Daryl watched Rick run his hand through his hair as he surveyed the two men on their knees.
Rick had asked them where the Governor was but they had just smirked at each other. That look made Daryl feel worse than mere silence would have.
Daryl could see their leader turning over the facts in his head. He knew what they all did. That they couldn't risk the Governor getting too much of a lead on them.
Daryl understood they were pressed for time but he honestly didn't expect what Rick did next. The man drove his fist hard into the jaw of one of the men on his knees. Daryl heard the crunch of bones and couldn't help but wince. Rick being on his feet had given him an impressive advantage.
The action had startled everyone. Maggie looked up from where she was wrapping Beth's hand in a tight bandage. When Beth had mentioned that she though some of her bones had been broken, Daryl had looked at her incredulously and had barely resisted the urge to scold her for not saying so earlier. Maggie had taken over while Daryl kept watch over the prisoners.
Now Rick had everyone's undivided attention. Rick dug two fists into the front of the man's shirt and hauled him back on to his knees. Tyreese kept a firm grip on his companion so he wouldn't try and come to his fellow guard's aid.
"Where is he?" Rick growled.
The man spat at the ground. His teeth were bloody and already his jaw was starting to swell. "You know where he is."
Rick stayed crouched down, maintaining eye contact and searching for any hint of a lie.
Rick nodded once and then rose to his feet. He pulled his gun out of his holster and shot the two men in quick succession. He didn't spare a backwards glance at the fallen bodies as he walked away.
"He's at the prison."
Michonne slid the key across the floor so the Governor could unlock the cell. He struggled with the lock. He was trying to keep his one good eye on Michonne, keep the gun steady and slide the bars open all at the same time.
Michonne took a few idle steps back. Not enough to raise alarm but those steps changed everything. She couldn't say everything she wanted to but the others in the cell were smart. She had every faith that they would seize the opening she had given them.
The Governor's eagerness was causing him to take his time. Michonne regarded him with disdain. She didn't think he'd changed that much since she'd first met him; it was just more likely he stopped trying to hide the monster inside.
Eventually he wrangled the cell open and his triumph was palpable.
Michonne kept her sword pointed downwards in a non-threatening position but the only way she would drop it is if he took her hand off as well. This man was never getting his hands on her sword again.
As the Governor drew level with the cell the others were in, Michonne spoke. "So how does this play out?"
The Governor opened his mouth to answer but at the last minute, he saw through her attempt to hold his attention. He spun to look in the cell properly.
Carl fired his crossbow at the same instant. The arrow tore through the Governor's upper arm. He bellowed with pain and Michonne sprung forward, lifting her sword to kill him.
The Governor's injury didn't slow him down enough. His gun was pressed into the centre of Michonne's forehead, freezing her in place.
Michonne glared at the man. Her arms were tense as she held the sword high.
"One more step and I blow her brains out," he snapped. "Now get out of there."
Carl came out slowly, bristling with rage. Sasha had Judith propped on her hip but her other hand still held a gun. Hershel emerged last.
"Don't do anything rash," Hershel counselled. Michonne slid her eyes to the old man and considered he was wasting his breath.
The Governor walked around Michonne so that the barrel of the gun shifted, finally resting against her temple. His injured arm wrapped around her shoulders, forcing her to lower the sword. She could already feel the warmth of his blood seeping out of his wound. The arrow head had completely punctured his arm and Michonne could feel it scratching at her skin. Unfortunately she didn't think it would be enough to kill him. He'd already demonstrated a remarkable ability for perseverance despite physical suffering.
The Governor chuckled and Michonne got a glimpse of the good 'ole southern charm he used to wield too efficiently. "I think we can agree; it's a bit late for that."
His voice dropped an octave and he leaned in close to Michonne's ear. "Drop it."
Her instinct was to sink it into his gut but the Governor would be able to shoot her before she would have a chance to drive the blade home. Besides she had an obligation to the people in front of her. Somehow they had got embroiled in the Governor's quest to extract vengeance from her.
