Disclaimer: A nod to the genius Robert Kirkman for creating this wonderfully dark, post-apocalyptic world. I do not own or have rights to any of the characters/plot of this series. I'm simply a fan indulging in my post-apocalyptic fantasies.
Thank you Nicole137137 for the wonderful edits on this chapter!
Nicole had an interview with one of Michonne's walker's from season 3! She has a website where she posts all things Walking Dead/Norman Reedus related! I'm going to post a link to her website on my profile so please check it out! I'm actually writing two blog posts for her as a guest blogger! First time I've ever done that! I'm excited!
A/N: With the new school year starting and me having to go back to work, I'm going to have to cut down chapters to once every two weeks. So two chapters a month. If I can manage to get a chapter written in a week, I will upload it that Sunday, but I do have two little boys that consume most of my free time and I don't want to publish chapters I'm not happy with just to keep posting a chapter a week! Without further ado…enjoy chapter 14!
It was cold and the stench of stale, old, wood permeated the air. Beth had to grit her teeth tighter to keep them from chattering, wrapping her arms around herself to try and keep warm. Daryl had moved to sit closer to the attic ladder, picking at his hands with his knife seemingly unfazed by the low temperatures, and neither of them had said much since they settled in the attic.
They had heard shuffling directly underneath them and Daryl had motioned for her to be quiet. He had then let go of her hand and moved behind the attic door. They would see her, but that didn't matter, because they would be too late to see Daryl. She had counted to sixty fifteen times since Daryl moved.
Beth brought her thumb to her mouth and gnawed on her fingernail. She had too much time to think, waiting for things to quiet down underneath them, and she had gotten tired of counting to sixty after the fiftieth round. With nothing else to dwell on, her mind focused on the man in front of her.
She knew so very little about Daryl, but she supposed none of his past mattered anymore. She knew what kind of person he was now, she had seen it through his good deeds, and that spoke volumes. He had completely redeemed himself in her eyes by the person he had become, in spite of how badly the world had turned, when he could have easily been any other kind of man.
However, that wasn't what her mind continued looping back to replay. What seemed to be bothering her most was their interaction on the porch. She had been caught up with the look in his eyes, the atmosphere they had created on the porch of a house so reminiscent of her own, and she had kissed him. She didn't hand out kisses freely, though knowing Daryl was a man who trusted actions over words, it was meant to be a quick expression of her gratitude toward him.
Then…he kissed her back.
It was different from their first kiss, which had been strictly for comfort, because the second kiss had made her feel something. Happiness, yes, but it went beyond that. She wasn't really sure she could pinpoint any specific label to put on it.
Chewing harder on her nail, she wondered what could possibly be going through Daryl's mind. He wasn't the type to get 'caught up in the moment,' so was he just expressing his own sort of contentment? Was she overthinking the entire situation? Daryl hadn't acted any different towards her, excluding the situation they were in, and he hadn't acted like what had transpired was something he was against. All of which only made everything all the more confusing.
Daryl was strong, dependable, trustworthy, tenderhearted, knowledgeable, and Beth knew him on a level she wasn't sure anyone else could claim. Perhaps Carol or Rick, but she wasn't sure he'd shared with either of them the bits of his past that he had shared with her. So what did it all mean? Did it mean anything in particular? Did she want it to? She herself wasn't sure she knew the depths of her feelings when it came to the man before her. She knew she trusted him with her life and would do anything for him to keep him safe, but that was as far as she had ever paid any mind to her and Daryl. They were a team. Then he went and kissed her back and thrown everything out of its neatly filed state.
Trying to stifle a yawn, the muscles in her jaw went slack and her teeth chattered loudly. The sound was deafening in the silent attic and she bit down on her thumb in order to stop the involuntary movement. After sitting motionless, holding her breath for nearly a full minute, she realized how silly she had been to think anyone would have heard her and wrapped her arms impossibly tighter around her legs. It wasn't until she looked up from the hatch that she realized Daryl was staring at her.
"What?" She mouthed silently.
