Being woken up in the middle of the night is never good. Tonight is no exception, it doesn’t feel as if it’s been long since she had managed to drift off finally before she’s shaken awake. For the first time in three days she’s in her own room, her own bed. Safe and secure. Not that it matters because as soon as those ice cold fingers touch her shoulders Beth’s bolting up, blindly groping underneath her pillow for a knife. “Who the-”
The dull flame in an old gas lantern provides the main source of light in the room. Even without it, the offender is close enough that she could make out their features. Haley’s hands are moving rapidly. Too fast, she’s still pretty new to this and the girl’s gonna need to slow down if she has any hope of picking up on what she’s saying. “Hals, slower. Please.” She’s too tired for this.
Haley’s brow knits further and she repeats a sequence. Children are scared. Follow me. This confuses Beth. It’s not uncommon for one of the kids to wake up having nightmares, they’re children. What is uncommon, is someone dragging her out of bed to attend to it. There were no blaring sirens or people shouting to indicate an attack or worse, a break in one of their fences. Why was she being woken up in the middle of the night for this?
Haley backs away and her hands move. Now.
“Okay, okay.” Beth mutters. “I’m comin’.” She regretfully shoves her blankets back and throws her feet over her bed. She doesn’t bother with a coat or a shirt. She’s got an old wife-beater on and a pair of leggings. Rare to catch her sleeping without pants at night nowadays. The only thing she does do is plunge her feet into her boots. Haley huffs from her spot in the doorway and Beth rolls her eyes.
She had assumed that when Haley and signed the word children, she’d meant child. Her brain had just added the plural. Instead of one bedside lantern lit, the entire barrack is. Every lamp at every bedside and table is on and out of two dozen beds she can’t see a single one that still has a body in it. It’s not all children of course, just mostly. Children and their caretakers.
Haley leads her towards the front of the room where a small group has assembled, huddled around one of their primaries – an older woman by the name of Luann. She can see the red faces, the glassy eyes. The tell tale sniffle suggesting that someone was crying or on the verge. “What’s wrong?”
As far as she can tell no one’s dead and a quick headcount reveals all the children are in fact there. So what was so pressing that they needed to drag her out of bed. “Gavin’s still at the Sanctuary and we need to deal with this.”
Okay. But deal with what? Beth tries to bury her annoyance. It’s not the children she has an issue with, it’s the adults (and Haley) who simply couldn’t handle the task. Beth crosses her arms over her chest, staring at the older woman expectantly. “Some of the children had these,” Her hand dives into the pocket of her cardigan and then comes back out with little white squares. “They wont tell me who gave them to them, I think we’ve found all of them.”
Beth takes the squares. Polaroids. There’s a few camera’s floating around. Lu has one herself, but the photos she takes are far different from the one’s that she’s seeing now. Some of the Saviors like taking pictures. There’s a few kill walls at Simon’s. Gavin doesn’t allow for the ‘public’ displays here. The pictures in her hand aren’t Negan’s handiwork though. No, they aren’t Lucille’s victim’s.
They’re photos from the satellite outpost. More specifically, the clean up. People hauling dead bodies out into the yard. Close up’s of battered, bloody faces, slit throats, bullet holes, blood spray. Piles of corpses in the yard. This wasn’t the work of their people.
Haley’s abandoned her side and has moved into the middle of the group of huddled children. Switching places with Luann. There’s been a few time she’s heard the children talk about the other communities. The King and his Savior eating tiger. The Widow, a mysterious woman who quite possibly employs shadows and ghosts to do her bidding. Neither of them are spoken about with as much fear as Rick. Most of the children don’t know his name. They refer to him as The Monster. They try to keep them away from this. The war, the bloodshed, they shouldn’t be anywhere near it. There’s no ‘work talk’ around the children. Ever.
But they can only do so much.
Lu leans in, worry etched deeply into her face. “They keep asking me if the people who did this will come for them. I tried to say no, but I can’t tell them it didn’t happen. They have the pictures. They’ve heard stories. Some of them know where this is, they recognize faces…they’re terrified.”
Beth hands the photos back and gives the older woman a small nod. She crouches down, which immediately gets the attention of the children. “Can any of you tell me where you got those pictures? You’re not in trouble, just that you weren’t supposed to see these. I’ve gotta give them back.” She tries to keep her tone even, soothing. Somehow she’s better at doing that for the kids then she is with the adults.
Eyes glance hesitantly from one and other. They wont tell, she wont drag it out of them. Wont bully them into submission. “He’s gonna get us.” One of the children whimpers from the back. She doesn’t need to ask who he is. They’re talking about Rick.
