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Venimus, Vidimus, Amavimus

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   Beth Greene liked to think that she was still that young girl who believed that the walking corpses were just sick people in need of a cure. That her family members, neighbors, and friends that Otis had locked in their barn would get better, that this was just a bug going around. She so wanted to believe that these rotting, monstrous ghosts of people who were once alive were still inherently human, because it would make living so much easier. But that girl had died when the shell of her mama had tried to take a chunk out of her neck, when she watched her brother take multiple bullets to the torso without flinching. No, that girl had died in the bathroom of her family home nearly a week ago, when she had decided that taking her own life was easier than accepting the fact that the world had truly ended. That there was no going back. 

    So she silently watched as her home, the place her daddy had taught her to ride a bike, the porch swing her and Shawn had broken because they wanted to see how high they could swing, the flowerboxes her mama had let her paint before the summer of eighth grade - was overrun with monsters. What did Mr. Grimes' group call them? Walkers. 

    She had always heard that in times of stress, the human brain starts to see things in slow motion in order to process what is going on around them - like in the movies. Beth didn't agree. By the time Patricia had screamed and Beth had felt the warm gush of blood that ran down her arm from the bite in her neck - Beth was sure time was moving faster. It was like instead of her mind slowing down to process what was happening, it was speeding up so she wouldn't have to see her entire family fall apart before her very eyes. Like she was numb to the world around her. She did not remember if she screamed when Patricia went down, all Beth could see was the silent acceptance that had passed over Patricia's face when she fell to her knees. 

    With her focus on Patricia, the woman who had treated her like a daughter being ripped to shreds, she never felt the harsh pop in her ankle caused by her lousy sneakers slipping on the wet grass. Lori continued pulling her along, her hands slick with sweat. With fear, Beth thought. She tried to process the chaos around her, the barn ablaze, the sound of her daddy's shotgun sounding off somewhere behind her, the sound of someone screaming. Was it her? 

   Beth slammed face first into something hard - something warm. She had started to move away, thinking it was a walker, opening her mouth to let out a scream that would greet the first sign of death when Lori shook her shoulders violently, straining Beth's neck with her desperate shakes.  It wasn't until her legs had stopped moving that she felt the pain in her ankle, sharp and agonizing. The pain had caused a fine layer of sweat to appear on Beth's skin, for her face to contort into absolute pain. Lori paid no mind, shouting something Beth couldn't make out and shoving something cold and hard into her hands before running off into the dark. 

   She tried to yell at Lori to come back, but it was almost as if the sudden pain had released her from a trance. The numbness that she had felt, the confusion, was gone, replaced by a burning and awful pain that shot up her entire leg. Every emotion raged within her all at once, and she could do nothing. She wanted to scream at Lori for being so stupid, for running off alone into the dark - but instead, she screamed for Lori not to go, not to leave her alone. 

   She heard the rumble of the truck engine before she saw it, the violent growl of the old motor sputtering against the driver's insistence to just go. The sound of her daddy's truck was ingrained in her head, she could recognize it anywhere. Hershel Greene used to enjoy going for early morning drives around the fields, always saying it was a good way to clear his head before the day of hard work began. When Beth was little, she always woke up at the sound of her daddy's truck and would hurry out into the morning light in her nightgown and slippers to go with him. She had even chased after his truck down the road a few times, teddy bear in hand and all. It had started to become a habit fo theirs, a ritual. When asked why, she used to shake her little pigtails and say it's not good to be all alone. 

   She thought of this as she watched the red truck drive off into the distance, tires smoking and squealing, too far away for her to chase after. Was her daddy driving? Did he remember to look out his rearview mirror to check for Beth in her pajamas, as mama had told him?

   Did her family think she was already dead? Had they given up on her that quickly? 

   She moved to run in the direction Lori had gone, moving towards the truck, screaming and waving for them to just wait. Instead, blinding pain had gripped her entire body like a vice, her ankle had suddenly given out from underneath her and left her sprawled out on the grass. Whatever Lori had gifted her had flown from her hands and landed a few feet in the grass behind her. 

   It was a pistol. 

   It was ironic really, that she had been left alone in the middle of a goddamn field surrounded by hundreds of walkers with a weapon she had no idea how to use. She didn't even know if it was loaded or not. The metal looked unforgiving and bleak against the dark green fields of her family's home. She had politely refused Mr. Walsh's offer to give her lessons on how to shoot a gun, following daddy's orders. She really regretted that decision. 

    So, the same hand that had held the broken mirror only a week ago, so sure of itself and its intentions, reached for her last chance of survival. Lori wasn't coming back, obviously. What had the woman said to her? To stay there? To run? To just give up? No, that was more Andrea's style. 

    She had pulled herself up onto her hands and knees, she felt her leg caught on something but paid no attention, instead, her fingertips had brushed against the barrel, nearly there when something fell on top of her, shoving her face into the grass. Rotten hands latched onto her sweater, tearing into the fabric, getting ready to tear into her. 

    Ignoring the blinding pain searing her leg, she kicked and punched at the body above her, pushing herself up enough to flip onto her back because no, not like this. She screamed as bloody teeth snapped at her face, reaching for anything, anything that could save her. When her hand found the barrel of Lori's pistol. 

     She fired, and as the body slumped against her, crushing her into the dirt, blood poured out onto her face. 

     She could hear someone yelling for her in the distance, her dad? Jimmy? Maybe even Glenn, he seemed like the kind to come back and save you from the monsters. The voice called her name again, but all she could do was scream. 

 

   She saw a flash of blonde disappear into the trees in her peripheral, Andrea had been left too. Was she the one screaming her name? Why wasn't she coming back? Beth struggled to push the dead weight off of her chest, her arms shaking with effort, but found it impossible. The walker was a woman, her jaw hanging at an odd angle and the bullet hole in her forehead still gushing blood onto Beth's neck and face. Looking into her eyes, clouded and yellow with death, she wondered once again if there was a small chance that there was a person in there somewhere, trapped and afraid like Beth was, that had just been set free. 

    She struggled as another walker began to stumble towards her, but it was no use. Just as the man lunged for her arm, still gripping the pistol, the tip of an arrow went through his temple. She watched as her savior threw the walker on top of her off as if it was nothing, grabbing her hand and tugging her up and off into the opposite direction of Andrea, of daddy's truck. But away from the monsters. The pain in her ankle was nothing compared to to the thought of someone coming back for her, to the sound of their voice, leading her off into the woods. 

"Run, Beth!" 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~

    Beth had lost track of how long they had been running, any sense of time or direction was lost to her hours ago, to the crippling pain in her leg, to the awful smell of rotten blood that was covering her face. The only thing she was sure of was the sight of Daryl's wings that were sewn into the back of his vest and the sound of the leaves beneath their feet. Her steps had become erratic and a blistering burn had settled into her lungs, making each breath a chore. Each step was nearly agonizing, not only was she sure her ankle was sprained, or even broken, the sneakers she had bought on sale before the turn were not properly worn in and were beginning to rub the worst blisters on her feet. She had long stopped paying attention to the blood that was beginning to soak through the pretty pink fabric - she was planning on burning them later, even if it meant she was barefoot. 

   She had nearly run into Daryl after he had almost been taken out by a rogue branch, it caused her to stumble and nearly fall into the mossy floor - but she grit her teeth and kept going. There seemed to be no discernable path they were following, though Daryl seemed to know where they were going. All the trees had started looked the same to her, they could have been going in circles for all she knew. Or he could be leading her out into the wilderness to kill her, she had seen Criminal Minds before the turn, it wasn't impossible. 

   But she kept following, not because he had saved her from certain death, but because they were running away from there. The ruins of her childhood home and the screams of her family as they were torn apart by monsters. She would have followed anyone if it meant she never had to see the front of her home again. 

   She felt as if she was about to collapse -  if the black dots spinning on the edge of her vision meant anything. But it seemed like the hunter was pushing through. Or he was really good at hiding his exhaustion, but from what she knew about the man, which wasn't a lot, it was most likely the second option. She zeroed in on the blood that had begun to run down his right cheek, split open and angry, wondering if it would need stitches. 

   But by paying so much attention to her partner's injury, her precarious footing failed her and she tumbled into the leaves. 

   "Daryl!" Her voice was harsh, even to her own ears, more like a shrill shriek than the quiet, song-like voice she was known for. Even so, the man kept on running, and she watched desperately as the angel started to leave her behind. "Don't leave me, please!" 

    The wings came to a screeching halt, Daryl spinning around with his crossbow loaded as if she had yelled walker and seemed shocked to see her laying on the ground, alone. The cold ground felt almost euphoric, the mud soaking into her clothes helped simmer the burning in her chest. He suddenly stepped towards her then, as if to grab her arms to pull her back up and keep going - it would have been easy, she only weighed a hundred pounds, at most. He could have slung her over his shoulder and trekked on to wherever the hell they were going, which was fine with Beth, as long as she wasn't alone. 

    But she watched as he looked at her blood-soaked sneakers and clothes, her dirty, bloody face, and the leaves and sticks she was sure were tangled in her hair and suddenly fell to his knees beside her. It was then that Beth noticed how tired Daryl looked - when she remembered Daryl volunteering to take Glenn's shift the night before everything went to hell. She felt as if she couldn't complain, because although she was in pain, she wasn't severely sleep-deprived. 

    So, she watched as Daryl Dixon fell to his knees near her head, whether from pure exhaustion or pity, she didn't know. They laid there together, completely quiet, blinking up into the canopy of trees that were beginning to show the signs of daylight. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    By the time Beth had regained all of her senses, the sun was high up in a cloudless blue sky. Daryl had already started to stir, adjusting his boots and fiddling with his crossbow - she noticed that he did that when he was stressed, she had often caught him playing with the strings and bolts during group discussions. She had whispered to him sometime after lying down that he to go to sleep, that she would watch and wake him up if anything happened. She had honestly expected resistance but was shocked when he rolled onto his back and passed out, quietly pushing his hunting knife closer to her hands. Just in case, it said to her. 

    She had thought about Lori's gun then, reaching for the waistband of her jeans and feeling nothing - she guessed that neither of them had picked the pistol back up in their mad dash for the woods. She hoped the woman wasn't too attached to it, she didn't seem like the type. She hoped that the woman was okay, that she had found Carl and Rick. 

    As the sound of Daryl's breathing grew steadier, she started to wonder who had gotten out of the farm unscathed. Maggie? Her dad? Glenn? Carl? We're any of them together? Or had they all just scattered? She listed off every name, everyone who was on the farm when it fell. She didn't know why she did this, but she felt as if she called the names out in her head, into the void, it kept them alive and safe - at least to her. 

    And as the hours passed and Daryl continued to sleep, Beth began to pray. Though she wasn't in the best position for praying, she supposed. On her back sprawled out like a starfish, covered in blood, but she did it anyway. She prayed for all of her friends and family, even Patricia and Dale, hoping that her daddy had been right about heaven. She thought that those two deserved it. 

    So, Beth watched as Daryl tightened the shoelaces on his boots and jumped when his gruff voice cut through the silence. 

    "We need 'a keep going, we're headed towards the highway." She had also noticed that Daryl lacked the ability to give useful information. 

    "Why the highway?" She cringed at the sound of her voice, scratchy and awful, but pressed further. "Is everyone going to be there? Did you guys set a meeting place or something?" 

     He had the audacity to look annoyed at her questioning. 

    "Where we left the supplies for the little girl," he grumbled, pushing himself onto his feet. 

     Anger burned inside Beth then. She hated when people referred to Sophia as 'little girl.' Mr. Walsh seemed to be the worst at that. Sophia was a person who deserved the respect of saying her name, the respect of acknowledging her life and her death, Carol deserved that respect. 

     "You mean Sophia?" Was it petty? Yes. Did she care? At this point, not really. Daryl grunted in response, but she noticed that he didn't meet her eyes. 

      "Can ya get up?" Could she? It felt as if her entire body had given up on itself as if she would never be able to get up again. Besides the throbbing pain in her ankle and the ache in her heart, it was like her entire being had gone numb. She was an empty shell of mourning and exhaustion. She wondered what she looked like, sprawled out in the mud, covered in blood, the bloody bandage starting to peel off her arm, the color of old blood. The stitches had popped hours ago, but she refused to look at it. She probably looked like a character out of one of those awful horror movies Shawn and Maggie forced her to watch, but then again, they were in a horror movie. 

      She hadn't shed a tear since Patricia had fallen, from the shock of it all, she assumed, but that didn't help the horrible ache in her chest and the constant lump in her throat. What was the point of getting up now? She had no idea who had made it out, what if no one from her family was left? Although she loved the group from Atlanta, they weren't her family. She wanted to feel daddy's arms around her shoulders, whispering into her ear and calling her Junebug. She wanted to see Maggie's face when she realizes that she made it out alive, the glimmer of pride that would show there. But what if they weren't alive? Who would stop her from just staying in the mud? Daryl didn't seem too fond of her, and besides, she would just slow him down anyway. He was probably looking for a way to get rid of her. 

      But then something terrifying occurred to her. 

      What if we are the only ones that got out? 

      Even if she got up somehow, what if no one was waiting for them at the highway? What if the monsters had taken the rest of her family too? That meant she was alone with Daryl Dixon. 

       She had never spoken a word to Daryl before today. She never thought she would have a reason to. Patricia and daddy had kept Beth inside as much as they possibly could, only letting her tend to the chickens and the horses. Especially after what happened after the barn. She wasn't going to think about that choice right now, though. The pain doesn't go away, you just make room for it, Andrea had said. 

       Really, the only interaction she had with Daryl was when she helped her daddy sew him up, but that was more of a learning experience for Beth so she could learn how to sew skin instead of fabric. She hadn't exactly felt the urge to strike up a friendly conversation with the fiery man in pain that had cussed and yelled profusely while bleeding out of his side and head. But she was observant. Daddy had always joked that she knew everything about everyone from just watching, unlike her other siblings, she preferred to peacefully sit in a corner and watch rather than engage. He always thought she was an old soul. So she saw how Daryl politely drop off all of his kills already skinned and cleaned after Patricia had mentioned that she had never learned how and that Otis had always done that, she saw how he gave the rest of his food to Carl and Lori, mumbling something about how they needed it more than he did. He was a lot like her, really. He was content with just watching others, always observant. Although she wasn't sure if old soul really fit the description of Daryl Dixon. 

       And despite her agony when Shane had shot up the barn, even after realizing that her mother and Shawn really weren't coming back, after witnessing the shell of her mother try to chew her arm off and thinking maybe it's best if I just give up - she saw how Daryl Dixon's mask fell when Sophia had stepped out of that barn. 

       "I don't think I can." It was pathetic, really. A whispered sob. But it was true, not only could she physically not go on, she couldn't mentally. 

        She watched as he didn't hear what she was actually saying, instead, he grabbed his knife off ground next to her hand and started walking away from her, away from her home, from where her mother and brother were buried. "What hurts? Your dad'll be at the highway - he'll check you over." 

       "Just leave me here, Daryl." Finally, tears had started to streak down her face. 

       "What was that?" He had looked over his shoulder at her then, an incredulous look in his eyes. "What did you say, girl?" 

        "I said, just leave me here." She was making it worse, she knew it. She knew what was coming if his past temper was anything to go by, but she just couldn't do this was anymore. What was the reason for living if you just kept losing people? If you never had a home? She had turned over then, looking off into the woods, away from him. 

         That had done it. But before he could start to yell at her, or hell, just put her out of her misery himself, a few sets of groans had sounded off somewhere close to them. He moved to grab her, but Beth watched as one was on them before he could wrap his hand around her arm. He jammed the knife down into the walker's skull, moving towards the others. After he had offed the rest of the shadows filtering through the woods, he finally turned to her and bent down to be eye-level, pointing the knife right at her face. 

        "And what do I tell 'yer family, huh? That I let you wallow in 'yer own self-pity and left you to be torn apart by walkers? No, you're comin' with me whether you like it or not!" He had actually grabbed her then, jerking her up into the air and onto her feet. She ignored the stabbing pain that shot down her foot and instead, starting kicking and punching Dixon as hard as she could. She screamed and she screamed, telling him that if no one was alive then she didn't want to be alive, asking why he wouldn't just leave her to die like the rest of her family and just go

         But all of the kind things she had watched Daryl Dixon do, the man she knew was somewhere in there, didn't make up for how much of an ass he was. 

         So he had just held her tighter and started dragging her through the woods. 

         Before she fell into an outright tantrum, she heard his gruff voice whisper something into hair - something that made her want to cry even harder. 

         "You ain't leaving me alone, girl." 

       

~~~~~~~~~

     By the time they had gotten to the highway, the sun was at its highest point. She had stopped fighting him long ago and had just stared up into the sky while he carried her through the woods, cursing the one who left her with Dixon. Eventually, he had put her down, quietly slinging her arm over his shoulder and helping her hobble along. Neither of them had said a word since he had forcefully dragged her away from her chosen spot in the woods, but he never let go of her hand, always pulling her along with him. 

     He had helped her over the guardrail, easing her down to lean up against the searing metal. He looked angry with her, but he was handling her as if she was a ticking time bomb. Maybe that's what she was. 

    They were alone, only the sound of the summer cicadas to keep them company.

     "Are we in the right spot?" He grunted again, weaving through the abandoned cars. She watched as the wings drew closer to a black car, but she was too focused on glancing back into the woods, wondering if she could make a run for it. But, a quiet groan from the darkness of the trees had her spinning around and forcing herself up, tailing after Daryl, no matter how much it hurt. She ignored the flush of embarrassment she felt when she did, wasn't she just telling him to leave her so she could get eaten? Her first kill had been lucky, if it wasn't for Lori's gun, she'd have been in pieces by now. She wasn't about to test that luck. 

      When she found him, he was crouched in front of a rusted black car, streaks of white paint barely visible, the food that had been left for Sophia gone. She glanced around the highway, even taking a moment to look off into the distance to watch for cars. He continued to stare at the pavement, swiveling around to glance at the mud behind him. She was getting ready to say something, maybe even turn around and march back to that walker in the woods so it could finish her off - when Daryl turned to look at her. 

     "There were cars, three of 'em, it looks like." 

     "Recently?" She wondered briefly how he could tell, the pavement looked like pavement to her. 

      "See the tire tracks in the mud right there? Fresh, probably this mornin' or late last night. They went North." He pointed ahead of them to indicate which way the cars had supposedly gone, which she was thankful for because she had no idea where they were right now. 

       But every thought was overtaken by the sudden pain in her chest. 

       Their group was okay, some of them, at least. They had made it out. But they hadn't waited, because they thought they were dead. 

 

Chapter Text

   When she found him, he was crouched in front of a rusted black car, streaks of white paint barely visible, the food that had been left for Sophia gone. She glanced around the highway, even taking a moment to look off into the distance to watch for cars. He continued to stare at the pavement, swiveling around to glance at the mud behind him. She was getting ready to say something, maybe even turn around and march back to that walker in the woods so it could finish her off - when Daryl turned to look at her. "There were cars, three of 'em, it looks like." "Recently?" She wondered briefly how he could tell, the pavement looked like pavement to her. "See the tire tracks in the mud right there? Fresh, probably this mornin' or late last night. They went North." He pointed ahead of them to indicate which way the cars had supposedly gone, which she was thankful for because she had no idea where they were right now. But every thought was overtaken by the sudden pain in her chest. Their group was okay, some of them, at least. They had made it out. But they hadn't waited, because they thought they were dead.

 

 

      "They didn't wait for us?" The words were painful to Beth, the whispered sob of a child - because that's what she was, after all. She was a child who had lost her mother, a child who had been left behind. Lori had abandoned her, Maggie and her father, everyone. Was this what Sophia felt like, she wondered? This crippling feeling of abandonment and fear?

     "They'll come back, right? To check if anyone else got out?" It was a whispered plea, really. To Daryl, to God, she didn't know. She just couldn't accept that fact that they had left, not now, not after everything that had happened.

      Daryl stayed quiet, and she broke then. All of the pent-up emotions that her mind had held back, every assumption, every memory, hit her all at once, and she shattered into pieces. She never saw Daryl get up, but she felt the hands that gently eased her onto the pavement, that kept her grounded while she sobbed. There was no rewritten note, no water or supplies to keep her going, to keep anyone going. No, STAY HERE BETH, WE'LL COME BACK EVERY DAY. There was nothing because they thought Sophia had a better chance of surviving than her. She was the little girl that had decided that dying was easier than trying, and they never gave her a chance.

     A ripping, gnawing feeling gripped onto her heart, seeping into her lungs and throat. It was a feeling that she wanted to rip out with her teeth, like a rabid animal, rid from every fiber of her being. She didn't want to feel this way, but she couldn't stop the waves that crashed over her, the fire that devoured her soul, whatever was left, anyway. She cried and she cried. She cried until the blood that covered her face had seeped into her eyes and stung. She sobbed until her breaths came out in heaves and her throat felt raw, until she felt like she would throw up from the effort of just breathing.

    Daryl never touched her after he had settled her onto the ground, never spoke. Beth wanted to thank him for staying quiet, for letting her have this moment to herself. She wondered if he felt like crying too, or if he had already accepted the fact that the group hadn't left a message for him either. Did they think he was dead, too? No. Daryl was stronger than her. She cried for what felt like days. Memories of her mother haunted her, of her golden hair and her constant singing - memories of sunlight and peace. If her mother had been alive, would she have made the group wait? Would she have cried like Beth? For the lost girl who wasn't strong enough? Who was never strong enough.

    And suddenly, almost as quick as she had started crying, she stopped. Piece by piece, she felt her pain settle into the corners of her body, making room for it, she thought. She wanted to laugh, a manic, tearful laugh that would make Daryl think she had a few screws loose. She wanted find Andrea and tell her she was right, to thank her for telling her that she had a choice in this world, that Beth had made her decision.

   She was going to prove them wrong.

   She saw Daryl glance over at her, probably to make sure she hadn't choked on her own tears and died. What a way to die. He looked away from her quickly, averting his eyes to the road ahead of them. Did he want to leave her? To just get up and run? She knew he had a brother out there somewhere, what was his name? Beth had forgotten. She felt a sudden feeling of likeness to the other Dixon brother. He had been left behind too.

    Beth took the time to analyze her partner, could she call him a partner? Apocalypse buddy? Pack? She didn't know what to call Daryl Dixon at this very moment.

    She noticed that with the rays of the sun beating down, his hair took on more of a golden brown color, rather than the mousy brown she thought. There was a leaf tangled in the strands on top of his head, sweat causing his hair to curl around the edges. She watched his eyes search the road, looking anywhere but at her. She wanted to tell him to stop looking away from her, to just grit his teeth and look her in the eyes - to stop looking at her as if she was a dead girl. But she understood, because if she had just watched someone have a complete mental breakdown, suddenly pull themselves together and begin intently staring at her - she would have looked away too. She didn't need to yell right now. She had been so up and down with her emotions these past few hours, that she just needed to take a break, they both just needed a break.

    What was he looking for? Walkers? Cars coming to rescue them? Did he feel abandoned too? She noticed his eyes were a steely blue. That was nice. She liked blue eyes.

   This man should have scared her, should have intimidated her to no end - but she just couldn't bring herself to feel that way. He hadn't said anything nor done anything that she hadn't deserved, yes, he had nearly dragged her out of the woods by her hair - but he was doing what was right. Who could just leave someone out in the woods? Well, she guessed she knew a few, but she wasn't going to think about any of that right now. She wouldn't have been able to leave someone in the woods, alone. No one deserved to be alone. She respected Daryl Dixon. He had continued to defend and feed a group of people that had left his brother behind, his only family if her assumptions were correct. He seemed like the kind of person that helped others before he helped himself, someone, she was lucky to have come back for her and get her out. She could have been left with someone worse, she thought, but that didn't mean she had to like Daryl Dixon.

    Daryl chose that moment to clear his throat, he still hadn't looked at her.

    "We need'ta find you some new shoes, maybe a wrap for your ankle." Had she told him her ankle was injured? She guessed the pathetic attempt at walking earlier had set him off.

    It was as if his acknowledgement of her injuries triggered her nerves to scream like hellfire. She winced when she jerked her legs back in shock, and tears flooded her eyes. She didn't know how she had tears left to cry, she had to be dehydrated by now. She reached a shaking hand towards her sneakers, brown with dirt and her own blood and started easing them off. She wasn't going back on her promise to burn them later.

    A sense of nausea swept over her when she eyed the state of her feet. She had dealt with blisters before, bleeding heels, she had been a dancer in her younger years before she started high school - dealt with the pain of en pointe shoes. But blood ran down the back, sides, and tops of Beth's feet, stinging the blisters they came from in their wake. Both of her ankles were bruised, though one was a lot worse than the other. Her right ankle looked as if it had been run over by a car, black and blue and painful. She refused to look at the bandage on her arm though. That would have to wait.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Daryl had come back a few minutes later with a sturdy looking pair of brown boots in his hands and a pair of thick socks. Beth had crawled over to the trunk of another car while he was gone, she had found a first aid kit that had been glanced over, thank goodness, and had bandaged and wrapped her feet to the best of her ability. Apparently she had wrapped them good enough for Daryl, because he eyed them and then set the new shoes down in front of her legs.

    "Don't know if they'll fit," Luckily though, the too-big size of the boots allowed for her feet to not rub against the leather - helping the pain a little bit.

    "They're fine, thank you." She hoped he knew she was grateful, for what, she wasn't sure yet.

    He grunted, and took off to scavenge the other cars, leaving her alone. What were they supposed to do now? Sit around and wait for the group to come back to the highway? If they were even planning on coming back, a voice whispered, but she ignored it. Were they just supposed to wander around the woods until they came upon someone familiar? She felt hopeless. She had never been on a run, let alone out on the road without somewhere to call home. What were her daddy and Mr. Grimes talking about the other day? Some military base she couldn't remember the name of, maybe they had gone there.

    Uncomfortable with being alone with her thoughts, Beth forced her body to stand, groaning when her ankle nearly gave in. She followed - well, hobbled, in the direction Daryl had disappeared to. She found him shifting through a mini-van trunk, his back to her.

    "They think I'm dead." She whispered. It sounded final to Beth's ears, like a sense of acceptance. She didn't cry.

     He stayed quiet for a while, still shuffling through the belongings of a dead person in the trunk. So Beth glanced around at the rusted cars, some of their doors swung wide open, some missing pieces entirely. She averted her eyes when she came across the sight of a bloody baby bassinet.

    "Better than me, probably think I took off first chance I got." Acceptance, she heard again.

     "You wouldn't do that. You came back for me." He had come back for her. Last she had remembered, he was out in the woods with Mr. Grimes and Mr. Walsh. He could have taken off, but he came back.

     "They don't know that." No. They didn't. Cause they didn't give either of them a chance.

     Daryl seemed to find whatever he was looking for, because he stood back up straight and spun around - holding a knife towards her. She nearly jumped, but realized that the handle was pointed towards her chest, instead of the blade. It was a small hunting knife, smaller than the one Daryl had bestowed upon her while he slept in the woods not too long ago. That felt like days ago. Beth nearly laughed aloud when she eyed the knife, it was pink.

    She took the knife from his waiting hand and tested the weight in her hand. That's what people did, right? Tested the balance or something. She actually did jump, however, when Daryl bent down, his face level with her knees. He had a holster in his hands, and had looked up at her to ask for permission before fastening it on her leg. She nodded, and quietly slipped the knife into the pink leather after he had fastened the last buckle. Their silence was nice to Beth, comforting. Maggie hated awkward silences, so did her mother. Beth had dreamed of having someone who would just stop talking for a bit, to let her think. Who knew it would be Daryl Dixon.

    Before he spun around to go look for more supplies, she said what had been on her mind for more than a few hours now.

    "What do we do now?"

~~~~~~~~~~

    Beth watched from the bed of a truck as the hulking man in front of her shoved a packet of beef jerky in the backpack he had found earlier, followed by a sturdy looking water bottle. Should she help him? She didn't even know what to look for. Medicine? Food? She had no idea.

     He hadn't answered her question, though.

     What were they supposed to do now? Where did they even begin? If they even started looking for the rest of their group, where would they even start? They had lost their home, the place they felt safe, all of the supplies. Besides their weapons and the backpack Daryl was procuring - they had nothing. Nothing to call their own.

    The sun was setting by then. A fiery angel off in the distance, coating this side of the world in a warm glow, but Beth felt cold.

    "Are we just going to stay here for the night?" They hadn't seen a single walker since they had gotten on the highway, it was strange. Like they had left them alone for today. Or they were all stumbling around the farm, either or.

    "We shouldn't stay out in the open. Herd might come back through." He glanced up at the setting sun then, his mouth turning down at the sides. "Not like we have a choice now, though." He pushed himself up onto the trunk of the car opposite to her, tossing the half-empty backpack on the pavement under his feet. "We can go back to the farm, see what's left. If there's any supplies."

    "I'm not going back there. I can't." It would break her again, and there would be nothing left.

    They stayed silent for a while, just enjoying the cool summer air, the sound of the cicadas hiding in the trees behind them, the rustle of leaves from the breeze.

    "I'll take first watch." Was this going to be the gist of their conversations? Straight-forward answers and emotionless responses? He looked pointedly at the blanket that was rolled up behind her in the truck bed, and then glanced off into the trees.

     She couldn't even fathom sleeping now, though. She didn't want to stay on the highway, she could tell Daryl really didn't either. She didn't want to see the streaked paint on the windshield of the black car and think about their group right now. Did they mourn together? Did Lori tell them that she had given Beth her pistol? That there was a chance she was okay? She liked to think that somewhere in their heads, there was a small glimmer of hope - but she doubted it.

    Something hit her then, smack in the chest. She finally had a sense of purpose here, something she could do. She never thought she would use the skill, Otis had taught her for fun the summer of fifth grade. She could get them out of here. They could find everyone.

    "I know how to hotwire a car."

Chapter Text

    She couldn't even fathom sleeping now, though. She didn't want to stay on the highway, she could tell Daryl really didn't either. She didn't want to see the streaked paint on the windshield of the black car and think about their group right now. Did they mourn together? Did Lori tell them that she had given Beth her pistol? That there was a chance she was okay? She liked to think that somewhere in their heads, there was a small glimmer of hope - but she doubted it.
Something hit her then, smack in the chest. She finally had a sense of purpose here, something she could do. She never thought she would use the skill, Otis had taught her for fun the summer of fifth grade. She could get them out of here.
    "I know how to hotwire a car."   


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


    Beth could feel Daryl's eyes burning a hole into her back - watching her suspiciously. She wanted to snap at him, tell him to lay off and leave her alone - but she just couldn't bring herself to. She knew Daryl could hotwire a car - well, she didn't know, but he looked like the type. She assumed he could. What she didn't know was why he was letting her even try, why he had looked her in the eyes for the first time in hours and told her to prove it. So she did. Or was trying to, at least.

 
    Her memory was a little rusty, after all, she wasn't exactly the type that hijacked cars for fun before the world fell. But she felt grateful for Otis then, for teaching her all of the things her family thought she was too delicate for. Otis had a love for cars, taking a rusted hull of something ancient and turning into something great. Sprites, Corvettes, Mustangs, anything he could get his hands on. Beth had been fascinated. All of those little working parts helped each other run a monstrous machine, a car was like a clock, in a way, one thing out of place and the whole thing screwed up.
   

     But after finding her one day hunched over the engine of a car with Otis, oil, and rust smeared across her brow, Beth's mother and sister had decided that she was better off playing with dolls and tea sets. Her daddy had given her a book about motors for Christmas a few months later, winking and avoiding the playful whack from her mother. One of the wires zapped her finger, but Beth didn't stop - she was going to prove it to Daryl Dixon.

    "Today'd be nice," He sighed, she could hear the rustle of his leather vest as he crossed his arms. It was taking a while, Beth had to admit. But it had taken a while because she had refused to let Daryl help pull the plastic cover off of the steering column. She had gotten it after about ten minutes of jiggling and prying at the plastic of the SUV. 
   

     She leaned out from under the steering wheel, raising a brow. "Can't you see I'm working?"

     "Mhm." She watched him look back down the road, but she could see the corner of his mouth turn up a little. "It's the other wire, by the way."

     Her head fell against the gearshift, and she let out a sigh. "You let me shock myself with the wrong wire for ten minutes?"

     He shrugged his shoulders and tilted his head. "You wanted to do it. Keep working."

     After a few more minutes, and a nasty shock later, the engine roared to life. A sense of pride ballooned in her chest, but she shoved it away. What does it matter if no one was here to see her accomplishment? She couldn't even tell Otis that she had done it after all these years - to thank him.

     She and Daryl barely spoke as they packed up their meager supplies into the car. A few changes of clothes, a little more food, Daryl had even found some Advil, nearly forcing her to swallow two pills. She had to near tackle him to the ground to clean out the nasty gash on his cheek, slapping a few butterfly bandages on it and whispering that they would have to watch it. She wasn't about to let the only person she had to die from a little cut that got infected. 

      There was an unspoken agreement between the two that he would drive - he had even handed her a map, but she really didn't see the point of them anymore. Beth had changed her shirt before slipping into the passenger seat - her heart hurt a little leaving the sweater Patricia had gifted her for Christmas behind, but it was mangled and covered in blood to the point of no return. Daryl jumped into the driver's side right then, adjusting the seat to fit his large frame - she wanted to get onto him for not buckling his seatbelt, but she bit her tongue. She had a rebellious streak when she was younger, around the same time Otis had taken her under his mechanical wings. She thought it was cool to not wear her seatbelt until her mama had given her the worst look and said: "Elizabeth Greene, put your seatbelt on this minute!" So, she buckled her seatbelt.
     "We need to change the bandages on that arm before we go, it'll get infected." She knew he was right, but just hearing someone else acknowledge the bandage made her want to cry all over again. She hadn't looked at her arm at all. She didn't think she could take it. It brought back memories and thoughts that she was trying so hard to forget.


       "It's fine." She whispered, shrugging her shoulders and crossing her arms in front of her chest. She wasn't going to tell him that it itched like hell and hurt to move around. It would be fine for another day.
       

       "It's not." He reached for her arm then, nearly getting a good grip when she jerked away.

       "Don't touch me." He leaned back, taking his hand away as if he had been burned. She thought she saw a brief flash of pain in his eyes and felt guilty for a split second before she figured that it must have been a trick of the light. He clenched his jaw and jerked the gearshift into drive.

       "Fine." They both left it at that. She wanted to leave it at that, but she couldn't help the little plea that escaped her lips before she could pull it back.

       "Please put your seatbelt on?"

