Beth was back on the farm, slurping pink lemonade with Jimmy and smiling about something Maggie had just joked about. It was a pretty summer afternoon with cicadas humming in the trees along their property. Beth looked around, finding herself surrounded by her family. Their warm faces smiled gently down at her, framed by sweet sunlight. She was filled with sudden, inexplicable sadness.
Cold hands roused Beth awake. Her eyes opened to a bleak, dark morning that contrasted so sharply against her sweet dreams. Reality came back to Beth piece by piece. Her sister's face was above hers, locks of brown hair tucked behind her ears. Beth noticed that Maggie was missing one of her silver studs. She looked sadly down at Beth.
"Sorry to wake you up, honey, but we gotta go," Maggie whispered.
Beth was unwilling to stand up, trying desperately to catch the sweet wisps of her dream as they floated away from her. Already it was fading away, being quickly replaced by the trees surrounding them. Maggie pulled away from Beth and she heard her rustling around in their bags. Beth sat up, immediately feeling a knot in her back from sleeping on the forest floor. It was very early in the morning before the sun had risen. She ran her fingers through her knotted hair and swept it into a ponytail.
"Did you sleep okay?" Beth asked Maggie.
Maggie nodded, covering up the remains of their fire from last night. "Yeah. You?"
Beth's thoughts lingered on the faces she had seen in her dreams. Hershel had once told her that angels could visit them in their dreams. If that was true, then she prayed that all of the people she had dreamed of had made it safely to heaven. Maybe that dream was there way of telling her that. She held her face in her hands, fighting back tears.
"Yeah," she murmured. She composed herself, going over to help Maggie clean up from last night. They covered their small, cold fire pit with leaves and grass. Beth helped stomp the loose soil down until it looked like no one had set a fire there. She was growing used to being suspicious, since it was her instinct to be trusting, but Maggie was right. Leaving an obvious trail behind them opened up the frightening possibility that they could be followed. Beth didn't want that.
"Where's daddy?" Beth asked as she rolled up her blanket.
"He thinks he saw some herbs yesterday that could help with that cut," Maggie replied, nodding at the bandage on Beth's arm. Beth stiffened, placing a hand on the crinkled bandage. It hurt to touch the cut, but she didn't flinch. She didn't want Maggie to think she was weak.
"It's fine," she said, intending to sound sincere but the words came out snappish. Maggie stared at Beth for a second before turning away and rolling up her and Hershel's blankets. Beth felt bad for speaking to Maggie sharply; they were all struggling together. After all, Maggie was just worried about the wound getting infected. In a world with modern medicine, a simple cut was a no-brainer. But now in the apocalypse an infected cut could lead to losing an arm. Beth shuddered at the thought.
"I dreamed about everyone," Beth sighed. She knew she didn't have to clarify who she meant. Maggie understood at once, looking across the small campsite to meet Beth's gaze. Beth wondered if she should have brought them up at all, since it had backfired last time she'd mentioned them with Maggie. To her relief Maggie kept a smile on her face.
"You're lucky. I haven't seen them in awhile."
Maggie sent Beth a crooked smile, lightening Beth's spirits. They worked in silence until there was no sign that anyone had slept here last night. They decided to wait for Hershel to return instead of heading blindly into the forest after him, so they relaxed on the grass and played hand games. It was straight out of Beth's childhood but she couldn't have been bothered by the fact that they were playing games meant for five year olds. It soothed her.
Hershel appeared just as the first light of day spread across the sky. The sun was a sliver on the distant horizon, just beginning to wake up. Though neither Beth nor Maggie would admit it, they were extremely relieved that Hershel appeared to be unscathed. It was just like their old man to risk his neck just to find some silly herbs. Sure enough, he opened up his fist to reveal a small green plant.
"Eat this, Bethy. It will help," he promised.
Obediently Beth took the herbs into her mouth. They were bitter on her tongue, but she knew better than to spit them out. She did allow herself a grimace as the herbs went down her throat, garnering a chuckle out of Hershel. He shook his head fondly at her.
"Always picky, even when the world has ended," he remarked.
