It was summer. The air was sticky with humidity and the sweetness of fresh fruit. It was Beth's favourite time of year. Her blond hair brightened in the consistent sunshine and her lean limbs took on a golden hue. It was all about barbeques and swimming and long rides through the countryside. Best of all, she wasn't the only child in the house. Her older siblings Shawn and Maggie had come back home from college. Her father was a kind, gentle soul and her step mother was the only mother she had ever known, coming into Beth's life when she was only a young child. Beth loved them dearly but she missed the hum and energy of the house when it was full.
"Beth, you lazy thing, quit texting and get down here and help with dinner." Maggie's voice rang up the stairs and Beth made a face at the wall even though Maggie couldn't see her. She stashed her phone which she had been using to text and ran down the stairs.
Maggie shot her a cheeky grin from the kitchen. Not seeing each other for most of the year, she managed to pack a lot of teasing into a few short months.
"You can't give me a hard time when Shawn has barely looked up from his phone," Beth griped good naturedly.
"Probably a girl," Maggie cooed.
A hand appeared on top of the couch and then a head popper up. "What'ya saying?" Shawn demanded, brown hair sticking up in different directions.
"Children, behave." The instruction drifted out of the kitchen along with the smells of a delicious roast meal.
"Yes, ma," the three of them chorused.
"I'm gonna go help before you two get me in trouble," Beth sniffed.
Maggie snorted and draped an arm around Beth's shoulder. "That's what we're supposed to do."
Shawn's cell beeped from the coffee table. The two girls laughed and Shawn blushed.
"Bethy, come take this to the table," Annette called. Beth poked her tongue out at her siblings before darting out of the room.
"How's that to behave now that you're eighteen?" Shawn questioned as she disappeared.
Annette brushed Beth's cheek as she entered the steamy kitchen. Beth inhaled the familiar scent of her home and moved easily around her mother. It was like a dance they had performed so often that they could do it blind folded. Even without looking they knew where the other one would be.
Beth heard the front door go and the heavy footsteps of her father. She heard mumbled conversation as he greeted the other two. Then he was in the kitchen.
"Hi daddy," Beth said.
"How are two of my favourite girls?" he asked, pressing a quick kiss to Beth's forehead before turning to embrace Annette.
"How did things got with Otis and Patricia?" Annette asked.
"Scarlet did just fine. They have a lovely, healthy foal."
Beth grinned at the idea of one more baby animal in the world. Her father tried to reach over Annette to pinch some of the potatoes but his hand was playfully slapped away.
"Alright," Annette called, "all hands on deck."
Everyone grabbed a plate and took it to the dining table.
They all held hands across the table for grace. "For what we're about to receive, may the Lord makes us truly grateful," Hershel said and then he looked around at his children. "And bless my family."
Shawn had his plate half loaded before Maggie and Beth had even dropped hands.
"Even if patience isn't one of their virtues," Hershel said dryly.
Beth stifled a giggle with her hands. She was looking forward to a relaxed summer with her family and friends. She had graduated from high school that year and college was the next step. She loved the small town of Senoia but she was looking forward to bigger and more exciting things. She had a boyfriend for the first time ever and she was looking forward to lazy days full of shy kisses.
She noticed her father was watching them all wistfully while Annette and Maggie discussed a book they'd both read. Beth curled her smaller hands around his large one.
"You ok, Daddy?"
Hershel smiled. "Just fine, sweetheart. Just thinking how nice this is."
"It's good to have everyone at the same table again," Beth agreed.
"What else could a man want but a simple life and a healthy family?"
Beth didn't know what had woken her but some instinct drove her upright in the middle of the night. A figure hovered over in the inky blackness of her room and Beth opened her mouth to scream. A hand covered her mouth.
"It's just me, Bethy. I need you to get up and stay calm." It was her father, speaking low and urgently.
"No time for questions." There was a cell phone in Hershel's hand and he pressed it to his ear. "I'm still here. Put me through to Grimes."
Her father was talking in a way she had never heard before, authoritative and terse.
Her mother appeared in the doorway with Maggie and Shawn, both of them in their pyjamas looking dazed but wearing shoes.
There were the sounds of cars outside and Hershel went very still. Annette's face was horrified and even though Beth didn't understand what was happening, she was terrified too.
"Grimes? It's too late. You're right, he's here. There's no time. I'll have to deal with this."
For the first time Beth noticed that there was a gun tucked into the waistband of his pants. It wasn't the shot gun he used around the farm to scare off predators. It was a sleek, modern thing.
"What's going on, Daddy?" Maggie asked, an edge in her voice.
Hershel grabbed Shawn and held his eyes. "You get your sisters upstairs in the attic. You pull the stairs up and don't come down until the police get here."
