Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 44: Still A Little Bit Broken
~Author's note: Hey guys! I know it has been forever, but I got a little emotionally wrapped up in the last few Walking Dead episodes of the season and was in a weird place in regards to that. Anyway, here is the new chapter. This chapter is part of a two chapter transitional arc between Daryl and Beth leaving the funeral parlor and where they are headed next. It might be a little confusing in Beth's portion, but it is meant to be. Please just give it a chance. I actually quite like it. So, I really don't anticipate there being a huge gap between this chapter being posted and the next chapter-at least not as long as you had to wait for this chapter. I will however be posting a new chapter of "I Will Follow..." before I post the next chapter of this one. As always, thank you so much for reading and sticking with this story! You are all amazing!~
"Well, I ain't gonna be finding a corner to piss in," Daryl hmmphed, turning around, assessing.
"Daryl..." Beth scolded, maybe playfully, maybe not, Daryl just shrugging his shoulders at her.
He wasn't in the mood to take things too seriously...well, at least not things like this. Everything just still felt a little magic. Beth got that pretty quick, smiling, feeding off the grin that spread across his face.
"But we can try for somewhere else if you don't..."
"Nah. Don't wanna chance it. Sun's close to setting. Besides, this place, it's damn near perfect." He was the one who picked it. Daryl appraised the empty cylindrical silo again. "Two doors, one up one down, interior and exterior ladders, nice little skylight up there...lots of ways to escape. We can have a little fire inside, smoke can get out, and walkers will be none the wiser."
It might've been a no go if they couldn't have a fire...grain dust being combustible and all, but the silo was new...their skylight...their hole in the roof with no vented cap meant grain had never been stored here.
"Perfect? Even if you can't find a corner to...piss in?" Beth's cute little hesitation before saying piss made him grin again...this time just a half grin though.
What the fuck with all the smiles?
"Hey, watch your mouth!" Daryl spouted, teasing her, softly bumping his arm into Beth's shoulder, sharing his grin with her.
Beth rolled her eyes and shook her head cutely like she was sometimes like to do.
"Still, when we get home, I would rather you not pee in a corner of our house."
They were going to have a home...together, even if it was shitty to start with. A place for him and his family. Him and Beth.
She was playing too, he could hear it in the lightness in her voice, but he had bad manners he needed to work on...really bad. Pissing in a damned house...
"Prison guard. Were you a prison guard before?" She was trying to cover...knew what she said hurt him...but that's what she thought of him...thought he'd been in jail.
"It's your turn again." She didn't believe him...wouldn't play by her own rules, wouldn't drink when she was wrong. That sting, he couldn't handle it.
"I'm gonna take a piss." Being a little lit didn't help the situation none...Daryl's feelings or his temper, just tossing the mason jar full of moonshine on the floor, shattering into a million pieces like his pride...what little pride he thought he had left.
"You have to be quiet..." Beth pleaded, but he wasn't having none of it...didn't give a shit, jerking back his belt.
"Can't hear you! I'm taking a piss!" He wanted to make her uncomfortable and nervous. If that's what she thought of him...thought he spent time in jail...
Whipping out his dick all aggressive, angry, and intimidating, show her what it would be like if he was the man she thought he was.
"Daryl, don't talk so loud." Still pleading with him, but he didn't care, wasn't using common sense. Too wounded.
Looking over his shoulder, shoving his dick back in his pants, seeing if he was getting the response he wanted outta her, Beth was avoiding...shying away...averting her eyes.
"What, are you my chaperone now?"
It hadn't been his finest moment...he'd been wrong to do it, but he did; it was done. Nothing to do about it now.
"I've never been drunk and did something I regretted." Sweet little Beth...
"I've done a lot of things."
Well, Daryl could definitely add that one to the list of a lot of things.
"Never claimed to be house broken." Kinda going a little sheepish, it was as close as he was gonna get to apologizing for who he'd been without ruining the beauty of the day...this new kind of comfort and ease he had with Beth. Looking down at her beside him...a new kind of ease she had with him too.
