Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 53: After
~Author’s note: I am so sorry you guys had to wait so long for this new chapter! I understand that it is a bit of a heavy chapter...the end of some really heavy chapters marking Daryl and Beth’s arrival home which of course had a huge emotional impact. This is the last chapter that kinda wraps up all of those events, and moving forward we will get to see Daryl and Beth actually living their new life together. I am so excited about that. Thank you as always for reading and for your support!~
It was one of those rare days where it seemed like nature defied itself, the illusion of the moon high against the light blue backdrop of the sky before the sun even started to retreat. It was otherworldly, maybe even a sign that their place here would be far removed from the rest of everything out there. She could almost forget that civilization crumbled and the world stopped turning, because here it seemed constant...untouched. It was the same place she imagined it was before the turn, suspended safely in time. And it was proving to be an extraordinarily beautifulsunset. From her low vantage point, Beth watched with quiet wonder, saying goodbye to the waning orb of light that just kissed the treetops goodnight. She wasn’t afraid of the dark anymore.
Flexing and rubbing her hands...they hurt...her arms stiff too. She wasn’t used to digging graves and burying the dead, but she helped...for Daryl. They were in this together, and she was going to make sure he buried his past. She wasn’t just sore, tired...exhausted too, but there was a deep satisfaction that came with all of the consequences of the day, temporarily securing the house although she’d had no chance to explore it; constructing a crude perimeter; making their home safe...at least for the night as she sensed Daryl was far from satisfied with his own efforts. It was a short-term fix. But it was good...the ache was good. It was an endlessly long day, but she had been taught the value of hard work her entire life. A good day because it was the first. Tomorrow theywould be here and the day after...
Beth’s thoughts were broken by the screen door of the back porch squeaking and complaining open and just as quickly clattering back into its frame. She didn’t take her gaze from the sky because she knew it was Daryl...there was no one else...just soaking up the last pink hued notes of the sun’s daily swan song until he tapped her gently on the shoulder with the rounded edge of a Mason jar. Looking back at him and the glass he offered, her stomach rolled, remembering the aftermath of the moonshine, hesitating in taking it...examining the amber liquid.
“It ain’t from the still out here if that’s what you’re worried about. It’s Kentucky bourbon, not Dixon ‘shine.” Beth wasn’t going to refuse his offer, taking the glass but still not sure, her tummy lurching again when Daryl actually mentioned the moonshine. “Don’t worry, two fingers of whiskey shouldn’t hit you hard. Just sip it nice ‘n slow. It goes down smooth, and it won’t make you go blind.”
He settled down on the porch across from her, back against an upright support. Daryl wasn’t smiling...smiles still weren’t all that common for him, but he was in a good mood. It was so much more than just recovering from the trauma of the day...finding his father and putting him down. His trauma was over, he was relieved, but more than that, it was as if his soul heaved a great sigh of relief and his perspective on everything...life, his life, himself...everything changed. After they put the corpse in the ground, he’d been distant, and Beth wasn’t entirely sure if that was because he was trying to process everything or if it was that he needed space...didn’t want to get too close to her because of what happened...when he froze when the walker caught them unawares. In Daryl’s head, that would have registered as weakness and failure to protect her. And whether he’d been distant because he needed time or because he was avoiding her in the interim even though she’d been right beside him, he’d been hell-bent on all his tasks. Retrieving his bike, setting the perimeter, sweeping he house again without her this time...all the outbuildings too, all before the day faded. But now he wasn’t avoiding, just staring.
“Where did you find it?” Beth mused to break the silence. Daryl’s dad, abusive alcoholic she’d come to learn he was, didn’t seem like the type to leave a good bottle of whiskey laying around at the end of the world.
“My old man had it squirreled away under the floorboards. A bottle of bourbon, a few cans of condensed soup, a box of Twinkies, enough Spam to last a month, and toilet paper. That prick had his priorities.”
Dammit. She shouldn’t have asked...knowing it would’ve brought up his father.
“So, how does it go again?” Daryl was quick to change the subject, but she didn’t understand.
“That game... ‘I Never’?”
