It had been three weeks since she returned. They were settled in Alexandria, comfortable, getting friendly with their new neighbors and adjusting to the rapid change of lifestyle. It was no longer living to survive but living to help others survive and ensure a future. It was hope.
She had come in unexpectedly, out of nowhere. It was the middle of the night when she and Morgan approached the gates, the doctor from Grady trailing along with them, all of them beaten and battered but alive. The group had only been in Alexandria for about a month, but Rick and the others convinced the community that these survivors were friends, and when they explained about Beth, they were allowed in without any more questions. She'd suffered memory loss and lost most of the vision in her left eye, leaving it a cloudy and useless haze. She remembered major things – the names of her family members, who she was, how the world had changed and dragged her and everyone else down with it. She remembered Rick and his group of survivors coming to the farm and staying, but anything after that seemed to only come in small and senseless snippets. She didn't remember the prison or baby Judith or Glenn and Maggie getting married, she recalled Michonne's face but couldn't place a name or any other sort of memory; she was hysterical when they broke the news of Hershel, and it was heart-wrenching for all of them to watch her relive it like she hadn't been an eyewitness to his decapitation, especially for Maggie. Without question, she couldn't recall anything that took place after escaping the prison with Daryl.
And Daryl never spoke up. He never tried to catch her alone or ask her anything. In the back of his head, he'd done so a million times. He'd cornered her, grabbed her by the arm, asked her if she remembered even the faintest little flash of a funeral home, of a one-eyed dog, of a white trash brunch shared by candlelight and interrupted by a herd of Walkers. He imagined himself relaying every painful moment without her, spilling his deepest secret to her that she was the one – Beth Greene, the girl who was supposed to be "just another dead girl" – she was the one who had instilled a new sense of hope in him, who had taught him that faith could be found in the places that lacked it the most. She had utterly no idea that she was the one person in the entire group of people who'd truly known him since the dead had begun walking the earth… to actually make him feel something for another person, to make him question something deeper inside him that he'd long ago dismissed as impossible and unnecessary.
He often studied the burns and marks left on his hands and arms from her absence. He ran his fingertips along them, reminding himself of how hopelessly empty he'd felt after seeing a bullet enter her skull. He imagined showing the wounds to her, explaining that she had left these invisible marks in her absence and he'd only been the one to turn them into physical, evident scars. She knew how she had survived after being presumed dead, and she'd explained the story to them, but Daryl hadn't marveled at her miraculous and downright lucky recovery and survival like the others… he'd looked at it as another one of his mistakes. To have left her behind like that without even realizing she had a weak pulse, to have given up on her and tried to move on so quickly… Once again, he blamed himself for not doing something more. All he could picture was carrying her limp body in his arms and how stupid he felt for not seeing that she'd still been somewhere inside there, heart beating and lungs struggling. There'd been a possibility, and only because of someone else had she been able to live and reunite with the group again.
She side-eyed him day in and day out. They passed each other frequently in the streets and sidewalks of the small community, and the home they'd put her in – with Maggie and Glenn, of course – was only a couple of houses away from the one he stayed in. He could tell she remembered him from the group by the way she tried to discreetly steal glances of him, but only that little bit that she'd seen before the prison. Something more along the lines of a mysterious and slightly scary redneck who hauled around a crossbow and liked to show up with Walker's ears hanging from his neck. It pained him that she didn't remember the things she'd said to him, the secrets she'd kept for him and the confidence she'd built by being out on her own and learning to save her own life. She had something new in her, brought about by her time waking up at Grady and travelling with Morgan and the doctor, but it wasn't the same assured and self-built bravery like she'd earned after the farm and the prison. She still had fear in her blue eyes – one eye showing a distant emptiness as it couldn't see the vibrant colors or distinct shapes like it should have - and scars on her face that she couldn't remember the stories behind. She had new ticks about her, like the way she'd jump if someone approached her from her left side, or how she still instinctively reached to her side to grab a knife that wasn't there. Sometimes she burst into tears randomly at seemingly unknown causes and had to wander away and be by herself for a short time. She'd had to learn a new kind of survival with the strangers she'd been thrust into her resurrected life beside, and it left a lasting effect on her psyche.
