Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the Walking Dead. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: This one-shot was intended to be very light and almost fluffy. It does get kind of heavy in some places, but all in all, I think that it remains fairly weight-less. And its so fluffy in places, I grossed myself out writing it.
This is No Fairytale
Lady Beth of Cell Block C
One year into life at the prison, the group of survivors found that they were having to go further and further away for basic supplies. They tried to be as self-reliant as they could- growing crops, setting up a pumped water system, raising livestock- but they were still barely a fledgeling community and not everything could be gained from the land, as much as Daryl Dixon hated to admit it. Especially not with a growing baby and even more little ones that'd been taken in over the past several months. Not to mention the elderly they'd brought back from Woodbury. People needed things, material things, but that wasn't the focus of this mission out into the wild. Daryl was hunting for game, anything he could find, and he was doing it on his own. He'd never let any of the others tag along when he went out, and just because they had a larger group now, it didn't mean that was ever going to change. Those people were just too damn loud. Most of them, anyway. There were precious few who managed not to step on his frayed nerves, but they weren't much for hunting either.
This was the farthest he'd gone since they'd settled. Daryl had his Horton strapped to his back, buck knife on one hip, .38 on the other. He carried a deep burlap bag for any smaller game he might come across- rabbits, squirrel, chipmunks, wild turkey, pheasant, even opossum- and several lengths of rope to bind anything larger. Maybe the trip would go his way and he'd come across a buck. He'd been traveling for a few days, sticking to dense forest as much as he could, but every now and then he'd come across a one horse town and he'd slink through without leaving behind a trace. If he was empty handed at the end of his venture, he'd scrounge through the houses on his way back.
He found them just after one of these ghost towns, just when he was getting into the thick silence of another stretch of forest. Really, it was all the same stretch, the towns almost looking like they'd grown from the very ground, trees wrapping the roads from all sides. Daryl wouldn't have noticed them if he hadn't almost tripped over one, free-falling into air, flailing to catch himself on the rough trunk of a thick oak. They were huddled nearly into the roots of it, so dirty that they melted right into their surroundings.
Two children, blinking up at him from the base of that tree he was clinging to. Daryl's heart was slamming in his chest and their eyes began to well with tears which brought on an enormous wave of panic.
Tears. He was powerless against them.
Daryl looked all around, but saw no sign of another adult or a group. The older of the two girls -he could make that out now, they were both girls- was edging toward him on shaky limbs, swallowing back her tears. She didn't come up higher than his elbow but the other one was so much smaller. Not Judith small, but still small. And thin. It was impossible to tell what color their hair was, with the way it was snarled and matted to their heads, but their eyes were the same color green. Sisters, maybe.
Daryl had no idea what to do.
Faced with these two girls he was more terrified than he'd ever been against a pack of walkers.
Little Ass Kicker, her he could handle. Pretty much four basic functions, and she didn't talk. But this? Yeah, he had no clue.
"Who are you?" The older girl's voice was reed-thin, just like her whittled down frame. Daryl reminded himself that he should tread lightly here. It wouldn't do to scare them. He sunk into a crouch in front of her, steadying the bow on his back with one hand on the strap. He'd brought plenty of people back with him before but this- this was something else entirely.
"Who are you?" he asked instead of answering.
"I can't tell you that. We're really not supposed to talk to strangers, but-" her words were cut off by a small growl and it took Daryl a moment to realize that it'd come from her stomach.
"Where's your momma?" Daryl shot a look to the younger girl that was clinging to her sister's skirt.
A tiny lip wobbled before she bit down on it. "She didn't come back. Neither did granddaddy. They told us to stay put at the house, they were going to get some food, but then they were gone so long-" the girl swallowed hard, and the peridot eyes that watched him warily were harder than a child's had any right to be. "We got hungry and I couldn't leave her alone. But we got lost."
