(note: Takes place during s5e13, Beth and Noah managed to escape on their first attempt. Daryl never saw the car that led him to Grady Hospital, but the family still arrives in Alexandria.)
She had been tracking her family for a couple weeks, and she’s not even sure she’s going the right way. She found a map with Rick’s name on it, but it didn’t necessarily mean that she would find them at the end of the line. They had cars and a large group. She only had Noah and he hadn’t been outside of the hospital for awhile. They were both dealing with injuries that were slowing them down. And if they were truly following them, they would have already scavenged supplies like food and fuel. She eventually had to find an alternative route to follow them so that they could keep going.
The farther they got from Grady…the farther North they went…the more Noah spoke about his family and the safe community they lived in. And Beth knew it wasn’t fair, but she wished she could be selfish and tell Noah she wanted to find her family first. But his family was stationary while hers was traveling… If they were still traveling, if they were still heading North, if they were still out there… It was best that they take the time to see if his family was still there and safe. Maybe they could even help her.
But instead of being greeted by the Living, the Dead met them with gnashing teeth and bloody fingers. Noah immediately took off for his house and Beth was left scrambling to take out Walkers. When she finally caught up to her friend, it was already too late. Noah was being eaten by a Walker–his brother–and the only thing she could do was put them down. She scavenged around his house and left the community as fast as she could.
She tried not to lose faith but Noah’s death was a hard blow and it had been weeks since she found that church with the map. She found herself at the edge of a grown out field. The fence was still standing, but barely. There were a handful of Walkers trapped inside and Beth was just about ready to turn away when the dark beauty galloped into the field.
The horse took her breath away. It was a deep chocolate brown, almost black in certain lights. It reminded her of her mother’s horse, Walnut. Momma loved that horse and had been heartbroken when they had to put him down a few years before the End of the World.
The frightened horse was drawing Walkers to it. Beth didn’t even think as she quickly climbed the fence and jumped into the field. The horse was getting closer to her, getting cornered in this section of the field. She drew her knife and started stabbing the nearby Walkers. She dispatched them as fast as she could as the dark horse pranced around her. The horse was still frightened but she could tell her presence had started calming him down. She had always been able to calm difficult horses since she was a young girl. It was why her horse had been Nervous Nelly, brought from a nearby farm that couldn’t handle her.
When she was near the horse, she quickly clamped her fingers into his mane. She didn’t have the time to calm him down completely–there were still Walkers coming towards them. She prayed the horse wouldn’t try to buck her off as soon as she mounted it. It was second nature for her to mount a horse bareback, but usually there were reins for her to grab onto. She hopped up onto the horse and laid low on its back as she used its mane to steer them away from the fence and back towards where he must have gotten into the field from.
It was only then that she noticed the two men fighting Walkers. One had a rifle and the other had a crossbow.
“Daryl,” she breathed out. She passed them before she knew it, but she quickly turned her head back to stare at him. She could almost think he was a mirage brought on by the summer heat if it wasn’t for the horse between her thighs and the wind in her hair. Riding always gave her this powerful feeling of freedom and she hadn’t found anything to compare it to. She imagined riding behind Daryl Dixon on his motorcycle would be a close second, but she never got the chance to find out.
* * * * *
Buttons, which was a ridiculous name for a horse in his opinion, was trapped and Daryl doubted they would be able to rescue the horse in time. The horse had felt like a sign when they first spotted it. Have faith, it whispered to him in that honey voice that haunted his dreams. Beth Greene. She had told more than a few stories about the horses on her Daddy’s farm. He wanted to capture that horse and bring it back to Alexandria. It could have been a little piece of Beth he could have shared with Judith. But now, as he and Aaron took down a handful of Walkers slower than he would have liked, he knew Buttons wouldn’t survive. The least they could do was put the magnificent beast out of its misery when they found him again.
Daryl turned from his recent kill to glance over to Aaron. Aaron was standing there looking dumbfounded. He turned his head and found the horse galloping towards them, a blond girl plastered to its back.
The summer heat must have been getting to him because he could have sworn that it was Beth Greene racing past him. But that was impossible. They had traveled so far from Georgia and the last place he had seen her. She couldn’t be here.
