Summary: A late-night talk around the fire leaves Beth confessing a deep secret to Daryl, and he promises he will do everything he can to help her. In the midst of this revelation, he starts to understand his true feelings for Beth.
Word Count: 3,054
“Did you ever think ‘bout havin’ kids, before?”
Daryl stops whittling the stick he’s got in hand, blade stilling against the bark. His head rises to look at Beth across the fire. Slow, and precise, like she’s just asked him if he’s ever wondered about blowing up an orphanage. As if she’s asked him something outrageous, obscene.
In a way, she has.
In a way she wouldn’t have thought to grasp when she asked the question. He also notices that she’s decided he isn’t contemplating that question now. As if it’s out of her sphere of reality to imagine kids in this world. Imagine them running round squealing while walkers snarl a few miles out.
As if Judith was never birthed, or Carl never grew before their eyes. But it is, in a sense, out of the question now. That’s not the point, though. Daryl doesn’t really see what the point is. Whether she’s being nosy or inquisitive, or just trying to pass the time. Still, it’s a question, and like any question directed to him, even though he knows its answer, he turns it over in his head.
Thinks about all the points, all the moments in his life he’s experienced. As if they’re laid out in pictures for him to pursue. Which they are. They’re his. His body, that’s never felt like his. This sack of meat he uses to survive, long since was branded by another. Marked. His mind though, his words, his memories, his reactions, they’re all his.
He gets to choose how he utilises them, how he presents them for others to see and judge. To witness. The fire crackles in his silence, and he knows a few minutes have lapsed by as his mind churns. Beth is in no rush. She doesn’t even look at him, as if she’s decided the weight of her stare won’t be used as a manipulation to get him to talk.
The blue of her eyes rests in the fire, her arms wrapped about her knees as if she has her own decision to make on the question, despite being the one to ask it. He wonders, before he decides to mull it over truly, why she asked it. Today hasn’t been one of them days. The days where they think about the others, where hope becomes toxic, where reality slips through their fingers.
It’s been a strategic day. A day of hunting, a day of fortifying yet another camp. A day of fresh clothes and ice cold washes in the stream of water running beside their fire, the sound of running water always in the background. A practical day. A day of survival. So. Maybe that’s why she asked the question.
What’s a day of survival, if there’s no space to question a life before? What’s surviving, if you’re not human anymore? And it’s such a human question. Kids. Like it’s the first thing people used to judge you, before.
Do you want kids?
Still, he thinks on it, and then he answers. “Wouldn’t know how t’ be a dad ‘f I tried.”
It’s an honest answer. Lacking reason, lacking excuse but at the crux of it, honest. She doesn’t know about his life. His childhood. His place in the world before she met him in this one. Maybe it’s the honesty that makes her look at him so strangely, lifting her head from the burning flames of the fire.
Maybe it’s that which makes him so uncomfortable under her gaze that he goes back to whittling his stick. For a while, she mulls silently, like he did. That burning gaze drilling into the side of his face.
Waiting to see how long he’ll avoid it before she speaks very softly. “I did. Always wanted ‘em. Always played dollies, an’ made games with my friends.”
Daryl grunts because he’s at a loss to what to say. He feels like this is going somewhere, like this is for a reason. He still doesn’t look up, but he slows his hand, tries to communicate with his body that he’s listening, that he’s hearing her. That she should say whatever it is she’s got to say.
“I only did it once, y’know? An’ I didn’t think. I didn’t think ‘bout any of this. I even thought that maybe… Maybe it would work.”
For a moment he has to go back over what was said in his mind to confirm he didn’t miss something. Didn’t miss the crucial part of the conversation where this would make sense. It’s the confusion that finally lifts his head, stills his hand. The confusion that steals his attention so that it’s completely hers.
Beth looks back at him, eyes filled with standing tears and there’s panic there. Panic that she’s going to cry, but a deeper panic. A deeper sense of foreboding that she’s about to hit him with something life changing, something mind blowing.
She sniffs and blinks, glancing away and back again with colour to her cheeks. “Me an’ Zach. We did it once. Only once.”
Me an’ Zach.
Always wanted ‘em.
Did you ever think ‘bout kids?
A dawning sensation sits in his chest and his lungs stop mid action. Breath seizing in his chest, world and vision full of Beth’s eyes. Her eyes full of secrets and questions. Full of shame and embarrassment, and fear. Such fear that it infects him, locks his muscles, steals his thoughts.
“Beth.” He breaths it on the wind, injects it with so much of his own emotion that it translates to tell me you aren’t.
Her chin wobbles and she squeezes her knees tighter. “I think ‘m pregnant, Daryl.”
The minute the words penetrate the air, the second they morph into reality, Beth’s standing tears transform into running ones down her face, and she sobs thick and heavy. He doesn’t know what to do. For the longest time he sits there watching her hitching chest, her curled shoulders heaving with her cries.
