Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 47: Busted Knuckles
~Author’s Note: Thank all of you guys for being so patient. I hope you enjoy. You are amazing as always. ~
It all happened so fast, but wasn’t that how it always was?
The blare from the door buzzer, normally one short chirp meant to alert the clerk that customers were comin’ in let everything in that store know they were there, and it wouldn’t fucking shut up!
Stuck on incessant buzz mode...stuck on go...no doubt ‘cause of a corroded battery...that buzzing caught him off guard. All the dead rising up and wandering out from between the aisles caught him off guard too...
The fact that he had Beth with him...that’s what he had to focus on ‘cause those dormant walkers were rearing and ready to go, looking at him and Beth like they were the free breakfast buffet at the motor lodge.
“Go...go!” Daryl shot off his first bolt, hitting home and downing one of ‘em while tryin’ to push Beth back out the door behind him.
But she wasn’t budging...her little squeak, feeling Beth bump into his back, hearing a body thump as it crumpled to the floor, Daryl threw a quick glance over his shoulder, seeing they were coming in from outside now too. Beth couldn’t go. Simultaneously, two more walkers dropped, the one he brained and one he knew Beth took out. She had his back...then the glass door slammed and bolted, Beth smart enough to know that it was safer to lock themselves in and fight what they had in front of them rather than have to face walkers on both sides...fight their way out. The doors and front windows might be glass, but they would hold a while.
The damned door was shut but the fucking buzzer was still going, getting everyone and everything agitated.
Focus...focus...breathe...block it out...
He was a mess fighting with Beth beside him, not just protecting her, but Beth having to fight too. It was manageable he kept telling himself.
“Beth...around the aisle...get ‘em from behind...quiet like. Don’t let ‘em get behind you or me.” They needed to work together, but he wanted her out of the thick of things.
Daryl had no problem yelling it to her or standin’ straight under the buzzer. He wanted their attention on him...wanted to distract ‘em and keep their sights off Beth. She slipped away low and slow around the end of a short aisle, Daryl growling, charging forward with brute force, throwing the mass back far enough to buy time to quickly reload his bow and drop a walker that was ambling in the wrong direction...Beth’s direction...at the back of the herd.
Stupid decisions...all stupid decisions...
Thinking the tiny blink and you’ll miss it town would be free of walkers...
Not giving the area a thorough look over before they went in...
The damned buzzer...couldn’t do nothin’ about that, but underestimating the number of walkers that could be in the little convenience store...where in the hell were they all comin’ from...
Sending Beth outta his reach to hold the line...
Taking out the walker at the back of the crowd to try to buy Beth time...
They turned on her...the ones at the back...the line was too long to get to him, and Beth’s sweet scent was too damned intoxicating for them to resist. Daryl knew that first hand. His walkers were pressing him too hard though. He couldn’t turn around, couldn’t show his back, couldn’t go around to Beth ‘cause then he’d bring them to her back, both of them caught between. The only thing he could do was try to cut a path through ‘em, mow ‘em down with his storm of fury, his singular need to get to her. His knife crunched hilt deep into a skull getting all locked up. Didn’t matter. Daryl just let it fall with the corpse, resorting to bashing heads with the butt of his bow. Splattered with a spray of blood and brains, still he could see her through the gore dripping down his face...barely, but he could see her over the aisle, a good, fierce little fighter holding her own until she wasn’t. Stalking out of the dark recesses of the hallway, one late comer to the game...one was all it took.
“Beth!” His frantic warning wasn’t enough.
It got her from behind, latched on to her, biting into her...
...her backpack...Daryl in a frenzy of desperation, fighting, watching Beth jerk and thrash violently, trying to fight her way free. In the end, he didn’t know if it was Beth that took the walker down or it that dragged her to the ground...didn’t matter...once they got you down, it was life or death, other walkers rounding the corner of the aisle heading to the sight of the struggle. Barreling into the end cap with the force of a bull, Daryl buried the walkers who’d turned on Beth under industrial shelving and rattling bottles of Tylenol that weren’t gonna do nothing to dull the aches in their world. When he vaulted over the mess of entangled, decaying, snapping corpses, Beth was out of danger, mostly. She wasn’t under the dead pile, and she’d slipped free of the walker that attacked her without Daryl’s help, except for its skeletal, fleshless fingers gripped tight around her booted ankle.