       Seeing him slowly reach behind his shoulder and click the buckle into place made her feel a little better.
~~~~~~~~~~~~
      They had been driving in the dark for an hour before Beth saw the first walker since the woods that morning. One of its arms was at an odd angle, hanging limp. Although Beth had drawn in a breath and gripped the armrest a little tighter, Daryl just maneuvered around it and kept going. Beth had worried that the headlights would attract them when they had started driving, but the tightness in her chest lessened the further they got away from the highway. Much like the farm, it seemed that the further out from cities and towns you were, the better off. The farm had just been unlucky when the herd passed through, she hoped.

       Beth wanted to take back her statement earlier, about how their silences had been peaceful, how the sound of their simultaneous breathing calmed her heart. Now, after her sudden refusal to accept help, the silence was nearly suffocating. He was angry with her for not wanting to clean the cut, for jerking away from his helping hand. She wondered why he had looked so hurt when she had done so - if it wasn't a trick of the light. That was a question for another day, though.


     To take her mind off the awful silence, Beth began to wonder who this car belonged to before it all ended. There wasn't much left in the trunk beside a soccer ball and a few articles of clothing. Curious, she pressed the play button on the CD player. An upbeat tune started playing, sounding familiar, but she couldn't quite place it. After the first few words, Beth burst into a fit of laughter, throwing her head back against the headrest. Of course, the car they chose would have belonged to someone who listened to Britney Spears.
     

    She couldn't miss the chance of looking at Daryl's face at that moment, and the image of disgust and confusion she found was hilarious. It felt great to laugh, to feel the crinkle around her eyes and the feeling of a smile - it made her forget for a little while.

     "If we're going to listen to this I might as well just leave you on the road."

      "Don't disrespect Britney." She laughed, he just shook his head.

      She wiped away a few tears that had slipped out during her fit of giggles, still feeling high off the moment, she opened the glove compartment to search for other CDs. She hit the jackpot and held up an ACDC disk, raising a brow.

     "Good girl."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~


      Daryl's voice suddenly broke the silence between the two, it wasn't nearly as awful as it had been earlier. It seemed like Beth's fit of laughter over Britney's Toxic had lightened the mood a bit. His gruff voice had startled her out of watching the trees go by, trying to spot what was hidden within the branches.

     "You're going to need'a learn how to use that knife." She glanced over, but it was no use, he wasn't looking at her anyway. But he was right. If she didn't learn how to use the fancy hunting knife strapped to her thigh it was just a killer fashion accessory. 

      "Will you teach me?" She wondered if Daryl would be a good teacher, she hoped he was, because her life depended on it right now.

       "I'm sure Maggie will teach ya when we find them."

       Oh.

       Beth knew that was what they were doing, why she had hotwired the car in the first place. They were looking for the others, they needed the rest of the group, needed to know that they were all okay. So why did Beth feel a sense of dread?
   

       "What about until then?"

       "Whaddya' mean?"

       "What about until we find the rest of the group?" Their group was fine, and she believed that they were going to find them, she had to, but what if it took a few days? Even weeks?

       "We'll find 'em. They probably went past the highway, away from the city." Beth looked at him then, really looked at him - at the hair falling in front of his eyes and the stubble starting to spread across his face. He didn't look at her, and she knew that Daryl Dixon was just saying all of these flowery words about finding their group to make her feel better. Did he really think it was that hopeless? Did she? They had left the highway hours before Beth and Daryl had gotten there, they could be anywhere by now. They had passed a few exits further back, should they have gone off each one to check?

      She wanted to ask, but she couldn't. It would hurt too much. But the question still flittered in the back of her mind. 

     You don't think we'll find them, do you?

     Before she could say anything else, maybe even argue with him, tell him that he was full of shit and that their group was out there somewhere, that they'll welcome them both back with welcome arms and tearful hellos, Daryl had slammed on the breaks and nearly sent her flying into the windshield. She was thankful that she had listened to her mama and put her seatbelt on, that he had listened to her plea.

     There, sitting on the side of the road, was her daddy's truck and two others cars. Abandoned.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


     "They ran outta gas, they must've went on foot." Daryl said, slamming the door of her daddy's truck so hard she winced a little bit. She couldn't get herself to step any closer to the car, she knew it would smell like lemons and grass, like her daddy, and she just couldn't cry right now.

     "Can you track them?" What did he follow? Footprints, scattered leaves? Scat? She had no idea.

     "I can try. Engines are cold, means they left a few hours 'go, tracks'll be a little tougher." He bent down, searching the leaves for something she couldn't see.

     "Can you track their scent?" She was desperate.

     "I'm not the fucking Najavo, girl."

     But Beth couldn't pay attention because she was spiraling. They really had given up hope on them, then? Disappeared off into the woods, mourning their dead.

     But she and Daryl weren't dead.

     She wanted to cry, tried to urge the tears to stream down her face because it would make her feel better for a little while - it always seemed to feel better after you cried, the pain. But tears never came. Instead, that awful emptiness settled into her chest again. Those thoughts of just letting go, not having to deal with the pain anymore. Daryl had given her a knife, it would have been easy, she could just.. No. She hated that feeling, wanted to scream at it to go away, to leave her alone - that she didn't have anymore room for it. She was going to prove that feeling wrong, learn to deal with it. She would make old Beth - the innocent girl in the bathroom that sometimes still whispered why did she have to die so soon - proud. She never wanted to be that girl again. 

    Daryl's voice whispered in the back of her head, "Ya ain't leavin' me alone, girl."

    If she didn't want to stay alive for herself, then she was going to stay alive for Daryl. She couldn't just leave the man alone, especially like that. No, he didn't need her, he would be fine on his own - being able to hunt and defend himself with or without her tailing after him. She was finally beginning to accept the fact that she needed him, whether he liked it or not - or else she was going to fall into the void again.

    No one deserved to be alone, not in this world. What was it her mama had once told her? Treat others how you want to be treated. She was going to treat Daryl how she wanted to be treated, even if he didn't want it. She didn't want Daryl to leave her alone right now, because if he did she would disappear and fade, she wouldn't be able to go on. And really, she never wanted Daryl Dixon to ever feel the way she felt, that sense of abandonement and hopelessness.

   "I can see some footprints right there. We can follow them." He pointed directly at a smudge in the mud, so Beth could see it, it had the faint outline of a boot, but Beth wasn't sure. She wanted to thank him for pointing it out to her, as if to prove that their family hadn't faded into thin air. She looked out into the dark trees, the sound of the cicadas were gone.

   "We need to get some rest." She whispered, scratching at the bandage on her arm. It felt like hell. She didn't even know how they were still on their feet, Daryl had gotten what, two hours of sleep this morning? She hadn't slept since the night before the farm fell. It felt like years. They had eaten a few strips of beef jerky and sipped on some bottled water she had found before they had started driving. Would Daryl teach her how to hunt?

   She heard him grunt, still kneeling down, hand held tight on his crossbow. What was he thinking? About finding the rest of the group? About his brother? How unlucky he was to get stuck with a little girl?

   A growl sounded off somewhere behind Beth before she could let her mind wander any further. Low and snarling. Daryl was on his feet before Beth had startled, throwing his crossbow into position and shoving the small girl behind him. They both waited for the sight of rotten skin and dragging footsteps, but it never came. Instead, a small whimper and a furry tail.

   "It's a dog!"

Chapter Text

   A growl sounded off somewhere behind Beth before she could let her mind wander any further. Low and snarling. Daryl was on his feet before Beth had startled, throwing his crossbow into position and shoving the small girl behind him. They both waited for the sight of rotten skin and dragging footsteps, but it never came. Instead, a small whimper and a furry tail.

   "It's a dog!"

 

Three Months Later

    

        The sound of her boots rustling through the fallen leaves followed Beth as she trailed behind the sight of angel wings ahead of her. The sound overruled her every thought, crept into her nightmares along with gnashing teeth and rotting flesh. Time had passed slowly as their aimless wanderings continued, the days starting to blend together.

   They had searched for other survivors from the farm for nearly three weeks, abandoning their car and following the footprints the remaining members of the group had left into the woods. They had followed their zig-zagging tracks until Daryl could only find traces of their own footprints within the leaves. Seemingly by unspoken agreement, they stopped looking for tracks soon afterward. Beth kept quiet about the stab she felt in her chest when that happened – instead, she just made room for it. She felt as if she was running out.

    Beth had expected to cry, it had been a few weeks after her near mental break, after all. She had a few tears to shed, enough water stored up – but she never did. Instead, when they silently started in the opposite direction of the disappearing footprints, all she felt was relief. As they trekked through the unfamiliar woods, Beth had felt a weight come off of her shoulders now that they had stopped looking for the people Beth firmly believed they would never find – who never tried to find them.

    The reason for her relief was selfish, really. After they had stopped finding clear tracks Beth had started to wonder if they were looking for rambling corpses instead of their friends and family. Beth felt relieved when they had stopped trying because she wouldn’t have been able to take it if that was true – wouldn’t have been able to watch Daryl’s arrow pierce the skulls of their family.

    But would you be able to look them in the eyes and ask why they gave up on you, on Daryl? Something whispered, she didn’t have an answer.  

    Autumn had officially set in, nearly coming to an end, the trees started losing their canopies and the wind had begun to catch a chill as the leaves swirled around their feet. It used to be Beth's favorite season, the smell of damp leaves and harvested crops, the taste of hot chocolate and pies, the sound of her mama sweeping the front porch in the morning - now, she wasn't so sure.

   Yes, the sound of the crunching of the leaves alerted them to any threats, the squirrels and raccoons were a little more ambitious in their wanderings, allowing Daryl to bag a few more meals than before - but those were the only positives Beth could find any more.

  Beth now saw autumn as a sign of foreboding. It was a sign that winter was coming, a season of death and bleakness, of harsh snows and hungry nights, especially now that the world had officially ended.

  At the sudden sound of loud crunching and light pants - Beth smiled for the first time that day.

  "Goddammit, dog!"

  She watched as the rear-end of a Golden Retriever shot off into the distance chasing after something Beth and Daryl obviously couldn't hear. The pup seemed to enjoy chasing after prey almost as much as Daryl did – occasionally prancing back with a skip in his step and a squirrel hanging out of his mouth. They allowed him to enjoy his own dinner, of course, who knows where the dog had found it, and who knows where his mouth had been.

   After stumbling upon the poor thing, or rather, Beth thought, he stumbled upon them, she and Daryl had argued for nearly four days about what they were going to call the dog. He hadn’t been wearing a collar, so they had no idea what his original owner had called him. Beth assumed whatever collar he had been wearing was ripped off a long time ago.

When he had stumbled out of the woods, covered in a mixture of blood and mud, she nearly begged Daryl to let them keep him. He had told her no, at first, mumbling something about rabies and having another mouth to feed. After threatening him with sleeping outside with the dog if Daryl didn't let him sleep in the car to get warm, Daryl broke. The dog had followed them on their search for the rest of the group, tail wagging and all.

  Nearly two months later and weeks of calling the poor thing ‘dog’ instead of an actual name, Beth had stumbled upon a worn-out copy of the Cinderella movie in a house they had been picking through for supplies. It was perfect.

  “Can we call him Gus?” Beth had shouted, remembering the name of the cute fat mouse sidekick of the blonde princess, Daryl had been somewhere behind her scavenging through the kitchens, if the sound of cabinets slamming shut meant anything.

   "The dog?” His head peaked around the corner then, his hair falling in his eyes, Beth had asked him for a week now to let her trim it a bit, he had said that she wasn’t going anywhere near him with scissors.

   “Who else, Dixon?” The topic of their conversation had made himself comfortable on the musty couch in front of Beth, stretched out asleep with his mouth open. Beth felt bad for the poor thing, it seemed like he never wanted to sleep when they were outside in the woods, having to sleep out in the open. She guessed this was because of his time alone, not having someone else to watch his back.

   Daryl had ignored her comment, instead, he came out of the kitchen with a few cans of green beans in his hands and a grin on his face. She liked it when he smiled, she decided. It made him look younger, less sharp.

  “Gus Greene?”

   “Gus Greene-Dixon,” She responded. She had slid the CD back into its place on the shelf then, she didn’t see the way Daryl’s smile faltered. “Augustus when he’s in trouble.”

   “I guess.”

     Gus had stuck, though he was called Augustus a lot more than he was called Gus – forever in trouble or getting into something he wasn’t supposed to. She and Daryl had wondered how it was possible he had survived this long, with his inability to understand what the word ‘quiet’ meant. She was thankful for Gus, though. His appearance had given Beth something to talk about because although she enjoyed the silences between her and Daryl, going days without talking was too much for her.

     Beth thought she was quiet and shy – but Daryl had her beat. She couldn’t get him to talk about anything. What did you do before the turn? Did you play any sports in school? How did you learn to use a crossbow? Nothing.

    So, she filled the silences. She talked about her childhood, how she picked the light pink color of her bedroom walls, the process of breaking in new en pointe shoes, relaying her grandmother’s famous brownie recipe, anything, really. Daryl would occasionally add to the conversation, asking questions or making a joke about something she had done, but Beth often felt like Gus was listening to her rambling more than Daryl.

   After telling the story of her first time driving a car through the fields of the farm when she was eight, her mother and Maggie off shopping in the city for her sister’s prom dress, her daddy and Shawn cheering her on from the porch – she wondered if she really wanted Daryl to know these things about her, or if she just didn’t want to forget them. Didn’t want to lose them.  

     As Beth trudged through the knee-deep leaves she pushed her blonde hair out of her eyes – she had nearly cried when she had misplaced her last hairband, leaving her curly nest to fall past her shoulders. She could barely keep track of those things before the world fell apart, let alone when she was traipsing through the woods.

    She glanced up at the tree line then, the horizon a misty gray instead of its usual blue. It was midmorning, which could only mean that the first sprinkling of snow was sneaking up on them faster than they originally thought.

    They had both stuck to the wilderness after abandoning the trail – seemingly more comfortable in the woods then a house. But when they had started seeing their breath fog in front of their eyes they had started whispering about finding someplace to survive the winter. They had found a few places, restaurants, gas stations, farmhouses, but nowhere was reinforced enough to stay for an extended period of time.

    Sometimes Beth wondered if the reason why they never stayed in those places was that it was too close to the farm, to the highway – but she never voiced her opinions.

    Too focused on the sky above her and thoughts of a hungry winter, Beth ran smack into Daryl’s back. Her first instinct was to place her hand on the handle of the knife strapped to her thigh, for her body to go into survival mode, but as she scanned the woods for walkers and saw none, she walked around the mountain of a man to look at him inquisitively.

   He pointed to their left, and when Beth squinted her eyes, she could see the flash of red he was pointing towards. A barn.

   She never thought they would stumble upon a house out this far, they hadn’t seen a road for weeks. They hadn’t seen another person in months, not since Beth had seen Andrea’s blonde hair disappear into the trees.

   “Do you think it’s clear?” She whispered, talking in whispers had become like second nature to them. Whether that was because they were afraid of walkers hearing, or if they were just both so quiet they didn’t want to speak at full volume, she wasn’t sure.

    “Could be.” His eyes scanned the ground for tracks, and after seemingly finding nothing, started towards the white picket fence surrounding the barn. “C’mon, Greene.”

    A few minutes later they were squatted on the edge of the tree line surveying the land in front of them. The barn had blocked their view of the small, two-story farmhouse that looked out over a huge mass of land. The garden surrounding the white house was wilted and rotten, the pens once holding animals were falling apart, their gates swinging pitifully in the breeze.

   Memories of the farm overwhelmed her, but she pushed back.

  “It looks clear.” She had started to stand up then, determined to get the lump threatening to form in her throat to go away. She saw Daryl glance at her out of the corner of her eye, a worried crease forming in between his brows.

    “You okay?”

     She gave a grunt that had started to sound very similar to his and listened as he followed behind her towards the front porch. She was thankful he hadn’t pushed the subject further.

    The boards of the porch creaked as they silently crept up the stairs, listening for any sounds that would alert them to danger. Beth had learned her lesson after swinging the backdoor of a fast food restaurant open and meeting the face of about a dozen walkers. Daryl had yelled at her for a good week after that one.

   Only hearing the sound of their breathing, Daryl eased the door open – shocked to find it unlocked, but beckoned Beth to follow in after him. They both stopped dead, however, as they were met with the smiling pant of Gus, laying on a dog bed settled near the door.

   “What the fuck?” Daryl whispered.

    “How did he get in before us?” Beth questioned, unconsciously laying her hand on Daryl’s elbow, before glancing around the dusty living room suspiciously. “Do you think he used to live here?”

   Daryl ignored her questioning, instead, he pulled up his crossbow and started clearing the first level of the house. Beth took the second level, finding nothing but dust and the ghosts of rooms. As she came upon the last room, painted a light purple color with a butterfly motif and stuffed animals lying around; she tried to scan anywhere something could hide as fast as she could – she could only think of the fate of the little girl for so long before she wanted to cry.

   But before she could close the door back, something caught her eye on the nightstand beside the princess bed, the answer to her question. There, prettily framed, was their Gus, sitting happily next to a little girl who was missing her two front teeth. She held onto the picture as she walked out of the room, reaching out to grab the worn-out teddy bear that was settled prominently on the bed. She wondered what the girl had called their furry counterpart - if the little girl was somewhere, wondering if her friend was safe.    

“We’ll keep him safe for you, I promise.” She whispered, gently closing the door behind her.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  

    “If there was one thing you could eat now, what would it be?”

    They had settled down for a meal of Spam and canned corn – the best thing they had had for weeks, honestly. It seemed like Gus’s owners had gotten out of here quickly, as there was still a huge stockpile of food in the cabinets and an even larger collection of canned goods and other miscellaneous supplies in the basement. It was a godsend, just in time for winter. They hadn’t really known what to do with themselves after they had built a substantial fire in the fireplace – standing lost in the middle of the modest family room. It wasn’t until Beth noticed it was starting to get dark that she started looking for dinner.

    Daryl looked like he thought about it for a while, chewing on his thumb. “Pasta or ice cream, either one.”

    She smiled in response, shoving another spoonful of corn in her mouth – she’d kill for some chocolate ice cream right now.

    “I really miss French toast, Patricia used to make it every Sunday.” She briefly saw the memory of the woman’s back to her, apron tied tightly around her plump figure, Otis stopping by to give her a kiss before heading off to work in the fields. She hugged the memory close, savoring in it.

    “I don’t think I’ve ever had it.” From the brief conversations she had engaged Daryl in about his life before the turn, it didn’t seem like he had had a lot.

    “If we ever find a good place, I’ll make it for you.” She promised, she watched him grace her with a small smile – neither wanted to talk about the ‘what ifs’ right now.

    The picture of their Gus was sitting prominently on the table they were eating at, almost as if the little girl in the picture with him was sitting at the chair across from them – her brown eyes were kind, her freckles splattered across her nose like stars. Beth wondered what her name was. Gus had fallen asleep on his bed, snoring loudly, content. Daryl had found the dog door Gus must have come through earlier, sliding the cover that was leaned up against the wall over it, just in case.

 

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     By unspoken agreement, it seemed as if neither Beth or Daryl wanted to sleep in any of the bedrooms upstairs. It seemed they both thought that staying in the house was fine, but invading what used to be someone’s safe space was too much. So, instead, Beth watched as Daryl piled as many blankets and pillows as he could find into two separate piles in front of the fireplace. Beth nearly giggled, feeling like she was watching a little kid make a fort out of old sheets and chairs.

    “What are you laughin’ at, Greene?” He grumbled, dragging Gus’s bed – with Gus still asleep on top, towards their little nests. They both knew that the dog freaked out anytime he wasn’t asleep near them, laying snuggled into one of their sides when they slept in the woods.

    Suddenly, without warning, a thought that had lingered in the back of Beth’s mind for weeks sprung forth.

    “Why don’t you call me Beth?”

     He stopped for a minute, adjusting a pillow a little bit more than he really needed to. “Don’t know, little personal, I guess.”

    “I call you Daryl,” She offered, slipping down onto her pile of blankets happily, slipping her boots off. Her socks were an awful color, and she was sure they smelled dreadful, but she threw them further away before she could get a whiff. She wondered if taking socks from someone’s dresser was disrespectful. 

    He stood over her, fiddling with the end of his vest, looking anywhere but her.

    “I think Greene suits you, ‘s all.”

    Sure it does, she thought.

    “I can think of a lot of things that suit you,” She whispered, watching as the corner of his mouth turned up a little.

    “I’m sure you can, Greene.” He walked over to his crossbow, patted Gus on the head, and started to slip out of the door. “’m gonna go check around the house, make sure everything is secure.” The door gently closed shut, leaving Beth alone in the candlelight.

    She gently crawled over to the sleeping mound that was Gus, taking the teddy bear out of her flannel pocket and tucking it under his chin. She didn’t know where the little girl was, but she felt better knowing a little piece of her was with her dog.

     “G’night, Gus.” She placed a light kiss on his head and slid back towards her designated nest. She eyed the door, only one thought going through her mind.

     I’m going to make that man talk if it kills me.

Chapter Text

    She gently crawled over to the sleeping mound that was Gus, taking the teddy bear out of her flannel pocket and tucking it under his chin. She didn’t know where the little girl was, but she felt better knowing a little piece of her was with her dog.

     “G’night, Gus.” She placed a light kiss on his head and slid back towards her designated nest. She eyed the door, only one thought going through her mind.

     I’m going to make that man talk if it kills me.

 

 

 

     Only a few days after they had found the farmhouse, the first snow storm coated the open fields in a shimmering white layer, the final breaths of autumn disappearing. Beth wondered if they had crossed a state line at some point because she could not a remember Georgia ever having a winter like that.

    The house was a godsend. After scavenging up enough candles, Daryl and Beth could finally take stock of how much they actually had there – the canned goods, the stockpiles of rice and canned vegetables and fruits in the cellar. The house even had running water, since it ran off of a well. Daryl and Beth now knew to check it every morning, just in case.

    They never stayed in the more personal areas of the house for long. Beth had discovered that whoever had lived here before were nearly the same size as they were, which they were grateful for because Beth didn’t know how long they would have lasted in the tank tops and t-shirts they wore after the farm fell. She had even found Gus’s winter jacket while searching through the coat closet, so now he was buckled up and warm whenever he went out to frolic with Daryl in the snow – his previous owner’s teddy bear gently carried in his mouth.

    They had struggled with trying to keep the fire going, even trying to keep the first floor of the house at a livable temperature was a struggle. Beth felt as if Daryl’s arms were going to crack and fall off if he chopped any more wood. She had tried to help at first, but Daryl had laughed and told her that she would find a way to miss and chop her leg off. So, she settled for carrying the wood back and forth and playing fetch with Gus.

    It was all quite domestic, really. Daryl kept the fire going and brought back dinner, she kept the house clean and attempted to fix anything that resembled a normal meal. As it turns out, canned peaches and squirrel meat was quite good.

   One night when the snow was particularly harsh and the wind had howled against the windows – Gus had taken it upon himself to make the space between Daryl and Beth his new bed, teddy bear and all. It was a welcomed action because no matter how many blankets they wrapped around themselves, Gus was a space heater. Nearly an hour after plopping himself down in-between them, he had woken both of them up with his snoring – which seemed to worsen with the colder weather. Beth wondered if the poor thing had allergies, because the noise that came out of that dog was similar to a tractor. Beth and Daryl had made eye contact over the heap of dog, and had laughed so hard that they woke Gus up. That was one of Beth’s favorite moments.

   The house was well stocked with a dozen or so books, which they both read through rather quickly. Beth would sometimes read to Gus when Daryl was outside, with his head laying on her lap and soft snores echoing throughout the house. Beth liked those times too.

     Beth didn’t want to jinx them by saying that it was boring here, she didn’t dare. She knew that as the weeks passed, the thought of being out in the open again grew closer to something resembling a nightmare – that it was nice to not have to sleep in shifts and go to bed on an empty stomach. She tried not to think about the chances of their little world lasting for long – when and how their little homey bubble they had created would burst.

    Daryl’s theory that he had revealed to Beth a few days after finding the farmhouse was correct, that the cold winter slowed the walker’s down – a hibernation, of sorts. In the weeks that they had been there, they had only seen three walkers that were close enough to deem a threat. They had used this to their advantage, using the slower corpses as practice for Beth’s knife skills. She was getting better, turns out having the stamina of a dancer gave her an advantage – but she still flinched when the knife went into a walker’s skull.

    It had taken a week of begging after they had abandoned their car in search of the group for Daryl to teach her the basic skills she needed to defend herself. She used the fall of the farm as an example towards her case, saying that if they got separated somehow, like they were from their group now, what would she do?

     He had caved, having her practice the movements for a few days before actually allowing her to get close enough to kill something. She had to get over how close he was then, the feel of one hand on her shoulder and the other on her wrist, showing her the right movements. She still flushed whenever she thought about the feeling of his breath on her neck or the rise and fall of his chest against her back – but she understood. He was an attractive man, and she was a teenage girl that had grown up on stories of princes in shining armor that saved the damsel in distress, of course she would be attracted to someone who saved her life.  

    He had briefly taught her how to follow tracks, using their situation as a learning technique. She still wasn’t very good at it, the leaves making the task more difficult for a beginner - but she had tracked a squirrel well enough for Daryl to get a shot off. She allowed the proud feeling to settle into her chest when they ate dinner that night.

     Beth wasn’t sure when it happened, whether it was before or after they had settled into the farmhouse – but she had started seeing Daryl Dixon in a different light. Not a romantic light, no – although she had finally admitted to herself that he was a very attractive man whose heart was in the right place, she merely felt mutual respect and curiosity towards him.

      She respected him because he listened to her. He listened when she finally broke down about she felt about her family giving up on her, how it hurt that they had more hope for Sophia than they did her; he quietly listened when she told him that she had felt weighed down by the expectations of her family before the turn. That she was expected to follow in her father’s footsteps and attend veterinary school after Maggie had run off to Atlanta – that she felt lost when she thought about her future.

    He listened to her when she admitted that she was depressed and struggling with her mental health before the world fell apart at the seams, that her music teacher had noticed her behavior before her family did and scheduled appointments with the school therapist – that the end of the world had just given her a chance to finally end it.

      He didn’t treat her differently after that, and she was grateful. He didn’t watch what he said around her or hide the kitchen knives like her mama did after discovering she was seeing a therapist – he just told her that all that mattered was that she was okay now, that she had decided to live in this world. She felt different about Daryl because he saw her.

     She cried into Gus’s fur when Daryl had whispered to her one night that he understood. That he had been the first in his family to go to college, a baseball scholarship paying his way through. That he desperately wanted to try and make something of himself. That he had been halfway through nursing school when Merle got in trouble, that he spent his tuition money to pay his brother’s bail and never went back. His voice cracked when he told her that he spiraled after that, had struggled with alcoholism and nearly ended it when his brother left him alone – running off after getting in trouble for drugs.

    She was thankful that he trusted her enough to tell her that, even if it wasn’t a lot. And although she desperately wanted him to tell her everything – how he ticked and why he was the way he was, why he jumped when something made a loud noise, why he flinched whenever she raised her voice – she realized that even if he had, if she hadn’t gotten everything off her mind, she wouldn’t have had the mental space to contain it all. If Daryl had told her everything about himself and all of his struggles before Beth had let it all out she would have broken again. She thought that he understood that too.

     She never had a friend that would gladly listen to her every thought, every hope or wish, every struggle and dislike. She hoped one day she could be that for Daryl too.

 

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    On a particularly harsh night, when the snow seemed never ending and the wind hadn’t let up, Beth watched as Daryl went through the motions of doing the dishes, eyeing his back. It had been a few days since he had revealed something personal about himself, and Beth was beginning to feel selfish for taking up most of the conversation. Though she knew that he wasn’t very keen on telling her things about himself, she wanted to do the same thing for him as he had done for her, be there to listen.

    Although her plan was rather childish, she thought it would be a good way to start some conversation. She waited until Daryl had sat back down, then attacked.  

    “Do you want to play ‘Never Have I Ever?’” She had heard Maggie and her friends playing it a lot – well, eavesdropped was more like it. But it seemed like it was a great way to get someone to reveal a few details about themselves.

    “What are you, twelve?” He grumbled, crossing his arms and eyeing Gus as he scarfed down their leftovers.

     “I’ll start!”

     “Oh God,”

     “I’ve never smoked a cigarette.” It was a cheap shot, she had seen him sneak a few before the farm fell, but she was competitive.

     “We don’t have any alcohol to play this game.” He was trying to escape, she could tell. But it was true, it seemed as if the people who lived here before had abstained from drinking anything other than water. She was glad, after what Daryl had revealed to her about himself, she didn’t want to have to treat him differently. He didn’t treat her like she was high risk.

     “We’ll go off of a point system, then?” She offered, glad when he nodded his head in acceptance.

     “Point for you, then.” He sighed, she watched as he played with the candle they had resting in front of them, thinking. “I’ve never had a dog before Gus.”

     It went on like that for hours, them battling back and forth for points. They had argued over what was considered a fair never and what wasn’t. Apparently, her saying she had never gotten a tattoo was unfair since Daryl had plenty that were within sight. That had launched them into a long conversation of how much tattoos hurt and what she would have gotten if she ever had had the chance.

   “I’ve never kissed anyone before,” She grumbled, he was at least twenty points ahead of her and she was pissed. She waited for him to offer up a point when he surprised her by having the audacity to look confused.

    “Really?”

     “Yes, really. Why does that surprise you?” She had grown up with two of the godliest people in their town, for Christ’s sake. Her daddy had nearly blown her seventh grade homecoming date’s head off with a shotgun when he had leaned in for a hug.

    “You and that kid seemed pretty cozy.” A heavy feeling of guilt settled in her stomach, she hadn’t even thought about Jimmy since the farm had fell. Had he made it out with the rest of the group? She guessed that she would never know.

    “My parents were good friends with his, I think they wanted us to court before everything fell apart, but no, we weren’t involved.” They hadn’t even held hands. She had been too busy dealing with the awful voices in her head that were whispering that this was her shot to even think about how she felt about her parents’ choice in potential husbands.

     “Courting? What the hell is that? This ain’t the eighteen hundreds, were they making you wait until marriage?” He looked curious, and although her cheeks burned, she nearly laughed at the thought of Maggie and Shawn waiting until marriage. She noticed that Daryl’s accent got worse when he was genuinely interested or angry with something, she wondered if she was the same.

    “I was the youngest and a girl, I think they just wanted to savor in my virtuous personality.” She offered, it was true. Before she had started dealing with her crumbling mental health, she had no interest in romantic adventures. She had nearly punched a kid in her class when he tried to kiss her after dropping her off from an awkward group date at the movies.

   Her brow furrowed when she saw Daryl look as if he was trying to hold back his laughter, but he surprised her by not making fun of her nun-like tendencies.

     “My brother used to say that you’ve got to try the milk before you buy the cow.” He whispered, holding his breath just in case she reacted badly to his brother’s misogynistic personality. Instead, she broke out into a fit of giggles, hiding her face in her hands in exasperation.

   “He compared dating women to buying cattle?” It was awful that she was laughing, she should have been disgusted, but just hearing the words come out of the shy and respectful Dixon’s mouth nearly killed her.

   After they recovered from their fits of laughter, Beth’s side aching from her efforts, she discovered that Daryl Dixon was one of the only people she had ever met that could make her cry from laughing so hard.

   “I’m at what now, forty-six? You’ve got some catchin’ up to do, Greenie.” Daryl mused, stretching his arms out as he stood up from their spot at the table.

   Nope. Because she was going to win this game, she had the advantage of being a teenage girl on her side.

   “I’ll get you sometime, Dixon. Go take a shower, you stink.” She smacked his side as he walked away towards the bathroom on the first floor that they had been using. Beth had nearly cried when she discovered that there was semi-hot water at their disposal, she still wasn’t over it.

   “Sure, sure. Keep tellin’ yourself that.” The door shut in his wake, and Beth was left alone to think about what had just taken place. Could they be considered friends now? Beth had never revealed so much to one person, not even her own mother, whom she was closest to. It felt good to have someone like that.

   But she knew that her game hadn’t gotten her as far as she wanted. None of her Nevers had really gotten her into Daryl’s psyche. He was really good at getting the conversation away from him, she noticed.

   She moved to fix their nests for the night, Gus already in position, watching her as she adjusted the pillows enough that she could sit up and re-read one of the books she had found in the house for the umpteenth time. She hummed a lullaby as she heard the water start, but was interrupted by a low growl from Gus.

    Her head shot up, watching as the dog moved slowly towards the window, watching as a rambling shadow passed by the curtain, towards the door. Her hand went to the knife strapped to her thigh, heart racing. They had never seen a walker that close to the house before, only wandering by the tree line.

   “Daryl!” She shouted, quietly, of course. She didn’t know if there were more out there that she just couldn’t see. She knew she could just swing open the door and take care of it herself, but what if there was more? She hadn’t taken care of a walker without Daryl close behind her since she shot the one with Lori’s pistol. And although she wanted to do this herself, not need someone else’s help for once, she wasn’t going to risk it on something this dangerous.

   “Daryl!” She called again, moving towards the door as she listened to the hard scratches that the walker was littering on the blue door, soft growls could be heard. Gus started barking, and she knew she needed Daryl with her, just in case.

   So she swung open the bathroom door, surprisingly unlocked, and was met with Daryl’s bare back, covered in raised scars that disappeared into his blue jeans. They were angry and pink, as if they never healed, and there were more than Beth could count.

   “Daryl?” Her voice was small, her hand dropping from its place on the doorknob, in shock or pity, she didn’t know. He spun around then, and she knew whatever companionship that had started flowering between them was gone.

Chapter Text

   “Daryl!” She called again, moving towards the door as she listened to the hard scratches that the walker was littering on the blue door, soft growls could be heard. Gus started barking, and she knew she needed Daryl with her, just in case.

   So she swung open the bathroom door, surprisingly unlocked, and was met with Daryl’s bare back, covered in raised scars that disappeared into his blue jeans. They were angry and pink as if they never healed, and there were more than Beth could count.

   “Daryl?” Her voice was small, her hand dropping from its place on the doorknob, in shock or pity, she didn’t know. He spun around then, and she knew whatever companionship that had started flowering between them was gone.

 

    Beth woke up to the beginnings of dawn filtering through the boarded up windows, the fire gentling into a soft flicker. Gus’s head was laid upon her shoulder, his soft snores blowing against her cheek. She could see the mound of blankets that was Daryl, his hair peeking out of his personal cocoon, could see the rise and fall of his soft breathing.

    It had been nearly two weeks since the walker stumbled onto the porch – Beth’s intuition was right, however, as five more were ambling about the front yard when Daryl had finally swung open the front door. They hadn’t spoken about what she saw. They had barely spoken at all, in fact.

    Beth had a friend in elementary school that had been abused, the stress of being a single parent had been too much for the girl’s mother – she came into class more than once with haphazard makeup on that covered whatever bruise she was sporting. She had moved away before anyone could do anything. Beth believed that Daryl’s experience was a little harsher than that, though.

    She now had answers to her everlasting string of questions. Why Daryl flinched when she made an exaggerated hand gesture when talking, why he refused to make eye contact whenever they argued over something, always keeping his head down. Beth had been having a bad day after the snow started to fall, she always noticed that her depression became worse when the days grew shorter. She had slammed cabinets and shattered a dish by accident while fixing breakfast, jittery from the sudden onslaught of painful memories and thoughts. Daryl had asked her three times that day if she was mad at him, always in a small voice, like he was scared she was going to explode. She wishes she would have seen the signs sooner.

    She always wondered why he never spoke about his parents, only his brother. She had her answer now.

    He hadn’t even yelled at her after she had opened the bathroom door, of course, he had uttered a few strings of curses, but she guessed that was because she had startled him. After they had gotten rid of the walkers he had gone back to shower, dirtier than he was before, he never made eye contact with her. He slammed the door a little harder than he normally did when he went into the bathroom, not coming out for a good hour.

   She didn’t really know what to do. He obviously didn’t want to talk about it, but what if he had never talked about it? Beth knew what it was like to hold something back, to keep something buried down so deep that it felt as if it would never come up again. She didn’t want him to feel that way. But she didn’t want to give off the vibe of a shrink, either. Asking him to relay his experiences and memories then asking what he thought about it, how it affected his daily life. She knew what that was like too, to feel as if you are being analyzed like a lab rat.

    But she also knew Daryl Dixon enough to know that even if it didn’t seem like it, a storm was thundering under the surface. He had always treated her with respect and gentleness, but she felt as if she was a maiden and the dragon was about to awaken from its slumber. He hadn’t shown his temper yet, but she had a feeling that when Daryl finally broke, it wouldn’t be as gentle as hers. Daryl had listened when she had finally had enough of being trapped in her own head, she would be there when Daryl did the same. She hoped.

   The sound of rustling blankets halted her train of thought, Gus awakening to the sound of his other human’s consciousness – getting up to give Daryl a few morning licks.

   “Good morning,” She whispered, mostly to herself, while Daryl tied his boots. Neither of them had started wearing pajamas again, it seemed as if they both agreed that they were a little too comfortable to wear – that neither of them wanted to be caught in flannel pants and sleep shirts if they suddenly had to get out. The only sign that told her Daryl had heard her greeting was a nod, and before she could say anything else he had fastened Gus into his coat and was out the door.

    Starting her morning off with a headache wasn’t ideal to Beth, but she carried on with her day anyway. She made up their separate beds and started scavenging for something to fix for breakfast when she heard the sound of an ax hitting a chopping block – she determined that crumbling granola bars and canned cherries was a good choice.

   Had this ruined whatever friendship they had been creeping towards? She felt as if she had lost him, even if he was still there next to her. She supposed he wasn’t hers to miss yet, though.

    Beth had taken a shower and washed their spare clothes in the bathtub by the time Daryl stomped back into the house, covered in blood and seemingly fuming. Her heart had nearly fallen out onto the floor until she caught a whiff of the smell, it wasn’t his blood.

    “What happened?” Gus seemed fine, but she was beginning to think that the dog didn’t have a central nervous system, he was so happy all the time.

    “A group of ‘em snuck up on me, I’m fine.” He spat as if that made it any better.  He was looking around the room as if he was actively looking for something to hit – it seemed the dragon was coming sooner than she thought.

     “Are you sure you’re okay?” She slowly reached out to take the ax out of his hand, having flashbacks of that horror movie called The Shining that Shawn had loved so much. The last thing they needed was Daryl snapping and destroying a part of the house.

   “I’m fine!” He wasn’t looking at her, though. He was lying. It wasn’t until she had started to move closer to him that she noticed the blood dripping on the floor, a steady flow from his hand.

   “What is that?” The worst immediately crashed through her brain, the image of Daryl red from fever, his eyes opening to reveal a rotten yellow color – a shiver ran up her spine and she jumped to grab his wrist when he held a hand up to stop her.

    “Don’t touch me right now,” Daryl cautioned, taking a step back, “please,” he added, only a whisper.

     So they stood, and Beth watched the slow of Daryl’s breathing as he calmed down, the clench in his jaw softening. He reached out to grab a dish towel that she had laid down on the table in an attempt to stem the flow of blood. She stood up on her tippy toes, relief flooding her system when she didn’t see bite marks, merely a deep gash on his knuckles.

    “I punched through the barn window,” He explained. She didn’t ask him to elaborate further, merely went over to the sink to get a bowl of water and a clean cloth. She stopped herself from saying anything, asking him to tell her everything, instead, she just gestured for him to place his hand in her lap and got to work.

     She knew he could probably do it, he had gone to nursing school – but she noticed how his shakes got better after she had grabbed his hand, so she continued.

   “Will you please stop feeling sorry for me?” He mumbled, and his blue eyes stared into hers then, for the first time in what felt like years to Beth.

  “I don’t feel sorry for you.” He scoffed, shaking his head, adjusting the bandage she had wrapped around his palm into the proper place. “I don’t,” She reiterated, bolder this time. He looked into her eyes questioningly, eyebrow raised in defiance, challenging her to explain. She wasn’t going to add fuel to the fire, but she wanted to give him an honest answer. She wanted to let the thoughts that were crowding her brain for the last few days out into the open air.

