Beth Greene liked to think that she was still that young girl who believed that the walking corpses were just sick people in need of a cure. That her family members, neighbors, and friends that Otis had locked in their barn would get better, that this was just a bug going around. She so wanted to believe that these rotting, monstrous ghosts of people who were once alive were still inherently human, because it would make living so much easier. But that girl had died when the shell of her mama had tried to take a chunk out of her neck, when she watched her brother take multiple bullets to the torso without flinching. No, that girl had died in the bathroom of her family home nearly a week ago, when she had decided that taking her own life was easier than accepting the fact that the world had truly ended. That there was no going back.
So she silently watched as her home, the place her daddy had taught her to ride a bike, the porch swing her and Shawn had broken because they wanted to see how high they could swing, the flowerboxes her mama had let her paint before the summer of eighth grade - was overrun with monsters. What did Mr. Grimes' group call them? Walkers.
She had always heard that in times of stress, the human brain starts to see things in slow motion in order to process what is going on around them - like in the movies. Beth didn't agree. By the time Patricia had screamed and Beth had felt the warm gush of blood that ran down her arm from the bite in her neck - Beth was sure time was moving faster. It was like instead of her mind slowing down to process what was happening, it was speeding up so she wouldn't have to see her entire family fall apart before her very eyes. Like she was numb to the world around her. She did not remember if she screamed when Patricia went down, all Beth could see was the silent acceptance that had passed over Patricia's face when she fell to her knees.
With her focus on Patricia, the woman who had treated her like a daughter being ripped to shreds, she never felt the harsh pop in her ankle caused by her lousy sneakers slipping on the wet grass. Lori continued pulling her along, her hands slick with sweat. With fear, Beth thought. She tried to process the chaos around her, the barn ablaze, the sound of her daddy's shotgun sounding off somewhere behind her, the sound of someone screaming. Was it her?
Beth slammed face first into something hard - something warm. She had started to move away, thinking it was a walker, opening her mouth to let out a scream that would greet the first sign of death when Lori shook her shoulders violently, straining Beth's neck with her desperate shakes. It wasn't until her legs had stopped moving that she felt the pain in her ankle, sharp and agonizing. The pain had caused a fine layer of sweat to appear on Beth's skin, for her face to contort into absolute pain. Lori paid no mind, shouting something Beth couldn't make out and shoving something cold and hard into her hands before running off into the dark.
She tried to yell at Lori to come back, but it was almost as if the sudden pain had released her from a trance. The numbness that she had felt, the confusion, was gone, replaced by a burning and awful pain that shot up her entire leg. Every emotion raged within her all at once, and she could do nothing. She wanted to scream at Lori for being so stupid, for running off alone into the dark - but instead, she screamed for Lori not to go, not to leave her alone.
She heard the rumble of the truck engine before she saw it, the violent growl of the old motor sputtering against the driver's insistence to just go. The sound of her daddy's truck was ingrained in her head, she could recognize it anywhere. Hershel Greene used to enjoy going for early morning drives around the fields, always saying it was a good way to clear his head before the day of hard work began. When Beth was little, she always woke up at the sound of her daddy's truck and would hurry out into the morning light in her nightgown and slippers to go with him. She had even chased after his truck down the road a few times, teddy bear in hand and all. It had started to become a habit fo theirs, a ritual. When asked why, she used to shake her little pigtails and say it's not good to be all alone.
She thought of this as she watched the red truck drive off into the distance, tires smoking and squealing, too far away for her to chase after. Was her daddy driving? Did he remember to look out his rearview mirror to check for Beth in her pajamas, as mama had told him?
Did her family think she was already dead? Had they given up on her that quickly?
She moved to run in the direction Lori had gone, moving towards the truck, screaming and waving for them to just wait. Instead, blinding pain had gripped her entire body like a vice, her ankle had suddenly given out from underneath her and left her sprawled out on the grass. Whatever Lori had gifted her had flown from her hands and landed a few feet in the grass behind her.
It was a pistol.
It was ironic really, that she had been left alone in the middle of a goddamn field surrounded by hundreds of walkers with a weapon she had no idea how to use. She didn't even know if it was loaded or not. The metal looked unforgiving and bleak against the dark green fields of her family's home. She had politely refused Mr. Walsh's offer to give her lessons on how to shoot a gun, following daddy's orders. She really regretted that decision.
So, the same hand that had held the broken mirror only a week ago, so sure of itself and its intentions, reached for her last chance of survival. Lori wasn't coming back, obviously. What had the woman said to her? To stay there? To run? To just give up? No, that was more Andrea's style.
