Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 40: Walker Blind
~Author's Note: Hey guys...so I promised some softness this chapter, and I don't think anyone cried or was sad at all! I'm kind of rusty in the softness department though. Also, this chapter got a little out of hand, so I had to cut it off somewhere. It looks like the softness will ensue next chapter. Thanks for reading!~
He was soaked to the bone by the time he reached the edge of the cemetery and empty handed to boot...nothing to be done about that now. And it was starting to get a little dark, not just 'cause of the storm.
Dammit. Was that Beth sitting out on the porch? Wasn't that girl ever gonna fucking listen to him? He bit back the urge to bark at her, chase her back inside...wasn't gonna risk anyone or anything hearing him. Hoping that by the time he got to her, his temper would cool down enough that he could try to handle this rationally...talk some sense into her. Watching her, just trying to see her so he wouldn't be so harsh on her...wouldn't come off as treating her like a child...Beth spotted him, lifted her head from where her chin rested on her knees, all perked up. He could see her smiling; she was waiting for him...waiting for him to come home to her. All bright eyed, watching him come up the stairs, how was he supposed to yell at her, even with the devastating consequences of this place still weighing so heavily on him?
"Didn't get nothin'. Wasn't much to be had out there today. I think they all sensed the rain." Daryl confessed his failure instead of chastising her, offering her a hand, pulling her up, at least planning to get her inside out of the damp.
"I told you you didn't need to go. We have plenty of food." Beth stalled going in, but outside wasn't a place at this point for them to be having a nice conversation.
"Yeah, well, I told you to stay inside and stay in bed. Looks like neither of us is doing much good at listening." Pushing the door open, ushering her in, blocking any chance of her escape with his body.
"I can't stay in bed forever..."
"I can see that." Daryl tried to move her towards the stairs, just get her headed in the right direction.
She took his hand instead, pulling him towards the kitchen.
"We need to get you dried off before you catch a cold." Beth went concerned, looking over her shoulder at him.
Concerned by a little rain...pfft...nothin' that was gonna kill him, but she was intent if not worried. It was still so strange for Daryl; this had never been part of his life.
"I ain't gonna get sick. I don't get sick. Ever." Partly true, partly not.
When he was young, he learned real quick that being sick was a weakness...being sick made you more of a burden. Both of them together made you a target. Best just to keep your mouth shut, man up, and fight through it. Didn't get sick much anyway...when he did...when he was feeling bad, he just got irritable and even more quiet. Nobody much noticed...just left him alone. But if he thought he was gonna escape Beth's capacity to care and make a big deal outta nothing, he was wrong.
Beth pushed his coat and vest from his shoulders, shaking the water off the slick surface onto the floor; Daryl just went with it, knowing he wasn't in control anymore. The cold water dripping outta his hair soaked through the shoulders of his shirt into his skin, making him shiver. About to shake the water off, he stopped, remembering Beth, remembering he had more manners than a dog around her. The soft kitchen towel wiping against his face...it wasn't that it startled him or he didn't like it for that matter, it was just that he was still naturally resistive of unnecessary attention when he should be taking care of her, especially when it was something he was perfectly capable of doing for himself. Hell, what was next, a sponge bath in the sink like a baby?
"I can do it." Daryl caught the end of the towel, trying to take it from her.
"I know, but you don't have to. Just let me." That little smile mixed with a look of determination...it was addictive.
And her voice...he could listen to her sweet voice all day long, just talking to him. He couldn't deny her. Daryl thought about sitting down or even lowering his head so she could reach him easier, but he liked that she had to stand close.
"Did you see anything out there?" The question was hesitant; she was trying to mask her worry, but Beth wasn't stupid.
She was like him, happy to be living in the good but worried about the threats that could be waiting just outside their door. Fantasy got you killed. Reality could still be sweet...he was learning that...but living in it helped keep you alive.
"I saw a doe. She was pretty..." He answered the question while avoiding the topic all together, but shit...now she was probably going to wonder why he didn't bring back any meat. "But I didn't wanna kill her and risk..."
"Did she have a baby?" Beth cut him off, his answer apparently good enough, no questions about his ability to provide. Even when he doubted himself, she didn't. That was one of the beauties of Beth.
"No. It ain't fawning season. She's probably pregnant...closer to rutting season." Face mostly dry, Beth now wiping the cool droplets away from his neck and chest peeking out from the top of his shirt.
"Rutting?" She was still focusing so intently on him.
