Author Note: There's no excuse for this. I miss Merle, and AMC can suck it. If you're a stickler for realism or uncomfortable with the age gap between Merle and Beth, go find something else to read. For the rest of you, fair warning: my spelling is English, my comma is Oxford, and this isn't one of those instant gratification stories...
SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL
A Walking Dead Fanfic by Silksteel
"He said he couldn't come back."
If Beth Greene was a little older, a little wiser, a little more mature, she might've recognised it for the self-pitying bullshit it was. But she was young, and sweet, and forgiving, and she couldn't stand to think that any one of them - even the man she'd deemed a jerk - felt like there was no way back from their despair. She watched as Daryl paced in front of the table, glaring alternately at Rick and Michonne. The former had the good grace to look ashamed of himself, and so he should. Beth couldn't tell what Michonne was thinking from what little she said - no one ever could - but Beth wouldn't blame her for hating all of them, even if she had come back. Rick had been set on giving her up to that monster, for however brief a time, and he engaged the services of the one man he knew would go through with it.
"Then I'm goin' after him," Daryl informed them, a growl through his teeth.
"I tol' ya this weren't the way to go, an' now he's got my brother," he snapped at Rick, yanking his arm out of the other man's grip. "Merle ain't ever done nothin' like this his whole life."
Beth traced a long scratch on the table with the tip of her finger. Once Michonne and later Daryl had returned to the prison, without Merle but carrying his arm apparatus, dry-eyed and furious, the whole sorry story had spilled horrifically into the open forum. She'd always been aware that her daddy, Rick and Daryl made most of the decisions for the group, and that had been fine by her - but this was different. They weren't a democracy, true, but she'd trusted in Rick that he'd choose the course that would preserve their humanity as well as their lives. After Shane, they all saw how important it was that they not descend the slippery slope into savagery just because there wasn't a society to hold them accountable any more.
Instead, Rick had made them all complicit in what would have been Michonne's torture and eventual death. And the self-proclaimed necessary evil among them had been the one to free her and sacrifice himself instead. He couldn't have climbed higher in Beth's estimation than he did with that one act - and even though it hadn't been her choice to send Michonne to the Governor, she still felt the stain on her soul as if she'd pulled a gun on the other woman.
"I'll go with you," she said softly, raising her eyes to look at Daryl, his back stiff and arms crossed over his ragged shirt.
He didn't immediately register what she'd said, and Beth supposed that was understandable. The number of walkers she'd dispatched since this all started could comfortably be counted on the fingers of one hand. She wasn't even really sure what use she could be to the rescue effort, except as maybe a decoy.
"Beth, sweetheart, I know you want to help, but -"
She pursed her lips as her father's hand came to rest on her shoulder. "No, Daddy," she interrupted firmly. "Don't tell me I can't. You were going to let Rick send her to die without even telling us. If Merle hadn't done the right thing...it'd be on everyone -"
"The right thing?" Glenn snarled, speaking up for the first time. "That asshole took her in the first place, just like he took me and Maggie! He's nothing but a murderer -"
Daryl's crossbow swung up reflexively. "Don't talk 'bout my brother like that," he spat. "Ya left him ta die on that roof in Atlanta, an' he didn't kill ya when he found ya agin. He don't owe ya nothin'."
"Now, son, just calm down, this isn't helping anyone," Hershel interrupted, his tone measured as the two men sized one another up.
"Stay out of it, old man. Glenn's tha one as made me choose between y'all an' my own kin; he's tha reason Merle felt like he had to go off like that in tha first place."
Next to her, Beth felt Carol stiffen and rise from the table. "Oh, Glenn, you didn't!" she cried, her expression stricken. Everyone knew how devastated Carol had been when Daryl didn't return to the prison, and everyone had assumed Merle was the one to force him away from them. Hearing that one of their own was responsible tore the wound wide open again.
"He threw a walker at me!" Glenn spat, barely glancing at Carol. "He handed Maggie over to a man who would've raped her! He's a monster, and I don't care if he's your brother, he doesn't belong here -"
Daryl stepped forward, trembling with fury, and Beth seriously thought he might shoot Glenn. Maggie was screaming, Carol was crying, her daddy was pleading for everyone to take a minute.
"THAT'S ENOUGH," Rick bellowed, smashing his fist down on the table and sending a cascade of plastic cups clattering to the floor. He was breathing hard, nostrils flaring with each heavy inhale, and Beth instinctively drew away from him, remembering the gleam of madness in his eyes the night he'd thrown Tyreese's group out of the prison. "Everybody just shut the hell up."
Upstairs in her crib, Judith began to wail.
"I got it," Carl said quickly, pushing Beth back down into her seat as she began to rise. He knew what was coming, she suspected, and he was sensible enough to get out of the way before it did.
"This is what's going to happen," Rick continued in a calmer voice once everyone had fallen silent. "Daryl and I are going after Merle." And he should too, Beth thought. She didn't know exactly what happened in Atlanta, but it shouldn't have ended with a man desperate enough to cut off his own hand to save his life. Then after it, which should've been enough, Rick used Merle to do his dirty work. Beth couldn't believe this man was the same one who'd been their leader for the last eight months. "Everyone else stick to the plan and get ready for the Governor's retaliation. Merle's bought us a day or so, at best, and we need to take advantage of it." Even after everything that had happened in the last few weeks, he still spoke with such authority that everyone began to automatically do what he said, though it wasn't without a measure of reluctance.
Glenn and Maggie sloped away, the man still scowling mulishly. Much as she loved her sister, Beth wondered at her choice; they'd both been raised to believe forgiveness should be offered to all, but her own boyfriend didn't seem to know the meaning of the word. He'd been so different since they were kidnapped, not at all the sweet man she'd come to know.
