Isn’t She Lovely by exoticdeviance

They’ve been dating six weeks, but Daryl feels like he’s been waiting his entire fucking life for this moment.

Beth’s hands are tangled in his hair, fingers gripping the dark locks in a tight grip as she kisses him. He groans low in his throat when she licks into his mouth, tongue dancing around his own in a way that makes him feel out of control. Hell, for all intents and purposes, he is. She’s practically got him trapped underneath her on her couch and while he could probably flip them, he’s more than fine letting her take the lead.

She releases his mouth and tugs him toward her neck where he wastes no time kissing and nipping at the pale skin. His teeth bare down in a particularly savage bite when she circles her hips in a slow grind, sending sparks of pleasure up his spine from the sweet pressure on his dick. He expects her to yelp or pull away, but she melts into him instead, fingers loosening their grip to card through his hair as he gently licks at the abused skin already purpling.

Daryl smooths his hands up her thighs to squeeze at her hips before he mumbles a quiet sorry against her ear.

“S’alright.” Beth encourages him to lean back so she can get a good look at him. “I know you won’t hurt me. Not anyway I don’t like.”

He knows she’s just referring to the moment, that she knows he would never hurt her physically, but he becomes acutely aware of just how bad he’s got it when something big and warm rises up inside him, making it hard to breathe. His right hand moves from her hip to cup her jaw, thumb smoothing over her swollen bottom lip. He’s a man of few words, but he feels the ridiculous urge to make some crazed speech about how he’ll never hurt her ever in any way for the rest of his life. A small spike of fear and pleasure zings through him when a dangerous four letter word starts to hover in the back of his mind. He stamps down the feeling because for fuck’s sake, they haven’t even been dating two months. She’s his first serious girlfriend, or at least his first girlfriend that doesn’t have two first names, a tramp stamp, and a crippling lifelong vice.

“I won’t.” It’s significantly shorter than the words he had flying around in his head, but the message must still get across because Beth smiles at him and it’s so beautiful he thinks he might be willing to consider that he’s—

A snort from across the room breaks the moment.

“Oh ho ho…I won’t. And you believe this, Bethie? Now, you know better than that! Look at him!

The man barely knows how to wash his damned hair and he wears more leather than the Village People.”

Beth’s still smiling at him, but Daryl’s good mood has definitely fucking disappeared.

The stout man enters his peripheral vision, his white hair nearly blending into the pallor of his semi-transparent form. He glares at the two of them, hands on his hips. “He only wants one thing and you’re givin’ it to him like some scarlet woman! He won’t talk about his job which obviously means he’s not even employed! And he’s old. Men don’t get that old and remain single because they’re a good catch, Bethie. It’s common sense, for Heaven’s sake! Your Mama taught you better than this.”

“You okay? You look a little…” Beth’s head tilts as she considers him, a concerned frown on her face.

Daryl clears his throat and refocuses on her, ignoring the rude as shit spirit in the room. “M’fine. I just gotta…I needa use the restroom. S’cuse me.”

Beth slips off his lap and bounces back on the couch, watching him haul ass to the bathroom without giving her a second glance. As usual, the ghost follows him. He shuts the door and turns on the taps for some noise as the spirit barges right the fuck in through the wood. The first time this happened, he actually did have to use the bathroom. Damn near jumped out of his skin and sent piss flying at the unexpected intrusion.

He’s learned a lot since then.

Whoever this dead asshole is, he only ever shows up when he’s with Beth. He’s not exactly sure why, but the spirit seems to hate Daryl with the passion of a thousand fiery suns. He’s had spirits who don’t particularly like him—usually the ones that are the most reluctant to move on—but this is an entirely new and special breed of fucking annoying. Beth first invited him up to her apartment on their second date, which was a surprise, but he wasn’t about to say no to hopping into bed with a beautiful woman when she was just as eager.

That’s when the spirit first showed up. Daryl was so caught off guard, he fled the scene and later had to make up some story about how he preferred to wait to take their relationship to the next level, a phone call that was easily now in his top five least favorite conversations. It’s right up there with his big brother’s first intervention, that time he had to convince a dead pirate in Savannah that sexual assault was still sexual assault even if you were dead, and basically any time he has to interact with Officer Walsh in any way, shape, or form.

