before she released him so he could stand, brace the bike, and let her dismount.
"Go ahead and get off." She hesitated, not knowing what to do. "Grab my shoulder, keep your foot on the peg, swing your other leg over, like with a horse, just a lot less farther to fall."
"Am I going to tip it? Will it fall over?" Beth gripped his shoulder but didn't make to move.
"Pfft...what, all 110 pounds of you? I think I got it handled." She was so clueless sometimes, but it was endearing.
"I'm heavier than I look, remember?" There was lightness in her voice now, but how in the hell did she remember that?
"Gotta let it go, Beth. Gotta let it go."
In the end, it wasn't as big of a production as she made it out to be, but after he was off, Daryl could see just how shaky she was on her feet.
"Sit down there." Daryl pointed to a little white wrought iron park bench, white paint peeling to show rust, situated under a tree a few yards away. "I'm gonna have a look around, see what I see."
Beth looked like she wanted to say something, wanted to protest about being left behind, but she was smart enough to know that she wasn't gonna be of no help today. Grabbing his bow off the back of the bike, reaching for his knife and gun just to make sure they were where they were supposed to be, Daryl looked to Beth one last time.
It was a relief that it wasn't pretty, wasn't too clean, far from perfect inside, windows boarded up and barred with scrap wood. Places that were too perfect either hid something deep, dark, and sinister or were too fragile to stand strong or offer any real security. Going in quiet, nothing was right up front waiting for him. Flipping his flashlight on, seeing the main room was clear, cluttered but clear...someone had been living in just this room, and that someone...no, that something caught him coming around the corner. Daryl stumbled back, not expecting a walker all up in his face slapping at him with wobbly hands that couldn't grab for some reason. The quarters were too close for his bow; he had to let the flashlight clatter to the floor so he could sink his blade into the side of its head, body thumping heavy on the plank floor as he pulled it free. It wasn't a close call; it had just been a surprise, startling him, and that was good. Kept him on his toes...reminded him. They'd pretty much figured out how to handle walkers without a much of problem.
But now, things were different with it just being him and Beth. Walkers could surprise you when it was just you or you and one other person. Didn't have a whole group watching your back, and Daryl already learned the devastating consequences of letting his guard down when he was with Beth. If he just would've remained vigilant instead of opening that fucking door wide for the walkers, sending her up that road to get kidnapped...where would they have been now if he hadn't have fucked up? Well, it wasn't gonna happen again. Being on the road with Beth, Daryl knew he had what it was going to take to stay alive. His feelings for Beth made him brutal and vicious, more so than he'd ever been...maybe because she returned them. He just had to balance that with being what Beth deserved, turning that aggression off to be the person she loved. It was a hard world that forged hard people, but she made him want to be gentle...at least with her.
Daryl booted the walker off his foot, flipping it on its back, its arms spread wide. He saw the deep slices in its wrists, cut the wrong way, across, but cut so deep it severed the tendons. Wanted to make sure to get the job done and the reason it couldn't catch a hold of him when it was still mobile. Daryl sneered down at it in disgust. It might've been a male when it was alive, but it wasn't a man. He chose to lay down and die rather than fight.
The noise must've woke up whoever else was still in the house, but it was trapped somewhere, banging against whatever was holding it back. Knowing that threat was contained, Daryl cleared the rest of the house, making sure there weren't anymore surprises. At the end of his sweep, he found himself frozen in front of the door down the hall, listening to the scraping and moans coming from the other side. Never blinked an eye at putting down walkers. They weren't people. They weren't alive. He didn't think about their lives before, who they were, what their names were. Daryl ran his hand over the smooth carved wood plaque hanging on the door.
Justin and Jenny.
They were names. He knew what was on the other side of that door, and it was hard. Kids. Kids were the worst. He always wondered what their stories were, who failed them, and that was a fucking impossible thing to get outta your head. Daryl let them out one at a time, took them down as gentle as he could. Putting them down, he didn't want it to be violent...it couldn't. If that was their dad out there, the one who carved his wrists up, did he abandon his kids because he was too much of a coward to fight or had they already turned and he didn't have the strength to put 'em down? Shit, now he was thinking 'bout everyone's stories. That wasn't gonna help nothin'. Daryl ripped the nameplate off the door, tossing it in the bedroom after he cleared it. Beth didn't need to see that, didn't need to know about the little ones. It was enough that he knew. Nothing to do now but take the bodies out and get Beth in.
