Beth had no idea how to feel right now. She was standing a few feet behind Alpha, walker skin over her face, eyes wide in shock. How the fuck is this possible? She asked herself. This was supposed to be quick. They were to retrieve Alpha’s daughter from this community, trade her for two of theirs, and then go back to their camp. That’s it, it was supposed to be easy.
But things never are. Beth felt like she couldn’t breathe, using all her willpower not to cry out.
No emotion. No weakness. No emotion. No weakness. No emotion. No weakness.
She chanted the mantra over and over in her head, forcing herself to take a deep, silent breath…but she was still on the verge of breaking down. How could she not? The man who was responsible for saving her life was standing so close to her, but he didn’t even know. He had no idea she was alive.
Instantly, Beth was drawn back to the last conversation she’d had with the man.
Beth had grabbed a piece of paper and the pen from her journal she carried with her, setting them on the table beside the soft candlelight.
“I’m gonna leave a ‘thank you’ note.” She had said to Daryl.
“Why?” He asked, in the rough voice that brought a strange comfort to her. She glanced at him before responding, eyes back to the words in front of her.
“For when they come back,” she paused, “-if they come back…even if they’re not comin’ back, I still wanna say thanks.” She looked back up towards Daryl, trying to read his face in the low light of room. Unsure what he was thinking, she turned back to the paper and continued writing.
“Maybe you don’ have ta leave ‘at.” He said suddenly, causing Beth to look at his face, even though he wasn’t looking at her. “Maybe we stick ‘round here for ‘while.” He paused, eating a spoonful of jelly, “-they come ba’, we’ll jus’ make it work. Mean, mayb’ nuts, but…mayb’ a’right.”
Beth couldn’t stop the smile from forming on her face, blue eyes twinkling in the candlelight.
“So you do think there are still good people around.” Daryl could only shrug in response, looking back towards the jar of jelly. “What changed your mind?” He looked to her, a small smirk on his face.
Daryl looked at Beth again, debating on saying something, instead he grunted and shrugged his shoulders again.
“Don’t mhmm,” she replied, mimicking his gesture with a small roll of her eyes, “-what changed your mind?”
This time, instead of answering, she was met with a look so intense she felt her heart skip a beat, face growing warm as Daryl stared down at her, as if silently communicating what was so obvious to him, but not her. And the message was received.
And then shit hit the fan.
To this day, she still couldn’t remember very much of the last time she ever saw any of her family. She knows what happened, the scars on her face are evidence of the horrors that she endured at Grady Hospital. And the small, circular mark on her forehead makes it understandable why her family thought her dead. Hell, in their position she would’ve assumed the same thing. She wasn’t going to hold it against them. It was the apocalypse, surviving a gunshot wound anywhere was pretty much a death sentence, let alone one to the head. Yet somehow, she was still standing. She supposed she did owe Grady some thanks for saving her life…but that’s a story for another day.
Beth was shaken from her thoughts when the doors to the community opened and Daryl walked out again with Lydia in tow. She couldn’t help but study him, thankful to see him alive and well, still wearing the old leather vest. She next checked over Lydia, grateful to see the young teen clean and safe. Clearly this community is well-off. She vaguely registered Lydia walking to Alpha, saying something in a hushed tone, but her eyes were focused on Daryl, and studying his movements. Hearing a harsh slap echo around them, Beth looked back towards Lydia and Alpha, the former holding her face. Oh. Looking at Daryl again, she could tell from how tense he was that it was taking all his willpower not to interfere. Beth hoped for his safety that he didn’t.
“Delta.” Beth’s head snapped to Alpha, who was looking right at her, “Take my daughter with you and your group, get her back to the camp and in a new skin.” She nodded, holding an arm out to Lydia, while risking a glance back towards Daryl once more, and she froze on the spot when she realized he was staring directly at her, a look on his face that she’s only ever seen him give to his enemies. And her heart breaks a little inside, realizing she is one of the bad guys to him. Lydia stepping towards her made her break eye contact with him, and when she gestured towards her group of ten to follow, circling around Lydia to keep her away from the dead, she didn’t let herself look back. Even though she could feel his gaze burning into her spine, she couldn’t look at him and see that expression again.
Because it’s been years since she’s seen anyone from her family, and she wasn’t that naïve, seventeen-year-old girl anymore. She’d done what she had to do, to ensure her own survival. She had to put away the girl that she was, lock her in a box and become somebody else.
She had to, before it killed her.
Once Beth decided they had enough distance between them and the community, she spoke softly to Lydia. “Are you alright?” The young girl gave her a small nod. “How did this happen?” Lydia wasn’t sure how to explain everything that happened. She didn’t even understand why her Mother had come back for her.
“It just did. They killed the group I was with, I surrendered. They kept me locked up in a cell…and that guy, in the vest, he asked me questions about us.” Beth listened closely as she spoke, keeping her eyes forward and walking like the dead that surrounded them. “I told him the truth.”
“Don’t let Alpha fool you, she was worried for your safety.” Beth told her, and Lydia released a low sigh. She knew that Delta meant well, but she also knew that Delta disagreed with Alpha’s methods, though she’d never say so out loud. They continued to trudge along, the groans of the dead filling the silence of the forest. Beth became so focused on the path in front of her, that she almost missed Lydia’s whispers to her.
“Delta.” Beth turned her head slightly, acknowledging her. “They’re not…bad people.” Beth faced forward, inhaling before responding.
Daryl didn’t like this one bit.
It had only been a few hours since they’d been forced to hand Lydia back over to the Whisperers. And in those few hours, Henry had managed to go missing again. When one of his friends found Daryl and gave him the note Henry had left, he immediately got his crossbow and pack, Dog trailing behind him, ready to track the young boy down. He was stopped by one of the new arrivals, Connie, on his way out of the gates, her insisting she go with him. Hell, he didn’t care at this point, his mind was too focused on the day’s events.
There were so many of them.
How the hell were they supposed to deal with this new enemy? He had no damn clue. He thought back to the woman in charge, Alpha, she called herself. And the other one with a name, he was fairly certain she’d been called Delta. He didn’t know much about Greek, but he knew a couple of the letters, and Delta is fourth…which must mean she’s high in command. He recalled making eye contact with her, and even though he couldn’t see her face behind the mask, which still creeped him out, he could see her eyes. A bright blue that didn’t belong with a walker’s rotted flesh. He hadn’t seen eyes that blue since…
Stop Daryl. Don’t think about the past.
He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, pushing away the memory and the voice of a ghost in the back of his mind, reminding him what to do.
You have to put it away, or else it kills you.
So he did.