It's hard to pinpoint exactly how long they have been staying in the little brick ranch. Beth figures it's at least a week, probably two. Things have been tense but everyone is healing up and working on trying to regain all the footing they've lost over the past few months. They've paired off into the four bedrooms and the den or made camp on the living room floor and someone is always out on the porch, keeping watch. She has staked a claim to one of the smaller bedrooms, no one argues because Judith stays with her more than anyone else.
Beth doesn't know exactly where Daryl has been sleeping, she thinks it's in the hall beside her door. His pack and extra clothes are in the corner of her room and every night he double checks the boarded up window across from the bed. She finds herself watching him more and more every day, the way he is almost always close by makes it easy. He's been hovering around her since they found each other again and other than the way he roughly pulled her against his chest and breathed heavily into her hair that first time he saw her, they haven't touched. He keeps his mouth set in a thin line, his bottom lip pulled halfway between his teeth. His movements seem more stiff than she remembered and she hopes the stitches she gave him that first night healed alright.
Daryl is quiet. He always was but it's more obvious to her now. He spends a decent amount of time in her room, especially at night and in the dusky hours of the morning before he goes out to hunt. It's become a bit of a ritual, him sitting there across from her, watching and listening to Beth's gentle voice coaxing Judith off to sleep. She's not sure what to think of the way he drops his head to his chest and struggles to slow his breathing. She knows how hard it is for him to seek out comfort, even from her, it's painfully evident in the way he stays on the edge of the group, like he had done back on the farm.
One night he comes to her room a little later than usual and she's laying in bed with Judith tucked beside her. She barely catches the look of disappointment on his face when he sees the baby is asleep. He wavers in the doorway, chewing on his chapped lip. She looks at him and waits to make eye contact before motioning for him to come in. The bed is pushed into the corner and Judith is snoring a little between her and the wall.
"She's been fussy, I don't want to move her yet. Come sit with us."
He hesitates before crossing the room and gently lowering himself onto the edge of the bed. This is the closest they have been and she tries to pretend it doesn't matter. He's biting the side of his thumb and looking at the worn socks on her feet. She knows he won't be saying much. When she gets up to move the baby to her folding crib he goes to change his shirt. He knows she's seen all of him and he doesn't have the energy to bother with the pretense of modesty around her, not any more. She saw the thick discolored scars on his back and the less noticeable ones on his chest when she was stitching him up. She had seen the uneven circles on his arms countless times. She had paused helping him get dressed that first night in the house, when her eyes fell on the thin silvery scars on his thighs that matched the one on her wrist.
Beth moves to stand beside him and lets her fingers brush against the back of his hand. He stiffens up before letting out a breath.
"Stay with us?"
She says us on purpose, she knows it's always been easier for him to relax a bit around Judith. He pushes his lip in and out of his mouth before letting his thumbnail take it's place and nodding. He looks down at where her hand is touching his before leaning down to unlace his boots. He finally lays on his back beside her on the bed, eyes darting around the room before settling on the crack in the ceiling. Beth falls asleep on her side facing him.
The next night Judy is just about to fall asleep, snuggled in beside her, when he settles in next to them. Beth is alternating between singing softly and humming. Daryl lays on his side to look at them. He falls asleep right after Judith.
It's the first time that Beth notices he has nightmares. She can't help but wonder why she didn't pick up on it when it was just the two of them, but then he mumbles something that sounds like her name. He's twitching a bit beside her and making small noises that sound like they're coming from some place deep in his chest. She whispers to him and watches as he shifts a little and pulls his thumb up next to his mouth, it settles against the corner of his lip.
He's quiet in the morning, even more so than usual, and he doesn't go to hunt. He stays close to her, hardly hiding his glances in her direction. That night, he comes into the room early.
"It's raining pretty hard. Ain't nothing to do."
He hands her a clean diaper and takes Judith so Beth can change. She can feel his eyes on her and is not surprised when she turns around to find them right where she expected. The baby goes to sleep easier than she has been and settles right down in her folding crib. Beth smiles when she turns around to find him already laying down, she crawls in beside him. He's fidgeting beside her, rustling the few worn blankets.
"Come 'ere, you're gonna wake her up." Beth lifts her arm and makes a spot for him on her shoulder. He lets out a breath that seems like it has been held in forever and then carefully lays his head on her. She's whispering to him about books she has read and how they were different from the movies and her hand is raking gently through his hair. Something about her voice and the way she touches him makes their closeness bearable and he can feel his muscles go slack. Beth notices him start to lose focus and watches as his hand moves to his mouth while his eyes drift closed.
She wakes up before the sun to the warmth of someone beside her. Daryl is curled up next to her still asleep, with his thumb in his mouth. She can't help but shift a little in the bed, it's just enough to wake him.
He blinks a little and rubs his face against her arm.
"Shh, it's too early. Just close your eyes."
He panics for a second at the sound of her voice. He knows she saw but then he feels her hand rubbing small circles on his arm it somehow it pushes away the embarrassment. He goes to move his hand but her body is pushed up against his arm, he lets it stay where it is and watches her fall back to sleep. He leaves a little while later.
Daryl barely looks at her when he comes to her room late that night. He changes huddled in the corner and sits on the edge of the bed next to the rocking chair. He looks at Judith's feet and listens to Beth read about lost boys and the second star to the right and straight on till morning. Once Judith falls asleep, Beth moves to the bed with the book. She had stopped in the middle of a sentence and picks up right where she left off. He watches her lay down and make a spot for him.
He's not sure what to think. She's not looking at him and still reading aloud. He had never planned on letting her see all of these broken and needy bits and pieces of himself. Hell, he had spent most of his life trying to bury them deeper and deeper, so he could forget they were there. She makes him feel safe and he's not sure how to handle it. He doesn't know how to process her letting him be this smaller version of himself when they're laying next each other and then looking at him in that way that says he's the only one she trusts to take care of them the next morning. The dichotomy of her reactions to him makes him feel like he should be questioning everything he was ever taught. He hates how his gut reaction is to run from the safety and acceptance he finds with her, her laying there on the bed reading. He knows she is waiting for him, giving him time to come to terms with whatever is going through his head. She finally stops reading and looks up.
"Come lay with me, Daryl."
It's been two weeks since he started sharing her bed. Each day it's a little less awkward, the few minutes right before they lay down together. He doesn't hide looking at her anymore either. Every now and then his rough hand with push her hair off her face while he lets his eyes land everywhere, except on hers. The few times he falls asleep first she watches him pull his lip into his mouth before his hand moves and his thumb rests on his cheek. It only goes into his mouth if he is trying to settle down after a nightmare or if the day was more stressful than usual. She thinks back to all the times she noticed him chewing on the inside of his cheek or his bottom lip, how quickly he would burn through every pack of cigarettes they found, the way he would choose to eat with his fingers even if they had utensils. All these things make her wonder how long he has been relying on himself for any small bit of comfort he can get.
The nights are getting colder and she gives Judith one of their warmer blankets. The next morning he wakes up to his arm across her stomach and his hand fisted in her shirt, she gives him a sleepy smile before moving impossibly closer. He makes a small noise, some words that are hardly intelligible, and buries his nose in the spot between her neck and shoulder. It's the first time he asks her to stay.