Daryl looked away whenever their eyes met. She'd catch him staring a little longer than he should have and give him a suspicious glance, making him feel somehow ashamed. To be fair, he was still astounded at seeing her alive. This was the first time he'd seen someone die and come back and not had to run from them or impale their skulls with some sharp object. It still felt unreal, and at times he caught himself questioning if she could be an imposter. But then other times, he saw a flicker of recognition in her gaze, and he would find it especially difficult to look away. One eye stared at him through a grayish-blue haze, and the other evaluated him up and down, studying the marks on his face, trying to place it to a memory that was no longer stored away. Was she remembering something? Didn't seeing him spark something inside of her similar to what it did to him when he saw her? Surely she felt it, too. Things like that didn't just disappear, and he'd learned that the hard way.
Since she arrived, he hadn't been able to sleep through the night, and he had just been getting used to that luxury since finding the Safe Zone. The last three weeks felt like an eternity compared to how fast the first month had flown by, especially when he was in constant debate with himself on how to approach her, always on the verge of saying something, making contact. Even if she didn't remember the time they'd had, he wanted to be a part of her new memories somehow. She'd told him over moonshine how she really pictured him – some sort of criminal before the apocalypse, probably – and he was afraid that impression was still in her mind. He didn't want it to be. She'd seen something else in him, seen parts of who he really was, and he wanted her to see it again. If for nothing else, to at least prove to himself that it really was there and he hadn't been imagining things after the prison. There was something good in Daryl Dixon, and Beth Greene had seen it. But could she see it again?
He took to swigging whiskey in the darkness of his empty home on nights he couldn't sleep. At the very least, he usually ended up passing out and waking up in time for daybreak. He was trying to use the booze sparingly, seeing as he'd only happened upon a couple of bottles on a run and had managed to keep them for himself while any and all other alcohol was either long gone or locked away in some secret part of the community.
Tonight he was feeling restless… empty. The whiskey filled only a very small portion of the abyss deep inside him, and his mind was once again stuck on The Resurrected Beth Greene. She used to haunt his dreams but now she haunted his conscious life, too, that one blind eye sending shivers down his spine. He wasn't sure why, but it just felt like she saw right through him, in a way she couldn't even manage before Grady. He'd rehearsed the same conversation in his head a million times now, nearly every night and during parts of the day - all the ways he would try to explain to her what she meant to him and what they'd been before she'd forgotten. He'd imagined every possible response from her, good and terribly catastrophic. He'd tried to convince himself to just let it go, but no matter what, these unspoken words were tearing away at the lining of his stomach, and the whiskey in his hand wasn't helping either.
He decided to check in on her. Nothing threatening - just watch the house he knew she was in for a bit and leave. Just to assure himself she was alright. Along with the thoughts of unspoken conversations, he also constantly fought off the fear of something happening to her once again and losing her for good. He couldn't make it again, there'd be no way he'd be able to put off taking the blame if he allowed something bad to happen to her one more time. He wandered outside and down the street, in the direction of the home she shared with Maggie and Glenn. Hardly anyone but those on watch would wander outdoors late at night, so he was basically alone as he slumped down into the shadows of a tree just across the street from the little white house, a half empty bottle of whiskey in his hand. He was usually more at ease because he knew Maggie and Glenn were also inside, but tonight, they were out on a run that would take a couple of days with some other community members. This left Beth alone in the house – just another reason her safety had come to the forefront of his mind.
The house was silent and still in the cool breeze, and Daryl tugged his long sleeves down on his arms. He eyed the dark windows, curtains drawn and blinds shut tight, Beth somewhere inside probably sleeping soundly. He lit cigarette after cigarette, smoking until his fingertips were yellow and his throat was dry, restricting himself to only a couple of swigs of whiskey between sticks of nicotine. He could smoke pack after pack when he drank, and the whiskey had made his head spin to a point that he still couldn't stop. His eyes wouldn't focus, and before he realized that his subconscious had made its own decision, he was walking across the street and heading straight for the silent house.