It’s been weeks and everytime him and Beth get close to having sex, there he is. The world’s biggest spiritual cock block.

“You might got her fooled now, sendin’ her flowers for no reason or takin’ her out on that deathtrap of a motorcycle, but I know your type. I don’t know what the hell she sees—” That’s it. He’s officially reached his breaking point.

“Listen here, Boo Berry. I’m sick of your shit.” Daryl hisses out in a furious whisper, spinning to stare him right in the face. The ghost is so shocked at being addressed so directly he nearly steps right back through the door. “I’m with my girl. Which means I’m off the fuckin’ clock. So do me a favor and fuck off to whatever spiritual plane you annoying shits go to when you ain’t botherin’ me.”

The old man blinks at him before narrowing his eyes. “You can see me, boy?”

Daryl closes his eyes and pinches the bridge of his nose, taking a few deep breaths. The man didn’t even realize he could hear him insulting him these past few weeks. Dread curls low in his stomach because if the ghost wasn’t here to annoy Daryl into helping him complete some unfinished business, he was here because he was haunting Beth. Fucking great.

“Yeah, old man. I can see you.” He mumbles the words in as neutral a tone as possible, not sure what side of the fence this particular ghost fell on. He sure had a special way with words and he was creeping on a young woman, but that didn’t automatically put him in the malicious spirit category. “What’re you doin’ followin’ Beth around?”

The ghost snorts. “I could ask you the same thing with how fast you’re movin’. Besides, aren’t you a little old for that young woman? At your age, you should know how to be respectful and keep it in your damn pants.”

Daryl flushes at the suggestion and resists the urge to hit the spirit. If he was surprised that Daryl could see him, he’d probably drop dead all over again at the discovery he could touch him too. “That ain’t none of your business. ‘Sides, you’re the one hangin’ around that young woman’s apartment like some pervert. You like watchin’ sexy little blondes undress or somethin’? That how you get your kicks now that you’ve bit the dust?”

“Sexy little—” The man sputters and he watches in satisfaction as a weak flush graces his pale cheeks. “You watch your mouth, boy. I might be dead but I’ll wring your scrawny neck myself if

I ever hear you disrespect my daughter like that again!”

My daughter. The color drains from Daryl’s face so fast, he imagines another medium might mistake him for one of the dead. Personally, he wouldn’t mind dying to escape this moment.

“You’re her—”

“Daddy.” The man’s grin is more than a little sadistic. “But you’ll call me Mr. Greene.”

+++

Fucking motherfucking fuck.

The gravel underneath his feet crunches as he makes his way to his bike, cell phone pressed hard against his ear. He glances up at Beth’s apartment and feels his anger spike all over again at the unfairness of the situation. He had to flee her apartment again like some asshole and he can see that his excuses are getting less and less believable. If he’s not careful, she won’t want him coming up anymore. Then she won’t want him coming around at all.

He straddles his bike, growing more frustrated the longer the phone rings. “Fuckin’ c’mon.”

The ring cuts off. “Atlanta PD. Officer Walsh speakin’.” Just when he thought his night couldn’t get any worse.

“Concerned citizen callin’ to ask why the fuck it takes so fuckin’ long to get to your desk. Y’know, you don’t have to cry and jack off with both hands, Walsh. Leave one free to answer the fuckin’ phone.”

Walsh chuckles. “Aw, look who it is. It’s been a while, I was hopin’ you moved away or died or somethin’ nice like that.”

“Give the phone to Grimes.”

“Yes Ma’am.” Walsh must pull the phone away from his ear because his voice is fainter when he yells. “Hey Grimes! Your girlfriend Oda Mae Brown is on the phone. Sounds lonely, might need to give it to her extra good tonight.”

He hears the laughter and wolf whistles from the other officers in the precinct. He’s not sure how any of them stands Walsh. He’s a fucking tool. Even Grimes agreed.

“Your boyfriend’s on his way, Oda Mae—Ah, there he is.” Daryl rolls his eyes, hearing the shiteating grin Walsh must have on his face. “Tell Patrick Swayze I said hi.”

