Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 48: Who I Was
Candy bars, Slim Jims, and baby wipes...that’s what Beth shoved in her backpack before they dashed out of the convenience store that hadn’t been convenient at all. Chocolate...Daryl said grab the chocolate. It surprised her, but she wasn’t going to make him say it twice, even though she did try to grab some useful things on their escape. A handful of jerky sticks...those were nutritious, right...well, nutritious under the circumstances. And baby wipes. Beth spent so much of the last few...well...however long it had been since the prison...covered in blood. Walker blood. Human blood. Her own blood. More blood than she ever wanted to see in a lifetime, and not just blood...brains, skin, flesh, and guts too...most everything that was classified as gore. There were places and times in between when she was clean...even had new things, but surviving...fighting to survive was messy. It was something Beth didn’t tend to give a second thought to until she had a quiet moment to think about her state...think about living...especially being close to someone. She was a bloody disaster now, no denying it. All Beth had to do was look down and see her hands tinged red, crimson crusting under her nails. Her face...she couldn’t see that, but she knew it was the same...and Daryl kissed her anyway. Living was a bloody proposition, but it was worth it.
It was no surprise Daryl was standing in the entryway watching her. The grinding of the garage door shrieking up on its rusted runners, complaining just as loudly when it clattered back down, assured that even Daryl couldn’t move about soundlessly. Beth sensed there was something that he wanted to say but he couldn’t share it yet...the way he looked at her stayed her question...asking her not to ask. Instead he headed over to appraise the haul she’d spread out on the counter. Seeing him now, setting the halogen camping lantern beside her backpack...he was a mess too. Bloody that is. For the most part, they both seemed to have recovered from whatever it was that happened with finding the pictures of Daryl...pictures that Beth tucked away for safe keeping in her bag. A bloody mess...but she’d kissed Daryl just like he kissed her...without even noticing. Things like that didn’t matter anymore...if they ever did. They couldn’t. Did it ever matter when a warrior returned to his love...if he was dirty or bloody when he pulled her into his arms? They never said that in the romance novels...not that Beth had read many of those, but this was life...their story.When it was the person you loved most in the world, all that mattered was that kiss...that you were lucky enough to have that moment...any moment together before the world tried to steal it from you. Dirty didn’t matter.
But Beth did cringe watching Daryl push a prepackaged jerky stick her way...making sure she had food...then ripping his own open with his teeth, stripping off the plastic, holding it bare in his blood-stained hand. He wolfed it down so quickly, shoving it all in his mouth before Beth could even protest, but that didn’t stop her from taking charge of the situation. Grabbing him and the fresh scented baby wipes, she went to work scrubbing Daryl’s fingers clean.
“What the Hell...?” Almost unintelligible, part of the Slim Jim hanging out from between his lips because his mouth was so full and he was trying to talk. It reminded Beth of when Daryl chewedon cinnamon sticks after he found a jar full at the country club...before...well, before.
He wasn’t angry with her. His words weren’t even verging on harsh...eyes narrowed on her laced with a glint of amusement at the apparent absurdity of it all.
“You don’t want to eat walker for dinner, do you?” Beth caught his other hand and another wipe, working diligently at the blood crusted in the creases of his palm.
Drifting...she couldn’t help imagine the scent of Daryl’s breath after sucking on those cinnamon sticks. They hadn’t really been close enough...she hadn’t gotten close enough back then to know. Wondering what he tasted like...did his tongue taste like Christmas morning? Now she knew what his mouth tasted like...would taste like. Beth could smell the cigarette smoke clinging to him...it was part of who he was, just like his dark and dangerous male scent...and she loved it...what it evoked in her.
“Nah, there’s other things I’d much rathereat.” His answer was delayed, waiting until he swallowed to start speaking again so his words were clear.
But that delayed answer...Beth looked up at him just as he cast his gaze down, bangs falling in his eyes...was he blushing?