They wasted no time in putting on their bags and leaving. It was dangerous to stay in one place for too long, and every minute they were stagnant was another minute of daylight wasted. Beth spared a final glance back at the tall oak trees that had protected them last night. She thanked the trees for their protection; even if they couldn't hear her, it felt right.
Hershel led them back towards the main road, which they had been following ever since abandoning the farm. He instructed Beth and Maggie to walk close to him in the trees, so that cars passing by wouldn't notice them. Beth had lost count of how many weeks they had been on the road, but each day marked a new change within their father. Hershel was not the same man he had been at the farm. He seemed to be even more wary of the world than he had been before.
Beth fell back slightly, content to listen to the comforting sound of Hershel's voice as he spoke to Maggie. In the beginning, the plan had been to follow the road into town where they could gather supplies and decide their next step. Their car had chosen to break down on the night before they were going to leave, so they had no choice but to continue on foot. Since leaving that town, their goal was to reach a safe zone in northern Georgia called The Underground.
Maggie had the map unfolded and was pointing to Hershel about a certain location. Beth sat down on a tree stump a ways off, humming to herself. She realized it was a song she used to sing with her mother, and a lump formed itself in her throat. Beth wondered why she was so on edge today, and chalked it up to the fact she'd dreamed about her deceased family members last night. It was bringing back feelings Beth had thought she'd locked away for good.
It was looking like another hot Georgia day. Hershel once wryly commented that the hottest summer on record would, naturally, be the same summer that the dead started roaming the earth. Beth's neck was drenched in sweat, the same as her back. She couldn't remember the last time any of them had taken a shower. At least they had all grown so used to being stinky that it wasn't noticeable anymore. Beth smiled a little at the absurdity of it all.
"Beth?" came Maggie's voice. She had her hand over her eyes to block out the sunlight, squinting at her younger sister. "Come over here."
Beth left her stump, wondering what Maggie wanted. She'd grown comfortable with letting Hershel and Maggie call the shots on what their next plan of action was. She was content to go in any direction, since it was all pretty shitty no matter where they went. "Everything okay?" she asked, trying to keep her voice relaxed.
Maggie pursed her lips. Beth glanced between her and Hershel, understanding that something was wrong. She prepared herself for bad news. "Now, you know we're running low on supplies. We need to start hitting houses soon, and Daddy thinks we should find a house and make it ours." Maggie paused, letting this sink in.
"What about the safe zone?" Beth asked slowly.
Hershel stepped in. "We'll keep heading in that direction, but summer will be coming to an end soon and it's going to get very cold. We can't travel in the snow, honey," he pointed out, speaking in that fatherly voice he often used with Beth when they disagreed on something. Beth knew her father was right, but she sensed that they were lying to her. They had no intention of finding the safe zone.
This frightened Beth. Ever since they had seen a sign for the safe zone back in that town, Beth had been fixated. She liked having an eventual goal waiting at the end of their very long journey. She was well aware that the safe zone could have been overrun or maybe wasn't even real. But real or not, having something to believe in was important to Beth. Without a safe haven to travel towards, Beth felt very vulnerable.
"How long have you felt this way?" she asked curtly.
Hershel and Maggie exchanged a look, which sent a prickle of irritation through Beth. She was fine with not being included on every detail, but she needed to know about important decisions between members of her remaining family. Such as the decision to give up hope on finding the safe zone. It had been the last star shining in the sky for them. Beth felt her expression darken.
"So we're giving up?" Beth asked, slightly incredulous.
Hershel placed a comforting hand on Beth's shoulder. The child inside of Beth wanted to rip out of his touch, but she knew better than to give into these instincts. When Beth had left the farm behind, she had also left behind the girl she used to be. Beth might have been seventeen years old in appearance, but she felt like a much older soul by now.
"No," Hershel said firmly. "We are not giving up on anything, Beth. But we need to accept that getting to a safe zone will take a long time. For now, building up a temporary home is the best decision. Trust me, I've thought long and hard about this."
Beth was upset but she didn't want to show it. She forced a smile on her face, telling Hershel and Maggie that she understood and agreed with them. It was a lie. Beth felt a pang of guilt for lying to them, but she believed that lying for someone else's sake was forgivable. If she told them how angry she was at them for giving up on the safe zone, it would only spread hurt feelings.
