I planned on working on updating Weapons but I sat down to write and my muse took me in this other direction instead. I've been wanting to write a ZA Beth/Daryl story that turned away from Beth being taken. I know it's been told many times before but I wanted to try my hand at it.
He stepped from the woods first and she was about four steps behind him. Usually, they walked side by side or she was the one leading but over the past couple of days, he had stepped ahead of her to lead their way. He didn't ask why because he knew without her telling him. She was getting tired and sometimes, when she was sleeping curled up beside their low fire, she would have something of a coughing fit.
He hated the sound of her coughing. Without telling her, it scared the shit out of him.
They had come out beside a road – the asphalt cracked and faded from time and weather but it looked like it was a rarely traveled road laid to neglect even before the end. Daryl took a moment to look up one side and then down the other, making sure that they were alone. There was one walker rambling slowly down the side of the road, up ahead, but Daryl wasn't concerned with it. It hadn't even noticed them yet and they weren't staying still there. The walker wasn't going to catch up to them.
Beth came to stand beside him and she wasn't coughing but she was sniffling and he hated how pale she looked. Without a word, he pulled the red bandanna from his back pocket and held it over for her to take.
"Thanks," she said with a soft smile and took it, blowing her nose.
God, that didn't sound good either, Daryl thought to himself, unable to keep from frowning. He couldn't have Beth get sick but since she already was, he had to make sure he did anything to get her better. He couldn't let anything happen to her. Not her.
"Ready?" He asked and she nodded, folding the bandanna with great care as if it was something so much more fragile than just some dirty piece of fabric and slipped it into the front pocket of the jacket they had gotten for her a few days before.
They had reached that point with one another where they didn't have to talk all of the time but it wasn't tense and angry as it once was. They had reached a place of being comfortable with one another. Daryl wasn't too sure when it happened. Maybe after burning that house to the ground or maybe her playing songs and singing for him when they had spent the night in that funeral home. Or maybe it was just because it had been them – and just them – for the past fifty-four days. He knew it had been fifty-four days because Beth made a tally in her journal every night before going to sleep. Fifty-four days since the prison fell and since they had seen anyone else from their family.
Beth kept saying they were still alive – just like them, wandering around without a solid direction to go into – and Daryl didn't know if he actually believed that or not but he believed in her so if she wanted to still look, he would look with her.
Daryl took the first step into the road and Beth stepped with him, heading across the worn road and heading into the trees once again on the other side. He didn't pull ahead this time but rather, he kept his step in pace with hers. She was carrying their pack on her back today and she pulled at the straps as they walked. His crossbow was in his hands, loaded as always, ready to go in case any situation arose but the woods around them were quiet. Winter had settled and most of the animals were hibernating – which made keeping her fed a bit of a challenge but he had been able to manage as well as he could and she ate whatever he found without even scrunching her face up in disgust when he told her what it was. She didn't seem to mind snakes anymore.
He wondered how everyone else was doing; if they were warm enough and getting enough to eat. It had always been his job to kept them all fed and that was still his job. Keep her fed and keep her safe.
"Look," Beth broke through his thoughts in a quiet voice – keeping her voice quiet when they were in the woods like he had taught her. She pointed ahead and he instantly followed her finger to see what she saw.
A building. A house.
He almost sighed with relief. Even if the place was falling down, at least it was something and he'd be able to keep her from sleeping on the freezing forest floor that night. The days were shorter and the sun was already beginning to dip lower towards the western horizon line even though he felt as if they hadn't been walking that long at all today. That was good and bad in his opinion.
Good because with her getting sick – though neither of them had admitted that out loud, as if giving voice to it made it too real – they didn't have to walk for hours on end and she could rest up. But bad because they couldn't cover as much ground and it was cold. Always so damn cold and they were always hesitant to light fires, not wanting to have anyone see the smoke and see where they were.
As they got closer to the house, they saw that there were more. A whole neighborhood of them. One of those newer places with too big houses on too little patches of grass but seeing it, he swore that both of them exhaled a breath of relief.
"We should pick one of these," Beth spoke again. "Have our backs to the woods in case something happens and we have to run."