It took barely any effort to get inside. The door was locked but Daryl had picked locks and more in an inebriated state, so it came to him like second nature. The knob turned and he quietly slipped inside, shutting the door behind him. His boots were loud but he stepped softly on the wood floors, eyes adjusting to the complete darkness in the house. He saw silhouettes of furniture and already knew the bedrooms were on the second floor, so he began climbing the stairs, the wood creaking with each footstep. He tried to walk quieter but it was nearly impossible. The utter silence told him Maggie and Glenn were gone just as he'd known and Beth was definitely sleeping. He reached the hallway and gained a small amount of light from the moon peeking into a couple of windows on the backside of the house.
He crept down the long hall, all of the doors to bedrooms and bathrooms sitting wide open except for one at the end, open just ajar. He glanced into each room, assuring its emptiness, before stopping at the final door, hesitating in front of it. He doubted himself for a moment, about to turn around and leave again, but the whiskey in his system took hold of the reins once more and he silently reached out and pushed the door open. It swung back and stopped just short of the wall behind it, and moonlight poured in from the window above the bed to his right. He took a slow and cautious step forward, eying the motionless form of a body beneath blankets atop the bed. His breaths came in short spurts now, his heart racing, even his level of inebriation unable to calm the nerves that were creeping up now.
He lifted his other foot to make another step forward, but before it could touch the ground, he felt a weight on his back and he was being jerked backward, something sharp poking into his neck. He felt an arm wrap around his shoulders and then heavy breathing in his ear.
"Don't move or I'll slit your throat where you stand."
"What the hell are you doing in here?"
Daryl froze and realized she had a knife held to his throat as her other arm held him against her and all of her weight was put into forcing him into submission before her. He surrendered, putting his hands up so she could see them, trying to show her he meant no harm. One hand still held his bottle of whiskey, which he'd resisted dropping, and he realized he looked a little ridiculous with hard liquor in his hand at this moment.
"I-I ain't gonna hurt ya," he stuttered, his words coming out more slurred than he'd intended. He found himself genuinely fearful of this small blonde hurting him.
"Then why're you sneakin' through here in the middle of the night? When you know Glenn and Maggie are gone? Whaddyou want?" she questioned, obviously trying to sound calm and steady but her voice wavering with the slightest hint of insecurity – or maybe he was imagining a more vulnerable version of her. "Drop the bottle."
"It ain't like that," Daryl assured her, the sharp point of the knife digging into his neck and threatening to break skin. "I'm drinkin' it, I ain't tryin' t'bash yer head in with it."
"I don't even know you," she muttered, seemingly accepting his lack of self-defense as a sign that he wasn't going to bust the bottle over her head, but that he wasn't going to drop it to the floor either. "So why're you here?"
"You do know me," he corrected her, a sharp pang in his chest at her harsh words. She didn't trust him, and that hurt more than anything else. The Beth he'd known would've trusted him above anyone except maybe Maggie. "She ain't told you anythin'? Rick? Nobody?"
He hadn't told anyone about the details of his time with Beth, but Maggie and Rick had made assumptions. Carol and Michonne had seen the change in him. Everyone knew something had happened out there, but they'd never pried. Yet after they thought she was dead, they joined with him in mourning, his loss an unquestionable fact. He had assumed they would've mentioned it to her, maybe told her that there were things about him that she didn't remember and they didn't know enough about to explain. He hadn't asked them to keep it from her. He'd thought about it, certainly – asking the others to pretend they hadn't seen his deep depression after losing her, to keep up the façade that the young blonde and the dirty redneck hadn't experienced anything more together than what she remembered from before the prison. But he'd decided against it, a small part of him secretly hoping that maybe hearing about it from someone else would spark her memory.
"Told me what? Who, Maggie? What does she know about you that I don't? What's it gotta do with me?" Beth produced questions before he could form answers, her grip on Daryl and the knife only tightening.
"Ain't nothin' changed in a bad way since y'can remember," he attempted to convince her. "Ya can let me go, I just… wanted t'talk."
