Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 35: The Beauty and the Tragedy
~Author's Note: Hey Guys! So, the next few chapters are going to be kinda Daryl heavy because he is going to be having a little bit of a hard time...but it is going to pay off because the truth of what didn't happen to Beth is going to come out soon. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy.~
She'd scrambled off the back of the bike before he even got it properly stopped, like the seat was made of burning hellfire, just taking off down that road.
What the fuck!
Was she gonna be sick? Heading after her on foot, the pursuit didn't last all that long, Beth stopped, just standing at the edge of the road gawkin' at something. Her big eyes weren't just pretty, they were keen...sharp...noticed the walkers on the road earlier while he was busy takin' a piss weren't just walkers, they were people...maybe she saw something. But on approach, all Daryl saw was the deserted road they were on, a couple of skid marks burned black into the faded asphalt, and a big house mostly hidden by the trees along the road...there was nothin'.
He jerked Beth back to him, trying too late to beat down his anger...but he couldn't let her get hurt, he couldn't lose her...and he wasn't gonna let her die. She didn't even seem to notice.
"What in the hell do you think you're doin'...just running off like that?" Daryl growled at her.
Beth's face...her expression, it was something he couldn't read...dazed but...happy? The only thing close to it he could really compare was that night on the porch with the moonshine...Beth drunk, talking about the life she imagined for Hershel, and Maggie and Glenn...maybe even herself...a life that never happened.
Looking past her...past Beth...beyond what was right in front of him...Daryl saw, and it tore his gut out.
All of the turns they made, all the roads they'd taken, how did their broken path lead them back here...the place where he'd lost Beth? He couldn't take his eyes off it. It was like when he was little...saw somethin' horrible or bloody and terrifying, but no matter what, he couldn't look away.
"'When we make it to tomorrow, we get to start our life together. We get to begin again...' That's what you said when you left me to go 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..." Beth was so passionate...
When he said that, he sure in the hell didn't mean coming back to this place and hoping it worked out better this time around.
"I couldn't secure it...I can't secure it, Beth..." He'd never been good at fessing up to his failures...and this...this was his biggest...tripping over his tongue.
But he had to...had to tell her 'cause he knew what she wanted...and he couldn't. The problem was, he'd lost that battle before he even started fighting it. Beth...looking at her...there was such hope in her eyes, and joy...the first time since that he'd seen real joy in her...such a pure and honest feeling not tarnished by anything else...no fear, no anger, no sadness. It devastated him to the core. How could this place...this place where he let her down...failed her...couldn't protect her...the place that would haunt and torture him 'till the day he died be the embodiment of all her hopes and happiness?
"Maybe we stick around here for a while...we'll just make it work." She was speaking to him like she was trying to remind him...remind him of what he said 'cause he forgot...but he could never.
Daryl clenched his eyes tight as he could...trying to make it go away...those fucking words...his words...
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.
He'd been such a stupid naive child...feeling those things for the first time...all those butterflies flopping in his stomach...hope...love. So fucking stupid. Maybe they could've stayed if he hadn't opened that door.
Too many fucking maybe's...
Just shaking his head, not saying no to anything...just no...
"What changed your mind?"
Dammit girl, why you doin' this to me...
Beth was breaking him down like only she could.
"You. You know that..." So much gravel in his voice, Daryl didn't even know if she could comprehend, but he hoped his eyes...hoped she saw his truth in his eyes.
The beauty and the tragedy of this place were so intertwined that they were inseparable...the place where he would've said it...whether he fully understood it or not...I love you...where he let himself feel and hope...the place where he failed her...couldn't protect her...the moment he lost her, and she would be forced to sacrifice herself to stay alive...wounds she couldn't even talk about...damage he could never heal.
"You have to tell me that...you have to show me...here. It has to be here." She begged, and he couldn't take her eyes looking up at him, so wide...still so innocent and childlike in her need...her faith...he couldn't...
