“So you do think there are still good people around. ...What changed your mind?”
He stares, because isn't that enough of an answer for her rather ridiculous question? Does he really have to say anything? Aside from a damned one-eye dog and any forest animal they could hunt down for dinner, the two haven't exactly run into another living being out here. Who else could've changed his mind? It's her. It's always been her. Every change inside of him since she broke his simmering silence, the first wall of many, had been thanks to her, and there are plenty changes to choose from.
And she realizes it slowly, giving herself the chance to consider herself, as it takes a moment to truly sink in. Her eyes go wide, her body growing still, and she resembles a deer in his crosshairs. Innocent and dewy-eyed, flanks panting with breath, but somehow so eerily calm and accepting.
"Oh..." the word breathes out softly, almost a whisper, and it could be bad. Could be good. Daryl really is trying to be positive now, mostly for her, but he can't see how she'd think there's anything good about the way he looks at her. The way he needs her. He longs for anything to interrupt this moment, to get him far from her eventual rejection, no matter how subtle and kind it might be. What if she never lets him touch her again after this? No more piggyback rides, serious or not, and mutual hand-holding when he didn't have the words to express himself or to help her. And sure they'd still talk, but not like they did before, and he's just ruined everything...!
Thank god for that dumbass dog coming back. He hears the clatter on the porch and stands awkwardly, not about to answer any of her inquisitive looks in case he does it wrong. Maybe they can just ignore this ever happened...
"Daryl, wait!" Beth snags him by the back of his vest, pulling him from the door. His hands hold tight into fists at his side, then run flat and sweaty against his jeans as he turns, unsure whether to grit himself up again or loosen and succumb to the roiling sea in Beth's eyes. God her baby blues are so damn warm and sweet compared to his. The Caribbean warm and frothy, like he's seen in pictures, compared to his Arctic waters. He can't hold her gaze for long, his own eyes darting every which way under the dark fringes of his hair. Childhood lessons of not speaking unless spoken to (and even then, speaking in the exact correct way) and you dare look at me in the eye, boy? had Daryl acting more animal-like than usual, silent and wary, like a wolf pup being scolded.
"I..." Beth starts, nervously, hands tangling together in front of her. Her boots shift as she sways a little on her feet, a little closer to him, then away again. His heart clenches with the motion, so young and so pure, and he's so… just… none of that. "I'm... I did it?" She looks pleased, strangely so, and for a moment he's sure he's misunderstanding her. Somehow she looks ridiculously proud of herself, but he has to be reading her wrong. It makes no damn sense, none at all, that she should congratulate herself for being any sorta influence at all on some moody old redneck with more scars than skin. And talk about a chip on the shoulder - the world had gouged Daryl through and through, leaving more holes in him than a crackhead's tracked-up arm.
He's no good for anyone or anything, and yet here's this veritable ball of sunshine and all that's left of goodness in the world, and she's just looking at him. Like he's something important or impressive, like she can't see what everyone else always saw when they looked at him and his brother. Like she saw someone worth looking at.
"Yeah," he replies gustily and quietly, cuz it's easier than saying her name or 'you, you did this to me. You, Beth Greene, are the only light in this goddamned world.' But it's still admitting his own feelings, and it's still baring himself to a degree he's usually much less alright with, but it's different with her. Everything is. If he starts talking, he might not stop, and usually he can't picture himself running out of words and air by way of actual speech. Now he can. He has so much to say about this little wispy blonde streak of a girl before him that if he opens his mouth now he might not finish until the world actually crumbles away underneath them.
So much to say, and his jaw might as well be rusted shut. Alcohol would loosen it, but he had made a mental point of deciding he'll never get drunk around her again. Never. The only words that come out when he's drunk are the bad ones. The festering bile in the back of his head that usually just oozes down his spine and fills his stomach with sick regret, but that's okay, because he should suffer. He deserves pain. Beth Greene never has and never will.
That's when she does something he truly hadn't expected, though. Something that's the complete opposite, in fact, of what she should have done. She should have backed away. Should have realized he's really just a creepy old man at his rotten apple core. Should have done anything other than what she does.
She smiles. No, she fucking beams.
Beyond all belief and reasoning, Beth Greene is smiling at him. Had the room been dark before? Because now he's squinting in something stronger than broad daylight. This would be considered a sunny afternoon if he had lived on fucking Mercury, because she's so damn bright.
"Oh," and this time, it's breathless with a grin. Breathless with a side of giggles. He had made her giggle and blush. Has no one told her the dead are walking outside? That the world ended and everything is miserable and horrible? Because right now, she looks like they'd found and opened a door to paradise.
She makes no fucking sense, this girl.
"Then I guess I'd better stick around, huh?" she teases, still smiling, still too close. Her hand clutches his and damn near gives him a stroke, though they've done this before. When she laces her fingers through his, eyes darting between his face and their hands, his heart near combusts in his chest with all its pounding and twitching. "If I'm the light in your life and all, Mr. Dixon."
Girl, your light could power the whole goddamned universe. I'm pretty sure it could replace the sun and burn up all nine planets in a moment. People from another galaxy would feel the heat from your light.
But he sure as hell can't say all those things aloud, even if he wanted to. He can't even think of how he'd say them without sounding like a damn teenager in lo- no . He isn't that. It ain't that. And if he tells himself that enough, maybe one day he'll start to believe it.
Instead, he holds on tightly to her hand and finds himself smiling back, the muscles stiff from lack of use, but hell if he doesn't feel fifty pounds lighter and thirty years younger. He's always been a tongue-tied moron around pretty girls, blonde ones especially now that he thinks about it, and this one is no different. Except that she's completely different in every aspect to those girls. Girls that, now, are probably just one more of the shuffling herds that ramble the planet in search of blood and guts to satisfy an inexorable and unending hunger. They had been a weak candle to this twelve foot tall bonfire now burning before him.
Hell if he can remember a single one of their names. They don't matter, and they really never had.
Not like Beth Greene.
That's when the door let out a long creak, and the rasping mumbles of the living dead become clear through the barriers. Daryl doesn't pause to think; he reacts as instinctively as one accustomed to horrific situations He grabs their bags, stuffs them with food, and hurries Beth to a window in the back of the house. His hand rests between her shoulder blades, and he doesn't have time to think about how hesitant he usually is to touch a person. How he's never hesitant to touch her to make sure she's safe and there and beside him.
Smashing the glass open with his crossbow, he pushes her through, crawls out himself, and runs into the woods after scooping her into his arms. Her hands, in turn, are locked around his neck and holds her bag through an arm loop. He feels her breath with every step, puffed warm against his neck, due to the way she had her head tucked under his chin. Her lips were practically on his skin as she shivered against him, curling further into his warmth.
He's carrying near thirty pounds on his back, excluding the crossbow, alongside Beth's hundred pound body in his arms, but he runs like a man unbound. He feels light with her whispering in his ear, mouth practically caressing the words alongside the skin.
"Thank you, Daryl."
His grip tightens, he almost smiles despite his breathlessness, and he's pretty sure he could run all night with her if he had to.