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Crystal Ball

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Beth was nervous. Although no one could talk about what they saw in the Prospect Device, there had been a mood shift among all of her peers for the past few years. People used to come out of the board certified room looking happy and enthusiastic about their future. Recently, students came out sobbing, or even worse, with just a blank look on their face. The whole town had been gossiping, trying to figure out what was going on. There was so many theories: that the US had come under dictator rule, that WWIII had occurred, or that the swine flu had evolved faster than scientists could combat it.

Now, with her senior year coming to a close, Beth had to decide if she wanted to view her future. A part of her wanted to remain ignorant, to protect herself from the harm so many were seeing, but another part was full of curiosity. What would she be like in 5, 10, 20 years? Would she marry Jimmy, whom she was currently dating, or find someone else? Would she become the singer she had always dreamed of? It seemed unlikely based on everyone’s reactions to their Prospect Device results, but Beth still held on to that small hope. Beth began drumming her fingers on the table, her stomach twisting and turning.

“Ahem,” said Mrs. Morris, Beth’s English teacher.

The blonde stopped and blushed in embarrassment at being reprimanded. Beth’s fingers quieted, but her mind did not. Would she have kids? Would she still be close to Maggie and Shawn? So many questions ran around in her mind. Beth knew even if she chose to be tested, the glimpse was only 5 minutes long and could focus on any part of her life, many of her questions would likely remain unanswered.

Finally, the bell rang and Beth gathered up her things and headed to the bus stop. It was a long ride, Beth was always last to get off since her home was the furthest from the school, or from town for that matter.

Annette had cooked an extra special dinner to celebrate Beth’s upcoming graduation. After Hershel prayed, the whole family dug into the venison, baked potatoes, green beans, and dinner rolls.

“Well Bethy,” her father asked, “have you made a decision for tomorrow?”

“Um,” mumbled Beth, suddenly not as hungry, “I think I’m going to do it.”

Her family murmured their uncertain praise. No one in the family had ever been tested. When Hershel was in high school, the technology was just coming out. Beth’s mother had been given the option and turned it down. Maggie, while very intelligent, wasn’t a very diligent student, and had ended up three people away from the top 10%. Shawn hadn’t even been close, but that didn’t seem to bother him.

“Just don’t get too caught up in what you see Beth,” Annette warned, brandishing a fork at her youngest “seeing a glimpse of the future can be very disconcerting. There will be things you see that don’t make sense now, there will be things out of context that you can’t understand until you actually have lived it. Seeing the future has caused many more harm than good, especially recently.”

“I think it is cool,” Shawn encouraged, “I hope you see me as the amazing basketball star I am sure to become!”

“Ha,” laughed Maggie, “she is more likely to see you as a farmhand here if she sees you at all.”

“That is enough,” quieted Hershel, “Beth, this is your decision, don’t let anyone influence you. However, if you change your mind before tomorrow, you can always back out.”

“Yes daddy,” Beth replied, “I understand.”

“Good,” her father said with a smile, “now, everyone it is getting dark, help Annette pick up the table.”

All the kids jumped to the task, carrying dirty dishes to the sink, storing leftover food, and loading the dishwasher. Afterwards, Beth took a shower, staying a bit longer than usual. She kept going over and over in her head the pros and cons of glimpsing her future but what it ultimately came down to was that she was desperately curious. She just had to know.

“You have made a decision,” Beth lectured herself, “now quit making yourself crazy thinking about this and go to bed.”

The young woman got out of the shower, dried off, and finished her normal bedtime routine. She crawled in bed and tried to fall asleep, but it didn’t come. Finally, she gave up and pulled out her favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, and reread it until she was tired.

The next morning, Beth awoke with an energy that was disproportionate to the amount of sleep she had gotten. With great care, she brushed her blonde hair and pulled it back in a ponytail, adding a little braid on one side. Then, she dressed in jeans and her yellow polo shirt before running downstairs. The blonde scarfed down breakfast and was out the door. Unfortunately, just because Beth was ready early, didn’t mean the bus was. She stood at the end of her family’s dirt driveway for almost 30 minutes before the huge yellow vehicle came around the bend.

Once at school, Beth went to the register’s office and informed the woman that she would indeed be taking the test. She was handed a slip of paper that read:

Beth Greene
Rosen High School Senior
Test Room: 203
Time: 3:00

Beth wanted to groan, she would have to wait almost all day to take the test! She wanted to get it over with now! There was nothing that could be done about it though, so Beth left the office only to run into her current boyfriend, Jimmy.

“So you are taking the test,” Jimmy exclaimed, looking at the paper in her hand, “I thought you would have told me if you decided to.”

“Well,” Beth said carefully, “I wasn’t really sure I wanted to until this morning.”

“I can go with you, stand outside the door until you are done,” Jimmy offered, “in case, ya know, just a lot of kids have had a hard time with the Prospect Device lately.”

“No, that is okay, but thank you,” Beth declined, feeling like she wanted to be completely alone, even afterwards, since this was such an intimate experience.

The classes passed slowly, so did lunch. Beth couldn’t talk about her upcoming test with anyone else since none of her friends had qualified. They seemed wary to discuss Beth’s future anyway, they didn’t want to know what was making everyone who did view their future depressed or even suicidal.

The hours ticked by until it was 2:50. Beth had showed the slip to her math teacher before class, so she just gathered her things and slipped out the door as the lecture continued. Her heart pounded in her chest as she walked down the empty, silent hallway. Although she was surrounded by rooms of people, for the moment it seemed like everyone else had disappeared. Finally, she reached room 203. Unlike the regular classrooms, this one had a hefty, metal door that could be securely locked when testing was not in place. Beth was wondering if she should knock or wait when a strict-looking woman in a suit opened the door. She had long, straight, black hair that was in a high pony-tail and her make-up made her look very severe.

“Beth Greene,” the woman asked.

“Yes,” the blonde replied.

“Please enter,” the woman directed, holding the door wider.

Beth stepped into a dark room that held a single chair with an attached desk, like many school desks. However, this one had a clear ball on it that was filled with wires and lights. In front of the desk, was a large flat-screen TV that was currently black. Beth felt intimidated and for a moment considered walking back out before deciding that she couldn’t run away. She hadn’t come this far just to give up.

“Please,” the administrator said, “have a seat.”

Beth sat down in the familiar school chair and listened as the woman began talking as she was pushing buttons on the glass globe.

“Be aware that the Prospect Device will only last 5 minutes. You will be left alone to view, I will be waiting outside the door. When you are done, you are to walk out and tell no one about what you have just seen,” the woman instructed, “you will begin by placing both hands on the glass ball. The Prospect Device will scan your fingertips to identify you before beginning to uncover glimpses of your future. If you wish to stop, at any time just remove your hands. Any questions?”

“No,” Beth whispered, getting more nervous.

“Then, you may begin,” the administrator said, as she walked out and closed the door.

The blonde stared down at the mechanical crystal ball in front of her, her nerves tingling. Slowly, she lifted her hands up and placed them on the glass. The glass felt warm to the touch and immediately, a red light shot out, scanning each fingertip. A whirling sound came from within the machine and suddenly, light appeared on the TV.

There was just a flash of Beth and Jimmy sitting on the front porch swing at Beth’s house. It looked like it was evening and the wind tossed his short, brown hair back and forth.

“Things just aren’t the same anymore Beth,” he told her, looking off into the distance, “I don’t think they ever will be again.”

As quickly as his face appeared, it disappeared, only to be replaced by a scene of Beth walking through a forest. She was dirty, covered in what looked like soil, blood, and leaves. Her ribs poked out under her semi-white tank top and her hair was coming loose of her ponytail. In her hand she held a gun and her face was constantly scanning her surroundings as she careful put one foot in front of the other. There was a snap and the future Beth whirled around and raised her gun and pulled the trigger. The screen went blank before Beth could see what future Beth had been shooting at.

Next, was a vision of Beth’s mother, lying in bed, her arm wrapped in bandages. Her mother was fighting to draw every breath, her forehead shining with sweat. Hershel was right by his wife’s side, promising that he was going to find a cure, that everything was going to be alright. Shawn’s voice broke in on the screen, muttering about how nothing would ever be right again.

That faded out to show an aerial view of what looked like sickly people moaning and stumbling all around. Some of them were fatally wounded, it didn’t make any sense how they were still walking. There was a skull on the ground, whose mouth snapped open and closed. Current Beth’s fingers tightened on the ball she was holding, feeling like surely this couldn’t be right. She was standing on the roof of what she though was her house and was sobbing. Gunshots rang out and people began yelling. An RV drove over towards Beth, who jumped on. She glanced back at their house as the RV took off, running over people. Patricia, their neighbor, was running after them, hand in hand with Maggie, until the older woman was grabbed by someone in the crowd. The stranger bit into Patricia’s neck and Beth heard herself screaming.

The next scene was much better. Maggie stood in front of Beth, just as dirty as Beth had appeared before, jumping up and down as they both squealed. A diamond ring was on Maggie’s left ring finger.

“He asked,” exclaimed Maggie, “I wasn’t even expecting it, I mean, that just isn’t what people do anymore, now is it?”

“I’m so happy for you Maggie,” future Beth gushed, “we can’t do a lot, but we are going to have to get the cafeteria to look nice and have some sort of wedding.”

The following scene quieter. There was a baby Beth was cradling in her arms, she cooed at the little girl, who gurgled and tried to grab Beth’s hair. Was that her own baby? Beth’s arms were dirty, her nails broken. The room look dark and uncomfortable, it was full of metal furniture.

“Little ass-kicker right there,” drawled a gravelly voice from someone not on the screen.

“Haha, Daryl,” Beth laughed, “she is only a few months old, she is a long way from kicking anyone’s ass.”

“But she will someday,” replied the man, “anyone that grows up in this world can’t be any less.”

The scene changed again.

Beth was racing through a forest, branches and leaves hitting her in the face. She was following a man in front of her with brown straggly hair and angel leaves on his vest.

“Come on,” he yelled, going faster. It was the same voice as the last scene.

Beth could tell her future self increased the pace, keeping up with the guy in front of her. Finally, the man in front of her collapsed and so did she. Laying in the grass, the man looked over at her, gasping for breath, his striking blue eyes staring at her, his pupils blown wide due to adrenaline. If Beth thought she had looked dirty before, that was nothing compared to this man. He looked like he hadn’t showered in months, but there was something slightly attractive about him, under all the layers of dirt. The way each of his muscles moved like a finely tuned device. The way his eyes could look concerned but sharp at the same time.

Each scene kept moving quickly into the following one. It was the same man again, Daryl, but this time he was looking pissed as hell and it was scary.

“Naw, it’s fun,” he growled at her as he reloaded his crossbow.

“Just stop it,” she exclaimed desperately, “Daryl!”

“Come here,” he slurred, grabbing her by the arm and spinning her around before placing his arm around her neck.

He shot at a human pinned up against a tree, which had a couple more bolts already in it but was still somehow moving and making noise.

“Just kill it,” her future-self cried as she freed herself.

“Come here Greene,” the redneck insisted, undeterred, “let’s pull these out. Can get a little more target practice.”

Before the rough man could reach his victim, Beth ran past him and pulled out an knife. In a swift movement that suggested practice, she stabbed the suffering man in the head.

The next glimpse was much calmer.

Daryl sat next to Beth in a candle-lit kitchen, scraping hogs feet out of a jar while licking his fingers in-between snacks. Coke bottles and peanut butter jars littered the table. The young woman sat writing a letter.

“Maybe you don’t have to leave that,” he said in a much softer voice that was almost unrecognizable from his previous yelling, “maybe we will stick around here a while. When they come back, we just make it work.”

“I mean,” said the archer, suddenly a bit less certain, “it may be nuts, but maybe it will be alright.”

A smile grew on Beth’s face.

“So you do think there are still good people around,” she asked innocently.

The older man shrugged and looked back at his food.

“Well,” the blonde pushed, “what changed your mind?”

The rough man stared at her for a moment, before looking down at his food and shifting uncertainly.

“Ya know,” he answered vaguely.

Apparently her future self had the same tenacity her current self did, because she didn’t let the conversation drop.

“What,” she pressed, grinning a bit.

The older man was obviously having trouble answering. He looked anywhere but at her and finally mumbled something that sounded like I don’t know.

Then, it was gone and another scene began.

“Beth,” cried Maggie, pulling her sister into her arms, “I can’t believe it is really you.”

An older man with short brown hair was there, so was a young boy with a sheriff’s hat and many others that she did not recognize. They all crowded around her, she looked cleaner, but had scars on her face. They were standing outside a hospital, so Beth could only assume they had to take her in to get an injury patched up. After all the reunions, the groups started moving, but Beth fell back to walk with Daryl at the back of the line.

They walked in silence for a while before he finally said anything.

“I missed you,” he growled out, while scanning the trees.

“Ya, I know,” Beth replied, taking his hand in hers.

He looked over with his piercing blue eyes and his hand tightened on hers.

The screen went blank.

Beth sat, trying to process what she had just seen. She had come in here wanting answers and so far she only had more questions. How had she learned to kill people? How did she get those scars? Who was this Daryl, who obviously had feelings for her, which she returned? What happened to Jimmy? Her house? Her family? Why were people walking around so sick and hurt?

None of this made any sense, none of it was even vaguely close to what she had pictured for herself. Beth sat in the chair so long that the crystal sphere, which had turned warm to the touch while operating, cooled down.

Finally, she got up and walked out the door.

“I hope you enjoyed the experience,” said the administrator with a fake smile.

Beth just nodded, not trusting her voice and walked off. School was almost out, but Beth couldn’t wait. She took off towards home, walking rather than taking the bus. It was a long walk, but Beth needed it. Everything kept replaying in her head. If she thought about it hard enough, maybe it would make sense. The fear and desperation in her eyes when she had been in the woods, her mama sick in bed, and the sick people walking all around, it didn’t appear that there was much to look forward to. However, there had been that man. The one with the long shaggy hair and well-muscled arms. He seemed so rough and yet somehow soft at the same time. There was something about him that made Beth almost excited for this horrific future she would be living. There was also something fascinating about her future self, she seemed stronger, more capable than she had ever believed herself to be.

The weeks passed and Beth’s studying dropped way down. The blonde couldn’t focus, not that it really made a difference this close to graduation, she would get her diploma either way. Her mom and dad both tried to understand what was going on, but Beth wasn’t allowed to talk about what she had seen in the Prospect Device, so there was no explaining her change in attitude.

It wasn’t too long after graduation that the news started blowing up. Sick people in one city, then one state, then outbreaks all throughout the US, then nothing because the TV no longer received any channels. Beth was there when her mom passed away, she sat on the porch with Jimmy. She felt so dead inside until the day when a group of strangers came running up toward their house. There was a man Beth recognized from her future with his bleeding son in his arms.

After her daddy fixed him up, he was ready to kick the strangers out. However, Beth cornered her dad and convinced him otherwise. Since there was no point in following the rules anymore, she told her dad that she had seen Rick and his son in her future and that she was sure they were good people. Hershel took this into consideration and told Rick that him and his people could stay on the farm. Soon, all new people were coming in, it was more socialization than Beth had had in weeks. However, not as exciting as when a motorcycle pulled up and a familiar shaggy head appeared. The Prospect Device had failed miserably at capturing what he looked like in real life. In person, he was so much taller, more muscular, and more intimidating than Beth had previously thought him to be. However, she knew her future self wasn’t afraid of him, so she put on her best confident face and smiled at him every time he looked her way. More often than not, he just scowled and turned away.

Beth didn’t know how to approach the man, when there was no way she could explain this connection she had to him. Her uncertainty kept her away until the day he showed up half dead from being impaled on his own bolt and shot by one of the women in his group. The blonde fluttered around the doorway as her father patched the redneck up. She offered to keep an eye on him while her father attended to other business. She was so worried for this man she barely knew.
When Daryl first opened his eyes, Beth almost gasped with how blue they were. She guessed she was staring too long, because his eyes narrowed.

“What you lookin at blondie,” he weakly snarled.

“My name is Beth,” she told him, not allowing herself to be pushed around or intimidated.

“I didn’t ask,” he retorted as he tried to get out of bed and fell back wincing in pain.

The young woman reached over to help him and he roughly shoved her hand away like it was a snake.

“I didn’t ask for no fucking help,” the crass man cussed.

Beth almost got exasperated with him and walked off, but then she remembered watching how kindly and calmly he had talked to her at some point at a kitchen table. The way he had looked at her. The way he had led her when they were running away from something. He might seem like a dirty, rough, mean man now, but she knew there had to be more to him. The blonde remembered how her future self had argued with Daryl, how she didn’t back down even when he was mad and yelling, and used that to summon her courage.

“Well,” she replied, “you had better get used to my help, because we are going to be around each other for a long time.”

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Daryl hadn’t said anything to her since she had told him to get used to her. The rest of the time he was in the house, which only lasted about 24 hours before he snuck outside to his tent, he refused to look at her or say a word when she came to check if he needed anything. Instead, he just grunted or pretended to be asleep.

 In the Prospect Device, she had seen that Daryl could joke, could be sweet, had the potential to be a leader. However, that was in blaring contrast to the man that she currently knew. The Daryl she knew right now was more savage than kind, was far more likely to bite off her head for her saying hi than to respond in kind. Maybe the visions she had seen had changed, maybe the sickness had changed the whole course of her future. That wasn’t right though, she had seen sick people in her future, so there must be some truth to what she saw.

              Beth carried Daryl’s lunch out on a tray. Usually, Carol or Andrea took the injured man his food, but today was an exception. Carol was distracted by the sign of her daughter, a doll, that Daryl had found and Andrea was out with Shane scanning the woods. The blonde had offered to take his food out, since after all, despite his gruff exterior, he had worked really hard to find Carol’s daughter. When Beth finally reached the forest green tent that blended in with the surroundings, she didn’t know how to announce herself. She obviously couldn’t knock or ring the doorbell and the tent was closed so she didn’t know if the archer might be sleeping.

              “Watcha want,” came an irritable voice from within.                    

              “Got food,” she responded, trying to sound chipper.

              “Girl,” groaned the hunter, “what the hell is wrong with you to be so fucking happy when the whole damn world is gone to shit.”

              Beth felt her breath get sucked away. The Prospect Device had to be wrong, there was no way that this older, rough, rude, somewhat-attractive redneck could ever look at her with any semblance of kindness.

              “Fine, here is your damn food,” she snarled, plopping the tray down outside his tent, “hope you are happy.”

              As she stalked off, she could hear a slight chuckle that just irritated her even more. If her future consisted largely of Daryl as the Prospect Device suggested, it was going to be a miserable life.

              “Hey Beth,” came Jimmy’s sweet voice, “what got you all pissed off, I know that look in your eye.”

              “Nothin,” Beth snapped, before calming down, “it’s just Daryl, he gets on my nerves, always mean to me when I’m trying to help him.”

              “He is seriously messed up, doesn’t deserve a pretty girl like you being nice to him” agreed Jimmy, “I overheard Glenn and Rick talking about how he came back with a necklace of ears around his neck. Doesn’t get much creepier than that. Wish someone would tell him to take a hike already, not like he really lives with the group anyway.”

              “Well,” backtracked Beth, not liking Jimmy’s opinion of Daryl despite her own annoyance at him, “Daryl can’t be all bad, his is looking real hard for the lost girl and he brings back food to his group.”

              “Just saying,” her boyfriend continued, “I won’t be surprised if he snaps one day, everyone will have seen it coming.”

              Beth wanted to argue, but right then her daddy called her inside. He was always worried about Beth being around Jimmy. Hershel liked Jimmy enough, but had liked him much better when he hadn’t lived in the same house as his little girl. In Beth’s opinion, she wasn’t the one Hershel needed to be worrying about. She had seen how Maggie was looking at the Asian boy from the other group, Glenn. Last night at supper they were passing notes. She didn’t say anything, didn’t want to cause any more friction between the groups than there already was. It wasn’t much different than how Maggie used to sneak around with guys before all this, except that now it was harder to do until a group set up camp in their backyard.

              As she walked inside, she could feel her father staring down Jimmy. He had always been protective of Beth, but since the outbreak, his watchful eye had increased exponentially and it was a bit smothering to constantly be watched.

              The younger sister started on the dishes, looking out the window toward the barn. She had tried to tell her father that there was no cure, that it was dangerous to keep the undead in there, but he hadn’t wanted to hear a word she said. Beth understood, several of the people in there were her family after all. She didn’t think she could bring herself to put any of them down so she didn’t expect anyone else to either. However, it made her uncomfortable thinking how little stood between the dead and her.

              Lori came by and asked if she could help dry, so Beth found her a cloth and the two women worked side by side. Beth liked having someone to talk to and she felt like it helped Lori to have something to do other than think about her hurt son. Carl was doing better though, already awake and talking. Lori’s pleasant chatter stopped when Shane walked past the window. Beth didn’t like Shane, the way he acted like he owned the place. He kept arguing with her father about Hershel’s refusal to allow people to carry weapons on his property. Apparently, Daryl’s crossbow didn’t count. That or no one wanted to try and separate the gruff man from his most prized possession. Beth was guessing the latter was more likely.

              Maggie went out the front door carrying a bucket of fruit and jerky. Of course, out of all the people in the other group, the brunette handed the food off to Glenn. Her older sister could deny that anything was happening between them all she liked, but Beth saw. She saw more than people gave her credit for.

              When they finished, she thanked Lori and went out to the chicken coop. Beth gathered the eggs and then picked out 4 adult chickens to feed to the walkers in the barn. At least, that was what she was supposed to do with them. Beth couldn’t bring herself to kill perfectly good chickens to feed to people that were only shadows of their former selves. She may not be able to put the dead down, but she wasn’t going to keep feeding them. Beth couldn’t make her father see the truth and Patricia and Maggie followed his orders. Instead, the blonde took the chickens out to the edge of the forest and let each one go.

              “Run along,” she told them, “don’t come back here. There are lots of bugs in the forest, just avoid the people.

              She made her way back to the house to find everyone happy as Carl took his first steps out of bed since the accident. Carl seemed like a sweet kid. The day was made better when she found out from Lori that Rick and his group were giving gun training lessons. Beth knew her father couldn’t know about this yet, so she jumped at the chance to go. Patricia was also interested and followed her along.

              They found Rick, Shane, Glenn, and Jimmy standing around an old rusted car.

              Patricia couldn’t seem to muster up the courage to ask, so Beth jumped in.

              “I hear you are giving lessons on how to shoot,” she asked him.

              “You know your father’s rules,” Rick said, “can’t have any of y’all shooting weapons.”

              “It’s okay,” Beth quickly said, “he consented. I mean, after all, Otis is the only one who really knew how to shoot. Daddy might not want us carrying guns on our person, but he said we could at least learn.”

              Jimmy and Patricia were staring at her, they knew what a blatant lie she had just said. However, neither one ratted her out. Rick looked Beth up and down, as if trying to get a read on her.

              “Okay,” Rick said after a pause, “this evening, meet us out at the edge of the field, we will practice.”

              Beth almost jumped with joy. For once she was going to be able to learn how to defend herself. She knew she needed to know how to shoot, one of the future glimpses she had was of her with a gun and someone or something coming after her. The blonde hadn’t seen the end of that vision, but she was determined to be ready when the time came.

              The afternoon went by in a blur. Beth raced all around the house, organizing and cleaning, anything to make the time go by. When it was finally evening, she slipped out the back door and made her way towards the field. Jimmy caught up with her and matched her stride.

              “Daddy is gonna be mad if he catches his princess lying,” Jimmy told her.

              “Well, Daddy isn’t going to find out,” Beth assured him, “besides, we need to learn.”

              “Hey, I’m not arguing with that, I have wanted to shoot since this whole thing started,” Jimmy said in surrender.

              Beth glanced back towards the house to make sure her dad hadn’t seen them. Someone was watching, just not the person she had expected. Dark, blue eyes stared at her from where Daryl was leaned up against a tree. He was looking much better, but then again, he wasn’t the type to let an injury keep him from moving around. His crossbow was across his back, it must be pressing into his newly healed skin, but his face showed no pain. His eyes followed her every movement, taking in her and Jimmy’s direction like the skilled tracker he was.

              Suddenly, Beth tripped over a branch.

              “Ow,” she exclaimed, mad at herself for not watching where she was going.

              “Hey, you okay,” Jimmy asked, leaning over to help her.

              “Yeah, just a silly mistake,” she laughed, trying to brush it off.

              As she stood up, her boyfriend tried to pull her in for a kiss, but Beth’s neck prickled, knowing Daryl was watching them. For reasons she didn’t even completely understand, Beth neatly step-sided Jimmy and started walking again.

              “Come on, don’t want to be late,” she called to him, pretending to be in a hurry.

              “Ah,” the young man said sounded confused, “um, okay, coming.”

              “Okay, first rule,” began Rick, “don’t point your gun at anything you don’t plan to shoot, ever. When you are carrying it, cleaning it, handing it to someone, always watch where it is pointed. Rule number two, keep your finger straight until you decide to shoot, then close your finger around the trigger. Rule number three, always treat a gun as if it is loaded, even if you just unloaded it. Lastly, don’t just know your target, know what is behind your target because that is what you may hit.”

              Everyone nodded. Shane went around passing out guns. Beth took hers and enjoyed the feel of the heavy metal in her hand. She felt safer already. The blonde was shown how to put bullets in the clip and load it into her gun. Rick talked her through the important parts like how to hold the gun and what stance to take. He seemed surprised when she wasn’t half bad. Living in the country, on a farm, Beth had shot a rifle or two. She was far from an expert, but she wasn’t clueless either.

              Jimmy kept trying to show off for her. He would hold his gun to the side and it looked pretty stupid. Finally, T-dog got after him for trying to impersonate movie gangsters and made her boyfriend shoot correctly. Just for a second, it flashed in Beth’s mind that Daryl was probably just as good of a shot with a gun as he was with his crossbow. Quickly, she tried to remove the distraction. She was finally learning to shoot and had to focus. It took a while, but by the end, Beth was hitting her can target every other time. Andrea was a natural, Beth wished she had that kind of talent.

              Walking back to the house, Beth felt more alive than she had in a long time. She had a little extra pep in her step. That was, until she got to the house and didn’t even make it up the porch before her daddy came out looking angry.

              “Bethy,” he said in the low voice of disapproval she hated, “what is going on out there?”

              “Nothin, daddy,” Beth promised, “I was just watching some of Rick’s group practice shooting. It was really nothing.”

              “You don’t need to be with them alone,” Hershel told her, “don’t get attached to them, I may have let them stay but they won’t be here much longer.”

              “Daddy,” Beth began, “they really aren’t that bad, if you would just get to know them….”

              “To your room,” Hershel ordered, “I have had enough of both you and your sister today!”

              “What has Maggie done,” Beth wondered as she tromped into the house, her previous good mood all but gone.

              She found the brunette upstairs fuming. It didn’t take long for the story to come out. Surprise, surprise, Maggie had been seeing Glenn behind their father’s back, but not only that, but now Glenn knew about their sick family in the barn and had already told one of the men from Rick’s group. Beth felt her stomach plunge. Her daddy already wanted to kick Rick’s group off, if they started trying to get rid of what Hershel considered their sick family, that would be the end of any peace.

              Not for the first time, Beth cursed the Prospect Device for not giving her more useful glimpses of the future. Why couldn’t it have shown her about this upcoming disaster and how to avoid it? She slipped back down stairs and put her boots on. Carefully, she opened the screen door and went outside. It was getting dark, maybe she could open the barn and lure the undead out into the forest and then run back before anyone noticed. It wasn’t a great plan, but that was all she could think of. The blonde went around the house and started tiptoeing out to the barn when an unexpected noise caused her to jump out of her skin.

              “Hey,” shouted a loud obnoxious voice, “girl, where in the hell you think you’re going?”

              Beth whipped around so fast she almost fell over as she tried to signal at Daryl to be quiet. He tromped through the grass and came right up to her, looking at her suspiciously. He was so much more intimidating up close.

              “Aren’t you on house arrest or somethin,” he said, somewhat quieter, but still much louder than Beth would have liked.

              Daryl had obvious been listening earlier to Hershel reprimanding his youngest daughter. Nothing slipped past him.

              “Just, forgot the food scrap bucket out by the chicken coop,” she lied smoothly, trying to act natural, “what are you doing out here?”

              “Had to take a piss,” the older man spat, causing Beth to jump at his language, “sides, got tired of being cooped up in bed. Can do that once one of those fuckers finally gets me.”

              “Um,” Beth cleared her throat, trying to think of anything to respond to what Daryl had just told her, “I don’t think you have to worry about that anytime soon.”

              “You think too much girl,” Daryl grunted.

              “Name’s not girl, it’s Beth,” she clarified.

              “Same,” he shrugged.

              “Alright, goodnight Daryl,” Beth said, dropping the comments that wanted to sting him for calling her girl in hopes that he would just leave her alone.

              She turned around and headed towards the barn, hoping he would just walk away. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in Daryl’s nature.

              “What, just gonna head off into the dark at night without a weapon,” he asked, “you people are crazy, it’s a wonder y’all are even still alive.”

              “What are you following me for,” Beth bit back, trying to get him to leave her alone.

              “Already looking for one child, don’t need another lost girl to find,” he barked.

              Something about the way Daryl called her a child just hurt more than it should. She knew the archer was a lot older than her, but something from the Prospect Device had led her to believe that they could see each other as equals. She should have listened to her mother, you couldn’t trust what you saw in your future, it was only a glimpse and could easily mislead the viewer, as it obviously had with her. The blonde just hadn’t expected her relationship with Daryl, or absolute lack of one, to bother her this much.

              “Well don’t worry,” she shouted, “you don’t have to look for me because I wouldn’t want to be found by a jack-ass like you!”

              “What you say to me,” snarled the hunter, getting right up in her face.

              Beth suddenly felt light-headed, realizing how close he was to her face. How close his lips were to her lips. How his breathe touched her cheek. His eyes looked even bluer up close. She had expected him to smell bad, but her nose detected the smell of pine trees, sunlight, and rainfall. The archer suddenly pulled back, as if he too realized he had gotten too close. However, he still didn’t do what Beth really wanted, which was to leave.

              The blonde made her way to the chicken coop and pretended to mess around looking for something she knew wasn’t even there. After what she considered an adequate amount of time, she came back out to find Daryl there with his arms crossed over his chest and his blue eyes following her closely. Beth tried not to let her gaze get distracted by the sharp contours of his well-muscled arms.

              “Guess it isn’t here,” she lied with a giggle, trying to show how silly she was, “must have misplaced it somewhere else.”

              “Like hell you did,” Daryl’s sharp voice cut through the quiet night air like a knife, “what are you hiding girl.”

              “Um, uh,” the young woman began, thrown off by the archer’s keen insight, “nothing. People occasionally get careless and forget where they left things.”

              “You didn’t seem to be headin toward the coop when I first saw ya,” the hunter observed, watching her every movement to see if she gave something away.

              He was going to figure it out. Daryl was a lot smarter than most people gave him credit for. Maybe she should take a leap of faith. The prospect device had shown Beth that Daryl was someone who was trustworthy, who would be there for her in the future, maybe he could help her now.

              “Daryl,” Beth began carefully, “there is something I need your help with.”

Chapter Text

                                                                                                           Beth's POV

   “Daryl, there is something I need your help with,” Beth had said.

   The blonde had taken the leap, she had decided to tell Daryl, hoping he would help. Now though, she couldn’t seem to get any more words to come out of her mouth. She knew what needed to be done, but she wasn’t ready to let go of her family, even if they were technically already gone.

   “Spit it out girl,” griped her burly companion, not enjoying being kept waiting.

   “The barn,” she told him so softly she almost didn’t know if he heard.

   “What about the fucking barn,” he pushed, his eyes narrowing.

   “The dead people, the ones that got bit, my daddy, Jimmy, and Otis put them in there when they wandered onto the property,” she managed.

    Immediately, her breathe went out of her body and she felt so relieved that she had finally told someone. Not only that she told someone, but that someone was Daryl, who was more than capable of fixing the situation.

   “Ya got walkers in the barn,” Daryl asked in a disbelieving tone, his mesmerizing blue eyes going icy.

   The blonde nodded, trying not to back off from his harsh glare.

   “What the hell,” he spat, “I mean I know people collect all sorts of strange shit, but walkers? Really? What the fuck were y’all thinkin? Know how dangerous they are?”

   “They aren’t just walkers, some of them are family,” Beth yelled at him, regretting her choice to trust him almost immediately.

   “Oh,” he grunted, suddenly seeming to understand her situation better.

   “Daddy, he thinks they are sick,” the younger woman broke down, the words all spilling out, “he has been capturing any friends and family that changed and been sticking them in the barn. He thinks a cure will come and that they will be all better again.”

   “Ain’t no fucking cure except an arrow in the head,” the older man cussed, causing Beth to wince at his graphic description.

   “I know,” she told him somberly, “that’s why I’m asking you to help.”

   There was silence. The only sound that could be heard was the grass rustling in the wind and the crickets chirping.

   “How many,” came Daryl’s raspy voice.

   “I’m not positive,” Beth tried to remember, “I don’t go with them to put the bodies in there. There is ten at least, if not more.”

   Without another word, Daryl turned on his heel and began striding off towards the barn. Some invisible rope seemed to pull Beth along. When they got to the door of the barn, Daryl peered in through a hole in the woods and was met with gnashing of teeth and morbid moans.

   "Yep, ten sounds about right,” he agreed, “good thing I got couple more arrows than that.”

   “On the other side,” Beth instructed, “there is a ladder, so you can climb up to the loft. You can see them easily from there without being in danger.”

   Without a word, Daryl went over to the ladder and began climbing. Beth felt like it was right to follow him. They were her family, or had been, and she needed to be there for them. When she got to the top, Daryl was already standing at the edge, overlooking the scene in the barn. He held a small flashlight in his hand and was shining it on the scene below.

   “Shit,” he groaned, “how many of them did y’all drag in here? Barely gonna have enough arrows for all these fuckers.”

   Beth’s teeth ground at how he referred to her dead family, but she didn’t say anything since she needed his help. Instead, the young woman made her way over to where he was standing. This was the first time she had seen her family again since her daddy, Jimmy, and Otis had wrestled them into the barn. A lot had changed, their skin was greyer, their wounds gaped open wider, and their eyes seemed colder. They were more monster than her family at this point.

   What was formerly Annette stumbled over towards them, raising her arms up as if she wanted to hold her youngest daughter in her arms. The blonde fought back tears seeing the state her mother was in. Shawn stumbled out, wearing his favorite overalls, which were now covered in dirt and blood. Every face was familiar, yet so vastly changed. She felt the breathe in her lungs catch and had to grab ahold of one of the wooden columns to keep from falling into the pit in front of her.

   “Hey,” came Daryl’s voice, a little less gruff than usual, “maybe you should stand back. Don’t gotta watch this.”

   “I need to be there for them,” the blonde sobbed, “they are my family, I can’t let them be alone when….”

   She dissolved into tears. It was so frustrating, she had told herself she could do it, she could be brave. However, reality was so much harsher than what she pictured in her mind. Daryl shifted, obvious uncomfortable with her display of emotion. When he spoke, she was surprise.

   “Least they are worth missin,” he told her, “if it was my father, I would be happy to put a bolt in his head, would serve the bastard right. Kinda wish he had lived long enough to be around when the world turned so he could have become one of these pieces of shit. He was always stumblin around drunk and groaning about crap, would’ve fit in fine with these monsters.”

   The blonde blinked back tears and looked up at the hunter. If she wasn’t hallucinating, she thought Daryl had just tried to cheer her up. Albeit, in a very morbid and horrific way, but he had open up and tried to make her feel better. She managed to give Daryl just the slightest smile, which he immediately turned away from like it would infect him. He pulled his crossbow off his back and began loading it.

   “If you are gonna say goodbye or some other sappy shit, better get it over with now,” he grunted.

   The young woman took his advice and walked over to look down at her family again.

   “Thank you for being a great mom,” she told the female creature that wasn’t really Annette, “thanks for listening to me, teaching me how to cook, always being there for me and Maggie and Shawn.”

   Then, Beth looked over at the walker that had been Shawn.

   “Shawn,” she told him, “I know so many times I yelled at you that I hated you, that I would complain about you always teasing me, but I loved you so much. I remember the time when you first took me out to see Nervous Nelly, gave me sugar cubes to feed her. I just…..”

   Beth’s voice choked up and she couldn’t seem to go on.

   “Better head on down,” Daryl told her and she obeyed.

   As Beth was going down the first rungs, she heard the twang of one of Daryl’s arrows and the thud of a body falling to the ground. The whole way down, she heard the sound over and over again. Until she reached the bottom. Her feet felt shaky and her stomach churned. She leaned over and began dry heaving in the grass. Finally, Daryl climbed down and walked straight past her. His face was drained of all blood and he was staring off into the distance.

   “Daryl,” Beth called after him.

   He didn’t turn around so she began chasing him.

   “Is everything okay,” she tried again, “Daryl!”

   He suddenly spun around, his gaze going murderous. The veins in his neck bulged and the muscles on his arms that had looked so attractive before suddenly looked much more dangerous.

   “What the fuck is wrong with you people,” he yelled at her, “you think it was a fucking game, letting us go out there and risk our lives looking for a little girl you had all along!”

   “Daryl,” Beth gasped, “I don’t know what you are talking about? There was only our family and friends in the barn, Daddy and Otis have been catching them because they knew them.”

   “Oh yeah,” he snarled, “callin me a liar? You and your whole family are full of it! After I took care of all of them like your fucking errand boy, another one crawled out of a corner, but it sure as hell wasn’t one of yours!  And to think I’ve been risking my fucking redneck-ass crawling all over the country-side when Sophia was right here!”

   Beth couldn’t take it anymore, she leaned over and this time it wasn’t just dry heaving. When she stood up again, he was gone, striding off towards the camp set up for Rick’s group. Beth stood there waiting, until she finally heard it. Carol’s voice cut through the night air, screaming and crying. Lights turned on, people came running. They all ran past her, towards the bar. Then, the lights to her house turned on and her family came out as well.

   “What’s going on,” she could hear Jimmy asking her, but she couldn’t respond.

   He shook her lightly, but it all felt so far away. The next thing she knew, Maggie was yelling at her.

   “How could you do this,” she screamed, “how could you let that redneck manic near our family? What have you done!?”

   Her daddy was sobbing. Jimmy finally left her to see what was happening and when he saw his parents lying on the ground, not moving, he broke down too.

   It was all her fault, it had to be done, but it had all gone so wrong. Beth had just wanted to make sure they were safe, that no one else got hurt, but that didn’t make her feel any better. Half of her family was dead and the other half hated her. Rick’s group was mad at her family for hiding the little girl in their barn. Carol was sobbing, Shane was yelling, Jimmy was running after Daryl screaming.

   Beth turned on her heel and just ran. The grass flew by her as she sprinted as fast as she could. When she reached the porch to her house, she didn’t stop. The blonde flew upstairs, past Maggie’s bedroom and into her own. Quickly, she crossed the room to the bathroom and looked in the cracked mirror at her reflection. The light from the full moon came in through the window, illuminating her pale face. Her eyes were bloodshot from crying, her face was red and puffy, and her blonde hair disheveled and falling out of her ponytail.

   Carefully, Beth raised her hand to the cracked glass and ran her fingers along the ridge. Her mother had cracked it. The day Annette had passed away, they didn’t yet understand how the disease worked. They hadn’t known she would get up and begin moving again. She had stumbled into Beth’s room and Shawn had come in and stopped her from attacking her own daughter. In the process, the mirror had gotten cracked and her older brother had been bit. Remembering, Beth slammed her fist up against the mirror, causing a giant piece of it to fall into the sink. It made a tinkling sound that was so beautiful, but also so sharp and cold. She didn’t feel it, but it must have sliced one of her fingers, because it was bleeding. She couldn’t feel it though, couldn’t feel anything.

   All Beth could see or hear was all the people yelling at her, accusing her, it was Maggie and Daryl and she knew Jimmy, Patricia, and her dad felt the same way. They all hated her. It had to be done, but maybe she deserved them yelling at her for what she did. At that thought, Beth’s hand closed around the shard in the sink and pulled it out, turning it so it caught the light and glinted. A random thought popped into her head.

   “If I do this, if I kill myself,” she thought, “it would change the whole future. Everything I saw wouldn’t happen. It would all be gone. I wouldn’t have to see Patricia die, I won’t have to run away from whatever will be chasing me in the future. I wouldn’t have to live with all the pain and fear and death. Unlike all the others, I know this isn’t going to be over soon, I saw how much rugged and older all of us looked in the future. There isn’t no government coming to save us, there isn’t a magical cure. All the things that give them hope to keep going, I already know they are lies.”

   With that last thought, the blonde drew the blade across her wrist, watching as blood sprang instantly from the wound. Just as she was about to finish cutting all the way across her wrist, she suddenly felt the pain again. It sprang instantly into her mind as if out of nowhere. Then, flashes went through her mind. She saw Maggie jumping up and down with her engagement ring, she saw a gurgling baby in her arms, and she saw Daryl staring at her across a table.

   “What changed your mind,” that is what she had asked him, but now the question was turned to her.

   She could still finish what she had started. Beth could take away all the pain and never feel it again.

   "No,” she whispered, her eyes filling with tears.

   Her future may not be what she wanted it to be, it may not be full of sweet family memories and going to the movies with friends and all the other stuff she had expected. However, there were still good things even in the midst of all the horror that was now her reality and Beth was damned if she wasn’t going to stick around long enough to see those moments. She wanted to be by Maggie’s side when her sister got married. She wanted to hold that unknown baby in her arms. And despite how much of an ass he currently was, she wanted to be there to find out what changed Daryl’s mind.

   The blonde grabbed a towel and pressed it to her wrist, but the white cloth quickly turned red. She made her way out of her room and yelled as loud as she could, but everyone was outside at the barn.

   “Maggie,” she tried, her voice getting a little weaker, “Daddy, help!”

   Beth stumbled through her room, blood dripping on the floor. She managed to make it in the hall and was stumbling down the steps when Lori came into the house.

   “Help,” she whispered, before everything went black.

   When Beth opened her eyes again, she was in her bed and Maggie was sitting right next to her. the light coming through the window told her it was mid-day.

   “Bethy,” Maggie asked, immediately rising out of the chair, “Bethy, how are you feeling?”

   “Hmmm,” she groaned, “I….I think I’m okay now.”

   “Don’t you ever scare me like that again,” scolded Maggie, who clasped her uninjured hand, “I’ve lost so many people, I can’t lose you too.”

   “I’m sorry Maggie,” Beth began, “about the barn….I didn’t want to, but it had to be done….”

   “I know,” the brunette said, surprising her, “I know. I have wanted to believe Daddy so bad for so long, mostly because I didn’t want to accept the truth. When Glenn and I went on a run the other day, one of those things almost killed me. Would have if Glenn wasn’t there….I don’t want any of those things to get you or daddy or anyone else. I just wasn’t ready to let them go though.”

   “I know how you feel,” Beth said, squeezing her sister’s hand.

   “And I am sure as hell not ready to let you go,” Maggie continued, giving her a look that said she wasn’t off the hook just yet.

   “I’m not going anywhere,” Beth promised, “not anymore. And don’t let daddy hear you cussing like that. You know how he feels about cussing.”

   At her words, Maggie tired eyes tightened, a dead give-away that something was wrong. Beth had known her sister long enough to know when she wasn’t saying something.

   “Where is daddy,” Beth asked, her voice becoming so small as she looked around, half-hoping for him to walk through the door.

   Her heart clenched, what had she missed while she had been out?

   “After he fixed you up,” Maggie said hesitantly, “he just left, he hasn’t come back since. Tomorrow morning, if he still isn’t back, Rick and Glenn are going to go looking for him.”

   “We need to find him now,” Beth began, sitting up, only to have her sister push her back down.

   “You are in no shape to go find anyone,” Maggie told her and Beth’s dizzy head agreed.

   “Neither is anyone else,” the brunette said in a way that left no room for discussion, “Everyone is in a lot of pain right now and there is a lot of work to be done after last night, the soonest anyone will be ready to look for him is tomorrow. We have holes to dig, and....bodies to bury. Besides, he may still come back on his own.”

   The rest of the day, Beth lay in bed worrying. It wasn’t like her daddy to just wander off and the world was so dangerous now, anything could have happened to him. However, like Maggie said, there wasn’t much that could be done until tomorrow.

   Jimmy came and visited her, but neither really talked. Her boyfriend still seemed to be in shock. He had a black eye and large bruise on his arm, most likely resulting from his confrontation with Daryl. Later that day, Andrea came to visit her. She told Beth that she was proud of her for choosing to stick around and gave her some advice that she had learned.

   “The pain doesn’t go away,” she had told the younger woman, “you just make room for it.”

   Despite lying in bed all day, Beth was exhausted. As she was drifting off to sleep, she heard a set of male voices outside her window. There was no more air conditioning, so she kept her window open, hoping to get a slight breeze. However, it also made it easy to hear anyone right outside the house.

   “What you did, looking for Sophia,” came Rick’s voice, “it was the right thing to do.”

   “Didn’t do any fuckin good,” disagreed a gravelly voice that could only belong to Daryl.

   “Sometimes, the only thing we can control is ourselves,” the sheriff told the redneck, “can’t always make things turn out right or go the way we want it to go. Just got to do the best we can.”

   There was a pause of silence before Rick continued.

   “The youngest daughter,” Rick told him, “Lori says she is gonna be alright.”

   “Don’t give a shit,” grunted Daryl.

   “Don’t think I didn’t notice the way you looked when you heard what she did,” Rick called him on his bullshit, “ain’t your fault she did that, ain’t nobody’s fault. She is gonna make it, you don’t have to feel guilty.”

   “Quit makin this somethin it’s not, I ain’t blaming myself for other people’s stupidity” bit the gruff man, “I don’t give a shit what some little blonde bitch does, she is prolly just another dead girl anyway. If not now, then something will happen to her sooner or later.”

   It stung Beth to hear Daryl’s words, but she had also learned by now that sometimes his mean words were just his way of keeping people from getting too close. He might run around yelling and cussing at people, but when it came down to it, he was there for them. He had proved that tonight helping her with her undead family, had proved it looking for Sophia, had proved multiple times that his actions showed him to be better than his words or his background. Underneath the dirt and grime and cussing, there was a strong, reliable, hard-working man whom she now trusted and respected.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

  This wasn’t about helping the group, protecting them. At least, that is what he told himself as he stepped into the shed, his crossbow pointed down at the young boy sitting on the ground with his hands tied behind his back. He didn’t care about any of them, he told himself, even though he knew he had volunteered to do this for a reason.

  “I can get him to talk,” had just popped out of Daryl’s mouth as he saw how hard Rick was trying to figure out what to do with the kid he had drug back.

  Glenn and Rick had been out to get Hershel when they were ambushed. Men all got away but left this young boy, who had accidentally impaled himself on a fence, for dead. Rick, being the sheriff that he was, saved the kid and brought him back for Hershel to patch up. Since then, the group had been left with a dilemma. The boy was running with cutthroats, if they let him go and he went back to them, he could tell them about the Greene farm. Daryl knew how dangerous it was to have something that other people wanted.

  The group had been going over it for couple days now, what to do with Randall. Rick had tried to get the boy to talk, but it just wasn’t his way to do what needed to be done now. Daryl had known just by looking at him that the sheriff couldn’t do it, so he had volunteered. He tried to tell himself he just needed to blow off some steam, felt like punching somebody, not because he actually cared about this group he had happened to fall in with. He also tried to reason that it was in his best interest to find out about the kid’s group, could be a danger to him. That wasn’t what had him speaking up though. It was how miserable Rick had looked, how anxious Carol had been, how much he didn’t want anything more to happen to the Greene family.

  “Please don’t,” Randall began as soon as he closed the door to the shed behind him.  

  “Then talk,” he ordered, hefting his crossbow a bit to get the message across.

  “I don’t know them, just met them out on the road,” Randall promised.

  “Yeah, and we are gonna feed you fucking ice cream tomorrow,” he snorted, “least come up with something believable.”

  “I promised,” the boy insisted, “I barely knew those guys!”

  Daryl had lied enough in his lifetime to recognize a lie when he heard one. The redneck leaned down, got his face real close to the kid and in a swift movement, slammed his hand into the boy’s chest, easily pinning him against the wall. Randall gasped and squirmed in terror.

  “How do you know them,” the archer hissed, his eyes narrowing into slits.

  When the boy didn’t respond, he brought his fist up and landed it on the side of the kid’s head, causing his head to fall to the floor.

  “I promise,” he sobbed, pushing himself back up “that’s all I know.”

  “You ain’t fucking telling me nothin,” he growled, slamming his fist down again.

  Daryl knew how much it hurt to get hit in the nose, Randall wasn’t taking it too well. His eyes welled up and he could barely sit upright. He stood up and in a calculated way, kicked the kid in the gut, right where he knew it would hurt the worst. Randall doubled over, clutching his stomach.

  “How many in your group,” Daryl demanded.

  “I don’t know,” Randall resisted.

  The redneck had enough of this bullshit. The kid was hiding something, which meant that his group was up to no good. He needed more information if he was gonna plan how to stop them. Deftly, he unbuckled his buck knife and held it at his side, allowing the kid to get a good look at it.

  “Noooo, no no,” Randall began, “not that!”

  Unfortunately for the young man, Daryl knew how to be even more intimidating. With a lunge, he swung the knife up and planted it right between the kid’s legs.

  “How many,” he shouted in the kids face.

  “Thirty,” yelled Randall, “about thirty guys!”

  That was a start, but not nearly enough. Now that it had started to come out, Daryl knew he had Randall right where he wanted him.

  “Where,” he shot back.

  When Randall hesitated, he looked for a weak spot. It turned out to be the pristine white bandage Hershel had placed on the kid’s leg. He yanked that sucker off, causing Randall to scream in pain and surprise.

  “I don’t know,” sobbed the kid, “I swear!”

  That wasn’t going to work. Daryl took his buck knife and ran it lightly up the kid’s leg to his wound and began just barely scraping at it.

  “We were never anyplace more than a night,” spilled Randall.

  That didn’t sound good, only one reason people did that if they weren’t out of supplies.

  “Scouting,” he questioned, “planning on staying local?”

  To reinforce the urgency of answering him, he pushed his knife a tad bit deeper.

  “I don’t know,” stammered the kid, “they…. They left me.. I don’t know!”

  The redneck wanted to roll his eyes, as if the kid had been with these people since this shitstorm began and had no clue of their plans. He rolled his knife under the kid’s scab on his leg.

  “Did you ever pick off a scab before,” he asked.

  “Don’t man,” pleaded Randall, “I’m trying to tell you what I know! I’m cooperating!”

  “Going awfully slow to be cooperatin,” he snarled, running the edge up and down the kid’s leg, drawing little lines of blood, “sooner or later I’m just gonna have to rip this off.”

  “Kay,” yelled Randall, “Okay!”

  Daryl finally decided the kid looked scared enough to tell him the truth. He didn’t ease off the pressure on his knife but he quit moving it.

  “They got weapons,” began Randall, “real heavy stuff, automatics. But, but I didn’t do anything!”

  That really got Daryl seeing red. As if anyone was innocent these days. He pushed down drawing more blood.

  “You shot at my boys,” he informed the kid, surprising himself with his own words, claiming these strangers as his own, “tried to take this farm. And you just went along for the ride? You trying to tell me your innocent?”

  “Yes,” yelled Randall, but not persuasive enough.

  Daryl was beyond angry. It was one thing to lose people to mindless-walkers, it was a whole other to almost lose them to people who hurt them on purpose.

  “These people took me in,” blabbered the young man, “Not just guys, a whole group of them! Men, women, and kids, just like here! Thought I would do good being with them!”

  Daryl knew when something sounded too good to be true, it probably wasn’t. This kid wasn’t running around with people just like his group and then suddenly happened to attack people they ran across. He stood up, glaring at the kid, but allowing distance between them to make him feel safe enough to talk. And Randall did talk, it all came spilling out.

  “But, we would go out and scavenge, just the men,” he told Daryl, “one night, we found this little campsite with a man and his two daughters…teenagers, ya know? Real young, real cute.”

  That instantly sent Daryl’s thoughts to the only one in their group who fit that description, Beth. He knew he needed to stay away so Randall would keep talking, but felt his feet getting closer and his fists clenching.

  “Their daddy had to watch while….these guys,” Randall told him,” and they didn’t even kill him afterwards! They just made him watch!....as his daughters….they just left him there.”

  Daryl had been through a lot of shit in his life, but this was something even he didn’t want to hear, didn’t want to think about. His mind skipped to how Beth brought food out to him when he was hurt, how she always smiled at him even when he scowled at her, how she came to check up on him when he wasn’t doing well. As much as her naïve, light-hearted ways pissed him off sometimes, the thought of someone hurting her had him all worked up. Randall must of seen the look in his eyes because he started talking again.

  “NO,” he told Daryl, “but I, I didn’t touch those girls! No! I swear I didn’t..”

  Randall was cut off by Daryl punching him to the ground. The archer hadn’t even realized what he was doing in time to hold back. He uncurled his palms, groaning as his knuckles ached in protest.

  “You gotta believe me,” gasped Randall from the ground.

  In that moment, all Daryl saw was someone who was an immense threat to the people he wanted to protect. He raised his foot up and kicked the kid right in his wounded leg.

  “Ahhhh,” screamed the boy, “I ain’t like that….believe me…”

  The next kick was on his head and knocked the kid unconscious. Just as Daryl was about to leave, he noticed that a piece of paper was on the ground near the boy. It must have fallen out when he had roughed Randall up. The gruff man bent over and snatched the paper up off the floor. It read:

PDT

  • Ivy Lowe
  • Bryce Neutze
  • Nathan Thompson
  • Beth Greene
  • Jacob Gun
  • Chase Carter

  When he read the fourth name, his fingers clenched the paper so tightly it hurt. He reached over and hit Randall across the back of the head, but the boy was out. He would have to wait to question the kid about it another time.

Beth’s POV

              Beth stood in front of the 13 piles of dirt that held everyone from the barn and now Dale as well. Her daddy had held a small sermon that morning for everyone they lost. However, this afternoon, Beth had seen some wild Indian paintbrush flowers and it had just felt right. She had picked them and gone to set one in front of each grave, noting that Sophia’s had a white flower already on it. If she had learned one thing from her suicide attempt, it was that if she wanted to live in this world, she couldn’t let all the bad weigh her down. She had to look for the good, the beautiful things, take the time to appreciate what was right in front of her.

              The blonde turned to leave, only to find herself startled by the figure behind her. It was Daryl, he seemed to have this ability to move without ever making a sound. His blue eyes had been on her, but dropped down as soon as she met his. His knuckles were split and covered in blood, she had heard about what had happened with Randall. Then, last night, she had heard second-hand how Daryl had to put Dale out of his misery. He had been missing in action since then, which wasn’t surprising after all he had been through. The archer seemed a bit more tired and worn down since the last time she had seen him and it made her sad.

              “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I really didn’t know that little girl was in there.”

              “I know,” his hoarse voice ground out.

              Beth felt a little lighter, knowing that he was mad at her had been bothering her more than it should have.

              “And thank you,” she told him, “for the barn and for digging the graves, I know it was mostly you even though the others helped.”

              “Ain’t nothin,” he shrugged, looking uncomfortable and ready to disappear any moment.

              “It was a lot,” she told him, wanting him to know how much she appreciated it.

              When he only grunted, she figured the conversation was over and started to walk past him to the house.

              “Wait,” came his voice as the very edge of his rough fingertips brushed her arm.

              The moment she stopped and angled her body towards his, he withdrew. It was sad, but he reminded her of Nervous Nelly. The horse wasn’t nervous naturally, her daddy had gotten the mare after she had been brutally beaten by her former owner. The police had called Hershel to come fix the mare after they arrested the man.

Afterwards, Hershel was going to find someone to take it in, but that was before his youngest took a liking to Nelly. He had been intending to get her a horse like he had Maggie and Shawn, one a bit older and calmer, but the young blonde had been insistent that she wanted Nelly. Beth could remember how the horse had shied away from her touch at first, became nervous if she came too close or looked at her directly. The horse’s mannerisms were similar to Daryl’s, which is maybe why the horse had let him ride her, when usually no one other than Beth could.

              The blonde’s thoughts were interrupted by the hunter digging in his pocket and holding something silver out towards her.

              “Here,” he grunted, “ain’t much, but figured ya might want it.”

              Beth put out her hand to have her mother’s favorite silver necklace with two hearts, one big and one small, dropped into her hand. Hershel had given it to Annette when they found out they were going to have Beth. Her mother had worn it all the time, including the day she died. She had always told Beth that when she was ready to be a mother, she would hand it off to her. The blonde’s hand closed around the hearts, feeling how warm they were from being held by Daryl.

              “Thank you Daryl,” she told him as earnestly as she could.

              He just grunted, but didn’t leave like she was expecting.

              “Beth, I need ya ta look at this an tell me what it means to you,” He said carefully, his sharp eyes suddenly hyper-focused on her.

              The blonde took the wrinkled, dirty piece of paper he pulled out of his front shirt pocket. It was written in pen with a list of names, hers being around the middle.

              “I recognize these names,” she told him, “but so would anyone else, this is a small town.”

              “What does PDT stand for,” he asked with a slight bit of urgency in his voice, telling Beth that something was off.

              “I don’t know,” she admitted, wishing she could be of more help, “I have never heard of it before. What is wrong Daryl?”

              “Found this paper on Randall,” the redneck told her, “I think it means…..I think it is something important, so what can you tell me about the people on this list.”

              “Okay,” Beth began, her eyes running down the page again, “what do you want to know about them?”

              “Anything,” he grunted, “just give me a place to start.”

              “Well,” the blonde started, “they all went the same high school as me, which isn’t surprising since it is the only one in town. I don’t really see anything that connects them. Ivy was raised by her grandmother since she was a kid after her parents took off on her. After college she was interning at the veterinary center.  Bryce Neutze, he was a bit of a spoiled kid, his parents owned a big portion of the town. He had good grades only because he cheated off of people and his parents paid for a private tutor to do his homework. He was in the same grade as me. Nathan Thompson was very artistic, he painted several of the murals in town and had his own business designing graphic t-shirts. Then there is me. Jacob Gun, he was a valedictorian a few years ago, recently he had been running for office in city hall. He had been doing very well for himself despite his young age. Then, Chase Carter, he was only a year older than me, a math whiz that also played football. That’s all I got, does it help at all.”

              She watched as Daryl took the paper back, his eyes working it over, trying to solve the puzzle.

              “So, y’all all went to the same high school, all of y’all around the same age, give or take a few years,” he asked, his brow furrowing.

              “Yup,” Beth agreed.

              “Have you seen any of them since this all started,” Daryl asked, his tone demanding.

              “No…. but I haven’t seen a lot of people I used to see,” Beth replied, her stomach starting to churn a bit “Daryl, what is wrong? Do you think something bad happens if your name is on this list?!”

              “Don’t know yet,” he grunted exasperated, “Don’t get all worked up over it. Just keep thinking about them, try to figure out if it means anything. Here, keep it, won’t do me any good, probably have to know these people ta figure it out.”

              He shoved the paper back in her hand and stalked off into the woods. Beth followed his movements until he disappeared. She looked back down at the paper in her hands, a heavy weight filling her stomach. If Daryl thought something was bad, it most likely was. However, for the life of her she couldn’t see any obvious connection between the names in her hand.

              Giving up for the moment and feeling much less peaceful than she had a few minutes ago, the young woman shoved the paper in the back pocket of her jeans. Then, she carefully arranged her mother’s necklace around her neck, clasping it together. It was funny how one object made her feel so comforted and loved and the other so apprehensive and worried. It kind of made sense that Daryl would give her such things though, because he gave her the same feelings with his attitude. Sometimes, he could be so nice and thoughtful and she trusted him a lot more than most people these days. However, sometimes he could also make her feel so insecure and nervous and a little bit scared.

              As Beth walked up to the house, she was unaware of Maggie’s hawk-like eyes that had been watching her interaction with the archer.

Chapter Text

Beth didn’t have long to ponder over Daryl or the list he gave her.

“Stay far away from that redneck Bethy,” were Maggie’s first words to her upon reaching the porch.

“He isn’t that bad Maggie,” Beth began, but her sister quickly ran over her like a bulldozer.

“Glenn told me that when they found him after his accident in the woods, he was wearing a necklace of walker ears,” the brunette hissed at her, “now he has been beating up a kid your age! He is dangerous Bethy, stay away from him!”

Before the blonde could argue, their father appeared, requiring both of the sisters to help inside. Her daddy had decided that after Dale’s unfortunate death that it would be better for Rick’s group to move into the house. Beth was busy helping pull old mattresses out of storage and any other items that could be useful. Her wrist started hurting a little from the work, but she didn’t want to mention it to anyone. After all, it was minor compared to many of the problems they had.

Soon, the house was fuller than it had ever been. The guest bedroom was too full of supplies they were hoarding for anyone to sleep in there. Lori had announced that she was pregnant, so Hershel had offered to take the couch so she could have his bed. Carl and Rick would be staying in Hershel’s room with her. Maggie and Patricia ended up in Beth’s room while Maggie’s bedroom was taken over by Carol and Andrea. T-dog, Shawn, and Glenn would have to rough it the best they could in the living room with makeshift blankets and sleeping bags. Daryl still refused to live anywhere but his tent, but he seemed to be becoming familiar with being allowed in the house as he helped carry items in and move furniture around.

After hours of moving, Beth decided to take a break outside. She sat on the porch and tried to catch what little wind was blowing. Jimmy came and sat down beside her. This was as good a time as any. Beth pulled the paper Daryl had given her out of her pocket and offered it to her boyfriend. He took it and looked at it before giving her a raised eyebrow.

“Daryl found it on Randall,” Beth explained, “does it mean anything to you? I mean, they are people from our high school, vaguely around our age. I honestly can’t find anything to connect them.”

“Hmmm,” Jimmy contemplated, “well, the names are of people who graduated different years, who do different things, hang out in different social circles. The only similarity I could guess at is that all of y’all are pretty smart, except Neutze, everyone knows he only got good grades cuz of his parent’s money.”

“Pretty smart,” Beth repeated, her mind running.

Not all of the names on the list were valedictorians like Jacob Gun, but they were all fairly good students. The question was, were they all good enough to have been in the top 10 percent? If someone was making a list of people who had used the prospect device, wouldn’t they just go for the obvious ones though? The top one or two people from each class? The initials for Prospect Device were PD, but that didn’t explain the T at the end.

Jimmy could tell she was lost in thought, so he pulled her into his arms. It was funny, but the action no longer made Beth feel as safe as it used to. Just as she was about to extract herself, the screen door squeaked open and closed with a bang.

“Well,” commented Daryl with a thick Southern drawl in his voice, “if you two lovebirds ain’t got nothin else to do, y’all can board up the windows.”

With that, the hunter planted a hammer on the porch railing with a bang before striding off.

“You think that guy has ever heard of giving people some privacy,” asked Jimmy incredulously, staring at the redneck’s departing back.

“Ha,” she laughed, “well, guess it doesn’t matter anyway, not like anyone is going to have even the slightest hint of privacy anytime soon with everyone moving in.”

“Yeah,” Jimmy agreed, standing up to pick up the hammer, “guess we had better get started.”

“I will go find some nails if you will get some wood,” Beth agreed as she headed in the house, not in the least disappointed by Daryl breaking up her and Jimmy’s moment together.

Soon, Beth and her boyfriend were busy hammering nail after nail. It hurt Beth to drive nails into the house she had grown up in, but it was a silly thought when their safety was at stake. Rick showed up and approved of their work. The sheriff was soon met by Daryl and the two men discussed where they could drop Randall off, somewhere far enough away that the boy couldn’t figure out how to get back. Beth could tell that Rick was starting to depend on Daryl just as much if not more than Shane. Ever since Lori announced her pregnancy, the two best friends didn’t seem to get along as well anymore.

Beth didn’t think much of Shane, he was always too rash, ready to solve any answer with violence or the easiest way out. She preferred how Rick took his time to decide what was wrong or right and the best way to go about it. Daryl it seemed never had to think about it, he always knew the answer to the hard questions already. It could be because he had lived a hard life and had already had to face these kind of moral decisions before. Beth didn’t actually know almost anything about his past other than the little he let on about how his dad was a no-good drunk. However, she really couldn’t picture him smiling and laughing and hanging out with his family like most people did before all of this.

It was sad, because he certainly deserved it. He had proven himself again and again. Daryl searched for Sophia, hunted for meat, handled the barn situation, put Dale out of his misery, and was now working on the Randall situation. It was like  he was some super-human being, nothing phased him and nothing wore him out. Even after his incident with getting shot with his own arrow, Daryl seemed to have more energy than some people on their best day.

“Before we drop the kid off, I want to talk to him one more time,” Daryl told Rick.

“What for,” the sheriff questioned.

“Just got a few more questions, nothing too important,” the hunter played it off like no big deal.

“Yeah, that’s fine,” Rick agreed, his attention trailing off as Shane pulled up to the house in a van.

Daryl seemed to take Shane’s appearance as his cue to leave, the two men didn’t exactly see eye to eye on almost anything.

“Gotta take a piss,” he said as an excuse to slip away, his crude statement making the blonde wince.

Beth wished he would stay, she felt safe with the archer around and very on edge with Shane around. However, Rick and Jimmy were there, it wasn’t like she was alone.

“Don’t go being a bother, you have to get used to doing things yourself,” Beth thought, “can’t go running to Daryl just cuz Shane gives you the creeps.”

Beth pounded another nail in, her forearm aching, but she didn’t complain. Instead, she was listening closely to Rick and Shane’s conversation. Shane was telling Rick how Carl felt guilty for Dale’s death, since he had seen the walker that had attacked Dale and hadn’t killed it. Rick was going to talk to Carl after Randall was taken care of, but Shane kept pushing him to do it now. He began offering to go with Daryl to drop Randall off, which Rick immediately shot down. If Beth was right, she thought she could detect a bit of wariness in Rick’s voice, not trusting his friend with Randall or Daryl. Shane detected it too and it pissed him off. He started accusing Rick, but the leader still didn’t relent on his plan. Finally, Shane left, but not before slamming a gun on the porch railing.

“Here, give this back to Daryl, Carl had it,” Shane snapped, “and have fun freeing that prisoner with your new best friend rather than taking care of your own son.”

It was a low blow and Beth turned around just in time to see the look on Rick’s face.

“You are a good father,” Beth said softly, causing Rick to snap out the thoughts he was lost in, “don’t let Shane tell you any different.”

“Thank you Beth,” Rick replied with a genuine smile, “would you mind taking this to Daryl for me, I need to go talk to Carl.”

“Of course,” the young woman promised, taking the weapon from Rick.

She found the owner of the gun not far away, he was talking to T-dog as they loaded up a truck for the journey to drop off Randall. As she walked towards them, T-dog went to go get Randall out. Daryl didn’t seem to even notice her at first, he was leaned up against the truck smoking a cigarette. For once, he looked a bit relaxed, Beth didn’t want to ruin it but she also felt like creep standing behind him staring. She stepped forward, causing a twig to snap and Daryl immediately looked behind him. The blonde thought she would get more used to being met with those intense, sharp blue eyes, but every time it froze her blood just as much as the first time.

“Um,” she muttered, her thoughts a bit scrambled, “this is yours, Carl had it.”

Beth walked around the truck and held out the gun.

“Was wonderin where that got to,” he grunted, taking the gun out of her hand and looking it up and down, “if that woman would ever keep an eye on her damn kid shit like this wouldn’t happen.”

Suddenly, T-dog’s voice reached them as the man came running.

“Prisoner, he’s gone,” shouted the man, “handcuffs were unlatched and the door was locked again.”

Immediately Rick appeared, followed by the rest of the group. Everyone was talking at once, when Shane came out of the forest, yelling. He claimed Randall snuck up on him and stole his gun. Immediately, Daryl said what everyone else was thinking.

“So this injured, 100 pound kid just snuck up and got the better of you,” he questioned, loading as much skepticism into one sentence as Beth had ever heard.

No matter what had actually happened, the problem that Randall had escaped needed to be handled. It was decided that Rick, Shane, Daryl, and Glenn would all looking for the prisoner.

They all began to head out, but Beth caught Daryl’s arm before he could leave.

“T-dog says the door was still locked when he went to check it,” she whispered to him, “there is no way Randall would have gotten out and locked it back up again.”

“I know,” he grunted in agreement, his eyes staring at her for a moment.

“Take this,” he finally said, offering her the gun she had just brought him.

“But Daryl,” Beth disputed, “you are about to go out into the woods searching, you probably need it more than I do.”

“Naw,” he insisted, “If Randall does make it back to his old group, you may need it more than I do. Just hold onto it, if anything happens before we get back, anyone you don’t know comes to the farm, don’t hesitate.”

The blonde managed to nod as she attached the gun to her belt.

“Be safe,” she managed to get out.

“Always am sunshine,” he chuckled, “now get your ass in the house, go on.”

Right then, Jimmy came up, pulling on Beth’s arm. The funny thing is, that despite the danger outside, the last thing Beth wanted to do was go with him. However, she allowed herself to be dragged into the house, with one last glance at Daryl’s disappearing back.

Lori was a mess of nerves, Carl was nowhere to be found, and Andrea kept wanting to go with the men to hunt for Randall even though they were already long gone. Hershel came downstairs to keep the peace.

“Where did you get that,” Jimmy asked, looking down at Beth’s hip, where the gun was partially covered by her loose cardigan.

“Daryl, but don’t tell daddy,” Beth pleaded.

“That redneck gave you a gun,” her boyfriend asked in astonishment, “he is so possessive of all of his weapons, I asked him to borrow a knife the other day and you would have thought I asked him to chop his hand off.”

“Well, it’s an emergency situation,” the young woman reasoned, “I’m sure he will want it back as soon as they find Randall.”

“But why you,” asked Jimmy suspiciously, “I mean he could have given it to anyone, Andrea knows how to shoot better.”

“Andrea already has a gun,” Beth countered, “maybe I was just closest to him.”

The young man didn’t seem convinced, but Beth had had enough of the interrogation. There was enough to worry about without them arguing. She walked over to Maggie, who was looking anxiously between a small crack in the boards that were over the window.

“Glenn will be fine,” she told her sister, “why don’t we go upstairs, those windows are not boarded, we can probably see them coming back from there.”

The brunette agreed and the two sisters headed upstairs.

“Ya know,” Maggie began, “it’s kind of hard liking someone in this world, not knowing if they will come back or if you will ever see them again.”

“You can’t think like that,” Beth told her sister determinedly, despite feeling the same “we have to trust that they know how to handle any situation they get into.”

“I don’t know what I would do if something happens to Glenn,” her sister admitted, on the verge of tears, “I never even told him how I felt about him, I was more of a jerk to him because I was scared to get close and then loose him.”

The blonde wrapped her sister in a hug.

“It will be okay,” she promised, “Rick’s group is strong. Rick and Shane are used to dangerous situations from their former job. Glenn has been doing runs for a long time now and Daryl can handle just about anything.”

That calmed Maggie down.

“Thanks Bethy,” the brunette told her, squeezing her tighter before her eyebrows furrowed.

“What do you have under your shirt,” her sister questioned, “where did you get that gun?”

Luckily, Beth was saved from answering by Glenn and Daryl striding out of the woods. Beth breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the gruff man. They ran downstairs, alerting everyone else and the door was opened to the two men, who were immediately bombarded with questions.

“Rick and Shane ain’t back,” inquired the redneck, ignoring everyone’s talk.

“No,” Andrea informed them, “heard a shot, maybe they found Randall.”

“We found him,” Daryl informed them.

“Is he back in the shed,” asked Maggie.

“No,” the hunter said as if it was obvious, “he is a walker.”

“Did you find the walker that bit him,” Hershel asked.

“No,” Glenn answered, “weird thing is, he wasn’t bit.”

The group silenced at that reply, an uneasiness entering the room. Beth’s eyes looked to Daryl, probing for answers.

“His neck was broke,” the archer informed everyone.

“He fought back,” Beth surmised.

“Thing is,” Daryl mused, “Shane and Randall’s tracks were right on top of each other and Shane ain’t no tracker. He didn’t come up behind them, they were together.”

Beth felt her stomach drop. She had always felt uneasy around Shane, but now she knew it was for good reason. Lori was immediately up and pleading with Daryl.

“Will you please go out and find my husband and Shane,” she entreated.

“Course,” Daryl replied, heading back out the door.

Everyone became focused on Glenn, who had all the details that Daryl had glossed over. Beth ran out after Daryl, only to almost run into his back as he came to a complete stop.

“Shit,” he cussed, staring out into the dark.

Beth peered around him, her eyes slowly adjusting to make out broken movements all around the tree line. Walkers, over a hundred, were all staggering towards them, more and more appearing out of the forest every second. It suddenly clicked, the same way it had when her mother had been sick and Jimmy had been come out to sit on the porch with her. She knew what was going to happen next.

              She ran inside, telling all the others that a whole herd was coming. Quickly, everyone was gathered on the porch. Patricia turned off the lights and Andrea pulled out a bag of weapons. Glenn suggested hiding in the house until the herd passed by, which her daddy was in agreement with. Daryl shot the idea down immediately, telling them that the herd was too big for the house to withstand an attack. The men were arguing and all Beth could see was the image of Patricia having her throat ripped out. She quickly made her way to the woman and tried to give her a gun.

“I can’t,” Patricia refused, “I don’t know how to shoot well enough, I’m more likely to hurt someone than actually stop one of those things.”

Suddenly, Lori was in their midst screaming for Carl and drawing more walkers their way. Patricia ran off to help Carol get the distraught mother inside and Beth could only hope the woman would be safe in there. Maggie was helping Andrea hand out guns.

“Ain’t no use,” Daryl muttered, “can’t you see how many of them there are. We won’t even make a dent.”

“You can go if you want,” Hershel told him, “but this is my farm and I intend to protect it.”

“You gonna take them all on,” asked Daryl, looking at Hershel like he was crazy.

“We got guns, cars, we can handle it,” Hershel said as he loaded his 22.

Andrea was in agreement, already coming up with a plan on how to use the cars to lure the walkers away.

“Are you serious,” exclaimed Daryl, with the same amount doubt Beth felt.

“This is my farm,” Hershel stated firmly, “I will die before I leave here.”

“Alright,” shrugged the archer, “tonight’s as good a night as any.”

“Daddy,” Beth argued, trying to talk some sense into her father, “it’s not going to work, we are going to be overrun.”

“Bethy,” her daddy ignored, “go inside with Patricia.”

“No,” she snapped, “I know how this is going to go down, we cannot stay here!”

Everyone else was so distracted, no one other than Daryl was paying attention to their conversation.

“You can’t know that sweetheart,” her father insisted, “go on inside where it is safe.”

“It isn’t safe inside or anywhere here,” Beth argued, “and I do know! You know what I saw!”

The conversation came to a halt as flames suddenly started rising from the barn.

“Rick’s up there,” Daryl spotted, pointed towards the barn loft.

Lori came running outside in tears, seeing not only her husband but her son surrounded by walkers. Everyone was trying to figure out how to get them out, but there were just too many of the undead collected around the barn. Beth’s thoughts kept jumping back to the only glimpse she had of this scenario. In it, she had been on the roof and jumped onto an RV to get away. Would the same thing work for Rick and Carl?

“The RV,” Beth shouted, “we can pull it up close enough for them to jump on without having to take out all the walkers!”

“That might work,” Daryl agreed, “alright, Jimmy and Beth, y’all think y’all can get to them if we cover y’all?”

The blonde nodded and Jimmy was soon at her side ready to go. Glenn tossed them the keys and they ran for the RV. Jimmy got in the driver’s seat as Beth began trying to open the hatch to the top of the RV so Rick and Carl could get inside once they were on top. The lever that opened it was stuck and Beth was having trouble since one hand she had to use to hang on to the ladder. Suddenly, the RV lurched forward as Jimmy put it in drive.

The blonde climbed down, trying not to fall as the RV ride became turbulent from going offroad. The young woman dug desperately through the kitchen supplies, not finding what she needed. A sharp turn sent her tumbling into the kitchen seat and utensils rained down from above. Shots rang out from outside the RV. By some miracle, she spotted a hammer that had fallen on the floor. She quickly snatched it up just as she heard the RV hit what she could only assume was a walker.

“Beth,” yelled Jimmy, “we are almost there, is the hatch open?”

“Almost,” cried Beth, as she ran back to the ladder, hammer in hand.

It took a few hits, but Beth managed to get the lever to move. She threw the hammer down and pulled with all of her might. A sudden stop caused her to yank the lever, which popped the hatch right open.

“Get on,” yelled Jimmy.

The young woman began crawling out the hatch to see Rick and Carl standing almost a meter away from her on the barn loft. It was a long jump for Carl.

“I’ll catch you,” the blonde yelled, holding out her arms.

Rick said something to his son, who then walked back hesitantly, before running towards her. Carl was suspended in air for a second, but then he landed on the edge of the RV. Beth grabbed the boy’s hand and pulled him onto the middle of the roof before he could fall off.

That is when she heard the screaming. It was most certainly Jimmy’s voice.

“Jimmy,” she screamed, running over to the opening in the hood just as Rick landed on the RV.

She looked down to see Jimmy being torn apart by the walkers, his brown eyes fixed on her right before they went blank.

“Come on,” yelled Rick as he shot the nearest walkers.

Beth hurried down the ladder, helping Carl down, the whole while feeling like she was in some horrible nightmare. While Rick was getting down, Beth pulled out the gun Daryl had given her and shot a few walkers. With the chaos and how bad her hands were shaking, she wouldn’t have hit them except that they were at such close range.

“We can’t make it to the house,” shouted Rick, “we gotta go towards the woods.”

Beth began following them, but was quickly cut off by a group of walkers. She darted around them only to run into more. The blonde began ducking and dodging, but it was like they were multiplying. She raised the gun and shot the closest one, only to have it replaced by another. One suddenly went down that she hadn’t even been aiming at.

The blonde looked over to see Daryl, standing over his running motorcycle, shooting at anything that came near her. He looked like a guardian angel standing there, as if this is what he had been put on God’s green Earth to do. The look in his eye was fiercer than Beth had ever seen it.  She ran over to him as he continued taking out the walkers, hitting each one in the head with a kind of cold professionalism.

“Get on,” he shouted over the noise.

The blonde swung a leg over and before she could figure out exactly where to sit or how to hold on, they were moving. She instinctively wrapped her hands around Daryl’s waist to hold on. They were moving too fast for the walkers to be much of a threat now. The blonde looked around, her eyes searching for her father, only to spot him shooting walkers near the house. Maggie, Carol, Lori, and Patricia were walking out of the house, heading for a car.

“No,” yelled Beth, knowing what was about to happen, but her voice was lost in the chaos.

Patricia was looking the wrong way when a walker lunged at her, tearing her hand out of Carol’s.