Shawn opened his mouth to ask questions but Hershel shouted, "Go!"
Shawn nodded and grabbed Maggie's wrist and gestured at Beth. "C'mon on Bethy, you heard dad."
Beth was rooted to the spot. She wanted to grab her parents and hold on to them. She had a terrible feeling and knew that if they stepped out the door then that would be it.
"I love you, darling but you have to go," Annette said, pushing Beth towards her brother, tears streaming down her face.
"No," Beth said finding her voice. "I don't want to leave you!"
"Shawn," Hershel roared. Strong arms wrapped around her waist and Beth was lifted off her feet. She was dragged up the stairs, gasping as she fought to get enough air to scream or cry.
Maggie helped carry her up the stairs and her shoulders were shaking too. Shawn pulled the stairs back up behind them and then all three rushed to the window.
There were three big black cars and all of them had lights shining on the house. A tall man got out of one of the cars. He looked strong and his stance was confident. His eyes ghosted over the house and when they landed on the attic window, Beth shrank away, even though he wouldn't be able to see them in the dark. From that distance Beth could still feel the icy coldness of his stare. She noted that he only had one eye, the other covered with a black patch. His coat billowed in the evening air and she saw a gun under the line of his jacket.
The man stopped looking up and Beth realised both her parents had come down the porch. Men swarmed them and they were pushed onto their knees. Maggie's hand closed around Beth's fingers, squeezing so tight that Beth knew her bones would be sliding together but she couldn't feel any pain.
Shawn's hand was pressed against the glass and he was mumbling, "No, no, no," over and over.
"What's he doing? Who is that?" Maggie asked hysterically.
Beth couldn't speak, she could only watch. Her mother had something clasped in her hand and Beth guessed it was her rosary beads. A single tear slipped down her face.
They were speaking down there but there was no way to hear what was being said. Beth was struggling to breathe as her pulse leapt wildly in her throat. The man pulled out a sword and a silence descended on the attic. Beth's skin felt icy.
"We have to do something," Shawn hissed, pushing to his feet.
Beth barely registered his words, her father was looking over his shoulder, seemingly gazing right into her eyes and keeping her in place. He smiled peacefully, the sword came down in a hard arch and Beth was screaming.
Shawn pounded his fist against the glass in fury and grief. Maggie shifted where she sat so her back was to the window and she curled up into a ball. Hershel's body fell to the side, head still grotesquely attached.
This time the man heard them and was unquestionably staring at the window. He took up a stance behind Beth's mother and the screams died on her lips. Her mother's head was bent over the beads in her hand and her mouth was moving fast, saying her final prayers.
The sword came down cleanly and just like that Beth was an orphan. She staggered away from the window, away from her siblings and threw up. Her last family dinner was now on the floor amongst the dust.
"We have to go," Shawn was saying. "We have to get out!"
His words resonated with Maggie after a few minutes of blankness. Her eyes drifted to Beth and her resolve came back. She pushed herself to her feet.
"We get out and make for the stable," Shawn kept planning. His eyes were red and shining with unshed tears. His next words were cut off by the sounds of sirens. Shawn raced back to the window.
"The police!" he exclaimed. Beth managed to stumble back to the window, feeling the whole word shifting back and forward under her feet. Shawn was exaggerating. It wasn't just the police; it was an army of cars, flashing lights and sirens.
The man with the eye patch glanced back up at the small attic window and grinned before getting into the cars and driving off.
Shawn gently tugged Beth to her feet, winding an arm around her waist. "It's alright, Bethy. It's going to be alright."
Beth wished she could believe him but how could anything be alright again when both her parents were dead on the front lawn, killed by a madman for a reason Beth couldn't even fathom.
Shawn helped Beth out of the attic and Maggie followed behind in a daze. Beth's cheeks were wet and she was aware she was crying.
They opened the front door and Beth had to turn into Shawn to shield her eyes from all the flashing lights. Police and men in black suits were everywhere. There were two men on the porch that turned as soon as the door opened. Both hands went to their guns until they got a good look.
"It's just the kids," the taller of the men noted. He had olive skin and a hard stare. The other man had a five o'clock shadow and sad eyes.
Beth could only spare them the briefest of glimpses, her eyes were all for the shapes on the grass that used to be her parents.
"Why don't we go inside and talk," Kind-eyes began.
"Who killed our parents?" Shawn interjected harshly. Beth heard the slight tremor in her brother's voice. His arm was still around her waist and it was as much for him as it was for her.
The two men exchanged glances. "I think it's best if we go inside and-"
"Who the fuck killed my mother and father?" Shawn roared. Beth flinched and everyone else stopped what they were doing to stare at the three of them. Maggie placed a calming hand on Shawn's shoulder.