He had to pull her to him to hide the tears threatening to sting outta his eyes. Was this his punishment? His penance? Here...this place. He could say no, and Beth would follow him. Loving her didn't mean always making her happy; it meant keeping her safe and protected...alive...decisions a man had to make. Beth's little hand was resting over where is heart was shivering form the fucking emotion of it all.
Daryl grabbed her gently behind the neck, pulling her head to his chest.
"Don't you want to stay...just for a little while?" Her voice, it was just a little tremulous, like she was afraid of what he would say.
Everything that could've been...everything that should've been...here...
Fuck it all anyway...
"I would've stayed here with you forever..."
"Here, take my bow." Daryl passed it to her taking the handle bars and kicking up the bike stand, Beth looking at him all quizzically, but not actually asking.
"Gonna walk the bike...going in on foot...going in quiet." Beth nodded, understanding, and Daryl was feeling just a hint of pride seeing her with his crossbow. She wasn't just holding it because he told her to, she was handling it...carrying it like a weapon.
And it wasn't about the noise of the bike that made him want to go in on foot. Pushing a bike wasn't his favorite thing in the world, and they'd come in on a motorcycle...not the most subtle form of transportation in the apocalypse, but now that he had a hold of himself...his emotions in check, Daryl needed to buy some time to think...think about the practical things.
"What do we do if there are people? What do we do if the person who lived here before came back?" There was a hint of trepidation in Beth's voice, but she was trying to hide it.
She was shy of people now...of strangers, and he sure in the hell didn't blame her. She had every right to be.
"If there are people, I'll handle them."
Shit...that sounded familiar...he'd said that before. Hell, this entire conversation had happened before...
Maybe there are people there.
It had been a serious piggyback ride that brought them to this place last time...not a motorcycle, but in both cases...he could feel her arms wrapped tight around him...trusting him...
Yeah, if there are, I'll handle them.
There are still good people, Daryl.
I don't think the good ones survive.
Except this time, Beth didn't follow up with her insistence that there were still good people, and Daryl...now he knew at least one good one was gonna survive...Beth. She was gonna survive until the last breath choked outta his mouth. That belief that she once had about the goodness in people might be tarnished now, but that unease, it was gonna help keep her alive.
Daryl said a silent prayer at the mouth of the driveway where he planned to leave the bike for a quick escape if necessary, feeling like he and God were on better terms, praying that the original inhabitants never made it back to their house. Before...he'd told Beth they could try to make it work if they showed back up, they could find a way...but now...now he couldn't chance it...couldn't risk it. There could be no maybe's. Now it didn't matter...they might be good people, but he would have to kill them before he found out, before they had a chance to turn on them. And he didn't want to kill anyone today, didn't want Beth to watch him put somebody on their knees and slit their throat or put a bolt through their skull. He wouldn't blow their brains out...too much noise and they couldn't waste the bullet. There had just been so much blood already.
Then there was the bigger weight on his mind...what to do with Beth. Leave her outside? Yeah...in this place...with these memories haunting him, that wasn't gonna happen...wasn't even an option. Take her in with him? That seemed to be the only choice, but if the shit hit the fan, did he tell her to run?
Beth! Beth! Run! Run! Beth, pry open a window. Get your shit.
I'm not gonna leave you!
Go out. Go up the road. I'll meet you there. Go!
He hadn't been able to make good on that promise.
Beth was being awful quiet, Daryl sighing, realizing how shitty all his options were. Maybe here...no matter what...their fates were tied.
"Phhh....we're going in together." Reclaiming his bow from her, it was the best he had.
Beth nodded, pulling her knife, no uncertainty in her eyes.
"As soon as we get inside, I'm gonna run for the basement door. If there's a big pile of walkers still in there, they're gonna be downstairs where I left 'em."