Daryl nodded, having been thinking the same thing. "Yeah," he nodded once. "We'll pick one and we'll get you settled and then I'll go through a few of 'em and see if I can find anythin'," he thought out and he knew Beth wasn't feeling good because she just nodded at the plan without argument.
She raised her arm up and coughed into the crook of her elbow, as if she didn't want to spread her germs around.
His throat felt dry and he did his best to swallow it down. If it turned out to be an alright spot, maybe they could stick around here for the next few days – let her take it easy. The houses looked nice enough and he didn't see that many walkers. Just a few rambling about but they could be taken care of easily enough and it's not as if he and Beth were ever loud enough to draw that much attention to themselves.
He needed her to get better. Not just because she was the only thing he had left – even though that was true. It was because she was Beth and what the hell would he do with himself without Beth? He couldn't tell her that though. They had had a few starts to having a conversation like that but in the end, he was never able to tell her anything of what was in his head. He told himself that he didn't have to; that she already knew. But deep down, he didn't know how she would because even he didn't know what was in his head. He had never had any thoughts like this before in his life and he didn't really understand any of them.
All he knew was that even thinking about anything happening to Beth made him just want to fall down to his knees and not get up again.
"Which one you thinkin'?" He asked.
Beth took a moment, studying the backs of the houses in front of them. "That one," she decided, pointing to a grey house with dark blue shutters and a matching dark blue back door. The backyard was fenced in with a low wood fence painted the same dark grey as the house and there was a tall oak tree with a little tree house built into it.
"A'right," he nodded in agreement.
The fence was good and the tree house could even be something better.
He waited until Beth pulled out her knife from the sheath hanging from her belt and Daryl then took the steps towards the house, hearing her right behind him. He found the back gate to the fence and he easily reached up over to the other side and slid the bolt lock out of place. The gate creaked on its hinges as he pushed it open but his eyes were sharp and he didn't see any walkers in the backyard.
He went in first and Beth followed close behind, shutting and locking the gate once more behind them.
The grass was tall, brushing against their knees as they took cautious steps towards the house. The back patio was brick with weeds sprouting through the cracks. There was lawn furniture, now knocked over and lying on its side, and a Weber grill still stood, waiting for its next barbecue.
They were both quiet and everything around them was quiet as Beth went up the creaky wooden back steps first to the back door. He came up behind her, crossbow aimed, as she knocked on the door with the hilt of her knife. She knocked again, louder, and her fingers curled around the doorknob, seeing if it would turn. It did. They waited a few minutes, both barely breathing as they waited for whatever walkers were inside to come towards them. He saw a shadow from inside, shuffling from the dimness of the room on the other side of the plate glass and he gave Beth a slow nod. She hurriedly opened the door and Daryl immediately fired a bolt, the walker dropping to the floor before it even had a chance to come even a step closer.
Daryl swept inside and Beth stepped in behind him, staying near the door, fingers wrapped around her knife's handle. He went to the walker and pulled the bolt from its head and they stood there, listening, making sure neither of them heard anything else.
"Think it's good," he noted and she nodded in agreement.
He bent down and began pushing the walker across the floor, towards the door, and Beth came to him to help and together, they pushed the walker out of the house. She looked away as it rolled heavily down the steps, landing onto the bricks of the patio. He shut the door once more and turned to see that Beth had stepped further into the room. A large kitchen with an island and cabinets and a heavy table that had been tilted over and pushed against the window.
Beth walked further into the kitchen and began opening cabinets to see if there was anything they could possibly eat and Daryl joined her, opening all of the cabinets and taking quick looks inside. Looked like they weren't the first people to be through here. But he found a few granola bars and he quickly snatched them up as if someone was right behind him, about to fight him for them. He turned towards Beth to see her at the pantry. She was standing on her toes, trying to get the can they could both see on the very top shelf, and Daryl came up behind her and easily grabbed it for her. He then handed it to her without even glancing at what it was.
Beth smiled a little and shook her head, turning her head to look up at him. "Thanks."
And she didn't look so tired and she didn't look as pale and her smile made his own lips want to twitch upwards into their own smile.
"Was it worth it?" He asks her gruffly.
She held up the can so he could see that it was Lima beans and she laughed as he couldn't help but grimace a little.
