Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 31: With Tired Eyes
~Author's Note: This chapter is a little bit different. There is some contemplative Daryl, but absolutely no darkness, drama, violence, or major sadness. These two just needed a chapter to breathe even though they still have some issues to work out. Thanks as always. You guys are all awesome, and I hope you enjoy.~
Sometimes stillness nurtured the soul. Daryl had always been a solitary creature...well, except for Merle, but still he'd been alone, and that was okay, even after losing Merle that first time. When Merle died, it was a little harder, being alone, losing the last of his blood. But solitude had always been his thing...until Beth. It was odd how just one person could change everything even if they didn't change who you were; they just made you a different version of yourself...better.Solitude was different than stillness, and stillness...this stillness was pretty fucking beautiful. Beth cried a good long while, even after that last kiss, not sobbing, but crying softly, crying herself to sleep. He tried to be the thing she needed. Strong. And now it was just quiet...still, Daryl left to his thoughts. Happy thoughts. Well, the subject of them might not have been so happy, but thinking it, knowing it about himself, knowing he had Beth in his arms where he could protect her, it all made him content.
Telling Beth about instinct, that primal need to survive, that helped her through the realization that she'd killed, and it was all the truth. They were lucky when they got to choose who lived. And that was the whole beauty of it, holding Beth safe to him from here on out...choosing who got to live. Love was the one thing that could override the instinct to live, became an all-powerful instinct in and of itself. With love, Daryl knew that choosing who got to live meant he would choose to die, sacrifice so Beth could live. He'd been close before, but it hadn't come to his life at the funeral parlor. It just wasn't his time, and they'd both made it out alive...not the way he wanted, but sometimes you didn't get that choice. It was probably going to come to that someday; he knew that all along. It wouldn't even be a choice. When Death came for him, he'd look back once to make sure Beth was safe, greet Death like the constant companion he seemed to be, and follow Death into the darkness, smiling, knowing he'd won in the end. That's who he was. That's how it was always meant to be.
Daryl sighed deep, feeling the comfort of Beth's weight against him, curled up between his legs, sleeping against his chest. Cuddling a girl? No, she was doin' the cuddling; he was the one doin' the holding...supporting. And she wasn't just a girl; it was Beth. Leaning in, he breathed in the sweet scent of her freshly washed hair, being bold, taking a length of it in his hand, examining it, just appreciating her. Beth had been in a bad state after her bath. Didn't take the time to comb out her hair or nothin', and now it was dried in long messy waves, the way a man wanted to see his girl waking up beside him in the morning, knowing he was the reason she got that way. Well, at least that was how he imagined a man would feel...it was how he was feeling about Beth and the possibility of that future.
But there would be no waking up beside her in bed in the morning, at least not tomorrow morning, and not for a good long while after that. Even if he was tired, which there was no way...he probably wouldn't sleep for a week after his solid sixteen...there was no way he was gonna be sleeping next to her in bed. Sitting up with her, holding her while she slept, that was a different story. She made that offer to him before they headed out on their own...to sleep beside her, just sleep, and he knew he hurt her by turning her down. At the end, while they were still with the group, he'd thought about taking her up on that offer, but everything was different now. Just the two of them, being alone together...
Before, Beth had the safety blanket of the group. Not that Beth didn't trust him; it was just complicated, and he didn't want her to feel uncomfortable, like she had to rush into anything to keep him. In this world, everything went faster, and it was just continuing to accelerate. Everything...absolutely everything was much more immediate, but there were still things that he couldn't ignore. Beth was young. Young they could work through; he just had to give her the time she deserved. But Beth wasn't just young. He knew she was scared even though she was strong, and she was still so broken. She needed time to heal, inside and out, from all the damage that had been done to her. Daryl didn't want any skewed view she might have on the subject now throwing her into a situation she wasn't ready to handle.
And relationships...that was on him, where he was lacking. Never had one of those...except with Beth, just for this little while. Sure, they'd been alone together before...that's what brought them to where they were. It'd been awkward, made him anxious, all the weird fluttery crap going on in his stomach that he couldn't identify, but nothin' would've ever happened...there'd been nothin' to worry about 'cause he hadn't even been able to tell her what he'd been feeling; barely knew what it was himself. He sure in the hell wasn't gonna jump on her, act on it without telling her. Maybe if he was being honest with himself, looking back, there might've been one moment where something could've happened...he might've let himself get out of hand but would've hated himself for it later. Everything...it all went back to the moonshine. Daryl hadn't been all that drunk, just enough that his inhibitions were gone, and he was loose enough to make stupid decisions...maybe not make decisions, just go with what happened, not thinking about the consequences, which would've been even worse.