Michonne let the sword clatter angrily to the floor. "Let them go now."
Carl's eyes widened marginally but otherwise he kept his emotions off his face. Michonne could still read him though. He wanted to fight for her life, to protect her. There was so much more of his father in the boy then anyone could see yet. But he had his infant sister to think of.
Michonne smiled at the boy, trying to reassure him that this was the correct course of action.
Michonne could feel the Governor nodding against her neck. "I'm not a monster, I don't kill children."
Michonne wondered if he still believed his own delusions but she didn't interrupt.
"Get out. This prison is mine. Tell any survivors, you'll have to find somewhere else."
Sasha opened her mouth to protest but Hershel laid a pacifying hand on her shoulder. His gaze was steady on Michonne and she had the uncomfortable feeling that the old man was seeing straight through her.
Carl glowered at the Governor but began to back out of the cell. The others followed.
It was just Michonne and the Governor now. He stepped away from her but careful to keep the gun level with her head. He kicked the sword further away so, even if Michonne was tempted, she couldn't get to it.
He fished the key out of his pocket and tossed it to Michonne. She caught it out of the air and hissed at the pain the action caused.
"Lock the cell," he instructed curtly.
Michonne complied because she couldn't be bothered wasting any breath on an argument.
Her first impression of the Governor had not been good. She had recognised a sickness in him back then, one that had festered deep in his soul. Having power in this kind of world had drawn it to the surface. But she would never have called him a stupid man. Not until today. He had sunk so deep in his depravity that he couldn't understand how normal, good people would react.
There was no way Rick would surrender the prison to this monster. It was just a waiting game now, until the cavalry showed up and killed this sick bastard. The only unpredictable part was whether she would survive.
The prison looked peaceful, which Beth thought was a contradiction of how it should appear if the Governor had really gotten inside. It was sitting there innocuously in the moonlight.
As soon as Rick had announced where the Governor was, Beth's blood had run cold.
Michonne had always been his target and twice she had escaped his clutches. The first time was when his men had failed to select the correct hostages and secondly, when Michonne hadn't been able to join the rescue because of her injury.
Beth hoped that everyone was still alive. Martinez had pointed out that the Governor want to drag out Michonne's pain before killing her. This didn't make Beth feel any better. That meant the rest of them were dispensable. Her father was in there.
They had run for the cars they had parked a little way off from Woodbury. In light of this new threat, all injuries were forgotten. Maggie looked more ferocious than ever. She was tired of having to defend her loved ones from this man.
Rick shot one last look at Morgan's body but there was no time to collect the corpse. Carrying his dead weight to the car would be more than any of them could cope with, especially since they were all already tired from the fighting. Like Carol, he'd have to wait for them to return.
Glenn and Daryl had dragged two walker bodies over, covering Morgan with twin grimaces. They didn't mean to disrespect their fallen friend but the dead creatures would serve as camouflage if any new walkers came sniffing around.
Once they got inside the gates of the prison, they were all on high alert.
"Stay behind me," Daryl muttered to her under his breath. He had taken his crossbow back from Bowman. No one had argued with his decision to do so. Beth understood he didn't feel quite like himself without it.
Martinez opened the door and Tyreese checked the coast was clear. They crept further into the prison. They heard footsteps and all of them had their weapons cocked.
Carl rounded the corner. If he was surprised to find a group of adults pointing guns at him, he didn't show it.
He merely raised an eyebrow and asked, "What took you so long?"
Rick snatched the boy up in a rib crushing hug. Carl embraced his father, awkwardly patting his back but there was genuine affection and relief on the young boy's face.
Beth caught sight of Hershel then and she ducked around Daryl to throw her arms around her father.
"The fuck did I just say?" Daryl grumbled as she completely disregarded his instructions.