It had its hands on her...he couldn’t get to the brain of whichever body was still clinging to Beth, buried under the overturned section of aisle and a tangle of other writhing arms and legs and torsos. Daryl’s hand went instinctively to where his knife should’ve been if it wasn’t in his grip, but he’d left it buried deep in a rotted head somewhere.
Didn’t need a knife...driving his heel down on its forearm, watching brittle bones crack and splinter, cutting through stringy rotted flesh and sloughing skin, Beth wincing away from the jolting secondhand impact of his stomp. It was done though, Daryl dropping to his knees, snapping the arm in two, freeing Beth’s foot from the hand of the of death, tossing the limb aside.
Caught off balance, a walker intent enough to scale the corpse pile covered in shelving for a chance to tear into him and Beth tripped on everything and itself, slamming Daryl down to the ground along with it. He wasn’t helpless...could’ve saved himself, holding the skull that seemed to be made only of chomping jaws, pushing it back by the forehead...the thing scalping itself in Daryl’s grip as he fumbled to free a bolt from his bow where he knew it was beside him. But he didn’t have to. Beth was quicker, more resourceful, ramming the cracked ends of the splintered ulna and radius into the walker’s temple, leaving the boney hand protruding ludicrously from the side of its scalpless head, snapping jaws going lifeless instantaneously. Daryl tossed the body off, freeing himself, throwing it back on top the pile of shelving and corpses, some of the walkers definitely dead, some still struggling, but none of ‘em going anywhere, all caught up.
Huffing, needing the air of his deep inhale, Daryl laid back flat against the floor just to catch his breath, Beth laying down beside him. Was it stupid laying there, just being still and quiet? Maybe...today it didn’t see like he was above making stupid decisions...but it wasn’t stupid, not really. All the walkers still left mobile...they weren’t interested in him and Beth anymore. He was covered in a bit of walker blood; Beth had her fair share too...that camouflage that Daryl was always too skeptical to rely on, but it worked in a pinch. It was working now. Lifting his head up, Daryl could see where the walkers had been pouring in from, the back door standing wide open at the end of the shadowy hallway, but the way was clear, the flood over now. Tilting his head back against the floor, the few still left standing were at the front of the store, distracted, reaching up and clawing at...trying to get to the source of the buzz that he’d somehow been able to block out when it came down to it...came down to doing his job and fighting for...beside Beth. They had a minute to breathe.
Something happened that made him smile...smile amidst all the death, blood, brains...the exhaustion of fighting to survive. Daryl caught her hand up in his between ‘em...Beth was so willing to give it. He wasn’t good at it, making gestures, but he didn’t need to be good at it ‘cause he was trying. Daryl closed his eyes, remembering their flight from the prison, the day the world came tumbling down around them. They ran...they fought...the hot sun bearing down relentlessly, tall sharp weeds cutting at them...slicing into their sweat drenched skin, finally falling down beside each other when they couldn’t run anymore...nothing left to give...having lost everything except each other. Except each other. That was all they had then...that was what they had now, and now he knew it was everything and all he ever needed. Didn’t want nothing else.
Finally pulling himself up off the floor, pressing a finger to his lips telling Beth to stay down and stay quiet, Daryl went to finish the job on his own. Busted the brains of the last few walkers standing, turned his pent up aggression to busting the fucking buzzer above the door, banged the hell outta it until the damned thing couldn’t screech anymore...didn’t even make one more chirp in dying defiance.
They were staring at him...the rotting corpses on the outside, faces pressed up against the window, drool dripping, hands sliding down the glass squeaking...sounds that would’ve made him grit his teeth if is ears weren’t ringingalready.Daryl stopped and watched them, twitching his lips, contemplating what the way of it was. Was he looking at them like they were some sort of grotesqueries in a freak show, zoo animals in a glass enclosure, or was it the other way around?
