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Hair of the Dog That Bit You

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So, about the moonshine: turns out it didn’t strike Beth blind, only now she kind of wishes it had.

Her eyelids feel like they’ve been plastered shut with about five coatings of heavy-duty Gorilla Glue, and you know what? If she had the natural-born sense God gave one of Daryl’s poor dead squirrels, she’d take that as a sign to not pry them open, but no. No, evidently she doesn’t have that much sense, as illustrated by every single consciously made decision that led her to this moment, because then she grunts, stirs, and blinks herself awake.

That’s her first mistake.

“Jesus Christ Almighty,” Beth hisses, and she doesn’t make a habit out of taking the Lord’s name in vain, even when she’s got good reason to, but this isn’t blasphemy. This is her pleading with a higher power to rescue her from perdition, because surely that’s hellfire cutting into her retinas and setting her head ablaze.

Beth makes her second mistake when she screws her eyes shut and rolls over onto her belly with a squeal of rusty mattress springs. Shutting her eyes, that’s fine, that’s sweet relief, but moving? Turns out her stomach’s not on board with that, because now it’s rolling and pitching like a boat on a storm-tossed sea, and, Lord, she hasn’t felt this violently ill since the first time she got walker guts all down her front. She feels as if she swallowed a pound of rancid meat and chased it with a bottle of cooking grease. If she had a gun and functioning fine motor skills, she’d shoot herself in the damn head.

But then, over the ringing in her ears, she hears a mighty snore.

Oh.

Oh, right.

Maybe today won’t end bloody, after all.

Beth purses her lips and grits her teeth—the better to cage in her rising gorge—and with a great deal of effort, she whispers, “Daryl.”

There’s a too-long beat, and Beth’s working up the nerve to try again when a vague grunt drifts over to Beth from somewhere on her right. At least, she thinks it’s her on right. She’s kind of lost all sense of direction, and also, her eyes may be shut, but she can still feel the room spinning on its axis. That doesn’t matter, though. What matters is that Daryl isn’t getting up.

It aches something awful, but Beth manages to slide her leg forward a couple of inches and nudge her toes against what she thinks must be Daryl’s knee, if the rasp of frayed denim molded over knobbled bone is anything to go by. 

Daryl.” Beth sounds like she ate rusty nails for breakfast, and she’s not sure if she’s even speaking English. “Daryl, get up.”

Another beat, possibly longer than the first, although, again, Beth can’t be sure, because she’s lost all sense of linear time as well as direction. What she does know is that Daryl’s usually a faster riser than this—he has to be, because his life hinges on it—so either he’s screwing with her, or he’s in just as sorry a state as she is. Beth can’t decide which possibility is worse.

But then the mattress springs squeal like nails on a chalkboard—Beth nestles deeper into her flat, musty pillow with a quiet whimper—and Daryl rasps, “Whassa matter?”

Beth dares to crack one eye open. She must be facing away from the window now, because while the light’s still neon bright, it no longer makes her want to scream and gouge her eyes out of their sockets. Beth blinks, and the blurred lump lying beside her shifts and focuses into a vaguely Daryl-shaped burrito wrapped up in a brown comforter. He’s got the blankets drawn up around his nose, but Beth can see enough of his face to pick out the squinty blue eyes that’re glaring muzzily at her through a shaggy set of bangs.

It occurs to Beth that her toes are still resting on Daryl’s knee, and if she could move without hurting, she’d withdraw them from his personal space. As it is, she can’t be bothered, and she just barely has it in her to say, “I don’t feel so good.”

The squinty blue eyes blink, once, and then the brown blanket gets tugged down to reveal a mouth caught midway through a yawn. Daryl scrubs at his jaw, beard rasping against his palm, and grumbles, “Baby’s first hangover, huh?”

Beth would like to tell him to go to hell, but as he’s her only source of succor, she has no choice but to play nice.

(Well. Not her only source of succor, if she wants to get technical about it. There’s always suicide, which is frankly looking more attractive by the minute, but she can’t move on her own, and Daryl’s not nice enough to do her a favor and put her out of her misery.)

So she squeezes her eye shut—that helps a little—and whispers, “Please get me to somethin’ that passes for a toilet before I throw up on us both.”

“Think I ain't had worse?” Daryl asks, but the mattress jiggles—Beth whimpers again, curling up like a dead bug on her side and clutching her roiling stomach—and his feet hit the ground with a muffled thud. Huh. The floor in here must be carpeted. That probably isn’t important.

