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beth writing 30 days without

FIC - TWD - Three Moments for Every One - A BETHYL fanfic - Chapter Two: The Journey

Chapter One:
http://maddie-amber.livejournal.com/31054.html

Beth gathered the last of her few belongings, stuffing them into the tattered back pack one of the officers had given to her. They had managed to find serviceable jeans, socks, a jacket and a new shirt to replace her tattered old clothing. She had kept her boots and at her waist she wore a belt with two sheathed knives. She had been offered a pistol, which she took reluctantly knowing stealth was often the key to surviving a walker attack outside the walls of the prison, but she also knew never to say no to a serviceable weapon. One of the former wards had given her a small notebook and pencil when she learned that Beth had once kept a journal, and another had presented her with a handful of carefully horded power bars. They were thoughtful gifts and she appreciated the sacrifices made to present them. But she was ready to leave this place. Regardless of the dangers they would encounter on the journey to Richmond, even the uncertainty of what she would find there was preferable to staying here one more moment.

Slinging the backpack over her shoulders she glanced around the room one more time and turned to find Percy standing in her doorway. Of all the people here at Grady, Percy was the only one she would miss. When he learned of her intention to travel to Richmond he had asked to accompany her, but she had declined emphatically. As much as she loved the old man and would have wanted his company, the journey would be extremely dangerous and he had never had to face post-apocalyptic life outside of the protection of the hospital walls. She faced him now, tears in her eyes at the distraught look on his face. Opening her arms she hugged him, burying her face in his shoulder for a moment. When she pulled away they were both sniffing away tears. He held out a small bag to her.

“For the road,” he said. “To remember me.”

I’ll always remember you, Beth thought, but she accepted the small brown bag and peaking inside saw half a dozen ripe red strawberries. She could not help but smile, which made Percy smile too.

“Safe journey,” he said. “As safe as it can be. You’re gonna be okay in Richmond. You’re a survivor. Tell that Noah we all said hello. And tell him things are better now.”

I will, Beth thought, giving Percy one last quick hug before walking down the hall and out into the sunshine where Licari, Sheppard and Edwards were waiting beside the fastest patrol car they owned. She knew the vehicle was loaded to maximum capacity with gasoline, oil, water, ammunition and enough food for a four day journey. Under normal circumstances the 500 plus mile journey from Atlanta to Richmond would have taken about eight hours. Assuming they were able to stay on Route 85 for most of the journey, Beth hoped they could make the drive in less than a day. She doubted they would be able to travel that far without a detour, but still was hoping for the best. Grady’s officers had ventured beyond the limits of Atlanta on many occasions and could at least avoid any problems within the area they had explored. What lay beyond they could only guess though Beth had a far better idea of what to expect than they. She knew what life beyond the walls was like.

The two officers had volunteered to be her escorts and although she did not completely trust any of the officers at Grady, they had been deferential and polite since she had awoken. Edwards had assured her that they were well aware of her role in eliminating Dawn and respected her for that. Which made sense, but she did not fully trust Edwards either despite his contrite attitude.

As she approached the patrol car she tried to project a no-nonsense air. This was her mission. They were her officers. Even if she could not speak she could still command in other ways. They were not her babysitters. They were her escorts and she expected to be respected.

She nodded, first to the two officers, then to Edwards. Then waited for a response.

Edwards spoke first. “We are as ready as we can be. You do know, Beth, that there is no guarantee we can get you to Richmond.”

Beth showed her disapproval by glaring at Edwards and was not disappointed when he looked startled, then cleared his throat and looked away in order to re-gain his composure.

“What I mean is that you are welcome to stay here. Or, if you get to Richmond and decide it’s not what you hoped it would be, you can come back here. There is a place for you here now. And, the same goes if,” Edwards hesitated, “if the community Noah remembered is no longer there. We won’t strand you there if you can’t or decide not to stay.”

Beth waited for a moment as though considering Edwards’ words, the she walked around him and opened the rear door of the squad car. Placing her bag into the back seat, she noticed a small box containing the items she’s requested from the kitchen – twine, empty tin cans. Also two rolled blankets a tarp, a small mirror, a lens and a short handled shovel. Standing up she looked toward the windows of the hospital. There in a third floor window stood Percy. She smiled and nodded. Percy would do fine too. Then she got into the vehicle and waited for Licari and Sheppard.

When they finally pulled away from the hospital, Beth looked through the rear window around the white cross that filled half the glass and waved. She saw Edwards wave back and almost laughed. She was not waving at the doctor. She had promised to wave to Percy.

***

Fifty-two miles outside of Atlanta they passed a battered fire truck abandoned in the median. Beth saw the look the two officers exchanged, but she could not ask the significance. They did not slow down or stop, but increased their speed.