The line goes quiet for a moment before he hears the click of another phone being picked up.

“What’s up, Dixon?”

“What’s up is your partner has the same amount of charm as a bag of smashed assholes.” Grimes laughs at his greeting. “And a spirit is hauntin’ Beth.”

He hears the squeak of a chair through the receiver as Grimes sits up and he knows he’s got his attention. “Beth Beth? As in your Beth?”

It’s stupid, but the question makes his stomach flutter. He’s still not used to the idea of being with someone, so hearing anyone acknowledge it makes him want to do something fucking dumb, like smile or talk about how she always smells nice. His eyes cast up to Beth’s window and he nods to himself.

“Yeah. I confronted him tonight thinkin’ he was tryin’ to bug me into helpin’, but he didn’t even know I could fuckin’ see him. Nearly shocked him right back into his grave.” He pauses and hears Grimes let out a mumbled Jesus Christ. The light in Beth’s window goes out and he sighs. He should be up there, goddamnit. “But he told me who he is. At least who he wants me to think he

is.”

Rick hums and he hears him drag his keyboard across his desk. “Name?” This was the part he was not looking forward to.

“Not sure, but if he’s tellin’ the truth, his last name would be Greene. G-R-E-E-N-E. Stick to the surroundin’ counties and look for anyone who died in the last six months. Hasn’t managed to go full corporeal, so he ain’t been dead long.” It’s clear by the silence that Rick wants to ask him why he just gave him Beth’s last name, but after a long beat he starts typing.

“Let’s see..” Daryl hears a few more clicks. “Jason Greene, but he died a good year ago. Got a Hershel Jeremiah Greene… Died three months ago. No foul play reported. Looks like natural causes… oh.”

Oh was never good. “What?”

“Ah, well, quick statement here. He was found by his daughter, Beth Greene. She was pretty distraught. Says the paramedics had to sedate her to get her to let go of his body.” Rick pauses.

“Did you know her Daddy passed?”

“Nah. She didn’t… she never told me.” Daryl sighs, kicking up the stand on his bike. “Fuck.”

He hums thoughtfully and while he might feel like shit, he’s glad he was the one to confirm the bad news because he’s never felt as comfortable talking to anyone about his abilities as he does with Rick. “What are you— You still haven’t told her about your gift, have you?”

“She’s still seein’ me. What the fuck do you think?” His hand clenches into a fist. In true Dixon fashion, he’s feeling a mighty urge to hit something. “I gotta go.”

He’s already lifting the phone away from his ear to end the call when he hears Rick speak up. “Daryl! Call me, if you— I’ll back you up, I mean. Whatever you need. Don’t write your girl off yet. She probably didn’t tell you ‘cos she’s still hurtin’ over the loss. If all that gushin’ you do over her is even half true, seems like she might be okay when you tell her what you can do.”

They both go quiet, but the line goes dead when Rick doesn’t get a response, knowing him well enough to know waiting is useless. He pockets his phone distractedly. The gush comment was a little uncalled for, but he can’t say he was wrong. Beth is a good person and a bit of a bleeding heart, so if anyone would be willing to sit and hear him out before casting him out on his ass, it would probably be her. Still, it wouldn’t be pleasant. It never is. Daryl grimaces as he slips on his helmet, reaching forward to start up his bike to get as far away from Hershel and Beth Greene as possible.

+++

Spirits only ever appear for him if he has a job to do—whether that be helping or forcing them to move on—and they get increasingly annoying the longer he ignores them. A hard lesson learned when his big brother passed. So, he knew he was going to have to deal with Mr. Greene sooner rather than later.

He would prefer later and by later he means never because ghosts like Mr. Greene stick around because they want to say goodbye. Daryl’s not exactly the warm and fuzzy type, so when he gets caught in family shit, he almost always writes down the message and mails it to the person to avoid any actual contact. However, the moving on business is about as tricky as it sounds and five times out of ten, the written messages won’t work. Everyone’s a fucking skeptic nowadays and it’s just his luck that spirits are stubbornly insistent that their messages not only get passed on, but believed. Like it’s his fucking problem that Tom or Martha or whoever the fuck doesn’t believe in ghosts or messages from the afterlife.

