A/N: My first attempt! A four chapter, introspective little story/set of one shots leading up to a Beth/Daryl reunion. Likely from three, maybe four, different character perspectives. Not the best summary, my apologies! But hopefully it will become apparent as you read! Please review! Constructive criticism always welcome!
DISCLAIMER: Any and all canon events and characters herein belong to the great minds at AMC. I own absolutely NOTHING related to The Walking Dead. However, The Walking Dead very much owns me!
Chapter One: Them
What had happened to them? It was a question Rick had had on his mind more than once since his family's reunion. Daryl never spoke of it. Of course, they all knew she had been taken, but Rick suspected there was more to the story. Their story. Whatever had happened before, it was obvious it had changed Daryl. Not that anyone would mention it, of course, but they all knew it was there. A piece missing. Rick could sense the weight of it. The toll it was taking on his brother.
Rick's eyes sought him out in the dark. Daryl was sitting, leaning against a tree, eyes glued to the small fire anchoring the camp. With and yet separate from the others. Physically there with his family, his mind somewhere with her. He looked tired, but they were all tired. The escape from Terminus, the week on the road...the new mission. Daryl had been adamant and Maggie had insisted. Glenn had backed them, of course. Various arguments ensued. Rick wanted to be diplomatic and put it to a vote. But he had known where his loyalties were and with him came Carl, Judith, and Michonne. When Eugene spoke up, it was decided. They were all in.
Daryl hadn't spoken her name since then. But Rick could see it, the guilt that rolled off him every time someone else did. But that guilt was tinged with something else. There was definitely a piece missing, but there was something added, too. It was in the dogged, relentless way Daryl pursued every possible lead as if it were the one that would lead him straight to her. Hope. It was both subtle and brilliantly apparent. It spurred everyone on, energizing their search. It was damn contagious.
Rick had lost his hope before. His eyes roamed around their camp until they landed on his girl. Her soft breath rising and falling peacefully, stirring her brown curls. It mesmerized him and made his throat tighten all over again. He knew, just knew, she was lost forever. Yet there she was. Judith. She was curled up in the arms of a sleeping Carl, his head leaning against Michonne's shoulder. When his eyes met Michonne's, she gave a look that was simultaneously curious and understanding. Rick couldn't help the small smile that crept onto his face. His family within a family. They'd found each other against all odds. Maybe that's what had happened to Daryl, to them. Maybe they had found their place, with each other - the family within a family. Rick knew first hand how complex that notion was. A bond forged by fire, by hardships and finding pieces of hope in the darkest moments.
Rick knew what that sort of loyalty, that sort of love, did to a man. The lengths a man would go to, the things he would do... But he had dwelled on that enough for ten lifetimes. Rick rose and quietly made his way over to the other side of the fire. He sat back onto the compacted dirt and placed his elbows on propped knees. They didn't look at or acknowledge each other for a long time, just watched the flames quietly crackling in the night air.
When Rick finally spoke, his voice was soft and gravelly, "We're gonna find her." He looked over, eyes conveying the promise, "We're gonna find Beth."
"Yeah," Daryl replied, eyes still on the fire, "we are."