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In The Hearts Of Men, In The Arms Of Mothers

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It's early, another dawn breaks, as it usually does.  But she isn't warm, it's not comfortable.  The scratch of the blanket feels like needles on her skin and for the first time in a while, she wakes cold.  The bite of the air around her cell gives way to shivers which in turn makes the nausea worse and with one violent contraction, the congealed contents of her stomach emerges in the morning light.

Beth knows she can't keep doing this - meticulously cleaning the vomit, hiding her growing bump under layers of sweaters.  She'd have to tell them soon.  

It's now that she stands, slowly and methodically as always.  She's learned over the past weeks that the morning sickness comes with waves of dizziness.  So she's prepared, tilting like a newborn fawn before standing straight, swallowing past the razor blades in her throat and the sting of tears in her eyes as she makes to start her day. 

"We'll see him soon.."   One breath.  More of a sigh than words, a whisper of a promise that she had begged God not to break. 

And so the ritual begins; Smiling, babysitting, crying, watching, waiting. 

 


 A week passes.  She tries her best to block it out - the worried glances, the hushed conversations between Rick and her Daddy as they sit at dinner.   They're worried, it's been almost a month since that night.  

"Please. You don't have to go.."  It was selfish of her to demand that he stay.  She knew it was wrong, that the governor should pay for the things he did to Michonne and the rest of their family but right then, it didn't matter.

"Beth. I have to go, we'll be okay."

Her hand hovers in mid air as she looks up at Daryl one last time, searching his face for that look.  His eyes are soft but determined, full of reassurance and that something else.  She's sure he sees the fear and longing in her eyes and it makes her chest hurt; she has to fight with herself not to reach out and take his hand and wrap herself around him and convince him to stay.  But they both know time won't wait and they have to do this.  So she does what she can, the only thing she can think to do in their hidden corner of the library.  She smiles, and tries to communicate all of the things she feels in that one action;  Beth rubs a reassuring thumb over the back of his hand where it sits on the small rounding of her once flat stomach and tells him gently,  " See you soon."

"See you soon."  Those three words. The last words she said to him.  Not, "You'll be alright." Not, "I believe in you or "I'll be here." Not, "I'll miss you."  Not, "I love you.."  See you soon.  And she hates herself. 

Everyone else is gone now, it's just her and the birds singing and the low hum of the few walkers that crawled in overnight.  But despite the quiet calm of another morning she can't fight it, the insistent gnawing in the pit of her stomach; regret or anxiety, but she can't tell which.  Probably both.  She should get up, help the others in some way, cuddle Judith instead of absently watching her crawl about the little blanket.  But she's paralyzed, cold fingers of fear clutch at her chest as she sees it;

Michonne's stumbling, barely dragging herself toward the chain link, Beth can barely see her eyes through the blood she's caked in.  But it's Tyreese, she can hardly see his form and the blood masks most of his face but that's not what she cares about.  It makes her feel sick.  His form is hunched over, the hair that she'd tangled her fingers in clings to the blood that dribbles down his face and her heart stops in her chest as she watches his mangled forearm arm swing disturbingly. 

"Beth?"

She lets out a scream, it tears from her lungs and frightens the birds, but that's when it stops.   It always stops, but she can't get it out.  The image of his arm hanging off by a thread burns for a long time after..

"Bethy?!"

 Beth's breath catches.  

The sleep deprived vision has been repeating itself like some sort of sick mantra, these past few days.  The stab of agony as it replays over and over again is the only thing she can feel.  Now though,  she feels much of nothing. 

She looks up to see Maggie crouching in front of her, Judith wriggles in her arms flinging a fistful of grass over her knees.  She can feel Maggie's eyes on her.  Her heart is hammering but she can't tear her face away from the clearing. 

The air leaves her lungs in one short whoosh, for a long moment Beth can only stare at her sister finally registering that she's being spoken to.  She blinks, once, twice and a third until her sister's concerned frown registers properly.  Her eyes are warm and her cheeks are flushed, but the slight pinch in her sister's gaze makes her pay attention.