After escaping Terminus and reuniting with his family, he wanted to go find Beth. He told Rick and Maggie as much. But they had nowhere to start. The only clue he had was a car with a cross on its back window. Maggie seemed to think the matter had been closed. Beth had been taken and she wanted to believe she was somewhere safe–that she hadn’t been taken by people (or men most likely) that had nefarious plans for a pretty girl out on her own. She had seen too much of their new world to know what happens to pretty girls like her sister. Rick had said they would all keep their eyes out for the car, but it was useless to search for her when they had no idea where to start. Daryl hadn’t even been sure he could find his way back to the funeral home to start there. He had thought about walking away from his family and start the search on his own, but Rick had shoved Judith into his arms and he could only stare helplessly down at the baby Beth had taken care of as her own. She wouldn’t want him to leave Judith and their family on a seamlessly lost cause. He had to have faith that Beth Greene was still alive and safe as she could be…and maybe one day they would meet again.
“Where did she come from?”
Daryl only loaded his crossbow and aimed it at a Walker headed towards the horse and the girl on its back. The girl was sitting up now and pulling on the horse’s mane to control it. His bolt struck the Walker. The horse was still acting nervous even as the girl started stroking him and offering him soft words.
“Dunno,” he finally answered Aaron. “But she saved the horse.”
“You think she’s alone out here?” Aaron started glancing around but neither one of them noticed anyone else around besides the few Walkers they hadn’t taken care of yet. If she wasn’t alone, her people were hidden good or they were further away, maybe even waiting for her to come back to them.
The men started towards the girl and the horse. Daryl stayed a few steps behind Aaron, tracing his eyes across the girl’s facial features, looking for the girl he had lost. There were her cornflower blue eyes that saw more of his soul than anyone else. There was her pert little nose that used to wrinkle in disgust watching him skin a mud snake for their dinner. And there were her rosebud lips that haunted his dreams–a soft “oh” falling from pretty lips at his barely-a-confession-at-all words and stares.
“Hello,” Aaron greeted her. “We don’t mean you any harm.”
The girl–Beth–smiled at them. And just like that, Daryl dropped to his knees. He wanted to run to her–to scoop her up in his arms and hug her as he had Carol when he reunited with her after Terminus. But she was on the damn horse…the one he had wanted to capture partly because it reminded him of her. The one he thought was a sign from some higher being–like the God her Daddy used to preach about behind the Prison walls–and now she sat on top of it, bathed in the hot summer heat and sweat shining across her exposed skin.
Aaron’s hands were raised slightly, trying to appear harmless. “I’ve been trying to capture that horse for a while now. We thought it might be a goner when he got trapped in here.”
“Did you bring any rope with you?”
Daryl laid back in the tall grass and covered his eyes. He couldn’t stop the tears leaking from his eyes. Beth Greene was here. What changed your mind? Her voice was like honey, sweet and sticky. It stuck to his brain, her words from the funeral home repeating themselves every time he thought about her.
Aaron frowned when he turned and saw his friend had all but disappeared. “Daryl?”
He grunted. He couldn’t find the words to reassure Aaron. He didn’t even know what to say to Beth.
“You must have missed me so bad, Daryl Dixon,” she called out.
He propped himself up and stared at her. She was grinning down at him. “Yeah, well…never said I wouldn’t.” He hated how prophetic her words had been.
“You…two know each other?”
Aaron glanced between the two, but neither took their eyes off the other. He didn’t know Daryl’s story or even much about the group he had been brought in with, but something about this reunion was special. People lost people all the time now, but rarely do they get the chance to find them again. He was a third wheel here. He quickly pulled out the rope he had hastily shoved back into his pack when Buttons had run from them earlier. He cautiously approached the still nervous horse. When the blonde woman nodded her head, he slipped it around Button’s neck. She slipped silently off of his back and to the ground.
“Nice and gentle,” she whispered to Aaron as she petted the horse’s head and neck. He nodded and took the makeshift reigns to lead the horse a little bit away to give the couple some privacy.
Daryl was afraid to move now that she was just feet away from him. The sun was to her back which made it hard to see her facial features. He wanted to jump up and hug her but he was also afraid she was just a hallucination from the hot summer sun.
“You just gonna sit there all day, Mr. Dixon?”
.”M’be,” he drawled. “It’s comfy.”
She was on her knees beside him, throwing herself around his dirty, sweaty body. He was on his back with Beth half on top of him. Her nose touched the side of his neck just under his ear causing a shiver to crawl up his body.
“I was afraid I’ll never find ya.” She breathed the words into his warm skin.
His arms came around her and held her tightly to him. He thought he felt a ghost of a kiss, but he couldn’t be sure. He didn’t know what to say.
