Status: this is an INCOMPLETE FIRST DRAFT, and has only undergone minor edits. if something seems weird just leave it be

Groundlings

Night Watch

Finch liked the solitude that came with taking the night watch shifts. He leaned against the massive root of one of the ever-present redwoods, a good ten feet away from where the rest of the camp made their beds. In the low light his barely burning fire gave him, everyone had melted together in silent, dark mounds indistinguishable from the earth itself.
Finch liked being alone like this. There were other watch stations like his, of course, and he could see their own faint lights in the all encompassing darkness. The great trees loomed, imposing their bulk on him. Who knew what they were hiding, just out of sight.
Well, it was his job to find out.
He didn’t feel tired. He had spent much of the afternoon sleeping in one of the unoccupied sick wagons so he would be able to stay alert. This was a fresh start. A new chance to prove he could be a good man when he tried. He wasn’t about to fuck it up on his first try. No, he was better than that.
Barely. His nap had only worked to a degree. He didn’t feel tired, no, but the looming darkness was oppressive, like a heavy and thick blanket meant to smother all consciousness. It weighed on him even as he stretched and stood up, pacing around his tree to peer into the dark unknown, searching for any kind of sign there was danger nearby. He saw nothing, so after lingering for a moment to be sure, he circled back around the other way and sat back down, exhaling.
Finch still had three hours of watch before someone else would come to relieve him. Well, at least he had plenty of time to think.
Finch didn’t want to think about anything. There were things he couldn’t run away from. That day, that fateful day, he had showed up to work drunk to high heaven. He couldn’t for the life of him remember why, try though he might.
Starling and Lee had been stationed with him that day. They had worked together well as a team, but in those months leading up to the event, Finch had felt like one hell of a third wheel around them. That’s what happened when your coworkers started dating each other.
Despite Finch’s lateness, the workday had started well. And then it happened.
He couldn’t let himself think about it.
It was in the past. Starling was dead, and Finch was not the man he had been back then. No. He had changed. He had changed. He had.
Finch Anderson was not a murderer. He couldn’t be. No. No, no, no, no.
Stop thinking about this, Finch, he told himself. You’ll do nothing but hurt. You’re doing all this to move on, damn it. You’re a fucking idiot, Finch.
A murderous fucking idiot, a voice whispered at the back of his mind.
Ah, yes. Finch now remembered why his drinking had gotten so out of hand. Right. He used it as a terrible and self-destructive method to cope with the overwhelming guilt that colored everything he did instead of getting any actual help. Like a sane person.
Like Finch was ever going to admit that he’d done it after he’d gotten someone else convicted for the murder. That was just plain stupid. He had to atone for it somehow, though. Anything else would do.
He guessed living with the crushing weight of his own guilt worked well enough, when it came down to it. But fuck, it was really inconvenient. Got in the way all the time.
Of course, being drunk did too. It was a vicious cycle Finch doubted he’d ever be able to escape. But out here, no one knew. No one had known what happened.
He was a new man out here in the wild. All he had to do was shake the proverbial beast that was trailing him. It would be difficult, he knew that much. Finch might be an idiot, but he was not a stupid man. But he could outsmart the beast. He could make it lose his trail.
He would get his fresh start if it goddamn killed him.
Well, now. That would just be pointless, then. He’d get his fresh start even if it almost killed him. Much better.
Finch sighed again, shuffling his shoulders around to lean deeper into the tree. Thinking about all this was useless if he didn’t do anything. For now, what he needed to do was not fall asleep. He’d made a bad choice making himself more comfortable, so with an internal groan he lifted his back away from the tree and did his best to sit straight.
Maybe it was time to round the tree again. Finch stood up, bending over and stretching before he walked. It brought a blessed rush of clarity to his tired mind. He scanned the darkness outside his circle of light for signs of anything. The only sounds he heard were the wind in the trees and the shifting of hundreds of sleepers on the ground.
All was well.
It was going to be a long couple of hours.