   “I don’t feel sorry for you because I am angry with you.” His eyes flicked up to hers then, surprised. She had his attention, so she continued. “I am angry with you because instead of talking to me about what happened and what you went through you abandoned me – stopped talking to me for days. I know it’s stupid of me to assume that you trust me enough to think that you would want to share the awful things you went through with a teenage girl that you got stuck with, but I know how it feels to be alone. I know how it feels to believe that there is no one else in this world that will listen and understand what you’re going through. I know what it feels like to be trapped inside your own head, screaming for someone to just say something and listen to you. To listen to the nightmares and the empty feelings, the regret and the hatred you feel in yourself because you think that it’s all your fault. It’s not your fault, I didn’t choose to have a mental illness and you didn’t choose to be abused by someone you trusted. Neither of us deserved it, but we made it out. We both have awful scars and nightmares that will haunt us for the rest of our lives, but there is a time to accept the fact that it happened and carry on with living. I’ve accepted it, you should too. No, I don’t understand what you went through, I don’t know if you could ever accept what happened to you, but I’m willing to listen.” She felt lighter, out of breath, but better. She waited.

“I do trust you,” He whispered.

 “Then let me help you.” Like you helped me.

 

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      “What was your mother’s name?” Beth asked, breaking the comfortable silence that had fallen between the two. They were sitting on the floor next to the table, sitting across from one another, night had fallen by then, and the fire was close to being completely out.

     “Claire,”

     “That’s pretty,” She whispered, offering him a small smile. He returned it.

      Daryl had snapped after Beth offered her help. Beth had always been a sympathy-crier, but seeing Daryl Dixon nearly collapse out of the chair and sob into her shoulder broke a piece of her. She had played with his hair while he cried, trying to hold in the sobs that were threatening to escape her chest. Daryl needed this.

<
He never spoke, but she knew that a weight had been lifted off of both their chests. Even Gus, who was always happy, seemed to feel a little better.

   The sudden complaints of both their appetites broke the silence though, and they both let out a few laughs. The breakfast Beth had laid out for them was still laid out on the table.

    “Is your hand okay?” He wasn’t bleeding through the bandages; which was great, but they would need to keep an eye on it. All of the things in this house and there were no antibiotics.

    “It’s okay.”

    “Do you want cherries and granola for dinner? Cause it’s ready,” She joked, trying to lighten to mood a little bit more. Her butt hurt from sitting on the floor, but it was overruled by the content feeling in her chest.

    He laughed at her joke, telling her that it sounded great and helping her off the floor. He shocked her, however, when his hand grabbed the back of her hair and pulled her into his chest. He smelled like smoke from the fire and the dampness of the ground after it rained, and she savored in it.

   “Thank you,” He whispered into her hair, and she nodded because if she tried to speak aloud she was sure she would start to cry. He held her for a second more, then looked exasperated at the dying fire, sighing as he turned towards the door. Gus scampered after him, excited after being stuck inside all day. He still had his coat on from that morning.

   “Try not to punch through any more windows, will you?” Her voice cracked a bit, but she felt better. She covertly wiped the tears from her cheeks and started towards the kitchen.

   “Fuck off, Greene.” There he was.


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   As Beth finished setting the table, lighting the candles they had littered about the living room and kitchen – Daryl and Gus busted through the door again, she felt a sense of déjà vu. But this time, Daryl didn’t look angry, he looked scared.

   “What’s wrong?” Her mind went back to the farm when the herd came through. Surely it couldn’t happen again? They couldn’t be that unlucky.

   “Blow all the candles out!” He whispered, moving to drape the sheet they had over the large window that was too big to board over in the living room. She shook as she blew all of the candles out, she took time to lock the back door – which she looked back on later and laughed at. Like that would stop something.

   They had been quiet for a few minutes when the suspense had taken its toll. Was he just waiting for a herd to pass them by?

   “Daryl?” Gus was next to her then, nestling into her leg with his teddy bear in his mouth – as if he was saying I’ve got my stuff, let’s go.

   She was about to whisper his name again when she heard a loud, boisterous laugh coming from somewhere outside of the house. Well, that was worse than a herd.

  “How many?” She felt a brief flash of hope that at least one member of the group was just outside the house, but she shut it down before it even started.

   “I counted at least twelve, all guys.” Well, shit. Her mind went back to Randall then, hadn’t he come from one of those groups? One of those groups that killed any men they came upon and raped their women, forcing them to watch before they slaughtered them? She supposed there were some kinds of people that were just meant for this world they were living in – she didn’t want to test that out, though.

   “What do we do?” The sounds of laughter were getting closer, the whoops and hollers of victory echoing throughout their peaceful hideaway.

   “Get what you need, we need to go.” She didn’t even think of arguing, Daryl was tough, but he wasn’t tough enough to defend their home from twelve fully grown men. She grabbed her jacket off the couch, luckily, they had never unpacked their backpacks from their time in the woods, instead, they were lined up neatly against the back wall. She was thankful at that moment.

   He looked her up and down, slinging his pack over his shoulders and making sure that Gus was by their side. “Ready?”

   No, but she didn’t really have a choice.

   They were almost out of the back door when Beth darted back into the house, it wasn’t necessary, but she just couldn’t leave it behind. She felt indebted to the object, in a way, she didn’t know why, but she just couldn’t leave it for the men to look over and trash.

   “Beth! Come back!” He chased after her, but she kept up a steady pace towards the living room. She couldn’t leave it.

   “What the fuck are you doing?” He had jerked her back when her hand had closed around the frame, knocking her off balance and sending the glass picture frame towards the floor. It sounded like the loudest thing in the world, compared to the silence it had caused outside.

   “What was that?” She heard, a gruff and awful sounding voice if she was honest. Daryl’s hand had gone around her waist, jerking her away from the heavy steps on the front porch. She leaned down just in time to snatch the picture that she wanted – that she needed.

   As Daryl dragged her out the back door and they heard the tell-tale sounds of someone trying to break down the front door, she finally saw the neat script on the back of the picture of the little girl and Gus.

  Ellie and Leo, 2010

  

Chapter Text

 

   “Beth! Come back!” He chased after her, but she kept up a steady pace towards the living room. She couldn’t leave it.

   “What the fuck are you doing?” He had jerked her back when her hand had closed around the frame, knocking her off balance and sending the glass picture frame towards the floor. It sounded like the loudest thing in the world, compared to the silence it had caused outside.

   “What was that?” She heard, a gruff and awful sounding voice if she was honest. Daryl’s hand had gone around her waist, jerking her away from the heavy steps on the front porch. She leaned down just in time to snatch the picture that she wanted – that she needed.

   As Daryl dragged her out the back door and they heard the tell-tale sounds of someone trying to break down the front door, she finally saw the neat script on the back of the picture of the little girl and Gus.

  Ellie and Leo, 2010

----------

   "I've never gotten a tattoo,"

   "You've used that one before,"

   "Damn,"

   Beth watched as Gus (Leo?) trotted on ahead of her and Daryl, who were trudging side by side through the muddy remnants of the snow. He was wearing his little plaid coat, which Beth swore was warmer than hers and Daryl's winter coats combined. Daryl had given her his second coat, now only wearing a light sweatshirt, but she still had to fight off the urge to chatter her teeth and shiver.

   She swore they had crossed a state line at some point, she had never remembered Georgia having such a harsh winter before this. It had stopped snowing, finally, but now it was just cold and wet. But maybe, without the influence of humans, the environment was shifting? Without electricity or pollution, wouldn't the climate gradually become different than what they were used to? She had no idea, maybe she should have paid more attention in science class. There was a positive to having no electricity, though. Beth had never seen so many stars.

   Apparently, Daryl had taken an astronomy class in college - and if they were stuck outside for the night he would occasionally point out constellations or stars to her, her favorite was the Leo constellation.

   They still called him Gus, Augustus more often than not. Her and Daryl hadn't even spoken about calling him Leo, but she had shown him the picture after Daryl had finished yelling at her for going back into the house, which took days. He had looked at it for a long time, whispered that the girl looked like an 'Ellie', then handed it back and kept walking. She knew that Gus responded to Leo, but it felt wrong to use it. Leo had been Ellie's dog, not theirs - Beth thought of it like the bedrooms back at the farmhouse, sleeping in them would be intruding on someone's life, calling Gus by Ellie's name felt the same to Beth.

    Beth still didn’t have a definite answer as to why she risked her and Daryl’s safety for the picture of Gus and his owner. It was tucked safely in the pocket of her backpack, she hadn’t looked at it since they deserted the farmhouse. She felt like she needed it, she just wasn’t sure why.

   They had stayed close to the farmhouse for a few days after the men found it, watching to see if they left. Daryl had finally dragged her away when they watched one of the men drag a girl through the front door.

    It took three days of walking to finally find a road, sleeping in the snow with a pitiful fire and meager food. Beth had been right about their thoughts of going back on the road, it was a nightmare. Everywhere they found was either overrun, empty, or too close to a road where someone could stumble upon them. They hadn't scavenged anywhere in a while, mostly because they were still shaken up from the last time. Daryl had been overtaken by at least six walkers, and when she saw him fall to the ground with one on top of him her heart had nearly stopped beating. She didn't think about what she would have done if it had gone bad, though.

   It wasn't like she couldn't defend herself, practicing her fighting skills was a great way to stay warm - and she swore that if they weren't struggling to find food, she might have had visible muscles for the first time in her life. She could survive for a while on her own, not very long, but a lot longer than what she started with. She was coming to the realization that it wasn't the protection or companionship she would have missed; it would have been Daryl.

   She had had people she called best friends in middle school and high school - people she thought she could tell everything and depend on. She had been wrong. Daryl Dixon had slowly, but surely, become her best friend.

   She felt like he knew her inside and out - she didn't worry about voicing her thoughts or ideas around him anymore, telling him everything she could think of. He laughed at her shitty jokes, they played stupid games like I Spy and sang One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the wall as they walked (they had upped it to one thousand pretty quickly). They shared a lot in common, personality-wise. She was shocked to find out Daryl actually loved to read, and when she had mumbled something about thinking he wasn't able to he threw a stick at her. She wasn't sure if it was just because they were alone, and they only had each other, or if they actually got along that well.

   He wasn't nearly as open as her, but he was getting there. She had heard nearly everything about Merle - and besides the drug problems and misogynistic tendencies, he sounded like a good man at heart. He essentially raised Daryl after all - Beth wanted to believe that if he could raise someone as kind and funny as Daryl Dixon, he couldn't be nearly as bad as he sounded. She was shocked to learn that they were nearly twenty years apart, that he was old enough to be Daryl's actual dad. He even told her that when he was a toddler he had started calling Merle daddy, and he got that slapped out of him real quick.

   They never really delved into the topic of his abuse. They occasionally spoke about his mom, that she had been beautiful but flighty, drowned her sorrows in liquor instead of taking care of her children, they never really spoke about Will Dixon, though.

   Beth had figured out that Daryl Dixon was extremely claustrophobic, to the point of pushing himself into a panic attack when they had to hide in a closet when a herd came past the gas station they were scavenging. She didn't want to know what he had endured causing that.

   She was growing to hate Will Dixon with a passion nearly every day - she was glad he was dead. She also wanted to tell her parents that she was sorry for ever saying something awful or uselessly arguing with them, she could have had a lot worse.

   They never mentioned the group either. They both seemed to agree that it was mutually beneficial to not talk about them a lot.

   "Beth? Are you listening?" She turned and saw that he was looking at her expectantly. Did he say something?

   "What was I supposed to be listening to?" God. He was right next to her and she didn't hear him, she supposed being on the run tired a person out.

    "I said that there's a road over there." He stated, stopping and whistling for Gus to do the same. He no longer grumbled or mumbled things at her. He had gotten too comfortable with her, she mused.

   "Should we go?" They had been traipsing through the woods for a few days now, not really going anywhere. Beth guessed that was the new normal now.

   "That's what I asked you." Oh.

   "Are you okay?" Was she? Her mental health wasn't too shabby. She was hungry and a little cold - but fine.

   "Yep, I think I'm just catching a cold or something. I've been tired for a few days now." She stated, placing her hands on her hips and leaning her head back to look into Daryl's eyes. He was too tall. Or she was too short, either or.

    She rolled her eyes as she watched him raise his hand to her forehead, checking her temperature. She shot him a small smile, which he returned. Yes, her mental health was doing just fine.

    "Tell me if you start to feel bad? I still have that Advil from the highway in my bag," He started to dig around in his backpack, now covered in dirt and blood. The creeks were still too cold to wash off in, not worth risking hypothermia for a quick bath. It had been a few weeks since they left the house, Beth was starting to feel gross, but she was too cold to even think about putting a toe in the freezing cold water.

   Winter was coming to an end, she only hoped it would be soon.

    "It's not that bad," She hated using supplies for herself.

    "Yeah, sure - last time you said that you had a dislocated shoulder." Daryl glared at her, and she shivered when she was reminded of her injury. They had been walking on the road when Beth lost her footing on a patch of ice and ate it - she had felt a sharp pain, but ignored it in favor of moving on. They had just gotten out of the sports center and she was still shaken up about nearly losing Daryl. Turns out, she dislocated her shoulder. Daryl had to pop it back in while she bit onto a stick - it wasn't one of her proudest moments.

    "I'll let you know, promise." He nodded in acceptance, still not looking too convinced, which she ignored - and they moved towards the road together.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

   

    Beth cringed as she reached under the counter of the grimy gas station they were currently in. If she moved her shoulder just right, it hurt like hell - but it could be worse. That seemed to be her new favorite phrase. It could always be worse.

   Gus sat loyally behind her, wagging his tail. Once again, she was beginning to think the dog didn't have a central nervous system.

    She felt her hands close around something cold - if it was what she thought it was, she'd hit big money.

    "Aha!" She held up her prize and looked around for Daryl, who had disappeared into the depths of the 7/11 somewhere.

    "What'd you do," came from one of the aisles. It wasn't even phrased like a question anymore, that was either really sad or really funny. She ignored his jab either way.

    "Not what I did, what I found! Come look!" Beth pushed back the nauseous feeling she got when she held the gun in her hand. She hadn't touched one since the farm fell, she didn't like to think of that night.

    "Where the fuck did you find that?" Daryl shouted, a little louder than he needed to. He moved towards her quickly, having to nearly trip over Gus as he went to stand next to her.

   “It was under the counter; I couldn’t tell what it was. What do we do with it?” What was the point of a gun if you never really used one? If it was too risky to use? Daryl had his crossbow, she was just getting used to maneuvering the knife around well enough to say she was comfortable.

   “We keep it, just in case,” His voice dropped to nearly a whisper then, and she shivered. She didn’t want to think about just in case right now. She was doing good; they were doing good. She decided to change the conversation to something lighter, for the both of them.

   “Did you find anything?” Most gas stations had been wiped clean, it seemed like, but from looking around this one it seemed like it had some useful snacks. Beth had already swiped a pack of gum and stuffed it into her bag.

   “Some food.” He held out a few packets of beef jerky and dried fruit – it was better than the nearly raw raccoon they ate a few days ago because they couldn’t get a good enough fire started, honestly. Beth was still washing the blood from under her fingernails.

  “I found something else you’ll like, give me your arm,” He had a smile on his face when he said it, and she raised her eyebrows in question. She watched as he leaned down to pick up her water bottle and dampened the bandana he always had tied to his belt loop. He slapped a piece of paper on the inside of her wrist – right on top of the vertical scar that had nearly faded to white. He held it on for a few minutes, the silence between them comforting and familiar.

   She had closed her eyes, enjoying the peaceful moment when she felt his hand let go of her wrist, and she peeked down at the scar.

   It was now covered by a butterfly tattoo, its wings a light blue color.

  “Now you can’t try and say that you’ve never gotten a tattoo.” He explained, giving her the small smile that she had come to love so much. She let out a small laugh, gently touching the wings of the butterfly.

  “No, I can’t.”

 

 

    “Never have I ever skipped class?” Beth offered, trying to talk as much as she could in an attempt to stop the chattering of her teeth. She and Daryl were squished against one another, having gotten over personal space a few days after sleeping out in the snow. Gus was curled in-between their legs, snoring lightly.

   “Point for you,”

   “So what are we up to now?” It was kind of pointless, neither of them either wrote down their scores so they had to rely on their memory. She was sure a few points had been missed or forgotten. All she cared about was that she was finally catching up to Dixon.

   “In the eighties or nineties, at least.”

   They slipped into comfortable silence after that, only the sound of Gus’s light breathing and the occasional hoot of an owl.

   “Do you think Christmas has already passed?” She had stopped keeping track of the days a long time ago.

    “Probably.” He whispered. She leaned her head on his shoulder and sighed, patting Gus on the head.

    “What was your last Christmas like?”

    She didn’t even know where to start. Last Christmas felt like an eternity ago, like a different lifetime.

    “It was really quiet. Shawn was at school and Maggie didn’t come back from Atlanta – so it was just me and my parents.” It had been really nice, her and her mother baking cookies and a small Christmas dinner while her dad put up the tree in the living room. She tried not to think about it too much because although she didn’t want to forget those moments, she really wasn’t in the mood to cry.

    They slipped into silence again, she guessed Daryl didn’t want to share any of his Christmas memories if he even had any good ones. She hoped that one day if they ever found someplace they could call home, they could celebrate together. With Gus, of course.

    “Merry Christmas, Daryl.”

     “Merry Christmas, Beth.”

     She burrowed her head deeper into his shoulder, warm for the first time in what felt like weeks. She was about to ask him to teach her a few more of the constellations when Gus let out a low growl, she had nearly grasped the handle of her knife strapped to her thigh when she heard something worse than a walker.

     “Look what we’ve got here, boys.”

Chapter Text

She burrowed her head deeper into his shoulder, warm for the first time in what felt like weeks. She was about to ask him to teach her a few more of the constellations when Gus let out a low growl, she had nearly grasped the handle of her knife strapped to her thigh when she heard something worse than a walker.

     “Look what we’ve got here, boys.”

 

    Daryl had yanked Beth up so fast from her comfortable spot in the roots of a pine tree her vision blurred around the edges, having to grab onto his elbow to support her weight. She had broken out in a cold sweat a few hours after they left the gas station, her fingers jittery and her throat sore. She guessed she would have to take Daryl up on that Advil soon.

   Her knife felt heavy on her thigh as she played with the edges of the holster, the fake pink leather beginning to gray and rot. She reached down lower to feel the soft fur on the top of Gus’s head, feeling the vibration of his snarls, the raised hackles on his neck.

   Beth continued to shake as they listened to the sounds of the forest, the sounds of too many footsteps marching their way into the makeshift camping site. Daryl grabbed her hand then, pushing her behind his large frame, against the bark of the tree.

   “Stay behind me, you understand?” He whispered, frantic. Scared.

   She nodded her head, placing her hand on the handle of her knife, just in case. She watched as Daryl held up and pointed his crossbow into the dark woods, scanning.

   A man stepped out then, nearly a head shorter than Daryl, hair, and beard graying around the edges – his hands were held up in mock surrender. The smile on his face made Beth uncomfortable.

   A few more filtered out of the trees around them, like shadows slipping through creek water. There were five of them. They were too quiet. How long had they been standing in the woods, watching them?

   The man – the leader, apparently, stepped closer to them. Daryl’s held his crossbow higher, Beth could see into the aiming mechanism – it was aimed at the middle of the man’s forehead. The hand that had moved to Beth’s waist held on a little tighter. She turned her head to check behind them, they didn’t seem like the kind of group that thought ambushes were unfair.

   “Now, now, let’s all calm down. We’re not here to cause trouble.” His voice was greasy, rough, the kind you heard on those crime shows in strip clubs and jails. It made Beth want to shiver. He crept a step closer, holding his hands higher in surrender as if that made it any better.

   “Y'all don’t have a fire going, mind if we start one and sit with you for a bit?”

   “We were about to move anyway, ya’ll have this spot.” The crossbow never lowered, never wavered.

   “Traveling in the dark? Lots of monsters wandering around out there in the shadows, kid.”

    Yeah, you.

    “We’ll be fine.” Go away, it said.

    “We have some food, some good company, we’ll make it worth your while, promise.” The man gave them a greasy smile then, Beth was sure he thought his smile was charming, welcome, instead, it made her want to vomit, Gus looked like he was about to as well. He held his gloved hand out towards Daryl’s chest. Too close.

     Daryl ignored his hand, but he lowered his crossbow a bit, it was still high enough to let off an arrow into one of their necks. That made Beth feel a little bit better.

    They hadn’t seen another person since the farm, not set eyes on another human being in what – seven, eight months? Beth wasn’t sure if she was ever going to be used to begin around other people again, certainly not this group.

    “Riley? Go get some wood for a fire, these folks look like they could use a good warmin’ up.”

    A rather large member of the group disappeared into the woods, while the others started ditching their supplies – moving closer towards them.

   “Name’s Joe, where ya’ll coming from?”

   “Atlanta.”

   “Ah, Riley came from there, said it was a shitshow.”

   “Mhm.”

    The man, Joe? She wasn’t going to call him by his name, she decided. He clapped his hands together, a smile breaking out on his face when his henchman came out of the woods with a few usable pieces of firewood. The sound of his hands echoing through the trees caused both Daryl and her to flinch.

    “We’ll just keep moving, let you guys have this spot.” He grabbed her wrist and motioned for her to pick up her bags. It was already on her back.

     “No, no, we insist. Some company would be nice, haven’t seen anyone in weeks. Please,” He gestured towards the spot closest to him, further away from where they were sitting when they came out of the woods, his eyes were on Beth, though. “Sit.”

    Beth squeezed Daryl’s elbow, silently telling him that they needed to stay for a little bit – because if they left now, she didn’t think the man would take it very well.

   More importantly, when did she become so untrusting in other people? That was a thought for another day, for sure.

   So, they slowly settled back down into their spots. Their backs were rigged and their hands were clenched around their weapons, but they sat. Her hand was still on Daryl’s elbow.

  The man asked them quiet questions that Daryl answered with short, one-worded answers while the rest of the group toiled around them. Beth could feel their eyes on her, on her hand that rested on Daryl’s elbow.

  “What’s your name, son?”

  “Don’t think that’s important.”

   “Ah,” He sighed, clasping his hands over his knees, “so we’re playing that game.” He smiled again, bigger this time, and his eyes flicked right towards Beth.

   “What about you, gorgeous? You’re awfully pretty, aren’t you?” His eyes moved back towards Daryl then, questioning. “Does she talk?”

   “When she wants to,” Beth whispered. Her hand clenched the handle of her knife tighter, her knuckles were beginning to turn white with effort.

   “Feisty, I like that in a woman.”

    Gross.

    It was silent for a while, an uncomfortable, tense sort of silence. The other men had stopped moving around, all seated around their leader like a twisted clergy. The other played with the twigs he was supposed to be making a fire with, he wasn’t doing a very good job.

  One of the men, the smallest out of the bunch, but the fattest, suddenly spoke in a weasel-like voice directed towards Daryl.

   “Is she yours?”

     His? What the hell was that supposed to mean? Did they think she was his daughter or something? Surely, she didn’t look that young.

    “Yeah,” another one added, the biggest one, “she’s a nice one.”

      Oh.

      Oh.

       Beth watched as Daryl’s jaw clenched, as his fingers played with the trigger of his bow.

       “We’re just traveling together.” They didn’t seem to get the hint, the back off apparent in Daryl’s voice and Beth’s eyes, because they just kept going.

       “Shame, she’s a pretty one, ain’t she, Joe?”

       Another one piqued in then, the one closest to Daryl. He reached out towards Daryl’s curls, the ones that were nearly past his shoulders.

       “He ain’t too bad either.”

        Daryl jerked back in revulsion when he noticed the grubby hand reaching for his head, Beth wrapped her arms around his waist, holding him further away from that.

      “We’re going to go, we wanted to move on anyway.” Beth offered, giving the leader a small, what she hoped was sweet, smile. “Have a good night,”

    As she and Daryl moved to stand, so did they.

   “Oh, come on, sweetheart, don’t make this harder than it already is.”

     “We’re leaving.” Daryl said determined, jaw clenched. His crossbow was held a little higher now.

     “You two are no fun, usually they’re begging for mercy by now.”

      Beth felt faint, she wasn’t sure if it was the illness she had or the situation they were now stuck in. All she knew was that they needed to leave, now.

      Before she could move another step further, everything seemed to happen all at once. One of the men, the big one, reached to grab her arm. She heard Daryl shout don’t touch her and watched as every weapon went up, aimed at them, watched as the smile spread across Joe’s face.

    “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

    She felt a hand wrap around her arm, hard enough to bruise, and heard the sound of Daryl’s crossbow firing, the thunk as it sunk into flesh. The hand released, and all hell broke loose.

   She felt Daryl being jerked away from her, the sound of a punch landing a good hit. She heard a quick run, Beth when a grip latched onto her hair and dragged her towards the middle of the clearing.

   All of the shit that could have happened, torn apart by walking corpses, starvation, pneumonia – and this was how they were going to die, sprawled out in the leaves, a place where no one would find them.

 

 

      Beth could feel the mud soaking into the knees of her jeans, the sting of her hair still being pulled too hard. She could feel the man’s breath on her throat, the fat one, his hands were grabby and she shivered in disgust when she felt his fingers glide across her chest.

    Joe and two others stood in front of her, holding a struggling Daryl by the shoulders, Joe held a gun to his head. Daryl’s crossbow was abandoned towards the side of the clearing, next to the man knocked out by one of Daryl’s swings.

     Beth flinched every time Joe moved the gun closer to Daryl’s temple, every time the metal of the gun hit his skin. She had pushed Gus off into the woods when she heard the thunk of the arrow in one of their stomachs – it seemed he listened. She felt horrible for making him go off on his own again, but she couldn’t bear to lose him too.

    “Now, pretty lady, you’re going to play nice. Cause if you don’t, you’re going to get to watch your friend get a bullet fired into his brain. We clear?” Joe said, pressing the end of the chamber harder into Daryl’s skull, hard enough to bruise.

    She nodded and shivered as that nasty smile spread across his face.

    “Leave her alone! Kill me, do whatever you want to me, just let her go.” Daryl cried, struggling against the hold of the two men. She wanted to get up and calm him down, tell him that it was going to be okay – but she wasn’t sure about that, was she?

    Joe leaned down to Beth’s height then, kneeling down to caress her cheek. She closed her eyes and clenched her fist then because she wasn’t going to let them see her cry.

    ‘We’re not going to do anything to you, son. We’re gonna make you watch.” Joe smirked, pushing a stray curl that had fallen in her eyes back behind her ears. The man behind her was still grabbing at her hips, at her butt.

   She felt a surge of anger then, anger because these kinds of men thrived in this world – took every opportunity to make it worse than it already was, took away things because they could. So, she did what anyone would do.

   She spit in his face.

  “Fuck you,” She snarled, pulling against the hold on her hair, looking him right in the eye. She wasn’t going to cry, she wasn’t going to give them that victory.

   Joe had the audacity to look appalled as if he hadn’t ambushed them and dragged them out to be raped and slaughtered afterward. She flinched when he pulled his hand back and slapped her across the cheek, finally bringing tears to her eyes.

 She heard Daryl struggle and she tasted blood in her mouth – but still held eye contact with the man in front of her.

   “Get to work, Mark. We don’t have all night.”

    She felt rough hands pull her down onto the ground, slamming her head onto the ground beneath her. She struggled to slip out of the grip, kicking and punching as much as she could, trying to dislodge her attacker.

    She had always read stories about girls who were raped, her mother had even bought her a book that taught you how to avoid it. She always thought that was stupid, why teach girls how to avoid it when they don’t go out looking for it in the first place?

   It seemed her kicking and screaming had no effect on the heavy man on top of her, and slowly, she felt a piece of her heart shrivel up and die.

   There were no good people left, were there?

   No. Daryl was good. Rick was a good man, so was Glenn. Her dad, her sister, Shawn. They were all good people, and she wasn’t going to let these people win.

  But how?

  She felt a hand slip down the front of her jeans, fidgeting with the button. She heard more struggling, the sound of more kicks and punches, cussing and screaming.

  She heard a low growl somewhere near her head, she started thinking about how a walker would just make this so much better when the man on top of her jerked around and let out a yell. Beth watched as Gus latched onto the man’s arm, yanking and pulling with all of his might.

   Her hero gave her enough time to kick the man where it hurt most and slip out, enough time to frantically reach for the gun they had stuffed in the front pocket of Daryl’s backpack

   Just in case.

 It felt awful in her hands, cold and unforgiving. It seemed like she would never get used to that. But it didn’t matter, because she had a way out.

   So, she spun around and fired.

Chapter Text

    It felt awful in her hands, cold and unforgiving. It seemed like she would never get used to that. But it didn’t matter, because she had a way out.

   So, she spun around and fired.

 

 

      It had been so long since she had heard the fire of a gun, the boom that was so dangerous nowadays, that her ears rung a bit as she watched the man who had tried to rape her fall to the ground. The blood from the wound on his neck splattered onto Beth and Gus.

    Good riddance, asshole.

    Her little hero ran to stand beside her, growling at the group of men that were looking towards her in shock. His little teddy bear was strapped onto his plaid coat, tucked into one of the buckles after Beth had been worried he would set it down and lose it. He cherished that little toy.

   Anger flared in Beth when she spotted the blood running down Daryl’s face, the bruise already forming on his temple from the barrel of the gun Joe shoved into it. I am not going to let them win.

  It seemed the shock of seeing a ninety-pound girl and her dog maim and shoot a full-grown man was too much for the other men because before they could react, Beth fired at them too.

   The first shot missed its mark, but that was because she was worried she was going to hit Daryl and not the others. She would never live that down if she did. She tried to ignore how she still closed her eyes whenever she shot a gun, flinched every time she pulled the trigger. She didn’t think that was ever going away.

   By some miracle, she hit the two that were holding Daryl back, and not the man she was trying to save. Hell, she was usually so bad at aiming she wouldn’t be surprised if she hit Gus by accident. It seemed that an adrenaline rush gave her ninja reflexes now.

   Beth watched as Daryl attacked Joe, who seemed stunned at the sudden turn of events. She realized after a few punches that he wasn’t aiming to kill.

  “Daryl, he’s not worth it.” She whispered, laying her hand on his elbow again, pulling him back a bit. The man was on his knees now, spitting blood, he wasn’t going anywhere.

   He spun around, eyes shining with unshed tears and blood running down the nasty gash in his forehead. His eyes scanned her body, his hands running over her face and her shoulders, looking for injuries. His touch was comforting, warm. It felt like home.

   “Are you okay?” He pushed her hair back from her eyes, prodding at the obvious bump on her head from being slammed into the ground. Beth thought that her head would be sore for weeks from the hair pulling.

    “I’m okay, promise.” He nodded, but continued checking for injuries anyway, patting Gus on the head when he trotted over towards them, growling at the man on his knees.

    “Ya’ll are cute,” He spat, wiping the blood from his chin. He shot a nasty smile at Beth and she grimaced. No matter what happened, it seemed she still felt sympathetic for people in pain.

    “Don’t make this harder than it already is, you hear?” She whispered, repeating his words from earlier. Her hand clenched a little too tight around the trigger of the gun. What was the phrase Shane used back at the farm? Trigger happy.

   She watched as Daryl ran over to pick up his crossbow, dusting off the shaft and throwing it up to aim at Joe’s head. He had something else in his hand, a rope.

   They needed to get out of there, quickly. The sound of shots would just attract more walkers and that is not what they needed to deal with right now.

   “Just get it over with,” Joe offered.

   “No, we’re going to let you watch,” Daryl stated, kicking Joe’s legs and gesturing towards the tree her and Daryl had been sitting against from the start.

   “Watch what?”

   “The walkers come for you.”

   After they tied a struggling Joe to the pine tree and Beth had to restrain herself from making a boy scouts joke because not the time nor the place, they heard the first telltale sign of walkers.

   “Got everything?” Daryl asked, whistling at Gus to start following them through the woods, away from the scene of the crime. They didn’t bother taking care of the one who was still unconscious, the walkers would take care of him.

   They ignored the shouts and curses of the man tied to the tree, instead, Beth grabbed Daryl’s hand as they walked in the opposite direction that the men came from, away from whatever the hell just happened.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

TWO WEEKS LATER  

    “Please drink some water, Beth.”

    “I’m just going to throw it back up anyway,” She offered, grimacing at the pain that shot through her chest and throat whenever she spoke.

   It had been two weeks since the woods, two weeks since they tied a man to the tree and left him to be torn apart by corpses. Beth had felt a twinge of guilt a few days afterward, the small part of her morals that was left from a time before the world ended, she shut that down pretty quick, though.

   Daryl had been worried about her afterward, asking her if she was alright more times than she could count. She finally got tired of it and just asked why he thought she was hurt because she was fine.

   It was his look that made her realize he was asking about her mental health, not physical. He whispered that she was taking what happened really well and he was worried she was going to break down after the adrenaline wore off. He was right because she broke down into his shoulder later that night. Her tears were fear-based, she realized because she was trying not to think about what would have happened if Gus hadn’t come to her rescue.

    Daryl thanking her for saving him made it a little better. Beth forcing him to say thank you to Gus made it better too. She saw Daryl slip Gus pieces of the squirrel and rabbit they had been eating nearly every night, so she knew he was truly grateful.

   Now, it seemed like God had it out for her. The adrenaline wearing off brought her to the realization that she had almost been raped and killed and also allowed the virus she had been storing up in her system to unleash and wreak havoc on her.

   It was apparently some form of the flu, and it sucked.

   “You need to drink water because you need to take medicine.” They had been hiding out in a pharmacy for a few days while Beth suffered through her illness, it had been another godsend.

    “That medicine tastes like ass.” She grunted, adjusting the blanket and wrapping it tighter around her small shoulders.

   He laughed and helped her adjust the blanket a little more, swiping at the curl that forever stuck out of her ponytail.

    “Please?”

     She knew he had the right to be worried. The first few days had been rough, the fever causing Beth to fall in and out of consciousness, she swore she even puked blood one time. Those few days after what happened in the woods were just one big blur to her sick brain, but she was getting better, slowly, but better.  

    She had started bribing him with things, if she did this, he did that, it was really the only entertainment she got while she was curled up on the breakroom couch of the pharmacy. She was too dizzy to read, and if Daryl talked too much or too loudly it made her head pound.

    “If I drink water and take some of the medicine, will you teach me how to use your crossbow?” She was fascinated, it was such an interesting weapon choice, something quiet and unique. It fit Daryl perfectly, and she wanted that too.

   “Once you’re not on the brink of death? Maybe,”

    “I’ll be better in a day or two. You’ll teach me?” He had even made an offhand comment of finding her a bow to use after they scavenged a sports store, joking that they could probably find a pink one to match her knife.

   “Promise,”

    She held her pinkie finger up towards his face, ignoring the shake of her hand. She didn’t remember when they started using pinkie promises as contractual agreements, but she liked it. They pinkie swore on it, and he crammed some water and medicine down her throat.

    She even let him feed her some crackers and play with her hair. She tried to tell herself it was because she felt bad for being so sick, but she knew that wasn’t the case.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 THREE MONTHS LATER

 

     “I spy something… Green!”

     “Literally every tree?”

     “Nope, any other guess?”

      “You?”

    She laughed at his joke, wiping at the sweat that was forming above her brow. She had determined that she liked winter in the apocalypse better than the beginnings of spring. If you were cold in the winter, you could pile on the blankets and build a fire, you can’t just rip your skin off when you’re hot, though.

    They were walking along some railroad tracks, overgrown with weeds and grass. She was trying to balance on the railroad ties that were stacked along the tracks while they walked, acting as if it was a balance beam. Daryl held her hand to keep her steady, occasionally having to step a bit closer when she started to wobble. Knowing her luck, she’d break a leg.

     It had been almost four months since the pharmacy. Winter had ended early, nearly the end of what Beth guessed was February – but that meant summer came early too. It had felt like the farm fell years ago, like it had been decades since they had felt the summer breeze.

    It had nearly been a year since the farm fell. That was a scary thought.

   A year since she had seen her sister and been hugged by her father. She wondered where they were, what they were doing – she never thought of them as dead, no, the group from Atlanta would have taken care of them, and if not, Greene’s were strong.

   Had they mourned for Beth? Did they build an empty memorial for her before they moved on? Did they do the same for Daryl?

  The passing months had allowed Beth and Daryl to begin discussing what happened at the farm, she learned about what happened with Randall and Shane – how Shane had a few marbles loose. She always thought he looked as if he could implode at any moment.

   They talked about how the group, how Glenn was a bigger part of the group then anyone gave him credit for, how Dale had been one of the kindest men they had ever met. They wondered about Lori and her pregnancy, if she was okay and if the baby had been born yet.

   Beth wondered if talking about the group was sort of a coping mechanism because they had been alone together for so long as if talking about people made it feel as though they were walking alongside them. Or, if they had both finally come to terms with the pain and made room for it.

   “What month do you think it is?” Beth asked, gripping onto Daryl’s hand a little tighter when her foot nearly slipped on a piece of moss. Gus was walking ahead of them, trotting happily.

    “I don’t know, probably April.”

    “My birthday is in April.” Beth offered. It was weird to think that she might be eighteen now, that the day that had been so celebrated by her family in the past just flew by without a thought.

   “Mine is in October. How old would you be?”

   “Eighteen. It’s weird to think about it.”

   “Why?” He prodded.

    “Because it was made out to be such a big milestone. Now, it’s just another day.”

    “A good day, though.” He smiled, reaching out when she nearly slipped again.

     She jumped down when she was reaching the end of the railroad ties, starting to hum a lullaby her mom used to sing to her and Shawn while they took a bath. She’d kill for a shower right now, completely break if she was offered a bubble bath. Streams were good enough for now, though.

     She came to a screeching halt when she saw a black SUV parked across the railroad tracks, a woman holding an assault rifle leaned against the hood.

     It seemed they both noticed each other at the same time, because all weapons went up and Gus began growling at the woman.

    “Put your weapons down!” She shouted, waving the gun around in a dangerous fashion. The fact she didn’t seem too comfortable holding it made Beth feel a bit better.

    “Sasha, calm down.” A gentle voice stated, and the person behind it soon appeared from behind the SUV. It was a large black man, she saw a resemblance between him and the woman currently holding a gun at them, but didn’t think on it too hard.

    “We come in peace,” The man laughed, giggling at his own joke. He held his hands up in surrender and stood next to the woman. Definitely siblings.

    “We have a safe place, if you guys are interested.” He offered, smiling again. It wasn’t creepy, it just seemed kind.

    “Not really, thanks.” Daryl whispered, but loud enough for them to hear. The man frowned and the woman eyed Beth’s hand that was still latched with Daryl’s.

    “She with you?”

     “Yes.”

     They learned their lesson the last time.

      “We understand that you don’t trust us, really. We have a community, a nice place to live, good food, we don’t want to hurt you, promise.”

      “No, thank you, sir.” Beth smiled, politely shaking her head and adjusting her backpack. They couldn’t risk it.

       “Well, if you change your minds, it’s a prison off exit three, you won’t miss it. Both of you, and your furry friend are welcome.” The man smiled again and the woman even offered one of her own, but it looked painful.

       They both watched as the two scrambled back into the car and drove away. Compared to the other run-in, the difference was like night and day.

      “Do you think it’s worth looking at? If it is even real?” Beth found it hard to believe that there were safe places anymore, places where children played and people laughed. It seemed like a fever dream now.

     “I don’t know, we’ve been doing pretty good on our own.”

     Were they doing good enough to trust strangers?

Chapter Text

       They both watched as the two scrambled back into the car and drove away. Compared to the other run-in, the difference was like night and day.

      “Do you think it’s worth looking at? If it is even real?” Beth found it hard to believe that there were safe places anymore, places where children played and people laughed. It seemed like a fever dream now.

     “I don’t know, we’ve been doing pretty good on our own.”

     Were they doing good enough to trust strangers?

 

 

     "How many people live in there, you think?" Beth whispered, clutching her pink crossbow tightly in her grasp. They had been crouched a few hundred feet from the fences of the prison for about an hour now. It was well into the night, maybe even closer to dawn. They watched the flashlight of the tower guard waiver back and forth, pacing. 

     "Maybe twelve or fourteen? It's hard to tell, there were a lot of people out in the yard today, though." Beth had sent Daryl ahead while she stayed back towards the tracks, she scavenged the scraps from a local gas station while she waited, Gus at her side. She was finally getting consistent enough that she could be alone for short periods of time, even scavenging and clearing places without Daryl following behind her. He had gifted her a pink crossbow a few weeks before they were told about the prison by the two with the SUV - Beth didn't remember their names. She teared up when Daryl held it out to her, though. 

    "A late birthday present," He offered, giving her that small smile she held close to her heart. His dimples were more prominent when he did so, she loved them.

    After she recovered from her illness, Daryl started slowly teaching her how to use his crossbow, but they quickly figured out that it was a little too big for Beth to hold up. Her shoulders had been sore for days after their first practice, she couldn't even lift her arms above her head. Much like it had been right after the farm fell, she got flustered whenever Daryl stood behind her - his arms wrapped around her shoulders guiding her aim. She was so small that he had to bend down a bit to talk in her ear, her back pressing against his stomach. 

   He made fun of her for being out of shape enough to work up a blush, but she knew it wasn't because of that. 

   Honestly, she wasn't sure if it was just her teenage girl hormones anymore, she was beginning to think it was just Daryl.

   When she took ballet there had been an older male instructor that would occasionally come to their classes to help their teacher. All of the girls, even some of the guys, swooned over him whenever he came near. He had been in the same positions Daryl had been, and Beth never felt flustered or blushing with that guy. 

   No, it was just Daryl, and that scared her a lot. 