He’s still not sure how he got stuck with this bullshit gift. He’s the last person someone wants on their doorstep telling them their dead husband wants them to know he still loves them and thinks they should give the man they’ve been chatting with on OKCupid a shot because multiple soulmates are a thing. Shit, he wouldn’t want himself on his doorstep passing on messages from dead relatives either. Thankfully, that painfully awkward part of his gift has dwindled significantly. Whatever Powers That Be finally recognized he wasn’t the ideal candidate for that kind of job and he wasn’t planning on changing anytime soon. Of course, instead of freeing him from this shitty life, they simply shifted the focus.

Now he gets paid to lurk around crime scenes as an on call “Psychic” to help Atlanta’s finest solve crimes because the deep well of humiliation known as Daryl Dixon’s life is fucking endless. While some of the dead bodies he’s seen are a little cool, he could have done without the constant reminder of how fucked up and depraved the human race is.

Despite it all, he was doing pretty okay. Things could be better but that seemed to be an ongoing theme in his life, so it didn’t bother him too much. He would go to work when needed—which ended up being more and more as the guys on the force slowly stopped making fun of him and started being a little in awe of him—come home to work on his bike or car, eat whatever was in his fridge, sleep, and do it all over again. Not a glamorous lifestyle and definitely a little lonely, but it was all right. People already didn’t like Daryl, so it rarely worked in his favor when they found out he talked to dead people.

Then Beth “blonde, smart, cute as a button, and kinda annoying in an endearing way” Greene showed up as the new coroner’s assistant of all fucking things and ruined his life.

Honestly, he couldn’t make this shit up.

“Daryl? Hey!” Beth greets him at her door, a confused smile on her face. “What’re you— Oh sugar sticks, did I mix up date night again?”

His lips twitch in an answering smile and he’s very aware of what a selfish prick he is for being so happy to see her when he’s about to drop the Your Dead Dad Says Hi bomb on her. “Nah, I just, uh, came by to talk.”

“‘Kay.” She shrugs and leans up on her toes to give him a quick kiss before waving him in. He walks in behind her, gently closing her front door as he scopes out her apartment. No Hershel in sight, but Daryl’s not a few well timed moves away from taking his daughter to bed, so the old man is probably feeling pretty all right wherever he is.

“Goddamn cock block.” He mumbles to himself.

Beth takes a seat on her couch, a few medical books spread out around her on her coffee table.

“What was that?”

“Nothin’.” Daryl takes a seat next to her and considers what to say. Typically he’d just come right out with it, then call the ghost out to get some ‘proof’ but this is Beth. He wants to make this as painless as possible. He shifts until he’s facing her. “I want to talk to you about somethin’.

It’s…it’s pretty serious.”

He clears his throat, sending up a silent prayer to those sadistic motherfuckers running the universe to give him a break, just this once.

“Well, y’know how I said I was lost when we met and that’s how I ended up in the morgue?” She nods and waits for him to continue. “I, uh, wasn’t. I went there on purpose ‘cos of my job. See, what I do…it’s not— I mean, what I can do, it’s… it’s hard to explain.”

“Do you kill people?”

“I— Wait, what?” They stare at each other. Beth is clearly trying to look as supportive and neutral as possible, but Daryl can’t help the offended look on his face. “Did you just ask me if I kill people?”

Beth rolls her eyes. “Well, what the hell else would you be doin’ in a morgue? Unless you sell body parts and organs on the black market. Which, if you do, please don’t tell me ‘cos I would be forced to report you and I don’t want my boyfriend goin’ to jail just ‘cos he’s tryin’ to be honest

with me—”

Jail? What?” He sputters. What the fuck. “Jesus Christ, woman. Who the fuck do you think I

am?”

“Well, I figured I’d put out the worst options I’m most comfortable with first just in case it was one of those. Obviously it ain’t and you look pretty resentful, so whatever you say is automatically gonna be better!” She smiles and slaps her hands on her thighs as if to say see, problem solved! Considering what the real answer is, he guesses either of those options are a little more likely, but fuck, a hitman or a black market dealer? Those were the options she’d be the most comfortable with? Clearly Beth’s a lot darker than she seems and he absolutely does not find her more attractive for it because that would be fucking weird and this is already a weird situation.

