"They're screwing with the wrong people."
Rick's ominous words, and the threat behind them, hung in the fetid air inside the box car like a walker's stench. The occupants of the box, stood still and quiet as they absorbed the full promise of his words and tone. Maggie was first to break the mesmerizing silence, moving forward to place one hand on Rick's arm, the other on his shoulder. She spoke softly, words meant only for him, and for a moment his demeanor softened. She was, after all, Hershel's daughter, and in her own way, had become her father's conscience. Glenn, Bob and Sasha followed reaching out to those who had just arrived and together the survivors shared a quiet moment of communion. It was not celebratory nor was it consoling, rather a reaffirmation of the bond they forged through trial, victory and loss. And a commitment to rise triumphant from their current fate. They communicated, not so much through words but through warm, living, human contact - a hug, a firm hand shake, arms wrapped around shoulders, small smiles and tears. Tears of joy that those thought dead were still alive, and of sadness hearing of those who had passed. The first time they had been able to mourn as a group.
Maggie moved last to Daryl, who in his fashion, had retreated to the shadows. He looked down to the ground as she approached and stiffened when she lay her hand on his forearm. His eyes were downcast, avoiding her gaze. "We're glad you all survived," she said in a voice barely above a whisper. "We're stronger together." A small smile curved her lips, and he mumbled something, but did not meet her eyes. She patted his arm again before turning to face the rest of her friends.
"Do any of you know," her voice caught and for a moment she was unable to speak. "Do you know what happened to Beth? Did she get out? I went back for her when she wasn't on the bus, but I couldn't find her." She was looking at Rick when she asked the question, but she heard a sharp intake of breath behind her, as though someone had been punched in the gut. Rick's eyes traveled over her shoulder to the shadows behind her seeking those of his friend.
Maggie turned back to the shadows, and the figure leaning heavily against the side of the rail car, barely a shadow himself. She moved closer, into the darkened corner. Slits of light from outside the only illumination, but it was all she needed. Daryl hung his head, shaggy dark hair obscuring his face, his shoulders stooped as though worn down by unimaginable guilt.
"She got out. She was with me." His voice was barely audible.
Maggie only heard the words because the silence inside the boxcar was like a tomb. "Was? Is she dead?" Maggie meant to remain controlled and calm, but she heard her voice rise. Felt the sudden fear. "What happened? Where is she?" she pleaded.
"Dunno." He sounded exhausted, broken. "She's just gone."
"Gone?!" Maggie tried to control the panic, and the anger that was welling up in her. "Just. Gone. How can she be 'just gone'? What happened? Where is she?" She grabbed the front of Daryl's vest in both hands, wanting to force him to look into her eyes. "Daryl?" Much to her surprise, the man in front of her, slid slowly down the side of the car until he was sitting on the floor, his arms on his raised knees, head down on his arms. Maggie felt a rush of concern and her own ounce of guilt for sounding so harsh.
She felt hands on her own shoulders. Rick, gently coaxing her to her upright. "He got beat pretty bad," he told her quietly. "Don't know what might be hurt. And don't know when he ate last."
She took a deep breath and nodded her head. Turning back she slowly sat on the floor next to Daryl. This time he did look at her, the unbruised portions of his face, pale even in the dim light.
"I'm sorry. I just gotta know what happened?" Maggie said. "Why she's not here."
She could see his face working. The emotion he kept so carefully hidden fleeting across his face, a moment of raw despair. Then the blank mask dropped in place again. He looked at his hands, aimlessly picking at his fingernails.
He took two deep breaths. "We got outta the prison. Ran a long way. Don't remember how many days. She was…good. Doin' her part. Keepin' up. Learnin' to fend for herself. She'd a made ya proud." A ghost of a smile touched his lips as he remembered. He sighed again. "We found this place. A funeral home. It was clean and there was food." Daryl was silent, gathering his thoughts and reliving the moment. "I could tell she wanted to stay. Hell, I wanted to stay. Was tired a runnin'. Thought about it real hard." Then he shook his head bitterly. "I should'a known it was a trap. But I let myself get conned by how nice it was. By how much she liked it."
That was the single longest speech Maddie had ever heard from Daryl and he seemed exhausted by the effort. Yet so there was so much he did not say. He had taken care of her baby sister, she thought. She and Papa and Shaun had always protected Beth, the youngest. Maybe they had overprotected her. Maybe her baby sister, weren't no baby any more. Maybe she stood a chance to survive this world.
"Go on…" she urged. "What went wrong?"
"I got lazy. Dropped my guard." There was anger in his voice now. Simmering beneath the guilt and the hurt. "We heard a bark outside. A dog we'd seen the day before. When I went to see if I could get it in. Walkers were waitin'. It was just stupid. It was my fault. I didn't look. I just opened the damn door." This time the anger did boil out. Rubbing his eyes tiredly he finally looked at her. "Beth ran. While I drew them off. When I made it 'round the front to meet her all I found was her things. She was gone. And a white car was driving away."
"She would have waited for you." Maggie meant it only as a statement of fact.
"I tracked her til I lost the trail. Then kept running till the road forked."
Maggie knew there was nothing more to tell. They sat together on the rough floor, each lost in thought. She didn't know what to say to make him feel better. She didn't know what to think to make herself feel better. There were no words to ease his burden of guilt and blame. But she also sensed more. Beth had found a champion in Daryl Dixon, and Maggie sensed that behind the spoken words were emotions Daryl would or could not express. That he truly cared for her little sister and that the burden of her loss was tearing him apart.
She rested her hand on his arm. "You're a good man Daryl Dixon. You're not to blame. We'll find her. We're gonna get out of this place, and we're gonna find her. She'll take care of herself 'til we do. You mark my words."