Chapter 6 - Intentions
Daylight came too soon. When Daryl awoke, he was relieved to find that the rest of the group was still sleeping. And sometime during the night, Beth had rolled or moved away from him. And him from her. Letting out a quiet sigh of relief, he stretched and made his way outside. Grateful for a few minutes alone. The humidity, which nearly always followed the rain, was heavy and oppressive. The ground was still wet, sticky with mud. It was going to be a difficult day to be on the road.
Before he had a chance to really collect his thoughts, the group had begun to stir. And almost as one, began silently heading out single file. Carrying their gear. Looking as if they were embarking on a grand adventure, instead of walking back into the grim reality of scarcity and fear their daily lives had become.
As they piled in the cars, Rick walked over to where Daryl was standing by his bike. "Hey, what's with you and Beth?"
Pulling his crossbow closer, with a defensive scowl, "What?"
Looking around at the group, seeing no one was close enough to hear their conversation, Rick pressed on. "Last night. You think nobody would notice?"
Quietly Daryl responded, "It's not like that. She's a kid. She was scared. That's all." Shaking his head, his scowl deepened. What's wrong with these people? Trying to make something out of nothing. Out of friendship. Pfft.
Rick cocked an eyebrow as he scrutinized the other man's face. "You sure? Since the world changed, people grow up fast." With that, both men involuntarily glanced over at Carl. At just 13, he had his big ass gun drawn and was on point. Something that would have been unthinkable, just one year earlier. Rick turned back to face Daryl, "She's 18 now. You have to find happiness where you can."
"I got happiness." Some people don't know when to quit. This was not a conversation Daryl wanted, especially first thing in the morning. And he found his anger which always seemed to be simmering just below the surface threatening to bubble up and over. Fueled by Rick's persistence.
"Look, it's just… I been watching you two. She makes you smile, relax. And your eyes find her." Rick nodded, as his gaze drifted over to Lori, and then to Beth. Shifting his gaze back to Daryl, "I think you should talk to Hershel."
Daryl snapped, "I said it's not like that! And I'm done talking' about it." Snorting, he turned his back on Rick. And his inner demons began to twitch.
After pushing hard for a few hours, Rick signaled that it was time for a break, time to get out and stretch. As Daryl walked back towards the rest of the cars, Hershel waved him over. With a half smile he began, "Son, you know I think the world of you."
Daryl leaned on the side of the little car with a studied casualness, and fiddled with his crossbow. His expression giving nothing away. "Yeah?"
Hershel moved into Daryl's personal space and began staring directly into his eyes. "I'm not going to beat around the bush, son. I have to know… What are your intentions regarding my daughter?"
With a low cautious voice, "What?" This was not the way he had expected this conversation to go. Daryl respected Hershel, but maybe being on the road was affecting his mind.
"My Beth. What are your intentions regarding my Beth?" Hershel's eyes seemed to be staring through him, into his very soul. It was more than disconcerting, it actually felt aggressive. Almost animalistic. It was as if Hershel's inner beast had awoken.
The aggressive quality of Hershel's action caused Daryl's body to defensively stiffen and his eyes narrowed at what Hershel seemed to be asking him. Snorting, "You get locked in a hot car to long old man? My intentions are to be her friend. You asked me to look out for her. I am." What the hell? Did these people all go crazy?
Without breaking eye contact, "Son, I appreciate that. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate all you've done for her. For all of us. But, I saw her with you last night. And, I just needed to know."
A reluctant smile pulled at the edge of Daryl's mouth. For an old man, when it came to his daughter Hershel was fearless. Anyone else in the group would have already backed away from him. Not wanting to risk releasing his wrath. Pulling himself up to his full height, in a level voice, "Last night she came over to me. She was scared. That's all." With that, Daryl stalked off, shaking his head, as Hershel stared after him.
Daryl was lost in thought as he patrolled along the side of the road, intentionally keeping a good distance from Herschel, Rick and the rest of the group. All this craziness over nothing. It was more than a little baffling to him.
"Daryl!" Maggie's voice broke the silence with a harsh hiss as she walked up beside him. "What the hell do think you're doing with my sister?"
Daryl stared at her. Normally Maggie radiated a sheer, smokin' sexuality, even when she was taking out walkers. But now, all Daryl got from her was anger. No, not anger. It was more, it was like raw fury. And he matched her fury with a controlled rage. "Are you kidding me? How many times I do I have to hear about that?"
Planting herself in front of him and crossing her arms across her chest, Maggie continued her attack. "A lot I guess. She's still a kid. You keep your hands off her!"
Sliding his crossbow onto his back, Daryl defiantly moved into her space, stared her down, and spat "I ain't had my hands on her!"
"Keep it that way." Maggie turned and started to storm off, but after a couple steps she slowed and turned around. With an obvious effort, she swallowed her rage and forced what she thought could pass as a smile. Reaching her hand out towards his shoulder, in a smooth, conciliatory voice she offered, "Look. You know, she really likes you. She thinks you're friends."
"That's because we are friends!" Coolly stepping out of her reach, an icy frustration in his voice as he stared at her.
Dropping her hand, keeping her voice steady, "Okay. I'm sorry I yelled. And, I'm glad she has you for a friend. Just… Just don't hurt her." Shrugging, "Or, I don't know what I'll do to you."
Shaking his head, Daryl simply turned and walked away. That wasn't even worth commenting on. Why would Maggie think he would hurt Beth? Why would any of them think he would do something to Beth? This day was just going to hell. And they hadn't even seen any walkers.
"Hey Daryl…." Glenn's approach and voice splintered his thoughts.
"Shut it Glenn!" He snapped. Abruptly he turned and purposefully headed towards the SUV with Maggie and the younger man trailing behind him. Rick, Hershel, T-Dog, and Carol were gathered in front of the vehicle hunched over a map.
Scowling, he muscled his way into the center of the group and rested his hands on the hood of the car. His demons twitching as he gathered his composure. His eyes dark with anger, he looked at those gathered around the front of the car. "I didn't do anything to Beth. I ain't gonna' do anything to Beth. We're friends. She was scared. That's all." Then between clenched teeth he added, "And none of you better say anything about this to her. You hear?" The circle of adults gathered there was silent, as an implied threat radiated out from him. Carol and T-Dog exchanged glances, as did Glenn and Maggie.
Finally, Rick started "Daryl, we're…" With a look, Daryl silenced him. Turning he stomped off, his face contorted in anger, leaving a stunned group in his wake. Silently they exchanged looks of concern, confusion and surprise as they watched his retreating figure. These days he rarely directed his anger towards the group.
Lori was leaning against the front car, one hand under her growing belly, the other on the hood of the car. As he walked by she called out to him, "Daryl?"
Without even slowing down and gravel in his voice, he yelled back over his shoulder, "Talk to Rick!"
For Beth the day passed uneventfully. At every stop, her eyes immediately began searching for Daryl. She was looking for an opportunity to speak to him alone. Several times her eyes caught his, but each time he looked away. She knew he was avoiding her. Finally, when they stopped for the evening, Beth caught him. Walking up behind Daryl she placed a hand on his shoulder. As he turned, he saw her looking up at him. Softly she asked, "Are you mad at me?"
His face softened as he looked at her, and he shook his head. "No." Then, with a low, especially rough voice, "Go inside. It's dangerous out here." As Daryl spun and walked away, she stared after him, her stomach twisting.
While Daryl spent the night wondering if the rest saw something he refused to see.