Daryl couldn’t answer that. Too much deep philosophical bullshit, but one thing was for sure. This was it. He was done with the scavenging and scouting. Couldn’t take much of anything with them with just the bike anyway, and maybe the plan to scout and scavenge along the way had just been a stall tactic from the beginning, even if it was subconscious. Just spreading themselves thinner and thinner before they got settled somewhere...putting Beth in danger just ‘cause somewhere inside, he didn’t wanna face his past. I ain’t afraid of nothin’. This time, it really needed to be true.
“You okay...?” Daryl knelt down by where Beth was still keeping low to the floor like he told her.
“Yeah...I’m fine.” A little breathless but sounding mostly recovered, Beth took the hand he extended, allowing herself to be pulled up off the floor as he rose.
But then...then it hurt more...him and her, hearing Beth’s small whine, getting to her feet and doubling over...holding her sides. She was a trooper...a fighter, but it still took time to heal. She wasn’t all the way there yet. She wasn’t fine. And he didn’t want her to have to fight...be a fighter. Dammit...they were done playing games. Straight home from here...needed one more place to hole up for the night ‘cause he wasn’t gonna head to what was gonna be their home, through the woods in the dark. But he did know exactly where they were going until morning, and tomorrow was going to be the end of the road for them...the end of this journey and the beginning of something more.
Glass rattled behind them...Daryl had to turn his attention back to the precarious barrier that separated the living from the dead, and it wasn’t gonna hold forever.
“We need to wrap up this little shopping trip.” Didn’t need to tell her why. “Grab some...”
Just a glance over his shoulder...his mind not far away from the walkers pounding the window but his sights on Beth, Beth staring wistfully at the almost untouched candy counter. Grab some useful shit so we can get out of here. That’s what the plan was...what it was. There was no way they were gonna leave empty handed after the hell of a fight they just put up.
Beth loved chocolate...one of the few things he knew she liked...something that made her life normal. No, not normal...now chocolate made her life happy.
They were beyond the darkest days...days when Daryl was barely holding on by a thread, trying to keep it together, still not knowing if Beth was gonna live or die...and if she lived what the consequences of her survival were going to be for both of them, but he remembered. Carl brought her a chocolate bar...a simple chocolate bar, and the girl whose light had paled in the wake of torture, sickness, broken bones and a broken soul...pain he couldn’t imagine...lit up like the sun again.
“Hmmm...?” Beth’s trance was broken, her response delayed, but she heard him, waiting for him to finish.
“Grab some of the good stuff. Get the chocolate so we can get the hell outta here.”
Survivors in their situation shouldn’t be stocking up on candy, but he could hunt. He would supply their meat. Daryl had never been one much for chocolate or sweets. Maybe it was just the way he was raised, there never was much sweetness in his life...never much food to start with, really never had the time or luxury to enjoy what he was eating. It was eat to live, not live to eat. But that day when Carl gave Beth the candy bar, she offered him a square of chocolate, and Daryl wanted to share it with her, have a taste of that one simple thing that gave her so much hope. Her being alive was gift enough for him though; he turned her down ‘cause he wanted her to get as much of that rare luxury as she could. Now he was gonna have a taste of that sweetness.
“Really...?” Like a child, Beth’s voice sang the question, hoping she heard the answer she needed.
With drooling freaks at their backs, literally foaming at the mouth to get at them, tear them limb from limb, strip their flesh straight off the bone while they were still breathing, hearts beating, the more they fought the better...Daryl knew the truth of it. There was more to humanity than just surviving...Beth was the one who taught him that. There had to be something more that separated them from the dead, more than just consuming, and today that thing was chocolate, the difference between living and just breathing.
