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Been Far Away For Far Too Long

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"A year ago we stayed up till 3 am talking, and today I don't know how to even say hey.”

 

Beth Greene could remember the first time she heard that quote. She had been laying on her bed back at the farm, her laptop rested on her knees. Her eyes would slide to the door, her ears listening out for any sign that her Daddy or Mama were up, and would walk in at any minute to find she wasn’t asleep like she was supposed to be. Beth had always disagreed with her having a bedtime. She had been sixteen for crying out loud. Staying up past 11 PM wasn’t going to kill her!

 

She remembered the soft music that played through her earphones, a familiar melody that Beth was still fond of. She could remember the sounds from outside, the horses in the barn and the chickens in their enclosure. The stars had been bright, and twinkling, and the world had been silent and calm. Life was good, but no one had known that danger was lurking just beyond the horizon.

 

She had been scrolling through social media, a habit that she had shared with many teenagers at the time. Dropping likes and leaving comments, scoffing at some posts and laughing at others. One of her friends, Sarah, had been going through a breakup at the time. Her friend’s social media had been filled with angsty quotes, and Beth had been a good friend, liking them all and leaving hearts underneath. However, sat on her bed, she had rolled her eyes. Even she could tell it was a bit much. 

 

“A year ago we stayed up till 3 am talking, and today I don't know how to even say hey,” Beth had read, clucking her tongue. Her mind had gone to Jimmy, her boyfriend of only a week. He was sweet, a genuinely nice boy, and Beth would like to think that if they ever broke up, she would still be able to say hey. She was pretty sure she’d slap herself if she ever started posting inspirational quotes and song lyrics.

 

Years later, the words were beginning to make sense. It was alarming how quickly someone could change from stranger to best friend, from best friend to lover. It was even more alarming how quickly that relationship could fall apart, and how fast someone could turn back into a stranger.

 

Beth felt her chest tighten as the quote rolled through her mind, the deeper meaning hitting her with an icy cold shock. What made it all worse was that she was the one who had become the stranger.

 

Beth could have never known, that day at the farm, how much one person could change her life. She had stood by Patricia as the rest of Rick’s group at arrived at her farm. She remembered how they had been lead by a man on a motorcycle. She wished she had known at the time that he would come to mean so much to her. Maybe she could have prevented this distance between them from forming, had she known.

 

She wished she had known that she would one day fall in love with Daryl Dixon.

 

Beth felt her nose tingle, a tell-tale sign that tears would soon form in her eyes if she didn’t put a stop to them quickly. Judith stirred in her arms, and Beth quickly rubbed at her nose, looking down at the baby.

 

A smile lit up her face as she took in the little girl. Beth hadn’t been sure she would ever see her surrogate daughter ever again, but here she was, looking up at Beth with all the trust in the world.

 

“At least you still make sense,” Beth sighed, brushing her thumb along the baby’s cheek.

 

Since getting his family back, Rick had really stepped up and become a more involved father in his daughter’s life. Still, Beth was always around to provide an extra pair of hands. Rick was glad to have her, and even when it became apparent that he and Michonne had created a little family for them, Carl and Judith, Beth still knew her place in Judith’s life would always be hers. Michonne and Rick appreciated her help, and Beth was glad for it. There were sometimes that Beth could swear the little girl was the only thing keeping her head above water. Beth had come to depend on the baby just as much as Judith depended on her.

 

That particular night, Beth had offered to stay over to help with Judith. Rick and Michonne had had a particularly hard day, and Beth knew they were in desperate need for rest. That’s how she found herself standing in their living room, rocking the baby back to sleep at 2:55 in the morning.

 

Though she technically lived with Maggie and Glenn, she kept an extra set of clothes in the spare room for nights like this. She split her time between the Rhee house and the Grimes house, not quite sure which one to call home.

 

One had her sister, but the other one had ...

 

A shuffle on the stairs caught her attention, and Beth’s head snapped towards the sound. Judith had closed her eyes, lulled to sleep by the radio playing softly on the mantelpiece. 

