Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 34: All Roads Lead to Somewhere
~Author's Note: Hey guys! Sorry this one is so late. I was a little stressed out about the last chapter of "I Will Follow..." and when I get behind on that one, "Wasn't Born..." suffers too. Anyway, try not to judge this chapter too harshly. It is really just a soft interlude between the scars issue and what is coming next for Beth and Daryl. I think it is enjoyable though. As always, thanks for reading!~
Stupid som'bitch. His hunting knife crunched into the rotted skull, driven deep, too deep, catching...locking in place. No fucking time to work it free, and no time to reload his bow, Daryl jerked a bolt, danced with the only walker left standing 'til he could stab the slender steel tipped shaft through the gelatinous goo that remained of its eye, destroying the corrupted brain behind it. Grabbing it quick behind the neck before it fell, Daryl lowered it to the ground all nice and quiet like, not making a noise.
"Phhh..." he flung away the walker hide the sloughed off in his hand, looking back on their camp just past the tree line.
Daryl heard the walkers coming a mile away, knew there were only a few, was gonna take 'em out before they hit the perimeter and woke Beth up. It wasn't that he minded Beth seeing him take out walkers, knowing that he could protect her, at least in this...far from it. But right now he'd rather her not even know that the threat of danger ever existed. She was sleeping...she'd looked so peaceful, and he was gonna keep it that way. Caught up in thinking on Beth, he didn't realize there was one more, a silent killer, more silent than any walking corpse had a right to be, sneaking up behind him. When he swung on it, it reached out, catching him by the shoulder. He fucking hated when they reached out like people...Daryl tripping backwards over one of the other walkers he'd taken out. He fell flat on his ass, the stealthy som'bitch toppling over with him, both crashing into the cover of dry leaves with a crunch. Holding it back by the throat, teeth snapping at him, the damned thing was biting at him in his breathing space, but at least it was still solid enough that he got a good grip on it.
No bow, no bolt, no knife...Daryl had to be resourceful, go all primitive on it. A rock...a fucking rock...well, he'd been in worse places. Bashing in the side of its head until it went limp on top of him and Daryl could throw the dead weight off, he just laid there, breathing heavy for a second. Well shit, there went being quiet, but leaning up, he could see Beth hadn't moved from where she was sleeping by their fire, still undisturbed. It seemed the world was being kind today. Rolling over onto his knees, Daryl saw them then, the small purple fall flowers peeking out from under the carpet of leaves that littered the forest floor. He grabbed a handful, thinking of Beth, pulling them up roots and all. He wasn't good at this...flowers and shit, having to rip the roots and ball of dirt off the bottom, but they were pretty. Daryl gave no fucks about being careful wrenching his blade from the walker head, using the force of his boot to pull it free. Looking down in disgust, he stomped that skull just for good measure, then again to get out his rage, and once more, most of all because the fuckers almost ruined Beth's morning.
Standing over Beth, looking down on her, she was all beautiful and serene. Daryl started to get a little worried...maybe part of that was just because he was afraid to get too comfortable or feel too secure. He knew where that got him last time. The night had been warm, warm enough that he'd been fine, warm enough that he didn't worry about her getting cold with their blanket and his coat and vest to cover with. But the morning was cool and he could see the layer of dew that had formed on the leather of his vest; that worried him. He couldn't let her get a chill, and the damp air wasn't doing her any good. It had to be back to his plan, back to his course of action. By nightfall, he was gonna find her somewhere decent to stay with a bed. Beth needed a bed...deserved a bed, didn't need to be sleeping on the hard, cold ground. And it had to be somewhere he could hold or at least secure for a week or so if he had to. Then it was to...home. They needed to get to where home was going to be so he could give her security, a sense of permanency, a life. Daryl went to his knees to pull his vest and jacket closer up over her shoulders.
Winged like an angel; she wore them like it was her right, and it was...but they weren't her wings. They were his wings protecting her. He had to do a better job of it, keeping her safe. She deserved that and so much more. And she...she was his life...all he had...all he wanted.
"I can protect you..."
Closing his eyes, Daryl knew the memories is his head that were going to try to make him question himself, but this had to be his truth; protect her or die.