Oh...Beth felt herself flush...pink burning high in her cheeks, hoping the evidence of her innocence was concealed by the dim glow of the lantern, understanding why Daryl was shying away. Knowing he hadn’t meant it...not like that...but that’s what he was thinking now...so was she. It was just kinda where they were in their relationship, imagining all the things they hadn’t done but wanted to...sometimes the mind went there even when that wasn’t what was intended. It was embarrassing...talking about it, or in their case not meaning to talk about it...Beth lettinghis hands slip away so Daryl could occupy himself with the rest of his dinner while shetried to find anything to divert her own wandering thoughts. She’d been thinking about Daryl tasting like smoke and cinnamon; now he took her mindto an entirely different place. A nervously curious part of Beth wondered what he tasted like. The tension tightening in Beth’s tummy was both frightening and exhilarating.
After a few moments of awkward silence, it felt like it was just best to get back to business.
“Umm...Is there a bathroom where I can clean up?”
“Yeah...you don’t wanna go in there unless you have to.” Daryl managed between bites, his normal color returning to his face.
“Oh...” Beth hadn’t realized. He said the place was clear...she assumed that meant there was nothing Daryl had to take care of at all. “Was there someone...something in there...?”
What if it was someone he knew...dead...or turned, and he had to put them down?
“No, it’s just disgusting. Always has been, even before the turn.” Daryl raised an eyebrow and smirked at her naivety. “It’s a garage...not really the Ritz.”
But it was like Daryl took a hint she wasn’t trying to give, pulling two baby wipes from the pack and grabbing up his flashlight, preparing to head off.
“I’ll be out in the shop. Come find me when you’re done.”
That wasn’t what she meant at all in asking. Beth only wanted a bathroom so she could see what she was wiping away in the mirror...make sure she got it all off, maybe run her fingers through her wind whipped hair, smooth it down while she had the chance. It had nothing to do with Daryl being near or being shy around him. It wasn’t like her clothes were coming off...their clothes were dirty anyway, so there was no point in changing everything until they got home tomorrow...
Beth’s heart was dancing.
And even if she was stripping down...she would be nervous...shy...but she wanted that...soon.
Except Daryl took what she said as her needing privacy and took himself away. Before he faded into the darkness of the garage, he paused in the doorway, Beth catching him throwing a glance over his shoulder at her...longingly almost. She still didn’t comprehend what happened earlier...what made Daryl retreat, but she was glad his spirits were lifted and that she was still the thing he couldn’t take his eyes off. She wasn’t going to question it.
By the time Beth was as clean as she was going to get, at least feeling refreshed...and smelling like Judith, a scent that was both familiar and comforting to her... the clinks and clanks and clatters of Daryl rummaging around in the garage ceased, and all was still and quiet. Stepping into the darkness of that foreign world, having never been mechanically inclined, the light from her lantern flickered off tools, machines, and rusted-out bodies that were once cars and motorcycles. She saw a monster in every corner...every way she turned. And Beth would be lying if she said her heart wasn’t thumping a little bit...a lot harder. Breathe. She just needed to breathe. There was no real threat here. Daryl cleared it. It was all in her mind.
But she didn’t see Daryl...couldn’t find him in the dark even with her lantern. Beth couldn’t see his light shining.
“Daryl...” Calling out to him whisper soft, she didn’t know why she was so quiet...maybe out of habit...
...or maybe from the irrational fear of waking the menacing mechanical demons that surrounded her...
...or what could be hiding behind them...
Daryl didn’t answer, but she didn’t have to call out for him again, a slender beam of light shooting up from the back of a truck...reaching for the heavens, impeded by the brown mildew-spotted ceiling. She still couldn’t see him, but she could see his light...that light to guide her home...to him.
“This truck has a bed...” Beth mused quizzically, setting her lantern at the edge of the tailgate on the vehicle where she found Daryl.
He was sprawled out on an ancient blue and white stripped mattress wedged between the wheel housings in the back...well, at one time it had been blue and white. Now it was a dingy grey and some dusty, dirty variation of white...no sheet to cover what was underneath, but she couldn’t even care. Daryl shined his light at her, not in her eyes like some wild animal, just at her, lifting his head up far enough that he could get a good view of her. Beth was scarcely able to see him or the expression on his face in the lantern’s dull glow that barely reachedhis form.
“All trucks have beds.” He stated it so matter-of-factly, but there was no denying the amusement in his voice.
Daryl was teasing her...still in a good mood...
