Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 22: Parley
Rick burst back out onto the front porch. Daryl was barely able to reach his side in time to slam down his arm before Rick had the chance to fire that instinctual shot. Drawing walkers down on their location wasn't gonna help their situation none. He wasn't sure what their situation was, but it wasn't good.
"Good call, Daryl." The familiar figure stopped just at the point where the front yard met the street, hand raised in an odd greeting that wasn't a greeting at all. It was a signal for whatever backup he had with him to stand down.
Daryl pulled his crossbow over his shoulder anyway. Walkers couldn't hear his bolt.
"Rick, you might want to call your archer off. I'm sure you're going to want to listen to what I have to say."
Rick didn't tell him to hold, but Daryl didn't aim, just held his bow down at the ready. Would only take a split second longer to get off a shot than if he had it raised. How did this happen? How did they find them? And how in the fuck did they not notice him walking right up to their front yard?
"You can shoot me if you want, but I'm sure you're curious about...well, a lot of things." Gareth's self-satisfied smile did nothing to ease the situation, and he knew it. "This is just, well, as it is, a talk between men, a parley of sorts between leaders."
Daryl could see out of the corner of his eye that Rick's face was taut, danger in his clenched jaw, and his shoulders were tense and tight. He wanted to kill, and if it was gonna happen, there was nothing Daryl could do about it. Rick went to lunge forward.
"Whoa Rick. We also took out a little insurance policy to make sure I got back safe. Something I think you'll want returned. Maggie's sister."
Maggie's...Maggie's sister... Daryl's heart hit the concrete.
"Beth!" Frantic, desperate..."Beth!"
He swung to run into the house, up those stairs to where he'd left her safe and sound, but he almost collided with Beth as she came out the front door to his summons, Judith in her arms.
"Ma...maaa, mamamam, mamma..." Judith jabbered, oblivious to the danger.
Beth...Beth was safe.
"Take Judith and get the fuck upstairs. Lock the door!"
"Daryl...?" Her voice quivered.
"Now. Do as I say!"
"Beth? Beth is Maggie's sister and Daryl's girl? How interesting. Such a pretty thing. And Judith, what a charmer."
Him sayin' Beth's name...Daryl wanted to rip his fucking tongue out. How in the hell did he know anything about Beth?
"Anyhow, back to the topic at hand. We've got the other sister. Tara."
"No..." Maggie cried out behind him.
"Well, at least someone cares about Tara. Looks like she isn't the favorite sister though." Gareth went silent, looking at Rick, as calm as a lazy river, waiting for words or a response, but he got nothing.
Daryl's heart was pounding fast. He needed to do something, but there was nothing he could do.
"I guess you're wondering how we found you. Well, it was rather serendipitous. Not at first. You have to understand, we tried to track you for a while, but we're not trackers, and the trail went cold pretty quick. Then, we stumbled upon this quaint little religious community just a few days ago, and we found our first clue, that first sign. A discarded crossbow bolt and a story about an archer and his companion brutalizing their community and stealing something...someone from them. What you did, it wasn't anywhere near as bad as what you did to us, but still..."
So the fucking doctor talked. He was the only one alive that knew...saw. Should've bashed his fucking skull in.
"They didn't know where you went, but those clues were enough of a sign to motivate us again. Then low and behold, we chance met some of our mutual acquaintances who you decided to liberate from our home when you massacred us. They apparently didn't feel comfortable staying with you, and they were easy enough to...persuade...to give up your last known location...here...and that's how our paths met. Pretty serendipitous in the end...kismet...you know that word, right Rick? No? Daryl? Yeah, didn't think so. It means fate or destiny," voice even, calm. He was insane.
"What do you want?" Rick finally formed words.
"Nothing. I told you this was just a conversation between men. Maybe just a courtesy call to let you know we're around. We're camped right back there," Gareth pointed over his shoulder, past the grassy expanse across the street, "in a clearing, I don't know, about three quarters of a mile into the woods. It's not hard to find us at all."
It was a game. Daryl realized that now. They were being played.
"And Tara?" Rick was nothing if not loyal to his people, even after what she was part of.
"Oh, yeah, about that. We're going to return her. She's not worth anything to us anymore. She went and got herself bit."
Daryl heard a gasp from behind him. He wasn't sure who it came from, but he was guessing it was Maggie.
