Wasn't Born an Angel
Chapter 24: Primal
There was nothing anyone could do to help her. Four of them went upstairs just waiting in the hall outside the bedroom where Tyreese, Judith, Carl, Rosita, and Eugene were barricaded. Those of them who could fight were outnumbered and outgunned...what guns they had...there was very little ammunition. And Beth didn't even have a gun. The one called Gareth made himself comfortable on the living room couch, Beth standing still before him, trying to appear calm, waiting for whatever came next...judgment to be passed. The other one took her knife from her waist, tossing it down on the coffee table. His hands were firm on her hips, sliding down over her outer thighs, checking for weapons, but he didn't go past her knees. Then a rough hand slid under her shirt and sweater, up her bruised and broken side...she couldn't hold back the whimper. It wasn't a weapons check anymore, his hand coming right up under her breast, Beth preparing herself for something she couldn't stop.
"Martin. Respect. We're not rapists. We have to draw the line somewhere." Gareth made eye contact with her as he said the last, as if that would set her at ease or make her think better of him.
He looked so rational, so normal...non-threatening. That's what made him dangerous...sending shivers down her spine. They were cannibals, but they drew the line at rape? It all made her sick.
The hands were off her immediately though. These people may have no respect for human life, but this one at least, this Martin, respected...obeyed his leader. Beth saw Gareth's brow furrow as he watched her shirts slide back down over her stomach.
"Lift your sweater, Beth."
She hesitated, looking at him confused. Even though Beth hated herself for it, she was frightened. And it shook her to the core the way he used her name like he knew her...like they were friends. It was unsettling and terrifying.
"Don't get scared. I just told you we're not rapists. This is called trust, Beth, an exercise in trust. Raise your shirt a little. Let me see."
She didn't trust him, but she didn't have a choice. Beth pulled her shirts up, baring her stomach and one side.
"They really did a job on you, didn't they? All in the name of God. Did you ever wonder how we got here?" She was hoping it was a rhetorical question because she didn't have an answer, smoothing her sweater back down over her hips, avoiding. "How hurt are you?"
Now he was being sympathetic? It didn't matter; if he was talking...if she answered, she would buy them all some time.
"Broken ribs...a lot. And Pneumonia..." Beth was starting to feel it...shaky and fatigued.
Just saying it, she realized how bad she was feeling. Bob told her not to overdo or she could relapse. The stress...the afternoon had been overwhelming, and now...this...it was all hitting her...the pain, the lightheadedness, difficulty breathing...she felt like she was going to fall over. He saw it too, on his feet, beside her, gently gripping her upper arm before she could tumble over, steadying her.
"Whoa, you're okay. Come on and have a seat." He guided her until the backs of her legs hit the recliner, and she could let herself fall into it. "There now..."
Gareth returned to his place on the couch. His concern and sympathy repulsed her. She would've rather hit the floor.
"What's your prognosis? Are you going to live?"
"I don't know. Am I?" Beth knew her life wasn't in her hands anymore.
"No Beth. Don't think that way. This isn't about that...food...not this time. This is about retribution, and you didn't do anything to hurt us. I didn't even know you existed until we came upon the people who hurt you, and they tied you to Rick and Daryl for us."
So that's how he knew everything.
"Mercy reminds us we're still human. We're not going to kill you or your baby. We might even let Carl live. We can't go back, but we can save you." He said it like she should have never doubted it...him.
"Mercy?" She shouldn't have said anything, but it just came out.
"Mercy. You have to understand, Beth, we weren't always like this. In the beginning...well, that didn't come out right. That sounds like it should be followed by 'God created the Heavens and the Earth'. I'm not God. No...wait, it was pretty much like that though because after everything fell apart, the world...or the earth as you like...was full of darkness. We created light, a sanctuary, an Eden in the void the plague left. We were living, good people, taking other people in...until the wrong people came." He stopped. His face went blank, and his eyes closed while he was remembering. "We learned from those people that you were either the cattle or the butcher, so we evolved. Evolution isn't about becoming something morally superior. Morals have no role in nature. It's all about survival. Evolution is becoming advanced in the most primal form. In our soft world before, we forgot what survival was. Now, the only way you survive is being at the top of the food chain, and we are. At the end of the day, no matter how much we hate it, no matter how much who we were tries to fight what we do, we have to eat."
