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A Matter of Grace

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Daryl wasn't sure what jarred him back from the place within his mind that he had retreated to. Retreating into his mind was a skill he had perfected at a very early age. As a helpless young child there was nothing he could do to stop his father from inflicting upon him the physical torment that his old man seemed to thrive on during his drunken benders. The beatings were often a brutal combination of physical retribution with a belt for some imagined wrong and verbal abuse in which his father expounded on how he was worthless and a disgrace to the Dixon family line. Daryl had always been too soft for his father, too much like his mother, to ever be considered a respectable Dixon. Daryl had figured out very early on that begging and pleading with his father did nothing but increase his wrath and the degree of his punishment. What Daryl learned from those early life experiences was that while he couldn't stop his father from hurting his body he could prevent him from reaching his mind. His father could hurt him but, he couldn't hurt him, the part of him that made him who he was. Only he had control over what he felt and how he responded and he wouldn't give his old man the power to hurt that part of himself. He wouldn't beg and he wouldn't cry. Instead he pulled the proverbial shutters in his mind and retreated to a place where he couldn't be hurt.

Reeling from blood loss, barely able to remain upright, his heart fluttering rapidly in his chest due to the physical exertion of not collapsing into the red clay in front of him Daryl found his way back to that childhood safe place in his mind. This bastard could hurt his body but, he couldn't hurt him anymore than his old man ever could. In that hidden place in his mind the hunter mused with a complete lack of emotion that this might be the end of the line. Morbidly with a degree of amusement he realized he shouldn't feel, he mused that this random bastard might succeed where his old man had failed, and with little feeling he realized he didn't care. He was tired . . . beyond tired even . . . to the point where he thought he might almost prefer if everything could just end.

the winter here's cold, and bitter

it's chilled us to the bone

we haven't seen the sun for weeks

too long too far from home

I feel just like I'm sinking

and I claw for solid ground

I'm pulled down by the undertow

I never thought I could feel so low

oh darkness I feel like letting go

When he was younger Daryl had known that no matter what he was going to survive. He could take the abuse his father heaped on him and he would come out the other side body scared and battered but, mind untouched. In the end as he'd predicted he'd survived those early years and made a life for himself, rather unsuccessfully before the end of the world, and now rather successfully after. He'd eventually found family and comradery and hope and he'd begun to think that maybe he wasn't worthless . . . that maybe he could make something worthwhile of his time in this world. But then those nebulous rather half formed thoughts of making an effort at living a meaningful life gave way to an emotion that Daryl only recognized belatedly . . . too late to act on . . . too late to grab onto until the remnants were mere ashes in the wind slipping through his fingers like the illusive girl he'd failed to save. It wasn't until she was back in his arms a familiar weight but now forever empty vessel that Daryl finally understood what Beth Greene had meant to him. With the ashes of his unrealized hopes and dreams drifting around him like an unseen shroud, separating him and the angel in his arms from the rest of their family, creating a wall that they could not breach, that the hunter finally understood what Beth Greene could have been to him. She would never know it now but, she was the first person to instill within him the desire to do more than just survive. Beth's optimism and hope had made him want to live and her love and mercy had touched something deep in his heart that he thought had been extinguished long ago.

The first stirrings of this realization had hit him while they had screamed at each other outside the moonshine shack. Instead of being cowed by his surly temperament and harsh words Beth had stood her ground. In fact she'd done more than stand her ground. She'd quickly analyzed him and recognized his defenses for exactly what they were, massive concrete walls of protection he'd painstakingly spent years erecting around his heart. Then recognizing what she was dealing with the tiny spitfire had armed herself and gone to battle, intent on tearing through his walls, and tear through them she did to such an extent that she pulverized them into nonexistence. As the walls had come crashing down his heart, finally free from its long ago constructed prison, had recognized that this girl was special.

