Daryl was sitting on the outer edge of the camp, closer to the woods than the people near the fire. He made a point of keeping his distance over the past few months. It was just too hard trying to pretend everything was going to be fine. He didn't feel that way, not anymore.
Something inside him broke when that gun went off in the hospital corridor and he watched Beth fall to the floor. She had given him hope, made him want to trust and believe in the good, but look at what all that belief had done for her. She was gone and this time she wasn't coming back.
The best way to get through the shit in life was to go back to what he'd learned as a boy. Keep your distance from other people. Take care of yourself and don't depend on anybody else for anything. Most importantly, a bottle of booze is a miracle cure for most anything that ails you.
Daryl remembered how he'd railed at Bob for drinking but now he understood it. A slug or two of whiskey at night meant he could sleep instead of lying awake and thinking of the sound the bullet made as it bored a hole through Beth's skull. When the weather turned colder, a drink helped warm you up. An empty belly felt a little fuller with some whisky sloshing around in it. Hell, it was good enough for his Mom and Pop back in the day and Merle sure never turned down a drink. It was practically a family tradition.
Everybody else was worried about him. Carol, especially, kept trying to talk to him or hide his bottles of booze. He'd listen to her and then go right back to his drinking at night. He wasn't hurting anybody else and he was still pulling his share of weight as far as hunting and killing walkers. He figured they should mind their own damned business.
So, tonight, he sat and watched and drank from a small flask that he'd found during the last supply run. The whiskey was cheap, rot gut stuff but after a few chugs it didn't really matter anymore. The others were having a little celebration. A few days ago Carl had found a calendar , done some figuring and come to the conclusion that it was only a few days until Christmas.
Daryl had laughed when Carol and Maggie suggested having a Christmas feast.
"Hell, woman, we're barely surviving and you want to have a feast?" he'd asked, barely managing to keep from slurring as he spoke.
"We've got a couple of days. Let's see what we can find," Carol told him, giving him a disapproving scowl as she spoke. "A party would be good for us. Let's at least try."
So, over the next few days they all spent time scouring the nearby towns and homes for supplies for their "feast". Daryl stumbled across a wild turkey while out hunting and added that to the stockpile. He wasn't sure what the others had found but Carol and Maggie were keeping something secret. They were both walking around with stupid smiles and whispering.
Now, the party was underway. Everyone was gathered around the fire talking, laughing and eating. Daryl had to admit they'd scrounged together a pretty decent meal. It really didn't matter to him, though. He was content with his flask and a comfy sleeping bag. Let the rest of them carry on with their farce of a Christmas. He didn't need it. He pulled the sleeping bag around himself, leaned back against a big pine tree and watched the clouds of his breath hitting the cold night air. It wasn't long before he dozed off.
"Come on, now, wake up Darlina," he heard as someone kicked at the bottom of his foot. "You waitin' on breakfast in bed, boy? Well, the maid's got the day off so your big bro is pitchin' in. Time to rise and shine, son."
Daryl opened his eyes slowly. He was expecting a whopper of a hangover headache but not a vision of his dead brother. "What the fuck?" he yelled as he scrambled back against the tree.
"Ha, ha, you oughta see your face, son. I guess you wasn't expectin' compney, huh?" Merle said as he slapped his little brother playfully on the cheek.
"Hell, nah, especially not company that's been dead for a year. I gotta be dreaming or," he picked up the flask and sniffed it carefully, "maybe this was bad booze. You can't be here."
"Well, dead or alive, here I am. I been sent to show you a few things, baby brother. Don't ask too many questions. Just follow me and you'll figure it out," Merle told him as he pulled Daryl to his feet.
Daryl looked around. They weren't in the woods anymore. He wasn't sure where they were but it was quiet and filled with light. He and Merle were the only two people he could see anywhere. "Am I…am I dead, Merle? Is that what this is? What's gonna happen to me?" he asked.
"You're still alive. Like I said, I'm here to show you a few things. Help you remember. Don't get your panties in a wad. You ain't got to do nothin' but follow me. I think even you can handle that much, Darlina," Merle told him as he started walking away.
Daryl quickly followed his brother. He didn't want to get left behind in this vast white nothingness. As they walked, the world around them slowly resolved into a scene from his childhood. He and Merle were standing in the tiny, dingy living room of the trailer where they'd lived with their father and Daryl's mom. He'd forgotten the yellowness of the walls and the smell. It smelled of stale cigarette smoke, beer and sweat.
