Beth's hands shook as she poured Candy a glass of wine. It was the first time in years that the Greene house hadn't been completely dry. She hadn't wanted any alcohol there for the funeral but as Shane had pointed out with detached pragmatism, drunk attendees caused a lot of chaos. Easier to lose three siblings in a revelling hoard than in a stiff, reserved group mourners.
A large portion of white wine slid down the side, making her fingers slippery against the glass she was holding.
"Careful. No wasting!" Candy tutted at her and relieved it from Beth's grasp. They were pressed into the corner of the room. People were milling around them, telling stories about her parents and paying them no mind. Even Candy wasn't drawing the attention she had when she'd first walked in.
Pete was the closest and he had been cornered by one of Maggie's friends; far too handsome in that suit to be left alone long. He was engaging her politely but his eyes scanned the crowd regularly. He had angled himself so he was close to Shawn, who was shaking hands with some of the partitioners from the church they had attended as a family.
Beth was alone with Candy, who was taking a ginger sip of her drink. Beth didn't like the way she was casting her gaze around. Her fingers were gripping just a little bit too tightly.
"Not a great vintage," Candy observed, her tone light. Her eyes flicked around once more and Beth realised she was stalling. Buying herself time. But for what, Beth couldn't begin to guess.
"Not a lot of options at the local store," Beth replied. She looked at Candy intently. She was nervous! If Candy was worried, that was a bad sign.
"Could have ordered out," Candy suggested.
"Why are you here, Candy?" Beth asked, suddenly very weary with this charade. They didn't have time for this type of bullshit, so she took a leaf out of Daryl's book. Be direct and hope it got you further than veiled inference.
Candy's expression cooled. "To help." More cryptic answers.
Candy gave an elegant half-shrug and leaned closer.
"This plan won't work," she all but breathed in Beth's ear.
Beth tugged away sharply but Candy's fingers curled around her wrist. Her red nails bit into Beth's pale skin. They were sharp enough to hurt but the urgency with which Candy clutched her indicated that she was afraid and not trying to deliberately injure Beth.
"It has to." Beth's response was knee-jerk.
"I risked a lot to come here," Candy said slowly.
"To tell me that my one hope of being free will be a failure?"
Candy's lips twisted in sympathy. "Not all news is good news, I'm afraid."
"Was that everything?" Beth wanted to get away from Candy. There was something in the steady way she was staring at Beth that said she believed what she had said.
"He's too smart to fall for this. You'll need a better plan."
"We all have to make sacrifices for what we want. You have to decide what is more valuable. Living out your dream romance or your family."
Beth felt frozen for a second as Candy's words washed over her.
"My parents have already sacrificed themselves." She all but spat the words at Candy. It earned some looks from people closer by but she hadn't raised her volume loud enough to get the undue notice of her protectors.
"Your father paid the price for his past. What price will you pay, Beth Greene?"
Beth swallowed twice before she could answer Candy. Her heart was thudding against her chest.
"What are you suggesting?"
"I'm not suggesting anything more than this sham won't fool him for a second. I can only tell you what I know. He has a twisted sense of justice. He thinks your father stole his wife and daughter. He's just trying to break even. One daughter for another."
Beth's skin was crawling now. There was something frighteningly logical about what Candy was saying.
The Governor had eluded capture for years. Decades even. This might go on forever. Beth would always be hunted! Her life, Daryl's, her siblings' life, always at risk.
Beth wasn't a hero and what she was considering scared her so deeply her bones ached.
"If it's any consolation, if I could think of a better solution, I'd offer it." Candy's hand loosened on her wrist.
"I don't want to die." The words stuttered across her lips. Vulnerable and raw. Beth felt like a small child in the midst of a nightmare.
Candy met her stare evenly. "We all die."
Beth's eyes burned hot with sudden tears. She rubbed them away with the back of her hand. It was all just impossibly unfair. She had fought and bled and hurt, hoping that one day it would all mean something. And now she was being told the only way out was for her to give up everything she loved. Give up herself.
But what would it buy? Her family would live, they would make their way through this world and they would find a way to be happy.
And Daryl. Her knees almost buckled. Of the three people she loved most, his fate was the one that was uncertain. Would he be able to put back the pieces of himself after her death shattered them to wind?