It was so desolate...so deserted...it was almost beautiful in its lonely little spot just off the two lane blacktop. The fading day gave it a nostalgic, melancholy feel, like the towns in the black and white Westerns that Daddy used to love watchingso much on Sunday nights. Beth could almost imagine a tumbleweed blowing by in the dust...but this was Georgia. The lone gas pump, Beth running her hand idly along the surface, chipped white enamel paint under her fingers...waiting for Daryl to get his bow off his motorcycle. It was antique...the gas pump...at least to her. It was the kind where the numbers flipped over on little cards...not digital...ticking away the gallons and cents.
“What is this place?”
Daryl knew it...this place. He had to. He drove up like he had done it a million times before.
Well, an answer didn’t get much more vague than that, but there was no doubt in her mind that it was somewhere Daryl was familiar with. Looking around the area, a graveyard of rusted out truck bodies...better than the other type of corpses...a faded sign across the top of the building...Busted Knuckles...Beth could barely make it out.
“You comin’?” Daryl’s voice drew her attention back to him, back to where it belonged, and she watched him grin a little, shaking his head after his words, like he was somehow embarrassed, but she didn’t know why.
Beth didn’t ask, just followed...straightening and stretching, rubbing her sides carefully, trying to work out the soreness of the fight earlier. It didn’t hurt so much anymore. Riding with Daryl was somehow soothing to her hurts now. Sore...just sore. And it was a satisfied soreness from fighting beside Daryl...fighting with him. He wasn’t trying to keep her out of it or yelling at her for helping. They needed each other. They saved each other.
She cringed at the clattering, Daryl banging the butt of his crossbow against the rickety metal of the garage door.
“If there’re any in there, we’ll draw ‘em away from the storefront and office.” They were beyond explaining. Daryl didn’t need to tell her his motives...Beth trusted him. But he did anyway.
Waiting for a few seconds before he rattled the door again just for good measure...
If there had been any doubt that Daryl knew exactly where they were, it all would have vanished when he picked up a world weathered oil can, rusted through and through, perched on a dilapidated mechanic’s bench suffering from the same corrosive cancer beside the door, producing the spare key. So carefully, Daryl eased the door open, reaching in and grasping the little brass bell that hung from the doorknob after it barely clanked against the glass. After the buzzerincident earlier, Daryl was taking no chances, removing the bell and quietly placing it on the ground outside before leading the way in.
It smelled like a garage...a mechanic’s shop...grease, oil, dirt and grime, stale gas, rubber...smelled like all those things had been locked up together to become one heady concoction, not having been exposed to fresh air since the door was locked up tight however long ago. Beth breathed in deep because it was missing one thing...the acrid stench of decay...death. That meant there were no walkers here, and no dead bodies either. Just a place...a simple place free of those harsh realitiesthat they had become so accustomed to facing...dealing with on a daily basis. It was a relief...a rare reprieve, but Daryl was still vigilant.
“Stay here, okay. I’m gonna check it out.”
Dust was dancing in the fading sun streaming in through the dirt streaked window, giving an almost ethereal glow to everything within its reach, Beth soaking up the last of its warmth. Maybe she should be looking around for something useful, anything they could take with them, at least doing her part, but she couldn’t. She was somewhere between shivering with excitement and warmed to the core...this was the last night of their journey. Daryl told her they were close enough to home that they could have made it tonight, but he didn’t want to risk it in the dark. They were almost there...almost...Beth’s own written thoughts coming back to her...
...stop running, stop scavenging...we just need a safe place to be...
She wasn’t stupid. There was always going to be scavenging, especially in the beginning while they got settled....and through the winter because animals might be sparse for Daryl to hunt, and they wouldn’t be able to grow anything until spring. But roots...they were putting down roots, and they were going to have their somewhere. They were going to get to that somewhere tomorrow.