His mom lay on the love seat apparently passed out while his father lay in a similar position in his recliner. Little Daryl sat on the floor in dirty pajamas that were too small for him, sucking his thumb and watching Frosty the Snowman on television through a haze of static. Merle was adjusting the rabbit ear antennas on top of the set trying to improve the picture.
"No, Merle, go back that way. It's still too wavy," little Daryl told his older brother.
"Oh, hell, Daryl, I can't make it any better. Just watch the show while I fix us some breakfast," young Merle told his baby brother.
Daryl and Merle stood aside watching the scene before them. "How come they can't see us?" Daryl asked.
"I don't know, " Merle told him. "They're not supposed to but you're supposed to see them. Keep watchin'."
Young Merle had fried a slice of bologna and drawn a smiley face on top with ketchup. He handed the plate to his little brother, "Hey, Merry Christmas squirt."
Little Daryl ate the bologna as he watched the show on television. It had just gotten to the part where Santa makes a grand visit and brings lots of presents. "I wish Santa would bring us some stuff, Merle," the little guy told his brother.
"You know what Granny always said, 'If wishes and buts were candy and nuts, we'd all have a merry Christmas'," Merle told him. "There ain't no such thing as Santa anyhow. That's some pansy shit for rich kids. Just eat your food."
Daryl could remember that this day they were revisiting was next to the last one that Merle spent at home. He moved out when he was 15 leaving Daryl to fend for himself. This day, here eating fried bologna with Merle, was one of the better Christmases he could remember. On a lot of them, his old man had gotten drunk and angry and ended up beating either him or his mom senseless before passing out.
"Come on, man, let's go. I've seen enough," Daryl told his brother.
"But I thought going back to the way things used to be was what you wanted," Merle said. "Ain't that right? Go back to how it was, not trustin' people or caring about 'em, drinkin' enough to knock you out every night just like Pop used to do. That's how you been livin' for the last few months, ain't it? Does this remind you of how shitty that kind of life really was?"
"Shut the hell up, Merle. You don't know what you're talkin' about. Just take me back, man. Just get me out of here," Daryl yelled.
Suddenly they were back in the white nothing. Merle stood in front of his little brother, smiling. It was the first time that Daryl noticed that Merle had both his hands again. The knife prosthetic was gone.
"Well, my time's up, Darlina. It's time for another friendly visitor. You better listen to what they're all sayin' or else Imma have to come back and kick your ass, okay?" Merle said with a laugh. He started to fade slowly and Daryl lunged to try and grab him, to have something to hold onto.
"Wait, don't leave me," he yelled.
"Don't worry. I'll see you around, baby bro. Take care of yourself," Merle said before fading entirely.
Daryl was beginning to panic. There was no one and nothing around him except empty whiteness. He could feel his heart pounding and his breath coming faster. He sat down and grabbed his head in his hands. This had to be a dream. He started slapping his hands against his ears, "Wake up, wake up. Wake up, goddammit."
Then, he felt a hand on his arm. "Son, you're gonna hurt yourself," a gentle voice spoke. Daryl looked up into a familiar, weather worn face with a white beard.
"Hershel?" Daryl gasped. "This cannot be real. First Merle, now you. You're dead, Hershel. Either I'm dead or I've lost my mind. What the fuck is happening to me?"
Hershel chuckled softly under his breath, "Well, I can assure you that you're not dead. I don't know exactly how this is happening but the Lord works in mysterious ways. This is all to open your eyes, Daryl, to show you what you're doing to yourself. "
"The Lord?" Daryl asked skeptically. "This is the Lord's doin'? Man I don't believe that bullshit. If there was a God that cared about any of us, then why the hell ain't he done nothin' to help us, to help you and ….. and Beth, the good people. Why? Has your Lord got an answer for that?"
"Son, I can't give you the answers you want. What I can do is show you what I was sent to do. Now, follow me," Hershel advised as he began to walk away. That was when Daryl noticed that Hershel was walking on two legs again. He'd been restored just like Merle. Daryl quickly got up and started following. He didn't want to get stuck alone in this place.
Just like before the space around the two men slowly began to develop color and come into focus as they walked. They were in a grocery store. The shelves were mostly all empty and decomposing bodies littered the aisles. They could hear a noise though, like rustling paper, and the sound of two women's voices.