"I found some Coleman fuel in the shed out back for the camping lanterns. Didn't find much in the way of candles so those will have to do come dark."
Stopping in the doorway, Beth wasn't where he left her on the couch. She was sitting on the floor, boots discarded, bare feet trying to dig into the hardwood under them, rubbing at her calves.
"Yeah...just a little sore."
Her scrunched forehead and tight lips told him that the a little part was a lie.
"Come on, let's find you a bed. You're supposed to be resting, trying to get better."
There was no way he was gonna let her get worse on his watch, especially when her recovery had been so promising...miraculous compared to how she'd been when he found her, as hopeless as he felt carrying her limp body in his arms. They weren't gonna take this second chance for granted. It was everything.
"No...it's not that...well, it's that too...but, I think...I think it's from the motorcycle." Beth said it all self-conscious, like it made her weak.
But that was all part of the deal of riding. Daryl just forgot. It'd been so long for him.
"Hmmph," he laughed a little, remembering.
"What?" That caught Beth's attention, interest peaked in her eyes.
Nothing he was gonna share. Merle taught him to ride before he'd been old enough to have a license...even start thinking about getting one. Learning things from Merle...well, it was always colorful to say the least, and the commentary that came with it was hardly p.c. Not something Beth was gonna hear from him. He'd been stupid enough to tell Merle about being sore after riding.
Quit your bitchin', baby brother. Gettin' sore from riding's almost as sweet as fucking the tightest pussy you've ever had all weekend long. Best burn a man can ever feel. Real men don't complain about the best rides of their life, bikes or bitches...all things you're gonna learn.
Daryl grinned a little, shaking his head at the memory.
"You can't not say it now..." Beth urged, watching him, waiting. She wasn't gonna let it go.
"Merle always said...well..." He was working it out in his head, trying to make it more Beth friendly. But Beth knew Merle, and nothing about what Merle ever said could be considered Beth friendly. He just needed to soften it. "Merle always said the soreness from riding a motorcycle is almost as sweet as...screwing...all weekend long. It's the best burn a man can ever feel. But then, that burn...well, Merle, he got the Clap on occasion, so who knows."
"Ewww...Daryl!" Beth giggled.
He felt stupid for sayin' it, and a little warm...embarrassed, but Beth laughed. It was good...laughter was precious.
Daryl found a place on the floor in front of her.
"Where's it hurt?"
"Here." Beth ran her hands up her calves where she'd been working at 'em. "My thighs...hips."
"Come here," Daryl gestured for her to scoot closer, reaching out and taking her leg.
Her calf was rock hard under his hand. Yep, feeling that now, he remembered the pain. He could hear her sucking air through her teeth when he started applying pressure, Beth trying to pull away when he rubbed deeper, but he held firm.
"We work it out now or leave you in pain and work it out later. Either way, it gets worse before it gets better." He wasn't unsympathetic, just telling her how it was, something he knew.
Beth stopped resisting, her calf trembling in his palm, waiting. He had no idea what in the hell he was doing, not to another person at least. Knew what worked on him, made him feel better when he needed to work himself out. But this was Beth. He needed to use a lighter touch, needed to be a hell of a lot gentler. And talking, that would distract her.
"You'll be sore. It was your first time. You don't need to grip so hard with your legs or thighs."
Well, she wasn't talking, but she was listening to him. Her calves started to relax; he moved up, pressing thumbs firm just below the back of her knees, Beth wincing away again. Daryl let up until she stopped moving.
"You gotta trust me, let me do all the worrying, heaving lifting. Iknow what I'm doin'."
