Oh beautiful smiles, won't you stay awhile
We could close the door and sleep all day
It's a September sky with pretty pictures in my mind
That's lost its feeling of so afraid
Everything is beautiful here
It's spinning circles around my ears
I'm finally breaking free from fear
And it's fading on
-Neutral Milk Hotel, Everything Is
"Well, what changed your mind?" Beth asked with a bright grin on her face.
Daryl shrugged, and looked away from her. "You know."
"What," she teased as Daryl took a bite of grape jelly.
The spoonful of jelly stuck in his throat as he turned to look at the beautiful, young woman next to him. He had a hard time swallowing. His stomach bottomed out as he thought of what he should tell her. How could he tell her that the smallest moments with her are what changed his mind about the goodness of people surviving. When she found something beautiful, he found it beautiful as well. When she held his hand, he wanted to hold on for eternity. With a breath, he turned away and shrugged again. "Iunno."
"Don't 'iunno'," Beth imitated him with a smile; he knew she wasn't being mean. "What changed your mind?"
Without a word, Daryl looked her in the eye and continued to stare. Two blinks and her smile began to fade; three, four and she realized. His stare was intense, and full of meaning. She had learned to read him rather well in the short amount of time that they had been traveling together, and this was a look she had never seen from him before. She knew angry Daryl, and drunk Daryl. She knew relaxed Daryl, and upset Daryl. She also knew Daryl when he was scared, and Daryl when he was in control. This Daryl, with his heart in his eyes, was an entirely new experience. She realized that she was the reason Daryl had changed his mind about good people being left in this world. "Oh."
Her chance to respond vanished with the clanging of the cans and hubcaps on the porch. She assumed that it was the dog who had come back, and got up to follow Daryl to the door. She slowly stood on her injured foot, and tested the pain as she stepped on it to hobble to the front door. Her stomach twisted with nerves, or anticipation. Daryl had, in his own way, told Beth that he felt something for her. It was something that would need to be explored. Beth gave a small smile; they would live here at this funeral parlor, they would have a dog, and life would be as close to normal as it could be for them.
"Beth!" Daryl shouted from the front room. "Beth!"
The way he shouted sent waves of panic up Beth's spine. She could hear the fear in his voice, and as she listened closer she could hear moans and shuffles indicating that there were walkers at the door. She grabbed his crossbow and sprinted to the door, ignoring the pain in her foot. He tried to hold it shut; arms, decomposed and rotten, pushed the front door open.
"Grab your things and run to the street. I'll meet you there!"
"I'm not leaving you!" She shouted in panic.
"Go." He ordered again. She limped back to the kitchen to grab what she could and get out to safety.
She cracked the window and slipped out onto the porch. This side of the house only had two walkers milling about the yard. Beth braced herself for the pain that was sure to come, and she ran as fast as she could through the trees and to the road where Daryl would meet her. She was nearly blind with pain, but her survival was more important than a few minutes of comfort.
He knew why he had ordered her to go, instead of staying to fight them off with him. In her condition, it was best if she could avoid the walkers' attention completely, and if she stayed to help Daryl, he would be more concerned about her than his own life. It didn't stop the worry from eating her up inside.
She held tight to their things, and turned to watch the house. She could just see the front door through the trees. She prayed that Daryl would make it out of the house safely. She couldn't help but picture Daryl's eyes softening on her just a few moments ago. She didn't want to lose him before she even had him.
She was watching the house so intently that she didn't hear the boots crunching the gravel behind her until it was too late. A hand wrapped around her throat before she could scream. "If you attract their attention, you will die."
The voice was deep, and his breath was hot on the back of her neck. She could smell his putrescence. He hadn't bathed in weeks, and the breath on her neck smelled worse than the rest of him. He wasn't alone. She heard another's footsteps coming closer. "Get her in the car."
Beth wiggled, attempting to free herself from the man holding her. "Daryl!" She screamed.
The arm tightened around her throat. "I wasn't fucking kidding."
She had to stall. She had to wait until Daryl got out of the house. Beth knew the kinds of things that men like this did to girls like her. Newspapers and 20/20 had told stories of men who kidnapped women and sold them as sex slaves back when the world was right. The world was wrong, now, and she knew that Daryl was right in believing that there were horrible people out there. She was being pulled toward the car with a white cross on it. "No." She said finally, twisting away and getting slapped for her efforts. She grasped her cheek, but backed away, right into the arms of the other guy who grabbed her under her arms. "Grab her feet, Gordon."
Beth kicked out, twisted, and struggled in an attempt to get away. "Put me down!" She screamed and kicked her foot into Gordon's chin. He dropped her feet and lunged toward her, grabbing her hair. "Listen here, girl." He said, yanking harder. "This is it. You fight, and you are dead. You scream, and you are dead. There's no one here to save you."
The rest of his tirade was cut short when a bolt flew into his neck. Gordon's partner spun around, whipping Beth with him. Once again, an arm was around her throat. She could see Daryl's eyes widen, and while she was scared for herself, she was still scared for him. The man pulled a gun out and leveled it in Daryl's direction. Daryl held the crossbow steady, and he growled, "Let her go."
"She's mine." The man said as he began dragging her on his own back towards the car, and past Gordon who was choking on blood.
"Let her go." Daryl insisted again.
The man holding her smelled just as rotten as Gordon. He was bigger though, and Beth could feel the muscles in his arm clench as he held his forearm just under her neck. Beth struggled to breathe, and her face was beginning to turn red. The man slowly turned the gun from Daryl and pressed it right up against Beth's temple. Beth panicked. She could see this being her end. She had teased Daryl about not needing him anymore, but she needed him desperately.
"Now see," the man said shoving the gun harder into her head. "I could let her go, but it doesn't get me what I want. This bitch here," he said, moving his hand to her breasts, "would make a beautiful little pet. I'm sure you've given her a ride." His hand moved to reach inside her pants. Beth was shocked, and terrified. No one had ever touched her there before. The only thing she could think of is the time a police officer came to her school and talked to her class about sexual assault and ways to get away from an attacker.
An elbow into the gut can save a life. It's the strongest part of the human body. If she could just distract him for a moment and not get shot, Daryl could kill him. With one quick move, Beth made contact just under the man's ribs. She heard a crunch, and a groan. She turned just as the gun went off right next to her ear. She felt a bullet hit her shoulder. She screamed as she dropped to the ground, and she felt a bolt sweep past her hair. Like she knew it would, Daryl's shot hit its mark, and the man slumped forward on top of Beth.
"Beth!" Daryl screamed and ran over to throw the dead man off of her. "Are you okay?"
She grabbed her shoulder. White hot pain bloomed from the bullet wound, and blood was spreading over her shirt. "No."
Daryl pulled the collar of her shirt over to inspect the wound. "Daryl."
Daryl looked up into Beth's face. Tears were falling, which he expected, but the look of pure terror wasn't expected. Daryl looked back and saw the walkers he hadn't killed shambling out of the house, their steps a zig-zag pattern on the lawn.
Daryl picked up Beth's bag and his shotgun and picked up Beth's small frame in his arms. It was cumbersome, but he was just running past the dead and dying man to the car in which they had planned to make their escape.
Once they reached the car, Daryl placed Beth and their things into the passenger seat and ran around to the driver's side. He slid into the car and reached to turn the keys in the ignition, but grasped thin air instead. "Fuck!" He shouted and began to scramble. He had to get himself and Beth out of there quick.