"Uh...mating..." It came out all awkward, heat in his cheeks melting away the chill of the rain.
Beth pulled the towel away, looking up at him, then getting it.
"Oh...yeah, I should've...context and all...pregnant..." Shaking her head all cutely, she didn't seem fazed but the subject matter, just seemed like she felt stupid for not realizing.
And maybe there was a chance she didn't see him get all stupid.
Going in to dry his hair, both of them trying to avoid the last few seconds, her body was so near that he could almost feel her. Daryl had no idea what possessed him, hands grabbing her hips tight, setting her up on the counter like a little china doll. It was just meant to make it easier on her...cleaning him up...get her closer on equal footing so to speak. And they were closer...
Shit...She was looking at him with a tiny smile, equal parts surprised and shy. How in the hell was she supposed to expect something like that when he didn't even expect it from himself? Stepping back, watching Beth close, even if it hadn't been crossing a line...it was still crossing a line. Too aggressive. He was feeling and being too aggressive with her, remembering just the little bit of her torture that she opened up to him about...all the things that she couldn't control.
"Come here."Maybe she felt it...not what he thought about himself-his aggression, but his insecurities.
When Beth ruffled his hair playfully, he couldn't help the crooked grin at the corners of his lips. He had smiled more for this girl than he'd smiled his entire life. Pressing his palms against the counter on either side of her, leaning in close as she finished with his hair, Daryl noticed she didn't feel trapped. Breathing just a little north of steady, lips slightly parted like she was thinking on saying something, she raked her teeth over her lip before she shyly asked...
"Are you going to kiss me...?"
"Hmmph..." Shaking his head...talking about it made it so much more awkward than just doing it. "Thinking about it."
Couldn't look at her for a second.
But he had to think 'cause he had no instincts for this...wished he could tell her that, tell her he still had no idea what in the hell he was doing and he didn't wanna fuck up. He couldn't let go either 'cause he wasn't what she deserved like that...so he had to think...and he liked thinking too.
Thinking about how she didn't close her eyes until the last instant before his lips took hers...
How her mouth gave to him in breathy anticipation...
How her shy tongue teased him, challenged him to be bold...
How her fingers closed around his upper arm, the muscles painfully tense and taut from holding his stance...holding himself back...
How her hand in his hair was pulling at him...fighting the distance, making him fight even harder...
How pulling away just so he could suck in a breath of air wasn't even worth it.
But most of all, thinking when he looked at her, big wide eyes glistening, fingers gently brushing over lips swollen and tender 'cause of him, thinking...knowing that he wasn't doing nothing she didn't want him to...wasn't doing nothing wrong...not wrong or aggressive or too soon or a reminder of trauma, 'cause that...at least that hadn't happened. Just once more...something sweet and soft to soothe the sting on her lips...his lips too if he was being honest. But she wasn't planning on just once more, hand wrapping around his neck, trying to conquer him, and he wanted to let her...wanted to surrender, but he needed to be the voice of reason.
A growl rumbled low in his chest, pulling away as Beth slipped down off the edge of the counter, fighting so hard to be an honorable man, Daryl had to put his foot down somewhere. It was just a kiss, but it was verging on too much after everything was finally broken open last night when the truth came pouring out. That trauma might be gone, but there was still healing that needed to be done, emotions that needed to be steadier before any stupid rushed decisions were made.
And even if there weren't all those complications...things had to be done right. He had to do right by Beth.
"Upstairs. Bed. Now." Voice rusty as a tin can full of nails.
That wasn't what he meant...in the context of the moment, if that wasn't suggestive, he didn't know what in the hell was. What, was he gonna slap her ass as she walked by, down a cold one from the fridge before he went upstairs to fuck her, 'cause that's what it sounded like. Not what he meant though, and not what Beth heard. She always saw him as the best version of himself...a man he didn't even know existed before her.
"Come with me..." Her sweet little plea stilled his heart, but that didn't stop his resistance from kicking in for God knows what reason.
Well, there was a reason. There were things he could be doing...things he should be doing.
Like what? not even understanding why he was fighting so hard. There were worse ways to spend the day than laying in bed beside Beth until it was time to eat again. He could cut himself a little slack; it didn't mean he was going soft...but maybe it was both the Beth and bed factors. He still needed to get his shit together and get over them. This was life...at its best. He needed to stop wasting it.
"Did you sleep at all...last night?" Beth was trying to convince him gently...plant the seeds in his mind like he was the one making the decisions, just shaking his head no.
