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Wasn't Born an Angel

Chapter 56: Sway

~Author’s Note: I hope this new chapter brings a little sweetness to everyone’s day. As always, thank you for reading. You guys are amazing!~

She couldn’t really say when it actually happened...when she started seeing herself as a woman. Sure, there were the telltale signs that marked the passage into adulthood that no one could escape, try as they might,but Beth hadbeen a sheltered child so very long even after that. She imagined sometimes it was hard to pinpoint the exact moment that one stopped feeling like a girl...left those childish things behind, and saw themselves as something new and complex, flowered into what they were meant to be.

For Beth, for so long, it felt like the world had been cruel...ripping away her family and childhood home before she was ever ready to let go, but it was people like Daddy and Rick, and especially Daryl even before she realized it, who allowed her to still be young and naïve and hopeful when the world took more than it gave. Daddy who held onto his infinite faith until the end, allowing Beth to believe they could stay at the prison forever...to keep her own hope alive. Rick who fought at every turn to hold their group together, because they needed each other to survive and realize something more than running was possible. And Daryl...Daryl left his childhood and became a man...a survivor...far before his time, molded by an abusive father and a world that would have eaten him alive if he didn’t grow up quick, but it was as if his path was always predestined...that this world, he was made for it...always fated to find her. Beth could never thank them enough for the time they gave her...to become.

Standing in front of the mirror now, Beth could confidently say that she looked and felt every part the woman...grown into herself. When exactly did that happen? It was Daryl...because of him that she felt like a woman. Not because of anything they’d done or anything she ached so deeply to do with him; girls far younger than her had done all that and more. It was the maturity that came with his love, respect, and undying devotion, innocent as it may be for both of them. Maybe that’s what made it mature, the innocence that they were growing together, learning together, each imparting on the other something essential about life and living. Tucking the tail of her braid behind her ear and pinning it where it wrapped around her head like a messy crown, glancing back at her reflection, it was a woman she saw looking back, the borrowed, pale yellow dress a grown woman’s dress, not a child’s. The thin straps baring both the comely points of her shoulders and her collarbones, the neckline dipped low on her chest framing the heart pendant dangling from her neck, cupped her small, pert breasts...accentuating what little she did possess. A slim fit skimming her waist, hugging the curve of her hips before flaring away loose over her thighs, lent a hint of modesty...leaving something to the imagination.

It was a woman’s dress; it wasn’t a child’s Sunday dress...

He dressed her like a doll...like a battered, bloody, broken doll. Each day a different Sunday dress...every day was Sunday. Pretty pastels...pink, green, blue, purple, even white. At least he gave her the small mercy of dressing herself, but when night came...when she denied him and tempers flared...she never bled in the dresses, but they were ruined all the same....

Beth tried to suck the cool air in through her mouth while his hand pressed mercilessly against the side of her face, holding her head to the ground. Breathing suddenly didn't feel all that worth it anymore...his free hand ripping at her dress, the buttons pinging under the force until the cold air licked at the naked flesh of her back. Beth struggled, but it was pointless. Maybe if she wasn't hurt, it would have made a difference, but she still fought because she wasn't going to accept this...she would rather die...rather have him kill her than...some fates were worse than death, and she had nothing to live for.

He was able to wrest her dress off with so little effort...

She’d been a child in a child’s dress, but she’d saved herself and all the things that mattered to her by fighting like a woman, though those scars were still a heavy burden to bear even when she thought she was beyond it...

She promised Daryl she would be alright, but she couldn’t have known...

Going with her...someone strange...someone new...

Beth hadn’t been alone without Daryl...alone with someone she didn’t know since...since...

Daryl was close; she could see him where he sat on the porch with Wes in a chipped, whitewashed Adirondack chair through the front door left wide open for her sake...her security...

His crossbow was beside him. He was a crack shot...could take out anyone he needed at this distance without so much as an aim.

But still...

Flowers...Beth thought about flowers...focused on flowers...chamomile...chamomile was calming.

“Camilla...your name’s Camilla...it sounds like...like chamomile. Chamomile used to grow wild in the fields on the farm where I grew up.” She must’ve sounded simple-minded...touched by insanity, blathering on about flowers.

She wasn’t alone. Daryl was so close. No one was going to hurt her. She wanted to be brave...brave like Daryl thought she was.

“Here, have some milk. It’ll settle your stomach.”

This stranger read her like an open book.

Sipping at the milk slowly, Beth never much liked powered milk, but she’d been raised better than to turn down hospitality...and especially now when people had so little and even powdered milk was a rare luxury. To her delight, creamy, frothy sweetness touched her lips, and the flavor of fresh milk filled her mouth, triggering a sense of warmth and wellbeing before she even had the chance to swallow.