We should go inside...
Who knows what would've happened if they did, if Beth would've followed him in. He would've kissed her. That much he knew. Would she have kissed back? Would they have...
But Beth, she had a different idea.
We should burn it down...
Cleansed...purified...Daryl walked away from that burning shack as untainted as he would ever be, following Beth. Those woods had been so dark, but Beth was his flame, his light, guiding him into the future. She was his future; somehow he knew it even then. Didn't know what it held...still didn't, but she was beside him...his constant...his North Star.
But now, now that she knew how he felt, well, Daryl wasn't too good at controlling himself. After Gareth and his hunters, attacking Beth against the door as soon as they got that first moment alone together...he didn't even know to be gentle with her then. Maybe he was just too fucked up...never being in a relationship, the few women he'd fucked, couldn't even remember their names if he knew 'em in the first place. Didn't know how it should work with Beth; he didn't have the instincts for this. And if Beth offered soon, he'd like to think he'd be man enough to say no...man enough to make her wait until he knew she was really ready, but that was something he couldn't even guarantee himself. It didn't give him any confidence in himself, sitting there, holding Beth after her breakdown, that he was even thinking about having her. That's why he had to be careful, had to make good choices. Daryl wanted to be the man Beth saw him as.
Maybe he was so concerned because he was comfortable...comfortable enough with Beth that he wanted everything she was willing to give him. But it all boiled down to the fact that Daryl was willing to wait for Beth forever...as long as she needed. Even if they never got there, even if Beth could never go there with him, he'd love her until the day they put a knife through his skull. Nothing would change the fact that she was his...his love, and maybe that made him good enough.
Beth might be food for the soul, but sitting there in the quiet stillness, listening to her breathing, Daryl's stomach started growling with a vengeance. He forgot just how hungry he was. She should eat something too; he'd cooked fresh meat for the both of them, big fat squirrels plump from their fall foraging, but he didn't have the heart to wake her just to make her eat. Her squirrel would keep 'til morning, and there were plenty more out back where those came from. The squirrels might hold, but he couldn't. If he didn't feed the wild animal tearing at his stomach, there would be no quiet time for anyone. No rest for Beth. But there was a major problem...Beth...she was all over him. Daryl had absolutely no experience disentangling himself from a woman.
Just the slightest shift and Beth grabbed hold of his shirt, clenching tight at the middle of his chest. Freezing, not wanting to make another move that would wake her, even though her holding on might've just been her subconscious at work, Daryl leaned his head back against the headboard, closing his eyes. If this was the worst of his problems, Beth not wanting to let go, everything was all right. But then she breathed deep against him; he didn't realize until he heard her talking that it was a sigh.
"You can go..." So sleepy, barely in their world, but enough to know she was with him.
Beth released her grasp on him, hand going limp against his chest, giving him permission to leave. She didn't make to move off of him, but she didn't fight it when Daryl went to put her down on the bed, pulling the blanket up over her to replace his warmth.
"Are you hungry?"
She already slipped back into the void.
"I'll be back quick, Beth."
He leaned in, kissing her on the forehead, knowing she didn't hear a word he said, but he said it because he meant it, and she deserved to know.
Daryl liked his squirrels nice and greasy. Spring and summer squirrels were leaner and did the job, winter squirrels could be just plain scrawny, but autumn squirrels were the best. That extra layer of fat packed on, it gave that extra little something to satisfy, that little bit he needed to keep going, and it just tasted so damned good. They were still warm too, charred black on the outside, nice and juicy on the inside, grease dripping down his chin, his hands all slippery, smiling, knowing Beth would be side-eyeing him for his lack of table manners if she saw. He wasn't technically at a table though.
What is that?