Flicking the wrist of the arm resting on his knee, Daryl motioned her over to him.
Beth raised her eyebrow in question.
His shoulders heaved in a sigh and he used his knife to point at the spot beside him.
"Oh," Beth breathed.
She forced her frozen limbs to move, feeling the pins and needles sensation that ran along her skin as her blood began flowing, and quietly tiptoed beside Daryl. It was much warmer where he was sitting, away from the wall, and she instantly felt life returning to her aching appendages.
"You're warm," she murmured quietly.
"Attic ain't got insulation. House is probably over ah' hundred years old," Daryl replied softly.
Beth remembered how her father hated to do anything in the attic except during the fall season. It would be too muggy in the spring, too hot in the summer, and too cold in the winter. She empathized with him now; understanding why it was always such an ordeal for him to muster the motivation to get their Christmas decorations out each winter.
"Figures the first place we'd pick would be someone's refuge," Beth sighed.
"I (suppose we've never had the best luck in tha' world," Beth could feel Daryl's breath ghost across the top of her head as he spoke.
"No," she looked up at him, "but we've done alright so far."
Daryl grunted in agreement. She felt him shift closer to her and she welcomed to warmth. They sat quietly for several minutes and Beth wondered if the light feeling she felt had anything to do with her body thawing or everything to do with her proximity to Daryl. Deciding those were dangerous thoughts, she refocused on something that had been nagging at her since she opened that ominous cabinet that had revealed the stash of food.
"I should've listened to you. We should've kept moving. I'm sorry," Beth stared at her fingers as she spoke.
Daryl didn't immediately reply. She could feel him staring at her and after several beats of silence, she willed herself to look up at him again. His eyes, illuminated by the starlight, made his already piercing glare more intense.
"You couldn't have known," his voice sounded rougher than usual, "Don't apologize for things you got no control over. We might not ah' come across any other places and I would've said we head back and check this place out anyhow."
It was true. There wasn't a guarantee that the path they had chosen would lead them to any more houses. Terminus seemed to be several days walk from anything and they knew all the places closer to the direction of the prison had been picked clean.
She leaned her head on Daryl's shoulder and breathed in the smell of oil and pine. Of all the scents she had come across in her life, the fancy colognes or man-made air fresheners, she had never had found a smell as comforting as Daryl's. She faintly remembered how her mother smelled; soft lavender with a hint of vanilla, an odd mix of shampoo and laundry detergent, but that was a different sort of solace. The comfort she associated with her mother was from a different lifetime; when her biggest problems were grades, when Jimmy was going to ask her to the homecoming dance, and how she was going to sneak the clothes she'd borrowed back into Maggie's closet unnoticed. The scent of her mother reminded her of home. Daryl's provided her the luxury of feeling safe in a world full of chaos. That as long as he was around, she would survive.
She supposed that her judgment was a bit biased, as her mother had been one of the first to turn and was unable to make sure Beth stayed safe, whereas Daryl had proven himself capable time and time again.
Closing her eyes, she took another deep breath, "Thank you Daryl."
She was thanking him for several things, but he would probably only connect the thank you with his previous statement about their situation not being her fault.
"Anytime," Daryl mumbled.
It was late into the night. The moon was high above them, no longer visible through the small attic window, and there hadn't been any noises underneath them in quite some time. They had decided that if they were going to try and sneak out, now was the time.
"You stay behind me. Stay low. Keep quiet," Daryl whispered as he opened the hatch-like attic door.
Beth nodded once.
Daryl slowly lowered the ladder down to the floor and peered through the opening. His gaze cut to Beth and he slowly began making his way down. Beth followed after and neither one of them wasted any time closing up the attic.
Snoring could be heard from the bedrooms and Beth felt slightly relived that whoever they were, they were blissfully unaware of their presence. Their steps were painstaking slow and Beth's thighs began to burn. It had been weeks since she'd had to sneak around the forest and it was becoming painfully obvious just how quickly she had lost some of her endurance being cooped up in Terminus.
