Disclaimer: Do not own The Walking Dead or any associated characters. Only what happens with them in my head.
Authors Note: First TWD-fic. Set six months after 4X12 "Still", completely AU.
It'd been six months since the prison. Six months since she'd seen her sister alive. Six months since she'd watched her father murdered. Only now was she really realizing how long it had been and all that had happened since. When she looked back on it all Beth honestly couldn't say if it were all good, all bad or even in between. Six months alone with Daryl Dixon wasn't really something she could pin a single emotion to. He was one of the most frustrating people she'd ever had the pleasure of spending any amount of time with, yet at the same time he was one of the best people to be with.
While Beth didn't want to believe that she needed to rely on someone–especially after Daryl had screamed it at her–the girl knew that she'd needed him. Without Daryl she probably would have been dead a long time ago. He'd helped to keep her alive by teaching her the things she never would have learned on her own. He taught her to hunt, he was teaching her to track and to use the crossbow. He'd made a short bow for her to use and the two had made arrows for it. Honestly, she was certain that if she'd wound up with anyone else when the prison fell she'd be dead by now.
While Daryl had helped to make her stronger, there were just some things that couldn't be changed. For instance, Beth was emotional. She was very tied to her emotions and she held onto that. Even when everything came crashing down around them and she wanted nothing more than to shut it all out, the little blonde held onto her emotional side. She maintained her firm belief that there was still good in the world, they just had to find it. Unfortunately, thinking about the potential good in the world opened her up to seeing all the truly negative things out there too. It was hard to think about the negative sometimes.
Which was why Beth had broken down four separate times since the night they'd burned the old shack to the ground in a drunken blaze of glory–no pun intended–over various things like her fathers death or the worry of never seeing her sister again, once she had even cried for baby Judith, wondering where the little one was. It was hard to think that little baby Judith was gone, but the sad reality was that she had probably died at the prison; if not, then soon after. It had been hard enough to find food for her while they'd remained in one place; Beth couldn't begin to dream about how difficult it was to do while on the run. Not to mention making an attempt to keep a baby quiet in the open when there could be walkers anywhere.
Daryl, on the other hand, had been a lot stronger than her. She'd seen him cry that day at the shack and twice after. That day at the shack had pretty much been the start of everything. He'd finally knocked down some of the walls he'd built throughout his life to protect himself, if only a couple of them to allow her to see a different side of him, to allow her to get just a little closer to him. The second time he'd cried he must have thought she was asleep and he'd broken down as he thought of Merle. She couldn't say that she blamed him, even if she didn't like the elder brother, it was his family. The last had been when she'd cried for baby Judith, he'd even cried a little then. Daryl had loved the kid, anyone could have seen it. He was sweet on his little ass kicker. The petite woman couldn't say she blamed him on that either. Judith was an amazing baby.
Tonight's breakdown had been slightly different from the rest for her. Sure, she'd cried like all the rest. Yes, Daryl had looked at her like she was a complete idiot, then set in the awkwardness of what to do before he placed his hand on her back and attempted to comfort her while trying to figure out what was wrong with the girl. What had been wrong? She'd realized that today–which was now over–was her nineteenth birthday.
The first birthday ever that she was celebrating–and not even that–without her family. Yes, Daryl was with her and she considered him family, but all the same she'd never felt so alone. Her mother was dead, her father murdered, her aunt dead, her sister in the wind. What else did she have? The other survivors from the prison? She hadn't seen them in six months. Daryl? Sometimes she wondered if he would have rather left her on her own than taken her under his wing.
Of course, he always told her differently, in his own way. His actions told her that he didn't mind her being with him. Like, how he'd taught her how to shoot the crossbow. Beth didn't count the night at the shack, they'd been drunk and he'd been angry. She could now easily take down a deer, so long as it was within 20 yards, anyway. He'd taught her how to skin an animal properly, something she felt she should have known ages ago. He helped her to understand which berries they came across were bad. He even taught her how to make jerky on the go. Sure, it wasn't like what she'd bought in the store so many years ago, but it was good enough.
Beth had actually taken to a lot of it really easily and Daryl had been impressed; at least, he seemed to be. He never told her any differently. A quiet sigh escaped her lips as she pulled the lean arm a little tighter around her waist, gripping his hand in her own under her chin. This wasn't the first time that they had laid together like this. Sometimes there wasn't much of a choice. With winter setting in it was pretty cold, so the two had gotten into a habit of curling up together in whatever house they could find under whatever blankets they could find (or whatever cloth they could fashion into blankets). Beth had one blanket of her own, having snatched it from a house a month or so back, but that one blanket didn't do much against the cold that seeped in and stuck to their bones.