    She was starting to catch herself memorizing his face, the freckles that laid across his cheekbones that she so desperately wanted to count. His hair had grown out so much that his natural curls were starting to show, those perfect relaxed curls that so many girls sought after. She found herself wanting to run her hands through them. They had long ago stopped worrying about modesty when bathing, Daryl had given her a washcloth bath when she was so sick she couldn't hold her head up. He had probably seen more of her than anyone ever has, even if she had a tank top and panties on. They always turned around when the other bathed, though. It seemed like complete nudity was a little too much for their friendship. 

    She desperately wanted to turn around whenever he was bathing in a creek or pond and see what was lying beneath those clothes though, it took all of her virginal willpower to do so. Every time she started to imagine what it would be like to touch him, to lay underneath sheets naked with him - her older sister's voice popped into her head. 

    ELIZABETH ANNE GREENE!     

    Yeah, that killed the vision real quick. 

     "We're there any kids?" She asked, coming back to the present and hoping that the darkness that surrounded them was enough to cover the blush that was on her cheeks. They had come to realize after a few experiences that if a group was all men, it was bad news. 

     "A few, I think I even saw a baby." 

      Oh lord, a baby. Beth didn't think there would ever be any. She still felt the same way she did back at the farm, that if someone was about to bring a child into this world they were stupid and cruel, but no one could resist the chubby cheeks of a baby. 

      Imagine how cute you and Daryl's baby would be? No! No! Bad Beth, bad, bad Beth! 

      "Do you think it's worth a shot? Or do you want to watch a little longer?" She asked, pushing the thought of a little girl with blonde pigtails and Daryl's blue eyes and freckles away for later analyzation. After the run-in with Joe and his group, their trust for other people had become nonexistent. The two with the SUV were lucky they weren't shot at. 

     She still had nightmares about the man holding her down, the racing heart and the smell of his breath. She always woke up gasping for air and reaching for either Daryl or Gus - it was usually Daryl. 

       "I don't think it's a good idea. I feel like it's too good to be true," Daryl whispered, patting Gus on the head and looking off into the distance. 

       "It is," How long could those walls stay up? How long until someone like Joe and his groupies decide they want the prison? Or if a herd came through like the farm? No, they we're doing just fine. 

 

      So she stood up and followed Daryl off into the darkness, away from the prison. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

       "Who is Queen?" 

       "Oh God, you are really young, aren't you? They were a rock band." Daryl sighed, pulling the CD case from her hands and sliding it back onto the shelf. She had gotten that phrase a few times, he had even made fun of her for being a kid, that didn't really help her current predicament with being attracted to him. 

      "I wasn't really in a rock band kind of family," She was in more of a Carpenters and gospel music kind of family. Even Disney soundtracks were too diabolical. 

       "Lucky, Merle loved screamo music." She had never heard of screamo music, from the name, it didn't seem like something she would like too much. 

        They had been scavenging an old movie store, occasionally those movie stores had snacks in the back for staff, they had hit a few good ones in the past and it was too good to pass up again. Beth was in the music section watching Daryl glance through the shelves, occasionally pulling something down and reading the back of it. They had already hit the back and scored a few bags of jerky and candy that was probably bad but they wanted to eat anyway. An M&M was a delicacy nowadays. 

        "What's your favorite movie?" Beth asked, honestly curious. Was he more a macho action movie type or blood and guts type? 

         "The Shining was pretty good, I liked What Dreams May Come too."  She watched as he slid The Thing back onto the shelf of the horror movie section. 

         "The one with Robin Williams? I wasn't expecting that." She had seen that movie, at least part of it. She just remembered crying a lot. "I'm more of a National Treasure and Angels and Demons fan." 

         Daryl gave a little hum of appreciation, obviously okay with her movie choice, and continued to explore the shelves. It had been raining for about an hour and they both really weren't in the mood to get wet. Gus was laying by the door, watching as the water slid down the glass. 

         Beth went to move closer to Daryl, maybe restart a game of I Never when they heard a crash in the back room, a few cuss words, and a shout. She had been close enough that Daryl could reach out and grab her by the shoulder and push her towards the door. Walkers didn't cuss. 

        Gus had growled before they could reach the door, and the noise in the backroom stopped. 

        Shit. 

        "Who's out there?" A voice shouted and it was a thick accent, something you heard in one of those southern Gone With the Wind type movies. It was usually the villain or the crook, not the knight in shining armor. She thought they would keep going anyway, but Daryl seemingly froze in his tracks like a deer caught in headlights. 

        She pulled his sleeve a little harder, tugging him towards the door. He was still staring at the entryway towards the backroom, shellshocked. A man came out then, hulking and huge. He had on a wife beater and his pants were covered in blood, in place of his right hand was a nasty looking knife. 

        "Look what we got 'ere," He smirked, swaggering towards them in a way that made Beth remember Joe and his group. The nasty smile stayed on his face, his eyes never leaving hers until his eyes swapped to Daryl. 

        "Baby brother?" 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

          Daryl's brother was exactly as Beth had imagined him. He was dirty, rude, racist, and looked at her chest more often than her face. If it hadn't been for Daryl telling her stories and jokes about him, she wouldn't have been prepared for the man that was Merle Dixon. She still couldn't believe that they were from the same family tree, let alone brothers. 

         Even if his brother was here, Daryl still sat close enough that she could reach out and touch him if she wanted to. She thinks he was doing it because the last time they were surrounded by a group of men starting a fire, it hadn't ended well. With Merle came three other men who didn't seem to want to be anywhere near the man. They all introduced themselves, names that Beth forgot the moment they were said, but they were nice and gave Gus some water. 

        That was the funny thing. Gus loved Merle Dixon. 

        He was currently laying with his head on the man's lap, nudging the tennis ball Beth had found in the trunk of a car and pulled out whenever they felt like it was safe enough. Merle had played fetch with him for a while, but now he was just staring at Daryl expectantly.

       "I haven't seen ya in a year and a half and you don't got nothin' to say to me, little brother?" He twirled the slobbery ball in his hand, leaned back against the trunk of a tree in a manner that was arrogant and relaxed. 

       "Not much to say," Daryl responded, not meeting his gaze. Instead, he played with the sprigs of grass that were between them. 

       "Well fuck you then, baby brother," Merle laughed, and then his gaze landed on Beth again. His eyes were meeting hers, luckily. "What'd you say your name was, beautiful?" 

       She fought the urge to roll her eyes. Just what she needed. 

       "Beth," She answered, eyeing him, she wasn't going to bow down to his confidence like Daryl. She was starting to believe that Daryl was a little too shocked that Merle was alive to talk, though. 

       "How's it my little brother be lucky enough to be puttin' it up your ass?" Merle laughed again, licking his lips and eyeing her chest. Gross.

        She actually did roll her eyes this time, she ignored his jab and just decided to answer honestly. 

        "We lost our group, we got out together after a herd attacked the place we were staying." There. That was a good enough explanation. After hearing about Merle, she wouldn't be surprised if he thought Daryl was using her as a slave. 

        "Lucky Darylina, nice tits, and a fiery personality, I like 'em quiet and meek myself," Of course he did. 

         "Shut up, Merle," Daryl spat, finally meeting his brother's gaze. They stared at each other for a few minutes, Beth thought it was one of those alpha posturing things some men did. 

         "I thought you were dead," Daryl concluded, finally breaking their gaze and looking at Gus, who had fallen asleep on Merle's lap. 

          "I thought I was," Merle whispered, quieter then Beth thought he was capable. "I thought you were dead too, figured the sheriff would've killed you whenever ya got back to base." Beth guessed he was talking about Rick, from what she had been told it seemed like Rick and Merle didn't get along very well. 

          Beth could see through the facade, though. She could see the warmth and love in Merle's eyes whenever he looked at his little brother, even if he tried to hide it through manliness and being an ass. It seemed like the Dixon sons were just big teddy bears. 

          "We went back for you," Merle scoffed, shaking his head and scratching Gus on the head. "We did," Daryl confirmed, he looked apologetic, sad almost. 

           "Lost a hand, thas' all, where'd you find sweetie here?" Yep, just big teddy bears. 

           "He found us, actually," Beth answered, smiling when Gus snuggled further into Merle's lap. 

           While the others kept setting up camp for the night, trying to find some dry wood to start a good enough fire, they fell into a comfortable silence. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

        "It's called Woodbury," Merle said, munching on the leg of a turkey that had happened upon their camp and quickly received an arrow to the body from Beth's bow. That shut the men up quickly, eyeing her in a different light. Beth liked the proud glint in Daryl's eyes when he plucked the bird for dinner. 

         "Is it safe?" Beth whispered, throwing the leftover bone from her dinner to Gus. He had already eaten a little bit of meat, but he liked to chew on bones for fun. 

         "Wouldn't be there if it wasn't, blondie."

         "Where is it at?" Daryl asked, he had finished his meal a while back and had taken to eyeing his brother, still seemed shocked that he was sitting in front of him. Whenever he told her something about his brother it was in past tense, he thought he was dead, and now he was trying to readjust. Beth thought that if she ever saw her family again it would be the same way. Hopefully, they had all of their limbs. 

         "Few miles from here," One of the other men cut in, a blonde man that looked about Rick or Shane's age. "We walled off an entire town, it's fully functional. Woodbury is about as close to normal as you are going to get nowadays." Merle scoffed, which kind of worried Beth, but Daryl cut off her thoughts. 

         "There no such thing as normal now," He grumbled, picking at the sprigs of grass once again. 

         "Woodbury is a great place, it's safe, I think you two would do well there," The man offered, giving them a small smile, she felt bad for the man because he had been stuck with Merle Dixon out scavenging for God knows how long. 

         "We'll think about it," Beth answered for Daryl, smiling back. It was nice to meet someone that was nice, someone that didn't let the current reality affect them too much. 

         She heard Merle grumble something about wearing pants and feminist nazi bitches, but one of the other men asked where they had been for the last few months before she could retaliate. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

       "And what did you do in your last community?" The small woman asked, smiling as she clasped her hands in front of her skirt. She gave off that vibe of being the white woman in a horror movie that is part of a cult, the one with the twitch in her eye and the fake smile. Beth pretended like she didn't see the knife stuffed in her nice boot. 

      Could the farm be called a community? More importantly, did she honestly tell them what she did? Moped about and occasionally fed the chickens or horses? She could do a lot more now, she could provide and conquer things that she had never even dreamed of before the farm fell. For her sanity, she told a little lie. 

      "I'm good at hunting and scavenging. I've gotten pretty good with my bow," She didn't want to be trapped in the kitchen, not after everything that has happened. 

       "Well, we've got a lot of those people, we're a little low on teachers at the school - would you be interested in teaching the kids? It's nothing spectacular, just teaching them their letters and occasionally math," Could she be surrounded by happy little children? She wanted to be a kindergarten teacher for a while during high school, but that was old Beth. Could new Beth be that patient and sweet again? 

       "What will Daryl be doing? The man that was with me?" They would probably put him as a guard, maybe a scavenger, she knew that the woman ignored her ability to hunt and scavenge because she was a girl. She still looked tiny, a little malnourished, but she had some good muscle going for her. She still looked too girly for someone like this woman to imagine her out in the real world though, Beth wondered how long this plump, clean woman had spent out in the wilderness eating raw raccoons with her hands. 

       "Oh, he was sweet. Since he was in nursing school they were thinking of putting him in the infirmary, we're not sure though because Merle wants him to scavenge with him." 

        Yep. She was always right, it seemed. The school wouldn't be too bad, it would keep her mind busy. 

        "I'll help with the kids," 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      "Everyone has their own apartments, the shop is open until nine if ya'll want something to fix for dinner. Mrs. Brady, your neighbor, likes to fix casseroles for new people, so I might just wait until she knocks on your door," The woman who had given her the job at the school smiled, standing in the middle of their new apartment. What was her name? Sharon? Cindy? Something. 

      "Thank you," Beth offered, standing awkwardly in the well-decorated apartment. It looked like a shrine of what the world used to be, with the spotless surfaces and pretty curtains and lamps. She felt uncomfortable - like she would mess something up if she touched it. 

       "Of course, sweetheart. We always give the new people a few days to adjust, but I'll see you on Monday at the school?" Beth nodded, and followed the woman to shut the door behind her. Beth locked it a little bit too fast for her to seem calm. She was grateful there was a calendar marked on the table, it was apparently July 2nd. 

        "This is weird," Daryl laughed, he looked out of place standing in the middle of the living room, Beth was sure she looked the same. The woman that showed them around had found a dog bed in one of the empty apartments and generously gave it to them for Gus. Beth didn't want to tell her that he would just sleep wherever she and Daryl were. 

        "This is weird," She agreed, walking over to the sink in the kitchen. It was one of those kitchens you saw in the home magazines, with the white countertops and the basket of fake lemons in the middle. What were they supposed to do now? Curious, she turned on the water, the one marked red, and nearly cried. 

       She turned to Daryl, a huge smile on her face, and she felt better than she had in months. 

      "There's warm water," She sighed, closing her eyes and savoring in the water that ran down her hand. She heard Daryl let out a laugh behind her and listened as he went to explore the rest of the apartment. After shedding a tear, Beth went the opposite direction, in what she assumed was the other bedroom. When she reached the room, it was decorated with a modern theme, all grays, whites, and blacks. 

      Daryl came in behind her, holding a book in his hands. "The other room is an office, there's only one bedroom." He said, sighing. 

       That meant there was only one bed, and it was a full. 

 

        

      

 

Chapter Text

     

"There's warm water," She sighed, closing her eyes and savoring in the water that ran down her hand. She heard Daryl let out a laugh behind her and listened as he went to explore the rest of the apartment. After shedding a tear, Beth went the opposite direction, in what she assumed was the other bedroom. When she reached the room, it was decorated with a modern theme, all grays, whites, and blacks. 

      Daryl came in behind her, holding a book in his hands. "The other room is an office, there's only one bedroom." He said, sighing. 

       That meant there was only one bed, and it was a full

 

 

     Beth watched in awe - or anger - she wasn't sure yet, as the people of Woodbury milled about the main street. Some hurried to their assigned jobs, others, mothers who clasped their children's hands and gossiped with the women beside them, holding grocery bags and enjoying the fresh air, strolled through the streets. 

     It had been four days since Beth and Daryl were welcomed into Woodbury, and she still wasn't sure what she thought about all of it. She and Daryl, who had agreed when Beth brought up her worry, felt as if they were being watched. Their every move scrutinized and judged - the civilized people of Woodbury acting as if they were wild animals about to go rabid with a disease. The woman that let them into their new apartment was right, their new neighbor invited them over to dinner, surveying their state of dress and looking as if she pitied them. The moment she and Daryl sat down in the over-decorated apartment the woman asked if they remembered how to use a fork and knife after being in the woods for so long, Beth wasn't sure if she had just been trying to lighten the mood, but it was pretty awkward after that. 

    Now, she knew she was right. Both her and Daryl had been assigned an 'escort' as Merle had called it a few days prior, feet up on their coffee table and sipping on a beer he had brought with him. Daryl had agreed to work the wall for a while, telling her that he wanted to see what kind of people lived here before he entrusted them with his life outside of the walls. His escort was a brawny, sleazy looking man - one of those that owned a cheap casino or strip club. They had left before the man could introduce himself any further, but all that mattered was that Daryl hugged Beth before he went and told her to have a safe day. 

    It meant a lot more to her than she would ever let on. 

    She had whispered to Daryl a few nights before they were supposed to start their new lives that she wasn't sure if she could ever go back to who she was, someone that was so used to safety that they never really even thought about it. She didn't know if slapping on a cardigan sweater and washing her hair would be enough to make up for all of the things that had happened in the past year, or anything before. 

    Daryl, from the floor, of course, because he gave Beth the bed the moment they discovered their new place only had one - told her that she never had to be that girl, didn't have to change who she was now to make others feel more comfortable. He told her that she was a new person now and that was okay, that she had another shot at something different. 

     That made her feel pretty good too. 

     Her escort had been a little late, a girl with pale, freckled skin and a mess of fiery red hair. She introduced herself as Rose, fitting, considering the red curly mass that was her hair. She never really looked into Beth's eyes while introducing herself, a few inches shorter than her, which was a shock to Beth - because at only five foot one she was starting to think she was the shortest person on earth - but seeing Gus quickly brought a smile to Rose's face. It seemed he was pretty good at that. 

     Beth soon learned that Rose was only a few years older than she was, twenty-five in just a few weeks. Beth forgot what it felt like to know the exact date, it felt strange, like they had been living in a different, timeless dimension for the past year. 

    She played along with Rose's small talk, oohing and aahing when the girl mentioned that her neighbor's garden had finally sprouted squash that they could use for the town cookout next month, occasionally asking a question or throwing in some easy conversation. She was a sweet girl, always letting you finish your sentences and listening intently when you did, someone Beth could see herself becoming friends with if given enough time. She only hoped she got that. 

   "It's a beautiful day today, isn't it?" Rose murmured, clasping her hands in front of her and keeping her head down, still not looking into Beth's eyes. 

    "It is," She answered, watching as the small schoolhouse building drifted closer and closer. She had hoped they would pass by one of the walls on their walk to work, hoping to catch a glimpse of Daryl working, maybe wave, but she was disappointed when they walked straight through town instead. 

    Rose started speaking quietly all of the sudden, startling Beth out of her thoughts of Daryl and his biceps working his crossbow as he manned the wall. 

    "I know you probably think we're all stupid, cowering behind these walls, not knowing what it's like outside of them - but you should give us a chance," She said this without even looking Beth's way, smiling at a passerby. 

    Had she been giving off that vibe? She had been a little problematic when one of the guards that escorted them to the main building to be interviewed took away their weapons, saying that they wouldn't need them here - that they were safe. She had told them that they were idiots to think a few slabs of metal would keep the world out, that they would give them their weapons back or else she'd make them. The majority of town heard her little rant, but she didn't really care at that point. Daryl was the only one to get his bow back, though. 

    "I'm trying," Beth whispered, watching as the leaves on the trees lining the sidewalk swayed in the breeze. They were weeping willows, her favorite. Could she ever trust people again? Could Daryl? She noticed how he automatically stepped in front of her whenever his escort barged in on their peaceful breakfast, how he eyed the walls and the smiles of passersby with suspicion and a little bit of disgust. It seemed like they both agreed that there was no such thing as normal now, that these people were just playing house. 

    There was another thing that worried her a bit. There were no locks on the doors, any of them, to be exact. There was also talk about 'The Governor,' claims of saint-like acts and kind demeanor, that he had saved them all. She hadn't met the man, but she was starting to think it was a load of bullshit. There were no saints, not anymore. 

    "I know you are, I hope you'll be happy here," Rose said, finally meeting her eyes and smiling. She was beautiful, a layer of freckles across her cheeks and nose, lashes that made Beth want to cry with jealousy - but there was something in her eyes, something sad, that made Beth want to shudder. 

    They walked closer to the schoolhouse in silence, a little more comfortable than before, both smiling for different reasons. 

    Beth would try, she just hoped it wouldn't come back to bite her in the ass later. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

     Beth held her head in her hands as she heard a crash come from the corner she just cleaned up, the toddler corner. It seemed the kids believed that the correct placement of the wooden toy blocks was all over the carpet, not placed neatly in a bin where they could just grab what they wanted and go. This sense of chaos had been going on for over two hours and she watched as Rose chased a smaller girl who had torn her diaper off around the craft table. They were outnumbered, and it wasn't going well. 

     The newbies apparently got placed in the toddler room, not the quiet, peaceful reading rooms that Beth had seen some of the older kids going into. Rose had been here for a few months, she told Beth. Beth wasn't sure how she was still sane. 

     She had dealt with her baby cousins before, occasionally bottle-fed a baby or played dolls - but this was absolute insanity. It seemed that the more there were, the crazier they all got. It was like walkers, in a morbid way, if there is one it's okay, but if there is a herd they'll surround you and eat you.

     At least, she hoped the girl with the pink bows in her hair that liked to pull the heads of Barbie dolls wouldn't eat her. 

     Beth was about to crawl into the corner and sob when one of the older women who worked in the school popped her head in and told Beth and Rose that they could take their lunch break in the snack room. She wanted to cry with joy. 

     The snack room was more of a closet with a few bags of stale chips and granola bars. Beth would have taken mulch and weeds if it meant she got a break. It wasn't that Beth didn't like the kids, they were all sweet in their own way, occasionally really funny, it was just that after so many months of peaceful silence and adult conversations with Daryl it was a little strange to be surrounded by screaming kids. 

     "Who is the man you are with?" Rose asked suddenly, munching on a granola bar and playing with one of the strands that fell out of her hastily assembled braid. They were seated on the old couch that was placed against one of the walls, both staring at the ceiling. 

     "Daryl? We were in a group together, at my family's farm. A herd came through and separated all of us, we got out together." They'd been through a lot of shit together too, but Beth withheld from adding that to her explanation. 

     "Oh," She played with her hair a little more, crumpling up the wrapper and tossing it perfectly into a nearby trashcan, "He's really handsome, in a backwoods country boy kind of way." She blushed but smiled at Beth anyway, a glint of amusement in her eye. 

     "He is," Beth laughed, reaching over to grab another pack of Oreos. She briefly remembered Daryl mentioning that they were one of his favorites, so she was going to smuggle him a pack or two. 

      "Are you two together? I noticed you were put in the same apartment when Mrs. P brought you in," It was an honest question, no ill-intent, but Beth didn't really know how to answer. No, they weren't involved in a romantic relationship. They were, what Beth would call, best friends, but that might have been because of their circumstances. But what if she said no? What if she admitted that she and Daryl were just friends and nothing more and someone got ideas? Would she be able to stand by and see Daryl be happy with someone else, another girl from Woodbury? Maybe even Rose? No, she couldn't. 

      She wasn't used to feeling jealous, it felt foreign in her chest. But she couldn't very well lie, because what if she said yes and then word got out and someone asked Daryl about it? Or even worse, Merle found out? They had quickly told Merle after a few visits and jokes that they weren't together romantically, he had raised an eyebrow and proceeded to hit on Beth - but she knew it was all in good fun. She had even heard a 'little sister' slip out while he was saying his goodbyes before he went to work a shift. 

     "No, we're not," Beth sighed, stuffing the Oreos into her sweatshirt pocket, hoping Rose wouldn't notice, she didn't. 

     "That's a shame, I would have jumped him a long time ago," Rose laughed, settling back into the couch a little further. Beth let out a little laugh as well, which Rose noticed and quickly sat up to look at Beth. 

     "I'm not like, coming after him or anything," she clarified, grabbing Beth's hand all of the sudden, "What did people call it? Girl code? It's against that." 

      Beth nearly laughed at her explanation, the thought of the girl code still being active during the apocalypse made her want to burst out laughing, but her admission made her feel a little bit better. She didn't like this jealousy or protectiveness she felt over Daryl, he was a grown man who could make his own decisions, Beth just didn't know what to do with these new feelings, that's all. 

      "Thanks, I understand," Beth smiled, quickly looking down to look at their clasped hands. Rose quickly withdrew her hand, looking apologetic once again. 

      "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, it's just -" She looked away as if the words she was looking for were engraved into the floor, "You're one of the only people I've met here that seem like they're genuine. I feel like I'm surrounded by people who don't understand what really happened, people who are pretending that everything is okay - you are one of the only ones I feel like I can actually joke and talk with," 

      Beth smiled then, reaching to grab her hand again. It seemed she wasn't the only one who thought the people in Woodbury were a little naive. 

       "I understand, I just haven't been around anyone besides Daryl in so long... I just don't really know how to act." She didn't remember how to talk to someone else, honestly. It seemed like when she talked to anyone else besides Daryl, maybe even Merle, she was speaking with anger and mistrust. She didn't want to talk to Rose that way, though. 

       "I get it. It was like that when I got here, I had been alone with the rest of my group for so long that we didn't really know how to act around people anymore. It was hard to adjust, they've done a little bit better than me, but I'm working to be better." Rose sighed then but suddenly smiled at her, "Besides, I wouldn't go after your man. I kind of play for the other team." 

        Beth felt the tension in her chest loosen up, finally, and threw her head back and laughed. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      "Hey, Rosie? Your little girl is done with her classes, do you want me to bring her in here?" The woman that told them to take their lunch break had popped into the room again, Beth had finally figured out her name was Janice. 

      Most of the younger kids had already been picked up by their parents, a few lingered back waiting, playing quietly in the corner in a small group. Beth had the nastiest headache of her life, but she felt accomplished. Getting to see all of the kids drag their parents over to meet the nice new lady 'Ms. Beth' was pretty rewarding, also, being gifted a small painting done by a girl that was the quietest out of their class brought tears to her eyes. It was neatly placed in her bag and she was planning to hang it on their fridge that didn't even work. 

      "Yes, I'm heading home soon. Thank you," Rose said, pushing her hair back and twisting around to pop her back. 

       "Who is she talking about?" Beth asked, flinging the final teddy bear into the small bin with relief. Kids made horrible messes, she had learned. If you turned your back for one second, it seemed they tore at everything they could get their hands on. 

        Before Rose could answer her question, a small girl, no older than five or so, flitted into the room in a flash of blonde hair and pale skin. Beth heard a small squeal and watched as the girl flung herself into Rose's arms, already talking a million miles a minute about some art project and some mean kid that made fun of her shoes. 

       Beth was shocked, to say the least. Rose had mentioned nothing about her having a kid. Rose's hand on her arm startled her out of her reverie. 

       "Sweetie, this is Beth," Rose leaned down to be closer to the girl's height, which wasn't much, "She's going to be working with me," She looked at her with such adoration, such love, that it made Beth's heart hurt a little bit. 

      The little girl stuck her hand out, puffing her chest out and putting a big smile on her face, "I'm Melody," 

      Beth reached to shake her hand, smiling,

       "It's nice to meet you, Melody." 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      "My wife got bit a few days after the outbreak, I ran with Mel before she..." Rose explained, watching as Melody skipped a few feet ahead of them. She continued, blinking back a few tears, "We found our group soon after. Melody was never really exposed to anything, thank God, but she still understands that the world isn't the same anymore." 

      "I'm sorry," Beth offered, reaching over to grab the woman's hands. She offered her a small smile, a sad smile that made Beth want to cry too, but a smile. 

      An idea suddenly popped into Beth's head. 

      "How about you and Melody come to dinner?" Beth offered, stopping and watching as Rose gently told Melody to stop as well, waiting for her answer. 

      "Oh, we couldn't intrude," Rose said, looking away and smiling at Melody who was chasing a butterfly closeby in a patch of grass. 

      "Please? I'm making French toast?" Daryl had never had it, and Beth had promised, after all. 

       Rose looked like she thought about it for a moment, weighing her options. She smiled. 

       "Sure." 

       

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~      

 

        The kitchen of her and Daryl's apartment was a flurry of pans and batter, Melody placed on a stool so she could see over the counter and help out as much as she could. Rose had discovered a few Elvis records stuffed into one of the cabinets and quickly popped it onto the empty record player in the corner. It was strange to here music again, to dance and hum along to the beat of a song. She had always loved music, but now it seemed to only make her sad. She held a happy face though, listening to Melody explain the process of making a good paper doll. 

        It seemed like none of them heard the door open and close over the sound of Elvis because Beth screamed when Daryl's voice suddenly came from behind her, asking what as going on. It startled Rose, who was hands deep in some batter, which she promptly flung up towards the ceiling when she heard Beth's scream. 

        "Sorry!" Daryl exclaimed, reaching to grab Beth's arm. She heard Rose and Melody start laughing, looking over to see that they were eyeing the piece of wet toast that was stuck to the ceiling of their kitchen. 

        "You scared me!" Beth laughed, slapping Daryl on the wrist and turning back to finish cutting the strawberries they had gotten from the store. Beth's mouth watered at the thought of strawberries. 

        "Do I not get an explanation as to what is going on?" Daryl asked again, reaching down to pat Gus on the head after he had scampered out of the bedroom. The big lump had been asleep snoring on the bed not two minutes prior. 

        Rose turned to introduce herself, holding her hand out to shake when she realized that she was still covered in batter. She made a face and pulled her hand back. 

        "I would shake, but I'm a little messy. I'm Rose," She waved instead, flashing him a smile and turning back to her work. 

        Beth walked a little closer, giving in to her instincts and reaching out to hug him. She had missed him today, a lot. 

        "You okay?" He whispered into her hair, squeezing her shoulders and lifting her a little bit off the ground. She nodded, breathing in his scent and not really wanting to let go. 

        "It's a lot, I know." He whispered, gently pushing her back and reaching to mess with that one strand of hair that always somehow found it's way out of her braid. It made her heart flutter a little too hard. A small tap on her thigh startled her from her thoughts. 

        Melody stood behind her, eyes expectant. She quickly maneuvered around Beth's legs and stood in front of Daryl, once again puffing out her chest and holding her hand out.  

        "I'm Melody Daniels," She had to crane her head back all the way to look Daryl in the eye, and it made Beth want to giggle. Daryl reached down cautiously to shake the little girl's hand, a small smile making its way on his face. 

        "Daryl Dixon," 

        "Nice to meet you. Do you like playing firetrucks?" 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

        Beth and Rose had finally finished setting the table when Melody had finished explaining the proper way to play firetrucks, drawings and all. Daryl looked a little shellshocked, settled down on the living room rug sitting crisscross applesauce with a little girl that was surprisingly bossy and confident - teaching Daryl the rules of her game like a teacher would to a student. 

       They had all settled down at the small table in the kitchen, Daryl sliding into the chair right in front of Beth. 

       "Have fun?" Beth asked, holding back a laugh and shooting him a small smile. 

       "Loads," She laughed and moved to start serving everyone at the table. Daryl had asked her about the French toast earlier before Melody had dragged him into a class about a firetruck game, laughing when she said that she had promised and that she was going to deliver the best goddamn French toast he had ever had. 

       She added a few extra strawberries to Melody's plate, remembering that the little girl had whispered that they were her favorite when they picked them up at the store. The little girl smiled and said something that made nearly drop the fork. 

       "Thank you, Mrs. Dixon." 

       That made the table get really quiet really fast, Daryl and Rose's quiet conversation coming to a screeching halt. Rose reached over to grab Melody's hand, gently pushing her hair back with the other. 

       "Honey, they aren't married like mommy and I were, they are just good friends." She explained, patting her on the head, quickly shooting an apologetic look at Beth. 

        Melody looked sad for a moment as if the thought of she and Daryl not being married broke her little heart, but quickly got distracted by the extra strawberries on her plate. 

        "I'm sorry," Rose offered, settling back into her seat. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife and Beth still hadn't glanced at Daryl yet. 

        However, the loud PLOP of the forgotten toast that was stuck to the ceiling quickly made the table break out in fits of laughter, forgetting Melody's little slip. 

        Beth didn't forget though, she was going to save the thought of Mrs. Dixon for another day. 

       

        

Chapter Text

        Melody looked sad for a moment as if the thought of she and Daryl not being married broke her little heart, but quickly got distracted by the extra strawberries on her plate. 

        "I'm sorry," Rose offered, settling back into her seat. You could cut the tension in the air with a knife and Beth still hadn't glanced at Daryl yet. 

        However, the loud PLOP of the forgotten toast that was stuck to the ceiling quickly made the table break out in fits of laughter, ignoring Melody's little slip. 

        Beth didn't forget though; she was going to save the thought of Mrs. Dixon for another day. 

 

 

      Beth felt the hands slide down her hips, grubby and awful, cold and unforgiving. She could feel the hot breath on her ear, his tongue making it's way down her neck, making her shiver in disgust and fear. She felt herself struggle, pushing and kicking, biting, even - but he never relented. His hands continued their path into her jeans, up her top, she felt him everywhere.  She heard the crunch of the leaves under her back and the sound of the wind howling through the trees, the cold seeping into her hoodie. She screamed for Daryl, for Gus, even for Rose, just someone, anyone to come and help her - but no one came, only the sound of the man's breathing and grunts above her. She screamed and she screamed more, shouting Daryl, please as loud as she could. Had he left her? Finally? Had Joe told him to save himself and run, and he took it? No, he wouldn't leave her. 

      She felt someone else grabbing her shoulders, pushing and pulling her away from the other hands, the ones that were grabbing and awful. She could hear someone shouting her name, over and over, telling her to come back. But she was here? She hadn't left. 

      "Beth!" The voice shouted, she felt a warm hand on her neck, pulling her upwards, closer towards the voice. "Please wake up, Beth, come on," 

      He hadn't left her. 

     "Come on Beth, wake up," She felt a hand run through her hair, a hand on her arm rubbing back and forth as if trying to warm her up after being dunked into a tank of freezing water. She reached out, trying to grab at the hand that was on her shoulder, in her hair, kicking and shouting to get them to save her, to stop the hands that were still grabbing at her legs. They wouldn't go away, they kept grabbing and grabbing, touching something that wasn't theirs, no, it was her's. Her body was hers, not someone else's, but they kept grabbing her anyway. 

     "Beth!" 

     The hands stopped. The ones in her hair gentled. 

     "It's okay, Beth," Daryl whispered, "Time to wake up now," 

      She forced her eyes to open, watching the ceiling fan slowly make the entire circle, trying to listen for the sound of Gus's snoring, trying to find the glow of the streetlights through the curtains of the window beside her. Trying to just ground herself. Tell her mind that she wasn't in the woods, she was okay, that nothing was trying to get her anymore. 

      Her body had other plans. 

      The roll of her stomach and the saliva flooding her mouth caused her to jump out of bed without hesitation, flying towards the bathroom in an attempt to not throw up on the sheets. She had already done that a few nights ago and it was not fun trying to explain to the dry cleaners what happened. She made it just in time, feeling the burn of the acid and the saltiness of the tears streaking down her face. Was she throwing up in disgust or fear? She didn't know anymore. Was her body just trying to purge the hands away? Or was this its way of grounding itself? Telling her that she wasn't laying in the woods, that she was lying on the tile floor of the bathroom in their apartment? 

      She felt a hand pull her hair back, the other rubbing small circles on her shoulder. Those hands were better; those were the good hands, not the bad ones. Those hands were trying to make her feel better. 

      She had nothing left in her stomach anymore, simply just dry heaving and sobbing into the toilet - it wouldn't go away. 

      It had been nearly five months since what happened in the woods; she had been fine for five months. There would be an occasional nightmare or strike of fear whenever a man looked at her for too long, but never like this. This was the third time this week. 

      "It won't go away," She whispered, her voice rough and awful from the vomiting, she didn't have any more tears left. 

      "I know," Daryl whispered back, pulling her towards his shoulder so she could rest her head there. This was their routine, he would wake her up, she would run into the bathroom, he would hold her until she fell back asleep and then put her back into bed. 

      "He won't go away," she added, pushing her face further into his nightshirt. God, she didn't even know the guy's name yet he had this much power over her, haunted her and followed her. 

       Daryl didn't respond and she heard the hidden meaning behind his silence. He won't ever go away. 

       She had woken Daryl from plenty of nightmares, the jerking, and the shouting, the sweat beaded on his forehead and the don't, please. He had the same monster, but it was someone he had trusted, someone that was supposed to protect him

       That made her want to cry all over again. What a weird duo they made. 

       "Do you want to talk about it?" He asked, pushing a hand through her hair again. She was between his legs, her head rested on his shoulder and her arms wrapped around his shoulders. She felt like he was holding her up, if he let go she would puddle into the floor. 

       "I don't know if I can," 

       He would understand. He knew the nightmares and the triggers, the embarrassment you feel whenever you come back to your senses. How could she explain it? Nothing happened to her, she wasn't raped. Gus had saved her, she had saved Daryl, they got out. Then why was she still having nightmares? She was beginning to think it was the almost. She was almost raped. And that thought was terrifying. 

       "Do you want some water?" She nodded, letting him pull her up onto her feet and pushing her towards the bedroom. She tried to think about everything she could see, the pattern of the old quilt she slept with, the nest of blankets Daryl had created in the corner of the room. She watched the ticking of the hands on the clock hung up on the wall, the gentle sway of the curtains because of the fan on the ceiling. She tried to focus on the feeling of the carpet beneath her feet, the warmth of Daryl's hand on the small of her back, the sight of Gus curled up on his bed, teddy bear and all. She did this every time, trying to ground herself in reality, trying to make her mind think of something else. Her school therapist had told her to try it whenever the depression or panic attacks would get bad, it usually worked. Who knew it would work in this situation as well. 

      "I'll be right back, okay?" He said, pushing her down onto the bed and wrapping a blanket around her shoulders. She nodded, studying the painting that was on the wall across from the bed, a forest scene. Fitting. She wondered if they chose this apartment for them because of that. Oh, they lived in the woods like animals for a year, perhaps this will make them feel at home. 

       She shifted around in the bed, her feet no longer touching the floor. She felt her hands rub against the sheets, feeling the wetness from her sweat, the pile of blankets and twisted sheets from her struggling. 

       No, she didn't want to sit on the bed. 

       She moved towards the pile of blankets in the corner, right next to Gus's bed. He had a few pillows leaned up against the wall, a book laying open on the blankets. Had he been reading by the light of the window when she started screaming? Had he been awake waiting for her? To wake her up? Or could he not sleep either? Because of his nightmares? His monsters? 

       She curled up on the pile, shoving her face into his pillow and breathing in. That was a better grounding tool than trying to take notice of every detail in the room. 

       "Beth?" She heard Daryl ask, she turned her head to see him standing in the doorway with a glass of water in his hand, staring at the empty bed in confusion. She shifted in the blankets so he could hear the rustling, watching as his shoulders relaxed at the sight of her and moved closer to her. 

       "What was wrong with the bed?" 

       You weren't in it. He was, she thought. She shrugged her shoulders instead. 

       "Drink some water," He offered her the glass and she closed her hand around it, still shaking a bit. The water felt nice in her throat. She had obviously been screaming aloud with how much her throat hurt. They had already received noise complaints, she was sure there was going to be another one tomorrow. 

        "Do you want me to sit with you until you go to sleep?" And then move you back to the bed?  It said. She didn't want to sleep in the bed, not tonight. 

        "Can I sleep with you?" She asked, reaching out to scratch Gus on the back. When had he moved over here? 

        "The bed is more comfortable than the floor," He offered. Then why do you sleep down here? 

         "Please," 

          He looked at her for a long while, as if examining her face. She looked right back. He nodded his head suddenly, as if accepting his fate, and went to lay down next to her, moving to pull the sheets and blankets up around them. They settled eventually. Her head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around her. She had her leg settled in between his, hearing the sound of his heartbeat against her ear. It was faster than normal. He was warm. 

          It was quiet for a long while, just the sound of their breathing and eventually, the sound of Gus's snores at their feet. It seemed this was a family affair, then. 

          She needed to ask it. It had been so obvious the double meaning behind his silence in the bathroom, but she needed to hear it. She needed to hear the truth about it. 

          "Do they ever go away?" 

          "No." 

          They both laid there, staring at the ceiling. His hand drew small circles on her shoulder. She wondered if he even knew he was doing it. 

          "I miss seeing the stars." She whispered, watching the fan make its designated circle. 

           It's funny, really, how quickly people get used to walls. People never even really notice them, how they keep us trapped in like birds. Beth liked the sky better, though. 

           "Will you read to me?" She didn't care what he was reading, didn't care if she didn't understand the storyline. She just needed to hear Daryl and not the sound of someone's breath in her ear and the crunch of leaves while she struggled. 

           "Sure," 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

     

            Daryl hadn't spoken to her the next morning. They had eaten breakfast in silence. He had still hugged her, a little longer than usual, but left for his shift without a word. 

            Ouch. 

            It was Saturday, and Beth didn't have anything to do with herself. Usually, or recently, it had been weekdays when she had been having nightmares. She could take her mind off of the nightmares and the flashbacks around the kids, keeping herself busy with cleaning up and making sure they don't die. Rose took her mind off of things too, but she was busy with Melody today. She used to pray for weekends where she didn't have anything to do before the turn, now she saw them as a nightmare. Her mind wandered when she was alone and she didn't like it. She was still trying to digest everything that happened last night, trying to piece everything together. She could only discern one thing, though. 

           She had slept better than she had in weeks. The floor was actually a lot more comfortable than the bed, contrary to Daryl's excuses, that might have just been cause she was laying on his chest the whole night, though. 

           So, there she sat. Gus's head on her lap and her staring at the television that wasn't even on. It worked, but she wasn't really in the mood to watch anything. 

           Daryl and Rose were really the only people in Woodbury that she was comfortable enough to spend time with, ones that could take her mind off of things. Yes, she could go sit and have tea with the lady next door, but she really didn't want to talk about cats and the Bible right now. She felt like she needed to hit something. Get the anger and frustration out, try and pretend like whatever she was hitting was that guy's face. 