Finally reaching the staircase, Beth knew they were almost home free. She could feel a new surge of adrenaline rushing through her veins with each step she made down the staircase; the wings on Daryl's back once again acting as her guiding light. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, he raised his hand and signaled for her to stop. Freezing in place, Beth held her breath and listened. She couldn't hear anything, but the flames from the fire burning in the hearth of the chimney cast unnatural shadows against the walls.
After what felt like an eternity, Daryl began moving again. All they had to do was step around, through the doorway leading from the hallway into the living room, cross the living room to the front door, and then take off down the driveway as fast as their legs could carry them. They could put as much distance between themselves and the house and chalk it up to another inevitable risk of going out on a run.
They hadn't seen anyone yet, which Beth found unnerving, but she wasn't going to question it. They were a halfway through the living room and if these guys didn't have a watch system set-up, it would be their own downfall. She wasn't going to stick around to give them pointers.
Hearing a noise behind her, Beth quickly reached for her crossbow out of habit, and realized it wasn't there. Had she forgotten it upstairs in the attic? She was never without her crossbow. She glanced over her shoulder at the gurgling that could only be attributed to one abomination ravaging the earth, but found the space empty. Turning back to stop Daryl, she panicked when she realized a shadow was standing before them.
Stepping out of the shadows, a wave of nausea overcame her when she recognized the face of the man who she had stabbed on the roof in Terminus. His gun in hand, he fired several rounds, piercing straight through Daryl's torso. Beth screamed as blood and bullets filled the air.
Reaching for her knife, she found the sheath on her belt empty. She was weaponless, wasn't moving from where he had fallen on the floor in front of her, and a dead man now had his sights trained on her. She cried Daryl's name just as the man pulled the trigger once more.
Jolting awake, Beth clutched her chest tightly in an effort to slow her racing heart.
"It was just ah' nightmare," she faintly heard a voice beside her whisper.
Turning to him, she pulled aside the flaps of his coat and jacket, pressing her hands deftly over his torso. She was sure she probably looked crazy to him, but she had to make sure. When no red liquid appeared on her fingertips and the warmth of his skin through his flannel shirt assured her that he was wholly intact, she sagged into him. Resting her forehead against his collarbone, Beth let out a shuddering breath.
"It was so real," she whispered into his shirt.
She felt him shift and she knew she was making him feel uncomfortable. She knew he probably had no idea what he was supposed to do, but she needed a few moments of being close to him. She needed the reassurance that he wasn't dying on the floor, bleeding out from multiple gunshot wounds, and that it had all been a vivid, horrendous dream.
A weight settled around her shoulders and Beth felt her walls crumble a bit. A sob escaped her lips and the weight around her tightened into an embrace. When Daryl's chin rested atop her head, her walls collapsed and tears spilled from her eyes.
Clutching his shirt with one hand, she used the other to cover her mouth and silence her already muffled cries. She cried because of the dream, because of how stupid she felt for being stubborn and wanting to show Daryl she could handle checking into a house that looked like her old home place, because she missed her mother, her father, her brother, and because nothing in life was fair. She had lost track of how many times she had mentally begged for forgiveness of the lives she had taken. She wept for them as well, fore she knew she was responsible for cutting their lives short, when life was such a precious gift in their world. Every day that she woke up breathing was another gift and yet it was also a curse because she knew that, every day, less and less people had that opportunity.
When her tears finally subsided into silent sobs, Beth removed her hand from her mouth and began wiping her face. She had needed this for quite some time, but people didn't get to lie down and cry anymore. The moment a person laid down, dropped their guard even for a second, they were signing their death certificate.
"What's your favorite food?" She felt Daryl's voice rumble through his chest.
Furrowing her brows, she sat up, wiping her face with the sleeve of her coat, "What?"
"Yer' favorite food," Daryl repeated the end of his question.
Beth took a moment to think, "Macaroni and cheese."
Daryl nodded and looked at her expectantly.
"What's your favorite food?" Beth echoed his inquiry.
"I like chocolate a lot. Mac an' cheese is probably my favorite too though," Daryl answered her.
"Nuh uh. Really?" Beth smiled.
