Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 3: Haunted
~Author's Note: Hey guys, here is chapter 3. It's a little dark...at least for my writing...I hope not too much though! Thanks for everyone who is reading, and I hope you enjoy!~
Daryl clenched his eyes tight as he became aware of the sun shining in on his face. The familiar sting caused by squinting with black eyes and the painful sensation the sun caused with the added sensitivity of the injury threw him into reality. The pain was strange though, not so acute and vivid...more removed, more of a distant ache. He couldn't really put his finger on it. He turned away from the sun, reaching up and gently rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. When he was finally able to open them, he reached out an let his hand brush across the soft white sheet covering the empty space on the other side of the bed. It was empty, very empty, but there were noises from the other room.
Daryl stopped, still and silent, in the hallway.
"Merle?" Was this right?
"Hey there baby brother! Finally decided to make an appearance...ain't much of an appearance though! You're a fucking mess!"
Merle was just as loud and obnoxious as ever. Daryl was keenly aware of his black eyes, and he glanced down at his hands, his knuckles a bloody, broken mess.
"Yeah, well, you should see the other guys," Daryl defended himself, but he shouldn't have to in his own house.
Daryl looked around, the clean white walls, the pretty curtains in the windows, the wild flowers in the pitcher on the sideboard, the intricate lace table cloth. He'd never had anything nice in his life. But he took a seat at the head of the table like it was his right, his habit.
"I hope so! Ain't no reason you should come out lookin' like this...a beaten, battered mess! I'd think nobody taught you how to fight, but we both know that ain't true!"
Merle was right. The one good thing Merle'd taught him was how to fight...how to win.
"There were a lot of 'em." Maybe he would never get out of the habit of feeling shitty about himself, having to explain himself and his failings to Merle. He'd never be good enough.
But he was, wasn't he?
You got to stay who you are, not who you were.
Where was that from?
"Well, there better have been." Merle just had to have the last word.
Daryl watched as Merle's fork picked up a whole pancake dripping with syrup.
"You could use your knife," Daryl challenged, why he didn't know.
"Well look at you! All hoity-toity Mr. Manners now you got all these pretty things 'round you." Merle dropped his fork and the pancake, the fork clattering against the edge of the plate."You forget the world's an ugly place?" Merle challenged.
"I ain't forgot nothin'!" Daryl wasn't gonna back down.
"Well maybe you forgot ol' Merle's only got one hand since your brother Rick left me handcuffed up on that roof like an animal." Merle was still bitter. He probably had a right to be.
"I looked for you."
"You didn't look hard enough. Luckily I was strong enough to make it on my own." Merle dismissed his bitterness quickly enough. He was right. Merle was strong enough to make it on his own, but not everyone was. "Well, if you want me to be all fancy Mr. Manners, either you're gonna have to cut my food for me, or better yet, get the lady of the house to feed me, mmm-hmmm..."
"That ain't never gonna happen!" Daryl snapped, standing in challenge. Merle'd crossed the line!
"Sit your ass down little brother. I ain't gonna touch what's yours." Merle cut at his food with his fork. At least he was making an effort. "Anyway, I like my women dangerous. Little Goldilocks is too sweet for me...sweet as sugar...probably just right for you. You always were the sweet one!"
Daryl could see a picture of her now...so clear and vivid. She was sitting at the piano, watching him layin' in the casket.
Why don't you go ahead and play some more? Keep singing.
I thought my singing annoyed you?
There ain't no jukebox, so...
...and we'll buy a beer to shotgun, we'll lay on the lawn and we'll be good now, I'm laughing at my boredom and my string of failed attempts...
He'd watched her, contemplated her, couldn't take his eyes off her. It was all so vivid...yet it was surreal. It had to be a dream, right? It certainly couldn't be a memory from his fucked up life. But he could still hear her singing...
"Well, she doesn't look like she's got too much bedtime experience. Traditional is probably all she can handle, and that's all you got, baby brother! Sweet as sugar, my baby brother and his innocent little doll of a girl. Vanilla sex is all y'all are ready for!" Merle continued to shoot his mouth off.