"She should be out back waiting for you, but before you go and get any ideas about taking me out since we brought Tara back, well, it was a trade. We took Bob instead, about twenty minutes ago, right after Sasha left him."
"Bob," Sasha called out, her footsteps heavy in the hallway running to the back.
"I don't know how your group has lasted this long. You lost two people who were supposed to be on watch in broad daylight in one day?"
How did this happen? How were they all so stupid?
"Bob?" What did Rick have left to lose by asking...
"Bob...Bob's just going to come back to camp with us and visit. Camp. Right back there. About three quarters of a mile through the woods like I said. I saw you got your cars fixed up. It's a shame the roads are blocked now. And well, on foot, there's so little cover on the street if you decide to go."
Gareth looked up at the light fading in the sky.
"Well, I guess this is goodbye for now. I want to be back in camp before it gets dark."
He turned away nonchalantly, no fear, no hesitation.
"What is this?" Rick demanded.
Gareth raised two fingers over his head, pointing them in a forward motion, signaling his unseen forces to move out.
"What is this?" His voice was desperate now.
Rick showed fear. It would've been better if he didn't say anything at all.
"Hmmph," Gareth laughed, turning slightly, lips curled up in a maniacal smile, glancing over his shoulder. "What is this? It's your move, Rick. Your move."
A few steps and he stopped again, looking back, just asserting the control he had over the situation.
"Oh, and by the way Daryl, you're welcome for the returned bolt. Whatever happened to gratitude?"
"Beth. Beth...help..." Maggie called from downstairs.
Daryl told her to lock the door and stay there, but now, what if it was Daryl? What if he needed her help? The house downstairs was a commotion, the air charged with danger and confusion, people in panic, others still, trying to be focused. Beth had no idea what was going on. One man...one stranger could do all this?
This time she was able to locate where Maggie was by her voice, down the hall. Passing Judith off to Carl, she went in the downstairs bedroom to her sister. It wasn't Daryl...it wasn't Daryl who needed her. She was able to let out the breath she'd been holding. But she was needed.
"Tara...Tara's hurt...she needs..." Maggie was losing it a little, spattered with blood. "Carol's getting sheets, and water..."
"What happened to her?" Beth didn't know Tara at all. She'd heard her name, but she didn't know her.
Tara was in bad shape though. The bloody stump of her leg was wrapped crudely, just enough to temporarily staunch the blood flow, but Maggie was pressing down hard on the girls side too.
"Maggie, let me..." Maggie was too emotional.
Once Beth got past her initial shock, she was able to deal, think clearly.
"Maggie..." She finally moved away so Beth could lift the girls shirt and examine the wound.
The girl, Tara, she was bit.
"They were eating me...eating my leg...right in front of me." She was breathing heavy, and her voice was labored ending in a cry of agony.
Beth didn't want to hear about walkers eating her, but she stayed calm and put pressure on the bite, trying to stop the bleeding. Why? Maybe just to give Tara enough time to make peace with the world and say her goodbyes.
"Then the walkers came..."
What? Then the walkers came? That meant walkers weren't...what Maggie told her about their time apart came back to haunt Beth.
And you're lucky...you're lucky you weren't with us at Terminus. It was horrible. They were...eating...people. It was so close...they almost killed Glenn. You wouldn't have made it Beth...you're too gentle, too sweet to have gone through that.
That knowledge...that threat...the possibility that...it brought out her most primal fears. Beth stood, backed up, shaken, Maggie resuming her place at Tara's side. She bumped into Carol who paid her no mind. Beth was dazed now, barely even registering the girl's groans and screams as Carol went to work on her leg. Blood, she could handle, pain, hers or other's...she could work through that if she had to, but some fates were worse than death.
His rough hand grabbing her upper arm, dragging her out into the hallway snapped her out of her hazy place.
"I told you to get upstairs and stay there." Daryl wasn't gentle hauling her towards the steps; he wasn't even trying to be.
"Daryl stop...just stop..." Beth pulled back.
He stopped but wasn't giving. Beth was really worked up now, seeing the tension on his face...the hint of fear. Even when she tried to jerk away, his grip was too strong. Beth took a breath, trying to calm her voice.
"Please, you're hurting me..." That did it, made Daryl set her free, her hand coming up to rub the sore place on her arm. "I have to help. Tara's hurt."
