This is a canon-compliant one-shot set the morning after the moonshine cabin. I wrote it based on a prompt from someone who asked for something angsty and apologetic. It's short and I hope I did it justice. Canon-compliance scares me a little. I own nothing
It's only small, and it's only faint. And it's only just shaped like the pad of his thumb. It's not something you'd notice. Not on her, on them, in amongst all their scratches, all their filth. But he sees it, he notices it.
And he hates it.
Hates it because it reminds him of his Ma. His Ma and her purple bruises, the dark marks marring her once pale skin. Skin that turned dry and leathery in the later years when she developed some kind of sun worshipping death wish. Ain't no surprise she died in a fire. Ain't no surprise at all. Was like she was waiting for the sun to swallow her up and when it took too long she did the job herself.
But not before the bruises - black and blue marks that told the tale of his old man's rage. Rage covered by long sleeves and turtlenecks, sometimes pancake make-up and dark sunglasses.
Covered by lies.
And that's why he hates the faint mark he can see on Beth's wrist as she sleeps next to him under the cover of a tree so big that he can barely see the top. That's why he hates it in the very marrow of his bones, the depths of his heart.
The fact is she could have got it anywhere. Could have bumped it on something inside that shack or that goddamned country club. Could have even got it when he knocked the crossbow against her while they were hiding out in that cramped trunk, holding their breath as an army of the undead passed them by. Could have got it anywhere. Didn't have to have gotten it when he grabbed her and dragged her outside that shack, when he forced that damned crossbow into her hands.
It could have come from anywhere.
But it could have.
When you spend so much time running and so much time fighting, the wounds you find littering your body often have no origin story. They just exist, a part of you, innocently teasing as if they'd always been there. As if one day they just erupted from your flesh all of their own accord and decided to decorate your skin with their twisted portraiture.
Regardless, he feels guilty.
Regardless it's on him.
Regardless he vows that nothing he does will hurt her ever again.
Because just like she's not Maggie or Michonne or Carol, he's not Merle, he's not Ed, he's not his old man. Last night she told him he never was. She believes it. And when she said she believed it, a part of him believed it too. Doesn't matter now though, doesn't matter at all because whatever darkness he had in him, however tainted his soul was, it's been cleansed.
Cleansed by fire.
And he knows that even if he wanted to he can't go back.
Won't go back.
It's behind him now, behind them. He ain't who he was and neither is she. He ain't his family, he ain't his past.
He looks at his hands. Dirty, calloused, scarred. But they're his hands. No one else's. And these hands no longer bruise, not even vicariously. Fact is, they never did. But, he wonders as he sits there wedged into the roots of the tree, the back of Beth's head pressed half against his hip and half against the makeshift pillow of moss and dried leaves he'd put together for her, what do they do now? What can his hands do now?
He's not sure he knows the answer to that.
But he thinks they can figure it out.
She shifts against him and lets out a small groan. He glances at her, her hair is dirty and her skin clammy. He's surprised she's still asleep. Hangovers for him always meant waking up way too early, head pounding, mouth dry, unable to fall back into oblivion, sleep it off. Not Beth though. She hasn't moved from how she's pressed up next to him and she doesn't look like she plans to. He doesn't mind. Don't mind at all because there's barely been a moment they have not touched in some way since they ran off into the forest, the moonshine cabin a burning beacon of their deviousness lighting the night behind them. And now, as he can feel the line of her back against his thigh, it almost feels like it's always been this way. Like all they needed was to break down a wall and after that they'd be forever connected. It doesn't scare him though and he wonders at that. Wonders if it should. Not that Beth ain't scary. She is. She's really fucking terrifying when you get down to it. But this is different. This feels right. Peaceful even.
And yet at the same time he finds he's anxious for her to wake up, maybe even a little excited despite the creeping embarrassment that makes his face flush when he realises the honesty and raw regard he'd played with the previous night. The way he'd told her everything, confessed it all and she'd taken it. Taken it without judgment, without rage or fear, a priestess to his sinner's tongue, generously doling out absolution and not even asking for a Hail Mary in return.
That's Beth, he guesses, always eager to see the goodness, always eager to have hope and forgive. To offer comfort when it's her that needs it most. He wonders now, how he could have been so blinded. How he could have been so stupid as to not take the hope, the grace, the fucking salvation she offered him from the second they ran out of the prison. Why he pushed her away, why he told himself that he hated her and everything she stood for.
He guesses it was fear. Fear of feeling, fear of hurting, fear that soon he'd lose her too.
She said it herself last night, told him he would miss her so bad when she was gone. He wishes she hadn't. Wishes she hadn't given the thoughts and fears churning in his head and his gut a voice, hadn't solidified them. Hadn't made them real.
But she had.
Beth Greene. The pragmatist.
Who would have thought?
He shakes his head. She ain't going nowhere. Especially not now with that pounding headache she no doubt has, not with her bloodied shirt and that faint bruise on her wrist. He doubts they'll leave this camp today. It's safe with the trees on the one side and the river on the other. No walkers here. Just the air and the breeze and the birds and smell of summer, the sun rising brazenly into the blue sky. He'll clean up and then make a fire while she sleeps it off, make them something to eat because she's going to need it when she wakes up.
