When the meeting was ended, with a plan for Beth, Maggie and Glenn to leave tomorrow in place, Beth found a reason to disappear.
It hadn't gone as she expected at all. Now instead of being terrified for herself but confident in Daryl's ability to protect her she was going to be scared for herself and Maggie and Glenn.
The run wasn't until tomorrow but already Beth felt anxious. The prison was too crowded for her in that moment.
Beth escaped outside to see the last traces of dusk leaving the sky and an inky darkness settling in. Beth heard the door open behind her and grimaced. She just wanted to be alone.
"I didn't know you wanted to go on runs?" a young voice asked. Beth turned and saw Carl standing there. Incredibly he didn't seem to have his gun on him.
"I always wanted to be useful."
Beth was surprised by the vehemence of the statement.
"You look after Judith and all the other people in the prison," Carl continued, staring at his feet.
Beth was touched but thought it was a bit of a stretch. Her heart was worn thin by just worrying about Carl and Daryl these days without adding everyone in the whole prison to the list. But she didn't say any of that to Carl.
"Thank you. I guess I'm just scared is all."
"You'll be fine," Carl said confidently though Beth could see apprehension in his eyes. Far from alarming her, it made Beth unreasonably happy to see Carl's concern for her.
"I will be," Beth agreed, trying to match his surety.
"I gotta get back. I have guard duty soon." For once Carl looked like he wished could stay.
Beth watched his retreating back and felt bad about all the time she had criticised Daryl's approach. Whatever he was doing was working though Daryl's plans weren't foolproof as was evident from tonight.
The expression on his face would have been funny if the situation weren't so serious. He had been completely blindsided by Maggie but of course she would want to go with Beth.
Beth couldn't really blame him for not upholding his end of the bargain. He had never been in a position to in the first place.
Beth would tell him that she didn't hold him accountable if she didn't die tomorrow.
The next morning, Beth dressed in layers. She put on her most comfortable boots. Maggie helped her attach a knife and a gun to her belt. Maggies fingers shook as she reminded her not to use the gun unless in the most dire of circumstances.
Beth knew all that but let Maggie talk. Imparting her safety rules was making Maggie feel better.
Maggie went to find Glenn, giving Beth a few seconds to herself.
"You remember everythin' I told you?" a gruff voice caused her to jump. She hadn't even heard Daryl's footsteps.
Beth grinned weakly. "Run it by me again."
"Keep your head, move fast, don't hesitate and don't be stupid. Stupid gets you dead." Daryl sounded oddly detached but Beth knew it was his own way of coping.
Trying to sound casual Beth said, "Yeah no problem, I'll be back before dinner time."
"It's gettin' cold at night, you'd wanna be back here, Princess."
Beth interpreted his name calling as an attempt to make her smile. She appreciated the effort even if she couldn't oblige.
Beth would rather stand there all day listening to Daryl's words of wisdom but she was committed to this now and her pride wouldn't let her pull out.
"I gotta go, the others will be waitin' on me."
Daryl nodded and stood aside to let her pass.
Hershel hugged both his daughters tightly before letting Beth get in to the car. It was still early and traces of the night time fog were lingering. The Georgia sun would burn it off soon.
Glenn drove and Beth tried to forget for a second where they were going. She had her nose almost pressed against the glass, drinking in the change of scenery.
Then she saw a shambling walker on the side of the road. It tried to chase the car like a dog might. There was no way it could touch them while they were in the car but the illusion came crashing down.
This wasn't a pleasant outing. This was a survival mission.
Glenn pulled up outside the hospital. There didn't look to be too many walkers milling around outside so he turned off the ignition and looked first to Maggie and then to Beth.
"What do you think?" he asked.
"It's risky," Maggie said. "It's a big place. Lotta places for walkers to be lurkin'."
Beth didn't say anything. With her inexperience she had nothing practical to contribute.
"It might be a risk we have to take," Glenn said. "Doesn't look like there is gonna be too many places to hit up for the things we need."
Maggie consulted the list she held in her hand before casting her gaze over the hospital once more. Maggie swivelled in her seat to speak to Beth.
"Once we get in there, you stick close to me or Glenn, alright?"
"Scouts honour," Beth answered a little snidely, falling easily in to the role of little sister.
Maggie rolled her eyes. "As long as you do what you're told."
Glenn looked from one sister to the other. "We should do this now."
Beth followed Maggie's lead. When her sister stayed low so did she. When Maggie moved, Beth was on her heels. Glenn was bringing up the rear.
Beth was on high alert, trying to look everywhere at once. She found the silence eerie, half expecting a walker to lunge for her at any minute.