Beth caught the unmistakable twinkle in his eyes a split second before he couldn’t hide his mischievous grin anymore.
“Stop!” Playfully retorting.
He was just teasing her, but it made her remember. Daryl had never been much of a drinker, at least in the time she knew him, and that was all that mattered. In fact, the only time she had ever seen him drink was the moonshine, and that was only because she provoked him, calling him Mr. Dixon and antagonizing him about being her chaperone. But here he was, offering her a drink and brought one out for himself. It was a celebration.
At the risk of looking like an idiot...never having a drink before Daryl denied her the peach schnapps and gave her that first jar of moonshine, Beth lifted her glass to him. His deep blues sparkled just a little more in what light was left...twilight...leaning forward, their glasses clinking together, not fancy cut crystal filled with champagne but plain canning jars containing something more potent. Daryl was right about the whiskey; it didn’t sting as much as themoonshine. It still burned though even if it did go down smoother. Taking only a small sip, Beth decided she didn’t like it...still didn’t like alcohol, but would hold on to it for what it meant. Daryl downed half of his in one swig before disregarding iton the porch beside him. Rolling her shoulders a little, just trying to get comfortable while enduring the day’s ache...
“You okay?” His concern was all for nothing...so overprotective and hyper-aware, but that was something she would never complain aboutin the partner life gifted her.
“Yeah. Just a little sore from everything today.” Honesty was always the best policy between them; they’d come to that conclusion through experience. “I need to get used to work like that again.”
She had grown up on a farm, but that was a different lifetime.
“It won’t always be like this. Once we get it all secured, I’ll be able to handle it on my own.” Beth knew that...that Daryl could handle it by himself; that wasn’t the point.
“But you don’t have to. We’re together. You don’t have to be alone in anything again.” It was a good feeling...a fulfilling feeling to be Daryl’s help and comfort. And this was her home now too. Just like Daryl had said of himself...who would she be if she didn’t work to make it better? Who would she be if she didn’t stand and fight beside him?
“Today was...hard...” Daryl admitted...but was he saying it about himself or her? “And what you saw....I...what I...”
Beth saw what she saw, and she didn’t need Daryl torturing himself over it, especially something that didn’t even bother her. And what she’d seen wasn’t about death; it was rebirth.
“I saw you. There was nothing else.” Except for what she heard, and that wassomething she would hold close to her heart until he was ready to actually tell her.
It got like this between them sometimes...the moments of contemplativesilence where they were caught in their own thoughts or not even thinking at all, but still weren’t alone. The sun was gone now...the stars barely breaking through the dark blue encroaching on the purpling horizon, the last pinks of light all but consumed. Beth was glad they were in a place where the stars would shine bright...maybe that wasn’t just a place anymore, but the world, no glaring city lights to drown out the heavens. Everyone shared the same night sky, and she couldn’t help wonder about everyone else they knew.
“We made it.” The dreaminess...the warmth inside kindled by that truth...all that really mattered, it was a self-realized reward for all the long battles they fought to get here.
“We did.” Daryl gazed up at the stars too.
“Do you think they made it?” It wasn’t wistfulness that sparked her question, and no such emotion echoed in her voice giving no reason for Daryl to worry about her contentment in being with him; it was just curiosity.
There had been bad blood and hard decisions, but now they were beyond that. They could talk about their family without it being about those things...at least she hoped.
“I don’t know if they made it to DC. Don’t know if I want ‘em to...” Daryl still cared, and Beth felt the same way. With only the slim chance of any real hope in Washington D.C....having heard tales told about what cities such as Atlanta were like after they fell, she didn’t even want to consider the chaos they faced in going somewhere they didn’t know...a place that none of them knew. “But I know they made it somewhere...they made it. Those som’bitches are too tough not to.” Daryl reassured.
Beth was happy in the fact that she knew they were all alive and well when their paths diverted and that they all had someone else they knew and loved to carry on with. But it hadn’t always been that way, had it? She and Daryl...they’d been each other’s only comfort after the prison...until...she was torn away. Beth knew her own story of what happened when she was ripped from a life with him that was so close she just had to close her eyes to imagine it...but Daryl, she knew nothing of his journey back to Rick and the people they called their family.
