Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 36: Difference
~Author's Note: Hey guys! So, another kind of heavy chapter for Daryl like I said before because there is no way that Daryl was going to be unaffected by coming back to the funeral parlor, but this is the last kind of dark chapter for Daryl before full disclosure...there's some sweetness in here too though. There will be another Beth focused chapter before that happens, but that one is going to be kind of fluffy. I know that some of you are anxious for Daryl and Beth to really be on the same page so Daryl can start healing too, so I just wanted to let you know that. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy!~
It had been three days, and Beth was still sleeping. At first, Daryl was terrified that she had fallen into some sort of coma...he'd pushed her too far too hard, and she was just gonna slip away, but every so often, she would shift or stir or make soft noises in her sleep. Daryl realized she was asleep because she needed it, needed to heal, and felt comfortable enough to do it...maybe felt safe because of him...and his love. After his worry subsided, he found plenty to occupy himself with-really securing the place with the lumber he found in the caretaker's shed out back, taking out the bodies...well, limbs and pieces...cleaning up the mess he made in the basement, restringing their original perimeter on the porch, inventorying their food. Well, he'd found plenty to occupy himself for a day; after that, left to wander aimlessly around the house, sitting at the piano stroking the cool ivory keys remembering their music...Beth's melodic voice, double checking that the windows and doors were sealed up tight, starting to second guess himself. Truth was, Daryl had never been much good at doing nothing. Finding himself holding vigil at Beth's bedside, something he'd had to do more than any man should, he just wanted Beth to wake up. He wanted to start sharing things with her...wanted to live.
Beth's shrill scream shattered his world....It was gonna be the end of him.
"Beth! Beth! Run!" Daryl cried out, but if she was screaming, it was too late for her to run.
Dodging walkers grabbing at him, clawing...trying to drag him down, slipping in the wet grass, trying to keep his footing...he knew he was going to be too late...too late to that road.
"Beth!" Maybe if she heard him, she would fight, but it was gonna be too late.
Too late for her to run, too late for him to save her...too late for Beth to live. Never enough...always too late. He crashed to the pavement, knees buckling, cracking against the unforgiving road. Beth...she'd fought...fought long enough for him to see her still standing. Long enough for him to see the walker who would be her end, ripping into her throat, cutting off her cry for help...her cry for him, silencing Beth forever. Daryl got off a bolt; it hit home with deadly accuracy, taking down the walker that ended Beth...ended his life. But it didn't do nothin'...didn't mean shit. There were too many for him to even make a difference, the rest of them dragging Beth down to the ground, might as well been dragging him to hell too. She was already gone. He was done.
Daryl couldn't move, gasped for breath that wouldn't come, the acid tears burning bloody tracks down his face. He wasn't even man enough...wasn't even strong enough to pull his knife and massacre the things that were tearing Beth to pieces...let them take him down too...fight for her to the bloody end. He was nobody. Nothing. Was he just gonna sit there, waiting to see if there was anything left of her after when they were done feasting on her flesh...anything left of Beth for him to put down?
It was a lone figure that sauntered down that road...a lone figure that came to steal Beth away in the night. Death set his heavy booted feet on earth, came to collect Beth personally, tarnished black wings unfurling behind him, sending the walkers stumbling. They parted for Death, falling back in reverence to their master...what they could never be. They may bring death, but he...he was Death. Daryl was frozen when Death's eyes found him. The shadowy figure cocked his head, looking at Daryl, then nodded to him in recognition, Daryl seeing something he'd known all along. He was looking at himself. It was a darker, more sinister version, but that face...it was his. He was Death...her death. Wasn't nothing else needed to kill Beth...bring her a life full of pain and suffering first, then kill her...just him.
Daryl was finally able to find his fucking feet, charging down that road to Beth's body. He couldn't look down at her...couldn't 'cause he knew what he was gonna see...couldn't handle that, but he would stand his ground and shield her. He wasn't going to let Death drag her away. That's not how it was going to happen. If his life was over...if Beth died, he was going to put her in a grave himself, dug deep in consecrated ground like she deserved...what she would've wanted in this place of death where she wanted to live...find their life together. How was this the end? How was this the only thing he had left? Death didn't step him...didn't move to challenge him neither.
"She's mine!" Daryl spat.
"Is she?" Death was calm and contemplative of Daryl's state. "Are you sure?"
"She's mine...always will be!" He took his challenge to Death to protect Beth.
