Beth jerked awake. Her room was dark and Jimmy was by her side breathing deeply. Something must have been wrong if they'd been allowed to sleep on in the same room together.
Beth pushed through the disorientation and heard what had woken her originally. Shouting. Beth's skin went cold. She pulled herself completely from Jimmy's embrace. She raced outside, not even bothering to put shoes on.
The grass was cool underneath her feet. The evening precipitation had already started to cover the ground.
She saw people up ahead, grouped together and there was crying. Beth skidded to a halt just on the edge of the group. She peaked through the bodies, terrified of what she would see.
Beth's hand fluttered to her mouth when she saw Dale's pain filled eyes and shallow breathing. She could see the back of Andrea's head as she crouched over Dale, crying.
When Andrea shifted slightly, Beth finally saw the wounds that Andrea's body had concealed. The blood roared in Beth's ears and she felt inexplicably hot. Dale's abdomen was a mess. He'd been torn open and Beth could see everything inside. His innards looked black in this light.
All around her people were crying and clutching each other. Andrea was begging anyone and everyone to help him. Beth couldn't imagine the level of physical pain Dale must have been feeling. Surely his body had gone into shock by now.
Rick had pulled his gun from his holster and had it trained on Dale. His arm trembled and there was a horror on his face that made Beth's heart break. But Beth found herself wishing he'd shoot Dale. It would be a mercy compared to the slow death the man was facing now. Rick's hand shook. He couldn't bring himself to shoot a man he called friend.
Then a large hand slowly covered Rick's. Beth saw Daryl carefully take the gun from Rick, his eyes locked on the other man's face. Rick looked simultaneously relieved and ashamed as he relinquished the gun to Daryl.
Daryl crouched low and pressed the gun to Dale's head, just lightly His expression was bland and if he was horrified or scared, then he didn't show it. Beth's heart pounded painfully against her ribs as she saw Dale struggle to smile.
"Sorry, brother," Daryl muttered and then he pulled the trigger. Beth jumped at the crack of the gun shot. There was only silence in its wake and Beth's ears were ringing. Beth couldn't take her eyes of Dale's upturned face. Even dead the pain was still etched into every line. She knew his face would haunt her dreams for a long time.
Daryl handed the gun back to Rick and walked away. His shoulder brushed past T-Dog, who opened his mouth like he might say something to stop him. He clenched his now empty hand. It was still numb from the kick back of the gun.
He knew that as long as he lived he would never be able to forget Dale's face in the last moments before his death. A death Daryl had delivered. The man had fought to smile at him but despite his best efforts he had never managed it.
The man with a gift for words that Daryl would never have, had been rendered speechless. All he had to communicate were his eyes and they spoke volumes. Even speechless, Dale was articulate. His eyes begged and pleaded for the mercy of a quick death. His eyes absolved Daryl of what he was about to do.
But even with permission Daryl felt sick to his stomach. He was glad no one tried to follow him, that they were caught up in their own grief, because he desperately wanted to be alone right now.
He felt sullied in a way that hitting Randall had never made him feel.
Daryl had never had many friends growing up. He'd always been more of a loner, holding down jobs while Merle was locked up but never making connections. No one understood him or loved him the way Merle had, and he'd be hard pressed to say that Merle ever truly got him. There was a fundamental difference between the two brothers. When they had been teenagers, Merle had taunted Daryl and called him soft. If it wasn't Merle then it was their father. By the time Daryl turned eighteen and became an adult in the eyes of the law, he had learned to hide any weakness or vulnerability. He'd seen more by adulthood than many people saw in their entire lifetimes.
Dale had been different. He'd never been scared of Daryl. He talked to him in the same easy manner that he spoke to everyone. If Dale teased him, it wasn't cruel. He was one of the first people in this rag tag group to give Daryl any respect at all. And now he was dead.
Dale deserved better than that.
Beth was helping Patricia do the dishes when Jimmy came to get them.
Jimmy popped his head around the door and said, "It's time." His face was sombre.
They were burying Dale and Beth's heart felt heavy. She wasn't ready to watch another human be put into the ground. Especially one as kind as Dale. He would be glad that Randall was still alive though. Randall had been all but forgotten since Dale's death. He was a problem that could wait until they all had a little time to mourn.
