Six years after escaping Terminus.
The survivors from the prison along with a few newer members of their group were gathered around a fire at their camp somewhere in the Georgia woods.
It wasn't dark but it was cold. Of course none of them were complaining about it because the cold weather meant less walkers to fight off.
Rick was huddled together with Carol and Carl and Judith were in between them to keep warm. Maggie, Glenn and their two year old daughter, Beth were together. Michonne and Tyreese were on watch but kept close to each other. Sasha and Bob were together, as were Abraham and Rosita. And despite them not actually being a couple, Tara and Eugene were huddled together talkin' about video games and comic books.
Everyone had someone to keep them warm and comfortable. Everyone except one person, Daryl Dixon.
Though he'd never admit it to anyone other than Judith and little Beth, he loved them all and they all knew he'd do whatever was necessary to keep them safe. They were his family, his only family and the best one he'd ever known.
He sat there by himself, watching the members of the group. He looked back and forth between them all, wishing Beth would reappear. He looked to little Beth snuggled between her mom and dad and he shook his head. She had Beth's name but that was it. She was every bit of Maggie from her hair to her attitude.
Six years and they never let outsiders in and they all made decisions together. Even Maggie and Glenn having Beth was a decision made by the whole group.
Six years and Daryl still believed he'd find her. Even if all he found was that she was a walker. At least then he could finally let go like he did with Merle.
Daryl stood up and started to walk away when he felt a tug on his coat.
"Uncle Daryl, will you tell me a story?" Judith asked.
He looked to Rick who gave him a slight nod and he sat back down pulling Judith into his lap along with little Beth who had come over to him too.
By the time he'd finished the story, both girls were asleep. He carried them to their tent and made sure they were tucked in before he left.
A few members of the group had already turned in for the night while the remaining members were either on watch or sitting quietly by the fire.
He heard her sweet voice and looked to see if he could see her. And he did.
She giggled and called his name as she disappeared into the darkness. He chased her. Callin' her name, "Beth!"
Everytime he was close enough to touch her, she was gone again.
She was never really there.
He was gettin' sick of playin' games with her ghost but he longed for it. He wanted her to be there.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and knew who it was.
"She's not there," Rick told him.
No one knew better than Rick what it was like to chase a ghost and no one but Rick knew that was what Daryl was doin'. Rick was the only one who knew what happened to Beth.
"I know she's not there but I feel like she is. She's close, man."
Rick nodded and patted Daryl's shoulder, "C'mon back to camp and get some rest."
Once Daryl had settled into his tent, he closed his eyes. Beggin', daring her to show up.
He knew she would and he knew how every detail played out. It always started the same.
He'd see her smile, hear her voice, her giggle, her singin' to him, he'd feel her arms around him, her hand in his and he'd feel her lips on his.
"You're gonna miss me so bad when I'm gone, Daryl Dixon."
Those words haunted him more than anything else.
Then, he'd see the car. He would chase it, callin' her name.
"Beth!" He woke up screamin'.
Just like the night before and every night for the past six years, Maggie was the one who rushed to his side. He let her hold him while he cried. She was the only one that was able to comfort him.
She never asked what happened between him and her sister and she never asked what happened the night Beth went missing. And to be honest, she really didn't want to know. All she knew was that her sister was "gone" and to her that left the possibility that she was still alive even though she knew that was a long shot.
After Daryl had finally calmed down, Maggie returned to her tent and Daryl went for a walk.
He returned to the camp a little after daylight to find everyone awake. While on his walk, he was able to get a couple of squirrels and a rabbit. Huntin' kept them all fed but more importantly it kept him from thinkin' about Beth.
During the day there really wasn't much to do. It wasn't like at the prison where they all had jobs to do.
After breakfast they all settled into a familiar routine. It may have been cold but they all needed to wash off and get a few clothes washed and refill their water bottles.
Abraham, Rosita, Michonne and Tyreese stayed at the camp while the rest of the group went to the creek.
The men were on watch while the girls washed. When they had finished, everyone set out to wash their own clothes.
They were there for a couple hours when they heard an ear piercing scream.