She slipped her arm around his waist, drawing herself near until her hip was all snug up against his leg. It was automatic, he didn't even think about it until he realized his arm was resting on her shoulders...no, it wasn't automatic...that would suggest no feeling...it was just natural, natural to be close to your mate, even for someone like him. Maybe especially for someone like him. It was affection and instinct; he didn't know how in the hell people called it casual affection though, 'cause his heart was about to hammer outta his chest. Daryl might not have thought Beth was dying or that they were about to take their last breaths together, but that didn't mean his love was any less desperate, pulling her even closer 'til her head was at his shoulder and hand resting on his chest.
"Come on...in here...now...move!"
The frantic whispered voices in the dark...Beth thought they were part of a dream she couldn't remember, until she realized she was awake the same moment she felt Daryl's sharp nudge. In the world as it was...back out in the danger of it, there was no soft intermediary between sleep and awake. There was just awake or die. On their feet, Beth's gun drawn, Daryl's bow aimed, their eyes adjusted to the glow of the dying fire, the silo door swinging open...in just a matter of seconds, the world got so much bigger.
People. She knew it was going to be people...she heard their voices. People were worse than walkers. Tonight could be the night they died.
Everyone stopped and stilled. A man and a woman...just one gun she could see. Beth knew not to assume anymore, but it wasn't an assumption that there was only one gun. If they were running from a herd and had more than one, they would have it in hand. One man and a woman, the man's gun pointed at Daryl.
"Shut the door," the man's eyes never left Daryl even when addressing his companion.
"No, you ain't stayin'. You're headed right back out there." Daryl wasn't playing games, especially not with their lives.
The woman didn't move; Beth's gun was on her even though she didn't seem to be armed. Daryl had the man, she had to have Daryl's back...it didn't matter if the woman had a weapon or not. This was us or them.
"We can't go back out there...they're coming. There are too many." The man...it was almost a plea, the woman shifting her eyes nervously from Beth to the man to the door, not knowing what to do. "Any of us fires, they'll tear in here and rip us all to pieces."
The stranger was trying to use logic...maybe attempting to gain the advantage by tying to get Daryl to lower his bow, but any assertion of strength or control over Daryl was a bad move.
"My crossbow don't make any noise. Neither does my knife. And you're not gonna pull that trigger," Daryl said it with absolute confidence, Beth watching where Daryl's eyes went. They were on the man then the woman, but he was seeing something else. "Lay your gun down and step back".
Beth looked, saw, finally understood what was staying Daryl's hand...what might have bought these people their lives, why Daryl's voice was still sharp and commanding but she could hear it soften, just a little...maybe only she could tell. The man hesitated before putting his gun on the ground in front of him, but he did. Then he backed up, pushing something behind him, protecting it the only way he could...with his body, frightened wide eyes peering out from behind him, little hand gripping the side of his leg. The woman, she had a bundle in her arms too. Beth had just thought it was their belongings, everything they owned, but she was wrong. It was a baby. The children bought Daryl's mercy. At this moment, if walkers were coming, the children made the strangers weak because they couldn't fight her and Daryl. They couldn't fight the herd either. At any other time, it would make them deadly...and that balance could shift at any moment. That made Beth afraid.
"Maybe there are people there." They just left...they just left there...how could she not remember this conversation? They weren't at the funeral parlor anymore...but there were people...people here. She had been so much less fearful then...until the world taught her.
"Yeah, if there are, I'll handle them." Daryl would've then, and he was now.
"There are still good people, Daryl."
There are still good people. There are still good people...Beth repeated it over and over in her head, her nerves a wreck.
"I don't think the good ones survive." He was always so cautious...she would've said cynical before, but cautious...cautious was what as going to keep them alive.
And the good ones did survive. They were good, and they were alive.
Beth trusted Daryl, trusted that Daryl would handle the situation however it needed to be handled to keep them safe, even if that meant killing...
"Back up. I want your back against the wall now..." Daryl's whisper was more than commanding enough.
The stranger complied, continuing to shelter his child, Daryl gesturing with his crossbow for the woman to follow suit.
"Beth, the gun..."
She slid under Daryl's aimto recover the weapon, sliding it in her back waistband, then going on guard again.
"Go see what you see...careful..." Daryl's eyes never left his target, but his words were meant for her.
Beth didn't have to look out the door to know the stranger was telling the truth...they were coming. She could hear them limping through the grass, scraping on the gravel road leading up to what they thought was going to be their safe house...their moans and growls. She didn't need to look to Daryl for an answer either...to know what to do, pulling the door closed.
