Renaissance


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11. Chapter 11

"Daryl I need to know I can count on you."

Rick's voice was tense. He couldn't make this journey alone. A part of him wanted to believe they could trust Douglas and this safe zone but Terminus and Woodbury clouded what hope he had of finding a sanctuary where hey would be safe. Daryl was where he always was when they travelled in the RV, sat at the dining table cleaning his cross bow. Rick doubted he would ever remove the years of wear from the weapon, but Daryl didn't seem to care for much else. He focused on it, eyes never straying from his task, ignoring the world around him. Rick was relieved he hadn't walked away or lost himself in the same way he had when Lori passed away, but losing Daryl by his side was dangerous, although Rick knew his concern was also for Daryl's grief. He wasn't much of an open book, didn't vent his emotions out by talking to anyone, and whatever he felt about Beth's death would only intensify with every moment he spent silently suffering by himself.

After a long silence, Daryl replied, not lifting his eyes from his cross bow, "Why would you think you couldn't count on me now?"

"After the hospital, and Beth..."

"We move on. No big deal," Daryl growled, angry with himself for being so blunt with Rick, the memory of the hospital causing his rage to rise, the numb pain of his grief returning as he remembered the gun shot. Rick didn't give up, sitting across from him.

"Daryl... Don't shut me out. I saw you, I know how it feels... You cared about her more than I knew and I'm sorry we failed her... But thas not on you."

"She was just a girl," the words weren't true but they tumbled out of Daryl's mouth as he looked to Rick. He was still afraid of why Beth had left him feeling so broken and to know other people noticed made him wish for an escape. A way of leaving, right now, to be alone. Rick shook his head knowingly, "No.. No she was much more... And I'm sorry you lost her before she knew it. Your my brother and I care about you... So I want you to..."

He stopped as Carl came up to him carrying a laughing Judith, his face pale, expression troubled, "Glenn needs you, it's Maggie... They need you."

Rick nodded, looking at his daughter, then to Daryl. An idea sprang to mind and he hoped it wasn't a mistake, "Daryl, could you take Judith while I sort... Whatever it is that needs sort in'"

Daryl's eyes widened but he stood and took her carefully, ensuring he was gentle with her. She looked up at him at grinned, showing off her two front teeth, cuddling the rag doll in her hands. Sitting her down on his lap, he watched her play. Kids were an area of life he knew little about. He'd never had a younger sibling, never had a kid that he knew of. He hadn't held a kid before Judith yet when he carried her that night, fed her from that bottle and watched her, it was as though a part of him just knew what to do. Lil' ass kicker. That was his name for her. Born fighting, lost and yet found again, always smiling despite the world she had been born into. He always felt sorry for her. For all she'd never know. No school, no playing in a park or going to the beach. He had lived without those sorts of fond memories but he knew a kid like her, born to parents who were good people, would have had a good life. Not now. Now, she was lucky to be alive. Few kids made it, especially so young. Most groups would consider her a liability but Daryl was more than willing to persevere for her.

That's what Beth would have wanted. If Daryl was the first father figure this girl had then Beth was the only mother she'd ever know. Beth was always carrying her around, feeding her playing with her. Sacrificed a lot but Beth was there for the girl without ever looking for anything in return. He couldn't imagine himself a father, he was too damaged himself, but Beth made him think different. If someone so young could give full time care to a child when she wasn't even an adult herself, then maybe anyone could be a parent. No. No, that wasn't true. Daryl shifted Judith so she could look out the window, noticing how fair her hair was, how blue her eyes were. No doubt she could have been Beth's child... But Beth would never have a future. Never have a chance to have a kid and be a wife... He withheld a curse and watched the child on his lap.

Recognising the rag doll, he studied it a little closer. It was made form scraps of clothes, the hair some sort of weaves straw. The eyes were buttons sewn on carefully. Beth. He'd seen her working on something at the prison, those evening when he passed her sitting on the stairs, or when it was sunny and she let Judith play in the grass. He wanted to smile but he couldn't do anything more than watch Judith cuddle the doll. Everything Beth ever left behind was something good. He couldn't remember her ever hurting anyone... Except him. When she left this world, she hurt him. Hurt him with every second she remained dead and gone. He let his head press against the window, pulling Judith a little closer humming a song that seemed to force itself to his lips. After a while, he realised it wasn't just a song. It was Beth's song. Promising they would be good. Promising something bright lay ahead of them. Promising she'd be with him. Never had a broken promise caused so much pain.

