HAPPY WALKING DEAD DAY! And remember, no spoilers please.
It was hard to breathe. Beth felt like the world was spinning as she fought to ease all the tensed muscles in her body enough to suck some oxygen into her lungs. She wanted to reach out and steady herself but she couldn't move yet. She was like a stunned animal in head lights. Her vision had narrowed to Daryl's retreating back.
When he had grabbed her, fear had exploded in her mind like a cache of fireworks. Daryl was strong, had she know that? Her skin showed four red fingerprints on both arms. He had scared her so much it had turned to hate, his complete lack of empathy fuelling that fire. Telling him had been satisfying, even if the words seem to roll off him like water. When he took a step back he was instantly less threatening, the intensity all but vanished, replaced by his standard surliness.
Beth hastened to follow him. He was examining knives critically.
"Would you have killed me?" Beth demanded, fury making her bold.
Daryl didn't even look up from his task. He was checking the sharpness with the pad of his thumb. "Probably not."
"Probably?" Beth cried. She shoved him hard.
Daryl staggered sideways and glared at her but it induced none of the terror his cold emotionless stare had earlier. "I have a knife here!" he scolded. "Also you might wanna keep it down."
Beth's jaw dropped. He offered to kill her and then acted liked they'd just been talking about the weather. Now he was chastising her like a child misbehaving around weapons. She literally had no words.
"'Sides, I don't have to do shit. The way you're goin' you'll be dead in a week."
Beth stared at him to see if he was still testing her, still pushing her, but she quickly realised he absolutely believed it. Her mind was reeling. Everything he'd just done was, in his sick twisted head, to help her? Beth clenched her jaw, furious that he thought she was so useless. She had said over and over again she wanted to live but now she wanted to survive so bad her body ached. And it wasn't for her family or even for herself. She wanted to live so that she could shove it down Daryl's throat and say, show's what you know!
"Give me that knife," Beth snapped, awkwardly wrestling the handle out of Daryl's grip. He hissed as the movement slid the knife across his thumb, making it bleed.
"Careful," Daryl growled, putting his thumb in his mouth.
"It's only shallow, you'll live," Beth said callously. Daryl quirked an eyebrow at her shortness and pulled the thumb out of his mouth. He examined the cut with a wince.
"At least we know the blade's sharp," he noted. Beth stood there holding the knife and began to feel a little silly. She knew nothing about blades or the criteria for selecting a good one. It felt bulky in her hand and no wonder, the blade was almost as long as her forearm. It was not a very practical blade for a beginner like Beth. Daryl was trying to hide a smirk but wasn't successful.
"Oh shut up," Beth said witheringly.
Daryl smugly held a hand out for the blade which Beth primly deposited back into his palm. Now that she knew his hand could wrap the entire way around her arm, they looked impossibly large. Daryl slid the large knife into the sheath, dropping it into the bag with him and then handed her a different knife.
This one was smaller and felt much more comfortable. Beth gave it a few experimental swings testing the weight and movement, while Daryl shook his head.
"Gonna have to show you how t'use that. The rate you're goin' you're just gonna hurt yourself. Or me," he added as an afterthought.
"I could live with that," Beth muttered and Daryl rolled his eyes.
"Well put it on your belt and let's be on our way."
Beth looked at Daryl and then the knife. Did she tuck it in?
Daryl released a sigh that sounded suspiciously like a swear word. Before Beth could react, he reached out and grabbed the waistband of her jeans, dragging her towards him. Beth's pulse raced, not knowing what to expect. There was no aggression on Daryl's face, just mild exasperation.
Daryl reached down and undid the buckle of her belt. Blood rushed into Beth's cheeks and she had to fight her natural instinct to run away. Daryl was focused on his task, his long fingers nimble. He eased the end of the belt out of the first loop on her pants.
"Knife?" he requested, not looking at her. Beth put it in his hand. Daryl easily lifted a section from the sheath which Beth hadn't even noticed. He threaded leather through the hilt and Beth felt the knife drop heavily against her thigh.
Daryl pushed the belt back through the pant loop again and then eased it through the buckle, tugging the belt tight against her hips. Beth knew it had to be taut to prevent the knife from sagging but the jerking of the belt against her skin made her gasp. Daryl looked up startled, as if surprised to find a living breathing girl under his ministrations.
His blue eyes locked on hers and Beth was more aware of her flushed skin than before. She unconsciously licked her lips and Daryl looked down abruptly. Unless Beth was going insane then she could see colour creeping into Daryl's face as well. He took a quick step back and then crouched down to zip the bag. He was not looking at her.
"We should find a farm out of town to hide out in," he said roughly.
It took two tries for Beth to say, "I think I know a place." Her throat was so dry.
Daryl nodded curtly and rose to his feet, hefting the bag over his shoulder. Both of them knew it was now too heavy for Beth to carry.
"Let's go get the bike," Daryl said.
"When can we go to the highway?" Beth blurted out. She hadn't meant to sound like she was pleading but she was desperate to see if there was new evidence about survivors.
Daryl hesitated. "Tomorrow morning, first thing," he promised softly. It was the nicest thing he'd said to her.
Daryl was pretty close to smacking his head against the wall. What had he been thinking? He hadn't, and that was the problem. Sometimes he was so practical and fast acting he didn't think about the consequences. That's exactly how he ended up undoing a teenager's belt. What must she have been thinking?
Beth had gasped when the leather of the belt bit into her skin a little too tightly and Daryl had looked up to realise that she was blushing. And then she had to go and lick her god damn lips and suddenly he was blushing too. It had all started off so functional and now he found himself picturing Beth's pink lips as she moistened them. His stomach roiled and he shook his head. He needed to dislodge that image from his brain and fast. It had no right being in his mind.