“I know that!” Beth feigned indignation, but there was laughter in her words. It was rare in their world that they were able to tease and play; she wanted this it to be their normal. “There’s a mattress on the truck.” Correcting herself...making her meaning more clear as if Daryl didn’t already know.
“Yeah, old Wes always tried to make sure that we had a place to crash when we didn’t have anywhere else to go... I think it started out as his bed for when his wife was pissed at him...” Beth waited. It seemed like there was more Daryl had to say, and she wanted to know...wanted to absorb everything about him, standing quietly, giving him the time he needed to gather his thoughts. “Well, you gonna come up or not? Don’t be shy...the fleas ain’t.”
So that was it...all Daryl was going to divulge about his past in this place. Beth wasn’t going to push him; they had a lifetime. His comment though...fleas...Beth cocked her head at that.
“Come on, Greene, when were you ever afraid of something as little as a flea? And they’re probably all dead anyway. Haven’t had anything to eat in a good long while. Besides, I’ve got something foryou.” I’ve got something for you...that was enough to entice her whether Daryl was joking about the fleas or not.
With no further prompting, Beth crawled up on the truck, feeling like she was a million years old...sore...muscles tight and complaining. But the mattress...their bed for the night wasn’t all that bad...or maybe it was just better than the silo floor, the ground, or a picnic table.
“Wes?” She repeated the name Daryl mentioned. “Wes was the one who owned this place...the man in the pictures...?” Half questioning, halfknowing, elaborating on what he offered.
Talking and getting him to talk kept Beth’s mind off her soreness and Daryl’s attention focused on something besides her stiff movements. She didn’t want him to think she was weak. She wasn’t weak.
“Mmm-hmm...” Daryl sat up as she crawled closer, leaning back against the cab of the truck, drawing up his legs while Beth placed the halogen camping lantern on the ledge of the bed, no fear of it crashing and setting their world on fire.
Perched on her knees just in front of him, between his feet, Beth waited...waited to see what he wanted to show her...what he was still holding so close to himself. Another picture...this one in a frame.
“I found this out here...on Wes’ work bench...”
Beth took what she was offered with great care, considering how Daryl held it so gingerly...knowing it meant something to him. His flashlight shined down on the picture in the rough-hewn wooden frame; she could see so clearly...the image of him.
“I remember the day this picture was taken...I just never saw it ‘til tonight...”
The truck in the picture was old...not just old...antique. It almost reminded her of the truck they had back on the farm...except it wasn’t all blue...faded blue and white instead. Daryl was sitting in the driver’s seat, arm resting on the door frame...window open, looking out at the camera, probably as close as anyone was ever going to get him to pose for a picture by himself. Beth had questions...things she wanted to ask him, but she didn’t have too. Looking up all wide-eyed at Daryl, he was going to tell her on his own.
“Like I told you before, I never had much of anything...but bikes...I knew bikes before I could even drive...‘cause of Merle. Had a bike of my own for a long while. But Merle...he found a way to fuck that up...”
Beth smiled watching Daryl cringe away after what he said. It wasn’t that he never cussed. In fact, she’d heard Daryl get quite creative with his language...and that was while he was working on his bike. But he generally didn’t cuss around her...at least he seemed to try not to in normal situations. But here they were, surrounded by dead motorcycles and truck carcasses, and Daryl was cussing like it was second nature to him. He caught her smile, going all abashed and hmmphing quietly to himself, picking at a fraying spot on his pants instead of looking at her...
“Merle went and got his bike impounded...then he took mine, madder than a bobcat caught in a piss fire...you know how he was...well, maybe you don’t. But he took mine andwrecked it; then I didn’t have nothin’.” Daryl stopped when Beth was sure there was more of the story, watching him chew at the side of his thumb, tearing at the dead skin. Even men like Daryl...even Daryl had nervous habits.
She didn’t know if she should touch him...reach out and comfort him...but before she had a chance, he continued with his story.
“Wes...he gave me that truck. Told me if I could fix it up, I could have it free and clear. I did...fixed it up good as new. It might’ve had some rusty spots...paint might not have shined up...but it was mine.” Beth heard the flicker of pride in his gravelly voice.