After all of that, he actually expected her to believe that he was going to be merciful. You know what they are... Daryl said that before he left. She knew. They were the worst evil she had ever faced; they weren't to be trusted.
"You might not be saying it, but I can see you judging me. Let me ask you this. Who were you before everything fell apart?"
Beth didn't want to answer, but she didn't want to die either.
Keep talking. Stay alive.
"I was just in high school." She was astonished by how well she was holding it together after her breakdown with Daryl.
"High school. Did you ever read The Lord of the Flies?"
"It's ironic. I used to love that book. I used to pretend that if I were in a situation like that, I would do the right thing, right of course being moral. I thought the whole story was a commentary on morals, but now I know it was a warning, preparing us for the barbarism the world sinks to when there is no rule of law. Those boys did what they had to do to survive and fight the monsters."
"There were no monsters on the island. They weren't real. The tribe of boys...the hunters...they were the monsters." Beth was confused by his interpretation of the story until she realized Gareth wasn't talking about the book anymore...
"Hunters..." Gareth went somber. "We weren't always monsters...our demons are real..."
Beth could hear herself breathing in the eerie stillness that followed.
"Judge me, but know you judge yourself as well." Another second and his contemplative expression shifted back to what it was before, something she really couldn't identify as anything other than confident insanity. "Tell me, Beth, how is it that you are the mother of Rick's child and the Archer's girl?"
She got what he was saying through his assumptions, that she traded sex for protection...did what she had to do to survive. And he was comparing that to what he did...
"I would just assume that the two strongest men, clearly that's Rick and Daryl, passed you back and forth...you're young and pretty. Isn't that the way our world works now, the strong take what they want? You seem like you'd be smart enough to give it and get something in return rather than just having it taken from you. But that's not it, is it? Rick and Daryl, they seem tight...close, but those alpha males don't seem like they would play nice sharing you. Rick must be attached to you. He let your child live even though it...I'm sorry...she puts your entire group in danger."
Let your child live...
What would they have done...what would Gareth have done? Beat the mother until she lost the baby? Rip it from her breast and smash its head in after it was born?
"And Daryl, he's genuinely in love with you. That's a rather unconventional threesome, especially for such a small, tight knit group living together in close quarters."
"She's not mine." It broke Beth's heart saying it, even though it was true. It was sad, but that was the harsh reality of their world. Everybody lost, and Judith would never know who her mother was.
"She calls you mama; I heard her today."
Was that so hard to believe...an orphan in their world?
"Her mother died when she was born. I've been taking care of her ever since, until we were separated."
"Well Beth, I take back what I said. Maybe you do have a right to judge. You may be the last truly good person on the planet."
Daryl's words from before she was taken hit her hard. I don't think the good ones survive...
Slimy, rotted flesh and stringy tendon sloughed right off the bone into his hand as Daryl eased the now inanimate corpse onto the ground, pulling his knife out of its skull. Cannibals might be the worst things in the woods, but they weren't the only threat moving about in the darkness. A metal thunk followed by a shattering crunched skull and Daryl turned to see a walker ended by Rick's machete. He grabbed it by the back of the neck so Rick could get leverage enough to free his blade sunk deep in its head before Daryl lowered it silently to the forest floor. They'd been moving fast but were keeping as quiet as possible. Michonne was handling her walkers just fine by herself. That sword swung through the air, cleaving skulls in two with barely a swish to be heard at the slice, and with her cat quick reflexes, no one would ever hear those bodies crashing down because they didn't. Daryl slung the sludge from his hand, wiping the rest off on his shirt before he crept to the edge of the tree line to have a look.
They were almost there...almost...and they were waiting. He could see a lone, dim beam of light just inside the perimeter of the woods. Daryl gestured behind him, signaling Michonne and Rick forward to appraise the situation, and they hunkered down beside him. Gareth's people, they were waiting for them. Daryl...they all knew they would be...but from what Daryl could tell, he'd been right. They were too confident, and they had underestimated what he, Rick, Michonne, and the rest of their group were capable of...especially when they were fighting not to live, but for the people they loved.
