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Last Ones Standing

Chapter Text

My aim was off.

I have no time to correct myself before the sound of a gunshot sends me flying backwards. The back of my head hits the ground as my body slams into the floor. The ringing in my ears has hardly gone away when another shot cracks through the air. This is when the thoughts come flooding through my head.

Daryl was right. I’d never get to see Maggie again. Never truly see any of our friends. Never get to live the life my daddy had imagined for me. Never drive a car or fall in love. Never get to ask him if his look meant what I thought it did.

Two hands fly to my lower stomach and I gasp, my eyes flying wide open and breaking me away from the thoughts of a dying girl. My eyes find none other than Daryl, who is looking at me with wide eyes and blood on his lips. He’s talking to me, but I can’t hear a word he’s saying. I will my arm to move, brushing the side of his cheek and leaving streaks of blood as I cup his face. His eyes are glistening with something I thought I’d never see face to face.

Tears.

A dark bruise is underneath his right eye and both of them have deep bags, showing that he hasn’t been getting enough sleep. There is a brand-new scar that has been etched into his bottom lip. The scruff on his face has grown longer since the last time I saw him.

My mouth opens to speak, but no words come out. I hardly even feel the pain until Daryl picks me up into his arms, and suddenly it seems as though I’m getting ripped in half. I can’t even hear my own screams as he places me onto a gurney that Edwards brought over. He keeps pace with it as they roll me down the hallway and into one of the rooms.

On the count of three, they lift me from the gurney and onto the bed. People are rushing around the room and Edwards is barking orders at everyone like I’ve never seen before. Rick is holding him at gunpoint, saying something about how he’ll kill him if he doesn’t save me. And Daryl…he’s looking at me like he’s never going to see me again and it kills me.

My hand desperately reaches out to him and he wastes no time grabbing it, squeezing it tighter than I could have thought possible. His hands are wet with my blood, but in this moment, I don’t even care. He’s here, finally, and that’s all that matters.

I force myself to swallow, desperately trying to find my voice. “Miss me?”

He tries to smile. I can see it. But all he can do is frown. “You knew I would.” I manage a small grin despite the pain. There’s so many things to ask him. So many things to tell him. I don’t even know where to start.

“Beth, I need you to breathe deep.” Edwards suddenly hovers over me, holding a mask over my mouth and nose.

I panic, the thought of not waking up too much to bear. I grab the mask, trying to push it away. “Wait, wait!”

Daryl seems to notice I’m afraid, not being defiant. He comes closer to me and rests his free hand on my hair. “You’ll be alright.”

Tears begin to fill my eyes as the room starts to shake and my ears sound like they’re full of water as everyone talking is muffled. I squeeze Daryl’s hand as tightly as I can as I look at him through my blurry vision. He holds onto my hand with just as hard of a grip. While he brings my hand to his mouth and plants a short kiss on the back, I finally slip into a deep sleep.

 

Waking up from anesthesia was so different from everyday life now that I forgot that’s what it was like to wake up when the dead weren’t walking.

Not being drenched in sweat, not having had a nightmare, not the sound of walkers banging on the walls, not the panic of forgetting where I am, not being shaken because something bad has happened, not the screams of someone that I love.

It’s peaceful.

At least it is before the pain hits you like a thousand pounds of bricks.

The back of my head aches, likely the result of me hitting the floor. An IV is back in the crook of my elbow, pumping me full of fluids I likely now need. I glance over the room, seeing no noticeable differences. The scissors I had hidden in my cast are long gone and I’m in no position to fight if that’s what it was coming to. This is bad.

I hear voices approaching from outside and begin to panic. Who knew what was on the other side of that door? I grab the handlebar on the side of the bed, trying to pull myself into a sitting position. I’m met with a pain like any other erupting in my lower abdomen, just above my pelvis. It is more grounding than anything I’ve ever experienced.

The door swings open and unable to move, I lay there in fear of who is coming. But then my eyes land on a familiar pair of green eyes and shoulder-length brown hair. It’s not an enemy. Hell, it’s far from it.

It’s my sister.

“Maggie?” My voice is thick with emotion as she slowly steps towards me, unsure if I’m even real. When her name falls from my lips, she chokes on a sob and throws herself at me, wrapping her arms around me tighter than the wound in my stomach can bear. But I don’t have the will to care.

She squeezes me tightly and I wince at the feeling, but neither of us can stand to let go. Tears are falling from both of our eyes and I feel like a small child again as she holds me against her chest. All this time. All the hoping and praying, but never really knowing. She was alive.

Maggie pulls away, but doesn’t stop showering me with affection. She takes my face in her hands and starts kissing the side of my cheek repeatedly. “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you!”

I can’t help but laugh through my tears, “I love you, too!” She wraps me back up in her arms, cradling me the best she can. I hear footsteps and look over her shoulder, the tears spilling out faster at the sight of many familiar faces. Glenn, Rick, Michonne, Carol, Sasha, Tyreese, Daryl.

I smile weakly at him, not that I expect him to return it. He looks tired and disheveled. Like he hasn’t slept in weeks. His hands are stained unmistakably with blood and for some reason, I have a feeling it’s mine. But he still manages a nod at me, acknowledging me in a way that’s better than I could ever hope for.

Finally, Maggie ends our hug and though I never wanted it to stop, my stomach thanks her. She frowns, eyeing the stitches running across my cheek and forehead. She rests a hand on the side of my face, inspecting the angry skin. “What have they been doing to you?”

“I’m okay,” I assure her. “They don’t hurt anymore.”

“Did they hurt you?” She asks, ready to gear up for a fight at the thought of someone laying a hand on me.

“It was just their leader. I’m fine, really.” Despite my affirmations, she is already about to go guns blazing.

“Where is she?” Maggie looks over her shoulder at the others. Rick glances briefly at Daryl, who suddenly can’t stop staring at the floor. My breath catches in my throat.

He killed her? Because of me?

I feel the tears welling up inside of me again, ready to have me burst at the seams. I don’t know why I’m suddenly overwhelmed with emotion when I swore I was done crying. It’s like my hormones are out of whack.

I swallow, coming to a realization. If the bullet was low enough…

“Am I okay?” I can hardly manage the words. My sister looks back at me with a gaze that makes me sick. She doesn’t speak. “Maggie?”

She reaches out to hold one of my hands and I try my best not to recoil from her. The way she doesn’t want to say it only makes me more nauseous. Until finally, she talks.

“Edwards said that there was a lot of internal damage. One of your ureters was cut, so he had to stretch your bladder closer to your kidney. The bullet shaved some bone fragments off, but not enough to cause permanent damage. And…” She lets out a long sigh. I can hardly even breathe.

“Bethy, he had to take out one of your ovaries and fallopian tubes. They were just too damaged.”

These sentences feel like they’re going to be the death of me. My heart has jumped up into my throat and my toes have gone numb. I pull my hand from hers and hold it to my thudding chest. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

Maggie tries to reach out to me again, but I shift away from her. “It doesn’t mean you won’t have kids, it just means your body will need to adjust. That you’ll be a little hormonal until your system finds a new normal.”

Despite what I’ve just been told, in this moment, all I want is to hold Judith again. To feel her soft skin against my own. Feel her tiny hands wrapping around my fingers. Cradle her to my chest and sing her a lullaby.

The idea that there’s a small chance I’ll never get to do the same with a child of my own is sickening. It makes me want to vomit.

And I do.

Chapter Text

By the next morning, my nausea has gone away. The pain is still there, hot and angry. And of course, my tears have hardly subsided. But the fact that I’m no longer sick has eased everyone’s minds. It had scared the shit out of just about everybody in the room, including myself. However, after some inspection from Edwards, he assured us all that it was just from the shock of learning what had happened to me.

The group waited until later on in the evening to tell me more. They wanted to give me time to grieve the loss of half my reproductive system. Half of me appreciated it, but the other didn’t want to be protected. I was not the same girl I was when I left the prison. Daryl was the only one who knew that, and I was determined to make sure everyone else was made aware sooner rather than later.

They all told short versions of their stories of how they escaped the prison before explaining that they had all reunited at a community. However, they were quick to tell me that it was nothing to get excited about. The knowledge of what that place was and how close they were to being killed was enough to nearly make me sick again.

But thanks to Carol, they had made it out. They found a lone preacher in the woods with a past of his own, but still welcomed him to the group because that’s who we still were, despite the loss of our home. I had to believe that.

There was a small knock on the doorway and I leaned forward to see Daryl peeking inside, half his body hidden behind the wall. “Hey. You up for a visitor?” I furrow my eyebrows in confusion. But then he comes around the corner and my eyes widen.

“Judith!” My arms reach out for her instinctively and she scootches in Daryl’s arms, letting out a small whine. I grin as he places her in my lap, allowing me to hold her tightly. I kiss the sides of her face and the top of her head, breathing in her baby scent as she lets out happy squeals that I haven’t heard before. She has grown so much.

“Thank you,” I tell Daryl, who nods at me in response. Jude has a small, stuffed giraffe in her hands that she waves around in her own baby version of playtime. It must have come from the pediatric section of the hospital because based on what everyone had told me, they went nowhere near a toy store.

I smile down at the child in my arms before looking over at Daryl again, who is watching us intently. “What?” I ask him.

He shrugs lightly. “You just seem different, is all.”

“I’m still the same person,” I reassure him.

“Then why won’t you tell anyone what happened here? What happened there?” He motions to my face and I know he’s talking about the stitches.

I look away from him, my mood falling as quickly as it had been lifted. “It’s not important.”

“It is if it’s killing you,” he replies. I immediately think back to what I had said to him on the porch of that cabin. Telling him that he had to put it away. I know he’s thinking of that, too.

“I don’t think they would appreciate it if we burned down their hospital.” My response makes him smile ever so slightly. I feel my heart flutter at the sight. It’s so rare, yet so beautiful.

“You don’t want to talk about it?” Daryl guesses.

“Not if you’re going to tell the others,” I admit.

He shakes his head gently. “I won’t.”

“You promise?” I ask.

“I don’t make promises,” he answers. “But I can swear.” I giggle, not having known he was capable of making jokes. When my laughter subsides, I tell him. I spill everything. The words flow from my lips, explaining everything that happened since my arrival.

The way Joan had screamed against my ear as I held her down for Edwards. All of the ways Gorman had tried to advance on me, but I had been completely oblivious until that stupid fucking lollipop. How Edwards had me kill an innocent man to save his own skin. Joan’s suicide and how I had let Gorman feel me up in order to escape. Dawn’s ridiculous insistence that this was all going to blow over. And of course, O’Donnell’s death at her own two hands.

Daryl is silent for a few moments, processing everything he has just been told. “Hate to think what would have happened if Noah hadn’t found us.”

“I would have made it out eventually,” I protest.

“You gave ‘em hell. I don’t doubt it.” I almost smile at this, knowing that was the closest I would probably ever get to him saying he was proud of me.

“Dawn did. But someone taught me I’m a lot stronger than people give me credit for.” I remind him.

“You didn’t need me for that. I just helped you see what was already there,” he insists.

I notice how he keeps looking at the floor. How he seems to hardly be able to look at me. And I decide to call him out on it. “You seem different, too.”

“How so?” He even asks the floor, not me.

I’m fed up. “Would you look at me?” Daryl hesitates, but he does. And I immediately notice the tears in his eyes. My gaze at him softens. “What’s wrong?”

“I ran all night and half the day to try and get to you.” His revelation causes my heart to skip a beat. “I tried, Beth. I swear that I tried.” The way his voice crackles makes me want to cry all over again. “I didn’t sleep and I didn’t eat and I chased that fucking car until there was no trace of which way it went. I promise, I tried to get to you.” My mouth falls open.

Daryl Dixon. The man who told me he doesn’t make promises mere minutes ago, just made one to me. I swallow back the tears that want to rip through me.

“I know. I know you tried.” My voice is weak. “I never once doubted you. You found me and you brought me back.”

“I’m sorry, Beth.” It’s like he can’t even believe that I’m really here. That I’m not going anywhere. And this kills me.

I reach out to him and he leans down to me, wrapping his arms around me. I cling onto him with my free hand, the other still holding an oblivious Judith who is half asleep. He smells of cigarette smoke and something I can’t quite put my finger on. It brings me more comfort than I ever could have imagined.

When he goes to pull away, I stop him from getting too far by resting a hand on his scruffy cheek. “I am alive. I’m right here and I’m not going anywhere, okay? We are going to be the last ones standing.”

Chapter Text

In the seventeen days since we left Grady Memorial, we have traveled from Atlanta all the way to Richmond. I made a point to remind Daryl that he had finally left Georgia, which I found to be far more exciting than him.

Abraham has still been gloomy and likely depressed. Based on what I heard from Glenn and Maggie, his entire existence in the apocalypse had been shaped around getting Eugene to Washington D.C. He had lost his purpose and despite his anger, I felt for him. I had been the same way when Rick’s group showed us that walkers were no longer alive back on the farm.

I walk with the others through the woods until we come up to a clearing. We can see the gate of a community in the distance. It took an argument with Maggie to be able to convince her to let me come, as she thought it was too dangerous with my healing gunshot wound. But I was determined to make her see that I wasn’t the same girl that she knew before.

Rick rests a hand on Noah’s shoulder, stopping us from continuing into the open. “They have spotters? Snipers?”

“We built a perch on a truck. Sometimes it’s out front,” he answers. I glance over again, only seeing the sign that reads Shirewilt Estates.

“Not today,” Glenn proclaims, doubt dripping from his voice. Despite this, the six of us step from the woods and out onto the road.

Noah leads the way, and we pass by several things that concern me as we walk. A broken grandfather clock. Something that looks like roadkill, half eaten. And the fact that the closer we get, nobody has come out of the closed gate or even called out to us.

When we reach the gate, Noah pushes against it and listens. There are bangs in the distance. Not of gunshots or children playing. But of walkers.

“You hear that?” He’s worried, even if he doesn’t show it.

“Just wait.” Glenn holsters his gun, going over to the fence and scaling it. He peers over the edge and I watch as his face falls. I frown, knowing what’s coming. He turns his head and shakes it at us, letting us know that Noah’s home has fallen.

He is the first one over the wall and the rest of us follow, despite knowing there isn’t anything waiting for us on the other side. Nearby, there is a house burnt to a crisp. A skeleton covered with dried blood laying in the grass.

“Noah,” I call to him, but he ignores me. Rick tries as well, but gets no response as we walk deeper into the community.

The friend that I’ve hardly known for more than two weeks breaks into a run. The rest of us follow him. We can all sense the urgency of the situation. We don’t know what happened here or how long ago it happened. We should have brought Daryl. He would know.

We come to an intersection where Noah finally stops. Bodies litter the streets and there is a walker stumbling its way towards us in the distance. Someone has written with chalk on a nearby brick wall that says wolves not far. My stomach flips uneasily as Noah begins to sob. He falls to the ground, overwhelmed with emotion.

As the others glance around the fallen community, I sit beside my friend and wrap an arm around his shoulders. He fights it at first, but eventually leans into me. Tyreese and Rick both try to comfort him, but I know there’s not a chance it will happen soon.

The others soon disperse to look for anything they can find, but Ty and I stay back with Noah. I take the handkerchief I had found on our way out of Atlanta and offer it to him, but he pushes it away. I rest it on my knee in case he changes his mind and let out a long breath.

I didn’t know if this place would still be here or not, but I hoped. I hoped for Noah. I hoped for Judith. I hoped for all of us. It wasn’t easy to stay positive, but daddy’s words still rang clear in my head. If you don’t have hope, what’s the point of living?

It was hard not to let emotions overcome me. After all, we had traveled 500 miles to get here. We had fought and struggled and bled. We argued day and night over whether what we were doing was the right thing. And it was, it just wasn’t always easy to see it.

Tyreese rests a hand on Noah’s shoulder and I realize that he has been talking to him. I unwrap my arm from him and he gets to his feet, so I follow, tucking my handkerchief back into my pocket. Noah’s eyes focus on something in the distance and I follow his gaze down the street of burnt houses. Without giving us the chance to say anything, he starts running in that direction.

Ty and I go after him, but he makes far better time than I do. It doesn’t hurt as bad as it used to, but the pain is still there, especially when I exert myself. I have to stop running halfway because it gets too bad. By the time I have gotten there, both of them are already inside the house that Noah was running to.

He is kneeling on the floor in the living room beside a body with a blanket draped over it. He’s speaking quietly to who I can only assume is his mother. I frown. When I glance down the hallway, I see a walker. But it isn’t just any walker. It’s a child. And he’s completely ignoring me, going right into another room. To a closer target. My eyes widen.

“Ty!” I shout and make a beeline down the hall. I arrive just in time to see the tiny walker take a bite out of Tyreese’s arm. I gasp, watching as he kicks them away. I grab my knife from my belt, putting them down as Noah comes running. We both turn to see Tyreese has fallen to the ground, clutching his arm that is heavily leaking blood.

“Go get the others!” I demand. Noah wastes no time sprinting out the door. I crouch down beside Tyreese, unbuckling my belt to wrap tight around his arm. Despite my efforts, more and more blood pours from his bite. “Ty, are you still with me?”

He doesn’t say anything, looking at me with wide eyes. I look around the room for anything useful before getting up and pulling open the top drawer of the dresser. I snatch two shirts from the piles of clothes to tie around his wound and act as a bandage. But the blood leaks right through, staining the shirts red.

I hear stumbling from the front of the house and take my knife back out. I meet the walker halfway through the hall, putting him down with little struggle. When I return to Tyreese, his forehead is covered in sweat and he is panting heavily. I try calling out to him, but he doesn’t even look at me. He’s completely focused on something on the other side of the room.

I pace back and forth, left with nothing to do but wait. When the others arrive, they are quick to jump into action. Glenn holds Tyreese steady while Rick pulls his arm in the opposite direction. Michonne makes one clean slice that leaves Tyreese with no arm from the elbow down. Noah is quick to find a blanket from the other room to drape over him as we race out of the house.

Tyreese can hardly stay on his feet with Rick and Glenn supporting him. We make our way back to the gate only to discover walkers snarling on the other side. Noah and I trade places with Glenn and Rick, struggling to keep him up as they open the gate and kill off the walkers that come through it. We can hardly manage the weight, getting blood all over us until they finally relieve us.

The six of us make our way back to the woods, leaving the walkers chasing us behind. We don’t have the time to kill them. When we make it back to the wires wound around the trees, we struggle the most to get Tyreese through them. He eventually collapses and we all groan, trying to keep the weight of him off the ground.

It seems to take forever for us to get back to the station wagon. There is blood everywhere, soaking into our clothes and smearing on our skin. Everyone is straining to keep Tyreese from hitting the floor. The thought crosses my mind that if he falls, we won’t be able to get him back up. So we keep pushing forward no matter how much our muscles scream for us not to.

When we finally reach the vehicle, Glenn and I hop in first in order to pull Ty’s legs through to lay on the seats. We hold him upright so the others can close the door. The others pile into the station wagon and Rick immediately steps on the gas. The wheels spin in the leaves for a few seconds before we finally lurch forward and bump into one of the other cars.

The back of it flips open and bodies fly out from it. Only, they aren’t full bodies. It’s just the torsos and heads of walkers. Nausea eats away at me as Rick floors it to get away. We get on the road soon, but not soon enough. Tyreese is slipping in and out of consciousness and his blood is soaking into the seats. The more I look around, the more of it I see.

It doesn’t take long for Tyreese to bleed out. We’re barely halfway back to the others when I lose his pulse. With no other choice, we all get back out of the car and lift him out onto the road. Rick checks for a heartbeat one last time, almost like he can’t believe that he’s really gone. But he is.

We should have brought supplies with us. I should have been faster chasing Noah. There are so many things that should have been done differently. If things had been changed, maybe he wouldn’t have been bitten. Or if he was, maybe we could have been able to treat it. To cauterize it. To do something.

When we return to the others, everyone can see it on our faces as we get out of the station wagon. Abraham and Daryl help Glenn and Rick to take Tyreese from the car and lay him in front of the others. Tears begin filling the eyes of the group, including my own. I look down at my hands and see blood.

It’s on my hands. My jeans. My sweater. My shirt. Hell, there’s hardly an inch of me that isn’t covered in his blood.

Someone rests a hand on my shoulder and I look up to see Daryl. He has his handkerchief in his grip, dripping with water. He’s talking to me, but I can’t hear him. I can barely stand to look at him as he starts wiping off my face where I must have smeared blood.

If we’re supposed to be the last ones standing, are we destined to see everyone around us die? Are we going to be witness to the demise of all of our friends? Will we watch them turn into walkers, to bones, or dust? I had thought this would be a blessing. Little did I know, it was a curse.

When I finally come out of my state of shock, it is dark out. I’m sitting on the ground by a fire with a blanket draped over my shoulders that I don’t remember anyone giving me. I glance around, seeing that we’ve used the cars to create some kind of barricade. Two figures are standing by the only opening, keeping watch. Daryl and Abraham. The others must be asleep in the vehicles.

My hands have been cleaned of the blood on them, but my clothes are still stained. I’ll have to find new ones soon. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Daryl look over his shoulder at me. When he sees me looking at him, he says something to Abe before making his way over.

“You okay?” He asks as he steps closer. “You with us?”

I nod, trying to find my voice. “Yeah.”

He crouches down to my height, gazing at me with concern. “You were pretty out of it.”

My first thought is “Did I miss the funeral?”

“Sorry.” He frowns. “They didn’t wanna wait.”

“It’s okay.” I let out a deep breath. “I’ll be fine. How are you?”

“Same as you.” Daryl shrugs. He seems to notice my less positive demeanor. “Do you wanna talk about it?”

I look at him with a frown. “I don’t want us to be the last ones standing anymore. I don’t want us to watch everyone else die.”

“Not everyone is going to die,” he insists.

“But you said the good ones don’t survive,” I remind him.

“I changed my mind,” he says quietly. My breath catches in my throat. What if this is my chance to ask him?

I push my mouth to move, anxiety filling me to the brim. “What changed your mind?”

He looks at me. Really looks at me. With that same gaze he had given me back in the funeral home. I now know that I didn’t imagine it. The way his eyes speak when his lips won’t is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Hell, he could write novels with the words he won’t tell me.

Our gaze doesn’t break. Between us, I feel true peace. Like nothing can hurt us. And even though I know when we both look away and that feeling will end, I would still move mountains to have this again.

Daryl blinks and suddenly he knows. He knows that I know. He doesn’t know what to do with this fact, so he finally looks away. I reach for one of his hands, trying to bring him back, but he pulls away. He stands back up and walks to his post beside Abraham, leaving me on my own.

I shouldn’t be surprised that he doesn’t know what to do, but it still hurts. He’s not the type of person for romantic moments. Hell, who even knows if he has been kissed before. I try to remind myself of this. That he isn’t going to want to be my boyfriend.

But what if I want to be his girl?

Chapter Text

Over the next two days, Daryl does everything he can to avoid talking to me. Despite this, I always catch him looking at me. Every time I glance at him, he’s staring back at me. He wants to say something, I know it. But it’s clear to me that he’s so afraid of saying the wrong thing, he’d rather say nothing at all.

The vehicles have all been run dry of gas, meaning we have no other choice but to walk. We haven’t passed anything for a while now and our resources are dwindling. The last of the food was crushed up and given to Judith last night and put together, the sixteen of us barely have a full bottle of water.

The bag on my shoulders is practically empty, save for my blood-stained clothes. Michonne gave me the baseball shirt she found from Noah’s hometown and I got the new jeans from an abandoned car. I decided to finally rid of my boots and switched them for the converse from Grady Memorial to be easier on my feet. However, I kept them in my bag as a reminder of where we were coming from. Someday, I wish to return to wearing them.

Shortly after Daryl and Carol split off from the group to go looking for water, I feel a presence beside me and look over to see Carl. I smile weakly at him, watching as he takes something from his bag.

“Found this when we were looking for water.” He hands the item to me. It’s a small box, painted with yellow and pink. “I think it used to play music, but it’s broken.” When I open the lid, I see a tiny ballerina and a mirror.

“When I was little, I always wanted to be a ballerina,” I tell him.

“I wanted to be an astronaut,” he replies with a soft grin.

“You liked science?” I ask.

He nodded, “Loved it.”

“I loved music, although I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you.” My response makes him laugh quietly. “When I got older, that’s all I could think about. Daddy thought it was silly, even though he never said so.”

I’m about to ask him what he wanted to be as he got older, when I realize that he never got older before the world ended. Hell, he’s hardly even what I would describe as “older.” He’s only fourteen and it’s so hard to remember. It breaks my heart, the idea that he won’t get to experience any kind of normal teenagehood. That Judith will never know what the old world was like.

