There's a kind of solidarity in these people that Gareth hasn't seen in a long time and hasn't even felt in himself for a while. It surprises him, to be honest. That they've lasted this long, torn-up, beaten and bruised but still as together as they can be, still holding out for something better. The deputy and his gang, they're soft. How they've managed to remain soft, to avoid doing things unspeakable, he hasn't worked out yet. Or do they have secrets too, secrets he hasn't gotten out of them, might never get out of them?
It's hard to believe they'd still be so naïve about this brave new world otherwise.
We've all done things, he muses. Things that change a person irrevocably, things that scar the human spirit.
That's it, Gareth supposes. Some scars are trenches deep below the surface. Some scars can't be seen.
For miles they trudge. For days they keep at it. No sign of any living creature. Young Hitler leading them on into the unknown. He'd only agree to help them find survivors if they left half of their group at Terminus—Bob, Sasha, Glenn, Michonne, Abraham, Tara. Maggie was, well they all were, loath to agree, but they had no choice in the end. Prisoners have very few bargaining chips to use and they'd given up just about all of theirs.
Still, they can figure it out, Daryl knows, now that she's shown him what it means to have faith. They can live with honor, dignity, and purpose even though sometimes it feels like living minute-by-minute. It's a way of life he's never known before, but one he wants.
It kills him to want it.
The old, bitter soul inside of him figures that for some joke of a reason she can't make it with them. What good's being good when you get nothing for it? What's Beth got? What's she got for all she's done, for all she believed in?
He feels like a jackass when he remembers that he'd mocked her and shook her silly for her innocent naivety in thinking everything was gonna work out alright and they'd all be reunited. Here he is. Reunited. Rick, Carl, and Maggie, all here together. All here together except for her.
That's a laugh.
Living together without Beth.
What good's faith? It can't be trusted. It ain't real.
"I gave up on her before I even realized it."
Daryl glances at her dark form from the corner of his eye. After they'd snuffed out the fire, Maggie had come to sit beside him. He'd kept waiting for her to say something for what felt like hours—to accuse him, blame him, or worse, start blubbering—but she didn't say a word, just sat there with him. Until now.
He turns back to his blade and continues swiping it against the whetstone rhythmically.
"All I could think about was finding Glenn. I couldn't lose him too. Not after Daddy."
It's an explanation of sorts and he don't know why she feels the need to explain herself to him of all people. But he remembers Beth—her shoulders hunched and shaking as she stood over a corpse that looked too much like her sister, her resolute gaze on the Terminus map, with no trace of anger, just relief that Maggie was still out there. He remembers that she never forgot about her.
The tension radiates off Maggie in waves as she sits, struggling with what to say next. She twists the wedding band on her finger, turning it around and around and around. Daryl drags his knife across the stone, the steady scrape against it hiding the sound of their breathing.
"I didn't think about Beth. I didn't want to consider, well, the worst. I tried-wanted-to forget."
He's quiet, doesn't say anything, doesn't know what to say. Really he just wants her to stop talking.
Her hand clamping down around his wrist, stilling his movement, has him turning to stare at her. Brave under the cover of the darkness, her eyes lock onto his and give him a look almost painful.
"I just wanted to thank you."
Her grip on his arm is tight, feels desperate almost, like if she lets go she won't get out what she needs to say, like if she lets go no one else will talk about it—her, Beth.
"For what?" is all he says, still staring at her, wanting not to.
"For not givin' up on her. For not forgettin'." She looks at him another minute and then she's gone. Moving off to another side of the camp and disappearing into the night.
You got it wrong, he thinks, I did, I gave up, he wants to say.
Instead he lifts his hand and brings the blade back down on the whetstone.
The shrill sound of a baby crying is loud in the early morning, but they're on their feet in seconds. With no regard for stealth or biters or whoever the fuck is out there, Rick and Carl take off with Daryl and Maggie close on their heels cursing. Eugene lags behind as usual.
"Judith!" Carl cries out hopefully, half to his father and half in crazed excitement. Gareth and his men rush after them in an outrage. Who do they think is in charge here?
They crash out of the cover of the wood and into a clearing where an old, rusted-over silo sits surrounded by ten or so snarling biters.
There's no question about it, no hesitation. They're going to rush in there and take out as many as they can in hopes of finding that baby, their ass-kicker.
Gareth's false-apologetic shout "there's too many" falls on deaf ears as they charge off and draw the walkers away from the silo.
And when it's done, hope blooms bright for all of them despite the chill of the fall morning. Tyrese, Carol, and an underfed, but relatively healthy baby emerge from the silo, filthy, but unharmed.
Standing away, Gareth watches them.
This is a family. A family of survivors. The deputy, crying over his child, wanting to look strong in front of the strangers, but unable to contain himself. The redneck bowman, shifting the old woman into an awkward but heartfelt embrace. The dark-haired warrior, grinning down at the babe and squeezing the dark giant to her.
They are soft, but dependable. They remind him of his own family. His own survivors.
He thinks, if worse comes to worse, he may even feel an inkling of regret if he is forced to dispose of them.
But in the end, he will do what needs to be done.
Later, after the excitement has died down and they settle in for the night, a feral-looking dog sniffs around their camp, startling one of Gareth's men on watch. He kicks at it and it trots off.
But from a distance, the grey Shepard watches.
A/n: Big things are coming soon. Overall, I'm happy with this so far, although the fic could do with some revising. I'm just happy I've written so much for my first real chapter story. Please send me your thoughts if you feel so inclined to.