“I found a map in a church. It had Rick’s name on it. I couldn’t be sure you found our family, but I hoped and I prayed so hard. I followed as best as I could…used all the skills you taught me. Made a small detour to drop a friend off with his family. I wasn’t sure where to go from there.”
She giggled and sighed into his skin.
“Maybe this is heat stroke…or some kind of hallucination. Finding a horse and then finding Daryl Dixon…”
“Girl…” He closed his eyes and inhaled the natural musk of Beth Greene. No hallucination of his could produce this scent. This was real. She was real. “Ain’t a hallucination.”
“Yeah…my hallucination would have slightly cleaner Daryl,” she teased him.
“You ain’t smellin’ like roses either.”
Beth shifted her weight against him, moving further up his body and touching her forehead to his.
He slowly opened his eyes to stare into hers. She looked too damn happy to be laying in his filthy redneck arms. He frowned as he finally noticed a scar running underneath her eye across her cheek. He couldn’t help bringing his hand up to cup her cheek and running his thumb across the mark.
“I’m okay. I’m here. I found you.”
A sharp whistle from Aaron interrupted anything he was going to say. Beth rolled off of him, and the two quickly came to their feet. They both noticed the Walkers getting closer, attracted by the horse’s nervous movements.
“C’mon,” he said, bending to pick up his forgotten crossbow. He reached for her hand–like all these weeks and possible months apart hadn’t separated them. Time keeping wasn’t a thing in the apocalypse–not when the days ran into each other. It was a welcome relief to feel her small hand being held in his again.
“I’ll ride the horse…keep him calm. You just lead the way. I’m assuming you all have a camp somewhere?”
Daryl smirked. “You want a suck-ass camp? Aaron has a fancy walled community. With running water and electricity and everything.”
Beth turned sharply at this. “Running water?” A walled community made her think about Noah’s home. It had walls but it still fell…just like their Prison. She didn’t have much faith it could last but the opportunity for a bath after being on the roads for so long seemed like heaven. She buried her worries and concerns by running her eyes across Daryl’s dirty body. “Doesn’t look like you bathe.”
He scowled. “Shut up.”
She laughed and swung herself up on top of the horse. “Lead the way.”
The trio was quiet for a couple miles, and occasionally Daryl or Aaron would take down a Walker that started towards them. The horse wasn’t as nervous with her on top of him. The wilderness that had started creeping into his body after running free for a while was still thumping through him, but Beth’s gentle touch and soft praise helped him remember a time Before when he had been safe and cared for.
“I’m Aaron,” Aaron eventually introduced himself when he realized Daryl wasn’t planning to.
“So you know Daryl? Were you part of his group or did you know him from before?”
Beth smiled at Daryl. “Group.”
“She’s Maggie’s sister,” Daryl said. He was biting his thumbnail as he glanced up at her. “She’s there too. With Glenn and Rick and everyone. Judith,” he added, knowing that was a name they didn’t dare to speak when they were on the run together. The heartbreak of losing Judith was too much for both of them.
She gasped. “Judith? She made it out?” She bent over, hiding her face in the horse’s mane. There was a choked off sob.
Daryl laid a hand on her thigh. “Tyreese found her. He got her out and found Carol. They kept her safe until they found the group again.” He kept Lizzie and Mika’s names out of his mouth. That was a heartache he wanted to keep from her a little bit longer. Tyreese wouldn’t speak about it, but Carol had cried in his arms during their traveling and told him the tale.
Daryl nodded. “And Judith’s mama.”
Aaron paused and looked back at them.
Beth was shaking her head. “I ain’t her mama.”
“You basically raised her. She slept in your room more often than Rick’s until he got his head out of his ass. You love her like she’s your own. That makes you her mama. And I know she’s been missing you.”
Aaron turned back around and scanned the forest for more dangers. He was still learning much about this large group of survivors he had found, and he hoped they would eventually tell him their full story. There had to be a great story about how Beth had gotten separated from their group and how she found them again. They weren’t even in the same area…not even the same state…that this group had been together in. It was a miracle that she had found her way up here and ran into them on this small trip.
* * * * *
Beth had been tight lipped when she was ushered into Deanna Monroe’s office and interviewed. Since Grady, she didn’t trust as easily. She downplayed her strengths, laid on the sweet younger sister persona, and kept her secrets close to her heart. Deanna seemed polite and likable but Beth knew one couldn’t be in charge of a large community without blood on their hands…couldn’t survive in this world without any kind of damage. Everyone carried it with them nowadays.