"No wonder it was left behind," he muttered and she laughed again.
But then the laugh turned into a cough and she turned her head into her elbow again and Daryl frowned, watching her and listening to her and his own chest began to hurt.
"A'right." He swung the crossbow back into one hand from where he had slung it over his shoulder. "'m goin' out to a few of the other houses. See if they got more stuff. You stay here and…rest," he finished lamely.
Beth's cough finished and she took out his bandanna from her pocket, wiping at her nose. "I'll stay here and check out the rest of the rooms."
Daryl hesitated even though he had no reason to. He knew Beth could take care of herself. The past fifty-four days of being with her and no one but her had showed him that enough times. But just because he could leave her to check out the rest of this house by herself didn't mean that he wanted to.
"You could wait until I got back…" he began to suggest and then let himself trail off.
"Or I could check out the rest of the rooms in here," Beth said again, looking up at him with a raised eyebrow.
"Yeah…" he took a step back and began rubbing the back of his neck. "Jus'… jus' don't overdo it. You need 'ta rest."
"You be careful," she replied and he noticed immediately that she didn't say that she would rest or not but he had learned something about Beth – almost immediately.
She could be a stubborn pain in the ass sometimes – a lot of the time – and if she wanted to check out this house without him and not take it easy, there wasn't much he could do about it that didn't mean tying her down.
He felt the tips of his ears turn red at that image but just as quick as it appeared in his head, it was gone again and he almost shook his head to make sure that it stayed out.
She walked with him down the hall towards the front door and she was the one to open it. It was already unlocked. After making sure the coast was clear, he stepped through but paused on the front porch, turning back around and looking at her.
"Lock this behind me and only open it when you know 's me and jus' me," he told her.
"I know, Daryl," Beth nodded.
And he knew that she knew but he still hesitated. In the past fifty-four days, he had hardly left her alone. They had hardly been separated because even if they were in different rooms, they were in the same vicinity and while he knew that she could handle herself, she was also sick at the moment and maybe she wouldn't be as quick as she was. He wished she would just lock the door and sit on the couch and wait for him.
It was as if she could read his mind because she reached out and put a hand on his chest and gently pushed him back a step. "Go," she told him and she was smiling a little again. "You know the sooner you go, the sooner you get back."
He nodded once. Yeah, he knew. And once he was finally able to step from the porch, the whole damn thing would be easier.
"Go, Daryl," she said again and she was smiling as if he was so amusing to her.
And he just felt like an idiot.
Finally, he was able to turn around and he made sure he didn't look back at her. He heard the door shut quietly and then the turn of the lock behind him and he exhaled a deep breath that he hadn't even realized he had been holding.
He didn't go far. He just went to the house directly across the street and each house on either side next to the house they were in. People had already been through these houses, too, but he still grabbed what he could and what he thought might be useful. He made sure to grab a blanket he found crammed in the back of one closet and he grabbed an extra shirt and a cap that looked like they both could fit Beth. He had to make sure she stayed warm.
He found a pair of new laces for his boots in another house and while he was in the bedroom of what looked to once belong to a teenage boy, Daryl stopped before he could leave and dropped down to his knees, checking under the bed.
They had been in a house, scavenging, and Beth had mentioned that she always used to hide the best stuff in her room under the bed because no one thought to look there first. And she had been right. In that house, they had found a box of old Easter candy and they had feasted on Reese's peanut butter eggs for the afternoon.
There, under this bed, there were a few boxes, undisturbed, as if they had been waiting for him. Daryl grabbed them – he found they were three shoe-boxes – and pulled them out, setting them out on the bed. Flipping the first lid, it was nothing but nude magazines. He smirked a little to himself as he moved on to the next box. He smiled a little when he lifted that lid. Full bars of actual chocolate, packs of peanuts and something called Big League chewing gum. He had no idea what that was but it looked like bubble gum and he was pretty sure Beth would like that. And in the third box, he flipped the lid back and let out a low whistle. A couple packs of cigarettes and a couple of lighters along with a small can of air freshener. Kid was obviously trying to hide his nasty little habit from his folks.
