Disclaimer: I own nothing related to the Walking Dead.
Author's Note: Full-length 'Deth' fic. And I expect to be a long one. Season 2 AU, and hopefully different from anything you've read for these two. I expect to keep a weekly update schedule, but you never know. I'll certainly try to stick to it. Beth is a little out of character here, but it's an AU story, so give it a try. The title is from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song of the same name, from their 1969 album "Bayou Country".
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Up in her bedroom of her family's farmhouse, Beth Greene sat on her comfortable bed, staring at her hands. If anyone happened to stop in and look closely, though, they might notice the glazed, far off look in her eyes and realize that she wasn't seeing her slender, pale hands at all- but a gruesome scene that had played out not an hour before. Beth could still vividly feel the Georgia sun beating down on her, the baked dirt surrounding the white, slightly peeling barn. And the barn itself- for months they'd told her not to go inside. Don't even look. And Beth was a good girl, she listened to her daddy and didn't question him when he gave instructions.
Now, as she sat there, fingers twisting against themselves, she wondered. About what would have happened if she hadn't listened. Maybe even worse about if that man with the strange group hadn't broken the padlock and set loose what her daddy had been hiding.
The dead burst out in a drove, at least twenty of them. Beth barely took notice of decaying neighbors, rotted strangers- a snarling, limping figure draped in a white nightgown had her undivided attention, and then yet another in his bib overalls. Something inside of Beth died in that very moment, and her vision had dimmed but she didn't hit the scorched dirt like her daddy did.
Beth had never truly seen one of them up close. Walkers, Rick's group called them. From a distance they just seemed disgusting, but up close like they were indescribable. Beth had been terrified. When one of the men from the group, Daryl she thought his name was, had blown her dead mother's face apart, the fear that had been flooding through Beth had been sucked away. She was left feeling weightless. Not the good kind of weightless- not Jimmy kissing her behind the house, or early birthday mornings, not that kind. But like if someone lifted her off the ground, she'd keep going. She'd just float right away, up into the burning sun. After it was over, after all of the walkers were dead and while Carol was sobbing over her daughter's rotted body, someone had brought Beth back to the house, had led her by the hand to this very room. If asked, Beth couldn't name who'd done it- maybe Maggie, or Jimmy, or even Lori or Andrea. It didn't matter anyway. She was alone now. Maybe not completely alone, but her thoughts really weren't comforting company.
She remembered back when all of this started, when words like virus and pandemic were being thrown around. Daddy said that people were sick. That the only reason they were dangerous was that they didn't really know what they were doing, those people. A fever had made them delirious, and Beth needed to stay safe. Stay at the farm, and away from anyone who was sick, because she might catch it too. Of course she believed him. Her daddy was a doctor, of sorts- maybe he didn't treat people, but people were just another kind of animal, weren't they? When her momma and brother took sick, though, and daddy took them away- "To see real professionals, Bethy. Get 'em some help."- Beth had felt a small twinge of doubt, and hated herself for it. Her daddy came back alone and held both Beth and Maggie when he told them that neither of them had made it, but not to worry. Their momma and Shawn were with God now, he told them, that they weren't among the sick shuffling around, wasting away to bones.
He'd lied and Beth felt a rush of anger chase away all that numbness. Her daddy had looked into her eyes, and lied, had kept up the lie for months. And why? Because she was still considered a child? Because she was too fragile, too naive? Neither Maggie or Jimmy had seemed particularly surprised over what came stumbling out of that barn, or over her daddy being so protective of it. Beth wondered if Patrica knew the truth as well, maybe even Otis before he'd died.
