When Beth closed her eyes, all she could see was the look on Carl's face after he shot that boy. His expression terrified her. Or, more accurately, the lack of expression. There was nothing, just blankness, where there should have been horror, remorse – anything.
The prison was crowded with strangers and new comers, loud with the sounds of people but in Beth's head she just heard the single shot, ringing and echoing inside her mind.
As if she could sense Beth's unease, Judith started squalling. Beth had been standing there staring in to the distance, all but ignoring the child in her arms. Her cries refocused her.
She rocked her lightly, trying to comfort the infant. Beth had no idea what to do about Carl. She could see her friend slipping away in front of her eyes. He'd gone from a sweet gawky kid to something that scared her.
Beth knew he had a crush on her, had seen it in his blushing, lingering gaze but lately his steely eyes hadn't allowed any kind of affection. She knew Rick was trying to reach him but he was struggling to get through. She just hoped Carl hadn't gone too far to be helped.
Judith's shattering screams weren't dying down. Beth was beginning to feel flustered. The baby crying was nothing new to Beth and she had always known what to do, before.
Now Beth couldn't seem to quiet her easily. She looked down at Judith's scrunched, red face, pleading her silently to stop. If she just stopped, then Beth would have time to think and she could come up with a solution. She'd know the right thing to say or the right person to say it and she'd fix everything.
Rough hands slipped under Judith and hefted her out of the cradle of Beth's arms. Beth's mouth popped open in surprise and protest but it was just Daryl.
"What you fussin' 'bout?" he asked Judith. "You just want some attention, that it? That's it, little ass kicker."
Beth slumped against the wall, watching Daryl rock and speak to Judith in a soothing tone. Exhaustion permeated every part of her body and she was relieved when the wails came to a stop. Judith was gazing up at Daryl transfixed and Beth had to admit he was a sight right now. He'd obviously just come back from hunting. There was a stray leaf in his too-long hair and a smear of blood above his right eyebrow.
Looking up from Judith, Daryl seemed to notice Beth for the first time and Beth shifted uncomfortably. It wasn't that she didn't like or trust Daryl, they just weren't close.
His gruff terseness made her feel awkward and self conscious, like she might be in his way. His gaze was contemplative. "You alright?" his gentle tone was gone.
Beth forced herself to nod. Daryl narrowed his eyes, he didn't believe her but he didn't press for answers.
"Just tired is all," Beth added for legitimacy.
"Right," Daryl's non-answer was suspicious.
"I can take her again," Beth hurried to say, feeling a blush rise in her cheeks. Without waiting for Daryl to respond she reached forward and scooped Judith up.
She whirled away and walked out of the cell block. She walked right outside, into the uncomfortable glare of the summer sun. It took a moment of squinting before Beth's eyes adjusted. In just a month so many changes had happened. There were crops growing now, planted by the Woodbury refugees.
She found Carol sitting by herself, mending a hole in the elbow of her sweater. Beth sat down wordlessly next to her.
"Gettin' cold at night," Carol said by way of explanation, answering a question Beth hadn't asked. When Beth didn't answer, Carol looked up.
Something about Beth's expression made Carol put down the needle and place a gentle palm against Beth's face.
Bath's eyes fluttered closed at the kind, maternal gesture. She was a few weeks away from eighteen but in the moment she felt young.
"You wanna talk about it?" Carol prompted.
Beth didn't really but knew she should. "It's Carl." Then she trailed off. Not many people knew the real circumstances of the shooting. Just herself, her father and Rick far as she was certain.
"He just seems different," Beth finished with a stammer.
"He does, doesn't he? Killing that boy couldn't have been easy for him."
Beth bit her lip. That was the problem. It had been. Too easy.
"Are you sure you're just worried about Carl, darling?" Carols concern was obvious. Beth knew she looked pale, even for her.
"Judith's been unsettled lately. Haven't been getting much sleep," Beth confessed. Carol sighed sympathetically and patted Beth's knee.
"She looks calm for now."
"Daryl settled her for me."
Carol's expression was affectionate. "He's got the magic touch. She loves him."
Beth felt an unreasonable pang of resentment. Judith should love her too, she was the one who fed her in the middle of the night and changed her nappies. Beth shook her head, ashamed of her thinking. Her exhaustion and worry must have been weighing more heavily on her than she had let herself believe if she was going to start blaming a baby for her problems.