“What happened after...?” It wasn’t that she didn’t think before she asked the question, there was just something that she had tried to block from her mind and remembered all too late...the cannibals...
“After...” Daryl faltered, eyes fixed on her but very far away.
“I don’t...I didn’t mean...Terminus...” That’s what it was called...that place...what Maggie called it, wasn’t it? A place she knew enough about to haunt her dreams without even experiencing it, Daryl telling her the horrors and desperatehelplessness there on his knees watching others slaughtered like lambs...no way to fight. No hope.“I mean, how did you find Rick and...”
Even in trying to correct herself, Beth really had no way of knowing if both things were one in the same.
“I found Rick, Carl, and Michonne before anyone else...before Terminus.” The deep blue orbs set under his narrowing lids seemed to shift to slate grey...seeing his own memories, and by his drawn face, the events leading up to that reunion had been no less complicated. Beth wished she could just take it back.
The quiet that followed wasn’t comfortable this time, but tension grew thick in the air. She could hear herself breathing, see Daryl thinking, hoping as the silent moments ticked by, he just wouldn’t say anything else...wouldn’t answer and all would be forgotten.
“After I lost you, I wasn’t doin’ good...wasn’t handling anything well. When I couldn’t chase that car anymore, I was at a crossroads...a real crossroads. Didn’t know which way to go...can’t track on fucking pavement. I would’ve run ‘til I heaved my lungs up, but you were just gone.And that’s when they...it found me...what I knew my life was fated to be all along. I would never get away from it.”
Beth opened her mouth to speak, moved to cuddle him and tell him it wasn’t true, but Daryl raised his hand from where it rested on his knee, staying her.
“I collapsed in the middle of those two roads. Knowing that I failed you...I lost you...knocked the wind right outta me...took my senses, even my instinct to live. This gang of pricks...I didn’t even see comin’, or maybe I did and nothin’ in me even cared, they surrounded me, taking turns claiming my bow and vest for when they got done with whatever they were gonna do to me.”
Daryl drew in a deep breath, Beth holding hers...it was hard for her to imagine a version of him that gave up the fight...so driven by survival. She’d seen him defeated, but he never lost his fight. She was glad she didn’t see it.
“I snapped. There was no way I was goin’ out like that. Their leader was a cocky som’bitch...didn’t even see it comin’. Threw myself up off the ground, sucker punched that grinning jackass, and drew my bow on him, every other person ‘round me ready to take me out, just waitin’ for the word. And that prick I socked...he laughed, and suddenly I was in.”
Beth could imagine that, Daryl a fierce animal taking everyone by surprise. He could’ve died, but he didn’t.
“But just ‘cause I was in didn’t mean I had much of a choice when they found me. They would’ve hunted me down for sport if I tried to walk away. And I needed to stay alive because I needed to find you...” There was guilt in him, head lowered, peering at her through overgrown bangs that fell in his face.
“It’s not...you didn’t do anything wrong. What else where you supposed to do? No matter what happened to me...” Beth choked up on her own words in trying to comfort and assure him, something in her still struggling with her own time after. “If I knew you were alive...I wanted you to do everything you had to to stay that way.”
He didn’t say it, but he thanked her, turning his face up again. There was something more to this story...not guilt or failure. Something more.
“So there I was right back where I started, a redneck asshole following a group of even bigger redneck assholes. I went out hunting one morning...wasn’t gonna depend on nobody else for nothin’...was out there before sunrise, just waitin’ hours for a scrawny skin and bones hare to hop ‘cross my path, shot it, but this asshole named Len...the one who tried to call my vest once I was dead...came up in the woods behind me, put his arrow in it after me, and claimed it was his. It was only a rabbit, but I wasn’t gonna give him nothin’ of mine including that carcass that was more fur and hide than meat, so I just blew him off and started walking with my kill.”
It was no laughing matter...trying to steal something of Daryl’s, and in the state he must’ve been in, anything could’ve set him off. Beth waited nervously for Daryl to continue, crossing her arms over her chest to hold herself tighter.