"There I think that'll be all we need to get our little surprise ready," Carol said as she and Maggie finished bagging up some grocery items they'd scavenged. "I hope it'll work. I never tried cooking anything like this over a campfire."
"I don't think it even matters if it comes out right, Carol," Maggie replied with a sad smile. "It's just the thought that we're all together and trying to celebrate the day that makes it special. We're a family and that's what families do."
Carol walked over and pulled the girl into her arms, giving her a big hug. Maggie was crying softly.
"I miss her, Carol. I miss her so much and my Daddy. We always had such wonderful Christmases on the farm. It's hard to even think about it being Christmas without them here," Maggie whispered through her tears.
"I know how much it hurts, Maggie. Believe me. It gets easier in time. For now, you can lean on us. We're all your family and we're here for you," Carol promised as she wiped away Maggie's tears.
"Thank you, Carol. I'm sorry. We've got a dinner to plan so let's get going, okay?" Maggie told her as she lifted two of the bags they'd just finished stuffing.
"I hope that maybe this celebration will help get Daryl out of his funk and back with the rest of us," Carol said as she picked up some bags and followed Maggie. Daryl and Hershel walked along behind the two women. "I worry so much about him. I know he blames himself for what happened to Beth. He takes everything on his own shoulders. He's fought through these demons before when Merle died but something's different this time. I never thought I'd see him drinking after what his parents put him through. I don't know how to get through to him this time."
Maggie stopped at the car and opened the trunk, placing her bags inside and reaching over to take Carol's as well. "He changed so much after the prison fell. I don't know what happened with him and Beth while they were out there alone but it affected him more than anything else ever has. Then, losing Beth the way we did, him having to watch it close up. It's like the wall that had come down bit by bit went right back up higher and stronger than it was to begin with. Glen and Rick have both tried talking to him. I tried and I know you have. We're gonna have to let him find his way back on his own, Carol. It's the only way," Maggie told Carol as they walked toward the front of the car, preparing to drive back towards their camp.
Maggie suddenly stopped by the driver's door and looked around. "What is it?" Carol asked. "Did you hear something?"
"No, sometimes I just think I can feel one of them, Daddy or Beth, like they're real close by. I just thought I caught a glimpse of my Daddy. It's silly. Come on, let's go," Maggie said as she climbed into the car and cranked it up.
Daryl looked over at Hershel who watched the car until it was out of sight, unshed tears glistening in his eyes.
"It sucks, don't it? It ain't right that you're not with Maggie and Beth. You should be. All of you should be together, planning this whole Christmas dinner back on your farm with the rest of your family. This whole mess is just wrong. It don't make sense. If good people like y'all have to suffer, then why should any of us even try?" Daryl asked angrily.
"Son, you don't understand. I'm not sad. I'm proud of Maggie and of Beth. They grew up into fine young women with caring hearts. We may be apart for a bit but one day all of us will be together again. As for the world making sense, it doesn't. It never has. Terrible things happen to people, good people. We can't control that. The only thing we can control is what we each do with our own life. You can live selfishly, concerned only with your own feelings and needs, as you've been doing lately, and when your times comes, you'll be gone. You won't leave people behind who'll carry your memory or have better lives because of you. You can also choose to engage with the world, strive to help those who are helpless and do whatever good you can. Then, when your time comes, you leave behind not just memories but a legacy that will be carried on by your loved ones, your family. The way the world is now makes the choice even simpler than it was before. You risk your life simply by opening your eyes each morning. The choice you have to make is what you're willing to risk it for," Hershel told him with quiet conviction. "Now come on, I have one more thing to show you before I go."
Daryl followed as Hershel led him on down the street. As they walked, the buildings and road faded away to whiteness and then began to resolve into something else. They were among trees, back at the camp again Daryl realized. Rick was holding Judith and walking around the camp talking to her while Carl sat nearby reading. Rick was talking to the little girl, making her smile. "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine," he sang quietly as she clapped her little hands. Carl looked up at them and laughed.
"Judy you just don't know what music is supposed to sound like. Dad is a horrible singer," he said to his little sister. Judy looked at them both and then suddenly said, "Da Da" as plain as day.
"Carl, did you hear that? She said DaDa," Rick yelped joyfully.
"Yeah, hey Judy, say it again. Say Da Da," Carl pleaded.
"DaDa," the baby girl repeated with a big grin.
Daryl couldn't help it. The scene brought a smile to his face as well. "I'll be damned. Lil Asskicker is talkin'. Ain't that somethin'?" he said to Hershel.