Maggie wrapped her arms around Hershel and Beth, squeezing them both tightly. Hershel tenderly touched both his daughters' faces. His eyes were glistening and Beth knew he was holding back tears.
"Good to see you, little sister," Tyreese said, voice warm with love.
Sasha grinned but it faded as she looked around the group. "Carol?"
Tyreese shook his head and Sasha gasped.
"Morgan too," Rick added. There was a moment of silence as they processed what they had lost today.
"He has Michonne," Carl said.
Rick narrowed his eyes. "Carl, go with Hershel and take Judith. Barricade yourselves in the guard tower."
Carl shifted his crossbow so it hung from his shoulders and took Judith out of Sasha's arms. Hershel squeezed Beth's hand before following Carl outside.
They were too big a group to move quietly so they didn't even try.
"He said the prison is his," Sasha informed them.
Daryl snorted. "Over my dead body."
"I think that's what he has in mind, white boy," Martinez offered.
"Then he messed with the wrong red neck," Daryl countered softly. Beth understood why they were bantering but she couldn't bring herself to join in. The idea of Daryl dying simply wasn't funny and she didn't want to tempt fate. The men seemed to have no such qualms.
"Well we all know I'm the pretty one, so I can't die," Glenn argued. Maggie punched him lightly in the arm but a weak smile crossed her face.
Karen rolled her eyes. "You think walking into certain danger would earn some gravity." Beth could kind of see their point though. She had been running at such a high level of fear over the last day that she was beginning to suspect she was immune to that rush of heart pounding fear. At least for now.
Rick was the only one who didn't react. His focus was on killing the Governor.
They entered the common area first, Rick and Daryl taking point.
"Didn't you get my message?" a voice asked genially.
"Oh I got it, alright," Rick responded.
Hearing the Governor's deep voice disproved what Beth had just thought about fear. The deceptively civilised tone struck her to the core.
She could see that Daryl's grip on the crossbow tightened to the point that his knuckles turned white. He was thinking about Carol right then.
"You should see how comfortable he is in here." Michonne's voice drifted out to them, laden with contempt. "Sitting on the stairs like a king on his throne."
Beth swapped a confused glance with Maggie. Michonne wasn't really one for poetic descriptions. Daryl's forehead furrowed as he thought. Then, inexplicably, a lazy smiled appeared.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before jumping away from the group. Beth cried out but Daryl ignored her, falling to his knees and raising his crossbow all in one fluid motion. He released an arrow at the same time a gun fired.
Time seemed to stop when she thought that Daryl had been shot, but then he was up and moving again.
"She was telling us where he was," Daryl said with a smirk. "Nailed the prick in the stomach."
There were sounds of violence and the group surged forward. Michonne kicked the Governor in the arm hard enough that he released the gun. Beth was surprised to find that he had not one but two arrows protruding out of his body.
Rick tried to open the cell but it was locked. He shook the bars in futile frustration. Beth was too caught up watching Michonne fight him.
Despite being impaled on one of Morgan's spikes, she still moved with deadly beauty. The Governor managed to hold his own for a while but the blood loss and pain began to take their toll.
After delivering a particularly brutal punch to the face, Michonne grabbed the front of his shirt.
"This-" She ripped the arrow out of his gut. "-is for Andrea." Then she stabbed it into his good eye.
But not deep enough to kill him.
The Governor fell to his knees with a pitiful wail that made Beth's skin crawl. He deserved what had just been inflicted on him but seeing it still made her sick.
Michonne casually turned her back on him since he was no longer a danger. She walked over to unlock the cell. As soon as he got in, Rick cupped Michonne's face, checking her for injury.
Beth was surprised at the familiarity of the gesture. She wondered if Rick saw Michonne as a symbol of the prison, a symbol of the line he wouldn't cross. Or maybe it was more than that.
Michonne gently pulled out of his grasp. "He's all yours," she said with a shrug. She deftly picked up the sword from the ground and exited the cell.
