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Title: Fall Right In
Author: Abelina/Abby/Abelinajt
Fandom/Pairing: The Walking Dead
, Beth Greene/Daryl Dixon (Bethyl)
Setting: Season 4, Alone-divergence (canon-compliant until ‘oh’)
Warnings: Potential trigger warning for "breakdown". Graphic walker gore.
Rating: Eventual M
Summary: If Beth hadn’t interrupted him when she did, calling him back with the melody of her voice, he might’ve done something dumb like opening the door for a doomed dog and maybe dooming them both while he was at it. Beth and Daryl escape the funeral home together.  An Alone-divergence story.
Notes: Chapter title taken from lyrics to Falling Away from Me by Korn.
All chapters here.


Fall Right In
Chapter 3 - Beating Me Down, Down, Into the Ground


*~*
The stain wouldn’t wipe away.  Beth was sure it had been there, right after it happened.  It had to have been, but everything had rushed by on fast-forward, a blur of motion, of running, of piling into that car and speeding away.  And when the dreams came she didn’t notice either, never got the chance.  Every time it happened, every time she pulled the trigger, it was Daryl who fell dead behind her, or Maggie.  It was Carl or Judith, Rick or Glenn.  Carol.  One of the kids or all of them at once. Sometimes, she missed and shot herself, and other times, when she turned around, the smoking gun still clutched in her blood-soaked hand, her father lay on the ground at her feet, a bullet wound gaping in his forehead.

Waking from that wasn’t like waking at all, even at first when Daryl’s voice dragged her back before she slipped away again.  She felt the ache in her legs like a distant memory, and the hours and miles and cooking fires passed her by like the flight of a raven, its wings stirring the air overhead without touching her at all.  In hindsight she recalled the mist, the gloomy gray surrounding her both inside and out until she blended right in.

She’d smelled it then, the only tangible thing in all that gray.  Not black and rotted like a walker’s, but fresh and red and hot, like life, mixed in with the scent of gunpowder, the mustiness of wool, the spicy whiff of hair gel and cologne.  It tickled, at first.  Teased her with its persistence until it pooled in her throat, thick and choking, before the fog caught her up again in its chilly embrace.

The fog was safety, and Beth retreated into it like the slip of a knife through rotten bone, until she forgot the stain was ever there.

Not until she was dreaming again, until she’d shot Daryl dead right before he woke her up for watch, did she remember.  It was all she could smell as she sat there against the rough tree trunk, listening for walkers in the dark, hearing the flow of the water below and Daryl’s quiet breaths beside her.  The scent of copper filled her head, wet and hot and thick enough to drown in.  She couldn’t see it, in the dark, the stain, but when she tried wiping it away it coated her hands, growing larger, wetter, darker red with every swipe.

She didn’t remember going to the creek.  Only noticed when she snapped awake to the sound of Daryl’s voice.

Daryl.  Daryl whose blood soaked her hands, her sweater.

No.  No that was Daddy’s blood.

Or—no.  Not theirs.  Gorman’s.

The man she killed.

She had drifted away again, because now she was back at the camp and there was a fire, and in her hands a warm metal can.  Beth blinked and looked down at the warm water gently sloshing around inside and took a drink, spilling some down her chin when her hands shook.  But the warmth of the can soon soaked in and she clutched it tighter, fingers aching as they thawed.  Slowly, Beth drank every last drop of the slightly beany-tasting water until she grew warm from the inside, too.

Daryl watched her from the other side of the fire, though she didn’t notice until she set the water can aside.  He leaned against his tree, knees drawn up with arms resting on top, hands dangling between them holding his knife.  From beneath too-long strands of greasy hair he stared, doing that chewing thing he did with his mouth.  Beth wanted to look away, and she tried once, but something about his gaze kept her reeled in, focused on those sharp slivers of blue.

After a long time, minutes or maybe hours, Daryl pushed up from the ground to approach. Though he wasn’t looking at her now, Beth found she still couldn’t look away and she followed his movements as he pulled another can off the fire and wrapped his old red rag around it before handing it to her.

“Eat,” he said, retreating back to his tree.

The Washington, D.C. spoon had found its way into the can somewhere along the way.  The beans were mushy and tasted of nothing, but they were hot, and each slow spoonful she swallowed eased away a bit more of the cold inside.