Daryl waited outside of the office door for her. He tilted his head and his eyes flickering down the hallway. She followed his gaze to where her sister stood.
She flew into her sister’s arms and the two crumbled onto the floor. There were tears and babbling, but before too long Daryl stopped in front of them. They would have plenty of time for a longer reunion later.
“Gotta let her go. There’s a bunch more people waiting to see her,” he said gruffly.
And standing around in front of Deanna’s house was their family. Beth was passed around from family member to family member. Hugs and kisses and brief words spoken before moving on. Rick and Judith were last. Rick pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead. Judith was squashed between them and she squeaked and wiggled between them. Beth pulled away and reached for her.
“Hey Jude,” she whispered.
The baby squealed in happiness and clutched at Beth’s clothing.
Carl grinned at them. “There’s a party tonight. They’re throwing us a welcome party.”
“I heard.” She threw a look over her shoulder to the man standing at the edge of the group. “But someone mentioned you all got running water here. I’ll want to clean up and find clean clothes.”
Maggie stepped forward and blocked her view from Daryl. “You can come with me. They gave us two giant houses. We’ll find ya some clothes and rearrange the room assignments.”
Maggie ushered her away. The group remained behind them still in shock and awe of Beth’s sudden reappearance in their lives. Daryl reached for Judith when they passed by him.
“Here, I’ll take her so you can clean up.”
Beth reluctantly handed Judith over and trailed after her sister. Glenn came up behind her and slugged an arm across her shoulders. She flinched before forcing herself to relax. She had been prepared for all the touching earlier, but Glenn had surprised her.
Daryl frowned, worried about all the things she hadn’t said yet about being taken from the funeral home. She had seemed fine earlier. Now everything he feared and buried in the back of his mind about her kidnapping came rushing back to the surface. He had to remind himself that she was safe now–as safe as they all were in this place. He’ll get the full story eventually. Maybe they had some liquor here and they could go out and burn another building down.
Beth was in heaven when the running water turned out to be running hot water and that meant a hot shower. She stayed under the sprayer as long as she could enjoying the heat on her tired, aching muscles. Her sister had been in to drop off clean clothes and to take her dirty old ones to be washed later.
The house was getting ready for the big party that was still a couple hours away. Beth was introduced to the newcomers in her family group…Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, and Tara. Maggie was attempting to figure out which room Beth could stay in. Her current solution was to let Beth sleep with her and Glenn for tonight and talk with the rest of the family about maybe switching Sasha to the other house to room with Carol. Glenn and Maggie had taken the master bedroom. Abraham and Rosita were apparently a couple and had taken the next largest room. Sasha and Tara were roommates. Tyreese had almost taken a room in the other house, but wanted to stick closer to his sister after she lost Bob. Eugene had transformed the small office into a bedroom for himself. The other house had less people. Rick and Judith were taking up one room. Carl had insisted on his own after Rick wanted to have both of his kids in easy reach of him. Michonne, Carol, and Daryl each had their own rooms. Daryl had taken the smallest room, an office just like Eugene, claiming he didn’t need as much space as Michonne and Carol.
As much as she had missed her sister, she didn’t want to stay in the same crowded house with her. She wanted Judith, and she wanted Daryl. There was still so much left unsaid between her and Daryl…so much time between the funeral home and now. The unspoken words between them, the intense and unsure look Daryl had given her right before she had been taken, the trauma they both must have endured apart before arriving here. The funeral home and Grady Hospital taught her at least one thing: don’t waste the time they are given. Whatever had been brewing between her and Daryl before was still there. She had seen it in his eyes when she had tackled him earlier. He didn’t even attempt to hide his feelings about seeing her again, and she didn’t want to give him any more time to doubt himself and pull away from her now that they were together again–that their family was all back again.
She slipped out the door while Maggie was distracted with Glenn. She was trying to find a dress to wear tonight…like what they wore mattered. The other house was next door and Daryl was sitting on the front porch smoking. It was a familiar and comforting smell.
“Mmm.” He took another drag, inhaling the smoke before blowing it out. “Clean up nice.”
Beth smirked. Daryl must have taken a shower too. His hair was still damp and he had a different shirt on. He still had the same ripped pants he had on earlier. “So do you.”
He stubbed out the cigarette. “Maggie find you a room yet?”
Beth shook her head. “She’s still working it out, but I thought…”
“Too many people there. And my two favorite people aren’t there.”
“Mm mmm,” she mimicked him. She climbed up the stairs of the porch and stood in front of him. “And just to be clear here, that’s you and Judith.”