It turned out that Beth Greene was more than special . . . she was the key that he hadn't realized he'd even been searching for. Relegated to the fringes of society for much of his life Daryl had watched as others had painstakingly nurtured intimate bonds with those around them. Bonds such as those between a parent and child, between siblings, between friends, and most importantly bonds between lovers. Daryl had watched but, before the turn he'd never experienced any of those relationships. He was sure he'd loved his mother and that in her way she'd loved him but, he'd lost her at such an early age that he could barely remember what that love had felt like. His old man certainly had never loved him nor offered the protection that a parent should and Merle . . . he'd loved Merle but he'd never deluded himself into believing that Merle had loved anyone but himself. Even his final act of sacrifice had rung hallow to Daryl. In his heart of hearts Daryl understood that Merle had known that he wouldn't fit in with the prison group and with Daryl's new allegiances Merle had quickly assessed that he'd had few options. His choice while noble had also distinctly struck the hunter as reeking of cowardice. Merle hadn't wanted to try to be better than what he was and so in the end he'd taken the easier road . . . the way out.

With the group Daryl had finally begun to find his way from the fringes to the core of a family unit. It happened gradually but over time he realized that these people accepted him, cared for him, wanted him with them and he began to form the bonds he'd always observed but, never taken part in. Herschel taught him what being a parent meant and the patient, loving, selfless man recognized in Daryl a part of himself. He'd painstakingly offered Daryl bits and pieces of compassion and understanding like tiny little treats to earn his trust until the hunter had finally come to accept him. When Herschel knew he'd earned his trust he finally divulged to the hunter his own past and the traumatic experiences they unfortunately had in common. In Herschel Daryl found a father and a bond he'd longed for since his earliest memories. In Rick Daryl had found a true brother, a much longed for and sought after bond, that had long haunted him due to his relationship with Merle. Carol was the hunter's first true friend and for that reason his bond with her would forever hold a special place in his soul. The hunter cherished all of those bonds and the things those people brought to his life as well as the myriad other and sometimes complicated bonds that he had with the reset of his family.

But, the one bond he'd never experienced and had never hoped to was the bond between lovers. That intimate and illusive rapport was one that Daryl had resigned himself to never experience. He was too damaged, too feral, to untrusting to ever open himself up to someone else the way he'd seen others do. Having a father, a brother, a friend meant that he could be close to people without having to completely turn himself over to them. With these people he could still keep tiny little pieces of himself locked away, the secret things he didn't want anyone else to know, the parts of himself that even he was a little afraid to face. Intuitively he had understood that the bond between lovers prevented the keeping of such secrets and therefore, he had known that it was not something he would ever pursue.

Having long ago firmly made up his mind about lovers and intimate relationships the hunter hadn't even had the faintest understanding of what fierce little Beth Greene was doing until it was too late. Much like her patient saint of a father she had snuck up on him but, much like her fierce older sister she did so with the intent to do battle. It was a battle he never could have hoped to win because she was brave, and strong, and sure of herself and in his soul he had never wanted to be victorious. The minute she'd gone toe to toe with him that sweltering late summer day something inside of him had snapped into place like she'd turned a magic key and unlocked the secrets of his soul. He'd found himself confessing all the things he'd promised himself he'd never examine too closely and even more unwillingly he'd found himself seeking her absolution with the blatant understanding that if she could understand and accept him then all would be right in the world.

As it turned out she did more than accept him, she delicately peeled away each of his layers until she reached those wounded places he'd so protectively guarded. Then with the grace of an angel she touched those places too and for the first time in his life Daryl had understood what it meant to be loved unselfishly. Beth didn't touch those places for her or because of anything that she would gain from doing so. She touched them because she cared about him and she wanted him to know that and as she'd patiently applied healing salve to all those tiny damaged pieces of his soul he'd finally understood what it meant to be free from pain. All the hurt that he had been dragging around like a loadstone behind him for most of his life slowly melted away, leaving him feeling free for the first time. Beth's hope and faith and endearing belief that there was still good in the world had bled into him filling the parched desert of his soul to overflowing, the abundance leaving him feeling blessed for the first time, and a tiny part of him suddenly questioning what this fierce little warrior meant to him.

