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My Ghost, where'd you go?

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My ghost, where'd you go?
What happened to the soul that you used to be?

 

It's a standoff.

She stands with her automatic raised at them, finger on the trigger, gaze never wavering from her target. The man faces her, gripping the crossbow tightly, sweating as he does so. From across the short distance between them, Beth can see his hands shaking ever so slightly. Hers are rock steady.

She had recognised it as soon as she saw them, the sight of it slung over his shoulder like a physical punch in the gut.

She should know, Dawn ensured that she felt enough of them.

"I'm going to ask you again, and I'm only going to ask you one more time. Where did you get that crossbow?"

The man is sweating, nervous, his eyes darting to the woman beside him before he turns them back to Beth. "Told you, we took it off a dead man. He'd been shot in the head, we found him and the weapon by the side of the road."

Beth knows that crossbow. She knows every scratch upon it, and every dent. She could recognise that crossbow with her eyes closed if she had to, by touch alone.

Her fingers tighten on the trigger, even as her throat becomes dry. "You're lying. Why would whoever killed him leave the weapon on him? Tell me the truth right now, or I swear to god I'll kill both of you."

And she means it, she would do it in an instant. She would pull that trigger and condemn them to death, just two more lives to add to her conscience. She would do it, because if they're lying to her it means one of two things. It means that they either killed Daryl themselves, or that they took the crossbow from him by force somehow, because she knows otherwise he would never be parted from it.

She prays that it's the latter. She prays and she stands with her finger clenched around the trigger.

The man and the woman exchange a look, tension passing between them before a decision is made.

"He's alive, or at least he was when we left him. We, uh... We took the crossbow from him."

"How?" It's gritted out through Beth's teeth, as she clenches them in a combination of anger and almost painful relief as she hears the words and know that they're true.

"He told us he'd take us to a safe place, some community they had. He was... He helped us, or at least he tried to, but we couldn't risk it. We were still too close to Negan, we needed to get as far from there as possible, not get into another mess."

It's the woman who speaks, her hands held up in surrender even as the man with her continues to aim the crossbow.

"Tell me everything." Beth demands.

She keeps her finger on the trigger while they do.

//

 

In the end she lets them go, sending them on their way with the bike they stole. She can't ride it anyway, and there's no point in it going to waste. She's pointed them towards Grady, with a warning about what it once was, while they've sent her north, an approximate direction to now follow, a story to chase.

There's no word about the rest of their group, except for a vague comment from Daryl about finding 'the others', and the community he was a part of. Beth has to believe that more of them made it though, that the caravan of her loved ones has successfully wound it's way to a safe haven far from her, as she remained behind, left for dead in the one place she would've done anything to escape.

And were they wrong to do so? Did she not really die in that hallway, her blood mixed with Dawn's upon the floor, her breath leaving her body? She must have, if only for a minute. She knows she did because she cannot still be the girl that once lived and breathed and sang, believing in good people and the importance of leaving thank you notes.

No, Beth is sure that girl must have died, she certainly doesn't exist anymore.

She thinks about all the times she's left parts of herself behind - what bled out of her onto the floor of the farmhouse's bathroom, what was cremated upon the bonfire of the moonshine shack, and what was entombed in the parking lot of Grady Memorial.

There was a heart in there, somewhere, which could have been given away along with the rest.

Sometimes, Beth wonders if it was, if that's why she finds herself now so bereft of all she once felt.

Is it out there, somewhere, travelling with him? Tucked away on the inside of a winged vest perhaps, kept out of harm's way.

Maybe that's why he did what he did, when he once used to be so cautious. Good People, and they robbed him blind and left him with nothing. Her treacherous heart, now leading him astray.

Beth let them go, not because they were good, and not because she is anymore either, but because he still is, and he had believed in them.

She might be missing a heart along with some pieces of her head, but she has his crossbow now, and she slings it over one shoulder as he once did, and turns her steps in the direction that will take her back to him again.

//

 

On good days, Beth believes that they all must have made it, that she'll find them in this promised land, all of those she once lost, and perhaps she will find those missing parts of herself there along with them.

You've got be who you are, not who you were

They were her words, but Beth isn't so sure of the wisdom of them as they apply to her. Wouldn't she wish to be that girl she once was again if she could be, some part of her old self? But which version, and which time? The farmhouse would be a step too far, and maybe the self at the prison would be too, but the girl she was in the funeral home, sitting at a kitchen table in the candlelight, a world of possibilities ahead of her, even after the world had ended...

She wishes she could be that girl again.

She can't though. She can't. There's a hole in her head, and a crack in her chest where her heart used to be, and she doesn't know how to put the pieces back together again to make her back into what she once was.

I wish I could just change

Maybe this is better, maybe this is what she has to be now. She's alive after all, against all the odds. She's alive when so many others are dead.

