Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 30: Purify
Too much rebound and too much compression. He knew that's what was wrong, but how much was just right? Daryl was in unfamiliar territory trying to adjust the bike's suspension taking into consideration two riders. Everything was different now. The bike needed to ride smoother, take the hard road better, and for Beth's sake, it definitely had to feel like they had better traction, better contact with the road so she could feel it under them. She was nervous enough as it was.
"Son of a...ummm..." The wrench clanged against the bike then fell to the dirt.
Daryl had to back off before he threw the bike down on the ground. Damned thing was almost as bad as the walkers, trying to chew him to pieces. He planted his ass on the grass, sucking at the new gashes across the tops of his fingers. Just trying to adjust a fucking motorcycle, trying to make it a smoother ride for Beth, and this was how the world thanked him? Fuck yeah....but he kinda knew that all along, that the universe was gonna check him on every move he made. But it didn't matter.
Ain't nothin' worth having in life that you don't have to fight for, bleed for...
And this, well, he was just being dramatic. He knew bikes; it was just frustrating knowing that if he had the right tools instead of having to make do with the rusted pieces of shit he found in the back shed, his job would be done. Normally, he liked working on motorcycles, but he might've been just a little bit cranky 'cause of too much sleep. He and Beth, they hadn't made it off the floor last night after his little shake down breakdown about his first real black eye and corresponding daddy issues. Daryl woke up, stiff as a board, propped up against the couch, Beth's head resting in his lap. He carried her to bed where she belonged...not on the floor...tucking her in all nice and warm. She was so lost in sleep that she didn't know the world still existed around her. It was the least he could do for her after falling asleep without even securing the house for the night. Sloppy and dangerous. But the light of morning came all the same...in his case, the light of very late morning by the looks of it when he first opened his eyes, and they were both still alive.
Daryl was feeling it though, the effects of too much sleep. He might've needed a solid eight hours, but a solid sixteen plus...hell, their world barely allowed for that solid eight straight through on the rarest occasion. Taking a break from the motorcycle though, just sittin' there in the yard on a cool sunny day, Daryl had time to think about just the good things, and these kind of moments were few and far between in his life.
You're a good man Daryl Dixon, and I love you.
She said it. It wasn't the first time, but then...it was. This I love you wasn't a reply; it was the first time Beth said it to him. It was the first time a woman told him she loved him. Well, his mom, she said she loved him when he was little, but she was instinctually programmed to love him. Beth...Beth just loved him. There was something about a woman's love...Beth's love...that made Daryl feel whole.
And it wasn't just about that...her sayin' it. Daryl accepted Beth's love the first time she said it back to him, but now, he was actually starting to feel like he might deserve her love. He might not be the kind of man she deserved, could work a hundred years at it and still never be good enough. He wasn't the kind of man she deserved, but maybe now those stereotypes...that kind of man he was or wasn't...didn't matter anymore. He believed in her, fought for her, God knows he loved her, there was never a question there. Beth chose him...and he...he deserved love...a love that didn't care about his past, a love that saw he had worth, a love that could beat the odds, make Beth choose to fight to live when there had been so little hope. This love made him believe when before Beth, he didn't believe in anything for himself. It was hard fought and won; he deserved it...deserved to feel. This time around...this time loving Beth wasn't gonna turn him into a simpering idiot almost getting Beth killed 'cause he got stars in his eyes, hadn't learned to use his words, and lost his wits. No, he changed. Wasn't hiding nothing from himself or anyone else anymore.
Daryl's not dangerous to Beth...he's dangerous because of her.
Rick saw that, and it was the most accurate thing anyone had ever said about him. Beth made him possessively protective. Abraham could attest to that, tasted his violence first hand on several occasions. And Gareth's people out on their moonlight stroll in the woods, they wouldn't be attesting to nothin'. His brutality had been fatal.
It was a quiet day. Was this what it felt like to be normal? Sitting in the yard, working on a motorcycle, girl he loved in the house who would eventually come after him if he stayed away too long. If this was normal, it was one of the most beautiful things he could ever imagine.
You're a good man Daryl Dixon...that was who he wanted to be.
"Mmm...what time is it?" Sitting up, Beth wasn't feeling the least bit groggy. Sore, stiff...at least from the waist up, Daryl had worked magic on her legs...but not sleepy.
