AN: Thank you so much for all the reviews! The response actually made me get off my lazy butt to write this chapter and try to continue the story. I hope you like this chapter better than I do, it was the best of several, and I mean several, attempts. Feedback is always appreciated! Thanks lovelies!
Just the Opposite- Chapter Two
Drip, drip, drip.
The sound of water droplets splashing against concrete whispered, a familiar, lulling patter. Like fingers tapping on glass. Soothing. It's dull harmony was on time again; always sounding, waiting, the first to welcome her before she'd even stepped into the prison showers. Drip, drip. Somehow, that rhythmic pattering always set her at ease.
"Finally." She muttered. Slipped into the dark, grime-streaked room, blissfully empty, as always.
It was deliberate move, taking her hurried showers halfway between lunch and dinner- without a doubt the peak of the average prison day. You were either preoccupied with watch and the baby, or any of the typical grunt work like, tending to the crops or, more recently, helping to fortify the perimeter. Everyone was busy, moving; there simply wasn't any time to spare.
And Beth had hands full enough just playing babysitter to Judith. But for a few precious days a week, she'd pass the baby to an cheerful, understanding Carol, and creep her way to a quick scrub-down in the communal showers. It was nothing like those long and dearly-missed, fruity-shampoo showers of old. No, this was five to ten minutes with her calloused hands and a less than promising bar of drugstore brand soap. But it was worth every uneventful minute, and all because of one thing: privacy.
Privacy. With the sudden influx of people, the prison never knew it, never harbored a needed, quiet moment. Everyone was always together and talking, chattering. The Woodbury women never seemed to grow tired of it; and the rest, they learned quick that they never turned down a good, old-fashioned gossip- the whispers were inescapable. Have you seen how Carol looks at that boy Daryl? And Maggie, seems like her and that man 'a hers are hitting a rough patch...
She was no exception. Beth could guess why they let her take these showers, after all, and noticed the looks of satisfied pity- poor thing, embarrassed to shower with the rest of us.
But today, Beth was even grateful for those stinging whispers.
Today, she needed to clear her mind.
It was just this morning that she had floundered in Carol's cell; cool concrete against her back. Standing still, rendered speechless, while Merle Dixon traced hypnotic little designs against the smooth skin of her stomach. Her hip...Even the faint memory sent a blush roaring to her cheeks.
Time to stop thinkin' about it, now. With a tired sigh, Beth dropped her towel to the floor and peeled off her sweaty, dirt-ridden jeans, sighing as the sticky material parted from her skin. Time for a new T-shirt. Freshly laundered jeans- the idea of being clean, dressed in unspotted clothes- it was heaven. She only wished for a bottle of her old strawberry scented shampoo, and the matching conditioner. A razor. Body wash...anything but the tiny bar of manly-smelling soap clenched in her hand.
Oh, well. Beggars couldn't be choosers, could they? Soap was soap, after all. Sweeping up the dull little bar, Beth absentmindedly plodded over to one of the showerheads, arms crossed over her chest.
As she turned the dial for water, she couldn't help but think of her sister. Maggie would willingly shower with all the women in the camp without a second thought. It was just the way she was; not overly immodest, just...confident, uncaring. A free spirit. That's what Beth's momma would say- a free spirit.
And here I am. Covering up when no one else is even around, Beth thought, letting out a little gasp as the icy water hissed to life, splashing her shoulder.
Even she knew she was bit of a prude. With Jimmy she'd gone no further than a bit of eager, quick fumblings in her room, a few hurried and wet, sloppy kisses here and there. It was inexperienced, innocent, and she'd made it clear, much to the boy's discontent, that no wandering hands were permitted on her watch. It wasn't quite as hard as she thought it would be. Really, she had no want to do anything else. Not a fraction of the desire that she felt she was supposed to have, that knee-knocking, butterfly sensation Maggie seemed so prone to, and told her eagerly of.
But with Merle...there was something. Something she wasn't sure of. Something with no name.
Beth sighed, quietly.
The water was at full blast, now, coursing down her arms. Flattening her blonde hair and tracing down the small of her back. And as she violently scrubbed with the tiny bar of soap, her thoughts wandered back to the oldest Dixon's last, parting words.
"I ain't finished with this yet, darlin'."
The words had stayed at the front of her mind all morning. She was jumpy, nervous, ready for another cornering- but it never came. If anything, he'd been avoiding her, and do a good job at it, too; the man stayed outside all day, never once stepping foot back in the cell block. He'd even eaten his lunch in the watchtower.
Which left her somewhat uncertain, a little confused, and very scared. All she could do was wait. And rethink about what had happened.
At first, when he'd so casually strolled out of the cell, she was torn. There was a choice to make, a big one, a plethora of options right at her fingertips- was she going to tell, go snitch to Carol or Rick or Maggie? That little push Glenn was looking for- all she needed to say was that the man put a finger on her, and he'd be thrown out in a heartbeat. A millisecond. The fact that Merle Dixon had put a hand on innocent little Beth Greene would cause nothing short of a riot. And Maggie? Lord, she'd madder than a hornet and out for blood.
But something stopped her. Obviously, she knew that going out and saying something so untrue would be wrong. A lie. He'd hardly touched her. And he hadn't hurt her, had he? A few casual fingers brushed on a girl's hip was hardly a criminal offense- but in her hands, it could be a death sentence.
And the idea made her heart twist.
Everyone thought that low of Merle, that they wouldn't give him a single chance. Not one. And she knew it.
Well, Beth Greene wasn't everyone. And was it just her, or had she seen something in the man's usually hard eyes when she had been trapped by them? A teasing light. A carefulness.
So she made her decision- no one was going to find out.
