Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 55: Chance or Choice
~Author’s Note: Hey Everyone! Here I am all excited to have finished this chapter but nervous to post it because it has been so long since I updated. I apologize for not having posted a chapter of “Wasn’t Born...” in months, but things have just been crazy. I took my holiday break from updating, shortly after the holidays I went on vacation, both of which were very pleasant, but after I returned from vacation, I contracted not one but two strains of the flu, one right after the other. I spent a significant amount of time down with the flu, then recovering and making up lost time working which made it all very difficult to keep in touch with my creativity much less find the time to sit down and write. I am happy to be back to doing what I love, albeit nervous as I said since it has been so long. I would like to thank any of you who come back to read this new chapter. I need to warn you though that it isn’t exactly the entire picture that I wanted to paint with this particular update. The chapter became much longer than I intended it to be, and I would still be working on it had I not decided to split it and post this portion independently. It works...it does, and the up-side of this is that a good amount of the next chapter is already written. Please be gentle in judging this update since it has been so long since I have been able to sit down and write...something I love so very much and am so happy to be back doing. Any of my readers who also follow “I Will Follow You Into the Dark”, please know that I am still dedicated to that fic as well (and it was much less overdue for an update than “Wasn’t Born...”), but I haven’t forgotten or abandoned it and will be working on a new chapter for it soon. I am not sure whether or not “Wasn’t Born...” will have the next update since that chapter is already in progress or if I am going to focus on getting a new chapter of “I Will Follow...” written...I think since I am getting back into the swing of things, that I am just going to follow where my creativity wants to go. Thank you again if you come back to read my fics and follow the continuing journey of Beth and Daryl in a world where they get to live.~
So many things that happened to her scarred Beth’s mind...much harder to bear than physical wounds...permanently became a part of who she was; she could never forget. Others came back to her in pieces and bits...and sometimes those blurs...those things that she remembered and forgot and remembered again were hazy like fever dreams. It didn’t matter how they came or if they were always with her...they were just as haunting.
The unexpected...the normal...the simple, the things that triggered these memories...she could never predict them...
A wall. There was a wall...a fence...
...a fence around the church that was her cage...prison...a place of torture...
...rough hewn wooden planks...pale shadows of the trees they once were, remnants of bark clinging to the edges. Dead trees. Dead like walkers, corpses with no soul, skin all sloughed away...All the life left behind, the only thing remaining of what once was...the rotting meat and bone beneath...
There was a fence around the church. Beth didn’t remember...couldn’t recall the first time she took notice of the fence because it didn’t matter. She was never going to make it on her own. That fence might as well have been as far away as the sun she couldn’t see but knew was dipping into the shadows, like death was stealing the last light that would ever touch her.
A fence...another fence was before her, but this fence was more than a fence. It was a strong wall. Strong. Formidable. Tall, solid polls, still retaining a vestige of what they were, clad in bark not yet peeled back in defeat. But it was still a fence. This time she was on the outside...she wasn’t trapped, not yet. Afraid...so afraid. It was a prison...a trap...
She didn’t want to be behind this wall. Did they even have a chance? So many people...
Good people...? Maybe they were good people...
She couldn’t even convince herself of that...not now...no matter how hard she tried.
A girl...she’d just been a naïve little girl back then...when she first insisted that there were still good people. So hopeful, filled with the light and dreams of blooming love...proven wrong at almost every turn about good people.
Two people...just two people chance met upon the way were good...one night spent in the company of strangers that didn’t try to kill her and Daryl. But it was her and Daryl who were the good people; the others had too much to risk...a baby and a small child. If the roles had been reversed...the tables turned...what would’ve been the outcome?
They had no choice but to leave the security of their truck, Daryl stiffly gesturing for her to slide across the bench seat and out the driver’s door, lodged as safely as she could ever be between him and the cancerous, rust-ridden truck bed behind her.
So many people...so many weapons...nothing would matter. Nothing at all.
These people...even if they were sheep blindly following someone...they were wolves with sharp teeth, the most dangerous kind of sheep. And somehow Beth knew, even if by some miracle she and Daryl didn’t meet their grisly end out here, blood streaming like hot rivers down the pitted dirt road, they were going to be forced inside the fence...maybe something far worse than death waiting for them on the other side.