Drawing her finger through the fine layer of dust that covered the counter top, just milling around, exploring the little space while Daryl cleared the building, something caught Beth’s eye. An old bulletin board, cork peeling back and crumbling away from the frame...oddments...business cards, want ads, a swimsuit calendar...everything she might expect of a place like this was pinned to that board. But then there were things she could have never expected. Reaching out, she touched it after realizing exactly what she was seeing...touched it as if she were touching him. But it wasn’t just one...there were more. Pictures. Pictures of Daryl. There were pictures of other people she didn’t know, but she didn’t look at those...couldn’t even see them. Pictures weren’t really rare; they found them wherever they went, dead houses where people once lived...people who were turned, rotting, or just gone. Pictures they found made Beth sad. And their pictures...pictures of people she knew...they might as well have all been burned away because they were in the lives and places they left behind. But here were Daryl’s...four pictures...just four, but they were tacked to that bulletin board, a journey into Daryl’s past.
Daryl young...very young...maybe no more than twelve, sitting on a motorcycle that was far too big for him to even think about handling, trying to look all serious and grown up but only succeeding at looking petulant. In the others he was older, one with both Daryl and Merle, arms around each others backs, Daryl with close cropped hair looking very much like the version of him who rode into her life, a stranger, that sad day back at the farm...that morning after Otis died. In another, Daryl was posing with a group of men; it looked like the other guys must have worked in the garage, the oldest among them with his arm slung over Daryl’s shoulders. Beth knew instinctively that the man in the picture wasn’t Daryl’s father even though he was old enough to be. She couldn’t imagine the man who scarred Daryl so deeply would show him any sort of affection or that Daryl would allow it. And Daryl was kind of smiling in the picture...smiling in his own almost smirk sort of way. There would have been no smile with the man who didn’t deserve to claim Daryl as his son.
The last one, the last picture Beth looked at, she carefully pulled the tack, freeing the image so she could hold it in her hand.
“Hmmm...” She almost laughed...mostly just to herself. Maybe only she heard it, and only because she could feel it inside...the joy that this image was bringing her.
Daryl...long hair, almost as long as it was now and just as unruly, but lighter...it must have darkened with age...but no facial hair, no beard, no scruff at all. A cigarette was hanging out from between his lips...that hadn’t changed...wearing a white sleeveless undershirt, grey mechanics coveralls pulled down, sleeves tied low around his waist. His arms were bared...not in bad shape, but not nearly as solid and cut as fighting made Daryl now. Standing in front of a motorcycle, he was clearly caught off guard by the camera while working on the bike, hands black with grease, wiping it away with a dirty red shop towel. She couldn’t pinpoint why this picture was so appealing to her...
Beth jumped a little, lost in thought...Daryl’s crossbow clunking down on the counter behind her reminding Beth that there was a very real world that existed outside the pictures...a very real Daryl.
“Place is clear” Daryl announced vaulting over the counter while she turned around, making more work for himself when he just could have come behind and scooted past, but maybe he didn’t want to bother her.
He wasn’t really paying any attention to her at all, rifling through the dark recesses under the counter, looking for something, and he knew exactly what he was looking for...something specific because this place wasn’t just somewhere to him...it was more important than that. Exactly what he was looking for...producing a shotgun and two boxes of buckshot that joined his crossbow, keeping it company.
“Whataya got there...?” Daryl questioned hesitantly...seeing...maybe realizing what her hands gripped so carefully...what she had been so engrossed with.
Beth turned the picture over to him; it was his after all. She just hoped he didn’t do anything to hurt it. Beth almost expected Daryl to make a joke or self-deprecating comment out of the picture, minimizing it in some way, but he didn’t, instead hopping up on the counter like a child, legs dangling, heels bumping against the edge of the wooden shelving. He just contemplated the picture for a few moments, looking down on it.
“I don’t know why he kept these damned pictures all these years...” Daryl was opening up without her even having to ask. “I was probably your age here, maybe a year or two older...”
“You looked like such a...”
“A punk. Yeah, I know. I was. A redneck punk...” Daryl so somberly contemplative of his picture.
“You looked like such a baby,” Beth continued, correcting. Daryl bathed in the dusty rays of light streaming in through the window looked up from his picture to her. “Just don’t shave, okay?”
He let her graze her fingers down his cheek and across his chin, through the scratchy hair that covered his face.
“You look like a baby without a beard.”