She hears Daryl circle to her side of the bed, and then his voice comes from directly above her like the voice of a thoroughly unimpressed God. “A’right, you damn lush. Up and at ’em.”

“Can’ move,” Beth slurs, consonants dripping like melted candy off her tongue, vowels blurring like smudged ink. “Y’got your crossbow nearby?”

“Yeah.” The “Fuckin’ duh” is unspoken by implied. “Why?”

“Was gonna ask you t’shoot me in the eye an’ put me outta my misery.”

“Don’t be such a pussy, Greene,” Daryl says, and then the warm, toasty comforter is ripped away from her without ceremony. Beth shivers and curls up into an even tighter ball, thighs rammed up against her stomach and palms pressed to her face, but Daryl’s got his hands tucked around her middle, and she knows it’s only gonna get worse from here. “C’mon, girl. Toilet’s right across the hall. S’only a couple'a steps.”

What feels like a couple of steps to him will surely feel like a thousand miles to her, but Beth uncurls from her cramped fetal position and allows Daryl to pull her upright and into the heat of his side. He wraps one of her noodly arms around his shoulders and tucks his arm around her waist, tugging her up and lifting her feet at least half an inch off the floor. Probably for the best. If Beth were left to her own devices right now, she’d faceplant into the ugly shag carpeting.  

Beth’s head flops limply against Daryl’s shoulder as they—well, he, since he’s doing most of the work, here—shuffle around the bed. “Wha’ ‘bout you?” she asks. She’s almost certainly drooling on him, but, hey, he said he’s had worse.

“What about me?” Daryl asks, blunt fingers digging into Beth’s flank as he adjusts her weight. Beth’s diaphragm heaves, and she’s not sure if it’s from the tickle or an aborted surge of vomit. Ulp.

“What about your hangover? It doesn’t seem as bad as mine.”

“Don’t get hangovers no more.”

That compels Beth to open her eyes, for all that doing so is a spectacularly bad idea in a freaking conga line of bad ideas. She squints at him through the searing morning light that’s streaming through the bare window and says, “Wait, for real?”

Daryl turns his head to look at her, oily bangs grazing her forehead. His eyes are bloodshot and rimmed with heavy black circles, but that’s standard. He really doesn’t look any worse than usual. What the hell?

“I get ’em sometimes.” The breath that fans across her face when he talks is sour, but hers is probably just as bad, if the taste fuzzing the inside of her mouth is any indication. “Takes more’n a couple jars’a shitty moonshine to do me in, though, I’ll tell you that. You’re a real fuckin’ lightweight, Greene.”

“Yeah, well, I am skinnier’n you,” Beth says, finding that the longer she keeps her eyes open, the less the light hurts. Maybe it’s all about building up a tolerance for it, although she wouldn’t say no to a nice pair of shades right about now. “And go easy on me, why don’t’cha? This is my first time.”

It occurs to her that that last sentence could be interpreted in any number of unfortunate ways, and that these interpretations would only be exacerbated by the fact that they woke up in the same bed after a night of heavy drinking and other questionable decisions, but Daryl, thank the good Lord, doesn’t even blink, and the blush that’s seared Beth’s cheeks cools faster than it came.  

“An’ your last, if I got anythin’ to say about it.” Daryl looks front again, the tip of his nose brushing Beth’s cheek as he turns his face away from hers. They’re halfway around the foot of the bed, and while this room’s small enough that that bed takes up a premium of floorspace, the door and its promise of a toilet to throw up into have never felt farther away. “Spent most of my life holdin’ Merle’s head outta toilets, an’ I ain’t about to waste what’s left of it doin’ more’a the same for your skinny lil’ ass.”

“Leave my ass out of it,” Beth says, petulant, still jittery from her unintentional innuendo. She’s got her eyes on her feet where they graze the carpet, not wanting to get them tangled and send them both bowling over, but she thinks she feels Daryl’s breath puff across her cheek, a hard exhale like one of his rare laughs. She looks up for a second, not at Daryl, but at the room around them. “Where’re we, anyway?”