What sounded like sobbing was coming from the Governor's mouth and Beth wanted to turn away but she forced herself to bear witness. Beth did notice that Martinez and Bowman quietly slipped away. They had saved their lives but that man had once been their friend and they couldn't watch what was going to happen.
Sasha had wrapped her arms around Karen but neither of them looked away. Beth grabbed Maggie's hand but she appeared oddly calm. The man had once terrorised her and Glenn but as he was now, he couldn't hurt anyone. Even Glenn looked deflated. After everything he had done to them, still nobody could take much joy in what they were seeing.
Rick stared at the broken man, then wordlessly handed his gun to Daryl. Something passed between the two men before Daryl took it.
He only hesitated momentarily before walking up to the Governor. The Governor stopped crying at the sounds of footsteps.
"Please," he begged weakly.
Daryl pointed the gun at the kneeling man. "For Carol," he said and pulled the trigger.
It was almost dawn by the time they had put the Governor's body into a pit and filled it in. Only Rick and Daryl had helped Martinez and Bowman move him. They had not treated the body overly gently but they hadn't manhandled him either. They weren't that type of person. They had left Martinez and Bowman behind to have a minute alone.
Then they had driven back to Woodbury and collected Carol and Morgan. They had laid blankets over both of them to afford them some dignity but also because none of them wanted to see what Carol had been reduced to. They wanted to be able to remember her as she was. Everyone knew what Beth had done to protect herself and Karen but no one mentioned it. They didn't blame Beth for her actions but they knew she was carrying the guilt of them.
They were laid out in a cell. They'd bury them later after they'd had an opportunity to sleep and dig proper graves.
Daryl was bone weary but he wanted to have a shower. He had blood and dirt all over his body. He had grown used to existing in this state of disarray but he was sure that some of the blood on him belonged to Carol.
Daryl had just kicked off his shoes when he heard someone else enter the shower block. He sighed. He just wanted to be alone with his grief. He was almost tempted to tell whoever it was to get out.
Slender, pale arms wrapped around his torso. Even without the bandage, he'd recognise Beth anywhere. He twisted in her arms so they were still pressed together. She looked up at him intently.
"How are you?" she asked softly.
"Probably the same as you," he answered wryly, brushing her hair back off her face. His chest tightened at the sight of the bruise on her face but the man who had done it was dead.
"I'm so sorry about Carol."
Daryl's mouth was dry and he couldn't think of what he was supposed to say. Instead he pressed his forehead to Beth's, squeezing his eyes shut. The loss of Carol was starting to worm its way into his heart. He would grieve for her but he would always remember her and what she would have expected from him. He wouldn't disappoint her by letting her become a weakness.
Beth tilted her head up under his hands and brushed her lips gently across his. Daryl was surprised to feel the electricity between them. He would have thought all the death and fighting would put a dampener on any sex drive but holding Beth close, realising how close he had come to losing her, had the opposite effect.
Daryl stood back, scrutinising her closely. She was just as covered in dirt and blood as he was. Without asking for permission, he tugged Beth's shirt up and over her head.
She shivered and he watched her closely. If any of his attention was unwelcome, he would simply stop. Karen had told him that Beth hadn't been raped but that it had been close. As his hands drifted to the top button of her pants she didn't flinch.
Beth continued to regard him steadily, eyes trusting. The only change was a slight increase in her breathing. He slowly glided her pants down her legs, taking care to be gentle now because he knew he wouldn't be able to maintain it. He wanted Beth desperately; wanted to feel her heart pounding against his chest. Daryl wanted to feel alive with the woman he loved.
Beth steadied herself on his shoulders and stepped out of her pants. Only in her underwear she walked towards the showers and turned one on. Keeping her eyes locked on Daryl, she removed her bra and underwear and stepped under the spray of water.
As the warm water hit her and cascaded down her skin, Beth moaned. The sound sent heat all down Daryl's body and he hurried to divest himself of his own clothing.