There it was...a small half grin at the corners of his lips...Beth’s heart thumping a little faster.
“Pfft...ain’t planning on it. Need somethin’ to keep my face warm in the winter. Just wasn’t so great at growing it back then...”
“Motorcycle mechanic...I knew it!” Beth blurted.
She could hear the smile in her voice, almost singing the words, realizing that it wasn’t just the general bad boy image of Daryl in that picture that made her feel all twitchy and giddy inside. It was almost a forgotten memory...a moment...a game she remembered again.
“Hmmm...?” Daryl laid the picture aside, cocking his head at her.
“Motorcycle mechanic...that was my guess...Zack’s game...what you did before the turn...” Was he really not remembering...those intense eyes so steadily fixed on her, or was he just playing with her? “When you were taking me for the moonshine...motorcycle mechanic...” Beth trailed off.
Beth’s joy fading because there was no joy in Daryl.
Feeling the anxious need to escape, the whole moment gone wrong, not understanding...ready to burst into tears, Beth turned away to collect the rest of Daryl’s pictures from the bulletin board. She just had to busy herself with something. How was something she remembered so vividly...a rare happy moment in the darkness following the fall of the prison before they bonded...so bitter for him?
“What’re you doin’?” Daryl catching her upper arm stopped her in her tracks.
“The pictures...your pictures...” Beth eeked out...
“Leave ‘em. Nobody wants ‘em...” His mouth said one thing, but there was a different truth in Daryl’s heart, a truth Beth could feel, but Daryl wouldn’t let himself go there. “They belong here anyway.”
“Please...All my pictures are gone...left at...that life might as well all be burned to ash...” Scooting back closer to him, Beth was just trying to convince Daryl to give...allow her to have the pictures because they were part of his story, his past, his life...now her life. It was a plea for herself, for them...what she wanted for their future.
If they left them behind, the pictures might still exist, they might stay here forever collecting dust, fading until the people were just ghostly shadows on dull paper, but she and Daryl might never make it back here again. Just like her pictures might still be at the farm if the herd didn’t tear the house down board by board or the fire from the barn didn’t spread...these pictures, if they left them behind, would be just like those tangible memories of her childhood...her past...gone forever.
Why did he want to fight her so hard...why was he so immovable? Daryl’s hands clenched the edge of the counter, fingers tightening and turning white as she came closer...sitting up straight as he realized she was moving in to ply him with herlove...the sweetness of her lips.Didn’t he want to kiss her? No...it wasn’t that...he was maneuvering on his own now, making her get intimately close, between his knees...knowing she would because it was the only way she could ever hope to reach his lips if he wouldn’t give. It was a battle Beth was more than willing to lose, gripping the top of Daryl’s rock solid thighs as she went as far as the counter would allow her, feeling the muscled mass of his legs bump against her hips. He bent to her, fingers threading through her tangled hair wrapping around the back of her neck, pulling her up to his mouth like the kiss had been all his idea. Why was he the one who always made her melt, made her weak...his kisses, passionate or gentle...burning or desperate, when Daryl claimed to have no talent or experience at these things?
He had to grasp her arm again...this time he had to...to steady her as she stumbled back a little. Breathless but the words forming on tender lipsleft wetted and wanting...words now, kisses later...words now while she still possessed the wits about herself to speak and he was left wanting too...while she had his attention.
“What if someday...somebody...what if someday somebody comes along...” Why was she so helplessly tongue tied when she knew exactly what she was trying to say? “What if your family wants to know what you looked like...what you looked like in the world before...what the world looked like before with you in it?”
He didn’t say yes. Beth couldn’t tell if he nodded or just bowed his head. He sighed deep, like he felt something he couldn’t express...but he felt it all the same. Sliding off the counter, every part of him pressed against her body, Daryl forced her to step back, but she was still molded against his imposing form.
“I’m gonna go get the bike, bring it in to the garage before it gets too dark.” A glint overtook Daryl’s eyes before he turned away...something that was speaking, saying more than Daryl’s words...but Beth couldn’t quite read him.