She'd woken because she could feel him sitting at the edge of the bed watching her. Bed? She didn't remember going to bed, but from the light that was able to pass through the boarded up windows and curtains, well, it was still light out. She barely slept at all.
"Just a little before sunset. I didn't wanna wake you up, but I got something for you."
Daryl had something for her? That peaked her interest, but first things first. Just before sunset. Night was coming.
"Do you need any help securing anything before it gets dark?" Beth offered.
"I took care of all that today while you were resting."
"We just got here today?"
Daryl smiled at her softly. "It's tomorrow now."
It wasn't today anymore...it was tomorrow...now...that meant almost twenty-four hours. Twenty-four hours of sleep, a whole day lost...so much time gone.
"Daryl...you shouldn't have let me..." She was passed out an entire day while Daryl was left alone to deal with what was out there.
He didn't let her finish with her insecurities.
"It's what you need, what you're supposed to be doing. And a solid day's sleep, don't tell me it don't feel amazing."
Well, Beth couldn't argue with that. There had been no worry, no danger, no fear, no nightmares, no pain. And she did feel amazing.
"What about you?" There was still that, the guilt of leaving Daryl to bear the burden of everything.
"Sleep? Yeah...I slept more than I've slept in weeks."
He did look rested despite the black eyes. Those always made him look tired. But that wasn't what she meant.
"No...today...you had to do everything alone."
"I had a good day, Beth. Worked on my bike, hunted a little. There were so many squirrels at the edge of the yard just asking to be dinner. Worked on securing the place. It was a good day." Daryl's voice spoke nothing but contentment.
Contentment was such a rare commodity now. And the way he was looking at her...
"But you gotta come with me now. The something I have for you ain't gonna last forever."
Now Beth was really intrigued, especially with the little grin on his face.
The water was so hot that the mirror in the bathroom was steamed over when Daryl opened the door for her. It was a surprise she couldn't even imagine, wouldn't even think of with everything else that had been weighing on her mind...a bath. She couldn't remember the last time she had a real bath.
"Thank you..." All of a sudden, Beth didn't have the words to accurately express how much she needed this. Maybe the words didn't even exist.
"It ain't nothing. There's a well pump out back, needed to burn some stuff anyway. It wasn't no big deal boiling some water." Despite minimizing his effort, she knew Daryl put a lot of thought into it, and it was a gesture from the heart. "Just be careful. Make sure it's not too hot. Don't want you to scald yourself."
She really considered it seriously for a few seconds, offering the bath to Daryl with her. It was a huge step, but after everything, all the pain, fear, uncertainty, Beth, despite her inexperience and insecurities, wanted to move forward. As big as this step would have been for them, it would have still just been a bath, nothing more. In the end, she didn't make that offer, not because of her own fear or anxiety, but because of Daryl. She asked him to sleep by her, just sleep with her in the same bed, and he rejected her because he had been afraid to hurt her and the bigger reason he came to confess, because he'd never slept beside a woman before. This...a bath...was something much more intimate than sleeping in the same bed, and she wasn't going to push that on Daryl...make him feel uncomfortable. There was no doubt whatsoever that Daryl wanted to share this life with her, but Beth knew that it was going to need to be Daryl who took them there and made the first move. With the offer fading from her lips, she still had it in her to be thoughtful.
"What about you...are you going to have a bath?"
"Nah. I've got some warm water in the kitchen. I'll get cleaned up after I get the squirrels cooked out back. You take your time. Enjoy." Daryl's face told her that he would take more from her pleasure than from having a bath himself.
Beth squeezed her eyes together, lips pressed tight as she pulled the bandage off her back. The adhesive tape fought her, ripping at her skin, refusing to let go until she finally just tore it away, the tracks it left stinging in the moist, warm air. Dipping her foot in the tub, the water was still too hot, but Beth wasn't willing to wait another second to be engulfed in its purifying embrace, sliding in and breathing deep, waiting for the piercing pain of the heat to subside. It wasn't long before her body adjusted, her skin accepting the excessive warmth as soothing instead of stinging. Letting her head slip under the water, wet ropes of her hair tangling around her face and arms, Beth stayed beneath the surface until she couldn't hold her breath for a second longer. Emerging from the water, sucking in a deep breath, Beth felt a little more human again. She allowed herself to just relax, resting her head against the back of the tub staring at absolutely nothing. The flickering flame from the camping lantern dancing against the walls in the small, windowless room almost provided the same ambience as candles.