 

“S’jus’ me,” a rough voice whispered. Daryl appeared at the end of the stairs, still clad in his shirt and jeans from earlier. Beth wasn’t surprised. The man barely slept.

 

“She ok?” He asked, coming closer to look down at the sleeping baby.

 

Beth nodded stiffly, her cheeks heating up as the quote once again sounded in her mind. 

 

“Gonna put her down,” Beth said quickly, turning and rushing up the stairs. She didn’t look back to see if he noticed how skittish she was, but she knew he did. Daryl seemed to notice everything about her.

 

Beth entered the nursery, and settled Judith back into her crib, taking a minute to breathe. She looked out the window, staring up at the stars and begging her heart to stop beating so damn fast.

 

Beth could remember clearly how she had stared at the stars that night on the porch. She remembered thinking about how beautiful they were, even remarking on their beauty, before looking down and realizing that Daryl was staring at her as he agreed. That night had been burned in her mind, pun intended. Beth had felt almost giddy as they spent the night on the porch, talking and laughing quietly, trying not to draw any attention. Of course, they didn’t care about the attention they drew when they burned the shack down. By the time the walkers had arrived, they had been running through the woods, grins on their faces.

 

Their time at the funeral home had been a whole other situation. She remembered their easy banter, their ability to communicate with just pointed looks and expressive eyes. She recalled how Daryl’s eyes had been so soft but so sure as he stared at her, making her understand without saying a word. Beth had barely been able to talk, unlike her, but she had tried, only managing to let out a soft “Oh.” before everything went to hell.

 

The walkers had found them, and that’s the last she had seen of him until she had been freed from that horrible hospital.

 

Beth knew something had happened to them that night. Beth hadn’t known what to call it at the time, and truthfully, she’d been preoccupied with trying to survive afterwards, but one night at the hospital, it had hit her. She was falling in love with Daryl Dixon, and she was pretty sure he was falling for her too.

 

During her time at the hospital, Beth had envisioned what their reunion would be like. Daryl wasn’t one for public displays of affection, so a big reunion kiss was out of the question. She knew there’d be a hug. They would hold each other, and communicate in that silent way they did. Beth felt a sharp spark of anger flow through her at the memory of stabbing Dawn with those scissors. She had come so close to ruining everything. Beth knew she had been lucky that Daryl had pulled her out of the way as Dawn went for her gun. He had put Dawn down before she could do any harm, holding Beth tightly to his chest as Rick smoothed things out before they left. 

 

After that, things had been muddled. Beth knew she was suffering from some form of PTSD. She recognized the symptoms, knew that her flashbacks and nightmares were too frequent to be normal. Beth knew that she had gained demons that she had yet to defeat, that she had scars that would never fade, and she didn’t just mean the physical ones.

 

Most of all, Beth knew she had changed. Yes, she had become stronger, more capable. She was no longer the little girl who could barely hold her own. No, now she was a woman who could do whatever she needed to to ensure her survival, as well as her family’s.

 

The biggest change, however, was that Beth had become quiet. She didn’t sing anymore, didn’t hum as she went about her business. She no longer initiated conversations, or even bother to keep them up when she did. Beth had heard Maggie tell Glenn that it was because of this that Maggie knew something was seriously wrong with her little sister. Beth had shut down, and she didn’t know to how fix it.

 

Her silence had become a concern to everyone in the group, but it didn’t seem to hurt anyone as much  as it did Daryl. There were times he would try to get her to talk to him, pushing out of his own comfort zone to try and pull her from hers. She tried to come back, even if only for him, but there was a darkness inside her that refused to let go. 

 

Beth remembered how he would tease her when it was just the two of them. He would be amused when she jumped from topic to topic, never short of something to talk about. He had called her Tinkerbell once, comparing her to the tiny fairy flying wildly around in a cage. Beth hadn’t even bothered asking how he knew who Tinkerbell was. 

