One and the same

Chocolate is a classic way of cushioning blows, a universal symbol of 'you're not going to like this'. But this was different, this was good chocolate- this was 'I'm sorry I slept with your sister and you still forgive me' kind of good chocolate. It was a joke, I thought immediately, followed closely by someone's died. My father perhaps? Maggie? Judith?

Fear swelled up inside but I did a classic Daryl and kept my face stoic. Of course you can't use Daryl's tricks against Daryl. He raised a hand onto my shoulder and forced my gaze into the electric blue. ''Everyone's fine.'' His voice was gruff and knowing, and I felt myself ease up a little as the tension dissipated somewhat. But then why is Daryl Dixon giving me luxury chocolate? ''Just cause you deserve it, kid- Beth- girlie.'' He answered, damn that Dixon intuition.

And she did deserve it, he thought. Little he knew about Beth, probably the least out of everyone in the prison. She came from the loving home and stereotyped bible-bashers that should have alienated him from her entirely, yet he couldn't bring it within himself to deny there was underlying similarities. She was him in a different world. A world where your father doesn't hit you for the piling debts, your mother signs herself to her own fiery death with nicotine-stained fingers and your brother leaves you for a different woman each night. Only her father abused her in a different way: babied her, and made sure the mollycoddling prevented her growing up -making it so she couldn't fend for herself. And her mother, she had died too, twice. And Maggie had Glenn now, the childhood bond between siblings was broken.

Yes, they were the same he decided, but her heart was unaccustomed. And they dealt with it the same way, he could see her manifesting into herself, guilt ridden and meek. The soul was draining out of her and the only thing keeping her alive was her stubbornness.

How long can someone go without love? And how could he, a man who had been denied any comfort in his youth let this happen to her? So he brought her chocolate. Girls liked that kind of shit according to Merle, best way to tell them that no you don't love them, never have, never will, and never did, apparently. Perhaps it would console her for this too.

He wondered if he should tell her all this. But in his head it sounded stupid, and he was a man who spoke few words to few people. He didn't ask how Judith was, she may well have been Beth's child but he wouldn't let even his precious ass-kicker destroy this girl's individuality. He didn't ask how she was, because his sudden interest in other people's welfare did not extend to teenage girls crying on his perfectly good shirt. Besides she wouldn't tell him anyway. She would do that small closed mouth smile that forced itself upon pained eyes and nod and say something vague, and everyone would believe her and take in the fa├žade. How much time has he spent watching her?

Looking at teenage girls wasn't a regular pastime of his, but with the secure location and lack of alcohol to numb his, and Hershel's, quelling anxieties, he could tell you most things about someone.

No one ever thinks the redneck can read someone. He had been sat in the food hall the first time he had paid attention. There Carol was playing mother dishing out a variety of the usual broth-stew substance, holding people's hands and asking about their day, replacing her little girl with a handful of adults. Rick sulked a faraway glazed look over his eyes, stress radiating off his as he thought of Lori, making even Carl sit with Glenn. Glenn engaged in childish antics, loudly boasting about his comic collection to Carl, trying to revert back to a safe place. Carl was having none of it, pouting at being treated like a child but actually feigning his disinterest in comics, Glenn could sense it too so he kept rattling away as Maggie made puppy eyes with a smirk that promised later attentions. Women. He made his way through everyone.

And there she was, bouncing the little ass kicker on her knee, making burbling noises at the giggling child. She was how she had always looked, happy in her unplanned parenthood, calm and sweet. Sweet little Beth, who looked only just 15, despite her years. He didn't think twice about it. And then Carol came over and held out her arms for the child, leaving sweet helpless Beth alone. Somehow without the baby her entire story changed, she looked grieved with years. She wasn't a kid. Her eyes dropped and the smiles stopped as she pushed food around her bowl, glazed eyes waiting for something, slowly wasting into nothing. He had seen her with that downtrodden look, and there started his fascination with watching Beth.

He learnt that although she would sing Judith to sleep, she was always talking to her, he would hear the whisper of an old childhood story about Maggie or Patricia between movements through the cell block. He saw how she would walk down to the library and take out a new book every day, be it on farming or laws, he supposed she wanted to distract herself. She always tied her hair up, but on speculation he was convinced she slept with it down, as she would be pulling her blonde hair up into a hair tie that left a red ring on her wrist as she left her cell to breakfast each morning.

It was getting to the point of obsession. Her smile got more and more fake each day, and so came the day to do something about it. Daryl left for the run alone, going on his brother's bike to escape the four grey walls. He supposed somewhere deep in his subconscious he felt uneasy at the prison from Merle's abandonment in his own young adolescent life, and couldn't bring himself to believe she was going to be the same. It wasn't a long drive, a couple of hours to a small town, the walkers were few and slow in their starvation. Summer was thawing out the cold weather that was slowing them down, flesh that had rotted in the Georgia summer heat and then frozen off made them more misshaped than those from the start. As if they could get worse.

The local grocery store had been looted, but as usual a shelf of baby supplies went untouched alongside a few other items, tins, snacks and the like. Daryl headed to the next store and whistled in the door way to attract any walkers inside, with no answer other than a stray walker fumbling toward his from across the street- quickly dispatched with an arrow- he entered. In a previous life the store had been a posh deli, the type the kids with non-hand-me-down clothes' parents might have gone into. The little stores with organic eggs and fancy meat counters. As expected the looting hadn't gone as far as here, no one needed fucking salami in the apocalyptic world. Even so there were a few shelves of tins: refined beans, creamy spinach mash, hell even caviar.

A little while along there was a dusty corner of 'Chocolat d'Amour' with sad abandoned love hearts, neglected cherubs and tearaway truffles all made of chocolate. He thought of Beth. Then he dismissed her. Then he thought of Merle. Then he swore and picked up the most non-romantic nearest to cell by date slab and shoved it in the bag. Women.

And here he was in front of me, offering me chocolate like we were in some fucked up love story, but I could see it in his eyes. He knew.

Judith began fusing in the other cell, and I excused myself to see to her. I returned few minutes later, baby on hip, to the empty room. The chocolate was on my bed, stark in its glory of monochrome packaging and fancy script, there wasn't even a word for it in this world. Back in the old days, I had never gotten a gift like this, this was the sort of opulence reserved for wedding gifts and affairs- it was a luxury then. But nowadays luxury covered anything from toilet paper to a golf magazine. Judith patted my cheek with her chubby little hands and I realised I was staring and smiling at the bed. I was smiling. It felt wonderfully foreign and equally terrifying at the same time, and before I could explain what was happening my tears were spilling over. The sharp tug in my gut made me slide to the floor, sobbing into little Judy as I rocked her back and forth close to me.