Sometimes You Gotta Believe
"Get down close. Sort things out. What do ya see? What do ya hear, smell, feel?"
Daryl put the questions to her in the same calm tone he had used all morning. Beth obliged by getting down on one knee to study the muddle of tracks in the dirt.
After they burned the moonshiner's shack and sobered up she feared Daryl would revert to his silent, sullen self. Much to her delight, he had continued to remain open to her questions, answering patiently. It wasn't your typical small talk, but at least it wasn't stony silence. At her request, he had begun to teach her the rudiments of tracking. He had always made it look so easy, but it was more difficult than Beth had imagined. Never an over talkative person, Daryl had also never hesitated to speak his piece, express his opinion. He had a knack for doing it with precise, if often colorful language wasting very few words. As a teacher, he was no different, often giving hints and clues, and making her figure things out on her own.
"What are ya lookin' at?" he asked again.
"Deer tracks", she answered quickly. That much she was sure of.
"And?" Daryl was constantly scanning the surrounding area while they talked. Ever alert for danger.
"Two sizes. So at least two different animals," Beth answered confidently. "One is much larger. The second set, might be a fawn."
She looked over her shoulder and Daryl nodded approvingly, a hint of a smile on his face. "How do the edges of the tracks look and feel?"
Beth thought for a moment, not sure what she might be looking for. "Very clear. Well defined. Like they were fresh."
"And the edges?"
She gently ran her finger over the edge of one of the larger tracks. "Firm."
Beth felt herself frowning. "So", she said blankly. "They were made not that long ago. Otherwise the edges of the dirt would start to crumble in."
"Good." This time Daryl genuinely smiled. "Took Rick a lot longer to figure that one out."
Beth grinned back.
"I put they're passing this way within the hour." Daryl had knelt down beside her to examine the tracks. For a moment his shoulder brushed against hers. It startled her. Until now he had studiously kept his distance. The brief, warm contact seemed a guilty pleasure she was almost afraid to indulge. She looked at him as he continued to study the ground and talk. Either he hadn't noticed the touch, or was afraid to acknowledge their closeness. "Doe and fawn most likely," he said, not looking directly at her. "They may still be near if the mama nestled her baby down to hide while she went searchin' for food."
"And this tall grass would be a likely place," Beth finished for him. She forced herself to concentrate on the challenge at hand. Daryl had gotten to his feet and was once again scanning the surrounding meadow. "Do you think we might find the fawn?" she asked expectantly. Suddenly, it became very important. Finding that fawn would be an affirmation that life could continue, even in this harsh world.
"Mhmm," Daryl said wordlessly, shrugging his shoulders. "If we're quiet. And we don't disturb him. Look and leave."
Beth nodded agreement. Waiting to see if he offered any suggestions. She wasn't going to barge into the tall grass and take the chance she would disturb the fawn.
"There's other signs sides tracks. To be a good tracker you have to be observant."
Okay, Beth thought. That's my hint. She studied the area where the tracks were abundant but there was no single set leading away from that area. Other signs than tracks. Then she saw the bent blades of grass near the edge of the bare ground. She could barely see the path, it was just a hint of separation in the almost solid wall of waist high growth. She pointed and looked over her shoulder at Daryl. He nodded. Smiling to herself, she carefully parted the grass, moving as quietly as she could. She almost stumbled on the fawn it lay so still in the protective cover. Curled tightly into a ball it made itself as small as possible, frozen in position. Had she not seen its nostrils flare slightly as it scented her she would have thought it was dead. She was about to back out of the grass when a second head, hidden by its larger sibling, lifted sniffing the air, its ears twitching. Twins! Twin fawns. For a moment she crouched, barely at arm's length away, the temptation to reach out and pet them was almost irresistible. But she knew better. Slowly she backed out of the grasses making sure she made as little noise as possible. She couldn't wait to tell Daryl. Popping out of the grass she bounced to her feet, grinning like a fool.
"There was twins," she said excitedly.