          No, she had another person in Woodbury she could spend time with, someone who was perfect for finding something she could hit, she just hoped he was up to it. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

            "The fuck you doing here, blondie?" Merle growled, leaning around the edge of the door frame with an annoyed edge to his eyes and the smell of liquor on his breath. It seemed like both Dixon's struggled with alcoholism, one just handled it better than the other. From Daryl's stories, it seemed like this one struggled with drugs too. Maybe this wasn't the best idea. 

            "I brought brownies?" Her voice was small, tired. She held the bag up towards his face, hoping he would smell her mother's recipe. She had the ingredients stored in the cabinet just in case when Melody had told her what her favorite dessert was and they made them together on occasion. She stayed with her and Daryl whenever Rose was busy doing "adult things" on the weekends, as they all called it. Beth wondered why Rose hadn't asked her to watch Melody today. 

           "You make 'em?" He was caving. She had already won him over with her spaghetti a few weeks prior, she could definitely win him over with brownies. 

           "Just for you, Dixon." 

           "What do you want?" He grumbled but opened the door to let her slide in anyway. Merle's apartment always made her cringe whenever she stepped foot in it. Beer and liquor bottles littered the tables and floor, empty food packets and cans littered the kitchen - it looked like a pig stye, to be honest. She had offered to clean it for him but he had just told her to fuck off and run along to his brother. 

           "Why does there have to be a reason for me visiting you?" She flitted by him, passing him the bag of brownies and waiting for Gus to follow. Gus was a backup plan. The man always caved whenever the dog was around. 

           "Quit pulling my dick, girl - what you want?" Here it goes, how would she put this eloquently? 

           "I need to hit something," Not very eloquent, but it would do. Merle looked at her incredulously, putting his hands on his hips and looking her up and down. 

           "Well, I ain't lettin' you hit me, my good ole' daddy did enough of that." She cringed but pushed the thoughts of Will Dixon and what he did to his kids to the side. 

           "I just need to get some anger out, I just need to get outside the walls and hit something," She would even take killing some walkers, she just needed something, "Please?" 

           "Anger 'bout what? My brother been picking on you?" She tried not to think too hard on the protective tone of his voice, she was too emotionally unstable right now to think about it to long. 

           "No, it's not Daryl," Not even close. Merle shocked her then, though. 

           "Is it the nightmares?" She looked at him shocked, raising an eyebrow. How the hell did he know about that? He noticed her look and moved to explain himself, a smile on his face, "I'm a nosey bitch that likes to gossip and Darylina can't keep a secret to save his life, he told me the other day." Ah, that made it better. She was about to go home and de-bug their apartment. 

            She nodded in response, looking at her hands all of the sudden. What all had Daryl told Merle about? Did he know what she was dreaming about? She sure hoped not, Merle seemed like the type that would poke fun at what happened. But, the man had surprised her multiple times, so she knew that she would never have a definite answer. Merle moved to go towards what she assumed was his bedroom, kicking a vodka bottle out of the way. 

            "I've got something good, lemme get dressed, blondie." He disappeared into the doorway, but his head popped out again, "Don't touch anything, ya hear?" 

             Nope. Who knew what kinds of diseases lied in wait for their next victim in this apartment. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

           "Really?" Beth asked, shocked. She was standing in front of a field of abandoned cars, still inside the walls behind some building Beth didn't recognize, but it felt more private than most of Woodbury. Merle had handed her a beat-up baseball bat and a pair of goggles that you used for metalwork or woodworking. She didn't really know what to do with the bat. 

           "Damn straight, get to it, I gotta date later," She shuddered at what kind of woman could stand Merle Dixon in that way, but knowing Merle, his type of date and her type of date were probably very different. 

           "What do I do?" 

           "The fuck you mean 'what do I do,' you hit the car, dumbass." He growled, throwing the ball across the field for Gus to chase after. He was getting a little chunky, he needed some good exercise. 

           "I get that, you asshole. Sorry I've never destroyed an object out of anger before," Hell, she never even threw tantrums when she was little. Would this be considered a tantrum? She heard Merle laugh and lean against a chainlink fence, crossing his arms after pulling out a cigarette and lighting it. 

           "Knew there was a bitch in there somewhere, let's drop the delicate Barbie facade and hit the goddamn thing, 'kay?" Before he could talk anymore, Beth had slammed the bat down on the hood of the car, a BANG echoing throughout the clearing. Even with only one hit, she felt so much better. She hit and she hit, smashing the side mirrors and the windshield, beating the trunk, sides, and hood until it was covered with dents and scratches. She never really imagined his face, because he never really had one in her mind. She never got enough time to look up and see her attacker's face, maybe it was better that way, though. She could take having nightmares about hands and the weight of him, but not his eyes. 

          When she finished, she realized that she had destroyed two cars, not just one. But the weight had been lifted off of her chest, her shoulders finally relaxed, and she felt a little bit better. Her breath was fast and harsh, and her arms burned with the effort and her ears were ringing from the sounds she caused, but it all didn't matter - because she felt better. 

          "'Atta girl," Merle said, throwing the ball again for Gus. He looked just as tuckered out as she did. 

          "What did you mean, drop the facade?" She asked, setting the bat down on the concrete and reaching down to adjust one of the laces of her boots. 

           "The girl that punched a guard in the face when she came here because he tried to take her weapon, she's been hidin'. I knew she was in there somewhere," He moved closer to her, looking towards the windows of the building as if they were being watched. They might have been. "Don't let Woodbury tame you, don't let it break you, ya hear?" All she could do was nod, trying in vain to decipher what he meant.

           "What happened shouldn't bother me so much," She said, a whisper really, because she didn't want to admit to being weak anymore. She wanted to be strong, strong for the old Beth. This was getting in her way. 

           "It should bother you, girl," Hm, Daryl used to call her that. "You were raped, that would bother anybody." She shook her head, kicking the baseball bat a little further away. 

           "Almost, I wasn't raped." Almost was beginning to haunt her. 

           "Doesn't make what he did any better," 

           She wanted to ask more, to talk about it a little bit, but the slam of a metal door pulled her attention towards the building behind them. 

           Merle stepped away from her suddenly, whistling towards Gus and grabbing his collar. She turned to see a middle-aged man strutting towards them, a few other people following behind him. With the state of his clothing, the perfect curl to his hair, and the confident smile, she assumed this man was the Governor she had heard so much about. He smiled at her, looking her up and down, but in a different way than Merle had earlier. She wished she hadn't put the bat down. She wasn't in the mood to deal with this. 

           "Hello there," The man offered, the smile still plastered on his face. She recognized a few of the men behind him from when they were brought into Woodbury, she tried to ignore that they all held guns in their hands. He turned towards Merle, a glint in his eye, "Merle, introduce us," 

           Introduce us? Could he not ask Beth her name himself? Oh, how she hated that. She wouldn't puff out her chest and hold her hand out innocently like Melody, but she wasn't about to let someone speak for her. 

           "I'm Beth," She said, meeting the man's eyes and holding her ground. She wasn't going to let a few toy soldiers scare her, not after what she just did. Perhaps the adrenaline was making her do stupid things. He moved to stand closer, holding his hand out anyway. Dammit. She shook it, but it made a shiver run down her spine anyway. It was funny, really, that the only men she felt safe around now were two men who should scare the shit out of her, that she would have run away from if she met before the turn. 

           "I'm Phillip Blake, you may have heard me called Governor before," She had heard, but she didn't like what she had been told. No one was that nice now, that kind. There was always an ulterior motive, and this man looked like he had one. "Now tell me, how did I miss such a beautiful girl in this town?" There it was. 

            Merle butt in before she could respond that she was new, saying something that made her want to turn around and say what the fuck

            "She's my brother's wife, I was keepin' her company while he was on patrol," 

            It didn't seem to deter the man, but he did drop her hand. Was Merle trying to stop him from trying something? Was he that bad? 

            "Ah, I didn't know your brother had a wife. Lucky man," He said, he eyed her up and down again. She tried not to shiver. 

            "I was just about to take her home, he gets off in a few," Why did his accent get better whenever he spoke to this man? She had a lot to analyze whenever she got back to the apartment. 

            "Too bad, I was hoping to get to know Merle Dixon's little sister-in-law better," I'm sure you do, asshole. 

            It was quiet for a long while, too long to be comfortable.  

            "Perhaps the whole Dixon family can come over to dinner sometime? I would love to meet the brother Merle talks so much about," He offered, he hadn't dropped eye contact with Beth for nearly five minutes, and she wasn't going to relent. Before she could politely decline, the slam of the metal door caused them all to jump. Beth saw a blonde ponytail behind some of the men behind the Governor, pushing her way though. 

            "Phillip -" The woman stopped, eyeing the situation, eyeing Beth. 

            "Beth?" 

            Andrea. 

            

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

            It was quiet for a long while, too long to be comfortable.  

            "Perhaps the whole Dixon family can come over to dinner sometime? I would love to meet the brother Merle talks so much about," He offered, he hadn't dropped eye contact with Beth for nearly five minutes, and she wasn't going to relent. Before she could politely decline, the slam of the metal door caused them all to jump. Beth saw a blonde ponytail behind some of the men behind the Governor, pushing her way though

            "Phillip -" The woman stopped, eyeing the situation, eyeing Beth. 

            "Beth?" 

            Andrea. 

 

 

     Merle had walked Beth through Woodbury in silence, picking at the skin around his fake hand - or rather, knife. She had never asked about it, why he chose a knife - though she could see the benefits of it. But how did you eat? How did you function? Just pop it out like a Mr. Potato Head piece and go on with your day? She might need to get him a little more drunk to ask those questions. 

      Beth knew why he wasn't talking. She knew exactly why. 

      After Andrea had walked out of the doors, a little rougher looking, hair a little longer, she eyed Beth for what felt like years. Like she was seeing a ghost. Beth had to tell herself that it was because she was seeing a ghost. Everyone thought she was dead, Andrea wasn't so different. Wasn't she the one who slipped her the knife and told her to end it? Yes, Andrea definitely thought she was dead. 

      It wasn't like it mattered, Andrea hadn't spoken a word to her anyway. At least, not directly. She smiled and introduced herself, shaking Beth's hand - sharing the Governor's interest in having dinner with her and Daryl sometime. Beth tried not to feel angry again about it. What was going on? The man next to her was her only source of information because she didn't know if she could stand talking to Andrea. Old Beth couldn't even stand talking to Andrea, let alone the new one with anger management issues and a tendency to get really angry fast. The Dixon's were rubbing off on her. 

       Did Merle know she knew Andrea? Could he tell from the shock on both of their faces and the silence that followed? 

       "Why did you say I was Daryl's wife?" 

       Of all the questions, that was the one that slipped out. She really was in too deep now. 

       Merle didn't seem like he had heard her, he kept walking, occasionally waving or saluting at some of the men that walked past. She was about to tell him to answer her question when he grabbed her arm and pulled her into the wooded area some of the people used as a little park. It seemed empty now, a few families playing or having a quiet picnic - all she could think of was that they were playing house, that they didn't understand what was out there, waiting. 

       It seemed he was satisfied with their distance from everyone, but he still looked around and leaned down to whisper to her. 

       "Because if I hadn't you'd be in big trouble - saw the way he looked at you, he's done it before. If not him it would have been one of his rookies behind him - staking their claim on you." He whispered, his hand was still on her shoulder. Beth could hear the birds whistling in the trees around them, could hear the laughter of children from a few yards away. One of the boys was in her class. 

       "So belonging to someone keeps me safe?" Why was it always like this? Is she with you? Is she yours?  Like, what the fuck? Did the end of the world really just let men run rampant, to do what they had always wanted to do to women? It made her stomach roll. She thought of Rose, had someone tried to claim her? Tried to come onto her? She really hoped not. 

       "Safer," 

       Great. 

       "You two seemed pretty cozy, do you not trust him?" Hadn't she heard Daryl and Merle talking about his meeting with the governor? That they were working on some strategy? She wondered what strategy you would need when you're safe inside big walls. 

       "No, I don't." 

       "Then why the fuck did you bring us here?" Oh, yes, Daryl was rubbing off on her too much. 

       "I wasn't thinkin' girl, I just seen my baby brother after a year and a half - I couldn't just let him get away again." He sighed, scrubbing at the five o'clock shadow that was growing on his cheeks. Could she just let Maggie walk away from her when there was somewhere she could sleep? Could go to bed with a full stomach? No, she couldn't. 

        "Besides being a womanizer, what's so bad about the guy?" It didn't seem like he was too mean, though he was a little too overconfident for Beth's taste. Why had Andrea acted that way though, like she hadn't known who Beth was? Had she hated her that bad back at the farm? Pitied her? 

        "Listen, blondie - this ain't the time or the place, go back to your apartment." He shuffled her towards the sidewalk again, dismissing her and the conversation. 

        "No. What is going on?" 

        "There is nothing going on," 

        "Why are you afraid of him, Merle?" She saw the look in his eyes, the straightening of his back, he was afraid. 

        "I can't tell you, not here." She hated secrets. They seemed to be commonplace in this town. 

        A couple walked past them, holding their hands and laughing at something the man had just said. Merle pushed her towards the sidewalk at a faster pace, dragging her by her elbow. 

        "Go home, Beth." That was the first time he had called her by her name.

        Before she could walk away, he pulled her towards him, whispering in her ear with urgency. 

        "They're always listening, be careful," 

        What had they gotten themselves into? 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

        

     

        Gus launched himself onto the sofa the second Beth walked through the door, lunging for the teddy bear that he had left earlier that day. Beth felt like doing the same, just at a slower pace. Her head felt like exploding, her arms about to fall off. Perhaps destroying two cars and getting involved in what seemed like some sketchy business did that to a person. What had Merle meant, they're always listening? Was he talking about the people? Did she really have to attempt and debug their apartment? God, she felt like she was in a 007 movie or something. 

        "Whatcha doing?" Beth screamed, throwing the water bottle she carried with her up into the air, landing with a loud CLUNK on the hardwood floors. She covered her eyes, listening as Rose collapsed on the sofa and laughed. 

        "How did you get in here, Rose?" She pressed the heels of her palms into her eyes, pushing, trying to make the painful stabs go away. It'd been a long day. 

        "There are no locks on the doors, Beth." Ah, yes. Another reason to be suspicious of this entire place. She heard giggling coming from the bedroom, the door was closed, strangely. Beth pointed with question, raising an eyebrow, Rose offered an answer, rolling her eyes, "I don't know, Daryl and Melody were planning something. I didn't ask many questions." 

        Beth shrugged her shoulders, collapsing onto the couch next to Rose. Melody and Daryl had become fast buddies, who knew what they were doing. 

        "Long day?" Oh, she had no idea. 

        "Very," She wanted to tell her everything, right down to the nightmares, but what if she was one of the things Merle was talking about? Them, the ones that were listening? Could she just be trying to make Beth comfortable, say that she is one of the only ones she trusts to get information out of Beth? Would she run back to the Governor with details? No, Rose wouldn't do that. 

        "Bethie!" 

         Beth let a small smile come to her face, reaching out to grab the blur of dirty blonde hair as she flung herself into Beth's lap. Daryl followed soon after, sitting down in the armchair across from the couch. We're they on speaking terms now? She wasn't really that mad at him, maybe a little disappointed that he didn't talk to her, but not mad. She knew Daryl, and she knew last night was a lot. She had pushed their boundaries a little too much, forcing him to sleep with her in the same bed - or pile, rather. She had crossed a line, she just hoped there was something good on the other side. 

         "How was your day, sweetheart?" Beth asked, playing with the butterfly clips that were placed gently on Melody's head, holding back the small strips of hair that were too short to fit into her braid. They had spent an entire Saturday braiding doll's hair so Melody could braid her hair like Beth's. Now, she had a tiny, kind of lopsided, braid at all times. 

         "It was good, me and mama went to the governor's mansion today." 

         Shit. 

         Had she been right? God, she sure hoped not. She really needed to talk to Daryl, try to sort through the mess that was her head right now. 

         "That's cool, bean." Luckily, Rose seemed to sense that Beth was too tired to really talk to Melody, so she grabbed her hand and said their goodbyes - saying that she would see Beth on Monday. Beth absently waved, trying to determine what was going on. She felt the couch dip a little lower, signally that Daryl had moved to sit next to her. She didn't even know where to start. 

         "Are you okay?" 

         "Yeah, I think so," 

         "Where did you go all day? Rose said she tried to bring lunch and you weren't here." She swallowed thickly, she really didn't want to think about Rose and her potential betrayal right now, she couldn't take it. 

         "I was with Merle," 

         "Why the fuck were you with him?" Why had she gone to see Merle again? Oh, to hit something. She really didn't want to tell Daryl about her rage right now, though. They had more important things to talk about. 

         "He's nice to me and I was bored," It wasn't entirely a lie, Merle was nice to her, nice as he could possibly be, at least. She liked their mean banter back and forth. 

         "Am I not nice?" He asked, scrunching his eyebrows together and looking at her strangely. Was that jealousy? Oh lord, she couldn't process that too. 

         "You're wonderful," She offered, it was an honest answer that would get him to shut up for a bit, "I met the Governor today, while I was with Merle." 

         "And?" 

         "Andrea is here." Still a bitch, by the way. 

         "Andrea? She's here?" Was Daryl even close to Andrea back at the farm? Wasn't she the one that shot him? No, they weren't close, Daryl hadn't been close to anybody. 

         "I think she's with the Governor, like keeping his bed warm." If that kiss when she and Merle had walked away meant anything, that is. 

          "Did she say anything?" 

          "Nothing, acted like she had no idea who I was."

          They both stayed quiet for a while after that, processing separate things. The door swinging open startled them out of their thinking, Merle's heavy army boots stomping across the wood floor before she even realized that it was him. 

          "Heard you got off early," He whispered, plopping himself down on the chair Daryl had been sitting in only a few minutes prior and throwing his muddy boots up on the coffee table. They were all quiet, waiting for the other to talk, to try and figure out what was going on. 

          "Do we need to leave?" Daryl broke, rubbing at his shoulders. He didn't want to go back into the woods either. 

           Merle shook his head, adjusting his boots. "Not yet, at least." 

           "Tell us," Beth prodded, she knew he would understand what they needed to hear, why they needed to pack their backpacks and get ready to run, just in case.

           "Everything," Daryl added.

            ~

 

           "Anyway, ya'll are gonna have to come to dinner at his place soon. I couldn't get you out of it." After hearing everything, the thought of sitting down to dinner with the Governor and possibly Andrea, caused a pit to settle in her stomach. No, the Governor hadn't done anything inherently wrong, nothing like what Beth was sure Joe and his groupies had done - but hearing everything that he had said, some of the crazy things he had done, made her think of Shane before he cracked. 

           "Is Andrea in on it?" Beth asked, thinking of the woman's strange behavior earlier. Merle gave her a look of confusion. 

           "You know the other blondie?" She nodded, telling him that they were on the farm together. 

           "Can't tell, she's touchy," Merle explained, again, playing with the skin around his fake hand. She could tell he was done with the conversation, or he just couldn't tell them anything else. Beth sighed, walking over to start dinner, she'd make spaghetti again, it seemed like a house favorite. 

           "We'll deal with it when it comes, Daryl, will you help me?" He nodded, and they started cooking, acting as if everything was fine. For now, at least. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

           

            Merle had left a few minutes ago, whispering a goodnight and patting Gus on the head. They hadn't spoken about anything else over dinner, mostly sticking to the conversation of movies and music. Apparently, Beth loved Elvis, Merle despised it, and Daryl would give a political answer to not upset either party with his opinions. It was nice, not having to think about the possibility of them packing up their bags and having to leave again. 

            "Oh, Melody helped me set up a surprise for you," Daryl whispered, helping her do the dishes from their dinner. They did it every night, he washed, she dried. She liked that time because it was so comfortable, not having to fill the silence with mindless chatter or conversation. They could just be and it would be fine. 

            "What kind of surprise?" Daryl didn't seem like the type to do surprises. Melody, yes, Daryl? No. Instead of answering her, he just dried his hands off and grabbed her hand - pulling her toward the bedroom. She wondered what it would feel like if he was pulling her towards the bedroom to do something else. 

            Ooo, bad territory, Beth. 

            Daryl yanked her into the bedroom, moving to shut the blinds that showed the sunset and close the door. 

           "Ready?" She nodded, he had his hand on the light switch, she had absolutely no idea what was about to happen. 

           The room went dark, except it didn't. A faint glow was coming from the ceiling, now covered in little glow in the dark stars. Her own little sky. 

           "She had them in her bedroom, apparently someone found it on a run and gave them to her. She thought you needed them more than she did," Beth honestly hadn't heard him, staring up at the little stickers. She tried to bite down the tears that were threatening to spill out. 

           "I mean, they're fluorescent green, and they don't stick very well, but she thought they would make you feel better." She knew he was lying, she was the one that had whispered about missing the night sky to him last night, he would have had to have asked Melody if she had those little stickers. He thought they would make her feel better. The tears came anyway, and she moved to wrap her hands around his waist. 

           "Thank you," He nodded against her hair, pulling her close and rubbing soothing circles on her lower back. She wanted to look up and see his face, tell him that the little sticky stars meant a lot more than he would ever know - but a thought slammed into her then, something that made her smoosh her face deeper into his flannel shirt. 

           This is what loving someone feels like. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

       That night, Beth had moved to Daryl's nest again while he put his pajamas on in the bathroom, snuggling under the blankets and enjoying the smell of wood and the sun. 

       He didn't ask her if she was okay or tell her to get back in her own damn bed, he just told her to scoot her ass over and slid under the blankets. She thought she felt him press a kiss to her head right before she slipped into sleep, but she would never be sure. 

       Beth slept peacefully that night, not worried about what could potentially happen, just enjoying this moment that they got to have. 

       And the fluorescent night sky, of course. 

 

 

           

            

Chapter Text

        That night, Beth had moved to Daryl's nest again while he put his pajamas on in the bathroom, snuggling under the blankets and enjoying the smell of wood and the sun. 

       He didn't ask her if she was okay or tell her to get back in her own damn bed, he just told her to scoot her ass over and slid under the blankets. She thought she felt him press a kiss to her head right before she slipped into sleep, but she would never be sure. 

       Beth slept peacefully that night, not worried about what could potentially happen, just enjoying this moment that they got to have. 

       And the fluorescent night sky, of course. 

 

 

 

    Beth hit the punching bag with all of her might, letting out a whoosh of air as her fist connected with the rough material for what seemed like the thousandth time that day. It was the weekend again. Beth was also spending it with Merle Dixon. Again. 

   After the Governor had stumbled upon her makeshift therapy session, Merle had moved them into the gym of his apartment building instead of out in the open. That was two weeks ago, and Saturday and Sunday were now Merle teaches Beth how to kickass days - as dubbed by the teacher himself. Not only was working out and learning how to defend herself a good stress reliever, taking her mind off of things, but she had actually gained some muscle. Not a lot, but enough that Beth noticed a difference. Steady meals and kickboxing would do that to someone, she supposed. Beth wasn't about to admit that Merle was a good teacher, though he really was, it would just inflate the man's ego to the point of no return. She was surprised to learn that Merle had been in the Army, though she had already assumed after he had used the drill sergeant voice on her a few times when she was particularly stubborn. 

   He never really told her the reason for teaching her to fight. She had asked, of course, but he had just grumbled an answer she couldn't make out and took another swig of rum straight from the bottle. They left it at that. 

   Daryl had no problem with Merle teaching her how to defend herself, he had even tagged along one day and helped. He had been a little shocked that Merle would want to spend time teaching Beth something, teaching anyone for that matter, he had also been shocked that they could stand to be in the same room together for longer than two minutes. Beth was shocked too, but she was beginning to think it was just because Gus tagged along every time. The man had a serious soft spot for the dog. 

   "Hit like you fucking mean it, girl," Merle grumbled, somewhere behind her. The punching bag swung from her hit, something Beth hadn't been able to do two weeks prior, but nothing was good enough for Merle, apparently. Rose had given her a few pairs of her leggings and tank tops so Beth wouldn't have to work out in her jeans and flannels, she didn't tell Rose who she was working out with, just that she wanted to get rid of some steam. The girl didn't ask many questions, which was fine with Beth. She still wasn't sure if she should completely trust her, she wanted to, she desperately wanted to. She didn't want to become someone that never trusted anyone, that felt like everyone was out to get them - but that was just how you had to be in this world. Beth had asked what she had been doing at the Governor's place, Rose had apparently been asking for the people on the supply runs to be on the lookout for more school supplies because they were running low for how many kids they were taking in - but when Beth had checked the supply closets, they had notebooks, crayons, and pencils to last for years. 

    Beth and Daryl had their backpacks leaned up against the wall by the front door, just as a precaution. They had thought their farmhouse was a hidden godsend, but they quickly learned their lesson. She thought that the farm would be safe forever, look how that turned out. You couldn't get too attached to places quickly, Beth realized, walls never stayed strong forever. Whenever Beth passed the backpacks she felt a sense of dread settle in her stomach for the inevitable. One day, they were going to have to leave - whether it be because Merle told them to do so or Woodbury fell to the world outside - and Beth dreaded having to go back into the woods. She knew that she shouldn't be allowing herself to get used to the safety of walls and a false sense of normalcy, she couldn't let herself, she refused. 

    Yes, Beth liked to make French toast and take strolls through the makeshift park, but she couldn't get rid of the worms wiggling around in her stomach when she did so. The little voice in the back of her head that whispered this won't last forever, nothing does. 

    Beth heard the timer go off on Merle's waist and she allowed herself to relax again - seems like working out today hadn't kept her mind off of things after all. 

    "Alright, we're done. I gotta meeting later," He took a long swig from the bottle of rum on the table, Beth had wanted to ask what he was going to do when the world ran out of alcohol - but she guessed he was one of those types that knew how to brew moonshine in a toilet or some crazy method like that. He had been to prison, after all. 

    "What about?" He'd been having a lot of those lately. Beth hadn't seen the Governor since that day, Merle hadn't updated them about anything else, and she hadn't seen Andrea either. It seemed their invitation for dinner was only out of politeness, thank God. 

    "'Jus supply runs and shit, it's fine," She hoped it was. 

    "Will you walk me back?" She liked having someone to walk with, she got stared at when she walked alone, and although that shouldn't bother her, it really did. At least if she had someone to talk to she wouldn't focus on the staring. 

    "I'll walk ya to the wall so you can meet Darylina - he's 'gettin off soon. I gotta leave after that." She wanted to ask where he was supposed to be going, were they having a meeting outside of the walls? We're they just going for a supply run and calling it a meeting? She had a lot of questions but she knew that Merle got real pissy when she asked too many, especially if he hadn't drunk enough that day. She nodded, swinging the small backpack she had found in the closet of their bedroom onto her back, she had a few snacks and a book in there because it was what she took to the school with her. It was nice to read a peaceful book during your break after being surrounded by screaming toddlers. 

    They walked in silence after that, which was normal. It wasn't like Merle had told her much anyway since he spilled everything about the Governor to her and Daryl, but she knew that he didn't talk about anything like that when they were out in public where people could hear them. Gus followed beside them loyally, he didn't even need a leash anymore. He lived for the attention he got from everyone in Woodbury, Daryl had even joked that more people knew his name than theirs. 

    Before she knew it, Beth and Gus were left at one of the benches in sight of the wall and Merle had said his quick goodbyes, petting the dog on the head and nodding at Beth. She didn't watch which direction he went, just stretched her back and neck and pulled out her book and continued from where she left off the other day. The sun was just starting to set, leaving a warm glow across the main street of the town. The willow trees along the road swayed in the light breeze and she could hear the sound of people milling about and getting ready to head home for the night. Woodbury was a beautiful place, really, it was just disappointing that it was run by a potential psychopath with an ego that liked to pit people against chained up walkers for entertainment. Had Rose gone to one of those events? 

    A hand pulled her braid behind her, jerking her from obliviously scanning the pages of her book. It stopped her from having to reread more paragraphs than she needed to, thankfully. She heard a small giggle and knew who her attacker was, a small smile forming across her face. She spun around to look behind the bench, seeing the top of the little girl's head sticking out from behind the bush behind the bench. She spun around again, opening her book back to the page she hadn't read. 

   "Hm, wonder who that was?" She heard a giggle. She pulled the Oreos out of her bag that she kept just in case she got snacky whenever she was working and couldn't sneak off to the snack room. She had learned very quickly, however, that if you have a snack around children you better have enough to share. 

   "Too bad I have to eat these cookies all by myself, it's so lonely on this bench - I guess I could give it to Gu-" She heard the bush rustle behind her and saw the pink dress before the small girl plopped herself onto the bench next to her, swinging her Mary Janes. Beth spotted Rose talking to someone across the street and waved, the woman smiled back. 

   "It was me, Bethie! Can I have a cookie?" Beth smiled as the girl scooted closer, eyeing the pack of Oreos excitedly. Her braids were getting better, Beth noticed, her pigtails braided neatly and her favorite butterfly clips placed on both sides of her head. They were beautiful clips, with little diamonds of all different colors on the wings. Rose had told her that her wife had given them to Melody as a birthday present a few weeks before the turn and the little girl refused to take them off. Apparently, she slept in them. Beth felt bad for the little girl, she knew what it was like to lose a mother, she just wished she had something of hers to remember her by too. 

   "Of course you can have a cookie, silly," They snacked in happy silence, Beth occasionally scanning the walls for the sign of Daryl. He hadn't had his signature wings on lately, so it was a little harder to place him in a crowd. Beth had a distant memory of Daryl telling her that the vest was Merle's, gifted to him when he left to join the military. She knew that he had stopped wearing it because he had his big brother back. It was hung neatly in the closet, just in case. 

   Beth listened as Melody rambled on about school, something about a boy in her class that kept trying to kiss her and hold her hand that she didn't want to. It was ironic, that the little girl next to her didn't want a boy to kiss her and the boy Beth wanted to kiss her wouldn't do it. Yet.  She dreamt of seeing her sister's face react to the thought of Beth wanting to kiss Daryl Dixon, and do other things, but Beth didn't want to get ahead of herself. Hell, Daryl probably saw her as a little sister as Merle did, but that thought broke her heart a little bit too much to think about for too long. 

   "Daryl!" She jumped when she felt Melody hop off the bench, the sound of her little shoes slapping against the pavement. She watched as Daryl, who was already bent down to catch the poor thing, caught a leaping mess of little girl as she wrapped her arms around his neck. She looked so tiny compared to Daryl it was almost funny, her little waist was the size of one of his arms. He carried her towards the bench, smiling at Beth as Melody talked his ears off, probably about the same boy at school. She swallowed thickly but smiled back anyway, why, oh why did he have to look so handsome carrying a child? He had just worked a ten-hour shift, he should look sweaty from the heat and tired from staring out into the woods, but the sun bounced off his hair, showing off the touch of red it held. He had a tan from sitting on the wall in the summer sun, his freckles more pronounced than ever. Oh, Lord. 

    "Did Merle just leave you here?" He asked, setting Melody down on the ground to play with Gus, who was begging for attention from Daryl. She nodded, mumbling about him having to run off to a meeting, patting the space next to her on the bench.

    "It's too pretty of a day to go inside, sit with me?" He nodded and collapsed down beside of her, smelling like the woods and sunshine. She couldn't explain how he smelled like sunshine, he just did. Beth saw Rose out of the corner of her eye walk closer to where Melody was, gesturing for the little girl to follow her. The little girl said her goodbyes, giving Gus a kiss on the nose and shooting off after her mother, shouting her thanks to Beth for the cookies. 

    "You gave her cookies?" Daryl asked, raising an eyebrow. 

    "Just Oreos," She held up the empty wrapper with a smile, waving it in front of his nose. 

    "Stop trying to buy her love with food, we know I'm her favorite," He laughed, smacking her hand away from his face. They fell into peaceful silence after that until they heard the creak of the gate opening.  

     "What the fuck?" Daryl whispered, standing up and attempting to look and see what was going on. People had gathered around the fence, obviously just as curious and confused as they were. They never had supply runs on weekends and they never opened the gate to let new people in, they always came in the back entrance. She saw two women with bags on their backs, walking toward the gate. One was walking faster than the other, obviously ready to leave. Did they just feel the same way Beth and Daryl had? That it was all too good to be true here? 

     "Did someone do something wrong?" She didn't know if they - expelled? Exiled? She wasn't sure what word to use. She wasn't sure if they did that here at Woodbury if someone did something wrong, there wasn't much one could do here that was as bad as what a lot of people did outside the walls. Daryl shook his head, moving towards the group of people that were blocking their view. He turned around to look at her, a shocked expression on his face. 

     "It's Andrea," She shot up at that, jogging over to stand beside Daryl and raise on her tiptoes to see over the crowd of people. She could see a black woman standing in front of Andrea, thick dreadlocks in her hair and a nasty sword strapped across her back - honestly, she scared Beth more than Merle Dixon ever had. They seemed to be arguing about something, Andrea moving to hand the backpack that was strapped across her shoulders to the woman. Was she not going with her? Or was this just a send-off for the woman? 

     "I don't want to leave," she heard, just barely, but it was from Andrea. If Beth was shoving her tongue down the man who was running a town and all of its resources throat she would want to stay too. Boy, the apocalypse did turn me into a bitch. 

     Beth saw a few more words exchanged, then watched as the gate closed behind the woman, alone. She heard her voice, smaller, in the back of her head, it's not good to be alone. She felt horrible for the woman, and if it weren't for Merle being here in Woodbury, maybe even Rose and Melody, she would have grabbed her backpack and gone with her. 

     She watched as Andrea turned around to start back into town, meeting eyes with Beth and Daryl for a brief second. She kept walking. Eventually, the crowd dispersed again, leaving only a few stragglers behind with Beth and Daryl, struggling to understand what was going on. 

     Beth only had one thought in mind. 

     She needed to talk to Andrea. 

 

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     Beth watched as Rose showed Melody how to correctly plant the strawberry seeds they were attempting to grow on the rooftop garden of their apartment building, gently guiding her hands through the motions. Beth pushed back the memories of her father showing her the way to plant the flower seeds her mother asked to be planted around their porch, the way the flowers died when her mother was shoved into the barn, even if it was the middle of summer. Beth was still reeling from her talk with Andrea, though. She had finally tracked the woman down after two days of asking, not wanting to seem too suspicious, but just enough that word spread that she was looking. Beth ran into her at the market, sneaking up with her basket to stand next to Andrea as she scanned the potatoes. 

    "Why didn't you leave with that woman?"  Beth asked, pretending to check out a few of the potatoes. She was making pasta tonight, she had no reason to be looking at them, but she needed to talk to Andrea. 

    She startled, whipping around to look Beth in the face, still looking like she had seen a ghost. 

    "What are you doing here?"  She wasn't nearly as conspicuous as Beth had been, shouting a bit too loud and throwing the potato she had been investigating back into the pile. Andrea was always touchy, seemed like the apocalypse hadn't changed her too much. 

    "I live here," Beth answered, waving and smiling at her neighbor that was picking at a few apples a few rows away. 

    Andrea looked like she regretted her actions, stepping back from the piles of vegetables and turning to look straight at Beth, "Sorry, you just startled me, is all."  Sure I did, Beth thought. 

    Andrea smiled at her, moving to put her hand on Beth's shoulder, "How are you? I didn't see you when the farm fell, I thought for sure..." She looked off into the distance, the same pout and the scrunch between her brows she had back at the farm as if she was thinking about something difficult at all times. 

   "You thought I was dead. I know." Beth said, reaching up to move Andrea's hand that had migrated from her shoulder to her braid. Only Daryl and Melody were allowed to touch her hair. 

    "Well, I wasn't sure, I didn't know if you had gotten out with everybody else, let alone Dixon," She cringed in disgust, it made Beth's anger even worse. Daryl Dixon had done more for her than anyone ever had in her life, she wasn't about to let someone shit on him. 

    "He came back for me," Beth said, moving to adjust the basket on her arm. It was starting to dig a painful line in her arm, "He's a better man than you know."  Andrea laughed at that, shaking her head. 

    "A Dixon? No, sweetheart, they are both assholes,"  Hadn't she only known Merle for like, two days? Hell, she shot at Daryl and could have killed him, you think someone would be a little nicer because of that. 

    "To you," Beth said. Andrea didn't say anything after that. 

    "Why didn't you leave with that woman the other day?" Her original question. 

    "I decided not to leave, Michonne was starting to scare some of the people here and even though she and I were close I decided that she was better off alone." Andrea shifted on her feet as if she was uncomfortable, Beth guessed it was the look she was currently giving her. 

    "No one is better off alone," Andrea laughed again. 

    "You didn't know Michonne,"  No, Beth didn't, but no one ever deserved to be in this world alone. It was too dangerous. 

    "You trust the Governor?" Beth lowered her tone, she might be making a big mistake asking that. Andrea's eyes widened and she moved to put a hand on her hip. 

    "You don't?" Beth didn't answer but held eye contact, she wasn't going to back down to Andrea like she had at the farm. She wasn't that person anymore. 

    "That's a no," Andrea sighed, picking up one of the potatoes in front of her and throwing it into her basket. It was a little too rough to seem casual. 

    "What is he planning?"  Daryl had told her about some of the people on the wall talking about taking someplace, how they were on the lookout for a tank. Why would they need to take somewhere else when Woodbury ran so smoothly? Andrea looked shocked at her question, but rolled her eyes and threw another potato into her basket. 

    "Don't worry your pretty little head about anything, Beth, Woodbury is perfectly safe." 

   "That's not what I asked," Andrea rolled her eyes, but she didn't say anything else. Merle had been right, she was touchy about the Governor. 

   "Fine," Beth sighed, throwing a tomato into the basket. She was about to add gasoline to the flame, but what she was about to say was true. Beth wasn't stupid, she knew that something was going on, that Andrea was turning a blind eye to it because she had something for the Governor - that was fine with Beth, it was her life. Beth just wouldn't be around to see it when the Governor finally lost all of his marbles. 

   "Dale and Amy would be disappointed in you," 

 

    "Beth! Earth to Beth?" Rose shouted, she felt a little bit of dirt hit her chest, staining her yellow tank top. 

    "What? Sorry, I didn't hear you," Both Rose and Melody were looking up at her expectantly, had she been zoned out for that long? 

    "Can you hand us the watering can?" Beth nodded, saying her apologies again and handing the pink watering can to Melody's open hands. She squealed when a bit got on her shirt, struggling to carry it over to her mom. The butterfly clips sparkled in the sun. She briefly heard Rose explain to Melody what to do and how much to water each spot, then she felt a hand on her shoulder. 

    "You alright? You've been out of it all day," Had she? She hadn't slept well last night after cornering Andrea, even sleeping next to Daryl in the nest hadn't helped. She just had a bad feeling about it all. Not to mention the fact that neither she nor Daryl had seen Merle the past few days. Tuesday was always spaghetti night, Merle's favorite, and he hadn't shown.

    "I'm just tired, I might go home and take a nap if that is alright?" She wasn't going to take a nap, the sun was nearly setting, but she just wanted to get away from everyone. Even the sound of the people milling about and talking in the street down below them set her on edge. You're just being dramatic. 

    No, Beth knew it was because she couldn't look Rose in the eyes without getting angry. Melody had let it slip that morning about the fun party Woodbury throws occasionally where the yucky people try to bite some of the boys and how Beth would have to come with them sometime. Rose didn't even look ashamed when Beth asked why she took Melody to watch something like that, just saying that it was all in good fun. Beth wanted to shake her shoulders and say what the fuck happened to not wanting her to be exposed to the monsters outside?  But she couldn't do that around a five-year-old. 

    "Alright, tell Daryl I said hi?" Beth nodded, waving goodbye to Melody who was too caught up in her watering task to even really notice that Beth was leaving. Beth didn't say goodbye to Rose as she walked towards the door to the stairs. 

 

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    "Dance with me?" 

    "I don't dance, Greene," 

    Frank Sinatra, another one of the records Beth had found stuffed in a cabinet, was playing softly in the background while they washed dishes. Usually, Beth liked the silence they could have together, comfortable and warm, but tonight her head was just too full to be stuck with her own thoughts. 

   "Please? I don't even care that you're covered in soapy water?" Her fault, really, she was the one that splashed him. She heard Gus snoring softly from the couch behind them, the dog slept more than she thought possible. Perhaps he was making up for lost time while he was alone. 

    Daryl looked like he was about to say yes for a split second before he turned back around and shook his head. 

    "I don't know how," 

    "I don't either," He laughed at her attempt, mumbling about nine years of ballet and liars. They stood in silence for a while, her staring at his back while he dried their plates and gently placed them back onto the counter for tomorrow morning. She was about to give up and go put her PJs on when he threw the dish towel down and turned towards her, eyes expectant, hand out. 

    "Well?" She was shocked for a second until she recovered, snatching his hand and pulling him towards the rug in the middle of the living room. She had only danced with her mama a few times at a mother-daughter event at their church, she had danced on her feet and swung around to gospel music in a pretty pink dress the woman had sewn for her a few weeks prior. Her mother had been laughing about how boring the whole thing was, telling Beth that they could have done this in their living room in their pajamas - oh, how the world had changed. She placed her hands up as high as they would go on his shoulders, not quite able to reach up around his neck. His curls were more prominent than ever, she wanted to beg to run her hands through them. 

