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Beth's stomach tightened with every pained moan Lori emitted. She exchanged a worried glance with Carol and the other woman increased the speed of the car. It made creaking noises as the gears shifted around like crunching metal. Beth grimaced, recalling why the vehicle had been their emergency one. It wasn't completely destroyed but it wasn't good for long distance travel all the same.
"How long have we been driving?" Carl asked. He was starting to panic and Lori was in no state to calm her son.
"A while," Beth tried to soothe. "We're almost there."
And they were. Even though it had been a long times since she had driven this road it was still familiar. It didn't look like anyone else had come this way. Beth noticed the trees hung lower over the path and the dirt road was smooth of tire tracks.
They'd be leaving a fresh, easy to follow path themselves but she was counting on the fact their destination was off the beaten track. Only a few people knew about it.
"Stop here," she reminded Carol.
Carol gently eased the car off the road and into a space between the trees.
"Beth?" her father said slowly and his worried tone had her turning to find a threat. He was gesturing at the walkers milling around.
"Its fine, dad," Beth reassured him before getting out of the car. Through the walkers she could see the cabin. Their cabin.
Carol hurried to get Lori out of the car, draping an arm around her shoulders.
"Its fine," Beth repeated. Neither her father nor Carl had been to the cabin.
Their restraints had endured, the walkers still swayed like branches in the wind. Some of them had sunk to the ground weathered by time and lack of food. Beth recognised Curtis as one of the walkers that had collapsed. Beth couldn't explain the pang in her chest, remembering with perfect clarity the time Curtis saved her, whether intentionally or by pure accident.
She drew closer to him and he lifted his head, sniffing the air like a dog. Maybe he recognised her scent or maybe she was just alive enough to attract his attention.
"Oh Curtis," she mumbled, struck by a sense of loss. Things had changed again and Beth was so very tired of uncertainty.
"Beth, we need you!" Hershel called. She hastened back to their sides and helped them navigate around the pits and traps. Carl was staring around with wide eyed shock. He'd heard stories about the cabin in the woods but it didn't prepare him for the reality. Beth had forgotten how impressive it was, exactly how many walker sentries they had manage to accumulate.
The padlock was still on the door and her key was at the prison. She had wanted to leave one on top of the frame but Daryl had argued against it, claiming that he didn't want anyone in there.
"We're going to have to break it off," Beth acknowledged. Carol held up a crowbar that she had taken for defence.
"That'll work," Beth said with a grin. And it would be quieter than a gun.
"Quickly," Hershel suggested as Lori swayed on her feet with only Carl to prop her up. Carol cracked open the latch with the sound of splintering wood.
It was dark and dusty inside the cabin and Beth set to lighting candles and the fire. She remembered where everything was and was glad of their decision not to take all the supplies out of the cabin. There was still some food and water, which would come in handy.
Beth grabbed for one of the bottles and passed it to Lori who gulped greedily from it, her face sweating.
"Time to get you on the bed," Hershel guided her gently. Lori nodded with wild eyes.
"Outside, Carl." Carol pushed him outside gently. He lingered but then obliged. Beth grabbed some food and water and went to join the boy. If they needed more from her they could call for her.
Carl was fidgeting with his fingers in his lap. Beth passed him a protein bar she'd pillaged a while back. "Eat something," she recommended.
"I'm not hungry," Carl said but didn't hand back the bar. Beth didn't push. She felt the back of her head with a grimace. She didn't think she had a concussion but she had the beginnings of a headache that threatened to explode into something much worse. She took a shaky sip from some water. It was peculiar to be back here where everything had started.
The sound of the river was calming and familiar. She was covered with blood and sweat but she didn't want to bathe just yet in case she was needed. Lori's cries spilled into the air and Carl sucked in a breath.
"It's supposed to sound like that," Beth assured him. Though she really had no idea. She hadn't been pregnant or been present at a birth. But neither Carol nor Hershel were saying more than comforting, encouraging words.
Carl ripped open the wrapper and hastily shoved his mouth full with food. He was eating to disguise his nerves but it wouldn't hurt for him to have some sustenance in his belly.
With nothing left to do for now and nowhere to run, Beth's thoughts had free reign. Was Daryl alive? That question repeated itself in her brain until it rang like an echo. She couldn't not know but she wouldn't leave to find out yet. She had her place here.
There was a rustle from beyond her line of walkers. Beth thought she might have imagined it but the guards were standing to attention now. They had been curiously straining towards Lori's cries but they shifted direction.
Beth's hand tightened on the knife and she wished she had a gun as well. Carl had noticed the change in their environment too. He was very perceptive after his life on the run. It could have been an animal or even a feral walker but Beth's heart started to speed.