It was probably because Beth hadn’t tasted milk...real milk in years, but there was something foreign about it...thicker, sweeter, richer...but it was so good.

“It’s real...” Just a statement of amazement. “It’s different, but it’s real.”

“It’s real. It’s goat’s milk. They’ve been easier to find. They’re better at avoiding the skinnersthan cows. And they can survive eating anything...well, maybe not tin cans, but close.” The nurse that apparently lived in the farmhouse right along with Wes who’d introduced herself as Camilla had a gentle, pleasant nature about her. “Milked fresh daily. We’ve got a springhouse that keeps the milk and cheese from spoiling. And goat’s milk is easier on babies’ stomachs than cow’s. We’re thinking ahead, trying to build something here, even if it is simple.”

“And now you have a baby.” Even though it wasn’t her baby, Beth soaked in every human hope and happiness in that promise of life.

“And he’s going to live.”

Beth didn’t know if it was the fact that they were both women or that they were both human that made that knowledge bring the soft smiles to their faces and warm joy to their hearts, but they both felt it.

All the niceties, the soothing milk, the pleasant conversation that put her at ease led Beth to a place she knew they were going to reach...forced to talk about things she didn’t need to talk about anymore. No one else needed to know about those scars...those things she was finally starting to put behind her.

Her false sense of security was shattered...

“Are you sick...hurt?”

Wondering if she still looked frail, Beth was quick to assert her strength. “I’m fine now. Really.”

“Now? What about before?”

Beth wasn’t sick or hurt, just sick to her stomach, having to remember. Tight lipped, she didn’t need any looking over.

“That man out there wouldn’t be concerned if it wasn’t something.”

Dammit, Daryl. He gave it all away...everything he was feeling in times of worry...when he was trying to protect her, but she wouldn’t love him the same if he was any other way.

“What happened to you, Beth...?” Attempting familiarity in using her name, tying to draw the truth out of her.

Catching the great sigh of resignation before it passed her lips, closing her eyes and steadying herself for what came next...

“I was kidnapped. Tortured.” She lived it...lived through those moments, they were her memories, but saying it was something surreal...like a different world. “Then I was sick...pneumonia because of broken ribs.”

Somehow Beth was able to stop the words from knitting together and forming vivid memories in her head, willing them away while Camilla listened with compassion and kindness. Somehow...somehow she was steady.

“How long ago...?” Without even letting Beth answer, Camilla continued as a woman as well as a nurse, scooting closer beside her on the couch. “Were you...do you have any fears or signs of...unwanted pregnancy?” Ever so gently questioning...

“No...that didn’t happen...he didn’t...” Glad that the question was kept quiet enough that Daryl wasn’t able to hear, knowing just how much those fears before he knew the truth consumed his troubled soul.

The assumption again that the worst happened to her made Beth realize just how lucky she was...how much it must happen now. The weak were always preyed on by the strong...exploited, tortured, mutilated...raped. It was easy for people to come to that conclusion about her because that’s the way the world was.

“Can you take off your shirt so I can have a look?”

Beth raised her glance to Daryl on the porch, talking, but keeping his sharp eyes on her.

“Do you want me to shut the door?” She was kind...Camilla...but she was still a stranger. She didn’t understand the bond Beth shared with Daryl. Perhaps she thought Beth’s hesitance was an issue of modesty, but showing her scars had nothing to do with Daryl at all. Well, maybe it did a little...about the torment it would stir in him...

Most of all it was about Beth having to bare herself to another person who would pity her. She didn’t need the pity.

But realizing telling someone else about what she went through, showing them...it wasn’t surrender. It wasn’t even just acceptance of what happened to her. And even just saying it to herself...

I was beaten...

I was tortured...

I almost died...

But I made it.

I am strong.

Saying it before, when she was so weak and broken, defending herself when she was half dead...it had been so much easier. But knowing it, recognizing it, believing it...was something very different.

It was strength.

Turning her tragedy to empowerment, Beth refused to let the memory of anything that happened profane this dress...how perfectly exquisiteshe felt tonight...prettier than she felt since before, maybe ever. Nothing was going to ruin the opportunity to share in Daryl’s joy at finding someone he cared about still alive.

And it was time to leave the Sunday dresses behind. The Sunday dresses forced on her by a self-proclaimed prophet and the Sunday dresses of her childhood, smiling at a sweet memory that could overshadow all the bad...