One thing was for certain though, as Daryl walked away, his natural saunter stealing Beth’s grasp on herself, he didn’t say no, leaving Beth alone to gather his pictures and try to pull herself back together.
Three left...three cigarettes left. Didn’t even have to tap the pack to get one out, just slid right into his hand. Daryl was sure if he turned the shop upside down he could find another lonely pack somewhere...even a half pack, open and stale was better than nothin’...but that wasn’t really the priority right now. Getting his shit together and stopping himself from being a prick to Beth was. Ass planted on the cold, crumbling parking curb out front next to the bike...the familiar sound, the grind and spark of his Zippo, the dancing flame setting the end of his smoke to a burning ember, that first drag...nicotine filling his lungs. Daryl sucked the poisons in because when he exhaled, breathed it out, it didn’t just take the edge off...it drew out some of his demons too...the poisons of his past. This...what made him retreat...it wasn’t about Beth finding his pictures. There was nothin’ to be embarrassed about her seein’ pictures of him as a kid. Hell, that was normal...normal things that real people experienced, wasn’t it? Never imagined that would be part of his life...normal. It had nothin’ to do with none of that. Daryl even got a little nostalgic himself...seeing that picture Beth was holding from what...almost fifteen years or so ago.
Motorcycle mechanic. That’s what got to him. Daryl wouldn’t have been ashamed if it was true. But Beth’s exclamation...he couldn’t react the way she expected him to...and she didn’t need to remind him neither...didn’t need to remind him of Zack’s game or her guess once he had a second to comprehend what she said...
“A motorcycle mechanic.” Daryl had always been one to move around the woods silently, even when he was with someone else...mostly Merle. That was how you survived...not letting anything hear you or near you ‘til you were ready to take it down. Beth’s words brought him back into the world, reminded him he wasn’t alone...couldn’t just retreat into his more baser instincts.
Maybe he didn’t totally forget...knew Beth was beside him, could hear her walking along. And this, where they were going...he was doing this for her. Getting a drink, that was her goal for the day, her mission, what was keeping her going. Seeing Beth’s tears...it was something more...much more than just a drink, Daryl was intuitive enough to know that much even though women were a damned mystery to him. And if she was hell bent on getting lit, he was gonna make damn sure she did it right. None of this country club peach schnapps in a pretty cut crystal glass bullshit. But just ‘cause he knew she was there beside him and knew she needed something...maybe even knew what she needed when she said she wanted a drink...didn’t mean he had any idea what in the hell she was talking about now.
“That's my guess. For what you were doing before the turn. Did Zack ever guess that one?”
Zack...shit, that felt like a lifetime ago...and that game. Daryl remembered.
“It don't matter. Hasn't mattered for a long time.” What in the hell did she want from him? His life story? She wasn’t gonna get it. He had no reason to divulge anything to her. And it finally was true...it didn’t matter...what he was before. Hadn’t mattered for a good long time.
“It's just what people talk about, you know, to feel normal.” Beth wasn’t put off by his avoidance. He hadn’t been hostile in his reply...he’d been mean enough to her as it was. Still didn’t mean he was gonna answer the way she wanted him to.
“Yeah, well, that never felt normal to me...” It hadn’t felt normal because life wasn’t ever normal for him before. Dysfunctional would’ve been a polite way to put it. What did it say about his life that the most normal he’d ever felt was after the world everyone else mourned fell apart around them, the dead rose up to feast on the living, and they struggled every day just hoping to keep breathing...keep alive for however long they could. He found his place for as short of a time as it was...and speaking of finding places, his navigational skills...good sense of direction through the woods rescued him, the shack and still just up ahead...relieved that Beth didn’t have anymore time to press her question.
“Found this place with Michonne...”
It had just been a stupid game with Zack...a game that went on for weeks, and the kid seemed like he needed someone, so Daryl let him guess. Wasn’t no harm in it. Daryl would be lying if he said the prison and the community didn’t change him. He didn’t let people all that close, but he got to know them. Like he told Michonne...
