It's been a revelation, since the shack, what she and Daryl can be. For one, Beth never knew a man like Daryl Dixon could be so damn friendly. Never knew a man like Daryl Dixon period, really—not the man he looks like and not the man he is. The first, because Beth grew up as the baby in a family with more grief than most; home by eleven and car keys in hand were stern orders in the Greene household, not to be taken lightly, and certainly not abandoned around men with leather jackets and smoky breath. Even then, she knew it was wrong to judge an entire character by the way they held their head; but just as now she knows to aim for the eye socket and be quick on her feet, back then those were the rules of survival. How to keep from becoming one of those dead girls on the news—angels in graduation pictures or sluts in mini-skirts, depending on the manner of their deaths.
Then as now, Beth isn't going to be another dead girl.
Of course, Daryl is Daryl, king of mood swings and judgmental glares, and Beth should have known that his friendliness couldn't hold out for long.
“Have you listened to a single word I've been sayin'?”
“I missed a squirrel on my second day, Daryl, you think you can cut me some slack?”
“You missed cause you're choking up on that bow, just like I told ya not to do.”
Beth stops in her tracks from where she's been trailing behind a simmering Daryl. The day before he'd been sweet as pie, shooting her little smiles over his shoulder and indulging her in idle chat—but today he woke up in a damn sour mood that doesn't seem to be getting much better.
He's in such a tizzy he doesn't even notice she isn't following for a few dozen more steps.
“The hell you doing back there for? Ya wanna eat tonight or not?”
Beth swings the bow onto her back (not toppling under its weight, that would be just what he wants, the bastard), crosses her arms and glares.
“I ain't moving until you start talkin' nicer to me, mister.”
Daryl stares at her, mouth hanging open. “You serious? We're in the middle of walker infested woods—“
“We haven't seen a single walker today.”
“—running for our damn lives from whatever the hell death is comin' for us next, and you want me nicer?”
“I would appreciate it, yes.”
She hears him mutter something akin to, “Damn woman,” before stomping towards her and holding out his hand. “Gimme the bow.”
“No,” she says, raising her head primly.
His glower darkens and he takes a menacing step forward. Beth's chin goes higher.
“Give. Me. The bow.”
“Thought you wanted me to learn.”
“Y'ain't gonna learn you keep acting like a spoiled brat!”
“Takes one to know one.”
Daryl throws his hands up in the air. “Elizabeth—“ He freezes, frowns, brings his arms down. “What's your full name anyway?”
Beth blinks at him. “Are you kidding me?”
Daryl stands there, clenching and unclenching his jaw. “Just tell me your name so I can yell at you.”
Beth rolls her eyes and steps past him, shaking her head. “Good lord, Dixon, grow a pair.”
When she doesn't hear his footsteps behind her, she's worried for a moment that she's broken him. There's something oddly triumphant in that idea—Daryl Dixon being broken by little old her.
It isn't long, of course, before she hears the soft tread of his boots in the woods behind her. She isn't surprised. After the country club, after the moonshine, after the shack—she's getting the sense he'll follow her anywhere.
Some time before nightfall, they find an abandoned tractor trailer on the side of the road. A skylight's open in the compartment, and once they clear the floor of debris Daryl deems it safe enough to build a fire inside. They spend some time gathering firewood and Beth sits alone getting the tinder going as Daryl looks for the meat she never was quite able to catch. She understands his frustration now, if grudgingly. This isn't like what it would have been at the prison—she isn't learning the bow on the fly and then going back to the kitchen for prepared cutlets. She didn’t learn fast enough, and now they might not have dinner. She feels the failure deep in her gut, like a weed taken root—but as the tinder lights and a triumphant curl of smoke rises towards the sky, she decides not to let it bother her. Daryl's own guilt, however lightened at the moment, weighs heavy enough on both of them.
She reaches for her knife automatically when the door rattles open, relaxing when she sees Daryl's familiar shaggy head. She full out grins when she spots the fat rabbit strapped to his belt.