But that calm...that serenity didn't last for long. Watching the water spill from between her fingers...the water, it was as brown and murky as an unsettled river, tinted with the blood it washed from her body. Tara's blood, her blood, some of Daryl's blood she was sure, but the blood that really mattered, the blood that stained her was the blood of the men she had killed. Beth examined her hands close, seeing all the gore...blood dried solid in the creases of her knuckles, crusted thick between her fingers, layers caked under her nails. Grabbing the scrub brush from the bath basket, she went to work ridding herself of the evidence of her kills.
It was the worst decision, wiping the fog away from the mirror. She barely recognized the person looking back at her. Swollen, busted lip, all black and blue, bruises of every stage of healing painted her face like camouflage. Stepping back, running her hands down her bare sides, at least those bruises weren't so gruesome anymore. They weren't fading all that much...wouldn't be going away any time soon, but they were starting to heal. And the pain on the inside, it was still there, the ache even deeper from her first motorcycle adventure with Daryl, but it was just that, an ache. Beth couldn't say if it was because she was actually healing or if she was just getting so used to living in pain; she had never been hurt so severely before and had nothing to compare it to. Only time would really tell. Time...
If seeing herself in the mirror, really looking for the first time since...if that wasn't bad enough, Beth needed to see the worst of it, turning around, standing on her tiptoes, hand smoothing gently over the cuts on her naked back.
One cut for each night you deny your place beside me. You will remember.
He'd been right, she would never forget that horror, but she had fought.
Ten nights...nine cuts...no mark the first night...
That had been Beth's reality...the way she kept track, held on to what little she had left. Seeing them for the first time, she couldn't really say what she expected, but seeing her smooth, white back carved up, it was everything and nothing she expected. It didn't matter that the slices were neat and uniform and so precisely inflicted...maybe that made them worse because there was such cruel and methodical intent behind them. If they had been vertical and across instead of horizontal and down the side of her back, Beth would have resembled the walls inside the cells at the prison, marks dug deep in the concrete walls to indicate the slow passage of days. It was enough. She'd seen enough of her current reflection to last a lifetime. Turning away from the mirror, catching one final glance of herself, Beth couldn't help wonder who she was anymore.
Slipping through the hallway wrapped in a clean white towel...Beth refused to put bloody clothes back on...she thought she would go unnoticed, but Daryl, he caught her in his sights from the kitchen. Something stopped her, made her freeze, digging her toes into the carpet, eyes locked on him. He broke the contact, looking down quickly like he just realized she was only wearing a towel, but then, when she didn't move or shy away, he lifted his eyes. The way he looked at her...it broker her heart. It was like when he saw her, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen in his life, but Daryl deserved better than the broken creature she was. Beth just wished she could see herself through Daryl's eyes. A sudden sob wracked her body, and she retreated back to the bedroom, rummaging through their bag frantically for fresh clothes, knowing that Daryl would soon be at the door to check on her. He couldn't see the scars; it was bad enough he knew.
And Beth, everything that happened to you matters 'cause I wasn't able to stop it...nothing that happened makes me think you're flawed...damaged...'cause I love you. That's what he said to her after Rick told him about everything including the cuts, and she knew, despite what Daryl said, that her being scarred killed him. When he had said it, he was holding her close, tight to his chest, and she could feel the tension, the emotion he was holding in his core...trying to hold it together. Her scars, they would always be a reminder of the guilt he felt. He thought everything that happened was his fault. How could she force him to live with that?
By the time Daryl knocked on the door, Beth had found a place on the floor on the far side of the bed, finding comfort in the small dark space, knees drawn up, head buried in her thighs, ribs aching from the force of folding herself into a small ball. Daryl found light in her, life, hope...that was...those were the things that made him love her, made him believe. This...it was supposed to be their new start, but how could she ever be those things for him. She was full of darkness now, death...she'd killed...and scars. When they left together, Beth was so happy and hopeful, thinking she had everything under control...her emotions, but somehow now, it was all rushing back to her. He knocked just that once, didn't wait for a reply to come to her, setting the lantern on the night stand on the far side of the bed before she could sense him in front of her...so near.