He started to curse himself for going soft, seeing the damned flowers still clenched in his fist...but he wasn't. Treating her right, the way she so desperately deserved wasn't him losing his edge. It was being a man. Well, he was trying at least, going awkward with the delicate blooms, having no idea how to make the gesture once Beth woke up. Never gave flowers to a woman before...there was that one he gave to Carol, but that was for Sophia, the lost little girl. She reminded him of when he was lost when he was little and nobody gave a fuck enough to look for him. Nobody even knew he was gone. He wasn't gonna let it be that way with her. He had to look for her...for himself...and finding that Cherokee Rose had bolstered his hope. How could he not share that hope with Carol...her mother? But this...this was different. These flowers were to maybe make Beth happy, to show her there were still beautiful things in life, beautiful things waiting for her, and that he loved her and was trying. Somehow though, Daryl knew he'd fuck up giving her the flowers, probably say something stupid like Here, take 'em. Instead he laid them on the ground beside her, close to her, where she would find them when she woke up. Daryl suddenly realized he was hungry, standing and straightening. He'd already stalked walkers, now it was time to go out and stalk some breakfast.
The crow cawing in the distance, was that what startled Beth out of sleep? That abrupt, eerie cry along with the melting mists of morning was enough to throw anyone, but she must feel even more vulnerable being out in the open for the first time since. Was it that vulnerability, or was it more...her nightmares haunting her? Whatever it was, it didn't haunt her for long, Beth finding his eyes...seeing him, then laying back down, cuddling his coat tighter around her. Daryl turned the rabbits over the fire so they'd roast evenly before he focused on her. Should he say morning or go to her and touch her softly? That's what he wanted to do, but instead, he just decided to let her come to consciousness gently...on her own. After a few seconds of still, she reached out, finding the flowers beside her, touching them with tentative fingers before she sat up smiling at him...a smile, soft and sleepy and happy. That was the exact reaction he was hoping for, what he wanted her to feel, watching her light up, pulling the flowers into her lap, thanking him with her bright eyes. Daryl just shrugged, not knowing how to accept her thanks, going to sit by her instead. Beth's smile faded quickly though, and the small purple blossoms were forgotten.
"What happened? Are you okay?" She wasn't any good at hiding her concern but probably wasn't even trying.
What did she see that made her know something went down?
"Nothing." He meant to play it cool, but it came out defensive, too sharp, hating that one walker got the jump on him...too much emphasis on his nothing for Beth to actually believe nothing happened and let it go.
Dammit! He didn't want her to know.
Beth pulled a twig with some leaves out of his tangled hair, holding it between them and looking up at him skeptically.
"One of those bunnies was a real fighter. Took me down. Breakfast was a bitch."
"Are you okay..." Trying again.
"How many were there?" Beth was gonna dig the truth outta him no matter what.
"A few..." her big eyes flooded with concern told him his vague answer wasn't gonna cut it. "Four."
"I'm fine. Have a little faith in me. I can handle four walkers."
She nodded knowing it was true but not liking it. Having someone concerned about him over such a little thing, that was something else he had to learn to accept. First instinct said if someone was concerned, they thought he was weak, but that wasn't the truth. Beth was concerned because she...loved him. There were a lot of things he was still no good at, things he might never be good at no matter how hard he tried. Trying not to think too hard on his flaws...what he was lacking...Daryl took a sprig of flowers from Beth's lap, attempting to tuck it behind her ear. He fumbled...failed, but she had the good grace to sit patiently and not make him feel shitty about it. Finally getting it right, her little hand went up to touch the delicate petals...and damn, she was absolutely glowing. He was still feeling vulnerable about stripping his back bare, showing Beth that part of himself...but if this was the result of that intimate knowledge...That girl was put on this earth to smile and feel joy...to give love and hope...to be loved and cherished. And fuck, he wanted to kiss her. Was that okay, just to kiss her whenever he wanted, just for the hell of it...just a kiss?
God...look at her. She wants to be kissed. Nobody's ever wanted to be close to you like she does...
Going in, he kept his eyes open too long, not wanting to take them off her, made her shy away ever so slightly. He was too invested to pull back, reaching out and cradling the back of her head to steady her.
Soft...slow... Daryl reminded himself, knowing with Beth, he had the tendency to get caught up in the moment...start to lose himself.
Just lips...gentle...And her lips, they were willing to give him more, but he couldn't take that. It was morning, and there had been walkers...they needed to get moving and find somewhere that was less out in the open. He couldn't get too lost in her right now. He needed to have his wits about him...needed to think. Pulling away from that unfinished kiss was hell and fucking awkward, his hand getting caught in her hair.
"Oww..." It was accompanied by a little laugh, but that didn't make him feel any less shitty about it, Beth sitting there, untangling her hair from his fingers.
