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A long time between...

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Once, a long time ago now, Beth had lay awake at night imagining how a reunion might play out. She’d imagined euphoric smiles, lingering hugs. Who she found changed depending on the day but the basic image of it all remained the same, like something from a movie, a perfect happy ending. She had pushed those thoughts from her mind a long time ago now. As the months became years she lost hope of ever finding them, accepted that probably most of them were dead by now. Finally, she had been apart from them for longer than they’d ever been together. Those days of everyone crammed into the farmhouse, that first winter on the road and the prison became distant memories. They were just part of a timeline now and those people she had loved, she thought of them less and less. In the meantime there had been others, friends, a boyfriend, a whole network of people she’d known and lost twice over.  Other faces replaced those in her initial reunion dreams until she stopped day dreaming all together.

Despite that, when she got close enough to  make out the details of the shadowy figure she’d spotted from the distance, well Beth Greene doubted what she was seeing. She wondered if finally she had lost her mind. Before her, slumped over and crying into the earth was a woman with long black dreadlocks and a katana slung across her back, a woman that couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else.  Beth shook her head, squinted her eyes, pushed them closed then opened again but the sobbing woman before her didn’t change.

‘Michonne’ she spoke quietly and the figure didn’t respond. Beth coughed and tried again ‘Michonne’.

Beth’s hands began to shake as she got close enough to reach out and touch her old friend.

‘It’s you’ she said, a little in shock, very disbelieving.

Michonne wiped tears from her eyes and looked up at her ‘No way’ she said.

Beth took in the red rimmed eyes, the strain so clear across her face.

Taking Beth’s hand, Michonne pulled herself up.

‘I… I can’t believe it’ Michonne said again, her voice choking up.

‘You Ok?’ Beth asked.

By way of answer, Michonne sobbed loudly. She might have looked the same, but gone was the strong, stoic woman Beth remembered.

‘Are you on your own?’ Beth asked.

‘No, I’ve still got…’ Michonne’s voice trailed off and Beth could see she was finally taking in the sight of her, the shorter hair, the puckered face, the clothes so torn they were nothing but rags.

‘We’ve got a community, communities’ Michonne said again ‘not far from here. It’s been, a bad week, for all of us but there’s still people. There’s food, clothes, medicine.’

Suddenly Beth was in the woman’s embrace, she clung to her in return although after months on her own, the human contact felt strange.

‘I’m on my own’ Beth breathed into her ear, ‘completely alone’.

‘Not anymore’ Michonne replied.

They’d walked back mostly in silence after that. Michonne’s breathing was still labored and Beth didn’t want to ask questions, she didn’t know what was safe to ask. As dusk began to fall, all Beth wanted was to be someplace safe- and she had to assume that wherever Michonne was taking her was. Finally Beth could see walls, towers and structures behind them. Whatever this place was, it wasn’t temporary. Michonne pulled a tattered white handkerchief from her pocket and waved it wildly.

‘We’re not supposed to bring others back’ she said quietly, ‘not like this’.

Beth could only nod. Everywhere had their own rules and nobody trusted strangers anymore. She felt nervous as they approached and the big question in her mind, well she was too afraid to ask.

‘There can’t be anyone else’ she thought to herself ‘this is already miracle enough’.

The closer they got to the walls, Beth could see people on sentry duty, armed men and women, their weapons pointing at them despite Michonne’s flag. She had continued to wave it but Beth could tell they were all suspicious.  Once at the gate they were met by a tall man with dark skin and hair that matched Michonne’s.

‘She’s one of us, from before’ Michonne spoke to him and immediately he eased before Beth’s eyes. He gave a signal and the guns around the wall lowered.

‘Beth, this is Ezekiel, Ezekiel, Beth’. He shook her hand and again she was unsettled by the feeling of flesh against her skin. She tried to look around to the scene behind him but the images hit her all at once and she felt weak. So many new buildings, that looked well maintained, gardens and people, so many neatly dressed and clean people all eyeing her with curiosity. Michonne seemed to notice she was flagging.

‘She needs food, clothes. Medical but that can wait for tomorrow. For now, I want to take her to the theatre’ she then looked at Beth and whispered into Ezekiel’s ear and the tiniest bit of hope flamed in Beth’s heart.

‘Is there someone else here?’ she asked as she followed Michonne.

A tight smile formed across Michonne’s lips ‘We don’t get a lot of good news around here. After the week we’ve had, they need this’.

Names and faces began to race through Beth’s mind, even while she told herself to stay calm. Anyone who’d been there that day in the hospital seemed unlikely. Michonne wasn’t there so maybe she was with some of the others. Glenn. Maggie. Sasha. She tried not to think too hard. They entered an old theatre and the sight of it almost took Beth’s breath away.

‘It’s so clean’ she breathed, taking a seat.

Michonne looked at her ‘This is some kind of miracle’

Beth smiled weakly ‘I’m sorry, for whatever happened’

‘Let’s not talk about it, not tonight. Let’s just get you settled’.

Beth nodded and right then the door pounded.

‘Come in’ called Michonne.

A slither of light entered the room and then- Beth’s heart began to pound. Daryl and Carol. They looked older, weary, they’d been crying too she could tell. Obviously whatever had happened before her arrival had impacted all of them. It wasn’t a euphoric reunion in the slightest. It felt as though every emotion she’d woken up back inside Grady flooded her body all over again. They moved towards her and she tried to stand but her legs gave way. Carol ran then to her side and Michonne reached out an arm to steady her. Beth stood again and threw her arms around Carol.

‘I can’t believe you’re here’ she heard whisper in her ear. Carol’s voice sounded thin, broken.  

A moment later she felt a second set of arms encircle both of them, then their circle widened to include Michonne as well and they just stood there like that, half sobbing, a little happy and together again for a moment. The contact felt as foreign to Beth as the room they were in and yet she couldn’t bring herself to let go.

Michonne was still clutching Beth and helped her back into a seat.

‘There’s food and clothes coming’ she said to the others. Carol sat on the other side while Daryl crouched down in front of her.

‘Where the…how the… I duneven know where to start’ he said.

Beth shrugged ‘It doesn’t matter.’

And in the moment it didn’t. All she knew was after months on her own, she had people again, her people and although they’d probably changed as much as she had, she knew she could trust them. She felt it in her soul the moment they’d embraced her. Tonight she would have shelter, food, a proper rest. It was more than she’d had all at once for the longest time. She had questions for them too of course, but for now they could wait. She just wanted to take things one step at a time.

It may not have been the picture perfect reunion she’d once dreamed of but it was more than enough for now.