Flashes of that night were tearing through his mind. When he went down those stairs leading them away from Beth, part of him knew he wasn't gonna be keeping that promise of meeting Beth up on that road. He was never gonna see her again. Daryl had no delusion that he was gonna make it out alive...not this time, especially not getting cornered down there, in the dark where the dead were prepared to meet their maker. He was dead, and it was okay...it was his end...he'd had just enough time with Beth, as long as she got to live. But that wasn't how it worked out. Beth was stolen, beaten, tortured, carved up...and...raped...fucked over and over...and there wasn't nothin' he could do about it. He escaped the impossible again, and Beth suffered for it...it was Beth who was punished...Beth who paid that bill.
She recognized he was hurting, brushed the tips of her fingers against his palm, not holding his hand 'cause this wasn't a hand holding situation...just offering the comfort she could. But God he wanted to take her hand, feel her fingers lacing between his...relive that first moment all over again.
"I'm fine..." he reassured her...himself...a preemptive strike. "Just...stay with me, okay?"
Daryl cringed when the white washed wood porch steps creaked under his weight, but the door into the funeral parlor was still standing wide open, just how he'd left it when he ran after Beth. A person would've shut the door, and the yard and surrounding area seemed free of walkers....maybe they'd all poured out after him that night...maybe they'd all moved on. One lone walker turned slow on them from where it waited to greet them inside the door, Daryl not even wasting a shot off his crossbow, taking it down with his knife instead. Ushering Beth safe into the house, watching her so casually step around the corpse oozing on the floor, made Daryl think on the state of the world...how ugly it all was. Was there really a time where he'd looked on this place as somewhere...somewhere Beth might be happy, a place they could be happy? He thought it was worthy of her...somewhere she deserved...but...there always seemed to be a but. Anything that comes before 'but' don't matter.Wasn't he ever gonna be able to give her something better?
Shit Dixon, stop feelin' sorry for yourself. Pull it together.
Daryl's urgency to shut that basement door was getting overshadowed by his fucking emotions, and that was exactly what happened the last time they were here. Not again. And Beth wasn't paying much attention neither without an imminent threat all up in their faces....but they weren't gonna be blindsided by this place. It wasn't gonna enchant the wits outta them. He raised his finger to his lips signaling Beth to be still and quiet. Thinking on it, running for the basement door and slamming it wasn't the best idea even though that was his first impulse. Going in nice and quiet wouldn't rile 'em up, however many were left down there...until he was ready to go down and handle the situation he'd left once Beth was settled.But the moans from downstairs let him know they weren't alone, Daryl pressing the door closed and ever so slowly turning the dead bolt locked.
The upstairs proved just as empty as it had been the first time he cleared the house, but this time was different, him paying much more attention, picking a room for them, thinking on sleeping arrangements. No...not that...just making sure there was a soft clean bed for Beth, a heavy door, and a nice spot on the floor between that door and the bed where he could rest. The bed was all white and crisp, clean and made up; he didn't even have to touch it...if he just looked at it too long, he was like to get it all dirty and bloody...ruin it...but he didn't have to worry much. It wasn't his bed. Wasn't planning on sleeping there. And the windows, they would let in the morning sun. Beth needed the sun.
There was a time when I thought I would never feel the sun again...
Daryl tried to shake it away, but it wouldn't go...Beth and her pain...what she went through and the little things that kept her going.
There was something to be said for the ability to move about quietly, even if he wasn't in the woods. Of course Beth wasn't where he left her in the hall at the foot of the stairs, but it didn't take long to locate her, spying her from the doorway off the kitchen. There was Beth, not even noticing he was there, tackling a heaping spoonful of peanut butter right from the jar. That was good...peanut butter was good...high in fat, high in protein...but then he stopped thinking about survival and enjoyed it, knowing that she was eating it because she liked it, and it was good...a momentary respite from just surviving.
"Upstairs is clear."