Fuck. Daryl knew that their family was either dead, or they'd abandoned these two. And he couldn't hold back the silent judgment- who in the hell would leave their kids all alone like that? By choice or by force, when there were walkers everywhere and men who would have less than his honorable intentions toward two little girls. To Daryl's mind it was inconceivable. He didn't say any of this though, it would only do to make them even more leery of him.
Daryl had already made his decision at the first grumble of that little belly.
"How would you girls like to come along with me?"
The older girl glared at him for a moment before her sister pulled at her skirt. She cast a look down and whatever she saw in her little sister had her sighing. At first Daryl was amused by the exchange, but that was quickly wiped away at the realization that this girl had been forced to make decisions that she had no business making. She'd gotten herself and the little one this far, and that was nothing to be laughing about.
"I'm Annie. My sister is Amanda." Annie reached down and took Amanda's hand, pulling her sister close.
"My name's Daryl. I've got a place a few days from here. Lots of people, other kids, food, beds to sleep in. That's where I want to take you. There's people there who would look after you."
"I've been looking after us just fine," Annie said with a sniff, but the effect was lost in the weakness of her voice. Daryl could tell that they hadn't eaten in a while, just by their slightly hunched stances. Curled over their bellies, unaware they were doing so. It was something he remembered clearly.
"How old are you?" Daryl asked Annie, flicking his eyes down to little Amanda in silent question.
"Nine. Amanda's only five. How old are you?"
He cursed under his breath. Five. He needed to get them back, and the faster the better. "I'm old. Let's get heading, we'll walk a-ways then make camp. When was the last time you girls had something to eat?"
Annie shrugged and Amanda made a small fist in the material of her dress over her stomach. "We'll fix that when we stop. I've already caught a couple pheasants and a skinny squirrel. We'll see what we can find on the way back. Help me keep an eye out."
Shadows were already taking over the trees as they walked, and they only made it through the nearest town before night was almost in full pitch. The girls moved quickly and quietly enough that they stayed under the radar of the walkers, and they were safely in the forest again before they had to stop and make camp.
Camp consisted of Daryl's poncho spread out over the ground and a small fire that he used to roast both of the birds. Annie and Amanda both seemed fascinated by the feathering and cleaning process, but the older girl squealed in disgust when Daryl fished the livers, gizzards and hearts right out of the guts and chewed them down- Amanda just wrinkled her nose up. Daryl hadn't heard her make a sound as of yet. They fell on the meat like hungry dogs. Any manners they must've been taught flew right out of their minds once Daryl handed the food over, and he just watched without saying a word. What good was it to try and correct them when his teeth were probably still stained bloody?
Soon enough Annie was yawning and both girls stretched out on his poncho, curling up together. Annie was still shooting him wary looks and he could tell that she didn't quite trust him yet, and he couldn't blame her. Living through enough hardship that young took the innocent ability to trust right out of a kid. Regardless, she was asleep quickly and Daryl settled against the tree trunk right by their heads, crossbow resting heavy in his lap. He knew that he wouldn't be getting any sleep that night, no way could he risk it and leave Annie and Amanda unprotected. He soon found out that he wasn't the only one who was awake.
Little Amanda was staring up at him with enormous green eyes that seemed to take up most of her face. Her head was resting in the crook of Annie's shoulder, and Daryl had to try hard not to fidget under her gaze.
"Can't sleep?" His voice was pitched low and Amanda blinked slowly before shaking her head.
"Me neither," Daryl lied. Given the opportunity, he would have dropped like a stone by now. "Uh- anything I can do to help?" He really needed to get these girls back to the prison so they could be turned over to more capable hands. He'd be lucky if he got them through the trip back in once piece.
Amanda seemed to be thinking, and when she finally answered, the word was drawn out. Like she wasn't used to speaking any more. "Story."
Daryl's brow furrowed and his bow dipped low to the ground. "Story?"
A slow nod of the head was the only response he got.
"I don't know any stories, little girl."
Amanda didn't react, only blinked at him like some kind of a puppy dog/owl hybrid. And then the tears started to pool in the corners of her eyes and Daryl knew that he was screwed.