“Guess it's a good thing I gave the bow back, huh?”
He shrugs, throwing the rabbit down and collapsing with a grunt. “You were doing fine. Would'a done better, I hadn't yelled at ya.”
Beth raises her eyebrows. “You apologizing to me, Dixon?”
He grunts, but can't quite hide the way his mouth curls.
After double checking their firewood for the night, he lets her watch as he skins the rabbit, points out where to cut and with what pressure, even slices off a bit of the liver to try raw. It's sweet and kind of chewy and Beth can't help but think back to the year she went to Sandra Goldman's for Passover and gagged over the chopped liver. The whole event had put Beth's mama in a tizzy—she'd spent an entire afternoon researching what Beth was supposed to wear and what kind of food it was safe to send her with. It turned out Sandra's family hardly even kept kosher—but that evening Beth spent with her mama, covered in flour, trying to make a seven layer cake, was one of the best she's ever had.
“What're you grinning about?” Daryl asks. He's coated in blood up to the elbow, a slash of it across his cheekbone from when he'd wiped his face.
Beth shakes her head, still smiling. “Just imagining what my mama'd say, she saw your table manners.”
Daryl smirks and tugs hard on the knife, resulting in an obscene ripping sound. Beth wrinkles her nose. “Whatever manners I learned weren't from my mama, that's for sure.”
Beth wipes her hands on her pants and tucks her knees under her chin, watching Daryl work with sleepy eyes. Watches the sure way his hands move, even when he turns away to glance at her. Watches how his eyes glint and spark in the firelight as they settle on her with a warmth like stretched taffy, fill her with a sense of lightness she hasn't felt in months.
“My mama would have liked you,” Beth says.
Daryl glances at her, long and searching, like he’s remembering what she remembers.
Daryl’s smoking shotgun. Her mama’s exploding head. The calm way he reloaded, kept firing, while Beth’s world was torn apart.
Her smile lets the moment drift through the air between them, light as the ghosts it hails from.
“Even though I called you a brat?” Daryl asks, a little hoarsely.
“You ready to take it back?”
“You deserved it.”
“That what you'd tell my mama?”
“No,” Daryl says. It's hard to tell in the growing shadows, and his head is ducked, but she thinks she sees a flash of teeth in his smile. “I'd tell her Miss Elizabeth's a right sweet young lady.”
“It ain't Elizabeth,” Beth says, burrowing her face against the cooling material of her jeans.
“That rabbit done yet?”
It's full dark outside by the time the meat's been cooked and eaten. Everything inside the trailer is doused in the orange and black of fire and shadow. Beth's curled up in her sleeping bag, lying on her side and watching through half-lidded eyes as Daryl adds wood to the fire. She's surprised by how close he sits, when he finally settles: Against the wall with his legs over hers, the back of her thighs pressed against his. It sends tingles up and down her spine, this closeness, the casual way he's draped himself over her; but she welcomes the sweet solid presence of him, on this cold night.
“I'm named after my mama, you know.”
“Thought her name was Annette.”
“It was.” Beth scooches backwards a little, hoping he feels it only as a shifting of weight, wanting more of the comforting warmth of him against her. “Ann. I'm Bethany Ann.”
“Huh,” he says. Beth sniffs, and he tenses. She closes her eyes tight.
“I don't blame you, you know,” Beth says quietly. She can't see his face from where she's lying, but Beth feels the weight of his regard shift, land on her like a cat in her lap. “For shooting her. You were doing what needed doing. Protecting us.”
“Wouldn't'a done it, I knew who she was.”
Beth snorts. “Yes you would've.”
Daryl shifts against her. “Would'a done it differently, then. Made sure you weren't lookin' or something.”
“You didn't even know me.”
“Yeah, well...” She feels something brush against her back, almost like a hand. “Whole thing was fucked, anyway.”
“I miss her,” Beth says quietly.
“I know.” That's definitely a hand there, settling on her hip, rubbing through the blankets. “Go to sleep, Bethany Ann.”