She swung around as he announced his presence, all shocked and wide eyed getting caught red-handed eating straight from the tub. She just shrugged and let out a breathy little laugh, having absolutely no defense, but smiling 'cause she didn't need one...he wasn't judging her. Looking around and seeing something besides Beth...it was just how they left it...like it was frozen in time, their dinner still spread out on the table, candles that lit her face now melted down to nothin'. Through all the darkness, that night...that night they'd both been the most innocent versions of themselves...just two people. Could they ever be those people again?There was a pang of sadness in his core...sadness for who they were...who they became for just the brief moment before the chance was snuffed out...the people they lost that night. He picked up the Mason jar, still half full of pickled pigs feet, sniffing, trying to distract himself.
"Hmmph...I think they're still good..."
"I don't know how you can tell. They smell just as awful as they did when you first opened them." Beth scrunched up her nose then played at scowling at him, but she was probably right.
Sniffing again, Daryl decided to set them aside. Best not to chance it if there was a choice.
"But I can put something together for you to eat if you're hungry..." All enthusiastic in her offer.
So, he had her in a house, in a kitchen for less than fifteen minutes, and Beth was already ready to move into the barefoot in the kitchen stage of her life? Daryl fought a little smile; he'd be lying to himself if he tried to pretend that he didn't want that...crave that just a little...that kind of attention from her, sitting down at the table and having Beth put a nice meal in front of him...but not today.
"Nah, I'm good..." But that didn't stop Daryl from dipping two fingers into Beth's peanut butter and scooping out his own heaping portion. "Mmm...sweet. Hits the spot."
She didn't scold him or look at him with all that much disdain even when he licked every last bit off his fingers.
"Besides, there's a bed upstairs with your name on it."
"No, I'm fine. I'm not tired, and I'm not even all that sore..." Beth started to protest like he knew she would, but when he reached out and touched her side, she still winced away and caught his hand up in hers before he could apply too much pressure.
"If we're gonna stay here a while, it's gonna be on my terms, and that means you in bed, sleeping or resting, healing up either way. That was the plan all along. No negotiations."
She didn't put up much of a fight, maybe 'cause she realized she needed it. And he needed it too...Beth outta the way, tucked somewhere safe because he had things he needed to deal with.
Look at what you've done. Look at the mess you've made.
The concrete was cold where he planted his ass on the floor. The blood wasn't even warm.
It was reaching out for him, fingers clawing at the slick concrete, but it was going nowhere fast, only it's torso left functioning and very little grip on the floor to try to drag its sorry ass towards him. Daryl felt numb. It hadn't helped at all. Taking his foot, he booted the walker in the head, pushing it away, sliding it across the blood slick floor, watching in odd fascination as it tried to claw its way back to him, mouth opening and closing slow just out of instinct, looking for something...anything to gnaw on...anything to consume to keep it going. But it didn't even have the energy to snap its jaws at him...just mouthing the air...no more dangerous to him than a newborn kitten, pawing at its mama's tummy, looking for milk...weak and powerless.
That's how they'd all been. Eight, maybe ten of 'em had been trapped in the basement, stuck there since the night Beth was stolen, left all lethargic, slow, and harmless by the lack of food and no stimulation. They had no fight left, but Daryl, he needed that...he needed that fight. He needed them to be dangerous. Daryl didn't even pull his bow off his back, didn't draw his knife at first, just charged down those stairs into the rotting corpses crowding together waiting for him, hoping to get a bite of his flesh. He shoved 'em back, pushing them away as they came at him...trying to get 'em riled up, driven by something beyond sense or even instinct.
"Come on you fucking som'bitches! Fight me...fucking fight!"
Nothing. They had no fight left...no fight left to give him, but Daryl...he had plenty...plenty of rabid anger and hatred...pent up rage...the need to destroy. Starting with fists, then the butt of his bow knocking faces and teeth, then finally when he realized it wasn't doing nothin' for him, his knife, putting an end to 'em, doing his job until there was just one left.