Pulling back the curtain over the little window above the chipped enamel sink...he couldn't be sure, not from this angle. Needed to go out to take a closer look. He had to take the old wooden screen door that lead out back all nice and easy to keep it from clattering and banging, cursing under his breath when it creaked all the same despite his efforts. Yep, he could see it now, clear through the darkness. Going for his crossbow, the one that wasn't over his shoulder, the one he left beside the bed, he felt as sense of unease wash over him. The threat wasn't imminent, as in it wasn't gonna take him out in the next thirty seconds, but his bow was his security...his comfort. And it was just a fire in the distance, flickering between the tree cover in the woods. Daryl wiped his greasy fingers on his shirt, just staring, contemplating.
But it wasn't just a fire. It was a camp fire out in the woods, maybe a quarter mile, half mile at the most behind the house. A fire meant people. Walkers didn't make fire...didn't need fire, just needed to eat. There was a chance they were good people, but his experience didn't really give him confidence in that possibility. Even if they were good people, that didn't mean shit. The world digressed far enough that now the people who were still alive were operating on the anyone who's not us is a threat principle. Daryl wasn't above that, not anymore when with it being just him and Beth. There might still be good people out there, but he wasn't planning on sticking around to find out. Whoever was out there would probably stay huddled around their fire 'til first light, but probably wasn't something he wanted to bet on. They got spooked by something, headed straight through the woods to the house...Daryl wasn't ready for that kind of house warming party or the possibility that those people out there could draw walkers done on their location.
It would be better for Beth to stay, at least until morning. Running in the middle of the night wasn't gonna do her no good, but it was better than dead. His gut was telling him they needed to go. Having a family...having Beth...meant he had to make hard decisions to keep the both of them safe.
"Beth...you gotta wake up." Daryl stroked her hair gently not wanting to jar her out of sleep. There was no reason to get her all panicky; he just wanted to leave all nice and calm as soon as possible.
Beth stirred, sitting up, rubbing her sleepy eyes with both hands, watching him roll up the extra blanket from the end of the bed and shove their stuff back in the saddlebags.
"What is it?" She wasn't all the way awake, trying to gauge his actions.
He was packing, but not in a hurry, quelling the urgency he felt to keep Beth calm and steady. Perching on the bed beside her, brushing a stray strand of mussed hair out of her eyes, Daryl made himself give her a hint of a smile.
"We just gotta go."
Beth looked up at him with tired eyes. There was no hesitation there, no question in those big blue pools, just complete trust and faith.
Once the engine roared to life under them, whoever was out there in those woods knew they existed, but it was too late to do them any harm. They took off like thieves in the night, stealing away in the darkness.
For three days they ran chased by phantoms Daryl couldn't see and didn't even know existed, but something told him they needed to keep moving, never staying in one place for more than a night. Beth wasn't complaining none, not asking many questions neither, but Daryl knew that all that had to happen was for them to push it just a little too far and she could be in bad shape...sick again...if she was even what they could consider well to start with. His original plan wasn't working out all that great, finding a safe place to hole up and give Beth the time she needed, more than a few days at least, but still it was better than the alternative, Abe's death march to DC. A night spent in a mechanic's garage, another in an old abandoned trailer with busted out windows, and tonight wasn't shaping up to nothing better as Daryl watched the sun hanging low in the horizon.
They were literally going nowhere after that first night of running...going nowhere on purpose. Daryl decided to take the back roads, go off course, traveling in a sporadic path with no rhyme or reason, no real direction, trying to throw off anyone who might be following them. Maybe he was just being paranoid, but paranoia was gonna keep them alive. He wasn't gonna risk leading anyone straight home...that one place he thought he had hope of securing and defending as much as he hated where home was going to be. Thinking on it now, maybe his random course hadn't been such a great idea. It wasn't that he was lost. He could find himself outta anywhere given time, but as darkness was descending, the rural county road was desolate as far as he could see...not a building one. And Beth, she was reaching the end of her road. She was doing better riding; she was doing real good actually, seemed to be enjoying it too, but with her injuries not even having proper time to start healing, he could only ask for so much out of her. Beth could only put on her brave face for so long.
Sleeping out in the open wouldn't be so bad...well, he wouldn't be sleeping. It wouldn't be their first night under the stars together, and he hoped that it wouldn't be their last, just under different circumstances. It was gonna be a warm night, and Beth had his coat to keep warm too.
"Look's like we're camping out under the stars." Daryl hoped she would take it okay, trying to make it sound as pleasant as possible after he pulled to the side of the road and flipped the engine off.
