Two days. That's how far ahead they were. Morgan knew he had a lot of ground to cover, and he'd need a vehicle, but knowing he wasn't far from Rick and his group was a comforting thought in the emptiness around him. The Church was abandoned but he knew too well the signs of life. Clothes with dry blood that hadn't stained yet. Empty cans on the table with almost fresh food remnants inside. A basin filled with water that was fresh. The walkers outside, dead by sharp blows to the head. It was clear as day that there'd been more than one living person here, settled, uprooted by a sudden event that stole them away from this seemingly safe structure. Then there was the map.
A map with Rick's name on it. A map with a message to go to Washington. Though it wasn't a message left for him, Morgan took it as a marker, a set destination where he would find the others. Who knew, maybe he could find them on the way to Washington, if he had the right transport.
Rummaging through a pile of empty cans, Morgan let his mind rest on the last time he had seen Rick. The sheriff who woke up in hell, who gave him a gun, who left him a trail to follow. Rick had been right. You have to be with other people, you have to survive together. Alone, your a threat to yourself. Alone, the greatest danger isn't being overpowered by the dead or outnumbered by a gang of the living. No. The danger was you. Driving yourself crazy, falling into a darkness each and every day.
Morgan knew he would never get his boy back. Nor was he ever going to get his wife back. Maybe, deep down, he knew he might have deserved to be dead too. He'd failed them. Now, it was his punishment to walk alone in this damned world. At least if he found rick, maybe he could start over, and if he died, at least it would be to help others survive.
There came a patter of feet behind him, forcing him to stand swiftly, aiming his hammer at... A dog. A white, one eyed dog who barked at him and sat there, staring. He swore under his breath, smiling for a moment, reflecting on how long it had been since he had seen a dog. Hsi boy always wanted one... No. Morgan took a shuddering breath and pushed back the flood of memories burning in his mind. He wasn't about to let the ghosts of the past cloud what he had to do.
"Sorry doggy, but mans gotta eat."
He tried to call him forward but with every step he took, the dog shrunk back, barking again, running to the door then back. Morgan's brother had a dog, some ugly grey hound with a face that needed fixing, and it used to act like this whenever he was about to come home. It would run out the door and come back, waiting for someone to follow it to it's master. This damn dog was doing same. Running back forth at the open door. Like it wanted to be followed.
"My god..." Morgan muttered realising the dog wasn't just playing about. It wanted to be followed. Maybe this was their dog. Ricks group had kids, and women, surely a dog wouldnt survive unless it's being cared for. Besides this dog was too tame, too domesticated. It belonged to someone and it was sniffing round this church like it knew it well.
"Go on boy. Show me who you looking for."
It barked again and he told himself it was madness to follow some one eyed mutt into the unknown, that he should just kill it and eat enough to give him the strength needed for the long journey to Washington. Why was he letting some animal waste time? The group was moving further away as he lingered.
No. There was somthing about this dog. Somthing that told him He'd be a damned fool to ignore a sign as clear as this. He grabbed his bag and took one last look at the crucifix that had made him laugh earlier that day, before running after the dog, who was heading north, toward the highway road. He pleaded with some unknown entity that the one eyed cra store would take him to Rick. If not, He might be dead before He even start toward Washington.
What was this dog so intent on him finding?
"We should take her to Washington... Have her somewhere nice where we can visit her."
Carl knew it was a difficult situation, and his suggestion wasn't simple, but he looked over to his father, hopeful. Judith bounced on his lap, forcing him to tighten his hold of her, silently relieved he had his sister to comfort him. Beth was gone. Shot dead by a woman called Dawn. Carl couldn't believe he'd never see her again, never hear her sing or laugh as she played with Judith. In the prison, he knew he'd been a lousy brother to her, but Judith had been cared for constantly by Beth. They owed her a proper burial. Somewhere warm and safe, where he could visit with Judith and bring flowers. Beth always said she missed her mama's sunflowers, he'd find as many as he could and being them to her.
His father glanced over. They were driving out of the city, just past the church, on the road to Washington. Who knew what lay ahead, but to Rick Grimes, anything was better than what they'd left behind. He wanted a new life for his family, his kids and his friends. He wanted to believe they could find hope again, a new future, a safe place. A sanctuary. Beth had always believed they'd be safe. Beth had always had hope. Rick feared it was hope that led to her sudden death.
"It's too far, and Maggie... Maggie needs to say goodbye."
His tone was sympathetic but firm. Carl always had a soft spot for Beth but Rick knew that it was best for the group to say goodbye now, before they started toward their new destination. They had to leave what they lost behind. Beth was gone and he was as sad as the rest of them, but he needed to end the raw grief so they could mourn and move on. Daryl was the one he feared most for. A man of few words and little emotion, who had broken apart as he carried Beth out of that hospital.
He'd cried. He'd barely made it to the car without collapsing to his knees. When they lay her not he back seat he'd just stood there, staring at her, head bowed down as he sobbed. Grief struck him hard. While Maggie had wailed and cried out, Daryl just stood and shook. Rick couldn't recall Daryl and Beth ever being close but they'd spent time surviving together, and Daryl had changed for the better. Maybe she had shown him hope, which was burnt to ashes before him when Dawn pulled the trigger.