"Beth, you're scaring me what's the matter with you.." 

She's not okay.  She's panicking, nauseous and distracted but she plasters on a smile and tries to reassure Maggie as best she can, but the folded arms and familiar determined look in her sisters eyes tells her all she needs to know. 

"Maggie I..."

"I can hear you.  Walking around at night, you've got loud footsteps for a little person Bethy.." 

She doesn't know what to say, she can't say anything.  She's gazing into the face she once told everything to; the good, the bad and the ugly but now all she wants to do is run - grab her gun and run into the clearing after a ghost. 

"It's been hard, getting to sleep..because of the cold." she adds that fact quickly, how could she tell her the truth?  The fact that her and Daryl have been sleeping together.  But not just that, it's not just that.   They're in a relationship, she's pregnant and still can't bear to tell her own sister that sits with honest eyes in front of her.  She's got every opportunity, but she can't.. it's not right, it has to be them they agreed.

"We tell them together."  It's not another promise she's willing to break, not for her sister, not for anyone.  All she can do is wait.

"It's not the cold is it Beth?"

No.  It's not.

"They're not back.  Our family.."  She can't cry, otherwise she'll break the promise.  We don't get to be upset.

"They'll be back.  We have to be positive.." 

"Since when were you the negative Nelly Bethy?"

She doesn't reply, unable to take her eyes off her shoes as Maggie sits, drawing her knees up to her chest to keep warm.  Beth knows she's staring, not suspicious but not quite content to believe her either.   But that doesn't stop her taking Beth's hand, wrapping their fingers tightly together and taking comfort in the sombre silence of the approaching afternoon.   


 Time only stood still for Beth Green once before.  The day her Mother had taken her last breath, then reached out to take a chunk of flesh.  In that moment everything stopped.  The whole world ground to a halt, frozen and then shattered like glass.  All in an instant.  An endless fleeting second.  But this?  She can't speak.   She can't move.  She can't breathe. 

One hour earlier.

"Beth? OH my god Beth, are you okay?"

It's Maggie's voice, her lips that form her name in a gasp.  Suddenly she's being carefully lead to her bed, the dribble of vomit is wiped away and a glass of water is pressed to her drying lips.  All of a sudden she feels very light headed, the world a little off balance and the reality sets in.  Daryl should be doing this, she shouldn't be alone.  She not alone but it doesn't matter, she's alone because he's gone.  

"Sorry.  I must have the flu.."  she can barely speak, what she gets out is a croak and then Daddy's here, pushing the curtain to the side, hobbling the best he can to examine her.  She can't do this, they can't find out this way.

"I'm fine. Daddy please.."  she begins, but Hershel cuts her off.

"No, you're not fine," he insists. Hershel knows his daughter, she doesn't look the same and he almost uses the lords name in vain.  He hadn't noticed, he'd been so fretful over the apparent loss of their adopted family that he'd neglected his own child.  The cold hard fact that she'd been worrying herself to vomiting had just passed him by..

"Look at you."  Maggie snaps, tugging lightly on the shoulder of her top and she barely snatches it back in time to cover her stomach, but luckily they're not looking at her body.  She knows they're talking about the weight loss that worrying had caused her, the way her clothes hang off her frame slightly as if a size too big.  It can't be noticeable, no one had commented until now.  They're looking at her with hurting eyes and she can't meet their gaze, can't face the fear there; she bows her head focusing on her feet instead. 

"I need some air, but I'll be fine.  It's okay Daddy, Maggie.." 

She shuffles pointedly, standing as best she can to hug and kiss her Father and Sister and retreats to the yard, pretending not to hear them muttering as she leaves.

"Something's wrong.  She's not her, she hasn't been for a while Daddy.. she won't even talk to me.."

"She's strong, like her Mother, like you.  She'll talk when she's ready, give her time."