The walkers began keening, slurred by their lack of jaws. The creature that had tried mauling her in the closest burst through their ring. His gun was held aloft, aimed squarely at Beth's head. He was pressing against his shoulder with his free hand.
"There you are, you slut!" Gregory spat the words at her like they were poison. "You put that gun down, boy, or I'll shoot her in the face."
Carl had his gun trained on the man and was weighing his options. He was a pretty good shot but he'd have to nail Gregory in the head to eliminate the risk that Beth would get hurt.
"Go inside and lock the door," Beth told Carl, speaking calmer than she felt. This was the second time she had told Carl to closest himself off with the others, leaving her to take her chances.
Lori screamed again and Carl hurried inside the house and shut the door. Even from outside, Beth could hear Hershel's questions and then the banging on the door. But Carl had done as he was told.
Confident that he wouldn't bother trying to break into the cabin, Beth took a step forward. If she was going to die than she wouldn't take the others with her.
"I'll go with you, if you just leave them alone," Beth pleaded.
"I don't want your consent, I want your pain."
He changed the angle of the gun and pulled the trigger.
It didn't take him long to figure out where they'd gone. Daryl was familiar with the path the car had taken and knew his clever girl had taken them to the cabin. It was smart. Even if he hadn't been following the tracks, he would have checked every place that she knew and might feel safe in.
What was disconcerting was the evidence they hadn't been the only car to come this way. They paused briefly beside a truck that was pulled over some ways up the road. There was a man on the ground, partially eaten.
It was the Governor. Daryl got out of the car and was sadistically glad to see the man was still alive despite chunks of flesh missing from every limb.
Daryl pointed his crossbow at the man. He wanted an explanation and an apology even though he knew they would just be empty words.
He lifted his crossbow up abruptly, deciding not to kill the wheezing man.
"S'too quick for you," he snarled and got back into the car. He spotted a second pair of footprints heading towards the cabin and bile rose in his throat.
"Better hurry," he muttered, eyes darkening.
The bullet sailed into the dirt by her feet, making her gasp and her body clench.
"Walk yourself over here or it'll be your leg that gets it next."
All Gregory's veneer of composure had vanished and Beth could see the insanity clouding his eyes. She took a hesitant step, sweeping her attention around to find an escape. If any of the walkers were still dangerous she could have led him towards them, but they weren't. The rivers current wasn't fast enough or she might have jumped in there.
Lori shrieked again and Beth prayed that, whatever happened, the baby would live. The baby and Lori would pull through and find the others. Maybe it was the wistful naivety of the girl who had once believed her mother was sick and not dead but she put every fibre of her being into that silent entreaty.
Gregory's shirt was damp with red blood, the bullet wound was still leaking down the front of his torso. Hope flared inside her as she realised that he was swaying on his feet. He was weak too. He had escaped the dangers of the prison but just barely. And since she hadn't heard a car she could only conclude he had walked part of the way.
"Please, just don't hurt me," Beth said with an exaggerated tremble.
"I'm gonna do more than hurt you," he informed her. He thought he'd won, that he'd broken her. He was delighted and excited. Beth could see the evidence of his glee and gritted her teeth with revulsion.
She took another step forward. "Please have mercy," she wailed, continuing melodramatically. Beth just had to get close enough to strike. She was battered and exhausted but he was in a worse condition.
"Shut up or I'll cut out your tongue," Gregory hissed.
Beth moved fast, she dove out of the line of fire and smacked him hard across the wound in his shoulder.
He hollered in pain and staggered. Beth didn't run, she kicked him in the stomach and the shock of it made him drop the gun. Beth tackled into him, trying to hit at his injured shoulder every chance she got. Gregory managed to dig an elbow into her ribs. It probably hurt him but it hurt her worse. She rolled to the side to collect herself. She had her knife back in her hand and she had every intention of slitting his throat.
Gregory punched her in the side of the face and the knife slipped uselessly to the ground. She slumped forward while the world spun around her. When it had righted itself, Gregory was on his feet. Gun at her head.
She had failed. She had failed again when it counted. The barrel of the gun pressed against her forehead and she was so scared of dying that her body was numb. But she kept her face blank of anything. Fear and hate were an aphrodisiac to this sick bastard and Beth would be damned if she was going to give him anything else to enjoy the moment.
She was going to be spiteful and defiant right up until the end. The only reassuring thought was that it looked like Gregory was going to be quick to follow her into death. The blood now flowed with new vigour.
"I'm going to kill you now," Gregory informed her simply. His breathing was laboured.
"I only wish that stupid redneck of yours had been here to watch as I put this bullet in your brain and fuck your sweet corpse."