“Beth. That’s not…just listen.” Daryl shakes his head and sighs, reaching for her hand to awkwardly hold it in his sweaty grip as if it will soften the blow he’s about to give. “Why didn’t you tell me your Daddy passed?”

Her smile drops, disbelief crossing her face as her hand goes slack in his. “What’d you just say?”

“You told me about your Mama, but not…” She snatches her hand out of his, but he’s registered her mood change too late. Fuck. His hand reaches out to her again but she slaps it away. “Beth, just—”

She stands from the couch, arms crossed. “You can’t just come up into my house askin’ about my dead Daddy like it’s casual conversation, Daryl! What is wrong with you?”

As if he was called, Hershel steps into the room. His appearance is fluid, almost like he was crossing from the dining table to the livingroom this whole time but no one noticed. He stands at Beth’s shoulder, a sad look on his face. Beth notices the shift in Daryl’s attention and turns to look over her shoulder to see nothing but her usual living room furniture.

Hershel turns his head to scowl at Daryl, as if him being dead is somehow his fault. “What do you think you’re doin’, son?”

“You gotta move on and this is how you do it.”

Beth fumes and he realizes it sounds like he’s talking to her. His eyes roll up briefly to shoot daggers at the ceiling. So much for catching a break. “How dare you—

“I wasn’t talkin’ to you, Beth.” He watches her process his words, the usual myriad of emotions crossing her face. Emotions he’s seen on hundreds of other people he’s delivered messages to.

Confusion. Fear. Hurt. Anger. Hope. “I was talkin’ to your…to Mr. Greene.”

Beth opens her mouth to speak but can’t seem to find the words, so her jaw clicks shut again. Her shoulders are tense and her arms are still crossed, pretty clear body language telling Daryl to fuck right off but he’s not about to spend the next several months being haunted by his probably-soonto-be-ex-girlfriend’s father. He’s dealt with a lot of shit, but that is one delightful gift he’s not going to open. No fucking thanks. He refocuses his attention on Hershel, meeting him glare for glare.

“Whatever your message is, old man, let’s have it.”

Hershel harrumphs and crosses his arms. The image of the two of them side by side makes it painfully clear who Beth took after and it’s not so much of a mystery why she could never bring herself to tell him about her Daddy. The report attached to Hershel’s file starts to make a lot more sense.

Says the paramedics had to sedate her to get her to let go of his body.

“I don’t know what you’re playin’ at here, but this is sick.”

“Son, I don’t know what you’re playin’ at here—”

Their yells overlap each other and Daryl’s very glad he took an advil before knocking on her door because passing on a message always did give him a bitch of a headache and these two are no exception. Hershel cuts off mid-yell to turn and gap at his daughter. If Daryl were a little more like his brother, he might yell something stupid like jinx, you owe me a pack of smokes! He’s glad he isn’t all that similar to Merle because Beth’s eyes are welling up in tears and he doubts either of them would have enjoyed the joke.

“She’s not gonna believe me unless you start talkin’.” Daryl keeps his eyes focused on Hershel, knowing he won’t be able to finish this if he sees Beth cry.

He steps toward him, putting himself between Daryl and his daughter. “And what if I don’t know what message business you’re talkin’ about?”

“You know damn well what I’m talkin’ about. Don’t play coy, old man. Spirits stickin’ around don’t only affect you or me. It affects the people the message is intended for.” Daryl glowers at him, hand lifting to gesture toward Beth. “You obviously been watchin’ her. So you know what I mean. Jesus, just look her! You’re hurtin’ her right now. Those tears? That’s all you, Hershel.”

“Stop it!” Beth’s hand flies out, scattering Hershel’s form and for the first time, he’s almost glad his father used to knock him around because his reflexes kick in, catching her wrist before her hand reaches his face.