They walked through the front doors and Beth instantly gagged. The stench was horrific. The reek of death flooded the halls and the heady presence of decay was only amplified by the heat. Beth guessed the backup generator didn't run the air conditioning.
The lights were flickering, just barely holding on. Maggie took a tentative step forward, holding a hand over her nose until she got used to the smell. There was shattered glass on the floor, the remains of a light bulb that had met with a bad end.
Beth saw bullet holes in the walls and thought she might be able to deduce what had happened.
Maggie studied the directory briefly. "C'mon, this way."
They found the room where all the medical supplies were kept.
"I'll go in," Maggie said, "You two stand guard."
Beth watched her older sister slip in to the room after peaking in the window for Walkers.
Glenn was still on edge but Beth was starting to relax. She thought it was a good sign that there were no Walkers. Maybe someone had come through before and cleared it out. Or the army had done more thorough culling work here in the early days of the outbreak then they had anywhere else.
The lack of Walkers was making Maggie nervous. It could mean only two things. That a group had claimed this hospital and cleared it out. That would be very bad. Likely they would see Maggie, Glenn and Beth as looters and take some vengeance. People didn't behave like they did before, like they were supposed to.
The other option didn't make Maggie any happier. There weren't any Walkers up here so they were just somewhere else. She noticed that they tended to group together. They hadn't been called herds for no reason.
Maggie filled her bag with all the medicine she could find. She grabbed some things that they'd never even thought to put on the list. The medicine stock had barely been touched which indicated there weren't people in the hospital.
She ducked back out of room. Beth and Glenn were exactly where she left them and she breathed a sigh of relief. Every time she was separated some nagging thought in the back of her head kept reminding her it could be the last time she saw them.
"You get everything?" Glenn asked.
Maggie shook her head. "I got the medicine but none of the equipment. We'll have to find an operating theatre. Hopefully they'll have some stuff there."
Maggie took charge of the situation and led them off in the direction she thought most likely to lead them to an operating theatre.
Using the directories as a guide she had no real idea if she was going in the right direction, she could only hope her guesses were educated.
"This looks right," Glenn whispered. The deeper they had got in to the hospital the darker it was and the quieter they had all become.
Maggie was thankful that Beth was still doing everything she told her. She had caught her little sister whispering the same sentence over and over as they slunk down the halls. "Don't do anything stupid, stupid gets you dead," was what she was saying.
Maggie thought it was a little morbid but she couldn't argue with the validity of the advice. She wondered who had drilled that into Beth's head. Probably their father.
"I'll go in, Glenn offered. Maggie would have liked to accept his offer, she was having a hard time letting Beth out of her sight but Glenn didn't know what he was looking for, not like she did. Maggie would be in and out in half the time Glenn could. The peculiar silence of the hospital was weighing on her and she wanted to get out of there.
"I'll be faster. Watch Beth!" With that last parting command she ducked in to the room.
Maggie gagged at the sight before her eyes. Whatever had happened here at the hospital had happened during the middle of an operation. A man was on the table staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. His internal organs were exposed by surgical clamps. Maggie approached him warily but it looked like he died of abandonment mid surgery and wasn't a Walker.
Keeping her gaze low so she wouldn't have to take in any more of the gruesome body, she picked up some clamps, scalpels and thread for suturing. There were some alcohol rubs too and Maggie grabbed them.
Catching movement out of the corner of her eye Maggie instantly turned. It took everything she had not to drop the bag.
In a viewing gallery, above the operating theatre, there were Walkers all squeezed in together. Maggie couldn't determine how many were in there.
The sight of her hadn't quite riled them up yet. They seemed sluggish but they were definitely starting to move closer to the glass. Maggie backed away, terrified.
She knew there was some speculation about how much of the original person remained in a Walker and Maggie thought that there must be a least some. These Walkers had gone back to what was instinctually familiar to them. They had clustered together just like they had once done when they were alive.
Maggie darted out of the room. She seized Glenn breathlessly. "We have to go."
She opened her mouth to tell Beth but her little sister wasn't right next to Glenn like she expected.
Horrified Maggie saw her little sister, all the way down the other end of the hall.
Furious and petrified in equal measure, Maggie shouted out to Beth.
Beth turned, startled and opened her mouth to reply. A door between them slammed open and the space was full of Walkers. If they had seemed lethargic before they weren't now.
Some turned to Beth and the others lunged after Maggie and Glenn.
For a few moments the only thing Maggie could think of was getting some distance between her and the dead, killing any of them that ventured too close.
Maggie heard Beth cry out and she panicked. Through the chaos and the bodies Maggie could see that the noise Beth made was one of exertion as she had driven a large knife through the skull of a Walker.
Maggie was realising with dread that there were too many Walkers between her and Beth. She couldn't kill them all and reach her sister. Glenn had a fist in her shirt and was tugging her back.
