A/N: Last chapter! The response to this story has just made me giddy! I cannot thank everyone enough. I'm thinking about writing a sequel to this story, so please let me know if you think that's a good idea.
I have definitely taken some artistic license with the layout of the houses from 'Alone'. Disclaimer: I don't own the Walking Dead.
"Something's wrong," Beth says as she looks around the room and then back at Daryl. "It's something Daddy said when my granny died. About how they couldn't keep her body out longer than a day because of the chemicals or something and how it was sacrilegious to do it longer and that's why—"
"Whoa, whoa, hold up." Daryl eases out of the coffin and guides her over the couch. "Breathe and start over. What's got you riled up?"
Beth breathes in and out slowly; then she says, "This place? It feels like a trap."
Daryl's eyes narrow and he looks around the dark room, his hands clenching. "Okay. Go on."
"When my granny died and we went to see her at the funeral home for the viewing," Beth swallowed, "Daddy said that she was only going to be out for a night; just enough time for us to see her." She leans forward and points towards the hallway. "Why is that guy still in his coffin on display? Why isn't he buried already?"
Daryl tenses and shifts. "Maybe they haven't gotten round to it."
"Maybe," she nods. "But something doesn't feel right, Daryl. Where's the personal stuff? You know, clutter? Why's it so clean? Why're the only things in this place bodies and a cupboard of food?"
"All right," he says nodding. "All right." He grabs his crossbow. He paces for a second, then faces her. Pointing at her, he says, "Stay there. Imma look around."
Beth nods and grips the handle of her knife as he leaves. Her eyes dart around the room, finally fixing on the one large candle that's still burning.
It feels like hours before he comes back, but she knows it was only a few minutes. He shakes his head.
"Can't be sure, but I thought I saw a light in the woods," he says pacing in front of her.
"Someone's watching us?" she asks, her skin crawling.
"Don't know. Could've been nothing, but now that you're talking..." He hefts the crossbow. "Shit. Shit!"
"I'm sorry," she says looking away.
He stops pacing. "What the hell for?"
"Well, I was going on and on about there being good people and thinking that this place was something safe and now we're stuck in this trap and-"
Beth stops talking when he kneels down in front of her and puts a hand on her knee. She stares at him.
"We ain't stuck," he says lowly. "And this ain't your fault. I got distracted by food and soft pillows and that's on me. We ain't trapped. Hear me?"
"I hear you," she says staring into his eyes. "What are we going to do?"
His fingers tap on her knee. "Don't know. Wait 'til light, then we go."
"I could be wrong," she says softly.
"You ain't," he says ducking his head and catching her eyes.
"How do you know?" she asks.
"Hell, ain't you the one who said you got 'stellar instincts'? 'Sides, something's too good to be true, it usually is," he says. He squeezes her knee and stands up. "I'm going to be by the door and keep watch. You rest that ankle."
Beth nods and watches him leave the room. Now that he's up and on her side, she feels better. She lies down and props her foot up, telling it to heal up quick, because who knows what's going to happen tomorrow.
She only manages an extra hour of sleep before he's gently shaking her awake. Her eyes pop open immediately and she looks at him.
He shakes his head. "Naw, ain't seen nothing, yet. But we're outta here today."
"What if they're watching?" she asks.
"That's why we're leaving out the back," he says watching her get to her feet.
"Thought the front door was the only entrance?" she asks, frowning down at her ankle and praying that it's strong enough to walk quickly on.
"We're going out the windows in the basement," he says and she looks up at him.
"Are they big enough?"
"They'd better be," he says. "Or I'm gonna renovate them 'til they are." He nods at her ankle. "How's it feeling?"
Beth takes a step and winces. "It hurts, but I'll manage."
She gives him a small smile and says as cheerfully as she can, "I'm gonna have to, aren't I?"
"Yeah," he says reluctantly. "Come on. Grab your stuff."
They spare a few minutes to grab some food from the kitchen and then they head down to the basement. The bodies no longer represent something beautiful to Beth and she cringes away from them.
