A week after her first escape attempt, half the population at Grady Memorial had found Beth scouting out routes of escape. It was possible that one or two of them had bought her lame excuses but most of them hadn't. Only one had beaten her for it, and he'd hit softer than Dawn, so she figured that wasn't a terrible rate. She was honestly pretty surprised that they let her have such free rein, but from what she could tell, they were stretched even farther than she'd thought, and, well -- when you're that surrounded by Walkers, the city a moat ten miles deep, she could see why they weren't so worried about escapees. They hadn't had her to contend with, though.
She kept trying to tell herself that. She could make it out. She'd come so close the first time, and never mind that she'd been out of ammo, wearing the thin scrubs and no idea where she was going except away . So. She could do this. And take Carol with her, though it would be awfully helpful if Carol would go on and wake up already. But whenever she started worrying too much about whether Carol would ever wake up again, she started looking for another weak point.
The Walkers were the real problem, which was so self-evident that Beth wasn't sure why she'd bothered hoping they might not be, that maybe the height of the building would be the problem, or the patrols, or something like that, but, like everything else these days, Walkers were the problem that made all the other, worse problems. It was a hospital. It had never been meant to be fortified and quarantined the way it had been. There should have been a million points of egress, a word Beth had thought was a type of bird when she first heard it. Still thought of it that way -- egress, flying free.
As it was, there were the elevator shafts, leading down into the slaughterhouse of the ground floor. There were the stairways, clear leading up, heavily barricaded at the second floor. There was the roof, which let her see just how far and in how many directions she was fucked, as Daryl would say.
She hoped Noah was alright out there on his own.
She sat on the edge of the roof, staring out over the graveyard of Atlanta, thinking. The parking garage looked like her best bet so far -- she didn't want to try and go down through the corpse dump again. It was just luck that she hadn't gotten hurt as bad as Noah, jumping down there.
The door swung open and shut behind her and Beth glanced over to see who it was. She wasn't in the mood for either Dawn or Dr. Edwards, but better them than one of Gorman's friends.
It was Shepherd, one of the nicer cops. She came to stand next to Beth. "You spend too much time up here, Dawn's gonna get a bee in her bonnet about it."
"I'm not doing anything," Beth said, but didn't bother getting heated. "Just enjoying some fresh air."
"Yeah," said Shepherd, taking a deep breath, "it smells great out here." This high up it didn't smell nearly so badly of rot as at street-level but there was still a certain sickly aftertaste to the air, a smell so thick it left residue on your tongue.
Beth almost laughed, which was as close as she'd gotten since she got to Grady. "What're you doing up here?"
"Looking for you," Shepherd said, facing her directly. "I wanted to ask you to take a break, looking for a way out. Not give it up, just. Give it a while."
"I don't wanna owe you guys anymore than I already do," Beth said.
"That's not what I'm talking about." Shepherd shifted her weight from one foot to the other, hands tucked securely behind her back. "Things are going to change soon."
Beth snorted softly. "And how long've you been telling yourself that? I'm not staying a second longer than I gotta."
"A long time," Shepherd admitted. "But you've pushed things. With Gorman dead, and Noah gone, the balance is changing. She can feel it too. That's why she's keeping you so close."
Beth stared out at the singed bases of the buildings. She didn't have a baseline for Dawn, didn't know what she'd been like, before. Didn't know if she tried to get absolution from all the people she kidnapped, or if Beth was special somehow. "She wants to be forgiven," Beth said, telling the walkers below as much as Shepherd at her side.
"Don't we all?" Shepherd asked. "Listen, Beth. Can you trust me? Can you give me just a little longer to get this all done, no violence needed?"
Beth shook her head, finally looking back at Shepherd. "I'm gonna keep looking. I have to, you gotta understand that."
Shepherd sighed. "I do." She paused for a long time. "If you change your mind, let me know. You seem like a good person to have onboard."
She headed back for the door, stopping just before she re-entered the stairwell. "Dawn's looking for you, by the way."
Beth sighed. It seemed like Dawn was always looking for her. She needed a floor mopped, a uniform pressed, an extra pair of hands for Dr. Edwards, someone to hit. "Where is she?" she asked.
"She was near the garage when I saw her," Shepherd said, and held the door as Beth walked passed, into the maw of the hospital. It still unsettled her, the desperate attempt to look as if nothing had changed.
Everything had changed. Pretending it wasn't so wouldn't undo it.
They walked together in silence for a few floors, until Shepherd peeled off. Beth continued down and down until she reached the barricades that separated the stairway from the walkers. She tapped her knuckles against the metal grating, but there was too much between her and the walkers for them to hurtle up to her the way they could in the basement proper. She turned from the grating into the second floor, heading for the garage access.
It wasn't the real garage, the parking garage that hulked alongside the hospital. It was the access to the first floor, where the cars were kept. Beth had looked around already and counted it out -- it was not only observed but actively guarded, in case the walkers tried to batter their way in. Dawn wasn't there.
O'Donnell, one of Gorman's friends, was. He drew himself up at the sight of her. He hooked his hands in his belt, near his gun, and swaggered over to her. "Looking to break out again? Risk more of our lives?"