Most nights started with Daryl's arm draped around her slender waist and his warm breath on the back of her neck and ended with Beth laying on the outside of the blankets trying to cool off, or keep her mind clear. For the last year she'd felt something stirring inside toward Daryl and she'd ignored it. Mostly out of respect for Carol because, let's face it, Daryl had always had a bit of a soft spot for the woman.
But now? Carol wasn't around. Daryl had long since stopped searching for Carol and the rest of the survivors from their group. Beth wasn't searching anymore but she hadn't given up hope that they would find someone. Eventually. Hopefully. They were almost completely alone out here. Beth was steadily getting used to it and that actually scared her. The thought that they could be so utterly alone while only six months ago they had been surrounded by people was scary. They hadn't run across anyone else in these last six months. Well, there had been that old man a couple months ago, but Beth did her best not to think of him.
It felt almost like an eternity ago that they'd run across the old man; being completely alone with Daryl seemed to make time go so much slower. If Beth didn't keep a mental track of the days she probably wouldn't have even known it had been her birthday. That was one thing she'd done since the start of this, keep track of how much time had passed. It wasn't as if she could rely on her phone or computer or even a newspaper. All of those had been lost when the world began to crumble away.
Beth was certain it'd been just over two months since they'd seen the man. He'd seemed like a sweet guy that had hardened in the cruel world. If she'd had to guess at his age he would have been going into his sixties, not too much younger than her father had been. She and Daryl had been on the run from a herd of walkers, they'd taken down a few before realizing that there were just too many of them for the two of them alone. They run down through the woods in the hopes of finding some sort of shelter, some place to hole themselves up until the herd had passed; at one point Beth had even suggested climbing a tree but Daryl had been opposed because he knew that the walkers would still be able to smell and see them.
They'd splashed through the drying riverbed on their run and when they'd come up on the other side the old man had been standing there with a shotgun in his hand. He fired off both rounds, the buckshot taking out several of the walkers that were closing in, then ordered them to follow him. Neither had the luxury of taking the time to discuss the man who'd come out of nowhere, so had followed without question. For being an old man he ran pretty fast, too.
In a clearing ahead both could see a small cabin and Daryl had shaken his head, knowing that it wouldn't matter if they'd hidden inside; the walkers behind them would tear through the house. The old man had surprised the both of them, though, when he stopped several yards from the house and ripped open an old cellar door. Beth was immediately reminded of a tornado shelter she'd once seen on television. Without a word the three had dropped into the space, Beth catching a glimpse of a small store of food, a bunk and several books before the door was closed and the light was diminished.
She'd moved toward the sound of Daryl's breathing in the dark until her shoulder bumped against his back. Seconds later and she felt him shift to stand in front of her protectively, the crossbow still held up in defense. Instead of pointing it at the man, it had been pointed toward the door. Though, it didn't much matter. If that group of walkers had come crashing into this small space all three of them would have been doomed.
They were silent as they listened to the walkers moan and groan above. It felt like hours had passed by them while waiting for the herd to move on, though it was only a couple of minutes. When there was enough silence outside to deem it safe, the old man had walked through the darkness, dry coughing into his hand before a small squeak sounded followed immediately by a small circle of light from the kerosene lantern he'd lit. It didn't allow for much light, but it was enough to see around the space a little better.
The old man had introduced himself as Jed and had told them that he had only saved them because he'd been out hunting. He'd heard the walkers crashing through the trees with their excited moans and knew that the creatures had to have been chasing someone down. After another lengthy coughing spell that nearly took his knees out from under him, Beth had asked if he was alright. Jed assured them that it was just a cold and he'd get over it soon enough. He offered them shelter and food for the night, provided they didn't steal anything from him.
Admittedly, there wasn't much of anything to steal but both had agreed readily enough. The two had ended up staying with the old man for three nights, each day saw a worsening in his cough. Daryl had wanted to leave, probably assuming that there wasn't much they could do anyway or that the old man wasn't their problem. Beth assumed it was more the latter. She was worried, however, and didn't feel as if they should leave while he was in such a weakened state.