That otherworldly being just stood there looking at him...with what...pity? No, it was more than that...sadness. Death was sad before he told Daryl the truth of it.
"That means she's mine, brother."
Death knelt down beside her, Daryl looking at Beth for the first time, Death brushing back the blood matted hair from her face, the blood starting to fade, wounds disappearing until she was completely healed, not a bite, not a bruise, not a busted lip...alabaster skin translucent in the moonlight. She was ethereal in the presence of Death...like, in death she was freed...untouched by the horrors and pain of the world.
"Beth..." It rolled off Death's tongue so smoothly, like it was his right, but there was sadness. "Such a pure soul. You should have lived. The world needed you to live."
"I need her to live..." Daryl went to his knees on the asphalt beside her, taking Beth's limp hand in his. It didn't squeeze back like he needed it too. Her hand...so fragile, was turning cold. Beth...she was cold.
He should cover her...give her his coat, his vest and wings...but that wouldn't protect her. He could never protect her...never make a difference.
"Beth..." His tears were dripping on her now, marring her fine white skin with the dirt from his face...he ruined her. "I tried..."
"This was always going to be the night she died, the night you killed her." That voice, it was his voice, but not from his mouth.
"No...I tried..." Daryl insisted, no idea why he was fighting so hard. He knew it was the truth. He couldn't lie to himself.
"You didn't run fast enough, didn't track far enough...should've chose to die instead of allowing yourself to join Joe's group when she would've stayed and died with you. But you, you just sat down in the middle of that road, weak, feeling sorry for yourself, and left her alone in the world. You let her be beaten, mutilated, and..."
"Because she was just gone...just another dead girl..." Hatred poured out of Death's mouth, not holding back nothin'.
"No! You're the one who fucked up!" Daryl shot to his feet, pointing his blade at Death who stayed hovered over Beth. "I knew I was gonna die. I lead those walkers away so Beth had a chance. You fucked it! This is on you! Make it right. Make it right now. Take my sorry soul...I'm ready...I was ready then. Been ready all my life. Take me...let Beth live. That's how it has to be."
Death looked up at him from where he knelt beside Beth like he was waiting for him to comprehend the tragic irony of it all.
"You can't die, Daryl Dixon. You were made for this world. You're going to be the last man standing."
Last man standing...
"No...stop...just fucking stop..." His head was pounding, pressing his palms to his temples, turning from Death, trying to make it all go away.
Beth dead on the ground and him still standing...it was too much. He just wanted to end...to be done. Death wasn't paying him any mind anymore, gently caressing Beth's cheek...he had no fucking right. But his words...they were for Daryl, cutting straight to the soul.
"It doesn't matter how long you keep her breathing, how much you love her and try to show her, it all ends the same. Beth is already dead.She is dead inside. You may not have struck the final blow, but you killed her all the same. You are Beth's death."
Daryl couldn't fight it...had nothing to say to that 'cause it was the truth. He failed...he failed her...the person he loved most in the world...the only person. Death scooped her up, taking Beth's lifeless body gently in his embrace, leaning down and kissing her on the forehead. He carried her like his bride, like Daryl carried her that day into the kitchen...his excuse about her not moving fast enough on her twisted ankle so transparent. He'd wanted to carry her...wanted to hold her in his arms. But now Death claimed her, stole her away, and Daryl had nothing left...collapsing to the road below him, defeated...and this time he didn't even try to run after her. He'd killed her.
"I tried, Beth...I tried..."
"Beth!" Daryl jerked awake, heart about to break through his ribcage, shaking, breath so ragged he had to stop and focus to catch it.
Awake...he was awake. Finally realizing where he was, he rolled up on his knees beside the bed, finding Beth there all safe and sound, gently stirring...disturbed by his frantic cry, but still asleep.
Just a dream. It was just a dream...
Still panting, Daryl sat back on his haunches, hands clenching his thighs, forcing himself to settle down.
Beth was safe. It was just a dream. But how could she be safe? He'd fallen asleep on his watch. It was his job to guard her...to protect her, especially in this place.
Yeah...he might've just had a nightmare, but it wasn't a dream...it was a fucking memory...a memory of this place and what it brought him...what it brought her...pain. So much pain. Beth might've lived, but what if the nightmare was right? What if she was dead inside? Swiping the sweaty hair out of his face angrily...it was cool in the room, but he was burning up and shaken. Too restless to stay, he needed some air.