It sounded stupid coming from his whiskey-soaked lips. "Just wanted to talk" sounded like such a stupid, pre-Walkers thing to say to someone, especially someone like Beth. But it was the truth. The Beth he'd known at the prison would've taken it over any other excuse. This Beth wasn't quite so trusting.
"About what? What do we have to talk about?" she pressed.
"The shit you don't remember," he managed to say, hoping it sounded free of slurring.
Her grip on him suddenly loosened and the knife that had been poking uncomfortably into his neck was pulled away, leaving a small, sore indention in his skin. He immediately pulled his arms free of her and spun around to face the small blonde, his empty hand reaching up to his neck to rub it in solace.
Her blue eyes were narrowed at him in suspicion and her knife was still in hand, lowered to her side. She pursed her lips, giving him an impatient look.
"What d'you know about what I can't remember?" she asked quietly, her tone razor sharp.
He noticed she wasn't in pajamas but was fully dressed, boots and all. She looked wide awake, like she'd been waiting for him. Her good eye was searching him up and down frantically, her face creased with suspicion. He quickly realized the "sleeping body" he'd seen in the bed was a diversion created by her.
"Who you so scared of?" he grumbled, unable to answer her question with so many of his own.
"I ain't scared o' no one, why d'you ask?"
Something familiar echoed in her voice and he could recall a time when he'd tried to play the same act on her. This girl was all spikes and bright colors, anything to ward off predators before they got too close. It impressed him and scared him at the same time.
"Why weren't you sleepin'? An' why you gotta set up yer bed like that?" he asked, gesturing to the pile of blankets and pillows in her bed.
She shrugged, eyes softening. "Just... precautions. Ya never know."
He couldn't help but smirk. "Dunno what yer afraid of. These're good people."
Her posture stiffened. "I know some of 'em are, but ya can't trust everyone. Now what'd ya have to tell me about? You know somethin' about me – before the hospital?"
Daryl couldn't help himself. He blurted out the first thing that had come to his mind, still stuck on how she had set her room up as if expecting a night attack. "Ya told me yerself… there's still good people. Ya gotta believe that. It's part o' who ya are."
She looked taken aback. "When did I tell you that?"
His smirk dropped from his face faster than it had appeared. He averted his eyes away from hers, looking to the ground instead. "Back in Georgia. We were together… ya don't remember. That's the shit ya don't remember."
Questions filled her bright blue eye. "When were we together?"
She asked almost immediately and it took him by surprise. She believed him. She wanted to hear more. He had nearly convinced himself she'd shoo him away when he approached her with these stories, that she'd write him off as a liar or something, but no, she was asking for details. The hardened look of defense on her face had all but vanished and she was waiting for his explanation.
He made wary eye contact with her again and exhaled softly. "After the prison… after yer dad… it was just us. We made it out together. We lost the others. Didn't have nothin' but each other. An' you hated me… I tried to protect ya. But ya wouldn't let me. You were strong, but ya didn't even see it. I… I screwed up. I let myself get comfortable, I let my guard down, I was stupid. It was my fault."
The words were pouring out of him faster than he'd intended or planned. She didn't seem to question his guilt. He'd only wanted to give her the basics. He forced himself to stop as he tried to measure her reaction.
She looked familiar to him for the first time since she'd arrived in Alexandria. The expression on her face was innocent, excited, optimistic - intrigued. Her eyebrows rose and her soft, chapped lips formed her next words carefully and quietly. "…what happened?"
Daryl sighed. His head drooped and his long, dark bangs fell over his eyes. He couldn't bear to stare at that face for this moment. "We survived. In the trunk of a car, in a shitty lil' camp… ya dragged me on a mission to find you yer first real drink o' alcohol and we went all the way to a damn country club – nearly got yerself killed tryin'a fight off a Walker with nothin' but a wine bottle. Ended up headin' to a shack in the woods I'd found, tippin' back moonshine, playin' some dumb drinkin' game you said you used t'watch yer friends play – "
"Never have I ever?"
His head shot up to meet her wide and curious eye, surprised at her sudden recognition. "Yeah, tha's the one."