...

Morgan watched her clean that arrow. The remnants of the walker were long gone, the metal clean, but she kept shining it with that rag she found at the gas station, eyes never leaving it. He knew the look on her face too well. Focused on a task that distracted her from whatever tempest of fears and dark thoughts that lingered in her fragile mind. He could see she was concentrating on somthing, trying to remember. He glanced at the sky. Another hour and it would be nearing sun would set off again, down the alternative route. He didn't want these Whisperers taking him down at the border, and they were at risk of falling behind if they didn't start travelling by night aswell as by day.

"You wanna go?"

Dawn's voice wavered, her eyes focused on him, fingers tightly woven around the arrow. He shook his head, helplessly trying to think of something to help ease her mind. When he saw her in pain, it caused him pain. Dawn was becoming more than just a dead girl to bring to Rick, he could feel a paternal concern for her. She wasn't there to replace his son, but he felt responsible for her in a way only a father could. He cared that she was struggling, he wanted to help. Problem was, he didn't know how. Then he remembered the box of sparklers he'd noticed in her jacket pocket, left on the car dashboard. Rising from the muddy ground, he retrieved them, "I was thinking... While we have time... To enjoy two little things."

He held up the box and she smiled a sad smile, taking a sparkler from him, both of them lighting the ends with the dying camp fire. Instantly, a shower of a thousand tiny sparks burst into existence, crackling and shining, illuminating their faces. Dawn looked so much younger, almost like a child, smiling into the light. The scars of her dark past burnt away in the silver light and he watched her with fascination. Morgan thought of his son but in a way that made him smile. Something in Dawn reminded him of the good memories, that there had been good memories, that there would be better times ahead.

She laughed as he waved it around, drawing a blazing circle.

"Try writing your name," he suggested with a soft smile, remembering doing the same as a boy, watching as she wrote the letters. B. E. T. H. He frowned. She didn't seem to notice, so he spoke, "whose Beth?"

She froze, looking at him, then staring at the sparkler. Her eys grew wide, bright blue streaked with silver as she stared into the light. Memories flooded back. Someone calling her name, that voice, that man. Fire. Fire burning something down. A shack. A shack full of moonshine. Burn it down. Burn it down... To help someone. Beth. Beth, someone was calling her Beth, carrying her, eating with her, at the house. Holding her hand, fingers slipping between hers. A dog. A cross bow. That song. A jukebox... No, no jukebox... He wanted to hear her sing...

Fire. Middle finger raised to a fire. A fire to burn away a dark past. Fire...

Her fingers brushed the arrow hooked in her belt, remembering the figure of a man, pulling arrows from a walker, looking up at her...

Then she saw him. A face in the darkness of her mind. Sitting on a porch, watching her, strong and sad and kind... He came to the farm, got shot, went looking for a girl... He was teaching her to shoot a cross bow, he listened to her play piano, he tried to save her, he came to the hospital to get her back...

"Daryl... Oh my god, Daryl!"

The voice felt warm on her lips and she called his name out again and again, laughing, crying, the name filling her with renewed hope. Daryl. The person she was fighting to see, the person who took care of her after he prison, who gave her her first drink, who made her feel something... Daryl.

...

"Hold up, were missing someone!"

Douglas looked over to the boy who was talking. Glenn. He was looking around camp, worried, his girlfriend pale as she waited for him. It had been a few hours since he'd heard a whisper of her pregnancy from his bed. She looked awful. He considered looking for some pain relief for her in the store cupboard but they'd be at Dale soon. The first community town he'd lived in after it all happend. Dale wasn't rid of the dead but there was a safe house and his people would be waiting. They'd be there by nightfall, in three hours or so. They'd stopped by the road to refuel. Michonne and Sasha had gone to the woods, returning cleaner, having bathed in the nearby river. Glenn continued to look around, followed by Rick. Douglas heard the name Daryl and immeadietly understood. He'd taken off.