He was just going to have a smoke on the porch...something to distract him from his demons, the nicotine to settle his nerves, but something drew him out further, drew him to that road. The dream...his nightmare, Death had been the one who came for her, but that night, it had been a car that stole Beth, it's marks still burned on the road. Daryl crouched down, running his fingers over the skids. Their beginning was taken before they even had a chance. He'd been in shock...didn't know what in the hell was going on, saw Beth's backpack laying on the ground, couldn't see Beth on the road. But then he heard it, that car, tires squalling, speeding off into the pitch black, stealing everything he ever had...everything he ever had the chance to be. Why? Why her...why Beth? Why was he never enough?
Because your love is a curse.
He was made to kill, not love. Destroy, not nurture. His existence was about death, not new life.
I'm Death...no angel...just Death. That's what he told the monster who tortured Beth while he was dying...just Death, and those words were coming back to haunt him.
You are Beth's death...
That one...that one was impossible to stomach...
There was no car for him to chase into the night, no walkers for him to put down, no evil to slaughter to protect her because it was him...all on him. And it was too late to protect Beth from himself. He'd already fallen in love with her. He was in too deep, and Daryl didn't have the strength to fight that...couldn't take it back. The damage was already done. That's why men like him...why he wasn't meant to fall in love. Daryl found a spot in the middle of the road to rest his broken soul...sitting exhausted, like the moment he reached those crossroads and couldn't chase Beth and the fucking black car anymore...didn't know how to track her...didn't know which way to go. He lost her, and there was nothin' he could do about it. He fought so hard for her...fought so hard to get her back, but did it even matter...
How could she ever love him, and even worse, how in the fuck could he be stupid enough to let her try to love him...when he...he caused everything that happened? How was Beth capable of love...how could she even look at him? He wasn't even a man...crying. He cried too much to even claim he had a cock between his legs.
He pushed himself to his feet, relief flooding his chest, drowning out everything else for a split second. Beth...she was finally awake, but Daryl stopped himself...stopped himself from going to her...even from turning. Instead, he cursed himself for letting Beth sneak up on him. His emotions...this place, they were making him weak. The memories were too strong, but those memories, they should be making him sharp...brutal and alert, not a whining pansy-ass.
"Get back in the house, Beth." Daryl was literally biting back his anger, grinding his teeth.
He shouldn't be hostile to Beth, but that anger and rage boiling inside, all those things he harbored towards himself, were the only things...the only weapons he had to fight...to combat his emotions. He sure in the hell wasn't gonna let her see his face...wasn't gonna let her see his tears. He was supposed to protect her. Not even looking back at her, he could still hear her getting closer, the heel of her boots clicking lightly against the asphalt.
"I said, go back in now..." Daryl's voice was strained and cracking, eyes trained straight forward, down the road that lead to the horrors of their past. "You looking to get yourself hurt again...maybe killed this time!"
God, no... How could he even say that to her after his nightmare...after everything real she endured? He just couldn't face her. Not here...
God dammit, don't chase her away...
She was right up on him, just behind him...almost at his side.
"Go on!" Daryl snapped, fist balled tight beside his leg, trying to redirect his emotion.
But Beth's fingers, so warm in the cool night air, trailed down his wrist, and he opened his hand to her...this gentle creature that always gave more than she asked for, sacrificed more than she ever took...her fingers sliding between his. Daryl was the one who squeezed back. He could see her from the corner of his eye; she was looking down that road too, not at him. Maybe she knew he couldn't have her looking at him...couldn't bear it. Not yet.
"It was a broken road, but it got us here." Beth's voice was whisper soft...a voice he knew better than his own.
She wasn't talking about the fucking blacktop laid out in front of them, but this journey they'd been on. Beth leaned into him. He wanted to put his arm around her, wanted to give her comfort, but he had nothing...too broken.
"I wouldn't change it..." How the fuck could she say that, and how in the hell was he supposed to believe it? She wouldn't erase those wounds on her back...what they meant...what happened after the mutilation stopped? She wouldn't wish all the bruises and breaks and blood...all the pain and tears away, for what? What in the hell did she get out of this deal? Him...just him. "Would you...?"
Shit, he should've said something...anything, 'cause now she was doubting, and if there was one thing that was constant in their world, one thing she should never question, it was his love. Would he? Would he go back? The answer should be yes, and he knew exactly what point would've reset everything...given Beth her life back. If he would've just done his job...done what he was good at...tracked the Governor and taken him out instead of giving up...Beth would've still had a home at the prison, and her Daddy wouldn't have died 'cause of him.