He dumped everything from those two boxes into a pillowcase with everything else he had found so far and swung it over his shoulder as he stood up. He glanced towards the window. It was getting dark and he still had one more house to check. He didn't want to keep Beth alone for much longer.
There was a walker rambling towards him as he walked from one house and headed towards the other and he took care of it without even really breaking his stride. He looked towards what was "their" house for the night and he couldn't see any candlelight from inside. It was as dark as any of the houses on the street. Good. She was keeping herself hidden just like he showed her how to.
In the house next door, there were three walkers – two adults and one kid. A family.
He put down the two adults and took care of the kid walker last and even with as many walkers as he had already put down in the past couple of years, too many to even think about trying to count, the kids never got easier – not for any of them. But it had to be done and after it was done, Daryl didn't look towards it again and he stayed out of the living room where he had put it down.
He went into the back, into the kitchen, and immediately looked into the cabinets that were already open, not expecting to find much of anything. He went to the walk-in pantry and saw that the shelves were pretty empty but there were a few things remaining. Surprisingly. One random can of tomatoes that probably were far from being good anymore but Daryl grabbed it anyway. A box of Shake-and-Bake and Daryl imagined them using this the next time he caught them some meat and they could coat it in this and cook it over the fire. That actually sounded pretty damn good. This with the tomatoes – if they cook them long enough – could turn out to be a good feast for them.
He just had to get them some meat but he'd do it. If it meant Beth eating one good, filling meal, he'd hunt them clear out of the state if that's what he had to do.
Maybe that's why she was sick. Maybe she wasn't eating enough.
Daryl frowned at that. He had to do better.
After checking the rest of the house, he found that it didn't have much of anything else except a random pair of boxers lying on the bedroom floor and he snatched them up for himself before poking his head into the kid's bedroom. He couldn't imagine it to have anything they could use and poking his head under the bed, he saw that he had been right. He left it as quickly as he could, hating seeing all the toys and the little clothes. Maybe if they still had Lil' Asskicker… but Daryl wouldn't let his mind wander to thoughts of that little baby either. He tried not to think of any of them. Right now, it was just him and Beth and he had to keep himself focused on that and nothing else.
The sun was almost completely gone – the sky lingering in a dark blue before going completely black for the night – as Daryl crossed the small yard and driveway before heading up the steps of the front porch of their house. He tried the knob but it was still locked – as it should be. He knocked lightly, not wanting to make too much noise, and he waited a moment. He didn't hear her approaching from the other side even with his ears twitching, trying to catch sound of her.
He expected her to be looking through the peephole and he stood there, making sure that she could see that it was him in the fading light and just him.
After another moment, he heard the turn of the lock and then the door opened just wide enough for him to slip through. It was instantly closed and locked once more once he was inside. She was holding a small candle she had found and he looked at her, the small flame creating shadows dancing across the walls and he saw the circles under her eyes. She looked exhausted but at the same time, she smiled up at him.
"I have to show you something," she said with as much eagerness as she could muster despite looking like she was ready to just go to sleep for the next twenty hours and she took his hand, twining their fingers together like she did now any other time she grabbed hold of his hand and he followed her down the hallway back into the kitchen.
She had found some other candles in her search of the house and they were lit now, all placed carefully between the kitchen and the attached family room.
"I used to be obsessed with looking at houses and adding them to my dream house board on Pinterest," Beth began telling him and she looked at him and then she laughed a little because he could just imagine how his face looked to her. He had no idea about any of what she just said. "It used to be my favorite website. You could make different boards and pin pictures to each board. I'd spend hours on it."
He still didn't know what the hell she was talking about but it didn't really matter.
"Anyway, I've seen things in this kitchen before that were on Pinterest and I then remembered one in particular and I thought…" She then went towards the pantry. There was a bit of wall between the pantry and the refrigerator and he watched as she pushed on it. It popped open and he felt the breath catch in his throat. "It's just an extra cabinet for more storage."
He expected it to be Tupperware or something useless but then he reminded himself that Beth was too excited for it just to be Tupperware.
She pulled it open wider so it slid, easily, further out of the wall so he could see what it was. No wonder it was still there. He had no idea that a space of wall that looked nothing more than some extra wood paneling had been actually a cabinet and it was obvious that no one else who had come here before had known that either.