She didn't dismount right away, held on tight for just a second longer, pressed up against him just for the hell of it, and he was more than okay with that. Laying his arm over hers, caressing her hand where it rested on his stomach...God, he would do anything to make sure she got the attention she deserved, what she needed, but was he doing enough?
"Could it be Rick following us?"
This was the first time Beth asked him anything about what they were running from.
That thought had crossed his mind once, but that was just being too hopeful on both their parts. Rick was so set on his course that a few days time wasn't gonna sway him. Something would really have to happen to rock his resolve. And anyway, he told Rick where they'd be in the end.
"No, not Rick."
Daryl stopped his work on their makeshift jangling perimeter to watch Beth babying the first newborn flames of their fire. She wasn't just beautiful, kind, loving, strong, fierce...she was his perfect mate. His other half.
"It could be anyone or no one. I'm thinking no one now. It doesn't feel like anyone's been following us for a long while." At least that's what his gut was telling him.
Anyone or no one. That was the comforting way to put it. The truth was, with their recent experience, Anyone could be the whole spectrum of from bad to worse. In the last what, two months, one of their own people, someone who had been with them since the beginning decided to play God and take out two others living at the prison under their protection. Then an egomaniac with a tank destroyed everything they had...murdered Hershel while Beth watched and there was nothing he could do about it. Didn't even try. They'd dealt with a cult and put down cannibals. Daryl couldn't help wondering if any of Gareth's people were left, stayed back at the church, joined forces with any parishioners they didn't kill, and were on the hunt again. Rick and him, they should've gone that night back to the church, made sure the job was done. Even if it wasn't them in the woods with the fire that sent him and Beth running in the night, and Daryl didn't know what it could be, he didn't need to have much of an imagination to realize it would be horrific. Luckily, Beth wasn't looking for more of a detailed answer than he gave.
Sitting down across the fire, not wanting to distract her while she nurtured the flames, Daryl just admired the warm glow illuminating her face.
"All these campfires...you know what I miss?" Beth asked between blowing on the flames and feeding them small pieces of kindling.
"S'mores. I miss s'mores." Beth smiled, laughing off her own comment like it was the most ridiculous thing. But it wasn't. It was just normal...at least he assumed it was.
"Those the things with chocolate?" He thought that's what they were, but he wasn't sure.
"S'mores..." Beth forgot her fire which was burning in earnest now, the flames licking up at the larger logs she'd placed on it. "Marshmallows between graham crackers and chocolate..."
She looked at him like she was asking a question. All he could do was shake his head no.
"But...you've been camping...you even said..." Beth trailed off, remembering, realizing again that there was such a huge difference in their lives from before, remembering what he told her back at the shack. For Beth, camping when she was young was vacation. For him, it had been learning how to survive...how to stay alive when you had nothing.
It was sadness in her eyes, not pity, sadness he knew for the child he'd been, but he didn't want her to be sad...
"I like marshmallows though." That brought a smile back. "I remember the...never mind."
"No...what? You can't just start and not tell me." Beth's eyes were glistening like she knew it was a good memory and needed to hear it to keep breathing.
"It's just...this one time...I was real little. Merle was maybe sixteen, a little younger. You know...knew Merle so you can imagine how much of an idiot he was back then, and me, I barely knew what day it was. We were out hunting with my old man, and my uncle and his two boys, my cousins, were along with us. My uncle, he was pretty decent considering...nothing as bad as my old man..." Daryl had to stop himself from going down that path. This was something happy, an actual warm and fuzzy childhood memory, and those were few and far between...damned near extinct. "He brought some marshmallows. It was the first time I'd ever had one. Merle too I think. Merle didn't roast his like you're supposed to, just caught it on fire, watched it char, and as soon as he blew it out, he bit right into it."
Daryl couldn't help laughing, thinking how pissed off and embarrassed Merle would've been if he was alive and knew he was telling this story.
"And it just gooed all over his lips, burning the hell outta his mouth. That marshmallow cream was so sticky, him wiping at it just made it worse, spreading it all around. Nothin' he could do but wait for it to cool. But Merle's anger always got the best of him, kinda made him forget the pain when he noticed the rest of us kids basically rolling around on the ground laughing at him."
Beth was listening all intent, eyes sparkling...someone actually listening to, caring about one of his stories, a story that had no meaning or purpose. It was just a story about him, and she was hanging on his every word.