He'd been trying to verbalize that to her the night she'd been taken from him. At that candle lite table he'd been trying to tell her that something inside him was changing and he didn't understand it. They didn't keep secrets from one another, not after they'd finally come to an understanding, and while he wasn't sure what he was trying to say he'd wanted to tell her. Maybe she wouldn't understand it either but, he'd wanted her to know. Then just like that she was gone and his brand new world came crashing down around him.

He hadn't given up hope though not even after he'd hooked up with that degenerate group of drifters. He'd known that she was out there somewhere and he'd known that he was going to find her. She was tough, strong, resilient, a fighter and she'd told him to have faith. That faith had filled the empty places her absence had left inside him and he'd clung to her edict like a talisman. If he just had enough faith then he would find her and she'd be returned to him hale and whole and unharmed. So he hadn't given up even when he was facing his own very likely demise at Terminus and when he could finally do it he'd searched for her.

As he'd stood in that dim narrow hospital corridor he realized that Beth wasn't going to be returned to him hale and whole and unharmed. She'd had scars, the fading remnants of bruises littered her fragile skin, and something in her eyes had told him she'd suffered something horrible but, she had been alive and he was going to get her back. He'd had faith just like she encouraged him to and it was going to pay off. With just one glance at her those fragile empty cracks in his heart filled back up with all the good things she made him feel and he'd been bursting to pull her into his arms and just hold her. His fingers had itched to make contact with her but, he'd restrained himself understanding that the cramped hallway was neither the time nor the place for the reunion he desired. Then she'd been next to him and he'd been touching her, desperate to urge her from that place, a shock of longing so intense it nearly brought him to his knees when his fingertips simply came into contact with her back as he tried to usher her towards safety.

One minute the world had been full of possibility and the next it changed irrevocably as that sadistic excuse for a law enforcement officer opened their mouth and the words that would forever change his life tumbled out. It all happened so quickly that looking back Daryl wasn't sure the exact moment he'd realized that all his secretly held hopes were shattering like fragile glass around his feet. One minute his little warrior was showing the world just what she was made of so fierce and full of life it made his chest ache and the next she was slumping the ground an empty shell . . . all that fire extinguished like a candle that was unthinkingly blown out. One minute his heart was full to bursting with possibilities and the next it exploded within his chest the fragments seeming to disintegrate as the bond he hadn't even realized he'd wanted evaporated into the abyss of secretly held dreams that never see the light of day.

As he'd dropped to his knees beside her sobbing Daryl's numb mind had whispered as if completely disregarding his fractured heart . . . but I loved her . . . acknowledging for the first time the feelings that had been swirling inside him and his child like conviction that if he'd believed hard enough, had enough faith, then the thing he'd wished for would come true.

It hadn't come true though and with each labored step down towards the courtyard below Daryl had felt all the things he'd come to believe in falling away. His shattered heart had slowly reformed within his breast an empty hallowed vessel. Maggie's screams when she'd finally laid eyes on her sister had failed to stir any feelings within his empty soul. Numbly he'd observed her reaction and when the walkers had come chasing them from the courtyard he'd only felt a brief stab of pain when he'd had to leave her shell behind. He'd realized somewhat aloofly that she'd been gone the minute the bullet had torn through her fragile skin and delicate bones. The essence that was Beth had been freed and the shell and the rituals that usually surrounded the tending of it were about the ones left behind. Beth had taught him that after all, and because of that while it pained him to leave her behind, he'd also realized that in another way it was quite fitting. He didn't want to engage in the rituals that were intended to help him say goodbye. He wasn't ever going to lay her to rest and move on. He would never forget her, never say goodbye to what she meant to him, and therefore no rituals were needed as an attempt to help him do so.

He knew though that it grieved Maggie greatly that she hadn't had those rituals so when Carl had discovered that music box he'd found a way to make it work again. Maggie might not have gotten the chance to lay her sister to rest but, he'd been able to give her a talisman to hold onto . . . a reminder of her sister that she could grieve over.