"It's been in a plastic container this whole time so no bugs," she smiled as she picked it up for him to see and he took a step towards her before he stopped; almost as if he was too afraid to approach any closer and find out that this wasn't real at all.
But then he looked at Beth and she kept looking at him and she was smiling and she still looked so tired but she looked happy, too. And finally, he closed the distance between them. She held out the plastic container filled with white rice for him to take and he did.
"We need to find 'nother bag to carry this in," he noted and she nodded in agreement. If anyone ever got wind of them having this, Daryl knew he'd have to kill to protect it.
People killed people nowadays for a lot less than nearly two pounds of rice.
"What did you find?" Beth asked.
He snorted. "Nothin' like this."
He thought of the things in the pillowcase and none of them seemed even important anymore compared to this. He looked to Beth once more and found that she was already looking at him, smiling a little.
Thank God for Beth Greene, he thought to himself. After fifty-four days, he had no problem admitting to himself that he'd have no idea what he'd do without her.
He wound up showing her what he got anyway.
They crossed a creek yesterday and managed to get their two plastic water bottles filled. They now boiled it down and then added some of it to the small pot of rice. Beth had already decided they would make a cup of it at a time – to ration it, of course, and make it last longer – and they held it over the flame of one of the candles to cook it. They also cooked the can of Lima beans and Daryl couldn't ever remember eating rice more delicious than this rice tonight.
After eating, they went to sit in the family room. They were quiet and everything was quiet around them and again, Daryl thought that this might be a good place to hole up in for the next few days – just until Beth got a bit more color back to her face.
There was a leather L-shape couch and Beth sat down and there was no hesitancy anymore about sitting down with her. Not after fifty-four days.
He dropped the pillowcase between them and Beth eagerly began sifting through it with a smile on her face as if it was her birthday. He wondered how old she probably was now. She pulled on the yellow knit hat he had found for her and he took the blanket and shaking it out, he leaned a little closer and wrapped it around her shoulders.
She had the same thought as he had once she saw the Shake-and-Bake. "Maybe squirrel meat or if we're able to find a rabbit…" she suggested and he nodded in agreement.
He always liked how easily she was able to say we with everything.
"Daryl!" She gasped then, breaking through his thoughts and for a moment, he thought she had found the cigarettes and was excited for him for finding them but then he knew that Beth probably wouldn't care about that and looked over to see what it was that got her so happy. He didn't think he had been able to find anything too incredible. Nothing like rice. And he thought again of how much he needed to keep having this girl around.
"This is probably the worst thing you could have found," she said with a little laugh in her voice and he watched as she peeled back the wrapped of one of the Hershey chocolate bars and broke off one of the pieces. "We'll have to make all of this last, too, or else, I'll be going through chocolate withdraw and you shouldn't have to witness that."
"Didn't go through anythin' like that after the farm," he said and took the piece of chocolate she held out to him. He would have remembered if the – then – quieter and youngest Greene daughter had been in something of a terrible mood. But that winter, before they found the prison, Daryl couldn't remember her even talking.
"We were a little distracted and we had other things to worry about. I didn't have a chance to go through chocolate withdraw," Beth smiled at that.
"And what?" Daryl smirked a little. "We ain't got anything to worry 'bout now?"
He was surprised at how quick and easy Beth was able to shake her head. "Not like before," she told him. "I think we're doing pretty well for ourselves."
And Daryl wanted to disagree with her. He knew that he should because yeah, they found a house tonight that seemed pretty secure and a container of rice and they wouldn't have to worry about food like they were just the day before but he sat with Beth on this couch, sharing a chocolate bar and he couldn't help but think the same as her. Things were looking pretty alright for the moment.
But then Beth turned her head then and began coughing into the crook of her elbow and he was reminded that no. There was still a ton of shit to worry about and it all began and ended with this girl beside him. He had to do something to help her before she got more and more sick and it would be too late. Daryl would let himself die first before he let anything happen to her.
It'd been fifty-four days and it had just been the two of them. Daryl would make sure that he and Beth got through another fifty-four.
Thank you very much for reading and please comment!