I swallow the tears that want to rip through me and instead say, “Thank you, Carl.”

The more we walk, the more walkers begin to follow behind us and the hotter the sun feels as it beats down on us. When I glance back over my shoulder, Michonne and Sasha have stopped to talk, but they soon catch up.

Eventually, we come up to a small bridge and Rick decides that we’re going to use it to get rid of some of the walkers. He calls for Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Maggie, and Sasha to come with him while the rest of us wait on the other side. Part of me wants to argue that I can fight, but the other is grateful that he didn’t ask for me to help. Because while I want to be seen as stronger than before, I know that I’m not at my best right now.

The rest of us watch from afar as the plan goes smoothly for the first few walkers, until suddenly I see Sasha approach one and grab it. The others begin to draw their weapons as she kills it, making the remaining undead more aggressive. I shift back and forth nervously, watching them put down one after another.

Things seem to be going well for them until I see one grabbing ahold of Rick, mere inches from taking a piece out of him. Carl tenses from beside me, but thankfully, Daryl reappears from the woods just in time to save him. They put down the last of the walkers before stopping to catch their breaths and eventually returning to us.

Not long after, we come upon a few cars and Daryl decides to circle around to make sure nobody is around. Unfortunately, we find no water or food in any of the vehicles. Nobody bothers to take the extra clothes or blankets inside. It wasn’t worth the energy to carry anymore. I was even considering leaving my bag behind.

We soon make a group decision to sit down and rest. My legs ache and my stomach is starting to burn again. I don’t remember the last time that I was this hungry. The heat is relentless and it’s easy to tell that the hope in the group is dwindling. I remind myself that I don’t have the power to hope for everyone, instead focusing on keeping my own spirits up.

I picture the life I had told Daryl about back on that cabin’s porch. A life behind walls where Maggie and Glenn have the safety to raise a child of their own. The ability for things to be calm enough for us to have celebrations like birthdays, weddings, Halloween, and Christmas. Picnics during the summer, jumping in leaves in the fall, making snow angels in winter, and crafting flower crowns in the spring.

A branch in the woods snaps, causing everyone to go on alert and start reaching for their weapons. However, it’s just Daryl. The sight of him returning calms me in a way I hadn’t expected. I know that he’s more than capable of taking care of himself, as he’s been doing it his whole life, but there’s always a piece of me that’s worried he won’t make it back.

Tara, Rosita, and Eugene have a short conversation about Abraham and the alcohol he has begun drinking. They come to the conclusion that things can still get worse for us, which I try my best not to think about.

There is a sudden rustling in the trees and I almost want to scream in frustration. Can’t we get a break? As we all look over, we see that it isn’t a walker. It’s a group of four scraggly looking dogs, all barking and growling. Rick and Daryl both reach for their weapons, but there are several muffled gunshots and suddenly, all of the dogs are on the ground. Sasha has shot them all.

Rick is the first to stand, making the decision none of us want to make. He grabs a thin branch from the edge of the woods and begins breaking it into pieces. Glenn lets out a sigh before starting to dig a small hole in the ground. Despite my reservations, I remove my bag from my shoulders to get the matchbook I found.

Within a few minutes, we have several tiny fires going. Daryl, Abraham, Rick, and Glenn move the bodies of the dogs into the woods and eventually come back with meat skewered onto sticks. We’re all hesitant to take them, but the only one to refuse is Noah. Everyone else is too hungry to care.

As I’m eating, all I can think about is Judith. No matter how much we break up the meat, she’s not going to be able to have any. If we don’t find something for her soon, she’s going to start crying, which is only going to bring more walkers, which we don’t have the energy to handle, meaning that someone is going to end up bitten and die and-

“Hey,” Glenn’s voice pulls me out of my thoughts. I glance over at him, my vision blurred with tears. “We got this. Something will come around soon.”

I nod at him, smiling weakly in appreciation. Somehow, he always knows when someone’s thoughts are spiraling out of control. Even if he feels like he doesn’t know what to say, he manages to say the right thing. I don’t know how he does it, but I don’t care. All that matters is that he’s here to do it.

When we’re back on the road, Glenn offers me a drink of water which I gladly take from him. He’s starting to remind me painfully of Shawn. They’re similar in a lot of ways, particularly in how protective they get of the people they care about. I wish they had gotten the chance to meet each other. They would have been good friends.

“Beth?” A gravelly voice calls out and I turn my head over my shoulder to see Daryl looking at me. “Up for a tracking lesson?”

Having recently eaten and drank, I feel better than I’ve felt since Tyreese’s death. “Of course.” He tells Abraham to inform the others that we went looking for water if they ask before leading me into the woods.

Excitement bubbles inside me, despite the fact that I know we’re probably not going to find anything. We search the ground for prints or dampness, but come up empty-handed. Daryl doesn’t speak, but I don’t mind. Just being around him again is enough.

The two of us eventually come up on a clearing and down a slight hill is a barn. I am quick to want to check out the inside for supplies, but Daryl stops me.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I wanted to talk,” he looks down at his feet as one scrapes against the ground. “Been wanting to, but couldn’t find the words.”

I can tell that he feels guilty, so I do my best to reassure him. “That’s okay.”

“I know you know…” he trails off, eyes searching for anything to look at but my face. “And somehow, you don’t hate me. Why?” I can’t help but frown at this. He thought I would hate him?

“I could never hate you, Daryl.” My words are enough for him to glance up at me meekly. “I’ll be honest, I didn’t really think about you in that way until I realized that’s how you felt. But when I started thinking about it, that’s all I could think about. And then, that’s when I was taken..”

“What are you sayin?” He asks. He’s not stupid. I know he knows what I’m saying. But I can tell there’s a part of him inside that doesn’t believe it.

“I feel the same way that you do,” I answer. Despite the fact that I know our feelings are mutual, I can’t help but be nervous.

The things I feel when I’m with Daryl are unparalleled to anything I’ve ever had before. I didn’t feel this way with Jimmy, nor with Zach. It’s deeper than any relationship in my past. It’s something more.

“Carol noticed the way we’ve been looking at each other. She asked me about it,” he says, sounding guilty.

“People will talk. Let them. Their opinions mean nothing to me,” I counter. He looks taken aback by this. Like he hadn’t expected me to assume we would be together after this. I swallow nervously. “You do want this, right?”

“No.” This simple, two letter word is enough to break my heart. “I can’t. You…”

My eyebrows furrow in confusion. “I what?”

“There are so many things to say,” he looks away shyly.

“You can say them, I’m not going anywhere.” I try to pull him out of his shell before he retreats entirely.

Daryl lets out a huff before opening his mouth to speak. “You’re so young. And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just…I don’t want it to seem like I’m using you to live out some barely legal fantasy.”

“I don’t think that at all,” I tell him.

“It’s what other people will think. It’s what I think. And the idea of me with you makes me sick,” he admits. “But the thing is.. the idea of you with anyone else makes me feel even worse.”

My heart seems to stop beating at the realization that this is more for him, too.

I can hardly speak after this revelation, but I still manage to say, “I want to be with you. Do you want to be with me?”

“It don’t matter.” He refuses to answer.

I’m reminded of the woman he helped me cover up in the country club. “It does matter.” Daryl chews on his lower lip, clearly nervous from the situation we find ourselves in. “Put all the other things aside and just answer my question. Do you want to be with me?”

He hesitates, afraid to respond. But he does. “Yes.”

I reach out to hold his hand and to my surprise, he doesn’t pull away. “Then let’s be together.”

He shakes his head, “You deserve better.”

I shrug. “Maybe. But I still choose this.” I catch the sight of his lips turning upwards. I smile in return before wrapping my arms around him tightly. His chest rises and falls quickly from my touch, which I can’t help but find adorable. Despite this, he is steady as a rock as he holds me back.

We spend a few moments like this, enjoying each other’s presence until Daryl decides, “We should head back.” I nod as we pull away from the hug, more than satisfied with our conversation.

When we find the group again, they are stopped and standing in a circle surrounding something. Rick approaches us when we come out of the woods and hands Daryl a paper that reads, from a friend. My eyes find the center of the circle, landing on a pile of big and small water bottles. He removes his crossbow from his back, going on alert.

“What else are we gonna do?” Tara asks.

“Not this,” Rick states firmly. “We don’t know who left it.”

“If that’s a trap, we already happen to be in it,” Eugene points out. “But I, for one, would like to think it is indeed from a friend.”

“What if it isn’t? They put something in it?” Carol frets. Despite this, Eugene steps forward and grabs one of the water bottles. Everyone begins to protest as he unscrews the cap. Just as the bottle touches his lips, Abraham storms over and slaps it from his hand.

“We can’t,” Rick insists.

Thunder suddenly rumbles from nearby and within a few seconds, rain begins dripping from the sky. Smiles, sighs of relief, and laughter pass around the group. Tara and Rosita lay down on the ground, basking in the drop of temperature and renewed feeling of hope. I grin when Glenn kisses Maggie. My eyes find Daryl’s and the idea of doing the same makes me blush.

“Everybody, get the bags. Anything you can find,” Rick announces. As we all start laying out our water bottles on the ground, more thunder emanates from the sky. Judith begins crying and Carl tries covering her head with his hat, but it does little to help. In the distance, we can see dark clouds rolling in.

Thunderclaps continue echoing down the road as Rick proclaims, “Let’s keep moving.”

Daryl looks to me before shouting over the sounds of Mother Nature, “There’s a barn!”

We all grab our things, leaving behind the bottles and jugs of water as we all retreat into the woods. Daryl and I lead the way back to the barn we had left just minutes ago. Rick, Carol, Abraham, Glenn, and Maggie clear the building first before inviting us inside.

Everyone is drenched and nobody seems to mind until it starts to get darker and colder. We build a fire on one side of the barn and set a lantern on the other. Maggie and I lay beside it, watching the flame dance around inside. Sasha is sitting nearby and staring into space, the loss of her brother having completely shattered her. Abraham is still drinking in the corner. Noah, Tara, Rosita, and Eugene are resting nearby. The others sit around the fire, talking lowly. Carl is closeby them, asleep with Judith.

It doesn’t take long for people to start settling down, finding their places and falling asleep. It takes me longer than I’d like, as I love the rain, but hate the thunder. I’m just starting to doze off when Maggie suddenly grabs my arm. I sit up promptly, watching as she runs to the doors of the barn where I see Daryl desperately trying to keep them closed. My eyes widen and I rush over, slamming my weight into it to help.

One by one, everyone in the group comes to join us. Pushing and pushing. Using all our might to keep the snarling walkers out of the barn. The rain turns the dirt beneath our feet into mud, making us slip back and forth. I knock into Daryl several times trying to keep my balance. Everyone grits their teeth, straining their muscles as the dead push against us. Judith cries from nearby the fire and I suddenly realize that all of this is for her.

Our hellbent journey to Noah’s hometown in Richmond in the hopes that something would be there. The neverending walk to nowhere in the blazing sun. Daryl’s constant trips into and out of the woods searching for water. And now. All of us together, fighting to keep her safe from walkers that would rip her apart without remorse. This is the thought that keeps me going all night until the horde finally passes.

I’m waking up before I even realize I’ve fallen asleep. Glancing around the barn, everyone is everywhere, basically having collapsed in exhaustion wherever they were when the herd got by us. I get to my feet, stretching my sore limbs from having slept on the hard ground.

My eyes find the side opposite of the doors and they land on Daryl, the only one still awake as he chews on his nail. It’s a habit I hadn’t noticed until we were playing Never Have I Ever, and I still have yet to figure out the pattern of when and why he does it.

I approach him, stepping over the bodies of our friends in order to sit beside him. With our backs leaned up against the wall, I realize that he likely was the one keeping watch over us all, too anxious to close his eyes.

“You should get some sleep,” I tell him.

He nods, “Yeah.”

“It’s okay to rest now.” I place my hand on his, stopping him from continuing to bite his nail. He pulls his palm away and I’m about to frown when he suddenly hands me the music box Carl had given me.

“The gearbox had some grit in it,” he says. I smile at him, wanting to wait to play it until it wouldn’t wake the others.

“Thank you.” I want to lean over to kiss his cheek, but there’s a part of me that’s afraid to do so. We haven’t talked about boundaries, what’s okay and what’s not. I don’t know if this action would send him running for the hills.

I instead settle for something I know he doesn’t mind. Or at least if he does, he doesn’t show it. Physical touch. I rest my head on his shoulder, the curves of our bodies fitting against one another like two puzzle pieces. I can’t help but grin like a giddy school girl when he lays his head on top of my own. If I never had to be away from him again, I would die happy.

Chapter Text

By the time I have woken up, so has everyone else. Looking around the barn, I am quick to notice Maggie’s absence, along with Sasha’s. The others are all silent, lost in thought as they clean their weapons, check their magazines, or stare into space. I’m about to break the silence when someone else does it for me.

“Hey.” It’s Maggie’s voice as she slowly opens the barn doors. “Everyone…this is Aaron.” A man I don’t recognize is behind her. Everybody is quick to find their weapons with Rick and Daryl going over to them as they step inside with Sasha. I get to my feet, pulling my revolver from my holster.

Daryl checks outside as Rosita and Noah train their aims on the man. “We met him outside. He’s by himself,” Maggie tells us. “We took his weapons and we took his gear.” Despite this, Daryl is quick to pat him down. Tara checks outside one more time before shutting the door. We all stare at the stranger in shocked silence, wary of someone new being added to the mix.

“Hi,” Aaron nods lightly at us. Judith begins to cry and Rick hands her off to Carl. “It’s nice to meet you.” The man steps forward, as if to try and shake Rick’s hand, but the way everyone moves with him makes him stop.

“You said he had a weapon?” Rick asks and Maggie goes to him, passing him a revolver that’s not much smaller than my own. “There something you need?”

“He has a camp nearby,” Sasha says doubtfully. “He wants us to audition for membership.”

“I wish there was another word. Audition makes it sound like we’re some kind of dance troupe. That’s only on Friday nights.” He tries to make a joke, but I’m the only one that smiles. He gives me a small nod in appreciation before continuing to talk. “Um, and it’s not a camp. It’s a community. I think you all would make valuable additions. But it’s not my call. My job is to convince you all to follow me back home.”

We all stare at him in disbelief. No one is budging. “I know. If I were you, I wouldn’t go either,” he admits. “Not until I knew exactly what I was getting into. Sasha, can you hand Rick my pack?” She glares at him before removing the bag on her shoulders and passing it to our leader.

“Front pocket, there’s an envelope. There’s no way I could convince you to come with me just by talking about our community. That’s why I brought those.” As Aaron speaks, Rick pulls a manilla envelope from the tan backpack. “I apologize in advance for the picture quality. We just found an old camera store last–”

“Nobody gives a shit.” Daryl cuts him off, much to my surprise.

“You are 100% right.” The stranger decides to agree, likely out of fear. Rick takes several papers out of the envelope and looks down at them. “That’s the first picture I wanted to show you because nothing I say about our community will matter unless you know you’ll be safe. If you join us, you will be.”

“Each panel in that wall is a 15-foot-high, 12-foot-wide slab of solid steel framed by cold-rolled steel beams and square tubing,” he explains as Rick stands once more. “Nothing alive or dead gets through that without our say-so. Like I said, security is obviously important. In fact, there’s only one resource more critical to our community’s survival. The people. Together, we’re strong. You can make us even stronger.”

“The next picture, you’ll see inside the gates.” While Aaron is talking, Rick starts moving towards him. “Our community was first construc–” He doesn’t get to finish his sentence before our leader’s fist slams into his jaw, knocking him out cold. Daryl and Maggie are quick to check on him as everyone starts to holster their weapons.

“Was that really necessary?” I ask.

“So we’re clear, that wasn’t a “let’s attack that man” look.” Michonne also reprimands Rick. “It was a “he seems like an okay guy to me” look.”

“We got to secure him,” Rick disagrees. “Dump his pack. Let’s see what this guy really is.”

While Carl follows instructions, Michonne tries to stop him from causing a panic. “Rick,”

He doesn’t listen. “Everybody else, we need eyes in every direction. They’re coming for us. We might not know how or when, but they are.” Daryl and Carol begin tying Aaron’s hands behind his back.

“Are you sure we need to–”

Maggie cuts me off and I clench my fists in anger. “Me and Sasha, we didn’t see him. If he had wanted to hurt us, he could’ve.

Rick ignores both of us. “Anybody see anything?”

“Just a lot of places to hide,” Glenn points out.

“Alright, keep looking,” Rick proclaims and I sigh as he approaches Carl. “What did you find?” My eyes scan the items, seeing nothing alarming other than an adorable hippo figurine.

Across the barn, Aaron wakes and smiles. “That’s a hell of a right cross there, Rick.”

“Sit him up,” he instructs.

“I think we should–”

“It’s okay.” Rick interrupts Maggie and for the first time in a long time, I start to question him.

After we had left the farm, he said we weren’t living in a democracy anymore. That all changed when the Governor tried to convince him to give up Michonne so many months ago. When he said he couldn’t make the decisions anymore and instead had us form a council. I missed that, despite the fact that I wasn’t involved with it in any way. But I knew their discussions were calm and gave a chance for each of the members to speak. That was far from what was happening right now.

Rick questions Aaron, demanding to know how many people are with him. He doesn’t give a clear answer, but eventually reveals that he was the one who left the water for us on the road a day prior. Based on what he tells Daryl, that’s just as long as he has been watching us.

Eventually, he admits to only having one person out there and that they had driven separately in case they found a group. Rick is doubtful of him, but he explains clearly that he could have ambushed us if he wanted to. Aaron insists that we can trust him.

It doesn’t take long for Rick and Michonne to start debating, but she eventually decides that we’re going to check out where Aaron said the cars are, whether Rick likes it or not. He sends us all out of the barn, instructing us to stay in groups of two while he stays with Aaron.

Without even meaning to, I naturally end up pairing off with Daryl. Like we were told, we stay within eyeshot of the others. As we make our way towards a small field, I spot a fallen log and decide to sit. Daryl is still on alert, scanning the trees behind us and the field in front of us for any potential threats. I sigh and he glances back at me,

“What?”

“You really think this guy is a threat?” I ask.

“Don’t matter. Gotta be careful,” he answers.

I clench my fists, frustrated. “Stop saying that what you think doesn’t matter because it does. Even if you hadn’t been on the council, it would matter. But you were.”

“The council’s long gone,” he states the obvious.

“But we aren’t. So stop acting like what you think isn’t important,” I say. “Tell me what you think. Do you genuinely believe that this man wants to hurt us?”

Daryl is silent for a few moments, chewing on his lower lip, which I’ve determined he does when he’s debating something. “No, I don’t.”

“Me neither,” I agree. “So why don’t you let your guard down and come sit with me?”

“Cause if I do that and we’re wrong, we’d never forgive ourselves,” he points out. I know he’s right, like usual. But the two of us hardly get to spend any time alone together anymore. I want to spend the little time I do have with him on something happy.

“Let’s play a game,” I tell him and he scoffs. “What?”

“I just told you we can’t get distracted. If we’re doing anything, it should be keeping watch.” Despite his words, he looks back at me with his eyes full of affection.

“It doesn’t have to be a game where we lose all our focus. It can just be a talking game.” I try to convince him. “What about two truths and a lie?”

“What’s that?” Daryl asks and I roll my eyes,

“Do you even know what fun is?” He shakes his head at me and I smile. “So, I’m going to tell you three statements and you have to figure out which one’s the lie.”

“Is there alcohol involved in this game?” He inquires with a soft grin.

I giggle. “If you had any, I would say yes.” He hums in amusement and I take a moment to think of my sentences before speaking again. “One, I was in gymnastics when I was little. Two, I once threw Maggie’s birth control into a pond. Three, my favorite animal is a giraffe.”

He stifles a laugh at my second statement, the rare sound like music to my ears. He takes a few minutes to think before turning to me, “You’re no gymnast.”

My mouth falls open in shock. “How’d you know?!”

Daryl smiles at me. “After the farm and before the prison, you, Maggie, and Carl had a competition to see who could do a handstand. You lost.” I shake my head in disbelief, completely having forgotten about that.

“It’s your turn.” I prop my head up with my hands, my elbows on my knees as I gaze over at him. I wish we could be like this all the time. Without him worrying about what everyone else thought. I hate to think that he’ll always be so worked up about it that we could never be ourselves in front of the others.

“I don’t know how to ride a bike. I don’t know how to ride a horse. I don’t know how to swim.” He comes up with his three statements after thinking for a while. I purse my lips, thinking back as far as I’ve known him.

I know he took Nelly when he went searching for Sophia all the way back on the farm, so he must know how to ride a horse. I’ve never seen him ride a bike, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t. I also haven’t seen him swim. Hell, I’ve hardly seen him touch water. I can’t help but snicker at the idea that someone so big and badass was afraid of deep water.

“What’s funny?” Daryl notices my amusement.

“You can’t swim?” I guess.

Much to my disappointment, he shakes his head. “Nope. I can swim like a fish.”

“Then you can’t ride a bike?” I assume, causing him to nod. “Your parents never taught you?”

“My mom died young,” he states simply. “She was too busy smoking anyway.” He doesn’t bring up his father, so I don’t dare to ask. But a part of me is curious as to how much he’ll open up to me.

“What happened to her?” My question makes him stiffen, but he doesn’t shy away from me. He stops to think for a moment, debating whether to tell me or not before he finally makes his decision.

“She liked to smoke in bed. Didn’t mind adding wine, too. She was drunk or something, nobody really knows,” he explains. “Merle was already gone and I was out with the other kids in the neighborhood. Saw firetrucks, ambulances, all going down the road. They all got on their bikes and rode after ‘em, hoping to see something worth seeing. I ran after them, but couldn’t keep up. When I got there, they were all looking at me. All them cars were there for my house. For my mom. She was just burnt down to nothing.”

I can’t help but frown. I don’t know what I had expected him to say, but it certainly wasn’t that. I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy story, as parents dying hardly ever is, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so sad.

I swallow back the tears I want to cry for him. “I’m sorry.” He looks back at me, noticing the wetness in my eyes.

“It’s alright,” he tries to assure me. I get to my feet and walk to him, winding my arms around his torso and pulling him close. He rests his head against my own, holding me against his chest. We stay like this for as long as we can, all the way until we hear cars coming in the distance.

Both of us grab for our weapons as we start making our way back towards the barn. The others meet us there and we all watch as a car and an RV approach us. Thankfully, it’s our people that get out. We share a glance with each other before meeting Rick back inside the barn, carrying all kinds of cans that were in the vehicles.

Rick tries telling Aaron that the food is ours whether or not we go to his camp, and that’s when everyone starts to protest the idea of not going. Once again, Michonne is the one that decides that we’re going to go. However, when Aaron doesn’t say where his camp is, Rick starts putting a plan into motion that, based on everyone’s looks, people are doubting. No one wants to wait until sundown and take a path that hasn’t been cleared, and yet, nobody is saying anything.

So, I speak up.

“Rick, this is a bad play.” Everyone’s eyes turn to me, not having expected anyone to protest. “We’re hungry, we’re tired, we spent half the night awake because of the damn walkers and now you want to march us into the unknown in the dark.”

“I don’t trust him,” he states the obvious. “I am not putting my family’s lives at risk just so we can go see a camp that either doesn’t exist or is going to kill us all.”

“If you don’t want to risk Carl and Judith, fine. That’s your choice. But you can’t force the rest of us just to stay here because you’re scared of what happened at Terminus,” I say what we all know is true, but nobody has had the guts to say.

“You don’t know what those people were like. What they were doing to people. What we had to do to get out.” Rick notes.

“You’re right, I don’t. And you don’t know what Dawn’s group was like. What they were doing to people. What I had to do to get Noah out, which I did by myself.” I point out. “I’m going to follow Aaron and if you don’t want to go, that’s fine by me. But you can’t keep anyone here that doesn’t want to follow you.”

With that, I stalk to the other side of the barn where I left my bag and sling it over my shoulders. By the time I’ve made it over to Aaron with my knife ready to cut him loose, the others have started gathering their things. I refuse to be forced to follow the lead of someone I don’t believe is making the right calls. And I’ll be damned if I let others do the same just because they’re afraid to stray from the path.

I go up to Aaron, showing him my knife and glaring him in the eye. “How many walkers have you killed?” The others glance at me, realizing I’ve gone back to the way we could trust people before.

“I don’t know, a lot?” He shrugs.

“How many people have you killed?” I ask.