Beth wasn’t very sure what happened after that. It all began to blend together, the fire, the walkers, the shooting, and the screams. She buried her face in Daryl’s jacket until all the noise began to fade and was replaced by only the sound of the motorcycle.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

            Beth looked out over the prison as she bounced Judith in her arms. It had taken a lot of work and time for the group to get where they were now. She remembers them living in the woods, always scared and trying not to bite each other’s heads off. Then, Rick and Daryl had found the prison. The two men led the group in clearing it the area, making it safe. They had gained a lot, a safe home, new people in the form of previous prisoners, and some sense of normalcy. They had also lost a lot, Hershel’s leg, T-dog, and Lori. The thought of Lori brought tears to Beth’s eyes, it had only been yesterday after all.

              The blonde bounced the baby in her arms, remembering how Daryl had handed the young girl to her.

              “Can you handle her,” he had asked, his voice deadly serious.

              Beth had just nodded, taking the baby from his coarse hands. She had baby-sat for the neighbors before, she had some clue of what to do with an infant. That was only the second time he had talked to her since the night the farm was overrun. After Beth had hopped on Daryl’s motorcycle, they had driven off on a path with the least walkers in the way. She didn’t know how long they drove or what made Daryl stop but when they did it was in the middle of nowhere. Beth had tried to control her sobbing, struggling to not look like a total blubbering idiot in front of him, but it had been of no use. She didn’t know if she would see her family again, if they were even still alive. Nothing could have prepared her for the harsh reality, not even the prospect device.

              Daryl on the other hand was completely stoic and staring her down. It made her feel a bit like an animal at the other end of a shotgun but she was fairly certain he wouldn’t hurt her.

              “You knew,” he finally spoke, his eyes narrowing as he inspected her.

              The young woman managed to get a nod in before her whole body was racked with a violent crying episode.

              “How did you know,” he asked suspiciously, grasping his crossbow as if she was some sort of threat.

              When Beth didn’t answer but continued sobbing, he suddenly appeared right in front of her, causing her to back up.

              “Answer me girl,” he snarled, looking like a pitbull ready to bite.

              “The prospect device,” she managed to choke out as she raised up a hand to keep him from pushing into her personal space too much.

              Her answer stopped the archer in his tracks though. He seemed to think on what she had said, his thumb rubbing up and down his crossbow handle.

              “Never thought it was real,” he mused after a minute, “always assumed they just fed y’all a bunch of crap videos that would encourage you to work harder.”

              “I saw this,” Beth admitted for the first time, “I saw the walkers, I didn’t know what they were then or what was going on, but I knew something was wrong.”

              “Why didn’t you warn us,” asked the hunter in an icy tone, “why didn’t you tell anyone that a whole damn herd was coming to the house?”

              “I didn’t see everything,” Beth cried at the accusation he was placing on her, “do you really think I’m that horrible to not do something that could have saved us? I saw it happen, but I didn’t know when or how and it didn’t actually turn out just like I saw…..it changed.”

              “Changed how,” he asked skeptically, his muscles tensing as he gripped his crossbow tighter.

              “The RV,” Beth admitted, “in what I saw, the herd overwhelmed the house and I was up on the roof because I couldn’t get away. Someone drove the RV over and I hopped on it. That is how I knew to use the RV to get Rick and I made sure that I didn’t get stuck in the house so I wouldn’t have to be saved. But then because of me, Jimmy, he…..”

              The young woman couldn’t continue as she began to process what had happened to Jimmy. At the time, with the adrenaline coursing through her veins, chaos surrounding her, she hadn’t fully registered the loss of her former boyfriend. Sure, in the end she had known he wasn’t the one for her, but that didn’t make it any easier. Beth had known Jimmy since they were kids, they had shared a lot of memories, and he had died such a horrible death.

              “What else do you know,” demanded Daryl, pulling Beth out of the dark past she was reliving.

              “Not much,” Beth promised, “really, I didn’t see a ton of useful things, just bits and pieces that I don’t really understand. Some of the scenes I saw have already past, others are still yet to come.”

              “Tell me in as much detail as you can remember,” the archer ordered, “I don’t care how fucking unimportant it seems, everything.”

              “Okay,” began Beth, trying to collect her thoughts, “the porch with Jimmy, my mom dying, the farm being overrun, have all already happened. Then, I saw me out in the woods with a gun, I looked scared.”

              “Were you alone,” questioned Daryl.

              “Yes,” Beth answered, “then I saw Maggie get engaged.”

              At that the redneck raised one eyebrow.

              “To the Asian dude,” he asked.

              “I don’t know,” Beth told him, “and he is Korean.”

              “Whatever,” Daryl muttered, as he began checking his bike and their meager possessions, before he made a motion with his hand indicating that she should continue.

              “In it I mentioned something about making a cafeteria look nice for the wedding,” Beth told Daryl as he counted out the number of bullets he had in one of the compartments on his bike.

              “Hmmm,” mused the older man, “ya see anything in this vision, where we were?”

              “In the next part I did,” she described, “very dark, metal furniture, looked solid but depressing.”

              “And what was happening in this,” the hunter pushed as he pulled out a map and began looking around.

              “I was holding a baby,” Beth told him, “you were there. At least now, I’m pretty sure it was your voice.”

              That got Daryl’s attention, his head whipped around, his eyes focusing on her.

              “Wonderin why you been starin at me like I’m a fucking ghost,” he commented, causing Beth to blush.

              She hadn’t realized she had been gawking at him, but she must have been. Daryl was attractive, in a rough around the edges sort of way. She wished she could tell herself that what she had seen was the only reason she felt a special draw towards the older hunter. However, Beth didn’t have time to sort out her feelings. If Daryl thought the only reason she looked at him was because of a vision, then she wasn’t going to correct him.

              “Anyway, “Beth hurriedly changed the subject, “in another one it is the two of us again, running through the woods, I’m just following you and you are in front of me. The next you were shooting a walker and trying to tell me how to do it….but you weren’t exactly very patient.”

              The rough man snorted at her description of his attitude, which she didn’t go into more detail on. The next scene, the one where he was staring at her over the kitchen counter felt personal, even though this was the man she shared the moment with. Somehow, Beth couldn’t bring herself to tell Daryl, she felt like maybe then it would change too and she would never find out what changed his mind.

              “Next,” Beth continued, “we were in a kitchen somewhere, you were eating something really disgusting and we had peanut butter and coke.”

              “Got a lot of visons of me,” Daryl commented as he began drawing on the map, his eyes cutting over to look at her.

              “I didn’t pick them,” Beth defended, “just saw what I saw. Then, I was reunited with you and Rick and Carl and Maggie outside of some rundown hospital.”

              Beth also left out the part about Daryl saying he missed her and holding her hand. It felt too personal to share just yet.

              “That’s it,” she said nervously, intertwining her fingers in front of herself as Daryl began folding the map up.

              “Knew there was no fucking cure,” he spat, as he climbed back on the bike.

              “Get on,” Daryl instructed as he started the motorcycle.

              This time, Beth felt more self-conscious getting on. She had time to notice how broad Daryl’s shoulders were, how tight his stomach was against her hands, and just how close they had to ride together. He smelled like dirt and forest and hay, it was almost relaxing how much it reminded her of the scents of her childhood. Then, the engine revved and wind was blowing through Beth’s hair. She couldn’t see in front of them but trees flashed by on either side. Daryl finally turned off the dirt road onto a paved one, making his way between abandoned vehicles. Finally stopping beside an RV that had her family and the other survivors.

              That was the most she talked to Daryl for the next few weeks. Other than occasional grunt or terse sentence, he stayed away from her and almost everyone else while they traveled on the road. It probably hadn’t helped that anytime he did end up near her, Maggie suddenly appeared, making it very clear that she didn’t want the archer anywhere near her little sister.

The silence ended when they were clearing out the prison. The blonde, Carl, and Carol had been tasked with stabbing walkers through the fence. The young woman broke off from the others to work on another area that was building up. She was clumsily completing the mission, almost losing her metal rod through the fence whenever it got stuck in a dead body. That is when Daryl had walked up noiselessly behind her, startling the young woman with his words.

              “Like this,” he instructed, stabbing a walker through the eye socket with a grace and skill that Beth found mesmerizing.

              “Go through the eye or the mouth of these bastards, less resistance, then pull out as quickly as ya can,” he explained in his usual gruff voice.

              The blonde nodded, trying again. She was happy to find that, although very sloppy compared to the redneck’s movements, her ability to put down the walkers was improved.

              “Thanks Daryl,” she said, smiling despite the heat and the hard work.

              He gave her a curt nod, his eyes causing her to heat up under his gaze. That is when Maggie had magically appeared, as if she sensed any interaction between the two from a mile away.

              “Need help there Beth,” Maggie asked, glaring at Daryl, making it clear that she would be the one to teach her sister.

              “Bitch,” Beth thought she heard the older man cuss under his breath as he walked away.

              That was the limit of her interaction with the archer, until yesterday, when he had delicately handed the crying baby into her hands. It was surprising to see how good Daryl was with Lori’s daughter, but then again he had cared just as much about Sophia.

              The moment Beth held the baby in her arms, she knew it was the baby from her vision. Later that night, Daryl had come to check in her and the baby and for once, Maggie’s third sense failed, most likely due to sneaking off with a certain Asian boy. It was dark and they had no source of light other than a few flashlights, which were only for emergencies. However, the young woman could sense the moment the rough man walked into her cell.

              “Hey,” he greeted, sounding tired.

              He had to dead on his feet, he had taken on all of Rick’s duties when the whole group was in chaos. The blonde knew Daryl and Carol were close, with the older woman missing, he was hurting.

              “How is she,” he asked, sounded like a parent.

              Beth curiously wondered if Daryl had kids of his own, before the world had ended.

              “Fine,” Beth replied, “but she is hungry, really hungry.”

              “Found this,” he rasped, pulling a can of formula out of his backpack, along with a bottle, “ain’t much, but Maggie and Glenn are gonna go search for more tomorrow.”

              “That’s perfect, thank you Daryl,” Beth exclaimed, taking the packet.

              She hurriedly mixed the powder with some water they had boiled earlier. Then, she held the bottle to the girl’s lips, which immediately latched on. The archer seemed content to lean against the wall and watch Judith feed. He seemed a lot like a mother hawk looking over her fledglings. When Judith finished, she began giggling and reaching for Beth’s hair, her energy now restored by the meal.

              “Who’s a good girl,” Beth asked, rocking the baby in her arms.

              “Little ass-kicker right there,” came Daryl’s voice out of the darkness.

              “Haha, Daryl,” Beth laughed, enjoying that her vison was coming to life, “she is only a few months old, she is a long way from kicking anyone’s ass.”

              “But she will someday,” replied the man, “anyone that grows up in this world can’t be any less.”

              The blonde thought on that a moment before replying.

              “Until then,” Beth told him, “she has all of us. And especially you, she probably wouldn’t make it until morning if you didn’t find the formula.”

              “Just one meal, maybe two if you can stretch it” the coarse man grunted, obviously not satisfied with his haul, “gonna need a hell of a lot more than that.”

              “We will figure it out,” Beth encouraged, “we always have. Just a couple of weeks ago we were out on the road, barely staying alive. Now we have a secure home, beds, and new people.”

              “Only found it cuz of what you said,” Daryl grunted.

              “What I said,” Beth asked, confused.

              “You said in the future you saw a dark place with lots of dark, metal furniture,” the redneck reminded her, “so that is what I looked for when we were out on the road. Couldn’t have been a regular house, didn’t sound near as cozy. Knew it had to be some kind of facility to be built like that. When I saw the prison from a distance, knew that is what you had seen.”

              “Oh,” the blonde said, stunned by the fact that she had played some small role in getting the group to this secure prison.

              They two lapsed into silence as the baby began to quiet down. Finally, Daryl decided it was time for him to go.

              “Need anythin, just holler,” he told her, before walking off, most likely to start guard duty.

              That was last night, today, Maggie and Glenn had left at first light in search of more baby formula. Beth was starting to get worried, because they should have been back by now. The blonde had mixed what little remaining powder was still on the edges of the packet, but she had mostly fed the baby water for breakfast. The little girl needed to eat soon.

              She rocked the girl in her arms, trying to calm the crying infant as she stared out the prison window. Every minute felt like an hour, where was her sister? Then, a figure appeared out of the woods. At first, Beth was excited thinking it was Maggie and Glenn, but it was only one person who didn’t fit either of the two people’s descriptions. The mysterious figure wore a cloak and was carrying a basket. What looked like a sword was strapped on the person’s back. The stranger limped all the way to the fence and just stood there, clinging to the wire as if they were about to fall down.

              Before Beth could call Daryl, she saw Rick racing across the field. Right before he reached the cloaked figure, it collapsed. The blonde watched as Carl went over and helped Rick carry the person and the basket into the prison.

Daryl’s POV

              By Daryl’s standards, the day had been going pretty fucking good, until it didn’t. He had been clearing out some other levels of the prison with Axel, Oscar, and Carl. They had made good progress. The best part was finding Carol, still alive in a closet. It wasn’t until he returned to Cell Block C that everything went to shit. Some strange bitch had appeared at their gate and had told Rick that Maggie and Glenn had been kidnapped by a person called the Governor. Soon, plans were being drawn up to sneak into the camp. It had to be tonight.

              The group dispersed to prepare, but Daryl was already ready, he always was. When he heard a soft, sweet voice singing, he followed the sound to Beth’s room, where the young woman was humming to the infant. The baby wasn’t even Beth’s, but she took better care of that little girl than Daryl’s own mother had taken care of him. There was something calming about watching them, seeing the blonde sway side to side as the child reached its chubby arms up towards her golden locks. It made everything he did worth it.

              Daryl cleared his throat, causing Hershel’s youngest to spin around. Then, she threw one of those smiles his way, like he was the best thing she had seen all day.  Daryl knew how to read most people, but he could never understand Beth. He had learned from a young age that people were shitty and self-centered and violent. Since the apocalypse, his view had only become more confirmed. There were a few exceptions, like Rick. However even Rick had a crazy side, like when he killed Shane and took charge of the group. The leader was currently a bit loose in the head since his wife died, but Daryl didn’t blame him. However, Beth just seemed to get brighter the darker everything else got.

              He had first noticed that when they were living on the move. Every time someone felt like they couldn’t go on, the blonde was there hugging and encouraging them. The first night at the prison, the girl sang and it was like everything was going to be okay. Then, when he had given her the huge responsibility of a newborn without a mother or food, she had taken it on without a thought and treated the little girl like her own. Her selflessness almost didn’t compute, didn’t make sense given what he knew about how dark human nature could be.

              It made sense to him why Maggie was insanely protective of someone so precious. The older sister had all but given him the ‘I will kill you if you dare lay a hand on her’ glare for the past two weeks. He didn’t blame the brunette though, he knew what he looked like and what people thought of him. Hell, he would give the same look to anyone who he thought might hurt her. In fact, he had to Axel a number of times. He had walked by cell block B one time and happened to hear Axel telling Oscar about the ‘hot little blonde’ and he had barely restrained himself as he snarled at the man to keep his eyes in his fucking sockets unless he wanted to lose them. Since then, he had been keeping an eye on the young woman. It wasn’t hard since something about Beth just drew him in, like a moth to her bright flame.

              “Daryl,” she asked, her blue eyes turning towards him like he wasn’t some filthy redneck, “y’all are going to get them back, right?”

              “Course,” he answered curtly, because that is exactly what he intended to do.

              “Be careful, okay,” she requested.

              The young woman’s words startled him. The hunter was still getting used to people asking him for shit, like cutting up a walker to make sure what it had eaten wasn’t Sophia or clearing out part of the prison. However, it hadn’t actually gotten so far as anyone else in the group actually worrying about his well-being. Rick might have if he hadn’t gone off the deep end recently. He nodded, causing her to beam up at him.

              “Still got that gun I gave ya,” he asked, his mind turning to how defenseless the prison would be during this rescue mission.

              “Always wear it,” Beth told him, turning so he could see the weapon looped onto her belt.

              “If shit hits the fan while we are gone,” he told her, “get the girl out. Got some extra weapons in my room, grab them if you need to.”

              The blonde nodded, looking uncertain but determined. She wasn’t made for this world, but she was sure was trying her damn best.

              “Remember the place we stayed the night before we came to the prison,” the archer asked.

              Beth said she did.

              “Anything happens, I will come get you there,” he told her.

              “I’ve got this Daryl,” she tells him, her arms wrapping protectively around the baby.

              And despite the fact that she isn’t more than a 100 pounds soaking wet and only learned the right way to kill walkers a few weeks ago, Daryl believes her.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

“It was Merle, he did this,” Maggie told him, tears streaming down her cheek and leaving clean lines in the dirt.

“Shit,” was Daryl’s first thought.

Merle always got into trouble, but this was beyond even Daryl’s wildest dreams.

“He is the one who brought us here,” the brunette sobbed, “he threw a walker in with Glenn! He was going to execute us!”

This time his older brother may have dug a hole too deep for even Daryl to get him out of.

“I gotta see him,” were the first words out of Daryl’s mouth, even in the face of all of Maggie’s accusations.

“No,” Rick immediately shot down, “Daryl, look at Glenn, he can barely stand, we have to get him out of here. This isn’t the time to go looking for Merle, the whole town is out to kill us. In order to get out, we need everyone, you included.”

Daryl nodded, they were on a mission, he couldn’t just abandon them, but this conversation was far from over. The group snuck out the back of the house they were hiding in, trying to slip unnoticed in the dark towards the gate. The Korean man was bleeding and Rick had to help him stand. The samurai woman had disappeared. They were almost home free when the shooting started. Everyone took cover behind a building, but they couldn’t stay there. They couldn’t leave either. Any time one of the poked their head out, a barrage of gunfire was unleashed. The archer knew what he had to do.

“Gonna cover ya’ll,” he told Rick, “throw the smoke grenades and run for the gate.”

“Can’t leave you to cover us,” the former sheriff told him, “you won’t make it out.”

“Can’t get out any other way,” he told the leader, not mentioning his own reasons for not wanting to leave the community.

It happened fast, T-dog rolled a grenade out, the others started running, and Daryl started firing. He could hear yelling, knew one of his own had been hit, couldn’t tell who, he was too focused on covering them. Finally, he could tell all of the gunfire was focused on him. He just had to hold out long enough, he knew Merle would come for him. His older brother always bailed him out of trouble, granted he was usually the one that got Daryl in trouble in the first place.

He leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. He reloaded his gun and let off a few rounds, just enough to keep anyone from trying to come near him. At the seconds ticked by, he had to go on the offensive again and again to keep the men from trying to move closer to him. Finally, he was out of ammo.

“Come on Merle,” he groaned, pulling his crossbow off his back, not liking his odds in a gunfight.

The smoke had pretty much cleared, he could see a man running towards him. He pulled the trigger, causing a bolt to sprout out of the guy’s chest. The man fell down. Suddenly, he was charged, Daryl took down person after person, but his bolts were a limited supply. Soon, he was out. He tossed his beloved weapon to the ground and raised his fists up as he was assaulted on all sides. Fists pummeled him, but no bullets touched him. The hunter was a good fighter, but there were too many.

Finally, someone got in a good punch to his stomach that drove him to the ground, where a pain in the back of his head caused him to see stars. Then, material was pulled over his head and he was in darkness.

Beth’s POV

The blonde rocked Judith, trying to calm the baby girl as much as her own anxiety. Rick and Daryl and the others had left just before sunset to go and rescue Maggie and Glenn. The hours had passed and her worry only grew. Then, to add to the suspense, Carl had heard noises in the prison and gone to check it out. She worried about the young boy, but he was more capable than most kids his age. Her father, while up and moving again, was in no condition yet to be moving beyond Cell Block C. Carol, since her near-death experience, hadn’t gone any deeper into the prison. That left Axel, who the blonde couldn’t seem to get rid of. The former prisoner had come into her cell, watching her in a way that made her skin crawl.

“How old are you,” the unwanted guest asked.

“Seventeen,” the blonde replied, wishing he would go away.

“That’s very interesting,” the older man mused, irritating the young woman further.

“You are very good with her,” he observed, watching as she tickled the baby’s stomach.

“I’m not just good with babies,” the blonde said in her coldest voice, turning and lifting Judith in a way that hiked her shirt up, reveling the gun on her hip.

“Ah,” Axel said, his eyes flicking down at the weapon, “maybe I should go and check on Carol. Maybe she needs some help.”

“That would be best,” the young woman agreed, staring at him, trying to make her small frame appear threatening.

It must have worked, because soon, Axel was making his way out of her cell. Beth breathed a sigh of relief. She didn’t know if she could have actually done anything if he refused to leave. Sure, she had a few lessons on shooting, she had learned to kill walkers recently, but a human was different. On top of that she had Judith, how was she supposed to protect herself while also keeping a baby safe? The blonde was just glad that her bluff had worked, not that it was entirely a bluff. She would have at least tried to follow through.

That is when strange voices reached her ears and the sound of a gate locking.

“Hey, kid,” came a female voice, “open this gate, let us out of here!”

“I can’t do that,” came Carl’s voice.

“Back away Sasha,” came a deep male voice, “this is safer than anywhere we have been for the past few months. Their place, their rules.”

The blonde put Judith down on a makeshift crib in a box, which she had written ‘Ass-kicker’ on with a sharpie, and went out to check on Carl’s situation. Turns out, he had found a group running from walkers and had led them back, locking them in one of the cells. It was a group of five, two siblings, then a dad and his wife and son. The wife, had already been bit and had to be put down.

Soon, Hershel, Carol, and Axel had heard the commotion and made their way over. The son needed medical attention and since none of them saw the strangers as an immediate threat, it was decided that her father would go in to help him. Pretty soon, everyone was on talking terms. They insisted the strangers stay in the cell, but they went in to chat with them. The blonde could hear Judith crying, so she went to get the baby. It was around feeding time and the main water source was in the cell with the newcomers. She grabbed a bottle and made her way back.

All the heads in the room turned towards her when she entered with Judith.

“I never thought I would see another baby again,” breathed Sasha, staring in disbelief.

“Wow,” breathed Tyreese, the brother, “this is amazing.”

The blonde filled up the bottle and shook it, before letting the little girl feed.

“This is Judith,” she introduced, smiling down at the amazing creation in her hands.

“Are you feeling okay,” asked Sasha, suddenly concerned.

It took a moment for Beth to understand what the woman was asking.

“Oh, no I’m not the mother,” she said quickly, embarrassed by the idea.

“Where is she,” Tyreese asked.

The silence said it all.

“Can we come out now,” asked the son in the group, “I promise, we aren’t a threat.”

“That isn’t up to us,” said Hershel, “there are others in our group. Our leader will decide when he gets back.”

“Where are they,” asked the girl, around Beth’s age.

“Had to go on a run,” the blonde lied, not wanting to give everything away.

The appearance of strangers had made her mind forget her unease, but now it came back with full force. It had been roughly and hour or two since Carl had brought the strangers back, where was Rick and the others?

Daryl’s POV

The redneck gasped for air as the material was pulled off his head. The scene before him kind of made him wish that it had never come off though. The whole town of Woodbury was gathered around him. Fires burned, giving the whole atmosphere an even creepier quality. Merle stood there, across the empty circle, staring at him with a look of horror. His brother looked older, his missing hand had an attachment with a knife on it, making him look more intimidating than normal.

“Ya said you would let Daryl go,” Merle argued with a man with a patch over his eye.

“No,” the man disagreed, “I said I would reunite y’all, and here you go, your brother.”

Then, the man with the eyepatch, whom Daryl could only assume was the Governor strode out and began working the crowd. He accused Merle of plotting the attack on the town, called Daryl a terrorist. Soon, the crowd was in a frenzy. His brother was restrained by several men and the knife attachment on his arm removed.

“Kill them,” they chanted, booing and stomping.

It was like one of Daryl’s nightmares coming true. He knew how people used to see him and his family, what they thought of someone who was a Dixon. Now though, he literally was about to be mobbed by people with fire and pitchforks. He had been so sure his brother would get him out, had trusted him, but now it was obvious Merle was in just as much danger as he was.

“Merle,” continued the ringleader, “if you care about this place, this town, as much as you say you do, prove it! You against your brother! Only one lives!”

His brother swaggered over, only Daryl could tell he was nervous. His normal shit-eating grin stayed plastered on his face.

“Y’all know me,” Merle worked the crowd, “knew what I would do for y’all. Let me prove it.”

His brother spun around and punched Daryl in the stomach. It hurt, but the archer knew his brother well enough to know that the punch wasn’t nearly as hard as it could have been. A well-placed kick got him in the gut, causing him to taste his own blood. Daryl got up and shoved his brother, glaring at him all the while. Of course only Merle would have a plan that involved beating the shit out of his younger brother.

“Just play along,” Merle whispered, lunging at him.

Daryl jumped out of the way, not seeing how getting beaten up would help them escape. Right then, smoke went off and gunfire began.  The hunter knew without a doubt it was Rick. The leader hadn’t abandoned his sorry ass, whose brother had caused this whole problem, he had come back for Daryl. The archer wasn’t used to people actually caring about him but he wasn’t about to question it now.

“Come on,” he yelled at Merle, as he ran towards the gunfire.

Daryl could hear his brother’s footsteps right behind him. Finally, he could make out Rick’s face as he dove behind the stacks of wood the group was using as cover.

“This way,” yelled Merle, who kept running.

The rest of them stood up and started sprinting, bullets landing on their heels. They reached a part in the wall, where Merle was kicking one of the loose tin sheets out.

“He ain’t coming with us,” argued Maggie, glaring at Daryl as if he could ever tell his brother anything.

“Gonna do this right now,” shouted Merle over the gunfire, as he managed to kick the sheet out and slip through.

There was nothing else to be done, the group followed suit. They had to kill a few walkers, but soon they were running through the woods, towards the vehicles they had taken to get here. Just as they got close to the van, Glenn came running to see Maggie.

“Hold on Glenn,” called Rick, trying to run interference, “we got a problem here.”

“What is he doing here,” yelled the Asian man, pulling his gun and pointing it at Merle.

Before another word was said, Maggie and the samurai chick, who had reappeared, also had their weapons out and were pointing them at his brother.

“He tried to kill me,” snarled the black woman, who usually didn’t say a word.

Merle was an ass, but he was all Daryl ever had growing up and he wasn’t about to lose him now. The archer shoved his way in front of his brother.

“He helped us get out of there,” argued Daryl, trying to stand up for his brother.

“Get that out of my face,” he snarled at Glenn, before whipping around and glaring at Maggie.

These people had come back for him, but who was to say that the moment they really got to know him, the moment they didn’t need someone to hunt anymore, that they wouldn’t kick him out? Daryl wanted to believe they were good people, hell he even liked being around them. All his life he had been taught him differently though, that it was only him and Merle, even if Merle usually brought more pain than pleasure into his life.

“Haha, looks like you’ve gone native brother,” Merle chuckled behind him, never the one to know when to keep his mouth shut.

“Shut up, you fucking idiot,” yelled Daryl, who was still mad at his brother, “no better than you hanging out with that physco back there!”

“Man, he is a charmer,” Merle said with a smirk, that never led to any good, “been gettin it on with Andrea. Big time baby, unnnhhh.”

As his brother made more lewd gestures and remarks, Daryl couldn’t help but grimace. It was almost like he had forgotten how bad his brother was during their time apart. It didn’t matter though how bad Merle was, how big of a mess he had gotten Daryl into, how bad he wanted to beat sense into him, Daryl just couldn’t let anyone hurt his brother. Merle was all Daryl had for most of his life, the only person until recently who had picked him up even if it was to kick him back down shortly after.

“Snug as a bug,” laughed Merle, just digging his hole deeper, “what you gonna do Sheriff? Hunh?”

“Shut up,” yelled Rick, and Daryl almost felt like taking the man’s side, but old habits die hard and it was so familiar to stand beside Merle and defend him.

“Pathetic,” cracked Merle, “all these guns and no bullets in me. Y’all all talk and no action.”

“Shut up Merle,” Daryl snarled, annoyed that his brother was just making this harder.

He had missed Merle so much, wondered what had happened to him. The hunter needed his brother by his side, but at this rate, convincing Rick and the others of that was a far shot. The way Merle was running his mouth, it was like he wanted to cause more problems.

“Shut up yourself,” screamed his brother, not used to his sibling ever talking back to him, “bunch of pussies, I ought to…..”

His brother never got any farther, Rick hit him over the head with the butt of his pistol. Everyone stared at Merle’s unconscious body on the ground. He looked over at the leader and winced at the look of disappointment in Rick’s eyes.

“It won’t work,” the former sheriff told him, almost sounding sad breaking the bad news to him.

Beth’s POV

Beth watched with glee as she saw the familiar vehicles approaching. She made her way down the steps, Judith in her arms. The moment Beth saw Maggie, she ran into her sister’s arms. The girls embraced and fell into a pile. Glenn had to have his wounds looked at, along with the woman, Michonne. Hershel came out to tend to their injuries. That is when Beth noticed something wasn’t right.

“Where is Daryl,” Beth asked, looking at her older sister.

The look on Maggie’s face said it all.

“No, he didn’t,” Beth breathed, “something happened to him….”

“No,” Maggie said firmly, “he is still alive. Thing was, his brother was at Woodbury, his brother is the one who took me and Glenn and tortured us. Daryl wanted his brother to come back with us to the prison, but we wouldn’t let him come. Daryl decided to stay with his brother.”

“He stayed,” Beth repeated in disbelief, feeling hurt.

“Daryl isn’t as bad as I thought,” the brunette said, “he came and helped rescue us. His brother is a piece of crap, but Daryl is obviously loyal to those he cares about. I know I talked crap about him to you and didn’t trust him at first, but I even asked him to come back with us. He didn’t though.”

“That’s okay,” the blonde breathed, trying to take it in, “he will come back, I know he will, I saw it.”
              Beth was in truth trying to convince herself, she already knew her visions could change, how much she didn’t know. Maggie’s face changed from sorrow to horror in a fraction of a second.

“Don’t say that Beth,” she hissed, covering her sister’s mouth and glancing over at Michonne, “don’t ever say anything about what you saw ever again. It isn’t safe. You can’t let anyone ever know you used the prospect device, do you understand!”

“Why Maggie,” Beth asked, as soon as her sister let her speak again a safe distance away from the others.

“The governor,” the brunette repeated, “I don’t know how but he knows who has used the prospect device, he is searching for them. You can’t let anyone know Beth.”

“I won’t,” the blonde promised her sister.

“Does anyone other than me and daddy know,” her sister questioned urgently.

“Well,” she began, “um, Daryl, kinda knows.”

“Shit,” Maggie cussed, “which means Merle will probably know soon too. While I trust Daryl now, I can’t say the same for his brother.”

Daryl’s POV

Daryl groaned as he trekked through the woods with his brother. Rick had made it very clear that Merle would not be going with the group to the prison. The leader’s decision made it feel like Daryl had been betrayed. The archer knew Merle wasn’t no goddamn saint, but he was all Daryl had until about a year ago. He had expected Rick to understand that, but he didn’t, no one ever did. It always came down to him and Merle.

Daryl remembers when he was younger, he had made some friends at school. He had been so happy, playing with the other boys at recess. Until somehow they found out about his father and family life. They turned their backs on him, teased him, and all he had left was Merle. His older brother had laughed and called him an idiot for thinking they would ever accept him. All he ever had was Merle.

For the first time though, people seemed to actually care that he was leaving. Rick, Glenn, even Maggie had all but begged him to stay. Rick had called him a part of their family. It sounded like the best dream he had ever had, which is why he had known it was too good to be true. He had wanted to stay, be around people that seemed to actually think he was better than some high-school dropout redneck, but he had learned his lesson many times before. When Rick got over losing his wife, when the group didn’t need food anymore, they wouldn’t need him. It was easier when in doubt to just do what has always worked, and what he has always done is follow Merle.

However, what used to be so easy was suddenly different. Every word coming out of Merle’s mouth annoyed Daryl, he used to never think twice about it. When he got swarmed by walkers and Merle just stood there laughing, the archer couldn’t help but think about how Rick would have helped him as he managed to get out of the situation by himself.

Then, Merle told him to shoot them something for dinner. Never before had it occurred to the hunter that he was doing all the work while Merle was just running his mouth and taking a piss. At one point he tried to convince his brother that if they headed to the prison, they would have no choice but to take them both in.

“They’re all dead,” Merle laughed, “makes no difference.”

His brother’s words were like a knife in Daryl’s stomach. He had always felt like it was his duty to stand by Merle, but right now he felt like it was just as much his duty to be over there, protecting people, his people. He remembers telling Beth that if something went wrong, he would come for her. If he just goes off with Merle, he will have lied. Something about the thought of lying to the innocent young woman twists his gut.

“How can you be so sure,” he asks.

“It’s the fucking Governor,” Merle tells him, “probably getting ready for a housewarming party. Gonna bury all your fucking pals.”

The idea of Beth’s dead body runs through his mind, and little Ass-kicker, he can’t just leave them. He can’t leave Merle either.

“Besides,” the older brother continues, “even without the shit y’all unleashed on the place, he was coming anyway. Looking for that other Greene girl, not the brunette one unfortunately.”

“What,” Daryl askes, spinning around.

“Oh, you know who I’m talking about,” Merle asks, eyes raising, “that is what the Governor said. He said to find someone named Bethany Greene and bring her to him, alive. Spent the whole last few months searching for her and a couple other people. So far no luck. Do you know her little brother?”

“What the fuck he want her for,” Daryl rasped, feeling desperate at the thought of Beth at the prison, unaware of the danger she was in.

“Ya know that stupid device the rich kids get to use,” Merle began, “tells them the future and such shit. He got the lists of everyone in the area who has taken it. It’s kinda hard though, most of them are dead. The Governor, he is trying to round them up so he can find a cure, he is an outstanding guy that way. When he learned Maggie’s last name, he knew the other bitch couldn’t be far away.”

“Ya know,” his brother continued, his eyes twinkling with an evil gleam, “I would be willing to bet my left ball sack that if we brought this woman to the Governor he would forgive us, both of us. He would welcome us back with open arms, you just got to lead me to her. It is that simple little brother. You know where they are staying, who she is, all of our problems could be solved.”

When Daryl pictured leading Merle to Beth he wanted to puke, his stomach churned and boiled. His older brother had always taught him growing up to only look out for themselves, not to care about the consequences that fell on anyone else. However handing over someone so sweet and pure just to save him and his brother’s sorry hide just wasn’t who he was anymore. He could almost hear her soft singing in his ears, see the bright smile on her face just below those big blue eyes. His hands tightened on his bow. The last thing he was going to allow was for the bubbly blonde to fall into the hands of the Governor.

“Can’t do that,” Daryl told Merle, already feeling a sense of unease clench in his gut at the idea of saying no to his brother.

“It will be easy brother,” continued his sibling, his voice as slick as a newly greased joint, “we can head back to the prison, keep an eye on the place, nab her the moment she is alone. Then you and me will be living like kings!”

“I said no,” barked Daryl, getting defensive.

“What did you say to me,” asked Merle, his complacent demeanor quickly dropping away.

“You heard me,” the archer said, although not as loud as before, glaring into his brother’s eyes.

“I know you didn’t just say no to me Darylina,” began Merle, “is this cuz of your sheriff pal Rick? Hunh? He got you on the path of righteousness? Hunh? Fuckin turned my brother into a pussy is what he did! We were planning on robbing the camp blind before, but obviously with me gone you didn’t have the balls to do it! ”

“Shut up, you don’t know nothin,” shouted Daryl, feeling the need to defend his new family against his old family.

However the older man’s words struck a cord. It was hard to believe he was even the same person who had followed Merle’s every word just a year ago. He could feel shame at the thought of Rick and the others knowing what he and Merle had intended to do.

“You are the one who don’t know nothin brother,” yelled Merle, “what kind of shit are you on? You think they care about you? You think they see more in either of us than a couple of low-life rednecks? They DON’T! They are fuckin usin you!  Know why? Because you are the sweet one, you want to believe that they want you around. Well let me tell you somethin little brother, ain’t no one want’s us around, ain’t no one going to look out for us but us!”

“That ain’t true,” the archer growled, finally fed up with his sibling.

He made up his mind, he was going back to the prison, with or without Merle.

“Hey, where you think you are going,” shouted Merle, grabbing his shoulder.

“Going back,” he muttered, shaking his brother’s hand off.

“Can’t go back there,” Merle argued, “your pal Rick doesn’t want us there!”

“He doesn’t want you there,” Daryl finally snapped, “ya know why? Because you are a simple-minded piece of shit! That’s why!”

That caused Merle to see red and lunge at him, pushing him to the ground. The knife accessory on his brother’s arm tore right through his thin shirt, putting all his scars on display. All the fight in his brother just disappeared.

“I didn’t know he was,” stammered Merle.

“Yeah, he did,” Daryl said bluntly, quickly throwing on his vest, “he did the same to you. That’s why you left first.”

“I had to man,” Merle’s pleas fell on deaf ears, “I would have killed him otherwise.”

Daryl had heard enough, he picked up his backpack and started walking.

“Where you going,” his brother yelled, a slight vulnerability in his voice.

 “Back to where I belong,” he answers.

For once, Merle starts following him instead of the other way around.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

They were weak without Daryl Dixon. At first, Beth had been pissed at the archer. He had promised her that he would come back for her, for them, in case something happened. She had trusted him. The blonde confided in Daryl about the barn, she believed in him even when her sister thought differently, and maybe she was completely wrong but she felt some sort of connection to him.  Even if for nothing else, Beth thought the rough man would want to come back for the baby, he had really seemed to have taken a shine to her. He was the first one to go look for baby formula, to devise a plan to take care of her, and he would often stop by to check on Beth and the infant. Daryl had come up with the nickname ‘Ass-kicker’ and would sometimes hold the baby girl, staring at her like she was his own. However, now he was gone, choosing the man who had kidnapped and beaten Maggie and Glenn over their little prison family.

Slowly, anger gave way to reason and understanding. If it had been Maggie, Beth would have done the same, she wouldn’t have abandoned her sister to face the apocalypse alone. If Daryl felt the same way she felt about Maggie, there must be some good in Merle. It wasn’t the archer’s job to protect all of them, although he had been fulfilling the role amazingly well. The same way Rick needed time off from being leader after Lori died, Daryl needed time with his brother. Everyone was just going to have to step up and learn to fill the hole he had left until the man came back. He had to come back, Beth wouldn’t let herself believe otherwise. In the meantime, it would take every one of them pitching in to do even a fraction of the work the redneck had done.

On that note, Beth went in search of Carol. She found the older woman and entrusted her with Judith, Carl had finally stepped up in place of his father and given the baby a name, before going outside to kill walkers along the fence. They had been building up and no one had had time to take care of them. Even with Maggie and Glenn back as well as the newcomers, it was hard to get everything done. Someone always had to be on watch, walkers had to be thinned along the fence, runs had to be organized, and Rick’s daughter had to be cared for. Beth had begun doing more. She often cooked breakfast since the baby woke her up early anyway. Until now, Beth’s duties remained behind the safe walls of the prison, which were starting to smoother her. Killing walkers was the one thing Daryl had taught her to do and that she felt like she could handle. It was small, but it was a start.

Every time she drove the knife into one of them, she remembered who had taught her how to kill them properly. Blood splattered out from the brains of one walker and painted her arm in red dots. It was funny how she was starting to get used to it, always being covered in blood or dirt or sweat. The blonde viciously dug her knife into the eye socket of the next walker, as if killing each one made the world a bit more “normal” again. She noticed out of the corner of her eye that Rick was wandering around outside the fence, he seemed to be talking to no one. It made her uncomfortable to know that one leader was gone, one was crazy, and her father could barely get around. Speaking of which, she saw her daddy heading towards her on crutches she had found him. It was the first time he had been out since the accident.

“Hello daddy,” Beth greeted, trying to wipe the blood off her face and hands so she wouldn’t look too terrifying.

“What are you doing out here Beth,” he asked.

“Someone has to take care of these things,” the young woman answered, motioning towards the walkers that had been piling up along the fence.

“It would be safer if you were inside,” her father insisted.

“I can handle it,” Beth said firmly, she was tired of being treated like a delicate doll.

“So can the others,” Hershel argued.

“Who,” Beth demanded, “Rick is wondering around, lost in his head, you can’t fight, Maggie is withdrawn, Glenn is on a rampage! That doesn’t leave a lot of people to cover everything that needs to be done! This is something I can do and I want to do it.”

Just as the blonde was finishing her little rant, a gunshot rang out. Both her and her father dropped to the ground. A vehicle suddenly ran through the gate, throwing the metal chain-link barriers out into the field. The vehicle was an ambulance and when the back opened, walkers poured out. As soon as they were out, the ambulance sped back off. Shots rang out, causing more of the undead to pour out of the woods. The area Beth had just thinned was already building up again.

Her father was trying to get up but having trouble and the undead were getting closer. The blonde jumped to her feet and grabbed the metal stake she had been using to clear the fences. Unfortunately, she almost immediately got the weapon stuck in a decaying body, there was no time to pull it out. Instead, she grabbed the gun Daryl had given her and took aim at the nearest walker. She shot it in the neck due to her hands shaking so badly. The next time it was closer and she managed to get it in the head. The corpse tumbled to the ground as the young woman helped her father up.

She could see one of her group’s trucks headed this way. However, more walkers were descending upon them. Now that Hershel was on his feet, he was also shooting. Between the two of them, they managed to keep the walkers at bay, but soon they were going to run out of ammo. Beth pulled the trigger only to hear a resounding hollow click. She looked around but there was nothing she could use to defend herself. The blonde began to back up as a female walker stumbled towards her.

Just as she was about to scream, an arrow appeared in the walker’s head and it tumbled to the ground. She looked up to see Daryl emerging out of the forest, with an older man who had a blade in place of his right hand. The blonde didn’t have long to think on this new development, Glenn pulled the truck in, hitting the remaining walkers. Beth helped her father in the truck and soon they were speeding towards the inner gate. Carol let them in and shortly after, Rick, Merle, and Daryl came through as well.

That is when things truly became chaos. Maggie and Glenn started screaming, Michonne appeared with her katana drawn. Merle began yelling and crudely cussing. That is when Daryl pointed his crossbow at his own brother and ordered him into a cell, where he has been ever since. However, the man’s vicious and taunting comments could be heard all over Cell Block C. Daryl was more on edge than Beth had ever seen him. His fists constantly clenched, he worked his lower lip, and he paced around the jail like a caged panther.

Everyone argued over what to do. Her daddy wanted to leave, go somewhere new. Glenn insisted that they needed to attack before the governor did. Rick wanted to fortify the prison for when the Governor came back. Merle added not so helpful jabs when he felt like everyone’s emotions weren’t out of control enough.

“It’s all your fault, you started this,” yelled Maggie at Daryl’s brother.

“What does it matter whose fault it is,” Beth cut in, talking for the first time since the meeting began, “what is done is done. We have to figure out what to do now.”

Merle’s eyes turned on her and seemed to spark with a weird recognition.

“My my,” he drawled in a way that wasn’t near as attractive as when Daryl did it, “little spitfire here.”

The blonde drew back, remembering what Maggie had said about Merle possibly knowing her secret.

“Don’t you talk to her,” yelled Maggie at the same time Daryl shouted, “keep your fucking mouth shut!”

“This is over,” said Rick, clearing exasperated with the whole debate that was getting nowhere.

“Get back here,” hollered Hershel, in a way that surprised both his daughters, “get back here and fix it, you said this isn’t a democracy, now it up to you to fix it. We know it has been hard on you but you have got to pull it together!”

“Alright,” Rick said after a pause, surprised by the elder man’s audacity “I’m gonna think about it, we will meet again tonight.”

The blonde hurried up the stairs to go check on Judith. As she went, she noticed Daryl following her, but she didn’t acknowledge him. She honestly didn’t know what to say to him without breaking down and sobbing about how happy she was that he had returned, which would be kind of pathetic. Instead, she curtly entered her room and picked up the child.

“Little Ass-kicker, hunh,” came that familiar husky voice as Daryl looked at the name written on box Judith was kept in.

“Her name is Judith now,” Beth informed him, “Carl named him.”

“He’s my brother,” Daryl suddenly blurted out, as if he had to explain.

“I know,” the blonde said gently, keeping her eyes on Judith, “I would have done the same for Maggie.”

“Ya don’t blame me,” he asked, sounding incredulous.

The young woman looked up to find Daryl staring at her in a way that for possibly the first time ever held no trace of suspicion or hardness,  but something more similar (although nowhere near) the way he had looked at her across that kitchen table in the future.

“You are family Daryl,” Beth said, feeling the words flowing up from her soul in a way they sometimes did when she couldn’t help but reach out and comfort those around her, “we are all a family here and if he is your brother then he is family too. I trust you, we all do, you wouldn’t let anyone in here who would hurt us, right?”

Daryl just inclined his head slightly, but the small action was worth a thousand words. Suddenly, as if the magic ran out, Daryl’s attitude abruptly changed.

“Tomorrow, training, first light,” he commanded, his face serious again, “meet me in the yard in the middle of the prison.”

That being said, the archer turned on his heel and walked out before the blonde could get a single word in. Daryl’s quick changes in attitude gave Beth whiplash. The young woman tried to push the strange interaction aside as she put the baby down for the night.

That conversation was how the blonde found herself in the prison yard at sunrise, fidgeting nervously with the gun on her hip. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but the idea of Daryl training her was a bit intimidating. The young woman wasn’t going to complain, she knew she needed to learn to defend herself, but the hunter was so many levels above her she was sure she would probably embarrass herself.

“Ready,” barked Daryl as he strode out of the prison, his hair still mussed from sleep, not that she was distracted by it.  

“Yes,” Beth said, uncertain of what exactly she was supposed to be ready for.

She had expected something like target practice with her gun or maybe an explanation of where to escape if the prison was attacked. What she didn’t expect was for Daryl to come up and grab her wrist and start dragging her.

“Hey, what are you doing,” she exclaimed, her cheeks reddening at being touched by the usually closed off man.

His whole hand reached easily around her wrist, his rough calluses pressed firmly into her soft skin. It was silly, this was the least romantic thing he could have done but somehow her cheeks were heating up.

“What you think I’m doing,” he snarled, his eyes narrowing fiercely, “I’m kidnapping you! Figure out how to get out!”

Of course she couldn’t have expected Daryl Dixon to give her ‘normal’ training, but he was the best in their group so he had to know what he was doing. Beth dug her feet in but she was no match for Daryl’s strength. He easily dragged her several more yards, her feet slipping over the wet grass. She twisted but the motion burned her wrist and caused his hand to constrict tighter, like a python.

“Come on,” he growled, yanking her a bit harder, “gonna have to do better than that.”

His taunt angered Beth and she kicked out at him, which he easily dodged.

“There we go” he encouraged, “come one, give it all you got.”

She pulled her other hand up and dug her nails into his arm. It must have hurt but the tough man didn’t show any sign of pain. Finally, instead of trying to fight against him, Beth went the same direction Daryl was pulling her in and shoved him. It didn’t do much but he stepped back half a foot and quit pulling her.

“Yeah, like that,” he told her, one corner of his lips turning up so slightly it was almost imperceptible “you ain’t about to out muscle almost anyone, got to with them instead of against. Got to use momentum you already have.”

The blonde made a fist and lashed out towards his face. It frustrated her how easily he avoided her comparatively slow movements.

“Don’t fucking do that unless you want to break your hand,” he snorted as he moved out of the way, “hit somewhere soft and don’t have your thumb tucked in.”

With that in mind, the blonde tried hitting towards his stomach, which he also avoided.

“Yeah,” like that, he encouraged, “hit with your whole body though or it won’t do much good.”

Beth was getting beyond frustrated at this point. She raised her fist and threw it at his head, at the last minute switching him and kicking Daryl in the shin. For once, she managed to connect.

“Fuck,” Daryl groaned, causing Beth to immediately stop struggling.

“I’m so sorry Daryl,” she gasped, already regretting her actions, “I didn’t mean to….”

“What you stop for,” the hunter asked menacingly, “ya still aren’t free.”

With that last word, he jerked her to the side and let her go, causing her to fall on the ground into the grass.

“Gonna have to do better than that next time,” he told her, “and don’t fucking ever apologize, even in practice.”

The blonde was picking herself up as he was walking away.

“Tomorrow, same time and place,” he barked, not even waiting for her response as he picked his crossbow up off the ground and continued on.

The young woman made her way back into the prison and got there just in time to feed Judith breakfast. She bounced the baby in her arms as she walked around prison. Most people had already headed out to work on whatever projects or chores they were assigned for the day. That left her alone with Merle. The blonde didn’t know what caused her to go down the steps and to his cell, but she had always been taught by her daddy to not judge others until she got to know them.

As she approached the man, at first he was too focused on working on reattaching the knife to the metal strap on his arm to notice her. She got a good look at him. He had greying hair and slight stubble on his face. A scar ran along the side of his head. The muscles in his arms made Beth think that they must run in the family. Suddenly, his head snapped up and blue eyes met her. They were a more blue-grey than Daryl’s dark blue orbs, but they held the same if not more ferocity.

“Staring at me like some fuckin zoo animal, hunh,” the older man spat out, “ya like what ya see sugar?”

 The blonde ignored his cussing and rude comments, she had learned from Daryl that sometimes being crude was a way to distance himself from others, Merle obviously did the same thing.

“You are Merle, Daryl’s brother,” she asked simply, curiosity getting the better of her.

“Merle Dixon at your service,” he replied with a smug grin, his tone changing faster than lighting “and let me guess, you are Beth Greene?”

Maybe this was a bad idea, Merle was the governor’s former wingman and since he knew her name, he must know the evil man was searching for her. However, at the same time, it was a little late now to change that so talking to him couldn’t hurt.

“Yes,” she replied, staring at him with what she hoped was fearlessness, “and I don’t appreciate how you treated my sister and Glenn.”

 “What you fucking want sweetheart,” laughed Merle, his eyes holding a challenge, “Dixons don’t do apologizes and shit and I’m not sorry. It wasn’t personal or anything, they are still alive.”

Something about his defensive attitude reminded Beth of how Daryl would bark at people the moment he felt someone was questioning his honor or worth. Right then, Judith whined in her arms, drawing both their attention away. The young woman adjusted the infant and tried to talk to her calmly, but the baby wasn’t having it.

“Have you tried swaddling it,” the older brother asked, his voice trying hard to sound nonchalant.

The blonde glanced up at him with wide eyes, surprised that he had any suggestions on how to care for an infant.

“What,” he grunted, “took care of Daryl when he was just in diapers, learned a thing or two.”

“Thank you,” Beth stuttered, trying to recover, “maybe that will help, she has been so fussy lately.”

“You ain’t the mother are you,” Merle questioned, eyeing her up and down in a calculated way.

“No,” whispered Beth, “her mother died. We all try to watch her now. Daryl has really helped a lot, if it weren’t for him, Judith probably wouldn’t be alive.”

“He was always the soft one,” the older brother commented in a matter-of-a-fact way, shaking his head, “fucking Darylina.”

Beth tried not to laugh out loud at the idea of Daryl being viewed as soft in any way, he was about the furthest thing from it. Right then, footsteps rang out and Beth decided it would probably be best to end the conversation and go find a blanket to try and wrap Judith in. Just as she was turning away, Daryl came through the door, covered in sweat and blood and carrying a deer across his back. The blonde almost stopped dead in her tracks. There was something about the sight of the archer looking so powerful and part of nature that set her stomach tingling and had her throat constricting. The blonde immediately made her eyes go to the floor and began walking back up the stairs.

“Good talking to you sugartits,” shouted Merle after her, which was followed by the sound of deer carcass hitting the stone floor and the older brother’s laughter.

The laughter told Beth, who was used to sibling interactions, that the taunt was more meant to rile up Daryl than her, and it had certainly worked.

“Keep your mouth fuckin shut,” snarled Daryl, “if ya know what is good for you. What the shit is wrong with you?”

The brothers continued bickering at Beth made her way up the stairs. Although Merle and Daryl’s relationship was vastly different from her and Shawn’s relationship, it left her missing her brother.

As it turns out swaddling did help Judith feel more comfortable and the baby cried less. Over the next few weeks, Beth was tutored by Daryl in self-defense and Merle occasionally dropped a hint here or there in how to care for Judith. Sometimes the archer took her out to practice shooting, not very often since they couldn’t afford the bullets. Other days he helped her practice kicking and punching. Some days still started off with him pretending to kidnap her. She was slowly getting better at getting away, but she knew if Daryl really wanted to, she would never be able to get free. One time Beth asked to use his crossbow and he all but gave her a look that told her that she would drop dead before ever touching his precious weapon. After that she didn’t ask again.

If Beth got lucky, every once in a while, Daryl would also teach her something that wasn’t a defensive technique, but was useful nonetheless. Yesterday, the group had been moving supplies from one side of the prison to the other to keep it better protected in case of an attack. After Beth had helped load up Glenn’s silver Chevy with boxes of food and ammunition, Daryl had handed her the keys. The blonde stared at him, waiting for him to realize his mistake. When she didn’t move, he glared over at her.

“What you still standin there for,” he snarled.

“Daryl,” Beth began hesitantly, feeling a bit embarrassed, “I never learned how to drive.”

“Oh,” he grunted, his annoyance disappearing, “well today is as good of a day as any I guess.”

The blonde’s eyes almost popped out of her head.

“You are going to teach me to drive,” she asked, her voice bubbling up and she tried to keep from jumping all around.

“Yeah,” Daryl said as he stood up, “don’t fucking hyper-ventilate girl.”

“Okay,” Beth agreed just as excited as before, her companion’s attitude no longer fazing her much anymore.

She climbed up in the truck and Daryl got in the other side, instructing her how to adjust everything to her height before they got to the driving aspect.

 “Alright,” the archer began from the passenger’s seat, “gas is on the right and break is on the left. Got to move this handle to put it in park, drive, neutral, and reverse. Got that?”

“Mmmhmmm,” Beth said distractedly as she put the truck in drive.

Unsure of herself, she gave the truck gas and then immediately stepped on the break because she wasn’t used to operating anything more than the lawn mower.

“Hey,” came Daryl’s voice beside her as he caught himself from sliding forward, “fucking go easy on the break, will ya?”

“Sorry,” Beth apologized, trying to touch the gas and the break more carefully. Slowly, she drove the truck out to the inner gate. Daryl got out and opened the gate and motioned for her to drive through. The young woman very slowly inched the truck out. The archer closed the gate behind her. When he got back in, she continued on at a snail’s pace, feeling comfortable that she wouldn’t mess up if she went slow enough.

“Push on the gas,” snapped Daryl, “hell girl I’m gonna be an old man before we get there!”

“You are making me nervous,” Beth bit back, stressed by the archer’s criticism.

“Sorry, did I hurt your precious little teenage feelings,” Daryl retorted, not sounding sorry in the least.

“You are such a jerk,” Beth gasped exasperated.

“Least I know how to drive,” he huffed, digging in the glove compartment and ignoring her.

The blonde would have said more, but they had reached the inner gate on the opposite side of the prison.

“Bout time,” he muttered as he jumped out to let her through.

Once they arrived at the building where the group was planning to store their valuable supplies, Beth awkwardly put the truck in park. She then got out to help Daryl unload. The blonde tried not to be distracted by the way Daryl’s arms flexed when he was lifting up a box, but she just couldn’t always keep her eyes from glancing his direction. For some reason he never wore shirts with sleeves and honestly Beth couldn’t say she minded. She didn’t want to get caught staring though.

However, as the day went on that got harder to do. It was like the more dirt and sweat Daryl accumulated, the more attractive he became. The blonde felt self-conscious when she admitted to herself she had a crush on the older man. All of her crushes before had been so different, they were on sweet, young boys, not well-muscled, bad-mouthed men like Daryl. However, despite his rough personality and how much he got under her skin, the redneck had a good heart. He had saved Maggie, he had come back, and now he was teaching her life skills.

“He’s attractive,” Beth told herself, “get over it and get a grip, focus on what you are doing. Not like he would be interested in you anyway so it doesn’t matter.”

The blonde carefully arranged the boxes in the room, organizing by what was in them. Food went in one corner, clothes in another, weapons and ammunition in the third, and Judith’s stuff in the fourth. When Beth had everything just how she wanted it, she came outside to find the hunter sitting on the tailgate, one leg up and one dangling over the side, a cigarette between his lips. Her eyes followed his fingers as they plucked the addiction from his lips and blew smoke out. It wasn’t often she saw Daryl relaxed. The blonde walked over and hopped up beside him. His eyes slide over to her and then quickly looked away.

“Ya do a good job with her,” Daryl suddenly muttered, surprising Beth by talking about something other than training or some task to be done.

“Merle helps, he knows a surprising amount about babies,” the blonde tells him, causing him to wince at his brother’s name.

“Merle don’t know shit about babies,” he cussed, his relaxed attitude gone.

“He must,” insisted Beth, “I mean he said he raised you and you turned out pretty good.”

Daryl raised one eyebrow at her from beneath his long hair, as if questioning her sanity if she thought that ending up like him was considered pretty good.

“Really,” Beth insisted, smiling at him to show her sincerity.

When he didn’t comment, Beth felt herself needing to talk.

“Ya know,” she began, “I was always the baby of the family. Maggie used to complain about always having to watch me or help me. Shawn and I got along better, he was closer in age to me. We were always very close. Sometimes, Maggie and I don’t get along very well, we don’t always see eye to eye, but I love her very much. She was always the more rebellious one, would sneak out of the house, date all sorts of guys, get into trouble, but she is my sister and nothing could ever change how I feel about her. And, despite all the taunts and arguments, I know she will be there for me, cuz that is what siblings do.”

Daryl was staring at her as if she was crazy, he finally grunted and hopped off the tailgate, indicating their conversation was over. Beth sighed. Sometimes she got carried away talking about her feelings, even when she knew the archer didn’t appreciate the touchy-feely subjects. For some reason, she just felt comfortable enough around him to want to open up.

Daryl’s POV

Beth made no sense and complete sense all at the same time. He was fascinated watching the young woman, he just couldn’t understand where all of her light came from in the midst of this dark world. All he knew was that it was his job to help protect it, the same way it was his job to keep Merle in line or to bring back food for the group. He had just kind of taken the responsibility on. She was getting better, learning much quicker than he had anticipated.

Daryl hated dragging Beth around the courtyard at the prison, hated seeing the bruises on her wrist that reminded him of how his ma always had bruises. However, he hated the idea even more of the Governor getting his hands on Beth. This was the best way to teach her how to escape, should she ever have to face the leader of Woodbury alone. Daryl’s muscles tightened on his crossbow at the thought. They were all in danger, but the young blonde was being specifically targeted and it made his fists clench at how the Governor was going after one of the more innocent members of their group.

He leaned up against the wall next to his brother’s cell. The whole group had just been discussing the best course of action to defend the prison. Rick was on his left, Merle on his right (behind bars but still), and everyone else was gathered around Cell Block C. Suddenly, a beautiful voice began singing. Daryl’s eyes were drawn to where Beth sat, her hair glowing where the setting sun rays hit it through the window.

“I plant my seeds in these dirt roads,” she began quietly, slowly increasing the volume, “I see myself in these corn rows.”

Everyone had stopped talking and was watching.

“I learn about love, I learn about pain,” she continued, keeping time with her hand, “talking to God, praying for rain.”

“So I can stand tall in a storm like a live oak tree,” the blonde sang, “no one in this world is ever gonna get the best of me”

That was the moment Daryl realized what he felt toward Beth. Respect. It wasn’t the same respect that he felt towards Rick, a respect based on his ability to lead and be confident in his decisions. It wasn’t the respect he felt towards Carol, for becoming stronger than the man who had beat her down, for doing what his mother never had the chance to do. It was more akin to awe, amazement that she was able to do so easily what Daryl never could, wear her heart on her sleeve and open up to everyone, even when she might get hurt doing so.

This was the fuckin apocalypse and she still sang and decorated her room and grew close to everyone in their little prison family. The same way Daryl could never fit in with the way the world used to be, Beth couldn’t seem to do anything but stay untouched by the horrors they faced every day. For so long Daryl learned that the only way to protect yourself was to shut yourself off, not let anyone close, but this young woman showed him differently. It amazed him.

“Running down a dream like I’m chasing the rain,” came the blonde’s pretty voice, “finding who I am a little more every day.”

“Yeah I’m just a girl,” sang Beth, “talking to God, praying for rain.”

When she finally stopped, only then was the spell broken. Daryl finally tore his eyes away, only to see Merle staring at him with a look of realization that immediately caused a pit to settle in the archer’s stomach. With a huff, the hunter stood up and walked off towards his room, refusing to look at his brother again.

“Well well,” chuckled Merle quietly to himself after everyone was gone, “and here I was thinking he was gonna turn out fuckin queer as shit.”

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

Daryl watched Rick come out of the room he had been negotiating with the Governor in. From the crease in the leader’s brows and the hardness in his eyes, it looked like things had not been settled. Not that the archer had really expected them to be, that would have been too easy.

“Need an answer by noon tomorrow,” yelled the Woodbury dictator, before getting into a vehicle with his men and driving off.

Rick didn’t say a word, he just got into the car with Hershel close behind. Daryl followed them on his motorcycle, enjoying the breeze and the road flashing by under his feet. It was moments like this that he could almost forget the world had gone to shit and that they were on the brink of war with a psycho. It didn’t bother him as much as it bothered the others, he was used to life being crap. The only difference was that for the first time ever, he was worried for someone other than himself. He worried about his brother, Rick, Beth, and all the others in the prison. His thoughts seemed to linger on a certain blonde more than the others in their community, but he told himself that it was only because she needed to be protected more than Merle or Rick. The two men could hold their own when the Governor came knocking on their gates. Beth was learning, surprisingly fast, but still there was so much she didn’t know and the innocent girl was being specifically targeted.

Once they were safe within the prison walls, Rick called a meeting. As everyone gathered around, Daryl noticed his brother was the last to appear. The glares the older brother received from Maggie and Glenn when he did finally join the group told the hunter that something had gone on. Daryl wanted to groan, the last thing he wanted to do after a long day was more damage control on his brother.

“We are going to war,” announced Rick, drawing everyone’s attention and suddenly causing the prison to be so quiet you could hear a walker moan from a couple cell blocks over.

“There is no reasoning with him,” their leader continued, “he is coming to wipe us all out and we have to start preparing.”

Daryl’s eyes narrowed in confusion. Sure, it had apparently been more of Andrea’s idea than the Governor’s, but still the man had traveled out of the safety of Woodbury to talk to Rick for almost an hour, he had to have wanted something. For some reason, Rick was leaving out what was said, which meant it was even worse than Daryl had originally thought.

“There will be no running,” Rick finished, “it is too late for that now. Our only option is to fortify the prison and be ready when he comes, because he will be coming for us.”

On that note, the former sheriff exited the cell block, leaving everyone to let the words sink in.

“Ohhh ho,” laughed Merle wickedly, “big surprise, what did I tell y’all, we should have run when we could.”

“If it weren’t for you,” Glenn began, “we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

“Want to come over here and say that to my face China man,” snapped the older brother, his one hand clenching and the other raising up the knife attachment as a grin spread across his face.

Just as Daryl was about to step in, suddenly a pale hand was on Merle’s disabled arm, lowering it down.

“That is enough Merle,” Beth said in a quiet but firm way, “we don’t need a repeat of this morning. Can you come help me inventory the weapons room? Rick asked me to, but I don’t always know the difference between the various types of ammo and guns.”

Daryl thought he could hear slight cussing under his brother’s breathe, but watched in surprise as the petite blonde succeeded in coaxing him out of the room.

“What happened this morning,” he questioned, looking over at Glenn and Maggie for answers.

He couldn’t leave his brother alone for one day without him getting into trouble.

“Glenn and Merle got into an argument which led to a fight so Maggie put Merle in a headlock,” Carl answered excitedly, like this was the most exciting part of his whole day, “I thought they were all gonna kill each other when Beth came in and fired a gun yelling at them to stop!”

Daryl wasn’t sure if he was more proud or concerned that Beth had the guts to jump in between his brother and Maggie. Although his head was telling him he probably needed to teach her a little more caution when picking her battles, he found himself smirking just the slightest at the thought of her demanding that her sister release Merle.

“Daryl,” called Rick, “Hershel too.”

The two men followed their leader outside to a lookout point. The archer knew he was about to hear what had really gone on during Rick’s talk with the Governor. The three men stood in silence for a moment, looking out at the fence spotted with moaning walkers.

“He wants Beth,” the former sheriff started.

Daryl tensed when he heard the blonde’s name, a pit settled in his stomach. He had known the Governor was looking for her, but had hoped he didn’t actually know she was at the prison yet.

“Absolutely not,” shouted Hershel, “what in the world does he want Beth for? How does he even know her?”

Absolute terror shone in the father’s eyes as he looked to Rick for answers, but Rick could give him none.

“Cuz she knows the future,” Daryl finally spat out, causing both men to turn towards him.

“You know about this Daryl,” Rick asked.

“Yeah,” he admitted, feeling guilty about not sharing this information sooner, “Randall had a list, Beth was on it. It was of people who used that fancy crystal ball thing to see into the future. Now Merle said the Governor is looking for her because he has a list too and she is on it.”

“Oh no,” moaned Hershel, turning pale, “not my baby! My Bethany!”

“Don’t worry Hershel,” reassured Rick, “we aren’t going to let him have her. That is why there is no other choice than to fight. I didn’t even bother mentioning his offer to the rest of the group, none of us would let the Governor have Beth.”

“We are the only ones that know right,” asked Hershel, his concern abating.

“Yes…,” began Rick but he stopped, “and Merle……..speaking of which, where is your brother Daryl?”

Daryl saw his brother in his mind, how easily he had been talked into going off with Beth alone. The way he had followed the blonde off to some deserted section of the prison. Surely he hadn’t, he wouldn’t, not even Merle would.

The archer turned on his feet and was running back into the prison.

Beth’s POV

The blonde neatly wrote a 43 on the paper next to 9mm ammunition. When she used to practice her loopy, elegant handwriting in class out of boredom, she had never really imagined that someday she would use it to keep track of bullets.

“These aren’t the same,” Merle stated, picking up one of the bullets off the table.

“But they all say 9mm,” Beth exclaimed, staring in shock, she had thought she was finally starting to get it down.

“They are 9mm,” Merle explained, “some of these though are jacketed hollow point, others are a full metal jacket. You use the different types depending on your target and what you want to do to it. Use a jacketed hollow point if you are worried about shooting through your target and hitting something, use a full metal jacket if you want the bullet to penetrate deeper into your target.”

“Oh, thanks,” Beth said, trying to absorb the unexpected lesson.

“Look closer,” Merle instructed, “the ones that are hollow point are flatter on the end and have little nicks, causing the metal to expand when it hits the target and have a larger impact.”

The blonde squinted as she leaned her head down towards the table, trying to distinguish the difference. Suddenly, a hand came up behind her head, slamming it into the table and causing her vision to blur before losing consciousness.

Daryl’s POV

The archer skidded into the ammo room, only to find it empty and bullets scattered around on the floor. The clipboard Beth used to record their inventory was underneath a chair, the blonde nowhere to be seen. Until Daryl had run into the room, he hadn’t really believed Merle could do this, even after all he had heard about what his brother had done to Maggie and Glenn.

Rick entered soon after and quickly surveyed the scene.

“This is on you,” he turned on Daryl, “you led him here after I told you it couldn’t work! You said you would take responsibility for him, look at what he has done! What am I gonna tell Hershel? And Maggie? Hunh?”

“I’m gonna go get them both back,” the archer argued, “they couldn’t have gotten far.”

“No,” countered Rick, “you have done enough! I’m gonna go look for them!”

“You don’t have any tracking skills,” reasoned Daryl, trying to be logical despite the anxiety that was twisting knots in his stomach, “besides, if anyone can talk Merle out of something, it’s me. It needs to be me who goes. You stay here in case the Governor comes back, they are gonna need you.”

Rick looked torn but finally gave in.

“You bring her back,” he told Daryl, anger seething under his whispered voice “you bring Beth back to her family, don’t make me tell Hershel that he has lost a daughter. Don’t make me tell Maggie that her sister is being held by that man.”

“I won’t,” Daryl told him as firmly as he could, looking his friend in the eyes, “I won’t come back without her.”

Then, he shouldered his crossbow and walked out the cellblock.

Beth’s POV

The blonde woke up to a hand shaking her arm. She gasped and sat up, a pain in her head causing her to groan and close her eyes. When she finally opened her eyes, she found that her hands were bound with a wire and Merle was standing over her with a gun in his good hand. They were a short ways outside the fence at the back of the prison. She had heard that was how the newcomers, Tyrese and Sasha, had gotten in, through the torn fence and over the broken walls. This was the first time she had actually seen the area though.

“Hell, you are heavy for such a small thing,” the older brother told her as he flexed his shoulders and raised the gun to point at her head, “good thing you are awake now because I wasn’t planning on carrying you any further.”

“What are you doing Merle,” Beth asked as her eyes searched for anything that she could use to her advantage but it was mostly just grass and little sticks.

“Making a delivery for the Governor sweetheart,” he explained as if it were obvious, “now get your ass off the ground and start walking.”

He motioned with the gun to walk away from the prison. Beth didn’t move an inch.

“Girl, I don’t know what high horse you are on,” Merle began, his lips twisting into a sneer, “but if you somehow think I can’t make you walk you are very, very wrong.”

Finally, the blonde spotted what she needed, a small broken piece of brick on the ground. She put her hands over it, pretending to be stabilizing herself as she got up off the grass. As soon as she did, she swung at Merle with the brick in her hand. Unfortunately, her recent head injury caused her to become light-headed as she stood up and her swing missed by a good foot. The older man laughed and easily hit the inside of her arm, causing her to drop the brick in pain.

“Nice try sugar,” he told her, almost sounding a bit impressed that she was even trying, “now get moving.”

Beth stumbled forward, still a bit dizzy. She felt the end of a gun on her back and wanted to sob but held it in.

“Why,” she asked again, feeling like it was important to know.

“Because the others are too soft,” Merle sneered, “can’t do what needs to be done, Governor will call a truce if we just hand you over, of course, they don’t want to do that.”

“So you are doing it for Daryl,” Beth concluded, since that seemed to be one of Merle’s main motivations in life.

“Ain’t doin it for Darylina,” spat the older man, “in case you haven’t noticed, he has left me behind in the dust. He is all tight with Rick now. Hell, if the sheriff tells him to jump, he would say how high?”

“It’s not like that you know,” Beth told Merle as they hiked, “just because he has new family, that doesn’t mean he forgets old family. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, we can all be family now. We can go back.”

“Ha,” chuckled Merle as he finally began walking beside her, “in case you ain’t noticed blondie, I ain’t exactly accepted, I’m pretty sure that fiery sister of yours would sooner put by head on a stick than call me family.”

A walker stumbled out of the brush, causing a pause to their conversation. Merle easily dispatched it before returning to her side. With an impatient hand gesture, he conveyed he wanted her to start walking again. Something about his manner told Beth that he wanted this to be over with, that he wasn’t as cold-hearted as he tried to appear.

“Daryl wasn’t accepted at first either,” the young woman informed Merle, “at first, he fought with Rick, he slept in a tent far away from the rest of us at night, he was very rude to me, but that changed. People can change.”

“Pfft,” snorted her capturer, “don’t need no ‘people can change’ bullshit! This ain’t a fuckin therapy session, less yakkin, more walkin!”

They walked for a while in silence, but Beth couldn’t leave the subject alone. The blonde had begun to trust Merle since Daryl brought him back. It was irrational, after everything he had done and was still doing, but for some reason the way he looked at Judith or talked about his brother made Beth think differently.

“It’s for Daryl,” Beth guessed, “isn’t it? That is why you are doing this? To keep him safe. You said you raised him as a kid, you are always looking out for him, in your own way.”

“What did I tell you about talking girl,” barked Merle, letting Beth know she had hit a nerve.

“Just for the record,” Beth said quietly, but glaring up at the older Dixon, “Daryl wouldn’t want you to do this. Did you tell him your plan?”

The older man’s silence was answer enough.

“You did a good job raising him,” Beth blurted out, “he is strong and capable and cares about every one of us. He is one of the best people I know! There is no way you could have raised him like that if you didn’t have some good in you! So quit acting like you don’t give a shit!”

“Don’t give a shit,” snarled Merle, making Beth feel like maybe she had stepped a little too far, “think I don’t give a shit?! I’m doing my fuckin best to protect Daryl, to stop the whole group from getting masquerade in a war they can’t win! All I got to do is hand you over! You are gonna be treated like fuckin royalty at Woodbury, the girl that will help find the cure! You won’t have to care for a baby hours on end, you will get fed a full three meals a day, and hell you can have an actual bed instead of some shitty cell cot!”

“I love Judith and that cell is my bedroom,” gasped Beth, “it is my home, I don’t care how much I have to work or how often I am able to eat. I don’t want to go live with a man who hurt Glenn and Maggie and be surrounded by strangers. You obviously didn’t either because you gave all that up too, for Daryl!”

“I didn’t give it up, the Governor turned on me! Ya got yer fuckin priorities messed up blondie,” hissed Merle “if you stay here, you will likely die with the rest of them. The Governor has agreed to quit fighting your little family if you are handed over. Hell, even your bitchy-ass sister could be saved! I don’t know if it will work or not, but it is worth a shot. Whoever at that prison cares about you at all, they will be happy to know you are well protected and fed behind strong walls instead of barely scraping by and being on the verge of death every single day in the middle of a god-damn war! It is a win-win situation sweetheart.”

“Not for me it isn’t,” Beth said firmly, staring up at the older Dixon with as much authority as she could muster.

After a moment, Merle took hold of the end of the wire tying her arms together and gave it a tug, pulling her forward.

“Ain’t your choice,” he stated firmly, before dragging her along with him, taking her closer to the Governor.

Daryl’s POV

It took longer than he wanted to find the footsteps leading away from the back of the prison. At first there was just one pair, then a body Beth’s size was laid on the ground, before getting up and then there were two pairs of footprints. The archer’s hands squeezed is crossbow, wishing he could move faster. He couldn’t let the Governor have Beth, it was his fault Merle had her!

“What the fuck are you thinkin Merle,” Daryl cussed as he came across a dead walker, stabbed by what looked like Merle’s hand accessory.

He had just got his brother back, finally had a friend in Rick and people who accepted him, now in a moment it was all falling apart. Knowing Merle, he had somehow twisted around the idea of handing over Beth into something logical, even honorable. His older brother had a way with words, a way of seeing a means to an end and carrying it out. It wasn’t always right, but it is what had helped them survive as kids in the house of an alcoholic, abusive father, so Daryl understood.

Two sides of him were warring with himself. One was the side that would always be loyal to Merle, who understood why his brother did the things he did because Daryl had once been the same way, even if he hoped he wasn’t anymore. This was the side that said Merle was his blood, his family. The other side, a newer side, wanted to shoot Merle in the ass with his crossbow for touching Beth, someone who was not blood, but had opened her arms and accepted him as part of her broken family.

Suddenly, a car alarm pierced the silence of the forest, causing everything to go silent except the heightened moans of every walker within a ten mile radius.

“Fuck,” Daryl cursed, shouldering his crossbow and heading toward the sound.

Beth’s POV

“Merle,” Beth screamed, as she tugged the wire that Merle had used to tie her to the porch post. A walker came stumbling closer as the older Dixon remained in the car trying to turn off the alarm of the vehicle he had successfully wired. He couldn’t seem to hear her over the noise, a blaring sound that was drawing the undead out of the forest. The corpse stumbled closer to Beth and she had no choice but to fight it, tied up and weaponless as she was. Remembering what Daryl had taught her, she quit backing up and instead lunged at the walker, kicking at its knee and easily knocking the monster off its feet. She raised up her foot and brought it down on the walker’s head again and again, becoming nauseous when the skull finally gave way and brain’s scattered her sneakers. Already, another was making its way out of the house, its teeth gnashing and bony arms reaching out toward her.

“Merle,” Beth cried as loud as she could between the sobs in her throat and her stomach heaving. It was no use. This time, even Daryl’s lessons couldn’t hold her in place, she began running around the post, trying to get away, only to somehow entangle the walker’s throat in the wire. When she realized this, a sense of elation grew in Beth’s chest. She tugged as hard as she could on her restraints, causing the walker to be pulled back against the post, unable to move as long as she kept a tight pressure. Just as her arms were about to give out, suddenly there was a thunk and walker went still before falling to the ground.

Merle appeared from behind the post and Beth had never been so happy to see him. Quickly, he untied her from the post and they jumped in the car and sped off. The blonde was still breathing heavily, when her companion finally spoke.

“You kept your head back there girl,” Merle told her, “did better than I thought you would do.”

“Well,” Beth admitted, “your brother gave me some lessons, that probably helped.”

“Darylina gave you lessons,” Merle asked incredulously, raising an eyebrow, “looks like it ain’t only Rick that has my brother wrapped around his finger, although your finger is much prettier.”

“It ain’t like that,” Beth said, blushing at the thought.

“He was always the sweet one,” Merle said in a voice that almost sounded proud, before his tone changed and he stared at Beth with a piercing gaze she thought only Daryl possessed “but he ain’t that sweet….not for nothin.”

Before the young woman could find words to argue with, they had pulled to a stop. Several meters away were several jeeps with heavily armed men. The Governor toward over them all from where he stood handing half out of his vehicle.

“Well well Merle,” the Governor said as they got out, “looks like you really are my right-hand man, minus the right hand of course. I can always depend on you to get a job done, maybe you will consider rejoining Woodbury.”

“What a generous offer,” said Merle Dixon, his voice as slippery as a snake’s, “however, I just want you to call a truce. I have what you want, so leave the prison alone and we can both walk away happy.”

“Okay,” the Governor agreed, “I won’t destroy the prison and you can run on back to your brother and that samuri bitch. First, I’m gonna need you to do something though.”

“Name it,” Merle answered with a confidence that impressed Beth, just watching how he handle dangerous situations with almost a carefree manner wasn’t something anyone could do.

“Shoot her,” Philip told Merle, pointing towards Beth.

For just a moment, Merle’s poker face slipped, only to quickly be replaced again by one of relaxed cockiness.

“Well now, Governor,” Merle said in a respectful tone, “what would you want me to shoot her for? Went through all of this trouble bringing blondie to you, thought you needed what was in her pretty little head to help find a cure, to end this?”

“End this,” the Governor laughed, “I don’t want to end this! Why would I give this up? Before the apocalypse, I was nothing! Now look at me! I’m the Governor of Woodbury! So what is it gonna be Merle? It isn’t like I’m gonna let her walk away alive anyhow.”

“Well, one bitch ain’t worth a whole community,” Merle agreed readily, but his whole body was tense, “if this is what it takes, you know I’m the man to get the job done.”

Beth quivered in fear as she stared up at the eyes of the man who wanted her dead. Merle yanked on her cord, repositioning her closer to the Governor and at the same time closer to a building.

“When I say the word, you roll towards that building and you run, you understand me girl,” Merle hissed in her ear so low that none of the other men could hear it.

