Title: A Journey Already Taken

Category: Bethyl hurt/comfort, romance – or at least what passes for romance in the Walking Dead Universe.

Spoilers/Season: Season 5 canon divergence

Rating: PG-13 – Language and violence

Content Warnings: Language, some violence of the Walker variety and some Human on Human. There are some déjà vu character deaths. There are new characters brought in, but they'll mainly be cannon fodder.

Summary: Daryl has escaped Terminus with all the others, except there's one thing still clearly missing, one thing that he needs to find before he can agree to some foolish mission to Washington.

Beth needs to get out of Grady Memorial, but she isn't any dead girl anymore, she isn't waiting for anyone to come and rescue her. No, she's going to get herself out of there with the help of Noah even if she knows she could wait because he will come for her. She knows he will.

Together they will make a journey home.

Disclaimer: I own none of the previously recognized characters in this story. They belong to Robert Kirkman/AMC/not me. Original characters are mine, but won't last long. Please do not post this anywhere else without my permission.

Comments: This randomly came to me when I wondered what would have happened if Beth had succeeded in escaping with Noah, if Daryl had gone for her without Carol and the rest then set off Washington/Alexandria on their own. So this is my canon divergence from Strangers/4 Walls and a Roof. This is my first foray in to Walking Dead and Bethyl fiction. I am taking the time frames from the Walking Dead Wikia so when the prison falls it is approaching autumn and although winter never really happens in the show, it does in this.

TWD – TWD – TWD

Everyone was celebrating it seemed from the outside; Rick was smiling considering Abraham's words with his daughter on his lap. Finally, the leader of their random family had found his daughter and they had somewhere safe to stay for a night or two. Well, as safe as anywhere could be with Walkers swarming around everywhere. Maggie was reunited with Glenn, Sasha and Bob seemed to be developing something and everyone generally seemed in good spirits. Since the fall of the prison, everyone running for what had probably only been a week or so but had felt like a lifetime, and an escape from cannibals the group had finally stumbled on to something good. Father Gabriel and his church, the last safe-haven in the area it would have you believe. They had stores of food, obtained from a run that morning, a small collection of weapons that would have to make do for the time being and a bus parked out back that could carry them all… somewhere, keep them all safe on the road from the dead that roamed the Earth.

Except that was no longer the only danger. It had never been the only danger. Sometimes the dead were not even the real danger. People were. The Governor and his tank. Gareth and his cannibals. Black cars with white crosses.

And the family were not all reunited, one was still missing although everyone else seemed to have forgotten that.

As per usual, Daryl was stood on the outskirts of the group, watching and listening, hating them all very slightly. Often, his hatred was not really a hatred of the group, the people he did really think of as his family, it was more a dislike of how their ease with each other made him feel so wholly inadequate. This time there was a true dislike of each and every one of them because the only person who had truly made him feel adequate, if not more than, was the heart of their family and she was not sitting and laughing along with the others.

Right about now she would have been singing to them all, smiling and lighting up the room more than their good moods alone were right now.

And maybe Maggie would have joined in.

And maybe Glenn would have swayed along with his wife.

And maybe Rick would have watched his daughter being sung to by the person she most considered her mother.

And maybe Carl would have kept glancing at the older girl on whom he did still have a crush no matter how well he hid it now.

And maybe Daryl would have been brought further in to the group by the gentle melody and her eyes staring right through him.

But none of them seemed to realize she was even absent. None of them except for Daryl. These people who were supposed to care about her more than him – her sister, brother in law, her daughter's father and brother – they were oblivious to the huge gaping hole surrounding them, the vortex in the center, the black hole that was threatening to suck them all in one by one. Except for Daryl.

He felt her absence more than the others and it was all because of those three days they ran together, the three days they survived together. Those three short days that they had lived together. She had shown him that – how to live, how to hope and see the good in others and he had been prepared to stay in that funeral home with her, actually living and not just surviving, because she had seen through his bullshit and she had burned away their pasts. His childhood, the nightmare of what family had meant before the turn, had gone up in flames just as her childhood had.

Maybe that was why no one else felt her absence as much. Beth was just a child to them, but Daryl had seen her grow and mature impossibly so in those three short days. Perhaps all it had taken was to be separated from her sister and father, those who saw her only as the child they had always known. Perhaps to be taken away from Judith, her only purpose at the prison to mother that child, had been what matured the youngest Greene.

Whichever or whatever, Daryl had seen it. He had seen her on the cusp of being able to actively survive, of being on equal footing with Maggie, Carol and Michonne, the women she thought he had wanted her to be.

None of the people sitting in the church, rejoicing in a moment of calm and freedom knew she had it in her. They probably had all thought there was no way she could have made it out of the prison and, yeah, she probably would not have if Daryl had not told her to leave when he did. It had felt as if they were the last two to leave. But they all knew now that she had made it, that she had been with Daryl for those few days before she had been gone and none of them seemed to care. Daryl had not been too forthcoming with details of their few days together, but he knew she was still alive out there.