"It sounded like a kid," Carol spoke up.
Everyone agreed and listened for another. But it never came so they went about their business.
On their way back to camp though, they heard it again. This time they could hear what the child was screamin'.
"Mama!" They heard the child scream, "help me please!"
Daryl, Rick, Carol, Carl and Maggie ran of in the direction of the child's screams while the rest continued on to camp.
Daryl came up on some small tracks and they all followed them. They knew it could be a trap, just as Terminus had been, but if there was a chance they could save the child, they were gonna take it.
When they came upon the end of the child's tracks, they saw a herd of walkers. More than they'd seen in a while.
They could hear they child cryin' from inside the small cavern but there were too many walkers. They couldn't just run over, help the child and leave. No, they had to fight off the walkers.
It took them a while to kill all of the walkers that had trapped the child but when they had finished, they ran to the cavern.
Maggie and Carol held their hands out to the small child.
"It's alright, sweetie. We're not gonna hurt you," Carol said.
The child's eyes moved from Carol to Maggie before reluctantly takin' their hands.
It was a little girl. She was very small and covered from head to toe in mud and walker guts.
Maggie knelt down in front of her, "Hi, sweetie. I'm Maggie and this is Carol. Can you tell us your name?"
She shook her head vigorously.
"Alright. Can you tell us how old you are?"
She held up her hands, using her fingers to display how old she was.
"You're six?" Carol said, noting that the child was very small for her age.
"We heard you callin' for your mama. Do you know where she is?" Maggie asked.
The little girl shook her head no.
Maggie looked at Carol, Rick, Carl and Daryl before continuing, "We have a camp not far from here. There's two little girls there. Would you like to come back with us? We'll get you cleaned up, dry clothes and some food."
The little girl let go of their hands and slowly back up towards the cavern, pulling a knife from behind her.
The could tell she wasn't sure what to do with it but she was terrified of them. They all suspected then that somethin' horrible had happened to her.
Carl came closer and held out his hand, "My little sister is at the camp. If you come back with us, you'll have someone to play with."
She looked back at Maggie and Carol and lowered her knife.
"You can come with us," Carol started, "we'll help you look for your mom tomorrow. But your welcome to stay with us, you can leave if you don't like it there."
Seein' no way around this situation, the little girl stepped forward and took Carl's hand.
Back at the camp, Carol gathered some clothes for the little girl and they started towards the creek.
Carl stood watch while Maggie and Carol helped her clean up and wash the mud and guts out of her hair. They were surprised when they saw that the child was blond.
Carol washed her dirty clothes before they headed back to camp. When they got there, Maggie introduced her to everyone and Carol began tending to the small cuts she had on her face and arms.
The little girl huddled by a tree, away from everyone, when it was time for supper. She could hear them whispering about her.
She rested her head on her knees and started humming a song she remembered her mom singin' to her.
"Hi," Judith sat down next to her, "what's your name?"
The girl didn't say anything.
"What was that song you were hummin'? Can you sing it to me?"
The little girl nodded and began singin':
".....pine for summer And we'll buy a beer to shotgun And we'll lay in the lawn And we'll be good
Now I'm laughing at my boredom At my string of failed attempts Because you think that it's important And I welcome the sentiment"
["Be Good" by Waxahatchee]
Daryl, who had been on watch, walked over to the fire and stared at the little girl across from him. He watched the flames dance in her eyes as she continued to sing.
With each line, he moved closer until he was kneeling in front of her. He was so lost in her voice and her eyes that he didn't notice everyone else gathering around to hear her sing.
She was Beth, every little bit of Beth. Her blonde hair, blue eyes and her voice.
He let a few tears fall as he listened to the little girl sing the last song he heard Beth sing.
When she was done, she smiled and looked at everyone until she saw Daryl. Her smile faded and she curled her legs up to her chest.
Daryl fought back more tears and the lump in his throat when he spoke to her.
He looked into her eyes, "What's your name?"
She didn't want to tell him or anyone else her name but she saw the sad look on his face.
She looked him in the eye as she spoke, "Caroline Dixon."