When he joined Beth, he restrained himself from pushing things further. Instead he helped her wash the grit out of her hair, fingers tangling in those long blond locks. Beth's hands roamed over his body, running over his new scars and tracing his abdomen muscles. When her fingers lightly ran over skin that was dangerously low on his body, Daryl growled and tightened his grip in her hair.
He roughly yanked her head back so that his mouth could descend on hers, powerful and possessive. Beth softly groaned as she pushed her body against his as much as she was able with Daryl holding her in place.
Daryl walked her back so that she slammed against the wall and he was worried he had hurt her but she wrapped her arms around his neck tightly, still kissing him with wild abandon. The water ran down both their faces, making their skin slick to the touch.
Daryl tore away from her mouth much to Beth's chagrin. She groaned in protest but was silenced when he placed his hot mouth on her neck, lightly nipping at the skin there. He was confident he had her completely in his thrall until she trailed her hand down his stomach to curl her fingers lightly around him. Daryl jerked under her touch.
Beth grinned cheekily at him and he was lost. He glided his own fingers up her thigh to run across Beth. He smirked when she gasped at his light touch but he could tell she was ready for him.
Roughly he grabbed the back of her thighs, lifting her up the wall and winding her legs around his hips. Daryl drove himself into her body with a cry. Beth threw her head back, digging her fingers into his shoulders. The cloth of her bandage was wet and heavy against his skin.
When he was sure Beth was holding him tightly enough he braced one hand on the wall next to her and rested the other on her lower back, pulling her closer to him.
The angle allowed him to move deep inside her and he set a punishing rhythm, eliminating all his fear, anger and sadness by indulging in her body.
Daryl had his face buried in Beth's neck when she cupped his jaw and turned his face so that she could kiss him. Her tongue brushed against his and her fingers were cool against his face.
Beth's hands returned to his shoulders and she used them as leverage to move against him, arching her body down to create a new level of friction.
When Beth climaxed, Daryl had never seen anything so beautiful. As she shuddered, Beth locked her gaze with Daryl. Her eyes were darkened with desire and love, her lips swollen and pink. Beth was giving herself completely to him and that knowledge pushed Daryl over the edge. He moaned as he buried himself completely in Beth's body, her hot breath on his shoulder as she struggled for control.
Suddenly, Daryl just couldn't support them both anymore. He lowered them to the ground, still joined with Beth.
Her pale skin was flushed as she brushed her lips along his cheek. "Thanks for coming to get me."
Daryl wanted to argue, to point out that Beth had saved herself but instead he just whispered, "Anytime."
The muted light of afternoon was filtering in through the prison windows when Beth opened her eyes. She and Daryl had towelled off and somehow managed to make it back to the cell where she slept. Daryl had almost left her for a second before shrugging and climbing in next to her. He was muttering something like, "Hershel will get over it." Beth stifled a smile.
Beth's body still tingled as an after effect of making love with Daryl earlier in the day. Until she felt his hands on her body, she had been genuinely afraid that she would carry her experiences from the windowless room with her. She hadn't forgotten it but Daryl's touch awoke so many different sensations in her, she could never compare the two. Daryl made her feel safe and loved.
He was still asleep and Beth was startled to realise this was only the second time she had woken up in his arms. The first time had been long before she had even admitted she was attracted to Daryl, let alone that she loved him.
Beth shifted so she could watch him sleep. He was peaceful asleep, not vibrating with that ever present energy.
"It's a crime t'watch unsuspectin' people sleep." Daryl hadn't open his eyes, just sensed her presence with that uncanny ability of his.
"So call a cop," Beth teased.
Daryl opened his eyes to slits. "Happens that I know a guy."
Beth pressed a kiss to his lips to silence him. "Not fair," he murmured against her mouth. "What time is it?"
"Close to sunset I think."
Daryl sobered. It was time to bury Morgan and Carol. Beth reluctantly left the warmth of Daryl's side. She wanted to stay there and pretend that nothing else had happened but she had to say goodbye to two important people.