She had pulled herself up onto her hands and knees, she felt her leg caught on something but paid no attention, instead, her fingertips had brushed against the barrel, nearly there when something fell on top of her, shoving her face into the grass. Rotten hands latched onto her sweater, tearing into the fabric, getting ready to tear into her.
Ignoring the blinding pain searing her leg, she kicked and punched at the body above her, pushing herself up enough to flip onto her back because no, not like this. She screamed as bloody teeth snapped at her face, reaching for anything, anything that could save her. When her hand found the barrel of Lori's pistol.
She fired, and as the body slumped against her, crushing her into the dirt, blood poured out onto her face.
She could hear someone yelling for her in the distance, her dad? Jimmy? Maybe even Glenn, he seemed like the kind to come back and save you from the monsters. The voice called her name again, but all she could do was scream.
She saw a flash of blonde disappear into the trees in her peripheral, Andrea had been left too. Was she the one screaming her name? Why wasn't she coming back? Beth struggled to push the dead weight off of her chest, her arms shaking with effort, but found it impossible. The walker was a woman, her jaw hanging at an odd angle and the bullet hole in her forehead still gushing blood onto Beth's neck and face. Looking into her eyes, clouded and yellow with death, she wondered once again if there was a small chance that there was a person in there somewhere, trapped and afraid like Beth was, that had just been set free.
She struggled as another walker began to stumble towards her, but it was no use. Just as the man lunged for her arm, still gripping the pistol, the tip of an arrow went through his temple. She watched as her savior threw the walker on top of her off as if it was nothing, grabbing her hand and tugging her up and off into the opposite direction of Andrea, of daddy's truck. But away from the monsters. The pain in her ankle was nothing compared to to the thought of someone coming back for her, to the sound of their voice, leading her off into the woods.
Beth had lost track of how long they had been running, any sense of time or direction was lost to her hours ago, to the crippling pain in her leg, to the awful smell of rotten blood that was covering her face. The only thing she was sure of was the sight of Daryl's wings that were sewn into the back of his vest and the sound of the leaves beneath their feet. Her steps had become erratic and a blistering burn had settled into her lungs, making each breath a chore. Each step was nearly agonizing, not only was she sure her ankle was sprained, or even broken, the sneakers she had bought on sale before the turn were not properly worn in and were beginning to rub the worst blisters on her feet. She had long stopped paying attention to the blood that was beginning to soak through the pretty pink fabric - she was planning on burning them later, even if it meant she was barefoot.
She had nearly run into Daryl after he had almost been taken out by a rogue branch, it caused her to stumble and nearly fall into the mossy floor - but she grit her teeth and kept going. There seemed to be no discernable path they were following, though Daryl seemed to know where they were going. All the trees had started looked the same to her, they could have been going in circles for all she knew. Or he could be leading her out into the wilderness to kill her, she had seen Criminal Minds before the turn, it wasn't impossible.
But she kept following, not because he had saved her from certain death, but because they were running away from there. The ruins of her childhood home and the screams of her family as they were torn apart by monsters. She would have followed anyone if it meant she never had to see the front of her home again.
She felt as if she was about to collapse - if the black dots spinning on the edge of her vision meant anything. But it seemed like the hunter was pushing through. Or he was really good at hiding his exhaustion, but from what she knew about the man, which wasn't a lot, it was most likely the second option. She zeroed in on the blood that had begun to run down his right cheek, split open and angry, wondering if it would need stitches.
But by paying so much attention to her partner's injury, her precarious footing failed her and she tumbled into the leaves.
"Daryl!" Her voice was harsh, even to her own ears, more like a shrill shriek than the quiet, song-like voice she was known for. Even so, the man kept on running, and she watched desperately as the angel started to leave her behind. "Don't leave me, please!"
The wings came to a screeching halt, Daryl spinning around with his crossbow loaded as if she had yelled walker and seemed shocked to see her laying on the ground, alone. The cold ground felt almost euphoric, the mud soaking into her clothes helped simmer the burning in her chest. He suddenly stepped towards her then, as if to grab her arms to pull her back up and keep going - it would have been easy, she only weighed a hundred pounds, at most. He could have slung her over his shoulder and trekked on to wherever the hell they were going, which was fine with Beth, as long as she wasn't alone.
But she watched as he looked at her blood-soaked sneakers and clothes, her dirty, bloody face, and the leaves and sticks she was sure were tangled in her hair and suddenly fell to his knees beside her. It was then that Beth noticed how tired Daryl looked - when she remembered Daryl volunteering to take Glenn's shift the night before everything went to hell. She felt as if she couldn't complain, because although she was in pain, she wasn't severely sleep-deprived.