But there was one day even when she had no hope of surviving...one lucid day where she saw that fence around the church...the building that had once been God’s house, and knew even though she may never have been able to really escape...even if she did, so sick...she would never be able to fight and survive in the world alone, Beth knew she had to fight...wouldn’t let the fence or the monster who hid behind it conquer her. That was the day Daryl came for her...the day Daryl saved her. It was the day she decided there was something in her worth saving...she decided she would die trying to save herself even if that only meant she would die as she was. And Daryl was there that day. He was still here. And he needed her beside him too...now. To fight...even if it meant to die. They would be together.
“You got a name, friend? The question alone could’ve been threatening, but even captured by the clutches of the fear of their precarious situation, what Beth heard...there was no danger in the stranger’s tone. Curiosity mingled with trepidation and caution, but no promise of harm.
“Dixon.” There was an answer, the countrylilt was there, but it wasn’t from Daryl’s tongue. “His name’sDaryl Dixon.”
Peering out from behind Daryl’s mountainous shoulder, Beth glimpsed the man making his way through the maze of armed defenders. She didn’t know him, but it was a face she knew all the same. And she knew something else in her heart too as its frantic beat settled and the fear knotting in her stomach released its hold. There were still good people.
Faith came quickly...maybe too quickly, but she needed it...they needed to believe.
Three times...three strikes...
The cult of hellfire and brimstone that tortured his Beth within an inch of her life...
Three communities...humanity struck out with each and every one of them...the horrors that these places, their leaders, and their people inflicted. Might’ve looked like pretty, shining models of post-apocalyptic civilization from the outside, but Daryl knew the outcome of ‘em all...the things they lost ‘cause of ‘em.
What were the chances they’d find another community at all? What were the chances that this place and its people would be any different than all the others that came before? Fucking slim to none...that’s what those chances were.
“Dixon. His name’s Daryl Dixon.”
Something deep and nagging in Daryl worried ‘bout dragging Beth back to this place from the beginning...the places from his past, not just fearing that she would see the world that molded him...what he was before her...and would revile him for it, but that there might be someone left alive from then and there who knew him that would really show her. He’d been able to beat down that anxiety for the most part ‘cause it’d seemed so damned impossible, what, with only a handful of actual breathers left in the world...not really a chance in hell. And with what was waiting for them when they finally did make it home...his old man...not exactly breathing but waiting there to tell his story, any real probability of comin’ face to face with a living part of his past seemed to totally disappear. But sometimes pigs grew angel wings, the 31st day of February came round, and Satan served Slurpees in Hell.
“Do I still know you?”...
“My name’s Wes. You got one...a name that is?”
Yep. He had one of those.
He was an old man, but he didn’t remind Daryl of his old man...his instincts were settling...didn’t feel the need to run or hide. Sittin’ up on that counter, battered and wary of the world, Daryl put on a strong face and gave his name, the only thing he really owned.
“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...
Now his name was his and his alone, not a kid trying to survive the implications of that name, but a man owning it and who he was. And maybe now his name was the thing that might save him and Beth.
Wes looked almost the same as when Daryl last saw him...almost the same as when he first met him all those nights ago when he was little boy...an old man gone all white instead of grey, but really looking no worse for wear. Well, no worse than any of them did fighting with every breath they had in order to survive.
It’d only been a couple years since Daryl took off in his truck, said his last goodbyes. It’d only been a couple years, but Daryl knew years didn’t matter; life and the shit it threw at you did. People were changed...no way they weren’t...some for the better, some for the worse, but everyone was changed by the world.
“You sure in the hell better still know me. I know you. I remember when you were a skinny, scruffy, vicious little ankle-biter. You’re the one’s done all the changin’ over the years.”
The unexpected hug came quick...quick enough it had Daryl on edge, fighting his instincts to dodge and defend. To his credit, he only shied away a little from the suffocating embrace...tried to accept the reunion with the only father figure he’d ever had as a kid, giving in ‘cause Wes wasn’t giving him any choice...never did...letting the fear fade away, and patting the man on the back. Wes had to have sensed Daryl’s apprehension, saw he had his crossbow in hand...must’ve known just how dangerous he’d become surviving, but none of that mattered to the old bastard; Wes wasn’t afraid of him, and that somehow put Daryl at ease.
Couldn’t really say if he’d thought Wes was dead. He was a tough som’bitch, but at some point, you just stopped wondering who made it and who didn’t ‘cause it was easier that way...hurt less. It was just easier not to think about what actually happened to the people you knew before. Your life just got all wrapped up in surviving and tangled in the lives of the people surviving beside you, and rightly so. Wasn’t no other way.