When the sun was high in the royal blue sky, Maggie dropped her bag to the ground and ordered Hershel to take a break. Beth worriedly kept an eye on her father while Maggie went and refilled their water bottles from a nearby spring. Hershel was the toughest man that Beth knew, but he was very proud about his health. He stubbornly refused to admit when he was in pain, which was a normal Greene trait. He kept up the appearance of being able to walk long miles like his significantly younger daughters, but Beth knew better. So did Maggie.
"I really am sorry about the safe zone, Bethy," Hershel said, sighing. They were hidden a ways from the road, surrounded by tall trees. This forest seemed to be never ending. They'd been following the road through this forest for three days now. Luckily Beth loved the trees and felt more relaxed under their green canopies than she did out in the open.
"It's okay, Daddy. You're right, we can't go on like this forever." Beth did her best to sound cheerful, but Hershel knew her too well. She could feel him studying her and seeing right past her mask.
"I know you're upset, honey. You don't have to pretend for my sake."
Beth didn't know how much longer she could keep the mask in place. Fortunately Maggie appeared then, granting Beth the chance to escape further questions from her father. While Hershel rested, she and Maggie explored the surrounding land. Beth moved silently beside her sister, stopping when they came upon a clearing. She paused to admire the sweeping landscape, the way the sky was dotted with clouds. Beth certainly had not expected the apocalypse to be so pretty. In the distance she could see the beginnings of a building that looked like a prison.
Her eyes narrowed at the sight of a walker on the opposite side of the clearing. Before leaving the farm, none of them had a name for the undead creatures because they all knew the ones they found. Neighbors, classmates, and people from their church eventually stumbled upon Hershel's land and Otis put them in the barn. They had known all of them, which was why Hershel had ordered his family not to lay harm to the undead.
But after their farm had been overrun and they had gone into town, Beth learned what to call the undead creatures. In the pharmacy they'd found in town, a sign had been taped to the shattered window that caught Beth's eye. The sign had warned about walkers possibly lurking in the midst of the store. Walkers. Beth had thought it had a ring to it, and since then had quietly referred to them as walkers. Even Maggie had caught on, but Hershel still refused to call them that. Though he wouldn't admit it, Beth knew that Hershel thought it was cruel to label the creatures since they were all once people like them.
"You know," Maggie was saying, "it's almost nice to-" But what her sister had been going to say was abruptly cut off by a metallic snarl as the bared fangs of a hidden bear trap closed around Maggie's foot. Maggie cried out in pain, collapsing to the forest floor. Beth flew to her sister's heaving side, running her trembling fingers across the trap. It glittered evilly up at Beth as she desperately peeled its fangs out of Maggie's boot.
"Shit," Maggie swore under her breath, grimacing as Beth sloppily held the injured foot. Scarlet blood appeared through the holes of Maggie's boot where the trap had embedded itself. Beth's heart was beating erratically. She could feel herself flashing back to their last night on the farm, when the walkers had smashed through the doors to her room. Jimmy's screams bled into her ears.
Warm, steady hands closed around Beth's. Hershel gently moved Beth aside, pulling off Maggie's boot and inspecting her foot. Ever the composed one, her father showed no sign of panic as he asked Maggie if she could move her foot. Beth watched in dismay as Maggie attempted to move her foot, only to break off in a gasp of pain.
"It's fine. I'm fine," she said hurriedly, trying in vain to mask her pain. She began struggling to stand up, calling Beth to her side. Beth leaned into her sister's strong body, helping hoist her to her feet. Maggie wobbled dangerously against Beth, but showed no sign of pain. Beth held her admiringly, longing to be as brave as Maggie in the face of danger.
Hershel narrowed his eyes at his daughter. Beth was brought back to the many times he and Maggie had gotten locked in a fight, and she was caught in the crossfire. Maggie scowled as their father said, "You can't walk on that foot, Maggie, you'll make it worse."
"I can walk just fine, now let's go." Maggie's voice was forceful. She stared daggers at Hershel, daring him to tell her that she wasn't strong enough. Beth felt herself weakening under her sister's weight, and her cramped leg began to prickle with numbness. She shifted her position, feeling the blood flowing again in her leg.