"Look there, see 'em, the light just inside the trees," Daryl whispered, pointing, like it would do any good. "They think we're rattled and barely thinking. If we're coming, they assume we're coming through the open area behind the houses to get there quicker. They ain't even bothering to cover, to go deeper in the woods."
"We don't even know how many of them there are. There could be more in the trees in a behind position."
Michonne was right. There could be an army of them...15, 20, 25...but it didn't matter how many there were. The course was set. There were only so many options they had, either do nothing or fight. Do nothing...die. Fight...die. Fight...live. They'd chosen to fight. Wouldn't take it laying down.
Gunshots in the distance...they all froze, knowing what gunshots meant. The other group, they might be dying.
"They're on their own. We all knew that coming in. Focus on what we've got to do, or nobody is going to live." Rick was saying what they all knew was true, then he went right back to task. "We'll keep to the tree line, nice and slow now, about another 300 yards. Then we'll stop and see what we see before we head deeper in to come up from the rear." Rick went first since it was his call; Daryl followed close behind 'cause he would've said the same thing.
They moved together, silent as the grave, stopping...pausing just short of their 300 yards as crashing in the woods cued the other flashlights to be flipped on and the enemy revealed everything Daryl needed to know to stay his confidence. Five flashlights illuminated the night and a small group put down the advancing walkers with deadly accuracy. The walkers came from behind them...that meant...
"There's no one behind, no one deeper in," Rick pointed out what Daryl just realized. "It's just them."
Daryl nodded to himself, almost smiling. There was no one else behind the group No backup. Five lights, that meant at least five people, probably a few more, but it wasn't insurmountable. There was still a chance. They were so close. Rick was about to make to move again when everything went still and silent in the forest because there was talking...they were communicating by walkie. They were so cocky they weren't even going radio silent.
"...on their way back..." It was Gareth. Daryl could hear it clear as day, even over radio. Some voices, some evil you never forgot, and rightly so. "The only ones they don't have are Rick, Daryl, and Michonne. They'll be headed your way towards the house..."
It kind of seems like the have a reason to be confident...God dammit, Glenn had been right. Fuck it all.
That meant they had Glenn, Maggie and the rest of 'em...whoever of them were still alive. This...it was a...the fatal blow.
"Which ones are those?"
What, were they just going to have a fucking conversation?
"Ringleader, Archer, Samurai."
"Shit. Those are the worst ones."
"Try not to get killed. We lost four from the other group..." Gareth divulged. At least the other's didn't go down without one hell of a fight. Daryl hoped in the end he could say the same thing. "And make sure you bring them all in alive. Beth here, I know, is eager for a family reunion. I'm sure the others are too."
He had Beth. Not just in the house. Gareth had Beth. Did they ever really have a chance? Rick's hand on his shoulder was trying to steady him. There was no going back now.
They didn't see 'em coming. They didn't hear 'em coming. Fighting people...ghosts coming outta the darkness, true hunters...it didn't make for a fair fight. Gareth's people could handle walkers, but when the tables were turned on them and they were fucked by surprise, they lost their dominance, their upper hand. Even so, Daryl knew they might win this small battle but still lose the war. It was easier than Daryl would've thought though. Once the first three bodies hit the ground, those left standing dropped their lights, didn't even try to use 'em to blind them in the dark. The advantage was theirs now, eyes adjusted to the dark, element of surprise, and these...these people, they were ruthless, evil butchers, but they'd operated within the confines of a secure location. Rick, Michonne, and him, they might've had safe places, but they never stayed cushy for long, and even then, not without a hell of a fight. Daryl knew...they all knew what it took to survive, and they weren't just capable of it...they were it...feral.