Brushing the stray strands of hair out of his face, she thought about how a little bit of rust...being just a little bit tarnished made a thing beautiful...made him beautiful. A beautiful soul...a beautiful man...a lot, not a little, rough around the edges...but he was hers. And she was proud.
“What...?” A question somewhere between shy and self-conscious, but he was too caught to hide it or even try.
Beth shook her head. There was nothing to explain. She was just looking at him...enjoying him...like she caught him doing so many times.
“You’re lookin’ at me like...” Trailing off, picking at his fraying pants again.
“Like I love you...like I see my future in you?” That was the pure and honest truth down to the very center of who she was.“Because I do...I see you...”
“I...You...” Was he trying to deny what she was saying? He knew better than that, didn’t he? Or maybe he just didn’t know what to say.
Daryl had never been a man of many words until...well...after they broke together...and even though he changed, sometimes he was still Daryl. But those eyes told her everything she needed to know.
“Wes told me the day he took that picture...the day I got my truck done, ready to drive off...that he hoped it would give me a chance to get away...that I would take that chance. I thought maybe then I would...but I never got away. Merle rolled back into town, and right after that, the shit hit the fan. He was my brother...my blood. What was I supposed to do? There was no choice but stick together. After I lost Merle in Atlanta...after the CDC...I left my truck behind so I could take Merle’s motorcycle. Couldn’t waste the gas to haul the bike around in my truck anymore...So this was it...this picture was the last picture of me before the turn...”
Daryl’s conclusion masked the unbidden emotion that was creeping up in his voice from talking about Merle. Beth understood that there were still things he needed to hold close to his heart just for himself...like Merle. She got it. But other things...
...but I never got away...
Beth wouldn’t stand for it. They had been here before...had this conversation...
“I'm just used to it, things being ugly...growing up in a place like this...”
“Well, you got away from it.” Daryl’s world was so different from hers that it was the only thing she knew to say...the truth...the only thing that should matter. The shack...yeah, she got it...it was far from ideal...but the ugliness wasn’t actually because it was like the place where he grew up but what Beth knew had to have happened to him there.
“You did...” Beth’s insistence was fierce. She knew who Daryl was.
“Maybe you got to keep on reminding me sometimes...” The way he looked at her...the knot tied up in her stomach because of those piercing blue eyes through the darkness...making it just a little hard to breathe...the man who told her he had never looked to anybody for anything. His gaze so soft, his stare so fixed on her...
“No...You can't depend on anybody for anything, right?” She knew she was strong...but she wasn’t strong enough to be Daryl’s strength. If one of them was making it out of this alive, it was Daryl, and she couldn’t be what he looked to...who reminded him. When she was gone, Beth didn’t want to be on his conscience too. “I'll be gone someday...”
Beth stopped right there. Those memories...they were too painful for her...the truth of them...like she had foretold her own future. But now...she wasn’t going anywhere. Daryl asked for her help once...to remind him...and she’d rejected him...telling him that he couldn’t depend on her. That was wrong. Now she was right beside him...right where she belonged, and she would be his reminder.
“But you did get away...” Insisting with all her heart...all her burning passion for life that the world tried so hard to extinguish.
“Pfft...” Daryl almost laughed...not at her and not out of his inherent cynicism, but at the irony...the irony of it all...the situation, where they were, Daryl making a point to look around them.
He was being so literal.
“Daryl...” Her little objection was quashed before it even started...
“Nah, Beth, I never got away back then, and I’m glad I didn’t. If I took one step in a different direction, that fucked up life would’ve never led me to you...and I wouldn’t change this for nothin’. I didn’t get away, but you remind me why it’s all worth it...everything...”
Maybe you got to keep on reminding me sometimes...
It turned out she didn’t even have to do or say anything to be his reminder.
He said it was all worth it...everything...and Beth knew that his everything...his lifetime of everything was more pain, torture, and abuse than she could ever fathom...things he would probably never share with her. Beth wanted every moment...every second of their life...their everything to be worth it for him...like it was for her. After hearing Daryl’s sentiments, Beth wanted to be close...wanted to be snuggled.
“Come here.” Daryl knew...he always knew what she needed, opening his arms, letting her turn between his drawn up legs...pulling her to him.