Rick knew the feeling too well. Maybe Daryl didn't feel the way Rick had about Lori, but when she died, he lost everything. There was nothing left to live for, no one left to care about. He'd been selfish and forgotten the children who needed him but when Lori died, a part of Rick died with her. His humanity torn away, replaced by an anger he couldn't contain.
Judith laughed and broke him from his thoughts, his eyes falling on her pale face and bright blue eyes. Lori would have loved her so much...
"I hope we can come back... Visit her sometime."
Carl's voice was timid, all to aware of his fathers thoughts. Rick smiled and pulled over, nodding as he stared out at the road ahead, then back to his son.
"Maybe one day we will... We'll come back and say goodbye."
A silence fell between them, broken only by the sound of Judith cooing, clutching the rag doll Beth had made her. The doll with a stitched smile. A smile that symbolised better times. Maybe the best of times.
"I can't... I can't do this... She was..."
Maggie was on her knees, every limb shaking uncontrollably, her head hanging low as she spoke to the earth that would soon be home to her sister. Glenn had tried to hold her, tried to comfort her, but she was inconsolable, and he decided to watch her from a distance, heart breaking as he saw her break apart before his eyes. Sure he was sad to lose beth, he was devastated to know she was gone, but the girl he loved was not merely mourning, she was defying her senses, refusing to accept the loss. Glenn knew it wasn't a good sign.
Washington was ahead of them, a straight road into the unknown, but he couldn't shake the feeling that whatever lay ahead would only bring more tragedy. Rick passed, giving Glenn a firm squeeze of his shoulder, moving toward the grave sight.
Sasha had chosen a spot near a tree with burning auburn leaves. Tyrese was digging, not too deep, but deep enough to keep Beth safe from any passing walkers. Carol stood watch with Abraham and his companions. Carl just sat up against the tree with Judith, silent. Rick knew too well how hard it would be on them all but it was Daryl he was seeking out. He wasn't in the other car, and when they'd started digging, there was no sign of the body.
"He's over there..." Carol whispered to Rick as he passed, pointing over to the other side of the road, where, amongst the long grass, he could see Daryl's bowed head.
Carol watched Rick move toward Daryl, praying they would hurry up and get it done. They could mourn Beth on the road, it was getting dark and walkers were not far behind.
Daryl didn't even look up at Rick when he approached. He just staid fixated on the girl in his arms, her body still warm, her blonde hair like fire in the setting sunlight. Daryl blamed himself for everything he hadn't done. For not keeping her close, for opening that damn door, for staying in that house hoping it would be alright and they'd find a way to start over. Why did he care so much about Beth? He didn't know. It wasn't just that she was part of the group. She was... Light. Good, pure, hopeful. Beth had a way of seeing everything he tried to hide. Beth had made him open up in a way he'd never done to anyone else. She sung, she laughed, she drank moonshine... Nothing about her was dark. He couldn't save her dad, he couldn't save her... All he could do was stare down at the scars on her cheeks.
He cursed, angry at his own inability to anticipate that she might go for Dawn. Who wouldn't? The woman was her captor, and god knows what shed done to the girl in there. What could they have done to her?
"Your gonna miss me so bad when I'm gone."
The words haunted him. Made him angry and sad and insane. How could he just let it go... Rick sat beside him and he looked up, tense.
It was a question Rick knew he may not get an answer to, but Daryl kept his head raised, anger and sorrow burning in his eyes. Rick had never seen Beth and Daryl interact much back at the prison, probably because Beth was always caring for Judith or with her father, but she'd had an effect on Daryl. The way he'd fought to find her, how he had chosen the peaceful option in the deal with Dawn. He'd struggled to get her back, only to see her returned and taken away in seconds.
"My fault she was there. I shoulda' done somethin'... Should have known shed wanna fight back..."
His words echoed everything Rick had ever felt when Lori died. He didn't want Daryl to lose himself the way he had, and Daryl was the only man Rick could trust with anything, and none of what had passed was his fault. Rick's voice was firm when He answered, "None of it's your fault, Daryl. None of it. We were all on edge and what Beth did, none of us could have seen..."
He shook his head, looking down at her, "Nah, thas where your wrong... Beth weren't who she was back at the prison... When we were... She was a fighter..."
Daryl sniffed and looked away, arms tightening their hold of her. That's when Sasha came over and said they were ready. Rick knew Daryl, he wasn't ever going to be ready to let go so he offered to take her, but Daryl shook his head and rose with her, cradling her, his eyes watering as he focused on the grave that lay in wait. It took him a moment to breath, another to shift her, drawing her head close to his chest as he carried her away. Rick stayed. He couldn't see another body buried. Instead, he lingered in the grass, remembering Lori, the way she smiled, the way she laughed. Something about Daryl's grief forced his own emotional trauma back. He was a leader. He had to be strong. It was hard and dangerous, but they needed him.
"I won't lose anymore of them," he muttered under his breath, swearing an oath to the setting sun as he rose, looking over to the grave everyone was staring at. Slowly, they all moved away. Until only Daryl and Maggie lingered. When Glenn pulled her away, her place was taken by Carl, who looked toward the mound of earth with a sad smile, placing Rick's sherif hat down atop it. Daryl shuddered, marching away with an angry cry. Rick left him alone, placing a hand on his sons shoulder.
He smiled, "to the new sherif in town."