So, she watched as Daryl Dixon fell to his knees near her head, whether from pure exhaustion or pity, she didn't know. They laid there together, completely quiet, blinking up into the canopy of trees that were beginning to show the signs of daylight.
By the time Beth had regained all of her senses, the sun was high up in a cloudless blue sky. Daryl had already started to stir, adjusting his boots and fiddling with his crossbow - she noticed that he did that when he was stressed, she had often caught him playing with the strings and bolts during group discussions. She had whispered to him sometime after lying down that he to go to sleep, that she would watch and wake him up if anything happened. She had honestly expected resistance but was shocked when he rolled onto his back and passed out, quietly pushing his hunting knife closer to her hands. Just in case, it said to her.
She had thought about Lori's gun then, reaching for the waistband of her jeans and feeling nothing - she guessed that neither of them had picked the pistol back up in their mad dash for the woods. She hoped the woman wasn't too attached to it, she didn't seem like the type. She hoped that the woman was okay, that she had found Carl and Rick.
As the sound of Daryl's breathing grew steadier, she started to wonder who had gotten out of the farm unscathed. Maggie? Her dad? Glenn? Carl? We're any of them together? Or had they all just scattered? She listed off every name, everyone who was on the farm when it fell. She didn't know why she did this, but she felt as if she called the names out in her head, into the void, it kept them alive and safe - at least to her.
And as the hours passed and Daryl continued to sleep, Beth began to pray. Though she wasn't in the best position for praying, she supposed. On her back sprawled out like a starfish, covered in blood, but she did it anyway. She prayed for all of her friends and family, even Patricia and Dale, hoping that her daddy had been right about heaven. She thought that those two deserved it.
So, Beth watched as Daryl tightened the shoelaces on his boots and jumped when his gruff voice cut through the silence.
"We need 'a keep going, we're headed towards the highway." She had also noticed that Daryl lacked the ability to give useful information.
"Why the highway?" She cringed at the sound of her voice, scratchy and awful, but pressed further. "Is everyone going to be there? Did you guys set a meeting place or something?"
He had the audacity to look annoyed at her questioning.
"Where we left the supplies for the little girl," he grumbled, pushing himself onto his feet.
Anger burned inside Beth then. She hated when people referred to Sophia as 'little girl.' Mr. Walsh seemed to be the worst at that. Sophia was a person who deserved the respect of saying her name, the respect of acknowledging her life and her death, Carol deserved that respect.
"You mean Sophia?" Was it petty? Yes. Did she care? At this point, not really. Daryl grunted in response, but she noticed that he didn't meet her eyes.
"Can ya get up?" Could she? It felt as if her entire body had given up on itself as if she would never be able to get up again. Besides the throbbing pain in her ankle and the ache in her heart, it was like her entire being had gone numb. She was an empty shell of mourning and exhaustion. She wondered what she looked like, sprawled out in the mud, covered in blood, the bloody bandage starting to peel off her arm, the color of old blood. The stitches had popped hours ago, but she refused to look at it. She probably looked like a character out of one of those awful horror movies Shawn and Maggie forced her to watch, but then again, they were in a horror movie.
She hadn't shed a tear since Patricia had fallen, from the shock of it all, she assumed, but that didn't help the horrible ache in her chest and the constant lump in her throat. What was the point of getting up now? She had no idea who had made it out, what if no one from her family was left? Although she loved the group from Atlanta, they weren't her family. She wanted to feel daddy's arms around her shoulders, whispering into her ear and calling her Junebug. She wanted to see Maggie's face when she realizes that she made it out alive, the glimmer of pride that would show there. But what if they weren't alive? Who would stop her from just staying in the mud? Daryl didn't seem too fond of her, and besides, she would just slow him down anyway. He was probably looking for a way to get rid of her.
But then something terrifying occurred to her.
What if we are the only ones that got out?
Even if she got up somehow, what if no one was waiting for them at the highway? What if the monsters had taken the rest of her family too? That meant she was alone with Daryl Dixon.
She had never spoken a word to Daryl before today. She never thought she would have a reason to. Patricia and daddy had kept Beth inside as much as they possibly could, only letting her tend to the chickens and the horses. Especially after what happened after the barn. She wasn't going to think about that choice right now, though. The pain doesn't go away, you just make room for it, Andrea had said.
Really, the only interaction she had with Daryl was when she helped her daddy sew him up, but that was more of a learning experience for Beth so she could learn how to sew skin instead of fabric. She hadn't exactly felt the urge to strike up a friendly conversation with the fiery man in pain that had cussed and yelled profusely while bleeding out of his side and head. But she was observant. Daddy had always joked that she knew everything about everyone from just watching, unlike her other siblings, she preferred to peacefully sit in a corner and watch rather than engage. He always thought she was an old soul. So she saw how Daryl politely drop off all of his kills already skinned and cleaned after Patricia had mentioned that she had never learned how and that Otis had always done that, she saw how he gave the rest of his food to Carl and Lori, mumbling something about how they needed it more than he did. He was a lot like her, really. He was content with just watching others, always observant. Although she wasn't sure if old soul really fit the description of Daryl Dixon.