The room’s small, like she said, and aside from the bed, there isn’t much to it. Plywood dresser shoved up against the wall by the door, some junk in the far corner, Daryl’s crossbow propped against his side of the bed. Walls painted a color that one might diplomatically describe as ‘puce’ are bare save for an analogue clock that doesn’t seem to be working. Beth guesses that she’s slept in worse places: compared to those storage lockers they stayed in during that winter on the run, this is a damn Hilton.

“Some double wide,” Daryl says, and they’re nearly at the door, just another couple steps. They’ve got this. She’s got this. “What, you don’t remember?”

Beth digs in with her toes and drags them to a halt, not because she’s not in a hurry anymore, but because she can’t walk and think at the same time, not when she feels like someone took a hacksaw to her frontal lobe. He’s asking her if she doesn’t remember coming across this trailer—that’s what he’s saying on the surface, but his voice is thick with subtext, and Beth figures that he’s actually asking her what else she might or mightn’t remember.

And she does remember. The gap between burning down the shack and finding shelter in this trailer is still kinda hazy, but everything that came before it—that, she remembers clear as Waterford crystal.

Beth bumps her hip against Daryl’s to indicate that she’s ready to get moving again.

“Nah,” she says. “I remember everythin’.” Daryl doesn’t reply, and she looks at him sidelong, mouth curling up into a smile that only twinges a little. “Don’t you worry none, Mr. Dixon. All your sordid secrets’re safe with me.” Safe as it gets, too, because who else is she gonna tell? It’s just them.

Them and this trailer and this freaking hangover.

“Sure,” Daryl snorts. They’re in the yardstick hallway now, and Beth can see the white rim of a toilet bowl through the open door across the way. “An’ I won’t turn your ass in for first degree arson.”

“Uh-uh. You’re implicated, too.” Beth hip checks him again, harder this time, although he probably barely feels it. “You were an accomplice. You were—you were an accessory—”

And either she’s been talking too much, or the movement of her hips sent of a kind of chain reaction through her body, because Beth’s words get choked off as her stomach heaves and her throat fills with an acidic surge that pours out of her mouth and all down her front.

“Well, shit,” says Daryl.

Beth blinks at the chunky brown soup clinging to her shirt and thighs and wonders if the mud snake Daryl fed her yesterday is somewhere in there.

“You good?” Daryl asks her, apparently unbothered by the sour smell drifting off of Beth and surely plugging up his nose, but, well. Like he said: he’s had worse. So has she, come to think of it.

“Uh,” Beth tries, then clamps her teeth shut and shakes her head once, slowly. No. No, she’s not good. She can feel more vomit blocking up her throat, burning and sour, and she chokes out, “Daryl—m’gonna—”

“C’mon, then. I got you, c’mon.” Daryl lifts her feet off the floor again, half carrying her the distance to the bathroom, where he sets her down on her knees and folds her torso over the toilet bowl. Someone was considerate enough to leave the lid open. That’s nice. There’s a black oval of grime level with the waterline, which isn’t so nice.

Beth takes one whiff of the smell coming out of that bowl, shudders, and hurls.

She doesn’t want to touch this toilet, she doesn’t, but she’s gotta hold onto something, so she does, snot and tears rising along with the puke. Her belly shouldn’t have much in it, but the vomit keeps coming anyway, squeezing itself out of her shuddering stomach in awful little rounds like bullets fired from a gun, and strings of bile are hanging off her lips, and it won’t stop.

She’s aware, distantly, of Daryl holding her hair with one hand and rubbing her back with the other. That’s very considerate of him. Beth should probably be embarrassed that he’s seeing her like this, but honestly, he’s seen her in sorrier states, and if it doesn’t bother him, it shouldn’t bother her.

He’s talking to her, too, so quietly that Beth thinks she might be imagining it. Real or imagined, it’s kind of nice.

“There y’go,” he’s saying, pressing his thick fingers against the knobs in her spine. “Jus’ let it out. You’re fine. I got you, girl, I got you.”

Eventually, it trickles off, and Beth presses her forehead to the cool porcelain seat for a second before deciding that she probably doesn’t want that thing touching her face and rearing back on her heels. Daryl scoots away from her, hands falling off of her to twitch in his lap, and Beth wipes the back of her wrist across her mouth as she looks at him.

Daryl leans forward to flush the toilet—it works—and his shoulder brushes hers for maybe half a second. He’s warm. His hands were warm, too.

“So,” Beth rasps. “That sucked.”

Daryl shrugs, picking absently at his cuticles. “Gonna suck for a while. Good news is, there prob’ly ain’t much left in your stomach to puke up.”