Covered in tepid pond water and mud and sludge and whatever else Maggie’s horse slopped all over her frilly church dress, tears rolling down her swollen cheeks, chest still seizing from finding Maggie’s pills tucked safely in the bag she’d been so happily unpacking...Beth devastated finding them hidden there. Not realizing at first...then horror-stricken, thinking about Maggie doing that...

...Breaking inside...wondering how Maggie could do that to her, turning into a bawling, snotty mess.

Despite the tears, Beth was determined to make sure that Maggie never did that with a boy again, stomping out to the duck pond and throwing those stupid pills to a watery grave. But she cried all the more as her fleeting spirit was crushed when Maggie saw what she did, swinging off her horse and screaming at her...even more tears came when Shawn ran up on the scene, laughing when he found out. So infuriated at him...furious tears. How could he laugh at something so serious...crying harder than she ever thought she could...

But she had to put on her brave face when Daddy came running down, because she couldn’t bear to tell him...tell him anything besides the ridiculous lie that she was swimming in her lacy Sunday best, swallowing Maggie’s secret, batting her eyelashes to disguise the tears...

Beth realized all these years later, that was a fond memory with her brother and sister that she would always hold close to heart. In this moment...in this memory, Beth reclaimed the sanctity of the Sunday dress, but in doing so, she also left it behind.

Daryl’d never been much one for parties. Merle dragged him from place to place, rat nests of burnt out tweakers, twitchy paranoid addicts, sloppy drunk girls throwing themselves at anything with a dick, desperate women willing to trade everything they had for their next fix. That was his life...didn’t matter how much he didn’t want it to be...knew somehow it wasn’t supposed to be, but it never seemed like he had much say in the matter. He didn’t give a fuck about the drugs. Didn’t want the women. Often succumbed to the booze ‘cause there was nothin’ better to do while Merle found his fix and got his rocks off. Flinching inside thinkin’ back to the few awkwardly awful times Merle pushed and goaded him ‘til he went off in some dark corner or alley with one of those women...hated himself ‘cause he wasn’t able to say no.

Only party he’d been to since before...well, that was at the CDC. Got Glenn drunk off his ass for the first time ever. Poor kid couldn’t hold his liquor for nothin’.

But this was so much different...the whole world was different...better. His life was better.

“You know, there’s a place here for you and Beth if you want.” Daryl almost forgot Wes sittin’ on the picnic bench beside him, elbows resting back behind ‘em on the aging tabletop.

Life was good. And the parts of it left over...those that remained of his past were proving to be the best ones. At least today.

It was a genuine offer from Wes, but Daryl had to decline.

“This ain’t us. Me and Beth, we found our place together. And I...neither of us belong inside walls like this.”

Maybe he should’ve asked her first...saw what Beth wanted. Maybe this could be a place where they could live and be happy. Daryl trusted it, trusted the people here...the survivors...or at least trusted their actions to be in the best interest of preserving the simple harmony of their lives. But it wasn’t the prison. It wasn’t the farm. It wasn’t their family, and that seemed to remain the only group to which they could actually belong, and they were gone on their own path far away. After everything they’d been through...everything Beth suffered, Daryl just wanted ‘em to be on their own for a while, taste the sweetness of freedom, wakin’ up and just seein’ Beth, the only thing he needed. But it was comforting to know that a refuge like this existed.

“I can respect that. You’re welcome here though, whenever you want.” It was a better offer than many people still breathing were ever likely to come across, and Daryl was grateful for it. Grateful to have options. Didn’t wanna go getting all attached, but it might be nice to visit from time to time.

“And you’ll be stayin’ tonight. You and your girl can have my bed.” Daryl’s first instinct was to reject the offer...just who he was, but Wes said it the way a father might. It wasn’t something that was up for discussion. “Don’t want you two traveling in the dark.”

To be honest, Daryl didn’t want to be traveling in the dark neither.

“We don’t need a bed. We’d be much obliged to you for the couch up at the house if it ain’t already claimed. We don’t wanna go putting anyone out.” And the truth of that was, he and Beth hadn’t slept in a bed together since they got home. They were keeping to the couch even now.

It was enough of a concession that nothing more needed to be said on the issue.

“If you ever get your old man’s still up and running, it’d be more than appreciated if you brought it ‘round here for trade. Special occasions and such. I know the sugar’s gonna be hard to source, but we’d be more than willin’ to help you scavenge for that.”

“Nope. Ain’t gonna be moon-shiners.” Daryl’s emotions got the better of him, spitting out an answer to someone who’d been so accommodating to him and Beth...welcomed ‘em with open arms.