    "I don't think this is dancing, Beth," He grumbled, his hands were gently placed on her lower back, rubbing small circles. She was beginning to think he didn't even know he did it whenever he touched her. No, it wasn't really dancing, more like swaying, but it was enough. 

    "I thought you said you didn't know how to dance?" She asked, leaning up to look him in the eyes. He seemed to be looking anywhere but her. 

    "I know it's not this." 

     It was quiet again, just the sound of the music, occasionally a dog snore. 

     "I've never danced with a man before," She said, pushing her face into his shirt, breathing in the smell of sunshine. 

     "No point for you, I went to a few gay bars in college," Daryl whispered back, messing with her braid. She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow and he laughed, twisting her braid around in his fingers. 

     "I like it when you wear your hair down," He whispered, low enough that she barely caught it. His breath against her ear caused her stomach to drop and flutter, the feeling of his head leaned down against her shoulder. She turned her head to look at him then, a small smile on her face as she pushed a stray curl out of his eyes. There was a small ring of brown in his eyes, right around his pupil. 

     They both leaned in at the same time, cautious, and then the gunfire started. 

      

 

    

   

 

    

    

 

Chapter Text

 It was quiet again, just the sound of the music, occasionally a dog snore. 

     "I've never danced with a man before," She said, pushing her face into his shirt, breathing in the smell of sunshine. 

     "No point for you, I went to a few gay bars in college," Daryl whispered back, messing with her braid. She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow and he laughed, twisting her braid around in his fingers. 

     "I like it when you wear your hair down," He whispered, low enough that she barely caught it. His breath against her ear caused her stomach to drop and flutter, the feeling of his head leaned down against her shoulder. She turned her head to look at him then, a small smile on her face as she pushed a stray curl out of his eyes. There was a small ring of brown in his eyes, right around his pupil. 

     They both leaned in at the same time, cautious, and then the gunfire started. 

 

 

 

        

       Beth and Daryl had separated and looked at one another in utter confusion before the second gunshot even echoed throughout Woodbury's streets - followed by the shattering of the window next to their kitchen table. Glass rained down into the floor, tinkling like wind chimes in the summer breeze. It seemed they were both frozen, watching the couch shift and groan against the wooden floor as what Beth only assumed was a bullet pierced the green fabric. Only the sound of rapid-fire brought them to their senses, Daryl running over to grab his crossbow off the kitchen table, causing some of the shards of glass to skitter and explode onto the floor. Gus was already up and barking out the now shattered window, his guttural howl echoing along with the gunshots. 

       She watched as time slowed down, her brain unable to comprehend what the hell was even going on, but luckily, she reached out and grabbed Daryl's arm as he made his way from the door. She could faintly hear Frank Sinatra continuing to play in the background, symphonizing with the sound of gunfire. She wasn't going to let him leave, to go out and throw himself into whatever chaos was happening on the main street. What if the walls had failed and a herd was now stumbling through Woodbury?  What if the Governor had finally lost it and just told his groupies to kill everyone they could find? Wouldn't they be safer in their apartment? Or should they just run? The gut feeling in her stomach was telling Beth that they just needed to grab their backpacks and leave - but the thought of leaving Merle, leaving Melody, even Rose, stopped her hand from reaching out for the rough fabric of her backpack. 

        "You're not going out there, we don't know what is happening!" Beth shouted, pulling him towards her and digging her nails into his bicep - she was probably drawing blood, but she wasn't going to let him go - not after what almost happened. No, she didn't want to talk it out just this minute, that would be ridiculous, no, she couldn't watch him walk out that door to his potential death. Not after the moment they just had. She wasn't going to ever let him go. 

         Daryl spun around towards her, his eyes flicking from her face to the window, the occasional burst of light from what she assumed must have been a shotgun filled their apartment. The look in his eyes made her chest clench, a look of utter devotion and care, directed right at her. He desperately wanted to go out and help, to jump in on the action, but she was tethering him there, she knew. She knew he was thinking of Merle, of Melody, somewhere out there in the mess of the gunfire - potentially walkers. She was being selfish, she knew that wanting to keep Daryl safe inside their apartment walls when he was one of the most capable people in the town that could actually defend them from a threat, but she didn't care. Because she realized that the bumpy feeling she felt when she looked at him, the butterflies that always fluttered around in her stomach when he rubbed circles on her lower back, the giddiness she felt when he gave her that smile that was just between them, the one that showed his dimples and made his eyes glow - was love. She loved Daryl Dixon, not in the way she loved her family, no, that was a different kind of love, Beth was beginning to realize, that was familiar and comforting. This was paralyzing, these feelings of devotion and passion - the way she wanted to grasp onto his hair and pull him towards her, never letting him leave her sight, the burn in her chest when he touched her, the dizzying feeling she got whenever she thought about scratching her fingernails down his back and letting his weight settle on top of her - caging her in his arms. She wanted to laugh, to let tears stream down her face because now she knew he felt it too. Why would he have held her so close while they danced and be the one to lean into her? Why would he have given her little gifts and tried his hardest to make her laugh when she was feeling down? Why would he have snuggled his face into her hair and breathed in, savoring the smell of her, if he didn't feel something too? 

         Now, looking back, she knew it was always there, these feelings and thoughts they had of one another, the quick glances and smiles, the sense of having a secret just between them, something they were supposed to protect, it was just never spoken. 

         No, she wasn't going to let him go. Not alone. 

         "I'm coming with you,"

         He nodded quickly, reaching out to grasp her hand and pull her towards the door, but stopped to quickly pull the gun that they kept in the front pocket of Beth's pack from when they were attacked in the woods. She felt the cold metal press into her palm and had to force back the image of Lori doing nearly the same thing almost a year and a half ago. She had to tell herself that this time was different, that this time she wasn't going to lose anyone. But Beth did have to stop and wonder why they were leaving the apartment anyway, were they going to find Melody and Rose, perhaps run with them if things got too far gone? Or were they going to defend the one place that they had found that was somewhat safe, a place that could potentially have some resemblance to the world before? No, Beth knew that they were going outside because they both knew deep down that the people of Woodbury were innocent, that they deserved to be protected if something was going wrong. Because even if their leader was a bit arrogant and one step away from a maniac - they were people too. 

         "Don't waste bullets, only shoot if someone is shooting at you, do you understand?" Daryl shouted, just as the loud BOOM of something exploding outside rattled the apartment, causing the floor to shake under their feet and the vase of sunflowers Beth had placed on the end table in the living room to shatter across the wood floor. 

         "What about Gus?" Beth stammered, watching as the dog ran towards the kitchen table to hide. She wasn't going to let him follow them, she wasn't about to let him prance out into rapid gunfire to be riddled with gunshots, or even worse, get bitten by something. Daryl hadn't responded, instead, he had scrambled through his pack for the extra bolts he kept in one of the large pockets - so Beth grabbed Gus's blue collar and pulled him towards the pantry, grabbing his bed and his favorite toy. She kicked the water bowl that they kept up against the wall in the kitchen into the closet as well, just in case. She wanted to know that he was safe somewhere, not potentially running around the apartment where he could accidentally get shot, another window had already shattered above the kitchen sink, so she wasn't taking any chances. 

         She quickly collapsed to her knees, scratching him behind the ears and giving him a big kiss on the forehead, "We'll be back in a minute, buddy, I promise." The dog seemed to understand, quickly letting out a whimper and settling down onto his bed. She gave him another kiss on the nose and shut the pantry door behind her, running after Daryl as he flung the front door open and aimed his crossbow down the hallway. Could they even help, if it was walkers? With the amount of gunfire, she was beginning to think it was something different. These were strategic, planned and careful - not the rapid hellfire that occurred when a herd walked through. 

        By the time they had made it down the five flights of stairs and gently propped the door open, it seemed like a full-blown battle was taking place. Beth had been right, it wasn't walkers, it was a small group of people crouched behind a few of the cars littered around the edges of the street that Beth had started to think were just for decoration. They occasionally popped up in a manner that reminded Beth of whack-a-mole, their faces indistinguishable in the fog that caused Beth's eyes to instantly water - that's what the explosion was, tear gas. A group of Woodbury citizens were piled behind whatever they could find, trees, fences, even the metal post boxes that weren't in use anymore. 

        Who could be attacking Woodbury? Was it a group similar to the one in the woods, Joe's? Did they want to come in and pillage their supplies and rape the women - or was this in retaliation? Beth barely remembered Daryl mentioning in passing while they had been grocery shopping one day that some of the men had mentioned procuring a tank, something about overtaking a prison. 

        Was it the same prison Daryl and Beth had spied on not two months before? The one with women and children playing inside the walls - that they thought was too good to be true? Of course, considering their options now, it might have been a better idea to just suck it up and take the chance - if their leader wasn't as crazy as the Governor, that is. She wondered if the plan of taking the prison was because they were bad people or if it was just the Governor's ego rearing its ugly head - it was probably the latter. Had they already attacked the prison? Merle had been MIA for nearly a week now, could he have been overseeing the attack? 

       No, Beth was getting ahead of herself. If something had happened and Woodbury had actually attacked a prison, there would have been gossip and talk around the small community. This was retaliation for something else, something Woodbury did to this other community - Beth just wondered what. 

       "We need to go find Rose and Melody!" Beth shouted, ducking behind a fence as a bullet whizzed past her ear. Even if the woman had subjected her child to the sick games Woodbury often enjoyed, she wasn't going to let her get hurt - she was going to keep her safe and alive for Melody because she knew the little girl couldn't lose another mother. Daryl shook his head, kneeled down beside her and quickly wiping the stinging tears from his cheeks. 

       "Their apartment is right next to the gate, we'll never be able to sneak around them to get to it!" Beth knew that their apartment building was right behind where the group was firing from, but one of them needed to go and make sure they were okay. The thought of tiny Melody riddled with bullet holes, becoming a walker from her injuries, chilled Beth to the bone. If something went wrong, she wanted them to get out with her and Daryl, not a group of the Governor's men that would want revenge on whoever was doing this. She wasn't going to leave them behind. They couldn't make it out in the open, they were essentially a deer caught in headlights then, waiting to be shot by a hunter. But, if Beth's idea wasn't totally ridiculous, there was another way she could get around them. 

        "I can do it! You stay with them and help!" Beth gestured to the group hiding, diligently fighting but losing, a bullet just barely missing her hand. Daryl shook his head, pulling her back down as she went to stand up and move towards her only option. He shouted something she couldn't make out, probably telling her to sit her ass down and stay with him - that she wasn't going to run into the gunfire by herself - but she gripped her hands on around his neck and pulled his body towards hers before he could continue his shouting. She had wanted to kiss him, run her hands through his curls and whisper that she would be back, but she didn't want their first kiss to have the chance of being their last. Maybe that slip up in the apartment had been their only shot at something more, maybe they would never talk about what almost happened and move on as friends if they were both okay at the end of whatever was going on, but as long as he was safe and alive she could take that chance.

        So instead she hugged him, digging her face into his shoulder and breathing in the scent of leather and the woods. It seemed the smell of the woods was permanently ingrained in his skin, no matter how many showers he took. It was fine with Beth, it had become her favorite smell pretty quickly. He hugged her back just as hard, squeezing her shoulders and running his hands down her braid. They didn't say anything when they let go, this wasn't their goodbye, Beth knew. She could read the emotion surrounding them, the hidden words that neither had the courage to say, the come back to me that was whispered in their desperate touches and squeezes. Beth watched as he disappeared behind a bush, firing a quick arrow that she heard THUNK into someone's skin. 

        Now, to see if her plan was crazy. 

        It was crazy. She had no proof that this would work, no data or evidence. It could fail and she would have to come back to Daryl emptyhanded, but she sure as hell was going to try first. She had seen a few of the younger kids jumping from branch to branch in the tall oak trees that lined the street - their mother's screaming at them to come down before they fell. Beth had enjoyed their show, watching them leap from branch to branch like little birds, tweeting and singing about school and their friends. It had reminded Beth of her and Shawn climbing up the trees behind their house, daring each other to climb higher. She was a few pounds heavier now, but not by much. It could work. 

       So, she grabbed a low branch and hiked herself up into the leaves, carefully planting her feet into the crevices and making sure to step on the thickest and strongest branches. If anyone saw her disappear up into a tree, they probably thought she was crazy. But she carried on, carefully stepping over onto a branch that was connected to the next tree - on and on until she was nearly seven trees over. They were getting farther apart now, so much so that she was having to leap across to find a sturdy branch. She was trying to figure out how many trees she would need to jump through to get far enough behind the attackers so that they didn't see her cross the street. She just needed to do a few more. 

       She made it through two more trees before she lost her footing and slipped on a particularly skinny branch, barely catching the limb by the tips of her fingers. She gritted her teeth as she felt the scraps begin to sting on her hands, she would probably have to pick out a few splinters later. Luckily though, she had been high enough that she hadn't fallen in an area that they could see her - but she could see them. She could just make out the group of shooters, all men, but there was still too much fog to make out their faces. She heard a rustle behind her, nearly slipping as she jerked around to see who was walking through the bushes behind the trees. She spotted the back of a woman, the same woman Andrea had allowed to leave alone, if the nasty sword strapped to her back was any indication. 

       Why was she creeping through Woodbury, more importantly, towards the Governor's mansion? Had she found this group of people and told them what Woodbury was hiding behind their walls - that they should try and take it from them? Beth turned back around to try and catch a glimpse of Rose's apartment building, only a block away from her. Her hands ached, and she knew that her arms were about to give out and she was going to have to prepare to fall. She could see that the lights were off in the brick building, that all of the drapes were shut tightly closed. She could barely make out the tip of a rifle as it poked out a cracked window - just in case. 

       They were fine. Rose and Melody were smart, they would hide someplace until they knew that it was safe to come out. Rose wouldn't risk Melody's safety like that. 

       No, Beth needed to eavesdrop on the woman that was currently creeping through the bushes behind her. 

       Beth took a deep breath in and allowed her fingers to slide off the branch, bracing for the pain that would shoot up her ankles and legs from landing on the concrete sidewalk underneath her. She gritted her teeth and took it, quickly glancing behind her to make sure the men shooting hadn't heard her before she tiptoed after the woman, making sure to not brush any of the bushes and alert the woman that she was being followed. 

       She had just caught up to her when she watched the woman- Michelle? She knew her name had started with an M, open and close the front door to Phillip Blake's house quietly, just missing Beth who was crouched down in the bushes right in front of her. Beth waited a minute or two, not wanting to walk right in and stumble upon her. From the look on her face, she meant business and Beth didn't want to get on her bad side. She didn't really have a major reason for following the woman, maybe she could hear something important? Something that could give Beth and Daryl enough evidence to pack their stuff and run. She quietly wrenched the door open, looking around the front room before closing the door behind her. She had never been in the Governor's house before, thank God. It looked like something out of a mob boss movie, but she was sure this was the original decoration from before the turn. She hoped. She didn't pay much attention to what she was seeing besides what she had seen in the front room, instead, she carefully watched the woman walk up the stairs to what she assumed would lead to a bedroom and a few other rooms. Was the Governor even here? Wouldn't he be out in the thick of things fighting with his people? Honestly, probably not. He seemed like the type that would hide in a closet somewhere while other people fought for him. 

       Beth crept up the stairs after waiting a few seconds, making sure to stay close to the wall so the stairs wouldn't creak. She had learned that trick from Shawn when they both snuck down to eat some of her mothers' famous Christmas cookies the night before church - it worked every time. 

       She watched the woman disappear into what looked like a bedroom, but before she could follow after her she noticed something on the wall that made her stop short. 

       Her crossbow. 

       That ass had it hung up on his wall like some trophy the entire time. She had even asked Merle if she could have it back, but he had given her some excuse about the Governor only allowing one weapon per household. No, he just wanted to keep a memento from the ninety-pound girl that punched one of his top guards in the face and broke his nose - that tried to defy him and stand up to his advances. 

        She had to stand on her tiptoes to pull it off the wall, grabbing the extra arrows that were laid out on a small table. Don't mind if I do, she thought. Would he notice that it was gone when all of this was over? Yes. Did she care? Not really. He would have no idea that she was the one that snuck in and took it - he didn't even know that she was in here. She stroked the smooth metal for a moment, savoring in the weight of it in her hands - when she heard the loud shout and crash of glass shattering coming from within the bedroom - the one Michonne had just disappeared into. Without really thinking, she darted into the bedroom with her bow loaded, checking the bedroom to make sure someone - the Governor, especially - wasn't lying in wait to attack her. She saw that a door to what could only lead to another room was wide open, revealing Michonne and Phillip Blake rolling around on the floor in a puddle of what looked like water, surrounded by walker heads. 

         What the fuck? 

         Beth tiptoed closer, watching them struggle to overpower the other, quickly spotting what looked like a little girl - a body, at least, dead on the floor, dark blood seeping out onto the carpet beneath her head. Her heart had stopped for a moment, but when she spotted the rotting skin and yellow eyes, wide and empty, she knew this girl had been truly dead for a long time. 

         What the absolute fuck? 

         Beth was startled out of her shock when she heard a THUMP as the Governor slammed the woman's head into another one of the tanks - which lined the wall, some still containing the heads of walkers. It reminded her of her uncle's hunting room, lined with the heads of things he had killed. Were these people that the Governor had killed, saved as trophies and kept in a state of rot and monstrosity for his own entertainment? It made her sick to her stomach. 

        She aimed her crossbow, but she didn't really know why. Who was she supposed to shoot at? Was she supposed to kill the woman that had snuck in here, to kill the Governor, she could only assume, or was she supposed to kill the madman that made Merle Dixon look away in fear and kept a dead little girl in his bedroom? 

       The Governor, she decided. 

       The shot had been opportune, Blake sitting on his knees about to jam a knife into the woman's throat - the arrow released and sunk into his eye. Not deep enough to hit the brain, she was too close for the arrow to pick up enough speed to sink in that far but deep enough that the eye was a goner. He let out a scream and dropped to the floor, rolling away from the woman enough that she could stand up and limp towards her sword. Her eyes were wild when they locked with Beth's, but thankful. 

       "You need to go," Beth whispered, trying not to alert the Governor to her presence. He didn't need to know that she was the one that took his eye out - he was still too busy rolling around in pain to pay attention to them anyway. Before the woman could agree, or chop Beth's head off with her sword, footsteps were running towards them. 

        Andrea was always there at the worst times, Beth had begun to realize. 

        "Phillip?" She screamed, stopping at the door and taking in the scene before her. From the look on her face, it seemed she didn't know that there had been a whole sick trophy room hidden up here. She started to run towards him but caught the sight of Beth and the woman standing off to the side. Beth stepped in front of the woman before she could control it - she didn't know why. This woman had to have a reason for wanting to kill the Governor - even if Beth didn't know what that was, she wasn't going to let her get hurt. Andrea quickly pulled her gun out of the holster on her hip, aiming it in their direction - eyes flicking from the Governor curled up on the floor with the arrow sticking out of his eye socket and to Beth standing in front of the woman, defending her. 

       "What have you done?" Andrea whispered, eyes fiery. It didn't seem like it was directed at either her or - Michelle? Michaela? Michonne!  She could see Michonne's sword stuck out in Andrea's direction out of the corner of her eye, right over her right shoulder. At least it seemed like the woman knew she was on her side - whatever side this was. 

        Neither of them answered, and the three women seemed to stare at one another for a long time - just waiting for the other to react. Beth hadn't realized that they were slowly walking in a circle, now, Andrea was in front of the Governor and Michonne and Beth were standing with their backs to the door - their escape route. From the look in Andrea's eyes, Beth had fucked up real bad. 

        Yeah, she and Daryl were going to have to run for it. If they didn't would their heads end up in the aquarium tanks, as a sign of their defeat? 

        She heard the quiet footsteps of Michonne making her way through the bedroom, but Beth waited for Andrea to run to the Governor to help before she ran after the woman. She had a few questions. 

        Michonne had almost made it to the door when Beth finally caught up to her - reaching to grab her arm but before she could, the woman had spun around and pointed her sword right at Beth's neck. 

        "Don't touch me." She growled, a cut on her face was oozing blood, which was beginning to drip into her eye. Beth held her hands up in surrender, but her finger never left the trigger of her bow. 

        "I won't, I promise," Beth whispered, leaning her head back as the woman dug her blade into Beth's neck a little harder. Maybe Beth should have let the Governor kill her - if she was going to be this ungrateful.

        "Why did you do that?" Her voice was raspy, deep, but it had a comforting tone to it. Underneath all of the blood and walker head water, she was a beautiful woman - but the look in her eyes caused Beth to drop that thought pretty quickly. 

        Why did she do it? Because she had her own reasons for killing the Governor? Because she felt like the people who were currently shooting up the town had a good reason, even if she didn't know what it was yet? She had no idea. 

        "Because he's an awful man that deserved it, because I think you had a good reason for whatever you were trying to do." Hopefully, that was enough right now. She felt a warm drop of blood slide down her chest, a quick sting from the sword being dug into her collarbone. 

         They held eye contact for a moment or two, Michonne looking at her in a strange way, but she lowered her weapon - allowing Beth to release the breath she had been holding in anticipation and fear. She nodded quickly, obviously accepting her explanation, but continued to look at her in an odd way that made Beth start to feel uncomfortable. 

        "You look similar to someone," The woman explained, moving closer to to the door as if itching to escape. Similar to who? 

        "Are those people outside from the prison? The one by the highway?" She needed to know, and obviously, Michonne had come with them, she had to know something. She nodded but gave no further explanation. She reached for the door handle, slinging her sword across her shoulder, but Beth wasn't going to let her go yet. 

        "Why are they here? Did the Governor do something to them too?" 

        Michonne stopped, but her hand stayed on the handle. Beth was trying to sound as honest as she could, as nonintimidating as she could, but she needed to know if she and Daryl had another reason to add to the list of why they should leave Woodbury. 

         "One of his men took two of their people, they're trying to get them back." A woman of few words, obviously. But, that was enough for Beth. She nodded her thanks to the woman and watched as she disappeared out the front door and into the surrounding bushes - quiet as a mouse. 

 

 

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         "Bethie!" Beth had the wind knocked out of her as the ball of polar bear pajamas and butterfly clips flung herself into her legs - latching on and digging her fingers into Beth's thighs. Rose ran up to her soon after, pulling Beth into a hug with a sob. 

        The sun was just starting to rise over the mess that was currently Woodbury, people running around trying to make sure their friends and family had made it through the gunfire. A few sheets were strategically placed over a few bodies that littered the streets, Beth tried not to focus on those. It had been only an hour or so since what happened with Michonne and the Governor and no one had come for Beth yet. Maybe Andrea wasn't going to tattle tale on them, but Beth wasn't so sure - she hadn't exactly been one of the woman's favorites. Beth was still reeling from what she had witnessed, from what she had done. Yes, the man had totally deserved it, for every sick thing she had heard about him, but Jesus Christ, she just took out someone's eye with an arrow. She was also reeling from the revelation that the men of Woodbury had abducted two people of the prison group, that they were being held hostage. 

        Beth hugged Rose back tightly, savoring in the smell of her rose perfume. Even if she didn't agree with the woman's ideals, she still cared about her safety. 

        "Oh, Beth, I heard about everything! I'm so sorry!" The woman sobbed, but it caused Beth's heart to stop short - for the breath in her chest to escape into the morning air. Sorry about what? 

        She wouldn't be telling Beth she was sorry if she knew about who she had just shot in the eyeball. It could only be one other thing. 

        "Rose, is Daryl okay?" Beth whispered, pushing the woman away and grabbing her shoulders in order to truly look her in the eyes. She didn't think her heart was beating anymore - it had just stopped entirely. Rose had the audacity to look confused, which gave Beth a little hope, she wouldn't look confused if Daryl was dead - if he was underneath one of the flowery sheets, bleeding out of a gunshot wound. 

       "I thought you heard?" Rose whispered, running her hand over Melody's braids, the small girl was still clinging onto Beth's legs. Beth looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to explain. She wasn't going to cry, even if she felt the tears beginning to sting in the corners of her eyes, she wasn't going to cry until she knew he had been hurt. Or worse. 

       "Beth, Daryl was arrested for treason. He was apparently caught helping the people that were here last night." 

         

        

        

         

 

        

         

Chapter Text

"Rose, is Daryl okay?" Beth whispered, pushing the woman away and grabbing her shoulders in order to truly look her in the eyes. She didn't think her heart was beating anymore - it had just stopped entirely. Rose had the audacity to look confused, which gave Beth a little hope, she wouldn't look confused if Daryl was dead - if he was underneath one of the flowery sheets, bleeding out of a gunshot wound. 

       "I thought you heard?" Rose whispered, running her hand over Melody's braids, the small girl was still clinging onto Beth's legs. Beth looked at her expectantly, waiting for her to explain. She wasn't going to cry, even if she felt the tears beginning to sting in the corners of her eyes, she wasn't going to cry until she knew he had been hurt. Or worse. 

       "Beth, Daryl was arrested for treason. He was apparently caught helping the people that were here last night." 

 

 

 

 

 

       "What the fuck do you mean he was arrested?" Beth shouted, a little louder than she intended, to be honest. She barely registered Melody's little gasp, Rose telling her off for cussing in front of her - but Beth didn't really have the heart to care. Daryl had been helping the attackers last night, but why? If she knew anything about him, which she hoped she did, he was too loyal to those he cared about to help random strangers, especially after past events on the road. What did Woodbury even consider treason anyway? If anything, she had committed more treason to this group than Daryl had. Had he really turned against their neighbors, helping the others escape? She wondered briefly if they got what they came for, those two people Michonne was talking about. Why would he have done such a thing? 

       Then it hit her. 

       He knew the people who were attacking. 

       Could there be a small, minuscule chance that someone from the farm had made it out, like them, and lived in this prison? Could the people who had been hostage been someone they had known? That was the only reason she could think of - because Merle was with them in Woodbury, as was Andrea, but Beth didn't think Daryl would help her anyway, so who could have been here last night? 

       "He was apparently caught helping the group over the wall, he killed Andrew Harrison," Rose whispered, glancing around at the small crowd of people that were eyeing them strangely, no doubt they knew what had happened, but the people of Woodbury lived for gossip. A brief flash of an older man with graying hair that lived down the hallway from them went through Beth's mind. He had been rather cranky and awful, but he had no family left, so Beth didn't feel bad about his death for too long. 

       "Where are they keeping him?" Beth whispered, tugging harder at the cardigan sweater Rose had wrapped around her torso, pulling her further away from the crowds. Rose's eyebrows scrunched together in confusion, her hand grabbing Melody's tightly, tugging the girl who had just let out a big yawn towards the sidewalk. 

       "Why?" 

        Jesus, did she have to explain everything she did to someone?" 

       "I think Daryl and I might know the people that were here last night, that's why he helped them." Her eyebrows only cinched further together, forming that line in her forehead that Beth always wanted to smooth out with the tip of her finger while they were at work - it either meant she was confused, angry, or thinking. She hoped the latter. 

       "The people you lost at your house?" She asked, pulling the sweater around her tighter, her arms were crossed. Beth had given her a quick explanation as to what happened at the farm a bit after they had met, but no names or stories - she felt like those were secrets that she needed to protect, things she kept to herself, safe. 

       Beth nodded, "I think so, do you know where they keep people here?" Did they have a brig or something? Hidden away from all of the happy eyes and faces? 

       "In the Governor's mansion, I think." 

        Damn it all to hell. 

        Beth let out a sigh, gently rubbing her hand down Melody's braid. The Governor would have been taken to the infirmary already, right? Andrea would have gone with him, no one would know what happened - that she shot out the Governor's eye. But Rose interrupted her thoughts, causing her stomach to drop to her knees. 

        "Where did you get the bow and arrows from?" The arrow. She left the arrow in his eye! Stupid! Only two people in this entire community knew how to work a compound crossbow, her and Daryl. Unless the Governor noticed in his rage and pain that the crossbow was missing from his wall Daryl was probably going to be charged with attempted murder too. Or, if Andrea spilled the beans about who actually shot the Governor. With how much she seemed to hate both of them, Beth wouldn't be shocked if she tried to take them both down. 

         "I kept it in the apartment, I never really thought I needed it." She lied, adjusting the strap on the satchel of arrows. The arrows in her satchel were a mixture of a few different brands, a few pink, a few black, but a few were Daryl's. She was sure she fired one of Daryl's into the Governor's face. 
         "Do you want to come to our place and have some tea? I'm sure you're shaken up," Rose whispered, wrapping her fingers around Beth's wrist and squeezing. She didn't want Beth to go to the Governor's mansion. 

         "I have to go talk to him, Rose." I have to go get him so we can leave. 

          Rose shook her head, her blue eyes insistent, "I can't let you go." 

          Beth pulled against her grip, trying to free her wrist, but Rose held on. 

          "The Governor likes to give favors, he'll probably let Daryl off and exile him if you ask, but not without a price." Beth watched in horror as tears flooded Rose's eyes, a few escaping to run down her cheeks. 

          "What do you mean, Rose?" What kind of favors? Procuring walkers so he could have their heads in an aquarium tank? Rose looked like she didn't want to speak any further, looking out into the distance as a few people came in to carry their dead towards the small graveyard Woodbury had, just in case. She watched as Rose pushed Melody off towards the park behind them, pointing at a few of the butterflies that were fluttering close to the ground. She waited until the girl was out of earshot, took a deep breath in, and started. 

          "When Melody and I came here, some of the men didn't think that we could benefit the community since I don't know how to defend myself and she's just a little girl... So the Governor propositioned that if I - paid my way, so to speak, we could stay here. It's where I go on Saturdays." Saturdays were when Beth watched Melody a lot, but what job could Rose do that Melody couldn't be there for? And what did she mean, 'couldn't benefit their community'? Woodbury was always in need of cooks, gardeners, and teachers for the kids. 

           Oh. 

         "Rose..." Oh, how she wanted to find Merle Dixon and hit something at that moment. She wanted to go on her rant again, about how men in the apocalypse just reverted back to their natural form, taking advantage of weaker women instead of protecting them, or taking advantage of them and saying that it was protection. It made her want to scream. 

         "I think Daryl was what saved you from it in the beginning, but he'll just see this as an opportunity to..." Jesus Christ, she couldn't even say what he had done to her, what other men in this town had done to her - Beth was seeing red. She had had enough of this little town. 

          "Rose, Daryl and I are going to leave, you and Melody need to come with us." She couldn't leave them behind, she couldn't sleep at night knowing she allowed that to continue. Yes, they would weigh them down, taking care of a five-year-old in the middle of the woods would be very difficult, but Beth was beginning to believe that it was their best option. Rose wiped the tears away from her cheeks, glancing at Melody and smiling as she chattered along to a bluebird that was seated on the branches. Beth placed herself in Rose's shoes, alone with her child, having lost the love of her life, turned away from a community unless she paid them with her body. Looking at Melody, the innocent little girl that said her favorite thing was the sky and music, who wore her mother's hair clips with pride, Beth would have made the same choices as Rose. 

          "We'll take care of you both, I promise," 

           Rose shook her head, still looking at her daughter, "Can I think about it? When are you planning on leaving?" 

           "Right after I get him out," And after they picked up Gus, of course. After that, they were running far away. Rose looked contemplative, pulling her sweater around her tighter if that was possible. 

            "He said I looked like his wife," She whispered, reaching down to grasp Beth's hand - Beth squeezed back as a shiver ran down her spine. 

            "You'll never have to do it again, I promise - he'll never touch you again." She would make sure of it. 

             Rose nodded, pushing her towards the same place Beth had come from not two hours before, "Go get your man, I'll pack our bags." 

 

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            "You're not allowed in here," The man grumbled, poking the butt of his gun into her shoulder once again. Apparently, now there were armed guards outside of the Governor's mansion - because of her, most likely. 

            "Your prisoner is my husband," She lied, that act had worked before, so she wasn't going to drop it yet. Just as the man was about to open his mouth again, to chase her away, a familiar face stepped behind his shoulder. 

             "Let the girl in, Jeffrey," 

             She was never going to get rid of Andrea, was she? 

             Beth stepped around the guard, following the blonde ponytail that was slowly making its way towards another door. Beth didn't take the time to look at the decorations, she planned on never seeing this place again if she had any say so. Andrea opened up the door, leading down to a set of stairs - the small smile on her face was too kind, too expectant. 

             "Is Daryl down there?" Beth asked, pushing her shoulders back and taking a step back towards the door. This woman had just watched her shoot the man she was sleeping with, probably cared for, in the eye. She had helped Michonne escape, someone who Andrea thought was dangerous. This was a trap, and she had walked right into it. They had expected her to come running to Daryl. 

             "No, he's not." 

             "Where is he then?" 

             "He got out with the attackers last night," Beth felt a brief flash of abandonment through her chest, but she knew that Daryl was forced to make a choice. He knew she was safe, that she could take care of herself for a bit until he could come back for her. Daryl always had a plan, she would see him soon. She was just happy that she was not in a cell somewhere, or dead underneath a sheet in the street outside. 

             But why had Rose said he had been arrested? Had all of her thoughts been right, that Rose was just there to make her comfortable? To try and tame the wild people that came from the woods, to report back to the higher-ups if they stepped out of line? 

             "Rose is a great actress, isn't she?" 

             That bitch

             They were all playing a game, she just hoped she knew how to play too. 

 

              "So, do you expect me to go down the creepy stairs willingly? Or..?" Andrea stomped up to her suddenly, trying to intimidate her - getting in her face and leering down over her small frame. 

              "Just go, Beth," 

              Beth stepped up to her, puffing out her shoulders and holding her head high. She was just making it worse, she knew, but Andrea was just so much fun to mess with. 

              "Make me," 

              She did, grabbing Beth by her braid and dragging her down the steps of what Beth could only assume was a basement. Tears sprung into Beth's eyes from the pain of having her hair pulled, trying to kick Andrea away - but she knew deep down that those tears had been there for the past few minutes. They had been there when she finally told herself that Rose had lied to her, probably about everything, that she wasn't her friend after all. 

              Beth was thrown down the steps, her knees and elbows hitting the wooden stairs painfully, leaving bruises. When she finally landed at the bottom on the cold cement, she could smell the blood from the scrapes and cuts that littered her body now. 

              She could just make out the silhouette of Andrea at the top of the stairs, hands on her hips, looking down on crumbled up Beth with what could only be described as amusement and pity mixed together. 

              "What happened to sweet, innocent Beth?" Andrea asked, her eyes shining - Beth didn't know if it was from tears or humor. But Beth's chest burned with fury, although she respected who she used to be, knew that it was because of circumstance - she wasn't that girl anymore, and she was working to not feel ashamed whenever she thought or someone mentioned who she used to be. It would take time, but Beth would look back on who she used to be with fondness and a little bit of pity - she liked who she was now, though. 

               "She learned," Beth spat, cringing as the scrape on her palm dragged against the material of her jeans, no doubt leaving a streak of blood. 

               "It's a shame," Andrea whispered, Beth knew she had lost a sister a bit before the Atlanta group had stumbled upon the Greene family - she even remembered Andrea mentioning that Beth looked like her a bit, reminded her of the girl. Did she see her little sister when she looked at Beth? Is that what the pity was for? The sister, not Beth? 

               "A shame that your boyfriend couldn't force me to warm his bed?" Beth asked, raising an eyebrow. The look on Andrea's face was enough to make up for the pain that Beth felt after that. 

               She laughed as Andrea stomped down the stairs, grabbing the gun from the back of her pants and swinging it behind her shoulder to hit Beth on the temple. Beth let the gun hit her head, the flash of pain causing her to see stars behind her eyelids and the room to flip over. When the black closed around her vision, Beth was perfectly content, because the thought that ran through her head before she slipped into unconsciousness comforted her. 

               I'll play the damsel in distress just this once, my knight in shining armor is coming.

         

Chapter Text

         

She laughed as Andrea stomped down the stairs, grabbing the gun from the back of her pants and swinging it behind her shoulder to hit Beth on the temple. Beth let the gun hit her head, the flash of pain causing her to see stars behind her eyelids and the room to flip over. When the black closed around her vision, Beth was perfectly content, because the thought that ran through her head before she slipped into unconsciousness comforted her. 

               I'll play the damsel in distress just this once, my knight in shining armor is coming.

 

 

 

     When Beth finally regained consciousness, it was to the sound of chanting and hoots - the feeling of chains wrapped around her ankles, and a nasty headache. Where was she again? Certainly not in their apartment, or else this was a very realistic dream to add to the already horrific nightmares that she had. No, the ache in her limbs and the awful pain in her head brought back the situation she was currently in - brought back Andrea and Rose. 

     When she opened her eyes, she struggled to pull her eyelids apart because of the layer of sleep crust that lined her lashes. How long had she been out? She couldn't see anything that was around her, but she could make out the stars above her, so she knew she was outside. The incessant chanting coming somewhere from her left caused her head to pound, each shout sending a string of pains through her temple. Beth tried to squint, to see her surroundings better, but the growl from her right caused her to shoot up to her feet so fast she almost fell back down from the dizziness that pained her. She had been right about the chains, she had a rather large shackle closed around her ankle - tight enough to hurt whenever she moved just right. 

     She reached for the knife she kept in her boot but found it missing, she didn't even try to reach back to feel for the gun that had been tucked in her waistband. The growls persisted, but they weren't getting any closer, she could hear the shuffling of chains somewhere near the growls too - which meant it wasn't going anywhere. 

     She closed her eyes in pain when the lights suddenly flicked on above her, lines of stadium lights that blinded her vision for a moment, but made the crowd somewhere close to her only grow louder. It took her a while to adjust, to blink away the white light that blinded her vision. She wished she had stayed blind to what was in front of her. 

     She was in a dirt arena, small, but big enough that you knew what it was. There was a machete laying a few feet in front of her, but judging from the chain she was attached to, it was too far away. She found the walker that had been growling at her, placed behind her attached to a chain. 

     In front of her though, is what worried her. 

     Merle Dixon stood in front of her, chained. There was a walker behind him as well. 

     The Governor walked into the middle of the arena, eyepatch shining from its freshness. Beth hoped what lied beneath it was gruesome. The crowd grew silent, waiting for their leader to start speaking. Beth spotted Rose standing next to Andrea up in the bleachers and a sour taste formed on her tongue, at least, she couldn't find Melody somewhere in the crowds. 

     "These two people, people that we have taken in, fed, sheltered... Have decided to betray us. They have, quite literally, bit the hand that fed them - and now, they will pay the price. They have become untrustworthy, dangerous, and wild." The crowd screamed in excitement while a sick feeling settled in Beth's stomach - Merle looked as sick as she did. 

      The Governor walked towards her, a skip in his step and a crazed gleam in his eye. Either he was really hyped up on painkillers or the final string holding his sanity together snapped. He spun around to point to Merle, grinning, "This man has committed treason against us, refusing to commit acts that would be useful to our community as a whole. Is that alright?" He asked, the crowd booed in response. 

      He spun around to Beth then, reaching to grab her braid and pull - why did everyone want to pull at her hair? 

      "And this little lady has been charged with attempted murder," He spat, she pulled back, fumbling with his hands and trying to pull them away from her scalp - but he threw her down onto the dirt to her knees before she could get a good grip. He leaned down in front of her, gripping the bottom of her chin and pulling her head up to look him in the eye. 

      "What a shame, such a pretty face put to waste," He whispered, moving her head around as if he was assessing her. She did want any girl would do, she spit in his face. It was a good shot, really, landing right around his mouth. The crowd cheered, either in excitement or amusement, but it pissed the Governor off more either way because he pulled back and slapped her straight across the cheek. 

       She heard Merle struggle against his chains, but the ringing in her ears blocked out most of what was around her, including the Governor's explanation of the game they were about to play. 

       "You all know the rules of this game, the longer it takes them to kill the other opponent, the closer the biters behind them get," He stepped back from the ring, into the crowds, she did watch in satisfaction as he wiped the spit away in disgust.