He hadn't made it off the floor last night. She hadn't left his arms. He'd been too worked up, too emotional, too relieved...too everything to even think about sleep. At some point, he had drifted off into a quiet place of contemplation, but it hadn't been sleep.
It was too early now to sleep though.
"You need to..." She wasn't going to give in.
"I'll come sit with you."
"Come sleep with me. A nap on a rainy afternoon..." Beth knew how to work him...how to break him, and she didn't even have to try all that hard.
It wasn't her words, just her tone, and the little height in her cheeks and her eyes widening 'cause she knew she was winning. The way nature seemed to work...he found his mate, and she was all that mattered...keeping her safe and alive and fed and sheltered, all those things satisfying something deep in his core. Then there were times like this when it wasn't about just keeping her breathing but making her happy...and it made him happy too. Just not being used to being in a place where happy could factor in 'cause safe was more important, resisting until he could consider, Daryl thought about it, trying to make sure he had a chance to make a good call.
"Daryl, come on..."
"Grrr..." Yep, he actually growled at her when she grabbed his hand to lead him away. He meant too say something...something he couldn't remember.
But she didn't do anything except giggle at him. Pfft...fearsome creature he was.
"Go on, I'll be up. Set the bag in the bathroom so I can get some dry clothes." Too wet to even think about staying in what he had on much less sit next to Beth.
Probably needed to wash these anyway...walker blood, dirt...Mother Nature was just giving him a hint with the rain, providing him with a presoak.
His pants thunked and clattered to the floor weighted down by his knife...the clatter...but the thunk...that was something else, something that had become such a part of him that he forgot it still existed separately...Beth's journal. And he'd been out in the fucking rain. What if it was ruined? How in the hell was he going to explain this one? Digging it outta his back pocket off the floor, Daryl stood as naked as the day he was born, hand running over the smooth green cover of Beth's thoughts, her memories, her hopes and dreams. Tentatively opening it, flipping through the pages to assess the water damage, there was none; the little book was no worse for wear. He set it aside, just for a minute, at the edge of the sink, pulling on the blue jeans from the bag, his soft worn pants laying discarded on the tile floor. Thinking on 'em...his pants, they were torn, patched, ripped...had 'em since the beginning, but they were his. The jeans were too stiff and scratchy, too tight, not to his liking...damn he was going soft. He cursed himself, getting everything adjusted as best he could in a smaller space before threading his belt through the loops, adding his knife, and making them his.
Her journal found its way into his hands again. Opening it, not to read what was there but to the pages she had ripped out...he'd been there with her, sitting in front of one of their first fires after the prison. He'd been there, but he'd been so consumed with himself that he hadn't actually been there for her like he should've. Those spots where the pages were torn away, they'd been blank...a future unwritten...pages sacrificed to feed the flames. It was like she was sacrificing...burning away her future hopes and dreams just so they could stay alive...keep breathing. Not anymore. They had a future, and they had hope. And that last page Beth tore from her journal had been an act of hope and love and belief...to leave a thank you note in this place.
"I'm gonna leave a thank you note." The notion surprised him, but it shouldn't have coming from Beth.
"For when they come back...Even if they're not coming back, I still want to say thanks." She was the kind of person who deserved to live...the kind of person who needed to live for the world to survive. And he wanted to live with her...
"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." Make it work...he would make sure.
That's what he hoped then. Now they were more than making it work...they were living. He was getting to taste that sweetness in life. Deciding he wasn't ready to give her journal back just yet...lose that piece of himself...Daryl slid it home in his back pocket knowing he couldn't keep it forever, but maybe just a little while longer.
Suddenly so eager to get back to her, pulling a dry wife-beater on as he came into the bedroom...
"You know, I..." His words trailed off when he found Beth asleep on the bed.
Curled up at the edge, she must've fallen asleep as soon as she hit the mattress. She didn't even make it under the covers...didn't even get her boots off.
She was so sound asleep that she didn't stir when he pulled one off...
Shit...not even when it slipped from his hand and thunked on the floor beside the bed.
Boot number two went smoother, and tucking her in...carefully shifting her body under the warm covers...it was coming like second nature to him when his whole life, touching and allowing himself to be touched had never come easy. With her, everything was different...it was so easy to love her.
It had been a rough night; he knew it...felt it. She should've been resting while he was hunting. Maybe she was too sacred when he left her...didn't feel safe enough to sleep while she was alone.