She had barely seen Maggie since it happened. Her big sister hadn't left Glenn's side. Andrea was almost inconsolable in her grief. Carol and Lori had stayed with her though she wasn't up to speaking. Beth wished she could do more for Andrea, considering the support and understanding she had given to Beth, but Beth couldn't even begin to think of the right thing to say.
Everyone seemed more subdued today. Even Shane looked unhappy and Beth took as evidence that he still had some semblance of a heart, tucked away inside his chest. Daryl had completely vanished since pulling the trigger. If he was around the farm then Beth hadn't seen him.
She wondered if he'd come to the funeral or if his guilt would be too much. Beth just didn't know enough about Daryl to predict how he was going to react. He was so hard and mean to her but yet she occasionally saw glimmers of kindness.
Beth needn't have questioned because he was standing there beside the open grave. He looked uncomfortable; his hands were tight around the strap of his crossbow. He didn't make eye contact with anyone and so he missed the concerned glances Carol kept shooting in his direction. The sun was low in the sky now and it gave the world a softer look. It might have been a beautiful afternoon if not for the reason they had gathered.
Beth couldn't figure the man out. Last night Daryl hadn't hesitated but now he looked like he wished he could be anywhere but here. She knew that he objected strongly to what she had done when grief had threatened to overcome her. Maybe it was death in general that bothered him but she still couldn't shake the feeling that something about suicide hit a personal note with him.
Rick spoke and then Andrea did. Her eyes were red from crying but she spoke clearly and had everyone laughing with a story about how she first met Dale. Beth admired her strength. It gave her hope to see that Andrea had come so far since wanting to die. Everything may not be perfect but there was new hope in Andrea. Instead of breaking her, Dale's death gave her something to live for, a memory to honour.
The whole time people talked, Daryl didn't take his eyes of the hole in the dirt. He stood a little way off from the rest of the people.
When T-Dog, Shane and Glenn started filling in the grave, gently laying the dirt around Dale, Daryl immediately slipped off. Beth didn't know what moved her to follow him but she did. She heard Jimmy call her name but she pretended not to.
She tracked him to their camp, leaving a little distance between them so he wouldn't notice. For some reputable hunter, he wasn't very aware of his surroundings right now. Beth put it down to grief.
Beth had never been this deep into their little camp site before. When she saw a long piece of twine stretched between two trees she initially assumed that it was a convenient place to hang clothes. Her mouth dropped open when she saw what was hanging off it. There were parts, parts from people. Beth's stomach dropped and she immediately took a step back.
It quickly occurred to her that maybe she was stupid for following Daryl out here by herself. It was obvious that she didn't know this man at all. Anyone who collected bits of body was not stable.
Just as she considered turning around and fleeing, Daryl lashed out with a yell, sending his fist into the tree trunk.
Beth gasped but the sound was covered by the next strike. He was unleashing all his pent up rage and sadness on a tree! It was more likely to hurt him than he was to hurt it. Beth cringed at the impact, certain that he'd broken something.
When he didn't stop, Beth ran across and grabbed his arm. She had to throw all of her weight on to his elbow to stop him from delivering another bruising blow to the bark. Beth could already see the torn skin and blood. One of his fingers looked crooked and Beth wondered if it was dislocated.
Daryl rounded on her, his large hand wrapping around her throat. He jerked her in front of him, slamming her back against the very tree he'd been assaulting.
Beth fought to breath and her hands flew to pry at his fingers, which felt like iron on her neck. Daryl's eyes were hot and angry. He was furious that his private anguish had an audience.
Beth's cheeks flooded with blood and finally she saw a spark of recognition. Horror raced across his features before rage laid its claim again. He relaxed his grip and simultaneously released her and pushing her away.
"What the hell were you thinkin'?" Daryl barked.
Beth pulled away and loudly inhaled. Her eyes were locked on Daryl who was watching her unapologetically. He didn't even think to ask how she was, he just attacked her.
"I came to see if you were alright," Beth snapped. Her skin still felt hot but now it wasn't just because of the fright but because she was mad too.
"What d'you care?" Daryl retorted meanly with a snort. "You don't know me."
That seemed like the final straw with Beth. "You don't know me either! Hasn't stopped you passing judgement on everything I've done!"
"I know people like you!" Daryl shouted back.
Beth was conscious of their raised voice but everyone was too far away to hear their argument otherwise they'd have drawn a crowd.