       "Let the game begin," 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      Beth stumbled as the ache in her head got worse, barely catching herself as she stumbled to the ground. She could feel the fingers of the walker behind her, the rattle of the chains as it got closer. They had been fighting, yes, but Merle was barely hitting her. She was sure if he had fully punched her she would have been out a long time ago, walker food within the first minute. He had kicked the machete towards her foot, obviously trying to tell her to just do it, but she refused to pick up the weapon. She refused to play this game. 

      "Goddamit, girl, just kill me!" Merle shouted, but not loud enough for the crowd to hear over their own screaming. Beth shook her head, taking a deep breath in and going for a light punch to Merle's stomach. Turns out they were both pretty good actors, it seemed the crowd was buying it, but whenever she glanced at the Governor, he obviously was not. 

       A bit of doubt settled in her stomach, tiny, but there. Was Daryl coming back for her? Or did he tell the others that she had died at the farm, that he had been here alone? No, he wouldn't do that. Not to her. He was coming, she just prayed that it was soon. 

      The Governor was suddenly close to them, throwing what looked like a rock towards their heads, it missed, but the intention was clear. 

      "Fight, goddamit! Let the chains out more!" Beth heard the chains groan as they were released a few more feet, the fingers now grasping at her hair, pulling her towards the mouth of rotting teeth and blood. She pulled back, relenting and reaching down to grab the machete by her feet. What other choice did she have? 

     She wanted to cry, to drop to her knees and curse. She didn't want to have to do this, to fight to the death and kill one of the only people that she cared about - she was just a girl, a kid, really. She wanted her mother, her own bed, she wanted Daryl to hold her and chase all of this away, so she wouldn't have to feel the weight of the machete in her hands and the grasping, dead fingers pulling at the back of her shirt. She didn't want to look Merle Dixon in the eyes while she shoved the machete into his chest. 

     "Just do it, Beth," Merle whispered, holding his hands out in surrender. The tears started then. 

     "I don't want to, Merle," She sobbed, slapping at the hands that pulled at her hair so incessantly now. She tried to block out the sounds of the crowd cheering, the walkers both growling behind them, the sound of the Governor cussing them out while they took too long, all she tried to focus on was Merle. 

     "I can't," She whispered, she sounded so much like a little girl, like Melody was standing there instead of her. She thought she could see tears glistening in Merle's eyes, but the tears in her own fogged her vision too much to tell if she was right. 

      Merle opened his mouth to say something, reaching out to pull her towards him more, to push the tip of the knife into his chest, when the first gas bomb went off, filling the small arena with smoke. She could hear the screams of excitement stop, suddenly confused, and then they became terrified. 

     Gunfire filled the area and the people in the stands scattered like ants, even the Governor was pulled away by the rush of the crowd towards the exit into the street. Another bomb went off somewhere behind Beth, but all Beth could focus on was the THUNK of an arrow settling into the walker's skull behind her. He came out of nowhere, really, appearing from the mist in the same clothes she left him in. 

     Their eyes met, and she knew that everything would be fine. 

     He ran to her, shouting her name, but she didn't care because his arms wrapped around her and pulled her into his chest, lifting her feet off the ground a bit and she was home

     Daryl running his hands through her hair and pulling her mouth to his just made it better. It was just as amazing as she imagined, the feel of his lips on hers, his hands running through her hair and down her neck, gripping at her like she would disappear under his touch. The smell of him was better this close, he even tasted like sunshine and woods. She had never kissed anyone before, so she wasn't sure what to do at first, she was sure that the tears running down her cheeks weren't usually part of a teenage girl's first kiss, but she kissed back anyway. The burn in her chest and the butterflies in her stomach were back with fervor, but it only made her want to kiss deeper, to scratch her nails down his back and share their breaths. Her arms were thrown around his neck and her fingers were running through his hair - dirty and sweaty from the woods. She was still chained and in pain, but it was perfect. 

     She nearly pulled him back into another kiss when he moved away, swiping at the few strands of hair that were in her eyes and running his hands over the bruise on her temple from Andrea's gun. He was talking a mile a minute, something about sorry, and Rick and Glenn, and I shouldn't have left, and what is this are you hurt? But she didn't care because he was here and safe and they were both alright. 

     He was still talking when she pulled him in for another kiss, just as great as the first one. 

     "Can ya'll hurry up and fuck and then get me out of these things?" Merle grumbled, shaking the chain attached to his ankle for good measure. Apparently, Daryl had shot the walker behind him as well and she hadn't noticed. Her hands were still wrapped around Daryl's neck when he reached down to grab the ax that was attached to his belt, gently prying her arms away so he could swing at the chain. It broke apart after a few swings, she just hoped that wherever they were going had the tools to take the shackle off her ankle. 

     "Nice to see you too, Merle," 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

       "We need to go get Gus!" Beth shouted, maneuvering around the walker that had just tried to take a chunk out of her arm. She stabbed the hunting knife Daryl had thrown at her into its skull, pushing it away and shoving it into the asphalt. Merle was somewhere behind them, cussing and having the time of his life. 

       She wasn't sure who opened the gates to walkers, or where they even came from, but they were everywhere. Beth tried to push away the flashes of the farm, of Patricia's blood soaking her shirt and being pinned to the ground by the walker with the bullet in her brain - but they just kept coming. Her hands felt empty without her bow, but she had no idea where Andrea took it after she knocked her out, so she was pretty sure she was never going to see it again. It hurt her heart a little bit, mostly because it had been a gift from Daryl and she had learned on that bow, but they would find another one. 

      "Glenn is getting him," Daryl answered, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the wide-open gates. That was another thing she had yet to process, the thought of Glenn and Rick being somewhere close, of Maggie and her daddy back at that prison, waiting. She didn't know if she was ever going to be able to process the thought of seeing them again - if she could do it without breaking down entirely. 

       The thought that haunted her since the highway, since Daryl had tugged her through the woods, bleeding and scared, came back to her at that moment. 

       Can you look them in the eyes and ask them why they gave up on you, why they gave up on Daryl? 

       She wasn't sure of the answer to that question yet. 

       Another thought struck her then. 

       Melody. Small, innocent Melody - who loved music and dancing, braiding her doll's hair and playing with Gus. The thought of her running around in this horror made Beth want to shrivel up and die. Had Rose made it back to her? She felt a wave of burning anger towards the woman because of her betrayal, of the lies that she told Beth, but she didn't wish death on her. She wanted that woman alive for Melody and nothing else, only for the little girl. 

       "We need to go find Melody!" Beth yelled, pulling Daryl back towards the direction of Rose's apartment. He loved that little girl too, he wouldn't disagree with her. 

        Before they could start running towards the brick apartment building, the topic of their conversation ran up to them, hand in hand with her mother, covered in blood. Rose was sobbing, dragging a screaming Melody along with her who was in her pajamas, one of the little butterfly clips sat crooked on her blonde hair. 

        "Take her, Beth, please!" Rose begged, shoving Melody into Daryl's arms and backing away, Beth saw the reason why, the nasty bite on her shoulder, gushing blood. 

        "Mommy!" Melody screamed, struggling against Daryl's hold, kicking and screaming to get back to her mother. Beth felt the tears in her eyes, the sting as they fell down the gash on her cheek. The girl had just lost both mothers. 

        "I love you, sweet girl, so much." Rose sobbed, pressing a kiss to her palm and blowing it at Melody, forcing a smile on her face. "Beth and Daryl will take care of you, I promise," Hadn't Beth promised to take care of Rose and Melody just hours ago? 

        Rose looked at her then, really looked at her, tears streaking down her face. 

        "I'm sorry, Beth,"

        She turned and walked away into the mass of people and walkers, away from her screaming daughter, away from Beth, who was realizing that Rose had done everything for Melody, to protect her - even if it meant she hurt Beth. She would have done the same things, she decided. 

       Daryl picked up the kicking little girl and continued to run, still holding Beth's hand, tugging her along with him. When they finally made it to the gate, she was met with a sight she never thought she would see again. 

       Rick. 

       He looked older, like the world had been shit to him for nearly two years - but he was there, and he was smiling at Beth. She didn't run to him, no, she didn't know him well enough before everything happened to miss him that much, but she hugged him all the same. He whispered that he was glad that she was okay, joking that they had to pin Daryl down to stop him from running back in to get her. 

       A few others were around them, a few men that she didn't recognize that were making sure that none of the walkers got too close to them. She started to laugh when she saw the blur of golden hair and blubber dart towards her - the sound of Glenn shouting after the dog, weighed down with their backpacks. Gus crashed into her legs, panting and whining - if she had been trapped in a closet for a whole day she would have done the same. She scrubbed behind his ears, laying a big smooch on the top of his head. She wanted to whisper that she had done it, she had finally broke Daryl Dixon, when Rick mentioned that they should get moving. 

      She spotted Michonne standing off in the distance, sword ready, she barely remembered Glenn hugging her, the hustle and bustle of them moving - because they were missing someone. 

      "Daryl, where is Merle?" The group stopped for a moment, all except Daryl looking at her strangely. She wasn't leaving the man behind, not after everything that happened. She wouldn't want to be left behind. 

      "He said to go on without him," Daryl whispered, a pained look crossing his face. He was looking anywhere but the group, trying not to show how much it hurt to leave his only family behind, Beth saw it though.  He didn't want to leave his brother, but she knew Merle, and there was no arguing with him. Beth wanted to run back in and punch Merle for real this time, for being so stupid to want to stay in the mess that was currently Woodbury. She thought of all the things that she wanted to say, that she didn't have the guts to say to his face, but she knew that the man would be okay. He survived chopping off his own hand and wandering the woods for months, he would survive this - and somehow, they would see each other again. 

      Beth nodded instead, grabbing Melody's hand and following after Rick and Glenn - still not really believing where she was, not being able to process what was going on, what had happened. But of course, it only got worse. 

     "Bethie, my tummy hurts," Melody whimpered, rubbing her eyes and the tears that were still running down her cheeks. Beth was surprised that no one commented on the little girl, but Beth guessed that they all thought she was just a little girl they had come across that they didn't have the heart to leave behind. 

     "Why does your tummy hurt?" Beth asked, stopping to kneel in front of her, adjusting one of the butterfly clips. Beth thought of Rose's face, how much Melody looked like her, but held back tears for the girl's sake. 

      "One of the yucky people bit me," 

      She heard Daryl stop walking behind her, the others stopping to see what the dilemma was. Beth's heart had stopped, shriveling up and hoping, praying, that the girl was exaggerating. She had thought that the blood on Melody's fairy pajamas was her mother's. 

      She reached down to pull up the sleep shirt, her hands shaking, the tears she had been trying to hold back falling down her cheeks. 

      There, on her tiny stomach, was a bite mark. 

       

        

       

    

      

      

     

Chapter Text

"O ne of the yucky people bit me," 

      She heard Daryl stop walking behind her, the others stopping to see what the dilemma was. Beth's heart had stopped, shriveling up and hoping, praying, that the girl was exaggerating. She had thought that the blood on Melody's fairy pajamas was her mother's. 

      She reached down to pull up the sleep shirt, her hands shaking, the tears she had been trying to hold back falling down her cheeks. 

      There, on her tiny stomach, was a bite mark. 

 

     She heard the sound of Daryl's boots clunk towards her on the pavement, the hitch in his breath as he bent down to Melody's tiny height. The others seemed to have not heard what she had said because none of them had freaked or walked any closer yet. Beth was glad. She was not going to allow them to point a gun at the girl's head and scare her even more - to treat her as if she was a ticking time bomb. Melody deserved better. 

     "Let me see, sweetheart," Daryl whispered, tugging at the pink fabric and exposing the nasty gash in her stomach, right by her hip bone. The bleeding had stopped already, clotting and turning her pajamas a nasty black color. It had been a while since it had happened, and there was nothing they could do now. Beth recognized the tone of voice Daryl had suddenly taken on, the nurse voice, the one he had used while Beth had been on the brink of death last winter. Her daddy had used it on Rick before he had cut his son open, calm and soft - whispering that everything was going to be alright when they knew deep down that it wasn't. 

     Melody was going to die, and Beth felt like she didn't have enough left in her to take it. This would be the breaking point for Beth, the moment that any remnants of who she was, what she believed in before the world fell apart, would die too. What kind of world was this if something so innocent didn't have a chance at all? If walls and the comfort of a mother couldn't keep you safe, what could? What god would allow a little girl to die of fever and pain? To rot and amble the earth endlessly, to one day be put down by someone who looked at you in fear and disgust?

    No, God had abandoned them a long time ago. 

    The tears stung the gash in her cheek, but she wiped them away quickly, cringing as her hand came back wet with blood. Melody didn't need to see her cry. 

    A voice Beth didn't recognize, one of the men standing around the edges of the group, walked closer to them, the crunch of his boots nearly silent, but Beth could hear it. Daryl obviously could too, because his hand moved to latch onto his crossbow that was sitting on the asphalt next to his knee. 

    "Hey, guys? Can we go ahead and - woah!" She heard the click of the gun, could see the man pull the weapon out of its holster and point it towards Daryl and Melody -but Daryl had already stood up and pointed the bow right at the man's head. He was an odd-looking man, really, with a tailored mustache and a musty old jumpsuit - but with the way he was holding his gun, it didn't seem like he knew how to shoot very well anyway. Beth clutched the knife in her hands tighter, the sudden sweat from her palms causing her grip to loosen a bit. She stepped in front of Melody, grabbing the little girl's hand and blocking her view of the group in front of her. She could hear her quiet sobs, out of fear, most likely - Gus had moved to stand behind Melody, a quiet growl rumbling out of his chest. 

    "Don't come any fucking closer," Daryl whispered, his voice wavered a bit, but it was harsh enough that it caused the man to take a step back. He didn't move to put his gun down, though. That got the rest of the group moving, Beth crouched down to pick Melody up, slinging her across her hip and tucking her head into her shoulder. She ran her hand through Melody's hair, careful not to mess up the braids, and began to whisper nothings into her ear - that she was going to be okay, that her mother loved her, that they were going somewhere safe, that they would be safe - even if there was a chance that they wouldn't be. Beth wished someone would have said that to her a long time ago, held her like this when her mother had been thrown into the barn after she had tried to take a chunk out of her husband. 

    Rick moved quickly to stand in between Daryl and the man, but instead of reaching for the gun pointed at Beth and Melody, he moved to push Daryl's bow down. 

    "Calm down, Daryl," Ah, so Rick had a cop voice too. 

    "I am calm," Daryl spat, moving to aim the bow around Rick's shoulder towards the man who was now hiding behind Glenn but still aiming his gun, "Tell him to put the gun down," 

    "He had a good reason, she's bit," Rick whispered, placing his hand on Daryl's arm and pushing down again. She heard a little bit of remorse in his voice, the sound of a man who knew that this child was going to die, but not enough that it made the burning in Beth's chest stop. Daryl finally relented, moving to place the bow by his side with his finger still on the trigger, shuffling to stand in front of Melody and her. 

    "She's a child," 

    "She's a danger to all of us, she can't come into the prison," Rick said, quiet enough that Melody wouldn't have been able to hear over her quiet sniffles into Beth's shoulder, but loud enough that Beth could hear the words hidden between the lines, the you aren't either if you don't quit. 

    So that was the way it was going to be.

    Beth sat Melody gently down on the ground, grabbing her hand again and pulling her towards Daryl. The little girl clasped onto the fabric of his pants, hiding her face into his leg - a look of acceptance crossed Daryl's face, gently running his hand over Melody's head. He had heard Rick's hidden words too, saw the way the rest of the group had their feet pointed towards Daryl, fingers on the triggers of their weapons, ready. Rick and Glenn looked at her hopefully, obviously thinking she was going to agree with them and run to the prison while Daryl took care of Melody. Maybe before the farm fell she would have done that, gone with them so she wouldn't cause trouble and allow someone else to take care of the mess, but not anymore. 

    "We know our way to the prison, we'll come when we're ready," Beth stated, pushing her chin up and eyeing Rick in the eyes. She wasn't sure if she liked the shocked look they held yet. She motioned for Glenn to hand over their bags, pointing towards the ground at their feet. 

    Glenn started, holding tightly onto their bags, "Beth... Maggie would want -"  

    "I don't care what Maggie wants, just tell her I'll be there soon," She snapped, walking forward and snatching her's and Daryl's backpacks from his hands. If they were going to act cold and untrustworthy towards Daryl, they were going to get the same treatment back, no matter who they were. 

    Daryl grabbed her elbow, pulling her towards him to stand behind his shoulder. She knew why, the man still hadn't lowered his gun all of the way and Beth didn't have a weapon - she didn't need to get hurt by a man who didn't know how to work a pistol properly, not now. She didn't like the slight shuffling of footsteps from the others, their fingers tightening on the triggers as if she needed protecting. The burn in her chest only worsened. 

    "Alright, we'll see you both soon enough," Rick whispered, placing his gun back into his holster. He didn't look them in the eyes. 

     She watched as the group nodded their heads in goodbyes, disappearing off into the woods one by one, heading North. Michonne was the last one to hit the treeline, her sword still clenched in her hand, but not in anticipation - Beth knew that look in her eyes, the way she was grounding herself by grasping onto the one thing she knew, the anger and fear lining the edges of her pupils. Her eyes met Beth's, scanning down to look at little Melody before she shook her head and disappeared off into the woods, quiet as a mouse. 

    She heard Daryl take a deep breath, slinging his crossbow over his shoulder and bending down to smile gently at Melody - but it didn't reach his eyes. 

    "Why did they leave us?" Melody whispered, biting at the skin around her thumb, obviously wanting to pop it into her mouth - but Beth knew she was a brave girl, that she didn't want to show that she was scared now. 

    "They're just going to make sure the safe place we're going is ready for us," Daryl whispered, smile still forced into place, adjusting one of the small clips on her head. His hand lingered and Beth knew he was checking her temperature, but didn't want to set Melody off. 

    "Is my mom going to be there?" 

    "Both of your moms are going to be there," 

     Beth held her breath, swallowing the lump that was making its way up her throat, and knew that this was going to break them. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

     "Do you see all those colors? Aren't they pretty?" Daryl pointed towards the sunrise coming over the tops of the trees, rocking back and forth on the wooden porch swing of the cabin they had found, Melody placed gently in his lap. They had only walked a mile or so into the woods when they had found it - stripped of nearly everything, even the mattress on the bed, but Beth knew they wouldn't be here long. 

     Beth hadn't said much, because she knew that if she did she would start to cry. She had already stepped away into the woods when Melody had started throwing up blood, leaving Daryl to hold her hair back and whisper useless nothings into her ear. He had been telling her about a lake Merle used to take him to when she had finally come back, how they used to sleep there sometimes and watch the sun come up in the mornings - that Merle had taught him all of the constellations and would tell him made up stories about each one, sometimes dramatically reenacting the stories to make Daryl laugh when he was sad. Melody's voice was too weak to respond a few minutes after that. 

    So they swung gently back and forth, Daryl occasionally saying something to calm Melody down when the pain got particularly bad or she started coughing again - Beth played with the ends of Melody's braids. Gus laid underneath the swing, letting out a few quiet snores. 

    The lump in Beth's throat seemed constant, but she wasn't sure if it was out of crushing sadness or anger towards the world. It was selfish to feel sad, Beth realized because no child deserved to live on the run, running in fear of rotting corpses and starvation. Melody didn't deserve to go to bed hungry or shiver in the cold of winter - she deserved a life of happiness and adventure. She would never get that in this world. Beth tried to think of what Melody's life might have been like if none of this had happened, her first day of middle school, nervous but excited, carefully picking out a prom dress with her friends, hugging her mothers after her college graduation and eventually marrying the person she loved. She would never have the chance to experience any of those things here, but maybe, if there was somewhere else after death, she could get the chance to. Beth kept the image of older Melody in her head, in a wedding dress, in a nice skirt and button up shirt waiting for her first job interview, maybe even a tutu, dancing around a stage because it made the hole in Beth's chest feel a little smaller. 

    Melody's head shot up suddenly, a dazed look in her eyes from the fever taking over her mind, and her eyes met Beth's. 

    "Mama?" Her voice was rough, desperate and vulnerable, and it broke Beth's heart. She ran her hand over Melody's cheek, wiping away the dried blood on her brow, pushing a stray curl behind her ear. 

    "It's okay, sweetheart, lay back down," Beth's voice caught on the lump in her throat, and the tears finally broke free. From the look in Melody's eyes, she thought Beth was her mother. Her mother had started seeing things before the fever had finally taken her, calling Maggie her little sister's name and telling Herschel that she needed to get to class, that she had a quiz in home economics to take. 

     Melody struggled, reaching her hands out to pull Beth closer, whimpering when she couldn't get a good grip on her. 

     "Give her to me," Beth whispered, opening her arms and adjusting her legs so Melody could sit on her lap. Daryl looked hesitant but gently laid the little girl onto her lap, her burning head gently resting on Beth's shoulder. Beth ran a hand down Melody's head, adjusting the butterfly clip that seemed to always be sliding down from its spot on her temple. Beth hushed her whimpers, kissing her gently on the cheek - her skin so hot that it burned for Beth to touch, and kept on swinging. Beth saw a flash of her mother doing to the same thing when Beth had been sick with the flu, singing her a song and whispering that she was going to be okay. 

     "I missed you," Melody whimpered, her hand mindlessly playing with an end of Beth's hair. 

     "I missed you too, sweetpea," Beth choked, pulling the little girl closer to her chest. She stayed quiet after that, only the sound of her rasped breathing signaled that she was still with them. 

      Beth had never liked to sing in front of people, had always hated how people focused on her face and watched her every breath - she only ever sang when her father encouraged her and when she was forced to participate in the choir at their church, but she had to be strong now, for Melody - and knew that her mother singing to her always made her feel better. 

 

 

Oh all the money that e'er I spent

 

I spent it in good company


And all the harm that e'er I've done


Alas, it was to none but me 


And all I've done for want of wit


To memory now I can't recall


So fill to me the parting glass


Good night and joy be with you all

 

Oh all the comrades that e'er I've had


Are sorry for my going away


And all the sweethearts that e'er I've had


Would wish me one more day to stay


But since it falls unto my lot


That I should rise and you should not


I'll gently rise and I'll softly call


Good night and joy be with you all


Good night and joy be with you all

 

 

 

 

    It was silent for a while after that, only the sound of a few birds chirping in a tree nearby and the few hitches of Melody's breath filled the silence of the dawn. Five minutes later, Melody stopped breathing entirely. 

   "Is she gone?" Beth whispered, looking up into the sky, watching as a bluejay fluttered from tree to tree, singing a song only it knew. She saw Daryl's hand reach for a pulse on her wrist, holding it for a moment, and nodded. 

    Beth adjusted Melody's head, making sure her head was settled onto her shoulder comfortably - it didn't matter anymore, Beth knew, but she didn't care. They sat there for a while, still swinging back and forth on the swing - it was peaceful, really, like they had been rocking her to sleep. When Beth saw the tears tracking their way through the dirt on Daryl's cheeks, she finally broke. 

   "We need to do it soon," Daryl whispered, adjusting that one butterfly clip on her temple. Beth nodded, the sobs burning her throat as they bubbled up, the tears stinging as they puddled in the wound on her cheek. 

   Even if they both knew they needed to move quickly, they stayed on the swing, wondering if anything could survive in the world they were stuck in. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

    

     They hadn't spoken after they buried her. Beth had wanted to whisper that she wished they didn't have to bury her alone, that she could be next to her family, but Beth knew they wouldn't have been able to hold it together if she had said it out loud. Her first instinct had been to take one of the butterfly clips, to remember the innocent little girl the world had taken from them, but Beth stopped herself. They were Melody's, gifted to her by the mother she had lost, they needed to stay with her. 

     Beth hoped that Daryl had been paying attention to the direction they went, which direction they were supposed to go in to find the prison they had skipped over so many months ago - because she hadn't been. They had stopped for water along the way, the sun beating down on their shoulders getting the best of them. They had been up for what - forty-eight hours? Well, Beth had been knocked unconscious for a few of those hours, if the nasty pain in her head meant anything. It seemed her and Daryl both were pretty numb to everything right now, both gazing off into the distance as Gus sniffed around in the leaves by the stream. 

   "Your cheek is going to need stitches," Daryl whispered, his eyes following Gus as he chased after something in the air neither of them had the energy to see. She nodded, gently hushing Gus when he released a small bark into the air, his tail wagging. 

   Beth laid her head down on Daryl's shoulder, forcing herself to keep her eyes open. If she closed them, she saw Melody, and she didn't think she had any tears left. Daryl let out a sigh, reaching out to grab a hold of her hand and pulling it onto his lap, squeezing so hard she thought her hand might bruise. But it was okay because she knew that he was grounding himself, telling himself that she was still there - that he hadn't lost her. 

   No, she was never leaving him. She would follow him around forever if he'd let her. They still had each other, that was all that mattered - not the unsettling events with their group, the Governor, none of it mattered because they still had each other.

   He was her family now, no matter what. 

   "I'm still here," She whispered, feeling Daryl nod and rub his thumb up and down the crease in her wrist. 

   They both watched as Gus chased after a little yellow and blue butterfly, the same color as the ones they just buried with Melody. 

  

 

       

 

     

 

 

 

Chapter Text

No, she was never leaving him. She would follow him around forever if he'd let her. They still had each other, that was all that mattered - not the unsettling events with their group, the Governor, none of it mattered because they still had each other. He was her family now, no matter what.

"I'm still here," She whispered, feeling Daryl nod and rub his thumb up and down the crease in her wrist.

They both watched as Gus chased after a little yellow and blue butterfly, the same color as the ones they just buried with Melody.

 

 

 

     "I think it should be right over that hill," Daryl stated, mostly to himself. Beth hadn't been listening to his directions for the past hour because she had been too focused on containing all of the thoughts that were buzzing around her head. Some of them were bad, some of them were good, but the bad ones reared their ugly heads, and she couldn't help but ask what had been on her mind since they left the cabin. 

    "Are you sure you want to do this?" Beth whispered, her voice nearly inaudible compared to the singing of birds in the trees and the rustle of summer leaves in the breeze. It had to be near autumn now, it had been what - July when they found Woodbury? They had been there for a few good months, so it had to be at least September or October now. Was this a good decision? To run back into a group they hadn't seen in almost a year and a half? Nearly two years? Beth wasn't sure of time anymore, it didn't really matter anymore anyway. Was it a good idea to thrust themselves back into the group that acted as if they didn't trust Beth and Daryl one bit? Of course, that might have been from the adrenaline of attacking Woodbury, but could Beth be sure? No, Beth was being stupid. Her family was in the prison, her father and sister, people she had only dreamed of seeing since the farm fell. 

     The family that abandoned you because they thought you were dead meat, a voice whispered. 

     "Do what?" Daryl asked, his voice gruff and tired, his back to Beth as he trekked up the rocky hill they would need to cross over to find the prison they had passed over so long ago. They hadn't slept since the night before Woodbury had fallen - had it fallen, or had they gotten the walkers out? She thought of all those kids she saw five days a week, the ones with the big smiles and the happy voices. Did they have the same end as Melody? Were they buried and gone too?

      Beth stopped walking, planting her boots into the mud and moss that covered the ground beneath their feet. It must have rained while she had been knocked unconscious in Woodbury, Beth thought. With the summer heat and the sun beating down on their shoulders, it was getting difficult to pick her heavy boots up and stomp through the mud. She wanted this to be a serious conversation, not one they had while panting and stumbling through the woods without looking at one another. 

     "Of us going to the prison," Beth answered, gesturing with her hand towards the tip of the hill, even if Daryl hadn't stopped to look at her directly. He must have heard her stop, though, because he slowly spun around on his heels and studied her face for a moment and looked away quickly. That was what was worrying Beth, he hadn't really looked at her since they met the rest of the group outside the walls of Woodbury - he hadn't looked at her this way and avoided her eyes since the farmhouse. He was overthinking something, Beth was determined to find out what before they set foot in the walls of the prison.  

     He looked confused for a moment but whistled towards Gus to stop and sit down for a moment, crossing his arms over his chest. Yeah, something was really wrong. 

     "Your family is there, why wouldn't you want to go to the prison?" That was a good question, really, why didn't she want to go to the prison? Have her older sister and her dad pull her into a hug again? She knew why, she just didn't want to admit it to herself. 

      Because she knew that if she saw her family again she could potentially lose everything that was standing in front of her. What would her family think of her now, after being separated for nearly two years? How would they treat this Beth - the one that learned what she valued most and how to stand up for herself? Most importantly, what would they think of Daryl Dixon being the one to help her do it?

     Daryl was her family now too, she knew him better than her siblings, even her own mother. 

    She knew he slept with a million blankets piled on top of him because he was always cold, even in the sunlight. He knew that she preferred to sleep with just a sheet. She knew that he despised tomatoes but would eat tomato sauce, and he knew that she was allergic to blueberries but would gladly eat blueberry pie and suffer the stomach ache. She knew that he was deathly afraid of small spaces because his father used to make him sleep in a coat closet when he was in trouble, and he knew that she was afraid of thunderstorms because they used to rattle the entire farm when she was little - that Maggie made fun of her for sleeping with her parents, so she stopped and suffered alone. He knew that she told awful jokes and made up puns when she was bored, but laughed at them anyway, she knew that he hummed songs when he was anxious. She knew that he wanted to be a pediatric nurse, he knew that she had no idea what she had wanted to do after college, but enjoyed psychology and history classes. She knew that he flinched when someone raised their voice or made a loud noise, that he didn't like people touching him and refused to look people in the eyes when they were angry. He knew that Beth hated long winters because sunshine was one of the few things that made her happy, that she felt like she went into hibernation and depression with the rest of nature; but that she liked cold rather than the heat of summer. He knew that she got angry with herself a lot, and to know that it wasn't his fault, that she just needed to vent about her bad thoughts. 

    She could go on forever, she knew. She knew his favorite color was green and he knew her favorite color was purple. She knew his favorite band was Queen and he knew her favorite singer was Elvis. She knew his favorite book was The Great Gatsby, but that he had a soft spot for the Chronicles of Narnia, he knew she preferred fantasy novels like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, but loved books about history - specifically about Egypt. 

    He was her best friend, and she felt like she was about to lose him. 

    "You're my family too, Daryl," She murmured, because it was true. He had been her family, and she would always consider him family. Because even if the kiss between them was a one-time thing, which she desperately hoped that it wasn't, she didn't want to lose her best friend too. 

    He scoffed and shook his head, turning back around to head towards the hill, "You're exhausted and hurt, come on," 

    "I'm fine! I want to talk about what happened," She was raising her voice a little too loud, she needed to get used to being outside of walls again, she guessed. 

    "About what? Melody? There's nothing to talk about, she's dead." Ouch, that was harsh. 

    "Don't say that," Beth whimpered, crossing her arms over her chest in the same manner Daryl had his earlier, planting her feet into the mud. She wasn't moving until she spoke to him about what happened, whether it be their kiss or what happened with the group, hell, she hadn't even told him that she shot the Governor in the eye. She didn't want to talk about Melody right now, though. Her shoulder still felt hot from the little girl's forehead and the sores on her palms from the wooden handle of the shovel they found in the shed still wept - it was too early to talk about what happened to Melody, she needed time, and she knew Daryl did too. 

    The harsh look in his eyes softened at her plea and he took a step closer to her, hesitant, "She is, Beth," 

    "I don't want to talk about her right now!" She shouted, startling the birds in the trees above their heads, causing Gus to growl from somewhere behind her and chase them off into the woods. She didn't worry for too long about the dog, he could make it five minutes alone. She clenched her fists instead, trying to swallow the burn in her throat and the sting of tears trying to make their way down her cheeks. There was just too much to think about right now that Beth didn't know how to process anything, she just wanted to go to sleep for a while and forget about it - to wake up and for everything be back to the way it was a few days ago. They were doing just fine, they were happy, even, but Beth was beginning to get used to the fact that nothing lived for long in this world. 

    Daryl looked startled at her sudden outburst but didn't step any closer to her. He knew she was spiraling, and he knew that she just needed to talk and get everything out before she could take someone touching her or telling her that everything would be okay, even if it wasn't going to be. He held his arms up in surrender, in a way that told Beth to just talk, then. 

    She took a deep breath, allowing the tears to run down her cheeks and sting the wound that had finally stopped bleeding a few hours ago. She looked off into the woods after Gus, trying desperately to figure out what it was she was trying to say. She didn't even know if she had the right to talk about what she wanted to, about what they were. Were they still friends? Had the little voice in the back of her head been right about the kiss being pure adrenaline, a mistake? Or were they something else, boyfriend and girlfriend? No, those words belonged in the halls of a middle school, not in the apocalypse. 

    "I don't want you to just throw me at my family and pretend like everything that has happened just didn't happen," She admitted, blowing the piece of hair that always refused to stay in her braid back into place somewhere on top of her head - it would fall back down in a minute, sticking to the tears that were just about to flood down her cheeks. She never liked arguing, though she wasn't sure if this could be considered arguing just yet, she always cried when she confronted someone, especially someone she cared about. It was something she hated, Maggie would just hold her head up high and tell someone what was wrong, but Beth was different. But she didn't want them to go back to the way they were at the farm, never having spoken to one another except in passing or polite conversation. 

    "And what's happened?" He asked, crossing his hands back over his chest. Yes, now it was an argument. 

    "What do you mean 'what's happened'? You kissed me!" He had kissed her, and not just a little peck on the lips as a sign of him being glad she was safe, he had kissed her. They had been gravitating around this for months, whatever line they were about to cross, Beth wanted a straight answer as to where they were heading. Did he even want to be that with her? Or did he think that there wasn't room for it? That it was stupid to care about someone when they could die tomorrow? She needed to know so she could prepare, so she could somehow go back to just being friends with this man - the one that she was beginning to believe she was deeply in love with. 

    "And it was a mistake!" 

     And there it was. 

    The tears came then, and she wanted to hit something. She never liked that voice in her head to be right, the one that whispered awful things to her at night. It had been right, and she felt like her chest had been ripped open. A look of regret passed his face then, and he walked towards her all of the sudden, reaching out to grab her shoulders. His hands were warm like they always were and the smell of him just made more tears rush down her cheeks. 

    "Please don't cry, I'm sorry," He had told her once that seeing women cry made him feel sick to his stomach, she remembered. 

    "Sorry for kissing me, or sorry for making me cry?" She asked, reaching up to wipe the tears from her face, but he had already reached up to do so. He avoided the gash in her cheek, careful to not touch the ragged edges. She was sure it was going to leave a scar. At least she would have bragging rights that Merle Dixon had slashed at her with his pirate hand and she lived to tell the tale. 

    "Both," He admitted, sighing and attempting to wipe the dried blood from her brow. She wasn't even sure if it was hers at this point. 

    Why would he be sorry for kissing her? Had she acted like she hadn't wanted it? Had she stiffened up in shock and he thought she was disgusted? No, because she had kissed him back, she had pulled him back in and kissed him on her own ambition. It wasn't like he had been the one to start things, she had been the one to crawl into his bed when she had nightmares, she had been the one to ask him to dance, the one that always gravitated towards him and held his hand occasionally and pulled him in for random hugs. So what was it? Did he think that she... 

    Oh. 

    She knew his mind. She knew that he thought everything was his fault - even if it really wasn't. She knew that his father had ingrained the notion that he deserved nothing so deep that he still believed it. She was stupid to think that he wasn't rethinking everything, that the voice in the back of his head that sounded so much like his father was telling him that he was doing something bad. He thought he was taking advantage of her, that she was allowing him to do everything because he had been protecting her for so long, had taken care of her for months before she learned to defend herself. He had saved her life more times than she could count, and he thought she wanted to repay him. She had told him over dinner one night that men that took advantage of innocent girls just because the world went to shit were the scum of the Earth, and he took that literally.

   They really weren't that great at communication, were they? 

    "If you think you're taking advantage of me or something, you're not, I promise you," She pleaded, grabbing his hands and pulling them back to her shoulders. She kept hold of him as if he was about to run away, kept him close to her. She wasn't about to lose him because of something so stupid, she'd die first. 

   "And what is your father going to see? Maggie? You saw how the group reacted when I touched you, I know you did - they think I'm some disgusting pervert that is taking advantage of you in return for keeping you safe," He admitted, pushing her hands down and trying to back away from her - he was pulling himself away from her, preparing himself to break away from her when they reached the prison - she could see it. 

   "But you're not! I can defend myself now," she grabbed his arm, pulling her back close to her, but he didn't look her in the eyes, "you haven't taken advantage of me at all, I've initiated everything, Daryl." 

   He shook his head, looking away at Gus who was sniffing at a rather large pile of leaves - perfectly content and unaware as to what was going on just feet away.

   "They don't know that," 

   "We'll tell them then, I'll show them," She would show them, what had she said at the highway? God, that felt like years ago. But she remembered, she remembered what she promised herself, "I'll prove them wrong," 

   "How, Beth? Do you really think your father is going to like the fact that his innocent little girl was alone with a thirty-year-old man for two years? That they came back and now they're..." He faltered and looked away. He didn't know what to call this either. 

   "It wasn't like you forced me to do anything," He hadn't forced her to do anything, nothing, not even learning how to hunt - all of it had been on her own ambition to learn something new, to be able to protect herself, why couldn't he just see that? 

   "And how are you going to prove that?" 

    She didn't know. Would her father and Maggie really trust her word that none of it had been forced? They didn't know Daryl as she did, they remembered the man on the farm, not her Daryl. They saw him as a violent redneck that was similar to his brother they had heard so much about, they weren't with her when she discovered the man underneath all of the dirt and angry persona - it had all been a show, all of it, and he was a good man. A great one. 

    "You're a good man, Daryl Dixon, I'll make them see that." He scoffed again, shaking his head and adjusting his bow over his shoulder. 

    Doubt was starting to sink into her veins. 

    How would she prove to the group that none of it had been forced? Shoot his crossbow a couple times and show that she could hit a target now? Swear up and down on her life that he never touched her or bribed her for safety? No, she had no proof - not enough to make Maggie or her dad believe that this was consensual. There was no one that they would believe, Michonne hadn't been around them enough at Woodbury to prove anything, Merle's word was as good as a skunk's - if they even knew where he was at. Melody was dead, and who would even take the word of a five-year-old? 

    "I don't care what they think," She decided, because she really didn't. She didn't care what anyone thought anymore. This was her life, not theirs - and if she told them that Daryl made her happy, that he was the only good thing left for her in this shitty world, would they believe her? 

    She knew the answer, and she didn't like it. 

    "Yes, you will, Beth. They're your family," He murmured, stepping another step away from her. He was pulling away. 

    "You're my family too," She whispered, dropping her hands to her sides. She felt as if she was fighting a losing battle, Daryl had made his decision a long time ago. 

    "I'm not your blood," He admitted, his voice was too calm, too soft, as if he was reciting words in his head. He had prepared for this - he had prepared to tell her this eventually. But he was using the goddamn fucking nurse voice with her, and she was too pissed to focus on anything besides that. 

     "I'm not a child, Daryl - don't talk to me like I am," She spat, taking a step closer to him. He took a step back. 

     "Then stop acting like one!"

      Oh, too far. 

      She moved without really thinking, pulling her hand back and standing on her tiptoes to reach his face - and slapped him. Hard. The resounding SLAP echoed through the woods, loud enough to cause a few more birds to scurry out of their places on the braches. She was not a child, and she sure as hell wasn't acting like one - and he had no right to call her so. She was an adult trying to have a conversation with another adult, trying to find a way to keep what they had together intact. That didn't stop the awful feeling of guilt from blooming in her chest afterward, though. 

      The woods were silent after that.

      Her hands raised to her mouth in shock at what she had done, and she took a step closer to him, reaching out to touch his elbow. He took a step back. 

      His eyes had a glazed over look to them like it wasn't Beth standing there, but someone else - she knew who he saw. How much better was she than Will Dixon to hit him out of their own anger and frustration? How could she do that without thinking of who was on the other side of her hand? She was ashamed and disgusted with herself, and she felt like she was about to cry again. 

     Because she had broken his trust - she had crossed a line that was off limits. 

     She reached out to touch his hand, her steps quiet and careful, "Daryl... I'm -" 

     He jerked his hand back, taking a few more steps back. He didn't look her in the eyes. 

    "Don't touch me," 

    Gus seemed to notice the change in mood, because he had scampered over to nudge Daryl's hand that had been hanging down by his side, whining. 

    Even the dog knew she had been an ass. 

    Daryl reached down to grab his backpack from where he had placed it on the ground, slinging it over his shoulder and turning away from her, towards the prison. She watched in silence as he started trudging up the hill, shoulders stiff. 

    "The sun is about to set, come on," He mumbled, whistling for Gus to follow after him. She knew he was talking to the dog more so than her. 