Rustling plastic drew her eyes back across the fire, back to Daryl, whose fingers tore into a package of trail mix while he watched her with those piercing eyes.  Something vaguely familiar fluttered in her belly, like wispy butterfly wings, but she couldn’t remember, couldn’t quite understand why it made her cheeks feel warm.  And Daryl was still staring at her, and she didn’t understand that, either.

A long while later, or maybe just a little, Daryl crunched an almond in his teeth, and said, in that low, that quiet way of his, “Why, Beth?”

“Wh—hmm.” Beth tried to speak, but her voice wouldn’t work right away and she had to clear her throat before trying again.  “Why what?”

Some little part of her wondered why her voice sounded so flat, and why they were out here in the woods, and how they’d gotten here in the first place, why her fingers felt so stiff and sore—

The fire crackled and a spark shot up into the air.  Beth watched it float to the ground, where it smouldered a moment amidst the fallen pine needles before dying in a wisp of smoke.  There was something she should be remembering, but like the spark, the thought disappeared before she could catch it.  Must not really matter, then, or else maybe she’d remember it later...

“Beth.”

Daryl’s voice was louder this time, a little growly.  She snapped her eyes away from the crackling flames to look up at him where he watched her from across the clearing, lips drawn into a tight line, brow furrowed like he was looking for something he couldn’t quite find.

“Hmm?”

He didn’t answer, just kept looking at her like that, like something wasn’t right, but Beth didn’t know why.  Except—something prickly passed over her shoulders, a shiver she couldn’t explain, and the scent of copper swelled around her.  She coughed, gagging on the fumes, but it wasn’t copper—no, no, too foul, too rotten for that—

“Shit—Beth!”

Daryl jumped up as the walkers stumbled in behind her.  Beth leapt to her feet, ignoring the jolt of pain in her injured ankle and narrowly avoiding stepping in the fire.  The first walker fell to Daryl’s crossbow, its remains landing in the fire, and the second stumbled over it, falling forward, clawing hands reaching out to grab her but Beth got a handful of its hair and rammed her knife through its skull.  She pulled it free with a wet squelch of black filth and darted back, squared her good leg and kicked out with the other, cracking the wobbling knee of the next walker in line.  The impact sent pain zinging from her heel to her calf, but the walker went down, like she meant it to and she stabbed it quick and readied herself for the next.

It used to be a man, this one.  Big and dark haired with loops of intestines hanging out of a gash in his bloated belly, trailing on the ground as it charged at her with the enraged stagger that shouldn’t have worked but always did, and Beth missed his knee with her kick, striking his thigh instead.  Her ankle vibrated with pain against unyielding bone and she fell back, vaguely registering Daryl’s shout before the walker was on her, teeth snapping, fingers like claws pulling at her jacket.  She got her elbow up under his chin, but he was big and heavy, strong and raging with mindless hunger, and her arm shook from the strain as his rancid breath and deadly teeth inched closer, closer.

And then she was falling, sliding, head first in an avalanche of dirt and stones and walker guts.  The motion threw the walker forward and they came to a stop with her face buried in putrid bowel.  She heard the smack of its head on rock except it wasn’t enough, it was still moving, wheezy snarls and clacking teeth as it struggled to right itself, to come at her again. Beth pushed and pushed, holding her breath against the stink and the filth, and somehow with the walker’s struggles and her own, she pushed him off, rose to her knees, and imbedded her knife into its brain.

The world tilted and spun around, and Beth pulled the knife out and rammed it in again.  And again.  And again.  Her vision blurred and narrowed and each stab of her knife splattered the air with thick, red blood.  Her chest burned but she couldn’t breathe, couldn’t inhale past the sickly-sweet clot caught in her throat.  He couldn’t do this.  Don’t make her do this.  Don’t.  Don’t.  Don’t. No.

Somewhere far away, a creature howled, and the air grew so thick with blood that it turned black as night before falling away altogether.

Then there was nothing, just weightlessness.  Emptiness devoid of sound, of touch, of anything but black.

