S is for Sure
Carl's snoring was making it impossible to sleep.
At least it was for Beth. Judging by the accompanying heavy breathing and nose-whistling that surrounded her, she guessed that no one else was quite as bothered by it.
Maybe it was just restlessness keeping her awake. Too much had happened over the past few days; the last few weeks, really. The prison loss still weighed heavily on her mind, on all of their minds, yet the shelter and safety of it felt like a lifetime ago. All that had happened since had kept her mind from it, had kept her busy. Those first few weeks with Daryl, the following few at Terminus. Now, in the dead of night, while everyone slept soundly around her all she seemed to be able to do was think.
Think about the prison. Think about the Governor. Think about her father. Remember how he died. The moment came to her every time she closed her eyes.
Beth drew the blanket she was sharing with Judith up closer to her chin and drew in a shaky breath.
Don't think about that. You don't get to. Can't fall apart.
It was the mantra she had recited to herself for months now. You don't get to fall apart. You don't get to lay down and cry, no matter how hard things get. It was weak. And weakness gets you killed.
Sometimes she felt like a fraud. Like she wasn't fooling anyone. They could all see right through her; they knew she wasn't strong. She wasn't like them. Other times she could see that surprise, the respect in their eyes; like they realised she wasn't just another dead girl. She wasn't just Hershel Greene's little girl. She was a fighter. She was just like them.
Daryl could see it. Out of all of them, she would catch that look in his eyes in the most; the respect. He cared what she thought, how she felt, what she did. He knew her; those few short weeks after they burned the cabin down made her sure of that.
Beth rolled over onto her back, pressing the back of her hand to her forehead, as her mind drifted to him. He was different with her now. It was subtle but she could sense it; could tell he was holding back. They had been reunited just three days before; Daryl and Rick had escaped from Terminus last and he hadn't known she was there.
He hadn't held back then. He hadn't approached her, but when she went to him and hugged him tight, he held her back. It was more than he had ever done before when she had embraced him, but it wasn't something she thought much of at the time. She was just too happy to see him again; to see all of them again. And in that moment all that matter was that they were together.
They were home.
But that was where the familiarity seemed to end. They had run from Terminus too fast for any explanations, before any real conversation had taken place. The first day, it was all business. They ran until they found two cars, they camped out in a rundown general store overnight, the next day gathering supplies and heading out – six to one car, seven to another.
Just two days on the road before it all went to hell and they had to make camp.
It was the third day that they really had any chance to talk. And Daryl seemed happy to do anything but. Yet, he still hovered around within sight of her, keeping his eyes on her when he thought she wasn't looking. When she finally left Maggie's side and approached him he had declared he needed to go hunting and spent the rest of the day out in the woods, not returning until after sundown.
Beth brushed the hair back from her face. She shouldn't let it bother her. Of course things would be different now. They were back where they belonged; with the people they thought they had lost, those that they had mourned together. They were no longer alone; no longer just the two of them against the world.
Things were back the way they should be. They were back the way they were.
And it was silly to think Daryl would pay her the same attention as he did when they were alone. He had the whole group to protect again now. It wasn't all about her.
She felt slightly foolish for being offended earlier. And yet, the disappointment burned deep within her. She didn't want to lose the closeness they had developed; she didn't want to lose the friend she had found in him.
Beth shook her head, glancing over at the sleeping forms next to her within the tent; Carl, Carol and Sasha. Daryl had seemed closed off with Carol earlier that day too. So it wasn't just her. Maybe it had nothing to do with her. Maybe he was just overwhelmed at finding everyone again.
She turned and rolled over, eyes resting on the sleeping baby on the other side of her. She smiled and brushed the hair back from Judith's forehead, before she pushed herself up onto her hands and knees and began shuffling backwards out of the tent.
Sleeping was a fruitless pursuit it seemed and she was becoming claustrophobic in the overfilled three man tent.
Carl snorted awake when she accidently knocked him and she whispered an apology before ducking out into the open air, gracelessly stumbling upright as she did so. She brushed her hands over her top and jeans, unconsciously smoothing them out, as her eyes quickly sought out her sister who was sleeping close by under a blanket with Glenn.
They appeared to be more comfortable than she had been moments earlier and she figured they had had the better idea, quickly claiming a blanket between them rather than a space in the tents. Her eyes drifted over the other sleeping forms; Rick, Michonne, Tyreese.
Beth knew before she glanced in the direction of the tree who was on watch; her eyes couldn't seem to help seeking him out when she didn't see him among the others.
Daryl had his back against the trunk, his knees bent and his arms resting lazily over them. He was watching her and when their eyes met he gave her a slight nod in acknowledgement. She smiled in response, hesitating for only a second, before she made her way over to him.
She wasn't sure if she imagined that his knees drew closer to his chest at her approach.