Maybe this was her price to pay. Maybe this is the only way you get to come back from the dead, only a shadow of who you once were.

Had she not been shot, had she left with her family that day, would it still be this way? Would she have been able to put aside everything that happened to her so much more easily - the blood on her hands, the hands upon her skin?

Beth doesn't know. Maybe she would've been a step in between, closer to whole than she is now. Maybe she could've buried her head in Maggie's shoulder and wept. Maybe she could've held Daryl's hand and felt her strength return to her. Maybe being with them, she would actually be able to believe that she'd survived.

She wishes she could remember what it felt like to be truly alive, with a head full of hope and songs. She wishes she could recall that music back to her again, but it has deserted her entirely.

She thinks about it now, that the last time she ever sang was for him, however unknowing at the time.

//You'll hurt me or I'll disappear//

And the look in his eyes, as Beth had turned around...

She might have been slightly slow on the uptake, unlooked for as it was, but Beth is not an idiot. She knows what he wanted to tell her at the table that night, as they ate their redneck brunch for two. She knows what those words might have been, even if he couldn't get them out, couldn't even form them.

Beth know that Daryl has never been good at asking for things for himself. She's not sure he's ever known how to reach out and grasp happiness, let alone believed himself worthy of it.

And now he thinks she's dead.

She thinks on him a lot as she makes her way north. More than Maggie, more than any of the others. Beth thinks about Daryl and she can almost recall the way she felt that night, almost feel that warmth again, the nervous flutter inside her as she grasped his meaning.

Beth doesn't know much, but she knows as of two weeks ago, Daryl was alive. She knows that he's a survivor, she knows that he could very well be the last man standing.

Beth might feel as if she's all out of faith, but somehow it seems she's kept a little for him.

//

She might die yet.

She might die of starvation before she reaches them. She might get bitten by a walker, or waylaid by other survivors. She might get captured by this Negan guy, and get herself in a whole other lot of trouble.

The couple that she'd stolen Daryl's crossbow back from were good enough to warn her just how far his territory extends, and she's got it marked on a map taken from a gas station, careful to ensure she's not entering it by accident.

As for where Daryl had come from or his mysterious community, Beth still has no clue. It's like searching for a needle in a haystack, and all she can hope is that she stumbles across them through sheer dumb luck.

Hasn't she proven herself to be lucky? She's survived a gunshot to the head after all, that's got to count for something.

Maybe it's not her that she has to worry about. Maybe she'll arrive to find them all dead, and she the very last of them left. The miracle girl, with nobody to ever know it.

If that is true, she hopes she dies before she ever comes to know it.

Beth avoids towns, knowing it's too much of a risk, knowing that wherever Daryl and the others are, if it's a community then it's got to have walls, there's no point otherwise. She hunts as she goes, and scavenges food from abandoned homesteads. The hunting takes awhile to get the hang of, missed shots causing more than one night of hunger, but Beth remains patient and she practices and she improves.

Daryl would be so proud of her now. He still will be, if she ever has the chance to tell him. Beth knows he would be proud but she wonders sometimes just what else he might think of her now. Would he recognise the girl who took his words away, in the candlelight of a funeral home? Would he be able to see that girl, even if Beth can't?

Maybe he would. Maybe when she sees him again he'll pull out that heart he's been carrying along with him, and work out a way to fit it inside her once more.

//

Beth wishes that she could still sing, she wishes there was anything to fill the silence in her head, the loneliness that surrounds her.

Two weeks on the road and she hasn't seen a single person alive since the pair she took the crossbow back from and she wonders if that's a good thing or bad.

Her question is answered the first time she does run into another group of people, it's been a good thing for sure.

Alone in the woods, finishing a solitary meal when two men come crashing through the undergrowth, their clothes filthy, their eyes wild, and a W on each of their foreheads. Beth is reaching for her gun the moment she sees them start towards her, she's opened fire before either of them can get close.

Then she grabs the crossbow and she grabs her pack, and she runs and runs and runs.

Beth doesn't know who those men were, she doesn't know if they definitely meant her harm, but it's a risk she's no longer willing to take.

She's not sure what to think about the fact that this time the deaths don't weigh on her conscience at all.

//

"Where'd you find that?"

She's somewhere on the outskirts of DC, raiding an old auto shop when the words come, and she freezes, not having heard the footstep behind her. She has her knife on her belt, and her hand is on it in an instant, unclipping it and gripping it tightly before she whirls around, ready to fight at close quarters.

A man stands there, curly hair, his clothes clean and his face open, an incongruous sight in today's world. Beth's eyes dart to his face, then down to his hands, where they are held out in front of him, empty and open to show he's not a threat.

She doesn't know what to think; she doesn't know whether to trust, or to wonder if she's being lulled into a false sense of security before an attack. These days only cheats or trusting fools would approach a stranger without a weapon to defend themselves.

