Beth was tired.
Tired of running from bullies like the governor, tired of starving, tired of being afraid. Hell, she was tired of being tired. But despite some initial evidence to the contrary, she was a fighter. When the stark reality of this new world was forced upon her that fateful day at the barn, she had been, for lack of sufficient descriptives, overwhelmed. In this state, she had shown a terrible moment of weakness. She had made some half-ass attempt to "opt-out" as her extended family called it. In retrospect, she knew it for what it was- a desperate plea for someone to stop her. Stop her and explain what was needed now, explain what she meant to this changed world, inhabited by those like her mother and brother, who should have been at peace, but instead ambled along with bits of decomposing flesh steadily falling from their mobile corpses. Oh, and the real rub- these things wanted to EAT HER!
This fateful moment had been witnessed by everyone she cared about, both then and now, and they had swiftly- not judged- but categorized her for it. In their eyes, she was weak and to be protected.
A soft cry gently snapped her out of her reverie and Beth made her way over to Judith's makeshift crib in the corner of her cell, or room- depending on how you look at it. After a couple months of waking up to soothe and care for Judith each time the baby stirred in the night, Beth gave up trying to pretend she wasn't the baby's primary caregiver in deference to Rick's sensibilities and simply moved the baby in with her.
She picked Judith up and rocked her back and forth in her arms, cooing a gentle lullaby in the process. After a quick change and re-settling, the brown-eyed baby was soon sound asleep again and Beth, not for the first time, marveled at the wonderful irony of essentially being a teenage mom without the benefit of actually having had sex yet. Figures.
A throat clearing behind her had Beth spinning around startled, searching for its source. Daryl Dixon stood at the door to her and Judith's cell in all his rugged glory. It looked like he had just come back from first night watch. Nothing too eventful judging by the lack of walker gore on his clothes.
He interrupted her appraisal of him with a soft, "Ass-Kicker go down to sleep alright?"
She nodded turning around to look at Judith sleeping peacefully in her crib and responded, "Took a bit of persuading, but we managed okay." She added in a cooing voice tickling softly under the beautiful baby's chin. "Would've been easier if her favorite mighty milk hunter was here to say goodnight." She finished saying this and turned back in Daryl's direction offering him a lop-sided smile in apology for using him in silly baby chatter. But he just smiled serenely in return and strolled further into the cell, his body gently brushing Beth's on his way to the crib. This slight contact brought a chill to Beth's skin and she knew it wasn't from the brisk Georgia Autumn air. Anytime she was around Daryl now, she became slightly uncomfortable. Not in a bad way. It was like something inside of her, long dormant, was waking up. Her mother might've called it her "woman's intuition." Despite her father's strict, no-nonsense method of parenting, her mother had been an open and deeply loving soul. She had once told her that women had needs too and when it was the RIGHT man, she would feel her inner primate responding to his. After a furious blush, she and her mother had both burst into laughter, diffusing the discomfort and her mother had finished "the talk" by re-asserting to Beth the importance of listening to her own instinct. Beth knew that these past few weeks her "inner primate" was responding to everything about Daryl. From his taught muscles constantly on display due to his strange aversion to sleeves, to the way he cared for little Judith, she was constantly AWARE of him anytime he entered a room. As soon as she sensed him nearby, all of her focus would zero in on him. She tried to be subtle, but sometimes she just could not resist the need to touch him. To smell his distinct masculine scent, to…
She was once again ripped from her thoughts and she shook her head, trying to clear it of the fog that had temporarily clouded her mind with all things Daryl. She wasn't usually so off-guard. She'd need to be more careful in the future or he was going to think she was more daft and useless than he already did.
"I'm sorry. Did you ask me something?" she said quietly, in no mood to wake the teething baby.
He caught her quick glance at Judith and grabbed Beth by the upper arm leading her outside the cell and down the block a little ways so they could talk without the risk of waking Judith.
"I said: Are you okay?"
Beth crinkled her brow slightly in surprise. He had never questioned her concerning her own welfare before. In fact, he only ever spoke to her in regards to Judith, or daily chores.
"I'm fine. Why do you ask?"
"I just noticed you seem a bit distracted is all. I know this shit with the Governor is messed up as hell, but you can't let it get to ya. Ya got responsibilities now, Princess. Can't afford to have lil' ass-kicker in the hands of someone too scared to defend her."
During this little speech, Daryl's arm never left her bicep. In fact, his thumb had started rubbing soothing circles into her soft if slightly dirty skin. And despite his gentle tone, the words behind it caused Beth to gape at him in surprise, quickly boiling into anger. How dare he?! And that's exactly what she told him.
"How dare you! You think I don't understand MY responsibilities? I love Judith like she was my own. I keep her clothed, fed, and clean. Make sure everything she needs is fully stocked. Woke up with her every 2 hours when she was first born and nurse her to health when she isn't well." She continued enunciating each sentence with a jab of her forefinger into his muscular chest reveling in the look of surprise on his face. "Who do you think goes to protect her when something happens like walker hordes or douches like the governor? It's not Rick or Carl; they're too busy protecting EVERYONE. It sure as hell isn't YOU. And I respect that, because you are doing your part to keep us safe. It's me. And it is a responsibility and a privilege to protect that little one. So back the fuck off Daryl Dixon. I'm tired and in no mood to deal with whatever that bullshit you just spouted off was." She ended with an angry huff, crossing her arms over her chest in a defensive gesture.
He stared at her for a few moments, his mouth opening and closing as if he was searching for an appropriate response. Finally, he just dropped his warm-callused hand from her arm and Beth missed it desperately for a moment before she remembered how much of a tool he had been to her just a few minutes earlier. He stood staring at her with the ever-present crossbow still slung over his shoulder. After waiting, for what seemed like forever, for an apology that was apparently never to come, she let out a disapproving grunt and brushed past him back toward her cell. (So maybe she did put more of her body in contact with his than necessary, but… no one was here to judge her). Several minutes later, she was tucking herself into bed when she heard him walk past her cell on the way to his perch.
He paused briefly at her door and whispered a soft husky "Goodnight princess." She didn't know if he was talking to her or Judith, but despite still being upset with him, she REALLY wished she was the Princess he was referring to. Fat chance.