“But he said something that stopped me dead in my tracks... ‘I'll bet there’s a ...girl...got you all messed up’. I was hurting...I was lost...it was like he could see straight into my heart and saw your reflection on the smashed up piecesthat were left cutting my chest to shreds. He knew something was killing me inside, made that guess...or maybe I was that fucking transparent...and tried to use it to goad me into a fight. Said something about how you had me walking around like a dead man who just lost himself a piece of tail...buthe knew it was more than that, knew I wouldn’t be all torn up over nothin’.And I had no idea what was happening to you...but I could imagine.”
Shivering at her own memories as Daryl continued...
“And with men like him prowling the world...I’ll remember what he said clear as day ‘till I die, ‘cause I was gonna kill him for it... ‘Was it one of the little ones? 'Cause they don't last too long out here’.”
That was her...one of the little ones...one of the little ones that never lasted long in the world. She wouldn’t have survived without Daryl. She would’ve died if he didn’t rescue her. Men saw things in each other, and someone who didn’t even know Daryl saw that fear in him.
“He didn’t know when to shut his mouth...all over a stupid rabbit, and I wasn’t just gonna shut it for him; I drew my knife and swung on him... was gonna slit him from gullet to groinand watch his guts spill out ‘cause of what he said about you.” Daryl’s hand went to his blade, not to show her what he’d planned to do, but out of instinct, resting there for a moment, maybe just checking to make sure it was where it belonged at his side. “He didn’t know you...didn’t have any idea who you were, but everything he was saying was about you...”
“So, what happened...?” Hesitant in asking...still not sure she should have asked what happened in the first place, Beth was afraid to know what Daryl did, knowing what kind of world of hurt it would’ve brought down on him from the other men if he’d killed this one.
“Their leader Joe showed up outta nowhere, caught me by the arm, stopped me before I got started while that prick stood there laughing. And I wasn’t sure if I could take them both on. Even if I did, the rest of the gang would’ve been on my heels. He brought us to what he thought was an amicable resolution, chopped my kill in two and gave us each a half. Then he told me their code, what you claimed was yours no matter what, but I wasn’t gonna play at their bullshit game.”
“Is that when you ran?” Hopeful that he got out before they did anything horrible to him.
“No, not just then. I was waiting for the right time. Something happened that night though. When we bedded down near dark, Len tried to get me killed for stealing his half of the rabbit...planted it in my bag. Joe saw through it though, and they beat him to death...”
“That’s not who you are, Daryl.” She would say it even if he knew it...even if he believed it, she would keep on reminding him.
Maybe you got to keep on reminding me sometimes...
“I could’ve ran that night...I think I could’ve lit out without ‘em even noticing. They might’ve even let me go; I was more trouble than I was worth, but I kept thinking about their rule...claiming...and what they did to Len. Hell, I was desperate. I thought if I found you and claimed you were mine, they would help me fight whoever had you to get you back. So I left with them the next morning...” Daryl hesitated, like he was considering telling her something but wasn’t sure. “They threw Len’s body out like the trash it was, and when we were heading out, I saw it and remembered what you said...about dead people...It does matter. I stopped and thought about covering him up, even had a tattered drop-cloth in my hand; I just couldn’t do it...som’bitch didn’t deserve it. But I thought about it...tried.”
It was a genuine smile, something that came to her so naturally...she didn’t even have to force it to her face amidst this grim story of survival. Daryl learned something from her...something he took to heart. And here he was, telling her...looking to her for approval and acknowledgement, finding it in her smile, and nodding his head to himself, accepting what he needed.
“You kept me who I was with you...who I am with you...even when I was with them.”
Daryl was strong...stronger than he gave himself credit for, but that he found his strength in her, it was still hard for Beth to comprehend.
“I walked with them a while, but they were after someone...tracking someone who killed one of theirs before I met them. It wasn’t doin’ me any good in trying to find you, and I wasn’t gonna be part of them taking vengeance on some asshole who didn’t do nothin’ to me. So that night, I just hung back...was just gonna disappear into the woods ‘cause they were so focused on the fresh trail they picked up...looking forward to killing...obsessed. But something took me back...something in my gut. Rick was the one they were tracking, and they had Rick, Michonne, and Carl pinned down...”