Wes hadn’t meant any disrespect by it, but that wasn’t a path Daryl was ever gonna take Beth down. Wouldn’t tread one inch in the footsteps of his father. Never. Wes pursed his mouth tight, knowing he’d hit a nerve. Didn’t say nothin’ more, just patted Daryl on the shoulder, and Daryl didn’t shy away from the touch.

Observing...watching the people as they passed or even did their own observing form nearby, there were eyes on him and nods of acknowledgement to Wes sitting beside him, but no one made an approach.

“So...you lead here or something?” Wondering out loud, not thinking there was gonna be some corrupt big bad making their grand entrance but feeling a sort of reverence directed towards Wes.

“No...I don’t think so at least.” A throaty chuckle, like Wes couldn’t imagine himself as a leader...but he’d been one before, a role model and pillar of respect...at least for Daryl. “We’re survivors...were before all this happened. But you’re one of us, you knew that already. Now we just survive together, follow common sense rules and we keep breathing. Makes me think ‘bout how none of that bullshit government ever worked in the first place...really never helped the people who needed it most. If we’re startin’ over, it’s gotta be better. We gotta do it right, even if all we ever are is a little speck in the backwoods of Georgia full of people no one never knew existed to begin with.”

Quietly acknowledging with a hmmph...Daryl thought on it, knowing just how right Wes was; and he was passionate ‘bout it, about as passionate as an old man not long for the world was ever gonna be. Reflecting on it all...

“There’s no shame in it...” Wes assured.

Daryl wondered what his contemplative state was sayin’ about him... ‘cause Daryl wasn’t ashamed of nothing going through his head.

Narrowing his eyes, trying to figure it all out. “Huh?”

“Ain’t no shame thinkin’ this all happened for a reason...that this is the wayit’s supposed to be.”

Daryl wasn’t the one that said it, so he didn’t feel bad...he felt everything Wes was saying; but if it came from his mouth...every tragedy and torture, all the loss and death and blood it took to get them to this place, it was too much of a price just for Daryl to be happy, to feel like he belonged in the world...that he could make a difference, love and live. But since someone else thought it, he couldn’t disagree.

“And don’t give them no thought.” Daryl followed another set of eyes on him and Wes...he got it, just wasn’t used to being the one everyone was so interested in...the center of attention. “We don’t get many visitors out here...don’t open ourselves so quickly. Me especially. I don’t take a shine to people this fast. They’re just curious about you and Beth. But in the future, who knows...”

Who knows what?”

“Hell, maybe they do look to me to make decisions sometimes, if only ‘cause I’m the oldest and been here since the beginning. If we keep growing, the world keeps changing, maybe they will need someone strong some day. Somebody with guts to lead. I won’t be around then, but that leader might just be you.”

What the hell...no...he didn’t wanna lead...didn’t even wanna think about it.

“Nah, that ain’t me...” He’d tasted what it was to make decisions for others...learned he couldn’t handle the consequences. Couldn’t handle the guilt of failure.

“This world needs men like you, Dixon. You’re the reason people are gonna live.”

Daryl shifted, still uncomfortable with praise...felt like flattery, but there was no manipulation in Wes. Maybe he was just trying to secure the future of what he built, but Daryl didn’t want to be the one he passed the torch...his legacy on to.

“I just wanna live...live nice and quiet with Beth.”

Trying to change the subject...just trying to get a handle on the goodness that people still possessed when he’d been so short on faith...

“The grocery store out on the highway...did you all leave those supplies and food out there?”

“Yep. We’ve had good harvests...haven’t been left wanting food. And every person we keep alive out there is one less skinner we’ve gotta deal with.” Wes looked protectively over the crowd gathering. “We might not ever be able to truly win...totally get rid of those things, but that doesn’t mean we can’t beat ‘em. That day’s comin’. It’s gotta be...”

“Mmmm...” There’d been a time when Daryl couldn’t imagine it, but now...and he sure in the hell hoped he wasn’t gonna be a victim of faith.

The sun was fadin’, much quicker than it did in days past...like it did every year the world turned, days when there was more dark than light. Dark days...but not dark days for the soul. Like living in some alternate reality where everyone was safe and sound, Daryl reluctantly let himself be separated from Beth...something he swore he’d never allow to happen again, but it was at Beth’s insistence...so she could get cleaned up for dinner. Forced to entrust her safety to someone else. Trust...always in rare supply for Daryl.

And there she was...finally...looking like the sun stepping outta the heavens, leaving the purple horizon melting away beyond sight without her. Was it all cosmic coincidence...it had to be...