The windows are going to be a tight squeeze, but she's sure she can get through. She eyes Daryl's waist and backside and thinks he can, too. He glances back at her and catches her scoping out his butt.
She blushes and says, "Just making sure you'll fit."
"Uh huh," he says smirking. "Just for that, you're going first."
"You just wanna check out my ass," she says, gingerly getting on to the table he's shoved against the wall.
"Fair's fair, Greene," he says steadying her with a hand on her waist.
"Jerk," she mutters as she starts to squeeze through the window. But it's easier than she expected and she's soon on the outside and reaching back in for their bags.
She moves back and hovers nervously, eyes darting around while Daryl pulls himself through the window. He grunts and for a second she thinks he's stuck, but then he's through and standing next to her.
He takes his bag and crossbow from her and leans in close to say, "We're going to head towards those buildings over there." He points down the road at some small sheds. "Then we're going to wait."
"What?" she asks frowning. "We're not going to move on?"
"I want to see what's going on," he says, eyes narrowing. "'Sides, that ankle of yours ain't going to get us too far. Come on."
They skirt around the bushes, keeping low and trying not to expose themselves to the woods and the road. They get to the sheds and with a sharp yank on the chain with his knife, Daryl gets them inside. The small window on the side gives them a good view of the funeral home. Beth leans against a worktable and tries to take the weight off her foot. She hates to admit it, but he was right about her ankle; it's throbbing and sore.
"Right," he says looking out the window. "You stay here and I'm going to scout out an exit plan through the woods behind us, away from the road."
"We may not need it, you know," Beth feels compelled to say. "I mean, I really could be wrong about all this."
"Yeah, but we haven't gotten this far to not keep playing it safe," he says. He looks her up and down. "Ankle hurtin'?"
"Yeah," he says. "Keep it propped up." He looks around and puts a stack of old magazines on the worktable. Then he steps up close to her and before she knows it, he's got her in his arms.
"Holy crap!" she says laughing as he sets her down on the worktable. It's over too quickly for her to really savor the experience, so she just smiles at him. "Daryl!"
"Stay put!" he says pointing at her. "And don't move that ankle. I'll be back."
"What if they come back?" she asks, scooting so that she can rest her shoulder against the wall and prop up her foot.
He looks at her knife. "What kills a walker, kills a man."
She goes cold all over, but nods anyway.
"I won't be gone long," he says. "Keep an eye out and get down if you see something coming."
And then he's gone. Beth rubs her arms and looks around the shed. It's empty apart from moldy boxes in the corner and stacks of magazines on the ground. She turns to stare out the window, feeling on edge. Her usual method relaxing, remembering song lyrics, isn't helping. And she doesn't want to think too hard on the fact that Daryl called her 'baby' when he woke up, 'cause that just leads to madness because there's no way he meant it in any kind of a romantic way. Right?
She shakes her head and pushes the thought from her mind and tries to recall all the words to Carrie Underwood's songs.
It's a good hour before he comes back, his hair ruffled and sweat beading on his forehead and it's about time, because Beth is about to crawl out of her skin.
"Got us a way out that might lead towards more houses; but they're a ways off," he says walking towards her. "If they come back, we can head that way."
Beth nods. "I'm glad you're back," she says. She blinks and looks away. She hadn't meant to say that, but he's just nodding and hopping up on the table to sit across from her.
He nods his head towards the house. "Seen anything?"
"Nope," she says. "Not a soul."
He grunts and rubs at the dust on the window. "We will. We'll see something."
They sit in silence and Beth finds that she's breathing easier now than when he was out looking around.
Daryl lets out a huff of air and says, "This is that relativity thing, ain't it?"
She looks at him in surprise. He shrugs. "Well, this feels like it's taking forever."
"We need a hot woman to make the time go faster, I guess," she says grinning.
"Got you," he says, absently. Her eyes widen and so do his and then he's blushing and so is she and she can't hold in a surprised giggle while he tries to recover and says, "I mean… Not that you ain't… You ain't… I mean, you… Shut up."