Beth pulled on her clothes and so did Daryl. The fact they were both clean for once was appropriate. It wasn't like they could change in to all black to pay their respects.
When they left the cell, they encountered Rick. He didn't even blink at finding them together.
"Everyone is meeting at the cemetery," Rick said.
It was only a small area that was now home to Lori, T-dog and Andrea but Beth liked that Rick called it a cemetery. It seemed right.
"Will you help carry Carol?" Rick asked, turning to Daryl. Daryl was honoured to be asked and he wanted to help. Carol was family still even though she had passed.
He turned to Beth who smiled. "I'll meet you there," she promised.
They separated and Beth made her way outside. She saw her father a little ways off and hurried to catch him.
"You sleep well?" Hershel enquired when she joined him.
Beth couldn't help but blush and wondered if he was having a dig at her being with Daryl but he was merely asking after her wellbeing she realised.
"And how're you feelin'?"
"I'm fine, really. Just sad," Beth confessed.
"It's a sad day. Carol was a remarkable woman."
They joined the group standing around two freshly dug graves. People were standing close to give each other comfort but at the same time everyone seemed to be caught up in their own personal grief.
Rick appeared first and then Daryl. They were carrying Carol between them, treating her body like it was made of glass. Tyreese and Glenn came next with Morgan. Even though both bodies were covered with blankets Beth knew which was which because one delicate hand showed from under the blanket that Daryl and Rick carried.
Beth's breath hitched and the moment had a painful clarity to it. Hershel reached out to grasp Beth's hand.
The four men lowered the bodies into the graves very carefully. Beth couldn't stop herself from crying when Daryl tenderly tucked Carol's hand back under the blanket with one final squeeze. He lay something down next to her head and when he leaned back Beth saw it was a single white flower.
At the other burials, Daryl had stood off to the side by himself but now he had Beth. His eyes instantly sought her out.
"Y'know," Hershel said quietly. "I think he'll do." His eyes twinkled with amusement and he held Beth's hand out to Daryl.
Daryl took the offered hand, looking pleased at the gesture.
"Hurt her and I'll kill you," Hershel said quietly before joining Maggie and Glenn, both of them were wearing barely concealed smiles at Daryl's stunned face. Beth didn't think Carol would mind the teasing. She would have been the instigator if she'd been here.
Beth looked around at the people at the grave. These strangers had somehow become her family. Rick was holding Judith in his arms with one hand on Carl's shoulder. Carl was leaning into his father, mourning together. Michonne was only a little way off, and there was no sign of her sword for once. Her face was blank if one didn't know her better but Beth recognised the lines of sadness around her mouth.
Glenn had Maggie in his arms and the sunlight was glinting on the engagement ring. Beth was sad that Carol would not be around to see the wedding. Hershel was right next to them, shoulder to shoulder with Karen, who was crying discreetly.
Sasha and Tyreese had gravitated towards each other, both relieved that they had survived the ordeal. Their presence was calm and steady.
And finally there was Bowman and Martinez, who didn't look out of place anymore. They were meant to be there as much as the others.
Beth tightened her fingers around Daryl's hand and he reassuringly squeezed them back. His presence was like a balm on her soul.
Daryl was her partner. Together they could face anything. He had made her strong. He was her hero.
AN: I just want to start by saying a huge thank you to everyone who has come on this journey with me. I've been overwhelmed by how this story has been received and words cannot express how grateful I am that all of you took the time to tell me how much you liked it.
This end is bitter sweet because I will miss this pairing and miss writing this story but it felt right to end it here, hopefully on an optimistic note. I don't tend to do sequels but if the inspiration is right, I hope to do another Beth/Daryl story but I should probably finish my other TWD story first.
Please don't be a stranger. Send me a message here to say hi or I'm kicking around on twitter (EJWadePR). I'd love to hear everyone's thoughts when season four begins.
Thank you again,