"Hey," he mumbled, looking up at her.
The two of them fell silent, just looking at one another for a moment, before Daryl ducked his head and turned his attention towards the knife in his hand. He tapped the blade on the ground, quietly, while she stood wondering if she should stay or go.
"Y'know, reason we have people on watch is so everyone else can get some sleep," Daryl finally said, his tone slightly wry.
Beth felt herself relax slightly, before she shrugged and rolled her eyes, "Couldn't sleep." She braced her hand on the tree trunk before lowering herself to sit next to him; "Too much stuff happenin'; can't switch it off."
Daryl nodded in the direction of the others, "Doesn't seem like anyone else is havin' that problem."
"They're probably beat."
Beth caught the hint of concern in his voice and felt a smile tug her lips. She shrugged, crossing her legs in front of her, "I'm okay. I probably got more sleep than any of you. They didn't keep me in a boxcar."
Daryl met her eyes at that; looked like he was studying her, looking at her that intense way he did sometimes that made her feel warmer and want to both stare right back and look away at the same time.
He always looked away first. And it wasn't a pattern to be broken now, it seemed, as he lowered his eyes back to the knife he was holding. He pushed the blade back against the ground; it sunk slightly into the mud.
"They hurt you?"
His question was so quiet she barely heard it. He kept his eyes on the ground, his face turned away from her; as if he were ashamed or something.
She shook her head, her response quiet; "No."
Daryl swallowed but didn't look up or do anything else to acknowledge her statement.
She drew in a breath and spoke more assertively, "No. They didn't hurt me."
Daryl was quiet, looking thoughtful as he seemed to take in her words; she noticed his shoulders relax slightly after a few seconds. And then he turned his head to meet her eyes. He nodded; "Good."
Beth gave him a small smile and his lips twitched slightly, not quite a smile but enough that she felt the connection they had had some time ago, when it was just the two of them, was still there. The warmth in his expression relaxed her and she allowed her smile to turn brighter, before she shuffled herself closer to him and leaned her back against the tree so that she was sat next to him, their arms brushing together.
She leant the back of her head against the trunk, drawing in a breath before she went on with a story she hadn't really intended on telling before that point; "When I got out the house, the car…it wasn't there. I didn't see it. I just ran. There were a couple of walkers at the corner of the house. They saw me but they weren't too close, I ran around the back – I thought they'd follow me. It'd slow them down a bit and give us a chance to meet at the road without them catching up. The car…it came out of nowhere."
Daryl had stopped playing with the knife and was sitting very still, listening to her silently.
"I saw it right before it hit me," she looked down, "The next thing I remember I was waking up in a bed and a girl was there next to me. She was a nurse before the turn. She told me I probably had a broken rib, but that other than that I was fine. She said I was lucky – the car wasn't driving that fast."
Daryl turned to look at her, "I didn't know."
She met his eyes with a questioning frown.
"That it hit you. Thought they just grabbed you." He glanced down in the direction of her stomach, "You okay now?"
Beth shrugged, touching her side, pressing gingerly, "Yeah, I think they're healing fine. Been about four weeks. It still hurts a little sometimes. Depending on how I move; but I forget about it most of the time now. Unless I sneeze. Or cough."
Daryl was looking at her side, critically, "More reason you should be sleeping."
Beth drew her knees up, mimicking his pose and ignoring his statement, "What about you?"
"What about me?"
"You know," she raised an eyebrow, "What happened to you? After they took me? Maggie told me you and Rick got to Terminus together," Daryl lowered his eyes as she went on. She leaned herself forward, wrapping her arms around her legs, her chin resting on the top of her knees; "How did you find him?"
Daryl was quiet for several moments, as if he didn't want to answer and, by the time he did speak, Beth had already reconciled herself to him not being willing to tell the story.
"Followed the car for a while. Came across these guys…well, they came across me. These dumbasses; they took me in."
Beth lifted her chin from her knees to look at him more fully, picking up on the sombreness of his tone.
"It was dumb, they had a code. You wouldn't a' liked it."
He shook his head, "Don't matter. Anyway, they were tracking someone – some guy they said killed one of them. Turns out it was Rick. So they were trackin' 'im; 'im and Michonne and Carl." He paused, looking down, "Led me right to 'em."
Beth paused, taking in what he had told her, quickly realising the circumstances of their reunion wasn't good. Just as his reunion with Maggie and Glenn hadn't been in the boxcar; nor the swiftness of the reuniting with Tyreese and Carol.
Beth fingered the hem of her cardigan, before commenting; "They wanted to kill Rick?"
Daryl didn't answer. They both knew he didn't need to.
Beth nodded, "I get it."
Daryl shook his head, "Nah."
She turned her head to look at him again. He didn't return her gaze, instead had returned to digging the blade on the knife into the ground; "These sons of bitches…they were bad. Real bad."