Beth just covers her mouth to muffle her laughter. "Thanks. I think."
"Shut up," he just mutters again.
"It's okay," she says, dropping her hand. "No one ever thought about me like that. Maggie was always the hot one."
He glances at her. "What were you?"
She makes a face. "The nice one."
"Nice is all right," he says awkwardly.
"I thought so," she says, tracing shapes in the dust on the table. "I didn't mind it. Figured that was what we're supposed to do. The Golden Rule and all that; being good to one another and helping out."
"Once upon a time, that's how it was," he says glancing at her.
"Yeah," she breathes. "Once upon a time."
They're quiet for several more minutes, before Daryl sits up. "Heard something," he says when she straightens and looks at him.
They peer out the window and Beth thinks she can hear an engine idling in the distance, but the only thing that moves into view is a thin, white dog.
"What the hell?" Daryl mutters.
The dog sniffs the bushes around the house and then trots up the stairs, going past their tin can alarm system. It sniffs around the door and then turns to run down the stairs, back towards the road.
They don't make a sound and sure enough, the faint squeal of brakes is heard.
Beth turns to look at Daryl who just keeps looking out the window.
"What was that about?" she whispers.
"I don't know," he says, sitting back, his brow furrowed. "I mean - a dog?"
"Well, is it like a decoy?" she asks. "Something to make us go outside?"
"Who'd go after a dog?" he asks shooting her a look.
She smiles and raises her hand a bit sheepishly.
He chuckles. "Yeah." His face hardens again. "This is fucked up, I can feel it."
"Should we go?" she asks.
"Probably." He doesn't say anything else.
She waits for a minute, then asks, "Are we gonna?"
"Give it a little while longer," is his answer.
She stares at his profile for a minute before asking, "You really are all about the whole picture, aren't you?"
"How do you mean?" he asks facing her, his head ducked down, but his eyes meeting hers.
"Well, with all the tracking," she says leaning forward. "You're all about seeing everything that's in front of you, so you aren't taken by surprise." She nods at the window. "That's why we're staying put. You wanna know what we're up against."
"Seems the thing to do," he says, looking away.
Something else dawns on her and it almost brings her to tears and she knows she shouldn't say anything because it's only going to make him go quiet on her, but it just comes out: "There was no way you could've stopped that man from killing Daddy."
He stills and she just waits.
"You don't know that," he eventually says in the lowest voice she's heard from him.
"No, I s'pose I don't," she says, tilting her head to rest against the shed wall. "But I'd like to think I know you. A little bit, anyways. And I know if you'd even had the slightest hint that that...man was coming for us, you'd've done everything in your power to stop him."
He still isn't looking at her, but the muscles in his neck aren't as tense as they were a second ago. It's still a good five minutes before he looks her in the eyes.
"I ain't letting nothing happen to you," he says, his voice steady and firm.
"Good," she says lightly. "'Cause I ain't letting nothing happen to you."
"Guess we got a deal, then," he says.
Beth holds out her hand and he takes it. She smiles and squeezes and he returns the pressure, mouth quirking up into a smile of his own. Reluctantly, she lets go of his hand and he lets it fall onto her leg.
They both turn to look out the window.
"Got any of that jelly?" he asks, nodding at her bag.
She rummages in it and with a grin holds up a jar of grape jelly and a spoon. Predictably, he just takes the jar.
The rest of the day is spent staring out the window in shifts as neither got much sleep the night before. When night falls, Daryl immediately shifts into hunter mode, and Beth surprises herself by doing the same. She gets quiet and her hand settles on the hilt of her knife.
An hour past sundown, they hear it - an engine. Soon after that, they see the dog from before running towards the house. Beth frowns and leans towards the window. Then she covers her mouth with her hand.
"Son of a bitch," Daryl hisses beside her.
A group of walkers is stumbling after the dog, down the path to the funeral home and then up the stairs where they crowd around the door, hands slapping at the wall of the building futilely.