It was Beth...somehow it was both easier and harder to open up to her. He was a damned contradiction to himself. Came in dreading all the things he had to tell her...about who he’d been...reminding her of the truth he’d already shared so long ago. Nobody. Nothing. How hard it was gonna be telling more details, and this time without the moonshine, but manning up to do it. Then once he started talking...once the words started pouring out...at least how he started by giving her a picture of him and his truck...it was easy. Easier or harder ‘cause it was Beth really didn’t matter...he was saying it anyway, but it was less difficult ‘cause she couldn’t see him.
“When I was just a little kid...I used to come out here. Wes always found some gofer jobs for me...gave me a handful of quarters for my pocket when I didn’t have nothin’...”
It wasn’t ever really ‘bout the money or working back then though...it was about having somewhere to go...
The yellow light glowing out the window of the shop was what stopped Daryl in his tracks at the side of the faded blacktop. In the dark, the road looked like a river he had to cross to find somewhere safe to stay the night. Touching his sore lip with tentative fingers, it wasn’t wet no more, so that meant the bleeding stopped...it was getting all crusty. His eye was swelling up pretty good...could only see out of a blurry little slit of it, but there wasn’t nothin’ he could do ‘bout that. No reason to go poking at it. Crouching down behind the mailbox post just waiting for the old man to leave, then he’d crawl up in the cab of one of the old junker trucks outside the garage where he’d be safe for the night. He wasn’t afraid of the woods, being outside...wasn’t even afraid of the animals that might come after him...it was the idea of his dad huntin’ for him.
Not that his dad cared...when Daryl got lost in the woods when he was littler, his old man didn’t even notice...off on a bender with some waitress then. But now...now with Mom dead and Merle long gone...there was nobody on Daryl’s side...nobody left to try and protect him or even take the heat off him. He was his old man’s personal punching bag...seemed like that man had to have a living target...someone to beat on to stay alive. Daryl needed to hunker down and stay outta sight ‘til his old man got hammered enough again to forget he existed...instinct told him that. But Daryl had to go home sometime. Didn’t have no where else to go.
Wasn’t paying close enough attention...that was gonna get him killed someday. The glaring lights from the truck across the road that just started up shined in his eyes...hurt the one goin’ all black...Daryl throwing up his hand to block it, frozen like some animal in the dark being spotlighted by a poacher. The truck didn’t pull away; instead the driver’s door creaked and squeaked open...ignition turned off...and just a few breaths later, the old man was looming large over him. Daryl should’ve run...he should still run...but to where? Had no where to run to.
“Whataya doin’, boy?” Stern, serious, but not threatening...Daryl knew what threatening sounded like.
But he didn’t have nothin’ to say...no answer...and that made Daryl shrink back...not ‘cause he was scared but out of instinct. If he didn’t answer when his dad asked a question...well, his old man made fist meet face.
“Come on. Let’s get you inside and have a look at you.”
Daryl hesitated at the offer. Nobody was nice for free.
“Come on, I said. You don’t gotta be afraid of me, boy.”
“I ain’t afraid of nothin’!” Snapping back, standing up straight and tall in the face of that accusation.
“Hmmph...I can see that...” the grizzled old man chuckled, but Daryl knew he wasn’t laughing at his expense but his defiant spirit. “Little scrawny, hungry-eyed coyote. Not afraid of anything.”
Sitting up on that counter, Daryl didn’t flinch one bit at the sting of the alcohol-soaked mechanic’s rag rubbing at his split lip. Not alcohol from a first aid kit but whiskey straight from the bottle. He’d been struck by the effects of Jack Daniels before...his old man’s fuel of choice that powered his rage, and that stung a million times worse than this.
“You’re gonna be half blind by morning. That eye’s gonna be swelled up tight.”
“So?” Didn’t know what to say other than that...the man just stating the obvious...a truth that Daryl wasn’t just old enough to know, he knew first hand.
“You don’t complain much, do you?”
Nothing. Showing just how strong he was.
“Don’t talk much either.”
Nothing. Didn’t need to say nothing when the old man got it right himself.
“How old are you, boy?”
