“Keep running!” he tells her.
They push further into the woods at full speed, ducking beneath branches and sliding over the slick surface of freshly fallen leaves. It’s cold. She doesn’t have a jacket, and the tear in her shirt exposes most of her left shoulder. There’s a trail of dried blood down her front from her collarbone where she hit the pavement seconds before escaping. It was a narrow gap of opportunity, but they made it. Luck was on their side.
It takes hours, but eventually they clear the trees. They’re too far from Alexandria to go back now, so they have no other choice but to move forward - away from it all. Leave it behind.
“I can’t go anymore,” she says, clutching the stitch in her side, bent over and gasping for air. “We need to find a car.”
He stops beside her and doesn’t say anything at first, but after a few seconds he nods and begins walking at a slower pace. She’s grateful. After all, she knows he doesn’t want to slow down. If it were solely up to him, he’d keep running all night. Just like he did when she was first taken. Because that’s who he is. And that’s what he does.
Daryl Dixon does not give up on the people he cares about.
When they finally come across a car that’s in drivable condition, he takes the wheel and steers them towards the outskirts of Virginia. They drive for almost another hour on the 495 until they literally run out of road. He parks the car at Chesapeake Beach, then they sit quietly in the still and salty air until they find the nerve to open the doors and stretch their aching legs.
“We’re in Maryland,” Beth whispers softly. The ocean breeze carries her words lazily, and it masks the tired sandpapery feel they leave behind in her throat.
It’s dark, but he’s watching the waves. Everything in front of them is open. A vast intricate abis ready to swallow them whole. She thinks for moment that it would be okay if it did. After tonight -- after feeling so small and worthless -- she’d give anything to be swallowed up by something that big.
The first house they try is unlocked, so they take tentative steps through the door. It’s abandoned, not unlike everything else in the world they now know. A body is slumped against the cabinets on the floor in the kitchen. It’s long dead with a bullet in its skull, so Daryl drags it outside and dumps it in the sand.
It doesn’t matter. It did. But not anymore.
Beth checks the other rooms. Everything’s coated in orange and green pastels and trimmed with shells or dotted with boats and other nautical themed designs. It’s not remotely familiar to either of them, but because it’s so different, it might just work.
As Daryl disappears into one of the bedrooms, Beth finds the bathroom and closes the door. There’s a candle and a set of matches on the counter, so she lights the wick and the small room is filled with the scent of vanilla. She looks down at the sink and checks the faucet. No running water, of course, but there are towels folded neatly in the corner, so she takes one and starts scrubbing feverishly at her hands. She can’t get the blood off. It’s a lot stickier than she ever thought blood could be. She’s bled before - cuts, scrapes, and broken bones - and in the recent years Walker blood has become a constant for comparison, but all of that is different. It’s thick and warm. This is human. And it isn’t hers.
I would never kill someone.
When she said it, it wasn’t a lie. She believed it. She didn’t think she was capable. But after tonight… now she knows she is. She’s done it. She’s taken a life, and even though it was the first, she knows it won’t be the last. This is a gateway to the rest of her new mechanical existence. To survive means she has to do things, and goddammit… she made it.
Beth looks at her face in the mirror. There are lines around her eyes that weren’t there before. Dark circles, too -- the ones that make one look sunken and twice their age. She feels like she’s aged ten years, but given everything she’s been through, it’s not surprising.
Nothing happened the way it was supposed to. After they found the moonshine shack, things were supposed to be better. They were supposed to be happy. She wasn’t supposed to be kidnapped, taken to a hospital in Atlanta and treated like a slave. She wasn’t supposed to have to escape and get captured again by someone else that made feeling like a slave seem easy. They weren’t supposed to watch Glenn die. Or watch Maggie lose the baby. Daryl wasn’t supposed to have his last hope be a man that did nothing but betray him.
She guesses it was luck that made Dwight change his mind.
Or something else entirely.
He let her go when no one else was looking, and when she darted behind the RV, avoiding the light from the cars and the moon shining like a spotlight on all of the horror she’d been forced to witness, she collided with Daryl. And they ran.