"I was -- I was looking for Dawn," she said, backing up as he crowded into her space. She hated to give ground, hated the fear that crawled up her spine. She was a survivor, she was strong , but she was also unarmed, and he was twice her size. She didn't want to be afraid, but she couldn't seem to stop herself. "I heard she was looking for me."
"And when Dawn calls, you come?" he asked, a curl to his lips that set off alarm bells. "She's taken a liking to you, hasn't she? She likes 'em young and pretty."
Her back hit the wall and he took another step, so there wasn't enough space between them, not enough at all. There was nothing around to hit him with. But his eyes were hard on her face, and his hands hadn't moved from his gun. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"She hasn't fucked you yet, then? Just beat on you a little?" He laughed, entirely without humor. "Maybe that's what gets her off these days."
"It's not like that," Beth said, though she wasn't sure that was true.
"What is it then? What's so good about you that she's not investigating Gorman's death?"
Beth couldn't help it: she flinched. His eyes sharpened and his forearm slammed into her chest, pinning her in place against the wall, pushing her up onto the tips of her toes. "I don't know what you're talking about! Joan killed him!"
"And what was he doing in there?" O'Donnell asked, leaning harder into her so it was hard to breathe. "Looking for you, I think. He liked blondes."
"No," she said, trying to pull his arm from her chest. It was like trying to move an iron bar. "Let me go ."
"Or what?" he asked, face so close to hers that she could smell his breath washing over her face.
She lunged forward, teeth snapping. Her mouth filled with blood and she hit the floor hard enough for her ears to ring. She spat out a chunk of flesh -- his cheek , she thought hysterically, she'd bitten off his cheek -- and pushed up to run before his foot slammed down on her back, holding her to the floor.
"You fucking bitch ," he said, gun aimed steadily at her head. "You fucking bit me? You're half-rotter already. I should put you down now."
"Stop." Beth had never been so glad to hear Dawn's voice.
O'Donnell didn't look away from her and Beth didn't look away from him. His blood was warm on her chin. "The little bitch bit me, Sergeant."
"Go see Dr. Edwards. You don't want it getting infected. I'll deal with her."
He spat, the bloody saliva landing an inch from Beth's face. She watched his teeth grind through the hole in his face. "Like you dealt with her last time?"
"You want to register a complaint, O'Donnell?" Dawn asked, her voice sharp.
Finally his eyes flickered away from Beth. It seemed the precipice had snuck up on him, but he wasn't quite ready to step off yet. With a scowl, he put his gun back and stepped away, hands in the air. "No complaints, sir."
"Go get cleaned up," Dawn said. "I don't want you out of commission."
O'Donnell gave Beth another dark look, then strode away, door slamming behind him. Beth scrambled to her feet, making sure to put Dawn squarely in her sights. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, then spat again to clear the taste.
Dawn looked -- she looked tired. Worn down. Shoulders slumped, head shaking, fingers pinching the bridge of her nose. "You can't help yourself, can you? I get the feeling I would have seen a lot of you even if the rotters hadn't come."
"Are you going to beat me again?" Beth asked, not fooled by either the expression or the words. Dawn would do anything to get her way. That had been clear from the start.
"You've left me no choice," Dawn said. "You injured one of my officers. How would it look if I just let you walk away?"
Defenses sprang up her throat, but Beth swallowed them back. Despite everything, she wanted to stomp her foot and say not fair , but that wouldn't help. It wasn't fair. Nothing was fair. Fair wasn't some universal force, like gravity, or the virus. "Put me out," she said instead. "I'm a danger to everyone around me, so put me out to die. You wouldn't even have to get your hands dirty."
Dawn shook her head, walking over to Beth. Beth tried not to tense, but she couldn't help it. Fight or flight, and she couldn't do either. "I'm not going to let you die." She said it like it should be comforting. It sounded like a threat.
Suddenly Beth just wanted it over with. Waiting for the blow was the worst part. "Why do you want me to like you so bad?" she asked, aiming for cutting and landing somewhere wretched.
Dawn managed to look heartbroken. "Because I'm not a bad person, Beth, and I want you to see that."
Rage swelled in Beth until it pushed out all other emotions. "And the trap at the funeral home. Was that something a good person would make?"
Dawn's face shuttered. Her back drew up straight. One of her hands curled into a fist, and Beth prepared for pain. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"I'm not stupid, Dawn. How much of your limited resources does that take up? Keeping it clean, and stocked, getting the walkers out? There wasn't nothing wrong with my wrist, fore I got here, and there's still nothing wrong with my memory, no matter how hard Gorman hit me with that damn car. You brought me here because you thought I was weak. You should have left me." Beth panted. Her hands were shaking. She swallowed convulsively, eyes hot. "I was gonna write a thank you note ."
"No. We shouldn't have brought you in. That was a mistake," Dawn said, raising one hand to cup Beth's jaw, swiping her thumb over Beth's bloody lips. "You want to be in the basement with the rest of our mistakes? Is that what you want, Beth?"
Beth held as still as she could, still like she was waiting out a walker, still like it was the only thing keeping her alive, but she couldn't stop the fine trembling that raced up and down her body. "No."