With expert skill, he undid the wire wrapped around her hands and roughly pulled Beth to her knees. The blonde’s head was running. What was the word? What was Merle going to do? It seemed like time froze as Beth kneeled on the ground, looking up at the men of Woodbury. The blonde looked at the Governor, saw the hatred in his eyes, how much he wanted her dead. Everything was so still, not a single walker moaned.

“Now,” Beth heard Merle hiss and it was suddenly like she was an outsider watching her own body as she fell to the ground and rolled behind the building.

At the same time she was escaping, Merle raised his gun and shot at the men of Woodbury as he followed her behind the wall. The blonde got to her feet and immediately Merle was pushing her into the woods.

“Go,” he yelled, clutching his side where blood was trickling out.

The two sprinted into the forest as bullets peppered the ground and the trees around them. Tree branches whipped Beth’s face, probably leaving scratches, but she didn’t feel any pain. Using agility Beth didn’t even know she had, she jumped over roots and darted around tree trunks, all the while Merle was close on her trail.

“Hold up girl,” Merle called as he finally stopped and leaned over clutching his side, before lowering himself onto the ground.

Beth turned around to see the older Dixon with more blood than she had first thought flowing out of his chest.

“Merle,” she exclaimed, “we have to stop the blood from flowing and then keep moving, they are probably still following us.”

“They are still following us,” Merle stated matter-of-a-factly, “and I ain’t gonna be able to make it any further. You go on.”

“I ain’t leaving you,” Beth said, he had just rescued her after all.

“Ain’t got any other options,” Merle said, pulling Daryl’s gun he had took off of her out and handing it to her, “you get back to the prison, you hear me.”

“No,” disagreed the young woman, “I can’t run away and leave you here, if they find you they will….”

Beth couldn’t finish the thought, no one deserved to be left for the Governor.

“You have to,” Merle disagreed, “we ain’t both getting out of here! And Daryl would kill me anyway if I let anything happen to you! So take the fucking gun and start running your skinny ass back to the prison! Hurry up!”

The blonde hesitantly took the gun, feeling the weight in her hand like a death sentence for the owner.

“Daryl deserves some happiness in his life,” Merle suddenly said, “it’s a shitty ass world, it always has been. I wasn’t always there for him, I wasn’t always the best brother, but we were all each other had. Tell him I tried to do right by him. And keep an eye on him for me will ya blondie, he was always the soft one after all, he is gonna need someone to be there for him when shit hits the fan.”

Suddenly, it was like Merle snapped out of whatever sappy moment he was in.

“What the fuck you still standing there with your mouth gaping open for,” he snapped, “go already, get the fuck out of here!”

Beth paused before leaving to reach down and give Merle a hug.

“Daryl ain’t the only one that is sweet,” she told him, “you are family as much as he is.”

Then, without another word, Beth turned and ran. She ran like she did back in high school when she was on the track team. The blonde concentrated on her breathing and nothing else, tried to find a calm within herself even as she darted around walkers. Before long, she heard shots ring out behind her and tears began flowing from her eyes, making little clean trickles down her dirty cheeks.

Finally, she couldn’t run anymore and Beth collapsed next to a tree sobbing. She tried to keep as quiet as possible to avoid more walkers. That is when it hit her, the sense of deja ve and it was scary. She looked down to find her white tank covered in dirt and blood, her hand raised to find her hair was coming out of her ponytail, just like she had seen it. Almost not breathing, Beth slowly pulled Daryl’s gun out and scanned her surroundings. She had seen in the future that something or someone was coming for her, now she knew it was the Governor. A part of Beth wanted to sprint off into the woods, another, newer part told her to stand her ground because running wouldn’t do any good.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Beth held Daryl’s gun up, scanning her surroundings. She was determined to get away, to see her family again. She could feel her heart beating in her chest so hard she was almost surprised she didn’t pass out. That is when the sound finally came, the snap of a twig behind her. Beth whirled around and shot toward the sound, ready to do whatever it took to escape the Governor and his men. However, the following voice stopped her in her tracks.

              “Shit girl, I’ve already been shot by Andrea, I’m ain’t trying to make a habit out of it,” came the archer’s gruff growl.

              “Daryl,” Beth gasped, lowering the gun, feeling relief set in, “Daryl, oh thank God!”

              She couldn’t help it, her body just lunged toward him and the next thing she knew Beth had her arms wrapped around the bad-tempered older man. It was a bit awkward because he hadn’t moved his crossbow and it was poking her in the shoulder. Daryl didn’t move an inch, she might as well have been hugging a statue. When the blonde finally came to her senses, she remembered how much the hunter liked his personal space and immediately stepped back. He continued to stand there as if his brain had shorted out.

              “Daryl,” Beth asked hesitantly, which seemed to snap him out of it.

              “Where’s Merle,” Daryl barked, ignoring the entire scene that had just happened.

              Beth felt dread settle in her stomach, she was going to have to tell Daryl that his brother had died. She didn’t know how to do that, she wasn’t prepared for this. However, he was still standing there, waiting for an answer. Those piercing blue eyes of his demanded that she start talking.

              “He’s gone Daryl,” Beth whispered softly, trying her best to break the news in the gentlest way possible.

              “Gone,” Daryl almost shouted, “gone where? If he thinks I’m gonna chase his sorry ass down again I….”

              “No Daryl,” Beth interrupted, grimacing at the confusion, “he is gone, the other kind of gone. The Governor and his men……Merle stayed behind and held them off so I could get away.”

              “No,” hissed Daryl, his eyes changing from annoyance to something she had never seen in them before, fear, “you’re wrong! Merle is strong! Ain’t nobody able to kill Merle but Merle! He wouldn’t sacrifice himself for someone else, he is a sorry son-of-a-bitch that would save himself! He wouldn’t….”

              “I’m sorry Daryl,” Beth insisted, her vison blurring with tears, “I really am, I know what it is like to lose a brother, I….”

              “Shut the fuck up,” shouted the archer, “you don’t know shit, I’m gonna go find my brother, he is still out there!”

              “No,” argued Beth even as the older man was stomping off in the direction she had just come, “Daryl, it is dangerous, come back.”

              He obviously wasn’t listening, the hunter continued trekking through the woods, his bow raised and looking angry enough to shoot the next thing that came in his path.

              “Daryl,” Beth whisper shouted, “we don’t know if they are gone yet! The Governor and his men could still be there.”

              “I hope they are still there,” he growled, “every last fucking one of them.”

              It was clear that there was no reasoning with her companion, the only thing Beth could do was follow along. It took longer to get back to the last spot Beth had seen Merle, she must have lost track of time as she was running away. Daryl easily followed her tracks back to a spot on the ground covered in blood.

              “No,” the older man muttered under his breath, as he looked around at the empty soil.

              He looked frantic as he began pacing all around the scene. His eyes scanned the empty forest, searching desperately. That is when they both heard it, a moan and uncoordinated walking.

              “No,” repeated Daryl, as he backed away from where some bushes were moving.

              Then, Merle Dixon emerged, covered in blood from multiple gunshots, his mouth hanging open, teeth gnashing. The man’s former blue eyes had a mist over them and he no longer exuded that cocky confidence, it was all gone. Beth put her hand up over her mouth to keep from releasing a sob.

              That was the first time she ever saw Daryl Dixon cry. It seemed like it took forever as the body of Merle shambled towards them. However, he finally got there and made a grab for Daryl. The archer shoved his brother away, his whole face squinted in grief. The walker immediately turned and headed towards his younger brother again. This time, the hunter really was out of it because somehow he ended up on the ground with his dead brother on top of him. Daryl struggled as he tried to keep his former sibling from biting his neck, it was like all of his normal strength had been sucked away.

              The blonde watched in horror as Merle got closer and closer to biting Daryl’s neck as the archer tried to hold off the walker while also attempting to pull his knife out. The blonde didn’t want to risk shooting Daryl, so she grabbed a nearby stick and swung it as hard as she could at Merle’s head, knocking him off his brother. As soon as she did so, Daryl pulled out his knife and stabbed it into the walker’s head, again and again. Beth watched with a dull sense of horror, it was like every emotion she had was drained out of her. Daryl’s shirt became covered in Merle’s blood, making him look more ferocious than normal. Finally, the older man fell back onto the ground sobbing and Beth stood there in shock.

              It seemed like hours, but it could have been minutes before Daryl finally got off the ground. The blonde went over to help steady him but he shook her hand off his arm, glaring at her with an anger that caused her to draw back. Without a word, he started walking and Beth had nothing else to do but follow. They walked in silence, until the prison came within sight. The blonde felt compelled to tell Daryl what his brother had said in his final moments, before they entered through the fences and no longer had any privacy to talk.

              “Merle said that he tried to do right by you,” she started, “he really loved you ya know, I kinda get the feeling he didn’t say it much but….”

              “Don’t fuckin talk about him,” Daryl whirled on her, “don’t you dare! Because of you he is dead! You left him for dead! All this talk about family and that bullshit and you left him there!”

              “Daryl, it wasn’t like that, he told me to…,” Beth tried to explain, but Daryl wasn’t having it.

              “You talk some pretty good shit,” he hollered, no longer trying to keep from drawing walkers to them, “made me actually believe it! But you don’t mean it! The only family I had was Merle and now he is gone thanks to you!”

              On that note, Daryl shot an oncoming walker in the head and then pulled his bolt out of the skull before stomping off towards the prison, which had already spotted them and was opening the gates. Beth should have felt happy to be home, but all she wanted to do was sob.

Daryl’s POV

              Even when he started yelling at her, he knew he shouldn’t. However, Daryl had never been raised to do things the right way. It wasn’t really her fault and he knew it. It wasn’t like Beth had dragged Merle out there to the Governor, quite the opposite in fact. Nevertheless, he was angry, he felt his emotions boiling over. He was mad at the Governor, the people of Woodbury, the entire world, he felt like his wrath was boiling over and somehow Beth was the target of it. Not because she deserved it but because she only made matters worse.

              It terrified Daryl how close he had come to losing Beth, how it was his fault because he was the one who was supposed to watch Merle. What was even scarier than losing Beth, was how much losing the blonde affected him, the feeling it gave him in his stomach. It wasn’t like when he was concerned about Rick carrying out some new plan or Glenn being out on a run or Maggie being captured, it was worse. Daryl wasn’t a very emotional guy and right now he couldn’t handle both his brother’s death and the fear that was growing in him of the blonde next to his side. So he did what he did best, pushed people away. If he wasn’t close to them, they couldn’t hurt him. When something happened to them, it wouldn’t hurt him. Right now he couldn’t risk any more pain.

              He left Beth standing behind him and walked straight through the gates. Rick came out to meet him and immediately asked how it went.

              “Brought her back, like I said,” Daryl snapped.

              “Where is Merle,” Rick asked, genuine concern shining out of his eyes but the redneck wasn’t interested in what he saw as pity.

              “He is gone,” Daryl spat, as Glenn and Maggie came around the corner.

              “Daryl, I’m so sorry,” began Glenn, “Man…”

              “No you are fuckin not,” Daryl barked, “this is you and Maggie’s shitty-ass dream come true!”

              “You know its not like that,” Maggie disagreed as Beth came walking up.

              “Don’t tell me what it is like,” Daryl shouted, getting right up in her face before turning around to all of them, “all of y’all, just leave me the fuck alone! I’ve had enough of this crap!”

Beth’s POV

              That horrific day seemed like weeks ago. It may have been, it wasn’t like they kept track of the date anymore and recent events had caused time to be a bit of a blur. Since Merle’s death, the Governor had attacked again. This time, they were ready and led Woodbury into a trap. Afterwards, Rick, Daryl, and Michonne had chased the Governor down to finish what had been started. As it turns out, there had been nothing left to finish. The Governor had killed his own remaining soldiers and disappeared into thin air. Once the people of Woodbury found out they had been lied to, Rick offered for them to come to the prison and almost everyone had accepted.

              Things seemed to be returning to normal, even better than normal actually. There was more people to help do the chores, be on watch, and cook food. It was easier with more people and they were beginning to form a sort of community. It made Beth happy to wake up in the morning and know that she didn’t have to single handedly take care of Judith, do the laundry, and cook. She enjoyed talking to the new women and a few girls her age as they made food together or hung wet clothes out to dry. Life was going pretty great, except where Daryl Dixon was concerned.

              The hunter had refused to interact with Beth again since they had entered the prison gates. Occasionally, only when it was required, he might grunt at Beth or pass her something if he couldn’t get away with ignoring her. Obviously, any training sessions had ended. There were many times the blonde wanted to just throw her hands up and forget the stubborn man, but then she would remember Merle’s request to watch after his brother or Daryl’s face when he saw his sibling had turned. So even though it didn’t do any good, Beth made sure to wish Daryl a good morning every time she saw him at breakfast. When he didn’t come to eat, she would take his food to him. If his clothes started getting too dirty looking, she would slip into his room and gather them up for laundry day.

              Honestly, if she were only doing this because of Merle’s request, Beth wouldn’t have gone so far out of her way to try and help the silent hunter. She had decided back at the farm that Daryl wasn’t nearly as mean and gruff as his exterior suggested. The archer had fought hard to keep them all safe against the Governor, he had gone out and brought Beth back, he provided meat for the whole prison, he deserved to be appreciated.

              Not that Beth was the only one that appreciated Daryl. The people from Woodbury originally stayed a healthy distance from the angry looking archer, but they quickly learned too that he had a good heart. The blonde couldn’t help but grin at Daryl’s bewildered face when strangers came up to thank him for their meal or little kids ran around pretending to be an archer just like him. To be honest, Beth probably watched Daryl more than she should, but it wasn’t like she could watch TV or go to the movies anymore. A girl had to find something to entertain herself other than just watch Judith and do chores.

              “Hey, Beth is it,” came a boy’s voice from behind her and the blonde quickly looked away to pretend like she hadn’t been gawking at Daryl’s arms as he raised a deer up into a tree so he could gut it.

              It turned out the person calling her was a boy from Woodbury, followed by several kids.

              “Yes,” asked Beth, unsure of what he wanted from her, “I’m Beth.”

              “I’m Zach,” said the boy with short dirty-blonde hair and warm brown eyes as he held out a hand, “I was told you could show us how to harvest some things from the field. Hope you don’t mind, some of the kids wanted to help.”

              “Nice to meet you Zach,” Beth greeted, shaking his warm hand, “I don’t mind at all, just grab some gloves and follow me.”

              The young woman led the little group behind her out to the makeshift pasture where they were growing a variety of vegetables.

              “Alright,” she instructed, “the lettuce is easiest to pick if you twist it until it breaks off from the plant, if you pull you are going to wear yourself out very quickly. The onions, once picked, peel off some of the extra flaky layers on top and then tie them to this string. We hang them up to keep them from going bad. We currently have no way to preserve a lot of the vegetables, so only harvest enough for what we will need for the next few meals.”

              “Gosh,” complimented Zach, “you sure know a lot, where did you learn all of this?”

              “I grew up on a farm,” Beth explained, feeling her cheeks blushing for some reason, “ya know, before all this.”

              The kids immediately began bounding all around the garden and causing chaos, which her and Zach had to work hard to contain. At some point they were both so covered in dirt that they started laughing.

              “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought them,” Zach apologized, “They are a bit young but I didn’t know they would be this bad.”

              “Don’t worry, they have to learn sometime,” the blonde told him as she tried to get some stray leaves out of her hair.

              “Here, let me help you with that,” the young man said, picking the vegetation out of her ponytail.

              The blonde felt like she should feel something in the moment, her stomach swoop or butterflies, or something. Zach was attractive, her age, they were having a lot of fun. So why didn’t she feel anything? That is when two much darker blue eyes stared back at her in her mind’s eye.

              “Shit,” Beth thought, as she stared at a man who could have been the right one, who would have been if the world hadn’t ended, “I knew I had a crush on Daryl, but am I seriously in that deep? He doesn’t even talk to me? How pathetic am I?”

              “Um,” the blonde cleared her throat stepping back, suddenly feeling guilty for letting Zach get so close even though it wasn’t like there was anything going on between her and Daryl.

              Luckily, the kids interrupted the moment, yelling that they wanted to go get something to eat. Zach grinned sheepishly at her and they herded the young ones down to the kitchen.

Daryl’s POV

              The archer grabbed a wrench, but this one didn’t fit the part either.

              “Shit,” he cussed, throwing the tool on the ground where it made a clinking noise.

              He took a deep breath from his cigarette, enjoying the calming effect it had on him. Since Merle’s death, he had been going through his packs a bit quicker. He had also been working on his brother’s old bike more. Whenever he thought about his brother, he just found himself in front of the motorcycle and would begin tuning or adjusting it, making sure it was in perfect condition. Sometimes Carol stopped by to see him, but not today. Most likely because he had snapped at her yesterday and told her to quit ‘playing therapist’ on him.

              The hunter is almost in the closest thing he has ever been to peace. Working on his motorcycle, cigarette in his mouth, and living in a safe place surrounded by people who actually seem to respect him. For a little while, despite Merle being gone and the world going to shit, he is actually content, sitting there on the tarmac, tinkering around with his bike. It is almost as calming as being out in the forest alone with his bow. This surprises Daryl because he has never felt like he particularly fit in anywhere before.

              That is when he hears laughter and all of his peace flies right out of his body. He looks up, planning to glare at whoever is breaking the silence when he spots her. Blonde hair a mess, dirt streaked across her cheek, and hands holding a basket of vegetables. Kids run around her and it would all be a perfect picture to add to his perfect day if it weren’t for some Woodbury boy standing too close to Beth and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. The kid is the same one who has been following Daryl around, asking him what he did before the apocalypse. It annoys Daryl, because he hates being reminded that he was a nobody that did nothing before this shitstorm occurred. Of course, he hadn’t bothered to learn the kid’s name despite the young man following him like a puppy dog on runs. Honestly, until this very moment he hadn’t really noticed the kid, but now the young man had his full attention.

              “Who has invoked the wrath of Daryl Dixon,” asked a warm voice as Carol came up behind him.

              Daryl flinched and forced himself to look away from the garden, feeling himself redden from being caught staring.

              “Ain’t mad about shit,” he grunted, tightening a bolt a little harder than necessary.

              “If you say,” his friend quipped, “but if looks could kill whoever you had been looking at would be a walker by now.”

              “What ya want,” the hunter snapped, wanting badly to change the subject.

              “Well, the limited vegetables we grow inside here is getting a bit old,” Carol explained, “Beth offered to go outside the prison and find some wild, edible plants. However, it would be best if she had someone to go with her, to watch her back while she picks things. Rick and Hershel are busy discussing the crops and the livestock and Maggie and Glenn are on watch duty. I’m not sure anyone from Woodbury is capable enough beyond the gates yet. Since you are just messing with your motorcycle, I figured you might have time.”

              “Ain’t just messin with it,” he countered, his whole body becoming taunt.

              “Sure you ain’t pookie,” ignored Carol, who was sometimes more like a mom than a friend, “now can you escort Beth or should I have one of the new Woodbury men do that?”

              Daryl’s teeth clenched at the idea of the one blonde boy taking Beth outside the prison, idiot would probably wind up getting them both killed.

              “Fine,” he mumbled, not trusting himself to look up.

              “Great,” agreed Carol, who was used to the archer and his taciturn ways, “I will tell Beth to get ready and meet you over here.”

              “Right now,” he almost choked out, “I’m still working on my bike.”

              “Well then finish it up,” admonished Carol lightly, “can’t keep a woman waiting.”

Beth’s POV

The youngest Greene was unloading the vegetables in the makeshift kitchen as her daddy read from the Bible. Zach and the kids helped. Carol entered and all the kids jumped up and down to say hi.

              “Beth,” Carol began, “we had talked about you going beyond the gates to collect some fruit and vegetables if you can find any. Daryl said he would escort you.”

              The young woman felt her body tingle at the mention that her traveling companion would be none other than Daryl Dixon. She was honestly shocked, he had been avoiding her for weeks now. She wondered what had changed his mind, maybe he figured that it was for the good of the group, gathering food for the bigger community was now top priority even if he didn’t feel like talking to her.

              “I’m glad to hear that,” said Hershel, “I will feel much safer knowing Daryl is watching Beth, there are few people more capable of handling what goes on outside these gates.”

              “You are so lucky Beth,” cuts in Zach, “Daryl is the coolest to go on runs with. I have been trying to figure out what he did before all this, he gives me one guess a day, so far no luck. Do you know him well? Got any hints for me?”

              “Daryl doesn’t talk much about his past,” Beth said, trying to change the subject, “I had better go get changed.”

              The young woman kissed her father on the cheek before going to change into boots and a jean jacket. It was hot, but she needed all the protection from biters she could get whenever she went beyond the gates. When she saw Daryl sitting on the ground next to his bike, putting away his tools she couldn’t help but feel attracted. The archer was covered in sweat, dirt, and blood, but somehow he just made it look good. His biceps bulged as he got up and picked up his crossbow, then his eyes settled on her. She felt trapped for a moment, staring at him. Worried that if she got closer he would get annoyed or leave.

              “Well, ya comin or not,” he finally asked, turning away from her and throwing one leg over his motorcycle.

              Beth’s eyes practically popped out of her head. Sure, she had ridden with him before, but back then it had been chaotic and they were running for their lives and she hadn’t been nearly as attracted to him. Not allowing herself to back down, the blonde walked over to him and sat on the back, but suddenly found herself unsure of where to hold him. Daryl didn’t like her in his personal space, the past few times she had even tried to reach out and touch his shoulder he had all but pushed her away.

              “Better hold on girl if ya don’t want to fall off,” he drawled, his voice sounding slightly deeper than normal.

              The blonde wrapped her arms around the hunter, feeling how strong and muscular he was, right as he stepped on the gas. This time was much better than the last time she had gone on a ride with him, because this time they weren’t escaping a horde of walkers. The wind blew through Beth hair as they coasted down to the gate, which was opened for them by people from Woodbury. Then, Daryl revved the engine and they were flying like nothing could ever touch them again. Beth felt laughter well up in her throat until it finally bubbled out, only to be snatched away by the wind. When they finally stopped, she couldn’t help but be the slightest bit disappointed, even though she knew it couldn’t last forever.

              The blonde got off, feeling wobbly and almost fell over except for Daryl grabbing her by the wrist.

              “Easy there girl,” he warned, his eyes watching her like a hawk.

              In that moment, Beth felt so stupid. Touching Daryl, his voice, the way he looked at her, she had more than just a simple crush. Yet, there was no way he felt the same, heck he didn’t even talk to her half the time. Trying to conceal the easy blush that spread to her cheeks, the young woman yanked her hand away and began looking around.

              “Well, let’s start walking,” Beth suggested, “just see what’s in the area. If we find a lot, we can always come back again with a truck.”

              Her companion just grunted and stared at her, letting her make the first move. Beth had no clue where they were or any certain way to look, so she just started walking wherever a path in the forest wasn’t blocked. It would be easy enough for Daryl to find his way back.

              “So,” Beth asked, after a few minutes of walking, “how did you learn how to track?”

              “Had to,” he grunted, and at first Beth thought that was all he was gonna say, but then he continued, “got lost in the forest by my house, for several days. Ain’t no one to look for me, nothin to eat. Had to learn real quick how to live off what I found, ate some raw worms and other bugs. Accidentally wiped my ass with poison ivy, itched somethin awful. Took me three days to finally correctly follow my tracks back to the shitty trailer I lived in. Walked in, made myself a sandwich, no one even noticed I was missin.”

              “Well, you have people to notice if you go missing now,” Beth told him, “but I don’t think we can do much for you if you mistake poison ivy for toilet paper again.”

              She started chuckling at the thought. Suddenly, a shoulder bumped her own and she looked up into the classic Daryl Dixon glare.

              “Ain’t funny,” he asserted, his seriousness somehow making it more comical.

              “Yes it is,” she managed to get out between giggles.

              Right then, the couple stumbled into an opening in the forest. In the middle stood a tall tree with purple fruits.

              “Daryl,” exclaimed Beth, “do you know what that is? It’s a mulberry tree!”

              “Didn’t even give me a chance to answer Greene,” he grumped, but Beth knew better than to think her companion was actually annoyed.

              “We had one back on the farm,” the blonde explained, “it would drop berries all the time, too many for us to know what to do with. They would litter the backyard and Maggie, Shawn, and I would run around barefoot all the time and the mulberries dyed the bottom of our feet purple. People would think we had some sort of disease or something. The chickens liked to eat the mulberries too, they would end up with purple spots all over them from where berries fell and hit them. It was the funniest thing!”

              “We have got to take some back, they will be a great food and store well and we can use the juice as a dye” Beth insisted, “give me a lift up to the top branch, once I’m up I’m light enough to go pick them from the other branches.”

              “Ya sure about this,” he asked, eying her up and down, obviously doubting her abilities.

              “Daryl,” Beth rolled her eyes as she discarded her boots and socks, “I grew up on a farm, I climbed trees most of my childhood years. I may not have learned how to shoot walkers or read tracks, but if there is one thing I can do it is find my way around a tree.”

              The archer came over and stood in front of her. For a moment it was like time stopped as he put his rough hands on her hips, staring at her like maybe she wasn’t the only one feeling something. Then, the next thing she knew, she was being lift up and the blonde had to quickly grab the branch and haul herself up. Once she was seated with one leg on either side of the branch, she had Daryl throw her a bag up and got to picking. Quickly, the tips of her fingers turned purple. As she gathered, Daryl stood with his crossbow at the ready, eyeing the woods for any potential threats.

              As Beth finished filling up her sack, she couldn’t help but feel a little mischievous. Daryl was just looking too serious down there for her not to. She picked a berry and carefully aimed before letting it launch. It landed right on his neck, leaving a purple little stain. He instantly turned before looking up to glare at her.

              “Hey girl, what you think you are doin,” he asked, squinting as he tried to see her around the sunlight.

              “Name ain’t girl, Mr. Dixon” she told him, tossing another berry.

              Not that she really minded, the way he said girl, the way he drawled it, sounded so good.

              “If you come down here I will show you what…,” Daryl began his half-hearted threat, but was stopped.

              “Catch me,” Beth ordered, as she swung down from the lowest branch.

              He dropped his crossbow just in time to catch her in his arms. The moment Beth landed she realized she hadn’t thought this all the way through. Daryl’s arms felt so strong and warm around her. She had never been this close to the archer before, his brilliant blue eyes were staring down at her with a mixture of surprise and something else. What thrilled her the most was that he didn’t instantly set her down and walk off like he was apt to do when anyone got too close.

              “Beth,” he breathed, her name rattling in his throat as he stared down at her.

              God, she like the way he said her name as well. If she was being honest with herself, she like the way he said just about anything. Suddenly, there was twinkle in his eyes that she wouldn’t normally associate with the stern, stoic archer.

              “I prefer girl,” he breathed in her ear in an extra deep voice, causing her breath to catch, when he suddenly swung her around to set her upright so fast she almost fell over.

              “Come on Greene,” he ordered, already holding his crossbow again, “we are burnin daylight.”

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Beth smiled as she remembered Daryl’s face as he held her in his arms and called her by her name, before getting that little mischievous smirk that she hadn’t known was in him. Due to her daydreaming, Beth accidentally tripped over a misplaced shovel and dropped the potatoes she had been carrying in a basket.

“Dang it,” the blonde pouted, as she bent down to pick them up.

They were still good, they had just come out of the ground after all. A little more dirt wouldn’t hurt anybody. The young woman reached out a hand to pick up one of the escaped spuds when suddenly, another person was kneeling next to her, their hand going to the same vegetable.

“Oh, Zach,” exclaimed Beth, “I didn’t see you there. Thank you.”

“No problem,” the young man replied, shooting her a huge grin, “be careful where you are walking, I have told some of the younger ones to pick up their tools, but they don’t listen too well.”

“Yeah, I should have been watching closer,” Beth agreed as the two filled the basket back up.

“Here, let me take that for you,” her companion offered, lifting the hamper off the ground, “just lead the way.”

“That really isn’t necessary,” the young woman tried, but Zach insisted and soon the two were walking back toward the prison, side by side.

Beth couldn’t help but feel like she was being watched and sure enough when she looked up towards the watch tower, there was Daryl Dixon standing there, glaring down at them. His right hand was clutching the strap that held his crossbow on his back and his left rested on the knife on his belt. Even from this distance, the blonde could tell he was tense, every muscle prominently standing out along his arms and his neck.

Beth wanted to groan, just recently she had gotten back on Daryl’s good side and now it was already over. Granted the closed off hunter’s good side consisted of short, terse responses to any question she asked and the occasional scowl but sometimes he would come and visit her and Judith and that anger and the walls he had up would just drop away. Every now and then, he would stop by her room with the odd thing he had picked up on a run and he would just stand by her door, never in her room, just on the edge. He would watch silently as she hung up the item or found a place to set it, all the while rambling on about her day or how the little girl was doing. Then, after a few minutes he would nod his head and mumble something incoherently before disappearing. However, with the way Daryl was looking at her now, Beth was pretty sure she wouldn’t be seeing him anytime soon.

The young woman almost felt pissed off at the older man. What in the world had she done that had him so angry? Honestly, sometimes there was just no figuring him out. All Beth had been doing was picking potatoes, she hadn’t even talked to Daryl yet today to have made him angry. The blonde was drawn out of her pondering over the complex hunter by her companion.

“I’m going on a run tomorrow Beth,” Zach informed her while puffing out his chest, “Rick finally said I’m ready.”

“That’s great Zach,” the young woman said while feeling a pain in her own chest.

Zach, who hadn’t even been with their group a whole month, was deemed capable of going on a run, but Beth still wasn’t allowed to leave the prison walls except to pick fruit, which had been deemed relatively safe. Sometimes it was so aggravating, but she had to remember that her role was just as important, even if she would rather be beyond these fences a bit more.

She was jealous of Daryl, the way he came and went whenever he pleased without anyone to tell him it was too dangerous. Beth wished Daryl would have continued training her, but after Merle was gone, he really hadn’t seemed in the mood. However, she was a quick learner and just from watching others when she got the chance, she was starting to pick up on things. Not necessarily fighting skills, since she was usually only able to observe them in the prison, but more basic skills.

For example, the way Daryl unconsciously moved without a sound, the way his feet always seemed to avoid every branch in the grass and every creek on the stairs. After watching him, Beth would rock Judith as she went up and down the stairs, trying to imitate what she saw. Then, with Rick, Beth picked up on the way he exuded confidence even when his decisions couldn’t have a predictable outcome. The young woman scrutinized the way their leader held his body, the way he could bluff without saying a word. Then, when the kids from Woodbury came to Beth asking her if there was going to be enough food for dinner, she used those skills to reassure them, to put their fears away. Lastly, there was Michonne, with her ability to blend into the background and almost disappear when she wanted to. The samurai was fearsome force to contend with, but she could also stand as still as a statue in the face of danger, not letting one thing get to her. The blonde practiced wiping all emotion from her face as she killed walkers, not letting it get to her, not wrinkling her nose in disgust. None of this was going to keep her alive like shooting a gun or learning to punch would, but maybe someday it would come in handy.

“Hey, you know Daryl, don’t you,” asked Zach, the name pulling Beth abruptly out of her line of thought, “He is leading the search party tomorrow and I get another chance to guess what he did before the turn. Do you think you could give me a hint?”

“A hint,” Beth almost choked, realizing how little she actually knew about the archer’s past despite living in close quarters with him for what felt like ages.

“Yeah,” the young man continued, “I am going to guess homicide cop.”

“Ummm,” snorted Beth covering her mouth with her hand, trying not to laugh at the image of Daryl as any kind of cop.

“No, seriously,” Zach protested, “It all makes sense doesn’t it? The way he is able to track, led a group of people, he works with Rick who used to be a sheriff. I can totally picture it.”

“I just don’t think that is quite Daryl,” Beth disagreed, trying not to ruin her companion’s excitement.

“Well, tomorrow I’m gonna prove you wrong,” Zach smirked.

“I wish I could see Daryl’s face when you pop that one on him,” the blonde taunted, “don’t get your hopes up too much.”

“How about we make a bet on it,” Zach offered, a glint in his eyes.

Beth was about to turn it down, but something about this seemed fun and she hadn’t had fun in a long time. A bet was something normal, something she would have done with other people her age if things hadn’t changed. It would feel good to do something normal for a change.

“Alright, you are on,” agreed the blonde, “if I win, you have to change Judith’s diaper for the next month.”

“Oh, big stakes then,” Zach chuckled, but didn’t seem bothered by Beth’s demand.

“And what do you want, if you do happen to win,” asked the blonde as they stepped into the prison and began unloading the potatoes.

“A kiss,” came the reply, which caused Beth to freeze and a blush to spread across her cheeks.

She hadn’t thought of Zach in that way, but now he had said that, it all made sense. They were both the same age, both had a sunny outlook on life, and now that Beth looked, Zach was pretty handsome. Before the apocalypse, Beth probably would have noticed Zach in that way a long time ago.

However, things were different now, she was different now, and there was Daryl…..except that it seemed to be one sided. Beth knew she was attracted to the gruff hunter, but he was a lot older than her and way above her level in so many things. As much as she sometimes got hope when he said her name or helped her with a chore or checked on her and Judith, the fact of the matter was nothing would likely ever happen. Daryl was an amazing walker killer, survivor, and leader. He honestly probably didn’t know how much Beth enjoyed the small attention he gave her, he was just doing his job and making sure everyone was okay. When the archer brought her back items from beyond the prison, it was just who he was, which was a lot nicer than he liked to let people know. The fact of the matter was, Beth could keep fawning over someone who would likely never notice her, or she could try to do what any normal girl in her shoes would do.

“Okay, you have a deal,” Beth found herself saying even as a knot formed in her stomach.

“Really,” exclaimed Zach, his face suddenly lighting up with a huge smile, “great, a deal it is. I will see you tomorrow Beth!”

Daryl’s POV

Empty gas cans in case they happened to run across some vehicles to siphon gas out of. Check. Hammers and crowbar in case a place was locked up. Check. Rifle. Check. Water. Check. Everything seemed to be in order. The archer threw his crossbow in the middle of the bench seat of the truck and scanned the prison yard. Other people were getting their stuff together. He already felt irritated, not only had Rick sent him out with a bunch of people from Woodbury, who were not nearly as skilled at scavenging as those in the main group, he was also sending Zach, who was pretty much a novice in going on runs. They shouldn’t have so many people that had so little clue of how to handle themselves out there. At least Glenn and Michonne were coming.

They each chose people to keep an eye on a person and somehow he had ended up with Zach. Not that he minded the kid, the boy was a bit like a puppy, always following him and asking him about things. He wouldn’t have been bothered so much if Zach didn’t always bring up a touchy subject, his past, and constantly hang around Beth.

Speaking of Beth, she showed up walking right alongside Zach. Daryl’s eyes narrowed and he watched the two make their way to his truck. The young man threw his pack into the bed and then was holding Beth’s hand and whispering something to her. The archer tried to tell himself that he was only being protective of his family, they didn’t know the people from Woodbury very well yet and it was his job to keep them safe. Beth was young and naïve and he needed to watch out for her. At least, that is what he told himself. Daryl’s patience ended when Zach suddenly leaned over and left a kiss on Beth’s cheek. Instantly, his feet were carrying him over and he loudly tossed a hammer into the bed of the truck.

“What is this,” he barked, “some damn romance novel? Come on, we got work to do.”

With that, Daryl got in the truck and slammed the door, waiting for Zach to get in so they could get going. The hunter suddenly felt full of energy, he needed to be moving, doing something, anything other than just standing around the prison. In his side mirror he could see Zach reaching for Beth, who stepped away and started walking off.

“Aren’t you going to say goodbye,” called Zach.

“Nope,” sassed Beth as she walked by the truck window and giving Daryl a look that made him suddenly feel like he was the one in trouble.

Finally, after what felt like forever, the boy jumped in and Daryl stepped on the gas. Glenn and Michonne were quickly behind him and soon the prison was in the distance.

“Beth is pretty awesome, isn’t she,” asked Zach, with a loopy grin that made Daryl want to slap it right off his face.

“Yeah,” grunted the hunter, gripping the wheel tighter.

“She just like lights up a room, even in the middle of all this darkness,” the young man continued, echoing what Daryl’s own thoughts were.

“What the fuck is this,” snapped the archer, “you think we are having some sleep over and gossiping like women? We are going on a run not sharing emotional sappy crap, so keep your pie hole shut if you don’t have something fucking useful to say. Damn, fuckin newbie.”

“Geez,” sighed Zach, “you are more surly than usual.”

Daryl didn’t respond, preferring to leave them in silence for the rest of the trip. Unfortunately, Zach’s quiet attitude didn’t last. Once they were out and surveying the store they intended to raid, the boy was talking again.

“I think I got it this time,” Zach told him as they waited to see if any walkers showed up inside the store before entering.

“Got what,” asked Michonne, who appeared around the corner of the store.

“I’ve been trying to guess what Daryl did before the turn,” Zach explained, causing Daryl to bite the skin around his thumb at the mere mention of his past.

“He’s been trying to guess for like six weeks,” the archer huffed, hoping Michonne would lose interest and go away, he didn’t need more people questioning what he was like before all this.

“I’m pacing myself,” defended the kid, settling down beside him despite the glare Daryl threw his way, “one shot a day. I’m gonna get it eventually.”

God, he must be getting worse at this, because it was like nobody was scared or avoided him anymore.

“All right, shoot,” quipped Daryl, ready to get the next guess over with.

“Well,” began Zach, “the way you are at the prison, you being on the council, being able to track, you are helping people, but you are still kinda….surly.”

The samurai snorted at this description of Daryl.

“Okay, I’m gonna take a big swing here,” Zach continued, leading up to his guess, “homicide cop!”

Instantly Michonne started laughing, which aggravated Daryl.

“What’s so funny,” he asked, although he wasn’t really looking to pick a fight with her, he would have to be an idiot to do that.

“Nothing,” she smirked, “makes perfect sense.”

That being said, the woman walked off with a toss of her long dreads.

“Actually, the man is right,” Daryl called out after her, teasing, but she didn’t even stop walking.

“Really,” asked Zach, looking way more excited than even Daryl expected him to.

“Undercover,” continued the archer, enjoying baiting his companion.

“No way,” exclaimed the young man, who seemed like he had just won the lottery.

“Saw a lot of deep shit,” Daryl continued, he thought he could hear Michonne chuckling even around the corner of the building, “don’t like to talk about it a lot, ya know?”

“I was right,” breathed Zach, amazed.

“You are gullible, that’s for sure,” retorted the hunter, watching as his companion’s face fell.

“Just keep guessing then,” the boy muttered, all the happiness drained out of him, “just really had been hoping that was the one, made a bet with Beth…..”

“What kind of bet did you make,” asked Daryl, suddenly much more interested in their conversation.

“Ah, it was nothing, just ah, ya know, the normal stuff,” the boy averted, his face reddening as he ran his hand through his hair, which told Daryl more than he wanted to know.

Of course, Beth liked Zach. It was obvious, they were the same age, both sweet and naïve, he was just the kind of boy Beth should be dating. Zach was the responsible, kind, well-dressed boy any father would hope his daughter would end up with. The archer didn’t know why the thought bothered him so much. The older man shrugged it off and stood up.

“Let’s do this,” Daryl commanded, causing everyone else to fall in line.

Beth’s POV

Beth had taken care of Judith most the day, along with helping prepare dinner and wash laundry. She was exhausted but the group was still not back. Anxiety was growing in her stomach with each minute they were gone. She could tell Maggie was anxious too, checking the horizon every few minutes. The sun finally set and they could no longer see anything.

“It is going to be alright Mags,” Beth encouraged, trying to lift her own spirits as much as her sister’s, “they are going to come back. Daryl and Michonne and Glenn are all super experienced, they are gonna come back.”

“I know,” the brunette said, grasping her sister’s arm.

The two sisters stood there for a little longer, looking out at the darkness before it was time to go to sleep. Neither felt like sleeping, but work was going to come early in the morning whether they slept or not so they needed to at least try. They both showered and headed to their separate cells.

Beth pulled her journal off the desk she had acquired and picked up one of the few precious pencils she had. She hoped journaling would calm her nerves enough to fall asleep.

Things have changed a lot in the past year, but I am starting to realize that I have also changed a lot. I am not the same girl who loved going to high school, I am not the same girl who cut her wrist when things got bad, but I am not always sure who I am anymore. The old me would like Zach, I probably would have liked Zach a lot. He is sweet and handsome and most importantly still alive. He could make me happy, he makes me happy just talking to him.

However, he doesn’t make me feel anything in my stomach when we are together. Zach’s voice doesn’t send chills down my spine. His touch doesn’t make me want to lean in for more. I don’t stare into his eyes and get lost in the depth of how blue they are, the way they can tell me so much even when nothing is said…..

Beth’s writing abruptly stopped at the sound of a throat clearing and she looked up to see the very object of her thoughts, and those eyes. The blonde had thought Daryl’s eyes were amazing when she saw them in the prospect device, but nothing compared to what they were like in real life. Right now though, what was in them wasn’t mischievous or questioning or even angry, they were sad and something else, maybe guilty.

“Hey,” she whispered, as if scared that her voice would send him away.

“Hi,” he replied awkwardly, his voice rough and raspy as he stuck his hands in his pockets.

Beth could tell he was struggling to say something to her as he stood in the doorway of her room.

“What is it,” she asked, but she had a feeling she already knew the answer.

“Zach,” answered Daryl, hanging his head further, as if expecting her to get angry at him.

The archer’s behavior could only mean one thing, he wasn’t one to make a big deal out of a minor scrap or close call.

“Is he dead,” she asked, saving the hunter from trying to get words out that obviously were not coming.

It only took one look, Daryl conveyed everything with just those eyes. The sadness, regret, guilt, and most importantly the pain. Beth felt that this moment was important, that she had to carefully react. She could tell how hard Daryl was taking Zach’s death, how he surely felt responsible because he was the leader, if she freaked out that would only further his own self-anger.

“Okay,” she managed to get out, wanting to be strong for the one person who never seemed to need anyone’s help.

The blonde sat up, looking around her room. It was funny, in a sad way, how she had just been thinking about how she should feel something for Zach, now it didn’t matter because he was gone. She was sad, Beth had really liked him, he was someone to share the chores with and joke around with when things were too serious. She had really wanted to be friends with him. She wanted him to live and find love in his life and continue to be a part of their prison family.

For some reason, her gaze landed on her little sign that showed how many days they had gone without an accident. Suddenly, Beth felt the need to do something, she couldn’t just sit on her bed. She got up and walked over to the sign, changing the days from 30 to 0. It was small, but it felt like in some way she was honoring Zach’s death, since it wasn’t like they would have his body to bury. This was one small way to show that he was gone and he had meant something.

When she looked back up, Daryl was looking at her with something like concern in his eyes. She was honestly surprised he hadn’t left, the archer wasn’t one to be comfortable around anything vaguely emotional and despite Beth trying to hide it, she was often an open book.

“What,” she asked, as he didn’t make any move to leave.

He shook his head and did a slight shrug of his shoulders, but still stood by her doorway. His piercing blue eyes scanned her, not in a creepy way but in a concerned way. That is when it hit Beth. Daryl was still standing there because he was worried about her, about the way she would react. He didn’t like emotional moments but he had obviously chosen to be the one to break the news to her and was now staying to make sure she was okay. He looked like he had been through hell and was very much out of his element, but he wasn’t going to leave unless he knew she could handle what he had just told her.

“I don’t cry anymore Daryl,” Beth lied, trying to reassure him.

She didn’t want the archer to think she was weak, that she would run away and try to off herself as soon as he left. The hunter had enough to worry about without being concerned about her too. She hadn’t even been the one to see Zach die, Daryl may look calm but he had to be feeling something.

When she looked at him again, he hadn’t moved an inch, he was looking like he didn’t believe her, like he needed to still stand guard over her.

“I’m just glad I got to know him, ya know,” Beth continued, trying her best to show him that she was alright as she walked a bit closer to him.

“Me too,” the older man whispered huskily, sounding like he hadn’t slept in years.

When things got rough, Beth always did what came most naturally to her. She looked to help others. It was something her daddy had taught her and it was important. When she focused on someone else’s problems, it helped her put things in perspective and find the motivation to keep from dwelling on her own hardships. That is why when Beth took in Daryl standing in doorway, she noticed that his voice was rougher than usual, his eyes were red, and the frown lines around his mouth were deeper than normal. He may not have been leaving because he wanted to make sure she was okay, but something told Beth that the archer’s presence may also have something to do with not wanting to be alone after the day he had.

“Are you okay,” she asked, really taking Daryl’s haggard appearance in.

“Just tired of losing people is all,” the older man admitted, his honesty surprising the blonde.

Beth had half expected the hunter to snarl and say that nothing ever bothered him, but seeing him right now, she would never believe again that he didn’t give a crap about them. No matter how much he groaned and made snarky comments and tried to stand on the outside of the group, Daryl truly cared. Beth could tell by how dejected he looked, by how he was taking Zach’s death so personally.

The blonde knew she shouldn’t, that Daryl always liked his personal space, but something in his eyes told her he needed more than maybe even he knew. Before the young woman could lose her confidence, she stepped right up to the hunter and slipped her arms around his waist. Carefully, she laid her head on his shoulder and was surprised to find that he hadn’t immediately tensed up. Sure, he wasn’t hugging her back, but the fact that the archer was even allowing her to hug him meant a lot by his standards.

“I’m glad I didn’t say goodbye,” she told him, getting comfort from him as much as she was giving it, “I hate goodbyes.”

The blonde was surprised when a rough hand suddenly touched her elbow, not only was Daryl not pushing her away, he was actually reciprocating, no matter how slight the gesture was.

“Me too,” the older man agreed, his voice rumbling in his chest and his breath causing the loose strands of her hair to flutter.

After a moment, the blonde pulled away, not wanting to push Daryl too far in one night. Something about the way he was looking at her though, it was different than any other time. It was like he had just been told some secret about life or the cure to the apocalypse. Then, that look was quickly replaced by fear and he turned on his heel and left.

Daryl’s POV

He had meant to come here to comfort Beth, to make sure she was okay. It was the least he could do after letting what would have been her boyfriend die on his watch. However, like the piece of shit he was, he couldn’t even console someone correctly. It had started off bad with him not even being able to get the words out no matter how hard he had tried and had ended with Beth actually trying to make him feel better. He was a piece of crap, couldn’t keep people alive and he couldn’t make things better when others were hurt.

For a moment though, all that self-hate and self-guilt had just disappeared when Beth wrapped her arms around him. She hadn’t seemed to blame him for Zach’s death, she hadn’t cried or screamed at him. For some inexplicable reason, she had seemed to feel better just having his sorry ass there. He didn’t deserve to be hugged after he had screwed up so badly, after he had failed to bring everyone back, but he would have lied if he had said it hadn’t felt good.

His mind remembered the moment vividly. The way the young blonde seemed to fit just perfectly against him as she tightened her hold on his waist. Her hair had tickled his nose and he had been able to smell her shampoo, since unlike him Beth actually showered on a regular basis. Then, without realizing it, his arm had lifted up, touching her elbow. For once craving physical contact with another human being. That is when it had hit him, was still hitting him, that he liked holding Beth Greene in his arms. He liked having Beth near him, liked touching her, liked touching her maybe too much.

That is when all the self-loathing had come back like a fucking freight train. Because of course his sorry ass couldn’t get a hug from a sweet innocent girl without him getting inappropriate ideas about it. Beth was Beth, she was Hershel’s daughter, Maggie’s sister, the sweetheart of their little prison group. And Daryl was a fucking redneck piece of shit who had just gotten this girl’s potential boyfriend killed and was way way too old and coarse to even be thinking about someone as young and as pretty as Beth.

When the blonde finally released him, Daryl had been free to escape to his own cell. However, it didn’t seem to matter where he went or how far away she was, it was like she suddenly had some hold on him even though he was no longer in her arms. And that scared the ever-living shit out of him.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

The worst had happened. Daryl was used to the worst, had even come to expect it, but for some reason he hadn’t expected this. The image of Hershel’s head rolling down into the grass would haunt him forever, he couldn’t image what it would do to the farmer’s two daughters. He didn’t have much time to think after that, just move. He shot arrow after arrow, fired rounds from his gun, hid behind cover, and ducked and ran to the next spot. The only thought in his mind was to keep the others safe until they got away. Somewhere in the corner of his eye, he saw the bus being piled into, saw Beth get on it. He breathed a sigh of relief, right when a freakin tank busted through their fence. Who the hell had a tank in the apocalypse?

The boom of the canon made his ears ring, but it was almost pleasant after all the clamor that had been assaulting him before, it allowed him to focus better. He raised up his crossbow and shot a man coming towards him, right as he sensed movement at his back. Even with his catlike reflexes, it was close, but he managed to drive his knife into the walker’s head as the beast tried to sneak up on him. He then used the body as a shield to get closer to the enemies entering the prison, his prison. He saw red as he unclipped the pin to the grenade and tossed it towards the oncoming strangers. They fell to the ground and the blast knocked him off his feet. Irritated, he shoved the dead walker off him and headed straight for the tank, wanting nothing more than to obliterate the people who had destroyed his home, the first home he had ever had.

Unclipping the second grenade, he tossed it down the barrel of the tank, watching with almost sick amusement as the driver managed to crawl out before the machinery went up into flames. The man slowly made his way to his feet, still too dazed to notice the archer, who inched closer with his crossbow at the ready. He could have fired, already taken care of the man, but he wanted him to look, to know who was killing him. After everything these people had done to him and the rest of the group, it was the least they could do is look him in the eyes as he killed them. When the man finally turned, he pulled the trigger, watching as the light left the man and the body tumbled to the pavement.

He pulled the bolt out and glanced around. To his satisfaction, it looked like most of his people had escaped, but that didn’t make him any less angry. These people, the Governor’s people, he would make them pay for what they had done. He would track down every last one of those bastards. First though, he planned on waiting for the fucker he had just killed to come back to life, so he could have the satisfaction of killing him a second time. That is when a voice caused his blood to run cold.

“Daryl,” shouted Beth, her voice strained in a way that caused him pain to hear, as she ran out from the prison, clutching the semi-automatic he had handed her before the fight began.

“Thought you were on the bus girl,” he intoned, feeling his stomach drop at the idea of her not being a million miles away from this shithole.

“Have you seen Maggie,” the blonde gasped, her eyes searching desperately, her chest heaving, “where did Maggie go? And the kids, I came back for the kids and I can’t find them!”

Of course, because only Beth Greene would be able to be worried about other people, even other people’s kids, after just seeing her own father beheaded. She was running around, putting herself in all sorts of danger, because of her need to help people. It was his own fault that she wasn’t more prepared for this, didn’t know how to fight them, he had quit teaching her and now is when she needed those skills the most. All of Daryl’s plans went up in smoke. His dreams of hunting down every one of those fuckers, of putting a bolt through each of their twisted skulls. This was more important.

“We gotta go Beth,” he told her, hoping she wouldn’t fight him.

They couldn’t stay here, the prison had fallen, walkers were flooding in. Beth, as good of a job she was doing, wouldn’t be able to hold it together much longer, Daryl knew from when he lost Merle.

 “We gotta go,” he repeated, touching her arm lightly for emphasis, which seemed to snap the young woman out of her mission.

Carefully, he started towards the woods, praying she would follow because he didn’t think he could make her if she didn’t want to, not with everything else going on. He would need both hands if they came across a threat, couldn’t drag her by her wrist if she really refused. Thankfully, soft footsteps fell in behind him, which quickly turned louder as they started running. He could hear her breathe coming out in puffs as he did what he did best, disappear into the forest.

Beth’s POV

Everything felt so close and so far away at the same time. It was all she could do to focus on the angel wings in front of her, when she realized she had seen this before, she had known this would happen. She just hadn’t know that it would be this bad, how her whole world would fall apart for this moment to happen. She could still hear her daddy in her head, saying how they could make the prison into a home. She could see Judith in her hands as she walked up and down the stairs of their cell block. Those stairs were gone thanks to the tank that had crashed through all their barriers and shot up their home.

She tossed aside the semi-automatic, it was becoming too heavy for her to carry the weapon and keep up with Daryl. Besides, she still had the small pistol the archer had given her, it would have to do. Right then, a walker crashed through the brush, causing Daryl to come to a screeching halt as he shot it in the head, but the first was quickly followed by a second. Beth raised her pistol and she didn’t know how she managed with how much her hand was shaking, but she somehow shot it square in the head. The hunter turned and looked at her, before nodding in affirmation. Then, they were running again, only to be stopped when a shambling corpse crossed their path.

Finally, one of the times a walker came bursting out of the undergrowth, all Beth heard was a hollow click when she pulled the trigger. Damn. Before she could think of what to do, an arrow flew straight and true and the corpse tumbled to the ground. Daryl turned and kicked the next walker coming towards them. Beth used the moment to pull the bolt out of the decomposed head and then they were moving again.

Slowly, they ran into less and less walkers, heard less and less noise. Eventually, Beth couldn’t even see the smoke that was the ruin of her old home. The safe place as her daddy had called it. It wasn’t safe anymore. Her legs burned, but she didn’t want to stop running, if she did she feared she might not have the strength to keep going after that. Her lungs felt like they were on fire, but it was better to feel the pain than even begin to think about the past few hours. They kept going. She could tell Daryl was getting tired, they were both getting tired, but neither one wanted to stop. They took turns glancing behind them, as if expecting the Governor to be chasing them, expecting to be hunted down. The blonde’s legs trembled, a shiver running throughout her calves and thighs, but she didn’t want to stop, couldn’t stop. She had to get as far away as she could.

For most of their escape, Daryl had been in front of her, following her. Now he began to tire, anyone would lugging a huge crossbow after already having already been in battle. However, Beth couldn’t seem to slow down and she slowly overtook him until she was a few steps ahead. He didn’t tell her to stop, didn’t direct her, he just followed as she blindly crashed through the woods. No clue where she was going, just knowing she had to get as far away as possible. The hunter was like a hound dog, following her every step, not letting her get too far ahead.

Then, as they were crossing an open section in the middle of the woods, Beth’s legs finally gave out and she tumbled to the ground, Daryl following her. The both laid there, looking up at the sun, their ragged breathing the only sound in the silent air. After what felt like minutes, but could have been hours, Beth turned her head to find the archer already staring at her. In his eyes, she saw a reflection of herself, of how small and tired and frightened she looked.

In that instant, Beth hated herself, how weak she was, how she couldn’t stop what had just happened. Oddly enough, Daryl’s eyes were radiating the same feelings. They just stared, blinking occasionally as their breathing slowly returned to a normal rate. Beth could have stayed like that forever, if it were just her, she would have never gotten up again. However, Daryl had different plans. He was sitting up, grass and leaves covering the back of his vest now.

“Come on,” he choked out, his voice sounding more gravelly than Beth had ever heard it.

She just looked up at him as she continued laying in the grass. The blonde felt so tired, not just physically, but tired of caring, of trying, of hoping. When she made no move to follow him, Daryl’s eyes narrowed dangerously.

“Git yer fuckin ass up,” he snarled, leaning down over her, his piercing blue eyes suddenly becoming ice that seemed to penetrate her very soul.

As if on autopilot, Beth sat up, looking around at the shrubs of the little area they had ended up in. Then, she turned back to Daryl, who was standing there expectantly. Apparently, she wasn’t moving fast enough for his liking, because the older man suddenly reached over and grabbed her wrist with a callused hand, all but hauling her to her feet. A part of Beth wanted to fight back, to object to being manhandled, but most of her just didn’t care.

A noise brought Beth sharply into reality. It was the sound of Daryl’s belt snapping out of place as he undid the knife she had so often seen him wearing.

“Ere,” he shoved the weapon at her.

The blonde took it and stood there unsure of what he wanted.

“Put it on,” he growled, he voice becoming menacing, as if daring her to disobey.

Jerkily, her hands moved to her own belt, attaching the hunting knife, which seemed almost comically big on her hip.

Without another word, Daryl stomped off into the woods, leaving Beth with no choice but to follow. Usually the archer was as silent as panther, moving without a sound, but today it seemed like he was cracking every branch there was, enjoying when a walker stumbled out of the forest that he could brutally kill. Beth watched him without helping, because something told her he was doing this for himself. As the sun began to set, they made camp. Soon, they had a little fire going and had both plopped down on either side of it, staring at the flickering flames. Beth didn’t mention her empty stomach or aching legs, such things seemed trivial after what had happened that day.

Then, her mind leapt to Maggie, her sister, her only family left in this entire world. Her sister was tough, her sister could take care of herself, she had to still be out there. If Beth had made it, Maggie had made it too. Beth was willing to bet her life that Maggie had made it out alive. Her father always said they needed hope, this was the one thing Beth dared hope for. There would be no more prison, no more farming, maybe even no more Judith, but Maggie was out there, Beth just had to find her, she needed to find her.

“We should do something,” Beth said, her voice cracking hoarsely, sounding like somebody else’s.

Daryl sat on the other side of her, his knees drawn up to his chest, his arms wrapped around them. He didn’t even look her way when she spoke, didn’t even acknowledge her idea with a grumble or a grunt.

“We aren’t the only survivors,” she continued, finally causing the man to look up at her.

All she saw in his eyes was disbelief, as if she was spouting nonsense.

“We can’t be,” she argued with him, despite the fact that he hadn’t said anything.

“Rick, Michonne, they could be out here,” she reasoned, thinking of the stronger people in their group, people Daryl would want to find, “Maggie and Glenn could have made it out of A block.”

The archer cast his eyes down, as if he didn’t want to break the news to her, as if he knew something she didn’t.

“They could’ve,” she insisted, needing him to feel what she felt, acknowledge that there was hope.

Instead, his eyes just moved back to the fire, blocking out her words. Beth could feel what she could only describe as a panic attack coming on. She didn’t know why, but it was important that Daryl believe her, that he get onboard with this plan, not only because she didn’t stand a chance of succeeding without him, but she needed so bad to hear that there was a chance. She wanted him to believe there was a chance, to have any emotion on his face actually.

“You are a tracker,” she continued, wanting nothing more than to start moving again despite how tired she was, “you can track, come on!”

“When the sun is up,” she told him, her mind already running through how each day counted, how each day lost would only make it less likely that they would ever find them again, “if we head out, we can…..”

Her voice trailed off as she sensed he wasn’t hearing what she was saying. There was a lot of times Beth had felt distant from Daryl, ever since she had hugged him, he had avoided her like the plague. However, right now, in this moment, she had never felt farther despite him sitting a few feet away. Something in her just snapped, she couldn’t sit there like him, couldn’t stare into the fire without moving. It was killing her not knowing where her only family was.

“Fine,” she spat out, hoping to get a reaction, but she was disappointed, “if you won’t track, I will!”

This was nonsense, she didn’t know how to track, but right now her brain wasn’t really on the logical side. When Daryl still didn’t look at her, she felt more alone than ever. It was enough that she had lost her father, the prison, everyone she cared about, but to lose Daryl too? Not that he was lost physically, but mentally he was checked out. He was so withdrawn and Beth couldn’t stand seeing him like this any longer.

Letting out a huff in frustration, she stood up and began walking. Where she didn’t know, all she knew is she wasn’t going to sit there all night staring at the fucking fire in silence. It was going to drive her crazy and she was already pretty damn close to that. As her steps took her further, she began slowing, not actually wanting to leave her only companion behind but not feeling like she could stay. That is when the light behind her darkened and she heard a crossbow being picked up. He didn’t say a word, just followed her as the moon lit the path she chose at random.

Daryl’s POV

Something was wrong with the fucking world to have stuck him with Beth Greene. What the girl needed was her father, her sister, instead she had him. He could tell she was emotional, but he didn’t know what to do with people on the best day, much less right now. The archer could feel the waves of self-guilt and anger and shame flowing over him as he thought about the prison, how he let the Governor destroy everything that mattered to him and his little group. However, he had to shut that shit down because it wasn’t just him, he had Beth. And the girl needed him to be strong, to hunt for them, to track, to lead the way. He could do all that, he just couldn’t deal with all the emotional bullshit. Unfortunately, he had a feeling she was needing someone to do that just as much as she needed a meal.

His eyes watched as she walked in front of him, almost tripping over a tree root, but the woman kept going like she had some magical force drawing her forward. They had walked all night and when the sun kept up, they had just continued onward. He knew what she was looking for, he also didn’t trust himself to hope they would find the others. The hunter had already learned his lesson on hoping, on thinking that good things could happen. Hell, his life wasn’t good before the turn, why did he expect it to be now?

Suddenly, his eyes caught just the slightest indention in the soil, under the leaves. He bent down, brushing the foliage away to reveal footprints. Immediately, Beth was hovering over him, her presence like a 400 degree oven.

“Could be Luke’s or Molly’s,” the blonde guessed, despite having no training in tracking.

Her guess honestly wasn’t completely off, but he didn’t feel like admitting that.

“It means they are still alive,” she said, sounding confident.

He hated that, her hope, her confidence. It was infectious and he sure as hell didn’t want that shit infecting him, not after what had just happened.

“No,” he disagreed, “means they were alive four or five hours ago.”

The angry and disappointed look the blonde gave him made him want to disappear but something in him was looking for a fight and he stared right back.

“They are alive,” she hissed back, putting every bit of threat into her voice, daring him to try and tell her differently.

He didn’t know where her confidence came from, why she had it, but it hurt that he most likely was going to see it shrivel up and die. When they didn’t find the others, or worse found them after they had turned, he was going to have to watch her change the way he did when he was just a kid and realized he would never have a happy life, never have a normal father. That light that surrounded Beth, it couldn’t last. Something so bright and so good, it was like a big target sign for this dark world to close in on.

Beth’s POV

The blonde followed the steps she saw in the soil. She didn’t need to be a master tracker to see which way the people had gone, it was pretty obvious. Behind her, Daryl’s dark, intimidating presence loomed. Despite his lack of belief in her assertion that the others had gotten out, he still followed her.

“Picked up the pace here,” he commented, squinting down some of the tracks Beth just passed.

She didn’t know how he knew, but she was glad he was finally getting onboard. That he was finally doing something other than spacing out and putting walls up.

“Things went bad,” he continued, as if he was preparing them for what was up ahead.

“Wouldn’t kill you to have a little faith,” Beth quipped, his attitude pissing her off.

The blonde didn’t need any more reasons to be sad, to hate the world, to want to die. She had seen her father, mother, and brother die, both her homes destroyed and overrun, and now she was without her sister. The only thing she had left was the hope of seeing some of her family again and Daryl kept trying to put that hope out. It was making her blood boil the way he was acting.

“Yeah, faith,” he drawled, “faith ain’t done shit for us.”

The blonde felt her heart plunge. She remembered feeling that way, back at the house, right before she tried to kill herself. She felt like there was no hope, no reason to go on living. She had promised herself not to feel like that again, that she was going to be stronger than whatever this world threw at her. The blonde wasn’t about to give up now, but her companion sure as hell wasn’t helping with that. Her eyes caught a bush with berries, which she began reaching for but stopped when Daryl continued.

“Sure as hell didn’t do nothin for your father,” the hunter muttered, almost like an afterthought.

She spun around, really looking at Daryl for the first time possibly all day. What she saw there broke her heart. He was like her, he was human, and he was hurting. His eyes looked like he wanted to apologize for what he said, but his lips drew a tight line across his mouth as if to keep the words from tumbling out. The archer’s eyes watched her, as if waiting for her to break, to yell at him, to get mad. Suddenly, she knew he was trying to get a rise out of her. She didn’t know why, but she knew. Instead of doing what he wanted, she turned back around to the bush and began plucking berries, determined to ignore the surly man.

“They will be hungry when we find them,” she told him, as if there conversation hadn’t just happened.

The young woman was so focused on her task, she didn’t hear Daryl come up behind her. Suddenly, she felt a soft pressure on her arm and turned ever so slightly to find him offering one of his bandanas to her. His eyes and his gesture spoke an apology he would never say and for right now that was going to have to be enough. The blonde took the bandana and began loading it with the wild fruit. He stood behind her as she finished the task, keeping watch for danger so she didn’t have to. Suddenly, he raised his crossbow up and began moving. Beth noticed the change and followed him without a word. If something had but her companion on high alert, it was best to be quiet and stick close by.

Soon, they came upon two dead walkers. This was a good sign, if they had killed the walkers, whoever the footprints belonged to was still alive and putting up a fight.

“Ain’t walker blood,” Daryl said softly, his fingers releasing a leaf he had been inspecting.

He was trying to let her down easy, the tone in his voice said as much, but it just made her angrier.

“They fought them off,” Beth insisted, walking on so she wouldn’t have to stand there and argue with him.

She was on a mission. The blonde felt like if she could just prove to him that the others had survived, any of them, he would believe her. If Daryl could just see that someone else had made it, he would quit hiding behind those walls he had hastily erected and begin being himself again. Only once he was better would he be willing to agree to her plan to track down Maggie. It wasn’t just for her own ends though, Beth wanted Daryl to feel better. The man had gone through enough pain losing Merle, the prison, he didn’t need any more. He needed their family as much as she did.

“No,” Daryl told her, as stubborn as ever, as he began to walk off “got walker tracks all up and down here. At least a dozen of them.”

“Don’t listen to Daryl,” Beth told herself, “don’t let him drag you down with him. You have to believe, you have to hope, someone needs to do it.”

Just as the young woman was giving herself this pep talk, a twig snapped behind her. She whirled around to find a walker already reaching for her. The blonde tried to get her knife out, but she was too busy keeping the corpse off her and avoiding the snapping jaws that were headed right for her throat.

“Ugh,” she grunted as she did her best to push the much larger walker away.

Without warning, the walker’s hands were ripped from her wrists as Daryl drug the beast away by its shirt collar. However, the momentum caused the hunter to fall, still holding the walker on top of him. As fast as she could, Beth withdrew her knife and stabbed the monster in the skull as Daryl held it off of him. Once the archer moved the now motionless body off him, his eyes met hers and there was something like respect in them. He nodded ever so slightly as he picked himself off the ground and Beth swelled with pride at being able to do something for him. The older man picked up his crossbow, which he must have dropped in his hurry to get to her (which was surprising since it was almost like a permeant fixture in his hand) and muttered at her to come on.

She followed, happy that he was finally willing to take the lead, being a much better tracker than herself. Neither talked until they came out at an opening that held railroad tracks. Beth felt elation quickly sink in her stomach as she took in the sight ahead. Walkers were bent over, feeding on something. Everything felt distant as Beth recognized a shoe and a shirt between the mess of limbs and guts.

Daryl shot the first walker and the second, choosing to stab the third. He then mechanically pulled his bolts out and cleaned them on the shirt of one of the corpses. His dark blue eyes flickered over to her, not with an ‘I told you so’, but merely with concern. That is when the tears finally fell. For her father, for the prison, for these people they had tracked down that didn’t make it. Daryl was right, she had been silly expecting them to be alive, for expecting things to go the way she wanted.

The archer watched her warily as sobs wracked her whole body, causing her shoulders to heave and soon she was lightheaded. He didn’t say a word, just watched until they seemed to subside a little. Without any preamble, he nodded gently at her.

“Come on,” he instructed, but it was much less harsh than every other order he had given her lately.

Not knowing what else to do, Beth followed his demand, putting one foot in front of the other as she passed the mess. Flies buzzed around and the smell was almost overpowering, but she just kept her eyes on Daryl’s jacket, the wings, trying to memorize every stich. She took in the way he walked, with the slightest limp, the way his shoulders were hunched like he was holding the whole world on top of them. He may have not been holding that much weight, but right now he was certainly holding her together. If she had been alone, if Beth didn’t have the archer here to keep her moving, she would have given up by now. That was the one good thing in the middle of all this mess, Daryl Dixon.

Daryl’s POV

He was right, but he hated it. He hated seeing her cry, although somewhere in him he knew it had to happen at some point. What he hated most was seeing the blonde look expressionless as she burned pages from her journal in the fire. He knew that look, the one that said life was too hard and it was easier to give up. He honestly couldn’t say he felt much differently now. If it was just him, he would have. But it wasn’t just him, he had Beth and right now everything centered on keeping her alive. It didn’t matter if he was tired, sleepy, or hungry, if he kept Beth alive, somehow he hadn’t completely failed the prison family. Thing was, he could keep her alive, but he couldn’t keep the light in her eyes from fading. It was already starting to dim and he wanted to stop it but didn’t know how. He hadn’t been able to keep his own light, how could he prevent her from losing hers?

The sound of ripping paper filled the air and suddenly Daryl’s hand was closing around Beth’s wrist.

“Stop,” he ordered, causing her pretty doe blue eyes to look up at him.

“Just fuckin stop it,” he growled, releasing her hand.

He knew he was doing a shitty job with this, with dealing with Beth’s pain, but he was far from being an expert in teenage girls or emotions. Surprisingly, the young woman didn’t argue with him and tucked the journal, or what was left of it, back into the back pocket of her jeans. She looked over at him with a curious expression before letting it drop back down to the fire.

“I want to learn to track,” she suddenly said, a bit of a spark back in her eyes.

“Fine,” he grunted, because that was one of the few things he would be able to give her.

“And I’m gonna find Maggie on my own,” she continued, making Daryl want to groan.

This girl was impossible. He had thought seeing what happened to the others from the prison would squelch her desire for this freakin snipe hunt for her sister, but something in her just didn’t give up. As much as her persistence and disillusionment annoyed him, a part of it also caused a longing in him, wishing that he could be like her, that he could believe something good could happen despite all odds.

“You don’t have to come,” she informed him, sounding like she was making some sort of deal despite him already agreeing to give her lessons, “but once I learn, once you have taught me as much as you can, I’m gonna go look for her.”

He looked up across the fire at the equally, if not more intense blaze in Beth’s eyes and already knew, he would go anywhere she went.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

The blonde ducked into the trunk of the car, feeling a bit breathless when Daryl followed her in, squeezing himself into the tiny space. His longer legs went between her legs and she could feel the heat radiating off his body. He began wrapping his favorite red bandana around the latch to the car, keeping it almost all the way shut, only a sliver of light broke through. It was stupid to be so aware of him when she should really be focusing on the immediate danger they were in. They had been running from a herd too big to circumvent. It had been the archer’s plan to pile into the trunk of the car and hide as the walkers shambled by. She didn’t know if this would work, if they would survive, but she was impressed with Daryl for coming up with the idea. He always seemed to know what to do in a tight situation. That’s just who he was, reliable, dependent, quick-thinking, and a survivor. Beth’s positive view of the hunter had only increased during their time alone together, despite him being grouchy as hell most of the time.

After the hunter finished securing the trunk, he had his crossbow up again, his eyes narrowed, ready to take on the first walker that tried to get at them. In that moment, Beth was terrified, but she was also in awe. It was a thing of beauty to watch Daryl and his intensity. The way he was so focused staring down the end of his crossbow, he hadn’t even become awkward yet at their legs touching, because he was so concentrated on guarding their little safe space. The way his eyes squinted with focus and his biceps rippled, looking like he was ready to take on hundreds of walkers and win at the drop of a hat, it was beautiful. Not that she would ever call him beautiful to his face, not that it would make any sense. It was beautiful though, to see someone so alive and so strong and so full of life even when everything had tried to crush it out of him.

A not so distant moan drew Beth back to the immediate danger. The blonde fidgeted around, managing to get the knife out of her belt and hold it up so that she could help him if need be. Not that it would matter, if a walker sensed them, the whole herd would be on them in an instant. Something about being with Daryl though made her feel like even if that happened, they would find a way out of it. The moans slowly increased in intensity, as did the shuffling feet and clacking teeth.

The first one to hit the car almost made Beth gasp, but she knew by now how to control herself. Daryl’s eyes slide over to her and the danger in them was reassuring. The blonde nodded at him to let him know she was okay, that she could handle this. Just as easily, the archer’s eyes slide back to the crack, watching every movement. Soon, the car was being knocked around as walker after walker stumbled into it, dented it, and pushed it slightly forward. The whole time, it felt like Beth didn’t even breathe.  This was like some demented game of hide and seek and so far they were winning. Finally, after hours, the groaning sounds began to subside. Only an occasional footstep or moan could be heard.

Daryl raised his hand, indicating that she lay back. Obviously, despite the herd being gone, he didn’t feel safe leaving yet. Besides, this sad little trunk was the most secure shelter they had had in days. The blonde tried to get comfortable enough to sleep, she could certainly use the rest. However, her legs had fallen asleep being halfway pulled into her chest. She needed to stretch them out but that would have her invading Daryl’s territory more than her companion would probably appreciate. She tried to ignore the tingling feeling, but quickly gave up. The blonde did her best to limit her movement, as she tried to untangle herself enough to get the blood flowing again.

Her companion’s attention was drawn away from his view of the outside and onto her. He must have been having a similar problem, because his eyebrows tightened as her cowboy boot knocked his foot. She couldn’t seem to find any available space and was about to give up when Daryl suddenly grabbed her foot. He lifted her leg up and placed it in his lap, sliding his legs on either side of her body, creating a lot more room than before. The blonde smiled shyly at him, if this made her self-conscious, she could only imagine how Daryl felt. The older man had returned to staring down the end of his crossbow, but Beth thought she could see a slight red tinge down his neck. He wasn’t nearly as gruff and unfeeling as many people assumed.

Finally, the blonde drifted off to sleep, feeling safe with Daryl’s legs resting on either side of her.  However, her sleep was not a restful one. She was like a ghost in her dream, not there but still able to see everything without interacting. She watched as Rick, Daryl, and Glenn were gagged by strangers and dragged over to a trough where others were bound, where they were pushed down on their knees. Nearby, a naked, freshly murdered person was being cut into pieces by someone covered in a suit and holding a saw. A man with blood on his shirt picked up knives and began running the blades along each other, creating an eerie sound. Without warning, one of the strangers grabbed a man kneeling by the bench and slit his throat, letting the blood run into the trough. They went down the line, getting closer and closer to her group. The blonde could see the fear and anger in Daryl’s eyes and it made her heart cry out. The blonde woke up gasping, a hand covering her mouth.

Everything came back to her, where she was, who she was with. Somehow, Daryl had managed to twist himself around in the trunk to reach over to muffle whatever sounds she had been making. In the process, the man was practically hovering right on top of her. His left hand was supporting himself right by her stomach, his right was over her mouth, and his knees were in-between her legs.

“Fuck girl,” he whispered hoarsely, “can’t be makin noise like that.”

The blonde didn’t care that she was getting scolded or what awkward position they were in. Daryl was here and he was okay and not ready to be killed by some psychopaths. The blonde wrapped her arms around the hunter, causing him to get thrown off balance and fall right on top of her.

“You are okay, thank God Daryl” she breathed, as she held the man as tight as she had the power to.

That is when her actions caught up with her brain. The blonde had the intimidating hunter pressed along her whole body, in a much more intimate way than she had meant.  He had frozen completely, the only way she knew he was alive was a rattling breathe that tickled her neck. She let go and immediately Daryl scrambled to the other end of the trunk, untying the bandana like she was a herd of walkers he was trying to get away from.

“Daryl,” she pleaded, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I just had such a terrible dream and you…..they were gonna….I was just so relieved…”

“Need to get goin,” he answered roughly, not looking at her, “burnin daylight.”

As soon as he opened the hood, daylight poured in blinding her. Daryl was already out and walking down the road before Beth could even recover. The blonde hopped out, following behind him as fast as possible since he had set quite the quick pace. He seemed determined to put as much distance between them as possible. The whole day they didn’t speak a word until they finally set up camp for the night.

“Gonna go hunting,” Daryl had told her, dropping some of his belongings before stalking off.

The blonde felt bad about what happened earlier, but it also wasn’t her fault that he was so damn sensitive about any little touch. Still, she could try and make it up to him by doing as much as she could to get the camp ready before he got back. The young woman gathered sticks and began making a fire. She used a piece of a mirror to reflect the sun until little flames came to life around the kindling. Next, she set up an alarm system around their campsite and then worked on making a covering. It was small and barely propped up by the medium sized log she had found, but it was all that was available. Unfortunately, she already knew after this morning there was no way Daryl would be wanting a repeat session of them in close proximity so most of her work on building a shelter would likely go to waste.

The blonde sighed as she looked around at their few belongings. Things were still better than the day the prison fell in terms of their provisions, they had been picking up items here and there along their way. However, soon they would be running short on water and food. Daryl’s need to go hunting probably had more to do with this morning than their few supplies, but it was still a necessary task.

Daryl’s POV

Fucking girl, just pouncing on him like that. If he didn’t know better he would easily get confused about her intentions. He had already felt awkward as fuck trying not to be a creep as he had shimmied his way around the trunk to cover her mouth when his nudges to her foot and whispered warnings hadn’t worked. Then, when her eyes suddenly popped open and locked on him like he was the only person that mattered to her at that moment, her hands suddenly pulling him into her. Heck, what was a guy supposed to think when he had such a pretty young girl underneath him in that position? Shit, she had smelled so good even after them living out on the road, she had been so warm and welcoming. His dick had reacted faster than his brain had even been able to process the situation and the moment he had felt his pants start to get tight he had to get out of there.

Even once he got out of that goddamn trunk, Beth’s apologizes falling on his deaf ears, a buzzing still filled his whole body like he was about to vibrate out of his own skin. He had felt, still fucking felt, so ashamed. Last thing that poor girl needed after losing her home, her father, and their whole group was to have some redneck asshole making moves on her. A redneck asshole who hadn’t protected her home or her family and she was now stuck with. He felt like absolute shit, he could only hope Beth hadn’t noticed anything. If she had he thought the ground would just swallow him up alive.

Daryl growled as he looked down his crossbow at a squirrel, trying his best to concentrate but failing miserably. He pulled the trigger and watched as the potential supper ran away. His arrow was buried in the tree trunk and when he went to retrieve it, he noticed the wood along the shaft was cracking. Just his fucking luck. They needed food though. The archer wasn’t about to let Beth go hungry. No matter how much his sorry ass wanted to run as far away as possible from her, he needed to get the fuck over his own prissy emotional bullshit so he could keep her alive.

On his way back, he caught sight of movement on the forest floor. A big, fat rattlesnake slithered out from under a log and all at once Daryl saw the potential for them to eat tonight. Finding a stick with a fork in it, he snuck up behind the creature. It had been a long time since he had eaten snake, never a rattlesnake. He sure as hell didn’t want to get bitten, not when that was a death sentence nowadays. His vision focused down to the serpents head and then he lunged forward, using the stick to pin the reptile’s head to the ground before cutting it off with his knife.

He felt pretty good about himself as he brought the meal into camp. Surely Beth would be happy to see he had something for them. He didn’t know how to handle her, especially this morning, but if he knew how to do one thing that was survive. When he tromped into camp, he was pleased to see that she had already set everything up. Girl was a quick learner, she had obviously been watching how he strung up loud objects to alarm them to any walkers. If they could keep this up, pretty soon they would be a kickass team. His confident attitude deflated when he ran into Beth and saw the horrified look she shot at his kill before raising those baby blues to him as if pleading for him not to make her eat it.