"I'll take her for you for a bit," Carol offered kindly. "You should go get some sleep."
Beth gratefully handed Judith to Carol but she didn't go inside. She needed some fresh hair to clear her head. She began walking round to the far side of the prison. She couldn't think with half a dozen eyes on her.
Beth so wished that Carl would listen to Rick but she knew he resented his father. That he thought his hesitation had led to unnecessary deaths. He liked Beth but didn't respect her and she wouldn't have any idea what to say to him anyway. Beth had never killed a human. In fact she had barely killed a walker. Out of everyone in the group her hands were the least bloodied.
Maybe it was her wide innocent eyes or her petite frame but everyone acted like she was weak and need protecting.
They had let her learn to shoot a bit on the farm but they had never followed through while they were on the run, moving from place to place. So as a result she was an average shot. She could probably shoot a walker – if it stood very still and gave her time to aim.
Her mind drifted back to her last conversation with Carl. He had been glowering at the new residents in the prison. He didn't trust them, that much was clear. And he wasn't the only one. All the original occupants were wary, wondering at their loyalty but no one else sat there with a hand resting on their gun.
"Put that away," she had hissed at him. He had flicked his cold eyes to her and Beth had wondered who this stranger was and where their sweet Carl had gone. Even killing his mother hadn't made him this dead inside.
"You got stuffin' in your ears?" a voice had growled. Daryl. "Put that away."
And Carl had slid the gun away. Grudgingly but for a second Beth had seen a flicker of something recognizable in his eyes. Beth stopped dead in her tracks. Daryl. That was it. Something about Daryl still resonated with Carl. He had done what Daryl had told him to.
If she could just explain to Daryl then he'd try and help Carl, she knew it. Her gut twisted at the thought of approaching Daryl. She had to remind herself the exterior didn't match the interior. He cared about the welfare of the group and Carl. He'd never been mean to her before, gruff and curt but never cruel. He just dismissed her as a child. Slotted firmly in to the 'to be looked after' category, not a real contributor to the group. Not an adult.
Beth squared her chin. Well, she'd show him. She'd do what needed doing.
She turned around and was confronted with the rotting breath of a snarling walker. Beth screamed automatically staggering back out of reach of its first sloppy grab. She was stunned. How had it gotten inside?
Her pulse pounding in her throat she fumbled for the knife on her belt. The walker was missing half its face and its teeth were decayed and bloody.
The knife tumbled through her fingers; Beth barely even touched the handle.
She couldn't find the voice to scream or the energy to run. Now that the initial surprise had worn off she barely felt any fear. More ambivalent about the whole situation.
The walker's hands brushed her shoulders and it was moments away from taking a bite out of her neck. Beth thought of her family, of her father, Maggie and Glenn. She couldn't die; they'd never forgive her. Beth sucked in a breath, frantically thinking for some escape though she knew deep down it was too late.
An arrow sailed out of nowhere, puncturing the skull of the walker.
Daryl heard the scream. He'd wandered off for some rare peace and quiet. It was just his luck to leave for some solitude and be the only one within hearing distance. Cursing under his breath he took off towards the noise.
He evaluated the scene in seconds and had his crossbow up and aimed before he could think. The arrow flew true and he could see the fine spray of walker blood when the arrow impacted. The Walker slumped to the side.
He saw Beth sink to her knees. Shouldering the crossbow Daryl ran up, fearing the worst. Beth's face was ashen. He had no idea how a single walker had breached their defences but anomalies happened.
Daryl sank to his knees beside her. He grabbed her wrists, stretching her arms out before him. His eyes trailed over the skin looking for any sign of a bite. Finding nothing he rocked back on his heels relieved.
"You ok?" he asked.
Beth didn't answer at first. She was scratching in the dirt for something. She picked it up and Daryl realised it was knife.
"I dropped it," she said simply. "It was so stupid." She shook her head, her voice oddly bland.
Her blasé attitude annoyed Daryl for some reason. Where was her fear? Where was her fight? She was slumped in the dirt like she'd given up.
"You're right. It was stupid!"
Her head snapped up at his harsh tone.
"You need to start trainin' again. I ain't always gonna be round to shoot 'em in the head!"