The people beside you...
Beth. She must be so scared...
But when he turned and reached back to draw her up close to him, any fear was gone replaced by a curiosityin those wide, pale blue eyes and the slight trepidation of one such as her who suffered so much horror at the hands of strangers.
“But I don’t know this pretty little thing. Who is this sweet breath of fresh air?” Being such a gentleman, one of the many facets Wes possessed...taught his boys to always treat their ladies right no matter how ruff and gruff he was in the garage...turning all his attention to Beth.
“Beth...this is Beth...” Leaving it just at her name. Not good in social situations. Not good at labels. Didn’t wanna just proclaim She’s mine because she was more than just a thing to be possessed, and she’d been owned before... “Beth, this is...”
Before he could even finish the most rudimentary introductions...
“I know who he is...”
Beth’s hugs changed people’s lives; Daryl knew that first hand, watching the once fearful, broken little creature wrap her arms around the grizzled old man who’d been a father to him as if all her faith in people...in the world...had been restored.
The path ahead of them was clear, so was the road behind.
“We can run.” Daryl gripped the steering wheel staunchly...seriously, with purposeful intent but giving no indication which direction he intended to drive.
“We can. But we don’t have to.” Beth would be beside him no matter which choice he made, her comforting caress up his forearm assured him of that truth.
In a world riddled with unimaginable horrors and living nightmares, it was a rare, beautiful day when you didn’t have to run...when there was no adversity to be fearless in the face of.
Daryl chose forward instead of back.
It wasn’t touched by time or the plague, the loss of modernity, or the totality of an apocalypse; it couldn’t have been because most of it hadn’t existed before that world just stopped. Beth only half-heard Daryl’s conversation with the man from his past, walking side by side with Daryl, Wes just a few steps ahead leading the way, talking back over his shoulder to them, the adopted prodigal son who returned and the girl he kept so near. Beth let Daryl listen for the both of them...for the most part...while she appraised her surroundings, inquisitive eyes taking in every small detail she could, perhaps a trait learned from all the time spent with Daryl, learning to be aware. Curious, but unafraid...set at ease by Daryl’s own relaxed stance. The way he followed willingly, bow slung across his shoulder...no weapon grasped at the ready, the only thing in his hand was hers...Beth didn’t need any assurances that everything was going to be alright; she trusted Daryl and his judgment with all she was. And when his hand clasped hers, Beth again recaptured moments...chances...the butterflies of innocence and awkwardness that she’d thought were banished to a world gone by, wondering if the apples of her cheeks were burnt as cherry-red as they felt...holding hands in public. She wondered if Daryl was blushing too, wondered what was going through Wes’ mind when he caught a glance of Daryl holding a girl’s hand...Daryl, a boy he’d known maybe longer than she had been alive. A slight upturn at one corner of his mouth deepening the wrinkles and creases around his lips and a low hmmph punctuated the glance, not teasing...no. From what Beth saw, Wes knew Daryl too well to try to tease or embarrass him, at least not in front of his woman. She felt it as more of an acknowledgement that Daryl was a man...a different man than he knew before.
These people around them...people they were passing while Wes continued his happy ramble...they weren’t afraid of them either. Curious as she was, but unconcerned, only momentarily distracted from their daily tasks that reminded Beth of a community much like the prison. And there was something promising about this place...at first Beth wasn’t able to put her finger on it...
“And how did y’all end up out here?” Daryl’s voice tethered her from drifting too far into her own thoughts.
“After it was pretty damned clear there was no help comin’...not that that’s ever been an option in our case; nobody gives a damn about the likes of us...rather, once it was obvious there was no help to be had, we thought about our options. Some of use knew we were too old to make it on the run even though going deep in the woods, keeping on the move, and livin’ off the land would’ve been the smartest choice, some of us would’ve dragged the group down...would’ve killed the other’s right along with ourselves. We’d been through hell together though, that first month or so when none of us had any idea if there would be a tomorrow...nobody was willin’ to split up or splinter off. Made our way out here on a hope and a prayer. Knew there was gas, knew there were generators. If we were gonna go, at least we’d live out our time in comfort, but we thought maybe...just maybe, it might buy us our chance and we’d find a way to survive together...”