Immediately irritated, he turned his back and began skinning the snake, easily pulling down the scales to reveal pink flesh. Even he wasn’t finding that appetizing to look at, but fuck, he wasn’t one to turn down a meal. When it became apparent that Beth wasn’t going to jump in and help him cook the meat, he grabbed the hubcap from earlier and placed it over the fire, setting hunks of snake around it. When it finished, he moved the makeshift plate and let it cool. All the while, the teenager hung back warily. Deciding it was time, he picked a piece up and bit a huge hunk out, to show Beth it wasn’t horrible. It actually wasn’t that great, but Daryl was used to suboptimal food. Picking up another slice, he walked over to Beth and shoved it in her hand.

“Really,” she asked, looking up at him.

He just nodded and went back to his spot and plopped down. Wasn’t his fault this was all they had, girl should be damn grateful. Out of the corner of his eye, Daryl watched as the blonde hesitantly picked at the meat and then sampled it. Obviously, she didn’t find it too disgusting because she finished it and even took a second, all the while looking defeated. The archer watched his companion, feeling like he should say something but knowing he wouldn’t be able to get the words out. Luckily for him, Beth didn’t have that particular problem.

“I need a drink,” she said suddenly, staring at him like this was some mind-boggling revaluation.

This request didn’t seem that weird to him, they had been walking all day in the hot sun. Sure, they didn’t have a ton of water but if she wanted some, he wasn’t gonna stop her. He grabbed one of the plastic water bottles, his grimy hands making it sticky, and tossed it to her, not wanting to risk getting any closer than necessary. The blonde flinched when it landed next to her and looked annoyed.

“No, I mean a real drink,” she clarified, moving the bottle aside, “as in alcohol.”

That sounded like a horrible idea to him, he knew how he got when he drank. Even if he had been a happy drunk, it wasn’t exactly ideal to be wandering around the woods in the middle of the fucking apocalypse drunk. That was how you ended up dead. He bit into the snake, hoping if he ignored her, somehow the topic would magically disappear. Of course, she didn’t drop it though, because this was Beth.

“I’ve never had one,” she continued, reminding him how young and too good she was for the likes of him.

“Cause of my dad,” the blonde explained, “But he is not exactly around anymore so….”

Those blue eyes were on him, he just knew it, could feel them burning a hole in his head, which is exactly why he didn’t dare glance over at her. He knew she could talk him into it.

“Sooooo, I thought we could go find some,” Beth finished, sounding hopeful despite Daryl’s very pointed lack of encouragement.

Daryl knew from experience what it felt like to want to make all the pain go away, how the alcohol did make it go away for a little while, but the hurt was always there again in the morning. He didn’t know how to tell her that or what better alternative there was to deal with her loss, so he just continued eating, praying she would forget her plan.

“Okay,” the blonde said after a minute, standing up from her spot, “enjoy your snake jerky.”

She walked past him and picked up the knife he had given her and had taken back to use to skin the snake. His eyes followed her retreating back and he knew he had fucked up again. Never could seem to do things right, especially when it came to Beth. Resigned to his fate, Daryl tossed his food back on the hubcap and began following the tracks the blonde had left.

Beth’s POV

Daryl pissed Beth off so much sometimes. She knew they weren’t super close buds and that she had freaked him out this morning, but seriously! She had had a whole conversation with him and he hadn’t so much as grunted or looked over at her. The blonde knew her anger at him wasn’t exactly warranted, that he was going through things just like she was, but that didn’t give him the right to treat her like shit!

“Jerk,” she muttered under her breath, which she never would have attempted if Daryl had actually been there, the man seemed to have supernatural hearing.

The young woman was drawn out of her anger by four walkers appearing in front of her. She at first considered going back to Daryl, since she wasn’t exactly the best at killing the shambling corpses and there was a lot for just her to take on, but that felt like defeat. Instead, the blonde pulled her knife out and hid behind a tree trunk. Her eyes darted down to spot a rock at her feet. She carefully bent down and snatched the object up and tossed it away from her. The blonde watched with bated breath as her plan actually worked and the turned humans stumbled off to other parts of the woods. Just as she was about to release a sigh of relief, a twig snapped and she turned around to find Daryl staring at her, his crossbow pointed at the walkers.

There was something about the look he was giving her that told her he had been there the whole time. That even if her plan hadn’t worked, he wouldn’t have let anything happen to her. It was so weird how one moment he couldn’t even look at her and the next he was ready to jump into danger to protect her. It was also the sweetest thing Beth had ever seen. Then, the archer turned and walked off, leaving Beth to follow him. She had to hurry to keep up with his pace, the hunter seemed to effortlessly dodge tree limbs and dart over debris.

“We have gone quite a way,” the blonde attempted to draw the archer into conversation after they had been walking a while.

When he didn’t even turn around, she tried again.

“What is your plan, do you know of any places the might have alcohol,” she questioned, wondering what his logic was.

Suddenly, her knees ran into a line almost causing her to fall on her face as cans began to rattle. The blonde looked around, taking in their campsite.

“What the hell,” she cussed out loud, for probably the first time in her life, “You brought me back!”

The young woman felt so betrayed for some reason, even though she knew logically that what she wanted wasn’t exactly the best for an apocalypse situation. She wasn’t the kind to drink her sorrows away, at least she didn’t think so. However, she needed to live a little, not just survive. The blonde wanted to let loose for possibly the first time in her life and she couldn’t understand why Daryl didn’t get that she needed this. She needed to forget for a little while, she wanted him to do the same, maybe then he would do something other than sit there like a bump on a log when she talked to him.

“I’m not staying in this suck-ass camp,” she found herself saying, even though she knew Daryl was just doing his best with what they had.

She honestly wasn’t mad about the camp, she was mad at him. Beth was mad at Daryl for not talking to her, for not listening to her, for not even deigning to do so much as even make a grunt when she said something. She was sick of him withdrawing from her and their whole situation and making her feel even more alone than ever. She was tired of his pessimistic attitude and constant reminders that their life was shitty and her dreams were probably never going to come true. With those thoughts running through her mind, the blonde did something she had never even dreamed of. She flipped Daryl Dixon off.

It was totally worth it, to see Daryl’s carefully constructed mask of not giving a shit slip off and be replaced by anger. As quickly as it appeared, it was gone again, only infuriating her further.

“Hey,” he snarled, grabbing the same hand she had shot the middle finger with and trying to drag her back to camp, “You have had your fun.”

“What is wrong with you,” Beth shouted, yanking her hand out of Daryl’s grasp only because he let her, “Don’t you feel anything?”

Even as the words came out, Beth knew they were not true, that Daryl probably felt a lot more than most people did. However, she was tired of him acting like he didn’t, of pretending like it didn’t get to him.

“Yeah, you feel like we are all screwed,” she shot out at him, “I guess that is a feeling, hunh? So you want to spend the rest of our lives staring into a fire and eating mud snakes? Screw that!”

Something she said touched Daryl, she could see it in his eyes. She needed to make him understand that surviving wasn’t living.

“We might as well do something,” she pleaded with the man, “I can take care of myself and I’m gonna get a damn drink!”

By now, getting a drink was more a matter of pride than actual want. She could do a number of things to make herself feel more alive but the fact that she had just argued with Daryl over the alcohol made her feel like she couldn’t back down now. In order to earn the archer’s respect, she needed to follow through with what she said she would do. The blonde headed through the brush, determination moving her forward.

Daryl’s POV

He knew he was being unnecessarily stubborn. Daryl had had more than enough drinks in his life, who was he to tell Beth Greene she couldn’t have one after losing so much. If anything, the idea had fired her up almost to her normal levels of activity, so obviously it was doing some good. The archer grumbled as he packed up camp, annoyed at how the woman just didn’t fuckin listen to him. Not that he normally listened to other people so he guessed it was karma biting him in the ass.

After getting everything together, he began tracking Beth. For a moment he got panicked when he didn’t see her trail anywhere, but breathed a sigh of relief when he found it again. Before long, he had the blonde in his sights again and all of the tension he didn’t even realize he was holding in his body released. Not wanting to anger her further, Daryl followed far enough behind that she didn’t notice him. God, this girl was so irritating, she knew just how to raise his hackles. He was doing his best to do what a good guy would do in this situation, be calm and keep his mouth shut if he couldn’t say the right thing. However, it was like the little blonde angel was just trying to provoke him. He wasn’t good with words, but they only got infinitely worse when he was angry. And God she made him so damn angry!

After a few hours, he could tell she was getting thirsty. Sweat trickled down her neck and gathered on the back of her tank, making it cling to her even tighter. Her cheeks were flushed a nice red, showing off how pale she really was. Daryl tried to keep his eyes from traveling places they shouldn’t but it was like fighting a losing battle. The blonde was already lanky and the lack of food hadn’t helped that any, but there was still something feminine about the slight curve of her hips and her chest. The way she walked, even angry, was fluid and sweet in a way no man moved. Her blonde hair was falling out of her ponytail and little ends were curling.

That is when Daryl decided he couldn’t walk behind her any longer. After clearing he throat, he caught up to the young woman, who didn’t seem to be that surprised that he had followed. After a moment of walking side by side, he decided he should at least try talking to her.

“Got some plan or just gonna amble around these woods for the next few days,” he asked.

“Well since you won’t help me and I don’t have a map, I don’t really see any other choice than to hope I stumble across something,” the woman told him, glancing up as if hoping he had changed him mind.

“Guess so,” he muttered, enjoying the annoyed look on her face more than he should.

“Are you gonna actually teach me about tracking or just be a pain in the ass the whole time,” the blonde muttered, shooting a glare at him that didn’t really have any weight behind it.

“I’m gonna start teaching when you start listening to me,” Daryl contended, just as stubborn as she was.

Right then, they broke into a clearing with a house up ahead. It was a golf course, one Daryl had seen before on his runs with Michonne.

“Golfers like to booze it up, right,” Beth turned to him uncertainty, looking for an answer.

Daryl wanted to snort, what was he the expert on alcohol? He probably was quite honestly after how much he had to drink in his youth, not that he was about to tell her about it. If she wanted to do this, she had to figure it out on her own. It was like a rite of passage. The archer glanced over at the walkers bee lining for them from around the golf course. There wasn’t many, they could easily outrun them. He turned back to Beth and gave her a nod that was hopefully encouraging.

“Come on,” Beth instructed, suddenly sounding confident despite her lapse earlier.

Despite how stupid this whole thing was, Daryl had to admit the girl had balls. When he was her age, he hadn’t thought for himself, led anything on his own. He had followed whatever Merle told him to do and when Merle was gone he found himself following whatever Rick told him to do. Rick was much better than Merle, but still, he was a grown ass man who was barely learning how to make his own choices. Here was Beth, young, grieving, and out of her element, and she still somehow found the confidence to make her own decisions and stick with them. She wasn’t a follower, Beth was a leader. And he sure as heck would follow her.

Beth’s POV

“Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea,” Beth thought to herself as she walked through the door Daryl held open for her.

Inside it was a complete pigsty, bodies were hanging by ropes from the ceiling, their decaying hands reaching towards her. The scent made her want to throw up. She was about to back out but Daryl was already through the door and closing it behind them with a golf club between the two door handles for higher security. The archer picked up a flashlight off the floor and to their surprise it worked. The hunter took the lead, inching through the mess and bodies, making sure everything was safe as she followed. Once the archer was sure the coast was clear, he dropped down to his knees and began shoving items into a bag.

“What do you need all that for,” Beth asked, but before the archer could answer there were walkers pounding on the glass door.

For a second, Daryl and Beth shared a glance of terror before the archer headed for the next room, Beth right on his heels. As soon as she was through, he slammed the much sturdier wood door and locked it. They were both breathing heavily when they turned to look at the unknown place they had run into. There were empty alcohol bottles laying all around as they made their way through, looking for an alternative exit. On a desk, she found a small little flashlight that had a tiny light, but was better than nothing. The next room they entered was a kitchen. Beth made her way for the pantry, finding just what she was looking for.

It was a bottle, of what she didn’t know but it was still sealed and that was the main thing. Sweeping the flashlight around to make sure there was no danger, the blonde entered the pantry and began reaching up to the highest shelf. She couldn’t quite reach, so she set the flashlight down and climbed up the shelf a ways before grabbing the alcohol. The blonde was so happy, she felt like she had won whatever argument Daryl and her were having. She had gone and found alcohol all on her own and now whether the hunter liked it or not, she was going to have a drink. Just as Beth left the pantry, so focused on her new find that she wasn’t paying close attention, a walker lunged out at her, it’s hands pulling at her right arm.

Screaming, Beth tried to fight the monster off and looked over her shoulder at where she had last seen Daryl but the man was nowhere in sight. He had followed her so often she just expected him to show up when she needed him most. The sound of gnashing teeth increased as the corpse got excited and Beth couldn’t get to her knife with the walker hanging onto her right arm. In desperation, Beth lifted the glass bottle and brought it down on the former human’s head, breaking the neck off. She then used the broken end to stab the walker in the eye repeatedly. The blonde was beginning to think that all her efforts were not going to be enough so in desperation, she shoved the walker hard and dropped the bottle, managing to get her knife out. With only inches to spare, Beth sent the knife home just as the walker was about to bite her. She watched the body slide lifeless to the floor before hearing footsteps as Daryl appeared around the corner, his eyes wide and terrified. When he saw her there they changed to something she could only describe as pride.

“Thanks for the help,” Beth breathed, annoyed more at herself for letting the walker get so close.

“Ya said you could take care of yourself and ya did,” Daryl said simply, before continuing off in his search of the house.

Beth felt something well up in her that wasn’t the same as when she held the alcohol in her hand, for the short period she had it that is. Something about Daryl’s praise, she knew he didn’t say things like that without meaning them. If he thought she could take care of herself, then she could. If Daryl believed in her, she could do a lot of things she never would have thought herself capable of before.

The next room they entered was the gift shop. It had all sorts of clothes that looked like heaven to Beth’s eyes. Daryl obvious wasn’t interested, Beth figured even before all this he was a one pair of jeans and a shirt kind of guy. However, she could do with a new shirt, her tank was getting dirty and didn’t cover her well enough to be protection against the scratchy tree limbs and the sun’s rays. After she had changed into a yellow polo with a white cardigan, she came back to find Daryl sitting on the counter smoking. He looked so good, even covered in dirt and blood, he somehow pulled it off. Only Daryl could look casual as he relaxed in a rundown, snobbish country club full of dead bodies.

The blonde was about to go up to him when something else caught her eye. It was a corpse set up like a mannequin. The woman’s shirt had been undone, showing off the woman’s bra and a sign that said ‘Rich Bitch’ was tied around her neck. The blonde couldn’t help but wonder at the never ending cruelty she now knew was present in the human race. She walked over to the woman and couldn’t help but imagine how she would feel if someone did this to her corpse, or her mother’s, or Maggie’s…. Beth shuddered at the thought and reached over to try and move the woman but she was stuck firmly on the platform.

The blonde looked over at Daryl for help, only to find that he was watching her curiously, as if he didn’t know what had interested her so much.

“Help me,” she asked him.

“It don’t matter, she’s dead,” Daryl retorted in his classic ‘I don’t give a shit’ fashion’, before taking another drag of his cigarette.

“It does matter,” Beth disagreed, wanting Daryl to see things how she did, wanting him to know that sometimes you did things just because they were right, not because they made a difference.

For a moment, the archer looked ashamed. Then, he picked up some piece of fabric and covered the woman.

“There,” he told her.

It wasn’t her first choice, but it worked. Just as they were looking for the next room to explore, a grandfather clock near them went off, causing a dinging noise throughout the whole building. Immediately, walkers started coming out of rooms all around them. Beth noticed one room none were appearing from and went for it, sure that Daryl would follow. When she got there, she found it was a dead end. The blonde turned around, her heart beating so loudly in her chest she could barely think.

Before she could even get her knife out, Daryl shot one of the walkers through the head. He was a blur of action, taking one out and then another. He was efficient as ever, dispatching each one as it came through the door. As the last one limped through, an old man who could have been someone’s grandfather, Daryl suddenly changed. Instead of killing the walkers as quick as possible, he picked up a golf club and began beating the walker, all over the body, not going for the easy headshot like Beth knew he could. Once he had the shambling corpse on the ground he started really hitting it, anger in his eyes, flashing with danger. Finally, he took aim at the head and finished the thing in one blow, causing blood to fly all over her.

“Oh,” Beth whispered under her breath, as she realized that Daryl hadn’t just been good at hiding his emotions this whole time, he apparently didn’t know how to process what happened at the prison.

The moment it happened Daryl stilled, as if he realized what he had just done. He looked over at her with regret and shame on his face. The blonde quickly unbuttoned the cardigan, now splattered with blood that would never come out, and tossed it on the floor. No use crying over it, she didn’t want to make Daryl feel worse than he already looked.

“Come on,” she ordered, going back out the door, as Daryl followed her with his head hung low.

The next room they found was the bar.

“We made it,” Beth breathed, before turning to her companion.

The look on his face just broke her heart, like he thought she wouldn’t want him around after what had just happened, like somehow he had scared her off and she was going to take off running.

“I know you think this is stupid,” she told him, trying to get him to look up at her, “and it probably is.”

 “But I don’t care,” she continued, “All I wanted to do today was lay down and cry, but we don’t get to do that. So beat up on walkers if it makes you feel better. I need to do this.”

She saw something like amazement in his eyes as she told him that she understood why he had done it and she didn’t care, that she was doing the same thing just in a different way. The look he was giving her was one she had never seen before, but she sure hoped she saw it again. Right now though, she had a bigger mission to worry about, like how she was going to get Daryl Dixon to loosen up enough to let her help him deal with all the emotions he obviously wasn’t handling. He had done so much for her, it was the least she could do for him.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

It was a fucking goddamn miracle, but for once in his life Daryl hadn’t opened his mouth and cause everything to go to shit. The moment he threw that bottle of alcohol on the floor and growled about how he wasn’t gonna let Beth’s first drink be no damn peach schnapps, he was sure he had fucked up. Girl had just worked so hard for that fruity drink. She had argued with him, drug his ass through the fucking forest, fought a walker, all for this drink so there was no doubt in his mind that she deserved it. However, it just hadn’t seemed right.

The archer had tried to ignore the way Beth’s eyes had started to water up as she clung to the neck of the bottle like a lifeline. This wasn’t the way a teenager was supposed to get their first drink. This should be something fun, something thrilling, not a tear-filled quick sip of some second-rate alcohol in a destroyed bar reeking of death. Beth deserved better than that.

It was that last thought that made Daryl quit throwing darts and pretending like he couldn’t see that the blonde was on the verge of a total meltdown. He strode over to the young woman and yanked the bottle out of her hand, tossing it to the ground, causing a tinkling sound to fill the air.

“Ain’t gonna have your first drink be no damn peach schnapps,” he had said, opening the door which led outside “come on.”

Once his mind caught up with his body, he wanted to smack himself so hard. He was sure he had messed everything up, that Beth would yell at him like she had been doing lately, maybe even finally leave his sorry, socially stunted ass. If she had slapped him he wouldn’t say he didn’t deserve it. Instead, a miracle happened. Somehow, the archer’s crass words and rough show of affection had the blonde wiping her eyes and sliding off the barstool to follow him. She wasn’t smiling, but she wasn’t on the brink of a breakdown, because of something HE had SAID. It had taken 32 years for him to ever accomplish such a feat, but he thanked whatever God was out there that it had happened today.

Soon, he had them both tramping through the forest towards a place he had found with Michonne when they were out hunting for the Governor. The Country Club had helped him orient his surroundings and now he had a good idea of what direction they should go. He noted the lack of walkers during their journey, which could mean they were forming a herd somewhere. Beth began humming very softly as they walked, not loud enough to draw anything, but just enough to cause Daryl to strain to hear every note. The blonde sure was resilient, she could go from looking utterly devastated to a humming ray of sunshine. There was a light in her that just didn’t seem capable of going out.

 “A motorcycle mechanic,” Beth suddenly blurted out from behind him, disrupting their mostly silent trek.

“Hunh,” Daryl grouched, mostly because he missed the music falling from her lips.

She was looking at him with curiosity and interest, something he wasn’t used to anyone doing, but then again Beth wasn’t like anyone else he had ever met.

“That’s my guess, for what you did before,” the blonde explained, bobbing her head in a way that caused his fingers to twitch “for what you were doing before the turn, did Zach ever guess that one?”

It always came back to this, to who he was before, doesn’t matter that the freakin apocalypse happened, he could never get away from his past. It was somewhat flattering that both Zach and Beth would think so highly of him as to assume that he had actually held down a job and contributed to society. However, it also made him that much more defensive because if they really knew what he was like before, they wouldn’t look at him the same way.

“It don’t matter,” the older man evades, “hasn’t mattered in a long time.

“It’s just what people talk about,” she clarified, “ya know, to feel normal.”

There is that word, normal. There has been so many times in the redneck’s life when he realized he wasn’t normal. The first time was when he went to school and noticed he was the only one with tattered clothes and bruises and a mom that didn’t pack his lunches. Then, when all the other kids went off to college or got a job, he had followed Merle in being a good-fer-nothin-piece-of-shit which involved multiple brushes with death. Now he was thriving in the apocalypse and unlike everyone else, he wasn’t longing for the past, he couldn’t seem to get far enough away from it.

“Yeah,” said Daryl with a slight defensive edge to his tone as his eyes slide over to her, “well that never felt normal to me.”

When his companion quit talking, he immediately felt bad. Daryl knew Beth, knew the blonde didn’t mean anything by what she had said. However, considering he had already said one thing right today, he had probably used up his quota for the next year. Luckily, soon after they came upon the very spot he was looking for, putting an end to the awkward silence. Before them was a trashy trailer house. Debris and old furniture was strewn in the yard and the paint was peeling. The weeds had overgrown the plot and the porch was littered with broken pots. A lot of places were looking run-down these days, but Daryl knew it probably hadn’t looked much different here even before all the shit hit the fan.

“Found this place with Michonne,” he told her, suddenly feeling nervous.

What if this was a mistake? So much of this place reminded Daryl of his childhood, he felt like he was stepping back in time. There was a reason why he had let Michonne scope the trailer out while he had stood watch. He hadn’t needed to go inside and see what was in each room, he already knew, the same way he knew there was a stash of homemade brew somewhere around here. However, Beth wanted a drink and he was determined now not to let her down, especially since he had destroyed her only other option for a liquid escape.

“I was expecting a liquor store,” came Beth’s confused voice beside him as she took in the holes in the roof and an overturned chair with only three legs.

“No, this is better,” he promised her, forcing himself to step onto the property.

Daryl’s brain told him that this was a different place and a different time, but his heart wasn’t listening. He was on edge, waiting to hear the sound of his paw kicking the door open and yelling his name.  His muscles tensed as if preparing for the pain of his old man’s belt on his back. Everything in him screamed to leave, but then Beth spoke.

“What is it,” the blonde asked, falling into a ready stance behind him and looking around, the girl had picked up on his wariness and was assuming he had spotted danger.

“Nothin,” Daryl mumbled, embarrassed that Beth had noticed how he was feeling and not wanting to explain.

The young woman looked over at him, her big, blue eyes taking him in as he felt a shiver run down his spine. The way Beth looked at him, no one else ever had. It was like she saw him, really saw him, not just the façade he put on or the lies he spat out. It was downright unnerving. He huffed and looked away, trying to break the connection before she saw too much.

The hunter led the teenager to a little side room attached to the house, his gut told him this is where he would find a stash. Once inside, he saw a still, several barrels of long rotted corn which mice scurried out of, and an assortment of pots and pans. At first, the archer was worried someone had already raided the place and found what he was looking for. However, upon closer inspection, he noticed a discrepancy in the floorboards. Sure enough, when he pried the board up, underneath were mason jars filled with a clear liquid. Just what he had been looking for. The redneck grabbed a wooden crate from nearby and carefully pulled each jar out.

“What’s that,” asked Beth innocently from the door, her eyes burning holes in the back of his head.

“Moonshine,” he answered, hauling the basket up and handing the prize over to the young blonde.

She looked so out of place standing there with her arms full of moonshine, dirt all over her clothes, her hair flying out of her ponytail, but there was a smile on her face. A smile he had put there.

“Gonna check the trailer, make sure it is safe,” he told her, wanting to escape the tingling that was starting in his chest, making it feel like bees were building a fuckin hive in his lungs.

 “Okay,” the blonde agreed with a grin, looking at him like he was Superman and not just some redneck hick who was giving an underage girl illegal alcohol.

Daryl lifted up his crossbow and hurridly entered the trailer. Ignoring the familiarity of the clutter, the archer focused on inspecting each room and listening for any sound. Much to his annoyance, there wasn’t a single walker inside. He really could have used something to shoot at right about now, he felt like he had too much energy inside of him. Instead, he went back and opened the door to let Beth in.

Beth’s POV

This shouldn’t be sweet, it shouldn’t be thoughtful. This was two lonely, hurting, broken people finding alcohol to numb their pain after a long day. However, the care Daryl took in cleaning a plastic cup like it was the finest glass and then pouring her a small amount of moonshine and setting it on the table made Beth feel like there was something more to this than just desperation.

“Now that’s a first drink right there,” drawled the archer, with what sounded like pride.

The blonde looked down, for the first time actually considering the implications of what she was about to do. Her mind raced through time remembering everything she had heard about alcohol. How her father said it was the devil’s tool, how he had almost torn his whole family apart with his addiction. This wasn’t what good, church-going, farmer’s daughters did, this wasn’t what Beth did.

“What’s the matter,” asked Daryl.

“Nothing,” Beth replied, feeling embarrassed that her past had such a strong hold on her, even after everything that had happened, “It’s just….that my dad always said bad moonshine could make you go blind.”

Her daddy had said lot more than that. Beth had only recently begun to realize that her father’s bad history with alcohol may have colored just how much Hershel had discouraged his girls from ever even trying a single drink. She wasn’t that girl anymore, the one who was always perfect and always listened to her father, but she still found herself hesitating. It irritated her so much, she wanted to grow up and be different, but she needed encouragement.

“Ain’t nothing worth seeing out there anymore anyway,” Daryl immediately responded, shoving the cup towards her, his confidence making Beth’s insecurities fade away.

Not allowing time to second guess herself, the blonde grabbed the cup and raised it to her lips. The moment she took a sip, the liquid burned it’s way down her throat, cleared out her nostrils, and made her eyes water.

“That’s the most disgusting thing I have ever tasted,” she blurted out, not being able to control her emotions.

She was rewarded with a snort and a shrug by her companion, who didn’t look surprised. That annoyed her a bit, that he had expected her not to be able to handle the moonshine. Seeing him look at her that way brought out her stubborn streak, without thinking of the consequences, she raised up the cup and finished it. The clear liquid scorched her throat like fire, but Beth didn’t dare let Daryl see that. She managed for once to keep a straight face and when she looked back at the archer, he had one eyebrow cocked, as if he wasn’t quite sure what to make of her daring attempt.

“Second round’s better,” she quipped, as if it had been nothing.

Unfortunately, she was pretty sure the older man could see right through her. Wanting to thank Daryl for going out of his way to help her find a drink, she reached for the mason jar, pouring the alcohol into her cup.

“Slow down,” cautioned Daryl, the rough tones in his voice affecting Beth more than usual.

“This one is for you,” she explained, offering the glass with a smile to her companion.

“No, I’m good,” the older man declined, confusing Beth.

She knew Daryl was no alcoholic, but from what she knew of the rough man she couldn’t imagine him being opposed to having a drink now and then. Especially after he had worked so hard to find this for them. Alcohol was becoming more and more of a rarity in the apocalypse and Beth couldn’t make sense of why the archer was opposed to this small luxury.

 “Why,” she asked, not wanting to pressure him but feeling thoroughly perplexed by his behavior.

 “Someone’s gotta keep watch,” he dismissed her.

Something about what the archer said bothered Beth. If Rick had been here instead of her, if it had been Glenn or Michonne, she didn’t feel like Daryl would have passed up a drink. Around her though, he had to always be on guard because he must view her the way everyone else did, a young girl that needed protection, not an equal. That really irked Beth because while she knew it was a long shot that the self-sufficient, older man would ever be interested in her the way she was in him, she had hoped at least to finally be something of a friend or at least someone he could rely on, someone he would take seriously. No, instead he just saw her as helpless child that he needed to watch over.

“So…what? You like my chaperone now,” asked Beth, annoyed that right when it seemed like the archer had been opening up her he was already shutting her out again.

“Nah, just drink lots of water,” avoided her companion, walking off and ending the conversation.

“Yes Mr. Dixon,” Beth called after him, feeling fed up with his attitude and deciding that if he wanted to act like her chaperone instead of her friend and traveling companion that she would address him as such, knowing that the title would likely irk him.

She had worked so hard the past few days, she had been through so much and she wasn’t going to let Daryl ruin this for her now. The blonde raised the cup to her lips, taking another sip of what she had poured for the archer. In the background, she could hear the hunter roughly shifting through piles of junk and tossing things to the side. Beth was disappointed that she would be drinking alone, drinking was much more of a social occurrence in her mind, but she was just going to have to make do with what she had.

Just as the young woman was finishing off her drink, a loud bang caused her to jump. She swiveled around, hand flying to the knife on her hip. However, it was only Daryl, who had suddenly started pounding nails into boards over the windows. The archer was hitting them with a ferocity that reminded Beth of the way he beat the last walker at the country club. The racket completely ruined any good atmosphere the blonde had been trying to imagine as she sat there drinking solo. It was also a sad reminder of just how unsafe they were. When Daryl turned around to pick up the next board he finally caught a glimpse of her expression.

“Wha,” he grunted between the nails he held in his mouth.

Beth shook her head ever so slightly and turned back around, determined to make the best of this moment no matter what mood her companion was in. After so much noise that she was beginning to get a headache, the young woman finally gave up trying to drink and began searching the trailer for anything of use. Maybe later Daryl would be in a better mood.

“Or maybe not,” Beth thought as a loud bang was followed by a string of curses.

The blonde carefully sorted through the piles of rubbish strewn about the floor, careful not to get cut by whatever could be laying hidden underneath the rags and newspapers. A simple cut could be disastrous these days if it got infected. In her search, she came across a big, pink, ceramic pot designed to look like a bra.

“Who’d go into a store and walk out with this,” laughed the blonde, pulling her find out for Daryl to see, hoping it would lighten his mood.

“My dad, that’s who,” said Daryl so bluntly that Beth was surprised.

Usually the archer didn’t talk about his past, except for the one time in the barn. Immediately, Beth regretted ever bringing the stupid pot out, he obviously hadn’t found it amusing.

“Oh, he’s a dumbass,” the hunter continued, as if that explained everything.

He must have read in her expression that she didn’t understand.

“He’d set those up on top of the TV,” the archer continued, motioning towards the ancient television on the floor, “use them as target practice.”

“He shot things inside your house,” Beth couldn’t help but blurt out.

She had known from the one time Daryl had talked about his dad that he wasn’t a nice person, but the blonde couldn’t imagine her father ever shooting something in their house, it was such a foreign idea to her.

“It was just a bunch of junk anyway,” Daryl said, trying to brush it off like it was nothing, “That’s how I knew what this place was. That shed out there, my dad had a place just like this.”

“Ya got yer dumpster chair,” the archer described like he was a tour guide for run-down trailer houses, motioning with the hammer he had found, “that’s fer sittin in yer drawers all summer drinkin. Got yer fancy buckets, that’s fer spitting chaw in after yer old lady tells ya to stop smokin.”

“Ya got yer internet,” Daryl said, reaching over to grab a limp newspaper.

Beth had never heard Daryl talk so much about his family or his childhood before, but suddenly it started clicking for her. The reason the gruff man didn’t want to drink with her and was in a bad mood had nothing to do with her and everything to do with this place. The man could take on a herd of walkers or the evil ruler of a community trying to kill them without batting an eye, but this junky home was another story. Before he could continue, a moan emanated from right outside the trailer. Beth rose to get up, but Daryl held out a finger to her and peered carefully outside.

“It’s just one of them,” Daryl informed her.

“Should we take care of it,” Beth asked.

“If he keeps making too much noise, ya,” Daryl answered, not sounding too concerned, which alleviated the blonde’s fears.

“Well, if we are gonna be trapped again,” Beth began, deciding that maybe now would be a good time to try and persuade the hunter a second time, “we might as well make the best of it.”

She picked up a bottle of moonshine and held it out towards the man in front of her. If this place had as many bad memories as he had just said, he probably needed a drink just as much as she had.

“Unless you are too busy chaperoning, Mr. Dixon,” She added, this time with playful edge when she said his name instead of a taunting one, to show him that she wasn’t mad about his refusal earlier.

The blonde could see the conflict going on in Daryl’s eyes beneath his long hair. He shuffled a bit, seeming uncertain before finally reaching over taking the jar to Beth’s utter delight.

“Hell, might as well make the best of it,” he agreed, not sounding entirely positive he was making the right choice.

Beth gave him her biggest grin as he plopped down in the chair next to where she was sitting on the floor. Daryl unscrewed the lid, his arms flexing in a delicious way, which the young woman tried to ignore.

“Home sweet home,” Daryl toasted in a resigned tone that broke Beth’s heart, as he put the jar to his lips and took a swig.

She had wanted the older man to drink with her, but not like this. He sat in the ratty, old armchair, sipping the moonshine like it was water while staring off into space in front of them. Beth wanted to help, she wanted to pull Daryl out of whatever dark place he had gone off to but didn’t know how. With Maggie, it would have been easy, all Beth had to offer to do was listen and her sister would talk her ear off until she had gotten it all off her chest. With Shawn, it had been different. Her brother liked to take his mind off things by being busy. Whenever her brother wasn’t acting normal, Beth would ask him to help her with a chore or come riding on the trail with her, anything to get him out of the house.

Daryl was definitely more like Shawn than Maggie, Beth couldn’t even imagine trying to get the archer to actually talk about what he was feeling. Most of the time it seemed like a struggle to even get the hunter to talk about necessary things like where they were going to make camp or what they would eat. Daryl was a man of action, he seemed most at peace when he was busy killing walkers or fixing his bike, so doing something would probably be the best way to make him feel better.

Then, an idea popped into Beth’s head, one that would make Daryl do something and talk, without seeming too invasive. The blonde unloaded the crate of moonshine, setting each jar on the table before taking the crate and flipping it upside down in front of the archer’s feet. His eyes tracked her movements but her companion didn’t ask what she was doing. The young woman sat down across from him and placed her drink on top of the crate.

“Have you heard of Never Have I Ever,” she asked, ignoring the skeptical look being shot her direction.

Ever so slightly, Daryl shook his head no. He looked warily at her, as if expecting that he was about to get dragged into something he wasn’t sure he wanted.

“Well,” continued Beth, determined to draw the rough man out of his mood, “it is a drinking game.”

When the hunter just stared at her, she had to push some more.

“It will be fun,” She promised, “just one game and then I will let you drink in peace.”

Finally giving in, Daryl slid off the armchair and down onto the floor across from her.  He leaned his back against where his feet had formerly been and pushed one of his legs out haphazardly across the floor. The older man set his mason jar on the crate before looking over at her. The blonde gulped, not really expecting to suddenly have the handsome but intimidating man so close and at eye-level to her. The archer brought his hand up, running his fingers across his lips and beard in a very distracting way.

“So,” she began, trying to regain her train of thought, “first I say something I have never done and if you have done it, you drink and if you haven’t, I drink. Then we switch.”

Daryl just stared blankly at her like she was speaking another language.

“You really don’t know this game,” Beth blurted out, wanting him to do something other than just stare at her, it was putting her on edge.

Normally, Daryl avoided any sort of eye contact, except when he was mad in which case you didn’t want to be on the other end of his glare. The young woman had become used to his avoidance during a conversation, the little side glances that quickly fell away the moment she tried to return them. However, that was not the case right now. For the first time since she had met him, Beth thought she had Daryl Dixon’s full and total attention. His dark blue eyes pierced right through his shaggy hair, watching every move she made, as if he was sizing her up or trying to figure out what exactly her intention was in trying to talk to him.

“I never needed a game to get lit before,” Daryl drawled casually, his deep timber making Beth feel a tingle that had nothing to do with the moonshine.

“Wait, are we starting,” she asked, trying to recover from her increasingly distracted thoughts.

“How do you know this game,” the archer inquired, ignoring her question.

Beth began to feel like this was a bad idea, somehow it seemed like she was being interrogated more than she was getting Daryl to loosen up.

“My friends played it,” the blonde answered, noticing how Daryl’s left eyebrow raised slightly.

“I just watched,” she added quickly, not sure why she felt the need to explain herself, “Okay I will start. I’ve never shot a crossbow.”

She glanced back over to find the hunter still staring at her in an unnerving way, his pointer finger running up and down his thumb.

“Ain’t much of a game,” Daryl finally said, reaching for his jar.

Beth couldn’t help but smile, he was finally going along with this! She watched as he took a drink, enjoying the way his muscles moved when he swallowed.

“That was a warm up,” Beth insisted, feeling sure he wouldn’t back out now, “now you go!”

“I don’t know,” Daryl mumbled, hanging his head, as if he lacked confidence in his own ability to play a game.

“Just say the first thing that pops into your head,” Beth encouraged.

“I’ve never been out of Georgia before,” he finally answers, looking up at her with questioning eyes as if unsure if that is an acceptable response.

“Really,” Beth says, “Okay, good one.”

The blonde raises the bottle to her lips and takes a sip, she can already feel her brain starting to go a little fuzzy.

“I’ve never,” Beth tries to think of something and then glances down at the cup in her hand and finds inspiration, “been drunk and done something I regretted.”

Daryl plucks his jar up and takes a swig.

“I’ve done a lot of things,” he tells her, sharing despite explanations not being required for the game.

“Your turn,” Beth instructs, since the older man still seems very unsure of himself.

“I’ve never been on vacation,” he finally admits.

“What about camping,” she asks, hoping to catch archer and make him drink.

“No, that was something I just had to learn,” he answers, “how to hunt, how to make shelter.”

“Your dad teach you,” asks the blonde, who normally wouldn’t pry so much but the alcohol in her system was making her speak her thoughts.

“Mm-hmmm,” Daryl mumbles, confirming her guess.

The way he agrees and based on what he described about his father earlier, Beth can’t imagine learning to hunt with Daryl’s dad had been a fun experience. The archer looks pained again, the exact thing she was trying to make him forget back at the forefront of his mind.

“Okay,” she says trying to be as cheery as possible and change the subject, after she takes a sip from her cup.

“I’ve never…,” Beth begins, searching for the next thing and her mind flits back to her family at the prison, “been in jail before.”

“I mean, as a prisoner,” she explains, trying her best to make sense of what her jumbled brain is attempting to say.

When she looks back up, Daryl is still looking at her like he has been this whole time, but now there is a fire in his eyes and a certain tightening of his muscles that tell her something is wrong.

“Is that what you think of me,” he says slowly, as if mulling over every word.

“I didn’t mean anything serious,” Beth quickly tries to explain, desperately wanting to make him understand that she would never think badly of him“I just thought, like ya know, the drunk tank. Even my dad got locked up for that back in the day.”

“Drink up,” he commands her, an icy stare replacing the earlier fire.

“Wait,” she says, trying to change back to an earlier game, one that hadn’t made him as mad, “prison guard. Were you a prison guard before?”

“No,” he replies flatly, with a look that would terrify most people.

“It’s your turn again,” she says, not really knowing how else to fix the walls that Daryl is quickly putting back up.

Daryl stands up with a grunt and walks off.

“I’m gonna take a piss,” he informs her, as if that is a normal parting statement.

The blonde looks down at the drink in her hand, clutching the cup in desperation to somehow salvage the situation. Any idea of calming Daryl down flies out the window when she hears the tinkling sound of breaking glass and looks up to find that the archer had tossed his jar on the floor.

“You have to be quiet,” she reminds him, feeling a bit uneasy at having to inform her companion of one of the widest known rules of the apocalypse.

“Can’t hear you,” Daryl shouts, as he begins unzipping his pants in the back corner of the kitchen, “I’m taking a piss.”

Beth doesn’t need to see her face to know it is flushing a bright red that has nothing to do with the alcohol. Sure, she thought Daryl was attractive and had a number of thoughts about him that she probably shouldn’t, but the idea of him whipping his dick out right in front of her had the young woman all sorts of flustered. Luckily, he was turned away otherwise she didn’t know if she would have been able to speak.

“Daryl, don’t talk so loud,” the blonde attempted, trying to reason with her drunk companion.

The sound of liquid hitting the floor fills Beth’s ears and it is all she can do not to die of embarrassment.

“What are you my chaperone now,” barks the older man, turning around to look at her while he empties his bladder.

Beth’s eyes become saucers as his twisting causes her to see part of his cock, which is nothing at all like Jimmy’s, the only thing she has to compare it to. The archer’s is much bigger and thicker looking and just the sight of it has Beth tingling between her legs. However, her modest upbringing and the knowledge that if Daryl were sober he wouldn’t want her seeing him like this has her turning her head. After what seems like hours, she can finally hear zip of Daryl putting his pants back on.

“Wait,” he snaps, “It’s my turn right.”

The blonde feels like it is finally safe to look up and when she does her vision is filled with the archer buckling his belt back in place. Her head swims with both the alcohol and what seeing Daryl like this, even though the situation is completely not the least bit sexual, does to her.

“I’ve never,” Daryl begins, making his way back over to her, “…eaten frozen yogurt. Had a pet pony.”

The archer delivers these biting comments with his side to her, not facing her directly like he had been during their game.

“Never got nothin from Santa Claus,” Daryl continued, his voice raising as his hand hits at a chair.

“Never relied on anyone for protection before,” the archer adds, his comments containing more venom with each sentence, “Hell, I don’t think I have ever relied on anyone for anything before!”

“Daryl,” Beth tries to break his rant, feeling so bad that she set him off and that he was saying things he probably would never tell anyone if she hadn’t convinced him to drink.

“Never sung out in front of a big group out in public,” the gruff man shouts, bulldozing over her, “like everything was fun! Like everything was a big game!”

The way he is holding himself and snapping at her, Beth can’t help but compare him to a scared, abandoned dog, who barks and growls at anyone trying to help it more out of fear than actual anger.

“I sure as hell never cut my wrists looking for attention,” he hollers, the anger coming off his body in waves.

Beth sucks in a breath of air like she had been punched. She knows he doesn’t mean it even as he says it, knows that if it weren’t for the alcohol and the stress of their whole situation he wouldn’t be trying to push her away by being a dick, but it still hurts. Yet, in some way it is also cathartic, because Beth has been tired of how everyone carefully ignores any mention of what she had done to herself, how they treat her like she might break if they say the wrong thing.

Right then, there is a bump against the trailer and from outside there is a growl, Daryl’s shouting had excited the walker.

“Oh, sounds like our friend out there is trying to call all his buddies,” mouths off the archer, kicking an old can and creating even more of a ruckus.

Beth is starting to become worried, not about their argument, but how she could possibly calm Daryl down enough to not draw a whole herd to their trailer.

“Daryl, just shut up,” she hisses, contemplating how likely she would be to succeed at getting the archer to be quiet if he didn’t want to be.

“Hey,” Daryl barks, after picking up his weapon and whirling around to face her, “ya never shot a crossbow before?”

The wild look in her companion’s eyes has Beth on edge, she can practically see bad ideas forming in his head.

“I’m gonna teach you right now,” he decides, stalking over to her and grabbing her arm, hauling her off the floor and out the door like she weighs nothing, “come on, it’s gonna be fun.”

Beth had wanted to learn to shoot his crossbow for a long time, but not like this. Things were really getting out of control. Sure, Daryl was an amazing fighter and had handled himself in many bad situations, but he was drunk, which meant his coordination and decision making would all be off. What should be one simple walker could easily turn into a death sentence for either of them.

“We should stay inside,” the young woman tries to reason with the hunter, her attempts at halting him were completely in vain though as he pulls her along, “Daryl! Cut it out!”

“Dumbass,” shouted Daryl when he catches sight of the walker, finally letting go of Beth’s wrist so he can grasp the crossbow, “come here dumbass.”

The blonde is now free to run back into the safety of the trailer but there was no way she is going to leave Daryl out here alone in his current state. Using a precision and skill that was even more impressive in his drunken state, the archer shoots a bolt, pinning the walker to a wooden pole. He swiftly bends down to notch the next one.

“Daryl,” Beth tries again as he reloads all too quickly.

“You want to shoot,” the older man offers, his breath coming in pants.

“I don’t know how,” Beth scrambles, trying to come up with an excuse, any excuse to get her drunken companion to stop and come back inside.

“Oh, it’s easy,” shouts Daryl, grabbing her around the shoulder, his hand drifting dangerous close to one of her breasts as he hauls her up against him and her whole back heats up with his warmth.

“Left corner,” comes the gruff bark in her ear, as the archer raises the crossbow up with one hand and takes aim, hitting his target.

Beth had to admit, she was impressed, not many people could have done that with both hands. She also didn’t mind how close they were pressing up against one another, but the situation made her unable to enjoy the rare contact.

“Let’s practice later,” she pleads, saying whatever she hopes would get him back inside.

“Come on, it’s fun,” the hunter disagrees, ignoring her as he reloads yet again.

“Just stop it,” the blonde yells desperately, running out of tactics and her head moving too slow to come up with any more, “Daryl!”

“Come ‘ere,” the archer growls, grabbing her shoulder and turning her until she falls back against his chest, where he loops one arm around her neck.

“Eight ball,” he slurrs, letting another arrow fly.

“Just kill it,” Beth screams, reaching the end of her rope with Daryl’s behavior.

There was no stopping Daryl though.

“Come here Greene,” the archer insists as he begins making his way towards the walker, “let’s pull these out, get ah little more target practice.”

Beth feels herself snap. She reaches down to her belt and pulled out her knife, striding fast to get ahead of the older man. Quickly, she burrows the sharp weapon into the walker’s skull, feeling the animated body go lifeless beneath her blade.

“What the hell you do that fer,” accuses Daryl, as he turns on her “I was havin fun!”

“No,” shouts Beth, feeling like she should reign in her emotions but they are like water, slipping through her fingers and unable to be held back, “you were being a jackass!”

This isn’t how she talks, but in that exact moment it didn’t matter. Beth wasn’t the good, straight-A student who went to church every Sunday. She was an 18 year old who had lost both her parents, her brother, and no longer knew what happened to her sister. All she had left was Daryl and if he kept this up something would happen to him too! She sure as hell wouldn’t want anyone treating them like this if they turned.

“If that had been my dad…”she begins, pointing at the walker she had just killed.

“Don’t,” snaps the archer, cutting her off, “that ain’t remotely the same!”

“Killing them is not supposed to be fun,” Beth hollers, refusing to back off and actually moving closer to the man she is arguing with.

“What do you want from me girl,” shouts Daryl, immediately surging towards her as she invades his personal space bubble, his eyes shooting fire and his jaw clenching, “hunh?”

Beth takes a few steps back but stops and finds to her surprise that Daryl does too. This give her confidence, reminds her that for all of Daryl’s barking, he at least won’t bite her.

“I want you to stop acting like you don’t give a crap about anything,” she exclaims, finally voicing what she had been wanting to say for a while now, “like nothing we went through matters! Like none of the people we lost meant anything to you!”

The way Daryl was holing everything up inside was unhealthy. She knew he didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to show he cared, but she couldn’t let him do that to himself. The young woman had tried her best to help him let go with casual talking and games but apparently he required a more direct approach.

“It’s bullshit,” she screams, tired of acting like everything is okay.

“Is that what you think,” bites back Daryl, advancing towards her with narrowed eyes.

In the back of her mind Beth knows she should be intimidated, but she also knows Daryl would never hurt her. The archer had said some pretty horrible things to her, ignored her, and even screamed in her face, but never once had she felt truly scared of him, she trusted him.

“That’s what I know,” asserts the young woman, refusing to let the hunter win.

“You don’t know nothin,” Daryl immediately shoots back, almost more out of habit than actual animosity.

However, his words strike a cord in Beth because she often felt like she didn’t know enough to make it in the apocalypse. Her inadequacies were something that plagued her every single day. She isn’t a fighter like Daryl, a leader like Rick, a doctor like her father, or a survivor like Carol. However, she knows she isn’t a complete failure because anyone whom managed to survive this far should be damn proud of themselves!

“I know you just look at me and see another dead girl,” Beth replies in kind, remembering the conversation she had overheard back at the farm, “I’m not Michonne. I’m not Carol. I’m not Maggie. I survived and you don’t get it cause I’m not like you or them! But I made it and you don’t get to treat me like crap just because you are ….afraid!”

The moment the last word falls from Beth’s lips, she can sense Daryl firing up all over again.

“I ain’t afraid of nothin,” Daryl snarle at her, inches from her face, but for some reason it sounds like he is trying to convince himself more than her.

“I remember,” pushes Beth, who has always been able to read people’s emotions better than most, “when that little girl came out of the barn, after my mom.”

The archer turns away as if he won’t be able to hear her if he can’t see her. For once, Beth thinks that maybe she is getting through to him.

“You were like me,” insists Beth, “and now God forbid you ever let anybody get too close!”

“Too close, hunh” questions the older man, whirling on her, “you know all about that. You lost two boyfriends and can’t even shed a tear! Your whole family is gone and all you can do is go out lookin for hooch like some college bitch!”

“Screw you,” replies Beth in kind, finally giving up on trying to help Daryl work through his emotions, “you don’t get it!”

“No, you don’t get it,” snaps Daryl, a wild look filling his eyes, “everyone we know is dead!”

“You don’t know that,” shrieks Beth, hating how he is so ready to give up on their whole prison family.

“Might as well,” hollers the hunter, “cuz you ain’t never gonna see em again!

The blonde knows Daryl is just lashing out in fear and pain, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. She can feel her tears building and tries to blink away any signs of her distress.

“Rick,” continues the hunter, “You ain’t never gonna see Maggie again!”

“Daryl, just stop,” cries Beth, as she reaches for his arm, wanting nothing more than to crawl into a hole and sob for the rest of the day.

“No,” he bellowes, yanking his whole body out from under her touch.

“The Governor rolled right up to our gates,” he continues, his back to her, when suddenly his voice changes from anger to desperation, “maybe if I hadn’t stopped looking…maybe if I hadn’t gave up! That’s on me!”

There it is, the real reason Daryl has been so withdrawn and angry. It had only taken days, a crate of moonshine, and a huge argument to get it out of him.

“Daryl,” Beth begins reaching for him, wanting nothing more than to ease his mind of any guilt he had wrongfully placed on himself.

“No,” he whimperes, drawing away, “and your dad! Maybe I could have done somethin!”

Beth can hear the way Daryl’s voice is breaking, she know he has his back turned from her for a reason. She can’t stand it though, the archer more than anyone else had done his best to keep them all safe, it isn’t right for him to pile all this blame on himself. The blonde didn’t know if she had ever seen someone so broken and her words were not getting through to him at all. That is when she knew what to do. The young woman steps forward and wraps her arms around the much larger, gruff man, holding him tight so he won’t pull away, to her surprise he doesn’t try.

Beth has hugged a lot of people, but never like this. Never had she felt like she was holding someone together to keep them from falling apart while at the same time clinging to them for dear life. The blonde presses her head between Daryl’s shoulders and shakes it back and forth, silently denying any of the responsibility the hunter felt he had for what happened back at the prison. She puts every bit of her love and sadness and respect into that one hug, holding him as hard as her arms will allow her to.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

             Daryl can count on one hand the number of times he had been hugged in his life. The first was by his mama when he was a little boy, before she started using a bottle to escape the reality of their home life. The second was by Merle after Daryl had been beat up by their old man for the first time. The third was by some strung out bitch at a bar his older brother had dragged him to, which made him wince to even remember. The fourth was by Beth, the night he told her Zach had died. Now, she was hugging him again, holding him together as he finally gave into his feelings of self-hate and regret in his drunken state. Beth Greene was the only person who had ever hugged him twice, the only person he had ever let hug him twice.

              He knew this wasn’t safe, standing there like waiting targets, while his vision blurred so bad he didn’t know if he could tell the difference between a walker and an actual human if they came at him right now.  It was official, he was a shit chaperone, not that he was ever really much of one to begin with, Beth didn’t listen to him half the time anyway. Thin, strong arms tightened around him, trying to comfort him even in the midst of her own grief. Why was it always like this? Right when he should be the one comforting her, after her boyfriend or dad died, she ended up being the one comforting him. Daryl let his hand raise up and clutch at one the wrists wrapped around his middle, holding her there like a lifeline. The sobs that racked his body shook her just as much as they shook him, but that only made her squeeze tighter.

              Slowly, the tears stopped and his breathing evened out. Daryl’s vision came back into focus and he was suddenly hyper aware of just how vulnerable they both were standing outside after they had made enough noise to draw any walkers within a mile radius. The archer used his shirt collar to rub the wetness from his eyes and coughed, trying to figure out how to extract himself from the blonde’s tight grip. However, Beth seemed to sense that he had reached his limit on physical contact and unwound her arms and stepped back from him.

              “Best head inside,” he said, his voice hoarse from yelling and crying, his face red with embarrassment at falling apart like he had.

              “Okay,” Beth whispered so softly he almost didn’t hear it.

              The hunter picked up his crossbow from his feet and carefully stared down at his feet, embarrassed to make eye contact with the blonde after what had just happened. The young woman stumbled after him, the moonshine obviously affecting her coordination, but she managed to make it up the steps into the shitty house without help.

              Inside, it was hot and smelled like piss thanks to his stupid drunk self. There was no wind to air the smell out and even if there had been, he had boarded the windows all up.

              “Definitely have gotten drunk and done things I regret,” Daryl thought, his mind wandering back to what seemed like forever ago when he and Beth were playing that damn game.

              He looked back to find Beth standing in the middle of the room staring despondently around her and knew that they couldn’t just sit here. Carefully, making sure to not startle the young woman after his outburst, Daryl picked his way through the shit and took her elbow, gently this time, leading them out to the porch. The archer sunk down, feeling all the energy go out of him as the alcohol buzz began slipping away. They both sat in silence, listening to the crickets and other wildlife. Not a single walker stirred, somehow they had gotten lucky enough not to attract any with all their commotion.

              Daryl felt like shit. He felt like his father, getting drunk and yelling at Beth who hadn’t done anything wrong. He wanted to open his mouth and apologize, tell her he hadn’t meant any of those thing he had said, but his mouth felt like it was full of lead. All the older man could do was shoot sideways glances at his companion as he tried to make words come to his mouth. None came.

              Finally, as the awkwardness had reached its peak, Beth stood up and went inside.

              “Damn,” Daryl thought, “gone and fucked this whole thing up. Girl prolly doesn’t even want to be around me now, can’t blame her.”

              However, he was surprised when she came back out the screen door holding a jar of moonshine. Girl just didn’t let anything stop her. The blonde caught his stare and turned, piercing him with those blue eyes of hers.

              “What,” she asked, as if threatening him to even try and take the jar away.

              “Nothin,” Daryl said, shrugging, he wasn’t even going to begin and try to tell her what to do after this afternoon had made it perfectly clear just how responsible he was.

              He pulled out his knife and began whittling away on the porch, carving little markings into the wood without any real intent other than to avoid the blonde’s gaze, which she had turned on him full force. It was unnerving how she just sat there staring at him like he was some fascinating creature. It made him feel restless to have so much attention focused on him. Daryl didn’t know if she was mad about what had happened earlier, thought less of him after seeing him break down, or was deciding it was his fault that the prison fell, he could never make sense of those looks she gave him.

              “I get why my dad stopped drinking,” she said suddenly and out of the blue.

              “You feel sick,” he asked hoarsely, raising his head to inspect the blonde.

              Beth didn’t look like she was about to throw up, but his eyes moved over her desperately, needing to make sure she was okay.

              “Nope,” she replied with a funny emphasis on the word that told Daryl she was still buzzed, “I wish I could feel like this all the time.”

              The archer managed to hold back a snort at the blonde’s comment, she was something else.

              “But that’s bad,” she said, slurring her words in a way that would have been funny if not for their whole situation.

              “Hmmm,” Daryl mumbled, going back to looking down at the porch, still feeling ashamed to even be in Beth’s presence after everything but too scared to let her out of his sight.

              “You’re lucky you’re a happy drunk,” he said wistfully, wishing he was more like her when he drank, feeling the guilt eating him up from the inside after everything he had said to her.

              “Yeah, I’m lucky,” retorted the young woman, still staring at him, “some people can be real jerks when they drink.”

              For just a millisecond, Daryl’s hand froze in mid-action of cutting up the floor of the porch. Quickly, he recovered and began making holes in the post railing by his knee, which allowed him to look in Beth’s general direction without looking directly at her.

              “Yeah,” he agreed, “I’m a dick when I’m drunk.”

              It wasn’t an apology, it didn’t even begin to cover all the horrible things he had said to her, things he shouldn’t have said no matter how drunk he was. However, when he finally gained the courage to move his eyes from his knife over to the blonde, she was smiling at him like he hadn’t just given her the shittiest apology possible. Her eyes held no judgement, no anger, she just stared at him like he wasn’t some redneck trash who had taken his problems out on her and put them in danger and then needed her to hold him together. It was a look that said he could trust her.

              “Merle had this dealer,” Daryl began, wondering even as he started the story if this was a mistake, “this janky little white guy. A tweaker.”

              Even through the moonshine buzz, all of Beth’s attention was focused on him, Daryl could tell. It was a bit unnerving, he had never had anyone really listen to him the way Beth does.

              “One day we were over at his house,” the archer continued, “watching TV. Wasn’t even noon yet, we were all wasted. Merle was high. We were watching this show and Merle was talking all this dumb stuff about it. And he wouldn’t let up. Merle never could.”

              Daryl can still remember that moment, hearing his brother’s taunts, seeing the anger build in the tweaker’s face, knowing that no matter what he said, nothing would shut his brother up.

              “Turns out, it was the tweaker kid’s favorite show,” the hunter explains, “and he never sees his kids, so he felt guilty about it or somethin. So he punches Merle in the face. So, I start hitting the tweaker, like hard, as hard as I can.”

              “Then, he pulls a gun and sticks it right here,” he says indicating to his own head with his fingers pointed in the shape of a gun, causing Beth’s eyes to widen.

              “He says ‘I’m gonna kill you, bitch’,” Daryl tells Beth, remembering the fear in his stomach at hearing those words and feeling the cold metal pressed up against his skull, “so Merle pulls his gun on him. Everyone’s yellin, I’m yellin. I thought I was dead…..over a dumb cartoon about a talkin dog.”

              Daryl suddenly feels himself backing out of his former decision to tell Beth about his past, to let her know what a total shit he was, what a shitty life he had. He drops his head, his fingers running over the marks he made in the wood.

              “How’d you get out of it,” asks Beth, sounding genuinely concerned

              “The tweaker punched me in the gut,” he spits out, putting to bed any thought the girl might have had that he had saved himself, that he was any sort of hero, “I puked. They both started laughing and forgot all about it.

              “Ya want to know where I was before all this,” Daryl says, looking into Beth’s eyes, wanting to see the way she looked at him like he was worth something one last time.

              “ I was just driftin around with Merle…,”he admits, swallowing down the pride he has felt from everyone from his prison family thinking he was somebody before the world went to shit, “doing whatever he said we were gonna be doing that day. I was nobody…..nothin. Some redneck asshole with an even bigger asshole for a brother.”

              Daryl can’t stand to look at Beth while the truth sinks in. He shakes his head and looks off into the woods which are quickly becoming dark as the sun sets. The archer had spent his whole life running from his past, trying to make a new life. Now, he realized he hadn’t been able to outrun it. It had caught up to him and now Beth would know who he really was and he felt like absolute shit. Shit that didn’t deserve to be talking to the sweet, blonde angel in front of him, much less being smiled at and hugged by her.

              “You miss him, don’t you,” Beth asked, her voice making him jump because he had expected accusations or disgust.

              Instead, the sweet little blonde thing was still worrying over him, even after how he had treated her and finding out that he wasn’t anyone worth caring about.

              “I miss Maggie,” Beth suddenly admitted and Daryl began to feel uncomfortable.

              He would do anything for Beth, he would keep her safe, hunt food for her, give her the very shirt off his back, but he didn’t know the first thing about comforting somebody.

              “I miss her bossing me around,” the blonde said with a chuckle, a slight grin peeking out from behind her pink lips, “I miss my big brother, Shawn. He was so annoying and overprotective….and my dad.”

              Daryl didn’t know what to say, so he just listened.

              “I thought,” she began but then stopped as if the wording wasn’t quite right, “I had hoped he would just live the rest of his life in peace, ya know? I thought Maggie and Glenn would have a baby….and he would get to be a grandpa…and we would have holidays and birthdays and summer picnics.”

              The way Beth talked about it, Daryl could practically see it. He could see Beth going to the extreme to plan an elaborate party (by apocalypse standards that is), to find little gifts they could scavenge, just to bring them all together as a family.

              “And he would get really old,” Beth continued with her fantasy, “And it’d happen, but it’d be quiet. It’d be okay. He’d be surrounded by people he loved.”

              Daryl would give anything to have made her dream come to life, if anyone deserved to have their dreams come true it was Beth. The girl didn’t deserve this, didn’t deserve anything that had happened to her. It was like the world was playing some cosmic joke sticking her with his sorry ass.

              “That’s how incredibly stupid I am,” the blonde suddenly choked out, her wistfulness gone as she grabs the jar and takes swig.

              The archer’s eyes snap to hers, amazed that she would ever think such a thing. That Beth Greene would describe her love for life, her ability to keep hoping as stupid.

              “That’s how it was supposed to be,” Daryl assures her, wanting nothing more than for her to understand that she shouldn’t be ashamed.

              “I wish I could just change….,” Beth suddenly blurts out to his surprise.

              The older man is taken aback by the woman’s insecurity. It never occurred to him that someone as perfect as Beth would ever think they needed to change. Sure, she needed to learn a few more skills to survive in this world, but she had the most important things already. She was strong in a way he never could be. However, he remembers how she was on the farm, how she gave up for a little while, how she didn’t even know how to hold a knife right, how she was always letting that idiot Jimmy hang around her.

              “You did,” he promised her.

              “Not enough,” she replied, easily brushing off his assurance, “not like you. It’s like you were made for how things are now. I even could see the future coming and I still couldn’t change enough to handle it.”

              Daryl was shocked that Beth still thought he was somebody to look up to, somebody to be like, even after he had admitted to her he wasn’t at all who she thought he was.

              “I’m just used to it, things being ugly,” he explained, “growin up in a place like this.”

              “Well, you got away from it,” Beth stated firmly.

              The archer wanted to snort. It was amazing that Beth could even take him admitting he was a piece of shit and turn it around to seem like he had done something worthwhile. Sure he had gotten away from it, but it wasn’t his own doing at all. Daryl hadn’t wanted to change, hadn’t tried to be different, it had just happened by accident when he lost Merle and ended up with staying with Rick’s group out of a lack of better options. Even after everything he had been through, Daryl was still back at square one. He had failed his group, failed at being a good care-taker for Beth, gotten drunk, treated her like shit, and now was sitting on a porch that was the spitting image of the one he sat on as a child.

              “I didn’t,” he told her, hating himself even as he said it.

              “You did,” Beth immediately responded, glaring at him as if daring him to say otherwise.

              Something in her voice made Daryl believe it, or at least want to believe her words.

              “Maybe you got to keep on reminding me sometimes,” he hedged, tired of arguing but not really agreeing.

              “No,” the blonde said firmly, throwing his own words back at him, “you can’t depend on anybody for anything, right?”

              Daryl felt guilt claw at his stomach remembering how he had yelled at her.

              “I’ll be gone someday,” Beth continued, but he stopped her in her tracks.

              “Stop,” he interrupted, feeling his stomach drop at the thought of losing Beth.

              “I will,” she insisted, making him feel like throwing up all the moonshine he had just drunk.

              Beth had seen the future after all, maybe she knew her time was coming. Daryl was too horrified by the idea to even ask for confirmation of this.

              “You’re going to be the last man standing,” she prophesized.

              She looked at him like he should jump for joy or something but he only felt hollow. The last thing Daryl wanted was to be all alone, to deal with all this shit on his own. Maybe he was being selfish, maybe Beth would be happier if she died and went to heaven with all her other deceased family, but he wanted her here with him no matter how fucked up this world got. She was all he had left and if he lost her too Daryl didn’t know if he could stand it.

              “You’re gonna miss me so bad when I’m gone Daryl Dixon,” Beth told him.

              “You ain’t a happy drunk at all,” the archer whispered, horrified by what she was telling him and desperately hoping it was the alcohol and not her visions that were leading her to say these things.

              “Yeah, I’m happy, just not blind,” the blonde said nonchalantly, as if she hadn’t just been speaking about her own death.

              “You got to stay who you are,” the young woman suddenly said with a ferocity that surprised him, “not who you were.”

              Daryl looked up to find Beth staring at him like he was someone worth being, worth caring about. After everything he admitted, she didn’t think any less of him and that shocked him to the core.

              “Places like this,” the blonde told him, waving her hand at the shack behind them, “you have to put it away.”

              “What if I can’t,” he asked, wishing it were as easy as she made it sound.

              “You have to,” demanded Beth, her voice strong and not allowing any arguments, “or it kills you!”

              “Here,” Beth explained, putting a hand over her heart with a loopy smile on her face.

              “Maybe she is more drunk than I originally realized,” thought Daryl with relief, hoping that this whole morbid conversation was just due to the strong liquor.

              “Maybe she won’t even remember this whole evening,” was his second thought, which made him both happy and sad.

              It had taken all of Daryl’s efforts to admit to Beth that he wasn’t anybody before the world turned, he didn’t think he could do it again. Even if he worked up the courage to admit his own worthlessness a second time, maybe without the buzz of alcohol, Beth would wise up and leave him. Maybe she wouldn’t stare at him like she was right now, telling him how he had changed and was better than who he used to be. His hands clenched his hunting knife, terrified at the thought of Beth coming to this realization in the morning when she was more lucid.

              “Maybe we should go inside,” he suggested, trying to change the subject.

              “We should burn it down,” Beth said with a smile on her face, as if she wasn’t discussing burning somebody’s house to the ground.

              Now Daryl was certain she was drunk as she began giggling at the thought of what she had just said. The archer sighed, none of this was real, nothing Beth had said was true, she was just drunk and spouting nonsense. The girl would come to her senses tomorrow and realize what a piece of shit he was. However, if that were true, if she was going to leave him once the moonshine was out of her system, Daryl wanted to make the most of his time with her. If that involved burning down this shack then so be it. Maybe he was still a bit more buzzed than he had originally thought.

              The hunter stood up, his joints aching with how long they had sat on the porch.

              “Gonna need more booze,” he told her and the light in her eyes when she realized he was gonna do what she wanted made him feel like a million bucks.

              It was that feeling that had him grabbing the jars of priceless alcohol and pouring them along the floor. He poured moonshine over the newspapers he had explained were like his internet in the shithole he had lived in. Daryl poured plenty over the ratty old recliner he had sat in not too long ago. The blonde squealed as she threw some on the living room walls, her energy was contagious. Soon, the house was drenched. Daryl didn’t want to stop even though the liquor was gone, he tossed the jars onto the ground, enjoying the way they tinkled when they hit the floor. How he wished he could have done this to his own childhood house.

              “Come on,” Beth encouraged, grabbing the edge of his vest and pulling him outside.

              Daryl pulled some scavenged wads of cash out of his pack and a lighter out of his pocket.

              “Ya wanna,” he offered and Beth’s smile let him know he had done the right thing.

              “Hell ya,” she said, her pretty mouth making the curse sound so good as she took the lighter from his hand.

              Soon, the dollars caught fire, making Beth’s face light up in broken flickers. The two stared at each other between the flames, both seeing each other as if for the first time. The hunter threw the wad onto the porch where it quickly caught fire between the moonshine and the old, dry boards. The two stood side by side, watching as the house slowly went up in flames. It felt good, so good it surprised him. Without another thought, Daryl scooped up the last jar of moonshine they had been planning on taking on the road with them and flung it into the fire, causing a burst of flames to leap up into the night sky.

              When he finally tore his eyes away from the bonfire, he found Beth standing next to him, proudly shooting the finger at their previous shelter. In that moment she looked so alive and young and happy and Daryl knew he would do anything to keep her that way. If he thought he was fucked before, he was certainly fucked now. There was nothing he wouldn’t do to make this girl smile like she was right now. Suddenly, she turned to him and gave him a playful push and nodded her head at the fire. Daryl moved his crossbow to his other hand and threw his own finger at the fire. There was something about Beth Greene that made him feel like he could do anything, like he could be someone better than he was.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

            When Daryl woke up in the morning, his head was throbbing like it always did after he drank too much. He kept his eyes shut, not wanting to experience the bright sunlight he could sense right beyond his eyelids. It felt like he was laying in the grass, in fact he could feel a couple of bugs crawling around on his body. None of this was too surprising, he was used to the feeling of being hungover and sleeping on the bare ground. However, he felt surprisingly warm and something smelled so good he wondered for a moment if he had died and gone to heaven. That wouldn’t make any sense thought because he doubted he would make it into heaven if such a place existed and even if it did, Daryl didn’t think you could be hungover in heaven.

              Slowly opening his eyes with a groan, Daryl took in his surroundings. He was laying under a tree and the midday sun was blinding him where it escaped through the branches of foliage. He turned his head stiffly to the side to take in more and instantly froze. Blonde hairs tickled his face from where Beth was fitted perfectly into his chest, her head lay on his left arm and his right one wrapped around her waist in a way that was far too intimate for the likes of him to be doing. Her back was pressed right against his stomach and he could feel every breath she took.

              He had to get out of this position before Beth woke up. He could already feel himself going red at the thought of the blonde knowing he had been cuddling her all night. God, he was such a fucking pervert, girl didn’t want some drunk redneck clinging to her while she slept. Beth deserved better than that. Right as he was removing his top arm, the blonde woke up, just as dazed and out of place as he had originally been. She gasped, initially threatened by her strange surroundings but when she rolled over and came face to face with him she immediately stopped squirming. The blonde’s face flushed a delicate pink and her mouth popped open into a small O shape. Daryl’s already flushed face went even redder as he scrambled out from beside her and stood up way to fast. The archer put his hand on the tree trunk, trying to steady himself as his head spun.

              “Didn’t mean ta…,” he started as his brain tried to formulate some plausible explanation for what just happened, “wasn’t like I….”

              “Fucking shit,” he groaned, rubbing his face with his hand as if he could push away his headache and the past several hours.

              He turned away from Beth, not being able to face the look of disgust that was surely on her face. His mind was quickly racing through what Beth’s father would think of him sleeping next to his innocent daughter, what Rick would say, what Maggie would say. The older man hung his head in shame and clenched his fists. Just as he was reaching the peak of his mortification, Beth spoke.

              “So this is what being hungover feels like,” the young woman moaned, holding her head and squinting up at him, not mentioning what had just obviously happened.

              Daryl breathed out, feeling like he had just gotten let off the hook.

              “Don’t go drinkin if ya can’t handle the consequences Greene,” he said gruffly, but she just smiled up at him, knowing he didn’t really mean it.

              “Yes Mr. Dixon,” she said, grinning over at him in a way that he would have taken to be flirtatious if he didn’t know better.

              The way Beth said his name like that, it did things to him, things that would be very obvious very quickly if he didn’t start thinking about walkers and guts and blood. The archer was suddenly very thankful for his hangover, which helped him calm his body down a lot faster than usual. The hunter shook his head, causing his long hair to slap his face before rolling his shoulders. He was feeling more himself by the time the young woman finished put her hair into a ponytail and shouldered her backpack.

Beth’s POV

              “Your turn,” offered Daryl, holding out his most prized possession to her while keeping eyes pointed just over her shoulder.

              Beth stared at him, she felt her mouth drop open but couldn’t seem to stop it. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to learn, she always had, it was just she never actually expected the rough hunter to let anyone else handle his favorite weapon.

              “Go on,” the older man encouraged, shoving it a little closer to her like it wasn’t a big deal, “told ya I was gonna teach you didn’t I?”

              “Yeah,” agreed Beth haltingly, “but you were drunk, I didn’t really expect you to give me lessons….I mean I want to learn…”

              “I’m a dick when I’m drunk,” Daryl told her, suddenly looking straight at her, “not a liar.”

Just as quickly, the archer shifted back to a less serious tone.

            You need to learn,” he reasoned, “if I get hurt you are going to be the one doing all the hunting. And I don’t want to eat shitty ass leaves and berries so you had better get good at it too.”

            “Yes Mr. Dixon,” Beth finally agreed, taking the crossbow carefully, but then more firmly as the full weight of the weapon was transferred to her.

             The whole morning, Daryl had talked to her about tracking and what to look for. He had gone over how to load the crossbow and how to aim, as well as the different environmental factors that could affect one’s aim. It was probably the most Beth had ever heard the taciturn man talk, however it was different than when they were drunk. Nothing he said was deeply personal, it was more like a strict lesson, but he was a surprisingly good teacher.

              The blonde guessed his sudden need to talk and explain the details of tracking came from wanting to avoid any conversation about this morning. Just the thought of it made Beth tingle, remembering how good it felt to be held by the very arms she had watched hoist a heavy crossbow all morning. However, she hadn’t said anything, not wanting to make Daryl defensive or feel awkward. She knew it didn’t mean anything, but a part of her really wished it did.

          “Raise it up and look down it,” Daryl commanded gently.

Beth did as she was told.

“Gotta spread your feet apart more,” her instructor commented, “gives you better stability when you shoot. Move your left hand out a little farther, helps you aim more accurately.”

The young woman adjusted accordingly before glancing over at Daryl, who was analyzing her stance in a way that almost made her think he was doing more than just checking her shooting form.

“Focus Beth,” she told herself, “this is important, can’t be daydreaming.”

“Alright,” came Daryl’s southern drawl, “now find some tracks.”

The blonde let the weapon fall down by her side but kept her hands in position so she could easily raise it up again if the need arose. She began stepping carefully through the forest, trying to imitate how she had watched the hunter move all morning. It was frustrating, the archer moved so effortlessly, like he was a part of the forest. Yet, every step she took seemed to make some small noise, whether it was a rustle of leaves or a small snap of a stick. She certainly wasn’t loud, but in the mostly quiet forest every small sound seemed to be exceedingly obvious.

They walked for about an hour. Beth kept missing tracks that Daryl would point out after they had passed them. Every time he would call her attention to the almost imperceptible prints, but then make her keep going to find her own. To add to the difficulty of the task, her instructor kept moving in close, so close that she felt like her whole back was on fire with the proximity. Beth assumed Daryl was doing it to see things from her perspective and to talk quietly, but it made it hard to focus. Just as the young woman was getting frustrated, she finally made out a disturbance in the ground. It wasn’t much, slight indents in the soil, flattened grass, occasionally a broken branch, but it was something.

When Beth pointed the prints out to Daryl, he just nodded in affirmation, which for him was practically praise. After they had followed the prints a good distance, Beth finally broke the silence.

“Are we close,” the young woman asked impatiently.

“Almost done,” came Daryl’s gruff rumble from right behind her.

“How do you know,” she questioned, as she raised the crossbow to be ready for whatever it was they were tracking.

“The signs are all there,” the hunter explained, “just got to know how to read them.”

“What are we tracking,” she whispered, her eyes glancing down and then back up again, trying to figure out what Daryl could see that she couldn’t.

“You tell me,” her companion challenged.

Beth dropped the crossbow and gave Daryl an exasperated look. Sometimes the hunter was helpful, other times he could be so frustrating. The blonde had just started learning, how was she supposed to know what she was tracking?

“You are the one who wanted to learn,” was the only result Beth’s hard glare got her.

“Well,” the young woman began, as she bent down, staring hard at scattered leaves, “something came through here. The pattern is all zig-zaggy….”

“It’s a walker,” she suddenly exclaimed, all the hints finally clicking in her head.

“Maybe it’s a drunk,” Daryl shot back, but she could tell he was proud.

“I’m getting good at this,” Beth taunted, “pretty soon I won’t need you at all.”

She was kidding of course, but the blonde almost thought she heard slight pain in Daryl’s voice when he spoke next.

“Yeah yeah,” he mumbled, “keep on trackin girl.”

Beth was about to tell Daryl she had only been joking when suddenly she heard the sound of snapping branches. Without being told, the blonde raised the crossbow and pointed it in the direction of the tracks. She hadn’t even realized it, but as she had gotten the weapon up Daryl had moved right in behind her, literally only a couple of inches away. His breathe tickled her hair as they moved quickly but quietly forward. Finally, a walker came into view. It had been a man, but now it was just a tattered corpse feeding on some dead forest creature. The walker was focused on its meal and not paying any attention to them. If it wasn’t for the gun on the walker’s hip, they could have just left it there and walked around.

“Daryl,” Beth murmured quietly, “it’s got a gun.”

She looked back to find him right behind her shoulder. The archer nodded at her and thrust his head forward, wanting her to get some practice. The blonde was terrified, but also excited. She had killed walkers before, but this was her first time with a crossbow. The archer made Beth feel safe though, no matter how terrifying things were. He was right behind her, ready to help if she messed up. That thought had Beth stepping forward and focusing her sight down the end of the crossbow, which was aimed at the walker’s head.

She heard the noise before she processed the pain. A metal clank filled the formally quiet air and then an intense pain blossomed in her ankle, causing the blonde to grunt in agony. There was no time to focus on her injury though, the commotion had caused the walker to drop its prey and it was turning towards her, its dead hands reaching out for her. The undead man stumbled closer and Beth’s survival instinct kicked in. The pain in her ankle suddenly became distant and her eyesight narrowed in on the walker. The young woman raised the crossbow, aiming with gritted teeth before pulling the trigger. To her dismay, the arrow hit the walker in the mouth, missing the brain. The creature continued to shamble closer, its throat making gurgling noises in excitement.

Suddenly, the crossbow was torn out of her grip and Daryl was between her and the diseased corpse. Using his most precious weapon like it was a hammer instead of a finely tuned instrument, the hunter swung the side of the crossbow into the walkers head, killing it instantly.  Throwing the weapon on the ground like it wasn’t the main thing keeping them both alive, the older man immediately was at her side, his hand on the metal trap around her ankle. Grabbing the dangerous rusty teeth with both hands, Daryl pulled the contraption off in seconds, causing his hands to get pierced to the point of bleeding in a couple of places. However, the archer clearly wasn’t interested in his hands, which had already thrown away the trap and were on her boot.

“Can you move it,” he asked, staring at her with an amount of concern that would have better suited a bite or a mortal injury.

              Beth flexed her foot, breathing heavily with the pain that shot up her leg, but happy to see it wasn’t broken.

              “Yeah,” she breathed, realizing her whole body was shaking with adrenaline and fear.

              Daryl seemed to realize it too as the boot in his hand shook ever so slightly.

              “It’s okay now,” the hunter said, looking straight at her, “ain’t nothing going to get you.”

Beth nodded, her eyes tearing up but she managed not to cry.

