Maggie doesn't see much, that first night after Beth and Daryl find their camp completely by accident. The two of them appear out of nowhere, five months after the prison fell, arriving in their midst just before sunset—dirty and wild-looking but alive. Beth is alive, and Maggie is far too emotional to notice much of anything, between her elation at getting her baby sister back and her guilt over giving up on her so easily. So she holds Beth tight and doesn't let go, and that's the only thing that matters.
She notices Beth before she notices anything else. The way she speaks up when they're making plans around the fire that night, after the shock of her being alive has faded and Maggie finally lets her go. She uses a voice that's Beth's, but not Beth's. A voice that makes Rick stop what he's saying to listen, to consider her idea and decide to use it. Maggie sees the way she fights, when walkers stumble into their camp the next morning, drawing her knife and taking out half of them before Maggie even stands up. The way she moves, silent and sure-footed like a creature of the woods, a strength to her, a grace about her she didn't have before.
Beth has changed. The memory of Beth and the reality of Beth don't quite match up, like a reflection in the water, distorted by ripples until the face looking out isn't exactly the face looking in. But Beth's sweet smile is the same, and her voice when she sings to Judith. It's other places where she doesn't quite fit, where the changes start. It makes sense, Maggie knows this logically. Knows Beth couldn't spend so long on the run without changing in some way. Beth is still sweet little Beth, but she's tough. Maggie can't quite figure it out, but she wonders, now, if her baby sister hadn't been tough all along. That maybe Maggie is only seeing it now because she's looking, or maybe because Beth has finally had a chance to let that side of her shine.
It's because Maggie's looking that she notices the rest. When the walkers stumble in, it's not just Beth who seems to know they're coming before anyone else, it's Daryl, too. It's the two of them against six walkers and it's over in seconds and it's almost beautiful, in a way that only exists in a world like this. They fight like two halves of one whole and that makes sense to Maggie, too. They were on their own together for months and had to have each other's back in order to survive. It's not a surprise that they would grow closer, that they would be so used to working together they would continue to do so.
Beth and Daryl sit together by the fire after the walkers have been dragged away. They sat together before the walkers, too, but Maggie only registers it now that she's seen them fight. Now that she's watching them instead of just her. They aren't sitting any closer together than anyone else, there's nothing there, exactly, that should make Maggie wonder. But she does wonder, at the way they turn ever so slightly toward the other, at their quiet conversation, which she can't hear from where she sits, can only watch, and it's both more words from Daryl than Maggie's ever seen, and yet hardly any words at all, as though they don't need them.
Beth is hardly stuck to Daryl's hip. She plays with Judith—they both do—she sits and lets Maggie ask questions about what happened after the prison and answers some of them while avoiding others. She helps prepare lunch, and takes time to speak to everyone, even the new faces. Daryl does what Daryl always does. Hovers, sharpening his knife. Talks a bit when approached by Rick, by Carol, by Glenn or Michonne. And he watches, that much hasn't changed. But he's watching Beth and she's watching him, and no, they aren't stuck at the hip, they're in orbit around each other and whenever their paths cross, there's a moment when it's only them. When Maggie doesn't think they're aware of anything but each other.
They haven't broken camp because they're all exhausted, and they're staying until daybreak so everyone can rest. And it's midday and Daryl says he's going to go hunting and without missing a beat, there's Beth at his side with a crossbow—a crossbow—and it's not just Daryl going hunting, it's both of them, with nothing more than a quick look between them to communicate this and a brief press of Daryl's hand on the small of her back as they turn to leave, sliding their crossbows over their shoulders in perfect sync.
Maggie sees that everyone notices that. There's a comment from Eugene about Mr. and Mrs. Archer, which everyone laughs off except Carol and Michonne. And Maggie isn't laughing either, because it can't be true, not Daryl. Not Beth.
They return with enough squirrels between them to feed everyone, and that's what she's supposed to notice. What she's not supposed to see, but sees anyway because she's looking, is the fading flush on Beth's cheeks and the matching pink of Daryl's neck. She tells herself it's just from hunting. From a long walk back with a load of squirrels. But even she isn't sure she believes that. She catches Carol's eye across the camp and understands she's not the only one who sees.
Because she did half the hunting, nobody expects Beth to help prepare the food. She's free to do what she likes and that's apparently cleaning arrows with Daryl and checking through their shared supply. Then Carl asks to see Beth shoot the crossbow she now hunts squirrels with, and Daryl smiles, actually smiles as he ties his red rag to a tree and tells Carl to prepare to be impressed.
Everyone's watching this, and Maggie can see Beth's aware of that, but it doesn't rattle her. In the same way she can sing in front of the group, Beth handles the weapon with confidence, and just like her voice when she sings, the moment she lifts the crossbow it becomes a part of her. People are chattering but Beth doesn't hear them, and it's almost too easy when her arrow goes right through the centre of the rag before Maggie realizes she's even shot.