“How old are you?” Daryl smarted off...didn’t like the questions, but backed down when the man pulled the shop towel away from his busted lip and gave him the glare-down. Daryl still didn’t answer. What did it matter?
“Who’s been beating on you?” This time Daryl flinched when the rough rag touched his face, whiskey soaking into the split skin on his cheek just below his eye.
The stranger was gentler and made no mention of Daryl’s weakness...showing his pain. And that question...he’d been distracted by the sting...but that question wasn’t none of this stranger’s damned business, Daryl going to brush the old man’s hand and stupid towel away so he could take off into the dark. Didn’t need no bleedin’ heart wannabe hero to go callin’ the state on him...end up in foster care or worse...juvie...
“Hey...whoa...you sit your skinny ass on that counter ‘til I’m done cleaning you up...you hear me?”
Daryl couldn’t say what made him sit still again...what made him stay...
“My name’s Wes. You got one...a name that is?”
Yep. He had one of those.
“Oh.” That said it all...Wes’ response to hearing his name...recognizing.
And Daryl said too much just by saying it. Might as well have told him his whole life story by uttering Dixon. Wes knew who he was ...well, knew who his old man was...knew who was beating him. How could he not? Dixon...that name came with its own set of rules and consequences. But the questions stopped there, at least the old man’s. Both the need to avoid the pain Daryl pretended he wasn’t feeling and trying to divert attention from the fact the stranger knew his dad beat the shit outta him...Daryl realized in the silent seconds ticking away that he’d been fixated on the business flyer tacked to the corkboard behind the counter. Busted Knuckles. That’s what this place was called. Daryl knew that before...just hadn’t thought on it...now he was wondering why. It was as good a time as any.
“Busted Knuckles...what’s that supposed to mean? You a fighter or somethin’?”
“Sometimes. But there are other ways a man gets his knuckles busted up. Hard work...working on bikes and trucks. You know anything about motors, boy?”
Daryl had known that...about busted knuckles from gettin’ bit by engines and dropping wrenches. He wasn’t stupid...he’d just been too tired and sore to realize the obvious.
“Yeah...bikes. My brother taught me some...teaches me when he’s around...”
And if Wes knew who his family was, and there was no way he didn’t recognize the Dixon name and everything that went along with it, he already knew the answer to that. But at least he wasn’t making assumptions. He was letting Daryl answer for himself like a man.
“You know, boy, there are right ways and wrong ways to get your knuckles all scarred up...even if you’re fighting. Especially if you’re fighting. Real men learn this...know this...” The sting in his cheek hammered that home...what Wes meant. “A man’s gotta know what he’s fighting for...and there’s a difference between fighting and beating.”
Just sitting there averting his eyes, he knew the old man was right, but there was nothin’ Daryl could do ‘bout it.
“Well, that’s the best I can patch you up. That cheek might’ve needed a stitch or two, but it’s too late now.” This was where Daryl imagined he was gonna be put out on the road. “Can’t take you home with me. My wife would kill me for bringing in a stray, but there’s a mattress in the garage you can bed down on tonight in the back of the green truck...”
Daryl’s one good eye widened, listening to the offer, waitin’ for the catch.
“There’s nothing here for you to steal, so don’t go tryin’...”
“I ain’t a thief...” Defending himself, but Wes just kept talking right over him.
“There’s bologna and soda in the fridge. Have all of it you want, but don’t go pissing in my corners. There’s a bathroom down the hall.”
Daryl knew better than to piss in the corner, but maybe Wes didn’t know better of him...or maybe it was a joke. Daryl wasn’t so good at jokes...
“If you’re here come morning, we’ll see if we can’t find something for you to do to put some change in your piggybank.”
“I don’t got a piggybank.”All sullen at the childlike notion, but he wasn’t gonna turn down the offer.
Leaving Daryl sitting up on the counter, Wes grabbed his keys and headed out.
“...thank you...” Daryl mumbled...
“Daryl...” Beth’s faint voice...so close...found him in the shadows of his past...brought him back to her...