Later that night she regretted that decision. After dinner they'd all settled in to sleep with the plan that Daryl would go hunting first thing in the morning and try to find them something more to eat. It had almost been a relief to fall asleep to silence, for the first time in days Jed hadn't been coughing through the majority of the night. Why hadn't he coughed through the whole night? He'd died after he'd laid down to sleep. Neither she nor Daryl had realized this until she'd been startled awake by the screeching rasp of a walker. Her first thought was that one had managed to get in through the door and she'd reached over to shake Daryl's shoulder. He grunted quietly in his sleep before the sound jarred him awake as well.
In the darkness she heard him shuffle about to sit up, then the scrape of metal as the crossbow slid across the floor when he'd picked it up. It was difficult to tell exactly where the walker was in the darkness and Beth had been terrified to reach out and turn the lamp on since she knew it would draw attention to them, but she also knew that they needed to see it and keep it from getting to Jed. In one swift movement she reached out and twisted the dial with a squeak, lighting the room enough for Daryl to have a better view of the walker in question.
She'd gasped in shock upon seeing that the walker was Jed and milliseconds later Daryl had put a bolt through the man's head. He'd been a gruff old man, one who was probably a kind and gentle soul before the fall of every. Beth was betting that he'd lost enough and seen enough to grow a thick skin, which was why he'd seemed a little crotchety. Of course, that also could have just come with age. Needless to say, neither of them had gone back to sleep that night nor had they stayed in the cramped space.
Her pale eyes closed as she exhaled when Daryl's arm tightened slightly around her, pulling her closer to his chest in his sleep as well as drawing her from the memories. Hearing the shiver in the breath he let out brought a frown to her lips. She couldn't understand how he was so much colder than she was. It was almost as if he was constantly at a cooler temperature than those around him. It just didn't seem logical for someone who had been born and raised in Georgia to not be used to the chill of winter. Although, she had to admit that the winters were harsher now than they'd been before the apocalypse. Perhaps it was because everyone was so used to having heat and warmth that living without was a lot more difficult.
Daryl mumbled something in his sleep and tightened his grip around her thin frame at the same time which pushed the air from her lungs. It sounded as though he was having another nightmare. It wouldn't be the first one since they were alone. She'd seen him toss and turn in his sleep, plagued by some demons of his past that he refused to speak of many times before. It wasn't as if she could blame him for it, either. Daryl had more horrors in his past than she could ever imagine, not that she wanted to.
Beth sighed and pulled at his arm until she could at least roll onto her other side, facing him. She reached up a hand to gently brush through his dark hair, careful not to jostle him awake, until a calm state took over took him over. He looked so peaceful in his sleep, at least when he wasn't tossing and turning from his nightmares; unlike in his waking hours when he appeared to be carrying the weight of the world with him. He mumbled something more and a tender smile pulled at her lips as her gaze was drawn to his lips. Beth wondered, not for the first time, what it would be like to kiss him.
She sometimes allowed her thoughts to dance toward not exactly the most pure of things about him. The young girl wondered if he thought about it too. Six months with nothing else, with no one else, it seemed only natural, right?
Her palm rested against his cheek, watching him sleep for the time being. It was the first time in almost a week that they were able to sleep for more than a few hours at a time, usually the cold woke them.. or the dead did. The house they'd managed to camp in tonight had some thick comforters from the previous owners and a small stash of food in the cupboards that other survivors hadn't taken. Actually, for the most part the house was untouched. There had been clothes that they both could wear–Beth's being only slightly too large–and a bathtub that they had melted some snow in so that they could wash up.
Truthfully, the girl hadn't felt this clean in months, or this full. It was amazing that she'd had any trouble falling asleep at all, what with a full stomach and all the crying from earlier. Daryl had barely laid his head down before he'd passed out. That wasn't atypical. While he usually fought not to fall into the realm of unconsciousness, when he finally did settle in for sleep he could fall out pretty easily. The girl sighed softly at her rampant thoughts. Beth hated nights like this, the nights when she tossed and turned and couldn't get comfortable because her thoughts were all over the place. She assumed it was from having cried so much and naturally with the tears came the thoughts of her sister and father and mother and aunt and Carl and everyone from the prison. Perhaps that was all it was. Worry was keeping her awake. It wouldn't be the first time.
Her thumb gently stroked Daryl's cheek as he mumbled something more, hoping to calm him. He seemed to talk in his sleep a lot, as if he were constantly fighting some sort of battle. Although, he did carry a lot of weight. She frowned again before nuzzling herself even closer, closing her eyes as the warmth trapped between the comforters touched her cold nose and began to course through her. With a heavy sigh she forced her mind to empty and focused on relaxing herself so that she too could get some sleep.