Hershel reached over and placed a hand on Daryl's shoulder. "That's something, alright. And you know what? That could never have happened if it weren't for you saving that little girl. She woudn't have survived if you didn't get the formula when she was first born. Her being here now, being alive and saying her first words, that's because you cared, son. You believed in something and you fought for it. You did what you had to do to save that baby. Look at what that one unselfish act has already done to change the world for the better. It's a choice, Daryl. It's a choice every day and you're the only one who can make it."
Daryl stood a moment watching the family scene before him. He thought of the moments that he'd been around to see Judy over the past year, watching her grow up. It was a joy that he couldn't imagine living without but over the last month he'd taken himself out of the picture with Judith, Rick and Carl. He realized that he wouldn't have even known Judith was talking if it weren't for this 'visitation' from Hershel.
"It's time to go now, Daryl," he heard Hershel say as he stood watching Rick with his children. "I have to take you back. You have one more visitor tonight."
"Wait," Daryl said as Hershel began walking. "Wait, can't you just show me the rest of it, Hershel. I don't want another visitor. Just show me what I need to know and send me back. Please, Hershel. I don't want to go through no more of this."
Hershel just kept walking and Daryl followed. The world began to fade again and soon Daryl found himself back in the empty white void. Hershel kept walking until he was far ahead and Daryl couldn't seem to catch up no matter how hard he tried. Just before he disappeared from sight, Hershel turned to wave goodbye, "Remember, son, it's your choice every day," and then he was gone.
Daryl sat down, choking back tears. He was tired of all this goddamned sappy shit. He just wanted to go back to camp and find his flask. He didn't want to feel any more of this sad bullshit. What was he supposed to be learning again? Oh, yeah, life sucks. He learned that a long time ago.
He looked up to see a robed and hooded figure standing in front of him. He couldn't see the face under the hood. He stood up. "So I guess you're my last haint of the night? What are you gonna show me? Some future shit? How crappy the rest of my life is gonna be? Well, go on then. Bring it on. It ain't exactly gon be a big surprise," he yelled as the figure began walking away from him.
He followed and waited as the space around him began to change again. He was standing with the cloaked figure in a clearing with several cabins built around a central space. There were several kids running around playing. There were no fences. A garden was growing behind the houses and a nearby pen held pigs and goats. It looked like a happy homestead.
The ghost with him walked toward the closest cabin and led him inside. An old man, all grey hair and whiskers sat at the table drinking a cup of tea. There was a book open on the table in front of him. The man looked familiar but he couldn't quite place him.
A young woman came breezing in the door behind them. She had long dark hair and blue eyes and she carried a curly haired baby boy on her hip. "Daddy, we've been looking for you. Come on, Carl's just come back from huntin'," the woman said.
The old man turned, "I'm comin' Judy. I'm comin'. These old bones just take longer getting movin' than they used to."
Daryl suddenly realized this was Rick and Judith. She must be in her late twenties or early thirties so Rick would be in his 60's. And that baby, could that be Judy's child? What was happening here? Why was he being shown this vision of the future. They followed Rick and Judy outside where Carl and another man had just returned from a hunting trip with two huge turkeys and a small deer. Carl was being hugged and kissed by a beautiful blonde and had two little ones jumping up on him and calling him Daddy.
Daryl looked around at the rest of the group. A tiny woman near the edge of the group with snow white hair and twinkling blue eyes stepped up to give Carl a big hug. It was Carol. He knew it with a glance. She stepped aside as the rest of the group came forward to admire the hunter's bounty and welcome them home. Carol stepped over next to Rick to watch.
"Daryl would be proud of him," Carol whispered as they watched. "He's the one who taught him to hunt."
Rick got a pained look on his face. "Yep. He was there for Carl when I wasn't for a long time. I just wish… well, I wish I coulda done somethin'," Rick said.
"You did all you could, Rick. We all did. He just never came back to us. I think if he hadn't started drinking, maybe we could have reached him. I don't know. I mean we've all suffered through the worst kind of tragedies and managed to move past it, to stick together. He wasn't able to do that after Terminus and then losing Beth," Carol replied.
Daryl stood there listening and wondering. "What the hell they talking about, huh?" he asked the spectre next to him. "What happened to me? Why ain't I here with everybody else?"
