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some of them are here on earth

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If the State of Georgia had seen fit to upgrade the ancient plumbing they left in their goddamn prison before the world fell apart, Daryl might never have found out what Beth could do.

The showers had only been up and running a couple of weeks when the drains backed up, filling the whole place with an inch of scummy, grey water. Daryl finds himself lying belly down in it on an October morning, examining the corroded floor drain and crumbling lead pipes.

A plumber he ain't.

He screws around with the drain for a solid hour before he realises the shower drains themselves aren’t blocked. It takes a trip to the admin building to find old blueprints that show the plumbing, but eventually Daryl figures out that the problem must be farther down the line than the showers, deep in the basement.

After a stop in their makeshift inventory to pick up a couple of wrenches and an auger, Daryl heads down into the basement.

He's become mighty familiar with the tombs, given that he and Tyreese and Glenn did most of the nasty work of clearing the bodies out. Going down there to have a look for a blocked line doesn't bother him at all.

It’s kind of good, actually, to have a job to do that’s just something broken that wants fixing. It’s simple and straightforward.

No walkers to deal with. No wannabe cult leaders or their henchmen.

No Merle.

Just a blocked drain somewhere in this place and a bunch of people wanting showers. Simple.

Daryl follows the pipes along the ceiling way down a dark hallway, until he finds a section that crosses the ceiling before emptying into a thick, vertical pipe at the end of the corridor, where it disappears into the floor. The pipe is leaking slowly at the join, leaving a small puddle on the concrete floor.

It’s as good a place as any to start.

But twenty minutes spent trying to open the old metal cap on the main clean out pipe while holding a flashlight has him cursing. The threads on the cap are probably seized, but he might be able to force it open with two hands. He just doesn’t relish the idea of doing that in the pitch dark, his flashlight on the floor, without anyone to watch his back.

Sighing in aggravation, Daryl gets to his feet. He needs another set of hands and eyes for this.

It still aggravates him, but he’s becoming accustomed to the truth: can’t do things without other people anymore.

So he hauls his ass back to C Block, damp and dirty and annoyed, to get some help.

Rick's out in the yard with Carl, cutting turf and turning soil for the new garden. Michonne's a day down the road on another solo trail ride trying to turn up a trace of the Governor. Carol’s on baby duty. Sasha and Tyreese are busy minding the fences with some of the new Woodbury folks, leaving Glenn and the Greenes sitting around one of the metal tables at the end of the cell block, eating lunch.

All four of them look up at the sound of Daryl's keys unlocking the metal door.

"Glenn. Maggie. Need your help with the showers. Got a blocked pipe down the basement."

Not once in the time he's known the two of them has either of them outright refused to help with something. No one in their group was like that; they all pitched in and pulled their own weight as best they could.

But now, when they're just sitting there having their nice family lunch with Hershel and Beth, the two of them freeze and look at him, wide-eyed.

"Uh," Glenn says, gulping. He glances at Maggie and then at Hershel. "Well, uh…"

Maggie's quicker.

"We can't," she says, eyebrows raised. She smiles at Daryl and shrugs, then looks at her sister. "Beth?"

There's a long silence then as some wordless conversation happens between Maggie and Beth, all raised eyebrows and pursed lips, like they can communicate without saying a word.

Hershel eyes his eldest daughter.

"Maggie," he begins, but he's cut off.

"I can do it," Beth pipes up. She stands up from the table, pushing her empty plate away and brushing her hands off on her jeans. “What do you need?”

Maggie's grateful smile is quick, and Daryl sees what’s actually going on. He barely stops himself from rolling his eyes.

Both of the Greene girls seem to have forgotten that Hershel wasn't exactly born yesterday.

"I don't know that that's a good idea,” Hershel says. “Beth hasn't been down in the basement before. Maggie has."

Daryl winces as right on cue, Beth goes stiff. Her frown is quick and fierce, her ponytail whipping over her shoulder as she turns to her father.

"I can kill walkers just the same as anybody else! If Maggie can help Daryl, I can, too." She turns to Daryl, eyebrows raised. "Besides, the basement's been cleared for weeks, and it's Maggie and Glenn's turn to go relieve Sasha and Tyreese, anyway. Right, Daryl?"

If there's a formal shift schedule in place for keeping the geeks from crowding the fences, Daryl's apparently the last to know. But the look on Beth's face is pointed, and Daryl's not stupid. He clears his throat, glancing at Hershel.

