They’ve been running for at least half an hour, stumbling through the high, dense grass of a huge field.
Her calves are on fire, so are her lungs, her raised arms ache with each relentless smack of a blade of grass cutting into her sunburned skin. Onward, just a little further, but she’s growing so thirsty and tired. They need a break, need shelter, need water.
But he won’t stop, presses on, though the enemy must be long behind them- but they can’t be sure. There is always another danger coming their way, someone else who wants something- for them to be dead, robbed, used. This is how the world is now, take or be taken, it’s as easy as that. Adapt or die, run or die, hide or die. Trust no one, or only as far as you must to stay safe for another day.
They have made safe places before. The farm was safe for a long time. The prison even safer. Higher ground is safe, keeping watch is safe, never leaving camp alone is safe- until it isn’t, and that moment always comes.
So they run, run until their knees buckle and they fall, into the grass that just cut them mercilessly, now providing a cushion. Catching their breath, their bodies cramping up with exertion.
He hands her a bottle, wordlessly, and she gulps a few sips down before handing it back. She can feel sweat covering her whole body, a slight breeze providing relief. Birds are circling above, riding the wind.
We’ve yet again become prey, she thinks. Her finger tips touch her scratched up arms gently, noting the drying blood. We’ve become nothing but carrion.
Daryl stumbles back to his feet, and motions for her to do the same. At her hesitance, he reaches out a hand that she takes gladly, and with well-practiced ease he pulls her back up. She steps into his embrace, exhaling a deep breath and taking him in. They’re a mess, but they’re alive.
The sky is turning orange, the air is still scorchingly hot, but with the promise of a cool night to come.
They don’t dare to start a fire, so they huddle together with their backs leaning into the protective embrace of a large tree, sheltered by strong roots. Predictably, the night is chilly and despite their exhaustion they do not get any real rest. So they rise as soon as the sky lightens, hungry and sore to the bone.
They have nothing with them expect Daryl’s bow, Beth’s knife, and a water bottle that’s almost empty. Starting from scratch is never easy, but they’ll make do, again. Without much discussion they know what they need to do- find water, food, and their family.
There is a plan in place, when and where to meet, and they have four days to get to the meeting point. Four days seems to be awfully long, but the council has agreed that it would give time to shake enemies, disperse to the assigned bug out stations, patch up if needed and rest.
Daryl leads, Beth follows. She takes comfort in this routine, putting trust in their partnership and teamwork. They’ve been drawing strength from each other for years now, and she’s positive they will grief their recent losses together, in time. As much as it itches her to speak of the friends they’ve lost, she’s not foolish enough to distract them from their task at hand, or worse, attract unwanted attention.
She can still smell the smoke on her clothes. Their houses burned down, tools stolen, storage scavenged and destroyed. The loss of what they’ve built, she focuses her anger on that. The many hours of hard work they put into their community. Planning ahead for winter, the next spring, the trial and errors of blacksmithing until they finally got things right, found the best seeds for their soil, planted their roots in a place that was again not meant to be a permanent home. Lost polaroids and children’s drawings- things that shouldn’t matter, because that’s just stuff, it doesn’t nourish them or defend them, but it fuels her outrage.
So many years into the turn, and people still surprise her. They still haven’t found a way to protect themselves properly, and the memory of her dad being murdered, only a chain link fence separating them, comes to her unbidden. It’s been so many years but the story remains the same- finding a place, trusting new people, working so hard to keep everyone alive until some living motherfucker comes and takes it all away again. The dead are just part of the landscape now. The living are the enemy. Death is just the currency they all pay with.
Daryl wants to catch them food, but Beth is hesitant about starting a fire, still. They are lucky to find a tree that bears apples, most of them rotten already but a few still good enough. The sugar and sweetness gives them a burst of energy, and they take their chance to drink water from a cold stream unboiled. They continue on, slowly but steadily, preserving energy since they’ve made good headway. Never moving straight for longer than necessary, avoiding the obvious paths, and hiding their tracks now that they don’t have to run. Stealthy, quiet, and persistent.
She tells him that night. About the life growing inside of her, that yes, she is absolutely sure, no, she is fine and had enough to eat and he mustn’t worry. Life’s tough now, but so is she. She is resilient, knows her body, has known for a while, and there are actual flutters.
His hand on her belly, hesitant as he keeps looking at her in wonder. He is scared, and excited, and then he smiles so brightly, she doesn’t think she’s ever seen so many of his teeth at once. For a moment, they can forget about all they have lost. For a moment, their hearts are soaring with the possibilities of what will be. For now, they dare to be hopeful. They will meet those who survived, rebuilt, and make this hell of a life worthwhile. All they can do is move forward, and thrive, make every day count. Her hand in his, fingers interlocked, they travel on. Heartbroken and hopeful at the same time. But, despite it all, so very alive.