Beth reluctantly turned off the water, scurrying in a mess of bare skin and cold-induced squeals. Sighing as she pulled on the clean pants, the new shirt. Heaven. And with a scratchy towel wrapped precariously around her damp locks, she began to make her way upstairs.
Now she just had to make it through dinner.
"You mind if I ask you somethin'?"
Beth and Carol loitered in the kitchen, humming, up to their elbows in frigid, soapy water. It was nice, dish duty- peaceful. No mindless chatter. No interruptions, just a restful silence.
Dinner, she found out, was nothing she should have worried about. Nothing to even blink over. Merle went in, grabbed a bowl of stew, and then ambled right back on out again. All the while not sending a single glance in Beth's direction. Not a single bat of an eyelash.
Now- she wanted answers.
"Carol, what do you think about-" Beth paused. "-about Merle Dixon?" The name escaped in a breathless rush, and she could only hope- pray- that Carol didn't clue in to the pink of her cheeks.
"Merle? Huh. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I- I didn't mean to eavesdrop, but...some of the new ladies, they were gossipin' on about him earlier- say he's dangerous. And...Glenn, well," she waved a soapy hand, "after what happened at Woodbury, he's thinkin' the same. I don't know if that's right, but you know what goes on 'round here. Figured you might have an idea."
"Hmm. Beth, I don't think it's really my place to judge the man. After all, appearances can be deceiving." Her eyes sparkled, and Beth grinned. They always underestimated Carol. "Merle's, well, he's got a rough streak. Big one. And he's not quite up to par on his people skills, or listening skills, for that matter. But don't go worryin'. I can't imagine he'd be any danger with Daryl here." Carol finished with an air of certainty.
"Daryl?" Beth queried, stacking the last dish with a satisfied clink.
"Merle probably doesn't like to admit it, but that brother of his...well, I'm thinkin' he has quite the hold on him. He won't do anything to upset him right now, not when he's just got him back. He needs his brother on his side. And that besides, the man's far from stupid. One wrong move and he'll be out- he certainly knows how to play his cards right."
"But...if he's not a threat," Beth chewed the inside of her lip raw, "then why do the others need to hate him so much?" This was the one she wanted to know. The one that kept tugging at the back of her mind.
"You're right, he's no threat now, but Beth...the things that man has pulled. That stunt on that rooftop back in Atlanta, and what he just put Maggie and Glenn through in Woodbury...they're hard, hard things to let go. He's given us a fair amount of grief. And in my experience, people like that- they never really stop. Just keep rollin' through cycle after cycle, again and again. In his mind we've done him harm- and he's bound to reciprocate. That scares people, really." Carol looked pitiful, now.
Beth murmured a quiet assent. So the others were scared of him. To be honest, she didn't blame them- a part of her went shivering and shaking under his eyes. But it intrigued her, about Daryl. It kind of showed- maybe, there was something good in him, deep down. Something buried; but not quite lost.
"Beth, honey?" Her thoughts were abruptly cut off as Carol waved a hand past her face. "Speaking of Merle, he's up on watch. We've got all hands on deck in here. I'd do it myself, but Jude needs a burping- would you mind runnin' him some coffee?
And that's how little Beth Greene found herself outside Merle Dixon's watchtower door, a steaming cup of coffee clenched in hand, and her heart about to come bursting right out of her chest.
A quivering, wet breath. Outside, the air tasted of blood and grass and humid, sticky summer. It caught in her throat, and stuck. Now or never.
Hesitantly, she raised a shaking hand and knocked.
"Who is it?" The voice was mumbled. Growling, smothered by the thick iron door, but there was no mistaking that rasp.
"It's Beth." she called, polite and sweet, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice. But still, the coffee mug was slick in her palm.
"Sugar, tha' you?" He paused. "Well, fuck me sideways. Didn't expect ya back so soon- couldn't resist a second taste, could ya? Always the shy ones."
She could hear the laughter from outside.
"No, no," she said, a bit exasperatedly. "It's- Carol sent me up with some coffee."
"Tha' right? Well shit, bring 'er in, darlin', the fuck ya just standin' there for?"
Beth pushed open the door. For a numb moment, her eyes went blind, adjusting to the darkness. Yet, after- she could make out his shadowy form across the room, a silhouette against the pale moonlight streaming in from the window. Lurking. Shyly, she stepped forward. "Where do you want me to put it?"
"Jus' bring it over here, sugar, I don' bite- 'less ya beg for it."
Ignoring his jabs, Beth shuffled forward, and gently laid the cup in his outstretched hand."Be careful- it's hot."
"I'm good at handlin' hot things, sugar. Jus' a perk a bein' a Dixon," he chuckled, and before she turned to go, heard the light clink of ceramic being set on a concrete floor.
But she wasn't prepared for the hand that shot out from somewhere in the dark, grabbing her by the waist and yanking her foward.
"You've been thinkin' about me, haven't ya?" His voice rumbled a few inches from her face, low and husky. The rumble sent a shiver down her spine.
"No- ah, yes-" For the second time that day, she was speechless; he brushed his thumb along her thin shirt, tracing those same patterns, heat radiating from his hand. Her legs shook.
He noticed, rasping out a low chuckle. "Wha'? Ya like this?"
The hand moved stealthily under her shirt; it came to rest against her hip, nails making little circles against the soft skin of her back, and calloused thumb slipping under the waistband of her jeans.
Her eyelashes fluttered closed.
She heard a soft mutter. "Dammit."
Then louder- "dammit!"
And suddenly the hand was yanked back, and she was stumbling, pushed backwards with a surprisingly gentle force. "Merle- what-"
"Sugar, ya best get th' fuck outta here."