Then something jerks him into action, moves his muscles so that he’s crawling towards her alongside the fire, sitting beside her. From there he doesn’t know what to do again, but Beth’s head crashes into his chest and he automatically puts his arms around her. He rubs her bare skin, his gut dancing and twisting as he does.
Beth’s cries become less violent, her sobs quieting until they’re hitching breaths against his vest. Her fingers scrabble in the leather, gripping him tight. Daryl decides to grip her even tighter too, bringing his other arm up to wrap it fully around her shoulders. She burrows into him, sniffling and breathing raggedly.
“M’so s-sorry, Daryl,” she wrenches and the sound tears him apart for reasons he can’t name, can’t understand.
“Hey,” he grumbles into her hair, pressing his face into it. “S’ok. I got y’. I’ll fix it. Alrite? Trus’ me, I’ll fix it, Beth.”
“I do.” She throws out breathlessly, squeezing him tight. “I do trust you.”
Daryl continues to stare into the fire, her words a repeated loop in his head while she falls asleep in his arms, emotionally exhausted. He tucks her into her sleeping bag and places her knife beside her curled hands. Then he stands and retrieves his bow, setting off into the dark night to help the sleeping girl he left behind.
All the while he’s still thinking about her words. About how she trusts him. He knows that’s still a new feeling for her. The prison didn’t go down so long ago and it’s still early days for them when it comes to actual speech. For the longest time they lived in miserable silence. Like they were scared to acknowledge each other’s presence, less they lost each other too.
At least that’s what it was like for him. Scared to lose anyone else. Tired of it. Feeling cheated and sick with shame, heavy with grief. Burdened by the unknown fate of his group. Of his family. The people he’s come to know and love, fight and be willing to die for. Those rag tag bunch of people he wouldn’t have spared a glance in his old life.
Certainly wouldn’t have spared it for the girl he left back in camp. Not her petty little teenage problems or the consequences of her actions. Would have had no time for her singing, for her soft spoken voice. For the little poems or lyrics she whispers under her breath when the air around her feels too quiet, acting like it doesn’t bother her even as her mouth sings the silence away.
Acting like he don’t know that’s what she’s doing. Playing this big game of pretend just to make her more comfortable. Sick to death of waiting for the moment she realises her life depends on a red neck hillbilly twice her age. Waiting for her to flinch at his outbursts, run from in terror. Running to her death because that’s the man he is.
Before, he used to scare kids away from his trailer. Mostly ‘cause his dad was a meaner bastard than him, then because he was drinking with Merle and he’s a dick when he’s drunk. Takes after his old man like that. Dixon curse. Beth’s not a kid though. Maybe once, maybe back on the farm, but she’s been too far and lost too much.
Her body is only young and her face younger, but behind her eyes and in her words that girl is a full grown woman. Which is what he has to tell himself as he’s raiding local cabins, searching through empty medicine cabinets in rat infested bathrooms. Looking for pregnancy tests, looking for some kind of pill, some kind of option he can take back to Beth.
Fuck, what has his life come to? He wants to be mad about it, wants to be disgusted and pissed off that he’s doing this. Beth’s so scared though, and they spend so much time together that her pain is his pain. Her fear, her strength. She shares it all with him, projects it and it was only going to be so long until he began to retain it. Hold it in. Harbour it.
They’re becoming one person, and even though Daryl doesn’t quite know what that means, doesn’t really want to look too deep into it, he acknowledges that. So, here he is. After all the cabins being a bust, he ventures into the outskirts of an old strip mall. Takes in his surroundings, the walkers, the coverage, and the stores. Makes a plan.
It’s not an in and out job like he hoped. More walkers piled up in buildings than he expected and especially in the tiny, mostly raided pharmacy on the end of the strip. He manages to hold his shit together though, manages to not be thrown around, trip and fall into a loud chaos of movement.
Takes longer than he plans but in the end, he has his rucksack full of pregnancy tests and little boxes of morning after pills. While he’s there he gets some other shit they had hoped to find. A hair brush Beth’s been asking for, deodorant, bandages, anti-septic cream. Taking his win, he gets the hell out of dodge and makes his way back to camp.
The first golden fingers of the sun are painting the sky when he walks back in, finding Beth pacing a hole into the floor.
Upon seeing him, she marches forward, screeching, “where the hell have you been!?”
Gripping the strap of his rucksack, Daryl rolls his shoulders, trying not to let his hackles go up. “Told y’ I’d sort it.”
“I thought you left!” She cries, her cheeks flushed and wet, eyes wild. “I thought you abandoned me!”
“Girl,” he scoffs, lightly knocking her shoulder. “Don’t be fuckin’ stupid.”
Hiccupping, she throws herself into his chest, nearly knocking him on his ass. He throws his arms around her, squeezing her tight. For a while they stay like that, like they did a couple of hours ago, waiting until Beth calms down. When she does, she pulls away, rubbing at her wet eyes and brushing her hair back with her fingers.