She wasn't looking up; she couldn't. And poor Daryl, what she was putting him through...Daryl wasn't so great at handling emotions on a good day. He definitely wasn't equipped to handle all her emotional breakdowns, but still he tried.
He moved closer, and just Daryl saying her name, it broke her down, knowing she was too scarred to be the Beth he fell in love with. He wrested one of her hands free from where it wrapped around her legs, stroking it, but he stopped like he was distracted...noticed something.
"What happened to your hands?" His whisper soft question made her raise her head.
There were tears threatening to fall from the corners of her eyes, but that question...that question and her answer made her suddenly feel numb. Looking down, she saw just how red and raw her hands were.
"There was so much blood on them."
The blood...the blood that had been there, she'd washed that away, every last speck of it, but most of it, most of the blood on her hands, she couldn't ever scrub away, even is she peeled the layers of skin back until her own blood flowed. It would be there forever. She had killed.
"Come on, Beth."
She had no desire to move off her spot on the floor, but Daryl wasn't giving her a choice, pulling her to her feet and guiding her to the side of the bed. He rummaged through the drawers until he came up with a small bottle of lotion, going to his knees at her feet, warming the lotion in his palms. Daryl was lost; Beth knew that. He didn't know what to say, so he was doing the only thing he could think to do, provide physical comfort. He was still so new to touch, touching her, allowing her to touch him...and his hands were rough, a man's hands, cut, calloused, ripped apart. Beth saw them now, his gauze bandages gone. He'd been washing too. She focused on them, appraising his healing wounds while he worked the lotion into her raw skin, between her fingers, over her knuckles. She knew if she could feel, her hands would be stinging. Even if Daryl was being gentle, his hands would be too rough, but she was numb. He even went as far as to rub the lotion into the fading red welts on her wrists...the marks from where she had been bound. Beth had almost forgotten about those, but Daryl, he didn't. He was affected too.
His fingers gently circled her wrists until he just stopped, looking up at her, sighing...helpless. Daryl Dixon helpless.
"I can't be the only one who talks, Beth. You gotta talk to me..." It was a plea.
Daryl was right. She needed to talk. All of the darkness added up, and she was cracking under its weight. Beth knew it was going to come to this, but knowing it and doing it were two entirely different things.
She was quiet for a while, just trying to think how to start.
"His name was Martin."
As soon as she said it, things weren't magically better, they weren't suddenly all okay, but when the words came out of her mouth, she knew she had the strength to do it.
"Martin is...was the first man I killed."
Daryl sat silently, just listening, looking relieved that she was talking. How much detail did he want? How much did he want to know? Beth had to stop herself from over thinking it. This wasn't about Daryl; it was about her.
"Gareth got there too quick; it seemed like right after you left. He must've been watching, waiting for you to get just out of sight. I was with Tara, staying with her until...until she went. By the time...well, I didn't have the chance to get upstairs with Tyresse, Carl, and Judith before they came through the door."
It was all still so fresh, so vivid. To say she was reliving it was an understatement. The horror...the fear...it was all still with her. There was no time at all for it to fade.
"He checked me for weapons...Martin...then he shoved his hand...up my shirt..." Beth struggled with that, thinking about how helpless she had been to stop him...what could've happened.
Glancing at Daryl, his jaw was tight, so tight it looked like it was about to shatter.
"No...no, he didn't have a chance to...touch me like that. Gareth stopped him," she was quick to reassure, realizing she should've left that part out for Daryl's sake.
Beth had been around Daryl long enough to understand who he was. He was a fighter, but above all, a protector. He protected, especially what he thought was his. Beth knew Daryl thought she was his, not just his friend or family, but his. She knew now that, even if she might have been too silly or naive to realize it then, that's what she became to him that night on the porch after the moonshine. There would be nothing worse for Daryl than another man touching...violating her.
I know you're mine, but I couldn't protect you. I know you're broken, but I don't know how to fix you...That was how he reacted to what happened to her, and Allerton never even got close to...forcing her. She'd fought, had the marks on her back to prove it, but it still broke Daryl. It was best to move on, keep talking before she lost her nerve.