There was laughter dancing in the autumn breeze, children playing in the distance...some game she couldn’t see, but whatever it was, they were happy. They could be children.
“But we made this place so much more. Tall walls...that was just the beginning of it...”
It was more...Wes was right. The fall harvest was over, reaped cornstalks tied up in neat bundles, but it looked like they’d all been hard at work laying cold weather crops in gardens lined in precise rows. Small animals...goats, sheep...pigs by the acrid smell of them...occupied pens near some lean-tos in the distance.
The logging road...it all made sense now...Daryl said they would take the logging road to avoid being followed and loop back around to make it home. It had been a lumber mill...the large pavilion at the center of it all must’ve housed the machinery and saws at one time; now it appeared to be the heart of their community...a place to gather. From what she could see under the dull grey corrugated metal roof were benches and tables, a cook pit outside at one end. So much like the prison...
“And we haven’t had an uncontrolled incident inside since the fence was finished. Nothin’ dead has breached our walls.”
...but what caught Beth’s attention more than anything was the archaic simplicity of it all. Yes, there was a big, old farmhouse up on the hill looking down on it allthat shot nostalgic pangs through her tummy because it reminded her so much of the place she’d called home when she was a child. And there was a barn and outbuildings just like those that always cropped up out of necessity on rural properties, but those were the only things that came before. There was nothing scavenged here...not in the sense that Beth was accustomed to believe when thinking about how new communities were being built if that was happening at all. These people weren’t living like refugees in RV’s or tents, or cars or the shells of houses that used to belong to other families...families who were dead and gone. They built what they had, little cabins of raw nailed lumber, maybe not something anyone would’ve ever imagined living in before, but far too purposeful, planned, and carefully built to be called shacks. They weren’t just surviving in the shadows of a dead society. They were doing something. They were living on their own terms, and that was so beautiful...so very hopeful.
That’s what was so promising about this place. The very first thing she noticed...nothing came before...
“We’ve made it everything we need. We made a life.” Pride...that was pride she discerned in Wes’ voice, and he had very much to be proud of, proud as he paused, stopping them to take a look at everything around them, seeing it as she and Daryl might be seeing it for the first time.
“How many people you got livin’ here?” It didn’t surprise her how easily Daryl fell into conversation with Wes...they knew each other, but Daryl being as comfortable in a situation with other people as he seemed now...it hadn’t been that way for a very long time. And it had never been that way since they’d been together. Maybe there had just never been the chance.
“Eighty-three. No...eighty-four now.” Wes corrected, quickly...corrected for the better. It was always a reason to smile when the human count went up, not down. “A baby was born.”
“You’ve had a baby...” It was the first time Beth spoke up since introductions, but she had to.
A baby...that was life. That was the future. There was so much hope left for the world.But maybe the way she said it...maybe in the whispers of hope for humanity and perhaps someday herself, there was a wistful melancholy Beth hadn’t intended. Wes turned to her slowly, laying a gnarled hand gently on her arm, glancing to Daryl then back to her...
“Did you lose a little one...?”
Not knowing why she would expect Daryl to answer, but looking to him...he was stiff...frozen and awkward...like a teenager confronted about sex, like the idea of Wes thinking they might’ve done something that led to a baby left him shaking in his boots, gripping her hand deadly tight.
“No...we don’t have...we didn’t lose a baby.” Beth spoke for them, squeezing Daryl’s hand back, saying the things he couldn’t. “Our group had a baby. Judith...her mother died. I...we...took care of her after, but our group...we had to split up and she went with her father and brother. She made it.” Still a sad tale, but not as tragic as losing a child. Beth didn’t know if she could ever bear losing a child...didn’t know if Daryl could bear it either.
A sigh of relief on all accounts followed, happiness restored.
“Yeah. We have a new little bundle of joy. The first for us. He’s been with us about a week now, so it seems safe to say that he’s gonna make it. Doc seems more than sure, but with this bein’ the first one born here and all, it seemed best to wait and make certain before celebrating.”
Celebrating...yes...that’s what she was seeing. The neatly bundled cornstalks were tied with brightly colored bows, bunches of autumn flowers were making their way down to the pavilion. When the warm breeze blew their way, the mouthwatering scent of fire-roasted meat wafting in the air made Beth’s tummy rumble. It wasn’t even that she was actually hungry. They had food...Daryl always provided for them, but the idea that this was food for a special occasion made it different. There hadn’t been a family meal for them in a long time...