He knew her strength.

He knew her hope.

He knew she was still surviving, but she would not be able to live until she was back with her family. No, Daryl realized as he looked upon their family, not until she was back with him.

So in the midst of his family enjoying their freedom, Daryl slipped from the church grabbing up the last fragment he had of her – the bag she had carried and he had placed safely in Rick's hidden gun bag, frustrated at their lack of care, heartbroken that he missed her, that he needed her here. He slipped away in silence, his steps never making any sound until he wanted them to and he headed towards the car he and Carol had found earlier in the day. There was no plan in his mind; Daryl had no idea what he was going to do or how he was going to go about it, but he needed to find her and bring her home.

It really was that simple. The execution was not.

First, he would try and find that funeral home, see if there were any clues there. There would be no tracks left, but he could scout from there easier. Drive back to the crossroads where he had no idea which way to turn and Joe stumbled upon him and search all the options. Perhaps he would be lucky and find where the car had come from. Anything no matter how small, could be the clue that he needed to find her.

He quickly came upon the car and Carol who seemed to be about to use it, to leave the family again and Daryl hesitated in trying to convince her to stay. There was something tainted within their family now and Daryl was unsure if it was because Beth was absent or because the others failed to notice her absence. Why would he encourage Carol to return to that? But it was dangerous out here alone, of that Daryl was well aware, and Carol should stay with the others, but maybe not right now.

"Where are ya goin'?" she asked him with suspicious eyes.

"Got somethin' t'go look for." She raised her chin, regarding him carefully and then he offered. "Wanna come with?" Carol's eyes read him as easily as they always could and Daryl squirmed internally at the action, regretting asking her in that moment.

"Well," she began, but she stopped when the noise of a car zooming past the intersection distracted them both. Daryl's eyes shot straight to it, his bow rising, and he instantly saw the white cross in the back window.

"Fuck," he cursed, moving to the back of the car and smashing in the brake lights with his crossbow. It was a dark car, looked to be the same as the one that took Beth, not that Daryl had noted down the license plate of either, but the white cross alone was enough. "Carol," he grunted, shoving open the driver's door, throwing Beth's bag on to the other seat. "Get back t'th others. Tell 'em I'm'a find Beth."

"Daryl, wait!" she tried to stop him as he sat down, slammed the door closed and started up the engine. "You don't know-"

He cut her off: "That's th' car't took Beth." Moving the car in to gear, Daryl peeled away from Carol, risking only a slight glance in the rear window to see her standing there arms out spread as if saying what the fuck, Daryl? He wanted to explain more. To tell her about the funeral home, how Beth's bag had been strewn on the road, how he saw that car with a white cross on the back, had chased it until he could not take a step further. He knew that following this car, the one that could easily be the exact same one that took her, would lead him to her because he would bring her back to their family. Someone needed to see through his bullshit after all and there was something else about her and what she brought to all of them, but also to him.

It had taken the three days of running with her to make it clear. She had been right. He should never have seen her as just another dead girl. Although part of him saw everyone as just another dead person, and she changed that. The first day, running and running and running, barely even stopping to rest let alone eat or drink, just running, he had been barely surviving and certainly not living. Even at the prison, he wondered retrospectively if he had been living. At the farm? At the quarry? With Merle before the turn?

That night as the moonshine shack burned before them, he had felt something awaken in him and the next day, with her, the youthful desire to learn the bow, to hunt and track, Daryl had seen optimism and hope within her that had burned as bright as the shack, as something new within him. All he had thought as they were hunting was that he was glad they had left the prison together. Maybe he was not the perfect person for her, emotionally, given her father's recent death, but, for her, he wanted to try.

Anyway, they needed someone to sing to them all at night.

And there really was not anyone better at calming Judith.

As Daryl continued following as far back as he thought was safe, his thoughts turned to the baby who had been thrust upon them all, most especially Beth. Rick's breakdown after Lori's death had thrust Daryl in to the council, into respect and power that was a completely alien notion to him and made Beth the baby's Mama. It had been over a week, but he reckoned less than two weeks from his watching the moon, since the prison finally fell, since Judith had last seen Beth. Did the baby miss Beth? Would she recognize the blonde singer who cared for her the most since birth?

Keeping his distance, Daryl quickly began to recognize the roads and the route, realizing that he was heading not just back towards Atlanta but in to Atlanta itself. That seemed impossible to him. How could there be people still surviving in the city? It had been bombed in the earlier stages of the outbreak, it had been filled with Walkers. Glenn had always managed to make successful runs back in to the city, but to be living there?