The odds of their outpost being attacked goes up with each passing day. If they come for them, or when they come, they wont be there for the children. They don’t even know the children are here It’s not as if they have a big sign on the front gate boldly proclaiming to be the official babysitting service of the Saviors. Children or not, Rick’s people will come. That much they would all bet their points on.
“Why did they hurt them?” Another asked.
It’s too early for this. Beth lets out a small sigh. She’s not sure she’s ever been asked a more difficult question in her entire goddamn life. Beth had asked herself the same thing as soon as she had hopped out of the jeep. She had been picked to help with the clean up. They needed the outpost cleared up and back to full functionality. The carnage has been seared into her brain. Beth didn’t need photos to help recall all the blood and gore. Those were their people. Slaughtered. She had never seen so many dead in one place.
She can’t lie to them. They have rules. The biggest, is no lying. Ever. That’s a rule that they have to follow. Beth doesn’t even know how she can spin this. They know it’s happened. It’s part of the reason why some of the children are here now. They’d lost someone at that outpost.
The world hurts. It’s a reality they try to shield them from but it’s impossible – to fend off the all of the hurt all of the time. Some time’s it’s gonna slip through, sometimes they’ve gotta let it.
Angry, sorrow aside. She understood why. Negan had pushed too far, someone had hit a breaking point and pushed back. It was inevitable. Every civilization has it’s rebellions, it’s revolutions. it’s own uprisings. Someone would come for them one day, deep down she’s pretty sure that’s not a shock to anyone.
“Some of us hurt them first. We take from other communities. That’s how we get all of those fruits we have for breakfast. How we get weapons to defend ourselves. We take things. I think, someone didn’t like that.” She knows how stupid it sounds but she doesn’t know how else to describe it in a way they might possibly understand. “Carson, do you remember a few days ago Elle took your bear, without asking? She said it was hers now.” Her eyes find the sheepish little boy. He nods slowly. “You were angry and you hit her.”
“And then I hit him back,” A young girl pipes up helpfully from the back. Sounding a little too proud of that fact. But it’s something for another day.
“Pretend that you are the other community – and Elle is us, the Savior’s. It’s like that.”
There’s a flicker of something in the eyes around her. Recognition.
“But they hurt us worse,” One says. Okay. They’ve killed. They haven’t slaughtered any of the communities that they currently take from but their hands aren’t by any means clean. Far from it. They’re just as bloodstained as Rick’s group. Maybe even more. It’s not like anyone’s taking a poll. Still, she can’t argue with that. In this particular instance, from where they’re sitting – they had hurt them worse. “they’re monsters.” Another child chimes in.
Beth leans back on her heels, shaking her head. “No. They aren’t monsters. They’re people. They’re hurtin’ and scared – just like you. They want to hurt our people because we hurt them. They aren’t all good, but they aren’t all bad. They’re just people. Just like us.” She speaks softly, gently. It’s not fair by any means, but it’s the truth. They need to understand this. She’s not sure the lesson will sink in. That any of them will believe her, how could they? They’re so young, so naive. They don’t know, don’t understand that someone like Lu who helps bathe them, who reads them stories, bakes them cookies when she can, has killed at least six people in the last four months. The reasons don’t matter. Just the fact that she’s shed blood. They would call her good. She’s as good a person as Beth’s ever known but they can’t be all good all the time. It didn’t work that way anymore.
“Why don’t they just stop?”
That’s the question of the year. Because Negan wont let them. Both sides have suffered tremendous losses. Negan wont allow his to go unanswered. He wont stop until Rick and his people take a knee or are chained up in the Sanctuary yard, serving him in the next life. So long as he keeps hurting them, Rick and his group are going to keep coming. It’s their reality now. It wont end until one side wipes the other out, or they all die in the process so there’s no one left to fight.
“I don’t know.” She says quietly, after a long moment. It’s the truth. They’re losing so much, so many. The whole point of the Saviors in the early days had been to hold onto a piece of humanity, restore order to the world. That’s what Negan had droned on about. Beacon of light, rebuilding humanity. Become a haven in the hellscape they live in. Blah blah blah.
This hasn’t comforted the children at all. She can see it in their faces. That’s why she carries on, Beth’s not even thinking about it the words just flow all on their own. “I promise you, we’re not gonna let anyone hurt you.” She shouldn’t say it. Because it’s not absolute. It’s dangerous but she can’t help it.
She can’t promise without a shadow of a doubt that each and every one of them will come out of this unscathed, that they’ll survive this war, survive this world. “We’re gonna do everything we can to keep you all safe. That’s our job. They can hurt us…but we’re not gonna let them hurt you.” but that doesn’t mean that she can’t try.