"Guess so," he says.

Beth grins at Daryl like he's just done something wonderful, something perfect, just exactly what she wanted. His stomach drops, swooping uncomfortably, and he swallows.

Huh.

"See?" Beth says, turning that big smile on her father. "Maggie and Glenn already got jobs to do, and I don't mind helping Daryl. Not one bit."

Cornered, Hershel seems like he might bend, but then he gives Daryl a probing, dubious look. Daryl huffs, fed up and unwilling to double down on lying to the man about who's on fence duty just to help Maggie and Glenn get laid.

"I don't give a shit who's got plans or what,” Daryl snaps. “Just need someone who can hold a flashlight to get their ass down there so we can get them showers workin' before we gotta get real damn intimate with the smell of each other's pits again. Lord."

Daryl turns around and heads back the way he came, pausing long enough at the metal cell block door to see Beth coming after him. She follows him through the doorway and he locks it behind them.

He stomps down the hallway, past the showers and into the dark corridor beyond, Beth close at his heels.

Daryl clicks his flashlight on once they turn the corner and the light from the block can't reach them anymore.

Beth falls into step beside him as they follow the long corridor.

“Keep your knife handy,” Daryl says. “We cleared it out, but this place is big. Can’t be too careful.”

Beth doesn’t reply but he hears her pull her knife from her belt. They walk until they reach a set of rusting metal fire doors. Daryl was just down here, but he checks for walkers anyway before opening one door all the way and pointing his flashlight down the dark stairwell. A set of concrete stairs leads down to another short corridor.

At the bottom of the stairs, Beth clears her throat softly.

"Thanks," she says.

"For what?"

"Back there. Helping me cover for them."

Daryl scoffs.

"Dunno how covered that was. Your dad ain't stupid."

Beth laughs softly.

“No, he isn’t. But at least if Maggie and Glenn can get some privacy, he can kinda pretend, you know?”

Daryl likes to bug the two of them, mostly because it makes Carol laugh, but for a moment he does actually feel badly for them. Sex doesn’t count as a need as far as he’s concerned, but he can’t exactly fault them for trying to be happy whenever they can.

“Hm,” he says eventually. “Sound sure carries in that cell block, huh?”

“Uh, yeah. They’re not the only ones who wish they had some privacy.”

Daryl snorts. He’d have killed for some privacy over the years, considering Merle’s complete lack of shame. He nudges Beth’s elbow with his.

“C’mon. They’ll get their alone time this afternoon and we’ll all get a peaceful sleep tonight. And all you had to do was come help me figure out what crawled into this pipe and died.”

Beth groans, but when Daryl glances at her, he catches a glimpse of a brief smile on her face in the flashlight’s glow.

They get to the pipe at the end of the corridor, and Daryl hands Beth the flashlight. As she puts her knife back on her belt, he gives her a brief explanation of what needs doing. She nods and steps out of his way, standing to the side to hold the flashlight up and point it down at the pipe so there's nothing in the way to cast a shadow.

Daryl works on the main clean out cap for a couple of minutes, grunting and sweating and trying not to curse out loud at the stubborn metal. After he stops and gives it a few hard taps with a wrench, it finally begins to budge. He slowly unscrews the thing and sets it aside.

A wave of putrid stench hits him, and Beth, too, judging by the disgusted sound she makes.

Beth puts the hand not holding the flashlight over her nose and mouth, trying to breathe through the cuff of her sweater.

Daryl peers into the open pipe, but even with the flashlight, it’s impossible to see anything. Still, the smell tells him everything he needs to know.

“Yeah, gotta be somethin’ dead down there.”

Beth shudders.

“What do we do?”

“Gotta try to work it out so the water can get through,” Daryl says. He grabs the auger from the floor and starts threading it down into the pipe. “Just keep holdin’ the light steady ‘n I’ll do the rest.”

Daryl works the auger down the pipe, twisting it and trying to feel for the blockage. He’s been at it no more than a minute when something strange happens.

Beth goes absolutely still and stares over his shoulder, down the dark hallway.

She hadn’t been making much noise to begin with, just quietly holding the flashlight at his side. But now she stops breathing altogether.

One glance at her round, frightened eyes sets off a series of alarms in his body. Daryl lets go of the auger and whips his head around to look in the direction she’s staring, but he can’t see a thing.

Everything around them is silent, almost too silent, like someone’s thrown a blanket over them, muffling every sound.