He hesitates, but still answers. “Two.”

The look on his face shows that he isn’t happy about it, but I still have to finish the questions. “Why?”

“Because they tried to kill me.” I nod, satisfied with his answers, and cut the binds around his hands. I find his bag and his things, shoveling them back inside before passing it to him. When I go to the door, everyone is waiting except for Rick and Carl, who is holding Judith. The look on his face shows that he wants to go.

“Come on, man.” Daryl tries to convince him. “If we got out of Terminus, we can get out of anything these assholes throw at us.” Carl looks to his father with pleading eyes and Judith lets out a whine. These three things paired together are enough for him to give in.

“Alright.”

With that, the majority of us pile into the RV while the others get into the car. Aaron leads us down Route 16, taking us to a meetup with his partner, Eric. Once we have picked him up, they take us further and further until eventually, we reach what they say is called Alexandria. Everyone piles out of the vehicles, going to stand in front of a wide gate.

On the other side, you can hear children laughing and playing. People talking. I let out a breath. Despite what happened at the prison and all the lives that were lost, I can’t help but make the same wish as before.

We can stay here. We can stay here for the rest of our lives.

Chapter Text

As Aaron and Eric go up to the gate, it opens partially for them. We all watch as they step inside. There is a sudden rattling from beside us, causing everyone to point their weapons. It’s a possum. Daryl is the only one that fires, launching a bolt into the center of its body. When we turn back, the gate has opened all the way and a new man is standing there, looking at us with shock.

Daryl is the first to break the ice, surprisingly. “We brought dinner.”

The other man seems hesitant to let us in after we all so readily pointed our guns at something that made noise, but Aaron vouches for us. “It’s okay. Come on in, guys.” Despite some of the uncertainties within the group, we pile inside the gate before watching it screech to a close behind us.

“Before we take this any further, I need you all to turn over your weapons. Stay, you hand them over,” The stranger announces.

“We don’t know if we want to stay,” Rick retorts.

“It’s fine, Nicholas,” Aaron tells the other man.

“If we were gonna use them, we would have started already,” Rick points out.

“Let them talk to Deanna first.” Aaron says to Nicholas.

“Who’s Deanna?” Abraham asks.

“She knows everything you’d want to know about this place,” Aaron answers. “Rick, why don’t you start?”

Looking over his shoulder, Rick sees something in the distance and calls for Sasha. I don’t have time to glance back before she takes a shot at what I can only assume is a walker. Nicholas closes the secondary gate as we begin to walk and Rick proclaims, “It’s a good thing we’re here.”

As our group makes its way through the community, my heart fills to bursting at what I see. Chalk drawings on the pavement. Old couples sitting on their porches in rocking chairs. Children playing tag in their yards. A woman walking with a stroller. A father holding hands with his son and swinging them back and forth.

We eventually come up to a home and after going in briefly, Aaron sends Rick inside first, leaving the rest of us to wait. For what? I wasn’t sure. But when he comes back out, he seems to breathe a little easier than before.

“You’re next.” He nods at Daryl.

“For what?” He asks.

“The “audition” Aaron mentioned,” Rick replies.

“What if we don’t all make it?” Carol frets.

“We will.” Michonne tries to reassure her. Daryl glances at me, chewing his lip again before he walks up the steps and goes inside. He is followed by Michonne, Carl, Carol, and Glenn. One by one, each person goes in to talk to the woman who has been named but I haven’t seen. I’m one of the last people to be called inside.

I step in, seeing clean floors and pristine walls. To my right, there is a woman in a sitting room looking at me. She is older with auburn hair and wrinkled, but kind eyes. “Hello,” she flashes me a warm smile, motioning to the chair across from the loveseat she sits in. I take a seat, my eyes scanning the room. Books are lined on the walls and there is even a clarinet on one of the shelves. “You’re Beth, right? I’m Deanna.”

“Hi,” I state simply, my gaze still wandering. “Do you live here?”

“I do.” She nods at me. “Where did you live before?”

Deanna asks me all kinds of questions, ranging from how old I am, to if I had a job before the turn, what I liked to do in my spare time, and the skills I feel I’m best at. She lets me ask her things, too. I ask about her family and how Alexandria began. By the time we have finished, the tension in my bones has eased. It almost feels like how it felt talking to someone in the prison.

Before I leave, she talks to me about my potential job here. At first, I’m afraid she’s going to stick me back in the position of a babysitter. Though I love kids, I know now that I’m capable of so much more than that. Instead, Deanna asks me to be a medical assistant with Rosita and I gladly accept. Maybe here, I could actually help people instead of hurt them. It would feel good to do that and it would make daddy proud.

When we are all finished with our interviews, we are taken behind the house. A woman named Olivia stands before us with a cart at the ready to take all of our things. “They’re still your guns. You can check them out whenever you go beyond the wall. But inside here, we store them for safety,” Deanna explains.

With everyone having been accepted and the calm settling into the group, each of us takes turns unloading our weapons. It feels strange to not have my revolver strapped to my chest anymore, but it also makes me feel lighter. Not only am I not carrying the physical weapon anymore, but I no longer feel the weight of all the decisions behind such power. I furrow my eyebrows when Carol acts like she can’t get her rifle over her head and smiles meekly at Olivia, who jokes, “I should have brought another bin.”

The sixteen of us are split up into three houses beside each other. Rick, Carl, Judith, Michonne, Carol, and Daryl in one. Glenn, Maggie, Tara, Sasha, Noah, and I in another. And Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, and Gabriel in the last. It will feel strange for us all to be split up, but Rick is quick to announce that we’re going to all stay in the same house at least for the first few nights. However, he implores us to explore first.

On the inside of the house we’ve been given, it feels like something out of a magazine from how clean and polished it is. I smile at the empty picture frames that have been left out on the table, liking the idea of filling them with our own photos one day. Tara is the first one to discover the running water in the kitchen. After that, it’s a race into the bathrooms to get the first shower.

Washing off the dirt and grime makes me feel like a new person. When I look in the mirror afterwards, it’s like I can actually see myself again. The stitches in my cheek and forehead have dissolved over the weeks, leaving behind prominent but not ugly scars. The one on my lower stomach, however, tells a different story.

Because it was a gunshot, followed by a surgery, there are many more lines and they are far more jagged. I don’t know if it was because my skin was so torn or if Edwards had been shaking from being held at gunpoint the entire time. I know it will get better as time passes, but right now it’s still a reminder of what I’ve lost that has been etched into my skin.

I get dressed again quickly, trying to push those thoughts out of my head. For the first time in a long time, I decide to let my hair down. It deserves a break and so do I. My next item of business is to pick out a room, which I decide on the one between Glenn and Maggie’s shared bedroom and Tara’s individual one. I pull my backpack off my shoulders and dig inside to reach for the music box Carl gave me. I sit it on the dresser, trying to picture me filling the drawers with my own clothes and putting more little trinkets on the top.

Outside, I meet Rosita, who is talking about going to the house where they store all the clothes they have found. I tell her I’m going to join her. As we walk by Rick’s new home, I try peeking inside to see Daryl, but I can’t see him. I’m going to hate being away from everyone. Especially him and baby Judith.

We meet a woman named Barbara when we get to the house with the clothes. She points us in the direction of the rooms with women’s items and we both thank her before making our way there. Inside, my mouth falls open at the stacks and stacks of clothing. They’re absolutely everywhere. Folded in piles, hanging from racks, laying out neatly to prevent being wrinkled. Hell, who even worries about wrinkles anymore?

It’s clear that we’re allowed to take as much as we want, as there are more rooms just like this. But Rosita and I are both hesitant to pick up more than five items each. We haven’t seen anything like this basically ever. It’s bizarre.

By the time we get back to the houses, it’s starting to get dark, so we make quick time with putting our new things away before getting back to the largest of the three homes - the one we decided we’d be staying in together. When we arrive, the others are laying out blankets and pillows on the floor. I spot Maggie smelling a blanket and smile. She always did like the smell of clean sheets.

Michonne comes from the bathroom with a fresh shirt and a smile, toothbrush in hand. She and Rick have a short conversation, both about his lack of a beard and the precautions we’re taking. There is a sudden knock on the door and within an instant, we are all back in survival mode, pulling our knives out and perking our ears. I notice that Daryl in particular jumped for Judith’s crib, ready to whisk her away at the first sign of danger. I get it. We were so close to losing her once and nobody wanted it to happen again.

Rick opens the door to find Deanna, who is just as shocked as Michonne was to see Rick’s freshly shaven face. I can’t help but giggle at her reaction. She gazes around the room at all of us as we slowly sheath our knives and relax our muscles.

“Staying together,” she points out. “Smart.”

“No one said we couldn’t,” Rick counters.

“You said you’re a family. That’s what you said. Absolutely amazing to me how people with completely different backgrounds and nothing in common can become that,” Deanna remarks, and I can’t help but agree.

They can say all they want about the apocalypse. That it’s good, that it’s bad. That it was bound to happen someday. But they can’t deny the fact that if it never happened, we never would have found each other. I wouldn’t be sitting here in this room, surrounded by people I know would kill and die for me. It’s something I never had before, at least not on such a large scale. When I find myself thinking that things are hard, getting lost in thoughts like I had after my mom came out of the barn, this is what I think of. The fact that despite all we lost, we also managed to find each other. And if that wasn’t worth something, then what was?

Deanna explains to Rick that she has a job for him and Michonne, but hasn’t told them yet. That she’s close to finding something for Sasha. And as for Daryl, she has yet to figure him out. I notice him look off in the distance at this and frown. I step around the table and rest a hand on his shoulder, sitting beside him to try and offer some comfort.

He never said as much, but I knew based on that story he told me about Merle and the drug dealer that he has since seen himself as unimportant. That he had no value or purpose in life. It was clear in the ways he always said he was fine, rarely voiced his opinions, and hardly opened up to a soul. I was determined to change his mind, no matter how long it took or how many arguments we got into trying to get him to believe otherwise. Daryl was worth so much more than he realized. And if I could just get him to give himself half the love he gives the world, I would consider my life goal complete.

 

In the morning, everyone is sore from having slept in such tight quarters again. Despite this, some of them look more well rested than they have since I met them. Being behind walls again, no matter how unfamiliar, gives you a sense of calm that is impossible to feel when you’re on the road.

After making a small loop around the community, I make my way back to the houses to use the bathroom when I spot Daryl still on the porch of his new home. He looks like he hasn’t moved the entire time I’ve been gone. I walk up the few steps before going over to him and sitting down.

“Didn’t feel like exploring?” I ask. He shrugs in response, eyes trained on his feet. It’s clear to me in the way he holds his knees to his chest that he still feels the need to be on guard. I reach out to rest a hand on one of his own. “We’re safe here. You don’t have to be afraid.”

“I ain’t afraid of nothing,” he tries to remind me.

I roll my eyes. “I know that’s not true.”

“Tell me one time you’ve seen me afraid.” He thinks that I don’t have one, but I do. A very vivid one, in fact.

“When I was on the floor, after I got shot.” My words make him suck in a breath and I know I’m right. “I remember the last time I saw you before I got taken. You had more than a dozen walkers behind you, and there wasn’t an ounce of fear in your eyes. But in the hospital, you looked at me like I’ve never seen you look at anything before. We were in a safe place with walls, surrounded by our people with more weapons than we ever had when we were on our own out there. But you were still scared.”

He doesn’t respond for a few moments, clearly feeling called out. “Didn’t think you remembered getting shot.”

“It’s all a bit hazy, but that’s the one thing I do remember,” I admit.

Daryl chews on his lip a few times before asking something I wasn’t expecting. “What are you afraid of?” I am taken aback by this at first. He has never asked me anything like this before. It has always been me trying to pry information out of him, not the other way around. I’m always the one trying to come up with new games for us to get to know one another, but the way he just asks a blatant question is appealing to me.

“Jellyfish.” My answer makes him scoff and I giggle lightly before growing serious. “I’m afraid of losing who I’ve become. The idea that an event could send me back to being small and scared of everything is terrifying. I worked so hard to get to where I am now and the fact that it could all be taken away in an instant.. that’s what I’m afraid of.”

“What do you think could take it away? Could send you back to being that person?” He asks.

I frown. “If Maggie died. Or Glenn. Judith. Carl…you.”

“I’m not planning on going anywhere anytime soon,” he assures me.

“You better not be.” I bump him lightly and he smiles. “Not unless you’re taking me with you.”

“You got it.”

 

We all spend another night in the house together. The following morning, I finally change into a set of clothes that I haven’t been wearing for more than several days at a time. When Rosita and I leave to go meet the doctor, Pete, Daryl is once again sitting on the porch, this time with his crossbow, refusing to explore like the rest of us. I let out a soft sigh seeing him like that, which Rosita picks up on.

“You okay?” She asks.

I nod. “I’m fine.”

She shakes her head, clearly having noticed something. “Is there something between you and Daryl?”

I swallow a bundle of nerves. “What makes you say that?”

She rolls her eyes gently. “I’m not blind, Beth. You’re always sneaking glances at each other when you think nobody is looking. And you two were awfully close in the barn until he saw I was awake.”

“Who else knows?” I frown.

“Abraham was the one who told me, but other than that, I don’t know,” she replies. She must sense my unsteadiness for what she says next. “Look, he’s a little older than you, so what? People got way more shit to worry about than two people who know how to handle themselves.”

I smile weakly at her. “Thank you.”

The two of us make our way to the infirmary where we meet a man with dirty blonde hair named Pete, Alexandria’s doctor. I immediately take a disliking to him. He talks about how he is in charge and we won’t have a say in what goes on in here, as we are merely his assistants. He even mentions a woman named Denise, who had originally been his assistant, but he fired after she questioned his actions. The way he talks to us as though we’re inferior almost reminds me of Gorman. When we leave, I am thankful that Rosita has the same job because I don’t know how I could stand being alone with him.

She splits off to go see Abe, meanwhile I make my way towards the gate, hoping to see the others return from their dry run outside the walls. When I get there, however, Deanna’s son Aiden is getting up in Glenn’s face. I can’t stop the gasp that escapes my lips when he takes a swing at Glenn, who manages to dodge it and punch him in return. He falls to the ground and when Nicholas charges at Glenn, Daryl tackles him.

Rick and Carl reenter the community with the former racing over to stop Daryl from choking the man to death. When he finally pulls him off, it is clear that he is still ready for war in the way that Rick has to push him back. Without Judith here, the one thing I know for sure calms him, I’m left with little choice but to take matters into my own hands.

I approach him, resting a palm on his broad shoulder. “Daryl.” When he hears my voice, he turns to look at me and I watch in surprise as he stops trying to get around Rick. Instead, his breathing returns to normal and his muscles relax slightly. I can feel people eyeing us in curiosity, but I try my best to keep Rosita’s words in my head. Daryl, however, can feel their scrutiny, and rolls his shoulder to get me off.

Deanna’s voice rises to its peak when asking to be understood that we are part of Alexandria and are to be treated as equals. Aiden and Nicholas walk off as she speaks to Rick in a much softer tone,

“I’d like you to be our constable. That’s what you were. That’s what you are,” she tells him before turning her head to Michonne. “And you, too. Will you accept?”

Rick is the first to confirm, “Okay.”

I watch Michonne give a grin as she nods. “Yeah, I’m in.”

Daryl scoffs, picking up his crossbow where he had left it and stalking off in the other direction. I try to ignore Maggie’s gaze as I follow behind him. He can hear me going after him and picks up his pace. I have to jog to keep up with him, his steps nearly twice as long as mine. Eventually, I get sick of him walking away from me and run around him to get him to stop.

“Tell me what’s wrong.” I try to get him to open up, but he’s having none of it.

“I’m fine,” he responds.

“Stop with the bullshit!” I exclaim in frustration. “If we’re going to do this, I need you to talk to me. You can’t push me away and you can’t lie to me. I need honesty.”

“And I need time,” he finally admits. “I’m not like you. I need time to think. Time to process so it doesn’t all come out wrong.”

“Okay.” I breathe a sigh of relief. At least we’re getting somewhere. “Then take time. Think about why you’re upset and what you need from me.”

I watch as he nods and though it breaks my heart, I watch him walk away. I knew a relationship with Daryl wouldn't be easy. But there was a part of me that hoped I could connect with him in the same way that he connected with Carol. I consider going to find her, but I soon realize that she would probably tell her the same thing: that he needed time. Not only time to think about what he would say, but time for him to open his heart to me. So even though it hurts to watch him mount his perch on his porch again, I take a deep breath and turn the other way.

 

That night, the house feels the most cramped that it has since our arrival. However, a part of me doesn't mind it. It means that everyone is alive and well. That no one hated each other so much that they couldn't stand to be around one another. I try to remind myself of these things as Maggie suddenly made a request for the first time since the prison had fallen weeks ago.

"Bethy, can you sing?" She asks from her place, her back leaned up against the couch with a half-asleep Glenn resting his head on her lap.

I am reminded of what Daryl said back in the cabin, about how I acted like everything was a big game. I knew he was drunk and didn't mean it, especially since he was the one who asked me to play for him merely 24 hours later, but the thought still crosses my mind. My eyes find him across the room nearby Carol. She is talking to him lowly, but his eyes are focused on me. He gives me a slight nod and I suddenly realize he is encouraging me. I smile weakly at him before turning my head away in hopes that nobody notices. Though not as nervous as him about what the others think, there is one person whose opinion I care about, and that's Maggie's.

Despite all my reservations about my budding relationship, I still open my lips to sing.

We will call this place our home
The dirt in which our roots may grow
Though the storms will push and pull
We will call this place our home

We'll tell our stories on these walls
Every year, measure how tall
And just like a work of art
We'll tell our stories on these walls

Let the years we're here be kind, be kind
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine

My eyes scan the faces of my friends anxiously, curious over whether to continue or not. But this song in particular, as I hoped it would, has sparked soft smiles across the room. It's a reminder that this is a new beginning for all of us, and one that I do not intend to waste.

A little broken, a little new
We are the impact and the glue
Capable of more than we know
To call this fixer-upper home

With each year, our color fades
Slowly, our paint chips away
But we will find the strength
And the nerve it takes
To repaint, and repaint, and repaint every day

Let the years we're here be kind, be kind
Let our hearts, like doors, open wide, open wide
Settle our bones like wood over time, over time
Give us bread, give us salt, give us wine

Smaller than dust on this map
Lies the greatest thing we have
The dirt in which our roots may grow
And the right to call it home

Chapter Text

In the morning when everyone wakes up with sore limbs yet again, we are all thankful to hear Rick announce that we can start sleeping in our own homes. While I know for sure this will be better for my muscles, I wonder if it will be better for my mind. I feel safer when we’re all together and even though I know we are behind walls and everybody is just next door, there is a part of me that can sense that trouble will still have a way of finding us.

Rosita and I check in with Pete briefly, but he tells us that he hasn’t truly been needed for anything serious in weeks. He explains that sometimes things are quiet and we should be thankful for it. He assures us that if we’re needed, we will probably know. So we leave his house and make another stop at the home with the clothing inside.

The others had stocked their wardrobes, making us feel as though it was okay to do so. Both of us eye all the many pairs of shoes, overwhelmed by the many options. Already having my boots and sneakers, I pick out a simple pair of flats, which Rosita also grabs. We briefly discuss the heels in the corner, talking about how we would probably never get comfortable enough to wear them. I hardly ever wore them before the turn anyway.

Back in our house, it feels good to hang things up in the closet and fold clothes to put in the dresser. Something like laundry had been basically nonexistent in my life since the fall of the prison. It would feel nice to fill up a hamper to throw in the washing machine for the first time in weeks. I wind up the music box to play once before I leave, a small reminder to be thankful for the simple things in life.

When I leave the house, my eyes find Daryl, who is on the porch yet again with his bow laying at his feet. I wonder why he spends so much time there, rather than inside. Maybe he feels out of place, or maybe he just doesn’t like being cooped up in one area. It wouldn’t surprise me, especially since he often went outside the funeral home just to walk the grounds back when we were there. Despite being with everyone and in a place with walls, a part of me missed that little house.

“Hey,” I greet Daryl as I step up onto the porch with him. I sit by his side, our backs pressed up against the railing. “How are you?”

He chews his lip a few times before answering. “Just thinking.”

“About what?” I ask curiously.

His eyes meet mine, albeit briefly. “You.” My heart flutters at this simple word and I smile softly to myself. “About what you said.”

“Have you had enough time? If not, I can leave,” I offer, but he stops me by resting a hand against my knee.

“Don’t.” Once again, another one word answer that still manages to make my heart skip a beat. I don’t know how he does it, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the way he could do that to me so easily. I wonder what it would take to do the same to him.

“So, let’s talk boundaries,” I tell him. He cringes slightly at the word, but doesn’t make fun of me for it. It’s been a long time since he made fun of me for anything, save for the rare joke he makes. I remember him sweeping me off my feet with ease in the funeral home, saying forget that when I swore I was going as fast as I could. Although it was brief, being held in his arms like that brought me peace.

I’m torn away from my thoughts when Daryl begins to speak. It takes time for him to get it all out, but I don’t mind waiting. He talks about feeling like an outsider in Alexandria and how his lack of getting a job affected him. That he was jealous of the rest of us, despite not wanting to be. He says that he needs to spend some time outside the walls, away from all of this in order to get away from these feelings. It breaks my heart to hear how down he is on himself.

But he also puts it back together by telling me that he likes it when I hold his hand. And that being close to me makes him feel more like himself than he does with anyone else, even Carol. Daryl admits to having only been kissed once in his life. He mentions Merle’s name and how when he told his brother, he was admonished for giving into something that was “for suckers.” He explains that the thought of kisses makes him nervous, but shyly admits that he would be open to trying. I can’t help but grin at this.

When he asks about me, I agree on enjoying physical touch. I also mention quality time, which he deems he doesn’t mind either. We decide that we’ll try to spend a little time together everyday. He talks about taking me beyond the walls for more tracking lessons, meanwhile I want to play as many “get to know you” games as I can think of.

Before he goes off with Rick and Carol, we make one more decision together. That we’re going to wait to tell anyone about us until I find the right time to tell Maggie first. The idea of me informing her clearly makes Daryl nervous, but he knows that it will have to come someday. He gets visibly shy when I tell him that Abraham and Rosita know, but I reassure him with a squeeze of his hand and the information that they don’t judge us. When he gets up to leave, I feel the urge to kiss him on the cheek, but decide against it. I know he needs a little more time. Watching him walk away, I soon realize that I would wait for him as long as it took.

 

Later on in the day, everyone learns about Deanna throwing a party to welcome our group to the community. It doesn’t surprise me, but everybody is anxious to attend, including myself. I stand at the foot of my bed, gazing over the options for outfits I laid out. Things as petty as my clothes and making a good first impression on people haven’t been on my mind in who knows how long. Eventually, I decide on a white blouse with yellow flowers and a pair of beige pants. I match them with the flats I got earlier in the day and take the time to braid a section of my hair. When I look in the mirror, I almost look like I did before the turn. It’s comforting, yet also strange.

Maggie, Glenn, and I enter Deanna’s home together. She is quick to greet us and introduces us to her husband, Reg, saying that her other son Spencer should be around the house somewhere. Drinks are laid out on one of the tables, both alcoholic and not. A part of me considers indulging in one of the liquors, but the other would rather drink with Daryl than by myself. Maybe that could be another thing we do together.

Noah and I briefly meet two others our age, Pascal and Lillian. They are both surprised to learn of our jobs, soon explaining that they have yet to be given any. They invite us to sneak out to return to one of their houses and play video games, but the thought of being alone with them is somehow even more terrifying than remaining at the party. We politely decline, asking for a raincheck.

I spend most of my time holding Judith and standing in the corner of the room with her, talking with her quietly as she babbles. I feel more comfortable with her than I would any of the strangers in the room. However, our neighbor Jessie soon offers to take her so I can mingle, leaving me drowning in the seas of people inside. I can feel my anxiety bubbling to the surface, my hands becoming sweaty and finding myself unable to stand still. I excuse myself from the woman who just offered to make my favorite meal and head out onto the front porch.

It’s dark out now, and I can see my breath in the chilly air. I can hear the music and the people talking from outside, proving how loud it really was in there. My eyes suddenly spot a figure walking away from the house and I feel my stomach do a somersault when I see two angel wings on their back.

I practically jump off the porch and jog to meet him on the street. He turns his head when he hears me and I catch a glimpse of a small smile on his lips. “What’re you doing?” He asks.

I shrug as I fall into step with him. “It was getting a little much for me. What about you?”

Daryl shakes his head in response. “I don’t belong there.”

