AN Note: This is a slightly AU version of the sneak peak to next week's episode "Inmates" with Daryl and Beth. I may or may not do a second chapter, depending on response and the like. Either way, I think it ends alright here, :)
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with and do not write for The Walking Dead or AMC and have no legal ties to either company.
Everything was gone.
His home. His friends. His family.
He had failed, yet again.
He was worthless. He hadn't even started the fire; that had been Beth. Girl had just seen her father beheaded, and she was functioning better than him.
He hated her. He hated what she represented, the constant reminder. If it weren't for her, he would have offed himself hours ago.
But she was here. She was alive.
He owed it to Hershel to keep her safe, to help her find a new camp, make sure she was settled before he gave in.
He knew he couldn't save her. Those baby blue eyes sent tremors through his body whenever he dared look, dredging up horrible memories of the people he couldn't save. People he had loved that he had failed.
Merle, eyes bloodshot and aching for flesh.
Judith, eyes soft and new, unsettled.
Sophia, what was supposed to be white, red. Blue completely glazed over.
And, of course. Her mama.
He didn't allow himself to dwell on the dark thoughts, of the inevitable outcome to her banishment that he had worked out a hundred times in his mind. He couldn't allow himself to imagine her dying the same way her daughter had. Cold. Alone. Scared.
He couldn't protect Beth. This world wasn't one for the living, for strong, brave girls. This world took your virtues and turned them to weakness, obliterated them to nothing.
He considered putting her down right now, quick and easy. Hell, for all he knew, he could send her straight into her papa's arms. That wasn't wrong, was it? That was merciful, right?
He wished someone would do the same for him.
Beth had been speaking for a while now, but all he heard was the din of his guilt. It wasn't until she stood, grabbed her knife and stomped away into the bushes that his ears decided to open.
"-weak, Daryl! Our family is out there. Maggie, Glenn, Rick. Carl. Judith," she called out over her shoulder, her voice gaining distance.
He waited when her footsteps stalled, reaching out for his crossbow to go follow her, when he heard them nearing again.
She stomped over, furious, finger out to scold.
"You're being selfish, Daryl. What about Carol? I didn't even see her. She's probably loaded down with half a dozen kids and a rifle. Or all alone. And all you're doing is moping."
A tinge of anger reared in his gut at her words, but was quickly engulfed by grim acceptance. He was selfish. But Carol was almost certainly dead. No one could survive on their own anymore. He swallowed the lump of raw grief in his throat and brought the heels of his hands to his eyes to staunch the deluge of tears that had threatened since Rick had confessed his crime that morning.
Beth's tone was softer when she spoke again. "I remember, back home. With Sophia. We all thought – knew- that there weren't no hope to be had…but you never gave up."
He plunged his hands deeper into his eye sockets, twisting and turning to ward away the awful flashbacks of barns and writhing bodies, his inner voice being magnified through Carol's broken wails.
"And when we all thought she was gone, in the tombs. When we filled an empty grave for her, Daryl. You still found her. You still saved her."
A small keening sound leaked from his lips as he forced the memories away. A smile. Clear blue eyes. Her arms around his neck, filled with life and strength even after her ordeal.
Beth squatted in front of him, her head tilted to try and catch his covered eyes as heavy, silent sobs heaved his chest and shoulders.
"What's so different, Daryl?" she murmured. "You found her once. All by yourself. What's the difference between now and then?"
She knew better than to touch him, so instead she stood, nudging his boot with her own.
"Now you have a partner. We're going to find her. Her and everyone else."
She kicked some dirt onto the fire with finality, turning and reaching out her hand.
Her voice trembled, her chin quavering. "We all have jobs to do. Let's go do ours."
The weakness in her voice sobered him, flipping a switch in his mind. His reprieve was over. She had been strong for him, and now it was his turn.
He took her hand and stood, bending down to pick up his crossbow and rifle, one for each shoulder.
He turned. "Let's start with the train tracks," he whispered with as much strength as he could muster, an echo of defeat reverberating in his words.
Even if he didn't find her alive, he still owed it to her to put her down. It was what you did for family, for the people you loved in this world.
And he loved her more than life itself at the moment.
AN Note: Thanks so much for reading! Reviews and constructive criticism are much appreciated. Much love! 3