“Y’shouldn’t have risked y’self for me. I was gonna come with you, an’ help. This is my mess.” She finishes with determination, folding her arms over her chest with a firm mouth.
Daryl rolls his shoulder and that thought comes back to him, that they’re becoming one person but no goddamn clue how to explain it. “Y’needed me.”
For a moment she looks like she’s going to cry again but then she takes a deep breath. “Okay, let’s do this.”
Jerking his chin, he takes his bag off his shoulder and kneels before it on the floor. Reaching in, he pulls out the long boxes and offers them up. Beth takes them with a deep sigh, nodding to herself.
Daryl chews his lip in contemplation before offering her the other boxes too. “’Case y’wanna make a decision.”
When he looks at her this time, she is crying and without even thinking about it he stands and hugs her again.
Beth chuckles humourlessly where her face is smothered into his chest. “M’I a bad person? ‘Cause I don’t wanna be? I don’t want it.”
“Naw, girl,” he answers honestly. “Y’not. Not a bad person at all.”
They separate at her tugging, her hands clasped around the boxes. She takes another deep breath and then seems to steel herself. “Okay. It’s time.”
“Y’ere…” he hesitates, rolling his shoulder self-consciously. “Y’wanna be alone, or…?”
Smiling softly, she reaches out and strokes his forearm. “Thank you, Daryl, but I gotta do this bit by myself.”
Impulsively, he jerks forward and kisses her cheek, soft as he can. “Be here makin’ breakfast.”
Beth blinks at him in astonishment for a moment, her hand almost raising like she wants to touch the place he kissed her. “Okay,” she whispers softly, breathlessly.
They part ways and Daryl makes his hands busy as soon as he can. He puts out the other things he got onto Beth’s sleeping bag first. Then he rekindles the dying fire until it’s another roaring blaze. Dawn is coming but the air still has a bite to it. So next he heads over to unwind the string from one of the rabbits he had hanging up.
Sets to work chopping the meat with the knife he reserves for food, strictly walker kill free. Then he spears all the chunks of meat onto two of his thin, whittled sticks. Beth’s still not back by the time he’s cooking and he chews at the corner of his thumb in indecision. She said she had to do this alone, but Daryl’s not sure how much more he can take.
Then finally, he hears the scuff of her feet against leaves. Turning from where he’s crouched by the fire, Beth walks over to sit beside him, oddly calm and quiet. Daryl keeps cooking, not wanting to push her, turning his sticks so they don’t burn but searing the juicy meat. For the longest while, that’s all there is. Rabbits and fire, the sizzle of juices and the birds.
“Negative. Did like ten ov’ ‘em. Swallowed a pill, too.” Her voice pokes him in the ribs, taking his breath away as he forces himself not to look away from his hands. “I feel so relieved, Daryl.” She adds in a whisper, almost shameful.
This time he can’t resist looking at her, looking at the way her eyes flutter closed and a tear rolls down her cheek. “Then why y’sad?” He whispers back softly.
Shaking her head, she swipes at her face. “M’not, but I feel like I should be. Like I’m not allowed relief. ‘Cause I know ‘f I had been… I would’a still swallowed that pill.”
Tearing his eyes from her, he takes one stick and offers it over, catching her eyes. “Tha’s okay, girl.”
Smiling, Beth takes the food he offers and lets out a rattling breath. “M’so glad it was you. That it was you I got out with.”
Something like a smile lifts his face but he’s not sure because it feels like so long since he has smiled. “Yeah. Me too, girl.”
They eat in comfortable silence and suck the grease from their fingers with no shame when they’re done. The lull of a warm afternoon comes, and they let the fire go out. With no plans for the day, they pull their sleeping bags together and lie side by side, looking up at the sky and the clouds.
“That one looks like an’ arrow,” Beth points out, her fingers indicating a shape in the sky.
Daryl grunts and then jerks a little when her little finger twines with his beside his hip. His throat seems to swell and he tries to control his breathing, stop being a pussy. It’s her little finger first but then it’s all the rest of them, until their palms are pressed together between their bodies.
A part of him wants to seize up, panic and a whole new part just wants him to let go. They spend the entire afternoon in shared comfort, pointing out clouds and shapes. A whole afternoon of doing nothing but pretending like the world hasn’t gone to shit. Yet with Beth, it doesn’t feel like pretending.
When the stars come out, he turns her head to look at her, thinking that they started so different, so polar opposite, complete strangers. Thinking now that there’s something blossoming between them, something growing. Something that’s consuming him and changing him, filling him up with things he didn’t know how to feel before, has never learned to.
After a moment she turns to look at him and he knows it’s coming, somehow, some way. Maybe because they’re becoming one person and now their thoughts are becoming one mind too. Because he knows she’s going to kiss him before she does it and he knows before he opens his mouth beneath hers that he wants to kiss her back.
That he will always kiss her back because she pulled up the weeds inside him and replanted something beautiful. Now all he wants to do is blossom for her, and spends his days just like this, with her by his side.