I frown, remembering our conversation earlier. “That party is overrated anyway. There are much better things we could be doing with our time.”

“Like what?” He inquires.

“Well–” I don’t get to reply before a sudden voice calls out into the night,

“Hey, guys!” We both stop in our tracks, turning our heads to the nearest house to see Aaron standing on his porch.

I smile up at him, “Hi.”

“Thought you were going to that party over there.” Daryl pointed back the way they had just come and my eyebrows furrow. Had they talked earlier in the day?

“Oh, I was never going to go,” Aaron responds truthfully.

“Why the hell did you tell me to go, then?” He sounds frustrated with the man who likely just means well. I reach out, brushing my fingers against his in an attempt to calm him.

“I said try. You did,” the recruiter points out. “It’s a thought that counts thing.”

“Did you need something?” I decide to ask. If he wasn’t going to the party, clearly he had been looking out his window for a reason and made a choice to come out to call us.

“I wanted to invite you to come in. Have some dinner,” he answers. “It’s some pretty serious spaghetti.”

I grin at the thought of having my daddy’s favorite meal. “We’d love to.”

When I start approaching the porch, Daryl reaches out to grab my arm. “Beth.” I can practically hear the nervousness in his voice.

I turn back to him, “Come on. This is way easier.” He sighs at the idea of going inside, but he still falls into step with me as I go up the stairs and meet Aaron on the porch. He smiles at us both before leading us inside and to a dining room where Eric sits at one of the six chairs. He encourages us to get comfortable as he gets two more plates and wine glasses.

Daryl and I sit across from each other and I eye the large plate of spaghetti in the center of the table. I haven’t had pasta in who knows how long. When Aaron returns, he pours us each a glass of wine before we all scoop a serving onto our plates. Upon my first bite, I almost want to cry with how good it tastes. How comforting it feels to have a hot meal in a well-lit, clean home. It’s something I never imagined having again.

“Thank you, guys,” I tell them when I have finished chewing. “This is incredible.”

“You’re welcome,” they say in unison, smiling at each other when the words leave their lips at the same time. I grin and ask how they had met.

They take turns telling different parts of their stories, sometimes with Aaron taking the lead and other times with it being Eric. They both worked for a NGO and often traveled through Africa together, becoming best friends and eventually, lovers. I can’t help but get giddy for them when Aaron explains he confessed his love on their fifth date, to which Eric replied, “I had a hunch.” They seem to be a happy couple that despite going through a lot, still genuinely enjoy each other’s presence. The soft looks they share with one another are endearing. My heart clenches in my chest when I find myself thinking that I would like to have such a steady relationship with Daryl one day.

As I think of him, I watch as he slurps his spaghetti before grunting a “Thanks,” and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. I kick his foot under the table and he glares at me. “What?”

“Use a napkin,” I beg him, to which he rolls his eyes. Aaron stifles a laugh and Eric tries to cover it up by starting a new conversation.

“When you’re out there, if you happen to be in a store or something, Mrs. Neudermyer is really looking for a pasta maker. And we’re all really trying to get her to shut up about it.” He laughs lightly before continuing. “I mean, we have crates of dried pasta in here, but she wants to make her own or something. I really think she just wants something to talk about, so…if you see one on your travels, it would go a long way to…”

Aaron coughs, trying to be subtle, but Daryl and I both pick up on the fact that he is trying to get him to stop talking. Eric pushes his spaghetti around with his fork awkwardly. “I thought it was done. You didn’t ask him already?” Aaron simply shakes his head.

“Ask me what?” Daryl looks at him and though he doesn’t show it, I know he is just as curious as I am.

“Let me show you something.” Aaron sets his napkin on the table before getting to his feet. He leads Daryl to another section of the house and I set down my fork, suddenly nervous for him.

“What’s he asking him?” I can’t help but ask.

Eric hesitates before answering, “I told Aaron that a walker almost got me when I twisted my ankle the day we brought you here. I managed, but it scared him enough that he told me he doesn’t want me going out there anymore.” I wonder what this has to do with Daryl before he adds onto the story, “They met in the woods today. Walked together for a while. Aaron did most of the talking, but.. he just saw how good he is out there. How it seems like he’s made to be out there. Aaron asked Deanna not to give him a job because he wants Daryl to be Alexandria’s other recruiter.”

I play with my watch nervously, trying to process everything that I’ve just been told. The idea of him going out there for long periods of time to try and bring back strangers makes me far more anxious than that stupid party. They could run into anybody out there. What if they got into trouble and we didn’t know? What if nobody came looking for them and they needed our help? What if–

“If it makes you uncomfortable, he doesn’t have to do it,” Eric points out. I look to him, my eyebrows furrowing.

“Why would I have a say in it?”

“I thought you two were…” He doesn’t have to say it. I know what he thought, what Aaron likely thinks, too. I let out a breath. It’s not that they’re wrong. But if people who don’t even know us are noticing, then what does that say about our friends? What does that say about Maggie?

I decide now that I have to tell her soon, whether Daryl wants me to or not. It might make him nervous. Hell, it makes me nervous. But we’ll feel much worse if she hears it from someone else and starts thinking we don’t trust her.

Eric and I finish our glasses of wine in silence. When Aaron and Daryl return, I can tell that he accepted the job just from the way that he breathes a little easier. We soon depart for our houses that are just down the road and I can’t help but stop Daryl from going inside his home out of concern.

“You’re going to be careful, right?” My voice is thick with emotion in a way that I didn’t expect. I almost don’t sound like myself.

He furrows his brows. “What?”

“When you go out there.” I can hear my voice crackle, but I don’t bother trying to cover it up. He would notice anyway. “You promise you’ll be careful?”

“I’m always careful.” He tries to assure me.

Daryl,” I call out to him sternly.

He nods, recognizing my anxiety. “Okay.” I wrap my arms around his torso, pulling him close to me as I rest my head against his chest. Eventually, my breathing returns to normal and the tears that wanted to spill out go away. Being in his hold brings me a comfort that I’ve never known. It’s like nothing in the world can get to me.

As we slowly pull away from the hug, both of us hesitate when our faces are a few inches from each other. I can practically feel his heart beating out of control, but his eyes never leave mine. I don’t know if now is the right time. But as soon as I have this thought, I realize that there will never be a right time. Our only guarantee is this moment, the very one that we’re living in because it could all change in an instant. And I decide that if we were to lose it all tomorrow, I want to have lost it knowing that I did everything I could to make Daryl know that he is just as cared about as he cares about the world.

So, I kiss him.

He is shocked at first, completely still and unaware of what to do. But he soon catches on, timidly kissing me back. I almost want to cry with relief that he’s not pushing me away. That finally, I’m getting back just as much as I’m giving him. Just as I am about to end the kiss to breathe, there is a voice that breaks the silence of the night.

“Beth?!” Daryl and I snap away from each other as if we’ve had an electric shock. I spin on my heel and feel my heart sink at who I see has just witnessed us.

Maggie.

Chapter Text

She comes storming over to us, leaving Glenn where he is. Just as she arrives, I feel Daryl get spooked from behind me. I turn my head, watching as he quickly walks off to avoid Maggie’s furious gaze. I can’t help but frown at his fear.

“What the hell was that?!” She shouts.

“I was going to tell you–”

She cuts me off. “When?! When were you going to tell me that you’re running off with someone more than twice your age?!”

“You act like this is some stranger we’re talking about, but it’s not. It’s Daryl.” I try to insist that what is happening is okay, but I can practically feel the anger radiating off of her. My words don’t make a difference to her.

“Maggie.” Glenn approaches and takes her gently by the arm, trying to calm her the same way I know my touch calms Daryl. She, however, is too angry for it to work.

“I can’t believe you would lie to me like this!” She yells.

“I never lied to you, you never asked! If you had, I would have told you!” I exclaim.

“Guys, we should take this inside.” Glenn is the first to notice the people looking at us through the windows in their houses.

“Fine,” Maggie practically snarls. The three of us make our way into the house and I swallow nervously when I see her clenched fists. Once the door is shut behind us, she turns and starts going off again. “What makes you think that this is okay?! How in the world did this happen?!”

“Does it matter how it happened?” I ask. “You’re going to be angry either way. And I think it’s okay because we have so much more to worry about than an age gap in this world.”

“What would daddy say if he were here right now?!” The mention of him feels like a slap in the face. Glenn shoots me a sympathetic look from behind Maggie, clearly having noticed.

I take in a breath, trying not to lose my cool. “He would say that he has come to trust and respect Daryl. That he knows he’s a good guy, despite all the bullshit that’s been thrown his way. Before this, you would have entrusted him with keeping me safe no matter what. Why does that suddenly change when I tell you that there’s something there?”

“Because that ‘something’ isn’t right! I look at him as a brother, why don’t you do the same?!” Her words cause Glenn to scoff, which shocks both of us. She turns to him with fury in her eyes. “What is it?”

“If you think they look at each other in a brother/sister kind of way, then I want to know what kind of relationship you had with Shawn.” His remark almost makes me laugh.

My sister’s reaction is the opposite. “Excuse me?!”

“Maggie, he looks at her like the sun. Soft and bright, but frustrating. Warm and inviting, but painful. He sees everything he wants to be in her eyes.” The way he puts it makes my vision blur with tears.

“You knew? You knew and you didn’t tell me?” Her voice has finally lowered in volume, which my ears are thankful for.

“I thought anyone with eyes knew,” he replies.

She turns to me one last time. “I don’t want you to be with him.”

I shake my head at her. “You can’t keep treating me like a child and expecting me to go along with whatever you say. Nothing you tell me is going to change the way that I feel about him, so you’re just going to have to deal with it.”

Maggie is clearly shocked by my words, having thought that she would be able to change my mind just by saying she doesn’t approve. She is the only one that still treats me like she did at the prison. Like I can hardly even kill a walker, let alone make my own choices. I’m determined to change the way she sees me, no matter what it takes to do it.

 

In the morning, Maggie and Glenn are sitting at the table eating breakfast, but I ignore them and head over to Rick’s house. Carl is the one that answers the door with a smile, inviting me in to eat with him, Judith, and Michonne. Though this wasn’t originally my plan, I still decide to accept. We mostly dine in silence, other than when we all laugh as Judith gets more applesauce on her cheeks than in her mouth. Carl wipes her tiny hands and face before taking her to play in the living room. I stay behind with Michonne, not only to help her wash the dishes, but to ask her a question.

“Do you know where Daryl is?”

She shoots me a soft, knowing smile. “He’s working on a new bike in Aaron’s garage. Apparently, he has all kinds of parts in there. You can take him some food if you want. He didn’t eat before he left and I don’t want it to go to waste.”

“Sure, thanks.” I load our leftovers into a container, taking one of the forks from a drawer before saying bye to everyone and making my way down the street. Aaron’s garage door is open and Daryl sits inside on a stool beside the frame of a bike, tightening something near the front with a socket wrench. He’s so focused on what he is doing that he doesn’t even look up when I step inside. “Hey,” My voice alerts him, his hand immediately finding his knife until he realizes that it’s just me.

“What’re you doing here?” He asks.

“I brought you food,” I answer as I walk over to him. He sets down the wrench and I force the container into his hands, knowing he probably wouldn’t accept it if I asked.

“I don’t need you checking up on me.” His tone is cold. I frown, knowing he is just acting like this because of what happened the night prior. He feels the need to push me away now that someone knows about us and doesn’t approve.

“Don’t be angry with me just because Maggie is being a jerk,” I tell him and he sighs.

“I’m not angry with you, it’s just…I’m angry with myself,” he admits. “I knew someone was gonna catch us, but I didn’t do anything to stop you.”

“That’s not your fault,” I assure him. “And I’m glad you didn’t stop me.” Daryl looks over at me shyly and I’m reminded of Glenn’s words. He looks at her like the sun. “I still want this, no matter what Maggie’s opinion is. And if anyone tries to talk me out of it, I won’t hear them. I promise.”

“I thought you cared about what Maggie thinks,” he responds.

“I did, too. But when she started screaming at me, I changed my mind pretty quickly.” My words cause him to frown. “It’s okay, I can take her being like that when I know that other people think differently.” He suddenly looks down, avoiding my gaze. I furrow my eyebrows, wondering what I could have said to make him want to retreat. “Daryl?”

He sighs. “If I tell you something, you gotta promise not to hate the messenger.”

“Whoever hates the messenger is worth hating,” I reassure him. “What is it?”

“Sasha told me the other night that she almost told you out of anger, but I warned her not to because I didn’t want you to hear it from someone trying to hurt your feelings instead of help them,” he explains. “You said you don’t care what Maggie thinks of us, but I know you care what she thinks about you.”

I swallow nervously. “What are you trying to tell me?”

“Maggie didn’t look for you after the prison fell. Sasha said–”

“Stop.” My voice doesn’t even sound like my own. It’s like I opened my mouth and a stranger spoke instead. I’ve never heard it like this before and I soon realize that it’s because I have never been as angry as I am right this second.

I turn on my heel, stalking back to my house. Daryl calls for me a couple times, but soon realizes he doesn’t have the power to stop me from what’s about to happen. I storm through our front door and find Maggie in the kitchen with her back turned, wiping down the counter. I fight the urge to slam her against it.

“Tell me you searched for me when we lost the prison.” My words make her drop the rag. She looks over her shoulder at me, her eyes full of anxiety before she turns to face me.

“Bethy, I–”

My heart sinks in my chest. I taste vomit in my mouth. It’s like I can’t even breathe. “Tell me you looked for me just as much as you looked for Glenn.” She refuses to meet my gaze and I feel my fists clench at my sides. “Tell me you didn’t think I was as good as dead!” My voice shakes the entire house. She flinches at the sheer volume that I didn’t even know I was capable of producing.

“I can’t tell you that.” Her voice is thick with emotion. She is remorseful, but the anger bubbling inside me is blind to it.

“You look at me and you just see a dead girl walking, don’t you?!” I all but scream in her face. She tries to speak, but I’m too enraged to let her talk. “I looked for you! I looked for everyone! I never once doubted that you were out there somewhere, and you didn’t even bother to do the same, you arrogant piece of shit!”

“After daddy, I just didn’t.. I didn’t think you were alive,” Maggie finally admits.

“And yet, you had full fucking faith that Glenn was! You had no reason to think that I was dead when he wasn’t! This whole time, I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think you actually believed in me!” Tears are burning my eyes, but I refuse to let them fall. I despise the fact that I cry when I’m angry because I don’t want to appear weak. But it’s near impossible for me to keep it together when my sister has just cracked my heart open on the kitchen floor.

“I do believe in you,” she tries to tell me, but she couldn’t be more unconvincing if she tried.

“How can you even say you love me if you can’t even tell me that?! You don’t approve of me with Daryl?! Well, I don’t approve of you with me! So stay the hell away from me!” Just as I turn to leave, I’m met with Rick and Michonne who have shock plastered over both their faces. Despite this, they each gently take one of my arms.

“We need to separate you two,” Michonne says lowly as they bring me out of the house. People are staring from their porches and their windows, watching as I feel my heart breaking into pieces. I’m practically shaking with emotion, both anger and grief. My seams are starting to rip and I’m afraid if they don’t get me somewhere soon, I’m going to fall apart on the street.

They lead me to one of the empty houses and they must be able to tell that I want to be alone, because they leave without a word after placing me inside. I can hardly even see through the tears blinding my vision, but I still manage to punch a hole through one of the walls. My fingers rip one of the empty photo frames from the wall, the glass shattering into pieces when it hits the floor. I kick the wall several times until my foot flies through it.

When I hear the front door open, I draw my knife, prepared to throw it at the first person who dares to enter at a time like this. “Beth?” It’s Daryl. And when he sees the blade in my hand, he is quick to disarm me.

“Give it back!” I try to reach around him to grab it, but he tosses it behind him, meaning I would have to go through him to get it. My hands clench and suddenly, I can’t stop myself from the emotions that come pouring out.

The sides of my fists beat against his firm chest, hitting and hitting with every inch of me. He doesn’t fight it. He doesn’t try to get me to stop. He just stands there, letting me use him as the punching bag for all the feelings I don’t know how else to express. I don’t even realize that the tears are flooding my cheeks until suddenly Daryl rests his hands on the sides of my face and wipes his thumbs under my eyes.

“You are so much more than just another dead girl,” he whispers to me. “You have walked miles and miles from the person you used to be.” I let out a sob when he places a gentle kiss on top of my hair before wrapping me in the tightest hug he can, trying to put all my broken pieces back together.

And I’d be lying if I said he didn’t partially succeed.

Chapter Text

Over the next several days, Daryl and I spend more time together than we have since we were alone on the road. I accompany him whenever he goes to Aaron’s garage to work on his new bike, handing him tools and asking him questions about everything he does. It’s clear he finds it a little annoying at first, but eventually I catch him smiling every time he gets to tell me something new.

When we’re not in the garage, we’re either in the nearby woods for tracking lessons or relaxing in the house I’ve been staying at since my fight with Maggie. We have both taken a liking to me reading aloud to him, although he joked the first time that “It might surprise you, but I do know how to read.” It had made me blush furiously and try to convince him I knew otherwise, until he assured me that he was just teasing me.

As for Maggie, I haven’t spoken to her since our argument and I don’t have plans to go anywhere near her anytime soon. Glenn tried coming to me to tell me how upset she was, but I refused to hear him. I was the one who was upset. Rosita and I talked briefly about it on our way to check in with Pete and she assured me that she was on my side. She was even surprised when I told her I didn’t hit Maggie, as much as I wanted to.

Daryl and Aaron are going beyond the walls to search for people for the first time today, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more and more worried with every step we took towards where his bike was parked. We finished it the day prior and he told me that if it falls apart underneath him, it’s my fault. I giggled and swore that if that happened, I wouldn’t bother him when he rebuilt it.

“You can stop pacing, y’know.” His voice breaks me out of my train of thought. He is smiling at me in amusement and I can’t help but return it, despite the bundle of nerves in my stomach.

“You’re going to be careful, right?” I ask.

“Didn’t we have this conversation a few days ago?” He reminds me and I roll my eyes.

“I just want to be sure,” I reply.

“I’ll be careful.” He nods at me as he finishes strapping his crossbow to the back of his bike. “And you be calm. I don’t want to come back and find out that you killed your sister.”

My body stiffens at the mention of her, but I still manage to make a joke. “No promises.” Daryl shakes his head, but he knows I’m only kidding. “Maybe while you’re out there, you can find another moonshine cabin for us to burn down.”

“Or I could just bring back the booze for us.” He shrugs. I grin at the thought of more drunken conversations with him. Despite the fact that we had an argument last time, we also had one of my favorite conversations between us. I would take the former if it meant I got the latter, too.

A car pulls up beside the garage and when the window rolls down, Aaron leans over the front seat to talk to us. “Ready to go?”

My anxiety comes back in full force and I instinctively reach for Daryl’s hand, who gives mine a gentle squeeze. He turns to look at me and notices my frown, deciding to reassure me again. “I swear I’ll be careful. We’ll be back soon and if we’re gone more than four days, you can come looking.”

The idea of a panic date eases my mind. I nod, tugging him in for a hug that I find it hard to let go of. Neither of us say goodbye before he climbs onto his bike and pulls out in front of Aaron’s car. I watch them drive to the nearby gate where someone opens it for them, then shuts it after they have gone out. I sigh, soon deciding that I can’t just wallow in my sadness and that I have to do something with it.

Carol taught me back in the prison that idle hands are worrying hands, and that time always moves faster when you’re getting something done. I take Judith for a walk through Alexandria, letting some of the older folks ooh and aah at her before returning her to a thankful Rick who goes to put her down for a nap. I talk briefly with Michonne, who encourages me to return home whenever I feel like I can do so without causing a ruckus again. I admit to her that I don’t know when that will be.

Pascal and Lillian, the people my age I had met at Deanna’s party, stop me as I’m making another loop around the walls to invite me to play some board games with them. With nothing else to do and despite my anxiety, I decide to accept. I manage to win at Trouble and Pictionary, and although I come in last place playing Life, I find myself attached to the little people I placed in my purple car. A husband, a son, and a daughter. I find myself blushing when I think of the possibility of such a future with Daryl. Before leaving, I thank them for inviting me to play and ask if Noah could join us next time, which they happily agree to.

As I make my way back to the house I’ve been staying in, I pass by the gate just as it screeches open and a van pulls inside. It quickly is set into park and Glenn jumps out, shouting, “Help! I need help!”

My feet pound against the asphalt as I run over, watching him throw open the back doors. Tara is laying inside, her head poorly bandaged and leaking gobs of blood. Nicholas is sitting beside her, a gun trained on him by Eugene, of all people. Nausea eats away at my stomach as I notice the distinct lack of two people that had left this morning. I hardly have it in me to ask, “Where’s Noah?” Glenn looks over at me, his eyes full of both remorse and tears. My heart jumps into my throat as others begin to arrive, including Deanna, Rosita, and Pete. He shouts for us to get a gurney from the infirmary, but my feet are rooted to the ground.

Within seconds, people are yelling at each other. Deanna at Eugene for holding a gun to Nicholas, Glenn at Deanna for trying to reprimand him, Nicholas at Glenn for spreading lies, and Pete at me for failing to follow orders. I reach for my gun to fire it into the air to shut everyone up, but I realize that I gave it away to be put in the armory when we arrived. When Rick arrives, he manages a whistle loud enough and high pitched enough that it silences them all and allows Deanna to start delegating.

Pete, Rosita, and Glenn lift Tara out of the van and onto the gurney. As they rush with her towards the infirmary, my eyes land on Noah’s bag. I climb inside and grab it, seeing a sleek black journal inside. When I open it up, I find it empty, save for one line on the first page.

This is the beginning…

Chapter Text

I spend half the night awake, talking to Carl in his room. He tries to comfort me for a little while before realizing that I am beyond consolation. This is when he instead turns the conversation to gossip, telling me about a girl his age called Enid that he had followed outside the walls a few days prior. That she was Ron Anderson’s girlfriend, but he got the feeling that they weren’t really that into each other. I ask if he likes her, to which he becomes shy and replies that he doesn’t know.

In retaliation, he asks me about Daryl, which surprises me. We haven’t been trying to hide the fact that we’ve been spending more time together, but I didn’t realize we were being quite so obvious. I explain that things are slow going, but I don’t mind it. He asks me if I think we will ever have what Maggie and Glenn do, and I can only tell him that I hope so.

I appreciate it when he questions if I will forgive my sister, rather than when I will forgive her. Everyone has been so sure that this thing between us will blow over in a few days, but I know for a fact that it won’t. This is going to haunt me for who knows how long. The others may think it’s stupid for me to be upset over something that is already weeks in the past, but how long ago it happened doesn’t make a difference to me.

I know daddy would want me to forgive her. That he would tell me we’re all each other has left in the world, and we shouldn’t take for granted that we’re both still alive. But the majority of me isn’t ready to let this go. Maggie deserves to know that what she did was wrong and that if she keeps treating me like I’m the little girl on the farm, she won’t get to know the new person I have become.

When my thoughts finally settle down enough for me to rest, I don’t bother returning to the house I’ve been staying in and instead sleep on Carl’s floor. I wake up as the sun is rising and rock Judith back to sleep before sneaking out of the house. I don’t realize where I’m going until I get there. It’s the small gazebo Noah had met Reg on the previous morning. Deanna’s husband, despite the demise of his son, is still sitting there.

I slowly approach him. “Good morning.”

He turns to me, his eyes wet, but not trying to hide it. “Good morning, Beth.”

“I’m sorry about Aiden,” I tell him as I lean up against one of the posts.

“Thank you,” he responds gratefully. “People say you never know what you got until it’s gone. But the truth is, you knew what you had - you just never thought you’d lose it.”

I nod in agreement. “I think my daddy would have liked you.” He smiles weakly at me before inviting me to sit with him, and I do.

“I’m sorry about Noah,” he apologizes as well. “He was a good kid.”

“He was.” My voice crackles, but considering Reg isn’t trying to hide his grief around me, I decide I won’t either. He tells me about how Noah had met with him the previous morning and asked to teach him how to build things. Not only to keep the wall up, but for new buildings in the future. That he truly seemed to believe this place would be around long into the future.

“I have an offer for you,” he suddenly says. “I told your friend about how I write everything down, and encouraged him to do the same. What if you used that journal I gave him and helped me get started on Alexandria’s history book?”

I give him a small grin. “I would love that.” Together, we decide that we’ll start working on it in a few days, after we’ve both had time to grieve what we have lost. I apologize to him once more for Aiden before I depart.