Her heart clenched...she froze when she latched the door and the chain pull outside clattered against the corrugated steel wall...that metal clanging on metal...remembering...
...looking up, she saw the horrible reality...handcuffed again...her arms stretched tight above her, secured over a meat hook dangling on a chain from the ceiling. She struggled, realizing too late it wouldn't make a difference, and the clanking of the metal on metal just drew Allerton's attention to her. He didn't say anything, just looked up at her, acknowledging she was conscious, then focusing again on sharpening the blade...
Beth tried to shake it off...the fear...that past...it shouldn't affect her...it was over. It was only a memory. Memories couldn't hurt her.
"Beth, you good?" Daryl must have seen her from his periphery, or maybe he just sensed her unease.
"Mmm-hmm..." Not very convincing, she slowly backed away from the door, touched by something so deep she couldn't understand.
They waited. They would wait for the herd to pass or the baby to start crying or even whimper too loud...wait for the walkers to disappear into the night or come after them. Waiting...waiting was always the hardest. Beth looked to Daryl, crossbow trained...arm so steady. She knew the weight of that bow. She had carried it, held it, raised it, aimed it, and shot it...not an easy task, but she knew Daryl's arm would never shake or weaken from that weight. She knew just how strong, intent, and steady he was. That entire night...that storm trapped in the trunk of that car, he never shifted, never faltered, never lowered his bow to rest...all those long hours of the night, just staring down his sights. The only time he moved...the only time he took his finger off the trigger was when he saw her breaking. Daryl lifted his hand to calm her. Tonight it would be no different.
Beth wasn't steady though; she startled and gasped, aiming her gun at the door...something slamming hard into it...
... Martin slammed her against the bedroom door with the force of his body, pressing her hard against the unyielding wood. A whimper escaped her lips, not in fear but in pain although Martin didn't know the difference.
"Stupid little bitch. You're gonna get what's yours when this is all over, and Gareth won't stop it." His breath was hot and wet beside her ear...
"Beth...Beth...we're fine." Daryl's whisper, she heard it, but she was somewhere else entirely...
Beth was glad Martin couldn't see her cringing.
"I bet you taste nice and sweet." If anything about what he said scared her, it was that she had no idea which type of torture Martin was talking about.
"Open the fucking door..."
No...no...she couldn't open the door...she knew what was on the other side...didn't she? There were too many...too many this time.
It was impossible to catch her breath...her heart...it felt like it was going to split her ribcage in half and tear through her chest.
The bodies moving past the outside, skimming across the walls...bumping up against...rattling the door...no...it was...it was someone pounding angry fists against it...
"Beth?" Gareth knew...he knew...Martin was dead. There was no lying to him...he thought she lied to him before and Gareth snapped. She hadn't lied...she hadn't said anything. Now she had to say something. It was all about buying time...buying time...Beth would've shot him through the door, but in the faint light from the hallway, she only saw the edge of one foot in the space under the door. He was too smart to be standing square in front of it.
But now...now they...he...was there more than one of him...they were passing right by the door. She could shoot them...she could...but she didn't...Her head...what was in her head and what was real?
"Mar...Martin's dead." Voice wavering, the adrenaline wearing off...everything hitting her...the full impact of what happened, what she'd done. "Tara...she turned, bit him. I had to."
"Beth." Gareth's voice...so calm...so calculated...
"Beth..." Daryl...Daryl's voice. It was Daryl but he was so far away...
And Gareth...he was right there...right on the other side of the door...
Beth's gun was shaking...finger quivering on the trigger.
"I'm sorry...I didn't mean to." Beth was just trying to buy time...more time. Time for what? She was playing it off instinct,telling him what he needed to hear. Being confrontational or aggressive wasn't going to help. She needed Gareth's full attention on her, hoping that with the gunshots from earlier, Tyreese, Eugene, Carl, and Rosita were making some sort of plan for themselves.
Tyreese, Eugene, Carl, and Rosita...they weren't here. But where was here? And there had been no gunshots, had there? She hadn't pulled the trigger...not tonight...
"I know, Beth. It's okay. Unlock the door...I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have hit you. I lost my temper. Why don't you come out?"
He was trying to talk to her all sweet and gentle, lure her to open the door...
The door rattled violently under Gareth's fists pounding against the hard wood when she gave no response...