She didn't know but he had to be alive to try.
"How do I contact him?" Beth was pleased that her question didn't shake. If this was her end then she was going to hold on to her dignity and pride for as long as she was able.
Candy passed her a mobile. "Let's go make a deal with the devil."
Daryl felt the ground under his feet and the wind on his face. Dusk was not far away. The light had faded slightly but Daryl would have known anyway. He felt in tune with his environment. When he breathed, the woods breathed with him. The pulse of the earth matched the one his chest.
Every one of his nerves vibrated, his body locked into a defensive mode that would only ease at the resolution of this disaster.
He wasn't alone out here. The other agents were exceptionally well trained. They could become ghosts when they wanted to but there wasn't much Daryl couldn't see.
Daryl disregarded a footprint. He knew the step, print and weight. Not a threat.
He was getting further and further away from the house, casting ever wider circles and somehow still managing to blend into the scenery.
Leaving Beth behind without him was a display of significant trust; something he'd been in short supply of until recently. For too long, everyone that wanted to know him also wanted something from him. Until Beth. Sure she'd needed something from him as well but she wanted him just as he was.
His thoughts of Beth were disrupted. New footsteps. The problem with the wider circles was that it was taking him longer to do a full lap. These were smaller and lighter than anything he'd seen before.
He briefly entertained the thought that it might be Michonne or Andrea but they had been closer to the house and each wearing boots.
Daryl ran a hand through his hair, suddenly perplexed. He followed the tracks further. They were hard to follow even for him. The tread was cautious and each step seemed considered. Like they were trying to avoid being followed.
Daryl straightened abruptly. Conversations he'd had in a bed, all tangled up in sheets, came flooding back. Conversations he'd had with Beth. His pace quickened. The earie calm he'd manage to hold onto was leaking away.
Daryl, who could hunt for days at a time, was suddenly breathless. His chest was tight. There were car tracks now. Two big cars that had approached slowly enough but had torn out of there. And the end of those light footsteps.
Daryl stared at the evidence. With numb fingers he groped for his radio to call for backup. His mobile came out with it, which he'd diligently switched to silent. One missed call.
The hair on the back of his neck stood on end as Beth's name filled his vision. With trembling fingers he accessed the voicemail that had been left.
For a few long moment there was only silence and Daryl briefly hoped that she had dialled him by accident.
"Hi." It was soft. A single word in a sea of anxiety. Daryl's hope was quickly extinguished.
"I was hoping you'd pick up but maybe this is better?" Daryl's fingers tightened around the phone, the plastic cutting into the palm of his hand.
"Do you think we can get punished for other people's sins?" The question was so unexpected that Daryl's forehead furrowed. Who was this person on the other end of the phone?
"He lost his wife and daughter. Why should one daughter live and another die? I think maybe the universe has a kind of twisted sense balance."
There was a shaky, harsh inhalation that tore through Daryl like a knife.
"Will you look after Maggie and Shawn? I think they'll need it for a while. But look after you too. I don't want you to carry this on your shoulders. You're not responsible for my decisions and if it weren't for you I would have been killed months ago. And remember I love you. That you're worthy of love and happiness. You'll find someone. Someone who sees what I see in you."
Daryl squeezed his eyes shut. His agony was a physical pain coursing through his body like acid. He had never felt a pain like this. Didn't know how he was still standing. Beth was sobbing now. Had been sobbing. How long ago had she left this message? How much time had passed since she'd spoken her suicide note into his phone?
"I love y-"
Daryl hung up the phone mid-sentence. Fury and despair battled inside him. Beth wasn't dead. Not yet. He had to save her or he would be listening to the message on repeat for the rest of his life.
He quickly dialled another number. "Rick, we have a problem."
Beth had been blindfolded. She could only hazard a guess where they were headed. Away from the house that was all she knew for certain.
The Governor hadn't come to collect her personally. Still wary of a trap but he hadn't been able to resist sending someone. The offer was too good. He got the youngest and sweetest of the siblings. But not without conditions. Her family and friends were to be left alone. With this offering, his vendetta with her father would be satisfied.
There was one other condition that she had arranged on Candy's advice. It was a suggestion that almost made Beth lose her will to follow through but she'd done it.
