A/N: I was not going to write this. I told myself not to write this. But apparently, I don't listen very well. I think this will be three chapters.
Beth hefts the crossbow in her hands and feels the weight of it strain in her arms. Its day two of her 'training' as she calls it in her head and she takes a moment to make sure her fingers are in the correct positions. She lets her right foot edge forward and turns her body slightly sideways.
She doesn't do what she did the first time and close one eye while staring down the site of the crossbow. She keeps both eyes open and looks dead ahead.
Then she glances over at Daryl and asks, "Am I doing it right?"
"Better'n yesterday, that's for sure," he mutters.
Beth rolls her eyes and looks back down the trail, such as it is. The path feels more like a deer trail, rather than something a human would make and she walks slowly, keeping her footsteps as silent as she can, and hoping the struggle to hold the crossbow steady isn't showing.
"Just keep going?" she asks him quietly.
"Yeah," he answers, his voice low and just above a whisper. "Keep going."
She continues along the path until she comes to a dense thicket of brambles. Something makes her pause.
Maybe it's the fact that the forest has gone quiet around her. Or because they haven't run into anything threatening all morning. Or because she just doesn't trust her surroundings anymore. But something's not right.
She steps back and feels Daryl press in close.
"What?" he says next to her ear.
"Not sure," she says. "Just…something's making me stop."
He opens his mouth to say something but two walkers suddenly stumble through the brambles and Beth sucks in a breath. She lifts the crossbow and squeezes the trigger, the arrow going straight into the eye of one of them. He drops and Beth can't believe she actually hit what she aimed at, while Daryl rushes ahead of her and silently thrusts his knife up and into the other walker's head.
Beth blinks and lets out a breath she hadn't realised she was holding. The whole thing happened in less than a minute.
Relativity, she thinks absently. This is what Mr. Travers was going on about in physics class. Time slowing down for some stuff and then speeding up for others.
She shakes her head. She'd never had much patience for science, and therefore it's typical she'd finally understand a fundamental of physics after the world had ended and there were no more exams.
She lowers the crossbow and gives Daryl a grin. "I don't know how that arrow managed to find its way into that thing, but I'm not going to question it."
He snorts and walks over to her, cleaning his knife. "It's called practice and you better keep doing it if you want to repeat it."
"I know," she nods. 'Cause she does know. It's why she asked him to teach her how to track and how to hunt. She knows she's capable. She also knows she's not Maggie or Michonne, but she's sure as anything not going to become a liability. Not to him.
She watches him check the walkers' bodies for anything of use, but judging by the disgust on his face, he's not finding anything. He straightens and gives her a look.
She stares at him. "What?"
"Forgetting something?" He looks pointedly at the arrow in the walker.
"Oh. Right." Beth walks over and pulls the arrow out, making a face at the sound it makes. She catches a smirk on Daryl's face and bumps his hip. "Don't be mean."
"Don't be a priss," he counters. "Why'd you stop?"
"Earlier," he nods at the trail. "You stopped before they came out. Why?"
Beth frowns. "I don't know. Something didn't feel right."
He studies the area and nods. "Good to know you do have instincts. I wondered 'bout that."
She cocks her hip and glares at him. "Hey now, I have instincts."
He doesn't respond, just smirks at her as he brushes past her.
"Stop it, I do!" she says, starting to smile. "I have excellent instincts."
"You're out here in the middle of nowhere with me," he says heading back to the trail. "That doesn't speak all that well to your instincts."
"Please," she says following him. "You're my best chance out here. I stick with you, I'm going be fine; which just means I have stellar instincts."
"Well, then keep listening to them," he says turning and looking at her. His eyes are bright and blue and she feels something warm and heavy curl in her mid-section. "Something doesn't feel right, you listen to it, you hear me?"
"I hear you." She's embarrassed that her voice has gone all breathy, but she can't help it. Not when he looks at her like he's looking at her. All serious and heavy and intense. She clears her throat. "When something pings, I'll listen."
He squints at her. "Pings?"