When I return to the house I’ve been staying in, I see Pascal and Lillian coming off the steps and call out to them. They turn to me and I see that one of them is holding a plate covered with tinfoil while the other has a bouquet of flowers in their hands. I approach them, my heart filling with gratitude as they explain they wanted to stop by and offer their condolences for Noah, despite the fact that they only had one interaction with him. I invite them inside, steering them away from the holes I had punched and kicked in the wall that Daryl had yet to fix.

Lillian helps me to find a vase for the flowers and once we’ve successfully put them in one with some water, Pascal reveals the plate that they brought is full of cookies. The three of us munch on them, talking briefly about Noah and how we had met until I feel myself getting too emotional and change the subject to life before the turn. Talking with them, no matter the shit going on, almost feels like it was to talk to friends before the dead started walking.

As we finish talking and I walk them to the door, we suddenly hear screaming from across Alexandria. Despite the nice time we just had together, I am instantly reminded of the difference between me and them when they go rushing back to their houses and I run towards the commotion.

When I arrive, Rick is holding Pete in a chokehold and both of their faces are covered with blood. My mouth falls open at the sight of them. “Stop it! Stop it right now.” Deanna’s voice is calm in the face of chaos.

“You touch them again and I’ll kill you,” Rick warns Pete, immediately telling me what has happened here.

Deanna finally loses her cool. “Damn it, Rick! I said stop!”

“Or what?” He suddenly pulls a revolver out, causing everyone to take about three steps back from him. Glenn, Carl, and I eye each other nervously. “You gonna kick me out?”

“Put that gun down, Rick.” Deanna tries to reason with him, but it is clear to me from the look in his eye that he is far from finished.

“You still don’t get it,” he proclaims. “None of you do! We know what needs to be done and we do it. We’re the ones who live. You, you just sit and plan and hesitate. You pretend like you know when you don’t! You wish things weren’t what they are.”

“Well, you want to live? You want this place to stay standing? Your way of doing things is done. Things don’t get better because you– you want them to. Starting right now, we have to live in the real world. We have to control who lives here.” The way he is talking almost reminds me of how he was in the prison just after Lori died, which I feel terrible thinking.

“That’s never been more clear to me than it is right now,” Deanna admits. I swallow nervously.

“Me? Me? You–” Rick actually has the audacity to laugh and out of the corner of my eye, I see Michonne approaching us. “You mean– you mean me? Your way is gonna destroy this place. It’s gonna get people killed. It’s already gotten people killed. And I’m not gonna stand by and just let it happen. If you don’t fight, you die. I’m not gonna stand by–” Michonne suddenly charges into the circle of people around Rick and knocks him out from behind. When he hits the ground, she takes the gun from his motionless hand.

Deanna soon starts delegating, having Rosita and I patch up Rick and Pete before they are taken to separate houses to calm things down. There is fear among the Alexandrians from just having had a gun pointed at them and they talk quietly about what just transpired as they go back to their homes, eyeing those of us from our group suspiciously.

A part of me wants to cry in frustration. It seems like the minute we finally found something good, everything started to fall apart. The darker it gets, the more my thoughts turn to Noah. He lost so much. His father, his mother, his brothers, his home. Only to then lose his life because of a coward who can’t follow instructions. He deserved so much more than what he got. He deserved to watch this place thrive and grow beyond how we had found it. I decide then that no matter what happens, we have to make this work. If Rick is going to try and go guns blazing, I’m not going to stand by and watch. I have to stop him from ruining this.

Even if it kills me.

Chapter Text

The next morning is the hardest one I have had in a long time. I’m reminded of how I felt weeks back, just wanting to lay down and cry the whole day. Instead, Daryl and I had gone searching for booze and ended up connecting on a whole new level. I wish he was here. Not just out of my own need to talk to him and hug him until my arms fall off, but to know for sure that he is safe and out of harm’s way. Somehow, I still need to last today, tomorrow, and the next day before panicking. I don’t know how I’m going to do it.

It takes me longer than I’d like, but I eventually pull myself out of bed and get dressed. I make my way to Rick’s house, where I cook breakfast for Carl and Judith. After we’re done eating, we play with Jude in the living room. I listen to him talk about sneaking out again to follow Enid, who actually knew he was there the entire time. He becomes blushy when admitting he had touched her hand, which I can’t help but find adorable. When he asks how he should approach the situation going forward, I encourage him to focus on being her friend first, especially considering she has a boyfriend.

As the day goes on, word begins to spread that there is going to be a meeting at night about what Rick had done and said the day before. I watch from afar as Maggie goes to different people in the community, gauging their opinions. A piece of me is tired of this. I want to go back to living in my house and going to her when I have a problem. But the majority of my mind is still seething. I want to go up and scream at her. To demand why she was so convinced I was dead. Why she had no belief that I could make it out of the prison alive. Glenn has stopped trying to get me to talk to her again, however, he has encouraged me to find out where Denise lives and visit her, as she had a past in psychiatry. I didn’t say much in response. The last thing I felt like doing right now was opening up to another stranger.

I visit with Tara briefly and while I’m there, Rosita and I discuss our thoughts about Pete. We both could tell from the start that he wasn’t a great guy, but we didn’t know just how bad he was until yesterday. She encourages me to go to the meeting about Rick, as she is going to stay back to keep an eye on Tara. Half of me would rather stay with the two of them, especially since Maggie is going to be there, but the other half knows it’s important for as many of us to voice our good opinions about Rick as possible. I assure her I’ll come back after the meeting to tell her what happened.

Before heading to Deanna’s house, I go back home to grab a jacket for the chilly night. The closer I get, the more I start to sense that I’m not the only one walking the streets. My hand finds my knife just as my eyes catch a figure running the opposite direction from me. It’s Spencer going towards the gate. I pick up my pace and eventually hear Rick’s voice coming from Deanna’s patio.

“You’re gonna change,” he proclaims in the distance. “I’m not sorry for what I said last night. I’m sorry for not saying it sooner. You’re not ready, but you have to be.”

Suddenly, I hear footsteps approaching from behind me. I spin around, my knife drawn as my eyes land on Pete. He’s carrying Michonne’s katana and there is a rage on his face like I’ve never seen before. “He’s not one of us!” He shouts as he grows closer.

“Step back,” I warn him.

“I’ll kill you to kill him. Is that what you want?” He asks.

“I won’t let you kill me and I won’t let you kill him,” I retort. “The only person dying tonight, if anyone, is you.”

He scoffs. “You’re just like him. You’re not one of us either!” He charges forward, but several others suddenly come running out from Deanna’s porch. It all happens within an instant.

I’m the first one to rush him, his swing of the katana catching me in the upper thigh. I fall to the ground as Reg tries next to stop him. Pete manages to sever his left arm off completely. Deanna screams and falls to the asphalt with him. Abraham is the third one to try, getting slashed in the gut. A figure in the distance suddenly charges him from behind and tackles him to the ground. I clutch my leg, feeling the blood spill out as I finally recognize the person as Daryl.

“Rick…” Deanna’s voice is weaker than I’ve ever heard before. “...do it.”

With no hesitation, he turns and pulls the trigger. Several women scream as two more people approach from the direction Daryl came. Aaron and a man I don’t recognize, who calls out, “Rick?” From the way that they look at each other, it’s clear that they know who the other is.

They hardly have time for a reunion as Rosita comes sprinting from the infirmary. She, Aaron, Tobin, Rick, and another man that I have yet to learn the name of lift Reg from the ground and start rushing him to the back to get medical help. Daryl clambers off of Pete’s dead body, pulling his belt off in one motion in order to tighten it around my leg. Carol inspects Abraham’s stomach, but he insists he is good enough to walk.

Daryl lifts me up off the ground, holding me against his form and ignoring the blood I’m leaking all over him. “I should’ve been the one telling you to be careful.”

I smile weakly at him, my head becoming heavy, so I lay it against his chest. “Thank you for coming back alive.”

“Thank you for not getting your femoral artery cut,” he replies and I nod, realizing that I likely would have already lost consciousness if that were the case. Had Pete cut much deeper, I probably would have bled out on the street. I hug Daryl a little tighter, realizing I am far from ready to die.

Chapter Text

By the time we get to the infirmary, Reg has already bled out. The tears pool in my eyes, seeing them lift a sheet over his motionless body as Deanna sobs. Tara has woken up, but is still slightly weak. When Glenn and Nicholas arrive, the former tells a bogus story to Maggie about having been attacked by walkers and getting caught by a ricochet. Rosita stitches my leg before tending to them, followed by Abraham.

In the morning, Denise arrives and introduces herself, having been given the role as the new doctor for Alexandria. She gives me a crutch to get around, telling me to keep off my leg for a few days. Daryl insists on accompanying me back to the house I’ve been staying in. When we get through the door, I can’t help but giggle when he sweeps me off my feet and carries me to the living room to lay me down on the couch. I watch as he pours a glass of water, gets pillows to prop up behind me, and grabs the book I’ve been reading to him.

“How was it? Outside the walls?” I ask when he passes it to me.

He grunts in response. “Still bad people out there doing a lot of crazy shit.”

“Did you get into any trouble?” I catch him chewing his lip again, trying to decide whether to tell me or not. He knows it will only worry me, but he also knows that I need honesty from him.

So, he tells me about the man in the red poncho they had been following. That eventually they lost him and Aaron decided to try to get some food for the community, but it turned out to be a trap. They took shelter in a car, sitting inside for nearly an hour when Morgan gave them an opening to get out. Despite not knowing anything about him, I already have something to thank him for.

I brief Daryl on everything that transpired since he left. This includes Noah’s death at the fault of Nicholas, which he starts profusely apologizing for. I get teary talking about the demise of our friend and he wastes no time pulling me in for a close hug. I then explain Rick’s situation with Pete and Jessie, followed by the build-up to what he witnessed outside Deanna’s house. He warns me not to take on another opponent that has a weapon with longer range than me.

Later on in the day, Rick and Morgan return from burying Pete and call for a meeting. Daryl promises that he’ll come back and tell me about it once it’s over. I spend the majority of the time he is gone taking a nap and when I wake, he is sitting on the floor with his back leaned up against the couch. I can tell just from the way his shoulders are tense that something has happened.

“What is it?” I fret.

“They found a quarry nearby. Blocked off with big trucks, keeping walkers inside. Hundreds of ‘em,” he explains. “The trucks are gonna go any day now.”

I sit up straighter, ignoring the pain in my leg as I do so. “What are we gonna do?”

“Lead them away with cars and flares. Set up a wall to keep them going away from us,” he responds.

I swallow, knowing what he’s trying to keep from me. “You’re the one leading them away, aren’t you?” He nods his head slowly and I draw in a deep breath. “Can I come with you?”

“Sasha and Abraham already are,” he points out.

“I don’t care. I don’t want to just be left on the sidelines,” I admit.

“I want you here,” he states simply.

“You can’t just leave me behind because you’re afraid of something happening to me.” I call him out, causing him to sigh.

“It’s not just that. We need people here in case something else goes down. People that know what they’re doing. Not to mention you almost just got your leg cut off by a wife-beater.” There is venom in his voice when he talks. Whether it’s from me getting hurt or from Pete being a piece of shit, I’m not sure, but I have a feeling it’s both.

I rest a hand on his shoulder. “I’ll heal in a couple days. And Pete is dead, so we don’t have to worry about him anymore.”

“You might heal quick, but his kids won’t,” he says stiffly. I feel my heart clench in my chest. A part of me had always suspected that his father was no good, but I realize that now might be my chance to find out.

“If I ask you something, do you swear you won’t run away from me?”

He hesitates, but still answers, “Yeah.”

“Was your dad abusive?” The words leave my mouth as a whisper, but I know he heard me from the way that his entire body tenses. He doesn’t even have to answer the question, his reaction is enough for me to know that the answer is yes.

But to my surprise, he does give me one. “He was a drunk. Couldn’t tell his left from his right most days. Him and my mom, they didn’t give much of a shit about anything other than smoking and drinking. He was always pissed after she was gone, had to get it out somehow.”

I frown, feeling tears start to build up in my eyes. “Merle didn’t stop him?”

“No. He left a few years later anyway.” Daryl begins chewing on his nail and I reach down to hold his hand, stopping him from continuing. My breath shakes as I think of him as a kid, watching Merle drive off and leaving him with nothing to hold onto.

I’m reminded of all the things he said in the cabin. How he never got anything from Santa Claus. How he never relied on anyone for protection. A few tears escape my eyes at the idea of this, but I don’t bother trying to wipe them away. He looks over his shoulder at me and sees my wet cheeks. Within a few seconds, he sits up on his knees, turns to face me, and wraps his arm around me. I hold him back as tightly as I can, wishing I could have given him the happy childhood that I had.

The thought crosses my mind of how my daddy had chosen to break the cycle when he became a father to Shawn, Maggie, and me. That although he did struggle with alcohol and eventually overcame it, he never once laid a hand on us. Despite his typical tough demeanor, Daryl seemed to soften around children.

The question is leaving my lips before I even have the power to stop it. “Do you want kids?” He pulls away from the hug, looking at me with furrowed brows. “I’m sorry, I know that came out of the blue. I was just thinking and…if you don’t want them and I do, then what are we even doing, you know? I don’t want to just be with someone for the hell of it anymore, I want to be with them because I think we could have a future together. And if that’s not you then–”

He shuts me up within an instant by leaning forward and pushing his lips onto my own. He pulls away just as quickly, leaving me in shock before he asks, “Are you asking if I imagine a future with you?” I nod, the idea of living a life with him almost a dream beyond compare.

Daryl gets to his feet and lifts me up off the couch before sitting down on it, holding me close in his arms. Our faces are close to touching, but he doesn’t close the gap between them. Instead, he says to me, “I want to get married. I want to have at least two kids. I want a little house with a yard for them to play in. And I never want them to think that they’re anything less than some of the most important people in my life. I want it all, Beth.”

I feel chills run up my spine as he tells me, “And I want it all with you.”

Chapter Text

Daryl’s revelation made it all that much harder to send him outside the walls without me. I knew I had to heal and that he was more than capable of taking care of himself, but I wanted to be by his side whenever possible. It’s like now that I know we envision the same future, there is an overwhelmingly large part of me that never wants to be away from him. It makes it that much harder to send him out for the dry run with all the others a few days later.

Once Deanna made the announcement that we were allowed to have guns inside the walls, there were few Alexandrians that made the decision to arm themselves. Our group, however, was quick to take our weapons back from the armory. Despite being behind walls, the feel of a full holster is still a comfort.

My leg is still sore, but I can walk without the crutch and am no longer on bedrest. This means I can return to performing duties like going on watch, helping out in the infirmary, and occasionally looking after Judith. I spent most of my time healing on the couch, which I hated beyond words. Even though Daryl would bring me a new book every time I finished my last one, my mind was full of thoughts that only being up and moving could send away.

As it nears lunchtime, I head over to Lillian’s house to meet with her and Pascal. They visited once while I was confined to the house, but now that I could go to see them once more, it would be easier for us to play board games again. We start off with Uno, which Pascal manages to win at every single time. Halfway through our third round of War mixed with Truth or Dare, there is a sudden scream from outside.

I immediately get to my feet, rushing to the window as Lillian asks, “What was that?”

“Probably some kid getting scared by their brother,” Pascal brushes it off whilst I gaze up and down the street, seeing no sign of the cause. “Beth, it’s your turn. Come sit down.”

More screams. I see a woman running down the street trip over the curb. A man with an ax swings it over his head, splitting her crying face right down the middle. I grab the curtains, pulling them shut before getting onto my hands and knees.

Pascal furrows his eyebrows. “What is it?”

“Shh!” I hush him and crawl to the door, locking it. I then go over to them, collecting the cards and shoving them beneath the couch to hide the fact that we were here.

“What’s happening?” Lillian frets.

“People are inside the walls. They have weapons.” I draw my revolver and watch as their eyes widen. “Get upstairs, now.” They waste no time following my instructions whilst I run to the kitchen. I grab the biggest knife I can find, along with a pair of scissors before following them up into one of the bedrooms.

“What do we do?!” Pascal begins to breathe quickly as I pass them each a weapon.

“You barricade the living hell out of the door behind me,” I answer. “Someone makes it through, you slash, don’t stab. Don’t stop until they’re on the ground.” I begin to leave the room, but Lillian grabs my arm in a panic,

“Where are you going?!”

“Believe it or not, some people in this town are even more defenseless than you,” I reply coldly before running back down the stairs. I leave through the back door and rush next door to the Millers, the oldest couple in town. As I usher Bob into one of the bedroom closets, he worries over his wife, Natalie, as she had gone to the pantry. I promise I’ll try to find her whilst I shut him inside. Just as I do so, a horn starts blaring from the front of Alexandria.

“What is that?!” Bob whisper/shouts from behind the door.

“Just stay inside!” I demand. My feet rush me to the front of the house, only to see a man burst through the front door with a machete. I take aim as he rushes towards me, squeezing the trigger once and landing a shot in his cheek. I rush to his body, seeing a W etched into his forehead, similarly to one Daryl and I had witnessed on a walker during one of our tracking lessons. I use his own machete to make sure he doesn’t turn, taking it with me as I leave.

I start making my way back to Rick’s house, praying to god that somebody is still there protecting Judith. As I weave between the houses, the horn stops blaring and I kill two more attackers, leaving me with only three bullets left. I round the last corner to the street with our houses on them, seeing Carl in the distance aiming his assault rifle at a man crying in the grass. Ron is nearby and Enid is on the porch.

I don’t stop running towards them, seeing Carl let his guard down as he nears closer. I, however, get there just as the man reaches for Carl and put a bullet in the back of his head. He looks at me with wide eyes, not having expected me to do so.

“Is Judith inside?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he nods.

“Don’t get that close to one of them again,” I warn him before starting to head in the other direction.

“Where are you going?!” There is worry in his voice, but I trust him completely. He knows how to handle himself and would die to protect Judith, if that’s what it came to.

“Get back inside! There are still more of them!” I shout back, making my way down the road towards more of the houses. Gunshots echo throughout Alexandria, along with screams. Our people are fighting back, but they’re also dying.

As I search for more hostiles, I catch a glimpse of one of them inside a house, loading things inside a pillowcase. I step into the doorway and just as I take aim on the back of their skull, I am suddenly tackled from the side. The gun goes off, shooting a bullet into the ceiling. The man on top of me swings his knife, but doesn’t manage to get it anywhere near me before I squeeze the trigger, sending blood everywhere.

I shove him off of me, scrambling to my feet as I witness not only the man I was originally going after, but another standing before me. They don’t immediately attack, giving me time to figure out the puzzle. Shoot the first one, retreat, use the machete on the second. However, when I pull the trigger, there is an unmistakable click. I’m out of ammo. I turn to run, but it’s too late. One of the men grab me by the hair and slam my head against the wall, turning everything to black.

Everything is hazy as I slip in and out of consciousness. I feel my limbs being pulled left and right, the sharp burn of rope against my skin, something wet being smeared across my forehead. I hear gunshots growing closer in the distance, laughter, a belt buckle being undone.

When I finally come to, the first thing I notice is how badly my head aches. My wrists have been bound together and my boots and jeans are long gone. My flannel has been ripped open and my weapons are nowhere within reach. One of the men is kneeling over me and the other is standing behind him, complaining about how he wants to go first.

I taste vomit in my mouth as the one above me realizes I’m awake and leans down to me. “Sweet little th–” When his tongue slips past his teeth, I see my opening. I interlace my thumbs and turn my palms outwards before slamming them into his jaw with all my force, causing him to sever off the tip of his tongue with his own teeth.

He falls aside, choking on his own blood as the other man is suddenly tackled by none other than Aaron. I use my teeth to undo the loose knot around my wrists, getting to my feet as he punches the W man repeatedly. I snatch the machete from the floor and clamber on top of the guy that had been seconds away from raping me. Without even thinking about it, I slam the blade down into his head. Once. Twice. I start to lose count sometime after my fifth swing. By the time I have finished, his head doesn’t even look like a head anymore.

My breathing is heavy as I climb off of him. I can feel the concern in Aaron’s eyes as he looks at me, watching as I grab my blood-stained jeans from the floor and begin hastily pulling them back on. “Beth,”

“Stop.” My voice shakes and I can feel the tears building up as I try repeatedly to button my pants, but fail to do so through my blurry vision.

“You need to take a minute and breathe.” He reaches out to rest a hand on my arm as I finally manage to do up my jeans. I shake his arm off of me, rage filling me to the brim.

“I can’t breathe! I can’t take a minute! Every time that I do, every time that I think things are finally going the way they’re supposed to, it all falls apart!” I scream at him. “It happened at the prison, it happened at the funeral home, it happened here! So tell me! Tell me how I’m supposed to breathe when every minute, something else takes my breath away!”

The anger, the grief of what I had almost lost, it all comes spilling out in my tears. Aaron steps forward and wraps his arms around me tightly, holding me up when my knees buckle. I cry against him, my head pounding in my skull and my gasps for air getting cut off by my sobs. Black spots begin to cloud my vision and before I know it, I’m collapsing in his arms.

Chapter Text

I wake up in the infirmary not long after Aaron carries me there. Several others are inside, one with a wound to the cheek, another with one to the head, and the last getting his leg bandaged. When Denise is finished with them, she diagnoses me with a concussion rather quickly. I try to get up and leave, but she refuses to let me, saying I need to be observed for at least a few hours. This makes me want to hit her, which surprises me, considering I’m generally not a violent person. I voice this to her, but she assures me that mood swings are common with head traumas like mine.

I cringe at the word trauma. The last year and a half of my life has been traumatic. There had been some moments that were worse than others. The shootout at the barn. Losing the farm. The attacks on the prison. Daddy’s death. Every situation involving Gorman. Getting shot. Tyreese's death. And of course, most recently, the attempted rape. The word makes me shudder, but I know there’s nothing else to call it. All I want to do is curl up into a ball in a dark room and cry until I have no more tears left.

“Open the gate! Open the gate now!” A sudden voice screams from nearby. I sit up promptly, causing my head to spin. I palm my forehead, a wave of nausea washing over me.

“You need to take it easy,” Denise walks over and passes me the cup of water she had poured earlier, but I refused.

“We need to see what’s going on,” I tell her before taking a long sip.

I’ll see what’s going on. You stay here,” she instructs as she goes to the door. “And lay back down.” I let out a deep sigh, but do what I’m told.

My eyes land on my revolver that’s on the bedside table. I should have had more bullets. Should have been prepared for an attack. Daryl knew it was coming. It was clear now in the way he asked me to stay back, saying we needed people here that knew what they were doing. Even though he hadn’t told me of his suspicions, I never should have let my guard down.

Eventually, Denise comes back with Aaron in tow. They explain that one of the trucks at the quarry broke off, causing everyone to put Rick’s plan into action a day early. Things were going relatively smoothly until the horn started blaring from here, causing half of the horde to follow Rick back here and surround the walls. I feel the nerves start to build up when Aaron tells me that Glenn and Nicholas were supposed to light a building on fire as a distraction, but that never happened, meaning they were trapped, taken, or dead.

My thoughts turn to Maggie. The first thing that comes to mind is that she has to be worried sick about Glenn, when I suddenly realize that she hasn’t come to check on me. Even if I had wanted to tell her what almost happened, she never showed up. My fists clench and tears burn at my eyes again.

I throw the blankets off of me and get to my feet, despite the overwhelming dizziness. Denise comes rushing over, grabbing my arm to try and get me back into the bed. “I told you, you have to take it easy.”

“And I will,” I say before taking a few unsteady steps forward. I almost tilt over, but Aaron manages to catch my weight.

“Beth, whatever it is, it can wait,” he tries telling me.

“I need to talk to Maggie,” I state firmly.

“So I’ll go find her for you,” he offers, but I pull away from his grasp.

“I don’t want your help.” I stagger over to the door and exit the infirmary, stepping out onto the street. You can hear the walkers growling even from far away from the walls. As I make my way through Alexandria, I can feel Aaron following close behind me, waiting for me to need him again. My anger bubbles beneath my skin.

Finally, I spot Maggie. She is sitting on a rock nearby the pond, tying rope to two pieces of metal with flashlights on the ends. They’re distraction mechanisms. She’s going to hang them over the walls to go out there. To find Glenn. I can’t help the tears that begin to spill out over my cheeks. I loved Maggie and I loved Glenn, but she was starting to show time and time again that he was more important to her than I was.

Just as Aaron arrives by my side, I storm off in the other direction. I try wiping away the tears that flow down my face, but my attempts are futile. As I pass nearby the front of the community, my eyes land on a section of the wall three women have been painting. It reads in our memory and beneath it is a list of names. My heart clenches in my chest as I read the last one.