Maybe she was worried about you and wasn't gonna close her eyes until you got back safe. Looking down on her, that was the truth. He knew it.
She needed to, but Beth sleeping still made him uneasy. It was so close to death, not just in the way people always said...the old wives tales...but knowing that she had been there....drifting away when sleeping and dying were both outcomes with odds stacked in the favor of death. Every move measured, knee in the bed, going to his side, slow, trying to control his weight, Daryl didn't want to wake her...but he was gonna watch her. He never used to mind the sound of rain on the roof...always found it kinda soothing, until the last time a storm hit, alone and helpless sitting with her, watching Beth dying in bed when he just got her back...only had her a few hours...seeing the life drain from her. That storm heralded death...Death who was coming to steal her. Now...now it was different. Unable to stop himself, Daryl cupped Beth's cheek, gently brushing his thumb over her soft skin. If she woke up, it would be okay. Her bruises were fading, the oldest from the bastard who took her from him were barely yellow and green. The newest, the last injuries Gareth inflicted on the world, weren't so gruesome anymore...just the shadow of a bad memory, and her busted lip all but healed. That storm...the trauma was still with him...them...but that storm ended. This rain came to cleanse...in this place that was their first chance and their rebirth.
Finally shifting to his back so Beth could rest, Daryl just starred up at the ceiling. It was strange and welcome...for the first time in a long time, his head was clear...his thoughts peaceful. The rain, it was pulling at him...lulling him to sleep, and he only resisted a little. A thank you fell off his lips before he closed his eyes. It could've been a very different world.
The boom...the crack...the house shaking...Beth's yelp, it had him awake and alert in half a second, but it was just the storm and Beth getting startled out of sleep.
"Shh...you okay?" A steady hand on her back to calm her, Beth nodding.
Rubbing his palm over his eyes and pushing the hair out of his face, Daryl worked at calming himself from the sudden jolt to his system...from deep sleep to on guard. Another rumble rattled the windows, Beth trembling under his hand. About to question her again...was there something more going on with her...lightening lit up the black sky outside, and there was something more going on out there. He moved slow to the window, every step carefully measured, the movement in the graveyard barely discernable in the pitch of night but enough to put him on edge, the bright white flash finally telling the truth of it. It was like night of the living dead out there, walkers, all disoriented, staggering around, bumping into each other, falling over headstones. They didn't seem to be after nothin'...not going in any one direction...not drawn by anything, more like driven by the storm...Mother nature up against their unnatural existence.
"The storm's getting worse?" There was a tremor in her voice.
She was wide awake now.
It didn't matter that they weren't drawn by nothin'. They were there. One little thing could set them off...set 'em to tearing into the house, and there were too many.
"Maybe...maybe we should go to the basement."
No...no windows. No doors. Just one way down...a one way ticket to hell. He'd been there before.
"Nope. We're fine." Drawing the curtains over the window, Daryl breathed deep...thinking.
Should they run for the bike...risk it? Stay where they were...risk it? He wasn't lying to her, wasn't sayin' nothing so there couldn't be a lie, but he did wish he could hide if from her. She knew though.
"They're out there?"
"Mmm-hmm." Chewing at his bottom lip, trying to figure what to do.
"They're coming?" Her nerves were setting in.
"They ain't coming; they're just there." It might not seem like a big difference, but it was. "Just stay away from the window. Don't light the lamp. Don't turn on the flashlight."
The gauzy curtains weren't enough to block out any sort of light from shining through like a damned beacon. Slinging his bow over his shoulder, Beth got the seriousness of it all.
"What are you doing...where are you going?"
"I'm just gonna go check, make sure everything's secure down there." Daryl reassured.
"You're not going out there." On her knees at the edge of the bed, fist gripping the mattress tight, she looked read to tackle him if he had that kind of suicide mission in mind.
"I'm not going anywhere. Be back in a minute."
"Promise. Stay here...you here me?"
Daryl went in the dark. Didn't need a flashlight to see what he needed to see, all his other senses making up for the lack of light. There wasn't nothin' he could do to make the house any tighter...still, after staring blankly at the front door, he shoved the back of the fancy antique corner chair under the doorknob...little good that was gonna do if they broke through the boards that barred the door.
Daryl's back was pressed up against the door, trying...trying to hold the walkers back. He wasn't strong enough.
"Beth! Beth!" She tossed him his crossbow. "Run! Run!"