Beth wasn't looking at him when his hands encompassed her thighs, squeezing and rubbing at their tightness. He gentled, trying to make his touch more like he thought a massage would be...but hell if he knew. It probably didn't matter what he did...it was still hurting her, so he just kept talking, trying to distract.
"When we get back out on the road, you just need to loosen up. It won't be as bad as your first long ride, I promise. It gets better from here."
He was tying to talk all sweet and soft to her...something he knew he wasn't all that great at...trying to soothe her, but he was getting all distracted. Her legs...Beth was small, but her legs went on forever. Then, glancing up at her, Beth wasn't just looking away now, she was blushing and avoiding. Daryl stopped, just resting his hands on her thighs, taking note of himself. He'd gone to his knees, Beth pulled close so he could reach her...now he was kneeling between her legs, looming over her. And God dammit...he thought about what he said to her, just talking, not thinking, trying to keep her mind away from the discomfort he was putting her through.
You'll be sore. It was your first time. You don't need to grip so hard with your legs and thighs...You gotta trust me... you just need to loosen up. It won't always be as bad as your first long ride, I promise. It gets better from here.
It didn't get much more fucking suggestive than that. He might as well have pushed her down and said spread your legs even though everything he said came with innocent intent. Daryl put distance between them, falling back to sit on his heels, embarrassed, seeing Beth still blushing away. He'd caused her different kind of discomfort.
But she was so beautiful when she went shy...blushed. After everything the world threw their way...all the shit she'd been through, Beth still possessed an innocence...a purity that even the worst evil in their world couldn't strip her of. Being consumed in his own thoughts, she startled him when he felt her hand against his face. She'd bridged the distance between them, on her knees, close to him again, past whatever she'd been feeling, seeing he was affected. It was the gentlest touch Daryl had ever felt, her finger gliding under his eye, soft smile at her lips.
"I've seen you with so many black eyes I'm starting to forget what you looked like without them."
"Pfft. Yeah, that seems to be my thing." Truth was, Daryl was starting to forget what it felt like not to have black eyes.
And looking at Beth's face, seeing her healing bruises and the new ones forming, he wished he could forget what she looked like beaten. He forced his expression to remain steady. He didn't need Beth getting all self-conscious about him looking at her bruises...busted lip... and remembering what she looked like when he found her.
"When was your first black eye?"
Daryl thought on that. Couldn't even remember.
"I grew up with Merle. It was always me and Merle when I was little, so I was always around his friends. They were bigger, older, played rougher. I always came away with bruises and black eyes."
"No, I mean when was your first..." Beth cut off mid sentence, going all awkward, realizing what she was asking him...what it meant.
When was your first real black eye? was what she was gonna ask. A rite of passage in most men's lives...boys she would've known got their first black eyes at a schoolyard fight or during an aggressive high school basketball game. Beth didn't know much about his past, but she was smart enough to know that that wasn't how this rite of passage played out in his life. She just remembered too late and couldn't take her question back. It was gonna be painful, but Beth, she already knew the worst thing about him. He'd already told her that...You wanna know what I was before all this...I was nobody. Nothing. So, it looked like he was gonna offer up this piece of himself.
"Phhh..." Daryl tried to gather his thoughts, put it all together. "I was...I don't know...maybe 10, a little younger. My old man, he was lit, but that was nothing new. My mom, she was still alive...well, I wouldn't really call it life, but she was breathing."
Beth was still close, not touching him, but close. And she was watching him, taking in his every word. She was so near that it didn't feel like he was baring his soul; he barely had to talk for her to hear. That somehow made it easier.
"My mom was crying. I heard him...my dad...screaming at her before that, but I was still little. Instinct or something...up until that day, when I heard fighting, it made me stay out of the line of fire...hide. But something changed that day."
Daryl knew what changed, but he couldn't share it all with Beth...it was too much. He didn't just hear his mom crying. She started out crying, then she was screaming...and in between the screams...the horrible sounds of fists pounding soft flesh and the cracking of fists crunching bones. Those sounds, those weren't new either. Just never that much before. The thing that changed about it...the thing that changed Daryl...his mom stopped screaming. Everything got so quiet...dead quiet. He had to go to her.