He didn't have time to load another bolt, didn't want to neither. The next one...the slit throat...the blood spray on his face was warm, his blade coated thick where it had bit in deep, almost severing the head. There were gunshots now as people seemed to remember they had firearms...if they were dying already, what did it matter to them if they drew down more walkers? Thing was, it mattered to Daryl and Rick and Michonne...and Beth...all the rest of 'em 'cause Daryl was still hoping for a chance to live. He heard nothing from Rick and Michonne. That meant they weren't hit...yet. Daryl bulled over the one closest to him, the one taking aim at his head. Driving his knife deep into the arm socket, disabling its function, he slammed the head against the hard packed earth, hand pressed tight over the mouth so no screams would escape. Jerking his blade back, Daryl lost himself...this one was gonna go slow. Rick and Michonne could handle the rest. He was gonna feel it. The head pressed under his hand was trying to shake no, eyes begging him for mercy, but Daryl didn't have any of that. He held though, stayed his hand, driving his knee harder into the chest so it...the man...could barely breathe. It was afraid, and Daryl wanted that fear to set in deep before the end. Daryl was a true hunter. Animals deserved the mercy of a quick death...but this wasn't an animal. It wasn't a walker, and it sure in the hell wasn't a human.
"Daryl. Daryl, stop. We might be able to use them."
What? What did Rick mean? Daryl's hand shook as he stopped mid-motion, the bloody blade frozen just inches from its target. How could they use them?
"We ain't helping you. We're already dead."
Daryl's head turned back, focus taken from the heaving body below him. Michonne and Rick had three others on their knees, bloodied and subdued. Rick busted the back of the talker's head with the pommel of his machete, sending him down, hands flat in the dirt. That didn't shut his mouth though.
"You know, the little blonde bitch was the first to go, or maybe her baby, but they're both dead now..."
"You shut you're fucking mouth!" Rick growled.
Daryl's chest was heaving now, his heart pounding fast and hard and painful.
Tell me something. Was it one of the little 'uns? 'Cause they don't last too long...
He was looking down on the living body under him again...his vision goin' blurry.
"Daryl. Daryl. Look at me. You gotta listen." He was trying...trying to listen to Rick, but he couldn't look at him. Len's words from the past...it couldn't happen this way, and he couldn't turn away from the thing he was going to kill. "Daryl, Beth's alive. You heard Gareth on the radio. Gareth didn't know we were here. Why would he lie." Rick's voice was pleading.
"You're right, she's probably not dead yet. Maybe Gareth was looking for some companionship. The road's been lonely."
She ain't dead...Pretty little young thing like that, so full of life, so many other things they could do with her before they kill her. Merle was in his head again...the memory of that dream. How many times do you think they're gonna rape her? How many men are gonna take what you love before you even have a chance to be with her? They're gonna fuck her until she has no fight left, until the light leaves her eyes, until there's nothin' but a shell of who she used to be...
How many times was Daryl gonna fail? How many times was Beth gonna have to suffer the same fate because he couldn't protect her? He was breaking.
Daryl's prey knew the end was coming quick. It wasn't even trying to fight anymore, arms spread wide in the leaves covering the forest floor where it was pinned. Submission...the final act in a plea for mercy. There was another crunch and groan from behind where Rick was working on his negotiation skills to get the talker to shut his mouth and keep it shut. These...people...they were all dead...they knew that right? They said they did. But the talker, he was trying extra hard to make sure his friend, the one Daryl had pinned, got killed quicker. The moon was getting higher and brighter now, casting light even into the darkest part of the woods.
"You wanna see another day, you're gonna do exactly what we say," Daryl growled.
The head nodded hard against his hand, eyes speaking the complete honesty of the answer.
Daryl could see again clearly. Looking down where the moon illuminated the hard dirt next to him, shining on the thing nestled in the leaves that had stayed his hand...brought him back to a more rational place, the last piece of the puzzle they needed...the walkie-talkie. This one...this one under him was their radio man, the man Gareth expected to hear on the other end of his line of communication, and Gareth was one for protocol and structure. This one wanted to live, would do anything to live. That's why the others needed him to die.
"Rick, we only need three." It was emotionless. Daryl was incapable of feeling emotion for these people, but there was a way...there was a plan, and they only needed three.
He didn't see it, but he heard it...heard the talker's end. Rick's machete cleaving another skull. Rick was damn lethal with that thing.