"Fucking stay where you are...you get near her, I'll skewer your brain on a bolt," Daryl growled.
"Get out here! Now!" Gareth snapped, his homicidal tendencies overshadowing his attempt at peaceful negotiation. "I'm not going to play this game with you."
Pounding and pounding and pounding...this time there was nothing to distract Gareth...no one came into the house...just her and Gareth on the other side of the door. It was inevitable.
"I can help her. Let me help her. If she pulls that trigger, we're as good as dead, then there will be no one to put a bullet in our heads to stop us from turning." That voice...Beth didn't know that voice...but it didn't matter.
Beth snapped away from the door when she felt someone near...approaching her...too close. Hands spread out to his sides...like he meant no harm...but it was him...Gareth. He got in...how did he get in? Panicking....stepping back...finger frozen on the trigger, almost tripping over herself.
"I'm not going to hurt you..." Gareth promised in a voice that wasn't his, but it was him all the same.
Gareth wasn't going to hurt her...?
Tara was in bad shape. The bloody stump of her leg was wrapped crudely, just enough to temporarily staunch the blood flow, but Maggie was pressing down hard on the girl's side too.
Tara, she was bit...but it was worse than that...what she lived through before knowing she was going to die.
"They were eating me...eating my leg...right in front of me." She was breathing heavy, and her voice was labored ending in a cry of agony.
Maggie told her...Maggie told her before...before she even knew who Gareth was... "And you're lucky...you're lucky you weren't with us at Terminus. It was horrible. They were...eating...people. It was so close...they almost killed Glenn. You wouldn't have made it Beth...you're too gentle, too sweet to have gone through that."
And now...now she was facing him again. How...he was dead...Beth saw him die...saw Rick slaughter him...cleave him to pieces with that machete. A red handle...that machete had a red handle. That had been real.
"I'm not him..."
Looking...seeing...Gareth's face melted away, shifted into Allerton's. The voice was right...he wasn't him...he wasn't Gareth, but he was still a thing of nightmares.
"Bruises and broken bones shall heal, but you shall never be free of me."
Allerton beat her, he broke her...she had been so sick and so weak, but still, Beth fought. She fought in the only way she could, by denying his delusions and denying him. He beat her, and she wished for death. In the end, Allerton had been right. Her bruises were gone, her ribs all but healed...but she wasn't free. It wasn't even the stripes his blade cut across her back...marking off the days that he owned her...her mind, he was in her head, like he owned her soul.
"I'm not him..." the voice repeated.
Beth focused...focused on the voice. The voice coming out of Allerton's mouth wasn't his...or maybe it was...she couldn't tell. She saw his face, she thought she would remember his voice until the day she died. The things he tried to indoctrinate in her...the things he repeated over and over again...the things she fought...
"You will respect me as you respect your God! You will love me as you love your God! You will obey me as you obey your God! I am as God to you!"
...still feeling the sting of her punishments.
"What's your name?"
That wasn't how Allerton asked it.
"By what name does the Lord Our God know you?"
"Beth. God knows me as Beth." Her words were careful and measured. She would say what he wanted to hear because she wanted to stay alive.
Closing her eyes, Beth tried to shake it off...tried to stop seeing,just trying to feel what was really there. Caught between two worlds...she didn't know what was real...what to trust or what to fear.
What was her name? She knew her name. She couldn't answer though...it was a stupid question she couldn't even answer.
"Beth...her name's Beth." Daryl, he was there, but he hadn't been there when Allerton asked her name. He was dead then. She thought he was dead then.
Daryl...she tried to focus on him...focus on that...wanted that to be real...his voice. His voice that knew her name when she couldn't say it herself.
"No. She needs to answer...What's your name?"
It wasn't him. It wasn't Allerton...it wasn't his voice or his words.
"Beth...I'm Beth," she was finally able to manage...found her voice.
Her name felt real. Daryl said it for her...made her remember.
"Look at me, Beth. You don't know me, but I'm not him."
She was looking...hearing every soft whisper from his mouth. Allerton's face faded away just like Gareth's, revealing a face she didn't know...a face that forced itself calm and steady. She didn't know him, and that scared her, but he was right. He wasn't him...them...Allerton or Gareth.
The door rattled again, Beth trembling...