"She's bit. Ain't nothin' you can do."
What he said, it might be true. Tara was dead no matter what, but she was still breathing. Beth stood her ground.
He didn't say anything, didn't nod his head, he just didn't fight her on it, conceding. There were hurried, frantic voices, tense exchanges, people trying to take charge in the other room, everyone talking at once, and Beth...she had absolutely no clue what was going on...except what Tara said. She knew she had a job to do, but Daryl's state...feeling her own fear...sometimes life just threw too much at you.
"Daryl..." It was barely a squeak, and she broke off in the end, not even sure she had anything to say after that.
Beth felt like she was going to cry. Seeing her almost breaking, the anger melted off Daryl's face.
"Come here." His arm around her was too tight, but it was comforting. She needed it.
It was hard though, knowing there were some things that even Daryl Dixon couldn't protect you from. For just a minute, Beth let herself break because she knew after Daryl let her go, she was going to have to be strong.
"He...they're...they're cannibals...?" Beth knew he wasn't going to answer, but the ragged breath in his chest told her the worst was true.
"Daryl," Rick summoned, but he wasn't letting go.
"Go." Still he held her.
Daryl squeezed her tighter before leaving.
Carl was the odd man out, standing in the hallway holding Judith.
"Carl, run upstairs to the bedroom. On the nightstand, grab the prescription bottle, my painkillers. Bob wrote P on the top. And a glass of water." He was lost too, but this wasn't the time. "Carl...go, quick."
"I've got the bleeding stopped." Carol wiped her forehead, leaving a smeared trail of crimson across her face from a bloodstained hand.
Carol went to take Maggie's place, pressing the cloth at the bite on Tara's side.
"What do we do...what can I do for her?" Maggie was a mess. It didn't even seem like she comprehended the reality of it.
Carol shook her head, grim expression on her weathered face. Beth reached out, touching her sister's arm softly to get her attention, trying to block out Tara's whimpers of pain. She was surprised Tara wasn't in shock yet. It would've been a mercy.
"Hold her hand, Maggie," Beth prompted, remembering when the doctor found her on the floor broken and dying during her captivity. He'd held her hand briefly...a stranger offering comfort. And Daryl...he held her hand through it all. Just knowing someone was there...someone cared... "It means everything."
"Beth, here you go," Carl set the glass of water on the bedside table before digging the bottle of pills out of his pants pocket while trying to hold back Judith who was reaching out for her.
Beth poured out two pain pills in her palm then decided on three. It didn't matter if Tara overdosed...not now. Carol watched her with narrowed eyes.
"Don't Beth. It's a waste. She's dying," Carol cautioned quietly.
"She's still alive...in pain. It's not a waste," she countered.
In times like this, times when you were tested, humanity had to prevail.
"When it gets dark, you take Beth and get out." Trying to shake the feel of Beth's fear, Daryl didn't register what Rick said at first. "You've got the bike, you have a chance. Take Judith for me. Save them."
For a split second, Daryl considered taking the offer. They could probably get away. It was still a risk; there was a chance they would just get shot down. That was better than the alternative. He could save Beth and Judith. But then what? Beth would be alive, but she would hate him for the rest of their lives. They hadn't left yet. It wasn't just him and Beth. They were still part of the group. Their fate was tied to it, and tonight that fate would be decided. Daryl shook his head. He would stand by Rick...either way it was like to be the last time. They died tonight or said their goodbyes tomorrow.
"You're my brother." It was the only answer he had.
"We don't even know how many of them there are. How many of them could be left after...well, after how we left Terminus?" At least Glenn was posing some valid questions. Truth was, they didn't know, so they had to plan for the worst. Daryl thought it was a massacre back when they escaped. Assuming made an ass outta him now. "And Gareth...you said Gareth was shot."
"He was. He went down," Rick assured.
"Maybe you aren't as good a shot as you thought you were," Abe countered.
"He was shot," Rick bit back.
This really wasn't the time for any of them to have another go at each other.
"He was hit." Not like what he said mattered, but it was the truth of what he saw, what he knew happened, and he wasn't gonna let no one doubt Rick. "But that don't mean he was dead. Rick was shot at the prison. Hell, I got shot in the head with a deer rifle. It was just a graze, but I went down."