It's beautiful. Whoever did this cared...They remembered these things were people before all this. They didn't let it change them in the end.
Beth said that, saw the humanity in some crackpot putting these things down and dressing them up like dolls, making them ready for whatever came after...
Don't you think that's beautiful?
That...now Daryl couldn't even try to see the world the way she had. The only way these things made sense to him was with their brains splattered on the floor...but when she'd said that...when she'd looked at him...a better person than he could ever hope to be...
Don't you think that's beautiful?
...his heart screamed for him to say it...You're beautiful... he'd been too much of a fucking coward. Too many things left unsaid in this place.
And she was...she would always be beautiful...but this place...it wasn't. She thought it was, but it couldn't be. It was cursed.
Daryl let the walker get close enough that it wrapped it's boney fingers, sickly flesh peeling back, around his heel, gnawing at the toe of his boot. Sense finally took over...shit...it wasn't good sense, but Daryl finally decided to end it. Flipping the fucker onto its back, pinning it's head to the floor, forehead pressed hard under his palm, he drove his knife deep into its heart, not wanting it to go quickly...wanting it to suffer...but then, walkers didn't...couldn't feel. Sliding his razor sharp blade into it's temple...the walker might be done, but he wasn't done with it. Not even close.
He finally realized there was no solid flesh or bone left to destroy when he felt the impact of his knife against the concrete, the jolt driven back, vibrating in his wrist. Looking down at the bloody massacre he'd made, he didn't feel anything at first...nothing...until...until he saw it as...remembered the bastard he'd bolted to the wall and butchered...the one who'd...hurt Beth.
I could only kill him once for what he did to you, and he went slow. I know that can't be enough...not after...It wasn't even enough for me...
Infuriated...no longer numb, not even close, Daryl tossed his knife to the ground before he went and ruined it, turning instead to his crossbow...pounding that skull with the butt of his bow until it exploded like a ripe melon...until there was nothing remotely human or walker remaining of it. Daryl didn't remember losing the grip on his bow, just heard it clattering to the concrete...stumbling back 'til his ass found a step to land on.
I could only kill him once...I know that can't be enough...not after...It wasn't even enough for me...
"Not enough...never enough..."
No matter what he did, it would never be enough. No matter how much he beat them...no matter how many times he ripped them apart...eviscerated them...tore them to pieces...no matter how many...the pain...the memories...they weren't going away for him, so how could it ever be enough for her...
Breathing slow and deep, trying to regulate, Daryl watched the red droplets dripping from the stringy ends of the hair falling in his face. There was gore clinging to his fingers, his hands coated with blood, dangling over his knees where his wrists rested. His hands were shaking, whether from the effort of the fight or the adrenaline wearing off, he couldn't say. It wasn't enough...never enough...and if his pain and memories were ripping him to pieces...none of it would ever go away for her. She might be putting on her brave face...putting on a good show...but it was always gonna haunt Beth. She wouldn't tell him...it wasn't about him...shouldn't be about him...but it was...it was part of him too. He didn't wanna know, but he had to. He couldn't spend the rest of his life waiting for Beth to break under the pain...the memories of what she suffered...what was done to her. Couldn't risk touching her the wrong way...when they went there...not knowing if he reminded her of the bastard that took her...if what he did to her, if she would bear it just because she thought she had to. What if he hurt her when he went to love her and she wouldn't say 'cause that was what her last experience was...her last memory of being taken by a man before him...and Beth just let him hurt her because it was what she knew...how she survived? She had to talk...he had to make her, even as much as it was gonna shatter the both of them. They had to be on even ground. Something Beth said earlier...
You have to tell me...here. It has to be here...
She was right. It had to be here. Too many fucking things went unsaid in this place, and this wasn't gonna be one of them.
Daryl might've been resolved in what he was going to...had to do, but that didn't stop him from hanging his head in defeat.