Hands stopped their twisting and clenched into small fists. Beth felt like an idiot. Everyone but her had known the truth. That those people weren't just sick. They were dead. Shane had proved that to her, shooting that woman her daddy had restrained in the heart, in the lungs. And her momma and brother had been among them, right under her nose, this entire time. All of them- daddy, Maggie, every one- had let them rot and fester and hadn't done a thing to help them, not really. What happened to mercy? That would have been putting them down, like she'd seen her daddy and Otis do to more animals than she could remember just then. Rick, Andrea and the others had done the real service- even Shane, unstable as he was, had a point that Beth seemed to identify with, as much as it shocked her. She knew that Daryl had shot her momma, but she couldn't help wondering who had put Shawn down.
She'd always been a good girl, went to school, to church, minded her parents, helped out around the farm. Never going to parties, or going further with a boy than kissing because she'd believe in the sanctity of marriage. It all seemed so ridiculous now. Those people that she'd held in such high regard, who she'd set her moral compass by, they were liars. Her daddy, Maggie- only her momma and Shawn remained untouched, and she had to believe that they at least would have told her the truth. About what was really going on, about what had been locked in the barn. Beth thought about how her momma must have known the truth before she got sick- no, before she died- but she couldn't handle being kept in the dark by everyone she'd loved. And her momma was dead- daddy had always told them never to speak ill of the dead.
How could he seem so unshaken in his faith, knowing the truth all of these months? The image of his calm face telling her not to worry about anything popped into her mind, along with a dozen others; daddy reading to her from his bible with its worn cover and slightly fraying pages; going out on 'runs' with Otis and Jimmy, collecting walkers to stash in the barn; speaking to her in that magnanimous voice, reminding her to say her prayers and thank God for all that she had been blessed with. Beth had to wonder if he had truly believed every piece of garbage came from his mouth, or if they had been bold faced lies as well.
The more she sat there, fists shaking and bile churning in her gut, the more the thoughts fanned the flames of her anger. Doubts and betrayal and rage were slamming into her very soul (did she even have one, or had that been a lie too?) and Beth couldn't handle it. She couldn't handle what was coursing through her, couldn't handle the thought of having to look into their faces and knowing that they didn't see her as more than a small, stupid child- only to be protected, never trusted.
In his tent removed from the rest of them, Daryl sat with his head low. The others hadn't noticed his absence yet and it hardly surprised him- he didn't belong there with them. He'd never really belonged anywhere.
No matter how hard he tried, Daryl couldn't shake the image of that little girl stumbling from the barn. His failure had slammed into him the very second he'd seen her, along with the familiar white hot rush of anger. She'd been there the entire time, dead, while he'd nearly killed himself trying to find her, spouting off at the mouth about stupid flowers and legends to the girl's mother. The one he'd had to hold back while she watched Rick put a bullet in her daughter's head.
He shook himself, sucking back all of that emotion, and set to straightening his bed roll. Daryl felt bone-weary, nearly dead himself. He settled under his poncho for a few hours of shut-eye and couldn't have been out for more than a few minutes before someone was shaking him awake. When he saw Rick standing above him, Daryl's first thought was 'I didn't do it,' before that ingrained reaction faded to irritation.
"Can you come on out here? We need to- just come on. Please." Rick ducked out of the tent and Daryl thought about throwing one of his boots at the cop's head, but resisted. Wrapping himself in his poncho like a blanket, Daryl followed Rick out and found the Greene family, most of them, standing there, along with Rick and Lori. Really it was just the oldest girl and that boy, Jimmy, with the stupid hat. Hershel and the younger girl were no where to be seen.
"Whattya want?" It was hard for him not to fidget under so many sets of eyes.
The Greene girl, Maggie, he remembered, stepped forward, eyes that matched her surname blazing. "Beth's gone."
Beth was the young one. Blond, small, Jimmy's whatever. "And?"
The little boy, Jimmy, looked like he was on the very edges of a fraying temper but Rick spoke up before he could lose it. "From the looks of things she packed a bag and took off in the woods. We don't know when, or why, what with everything that- that happened, but-"
"Girl's gone, got it. What's it got to do with me?"
"You're one of us. A-" Lori began, but Daryl cut her off.
"Cut the shit. What do you want?"