Her dusty cowboy boots were the same...then the hem of her dress skimmed the top of her knees. Yellow...the dress was yellow, a little white sweater draped across her shoulders, protecting her against any chill the fall night could bring. Her thick, pale hair braided around her head like a halo baring the slender pillar of her neck. Like a daisy...she was like a spring daisy blooming beside the road in a patch of weeds, so pretty it put everything else to shame. The dress, yellow...the sweater, white...

He could almost imagine her in a different time...a different place...somewhere they would’ve never met.

But then, there were the real memories. That pristine white cardigan buttoned up over the sunny yellow shirt, collar peeking out from beneath it...clean enough it distracted his eye from the dirt smudged across her forehead and the wild strands ofblonde tangles falling in her face. That Beth didn’t belong in their world either...

Normally, he never had a thought when he killed ‘em...normally...how fucked up was that...killing walking dead men was normal. Didn’t think about shit ‘cause it was just a job that had to get done. But this was different.

This was personal.

Everyone who died in this fucked-up world...

Everyone he couldn’t protect...

The first were quick enough to go down...he needed the elimination to come quick, the adrenaline building...stabbing and throwing...bodies crashing, thudding, cracking...

That last one though...

Daryl had a knife, bolts, a bow...too quick. The first fell ‘cause he wasn’t thinking...the last left standing...it was the one that made him remember.

This was personal...

All his failures and shortcomings. All the way back to his beginning...

This walker became the face of everything evil...everything and everyone who took somethin’ from him. Everyone he hated.

His old man...


The Governor...

Every God damned walker that crawled across the earth.

In the end, that rotting, maggot-infested corpse’s face shifted to the face he knew and reviled most of all...his own.

His arms were shaking...when the still came over him...golf club gripped so tight in his hands that his knuckles were turning white. It was gone...he didn’t see his face mirrored in that of the walker’s anymore ‘cause there was nothin’ left. Just a bloody massacre. Breathing hard...chest heaving...from the effort, from the adrenaline...from the release...whatever it was...

And when he looked up from the carnage...the rage of red dissipated...there she was, Beth both a painful reminder of what he’d lost and the only thing he had left to cling to, covered in blood and guts, looking at him all aghast...couldn’t protect her from it neither...

Stupid girl...changed into clean clothes. Picked white. Now it was ruined. She was bloody and fucking ruined ‘cause of him.

Seeing Beth...imagining her looking so pretty and normal before his rage took him, untouched by the darkness...if only for a few bright seconds...made him even angrier at himself and the world ‘cause he was never gonna be able to save her, and that was gonna be devastating...

From that moment, he knew she was gonna be the most devastating loss of all.

And he couldn’t even begin to imagine how he was gonna make it without her...

But looking at her now, Daryl realized he hadn’t ruined her...hadn’t killed her innocence that day. She was far too strong for that. Much stronger than he was.

She paused a second at the edge of crowd...knew where he was ‘cause she spotted him right away, locked eyes with him, lips turned up the slightest bit...her gaze drifting away, but still commanding his attention. She circled the perimeter of the pavilion, teasing him with her every graceful step, putting on an innocent show meant just for him.

“You see it, don’t you?” Wes’ quiet question snapped Daryl out of his ideal reality back to a reality that included people other than just him and Beth.

“Hmmm?” Didn’t know what Wes was talking ‘bout because she was still the only thing he could see; everything else around her hazy and unfocused.

“That life.” Maybe there was more than just one person...someone else in the world who understood him besides Beth, but this was different. Wes understood him as a man, as a father understood his son. “Her.Raisin’ up a few pups of your own...making everything right as one man can...”

Fuck. Blushing bright as a sunburned tomato...why did he get so awkward...so shy every time he thought about Beth that way...being with her? Feeling a thousand times more embarrassed now that someone else was actually broaching the topic with him. If it was anyone else, he probably would’ve decked ‘em and pummeled ‘em to a bloody pulp, but Daryl lost the ability to do anything except dip his head so his raggedy hair fell in his eyes, hiding his face and concealing the redness in his cheeks.

But he wasn’t fear struck enough not to start blabbering...making an ass of himself... ‘cause he had thought about those things, that life...maybe even a little one of his own.

“I don’t...don’t even know how to go ‘bout doin’ nothing...anything with her...” Cringing even as he said it, but it was the truth.

“Merle might’ve taught you what was what, but you’re a good kid, Daryl. An even better man. And it’s that girl...she’s the one made a man outta you. All you gotta do is listen to that big heart of yours she cracked open and let it guide you.” It was the kind of assurance Daryl didn’t know he wanted but was exactly what he needed.

“She’s everything...and I don’t wanna fuck it up...” Nodding his head, accepting the advice, but Daryl would never be one-hundred percent sure of himself until he knew he did right by Beth. “...I just wanna be sure...”