Daryl looked hesitant before he went on. Went on and told her exactly what had happened. How they had found Rick and Michonne on the road; how some scumbag had seen Carl in the car and had put his hands on him. Told her what Rick had done to stop them. How they had killed them all.
He spoke quietly and Beth could almost feel the shame roiling off of him.
"I didn't know…I wouldn't have been with them if I did –"
"Daryl," she interrupted him, her voice as quiet as his, as she leaned in a bit closer to him, "It all worked out. You found them. Y'all did what you had to do."
Daryl turned his head towards her, his brow furrowed slightly.
Beth held his eyes with hers, "We all gotta do things we don't like." She shrugged, "It's just the way things are now."
Daryl's eyes seemed to darken at her words. He shook his head, "Don't have to be that way." She saw his eyes glance in the direction of the tent she had just exited, before they met hers again, "We don't have to change that much."
Beth had a feeling they weren't really talking about her, or him, anymore. It was clear he was aware that he had to kill those men; that his shame laid not in killing them but in being with them in the first place. But she didn't know what he was referring to, only that her words had struck him somewhere inside.
Beth shivered as a breeze brushed over them, rubbing her arms with her hands, drawing Daryl's attention back to her.
She rolled her eyes, "Snooze you lose, right? Missed out on claiming a blanket."
Daryl frowned before he pushed himself forward and tugged the poncho he was wearing over his head. Beth quickly shook her head, "No, you don't have to – I can just go back inside…" But he had already draped it messily over her and was leaning back against the tree before she had even finished the statement.
Beth smiled shyly, her head low, as she reached out and adjusted the fabric properly over herself. She drew it up to her chin, enjoying the warmth that the item immediately shrouded her in. It was wonderful and, before, she didn't realise just how cold she was. She snuggled into the poncho with a sigh.
She felt Daryl move and could see him looking at her out the corner of her eye and she realised she must look like a total idiot; face buried in the poncho he had just given her.
Daryl was looking at her with obvious amusement, "Y' alright?"
"Aren't you cold now?" Beth asked, ignoring his question, "It's freezing."
Daryl shrugged, "Nah."
"You have goosebumbs," Beth stated, nodding down towards his arms.
Daryl followed her nod down to his arms, lifting one of them and noticing the little bumps that were illuminated in the firelight. He shrugged again, letting his arm drop back down.
Beth shuffled in closer to him, so she was pressed against him, and he looked back at her again. She met his eyes and gave him a smile, lifting the poncho and shaking it out, "Big enough for both of us, right?"
Daryl looked uncomfortable as she draped it back down so it was covering the both of them, though she had to press in closer still so that it would do so. Daryl shifted awkwardly where he sat and Beth felt him draw his knees back up to his chest.
Beth chuckled slightly at his obvious discomfort and smiled at him. He looked at her, not smiling back, but his eyes softened as they held her gaze. And, after a moment, Beth leaned her head against his shoulder, closing her eyes. She felt him draw in a breath and then his body relaxed, the tension he was holding seeming to leave it.
His voice was quiet, slightly uncertain.
She didn't look up or open her eyes when she spoke; "Yeah?"
There was a pause before he spoke again; "I'm glad you're here."
Beth's eyes opened at that, her head lifting slightly in his direction, the openness of his statement surprising her. And she couldn't help but remember the last time he had stunned her in a similar way, with that same vulnerable openness, back in the mortuary. She bit her lip, remembering the moment, wondering if she should bring it up, and, if she were, what would she say?
She didn't know.
Beth felt her fingertips accidentally brush the back of his hand. She hesitated, before allowing them to run over it again with slightly more pressure, slightly more precision. His hand remained still and she curled her fingers back, feeling slightly embarrassed.
Why was she embarrassed? She had felt perfectly comfortable with it before.
After a second, she felt the back of his hand nudge hers slightly.
She bit her lip and turned hers, letting it slip into his, their fingers intertwining the way they had in the graveyard some weeks before. She felt his hand squeeze hers slightly before she felt him moved as he leant his head back against the trunk.
Beth smiled, a sense of warm relief washing over her at the realisation that her earlier worries had been unfounded. And Daryl still felt as close to her as he had before, when it had just been the two of them, even if he didn't seem to know how to handle that around the group.
It didn't matter. Moments like this, they were enough for her.
Beth answered his squeeze with a returning one of her own, before she leaned her head back against his shoulder, closing her eyes once again.
Only moments later she felt the soft pull of slumber tugging at her consciousness, being finally able to close her eyes without thinking or worrying or seeing things she didn't want to see.
Instead, she found herself basking in the quiet contentment of the moment, just appreciating the warmth of this strange attachment she and Daryl had developed, as sleep finally claimed her.