"Beth, you're not there...you're not there anymore. Where are you?"
Beth looked around...first seeing the cold cell where Allerton used to cut her...then closed her eyes, tried to block those images, but the black...she felt it...somewhere different, not seeing it but feeling it...Tara...Tara reanimated on the floor, grabbing at her leg, trying to tear through her boot to get to the soft flesh. It was the dark bedroom where she blew Martin's brains out and put down Tara.
"Beth, you're not there. Look around. Describe what you see now. Where you are now? Open your eyes and see."
She did...Beth opened her eyes...snapping back...this was real. The stranger...the stranger who was talking her so calm and quietly through her waking nightmare, Daryl behind him, so close, bow aimed so tight up that it was almost touching the back his skull.
"A silo. I'm in a silo. We found it. There is a fire..." With every word Beth whispered, still sensing that danger outside the door, the world became clearer, more in focus...the world she knew that was real.
"Do you have something special Beth, something meaningful with you?"
She didn't really know why she was listening to or answering this person, but she did...just not in words, touching her hand to the heart pendant at the center of her chest.
"You hold that...focus on that. Think about it and what it means. Sit down and don't let it go until the memories leave, your heart stops racing, and you can breathe again."
Beth gripped the heart like he said but kept her gun aimed until Daryl took a step away from the stranger and nodded for her to lower her weapon. The herd was still passing...no one was going to do anything. No one wanted to die.
An uneasy truce...no one trusted anyone, but a truce it had to be. The majority of the walkers passed...only a few they could still hear stumbling by outside the silo, and even if there weren't any they heard, Daryl wasn't about to let the strangers leave and intentionally or unintentionally bring more walkers down on their location. Nope. Daryl was gonna control the situation for as long as he needed, clearly having the upper hand...and the guns...and the stranger had a family. They were all gonna sit their asses there 'til morning, and he and Beth were gonna be the ones doin' the leaving. Man made a move, even breathed the wrong way, Daryl would put him down...regret having to do it in front of Beth and the little ones, but he wasn't gonna risk what was his.
Beth had settled...sunk to her knees on the silo floor, breathing like she'd almost drowned, tasting the fresh, cool air that was bringing her back to life, clutching the necklace he gave her so tight that he thought the little chain was gonna cut through her skin.
Dammit...go to her...
Daryl wanted to go to her...hug her, hold her, make it all better, but he couldn't...not just then. The strangers...they were too near...couldn't trust no one. She eventually sat down, curled up in a little ball, arms wrapped around her drawn up knees, head buried...not making herself very secure, but that was what he was there for. To be on guard, protect her...keep her safe.
PTSD. He wasn't stupid. After everything Beth had been through, nightmare after nightmare, trauma after trauma...something like this was bound to happen. And it had nothin' to do with walkers. They'd been through walkers together since he got her back; it was people...the strangers that did it. Even if Beth's whole shitload of trauma started the night he was so fucking lovestruck that he opened that damned door...if it hadn't been for people...strangers stealing her away, he would've met her on that road...life would have started from there. No...it was people...strangers...and this time strangers did it to her again. Daryl was able to control the angry gush of air in his chest that was itching to escape as a growl...turned it a to discontented sigh instead. His Beth...his light, his hope and faith...the one who always believed in the goodness of people, now so fearful. But he had to remind himself that that fear...that fear was instinct to her now, and that fear along with him was gonna keep her alive.
It just killed him to know she was still scarred...like him...days when he didn't even know why, but something would trigger it in him. He would be back there under his old man's lashes, not fighting back, just taking it, trying to use it to make himself stronger...making himself numb...or being that terrified little kid hiding, listening to his mom getting beat, every time hearing a little bit more of her life...what spirit she had left getting beat away. There was nothin' he could do 'bout it. Not for himself...he learned to survive with it a long time ago...but for Beth...there was nothin' he could do to take it away. Daryl was gonna have to live every day knowing that no matter how good she was at hiding it, even from herself, Beth was always gonna be just a little bit broken. They were both always gonna be just a little bit broken. Maybe together, being alone when they got to their place in the world...it was the only way they were ever gonna be whole.