"Swear," Daryl replied.
A giggle slipped past her lips and she sniffled to keep more tears from falling.
"You good at pool?" Daryl asked after several moments of silence.
"Like the game?" Beth clarified.
"Yeah," Daryl nodded.
"I've seen Shawn play. Never actually played it myself," Beth said honestly.
"Now that's a damn shame," Daryl smirked at her.
"I take it you were good?" She probed.
"Merle and I could run tha' table. We hustled our fair share'ah guys dumb enough t'play us. Got ourselves in plenty of trouble because of it too," Daryl's expression took a far off look.
Smirking, his gaze fell to his lap where he had resumed picking at his fingers once Beth had pulled herself away from his hold, "You gonna' be okay?"
The way he looked up at her made her heart race for an entirely different reason. It was just as sharp as his glares always were, but there was a tenderness behind it that Beth had only seen once before. It had been directed at Carol when the two of them had been sitting in the cafeteria of the prison. Beth had been caring for Judith and overheard Carol talking about Sophia. When she glanced back to make sure Carol was okay, the look on Daryl's face had been burned into her memory. However, being on the receiving end of such a look was an entirely different matter.
"I think so," Beth shrugged her shoulders.
"You talked to Maggie 'bout it?" Daryl asked her quietly.
Beth sighed and looked out of the small attic window. The moon was no longer visible, much like in her dream, and she took a moment to listen for sounds of activity beneath them. The house was silent. It was still too cold for insects, but she guessed that she would've probably been able to hear them outside with how quiet it was in the house.
Turning back to Daryl, she answered him, "No. It's hard to talk to Maggie sometimes. I feel like if I show her even the smallest sign that I'm not 'okay' that she's going to start treating me like she did before. Like I was a child that needed to be cared for, rather than someone she could depend on. I don't need her to look out for me."
"Merle…he," Daryl cleared his throat, "Merle was the same way. He called tha' shots. Made all the decisions. Said where we was gonna' go and what we were doin'. Difference with Merle though, he was only lookin' out for himself. He had my back when it mattered, but I was most useful to 'em when I was followin' his orders and not askin' questions. Maggie cares, Beth."
Beth mulled over Daryl's words. She knew he loved his brother, but he knew what everyone else thought of Merle. The thought that he felt he had to tarnish the memory of his brother to put others at ease bothered her.
"Merle cared about you too Daryl. You were his family. You said it yourself; it was just you an' him for the longest. He took care of you the best he knew how. He gave his life tryin' to take out the Governor. That wasn't just for you. Merle cared. He just didn't know how t'show it," Beth met Daryl's gaze with all the intensity she could muster.
Daryl's eyes danced back and forth between Beth's. She could feel him dissecting her words. She would have been offended that he didn't take what she said as truth, but she knew Daryl was exceedingly cynical when it came to his brother.
"Maybe," he settled on in reply.
"I'm pretty sure. I happen to know another Dixon with the same problem," Beth smiled.
Daryl grunted and tightened his mouth, but a smirk still managed to shape his lips.
Beth glanced at Daryl several times from under her lashes. He always had an odd way of making her feel better. He never addressed the issue head-on. He always had a roundabout way of making her see his point. While she appreciated that he cared enough to try and comfort her, she didn't like the way he would use his own life experiences to show her the difference. She knew he had had a rough life, but she didn't need him to degrade himself, or his brother, in order for her to see that Maggie cared about her. If she hadn't been emotionally drained from her spell a few moments ago, she would have brought it up, but she decided it wasn't the appropriate time or place for such a heavy conversation.
"Think they're all asleep down there?" Beth forced herself to ask so she could stop her internal struggle.
"Sounds that way," Daryl answered.
"Ready to get out of here?" She tried not to sound too urgent.
"I think it's safe," Daryl moved in front of the doorway, "Once we're out of here, head straight for the barn. We'll cut across the pasture behind it back to tha' road. Driveway is too open."
"Okay," Beth readily agreed.