"Aw, shit. Okay, just- stop crying." He hadn't been lying when he said that he didn't know any damn stories. Daryl wracked his brain, rolling his bottom lip between his thumb and forefinger. There was really only one thing that came to mind. "Alright, just this once. And don't be telling anyone about this, not even your sister. Stays between us, understand?" Daryl told Amanda sternly. A small smile this time and a barely noticeable upward jerk of her chin, and Daryl blamed the warmth in his chest on embarrassment.
"Once upon a time, in a land not too far from here, there was a girl." That was how stories were supposed to start, right? Once upon a time? Daryl only remembered one story from his childhood, and that had been told to him by Merle and wasn't suitable to share with a five year old little girl.
"There was a girl, and her name was Lady Beth. She was Lady Beth of Cell Block C, and she had the most beautiful singing voice in all the... land." Shit, what was he doing? At least no one was around to hear this crap he'd never said out loud. But Amanda was still smiling that tiny Mona Lisa smile, so he swallowed his pride. "She was kind and caring, but she was also strong and courageous. The people in Cell Block C, and all of the surrounding Blocks, loved her and knew they would be lost without Lady Beth caring for the little ones and doing all she could to make their... palace a home during the hard times that had fallen on them."
Amanda curled even further into Annie's sleeping body, twisting her fingers in the folds of Annie's dress. Daryl saw a small shiver run through her, and he didn't know if it was because she was cold or not. He doubted it, since it was springtime in Georgia- May was their best guess- but he still set his bow aside and slipped off his leather vest, scooting forward to drape it over Amanda's little body. She gave him another wide-eyed look before pulling her legs up and the vest enveloped her completely, just her head sticking out above the dirty white angel wings. She made a little move with her eyebrows that said 'go on'.
"Alright, alright." Daryl cleared his throat, and let himself talk. "But sometimes the Lady Beth would get sad, because she didn't feel like she was useful to their community. She wasn't a warrior like her sister, uh, Dame Maggie was, and she didn't think she was as smart or experienced as her friend Duchess Carol. And so she would get sad, and when Lady Beth got sad, she would stop singing. Now remember I told you that she had the most beautiful singing voice in the whole land?" Amanda nodded, the movement slow and sleepy. "Well, when she would get sad and stop singing, everyone else in Cell Block C would get sad right along with her, because what she didn't know was her silly made up songs and her lullabies were the only bright and nice thing that the people had during their hard times."
Daryl had never let himself just speak before. Without thought to consequences, or fear that he would be mocked or spit on. It was just pretty sad that it took him having to make up a story for a damn five year old with puppy dog eyes that he was beginning to suspect held some sort of magic power over him to get it to happen. Who knew- maybe one day he'd try it out on an actual grown up, maybe even Beth herself, but he highly doubted it. Maybe when pigs flied the friendly skies or- or the dead walked the earth. Shit.
"Anyway the point is that the Lady Beth didn't really know how much the people in the palace loved her and needed her brightness. They needed her playing games with the children, or reading to the folks who got too old and sick to do anything other than lay around and die." Kids story, Daryl. Kids. Story. "And they needed her singing when they gathered after meals, and her smiles and soft, friendly touches." Daryl surprised himself and physically coughed over the words, which lead to a full on hacking fit. Maybe he should lay off the smokes.
"Okay, I'm alright," he gasped, getting his breath back. "Story. Right." Little Amanda looked like she was trying not to laugh at him, and Daryl had a feeling that he was going to like this kid. "A cloud of darkness had come over the palace after weeks of silence from the Lady Beth, so the council gathered to find a way to cure her sadness. Have I told you about the council yet?" Amanda shook her head no, shifting under his vest, her eyes half closed already. Daryl figured if he could keep making shit up, maybe she'd get so bored that she passed out. He did that sometimes when Hershel talked.