Daryl looks at Beth, her expression shadowed and strange in the glow of the flashlight she still has pointing down into the drain.

“You see somethin’?”

She’s close enough to him that he hears the steadying breath she takes right then.

“Nothin’,” she says. She turns to face him and smiles. “It’s nothin’.”

There’s something strange about her smile. It’s stiff, like she’s forcing it. He can tell it’s meant to reassure him, but it doesn’t. It unsettles him.

He peers at her.

Beth. What is it?”

The smile on her face falters and she blinks a couple of times, quickly, like she’s trying to clear her eyes. Like she’s trying to hold back tears.

Daryl frowns. He spent months out on the road with this girl. Whatever fear she had of walkers is long gone, or so he'd thought. He’s never seen her freeze like this, even in some seriously hairy situations.

Beth may be as gentle as they come, but she’s no coward.

"You see somethin', say somethin', all right? Now ain't the time to be shy."

Beth swallows and looks at him, really looks at him, her wide eyes trained on his face. It’s intense, way more than he can deal with, and he has to fight the urge to break eye contact. She inhales and exhales slowly, nostrils flaring. Then she sets her mouth in a firm line, like she’s just made up her mind about something.

Daryl’s scalp prickles.

“Daryl, do you believe in ghosts?”

He stares at her. Whatever he thought she might say, that ain’t it.

“Huh?”

“Ghosts. Dead people’s spirits. You know, ghosts.”

“I know what a fuckin’ ghost is, Beth. The hell’re you talkin’ about?”

Beth wobbles her head, giving an awkward sort of shrug.

"I can see them, okay? There’s one right over there and he startled me. That’s all.”

A chill washes over Daryl’s whole body, and he snatches the flashlight out of Beth’s hands, whipping around to point it down the hallway.

The beam is weak and only reaches part of the way. Between where they stand and the hazy place where the light dies, Daryl just sees an empty, dusty corridor. There are a couple of broken chairs against one wall near what looks like a canvas laundry cart and a large plastic bucket.

There’s nothing else. Just an empty hallway. Just nothing.

Daryl turns back around and shines the light right in her face.

“You pullin’ my leg?”

Beth grimaces, reaching up and pushing his hand aside to get the light out of her eyes. He points the beam up and away so that they can still see each other.

No. Why would I joke about something like that?”

She’s absolutely serious; she’s looking at him like she’s actually waiting on an answer. He’s confused for a moment before he remembers that they’ve come from very different places. She’s come from Hershel Greene’s home, where Daryl guesses nobody’d ever do anything so crass as make light of the dead.

This girl really thinks she sees ghosts.

Daryl’s seconds away from scoffing in her face and telling her to head back upstairs, Maggie and Glenn’s plans and the damn blocked drain be damned, but then he remembers the chupacabra.

Fuck.

Daryl knows what he saw in the woods that night. He fucking knows. He’d made the mistake of blurting it out to Merle, and that asshole had never let him live it down. Dale and Shane and all of them were no better, giving Daryl a hard time about seeing a chupacabra even as the goddamn living dead roamed the woods around them.

He watches as Beth’s expression droops and she pulls awkwardly at the cuffs of her sweater, rubbing her hand over the stack of bracelets on her wrist.

Daryl just stares at her, his brain refusing to catch up, still feeling like maybe she's just yanking his chain, trying to make him look like an idiot.

“You swear you ain’t fuckin’ with me?”

Her head snaps up and she glares at him.

“Believe me or don’t,” she says, shaking her head. She reaches out and takes the flashlight from his hand, pointing it back down into the drain. "Can we just hurry up and get this done? Please?"

Daryl eyes her for several seconds, then nods. He takes up the auger and begins working it down the pipe once more.

Usually Daryl appreciates silence. It’s one of the few perks of being preyed on by walkers everywhere they go; he’s got a built-in reason for getting other people to shut the hell up.

But the silence that draws out between him and Beth now is uncomfortable. It makes his skin itch, like he’s done something he shouldn’t’ve. He’s not sure why he even cares, but he does.

When he chances a glance at her, she’s looking down at his hands, her expression carefully blank and closed off. His stomach sinks like a stone.

He didn’t mean to hurt her damn feelings.

Clearing his throat, Daryl shifts his weight on his feet.

“It’s dark. How’d you see it?”

Beth doesn’t answer right away, but Daryl feels her body language shift. He glances up again to find her looking at him. She doesn’t smile, exactly, but her mouth does something almost like that, and she blinks at him.