"Then what?" she urged in a breathy whisper. She seemed to be hanging on his every word now.
"Ya… did weird stuff sometimes. But it was… nice. Ya liked to cover bodies, show yer respects. Ya liked to remember the people behind the Walkers," he found himself explaining it the way he'd come to realize it had actually been. He'd reflected on the memories so many times and for so long now, he could pinpoint every single tiny lesson Beth Greene had taught him that changed him in some way – another thing that had made it so utterly impossible for him to forget about her. "Ya didn't sing fer a while."
"I haven't sang in ages."
Her voice stabbed him with guilt. "Ya should."
Her brow creased as she seemed to study him. "Wait… you like it? I remember thinkin'… you hated it. I thought I kinda annoyed everybody."
He shook his head with a light smile. "Ya said that to me once – after I heard ya sing again."
She was silent, lips slightly parted like she had words resting on the tip of her tongue, but no sounds came out.
"'Sides, ain't no jukeboxes anymore, so…"
"What'd I sing?"
Her question was sudden and quick and caught him off guard. He shrugged lightly, recalling that night from his treasure trove of prized memories. "Somethin' like… buyin' a beer ta shotgun, layin' on a lawn, wishin' it was summer…"
One side of her mouth tilted upward in a sort of knowing smirk. "I sang Waxahatchee in front o' you?"
He didn't recognize the name but assumed it was the song or band and he smirked back. "Ya sang it to me – or for me. Either way, I didn't hate it."
"Why d'you say I hated you?" she asked.
He chuckled lightly. "'Cause ya did. 'Cause I was a dick. 'Cause… ya thought I didn't care. I gave up on findin' everybody, figured they were all dead, we'd never see 'em again… You thought different. Wouldn't let me convince ya otherwise. Wouldn't let me give up."
"Sometimes I think I can't. Even when I want to," she broke his brief silence with a blunt admission he hadn't expected.
"I know. I saw it."
"What else d'you know about me? Before that prison?"
He shook his head, becoming confused. Why would she ask him for these details when everyone else surely filled her in on all of it already? "Whaddya mean? We barely knew each other. Ya had Maggie an' Hershel and all yer other family. We didn't talk much."
"I-I don't… I don't think they're tellin' me everything. Maggie an' Glenn. Carol. They said they all knew me at my dad's farm, but I – I can't hardly remember it. I don't know anythin' about a prison, or a fire, or a herd o' Walkers killin' Jimmy and Patricia and-and…"
Tears were brimming in her eyes and she blinked rapidly, obviously trying to force them back as she looked away from Daryl in embarrassment.
"What do you remember?" he whispered.
She didn't reply for a long moment. It felt like an eternity to Daryl. He turned his head away from her, trying to give her a moment to compose herself in dignity, acting like he was observing the small bedroom around him. But then he felt her soft fingers on his and realized she had reached out and wrapped her hand around the whiskey bottle in his grasp. He'd forgotten he was even holding it, in all honesty. He let go and she took it from him.
"I need a drink," she stated simply, sending a flurry of nostalgia floating through Daryl's muddled head.
He watched her with a tilted gaze as she unscrewed the cap and lifted the mouth of the bottle to her pale lips, tilting it back and taking a small swig. She grimaced and he couldn't help but smirk, but it quickly disappeared when she lowered the bottle again, cringed, and repeated the motion, another swallow of liquor falling down her throat. She downed a few shots, still looking away from him as she cleared her throat and straightened her back in response to the sharpness of the alcohol.
She sniffled, keeping her eyes shut as a single tear rolled down her cheek, the bottle gripped tightly in her small hand, but she spoke clearly. "I remember you all… meetin' you and you livin' with us… I remember Daddy sayin' those things were all just sick, that they jus' needed help, and I thought he was wrong but I didn't say nothin', 'cause I hoped to God he was right – 'cause my mom was sick, and then my brother got sick, an' so many others, and the world had gotten real scary and I didn't know what we were gonna do or where we were gonna go… I remember Shane and that barn, and I remember how furious Daddy was, how much Maggie was yellin' – everybody was yellin'. I remember watchin' Rick shoot 'em all: my brother, my neighbors, family friends, even my own mom… That little girl that came out, the one y'all had been lookin' for… I remember seein' you an' Carol and the rest o' the group, how tore up you all were to see her like that, to… to have to shoot her like that. And… I remember runnin' to my mom's side, just wantin' to see her face one last time, but she came back and... that's it."