Glenn.

My feet start taking me back to the house I’ve been staying in, quicker than my head can handle. It’s like the entire world is tilting on its axis as I run. But I can’t stop. Not until I’m finally behind that door.

When I get there, I practically fall inside and kick the door shut after me. The sobs return in full force and suddenly I’m a mess. Snot dripping from my nose, and my lips gasping for a breath of air. I had been holding it together through everything. Daddy’s death, the people at Grady, the losses of Tyreese and Noah, what those two men had almost done to me. I had cried, but never fully broken. Now, it was finally my time to break. I could handle a lot, but one thing I couldn’t take was the thought that Maggie was leaving me behind for her future.

 

I cry and cry until there’s no more light left in the day. I feel too broken on the inside to sleep on a bed or even the couch, so I lay out pillows and blankets on the floor in the hallway before sitting down. There is a knock on the door, but I don’t have the energy to reach for my knife, nor to answer it.

“Beth? It’s Aaron,” a voice calls out from the other side. “Are you in there?” I stare up at the window, seeing his shadow and hoping by sheer will I can send him away. But he’s not leaving. “If you don’t say something, I’m coming in to check on you.”

I want to scream in frustration, but instead I manage to croak, “I’m here.” My voice is scratchy and has been completely ruined for the day thanks to all my crying.

“Look, I really think you need to talk to Maggie. She’s going through it right now, too, and you really should–”

I cut him off. “If one more person tries telling me to talk to Maggie, the next time I see her, I’m going to kill her.”

He pauses, unsure of what to say. It takes him a while to finally respond with, “If you won’t talk to her, you should talk to Denise. You know she has a past in psychiatry and after what you went through–” My fists clench and I get to my feet, pulling the door open so quickly that he stumbles from having been leaning against it.

“Are the walkers gone?” I ask.

He furrows his eyebrows in confusion. “What?”

“Are the walkers gone?” I repeat myself.

“No, they’re still out there,” he answers.

“And is Daryl back?” Just saying his name makes me want to start crying all over again.

“No.” Aaron shakes his head.

“Then unless one of those two things happens, you can leave me the hell alone and not come back!” With that, I slam the door in his face before breaking down into tears again. I practically collapse onto the blankets and pillows I’ve piled up, pressing my face into them so he doesn’t hear me cry my heart out.

My head is thudding painfully and I can hardly get a breath in through the sobs that break them. I try telling myself that these are just the mood swings that Denise was saying I could have, but there’s a large piece of me that is terrified.

What if this is me going back to how I was on the farm?

Chapter Text

By the next morning, it seems like no matter how much I still want to cry, the tears won’t come. I think I’ve used them all up. It takes everything I have to get up from my pile of pillows and blankets, but somehow I manage it. Part of me hopes that taking a shower and changing my clothes will help me feel better, but it doesn’t. I don’t know what is going to make me feel better other than Daryl coming home and holding all my broken pieces back together.

I clean up the hallway I slept in the night prior and just when I finish, there is a knock on the door. I consider ignoring it, but the longer I wait, the more incessant their knocks get. I sigh before going over and pulling the door open. To my surprise, Aaron is waiting on the other side, despite the way I snapped at him last night.

I can’t stop the question that falls from my lips. “What are you doing here?”

“Checking on you,” he answers. I want to close the door on him again, but I can’t bring myself to do it. “I know you’re hurting, but you don’t have to hurt alone.”

I shake my head at him. “I’m not talking to Denise or Maggie.”

“Then talk to me,” he pleads. “I helped her yesterday and I realize now that I should have been helping you. You needed someone, and I wasn’t there. Let me fix it.”

“I don’t know if you can,” I admit.

“Let me try,” he practically begs. I let out a breath I didn’t know I had been holding and surprise myself when I say,

“Come in.” I lead Aaron inside the house I’ve been staying in for over a week, taking him to the living room where we both sit on the couch. I grab one of the pillows from behind me and hold it to my chest, feeling the need to have something to hug. We sit in silence for a few minutes, neither of us knowing what to say until eventually, the words come spilling out of my mouth with no end in sight.

I tell him everything that happened since the fall of the prison. The death of my daddy. The silence in the woods with Daryl that was almost worse than being alone. How we went from hardly speaking to telling each other all our secrets. Being taken from him and forced to kill for the first time in order to get Noah out, only for him to die a horrible death several weeks later. And how could I forget Maggie’s betrayal to me?

There is a hollowness inside of me as I explain everything to Aaron. Like I’m feeling both everything and nothing all at once. I catch a glimpse of the scar on my wrist as I adjust the pillow on my lap and suddenly, all the feelings from the farm come back.

“Are you crazy? What if dad finds out?” Maggie had asked me.

“What’s he gonna do? Kill me for committing suicide?” I questioned her right back.

“Stop being such a brat. He’d die. So would I,” she replied. “This isn’t just about you. We all lost mom.”

My voice broke as I spoke my next words, “We’ll lose each other and I couldn’t stand that.”

I feel a piece of my heart crack off and fizzle away at the realization that I’ve already lost her. Aaron notices what I’m looking at and even though I’m not watching him, I can feel his eyes widen. He takes me gently by the arm and pulls me off the couch as he says, “You need to talk to Denise. I don’t care if you don’t want to anymore, you have to talk to her.”

I tighten my grip on the pillow I’ve been holding, letting him take me outside the house and towards the infirmary. I know I need help. I know I’ll need to face Maggie someday. But right now, all I can think about is that I don’t know how I can go on if Daryl never makes it back.

As we walk, we pass by a section of the wall where Tobin is building up a few support beams. All at once, the people around us start to look in the distance. My eyes follow theirs to a group of green balloons floating into the sky. It’s the signal from Glenn that Aaron had mentioned yesterday. Maggie comes running from her post, both shock and relief written all over her face. I watch her from a distance and she doesn’t even look at me. It’s like I don’t exist.

Wood starts creaking from nearby and at first I think it’s the fresh wood that Tobin has been setting up, but I then realize that’s not where it’s coming from. All eyes turn to the watch tower as it slowly starts tipping and tipping.

And then it falls.

Chapter Text

Before the dust even settles, we hear the walkers coming closer. Coming inside the walls. Rick gets to his feet, shouting for everyone to get into their houses as Tara and Rosita rush to help Tobin. Aaron suddenly grabs me by the shoulders, shaking me lightly and I realize that he has been calling my name.

“We have to go!” He insists. I let him take my arm, leading me across the grass and away from the walkers flooding the community. He fires his gun several times at ones that get close to us before pushing me to run. The two of us race down the street and mount the single step to get into the infirmary. Aaron slams the door behind us, my eyes landing on Spencer and Heath already inside.

“Where’s Denise?” His worry is prominent not only for her, but for me.

“She never made it in, I don’t know where she is,” Spencer responds.

“We need to cover the windows, turn off the lights,” Aaron begins instructing them. I look down at the pillow still in my hands and see a blood stain on the side. He comes to me, gently placing me out of the way as he and the others work.

I don’t want to be weak. I had chosen after the farm fell that I was going to change, and I did. But as Aaron, Heath, and Spencer decide to move Denise’s patients upstairs just in case, I’m reminded once more that I didn’t change enough. I was right when I was screaming at Daryl back at that cabin. I wasn’t Michonne, Carol, or Maggie. Not just because I had survived my thoughts once and won, but because I didn’t survive like them.

My feet give out from under me and I slide down to the floor against the wall, hugging my knees to my chest. I’m suddenly reminded of how everything was before the turn. Shawn and Maggie were always arguing over which was harder, being the oldest or the middle child. But I never spoke about how it felt being the youngest. What it was like being compared to them by everyone. Their friends, our teachers, even our parents. I wasn’t them and I would never be them.

It was up to me to carve my own path, but I felt like I hadn’t even been given a knife. The tears desperately want to spill out over my eyes, but I do my best to hold them back. I can hear Spencer and Heath asking what’s wrong with me, along with Aaron telling them that I need help. That I need Maggie. And this thought makes me want to scream.

I had to face her. Tell her everything that I felt that was because of her, both before and after the turn. Make her realize how it felt to be pushed aside. I knew she loved Glenn, but I had always thought up until I found out she didn’t look for me that she loved me just as much. I was proven wrong one too many times. If she did it to me again, I don’t know how our relationship could survive. I don’t know how I could survive.

Aaron tries crouching down beside me. Tries talking to me, telling me that he’s sure Maggie is okay and that Daryl is going to make it back. That I just need to have hope, like he does that Eric managed to make it somewhere safe. I draw in a shaky breath at the reminder of daddy. If you don’t have hope, what’s the point of living?

It felt like I had run all my hope dry. That there was simply none left in me anymore. My thoughts were sending me into a downward spiral. I was never going to know if Carl got the girl. Never watch Judith grow up. Never get Maggie to say she was sorry. Never have my future with Daryl.

My tears finally overflow. I had no hope. So what was the point of living?

Chapter Text

Aaron paces the floor of the infirmary, being watched by Spencer and Heath. Beth is still on the floor in her semi-catatonic state, refusing to look at him, talk to him, or do anything but sit there and cry. He knows he has to do something to get her out of it, but he doesn’t know what. He has no proof that Maggie or Daryl are alive, the two things he knows could bring her out of it. He only has his hope, and it’s clear that that’s exactly what she has run out of.

The darker it gets, the more anxious everyone in the room becomes. Despite having all the medical supplies, they have little to no food. They won’t last as long as everyone will in their houses. Spencer tries formulating plans aloud, but they each know that they are bogus. They couldn’t do anything from their current position, lest they want to end up dead.

A series of screams and gunshots from outside send the three men to the door where they peek out the curtain, only to see Denise rushing towards them. Aaron is quick to open it, ushering her inside as Spencer asks, “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she responds, out of breath. “How are my patients?”

“They’re doing well. We moved them upstairs just in case,” Heath answers. As he speaks, Aaron lifts the curtain of the other window and is in shock at what he sees.

“Oh my god.” It was Michonne in the middle of all the walkers, clearing a path for Rick as he carried Carl through them.

“It’s the kid,” Heath tells Spencer, who couldn’t see from his vantage point.

“Is he bit?” Spencer asks.

Denise draws in a deep breath before replying, “Nope.” She begins giving instructions, taking charge like Aaron has never seen. He thanks his past self for having moved Beth out of the way before all of this as he grabs the gurney. Denise pulls open the front door just in time for Rick to carry his son inside and lay him down.

Beth finally glances up from the floor, her eyes landing on Carl. Her lips part in shock as she watches Denise approach the right side of his face with tools. Across the room, Rick removes his hatchet from his belt and leaves the infirmary, shutting the door behind him. Michonne, Aaron, Heath, and Spencer are quick to follow him. She can feel herself finally begin to break. This was how she lost them.

They were going to die. All of them. No matter what she did, no matter how much she hoped. It was over.

“Beth! Beth!” Denise’s voice suddenly pulls her from her thoughts. When she glances up at her, she is looking right back with her hands in Carl’s eye socket. The sight almost makes her sick. “I know you’re scared, but I need your help. Carl needs your help. He’s going to die without it, do you understand me?”

She nods slowly, her heart thudding in her chest. “What I need you to do is come over here and wipe away some of this blood, I need to get a better look.” She manages to stumble to her feet and walk to the other side of the gurney, taking the tool from Denise. All while performing surgery, she begins talking Beth down.

“When I was in college, after I decided I wasn’t going to be a surgeon (as ironic as that is now), I lost myself for a long time. Didn’t know who I wanted to be or where I wanted to go. To make matters worse, I got outed to my mildly homophobic parents. And I know that’s all very different to what’s happening to you right now, but it’s the same if you think about it. We both struggle, we both fight, but in the end - we both want to die. So, what do you do?”

“You remember that you aren’t here to be seen as smart or funny or courageous. You don’t shy away from the things that other people think are cringey because you are here to have a good time. To live a good life and be kind. We don’t know what happens after we die. Well, we do, but we don’t know where our mind goes. But I like to think that we’ve already experienced heaven. You know how?”

“Because you’re here. You’re living your life. And as shitty as it can be sometimes, there are a lot of people who either never got that chance or had it cut short. People can be as scared as they want about what happens after they die, but I choose to believe that we’ve already gone through the best and the worst moments of our lives, afterlife or not. And that’s because you lived.

By the time Denise has finished talking, so has she finished operating on Carl. Beth walks to the window and she peers outside the curtain, seeing walker after walker being put down not only by her people, but from many others in Alexandria. Her heart swells in her chest. She hears Daryl’s words in her ears.

“I want it all, Beth. And I want it all with you.”

She doesn’t know where he is. If he’s alive or dead. But she knows, whether he has actually said the words or not, that he loves her. That he would spend every minute they were apart fighting to get back to her. So she would do the same.

Her hand finds her knife and she pulls it from its cover as she stalks to the door. Outside, she wastes no time joining the group by the wall that is putting down every last walker in sight. They fight and fight, blood spilling and sweat dripping. Everyone working together to protect their home. People that have hardly had a conversation before, saving each other’s lives. Men and women that haven’t held a weapon a day in their life, driving them into the skulls of walkers.

Eventually, the herd thins out. Less and less start approaching them, dispersed enough that people can start to take a rest. Only a few of the dead are still stumbling around when Beth watches Rick and Michonne go back to the infirmary to check on Carl. She turns towards the last walker coming towards her and feels her heart sink in her chest.

Pascal.

The tears start to build up in her eyes once more and she stumbles over bodies as she backs away from him. Bites are all over his chest and neck. She almost wouldn’t recognize him if it weren’t for the deck of cards she can see sticking out of his pocket. She grips her knife a little tighter before thrusting it into the side of his head, causing him to collapse.

“Beth?” A voice calls her from behind. She turns and squints through her blurry vision. A sob rips through her as she realizes who it is. She sprints to Daryl, throwing herself at him and feeling his arms grip her back just as tightly.

It all comes spilling out of her at once. The anger, the pain, the worry, the unending grief. He holds her against him, letting her cry every single tear that she needs to get out. She eventually forces herself to pull away, needing to get out the words before she breathes another breath. “I love you.”

And even though they’re surrounded by the dead and all the people she knows would judge them without a moment’s hesitation, he kisses her. But this is different than any kiss they have shared before. This one says, “I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

Outside the infirmary the following morning, everyone holds vigil. Denise gives Beth pointers as she sutures the cut on the back of Daryl’s shoulder, trying her best to hold back the tears when she sees the scars covering his back for the first time. When she finishes, he holds her for a long time. Not just for her, but for him, too.

Carl wakes up after a few hours of hoping and praying. Cleaning up Alexandria of all the walkers takes days. Clearing away the fallen watch tower and putting up a new panel takes almost a week. Denise meets with Beth every day after lunch for a fortnight, making sure her mind can stand on its own again before proclaiming she can start coming just once a week. It takes Beth this entire time to work up the nerve to talk to Maggie again.

They sit nearby the pond that has finally been cleared of the bodies of burnt walkers. Maggie wants to reach out and hold her sister’s hand, but she can tell that now isn’t the time. Instead, she sits and listens as Beth recounts all her feelings, even those from before the turn. When she finally gets it all out, she feels a weight lifted off her shoulders.

But then Maggie says something that changes everything.

“I’m pregnant.”

Beth is taken aback. She stands from the rock, her fists clenching at her sides. “You’re what?

“Glenn and I, we weren’t trying, but–”

She fights the urge to slap her sister. “I just spilled my guts to you. Told you everything that has been killing me on the inside and all you have to say is you’re pregnant?” Maggie looks up at her, confusion written across her features. “You’re supposed to say you’re sorry! Sorry for everything you did to me! Sorry for not looking for me after the prison fell! Sorry for never putting me before Glenn!”

“I’m–”

She cuts her off, “Don’t you fucking say it,” before fleeing the area.

After this, Denise tries encouraging Beth to bring Maggie in so she can mediate a conversation between the two of them. She, however, is still too livid for such a thing to occur. Instead of this, she collects all her things from Maggie and Glenn’s house and moves them to the one she has been staying at. She is done pretending that this is going to be over in a few days. She needs to move on.

As more time passes, Beth forms a bond with Aaron. She keeps playing board games and card games with Lillian, despite the loss of Pascal. In the evenings, she and Carl sit on his porch with Judith and gossip about him and Enid and her and Daryl, who continues taking her beyond the walls for more tracking lessons. She is starting to get far better than she was and although she certainly isn’t to the level that he is, she’s still proud of herself.

A month and a half after the walkers invade Alexandria, the symptoms of Beth’s concussion have gone away. She has stopped waking up and grabbing her knife in the night every time there’s a little noise. Over a bottle of liquor they share on her couch, she asks Daryl for the first time if he will spend the night at her house.

“Is that the drink talkin?” Is the first question he asks.

Beth smiles. “No.”

“How can I tell?” He inquires. She grins even wider and gets to her feet, walking past him heel-toe in a straight line. She then gets right in front of him and touches the tip of her nose with her pointer fingers several times.

“I’m practically sober,” she insists.

He shakes his head at her. “You’re unbelievable, Greene.” She lets out a shriek of laughter when he gets up from the couch and sweeps her off her feet in one swift motion. Giggles escape her lips as he takes her upstairs with ease and lays her down on the bed. They kick off their shoes in unison before Daryl climbs into the space beside her.

Beth nears his face with her own, unable to keep her smile away as she looks at his tired expression. She had noticed over the past several weeks that he got far more cuddly and accepting of attention when he got sleepy. It was part of the reason she started moving their meetups to after dark. It didn’t always work, but when it did, he spent the next day far more happy than usual. He loved it, even if he never said it.

She leans forward and connects their lips, hearing him hum in satisfaction and making her giggle from the way it makes her mouth tickle. Daryl rests a hand on the side of her face as their legs tangle on top of the blankets. Beth’s tongue meets his, albeit briefly, as she knows he isn’t a fan of wet or sloppy kisses. On the rare occasion they did French kiss, it was typically when they were sober to avoid that.

A part of her wants more. Is ready for the next step. She would be far too anxious to ask him, so she makes herself okay with waiting. She wants him to be ready and she wants herself to be ready, too. That wasn’t going to happen if she rushed into things.

So, Beth eventually pulls away and rests her head on the pillow beside Daryl’s. She slides in close to him, letting his arms envelope her in a way that makes her feel like nothing could ever get to her. It doesn’t take long at all for his breathing to become even, which surprises her. He always spoke to her about taking hours to fall asleep. Yet, with her, it had taken minutes. She smiles at this and pecks his cheek one last time before closing her eyes.

Things were finally starting to go their way.

Chapter Text

After a day of babysitting Judith and worrying about Daryl as he goes outside the walls yet again, Beth hands Jude off to Carl once it’s dark. She passes by Rick when she is on her way to her house, who tells her without her having to ask that Daryl is guarding a guy they found at the unfinished house. He thanks Beth for watching his daughter before he heads home.

She finds Daryl exactly where Rick said she would, standing outside the entrance of the house. He smiles softly when he sees her approaching and she returns it. “Hey,” Beth greets him.

“Hey.” His arms wrap around her at the same time that hers find him.

“Eventful day?” She asks.

“More than you know,” he answers.

“I missed you.” Beth lifts her head up from his chest in order to plant a chaste kiss on his lips. “I think Judith misses you, too.”

“What? She start talking while we were gone?” Daryl jokes, causing her to laugh.

“I love you,” she tells him with a grin before connecting their mouths again. He sighs, resting a hand on the side of her face as he leans down to her. She joins their tongues briefly and he suddenly pulls away, groaning.

“I’m supposed to be watching that asshole,” he mumbles, clearly grumpy.

“Go check on him. I’m sure he’s still there,” Beth points out. He nods, but still goes to look anyway. However, when he doesn’t come immediately right back, she suspects something is up.

As Denise comes down the stairs, Daryl suddenly shouts, “Motherfucker!” Beth rushes in, drawing her gun. However, unless the man they brought in is invisible, he is long gone. Denise and Abraham soon run in, shock on both of their faces. “Do a sweep, we need to find him.”

It doesn’t take long for them to find that the man is gone. Beth, Daryl, Abraham, and a newly arrived Glenn and Maggie start searching. Daryl is the first to find prints that lead back to Rick’s house. Everyone draws their guns, charging inside and halfway up the stairs to see the stranger sitting at the top. Carl is there, aiming his own pistol at him as Rick and Michonne stand behind him, only partially dressed.

“It’s– it’s okay,” Michonne announces, everyone eyeing the two of them suspiciously.

“You said we should talk. So, let’s talk,” Rick proclaims. Slowly, everybody lowers their weapons. They all file back down the stairs and to the dining room where some sit at the table and others remain standing. Beth notices that nobody has bothered to holster their guns.

The man, who introduces himself as Paul Rovia (or Jesus), explains that he managed to get out because one guard couldn’t cover three possible exits. Beth and Daryl eye each other, both thankful to realize it wasn’t their fault he slipped out. But then the stranger says that he is from a similar community. One that is already trading with other groups.

“Your world is about to get a whole lot bigger,” he tells them all.

 

After a lengthy discussion about Jesus’ community and the possibilities of going there, it is decided that the group is going to see where he comes from. As everyone begins loading up the RV, Daryl comes to Beth with a question he feels he already knows the answer to. “Are you gonna come?”

She shakes her head with a frown. “Not when Maggie’s going. I don’t want to be stuck with her.”

“I know you hate her, but–”

“I don’t hate her,” she insists.

“I know you kind of hate her, but someday, you’re going to have to decide whether her mistakes are worth your entire relationship,” he replies. “Merle wasn’t a good guy. Made me deal with a lot of shit growing up and after we got older. But if he was here, I’d still stick by him. It don’t mean I’d forgive him, but he’d still be my brother.”

Beth sighs, knowing he’s right, but not wanting to admit it. When she was losing herself as the walkers invaded Alexandria, it had felt like she already lost Maggie. But Daryl mentioning his brother was a humbling reminder that she hadn’t yet. And she knew that if her daddy could see her pushing her sister away, he would be disappointed.

“I’ll think about talking to her when you get back.” She finally decides.

“Good.” Daryl nods at her. “Be safe while we’re gone.”

“You, too.” She pulls him in for a short hug before letting him get onto the RV with the others. She meets Carl behind it where he holds Judith and they watch as the vehicle starts heading towards the gate.

A soft smirk spreads across her lips as she remembers that they have something new to gossip about. “So, your dad and Michonne?”

“Oh, god.” He immediately rolls his eyes, a smile on his face. “That was humiliating!”

“It was hilarious,” Beth counters. “I didn’t even know they were into each other.”

“Apparently, neither did they,” he remarks as Judith plays with the collar of his shirt. “Dad said it just happened last night.”

She knows he seems okay, but she still wants to check in. “How do you feel about it?”

“It’s cool,” Carl assures her. “I’d rather him be with her than someone else.”

The more Beth thinks about it, the more she wants to take that step with Daryl. It’s not just out of getting sexually frustrated around him. It’s out of wanting to be close to him. More intimate than they’ve ever been before. Showing each other parts of themselves that are just for them. A small part of her is nervous, but an overwhelmingly large part is excited. Not just for sex, but for their future. For everything they want to build together.

So, why wait?

Chapter Text

Beth spends most of the day on watch before eventually returning home. Carol had dropped off cookies while she was on her post, so she doesn’t bother making herself lunch. Instead, she lets herself relax on the couch with a book. As she reads, she is reminded that it’s been a while since she read to Daryl and makes a note in her mind to do it again sometime soon.

After a while, she hears her front door open and a voice call out her name. It’s Glenn. “I’m in here!” She uses her voice to draw him over. He comes through the doorway and the first thing she notices is the paper in his hand. “What is that?”

He doesn’t answer. He just comes to sit beside her before passing her what turns out to be a picture. Only, it isn’t just any picture. It’s a scan of his and Maggie’s unborn child. Without knowing why, Beth feels tears start to build up inside her. Maybe because she had imagined this being a time in their lives where she was closest to her sister. Or maybe because the life she hoped for her daddy was finally happening, and he wasn’t here to experience it.

She lets out a shaky breath, trying to stop herself from crying when Glenn suddenly asks her a question that she wasn’t expecting. “Do you hate me?”

Beth furrows her eyebrows and looks up at him. “What?”

He glances down shyly. “You’re mad at Maggie because she looked for me and not you. Because she kept choosing me over you when you needed her. Does that make you hate me?”