Daryl says Beth's name, and there's nothing Maggie ought to notice about that except it doesn't come out with Daryl's hard edges. It's softened at the corners and before Maggie has the chance to really consider that, Daryl tosses an already dead squirrel in the air and it falls to the ground again with Beth's arrow through its chest.
Everyone's impressed, and Beth and Daryl share a look, a not-quite-smile that makes Maggie think this little show is hardly demonstrative of Beth's true ability with the bow. It's clear Daryl taught her and it's equally clear he's proud of her, the way he nudges her with his shoulder when he thinks nobody's looking. He says something to her in a low voice, the timbre but not the words carrying across the camp to where Maggie watches as she helps skin squirrels, something that makes Beth smile like she has a secret.
She does, Maggie is sure of it. She tells herself it's because out of all of them, after two years that feel like thirty, Beth is the first one to figure out how to make Daryl smile. He's smiling now, just a quirk of his lips but it's his eyes that give him away, little blue slits sparkling in the midday sun. Maybe that's all this is, Maggie thinks. They're friends, how could they not be, after months on their own. She's just not used to seeing Daryl so at ease with somebody else, but if anyone could get in and loosen the tension he wears like a second skin, it would be Beth, wouldn't it?
For the rest of the afternoon, Maggie feels relieved, now that she's got the mystery of Beth and Daryl figured out. She stops watching them closely but she doesn't stop watching, because she's still trying to figure out the changes she sees in Beth, and she's still a bit in awe of the changes in Daryl, too.
When it's time to eat, Beth and Daryl again sit side-by-side, but Maggie comes over to join them, Glenn at her side, and so does Rick and Carl, and then it's Beth and Daryl in the middle with their attentions split in both directions. And it's not that Maggie wants to distract her, exactly, she's just wants to talk to Beth, to get into Beth's bubble because she's been so long thinking Beth was dead. A little pang of guilt goes through her at that, because she's so very not dead, she's not just alive, she's thriving, and Maggie doesn't know how to handle it. But Beth smiles and Maggie's heart hurts a little less, and she doesn't know if Beth knows, but at least she's here. If nothing else, Maggie is so grateful for that.
She's distracted by her inner turmoil over supper and forgets to keep watching them, and it isn't until the camp is settling for the night that they catch her eye again, the two of them. Rick and Michonne are taking first watch, which means Daryl gets to sleep for a while before it's his turn. Maggie almost misses it—Glenn is there, distracting her with his lips on her neck when it's barely dark enough out to hide in—but there's Daryl across the camp settling into his sleeping space and Beth's laying her bedding out beside him.
Glenn doesn't really care, when Maggie mentions this to him—he's got other ideas and Maggie's on board with those, she really is, but Beth and Daryl…
By the time she and Glenn finish and they're curled up together beneath their blanket, it's fully dark out. Maggie's sated and sleepy, and isn't thinking of her sister at all until she hears Beth's soft giggle from across the camp. Glenn's snoring behind her, but Maggie is suddenly wide awake. She listens, trying to pinpoint Beth amidst the other sounds of the group settling around them, but it's the rumble of Daryl's voice she hears first.
Actually, Maggie thinks he might be laughing, and the longer she listens, focuses on that sound, the surer she is of it. It mingles with Beth's giggle and Maggie can't help the way it tugs a smile to her face. It's a wonder to her that anyone could get under Daryl's skin like that, loosen the shell he wears around himself like armour, and in that moment she's proud of Beth, because she thinks maybe it wasn't just Daryl keeping Beth alive out there. Maggie thinks that maybe it went both ways.
She listens for a long time. After their laughter dies down it's replaced by a conversation she can't really hear, but it goes on for long enough that Maggie's eyes begin to droop from tiredness. She's still listening, though, and the back and forth of Daryl's low rumble and Beth's higher whisper end up lulling her to sleep.
Beth and Daryl are already awake by the time Maggie opens her eyes the next morning, and the evidence of their side-by-side sleeping arrangement has been packed up and stacked with the rest of their stuff. And it's their stuff, clearly, two backpacks but no clear distinction of whose is whose. And when the group sets out after polishing off the leftover squirrels for breakfast, Maggie isn't surprised to see Beth and Daryl walking side by side.
They're used to that, and it shows. What also shows is how in-tune they are, probably more than the two of them realize. They walk in the same silent way, their pace as quick as everyone else yet Maggie never hears their steps. They watch the world around them, even when someone else demands their attention, turning their heads in the same direction at the same random moments, taking note of things no one else does. The few times they leave the convoy, they do so with only a look, a brief but intense meeting of eyes that seems to say more than it should before they head off in separate directions. The third time this happens, Beth returns with a pair of rabbits strung over her shoulder and Daryl's wiping walker blood off his knife, and neither of them look the least bit surprised.
It goes on like this through the long day of travelling. They aren't ignoring the others, but no matter what they're doing, who they're talking to, Maggie gets the sense that they always know where the other one is. Those little moments of eye contact occur most frequently when they're apart. When they come back together, there's a brush of shoulder on shoulder, knuckles across knuckles, nothing to suggest that it means anything, except Maggie's more and more convinced that it does.