 

But now, he seemed almost desperate for her hyperactivity. When Daryl would try to pull her back to reality, Beth would only manage to reply in one word sentences. Beth had seen how his shoulders had dropped in defeat, his blue eyes flashing with something heartbreaking as he watched her, searching her face for the Beth he had known.

 

Beth had tried to tell him with her eyes everything she couldn’t say with her voice. Beth tried to convey how much she wanted to talk to him, wanted to confide in him and tell him everything she was going through so that he could wrap his arms around her and make the pain go away. But he hadn’t understood, and that was when Beth had realized she had become a stranger. Not just to him, but to her group, and to herself.

 

Beth bit down on her bottom lip, glancing back down at Judith before leaving the room. She knew she had left the radio on downstairs, and headed down to switch it off. Beth assumed that Daryl had already headed back to his room, or maybe outside, so she was slightly surprised to see him sitting on the couch. He was bent forward, his elbows on his knees, rubbing his hands anxiously.

 

It almost looked like he was waiting. Waiting for her.

 

She hesitated on the stairs before shaking her head. This was getting ridiculous, and Beth was sick of her body and mind betraying her.

 

“Everythin’ ok?” She asked, her voice soft as she came to stand by the couch.

 

“You tell me,” Daryl murmured back, tilting his head to look up at her.

 

Beth paused. She glanced down at the carpet, wetting her lips before taking a deep breath through her nose and exhaling through pursed lips.

 

“No,” she whispered finally. “I’m not ok.”

 

Daryl simply nodded, remaining silent as she folded her arms across her middle.

 

“I’m not dealin’ with it,” Beth admitted. “I don’t think I know how.”

 

“Ya gotta start by tryin’.”

 

“I am!” Beth insisted. “But it’s like, every time I try to speak, try to let someone in, I freeze up. I can’t get the words out of my head. I wouldn’t even know where to begin.”

 

Daryl watched her pace, bringing his hand up to scrub at his scruff. He remained silent though, and it seemed to spur Beth on.

 

“I tried so hard to not let them get to me, not let any of it get to me. They were cruel people, using people weaker than them to get what they wanted. They hurt people and I hated them for it,” Beth shook her head. “I spent every day planning how I’d escape, how I’d get the hell away from them, how I’d help Noah get out after he helped me survive in there. And then, then I just started to plan how I’d make them pay. I wanted to make them hurt the way they made us hurt. I lost sight of who I was, and somewhere along the line, I became them.”

 

“You didn’t -“

 

“Didn’t I?!” Beth exclaimed suddenly, sounding hysterical. “I was so close, so fucking close, to getting out and being with my family again, and what do I do?! I stab someone! And I didn’t even do it well, I did it with the world’s tiniest little scissors. I did it to hurt someone! To prove a point! To show them I was stronger than they were, that I won! But I didn’t. No one did.”

 

Beth faltered then, reaching up to angrily wipe away the tears that had gathered on her cheeks.

 

“And now, they’re gone, and I’m safe, and they’re still haunting me! I’m still hurting people!” Beth sighed. “Maggie looks at me like she doesn’t know who I am anymore, and I can’t blame her. I don’t know who I am either. And you... You’re trying to help me, and all I can do is push you away. Sometimes I wonder if ya should have just left me there.”

 

Daryl shot up off the couch suddenly, and strode over to her. His presence invaded her space until all she could see was him.

 

“Don’t say that!” He hissed, voice hoarse. “Don’t even think that! Shit, I never heard ya say somethin’ so stupid in your life!”

 

He took a step back, rubbing his hand over his chin again as he took her in.

 

“Ya ain’t them. I ain’t gonna tell ya that the stunt you pulled wasn’t stupid cause it was, but the rest of it is all bullshit!” He stated. “They were the weak ones, usin’ other people ta get ahead, and they made a mistake when they doubted ya. You were never weak. Strength ain’t all about how many walkers ya take down!”