“Of course not.” She frowns. “What’s happening between me and her has to do with exactly that. Me and her. You’re like another brother to me. And either way, I don’t think you’re a hateable person.”

“Thank you.” He smiles weakly at Beth before telling her about the meeting Rick wants to have in the church. They walk there together and once inside, she sits beside Daryl.

Rick explains to everyone what happened when they visited Jesus’ community, Hilltop. How everything was going smoothly until their leader, Gregory, was stabbed by one of his own people who claimed the message was from Negan. Beth recognizes the name from when Daryl told her how he got stabbed on his way back here a month and a half ago.

He tells everyone that Negan is the leader of a group called the Saviors, and that they take half of Hilltop’s food, medicine, and livestock in exchange for not killing them. The agreement is that if Alexandria’s people take out Negan and his men, they will get more supplies from them in return. Although the idea of fighting off another group sounds terrifying to Beth, she knows they are running low on food and don’t have enough to last long.

Eventually, there wasn’t going to be anything left in the world to scavenge, no matter how hard they looked. Someday, all the manufactured goods from before the turn would be used up. They could no longer rely solely on runs outside the walls to collect things they hoped nobody else could find. They needed the setup they had in the prison. Crops, pigs, horses. It was the only way they could have a future.

So, everyone agrees. Everyone except for Morgan, that is. Beth had heard from the others that he refused to kill any of the Wolves when they attacked. That he was indirectly the cause of the herd getting back to Alexandria after he let some of them go and they shot the RV that Rick was going to use to draw them away. Of course she could understand the idea of not liking killing. It’s not like she enjoyed it. But in this world, it was necessary for them to survive.

Beth wanted a future. She wanted to survive. So she would do what she had to to make that happen.

 

That night, it is well after dark when Beth gets fed up waiting for Daryl to come to her. She leaves her house and makes her way to his, knocking on the door. Carl is the one that answers and he shoots her a soft, knowing smile. “He’s not here.”

Her eyebrows furrow in confusion. “Where is he? He’s not at mine, but we were supposed to meet tonight.”

“He’s outside the walls. Told me to tell you to find him if you came looking,” he responds.

“Find him? How am I supposed to do that?” She asks.

“You’re the one that’s been tracking with him.” He shrugs. Beth tells him goodnight before heading towards the gate. The person on watch lets her out and she keeps her knife drawn as she goes into the woods.

At first, she’s just wandering aimlessly. Hoping to catch a glimpse of something that will lead her in the right direction. But eventually, she forces herself to stop and take a breath. To think about who she’s pursuing and where they might go. Daryl obviously wouldn’t take off that far, but he also wouldn’t start a fire, as that would make it too obvious. He would have to have a flashlight or a lantern.

As she focuses more on her surroundings and where she is in relation to the places she has been with him since their arrival at Alexandria, she starts spotting clues. A distinct, single footprint pointing in a direction. A dead walker. His lighter. She thinks she is getting close when she suddenly remembers where she is. She’s nearby the pond on the opposite side from the one in Alexandria. There’s a clearing beside it that they previously talked about having a picnic in. She smiles and starts making her way there.

When Beth comes over the crest of a hill, that’s when she sees it. A lantern set up in the opening closeby the pond. And beside it, a familiar figure. She can’t stop the giggles that escape her lips as she runs to Daryl, letting him envelope her in his arms. “Good job,” he mumbles against her ear, causing her to grin widely.

She pulls away from the hug, looking down around them. Several blankets have been laid out on the ground, along with two pillows. Her breath catches at the sight of little rocks surrounding them in the shape of a heart. Beth grabs the sides of Daryl’s face, kissing him happily. “I didn’t know you were a hopeless romantic.”

He smiles at her. “I have been ever since you.”

The two of them sit on one of the blankets, using the rest to cover up. Daryl roots inside a bag she hadn’t noticed and pulls out a bottle of champagne. They pop off the top before taking turns passing it back and forth. Halfway through, they decide to save the rest for another day. Another night in the woods.

“I got one more surprise for you,” Daryl tells her when he puts the bottle away.

“What is it?” She inquires curiously.

“I was thinking, and maybe it’s time we stop your tracking lessons.” His voice holds a hint of amusement, so it takes her away from the thought that he could be asking her to stop going outside the walls. Instead, he turns back to his bag and takes something out. When he turns back to face Beth, she gasps. “I think you’ve graduated.”

It was a crossbow of her own. One lighter than his in a slightly different shape, but one she could keep so she didn’t have to keep borrowing his. Despite having lost his when the walkers broke out of the quarry, he somehow still found the time to get one for her. Part of her wants to find one of the dead to try it out immediately, but another is far too exhilarated.

Beth takes it, putting it off to the side before resting a hand on the side of Daryl’s face and bringing him in for a kiss. She can’t help herself as she winds her arms around him, crawling into his lap. At first, he doesn’t even know what to do with his hands, which she finds adorable. But eventually, they find a home on her hips. Her kisses grow impatient and she takes his vest into her grip, starting to pull it off his shoulders.

He immediately breaks away. “Beth, what are you–” His eyes meet hers and he cups the side of her face gently, seeing more black than blue. “Your pupils are dilated.”

“Daryl.” Her voice sounds different. It’s not just the cold or the excitement. It’s the need.

“We shouldn’t…” He trails off.

“Why not?” She asks.

“You’re drunk,” he tries telling her.

“I’m tipsy,” she insists.

“We’re in the woods, don’t you want to be in your bed?”

“I want to be wherever I’m with you,” Beth replies. As much as she wants this, she would be stupid if she didn’t notice his hesitancy. She didn’t want to go forward unless he was all in. “Do you not want me?”

“Beth–”

A part of her dies inside, but she still manages an “Okay,” as she starts crawling off of him.

Daryl sighs. “Beth, wait.” When she doesn’t stop trying to move away, he grabs her by the hand. “You are more than I ever thought I could deserve, and you make me believe in everything I want to give up on in the world.”

“But–”

He cuts her off. “Did you hear me say no?”

She shrugs sadly. “I didn’t hear you say yes.”

“I didn’t think I needed to say yes,” he remarks shyly. “I thought you could tell.”

Her eyebrows furrow. “Tell how?”

SMUT WARNING

He swallows all the nerves that want to come bursting out at the seams. And he takes her hand, guiding lower and lower until Beth gasps as they reach between his legs. She can’t help but pull her palm away, terrified. But there was no mistaking that bump. Daryl leans closer to her, his lips touching her ear as he whispers, “I’ve never not wanted you.” Tears build up in her eyes, threatening to overflow as she looks at him. “But I’ve never done this before.”

She almost wants to laugh. Not for him being a virgin, but for him thinking that it would even matter to her. She kisses him hard on the mouth before pulling away and telling him, “That makes two of us. I don’t give a shit if you don’t know what you’re doing. I just want to be close to you.”

Beth finds her place on his lap again, pushing their lips back together. She finishes pulling the vest off his arms before starting to unbutton his top. Her hand brushes against his crotch when she gets to the final buttons, causing her to blush, but she knows she’ll have to get used to it soon. Daryl disconnects them in order to roll his shoulders out of his shirt and she follows his motions with her jacket.

His fingers reach for her sweater, but he pauses. To her, it’s obvious that this is just as big a deal for him as it is for her. He wants to get it right. She does, too, but she knows it won’t be perfect. Hoping it will help give him a boost of confidence, Beth does the same as he had done for her. She takes his hand, having him do half the work while she does the rest to pull off her top. The way his breath hitches when he looks at her makes her want to cry tears of joy.

She leans forward, peppering kisses along the side of his face, his trembling jawline, and down his neck. “I love you,” she tells him between planting her lips on new places. He doesn’t speak, but the way he squeezes her hips in response is all she needs.

Daryl winds an arm around her waist and she doesn’t know what he is doing until he gently lifts her up and lays her back down on the blankets. She gazes up at him, seeing stars behind his head as he pulls her boots from her feet, followed by his own. Beth’s fingers find the button of her jeans and she pops it open, tugging down the zipper in order to remove them. She is quick to hide back under the blankets, not out of shame, but out of the cold.

She can feel her heart beating faster as she watches him unbuckle his belt, pull his pants down his legs, and step out of them. A blush rises to her cheeks again at the sight of the bulge in his boxers. He lays down beside her, taking her by the waist and pulling her against him. Their bare legs brush against each other as Daryl timidly begins pressing kisses down Beth’s neck. She holds him back tightly, squeezing his arm when he sucks on her soft skin.

He quickly pulls back, concern written all over his features. “Is this okay?”

She grins, giving him a kiss of reassurance. “This is perfect.” He smiles shyly at her, about to continue what he had been doing when she stops him. She sits up, readjusting the blankets before lifting her sports bra over her head and laying back down beside him.

Daryl gazes into her eyes, almost as though he’s afraid of touching her or even looking at her anywhere privately. Beth takes his warm hand into her cold one, gently moving it down to brush against her breast. They both have a sharp intake of breath, officially entering new territory. They’re both terrified and yet, neither of them want to stop. This intimacy that they had never shared with another person before was like filling a craving they didn’t know they had. It was ecstasy.

The way his rough hands handle her chest with such care, the way his kisses grow more and more confident as he trails them closer to her nipple. It all becomes too much. Beth reaches down, pushing her underwear aside and feeling how wet she is to the touch. She draws slow circles around her clit and bites down on her lips, trying to prevent herself from making any noise. It feels nearly impossible to do so as Daryl encloses his warm mouth around the hard peak of her nipple. She grabs a handful of his hair, her breaths drawing closer together. When she accidentally gives it a small tug, he lets out a sound that makes her melt into the blankets.

“Daryl,” she calls his name and he promptly pulls away from her chest, looking to her with worry that he has done something wrong. Little does he know, he’s doing everything right. “I need you.”

He nods gently, understanding. “Okay.” Beth pulls her underwear down her legs, tossing them aside and grabbing the lantern to bring closer for them to see. She watches as Daryl tugs his boxers over his hips, down his prominent v-lines, until his cock springs free. A small gasp leaves her lips at the sight of him. It feels like she’s supposed to look away, like this is something she shouldn’t be seeing. But he’s letting her.

He props himself up on his elbow, looking down at her with wonder in his eyes. They share a few impatient kisses before he pulls away and asks, “Can you show me what to do?” She blushes furiously at the thought of masturbating in front of him, but she knows it’s one of the only ways he’ll learn.

So, she reaches her hand back between her legs and brushes her fingers over her dripping core. Beth closes her eyes as she works a finger inside herself, her breath catching at the feeling she hasn’t experienced in so long. Hell, she can’t even remember the last time she touched herself like this. The fact that it was here, now, with Daryl by her side - she wouldn’t have it any other way.

As she pumps a finger in and out of herself, she can feel him watching her. He presses a gentle kiss to her head and she bows her face into his chest, afraid of making a sound. She can feel him smile against her hair as he says lowly, “I cleared the area. It’s okay to be loud.” Almost immediately, a soft whine erupts from the back of her throat. Being here with him, being watched and held as she touched herself, it was almost too much to bear.

She whimpers as she pulls her finger out, feeling her hole desperately clench down in search of something to hold onto. Beth takes Daryl’s hand, watching his chest rise and fall quickly as she reaches them between her thighs. When she lets go of him, allowing him to take control, it gives her a feeling that she has never felt before. She is reminded that he would do anything to protect her. To keep her out of harm’s way.

These thoughts all disappear when he gains enough confidence to push a finger inside. She grips his arm tightly, his digit both longer and thicker than her own. He follows the motions she showed him, starting off slowly until she starts getting restless again, then picking up the speed. Whines and whimpers push past her lips, all of which she tries to hide in his shoulder, but fails.

When she eventually tells him, “I need you to slow down,” his first reaction is that he has done something wrong. However, she assures him that she simply needs more from him. She is so wet that he has no trouble getting a second finger inside. It takes her a minute to adjust to the stretch, but when she does, she gives him a new instruction. “Curl your fingers towards you.”

Daryl does as he’s told and Beth gasps against him, feeling him stroke a place inside her that makes her already want to come undone. She had heard that was how you found the g-spot before the turn, but she had never successfully been able to find it herself. The way he pushes against it is almost incomparable to any other pleasure she has felt before.

Soon, she gets close to coming and tells him to stop. He pulls his fingers out of her and smiles softly when she whines from the lack of contact. As he holds himself up on top of her, they are both practically shaking with nerves and excitement. All of this energy that had been building up between them, so close to being released. They almost didn’t want it to end. But as Daryl slowly begins to push in, they both realize that it had to end. And it had to end with each other.

“Oh, fuck,” he mutters beneath his breath. All his primal urges are telling him to sink all the way inside. To start bucking his hips forward. He knows he can’t. He has to wait until Beth tells him it’s okay to move, and it’s one of the hardest fucking things he has ever done.

When their hips finally meet, she lets out a breath of relief. She didn’t know how much more she could take before there would be nowhere left for him to go. She grabs Daryl by the sides of his neck, pulling him down to meet their lips. Both of their breathing is ragged and they are entirely lost in each other.

Eventually, Beth has had enough of waiting. So she finally tells him, “Move.”

He gasps for air, “Oh, thank christ.” She parts her lips to laugh, but all that comes out is a shocked moan when he begins snapping his hips forward into hers. She clings onto him for dear life, her nails digging into his back as he thrusts in and out of her. The sheer speed is enough to take her breath away.

One of her hands slide between them to desperately rub at her clit, the added sensation causing her to arch her back. This makes him ram into her g-spot repeatedly and Beth opens her mouth to scream, but nothing comes out. Several tears leak out the corners of her eyes, not from pain or regret, but from so much pleasure all at once.

Daryl, however, immediately notices and slows his pace to an end. This makes her wriggle beneath him, desperate for him to continue. “Please! Please don’t stop!”

“Are you okay?” He asks as he gently wipes the teardrops away.

She nods almost frantically as she answers, “It just feels so good. Please don’t stop. Please keep going.” Her breathing is heavy, but it’s not like his was steady either. Hell, he was the one doing all the work. A line of sweat was beading on his forehead and she could feel it dripping down his back, despite the cool temperature outside.

Looking up at him, seeing concern in his eyes and feeling him throb inside her, she makes a mental note to never forget this moment. To hold onto it whenever she needs a reminder that things are good. This is her safe place. Beneath Daryl physically, but never mentally. His toned arms on either side of her head, holding himself up with care so he doesn’t crush her with his weight. The way his hips shudder from how he is holding himself back to make sure he’s not hurting her. And how could she forget the complete relaxation of his face, knowing no one is around to judge them? It’s a picture perfect scene.

“Are you sure?” He clarifies once more.

“Please just fucking move,” she begs him and he gives her a small smile before starting to rut into her again.

Every time their hips meet, Beth can feel herself growing closer to the edge. She tightens the circles she draws around her clit, focusing on the sounds of Daryl grunting and huffing, along with their skin slapping together. She doesn’t try to stop the moans that spill from her lips, despite the fact that she knows she’s getting dangerously loud. She can’t help it. It all feels too good. Too much. Too–

It hits her all at once. The way her back jerks up off the blankets as if they burned her. A numb, almost tingly feeling in her toes. Sounds pouring from her mouth that she has never heard herself make before. Her orgasm lasts so long that it starts to concern Daryl that she hasn’t breathed yet. But when she finally does, her walls clench around him and he feels himself bursting at the seams.

“Holy shit–” He thrusts in until there is nowhere else to go and shudders through an intense orgasm that leaves his shoulders shaking and his face burrowed in Beth’s neck. When he finishes cumming, he takes a minute to catch his breath before joining their lips.

She takes the sides of his warm face into her shaky hands, kissing him back just as softly. Her heart was bursting. She had never felt anything so intensely for someone as she did right now. Despite all of Daryl's reservations about the others, and about himself, he was nothing but perfect to her. He made her feel like nothing in the world could touch her and that nobody would dare to lay a finger on her. In this moment, she was his. And she wouldn't have it any other way.

Chapter Text

Daryl and Beth stay outside the walls until the sun starts rising, waking them up naturally. Their limbs are tangled and their hair is messy, but neither of them mind as they gaze at each other in the morning light. The night prior had not only been a huge step, but a resounding confirmation for them both that they were all in.

“You’ll be careful today?” Beth is the first one to break the comfortable silence between them.

“Always am,” he responds.

She sighs, leaning closer to him and nuzzling her head into his warm chest. “I never want to be away from you.”

“Once this is over, we’ll stick together more. Go on runs together. Track together,” Daryl assures her.

She then asks a question that would have made her nervous just yesterday. “Live together?” He smiles at her before pushing his lips onto hers in confirmation.

“We should get up. You have a watch shift,” he reminds her and she groans in frustration. If they could stay there in that clearing forever, Beth thinks she could die happy.

 

She spends the majority of the day on watch, but her mind still wanders to far-off places. The possibilities of what they were going through out there were endless. They could all be dead for all she knew. They had no way of knowing. It didn’t make her feel any better that the panic date Daryl told her wasn’t even the morning after the attack, but the one following it. Despite the fact that it made her feel better knowing there was a time she could come looking, it didn’t make it any easier to wait.

Once her watch shift is over, Beth makes dinner for herself, Carl, and Judith. After they have finished eating, she collects all her items from her house and brings them to Daryl’s room. Not knowing if he is particular in the way his things are, she decides to keep her stuff in bags until he returns. Hopefully, she’ll wake up to him being there.

But when she doesn’t, that’s when the worry starts settling in. She knows a lot can go wrong outside the walls, especially when going after an enemy. However, the thought that they weren’t back yet because they were dead was almost unbearable. The one thing that keeps her calm is Carl’s constant reassurances any time he catches her gaze wandering, knowing that was when her thoughts went wild. She thanks him countless times.

It isn’t until much later in the day that everyone returns. Beth hugs Daryl the second he’s off of his bike, which he tells her they found at the Satellite Outpost. As he recounts how everything went down, she takes a headcount of everyone and is thankful to see that everybody has returned. However, when her eyes catch Maggie and Carol, they look more distraught than she has seen them in a while. When she asks Daryl about them, he explains that they had been kidnapped by more Saviors and held by them for the majority of the day.

That night, Beth has dinner with everyone in Rick’s house for the first time. As they eat, she can’t help her thoughts from going to her sister. The look on her face when they got back was one she hadn’t seen on her ever. It plagues her mind as she and Daryl go to his room, now their room.

He tells her she can put her things wherever she wants before collapsing onto the bed, having been awake for nearly 36 hours. She doesn’t bother putting her clothes away yet. She just takes out the music box Carl gave her and sets it on the end table by her side of the bed. Beth winds it up to listen to it as she kicks off her shoes and lays down. Daryl rolls onto his side, draping an arm over her and pulling her to his chest. Within a few minutes, his breathing has evened out and he has fallen asleep. She, however, can’t stop staring at the little ballerina in the music box.

 

The next morning, Beth and Carl are up before the others and they try to be as quiet as possible to not disturb them. She throws together breakfast for everyone, eating her own portion then heading outside. Her feet take her next door and she steps inside, not bothering to knock. She sits on the couch, waiting for Maggie to wake up. It takes almost an hour, but it’s an hour she is willing to wait. When her sister finally comes downstairs, Beth gets up off the sofa and faces her.

“We should talk,” she proclaims, to which Maggie nods. After getting something small to eat, the two of them go down to the pond. To the rock where they had had their last argument. They sit beside each other, sitting in silence until Maggie finally says,

“I’m sorry.” She meets her gaze, seeing tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry, Bethy.” Her voice breaks as she speaks and a few droplets escape, but she wipes them away. “I know I can’t excuse everything I’ve been doing to you, I know telling you I’ll always look at you as my baby sister won’t change a thing. What I don’t know is how I can make it up to you.”

Beth draws in a deep breath. “You can’t. You’ll never be able to fix what happened between us. All we can do is go forward. And if we do that, you have to promise me something.”

Maggie nods, sucking back her tears. “I’ll do anything.”

“I know that you’re starting your own family. That I can’t be the most important thing to you when you’re bringing a baby into this world,” the younger of the two replies. “What I need you to promise me is that you won’t let something like your fears get in the way of us again. You can’t stop believing in someone just because you’re scared of what might happen to them. Our relationship won’t survive if you do that to me again. If you do that to anyone again.”

“I promise,” the brunette assures her.

“Now, can you tell me you love me? Because it’s been way too long since I’ve heard you say that.” As Beth begins to break down in tears, Maggie wraps her arms around her sister. They both cry into the other’s shoulder, repeatedly whispering how much they love each other. How lucky they were to still be there to earn forgiveness.

How nothing would ever get between them again.

Chapter Text

When Beth gets the news that Daryl is back from his run, she immediately drops what she is doing and goes to find him. She heads to the gate first, but gets told by the person on watch that Eugene was injured and him, Rosita, and Abraham took him to the infirmary. Her feet pound against the asphalt as she runs to meet them there. She comes through the door in a panic, half expecting to see Eugene already dead. However, she is thankful to see that he is awake and talking with Abraham.

Her eyes find Daryl’s and she can feel her concern grow back in an instant when she sees a look on his face that she can only recognize as disappointment. She approaches him, wishing to reach out for him, but she can tell that now isn’t the time. A quick scan of the room immediately causes her to know what is wrong. They are down a person that went on the run.

She swallows nervously at the thought of what could have happened to not only her therapist, but her friend. “Is she dead?” Daryl looks away from her, clearly afraid for her to hear the response. He nods slowly and Beth lets out a shaky breath.

Rick is the next person to arrive and a quick glance at the expressions on the faces of everyone makes him not need to ask what happened to Denise. It is then that Daryl begins to explain what went down outside the walls.

“The guy I met when we were leading the herd away. Dwight. He shot her through the eye. He was with a group, maybe a dozen guys. They had Eugene. Talked about a business arrangement. Wanted us to bring ‘em back here so they could take what and who they wanted. We killed about half of them.”

“Did they say they’d be back?” Rick asks.

“Didn’t give them a chance. I don’t doubt it though,” Daryl answers.

“We need to get ready for an attack. Get more people on watch. Set up vehicles ready to go if we need to leave this place,” their leader starts listing off everything that needs to happen. He soon goes to find Maggie to inform her, meanwhile Abraham says there is something he needs to do before leaving as well.

“I’m going, too,” Daryl suddenly proclaims.

“Where?” Beth inquires.

“Bring back Denise,” he replies. She wants to come with him, but she can tell that now isn’t the time. He is shocked, angry, and sad and wants to be alone. She doesn’t blame him, she feels much of the same things.

“Be safe,” she tells him. He grunts in response before leaving the infirmary, leaving her behind with Rosita and Eugene. Beth pushes away the anxious thought that maybe he was acting this way because they had sex. He wouldn’t be acting differently now if it happened over a week ago, right? Either way, it didn’t matter. She didn’t have someone to voice any and all feelings to anymore.

 

That night, she is on watch for a few hours when Sasha comes to switch with her. As she passes her the rifle, Beth catches a glimpse of something moving outside the walls out of the corner of her eye. When she climbs down the ladder, she goes to open the gate and Sasha asks what she is doing. She responds that she’s just going for a quick walk and she’ll be back in ten minutes.

Her hand finds her revolver as she approaches the area where she saw the movement. Nothing is there, but she knows what she saw. She continues moving and goes between the two houses nearby, her eyes landing on a figure standing outside the spiked car that was put there just yesterday. She squints, recognizing them from the shape of their hair.

“Carol?” She calls out.

The woman jumps in shock, turning to face her. “Oh, Beth.. you can’t tell anyone you saw me.”

“What’s going on? What are you doing?” She asks as she walks towards her.

Carol pauses before answering weakly, “I’m leaving.”

Beth’s eyebrows furrow. “Why?”

“I can’t– I can’t keep doing this anymore. I can’t keep loving people and killing for them. I just can’t kill anymore,” she tries to explain.

The blonde only has a few thoughts. “What about Tobin? Judith? Daryl?”

“Tobin will survive, Judith has an army willing to fight for her, and Daryl…” She trails off. “He has you.”

The younger of the two shakes her head in protest. “You’re his best friend, I can’t– I can’t just let you go. What am I supposed to say to him?”

“You don’t say anything. You pretend you never saw me and you let everyone find out when Tobin finds the note I left,” Carol explains. “This is how it has to be.”

“Daryl is going to lose it when he finds out you’re gone. You really think he’s just going to stick around when he knows you left? He’ll come looking for you, everyone will,” Beth insists.

“They won’t because you’re going to stop them,” the older woman responds.

“I’m not going to do that. I’ll let you get as far as you can before everyone comes after you, but if they find you, that’s on you.” Her strength wavers. She wants to break down in tears, beg her to stay. But she knows she isn’t enough. “Daryl won’t survive without you. I won’t be enough, he’ll be in a living hell.”