Daryl told Wes thank you that night, not really knowing how to say it...not really knowing if he wanted him to hear...but he said it. Sitting here now, in this place with Beth, Wes’ place...the place where he started to learn what it was to be a man...a real man...with the girl who fully showed him the man he was supposed tobe, Daryl wondered if Wes actually heard or even knew that he was grateful.
Thank you... Daryl thought it just in case Wes was out there somewhere, in body or spirit and could hear him, ‘cause it was just as sincere...if not more...as it was when he was a beaten little boy. He was just better at knowing what it meant now.
“I’m here...” Tellin’ both Beth and himself...feeling her lean back into him, getting all comfortable until something in her cracked...loud enough he heard and felt it too.
“Owww...” Maybe her little exclamation wasn’t outta pain...just the surprise of the noise because there was a hint of laughter there.
But it gave Daryl cause for concern, diverting his mind from the stories of his life.
“Mmm-hmm...I’m fine, really.” Beth was quick to insist, and while he believed her...that she was essentially okay, he could feel just how stiff she was...could imagine the soreness that was sunk deep in those tensemuscles. She was a fighter, but she wasn’t used to fighting.
“Here...let me...” Daryl needed to have a look at her back anyway, make sure she was healing up how she was supposed to, and this was a good excuse. And not really an excuse because he wanted to do this for her.
Slipping his hand under the hem of her shirt, feeling her silky skin ripple under the calloused pads of his fingers as they skimmed up her sides...over ribs that were healing and bruises that were almost a faded memory...drawing her shirt up with them. Beth didn’t object as she leaned away to allow Daryl to pull her shirt over her head, careful not to get her hair caught up. He had no talent in this, but he wanted to learn how to touch Beth; maybe the best way to learn...start learning...was innocently. Hell, he’d never had anybody rub his shoulders before. He didn’t even know what he liked or what made him feel good...not like when he was able to help Beth with the soreness after her first motorcycle ride. Squeezing her shoulders grasped full in his hands, hearing Beth sucking air through her teeth...too much he realized...too hard...softening his touch until he didn’t just hear but felt Beth exhale a deep breath, hoping that she was expelling some of the stress and soreness that plagued her body along with it.
“Mmm...” Her soft contented purr when he pressed his thumbs into the hollows under her shoulder blades meant he must be something right.
His hands could heal...didn’t have to just destroy...maybe they could all along. He just needed Beth to be able to realize the potential in himself. And it was even easier opening up to Beth now...not because they were both distracted...but because of the touching...the closeness...that physical connection he’d never sought or wanted with anyone else. Daryl just restarted his story from right where he left off...
“When I was older...still a kid, but old enough for a job...I worked out here...”
Palms applying pressure down her back, Beth’s muscles loosening and giving up their fight...
“Wes paid me good, better than my work was ever worth...spent more time goofing off sometimes than I actually did working...”
Fingers wrapping around her ribs...careful...so careful...not knowing what was still damaged underneath...thumbs trailing down her spine. This touch was for himself...to feel her in his hands.
“But Wes and the other guys here...they were almost like family...”
Daryl didn’t like that he could feel the bones protruding from her back...needed to get settled quick where he could keep her safely locked away while he hunted...plenty of meat. She was so little...nothing extra stocked up anywhere to help her ride out the winter.
“Even later when I would blow back through town with Merle...”
Daryl finally reached where her wounds were after traveling down the smooth spanse bare before him, only hindered by the thin band of her faded pink bra. Two hooks unclasped and that would be done with...but that wasn’t where Daryl was going. The marks weren’t cuts anymore, now scars...each one brighter and more pronounced than the last against her pale, translucent skin. Scars meant she was healing...the danger of infection was gone. Scars meant they were the same, for better or for worse.
“...didn’t have any money, I could always stop here a few days, fix some bikes, and have some cash for my pocket...until...”
She didn’t shy or flinch away from pain or self-consciousness or tormented memory when he hesitantly traced those nine scars marking her lucid days of captivity and torture. Did she have to force herself to allow him to touch her? Or had it been enough...was it enough...the days before and after when they were alone...baring his own scars to her...healing together...that she had no inclination or even instinct to pull away from him? Acknowledgement. Acceptance. Trust. Love. Those things were the foundation of who they were together.