Maybe his mentioning of Daryl had summoned the image of him. Beth's brain was likely protecting her by giving her one more comforting image before she passed. He hadn't been there a moment ago but now Daryl was standing there. And he looked like a force of nature, all wild fury and vengeance. The walkers turned silently towards him and Beth knew then that he wasn't an illusion, he was real.
A smile crossed her lips and she shifted on her knees so that she consumed all of Gregory's attention.
She met his stare rebelliously. "Be careful what you wish for."
Gregory's eyes narrowed in confusion. The gun lifted a little from her forehead. He was suspicious of her tone and her grin. He began to look around but it was too late. The whistling sound of a bolt could be heard before it plunged into Gregory's arm, making him drop the gun and then Daryl was on him.
Daryl's heart had stuttered to a complete stop when he had spied Beth through the trees on her knees. It took all his will not to crash through the bramble and eviscerate that man. He remembered him. Would never forget his leering face as he'd put a hand on Beth's thigh and talked about killing Daryl.
It was the gun in his hand that coaxed his patience and his silence. He stalked towards him, moving easily. This was his territory after all. He waved his companions to stay lest they give him away.
The exact moment Beth spotted him was magic. Contained in her eyes was all the love he'd never experienced before meeting her. She was relieved beyond measure that he was alive and that he had come. She had rescued him last time and now it was his turn.
Daryl decided in a split second not to shoot the man in the head. He owed him some pain. Once the gun dropped, Daryl attacked the man. He was weary certainly but everything he'd endured that day could be traced back to this man and that gave him almost super human strength.
He lost track of the times he punched the man in the face. His hand was bleeding freely from the force and he only stopped when gentle hands pulled him away.
"Tie him up," he ordered no one specifically and then he pulled Beth into his arms. He pushed her hair away from her face and just breathed her in. She still smelt like his, even under the death and the blood.
Her hands were frantic on his body, roving for injuries, confirming his corporealness.
"Where's Lori and Carl?" Rick asked, his voice cracking.
"Locked inside. Lori's having the baby," Beth breathed from against Daryl's chest. "Carol and daddy are with her."
Rick charged past them up into the house. T-dog had stolen rope from one of the walkers and was tying the moaning man up.
Beth's eyes scanned the people in the clearing, counting them. Maggie was sitting on the ground staring into space. Her sister and father being alive had relieved her but the loss of Glenn tore through her anew.
Beth stared at her sister's shattered form and shook her head. "No," she whispered, squeezing her eyes shut.
"I'm sorry," Daryl mumbled into the mess of her hair. "Jimmy too."
A sob shook Beth's shoulders and she was crying against him just like her sister had done hours earlier. She hadn't cried like this in a very long time and her whole body vibrated with grief. Daryl wished he could have protected her from this emotional pain but he couldn't.
"How did you find us?" Beth eventually asked blearily.
"Merle said you escaped."
There was bitterness when he mentioned Merle which was entirely justified.
"He saved me, you know," Beth said quietly.
"And that's the only reason he ain't dead," Daryl said starkly.
Beth wisely chose not to say anything. She brushed a kiss across his lips.
"I love you so very much," she informed him.
Daryl's fingers dug into her skin, an answer enough in itself. She gently detangled herself from him and went to sit with Maggie, wrapping her arms around her shoulders.
Andrea appeared by his side. "What do you want to do with this filth?"
"I have the perfect idea," Daryl told them.
With Michonne's help, Daryl and Andrea dragged the man into the car and drove him back to where they'd last seen the Governor. Daryl was surprised to see he was still alive but that didn't change the plan at all.
T-dog had trussed the man up good and proper and they hauled him into the back seat of the car. Then they carried what remained of the Governor and put him in there too. They shut the doors and turned their backs on the whole affair. With his hands tied the man couldn't get out and the Governor was going to die any minute. It was justice to leave them to each other.
Daryl didn't want to stick around and watch despite the pleasure he had at knowing that they were getting what they deserved.
They travelled back to the cabin and as they broke the line of walkers they could hear the high pitched screams of a new baby.
Beth had barely left her sister's side. She assured Beth that she was going to be fine eventually but Beth was worried about her. She was too thin and it wasn't good for the baby. The one growing inside of her and one of her last links to Glenn. She had cried that information into her father's arms when he had left Rick and Lori to their new babe and gone to comfort his eldest daughter.
That fact had kept Maggie from participating in clearing the prison. They had found a good portion of the walkers already slain thanks to Merle Dixon. Turned out not even a bullet could stop that man from getting things done.
He had stayed in the prison but he was still keeping out of everyone's way. Daryl had been ready to agree with the people who wanted him gone but Merle's careful behaviour had given everyone pause. In the end Beth had spoken in his defence. He had made a mistake but he had saved her. Didn't mean she thought he was a good person but Daryl deserved the right to get to know his brother properly, see if he had any interest in rehabilitating.