These people were celebrating.
“You’ll have to excuse all the fuss. We’re havin’ ourselves a little shindig dinner tonight...it’s the little things that matter. Drink to the little one who made it, let the ladies get all fancied up, give their men a chance to show ‘em off...” Smiling from Beth to Daryl. “...and beat the shit outta anyone who looks at ‘em too long.”
Here they weren’t just persevering, they were prospering.
But it was all lost on Daryl, even the implicit invitation to join their celebration. Especially the implicit invitation to join their celebration.
“You’ve got a doctor here?” So single-minded. Beth realized that he stopped hearing anything Wes said after doc. While Beth had been hanging on his every word about what was ahead, Daryl was still stuck on what happened to her. “Can he have a look at Beth?” Without even waiting for a reply.
At least he had the good manners to wait until Wes stopped speaking to get all obsessed...but knowing Daryl, it was probably more like he was weighing whether or not he trusted whoever this doctor was, or how he was going to make payment because he didn’t want to owe anyone anything.
“Close enough...she’s a nurse...are you sick, darlin’?” Now this man’s unnecessary concerns turned to her.
“No. I’m fine...”
“She was hurt...sick too...almost...” Daryl’d cut her off but then stopped himself just short of the truth that haunted him so deeply...almost died. “Beth please...”
How could she say no to Daryl?
“We’re headed up to the big house. We’ll probably be able to catch the doc up there and she’ll take a look...no arguments...”
Beth had to acquiesce to them, the insistence driving every syllable of Wes’ words, a manner Daryl must’ve respected when he was young, along with Daryl’s pleading eyes on her.
“But that means we’re gonna have some catchin’ up time, and I’m gonna see that cocky-ass smile on that sullen face of yours before the night’s through.” Setting his conditions, Beth wasn’t sure if Daryl really had reservations about giving in or if it was just that resistance was in his nature, but she watched him swallow it and nod. “It’s the little things, Daryl, now more than ever.”
Wes’ truth touched the core of who she was...the core of who they were. If only he knew how much they fought to get here...to have the little things.
“Sorry ‘bout the not so welcome welcome. We don’t get many visitors out this way anymore, ‘specially not in vehicles. And we kinda avoid cars all together. Don’t want to depend on that kind of convenience when the gas is gonna run dry some day. Best to leave all that behind now and get used to living without it. Easier said than done for someone like me who’s been working on cars his entire life.”
“I get it...gotta protect your own.” And Daryl did...get it. He wasn’t just sayin’ it. He knew what it was like, sitting on that porch vigilantly watching Beth trough the door inside the old farm house with the doctor...nurse...whatever...while listening to Wes.Wes was always much more of a talker than he was, a good thing ‘cause Daryl was consumed with something much more important than idle chitchat.
Was she okay...? Physically he thought...hoped Beth was well on the road to recovery...but the rest of it...the things that haunted her...wondering if Beth was telling the woman the things she couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to him ‘bout. But in the end, Daryl didn’t even know what he was thinkin’...why he was doubting. They’d shared more scars and horrors than any two people had a right to. Just hoped this stranger wasn’t hurtin’ her or doin’ more damage by making Beth remember.
“Don’t worry. She’s in good hands. Camilla’sgot a healing touch,” Wes promised.
“Hard not to...” Worry... He was always gonna be worried about her.
“So...Merle?” While it might’ve just been the line of questioning he would expect when reuniting with someone...and how fucked up was it that this was what he would consider what was expected, this whole entire situation...it wasn’t just about that. It was about Wes knowing him well enough to try to distract him from worrying about Beth.
Frowning, shaking his head no, that story was more complicated than he was willing to go into right now, but the simplest answer was still no. Merle didn’t make it out alive.
“Are you back out at your old place?”
“Mmm-hmm. It was our best option after...” Again, too much to tell. Wes would’ve listened to every horrible, torturous word of their tale, but there was no expectation spread across his face. He still knew Daryl...knew there were things he had to hold to himself...especially the painful shit. “It was still standing.”
Didn’t need to breathe another sigh of relief ‘cause that already came when he and Beth saw their chance at a home was waitin’ for ‘em, but that relief still bloomed in his chest. And maybe part of that renewed feeling came from finding what seemed like a safe harbor here today instead of death.
