They’d found a partially collapsed motel by the road, and made a camp in the office.
Daryl had noticed all the bullet holes on the walls, full length of the front of the building and the charred interior and flame licked window panes of the furthest room. He’d peered inside, the sight making him sneer and shudder. It wasn’t hard to imagine what had happened there. One glance at Beth told him that she knew too. He would have given everything of his to spare her from seeing that.
She’d fallen asleep on the bed made out of a mattress and a set of pillows quickly after they had eaten.
Daryl sat on a rickety chair, next to a window. His bare feet splayed on the dirty linoleum floor, the frame of his crossbow propped against the leg of the table his arm rested against. In the dimly lit light of the motel office, he was meticulously going through the string of his weapon, cleaning it, and checking it from fraying.
The office was surprisingly comfortable and warm, considering that most of the roof had collapsed down a long while ago. In the warmth of the room, he wore only his black jeans, that had been ripped and sewn together so many times already.
While his fingers worked the string, he let his eyes sweep over the floor, quickly rubbing his chin with his right hand, fingers brushing against his bottom lip. There was a dusty and mucked up rug on the floor, some dirt and debris along with dried up leaves. The door of the place had been open quite a while before they had closed it for the night, that Daryl was almost certain there were critters living in the walls by now.
He’d taken the crossbow of his apart, while nibbling stale chips out of a broken vending machine, as it was rare the occasion that he had the odd chance to clean the weapon, and he had learned to take a hold of all of them. Despite there having been fewer and fewer walker sightings over the past month, Daryl expected a storm after the deceitful lull. He’d armed himself to the teeth as they rolled out of the gates of the Kingdom. Beth had her own weapons and few that were hidden even from him. He’d placed his big hunting knife and two guns on the table, ready for action if needed.
Being prepared for every which contingency came natural to him, and he knew far too well that the living would still be a threat. As much as their group had done to better their lives there seemed to always be some other group that were too lazy to build something of a home for themselves.
Growing up Dixon hardly meant that they were friends of the law and authority but deep down he knew that there would still be a long way for them to go for a working society where people didn’t have to be afraid.
He grunted at himself for thinking such thoughts right now. He was supposed to clean his ‘bow, he was supposed to keep watch. That made him glance at Beth at the makeshift bed they had put together.
His attention fixed at the blonde haired woman, as he placed the string on the table, leg bouncing and twitching with nicotine withdrawal coursing through his veins, and invading his mind. He’d smoked his last cigarette early that morning, just before they’d rolled out, and he’d made a mental note to try and find more as they headed out tomorrow. The vending machines that had been emptied a long time ago, probably had sported cigarettes as well but at that moment, he was left without a pack of smokes he craved.
He wasn’t going to ask Beth to return to the Kingdom, Hilltop or Alexandria just over a pack of cigarettes. He’d committed to this trip when he’d agreed to take her on it.
Looking at Beth, as she tossed and turned, like at most nights at the Kingdom, he reminded himself to tell Maggie or Paul about this place. The motel could be fixed up, it could become a relay station, extra accommodations for people in need of safety. Or he could hold onto the information and see if they both wanted to come back at some point, as the group kept growing and ebbing every time they turned around the corner. They both had found more solace in privacy than anyone else.
Her whisper like whimper alerted him again, and he turned to look back at her. She’d been back for quite some time now, but she had barely been able to rest at all. He’d found her sitting awake at night, either because of a nightmare or because she couldn’t sleep despite being exhausted. She shifted restlessly on the blanket and pillow bed, and it pained Daryl to think how little she slept anymore, how she dreamed even less.
He’d grown up with nightmares. He’d spend days on end in hunting cabins, dingy motel rooms and whatever hole in the wall he had the chance to sleep in, hiding from his father, or traipsing across the state with Merle and his penchant for selling drugs.
It wasn’t until the prison he’d been able to sleep first time without nightmares constantly waking him up at night. Might have been the sturdy walls, providing security, or maybe he should have ended up in one much sooner. Maybe, it was the songs she kept singing that echoed through the halls as she tried to lull Judith into sleep.
He wanted to believe it was her, and it didn’t sit well with him when he knew he wasn’t able to aid her in any way. No amount of talking, reassuring and tricks to lure sleep, and no matter what you’d do for someone before falling asleep, they were always alone in their nightmares.
He kept his eyes on her as he reached for the frame of the crossbow. He picked up a piece of an oily rag and began oiling up the ‘bow in slow circular motions.
Daryl had gotten his vest and bike back from Dwight. He’d been able to replace most of his stolen items. The new crossbow was an almost too good to be true found. It would give him enough pleasure to beat some fucker up and be able to restore the innocence in Beth, to allow her to sleep.
Her clothes were folded evenly on top of his leather jacket, while the rest of his were tossed on a bench nearby. Their boots were on the floor in a haphazard disarray. Still in her restless, dreamless sleep, Daryl watched her body shudder as she tried to overcome the nightmare that was taking over her rest.
Hoping she’d calm down, he continued to clean up the crossbow, but before he managed to reattach the string on the limbs of it, she woke up to her own scream.