And just like that, the pain is back the agonising sting of regret and misplaced grief.  But hope isn't lost hope is living and breathing inside her belly, fluttering just enough to give Beth Greene the power to go on. 

Now

It's relatively peaceful when she hears it.  She's on her feet and running away from the benches in a matter of seconds, the conversation instantly forgotten.  Carol calls after her but it doesn't register, and in an instant she's running too.  The sound of boots hitting the stone, hard, echoes loudly off the prison walls but that doesn't register either.  Nor does the fact that she collides with several Woodbury transfers as she sprints.  She doesn't notice because she's seeing him, dark hair and tanned skin, she's running but she's still not there and it's taking too long and her lungs won't work and she can't breathe because she knows.

And then she is there, suddenly.  She's standing there and even though her heart thunders in her ears, the second she sees him everything stops.  The world collapses in on itself.  Nothing exists anymore.

Tyreese stands with Michonne at his side, inside the chain link. Blood splatters her face and his and everything is the same. 

She's been staring straight at him for what seems like minutes, every word spoken by the others having bounced harmlessly off her numb mind, but it's that thought that breaks her.  Makes it real. 

"Daryl.." It chokes out of her throat, strained and raspy and painful, like she's coughing up razor blades.  

"No, no.." 

The hard ground is freezing as she falls, but she's already cold, icy and trembling that she can't feel it.  But this, this is a different kind of cold.  The kind that starts inside, right in the centre of her being, and spreads like a slow burn to every single cell of her body.  For a moment she can only kneel there and cry.   The others stare wide eyed, even Maggie can do nothing but watch as she breaks, shattering like glass in front of them all. 

"Beth.."  It's Rick, he's just as broken as her but he lifts her easily but she's gone, nothing feels real even as the scene whirls around, even as Rick and Michonne implore that it's going to be okay, she's just gone. 

She can hear them, the voices; loud, angry, worried, distraught.  But she can't hear his, and as she wakes it starts all over again. 

They try to stop her getting up, there's a chorus of protests but she's strong, stronger than any of them expected and then she's there kneeling by his bedside.  Large purple bruises stain the skin of his neck.  Her hand is shaking violently as she reaches out to touch him - slowly, like she's afraid he'll suddenly jolt awake.  But in reality she's terrified that he won't.  She stops breathing when her hand makes the barest, briefest contact with his face.  But nothing.  Nothing.

He's so cold.

Her fingertips brush, gently over his cheekbone, down to his chin, cupping his bruised face in the palm of her hand and ghosting the pad of her thumb over his lips.  It's been a month since she's kissed them, right before he left her that day.

See you soon.

"Daryl.  Please..We promised we would tell them together.  You promised me!"

"You promised.."   

She doesn't realise she's crying until the first warm droplet of saltwater splashes onto her cheek. Another.  And another.  She swallows, hard, to try and dislodge the lump stuck in her throat as she moves, stretching forward to so gently press her head to his chest. He has to be there, somewhere.  He can't be gone, not this way, not like this. 

They were supposed to live. To thrive here.  They were supposed to be okay because it's safe here, they have family and each other.  They have a child.

"I can't do this alone.  She needs her Daddy Daryl.."  

 

Her eyes are red.  Her breathing slow.  She's not sure what's happened in the last, how long has it been?  Ten minutes?  An hour?  Either way, he's still not awake.  She's not even sure he's alive.

Then there's a hand, firm but gentle, on her aching shoulder.  The kind but unmistakably terse tones of Maggie's voice.  Maggie who didn't expect this, who watched in disbelief as her younger sister dropped in despair at the limp body of Daryl Dixon.  She didn't anticipate any of it.

"Come on now Bethy, let's get you some water.  Leave him to rest.."   It's enough to bring her round, temporarily back to the present.  The initial anger she felt evaporates.  The agony comes rushing back.  

"Oh sweetheart.." 

Maggie tries, honestly tries to hold it together for her sister.  She can't afford to go to pieces as well, not this time. 

 

Day One.

