They strike like lightning, hit him like a punch in the gut, a bullet to the head.
"I'm getting good at this," he hears her say, a tad bit smugly after finding her first trail; watches her carefully adjust her grip on his crossbow. "Pretty soon, I won't need you at all."
They echo in his head, deafening screams and soft whispers in turn – Pretty soon, I won't need you at all... I won't need you... I won't... - over and over for the eternity of a second. It scares him, how words from the once tiny, waif of a girl - the fragile, innocent creature who has survived against all odds to grow into the strong, beautiful woman he finds himself slowly building his world around - could make him feel so betrayed and confused and completely out of his element.
I won't need you...
He vaguely remembers telling her – shouting at her, really – that night at the cabin, about how he'd never really needed anybody for anything in his life, never really had anybody to rely on but himself, and that was what has allowed him to survive. He definitely wants that for Beth - to survive. When all is said and done, there is nothing he wishes for more desperately than for her to make it, with or without him, but the thought of her living her life without him when she was the only good thing he had left in this world gone to hell leaves such a bitter taste in his mouth and a cold, numbing pain in his chest that makes him wonder if there was something in that damn moonshine that messed him up. Then he remembers words spoken as they watched everything burn that night – the porch, the cabin, their past selves – of promises to remind him to be the person he now is, and that's when he realizes that he has started to depend on her, has started to care for her more than he thought himself capable of, and the very possibility of Daryl Dixon ever needing another person more than she needs him.. Well, Merle must be rolling around in his grave laughing.
But he'd given her his knife and he'd given her his bow and maybe, just maybe, he'd given her whatever of his heart he had left to give and it is just too damn late to take everything back. And he hates himself even more because, even knowing that he would still let her go should she not need him anymore, all he wants to do at that moment is to hold her close and keep her safe and never let her go. He barely stops himself from doing so, isn't exactly ready to consider what it would even mean if he just dropped everything and took her into his arms.
"Yeah, keep on tracking," he says instead and just lets her walk away.
A couple of hours later, he wishes he never did.