Hi Everyone! Firstly, I have been totally over bowled by how kind everyone has been in this ship, you've been so kind and some of the reviews have really helped me shape where I'm taking the story. Thank you so much.
So this is chapter 5, hope you like it.
The following morning saw them pack everything they owned back in to the SUV and head back to the highway. Beth did the best she could to secure Judith's makeshift crib in the back seat with the seatbelt but the little girl wouldn't settle there. Eventually Beth had to give in and sit her on her knee in the front seat.
"Doesn't seem right this, her rolling around on my lap in the front seat. You reckon it's safe?" Beth pondered, trying to untangle one of Judith's starfish shaped hands out of her hair. The little girl was growing so fast, cutting teeth, getting heavier by the day.
"I'm pretty sure we ain't gonna get pulled over…" Daryl smirked from the driver's seat, not taking his eyes off the road.
"…besides my folks dragged me n' Merle around all over in our pick up when we were kids, never got strapped in or nothin', never came to any harm…least not from lack of seatbelts."
Unlike their journey that found them at the Maycroft weeks earlier they soon slipped into conversation. Over the long hours of driving they talked about the group, the people they had missed and hoped to find again, people they had lost. Eventually they were sharing stories of their childhoods. After a while Beth more or less just listened, she almost felt like she was goading Daryl with stories of her happy upbringing, they were such a stark contrast to his. Even his happy stories had a sad twist.
Daryl spoke more about his childhood to Beth, in the confines of the car than he ever had to anyone; it came as a surprise even to him. He hadn't set out to bare his soul to her but it seemed that once he'd started he couldn't stop.
Somehow it seemed easier to speak of such things when his eyes were set on the road and his hands were clasped on the wheel. That way he didn't have to deal with looking at her face, seeing the shock in those big blue eyes of hers.
Inwardly he considered that maybe he was telling her all this stuff because she had never asked it of him. He knew she'd seen his scars but she'd never pushed him to tell her about them, she'd minded her own business until he was ready and he appreciated that, she was a good listener.
Beth felt strangely honoured that he was speaking to her, she knew it didn't come easy. She also knew that the last thing he would want was her pity so she kept her voice level and her replies to a minimum, even though the stories of him as a child, being beaten and neglected broke her heart.
Somewhere on this bumpy journey of theirs she'd began to regard him as hers, her Daryl and her chest almost physically ached at the thought of him belted and caned. It was alien to her how anyone could do that to a child, she instinctively hung on to Judith a little tighter.
The further they got the more they noticed signs for an, "Information Centre – 60 miles, 50 miles, 40 miles etc" thrown up on various trees and abandoned cars along the road. Beth had noticed them but didn't mention it, afraid to interrupt Daryl while he was speaking, if she said the wrong thing he'd never speak to her like this again.
"…so yeah, I know everyone thought he was a cold son of a bitch, and he was but Merle was the only one who ever gave two shits about me, s'why I couldn't leave 'im."
"I get that." Beth agreed her voice quiet and understanding.
They pulled into a disused gas station so that they could feed Judith, "You want me to drive for a while?" Beth offered digging through her holdall to fish out a bottle, momentarily throwing a pack of biscuits Daryl's way.
"You passed your test?" Daryl eyed her suspiciously.
"No, have you?" She shot back, offering him a defiant smile, "I can drive just fine, I grew up on a farm remember, I bin drivin' tractors with my Daddy since I was a kid, I don't need a bit of paper to say I can do it!"
"Jus wondered if yer little legs would reach the pedals is all!" Daryl mumbled through a mouthful of biscuit.
Beth punched a playful fist into his thigh, "I have a gun you know!" she warned dryly, placing Judith gently back into her crib on the backseat then taking a last look out of the passenger seat window before opening the door to walk around to the other side of the car.
On her route around the car she spied a walker; it was in a pitiful state even for the undead. Someone long since gone had clearly had some kind of tussle with it and it was now just a torso, using its hands to pull itself along. The creature reached its cold putrefying hand out to her ankle and almost by reflex she took her knife out of her belt and plunged it firmly into its skull with an audible grunt.
Daryl watched the whole thing from the passenger seat that he'd awkwardly scooted over to. The sight of sweet innocent Beth Greene effortlessly pummelling a walker lifted his spirits. She seemed older now, stronger too.
Beth bounded into the driver's seat as Daryl retrieved Judith from her crib, the kid really didn't like it in there. Daryl looked over to the young woman beside him with a faint sense of amusement and wonder, she was oblivious, busy cleaning walker brain off her knife on to the cars upholstery.
Feeling his eyes on her, her head snapped up at him, "What?"
"You've changed little girl." He shook his head but she could tell he approved.
Beth considered what he meant whilst watching him pop the bottle into Judith's mouth and nuzzle his face into her hair for a moment, "Haven't we all?" she replied taking a bite of her biscuit.
She watched him for a while longer, the silence between them comfortable, "It's amazing…" she drawled, not really meaning to say it outloud.