Then Daryl remembered the old people's home that had been surviving only a year ago. What? There were other survivors within the city? With all the hordes they had seen since leaving the quarry, over-running the farm and then the prison, heading towards Terminus, it made sense that the cities might actually be the safest places with the Walkers clearly abandoning them in search of greater food supplies. It was just another reason that Father Gabriel's church was no safer than anywhere else in the world anymore.

Daryl only remembered the horrendous parts of his own childhood, his first beating at the age of four, and nothing good before, during or really after that age. He liked to think that a baby of Judith's age could, maybe not in the conventional way that adults remembered things, but maybe by smell or perhaps sound.

Yeah, he decided nodding to himself as the car turned a corner and there seemed to be some commotion. Daryl slowed and came to a stop as he heard a gunshot, saw Walkers approaching from multiple directions. He tried to start up the engine, even if he needed to continue on and not follow the car, he needed to move away from these Walkers before too many were attracted by the shot. The car would not start so he tried again, with no luck. He checked the windows and looked all around; there were a few Walkers coming from around and plenty of boarded up buildings. It was clearly a risk that he needed to take, so with practiced quiet ease, Daryl exited the vehicle and quietly closed the door, avoiding any Walkers nearby.

His plan was to avoid the Walkers, that he would take out any that he needed to, but that he would move quietly as he would if he were hunting despite the fact that he was clearly the prey tonight. He would find a building that he could get in to, clear and secure behind him, which is exactly what he did, finding a corner of an office that was secure and passable for him to sleep in. Though he barely slept, and he had known that he would not, not as exposed as he was and completely alone. What he had not expected was that every time he closed his eyes and truly drifted off in to sleep, he heard Beth singing her sweet lullabies to Judith, the ones that he had heard almost every night at the prison no matter how quiet she tried to be. That was how he knew though, that Judith would remember Beth, at least her songs.

As dawn broke, Daryl was already awake, his eyes closed in the corner just as a means to resting them, and he waited until there was just enough light that he could sneak out of the building and get a better layout of the city. Atlanta was not exactly a frequent haunt of his back in the day. Stepping in to the morning light, Daryl took half a moment to survey his immediate surroundings and it hit him that the city was dead. Even with the dead milling around and possible pockets of people, the streets were dead and Daryl wanted to imagine it bustling and filled with cars, people, smog even at such an early hour, and then he thought that maybe this was all for the best. His youth had been spent in the back of nowhere, in the woods where nature ruled over man, aside from men like him. Atlanta as a thriving city would have been Daryl's worst nightmare. Hell, sometimes the prison had been like his living hell with the amount of people in there especially when the Woodbury people moved in and there had suddenly been people filling the place; children running around, people wanting to thank him and shake his hand for dinner. Until it was night time and all Daryl would hear were a few gently snores, minimal cries from Judith because of Beth's singing. Always her singing.

He needed to get somewhere high, needed a building with a high vantage point that he could make it to the roof. As Daryl's eyes scouted around to find the best viable option, his eyes were drawn to the car he had abandoned the night before. The trunk was wide open. Slipping further in to the street, there were no Walkers immediately present, but he moved slowly anyway and checked out the interior of the trunk. There was some blood on the broken tail-light, putting a finger to it, Daryl felt that it was still sticky. Drying, but recent and it smelt fresher than a Walker's. Inside of the trunk there was some dry blood flaked across one end. It was not much, but it was there. He glanced down at the floor and saw where some of it had spilled on to the ground and there was a boot tread in it. Someone had stepped in to it on their way out of the trunk as there was a scuffed bloody boot print about a step away. It soon dried up, only leaving three steps.

Daryl did not need more than those three steps. The distance between the steps, it was small, too small for a grown man, too clear for a Walker, and too small for a child. Not that Daryl needed to analyze the tracks, he recognized the boot tread anywhere.

It was Beth's.

TWD - TWD - TWD

A/N: Okay, I just need to say that I hated the Grady storyline. It made no sense to me. I read somewhere that the point of Beth's death was to show that death can happen in the middle of a character's story, but the show has done that perfectly at other times (Denise). I would have rather never seen Beth again (to live in hope/denial that she was still alive) or maybe to have found her already dead from some other means - not a shot to the head from Dawn, maybe as a Walker somewhere else giving Daryl a moment like with Merle. Ignoring the fact that I found it completely anti-climactic (although Daryl carrying her out was heart-breaking), the storyline within Grady just made no sense and did nothing for the plot that better ways of killing Beth could still have done. I get that it was character development for Beth and then ending her story - fine, but there were better ways they could have developed her character. I mean, a hospital inside of Atlanta still surviving. Driving that far out of Atlanta? Did the cops knock Beth out? Did they run her over by accident? Was it a set up at the funeral home? Everything was clean there yet no one seemed to actively be living there, so who made it a trap? Yeah, I'm still bitter.