“She’s sure...all you gotta do is look at her to know that truth.”

Daryl wasn’t blind. He could see it too; it was just hard for him to believe. Rick told him something much the same once, just before he and Beth hit the road on their own...

Look at her Daryl... See how she looks at you? That's how every man wants to be looked at, how every man wants his woman to see him, the way Beth sees you...

“It changes you...when you find something so beautiful in the ugliest of days...” Daryl mused outloud.

“Then if you don’t wanna fuck it all up, you start by taking a step towards that rare creature. If you don’t go to that girl, I promise you, someone else will. Hell, that someone else might even be me.” Wes’ good natured chuckle followed words of wisdom that Daryl wasn’t gonna ignore.

“Excuse me...” Standing up straight and tall, not hesitating in heading towards Beth.

Almost as if on cue, a bow struck a cord on a fiddle, testing...tuning, an unexpected taste of music trilling through the airbefore the real melody began. She was there, standing beside the industrial saw table where drinks were being served in the same kind of jars they drank moonshine from once upon a time. So lovely...she was so lovely... An odd thought...was this what a wedding felt like, everyone gathered ‘round, every eye in the room on her...the bride, glowing like she was the hope of the whole world, but those soft eyes and sweet smile were just for him...he was the only one she saw? In his heart, Daryl knew they were together. She was his, and he was hers...his soul bound to her. He was married to her, and even if, after everything she’d been through, she could never say that of herself...in his heart, it was so.

A few more slow steps towards her, and the music started playing in earnest. Ancient strains the same as those that reverberated across the rolling hills of Georgia for more than two-hundred years; from the time of a newborn nation, melodies that saw it ripped in two by bloody civil war, music that played while those wounds healed to see a country reunited...now, again, even though everything that was seemed to be lost, the songs kept on playing. The music remained the same. They couldn’t go back, and maybe they didn’t want to.

Beth somewhere between shy and seductive, dipping her chin down, innocent eyes cast up to catch his...toying with the hem of her sweater...her lips...

But someone stepped between them...impeded Daryl’s final progress to the woman waiting for him. His woman.

“May I have the honor of this dance?” Smooth...smoother than Daryl ever could’ve been.

And that was something he could never give her...

She didn’t go to Daryl...not even planning on it right away, not wanting to interrupt where he sat in quiet conversation with Wes across the pavilion, but she didn’t feel alone. She didn’t feel afraid. Daryl’s ever watchful eyes were on her...but not just that; Beth didn’t feel scared of these people. There wasn’t any malice or ill-intent here. They were just people...like her and Daryl, just people trying to live life. And Beth felt comfortable with them; moreover, they seemed to be people she wouldn’t mind getting to know...but that was dangerous because people had a tendency to die.

And it wasn’t just that Daryl was talking to someone...the reason she didn’t join him; it became something more that just not wanting to interrupt. It was about catching his gaze lingering on her, then looking away. Knowing how much she was distracting him, tempting...being just where he could see her but too far away to touch. A seduction. Slowly skirting the edge of the people, watching Daryl watch her...it was a tantalizing game for both of them. Coming into her own, finding an odd sort of ease around these people that didn’t know her...never knew she was weak or helpless or a victim...didn’t know her scars, Beth felt free.

Longing...smiling softly to herself...but for him. A few steps more not looking but feeling his stare intensify, swiping away the fallen wisps of hair that tickled her neck when the cooling breeze touched her bare skin. A step or two more, a sideways glance...his eyes still glued on her...raking her teeth over her bottom lip, not really able to tell for sure, but it looked like Daryl tripped over his tongue...whatever he was saying to Wes, caught up in her.

Finally, minding where she was going so she didn’tstumble, Beth wove through the crowd to the refreshment table. Cool lemonade was ladled into canning jars...the same kind of jars she and Daryl shared moonshine from...and just the same as held the candles lit around the outdoor room as twilight overtook the day.

“Two please...” requesting one for Daryl and one for herself, sipping the syrupy sweetness, savoring the bite of lemon as it went down, remembering the hot summer days of her childhood...something she could still reach back to...still feel.

Wishing to remain inconspicuous, Beth stepped aside to find an unoccupied space where she could set their drinks, waiting quietly for Daryl to come to her...and she knew he would.

Just watching the people around her, there were no rules to this gathering...no formality, no speech about why they all came together, then dinner, toasts, or whatever was supposed to come next in proper society. They were just people gathering...no convention to how they celebrated their lives. There was music. Beth loved music...a joy to hear music again...something she wasn’t playing or singing, just enjoying.It may have only been one lonely violin, but after the first chords, suddenly the crowd wasn’t just a crowd, the magic of humanity at its best swept over them...and something more beautiful and sublime was born, people pairing off to dance. Things like this, even in her most hopeful dreams for the future, Beth never imagined happening again, content to watch from her little spot in the world, an unobtrusive observer.