“You did good,” Daryl told her firmly and only then did she realize that she wasn’t the only one shaking, the hands on her boot were trembling too, “you focused on shooting that walker even when you were in pain. Can’t teach stuff like that. I can teach you how to track and how to shoot, but wanting to survive, that comes from you. You said you wanted to change, I’m telling you that you have changed.”

The blonde couldn’t take it any longer, she launched herself into Daryl’s arms, as awkward as it was with her one leg splayed out and the archer unable to balance due to him kneeling unsteadily on the ground. Beth expected him to push her away, to tell her to stop being such a wimp, but instead his strong arms wrapped around her, as if he was protecting her against the world. After a few moments, Daryl withdrew and the blonde respected his space and let go.

“Can ya stand,” the archer asked, offering his arm to help her get up.

The blonde wanted to do anything but stand up, but staying seated wasn’t really an option. She nodded, gritting her teeth as she reached for his hand and he half-hauled her up off the ground. Beth brushed the leaves off her and tried to take a step forward. Immediately, her ankle began protesting. The blonde wanted to cry, she felt so vulnerable out here in the woods with a bad ankle. It was hard enough to survive when she was in top form. Daryl must have seen the emotions boiling in her eyes because he immediately put a stop to them.

“It ain’t broken,” he told her firmly, “it is going to heal, we just have to find somewhere you can rest for a few days.”

“Daryl,” Beth breathed heavily, feeling like she was starting to panic, “there is nowhere to rest, we are in the middle of the woods and if something happens….I can’t keep up, I’m just going to slow you down….I’m sorry…”

“Stop,” he growled, glaring at her with enough intensity that the silent sobs beginning to rack her body actually halted, “I’m not going to let anything happen to you Beth. We are going to find a place and you are going to rest your ankle and as soon as it is healed you will be running circles around me and finding your family and all that other shit you talked about. Right? Now you just have to trust me to find a place. Ya trust me?”

Beth didn’t have to think twice, if Daryl said he was going to find them a place then he was going to find them a place. She nodded, feeling herself shifting from panic mode into action mode.

The redneck picked up his crossbow and began looking around, seeing things that were invisible to Beth’s eyes. First, he went to the dead walker and took the gun, handing it to Beth to stow on her belt. Then, his eyes narrowed and he started walking, slowly to allow her to keep up, but obviously with some plan in mind. The blonde limped along behind him, trying her best to stay quiet but also struggling to keep up. If she had thought it was hard to walk without making noise before, now it was almost impossible.

Every time they heard a moan, Beth’s heart stopped. She was so sure they would run into too many walkers and that would be the end of her. However, each time it was only one or two and Daryl made quick work of them before drifting back to lead her through the forest. As time passed, her ankle became more swollen, it was getting harder and harder to take each step. The hunter glanced back more frequently and slowed his pace but it was clear they needed to move faster since the sun was starting to begin its descent out of the sky.

“Here,” Daryl rasped, coming back to her side and draping one of her arms over his shoulders.

Beth gratefully clung onto the archer, relieved to keep some of her weight off her injured foot. Daryl’s shoulders felt so strong and sure, there was something so powerful about the man that made him seem like he could carry the world on his shoulders. However, Beth now knew that wasn’t true. Daryl was just as human as the rest of them, he had his own fears and problems and regrets and pains.

Just when Beth thought she couldn’t walk another step, the forest cleared to show a house surrounded by headstones. The blonde wanted to sob with relief, but she was so emotionally spent and physically exhausted that she couldn’t even gather enough energy to do that.

“Can we hold up a sec,” the blonde asked, finally feeling safe enough to ask to rest.

“You all right,” came Daryl’s concerned drawl from above her as Beth tried to readjust her boot, but nothing would make it feel right with how much her ankle had swollen.

“I just need to sit down,” Beth explained, not wanting to worry him but also feeling like she was at her limit.

The older man gazed off at the house that was so close, it was clear he wanted them in it and locked up as soon as possible. He looked back at her, she could practically see the wheels in his mind turning.

“All right, hold up,” he agreed, adjusting his crossbow over his back so that it was hanging in front of him.

Then, the older man moved around to her side and bent over.

“Hop on,” Daryl said, holding his arms out to grab her legs.

The blonde couldn’t help but stare. She wondered if her exhaustion was making her hallucinate. Before today, Beth couldn’t recall Daryl ever wanting someone in his personal space, at least not when he was conscious and coherent, so the moonshine shack and the night they spent sleeping on the ground didn’t really count. The blonde assumed she had already been pushing the archer’s limit by holding onto his shoulder all day, not to mention he must be exhausted too, but now he was offering to carry her.

“Are you serious,” she had to ask, unsure if this was some kind of joke.

“Yeah,” he told her, squinting at her as if he wished she wouldn’t make such a big deal out of it, “this is a serious piggyback. Jump up.”

Beth hesitantly jumped on Daryl’s back, almost expecting him to change his mind the moment she did. However, the archer didn’t do anything other than hoist her up a bit further and make some comment about her being heavier than she looked, which Beth knew was just his way of covering up his embarrassment of doing something nice.

The older man’s hands were warm and felt good on Beth’s thighs. Her face was being tickled by his long brown hair and she could hear his heavy breathing as they made their way through the cemetery. Beth put her head on Daryl’s shoulder, next to his own head and looked around. The grass wasn’t overgrown, the tombstones looked to be in good shape and some might have even been new. There was no way it was like this without somebody tending to it.

“Maybe there are people there,” Beth contemplated, looking up towards their destination.

“Yeah, if there are, I’ll handle them,” the archer rumbled protectively, his voice causing vibrations in his chest which Beth could feel.

“There are still good people Daryl,” the young woman insisted, although she knew he had good reason to think what he did about strangers.

“I don’t think the good ones survive,” came his answer, which brought a frown to Beth’s face.

It was one thing to know there were bad people, to be wary of strangers in order to stay safe, but it was another to quit trusting anyone. The people from their group were good people and Beth had to believe there were more like them out there. Just as Beth was thinking about how to help Daryl see how important having hope was, something caught her eye and had her sliding off the hunter’s back.

It was a tombstone. It wasn’t particularly new or big or fancy, but what caught her eyes were the words inscribed in it. She knew she was a fool for staring, for wasting valuable time wishing that this could have been her father’s grave, but when she read the words “Beloved father” something had just made her stop. The blonde expected Daryl to berate her, to tell her they needed to hurry up and get inside. Instead, the archer picked some wildflowers and laid them on the tombstone. It was funny how one second the redneck could be so pessimistic about the whole world and then the next be doing something so sweet and thoughtful that his own actions proved that there were still good people out there, that he was in fact one of the best.

When the older man returned to her side, Beth slide her hand into his, not even pausing to think about if she should or not. The blonde had clung to him all day, even been riding on his back, holding his hand seemed minor in comparison.

“Before everything changed, I heard a person give a talk at a funeral,” Beth suddenly found herself saying, “he said that when someone we love dies, they don’t actually go away, they stay right here walking beside us, that they are a part of us.”

Beth hadn’t really expected Daryl to answer, but suddenly he cleared his throat and was talking.

“Somedays I think I can still hear Merle talking to me,” he told her, then he snorted, “somedays I wish he would shut up. He was always such a fuckin dick, not like he was worth listening to when he was alive, don’t know why I would once he is dead. After everything he did to Maggie, to Glenn, to you…..don’t know why I even care.”

“You don’t have to pretend Daryl,” Beth mused, “you can be mad at someone, you can disagree with the life choices they made, and still miss them. That is just how love works.”

The archer shrugged and looked off towards the house, obviously not wanting to continue the conversation at the moment.

“Ready to go,” he finally asked, unwinding his hand from hers and turning around so she could jump on his back again.

“Yeah,” Beth agreed, jumping as high as she could with one foot.

Daryl carried her all the way to the front porch of the funeral home. The house was white with an unpainted porch and the windows were already boarded up. When Daryl had made it up the steps, he finally let her down. The blonde landed unsteadily on her feet but quickly righted herself.

“Take out your gun,” Daryl told her, “be ready, if something happens, don’t stop and try to help me, just worry about getting yourself out of here.”

Beth nodded, knowing she wasn’t much help with her ankle and feeling frustrated that she couldn’t be relied on for backup. The redneck took the crossbow off and brought it up before opening the door to the funeral home, which was unlocked. The archer scanned the immediate area and finding nothing of danger, knocked on the door frame.

“Give it a minute,” Daryl told her and both of them waited to see if there would be any sound of the undead or the living.

Finally, he decided it was safe and stepped into the house, Beth following behind him. The walls inside were plastered with an old print and the furniture looked antique, but it was all clean and well taken care of.

“It’s so clean,” Beth commented, suddenly feeling like she would sully the house with all the grime on her.

“Yeah,” agreed Daryl, “somebody’s been tending to it.”

“They may still be around,” he said warily, looking cautiously into the kitchen and then back down the hallway, as if expecting to get jumped any second.

Beth knew she should be on guard, but for some reason this whole situation had her relaxed. She couldn’t imagine someone bad tending to a cemetery and keeping the funeral home clean. Something had obviously caught Daryl’s attention as he made his way into a room. Beth hobbled along behind him to find the hunter staring down into a casket. The archer reached out to run a finger along the face of the corpse laying on the clean white pillows, his fingers came away with makeup, exposing a walker’s decomposed face beneath.

The older man snorted and walked off, but Beth couldn’t tear her eyes away. She knew now that whoever lived here, they were good people. They still saw humans inside of the shambling corpses and had obvious tried to do what was right to the undead they found. The blonde got moving when she heard Daryl walking down the hall, she didn’t like being too far away from him. The archer opened a door and cautiously went down the steps. Beth had trouble following but the handrail helped.

When she got to the bottom, there was another male corpse, dressed in a nice suit and obviously being prepared for burial in a similar manner to the one on the main floor. However, whoever had been working on redoing the man’s face had only finished about half of it.

              “Let’s get that ankle wrapped,” came Daryl’s rough voice, focused on her injury, practical as ever.

              However, Beth was still amazed by the man on the table. Whoever had done this had done a really good job. Not only were they good at covering up the injuries and decay on the face, they obviously had wanted the people to look good, as if the family were actually going to see them.

              “Looks like somebody ran out of dolls to dress up,” observed Daryl derisively, glaring down at the corpse as he bit into a package of athletic wrap.

              “It’s beautiful,” disagreed Beth, “whoever did this cared.”

              She would have loved if her daddy had been found by this person. If this mysterious funeral caretaker had been able to do this for her mother or her brother, it would have meant the world to her.

              “They wanted these people to get a funeral,” she continued, “they remembered that these things were still people, before all this.”

              “They didn’t let it change them in the end,” Beth said with a feeling of guilt.

              As much as she wanted to change, as happy as she was when Daryl had said she had changed, she didn’t want to lose what was most important to her. The blonde wanted to do what needed to be done to survive, but she didn’t want to become uncaring or cold. As much as she admired Michonne and Maggie and Daryl, Beth didn’t want to be just like them. She didn’t want to pretend like she didn’t care or that the walkers were just monsters or that all people were bad. The young woman understood why they did it, how it made it easier to survive, she didn’t blame them for it, it just wasn’t who she was.

              “Don’t you think that is beautiful,” Beth asked, finally looking up to find Daryl hanging his head like a scolded dog.

              However, when he noticed she was watching, he raised his head and stared at her with an unfathomable look in his eyes. Something told her his thoughts were on elsewhere than the corpse on the table.

              “Come on,” he said after a moment, gently taking her arm and leading her to the counter.

              Beth hopped up on the counter and let Daryl take off her left boot in his capable hands. She flinched when he started to take her shoe off and the blonde saw the way Daryl’s whole body tensed.

              “Sorry,” she apologized, “it’s just really sore, keep going.”

              The archer relaxed slightly, but moved more slowly. Bit by bit, he worked her boot off and then carefully peeled her sock down to expose her swollen joint. With care, the older man worked the bottom of her jeans up to her calf, allowing him to see her ankle better. The hunter’s callused hands ran lightly along her bare skin, prodding and testing but never too hard. The blonde would have thought that his touch would be rough, forceful, but just like the rest of him, she was finding that he was much gentler than she had originally thought.

              “Ain’t too bad,” he diagnosed, “prolly just sprained, need to wrap it up and stay off of it for a few days.”

              “Yes Dr. Dixon,” Beth laughed lightly, causing him to roll his eyes at her.

              Ignoring her comment, Daryl took the athletic tape and began to gently but firmly bind her ankle, wrapping the tap in such a way that it supported her weight but didn’t cause her to lose too much flexibility. She realized with sadness that this sort of expertise could only come from practice and she hated to think of the reason why he had had to do this so often. When he finished putting her sock back on and looked up from his work, he caught her staring down at him. Instantly, as if catching himself, he stood up and backed off.

              “Come on Greene,” he ordered, walking off with her boot in his hand, “I need to set up an alarm system and I ain’t gonna leave ya down here by yourself, want you where I can see you until I’m sure about this place.”

              Yes, there certainly still were good people left.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

              Things had been going well. Beth had been resting her ankle, they had discovered a stash of food in the kitchen at the funeral home, and Daryl had gotten a couple of rabbits. Overall, a pretty good week. The archer got nervous leaving Beth alone at the funeral home, he never went hunting too far away for fear that something would happen while he was gone. However, today he had gone a little further and it paid off.

As he made his way out of the forest, his eyes landed on the lithe figure sitting beside a tombstone. He could feel the anger and fear building in his chest. He had very explicitly told Beth to stay inside while he was gone, girl never fucking listened to him. However, the growing storm disappeared when he saw what she was doing. The blonde had a chisel and hammer in her hand and had obviously been working on a couple of the blank tombstones. To the blonde’s right one said: Hershel Greene, beloved father and husband, 1948-2012. The one she was currently working on said: Merle Dixon, beloved….and that was as far as Beth had gotten. When she heard his footsteps, the young woman looked up and gave him a grin that made him want to check behind him and see if she was really smiling at someone else.

“Look Daryl,” she told him, “I know this isn’t as good as an actual funeral, but it is something. I think it is good to have a place to remember them, they deserved to have a place, even if we don’t have their body….its important.”

The archer wasn’t about to argue with Beth, if she said it was important, then it was important. On his own, Daryl never would have thought about making a headstone for his brother, a marker to memorialize Merle’s life, but now that there was one, he was glad. It felt like the right thing to do, even though he of all people knew how little Merle probably deserved it. The hunter looked down at the blonde happily chipping away at the stone as she hummed some song and everything just felt right. It was weird because Beth was still healing from her injury, they had lost their whole family, and the pair of them were alone in the woods, constantly in danger, but he felt more at peace than he ever had his whole life.

The hunter began skinning and gutting the rabbits nearby, so that Beth wouldn’t be outside alone and unprotected. He enjoyed listening to her humming, it stilled his nerves. The only time she stopped was to ask him what year Merle was born, then the young woman went back to work. It must have hurt her hands to work that hard, but he never heard her complain or saw her falter. She was stronger than she looked. It was almost dark when she finished, but by then Daryl had the rabbits all cut up and ready to be made into stew. Beth took the meat inside while he adjusted their noise trap around the house, resetting a section that had fallen down.

When he went inside, there was music playing. At first Daryl thought Beth had found some CD and a player with batteries, but then he realized that the young woman herself was playing the piano and singing.

“Pine for summer,” came the melodic voice as it resounded softly throughout the house, “then we’ll buy, a beer to shotgun.”

The archer stepped carefully down the hall until he was at the doorway to the room Beth was playing in. The young woman’s head was partially bent down staring at a music book, which was nothing more than meaningless symbols to Daryl. Her blonde hair flowed down her back and her braid stood out among the soft golden waves. Beth’s hands flew gracefully over the piano keys and Daryl felt like he was getting some rare, forbidden glimpse into Beth’s life, into who she was, into who she would have been if the end of the world hadn’t happened. He had never had moments like this, even before the world ended, maybe that was why this one was so special, even if belonged to someone else.

“We’ll lay on our lawn,” she continued singing, her voice sounded better than anything he had ever heard on the radio, “and we’ll be good…”

Beth was good at singing, if she had had the chance, she might have really become somebody. Daryl had never had anyone sing for him, his mother had always been too drunk or high and the idea of Merle singing was outlandish. Not that she was singing for him, she didn’t even know he was there. Suddenly, Daryl felt self-conscious, like he was some sort of creeper watching the girl play piano without her knowing he was there. He cleared his throat, causing Beth to jump and stop playing. He immediately missed the sound of her voice. The blonde’s big blue eyes were on him and he felt put on the spot, like he was supposed to do more than just declare his presence in the room.

“Place is nailed up tight,” he came up with, trying to stick to practical topics as he set his crossbow on the decorative couch in the room that probably wasn’t mean to do anything other than look pretty, “only way in is through the front door.”

Beth’s eyes followed him as he moved about the room, trying to find a way to feel comfortable. His eyes landing on the casket and the pillows and soft material lining it. Without thinking about it too much, Daryl heaved himself up onto the resting place and sat down.

“What are you doing,” asked Beth’s sweet voice, staring at him incredulously.

“This is the comfiest bed I’ve had in years,” he said as he laid down, enjoying the way her eyes widened even more.

Ever since Daryl was a kid, he had hated anyone looking at him. He had learned it was best to fly under the radar, to avoid catching anyone’s attention, because if he did it was always the wrong kind of attention. Even once he was older and didn’t have his dad to beat him up or the older kids at school to pick on him, he still liked to blend into the background, stay out of the spotlight. There was always someone looking to hurt him, mostly because Merle had gotten them both in trouble. It felt safe and comfortable to be unnoticed, but lately with Beth he was finding he didn’t mind that she watched him, that she noticed what he was doing, he actually kind of enjoyed it.

“Really,” asked Beth in disbelief.

“I ain’t kidding,” Daryl swore as he settled in, adjusting his head on the pillow.

It sure was heaven laying in this compared to the hard forest floor. When Daryl looked over Beth was still staring at him, as if she was trying to decide if she should take him seriously or not.

“Why don’t you go ahead and play some more,” he requested before he even realized what he was saying, “keep singing.”

“I thought my singing annoyed you,” Beth asked simply and Daryl’s mind flashed back to when he had yelled about how she would sing in front of a big group like everything was fun and games.

“There ain’t no jukebox, so…,” Daryl shrugged, unable to say what he really felt but luckily Beth seemed to understand.

The little grin on her face was enough for him to know he had said the right thing. The young woman turned around and began to play.

“And we’ll buy, a beer to shotgun,” she sang, “We’ll lay in the lawn, and we’ll be good. Now I’m laughing at my boredom, and my string of failed attempts….”

The hunter stared up at the ceiling, bathed in the candlelight as his thoughts began drifting around. This place was good, Beth was safe here, and he liked it here. Never in his life had anywhere he had lived felt like a home, as good as the prison was, he still slept away from everyone else, kept his distance. Living here with Beth was different, he was happy, he belonged in a way he never had before.

However, he knew the young woman wanted to find her family. He looked over at her playing, the way the candlelight made her hair glow golden and her rosy cheeks to show. She looked happy enough, he wanted her to be happy. Daryl didn’t want to keep her here if that wasn’t what she wanted. Sometimes though, the way she smiled and looked at him made him think that maybe she didn’t mind being stuck here with an old redneck like himself, maybe she actually liked his company.

              “Tomorrow,” he told himself, “tomorrow you will ask her and if she doesn’t want to stay here, then that is that and we will move on. Don’t expect her to want to stay, that would be unfair. Unlike you, she has a family, a sister who cares about her, she has better things to do than stick around here playing house.”

              Before Daryl even realized it, Beth had finished the song and made her way over to him.

              “Goodnight Daryl,” she told him sweetly, leaning down to kiss his forehead, as had quickly become custom over the past week, “don’t stay in there all night, there is a perfectly good couch, or we can switch and you can use the bed.”

              “Naw,” he declined like he did every time she tried to offer him the only bed in the house, “I’m fine here, go on and get some sleep.”

              “Just, don’t like sleeping without you close by,” Beth suddenly admitted, looking down with a slight flush to her cheeks, “doesn’t feel safe, I wake up worried about where you are.”

              Daryl understood, he didn’t like it either, but it just didn’t feel right to sleep in the same room as Beth, even if he stayed on the floor while she slept in the bed. Honestly, he didn’t get much sleep, he was constantly running upstairs to check that she was still sleeping safely in her bed, but he didn’t trust himself to be near her all night. The archer had enough trouble keeping his eyes and hands off her during the day, the past week he had already been failing, finding excuses to touch her more and more often. For example, one time when she was limping down the staircase for breakfast he had set for them, he had suddenly declared she wasn’t moving fast enough and had scooped her into his arms, carrying her down to the kitchen as she laughed happily against his chest. Never had Beth shied away from his touch, she actually seemed to welcome it, but she didn’t realize just how dirty his thoughts and feelings were and Daryl was determined to keep it that way.

              “I’m right here if you need me,” he promised her, feeling a pain in his chest at the disappointment in Beth’s eyes, but he was doing the right thing, he was sure of it.

              “Alright,” the blonde said dejectedly, before heading upstairs.

              Girl was just clinging on to him because he was the only person around, because he could protect her. As much as she wanted to be near him, Daryl couldn’t take advantage of the fact that she was feeling vulnerable and afraid ever since what happened at the prison. At some point they would find others or Beth would get over being afraid and become confident in defending herself and realize she didn’t want some gruff hick hanging around her all the time. This was for the best.

              Daryl got up off the casket and made his way to the couch, which had been his bed for the past few weeks. Just as he was getting settled in, footsteps told him Beth was coming down the stairs. He immediately sat up, ready to fix whatever was wrong. Maybe the girl needed pain meds for her ankle, maybe she wanted her foot wrapped again, he was racking his brain trying to figure out what he could do for her when she appeared with her pillow and several blankets in her hands.

              “If you are too stubborn to stay in the bed,” she told him, “I guess I’m just going to have to stay down here.”

              “And don’t even think about protesting this,” Beth added as an afterthought, causing him to close his already open mouth “it isn’t safe being apart, it is better to be right here where we can both see each other. That is what we all did after the farm, when we were on the road, we all stayed together.”

              Daryl didn’t argue, he just nodded and watched as the young woman made herself comfortable on the loveseat next to his couch. Not only had Beth given a logical reason for this sleeping arrangement, he already felt better and more relaxed knowing she was right there. For the first time in a while, he fell asleep without waking up throughout the night.

              When Daryl finally awoke in the morning, he felt more rested than he had in a long time. Beth was still asleep, her blonde hair fanned out on her pillow and her pretty face relaxed, without a care in the world. The hunter didn’t want to wake her up, she looked so content, but there were things to get done. He got out of bed, picked up his crossbow and walked over to the loveseat. Gently, the archer nudged the sleeping woman on the shoulder with a part of his weapon.

              “Burning daylight,” he told her, loving the way she opened her eyes and blinked a couple of times before focusing on him, “your ankle should be healed enough, figured we should continue your training.”

              “I can come hunting with you,” asked Beth, suddenly wide awake and sitting up with a huge grin on her face, looking like he had just given her the best present in the world.

Eight hours later

              Daryl gripped his crossbow tighter, as if the action would somehow make the sound of splashing go away. All he had to do was turn his head and he would be able to see Beth’s body as she bathed in the river, but of course he wasn’t going to do that. Instead, he was going to keep squeezing his crossbow to death and staring at the ground like it was his life’s mission. Occasionally, he allowed his eyes to dart up and scan their surroundings, before quickly returning them to a pebble in front of his feet.

              “It feels so good to get clean,” came the young woman’s ecstatic voice, followed by the sound of water being poured, “you have got to take a turn after me!”

              “Just hurry up girl,” Daryl managed to grunt out, keeping his voice as steady as possible.

              The last thing in the world he needed right now was a bath. What Daryl needed was for Beth to hurry the fuck up so they could leave and he could pretend like this whole past half hour had never happened.

              The day had started off innocent enough, with him inviting Beth to go hunting with him, since her ankle had healed. The blonde had impressed him, she was a quick learner. It took a while, hours actually, but she had finally managed to track down a deer and down it with a shot to the chest. It wasn’t a clean shot, but Daryl finished the animal off almost as soon as it hit the ground. The young woman had been so proud, jumping all around before hugging him in a way that had him blushing beet red like a fucking idiot.

              Beth had continued helping as he showed her how to skin and gut the deer before quartering it up into manageable loads to carry back. Once they had finished, they were both covered in a good amount of blood and sweat, even by apocalypse standards. Daryl hadn’t minded, but Beth obviously had other ideas, especially when she heard the sound of running water on their way back to the funeral home.

              “You hear that,” Beth had asked him, perking up with renewed energy.

              “Yeah, it’s a creek,” he had answered naively, “can fill up our bottles, can come back later with bigger containers.”

              “Well, we can do that too,” the blonde had answered with a smile that immediately told him she was about to drag him along with whatever crazy plan she had just concocted.

              Then, the young woman had grabbed Daryl’s hand, causing his brain to all but short circuit, and led him down to the river.

              “This is perfect,” Beth had gushed, “I haven’t bathed in forever! I don’t even know if I know what it feels like to be clean anymore. I really didn’t want to sleep in that deer’s blood tonight. You will stand watch, won’t you?”

              The hunter shouldn’t have nodded, should have come up with some excuse, any excuse, for them to keep moving. However, he was putty in Beth’s hands when she turned those big, blue eyes of hers on him.

              “Thank you Daryl,” the young woman had exclaimed, turning and making her way down to the water’s edge.

              The archer watched her kick off her cowboy boots, accepting that he would just have to deal with the way he was sure her wet clothes would cling to her body for the next few hours until they dried. The gruff man was already constantly distracted by everything about her, her smile, her silly braid, and the way the blonde hummed when she was lost in thought. This would just be one more thing to add to the list of things he shouldn’t notice but did.  He even considered going in after she finished, he hated getting his vest wet but it probably needed a good washing.

              Beth jumped into the water with a small, contained squeal, not loud enough to draw walkers but just audible enough to make Daryl smirk. He was content standing there watching over her, seeing her smile and splash about like some fucking fairy creature in the middle of the forest. At least, until he noticed what the water did to Beth’s white tank top that is.

              The first time the blonde came back up after dunking her head underwater, her tank became almost transparent, so that Daryl could plainly see her bellybutton and above that, the light pink bra she was wearing. Immediately, he spun around and had assumed the position he had remained in since. His breathing came in quick, shallow spurts and all he wanted to do was run in the opposite direction. However, he wasn’t about to just leave Beth defenseless as she bathed in the middle of the damn forest. Why had he let her talk him into this in the first place? He already felt like a fucking pervert enough of the time without this added temptation.

              After what seemed like ages, Beth finally finished and made her way out of the water. Daryl’s ears were hyper alert as he took in the crunching sound of the rocks as the young woman put on her boots and made her way over to his side.

              “Thanks, I really needed that,” the blonde chirped with a big smile on her face as she picked up her sack of venison.

              This had to be the first time Daryl had seen Beth with her hair down. The golden strands were framing her face and dripping water onto her chest. Which led his eyes unwillingly downward to take in her body beneath a fine film of dirty, off-white material.

              “Hmph,” the archer began, clearing his throat, unsure of how to bring up this particular issue, “Beth, ahhhh, yer shirt….it’s….”

              The blonde looked down and her cheeks flushed a light pink to match her bra.

              “Yeah, well it is a white tank, despite how much walker blood and guts I’ve spilled on it,” she muttered, “ain’t like there is much I can do about it except let it dry. I don’t have any other clothes and I didn’t want to sleep covered in deer guts.”

              “What happened to that yellow shirt of yers,” Daryl asked desperately, surely the girl had something, anything else to wear.

              “I cut it up,” the blonde admitted, looking guilty.

              “What the hell did you do that for,” the archer asked, this being news to him.

              “Ya know,” Beth said, looking as embarrassed as he was now, but her cocked eyebrow wasn’t conveying any message to him.

              “No, I sure as hell don’t know,” he grumped, not seeing any good reason to cut up a perfectly good shirt.

              “It was…,” Beth started, trailing off, seeming to hope he would catch on.

              The only thing the hunter could do was stare at the young woman cluelessly, while trying not to actually stare at her.

              “I got my period,” she suddenly blurted out, “It’s not like there is a grocery store I can just go to anymore and I just….”

              “Okay okay,” the archer quickly interrupted, holding his hand out to stop her, not needing or wanting to hear any more.

              “Can we just start heading back,” plead Beth, looking utterly mortified at their whole conversation.

              “Hold on,” Daryl stopped her, grabbing her arm before she could walk off.

              He swung his backpack off and began digging through it for his backup shirt. Finally, he pulled it out. It was a dark blue, well-worn shirt with the sleeves cut off in his traditional style.

              “Here,” he offered, holding out his only other clothing to the girl in front of him, “put this on.”

              He could see the blonde sag with relief at being given the option to preserve some of her modesty and she gratefully took the article of clothing from his hand. Swiftly, Beth pulled the shirt on over her tank and buttoned it up.

              “Better,” she questioned, looking over at him for confirmation.

              The dark shirt made Beth’s blonde hair and fair skin shine just that much brighter. The blue in it made her eyes even more mesmerizing, something he hadn’t thought possible. The way his shirt, which fitted him just comfortably, fell loose on her much smaller shoulders made her look even more petite.

              “Hmmm,” he mumbled with a shrug, trying to pretend like it didn’t do anything to him see Beth Greene standing there in front of him in his very own t-shirt.

              It wasn’t like that, this was innocent, this was practical. However, a very different part of his brain, a more primal part, argued that it in fact was much more than just being a good chaperone and covering her up. A shirt was a claim.

              “Ain’t like that,” he told himself, “ain’t even fuckin close. Beth wouldn’t want some redneck asshole thinking of her like that, just fuckin stop.”

              Luckily, the blonde must have took his mumbled answer as a positive one, because she was soon grabbing her pack again and looking a lot less flustered.

              The whole way back to camp, Daryl couldn’t take his eyes off her. God, he had thought it would all be over once she finished in the river, but it was like the ways to tempt him and drive him fuckin insane had just begun.

              That night, they roasted the venison over a fire Beth had built in the front yard. The pair had stuffed themselves until they couldn’t take another bite. Once dinner was finished, they had somehow ended up laying down, side by side, in the grass, looking up at the stars. The young woman’s arm was pressed up against his as she went on about the different constellations. Daryl wasn’t really looking at the stars, he was too fascinated watching the girl next to him.

              When Beth turned and caught him staring, he couldn’t help but feel guilty and quickly looked away.

              “What,” she asked, curiosity laced in her voice.

              “Nothin,” he quickly brushed off, careful not to give any indication of the inappropriate thoughts going on inside his head.

              “Had to be something,” she pushed, staring at him with an intense look in her eyes.

              “Yeah,” he begins, finding a way to divert the conversation, “thinkin we should have saved some of the heart or the brains of that deer to eat, some people would consider that a delicacy.”

              “Ew,” Beth said, her nose crinkling at the thought, but no longer hounding him for answers.

              The blonde sat up and Daryl figured his little talk had done enough to drive her away, but she didn’t stand up. Instead, the farmer’s daughter began unbuttoning his shirt.

              “My tank is dry now,” she said, holding the clothing out to him, “thank you for letting me borrow your shirt. It was surprisingly comfortable, maybe you are onto something with cutting all the sleeves off your clothes.”

              “Ya can keep it,” Daryl blurted out before his mind caught up with his mouth.

              He flushed all the way from his face down to his neck, but luckily it had become dark enough that Beth probably couldn’t tell.

              “Need somethin more than just a tank,” He quickly pointed out, trying desperately to not sound like some weird perverted ass, “sides, it is a tougher material, will protect you more. And that white tank is just too fuckin visible, better to wear darker shirts, helps ya blend in better.”

              “But it’s your only other shirt Daryl,” the blonde argued, seeming genuinely concerned about him.

              “Only need one shirt,” he muttered, looking away from Beth and up at the sky, “sides, it was gettin kinda small anyway.”

              That is a complete and utter lie. He fucking liked that shirt, he just liked seeing Beth wearing it even more.

              “Really,” the blonde breathed, looking down at the clothing in her hands like he had presented her with a fucking silk blanket and not some worn, unwashed shirt.

              Suddenly, Beth was leaning over him, blocking his view of the night sky. She bent in close, causing Daryl to all but have a heart attack when she pressed her pretty pink lips to his rough cheek.

              “You’re a good man Daryl Dixon,” the young woman said as she sat back up.

              That only made Daryl feel worse because he sure wasn’t giving her that shirt out of the pure, innocent goodness of his heart. In fact, he was probably going to hell for it. However, when his companion slide her arms back into the holes, leaving the front unbuttoned, he couldn’t find it in himself to regret it.

              The next few days were uneventful, but increasingly stressful for Daryl. It was like everywhere he turned, he would see Beth wearing his damn shirt. She often layered it over her tank, but on occasion, Daryl would get glimpses through the gaping armholes of soft skin and her bra, that told him it was the only shirt she was wearing. When that happened, his brain would freeze as it began along the track of how his own skin had touched that material and now her skin was touching it, but that was as far as he would let the thoughts go. Girl didn’t deserve to have him thinking of her that way.

When Beth buttoned the shirt up but left the bottom unbuttoned and tied it tight around her waist, Daryl’s thoughts would drift to what it would be like to undo that knot and run his hands along the sliver of skin that he could see poking out. He had never wanted to touch somebody like this before, never wanted anyone as much as he wanted Beth. All of Daryl’s life, he had associated touch with pain and now suddenly it was like Beth had flipped some switch in him that had him craving to touch her and be touched by her. He loved when she would kiss his cheek or head before they went to bed, the way she would randomly hug him when she got excited, or how sometimes she would hold his hand as she led him places.

It was all these things that kept Daryl from talking about their future, whether they would stay at the funeral home or leave in search of the others. This was the happiest he had ever been and he didn’t want it to end when he asked Beth to stay and she would inevitably tell him she wanted to leave, that she wanted more than hanging out with his redneck ass. So each day, Daryl put it off a little further, until finally he was pissed at himself, because Dixons were not afraid of anything, especially not rejection by a cute, sweet blonde who was too good for him anyway.

So that is why he was fidgeting around at dinner, focusing on his pig’s feet rather than the girl beside him. It was time to finally make a decision and while he knew what Beth would want, he wasn’t ready to hear it. The blonde was busy writing on a piece of paper she had found, her pencil moving in lovely loopy strokes that was infinitely better than his chicken scratch.

“Whatcha writing,” he finally asked, figuring any talk was a step closer than just sitting and glancing at her out of the corner of his eye.

“I’m gonna leave a thank-you note,” Beth informed him, looking up as if wanting his thoughts on the subject.

“Why,” he asked, already feeling his heart drop, the girl obviously was planning on leaving, he didn’t know what else he had been expecting.

“For when they come back,” she told him, “if they come back…even if they are not coming back I want to say thanks.”

She amazed him, how much she thought of others, how optimistic she could be. As he watched her continue writing her letter, he suddenly was hit with just how much he wanted this, how much he wanted her even if their relationship was never any more than him just protecting her, teaching her how to hunt, and talking to her when they ate.

“Maybe you don’t have to leave that,” he managed to choke out, staring as hard as he could at the food in his hands, not daring to look at her face.

“Maybe we could stick around for a while,” he continued, the words somehow still coming, “they come back, we will just make it work.”

Daryl finally risked looking up and was shocked to see Beth staring at him, listening like this was actually a viable option, like she wasn’t ready to run out the door to find someone other than him to hang out with.

“They may be nuts,” he quickly said, trying to stay realistic, “but maybe it will be alright.”

Beth was smiling at him now and suddenly Daryl didn’t feel so dumb for what he just said, like Beth actually thought it might be okay to stay here with him, like she wasn’t just stuck with him.

“So you do still think there are good people around,” she announced with a grin like she had just won, which of course she had.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

“What changed your mind,” Beth asked with a grin, staring across at her companion who was obviously struggling with this conversation.

The blonde had learned a lot of surprising things about Daryl Dixon in the past several weeks of them surviving together. Before she had known he was a good man, loyal and protective of her group, maybe a little rough around the edges but just as good as Rick or her daddy. This past week was different though, with just the two of them constantly in close proximity, she had seen another side of the archer. She had seen him cry, laugh (more of a chuckle really), and had heard him talk about his time before the end of the world. He hadn’t said so, but Beth was sure he had never told anyone else so much about his past. She was the first person he had ever trained on the crossbow, during which she had found him to be a good and patient teacher, which surprised her almost as much as it did her instructor. Daryl liked dogs, he had always wanted a dog growing up.

There was so much to uncover and it was so special because Daryl didn’t just give these little tidbits of personal information away like other people did. Each new thing Beth learned about her companion was like a small treasure that she filed away in a locked chest, close to her heart. However, in all the time Beth had known him, she had never heard Daryl admit that he was wrong, that he truly believed things could be different. Knowing what she knew now, Beth understood why Daryl was so pessimistic (or realistic depending on how you look at it), why he was wary of strangers, and why he did his best to shut everyone out. For Daryl to admit that there might still be good people, that he was willing to hope that if the former occupants of the funeral home showed back up that they could work it out and live in peace, meant that something had drastically changed his entire world view. Not that that was a bad thing in Beth’s opinion, but she just had to know what had caused this complete one-eighty in the hunter’s perception of the world.

“You know,” the archer answered softly, like he hoped that would answer her question.

The hunter looked down at the can of pig’s feet in his hands, letting his long, dark locks fall over his eyes. Awkwardly, the archer spooned a couple pieces into his mouth, as if that gave him an excuse not to talk. It didn’t bother Beth, she was used to Daryl not being forthcoming with his thoughts. What the blonde used to think was just a taciturn, withdrawn nature, she had found out was something else entirely. Due to his upbringing, the rough man often seemed to think that his thoughts and his opinions, were not worth sharing, that nobody would care what he had to say. It was really sad, because he was actually very smart and he had a lot to say, he had just never had anyone to really listen. It broke Beth’s heart and since she had realized the reason behind Daryl’s silence, she had been trying to show him that what he had to say was worth something.  When Beth pushed him to talk, she did it carefully, she did it with a smile, she never laughed, and she let him take his time to answer.

“What,” she encouraged, grinning because whether he decided to tell her or not, she was just happy that he had changed his mind, that he was finally healing, maybe burning down that shack had helped.

“Mmmm,” the archer mumbled noncommittedly, looking down at the can of pig’s feet, which had suddenly become very interesting.

“Don’t mmmm,” she admonished gently, imitating him, “what changed your mind?”

The blonde expected Daryl to look away, to suddenly find some obscure task that needed to be done, or to simply ignore her, but he did something she never expected. The archer looked up from the food in his hands and stared straight into her eyes. The only times Beth had ever seen the older man make direct eye contact for any length of time was when he was glaring them in either a warning or a challenge, but this time was different, it was softer. In that moment, Beth realized how blue Daryl’s eyes were, how expressive and communicative they were, unlike the rest of him.

As soft as those eyes were when they looked at her, they were also fierce. Not fierce in the way the archer glared at the Governor or a herd of walkers, but fierce in a way that told Beth if something were to ever go wrong, Daryl would instantly be between her and any danger. Fierce in a sense that he would follow her anywhere she should want to go, even if it was for something as dumb as a bottle of booze. That he would always be near her, watching over her, protecting her.

The depth in Daryl’s eyes made Beth realize something. All the boys she had thought she had cared about before, they were just crushes, fleeting feelings that had felt like giant waves but now were nothing compared to a tsunami. The way Jimmy made her stomach tingle, the way Zack made her blush, those feelings were nothing compared to what Daryl’s stare was doing to her right now. All the sweet nothings Jimmy had whispered in her ears, all the promises Zach had made, they all fell silent compared to what Daryl’s eyes were telling her, what they were promising her.

Those stormy blues were looking at Beth like she was the last light in a dark world, like she was his hope, like she was the reason there were still good people. The flickers of light dancing in those blue irises told Beth that he was going to make things work if the owners of the funeral returned, but not for himself, but for her. They told her that he would do anything for her.

It suddenly began to click, all those moments where Beth thought it was just her imagination or that Daryl was just being a good guardian and instructor, maybe it had been so much more all along. From the very beginning at the farm, he had given her a weapon, helped her deal with the walkers in the barn even though she was a complete stranger, and saved her when her home was being overrun. He was the only one who noticed her enough to realize she had seen the future and confronted her about it. Then, at the prison, the way he trained her to fight and taught her to drive. He was the one who found her when Merle had taken her to the Governor. Suddenly all the glares at Zach, the hugs he allowed her to give him, and the way he had opened up about his past was starting to make sense. She remembered the time Merle said Daryl was nice, but not that nice, not for no reason. The closed off man had repeatedly opened up to her, let her touch him, let her use his crossbow, and had almost literally given her the shirt off his back.

Beth had seen this moment, at least the beginning of it, but she never realized how much it meant until right now. Maybe there was a reason why Daryl had shown up so much when she had seen her future, maybe it was because he is her future.

“Oh,” Beth breathed, now it was her turn to be speechless.

Before Beth could gather her thoughts to answer him, to even begin to tell him that she felt the same way, a clanking sound interrupted their moment, which was followed by a dog barking.

“Ugh,” Daryl muttered, putting down his food, but Beth sensed he was relieved by the interruption, ‘I’m gonna give that mutt one more chance.”

He grabbed a can with some pig’s feet, she assumed to offer to the stray dog, and quickly left the kitchen. Up until now, Beth had thought that she was the only one who felt something. It was just like tracking, all the signs had been there but she hadn’t been able to read them until now. She had been trying to figure out the mystery of Daryl Dixon and now that it was all falling into place, it seemed so obvious. Beth got up, wanting to go tell Daryl just how she felt, but at that moment the sound of walker groans filled the house, making the hairs on her neck stand on end.

“Beth,” came Daryl’s desperate yell and she hurriedly grabbed his crossbow before heading towards the front door.

When she came out of the kitchen, she found the archer bracing the front door against a small horde of the undead, struggling to keep them from bursting into their home. He motioned for her to throw him his crossbow and she did without hesitation.

“Run, run Beth,” he yelled at her, before turning and letting the door open so he could take down some of the walkers.

There was no way she was leaving him there on his own, Beth loved him, she realized in that moment. Daryl might not be some prince charming, but he was the best man she had ever met, he would do anything for her, and he didn’t need to try and do this on his own.

“Beth,” yelled Daryl, “pry open the window! Grab your shit!”

The blonde of course had already grabbed her stuff, Daryl’s as well. She began frantically working to get a window open, if she could they could both escape.

“Get out,” Daryl ordered.

“I’m not going to leave you,” she promised him, as she broke several fingernails wrenching the rusty latch to the side to open the window.

She shoved the window up, making enough room to get out. Walkers were suddenly flowing past the hall and into her room, they were between her and Daryl. The blonde began to take her knife out when the archer yelled at her again.

“Go out,” he commanded, “go up the road, I will meet you there!”

There were too many walkers and the older man was already far past the room she was in. Beth threw their bags out the window and climbed through, falling clumsily onto the ground, but out of the reach of the grasping corpses. Beth didn’t run down the road though, instead, she threw their bags a safe distance away and headed back towards the front door, taking out as many walkers as she could in the yard. Her heart was pounding, her mind was racing, Daryl was a force to be reckoned with, but that was a lot of walkers for him to handle on his own in an enclosed space.

“Don’t think about that now,” she told herself as her knife slid into the decaying face of what had once been a young teenage boy, “you have to kill as many of these things as you can, otherwise they will just be drawn into the house and it will be even harder for Daryl to escape.”

“Over here,” shouted Beth, trying to draw some of the horde away from the house.

The blonde had never taken on so many walkers at once, but she was determined. Pulling her knife out of the last corpse, she quickly plunged it into the next, while side-stepping to avoid another shambling body that was reaching for her. Her ankle began aching, but she pushed on, there was no way she was going to let these things get to Daryl, she had to take out as many as she could. A dead hand grabbed her wrist and Beth yanked it away in terror, quickly kicking out at the walker to push it back. She was so focused on killing the walkers, she didn’t even think about there being any other danger to worry about until something hit her squarely on the head, causing her vision to blur and her legs to collapse beneath her.

The blonde could hear each shallow, desperate gasp for air that her lungs made, it was like the sound was suddenly overwhelming her with how loud it was. Out of nowhere, she felt hands on her legs and arms, hoisting her into the air and shoving her into somewhere dark. Her head spun as she rolled into the space and the blood in her head seemed to be pounding so hard she thought her head would burst. Over the pain and her breathing and the throbbing in her head, a faint yell reached her ears.

“Beth,” came the voice, so desperate and strained and full of pain that it was almost indistinguishable as Daryl’s, “Beth!”

“Daryl,” the young woman whispered weakly, trying to get up to find where the voice was coming from.

However, the effort to get up was too much and with a final rush of blood to her head, Beth fell unconscious. When the blonde opened her eyes, she was staring out the window of a hospital and a woman in a police uniform with dark brown hair pulled back into a bun was speaking harshly to her.

“So, it seems you are a pretty popular girl, you and that other patient” the woman snapped at her, causing her to flinch, “have a whole group here just for the two of you, they are demanding that we hand you over before they give us trouble.”

Beth could feel the anger build in her but she continued staring out the window, focusing instead on the freedom so close to her fingertips.

“You should listen to them,” Beth said simply, because she knew her family could do anything, they were so much stronger than the community at O’Grady, because they worked together instead of tearing each other apart.

“You of all people should know I can’t,” Dawn snapped, grabbing her shoulder and spinning her so that they were facing each other, “you know how close I am to losing my command with everything that has gone on lately, which you have had your fair share in! I have done so much for you, you were weak, injured, unable to care for yourself! I took you in, gave you medical care, food, and covered for you when you killed O’Donnell, I didn’t tell anyone, you owe me! You owe me, I want you to stay here because I cannot have people thinking they can just abandon their debt, their responsibility to this hospital! We have a system and I need everyone to know that no one is an exception! Besides, you need to be here, you won’t make it out there anyway!”

“I have been making it out there just fine until you showed up,” the blonde yelled, yanking her arm away, “I don’t owe you anything, everything you ever did for me was really to help yourself.”

“I see,” the woman’s eyes narrowed, an evil gleam coming into them, “however I’m telling you right now you won’t make it out there, by out there I mean out of these doors. I don’t let people leave, that is against the rules, you haven’t paid your time yet. I can’t appear weak in front of my people. So you have two options, you can either stay here with me or you can try to leave and if some of my men accidently hit one or two of your group on the way out when they are aiming for you, well that can’t be helped. You won’t be leaving either way, so make your choice. I don’t want to kill you but if I have to make an example of you, so be it. Grab that patient and get over here.”

With that, the police woman turned on her heel and Beth hurried to get Carol, who was in a wheelchair, and followed her out the door and down the hall. All around her, people from the hospital were staring. The people held against their will had a look of hope, one that had started as a small flicker when Noah got away and now was growing stronger seeing Beth head towards her group. The officers stared as if she had suddenly grown a third eye, as if they didn’t understand who she was all of a sudden. The doors opened and suddenly her family was staring at her, but she only saw one set of eyes. They were dark blue and stormy with anger, but when they landed on her there was the smallest light. The archer’s hands tightened around his crossbow and it took everything in Beth not to run right into his arms.

“All we want is Carol and Beth and we will leave,” said Rick, stepping forward, “we don’t want any trouble but we are not leaving without them.”

Murmurs rippled through the other prisoners, who were watching the confrontation with great interest. Dawn’s eyes tightened at the sound of discontent in her community.

“Beth belongs to us until she pays back her debt,” Dawn said firmly, repeating the rules of the hospital, “we saved her life and now she must work for us. Y’all are welcome to join us.”

There was a silence and then Rick stepped forward, his eyes narrowing on the other leader.

“Beth belongs to us because we are her family,” he said in a way that made people stop to listen, “and we are not the kind of people you want to mess with. I think I have made myself very clear and I am not interested in asking a second time.”

Beth could see the cogs whirling in the policewoman’s mind, looking for a way out, a way to keep everyone under her strict rule.

“Fine,” the woman said, all too suddenly, “but he isn’t your family. He belongs to us.”

The hospital leader was pointing at Noah.

“He stays,” she said smugly, as if she had found a way to trump Rick.

Before Rick could say anything, the young man stepped forward.

“I’ll go back,” he agreed, “but you let Beth go.”

All the prisoners shifted, watching as the only person to ever escape Grady was about be drug back into hell. However, there was still an excitement in the air, seeing Beth have a chance to leave. That was the exact feeling that the older woman wanted to squash, she wanted to extinguish their hope, control them, use them. Beth couldn’t let that happen, she wouldn’t agree to stay here and give in to this woman’s control over her life, she wouldn’t try and walk out this door just to be shot and used as an example of Dawn’s power. No, she was going to take away what this woman wanted the most, the power to make Beth do what she wanted and use her to increase her control over the victims of the hospital.

She wanted to run into Daryl’s arms, hug all her family, ask if they had seen Maggie, but she couldn’t do that. If she did, she could be happy with them for a little while and then this woman would hurt them. Staying wasn’t an option either, Beth refused to stay in this hellhole. There was only one choice. She stepped forward hugging Noah, who like her was now in the middle of the two groups. Over his shoulder, she looked over at Daryl and for just a second, their eyes connected and it was like everything was okay. Beth gave him a small smile, before turning around. She could hear a shuffle, which she could only assume was Rick holding Daryl back. Beth faced the leader of the hospital, squared her shoulders and walked right up to the woman.

“I get it now,” Beth told her, reaching for a pair of scissors she had been hiding.

She had to die, not the way the policewoman wanted, on her own terms, it was the only solution. The only way this evil woman couldn’t use her or her death for her own purposes, the only way for her to escape this hospital, keep her family safe, and to show the other prisoners that they needed to be defiant. She had to be an example to them, show them how to fight. With that last thought, the blonde plunged the scissors into the woman’s arm. As the policewoman pulled her gun, it was like everything was in slow motion. Beth wished she could turn to look at Daryl one last time, to apologize to him, to explain why she had to do this, but she couldn’t, things just seemed slow but they were actually happening really fast.

There was a bang and suddenly, Beth’s body fell away from her and she remained standing up, looking down at her crumpled corpse, blood quickly staining her blonde hair. An arrow suddenly flew threw her non-physical chest and embedded itself into the woman’s head. The blonde gasped and turned around to see Daryl standing there, his crossbow drawn and a look of absolute horror and anger on his face. The anger quickly disappeared and was replaced by something much worse, a terrible sadness. He stood over her body, his mouth trembling, his fingers shaking badly, before he fell to his knees and pulled her into his lap sobbing. It was the most heartbreaking thing she had seen, Beth wanted to comfort him, to touch him, but she was a ghost, unable to reach the archer. This was her fault, she should have searched harder for another way, she should have found a better solution, because the answer could never be one that hurt Daryl this much.

Suddenly, the world went black and Beth groaned in pain, she assumed from the gunshot. She didn’t know why she was suddenly feeling pain if she was already dead. That is when Beth opened her eyes. A bright light hung over her, making her quickly shut her eyelids again.

“She’s waking up,” came a male voice and there were sharp steps that made their way over to her.

“It’s okay,” said a man with glasses and a lab coat, followed by the policewoman from her dream who was no longer dead, “it’s okay. I’m Dr. Steven Edwards and this is Officer Dawn Lerner. How are you feeling?”

Beth’s eyes flicked between the two new people, trying to decide what to make of the situation. What she had just witnessed had been so confusing, was it all just a dream?

“Do you remember your name,” pushed the doctor, staring at her with a concerned expression.

“Beth,” she said softly, no longer used to introducing herself.

“How did I get here,” she asked, her head pounding as she tried to sit up in bed, only to have the world start spinning.

“I wouldn’t get up just yet, you suffered quite an injury,” cautioned Dr. Edwards, starting to move towards her but stopping when she flinched away.

“My officers found you on the side of the road, surrounded by rotters, alone,” Dawn answered curtly, as if she were reading a script.

“Your wrist was fractured and you sustained a head wound,” Steven explained.

“The man I was with,” Beth asked desperately, already feeling like she knew the answer, “is he here too?”

“You were alone,” Dawn answered abruptly, cutting off her hopeful question, “if we hadn’t found you, you would be one of them.”

Everything in Beth screamed that the policewoman was lying to her.

“So you owe us,” Dawn concluded, staring at her with the same dangerous desire to control her that Beth had seen in her dream, or was it a vision?

The blonde didn’t know what was happening, all she knew was that in her heart they were lying to her, but she couldn’t let them know that. Even if what she had seen was just a dream induced by her injury, she had learned to trust her gut in life or death situations and right now her gut was screaming that there was something wrong here.

“Follow me,” ordered Dawn.

Beth hung her head down timidly, trying her best to radiate helplessness and naivety, which wasn’t hard since most people wrote her off as such anyway. This small gesture told her everything she needed to know, because it caused Dawn to smile like a lion who suddenly had prey in it’s sights.

3 weeks later

Beth stared out the window, hoping Noah had escaped fine even with his injured leg. As long as he had gotten away, then her sacrifice had been worth it, it had meant something. Having to kill Gorman was worth it, getting beat up by Dawn was worth it, and being stuck here was worth it. Her stomach grumbled but Beth paid it no mind, it was minor compared to her other problems. She wasn’t planning on staying here just because of one beating, one failed attempt wasn’t going to break her spirit.

The young blonde can still remember the cutting words of Dawn, how the cruel woman told her she wasn’t strong enough for this world. However, Daryl thought she was and his opinion was the only one that mattered to her. She had survived this long and if her visions of the future were anything to base her opinion on, she would walk out of this hospital with her family. However, the other vision she had, the one not produced by the prospect device, the one she had when she was unconscious, it worried her. Sometimes it made her think that there were two possible endings to her story. She pushed the horrible thought out of her mind, she couldn’t let herself go down that road.

She missed Daryl even more than she missed Maggie or her daddy or the prison. After a cruel beating or when Gorman had been harassing her, she would think back to sitting in the kitchen of the funeral home with the hunter, to how at peace she had felt. They had told her when she got here that they had found her unconscious, surrounded by biters, with no companion around. That was a lie though and Beth knew it because there was no way Daryl had left her there alone in danger and she knew he was alive because she had seen herself walk out of a hospital and be greeted by the hunter and her sister. They were both alive, she just had to stay strong and she would see them both again, she would see her family again. She knew there was no way Daryl could track her to here. For her to have gotten this far away in so short of a time, they must have driven in a vehicle and cars left no tracks on roads, nothing for even the most skilled hunter to follow.

However, she had confided in Daryl, told him about her visions, even the one about her being reunited with him and Maggie in front of a hospital. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was a hint, a clue for him to find his way to her. She just had to stay alive long enough for him to find her and once he found her she had to made sure she stayed alive long enough to walk out of this building. The blonde made her way to the bottom bunk that was her designated bed. She didn’t have much that belonged to her. When she had woken up, she had been cleaned and her clothes already changed to scrubs. The necklace her mama had given her was gone, the knife Daryl had given her was gone, even her hair tie was gone. By a stroke of pure luck, when Beth was on trash duty, to pay back the hospital for “saving her”, she had found her old clothes in the dumpster. Quickly, she had pulled them out and hidden them underneath her cot, too scared to wear them out of fear that they would be taken away. Some nights, when she was really lonely, the young woman pulled out Daryl’s shirt and buried her face in it, wishing she was back in the archer’s arms. When day came, she was always sure to put the shirt away, safe from the prying eyes of the hospital that would take anything of joy away from her.

“Beth,” came the cutting voice of Dawn Lerner, who was glaring at her in disapproval from the doorway, “come with me.”

Just seeing the horrid woman made Beth’s face ache from where she had been slapped so hard her cheek had split open. The blonde had another scar on her head, from when she had been knocked unconscious. There is a cast on Beth’s right arm. They had told her a bone was broken, but she thinks they really just put it there to keep her from being capable of fighting or defending herself. She is sure of this because she had broken her wrist falling off a horse as a kid and remembers how it ached and iched during the healing process. Her wrist right now feels fine.

“You are needed to help Dr. Edwards,” Dawn begins, making Beth’s stomach drop and her steps falter.

Even before Dr. Edwards used her to kill the only other doctor at the hospital, she had hated working with him. It was horrific to hold someone down for an amputation, to save someone’s life against their will, if Beth had her way she would never see the man again. Suddenly, a harsh grip was on Beth’s shoulder and Dawn was very forcibly moving her forward.

“Look Beth,” Dawn said curtly, “you have already messed up enough in your short time here, I suggest you don’t make any more mistakes. You will do what Dr. Edward says, if I had known you would be such a handful we never would have saved you.”

That being said, Beth was thrust into a room containing the doctor, who was doing a check on a patient. When the young woman walked over and saw who it was, she had to stop herself from gasping. She recognized the older woman, it was Carol! For a split second, Beth was ecstatic that she had someone else to keep her company in this living hell, but then she was horrified that Carol would have to go through the same things she had been.

“This is patient number 0293,” said Dr. Edwards without glancing up at her, “she was brought in due to a concussion and several bodily injuries.”

Beth isn’t surprised, the same happened to her when she was taken.

“I want you to monitor her health, inform me when she wakes up,” Dr. Edwards continued, but Beth wasn’t listening.

She had to make sure her family member stayed safe. She knew what some people in the hospital were capable of, she had to find a way to stay by Carol’s side and protect her.

The young woman nodded hastily, causing the doctor to finally acknowledge her.

“I wish you would speak to me Beth,” Stevens requested, sounding genuinely lonely, “you know I did what I had to do to stay alive, that is what we all do in here.”

“There is a difference between being alive and living,” Beth found herself saying firmly, glaring up at the man who had used her to commit murder, “you may be alive but your life isn’t worth living.”

The man stared at her in shock for a moment at how truthful she was being before he coughed and focused on his clipboard and paperwork again.

“Record the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and other vital signs every thirty minutes,” Dr. Edwards said shortly, as if their conversation had never happened, “I will be back after I check on my other patients.”

Having said this, the man left the room, leaving Beth alone with Carol. The young woman ran to Carol’s side, grasping the older woman’s arm.

“Please wake up,” begged Beth, her eyes frantically searching the monitors, hoping against hope that her friend and her family member in everything but blood would make it, that the officers hadn’t done anything too horrible to her.  

Several hours passed and the blonde continued clinging to the other woman’s arm like a lifeline. It was like the small comfort of someone she knew and trusted was enough to start cracking the strong face she had to constantly wear. Beth felt a tear trickled down her cheek and her vision blurred, right when the hand she was holding finally squeezed back.

“Carol,” Beth gasped, “Carol! You are awake! Are you okay? What happened to you?”

“Beth,” breathed Carol, wincing in pain at the movement in her chest as she spoke “you are alive!”

The young woman stood up and wrapped her arms around her friend, trying her best to be gently but finding it hard to hold back.

“He was right,” Carol breathed softly, “Daryl was right all along.”

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Beth stood on the roof of the hospital, looking out at the line that divided the city and the woods. The clock was ticking down. Carol had arrived at the hospital, which meant any moment her family could show up here and Beth wasn’t ready. The blonde had decided the dream she had while she was unconscious was in fact a vision. She had come to this conclusion because so many things mentioned in the scene had come true. She had killed O’Donnel and Carol had shown up at the hospital. This meant that there were two visions, two different ways her future could turn out based on what she did. How she was having visions, she didn’t know, but it wasn’t any crazier than the dead walking the earth. The young woman had decided that she needed to escape before her family came to save her in order to walk away from this place alive. 

There were several problems though, the most important one being how to get Carol out, closely followed by how to get the cast off her wrist. Luckily, the older woman was not severely injured and had been strengthening every day. The pair had agreed it would be best for Carol to continue to pretend to be weak and unable to walk in case that might give them an advantage in escaping. Beth hadn’t been able to talk to Carol much today, they had to be careful to not let anyone find out that they knew each other.

Getting frustrated for the 100th time at her inability to come up with an escape plan, Beth let her mind wander. There was one thing out of the horrible vision of her death that gave her hope. It was remembering the way Daryl had looked at her. If there was any question about the way the archer had felt about her, it was gone now. How much she meant to him had been plainly written across his face. As she was thinking about the hunter, there was a commotion down below at the entrance to the hospital. The blonde looked down to see Dawn and Dr. Stevens yelling at each other. She couldn’t make out what they were mad about, but she knew that since she had arrived, the doctor had been the target of Dawn’s anger more and more often. That was when it hit her, it was a far shot, but it was a chance to escape.

One day later

Beth slips into Dr. Edwards’s room, which is full of files on patients and medical books. The man looks up in surprise when she enters the room, letting the door shut behind her. The blonde takes a big breath and remembers Daryl telling her she had changed, she sure hoped she had because she needed every bit of confidence to do this. There was only a 50% chance this would work and that chance had to do with the fact that Dr. Edwards was a coward, a coward that she thinks genuinely cared for her, as long as it was also in his best interest to help her.

“Beth,” he exclaims, his eyebrows lifting, “what can I do for you?”

“You can take my cast off,” she says simply but firmly, holding her arm out to him.

“It hasn’t even been four weeks Beth,” Dr. Edwards answers, “can’t remove it until it is fully healed.”

 “But it was never broken to begin with,” Beth insists, piercing the doctor in place with a stare.

Steven pauses for a moment, as if at a loss for words before recovering himself.

“Don’t be silly Beth,” he says, turning around to shuffle some of the paperwork on his desk, “of course your wrist is broken, why else would I have put a cast on it?”

“Same reason you had me give Gavin clozapine instead of clonazepam,” Beth asserts quietly, causing the doctor’s nervous sorting of papers to still immediately.

“That is over Beth,” he says through gritted teeth, staring at her with what is meant to be a threat but Beth has dealt with far worse people than Dr. Edwards.

 “No, it is not,” she says, putting all the emphasis she can into her voice, “it won’t be over until I’m out of here. As long as I’m around, I know what you did and could always tell Dawn.”

“You wouldn’t do that, if you were going to you would have already done so,” disagrees Steven, but all the blood is draining from his face.

“Dawn doesn’t like you,” Beth continues, “and you don’t like her. Luckily for you, I don’t like her either. So, I’m willing to keep quiet if you do two things for me.”

Beth walks right up to the desk so she could talk even more quietly.

“First, I want you to take this cast off,” she orders, “and secondly, I want you to leave the door to the emergency stairwell open early tomorrow morning, right before sunrise. Don’t even try to lie, I know you have the keys to it.”

 “Beth….,” Dr. Edwards begins, but trails off, looking at her with pleading eyes.

“If you don’t want me to tell Dawn,” Beth warns firmly, staring at him, “You are safe here at this hospital because you are a doctor, but if she finds out you have killed someone, then you can’t be trusted and you won’t be of much use to them. They will find another doctor, maybe not right away, but at some point and then they won’t need you anymore. Or you could help me and I will leave and none of that has to happen.”

 “She won’t believe you,” Dr. Edwards asserts, trying to look in control of the situation.

“Dawn didn’t believe me the first time,” Beth agrees, before continuing with an important point of her arguement “but that was before she knew Gavin was a doctor, I could tell her some very interesting things about Gavin. I can prove them too, his bag that is currently held in her office is full of medical supplies and books. ”

They stand in silence for what seems like forever before the doctor finally speaks.

“Why,” he asks, sounding genuinely confused, “why do you want to leave? It is safe here, they feed us, protect us, there is medicine, why do you want to leave?”

“They feed us so that we will stay alive so they can use us,” Beth explains, “You say we are safe here, but I find Gorman and the other men like him far scarier than anything out there. But most importantly, my family is out there and I need to find them.”

“You couldn’t protect me from Gorman,” Beth accuses, deciding not to pull any of her punches, “if I was relying on you and the rest of this hospital for protection, I would have been raped, I had to protect myself. Because of the people in this hospital I was taken away from my family. Because of you I was beaten by Dawn. I would much rather be out there than stuck in here. Helping me won’t hurt you, you can lock to door after I leave, and no one will know how I escaped. However, if I stay here, I will make sure that all this….”

Beth motions at the room and to the plate of half-finished food and the coffee mug.

“It will all go away,” Beth tells Dr. Edwards, “I will make sure that you get kicked out. But I don’t want to do that anymore than you want it to happen, so why don’t we just work together. Twenty-four hours and then you can go back to your wonderful life in this prison.”

Steven stared at her as if she were some kind of puzzle he was trying to crack, as if he couldn’t for the life of him understand why she would rather be outside than in here, despite her trying to explain it. Finally, he nodded very slowly.

Next morning

Beth sat on Carol’s bed, flexing her very pale, very clean hand. Dr. Edwards had cut the cast off, whether he followed through with his promise to open the door or not, she at least felt less defenseless. The blonde hadn’t slept at all last night. Beth felt excited but she was also scared to death. While the doctor had agreed to help, he could really do any number of things. Trusting someone was a risk. Dr. Edwards could run and tell Dawn, he could not open the door, he could do things she might not anticipate.

Early in the morning, before daybreak, Beth had carefully gathered a couple of granola bars she had swiped from breakfast and her old clothes (including Daryl’s shirt), storing them in a worn drawstring bag.  Once she was packed, the young woman slipped quietly from her room, careful not to wake any of the other women up. She had made her way to the infirmary, meeting very few people along the way and when she did she was careful to duck into another hallway. When she made it to Carol’s room, she found the older woman asleep, thanks to the medications she had been on. They were nothing too powerful though, Beth had made sure since she needed Carol awake and alert for what they had planned.

The young woman gently nudged her friend and patient, causing the woman’s eyes to snap open. The two women nodded at each other, before Carol got up and began getting dressed in some scrubs Beth had found for her. The blonde felt like her heart was about to beat out of her chest. Any minute someone could see she wasn’t in her room, Dawn could come for her, or the door could be locked. However, she had to do this, not just for herself and Carol, but to keep her family from ever coming within that evil woman’s reach.

Once Carol was dressed, she sat on the wheelchair and Beth got ready to roll her out. Her friend must have been able to tell she was nervous because she reached back and took her hand. The blonde squeezed tight, hoping that she wasn’t leading Carol into a trap. They couldn’t wait any longer, the sun would come up soon and people would start to move around. Beth opened the door and wheeled Carol out. They went down the hallway, moving quietly but quickly. The young woman stood tall and tried her best to look like she was on official medical business rather than an attempted escape.

The whole walk, they only passed one person, who was prepping the kitchen for breakfast and didn’t spare them a second glance. Finally, Beth turned Carol down the corner that put the door to the emergency stairway in sight. It would either be open or it wouldn’t. The blonde couldn’t help but walk a bit faster as her adrenaline began pumping. Her ankle had healed and Beth was certain it wouldn’t cause any problems if she started running. Finally, a foot from the door, she stopped. Both women stared at the knob. After a moment, Beth reached out hesitantly, feeling as if she was about to set off a booby trap. She grabbed the cold metal firmly and gave it a solid twist, it didn’t budge.

“Fuck,” Beth whispered, her whole heart wanting to cave in with disappointment.

She had known this was a possibility, that Dr. Edwards might go to Dawn or just not follow through, however it still hit her hard. She had been so hopeful that they would escape, that this would work. Carol got up out of her wheelchair, unable to accept their fate and tried the door, wiggling and turning it more forcefully, but to no avail. Before the two women could discuss a new plan, the sound of footsteps startled them. Carol moved quickly back to her wheelchair but not before Dr. Edwards rounded the corner. He froze when he found Beth and Carol giving him the death glare. Without a word, he drew a set of keys out of his pocket and held his hands up in a surrender gesture.

“Look,” Steven began, “I’m here with the keys and I’m willing to give them to you on one condition. Before you even start thinking about trying to take them from me, I will yell and call all the policemen here in a moment if you so much as take a step in my direction.”

Beth had known it wouldn’t go as easy as she had wished it would. It was immensely frustrating to be so close to freedom, just an inch or so of metal away. She turned and looked into Dr. Edwards eyes, feeling her blood turning cold. What would he want from her?

“What is it,” she managed to spit out, feeling desperate enough to probably do anything he asked.

Reaching into his pocket, the doctor withdrew a syringe with an unknown liquid in it. Immediately, Beth felt on edge.

“I want you to take this,” he said, “it is something I have been working on for a while and I want to see if it works. Since you brought more than just yourself, if I’m helping two people escape it is only fair that you do something extra for me.”

“That could be anything,” Beth snapped, her eyes narrowing on the needle.

“Don’t do it,” whispered Carol, “we will find another way.”

That was the problem though, they were running out of time to find another way. If Beth stayed here and her group came for her, they wouldn’t all be walking out of here alive and Noah would be stuck again. Taking this unknown medicine was a gamble. Steven could be trying to kill her like he did the other doctor, but he had no real reason to when she was perfectly willing to leave and never say a word. She wasn’t a doctor, she would be gone soon, she was no threat to him, and he seemed to genuinely like her despite letting her take the blame for his murder.

“What is in it,” Beth asked, hoping to gauge his intentions better from more information.

Right as Steven was about to explain, voices sounded down the hall, heavy footsteps were headed their direction. She could hear Dawn shouting for them to find her. If they didn’t leave now, they were in for trouble. Not only would Beth and Carol not escape, if they were found together, she was sure they wouldn’t let her near Carol again.

“There is no time, do you trust me,” Dr. Edwards asked, looking ready to flee any second.

“No, we don’t take your physco deal,” said Carol at the same time Beth said, “I don’t have any other choice.”

She strode over to the doctor and held out her arm, before she could even blink, a needle pierced her shoulder. There was a second of pain and then it was gone.

The doctor strode past her and unlocked the door, holding it open for them and ushered them to hurry. Carol got out of the wheelchair, which she had continued to sit in, apparently shocked by Beth agreeing to the man’s demands. Both women quickly ran into the stairwell. The door immediately shut behind them, throwing them into darkness. Before they could find their bearings enough to start down the steps, they heard the voices.

“Dr. Edwards,” came the curt call of a police officer, “have you seen Beth.”

“I have not,” Steven replied, “I was just looking for her, as a doctor I shouldn’t be the one returning wheelchairs to the hospital wing, that is Beth’s job.”

Beth breathed a sigh of relief and both women began careful making their way down the steps, stumbling here and there. The blonde didn’t know how many flights of stairs there were, considering how high up it seemed on the roof of the hospital, she knew there had to be a lot.

“That was really stupid Beth,” reprimanded Carol at some point in their descent.

“It had to be done,” she answered simply, her stomach turning at the unknown future of what her decision had just caused.

She could be dead before they even reached the exit. Her mind kept second guessing if her heart was racing as fast as it normally would be for someone escaping captivity or if she had been given something that was going to make her have a heart attack. There was no answer. Instead, Beth just had to focus her thoughts on the immediate problem, getting out of here.

Just when they began to worry that they would never find the way out, the darkness started to break. Beth could just make out the outline of Carol’s head, sometimes catch a glimpse of where the handrail was. As they went down, it became lighter and lighter until they reached a door with a little window showing the outside. There was a driveway for an ambulance to enter the back of the hospital. It was good that the door led to the back, made them less likely to be seen escaping.

There are walkers milling around on the bottom floor of the hospital. They don’t have any weapons, but the herd is thin enough they can probably make it through, they just have to be able to get out of the gate. The gate is high and the entrance for the driveway had been shoddily, but strongly, blocked off with a pile of car parts and sharp chunks of metal, that looked dangerous to try climbing.

“Look, over there,” Carol points at a very obviously cut hole in the fence.

That was strange, surely such apparent tampering would not go unnoticed for long without being mended, which meant it must have been cut recently. Maybe someone else had escaped a similar way they were hoping to.

“It’s not too far, I think we can make it,” Beth stated, almost salivating at how close they were to freedom, but terrified of getting too excited only to fail.

“On the count of three,” Carol asked.

The blonde nodded. It seemed for a second like time stopped, all the walkers moved in slow motion, and Carol spoke each number with long pauses in between. Then, it all sped up when they burst out of the door. Immediately, all the shambling corpses began stumbling towards them, arms out-reached. Beth dodged to the left and Carol to the right, before coming back together in their run to freedom. It honestly wasn’t that hard, they were lightning fast compared to the dead bodies. The problem came when they neared the opening in the fence. A particularly large body lumbered in front of them, blocking off their escape. They didn’t have time to lure the hulking man away, the other walkers were closing in. Carol pushed the fairly new corpse to the side and ducked through the cut chain link. Beth was close on her heels but the walker had already recovered.  She tried to push him away, but she was much smaller and lighter than Carol and he barely budged.

“Come on,” screamed the older woman, holding the fence apart to make the opening wider.

Beth gave up trying to shove the corpse away, instead she ducked under his legs and shot through the hole. Before the young woman even knew what had happened, she face-planted in the dirt, a sharp pain blossomed on her ankle and there was a pulling on her leg. At first, she was horrified, thinking the walker had gotten her. However, when she turned she saw that in fact her ankle had been scrapped by the jagged wire and her shoelace was caught on one of the ends. The blonde pulled desperately as the hulking walker turned around and started reaching for her. Carol began yanking on her arm but she was stuck.

Beth began trying to kick off her tightly-tied tennis shoes when a whistling in the air was followed by an arrow blossoming out of the walker’s head, causing the corpse to fall to the ground with a thud. The young woman didn’t have to turn to know who had shot the arrow, she would have recognized that bolt among a hundred others. It didn’t matter that she was still within sight of the hospital, stuck on a fence, surrounded by walkers, she suddenly felt safe for the first time since the funeral home.

“Beth,” hollered the rough, earthy voice she had come to love.

Before the blonde knew it, Daryl had slid down on the ground beside her, deftly untangling her sock from the fence, his crossbow slung over his back and long, brown locks hanging over his eyes. His biceps rolled with every move he made, the wings on his vest as bright as if they were from an actual angel. The moment her foot was free, Beth stood up and threw herself into Daryl’s arms.

“Daryl,” she gasped into the crook of his neck, breathing in the scent of woods and dirt and life that she loved so much.

He didn’t say anything, but the tightening of his arms around her waist told Beth everything she needed to know. It almost hurt how hard he was hugging her, as if he was scared of letting her go, but Beth didn’t mind, she would take all the pain in the world if it meant she was with Daryl.

Footsteps came crashing around the corner of a building and Beth turned her head to suddenly find her family was in front of her. Maggie was there, looking skinnier and fiercer than ever. Glenn was grinning in a contagious way. Rick was telling some strangers to stand down. Carl was jumping around, that sheriff’s hat on his head looking like it fit him a little better than the last time she saw him. Michonne was looking as deadly and dangerous as Beth remembered, but her face didn’t look as sad anymore. They were all dirty, tired, ragged, and armed to the teeth, but they looked like heaven to the young woman. Daryl’s arms loosened so that she was free to take a step away from him, towards her family, while still clinging on desperately with one hand to Daryl’s vest, scared he would disappear if she let him go. 

“Beth,” cried Maggie, running over to her and pulling her sister into her arms, “I can’t believe it is really you!”

The blonde wrapped one arm around her sibling, feeling like all her dreams had come true. She was here with her family, her sister, and most importantly, Daryl. Soon, it turned into a sort of awkward but loving family hug with everyone piling together to hug her and say something to her. The archer stayed nearby, not that her grip was allowing him to move even if he wanted to, keeping one eye on her and one on their surroundings.

“We need to get out of here,” says Noah, who suddenly appeared by her side.

As much as everyone didn’t want to stop, the boy was right. They were too close to the hospital to be safe, they needed to get moving before the O’Grady police came looking and found them. The walkers were piling up on the fence around them, their moaning drawing more and more attention to the group.

“Come on, back to the vehicles,” ordered the former sheriff, taking off.

Rick and the red-headed man led the way, followed by Carol, Maggie, and Glenn. Next were Tyreese and Sasha, close as ever. Daryl and Beth were almost last, with Michonne, Carl, and Noah behind them. They moved with a purpose and soon the buildings were replaced by trees and they navigated the forest like a pack of wolves.

“I missed you,” Daryl mumbled, so low she almost missed it, as he scanned the trees with his crossbow at the ready, carefully not making eye contact.

It was so endearing, the way the strong hunter was shy to the point of embarrassment at admitting any of his feelings.

“Yeah, I knew you would,” Beth said, remembering their night at the moonshine shack, “I missed you too.”

The archer grunted and then faced forward, as if he had reached his limit on emotional talk for the day, but he never let her go more than a few feet from him on their whole trip. It turns out their destination was a highway, empty except for two vans, guarded, or rather watched over by a strange assortment of people. The first was a man in a black shirt and priestly collar, then a Hispanic woman who looked like she got her fashion sense from Lara Croft, another woman who looked vaguely familiar but Beth couldn’t place her, and lastly a nerdy looking man with a mullet.

They all pile in, with Maggie, Rick, Daryl, Beth, Carol, Carl, and Glenn in one vehicle and everyone else in the other.  Beth ends up between Daryl and Maggie. The redheaded man drives like the only speed he knows is the one where the gas pedal is touching the floor and Rick does his best to keep up. That is when it hits her, how tired she is. Carol must have noticed her swaying a little, because her hand is suddenly on Beth’s shoulder.

“How are you feeling,” the older woman asks, from the seat behind hers.

“I’m fine,” she answers, a bit too quickly in her hurry to keep her family from getting worried.

“What’s wrong,” Daryl immediately asks, turning his full attention on her and scanning every bit of skin he can see, desperately searching for any injury, or worse, a bite.

His eyes land on her face, the stiches she has on her cheek and across her forehead. Immediately, his steady, focused gaze turns to one of anger. Until this moment, the young woman had forgotten just how intense he stare could really be when the archer chose to look at someone.

“Just a few stiches,” the blonde played it off, not wanting her family to know about the shot since there was nothing anyone could do anyway, “they will need to be taken out at some point.”

“I’m so sorry Beth,” sobs Maggie, clutching her, “I’m sorry we didn’t get there sooner, we were just coming for you when you and Carol both came out.”

That explains the cut in the fence. The blonde didn’t know just how close she had come to her deadline to escape until now.

“Those bastards don’t deserve to be alive,” growled Daryl in a scary voice, “makes me wish we did have to come in there to get you, so I could have handled them.”

“They weren’t all bad Daryl,” Beth admonishes, even though a part of her would have loved to have watched the hunter put a bolt through every last one of the officers, “there were some good people, like Noah.”

The rattling and shaking of the van makes her head ache and Beth reaches over, grabbing Daryl’s forearm before shutting her eyes.

“Can you slow the hell down,” Daryl growls at Rick at the same time Glenn, who is holding a map says, “where the hell is that maniac going?”

“Sorry, can’t stop,” Rick shouts over the noise, “we can’t lose them.”

“Fucking moron,” cusses Daryl, “why the hell is he leading this? Guy’s got more balls than brains.”

Beth can’t help but smirk at the familiar crassness that is Daryl Dixon. Funny how something like that could make her feel at home. Before she can enjoy the moment too long, her vision starts to blacken around the edges. The young woman tries to keep her head up, but it keeps dropping further and further down. The blonde fights it all she can, scared to black out again and wake up without her family, but eventually it overtakes her.