Daryl should've called him on it, but he was drawn by more important thoughts. Things he still couldn't comprehend.
"Where's Beth?" It hurt to ask.
"She's just gone." The words came out of Merle's mouth, but they were his words.
"She's just gone," Daryl repeated.
"What in the hell are you doin' here Daryl?" Merle went totally serious on him, setting his fork aside and staring him down.
"We're just tryin' to stay alive..." It was the essential truth.
"We're or you're?" Merle questioned, and Daryl just didn't see the difference. "Hell, I can see you're tryin' to stay alive. You're surviving, but you sure ain't livin'!"
"I'm tryin'. I just ain't good enough. I wasn't good enough. I couldn't...I wanna live, but she's gone." Daryl could hear the desperation in his voice. "Surviving's all I got."
"So...you failed and you're just gonna sit around in your pretty little house feelin' sorry for yourself? Shit, do I need to come down there and give you a good kick in the balls to remind you you've still got 'em you whiney bastard!" Well, at least Merle was trying to motivate him!
"What am I supposed to do?"
"Get off your ass, be a fucking man, and go after your woman!" Merle shouted.
"She's not my woman..."
"Shit little brother...you never could lie to me, ain't gonna start now...I know the truth!"
"You don't know nothin'!" Daryl didn't know why he was fighting so hard...maybe if he accepted the truth, it would hurt more.
"I know everything. I'm dead and gone. I live up here, and so does the truth." Merle took his finger and tapped the side of his head three times, apparently to make sure he got his point across. "Don't try to lie to yourself. There ain't no reason to."
"She's gone. What if I can't find her?" Merle was dead; why was he even asking? Where would an answer even come from?
"You satisfied sittin' here, pondering on all your 'what ifs'...that make you feel like a man? Somebody stole her from you! You just gonna let that stand?"
"What if she's dead..." The thought felt like a bolt through his heart...the thing he feared the most...Beth dead.
"Pfft! She ain't dead. Weren't no walkers that kidnapped her. It was people. Pretty little young thing like that, so full of life, so many other things they could do with her before they kill her. And I promise you, they didn't steal her to take her to a fucking tea party!"
"Shut up Merle!" Merle's words hit him hard because he knew they were true.
"You're sittin' here, doing nothin' when you should be fighting to get back what's yours. If you love her, you should fight till you bleed out to get her back!"
"There's no one to fight, Merle! I don't know where she is!"
"How many times do you think they're gonna rape her? How many men are gonna take what you love before you even have a chance to be with her? Their gonna fuck her until she has no fight left, until the light leaves her eyes, until there's nothin' but a shell of who she used to be. All because you're too afraid!"
"I ain't afraid of nothin'!" Daryl yelled. He was losing it. He wanted to beat Merle to a bloody pulp, but for some reason, he couldn't move.
"We all know that ain't true. You're afraid, maybe not of pain or dying, but you're afraid. Afraid of being alone, afraid of not being good enough, afraid of losing Beth." Daryl wasn't sure if the words were coming from Merle, if they were just in his head, or if both were the same thing...but they were true.
"What am I supposed to do?" Daryl felt defeated. He was defeated. And he was asking Merle for advice...
"You're supposed to get your ass out there and fight! Ain't nothin' worth havin' in life that you don't have to fight for, especially now. You fight just like I taught you all your life. You fight hard, you fight dirty, you fight ugly, but you fight! You get that girl, you kill anyone who hurt her, touched her, or even looked at her. You protect her with your life no matter what, and you never let her outta your sight again!"
"What if she doesn't want me?" God...how did that even come into the conversation? It had absolutely no bearing on Beth's situation or whether or not he should try to find her.
Merle raised his eyebrows at Daryl. He could see Merle's jaw clenching.
"Do I need to get my ass up and come down there to beat you bloody until you get some sense knocked back in that head of yours?" Merle was furious. How was it, in this moment, that Merle was the best part of him? "Are you actually tellin' me that she's not worth saving if she doesn't want you?"
"That's not what I meant...you're gettin' me all wrong Merle...jumping to conclusions like you always do!" Daryl defended himself, taking up his own case.
"I better be gettin' you wrong 'cause little Blondie deserves better than that!" Merle growled.