She could still feel her father hovering worriedly behind her and steeled herself, but it was Michonne that spoke first. "I'm going with you," she said simply, stepping out of the shadow of the wall, her ever-present sword slung across her back.
Daryl nodded once, tersely, and she knew he was still too riled up to realise that it was a significant leap forward for his brother, if he was still alive. Beth couldn't bear the thought of him - of anyone - dying alone and in agony, thinking he'd been abandoned by his own blood. Her throat ached at the very idea of it, closing against the flood of unexpected emotion. She barely even knew Merle, but when it had been Maggie in that position and she'd had to sit here safe wondering if she'd ever see her sister again...
"I'm coming too," she said with more confidence than she felt, straightening up from the table, gaze on her father.
"Daddy, I want to help."
"An' how ya plannin' on doin' that?" Daryl asked with what sounded like a mixture of doubt and genuine interest. "We ain't got time to keep an eye on ya; these people won't hesitate ta kill ya."
Beth bit her lip. "I could provide a distraction of some kind," she offered lamely, wishing she'd stood up for herself a little more and learned to properly handle herself the way Maggie could.
"No, we can't risk it," Rick said flatly. "You don't have the experience, Beth, and we don't have ammo to waste."
"Let the girl come," said Michonne, her deep smokey voice the last one Beth would've thought to speak up in her defence.
"I said -"
"I heard what you said, and I'm saying you're wrong," Michonne continued on blithely, her unsettling dark eyes boring into Beth's own. "The Governor's going to be on high alert after Merle's stunt. We won't make it inside Woodbury before his goons shoot us full of holes. But -" the older woman tipped her chin towards Beth. "She might."
"If you're proposing to use my daughter as bait -"
"Michonne's right," Beth interrupted, putting a comforting hand on her father's arm. "They don't stand a chance if the Governor has even half the force Merle told us about. But he doesn't know about me, and -" she huffed out a sarcastic little laugh. "Let's face it, I don't look like much of threat. If I can get in and find out where they're holding Merle…"
"It's too dangerous," Rick said, shaking his head.
Beth stood her ground stubbornly, and turned to the last member of their group, knowing it was his vote that would make the difference. "Daryl?"
"You wanna do this fer my brother? After what he did to Glenn an' Maggie?"
She could hear the note of disbelief in his tone and she made sure to meet his eyes before she responded. Daryl respected people who tried to do things for themselves; hopefully, he'd show her the same courtesy. "We're a family now," she said firmly, flipping her long hair out of her eyes and squaring her shoulders. "All of us. No one gets left behind or sold out, not any more. I want to do this for you, and for your brother. And I'm the only one who can."
Beth didn't have to fake her terror, every bit of it was real, from the crazy pounding of her heart inside her ribcage to the tears that left streaks through the dirt on her face. She knew Michonne, Rick and Daryl were in the trees on either side of her, keeping pace, making sure the walkers didn't get so close that she couldn't outrun them. Rotten blood was clotting beneath her nails and drying her faded camisole to a disturbing crispness. She'd been sweaty before, and grubby too, when they had to preserve water on the road, but this was something new. They had to make it look like she'd fought off a few walkers, make it look authentic enough to pass muster.
Darkness was falling fast. As the outline of the structure she knew to be Woodbury came into view, Beth heard Daryl give a quiet hoot, and took it as her signal. Forcing a sob into her breath, she stumbled out from between the trees, jerkily looking back over her shoulder as if the hounds of hell itself were chasing her. "Oh god, oh god somebody help me -" she wailed, ricocheting off one of the abandoned cars that littered the road and letting loose with a genuine shriek as a decomposing arm reached out from within it to snatch at her.
Up ahead, she could hear a commotion as the gate guards became aware of her presence. "Help!" she tried again, her voice high and hysterical, dissolving into gasp of panic when a walker cut across her from the forest. Brandishing the small revolver they'd given her - a sacrificial weapon with only two bullets inside - Beth shot for the head. She misjudged it, or her shaking hands betrayed her, she wasn't sure which - but the round clipped shoulder, spinning the corpse around for a moment until it got its bearings and came back on course.
Fumbling with weapon, she almost dropped it when it slipped within her sweaty grasp. The others had promised to intervene if it looked as if she was overwhelmed - it was the only way her daddy had let her go, and not without an ocean's worth of tears and misgivings - but Beth knew if they did there was a chance they'd all be killed by the Governor's men this close to the gate.
The booming echo of a rifle rang out, and she screamed, dropping into a crouch, arms curling up over her head as if it would protect her. After a moment, Beth realised she wasn't bleeding; the walker who'd tried to attack her was slumped in a heap not two steps away.
"Over here girl," she heard a man's voice call out from the wall. "Quickly! There's more coming!"
Scrambling up, Beth forced herself into a heavy run. It was supposed to look realistic, that she had been running for hours, exhausted and frightened and lost. But she was thin, malnourished like they all were, and even the short jog through the forest to collect her entourage of wandering walkers had taken it out of her more than she was willing to admit. By the time she made it to the gate, she was wishing she'd never heard of Merle Dixon. She should've listened to her daddy and stayed at the prison where it was safe — no. No, Beth told herself stubbornly. If they pulled this off, she'd be saving a life. The pain in her legs and her chest and the terror in her veins were nothing in comparison to that.
Nevertheless, when the gates opened and she was yanked through, Beth collapsed sobbing into the arms of the person responsible, the gate guard who'd called out to her. "It's alright girl, you're alright, you're safe," he soothed, stroking her hair in attempt to calm her down. "The biters can't hurt you now, you're fine."
When she got control over her leaping emotions, her fists loosened allowing the man's t-shirt out of her grasp, and she looked up into the face of her saviour.
Tyreese's eyes widened in shock and recognition.