"Well, the palace had a council, a group of people who made the important decisions for the rest of the community since their king had stopped making them and decided to take up farming. Dame Maggie and Duchess Carol were both on the council, along with Sir Glenn, Elder Hershel and Queen Sasha." Sasha was the HBIC and they all knew it, even if no one said it out loud. Even if she hadn't been with them as long as even the Greene's had, she knew what she was doing and kept them running without being overly obvious about it. Daryl left himself out of the council in the story- this was already awkward enough that he was seriously reconsidering his stance on taking the easy way out.
"The council gathered and decided that they had to do something to help the Lady Beth. They talked and realized that no one had ever told Lady Beth how important she was, they had all just taken for granted how much she helped and how happy she made everyone. So her sister, Dame Maggie, went to Lady Beth and explained to her just how much everyone needed and loved her. And do you know what happened then?"
When Daryl was only met with silence, he looked over to find Amanda fast asleep. He shook his head and leaned back against the tree.
"The next day, she started singing again."
At sunrise the next morning, Daryl nudged the girls awake and he wished that he had something for them to eat, but there was just the skinny squirrel in his bag now. He'd have to find something during the day, and hopefully have enough leftover to take back. Imagine that: leaving for food, and coming back with two more mouths to feed instead. Annie and Amanda leaned against each other as Daryl tied his poncho back around the strap of the burlap back and shrugged into his vest. The sky was still painted with pink and orange as they set out, light just barely shining through the canopy of the trees. A few hours in Amanda stumbled with a whimper and Daryl had to bite back a sigh of impatience. He was already going three times slower than usual, they really couldn't afford to stop.
"Alright, hop on," he said, turning and kneeling. Daryl shifted his bow to the side, and Amanda was small enough that when she climbed up his back, she was able to duck right under the string and split limb, resting her cheek against his shoulder. Her arms were almost uncomfortably tight around his neck and they set out at an even slower pace because he knew that Annie had to be tired too, but there was only so much he could do. Daryl couldn't carry both of them. It was only a short time later when Annie tugged excitedly on his pant leg.
"Daryl! Look!" her voice was pitched to a whisper and Daryl followed to where she was pointing. A covey of bobwhite quail were maybe ten feet away and he was surprised to see it- this was usually quail mating season, and they shouldn't have been out and about, but there they were. Male, female and maybe fifteen or so chicks. Whatever, he wasn't going to question it.
"Nice work, Annie," he returned in a whisper, then crouched so Amanda could slide off his back. Daryl took the hen and the cock out with two well placed arrows and then used his knife to take care of the chicks. They'd sensed something wrong and tried to scatter but they were still extremely young and couldn't move very fast.
The girl's didn't blanch like he expected them to. They just helped him gather the birds and load up the sack and then they were on their way again.
"It's sad that the babies are dead," Annie said after about quarter of a mile of silence.
"Yeah, well, it's nicer than if we'd've just left them."
Amanda shifted on his back, scooting up like a little monkey to press her cheek against the side of his neck. "Because their parents were gone. They wouldn't have lasted more than a few days without 'em, and then that meat would have been wasted. Now it'll feed us."
Annie bit down on her lip and tugged at the ends of her tangled hair. "Our parents are gone." Daryl sucked in a breath and stopped dead. Damn it. He really needed to think before opening his fat mouth. He'd let his guard down around these girls, especially after story time the night before. Sometimes he could be so stupid- "We didn't die," Annie finished.
Arms tightened around his shoulders and Amanda's little feet dug into his ribs. "That's 'cause you're tougher than some dumb old quail."
"I guess." Annie ducked her head and kicked at the ground. Daryl squeezed her shoulder gently, and they were ready to move on.
Then, of course, a walker picked that very second to stumble out from behind a tree and make a grab for the little girl clinging to Daryl's back like a barnacle.
"You killed that thing with extreme prejudice," Annie said, nudging the twice dead corpse with her foot.
Daryl snorted. "Where'd you learn words like that."
"By reading, Daryl. And the movies granddaddy used to watch. Lots of guns and explosions and ladies and people killing each other with extreme prejudice."
He shook his head but his attention was diverted by Amanda who was hugging him so tightly he was afraid she'd fuse them together.