“Your old man...?” Wes treaded carefully with that inquiry...
“He was there...but he wasn’t. He’s gone now.” Dead before Daryl got home...now he was eliminated. Put down was too kind a term for anything his father had been in life or death. Daryl would’ve preferred to burn him or leave him to rot ...didn’t deserve nothin’ more than that, but he was in the ground where he couldn’t hurt anyoneanymore, and no one going forward would even know he existed. “But Beth...she likes it out there. I’m working on trying to secure everything, and she’s working her fingers to the bone cleaning and prettying it all up...making us a home.”
Daryl was amazed by her every second she drew breath, and he knew he gave it all away...his feelings...in every word he spoke of her, such love and such a sense of pride.
“I hoped you’d find your way someday. All those month’s you spent your extra time in town workin’ on that old heap of a truck I let you have...I hoped it would take you off to a new life ‘cause you wouldn’t find nothing like you deserved ‘round here. You definitely wouldn’t have found her.”
“Hmmph.” It was the truth. There’d been nothing for him in this place where he grew up, stained by the Dixon name, learning the cruel truth ‘bout life. Had to go out in the world and fight for his place...fight for the life he had now...had that chance ‘cause no one cared what your last name was anymore.
But Daryl did...he cared that he was making his name honorable...for himself and Beth...and...
“Chance or choice?”
“Huh?” Normally pretty astute...Daryl didn’t understand the question with his attention divided between keeping an eye on Beth, his own thoughts, and Wes.
“Did you end up with her by chance or choice?”
It could’ve easily been taken as insulting, but coming from a man who’d taught him how to be a man, it wasn’t. Wes knew him longer than anyone who was still alive, and even back before...only people he knew longer were Merle and his old man, and even then they didn’t know him...not really. Wes knew he was a loner...always had been...except for with Merle. Merle was his brother, had that strange hold of blood over him. But Daryl’d always gravitated toward bein’ solitary. Safer that way...emotionally.
“Chance...started out as chance. Merle and me, we hooked up with this group of survivors outside Atlanta right after the shit hit. Maybe a month or so after that...the group...I...” Merle was gone the first time even before they left the quarry... “...ended up on her Daddy’s farm...been together ever since...”
Daryl sucked in the pleasant autumn air...all the moments between then and now playing back in his mind like some old home movie.
“...not together...” Correcting...telling the whole truth. Hadn’t made much of an impression on Beth back on the farm...and she’d been just a girl. “The group...we were together since then... ‘til recently. We found a place, all of us together, after the farm was overrun...a prison. Made it a home...a better home than I’d ever had before.” Didn’t really know why he was spilling it all ‘cause some of it...it still stung.
“A prison...West Georgia Correctional...near Newnan off Highway 34?” Interest piqued, the old man’s wrinkled eyes widening.
“Yeah...how’d you know...?” For a moment, Daryl’s heart thundered anxiously under his ribs...fearing...praying there weren’t any of the Governor’s leftovers in this little haven ‘cause that shit wouldn’t stand with him.
“We haveeighty-foursouls sheltering inside these walls, but we’re a much larger community than that...twenty-five or so outliers who come and go, trade with us from time to time...the kind of individuals who don’t like to be penned up. Some months back, several of ‘em reported seeing a small but thriving community at the prison out there...thought we might want to make contact and establish relations. When we decided to send some people out that way...well, it looked like a war zone, and not ‘cause of the skinners...” Wes finished gently...didn’t go into any detail...realized after what Daryl said that the prison meant something to him. “When we saw that, thought it best not to go back out that way...didn’t wanna bring a war to our doors.”
It was naïve to think that there weren’t other pockets of people living like they’d been at the prison...especially after encountering Woodbury. Just because Daryl never ran into ‘em out scavenging and bringing in the strays didn’t mean they didn’t exist. They had just been so short-sighted living in their on little bubble of survival when the world of survivors was so much bigger than they ever imagined. Daryl should have been thinking to watch for people like himself...they were like to be the ones who made it.
“It was after that...Beth and me...we ran together, and then it stopped being about choice or chance or any of that. There was never a choice. I needed her like air, no matter how hard I tired to fight myself on it...told myself I wasn’t good enough...I wanted to be a better man, but...”
“The way you look at that girl...I don’t even gotta ask if you plan to do right by her...” Somehow Wes’ approval meant more than he ever thought it could’ve now. One of the few people who never judged him...tried to make a decent man outta him, Daryl felt the magnitude of Wes recognizing that in him.