"We need you to find her," Maggie said, coming even closer, grasping his bicep through the rough material of his poncho. Disbelieve tore through him- after what just happened, after he almost died looking for the last lost little girl, they would ask him to do this? "Please, Daryl." Maggie squeezed his arm in her desperation, but he just stared at her hand until she let go.
"Beth doesn't know how to fight," Jimmy said, putting an arm around Maggie's shoulders when she moved away from Daryl. "Or hunt. She's wandering around out there with just the knife I gave her-"
"Then she's probably dead already." The blunt statement from Daryl drew different reactions from all of them. Rick's tired face held a certain amount of agreement; Maggie's eyes filled with tears and she looked on the verge of breaking completely; Lori's expression was close to the same one her husband wore, only there was sadness etched in the lines of her face; and Jimmy, the kid with the stupid hat, was very close to losing his temper. Daryl could tell that the kid was worried about the girl, who Jimmy saw as someone he needed to protect- Jimmy saw her as helpless.
"I know I shouldn't ask, especially after Sophia-"
"Then don't," Daryl cut Rick off, and the man met his hard stare. Whatever Rick saw there had him nodding slowly. Rick put an arm around Lori and they began walking back to the house, Jimmy following after sending a hot glare at Daryl. Only Maggie stayed. She had her arms folded across her stomach, like she had an ache after eating too much.
"One of the walkers out there today was Beth's momma. Another was her brother Shawn." Maggie paused, choked on a small breath. "You gotta know that before today, Beth had never really seen one of 'em. Not up close anyway. We always kept her away from it. She was just so innocent. We didn't want to..." she trialed off, and Daryl thought that maybe she didn't know what she wanted for her sister now, except to have her back.
Daryl eyed the girl, bringing his poncho tighter around his bare torso. Maggie had always seemed bold and unapologetic to him. It gave a funny twinge of pity in his chest to see her like this. She may have said Beth's momma, but Daryl could hear the words underneath. It'd been Maggie's momma too, maybe not by blood, but Maggie had loved her just the same. The girl standing in front of him had seen her momma shot, by Daryl himself, he remembered, her step-brother too. Her daddy had run off while they were still dragging twice-dead walker bodies away, and her sister had too.
"We shoulda trained her, trusted her. But hindsight, you know?" When she looked at Daryl her green eyes were luminous with tears and pity began to turn to planning. He'd gotten to know these woods pretty well looking for Sophia, maybe he could find this girl and bring her back to what was left of her family. Then he shook himself, told himself to stick to his damn guns. This wasn't his problem.
"She's out there and it's starting to get dark. Beth doesn't know what it's like out there, how bad the world's gotten. Please, Daryl. Find my sister." Maggie's hands grasped her worn thin shirt, balled her fists in it. The sun was in fact setting just behind her, blue sky washing in pink and orange and Daryl knew his mind was already made up.
He bobbed his head, looking away from her. One of Daryl's big weaknesses was his inability to say no to a crying woman and damn it if it wasn't going to get him into trouble again. His bare feet curled in the dry grass and he nodded again.
"Alright, girl. Quit your carrying on. I'll go, but it'll have to be in the morning. Won't be able to track shit in the dark."
Maggie rushed toward him. Daryl barely suppressed a flinch and tried his damnedest to relax under her hug, but when she let go his muscles were still bunched with tension.
"Thank you," Maggie said fervently, hands still on his shoulders. "Is there anything you need to take with you? Anything I can get you? What can I do to help?"
Daryl felt himself blushing and he twitched his poncho higher, subtly removing her hands from him. "Some food, s'all. Stuff that won't turn quick. Don't imagine it'll take too long to find her, but," he shrugged. "Never know."
"I'll leave some outside your tent just before dawn."
He bobbed his head again and watched as she ran off, before ducking back inside his tent. Daryl could hear Merle's voice in his head, calling him a damn fool. He couldn't help but agree.