Daryl looked up from Judith, squinting at her through his messy hair, "What is?"
Beth paused, was it a good idea to speak her mind now? They had been getting on so well. What the hell…
"It's just…you. You're so good with her, always have been since day one. And yet you weren't shown any real affection as a kid yourself. But still, you just know what to do with her." She held her breath waiting for him to remind her that she knew nothing about him or at best brush off her compliment.
Instead he looked down at Judith who was now more interested in playing with the buttons on his jacket than anything else and muttered a rather humble sounding, "Thanks…" he cast Beth a fleeting glance,"…'s easy really, I just think about how they were with me and I do the opposite. S'not exactly rocket science."
Every fibre in Beth's body told her to reach out and take a hold of him, there was so much she wanted to convey to him, and words didn't seem adequate. But she knew the man in front of her now, well enough to know he probably wasn't ready for that. Just as she had waited for him to speak to her about his past she would wait for him to reach out to her, if he ever wanted to.
"It's their loss Daryl…" Her voice was hardly louder than a whisper, "…they didn't see how lucky they were to have you, but we saw it. All of us."
As if someone had given him an electric shock Daryl spun around in his seat, "Best get goin' now, we're burnin' daylight."
Beth didn't need to be told that was the end of the conversation, she had clearly made him uncomfortable, he wasn't used to kindness and he didn't know how to react to it.
"Sure. Hey what do you make of all these, 'Information Centre' signs? They look pretty recent to me?" she did her best to change the subject.
" Dunno, doesn't figure in our plans, we can't afford to get waylaid. We stick to our route." Daryl confirmed, shuffling down into his seat a bit more, putting Judy over his shoulder.
Before long both were sleeping, quietly zzz'ing away beside her. Aside from the odd walker meandering by as they passed Beth could almost make believe this was a regular road trip. The type she envisaged herself having when she was a kid. She always figured she'd grow up, meet some guy, get married, have babies. All the stuff that wasn't going to happen now.
Despite her realisation Beth couldn't bring herself to feel forlorn, there was a kind of contentment in the moment.
Her buoyant mood was short lived when the car started to shake, jutting along a few yards before spluttering to a stop. Dead. She tried turning it over once, twice, three times but it wasn't happening, there was something wrong.
Shoot. Beth looked at the sleeping pair beside her, she would have to wake them, light was fading outside and they couldn't stay here for the night.
"Daryl…Daryl…DARYL!" He didn't as much as stir. Frustrated she leaned over and poked him in the side, she was rewarded by Daryl almost leaping out of his seat, banging his head on the roof of the car.
Ticklish she mentally noted.
"WHAT THE HELL D'YOU DO THAT FOR?!" he bellowed, instantly waking Judith who shrieked at being so rudely awoken.
"It's the car - it won't start."
"So! Ya don't have ta jab at me, not when I got the baby!" his voice was whinier than he had intended, still slurry from sleep. He frowned, comforting Judith by mumbling soothing words to her.
"Oh don't be such a child! I barely touched you! " Beth's eyes rolled, great they would both be cranky with her now.
"It's the car, it just stopped and it won't start up again. We ain't out o' gas, we've half a tank left."
Daryl looked down at the babe in his arms who was now drifting back to sleep, "Sorry Asskicker, gonna have to put you in baby jail for a while." He gently placed her back in the crib on the backseat.
"Come on, bring the flashlight. You got your gun right?"
Beth raised her t-shirt to show the gun and her knife safely secured in the waistband of her skinny black jeans.
Daryl tinkered under the bonnet for what seemed like hours, taking the opportunity to have a cigarette while he was out in the open air. Beth wondered if that was wise, so close to the engine of a car but knew better than to challenge him.
After eliminating everything else he could think of Daryl had to admit defeat," I reckon it's the spark plugs." He said slamming down the hood.
"So what does that mean?" Beth looked back at him clueless. She may have driven tractors but she'd never fixed any.
"Means we gotta find somewhere to stay, for tonight at least. I can probably get replacements, will have to lift them from some other car but I don't fancy our chances o' doin' that tonight. The lights fadin ' fast."
"That information centre place, we're gonna have to go there. We can't camp out not with Judy, no way, it's too dangerous... " Beth reasoned. Daryl looked doubtful, he was deeply mistrustful of anyone that wasn't one of his own.
"…I don't think it's far, we passed a sign that said it was five miles off not too far back. It's our best bet, we could easily manage that on foot."
As much as it pained him, Daryl knew Beth was right, he felt uneasy about introducing themselves to strangers, these signs had been put up with some care, and it could all be a trap. But they couldn't stay there in what was essentially a tin can, with a crying baby who would be like a beacon to walkers.
Sighing heavily into his hands he rubbed his face, "Okay, but we stick to our story right? We don't tell 'em nothin'"
She smiled up at him, relieved that he'd seen sense, "Sure, of course! Anyone asks, I'm Beth Dixon."
Satisfied with her response Daryl walked by her and casually placed a playful slap on her behind, "An' don't you forget it!"