Why couldn't he be better at this for her? Merle had been a prick, but if there was a woman he wanted, he could be as smooth as the best whiskey he'd ever tasted to finesse that woman into spreading her legs. He could never compare Beth to any of the women Merle had ever fucked, and he wasn't trying to get her into bed, but Daryl just wished he had an ounce of Merle's smoothness to be better for her. She touched the top of his hand with cool fingers, Daryl taking it, still trying to adjust to the newness of it all. This might be other people's normal, but his life had never been so quietly beautiful. Beth's hands were cold though, and the quick shift back to instinct was a welcome respite from feeling all awkward.
"Here, put it on." Daryl retrieved his coat and vest from where they'd fallen to the ground.
"What about you?" She didn't argue, just checked out for his welfare while slipping into it.
Fire, warmth...what was the next part of the equation they needed? Food...dammit! Was it gonna be burned? Luckily, the rabbits were cooked just right despite his neglect. Splitting the spit in two, Daryl offered Beth hers.
"Careful, they're hot..."
"We're having Thumper for breakfast instead of...of..." Daryl had to think on it, trying to come up with a comparison, but he was drawing a blank. "Umm...are any of the Disney princesses' furry friends squirrels?"
Beth looked at him a little horrified, him giving breakfast a name, especially the name of a cute and cuddly character from her childhood, but then she took it in stride.
"Do I look like a Disney princess to you?"
Oh...that was a loaded question. He would never win with this one, but Beth reflected on herself, looking down to where she was picking all daintily at her rabbit. The grin he was fighting didn't seem to bother her none, but to defend her own pride, she rolled her eyes and shook her head a little. She knew.
"A badass Disney princess..." He tried to soften the blow with the truth.
Another headshake, and she was feeling better about it, even smiling a little.
"But you like rabbit more than squirrel...right?" Watching her take a small piece of charred meat to her lips, blowing on it before she slipped it in her mouth.
He was just happy to have food, but he wanted to give her the best he could.
"Umm-hmm," Beth refused to talk with her mouth full.
Somehow he knew Beth's answer would've been the same if he brought squirrel back and asked her if she liked that better. That was just who Beth was...always grateful, always about everyone else.
"Daddy never hunted, but Otis did," Beth started after she finished her bite. "When he would go out deer hunting when I was really little, I would cry and make him promise not to kill Bambi or Bambi's mama."
He liked when Beth talked to him...shared the little pieces of herself...all the things he wanted to know. She thought about that memory for a moment, looking like she was feeling it in a good way, and Daryl bit into his rabbit, grease dripping down his chin as he ripped the flesh off the bone, so he could give her the uninterrupted time to reminisce. She pulled another small chunk of meat off hers, cool enough now that she didn't have to blow on it anymore, gently sucking off her fingers so the grease didn't get anywhere else. Daryl wiped at his face with the back of his hand, making the effort to clean himself up a little.
"But I don't really like snake..."
"Pfft...that was a bad day. What can I say..." Snake wasn't all that bad. Never had been the worst thing he'd ever eaten, but it was boney, and he could see why Beth didn't like it.
"You don't have to say anything. You always make sure there is food."
That was the best thing she could've said to him, that he always brought food back...that was what mattered. And watching a woman eat...watching Beth eat...it was beautiful and somehow so miraculous, something he never appreciated before.
"What?" She questioned all self-conscious.
"Nothing...just you..." He could watch her, couldn't he? That was his right.
Beth clung tight to Daryl, not because she was scared of the bike anymore...riding was actually starting to feel a little bit thrilling now as the fear melted away...but because she could. She tried to imagine what they looked like, what other people would see, Daryl all feral and aggressive, dangerous, and her...the Disney princess apparently, arms wrapped tight around him. It was funny knowing what people would be thinking, all the preconceived notions they would have, but the truth was, whatever they would be thinking...it would be wrong. Daryl was a better person than anyone could ever know...a better person then anyone she had ever met despite the life he endured. And he could see past all her damage to offer her his love.
"You're the best of us..." Beth whispered against his back knowing full well that he couldn't hear her over the roar of the engine.
If he did hear, he wouldn't accept it, but she had to tell him. She knew what was underneath...who Daryl really was. Beth took pride in that knowledge...in that intimacy...knowing Daryl when no one else would ever know him the way she did. He shared it all with her...and she'd shared so little.
When Daryl stopped, not even bothering to pull to the side of the road on the deserted country lane, and turned the bike off, she held onto him just a few seconds longer before stepping off. Daryl didn't say a word, not going stiff or awkward, just letting himself be held. Sometimes now she wondered what was going on in his mind when before that would've scared her. With so many doubts and fears banished, it was something she liked to imagine...the inner workings of Daryl Dixon, wanting to know answers to all her questions even though there were some that she knew she would probably never be brave enough to ask.