It had to be quick.
She wasn't for playing with. He had to give her a merciful death.
Her heartbeat was so strong Beth half imagined she could hear it. Her throat was raw from crying. That message to Daryl had been the end of her composure. Her eyes were still red rimmed but there were no sign of her tears when she had met with the Governor's envoy.
After what could have been hours or minutes, the car started to slow. Beth was eased out of the vehicle and the blindfold was removed. It was a hazy orange sky. So they'd been travelling for just over an hour then. Panic surged in her like a caged bird but with an effort, Beth kept it controlled.
There was a house up ahead. It looked like any other farmhouse you'd find in the area. Secluded, old and not at all fancy but this house was where Beth had organised her death to take place.
The door swung open and suddenly he was in front of her. She hadn't seen him since he had stolen her parents' lives. It was a very mundane entrance after all the hell he'd put her through. She expect to feel a wave of fear upon seeing him but it was replaced by anger and disgust. No loss justified what he'd become. And by all accounts he was a pretty disgraceful person beforehand.
Beth squared her shoulders and lifted her chin.
"Welcome, Beth. You're the guest of honour." His tone was hospitable and sickly jovial.
Beth wanted to scream at him. To shout abuse at this man who greeted her like a valued guest. Part of her even wanted to tell him to get on with it. But she held her tongue.
"It's polite to offer guests a refreshment," she said instead.
Beth saw a flicker of something dangerous in his warm amber eyes. But it was washed away with more pleasantness. She wondered if this was what madness looked like.
"You're right, I've forgotten myself. Come in, come in," he waved her towards the house.
She took a hesitant step and prayed fear wouldn't cause her to stumble. Her wrists were unbound. After all, she had come here willingly. The armed men around her made no move to stop her progression so she followed him forward.
She needed to keep her head. She needed to buy time. Beth rubbed her wrists and prayed with all her might that they wouldn't find the tracking device under her skin.
Beth told Daryl she loved him twice wishing she could have heard him say it back to her. It was for the best. He would have tried to stop her. She wanted to say it a million more times. One time for every day he'd be without her. She never got the chance. Candy snatched the phone out of her hand and hung up.
"I wasn't finished, I wasn't ready" Beth protested. Which was a silly thing to say because when would she ever be ready to say goodbye to Daryl?
"Shut up, Beth," Candy told her curtly. All of her empathetic softness vanished. "We don't have a lot of time."
She was rummaging in the small purse she'd bought with her.
"What are you doing?" Beth demanded.
"Last time you helped, I made a deal to trade my life for my loved ones."
"Yes," Candy agreed. "And it was good advice too."
Beth blinked at the woman. "Don't take this the wrong way Candy but I don't want to spend my last night on earth fighting with you."
Without looking up Candy said, "I'm trying to save your life. Ah got it!"
Candy pulled out a scary looking syringe and Beth winced. "What's that for?"
"Tracking you. I wasn't wrong when I said he wouldn't be lured by the funeral but the idea wasn't bad in of itself. You do need bait. But better bait!"
Beth was too dumbfounded to protest when her arm was jerked unceremoniously towards Candy.
"This will hurt," Candy explained before the needle sunk into her skin.
"Fuck!" Beth snapped, unable to hold back the expletive.
"There. That's high grade. Should be able to avoid detection if they scan you."
"Why didn't you tell me if this was the plan all along?" Beth snapped as she ran her fingers through the tiny droplet of blood.
"Because Beth Greene, you can't act for shit. To make him believe that you were willing to die, you had to actually be willing to die."
Beth's world spun on its axis. She wasn't being sent off to die?
"Don't look like that," Candy cautioned. "You still might."
"But I have a chance. I can fight!" Beth hissed leaning forward. This changed everything.
Candy was tapping away on her phone now. "You have to go soon. They'll figure it out quickly and who knows how long before your lover checks his messages."
"You'll let them know though right?"
Candy regarded her seriously. "As soon as they've got you. We have to get you to the Governor or there will be no point in any of it."
"What about your sister?"
"We'll be ok. She is a good person, she wouldn't want me letting you die."
There was a brief silence as Candy continued to arrange whatever it was she was arranging. Beth was going to have to trust her.