"I remember standing in the door, and my mom, the first thing I saw...the first thing I focused on was her on the floor bleeding. Then I saw my old man shaking out his hand like she hurt him, cussing about what she made him do..."
Beth was looking at him all sad. It wasn't pity. Pity would've killed Daryl. It was just sadness, sadness because of a dark world she never understood existed before...but now, now Beth understood it intimately. She'd been there...and he'd reminded her of it, as if she could forget. It was too late to turn back now.
"I went to her, shook her, tried to get her to wake up. She wasn't much of a mom, but she was my mom..." Choking up, he had to stop for a minute.
"Did...did he kill her?" Beth blurted, all emotional. Looking at her, he saw that she immediately regretted questioning, but it was just something that came out.
"No. She lived a bit longer. It was her wine and cigs that killed her."
It made him sad...talking about his mom dying, didn't know why. It happened a long time ago, but he was choked up already. And Beth, she'd been in the same place his mom had been in; a man beating the life outta her. He realized that was the reason it hit him so hard. He wasn't able to save Beth from it either. She saw, saw he was breaking, reaching out to him. Daryl cast his eyes down, keeping contact with the floor while Beth caressed the back of his hand with gentle fingers, testing the waters before she took it in hers. He squeezed back...squeezed tight.
"He jerked me up off the floor. 'Look at her...see...find yourself stuck with a bitch, gotta learn to keep her in line' he told me. I yanked free. He wasn't expecting me to fight back, but I swung at him. Didn't make contact, but my old man, he did."
It was one of those things that you never forgot. Countless brawls, black eyes, broken bones...none of them, no matter how much worse they'd been...could make Daryl forget that first. The initial shock of it...he didn't really feel pain. The pressure, the brute force...he felt that, his world shattering into a million stars. Then...then when the stars fell outta his vision, he felt it, the throbbing and stinging, his eye pulsating, feeling like it was gonna pop outta its socket. His old man had a big fist, and he'd just been a little kid...the whole side of his face was on fire. Daryl tasted the thick, warm blood choking him, running down the back of his throat like a slow stream of molasses. It burned out of his nose too, dark and red on the back of his hand when he went to wipe it away.
"It wasn't the first time he hit me. It was the first time he hit me with a closed hand...a fist. 'Man enough to make a fist, man enough to take a fist', that's what he said to me. I learned that quick, learned that's what life was...how the world worked. It made me stronger, maybe not in the right way, but it was a lesson...taught me how to survive."
Man enough to make a fist, man enough to take a fist. It was like the redneck version of Live by the sword, die by the sword. A warning and a truth.
Daryl looked down at their hands, saw how tight he was gripping Beth's. Her slender fingers weren't just red, they were turning white now, but she wasn't saying nothin' about him hurting her. When he loosened up, she gave more, taking his chewed up, bandaged hand in both of hers.
"I remember lookin' up at him from the floor, seeing him...maybe really seeing him for the first time...understanding what he was. 'When you're done layin' on your back like a fuckin' bleeder, clean it up...that blood...the mess you and your bitch mom made'..."
That was it...all he had to give. It wasn't the end of the story; it was really just the beginning of everything in his past, but he told her more than he should've...much more than he planned to. Daryl couldn't look at her just yet...wishing he could take it back...all the details about his dad, how he was, what he did. Didn't wanna scare Beth, didn't want her thinking he was anything like his old man. That blood was running through his veins...that violence and brutality too. Maybe now it was something he should be thankful for. Those seemed to be the best things he had to offer, but never towards Beth. Anger, yes...his anger, she'd been on the receiving end of that, but he'd never hurt her. Beth knew what he was capable of from the beginning, long before they ran together, before she started feeling anything for him...she'd known that was part of the package. But he couldn't handle Beth being afraid of him. That would break Daryl.
I'm not my father...that's not me.
He wanted to tell her...needed Beth to know that, but he couldn't get the words out. When he finally lifted his head, she knew...somehow she knew...knew the truth, knew what he wanted to say. She knew him...
"You're a good man, Daryl Dixon, and I love you."