The sky turned black and the people faded. Their surroundings changed from the cheerful homestead to a grimey old gas station where the windows were covered with plywood and the air stank of burned charcoal and warm piss. Daryl could hear a sound from the far corner. Someone was whispering, babbling. The spirit took his hand and pulled him farther inside the darkened space. A man sat in the corner. He was stick thin with long greasy gray hair and grizzled gray beard. His clothes were tattered and stained with filth. He was holding a bottle of rubbing alcohol which he would take a swig from in between bouts of mostly incoherent mumbling. "I told you Merle, I ain't nobody's bitch. I AIN'T NOBODY'S BITCH!. You hear me, motherfucker."
"Oh, my god," Daryl exclaimed, taking a step back in shock, "That's me. That's me, ain't it? Is that what's gonna happen to me. Jesus, no. Tell me this ain't it. Tell me I can change this. Please."
The dirty station faded away and they were back in the whiteness. The spirit lifted the hood back and revealed a cherubic face and long blonde curls. "Beth!" he cried out before taking her in his arms and picking her up.
"Oh, my god, Beth. I'm so happy to see you. I'm so sorry. I 'm sorry I sent you out to that road alone. It's all my fault. You should never have been in that damned hospital with that woman. God, I'm sorry," he told her as he began to sob into her shoulder.
"Daryl" he heard her whisper into his ear. "Daryl, put me down. Okay?" That sweet little voice again finally. He'd heard it in his dreams so many times.
"You don't have anything to be sorry for, you know," she told him. "Actually it's because of you that I survived for as long as I did. You taught me how to stand up for myself and to be tough. Otherwise they probably would have killed me a lot sooner. You were good for me, Daryl. I'll always be grateful for that."
"But, Beth, how are you here? What does all this mean? That was me in that station, wasn't it? Is that my future? Is that how it has to be?" Daryl asked in a near panicked whisper.
"The future's not written yet, Daryl. What we saw is what could happen, what will happen if you keep pulling away from everyone and drinking. You have to make the choice to change and follow through. That's what will determine the future. I made a choice to try and save Noah by stopping Dawn. That choice is what led to my death but it worked because Noah's free now. He's with all of you. He's safe. That's worth so much more than playing it safe and just living to another day. I didn't die because I got bit by a walker or got sick or some other stupid thing. I died because I was trying to make a difference and it worked. That's what's important, Daryl. I made a difference just like you always did," Beth told him.
"I wasn't ever tryin' to do nothin' but keep people alive, Beth. I didn't wanna lose nobody else but look at everybody we lost anyways. I didn't make no difference. I lost you. I lost Hershel and Bob and Andrea, T-dog, Dale. We lost the prison. I ain't made a difference. I ain't done nothin' that Rick wouldna done," Daryl admitted to her.
"Could Rick have saved Judith when she was born? He was out of his mind. She survived because of you. Could Rick have found Carol down in the tombs? She would have died down there without you. You kept all of us fed when we would have gone hungry. You taught Carl to hunt and track. You taught me to defend myself. You've saved so many people's lives on so many occasions that I can't even name them all, Daryl. You are a good man, a man worthy to be part of the family that is missing you," Beth reminded him.
"I can't do it no more, Beth. I can't keep carin' about 'em and then lose 'em. I can't," he confessed as he looked into the bottomless blue lakes of her eyes.
"Then, that man in the gas station is who you'll become. Gettin' hurt is part of being alive, Daryl. You can't avoid it unless you choose to just exist rather than live. If you let yourself care about people, getting hurt is part of the package but if you close yourself off from the possibility of pain, you lose all the good stuff too. You lose the laughter, the warmth, the sweetness. It's a trade off but it's worth it. At least it was to me and I think it was to you up until a month ago," she told him.
"I don't know, Beth. I don't know what I want now. Or at least I know that I can't have what I want. I want you back. I want to feel the way I felt when we sitting in that kitchen eating peanut butter and pig's feet. I won't ever have that again," he said as he reached for her hand.
"I loved you, Daryl Dixon. I hope you know that. And I know how you felt about me even if you never said it out loud. You told me how you felt everytime you protected me and the times you carried me when I hurt my ankle. That's what matters. You were there when I needed you. That's why I had to come back to get you to see that you're throwing all the good stuff in your life away with the way you're actin' now. You're pushin' everyone away and actin' like your life's not important but it is. You're important, Daryl, to me and to every one of those people. They miss you. They're worried about you. Open your eyes before it's too late," she begged him.