Hershel's voice was fearsome. "Maggie, you are going to sit down and rest."
"No, there's no time for that! Now let's go before walkers find us."
Beth's mind was racing for a solution. Unfortunately Maggie was right, they couldn't stay out in the open, it was too dangerous. But they also couldn't travel far without tending to Maggie's foot. She suddenly had an idea, or maybe her mother was watching and had sent it to her. "There's a prison," Beth realized, the gears turning in her mind. "I saw it before Maggie got hurt. It's not far off. We could rest there, and there might be medical supplies."
She looked desperately from Hershel to Maggie, gauging their reactions. Hershel appeared to be mulling it over. Maggie, of course, struck it down immediately. "It's probably overrun by walkers, or people are already living there. We can't risk it."
Beth held her breath, waiting for Hershel to speak. He had been the quiet patriarch of the Greene family before, and the arrival of the apocalypse didn't change that. Her loyalty towards her father was so profound that Beth would follow his decision without question. Beth was taken aback by the depth of sadness she found in Hershel's eyes when he looked at her. She realized that, for the first time in his life, Hershel was at his wit's end.
"It may be dangerous," Hershel intoned, "but what other choice do we have?"
A small, motley bug crawled across the prison floor. Daryl watched it lazily through half-closed eyes, wondering what kind of bug it was. A bead of sweat found its way down his face, making Daryl shift uncomfortably in his cot. The merciless afternoon heat was settling in. It occurred to Daryl that he wasn't sure what month it was, or the day for that matter. Clocks did not work anymore, either. It was strange how knowledge that used to control them, like what day of the week it was, were now obsolete.
His eyes flicked towards one of the prison windows. Fine stripes of blazing sunlight bled through the windows and onto the prison floor. It was another killer hot day. Daryl's eyes returned to the bug, which scuttled closer to him. It paused, and Daryl could have sworn it was looking straight at him. He considered smashing the bug because he didn't like the idea of it crawling into his ear while he slept.
Ah, let it live another day. That's all any of us have, anyways, Daryl thought darkly. He had something in common with the insignificant bug, a thought which struck him as sad. His thoughts were interrupted by the sharp, metallic sound of boots running up the stairs to Daryl's roost.
It was Rick. Daryl immediately pulled himself to his feet, not liking the look on Rick's face. Rick looked more unkempt than usual, and his curly dark hair seemed wilder than it was yesterday. Judging from the dark circles under his blue eyes, Rick was running on empty. His brow was creased in worry.
"What's goin' on?" Daryl growled, his voice hoarse from not using it in so long.
Rick hesitated, clearly weighing how much he should tell Daryl. "There's people here," he said softly. Those three words sent a shudder through Daryl's body. He tensed up immediately, feeling his lips curl like back a rabid dog's.
"Dangerous?" he spat out.
Again, Rick seemed indecisive for a reason Daryl couldn't comprehend. The fine trembling that had started in Daryl's shoulders was spreading to the rest of his body, feeling like tongues of fire were licking at his fingers. He itched to grab his crossbow, but awaited Rick's answer.
"It's a family," Rick continued, in that same quiet voice. It was clear to Daryl that Rick was struggling with something. He listened closely. "I was out checking the fences when I found them. One of them is limping from a bear trap. They need a place to stay, and I don't know what to do."
Daryl was startled by the way Rick's voice hitched as he said those little words. Never before had Rick so completely divulged himself to Daryl. Daryl now recognized the look on Rick's face; he was grief-stricken by his inability to lead at that moment. He figured this had something to do with Lori and how Rick's family had been splintered by her death.
Daryl also recognized that Rick was asking him for help. Over the past several months that Daryl had fought tooth and nail alongside Rick, he had never seen the man waver. He was a natural leader, which was part of why Daryl respected him so much. For a man like Rick to so plaintively ask for help meant how deeply he trusted Daryl. It sent a funny jolt through him. He wasn't used to being depended on.
"Are they armed?" Daryl finally asked, collecting his thoughts. A sharp hand of pressure was lifted off of Daryl's chest when Rick shook his head.
"Not that I know of." Rick took a deep breath, closing his eyes and lowering his head for the briefest of seconds. His fingers rested lightly on the gun he kept sheathed on his belt, as if he was unconsciously trying to protect himself. "After what happened with the... the inmates, I- I'm not sure if I can trust these people."