"Yeah, you know," she gestures with the crossbow. "Ping. Like in that movie with the submarines. Whenever something approached them, it pinged on the radar."
"You mean that one with Sean Connery as a Russian?" he asks, still squinting.
"Yeah! Daddy loved those kinds of movies," she says and she's proud that although the thought of her father still hurts, it doesn't stab in her chest like it did a few days back. "If something pings on my radar, I'll tell you."
He nods. "Good. Now get back to it."
Beth tracks for the rest of the afternoon, until her arms are visibly shaking from the weight of the crossbow. She manages to find some rabbits, but isn't sure of her aim on something so small, so she wordlessly hands the crossbow to Daryl. He effortlessly kills one of the rabbits and they walk for another hour, until he looks up at the sky.
"Better make camp soon," he says. Beth nods, rubbing at her arms. He notices and says, "They achin'?"
"Little bit," she admits.
"They'll get stronger," he says. He hesitates and before he turns away, he says, "Did okay today."
Beth lets herself smile broadly at the wings on his vest before she says, as cool as she can, "Thanks for showing me this stuff."
He shrugs. "Figure I'd better. Can't have you thinking this is some kinda vacation."
Images flash in her mind, full of blood and the sounds of screams and she says quietly, "Not much a chance of that happening, don't worry."
She's following him so close, she can see him pause, but he keeps going and doesn't say anything else.
They walk in silence while he looks around for a place to make camp; but it's not the tension-filled silence of a week ago where Beth thought she'd start screaming just to fill the space. This silence is better, it's warmer somehow. Sometimes Beth thinks he's just humoring her, letting her tag along out of some kind of inner nobility or even allegiance to her father. Other times, she wonders if he's keeping her near because being alone is far too frightening these days.
Sometimes though, in rare moments that she only allows herself a fraction of a second to dwell in, she wonders if he's staying with her for herself. That maybe, just maybe, he likes her.
The moment the thought forms she tells herself to hush and do something useful because honestly – 'maybe he likes her?' How childish can you get?
Daryl finds a large live oak tree with thick roots that a body can sit between and lean against trunk. He walks into the woods to skin the rabbit away from the camp while Beth gets a fire going. She then sets up their alarm system of some cans and rope along the perimeter. It has just gone twilight when he gets back, rabbit ready to go on the spit.
It's not until they're eating that Beth realizes they haven't spoken since he made the comment about vacations and she stares at him in disbelief.
He looks at her and furrows his brow, still not talking, just silently asking her what her problem was.
"It's nothing," she answers his look. "It's just… When I was a kid, Maggie made up a game called How Quiet Can Beth Be to get me to stop talking to her non-stop." She frowns. "I wasn't very good at it."
"I bet," he says around a bite of rabbit.
"Shush," she says primly. "I had a lot to say when I was eight, thank you very much."
He snorts but keeps eating.
"It's just funny," she says after pulling off a strip of meat and eating it. "I'm just noticing stuff more than I used to and it's weird."
"Like what?" he asks, mouth still full.
"Well, stuff like silences," she says, wedging herself against the root of the tree. "I always thought silence was silence. I didn't realize there were all different kinds." He doesn't look up, but he doesn't tell her to shut up, so she keeps talking. "And time. Time is real weird now."
"How so?" he asks rubbing his hands on his knees and leaning back against a root of his own.
"Well, like today," she says finishing off her rabbit. "It took less than a minute for those walkers to come at us and for us to kill them. But it felt so much longer. But when I was taking care of Judith and it was a good day and she was smiling and learning something new, it was over in a heartbeat. It's all relative to the type of moment you're in." She breathes in deeply. "I just never felt it so strongly 'til lately."
"End of the world'll that to you," he says looking up into the tree branches above their heads. "Gives you new kinds of perspectives."
She smiles as she tilts her head back to look up, hoping for a glimpse of a star or two. "Einstein knew what he was talking about, I guess."
"What's Einstein got to do with it?" he asks.
"Oh, the relativity thing," she says still looking up. "It's his theory of relativity that I was talking about. The whole fast-slow thing."