The weight of her hand in his began to disappear and when he looked up she was fading. "Beth, don't leave. Please. Just stay. We can stay here. I don't care. Just don't leave me again," he said as he tried in vain to pull her to him.
"Just promise me that you'll try, Daryl. Open your heart again. Let those people back into your life. Make the choice to be alive again even if it hurts. I'll be here waiting and one day, you will be able to stay. We'll get to spend as much time as we want together. For right now, though, you have to go back," she explained as her imaged got even lighter.
"Wait, wait. Okay, I will. I promise I will. Just tell me, Beth. Will it change the future? Will I still be the man in the gas station? That's not what I want," he told her.
"Then make the right choice, Daryl. Make it mean something, make it matter. I'll be around keeping an eye on you. Just listen for the song and you'll know I'm there. Goodbye, Daryl Dixon," she whispered. He watched as she walked toward the figure of Hershel waiting for her out in the distance. The two misty figures joined hands and then disappeared entirely.
Daryl sat down hard, wiping the tears off his cheeks and remembering that rosy mouth and big blue eyes. He'd always miss that girl but right now, he had others things to do. He needed to get back, throw out the rot gut and tell everyone what a jackass he'd been. He needed to be a part of his family again. He just couldn't figure out how to get back with no one to guide him.
"Hey, what do I do? How do I go back?" he began to yell. There was no one around to answer. Then a soft voice resounded in his head. It was what Hershel had said. "It's your choice to make, son."
Daryl closed his eyes, "I want to go back. I want to be back with my group, my family. I want to have a life again." He began to smell the campfire smoke and hear the laughter of everyone and when he opened his eyes he was still resting inside his sleeping bag under the pine tree. The flask was still in his hand.
He turned and threw the flash out into the darkness of the woods with all his strength and then peeled out of the sleeping bag and walked over to join the others around the fire. Carol and Maggie were just beginning to unwrap their surprise.
He could smell the aroma of something baking. It made his mouth water. It had been a long time since he'd smelled anything that good. Carol uncovered a big pot to reveal a still simmering peach cobbler. It took everyone's breath away and set many mouths watering.
"It's just canned peaches and cake mix dumped together. A dump cake, my mama used to call it. But we needed a sweet treat for Christmas so Maggie and I came up with this," Carol informed the group crowding eagerly around with bowls and spoons. Carol looked up to see Daryl standing just at the edge of the group. "I think the first piece should go to the man who provided us with the meat for our feast. Daryl, come up here and bring me your bowl."
"Nah, go ahead and feed everbody else," he mumbled. "I'm fine."
A chorus of voices all urged him to come on and step up. He felt Rick's hand on his back guiding him forward. He reluctantly moved to the front of the group where Carol spooned up a big portion for him. He dug straight into it despite the steaming heat. He looked up and smiled as the sweet, crunchy goodness hit his tongue.
"Okay, now out of the way, Daryl," Carl said as he nudged him aside.
Everyone had their bowl filled and sat down around the campfire to enjoy their Christmas dessert.
Daryl cleared his throat nervously. He wanted to say something but it was always hard for him to put his thoughts into words. "I, ah, I just wanted to tell y'all that I'm sorry for the way I been actin'. I, well I reckon everything just sort of broke me down for a while. I think I'm back now, for good. We're a family and I want to be a part of it again."
"You always were, Daryl," Rick told him with a brotherly slap on the back.
Carol smiled as she moved to sit next to him and slip her hand into his. "See, a Christmas miracle. Daryl's back and we have cobbler. Life's not all bad," she told them all with a huge smile.
Daryl lifted his thoroughly cleaned spoon as if in a toast. "Merry Christmas, everybody," he said to the assemblage and they all lifted their spoons in kind returning his good wishes.
That night after dinner, Daryl moved his sleeping bag closer to the circle near the campfire. He snuggled down into it late, after almost everyone else was already asleep. Glen and Maggie were on watch duty. He lay staring around at the group, thinking how much he'd missed being a part of them. The heat from the fire made his face feel warm and the dancing flames made the sights across the clearing hazy and indistinct. That's why he wasn't sure if what he was seeing was real but it looked like Merle, Hershel and Beth standing together and smiling at him. He sat up, startled, to get a better look but there was nothing there. Then he remembered being with Hershel when Maggie thought she saw him for a second. Daryl smiled.
"Good night, y'all," he whispered to the three now invisible spirits who'd saved him. "Good night and thank you."