Daryl involuntarily winced at the mention of the inmates. They had made a mistake in letting those men stay alive, because they all turned out to be dirt bags. Daryl could feel his hackles raising at the idea of a new group of strangers living under the same roof as them. He'd never been a trusting man, so shifting to this kind of world had been easier for him than most. But for people like Rick, whose world was built on trust and moral compasses, adjusting to a heartless world had been difficult. It required good people to make painful decisions, such as not trusting a family of strangers.
"Does anyone else know?" Daryl asked in a low voice.
"Only Carol. She was checking the fences with me."
Daryl was thinking quickly. "Okay. Let's go talk to 'em. Ask some questions."
Rick nodded, and swiftly descended the stairs. Daryl grabbed his crossbow and followed suit. The men traveled in silence through the busy walls of the prison. They stepped out into the morning air, which already felt thick against Daryl's skin. There was also wetness to the air that promised rain later. Daryl half hoped that the rain would cool things off, but knew better than to get his hopes up.
Daryl followed Rick through the gates and down the winding dirt path that led to the towering fence. Carol was standing with her back to them, talking through the silver fence to a small group of people on the other side. When Rick had said "a family", Daryl had found himself imagining parents surrounded by four or five noisy brats. Instead, what he found was quite the contrary.
An older-looking man with snowy white hair stood with two kids, propping one of them up. Well, Daryl couldn't really call them kids. One of them was a young woman with brown hair who was probably in her early twenties, while the other kid was a much younger-looking girl. Daryl's gaze lingered on the younger girl, a petite blonde who looked like she was about thirteen.
As if feeling his intense stare, the girl looked up and her blue eyes widened in fear. For some reason he was irritated by her reaction to him, but tried to tell himself that he liked how easily people were intimidated by him. Made it easier to shut people out, especially useless thirteen year olds who threatened his life at the prison.
A twig snapped under Rick's boot, giving their presence away to Carol. She turned around, her eyes meeting with Rick's briefly before turning to Daryl. There was no sign of worry on Carol's face, which Daryl took to be a good sign.
"This is Daryl, another one of us," Rick said in a rough voice, motioning in Daryl's general direction. Daryl gave no sign that he had heard the introduction, nor made any attempt to greet the strangers. In lieu of a greeting, he strode right up to the fence and glared the strangers down.
"Want to tell us a little more about why ya'll are out here alone?" he asked, purposefully standing close to the fence. He was pleased when the younger girl took a step away from him. However, the old man and the brown-haired young woman stayed firmly rooted to the spot.
"My name is Hershel Greene," the old man said in a calm voice, his feathers clearly not ruffled in the least by Daryl's show of intimidation. "These are my daughters, Maggie and Beth. We are the only survivors of our farm being overrun by walkers." Daryl had thought this man could betray no signs of weakness, but right then his firm voice faltered ever so slightly. Daryl allowed himself to wonder just how many family members had been lost.
"We are good people," the old man went on, staring purposefully past Daryl and at Rick. Was it that obvious that Rick was the leader? "We have no weapons, no bites. We are trying to find a place to temporarily stay because Maggie's foot was caught in a bear trap, and I need to see to her wounds before they grow worse." The old man spoke firmly, giving purpose to each word. He was suspiciously strong for being a man whose farm was supposedly just overrun by walkers.
There came not a word from Rick or Carol. Daryl didn't have to turn around to see Rick moving uncomfortably under Hershel's powerful gaze. Hershel was putting a heavy weight on Rick's conscious. Daryl was willing to bet that if Lori were alive, Rick would have let this father and his daughters into the prison without blinking. But something had settled over Rick ever since they'd arrived at the prison. It had made him darker. Daryl had seen it happen to men before; it meant that they were unpredictable. For all he knew, Rick was going to reject these people and not think twice about it.
While Rick was carefully thinking of an answer, Daryl felt a pair of eyes burning into his skull. He risked a glance through the angular metal of the fence, finding himself locking eyes with the younger daughter. What had her name been- Beth? One of those common names. Beth's face flushed red and she dropped her eyes to the ground the moment Daryl caught her staring at him. His lip curled in annoyance.