For a short while, she can still make out people talking. Daryl and Maggie’s voice calling her name. There is a lot of talk going on before Daryl is practically screaming at Carol about letting Beth take something. Then, even the voices go away and Beth fades into the darkness.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

Daryl brushes a couple of blonde sweaty locks off Beth’s forehead, staring down at the girl he had been so worried he would never see again. His hands look particularly dirty against her glowing clean skin. They had obviously had running water at the hospital. His fists clench every time he looks at the stitches holding together what had been flawlessly smooth skin. Those would scar for sure.

After a long, face-paced drive, Abraham had finally stopped on the side of the road. The group had set up camp at what had once been a picnic station for tired travelers. Daryl had picked Beth up and carried her carefully outside. That had been nothing like the last time he had held her in his arms, when he had carried her down the stairs and she was all smiles and laughter with her arms wrapped around his neck. This time she was limp, injured, and looked half-dead.

Maggie laid down some blankets on the concrete floor of a little covered pavilion, trying her best to make a comfortable bed. Sasha had given up her only pillow, the only pillow the whole group has, for Beth. Once Daryl had set the young woman down, he didn’t leave her side. He felt so helpless, sitting there beside the blonde. He had waited so long, searched so hard, and now he didn’t know what to do to help Beth.

“Don’t go dying on me Greene,” comes the rough plea, torn from his chest, hoping against hope that she could hear him, “didn’t chase you across this whole fucking state just to have ya die on me now!”

The girl doesn’t move, doesn’t even twitch. Footsteps come up behind him, signaling Maggie’s return with a bottle of water and a rag. Daryl looks away to hide his face but doesn’t leave as the brunette kneels down and begins carefully cleaning her little sister’s forehead and cheeks.

“This is my fault…,” Maggie croaks out, her voice barely a whisper, “If I had kept looking for her……”

“Ain’t your fault,” disagrees Daryl, his voice thick with self-loathing, “It’s mine.”

He hadn’t talked about his time with Beth. Everyone in the group knew by know that they had gotten out together and survived on their own, until something had happened to Beth. He had never been able to articulate the day Beth had been kidnapped, it wasn’t something he could bear to relive, not until now, when she was back in his arms.

“I’m the one who let them…. take her….,” he chokes, his body beginning to shake with silent sobs, “I couldn’t fucking protect her…”

That is the most he has ever told anyone about his time with Beth and it is still too much. Daryl can feel his breathing pick up at the memory of coming out of the house and not seeing Beth, the panic of watching that black car sped away from him, too fast for him to catch. The hunter reaches out and touches Beth’s hand, as if he needs the reassurance she is actually there, just in case his eyes are playing tricks with him.

“I fucked up, let the walkers in the house,” he manages to continue, his guilt building, “we were safe and I got too comfortable and Beth paid the price for that….if I had just….”

Suddenly, the tears are slipping out, normally he would have cared but right now all that matters is the girl in front of him.

“Beth wouldn’t have made it as far as she has without you,” Maggie comforts, “I was happy to hear that she got out with you. You kept her alive, protected her, you have done more than anyone else could have.”

“Nah,” he disagrees vehemently, glaring at the brunette if she dared try to argue with him, “she could have made it this far without me, she has made it this far without me while she was at the hospital. She is strong. She is better than all this shit!”

The older sibling stares at Daryl for a moment after his outburst, as if things are suddenly clicking into place. Then, without argument, she nods.

“Will you watch over Beth for me while I go talk to Rick,” she asks, suddenly handing the responsibility of her sister over to him.

“Course,” he answers, feeling slightly uncomfortable at the way Maggie is assessing him.

Damn Greene girls, they are so perceptive.

After Maggie leaves, Carol comes by. He doesn’t turn his head to look at her, he is still pissed at his friend for letting Beth do something so stupid as take some unknown medicine from a random doctor.

“Beth had this with her when we escaped,” Carol offers, holding something a few inches from his face.

Daryl turns just the slightest and finds an old college drawstring bag next to his head. He takes it with a slight nod, unsure of what to make of Beth’s meager belongings. 

“She is different than before,” Carol says suddenly, “she isn’t like the Beth I remember at the prison, she is stronger, more like a leader, a survivor.”

Daryl just grunts at this assessment, causing the older woman to leave him in silence. He probably shouldn’t open it, but he needs to know what had been so important to Beth that she held onto it. Inside is his t-shirt, Beth’s jeans, a few granola bars, and a medical scalpel. Daryl turns the clothes over in his hands, they smell like Beth even after everything. The measly scalpel can barely be considered a weapon. It reminds him of the knife he had given her, he would have to get her a new one. Maybe even a crossbow too, she had been learning pretty quickly with his.

When he puts the objects down and turns his attention back to the girl at hand, his heart all but stops. He is a hunter, he is used to how animals should move and Beth doesn’t seem right. Her chest isn’t rising and falling, her eyelids are not flickering, nothing to indicate life. Carefully, feeling like his whole world hangs on this answer, he lays his head down next to her heart. Nothing.

Beth’s POV

Everything that hurt suddenly fades away. The pain and itching on her face disappears, her light-headedness recedes, and the ache in her stomach is dulled. She doesn’t feel too hot or too cold or like she is covered in grime. The blonde hasn’t felt this way since before the world ended. When she finally opens her eyes, there isn’t much to see, just a foggy darkness. Slowly, a light grows in intensity on her left side. The young woman turns to look and feels her heart catch.

It is her daddy and mother, big smiles on their faces, arms held out and welcoming. Hershel still has his leg and Annette is no longer a monster. Shawn grins cheekily behind them and waves. They don’t come closer though. Carefully, she stands up, feeling unsteady. She can’t see her feet but takes a step towards her family and finds solid ground beneath her. Then, Patricia and Otis appear, beckoning her closer with their arms. The blonde takes a couple more steps, which reveal Lori and Jimmy, along with several friends from her high school. Happy tears form in her eyes and she picks up the pace. Right as she is about to enter the light, a voice behind her calls her name.

“Beth,” yells the gravelly voice that shoots right to her heart with how much emotion it contains.

She turns around, only feet from her family, who are continuing to jump around in excitement, wanting to welcome her. There in the opposite direction is Daryl, clutching her body and sobbing. Behind him is Maggie, who has fallen to the ground in Glenn’s arms. Her heart jumps at the passion on Daryl’s face, the way he pulls her body into his lap. She can’t bear to see him crying like that. With one last longing look at her beautiful, happy, and healthy cluster of family and friends, Beth turns and sprints back the way she had come. She runs fast and with every step her body grows heavier and the pain returns, until she is blinded by the light and loses her footing, causing her to fall into space.

With a gasp, she sits up, her eyes popping open, to find herself looking at utter chaos. She is in Daryl’s arms, his body shielding her own, Maggie is sobbing on the ground with Glenn next to her, and Abraham is pointing a gun at her, which Rick is wrestling away. Carol has a gun pointed at Rosita, who had been yelling and motioning towards Beth. Everything stops the moment she sits up, the noise dies away, the movement freezes.

“Beth,” breaths Maggie, and it is like the spell is broken.

 Everyone piles on top of her, which means they piled on top of Daryl, who still hasn’t moved and doesn’t seem interested in moving.

When the group finally untangles themselves, everyone sits together, making themselves fit under the small pavilion that was only meant for four or five people at most. It doesn’t matter, they are family and right now they all want to be together. In that moment, Beth is happy. She doesn’t need a warm house or a full belly or any of the other things she used to think were important, all that matters are the people she is with right now.

Now that she has had a chance to breathe, Beth is able to actually get a good look at Daryl. The hunter’s hair has grown longer and more scraggly, he has a black eye, but he is very much alive. His eyes are as attentive and perceptive as ever, constantly darting around their surroundings and back to her. His arms flex as he plays with his pocketknife, she can feel his muscles move since his shoulder is pressed right up against hers. Carol brings the group soup she had managed to throw together with a few cans of vegetables they had in the vans.

Eventually, talk turns from the reunion to the pressing matter of their next destination. The redheaded man, Abraham, seems set on going to Washington DC, despite the fact that the mullet man, Eugene, doesn’t actually have a cure. Michonne argues that they need a place to settle down and fortify, not some useless mission. Noah talks about his hometown and how it was safe and he can lead them there, all the way to Virginia. It doesn’t matter to Beth where they go, as long as they are together. No decision is reached, but finally people get tired of talking. Daryl volunteers for first watch and Beth gets up and follows him. They sit on top of a picnic table, looking out at the woods and the empty highway, watching over everyone. Daryl sits on the tabletop with his feet on the wooden bench seat while Beth situates herself beside him, cross-legged.

They don’t really talk about anything, mostly just kept glancing at each other, as if making sure each other are real and actually there. She probably needs sleep, but Beth has never felt more awake.

“I saw them,” Beth finally says, after the moon has fully risen, “my family, my dad and mom, even my brother. They were all there on the other side, I wanted to go to them so bad.”

“Why didn’t ya,” Daryl asks after a long pause, as if he isn’t even sure he wants the answer.

“I told you back at the funeral home that I wasn’t going to leave you,” the young woman replies, looking over at her companion with a slight blush in her cheeks, “I’m no liar.”

“I could hear you,” Beth admits, before the silence that follows becomes too awkward, “I could hear you calling my name. That is when I knew I had to come back.”

“Don’t you dare ever do that to me again girl,” Daryl growls, just low enough for her to hear, his blue eyes flashing, as if daring her to defy him.

“Yes sir Mr. Dixon,” the blonde teases, even though she is dead serious.

She loves watching the way Daryl’s neck turns bright red at the nickname and he immediately hangs his head down to hide behind his hair. Beth doesn’t push him, she doesn’t feel the need to confess her feelings or make Daryl talk about his, right now it is enough to just be together again. The young woman had missed her companion’s grunts and half-answers, the crassness and the dirt. Right now, she is loving every bit of their time together, even if it involves sleeping on a picnic table in the middle of nowhere.

A yawn comes out of Beth’s mouth, she hadn’t even realized how tired she is.

“Get some sleep girl, I’ll wake you in the morning,” Daryl instructs, like he used to do when it was just the two of them.

Beth doesn’t argue, but lays down on her side on the table right beside him, not wanting to be any further away. Her head just touches his hip and she can feel him freeze before he finally relaxes. It is easy to fall asleep, she feels completely safe with Daryl at her side. Nothing can get to her with him on guard. Right before she falls asleep, the blonde feels a warm hand settle on her shoulder.

Daryl’s POV

He shouldn’t be touching Beth, but it is like his nervous habit of playing with his pocket knife has been replaced by drawing little circles on Beth’s arm. He also feels the need to touch her constantly to make sure she is there, that she is real, that she hasn’t disappeared again. He doesn’t deserve to be touching her, not after he was a shit-ass chaperone, not after he let her get kidnapped, and especially not after he almost fell back into his old ways with Joe’s group, completely ignoring everything she had ever taught him.

The whole group feels different with Beth back, lighter, happier, and more full of life. Everyone had missed her so bad when she was gone, but Daryl had much more than he should. Now, with everyone here, he is more aware than ever that all the feelings he has for Beth are so much more than what they should be. He grinds his teeth in frustration and fear. Frustration at himself for not being able to care about Beth in a friendly, family kind of way and fear at the idea of anyone realizing. Just as these thoughts are racing around in his mind, Maggie walks by, glancing over at them and sees her little sister cuddled up right next to him, his hand on her shoulder. Daryl pulls his hand away faster than if he had had it on a hot stove and immediately hangs his head, refusing to make eye contact. If he had looked, maybe he would have seen that Maggie was more curious and thoughtful than disapproving, but he didn’t.

“Time to get up,” he rumbles, the words sticking in his throat after several hours of silence.

It doesn’t take much to pull Beth out of her sleep, all of them wake up now at the snap of a branch or a couple whispered words. The blonde opens her eyes and suddenly big blue orbs are staring right at him.

“What,” he snaps when she doesn’t look away, feeling on edge after Maggie seeing them together this morning.

“Good morning,” she says, with a grin that surely pulls at the stiches in her face, if it hurts she doesn’t show it.

As she sits up, the girl’s long blonde hair trails after her in a way Daryl finds very distracting. He makes a mental note to start looking for a hair tie at any place they stop at.

“I should probably change,” Beth states, looking down at the scrubs she is still wearing, the flimsy material had already torn in several places.

Daryl reaches over and hands her the drawstring bag, which she takes happily. The young woman hops off the table, landing deftly in her pure white tennis shoes that would soon be dirtied, no sign of ever having an injured ankle. At least that hospital did something for her, she had been able to rest her ankle, get cleaned up, and received medical attention. It wasn’t enough to make it worth the scars on her face and Daryl was sure there was more that Beth hadn’t mentioned, but it was something.

The archer keeps one eye on the van and one on everyone else, to make sure no one intrudes. However, he feels himself redden as he catches a glance of a bare shoulder here or a flash of a bra there. He quickly averts his eyes, feeling like the scum of the earth. Right as he is working himself into a real mental beating, the door to the van opens and Beth steps out in her jeans and his shirt, looking like an angel. All his guilty thoughts fly away, all he can think about is how good she looks, how very much alive she looks.

Suddenly, the moment is interrupted by Noah coming up to talk to Beth. Daryl can just make out the boy tripping over himself in thanking the blonde for helping him get out. For the longest time, Daryl had been the only one to see how strong Beth really was. That is quickly changing with first Carol, now Noah. Beth smiles and and responds kindly, as is her nature.

What Daryl notices though is the way the young man lingers even after the conversation is over, the way the kid’s eyes follow Beth as she makes her way back over to him. Daryl can’t help the way his mouth pulls down just the slightest and he pins the kid with a glare that is enough to send him running off in the other direction. He shouldn’t be doing shit like that, isn’t like Beth is his, but he can’t help himself.

“Noah wants to go back to his family in Virginia, I think we should go with him,” Beth speaks up suddenly, bringing Daryl out of his thoughts.

“What,” he snaps, still irritated by the thought of anything having to do with Noah.

“It’s a long way,” Beth says as if it were obvious, “ but no one should have to travel that far on their own.”

“How is that our problem,” the archer grumbles, already knowing he is going to lose.

“It is the right thing to do,” Beth states firmly, glaring at him in reproach, “Noah helped bring y’all to me so now I’m back with my family, I want to do the same for him.”

“What the hell,” Daryl groans, “it is only like 500 miles away, no big deal.”

“We are headed that direction anyway if we are going to Washington D.C.,” Beth argues logically, before rolling her eyes “so quit being so stubborn. I already know you aren’t as rough as you act so you can quit pretending.”

“I ain’t the stubborn one,” Daryl whispers under his breath, but he is pretty sure Beth hears him by the look he receives.

“It’s settled then,” she confirms, putting her hands on her hips, a look of determination in her eyes.

If Beth says she is going to Virginia, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the group decides, Daryl is going to Virginia.

Eventually, everyone in the group does agree to a small detour to Richmond, Virginia on their way to Washington, D.C. They all squeeze into the two vans and before Daryl knows it, they are drawing near the border of Georgia. Beth is next to him and suddenly, her hand in his and squeezing excitedly. She points at the sign that says ‘Welcome to North Carolina’ as they fly by and suddenly he can’t say he has never been out of Georgia before. There is no turning back now.

Beth’s POV (1 week later)

They are almost at their destination, the group had just walked past the sign ‘Richmond 5 miles ahead’. A little more than halfway to Noah’s hometown, they had run out of luck siphoning gas out of vehicles on the side of the road and had to ditch the vans. That had sucked, Beth’s feet hurt from all the walking despite her comfortable footwear. Her sneakers from Grady are more comfortable than her boots would have been, but they don’t give her nearly as much protection. If she were to step on a trap or have a walker hanging onto her foot, she would much rather be wearing her cowboy boots. They are long gone though. Beth can still remember her mama giving them to her as a birthday present, telling her that she had worked hard around the farm and deserved some shoes that would be fitting to ride Nelly in.

Daryl nudges her, pulling the blonde out of her thoughts. The older man jerks his head away from the little backroad, over towards the woods and then offers his crossbow. Beth’s face splits into a smile and suddenly her feet don’t hurt as much. She takes the weapon, her arms bowing a bit with the weight of it. As excited as she is, the young woman tries to calm herself, since the next few minutes could be the difference between them eating meat tonight and them trying to make the few cans of beans and hominy stretch.

The apprentice follows the archer, treading carefully. Soon, Daryl stops and steps aside, then with a shake of his shaggy head Beth continues forward. Her eyes dart around, trying to pinpoint what the more experienced hunter had seen from the road. A couple of blades of grass move against the wind and then a few more. She raises the crossbow up, getting ready for whatever might come out. Before Beth knows it, a jackrabbit pops out of the bushes, still munching on a few blades of grass. The blonde takes a big breath and lines up the crossbow, peering down the sight and letting everything else fade out. Finally, she pulls the trigger and watches as the bolt sails right into the left shoulder of the little animal. Former Beth would have been sad about watching the last twitches of life left in the furry creature, current Beth is jumping up and down in ecstasy at the idea of skinning and eating the mouth-watering food in front of her.

“Good job Greene,” comes Daryl’s voice from behind her, “you are getting better.”

The blonde grins and smiles over at him as she picks up her prey by the feet.

“Well, I’ve got a pretty good teacher,” she says, loving the way Daryl’s cheeks heat up just the slightest underneath all the dirt.

“Yeah yeah, you suck-up,” the gruff man mumbles, brushing off the compliment, as he takes his weapon back “go show the group what we will be having for dinner tonight, could use some good news after a long day of walking.”

The idea of having others again to be able to share her success with is exciting. Carrying the black-tailed jackrabbit back, Beth is able to really look at it. Her catch is much larger than a typical rabbit, at least four pounds, it would definitely help feed their group. When the pair break out from the trees and back onto the road, all heads turn towards them.

“Way to go Daryl,” crows Glenn excitedly.

“Wasn’t me,” the hunter speaks up, nodding his head towards her, “got Beth to thank for dinner tonight.”

Suddenly, the focus is all on her and the rabbit in her hands. Maggie is staring at her like she had grown two heads. Glenn is still looking a bit confused as if this could be some joke, but Daryl isn’t really the joking kind. Noah is looking at her like she had single-handedly just solved the walker virus. For a moment, Beth wishes she was back in the funeral home with just her and Daryl, where she was comfortable, not having to explain to her family that she had changed, that she is different now, stronger.

Carol is the first to step forward.

“It will go great in the soup tonight if one of y’all can prepare it,” the older woman suggests, causing several heads to nod in agreement.

“I can skin it and de-muscle it,” Beth offers, immediately cringing by the even stranger looks she receives.

Rick is the one to break the awkward silence.

“Now that dinner is figured out, we need to hurry up and get the Shirewilt Estates,” Rick tells them, “with any luck we can find a place to stay before sundown.”

That got everyone walking again, but Beth feels out of place. She had knew she had changed but she didn’t realize how much until she was back with her family again. The blonde didn’t realize how things would sound coming out of her mouth or how her actions would look compared with the person they all knew back at the prison. The blonde finds herself next to Daryl, the one person who doesn’t look at her any differently.

“Don’t worry about it,” her companion suddenly says in a gentle voice that almost wasn’t his own, “they will get used to it.”

“Maggie looked at me like she didn’t even know me,” Beth answers sadly, looking over at Daryl for support.

“If before the apocalypse we could see who we would be now, most of us wouldn’t recognize ourselves,” the hunter tells her, “I sure as hell wouldn’t. So give your sister some time.”

“You are right,” Beth acknowledges, feeling a bit better.

“Yeah, and you had better remember it next time you go arguing with me,” Daryl retorts with a snort, all seriousness gone out of his face.

Their banter is cut short by them reaching a sign that pronounces ‘Shirewilt Estates’. Abraham’s team, Carol, Sasha, and Maggie are to stay and watch Carl and Judith. Originally the plan was for Beth to stay too but she had immediately stepped forward arguing with a ferocity that surprised everyone. It didn’t matter though because she was the one who knew Noah best, she had gotten him out of Grady hospital, and she needed to be there when his journey ended, no matter what the outcome was. When Daryl argued in her favor as well, Rick finally relented.

It didn’t take a lot of walking to reach the once beautiful walls with the contrasting, shoddily welded gate. When Noah sees the border of his community, he takes off in a limping run, the others calling after him but to no avail. When her friend reaches the wall, he immediately begins scaling it. Beth already knows what is on the other side though. No living community would allow an intruder to just climb their front wall, there is no one here to protect the place, there is most likely no one here at all. Noah’s face confirms Beth’s assumption as he half-falls off the wall onto the ground, sobs coming from his chest.

The blonde suddenly feels guilty for all the blessings she has. Not only does she have Daryl and Maggie back, but a large number of her prison family, even Judith. She had gotten so lucky and Noah after traveling so many miles was left with nothing. The young woman carefully makes her way over to her friend and places a hand on his shoulder.

“You are one of us now,” she tries to comfort, “I know it isn’t the same, but you can come with us.

Before she knows it, Noah slides out from under her hand and is over the wall.

“Noah,” she whisper-shouts, but the boy is gone.

“Daryl, Beth,” Rick orders, “y’all stay here and watch the front gate, we will get Noah and see if anything can be scavenged.”

Swiftly and silently, like they are all accustomed to now, her family climbs the wall and goes to investigate the fallen community, leaving the young blonde and the archer as guards.

“Even though it didn’t turn out the way we all would have hoped, it was important we tried,” Beth says, trying to convince herself almost as much as Daryl, “it is important to hope, to believe that things can work it, it is how we keep ourselves going.”

Daryl mumbles something incoherent but his gaze and thoughts are elsewhere. Beth forces herself to focus and follow the hunter’s line of sight. Spray painted in red a bit off to the side of the entrance are the words ‘Wolves Not Far’. These days, communities fall at the hand of other humans as often as they are overrun by walkers. Flashbacks of the prison attack run through Beth’s mind, her daddy, the kids screaming, and the ringing in her ears from all the gunfire. The blonde instinctively draws closer to the intimidating hunter.

“Have you seen any more of these signs about the Wolves,” she asks.

“Nah,” replies Daryl, his arms tightening just slightly around his crossbow as he scans the area.

They kept watch in silence after that, feeling on edge at the idea of another group being around. The silence is broken by a walker stumbling out of the woods. It looked fairly fresh. As it gets closer, they can see a W cut into the corpse’s forehead. Daryl easily takes it out in one shot. The young woman walks over and begins going through the dead female’s pockets. She needs a weapon badly. She has been making do with the little scalpel from the hospital, a small pocketknife she had looted off a body, and a hefty metal pole found in the back of one of the vans, but she has been longing for Daryl’s skinning knife and the ease with which it slipped through a walker’s skull or attached to her belt for easy access.

Unfortunately, whoever raided this community had likely already gone through the walker’s clothes for anything of value because the only item Beth found was a piece of paper written to the woman’s loved ones. It makes her sad and she carefully folds the note up and tucks it back into the unknown person’s shirt pocket.

“Beth,” hisses Daryl and the blonde looks up to see a small crowd of walkers trailing along the side of the community wall towards them.

All of them look fresh, which means the Estates probably fell shortly before they got here. There are too many for just Daryl and Beth to take on, especially since she doesn’t have much of a weapon to fight with.

“Can we just lead them away from the gate,” Beth asks.

Both Daryl and her are in fairly good condition, they could easily dodge walkers and draw them away without having to take out each one. Daryl nods his agreement and both start backing away from the gate, drawing the walkers towards them. Just as the first ones stroll onto the pavement they had just been standing on, the hunter whistles, drawing their attention. The archer shoves Beth’s shoulder, indicating that he wants her to lead some of them in a different direction.

The blonde spreads out a bit so that Daryl is walking along the community wall, the opposite direction that the walkers had come from, and she is walking slightly towards the woods. At first Beth starts snapping, but that doesn’t seem to get the shambling corpse’s attention. Then, she softly claps, trying to draw some of them to her and away from Daryl. When that doesn’t work, she claps louder. Nothing.

“Hey,” Beth shouts, beginning to feel desperate to keep them from all following Daryl.

Not a single rotting head turns her way. Just as Beth is trying to figure out what is going on, a commotion begins on the other side of the gate. There are familiar voices yelling, metal grinding against metal, and suddenly the gate is opening. The walkers that had just passed the gate turn, drawn in by the louder noise.

“Hey, over here,” shouts Daryl, drawing some of them his way.

No matter how much noise Beth makes, none of the walkers are drawn away. There is no more time, her family is in there, having to fend off the corpses. The blonde lifts up her metal pole and runs over to help. She has to hit each one a couple of times before they go down, she doesn’t have the strength to bash in their skulls with one blow. In the chaos, Beth sees Tyreese being supported by Noah and Glenn. She isn’t able to look closer without losing focus on fighting the walkers. When all the undead have been put down, the group immediately crowds around Tyreese. Sure enough, there is not just one, but two serious bites on the man’s left arm.

“We need to cut it off, to stop the spread the infection, like with Hershel,” Glenn suggests, looking to Rick.

Their leader nods solemnly, motioning for Michonne to bring her katana over.

“Best you do it, you will get the cleanest cut,” Rick reasons.

The swordswoman shows just the slightest look of horror before her face is back under control and she is steeling herself for the task at hand, gripping her katana tighter to make sure she has a good grip on it.

Tyreese doesn’t argue, he isn’t all there. The man is babbling about Lizzy and Mika and the Governor and not making any sense.

Daryl comes up with a slightly clean washcloth to shove between their friend’s teeth.

“Hold him down,” Michonne instructs, adjusting her footing so she is standing right behind Tyreese once they get him on the pavement.

Suddenly, everything starts to swim. The blonde sees Joan on the operating table at Grady, Dawn barking sharp orders to hold the woman down against her will. The young woman feels like everyone is too close, everything is happening too fast.

“No,” she whispers under her breathe, before turning on her heel and fleeing.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

              The hunter knows something is wrong the moment Beth backs away. Usually, the blonde is always the first to offer anyone aid. She isn’t squeamish, always assisting her father in patching up people and animals must have helped with that. The next thing he knows, she is running, her long hair flying behind her. Without a second thought or a word to anyone in the group, Daryl follows. She is fast, but he isn’t about to lose her, not this time.

              They don’t run fast enough to escape the sound of Tyreese screaming in pain around the cloth Daryl had shoved in his mouth. The sound ricochets all around the archer’s skull, making him grimace. He can remember yelling like that when he was a kid, when he got the worst beating of his life, the time he almost died. He had screamed like hell and then passed out. He assumes Tyreese did the same, since no more yelling follows.

              Beth shows no signs of slowing down and she isn’t sprinting towards their vehicles. It doesn’t really matter though, since he will follow her regardless. They startle a couple deer that would have been good eating. They pass several houses, a handful of walkers, and one ragged looking stray cat. The hunter’s legs are burning and he awkwardly holds his crossbow in his arms, unable to strap it onto his back without losing speed.

              “Beth,” he hollers between his gasps for air and to his surprise it works all too well because he almost runs into the lithe figure that stops right in front of him.

              Daryl drops his crossbow at his feet and carefully reaches out, touching Beth’s shoulder gently. The young woman turns around slowly, her eyes meeting his. The archer hates the fear he sees there. He knows that feeling, being scared of other humans, of their touch, of their very presence. It isn’t him she is afraid of, but it is his fault. Beth had never been scared like this before she had been taken, before he let her get taken.

              “What’s wrong,” he finally manages to choke out, not entirely sure if he wants the answer.

              “Tyreese, he….it was just like…..and I didn’t want to…she didn’t want to…,” Beth babbles incoherently, tears forming in the edges of her eyes before grabbing his wrist and hanging on for dear life.

              Daryl pulls the sobbing woman into his arms, feeling her whole chest heave against his. The blonde’s hands clutch at his shirt and he buries his face in her hair.

              “I’m sorry Beth,” he apologizes, feeling himself break, wanting nothing more than to change the past, “I’m sorry I didn’t protect you better, that I couldn’t keep them from taking you. I tried to chase the car but… It’s all my fault that you had to go through….”

              “No,” Beth cuts him off loudly, pushing herself off his chest and staring him right in the eyes, blinking away her tears, “no! It is not your fault! Don’t you dare go blaming yourself Daryl Dixon!”

              “You don’t get to do that,” she insists, her volume lowering but that doesn’t make her words any less powerful, “you are the most wonderful person I know, you are the good people I was talking about! You don’t get to feel guilty or like you did something wrong because you didn’t! People like those at Grady hospital don’t deserve to have you take the blame for their own actions!”

              “I wish you could see yourself the way I see you,” Beth tells him, moving closer, until all he can see are her blue eyes.

              Without warning, the young woman suddenly goes up on her tiptoes and presses her soft lips against his rough ones. His body and mind all but freeze. After all the time he spent thinking about Beth, fantasizing about kissing her, he should be more prepared, but he isn’t, mostly because he never thought it would be reality. Beth’s original confidence seems to be fading. She starts to pull away from him, reminding him that she had probably expected him to do something. The archer grabs her arms and snatches her back in, planting his lips firmly on hers. It sure isn’t graceful, they bump heads a little and he hasn’t kissed anyone in a really long time, but it really doesn’t matter because he is kissing Beth Greene! She kissed him! Everything about her is so smooth, the skin beneath his fingers, the lips beneath his. His hand makes its way to her hair and it is just as silky as he imagined, minus a few tangles here and there.   

              When they finally pull apart Beth is breathing heavily and her cheeks are a pale pink that suits her in Daryl’s opinion. Everything is perfect until it sinks in….he kissed Beth Greene. He is way older than her, he is completely different from her, and most importantly he doesn’t deserve her. Immediately, he hangs his head, because it doesn’t matter if Beth wants him, something he had never though would actually happen, because he shouldn’t be with her. She is everything good and light in the dark world they live in, he would only taint that. Not to mention her family, their family, would probably burn him at the stake if they even caught any whiff of what had just happened.

              “Beth, I’m….,” Daryl begins, stepping back before groaning and wishing that he wasn’t a piece of shit, “I shouldn’t have, I’m sorry.”

              “I’m not,” the young woman replies adamantly, crossing her arms over her chest and glaring at him as if daring him to continue arguing with her.

              “Ain’t right,” the archer tries again, struggling to come up with the words that will make her understand.

              “Daryl,” Beth says, fidgeting with the corner of her shirt and not looking at him in the eye, “when I was at Grady, there was this officer, Gorman. He expected the girls he had ‘saved’ to repay him and not by helping out around hospital or bringing him lunch or something.”

              The hunter can feel his gut drop right out of his stomach. He knows where this is going, knows people like that, what they are capable of. His fists tighten and he doesn’t want to hear more but he can’t find his voice to tell Beth to stop.

              “One day, “the blonde continues, “another girl being held by the hospital, Joan, tried to escape but she was bitten. She was a lot like me, she wasn’t big or muscular or strong, but she had a lot of spirit and fight in her. When she was wheeled into the medical room I had to hold her down while the doctor amputated her arm. She kept screaming that she wanted to die, to just let her go, but they didn’t, they saved her anyway. Later, when I was picking up the room, she woke up. She told me that Gorman had been raping her, the whole hospital knew about it but did nothing. She told me that she would rather be dead than continue the way things were. Then she warned me to be careful.”

              This is what Daryl had wanted to protect Beth from, what he had hoped she had somehow missed during her time away from him. Of course, no one was safe from how horrible people really were, not anymore.

              “Once she was in the hospital and under constant watch,” the young woman explains, “he started following me around, making comments about how I should repay him for saving me. Started making advances all the time. In the end he tried to rape me too.”

              That is all Daryl needed to see red. No one should ever touch Beth like that, if he had been there he would have cut that man’s hands and dick off with his skinning knife, would have shot him in the stomach and let him die slowly and then enjoyed killing him a second time.

              “Is he dead,” Daryl asks, almost sickly wishing that the answer is no so that he can deal with the man himself.

              After a pause, Beth swallows, still looking at the ground. Her hair falls in front of her face like a curtain.

              “Yes,” she whispers, “I killed him.”

              Another weight falls on his shoulders. Not only had Beth had to experience how cruel people could be, she had to take a human life, not a walker, but an actual human. He is torn between pride that Beth had defended herself and sorrow that she had to kill to protect herself. Before he can think of what to say, the beautiful girl is speaking again.

              “I didn’t tell you this because I want you to feel guilty about what happened at the hospital,” Beth explains firmly, already anticipating how he processes things, “I told you this because you said that what you and I are doing isn’t right. I know what isn’t right, I have felt what it feels like to be kissed by someone and have it not feel right, but with you it is different. I don’t care what anyone else thinks, I don’t care what reasons you have come up with for us not to be together, I know that we are right together. When I’m with you I feel safer, I feel happier, and I feel stronger, like I can handle whatever happens without letting it change me.”

              Beth makes so much sense, girl knew how to present a convincing argument. However, there is so much telling Daryl that this isn’t right, that he doesn’t deserve her, and he doesn’t know that that will ever change.

              “Girl,” he tells her, crushing not just her feelings but his own, “you don’t need me for any of those things. We have a whole group that can make you feel safe and happy. I sure as hell don’t go around making anyone feel happy, I don’t do that kind of sappy shit. As for making you feel strong, you already were, you just needed to realize it.”

              “Ya don’t need me,” he repeats, internally begging her not to argue.

              Of course she does, because she is Beth.

              “Maybe I don’t need you,” she agrees, causing his heart to drop even though it is the truth.

              “But I want you,” the woman insists, staring stubbornly at him, her eyes holding that fire that only a few people seemed to recognize “and you don’t get to say how you make me feel, only I get to do that! And now I have told you how I feel and I think the only question is do you feel the same way? Because if you do, I don’t think there is any good excuse you can come up with for us not to be together.”

              Shit. Crap. Fuck. He wasn’t about to have this conversation, he couldn’t have this conversation, because Daryl couldn’t lie to Beth, but he sure as hell wasn’t about to tell her the truth.

              “What the fuck is this,” he shouts at her, getting right up in her face, “this isn’t some fucking romance story! Did your teenage brain confuse me with some guy from one of your stupid books you used to read in high school? Hunh? Cause I ain’t no prince charming and this isn’t some fairy tale! Get your fucking head out of the clouds! While we are out here talking about this emotional bullshit, our group needs us! Tyreese needs us!”

              “First off, I’m not a teenager,” Beth shouts, that choice of words pissing her off, “and I don’t think anyone short of brain damage could confuse you with Prince Charming! Just because you don’t want to admit your feelings doesn’t mean you need to take it out on me. As for Tyreese and our group, only so many people can work on one guy at a time. So get over yourself!”

              Having said this, Beth pushes past him heading back towards their family, muttering something under her breath. Well, he had fucked that up, but it could have gone worse, he could have told her how he actually felt.

Beth’s POV

              Tyreese had died. He hadn’t been able to survive the amputation. At the rate they are going, none of them will survive much longer either. Since stopping at Noah’s home, they hadn’t found any more water. According to the map, they are close to Washington D.C., a drive they could have easily made in an hour if they still had the vans.  On foot without water is another story.

              Since the kiss and their fight, Daryl had slowly been calming down. He had never left her side, he still slept beside her at night and still walked beside her as they traveled. However, at first he had barely communicated with more than a few grunts and was careful not touch her in any way. Beth knew part of it was her fault. The hunter wasn’t one to easily accept feelings, particularly good ones, and her kissing him as well as telling him how much she cared about him had been a bit too much for the man to handle. Still, he hadn’t needed to be such a jerk about it.

              Honestly though, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Beth knew how unsure and shy Daryl was of himself over just normal communication with anyone in the group. It had been hard though to hold it all in when she had been waiting so long and hoping so bad to see him again. When she had been feeling vulnerable and scared talking about her time at Grady, she remembered how limited their time could be. She had thought back to the many times at the hospital when she had wished she had told him something at the funeral home, and it had all just poured out. She hadn’t expected Daryl to take it well, but she hadn’t expected him to take it that badly either. On the other hand, at first he had kissed her back, before he had yelled at her for letting her stupid teenager brain come up with romance when none existed. It made her head hurt just thinking about it.

              Things had been getting better though. Today, Daryl had actually nudged her awake with his hand and had talked to her while they were walking. Overall, things had gone back to normal. Normal in that Daryl never mentioned their kiss and the fight, it was like it had never happened. Beth was a bit disappointed, but at the same time, she didn’t want to push the taciturn man any more.

              When they finally stop to set up camp for the night, Beth starts gathering bits of wood for the fire. She is really tired and her limbs feel a bit numb, her mouth is dry, but the task gives her something else to focus on.

              “Beth,” Daryl says from behind her, testing her name as if unsure he is even allowed to say it.

              “Yes Daryl,” Beth stands up, holding her little bundle of twigs.

              “Bout time to pull those stiches out,” he comments, causing her to raise a hand to her face and run her fingers along the bumpy, threaded skin.

              “If ya want,” he offers like he is apologizing, “I could take them out.”

              The blonde nods and smiles at him.

              “Thanks, I would like that,” she tells him, allowing the hunter to lead her over to a stump, where he tells her to sit as he gets a knife from Abraham.

              In the past couple of weeks, Beth has gotten to know to new people in her group. She finds Rosita skillful and strong, Abraham is very nice once you get past the crude slang and the hot-headedness, and with Eugene there really isn’t any getting past his social awkwardness, but he isn’t dangerous.

              When Daryl come back, Eugene and Abraham are following him.

              “Are you sure you know what you are doing,” the red-headed man questions in a loud booming voice.

              “It’s just a couple of stiches,” Daryl answers, annoyed at his company.

              The hunter squats down in front of Beth, causing her to gasp a little at having his face so close to hers. Daryl reaches out carefully and grabs her chin, his callused fingers rubbing her face in a way that isn’t unpleasant.

              “I had to do several trainings on emergency medical aid,” Abraham continues, “which included removing stitches, I don’t know what makes you think you can do it better than me.”

              The blonde tries not to giggle at Daryl rolling his eyes at the army Sergeant.

              “Quit moving girl,” the archer orders, focusing on carefully slipping the knife under one of her stiches while ignoring the on-lookers.

              “Abraham is highly qualified,” Eugene backs up, “I can vouch for his medical abilities, I have seen him patch himself up multiple times before.  I myself have been on the end of his needle and while it was not an enjoyable experience it was altogether professionally done. It would be best to let him do it so the girl has as little scarring as possible. It is important for women to show as little damage on their face as possible, so that it doesn’t decrease their mating potential.”

              The last statement catches Daryl’s attention. He pauses in pulling out the first set of strings on Beth’s cheek to look over at Eugene with a death glare.

              “Beth’s what,” the archer snaps, as if he isn’t sure the mullet-haired man actually said what he heard.

              “Her mating potential,” Eugene continues in a matter-of-a-fact way, “in order to attract a mate, women typically use their physical physique. She is young and currently unattached, so I assume that her looks matter to her because she will want use them to find a suitable male.”

              Suddenly, the knife is no longer on Beth’s cheek but being brandished at geeky man’s throat.

              “Beth and her ‘mating’ ain’t any concern of yours,” Daryl spits out, obviously in a fury, “so how about you hold  your damn tongue before I cut it out of your mouth.”

              “I was just trying to help your niece,” Eugene begins, trying to make the situation better while making it worse.

              That stops Daryl right in his tracks. His mouth half-open, actually at a loss as what to say.

              “Her what…,” the hunter begins, starting to snap out of it.

              “Daryl’s not my uncle,” Beth cuts in, trying to remedy the quickly deteriorating situation “Maggie is my sister, she is the only one I’m related to by blood, but I consider everyone my family now.”

              “Well I’ll be damned,” comments Abraham, eying Daryl up and down before glancing over at Beth.

              “What the fuck ya looking at,” snaps Daryl, his redneck accent coming out, brandishing the man’s own knife in a way that wasn’t too threating but left little room for argument, “don’t ya got better thangs to do than watch stiches get taken out. Why don’t ya try trainin your pet, teach him to keep his trap shut!”

              “Hmmph,” Abraham snorts, “talk about pets, sometimes I think Rick needs to keep you on a shorter leash.”

              “What you say to me,” Daryl snarls, already worked up, his biceps bulging.

              Abraham doesn’t seem too threatened by all of this, if anything the man is amused. He has a shit-eating grin peeking out from behind his mustache and his eyes are twinkling with what would be laughter if he dared laugh in Daryl’s face, which he didn’t.

              “Nothing,” Abraham finally says, “come on Eugene, apparently we have better things to do.”

              Once they are gone, Daryl turns back to Beth, grabbing her chin a little harder but still pulling her stiches with a gentle of a hand. Despite his quietness, Beth can sense the storm brewing in the hunter. She can’t say anything though without moving her cheeks. When Daryl finally moves to the stiches on her forehead, she speaks up.

              “You shouldn’t take it personally,” Beth tells him, “neither of them are that good with social interactions, particularly Eugene. As inappropriate as it was, I think he actually had my best interests at heart….I think.”

              “I’m no fucking conversationalist either,” snorts Daryl, the air from his mouth warming her cheek “still doesn’t give them the right to talk that sort of crap.”

              Having said this, Daryl pulls the last string out.

              “All done,” he announces.

              “How do I look,” Beth can’t help but ask, feeling silly even as she does.

              There are no mirrors so she can’t go look at herself. They don’t have enough water to drink much less see her reflection in. It doesn’t really matter how she looks, even if it is bad it’s not like she can change it.

              “You look like Beth,” Daryl says, but his eyes say so much more.

              Catching himself, the archer looks away. Several groans fill the open area they have camped at.

              “I’d better go,” Daryl excuses himself, picking up his crossbow from Beth’s feet.

              She nods and watches as the archer heads for the bodies appearing out of the forest, Michonne just a bit ahead of him. They quickly take care of the small group and then start scavenging for anything useful off the bodies. Beth goes back to picking up twigs until she has enough to build a fire. Soon, using a magnifying glass Sasha had, she has the fire going and Carol and Carl are roasting a couple of turkeys the group had come across that morning.

              Just as the meat is being passed around, Daryl finds a seat on the ground next to her.

              “Got ya something,” he says, his mouth almost turning up into a smile.

              “What,” Beth asks, so curious she doesn’t even shove the turkey meat right in her mouth, instead waiting to see what Daryl is going to show her.

              “Here,” the archer says, pulling a nice big knife off his belt, “found it on one of the corpses, you were pretty handy with my old one, thought you could use it. It’s a skinning knife though, so I’m still going to need to use it after I go hunting.”

              “Maybe I will let you borrow it,” Beth jokes, taking the treasured weapon, it feels heavy and solid in her hand, “thank you Daryl, this is just what I have been looking for.”

              The young woman unsheathes the weapon. The blade glistens with the sparks from the fire, it must have been sharpened shortly before the owner died. Engraved on the handle is an Egyptian eye symbol.

              “That is a really nice find,” comments Michonne, who had been with Daryl when he discovered it.

              “Can you use that,” questions Maggie, seeming a bit uncertain of her sister wielding a big skinning knife.

              “Course she can,” Daryl answers, before shoving a big piece of turkey in his mouth, which shuts down any further questions on Beth’s skill level.

              The conversation flows back to looking for water, but Beth is staring into the fire. It isn’t that bright in the daylight, but she doesn’t think she will ever see fire again and not remember her and Daryl’s time at the moonshine shack. Beth nudges the hunter with her shoulder and discreetly throws the finger at the fire. He follows suit, the smallest smirk growing on his lips. Apparently they were not being as subtle as she thought because a voice interrupts them.

              “What the shit is with you two,” asks Abraham bluntly, apparently not able to drop their conversation from earlier, “y’all redneck rodeo-ing it or what?”

              The question is bad enough, but Beth can feel Daryl stiffen next to her the moment it is out. Everyone around the campfire goes dead silent, shifting uncomfortably at the scene the redhead has just caused and their knowledge of how Daryl reacts to anyone that tries to pry into his personal business.

              “Get your fucking head out of your ass,” the archer growls at the former sergeant, while giving him a glare that would warn off almost anyone, “just survived together is all. Don’t got to go making it perverted. How about you keep out of other people’s shit?!”

              “It is a valid question,” interrupts Eugene, who clearly has a screw loose if he thinks now is the time to contradict Daryl, “now that I know you are not related to her, it is obvious that the two of you show the signs of a mating couple through continued proximity, eye contact, and preferential treatment.”

              “How about I show the signs of a man about to murder the jackass who ran his mouth a little too much, hunh” Daryl growls, his eyes narrowing into deadly slits that have Rosita quickly hastening Eugene to the other side of the camp.

              With that, the hunter gets up and stomps off, making it clear that the conversation is over. Beth can feel all eyes on her. As calmly as she can, the young woman stands up and announces that she is full despite only eating a couple of bites. She hurries off to find Daryl stamping into the woods.

              “Daryl, wait,” she calls, running after him.

              Just as she is about to reach out for him, the archer whirls around glaring at her.

              “Don’t touch me,” he snaps, his eyes darting between her hand and a little over her head, at the group that is surely watching them.

              He looks scared and trapped. It hurts Beth to see him look so terrified at the idea of her touching him, even though she knows it has to do more with what just went on with Abraham than herself. Still, it pains her and she slowly withdraws her hand.

              “Just come back before it gets too dark then,” Beth pleads, sensing that there is no way he will let her come with him right now.

              With a jerky nod, the hunter disappears into the trees, leaving Beth alone for the first time since they had been reunited. Even when she had to go to the restroom or change, Daryl had never been that far away. She supposes it is healthy to learn to live without constantly being within sight of each other, but she wasn’t ready to start just yet. Beth takes a deep breath and reaches down to the knife at her side. She can do this, she can handle being without Daryl for a few hours, hopefully a few hours is all it takes for him to calm down.

              When Beth returns, the group is putting out the fire. Rosita comes up and apologizes for how rude both the men were and Beth tries to act like it was nothing, but that is Daryl’s forte, not hers. As the sun sinks down, the blonde gets nervous. It is funny since the archer is more than capable of surviving on his own, he had gone on runs by himself all the time at her daddy’s farm and the prison, but it feels different now, like she should be with him to watch his back.

              Maggie comes over and sits beside her, they both stare out into the forest.

              “He will come back, I don’t think anything dead or alive can kill that man,” the brunette states, grinning over at her.

              “Yeah, you are right,” Beth agrees but she doesn’t feel any better.

              “You and Daryl seem to have gotten close during the time y’all were together,” her sister observes.

              Beth nods.

              “I like to think so, but then he always pushes me away,” she confides, looking to her older sister for advice, “it can be so damn maddening.”

              “Is that a curse I hear falling from you lips Elizabeth Ann Greene,” Maggie jokingly scolds, “gosh Daryl sure has rubbed off on you. It is like he is trying to create a mini-me. Teaching you how to shoot a crossbow, live off the land, skin animals, wear shirts without sleeves, and cuss, pretty soon you are going to start scowling like him too.”

              Beth scrunches her face up in the best Dixon glare she can, which is apparently comical because Maggie starts laughing uncontrollably under her hand. Pretty soon both girls are in a fit of giggles. It feels good to laugh, to have her older sister to confide in, this is something Beth had missed.

              “I wouldn’t worry too much about Daryl’s temper tantrums,” Maggie says when they finally calm down, “we all know his bark is much worse than his bite. As for him pushing you away, I don’t know that I have ever seen him let someone get so close.”

              “Thanks Maggie,” Beth smiles, feeling better, her sister always knows what to say.

              “So, what happened,” the brunette prods, “what made y’all so close?”

              “Same way anyone gets close,” the younger sister hedges, not wanting to tell too much, “we were just both there for each other when we needed it. We didn’t have anyone else and we learned to rely on each other.”

              “A bond like that is special,” Maggie tells her, “I don’t know if you know it, but Daryl was searching for you like a madman on a mission. He was like a shell of himself when I first saw him again, barely spoke at all. All he would say was that you had been with him but you were gone now. It made me quite angry at first because I wanted to know what had happened to you. I would catch him just staring at me and at first it weirded me out but at some point I realized he was looking at me because I reminded him of you. Then, when he got the idea you were in the hospital in Atlanta, he was gone before Rick could even begin to discuss looking for you……”

              There is a pause before Maggie continues, looking down at her hands.

              “Daryl did a hell of a lot more for you than I did and I know apologizing doesn’t fix it,” Maggie told her suddenly, the words all coming out quickly, “I was hurting and sad about the prison and daddy, I didn’t know how to process everything. The only way I knew to keep going was to narrow my life down to one goal and not think about anything else or anyone else. That goal was finding Glenn. It was a sucky thing to do but it was the only way I could handle everything that had happened. I hope you can forgive me because I can’t even forgive myself.”

              “Of course I forgive you,” Beth told her sister, pulling her into a hug, “I understand, I was going through the same thing.”

              “I never stopped hoping y’all were alive and out there,” the blonde confides in her sister, “I had faith but I couldn’t handle everything either so I came up with a goal, a much less productive one than yours. I dragged Daryl all around that forest with me searching for alcohol, it was a really stupid thing to do.”

              “Did you find it,” Maggie asks, looking over with great interest at her once prim and proper little sister.

              “Yeah, we did,” Beth says with a grin.

              “Daryl mentioned y’all found somewhere safe,” the brunette comments.

              “It was a funeral home,” the blonde states, then immediately tries to explain further after the look of disgust on her sister’s face, “it wasn’t bad though, it was actually really nice. The man who had lived there had fixed the walkers up to look like humans again before burying them. There was food in the kitchen. I was able to rest there while my ankle healed, Daryl fortified the place and went hunting.”

              “You sound like you miss it,” Maggie comments.

              “I do sometimes,” Beth admits, a small smile coming to her lips “we almost decided to stay there, just the two of us. We might have if I hadn’t been kidnapped. That is why I can’t blame you for not looking for me, I almost did the same with you.”

              Her sister is looking at her in a whole new way.

              “You love him, don’t you,” she asks, causing Beth to blush all different shades of red.

              Before she can even come up with a response, Daryl stalks out of the trees, a dead deer on his back, covered in dirt and blood. His eyes immediately look over at their group and he doesn’t relax until they fall on her. Immediately, he casts his head down and stalks off in another direction, a string of curses falling from his lips.

              “And it is pretty obvious that man loves you too, no matter how much he tries to hide it,” Maggie continues, looking back and forth between the two of them.

              “I don’t know about that…,” Beth begins, only to be cut off.

              “Well I do,” Maggie says, “I know what a man looks like when he is in love. I saw it in Glenn’s eyes when he started following me around like a puppy dog at the farm. No matter how much Daryl denies it or acts indifferent, he only has eyes for you. The poor man damn near went comatose without you.”

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

              It had been a weird day Daryl reflects as he sits trapped in a barn, a thunderstorm pelting the building. This morning they had come across several jugs of water sitting on the road. A note had been left saying that the water was from a friend. The archer had all but snorted when the note was read, they didn’t have any friends, just enemies. However, some of the others had been tempted. The man understood, even being trained since his childhood to always be on guard against other people, it was hard to look at the water and not want it as his dry throat ached. It wasn’t worth the risk though.

              Eugene had volunteered to drink the water, saying if he died, the team wouldn’t really be hurt by his loss and if he lived then everyone would be able to rehydrate themselves. It had sounded like a pretty good idea to Daryl, but Abraham hadn’t let him. The army sergeant couldn’t seem to stop protecting the weird mullet-haired man, even though he was essentially dead weight. Daryl figures it gives him a sense of purpose, a mission, in the midst of all the chaos.

              Eventually, the group had continued on, bringing the water with them just in case they got desperate enough. At one point, Beth stumbled, probably from dehydration rather than something actually tripping her. Daryl had grabbed her arm to stop her and then immediately pulled away like he had been scalded. He had seen the hurt look in her eyes, it had hurt him. However he couldn’t get rid of the feeling that everyone was noticing whenever he touched or talked to Beth, that they were judging him, as they had a right to. Guy like him didn’t deserve to be hanging around someone a pure and good as Beth Greene. He couldn’t make himself stay away though.

              He watches over her, making sure she gets enough to eat, that no walkers are going to surprise her, and that she is nearby. What he doesn’t do though is almost ever touch her or talk to her. The hunter still sleeps near the blonde at night, but he makes sure to put an adequate distance between them so there is no possibility of them making contact as they move about in their sleep. Even with all the changes, he still feels like he is going to get called out any minute for being a pervert. Especially by Maggie. Anytime Beth’s sister approaches him now he all but breaks out in a sweat and ends the conversation as quickly as possible.

              Nothing has happened though, even after Abraham and Eugene brought up his and Beth’s completely inappropriate…..well relationship wasn’t really the word for it but whatever it was. Rick hasn’t looked at him any different, Maggie hasn’t told him to fuck off, and Glenn hasn’t tried to give him a talk about being around his sister-in-law. Carol hasn’t scolded him for hanging around the young girl and Michonne hasn’t tried to cut his balls off with her katana, so all in all things are going pretty good.

              Speaking of things going good, they had lucked out today. After passing up the water, things had been looking pretty bleak, until the clouds in the sky opened up and drenched them with a lifesaving liquid. Everyone had opened their mouths and leaned their heads back, drinking in the rain. Once they were not dying of dehydration, they had emptied out the water jugs from the road and collected as much water as the containers would hold. What started out as a blessing had quickly turned into a problem as the wind picked up and the water pelted them harder. He had found this barn for them to all take shelter in for the night as the storm raged outside.                      

              Now he is sitting on the earthen floor, his back is against the wooden wall, and he is watching his group, his family, illuminated by the flashlight Carl is holding. Beth is holding Judith and singing, trying to calm the baby who is understandably terrified of the storm. The short, little baby hairs that frame the young woman’s face are drying in little curls, the rest of her blonde mane hangs down her back in a dripping mess.

              “The Georgia rain,” sings Beth, he could barely hear her over the gale outside but he doesn’t dare go any closer, “on the Jasper County clay, couldn’t wash away all the love we made.”

              Daryl closes his eyes, leaning his head against the wall, letting Beth’s words soothe him, pretending he is back at the funeral home and Beth is singing just for him.

              “Just you and me down that old dirt road,” the blonde continues, her melodic voice calm but passionate, “no one saw a thing, except for the Georgia rain…”

              Judith had been happily babbling away to Beth’s song until a boom of thunder shook the barn, causing the young girl to start bawling. He doesn’t blame the child, he can feel his chest reverberate with the loud crack and he begins to wonder if the barn will hold up.

              “Shh, sshh,” Beth tries, rocking Judith in her arms, but the girl is terrified and beyond console.

              Daryl reluctantly opens one eye at the scene, but his attention is quickly drawn elsewhere. The door to the barn is bending just slightly more than it should be under the wind. The hunter feels all the hairs on his neck and arms stand up when he just barely registers the growls on the other side. Immediately, he is on his feet and running to the door as the wooden board holding the two sides of the door together begins to bow.

              “Hey,” he shouts over the noise, bracing the door with his body “get over here, they are on the other side.”

              Quickly, everyone gathers around, pushing back against the door, Judith wailing like a siren, and the wind continues to howl, only occasionally interrupted by thunder. The man feels his boots sliding on the slick mud by the door and a small opening appears, which a decayed hand instantly shoots through, reaching towards him.

              “Aaugh,” he grunts, pushing harder to close the opening, but more hands are quickly popping through.

              At one point, the opening is wide enough for him to see out of when lighting flashes across the sky, illuminating a snapping, rotten face just inches from his own, only separated by a few planks of wood.

              The wooden barrier begins to creak and moan further. Right when he is about to tell everyone to get back and draw their weapons, a crashing sound right on the other side of the door causes everything to fall semi-silent. The weight disappears and they are able to push the door back into place. Michonne quickly pulls out her sword and threads it through the two wooden openings, reinforcing the barrier. There are a few groans and the wind continues to howl, but compared to the mob moaning from before, it sounds safe.

              Daryl lifts his palms slowly from the door, ready to place them back at a moment’s notice, but nothing happens. Shaking with the adrenaline, he straightens up and looks back to see Beth sitting on the floor, covering Judith’s ears, her pupils blown wide with fear. The blonde is staring at him and looks like a ghost with how pale her skin is. The archer nods at her and she relaxes a little, releasing the child’s head. All of a sudden, it doesn’t matter to him what anyone else says or thinks. They all could have died just a few minutes ago, Beth is scared and she needs him.

              The hunter walks over to Beth and takes Judith from her.

              “It’s all right,” he says to both of them, cradling the little girl in his arms.

              Then, he sits down next to Beth, close enough that their shoulders touch. She is shivering, Daryl isn’t sure if it is from fear or the chill of being drenched, it is probably both.

              “Here,” Daryl says, awkwardly taking off his vest after he puts Judith in his lap, “ain’t much but this should warm you up some.”

              “Thanks Daryl,” Beth replies, taking his treasured clothing, “but won’t you be cold.”

              “Not with little asskicker and you beside me,” he reassures her as he leans back against the couple of bales of hay.

              The blonde smiles, realizing his invitation. She snuggles right up to him, holding his shoulder while he bounces Judith in his lap. Daryl doesn’t look up to see if the others are looking at them, he doesn’t give a damn right now what they think. He currently has Beth and Judith with him and they are all still alive, this rickety, old barn might as well be heaven.

Beth’s POV

              The blonde wakes up in the morning to find herself wearing Daryl’s jacket and Judith is cuddled into her side. The archer himself has already disappeared, but the indention of where he was laying on the other side of Rick’s daughter is obvious to even Beth’s novice tracking eyes. She can remember falling asleep, her head on Daryl’s outstretched arm, Judith between them.

              “Well I’ll be damned,” comes Daryl’s familiar drawl and Beth sits up, immediately squinting due to the bright morning sunlight coming in from the barely opened door.

              Judith stirs beside her and Beth stands up and takes the little girl to her older brother before going to investigate what Rick and Daryl have found outside. When she sees it, Beth almost doesn’t believe her eyes. A tree fell right in front of the door to the barn. It took out a number of walkers with it’s descent, some still alive but not a threat as they are pinned to the ground. The door can only be opened inward now, another foot and the tree would have destroyed their shelter. It is some sort of miracle.

              Beth slips outside, carefully making her way over the tree, keeping her feet far away from any snapping heads on the ground. Once she is free, Beth can really look around. There are walkers strewn everywhere, torn apart by the storm and impaled on or pinned down by trees. It must have been a herd, if the storm hadn’t saved them, they wouldn’t have been able to keep this many out of the barn.

              The young woman isn’t sure if it is the near-death experience that is causing the morning to look so beautiful or if it actually just a magnificent sunrise. The clouds are colored purple and pink and the light is hitting the dew that hangs off the grass, causing it to glitter and shine. Everything that had looked dead and brown and dusty yesterday now looks green and rich and full of life. The silence that cloaked their walk in hot sun the day before has been broken by birds singing.

              There is a squelching sound to Beth’s left and she looks over to find Daryl impaling a walker head with a knife he must have scavenged off a body. She makes her way over, his hawk-like eyes watching her every movement.

              “Here,” she offers, slipping off the vest, already missing the smell of leather and smoke, “thanks for letting me borrow it last night.”

              “Was nothin,” Daryl shrugs, looking more like his normal self with his angel vest on.

Rick walks over to them, causing Daryl to look away and fiddle with his knife.

              “Where is your sister,” the former sheriff asks.

              “She isn’t inside,” Beth asks, starting to look around.

              For a second, Beth relaxes when she catches sight of Maggie and Sasha sitting on a fallen tree. However, right when she is about to turn away and tell Rick that they are fine, the two women jump up, both hands going to their guns. The young woman can’t see what the threat is, but she immediately heads over towards them, closely followed by Rick and Daryl. As Beth gets closer, a man is revealed, he is standing a few yards from Maggie and Sasha, his hands held up in a sign of surrender.

              Beth comes to a stop a bit behind the two women and pulls her knife out. When Rick comes on the scene, he has his gun at the ready. Daryl quickly moves in front of Beth, blocking her while aiming his crossbow at the stranger.

              “Hold up,” Maggie shouts, turning towards them, “this man says he is a friend, the one who left us water.”

              “Can he prove that,” growls Daryl, not dropping his bow in the slightest.

              Beth peeks around the archer, causing him to snap at her to get back behind him. She doesn’t listen though because this stranger doesn’t seem dangerous. He has a gun, which is already on the ground at his feet. He is clean shaven and wearing warm clothes without holes in them. He doesn’t have the desperate, half-starved look in his eyes that Beth had seen from so many people that were alone in this world. His soft, blue eyes stare at them without anger or violence, he doesn’t even seem frightened, like he is used to having a large group of unknown strangers with their weapons pointed at him.

              “I promise,” the new man speaks, “I don’t mean any harm. I have been following y’all and saw that your group had no water. That’s what humans do when they see other people in need.”

              “Why are you following us,” snaps Rick, looking a bit unhinged as he stares down the barrel of his gun at the newcomer.

              “I wanted to see what kind of people y’all are,” the man explains, “I come from a community, it is secure and has food and water. We want to take people in, but as I’m sure you understand, we also need to be careful about who we take in. That is my job, to find people, to watch them and make sure they are good before offering entrance to the community.”

              When no one makes a comment, the stranger seems to find this encouraging.

              “I can prove it,” he continues, “I have pictures of the community in my backpack. I can show y’all the walls, the gates, the rows of crops, whatever you want to see.”

              Rick moves closer, stepping in front of Maggie and Sasha.

              “Rick, you are the leader right,” asks the man, causing them all to shift with uncomfortableness at the idea of how much this stalker knew about them.

              “Yes, I am Rick,” the former sheriff answers, staring down the stranger.

              “I’m Aaron. I think you and your group would be a good addition to my community,” the man argues, “y’all have skills that we don’t. Y’all know how to survive, you could bring a lot to my people, to makes us stronger. We could help you too, we can provide walls and food and clothes.”

              Rick has slowly been moving closer to Aaron as he talks.

              “Let me show you…,” the outsider offers, suddenly reaching to pull his backpack off.

              The unexpected movement causes Rick to jump into action, knocking Aaron out with the butt of his gun. They all stare at the limp body for a moment.

              “Tie him up,” orders Rick, and Daryl hands Beth his crossbow so he can pick up the man.

              Maggie and Sasha collect the man’s weapons from the ground. They bring Aaron into the barn, where the rest of the group crowds around in surprise. The hunter deftly ties the man’s hands behind his back to a post in the barn. Then, he takes the man’s bag and starts shuffling through it. Beth comes up behind him, along with everyone else who wants to see what he finds.

The archer hands a stack of photos to Rick, who goes through them before passing them around. They are in black and white, but it is still fascinating, since all the photos Beth has seen had been taken before the end of the world. There is a picture of a wall, spiked at the top to prevent intruders. There is a picture of corn and onions growing in the soil. All the images are carefully taken to not show any more than the photographer wanted, to not give away the community’s location. There is one shot with someone’s hands and feet in it, but the body and face are blurred out by the sunlight behind them.

              “Looks like there are others nearby,” Daryl cautions, pulling out a flare.

              “Daryl, Michonne, search the perimeter,” orders Rick, causing the two to jump into action.

              Maggie takes Daryl’s place and continues going through the bag. There is a compass, a few granola bars, a couple water bottles, some rope, and a pair of binoculars, along with a change of clothes. Nothing seems too threatening except the idea of there being more people outside. When Daryl and Michonne return, they report no one else in the immediate area.

              A groan comes from Aaron as he wakes up, causing everyone to jump on guard. When the man opens his eyes, Rick is standing over him.

              “Who else is with you,” he demands, holding his gun at the man’s head and in his other hand showing him the flare.

              “He isn’t a threat,” the man gasps, showing fear for the first time.

              “Who is he and where is he,” Rick demands, pushing the gun closer to his head.

              “He isn’t close by,” Aaron stammers quickly, “he isn’t a threat, he is just supposed to help me transport y’all back if y’all choose to come. We have a car and an RV for that very purpose.”

              “Where,” asks their leader yet again, his patience running thin.

              Rick is obviously reaching the end of his patience, but Michonne steps in.

              “Give us the vehicle location and description,” the samuri orders, “if it turns out you are not lying, then we will talk.”

              “Two miles east of here,” their captive repeats, “right off main road 16, can’t miss them. A blue car and an RV, enough to hold everyone.”

              Michonne turns and walks off, not waiting to hear more. Everyone follows her outside, away from the listening ears of their prisoner.

              “It could be a trap,” Rick argues, his eyes darting back at the barn.

              “It might not be,” argues Michonne, catching their leader’s eyes and causing him to give her his full attention.

              “We need this,” the woman states, “we cannot keep living outside like animals. We have a baby, we have Carl. We owe it to them and to ourselves to find out if this is true.”

              Rick drags his hand down his face.

              “Fine, but take Abraham, Rosita, Maggie, and Glenn with you and be careful, there is a good chance this is a trap,” Rick relents, not looking happy about it, “if y’all aren’t back in an hour, we are coming after you.”

              The small group heads out, leaving the rest to decide what to do with Aaron. Daryl immediately goes out to set up noise traps around the perimeter. Rick paces back and forth in front of Aaron, growing increasingly agitated. Finally, Carol insists that Rick go outside and keep watch, all but making their leader go burn off his restless energy. Beth comes over, looking Aaron up and down. She likes to think she is a pretty good judge of character. The blonde had always been observant of people and that skill had only been honed since the end of the world. Nothing about Aaron sets off any alarms. His eyes don’t follow her like the officer’s eyes did at Grady. The stranger isn’t arrogant like the Governor. He seems warm and genuine, one of the few good people still out there.

              “Why us,” Beth asks, causing the stranger’s eyes to jump to her and smile at the question.

              “I have been watching y’all, your group is strong,” he answers, “y’all stick together, have each other’s backs. I have seen y’all fight hunger, thirst, and the dead without turning on each other or giving up. Y’all are survivors, you have what it takes to make it in the world. People are the most valuable resources, my community has strong walls and food and water, but it is lacking in people with the experience to protect it and help it grow. I have searched and searched for a group like yours, mostly only finding groups of two or three that I brought back. This is only the second time I have ever extended this offer to such a large group, the first group would not come back with me.”

              “Why did you trust us,” the blonde questions, looking at the man’s bruise on his forehead and the rope tying his hands, “we are a large, heavily armed group and you are one person.”

              “Like I said, I have been watching y’all,” the recruiter explains, “first I look at the makeup of a group. If the group is all men, it usually isn’t a good group.”

              He doesn’t need to explain further for Beth to get it, what kind of groups are out there, it sends a shiver down her back.

              “Your group is unique, it is large and made up of both men and women, adults and children,” Aaron observes, “y’all all have different talents and different skills and have somehow found a way to work together. Y’all are strong, but y’all also need shelter, for her.”

              Having said this, Aaron looks at Judith and Beth can’t help but nod.

              “In the end, it isn’t my decision if y’all get admitted into the community,” their prisoner quickly clarifies, “but I think our leader would be stupid to turn y’all away.”

              “You really think we are that important,” Beth whispers, she had always felt their group was special, but to have someone else recognize it too only confirms her thoughts.

              “Like I said,” he tells her, “I have been looking for a long time for a group like yours, the offer isn’t made lightly.”

              The man clears his throat after a moment, looking around with an expression Beth can only describe to be excitement and not fear. In that moment, Beth decides that she believes him, that she is going to hope there is a community out there that they can be a part of. Not a community like the Governor had or like Grady hospital, but one that they would want to join.

              “Would you like some water,” Beth offers, reaching over to the water bottle in the man’s pack.

              “That would be wonderful, thank you Beth,” the man answers, causing her to be slightly disgruntled by the fact that he already knows her name.

              Beth wonders how long he had been watching them and flushes at the idea of him possibly even witnessing her and Daryl kiss. Surely he hadn’t though, that would be just too embarrassing. The young woman retrieves the bottle and unscrews the lid, before walking over to the man. He opens his mouth and she carefully pours some of the water in, trying her best not to spill any of the precious liquid. Right as she does this, the door to the barn opens and a series of unmistakable stomps head her way.

              “What the hell you think you’re doing,” Daryl asks, grabbing her arm and pulling her away, causing the blonde to spill some water on the ground.

              “What does it look like I’m doing,” Beth snaps back, knowing that sometimes Daryl’s protective nature overwhelms his knowledge that she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, “I’m giving him water, he was thirsty.”

              “Who the hell cares if he is thirsty,” shouts Daryl, side-eyeing their captive like he might suddenly escape his confinement and attack her, “you don’t know him, he could be dangerous.”

              “I don’t think he is, I believe him,” Beth counters, not letting herself get pushed around, “besides, you yourself tied him up, it isn’t like he can do anything.”

              “It is too big of a risk to trust him,” Daryl snaps, dragging her out of the barn, similar to when he had hauled her out of the moonshine shack to teach her how to shoot his crossbow.

              “A risk to who,” Beth almost hollers in exasperation, “if there is somewhere safe, somewhere with other people, somewhere good, we need to see if it is true!”

              All the fire and anger dies out of her when she looks up and sees how Daryl is staring at her. He is like a desperate man, scared and starving, and she is the light in his world that he must protect at all costs.

              “Can’t risk losing you again,” he grumbles lowly, hanging his head almost as if he was ashamed of his answer, “can’t stand the idea of leading you into a trap, letting something happen to you again. The funeral home seemed safe, I let myself get lulled into a sense of security, ain’t gonna make the same mistake twice. I don’t think I could live with myself if I got ya back only to fuck up again….”

              The man trails off but his eyes continue to burn a hole in hers, begging her to understand everything he can’t seem to say. She gets it then. He isn’t dragging her away from Aaron because he doesn’t think she can protect herself. He isn’t trying to order her around like a child. Daryl isn’t reverting back to his old ways of thinking everyone in the world is bad. He is just scared, scared of losing her, and doing the only thing he knows how to do, keep her safe by avoiding people.

              “We aren’t safe out here Daryl,” Beth says as gently as she can, taking his hands in hers, talking to the brown, tussled hair that covers his lowered face, “It’s not your fault we are not safe, you are strong and you work so hard to keep watch, but we can’t stay like this. Eventually, something will happen, like last night. We can’t keep Judith quiet, this world is no place for her. At some point, our luck will run out. We will run out of water, we will be overrun by a horde, or all get separated again. We need other people. Remember, there still are good people, we just have to find them.”

              “I know,” Beth interrupts when the archer raises his head, his mouth half open, “you have never needed anybody for anything. But our family does, they need other people, and we need to help them.”

              Daryl stares at her for a minute, his argument dying on his tongue. When he finally speaks, he surprises Beth.

              “Ain’t true,” he mumbles out, looking off into the forest after he says it.

              “What isn’t true,” Beth asks, knowing that he is having trouble with their conversation.

              “Not needing anybody,” he manages to get out in a gravelly voice, his blue eyes finally meeting hers.

              “Oh,” she breathes out, feeling like she is back at the funeral home again with the way he is looking at her, making her feel.

              Before she can say more, a rustling in the bushes has them both whipping around and raising their weapons. However, it is just Michonne and the others, who have a smile on their face.

              “The RV and the car are there,” the samurai woman tells them, with something like victory on her face.

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

              Daryl’s whole body feels tense, like it is ready to snap. His grip on Aaron tightens.

It turns out their prisoner wasn’t lying. The vehicles were just where he said they would be and now the whole group is heading towards them.  Upon Michonne’s confirmation, Beth had given him this look, as if one true statement should convince him of this stranger’s infinite goodness. It had made him snort, which she rolled her eyes at. Somehow, when Beth rolls her eyes, it doesn’t anger him, because it is Beth and nothing she does really angers him.

What does anger him is the thought that this is all one elaborate trap. That maybe he is fucking up again and will lose Beth, this time for good. He can’t let that happen, he has to be more aware of everything going on than he had been the funeral home, he has to always keep her within sight. Luckily, the blonde doesn’t wander far. The moment the group had left the barn, she had stuck like a grass burr by his side with both him and the outsider looking at her as they travel.

The prisoner doesn’t just glance at Beth, he watches her openly in a way that unsettles Daryl. It isn’t a violent or lustful gaze, like how some men look at women these days. If Daryl had to name it, he would call it an assessing gaze. It was like Aaron saw something in Beth that no one else did, he saw how bright the blonde shone. That made Daryl nervous, made him feel like someone might see what joy she brought to a person’s life and try and snatch her away, casting his life back into darkness. When Beth starts humming, that really gets the guy’s attention.

“That is a very pretty song and you have remarkable rhythm,” Aaron complements Beth with an ease which Daryl wishes he had, “don’t hear many people singing anymore.”

“Thanks,” Beth replies with a blush, girl probably hadn’t even realized she was humming, “old habit from before…”

“Shouldn’t have to be an old habit,” the prisoner encourages with a smile, “some things shouldn’t have to stop just because the world has changed. You need some things, to keep you human.”

“Yeah,” the blonde agrees, smiling back, making Daryl feel like a complete outsider to this stupid conversation, because no matter how much he likes Beth’s singing, when you are outside, noise is noise and it draws unwanted attention in a world where silence rules.

“Quit jawing, more walking,” the archer gruffly intones, pushing the outsider to go slightly faster.

“Don’t worry about Daryl,” Beth tells Aaron, “his bark is worse than his bite….as long as you don’t mean any harm that is.”

“Hmph,” he grunts with a glare, not appreciating Beth reassuring the prisoner that he wouldn’t hurt him, guy could be leading them into a trap.

“We are here,” announces Rick, as they reach the edge of the brush and come out onto a small road with a car and an RV.

“Daryl, I will take the prisoner, Michonne and Glenn, come with me as well,” Rick orders, “we will take the car and drive ahead. Daryl, drive the RV and stay behind me, if anything goes wrong, get the rest of them out of here. The plan is to get close to the community, then a few of us will go ahead to scope out the situation.”

The hunter nods as he hands over the stranger, feeling relieved that he will be in the same vehicle as Beth. Last time they split up, things hadn’t gone that well. They pile into the RV, which is in fairly good condition, no blood stains or rotted food. He takes the driver’s seat and Beth automatically climbs into the shotgun seat beside him. The archer hands her his crossbow, the only person he has ever trusted with his valuable weapon, and then they are on the move.

Everyone else is too far away to hear what he says. The group is too focused looking out the windows on the side and the back of the RV, hands on their weapons, to notice Daryl and Beth.

“If this is a trap….,” he starts, but is quickly cut off.

“I’m not leaving you,” Beth says quickly, but firmly, looking over at him, the memory of the last minutes at the funeral home coming back to both of them.

He had tried to protect the young woman by getting her away from the danger, which involved them splitting up, only to push her into the hands of an even worse enemy.

“Nah,” he agrees, “stick right by my side.”

“Always Mr. Dixon,” Beth says, a smile lighting up her face, obviously happy that they had agreed on something.

They both turn and focus on the road, watching the car in front of them as it weaves around the infrequent broken down vehicle or stumbling walker. Daryl starts to feel a little bit too far behind Rick as they go around a curve and he loses sight of the lead car. The hunter puts his foot on the gas, hurrying to catch up, only to immediately slam on the breaks the moment they come flying around the arc in the road.

“Walkers,” screams Beth at almost the same time, her eyes taking in the huge herd.

Everyone lurches or falls forward, before scrambling to the front of the bus.

“Oh my God,” screams Maggie, watching as the car Glenn is driving doesn’t stop in time, but instead plows through the walkers, throwing the occasional body into the air with a spurt of blood and guts.

They all watch in horror as the car begins to weave, before disappearing from sight within the crowd of bodies. They all know that there is no way to stop and turn around in a middle of a crowd that big, but they also are unsure of the car’s ability to withstand hitting so many corpses.

“Fuck,” whispers Daryl as Beth starts digging frantically in the glove compartment, pulling out a map.

The blonde unrolls the huge, faded paper, looking for their location, everyone else crowds over her. Finally, her slender finger lands on a little road, far from any other lines.

“Doesn’t look like we have many options to go around, unless we backtrack all the way back here,” her finger moves a good distance along the map.

“By my estimates, it is a good 65 miles,” inputs Eugene, standing over Beth’s shoulder and reading the map.

Daryl’s eyes dart down to the fuel gauge, only a quarter tank.

“Ain’t gonna have enough gas for that,” he bites out, feeling frustrated, “besides, there isn’t enough room to turn around on this tiny ass road, would have to back the whole way up and those geeks would probably follow us.”

He glances back out the window. The walkers’ attention, which had been focused on the car flying through their group, was now turning to the running RV. Time to make a decision was out.

“Come on,” he shouts, “everybody get the fuck out!”

“Well, move,” he hollers, when Beth is the only one to start grabbing her things.

Once they all filed out, he puts the RV in neutral and since they are on a slope, it begins to move forwards. Quickly, he jumps up from the driver’s seat and bursts out the door to join the rest of the group. Beth hands him his crossbow, the weight feeling comfortable in his arms. The RV starts slowly crashing into the walkers, which don’t have any goddamn sense to get out of the fucking way. Before anyone even begins to run, the sky is lit up by a red flare shooting overhead.

“Rick has Aaron’s flare,” Beth gasps, “they are in trouble.”

That is all that needs to be said, instantly they are all sprinting to the left of the herd, which is still staring up at the red light. Circumventing the danger, they head towards the beacon. Every now and then, a stray walker that has wandered off from the main pack appears, heading for them and gurgling. Either he, Beth, Abraham, or Maggie quickly dispatch it, without barely slowing down. After about an hour, they are getting close to where Daryl estimated the flare went off at. They begin fanning out just a bit, still close enough to see each other, but far enough apart to look in different directions.

“Over here,” shouts Beth, causing Daryl to breathe a sigh of relief.

He didn’t like the idea of losing his family as soon as he had gotten them back. However, it turns out that Beth hadn’t found their family, but someone else entirely. It is a slender man with blonde hair and blue eyes, whose foot is trapped under a partially rolled vehicle, pushed by walkers, which are beginning to go around the car.

“Augh,” the man yells, as he pushes a walker away, only to have it come stumbling back at him seconds later.

              Daryl has people classified into one of two categories, his family and not his family. For his family, he is willing to do anything, for the second group, not so much. His mind goes back to the flare, this man could have shot the flare, not Rick. This whole thing could be a trap, set up to capture them, only gone wrong when the herd came through.

              “We have to help him,” Beth says, appearing at his side, staring at him expectantly.

              “Why,” he argues, “he could have been waiting here to ambush us, he could have been trying to lead us into a trap.”

              “There are still good people Daryl,” the blonde tells him, her eyes going serious and drilling a hole into his soul, even when he looks away, “remember?”

              He does remember, how could he ever forget? Before he can answer, Beth is gone, sprinting around between walkers and shoving her knife into the corpse trying to get the stranger. Daryl has no other choice but to follow. He is close behind until a geek suddenly gets in his way, too close to use his crossbow.  Usually he would have noticed something like this coming, but around Beth he tends to get tunnel vision, only noticing what she is doing or where she is going. The hunter drops his crossbow and uses his left hand to hold the dead body off, while reaching for his knife with the other. That is when he sees it.

              Beth is trying to shove the car off the man’s foot, but it is too heavy for her. Off to the side of the two people, a walker has gotten around the side of the car closest to Beth and is shambling closer. Frantically, Daryl stabs the skull in front of him, not even sparing the body a glance as it tumbles to the ground. His hands are already desperately scrambling for the weapon at his feet, his eyes glued to the scene in front of him. Unlike in the movies, where everything slows down, this speeds up and he isn’t going fast enough.