"Gotta think a minute," Daryl said, dismounting after she got off, indicating for her to look up ahead, to see what he was seeing on the road.
About a half mile up, the tiny two lane blacktop was blocked with abandoned cars. They could get around on the motorcycle, but there were quite a few walkers milling around the minor pile up.
"Don't know if I wanna risk it with the walkers." Daryl was just thinking out loud, but at least he was trying to make her feel like she was included.
"There was a little road about a mile back. It was paved, not gravel. It might lead somewhere." Beth offered.
"I saw. I'm gonna take a piss, think on it...by the way, most roads do lead somewhere." Daryl grinned over his shoulder, headed off to the trees, just a few feet away from the edge of the road, the wild edging closer and closer without any highway department to combat it.
The paths of men would soon be reclaimed, returning to the wilderness that was there before humanity and would be there long after. That thought unsettled Beth a little, but she distracted herself by trying to count the walkers at the road block while she waited for Daryl. She froze, seized by terror...panic welling in her chest.
"Daryl..." Beth tried to keep her voice steady and calm.
"Be there in a minute."
They weren't walkers...they were people...very clearly people who had seen them, waving their arms and heading in their direction. People...they could be good...but people, they were worse than walkers now. The Governor, Brother Allerton, Gareth...even Abraham who wasn't really bad at all but was willing to leave her behind-tried to force Daryl to leave her, sacrifice her for the greater good...the others-the rest of her group who probably felt the same way but were too kind to speak up, and why should they when they didn't have to, when Abraham was pushing their cause so hard. In the last few weeks, maybe a month, Beth had learned that fact intimately...people were worse than walkers.
"Beth?" Daryl was observant, but his focus was on her and her discomfort, not the threat walking their way.
"People." She didn't have to go into great detail for him to realize, to see what she saw and jump into action.
"Come on. We ain't looking to make new friends."
He had the bike revved and ready to go before she was even settled behind him.
There was something...something she knew...something that made her tug urgently at the front of Daryl's shirt to make him stop. She clambered off the bike just as soon as Daryl got it braced, heading off down and across the road.
She barely heard Daryl calling out, but when she stopped, she knew he was following...could hear his boots pounding against the pavement behind her. Daryl would always follow her. She knew that now...had known it a long time...and he'd chased her the night she was taken. Beth might not have seen it or known it then, but she knew. Daryl caught her by the arm even though she wasn't running anymore, caught her and forced her around to face him.
"What in the hell do you think you're doin'...just running off like that?" There was nothing gentle in his voice Maybe he didn't see.
"Daryl...it's..." She didn't really know what to say to him. It was a sign, but maybe he didn't see it that way even though he was seeing it now over her shoulder.
There was a long, deafening silence...
"Beth...I...we can't..." The color and life drained from his face, his hand lost its grip on her arm, Daryl so suddenly taken by something she couldn't understand.
"'When we make it to tomorrow, we get to start our life together. We get to begin again...' That's what you said before you went after Gareth's people. We made it...I didn't know if we would...but we made it, and it's our tomorrow. We get to begin again..." This was it...their chance.
There were no do-overs in life; that was what everyone always said...but this was as close to a do-over as they could ever hope for.
"I couldn't secure it...I can't secure it, Beth..." he was fighting a battle inside, fighting his demons. She saw that he was letting their past, what happened, dictate their future...and she couldn't let it.
"Maybe we stick around here for a while...we'll just make it work." Beth would use his own words against him if she had to, remind him of what he wanted.
Maybe you don't have to leave that. Maybe we stick around here for a while. They come back, we'll just make it work. They may be nuts, but maybe it'll be all right.
So you do think there are still good people around. What changed your mind?
How were Daryl's memories of that night...this place...so very different from hers? They had such hope...it was the first time she saw everything in Daryl, everything that could be. Daryl's eyes were clenched closed, shaking his head no. But if they were going to heal, this was the place where it had to happen.
"What changed your mind?" That conversation...that conversation the first time, it would stay with her forever...even though there had been no real answer, she knew now...and maybe she even knew then.
That made him look at her, the watery glint in his eyes giving away just how affected he was.
"You. You know that..."
She did, but they had to say it now...they had to know it now...what should've been.
"You have to tell me that...you have to show me...here. It has to be here." Beth couldn't let it go. They couldn't leave...
Daryl grabbed her gently behind the neck, pulling her head to his chest.
"Don't you want to stay...just for a little while?" She didn't know what his answer was going to be...if he was going to give.
"I would've stayed here with you forever..."