"It's not that I don't want to help you," Rick finally said, talking slowly as if he was still formulating an answer. "There was a group of strangers that we found when we arrived here. We tried to live peacefully with them but it- it didn't work out." Daryl noticed the way Rick hesitated as he tried to choose the right words to describe what went down between them and the inmates. "I want to help you, I do, but the protection of my family comes first. Do you understand?"
Daryl glanced over at Carol, whose eyebrow quirked a little. They both seemed to mutually understand that Rick wasn't just referring to Judith and Carl; he'd meant that everyone in their group was his family. Sure, Daryl had found himself growing fond of the group, but it wasn't until then that someone had actually given them a name. Family.
Hearing Rick say that filled Daryl with the fierce desire to protect each and every one of the people back at the prison, and it must have shown on his face because the older daughter was looking at him apprehensively. It was beginning to dawn on them that Rick might not be the good Samaritan they'd been hoping he was.
Daryl fixed his eyes on the little blonde girl again, maliciously hoping that she'd feel him staring. He didn't know why, but he needed her to be intimidated by him again. It scared him to be a part of a family again, and the malevolent darkness inside of him wanted to see fear in someone's eyes as they looked at him. Might as well be the skittish blonde.
But when she looked at Daryl, there was no sign of fear on her face. Her cheeks were still flushed, but now her eyes were sparkling with what might have been tears and her lips were slightly parted. At first he thought she was about to cry, but then he registered her expression: anger. She was angry at Rick for not showing compassion. At first this annoyed Daryl but he grudgingly admitted that if he was in their shoes, he'd be pissed if someone was leaving him to die, too.
"Do we look dangerous to you?" the brown-haired girl suddenly challenged them, the one whose foot had been caught in the trap. "I'm limping, for God's sake."
Daryl knew those words were weighing heavily on Rick. Again, Rick wasn't used to being harsh. It went against his nature. Just as Daryl was about to tell the girl to watch her mouth, the old man spoke softly to her. "Being angry will do you no good, Mags." Maggie's vibrant green eyes glistened with mingled pain and fury, but she kept her mouth shut. Hershel turned his attention back to Rick. "I understand your distrust. We'll be off of your land soon enough." His voice was heavy with sadness. There seemed to be a second part to that sentence that wavered uncertainly in the old man's mouth before he changed his mind.
"Where will you go?" Carol asked quietly.
Hershel shook his head. "There is a town not far from here. We'll get supplies from there and then keep moving. I have confidence that this is all in His plan. He's leading us somewhere new, for a reason we don't understand yet." The old man's eyes grew soft as he gazed off into the distance, where the sun was rising in the sky.
Daryl had heard people talk about God that way before, and it pissed him off for some reason. He couldn't believe that this man, who was responsible for two daughters, was leaving their fates up to someone in the clouds. He let out a snort without realizing it.
This drew Hershel's attention. His blue eyes snapped towards Daryl's, and too late, the archer realized he had touched a delicate chord. The old man was betraying his first sign of anger. It was there, like icy blue fire in his eyes. "You're scoffing at me."
"Daryl," Carol said in a low voice, clearly warning him from saying anything rude. Daryl was vaguely reminded of the way Hershel had gently reprimanded his daughter, and it made him even more agitated that Carol was treating him like he was a kid. Fueled by her warning, Daryl opened his mouth with the full intention of getting this old man riled up because he was far too calm and forgiving for a man who'd just lost his entire farm. Nobody was that good.
"You listen here, old man. You can't rely on anyone but yourself. Not even your damn God."
Out of nowhere, the little blonde shot up between Daryl and her father. She was quivering with fury, her blue eyes blazing. "Don't talk to him that way!" she said fiercely, not quite shouting but sounding like she was on the verge. Despite the fence that separated them, Daryl was so close to the girl that he could see her pulse throbbing in her slender neck.
"Bethy, don't," the old man sighed.
"Daryl, stop being cruel," came Carol's voice.