Beth lies on her bunk, staring but unseeing at the ceiling above. 

Daddy came in, sat, talked, cried but she didn't say anything.  She's numb.

 

Day Two.

They've been attempting to get her to eat, taking in turns to show up at her cell and try, really try to make her interested in the bowl of bland disgusting oats they bring her.  Once it was Maggie, who kept her composure as she took in her tired pale face, dark circles and red rimmed eyes and then burst into tears when Beth had refused to look at her and asked to be left alone.   She felt awful, she was hungry, the baby too but anything she ate came straight back up.  

 

The next time it's her Daddy, who reels off facts about Daryl's treatment how his forearm was mangled and how he's lucky to be.  Well, he stops there; he knows Daryl's not lucky, how he might not even gain full function in his forearm and he might never be the same.  He tries to broach the subject of the relationship she was hiding but stops dead as she glares tightly, turning over to face the wall.  He leaves.

 

But it's Rick, who finally gets her to speak.  He comes in and sets the bowl of whatever down on the floor and leans against the bed and doesn't hold back. 

"The baby needs food Beth. You need to eat."

It's a bucket of ice water.  A slap in the face.  It stings, it hurts like a bitch. But it wakes her up.

"How?"  She can't find the energy to be angry, just curious.

"He was worried.  He said if anything happened that I'd take care of you and the baby.." 

She can't breathe. 

"He loves you Beth.  He wouldn't want you to stay like this, it's bad for the baby and you.."

She swipes at her eyes, sits up and forces herself to breathe evenly. 

"He can tell me himself, when he wakes up."   The voice in her head's telling her she's crazy, how she's a moron for even believing it.  But she has too, because he promised. 

"Beth.." 

"No, Rick. No.  I told him, now I'm telling you; have a little faith. Just, go.."

Day Three.

The scream tore through her like a shard of glass.  The blood drained from her face.  When the scream came again, it wasn't like anything she'd heard before, it ripped through her brain like the bullet of a gun and before she could make a conscious decision her feet were slamming the cool concrete. 

 There were people;  Woodbury folk, Carl, Sasha, Michonne and they all wear the same look; pale and afraid.   Oh god, no. No.  She knows that face, someone died.  All the scenarios bombarded her in the moment.. what if he was a Walker.

 "You shouldn't be here." 

"Beth NO!" 

She was tired but quick and expertly twisted out of Rick's grip, tripping slightly to dim light of the cell. 

It took her breath away.

Daryl lay on the ground, his face closed in a grimace, his tan skin now pale and clammy.  Every few seconds he would scream, it was raw and consumed by a pain that knew no end or limit.  Then he was go quiet, just panting. 

Day Four.

Blue eyes are staring at her.  Red, sunken, exhausted blue eyes.

They're gazing out from a face that's startlingly thin and unnaturally pale.

If she saw that face and hollowed eyes on anyone else she'd pray, pray to god to give them the quickest, painless death he could.  But this was Daryl. 

They don't speak.  He's in and out of consciousness all day and she can't bear to be there when her Daddy comes and redresses his arm, leg and shoulder.  Even on the outside she can't escape it, the screams echo out the cracks in the window and bleed out into yard. 

"He'll be okay."  She doesn't have to look to know it's Carl, he's been attentive the past few days - checking up and holding her hand when things got really bad.  She makes a mental note to thank him after it's over. 

"I hope so.." 

Day Five.

Rick is worried about him, even more so since Hershel told him about the infection.  Beth had heard them whispering about it as she passed the dinner hall yesterday on her way to breakfast.  They want to give him something but naturally can't use it all and the risk of another run going bad is too much right now.  She resents them, resents them for not trying hard enough. 

They argue.  It's heated and ends in harsh words on both sides.  Her own Father and Sister can't look at her for hiding this, in their own way she knows they're blaming her.  For a minute she blames herself - if she pushed hard enough, if she told them they might have spared Daryl from going in the first place.  But it's selfish and mean, it would have happened to someone else even if he hadn't gone and after hearing the screams and seeing the white hot pain in Daryl's eyes, she wouldn't wish it on anyone. 