 

He shook his head, placing his hands on his hips. 

 

“Ya hoped. Ya loved. Ya remembered who you were as the world was goin’ batshit crazy! All this shit in yer head, ‘bout us bein’ better off, is just that! It’s all shit!” Daryl took a step towards her again, his shoulders dropping and his voice taking on a more pleading tone.

 

“Yer goin’ through some shit, hell, that’s expected. Ya had to do things yer too damn good for, but ya did them, cause yer strong. Cause yer not just another dead girl. You survived because yer strong, and yer sure as hell strong enough to get through this too!”

 

Beth tightened her grip around her middle, biting on her lip. She dropped her voice to a whisper, suddenly very aware of their proximity, and even more aware of the fact that Rick and the others were asleep upstairs.

 

“I don’t feel very strong lately.”

 

“Then ya tell me,” Daryl said. “Ya tell me, and ya let me help. Hell, that’s what we did before, wasn’t it?”

 

Beth nodded softly, recalling all the times they had leaned on each other for support after the prison. Both figuratively and literally.

 

“Ain’t nothin’ ya can say to me that’ll change my mind,” Daryl told her. “Ain’t nothin’ ya can do to make me think anythin’ less of ya, so ya gotta stop thinkin’ less of yourself. You’re good, Beth.”

 

Beth felt an unexpected smile tug at her lips, and she gave into it, indulging in the giddy feeling that settled in her stomach.

 

“So you do still think there are good people around?”

 

A slight smile pulled at Daryl’s own lips, and he locked his eyes with hers. Beth felt the air leave her in a rush as that same look from before settled in his eyes, leaving her feeling warm all over.

 

“Didn’t before,” Daryl admitted. “Ya changed my mind.”

 

It was then, as a comfortable silence settled around them, that Beth realized the radio was still on. The song was one she knew well, and she couldn’t help but stop and take in the lyrics.

 

“I wanted, I wanted you to stay

'Cause I needed, I need to hear you say

That I love you, I have loved you all along

And I forgive you, for being away for far too long

So keep breathing, 'cause I'm not leaving

Hold on to me and never let me go

Keep breathing, 'cause I'm not leaving you anymore...”

 

As the song began to fade, nearing its end, Beth’s eyes found Daryl again. He was looking at the radio, looking just as effected as she felt. Beth almost felt like laughing; who would have thought that someone’s burned CD of cheesy 2000s songs would capture the feelings between them so perfectly?

 

Daryl’s eyes moved from the radio to her, and Beth couldn’t help the emotion that welled up inside of her. With an almost desperate gasp, she reached for him at the same time he reached for her.

 

Her hands came up to rest against his cheeks as his grabbed her waist. Daryl’s lips lowered to capture hers and Beth melted against him as their lips molded together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

 

Their kiss was desperate but so unbelievably gentle that it made tears appear in Beth’s tightly closed eyes. The tight pressure in her chest began to uncoil with every press of his lips, and Beth welcomed it. Her body felt like it was thawing out, waking up from a deep but restless sleep.

 

Beth cupped his jaw with her hands, pulling him closer to her as her legs began to wobble. Daryl loosened his grip on her, but he never let her go, moving to wrap his arms around her as the kiss slowed.

 

They broke apart at the same time, and Beth rested her forehead against his. Tears began to steadily flow down her face, and Daryl affectionately bumped his head against hers. Beth balled her hands against his chest, clinging to him to enjoy the safety that he provided as his hands rose to caress her face.

 

“I got ya,” Daryl whispered, his lips brushing against her wet cheek. “Ain’t gotta worry, I got ya, girl.”

 

Beth relaxed in his arms, exhausted from her display of emotion, and comforted by his touch. She tilted her head up to kiss him softly, before tucking her head underneath his neck.

 

She knew it wasn’t over. There were more conversations to be had, and a long road to recovery that was almost too overwhelming to think about. But she was ready to face it as long as Daryl was by her side.