She steps forward, resting her hands on the sides of Beth’s arms. “Since I met him, he has carried more anger and pain than a thousand men could ever bear. He’s been betrayed, deceived, and hurt. Believe me when I tell you he has already crossed hell, and the only time I can see peace in his eyes is when he looks at you. You are enough.”

The tears build up in her eyes, threatening to overflow as she wraps her arms around Carol tightly. “Please be safe out there. And know that if you ever want to come back, we’ll be here.”

Her voice is just as weak as she replies, “Thank you.” They both pull away from the hug and together, they take a deep breath. Beth steps aside and watches as she gets into the car and turns it on, leaving the headlights off as she pulls out onto the road and drives away. A few tears finally escape, replaying the words Carol told her for the first time in her life.

You are enough.

Chapter Text

Beth wakes up later than she would have liked. She felt Daryl get out of bed, but had fallen back asleep rather quickly due to her late watch shift. What she hadn’t known until she left the house is that he went after Dwight and that Glenn, Michonne, and Rosita had followed him. Her first instinct tells her she has to go after him, that there is no way they will be able to calm him down enough to bring him back. But Maggie and Abraham warn her against it, saying they need to keep numbers in Alexandria and that they will be able to get him.

Rick and Morgan went looking for Carol for several hours before Rick returned, saying that Morgan was still out there. A part of her feels guilty when she pretends to be shocked when they tell her that she left throughout the night. But Beth understands what Carol was feeling. Hell, she had a hard time herself sometimes when she thought about the people she killed, even though she knew why they were all dead.

Later in the day, she is with Maggie in the dining room when Enid comes over. She gives Beth a small trim, but cuts her sister’s hair much shorter, almost to the length it was when they were back on the farm. It reminds her of her daddy, which is painful. But these thoughts all go away when Maggie doubles over, clutching her stomach and screaming.

“Get someone!” Beth demands, crouching down to her older sister and grabbing her trembling hand. “Maggie, what is it?”

“It’s the baby!” She exclaims between her yells of pain. The blonde curses beneath her breath. She didn’t know the first thing about what to do. Their best chance was getting to Hilltop, to the obstetrician Dr. Carson that Maggie had told her about. As others come running to help, they all agree with the plan. Rick pulls an RV around to the front of the house, allowing her and some others to carry her sister to the back where she can lay down.

Beth sits beside her, holding her hand just as tightly as she is holding hers. “We’re gonna get you there, I promise.”

Even if it kills us, she thinks to herself.

Chapter Text

By the time they get on the road, with more than half of their group in tow, Maggie has gotten worse. She is pale and shaking, and her pain hasn’t improved. Beth stays with her in the back of the RV, reassuring her any time she starts to look like she is getting nervous. Rick, Aaron, and Carl also come back to comfort her a few times. But things don’t stay going smoothly for long.

They continue running into roadblocks from Saviors. Men with guns standing in front of trucks. 8 at first. Then 16. When they have to stop for the third time, however, something has been set up in a different way to prevent them from passing. Everyone but Maggie and Abraham get out with their guns drawn to face the nine walkers that have been chained together across the road.

“Come on, let’s do this,” Rick proclaims as he pulls his gun strap over his head.

Carl stops him, “Dad.”

“That’s Michonne’s.” Aaron motions to one of the walkers with his head, causing everyone to look at them. Two of her locs are attached to the side of its face.

“That’s Daryl’s.” The mention of his name from Sasha has Beth’s eyes widening. She looks to another of the walkers, seeing two of his bolts stuck in the abdomen. Her heart clenches in her chest. They had him and Michonne, which meant they likely had Glenn and Rosita, too. Just as Rick swings his ax to break the chain connecting the dead, there is suddenly gunfire from the banks above them.

“Get back to the RV! Go!” Rick shouts. As Eugene and Aaron follow orders, the rest of them stay outside, firing back at what they all assume can only be Saviors. Abraham joins them briefly before Rick cuts off the arm of one of the walkers, separating the roadblock. Everyone piles back inside the vehicle, allowing them to flee the area.

As they drive, they start to hear sounds from the RV. Sasha frets over them, but Eugene tries his best to assure her that it could be anything or nothing. Rick suddenly makes the realization that “They were firing at our feet. They blocked the road, but they weren’t trying to stop us. They want us in this direction.”

Sasha and Eugene begin discussing other possible routes and Aaron returns from the back of the RV to announce, “She’s burning up.”

Beth quickly makes her way back to her sister, placing a hand against her forehead. He’s right. She tries her best to push away all the negative thoughts that are flowing through her, but it’s near impossible to do. Something was wrong with her, or the baby, or both. Not to mention that Glenn didn’t even know what was going on and he was likely kidnapped by the Saviors, along with Daryl. They didn’t know enough about this group, what they did to the people they captured. They could be alive, dead, or walkers. They could even be getting eaten like at Terminus. They had no way of knowing.

She doesn’t dare to tell Maggie of all the thoughts going through her head. She couldn’t think about anything like that right now, she could only focus on herself and getting better.

They have to stop the RV twice more. The first time, it’s more men with guns and trucks. Over 30 of them. The second time, there are what looks like hundreds of trees that have been stacked up in the road. When their backs are turned to watch a man that has been hung over a bridge, someone lights the logs on fire before warning them to leave.

As the sun sets, the group stops the RV to conserve gas while they try to formulate a new plan. Beth stays in the back with Maggie, whose pain has gotten even worse. She can no longer lift a water bottle herself and sweat is lining her forehead. Beth can hear the others talking quietly, trying not to worry her sick sister more than they have to. But she knows something is wrong, considering they haven’t gotten to Hilltop yet. It doesn’t take long for Rick to come back to them with a new plan.

“We’re gonna go on foot once it’s dark. Eugene will take the RV to the rest of the routes and they’ll think we’re all with him. We’re gonna get to that doctor.”

After the sun has set well below the horizon, they help Maggie onto the makeshift stretcher they made and step out of the RV, into the cool night. Rick, Sasha, Aaron, and Abraham carry her through the woods as Beth and Carl silently take out any walkers that they pass. The further they go into the forest, Beth doesn’t find her anxiety easing up. Instead, she can only feel it getting worse.

As Rick and Carl have a short conversation, they are interrupted when they start to hear whistling from the trees. They can barely make out the figures of people with guns around them. Despite this, Rick yells for them to go. They have no other choice. The six of them don’t make it far before they come up to a clearing and are suddenly blinded by lights. The whistling is now coming from all around them.

When their eyes adjust, they see trucks with headlights. Dozens of armed men coming out from the trees. The RV at the back of the clearing, with a beaten and bruised Eugene kneeling in front of it. Their weapons aimed, they all look around, desperate for an opening to get out of this. But there isn’t one.

Eventually, the whistling comes to a stop when one of them speaks. “Good. You made it.” When he steps into the light, they recognize him as one of the men from the first roadblock. “Welcome to where you’re going. We’ll take your weapons,” he says before pulling out a pistol that he aims at Carl. “Now.”

“We can talk about–” Rick tries, seeing no other way out.

The man cuts him off. “We’re done talking. Time to listen.” Suddenly, they are approached by some of the men, who waste no time plucking them of their weapons. They take Beth’s machete, assault rifle, and revolver. “Okay. Let’s get her down and get you all on your knees. Lots to cover.”

When some of the men approach the stretcher they’ve been carrying Maggie on, Abraham stops them. “Hold up. We got it.”

“Sure, sure.” The man who seems to be in charge allows it. They slowly set Maggie down on the gravel with Rick and Abraham helping her to her feet. She stumbles even with their help. Slowly, they all get onto their knees as they were told, with Beth in between Aaron and Carl. She can’t help but sink back, defeated. There was no way out of this. “Dwight! Chop-chop.”

A blonde man with half a burned face goes to the back of a nearby van, where he opens the doors and says, “Come on. You got people to meet.” The first person out is Daryl. Beth immediately jumps at the sight of him, but Aaron grabs her by the arm to stop her. Tears pool in her eyes, seeing blood covering his shoulder and the side of his neck. A blanket has been draped over his shoulders, but he’s pale and sweating. Something happened to him.

Michonne and Rosita are next, followed by Glenn, who concernedly calls out for Maggie. “Alright, we got a full boat! Let’s meet the man.” The man who they all had thought was the leader knocks on the side of the RV, making them realize that it isn’t him.

The door swings open and out steps a man in a leather jacket with a red scarf and a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire slung over his shoulder. He smiles. “Pissing our pants yet? Boy, do I have a feeling we’re getting close. It’s gonna be pee-pee pants city here real soon.” When he asks who the leader of their group is, the man from before points to Rick. “Hi. You’re Rick, right? I’m Negan.”

He begins to talk about the men they had killed, saying how “not cool” it was. He then explains what he describes as the “new world order” and that it’s very simple. Either they give Negan half their stuff, or he will kill them. He continues by saying that he doesn’t want to kill them because dead people can’t work for him. That he isn’t growing a garden, but that they have to pay for killing so many of his people. “So, now…I’m gonna beat the holy hell out of one of you.” At first, Beth believes that he is talking about his fists. But when he goes up to Rick and starts saying that his bat’s name is Lucille, she realizes her mistake.

Negan then paces the ground in front of their group, choosing certain people to pick on. How he needs to shave when he looks at Abraham. How Carl needs to lighten up and cry a little. When he steps in front of Maggie, Beth feels herself stop breathing. “Jesus. You look shitty. I should just put you out of your misery right now.” Negan swings his bat, as if going to hit Maggie, and Beth and Glenn both scream in unison,

“NO!”

Glenn charges at Negan, shouting, “No!” Dwight stops him, aiming Daryl’s crossbow at his face.

“Nope. Nope. Get him back in line,” Negan demands. Dwight drags Glenn back to where he was, and he yells in frustration and anger.

“Don’t,” he begs.

Negan smiles. “Alright, listen. Don’t any of you do that again. I will shut that shit down, no exceptions. First one’s free. It’s an emotional moment, I get it.” He then points his bat towards Carl, coming to the realization that he is Rick’s son.

“Just stop this!” He bellows.

“Hey!” Negan snaps. “Do not make me kill the little future serial killer. Don’t make it easy on me.” He walks the ground in front of them again, whistling. Probably taunting them to make a move on him again. “I got an idea.”

He points the bat at Rick. “Eenie…” Beth feels her heart sink in her chest. “Meenie…” is Maggie. “Miney…” is Abraham. “Mo…” is Michonne. As Beth frantically starts going through the song and looking around at her friends, she suddenly realizes that Negan is going out of order when he skips over Daryl and goes to Glenn before coming back to him. She has no way of knowing who he’s going to kill. None of them do.

“By…” is Abraham. “His toe…” is Rick. “If…” is Sasha. “He hollers…” is Aaron. “Let him go.” is Beth. “My mother…” Beth again. “Told me…” Carl. “To pick…” Eugene. “The very…” Aaron. “Best…” Sasha. “One…” Maggie. “And you…” Rosita. “Are…” Glenn. Beth can taste vomit in her mouth. She makes one last desperate wish. Don’t be Daryl or Maggie.

“It.”

Chapter Text

Abraham.

“Anybody moves, anybody says anything, cut the boy’s eye out and feed it to his father, and then we’ll start.” He flashes one last peace sign in Sasha’s direction and Beth can feel her anguish. “You can breathe, you can blink, and you can cry. Hell, you’re all gonna be doing that.”

Without giving anyone a chance, Negan slams the bat down onto Abraham’s head. Rosita yells out in shock. Despite just having his head smashed in, he still manages to sit back up onto his knees. “Oh! Look at that! Taking it like a champ!”

“Suck…my…nuts.” Is all Abraham gets a chance to say before Negan swings the bat over his head again. And again. And again. Beth loses count as the tears start to spill from her eyes. It’s like she can’t look away.

When Negan finally stops, he has the audacity to laugh. “Did you hear that? He said, ‘suck my nuts.’” Despite Abraham being long dead, he goes back to bludgeoning the bat into what is left of his head. “Oh, my goodness! Look at this!” He swings his weapon and blood splatters across the group. “You guys, look at my dirty girl!” He stands before them, his eyes suddenly meeting Beth’s. She feels her stomach twist into a knot as he approaches her.

“Sweetheart…lay your eyes on this.” Negan holds the bat out in front of her. She chokes on a sob, seeing nothing but blood and pieces of flesh caught between the barbed wire. She fights the urge to vomit. “And pretty eyes they are, my lord. No one should be filling them with tears. Not unless it’s tears of pleasure, of course. I wonder if you’ve even had the chance to–”

Whatever he was going to say, he doesn’t get to finish before Daryl jumps up and slams his fist into Negan’s jaw. Beth screams, “NO!” and tries to get up after him. Two people tackle him as a third smashes the butt of their rifle into her ribs. She falls onto her back, the wind knocked out of her. She can hardly even hear a thing over what seem like her dying gasps for air. She knows Negan is talking and she knows Aaron and Carl are on either side of her, eyes wide with concern. But she can’t feel anything but the asphalt at her back and her spasming diaphragm.

By the time Beth has finally managed to catch her breath and sit back up, Daryl has been dragged farther back than he had been before. She clutches her stomach, knowing something inside of her has been broken from the way it feels like her bones are grinding together. It hurts just to breathe.

“Now, I already told you people– first one’s free, then– what’d I say? I said I would shut that shit down!” Negan shouts over the group. Beth can taste the bile in her mouth as the realization sinks in that he is going to kill another person. “Now, I don’t know what kind of lying assholes you’ve been dealing with…but I’m a man of my word. First impressions are important. I need you to know me. So…back to it.”

Faster than any of them can blink, Negan turns and bashes his weapon into the top of Glenn’s head twice. Maggie cries out in anguish just before he manages to sit up, blood spilling out and his left eye dislodged from his head. His throat is gurgling as he chokes on his own blood, groaning and gasping for air. Beth tastes vomit in her mouth.

“Buddy, you still there? I just don’t know. It seems like you’re trying to speak, but you just took a hell of a hit. I just popped your skull so hard, your eyeball just popped out, and it is gross as shit!”

“M- Maggie I- I’ll find you,” he manages to force out between the gobs of blood leaking from his mouth. Several sobs rip through both Maggie and Beth as Negan turns to the group, seeing the distraught looks on their faces.

“Oh. Oh, hell. I can see this is hard on you guys. I am sorry. I truly am,” he seems to genuinely apologize. “But I did say it. No exceptions!” With that, he swings around again, smashing the bat back into Glenn’s bloodied face. Just like he had with Abraham, he continues hitting and hitting him in the head even when he is long gone. Tears run from the eyes of almost everyone in the group. Beth can practically feel the white, hot rage radiating off of Carl beside her.

“You bunch of pussies. I’m just getting started,” Negan taunts them all before bludgeoning the weapon over his head again. “Lucille is thirsty. She is a vampire bat.” The cries from the group continue. No one knows what to say or do. All they know is that they have just lost almost everything. “What? Was the joke that bad?”

From her right, Rick suddenly whispers something. Negan walks over, crouching down in front of their leader and asking, “What? I didn’t quite catch that. You’re gonna have to speak up.”

“Not today…not tomorrow…but I’m gonna kill you,” he claims. Negan calls to the man with the mustache, Simon, and asks for Rick’s ax to be brought to him. When he stands up, he puts it through his belt before grabbing Rick by the jacket and starting to drag him towards the RV.

“I’ll be back. Maybe Rick will be with me. And if not, well, we can just turn these people inside out, won’t we? I mean…the ones that are left.” He then tosses Rick into the vehicle before climbing in and shutting the door after them.

They don't leave right away, but when they do, it seems to take them hours to return. By then, the sun has risen, everyone's tears have run dry, and the group's hope has started dwindling. What if Rick was dead? What if they were next? But thankfully, the RV soon comes back through the trees and in front of where they are all lined up. The door bursts open and Rick falls out with his ax in hand. Negan grabs him by the jacket like he did before and pulls him across the gravel until they are both in front of the group.

"Let me ask you something, Rick– do you even know what that trip was about?” Negan asks, but gets no response. “Speak when you’re spoken to.”

“Okay, okay,” Rick says lowly.

“That trip was about the way that you looked at me. I wanted to change that. I wanted you to understand. But you’re still looking at me the same damn way…” Negan trails off. “Like I shit in your scrambled eggs and that’s not gonna work. So…” He crouches down next to Rick. “Do I give you another chance?”

“Yeah. Yes,” he responds.

Negan pats him on the shoulder and stands up. “And here it is– the grand prize game. What you do next will decide whether your crap day becomes everyone’s last crap day or just another crap day. Get some guns to the back of their heads.” They all hear footsteps from behind them and soon enough, most of their own weapons have been pointed at their skulls. “Good. Now…level with their noses, so if you have to fire…it’ll be a real mess.”

“Kid…” Negan starts beckoning Carl towards him and Beth starts to feel sick all over again as he points beside him. “Right here. Kid…now.” He stands and walks to him, a look of anger and disgust on his face. “Are you a southpaw?” Negan starts removing his belt and she immediately gets a bad feeling.

“Am I a what?” Carl asks.

“You a lefty?” He inquires.

“No,” Carl states simply.

“Good.” They all watch as Negan tightens the belt around Carl’s left arm, wrapping it tighter and tighter. When he’s done, he says, “Get down on the ground, kid, next to daddy. Spread them wings.” He takes his hat and tosses it over his shoulder, leaving Carl with little choice but to lay face first on the ground. Simon tosses him a marker that he asks for, which he takes the cap off of with his teeth before rolling up Carl’s sleeve and drawing a line across his arm. They all know what’s about to happen.

“Please, please. Please don’t,” Rick begins to beg.

“Me?” Negan sounds surprised that he would think he would be the one to do it. “I ain’t doing shit.” He gets to his feet and they all come to the realization of what he’s asking their leader to do. “Rick, I want you to take your ax…cut your son’s left arm off, right on that line. Now, I know– I know. You’re gonna have to process that for a second. That makes sense. Still though, I’m gonna need you to do it, or all these people are gonna die. Then Carl dies, then the people back home die…and then you, eventually. I’m gonna keep you breathing for a few years, just so you can stew on it.”

Michonne starts pleading with him. “You– you don’t have to do this. We understand, we understand.”

“You understand,” Negan points out. “I’m not sure that Rick does. I’m gonna need a clean cut right there on that line. Now, I know this is a screwed up thing to ask, but it’s gonna have to be like a salami slice– nothing messy, clean, 45 degrees– give us something to fold over. We got a great doctor. The kid’ll be fine. Probably.” When their leader still doesn’t move, he crouches down beside him. “Rick…this needs to happen now– chop, chop– or I will crush the little fella’s skull myself.”

“It can– it can– it can be me,” he offers. “It can be me. You can do it to me. I c– I can go with– with you.”

“No. This is the only way,” Negan proclaims as he gets back to his feet. “Rick…pick up the ax. Not making a decision is a big decision. You really want to see all these people die? You will. You will see every ugly thing.” Rick is still motionless on the ground. “Oh my god. Are you gonna make me count? Okay, Rick. You win. I am counting. 3!”

Immediately, their leader begins to sob. “Please! Please. It can be me. Please!”

“2!” He crouches down beside Rick once more, yelling in his ear. Negan slaps him in the side of the face before grabbing it forcefully, trying to focus his attention. “This is it.” Rick cries out, his hand finding the ax as Negan shouts, “1!” Carl whispers something to his father and he raises the ax, sobbing all the while. Just before he swings, Negan stops him.

“Rick. You answer to me. You provide for me. You belong to me. Right?” He asks. Rick nods frantically, which isn’t enough for Negan, who grabs him by the face again. “Speak when you’re spoken to! You answer to me. You provide for me.”

“Provide for you,” he repeats.

“You belong to me, right?!” Negan bellows.

“Right,” Rick says.

Negan smiles in satisfaction. “Right. That…is the look I wanted to see.” He stands and picks up the ax once again. “We did it…all of us, together…even the dead guys on the ground. Hell, they get the spirit award for sure. Today was a productive damn day! Now, I hope, for all your sake…that you get it now…that you understand how things work. Things have changed. Whatever you had going for you…that is over now.”

“Dwight!” He suddenly calls and Beth gets a sinking feeling. “Load him up,” he points his bat at Daryl. She feels her already broken heart burst inside of her chest as she watches a blonde man grab him from behind and push him towards the van he came out of, despite his struggles. Someone tosses the blanket inside that he had left on the ground as Dwight points his own bow at him to keep him inside before the doors are shut.

“He’s got guts. Not a little bitch like someone I know. I like him. He’s mine now. But you still want to try something? “Not today, not tomorrow. Not today, not tomorrow?” I will cut pieces off of…Hell’s his name?” Negan asks.

“Daryl,” Simon answers.

“Wow. That actually sounds right,” he chuckles. “I will cut pieces off of Daryl and bring them to your doorstep or, better yet, I will bring him to you and have you do it for me.” He pats Rick on the back a few times before standing once more. “Welcome to a brand new beginning, you sorry shits! I’m gonna leave you a truck. Keep it. Use it to cart all the crap you’re gonna find me. We’ll be back for our first offering in one week. Until then, ta-ta.” He walks away, tossing Rick’s ax back towards them on his way.

With that, all of the men around them start dispersing, kicking up dust from the gravel around them. One of them takes polaroids of Abraham and Glenn’s motionless bodies. Beth has never felt so small before. So insignificant in this world. They had fought so hard to get to where they were. To find happiness after everything they had been through. And within an instant, that speck of hope had been lost.

When all of the men and cars are gone, the group has been left, still sitting on the hard ground. Everyone has stopped crying, but Beth can feel the emptiness plaguing them all. No one moves or even seems to breathe. It’s almost as if they forgot how.

But somehow, despite it all, Maggie manages to stand.

Rick calls out to her several times, “Maggie, you need to sit down,” before getting to his feet.

“No,” she states sternly.

“We need to get you to the Hilltop,” he tries to reach out to her, but she continues stumbling her way towards Glenn’s body. Aaron and Beth are next to stand.

“You need to go get ready,” Maggie insists.

“For what?” Rick asks.

“To fight them,” she replies.

“They have Daryl. They have an army. We would die – all of us,” he tries convincing her as Michonne gets to her feet as well.

“Go home. Take everybody with you.” Beth hears her sister’s voice break as she speaks. She has lost more today than any of them. “I can get there by myself.”

“You can barely stand up,” he attempts to reach out to her once more.

“I need to go. You need to go to Alexandria. You were out- out here for me.” They can all sense her blaming herself.

“We still are,” Rick tells her.

“I can make it now. I need you to go back. I can’t have you out here. I can’t have you all out here anymore. I need you to go back.” She is almost hysterical in her words.

“Maggie…we’re not letting you go.” Michonne states the obvious. “Okay?”

“You have to,” she continues trying to convince them, but none of them are going to let up.

“It’s not going to happen,” Rick assures her.

Sasha stands next and walks to the brunette. “I’m taking her. I’m gonna get her there. I’m gonna keep her safe.”

“Me, too.” Beth joins her. “We’re not giving you a choice.”

“I’m taking him with me,” Maggie says before getting to her knees beside Glenn’s body, resting her hands on his back. The rest of the group begins to stand and Sasha goes to talk to Rosita briefly.

Aaron crouches down beside Maggie, to which she begins to protest once more. “I need to do this. Please.”

“We need to help you,” he tells her, resting a hand on her back. Beth finally pulls herself together and leans down beside her sister, gently touching her arm.

“No. No.” Maggie’s voice has never sounded so defeated before.

“Pl- Pl- Please let us. He’s- he’s our family, t- He’s our family, too.” Rick reminds her. With this in her mind, she is finally able to stand. She turns around, wrapping her arms around Beth with the little strength she has left. The blonde squeezes her sister tightly, trying to send her all the strength she possibly can. Maggie shakes in her arms, beginning to cry once more as the others lift Glenn up and carry him away.

Eventually, both bodies are in the back of the truck Negan left them. Sasha, Maggie, and Beth climb inside and the latter doesn’t once let go of her sister’s hand. As they drive in the opposite direction of the RV, Beth can only hope that they will see each other again soon.

Her mind drifts to Daryl, wondering what will become of him. If he’ll manage to escape, or if they will keep him locked up so tightly that he won’t get the chance. She knows he has survived hell and can likely do it again, but she also knows that there is only so much a person can go through before they break.

As Maggie leans over, resting her head on Beth’s shoulder, she begins to worry when that point will come for all of them.