Until a flash of colour, of warm yellow and cool blue and shady green whirled around her, and Beth sucked in a deep, shaking breath, and two strong arms pulled her back against a warm body and a beating heart.  She coughed and choked and threw up and breathed again, and the faraway creature wasn’t far away at all, it was her, and the howl, the cry, the mournful sound unlike anything she’d ever made in her life, burst out from her chest and into the morning sun.  Daryl spoke into her ear but she couldn’t hear the words, could only feel the rumble of his voice, warm, deep, soothing, as everything came pouring out right there on the rocky bank of the swift little stream at the bottom of the clearing now full of dead walkers.

And she’d killed a man.  She, Beth Greene, had pulled the trigger and shot a man dead.  Not these parodies of men who rose from the dead to consume the living, but an honest to God live breathing human being like the one holding her so tightly against him now.

No.  No not like that.  Nothing like Daryl.

The fog in her ears cleared and she could almost hear him now.  The whisper of her name, over and over.  Something else she couldn’t decipher, something warm and kind that she didn’t deserve.  But he offered, and she took it.  Beth Greene the murderer.  She curled against him, folded herself into Daryl’s arms until she felt the pounding of his heart against her cheek, heard its frantic beating in her ear, and she cried.

Cried so hard she thought her head might split open or her chest might explode.  Cried until she ran out of tears and until her whole body felt so hot and tight she couldn’t stand being in her skin.  Cried until she couldn’t cry anymore, then shut her eyes against the world and tried her hardest to just breathe without falling into the blackness again.  Daryl anchored her, kept her there.  She didn’t know why he grabbed her like he had and why he held her still, but she was grateful.  Grateful even if she didn’t deserve it.

Sleep tried its hardest to lure her in, and she nearly succumbed, with the rhythm of Daryl’s heartbeat in her ears and the rise and fall of his chest beneath her cheek.  But then he spoke, the first purposeful word either of them had said in what felt like years, pulling her back from the brink.  She blinked her eyes open, saw the sunlight glittering in the water of the stream rushing by, and saw the rocks around her stained black with the walker’s blood.

“Beth,” he said, touching the side of his face to her forehead.  “We can’t stay here.”

She hated the way her body shook when she breathed, but she inhaled deeply anyway.  “I know.  I—”

“Shh.” He said, stopping her from speaking and in that moment, she was grateful. “We gotta go.”

The memory of the other time he spoke those words to her flared in her mind, and she knew he meant it.  Not to shut her up but because it wasn’t safe, out here in the open where any walkers prowling the woods would’ve heard her cries.  Slowly, carefully, she extracted herself from his arms and stood on shaking legs that felt as though she hadn’t used them in years.  Her ankle hurt worse than when she’d first injured it, but it bore her weight and that was about as much as she could hope for.  Daryl’s hand fell away from where it hovered at her shoulder and she dared meet his eyes for the first time since she’d woken up from the daze she’d been under.

Beth couldn’t quite read what she saw there, but it wasn’t what she expected. He held the contact for a moment before giving a little nod, then he climbed back up the bank to gather their things.  Beth went to the stream clean her knife, to wash her face and rinse her hands.  The walker blood came off, and though she no longer saw the red stain beneath it and knew it had never truly been there, the truth of it sat like a yoke across her shoulders, heavy and rigid.  Unyielding.

She killed somebody, and now she had to live with that while the man called Gorman lay dead on the grass amongst the walkers and the headstones.

Daryl returned, handing her the leather pack while he shouldered the canvas one he’d found in the police car.  They picked their way slowly along the stream for a time, the sun warm on their backs, until he found them a place to cross with a way up the opposite bank.  Where the day before stayed cool and grey, a consistent, miserable reminder of the changing seasons, now the sun shone bright and hot overhead in a clear blue sky, like Mother Nature trying her hardest to cling to the dying summer.  They pressed on through the day and the heat, moving as fast as Beth’s ankle would allow.

Daryl spoke to her now and then, usually with questions or statements requiring an answer. And she was grateful, really, that he wanted to make sure she was still there with him and not slipping back to that place, that numbness of before.  She wouldn’t, she knew that but Daryl didn’t, and with everything churning inside her so violently right then, Daryl made a welcomed distraction. It wasn’t lost on her that they’d switched roles somehow and she wondered what it meant, that he would even consider doing that for her instead of getting angry, or just being his usual quiet self. Mostly though, when she wasn’t answering Daryl, Beth kept busy just trying to walk and breathe and hoping to God she didn’t cry or throw up or her ankle didn’t give out.