Daryl felt a little uneasy, being so ruthless with the kid but they'd become complacent. Everyone needed to defend themselves in the camp and if his stern words pushed her to become competent then so be it.
Two spots of colour were blooming on her cheeks. The colour was a shocking comparison to the milky tone of her skin.
He could see something flickering in her eyes. Some thought process that Daryl couldn't even begin to guess.
"I'll make you a deal," Beth said abruptly.
Daryl tilted his head, curious. He narrowed his eyes and Beth visibly swallowed.
Beth looked like a startled rabbit in head lights. All wide eyes and trembling limbs but when she spoke she was determined.
"I'll train on two conditions. One that you help Carl with what he's going through."
Daryl opened his mouth but Beth ploughed on, speaking in a rush. "And you have to be the one to train me."
Daryl raised an eyebrow. He resisted his instinct which was to tell her to go to hell. He was fascinated as to what had forced Beth to make such demands of him when he obviously scared the crap out of her.
"What makes you think I can help Carl?"
Beth looked surprised and Daryl chuckled humourlessly. "I've seen how he is. I ain't blind."
"He respects you. You're probably the only one here he might look up to."
"Rick-" Daryl began.
"If you've seen how things are then you know Rick isn't helping."
Daryl knew she was right. "And why do you want me to train you?"
"So you can tell me how things are goin' with Carl."
Daryl stood up and circled around the walker he had shot. He yanked the arrow loose with a wet pop. He toed the body with his boot. "Ugly bastard."
He was stalling. Trying to think of a valid reason to turn down Beth's request. He wasn't exactly an expert on eliminating inner darkness. Beth had slowly risen from her crouch and was watching Daryl cautiously.
"I don't know if I'm the one," Daryl started.
Impulsively Beth leaned forward and put her hand on his wrist. It looked very white, very clean and very small next to his.
"Please, if not you, then I don't know who else to ask."
Daryl's eyes flickered from her soft hold on his arm to the desperation in her big blue eyes. He couldn't find it within himself to say no to such extreme anxiety.
Detaching himself from her with uncharacteristic mildness, he nodded mutely. He wasn't convinced he was the right man for the job or if he could do anything but this was Carl. Rick had been more of a brother to him than Merle had ever been, didn't he owe it him to try and fix his son if it was within his power to do so.
He felt an uncomfortable stab in his gut when he thought about Merle. Also a weighty guilt. He couldn't shake the feeling that he had failed his brother somehow. Despite the fact he was the little brother he felt inexplicably put upon to look after his big brother. If he'd pushed harder, stood his ground more, Merle would have integrated better. Maybe the outcome would have been different. Maybe Daryl wouldn't have had to drive his knife through his Merle's face.
Beth was still standing there watching Daryl. He hoped his dark thought process wasn't reflected on his face. After everything they had been through Beth still felt like the one innocent in the group. Maybe Daryl thought that because he didn't really know her that well but the thought, true or not, pulled him out of his morbid reverie.
In the dry Georgia heat the silence was punctuated by nothing but the crickets. Daryl wasn't sure if he should say something more. Maybe a declaration ascertaining how committed he was to helping Carl.
If anything Beth looked more awkward than him which was a novelty in of itself. Beth reminded him of cheerleaders he'd seen at school, the few times he bothered showing up that was.
Pretty and golden and disdainful of him and his low socio economic background. But he'd never heard a mean word out of Beth's mouth and after the whole suicide affair was done she seemed a lot less petulant then the teenage girls he remembered.
Everything she had been through had forced her to grow up fast. Daryl could relate. He could barely remember being a child, he'd been taking care of himself for so long. If he hadn't wised up quick there weren't nobody around to feed him or get him to school.
Breaking the uncomfortable moment that was torturing both of them, Daryl turned away without another word. He had a teenager to fix, god help him.
AN: So I'm working on this in conjunction with my other story Operation Orpheus. But for some reason this pairing is just kicking around in my head. Maybe because Beth is pretty much a blank canvas but the two characters seem so different they appeal to me and I love a boundary pushing age difference, not going to lie. So please review and let me know what you think. This story feels a lot more description heavy with less dialogue so chapters may not be a regular as my other story – which, incidently, you should all read as well. This story will be more intimate and revolved around the key characters I believe.