He looked away from her. “I know I said you are Lil Asskicker’s mama earlier, but that’s not all you gotta be.”
“I know,” she replied quietly. “I’ve changed since the Prison. I’m not just a little girl locked safely away behind prison walls anymore. You taught me things…and my time away taught me more. I’m a fighter.”
Something about the way she said it had him turning back to look at her. He reached for her, cupping her elbows but not pulling her into a hug–not yet. He wanted to read her face.
“I’m not letting anyone tell me what I am or what I’m not. And they don’t get to tell me what I can or can’t do. I want to be over here…with you.”
She stepped closer into his space. His hands slid up to her upper arms, squeezing her biceps. Beth’s hands went to his chest. She leaned up and placed a soft kiss on his lips, not applying more pressure than needed. She pulled slightly back when he never responded. Daryl was just staring down at her, his eyes wide with shock.
“Tell me there’s still something there.”
She kissed him again, adding more pressure and pressing closer to him. This time, she felt him kissing her back. His hands tighten against her, bringing her much closer to him.
“Hey Romeo, you better watch yourself if Maggie finds you kissing her sister.”
Daryl jerked back from Beth. He hadn’t even heard the door open and Carol coming out. Carol grinned at them. “Aren’t you two cute? Matching blushes and everything. ” Daryl knew she was going to ambush him later for details and teasing. She had that look in her eyes.
“Carol! If Maggie asks, I’m rooming with you.”
Carol raised an eyebrow. “And I’m assuming you’ll…”
“Staying with Daryl.” Beth glanced at him. “If you’re okay with that? I just don’t want to fight with Maggie right away. And this way she doesn’t have to convince anyone to move so that I could be in the same house with her.”
Carol searched Daryl’s face before nodding to Beth. “Sure thing. I’m glad you’re back. This one had been all gloomy since I rescued him from Terminus.” She smiled. “I’m making a casserole for the party tonight.”
Daryl grunted. “And this one has been a freaky Martha Stewart since we got here.”
Carol patted him on the shoulder. “We have to blend in, Pookie. Especially if you’re not. You coming to the party tonight, right?” Beth shrugged while Daryl hummed. “I’m off to talk to Sasha. Can you two keep an eye on my casserole until I can get back?” She didn’t bother waiting for confirmation before she went down the short steps and up the street. Sasha had been on guard duty when Beth arrived and went back soon after Beth went to wash up.
They watched Carol walk away, both of them leaning against the railing. Daryl was hunched forward while Beth had her back to a pillar. He had his thumb in his mouth, chewing on his nail. It was his default nervous reaction.
“You okay with me staying in your room? I can always ask Michonne or Carol. They wouldn’t mind letting me stay with them.”
“Nah. You’re fine. Just…I ain’t got a big room. Figured I won’t be in there much anyways. Didn’t need to take up much space.”
Her lips twitched. “Anything is better than a shitty hospital room.”
Beth nodded. “The guys who took me? They were a bunch of asshole cops that went out looking for weak people to work in their hospital. They saw us together that night and assumed I was just a weak, Iittle girl that attach myself to a man for protection.” Daryl straightened up and glared, pissed off over the false assumptions. Beth ran a finger across the scar on her wrist. “They saw this as some kinda sign that I wasn’t a fighter, and that I should be grateful that they took me in. Wanted me to pay off my debt of room, food, and medical treatment–from injuries they gave me when they hit me with their car.” She stomped away. Anger breeding through her thoughts as she told Daryl the waterdown version of events.
“Beth…” Assholes like that? Daryl knew exactly what else they wanted from her. They thought people owed them things…things like sex. He knew assholes like that before the turn. His old man would shout that at his mama and then slap her if she talked back. Even Merle would tell a girl she owed him sexual favors if he helped her out. He never forced or raped them, but a girl might be afraid to say no to him. He always tried hustling them away if he tried that crap in front of him.
“I killed one of them. He cornered me and I managed to bash him on the head. There was a girl…she had been raped and tried to escape earlier. They got her back. She killed herself behind the desk. She was already starting to turn when I hit him. I left him there to be eaten.”
“Good.” He pulled Beth into his arms, slowly in case she didn’t want him touching her after that story…the memories it must have brought up. She didn’t resist but sank into his embrace. “He didn’t deserve to live. I would have killed him myself if I had been there.” He squeezed her tighter. “C’mon. Let’s check on that casserole. We’ll let Rick know you’re staying here. Maggie might take the news a little better from him.”