“The things I’ve done for her...” Not haunted by what he did...not any of it...just sorry he couldn’t have done more, looking down at his empty hand resting on his knee, a hand that once took measure of the weight of the heart he ripped outta a monster. The blood had been warm...but the heart itself was frozen...empty. The worst part of all...the prick only had one heart for him to tear out.
Wes didn’t have to ask what he did...the silence told Daryl he understood all too well.
“How long have you and Beth been on the run?” Someone had to change the subject, and Daryl was too lost in remembering.
A benign question that snapped him back from his haze of carnage.
“Uh...other shit happened...after the prison...a lot of shit...” Things he wasn’t willing or able to talk about...not with Wes...not with someone who didn’t already know, someone whose respect he valued. So much of it was his fault...his failure no matter how much Beth made him believe it wasn’t. “But we haven’t been running since a few weeks before we got back home. We knew exactly where we were headed, just had some stops along the way...took our time getting back.” Smiling, remembering the last few blissful days at the funeral parlor...left on their own terms...
“And not that I’m complaining none...I’ll take a hug from a Georgia peach like that any day of the week and twice on Sunday, but how on God’s green earth did she know who in the hell I was?” Wes’ curiosity kept the corners of Daryl’s lips tight, fighting to turn up even more...the memories they made in the short time together could almost overshadow all the bad.
“Beth and me...we stopped over at the Busted Knuckles the last night we were on the road. Always knew I could find a bed there...” Their night together in the bed of that truck...hoped his grin didn’t turn cocky recalling all that. “She saw some of the old pictures from out there that were pinned up on the bulletin board behind the front desk...some of me, some with you.”
“Hmmph. I thought for a second there you were carrying around a picture of me in your wallet.”
Daryl wished he had a wallet to carry around a picture of Beth, but she was with him always. That was more than good enough.
“We locked it up nice and tight when we left. We took your shotgun and shells though. We aren’t so good in the way of weapons, and it just bein’ out there and all...I...” I just assumed you were dead... Why would anybody leave a perfectly good gun?
“I haven’t been out to the old place since everything started. I left it out there in case one of you boys made your way home and needed it.” That’s why he left it, because he was always looking out for the strays...for the people who had nowhere else to turn. Because Wes was a little rough around the edges, but he was a good person.
All things that never existed for Daryl before Beth tried to instill it in him...even when they were in short supply for her...Daryl was finding it all with her along this broken road.
A pack of cigarettes tapped against the table, freeing the sin-sticks of nicotine, the faint scent of tobacco drifting in the air had Daryl craving when Wes extended them to him. Automatically reaching for one out of habit...out of want...but retracting his hand quickly, having second thoughts.
“Nah...I’m tryin’ to quit.” He’d realized before that sooner or later, he was gonna have no choice but to quit...there wasn’t gonna be an infinite supply of pre-shithitthefan cigarettes. But he also knew there was something else more important about making the choice on his own, sooner rather than later. Beth...he wanted to spend all the moments he had left in his life with her, and anything that was gonna get in the way of that, he was gonna fight it if he could. Maybe not smoking another cigarette would give him another year, maybe another month. Even if it was just an extra day before he died...he would take it, remembering how desperate he’d been just to have a few more precious minutes with Beth when it seemed like Death was hell-bent on stealing her away to have her for eternity.
“Well, if you’re not gonna have a smoke, I at least expect you to stay for our little get-together...have some dinner. Can’t turn down all my hospitality.” Wes took a cigarette of his own, lit it up, sucking in deep...Daryl envying that indulgent rush he knew all too well, but knowing there was so much more in his life left to bring him pleasure.
The offer extended...a party...as much as he would like to feel comfortable enough to stay, he didn’t know. Quietly considering, thinking it might be better to decline this too...he wanted to get Beth home safe...
“I wanna stay...for dinner.” Beth’s sweet voice perked Daryl right up when she stepped on the porch, answering before he had the chance.
How could he say no to her?
What could go wrong...it was just a simple gathering?
Fuck...what in the hell kinda question was that? Everything could go wrong.
But tonight...tonight he could have Beth’s faith. He could have her hope. He could have her belief in good people.
Instead of pondering on everything that could go wrong, Daryl allowed himself the possibility of everything that was going to go right.