“Beth,” he hollers, knowing his throat will be sore tomorrow and not caring.

She doesn’t hear him over the commotion, or maybe she is just too focused on saving the damn stranger. He is lifting his crossbow up off the ground towards his eye to take aim, knowing it won’t be fast enough, when it happens. The walker is close enough to grab Beth, when suddenly it lunges forward, passing the blonde and reaching for the man. Luckily for the stranger, the geek is far enough away it can’t immediately bite him, only grab his arm and begin shambling closer. Before the infected person can do damage, Beth puts it into a permanent sleep.

Now he has his crossbow up, but there is nothing to shoot. His mind is whirling with what he just saw. It doesn’t make any sense. His mind is also whirling with a lack of oxygen he realizes as he breathes in, having expelled all of the air in his lungs when he screamed Beth’s name, not even bothering to breathe back in again until now, when she is safe. Maybe he doesn’t even need oxygen anymore, because nothing makes sense. Beth was the closest to the walker, geeks didn’t have a preference for who they bite, they just bite.

There isn’t time to contemplate it though, Abraham runs over and helps lift the car up, Beth and Maggie drag the man out. Carol, Sasha, and Daryl take out any walker that comes around the car. Once the stranger is free, he starts pointing and gasping something about a place with a building. Normally Daryl doesn’t take advice from random people, but they have to get out of here before they draw the attention of the whole herd.

              Eugene and Abraham both hold one side of the man, half-supporting him, half-dragging him, until they reach a rundown but sturdy brick building.

              “In here,” whispers the stranger, as he grimaces in pain.

              Daryl kicks open the door, his crossbow at the ready as he scans the room, but there is no sign of life, or reanimated life. The rest of the group crowd in after him, someone closing the door. It does not appear that the walkers have followed them. For just a moment, they are safe. Daryl turns around, ready to turn his energy on the new threat, the stranger, but he stops in his tracks. Beth is bent over the man’s leg, wrapping it with some bandage she has found, talking soothingly as the man grimaces in pain.

              “I just wanted to help Aaron,” the man gasps out, looking frantic “I couldn’t just stand there watching him get surrounded by those monsters. I just couldn’t!....Augh.”

              “I’m sorry, I know it hurts,” Beth tells the stranger gently, wrapping the white cloth around again and again, “but if you are going to walk at all, you will need this to be firm.”

              “Thank you,” the stranger says politely, “I appreciate it. My name is Eric.”

              “Mine is Beth,” the blonde says, smiling sweetly and looking just like an angelic nurse.

              Daryl knows better than to try and stop Beth from helping someone, it is just a part of who she is. However, the image of the walker stumbling towards her, thinking he wasn’t going to be fast enough, keeps replaying in his head, so he goes over to the blonde, needing to be closer to her. It is funny, because this is a need he has never had before in his entire life. He has had the need to get away from people many times, but never be near them, except for Beth.

                             “Aaron is with Rick and Michonne and Glenn,” Beth tells him, “so he has a good chance, they are some of the toughest people I know.”

              “I know,” Eric admits, looking a bit sheepish, “we have been watching y’all. But don’t worry, we would look away when y’all would use the restroom or have private moments….”

              The man’s voice fades off and he glances up at Daryl, suddenly blushing in a way that has the archer wanting to beat the man’s face into the ground and die all at the same time. Damn fucking bastards saw him and Beth kiss!!! As mad as he is, he doesn’t confront the stranger directly, because he is also terrified. Terrified of talking about Beth and himself, terrified of what their family might think, and terrified of just the whole situation in general. So instead, he just issues a vague threat.

              “It’s a wonder I didn’t notice y’all before,” he hisses, looming over the man and pointing one of his arrows in the guy’s face, “but if y’all ever try to pull that shit again, y’all won’t have eyes to see anything with.

              “Daryl,” chides Beth, standing up and pushing lightly at his chest, “back off, the poor man is hurt.”

              “Wouldn’t want to hurt the peeping tom’s fucking feelings now would I, not when he went and got his damn ankle twisted, ” Daryl barks, his anger growing, but he doesn’t have it in him to bring up the exact situation which he is mad about.

              The look in Beth’s eyes says they will talk about this later, but he yanks away from her touch and stalks off to peer out the window in the front door. Behind him, he can hear Abraham loudly bragging about how he doesn’t care if anyone saw what him and Rosita do in their semi-public bang sessions, causing Daryl to want to hit his head against the freaking door. He is rescued by the sight of Rick running past the window, followed by the three others in his group. Quickly, Daryl opens the door and calls out to them, causing them to all skid to a stop and run back towards him. They quickly pile in, their hostage now free and armed.

              “Eric,” says the stranger, in a way that means something.

              “Aaron,” gasps Beth’s patient, “now don’t worry, Beth patched me up just fine. I had one clumsy accident after firing the flare, got more attention from the undead than I expected. But this fine group saved me and even gave me medical attention. I like them.”

              “Don’t go scaring me like that again,” Aaron scolds, hurriedly crossing the room and squatting down by the man’s side, pulling him in for a kiss, causing Beth to scramble back and blush decidedly red.

              The whole group tried to look away for a moment. The whole scene was causing Daryl to reach the limits of his comfort level, he didn’t care if the two men were gay or who they did it with, as long as they did it where he couldn’t see. That went for everyone, especially Abraham and Rosita, who needed to have some goddamn sense of privacy.

              After a moment, Aaron seemed to come to senses and pulls away before turning around.

              “I’m eternally grateful to your group for saving Eric,” he states sincerely, “I know this trip hasn’t been easy, but please allow me to lead y’all the rest of the way to our community, in Alexandria. It isn’t far and I want to get Eric back as soon as possible.”

              The whole group shifts, the moment is finally here, they are about to meet the other community. Everyone looks to Rick, who seems lost in thought for a moment. Then, the clouds in his eyes disappear and their leader clears his throat.

              “We wait until the herd of walkers has moved on, then we head out,” the former sheriff declares, causing a buzz of energy to enter everyone.

Beth’s POV

              They have been going out in pairs to see if the coast is clear. First it was Abraham and Rosita, then Glenn and Maggie, now it is Daryl and Beth’s turn. So far, it looks good. They spotted a rogue walker here and there, but the herd has definitely left. That means when they get back, they can give Rick the okay to move out. Beth is excited about the prospect of seeing the community, but she is also nervous. Sometimes she wishes she could go back to the funeral home with just her and Daryl. It was so easy and simple when it was just the two of them and no one else around except for walkers. She had never been the solitary type, still didn’t really think of herself that way, but when she was with the archer, it didn’t feel lonely, her life felt so much fuller.

              The young woman glances over at Daryl, who is far more tense and wary than the current situation requires. She knows he is even more nervous about the community than she is, but Beth is proud of him for giving it his best shot. It shows how much he has grown, how much he is willing to be vulnerable and put himself out there.

              “Looks like it is all clear,” Beth speaks, breaking the silence, looking over at Daryl for confirmation.

              The hunter nods, his locks falling in front of his eyes.

              “Guess we had better go back and report to Rick,” the blonde suggests, when the archer makes no move to reply or start walking back.

              When the older man doesn’t do anything, Beth begins to head back, only to have Daryl’s hand grab her shoulder.

              “Wait,” he pleads in a gravelly voice, that does things to her he doesn’t even seem to realize.

              She turns to find him staring at her in frustration. He isn’t frustrated with, but rather at his inability to find the right words. He opens and closes his mouth a few times, obvious not able to get out what he wants to say. Finally, it comes fast, like he is pushing the words out before they can escape him.

              “Almost lost you back there,” he admits, looking more scared than she has ever seen him, “saw that walker going for you and I wasn’t going to be fast enough, done fucked up again….but then it passed you up.”

              “I know,” Beth replies, she had noticed the walker arms, reaching around her for Eric.

              The strange turn of events had surprised her, but in the adrenaline and danger of the moment, she had pushed the thought aside and focused on getting Eric out.

              “Don’t know what happened,” she confesses, but the fear in Daryl’s eyes has her reaching out for his shoulder and giving it a squeeze, “but I’m still here, nothing has happened to me. You still have me.”

              On those last words, Daryl suddenly grabs her other arm and lightning fast pulls her into his chest. It is an awkward, one-arm hug, almost everything the hunter does that involves other humans is awkward, but it is also really sweet because he is the one initiating. His big hand is pressed against her back, hugging her to him like she might disappear.

              “Don’t go scaring me like that girl,” he growls out, his face hidden from where he has buried it in her hair.

              “I won’t,” Beth manages to choke out around all the butterflies, which have flown up from her stomach and into her throat, “told you before, I’m not gonna leave you.”

              Just as suddenly as he had grabbed her, he lets her go, already heading back towards camp.

              “I’m gonna hold you to that girl,” he threatens, but Beth knows there is only care and warm feelings behind the statement.

              “Whatever you say Mr. Dixon,” she chirps with a smile, following behind him.

              They head back side by side, occasionally brushing shoulders. To an outsider watching, it seems casual, but Beth knows it isn’t. Daryl doesn’t let anyone just happen to touch him, it is completely intentional.

              When they report to Rick, the group quickly moves out, stopping only to stash a few weapons, in case things go bad. Once they get close, they split up and blend into the forest, spying on the strangers hiding behind the large wall. It looks imposing and strong, it can definitely keep walkers out, but it could also keep them inside. They can’t see much, but they have other senses. However, at one point, Beth hears children laughing and somehow she just knows this place is going to be okay. She breathes out a sigh of relief.

              “You hear that,” she asks Daryl, but she already knows the answer, the hunter has razor-sharp hearing.

              He just shrugs and looks down at his feet before glancing back at the woods, like he wants to just disappear into them. The blonde quickly reaches out and touches his shoulder.

              “This place,” she whispers to him, “it could be what we need.”

              “Might not,” he murmurs, hanging his head, those two words somehow conveying all his fears and uncertainties.

              Beth remembers how Daryl used to keep his tent pitched far away from the house back at the farm, the way he set up his own room away from other people in the prison, and the way he used to lash out at anyone trying to get close. Daryl Dixon would let the world end before he admitted it, but he was scared.

              “You have to stay who you are, not who you were, remember,” she tells him, taking his hand in hers, “you have to put it away and move forward.”

              At her words, he lifts his head and looks into her eyes like she is the only thing keeping him here, keeping him from just fading into the forest.

              “We both do,” she tells him, giving his hand a squeeze, “together.”

              He stares at her for a second, but it could have been a lifetime for all Beth is aware. Suddenly, Daryl’s eyes drop from her gaze, but for once they don’t fall to the ground, instead they focus on something just below her nose, her lips! The realization makes her self-conscious and before she can stop the impulsive reaction, her tongue is slipping out and running along her dry lower lip. Right as he starts to lean in, the bushes rustle behind them, causing the pair to both whirl around, weapons at the ready. However, the shaking leaves only spit out Carl, who is oblivious to what he just interrupted.

              “My dad says we are going to go now,” he breathes, his eyes wide with excitement and fear.

              The archer nods and soon all three of them are making their way to the front of the community, to Rick. When they meet up with the others, no one talks, but they can all feel the adrenaline pulsing among them. For just a second, Beth takes it all in. These people are her family, she trusts them with her life, she knows them, and no matter what danger they are in, she feels safe with them. Then, Rick is stepping forward and they are all following. Daryl at Rick’s right hand, Michonne at his left. Beth finds her place beside the hunter and Maggie falls in between her sister and her husband. Carol and Sasha flank either side and Abraham and his crew take up the back. Father Gabriel, Tara, Noah, Carl, and Judith remain safe in the middle alongside the two outsiders.

              They step out of the trees and all sense of security vanishes. It has been so long since they have openly shown themselves to anyone, it feels strange and unfamiliar. They cautiously make their way to the gate. They can hear movement on the other side, but no one seems to have seen them yet. It is odd how something so monumental can go unnoticed.  

Everyone shifts slightly, as if they are following Daryl’s line of thought about running back into the woods. However, Aaron is stepping forward, around them and knocking on the metal gate, causing shouting on the other side. When a man with medium-length brown hair pops his head over the top of the gate it is too late for them to back out. The stranger’s eyes widen with shock as he takes them in, the size of their group, their weapons. He holds a gun, but even Beth can tell he isn’t familiar with the weapon. He is clean and has shaven recently, looking to be in as good of shape as Aaron and Eric.

“Open the gate,” requests Aaron, pointing behind him, “Eric needs medical attention.”

“What about them,” the man asks warily, staring at them.

“They are the new people I have recruited,” Aaron speaks on their behalf, “I think they will be a valuable asset to this community.”

The gatekeeper takes them in and Beth can almost read his mind. They are a big, heavily armed group. They are dirty, injured, and half-starved, what could they have to offer to a big community with plenty of food and supplies? However, the man turns around and shouts at an unseen person, causing the gate to begin to slide to the right, the little wheels creaking. Everyone’s grip on their weapons tighten, but they don’t lift them, not wanting to start out on the wrong foot.

As the gate slowly moves, they are given their first glimpse of Alexandria. Inside are well-kept buildings, with intact windows and no graffiti. Off to the left there is a mix of brown and green that remind Beth of home and the prison. Plentiful vegetables are growing, almost overflowing, causing her mouth to water at the sight. Women and some older men are milling around, chatting and smiling. Kids shriek in delight as they dash around, playing a game of tag. A few children are playing on a swing set, their perfect tennis shoes a bright white. People here look clean and like they eat three square meals a day. It is amazing and beautiful and everything Beth could have hoped for, but it is also so dangerous.

Dangerous because not a single one of those women and men chatting had looked over at them yet. Dangerous because none of those people in the distance carried weapons. Dangerous because the people who had let them in were just three men, barely armed, against a large group of strangers. Beth hadn’t seen this kind of relaxed, careless inattentiveness since before the world had turned. After everything she had been through, even if she never faced another danger again in her life, the blonde didn’t think she could ever be so unaware of her surroundings again.

As if to prove her point, a sudden metallic clang has her whole group turning and weapons at the ready before the Alexandrians can even react. However, like usual, Daryl is faster than anyone, shooting the opossum that falls out of the trash can.

              “We brought dinner,” he offers roughly, but Beth knows it is his attempt to break the tension.

              Unfortunately, the men don’t understand the hunter’s sense of humor yet and can only stare in horror and disgust at the animal. Carefully, they file in through the opening until they are all inside. Despite the obvious lack of security, Beth had still expected more. Maybe they would call for backup, maybe they would actually start pointing their guns at them. Instead a crowd of Alexandrians starts forming, gossiping and staring at them with naïve eyes.

              The metallic grating of the gate causes them all to turn back and watch as the gate is closed, blocking their escape. However, Beth no longer feels afraid, she feels like a wolf among sheep.

              “If you are planning to stay,” the gate watcher says, having found his voice, “y’all will need to surrender your weapons.”

              Beth wants to snort at the request. They have already been let in, they more than outnumber the guards, and the Alexandrian citizens appear to be no threat. She doesn’t know what makes the man think he has any ability to take away their prized possessions.

              “I don’t know yet that we want to stay,” Rick states, looking around at the scene before them, analyzing it.

              The blonde can almost see the wheels turning in their leader’s head, already planning out how much food this place has, the best security plan, and how to handle the people.

              “It’s okay,” Aaron tries to cut in.

              “If we were gonna use them, we already would have,” the former sheriff plainly explains, saying what everyone is thinking.

              Beth looks at Daryl, who rolls his eyes. Either this is a trap, or these people are really naïve enough to let an armed group in without any questions. The second could be almost as deadly as the first.

              “Let them talk to Deanna,” Aaron insists, moving to stand between them and the man as someone helps Eric off towards a trailer with a medical emblem on it.  

              “Who is Deanna,” barks Abraham, who looks mighty imposing.

              “She will answer all your questions, but she prefers to interview newcomers one at a time, to learn more and decide how best to integrate y’all into the community,” Aaron explains.

              When no one steps forward, their former prisoner looks to their leader.

              “Rick, maybe it would be best if you start,” he pleads, looking between Rick and the other man.

              The former sheriff nods his head and steps forward. After all, Beth feels like Rick could single-handedly take any problem that might arise. These people are not dangerous, at least not in the way they are used to. Suddenly, there is a commotion behind them. They turn to see a walker shambling up. The people on guard duty are shooting arrows and throwing rocks, ineffectively. Rick glances at Sasha, who raises her weapon and takes the corpse down in a single shot.

              “It is a good thing we are here,” Rick says, only loud enough for their group to hear.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Deanna, the leader of Alexandria, made it explicitly clear that she only interviews one person at a time. However, when it is Beth’s turn, Daryl follows right on her heels, opossum hanging from his left hand and a glare plastered on his face for anyone who opens their mouth to argue.

              The blonde had already heard from Rick and Maggie that Deanna was some sort of politician, who took charge of this community as the world was falling apart. Alexandria had been built by the military, part of special orders when the illness first started, and then the congresswoman and her husband had stepped into their role as leaders. The woman looks the part, her hair is perfectly parted and styled. She wears a spotless button-down shirt and slacks. She looks up when they come in, her eyes quickly moving over Beth and onto Daryl.

              The young woman doesn’t comment on the way she is passed over, even though it is her who is supposed to be getting interviewed. She is used to it, to people underestimating her. However, people often judge Daryl before they get to know him. It angers her to see the defensive look in the politician’s eyes, the way she looks at the archer like he might dirty her office or suddenly snap.

              “Well, who might the two of you be,” the Alexandrian leader asks, even though Beth is sure she already knows who they are from the others she has interviewed.

              “I’m Beth and this is Daryl,” the blonde offers, knowing how uncomfortable her companion must be right now and wanting to save him the discomfort of trying to make small talk.

              “Please, sit,” the woman offers, getting up from her desk and sitting in a chair, gesturing at the couch across from her.

              Beth walks over and sits down, but the hunter stands beside her, moving from foot to foot, obvious not ready to make himself at home.

              “It is not everyday that we get outsiders, I hope you don’t mind, I like to record these conversations, for historical reasons,” Deanna explains, pushing a button on a camera, something Beth hasn’t seen in years, “documentation is still very important.”

              “Um, that’s fine,” the blonde answers, thrown by what would have once been a mundane topic.

              “So, lets start with the basics,” the Alexandrian leader begins, “how old are you?”

              It is a simple question, but it throws Beth for a loop. She hasn’t really thought too much about her age since the world fell apart, she often doesn’t even know what day it is.

              “It has been two and a half years since the first outbreaks,” Deanna offers, obviously reading her uncertainty.

              “Then I’m twenty,” Beth answers, surprising herself, she really hadn’t been keeping track of her age, it wasn’t something that mattered anymore.

              “What did you typically do as a role in your group,” the leader queries.

              It is obvious that these people have not lived the same life her family had to, they are not used to violence or the feeling of desperation. They wouldn’t understand who she is, at least, not all of who she is. So Beth decides to stick to the parts that Deanna will be able to identify with.

              “I watched Judith and Carl,” Beth explains, “helped patch people up, nothing too serious though. I cooked a lot and organized supplies.”

              There is a scratching sound as Daryl sorts through a bowl of glass stones, located on a bookshelf behind her. Deanna seems to keep her calm pretty well, considering some strange, rough outsider is just shifting through her stuff, or her shit as Daryl would call it. The archer’s behavior can be seen as a sort of learned trait, to scavenge, to look for anything of value whenever there is the chance. That is what he is doing, but Beth, who knows him best, also knows it is his way of hiding how anxious he is. When the hunter is uncomfortable, he can never stay still long. He is constantly messing with his knife or pacing. Right now is the most apprehensive she has ever seen the man, which includes facing down the Governor.

              “You can sit down too,” Deanna offers to Daryl, who continues rummaging through her stuff, his eyes constantly darting around the office and then back to the door.

              The fact that the hunter has his back to the woman means he doesn’t really see her as a threat. Even if Deanna tried anything, Beth wouldn’t let her. They are a team and if Beth is watching Deanna, that is good enough for him. The hunter begins shifting some glass paperweights and books, pushing them out of what Beth is sure is an arranged display. The leader’s gaze seems to make the hunter even more nervous.

              “So,” Beth interrupts, trying to push the woman’s focus back on herself, “what else did you want to ask me.”

              “Ah yes,” Deanna replies, pulling her eyes away from the archer, who is now peering through one of the windows, “tell me, what is your relation to the group, how did y’all come together?”

              “Maggie is my sister,” Beth tells her.

              “And the rest,” the leader questions, her eyes shooting over to Daryl.

              “None of my other family made it,” the young woman says, pausing a moment to clear her throat, “but I consider everyone I came with my family now, the ties we have are just as strong if not stronger than if we were blood.”

              During Beth’s little declaration, Daryl had stopped fidgeting for the first time. She can’t see him, but she can feel his gaze on her. It is something that most people wouldn’t need said, they just know, but the archer still isn’t used to being accepted, to being a part of a family. That is changing though. Deanna’s eyes jump to Daryl, noting his still silhouette. She is very perceptive and good at reading people, Beth guesses that is how she became a politician and how she has stayed alive this long.

              “Daryl,” Deanna directs her question at the archer this time, “what are you doing here?”

              “Need a place for the baby and the kid,” the hunter answers, his voice rough, “need a roof over their heads.”

              “I guess,” he mutters in afterthought, looking around.

              Beth understands, Daryl never felt comfortable indoors, as a kid his escape was to be outside. It isn’t that he doesn’t want Judith and Carl to have a safe home, he just never found walls or houses to be necessarily safe.

              “I was wondering that too, but I meant here, in this room,” the leader clarifies, her gaze jumping to Beth.

              “Ain’t leaving, not without Beth,” Daryl voice raises as he turns to face Deanna head on for the first time, any trace of him calming down instantly vanishing.

              Instinctively, Beth stands up and reaches out, putting her hand on his chest to keep him from walking any closer to the woman.

              “If you don’t mind,” the blonde quickly covers, “we would prefer to stick together.”

              “I see,” is all the leader answers, her eyes taking in the two of them, making Beth feel like an insect being peered at through a magnifying glass.

              There is something wrong with the way Deanna is seeing it, because now she is looking at Daryl even more suspiciously. It has been a very long time since Beth has found the archer to be scary, but she knows what some people see and she knows what she herself looks like. The woman is seeing an intimidating, somewhat feral, older man with a young, sweet blonde girl, whom he won’t let out of his sight.

              “Beth,” the leader continues, “how did you get those scars?”

              The blonde raises a hand to her face, she had forgotten about those in the excitement of the moment. She doesn’t want to go into too much detail.

              “From some bad people, some bad men,” she answers, not offering any more.

              “From several men or just one man,” asks Deanna, her eyes flickering up to Daryl’s looming shadow over her.

              Instantly, Beth whirls around, grabbing Daryl’s arms and blocking his path as the archer beings snarling and snapping. He isn’t really pushing against her because there is no way she could hold him if he was.

              “I wouldn’t ever touch Beth like that, I would never do what they did to her” he hollers, causing the guards outside to run in, “what the fuck does a bitch like you know?”

              “I think we had better go,” the young woman tells the leader, who hasn’t yet instructed the guards to kick Daryl out.

              Deanna nods and the guards don’t leave, but step aside. Without another word, Daryl spits on the woman’s nice carpet before walking out the door, causing the leader to jump back in disgust.

              “We appreciate you letting us into your community,” Beth tells her, “but that doesn’t mean you can treat us like that, any of us. You don’t even know us and until you do, maybe you should keep your assumptions to yourself.”

              Having said this, Beth follows Daryl out the door and down the steps, running to catch up with the angel wings in front of her. When she does, he is already outside, surrounded by their family. Nobody even needs to ask how the interview went when they see Daryl’s scowl and Beth’s frantic rush behind him.

              “Glenn, you had better go next and try and smooth things over,” decides Rick, pushing Maggie’s husband towards the door.

              “Why do I have to clean up Daryl’s messes,” complains the Korean, groaning as he goes to be interviewed.

              Everyone else’s interview goes fairly smoothly. Afterward they are finished and the leader talks to Aaron, Deanna announces that they are on a trial period. She will see how they do integrating into society and if they do well, they may stay. When the leader says this, she shoots a look in Daryl’s direction, as if doubting that he will be able to stay in line. The woman allows an exception on handing over their weapons, but they must not carry them in the open, only keeping them at the two houses they will be allotted. If they break this rule, the weapon will be confiscated and they can potentially be kicked out. Rick agrees and even as he does, Beth knows it is a lie, knows they won’t feel safe leaving their knives and guns inside while they wander the unfamiliar streets of Alexandria.

              Aaron leads them to the two large houses which have been set up for them and according to their recruiter, have running water and food. It sounds too good to be true. It makes Beth wary, as if it might be a trap, just like at the funeral home. Apparently, Daryl is having the same thoughts because he drifts closer to her, his arm almost brushing hers. While Aaron talks, the young woman glances around at the neighborhood. It feels a bit like a dream, watching kids run around laughing and neighbors sitting on porches chatting about the weather. It is like the clock has turned back, just in this one place, this safe zone.

              Once Aaron leaves them to get settled in, they split their group in two, one to each house. Abraham, Rosita, Eugene, Father Gabriel, Tara, and Noah get the smaller house. The rest of them will be together in the larger house. They all gather behind Daryl, who knocks on the door like he would any house they came across these days. When no sound comes from behind the door, he opens it, immediately raising his crossbow up. They file in, one at a time, all with their weapons drawn. Beth is one of the last to enter. When the blonde turns to shut the door, she catches sight of the neighbors staring at them in confusion. Giving a small wave and a tight smile, she closes the door, relieved to be out of sight.

              The house is safe, they scour every inch, but don’t find any walkers or any traps. Still, it isn’t easy to relax. When it comes time to figure out the rooming situation, it is easy to assume that Maggie and Glenn will stay in the same room. Rick and Carl get a room. Michonne, Sasha, and Carol will be rooming together. That leaves Daryl and Beth to stay in the last room, not that the hunter is there to give his opinion since he had muttered about how he needed a smoke almost the moment the house was cleared. The blonde merrily lays out her few things in the little room, along with a couple of Daryl’s items he had left in the living room before making a quick escape. The room is mostly bare, but it has a mattress on the floor! This is going to be the best night’s sleep she has had in ages. When the blonde hears footsteps, she turns around to find her sister standing there.

              “Hey Bethy, need any help,” Maggie asks, who has damp hair from the shower, because they have access to an actual freaking shower!

              “I think I’ve got it Mags, but thanks,” Beth responds, “I really don’t have that much to unpack.”      

“I know,” the brunette replies, “just thought you could use some company. We haven’t gotten to sister bond much since, ya know…the prison”

              Her sister trails off and they both hang their heads, the memories coming back unbidden.

              “I’ve got some exciting news though,” Maggie says suddenly, changing their morbid thoughts, “I didn’t know for sure until today, because there was no way to know for certain. But, here they have pregnancy tests so I know and I wanted to tell you I’m pregnant!”

              The blonde freezes at her sister’s words and stares in amazement before squealing.

              “Congratulations Maggie,” she gets out as she wraps her sister in a hug, feeling like her dreams have come true, “I’m going to be an aunt! This is amazing, and this will be a great place to have a baby, it is safe and they have a doctor! We can make this work, I just know it!”

              “I know,” agrees her sister, “and we have the whole family back together! My child will have a family! But don’t tell anyone yet, I’m waiting for the right moment to tell the whole group.”

              The two sisters are so wrapped up in the moment that they don’t even notice a third person walking by.

              “What the hell y’all two squealing about,” comes a gruff voice from the hallway and there stands Daryl Dixon, hovering right behind the door entrance, as if he is worried that Maggie and Beth’s merriment might infect him.

              “Nothing,” Beth covers quickly as the two sisters split apart and try to compose themselves, “hey I already brought your backpack in here, I don’t know if you want to get set up, I ……..”

              “What the hell you talking about,” grunts the archer, his neck and face reddening as he stares between Beth and Maggie, looking like he is caught in a spider’s web.

              Luckily, her sister takes that as her cue to leave and slips past the archer to head off to find Glenn.

              “Well, Daryl,” begins Beth, trying her hardest not to roll her eyes, “I mean this is the last room left and you weren’t really there calling dibs, so you are kinda stuck with me. I mean, it isn’t much different than all the times we slept next to each other when we were on the run, this time we will even have a bed….”

              “It is different,” he hisses, his pupils blown wide as if asking to sleep in the same vicinity is the most terrifying thing he has ever heard, “ain’t even fucking close to the same thing!”

Before Beth can get in another word he continues.

“I ain’t staying in no fucking house, gonna go sleep on the porch,” he suddenly snarls before turning on his heel and walking off, leaving all of his belongings still in the room.

              Beth sighs and slumps down on the mattress, her excitement at the bed fading away. Just when she thought she understood Daryl, something like this always happens. She knows the man is private and likes to have his personal space, but when it was just the two of them, he didn’t usually act this way anymore. She knows he is on edge being around all these strangers and is still agitated about Deanna’s assumptions of him, so she decides it probably has more to do with all of that than her.

However, maybe she had been a bit too forward as well. It was a bed in a room, which somehow made it different from the trunk of a car or a couch or the ground they had slept on together in the past. She really hadn’t meant to imply any more than just sleeping side by side, which they had already done numerous times. The rest of their family was used to the two of them being a pair, whether for hunting or sleeping or eating meals together. No one had even questioned the pairing, although there were a few eyebrow raises, particularly from Maggie.

Things had been so easy at the funeral home, when it was just the two of them. She was glad they had found their family, but everything seemed so much more complicated between her and Daryl now. Every wall she had carefully chipped away, using the utmost care to not to hurt the heart it protected, was suddenly been built back up.

Beth shakes her head, not liking how she is feeling. To get her mind off of it, she decides it is time for a shower and finds the bathroom unoccupied. Someone had just left, because the mirror is still fogged up. She strips off her dirty, greasy clothes, feeling almost defenseless without them. The bathroom floor is made up of white tile, which looks pristine next to her dirty feet.  Even though she knows it works, Beth still gasps when she turns the knob and water comes shooting out of the showerhead. What once was an ordinary occurrence is now a magical sight.

It feels so good for Beth to get clean with actual soap! For the first time in who knows how long, she is able to scrub the dirt, grease, and blood out of her hair. Her hair is knotted like crazy and she has to run her fingers through it to work out the worst tangles. She feels so light without multiple layers of grime. After she is clean, the young woman steps out and dries off with a fluffy white towel she finds in the cabinet. The young woman uses the towel to wipe off the mirror, looking for the first time at the scars on her face. She hasn’t seen her reflection since she got them and even if she had the dirt would have covered most of raised skin. She reaches up, carefully running a finger along one pale line, then another.

“You survived,” she whispers to herself.

Beth forces herself to look away. She can’t take forever in the bathroom, she is sure other people want to use it. When the blonde is finished towel drying her hair, she realizes that she doesn’t have any clean clothes to change into. She can’t stand the idea of putting the filthy jeans and shirt back on. She doesn’t have any other clothes, but in Alexandria, surely they had some somewhere that would fit her. Wrapping the towel around herself and opened the bathroom door a crack, Beth hopes to see Maggie or Carol. The blonde can hear movement in the house but no one is currently in the hallway. Maggie’s room is adjacent to the bathroom, but the door is closed.

“Maggie,” Beth calls, but gets no response.

“Maggie, you there,” the blonde calls again, this time opening the door a little more so her whole head is poking out.

“Beth,” comes a deep drawl from behind her.

The blonde’s head whips around so fast she almost gives herself whiplash. Standing in the opposite direction of Maggie’s room is Daryl, who looks like a deer in the headlights. For some reason the hunter had come back upstairs after his hasty exit earlier, probably to get his stuff. Beth can feel her cheeks heat up, even though it isn’t like he can really see anything. She should be used to this by now, since the world ended she has had very little privacy. He had seen much more of her skin before. However, it wasn’t so much about how much she was showing and more about the way Daryl was looking at her. His dark blue eyes seemed to be drinking in her clean face and dripping hair like a man dying of thirst. The hunter’s irises were blown wider than normal and every muscle in his body was taunt. His gaze made the blonde feel like she would look down and realize the towel had slipped or something.

“Um,” begins Beth, feeling her face blush “could you ask Maggie or Carol for a change of clothes…I don’t have anything clean anymore.”

“Sure,” he mutters, before clearing his throat and giving his head a quick shake, which seems to make him come back to his senses.

“Thanks,” the blonde whispers, not wanting to break the moment, because it certainly had been a moment.

After Daryl walks off, Beth shuts the door and leans up against it. She can feel her heart beating so fast and all she can see is the way Daryl had looked at her. It makes her wonder how he would look at her if she were actually naked. Before Beth can go down that train of thought any further, there is a curt rap on the bathroom door. The blonde opens the door a few inches to find the hunter standing there, purposefully looking away.

“Here,” he grunts, thrusting some clothes towards her, “Maggie had put these in your room.”

When Beth reaches to take them, their fingers touch and she was filled with the longing to hold his hand again. The archer clearly has other plans though. Daryl quickly withdraws, before rapidly disappearing down the stairs. The blonde stares at the empty hallway, feeling like she is so close to Daryl and yet so far apart.

She huffs before closing the door and getting dressed. A lot of things may have changed since the apocalypse, but boys (or in Daryl’s case men) are still one of the most frustrating things in the world. It makes no sense, one second he is staring at her like she is the most amazing thing he has ever seen and the next he is avoiding her like the plague.

When Beth comes out, she is wearing jeans that are a bit too big and a slightly too tight t-shirt, but it is far more comfy than anything she has worn in a long time. The blonde carefully puts her old clothes, as dirty as they are, back in her room before going downstairs, where she finds Carol figuring out dinner. It is some sort of miracle to open the cabinets and find cans of beans and corn to make chili with. It reminds Beth of another place that had also held food, a place where it was only her and Daryl.

“While you were showering, a messenger came by to tell us that Deanna has invited us to her house tomorrow for some sort of welcome party,” Carol informs Beth, interrupting her thoughts about Daryl.

“Oh, really,” asked Beth, “that is nice…I guess.”

“Yes,” agrees Carol, as she begins adding ingredients to a pot “I don’t know if any of us are ready for that though, this is a big change. We aren’t used to outsiders anymore.”

“We have to try though,” Beth encourages, “we have to show them we can fit in, that we can make this work so that we can stay.”

“Yeah, we do,” Carol consents, “we have to try and act like we fit in, so we don’t scare them. Speaking of fitting in, Beth I know you and Daryl are close, do you think you could convince him to take a shower? I have already tried. He is having more trouble than most of us at adapting to Alexandria and I think it would be good for the neighbors to see that he has showered instead of looking like a wild man as he chops up an opossum on the porch….”

“He is what….nevermind, I don’t know that I would be the best one for that…,” Beth disagrees, but she is cut off.

“Beth dear,” Carol states, “I don’t know what went on when you and Daryl got out together, but since y’all returned, it has been clear that he listens to you more than anyone else.”

“Well that ain’t saying much since he doesn’t listen to me very well at all,” Beth mutters as she stirs the chili.

“Daryl isn’t used to relationships of any kind,” Carol reminds the younger woman gently, as she takes the spoon from her and shoos her away, “He holds the people he cares most about farthest away, it is his way of protecting himself, so don’t let that hurt you. He will come around.”

“If you say so,” Beth finally agrees, heading out towards the porch.

Sure enough, the archer is out there on the porch steps, skinning an opossum like it is the only thing in the world that matters to him. His callused hands are covered in blood and he seemed to be trying to make as much of a mess as possible. Beth’s eyes catch someone in the house across the street peeking out from behind window blinds. They disappear the moment she sees them. The blonde lets the screen door slam closed behind her, but the archer doesn’t look up.

“Daryl,” she says softly, trying to work her way up to what she needs to say.

“Hunh,” he grunts, focusing on his kill.

“The shower is open,” she suggests, “why don’t you take a turn?”

“Don’t need no fuckin shower,” he growls, pulling the guts out of the varmint.

The blonde tries not to groan at the battle she has before her. Instead, the young woman squats down besides the hunter and watches as he skillfully rids the opossum of its organs and begins cutting out pieces of meat.

“Daryl, what is really bothering you,” she asks suddenly, figuring that being blunt is the best way to go at the moment.

“Ain’t bothered,” he mumbles, his biceps flexing as he glares down at the porch, momentarily pausing from the task at hand.

However, Beth has been with him long enough to know that he doesn’t mean what he said.

“Daryl,” Beth tries again, reaching out to touch his shoulder, which he instinctively flinches away from, but then seems to look guilty and leans into her touch like an apology, “what Deanna said, about you, about us. She is wrong and she is judgmental and she is just being a dick.”

The sound of her cursing brings a small, tight-lipped smile to the archer’s face.

“Look,” the young woman asserts, “you have worked so hard keeping us safe on the road, you have provided food for everyone, you helped lead the group. After all that, you deserve a shower, you deserve to come in the house and enjoy the food they have given us and the running water and everything else. I don’t care what some hoity-toity former politician says. These are our houses for now and you are family and you are welcome inside.”

“This ain’t gonna work out Beth,” the archer spits, flicking blood off his hands all over the porch before standing up, “I didn’t fit in with any community before the apocalypse, I ain’t gonna fit in now. I’ve seen how they look at me! No reason to pretend like I’m one of them, to pretend like I belong here! Might as well git it over with now! Because when the week is up, no matter how hard I try, they are just gonna kick my ass right out!”

“Daryl,” The blonde says with as much confidence and certainty as she can muster, “I know things were not easy for you before all this and they sure as hell aren’t gonna be easy now. But you aren’t the same person you used to be. And we accepted you, at the farm and the prison, people saw that you were a good person. They are gonna see it here too, you just have to give them time, because sometimes good people can also be real stupid, especially when they are scared. If for some reason they are so blind as to not see the wonderful man you are by the end of the week, then the two of us will find a house somewhere nearby. We will clear it out, fix it up, live in it.”

The anger in the hunter’s gaze disappears and now he is staring in awe.

“Ya would do that,” he asks lowly, his deep southern accent really coming out, “ya just got your family back girl, ain’t no reason to keep stickin around with my sorry ass.”

“We could still come visit them,” Beth answers, her mind flashing back to what Daryl had said about the funeral home on their last night there, “we could make it work.”

This is just an idea, what might be necessary if the worst occurred and Deanna kicked Daryl out, but suddenly, Beth’s mind is running with it and so is her mouth.

“Maybe we could find another house with a piano,” she muses, getting lost in her daydream, “and a fireplace for in the winter. When the weather is good, Maggie and Glenn and the others could come visit. You could keep teaching me how to use your bow until we find me one of my own. And we could have our redneck brunch every morning and moonshine every night!”

That has Daryl cracking a smirk.

“Girl,” he drawls in a way that has Beth curling her toes.

“If you’re goal is to get me to play nice with these idiots so we can stay, you aren’t doing a very good job,” he jokes, although there is some honesty to that statement that neither of them admit.

“Maggie is going to have a baby,” Beth suddenly blurts out, not feeling like she is betraying her sister because this is Daryl and she wants to share everything with him, especially moments like these.

“Really,” Daryl cocks an eyebrow, “bout time those two got a trophy for all that sex they been having.”

Beth can’t help but throw back her head and laugh at the blunt, crassness that is Daryl Dixon.

“So you are gonna be an aunt,” he asks, looking at her, she can practically see the wheels in his head turning.

“Yeah, I am,” she says, knowing she is grinning stupidly but not able to help it.

Daryl stares at her for a second before huffing, but there is a small upturn to his tight lips. He drops the opossum, meat and all on the ground before cleaning his knife on his pants and sheathing it back on his belt.  Then, he looks up at her and sticks out his hand. She takes it, smearing her own with blood, but it doesn’t bother her. Silently, the blonde leads Daryl into the house and up the stairs, Carol shooting her a knowing smile as if to say ‘I told you so’. 

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

Daryl hates bathrooms, for many reasons. The most important being that they only have one exit. He learned that one real early on in life. If his paw started shouting for him and Merle or stumbling around drunk, he could easily escape out the window in his bedroom or the kitchen, which were usually open due to a lack of air conditioning.  Not the bathroom though, it only had one tiny little window that a fucking opossum couldn’t climb through. One of his worst beatings was in the bathroom, he remembers his face resting against the dirty, grimy tile as he struggled to even breathe through the pain in his back that seemed to reach all the way to his lungs. His arm at an awkward angle up against the base of the toilet, his father yelling at him from the entrance, his only escape blocked.

It wasn’t just as a kid, but as an adult that the negative experiences continued. Multiple times Daryl had been beaten up in the bathroom of clubs or bars by people who Merle owed money. It was easy to jump someone in a bathroom, because there was nowhere for them to run in the claustrophobic space and no one to see what was happening.

Then, there was the time Merle had taken him to strip club for his twenty-first birthday. Really it was just an excuse for Merle to gawk at some tits and make rude catcalls. While his brother was busy with a woman grinding away on his lap, Daryl had made a desperate run to the bathroom to escape the whole situation. He had burst into the first stall that was hanging open, only to discover several junkies dead on the floor, needle still in their arms. From the smell of it, they had been there a while. He had thrown up in the sink and then left out the back door of the club. The younger brother hung out in the alley smoking cigarettes until his sibling finally showed up, with a girl on his arm.

All in all, he had not had many positive experiences with bathrooms and had been all too willing to let personal hygiene fall by the wayside when the world had ended, with the exception of the occasional river or pond. Those were safe in his opinion. However, Beth’s hand is wrapped around his and leading him into the bathroom like a lamb to the slaughter. He looks down at the white tile under his shoes and his mind can’t help but think how easy it would be to wash blood off of it, like at Terminus, where they just hosed the floor off after killing their victims.  

“Here is a towel,” Beth tells him, interrupting his thoughts, as she takes one out of the cabinet, “the hot water is on the left, cold on the right. Soap is on the little ledge in the shower. Okay?”

The hunter stands frozen in place as she shoves the fluffy cloth into his dirty hands. He wants to ask her to stay, because somehow having this young, barely a hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet, girl around makes him feel better. However, it is a fucking bathroom and that would be awkward as hell, so he doesn’t.

“It will feel good when you are done, I promise,” the blonde encourages, laying a hand on his shoulder and staring up sweetly at him before she turns to go.

“Ain’t got any clean clothes,” Daryl grunts, knowing full well that he is stalling.

“I will go find you some,” Beth insists, helpful as ever, “I’m sure they have plenty here.”

When the blonde shuts the door, it takes everything in the hunter to not run right out of this fucking deathtrap. However, he remembers the night when he and Beth drank moonshine, how she opened up and told him all of her dreams and hopes, which would never come true. Except that maybe now one would, because Maggie and Glenn are going to have a baby. Sometimes the archer thinks that what Beth says comes true because she has so much damn faith to the point that she just wills her words into becoming reality.

“Girl is gonna be a great aunt,” he thinks to himself, “that is gonna be one damn lucky child.”

Ultimately, that is what it comes down to, why Daryl let himself be lead into this hated room, because Beth is going to be an aunt. The archer was so certain he would be on his own again, separated from the only family he had ever known when Deanna kicked him out at the end of the week. Then, Beth had looked at him and told him that they would find a house together, just the two of them, that they would make it work.

For reasons he couldn’t even begin to fathom, the amazing woman, who loved her sister to death and wanted a little niece more than almost anything, was willing to give it all up for him. It had taken his breath away. He had never been chosen over anyone or anything before. His maw had always chosen alcohol over him, drinking away her sorrows rather than being there for him or his brother. Merle had often left him high and dry, running off after drugs or some new piece of tail without so much as a heads up. That was just how his life was, until Beth came along.

God, he wanted it so bad, every single word that fell from her lips. It was everything he had ever wanted but hadn’t known he wanted until she said it. He wanted a house of their own with only the two of them, far away from everyone else. He wanted to take her out in the woods and let her practice with his bow, away from the prying eyes of the Alexandrians. He wanted to listen to her sing just for him and nobody else and he wanted to be the only one to see the beautiful flush to her cheeks when she drank too much moonshine. However, more than any of that, he wanted to make Beth’s dreams come true.

He couldn’t be selfish and drag the poor girl away from her family, away from her sister, or away from her niece. The blonde had been through so much, she deserved to be there to support her sister, to see the little baby come kicking and screaming into this world. Hell, he kinda wanted to see Maggie and Glenn’s kid, but most importantly he wanted to be there to make sure nothing went wrong. He might still get kicked out of the community, but he was going to give this his best shot.

Determined, the hunter drops his bow carefully on the floor, the metal of his weapon scraping across the tile as it slides off. Feeling jumpy, he slowly takes his vest off, his eyes darting around constantly, searching for threats. There are none. Placing his vest on the edge of the sink, he reaches down and unties his shoes and slips off his socks, glancing over his back just in case.

Next is his belt, which is on the tightest hole, proof that living on the run wasn’t easy on any of them. Without unthreading his belt, he slides his pants off, letting them pile around his ankles before stepping out. The floor feels cold on his bare feet and the light breeze around his legs is foreign. He hasn’t even taken his shirt or boxers off yet and already he is close to hyperventilating. Closing his eyes for few seconds, he manages to calm his breathing. Reaching up, he fingers the tattered shirt he is wearing, rolling the ends of the threads between his thumb and pointer finger.

He can hear Merle in his head at this particular moment. Yelling at him to quit being a pussy and just do it. So that is exactly what he does, dives right in like he is jumping into a river of freezing water, not giving himself time to think about it, just pushing forward. Yanking the shirt over his head, he feels like he has removed his second skin. Tossing the worn fabric on the ground, he quickly discards his boxers and jumps in the shower. He turns it on and the cold water has him gasping, but it soon warms up.

He doesn’t bother doing anything at first, just lets the water hit him. The archer stares down at his feet, watching as the water runs off of him, dark brown at first, but slowly lightening up over time. He finds the soap Beth had mentioned, it is an off-white bar with an obviously manufactured lavender scent, nothing like the real flower. If he was anywhere other than this hated place, his mind might wander and touch on how this same item had just been all over Beth’s body, but right now his brain is in fight or flight mode. Running the bar over his arms, he is almost shocked to see what his skin looks like. He is tan, from never wearing sleeves, but he had almost forgotten what his arms looked like without speckles of blood and splotches of dirt. Rubbing his chest, he realizes the soapy suds have turned brown. Leaning over, he goes over his legs, noticing for the first time all the bruises he has accumulated over the past month. His feet look like crap, callused as fuck from all the walking and running he has been doing. He doesn’t care, just means they won’t hurt in the future.

When he has rubbed every inch of his skin, he finally works on his hair. It is a fucking mess, tangles everywhere, strands stuck together from walker guts. God, he doesn’t know how women put up with this shit. He thinks he uses half the bar of soap just trying to get a lather out of the oily mess. Finally, it starts to take and bit by bit the strands come loose. After several minutes, he decides this is probably about as good as he is getting. Grunting, he spits and watches as it washes down the drain.

Turning off the water, he pulls the curtain aside and reaches out for the towel Beth gave him. Even after this whole ordeal, his hand still looks grungy compared to the pristine cloth. There is dirt under his fingernails that wouldn’t come out. He could probably fix that with his knife if he felt so inclined. He doesn’t know that it matters, they would just get dirty again anyway. Once Daryl is dry, the only thing still dripping is his hair. Giving it a shake, he splatters drops all over the floor, making it slippery to keep his balance when he gets out.

The mirror is fogged up and he doesn’t bother to clear it. He quit looking in the mirror when the first scars were etched into his body, hating seeing himself slowly being marked up again and again. He wonders what Beth thinks of her scars, which are on a much more visible place than his own. She can’t hide them like he can, like the coward he is.

A curt tap on the door has him wrapping the towel around his waist and opening the door just enough to see Beth standing there, holding a pile of clothes. She is looking at a size tag about to say something when she finally looks up and freezes. He has often thought of Beth as a doe, with her long, muscular legs, but right now her deer in the headlights look is almost comical. However, the surprised expression quickly turns to interest as her eyes start at his head and end at his feet in a way that has his whole body tingling, but not unpleasantly.

“Ya here to gawk or give me my clothes,” he asks, smirking at the way she immediately blushes and looks away.

He doesn’t understand what she sees that could be so pleasing, but if he gets this reaction every time he bathes, maybe he should start doing it more often.

“Here you go,” Beth offers, obviously struggling to keep her voice level as she hands over the clothes, “no shirts without sleeves, but I’m sure you can fix that.”

“Heh,” he snorts, accepting the items, “thanks.”

“No problem,” Beth assures him, giving one last shy glance before heading down the stairs.

The blue jeans are a bit baggy, but he would rather have them loose than tight. The button-down shirt is almost the same color, just a few shades darker. It is exactly what he would have chosen for himself, simple but well-made. The clothing should withstand some of his more strenuous activities. His blade makes short work of the sleeves, which wouldn’t have fit over his arms anyway. He threads his old belt through the new pants and replaces the sheath for his knife. Finally, he puts on a new set of socks and his old boots, feeling a bit out of place in his new attire. He is sure after a few days of sweating in them and maybe a couple walker gut spills, they will feel just as comfortable as his old ones.

When he comes downstairs, everyone is getting in line for chili. By everyone, he means everyone, even the people who had split to a different house. Turns out they don’t feel safe apart, even though the houses are right next to each other. He stops on one of the top steps and just watches as his family gathers around the pot of food. Everyone fits in one room since the kitchen, the dining room, and living room are all joined, only separated by an island table. Now that Beth spilled the beans, he thinks he can notice a glow in Maggie that is more than just relief at having food and her family together. Rick somehow got his hair cut and Carl is wearing a superhero shirt, like a kid his age should be.

He knows it is new for everyone, getting used to having a house again, being clean, and having food available. However, he is struck by just how unfamiliar all of this is to him. Except for a couple times at the prison and then when it was just him and Beth, he never sat down and ate a meal at the table with his family. He never had neighbors he made small talk with, didn’t have friends come over to his house. He doesn’t know how to do this!  Suddenly, Joe’s words come back to him in force, reminding him that there is nothing sadder than an outside cat that thinks it is an indoor cat.

Right as he is about to turn around and go hide out in whichever room is closest until dinner is over, Beth spots him. Girl has like a sixth sense because he knows nobody else notices him when he is sneaking around, trying to go unseen. When she smiles and beckons him closer, motioning to an extra bowl of food beside where she sits on the carpeted floor. Just like that, he feels his worry drop away a little. Even though he has never done things like this before, doesn’t know how to do them, somehow around Beth it just feels natural, it just feels right. Seeing the way she is looking at him, he is suddenly reminded that he is a part of this family, he has been for a while. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t always use utensils or remember to bow his head to pray, these people don’t judge him, they don’t care about any of that. Coming out from the shadows, he softly pads along the edge of the room, making a beeline for Beth. Flying under the radar is not possible though because almost immediately Carol lets out a loud whistle.

“Well Pookie,” the older woman catcalls, “I don’t think you have ever look so good.”

“Control yourself woman,” Daryl growls, but his rough voice falls on deaf ears, because they all know he won’t actually do anything, especially to Carol.

“About time Dixon,” comments Michonne, looking like she is biting back a smirk, which has him growling.

“You look good Daryl,” Beth tells him as he plops down beside her, causing his face and neck to burn even redder than when the other two women had noticed him.

Rather than dare answering, he picks up the bowl of food and all but inhales it. Beth of course picks and prods at her chili, constantly stopping to talk to Maggie or Glenn or Carol. No wonder she is so damn skinny.  He doesn’t have much to add to any of the conversations, just enjoys sitting there by Beth and surrounded by their family. The older man watches as Beth beams up at everyone or starts humming along to some tune only she can hear. He is struck by how much she belongs here, how much she fits in. If Alexandria wants anyone to stay, it will be Beth, and Judith of course. The young child’s cries and coos don’t elicit the same fear as they did when they were running out in the open, where they were an alarm to every passing walker.

Suddenly, Maggie stands up, Glenn’s hand grasp in her own. Daryl knows what she is gonna say before she says it, but it still makes him happy to hear it and see the way Beth all but glows with pride for her sister.

“It is so great to have everyone here and I feel like now it is time to share the news,” the brunette says with a big smile on her face, “I’m pregnant! Glenn and I are having a baby!”

Immediately, the whole group offers congratulations. It just completes the happy moment to have this news broken with everyone here. However, soon they are back to business. Rick goes over how they should act tomorrow at Deanna’s house party. No one really feels up to going yet, meeting lots of strangers, but they also feel the need to show they fit in with the community. Before the party, they each have missions. Rick and Maggie are going to go talk to Deanna, try to get to know her better and get on the same page. Rosita and Michonne are supposed to go around and find a map of the area, learn what is nearby in case they decide not to stay here. Carol and Sasha will go learn as much as they can about the supplies kept in the community and where they are located. Daryl and Beth are tasked with looking at the security of the wall and the guard schedule.  

By the time they are finished, the sun is starting to set, casting the house into shadows. Picking up their meal, everyone starts heading towards their rooms. Daryl watches as Beth makes her way up the stairs, worry growing in his gut at not having her near him. However, he remembers the way Deanna looked at him, what she thought he did to Beth, the accusations he saw in her eyes and so instead he heads outside to the porch, planning to sleep on the wooden floor.

First, he lights up a cigarette and leans back against one of the wooden columns. Closing his eyes, he inhales the smoke and leans his head back before letting it billow back out, taking with it all his anxiety. Opening one eye, he sees what he knows to be Beth’s window. That makes him feel better, knowing he can still protect her from here, make sure everything is okay. Suddenly, Beth’s room is bathed in a warm yellow light, almost blinding his unadjusted eyes. He stares at the light a minute, before getting up with a groan and carefully slipping inside. Feeling like some teenager sneaking in late, he quietly shuts the door to the house and closes the deadbolt before tiptoeing up the stairs.

Beth’s door is wide open and she is laying on a mattress, staring up at the light fixture above her. The woman’s clean skin is even paler without all the dirt, reflecting the light from above. Her delicate throat is particularly noticeable and his eyes can’t help but follow the movement down to the curve in her collarbone and then down to her chest, which rises and lowers with each breathe. If angels were real, she would be one.

Beth’s POV

When everyone split up and went to their separate rooms, Beth had secretly hoped Daryl would follow her despite his rejection earlier. She had been heavily disappointed. Despite the walls and the bed and the fan, she has never felt more dissatisfied. She sits down on the mattress and stares around, feeling so alone, but not wanting to disrupt Maggie or anyone else. The blonde isn’t used to sleeping alone anymore, she isn’t used to having privacy for that matter.

The young woman pulls her legs up onto the mattress and wraps her arms around them as she takes in her surroundings. Any decorations had been removed, there is no sign of personal belongings from the room’s former tenant. The sun has almost set and Beth can’t see that well. Something suddenly occurs to her and she gets up, flipping the little switch by the door. To her utter surprise, the light turns on. The blonde lays down on her mattress staring up at the light, something that had once been so mundane is now the most fascinating experience. Suddenly, a throat clears and Beth looks over to find Daryl standing at her door, like a moth drawn to the light. Except he is staring at her and not the fixture on the ceiling.

“Look Daryl, isn’t it beautiful,” she asks, pointing at the light above her.

Her companion shrugs in a noncommittal way before slowly walking into the room as if it might be booby trapped. The hunter’s steps made no noise on the carpet. His boots leave little smudges on the white floor. He stops a few feet from the mattress and looks back at the door, as if insuring that an escape is still possible. Then, his eyes dart around the room, taking in every little detail, but never landing on her. The archer’s left hand finds his right elbow and his free hand ends up running along his lips as he takes in her room. Beth sits up, patting the mattress beside her, inviting him to join. After some hesitation, the archer slowly sits down on the mattress, looking around the room with a mixture of amazement and uncertainty.

If Beth thought Daryl was attractive before, he is only more distracting now. There is a small hole in his jeans that his fingers are already messing with, making wider. The blue button-down, which had already been de-sleeved in classic Daryl fashion, shows off his muscular arms and the color makes his eyes shine out brighter than usual. His messy brown hair is still almost black with moisture and clings to his face, refusing to fall in a curtain over his eyes even when the archer looks down at his feet. He looks younger without all the grim covering his face. His awkward, self-conscious attitude just makes him that much more endearing to her.

“What are you doing still up,” Beth asks, watching him.

“Just saw the light in your window,” he mutters, unsure of himself, “just wanted to see it too.”

Despite what Daryl said, he isn’t really looking at the light fixture above them.

“It’s kinda lonely without everyone else,” Beth supplies, saying what Daryl never would, “I’m not used to sleeping alone anymore, it doesn’t feel right.”

When Daryl doesn’t answer, they both just sit there. It doesn’t unnerve the blonde, she is used to his stoic ways by now. Without warning, Daryl suddenly turns to her with one of the most intense expressions she has ever seen. Carefully, he reaches over until his fingertips just barely touch her forehead, following the scar on it. The blonde almost can’t breathe as his callused fingers sweeps across her skin, making it tingle. Usually, Daryl is the first one to break eye contact, but he is staring right at her, his deep blue eyes piercing into hers, trying to say everything he can’t.

“Does it bother you when people…. Ya know, look at them,” he asks, his fingers running along the one on her cheek now.

 “When I’m by myself or with our family, I can almost forget they are there, till I see how a stranger looks at me,” the blonde tells him, “at first, I feel a bit self-conscious, but then I decide I don’t care.”

“Don’t care,” he rumbles, looking like he doesn’t believe her as he raises an eyebrow.

“I don’t,” Beth insists, feeling the need to make him understand, “because they aren’t something to be ashamed of. I’m not ashamed that I was stronger than whoever tried to kill me. I’m proud that I fought and got away and made it back to our family. I’m proud that I survived.”

“Besides,” she continues, with a small, self-depreciating smile, “after everything I have been through, it would be a bit petty for me to worry about not looking pretty.”

“Ya always look pretty,” the older man disagrees, his hand lingering on her face still and the archer amazingly keeps staring into her eyes, “no amount of scars could ever change that.”

Beth can’t help the way her face breaks into a smile. Daryl quickly removes his hand and changes the subject to something much less serious and Beth lets him. She is starting to learn that there is no pushing or speeding things up with Daryl, there is only accepting what he is ready to give. They sit talking late into the night, just enjoying each other’s presence. The blonde does most of the talking with Daryl inserting a thought or two in here or there. Finally, Beth can’t help it, a yawn works its way up. Daryl looks over at her and raises an eyebrow.

“About your bedtime,” he states.

“What are you, my chaperone, hunh, Mr. Dixon,” Beth asks, his name coming out a bit more breathy and suggestive than she intends.

However, she doesn’t mind seeing the way he flushes red and becomes flustered. Usually Daryl is so confident and stoic that seeing him out of his element is something really special.

“I’d better go,” he bluntly states before standing up.

“Wait, Daryl,” Beth blurts out, grabbing his hand.

He looks back at her and it is her turn to blush.

“I’m just not used to sleeping alone anymore, will you stay till I fall asleep,” she practically begs, her heart pounding.

He doesn’t answer, but finally sits back down, this time on the floor just off the mattress. Beth can’t help but smile as she pulls her pillow to the side of the bed that is closest to him, her knee just barely touching his back.  She finally feels calm enough to fall asleep. After all, with Daryl Dixon beside her, nothing could hurt her.

Daryl’s POV

He dozes off a little throughout the night, falling asleep on the floor of Beth’s room. The hunter wakes up early, before the blonde, just as the sunlight starts filtering in through the window. The sunlight hits her hair, making it glow a bright golden color. It makes him want to run his fingers through it. That thought has him feeling like a pervert, combined with the fact that he is watching the young woman sleep. Shaking off his sleep, he stands up and grabs his crossbow, heading for the door. His back aches but it was still better than sleeping on the porch. Carefully, he turns the knob and slips out, making sure to quietly close the door behind him. It shuts in place without a sound. Turning to head down stairs, he finds himself face to face with Rick.

Instantly, shame and guilt fill his body. He knows what it looks like, knows what the leader must see. There is a lot of people he would tell to go to hell for what they thought about him, but not Rick. They had been through a lot together and Rick was as much his brother at this point as Merle had been. However, unlike Merle, Rick was the kind of brother he looked up to, respected even. Rick’s opinion means the world to him and that is what has him hanging his head.

“Ain’t what it looks like,” he manages to choke out, his body tensing, ready to be hit or shoved.

“Yeah,” Rick replies, surprisingly calm, “I know.”

That answer has Daryl lifting his head in disbelief, wondering if he heard his friend wrong. However, Rick is looking at him just as he always has before, there is no judgement in his eyes.

“Even if it was,” Rick continues all of a sudden, leaning in a bit closer and giving Daryl his total attention, “ain’t no one’s business but your’s and Beth’s.”

Stepping back, Rick gives a curt nod, which Daryl returns. Clearing his throat, their leader changes the subject.

“Ah, I was gonna get an early start as soon as Maggie wakes up,” the sheriff explains.

“Hmph,” the archer snorts, “good luck with prying her away from Glenn.”

That has Rick hang his head, trying to keep from smiling.

“Well,” he continues, “that is why I thought the two of us could go for a little walk, before everyone else gets up. I want to take a few of our guns and hide them outside the walls, in case they take our weapons from us.”

Daryl nods, liking the idea of going beyond the walls, away from any prying eyes. His only hesitancy is leaving Beth. However, she is surrounded by their family and the Alexandrians, while they have numbers on their side, are not exactly dangerous.

“Yeah, we can do that,” he agrees, itching to be beyond the walls.

Beth’s POV

In the morning, the blonde wakes up to find herself alone. Last night was almost like a dream, it makes Beth wonder if it had really happened or if she is just imagining things. However, the dirty prints on the carpet suggest the former.

When the blonde comes downstairs, the others are buzzing around getting breakfast ready and preparing for their first day in Alexandria. Daryl is standing next to Rick and both men are leaning in towards each other, whispering about some topic that has their full attention. Relaxing now that she knows where the hunter is, Beth helps herself to some eggs and ham, which taste like heaven in her mouth. She is in the middle of her third spoonful when there is a knock at the door. Instantly, everyone freezes and the quiet talking falls into dead silence. Everyone stares, as if unsure what to do.

Rick is the one to finally move, leaving Daryl’s side, walking to the door with one hand on the gun around his waist. When he opens the door, Beth can feel everyone tense. A man is revealed, the same one who was working the gate when they entered and demanded that they hand over their weapons.

“Hey,” the man says, looking unsure about the intense gazes, all focused on him, “just gonna ask if some of y’all would like to join us for a run. I was going to go with Aiden and we could use a few extra hands.”

It seems awfully soon to split up and Beth knows others feel the same way. This wasn’t the plan they had, but at the same time, this would allow them to find out more about the people in this community and help them fit in.

“Glenn and Tara,” Rick says, after standing in thought for a few seconds, “go with them.”

“Alright,” agrees Glenn, glancing over at Maggie and squeezing her hand.

“I’ll go too,” offers Noah, stepping forward.

Rick gives a slight nod, indicating his approval and soon the three of their group are headed out the door behind the Alexandrian. The somewhat relaxed atmosphere disappears with their friends and family, the separation puts everyone on edge.

“You about ready,” Daryl asks her as he saunters up to the kitchen counter, shoving a piece of bread into his mouth and letting it hang there as he tosses his crossbow on the counter so he can grab an apple.

“Let’s head out,” Beth agrees, setting down the plate she had been holding, her guard already going up, her eyes flashing around their surroundings.

“Hell no,” disagrees the archer suddenly, grabbing her plate and shoving it back in her hands, “we ain’t going anywhere till you eat every bite of that.”

When she opens her mouth to protest, he immediately cuts her off.

“Don’t even try to argue with me. You are too damn skinny and food is too hard to come by to not eat it,” he tells her, giving her a glare like he might shove the breakfast down her throat if she were to refuse.

Having said this, he leans up against the counter and stares down at her, obviously set on ensuring that she eat more.

“You tell your woman Daryl,” chuckles Abraham, whom Beth is starting to think enjoys getting a rise out of the archer.

“What the hell is the shit coming out of yer big mouth,” snaps Daryl, his gaze directed away from Beth and onto Abraham, “don’t y’all got yer own damn house? What the fuck are you even here for?”

“Aww, you don’t mean that pookie,” snorts the redhead, his grin growing since he apparently got a high off near-death experiences.

There is a sudden red blur and a thud, followed by Abraham doubling over and a busied apple rolling around on the ground. The army sergeant quickly straightens up.

“That was a good one Dixon,” he reluctantly admits, “next time you won’t get such a lucky shot.”

“Next time it won’t be no goddamn fruit,” Daryl snaps, picking his crossbow back up and grabbing Beth’s free hand, “it will be a bolt and it will be in your ass.”

As he leads her towards the front door, Eugene is somehow standing awkwardly in the way.

“Move geek bait,” Daryl growls, shoving the man aside as he makes a beeline for the door.

The archer slams the door open only to find strangers standing right outside their door. It is a young woman with blonde hair, two boys, and an older couple. Immediately, her companion drops her hand and has his crossbow pointed at them, causing the Alexandrians to jump back. Beth has her hand on the knife at her side, but quickly drops it when she sees that the people are holding what looks like a cake and are terrified.

“Daryl,” Beth cautions, putting her hand on Daryl’s arm and pushing just enough to indicate that she wants him to lower his weapon.

“Umm, hi,” Beth says, stepping in front of the archer, “we aren’t used to having visitors yet.”

There is a moment of silence as the strangers stare with wide eyes at the hunter, before seeming to come to their senses.

“Ah….yes, sorry,” says the blonde woman, who recovers first, “we are your neighbors. I’m Jessie and these are my sons, Ron and Sam. And these are Kelly and Don, they live right across from you.”

“I’m Beth,” she offers, not stepping any closer or offering to shake hands, despite the fact that they seem harmless, “and this is Daryl.”

Right then, Rick saves them.

“Hello Jessie, I see you found our house,” he greets kindly, “come on in.”

They file in the house carefully, all their eyes moving to Daryl, who despite moving away from the door is treated like a rabid dog. When they had all entered the house, Beth could tell he was wound even tighter than before.

“Fuckin pricks,” Daryl curses under his breath, spitting on the porch after he finished cussing.

It was going to be a long first day. 

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Beth stares up at the painting hanging in the hallway of Deanna’s mansion. It depicts a field of wildflowers, colored blue and purple and orange and white and red, with a beautiful sun fading in the background. Looking at it makes the blonde miss being outside, beyond the walls. As much of a blessing as these walls are, they are also a jail. The young woman never felt trapped around other people or in buildings before. She should feel safe here in Alexandria, but she doesn’t. Ever since the hospital, the place that Beth feels the safest is out in the woods, right beside Daryl.

              Speaking of Daryl, she is on edge waiting for the hunter. Right as they had headed out to check the wall security around Alexandria, a young man had run up to them, slowing down when Daryl had swiveled and pierced him with his icy glare. He had explained that Daryl still needed to be interviewed. At this request, the hunter had frowned deeply, his brows knitting together. He had only attended Beth’s interview and then stormed out, so Beth guesses the leader wanted to get to know Daryl better. However, she is also aware of just how badly that could go.

              Deanna had wanted to talk to just Daryl and when they had arrived at the mansion, they had been informed of this. Immediately, the hunter had looked over at her, his eyes stony and his shoulders set. He wouldn’t have left her for anything if she hadn’t given him a look and a slight nod, before saying that she would be just right out in the hall, within yelling distance. Standing outside and watching as the older man walked into the room by himself and shut the door had every instinct in her screaming to follow, but she had restrained herself. Beth wanted this time for him to leave a better impression and she knew that if they showed they couldn’t be separated, it would only reinforce the Alexandrian leader’s assumption that she was somehow being held against her will by the hunter.

The whole time she has kept her ears on alert but hadn’t heard anything, no yelling or growling or even any grunting, so at least it is better than last time. Maybe Deanna is coming around, realizing that her judgement of the archer was a bit rash.

“You like that picture,” comes a male voice behind her that has Beth whipping around and reaching for her knife.

However, her hand lands on her empty hip, since they had been given direct orders not to carry their weapons outside of the house. She isn’t completely defenseless, that would be just sheer stupidity. Beth had hid a smaller knife in her boot, but it wasn’t as easily accessible. The young man in front of her doesn’t appear to be threatening, although he is watching her a bit closely for her liking. Trying to play off the movement by letting her hand rest on her hip, the blonde clears her throat.

“Ah, yes, it is very pretty,” she says flustered, not used to talking to anyone outside her family.

“My uncle painted it,” the young man informs her, smiling a bit too big for their subject matter, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even introduce myself. My name is Spencer Monroe.”

Daryl’s POV

              The moment the door closes behind him, separating him and Beth, Daryl feels uneasy. He feels like any second they are going to inform him that he will never be allowed to see Beth again. He fears the idea of them being forcibly separated, as strong as he is and as naïve and weak as the Alexandrians are, he can only hold his own against so many people. This is the problem with having something or rather someone, then they can always be taken away, just like at the funeral home when Beth disappeared on his watch. Except this time it would argued that it was for be for Beth’s own good.

Even he can understand the logic of wanting the bright, blonde girl to be with other people, happier people, people that she fits in with. He knows what he looks like, what they look like together, what people assume. They think he is just like his father and Beth doesn’t have any choice in the matter. He hates the accusations he sees in people’s eyes, it makes him sick to think of ever doing something like that to the young woman. Sometimes it crosses his mind to just give in to the anger rising in his chest, to throw a fit and cause a scene, forcing the Alexandrians to kick them out so he could just be done with this shit. However, they need the people, they need this place, so he needs to step up and make this work.

“You wanted to talk to me,” Daryl asks, ready to get this interview over with as soon as possible.

“Yes, thank you for joining me,” Deanna answers, standing up from her desk and gesturing over to the couch as she sits down in a chair and turns the camera on.

The red blinking light makes him feel agitated, like it is a weapon ready to go off. Squinting at the little shiny box, he grunts and turns away, pacing the room like a caged animal. He hates how the leader’s eyes follow him, judging him, trying to put him in a category and he knows where he will end up.

“Would you mind telling me what you were doing before the turn,” Deanna questions, her eyes following him as he moves back and forth across the room, stopping when he registers her inquiry.

It always comes back to this, what he was before. However, somewhere in his mind, he hears Beth’s voice telling him that he has to put it away.

“What’s it matter,” he asks in almost a whisper, for the first time staring at Deanna straight on.

“It is important,” she says, pausing before she continues in a tone that makes it sound like a mantra she uses, “we are made up of our past, it is what we use to build our future. This world may have changed some of us, made us hide our most true selves in order to survive, but in the end we are still the same.”

“You’re wrong,” he disagrees.

He wants to leave it at that, this judgmental bitch doesn’t deserve to know anything more about him, didn’t earn his backstory. His old self would have probably started cussing by now, maybe even thrown a few things, just to get this woman to back off. However, that was before he lost Merle, before he had a family, and before he had Beth. Now he had people to think of, he had to keep his cool for all of them and use his words like an adult.

“I know what you think of me,” he states in a matter-of-a-fact tone, feeling like he is talking to all the people who have ever given him a dirty sideways glance or wrinkled up their nose at him, “I know what I look like to you.”

Taking a few steps forward, Daryl goes around the little coffee table separating him and the leader of Alexandria, who stands up as he stops a couple feet away. He looks down at her and can see the uncertainty in her eyes but she doesn’t back up.

“I’m not ever going to be the leader that Rick is, I ain’t got that way with people,” Daryl explains, “I’m not friendly like Tyreese or Glenn, and I sure as hell ain’t nothin like Beth.”

“But,” he continues, taking another step closer and looking at Deanna as hard as he can, “these people are my family and I would die for them. As long as no one in Alexandria is a threat to any of them, then you won’t have any problems with me.”

The leader is staring at him and he can practically see the gears turning in her head. At least she is considering him and not just outright kicking him out. Suddenly, the leader steps away from her chair and makes her way around him slowly. It is all he can do not to turn and follow her when she is behind his back. When the woman comes full circle, she is now standing behind her chair, hands on the back of it, looking at him.

“Rick is a very strong leader and while I have only known him a short time, I can tell he is very capable and has gotten a lot of people through a very tough time,” Deanna tells him, “it is very clear from my talk with him that he trusts you immensely, I’m starting to see why.”

A part of Daryl wants to swell with pride, it is still so new to him to have people that actually give a crap about him, who would vouch for him. Instead, he just shrugs, unsure of what else to say.

“How did you join your…family,” Deanna asks, staring at him in curiosity.

“Like anyone else meets these days,” Daryl shrugs, “my brother and I ran into them after people started turning.”

“And where is your brother,” Deanna asks cautiously, obviously very aware of how many people have lost loved ones.

“Didn’t make it,” he grunts.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” the leader automatically replies so he just nods his head, knowing this is just a formality, not like some random stranger actually gives a crap about Merle.

“So what has been your role within Rick’s group,” Deanna prods.

“Just follow orders,” he dismisses his role easily, “kill walkers, set up security around wherever we are staying, go hunting, track animals, and just whatever needs to be done.”

“I see,” Deanna nods, “I can understand why Rick would find you to be so valuable. I assume then, with your skill set, you also help protect some of the weaker members of your group.”

And there it is, the assumption of how he and Beth fit together, because obviously there has to be some reason to explain why the two of them are pair. At least the woman no longer thinks he is holding the blonde against her will. He should just let it go, let her assume what she will, but he hears and sees Beth in his mind. He remembers how proud she had looked holding his crossbow, telling him how pretty soon she won’t need him at all. It had hurt, but it had also made him so happy, because he wanted her to realize how strong and independent she actually was. He can recall the time she killed the walker during their search for booze and how he told her that she was right, that she could take care of herself. It felt like blasphemy to let the leader of Alexandria think that Beth was just another helpless girl when in reality he probably wouldn’t be standing here right now without her.

“We all protect each other,” Daryl disagrees, “but there isn’t a single one of us that isn’t capable of taking care of themselves, Beth included.”

“Hmmmm,” intones Deanna, clearly processing his words, still trying to make him and Beth fit together in way that she deems as logical and obviously failing.

“Very well then,” the leader announces formally, “thank you for taking the time to come talk with me. I am sure we will be having more chats in the future.”

Daryl wants to groan at the idea of talking to Deanna more but he just nods and makes his way out, feeling her eyes on him all the way to the door.

Beth’s POV

Beth takes in the young, well-dressed man with curly brown hair and sharp brown eyes for a moment, regarding him before she carefully extends a hand.

“Beth,” she tells him as they shake hands, afterwards she quickly withdraws her hand, “so you are Deanna’s son?”

“Yes I am,” he tells her with what she is sure is a swoon-worthy grin, but she feels nothing other than apprehension, “so I trust you will be at the party tonight. It will be nice to have some new faces, especially if they are as pretty as yours.”

The man is obviously flirting with her and she finds it stupid. Who in their right mind would be so unguarded as to start trying to talk up a complete stranger in the world they live in, this man doesn’t have a clue of who she is or what she has done. When Daryl had called her pretty last night, it had had set her heart beating like a hummingbird’s wings. When Spencer does it, she has to fight the urge to frown and roll her eyes. Instead, Beth looks back over at the picture, unable to look seriously at him.

“I suppose we will be there,” she mutters, wrapping her hands around her elbows, not really wanting to go but knowing it is necessary.

“You will like it, I promise,” Spencer insists, “you will fit right in, I’m sure of it.”

A slight huff of breath escapes her mouth, right as the door to Deanna’s office opens and Daryl comes strolling out, his crossbow over his back, flaunting his disregard for the rules. Instantly, the archer’s eyes take in the scene, Beth’s stance and how close Spencer is standing to her. Anyone else wouldn’t notice the slight change, but the young woman is skilled in reading Daryl Dixon’s body language. She catches the way his eyes narrow, the way they flit between the two, as if estimating if the man is at a safe distance from her. The blonde can almost feel the way the hunter’s hand tightens ever so slightly on his crossbow strap, as if getting ready to pull the weapon over his head any second. Then, his blue eyes land on hers, holding that same look he has given her so many times, the one that says he knows she can handle herself, but should she ever ask for it, he is right there to be her backup. Turning back to Spencer, Beth can see how warily he is looking over at Daryl.

“We had better get going,” the blonde tells the young man, effectively ending their conversation.

“Oh…um, of course,” Spencer replies, taking a moment to refocus on her, “I look forward to seeing you tonight.”

Daryl seems unable to hold in a snort at that exact moment, right before he walks between the two of them, causing Spencer to step back and Beth to follow in his footsteps, right down the steps and out the front door without looking back.

“So, how did it go,” Beth asks once they are both outside and out of hearing distance.

“Could have been worse,” Daryl shrugs, keeping his eyes ahead.

Beth thinks he is going to leave it at that, but after a bit the archer speaks again.

“She wanted to know what I did before, said it was important, said we are made up of our past,” the hunter says somberly, glancing over at her.

“What did you tell her,” Beth questions, looking over and raising an eyebrow.

“Told her it doesn’t matter,” Daryl answered, glancing a shy glance at her, almost as if checking for her approval, like she used to do with him when she was first learning to take down walkers.

“Really,” Beth exclaims, a smile growing on her face.

The blonde thinks she can see a slight red tinge to Daryl’s face as he nods.

“Afterall, someone told me we got to put that shit away,” he reiterates, making her grin.

“Sounds like someone really smart,” Beth teases, but she is happy for him, that the archer was able to handle a discussion about his past without causing a scene or withdrawing into himself.

“She is a smart-ass sometimes too,” Daryl teases back, the corner of his lips turning up just the slightest as he lets go of the crossbow strap across his chest and reaches over and tugs the little braid in her hair, the blue in his eyes almost twinkling a little.

“Learned it from the best,” the blonde says, nudging his shoulder with her hand, but not really putting any force into it.

“Hmph,” Daryl snorts, “better not make it a habit of learning from me Greene, might turn into a redneck before you know it.”

“Who knows maybe I would be good at it,” the young woman replies, enjoying the moment they are having before they reach the wall and get down to business.

There are only security guards at the main gate. It is scary how lacking this community is in its defense system. This place has so much that people outside would love to take and it isn’t even that heavily guarded. That will have to change. The pair walk the entire wall, Daryl using the time to try and get her to figure out where the weaknesses are, before pointing them out and explaining how to further fortify the barrier. She gets some of it, the blonde knew from the prison that the community needed an outlook point from each direction, along with security guards with weapons. However, the hunter points out things like uneven ground that could weaken the wall and pillars that could be easily climbed if someone wanted to escape the community.

They lose track of time and pretty soon the sun is no longer high up in the sky. As they walk back to their house, they pass a small field full of vegetables. Beth can’t help but stop and wander through the plants, the sight bringing back good memories of her family’s farm and the prison. She reaches out and touches some wild grape vines that are growing up a metal pole.

“You can have some if you would like,” comes a female voice and an older woman appears with a basket of freshly picked vegetables in her hands.

There is something comforting about the woman and her kind smile. When Daryl comes up behind her, the woman’s eyes dart uncertainly at the hunter, and Beth wants to groan. She wishes just one person would be more welcoming to the archer.