She's still staring, still mentally working through the likelihood a of each option, when he repeats the question.

"Where'd you get that?" A shor gesture this time, in the direction of her shoulder, and she realises he's talking about the crossbow.

"Stole it back, from a pair of thieves." Beth tells him, and the man blinks as if surprised.

"I spotted you and followed you, because I was hoping to speak to you. We have a community... A safe place, with walls. I have pictures that I could show you. That crossbow... I believe it belongs to a friend of mine. I'm not saying that you have to give it up, but..."

"Your friend, what's his name?" Beth interrupts him, urgently, her fingers gripping the strap as she waits for his reply.

"His name is Daryl, he..."

She can feel it welling up inside her, the hope she once thought she'd lost, and before she can stop herself, Beth has crossed the few steps to the man, has grabbed his hand and is holding it tightly. "Where is he? Is he somewhere close by?"

"Yeah, we just split up, he's about five minutes away. You know Daryl? I thought that all of his group were in Alexandria."

"No," Beth assures him, "No, there was one who was left behind."

//

It takes them eight minutes to reach him, not five, as Beth counts seconds under her breath to keep herself calm. The man, whose name she realises she still doesn't know, hasn't asked her anything, he seems to understand the turmoil she's currently in, as she walks just slightly behind him, one wary eye on his form in case it should all turn out to be a trick.

She has to risk it though, she has to.

Then there he is right in front of her, all these days later, bent over the hood of a car examining something. Beth sees the wings on his back, the rag tucked into his pocket, and on his hip a knife that is so achingly familiar, and she feels a rush of emotion suddenly, as if she's finally come home after the longest time away.

The man with her opens his mouth to speak, but Beth beats him to it.

"Dar...Daryl." Her voice breaks, the word barely managing to emerge, and he starts, dropping the tool he holds and turning around, his face drawn and expression haunted.

And then he sees her.

He stares. He stares, takes a hesitant step forward, looks from her to the man by her side and back to her again and continues to stare.

Beth doesn't blame him, she has come back from the dead.

She need to say something, she needs to explain things, to help him understand, so she opens her mouth to speak.

"I brought your crossbow back," is what comes out, as she takes it from her shoulder by the strap, holding it out, "I couldn't get the bike though, I didn't know how to ride it."

Daryl remains silent for one more moment, and then it seems to finally hit home that this really is her, standing here by the side of the road, in front of him and alive.

He crosses to her quickly, and taking the weapon from her hand, flings it to the side. "Fuck the crossbow." He mutters, grabs her shoulders, his fingers digging into them, "Beth, you're... better not be some hallucination. Beth, you're... How are you even here?" He waits only a second for her to respond and then gathers her to him, so tightly that her breath almost leaves her, his heart pounding beneath her ear. "It don't matter. You're here, you are. It don't matter at all. You're here, and we're gonna take you home."

It's good that with the two of them so distracted, Daryl's friend has the presence of mind to pick the crossbow back off the road.

//

And so there is a homecoming, and all that follows. There are exclamations of wonder and doubt, there are sweet embraces and there are joyful tears.

She's not the girl she was when she left them and she never will be again, but Beth finds that there is love left in her after all, there is room in her for all that she once felt to return to her now that she is safe.

Maybe she did give away her heart that night, bathed in candlelight and the taste of peanut butter and grape jelly on her tongue. Maybe some prescience allowed her to know what lay ahead for her, and she had the foresight to hand it across to him, that it might be kept safe and waiting for her.

Just like her, even her heart has changed during its absence, shaped by the man that carried it. There are parts that are missing, scars that will not heal, too much time apart will do that. She fits the pieces together again as best she can, and despite the cracks, they will make it work, she knows they will.

It'll take time, but Beth begins to put the shadows upon her away. She feels the blood begin to fade from her hands, the spectre of Grady slowly leaving her. Maybe one day soon even her songs will come back to her. She can almost feel them now sometimes, the melodies she might sing.

She is not the only one that has been changed, not the only one struggling to fit pieces together again. Beth recognises it in every member of her family, the way their journey has changed them, the parts that no longer exist. It makes it easier somehow, to know it's not her struggle alone.

But there are new things too, good things that weren't there before.

The slight swell of Maggie's belly, on which she keeps a protective hand.

Daryl, by her side whenever he might be, never so shy to touch her as he once was. Beth thinks that maybe one day soon he'll be able to find the words he needs to tell her what it means.

If he doesn't, maybe she'll help him to.

Beth notices that he still wears her knife, and he hasn't offered it back to her.

She decides to keep his crossbow for the time being, she figures it's only fair, when she'd come all this way to return it and he ended up throwing it aside

She knows that he'll come for it when he's ready.

And she'll be here to return it. She'll be here.