For a while he'd tried to honor his fierce little warrior in the only way he'd known how, he'd tried to find the good in people and in the world, and to honor her by guarding it. Once he'd realized what a futile endeavor that was however, any desire he'd had to try to be more than a walking shell of his former self disappeared. He knew the others had been at a loss as to how to try to help him and he'd been indifferent to it until Denise. Something about the awkward unsure doctor had stirred a spark in his tired empty soul. This one reminded him of her in some way, this one touched him in just the right way that it started to stir to life the dying embers of who he'd wanted to be. Beth would have loved her his mind had whispered to his heart. She would want you to look out for her. They would have been kindred spirits these two women and therefore you have to protect her.

He'd tried for the tiny part of him that the gentle doctor had stirred back to life, he'd tried to be the protector again. In the end however, he had failed Denise just as blatantly as he'd failed Beth and he'd realized then that Denise's demise was the death knell for the tiny piece of his soul that until that moment had been futilely resisting its end. As the final fragment of light had flickered out within him the embers truly going cold at last he'd dispassionately decided that if this was the end for him then he was going to take out Dwight in the same way he'd ended that bitch of a cop.

Unfortunately for him it seemed that fate wasn't exactly on his side this time and now instead of being the hunter he had turned into the hunted. In a rather unaffected way Daryl decided from that safe place in his mind that this might not be such a bad ending. After all there were far worse ways to die, for example he could be bitten and suffer for days before he succumbed to the fever, and then poor Carol or Rick would be forced to deal with him afterwards. If this tiresome bastard took a swing at him with that overly extravagant phallic display called a bat it would all be over in a second or two and there probably wouldn't be much of him left afterwards for the rest of them to take care of. Yes he decided it would be good that way. If Beth wasn't afforded the rituals associated with leaving this earth then he shouldn't be either it was only fitting that way.

It was just as the hunter had made peace with his imminent demise that he was jolted back from that safe place he had fled to. Still unsure of what he was seeing his eyes focused with confusion on Abraham being forcefully dragged forward by two of Negan's men as the sadistic leader ranted about blinking and crying. His arms shaking with the effort of holding his face out of the dirt Daryl realized rather suddenly that he apparently wasn't going to die yet. At the same time as Negan's bat swung down however, the hunter realized with nausea pooling in his gut that Abe was.

if all of the strength and all of the courage

come and lift me from this place

I know I can love you much better than this

full of grace

full of grace

my love

The tough red head took the first hit and shot back up spitting mad and ready to fight but he never had the chance to act on what was written all over his face as Negan tore into him with the bat like a man possessed. Unable to look away from the horror going on in front of him Daryl's gorge rose as he realized the level of depravity buried inside of Negan. The leader wasn't just making a point he was enjoying himself and that thought froze the air in the hunters lungs. A simple bullet would have made the same point, would have had the same effect on the group, and it would have been merciful. There was no mercy in this man, in this leader who was taking so much pleasure in pulverizing what was left of a principled man who had survived and overcome so much to meet this degrading and undeserving end.

It was almost over when Maggie finally collapsed. The illness she was suffering and the depravity of what she was seeing were too much for her and sobbing and writhing in pain she had finally collapsed into a ball. Still shocked no one moved for a minute or two and then suddenly Glenn was screaming Maggie's name and lurching towards her. She was crying and clutching her stomach telling Glenn to stay back when Negan and his goons converged on them.

"What the hell did I tell you girly," Negan leered as he sauntered towards her Abe now forgotten but, the man's brain matter leaking grotesquely from the bat. Glenn was fighting the two men that were restraining him and Daryl could hear the sniffles and sobs coming from those around him.

"I am sorry," Maggie sobbed clutching her stomach as tears streaked down her face, " I am sorry please I think I am dying."

Forcing his heavy head up Daryl made eye contact with a helpless Rick who was staring at the sobbing girl beside him. Immediately the hunter realized that his brother wasn't going to do anything. Rick had too much to lose to intervene.

so it's better this way, I said

having seen this place before

where everything we say and do

hurts us all the more

its just that we stayed, too long

in the same old sickly skin

I'm pulled down by the undertow

I never thought I could feel so low

oh darkness I feel like letting go

"You think your dying," Negan sneered as something in Daryl snapped to life. Kicking the writhing woman with the toe of his boot in a rather careless manner the leader threatened," girly there ain't gonna be no maybe about it. I told you not ta move and you went and disobeyed me."