She opened her eyes and they had emptied of emotion and tears. Daryl saw blank space, a void that needed filling. He watched her close her eyes once more and lift the bottle to her mouth to swallow another drink.
"Lori? Judith? Dale, Shane, Jimmy, Patricia dyin'? The fire an' the herd that took down the farm?"
He was listing off these names and events, hoping to spark her memory, praying Maggie had already told her all of this or that she remembered it somehow. How could this girl ever be the same Beth Greene if she didn't have the same experiences to mold her?
"Rick told me about Judith and Lori, about Carl… about Shane. Maggie wouldn't tell me about Jimmy or Patricia, but Glenn did. But I don't remember… any of it. It's like I went to sleep when I saw my mom and Shawn get put down and I just woke up a couple months ago."
Daryl squinted his eyes at her, studying her closely. He knew you couldn't see people's personalities from the outside but sometimes he liked to think you could. This girl looked like Beth but beneath the layers and the scars, he knew it was someone else now - a scared teenage girl who'd woken up halfway through her own tragic death. This was the Beth Greene he'd never known, because the one he'd grown close to was still lying inside of Grady Memorial Hospital.
She slipped her knife into her belt, handing him the bottle back for a moment as she raised her left arm up and unwrapped the bandana from her wrist, turning it to show him the thick, white scar there. He'd only seen it a few times, but it still shocked him to see what this girl had once tried to do to herself. And it shocked him even more now to see her revealing it to him like a patient would show a wound to a doctor.
"D'you know what happened?"
Her question was weak and frightened, but he could tell it had been weighing on her mind since she'd first seen the scar after waking up. He wondered how she could remember Michonne's face but not remember trying to take her own life.
"Maggie didn't tell you?" his voice was almost a growl in an effort to cover the way it would surely crack trying to respond to her. He immediately gulped down another shot of whiskey, reveling in the burn as it went down his throat.
She shook her head. "She just said it was a mistake. A Walker. But that don't make sense. I think I-I did it to myself, maybe."
Daryl chewed on his lower lip for a second, then nodded, meeting her gaze with unbroken eye contact. She knew he was telling her the truth.
"…I did, didn't I?" she stared up at him with a look that threatened to tear him apart.
He held the bottle out to her in an offering and she accepted, taking it back to down another shot.
"Why?" she asked, her throat coated with whiskey and almost too quiet for him to understand. But the darkened bedroom was dead silent and he could hear every word she spoke, every breath she took. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other uncomfortably.
He glanced around for a minute before answering. "She ain't lyin'. 'Spose it was a mistake. I always thought it was fer attention, but… that ain't it. It was summin' else. After the barn, ya kinda shut off. Gave up. Got as far as that," he gestured toward the scar. "Pretty damn deep, too, fer yer own wrist. Musta hurt like hell."
"Who stopped me? Why?"
He sighed. "Dunno. Ya chose t'live."
This answer seemed to suffice because she lowered her arm back to her side, the shadows hiding the scar once more. "Why would Maggie lie about it…"
Daryl's brow furrowed and he had to look away from Beth's somber face to avoid another question he didn't have the answer to, her cloudy eye contributing to making her look like the saddest wreck of them all, which killed him inside. To see someone so beautiful and full of hope like this just didn't feel right. It made his stomach churn. He glanced around, taking in the bedroom little by little, trying to spot anything that was tell-tale "Beth" about the small room. But all he saw was the basic furniture it had already been equipped with – bed, dresser, nightstand, lamp, closet door shut tight, a pile of what looked like hand-me-down clothing folded atop the dresser. He turned to look back to her face but stopped when his eye caught something on the wall next to the bed, illuminated by moonlight – a calendar. Or the attempts of one. It was a hand-drawn grid, X's marking days past and things like weather patterns and phases of the moon written along the edges. He couldn't see from where he stood exactly what day or month she'd calculated it to be, but seeing even the attempt to actually document and track time gave him a small surge of hope. He remembered the calendar she kept at the prison. This was just one of those things about her that would never change, and it gave him a sort of relief.