Daryl's finger went to his lips cautioning her to silence. There was a tense alertness to his posture that had not been there before. He had heard something. His bow was loaded and raised. Signaling her to follow, he began retreating towards the woods. Then she heard it too. The mindless growling of a walker. More than one walker.
From far side of the clearing a terrified doe burst from the underbrush, fleeing in front of the threat. It was the mother of the twins. Beth was certain of that. Bloody gouges marred her glistening hide, a large bite in her rear haunch making it difficult for her to leap. She was dead already. Beth was heartsick at the realization. And so were her fawns.
For a second Beth looked to Daryl as if expecting him to do something, when she knew full well nothing could be done to save the small family. They were victims, doomed like so many other families had been. It tore her heart to think of the helpless little ones. Even if the walkers did not catch them they would not survive long without their mother. There was nothing she and Daryl could do except escape while the walkers were distracted by the deer. So they ran deeper into the woods, Beth blindly, following Daryl's lead, barely aware of where she was running. Hardly able to see for the tears streaming down her face.
When they finally stopped and Daryl turned to look at her he seemed startled, then alarmed to see the tears streaking her dirty face. His mouth opened then shut and he hesitated as though uncertain what to do. He started to reach out to her then his arm dropped to his side. She stood with hands clenched into fists, until her tears turned to hiccups, the only sound in the endless silence surrounding them.
"They was just deer." Daryl said. There was no expression in his voice - no derision. He was not scolding her for having a childishly emotional reaction. "Deer die. Happened even before."
Beth knew he was not being callous, he was just stating a fact she already knew to be true. She sniffed once, wishing she had a tissue or handkerchief to blow her runny nose. "I know," she said quietly. "I was raised on a farm. Animals die no matter how hard you try to save them. Even when your Daddy is a vet. Daddy always said 'If you got livestock…you got dead stock.' It's just a fact."
She felt her control crumble and the tears begin to flow again. "But I wasn't thinking about the deer so much. I was thinking about Judith. What if the same thing happened to her as happened to those twin fawns? She couldn't even run and they could." As soon as she'd said the words she wished she could take them back, bury them and never think them again. She couldn't have hurt Daryl more if she'd shot him with his own bow. She had been so consumed with her own guilt and grief that she never thought how her words would affect him.
They all loved Judith. She was their joy and their hope. Rick may have been her daddy, but Daryl was her doting uncle. He had risked his live to find her formula, helped care for the infant whenever he could. His gentle touch and soft spoken words the magic that calmed the baby when she was at her fussiest. And yet, she and Daryl had never once spoken about Judith since they had left the prison. Beth had continued to hope that someone had gotten her out alive, but she knew Daryl was convinced the two of them had been the only survivors. That meant he was convinced that baby Judith was dead. Her self-pitying words still rang in her ears.
"I'm sorry," she whispered stepping closer. It was her turn to be uncertain about what to do for him. Daryl may have shed all his tears that day out in front of the moonshine shack, but he hadn't shed his sorrow. She could see that in his face. Cautiously she reached out to him as he had started to reach out to her. He took one reflexive step backwards, but she followed until her hand rested on his arm. She felt his muscles tense beneath her fingers, felt the anxiety and sadness in his demeanor. "I'm sorry," she repeated. "We all loved Judith." Like she was our own," she added in her head. Don't close down on me Daryl Dixon. Not now. We need each other too much.
"Maybe she got out," Daryl finally said, his voice low. The magic voice he used to calm Judith's fears. "Maybe someone got her out."
"But," Beth said, "You kept sayin' we were the only ones who survived. That I'd never see the others again."
"Maybe I was wrong."
I hope and pray you were, she thought. Then Beth felt a small reassuring smile touch her lips. I know you were.
"Judith is safe somewhere," she said confidently. "We both gotta believe that."
Daryl closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath, and nodded. When he opened his eyes again, she knew he was willing to accept that.
"Let's go," she said quietly. It was her turn to lead, so she gently steered him back onto the path they had been following. "We need to find shelter. Make camp before it gets dark. There's always the chance them fawns got away too." We just gotta believe, she thought, and have hope that there is still good out there.