She stumbled over a tree root, half hidden in the leaves and debris on the ground, and Daryl caught her, reaching to hold onto her arm with one hand while the other landed low on her back, beneath the backpack.  Beth looked up at him in thanks and found his face very close to hers, something simmering in his eyes she couldn’t quite name. Concern, yes, more than her stumble had caused but that didn’t surprise her.  But something else, too, something that tugged at her memory of a candlelit kitchen and tried its best to pierce through the storm raging inside her, leaving behind a little curl of warmth in her belly.

Still looking at her like that, Daryl said, “Gotta find somewhere to stay a few days. Get your ankle rested up.”

Beth knew he wanted a response, wanted assurance that she was there and that a simple nod wouldn’t suffice. “Maybe a cabin or something. If we find a good one.”

“Mm.” He was nodding now and broke eye contact to scan the woods around them.  “We should keep movin’. You good?”

Beth knew her breath sounded shaky, and from the way Daryl clenched his fingers into a loose fist against her back, he hadn’t missed it either. “Yeah, I’m good.”

It was a lie. They both knew it, but Daryl looked back at her with those simmering eyes, so blue with the sunlight caught in them, chewed his lip like he did sometimes when he was considering something, and gave a quick little nod that meant he’d accept it now so they could move on.

By the time the heat of the afternoon faded to the chill of the evening, they hadn’t come across anything man-made, aside from one pile of rotten wood and rusty nails that hadn’t been habitable in decades. Beth knew she was slowing down, though the sharp pains had faded to a constant, deep ache which was better for walking but no less uncomfortable and no less draining—and she felt drained enough already.  Ever the observant one, Daryl stopped at the next suitable clearing they came to, slipping the canvas pack off his shoulders and dropping it to the ground.

“Here’s good.”

Beth followed the path of his gaze around the clearing, ringed on all sides by large bole hemlocks.  She dropped her pack beside his, then carefully eased down to her knees to dig a little fire pit, feeling Daryl’s eyes on her back as she dug.  But she didn’t look up, knowing he would want to tell her to stop, to just rest today and let him set up. Without having to focus on taking each careful step, Beth needed her hands busy, needed to do something until darkness fell and she wouldn’t have to worry about keeping her emotions off her face.

He didn’t say it, though. Just went about collecting sticks for them to burn before setting up what he could for alarms. Beth got the fire going and sat back against a tree, propping her aching ankle on top of her other leg.  She pulled out her knife to pry open their last can of beans and looked up as Daryl emerged into the clearing.  He paused a moment before easing down beside her, legs stretched out alongside hers.  While she worked on the lid, Daryl rummaged through their packs for their only spoon, the jar of pig’s feet, and a little bag each of crackers.

The sight of the pig’s feet nearly brought a smile to her face. How something so hideous looking could ever have been considered food before the world ended was beyond Beth’s comprehension. Still, Daryl liked them, and when she looked up from the jar she found him already looking at her, lips pulled at the corners in what amounted to a smile.

He didn’t say anything, just raised his eyebrow and held up the Washington, D.C. spoon for her, then opened the jar and popped one into his mouth, chewing noisily on purpose. They ate mostly in silence aside from that, passing the can of beans back and forth between them after warming it on the fire, nibbling the stale crackers when the other one had the can, and in Daryl’s case indulging in the pig’s feet.

Beth’s thoughts wandered, as she knew they would once they stopped walking.  Everything happened so fast, when she tried to remember it, whipping through her head at double speed. She remembered the rush after taking down those walkers, the excitement and the fiery look in Daryl’s eyes from across the yard. Then it ended in a flash when Gorman grabbed her from behind out of nowhere. A walker, she’d thought, calling out to Daryl, but then came the warm hand and the cold gun, and her veins filled with ice, and—so fast, it happened so fast, and she felt the adrenaline burn through her again now as the whole sequence of events looped over and over inside her head. Daryl’s demands.  Cold laughter and groping fingers. The look in Daryl’s eyes when she pulled her gun and then—

“Beth.”

Daryl bumped her shoulder with his, jarring her out of the memory and back to the darkening clearing in the middle of the woods.  He was looking at her again as he had before the walkers, when she’d been somewhere else, but she remembered the look, the deep worry in his eyes. It worried Beth, too, that she had almost gotten caught up again, and with her heart still pounding, she took in a shaking breath and looked back at the man beside her.