Hershel looks as shocked as he feels when his body shimmers back in place, Beth’s arm sticking through his shoulder. Daryl cocks a brow, a silent I fuckin’ told you written all over his face. “Did she… My daughter would never lay a hand on someone. What—”

“I already said. It’s you. Spirits ain’t meant to stick around.” His grip on her wrist loosens and he finally looks at her. She looks mad enough to try and hit him with her other hand, but something is giving her pause. Rick always said it gave him the creeps to listen to him talk to a spirit. Said it was the way Daryl spoke, so confident and sure there was someone else there, even if no one else could see them. Scared the hell out of Rick the first time he experienced it because either ghosts were real or Daryl was the kind of fucked up crazy that should be feared.

He could see that fear in Beth’s eyes right now. An unwelcomed sight from the woman he was ready to wax poetic about not even two nights ago, but he had a job to do. He’s going to get through to this asshole if it’s the last damn thing he does.

“Let me prove I’m tellin’ the truth. He’ll talk if you want him to, Beth.”

Hershel is quiet for a few moments, stepping to the side to see his daughter nodding and sitting back down on the couch when Daryl gently lets go of her wrist. She’s skeptical, but her desperation to talk to her Daddy is written all over her face. If Daryl seeing her in pain has his heart aching, he can only imagine what Hershel must feel.

“I don’t know where to begin.” He mumbles. “What am I supposed to say to her?” “Say somethin’ only you and her would know. Best place to start.”

+++

Turns out, not exactly the best place to start. Beth’s nerves have settled down, but now she’s sitting watching him like he’s about to whip out a knife and stab her with it at any moment since it seems like he’s been arguing with himself for the last fifteen minutes.

“I said, somethin’ only you and her would know.” He rubs at his chin, a tick he gets when he’s particularly annoyed. “I already know she got the scar on her knee from fallin’ out of the oak in the front yard. I already know the name of her first boyfriend. I already know she wants to name her future daughter after her mama. I already know her favorite movie and favorite color and favorite ice cream flavor and everythin’ else you’ve been wastin’ my time with. Good Lord, old man, do you wanna be here forever?”

Hershel shoots him an unimpressed look. “Son, how the hell is it my fault you’re obsessed with my daughter and know everythin’ about her like some creep? How about this for somethin’ only I know; Bethie’s nearly as consumed with you as you are with her and I assure you that development truly has me rollin’ in my damn grave.”

Daryl stays quiet, his ears burning from the unexpected information. He nearly opens his stupid mouth to say Hershel was cremated, but just barely manages to keep that nasty little remark to himself. Fuck, if this is how difficult he is as a spirit on his way to peace, Daryl’s a little glad he managed to die before any sort of meet the parents horror show.

Beth speaks up for the first time, leaning forward to catch Daryl’s attention. “What just happened?

You look weird.”

“Nothin’.” The too-quick assurance has Hershel laughing meanly.

“If you’re tellin’ the truth,” Daryl turns to look at her, brow raised. If? Does she truly think he lost his mind and has been arguing with himself? He almost preferred when she thought he killed people for a living, “tell him to tell you what he used to call me when I was a baby.”

He glances at the man and the fond smile softens his features so much, he can almost see why it could have hurt to lose a daddy like Hershel. “Bethie Bunny. Her favorite cartoon was Bugs Bunny and she thought everyone’s name was like that. Nearly lost her mind when they came out with that Lola Bunny character. Was spittin’ mad she couldn’t change her name to Lola ‘cos she wanted to marry Bugs.”

Daryl sighs impatiently, tired of his rambling. Hershel throws him a look. “Keep your damn hat on. She used to call me Daddy Bunny. Heck, called her brother and sister Shawn Bunny and Maggie Bunny too. Used to really light a fire under my Maggie, y’know. Never did like bein’ compared to a rabbit before we got her those braces to straighten out her front teeth—”

“Bethie Bunny.” Daryl says, interrupting. “He called you Bethie Bunny.”

Beth sucks in a breath, her hand raising to press against her mouth as she looks around the room.

Her voice is small when she calls out for him. “Daddy?”

Hershel practically lights up, reaching out to touch her knee even though he knows she can’t feel him. “I’m right here, Bethie.”

Daryl clears his throat, feeling more than a little intrusive on the intimate moment. He moves to offer her comfort, but jerks his hand back last minute to hover in the air, unsure if she’d welcome his touch. He’s surprised when Beth reaches out to him instead, grabbing his hand with both of hers and he frowns when he feels her shaking.