“Nevermind,” Beth declines, “thank you though.”

Before the woman can speak, voices carry through the wind. They are raised in anger and one of them is familiar. Immediately, both Daryl and Beth leave without so much as a goodbye, headed in search of their family. When they walk into the clearing in the front of the town, they see Glenn, Tara, and Noah, who are clearly having a confrontation with the two Alexandrians they went on a run with. Suddenly, one of the strangers pushes Glenn, causing both Daryl and Beth to tense, ready to step in at any second. However, nothing particularly dangerous has happened yet.

“No one is impressed man,” Glenn says calmly, obviously not shaken by the situation, “walk away.”

Daryl and Beth both step a bit closer.

“Aiden,” shouts Deanna, who has obviously become aware of the confrontation as well, “what is going on here?”

“This guy has a problem with the way we do things,” accuses Aidan, looking confident that the leader will take his side.

“Why did you even let these people in,” he asks, glaring at all of them.

“Because we actually know what we are doing out there,” inserts Glenn, not letting Aidan walk all over him.

That apparently really gets to Aidan, because he turns around, taking a swing at Glenn, who easily dodges and returns with his own punch, which lands squarely on the man’s cheek.

“That is enough,” Deanna yells, but her words do little to stop the other Alexandrian from running to his friend’s aid.

Before the second man can reach Glenn, Daryl tackles him to the ground, wrapping his hands around the man’s neck.

“I said enough,” screeches Deanna, but Daryl continues choking the stranger.

Beth understands, they have been on the road and in danger so long, the sight of someone attacking one of their family members is a trigger for any of them. It is a knee jerk reaction to defend their own. However, they are so used to the horrible people they met on the road, they are used to stronger and more desperate people, but the man Daryl is choking right now is not really a threat and no match for the much stronger man.

“Daryl,” Beth yells, running over to him and grabbing him by the shoulder, pulling up, “that is enough.”

It takes a moment, but Beth can feel Daryl’s arms loosen and finally he gets up and allows her to pull him away.

“Fuckin pussy coward, going for Glenn when his back was turned,” Daryl is cussing, his fists clenched and if he were a dog his hackles would be raised right now.

He is pacing and his eyes are locked on the stranger as the man struggles to his feet. Beth stands between the two, one hand on the archer’s chest, her eyes locked on his stormy blue ones.

“Glenn is okay Daryl, he isn’t hurt, he isn’t in danger,” Beth reassures him, as Rick, Carl, and Michonne appear on scene.

Rick immediately runs over in front of Daryl, helping Beth block him from the Alexandrians.

“Let’s not do this right now,” their leader whispers to the hunter, as he paces like a wild animal ready to pounce.

When Beth finally dares take her eyes off Daryl to look over at Deanna, she sees a number of Alexandrians gathered, staring in fear at the archer. She wishes she were bigger and she could hide the hunter behind her body, block him from the gawking crowd. The way Daryl reacted was the right way for the world they are living in, the Alexandrians just don’t understand that yet. Beth’s whole family is fiercely protective of each other, Daryl even more so, it is something that they have all appreciated when faced with some of the terrors of this world. However, the shock and fear rippling through the crowd makes it clear that they don’t see it the same way.

“Listen up,” Deanna announces, “Rick and his people are a part of this community now, in all ways as equals! Understood?”

When no one says anything, Deanna looks to Aidan and the other Alexandrian.

“There will be no violence used to deal with our problems,” she shouts, obviously angry, “now turn in your weapons and the two of you head to my office, we are going to have a talk.”

Once the crowd clears out, the Alexandrian leader turns back to them. Her eyes stop on Daryl, who is still moving like a caged tiger behind Rick and Beth. However, he seems to be holding in any urge to cuss or yell or finish the job he started. Something in Deanna’s eyes seem to brighten for a moment and then her face sets in determination.

“Rick,” she states, “I would like you to be constable.”

“And you too,” Deanna continues, glancing over at Michonne.

Beth can feel her whole group’s surprise, they had been certain they were ready to get kicked out, not have two of their people promoted to important positions.

“It is what you were before and it is what you are now. I admitted all of you into this community, hoping to bring a strength and experience that we currently lack,” Deanna explains to Rick, “it is clear from watching this confrontation, that each of you know how to handle situations that I am sure will arise again in the future. That is something we have been lacking.”

“Do you accept,” she asks, looking at Rick and then Michonne.

“Okay,” agrees Rick, while Michonne just grins and nods.

Daryl huffs and walks off, clearly done with the Alexandrians for the day. Beth hurries off after him, leaving the rest of the group behind.

“Daryl,” Beth calls after him, jogging to catch up.

She can feel the stares that follow them as they make their way back to the house.

“What,” he snaps, turning around to glare at her with an intensity that would have scared her back when she first met him, “what the hell ya doin following me for? Hunh girl?”

Daryl’s thick Georgian accent is coming out strong like it always does when he is angry and shouting, but unlike the usual fury, Beth can see betrayal flashing in his eyes.

“Why don’t you run back to your new Alexandrian friends,” he shouts, stepping closer to her and gesturing back behind them, “already standing up for the fucking scumbags that were trying to gang up on Glenn!”

“It wasn’t like that Daryl,” Beth half yells, trying to keep her emotions under control, knowing they are being watched by strangers but unable to completely stay calm.

“Sure as hell looked like it,” he growls, his eyes narrowing, “next time one of them gives trouble don’t expect me to fuckin help out!”

Having said this, the archer pivots around and heads off, leaving Beth in the dust.

“Asshole,” Beth mumbles under her breath, wanting nothing more than to shake some sense into the stubborn man, while at the same time understanding how it must have looked to him to have her interfere between him and the Alexandrian.

Beth starts walking slowly back towards her family’s house, but can’t help but hear some of the whispers from the Alexandrians, talking about the poor girl and how badly she was treated. Beth wants to roll her eyes. She isn’t some porcelain doll, she isn’t going to break from someone yelling at her. The blonde has watched her family members die, has put down walkers and humans, and survived without her family, she is strong.

Daryl’s POV

Daryl knows he is being a dick, but he can’t help but feel everything slipping away from him. Already being in Alexandria makes him feel out of place, but now it is like everyone is going back to the way things used to be. Everyone wants things to go back to the way things used to be, everyone but him. His mind keeps going back to Deanna saying that Rick should be constable because that is what he was and that is what he still is and Rick fucking agreed! Then, Beth had gotten between him and that shitbag who was going for Glenn. He remembers all the stares people had given him. It was like for a second he was back before the dead had started walking.

Before the turn Daryl had never fit in anywhere, never had anyone see anything in him. That had all changed when the world turned, it was like he had been given a second chance when everyone else had all their chances stripped away. For the first time he had fit in, been respected, and people had looked at him like he was something other than some redneck piece of trash. Now it is all turning back, he can feel it all slipping through his fingers, it is like his worst fears are coming true. Pretty soon, things would be back to the way they were before the world changed. Rick wouldn’t ask for his opinion anymore, the people in his group wouldn’t need him, and Beth would grow farther away.

If he was being honest, a part of him had always expected that this would happen, was always waiting for anything good to fall apart. However, the past few months, he had almost let himself believe that things had changed, that he had changed, that he could maybe have some small happiness in this fucked up world. He could hear Merle in his head, calling him a fucking retard, reminding him that nobody would ever love him but his own brother because they were blood.

Growling under his breath, he uses his pocketknife to dig into the wooden floor of the porch, taking out his anger and pain by making long, ugly scratches on the fairly decent planks. He wishes he could go hunting, get out of here, just do anything other than be stuck in this community that felt like a prison.

“Hey pookie,” comes Carol’s voice from the door, “what did those boards do to you?”

He grumbles under his breath but continues his destruction. The archer can feel Carol’s eyes on him and it makes his skin itch. His friend walks over and watches as he carves little bits out of the wood, piece by piece.

“You know we all love you,” she tells him.

“Hmph,” he grunts, “didn’t fuckin ask.”

“Yeah, but I think you need to hear it,” the older woman tells him, planting a kiss on his head, which he pulls away from with a disgusted look on his face.

Carol chuckles at his disgruntled expression, before heading back inside. Feeling even more irritated than before, he starts taking bigger chunks out of the boards. The door opens again and he half expects Carol to return and try to talk him out of his mood some more but inside he hears light steps and immediately knows who it is. Keeping his eyes fixated on his hands, his ears take in every soft noise until a pair of feet, with toes painted bright red, wrapped up in some silly looking brown leather sandals appear by his side.

He continues his actions like he hasn’t noticed her presence but when she doesn’t say anything, Daryl is finally forced to look up. When he does, he about has a heart attack. The archer had a hard time not staring at Beth in her cowboy boots and jeans and dirty shirt and now he is met with a pair of long bare legs which are finally covered by a lacy yellow material. The blonde had on a dandelion yellow dress that makes her almost glow, her hair is brushed and slightly curly and her lips are shiny. She looks like a piece of heaven in human form.

“Daryl,” the blonde says as she leans over towards him, his name falling off her lips in a way that makes him want to lean in closer and breath her in.

“I just want you to know that I never for a second was taking the Alexandrian’s side,” she tells him, her blue eyes bright and honest, “I’m always going to be on your side.”

Having said this, the blonde reaches out and touches his shoulder and he actually leans in instead of pulling away.

“When we were out in the woods,” she tells him, her face suddenly getting that wise look when she talks about something with a knowledge that she shouldn’t have at her age, “you had to teach me a lot. You believed in me, you saw that I could take care of myself, that I was strong. You saw all of that before anyone else did, before even I did. Now it is the same. I know right now you think you don’t fit in, that this isn’t going to work, but I know it can, I can see it in you.”

“I believe in you,” she continues, looking at him like he is more than just some social outcast hiding out on the porch, “I believe you can do this and I’m going to be there with you every step of the way until everyone else sees what I see, including you.”

Beth always knows what to say. She is so damn good with putting words to her feelings, the exact opposite of him. Every time he tries, it is like it comes out all wrong, doesn’t sound anything like it did in his head. He doesn’t understand how she sees anything in him, he always fucks things up. She seems so sure of herself and he feels like a dick knowing he is only going to let her down.

“Now,” the blonde continues, “we are all going to Deanna’s place for the party, is there any chance I can convince you to come with me?”

Beth is all smiles and light and softness and sweetness looking down at him and it makes him wish he was the kind of man that could just stand up and take her by the hand and saunter into the party with ease. However, he isn’t and there is no use pretending to be something he is not. The sooner Beth realizes that, the better.

“Can’t,” he grunts out, looking down in shame at his callused hands.

“You can,” she tells him, “and I wish you would, but you don’t have to.”

That is the last thing she says and then the young woman is walking away, her silly, unpractical sandals flopping on the sidewalk, her blonde hair bouncing behind her. He suddenly feels like he has majorly fucked up. The irritation that was in him has only grown and he can’t sit still any longer, his brain feels like it is going to implode any second. Scooping up his crossbow, Daryl heads for the gates to Alexandria. He has to get away from all of this.

 

Chapter Text

Daryl’s POV

              Daryl’s skinning knife sinks deep into the half rotted skull and the walker drops away onto the ground. He wipes the blade off on the corpse’s shirt, wrinkling his nose at the smell, although it doesn’t bother him too much anymore. That is when he hears it, a slight rustling in the bushes. Raising the blade up again, his eyes scan the perimeter. No walker pops out, no shambling footsteps stumble through the woods.

              “Show yourself,” he snarls, feeling the hairs on his neck raise up at the knowledge that there is another living human out in the woods with him.

              “Now,” he barks, ready to jump into action.

              When Aaron comes out from behind a tree with his hands up Daryl wants to groan. He almost wishes it had been some complete stranger he had to fight. He had come out here to hunt, to get away from all the Alexandrians and clear his head. Now, he is stuck with these fuckin strangers yet again. Things were so much simpler when it was just him and Beth.

              “You can tell the difference between walkers and humans by sound,” asks Aaron, looking impressed.

              Daryl doesn’t reply, hoping that his indifference will send the man on his way. No such luck.

              “Can you tell the difference between a good guy and a bad guy,” Aaron questions rhetorically, raising an eyebrow and clearly not going away, “Rick doesn’t seem to be an expert at that.”

              “There ain’t much of a difference no more,” he growls, not interested in having some heart to heart conversation with this guy.

              “That how you feel about your people,” prods Aaron, looking at him, “that how you feel about Beth?”

              “Why you following me,” Daryl snaps, not enjoying where the conversation is going.

              “I didn’t know I was,” Aaron says innocently, “I just came out on my own to hunt rabbits.”

              Daryl isn’t buying it.

              “I know why you are out here,” the man asserts, giving him a look.

              “Mind if I join,” Aaron continues, obviously ignoring all of Daryl’s signals to leave him the fuck alone.

              “Keep up,” he commands, turning his back and walking off, hoping that Aaron will give up at some point, “and keep quiet.”

              They walk in silence for almost thirty minutes. Daryl wanders in circles, not saying anything, figuring at some point Aaron will get bored. Before that happens, he hears a neigh and both men stop, looking up to see a horse in a clearing ahead. The hunter’s mind flashes back to Beth and how much she loves horses. In that moment, he wishes she was here with him.

              “I’ve been trying to catch him for months,” Aaron whispers by his side, “bring him inside. His name is Buttons.”

              At that last statement Daryl can’t help but roll his eyes and look over at Aaron.

              “One of the kids saw him and named him,” the Alexandrian defends.

              The archer huffs and Aaron smiles.

              “Haven’t seen him for a while,” the man continues, “I was afraid something had happened to him.”

              Then, Aaron is pulling off his pack and digging around until he pulls out a rope.

              “Every time Eric or I come close he gets spooked,” Aaron explains.

              Daryl remembers Nervous Nelly, how apparently no one except him and Beth was ever able to ride her. He hadn’t known that at the time, but the horse had let him up without any problems, until it kicked him off that is. Maybe, this horse would let him close too. Daryl can almost see the blonde’s face light up if he brought Buttons back. Putting out his hand, Aaron gives him the rope hesitantly.

              “Have you done this before,” he questions.

              “Once, with Beth’s horse,” Daryl explains, causing Aaron to give him a look, which he dismisses, “and that animal was a nervous fucking mess.”

              Turning and stepping carefully towards the horse, Daryl finds the loop in the rope.

              “I ain’t gonna hurt ya,” he tells Buttons, trying his best to sound soothing.

              That was the thing about animals, they had better sense than humans. Unlike all the people that gave him one look and thought they knew everything, animals were different, they had a sort of intuition. He crept closer, making sure not to move too fast.

              “All right,” he breathes, as the horse steps closer, “come on boy.”

              “Used to be somebody’s,” he comments, talking so the horse isn’t startled by his sudden appearance.

              Right as he is about to loop the rope over the horse’s head, a twig snaps and the horse’s head shoots up. Both him and the horse look in the same direction and find walkers crashing through the brush.

              “Shit,” Daryl curses, as more appear.

              The spooked horse runs and the hunter drops the rope in favor of his buck knife, which works better in close proximity. A shot rings out and a walker drops down. Kicking the walker closer to him, he drives the blade home as the monster stumbles, before falling still at his feet. Quickly, the two men dispatch the walkers, but the horse is already gone.

              “Come on,” the hunter insists, already looking at the tracks, not ready to give up.

              Aaron is close behind as he begins following the trail. Daryl hasn’t given up on bringing that horse back home. He can just see Beth’s face light up at the sight, like she did when he told her there was a dog outside the funeral home.

              “You ride horses,” Aaron asks after a while.

              “I ride bikes,” Daryl comments, finding himself actually revealing something about himself to the man.

              “Does Beth ride horses,” his companion probes, sounding like he suddenly understands.

              Daryl pauses in his tracking to give Aaron a look that shuts the man up. However, it doesn’t last long.

              “I know you are feeling like an outsider,” the Alexandrian comments.

              “It’s not your fault you know,” the man pushes, “Eric and I, we’re still looked at as outsiders in a lot of ways. We’ve heard our fair share of well-meaning, but hilariously offensive things, from some otherwise really nice men and women.”

              This doesn’t surprise Daryl, people always don’t like it when others are different. He personally has never given two shits if someone was gay or straight, he has always figured it was none of his damn business.  However, he knows all too well how people can judge and talk about someone.

              “People are people,” says Aaron almost sadly, “the more afraid they get, the more stupid they get.”

              “Fear shrinks the brain,” he companion rambles on, “they are scared of me and you for different reasons. They are less scared of me because they know me. It’s less and less every day.”

              “So let them get to know you,” Aaron advises, “you should go to Deanna’s party tonight. There is still time.”

              “I’ve met a lot of bad people out here, doin a lot of bad shit,” the hunter begins, “they weren’t afraid of nothing.”

              “Yeah they were,” disagrees Aaron, which somehow reminds him of Beth yelling at him that he didn’t get to treat her like shit just because he was scared.

              “That is what Beth says too,” Daryl snorts, continuing on with his tracking.

              “She is a smart girl,” Aaron comments, “she really is something special, I knew it the moment I laid eyes on her.”

              Daryl looks over and something in his expression has the man hurrying to explain.

              “A lot of people in this world are either so strong they don’t know how to feel, they are closed off from the world, or they feel so much that they get hurt too easily,” Aaron describes, “take Eric for example. I love the man to death, he helps me see all the good things in this world, but he isn’t made for life beyond the walls. However, Beth talks a lot like him, she still sees the good, can live in the moment, but she is also tough. She can make it outside the walls and she can make it inside. Not a lot of people can do both, but that is what we need now. Someone to bridge the gap. We need more people that can not only survive, but know what they are surviving for, see that light at the end of the tunnel, they need to have that hope.”

              “Beth’s got enough hope for our whole group,” Daryl grunts, just stating a fact, but something in what he says has Aaron giving him this weird grin.

              “You know,” his companion mentions, “a lot of people told us that Eric and I weren’t right, that there was something wrong in us being together. I believed them for a long time. I feel bad for Eric now actually, he had to fight me every step of the way, had to drag me along until I realized that love isn’t about what other people think, it is just about how it makes you feel. When I’m with Eric, I don’t feel like it’s wrong or immoral, it just feels right. Took the world ending for me to figure that out.”

              The way Aaron is looking at him tells Daryl that he isn’t just talking about him and Eric, but he isn’t about to go have some discussion about him and Beth with some random guy he met a few days ago.

              “Good fer you,” he grumbles and continues tracking, but the words stay with him.

              He had wanted this excursion to clear his mind and now Aaron is making it more jumbled than ever. He wishes the man would just shut the hell up and focus on tracking the horse. When he hears a neigh, finally he is able to focus. The horse is running around in a fenced in area, which is infested with several walkers.

              “Gotta get him before the walkers do,” Daryl comments, swinging his crossbow off his back, ready to jump into action, “I got the far ones.”

              He is taking out a couple walkers when he sees Aaron go down. He hasn’t known the man long but something similar to the fear he has when he sees Glenn or Rick in trouble comes up and before he knows it he is running over, kicking in the head of the walker that is hanging on to Aaron’s foot.

              “Thanks,” Aaron gasps, as he stands up and takes aim at a walker coming towards them, blowing its head off.

              They both hear Buttons scream and look to see the beautiful beast getting taken down by walkers. The corpses tear at the animal, ripping at its flesh and pulling muscle and organs out, making the animal cry in pain. It is a damn shame.

              “I got the ones on the right,” Daryl claims, quickly dispatching the monsters that are in a feeding frenzy.

              Soon, both Aaron and Daryl are left staring at the dying horse. Aaron is staring down at the horse’s face, obviously having some trouble accepting the horse’s fate.

              “Go ahead,” Daryl encourages, knowing what needs to be done.

              The man looks back at him and so he nods, flicking his eyes down at the horse. It seems to help Aaron as he raises his gun and takes aim. The shot echoes in the forest and the animal falls still.

              “He always ran,” Aaron comments sadly, staring down at the creature.

              “You were trying to help him,” Daryl encourages, before shouldering his crossbow and beginning the walk back to Alexandria.

              Aaron is quiet for a long time and the archer thinks they will finish the walk in silence, but right as they get close to the community, the man starts speaking again.

              “I understand why Buttons always ran,” Aaron tells him, “same reason a lot of people do. It isn’t easy to trust, not in the world we live in. It is so easy to get hurt, sometimes it is easier to just keep from getting too close to anyone. However, like you said, some people are just trying to help, we need to let those people in.”

              “What the hell,” Daryl grumbles, “you a therapist or a recruiter, it is kinda hard to tell.”

              “I was just thinking out loud,” Aaron explains, “but I think you should give it a shot, fitting in, going to the party. I think maybe it would be good for you.”

              “Ya don’t even know me,” Daryl mumbles, automatically dismissing the advice.

              “Doesn’t mean I’m wrong though,” Aaron retorts.

Beth’s POV

              The blonde clutches her glass of water a bit more forcefully than necessary. There are so many people and lights and food and it is a bit overwhelming. The young woman glances over at her sister and Glenn who share a tight smile with her. It is hard for everyone. They have been here a couple hours and still she hasn’t managed to become accustomed to the environment.

              Abraham is already downing all the beer he can find and Rosita is sticking to his side like a magnet. Rick seems to have relaxed and is chatting with Deanna and her husband. Beth doesn’t know how he does it.

              “This is just what I need,” says Maggie, picking up a glass of wine.

              Glenn follows her lead and soon only Beth is left drinking water.

              “Want some Bethy,” Maggie offers, “not like there is a legal drinking age anymore.”

              “Careful,” Glenn cautions, “usually most drinks take some getting used to.”

              “I think I can handle it,” the blonde says as she takes a glass, “I did just fine with the moonshine.”

              “With the what,” Glenn spurts, almost blowing out the sip he just took.

              “Beth, when did you have moonshine,” questions Maggie, looking confused.

              “Remember, I told you that I wanted to find alcohol after the prison fell, Daryl helped me,” Beth explains, “when it was just the two of us. He said he wasn’t going to let me drink peach schnapps for my first drink, that I needed something better. So he took me to this place he knew had moonshine.”

              “Oh my God, Bethy,” Maggie breathes, covering her mouth, “and here I thought I was the wild child.”

              “Both of y’all are completely wild, just saying,” Glenn comments, as he takes another sip.

              They are almost becoming relaxed when suddenly Spencer appears, putting them all on edge again.

              “Hello Beth,” the man greets, flashing her a big smile, “it is so good to see you here, I’m glad you made it.”

              “Thanks for having us,” the blonde says automatically, the good manners her mama taught her kicking in.

              “This is Maggie and Glenn,” Beth introduces, gesturing at the two by her side, “and this is Spencer, Deanna’s son.”

              “Nice to meet you,” Maggie tells him, as Glenn shakes his hand.

              Turning back to Beth, Spencer gives her a once over.

              “You look very good in that dress,” Spencer compliments, causing Beth to wince internally.

              She knows what is happening and wants nothing to do with it. The blonde nods, hoping that her lack of interest will be conveyed but it obviously isn’t.

              “Can I please have the honor of dancing with you,” the young man asks, extending his hand.

              Beth used to love going to dances in high school, getting twirled around and the fun music. Now, things have changed. However, she learned as a young girl that it was rude to refuse an offer to dance and they are supposed to be making nice with the Alexandrians. The blonde finds herself placing her hand in his and suddenly she is being pulled onto the dance floor.

              It feels strange, the steps that used to feel so familiar. The hand holding hers and touching her waist, which used to give her tingles in high school, now feels wrong, it makes all of her skin prickle and itch. Spencer twirls her around. He is a very good dancer, in the past she would have really enjoyed dancing with him. However, she isn’t who she used to be anymore. When the song finally ends, the blonde is relieved and quickly retreats to the window for some fresh air, only to her annoyance is she followed by Deanna’s son.

              Standing at open window, she breathes in and out, calming herself. She can hear the crickets and the cicadas and they sound calms her and she lets it drown out the sound of people talking and the music. She wishes for a second that she could just crawl out the window and run into the darkness, escape this suffocating party.

              “You are a very good dancer,” Spencer tells her, reaching over and tucking a blonde curl that was sticking out behind her ear.

              The blonde can’t help but recoil from the touch, not liking having a stranger’s hand on her skin.

              “I need to go,” she announces without explanation, immediately walking off, past Maggie and Glenn, who both give her a look that is begging her to stay and not leave them, but she can’t be in this place another second longer.

              Bursting out of the house, Beth all but sprints back to the house, leaving the music and light and laughter behind.

Daryl’s POV

              He can still see the image so clearly in his mind. The leader’s son tucking Beth’s hair behind her ear, like he had the right to touch her. The very memory makes him burn. It makes him simultaneously want to punch a wall and curl up into the fetal position. It is stupid, it is utter bullcrap! It isn’t like Beth is his, it isn’t like he deserves her, it isn’t like he has the right to feel this way. He knew from the beginning he wasn’t good enough for Beth, that the blonde needed someone better.

              Spencer possesses all the qualities required to be a good match for Beth. He is young, good-looking, comes from a good family. It makes Daryl just want to put an arrow in the young man’s ass. He never should have tried to go to the party. It was all Aaron’s fault, for convincing him to give it a shot. Somehow when the two men had parted ways, Daryl’s feet had led him to the mansion. He didn’t truly know if it was the Alexandrian’s words or just the knowledge that Beth was in there but something had him standing outside the building, hiding in the shadows, looking in on the lights and the people.

              Suddenly, Beth had appeared at the window, her cheeks flushed pink and her golden hair slightly unruly. She had looked so beautiful, like some sort of princess. Her eyes were not on him, even if she had been looking his direction, he didn’t know that she would have seen him in the dark. He had been about to walk over to her and say something, he didn’t know what, when Spencer had appeared at her side. His fists clench remembering how the young man had smiled at Beth, how he had reached over and took the blonde curl, tucking it behind the young woman’s ear so casually like he had dreamed of doing for a while now. Daryl grinds his teeth, feeling the possessiveness take over, demanding that he go back and get in Spencer’s face and make it clear that no one is allowed to touch Beth like that but him.

              However, that isn’t right. It isn’t right for him to be touching Beth like that and it should be right for Spencer. He is way too old, way too rough around the edges, and way too broken for a girl like Beth. Sometimes when she is around him, the way she looks at him, makes him think for a second that maybe he could be enough, but that feeling always ends. Unbidden, the memory of Rick saying he didn’t care that Daryl and Beth had spent the night in the same room pops up. That is followed by Aaron telling him that it doesn’t matter what other people think, just what he feels. Next is Beth looking at him, her voice saying that she feels right with him.

              Daryl shakes his head, feeling more messed up than before he went out hunting today. He doesn’t completely know or care where he is wandering off to, he has just let his feet take control. A light to his right brightens, causing him to turn and squint. It is Aaron coming out of the door to what Daryl assumes is his house.

              “Daryl, hey,” Aaron greets.

              “Thought you were going to that party over there,” Daryl asks, confused.

              “Oh,” Aaron exclaims, putting his hands in his pockets, having the decency to look a bit abashed, “I was never going to go, cause of Eric’s ankle, thank God!”

              “Why the hell did you tell me to go then,” Daryl snarls, annoyed.

              “I said try, you did,” Aaron answers, smiling smugly and the archer just wants to wipe that grin off his face, “It’s a thought that counts thing.”

              That sounds like something Beth would say, but Daryl doesn’t want to think about her right now.

              “All right,” he mumbles, turning to continue his walk.

              “Wait, hey,” Aaron calls after him, “come in, have some dinner.”

              When Daryl doesn’t make any move to come back, Aaron continues.

              “Come on man,” Aaron invites with a smile, “it is some pretty serious spaghetti.”

              Against his will, Daryl’s feet start moving forward, making Aaron smile even bigger at him. Maybe it is that he doesn’t want to be alone with his thoughts right now, maybe it is that he hasn’t had spaghetti in a long time, or maybe he is just happy to be around someone who isn’t judging him or making his head hurt with confusion.

              “There we go,” encourages Aaron, leading him into the house, “hey Eric, we got some company.”

              “Oh, hi,” welcomes Eric, grinning over at him from where he is stirring spaghetti on the stove, putting weight only on one foot and his crutches leaned against the oven, “we don’t often have visitors!”

              Daryl grunts, immediately regretting his decisions, but Aaron leads him over to a chair at the table and soon he is seated and watching as the two men make dinner. Luckily, they don’t force him to talk much, mostly just chat between themselves. It makes him feel more comfortable, like when Beth talks and he knows she doesn’t always expect him to say anything.

              When the food is ready, Aaron carries it over while Eric hops over on his crutches. Daryl’s stomach growls and he realizes just how hungry he was. Before he knows it, he has inhaled every bite. He looks up to find Aaron looking at him.

              “We have plenty if you want seconds,” the man offers, a slight grin on his face, “looks like you like our cooking.”

              “Hmm, thanks,” Daryl agrees, not about to turn down a second helping.

              As Aaron is up getting more pasta for his plate, Eric turns to him and starts going on about some pasta maker for some old lady in Alexandria, how if he sees one while he is out on runs he could pick it up. Daryl squints in confusion, not quite following when Aaron returns and freezes.

              “Oh,” Eric says quietly, looking between the two of them, “you haven’t asked him yet, have you?”

              “Not yet,” Aaron answers abashedly, setting the spaghetti in front of Daryl, but suddenly he is no longer hungry.

              “Ask me what,” he questions, suddenly feeling uncomfortable.

              He doesn’t know what they could possibly want from him. The hunter shouldn’t have accepted their invitation to begin with, he doesn’t know how to interact with anyone other than his group.

              “Would you mind, coming with me,” Aaron asks.

              Usually Daryl wouldn’t go with any Alexandrian, but after today he isn’t so wary of Aaron.

              “Sure,” he rumbles, standing up and following Aaron into another room.

              There is a motorcycle covered in a big tarp, bike parts are littered all around the room. Daryl’s interest is suddenly peaked and he finds himself wandering inside.

              “When I got the place,” Aaron explains, “there was that frame and some parts and equipment. Whoever lived here built them.”

              Daryl cautiously picks up an unattached headlight.

              “Lot of parts for one bike,” he comments, looking around and takings stock of the room, feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.

              “Whenever I came across any parts I brought them back here,” Eric describes, “I didn’t know what I needed. I always thought I would learn how to do it….but I get the feeling you already know what to do….and the thing is…you are going to need a bike.”

              Daryl glances over, feeling unsure of what is being asked of him.

              “Why,” he simply asks.

              “I told Deanna not to give you a job,” Aaron admits, “because I think I already have one for you. I’d like you to be Alexandria’s other recruiter. I don’t want Eric risking his life anymore.”

              “You want me risking mine,” Daryl comments, but he isn’t really mad.

              “Yeah,” agrees Aaron, “because you know what you are doing. You’re good out there….but you don’t belong out there.”

              Daryl glances up, his fingers running over the tarp covering the bike, turning the man’s words over in his mind.

              “I know,” Aaron continues, “it’s hard getting used to people getting used to you. And I understand right now you need to be out there sometimes. So do I.”

              He is right, Daryl isn’t meant to stay behind walls, stay cooped up. The archer lifts the tarp, looking at the pile of junk that is treasure in his eyes.

              “But the main reason why I want you to help me recruit is because you do know the difference between a good person and a bad person,” Aaron lays out.

              That makes Daryl pause, remembering how Beth looked at him, asking what changed his mind. She was the one who taught him that there even were good people. His mind flashes to her looking at him across the table, the candlelight illuminating her face as she looked at him, the small smile on her face. He hadn’t been able to tell her but she had figured it out all the same.

              “Well, I ain’t got nothin else to do,” Daryl accepts, not wanting to make a big deal of it.

              “You don’t need to ask Beth first,” Aaron asks, raising an eyebrow, “you don’t have to give me an answer right now.”

              “Why would I need to ask Beth,” Daryl grumps, crossing his arms and glaring over at the other man.

              “I thought y’all were…,” Aaron trails off, obviously confused.

              “Nah, ain’t like that,” Daryl quickly clarifies.

              “But you want it to be,” Aaron pushes, “I know it is none of my business and I know Eric and I invaded everyone’s privacy by spying on y’all, but I have seen the way y’all are together. It reminds me a bit of Eric and I. The girl obviously cares about you.”

              “You are right, ain’t none of your business,” Daryl quickly shuts down this line of conversation, glaring at the man, daring him to continue.

              “Alright,” Aaron agrees, dropping the subject, “well, thank you, for agreeing to do this, I know it will give me a lot of peace of mind to know you are going to help with the recruiting.”

              “Thanks,” Daryl also says, before pausing a second and then adding, “I’ll bring you a couple of rabbits.”

              “That would be nice,” states Aaron, “we can use them and make more spaghetti, and maybe next time, Beth can join us too.”

              The hunter’s eyes flash at the mention of Beth but Aaron just smiles and they finally drop the subject. That doesn’t stop the image of the blonde sitting next to him, happily slurping up pasta and chatting with the only two men that he is okay with in Alexandria. For some reason, it doesn’t sound horrible.

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

Beth watches with pain, sadness, and more than a touch of anger as Daryl drives out of the gates of Alexandria on his newly acquired motorcycle. He hadn’t even bothered asking her before accepting Aaron’s offer of a job as a recruiter. It was more than that, because beyond not asking her, he hadn’t even mentioned anything about it to her, Beth had found out from Maggie. It isn’t like she is his wife, his girlfriend, or his partner, but she thought they were at least a team. She can still remember them stalking through the forest, watching each other’s back, the way Daryl gave her that special look when she was able to track well or use his crossbow. Now it is like they are two different people.         

Every night, Daryl sleeps on the floor beside her bed, but rarely does he say a word about his day and does nothing more than grunt at her comments. She thought the closed off archer had finally started to trust her, only to find that the walls had been built up almost higher than before. With a huff of frustration, Beth turns away and breathes in deeply. A saying her father repeated to her often as a child comes back, reminding her that she has a job to do, everyone has a job to do.

Walking downstairs and out of the house, Beth waves at the neighbors across the street who smile cheerily and wave back. It is strange how easily they seem to accept her. When the blonde reaches the center of town, she is guided by her feet towards a van surrounded by several people, some of whom are from her group. She walks up just in time to hear Eugene disagree with Noah, who is holding out a gun to him.

“Not if I don’t go,” the eccentric man says, pushing the weapon back towards Noah.

“We aren’t driving all that way just to drive back with the wrong shit,” Aidan, Spencer’s older brother, insists.

“It is a dozen of these,” Eugene insists, holding up some electronic box, “they are consistent in appearance across manufacturers.”

When no one seems to take him up on his promise, the man continues.

“I will install said shit,” Eugene declares, “then the grid will be fully operational again.”

Noah just shoves the gun into Eugene’s hand, before turning around, almost running into Beth.

“Woah,” the young man exclaims, “you just appeared out of nowhere. What’s going on?”

“Y’all going on a run,” Beth asks, but she already knows the answer.

“Yup,” Noah tells her, “looking for some parts to fix Alexandria’s solar panel, a lot of the grid has gone down.”

“I’ll come,” Beth more states than offers.

“Well, I would trust you to watch my back anytime,” Noah tells her, grabbing a gun out of the storage room and handing it to her with a smile, “if my memory serves me right, you are fairly deadly with this.”

“Thanks,” Beth says, managing a small smile.

Having a mission, something to do, will take her mind off everything going on. A nagging thought in the back of the blonde’s mind tells her that Daryl would want her to let him know before she took off somewhere. However, she shoves it aside. It isn’t like the hunter is much about talking these days and besides, there is no way to communicate with him now since he is already gone. She will probably be back before the archer is, he won’t even know she left. Firm in her decision, she climbs into the back of the van with Noah, Tara, and Glenn, waving at Maggie, who is there to see them off.

It is strange how at one point in her life walls felt like safety. Now, as they drive through the gates of Alexandria, out onto the road, it is like her heart begins to soar. She feels more alive than she has since the moment she walked through the gates. It is weird because in so many ways she fits so perfectly into Alexandria, or maybe it is that the old Beth would have fit perfectly. The moment they are on the road, some techno music comes on that has Noah rolling his eyes.

“Great, another mix,” her friend comments, causing Beth to giggle and strangely enough feel like a teenager again, despite being in the back of a van with no seatbelt and carrying a gun, “Aidan and Nicholas have horrible taste.”

Glenn and Tara share knowing looks, before groaning and committing themselves to the awful music that continues. However, Beth actually likes it, or rather just likes the act of being able to listen to music other than her own singing.  Her fingers unconsciously begin to rap against the metal of the van in time with the music.

When they pull to a stop, the blonde focuses herself and adjusts her grip on the gun. The back doors open and Beth jumps out. Nicholas’ eyes follow her and she can see the judgement in them.

“I’m surprised you came outside the walls without your guard dog,” Nicholas comments, looking her up and down.

“Don’t need a guard dog,” Beth replies curtly, not even glancing back at him as she raises her gun and takes aim at a walker shambling towards the group.

She hits it straight in the eye socket and the monster slumps to the ground.

“Good aim,” complements Aidan, who had also been watching.

“Thanks,” Beth says curtly.

“Well, ah, we should do a perimeter check,” Glenn begins, for the benefit of Aidan and Nicholas, since this is basic knowledge for anyone in her group.

“Alright, I will go with Nicholas,” Aidan teams up.

Eugene goes with Tara and Beth ends up with Glenn and Noah. They walk around the big industrial warehouse. For the most part it is silence, only broken by the occasional walker. As they reach the back, there is a huge fenced in area teaming with walkers.

“Well, no getting out that way in an emergency,” Glenn comments.

“No kidding,” breathes Noah.

“We could make noise like we did at the prison,” Beth suggests, “lure them over to the fence and then kill them through the chain link.”

“Nah,” Glenn dismisses, “that will take a lot of time and effort and we don’t need to get anything out of there, as long as they are securely held, we leave them.”

Beth nods her agreement, but the knowledge about the big herd of walkers leaves a pit in her stomach as they make their way back.

Daryl’s POV

Something feels wrong about leaving Beth behind. Daryl knows she is safe behind the walls of Alexandria, or as safe as anyone is these days. A part of him still wants to call off this run and head right back to her. It is stupid though, it wasn’t like he could protect Beth at the funeral home when they were both together, he shouldn’t be the one protecting Beth, but he wants to be.

He is drawn out of his brooding thoughts by a scream. It is faint, only reaches his ear because a large gust of wind suddenly blew in the right direction, but he would know the sound anywhere. He looks over at Aaron, who is looking confused. He didn’t hear it, but Daryl doesn’t want to talk right now. Raising his crossbow up, the archer indicates for his companion to do the same with his gun. Then, they begin moving forward, quietly and carefully, step by step. Occasionally, they stop and Aaron gets out his binoculars, but there is always a negative head nod following when he doesn’t see anyone. Finally, after they have been searching for hours, Aaron speaks.

“Do you think anyone is even out here,” Aaron asks, questioning Daryl’s extreme precaution.

Just as Daryl is about to explain, his eyes catch something in the dimness of the early dawn. There is a light in the forest ahead of them, flickering and jumping. Everything in him tenses.

“There,” he points the fire out to Aaron.

“People,” breathes Aaron, looking excited at their early success, they hadn’t been out here for more than an hour.

 

Beth’s POV

It had all gone so wrong so quickly, that is kind of how things go these days. Ultimately, it came down to Nicholas and Aidan not being trained enough to handle a dangerous situation. Aidan had kept firing at the walker encased in riot gear even when Glenn had been yelling at him to stop, even when Beth yelled at him to use his knife instead of his gun to get up under the helmet.

The explosion of the bullet hitting the grenade had literally taken Beth’s breath away as she had been thrown to the floor. The blast had left her ears ringing and her vision blurry. She is pretty sure she hit her head on something because it hurts as Daryl would say, ‘like a motherfucker’. That wasn’t the worst of it though. As everyone had been reorienting themselves, the walkers started to appear in mass, somehow the detonation had released the gates holding them back and now they were pouring into the building.

Despite the chaos, everyone had managed to make it into a little office where they were safe while they inspected Tara’s wounds. The woman was knocked out cold and had a nasty gash in her side, but she was tough, they all were. That is when the screaming started and it has been playing on repeat in her head ever since. Aidan, who was impaled on several metal bars, turned out to still be alive and his yells of pain were drawing walkers to him.

“We can’t leave him,” Beth gasps, despite Aidan being the one who got them all into this predicament.

Noah nods his agreement and Glenn quickly sets a plan.

“Eugene, you watch Tara, the rest of us will go get Aidan,” her brother-in-law states, before bursting out the door, leaving Eugene speechless on the floor next to Tara.

The young woman raises her gun and shoots at the nearest walker, hitting its shoulder. Somewhere in her head, there is a deep, gravelly voice telling her to calm down and breathe before taking aim. Despite the chaos and the adrenaline surging through her veins, making her hands shake, Beth takes a deep breath in, holds it for a second, before letting it out. When her lungs are clear, Beth looks down the barrel of the gun and lightly pulls the trigger, hitting her target right in the left eye.

“Cover us,” Glenn shouts at Beth and Noah, as he and Nicholas begin attempting to lift Aidan off the bars.

The screams turn to cries of agony, reminding Beth of the woman she held down at Grady for an amputation. The memory throw her off, she starts missing her mark. However, this isn’t like with Tyreese, there isn’t a ton of people to help, they need her and she can’t run away this time.

“You said you could take care of yourself and you did,” Beth hears Daryl saying to her, remembering the way he looked at her, daring her to argue but also so proud.

She had to be strong now. Reloading her gun, the blonde starts again, this time managing to take down some of the oncoming herd.

“I can’t do this, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Beth hears Nicholas saying behind her but it only registers as the man darts past, dodging walkers and heading for the escape.

“No, come back,” yells Glenn, but the man is already gone.

“Just leave me,” Nicholas begs weakly, “it’s our fault that the others died, we couldn’t hold it together when shit hit the fan, we left them to die. It’s our fault, this is what I get.”

“No one deserves this,” Glenn disagrees, not even batting an eyelash at the confession.

“I’m out of ammo,” Noah tells them, looking back in an apologetic manner.

“I’m almost out too,” Beth announces, finding only one bullet left.

“We gotta go,” Glenn says in a dead, cold voice, the one Beth hates hearing any of them use.

“Please,” Nicholas sobs, “don’t let them get me.”

As they are backing away, a walker finally gets close enough to sink its jaws into Nicholas’ arm, causing him to scream in even more pain. The others get riled up and start heading for the man. Suddenly, Beth knows what the last bullet is for. Lifting up the gun, she takes aim, looking into Nicholas’ eyes as she does so and seeing the acceptance and gratefulness there, then she pulls the trigger. There is no time to look back and see what has become of him, they have to run.

As they spring past the office, Beth glances inside, but it is empty. Suddenly, Glenn takes a different path and they are separated, but it is too late, Beth and Noah have to keep running. They hear a commotion up ahead and soon burst into a room with a revolving door. Nicholas is outside trying to fend off walkers. Noah and Beth head for the door right as Nicholas heads back inside. Suddenly, all three are trapped in the revolving door, with Nicholas opposite them and walkers on either side.

Beth and Noah both push opposite ways to keep the door from moving as the walkers try to get at them. Through the glass, she can clearly see the rotted, gnashing teeth and decaying flesh, it makes her skin crawl to look at it so close. Teeth scrape against the glass making a sound worse than nails on a chalkboard.

“Don’t panic,” Noah is yelling at Nicholas who is hyperventilating and not helping them keep the door from moving.

“We aren’t going to make it, we are going to die,” Nicholas yells unhelpfully.

“Shut up,” Noah grunts as he holds the door against the crowd of the undead, “that isn’t helping any, we need to calm down and think.”

Right then, the sound of music plays and a loud banging is heard over the groaning. The walkers on the outside of the building begin to peel off, drawn away by the commotion. However, the walkers inside the building only become more excited.

“Do you have ammo,” Noah yells as Beth struggles to keep the door still, but feels herself sliding.

“Yeah, but I dropped my gun,” Nicholas manages to gasp out, “I don’t have a gun, we are going to die.”
              “We aren’t going to die if we work together, you just have to reach out of the door to the outside enough to toss the ammo to me for my gun,” Noah brainstorms, “first you will have to open your door to the outside just a little, toss the magazine, then we will open ours just a little to retrieve the ammo, okay?”

Nicholas nods.

“Alright, on three,” Noah counts, “one, two, three.”

Beth softens just slightly, intending to let the door open a few inches, but is startled when it suddenly comes flying at her with more ferocity than before.

“Stop,” Noah screams, “stop, you are going to kill us.”

Nicholas apparently saw the chance to run for it and doesn’t care if that causes Beth and Noah to be thrown to the walkers. Noah braces against the door as well but walker hands are already reaching their way in and Nicholas continues to struggle to squeeze himself out with strength that only comes from an extreme amount of adrenaline. As much as Beth and Noah try to hold the door, neither of them are very heavy and against both Nicholas and a group of walkers, they feel themselves losing the battle.

“Don’t,” yells Noah one last time, pushing back against the door desperately as he feels a hand wrap around his ankle.

However, the walker pulls Noah off his feet just as Nicholas gives one finally push to freedom and Beth feels both her and Noah get shoved into the crowd of walkers. The smell of rotted flesh overwhelms her and hands and feet are kicking at her. Her scream is intermingled with Noah’s and Beth looks over to see a long-dead woman sinking her teeth into Noah’s arm, quickly followed by two more. All she can do is watch in horror as her friend is descended upon violently, mouths biting into flesh, greedy hands pulling at skin and then organs. The blonde wants to shut her eyes as the young man begins vomiting blood and his screams are cut off with gurgle.

The horror of what is happening keeps Beth from realizing she is also screaming. When she does realize, she is also shocked to find that while she is getting kicked and pushed around, not a single walker is going for her. It doesn’t make sense, it doesn’t follow anything she has learned about walkers over the past several years. It makes her already throbbing head only hurt more.

Crawling across the ground, Beth makes her way through the mob of walkers all trying to get a piece of the boy who was smiling and laughing with her only hours ago. She wants to sob, but the young woman is in too much shock. On autopilot, she finds the door that Glenn must have used to escape and stumbles out into the bright sunlight. As she walks around the building, she can hear the mob still inside the front door, but she doesn’t look back.

Nowhere in sight is the van or the people she came out with. It is like the prison all over again, everyone left her, except this time she doesn’t even have Daryl. She doesn’t blame them, no one could have suspected she would have made it out of that alive, the blonde doesn’t even know how she is still breathing. Suddenly, it clicks. Beth’s fingers find their way up to her shoulder, rubbing the spot where Dr. Edwards had given her a shot. Could it be that he had the antidote, that he had given it to her? The blonde doubts it, if he had, he would have been a very wealthy and rich man. However, walkers hadn’t been paying her much attention since she left the hospital, since the day she almost died on the side of the road. There is not enough time to think on it, she has to focus on getting back to Alexandria, back to her family, and most importantly, back to Daryl.

Daryl’s POV

It had been a shitty ass run. The image haunts both of them, the blonde woman strapped to a tree with her insides all torn out and eaten by walkers, the W carved into her forehead.  The dismembered body on the ground, none of that could mean anything good. It put him on edge just thinking about the kind of people who could be out there. What they would do to those not able to protect themselves.

 After finding a body dismembered and a woman tied to a tree, they had continued on but found no sign of people or supplies. At least he had scored some rabbits so it wasn’t a total bust. Both of them had been jumpy and the initial excitement at going out to look for people had disappeared. It was stupid, but now every time Daryl saw blonde hair he was reminded of Beth. Seeing the blonde stranger so badly tortured had him itching to see Beth, to touch her, just to assure himself that she was in fact okay. It was like waking up from a nightmare where someone died and you know it didn’t happen but it still helps to go see the person. When Aaron finally suggested they head back instead of staying out for several days like they had originally planned, he had quickly agreed. Soon, both of them had been rolling back through the gates they had left only that morning. Aaron had left to report their findings to Deanna while he headed for the house everyone was staying in.

Throwing the dead cottontails on the kitchen table, he receives a look from Carol.

“Wha,” he grunts, feeling too tired to put up with the lecture it looks like he is about to get.

“I just cleaned the table,” Carol scolds, “we are not savages,….not anymore anyways. Put them in the sink or something.”

“Hmph,” he grumbles, picking up his prey and tossing them haphazardly in the sink, slinging blood onto the wall.

“Happy now,” he quips, which only gets him an eye roll but his friend seems to tell he isn’t in the mood and drops it.

Stomping up the stairs towards Beth’s room, he still can’t think of it as his too, he craves seeing the blonde’s sweet smile. Hearing her voice and maybe even some of her singing always takes the edge off of him. However, when he opens the door it is empty. Suddenly, he feels stupid for expecting her to be there, wasn’t like she didn’t have better things to do than wait around on his sorry ass all day. Besides, he knows she is pissed off at him for not telling her about the recruiting job, but he had opened his mouth so many times and the words would never come out.

Feeling antsy, he wanders back down the stairs and around the house, before determining that Beth is indeed not here. With a frown, he heads towards the center of Alexandria. He isn’t feeling social right now but how much he is missing Beth overwhelms his usual avoidance of strangers. The archer gets wary looks and whispers behind his back, but the longer it takes to find Beth, the less he notices anyone else around him. Suddenly, it is starting to feel like the funeral home again, with him searching and the young woman nowhere to be found. Right as he is starting to fall into panic mode, he runs into Maggie.

“Ya seen Beth,” he blurts out, grabbing the brunette’s arm and asking more roughly than he intended to.

Maggie is used to him though and knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

“Beth went with Glenn, Tara, Noah, Eugene, and a couple of the Alexandrians on a run this morning,” the sister answers, “they should be back soon.”

“Eugene and a couple of the Alexandrians,” echoes Daryl, a pit settling in his stomach, “what fucking use are they?”

“She is with Glenn and Tara and Noah as well, they will take care of each other,” Maggie consoles him, not commenting on how interested he is in her sister’s life.

“Yeah,” he grumbles, but something just doesn’t set him at ease.

Beth is perfectly capable of taking care of herself, she has shown him time and time again how strong she is. However, shit can happen out there to even the most capable survivors and Daryl just wishes he could be there to make sure she was okay. Without realizing it, his right hand is clenching and unclenching, his left gripping tightly on his crossbow strap.

“If you want, we can go watch from the gate for them to return,” Maggie offers, obviously catching on to his anxiety, “like I said, it wasn’t a long run, they should be back any minute.”

The hunter nods, not wanting to show or admit how worried he is but also liking the idea of knowing the minute Beth is back safe and sound. The pair make their way through the town and approach the gate. Before they can climb up the stairs to the lookout point, there is yelling and the gate is pulled open. Relief floods Daryl as Glenn drives a van into the community. That relief quickly disappears when the Korean man stumbles out of the driver’s side, bleeding from the head and shaking from adrenaline. Daryl knows that look, they all know that look. Something went wrong.

Maggie runs to her husband while Daryl hurriedly opens the back door of the van to reveal Eugene cradling Tara’s head in his lap while the woman groans. The man has finally grown a spine because he is pointing a gun at Nicholas, who is frozen in place. There is no Aidan, no Noah, and most importantly, no Beth.

“What happened,” Daryl rasps, his heart dropping in his chest.

“Tara is hurt, we have to get her to a doctor,” Eugene manages to get out, “I tried my best, but I don’t know how she is doing….I tried, but I wasn’t prepared for this kind of situation…..I am not a man of action….”

 “What happened,” Daryl growls, not having the patience for the nerdy man’s stammering.

“There was an accident,” Eugene chokes out, “an explosion happened….because Aidan didn’t listen, hurt himself so bad we couldn’t save him…., then this guy.”

Eugene points with his gun at the Alexandrian before continuing.

“He showed his true colors as a sunshine soldier and fled with his tail between his legs, leaving everyone in danger,” Eugene finally gets out, “then, we all tried to escape, but Noah, Beth, and Nicholas all got caught in a rotating door with walkers on either side. I had put Tara in the van and saw the predicament and drove by causing a distraction to lure the walkers away. I couldn’t see them and suddenly this one came running out.”

“Nicholas, you wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for these walls and if you know what is good for you,” Glenn threatens as he comes around with Maggie, “you won’t ever leave this community again, and I will be watching to make sure.”

“What happened to Beth,” Daryl asks bluntly, feeling a hollow in his stomach.

He knows where this is going, but his mind doesn’t want to accept it. He had just gotten the damn girl back, well more like she had gotten herself back, but it was just too soon to lose her again. He can remember the way he felt when her saw her come flying out of that hospital, so alive and full of life. He can remember holding her in his arms while she fought through her sickness. He can remember what it felt like when she put her lips on his, so warm and sweet and full of a love he had never experienced before. It was bad enough losing her once, he doesn’t know if he can live with himself if he let it happen twice.

“What happened,” he repeats, his voice hardening as he turns his eyes on Nicholas.

“I’m sorry,” the man blubbers, “I just couldn’t do it, we couldn’t all escape, I saw an out and I took it….it is what anyone would do….there were too many walkers….”

That is when Daryl snaps. Everything that follows is a blur as he lunges at Nicholas and Glenn and Maggie don’t even try to stop him. Nicholas is unconscious and he probably would have beat him to death if he hadn’t suddenly had a thought occur to him. Standing up suddenly, cracking his sore and bleeding knuckles, he turns to Glenn, who has Maggie sobbing in his arms.

“Did ya see it,” he asks, not daring himself to hope.

“No, but they were surrounded,” Glenn tells him, trying to break the news easy, “and when Nicholas escaped out of the revolving door, Noah and Beth were pushed in….there is no surviving that. I could hear them screaming…..”

“No,” the archer snaps, getting right up in Korean’s face, “if ya didn’t see it, I need to go check, she is stronger than she looks.”

“Daryl,” Glenn tries to tell him, stepping in front of him, but he is hindered by his wife who is incoherent with grief, “you don’t want to see this, there were too many, it doesn’t matter how strong anyone is.”

“No,” he half-growls, half sobs out, “you had to have gotten it wrong, you didn’t see it happen, she could still be out there, she could still be…..”

His voice gives out, but Daryl turns on his heel, determined to find out for sure on his own.

Beth’s POV

              The blonde has had a lot of miserable days since the apocalypse started, but this one certainly ranks in the top ten. Her head rings with the screams of people dying, blood that had run down her face has now become tacky and hard on her skin, and she has bruises everywhere. She still clutches her handgun, although she is out of ammo, but right now it is the only thing she has apart from the clothes on her back. She is thirsty and tired and the sun is beating down, making her sweat trickle down her skin and sting against her various scrapes.

Luckily, they hadn’t driven too far so hopefully she could make it to Alexandria before sundown, as long as she kept on the right path. In the back of the van she hadn’t really been able to see where they were going, there were only two small windows on the back doors. She knows which road they used before they turned into the electronics warehouse, but if she reaches a split in the road, that could be a problem.

Hearing the sound of an approaching vehicle, Beth’s heart races and she pulls together the energy to get off the road and hide in the bushes. After everything she has been through and no weapon other than an empty gun, the blonde doesn’t know if she could fight off other humans. She would have to try if it came down to it though. Something about the sound of the automobile makes Beth curious, it doesn’t sound big like a van or a truck, it sounds smaller, like a motorcycle. It is dangerous and could be the thing that gets her killed, but the optimistic person deep inside her is shouting that it could be Daryl. It is stupid, lots of people other than the hunter can ride motorcycles, which are very good for dodging obstacles in the road that are so common now. However, she finds herself peaking up over the bushes, holding her breath and ready to duck back down when the motorcycle comes into sight around a bend in the road.

She knows instantly it is Daryl, she would recognize his long hair, angel vest, and crossbow anywhere. He is driving at a reckless speed, she doesn’t think he even hit the brakes at all for the curve in the road. Jumping up, yelling his name and waving her hands, right as he flies past her, Beth thinks for a second that she was too slow. However, she can hear the sound of tires screeching and as she tumbles out of the woods and back onto the road, she finds Daryl with his motorcycle completely stopped and turned back around towards her.

The blonde feels relief flood her and her hand drops the useless gun on the ground. There is no turning back time and saving Aidan or Noah, but with Daryl here it feels like everything is going to be okay.

“Beth,” the older man breathes shakily, before dumping his prized transportation on its side in the gravel without a second glance as he strides over to her.

“Daryl,” the blonde manages to choke out as the hunter gains momentum before slamming into her and wrapping her in the tightest bear hug she has ever experienced.

Her head is fitted into his neck, filling her nose with the scent of leather and smoke and the outdoors. Daryl’s shaggy head is buried on top of hers and she can feel how hard he is breathing and after a moment realizes that the man is actually shaking all over.

“I’m okay Daryl, I’m fine, I’m not bit, I promise” she reassures him through the pain of being held so tightly, but she doesn’t ask for him to stop.

“Can’t lose you like that Beth,” he chokes out and Beth realizes with a shock that he is actually crying.

“I’m right here Daryl,” she tells him, squeezing him back, wrapping her arms around him like she is holding him together, same as the moonshine shack, “I don’t know how, but I am.”

Something in what she says snaps him out of it because he suddenly picks his head up and pulls away just enough to look down at her, but his arms don’t let go of a single inch. Daryl’s eyes are stormier than she has ever seen them and his face more emotional than even the time when he admitted he thought it was his fault the prison fell. The look he is giving her is one she has never seen before. It doesn’t even come close to how he looked at the jugs of water after they had been so badly dehydrated or a piece of venison after days without food, it is an even deeper need than that.

Suddenly, Daryl’s arms manage to constrict around her even tighter and then he is ducking his head and leaning in, pushing his lips up against her with a suddenness and desperation that takes her breath away. The kiss isn’t particularly romantic or well-practiced, there is an uncertainty and rough quality to it that would normally make it awkward, but the emotion and raw need behind it more than make up for the lack of finesse. The force of the kiss has Beth leaning her head back in the slightest, only to be stopped by Daryl’s rough hand, which found its way up into her hair and pushes her back into him as his chapped lips chase every breath in her lungs. Beth can taste the salt from the archer’s tears and she is sure he can taste the sweat and blood off of hers.

When they finally break apart, both of them are breathing heavily and the young woman is sure her pupils are blown just as wide as the hunters. They both stare at each other for a few seconds, just panting, before Beth wraps her arms around Daryl’s strong shoulders and finally allows herself to break down. He picks up her bridal style as the tears begin to fall from her eyes, carrying her over to his motorcycle, where he gently sets her down like she is the most precious cargo in the world to him. After he has his vehicle upright, he gently takes her hand and guides her over to it.

“Let’s get you back,” Daryl rumbles with a hand on her back and something in the way he says it sends shivers down her back while at the same time causing her heart to melt into a puddle.

 

Chapter Text

Beth’s POV

“Thatta girl,” Daryl breathes right behind her neck as Beth lowers his crossbow, which she had just used to successfully shoot a raccoon.

The archer’s compliment and the way his breath ghosts over her neck, making the hairs on her skin stand up, causes her to smile. It is so simple out here, away from everyone else. Things have been really chaotic the past couple of weeks. Daryl had brought Beth back to Alexandria, into the arms of her sobbing sister and apologetic brother-in-law. As if the near death experience wasn’t enough, the blonde had to re-live every moment of it, including Noah’s death, when Deanna asked to interview each one of them. She had strategically left out the part about the walkers not noticing her, preferring to make it sound like the monsters were so focused on tearing apart Noah that she was able to escape.

Nicholas lied about everything of course. Since then, everyone in Alexandria has been on edge. The original Alexandrians were suspicious of all of them, her whole family was so stressed that any little thing could set them off. When Deanna ordered their weapons confiscated and only given back when they were outside the walls, the feeling only grew. Then, finally, Rick was the one who had snapped.

Yesterday, he had gone to Jesse’s house to confront her abusive husband, which had resulted in both men brawling out in the streets, drawing the whole neighborhood. The former sheriff had yelled about how he would kill Pete if he touched anybody again. It made sense to Beth, it made sense to everyone in her group, people like Pete are a threat not only to their family, but to everyone around them. These days, violence sometimes had to be used to solve the problems they were faced with. She had come to accept this, but the Alexandrians hadn’t. As Rick went off on a rant about how their community was too weak to survive, the timid people were gasping in horror and stepping back. Finally, Michonne knocked Rick out and dragged him off. It wasn’t that he hadn’t spoke the truth, it was that no one who had been living inside these walls was ready for the truth. Maybe they never would be, but she had to hope.

For some reason, Beth was treated the best out of everyone in her group, except maybe for Judith. People used to come up and chat with her. That happened less now because Daryl had pretty much become her shadow since he had found her on the side of the road. People looked at the archer like he was some kind of rabid wolf, vicious and ready to snap at any second. They didn’t notice the way he opened the door for her or how he carried anything he deemed too heavy for her. The Alexandrians only saw the crossbow, which he was illegally carrying, the rough appearance, and his gruff, barking voice.

When they saw the blonde, they would begin to smile or wave, only to turn around and sneak side glances when they realized the hunter was close behind. It irritated Beth that they couldn’t see something so obvious to her. The same way Rick had snapped and yelled at everyone about how weak they were, she wanted to snap and yell at everyone about how stupid they were, how they didn’t know how to tell the difference between good and bad people. They believed Nicholas, but were wary of Daryl, the wool was pulled over their eyes so easily.

She understood in a way though. Everyone living in this community hadn’t experienced what they had, they were still hanging on to a world that no longer existed. They still believed that someone who was one of them, who dressed nice, and talked properly, had to better than someone stranger who looked intimidating and rough. If they were going to survive, they would have to learn to let go of such silly notions and see things for what they truly were. Beth didn’t know if they could do that though.

It was all of this tension and prejudice that had led the young woman to suggesting that Daryl train her a bit more with his crossbow. The moment she had mentioned it, the archer had immediately made plans and the very next morning, they were leaving the gates at sunrise. They had walked side by side, disappearing into the woods, falling into a pattern that only they knew. Things had been better between them lately. Daryl had never brought up the kiss again and Beth had known better than to mention it, but things had changed in a good way. The archer had opened up again and talked to her more. At night he slept in bed next to her, on top of the covers and careful not to touch her, but it was progress. She would occasionally place little kisses on his forehead or cheeks, which at first he flinched from but now he only froze in place under her lips.

Often though, she would catch him staring at her like he had done at the funeral home. When she woke up or just after she showered, his blue eyes would sometimes become so dark that they were almost black and stare her down with a strength that left her speechless. The hunter would look like he was ready to devour her, she felt like a deer in the sight of his crossbow, but it never scared her. She always half-expected him to come over and kiss her again or at least touch her, brush the hair away from her face, but he never did, he just watched.

That was still more than he used to do, Daryl used to always look away or down at his feet, now he stared at her with a directness and intensity that had her warming from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. It was like he was trying to learn her every move, from how she braided her hair to how she picked the jalapeños out of the bean soup to how she laced up her shoes, like every little detail was of the utmost importance. At first, it had caused her to be very flustered, but now she was becoming used to attention. She liked knowing that if she searched for it she would find his blue eyes staring at her with an almost worship-like glow. Those very eyes were watching her now as she walks over to the dead raccoon and picks it up by the tail, holding her prize up.

“Think we can make a hat out of this,” she half-jokes, knowing that Daryl probably has the skill to do exactly that.

“If ya want, I’ll show you,” he acquiesces with a slight nod, watching as she pulls the bolt out of the creature’s skull.

The thought of having such a silly, but most likely very warm, piece of clothing brings a grin to her face. She needs more moments like this.

“Might be the new fashion trend,” she tells him as she walks back, handing him his crossbow, “then Carl and Judith will want one too.”

“Better get to hunting then Greene,” Daryl replies, hoisting his weapon up over his shoulder, before walking off, but not before glancing back to make sure she is following.

 The archer takes down a deer and soon both of them are sitting in the forest, gutting and skinning their kills. It takes Beth almost as long to process the raccoon as it takes Daryl to handle the deer, but she is proud of her work. When she looks up from wrapping the coon meat in plastic wrap she had snatched from the food pantry in Alexandria, she finds the hunter watching her from his seat on a tree stump. His knife has paused in midair and his blue eyes are watching with a fascination that turns slightly shy when she catches him.

“It okay ya know,” she tells him.

“What the hell ya talking about girl,” he grumbles, turning back to his work.

“To touch me, you don’t have to just stare,” she says, much louder and bolder than she had expected to, but it gets his attention and he stops what he is doing and looks back over, one eyebrow raised.

“Ain’t like that,” he grumbles, looking ashamed.

“Then what is it like,” she asks, seeing the color drain out of his face at the question.

When he doesn’t answer with anything more than a shrug, she stands up, leaving her kill on the ground behind her. Walking carefully over, the same way she might approach a stray dog, she stops only inches away. Reaching out, she brushes the hair out of his face, clearly exposing his eyes. He snorts a little but doesn’t draw away.

“Do you like it when I touch you,” she asks, leaning down so her face is close to his.

Daryl makes a noise that isn’t really a word but his head nods just the slightest, almost like he doesn’t realize he is doing it. His eyes stare up at her warily, but there is also desire in them.

“Cause I like it when you touch me,” she says simply, “I like it when we hold hands or you sit close enough that we touch shoulders. Doesn’t have to be much and you don’t have to have a reason.”

That’s when she feels it, his rough callused fingers, feather light on the skin of her bicep of the same arm that she is using to hold his hair with. They are warm and slightly sticky, she knows his hands are leaving blood down her arm, but that doesn’t bother her as much as it used to before the world ended, doesn’t bother her at all actually.

Leaning forward just a bit on her toes, Beth closes the distance and places a chaste kiss on Daryl’s lips. It isn’t like the other two kisses they had shared, it isn’t frantic or desperate or long. It barely lasts a second, but it is sweet and when Beth pulls back Daryl isn’t looking guilty or like he is ready to let the ground swallow him up. Instead, he just nods and she suddenly feels like for the first time they are both in agreement.

She feels her lips turn up in the smallest smile before heading back over to finish her work. Daryl grunts something about her making sure all the fat and meat is off the raccoon skin before bringing it back with them if she wants to make a hat. Carefully scraping all the bits off the inside of the pelt, the blonde holds it up for the hunter’s inspection. After receiving a nod, she wraps the fur up as well before sticking it in her bag with the meat.

“We had better head back,” Daryl observes, looking up at the sun, “don’t want any chance of getting back late.”

“Wish we could just stay out here,” Beth sighs, not liking the idea of returning to the animosity and tension that is currently present in Alexandria, “feels so much better, just the two of us.”

Something in what she says has Daryl’s lips turning up.

“Think ya are starting to pick up my reclusive nature,” he teases good-naturedly, something he only does around her.

“We aren’t being reclusive if we are together,” she reasons with him, standing up and shouldering her backpack.

Again, that small smile appears on his lips. It makes her smile back. Walking over, Daryl takes her hand in his and they start walking back.

Deanna’s POV

Jackson and Megan are the sweet, middle-aged couple who live across from one of the two houses she had given to Rick’s group. They had come knocking at her house, asking for a meeting with her, which she had agreed to despite the fact that she already had a headache. Losing Aidan and the problems between Rick and Pete had worn her down, but she wasn’t one to give up.

“It is the sweet blonde girl in Rick’s group,” Megan had begun after she had seated the couple in her office, “we are worried about her.”

Another problem with Rick’s group, Deanna is beginning to wonder if she had made the wrong decision welcoming them into her community.

“We can’t help but notice,” Jackson continues, “but the rough man in their group, the archer, he is always following her around, doesn’t leave her alone at all. His is constantly watching her and it had caught our attention since we first got here, however it was only yesterday that we became more concerned.”

Holding his wife’s hand, he squeezes it, encouraging her to continue.

“I often keep an eye on everything I can see from my window while I do dishes and clean the kitchen,” Megan explains, “usually I just watch the neighborhood kids playing and make sure they are safe, but since Rick’s group moved in, I can’t help but notice what goes on. The archer at first would just sit out on the porch all the time doing disgusting things like skinning animals, right in front of all the young kids in the neighborhood, but lately he has taken to staying in the house more. Then, last night, through a window, I saw both him and the young blonde girl in one of the rooms together. I’m pretty sure they are sleeping in the same bed. I knew then that I just had to speak up.”

“Thank you for coming to me with your concern,” Deanna tells them, “I appreciate both of you choosing to talk to me.”

“We want to do what is right for the girl, I know her sister is with the group, but she has no parents to look after her,” Jackson continues, “they are a rough group of people and she just doesn’t fit in with them. My wife and I have a daughter and hate the idea of someone ever taking advantage of her. The blonde doesn’t even look old enough to be of age to consent to any such relationship, if she even has a choice. We didn’t know if anyone in her group is standing up for her or if they are all too afraid or dependent on the archer to mess with the situation. It has bothered my wife and I greatly and we are willing to open our home to the girl if need be.”

“That is very considerate of you,” Deanna thanks them, “I assure you, I will speak with Rick and Michonne and get to the bottom of this.”

Having said this, the couple depart, leaving the Alexandrian leader with her thoughts. She herself had suspicions about the odd pair since Rick’s group arrived, but she had had no proof and didn’t feel she knew any of them well enough to start such a conversation. Since the strangers had been living in their community, Deanna had received multiple similar reports about Beth and Daryl, but none with as much weight as Jackson and Megan’s accusation. Several women had expressed concern about the young, pretty woman who was constantly followed by the dangerous redneck, but that was all they had to offer. He follows her around, glares at people, doesn’t leave her side, but if the hunter was in fact forcing the girl to sleep with him, that was another matter entirely.

Sending one of her attendants to fetch her two constables, Deanna soon had both Rick and Michonne in her office.

“Thank you for meeting me on such short notice,” Deanna told them, “I have had a problem brought to my attention by several people and since it involves your people and both of you are constables, I wanted to discuss how to deal with it.”

Neither constable said a word, both just stared at her with intense gazes, making her uncomfortable the same way she normally made others uncomfortable.

“It is about Beth and Daryl,” she begins and as she says their names she can see something spark in Rick’s eyes, but Michonne remains unreadable.

“What exactly about them,” Rick asks, an edge to his voice and his eyes steel cold, “have they broken some law? Caused any problems with your people?”

“Well other than Daryl still openly defying the order to have his weapons in the armory unless he is outside the gates, they have both been good in that regards,” Deanna begins, sensing that what she is going to say will be meet with resistance.

“I will talk to him about that,” Rick immediately answers, starting to stand up as if to leave “is that all? We both have things we need to be doing.”

“No, actually, there is another matter I wish to discuss with you,” Deanna stops him, “it has been brought forward by multiple concerned citizens and I myself have noticed the situation as well.”

Rick is grinding his jaw, but for the first time, it is Michonne who replies.

“And what exactly is this situation,” she asks, in a way that tells Deanna she already knows what the leader is going to say.

“Beth is young and sweet and pretty,” Deanna finally gets out, “it has come to people’s attention that she is never allowed far from the archer. He is constantly by her, watching her, and recently I received a report that they are sleeping in the same room together.”

“Beth isn’t a child,” Rick cuts in, “she is an adult, she can make whatever decision she wants.”

“But is it her decision,” Deanna asks, making her point.

The way Rick’s jaw clenches up shows how angry the other group’s leader is.

“Daryl isn’t that kind of man,” Rick almost snaps at her.

“I think that your view may be biased,” Deanna replies, “you and Daryl are close, you yourself told me how much everyone in the group relied on him before coming to Alexandria. I think you are unwilling to believe anything bad about him. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see that something is not right.”

“Same way it took an outsider to notice Pete was beating his wife, but apparently nothing will be done about him,” Rick shoots back, his eyes glaring in challenge.

“We cannot afford to lose Pete,” Deanna explains yet again, “he is our only doctor, he is too valuable to our community.”

“So that is how you do things here,” Rick asks her, giving her a look of defiance, “people can do whatever they want as long as they have valuable enough skills. But if one person doesn’t look the way you want them to, isn’t clean cut or clean shaven or a doctor, then that is a problem?”

“That is easy to say now,” Deanna argues, “not as easy to say when someone is dying, when a kid is sick, or when someone is giving birth. It has come to my attention that Maggie is pregnant, do you want her without anyone to deliver her baby? Do you want Carl to not have anyone to give him medicine if he gets injured? Do you want Judith unable to have checkups?”

Rick looks like he is about ready to jump across the table at her, but Michonne puts a hand on the other constable’s shoulder and takes over the conversation.

“A person can still be a doctor, can still help people, without being allowed a free pass on abusing his family,” Michonne tells Deanna.

After a moments pause, she continues.

“I think we can find a compromise here,” the samuri woman announces, looking at both Rick and Deanna, “I think Deanna, as leader of Alexandria, should talk to Jesse. If Jesse does want to be separated from her husband, then instead of killing him, he should be moved to another house, on the opposite side of the community and not allowed contact with her or their kids for the time being.”

“That sounds very reasonable,” agrees the Alexandrian leader, “but what about for your people.”

“The same,” Michonne tells her, “I think you should talk to Beth yourself and if Beth also wants to be separated or indicates in any way that she is unhappy with the current situation, then action will be taken.”

“People don’t always speak up out of fear,” Deanna points out.

“You didn’t get this position by not being good at communicating with and reading people,” Michonne easily answers, “I think you will be able to tell if they are happy or not, no matter what they say.”

Daryl’s POV

“Hey brother,” greets Rick, “I was going to do a walk around the perimeter before dark, can I get you to join me?”

“Sure,” Daryl answers, tearing his eyes away from Beth, who is sitting on the porch salting the coon pelt according to his instructions.

He doesn’t really want to leave Beth, he could watch the pretty young woman work all day. There is something about seeing the blonde’s slender fingers do the hard work of skinning a coon or salting the hide. All the people of Alexandria stare at him as they walk by like some sort of freak for processing his kills. Beth makes him feel like it is normal, like he is normal. The way she focuses on any little tips he gives, it makes him feel like he is actually worth listening to.

“You got this girl,” he asks, almost hoping she will say no.

“Sure,” she smiles up at him, “I’ve got a helper after all, don’t I Judith?”

Rick’s daughter walks wobbly over to Beth and plays with the clean salt.

“See,” the young woman encourages, “we can handle this.”

“Well, you are in charge then asskicker,” Daryl jokes, smiling down at the little girl, who babbles up at him.

Beth rolls her eyes and shoos them away. Soon, it is just him and Rick walking along the inside of Alexandria’s walls. The two of them are fairly quiet, occasionally bringing up a detail about the weather or going on a run before lapsing back into silence.  Daryl can tell Rick wants to talk to him about something, but he figures the leader will speak when he is ready. It takes almost the entire walk before Rick gets at what the hunter figures is the reason he asked Daryl to come with him.

“You know what I think of you Daryl,” Rick tells him, right as the house all of their family is staying in comes into view.

The sun has just set and the light glowing in the windows ahead of them is like a beacon. The archer looks over at the man he trusts even more than his own brother. He knows immediately that something is wrong. It doesn’t surprise him, he is used to things going wrong, it is how things have almost always gone for him. He grunts while staring at Rick, not ready to hear whatever the man is going to say but knowing he needs to.

“You have proven yourself again and again,” Rick tells him, moving directly in front of him and leaning in so there is no chance of anyone else overhearing, “the things you have done for everyone in our family, there isn’t a single person in our group who doesn’t respect you. Hell, without you most of us wouldn’t even be alive. Every single day you have worked tirelessly to provide food and safety, often without thinking about yourself at all.”

“I can remember when we first met,” the former sheriff reminisces, with a slight grin and a shake of his head, “you threatening to kill me, you would often yell at me, the two of us fought all the time, I was always getting after you for the racial slurs….but you have changed. Not completely, I think you have always been a good, selfless person, you just learned how to show it.”

Daryl can’t find the words to say, not even in his own mind. His dad and brother sure as hell never said they were proud of him, if his mother did he can’t remember. Most of his life he wasn’t even proud of himself. However, Rick’s opinion means the world to him and hearing those words fills some void inside him that he didn’t even know was empty until it had been filled. He just nods, but he thinks Rick knows him well enough to know it means something to him.

“Now,” his brother continues, getting down to what Daryl had half been expecting the whole time, “Michonne and I had a talk with Deanna today and I before I even tell you what it was about, I want you to know that neither of us agree with her, everyone in our family would disagree with her….”

“She is kicking me out, ain’t she,” Daryl cuts in, wanting to get it over with.

“No, no,” reassures Rick, putting a hand on his shoulder before he can get worked up over it, “no, she just wants to talk to Beth is all.”

“Beth,” Daryl questions, he doesn’t quite follow where this conversation is going, he was sure he was going to get kicked out but now he is a bit lost as to what could possibly be wrong.

“What’s she need to talk to Beth for,” he asks, suddenly feeling on edge, his fists tightening, there was something in the way Rick isn’t shooting straight that makes him even more nervous.

“Is this about that run,” he demands, his voice raising a bit, “that wasn’t her fault, Nicholas is lying out his dirty teeth! I don’t know what he said about her, but it all bullshit!”

“No, Deanna isn’t blaming Beth for the run, just calm down,” Rick tries to placate him, but that only makes the feeling in his stomach grow.

“Then what the hell is wrong Rick,” he practically growls, feeling so frustrated he could really use some walkers to kill right about now.

“It’s about you and Beth,” his friend finally spits out, “some of the Alexandrians have complained, she is worried that you and Beth are….”

Finally it is clear, Daryl sees where this is going and even as he can feel the anger building up in him, he is surprised he didn’t figure it out sooner.

“That me and Beth are what,” he asks, his eyes narrowed into slits and he can tell Rick doesn’t want to answer him.

“Spit it the fuck out,” he snaps, shaking his head, his feet causing him to pace like they always does when his mind is running a million miles a minute.

“She thinks Beth doesn’t have a choice being around you,” Rick manages to choke out, before jumping in front of him and putting his hands up, “now before you do anything rash, Michonne and I already talked to her and explained that it ain’t like that. Convinced her to talk to Beth before she decides anything. But, I figured you needed to know what is going on.”

Opposite to what Rick had apparently expected him to do, he has even stopped fidgeting. It has all clicked now, the Alexandrians think he is like his paw, beating on a woman and not letting her leave. The thought of him ever being like that with Beth makes him nauseous, the thought of ever leaving a mark on her beautiful smiling face has him wanting to cut off his own hand before he would allow that to happen.

“That’s what they think, hunh,” Daryl asks, he head downcast.

“We, your family, all know they are wrong,” Rick insists, bending down a little, trying to catch his eye.

“Yeah, but what happens when they don’t realize that,” Daryl asks, putting a voice to his fears “what happens when they talk to Beth and decide I’m a danger to her? Hunh?”

“That ain’t gonna happen,” Rick assures him, “look, you are good at a lot of things. You are the best hunter and tracker I have ever met, you have probably taken down more walkers than anyone in our group, and you would never leave anyone behind. You are a good man, but talking really isn’t your strong suit.”

“No shit,” he half barks out, annoyed at Rick for pointing out the obvious.

“But Beth is good at talking, at communicating with people,” Rick continues, “you both have strengths and weaknesses. This is Beth’s strength, you have got to trust that she can handle it. You trust Beth, don’t you?”

Daryl nods reluctantly, if there is anyone he trusts, it is Beth.