"I can too act. I fooled everyone that I was Daryl's girlfriend," she said unexpectedly.
Candy's expression was exasperated. "Honey, you were his girlfriend."
Beth breathed out slowly. She couldn't act relieved otherwise they'd know she was hiding something. They had barely scanned past her forearms which meant the device went undetected.
Her wrist felt heavy and she hoped Candy had spoken to the right people about what had happened.
She was led further into the house. There was a fire burning in one of the large rooms. It was past the heady middle of summer but still far too warm to justify a fire. It was pretentious and Beth had a new understanding of the man who called himself 'The Governor.' He was a fake and theatrical person but that didn't make him any less likely to steal her life.
She resisted the urge to touch her wrist again. It was like a game of poker and she couldn't show her hand too early. She had to survive.
There was a photo frame on the mantle behind him. Three smiling faces beamed back at her.
"Drink?" The Governor asked, interrupting Beth's thoughts. She was looking at his dead wife and child; that she was certain of. Dead because of her father, maybe, but more dead because this man in front of Beth had chosen a life of terror and evil.
"Yes please," Beth accepted politely. She needed a clear head but perhaps a drink would calm her. Help her wait out the clock.
He poured a finger of golden liquid into a glass and passed it to Beth.
"Thank you," she murmured. It was probably too much to hope for that manners would keep her alive but it didn't hurt to try.
He turned to face her, sizing her up.
"You look younger than I thought you'd be," he assessed confidently.
"I'm a grown woman," Beth replied evenly. She managed the smallest sip from the beverage. It tasted like bitter honey and almost choked her as she swallowed.
"And a brave one. You're more honourable than your father was. He could have prevented this from the start." Some of his civility was slipping.
"I'm sorry for what you lost," Beth said quietly. She was planning on avoiding discussing his wife and daughter but since he'd bought it up, she figured it was fair game.
The Governor grimaced and the play of fire across his features made him look like a monster. Beth took an involuntary step backwards. He was wrong if he thought she was brave. She was very afraid and desperate. Desperate not too leave everything a bloody ruin around her. Beth felt cold despite the fire.
"Sorry doesn't bring back the dead unfortunately."
Beth couldn't dispute that logic. She realised she would have had no chance reasoning with him. He'd had decades to stew on his loses and decided that his course of action was righteous.
"You took something from me too," Beth spat out.
"I meant to," he agreed nonchalantly. "It was mine to take."
"And now you'll take my life too?"
Beth clenched her fists, wishing she could run or fight. Instead she stayed where she was.
"If your father had faced his punishment like a man we wouldn't be here."
"Someone would say the same about you," Beth pointed out taking another mouthful of the liquor. She marvelled at her courage.
The Governor pinned her with those dark brown eyes which were quickly losing their light. They were dead like a sharks.
"Brave but perhaps not so smart."
"What do I have to lose?" Beth confronted him. "You're already planning on killing me."
"I could make it slow," he suggested.
Candy's words about his sense of justice filtered through her head. "That's not what we agreed."
"Very true, Miss Greene. And in the spirit of this agreement, shall I kill you now or would you like to finish your drink?"
"I'll finish my drink, thanks very much."
Daryl drove with the fury of a demon. There were three cars behind him. He wasn't sure who was following him and didn't much care if anyone was coming. He would destroy everyone who got between him and Beth single handily if he had to.
"You wanna turn left up here," a voice in his ear instructed. He obeyed and in his mirrors watched the convoy follow his lead.
It had felt like years since he'd realised Beth had left with a death wish but it had been less than an hour.
He had been racing back to the house, distraught and at a loss when his phone had rung again. He almost hadn't answered it when he saw it wasn't Beth admitting her mistake. He had and never been so grateful.
"Some rude British lady gave me an access password for a pretty nifty tracking device," Tara explained over the phone without preamble. "I think you need to know what I'm seeing."
Beth wasn't lost to him, not yet. It had taken mere moments to rally people, abandoning the mourners that had been clogging up the house. Daryl had sprinted for his bike after plugging a little speaker into his ear so that Tara could give him instructions.
He only had to get there in time.
Beth was led outside. The night was silent and her fingers were trembling all over again. No one had come yet and she couldn't stall any longer.