When she opens her mouth to speak, her voice has lost all the snappy edge it had.

“I didn’t at first,” she says softly. “I just felt him. Then he came up right behind you. That’s when I saw him.”

He came up right behind you.

Daryl barely resists the urge to shudder, his skin crawling.

“Whatcha mean, you felt him?”

Beth lifts her shoulders helplessly and looks around, searching the dim place they’re standing like the words she needs are scattered around on the dusty floor.

"You know that feeling you get when someone comes up behind you, that moment when you sense someone's there, even though you can't see or hear them?"

Daryl nods.

"It's like that. Like someone's in the room with me, but I can't see them. Until I can."

The end of the auger bumps against something solid way down in the pipe. Daryl works it around, trying to loosen whatever’s stuck, and he considers Beth’s words.

Daryl’s gotten that feeling before, only he’s never turned around to find a fucking ghost floating behind him.

But one time, just one time, he turned around and saw a chupacabra.

Daryl looks back over his shoulder into the darkness. There's still nothing. Or nothing he can see, anyway. He turns back to her.

"It still there?"

Beth nods.

"Yeah, he is. He's heading back down the hallway, though, I think…" she trails off, almost shyly, and then gives a short shrug of her shoulders. "I think he's connected to this spot for some reason."

"They all over this place or what?"

"Not all over, but there are plenty of 'em around the prison, if that's what you mean."

Her tone is so calm, like she’s talking about how she’s been getting along with the new Woodbury folks or some shit, and not the spirits of the dead haunting this old place.

"Damn. In the cell block and everything?"

"Yeah, but they're not too bothersome."

"No? They don't scare you?"

"Not really. This one just startled me. You'd think ghosts would be scarier, but to be honest, most of 'em are just wanderin’ around kinda confused, like they're waitin’ on a bus that's late."

Daryl snorts, the image striking him as downright funny.

"You sleep all right? They don't keep you up?"

Beth tilts her head at him, giving him a searching look. He feels his cheeks heat.

"What, like they’re rattlin' chains up and down the cell block?” She smiles at him and shakes her head. “They don't keep me up. Judith wakes me more than anything else. No, I sleep just fine, Daryl."

Relief hits him like a kick to the chest, and he realises she had him freaked out. Not because of the ghosts, but just because of her.

It does him some kind of good to know that even though she’s apparently haunted by the spirits of the dead, she’s still okay.

Daryl clears his throat again and looks back down at what he’s supposed to be doing. He gives the auger another hard turn, and then another, and whatever’s stuck down that pipe finally gives a little, and then a lot.

The sound of trickling water echoes up out of the clean out pipe.

“Hot damn.”

Daryl starts winding the auger back up until the end emerges from the pipe. Carefully, he sets the wet, filthy tool aside on the concrete floor, trying not to touch it more than he has to. He screws the heavy metal cap back on the pipe, then grabs the rag out of his back pocket and wipes off his hands.

“Better go make sure that mess up in the showers is drainin’,” he says, half expecting Beth to hand him the flashlight and get the hell out of dodge. But she just turns around and points the flashlight back the way they came.

She leads the way to the showers. The water on the floor there is draining, but slowly, and before Daryl can do anything more than set his handful of tools down, Beth’s grabbed a pushbroom from the corner and is shepherding water towards the floor drain.

Daryl grabs another pushbroom and joins her. They work in silence for a few minutes, slowly sweeping the murky, debris-filled water across the tiles and into the drain.

“Anybody I can’t see lurkin’ in here?” Daryl says, eventually.

Beth looks up at him, her brow scrunched and her eyes narrow, like she’s trying to decide whether he’s making fun of her or not.

He’s not. He’s absolutely not, but he’s not sure she can tell.

But she must decide that he isn’t, because eventually she smiles a quick, awkward sort of smile and shrugs her shoulders.

“Nope,” she says, cheerfully popping the p, which echoes a bit in the empty, tiled room. “Just us and this mess, thank goodness. Nobody needs the dead spyin’ on them in the shower.”

Daryl huffs, sweeping another gush of dirty water towards the drain.

“Great. I’m gonna have the permanent creeps, now, walkin’ around this place wonderin’ what I can’t see.”