He set a quick pace through the streets, mindful of walkers. There were a few but the pair of them easily dodged around their shambling lunges. In the mood he was in, Daryl felt pretty confident he could kill the walkers with a look.
The bike was where he had left it. Daryl didn't realise he'd been scared for it until he felt overwhelming relief when he laid eyes on it. He quickly loaded the new weapons onto the motorbike.
Daryl sat down, maybe with too much enthusiasm. The bike settled him, made him feel steady again. That lasted exactly as long as it took Beth to take a seat behind him and wrap her arms around his middle. He instantly tensed, his spine going rigid. Daryl didn't know what the hell was wrong with him now.
"I know a house," Beth said.
"Is it too close to the farm?"
He could feel Beth shake her head at his back. He turned the bike on and Beth released his middle long enough to point the direction. Daryl took off down the street and Beth clutched onto him. As they were leaving he saw a few walkers scrambling out of nooks and crannies but he went by too fast for them to get their trail. He had to shift his position a little as they drove up to the front door. Beth's new knife was digging into his back at an awkward angle. She was going to have to adjust to that knife. Daryl was going to make it a rule that if she was wearing clothes, she was wearing that knife.
The house was some way off the road but not on nearly as much land as Beth's farm. It was far enough away that a casual passerby wouldn't see it and there were a number of turns once they left the main road. The house was smaller than Beth's as well but smaller was better in Daryl's opinion. It was a single storey home though Daryl would have preferred a top floor to hide out in.
Daryl walked up the porch steps, listening intently for any noise and Beth followed close behind. Her fear of what might be hiding in those woods overrode her anger with him apparently. Daryl dropped into a crouch after trying the doorknob and finding it locked. He was just fishing his lock picking supplies out of the bag, thankful again for a history of petty crime, when Beth suddenly materialised by his side.
"What are you doin'?" He demanded, alarmed at her sudden proximity. Beth didn't answer, just rose on to her tip toes and groped along the top of the door frame.
Beth lowered back on to her heels with a grin. There was a key in her hand.
"This is the country," she said by way of explanation. Daryl hastened to his feet and Beth used her hip to bump him out of the way. Her triumph was making her bold. Daryl scowled at her back, not willing to acknowledge that she'd been useful for once. Well once didn't make a habit. Beth eased the door open and the hinges squeaked with months of disuse.
The air was musty and stale. It had been shut up for too long and this family had done what the Greene's hadn't and boarded up all the windows.
"Leave the door open," Daryl said thickly. Beth had covered her nose at the unpleasant smell but Daryl knew it could be worse. There was no scent of decay in this house which was a stroke of luck. Didn't necessarily mean there weren't walkers but it was a good sign. They could lock the door after they checked the house was clear of walkers, the fresh air would do the home good.
"Follow me," he instructed her curtly, "And get ya knife out." It would be easier to leave her behind on the porch but he needed to her to start learning. Beth obliged, looking a little silly holding a knife. The blade was an alien addition to the golden teenager. Her expression was tentative and Daryl reconciled himself to the fact she'd be nothing but decorative in an attack.
Daryl did a quick sweep of the house. There were two bedrooms, a bathroom, a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. Not many places for a walker to hide but he checked everywhere anyway. When he was satisfied, he went outside to move his bike around behind the house and locked the door on the way back in.
The door had two locks and Daryl bolted both closed. Then he found a chair and jammed it under the handle for good measure. They were as safe as they could be. Provided they kept nice and quiet, a herd should just pass right on by.
Daryl went back to the living room. Its dominating feature was a fireplace and a mantle. Beth was standing in front of it, staring at something on the mantle. Daryl stood behind her to get a glimpse of what was so fascinating. There were a group of teenage girls all dressed up in formal wear. He was shocked to see Beth was one of those faces. He almost didn't recognise her. Probably because she was smiling.
He reached around her to pick up the frame. "You know the family who lived here?"
"My friend Karen," Beth said, biting her lip. "They ran after a few weeks. They heard there was a sanctuary not too far from here."
Daryl shook his head. Every man and their dog thought they knew about a sanctuary. So far none of the rumours had held up. He replaced the frame with a certain degree of gentleness. To him it was a bunch of faceless teenage girls but to Beth it was a record of the dead.
They stood there awkwardly for a minute, neither of them sure what to say. Eventually Daryl went to check the bathroom.
"It should work," Beth's voice drifted behind him. "Most of us had wells out here."
Daryl twisted the handle of the shower and could have cried with joy when water came out. He tried both hot and cold but the shower seemed set to freezing. That didn't matter much to Daryl. He would suck up a few minutes of icy water to be clean again.
"You can take first shower," he offered to Beth. "I wanna see what food they have."
Beth nodded before looking down and picking at her shirt. Of course she didn't have any spare clothes.
"I'll just get some of Karen's," Beth said, as if reading his thoughts. She sounded uneasy about wearing her potentially dead friend's clothes but there were no other options. Beth was gone for a few seconds but then reappeared looking queasy. She had spent no longer than absolutely necessary in that room. Her behaviour was irritating but Daryl couldn't find it in him to yell at her. He was starting to feel like there were ghosts in this house too. But the hell if he was going to leave. Ghosts can only haunt you, the dead could kill you.
Beth closed the door and after a few seconds he heard a shriek and a very un-Beth-like swear word. He realised he hadn't told her there was no hot water. Daryl couldn't help it. He started to laugh.