What people saw and the end result didn't always match up.
"It doesn't matter. We don't even know how many people were at Terminus to start with," Michonne broke in. "All we know is that they're here now."
How many people were there at Terminus? Eight men...eight men lined up to be slaughtered in one day. They weren't doin' it just to kill, to waste. They had a system. Daryl started doing the crude math in his head. A deer generally yielded seventy percent of its body weight in consumable meat. Taking that as true for humans too, just averaging all of the men at 175 pounds, that was roughly 120 pounds of meat. Eight men, that was almost a thousand pounds...was that a supply for a month...two weeks...a week? How many people...he had to stop. It wasn't doin' no good, the gruesome figures. Didn't even know why his mind went there.
"We hit them now, hit them hard with everything we've got, then we get the hell out of Dodge like we should've done in the first place, not sitting around here having a nice, long siesta."
Of course Abe was gonna try to take control. Simple minded army grunt. Going out there, guns blazing was gonna get them all killed quick.
"That's what they expect.. They're counting on it, so that's not what we do." At least Rick was thinking straight.
"They've got Bob. They're going to kill him. We've gotta do something." Sasha was holding it together pretty good, and Daryl sympathized with her. "Look...what they did to Tara."
"They're not gonna kill him," he said softly, just meant for Sasha who was standing close to him. If she loved Bob even half as much as he loved Beth...
But he wasn't ready to talk yet. Still needed time. Was trying to think things out.
"You got something to say, Daryl? Why don't you speak up. Try to be of some use for once," Abe provoke, but Daryl wasn't gonna let him get the upper hand. Not again.
"I'm thinking. Using my brain." Daryl tapped the side of his head to drive it home. "Not proposing some half-assed suicide mission. They're not gonna kill Bob, not yet. Tara...she was a message, to show us they were watching, show us how much smarter than us they are. They would've brought her back, bit or not to scare us...instill terror. Aren't you supposed to know about that? Terrorism."
Abe just glared.
"Then, what do they want with Bob?"
"Bait...and when the stakes are this high, bait is only worth it when it's alive." Daryl couldn't say that Bob wasn't hurt, but they wouldn't do anything to kill him before they drew them out, got them to that camp.
"They think we're startled. Not thinking straight, but we have to. We're going to get through this, all of us." Rick was stepping up, being the leader he needed to be.
"They told us right where their camp is and where they're taking Bob. Is that really where they are if they want us to go there?" Michonne was skeptical.
"They're looking for a fight; they're going to be there. They might be crazy enough not to realize what we can do."
Rick was right. They were looking for conflict. They wanted blood and weren't afraid. But this was something more. They'd been tracking, watching for just the right moment to make their move and drive the terror home. They could've stormed the house and killed them all in the middle of the night if they wanted, but they didn't. Why? Daryl blocked out everything else around him trying to think on what he knew. This was personal for Gareth and his people. They wanted revenge. Blood for blood...an eye for an eye.
"They don't just want to kill us, they want to hurt us," his voice was soft upon the realization, but everyone stopped to listen. "Like Rick said, they think we're rattled. They told us where they're camped. Where Bob's gonna be 'cause they think we're gonna take the bait, and all of us are gonna go charging out there to meet 'em head on."
Daryl closed his eyes, trying to breathe deep and focus. All of their options were painful...so dangerous.
"They've been watching us. They blocked the roads so we can't escape. They showed us today that they have us from the front and the back when we didn't even realize they were there, Gareth at our front door, others taking Tara and Bob from our backyard..." They had to work this out somehow...because what he knew Gareth planned to do now...it was devastating.
"There are wooded areas behind us and to our front across the road...they've got cover both ways. They want us to go forward. Gareth made that abundantly clear, and we have to or Bob dies." Rick continued for him, understanding, seeing it for what it was.
"They'll come to fuck us from the rear...take the house and the people we have to leave behind. They want to hit us where it hurts...Judith, Carl, Eugene...Beth..." Beth. Sayin' that last bit killed Daryl.
The reality of it forced him to take a seat while the others strategized. If he stayed to protect Beth, if they all stayed in the house...they were low on ammo, there were too few of them...everyone was gonna die. It would be a slaughter. They had to go out there, play the game to have a chance, but if Daryl left her, he was just making Beth bait, and they all might still die anyway.