“They’re a lot less interested in the living than you might think, as far as I can tell.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. Like I said, they mostly seem like they’re tryin’ to find the exit,” she says, giving her broom a hard push before straightening up and blowing a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. She holds the broom upright and leans on it a little. “Some of them, though… Some of them want to check in on the people they left behind, I guess.”

Daryl frowns.

"How d'you know?"

Beth doesn’t answer right away. She takes the broom and begins sweeping again, so quiet that Daryl starts to question whether she heard him at all. Finally, after a long pause, she speaks, and her voice wavers.

"I saw my mom and my brother.”

Daryl stops sweeping and looks at her. She’s staring determinedly down at the floor as she works, her brow furrowed.

“I thought… My dad was so sure, you know? He kept tellin' us they weren't really dead, like he knew. But I kept seein' them around the house anyway, so I just thought… I thought I must be goin' crazy."

“Your dad, Maggie… They don’t know about it?”

She shakes her head.

“It’s not like I never tried to tell them,” she says. “When I was a kid and I saw things, my family’d say they were my imaginary friends. But it seemed like the older I got and the more I talked about it, the more uncomfortable everybody else got. I just started keepin’ it to myself, eventually.”

Daryl nods. He knows how little mind people pay kids. He knows how easy it is for adults to brush off what a kid says as lies or make believe, even when the truth’s staring them in the face.

Even when the black eyes and sprained wrists are right there.

He knows all about that.

“You’re the first person who’s ever believed me, Daryl.”

Beth’s standing still and looking at him, now, really looking at him, the broom handle held loosely in one hand, forgotten.

Daryl shrugs, uncomfortable.

“Yeah, well. I know you’re honest. Ain’t got no reason to think you’d make it up.”

The light coming in through the high, barred windows isn’t much, but it’s enough for Daryl to see the blush that paints her cheeks as she looks down at the broom in her hand for a moment before she lifts her eyes to meet his again.

She purses her lips and furrows her brow, and he hears her draw a deep breath.

“Daryl... Merle's okay."

He stares at her. She looks as uncomfortable as he feels, her mouth twisting as she shakes her head.

“I only saw him once. He was laughin’ and he seemed...” She falls quiet for a moment and Daryl’s sure he can hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears. “He didn’t seem angry anymore. I haven’t seen him since, and I think… I don’t know. I just think that maybe sometimes they get to move on.”

Daryl manages to scoff through the lump in his throat.

“Yeah, right. Moved on to hell, maybe.”

Almost anyone else would take it as the thorny brush-off it is and leave him be. Not her, though. Her face falls. She takes a step forward, closing the distance between them, and she reaches out and takes hold of his hand, squeezing it tightly in hers.

Her hand’s stronger than he ever would have guessed.

“No, Daryl. Not him. I know it.”

Daryl doesn’t know what to do with that, and he’s afraid anything he says will prompt her to say more things like this, more soft, earnest things that make his chest feel like it’s caving in, so he just nods again.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, pinning him in place with another searching look. “I’m sorry if maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, and I’m sorry you lost your brother.”

“It’s all right,” he says, shaking his head. “It don’t matter.”

She tilts her head, frowning.

Daryl. Of course it matters. We care about you.”

Daryl clears his throat sharply, shrugging his shoulders, no idea how to respond to her. Beth seems to finally pick up on his discomfort, though, and she squeezes his hand again before letting it go and taking a step back from him.

They finish sweeping the floor without speaking before Daryl runs a couple of the showers to rinse the last of the grunge off the tiles and make sure the drain’s working.

The job done, they head out into the hallway, back towards the cell block.

They’ve only been walking a few seconds when Beth stops short, her hand on his forearm. When he turns to her, her expression is troubled.

“Daryl, can I ask you a favour?”

He nods.

“Don’t tell anyone, okay? Please? Since the farm, what happened, what I did...” she trails off, one hand picking anxiously at the bracelets on the other. “My dad and Maggie, they’d just… They’d worry, you know?”

Daryl shakes his head.

“I won’t.”

The look of relief on her face is so instant, so sincere, that it makes his chest go tight again, and it’s hard to draw enough air to speak, so he doesn’t.

“Thanks again, Daryl.”

“The hell for?”

“For believin’ me.”

He shrugs.

“‘S nothin’,” he mutters, but she barely lets him get the word out before she’s shaking her head and giving his forearm a gentle squeeze.

“It’s not nothin’. Not to me.”

She smiles and lets go of his arm, and they walk the rest of the way to the cell block in silence.

It’s the good kind.