The dark woods encroached on the clearing. They weren't far away. She could make a break for them if she tried.
Her compliance had lulled them into false sense of security. Only one person was escorting her to her designated execution spot.
He had a gun and was three times her size but Beth was out of options. She waited for him to fall in step with her before driving a sharp elbow into his gut. She drove the breath out of him, capitalising on the element of surprise. She didn't hesitate, she took off across the grass. People were shouting and Beth half wondered why they hadn't just shot her across the lawn. Too impersonal probably.
Footsteps thundered behind her and she kept her pace. She was so close to the line of trees now. If she just made it there, she could vanish amongst the dense woods. Only Daryl would be able to find her.
A weight drove her to her knees. She released an involuntary scream as a full grown male took her down.
"You little bitch," an insidiously familiar voice hissed in her ear.
Beth thrashed on the ground, trying to shift the Governor off. He had the upper hand and the physical advantage.
"I should have known you were just like your father!"
Violence was erupting around her. There were more shouts and gunshots. The cavalry was here. Beth had waited to die just long enough for it to be witnessed by Daryl.
The thought of her lover was enough to drive new life into her. She screamed and hollered and scratched. She managed to get one hand free and raked it down the Governor's face. He gave a cry of pain and fell back a little bit. In the heat of the moment, Beth had clawed at one of his eyes. There was blood pouring down his face as he clutched at his head. She didn't think she'd blinded him but it would be enough to get away.
Beth wriggled out and away. Adrenaline had taken over and she struggled to get her legs under her.
"You bitch!" he screamed again and there was the whistling of a bullet past her shoulder. Beth stumbled and looked behind her. It was a stupid thing to do.
A barrel of a gun was levelled at her chest. She sucked in a breath and summoned up a picture of her family in her head.
The shot never came. The Governor was tackled to the ground. His attacker was swearing profusely and Beth would recognise that voice anywhere.
Daryl. He'd saved her.
The Governor might have found her an easy target but not Daryl. He was strong and trained. More importantly, he was mad.
Daryl almost had him under control when Beth spotted a glint of metal. The Governor had a knife. Beth almost flew to cover the distance. She leapt on his arm with complete disregard for her own safety and felt a sharp pain in her thigh. The knife had met a target but it wasn't Daryl.
Daryl punched him sharply in the face several times before pulling his own gun. Beth still had her body on the Governor's arm, restricting his ability to fight back.
"No!" she shrieked, flinging her hand up to stop Daryl killing him. "Don't."
For a second she thought he'd do it anyway but the sound of her voice cut through his haze. "Why?" Daryl rasped.
"He should go to jail. We don't kill people. We're good." Beth's reasons came out a tumbled mess but he understood.
Daryl nodded brusquely and then hit the Governor once more. A heavy elbow across the face. It knocked the other man out and he slumped under the pair of them.
With the threat neutralised, the pain in her leg magnified. Daryl was hauling her up and away as agents swarmed around the unconscious Governor.
Daryl was yelling for help but Beth was fixated on being alive and being in his arms. There was blood pouring out of her, hot and fast but she was still happy. It was going to be alright. Beth sagged against Daryl, her head drooping as black encroached on her vision.
Daryl was watching Beth's face intently. Her eyes were closed and her face was peaceful.
As if she sensed him hovering near her, her eyelashes fluttered before one eye cracked open. He saw her adjust to being awake, slowly blinking. Then she focused on him and a smile bloomed across her face that ignited a burst of warmth inside.
The sunlight was streaming in and they were both tangled in the sheets of his bed. It had been six months since the Governor had been caught and thrown in a deep, well-guarded prison. He had been wanted in over a dozen countries and there was no shortage of maximum security prisons to house him.
"How long do you think you'll watch me sleep?" Beth mumbled, running fingers through tangled hair. It had been only last night that he'd had his own fingers entwined in the mass of blond locks as she kissed her way down his chest.
She stretched lazily ensuring most of the sheets fell away and giving him a more complete view of her body. As she pulled herself taut, last night flashed vividly in his mind. His eyes were drawn to the long scar that ran atop her thigh and though he could have touched any part of her, and likely would later, he traced delicate fingers down the length of the old wound.
Beth raised a questioning eyebrow.