It was enough of an answer...more than enough, and the way Daryl just stopped, Beth didn’t need to hear anymore to know. Everyone she cared about made it out alive. That’s all that mattered.
“I knew they were bad...been around men like that my entire life...but they had a code. I just didn’t know how bad they were...” Daryl was haunted by it and his choices.
Beth didn’t push him to elaborate on what happened after that...exactly how bad things got....because she saw him, more clearly than anybody ever had...more clearly than he ever let anyone else. It wasn’t that he let her; she knew him before he even knew himself. Andtonight, for the first time, maybe he was fully understanding who he was...his true nature. She was partly right...that wasn’t who he was...not like Joe or Len or the bastard who tortured her. He wasn’t Merle or his old man neither, but the things he did...wanted to do to those people...the things she had to see because of them...
“What you saw today...” Going back to the thing he tried to say when he first sat down on the porch but she wouldn’t let him explain, this whole conversation just came full circle. Daryl was much more insistent this time, and she wasn’t gonna stop him from what he needed to tell her. “The things you’ve seen...the things you haven’t seen...the things I do...I’ve done, that’s who I am.”
It wasn’t a striking or startling revelation on any part, but it was something they both had to accept. Something he had to come to terms with...and Beth, it seemed like she already had. It was who he was...who he was to protect her. Maybe it was part of who he’d been all along...all the way back to the beginning...
“I told you...” Panting, grunting...crying...the kid wasn’t man enough to hold out. He was gonna break. Wasn’t gonna take much more on Daryl’s part.
Pacing back and forth over the creaking floor, Daryl’d never been one able to stand still unless he was out hunting. He’d already landed a few punches, bloodied up Randall’s nose just to let him know he was serious...this wasn’t gonna be no fluffy PC ‘would you like to speak to your lawyer now’ kind of conversation.
“You ain’t told me shit!” Grabbing the kid, jerking him back up to sitting position.
“I barely knew those guys. I met ‘em on the road...”
“How many in your group?” Kid was reluctant to talk...needed a little bit of motivation, Daryl drawing his knife very deliberately...expertly.
“Uh...no, no, no, no, no, no...Come on, man!” The kid pleaded...he was scared, but Daryl...his glare was merciless.
“How many?!” Growling at him now was all Daryl really had to do...and threaten, lunging down and driving his knife into the aged wood between Randall’s legs, staring the kid down as he spat out his words.
Was he unsure how many people he was with, or just lying? It didn’t matter. If it was thirty or more than thirty, they were fucked.
“Where?” Wasn’t no use for the kid to be loyal to a band of marauders who left his skinny ass behind for the walkers to snack on. He needed a little more incentive to talk, ripping the bandage off the kid’s leg none too kind...wound barely healed where the old man stitched him back together...
“Uh...Ahhh...” Crying out...Daryl grabbing his calf, squeezing at it tight. “I don't know...I swear. We were never any place more than a night.”
“Scouting?”His knife came into play, tip biting into the flesh beneath the crude stitches. “Planning on staying local?”
“I...I don't know. They...they left me behind.” Stuttering, the kid was starting to wake up to the reality of his situation. No one was coming for him...trying to reason with Daryl now, but wasn’t giving him the information he needed.
Daryl didn’t know if the kid...Randall...was gonna live. Wasn’t his call; he wasn’t playing judge, jury, and executioner. That was Rick’s job. But Daryl knew the kid’s group was a threat...his friend drew on Rick and Glenn when they went after the old man who fell off the wagon when he was finally forced to open his eyes to the reality of the world...that the dead were dead, wasn’t no coming back from it...almost lost one of his living, breathing daughters to a rotting corpse that used to be his wife. Should’ve been a God damned sobering experiencing...been thankful for what he still had, but the old man went and put everyone in danger. Nope, Daryl wasn’t playing judge, jury, and executioner, not today, but he had his own purpose to serve. Interrogation they’d called it, but he was the one sent in to get his hands bloody. Wasn’t just torturing the kid for the hell of it no matter what the others thought of him, but he was gonna use whatever he had to in order to get the truth...plain ‘n simple. And sometimes the psychological threat of pain...the anticipation of it...was worse than hurting someone. Worked better.