And I'm gonna write this down now because you should write down wishes to make them come true. We can live here. We can live here for the rest of our lives.
That passage he should've never read from Beth's journal...the journal that he still had in his back pants pocket...that passage cut especially deep now. Happy. She was happy there. And if he'd been out tracking, he would've never taken Zach on that run to the Big Spot where he got killed. Should've known that Zach wasn't ready for that...too green. He was a good kid though. Seemed like he loved Beth. He'd been so taken by her, but then, who wouldn't be. He would've done right by Beth...made her happy. Instead, Beth's cycle of sorrow started the night he went to her after the run to tell her that her boyfriend was dead. Wasn't even nothing left of him to bury...he didn't say that though, but he felt the full weight of it. And Beth, she hugged him. That was the first time, as a man, that he'd ever had...ever allowed a woman to hug him, maybe even the first time a woman tried or even offered. Was that when he...was that the moment he really started to lose himself to hereven though if they stayed at the prison, nothin' would've happened?Daryl could still remember that strange tightness in his chest...felt like anxiety. Awkward...he'd been so awkward. The only thing he could do, the only way he could touch her was to cradle her arm. But she had touched him so much deeper.
Daryl lowered his head in shame, shaking his head no.
You fucking prick.
He would rather her be here standing beside him, a shell of who she used to be...all the damage she'd suffered, instead of her being happy and safe...just so he could call her his? He was too fucking weak...too selfish to even wish for the right thing...
"Daryl. Daryl, please..." He finally gave to her, finally looked at her. "It wasn't your fault. You have to let it go...please let it go..."
Beth begging him to forgive himself when he should still be begging her...
"I tried, Beth. I never gave up on you. I tried..." She slipped in front of him, but he just looked over her...past her into the darkness.
She saw...saw how affected he was, her extraordinary eyes turned sad on him. He didn't want her to be sad anymore, stepping in, getting close, trying to find the right words to say. Problem was, he wasn't a Hallmark card; didn't have a sentiment for every moment, not anything that would help her anyway.
"We might not be able to forget, but can't we forget to remember, just for a little while?" Beth went to chewing on her lip, but her eyes, they were holding him steady.
"Yes."Daryl wished it could be true...that they could forget, and it would all just go away. He wasn't a liar, so he had to make it true...he could make it true for Beth's sake...forget to remember if just for tonight.
Daryl leaned down, resting his forehead against Beth's, thanking the world for the strength ofthis girl...his girl...the kind of strength he would never have.
Barring the door, Daryl could still feel Beth behind him. She wasn't that close anymore, but she was still there. He could sense her.
"Go on to bed. I'll be up in a bit." He said it all soft and calm, but on the inside, he was still torn to pieces.
He tried the door again, just to make sure it was good and tight, and he waited to hear Beth's footsteps on those stairs. Daryl wanted to go with her, sit on that floor beside her bed...just wanted to be near her, knowing she was with him in his world again. She had been asleep for so long, and he'd been...lonely. It was just, he needed a few minutes to get himself all pulled together. But she wasn't budging; when he turned around, Beth was just standing on that bottom step waiting on him.
Realizing just how tired he was, giving in to the more basic needs his body was screaming for made the proposition...forget to remember...just a little easier. Those needs stopping Daryl from thinking too much, allowed him to just be with her...just be with Beth, outta his head. Daryl gently swept her off her feet, remembering she was still hurt...sore, into his arms, refusing to allow his last image of Beth being carried away be in the embrace of Death, even if Death's face had been his own. Beth didn't make a noise of pain or surprise, didn't object to him carrying her up those stairs to her bed, just wrapped her arm across his chest and melted into him, right where she belonged. She was so serene...so peaceful. His love for Beth...how could it...how could this kind of love...ever be her death? This love was the purist, most innocent thing he had ever felt.
"Warm enough?" Daryl pulled the blanket up close around her after he'd pulled her boots off, praying she hadn't caught a chill coming out after him on that road.
Should've never crawled out of the safety of her bed, but he couldn't hate her for it. She was with him and awake...finally.
"Umm-hmm. Thank you." She snuggled closer under the covers.
"Are you feeling any better?" He knew the answer he wanted, but more than anything, he wanted that answer to be the truth.
