To say that Daryl's thoughts were one tangled, fucked up mess the moment the strange blond girl - Beth, his mind supplies helpfully; her name is Beth - takes his hand in hers and practically asks him to run away with her would've been an understatement in a lifetime of understatements. He doesn't understand it – how someone he'd just met, someone who just moments ago held an arrow to his throat, could make him feel such a variety of strong, conflicting emotions. Anger, he could deal with. Anger has become such an important part of who he is - violent and hurtful and explosive at times, simmering just beneath the surface at others; anger at himself, his brother, his group, the whole fucking human race. Anger is safe, something familiar in this gods forsaken world. Anger overrides fear and loneliness and guilt and insecurity and all those other useless feelings that get you killed in the zombie apocalypse. Anger is the one thing other than his crossbow that he could count on when things don't go his way, as they usually do; the one thing that he could rely on to tide him through rough waters; and now, it is the one thing that he clings to amid the confusion, the curiosity, the begrudging respect, the irrational concern for this random chick who would have ended up as just another of their victims had he not stepped in. And that was it, wasn't it? He had stepped in, to the extent of Claiming her, when just a couple of months ago, he had done nothing when their group found a pair of sisters travelling with their aged father. He had not simply handed her over to Len just to get the asshole out of his face as he usually did. And the mere fact that he allowed her words to get to him, to hurt him, when he would've just brushed them off had anybody said them to him before – well, she sure has a hell of an effect on him and it unsettles him. He doesn't like it, not one bit.
He was actually prepared to walk away, to leave her behind with nothing but his knife and a couple of words of advice to pacify his conscience but then she just had to look at him with those clear blue eyes, just had to say the words he'd been selfishly thinking himself all these years, just had to say them with the kind of conviction that makes him want to believe and, for whatever reason, makes him want to dare hope for things to be different from the way they are.
So he tells her his name and he squeezes her hand and it's a good half a minute until he realizes that he's been staring. He clears his throat and quickly lets go as though her hand had burnt him. He feels heat begin to creep up from his neck, into his cheeks and ears, and he turns his back to her but not before he catches the triumphant smile tracing the curve of her mouth, lighting up her face in spite of the dirt and the grime and the soot.
"The hell are you smiling about, girl?" he says, gruffly, trying not to show his discomfort. "I just told you my name. Haven't said nothing about going with you."
He could almost see her smile widen at that, as though he'd just confirmed what she knew all along.
"But you want to, don't you?" she pushes, takes a step towards him, would've probably said something more if he hadn't turned back around abruptly and aimed his crossbow at her.
"What are you...?" she manages to get out before he's letting the arrow fly, straight and true. It whizzes past her, just a hairbreadth from her head, and pierces through the skull of the walker reaching gnarled fingers out for her.
Her mouth remains frozen in shock, blue eyes wide with disbelief and something else – hurt? betrayal? – and it's that look on her face that will haunt him for the next couple of days. He takes one step towards her and her knees give out. She slumps boneless to the ground, stunned, barely noticing him when he moves forward to retrieve his arrow from the remains of the walker that would have been the end of her.
"Too slow, girl," he sneers, tries to ignore the way his senses are still tingling, telling him something else is wrong; wipes the arrow against his pants. "With those reflexes, it's a wonder you're still alive."
She remains unmoving, silent, doesn't rise up to the obvious taunt at her abilities as he'd hoped she would, stares unseeing at the ground before her. He doesn't have to be a doctor to know when a person has gone into a state of shock, considers for a while just leaving her there, but that part of him, the one she'd recognized for what it is, wouldn't allow him to leave her without at least a fighting chance. He kneels in front of her, starts to reach for her shoulder when she tenses, lunges blindly at him, the knife he'd given her clutched desperately in her hands.
He reacts instinctively, catches her wrists and wrestles the knife effortlessly from sweat-slicked hands.
"Hey! Girl! Are you out of your fucking mind? What the hell do you think you're doing?"
She continues to struggle against him, screaming, screeching and yelling, eyes still unseeing. "How dare you! How dare you! Let go of me, you bastard!"
He hears the uneven shuffle of footsteps then making their way in their direction. Damn girl is practically crying now, alerting walkers within half a mile's radius as to their location, and for the first time in his life, Daryl Dixon finds that he doesn't know what to do. He's never had to deal with women in the Before, save for quick, meaningless fucks at the back of bars he let Merle drag him to. He was usually either drunk or stoned or both on those occasions; couldn't tell which way was up or down, let alone manage to remember their names the morning after. He certainly hadn't learned how to deal with women in the light of day then, much less what to do with a hysterical one in a forest full of the undead.
"Beth," he tries again. "Beth, listen to me," tells himself to calm the fuck down for both of their sakes, and after a while, it works. She stops struggling, allows him to hold her wrists. "Look, I wasn't trying to hurt you. Take a look behind you and you'll see that I just saved your damn life. Now you can either clock out on me right now and I'm gonna leave you for those damn biters or you could be that stubborn girl who held an arrow to my throat and get off your ass and we run. Choice is all yours."
She does snap out of it then, and he wonders whether it was his choice of words or tone of voice that she responded to. A sliver of recognition and then she's whispering his name.
"Daryl?" she asks in confusion.
"Yes, it's me," he says. "Now come on. We have to go, Beth."
She blinks at him, still not quite here nor there. "We have to go? But where?"
He sighs, unsure of how she'd take it; figures there isn't much of a choice if both want to survive the night.
"Home sweet home," he says sarcastically. "I'm bringing you back to camp."
A/N: First off, thank you so much for all the reviews, favorites, follows - basically for the interest in this AU story of mine. I know Beth and Daryl may come off as OOC and unstable – Beth, mostly - but I swear there's a reason for all these, some back story that will eventually be revealed in the coming chapters. I can't promise how often I'll be able to update but do know that I'll be working on this as much as I can while juggling a full-time job, various part-time jobs and Law school preparations. I hope you all like where this seems to be going so far and don't mind short chapters (much). Hugs for all.