“...until Merle...” Daryl was trying to tell her all of it. He was tryin’. But he didn’t finish the truth of it, and Beth didn’t question him even though there was a shudder in her breath, like she knew...felt his pain.
Until Merle held his hand out...
Merle always took what he thought was his cut to snort up his nose or blow on questionable women. Merle was a charmer with the right...wrong kind of woman...smooth when he wanted to be...leaving Daryl with so little in his pocket that he could never do more with it than fill the tank on his bike, buy a couple packs of smokes, and drink himself numb to drown out the world for the night. Having his hands on Beth kept him calm while traversing the darkness of days gone by...doing what he wanted with her...what she deserved...without thinking. And maybe that was the beauty of it...he could just be with her.
Pressing Beth forward with an encouraging palm, Daryl kissed the highest scar her back bore much like she had the night he bared his scars for her and forced her to come to terms with the truth-he wasn’t gonna let her hide herself from him.Laying a trail of kisses up her back...mouth possessive...hand gripping her sides to hold her steady ‘cause now she was shivering...God, she was so slight...delicate...beautiful in all her perfection...
“I always got paid cash...always under the table. Never paid Uncle Sam his due...”
Closing his eyes, sighing softly, and resting his scruffy chin on her shoulder, Daryl wrapped his arms around her, engulfing Beth because he needed her.All he wanted to do was protect her...from pain, danger, heartache...all the ugliness of his world.God...did he love her.
“Truth is, I ain’t never had a steady job. I was good with bikes...liked working on ‘em. I would’ve been proud if that’s all I ever was, but I wasn’t even a mechanic. Not really. I was nobody...nothing...I wasn’t lyin’ when I told you that.”
There it was. He laid it all on the table. Beth knew now why he retreated after her excited exclamation that she knew he was a motorcycle mechanic...he told her and gave her a tiny piece more of his darkness in doing so. He wasn’t gonna stop her when she wiggled free of his grasp...knowing she was gonna turn and face him; he needed it. Sitting on her knees between his legs, Beth was listening so intently...her expression so serious.
“Now you know...who I am. This was my world, Beth...dirty, ugly, gritty...” Looking around, what Daryl could see from his life before, there was a deeper truth that needed to be told. “...and this was the best of it...”
It was a warning of what was to come...
“Stop...” Beth demanded, fierce little creature she was.
Her warm fingers grazed over the center of his chest reaching all the way in to his heart even though she wasn’t even touching his skin. Daryl couldn’t take his eyes off her, illuminated in the lantern’s glow like all the light in the world was drawn to her.
“What you did...what you didn’t do...that’s not who you are, Daryl...not in here...”
His heart was quivering where her hand now pressed full to it...something catching in his chest...not a sob, but enough pent up emotion that it almost was. That was what he needed to be told all his life...what Daryl wanted to believe about himself but everyone told him different...hammered into him how useless and pathetic he was. How was it that Beth seemed to know him before he even knew himself?
“And yeah...maybe the world is ugly and dirty and gritty...even bloody and scary on most days, but this isn’t...” Beth looked around them, then back to him, square in the eye. “You’re not. You make my life beautiful...”
“Stop...” Self-conscious, Daryl couldn’t hold her gaze, dipping his head low and letting his hair fall in his face.
“No.” Beth wasn’t taking any shit from him...never did. One of the reasons he loved her...her spirit. “You’re beautiful.”
Beth’s insistence hit him hard. Nobody ever called him beautiful...her slender fingers tracing the stubbly line of his jaw, asking him without words to look up at her...not forcing him, but willing him. And he did because he needed to.
Don’t you think that’s beautiful...?
Daryl didn’t fully understand Beth and what she said back at the funeral parlor the first time around...looking at the walker corpses the mortician was dressing up like grotesque dolls, but Daryl knew exactly what he was thinking in that moment...
I think you’re beautiful...
“Don’t you know who you are, Daryl Dixon? You’re a savior. You always have been...”
“Pfft...” Now that was just goin’ too far. “I ain’t no savior. I’m just...”
“No! You’re not just anything. You’re mine...”
Daryl wasn’t sure if Beth was claiming him as her savior or just taking possession of him. Either way, it didn’t matter. He wanted to be both those things...