No sooner was Beth able to calm her mind and begin to drift off did she hear it. The soft moaning and groaning of a walker in the distance. Her slender frame stiffened as she listened to it grow closer and closer. Her gaze jumped to his face and quickly noticed that he was still completely out. It would take more than the groan of one walker to wake him, as deeply as he had fallen out tonight. Without a word the blonde slipped from under his arm and the covers into the cold of the house. Her sock-covered feet hit the floor and instantly a shiver rocked through her. While she knew that she was a little warmer than Daryl, the below freezing temperature in the house could easily get to her.
Without a glance back toward Daryl she walked to the window, snatching the hand-made bow she'd been working with from the floor along the way. Pale eyes darted over the unkempt lawn that had once held a swing-set and a dog house. Both were nearly hidden in the overgrown grass. It didn't take long in the moonlight to find the slowly shuffling figure that was making its way toward the house. She glanced back at Daryl once more for only a moment, then toward the window again. It wasn't the first time she'd taken on a walker alone and it probably wouldn't be the last, so Beth didn't put much thought into the action as she stooped to grab several wooden arrows from the floor.
She would have used Daryl's crossbow if it weren't for the fact that they were starting to run low on bolts for it, and it wasn't easily maneuverable inside–at least not for her. She and Daryl had been training with a standard bow that Daryl had built himself and arrows. Beth had to admit that she was getting pretty good at it, too. Nowhere near as good as Daryl was with either his crossbow or hers, but she was slowly getting there. She crept silently out of the room and across the hall to the bathroom. It was the only window on the second floor that opened easily, still gave her a good view of the walker in the back and had a door that she could close to keep the cold air from getting to the sleeping man in the next room.
Beth slid the window up quietly. She searched for the walker and quickly found him before taking aim. The girl made sure the walker was within her sight, then let the arrow fly. A muttered curse fell from her lips as the arrow sailed over its head and landed quietly in the grass behind it. Frowning, she set another arrow, took aim and let it loose. This time it struck the walker in the gut. Not what she was aiming for, but it was better than nothing. A shiver coursed through her as the cold night air began to seep into her skin, sticking to the bone. Two arrows down, three left, the girl grasped another off the floor and took aim. Narrowing her sight, then pushing through the second shiver that ran through her, Beth let the arrow loose.
If it weren't for the fact that she'd learned how to keep quiet the girl would have whooped happily as it snapped through the walkers forehead. Seconds later it crumpled to the ground. Without the ability to scream and shout the girl did a tiny little victory dance before stepping up to the window and staring out. Her now trained ears listened for any sound on the wind. After several long moments of silence she smirked and pulled the window shut, cutting the icy breeze out.
It didn't take long to gather up her bow and the remaining arrows and scamper back across the hall to where she could hear Daryl's deep-sleeping breaths. A smile tugged at her lips at her little victory as she set everything back into it's place against the wall, then made her way across the cold floor to the bed once more.
Beth tried to slink under the covers without waking him, but the obvious chill to her pale skin was enough to seep into his and with a shivering breath he jerked awake. His dark blue eyes darted around the room while he quickly propped himself onto his elbow, on full alert. Not seeing or hearing any danger, his gaze dropped to the girl's face where a smile was slowly creeping onto her lips, though it was apparent that she was trying not to allow it.
"What's so funny?" he asked in a half-whisper.
"Nothing," Beth responded quickly, shaking her head.
His eyes narrowed down at her, not believing it. After another glance around the room and a brief listen for anything outside he settled back down beside her, his gaze dancing over her pale features. "You're freezin'..." he murmured.
"There was a walker outside, figured I'd shoot it before it brought any attention to itself and us."
"How many arrows d'you use?"
"Three," she stated and frowned slightly at the one forming on his lips. "We can grab 'em back tomorrow, I know where they are."
Daryl nodded and let his gaze play over her face for a moment or two, then wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her closer under the covers, shivering at the cold that radiated from her. "Get some sleep, still got a couple hours till sun-up."
Beth nodded quickly and curled into his side, gratefully soaking up his warmth. It didn't take long, with her now relaxed mind and body, to drift off as his arms wound around her with one hand carefully combing through her blonde hair.
Reviews? Might add more to this depending on what people want/think.