“Did you ever pick off a scab?” Knife just barely pricking under the crusted edge. “Start real slow at first. Sooner or later, you've just gotta rip it off.” It was enough to make Daryl’s stomach twinge a little, knowing what it felt like.
“Okay...okay...” Desperate...stammering...Daryl knew that would do the trick. “They have weapons. Heavy stuff...automatics. But I didn't do anything...”
Maybe the kid was just in the wrong place at the wrong time...or with the wrong group trying to survive. Said there were more than just men in the group...women and children too. Kid said he thought he’d have a better chance surrounded by others...tried to maintain his innocence until...
“But we’d go out, scavenge...just the men. One night we found this little campsite...a man and his two daughters...teenagers, you know...they were young. Real cute.” Daryl on his feet again, pacing, turned, head over his shoulder first...kid was looking up at him, making eye contact now, even where his lid was swelling over...wasn’t averting. “Their daddy had to watch while these guys...they...”
It took a few seconds for what he was saying to register with Daryl. Whatever in the fuck made him tell that story...about raping young girls...if it were just Daryl, Randall would’ve just signed his own death warrant.
“They just made him watch. And they didn't even kill him afterwards...”
Deadly still...that’s what they called it, right...when someone was frozen just before the blood was about to flow. Daryl was deadly still.
“They just...they just made him watch as his daughters...”
...clenching and grinding his teeth, Daryl might’ve fractured ‘em, but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t him that was gonna break...wasn’t him that was gonna feel the pain...
“They just...just left him there...”
The kid saw...and he was afraid. He should be. He was gonna hurt...
“No, but...but I didn't touch those girls... No, I swear...” The full fury of Daryl’s first boot to his gut knocked the wind outta him, like he wasn’t expecting it. “I didn't tou...Ahhh...!”
Had this kid been looking at him as his confessor...or was he appealing to Daryl ‘cause of the man he thought he was? If that was the case he was fucking wrong and as good as dead.
“Please. Please!” Nothin’ he said mattered anymore. Daryl would never understand why he said it all in the first place. “You gotta believe me, man...” Starting to cry, voice breaking...the consequences for his actions hitting hard. “I'm not like that. I ain't like that. Please. Please, you gotta believe me...”
Daryl didn’t have to believe nothin’. He knew.
Randall screamed at every blow, but it didn’t matter...didn’t stop him. Daryl didn’t even really hear him...didn’t care. Just focused on his knuckles crunching against the kid’s battered face...feeling the jolt in his knees every time a booted foot sunk into the heaving flesh. Walking away from the tobacco shed that was serving as a prison cell looking down at his still balled fists, Daryl couldn’t tell which blood was his and which was blood he’d drawn. His fury stopped when the kid was out cold...woke up from the bloody haze that blinded him, remembered he had a purpose...interrogation and information. And he needed to complete that task...report back. The pain...his own pain...the small sting he was feeling centered him, and he embraced it. If that group scouted out the farm, even serendipitously happened upon it...came rolling through, they would all be dead and their women would wish they were. And not just their group...the farm girls...like those two little girls in the woods brutally raped and left for dead...Daryl worried for them too. Glenn was attached to the older one...Maggie...and would fight to protect her, little good it might do against such odds. But the youngest...especially her, the one he only knew as Beth, the little blonde one he hadn’t said so much as a word to. She looked so frail and delicate...wouldn’t ever survive something like that. And her father was a fucking pacifist, so he wasn’t likely to protect her...
It was who Daryl was even back then...it just got more intense ‘cause of her and what she meant to him.Even then it had still been about Beth, maybe not in the same way because he had no real tie to her...she wasn’t his. But he still had his code. Much later, Len came along and reminded him what the world was like. Daryl had Beth, lost her, and had no idea what was happening to her. Randall, Len, Joe...they were all the same...all ran their mouths too much about what they did...what they wanted to do and got their due in the end. And the one who’d tortured Beth...