Both Daryl and Beth ignored them, however, focused only on staring daggers at each-other. Daryl wanted to reach through the fence and throttle the brat for talking back to him. With a snake-like hiss, he said to the girl, "Mind your mouth, girl. The adults are talkin'," he said, spitting out each word like there was sand in his mouth. The blonde seemed to realize she was out of place, but she looked offended that Daryl had insinuated that she was just a stupid kid.
"Daryl." It was Rick this time. His voice was quiet but authoritative, ordering Daryl to bring it down a notch. Daryl couldn't even remember why he was so annoyed. He respected Rick far too much to ignore his command, so he gripped his crossbow tightly and stepped away from the fence and that little blonde brat.
While everyone else had been arguing, Rick seemed to have been contemplating. One look at him told Daryl that he'd changed his mind. Daryl's stomach went for a somersault as he realized what was about to happen. Sure enough, after a moment of uneasy silence Rick said, "Hershel, you and your daughters are welcome to stay at the prison as long as you need."
Nobody else seemed to have foreseen what Rick was about to say, because a surprised silence followed his sincere words. A ghost of a smile tugged at Hershel's lips. He had expected this least of all, but perhaps he had hoped. He was probably going to thank God later that night for changing Rick's mind, Daryl sneered to himself. He was suddenly vaguely ashamed for his cruel thoughts and was relieved that no one could read his mind. Just as he was thinking that, he caught the younger daughter looking at him again. She had such a reproachful, knowing look on her face that it made Daryl wonder if she'd been able to read his thoughts after all.
While Carol went to open the gates for the family, Rick turned to Daryl. He sought out Daryl's opinion of his decision to let the family in. Daryl kept his expression carefully guarded, however, not willing to let Rick know just how against this he really was.
"I made the right call," Rick told him, quietly so that the others couldn't hear them.
Daryl just lifted his crossbow across his shoulder, liking the way its weight pressed down painfully into his skin. The weapon reminded him how he'd kept himself alive so long. One look at this family told Daryl that they'd barely used a weapon in their entire lives, and the little blonde probably didn't even know how to shoot a gun properly.
"You're the boss," he grunted, shrugging.
Daryl was avoiding Rick's eye, but Rick didn't look away from him. "If anything bad happens, I will fight beside you. But they aren't dangerous. I can feel it."
Daryl really wanted to tell Rick that nobody just felt something. There was no such thing as knowing what the future held, especially now that none of their futures were guaranteed. He supposed that their futures hadn't exactly been guaranteed even before the world went to shit, but now with walkers in the equation it just made things clearer.
But he trusted Rick, so without another word against the family Daryl followed them up the grassy slope and towards the second set of gates. He walked a ways behind the group, fighting to keep his expression neutral. Based on the way Carol kept glancing back at him, though, it was pretty obvious that he wasn't happy with the turn of events. He helped her open the second pair of gates, watching disdainfully as the father and his two daughters just strode into the middle of their prison. He couldn't fight the feeling that they were complete strangers who didn't belong there.
His eyes wandered towards the blonde, who'd detached herself ever so slightly from her group. She was looking around in awe at the enormous prison camp. Daryl bitterly eyed her frilly top and the sparkling jewelry around her slender neck. He was willing to bet that a porcelain doll such as herself had never even seen a real prison before.
A patch of sunlight caught Beth's silhouette, turning her hair golden around the edges and making her skin seem to glow. Daryl didn't look away fast enough and the girl turned her head, catching him looking at her. Her cheeks immediately flushed red and Daryl was mortified to feel his own face heating up. He coughed and ducked his head, making damn sure to look at anything except for that brat. What the hell was wrong with him today? The arrival of the Greene family had really unsettled him.
"I'm going to go inside, and tell my people that you're here. When I feel they're ready, I'll have Carol come out and tell you to come inside. Daryl will stay out here with you." Rick nodded firmly at Daryl, making it clear that there was no room for argument. Logically, Daryl knew that Rick had appointed him as the one to keep an eye on the family because he trusted him. He knew that. But it still unnerved him to no end that he was now going to be alone with these strangers and he childishly wondered if Rick had done it on purpose.
The timeline of this story fits in a few months after Season One ended, where Carl was never shot in the woods by Otis and so Rick's group never went to Hershel's farm. Hopefully this helps with the pain of having no new episodes of Walking Dead to watch until the fall.