Day Six.

She's standing at the doorway when he sees her.  Just standing there, staring at him.  He can't see much but what he can see is good.  She looks healthier. 

He tries to speak just as she breaks the silence. 

"I thought you were..gone."  she murmurs, and Daryl knows god he knows.

"You promised me you'd come back.  You promised it'd be fine, but it's not. Look at you Daryl.."

He can't. He doesn't want another reminder that he failed. 

" Look at you!"  

Daryl can't bring himself to look anywhere but her, at his child growing inside of her because it's good.  It's the only reason why he's not broken, not crumbling under the pain and guilt.

"You're broken.  You went because you thought you had to fight for me and you didn't!  I needed you here... I needed you.."  She's crying, barely able to see him, she's numb.

"I'm not broken.  Beth, I have you.  Just come here..please."

She goes, of course she does because she loves him and their child. 

She hopes in that moment, that everything will be okay again.

Day Seven.

You don't get to be upset, she tells herself, unwilling to break the strangely comforting silence blanketing them.  Be grateful.  Be grateful that you are alive, that he's alive.

It's been seven days.  Seven days since she dropped to her knees in utter despair and hopelessness. Seven days since Maggie and her Father absorbed the fact she'd be hiding a relationship for half the year.  Seven days since the worst day of her life.

But on day eight, it starts to change. 

 

He speaks then, roughly and slowly.  It's like trying to breathe with lung full of sawdust, each word is a colossal effort.  But there's food in his stomach, the pain is dulled and it's time to sit up.

"Beth.."  it's weak, but it's there.  He's hurting, he knows she can see it in his eyes, he can see it in hers too. 

"It's okay, Daryl..it's okay."  She answers as she forces a smile, that uncomfortable fear still crawling about inside her.  "I'm here."  She slips her arms up and pulls him close, as close as she can with the growing bump that pushes between them.  His breath hitches as she helps him to his feet and she knows he can feel it.   A few seconds of silence pass between them, realisation is starting to set in as he takes in the shuddery breathing in his ear, the solid reality of her body against his own.

"Come on then, let's get you walking.." 

It's painful.  He grits his teeth so hard the headache that follows is almost blinding.  The mending ribs burn and he can barely see Beth out of one eye but she's there, holding his hands, careful of his injured arm, coaching him through the pain and telling him that they need him - both of them need him to be strong and get through this. 

By the time he reaches the other side of the room they're both crying.

"Beth.." he murmurs feebly, reverently, as if uttering something scared and secret. "Beth.."  He can feel her heartbeat against his chest, strong and fast and undeniable even through his shirt and her layer of sweaters.  She smiles genuinely against his neck, the love she feels for the both of them rushes over her as they stand embracing each other.  

"I love you.." 

"We're gonna do this," she breathes, pulling back so she can look at him.  Daryl returns her smile, perhaps a little weakly, but it's there.  Loosening his grips on her waist, he goes on.  "So. When do we tell them?  You can't hide it forever sweetheart.."  But Beth shakes her head, and replies,

"Not yet."  She stops him with a finger to his lips "You need to go lie down before you fall down," She tells him firmly, "I can't tell them if I'm worrying about you."  Her eyes flicker softly over his face, ice blue depths taking in all the damage the past seven days have done to him.  "You saved me once before,"  she smiles, leading him to lay on the uncomfortable bed.  She lays with him and with gentle fingers, she pushes back a stray piece of hair from his forehead. 

"I'm going to save you now."

 

Midnight.  Chills and a fever.   In the first instant she thinks it's punishment, payment for having a baby in this hell. 

"Daryl!"

"Beth.." he breathes, sitting up hurriedly.  "What's wrong, what's -"

"I don't know, I don't feel well..Daryl."