Getting up, Beth lightly treaded across the floor and picked up her crossbow. She sighed when the familiar weight of her crossbow hung around her shoulders. Reaching down, she picked up Daryl's and brought it to him. He slung the weapon over his back and squatted down and lifted the hatch-like door to the attic. Beth's nightmare came back in full force. She quickly reached down and pulled her knife from its sheath around her belt. Daryl eyed her wearily, but didn't say anything.
Holding her breath, she watched Daryl lower the ladder to the floor as quietly as possible. He then peered through the opening of the doorway. When he pulled himself back up and turned to her, Beth didn't want to hear whatever words he was about to say.
"I've got your back," she murmured earnestly.
Daryl's eyes narrowed and she could see his jaw muscles tighten. With a nod of his head, he began to slowly make his way down the ladder.
Taking a deep breath, Beth reminded herself that it had all been a dream. She and Daryl would sneak out of the house. They would get to the barn and once they crawled through the fence, it would be smooth sailing back to the road. They would have to watch out of walkers hiding in the foliage, but walkers they could handle. They just had to get out of the house.
Once Daryl was off the ladder, he motioned for her to climb down. Taking one more steadying breath, she placed her foot on the wooden ladder and began her descent. She felt Daryl's hands around her waist, steadying her as she climbed down to the floor. She jerked her head toward the ladder and Daryl shook his head.
She forced herself to think; it would be a wise decision to leave the ladder down, in case they ran into trouble and needed to get back up there and hide. It would be almost impossible to get to them once they pulled the ladder back up and barred the doorway.
Daryl motioned for her to follow him. She squatted down like she had so many times when sneaking through the woods and carefully stepped over the wood floor. She could hear the sounds of those asleep inside the bedrooms and felt her mouth go dry.
Daryl stopped at the top of the staircase and reached a hand back to stop her from running into him. When there wasn't any indication that anyone downstairs was awake, Daryl tugged on her shirt for her to follow behind him. She gripped her knife tightly in her hand and moved to track him down the stairs. Her boots made a soft 'thud' no matter how gently she stepped and she prayed that no one heard them.
Daryl waited for her at the bottom of the stairs. He peeked around the doorway and Beth could feel her heart hammering in her chest. She just wanted to run through the living room and bust through the door, but she knew better than to actually do so.
Daryl's hand wrapped around her free one and he pulled her behind him. The man 'on watch' was fast asleep in the recliner in the living room. Beth could have cried at the new detail that veered away from her dream. The recliner was facing the front door and the man's gun laid in a loose grasp across his chest. As long as they were quiet, they wouldn't have any problems.
Beth could feel herself growing more and more anxious with every step they took towards the door. When Daryl's hand grasped the doorknob, she held her breath. He gently pressed the release latch to open the door, but nothing happened. She glanced back at the man in the chair, making sure he was still asleep, and Beth heard a soft 'click.' She flinched at how loud the sound seemed to her, but the man's snores drowned her worry.
With the door now unlocked, Daryl pressed the release latch once more and the door began to open. Inch by inch, he pulled the door wider until he could fit through the opening. Beth heard the creaking of the screen door and glanced over her shoulder once more. With the man still asleep, Beth felt Daryl pulling her through the doorway.
Once she was through the door and on the porch, just as carefully as he had opened it, he shut the door and carefully pressed the screen door flush against the doorjamb. They cautiously moved across the porch and as soon as their feet hit the dirt, they were sprinting for the barn.
Beth collapsed against the backside of the barn, safely out of view from the house, and breathed for the first time since they had snuck into the attic.
"That went smoother than expected," Daryl wheezed from where he was bent over, his hands cupping his knees.
"Definitely," Beth managed to reply.
There were no walkers in sight and Beth allowed herself a moment to collect her thoughts. They had escaped the house. All that was left was to crawl through the fence and navigate their way through the pasture back to the road.
They were alive, they were as safe as they could be all things considered, and they had managed to escape yet another sketchy situation.
Now it was smooth sailing.
A/N: Thanks to all who always leave me a review! I love hearing your theories of what might happen in future chapters! I always welcome feedback!