Daryl allowed her to linger at the side of the table unaccompanied, sipping at her lemonade, for a time...until her heart fluttered in her chest before her consciousness registered he was headed her way. How many steps would it take...his strides so long and purposeful?A tightening in her tummy...Beth never wanted the butterflies to go away...knowing that man was hers...the one everyone stepped aside for. Setting her glass down, hands a little unsteady, averting her gaze to disguise her giddyanticipation, knowing he was eventually going to reach her side...

“May I have the honor of this dance?”

That certainly wasn’t Daryl, and Beth hadn’t seen him coming at all, the handsome albeit rough around the edges young man who stood before her. The only thing she had been able to see was Daryl.

Quietly confident, though not cocky, he waited for her reply leaving Beth flattered but fearful of what was to come, Daryl looming like an ominous shadow behind him.

“She’s spoken for.”

No brawl broke out, no throw down resulting in bashed faces and shattered teeth spit out with mouthfuls of blood, Daryl almost soft-spoken in claiming her. Daryl didn’t know the young man nor this young man Daryl, but to a certain extent, they did know each other...knew each other’s kind. The boy turned, acknowledged Daryl, silently nodding his head in understanding, then back to her...

“Miss...” In deference to a lady before stepping away.

These rough and tumble survivors...these were very much Daryl’s people although none of them were Daryl’s like; no one could ever hold a candle to him. There was an undeniable respect and honor among them despite any preconceived notions anyone might’ve had...she might’ve had before.

“I got you some lemonade...” Beth passed him his jar, watched him appreciate his first drink, knowing it was just powdered Country Time lemonade, but it had been a long time since lemonade tasted so perfect. A little taste of normal...

Relishing it just like she was, he set it aside, hip hitched up,leaning on the table, half watching over her and half watching the rest of the people slowly turn around the dance floor.

Shifting beside her after just a few moments of quiet, like he was anxious about something, his fidgeting may have distressed Beth about their surroundings if her instincts weren’t still so at ease.

“I don’t know how...” Daryl rasped beside her.

“What...?” So caught up in him, she was caught off-guard by his words.

“I don’t know how to dance...”

Tucking his chin, it was as if he’d failed the whole world...the way he said it...just because he thought he was disappointing her.

The notion hadn’t even crossed Beth’s mind, even seeing all the strangers out there...she didn’t even think about the possibility of dancing with Daryl until he mentioned it. But now that romantic longing burrowed so deep in her chest that nothing could wrest it from her heart...dancing with Daryl.

A new song turned...like the leaves in fall, a slower tune...one Beth knew, an old church hymn. The melancholy lyrics rested on her lips...

And am I born to die, to lay this body down...

...though she didn’t sing them...

And as my trembling spirit fly into a world unknown...

...a song that contemplated what came after when the soul departed...

A land of deepest shade...

Perhaps it was played because the fiddler had only his memory to rely on...could only form the notes he knew by heart. But it was fitting, wasn’t it...

Soon as from Earth I go, what will become of me...

Beautiful in its reflection on faith in what was to come, and here they all were, finding life and love in a world overcome by death...

Eternal happiness or woe must then my fortune be...

They were living life after...

So slow...the song was so slow, anyone could dance to it...

She was wrong to ask; it wasn’t fair to Daryl who’d just divulged his feelings of inadequacy, but she needed him to...needed to be alive in this vibrant world...a world where music and dance still flourished...

“If you don’t dance with me, no one ever will...” More desperate than she meant, but as the plea poured out, Beth realized she didn’t have to ask because even before she spoke, he’d captured her hand to lead her to the floor.

Like a dream...it was all a perfect dream.

He wasn’t making his excuses about why he wouldn’t dance with her...

He was asking her to dance...just so self-conscious and apologizing for what he thought were his failings ahead of time.

Daryl Dixon asked her to dance. So filled up with the bliss of the simple beauty in the ordinary...because it wasn’t ordinary to her...

“Just take a step, and I’ll follow...” She always would.

Dammit, Dixon, you don’t dance.

Just another thing on the endless list of shit he didn’t know how to do. Never even did the thing in the dark dive bars like Merle. Merle would stand his ass out in the middle of an open space between tables, letting a woman dance circles ‘round him, gyrating and undulating, rolling hips all upon his business, basically dry-humping Merle on the dance floor.

Never wanted to.

Never wanted to dance.