"We gotta get going, Mandy." Great, he was giving them nicknames. He was as bad as a little kid, picking up every stray that came his way. Daryl didn't get attached to the strays. Only they weren't really in the same category as the others he'd found and brought back to the prison, and he knew it. He patted the girl on the back. "You need to let go."
Amanda shook her head furiously and squeezed so hard she choked him. Daryl could feel the wet warmth of her tears slipping under the collar of his shirt and he sighed. "Come on," he said to Annie, "let's get moving."
He supported Amanda with a hand on her back and eventually she fell asleep that way, sobbing little hiccups interrupting her tiny snores.
Daryl didn't wake Amanda until he spotted a rabbit a few hours later. His arms were aching and tired but his aim was still true and it went in the bag that was already heavy with quail. They didn't stop until it was full dark out and camp was the same as the night before. Annie and Amanda each devoured a quail chick along with a handful of the berries Daryl had found along the course of the day. The young birds didn't have much meat on them, but the girls were obviously more comfortable when they stretched out on Daryl's poncho next to the low fire. He covered them both with his vest this time and stretched out on his back. Exhaustion was squeezing his very bones, but he didn't dare close his eyes.
He was afraid that if he did, when he opened them the girls would be gone.
Maybe it would all turn out to be another hallucination and probably it would be better if it was. These girls wouldn't have suffered like they had. They wouldn't have to face the hardships ahead of them. Even though he'd found them and was taking them into the fold, this world promised trouble, be it from the dead or the living.
So Daryl didn't sleep, just laid on the soft forest floor and looked up at the dark sky that was only dotted with the random bright star.
"Was she beautiful?" The voice was so soft that it didn't startle him. Instead he just turned his head and met Amanda's wide awake eyes.
"Was who beautiful?" Daryl's voice was gravely and he cleared his throat, looking away from the girl.
"Lady Beth." It was practically a whisper and he couldn't help his rough swallow. He'd hoped that she'd drop right off after the excitement of the day and he wouldn't have to do this again. Then again, Daryl had never really had any luck at all.
He let it fall away again- the reservations, the wall that soared up around any tender feelings that may be lurking. "Oh yeah. She was like an angel. Hair so light it was almost white, like it was made from those stars right up there," he gestured toward the sky, beyond the canopy of the trees, "big blue eyes. Not as big as yours, though," he said, looking over at her again. Amanda scrunched up her nose and pressed her lips together to hide a giggle. "Her skin was soft as a cloud, even though she worked just as hard as all the other people in the palace. And her smile- it was like sunshine."
"Did she have a true love?" This was the most he'd heard Amanda speak, and even though the words were spoken with with caution, he wanted them to keep going.
"Nah. There was one boy but he died a long time ago. Remember I told you that the palace had been having a hard time?" Amanda nodded. "He died at the beginning of all that."
"Was she sad?"
"For a little while, but then she was happy again. He wore a stupid hat anyway."
"Tell me more of the story," she demanded in a voice that had Daryl hiding his own smile.
So he did.
The wire-topped fences and high guard towers were a pleasant sight for Daryl and the girls when they broke through the trees and into the wide field the very next afternoon. He kept the both of them close but the walker build-up around the gates hadn't gotten too awful bad since he'd left. Carol was the one who let them through, and her eyes were full of questions as she look in Amanda clinging to his back like a deer tick and Annie practically wrapped around his leg.
"Found 'em in the woods. Couldn't just leave 'em." Daryl felt the blush lick across his face and his eyes fixed somewhere over her left shoulder.
Carol just smiled, shook her head. "I just left Beth hanging laundry out by the basket ball court. Tell her that I'll be there in a few to take over."
Daryl jerked his head and took off that way, Annie standing on his foot with her skinny arms wrapped around his middle. Mandy had a stranglehold around his neck and there was no getting her to loosen up. These girls hadn't been around other people in so long, the business of the prison was a lot to take in. He found it hard to handle most days. Beth was working with her back to them as he drew close.