Tensions started to ease...as much as they were going to, Daryl placing the strangers...the family close enough to the fire that he could hear 'em so they couldn't plot, but far enough away that they couldn't reach him and Beth if they tried. And if they were stupid enough to make a move, Daryl's reaction time...well, he was confident enough that they wouldn't be able to beat that. They sat across that low burning fire, the woman cradling her infant and holding the other child...the young girl, maybe four, close to her. The man...Daryl could read how uncomfortable he was...how vulnerable he felt. Daryl would feel that way too...knew it was disabling, but as time ticked by, Daryl got the distinct feeling that no one was gonna kill anyone tonight.
Beth was sitting by him now on their blanket on the ground, close enough her shoulder was touching his arm, but she wasn't asking anything else of him...knowing where his instincts were. Protect. But then Daryl just couldn't. He had other instincts now too. Love and comfort. Not feeling any immediate danger, and he'd lived...survived his whole life on feeling, Daryl took his eyes off of the strangers, finally turning his full attention to Beth.
"You okay?" Fuck...what kind of question was that? She wasn't okay. He tried to hold it together for her...check his own emotions.
She nodded...face still drawn; he knew she was lying to him...hiding what was still on the inside. Daryl tried to at least believe she would be okay.
"Why don't you get some sleep. I got this, and we're leaving at first light."
Beth nodded again, leaning in close...just needed that closeness, Daryl reaching out and brushing the wild hair out of her face just 'cause he needed to touch her. He couldn't offer her much...hell, couldn't offer her anything she needed right then except protection, Beth leaned into his hand, closing her eyes and biting her lip...not in the way that was so enticing to him, or when she was so innocently thinking...it was in pain, turmoil she was still trying to conquer on her own. This beautiful, hopeful creature who was so full of light...it was a cruel world that left her to fight her battles alone...things he couldn't see...frontlines he could stand on 'cause they were inside her. She was strong, a fighter, but he didn't want her to have to be. He didn't want her to have to fight alone.
When he said get some sleep, he didn't mean for Beth to move; she made to, but before she could get too far away, Daryl pulled her down to him, her head resting on his lap, wanting to keep her close. They had no pillow; he would be hers.
Her breathing was soft...seemed like being close to him calmed her more, but her breaths still quivered, her hand resting on his thigh near her face trembled too, and Daryl was helpless to do anything about it. Helpless...he hated feeling helpless, and Beth, she looked so small and fragile curled up on the ground beside him. Dammit...he thought they were past this. He just wanted to save her. If he could just hold her...maybe everything would be better, but he couldn't. Arm wrapped around her though...not holding her hand but covering it in his...her fingers were so tiny, so slender, Daryl thinking about how her hands healed him...fingers traced his scars and told him everything was going to be okay. Beth's small sigh of relief...feeling the warmth of her breath on his skin, it didn't make him feel better, but maybe she felt secure.
Daryl's focus snapped back to the stranger whose rigid posture had relaxed a little...immediate threats stayed and aggressions had tempered...but that stranger, his eyes were on Beth. He had no fucking right to be looking at her...Daryl all conflicted inside. Instinct wanted to eliminate the threat that brought the walkers down on them and put Beth in a situation where she was thrown back into her world of horror and the logical voice inside reminding him that this man walked Beth through her hell and brought her back to him, all while Daryl's crossbow was kissing the back of his skull. Still, he had no right to be looking, and it didn't take too long before Daryl's eyes shooting daggers at him cut his gaze off Beth.
Clenching his crossbow beside him, caressing Beth's hand...they were the only things that were able to center him.
Daryl really didn't want to have to kill him if he didn't have to...
"What happened to her?" The question came after a while, after the stranger's woman and children bedded down like Beth, the men left to stand vigil, loyal sentinels in the firelight.
Daryl's chest constricted...this question...the realization that someone else knew he wasn't able to protect Beth...he failed. And it had nothin' to do with seeing Beth's bruises or busted lip; those were all but faded, healing memories. He sure in the hell couldn't see the healing cuts and scars on her back or the broken ribs knitting back together in her sides. He saw Beth break though. He could've probably taken them out then...both him and Beth, but he didn't...didn't even try. He helped instead. Good people...shit...maybe there were still good people. Daryl couldn't say that he would've done what this man did for Beth. Even if he did plan to help a stranger, he would've used the opportunity that weakness presented...that advantage first to at least get his weapon back, but then Daryl never claimed to be a good person neither.