Was Merle actually defending someone else, someone he wasn't related to? But Merle was dead, so he must be defending Beth to himself...or was it all real? Daryl just needed some anchor in reality!
"I just mean...what if I get her back, and I'm not good enough?" It all boiled down to his biggest insecurity.
"You go out there, you fight for her, you bleed for her if you have to. You give Beth her life back, and you make her love you." Merle was at his side and put his hand on his shoulder. This was the best brotherly advice Merle had ever given him. "You're good enough. Always have been, you just didn't know it, and I never told you."
Daryl was in the doorway of the bedroom. Beth was laying in a bed of blood...everything was dark. She wasn't moving. She was dead.
"She was mine..."
Daryl couldn't move. He couldn't breathe.
Joe's voice was suddenly in his head...
So I laid out some rules of the road to keep things from going Darwin every couple hours, keep our merry band together and stress-free. All you gotta do is claim. That's how you mark your territory, your prey, your bed at night. One word, claimed.
I ain't claiming nothing!
Daryl regretted saying those words, even though Beth hadn't been there...there'd been nothin' to claim, nothing he wanted more than her. He'd refused to play their game, and now...this was his punishment.
He saw them then, Joe and Len, standing over Beth's body like two demons.
"She was mine..." Daryl's words barely came out.
"Sorry. You knew the rule. You didn't claim her," Joe stated as a matter of fact, void of emotion.
"I didn't have a chance..." It was coming...he was going to break.
"That's the little bitch had you all messed up in the head? I told you the little 'uns never lasted long." Len laughed. Daryl should've killed him in the woods. Didn't matter that Joe was there to stop him; he should've slit both their throats! But now, it was too late...but they were dead?! "Well, she sure was sweet though. I guess I can understand now."
No...not Beth...she didn't deserve this...
"Yep, a few of us, we claimed her, but you can claim what's left if you want it," Joe finished, laughing.
They were both gone when Daryl opened his eyes, just him and Beth...and she wasn't dead yet. She reached out to him, her arm quivering, falling quickly back to the bed in exertion. He went to her, pulled Beth into his lap, held her close. He could feel his tears burning down his cheeks.
"Beth...you're gonna be...okay..." He lied. She knew it. He knew it, but it was all he had. At least he could be with her, hold her so she wouldn't die alone. How was that the only thing he could give her?
Beth reached up and touched his face. He could feel the warm blood smeared on his cheek cooling quickly on his skin. Her blue eyes were grey now as the life started to fade from them.
"Last man standing..." Why did she have to say that? Was that going to be his curse...losing everyone he cared about...the one person he...
It was now or never.
"Beth, I love you!"
Her eyes lit up for a brief moment, sparkling, before they became heavy and closed one last time.
"No! No...no...no...no...Beth, no!"
Daryl shook her frantically, her tangled blonde hair wrapping around her serene face. She died knowing he loved her...but that wasn't enough! He'd failed her again. And Daryl was left with nothing. He cradled Beth in his arms, gently rocking her as his tears continued to burn hot tracks down his cheeks. He brushed her bloody hair away from her face so he could see her, remember her. He'd always seen her inner light, her beautiful soul, but she was beautiful too. Her skin grew cold, icy to his touch. She was so pale...was she this pale in life...it was like he was already starting to forget...how could he forget? In his arms, Beth looked like an angel...ethereal...truth was, she never belonged in this world full of pain and darkness...but that didn't make it hurt any less...make his pain go away...the knowledge that she'd escaped. Beth was his! She belonged beside him. With him...and they took her away...stole her...his one chance at...everything...
Daryl wanted to scream, break something, kill someone, he needed to feel pain...anything but the loss...but this was Beth. Gentle Beth, full of light and life. She wouldn't want to have passed in anger and violence. Daryl held her in death as he'd wanted to hold her in life...but then, it had to be done. He couldn't bear watching Beth turn. He pulled out his knife, slowly, carefully, so she wouldn't notice...she might be dead, but he had to be gentle. He didn't have it in him to hurt her. Daryl's hand trembled against the grip.
"I'm so sorry, Beth..."