"You're beautiful," Daryl responded to her unasked query. It was just another bit of proof that she was a survivor.
She pressed a palm against his cheek and blushed prettily. "You say that a lot."
"Get used to it, Greene," Daryl informed her before ducking his head to kiss her.
Even now she still gasped when his lips pressed to hers. She clutched at him and pulled him tight against her. He wanted to make her moan and writhe against him much like he had done last night with his head between her thighs. It had become his addiction and was steadily getting worse.
"We don't have time," Beth breathed against his skin. He ignored her, his hand ghosting across her stomach and lower.
"Then we'll be late."
They were late. The flush of colour still stained Beth's cheeks and she couldn't wipe the smile off her face even as Karen smirked knowingly at her.
She enfolded Beth into her arms and hugged her hello. They had relocated to a smaller house in Atlanta. While Martinez had managed to earn his way out of jail, a lot of their assets had been seized and Martinez, Pete and Merle had all been sentenced to a few years of community service. Beth suspected the Organisation had been pretty heavily involved, though she'd had a lot less to do with them these days.
Shawn had been taken on and was working as recruit. He was in an unknown part of America but he called Beth every Saturday morning and they'd talk for an hour about their lives, about their parents and what they'd been through. They'd rehired Glenn too and given him an analytical post in Denmark. Maggie had gone with him with no plans beyond seeing another part of the world. She called pretty regularly too. She'd learnt Danish quickly but didn't like the cold. When Rick had visited for a conference she had not so subtly suggested Spain as the next destination.
Daryl had said thanks but no when they'd extended a similar offer to him. He was working as a mechanic though he'd had enough money saved up that he did it for the love of it. He liked having active hands and it gave him something to do when Beth was at university. She was studying medicine and they were planning a trip to Europe for her summer holiday.
Beth still saw Candy infrequently. She had surprisingly stayed on the radar and she had a habit of dropping in completely unannounced. She always had a bottle of wine with her and would spend a few hours explaining some of the more complicated parts of being a doctor to Beth. Beth knew that this had a little more to do with Haley than Beth. She wasn't certain what they had between them but Beth knew from her own experience to respect their privacy.
Beth wondered how Pete would react if they decided to get into steady relationship. He had been recommended as a counsellor for at risk youths and was already on the way to getting his qualifications. For the time being he was volunteering at a youth shelter with Tyreese. It counted towards his community service but Beth thought he would have done it anyway. Michonne had recounted how the cop and Pete had become fast friends now that they were on the same side. She'd shaken her head with laughter as she told the tale to Beth. She'd joined the boys on some of their drinking nights. A few weeks ago she'd asked whether Pete was seeing anyone. Beth had hid a sly grin and told her that no, Pete was single.
Martinez and Merle were helping the police now. They were what they called 'consultants', lending their criminal experience to help them devise strategies for better combating organised crime in the area. Beth didn't know if it was something either of them would do forever but for now it was keeping them both occupied and out of trouble. Daryl and Merle were working at rebuilding their relationship which was no easy feat. Both Dixon boys were cagey and scarred by past experience. But they'd gone down to the cabin a couple of times to hunt. Beth wasn't sure if they talked much but sometimes silence could heal just as well as a conversation.
And once a month everyone still in Atlanta met for Sunday lunch at Karen and Martinez' house. To Beth it felt like having a family again. One that had been bonded in blood and pain, but family nonetheless.
They were the last to arrive judging by how the house was bursting at the seams and filled with laughing conversation.
After about an hour she excused herself to the bathroom. Daryl caught her eye and grinned. She mouthed 'I love you' in his direction.
Beth looked at her reflection in the mirror. There had been times, when things were really bad, where she had barely recognised herself but this was not one of those occasions. She looked slightly older and she was certainly wiser but she had come out the other side stronger than ever.
Daryl and Beth had discussed it last night before they'd given themselves over to intoxicating passion and they had decided today was the day.
Beth took a deep breath, fished the ring out of her pocket and slid it onto her finger. She looked at herself one more time in the mirror and with a smile left the bathroom to re-join her friends and fiancé.
AN: and so we reach the end. I really hope you enjoyed it. Please drop me one last review for old time's sake. It's been a pleasure to write this story and as always the response has been overwhelming,
Thanks again for the ride!