He couldn't hold it. They were close behind him now...didn't even have a chance to reload his bow. "Pry open a window. Get you're shit."
"I'm not gonna leave you," Beth yelled to him, and that was it.
It was his fault. He couldn't hold onto her...protect her.
Shaking away the memory, he didn't notice, but he'd started pacing, old slats in the hardwood floor creaking under his boots. There was nothing he could do now...nothing except go back to Beth and wait.
"What are you doin'?" Daryl's gruff whisper shook her...not gruff to her but because of...
Thunder threatened to shatter the window in its panes. She had always been afraid of storms...always. There were things to be more afraid of...things that kind of worked to cancel those fears...walkers, people, death, but now it was a storm of walkers.
"Beth?" He was looking for an explanation, his eyes boring into her, how he could see her through the dark she didn't know.
It made her weak, being scared of something so small, but she told him before...she wasn't like him. She got afraid sometimes...and he didn't judge her for it.
When the bolt of lightening cracked, splitting the sky with bright white light, Beth hugged her pillow closer where she sat huddled on the floor up against the bed.
"I'm scared of storms." Her confession came out in the timid, quiet voice of the child she used to be. "Night...dark makes it worse."
Walkers make it terrifying. She didn't say that though. Walkers always came. There was nothing to stop that, nothing to make it better. You either found a way to live with it, fight through it, or you died. There was no room to talk about being afraid of living.
"Hmmph...come on..." Daryl pulled her up.
"Okay, light it up." The flashlight illuminated her secure space with a soft yellow glow. "Got it on?" Daryl was right there, but he might as well have been a world away.
"Yeah, can you see it?"
"Nah, I think we're good."
The tip of his crossbow slid in first against the floor, then Daryl parted the blankets draped from the footboard of the bed and secured in the top drawer of the dresser, crawling in on his hands and knees.
"Blanket fort," Beth said smiling while Daryl got himself all situated against the foot of the bed beside her, feeling stupid for her words. They weren't children.
Daryl cocked an eyebrow at her.
"Pfft...blanket fort? This ain't no blanket fort. This here's a walker blind."
It was her turn to giggle.
"Blanket fort," Beth insisted.
"Blanket fort...whatever," conceding their playful exchange to her. "It ain't as comfy as the trunk of a car but it'll have to do."
It was just Daryl's lighthearted sarcasm...but their last storm of walkers...that night in the trunk...
That car...the never ending herd of walkers surrounding it as they passed by, every time they bumped or rattled it, Beth thought it was going to be their last moment. After hours of not moving, not speaking, just cowering and praying when the moment came, when the end was upon them, it would be quick...but knowing that wouldn't be the case...there was no escaping their fate...Beth was breaking to pieces. Just her and Daryl, her with Daryl's knife and Daryl with his crossbow...if that trunk popped open, it was game over. But Daryl had been so steady, never taking his eyes away from the sights of his bow. He knew the same truth she did, knew her nerves were frayed, but he was so calm. In that second, when she knew she was going to lose it...she couldn't take it anymore, she looked to Daryl in the faint light, not knowing what he could give her, but she needed something. Daryl didn't look at her, didn't take his eyes from the direction their death would be coming, starring down his sights, but he took his finger off the trigger, raised his hand away from his bow, telling her to be calm, steady, that it was all going to be okay. That night it felt like a lie, but in the end they made it.
He was here now too...providing her the comfort she needed.
Offering Daryl half her throw blanket, he wouldn't take it at first...thinking on it, contemplating, or whatever he was doing. Was he afraid of taking something away from her, or was he afraid of getting too close to her...or afraid of himself? She was starting to understand just how inexperienced he was...not like that...there had been women, just not with love. He told her that already; he'd never loved before...but not just without love...without feelings, intimacy, closeness...He had never had those things with anyone, and it made him awkward, even sharing a blanket. Daryl was so innocent in all of it, but he finally took what she offered.
"You look pretty."
Just like that, out of the blue, his compliment caught her, causing the color to rise in her cheeks, reaching up and trying to smooth out her sleep mussed hair. There was nothing to be pretty about her...clothes she had been wearing and sleeping in for days, her hair hadn't had a comb run through it since morning, a falling down ponytail with a loose plaited braid woven through the rats nest...but it made her feel like she was glowing anyway. The rain was still assaulting the window like lead pistol pellets, thunder rocking the world, but now it was like it was all playing in the background of their story. Daryl saw she was basking in his praise; he went all shy, quick to change the subject.