Kind-eyes sighed. "That was one of the most wanted men in the world. A terrorist, calls himself the Governor."
Beth dragged her eyes away from her dead parents, attention caught by his words.
"That makes no sense," Maggie said slowly. "Why would he want... my father was a vet."
Another veiled look was swapped between the two men. "Not always," the dark one said and Kind-eyes glared.
"Once upon a time he used to work for us."
At some point Maggie had draped a blanket around her shoulders but Beth was still shivering. She was shivering and she couldn't stop. She was glad Shawn and Maggie were there because she couldn't force her mind to process what she was hearing. Her siblings were strong and sharp, dealing with their problems as they arose.
Agent Walsh and Agent Grimes, as they had identified themselves, sat on the couch across from her. Agent Grimes was constantly shooting concerned glances in her direction but Walsh was watching Shawn pace.
"What you're saying doesn't make any sense!"
Walsh's jaw clenched, he had the least patience of the two, but Grimes calmly asked, "Which part?"
"The part where my father was supposedly some spy."
"We prefer intelligence officers," Walsh offered.
"Who cares what you prefer? My parents are dead because of that asshole," Shawn shouted. Beth's throat felt tight but she was no longer crying. She didn't think she had any tears left in her body right now.
"Why would he want to kill my father and my mother?" Maggie asked in a more even voice.
"The Governor blames your father for the death of his wife and child. He led a raid against his compound, he escaped, they didn't," Grimes answered, leaning forward with his hands clasped. "Your father felt very guilty about the outcome. He left the organisation soon after."
"My father knew he was coming," Beth said quietly, speaking for the first time. "How?"
"We received a tip off he was back in the country. We thought it was impossible but on the off chance it was true we knew this would be his first target," Grimes explained.
"You'll get him right?" Maggie had her arms wrapped around her body.
"We'll do our best," Grimes said uneasily.
"Your best?" Shawn repeated incredulously.
"This isn't your normal criminal, kid. He's managed to elude us for over twenty years," Walsh said, fiddling with the strap of his watch. "But don't worry, we'll get you lot out of town-"
"Excuse me?" Maggie interrupted and Grimes shot his partner another glare.
"What we're trying to say is you can't stay here. He's going to want to finish the job," Grimes said slowly.
"I'm not going anywhere!" Shawn was obstinate but Beth could see the fear in his posture.
"We can keep you safe," Grimes promised.
"Who is 'we' anyway? I can't tell if you guys are FBI, Homeland Security or the CIA," Shawn snapped.
"That's need to know," Walsh deflected.
"It got our father killed; I think we need to know."
"You don't," Walsh disagreed casually.
"There's more," Grimes started, looking regretful. "You're best chance is going into witness protection. Separately."
Beth's head snapped up at that word and Maggie's hand appeared on her shoulder.
"Absolutely not," Shawn cried, standing in between the agents and his sisters.
"Look," Walsh said, shoving himself to his feet. "I had a lot of respect for you father and because of that I'm going to keep you alive. You don't believe anything else, believe that! And the best way to do that is to separate you three. You think he won't be looking for a group of people that fit your description."
Shawn slumped into a nearby chair. His hunched shoulders spoke of his defeat. "Beth's just eighteen. How can you ask me to let either of my sisters go."
Walsh crouched next to him. "It's not forever. It's just until we catch the son of a bitch."
Beth locked eyes with her brother across the room. She bit her trembling lip and nodded once. She wanted them to live just so that they could see justice for her parents.
Shawn sat back and ran a hand through his hair. "Ok," he consented simply.
The agents went into action then and Beth saw their efficiency and intelligence. It was consoling grieving children that was their weak spot. An officer came in and made them some tea with Maggie's help. Beth stared at her steaming mug and couldn't bring herself to touch it. The officer had made it in her mother's mug but they weren't to know that.
She caught snatches of conversation. Words like proximity and suitability were being thrown around. It hit her that they couldn't have a funeral. This mystery organisation would take possession of her parents' bodies and they'd just have to trust they'd be taken care of respectfully. The three of them would be on the run by the end of the night.
There was a light knock on the door and Grimes answered it. There was a serious looking Asian man in the entrance.
"Seriously?" Shawn scoffed. "He doesn't look old enough to shave."
"He's older than you," Walsh countered.
"Agent Rhee graduated top of his class," Grimes said. "He's more than capable."
The man's facial expression hadn't shifted despite Shawn's onslaught and Beth distantly wondered if they were chosen for their lack of emotion.
"Maggie, you can go with Agent Rhee."
As if on cue, the man stepped forward to hold his hand out to Maggie. She shook it tentatively.