"Is that because you used to be like me? Tell me the truth Daryl, is it because you tried to end it yourself?" Beth could hear the words tumbling out of her mouth. She would never have asked such a personal question in such a blunt way but Daryl had made her furious.
"You think I tried to kill myself?" Daryl repeated shocked.
"It's the only thing that makes sense," Beth said, spreading her hands wide.
Daryl grabbed the front of her shirt, yanking her close. Beth didn't even have time to yelp in surprise before he dragged her within in an inch of his body. Beth threw up a hand between them and it was only that hand on his chest that stopped them from being pulled flush together.
"After what I did t'survive you think I'd ever try an' kill myself?" Daryl hissed. "I've scratched an' fought my way through to this point. I've never been some disappointed, spoilt bitch who decided that it was all just too hard after one set back."
"I watched my mother die," Beth said in a deadly quiet voice. If she could have struck him, she would have but her hands were trapped by his larger body.
"Join the club! I watched my mother drink herself t'death. Don't hear me whining about it!" he said callously.
This time Beth managed to wrench one hand free and slapped him across the face. She had never hit someone before in her life and she was filled with shame and satisfaction almost immediately. Daryl snatched the wayward wrist and jerked it painfully down. His eyes showed shock and there was already a red mark blooming across his face.
Daryl looked down at her with those piercing eyes, looking at her like he'd seen her for the first time and maybe with the tiniest bit of respect. It sickened Beth that violence had earned that look from him. What kind of world had he lived in?
She was breathing hard now and she could feel her chest heaving against his. Beth started to feel too constricted and overcome with the heady sensation of rage. She knew she had to escape and painfully twisted herself free.
Beth turned her back on Daryl and ran away. Her wrists were throbbing from where he had grasped them; his nails had left imprints right next to her scar. Her blood was surging through her veins. She felt aimless, like she should be doing something but for the life of her she couldn't figure out what.
Beth was paying no attention where she was going and almost jumped out of her skin when Jimmy grabbed her.
"Beth, it's just me."
Beth took a shaky breath in, trying to calm herself but it wasn't working.
"What's the matter, Beth?" Jimmy asked. Even in the fading light she could see his concern.
Beth couldn't explain it. She was so mad but it was more than that. It was like anger had infected her body. She could feel it permeating all of her nerves. Beth didn't answer and so Jimmy wrapped his arms around her body, holding her cautiously.
Jimmy against her felt good and Beth was aware of all the warmth already in her body.
She tilted her head up so that she could press her mouth to his, surprising both herself and him. Some of the energy loosened in her chest.
Jimmy pulled away, looking dazed but pleased. He was a teenage boy and instantly forgot that Beth had been riled up and upset.
"Not here," Jimmy said and tugged her towards the smaller barn Randall was kept. Beth had resisted these situations before, seeing through Jimmy's little tricks to be alone but now she followed him eagerly.
As soon as they were around the corner, Beth kissed Jimmy again. She wound her arms around his neck, holding him close. Jimmy made a surprised sound but didn't pull away.
Jimmy was too timid and after the initial rush, Beth was beginning to feel that frustrated sensation creep over her body. It wasn't enough. But she didn't know what to do to reclaim what she had felt before. She had kissed Jimmy before but it had never felt like her body was on fire.
Encouraged by her abandon, Jimmy tugged her shirt up and over her head before she could think to protest, his fingers sliding tentatively over the soft skin of her stomach and back. He seemed to be waiting for her to scold him.
Beth's thoughts were too tangled to berate Jimmy for his boldness. All of this felt nice but the electricity was disappearing and Beth mourned it. She heard a footstep and pulled away from Jimmy with a start.
She met Daryl's bright blue eyes instantaneously. They were wide and stunned. They ran the length of her body, making her skin scorch in their wake, before resting on her face. If he had seemed uncomfortable around her before it was nothing compared to how mortified he appeared now.
Jimmy stuttered out a bunch of excuses that neither of them responded too. Beth blushed and so did Daryl. It was hard to tell which of them was more embarrassed.
Daryl turned away and quickly fled. Beth picked her shirt up swiftly, humiliated from being caught. If she could have teleported out of there she would have.
AN: This is one of those cases where I'm not sure I described how Beth was feeling very well. It was so clear in my head so you'll have to let me know how you thought it went. Obviously I'm going to be increasing the Deth moments as we go on but there is still a lot of antagonising and misunderstandings to be explored.