"Meet us at the car," Maggie shouted.
"Don't leave me!" Beth shouted to her sister. Maggie's heart broke but their only chance was if they ran, both of them, in different directions.
There was too many of them. Beth felt dread rising in her chest and she was breathing rapidly. A logical part of her knew she was hyperventilating and if she kept it up she would pass out.
Beth's vision narrowed to Maggie's anguished face and then her retreating back.
Beth wanted to cry out for them again but her throat had gone dry.
The Walkers were reaching for her and she turned to run. Beth's legs felt strong underneath her and for the first time she was grateful for all the laps Daryl had made her run, the careful pacing he'd taught her and the strength that had built up.
The Walkers gave chase, mindlessly loping along behind her. Running cleared Beth's head and Daryl's last words whispered through her mind. Keep your head, move fast.
Well, she was moving. Beth had to organise her thoughts, she had to have a plan. Through sheer force of will she pushed back the fear.
She saw her chance off to the right. Fire stairs.
Beth barrelled through the door. It barely managed to close behind her before it was flung open again. The Walkers hissed and growled behind her, not giving up on their prey that easily. Beth bolted down the steps, taking two at a time.
The narrow stairs were constricting the Walkers, forcing them to bunch together. One managed to push its self away from the pack but its clumsy movements caused it to stumble.
Beth darted a look over her shoulder and saw the Walker tumbling down the stairs. Without thinking she jumped to the next landing. The impact was jarring and her ankle rolled underneath her.
Beth shouted at the pain but didn't hesitate. She pushed herself on to the next flight of stairs, only seconds before the falling Walker crashed into the wall. She heard bones snap and the fleshy sound of a skull smacking into the ground.
It would have killed a person but all it did was slow the Walker down. Its legs wouldn't hold its weight so now it used its arms to drag the dead weight of its body along. Beth was using the railing to leverage herself down.
The first door Beth saw she went through. It was the back entrance to the lobby. There were more Walkers between her and the front way out, which was where the car was. A grasping hand on her shoulder made her shriek and turn around.
The Walker's mouth was open and hovering over her neck. Beth drove the knife straight through the gaping hole and then angled it up. Blood exploded down the hilt and over her hand.
Beth wrenched the knife free and got the next closest Walker between the eyes. It was a nurse still wearing her name tag. 'Sue,' Beth read with a grimace. What she had killed wasn't Sue. It was an upright corpse.
Hair was sticking to her sweaty face and she used her forearm to wipe it away, leaving a smear of brown blood on her forehead.
Beth could make the back doors if she moved fast. Shoving a Walker hard, it reeled out of her way. Beth dashed for the exits. Black spots of pain darkened her vision but she pushed on.
The hospital was on the outskirts of town with the woods at its back. Beth rounded the prison with a limping run. She wanted to weep at the pain of her injured ankle but she didn't have enough breath.
Beth reached the corner and she could see the car. It was surrounded by Walkers. Beth skidded to a stop. The Walkers were shaking the car and any minute they were going to smash the windows and then they'd have Maggie and Glenn.
Beth was close enough to see her sisters face. They locked eyes and Beth could read the desperation on Maggie's face but Beth felt surprisingly calm. She knew Maggie wouldn't leave without her but there was no way Beth could reach the car.
So she made the decision Maggie couldn't. She mouthed one word, hoping that their sibling connection would prevail and Maggie would know what she meant. Daryl.
Beth turned and ran back toward the smaller group of Walkers that had been following her. Beth killed two more Walkers that were in her way but she kept running for the shelter of the trees.
There were more following her but Beth felt determined she could lose them. Beth would hide close to the hospital and then Daryl would find her. He knew how to find people and he'd come looking for Beth, she had never been so sure of anything in her life.
AN: I promised myself I'd make y'all wait for the next chapter but gosh darn it, the reviews were too wonderful, I just got caught up. I have work so the next chapter will probably be a few days away so hopefully this will tide you over. If you don't mind OC's, I have a whole 12 chapters of Operation Orpheus uploaded. I tried to reply personally to every review unless you have private messaging disabled or you're a guest . It's shockingly selfish but I would love for this story to become a powerhouse in this fandom so review review – together we can change the world and all that jazz.
On an unrelated note, I very recently got on twitter. I don't really talk fanfic on there but if you have twitter and want to see how I waste time when I should be writing chapters and all the inane shit I say about TV shows I watch you can find me EJWadePR
Anywho, I got heaps of reviews and updated in less than twenty-four hours so what does that tell you folks? I don't want to brag but the next chapter is scary awesome.
EDIT: I posted the wrong chapter as it turns out. Super awkward, sorry about that.