"Call me Glenn," he said with a faint trace of an awkward smile. "I'm sorry for your loss."
"We'll have identifications and a cover story sent to your safe house," Walsh said and Beth realised with a wave of panic that Maggie was about to leave.
She got to her feet hurriedly and threw her arms around her big sister. Maggie affectionately tucked Beth's blond hair behind her ears. "You be strong, Bethy. It's gonna be just fine."
A strangled sob caught in Beth's throat as Shawn hugged Maggie next, whispering something furiously in her ear. Beth grabbed Shawn's hand as Maggie walked out the front door with one last lingering glance.
Beth's heart had never hurt so much in her life. She wasn't sure how people survived this kind of pain. In a few hours her family had been torn apart. She pressed her face into Shawn's chest and listened to his nonsense, soothing words.
Beth lost track of time. Maybe hours passed, maybe minutes but eventually another knock was heard and Beth's stomach dropped.
A blond woman in her early thirties was there and she spoke over the top of Walsh who had been about to introduce her. "My name's Andrea." Her gaze was understanding and it brought fresh tears to Beth's eyes.
Walsh clapped Shawn on the shoulder. "Your turn, buddy."
"I can't leave Beth," Shawn protested.
"Whether I am, I'll be part of the coordinating team for the Governor's apprehension," Andrea said. Shawn stiffened.
"Thought you'd be interested," Walsh observed.
"Can I wait for Beth to be picked up?"
Andrea's polite smile focused. "I'm very sorry but the sooner we go the better. We have a long way to travel."
Shawn's jaw clenched and Beth knew he was torn. He wanted to be involved in this search and they were offering him an opportunity to help but he was loath to abandon his little sister after they'd just endured such a tragedy.
"Go, Shawn. I'll be fine," Beth assured him. She straightened her back though it took every ounce of strength in her to stand tall.
"'Atta girl," Walsh said quietly and Beth knew he was complimenting her, not mocking her.
Shawn crushed her against him. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I love you so much, Beth. When this is all done. We'll come back here and we'll do right by them."
When Shawn disappeared, Beth's legs gave out. Grimes caught her elbow and eased her down to sit. She had no idea if she would even survive, let alone whether she would see her siblings ever again. She was too numb and empty to cry now.
The agents backed up to give her some time. After staring at the wall absently for too long, Beth came aware of an argument.
"He's the only choice."
"He's undercover, he can't do both assignments."
Beth's ears pricked.
"He's not even suitable for the job, you know how I feel about him."
"And you know I disagree. If you can think of a better option than I'm all ears," Grimes hissed.
There was a dip in the couch as Grimes cautiously sat next to her.
"How are you holding up?"
Beth couldn't answer that question.
"Guess that was a stupid thing to ask. It's been a horrible night for you," Grimes mumbled.
"Having trouble finding someone to babysit me?" Beth asked flatly.
"I think we'll be ok," Grimes decided.
"I can't believe I never knew," Beth lamented, words slipping out without any thought.
"He saved lives. He was a good man. If he didn't tell you, it was to protect you."
"It didn't work though. My parents are-" Beth swallowed, "-dead. My parents are dead and my brother and sister are going god knows where."
"You'll just have to pray everything will work out."
Beth's throat felt like sandpaper, raw from violent weeping. "I don't very much feel like praying anymore."
Her parents had both prayed and it hadn't saved them.
There was a sudden movement and her hand was suddenly pressed between Grimes' hands. They were cool and dry, nothing like her clammy, hot palms.
"I know you only just met me and have no reason to trust me but we will find him. You will be reunited with your brother and sister. You just have to be strong."
"I don't know if I am." Beth felt pathetic.
A crocked grin crossed Grimes face. "I knew your father and it's impossible you are anything but strong, Beth Greene."
Beth didn't know this man but she let him hold her hand and say those comforting words because she needed something solid to cling to and Grimes was talking like a sane person in a world gone mad. Beth didn't know if she had the same kind of fire or spirit Shawn and Maggie had but she had a quiet resolve and patient soul. She couldn't predict the future but she hoped she wouldn't falter.
"Thank you, Agent Grimes." Beth was sincere. She had needed those kind words.
"Call me Rick," he offered.
The door opened quickly and Beth's heart pounded again, thinking it was her new protector and guardian.
Walsh stood there, obviously put out. His cell phone was in his hand. He tossed it to Rick who caught it deftly.
"You win. Call Dixon."
AN: A lot of the inspirations for this story are pretty obvious but the real clincher was Zach's guessing game about Daryl's occupation. Had me thinking, what if? Not all chapters are going to be this long but I thought it was a comprehensive introduction. Please let me know what you think.