When Maggie just whimpered and curled more tightly into a ball Negan prodded her leg harshly with the tip of the bloody bat before musing with rather too much enjoyment," Not sure there's much glory in killing a dying woman but, a promise is a promise after all."

Glenn was screaming and Daryl wasn't sure if he'd been doing it the whole time or if he'd just started but, the noise faded into the background of the hunters mind as he realized that this merciless man would do exactly what he'd threatened. He wasn't sure if he could make a difference . . . he might just be signing both of their death sentences but, he had to try. This was Maggie, this was Beth's sister, he couldn't stand by and watch what was about to transpire. It was wrong on so many levels but, it was certainly wrong because he owed it to Beth to do something to try to help her sister. He might not be doing any good but, it was certainly worth trying even if it meant he was forfeiting his own life.

Shrugging off the blanket covering his shoulders he drew on strength he didn't even know he had left as he lunged towards Maggie throwing himself over her protectively and grunting, " Ain't no damn glory in killing a sick woman. Fuck off you asshole."

As he wrapped himself around a quivering whimpering Maggie Daryl was met with several long beats of silence before Negan mused darkly, " Well looky here folks it seems like we have a hero on our hands."

if all of the strength

and all of the courage

come and lift me from this place

I know I could love you much better than this

full of grace

full of grace

my love

Spinning in a circle rather dramatically the leader queried, " So who wants to tell me what their connection is? Clearly he isn't the husband as that dubious honor," Negan paused as he gestured towards where Glenn was being restrained," appears to belong to him. So what's the connection people?"

Leering at Daryl Negan approached him curiously before crouching in front of him and demanding," What about you boy? You wanna tell me what the hell has compelled you to get both you and the pretty little brunette here killed? I mean I might have forgiven her being that she claims she's dying anyway but, you," Negan paused dramatically as he swiveled his bat in his hand," you my boy have most certainly just signed your death sentence."

Unwilling to show any fear and not necessarily feeling any anyway the hunter glared up at the Savior's leader as he grunted," Fuck you you merciless son of a bitch."

As Daryl's verbal gauntlet fell between him and leader he waited for the impending punishment he fully expected. Instead Negan cocked his head to the side eyeing the hunter curiously for a moment before turning to Rick who was watching the pair with naked helplessness and pain in his eyes.

Assessing Rick for a minute Negan demanded," Leader what's the connection between these two? Why is this asshole disrupting my show?," gesturing towards Daryl who was guarding Maggie fiercely with what little strength his wounded body had left he leered," He doin the little lady on the side or something like that?"

Glenn's cry of outrage echoed through the clearing as Rick's face twisted into a mask of disgust at Negan's insinuations. His face a twisted mask of outrage Rick's look softened as he turned beaten eyes towards Daryl.

"Daryl would never do something like that," Rick intoned sharply his gaze turning back to bore into Negan," He's a good man. . . an honorable man," his eyes filling with grief he clarified reluctantly but without any real defining details," Daryl was with Maggie's sister Beth."

Curiosity flooding his features Negan examined Maggie for a moment before leering, " The pretty little brunette has a sister now isn't that interesting. I think I might want to meet her. Where is she?"

Coldly Rick snapped back," She's dead."

"Ah," Negan breathed a sadistic grin suddenly lighting up his features," I get it now," turning back to Maggie and Daryl he laughed callously," Pretty little brunette is the sister in law and the giant asshole ruining my show has a death wish cause his girl is gone. Now isn't that sweet. True love at its best and all that happy shit."

Backing up a few steps Negan gestured wildly with his arms towards the remaining members of team family," Here's the thing people. I don't give a damn about honorable people, sick woman, or true love. But," he paused before pacing towards Glenn a frown on his face," I ain't in the business of granting death wishes," he paused in front of Rosita for a moment causing the sobbing brunette to whimper pitifully.