Slowly, he eases himself away, careful not to jostle her, careful not to wake her and makes his way to the river. He feels like he's answering a primal call as he goes, a new and yet ingrained need to wash off the dirt and grit from the day before and the day before that and all the days before that too. Wants to lose it, like shedding a skin, or maybe like shedding armour. He doesn't know, but he wants it gone. Gone from his flesh, from his hair, from his pores. Wants to wash all the filth off and give it back to the ruined world they now live in.
The shock of the chill water doesn't numb him like it usually does. Somehow even though the morning is cool, belying the hot day he knows is coming, it's like last night's fire is still inside him, still cleansing him, searing from the inside out and outside in and for the first time in a long time he feels clean, pure even.
It's a stupid notion.
He's Daryl Dixon, he sure as fuck ain't pure - the faint bruise on Beth's wrist is all the evidence he needs - and yet somehow he feels it, somehow it feels like he's been given a second chance. A new lease on life his Ma would have called it. She always said shit like that when she was thinking of leaving his old man. When she was sober enough to put together a plan, squirrel away some cash. She'd tell him they were going far away, far away where they could start over, where he'd go to school and she'd find a job and they'd live in a little apartment but it'd be ok. They'd get by. And he believed her. Every damn time he'd believed her. Even when the flat of that worn leather belt tore up his back and shoulders, he'd believe her. He'd tell himself that his Ma wouldn't lie. They'd have that new lease on life. And then when it was over and he'd dried his tears and wiped his snotty nose on his sleeve, he'd go looking for her, looking for reassurance. But all he'd find was an empty bottle of Jim Beam and an even emptier look in his Ma's eyes. There'd be no new lease on life. Not then. Not that day.
But maybe now, he thinks as his grime flows into the water.
Maybe this time.
After all, you have to stay who you are.
Not who you were.
She's there when he turns around, water lapping at his hips. She's there and squinting at him in the morning light, skin a pasty grey and hair hanging in greasy tangles over her eyes. Legs a little shaky, eyes a little wild.
Filthy. Her bright golf shirt so stiff and stained with blood and grime and her jeans more ripped than the day before.
But also the most beautiful thing he's ever seen and the desire to tell her this bubbles up inside him.
But then he sees the look in her eyes, a strange mixture of understanding and sadness, of anger and hurt and of something else that he won't dare name. Not now, not so soon. Not when they're still both raw and ruined from the previous night. Not when their bond is still fragile, waiting to be shattered.
She's seen his scars, he knows she has. He knows he's just unwittingly given her another piece of his puzzle and he waits for that familiar feeling of shame, of judgment, of failure.
It comes. But this time it's slow and weak. Diluted as it tries to claw its way up from the depths of his gut and overwhelm him. And when it gets to his throat, it doesn't choke, it doesn't burn, it doesn't twist. It just sits there, latent, waiting, gathering courage, readying itself to pounce, to consume its prey. And then just when he thinks it will, just when he thinks it'll transform him back into the man he was, into beast Daryl, into a Dixon, the hard knot of it dissipates, like a whisper on the summer breeze. Flowing out of him through his flesh, through his pores, running into the river with all his other dirt, with all his other darkness.
It's not gone. Not completely anyway, but somehow it's easier to ignore, easier to move past.
He glances back to her. Meets those blue eyes head on. And it feels like he's daring her, daring her to ask, daring her to look, daring her with everything he has.
But she's Beth and her game face is good even when she's hungover, even when she's more hideous and more beautiful than he could have ever imagined. Even when he's 90% naked and can't hide a damn thing from her.
She wins he thinks, but then he wasn't sure they were even playing.
"You alright?" he asks.
She gives him a sheepish smile and touches her hand to her forehead.
"Yeah," she says. "Yeah I am."
He nods, suddenly feeling exposed. Another wave of embarrassment leaps from his belly but this one has nothing to do with his scars. And this one doesn't disappear so quickly either. It sticks around and makes his voice crack and his cheeks flush.
"I'm almost done," he says, hoping she'll wander back to the tree but she doesn't. Instead she looks around for the clothes he dumped on the bank earlier and he sighs. Apparently this new found camaraderie means even more living in each other's pockets, even less secrets between them, even more running around in the open like wild creatures who've given up civilization and decency and modesty in favour of nature and all whimsy and wonder she may hold.
(He tells himself to stop before he gets downright poetic. There ain't no time for that. Not here. Not in this place where they have all time in the world.)
She holds out his shirt and his hand brushes hers when he takes it. His gaze falls back to that bruise on her wrist, that blemish, that sign of the man he was last night and a million years ago. That mark that may not even be his but the one he's laid claim to anyway. The one he must atone for.
It's the taint. The one thing still tying him to before. The reminder.
Her eyes follow his to the bruise where it nestles under her array of brightly coloured bracelets, where it doesn't quite touch the livid scar that shames her almost as much as his own shame him.
"Oh," she whispers and tries to move away but his fingers close around her wrist. Gentle this time. Hands big and firm and rough but as tender as he can make them.
He brushes his wet thumb over the mark, as he imagines it also disappearing in the water, sliding off her skin, giving itself back to the harsh world out of which it was born.
"I'm sorry" he says rubbing a smooth circle around its edge, soothing it, soothing her and soothing him. And she smiles. A small, shy smile that warms him. A smile that saves him. And he thinks that maybe this is what his hands can do. Maybe they can soothe and heal, maybe they can erase mistakes, maybe they can atone. Maybe they can…
"It's ok," she whispers, her voice light, wistful. "It'll be alright."
And he nods.
Because he knows it is and he knows it will.