What happened to Beth? Back to that question.
"Everything." It was the only truthful answer he was willing to give without actually telling anything.
Daryl looked down at her, anyone who saw would've said he was lookin' down at her lovingly, and he didn't need to hide that. Love made him dangerous and strong. Not knowing if she was asleep or awake, he gently threaded his fingers through the loose strands of her ponytail, letting the silky waves spill out of his hand. He couldn't keep looking at the stranger...couldn't keep eye contact with him; had to break it for a moment. He wasn't willing to share the details of Beth's trauma with him, but any man with any instinct would be able to read it in Daryl's eyes...his failure. And that was just as bad as sayin' it, maybe even worse.
"Is this the first time something like this has happened to her?"
What, were they having a conversation now? Maybe he should've killed him after all. Daryl bit back another growl though, remembering that this man helped Beth in a way he didn't know how.
It was the first fucking time something like this had happened to her...but everything else...everything besides this had already happened. And they had been through the consequences of what happened to her...Beth had been so sick, fought for her life every day, suffered the sadness and self-doubt that came with the truths she learned from her family and group about her value to them. Beth had to come through her first kills. Her scars...he'd seen her scars when she broke about them. He had been there every step of the way...but this...in this he was helpless.
"You've got to ground her. When...if it happens again, you have to ground her in reality. Anything can trigger it...the PTSD...a noise, a smell, tension, anxiety, but most of the time, if it is that bad, it is a combination of more than one of those factors..."
Daryl was listening...hearing it loud and clear. Yeah...a combination of more than one of those factors...walkers and strangers. That would do it.
"That semi-dissociative state, she was in two places at once. Both places are real, the here and now and the past. You just have to gently bring her back to what is real now."
Daryl's eyes softened from his wary glare to intent focus. He needed to know how to help Beth, and this man knew how.
"You've got to start slow, make her remember who she is, make her say her name, that most fundamental truth, and use her name while you are talking her through it. Then remind her of who you are. Make her remember you. I couldn't do that. She doesn't know me, so the only thing I could do was tell her who I wasn't. I wasn't the person or thing that hurt her. It's best to have someone she knows and trusts...loves do this grounding exercise. Once she sees you...comes back to you, you've won the hardest part of the battle, but you have to make her see where she really is. Make her describe her surroundings. The person who hurt her, that is the biggest thread you have to cut, then the place. The place where it happened has to be eliminated too. Once you have her back, hold her if she will let you, or have her hold something of meaning or value to her if she won't let you touch her...or both. Those tangible things, touch, something to keep her from slipping back into that place, either contact with you or the item is really what closes the door between the two worlds. But you have to be gentle and slow. It is a process. Anything more aggressive or jarring can send her deeper into her place of fear."
Daryl hated it, being told what to do...was always so independent and capable on his own. It felt even more emasculating that someone had to tell him how to take care of Beth when that was his job. She was his only concern...the only thing he cared about. He should be able to handle it on his own...
"What, are you some sort of head shrinker or somethin'?" It came out cynical and snide, didn't really mean for it to be that way.
Daryl probably shouldn't be looking to verify the stranger's credentials...shouldn't look this gift horse in the mouth.
"Hell no. No cushy couch in my office. Before, before all this, I was career military. I spent most of my adult life at war. Being in those places...seeing and going through some of those things, even though they were nothing like it is now...I've had friends who've gone through what your girl has, but some of them weren't nearly as strong as her. Some of them just broke."
Daryl didn't really wanna talk about it anymore...not that he had been the one doing the talking...didn't wanna hear about breaking...the possibility that Beth could break even more. All he knew was...hoped was that once they got home, it wouldn't happen again. There would be no strangers, no primal fear to trigger Beth's nightmares and make them real for her again.
"You just went from fighting one war to another..." Daryl mused, never one for idle conversation but trying to change the subject.
"Yeah, but it's easier to fight when you know what you're fighting for...when you actually believe in it." The stranger looked over at his family, or at least what Daryl assumed was his wife and children. "I got stationed at the Pentagon a few years before all this happened, met her, and everything changed. I learned what life was supposed to be like. This world...this world now, it's hard, but the choices you have to make, what you have to do...it is all so simple when you know what you are fighting for."
That truth was so simple...no denying it. They were the kind of men who knew.