That’s the good news?” Beth asks, skeptical, and Daryl flashes her one of his there-and-gone smiles.

Beth stares at him for a second before mumbling, “Figures,” and when Daryl looks a question at her, she clarifies, “Gettin’ you to crack a smile’s like pulling teeth. It just figures that the only way I can get you to do it is by pukin' my damn brains out.”

Daryl frowns at her. “S’not like I enjoy watchin’ you puke or nothin’. It fuckin’ reeks, and I ain’t no sadist, neither.”

Beth eases onto her butt and pretzels her legs. Moving hurts but resting all her weight on her heels will hurt worse in the long run. Her feet knock against Daryl’s as she shifts, and he doesn’t retreat from the contact, an occurrence that’s about as rare as his smile. Guess arson really does bring folks together.

What was she saying? Oh, right.

“Then what’s so funny?” she asks, and Daryl shrugs again.

“Spent all day yesterday with a wild hair up your ass about gettin’ your hands on some booze. Didn’t even think on the morning after, didja?”

Beth twists her mouth to one side, thoughtful. “No, I did.” When Daryl gives her a look, she says, a little heatedly, “I did. I just didn’t care. Life’s short, you know?” Especially now. “Although I’ll admit that I wasn’t expectin’ it to feel this bad.” As if in agreement, her headache spikes, and she presses a clammy palm against her forehead with a moan that wouldn’t sound alien coming out of the mouth of a walker.

“Head hurts?” Daryl says, although it’s not really a question. More like he’s just confirming what he already knew, but Beth nods anyway. Except nodding makes the bones in her jaw grind painfully together like somebody shattered them with a mallet, so she stops that right away. “Alright. Hold up a sec.”

Beth’s got her eyes screwed shut and covered with her hand, but she hears Daryl shift and push to his feet. His boots thud across the chilly tile, and then Beth’s alone, although she can distantly hear the rattle of ceramics and the clink of glass. Then the boots return, and Beth drops her hand and peels her eyes open.

A foggy glass has appeared on the edge of the sink, and Daryl’s rattling through the medicine cabinet mounted above it. He pulls out a white plastic bottle and gives it a testing rattle, squinting at the label.

“Extra-strength Tylenol,” he says, showing it to her. “Four months expired, though. Y’wanna try it anyway?”

“Won’t hurt,” Beth says, although it actually might hurt to put anything in her sloshing stomach, even if it’s just water and some pills. “Help me up.” Daryl grabs her outstretched wrist and levers her to her feet, making her head spin. She braces both hands on the sink. Swallows. Looks at Daryl through the stringy strands of hair that’ve flopped out of her wilting ponytail.

He’s looking back at her intently, but he’s always looking at her intently, because that’s just how he is. Beth knows the weight of Daryl’s attention intimately now, has often felt it like a heavy palm on the nape of her neck. Usually it makes her itch like she’s just rolled around buck naked in poison oak, but right now, she’s got other concerns, like how she’s gonna go about her day fending off walkers when she can barely even see through the pain of her headache.

“Y’alright?” he asks, sounding like he already knows the answer, but also like he just might humor her attempt at a brave face.

“I’ve had worse,” Beth says, echoing him, and he twitches his head on his neck, not quite a nod, before twisting the faucet on. The water runs clear as it splashes into the grimy glass, and he hands her that along with twice the recommended amount of Tylenol like sheer numbers will make up for the four-month-old expiration date.

“This ain’t the only trailer in the area.” Daryl crosses his arms and leans himself against the whitewashed wall as Beth downs the pills and chases them with water before filling the glass again to rinse out her rancid mouth. “We’ll check out the rest of ’em later, see if they got anythin’ in their cabinets that’s stronger’n fuckin’ expired Tylenol.”

Beth swishes the water around in her mouth. Leans over the sink and spits it out. “Think I’ll need a new shirt, too.” It’s stuck to her skin, wet and nasty, and even if she washes it, she doesn’t think she’ll be able to get rid of the sour smell clinging to its fibers without soap. There’s soap in a dish on the sink, but it’s a thin, calcified husk. “And pants.”

“Yeah,” Daryl says, uncrossing his arms. “Best we get cleaned up. ’Specially you. You smell like a damn bar floor.”

“You would know,” Beth mutters, and Daryl lazily flips her off.