The more she thought she had them figured out yesterday, the more she's certain today that she was wrong. Because they're not friends. Or rather, they are, but it's so much more than that. Glenn thinks she's insane. Thinks she's reading too much into nothing and that it's only because they've gotten so used to things just being the two of them that they're sticking to each other right now. That they'll sort it out, resettle into the group as though they never left, but Maggie isn't sure.
She finally decides to talk to somebody other than Glenn about what she sees. When they all stop for a short break to refill their water bottles at a little creek, Maggie sidles up to Carol to ask what she thinks is going on with Beth and Daryl. Carol doesn't answer right away, and Maggie follows her line of sight over to where the two of them sit. They're sharing a boulder, facing away from each other on a forty-five degree angle, but they're hip to hip and Daryl's speaking, looking out at the water with a smirk on his face, while Beth looks down at her hands in her lap, smiling, her cheeks flushed with pink. And there's a moment where she sort of leans back against him and he leans in toward her, and it's nothing, it really isn't, except that it is and Carol agrees.
They're not Maggie and Glenn. They're not even Abe and Rosita. But Beth and Daryl are definitely Beth and Daryl, and Maggie's a little breathless when she thinks about that.
Maggie supposes she ought to be upset about it, the thought of her baby sister and a man so much older than she is. But her baby sister's not a baby anymore, probably hasn't been for a long time but it took these months of separation for Maggie to see that. And it's clear that whatever's between them is more than mutual. Maggie recalls thinking of them as two halves of one whole and realizes now just how well that sums them up.
They're not really hiding it, Maggie decides, as the day carries on. Oh, they're hardly handing out wedding invitations or making public service announcements, and she can see they don't want to be showy. But neither one of them makes any excuses for wanting to stick close, they just sort of do, including each other in conversations, sitting or standing together when the group stops, and yes, laying their bedding out side by side when they make camp that night, even though Daryl and Beth are taking first watch and could've made their bed under the cover of darkness.
Maggie wakes before them the next morning and isn't surprised, when she peeks over at their place just at the edge of the trees, to see the tops of two heads snuggled close together beneath their shared blankets, and a tangle of boots at the other end. It isn't much longer before they begin to stir, and Maggie pretends she's not paying attention—and suddenly feels like a bit of a voyeur, but surely they wouldn't, even if they do, not with the sky growing lighter and so many others around. But they don't, it's just a bit of stretching and whispered conversation before they extract themselves from the bedding.
But then, oh, then, Maggie knows they think they're the first ones awake, because sleepy-eyed Beth sort of falls into Daryl, smushing her face into his chest and his arms tighten around her back. Then Daryl nuzzles his face into Beth's chaotic hair and sort of just… breathes her in. And it's over before she thinks they want it to be, this little morning snuggle between them, but they separate enough to appear separate, when really there's a great deal of knuckles brushing and knees touching all throughout breakfast.
Maggie isn't at all surprised when Beth and Daryl leave the group for a while to go hunting. She doesn't like to think of Beth doing what she's so obviously gone off to do, with Daryl Dixon of all people. But this, at least, Maggie understands, and glances toward Glenn to share a smile. It's been a long time since she and Glenn bothered to worry about being overheard, and Abe and Rosita haven't got that problem either, but Beth and Daryl are different, and even if they aren't precisely hiding, they're not trying to announce themselves, either. Of course they'd want the privacy.
Maggie decides that evening to just come right out and ask Beth, but she has to try and get her alone in order to do so, and she's barely left Daryl's side all day. All it takes is Maggie asking to talk to her, and she suppresses her grin when Beth and Daryl share one of those looks before Beth follows her off toward a fallen log at the edge of their camp. They sit together, their backs to the group, and Maggie opens up with something safe, a compliment about Beth's hunting and the deer she provided for the group today.
But Beth sees through her straight away, and nudges Maggie with her shoulder and tells her to just ask already. All Maggie manages to get out is you and Daryl? before Beth's cheeks flush pink, and she's biting her lip to hide her smile. And it's such an odd contrast, because Maggie's looking at Beth and seeing both her little baby sister and this grown woman who's madly in love. Because that's what it is, Maggie decides, looking over her shoulder to find Daryl looking their way. So she smiles at him, and he nods back, and when Maggie turns back to Beth she's still wearing that smile.
They aren't showy, but they aren't hiding. Before long, everybody knows and nobody questions it, it becomes just another fact, that Beth and Daryl are Beth and Daryl. And their touches happen more freely, and at night when they sit around the fire, Beth settles into the circle of Daryl's arms and nobody thinks twice about it. They still sneak off to go hunting, and though they always return with something to eat, they aren't really fooling anyone, either. They've both changed so much, the two of them, in the time since the prison, but that's okay, Maggie thinks, because they're Beth and Daryl.
And she wouldn't have thought, if you asked her a year ago, that Beth and Daryl could work, but they do.
They do, and it's really just beautiful.