And despite her agony when Shane had shot up the barn, even after realizing that her mother and Shawn really weren't coming back, after witnessing the shell of her mother try to chew her arm off and thinking maybe it's best if I just give up - she saw how Daryl Dixon's mask fell when Sophia had stepped out of that barn.
"I don't think I can." It was pathetic, really. A whispered sob. But it was true, not only could she physically not go on, she couldn't mentally.
She watched as he didn't hear what she was actually saying, instead, he grabbed his knife off ground next to her hand and started walking away from her, away from her home, from where her mother and brother were buried. "What hurts? Your dad'll be at the highway - he'll check you over."
"Just leave me here, Daryl." Finally, tears had started to streak down her face.
"What was that?" He had looked over his shoulder at her then, an incredulous look in his eyes. "What did you say, girl?"
"I said, just leave me here." She was making it worse, she knew it. She knew what was coming if his past temper was anything to go by, but she just couldn't do this was anymore. What was the reason for living if you just kept losing people? If you never had a home? She had turned over then, looking off into the woods, away from him.
That had done it. But before he could start to yell at her, or hell, just put her out of her misery himself, a few sets of groans had sounded off somewhere close to them. He moved to grab her, but Beth watched as one was on them before he could wrap his hand around her arm. He jammed the knife down into the walker's skull, moving towards the others. After he had offed the rest of the shadows filtering through the woods, he finally turned to her and bent down to be eye-level, pointing the knife right at her face.
"And what do I tell 'yer family, huh? That I let you wallow in 'yer own self-pity and left you to be torn apart by walkers? No, you're comin' with me whether you like it or not!" He had actually grabbed her then, jerking her up into the air and onto her feet. She ignored the stabbing pain that shot down her foot and instead, starting kicking and punching Dixon as hard as she could. She screamed and she screamed, telling him that if no one was alive then she didn't want to be alive, asking why he wouldn't just leave her to die like the rest of her family and just go.
But all of the kind things she had watched Daryl Dixon do, the man she knew was somewhere in there, didn't make up for how much of an ass he was.
So he had just held her tighter and started dragging her through the woods.
Before she fell into an outright tantrum, she heard his gruff voice whisper something into hair - something that made her want to cry even harder.
"You ain't leaving me alone, girl."
By the time they had gotten to the highway, the sun was at its highest point. She had stopped fighting him long ago and had just stared up into the sky while he carried her through the woods, cursing the one who left her with Dixon. Eventually, he had put her down, quietly slinging her arm over his shoulder and helping her hobble along. Neither of them had said a word since he had forcefully dragged her away from her chosen spot in the woods, but he never let go of her hand, always pulling her along with him.
He had helped her over the guardrail, easing her down to lean up against the searing metal. He looked angry with her, but he was handling her as if she was a ticking time bomb. Maybe that's what she was.
They were alone, only the sound of the summer cicadas to keep them company.
"Are we in the right spot?" He grunted again, weaving through the abandoned cars. She watched as the wings drew closer to a black car, but she was too focused on glancing back into the woods, wondering if she could make a run for it. But, a quiet groan from the darkness of the trees had her spinning around and forcing herself up, tailing after Daryl, no matter how much it hurt. She ignored the flush of embarrassment she felt when she did, wasn't she just telling him to leave her so she could get eaten? Her first kill had been lucky, if it wasn't for Lori's gun, she'd have been in pieces by now. She wasn't about to test that luck.
When she found him, he was crouched in front of a rusted black car, streaks of white paint barely visible, the food that had been left for Sophia gone. She glanced around the highway, even taking a moment to look off into the distance to watch for cars. He continued to stare at the pavement, swiveling around to glance at the mud behind him. She was getting ready to say something, maybe even turn around and march back to that walker in the woods so it could finish her off - when Daryl turned to look at her.
"There were cars, three of 'em, it looks like."
"Recently?" She wondered briefly how he could tell, the pavement looked like pavement to her.
"See the tire tracks in the mud right there? Fresh, probably this mornin' or late last night. They went North." He pointed ahead of them to indicate which way the cars had supposedly gone, which she was thankful for because she had no idea where they were right now.
But every thought was overtaken by the sudden pain in her chest.
Their group was okay, some of them, at least. They had made it out. But they hadn't waited, because they thought they were dead.