"Gareth just talked to me, tried to break me that way, get inside my head...but after a while, I could see...he was going so dark...couldn't keep up the act...couldn't pretend to be sane anymore. While I was just waiting for whatever was going to happen..." There was no way Beth was going to tell him that she had been planning to grab her knife and take out Gareth, knowing full well it would've been her end. "Tara...she came back. I didn't have time to put her down after she died. Gareth heard the noises. He thought I was hiding someone..."
Her fingers came up of their own volition, touching her tender lip where Gareth split it. She didn't need to describe it to Daryl. He had eyes.
"He sent Martin to take me to see who was hiding. He slammed me against the bedroom door, threatened me...told me what he was going to do to me and that Gareth wouldn't stop him. When I opened the door, everything happened so fast. I know people always say that...but I guess you never really know until you're there. We tripped over Tara. He lost his gun. I grabbed it. Shot him between the eyes. Didn't think. Didn't even blink. And...I didn't even feel..."
Beth hadn't had time to process her kills at all. She had pushed them away, tried to forget, knowing it would come back to haunt her. Now, a few nights later, seeing that blood in the bath, that trigger...it threw her in a dark place. She just needed Daryl...
Please Daryl...please...say something...anything...
"That's just instinct, Beth. That's what happens. Every other part of you shuts down except that need to survive."
A sense of relief washed over herwhen he finally spoke, realizing Daryl was silent as those moments passed just to make sure she was done talking, not because he didn't know what to say. He knew exactly what to say.
"Instinct, whether you're killing walkers or people, in that moment of life or death, it's the same." He spoke like a man beyond his years, but he was. Daryl's whole life prepared him for the world the way it was. He had lived by instinct since day one.
"I didn't feel anything then...when I...I didn't feel. But I feel...I feel it now," voice wavering, trying to hold the emotion back.
"Yeah, it's what comes after that's different, once instinct kicks off, how it...what we did...hits us."
It was like Daryl could read what she needed, coming off the floor to sit by her on the bed, not pulling her close or anything because she needed to see him while he spoke, but being there.
"Dale..." He continued to talk because she wasn't saying anything, continued offering himself up on a silver platter. "Dale was my first. You never forget your first kill..." Daryl's face went tight, and his lips twitched, remembering.
Beth hadn't been out in that field at the farm when Dale died, but she knew the horror of what happened. Daryl dealt the mercy of a quick death, but in doing so, he sacrificed part of his soul. He didn't just remember, he was haunted by it, what he stepped up to do.
"If we're lucky, we get to decide who gets to live. If you have to think about it, it makes it easier to think about who deserves to live instead of who deserves to die. But I'm not gonna lie to you, Beth, some people deserve to die."
It was the truth, and she knew it...thinking about her own conception of right and wrong, the thing she'd realized clinging to Daryl while Rick slaughtered Gareth. Beth knew it then, but for some reason, without Daryl's assurance, she hadn't be able to apply it to herself. Their world was so full of darkness that no one could escape. Everyone had to...she had to decide how to live with it, what she did with it, and who she became because of it. Just because that darkness was there didn't mean that she couldn't hold onto the light, believe that there was hope.
But some people deserved to die.
"Martin deserved to die..." Her voice came out sounding forced because she was still trying to quell all the emotion in her, lacking the inflection it needed to convey that it was something she understood, something she believed rather than something she was questioning.
Daryl didn't say anything for a second, his head bowed, fingers picking at the hole in the thigh of his pants so intently focused on the fraying brown material.
"They were gonna kill us. Me, Rick, Glenn, Bob..." When Daryl looked up, he was looking at her, seeing her, but his eyes...they were seeing something else too...remembering.
"They had us and some other people tied up, on our knees in front of this long trough. They were bashing people in the back of the head with a baseball bat. It didn't kill 'em, just stunned 'em, took all that fight out of 'em so they could slit their throats. All I could do was watchas the blood flowed towards the drain in the trough, slowly leaching closer to me, waiting for it to be my turn. I knew I was dead...nothin' I could do..."
Daryl's voice, it was so haunted. He was with her, right there...but he was so very far away.