You stay in one place more than a couple hours, you’d be surprised what you pick up...
And it wasn’t like he ever planned to tell Zack the truth...anybody for that matter.
Homicide Cop. Pfft! That boy could’ve kept on guessing ‘til he was blue in the face ‘cause he was always gonna be wrong.
But Beth, he’d told her the flat out truth...no sugar coating it or nothing...‘bout who he’d been before.
He poured his soul out to her, and here she was thinking again that he’d been something...not just something different, but something. Most days he was over it now if he even had time to think about it...that past...didn’t cross his mind all that often. That was mostly ‘cause of Beth, the new life they were forging together, believing that he was good enough...that that’s not who he was anymore...nobody, nothing. Beth’s own words fortified that truth...
You're not nobody; you're not nothing. You're mine. You are the only thing that kept me going...kept me alive...
...and even when he was...nobody, nothing...he hadn’t been a bad person...not considering. It was just, coming back to these places mixed with Beth’s beautiful naivety...the way she saw the world, was still able to see the world...he loved that in her, she was his light...but sometimes it made him feel all the more tarnished.
Sure he had a past at the Busted Knuckles. Cig hanging from between his lips, Daryl looked down at his hands, all scarred up...most of those scars now had nothin’ to do with dropping wrenches in truck motors or slipping up and busting his knuckles while working on a bike that bit him. His hands weren’t so gruesome anymore, not bloody or mangled, no flesh ripping away, not even crusty cracking scabs. He wasn’t ashamed of any of these scars, fresh or ancient...it was just who he was. Wasn’t even ashamed that Beth guessed that all he was in life before was a motorcycle mechanic. That was something he was good at, something he liked, something he could’ve been proud of...hard, honest work, but he wasn’t even that...not really. Never had a steady job.
Daryl had a past before Beth...wasn’t trying to hide it from her...and well, Beth...she barely had a life before the world went to shit, and that had been an idyllic life full of grace and beauty. Family, love, church singings, sleepovers, school formals. She was just a wisp of a girl back on that farm...grew up quick in the ugly world after, but was able to hold on to all that...all the goodness that made Beth who she was...what she was to him...his light and hope. She was what...eighteen...nineteen, he wasn’t sure...knew she wasn’t twenty yet. Beth hadn’t made twenty. Dammit, he didn’t even know when her birthday was...
Fuck it all...stupidly sulking to himself. He had a past. So what? Beth knew it. Didn’t judge him.He had a future too...her. And to secure that future with Beth...their future, to give them both the chance they deserved, he had to stare that past straight in the eye, not waiver, and tell it to go fuck itself. It was as good a night as any. He wasn’t his past, but his past was part of him just like Beth’s past was part of her, part of what he loved. His past was part of what made him who he was, the broken road that led him to Beth.
Rising, flicking the butt of his smoke to the ground, grinding it into the gravel with the toe of his boot, Daryl paused before throwing up the rusted garage door to walk his bike into the darkness...before the clattering teeth clenching screeching of metal on metal could overcome the tiny flicker of a thought that danced in his mind.
“A motorcycle mechanic.”
“That's my guess. For what you were doing before the turn. Did Zack ever guess that one?”
That was exactly it...that was his game with Zack, or rather, Zack’s game with him. Daryl wasn’t ever one much for games.
How did Beth know? Zack started his guesses almost as soon as Daryl brought him in...a curious kid with not much else to do. But Zack had Beth...latched on to her pretty quick, and who wouldn’t...that bright little ray of hope and sunshine at the end of the world. Why in the hell was Zack talking about him with Beth when Zack was spending time with her...trying to get to know her? A waste of time when time was one of the most precious things they had...never enough of it to start with and never knew when your time was gonna be up. Or was it the other way around? Was Beth talking about him...? Why did Beth remember a game that wasn’t hers?
Daryl fought the little smirk that was lurking at the corners of his mouth...shaking his head to himself...that was just being cocky...
But Daryl wanted to believe...was it bad of him that he wanted to believe that he occupied her thoughts...meant something...even back then?