"Never paid much attention in science," he says, shifting.
"Me neither," she says cheerfully. "But a teacher once said that was the cool thing about science. You didn't always have to understand it to use it or see it when it happened."
"Guess so," he says. She can feel him looking at her. It's a new feeling that's quickly becoming familiar and welcome. His gaze reminds her of her grandmother's crocheted quilts, warm and heavy, and if she closes her eyes she can almost smell the cedar chest they were stored in. She opens her eyes and looks at him, but he's looking into the dark woods around them.
They sit for a few more minutes in one of those new kinds of silences she was talking about earlier, until he says, "I remember that relativity thing, I think. Saw something on PBS once about it. Something about black holes, too."
Beth looks back up at the canopy of tree branches. "I remember the thing my teacher said to get us to understand what he was talking about. About how touching a hot plate for a second can feel like an hour, but touching a hot woman for an hour can feel like a second."
He makes a strangled sound and she looks at him and grins. "Not that I'd know," she adds. "Haven't been touchin' that many hot ladies recently. How about you?"
"Knock it off," he says grumpily, but she can hear something that might be amusement in his voice. He grabs his crossbow and settles in, keeping his eyes on the perimeter. "Get some sleep. You're on tracking duty again in the morning."
Still grinning, Beth nods and rests her head against the trunk of the tree. "Sir yes sir. Wake me when you want me to spell you for watch."
"Yeah," he says. "I'll wake you."
She sighs and closes her eyes. She's asleep in seconds.
She dreams of her home, of the farm. She walks into the living room and its dark, the only light is the one that glows from the lace her long-dead grandmother is steadily crocheting. Beth walks to her and kneels by her side. Her granny's face looks like how Beth remembers her - calm and lined with soft wrinkles. She glances at Beth and smiles.
"I'm crocheting this for my boy's new wife," Granny says. "She's such a sweet thing, like you, Bethy."
Beth wants to tell her that her boy's dead. He was struck down by a bad man with a sword and there was so much blood. But she doesn't say a word; she just watches the click of the needles as they crochet lace made from glowing light.
"Remember to keep those eyes open, sweet girl," Granny says. "So you can tell me all about it when you come see me."
Granny raises her head and looks at Beth and her eyes are black holes and something warm lands on her shoulder and she wakes with a sharp intake of breath.
She blinks and sees Daryl peering down at her, his eyes worried, his hand gentle on her shoulder.
"What's wrong?" she asks hoarsely, fragments of her dream flitting about her mind.
"Nothing," he says still looking concerned. "Your turn for watch."
Beth nods and takes the crossbow and sits up. He leans back and studies her.
"I'm fine," she says moving to sit on top of one of the large roots. "Just...dreams."
He nods and then sits down in the warm spot she's just vacated; his head now level with her lap, and closes his eyes. His breath deepens in seconds as he falls asleep. Beth waits a minute or two and then his head turns and he rests forehead rests against her thigh. She's not sure what it all means, his keeping contact with her while he sleeps, but he's done it every single night since they burned that house down and she likes it.
Beth rubs at her eyes with one hand and then stares out into the night. The forest is still and the air is just short of chilly, the scent of scrub pine and earth drifts over her.
Keep your eyes open, sweet girl echoes in her mind and her dream swirls to the surface of her thoughts.
Now that she's awake she can rationalize her dream easily. Her grandmother had lived with them on the farm until her death when Beth was eight. Granny had always asked after Beth's day - what happened in class, what did the other children wear, what did she have for lunch and Beth had always made sure to remember the details to tell her when she got home in the afternoons.
Add to that Daryl's warning to trust her instincts and Beth's dream makes perfect sense.
Her grip still tightens on the crossbow and she fights the urge to rest her hand on Daryl's head, to reassure her of his presence. Instead she focuses on the weight of his forehead pressed against her and lets it calm her.
"Just a dream," she murmurs. "Let it go, Bethy."
She turns her thoughts towards the night and keeps herself awake by trying to remember the lyrics of Dixie Chicks songs.
But deep down inside her, something quietly pings.