Daryl wasn’t just some person she knew, he was family, and with the world the way it was now family was everything. They’d been on their own for weeks now and she knew they’d become something like friends, but more than that, they had each other’s back. Daryl knew what she’d done. He watched it happen and he was still here beside her.   Her father always said the only way to get something off your mind was to tell someone else about it. This, well, this would never be off her mind, but maybe if she told, said the words out loud, maybe she could have even a few hours’ reprieve.

She could tell Daryl. She could. She had to.

Beth caught Daryl’s gaze and held it. “I killed Gorman.”

Daryl’s expression didn’t change, but his eyes narrowed just a fraction, a motion so small she wouldn’t have seen it if they hadn’t been sitting side by side.  “You did. Bastard deserved it.”

Beth swallowed and looked down, looked at her hands which weren’t red, but should’ve been. “But I killed him.”

Daryl pressed his shoulder more firmly into hers. “You heard them assholes talkin’, Beth.  You didn’t have a choice, they were gonna—”

“I know, Daryl. I know what they were gonna do, I’m not stupid.” Beth looked up from her hands, but not before clenching them into fists. “I wasn’t going to let that jerk touch me and neither were you.”

The spike of annoyance surprised her, lanced through her chest out of nowhere. She tilted over onto one hip to look at him straight on and Daryl just stared, waiting, like he always did, for her to speak. So she spoke, words coming out thickly past her clenched teeth.

“But what gives me the right to decide who lives and who dies?  How does that—”

As quickly as it came, the spark of irritation died and a lump grew in her throat, the hot prickle of tears following in its wake. She slumped back against the tree, against Daryl’s shoulder, now afraid to look at him in case he finally saw the monster she’d become.

But the words weren’t finished, and before she could stop herself, out they came in a pitiful little voice she didn’t even recognize as her own.

“How does that make me any different from them?”

For a long time, it seemed, Daryl just breathed beside her, and Beth leaned against him while her tears trailed silently down her cheeks.  When he spoke, he did it slowly, like he was taking great care in choosing each word.

“You don’t set out to hurt no one. That’s what makes you different, Beth.”  When she didn’t answer, he went on, speaking in that low, rumbling voice of his. “You don’t just do what you want to someone ‘cause you think they’re weak and ain’t gonna stop you, or ‘cause it’s your right or some shit. You don’t even think like that.”

His words vibrated in her ear and a shiver rolled through her in response, but instead of leaving her cold, she felt warm inside, the gentle heat blooming out from the depths of her belly and up into her chest.  She wasn’t sure what possessed her to lay her head on Daryl’s shoulder, but he didn’t pull away, just shifted a touch to move his elbow out from where it poked into her side.  So she let her head stay there, let herself take comfort from the warmth of him next to her.

He breathed deeply, and Beth felt the motion of his chest from the shift of his shoulder beneath her. “You ain’t like them, Beth. You’re good. Ain’t no one to blame for Gorman’s dyin’ but his own goddamn self.”

And maybe Daryl was right. He knew things, saw things others didn’t. Things Beth couldn’t ever hope to truly understand. But that didn’t stop her from feeling the guilt. It didn’t stop her from wondering if there could’ve been another way. And that was her answer, she supposed, because there wasn’t another way, not with a gun pressed to her temple and his vital bits mostly hidden from Daryl’s aim behind her smaller body. There wasn’t another way but she still wished there had been. Gorman would’ve made use of her in whatever way he saw fit, like he’d probably done to others before her without a shred of remorse, while being forced into ending his life was eating Beth up inside, chewing away at her organs with ceaseless, sharp little teeth, leaving her raw and bleeding.

Forced.

You didn’t have a choice.

No, she hadn’t had a choice.  She meant it when she said she wasn’t gonna let him touch her.  And that was something, and not something small either.  But still...

“You’re good, Beth.”  Daryl said, voice a gruff whisper in the dark.

Beth sighed and let herself lean just a little bit more into Daryl’s side.  “Maybe you got to keep on reminding me sometimes.”

Daryl’s soft, amused huff of breath drew a slow smile from her lips, and they sat there together in the dark, eating stale crackers and watching the fire burn.

*~*

>> to be continued in chapter 4

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