After they were settled back into the safety of the prison, they'd gone to retrieve Jimmy and Glenn's body. Maggie again was banned from participating. Daryl admitted to Beth that he was expecting the worst and Maggie shouldn't have to see that.
Neither of the men had been touched by walkers while they'd lain unclaimed. Which is more than could be said about Gregory. When they'd driven back to the car the next day, there wasn't enough left of him to put down. They'd killed the Governor and burned both the bodies without ceremony.
Beth's head had swum when she saw them reverently lifting the bodies out of the car. Maggie had disappeared for the rest of the afternoon and the men had set to digging.
Beth was holding the baby while Lori looked on when Daryl appeared and awkwardly cleared his throat. She knew that it was time to go to the funeral.
Hershel said words over both their men and then came a flood of stories and praise from almost every member of the prison. Even Daryl spoke though not for long. Beth remembered the last time they'd been at a funeral. It had been Dale's and Daryl had hated her almost as much as she had hated him. And now his fingers were tangled in hers and he was the reason she could stand there and be strong while two good people were lowered into the dirt.
Maggie kept her head held high and laughed when the memories were funny, cried when they weren't. She spoke on behalf of Jimmy even though her grief for Glenn had swallowed her whole. Beth had always envied Maggie's strength and she knew that she would get through this.
They broke apart for a meal and a toast for their fallen and before long Beth and Daryl went to their shared cell. It felt like home even after the attack.
Daryl kicked off his boots and collapsed on the bed. They were all still so tired from everything that had gone before. He opened his arms for Beth and she went eagerly.
"Daryl?" she asked, listening to the steady beat of his heart below her ear. She wasn't sure if he was asleep or not.
"Mmm?" was his only response.
"I think I want to have a baby," she confessed hesitantly.
Daryl jerked to attention. "Right now?"
Beth couldn't help but laugh at the frantic quality of the question. She had gotten out of practice laughing and she'd almost forgotten how good it felt.
"No, not right now. But sometime. In the future with you."
His arms were tense around her and she suspected his mind was reeling. She had just dropped that bomb on him out of nowhere.
"What if it ain't safe?" he asked, unsure.
"We'd wait until we're safe. Rick's talking about bringing people in, making a proper community. Merle's already opened communication up with Woodbury."
There was a long pause and Beth could feel seconds tick by. "Is that something you'd want too?"
"What if I'm like my father?" the question was so tiny it broke her heart.
Beth sat up so she could look at him properly. "You are the best man I ever met and I love you. You'd be a wonderful father. I've already seen you with Judith."
Daryl blushed; disconcerted his secret moments of tenderness had been witnessed.
"This relationship may be unconventional from start to finish but I want a life with you, Daryl. I want to make a life with you when we're ready."
Daryl inhaled sharply, sitting up off the bed too. His hair stuck up at odd angles and his eyes were fearful but there was move love in those blue eyes than anything else. He was hesitating because he wasn't used to revealing that he wanted things.
"We can play a game," Beth suggested tentatively. "You say something and I'll guess if you're lying."
A slow smile spread across Daryl's face.
"I don't love you," he said first.
Beth matched his grin. "Too easy."
Daryl leaned forward and pressed a kiss to her neck that made her shiver. "You're not wearing enough clothes."
"Try and keep it clean, Dixon," Beth suggested as he nipped at her ear. "I don't wanna hear your smut talk."
"Liar," was breathed across her skin and Beth's smile faltered as her pulse raced. They hadn't made love since before that battle. They'd been too tired and then it was hard to find the right mood with Maggie's soft tears renting the peaceful night. Tonight though, everything was quiet except for Beth's heavy breathing. Those tendrils of fire only Daryl could wake inside her were uncurling and flexing.
Daryl pulled away, running a tender hand up her neck and into her long golden hair. "I don't want to have a family with you," he said, meeting her eyes before dipping his head to capture her mouth with his in a fierce kiss. Beth's chest loosened with relief and happiness.
Daryl broke the kiss to clarify. "Not yet mind."
"Of course," Beth agreed with a nod, trying to steady her breath.
Daryl's smirk turned wicked. "But we could start practicing now."
AN: And we're done. I can scarcely believe it. I wanted to end this story with optimism because that's what I desperately want for these two. Thank you so much for coming on this journey with me. Your constant support and kindness have just made this such a wonderful experience. This story ends just as we're getting hope in canon and who would have believed it back when I first started writing these two. All my social media links are on my profile, don't be a stranger. For everyone who reviewed or followed, my sincerest thanks.