"How d'you remember all this… random shit… but not everythin' else?" he asked after their long moment of silence. He was trying to make sense of it but none of it was fitting together like it should.
"Do I look like a neurosurgeon? I'm just lucky t'be alive. To have what eyesight and memory that I do," she remarked, a defensive edge to her voice.
"It don't make sense, that's all," Daryl muttered, discreetly eying her up and down.
She turned her body away from him just slightly, looking off toward the window behind him, a thoughtful gaze in her good eye. She was silent for a moment, a look on her face like she was trying to remember where she was for a second before she spoke. "I get… little bits, here an' there. Flashes of somethin' I can't really place. Sometimes it's bad – so bad it brings me t'tears, although I'm not totally sure what for – and sometimes it's real good, gives me this weird boost like I just took a shot of adrenaline or somethin'. But none of it… none of it fits together."
She smiled and let out a laugh but it was pained and ironic, an angry humor found in being tortured by her own broken mind.
"Like what?" he asked, waiting patiently for her to go on.
She shook her head and looked at the bottle in her hand with an expressionless eye. She took another shot and swallowed it quickly, seemingly forcing herself to explain to him with the taste of whiskey on her tongue.
"They never come up in order, they don't make any sense," she explained before continuing. "I-I see Daddy, missin' a leg, lyin' on a cot about to die. I see him with a bandana on his face, covered in blood. I see a big fire, brighter than any fire I've ever seen, bigger than any fire I've ever seen in person, and I think that's our house on the farm burning like Maggie told me about, but there's another fire that I see, too, and I'm so close to it that I can feel the heat of it makin' me sweat, even though it's nighttime and there's a real nice breeze comin' from somewhere, and there's this really strong smell of alcohol in my nose… I see an RV gettin' swamped with Walkers. I-I see a really tall, long fence, and I'm behind it, but I don't feel trapped, just safe. I see a… a tank. Like a military tank. Then there's a school bus, too, and it's full o' kids. Then I see Michonne's face, in all kinds o' places, different settings, but then I see the bus again and it's full o' Walkers, they're pourin' outta the back. I see machine guns and a machete. I see Michonne's sword. Blood. I see lots and lots of blood in every single scene. There's always blood. A… a kid's shoe, and human parts on the ground like-like it was the scene of someone bein' eaten by Walkers. I see a real big, pregnant Lori, but I never see her without her baby belly unless it's the stuff I remember from the farm."
Every word seemed to stab Daryl deeper and deeper, an invisible knife twisting into his side as she recounted the painful memories she couldn't piece together. He saw her reach out and place the bottle back in his hand and he took it gratefully, his grip tightening around the neck.
"There's a man… he has an eyepatch and he looks… angry. On edge. He's got a crazy look in his eye. An' I see Rick fightin' him, and sometimes I have this dream where I'm holdin' a gun and shootin' through a fence, just prayin' I kill this one-eyed man, 'cause he did somethin' that hurt me an' Maggie really bad, but I can't see that part, even when I try."
She sighed, a hidden exhaustion finding its way out of her.
"Even when I try… really hard…"
He was silent. He took a large swig of whiskey, only stopping himself when he realized how light the bottle had gotten. He didn't know how to respond, which piece of the puzzle to try to put together for her first. How much had Maggie kept from her? What was she trying to protect Beth from at this point? Couldn't she see this was only causing the young survivor more harm than good? He was happy, in a way, that she couldn't remember watching her father die. But he also knew it was a crucial piece to the puzzle that had become the strong Beth Greene.
"I see Andrea, but I don't remember what happened to her… And I don't remember Maggie and Glenn gettin' married. I wish I did."
