(getting back to these…)
Note: This takes place at some point after Rick comes back from banishing Carol but before the prison is attacked. Something like the very morning of the day the prison gets attacked. (Yeah…let’s go with that.)
Beth perched on the side of her bed in the cell, watching Judith squirming around in her father’s lap, giggling and grabbing at his stubble covered face.
"I think she missed you," she said with a smile. Rick’s eyes flickered towards her and warmed at the sight of his daughter’s young care giver, before looking down at his baby and sighing.
"Thanks for looking after her," his voice was quieter than it had been when he first walked in -all smiles ready to see his daughter-, but now it simply matched the somber and haunted look in his eyes that had followed him back from that run. She knew Carol wasn’t dead; Maggie had told her. But she also knew that what Rick had been forced to do for the sake of everyone was no easier than watching her be ripped apart by walkers. If anything, it might have been harder for him; and Rick was nothing but talented at taking the blame for things he shouldn’t. It was something she watched him do for months on end and after Lori was gone, her hands itched to reach out to him. To comfort him and have someone, anyone, tell him it was all ok.
Instead she fiddled with the lose threads of her worn, flower printed sheets and tried to communicate her feelings. That not only did she adore Judith, but that doing this for him was the only thing she could do for him, just a tiny repayment for everything he’d done for her, for her father, her sister. Everyone that was alive and safe in the walls of the prison had Rick to turn to and she sometimes felt rage bubble up inside her that so few people acknowledged it.
"It’s not a bother," she said; daring to peek up at him through her lashes. He was still looking at her, Judith having gotten bored of his lack of attention and gone on to play with her own fingers. "I always wanted a child," and she colored a little at what she’d said. At what he might think she was implying. "I just mean-" hastening to do damage control, "I like babies," she finished lamely.
He nodded once but let his blue eyes slip from hers and feeling a noticeable awkwardness in the room, she went with the only solution her mind could supply. She babbled.
"It was only a few days too," referring to the room in the other cellblock they had been quarantined in. "I think she liked the change of scenery, you know?"
He nodded again, swallowing a lump in his throat and looking back at her with a fierce determination to speak; and Beth couldn’t have looked away from his icy eyes if she’d wanted to.
"I don’t just mean this time, Beth. I mean thank you for looking out for her, always. I know I haven’t been around too much-"
"You have!" She interrupted. Judith squealing in delight at the first site of him showed as much; and she would be damned if she let him put himself down that way. But he only went on as if she hadn’t spoken.
"I haven’t been dealing with things around here, having been dealing with Carl,"
"You’re helping him," she said again. This time with more force in her voice because she wouldn’t have any of this. Not the pain on his face as he confessed his faults to her, not the lies he was telling after she saw him as nothing short of a hero.
"I’m farming, Beth." He finished with an almost angry glare but she knew it wasn’t for her; it was for him. And perhaps that hurt her more. He ran a hand over his tired face and Beth had the urge to leap towards him; to wrap her arms around him and guide him down on the mattress, Judith and all and just…care for him like she did with his baby; watch over him; let him have some much deserved sleep. "That thing with Carol…that shouldn’t have happened. I shouldn’t have let it get that far."
"You didn’t know." How were any of them supposed to suspect that one of their own, their family, had had the heart to kill Karen and David.
"I should’ve. Maybe I would have stopped it if I’d have taken responsibility for this place. If I hadn’t been off…being useless," he finished with a humorless chuckle and Beth couldn’t hold back any more, she closed the distance between them and reached out to touch his arm, a frown on her face.
"You are not useless." Her voice was not much more above a whisper but with the force with which she said it, she might as well have yelled it. "Maggie’s alive because of you. My dad; you saved his life. You saved all of us," she jutted her chin out a little, hoping to give strength to the harsh statement that was ready to slip past her lips, "Whatever Carol did; that’s on her, not you.”
His eyes were hollow; wounded, void of hope, nearly the way they’d been when Lori died and she longed for the moments of peace from the months before. When she would take a book and a blanket out to the yard and let Judith do her strange little crawl/drag as the baby figured out her legs and arms underneath her. Beth would sit under the sun, content to listen to nothing but the happy babbles from Judith and the sound of whatever work Rick was doing that day. Sometimes they’d chat, sometimes he’d work and she’d read in silence. Other days, the best days, they’d take lunch on that blanket, just the three of them and with the snarling of the walkers and the sounds of the prison far, far away Beth found herself wondering if she imagined the look in his eyes when he smiled at her, when he watched her rock Judith to sleep. If it was all some silly figment of her imagination that spent too much time reading books and not enough with boys her own age.
She wondered what would happen some days -when he’d lay on his back on the blanket and she on her stomach with Judy between them- if she just reached over and placed her lips on his. If he’d respond, or if he would run. She chastised herself for those thoughts; they were inappropriate and silly. And they would ruin whatever comfortable arrangement they had fallen into. Where they shared gazes over a packed lunch in the fields and awkward ‘goodnights’ in darkened cell; over a crib containing a content, sleepy baby.
Today she didn’t hesitate, didn’t tell herself she was being ridiculous because she would do anything to keep his nightmares away. She knew a thing or two about the nightmares; about refusing to believe someone was really, truly gone. She leaned towards him, noticing he went completely still when her lips were inches away from his and she could even see Judith looking up them, just as still as her father and eyes wide. She thought maybe it was Judy’s little face, her eyes that had Rick’s color but Lori’s wide stare and with a sigh she moved her face to the side, letting her lips fall to his stubbled cheek like they’d done many times before. Familiar, comfortable, comforting. This was about easing his guilt; and right at that moment, her rational mind (the one that didn’t spend sunny days daydreaming about a hero in cowboy boots and a colt strapped to his hips) knew that anything to disrupt the peace they’d fallen into would only hurt him more.
She was still close to his face when she pulled back, blue eyes boring into her face but this time they weren’t ice anymore. They were clear blue fire; the kind that burns most when you put a curious hand to it.
She jumped a foot when she heard a gravelly voice from her doorway; watched as Rick’s eyes fluttered shut for only a second before turning to Daryl who, ever the quiet hunter, had snuck up on them.
"Hershel said you were looking for me," he said.
Rick nodded, getting up with a sigh and depositing Judith into Beth’s arms. He leaned down to kiss his daughter’s forehead and give a single nod to Beth, who could only smile shyly up at him, hoping what she’d said would stick; would make things easier for him as he told Daryl, Tyreese, and everyone else, what he’d done.
"We gotta talk, Daryl."
And with that he walked out of her cell, leaving her with a sleepy baby in her arms and just a little more hope than she’d had before.