"We had no idea what Merle was planning, skewering a bunch of marshmallows on his stick, shoving them in the fire. Like I said, Merle let his anger get the better of him, and when he did, he was just plain stupid. 'You want some of this, you lil' bastards, huh? You gonna get yours' he was yelling, all pissed off, sliding the boiling balls of goo off the stick all at once, not paying any mind to the fact that they were burning him. He tried to pull the marshmallows apart, tried to launch 'em at us, but nothing would fly, nothing would come off." Daryl got all animated, showing Beth how teenage Merle tried to pitch molten marshmallows at him and his cousins.
She wasn't trying to hold back her laughter anymore, just giggling with her full heart. He was cynical, even witty sometimes, and people were amused by that...but he'd never been like this with anyone...and he didn't wanna stop. Pretty soon, he was caught up in laughing too.
"And I don't know if you've ever seen it, but out in the woods, sometimes when rabbits get their paws wet, they'll sit up on their back feet, flicking their little front paws, trying to dry 'em...get the water off. Once Merle realized he couldn't chuck those marshmallows at us, he started to flick his hands, trying to get the burning sugar off his palms and from between his fingers, finally coming to his senses and feeling it sting."
Daryl imitated Merle as best he could, shaking out his hands, seeing Beth laugh so much she was turning red and having trouble breathing. But talk about finally feeling something was hurting...Daryl was feeling his own pain. No wonder, he'd been thrashing around like a walker on speed, forgetting he'd been shot through the arm a couple nights before. It might've just been a flesh wound, but that didn't mean it wasn't gonna sting like a som'bitch. He put gentle pressure on it through his shirt, not paying it much mind, just watching Beth recovering her breath. But she saw it and paid it mind, intuitive as she was, saw there was something bothering him no matter how small. Without word, she set herself to task, grabbing the alcohol and clean gauze from their bags, coming to kneel down in front of him, back to the fire, to tend his wounds. His first instinct had always been to protest when people tried to patch him up when he was sick or hurt. Being sick or hurt was bad enough. Letting someone patch you up showed just how weak you were. But it didn't need to be that way anymore. Not with Beth.
Well, if Beth was gonna have a look at him, tend to his hurts, that meant shirt off. Daryl's deft fingers went to work on the buttons of the damned floral shirt he'd been itching to toss in a fire since he met it. Now it was so covered in dirt and blood and grime that you probably couldn't even tell it had damned flowers on it anymore unless you knew...and he did. Time for a clean shirt.
It all came so natural to him, probably because he wasn't thinking about what he was doing, but when he caught her looking, watching so closely, frozen in front of him when he went to shrug the shirt off his shoulders, Daryl realized with everything they'd confessed and shared, and now being alone together, absolutely everything, no matter how small, was new and intimate. Daryl kept his actions deliberate, but he slowed, careful pulling the sleeve away over his wound 'til he could toss the shirt aside and focus on Beth. She turned away all shy for a second until she realized he was okay with her eyes on him. He stilled himself, letting Beth look. Wasn't much to see. He had his wife-beater on, but she was wide-eyed and blushed prettily all the same.
Daryl should've been self-conscious, knowing that Beth was giving him a good once over, and he did have to swallow hard to get the lump out of his throat, but more than anything he was just self-aware, anticipating what was gonna happen next. He had no idea what that was, but instinct and her eyes, her eyes taking in every square inch of him, told Daryl she probably wasn't gonna stop at just looking. Beth got a little fidgety on her knees, staring at him, waiting for the answer to a question she didn't ask, but he nodded. He couldn't say no. But holy shit, she was gonna touch him. He'd told Beth she could touch him any time she wanted, but that didn't mean it wasn't new. It didn't make it any less nerve-racking, forcing his body to go still as stone, tension taking control of every muscle and tendon.
Making to move in closer to him, slow and hesitant, like someone approaching a wild animal...someone who didn't know that wild things could sense fear and apprehension...those things gave them the upper hand, made them more likely to snap, Beth was at the mercy of his self-control. Luckily, he had a good grasp on that...at least for the moment. Didn't mean he wasn't ready to snap, it was just seeing Beth, actually seeing her, knowing what she meant to him, and realizing that one ill-advised move might send her into a dark place...all those things calmed Daryl. It was best to let Beth touch first. Anticipating where her hand was gonna land was maddening...forced him to try to focus on his breathing. Keeping himself nice and steady was easier in principle than in practice...