Laughing with twisted mirth Negan assured her ," Don't worry hunny you're too pretty for Lucille," before swinging towards Glenn," You on the other hand," and then he was drawing the gun from his belt and before anyone could move or react Glenn was slumping to the ground with a tiny perfect bullet wound in the center of his forehead as the goons on either side of him released his arms.

An emotionally overwrought Maggie began to keen hysterically as Daryl tried to gather her in his arms his paralyzed mind trying to process what had just happened and his shoulder aching as if it were on fire. Daryl would never consider himself to be a comforter but as Maggie wailed he felt like he had to do something to try to console her.

"Shhh darlin," he rasped painfully," I got ya darlin," as his arms tightened around her his wound screamed in protest," Ya gotta pull it together for me Maggie this ain't the place for this."

Turning disdainful eyes on the rest of the group Negan sneered," I don't kill people just cuz their asking for it. You people need to learn some damn respect." The shell shocked remainder of team family just stared at Negan in horror as he gestured towards where Daryl was cradling a shuddering Maggie," Grab him and put him in the truck. I don't kill people with a death wish but, this son of a bitch is gonna learn there are worse things than death."

Two Saviors were moving towards Daryl almost immediately as Rick protested suddenly, " No," only to be silenced by a glare from Negan.

"You got something to say leader," Negan threatened as the two Savior's finally reached Daryl. Wrenching fiercely they pulled the weakened archer from the grieving brunette as she scrabbled for him feebly screaming his name.

"Daryl," she sobbed as the two men literally dragged the archer towards the van he'd previously been pulled from.

Spent and resigned, at least assured that Maggie would now be safe, Daryl didn't fight back. He let them toss him into the back of the van like garbage Maggie's weak cries for him ringing in his ears as the van's back doors were slammed. Gasping for breath, his heart now beating sluggishly in his chest, the archer collapsed on the floor of the van grief and despair blanketing him as his eyes fluttered shut and consciousness escaped him.

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Dimly at some point Daryl became aware that the van was moving. As he floated in and out of consciousness he picked up snippets of conversation as the van's driver conversed with his passenger. Most of what they were saying was unintelligible to Daryl but, at some point he heard them griping about the fact that the only music in the van was an old country music CD of Alison Krauss. Apparently the need for music outweighed the Savior's dislike of the genre and minutes later the haunting strains of It Doesn't Matter filled the hunter's semi delirious consciousness. The music reminded Daryl of Beth and he clung to it like a lifeline pushing aside his physical and emotional pain to focus on the lyrics.

Halfway through the song tears were pushing at the edges of the hunters closed lids as he realized it didn't matter anymore what happened to him. Beth was gone, too good to be constrained by this world, she had flown away to be free forever more. It didn't matter that he needed her, that she'd become the most important thing in his world, she was gone and probably soon he would be as well. It would be better to surrender to it now than to hold on through what was to come.

But there was a part of the hunter, the part that had kept him going thus far that wouldn't allow him to just give up. Dixon's were among other things fighters and he wouldn't go down because of a man like Negan. The insidious thought that his family wouldn't need him anymore was vanquished when the more insistent part of his mind reminded him that Rick was going to need him. That Maggie now all alone in the world was going to need him. He owed Rick because Rick was his brother. He owed Maggie because Herschel had been like a father to him and Beth. . . God Beth had been everything and he couldn't leave her sister alone in this world. He had been willing to die for Maggie just a short time ago and now he needed to live for her. If he loved Beth and he was certain now that he had then he owed it to her to take care of her sister.

Maggie thought she was strong but, really Beth had been the strong one. She'd faced her crucible and come out the other side a fighter. Maggie was just learning what that meant now and she wouldn't see the other side without support. Daryl refused to allow that thought to become a fear in his mind. Maggie was going to make it because he was going to help her.

As these thoughts swirled through his confused mind a new resolve began to form within the hunter. He might not be ready to live yet, he might not ever be ready to live ever again but, damn it he was going to survive no matter what he had to do.