He ignores the pain, the burning and breathlessness as he carries her limp and sweating in his arms. He strides straight into Hershel's cell with no preamble, the blood is thrumming in his ears. Deep in the dark recesses of his heart his fights to suppress the kind of fear he hasn't felt since the night he looked up into the Governors eyes from the ground, unable to do anything as he was beaten to a pulp.   It was only blind luck that Michonne's sword caught him as he tried to flee.  And how were they being repaid, the person he loved lay on a bed shaking  and crying.  This was not how it was supposed to go.

"Beth calm down, what's wrong. Tell me.." 

Daryl watches as Hershel fusses, trying desperately to calm her down but her eyes are all for him burning  with pain and cold fear.  It was time.  But it wasn't, none of them imagined it this way.

Hershel wasn't supposed to be examining her and Maggie wasn't supposed to be running around them in her pyjamas panicked and completely beside herself.

"What's wrong with her?!"  Maggie's panicking but Daryl's frozen

"Daryl, son did she throw up any blood, Daryl?"  Hershel's tone is clipped, in spite of it all Daryl can't disregard the irritation, the concern that his young daughter's sleeping in the same bed as a Dixon.  He can't ignore the burning from Maggie's eyes in the back of his skull and right then he knows it's not the time.  But he doesn't have a choice, if it's the health of his girl over the joy of the intimate moment that could be, he'd choose her health.  Every time.

"Daryl, what the hell is wrong with her!"   

The words get caught in his throat, jumbled and it comes out as a choke and he can only bow his head in painful submission. 

"I'm pregnant.."  the voice is barely there, but everyone stops.

For a long, long second they don't move. Can't move.  They just stare at the girl in the bed.  Then the breath leaves their lungs in a sharp, hot burst and the scene moves again. Hershel is slower but still efficient, but it's Maggie who burns holes in his face with her eyes.

"I didn't know.  She's my sister and...I, I didn't know."  Maggie's chest aches and burns and her eyes are starting to sting with tears. 

"She's pregnant.  She was watching those gates for weeks, out in cold and she wasn't eating!"

Daryl's helpless, standing in the middle of the cell watching the oldest Greene pace back and forth, ignoring her Fathers pleas to stop and help relax her that it's nothing to worry about, it's just a panic attack.  Then it falls away, the tightness in his chest releases as she sees Beth shuffle to sit against the broken bed - staring through her father and sister right to him again.

"Daryl.." 

He responds urgently, coming to sit beside her holding her hand as best he can.

"I'm sorry Daddy.  I wanted to wait to tell you both, I wanted it to be special." She can't carry on, the tickle of tears grips tight and she fixes Daryl with a pleading look. 

"Hershel.  We wanted to make this special. I'm so sorry you had to find out this way.." 

Something of almost awe threatens to flutter up and out of Hershel  as light as a breeze.

 "You kept this a secret.  I deserve more than that as your Father Beth."  He says firmly

"Daddy ple---" 

"But Bethy, I don't care about that."  he says, putting both of them on edge and she grips his hand harder. 

"I wasn't thrilled. Hearing that my daughter, my youngest daughter is..Well, I don't like to think about that.  But seeing my Daughter, crumble to the floor like that is not something that I will ever forget."

"But it doesn't matter, I just want you safe and alive."  He folds his arms across his chest and does something neither of them expect;  He smiles.

"Both of you." 

 


 

Beth wants to swear out loud.  Daryl clenches his jaw, darts the tip of his tongue out to wet his bottom lip as nails curl into his chest.  He'd be lying if they weren't being risky - the prison had just settled for the night and just like last time Beth had panted that Daddy's just down the cell block. 

But this time is different, just off to the side lay the reason he fought so hard to recover.  The reason he wiggled his fingers when asked, despite the agony.  The reason that just like that, the pain stopped, the agonising sting became numbed as the piercing cries of their little girl broke the silence of Cell block C. 

That was the moment it was all worth it, the moment Daryl knew hope wasn't lost - it was breathing and warm against the woman he loved. 

Their Hope would always give them the power to go on.

Through everything.  Always.