"What the fuck?" Daryl whispers as he gets off the worktable. "Who the fuck are these people?"
Beth just shakes her head slowly. Absently, she notices the dog running back the way it came, a few walkers stumbling after it.
"Come on," Daryl says as his hand wraps around her elbow. "Let's get outta here."
Beth nods silently and grabs her pack, then follows him out the door.
Her ankle's screaming at her, but it's drowned out by the feelings of horror and disbelief warring in her head. She follows Daryl closely as they walk through the woods, neither saying a word.
She's not sure how long or how far they walk, but Daryl slows down when they approach a dark shape with a magnolia on one side and a pine on the other. It's a rusted out old pick-up with long-since flat tires and he motions for her to get in, holding open the driver's door.
"Are we safe?" she asks softly, her voice breaking on the words.
He doesn't answer and after a brief hesitation, she gets in, sliding past the moss-covered steering wheel, the leather seat crackling beneath her body. Daryl follows and pulls the door shut.
They sit and stare out the cracked window shield, not saying a word.
"We'll be okay here 'til morning," Daryl says, his voice scratchy and distant.
Beth can't even find it in herself to nod; she's only just managing to breathe in and out. Several more minutes creep by.
"Why?" she asks eventually. "For what purpose on this earth would someone do that?"
She can still see the stream of walkers banging on the door of the funeral home and it's just not shifting out of her mind.
"Beats the fuck outta me," Daryl says.
"Figures, though, doesn't it?" she says, her voice breaking again. "First time we find something halfway decent, it's a trap made by who knows what." She sighs. "Just breaks your heart a little bit more, I guess and I don't know how much more of this I can stomach."
She can tell he's looking at her but she can't make herself move. Despair is seeping into her bones and she curls her fingers into her palms.
"Don't," he says quietly. "Don't go there, Beth."
She finally looks at him and he's just a shape in the dark, the moon weakly illuminating his cheekbones, the rest of him in shadow.
"Why not?" she asks him. "What we just saw? People trapping other people only to throw walkers at them? For no reason? That was messed up! That was…I don't have the words, Daryl! And I don't have the energy to try to even make sense of it!"
"I know," he says voice still quiet. "Just, don't go thinking there's nothing good out there, all right?"
"Why not?" she repeats, a harsh laugh coming out. "Daryl, you said it yourself: the good don't last out here."
"You've lasted out here," he says simply.
Something stutters in her chest and she realizes it's her heart skipping a beat. 'Cause he's just looking at her. Really looking at her. Like he's seeing something in her. Something deep, deep inside of her and like he's grateful for it and she's looking back and oh.
"Oh," she breathes and the cab of the truck feels small. Tiny. Minuscule. As if every breath she breathes out, he breathes in and every bit of her tingles and she wants.
He looks down and away, saying, "Forget it. Don't have to mean anything."
"But it does," she says softly.
She notices that his trigger finger is twitching and knows that she's about to watch him get out of the truck and pace through the woods all night and she doesn't want him out of her sight. So she slides over quick and presses in so that her forehead's against his throat and slides her hand over his heart and murmurs, "Don't go."
She feels him freeze and his heart thrums hard and fast under her palm, but he doesn't move and she counts that as progress.
But progress towards what, Bethy? a voice like her daddy's says in her head.
Not sure, Daddy, she thinks. But something. Something good.
It's awkward leaning on him like she is, but she doesn't want to let go and eventually, his body relaxes and he turns his head towards her, and she lifts her face from the crook of his neck. He just looks at her and then expels a deep breath.
"Come 'ere," he says, moving his arm around her. She settles in beside him, his arm heavy and warm around her shoulders and she just curls up next to him, her hand still on his heart. She feels him press his lips to the top of her head and she closes her eyes
"Don't go," she whispers again.
"Ain't going anywhere," he whispers back.
And the rest of the night passes the way time used to - steady and even - each minute ticking on as it should.