They smelled the refugee camp miles before they saw it. A fetid, cloying stench that reeked of rotting meat hung in the air like a shroud, was sucked into the vehicles vents and settled like a heavy fog. They had reached mile eighty seven. Topping the hill the camp stretched out in from of them – an endless sea of undead. They briefly discussed the option of attempting to run the gauntlet and quickly decided that way would be suicide. It was the first detour. They backtracked twenty miles until they came to a road that would loop around the camp and from which they could find a route that would return them to the highway. That also ended the dream of a one day trip.

Beth could tell the two officers were uneasy about sleeping outside the hospital’s walls in the reluctance with which they helped her make camp, set a perimeter warning wire and build a small, underground fire. As soon as it began to get dark they retreated to the inside of their vehicle. Beth stretched out on a blanket next to the remnants of the fire with her back to the patrol car. Before the world changed she never thought she would be prefer sleeping under the stars, but the smell of the campfire smoke mingled with the damp mustiness of the soil beneath her and the soft crackle of leaves under her blanket made the hygienic cleanliness of the hospital that much more confining. Lying on the ground, listening to the soft voices of crickets and occasional hoot of an owl felt so much more like home – like freedom. The only thing that would have made the evening better, no, would have made it perfect would have been Daryl’s presence. For the first time in many week she let her unguarded thoughts drift back to the weeks they had shared together on the road, and she fell asleep missing him, but with a smile on her lips. She would soon be with him again. They had a conversation to finish. The direction of which she had spent many nights considering.

***

Around two hundred miles they encountered the first herd and were forced to detour again. The second night of their journey was spent locked in a rickety barn listening to the seemingly endless groaning and shuffling of the herd that surrounded them. Earlier in the day they had returned to the main highway and had been making good time as they raced along a rare, uncluttered stretch of open roadway. Rounding a tree-lined curve in the road they had almost driven into the walkers. Quick thinking and good driving by Sheppard saved them. She had been able to turn the vehicle around, cut across the berm and retreat, but the herd was so vast it seemed to cut them off at every turn. As worried as Beth was about their own survival, she was terrified for her family. How could they survive a group this large? She could only hope they passed this location before the walkers had coalesced into a literal army.

The mindless dead seemed unaware of their presence as they shambled around the barn, bumping into its outside walls and themselves, shuffling and groaning through the night. And the stench was almost overwhelming. Climbing into the hay loft after barring the barn door, they had all taken turns trying unsuccessfully to sleep. Beth had chosen to sleep in the hay mow, because it brought back memories of earlier more innocent times when her dad and mom and siblings were still alive.

Sunrise came and still the endless herd continued to shift and moan outside their shelter. It was almost noon before they risked opening the barn doors. The area seemed empty except for two or three walkers that had become ensnared in the barbed wire fence surrounding the pasture. Beth quickly and silently finished them with her knife. She was cautious, but not frightened and when she returned to the barn she noted a change in the demeanor of both the officers. Until now they had behaved as though they were her babysitters and she were a necessary burden, but after the barn, they began to treat her as a respected equal. And that made Beth Greene smile.

***

They passed the half way point on day three. At 421 miles they were forced to take yet another detour to avoid a major traffic snarl on the interstate. As they wove through one small town after another they saw no human life, and very few walkers. The eerie silence was almost nerve wracking as they stopped to check parked vehicles for gas that could be siphoned. Beth almost wished they were back in the rural areas outside of Atlanta. But the increasing numbers of small and large towns meant they were getting closer to a larger metropolitan area, Sheppard assured her.

***

Five days after leaving Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, Beth stood in front of the shattered gates of a walled community on the south western side of Richmond, Virginia and for the first time since departing Grady she doubted she would ever find her family. Hanging from one rusty hinge was a sign proudly proclaiming this place to be Shirewilt Estates. The walls Noah had thought so impregnable were battered bricks crumbling into gaps wide enough to drive their car through. Many of the houses beyond the boundary looked as though they had been burned or bombed out. As she stood, fists clenched to her sides, she could see walkers on the other side of what remained of the wall. Beth had come all this way only to find another tragedy. Fighting the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks she silently chanted I don’t cry anymore. I don’t cry. But she did mourn. For the loss of those who had once thought themselves safe here, and for her own loss.

“Something ugly went down here,” Sheppard said softly. Beth had heard the older woman approach from behind her as she had stared at the travesty of sanctuary in front of her eyes. “Not recently. But it’s probably not smart to stay around here. In case whoever attacked this place is still in the area.”

Beth listened, but her heart was heavy and she could not respond.

“Look, maybe this is the wrong place,” Sheppard continued. “I’m sure there are other gated communities around here. Richmond folk seemed fond of these little enclaves.”

Beth stared at the wall struggling to hold onto the dream that had driven her here, the dream that had pushed her to recover from her wounds.