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As the days passed the hunter would reflect that it was best he'd made his mind up about surviving before he'd made it to the Savior's compound or he probably would have given up already. The days melted into one another an endless cycle of torture and abuse with Negan fine tuning the techniques based on what yielded the best results. It had started off as physical torture something that Daryl was intimately familiar with, as soon as his body had healed enough to ensure he wouldn't die from what was being done to it. Falling back on his childhood Daryl protected himself by withdrawing into his mind. His already damaged body sustained a few more scars, a few more scraps, a couple more broken ribs but, the hunter never uttered so much as a whimper of protest as Negan worked demanding information . . . dangling cooperation in front of the hunter as a way of stopping the abuse.

Daryl wasn't going to give Negan a thing though and it didn't take the leader long to realize that the scars on Daryl's body were a legacy to abuse long ago suffered. Upon realizing that he wasn't going to get anything from the hunter Negan switched to other techniques. The psychological torture began then as Daryl was starved and systematically dehydrated. He was only offered enough water to keep him alive and the food he was given wasn't even fit for human consumption. The dog food sandwiches were the worst but, the hunter refused to give in and doggedly he hung on thoughts of Maggie and Rick keeping him going as a hatred he'd never felt before began to fester in his gut. Daryl had never hated before, not even his old man but, as Negan began to ratchet up the pressure Daryl began to feel real hate for the first time in his life.

His body newly scared and emaciated Negan switched tactics yet again when he began to torment Daryl with information he must have obtained from Rick. The hunter knew that his brother must have thought he was protecting him, and he could have no idea what Negan planned to do with what he found out but, this torture proved to be the worst. Daryl was chained in his cell unable to flee as Negan casually recounted what a failure he was as a man and why Beth's death was all his fault. As stoically as he could Daryl sat stone faced through the monologue's but, it became clear very quickly that Negan knew he was making an impact.

Everyday Negan promised that if Daryl cooperated and gave him the information he wanted then he would cease his torment and every day Daryl sat tight lipped and silent as Negan persisted unwilling to give Negan any weapons to use against Rick or the rest of his family. The day Negan started talking about what an innocent young woman Beth must have been, after all she'd been what like nineteen, and what a dirty degenerate he'd been for wanting her Daryl had known it was time to try to get away. By his estimate he'd been a captive at the Saviors compound for close to a month and he couldn't stay any longer. He'd been afraid of trying to escape at first. Afraid of what the sociopathic leader would do to Rick or Maggie if he did especially because Maggie had been so sick at first but, Daryl knew she was better now. Negan had slipped up and told him that, trying to use the information against the him, and the hunter knew it was time to make a move. If he failed, if he was caught and punished so be it but, he couldn't with stand hearing anymore degrading things about his relationship with Beth.

Negan was systematically destroying the only good thing Daryl had ever had with his vicious words and filthy insinuations. He had pushed the hunter to the breaking point and he no longer cared if trying to escape meant his death.

As it turned out his escape attempt didn't get him very far and the resulting beating led Daryl to surmise that he was probably going to die. He knew he had multiple broken ribs, a dislocated arm, and a concussion but, he figured that other things must be wrong as well. Each breath was agony and the wound in his shoulder had never quite healed right. He knew he was burning with fever and dispassionately he figured it wouldn't be much longer before he departed for whatever came next. As he lay panting, sweating, and wheezing on the cot in his cell he felt no remorse for failing to survive, Maggie would understand, and he could only hope that he would turn and do some damage before they managed to take him down.

Floating in and out of consciousness barely lucid he was aware of his cell door squeaking open and Negan striding in. Daryl would recognize the sound of those boots anywhere.

"The hell is going on in here," the Savior's leader demanded harshly. Daryl could feel the man's eyes on him for a moment before the sound of footfalls alerted him to the fact that the leader was coming closer. There was a harsh slap across his cheek that he could barely muster a groan for before Negan was angrily proclaiming, " He's dying damn it you idiots. I told you to keep him alive. We need him. He has information I want about Rick."

"There ain't nothin we can do boss," one of the lackey's protested," Ya beat him half ta death and we think his shoulder's infected."