“Daryl is he…are you bein’ real? Is he really here?” She still has tears in her eyes but at least now she’s smiling at him. He feels as dazed as he usually does when she turns her full attention on him, and he does nothing but stare stupidly when she laughs and lifts his hand to her mouth to press her lips to his knuckles. “Oh Gosh, I don’t even know where to— What’s he sayin? How does he look? Is he with Mama? Is he happy?”

He opens his mouth, unsure of how to handle the rapid fire questions but grateful he’s back in her good graces. Damn this girl had some mood swings. She’s loving on him like she hadn’t tried to smacked him backwards in time half an hour ago and, fuck his life, he was falling for it. Hershel lets out a boisterous laugh at whatever look must be on Daryl’s face.

“Don’t feel too bad. Her Mama was the same way. Could make me feel as big as a mountain and as small as an ant within the same sentence if she really wanted. Hey,” Hershel tilts his head and turns to look at Daryl. “why haven’t I seen my wife if I’m really dead?”

He flounders under the combined intensity of their stares. Daryl clears his throat, looking back and forth between the two. “It don’t work like that. Spirits rarely see each other when they stick around. Not sure why. Your wife, uh, your mama she probably moved on a while ago.” “Will he see her?”

He grimaces. “I don’t know. There’s no way to be sure.”

Beth deflates and he desperately wishes he had a better answer. Hershel sighs next to her, his pale hand gliding over her arm in practiced gesture. He wonders how many times the man had to comfort his daughter to develop such a knee-jerk reaction to her pain.

“But,” They both turn to look at him, one hopeful and one wary. He stumbles through his awkwardness. “It’s just that spirits are pretty strange ‘bout soulmates, and I doubt whatever God is up there wants to deal with a bunch of whiners. So, ah, know it probably don’t mean much, but I think he will? See your mama, I mean.”

“Well, if you think it, that’s gotta mean somethin’!” The blonde perks up, her earlier excitement returning. “You said you do this a lot, so if anyone knows, it’s gotta be you, right?”

He shrugs, uncomfortable with the direction the conversation has taken. If he’s being completely honest, Daryl has no fucking clue what happens to spirits once they move on since he’s never really cared. His number one priority is usually to get them to leave him alone. If he started thinking too hard on the after portion, he’s not sure he would have been able to handle this line of work because if there is an after—a Heaven or a Hell—he’s not sure where his brother or mama ended up and that’s the kind of thought that could lead a man to madness. Yet he knows that’s not what she needs to hear, especially not with her dead father in the room watching him like he is.

“You said he has a message for me?” Beth’s right hand leaves his to tuck her hair behind her ear before dropping to play with the cross charm on her left wrist. “Did he tell you yet?”

Daryl turns to her father, waiting for the answer himself. He raises a brow in a silent well? but the old man simply stares at him, a thoughtful expression on his face. “You love her, son?”

Daryl chokes, eyes darting back to Beth in a panic before he remembers she can’t hear him. He considers the right way to respond without damning himself, but all he manages is a pathetic, “huh?”

“Do you love my daughter?” His eyes narrow. “And don’t try and be smart with me, I’ll know if you’re feedin’ me bullshit.”

Daryl’s jaw clenches. Fucking spirits and their unnecessary need to be as nosy as possible. Something about being dead and being able to spy on everyone around them must replace common decency because it’s a frequent problem among the dead. He’s had spirits demand all sorts of personal and inappropriate shit from him, like the feisty and terrible Mrs. Cooper that kept asking him how big he was. As if her husband wasn’t sitting less than a foot away, annoyed she was still trying to tell him what to do even after croaking. (His words, not Daryl’s) But this was something else.

The two glare at each other for a long moment, long enough that Beth leans forward to wave a hand in front of his face. “Daryl?”

Daryl lets out a long and heavy sigh through his nose. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

“Maybe?” Beth’s brow furrows. “Maybe what?”

Hershel refuses to respond, looking so smarmy Daryl has a vivid fantasy of punching him into the afterlife instead of gently guiding him after a nice goodbye to his daughter.