"Then you better stop talking," Dawn said, almost kindly. Her hand clamped tight on Beth's jaw, thumb forcing its way into her mouth. It tasted like salt and skin and disinfectant. Beth thought she was going to be sick. "You think I have space to keep you alive out of the kindness of my heart? You think I have time ? Newsflash, Beth. I don't."
Beth turned her head, pulling away from Dawn's hand, and spoke to Dawn's boots. "Then why am I still alive? Why not get rid of me for once and for all?"
Dawn looked her slowly up and down. "I've always been a problem-solver, Beth. I'm just not sure yet which you are." She turned to go, then turned back with a sigh, hand already moving. The slap landed hard enough to knock Beth off balance, and the next blow put her on the ground. Dawn straddled her and slapped her once more. "This isn't how I wanted to spend the day, Beth," she said. "I have other things I need to do."
There was nothing Beth wanted to say that wouldn't get her hit again, so she said nothing, just staring up at Dawn until she sighed and got off of her. She offered Beth a hand, but Beth didn't take it, getting cautiously to her feet on her own power. "I heard you were looking for me," she said when there were a few feet between them. "I was coming to find you when..."
Dawn glanced at the blood and bit of flesh on the floor. "Yeah. Clean this up and then come to my office."
Beth didn't move until the door closed behind Dawn, and then she let out a shaky breath and went to get the mop. The chunk of flesh she dropped down the elevator shaft.
After going to see Dawn, Beth went to see Carol. She brought a mop with her, to have an excuse, but when she got in and saw Carol's eyes open, she dropped it and hugged Carol hard without thinking of anything else.
Carol's arm around her shoulders felt frail, a word she never associated with Carol. "Beth," she breathed. "I'm so glad you're alive."
"I should be saying that to you," Beth said into her neck. "I'm gonna get us outta here, Carol, don't you worry." Beth pulled back to look Carol in the eyes, make her promise real, and Carol smiled sadly, pushing a lock of Beth's hair behind her ear.
"We were on our way to get you. Didn't realize you had it all under control."
"We?" Beth asked, heart leaping to her throat.
"Me and Daryl," Carol said.
Beth let out something that would have been a sob, if she was still that sort of person. "Daryl's alive? Thank God."
"Yeah," Carol said. "Yeah, Daryl's fine. He's pretty torn up about you. Blames himself."
"No," Beth said. "No, the only person whose fault it is, is the ones who took me."
"You'll have to tell him that yourself," Carol said, eyes sliding back closed. "Don't think he'll believe it any other way."
Beth smoothed her hand over Carol's hair. "Go back to sleep," she said. "Don't worry. I'll get us out. I'll tell him."
The only problem was she was no closer to getting out than she'd been at the beginning of the week. She'd been talking to the other wards, had checked out every possible exit, and she still didn't even know where her things were. She took a moment to crouch, pressing her forehead to her knees. What would Maggie do?
Do whatever she had to, to get out. Maggie was smart, and resourceful, and strong. And maybe Beth wasn't as tough as Maggie, wasn't as suited to all this, but she'd made it this far. She could be smart. She could be resourceful. She could be strong.
But that wasn't a strategy.
Try as she might, Beth couldn't figure out what Maggie would do. Get an officer alone and overpower them? Find a weapon, a real one, probably.
And Rick? Rick would manage to get all the wards on his side, lead a revolution or something. Or -- she didn't know , she didn't know what Maggie would do, or what Rick would do. Rick had been a leader, had been charismatic and strong-willed when she'd met him, but last she'd seen him? That Rick didn't even know what he was gonna do himself.
Beth took a deep breath, let it out slowly. She wouldn't let her fear turn her mean. Rick and Maggie were too far away. She hadn't seen them in too long, that was all. So she thought of who she'd seen last.
Daryl Dixon. Last man standing.
Her heart panged hard, thinking about Daryl, alone. He wasn't meant to be alone. No one was, but Daryl didn't seem to think he counted as a person, sometimes. He thought of himself as his role, and maybe that was why he was so good at. So what would Beth do, if she was a hunter, a tracker, a survivor ?
A hunter -- Daryl -- would get the big picture, would take it all in before he acted, and when he did, he would move fast and hard. Take out everyone between him and the exit fast and quiet, before anyone could raise the alarm. You stayed downwind, so your prey couldn't smell you coming. You moved quiet, so they couldn't hear you. You didn't move at all until you were ready .
Could she do that? She had a pretty good picture of what Grady was, now. Knew the entrances and exits, such as they were. Knew the tension points, where things would fracture, if they did. Knew what some of 'em wanted . But... could she move fast enough? Could she stay quiet, and out of sight, and downwind?
Could she kill, if she had to?
Beth didn't think she could manage that. Didn't think she could kill with her bare hands. Gorman had been -- she hadn't planned on killing him, but she didn't regret it, not even a little bit. But they weren't all like Gorman. So, could she do it?
Okay, so she couldn't be Maggie, or Rick, or Daryl. So what would Beth do? What were her strengths? How could she get out of this?
Beth thought there for a long moment, tucked into herself on the floor of Carol's room. And then she went to see Shepherd.