"I feel so..." Beth's voice was so full of life that he knew what she said wasn't going to be bad. She was just looking for the right words. "...so...alive."
Good. God, that was good. Alive. Not dead. Maybe she was just good at hiding from him, but she didn't sound dead inside either. Daryl used to be pretty damn good at reading people; maybe he shouldn't be questioning that now. He just wanted to sit with her, wanted to talk to her about anything, everything, and nothing...feeling somehow that with Beth waking up tonight...the fevered state of danger that had been encompassing their lives, their very existence...that had been gripping Daryl's every concern, was finally broken. But exhaustion was getting the better of him. No matter how much he told himself he didn't need sleep...he did. He wasn't invincible. And he didn't need a bed to sleep in...never needed one of those. The floor had always suited him just fine, but maybe tonight he needed Beth beside him, his stomach going to knots just thinking it.
He stood there too long, didn't know how to make that move...even how to ask, deciding against it, trying to cover how awkward he went by disarming. Crossbow resting right up against the nightstand where he could grab it quick, coat and vest off and tossed on the floor so he had something to rest his head on. He was palming his pistol by the time he noticed Beth sitting up in bed, pushing back those blankets....what she was offering him. Sliding his gun under the pillow was the easy part; getting in that bed...in the bed where Beth was waiting for him was an entirely different story. Never slept next to a woman before...never wanted to, but now, he'd never needed anything more than that comfort. But the truth was, Beth wasn't ready for this, him sleeping beside her, sharing her bed...she just thought she was...thought he was what she needed. Or maybe it was him who wasn't ready. Maybe it was him still caught up in who he was...who he used to be...that person who would never deserve to sleep beside Beth in million lifetimes. Maybe he was the one scared. What if he hurt her while he was sleeping? What if...
What wouldn't you have given to have had this chance the first time around?
Was there even a decision here anymore?
Daryl's boots thunked against the floor as he stepped the back of the heels, throwing them aside, stripping off his button down so he didn't bring any more of his dirt into her bed than he had to. And he smelled...could smell himself, sweat, dirt, just a hint of blood...he almost always smelled like blood. Next to her, next to Beth who always smelled so fresh and clean, he didn't know how she put up with him. Taking in a deep breath of her, she smelled like Beth; she always smelled like spring, sunshine...hope and warmth if that was possible, inviting, but still, when that moment approached, his heart was beating so fast, sitting on the edge of the bed beside her. Beth scooted away, never taking her eyes off him where he dared to watch her over his shoulder, but trying to give him the space she thought he needed. That wasn't what he wanted at all.
Just laying on his back, stiff as a corpse in a coffin, Daryl stared up at the ceiling he could barely see in the dim moonlight spilling in through the window, trying to get used to it all...the soft bed, his head sinking down in the feather pillow, and most of all, the girl beside him. The awkwardness was never gonna go away if he didn't do something...anything...
So Daryl went to his side, face to face with Beth who was waiting on him. She looked a little shy, but not awkward like him. She was so close he could feel her warm breath, but they weren't touching, weren't talking, just being. And it felt...it made him feel...as the nerves started to subside, it filled something in him that he felt like he'd been missing all his life.
"Can I tell you something..." Beth whispered, hesitating like she didn't want to bother him, didn't want to ruin it for him...whatever he was feeling.
"Umm-hmm." He just wanted to hear her voice.
"I didn't ever know it was possible to love someone this much..." She shook her head though, like she thought what she said was stupid, but it wasn't...'cause he knew.
"Hey..." Daryl stopped her, reaching out between them, sliding his hand onto the side of her neck. "I never thought it was possible to love, but I loved you all along, Beth...even though it didn't make a difference..."
Beth looked like she was about to cry at what he said, but instead she somehow turned that into confidence...into strength...strength for him.
"When are you going to understand...you didn't make a difference, Daryl. You are my difference."
You are my difference...
A shuddering breath wracked his chest.
She followed up with her lips so soft on his. Daryl was sure his lips were trembling, but he let her...let her feel everything he was feeling. Sharing this closeness, this intimacy in bed...her bed...no, the bed that suddenly became their bed, Daryl felt a small measure of peace. Their world might not give them all the time they deserved...forever...but they had time. Time to make their love matter.
Beth must've seen it in his face, or else heard it in the way his voice rasped...realized just how tired he was, little hand coming up to wrap her fingers around his wrist where he rested his hand on her neck.
"You can rest now, Daryl. I'll watch over you."