“I’ve done things, Beth. Maybe that makes me a monster...but now...for the first time I’m not afraid of that part of me ‘cause I did it all for the right reasons.” People judged him...no denying that...remembering that day back at the Greene farm, walking up to the group waiting for him after Randall...waitin’ for him to bring word on the threat...
“What did you do?” Carol questioned, looking him up and down, focusing on his busted knuckles. Even after everything he found out...what he just told ‘em all, the details he knew but kept to himself, it all came down to judging him for what he’d done. What they’d asked him to do.
Staring at his bloody fist clenched around the strap of his crossbow at his shoulder, trying to understand the world, his place in it...his place in the group...confused...Daryl tried to minimize what he was feeling. Had to...and he had to say something quick to cover everything that was goin’ on inside.
“Had a little chat...” Like it was nothing. Like nothin’ the kid said bothered him. Like he wasn’t worried for the group...people he was starting to get attached to. Like he didn’t care what people thought about him...
But Beth never judged him for anything he did because she knew...she knew him.
“And you’re not afraid of me.” Daryl accepted who he was, and so did Beth.
It was a moment ofrevelation, that pretty girl just smiling at him, not saying a word because he got it. Daryl finally saw in himself what she had seen all along.
“And when my time comes, I’ll stand tall and unwavering in front of whoever’s my judge knowing I did what I could...”
“No...no...I don’t wanna talk about the end,” Beth begged from her spot one the porch across from him, smile fading from her cheeks.
Their conversation went dark quicker than the night sky, and she let him say everything he needed to say without any protest...but seeing Beth take another sip of whiskey in the wake of his words, Daryl knew they shouldn’t be talking about death anymore. It wasn’t about death.
“Birthdays and holidays and summer picnics...” It was about living. Not drunk on moonshine, but drunk on Beth, Daryl believed. “We get to have those things here.”
“Mmmm...” A beautiful little coo escaped Beth’s lips; nothing was better in his world than her being safe and happy. And there was a good chance he would make her happy here. “You believe that?”
“I know it. That’s how it’s supposed to be.” He wouldn’t have said it if he didn’t hope it’s what life held...even for him, and he’d never been one to hope.
Here they were sitting on the porch of a damned shack again, but this time no one was drunk, Beth wasn’t crying ‘cause of what they lost, he wasn’t worried about being the last man standing. All they had was everything they needed, their life together and everything it held.
Daryl realized, more often than not, he had silent wonderings about Beth, things he wanted to know...even small, un-intrusive details, but he never asked. He was always the one pouring his heart out or spilling his guts even if it took Beth prompting, but how was it that Beth was more of a mystery to him than he was to her? Was it because she was so much younger and experienced less in her bucolic life before or that he was actually the one who needed to talk in the end and finally found someone he was willing to share that part of himself with...almost every part? But he wanted to know about her...everything about her.
Birthdays and holidays and summer picnics...
“When’s your birthday, Beth?” It was bad enough he didn’t know how old she was...eighteen at least but he didn’t think she’d made twenty yet. Maybe it didn’t matter, but he wanted to know when she was born.
“I think it was a few days after Daddy died.”
Shit...couldn’t do nothin’ right. This was why he didn’t ask questions...never knew where they were gonna take you. But more about their time together was starting to make sense.
I know you think this is stupid, and it probably is. But I don't care. All I wanted to do today was lay down and cry, but we don't get to do that. So beat up on walkers if that makes you feel better. I need to do this...
There was so much more to that first drink than Daryl could’ve ever imagined. It wasn’t just her want of that rite of passage or simply to find a reason to keep going. It had been about her too, trying to move on, find life while she was surrounded by death and loss...her life turning over another year. He fought her on it, not knowing or even understanding...comprehending now why there’d been so many tears over that damned peach schnapps when he told her it wasn’t any good even though it was the only thing left. She thought it was her only chance. But he’d made it right, hadn’t he...the moonshine...the night that brought them together and really lit the blaze he was never able to extinguish...didn’t want to.
Maybe he didn’t even fuck up by asking ‘cause she went on...sharing a happy memory.