"Hey," he said, louder than he intended, making her jump and spin around. Any fear or ire she may have felt fled her face quick when she saw the girls, and her small, pale hand flew to her chest. Something familiar jumped in his chest when he saw the pure emotion flutter across her features; something that he could never figure out how exactly it managed to be both heavy and light all at once.
Beth dropped the threadbare towel she'd been in the process of hanging back into the basket. "And just who is this?" she asked, approaching them.
Daryl swallowed thick. "This is Annie," he shook his leg slightly. "And this is Mand- I mean Amanda," he said as he shrugged one shoulder, jostling the girl on his back lightly. Found 'em hiding out in the woods. Girls," Daryl pried Annie off of his leg, "this is Beth."
Amanda gasped in his ear and started squirming, trying to get down. It was all Daryl could do to not drop her on the ground. She took a few surprisingly bold steps forward and looked back at Daryl with enormous green eyes.
"The Lady Beth?" she gasped and Daryl just really wished that there was a hole in the ground that would swallow him up that very second.
Beth's face went all confused and Daryl wanted to head this off before it got even worse. "Annie, Mandy- Beth's gonna take care of you now. Shower. Yeah."
He didn't run. He made his exit in a timely, proficient manner.
Daryl ran the fuck away.
Much later, after he'd handed his finds off to Olivia, one of the women who helped Carol with the cooking, and had his shower, Beth brought Annie and Amanda into their cell block. Daryl watched them from his perch, a little confused because newcomers never lived in C with them. A small curl of satisfaction wrapped around him when he saw that the girls were clean, their hair had been washed- most of it cut off, honey-blonde hair ending just under their ears- and they wore different dresses. They reminded Daryl of the patchwork quilts his momma had gotten from her own, the dresses had been mended so many times, but they were clean.
They were approaching him before he realized and Daryl cast a quick look around but there was no use. No means of escape.
He was been sitting on his mattress but Mandy latched herself to him anyway, pressing her face to his shoulder. Her hair was still damp and the clean smell of soap tickled his nose, but he didn't protest. Barely even squirmed over the heavy weight of Beth's stare.
"Beth said that we could sleep in her cell for now," Annie said, sitting down next to them. She leaned against her sister, adding to the weight on Daryl.
"You girls eat something?" Daryl found himself asking. Neither of them answered, but Mandy nodded against his shoulder. "Then go on and get some sleep. Leave me be so I can too."
Mandy let go but butted her face against the side of his before standing up.
And Annie surprised the hell out of him by surging forward and wrapping him in a hug. "Thank you," was left against his ear along with a tiny kiss to his cheek and Daryl suppressed the urge to scrub it away out of instinct.
"Mine is just down there," Beth was saying. "The one with the yellow and white curtain. I'll be right behind you."
Their ratty old sneakers were loud against the floors as they took off and disappeared behind the curtain covering Beth's cell. Daryl watched them go.
"They couldn't do anything but talk about you," said a soft voice from beside him. "About how you saved them, and fed them, and carried them. You did a wonderful thing for those girls."
"Wasn't anything like all that," he said, pushing up off his mattress. He leaned against the railing on the opposite side of the perch.
"Mandy had some real interesting stories to tell."
"Lady Beth, Daryl?"
And there it was. Daryl felt his embarrassment and ire growling like a wolf inside him and flexed his shoulders.
"Just take your stupid face and your stupid hair on after those girls and leave it alone."
"I will not let it go." She crossed and leaned beside him, her hip propped against the railing. "Did you mean all of those things you said."
What Daryl did next was somewhere between a nod and a shrug and he didn't even know which one he was going for. To his surprise, Beth smiled.
"I'd kiss you right now if I didn't think you'd flail straight over the side of this railing."
It felt like something was caught in his throat, but he managed to choke out a manly squeak.
"Rain-check, then," Beth said, and Daryl struggled with a nod but she was already walking to her cell, and to his- the girls. Not his girls. Even though they were.
Daryl stayed right were he was for exactly thirty seconds before following after her.