“Fine. Yes.” For an admission of love, it’s pretty shit seeing as it’s hissed out through clenched teeth, almost like the words physically pain him. He can already see him preparing to say something smart like yes, what? so he nips that in the bud fast. “Don’t push it, King Boo.”

Beth barks out a laugh and much to his surprise, Hershel joins her. He rolls his eyes, but his indignation fades when he feels her squeeze his hand. He would have rather not have admitted his feelings to his girlfriend’s dead father before saying something to her, but this is the man that also raised Maggie Rhee, the single most stubborn woman he ever had the displeasure of meeting on the double date from hell. Had he kept his mouth shut, they would have been here all week.

“Fine, fine. I guess my message…” Hershel turns to look at his daughter, taking a few minutes to admire her. Daryl looks away because no matter how many times he does this, he’ll never get used to the way spirits look at their loved ones. The kind of look that would haunt any living soul unfortunate enough to experience it. The kind of look someone gets when they know they’re never going to see that person again. He looks up when Hershel sighs and straightens his spine.

“Tell her to stop lookin’. She found it.”

Daryl repeats the words, a slight frown on his face. He’s forwarded some pretty cryptic messages, but the mystery of this one makes him uncomfortable, especially when Beth gives him wide eyes and bursts into tears. His mouth twists in surprise when she launches herself at him, and he has no choice but to hold her. Daryl delicately pats her on the back with jerky and unsure movements, not used to offering someone such physical comfort. When he seems to get the hang of it, he turns to mumble something mean to Hershel, but he’s too late.

He’s gone.

+++

It’s been a few hours, the sky is dark, and he’s grown significantly more comfortable with crying women out of pure necessity because Beth has yet to let him go.

“Wait, how long were you seein’ him?” She lifts her head from his shoulder, eyes curious.

Daryl squints, thinking back. “Not long. He wasn’t always around. Just when we were, uh, gettin’ intimate. It’s why I kept leavin’.”

She seems to grapple with feeling embarrassed and amused, but amusement must win out because she bursts into a fit of giggles. Now that the situation is over, he supposes he can see the humor, but he doubts he’ll be laughing about it anytime soon.

“Well, thank god!” He narrows his eyes at her. “It’s just that I thought you didn’t want to have sex with me, but didn’t know how to say it or somethin’. Ugh, I thought your I’d rather wait speech sounded stupid, but I wasn’t about to be the mean one and tell you that.”

He snorts when she drops her voice and exaggerates her accent to imitate him. “Trust me. That was definitely not the fuckin’ problem. At all.”

“Yeah?” Beth grins. Her eyes are still red from tears shed earlier, but she’s got that sense of peace and happiness he’s seen on people that are lucky enough to get the chance to say goodbye. He feels stupid for not noticing the weight of her loss earlier when it’s so obvious how free and light she is now. She wiggles out from under his arm to swing her leg over his lap with a little too much zeal, nearly sending herself toppling off the couch in the process. Daryl lurches forward to catch her waist and pull her back in. Once steady, Beth laughs at herself, settling into his lap. “Still want

me?”

His lips twitch at her graceless seduction, hands smoothing over her hips and waist. “Yeah, I want you.”

She kisses him, more teeth than lips because she’s still smiling. She breaks away to lift her shirt over her head, revealing unmarred bare skin underneath before leaning back in to take his mouth again. His hands slide over the smooth skin of her back, pressing her as close to him as she could get.

“Bedroom?” He hums in agreement when she mumbles the word against his mouth, head dipping to kiss her neck. Beth squirms when his scruff tickles her and she pulls away to stand on shaky legs. Not needing to be asked twice, he gets up, hand grasping hers as she drags him to her bedroom.

He checks the room for spirits twice. Just in case.

+++

“You gonna tell me what the message meant?” Daryl asks later, sleepily dragging fingers across her back until goosebumps break out across her skin. She shakes her head and he’s too tired to insist so he lets it go, letting his eyes fall shut to give in to sleep.

Beth startles when she hears him snore, quietly laughing to herself as she snuggles further into his side, her own eyes heavy as she whispers, “night, Bugs.”

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