They didn’t look back. They didn’t think twice about the people they were leaving behind. The only time they were nearly sent off track was when one of Negan’s men spotted them a few yards away from the group. He was pissing on a tree trunk, and before he had time to call for backup, Beth grabbed Daryl’s knife from its sheath and stabbed the man in the throat.
There was so much blood.
She looks away from the mirror and flexes her fingers. There’s even more red staining the arm she used to wield the knife. She made sure to let it sink in deep, because she’d recognized him.
He was the one that ripped her clothes.
She hears Daryl moving around in the other room, so Beth exits the bathroom and saunters into the hall. There’s a light coming from the living room. She follows it and finds more candles illuminating the edges of the sofa and the coffee table against the darkness.
Beth manages a smile. “You found candles.”
Daryl grunts and drops his crossbow to the floor. It falls with a muffled thud on the plush carpet.
“I lit one in the bathroom,” she adds. “It’s vanilla.”
He remains silent.
She notices the way he’s carrying himself. His injured shoulder must be killing him, so she moves to take a look at it, but he shoves her away.
“It’s fine,” he forces. It’s the first words he’s spoken to her since they left the forest.
“Why’re you shutting me out?”
“I ain’t,” he disagrees. “It’s fine. Tha’s all I said.”
He shrugs and sits on the sofa, elbows on his knees. Beth takes the edge of the coffee table.
“We made it,” she tells him.
He can’t look at her. He forces his eyes all over the room, staring at the carpet and the wallpaper, but not at her. There’s something on his face that she can’t quite put her finger on, but she’s seen it before. When the prison fell. After the governor murdered her father.
Maybe I coulda done something.
After a while, he drops his head into his hands. Then, with his focus on his feet, he asks openly, “What’ve we done?”
She shakes her head. “Nothin’.”
He looks up at her, and there’s a wild look in his eyes. He’s disappointed in her answer, but she can’t see how.
“You think that’s a good thing?”
Her mouth falls open, but she can’t find any suitable words she thinks will please him.
“I don’t know what I was thinkin’,” he continues. “I just knew I had to get you out of there.” He pauses, waiting for her to comment, but she’s still stunned into silence. “What’s going to happen to the others?”
“I-I don’t know.”
He says her name like it’s vat of acid being dumped on his wounds.
He can’t seriously blame her for all of this.
“We’ll figure it out,” she insists.
“No we won’t,” he counters. “We’re hundreds of miles away now. We can’t go back. They’re probably all dead.” He stands up and begins pacing the room. He begins murmuring their names under his breath like a chant. “Rick and Michonne. Carl. What the fuck? What about Judith?”
“Daryl, just stop it!” Beth declares, rising to her feet as well. “It’s not gonna do any good beatin’ yourself up about it now. I know it’s my fault, okay? You put me first, and you shouldn’t have.” She fights back a surge of tears threatening to close her throat. “I’m sorry.”
Beth storms outside before the trembling in her bottom lip gives her away. She marches across the beach, boots sinking further into the sand with every step. Eventually, she decides to discard her shoes completely, and she runs barefoot until she hits the edge of the tide. The cold water hits her toes, and it’s like an electric shock to her senses. It wakes her up, forcing everything to come rushing out of her as steady and as strong as the waves in front of her. She breaks down, and she cries. Through the mist of tears blurring her vision, she can see the blood and dirt from her clothes washing away in the water as she collapses to her knees. The sun slowly rises along the horizon making everything pink and sparkly. Despite the five ton boulder that’s weighing on her chest, she can’t help but feel a tiny bit of hope as she takes it all in.
They got away.
Daryl might think of it as abandonment, but maybe, over time, he’ll learn to understand. He doesn’t know what she’s been through. He doesn’t get how important it is that he’s the one she ended up with.
Yeah, she left Maggie behind. But right now, with tiny grains of sand falling between her fingers and the warmth of the sun on her face… she doesn’t care.