They had walked all night after burning down the moonshine shack, both beyond exhausted, neither daring to stop. There was no decent shelter to be found. Apparently, drinking moonshine while dehydrated and making big decisions, like arson, don’t exactly mix, and they found themselves in a hell of a situation.
Beth and Daryl wandered through the woods, neither of them really taking the lead, both just putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, they made it past the tree line.
It was as if Beth had expected to come up to a road, some kind of pavement, but instead found a set of railroad tracks under her worn cowboy boots. She looked up at Daryl, asking him silently with confusion in her eyes if they should follow to see where they’d end up. He shrugged, and they walked on, away from the sun, if only to keep it out of their eyes. He figured eventually they’d come to a town or something where they could rest for a while.
They trudged on, focusing only on putting more ground behind them. Daryl was fatigued and dehydrated, and figured Beth was in the same boat with him. Ah, the mighty ship Hangover. His mind seemed to be rocking back and forth, like a vessel being tossed on the waves of a rolling sea, and his stomach was definitely feeling the effects of seasickness, or at least something like it. He couldn’t be bothered to stop and do anything about it though. He had to keep moving. He wondered briefly if she was feeling the same way.
After what felt like days of walking, but had actually only been an hour or so, they came across a utility box with a message painted in walker blood. “Glenn, Go to Terminus, Maggie.”
Beth spun around to look at Daryl, a motion she immediately regretted based on the way her eyes swam and a grimace puckered her forehead, and worked to focus on him, eventually giving him a wide smile. “She’s alive! Daryl, Maggie’s alive!”
Daryl winced at the volume of her excited proclamation. He didn’t have the heart to tell her that they had no idea how long ago she’d written that message. Besides, Beth’s happiness was apparently a temporary remedy for their shared hangovers, so he let her have her moment, wondering when she would realize Maggie’s omission.
They followed the tracks, and eventually found two more of Maggie’s messages. The most recent one was still only addressed to Glenn, but this time Sasha and Bob were included in the signature line.
Beth blinked at the sign for a moment then glanced up at Daryl. “See? They’re...they’re alive. They found each other. Maybe if we go...” she stopped herself, took in a deep breath and let it out shakily. Daryl could see the tears welling up in her eyes. She cleared her throat and started again, “Maybe if we go, we’ll find them. Maybe everyone’s there already.”
“Beth...” he began, but she pressed on.
“I mean, they’re all survivors, right? They all made it. I’m sure they did. We...” She sucked in another shaky breath, and he watched as her face got more and more flushed as she tried to continue. “We just need to keep following the tracks and...” She looked at the sign again, then squared her shoulders and marched down the iron-lined path.
She’d only gotten a few yards from the sign before she stopped walking again. Daryl took a number of steps forward, his eyes on her the whole time. Even from several paces back, he could see her shoulders shaking. Her head dropped forward, chin falling to her chest, and her arms wrapped around herself. He could hear her struggling to breathe as she began to literally choke on her tears.
He finally caught up to her, but wasn’t sure what to do now that he was there. He gave her the space he thought she needed, daring to just put his hand on her shoulder, to let her know he was there, that she wasn’t alone, that he literally had her back. She was safe to break down if she needed to. He didn’t say anything, didn’t know what to say, and even if he did, she didn’t need to hear it right now. She just needed to get this out of her system.
He’d been ignored by the world more times than he could count. Hell, his brother had left him high and dry without a second thought time after time, but Daryl knew such was not the case for Beth. She’d been loved every minute of her life. She’d never been an afterthought, never been forgotten. And to have to deal with that all at the hands of her own sister, whom she’d fought so hard to find...yeah, Daryl could just imagine what was going on in her mind right now.
Her ear-splitting yell nearly caused him to jump out of his skin. “Why?!?!?” she screamed, her fists clenched tightly at her sides as they gripped the fabric of her shirt, like she was trying to hold herself together. “How could she do that? She couldn’t fit my name on there, too? Couldn’t squeeze it in somewhere?”
Still not knowing what to say, Daryl remained silent, shifting his weight back and forth between his feet.
“How could she do that? How could she just...did she forget about me? Did she just give up on finding me? Did she think I...”
And then Beth got quiet. Eerily quiet. He couldn’t even hear her breathing anymore. Daryl took another half step closer to her, and reached out to grab her just as her knees gave out and she started to collapse to the ground. His arms wrapped around her, one around her waist, the other around her shoulders, and he just held her, pressing her back to his chest. “Beth?” he said, at a complete loss for any other words
“She thinks I’m dead,” she whispered. “I’m...I’m just another dead girl to her. She never even gave me a chance.”
A new wave of sobs racked her slender body, and all Daryl could do was hold her. He only hoped it was enough, just letting her know he was there for her. She had been strong for him when he’d had his meltdown at the shack. He would do the same for her. When her tears started to subside, silence washed over them again.
“You’re gonna prove her wrong,” he said softly, squeezing her, holding her just a little closer, before letting her go, trusting her to hold herself up now. “You’re gonna prove them all wrong.”
Beth turned slowly to face him, the last of her tears making their way down her cheeks. He pulled the red bandana out of his back pocket and offered it to her. She accepted it with a hint of a smile and wiped her face with it. She started to clean off under her nose, but stopped herself, looked at him and started to return the bandana to him. “Go ahead and do it, girl. Ain’t gonna hurt it.”
She laughed out a breath, muttered a “thanks,” then blew her nose. Daryl tried to hide his wince at the sound, but apparently hadn’t hidden it well enough. “I’m sorry,” she muttered as she folded the fabric and kept her head hung low.
“Nah, s’alright. You can, uh...you can keep it for now, though,” he said, earning another ghost of a laugh.
“I’ll clean it next chance I get, promise,” she said, her voice still sounding weak.
Daryl nodded, “I trust ya. You wanna keep goin’ this way?” He gestured to the length of railroad tracks stretching around a bend and disappearing behind some trees.
Beth was quiet as she pondered her answer. Slowly, she looked up at him, a new determination in her eyes. “No. Not today, anyway.”
Daryl nodded again, respecting her answer. “Aight. C’mon, then. Let’s find a place to get some shut eye.”
The walked down the embankment, back into the shadows of the woods, side by side, as partners, as companions, as friends.