He takes night watch again. Despite Michonne giving him that look - the one that tells him he outta be sleeping instead. She doesn’t need to say it because he already fucking knows it. It’s better this way, if he’s out walking the streets. It used to be nice, being one of the few people up. Before Negan, before this fucking war they’re in the thick of. It was about as close an escape as he could get.
It’s quiet, the stars are out and everything but it does nothing to put him at ease. He can feel that so-familiar prickling as it makes its way up his spine. It’s gonna be one of those nights, he already knows. One of those nights where the ghosts come knocking and he just can’t keep ‘em all away. He used to be good at it too, that’s the real kicker. Then again the ghosts he used to try to keep away weren’t made up of persistent ass spirits like hers.
There isn’t much to watch for. It’s been over a week since they’d last seen ‘em anywhere near Alexandria. Both sides were keeping their heads low – planning and shit like that. That knowledge is all he needs to deem it safe to park his ass at the watch post by the front gates; seeing is there’s already a chair up there anyways.
The ghost settles with him as he parks his ass. He can feel her there, just underneath his skin. Daryl tries not to let himself indulge. Not that it’s indulgent at all. Not that it’s enjoyable for even a goddamn second. Just sometimes he can’t help himself.
He’s not sure how long it’s been since he’s said her name out loud, since any of them have really. They don’t talk about ‘em a lot. The ones they lost. Nowadays they’re too fucking busy, and before. Before it just hurt too much. Thing was – they still got mentioned. Even in passing. Glenn, Abraham, Lori, Hershel – Fuckin’Dale, but Beth? Never Beth. Not even Maggie. Like all the sudden the name itself was forbidden. Like she was never even there.
Which is frustrating. No, it’s maddening because she fucking was. She had been.
He pulls the crumpled cigarette package from the ass pocket of his pants, flipping the cardboard top. It’s gonna be one of those nights where he just lets her get in his head. It’s not the worst. It doesn’t really hurt until after.
It’s easy getting lost in the stream of thoughts. How much she’d have liked Alexandria, how they’d all gotten their own cookie cutter homes. She would have found it hilarious that Rick had tried to give him a house. He still technically had one, just didn’t use it. Crashed with the others mostly. Didn’t like being that alone most of the time. She would have loved it before the fall. It was that life she always dreamed about. Safety, security. A place where Carl and Judith had a fighting chance at even an ounce of normalcy. That one stings. Carl’s gone too. Gone but not forgotten – not like she seems to be.
They have Judith though. That little girl’s the highlight of most of his days. She’d grown so much since Beth had last gotten to see her, before the prison had been attacked. It was hard to picture her as the little fussy bundle of cloth that Beth had carried around all that time. He’s gonna tell her about Beth one day. When she’s old enough. He figures it’ll be okay. They’ll probably tell her about everybody wont they? Girl’s got the biggest family ever, so many people helped to raise her and keep her safe. He’ll tell here all about Beth. How much she talked about her even when they were on their own – how it did his head in sometimes because she wouldn’t shut up about babies. Specifically this one. How Beth had been the sweetest, kindest goddamn person he’d ever known. How she’d sung to Judith almost every night; and what felt like every waking moment she wasn’t all busy with something else. Always singing.
Maybe they could remember together.
It’s not right, he thinks as he takes a drag from his cigarette. Eyes scanning the empty roads and the darkened trees. He shouldn’t have to do any of that shit. But if he doesn’t, who will? What if nobody did? That wouldn’t be right either. She deserved to know about her family. All of them.
He gets lost for awhile. Surrounded by the night chill and the smoke. He used to imagine her out there, strolling up the gates and demanding to be let in. It’s one of his less questionable fantasies. She’d give him shit for locking her out, and for taking so fucking long to find. She’d even swear at him. But it would be okay. She would be smiling, she’d be throwing her arms around him and trying to choke the life out of him and he’d love every single second of it.
Or there’s the one where he feels her right there beside him. They’d alternate watch when they’d been on their own, especially if they were out in the open. Most of the time he’d cheat and take up her time, let her sleep more. It had taken so long before he’d become okay with it, before he could even trust her enough to let her watch out for him. But eventually it happened. He had to sleep sometime, that’s what she’d always told him.
It’s one of those nights. One of the nights where he looks down at the wooden platform underneath his feet and expects to see her curled up beside him. Stealin’ his warmth and all that sort of stuff. Only it’s just him, the gate, the trees, and the night.