Daryl pursed his lips, flipping through all the assorted files in his head to reference everything she was describing. Some of it felt like a lifetime ago, another century.
"But then there's good stuff. Like… I see us all sittin' as a group, and everybody's there, and we're hopeful, and I'm singin', and nobody seems to mind. Actually, I think they might enjoy it for once. I remember this smell – it's the smell of a new baby's hair, somethin' ya just can't replicate – and it comes to me at the weirdest times, like right when I wake up or right before I take the first bite of food," her good eye seemed to fill with a new life as she began describing these good memories to him. These were the flashes of happiness that came upon her randomly, and he only hoped she experienced more of these than the bad. "I see… flowers. Fields of flowers, and fields of really tall grass, and lookin' up at the most blue sky and feelin' totally breathless but alive. I see a deer and I think I'm about to shoot it, and then there's this weird little white dog, and he only has one eye, and he pops up from behind trees once in a while, but whenever I try to chase him, he disappears, and more Walkers show up. But I dunno if that's even a real memory, it could just be some stupid dream I keep havin'."
He remained silent, waiting for her to continue, but looked up to check her reaction when she didn't. She was watching him, expecting a response. He held out the bottle for her to take, and she accepted, taking a slow drink this time. She didn't cringe from the taste anymore, but he could see her forcing her throat to swallow it.
"What else?" he grunted.
"I think the others are from the hospital… I see Noah's face in some of 'em, and a lady that looks mean but scared, and everybody's in cop uniforms or scrubs, and the hallways are always real dark and I always feel lost but like I'm just about to escape. It always ends with me standin' behind Carol, and she's in a wheelchair, and I can feel this tiny pair of scissors hidden in my sleeve, and my heart's racin' but… but then it ends, I don't get to see anymore," her face slowly drifted back to the distant, lost look. She was trying to retrace her steps, to dig up more from the gravesite of her memory, but she was coming up empty-handed. Maybe the booze was affecting her, too. He thought he recognized that half-drunk look on her face – that point of no return where you start to not care while everything horrible continues to eat you from the inside out.
"Do ya ever see any o' me? My face? Good… or bad?" he had to ask. The whiskey was still doing its job. It was still giving him the courage he wouldn't normally have.
She glanced at him and then away, her answer less confident. "Yeah… scattered. Here an' there. A long time apart, I think. I see ya with short hair, long hair, cuts on yer face and none at all, but always carryin' a crossbow and walkin' ahead of me somewhere… The only time I see you really clear is in this really dark one, like we got nothin' but a couple candles, and we're sittin' at a table, and yer lookin' me right in the eyes – and that's another thing, that I can see you through both of my eyes - but… I dunno…"
Daryl's chest was surging. It felt like a balloon had been placed inside his sternum and it was slowly being inflated. The bits of her memory that he recognized – their time together – it was still there. She remembered something. It wasn't all gone.
"I'll tell ya how all o' that fits together," he said unsuredly, adding, "…if ya want."
She gave him a skeptical look. "How do I know you'd even be tellin' the truth? You're obviously drunk and you just broke in here for no good reason..."
He blinked, slightly taken aback. "Ya wouldn't. You'd just have to trust me, I s'pose."
He paused, then added playfully, "'Sides, you been drinkin', too. This bottle's damn near gone, an' just look at ya."
A smile caught her by surprise and she quickly tried to force it away, but not before Daryl had spotted it. He smirked, pleased with himself for making light of a situation for once.
She pursed her lips once more and gave him that defiant look he'd thought he'd never see again. He couldn't stop the balloon doubling in size inside his chest again. "How about we start with why yer drinkin'? Why you're here? Why you got scars that look like cigarette burns on yer hands?"
He jolted at the realization that she'd noticed his scars. She was more observant than he gave her credit for. Maybe she'd always been, or maybe it was something she'd learned from Morgan and her own small group of survivors.
She reiterated, "What made you do any o' those things?"
Daryl realized the answer to that question had never changed, not even now. No matter if the question was "What changed your mind?" or "What made you do any of those things?"
He couldn't lie. The answer had always been the same, and still was.
"You did, Beth Greene."