Rick began running into the woods, looking for some sign of him, calling his name. A walker growled and stumbled towards him, though he payed it little attention, still searching for Daryl as he stuck a knife through its forehead. Rick cursed himself for not anticipating this. Daryl was no where near being over what he'd left behind and he'd been stupid enough to think a few words and an hour with a child could fix a mans grief. If they left Daryl behind, he'd never forgive himself. Michonne swiftly followed him, asking where he'd last seen him. When had he last seen Daryl? Rick couldn't remember. He'd been with Judith, then she fell asleep and he gave her to Carl, then they stopped and Daryl...

"Takin' a piss what's wrong?"

Daryl's puzzled tone made Rick groan in annoyance at his momentary panic, laughing as he saw Michonne smile. Walking over to him, Daryl frowned.

"Thought I'd gone running?"

Rick shrugged and let out a relieved sigh. He didn't want to lose anyone else. Let alone the only man left in the group who he had complete faith in. Daryl seems amused, giving Rick a light punch to the arm, walking back with them to camp. As they headed back to the RV, Rick noticed Douglas in the road, staring at the way ahead. He joined him, looking ahead.

"Few more miles and were there... Almost home."

Douglas spoke with a wavering tone and Rick could see how much the man had missed his family. The look was undeniable. He looked on as though he could see them, standing in the distance. He glanced at Rick.

"I know my word counts for nothing... But I promise you, once we get to Alexandria, you'll all be safe. You'll all be home."

...

"Another five hours till we hit Washington."

The words urged Beth to smile in anticipation, regardless of her lack of sleep. How could she sleep? She remembered everything and kept remembering every missing piece of her past, in fear that it might all evade her mind. The entire duration of their drive from the camp, her pen had never left her journal, documenting everything she remembered of her time with Daryl and who Dawn was. Morgan had been confused when she refused to be called Dawn, insisting her name was Beth. Beth's Greene. Everything felt right. Not far from Washington, and already she remembered everything, everyone... And Daryl. Daryl Dixon, the reformed archer of the group who had been her guide and her friend out there... Suddenly, she couldn't stand to remain in silence, reliving her memories, mind strained. She glanced at Morgan.

"Let's play a game."

Morgan glanced at her, unable to take the question seriously. He wasn't one for games. I spy gave him a headache, Jenny usually engaging with Dwayne's game demands for entertainment on long trips. Knowing Beth, she'd come up with something that would involve making him sing. He just couldn't help but laugh and look over at her again, "seriously?"

She shrugged, "better than watching you frown at every song I put on."

He laughed genuinely at that. There was no hiding how much Dolly Parton wasn't his kinda girl. Hell, he couldn't remember a song that he actually loved but all this country music was not for him and Beth knew it. The tape the dog had found was better but not by much. The songs were too sad and he saw how much they effected Beth. He wouldn't admit it, but he'd rather listen to her sing than listen to the taped music. At least her songs were sweet and soft, her emotions bleeding into every line, making you feel every word she sang. Not many people could make you feel that way by just using their voice. Beth, however, didn't sing much since Johnson City, and seemed keen on a game to distract her from her deep thoughts.

"Let's play "things I miss." I'll start... I miss... Oh, television."

He grinned, nodding. This game he could play for hours and still not list everything he was lost without. Beth was smart. The game wasn't about who you missed, it was about things you missed. He liked that about her. She knew how to avoid the painful areas of life. Lately, she seemed more distant than usual, eyes glazed over as she stared out the window, or spent writing in her journal, her fingers always tangled around the arrow. This guy she remembered, Daryl, meant a lot to her and Morgan could see there was something confusing about that to her. Beth didn't understand something about how she felt and it absorbed her. Biting his lip, he thought for a second, "I miss... Beer. Never drank much of it before, but I'd take a case of it down in one go nowadays."

She laughed, "I've never had beer. My first and only drink was moonshine."

Morgan grimaced, glancing over at her in suprise, "thats some strong redneck poison."