Daryl, partially expecting it, shot up from his seat, and ran over to the bed, and pulled the sobbing and shuddering blonde to his chest. He brought his arms around her shoulders and upper body as gently as he could amidst his fumbling as he tried to soothe her.
She sat up, her fingers clutching Daryl’s arms. Her skin glistened with sweat as her eyes darted around the room, frantically searching for whatever ghost from the past she had been haunted in her nightmare. A while later, her eyes landed finally on Daryl and as she realized it was just a bad dream, she broke down and sob escaped her lips.
“Daryl,” she breathed relieved.
Her eyes wide from something he interpreted as fear. He had to admit to himself that his face must have mirrored hers right about now. Sometimes, just occasionally, he couldn’t help but think if she would recover from the intensity of those bad dreams.
She buried her face into his chest, drawing in a shaky breath, as he scooted closer, pulling her into his arms, brushing her hair away from her face.
I don’t cry anymore, Daryl.
He could remember it, just like yesterday, her words, and the first time she hugged him when he was the one telling her Zack had died.
“Don’t cry,” he whispered, “Ya stronger than this.”
“I can’t be alone, Daryl,” she replied.
The morning after he had ran after the black car that had taken her from him at the funeral home he had never felt so alone, such a failure and so useless. He had been alone in the middle of nowhere and he had admitted to himself for the first time in his life of solitude that he wanted to be with his family. The people he’d come to trust, beyond all reason, and some he had grown to love more than himself and his own life.
“Not gonna leave you.”
She had uttered the same words to him. She had wanted to stay with him. She had wanted them to leave the funeral home together. His objective had been to keep Beth alive and safe.
“I tried to think there are still good people,” she whispered.
She had left the safety of the Grady Memorial as soon as she was strong enough to travel, and had survived on her own for over two years. Three if taking account the year she spent there in rehabilitation.
He’d broken down when he’d realized he was alone, and he’d joined a group of people with dubious background, just to alleviate him being alone. She was far stronger than he could ever be. She had refused to stay at Grady, just to be safe, and instead she’d left to find her family.
Daryl still blamed himself for taking the gunshot for its face value, never checking to make sure she had not survived. In a scenario he’d played in his mind for a better part of a year, he knew Beth wouldn’t have never left him like that. Not even if a herd of the undead that had closed in on the group and chased them out of Atlanta would have made Beth leave anyone behind like that.
Rick had told Daryl and Maggie that they couldn’t bring Beth’s body along. Not that they blamed Rick for it. In the Georgia heatwave her body would have decomposed fast. So, Daryl and Maggie had buried Beth in a trunk of a car, prayed she wouldn’t rise again, and then left her there. He’d moved on while continuing to blame himself for what had happened.
He glanced back down, his chin resting against her head, as he slowly allowed his fingertips to slowly stroke her back, neck and arms.
“Do you think we would have met before?” she asked in a soft whisper, followed by a hiccup.
He thought about it for a second. He wanted to say yes. He wanted to believe that there was some unwritten law that would have brought them together even if the world had not gone to hell in a handbasket. Beth had scolded him for not having faith, but he’d grown up with a father that had blamed both of his sons for the death of their mother.
Faith was not ever written in his playbook.
“Nah,” he rumbled his answer, and felt her tensing immediately.
She looked up at him, eyes piercing blue, brimmed with red. He felt guilty for saying it straight like that and making her upset once more.
“Ya folks wouldn’t have let ya anywhere near a guy like me,” he explained with a low murmur, still holding onto her tightly.
She shifted this time, her palms resting on his forearms, as she eyed at him until he had to look away.
“My Daddy saw the good in you, Daryl,” she said emphatically, “I can see the good in you. I don’t think living in the apocalypse is the only thing that… that unites us on some level.”
Daryl chewed his bottom lip aggressively. He didn’t have the guts to tell her that the Turn was the only thing that had brought them together. He would have avoided people like their group consisted of before. In truth he would have been with Merle, and if he’d had been roped into some shit Merle had decided to pull off to get money, he’d most likely be in an actual prison right about now. Or possibly, dead.
She looked away from his face, her fingers tracing the tattoos on his chest and arm, tracing the contours of his shoulder in between. He sat there still, his right arm resting on her thigh, a pillow from their shady abode, a no-tell motel by the highway, stuffed behind her back.
He allowed his hand roam over the bare skin of her shoulders and arms. The pads of his fingers skimming over her shoulders, running up and down the length of the back of her bicep, and over her elbow. He saw her relax a bit, but her eyes remained open. She didn’t want to go back to sleep.
“Ya should sleep,” Daryl said, and sat up. She sat next to him, her hands dropping to her lap, and her brow knitting together as she looked up at him confused.
“Ya did what ya had to do to survive,” Daryl replied, interrupting Beth, “To make it back to your family. That doesn’t make ya a monster to me. Ya still see good in people.”
She sat there silent for a moment, before leaning over and kissing his cheek. He inhaled the scent of the forest and grass, smoke and sun filled his senses. Her smile lit her face up and she scooted closer, resting her head against his shoulder once more.
Daryl looked up at the ceiling of the decrepit motel office, watching the cracks that spread across the plaster, and the remnants of a mirror tiles. He could see the damage from snow and water, but this wasn’t the worst place in the world.
Not with Beth by his side.