His gaze is drawn towards the trees. There’s a big one not far off from the gate. She’d tried to convince him to make a platform once. It never ceases to amaze him how random the shit that comes up is when he’s on his own. She was a climber, delicate thing like her could scale a tree like she was part squirrel or something. It’d been frowned on growing up because of course it had. She’d tried so hard to convince him. “You want me to make a goddamn treehouse?”
She always just rolled her eyes. No, not a tree house. A platform. Safer off the ground than on it. Plus, it’d be good for hunting. Not that he needed any help hunting, she’d be quick to add. But not so quick as to thwart the look he’d throw her. It wasn’t a bad idea.
In hindsight, they both might’ve slept better if he’d built her a friggin’ treehouse. Platform, whatever she’d wanted. Couldn’t trap a treehouse he thinks grimly. That house had been the problem. If they’d stayed out, if he’d listened...
Daryl shakes his head, letting out a cough and stops that thought dead in his tracks. Doesn’t matter what he’d done. She still would have died like a dumbass. She would have tried to be good, tried to help someone, do something. She would have died any way.
That’s what he tells himself.
He stamps the cigarette beneath his heel. He can’t help but steal one last look before he reaches for the ladder. Somewhere in the back of his mind he can’t help but hope. Maybe she’s still with him for a reason. Maybe he’s got some sort of fucked up connection to her and maybe that’s why she haunts him. So he doesn’t forget, so when she does come back...No.
She’s never gonna come back.
It’s cold. Colder than normal and she’s about to drop her pack when she sees a shadow in the distance. That was enough recon for the night, she needed to get back before morning. Bosses orders. He likes her keeping an eye on the place, even before Negan had lost the fight at Alexandria. Keep an eye on Rick. Granted, she wasn’t specifically keeping an eye on Rick. Rarely did her eyes land on Rick. Not at night.
Tonight it was quiet. Wasn’t going to be much to report on but Gavin would be pissed if she turned back up early. It hadn’t been long since the post by the gate had been emptied, normally his people ran on tight schedules now. Even tighter than before featuring nightly patrols and a round the clock guard. It was a little weird, seeing the platform empty if only for a few minutes longer than normal. But when she pulled the binoculars off her shoulder, she could see why. It wasn’t the normal guard. It was the smoker.
He, at least she assumed they were a her, hadn’t always been there, but once he showed up it was noticeable. That faint little bundle of embers gave him away. He wasn’t very exciting, nothing to write home about. Literally not something to write home about. He just sort of wandered around the place. Inevitably ending up on the platform, staring out in the darkness.
She adjusted viewfinder. It was dark, no chance of getting a look tonight. The stars only did so much. There was something about him that made her feel uneasy. It didn’t make sense because nothing made her uneasy anymore, nothing made her nervous. That’d been beaten and worked out of her long ago. This was different. Made her feel small, like prey. Seeing him up there. Which meant he was the predator. A chill ran down her spine as she strained to get a better look. Didn’t make sense, why, of all of them the one person. One person whose face she’d never even seen. Not really, not clearly. Why he made her feel like that but he did.
Beth tried to shrug it off, slouching so that the pack on her shoulder slid down her arm. It was stupid, but she wished he’d leave. Whoever the hell he was. He was distracting; not that there was a whole lot else to focus on but if there had been he would have taken up all her attention. Stupid friggin’ smoker.
When she turns back around, sites set on the platform her heart all but seizes in her chest. She can feel it. She can kind of see it, he’s looking right at her. Beth reels back, momentarily losing her balance and there’s a frenzied grab for a branch up above her head. Fuck, fuck fuck! She knows the leaves are shaking. He’s looking at the leaves moved, any second she’s expecting shouting. The gates to open and a mass to flood towards her little perch.
It takes a second to regain her balance. The longest second of her entire life. Realistically, he can’t see her. He shouldn’t be able to. It’s dark enough, he doesn’t have binoculars like she does. She’s covered head to toe in green and black, fuck she’s even covered her face in shit. There’s a reason why Gavin always sends her; and only her.
Because no one ever sees her.
She doesn’t move again until he gets up and vanishes down the ladder. Not until she’s sure the gates wont open. It doesn’t feel safe to. Feels like he’d seen her. Like he knew she was there.
It’s a feeling she can’t shake, not even once she’s back at the outpost. She can feel him with her, even all the way there. Like a ghost. Makes her feel fuckin’ haunted, that’s what it does.
Takes a long time to put it away. Ignore it. He hadn’t seen, in the days after there were no disturbances or scouts. Still she couldn’t help but shiver whenever she saw the tiny flame spark up in the distance through the lenses. He was out there. Watching for someone, something.
Some night she can’t help but feel like the smoking man was out there in the dark looking just for her.