Beth smiled, looking at the arrow, "It's awful but I liked it... Daryl found it for me."

He nodded, all too aware of how sad she sounded saying that name. After her outburst last night, she'd spoken a little of how she remembered everything. Rick never mentioned a Daryl in his group but from what Beth had said about him, he was pretty much second in command. She had been to Rebecca's house with him, they had moonshine together, and by the look of it, he might have broken her heart too. He didn't know what to say to her when she looked sad like this.

"I can't believe I forgot Daryl... After everything we went through, after all he did for me..." Beth looked at Morgan, confused, searching for some answer he couldn't possibly begin to give. Morgan knew the feeling. How many times had he cursed himself for forgetting what Jenny and Dwayne looked like. What their laughs sounded like. How they smiled. He looked over at her, speaking from experience, "sometimes the people we love most are the ones who slip away the fastest... Maybe he means so much to you that it was too painful to think about him."

Beth seemed to freeze and he regretted his words. Little did he know he had opened a part of her mind that had long been locked away. A pathway she never dared tread. Beth remembered that night, at the table, when she asked Daryl what had changed his mind about good people... And he looked at her, and the whole world fell silent... She couldn't breathe and all that had come out from her was a soft "oh." Then the walkers came and pulled them apart but before that, before she lost him... There was something. Something unnamed and unexpected that puzzled and scared them both. It was the moment she realised how blind she had been to the man he had always been.

Beth remembered him at the prison. She'd watched him, never even considering they'd shared anything more than a mutual concern for the group. Every morning he was on guard, he was there in the hall while she walked Judith... Sometimes he would look in on her. Making sure she was okay. One time he came to her after the raid on the market, when she had lost... Lost a boyfriend whose name didn't seem to exist anymore. Every part of her had wanted to grieve but she took a breath and accepted the good times they had shared, letting him go. Daryl just watched and she saw how sad he was. How frustrated. His eyes were dark and hard at times but she could see past the walls he put up. She knew how to shield herself from the world and in Daryl she saw herself. Maybe that was why she chose to hug him instead of just comfort him with kind words. She didn't expect him to hold her arm and let her that close, let her embrace him, her eyes staring into his as she smiled. That was the first time she could see the good in him, the broken soul with a soft side... She'd sworn to make an effort to befriend him a little more. Soon after, her wish was answered, only after her father was beheaded and her sister lost. It took time but he opened up and let her in. After that, she didn't just see a good man in him, she saw a boy. Someone who never got to see the light side of life because for him, the world had always been dark. His family, the violence, the anger, the pain... Daryl was a broken kid who grew up to become a broken man. A man who never let himself consider there was still good in the world.

What had she thought that night they burnt the shack? She remembered it all clearly, walking away from the fire. Beth had sworn she would show him more fun things to do. Make him smile a little more because she loved seeing him enjoying himself instead of just surviving. If the world hadn't gone to hell, she'd have taken him to the county fair, found him a jar of pigs feet. Maybe show him the old caravan by the lake that was meant to be hauntd, according to the kids she knew. He could laugh at how stupid it was. Then she remembered in the old world, a girl like her would never meet someone like him, and they could never be friends. That made her sad. He was judged by his upbringing, never given a chance. Shane, the dead guy who had been a complete dick to everyone, used to say things about Daryl. Call him horrid things, not trust him because he was a 'hill Billy red neck.' Beth didn't believe in much but she knew a man like Daryl was better than most of the men around in these dark days. He didn't kill people for fun, he didn't rape women or beat kids, or shoot his own if he felt down.

Why was she so surprised that he was the one person she forgot? He meant more to her than she cared to admit, and Morgan was right. It's the ones who you love most that you forget, because fear of losing them is too painful to bear. There was that word again. Love. If it was any other boy she'd have admitted to having a crush or liking them a lot, but not Daryl. Whatever it was she felt for Daryl, it was buried deep inside of her, close to her heart, and it couldn't be given a name. It scared her too much. It had to wait, till the moment they were reunited. Maybe then, when she felt him again, when she saw him, she'd understand it.

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