“Me, Maggie, and Daddy had been arguing about it for days. Nobody was keeping track of time...well, not the days anymore at least. There was no reason, but this was the first time my birthday was coming around since things were good and settled and maybe we could’ve had our own little celebration. It wasn’t an important birthday or anything...” Beth cast her eyes down, telling her story while he was so fixated on her as if she was ashamed or trying to minimize how much it meant to her...trying to convince herself it shouldn’t have... “the year before was...eighteen...”
Damn. Nineteen. She just turned nineteen and lost everything. The year before that, she was eighteen, in the midst of the first conflict against the Governor. And the year before that...turning seventeen and the whole world went to shit.
He remembered...Daryl remembered now. He knew it was her birthday, at least that it was close back then...when it was all so simple. Should’ve remembered, but he couldn’t blame himself for that one...not after everything. But Maggie came to him that morning before the Big Spot...the ill-fated run that was the inaugural event of the shit storm of catastrophes that followed. She’d pulled outta goin’ on the run with ‘em last minute; he wasn’t gonna ask why...wasn’t none of his business and he might get an answer he didn’t wanna here. If Maggie was backing out, she had her reasons, but she came to him and asked him for something. A gift for Beth...something special for Beth’s birthday coming up. Something that wasn’t secondhand scavenged or from a back woods gas station which was all they seemed to be having luck with then. Maggie knew they hit the jackpot with the Big Spot looking like it fell early on; from what he could see, it looked like it’d been barely touched at all...a gold mine, and even if it had been looted, people wouldn’t have been concerned with taking the kind of thing that was gonna make a girl like Beth happy. He didn’t have a problem picking up something for Beth on behalf of Maggie, just didn’t know why she wasn’t asking Glenn, but he’d been more than distracted the few days prior...was probably gonna be serious stick to the mission protocol Glenn. And Daryl, well, he was known for finding some pretty good shit when he wasn’t even looking for it.
But all Daryl brought back for Beth’s birthday was a dead boyfriend, and not even that. Lit out with everyone who was gonna continue breathing, leaving the poor kid for dead. One hell of a birthday present.
“Funny thing was, for all the guessing and playing and arguing about who was right...none of us would’ve ever known...no calendar or anything. But Daddy and Maggie making a fuss over it made me feel special. Hmph...” There was a simple contentment in her...remembering.
How was it that Beth didn’t know just how special she was?
“And I know what you’re thinking, so don’t even say it. There’s nothing to be sorry about. I get to keep the good memories. What happened after...” She faltered but recovered quickly. “I’m just happy I get a chance at another birthday.”
She would have another birthday; he would see to that, and they would do it up right, even if it was just them. They might not know days or dates. They might even come to a point where they lost track of years...where they didn’t know how old they were...and it didn’t matter. But Daryl would always know the season...would always remember when Beth told him she was born. Daryl kept to his thoughts, didn’t wanna speak and ruin the tranquility.
“When’s your birthday?” That melody was quick to capture her voice again.
This was supposed to be about her...things he wanted to know about Beth. And his birthday...never had much time or care to celebrate it.
“It don’t matter.”
“It does to me.” The sweet soul she was was insistent as ever.
Birthdays and holidays and summer picnics.
Suddenly he was thrust into a world where it did matter.
“I’m a winter baby...born a little after New Year.” Winter had always been hard months, always fighting to survive even before the turn. It was always just another day of the year. The only reason it mattered was ‘cause it was another day he was still breathing.
“It’s soon. We’ll get to celebrate together.” But now it mattered, seeing the twinkle in her eyes, forming some absurd image in his mind of what Beth’s idea of celebrate would be, sitting at the table, Beth putting some ridiculous pointed birthday hat on his head, elastic strap snapping under his chin. He almost chuckled...held it in though, but his smile was undeniable.
Rolling up on his knees that only cracked a little, close enough to her he could lean in and kiss her forehead...the first speck of loving attention he’d been able to show her since the events of the day played out...before he made it to his feet offering her his hand.
“We should go inside...” This time Beth took what he offered.This time Beth didn’t say We should burn it down.