“For what it’s worth, Licari and I have decided we’d like to see what lies beyond Richmond.” Sheppard continued to speak in a subdued tone. “Recon you know. Might find something we can use back at Grady. Maybe an ally.”

Or an enemy Beth thought with uncharacteristic sarcasm.

“Always best to know what might come your way, good or bad. Anyway, we aren’t that far from D.C. A hundred miles at most. If there was a place in this country that could create a stronghold, I’m betting that’s the place. I’m betting your family was thinking the same thing. I don’t think we’ll find them here. But maybe in Washington.”

Beth turned to look at Sheppard. She nodded, then looking once more at the wreckage of Shirewilt Estates, she walked back to the patrol car and crawled into the back seat fighting her own feelings of defeat. What Sheppard said made sense. She only hoped her family would think the same way.

***

Beth had been so focused on reaching Richmond for so long that she had not considered the consequences had the settlement not been there. Or if they refused to allow them to enter. The subdivision had probably been designed as a gated community of homes intended for those of moderate income, none of which mattered now. Washington was another hundred miles beyond Richmond. Three to four hours journey if they met no more obstacles. The officers had gotten very good at avoiding walkers. If they remained as lucky avoiding humans they might be successful by end of day.

Just this one time, luck seemed to be in their favor. By end of day they had seen their destination as they topped a rise outside of D.C. Within an hour they stood outside another wall, this one seemingly intact, re-enforced and extended upward into an impressive barricade of timber. Beth could make out openings in the top levels intended, she was certain, for snipers. She was equally certain one or more rifles were currently trained on her and her companions. If they were vigilant guardians the inhabitants had probably been aware of their approach since they topped the rise. Drawing up to the first gate they found, they parked their vehicle then all three stood outside the squad car, hands empty and raised to shoulder height. Beth’s mind raced. There was really no way to know if they were approaching sanctuary or another prison. She wished she were capable of pleading her own case, but she had to rely on Sheppard and Licari to do that for her. Five days ago she would have doubted their sincerity, and would not have trusted the veracity of their arguments in her favor, but after five harrowing days on the road, they had come to an understanding. They might never be friends, but they did respect one another and each other’s abilities.

Sheppard had stepped forward to speak. The officers having decided that perhaps a woman’s voice would seem less threatening. She had requested a meeting with whomever was in charge and now they waited. After several interminable minutes the gates opened and three armed men stepped out, followed by a man and a woman who carried holstered weapons but where empty handed.

“Who are you?” the unarmed man asked bluntly, “And what do you want?”

“We’ve come here looking for friends of Beth Greene,” Sheppard said, indicating Beth as she spoke.

“And why doesn’t Beth Greene speak for herself?” the woman asked somewhat sarcastically.

“She was accidentally shot in the head and has lost her ability to speak. She does, however understand everything we are saying.”

“Shot in the head.” The man was less sarcastic than his partner. “Pretty miraculous. Surviving a head shot these days.”

Beth nodded toward the pair.

“So what are the names of these friends she’s seeking?”

“Their leader was named Rick Grimes,” Sheppard continued. “Another was named Noah. Also Carol. And others.”

“And what did this Rick Grimes look like?” the woman asked.

Sheppard gave a rather detailed description of Rick. “But we really don’t know what all of the others looked like. Only Beth knew them.”

The man and woman put their heads together and whispered. Then the man spoke again. “No one named Rick Grimes here.”

Beth felt her heart sink. She had such high hopes.

“They’re coming from where?” asked the woman.

“Atlanta. On foot we believe.”

“That’s a long walk.” The man looked at the woman again. “You three look capable. We can always use capable people. You are welcome to stay, provisionally of course. ”

Beth sighed. She was heartbroken that her family was not here, but she was not without hope that they might still arrive. It was a long and harrowing journey walk they could not acquire vehicles, and she knew quite well the dangers and detours they would encounter. She also knew the strength and resilience of her people. Nodding agreement to her companions and to the man and woman, she sighed as the gates swung open allowing them to enter.

***

In the end, Licari and Sheppard opted to return to Grady. They had exchanged sufficient information with the governing body of the community to be able to return to Atlanta with an offer to merge resources if the hospital chose to do so.

“What good is recon if you don’t take the intel back,” Licari reasoned.

Beth had to admit she was almost sad to see them go. Every time she found some small measure of stability it was taken away. She could not hide her disappointment at not finding her family here, but she did not let it rule her either. This place was secure, and it offered a normalcy she had not known since the prison. After an extensive, well organized orientation program Beth was assigned a room and scheduled into the work rotation in which all members of the community participated. It was not hard labor but it was strenuous enough to be tiring, and she found herself grateful for the physical work that left her worn enough to almost fall asleep without thinking of her missing family. Without thinking about Daryl. Almost.



Chapter Three:
http://maddie-amber.livejournal.com/31607.html

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