"Son of a bitch," the big man growled. Daryl didn't even bother to try to pry his eyes open. Yes he was dying and he didn't care. There was rapid taping across the concrete of the freezing cell for several minutes as the leader paced back and forth before Negan finally demanded," Bring that damn doctor in here. The one you guys found wondering in the woods last week," then as an afterthought, "and bring the girl too. I want him to understand what's at stake here if he doesn't save our friend Daryl."

There was blessed silence for several long moments as Daryl labored to inhale and exhale then there was some scuffling before a panicked voice pleaded, " Please don't hurt her. I'll do whatever you want," and then a tone that was all too familiar for reasons the hunter couldn't place scoffed with ridicule," Don't you dare beg for me Steven I can take care of myself."

There was the sound of more scuffling and what sounded like knees hitting concrete before Negan was barking," You claim you're a doctor?"

"I don't claim I am a doctor I am one," the man with the quavering voice snapped back.

"Good," the big man sneered," that man over there is dying and you're going to save him. If you don't I am going to take my displeasure out on blonde over there ya got it?"

"Please leave her alone," the man pleaded futilely, " she doesn't deserve this."

Laughing callously Negan sneered, "You think deserving it has anything to do with what I'll do to her."

"You're a pig," the blonde snapped unlike her companion no fear evident in her voice," we were minding our own business when you're men accosted us. They separated us from our group. You have no right to keep us here."

Amusement evident in his tone Negan snarled back at the blonde," We've been over this already girly. You tell us where the rest of your group is and I let you go."

Snorting with obvious disbelief the blonde retorted," Do I look like I was born yesterday you asshole."

"Well now that you mention it," Negan leered," you are pretty young girly."

There was silence for a few minutes before the sounds of a scuffle filled the air again and the blonde was angrily snarling," Don't you touch me. I'll kill you. I've killed men for that before."

Laughing and clearly not at all intimidated Negan sighed as if he was growing bored," Yeah yeah I've heard that before."

Then turning back to the man he sneered," Any supplies you might need are in those buckets over there," there was a clunking sound as said buckets were seemingly dropped on the concrete," Here are you're bed rolls," another softer thumping on the concrete," you better save him Doc or I am gonna make you wish you'd been the one to die," then the sound of boots on the flooring before the door once more squeaked shut.

Disinterested in anything that was going on a resigned Daryl really hoped these two wouldn't torture him much in their attempts to save him. He felt bad that they would fail and most likely be punished for it but, the fever that was burning through his body blunted his regret significantly.

There was the sound of scrambling again, most likely the girl getting up from the floor, before it sounded like she was rapidly scrambling towards him her companion observing quietly from further away," He looks like shit but, that's him isn't it."

"Of course it's him you moron," the girl snarled," what other Daryl would this asshole be torturing using the name Beth. I heard his men talking the day they dragged us in here. Rick is somewhere around here too. I told you we were close. The signs were all there."

Then a hand was grabbing his softly, almost tenderly before the girl was threatening," Steven get your ass in gear and do something. He's burning up. If anything happens to him I swear on my father's grave that I will make what Negan threatened to do to you look like child's play."

"Jeez Beth," the doctor scoffed sounding not the least bit worried," let me see what they gave me to work with here and calm down already would you. He doesn't look good but, you know as well as I do that he isn't on death's door yet," there was the sound of a tupperware container being opened and some rummaging before," well at least we've got antibiotics pretty sure we're gonna need those." Then a long pause before the doctor uttered more softly and much closer to him," I am gonna need your help Beth which means I need you to pull it together. I can't do this without you."

"I know," the words came out chocked and full of emotion but, they were much soften then any of the others the blonde had yet to speak and something in them pulled at long buried memories in the hunters fuzzy brain.

Unable to help himself he found himself moaning helplessly," Beth," even knowing that she wasn't there, that she couldn't be there no matter how much he might desperately be yearning that she was.

Then the hand gripping his own tightened and there was a harsh intake of breath before the blonde was sobbing," I am here Daryl. I am here now. You're gonna be okay. We're gonna help you but you have to hold on for me. You have to hold on Daryl."

The blonde desperately waited for a response but, none was forthcoming because the beleaguered hunter had already slipped back into unconsciousness.