Claimed

Picks up at the end of "Us" (Season 4, Episode 15).

I do not own any characters from The Walking Dead – just borrowing them for a while. Bethyl. First time writing anything, let alone a fanfic. Thanks to literaryomnivore for the confidence boost. Let me know what you think.

Daryl lagged behind Joe's group, having just learned they were on their way to Terminus. His gut was in knots, his heart torn. Joe had been doing right by Daryl. He welcomed him into the group, been a fair leader so far, even took care of that asshole Len instead of letting Daryl try to fend for himself against the whole group. Joe, and the rest of the troupe, had trusted Daryl's word over Len's – one of their own. "Maybe these guys are a'right after all," Daryl thought to himself.

They were heading to Terminus, on the trail of some scumbag who had attacked one of their group, Lou, completely unprovoked. Sum'bitch didn't have the balls to let the guys know he was there, that the house was already claimed. Hell, he didn't even have the decency to properly kill Lou, leaving him to turn to a walker and let him wander through the house while the punk-ass cowered away and ran. Apparently Tony had seen the guy hiding under the bed Len had fought him for...just before blacking out from Len's choke hold on him. Daryl didn't want to make waves, finding small solace in having a group to travel with that, for the most part, he mutually respected, and didn't push the issue.

Something was still nagging him, though. His head told him to stay with Joe and his crew; it's safer to travel in numbers in this world. His heart, however, was screaming for him to turn back. Beth was still out there. Daryl had told her to wait by the road when the walkers stormed in to the funeral home they were holed up in. He had led the bastards downstairs to the embalming room, taking out as many as he could so she would have a chance to escape. When he finally made it back outside, he rushed to the road. "If it hadn't been for that walker..." he reflected. "If I hadn't hesitated before taking him out...maybe I could have gotten to her in time." The guilt building inside Daryl reared its ugly head, not for the first time in the days since he had last seen her.

When Daryl had finally gotten to the road, he looked frantically for Beth, but she was nowhere to be found. He glanced down and saw her bag, its contents spilling onto the road. Before he'd had a chance to really look, to even pick it up, he heard it: the squealing tires of an old Caddy peeling away down the road. His heart jumped to his throat, his stomach sank. "God, no!" was his only thought. He screamed for her, if anything to let her know he was there, that he'd find her. "Please be alive" his heart prayed with every step as he gave chase. He'd never been one to pray before, but if there was a God up there, he could certainly use some of his help now.

He had run all night, trying desperately to track the car down, hoping against hope that he'd find some clue as to where they might be heading with his Beth.

That's right – she was his. She had reached out and touched him, touched his heart. She'd ended up being a better friend than he'd ever had, better than he'd ever deserved. Every beautiful smile she cast his way; every time she'd looked at him with those doe-eyes of hers; every time she had touched him, hugged him; every time she'd stood up to him until he would recognize she wasn't just a dumb kid, but a strong-willed woman...she'd been chipping away at the walls he'd been building around his heart since he was a kid. He'd let her in, and now he couldn't stop thinking about her, worrying about her, hoping anyone who would listen to his silent prayers would answer. He had to save her.

His mind was made up. Joe or no Joe, Daryl had to save Beth.

Daryl jogged up ahead to catch up with Joe, who was well ahead of him, following the train tracks to Terminus.

"Joe, I can't go with ya no more. I gotta go back."

The older man pulled the cigarillo from between his teeth and regarded Daryl with calculating eyes. "Say what?"

"I gotta go back, Joe. I gotta take care of my own." Joe stopped in his tracks and turned to fully face Daryl. The rest of the group followed suit. "I thought we were a team now, Daryl. You desertin' us?"

"Yeah, I guess I am," Daryl responded, looking down at the dust on his worn shoes, then raising his piercing eyes to meet Joe's.

"You were alone when we found you, when we took you in. What 'own' you gonna take care of?" Joe peered at Daryl, replacing the cigarillo to the left side of his mouth.

"When ya found me, I was tryin' ta find my..." Christ, his what? He wouldn't call her his girlfriend, though at that thought he noticed his pulse quickening. 'Sides, what kind of asshole would leave his girlfriend and take up with a bunch of strangers without a second thought? He debated telling Joe he needed to find his friend, but Beth was more than just a friend to him now. She was his anchor that kept him from spiraling out of control with his guilt at what had happened at the prison. She had breathed hope into his withered heart. She'd forced him to see the good in any situation, in other people, and he knew he was better for it in the long run. He'd trusted Joe because of her, and look where that got him so far.

"...my partner." There. That was at least closer. They worked together as a team...when they were together. A damn good team.

"Your partner?!" Joe asked, eyebrows raising clear off his forehead. "Wouldn't'a pegged you as one'a them sissy boys." The group around him started chuckling.

Shit. "NO! Not like that! She..."

"Oh, it's a she, huh?" asked one of the guys, still snickering with the rest of the crew. "Fuckers..." Daryl said under his breath.

He took a deep breath. "Yes. Her name's Beth." Daryl glowered at the group at large. "She was taken from me when I got stormed by some walkers. Don't know who took 'er or to where, but I gotta find her. I gotta try."

"Well, shit, son. Why the hell you been keeping this quiet about it this whole time?" Joe asked incredulously.

"I didn't know you guys from Adam...wasn't about to lead a bunch of bandits to try and find her and do god knows what with her...no offense," Daryl added, almost apologetically.

"Hey, brother, none taken." Joe spoke for the group. "I tell you what. We're not that far off from where we first found you." It was true. The group was in no rush to get to Terminus. They had stayed at the garage (where the rest of the group had "taken care" of Len) until late morning, figuring on catching up on sleep while they could. Joe didn't trust the idea of Terminus – something that promising was far too good to be true. They were taking their time, making sure not to miss any tracks from the sonofabitch that killed Lou, in case he'd wandered off the train tracks. "We'll double back and try and pick up the trail. I gotta warn ya, son. It's been a couple days...the trail's probably ice cold by now," Joe continued with a doubtful look in his eyes. Daryl could hear some of the other men shift uncomfortably, not looking forward to back tracking an entire day's worth of distance on some wild goose chase.

"I 'preciate that, Joe. I can't ask you all to do that for me, though." Daryl would be able to hold his own just fine without them. He'd done it before, he'd do it again.

"Hey, we're a team. We watch each others' backs. 'Safety in numbers. No one can survive this world alone." Joe wasn't about to lose one of the best hunters and trackers he'd met because of some lost cause. Daryl had the potential to be a leader in the group, and these men needed strong leaders to keep 'em in line. Rules or no, if Joe was the only one enforcing them, one day they wouldn't be enough. Joe liked Daryl, figured he had a good head on his shoulders (this fool's errand aside) and seemed like he took to the rules quickly. He wasn't gonna let him get away that easily.

"Boys, we're heading back. We'll catch up with that asshole another day." Joe clapped Daryl on the shoulder, smiled with his cigar still firmly embedded in his back teeth, and started back the way they'd come.

xxxxx

In a dark room, Beth's eyes snapped open. She found herself on a concrete floor. There was no light source anywhere. She had two thoughts, almost simultaneously.

"Where am I?"

"Where is Daryl?"