"The hardest part...I've never been afraid to die. Well, no, that's not true. I was scared that once, with Merle's janky little dealer, the one who put a gun to my head...I told you about that..." Beth nodded. She would never forget that night...never forget anything Daryl told her. "I was afraid because, then, maybe for the first time, I realized what a waste it all was, my life. My life didn't matter shit, and my death sure in the hell wouldn't matter. But after, when everything fell apart, I never had much reason to be afraid. Like everyone else, I realized I was just livin' on borrowed time. But the thing is, I wanna go out fighting...I wanna go out with meaning. I couldn't even fight for my life; I was just tied up like some stupid animal waiting to be slaughtered."
Her stomach was all queasy, just picturing that horrible fate...and even now, seeing how affected Daryl was by it...
"Worst of all...before this...before you, I knew I was nobody...nothing, but you changed that. I wanted to live for you, and I knew you were alive. If I died...who would go after you...protect you? Didn't matter shit though anyway..." Something stopped Daryl in the middle of his story, shaking his head, refusing to share anymore. "That's what those people where. They deserved to die."
Beth knew what it was. He let go, said too much, more than he planned to. He only wanted to tell her enough to reassure her, answer a question she hadn't really asked...prove Martin deserved to die, but it got too painful for him. That was what did it. That was what broke Beth totally down, not what happened to her, dealing with the aftermath of killing her first...four people. It was the image of Daryl on his knees, just waiting to die, knowing he was scared. The dam holding back her tears broke. She couldn't stop them if she tried, just wiping at them angrily with the back of her hand, feeling for the first time just how raw her skin really was, the salt of her tears burning.
"Come on," Daryl didn't just offer to hold her close, he pulled her into his lap, cradling her against his chest. "Go ahead, Beth, have your cry. You don't gotta be so strong. Not around me."
Beth knew that. Daryl had strength enough to bear the weight of the world on his broad shoulders.
Beth talked. She finally opened up to him about something without him having to pry it outta her. And it was good 'cause it was something he was probably qualified to help get her through. By no means was he happy that she broke down, but he kinda knew it was coming and was glad it happened sooner rather than later. The longer she held onto it, the worse it would've been. He did feel shitty though, the point that actually broke her...him spilling his guts about what went down at Terminus. He never wanted her to know the details about what happened there, and in the end, he'd gone so far off course, telling her how he'd been feeling when it should've been about her. He should've never told her all that. She had enough shit of her own to deal with...but in the end, he needed Beth to know, without a doubt, that the men she killed deserved to die. She'd cried in his arms a good long while, and Daryl didn't try to stop her or calm her 'cause it was what she needed, to get it all out.
"How do you get past it all?" Those had been her first shaky words after the tears ceased, her voice quiet and strained from the effort of purging her sadness.
There was really no concrete answer to that. He'd been fighting that darkness his entire life...maybe not the burden of taking a life, but there was lots of shit that consumed him back then. The thing was, then, he just kept living 'cause there was nothing else to do about it. It was instinct to survive. It became habit. It wasn't until just the past few years-since the shit hit the fan-that there was a reason to survive...his group, his family, the people he cared about, the people who needed him. Then it wasn't until Beth that he really figured out what it was to live, to want to live for that person and want to live for himself. That was just too much to explain though. The simple truth was, there had to be something that made it all worth it...life worth living, and he couldn't tell her what that was for her. She had to know what it was on her own.
"You gotta remember the good...not the bad...like the best thing in your life, the thing you live for. Living's gotta be worth it in the end despite everything else."
The light in the room was so dim, but when she finally looked up at him, Daryl could see just how red and swollen Beth's eyes were from crying.
"Like remembering your first love instead of your first kill?" The way she said it, could she actually mean him...her first love?
"Who was she?" What? "Who was your first love?"
She was so hesitant in asking, so sentimental, that it somehow made what he saw as a ridiculous question all the more sincere. Daryl sometimes forgot Beth was so naive to his world.
"Nobody's ever owned my heart before. I told you it was yours." He took her hand gently, not wanting to hurt the tender skin she'd scrubbed raw, placing it over his heart. Men like him weren't built to fall in love, but Daryl figured out pretty quick with Beth that just made the fall all the harder and the love totally indestructible. There wasn't any choice about it. He would mate for life. "This is a one time deal for me."
Beth believed him, her small hand on his neck drawing him down into a kiss. He could taste the salty tears on her lips.