Never even thought about it ‘til Beth...in this moment...where she was beside him looking like the sweetest thing that ever set foot on God’s green earth.

But she had to know before...

“I don’t know how...” Mumbling through his admission as if she didn’t know or wouldn’t figure it out quick enough when he stumbled over her in the first move he made.

But then he’d never known how to love before neither.

“What...?” Questioning eyes as innocent as could be...how in the hell was Beth supposed to know what he was talking about. He was gonna have to say it.

White-knuckling the edge of the rough-hewn saw table for support, fingers curled around the edge so tight they’d all but gone numbuntil he saw, eyes cast down, Beth’s delicate hand bridging the distance between ‘em, reaching out to barely caress him.

“Idon’t know how to dance...”Consuming her fingers in his...facing the unknown with as much courage as he could muster, Daryl tried to quell the fear that one wrong step would ruin everything, until something crossed his mind...

Thinking on all the nevers that were so present in Beth’s young life, maybe she’d never danced before either...not a real dance with a man, and realizing just how intuitive he was when he stopped doubting and feeling sorry for himself...

“If you don’t dance with me, no one ever will...”

One of the saddest things Daryl ever heard...those words racking his heart even as he drew up her hand, taking the lead.

He was always gonna be the man who danced with her...the first, the last, the only...‘til the day he died, even though he had no idea how. Dixons didn’t dance.

The breath caught in her throat...he heard that joy in her gasp when Beth realized she didn’t have to ask, much less beg. The sparkle of all the things she thought she’d never have a chance to experience finally encompassed by this one thing...a dance...wetted her soulful blues.

But so perceptive, she was still able to sense...feel his apprehension despite his willingness...

“Just take a step, and I’ll follow...” Beth assured.

The first steps were easy, just walking...guiding her, finding an open spot on the cracked concrete floor...

He already had her hand, so all that was left to do was...just let instinct take him...

Palm finding that beautiful fleshy dip low on her back, drawing her near, needing to draw her even closer...to him...pressed to him, but this wasn’t that kind of dance. Smiling to himself, recalling he heard somewhere some old pious adage that young couples should always leave room for the Holy Spirit between ‘em when dancing. Would Hershel have said that? Well, they might not have been touching that way...that close...but there was no room for anything in the sparse space separating them...could feel Beth trembling, or was that him...?

Now what...?

Beth stole all the questions from him...

“Just sway...” The calm melody of her voice sang with the music he forgot was playing in the background of their story.

Beth wanted to dance. She wanted to dance with him, God knows why. But she didn’t need nothin’ fancy. Just him.

And being wanted...needed was the thing that filled the hole in his heart; Beth made him fully human...gave him his purpose in life.

Falling in together...so natural, no distance, Daryl folded her hand upover his heart, holding it right there. Was it beating as frantically as it felt to him? Hips moving with the slight sway of hers, but there was nothing vulgar about their love, the way they touched, the way they came together...so innocent...

So innocent...he always felt so innocent with her.

Leaning downhesitantly for her perfect, plump lips, the slightest part between ‘em, just waiting...

A soft kiss...he didn’t want nothin’ more...

Sugared lemons...her lips tasted so sweet, like sugared lemons...

There were kisses that came before...but this was a real first kiss, how a real first kiss should feel...shy and wanting.

The first time he had her lips...they tasted ofsalty tears. A fevered kiss...desperate and tragic, a kiss he knew was gonna be their first, their last...their only on that stormy night he was all but certain Death was coming to steal Beth when he just found her. Would’ve sold his sorry soul to actually save her.

That kiss was their first, and it had to stand for everything they should’ve had together in life that they were losing...never had the chance to experience with each other, all that came between the first kiss and the last. But this kiss...this kiss was a kiss of sweet promise...the promise that they had all the time in the world.

Beth laid her head up against his shoulder, melting into him just as the rest of the world melted away around them,‘cause all that mattered was him and Beth...

Mesmerized...the candles twinkled soft everywhere around them like millions of fireflies caught in glasses on a steamy August night...but these were the flickering flames of autumn dancing in the moonshine jars, and the warmth came from within them. Feeling the blaze Beth ignited inside him, closing his eyes, Daryl allowed himself to be consumed. It was like they were slow dancing in a burning room.



Thank you so very much! I am happy to be back!

Aireabella Aireabella

So glad you are back!

Grimesgirl63 Grimesgirl63

Thank you so much!

Aireabella Aireabella

Cliffhanger!! Love it!

Loul461 Loul461

Yeah, the cliffhanger! Thanks! And thank you so much for reading and loving my stories. It means the world.

Aireabella Aireabella