     She had been wrong before, Melody wasn't the thing that was going to break them, this was. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      "Dad! They're here!" A voice shouted, Beth saw the brim of a brown hat disappear behind one of the walls near the gate they were walking towards - then the sound of the chainlink fence rattling open. There were only a few walkers slamming against the fences, and the started to stumble towards the sound of the gate, but they were too far away to be a concern to anyone, apparently. Beth and Daryl hadn't spoken to one another. 

      She was still a little too shocked to say anything to him, more ashamed at her sudden outburst than anything. All of the people to hit in her life, and she chose Daryl? Her mouth had formed a few apologies on their way over the hill and towards the prison, but the words always got stuck in her throat. She knew that it was going to take a lot more than an apology for Daryl to forgive her, though. 

      "Hey, guys!" The voice was high-pitched, a little squeaky, but it rang a familiar bell somewhere in Beth's mind. Carl stepped out from behind the chainlink, a few inches taller, a little skinnier, but still the little boy Beth remembered from the farm. Beth felt better knowing that the boy had made it through everything at the farm, that he had been safe with his parents all of this time. She saw Rick and who she could only assume was Glenn making their way towards the gate from a little farther away at a slow and steady pace. 

      It was the blur running after them shouting unintelligible words that Beth was more focused on.

      Maggie.  

      A few months after the highway, after Beth had gotten over her anger of being left behind, of her family thinking that she was dead, she dreamt of hugging her sister again. She dreamt of being able to see her face again, of laughing and cracking silly jokes together. The pain in her chest and the burn of tears in her eyes that had been there since she had slapped him took away from the moment, though. 

     "Beth!" Maggie shouted, her voice bubbly and high-pitched from the tears that Beth could see tracked down some of the dust and sweat that covered her sister's face. Her hair was a lot longer than Beth remembered it, and she looked a little skinnier - they all did - but she was safe, and that was all that mattered right then. 

     Beth and Daryl hadn't even crossed the threshold of the fence when Maggie launched herself at her, having to trip on her steps a little bit to slow down enough to not completely tackle Beth to the ground, which she was thankful for. Her ribs still hurt from being pushed down the steps by Andrea, and she didn't need another injury to add to the list. Would Daryl still sew up the cut on her face? 

     Her older sister sobbed into her shoulder, blubbering about I'm sorry and thought you were gone - a few tears slipped out of Beth's eyes too, but she wasn't sure if it was because she was finally holding her big sister again or because Daryl wasn't even looking at her, that he hadn't since they started back up the hill. 

     She felt Maggie grab her cheeks, not minding the gash on her face, and felt her plant a big kiss on her forehead. All Beth could focus on was Carl hugging Daryl tightly for a moment and Daryl joking that Carl would be taller than him soon - which was funny, considering Daryl towered over everyone at six-five and Carl barely overpassed Beth by an inch or two. The sentiment was there, she could tell, but the smile on Daryl's face didn't reach his eyes. 

     He looked tired. 

     I caused that, she thought. 

     Beth was jerked back to reality, listening as Maggie talked a mile a minute - Beth wasn't even sure it was intelligible. Instead of trying to decipher what she had been trying to say, she pulled Maggie back into a hug, digging her head into her older sister's shoulders and holding tight. She never thought she would get this moment, to get to hold her sister and wipe the tears from her cheeks, she needed to savor in it. 

     "I'm okay," Beth whispered, even if she wasn't. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

     "June bug?" 

     Beth's footsteps came to a stop, causing Maggie to trip a bit, still holding tight onto Beth's hand. She hadn't let go since they had started walking up to the prison, cutting the circulation off from Beth's hand. Carl stopped talking from somewhere behind Beth, as he had been jabbering onto her about how cute their dog was and where they found him - asking where they had been since the farm fell, too many questions for Beth to process right at that moment. 

     The moment she saw his face, she broke. 

     "Daddy!" She sobbed, ripping herself from Maggie's grasp and launching herself at her father - digging her head into his shoulder and finally letting the tears flow down her cheeks, staining his t-shirt. They stumbled a bit, and Beth's foot hit something hard somewhere next to her father, but he smelled like daisies and freshly mowed grass and Beth felt like a little girl again. 

     He was as warm as she remembered - the sound of him hushing her cries only made her cry harder because that's what he always did when one of his children cried. His hand fell on the back of her head, pulling her closer to his shoulder. He let her sit there and cry for a bit, gently shushing her and whispering that he missed her and that he was so happy that she was alright. 

    Beth wasn't sure if the tears were from seeing her father again or feeling ashamed and heartbroken at what took place in the woods only a few hundred feet away - she wasn't sure, she might never be. 

    "Let me get a look at you," He said, putting his palm on her cheek and pushing her back a bit to look at her face - he looked a little older, the beard on his face making him look a little rough around the edges, but he was still her father, the one that sung her lullabies and taught her to ride a bike and drive a car; the one that picked her up from dance classes and snuck ice cream before dinner, the one that talked nonsense to her while he sewed up her arm in her childhood bedroom. 

    She missed him so much, more than she had ever realized, and she felt like she was going to have to pinch herself awake soon. 

    "You look just like your mother," 

    She saw Maggie come up from beside her, running a hand down her braid. 

    Her family. 

    Daryl's voice rang in the back of her head, quiet and rough, I'm not your blood

    No, he wasn't her blood, she wasn't sure what he was. But he was her best friend, and the man she loved. 

    She wasn't going to let go this time. 

    

   

 

   

 

 

 

Chapter Text

She saw Maggie come up from beside her, running a hand down her braid. 

Her family. 

Daryl's voice rang in the back of her head, quiet and rough, I'm not your blood. 

No, he wasn't her blood, she wasn't sure what he was. But he was her best friend, and the man she loved. 

She wasn't going to let go this time. 

 

     Beth was seated at what she could only describe as a wobbly school cafeteria table settled in the middle of a bunch of prison cells, the remnants of daylight peeking through the musty window above her head. Although she had a warm cup of tea in her hand and her father sitting across from her, the prison felt cold and unwelcoming - like she could still feel and hear the inmates that had been locked in here for so long. It looked like they had tried their best to make their cellblock livable, but it still smelled like rotting meat and sweat to Beth. 

   

   No one had really paid attention to her after they said their hellos, going back to their daily routines with ease. Glenn had hugged her, but it seemed her earlier rebellious behavior had confused him because he hadn't stayed long. Rick ushered Carl away quickly, mumbling something about crops, but told her that he hoped she settled in quickly. Maggie and her father had ushered her into the cellblock they all apparently lived in before she could wave goodbye to Daryl, an offering of peace, really. She had hoped he would wave back, at least look at her, but she saw the back of Carol's head as she led him through another door on the opposite side of the courtyard before Maggie shut the door behind her. 

 

   She hadn't seen him since, and it made her uncomfortable. 

    

   She nearly laughed at herself for sounding so clingy, it's not like she deserved to be around him after what she had done - she hated feeling like she had some weird sense of ownership over him. But this was the first time that she had no idea where he was at, even at Woodbury she knew where he was, where she could find him if she ever needed something or they needed to run. She didn't like not knowing, she felt exposed and alone. She knew deep down that they needed to spend some time away from each other after their argument, try to become acclimated to whatever was going on apart, but it still felt strange not being able to reach over and touch him wherever she was at. 

 

   Her father's voice startled her out of her thoughts. 

  

   "You okay, Junebug?" It was quiet, calculated, like he wasn't sure what to say around her. Beth wasn't sure what to say to him either. 

  

   She had never liked her father's nickname for her, had despised it when she was younger - since he always told people why she had that nickname, and it was too embarrassing for her to handle, but hearing it now only made her heart clench and her legs to scoot closer to him without her permission. She had missed her father the most, she knew. 

  

   "I'm okay, daddy, promise," She said, earnest. She wasn't okay, but she knew she wasn't capable of properly explaining to him why she wasn't - at least, not yet. 

 

   He nodded, clutching at his own warm mug of tea and staring down into the watery liquid. It tasted moldy, but Beth didn't really mind. It helped the lump in her throat lessen a bit whenever she took a sip. His crutches were carefully leaned up against the bench next to him, their shadow stretching across the concrete floor. Her father's injury was another topic entirely. 

 

   She still hadn't gotten a definitive answer as to what happened, only that Rick's quick thinking had saved his life - she felt grateful to the man for saving her father, but tried not to think about what would happen if the prison ever got overrun and they were on the road again. Her father was essentially a limping kabob. 

 

  Beth was still a bit embarrassed that she hadn't noticed before she nearly tackled him to the ground, but he had whispered and winked that he still had pretty good balance and could probably beat her in a foot race. It made her feel better that he still had his silly sense of humor after everything that had happened. 

 

  "What happened after the farm, Beth?" Maggie asked, the question flooding out of her mouth as if she had been holding it in for the past hour. She probably had been, if Beth knew her sister still. She was currently straddled on the bench next to Beth, sitting a little too close and holding Beth's right hand a little too tight - she was reminded of how Daryl acted around Merle when they had run into each other, so shocked that his brother was still alive that he had been unable to speak. Maggie seemed to be the polar opposite. 

 

   Beth adjusted her sister's grip a bit so her thumb wouldn't go numb, which was useless because Maggie just readjusted a few seconds later anyway, and tried to scrapple at an explanation as to what happened after the farm fell. 

 

   God, where did she start? More importantly, what was she going to tell them? She tried to think of what parts she wanted to leave out, the mental breakdowns and fights along the way, the hatred and abandonment they both felt after making it to the highway, nearly being killed in the woods by a bunch of assholes. 

 

   There wasn't much to tell them, was there? 

 

   "Daryl found me and we ran into the woods, you guys were gone by the time we made it to the highway," She said, not really able to add too much to it than that. It seemed that wound was still too raw for her to talk about, at least with them. She desperately wanted to tell them everything that had happened, at least, she wanted to tell her father. She used to tell him everything, and she knew that he took things very well. Maggie, however, was a different story. Her sister was scary sometimes, and Beth knew that Daryl had been right - that if she even got a whiff of something going on between Beth and Daryl, her reaction would be anything but supportive. 

 

   "Oh Beth," Maggie whispered, tightening her grip on Beth's hand, "we're so sorry, we didn't abandon you, we just thought..." She faltered, and Beth knew what she had wanted to say. 

    H

    Beth wasn't used to knowing that she had been right. There had been a part of her for a while that hoped her family thought she had gotten out, even if it was just for a bit, but she knew better than to hold out on that. It hurt to know they thought she was dead. A lot. 

 

   "You thought I was dead, it's okay," 

 

   Her father reached across the table to grab her other hand, the one that Maggie wasn't suffocating, and rubbed his thumb gently across her knuckles - his eyes were misty. 

 

   "I'm so sorry, Bethie, we waited for a while, but Rick wanted to move on and they wouldn't let me stay on the highway alone." 

 

   "You wanted to wait?" Her father had wanted to wait for her? He had had a little inkling of hope that she had been alive? 

 

   "I did, I told them all that we had no way of knowing who got out and which direction they went, I tried..." His words slowly faltered as he looked away towards the window, the sun shining on the splattering of freckles that were on his nose - just like Beth's. 

 

   She could see the unshed tears in her father's eyes, the regret that he hadn't forced the group to stay longer and wait to see if any others got out - Beth had thought once that seeing her family regret leaving her behind would make her feel accomplished, fulfilled, or something. It didn't, she wasn't sure how it made her feel just yet. 

 

  "I'm here now, daddy," She whispered, gripping onto his hand and giving him a gentle smile. He nodded tightly, swallowing the obvious lump in his throat, but returned her smile anyway. 

 

  "I'm sorry you couldn't have been here sooner," He said honestly, and she knew he was. 

 

   Good moments can only last for so long, it seemed. 

 

   "And I'm sorry you were stuck with Daryl Dixon," Maggie snorted, rubbing her hand down Beth's braid and laughing at her own joke. Beth didn't find it funny. 

 

   "He kept me safe," God, here she goes, "He's a good man, you just need to give him a chance to show you," 

 

   "If he's anything like the other one, I -" Maggie shivered, and Beth sat up a little straighter. When had she met Merle? Or had she just heard stories from the others? 

 

   "When did you meet Merle?" Her sister's eyebrows raised at the mention of the others name, seemingly shocked that she even knew him enough to say it - if only she knew. 

 

   Her father cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. 

  

   "Maggie, Beth is probably exhausted - how about we let her go get some rest before we get her some dinner? We can discuss what happened later," Oh, she remembered how her father had always tried to diffuse a rocky situation between siblings, he had been great at it. He wasn't winning this one, though. 

 

  "I'm fine," Beth claimed, turning to her sister, "when did you meet Merle?" 

 

  "He kidnapped Glenn and I - beat him to a pulp and set a walker on him." Maggie spat, crossing her arms and pursing her lips in a way that Beth knew meant she was pissed about the whole thing. Who wouldn't be, if it was true? There was no diffusing that situation. 

 

   "You were the hostages?" It was out of Beth's mouth before she could think about it, was that where Merle had been the few days prior to the attack on Woodbury? Somewhere beating Glenn, and potentially, her sister, to a pulp? 

 

   She knew Merle, and she knew that there wasn't much questioning whether he had done it or not. Had the Governor ordered him to do it? Or had he done it on his own? 

 

   "How did you know? We're you in on it?" 

 

    "No!" She did wish she knew a bit more on the situation, but she didn't think they had been in Woodbury long enough to get a hand in on all of the messy stuff that went on behind closed doors. She shuddered to think of all of the stuff she didn't know about. 

 

    She heard her father grunt from his spot on the bench, trying to push himself and balance on his one leg. Both she and Maggie scrambled to help him to his crutches at the same time. 

 

   "Let's stop all this fighting, we should all just be grateful that we have one another again." He whispered, a tone that Beth recognized as his stop it voice he had used when they had been kids. It seemed he still had an effect on her and Maggie, because they both nodded and helped adjust his crutches to settle under his arms comfortably. Beth knew the potential argument had been stopped, but from the look her sister had given her, she knew that she was going to have to explain eventually. 

 

    "I already fixed the cell next to mine for you," Maggie whispered, letting go of her father's shoulder and spinning on her heel to face Beth. Yes, she was definitely going to have to explain. 

 

    "Which cell is Daryl in?" She hadn't seen him since Carol had led him away, and they would have had to pass the table Beth had been seated at to get to the cell block everyone slept in. So where was he? 

 

     "I think Rick put him in the other cell block with Tyreese and Sasha," The names rung a bell somewhere deep in Beth's memory, but she pushed those aside for the confusion that came flooding through to the surface. 

 

     "Why did he do that?" Tyreese and Sasha were new, weren't they? Or, newer, at least. They hadn't been on the farm, so there could have been a reason not to trust them to sleep in the bed next to them, but why Daryl? Was there not enough room in the one they were in? No, looking through the door leading to the floor-to-ceiling cells, there were at least forty separate tiny rooms in this section of the building alone. 

 

     "Well," Her sister shuffled on her feet a bit, from the look in her eyes it seemed she was still reeling from the Merle Dixon discussion, but Beth saw that her father kept his eyes locked on her own, "we all know you, no one really knows Daryl that well," 

 

     "No, you and Daddy know me - Rick and them don't know me from Eve, same as Daryl," 

 

     "It's only for a few days until Rick thinks he can move to this block," She explained as if that made it better. 

 

     "What, does he have to earn golden stickers or something?" She knew she was just adding fuel to the fire, but she wanted to know the exact reason why Daryl was put into the other block - he had been right, Beth just needed to hear it. 

 

     Her sister rolled her eyes, putting a hand on her hip, "He's dangerous, Rick told us all about him nearly shooting Axel's head off, he decided it was best if he was put in the other block," 

 

     We don't trust him. 

 

     "And did Rick tell you that Axel had been about to shoot a five-year-old girl in the face?" Her heart clenched and she saw butterflies, but she shoved the thoughts of the little girl who deserved better back into her chest. She was safe there. 

 

     Both she and her father looked shocked at the revelation. 

 

     "There was a little girl we knew when we were in Woodbury, she got bit when the walkers got in and we had to..." Tears clouded Beth's eyes, and she moved her hand to cover the sobs that threatened to escape her mouth and moved towards the musty window instead, watching as Rick and Carl dug away at the earth inside the walls of the prison. It looked like they were digging graves, but Beth knew they were just planting crops. The sight didn't help Beth any, though. 

 

     "Beth... I'm sorry," Her sister offered, holding her hand out as if to hold onto Beth, but she let her hand fall when Beth shook her head. She didn't want to talk about Melody right then. 

 

     "You both don't know Daryl like I do," He's a good man, the best man, she wanted to say, but she knew she had already said it before. 

 

     "And how is that, Beth?" 

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

    

      The sounds of clattering pots and running water drew Beth towards what she assumed was the kitchen, the sight of the small woman scrubbing pots in earnest drew a small smile to her face. It seemed like it almost hurt to smile, she was so tired, but she knew it was because the nasty cut on her face hadn't gotten any attention. She was shocked her father hadn't said anything about it and pinned her down to fix it. 

    "Carol?" The woman in question turned around, her lips were frozen as if she was about to whistle. She must have been singing. 

    Carol smiled, wiping her hands on her dirty jeans and holding her hands out towards Beth, "Hey Beth, I didn't get to see you when you came in," 

    Beth sunk into her arms gratefully, smelling the light hint of cabbage and oats on Carol's skin - she must have been put on kitchen duty. She had always liked Carol, even if she hadn't ever known her that well on the farm. It was understandable, they had both been dealing with their own problems at the time. Carol reminded Beth of her own mother, so much so that it nearly hurt to talk to the woman for a long time. 

   She released her quickly, not wanting to get caught up in the thoughts of the woman with curly blonde hair and a twinkle in her eye and instead eyed the mess of dishes and cookware that was piled in the sink. They must have missed dinner. 

   "Can I help?" Beth wondered if washing dishes could replace the feeling of hitting a punching bag the size of her, probably not. There were too many thoughts running through Beth's mind at the moment, so many that she couldn't even sort through them. She needed to lose herself in a task, and it seemed washing dishes was her only option. 

   "Of course," Carol scooted over, offering Beth one of those scrub brush-things and got back to her own work. 

   They worked in silence for a while, which Beth was grateful for because it allowed her to at least pinpoint the thoughts that were scrambling around her head. 

   First, she was finally with her family again - the people she should feel the safest and happiest with, but she wasn't so sure if that was the case anymore. 

  Second, Merle Dixon had kidnapped and beat up her sister and Glenn for an unknown reason. Beth was sure it had something to do with the Governor, but her head hurt too much to think of any conspiracies at the moment. The last she had seen him, he had been having the time of his life killing walkers in Woodbury - she hoped that he was okay, even if she was a tad bit angry with him. She could punch him later and get back for the cut on her face, she supposed. 

   Third, the group did not trust Daryl in the slightest - and that made Beth angry. He had fed them back on the farm, protected them, hunted for Sophia and brought back the only evidence they ever had - they had no right not to trust him. She knew why she had been put in the cellblock with her family. They thought Daryl was dangerous, and they still saw Beth as the jittery girl back on the farm. 

   Fourth... God, she didn't know what to do about that one. 

   She had hit Daryl Dixon, slapped him straight across the face - she crossed a boundary that was off limits, and she didn't know how to fix it. Yes, he had deserved it for yelling at her and calling her a child, but she should have handled it better. Merle Dixon wore off on her too much, it seemed. She still felt nauseous thinking about what had happened, that awful pit of guilt and despair that had been in her stomach since she saw the look of betrayal that had been on his face. She didn't even care if he no longer wanted to do - whatever it was between them anymore, she didn't care if he never wanted to look at her again, she just wanted him to know that she was sorry. That was all that she could do, she knew. 

   A small voice coming from the doorway leading out to the hallway startled both Beth and Carol from their thoughts. 

   "Beth?" Carl's voice squeaked, the sound of his footsteps coming up behind her causing Beth to turn around - her mouth dropped open at the sight of the bundle in his arms. 

   Lori's baby. 

   He obviously saw her look of shock and adoration immediately, because he shoved the cooeing bundle of blankets and sheets into her arms without even asking if she wanted to hold it. The baby was a fat little thing, considering, with a little tuft of brown hair on their head and a gummy smile. Their eyes were huge, like doe's eyes, and they were the bluest blue Beth had ever seen. They reminded her of Melody's eyes, innocent and sparkling - they reminded her of all the children that she had taken care of while in Woodbury. She didn't want to think about this baby having the same fate as Melody, but the tears came anyway. Neither Carol or Carl seemed to notice, both seemingly enraptured by the tiny life that she held in her hands, which Beth was grateful for. She didn't need to explain what happened to Melody again. 

    "Where is Lori?" Beth asked, honestly curious, she hadn't seen the woman since they had gotten there - and you think she would have never put the baby down. But the room got eerily cold and Carl seemed to falter a bit, and she knew that this baby's journey into the world wasn't a good one. 

    "Oh," She whispered, tugging a little bit on the fat cheeks. The baby looked a lot like Lori, with the big eyes and the freckles - she hoped the woman's death had been quick and painless. 

    "What's their name, Carl?" She felt awful for the boy, having lost his mother. But maybe, with his new little sibling to look after, her death wasn't nearly as hard. She really hoped that was the case. She knew what it felt like, to lose a parent. Maybe she could talk to him about it later. 

    "We named her Judith," Carl explained, tucking in part of the girl's blanket that had fallen onto the floor before continuing, "but her middle name is Elizabeth," 

    Beth felt a little warm at the statement, as she was sure everyone felt when they are told a child was named after them, but it was overtaken by a thought that made her want to laugh. 

   They definitely thought I was dead. They named a goddamn kid after me. 

   "She's adorable, I'm sorry what happened to your mom," Carl nodded, whispering thanks and taking Judith back, careful to balance her head. He was a good big brother, she could tell. That made her feel good inside because from the little she's seen of Rick, the bags under his eyes and the visible shake to his hands, he didn't seem to be taking the death of his wife too well. 

   She handed the baby back to Carl's open arms, smiling as he adjusted her head once again to make sure it was comfortable for the little girl. 

   "I think Daryl would really like to meet her too,"

   The boy looked ashamed for a moment, a blush coming to his cheeks, "I took her to him first, actually," 

   "That's good," Beth smiled, she wished she would have been there to have seen the hulk of a man cradle the tiny baby in his arms - it might have been too much for her to take, honestly. That same little girl that always came to Beth's mind when she thought of her and Daryl's children hurtled into her memory, with brown hair and blue eyes, Daryl's nose, and Beth's baby cheeks - but she wasn't sure if she even deserved to think on the little girl for too long. 

   She watched as Carl disappeared off into the hallway, talking quietly to his baby sister as he went. She turned back to her work, only a few more bowls and a pot left, but the look on Carol's face stopped her from reaching for the scrub brush. 

   "What?" Had she held the baby wrong? Offended her in some way? No, the look on her face was mischievous, not angry. 

   "You love him, don't you?" 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

   Beth let out a sigh, picking at an imaginary hangnail on her pointer finger in order to not look Carol in the eyes. She hadn't meant to tell the woman everything, it had all just kind of slipped out. 

   When Beth said everything, she meant everything - even the dream she had of Daryl a few weeks back that still made her blush when she thought about it for too long. 

   It seemed like Carol was contemplating all that Beth had just told her, her hand on her chin and a wonderous look in her eye. She smiled and reached out to hold Beth's hand. 

   "I think you lucked up, considering," She joked, her other hand reaching up to tug on Beth's braid a bit. Beth wasn't the only one that thought she didn't deserve the man Daryl was, especially in the apocalypse. 

   "How did you know?" Telling Carl that Daryl might enjoy meeting the baby couldn't have set her off, could it? No, she had to have seen something else. Or else she was just really good at guessing. 

   "Just the way you move together, like you're both holding your breath and waiting for the other to do something, like you're one person," She sighed and let out a small laugh, "Also, when you left with your father and sister he looked like someone had just stolen the last cookie out of the jar," 

   Beth let out a sigh of relief instead of a laugh, at least she knew he hadn't been so angry with her that he had been ignoring or refusing to look at her. It didn't make her feel completely better, but it was a start. 

   "How do I apologize?" Beth whispered, she had told Carol about what had happened before they walked up to the gates in the prison. She had looked disappointed and a little shocked, but Beth knew that she understood what had happened, probably more than Beth did. 

   "Well, knowing him, he'll forgive you no matter what, I think he's in too deep to let you go now," 

   "How do you know that?" 

   "I don't, but I do know that you two should talk this out like adults instead of hiding from one another like teenagers," 

   The last time Beth tried to talk things out like adults she had slapped him straight across the face, it didn't seem like that was the way to go anymore. Something Carol had said confused her, though.

   "Did you know him - before?" 

   "He stitched me up a few times in the ER a couple of years back when he was a student, he was the only nurse or doctor I ever had that recognized the signs for what they were, the only one that ever called bullshit on my excuses and tried to get me to go to a shelter with Sophia." 

    Yeah, Beth really didn't deserve Daryl Dixon. 

    

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

     The blanket wrapped around Beth's shoulders felt strange, foreign really. She wasn't used to feeling cold, she wasn't ever cold - but she had gotten so used to Daryl and Gus sleeping near her that her bunk had felt like laying on ice. She wasn't sure if it was the physical warmth that her body missed or just the person that came along with it. 

     Georgia summer seemed to have her back, though. It felt just as hot as it had when the sun had been shining, the pavement even stung a little on the bottom of Beth's bare feet as she wandered around the courtyard. She hadn't been able to sleep, but she knew why. 

     The large shadow of someone sitting on one of the picnic tables as she rounded the corner nearly stopped her heart. She held a hand to her chest, slowing her breathing and bending down in order to catch her breath. It had to be at least four in the morning by now, Beth thought her and whoever was currently on guard in the tower would have been the only ones up. She could see the flashlight waver back and forth through the windows of the guard tower, occasionally flicking towards the woods. 

     "Sorry," She knew that voice. 

     What were the chances, really? 

     "Can you not sleep either?" She asked, she took a small step forward, testing the waters. She could see Gus laid out on the concrete beneath the picnic table, an annoyed look on his face at being woken up and dragged outside at this ungodly hour, even while asleep.

     "I was cold," 

     "You're always cold," She joked, finally making her way over to the table. She heard the small huff that meant he had tried to laugh but hadn't really succeeded all too well. She ran her hand over the rough wood of the table, flinching as a spiky part of the worn wood tore at the pad of her pointer finger, not really sure if she was allowed. 

     "You can sit, you don't have to ask, Beth," He whispered, gently patting the space next to him for her to sit. She wrapped her blanket around his shoulders as well, huddling closer than she should probably dare. 

     To think she had spent hours lying awake thinking about what she was going to say to him, how she was going to apologize, and she could barely form a sentence now. The only thing that made her feel any better was that their silence was still comfortable, familiar, even. It wasn't awkward or hostile, and Beth was thankful. 

     "Oh, I almost forgot," She heard Daryl rustle around in his pant pocket for a moment, pulling out what looked like a plastic bag and occasionally caught the moon and glittered. He laid it out on the table in the space between them, ripping open the package and separating the contents. It was a suture kit. 

     She watched as he easily threaded the needle, even in the dark, and tried to control the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks, "Where did you get that?" 

     "I stole it from the infirmary," He offered, giving her a small smile and gently patting what she assumed was iodine on her cheek - it must have had numbing medicine in it because she lost feeling in her cheek within a few minutes. 

     "You stole it?" She whispered, allowing him to turn her head to the side and get a good look at the cut. They were under one of the lightbulbs that were screwed into the walls outside, obviously giving off enough light that he could do it without entirely messing up her face. She trusted him, though. 

     "Does borrowed sound better?" He asked, apparently, she had turned her head when he answered because he tsked and adjusted her head back into the position he had it before. 

     "If it hurts, let me know okay? I think this numbing medicine is expired, so it might not last long," She nodded, closing her eyes so she didn't have to see the needle go in and out of her skin and pull it back together. She never liked needles, especially a curved one like this. 

     She barely felt the pressure when he pulled the first suture through, only a small sting came with it. Beth listened to the sound of his breathing, the calm in and out that sounded like the thunder of a train to Beth's ears. The tears she had been holding back before won out, and the first one slipped down her cheek. 

    She missed him. 

    "Does it hurt? I'm sorry," She felt one of his hands on her other cheek, turning her eyes to look directly at him, she gave him a small, watery smile. 

    "No, it doesn't hurt," 

    He turned his head curiously, adjusting the needle so it wouldn't rest on her cheek. The tears stung the wound like salt. 

    "I'm so sorry, Daryl," She whispered, letting out a broken sob and gripping onto the blanket that had fallen around her waist. She couldn't dare look him in the eyes, if she did, she knew that she would see complete and utter forgiveness, and that would only make her cry harder. She felt his hand land on her neck, gentle and careful, she had a needle in her cheek after all. 

    "Oh, don't cry about that - you'll mess up my stitching," He joked, reaching down to grab a piece of gauze to dry up the few tears that had slipped down near the gash. It came back with a few drops of blood. She caught a look at his eyes, shining blue in the light of the shotty lightbulb on the side of the prison - complete and utter forgiveness. 

    "I don't deserve for you to forgive me," She sobbed, trying to stop herself from burying her face into her hands - she guessed that she should listen to his plea about messing up his stitching. She still closed her eyes, letting out another sob when she felt his hand run through her hair.  

    "Why don't you deserve my forgiveness?" He sighed, playing with her hair - she knew he was letting her talk it out, letting her guide the conversation, it seemed this was the better way to talk about things. Screw being adult, she was a crier, for God's sake. 

     "Because I feel like you are only forgiving me because you feel bad that I'm sad," She knew he was, that he got nauseous whenever she cried and desperately tried to make her feel better - tried to turn the situation on himself and try to make her believe that what she did was fine - even when it wasn't. She knew him, and she knew what he was trying to do. 

     "Yeah, you're right," He whispered, running a hand down her back and tugging at the strands of her hair. 

     "I shouldn't have hit you, you have no idea how much I want to take it back," She sobbed, pulling her head back when she tried to bury it in his chest, she was trying to remember that she had a sharp object in her face that could hurt them both if she moved the right way. It wasn't working too well. 

     "You were angry and exhausted, it's okay," 

     "No -" She started, about to tell him off for trying to turn the blame off of her to make her feel better, tell him that he needed to stop doing that, that not everything was his fault when he shocked her into silence. 

      "Do you know my dad handcuffed my hand to the stove burner and turned it on when I spilled paint in the garage once?" He pulled his hand back from the back of her head, holding it in front of her face to see. She could see the wrinkled skin there, where it had been essentially melted. She had accidentally caught her ear in her straightener once, and she thought she had nearly died - she couldn't even fathom what that pain felt like to him, unable to jerk away from it. 

       "He laughed while I screamed, then locked me in the closet for good measure afterward. By the time he let me out, the infection was so bad in my hand that the doctors in the ER nearly had to amputate it." He explained, turning his hand over so she could see all of it. She felt sick to her stomach thinking about it. 

       "These," He turned his arm over, the inside pointed towards her face, "are cigarette burns," he lifted his pants leg, a gnarly scar wrapped around his ankle - a few chunks of skin that had gone missing left divots in his skin, "This is when he threw me into the barb-wired fence in the backyard, I had to unwrap it by myself," 

       The tears had stopped, surprisingly, her eyes dry as he pointed out the scars that littered his body - they were replaced with a feeling of hatred settling in her stomach. 

       "Stop," She whispered, placing a hand on his chest to get his attention - he stopped, dropping his hand from where he had been describing how he had been thrown down the stairs so hard that his arm broke in four places, "please tell me he's dead." 

       His eyes softened, and he gently tugged her hand away from his chest, but didn't let go like she thought he would, "He died in a drug bust when I was in college." 

       She nodded, and she felt better knowing that this world hadn't allowed a true monster to live. 

      "Trust me, darlin', getting bitchslapped by you hasn't traumatized me," He joked, reaching up to continue his stitching - she had forgotten she was even getting stitched up in the first place. She cringed a bit when the needle went a bit too deep, hitting a nerve that wasn't numbed enough. He mumbled his apologies, but finished quicker than she expected, disinfecting it one last time and slapping a few butterfly bandages on it like he was a real nurse sitting in an ER, not curled up on a prison picnic bench in the dark with a nineteen-year-old girl. 

      "It'll scar, but you should be fine," She didn't mind the thought of a nasty scar on her cheek, it'd look badass. 

      "Do I get a lollipop now?" She whispered, giving him a small smile while she patted the bandages piled on her face, they'd make it even more fun to try and sleep. 

      "You're funny," He rolled his eyes, but she saw the way the corners of his mouth turned up a bit. 

      "So you don't forgive me?" She confirmed, watching as Gus readjusted his position and threw himself down onto the concrete with a sigh. They had really spoiled that dog rotten, hadn't they? 

      "No, you're a horrible person and you should be ashamed of your actions," He agreed, nodding his head as he shoved all of the contents of the suture kit back into the bag to be thrown out. She let out a laugh, a good belly laugh, and it felt so good. 

      "Thank you," She whispered, and she meant it. He offered her that smile she loved so much, the one where his dimples were prominent and his eyes crinkled a bit, and her heart felt good again. 

      "You hit really hard, by the way, I didn't even think you could reach my face." She slapped him on the shoulder, rolling her eyes and ripping the blanket away from his shoulders. They were seated criss-cross applesauce across from one another on top of the picnic bench, their knees touching - their dog dramatically snoring somewhere beneath the table. 

      His look turned serious, and he reached up to play with the strand of hair that fell into her eyes all the time, tugging a bit and twirling it between his fingers. 

      "I shouldn't have made that decision without you, I'm sorry," He whispered, quiet, and she knew which one he was talking about, the one he had made in the woods on their way to the prison. 

      "I understand, they don't, it's okay," He nodded, and they sunk into a comfortable, warm silence for a few minutes. 

      She felt his hand playing with the hair that was on her lower back, out from its braid for once, it seemed to be his favorite thing to do. 

      "I like you're hair down," He whispered again as if it was a secret he only wanted for himself, something he only wanted the both of them to know- she was reminded of when they were dancing in Woodbury before the bullets were fired. He had said something similar, playing with her braid. Except this time, she could lean forward without the worry that something was going to stop them. 

      Their lips connected, Daryl's hands went to the back of her head to pull her closer and into his lap - and Beth felt whole again. 

      Isn't that Carol had said? You move like one person. 

      Daryl was her person, and Beth was happy with that. 

 

       

       

    

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 "I like you're hair down," He whispered again as if it was a secret he only wanted for himself, something he only wanted the both of them to know- she was reminded of when they were dancing in Woodbury before the bullets were fired. He had said something similar, playing with her braid. Except this time, she could lean forward without the worry that something was going to stop them. 

      Their lips connected, Daryl's hands went to the back of her head to pull her closer and into his lap - and Beth felt whole again. 

      Isn't that Carol had said? You move like one person. 

      Daryl was her person, and Beth was happy with that. 

 

 

 

     Beth adjusted Judith on her hip as she made her way through the halls of the prison, focusing on the sound her boots made on the concrete floor. She could hear Glenn and her father somewhere close, their voices echoing off the walls. They mingled with the gurgling noises the baby girl in her arms made in an attempt to get attention, her hands grabbing at the ends of Beth's hair. 

     She paid little attention to the gurgling noises that the baby girl made as they made their way towards the courtyard - somewhere that had quickly become one of Beth's favorite places. It was simple, really, Beth didn't like being inside the prison. It was almost like she could still smell the rotten blood and mold, even if Carol had scrubbed their cells nearly a dozen times over. Judith didn't either, so Beth spent most of her days walking Judith around outside in the sun, talking nonsense to the baby. 

    It had been nearly two weeks since they had arrived at the prison and two weeks since the kiss, as Beth had dubbed it in her mind. She still considered their kiss in Woodbury to be the first, but the one that had happened on the picnic table was the one that she firmly believed pushed them over the line that they had been scampering on for nearly a year. They hadn't done anything since then, Daryl whispering to her that he wasn't about to run around like a lovesick teenager and hide in corners and locked closets - that was after Beth had jerked him into the pantry by the back of his sweatshirt to kiss him, of course. She knew that he was right, that they shouldn't run around and hide - but she wasn't sure if it was ever going to be the right time to tell everyone. She couldn't imagine looking her sister in the eyes and telling her yeah, so the man that's twice my age that I was alone with for nearly two years? Yeah, I'm in love with him and want to shove my tongue down his throat. 

    But she missed touching him, so much so that her heart hurt whenever she looked at him and knew that she couldn't outright hug him or pull him in to kiss his cheek. She snuck a few touches here and there, bumping his shoulder as he walked past and slipping her hand into his while they ate breakfast - him touching the small of her back when he passed her, his hands running down the inside of her arms whenever she passed Judith over to him for a break. They drove her mad, these fleeting touches, but she knew that until the others knew that they were their only option. She couldn't very well just pull him in and start kissing him in front of her family, she was ninety percent sure that her father would have an aneurysm if she did that - no, she needed to sit them down and talk to them about things. Away from Daryl, especially, considering Maggie had good aim. 

   She just wasn't sure how she was going to do that, and it was driving her mad. 

   She supposed she needed to talk to Daryl about it, to get his opinion on how she even started that conversation with her family - and if he even wanted her to. But she hadn't seen him since breakfast this morning - so her and little Judy were on a mission. 

   Rick had put Daryl to work the second him and Beth arrived, helping Glenn move canned foods from the pantry in the cafeteria, working the fences, or playing watchdog up in the tower - he was always doing something, far away from her. Hershel and Carol had sat down with her during breakfast a few days after they arrived to ask what she wanted to do, if she wanted to help in the kitchen or take care of Judith and Carl. When she had told them that she wouldn't mind helping Daryl work the fences or take watch duty while Judith was sleeping her sister - sitting at another table and not being a part of the conversation, told her that she didn't need to do any of that while she was here. 

   So, again, Beth was stuck on kid duty. 

   She didn't mind, Judith was a happy baby that rarely ever cried and Carl was a pretty cool kid - although she was pretty sure that he was embarrassed that the others thought he needed a babysitter. It was relaxing, taking care of just two kids instead of twenty, but she knew that it was only a matter of time before she had so much pent up anger from being stuck doing one thing that she just exploded on someone - probably her sister. 

   That was another thing, she forgot how annoying her older sister was. Although Beth understood that her older sister still saw baby Beth, that she didn't know all that she had learned on the road with Daryl, it was still annoying for Beth to drop hints about things and for her sister to shove them off. She tried to tell Maggie about some of the things her and Daryl had done while they had been folding laundry one day, how they played Never Have I Ever and how they found Gus, but Maggie hadn't seemed to have been listening. There was also the fact that Beth was ninety percent sure that she and Glenn were fooling around in the guard tower at night, but she honestly didn't want to know. 

   Rick also seemed to become psychotic, but that was another topic entirely. 

   Beth pushed open the door to the courtyard, careful not to bump Judith's shoulder on the cold metal, and spotted her target standing with Glenn over by the picnic tables. Although the sun was in Beth's eyes, both hands occupied holding up the fifteen-pound baby, she could still see the red tint to his hair, the way his feet scuffled on the pavement that told her he was antsy, and his arms - Jesus Christ his arms. They were the size of Beth's waist put together. 

   Glenn smiled at her as she walked up behind Daryl, more so at the baby than her, but she didn't mind. Daryl was still adjusting the string on his crossbow and hadn't noticed her yet, he had been complaining to her while washing dishes with Carol one night that it was getting looser and it annoyed him to no end, apparently, the extra string he had was still in their apartment in Woodbury. 

   "Hey," She smiled, watching the wind blow a stray curl out of his eyes and his eyes light up in excitement - she liked that, how his eyes lit up whenever he saw her. 

   "Hey, Greene," He said, his dimples showing a bit. 

   "Where's Gus?" She looked around, expecting to see the poor thing curled up in the shade, but instead found him and Carl wrestling in the grass a few yards away. 

   "With the kid," They both laughed when Carl was overtaken by Gus, shouting as a glob fo slobber fell onto his face. She felt a tug on Judith, and handed her over to Daryl gratefully. The girl was getting heavy. 

    "There's my little ass kicker," He whispered, bouncing her up and down while she giggled manically. 

    She hadn't noticed that Glenn had walked off towards the guard tower, waving at Carl as he went. He didn't seem to have any problem with Daryl, no matter what his older brother did to him. 

    She saw Daryl check around them quickly, as if someone was spying on them. 

    "Do you want to go hunting with me?" He whispered, gesturing to the crossbow he had laid on the table next to them. He hadn't been out hunting in a while, but she remembered Carol asking him for some protein for dinner tonight.

    "Yes!" She shouted, grabbing onto his arm as she did. He laughed and shushed her, handing her Judith and gesturing towards the prison. 

    "Go get your stuff then," He said, and she smiled and darted back off into the prison. 

    She nearly threw Judith at Carol and told her to tell her dad that she was going hunting with Daryl and would be back safe in a few hours, she didn't want to have to go ask her father if she could go outside like she was five. 

    And when Tyreese opened the gate, it felt like Beth could breathe again. 

  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

     She watched the squirrel hanging on Daryl's belt swing pitifully back and forth in the breeze, she had nagged the other two that were strapped to her backpack after a few missed shots with Daryl's bow. He was right about it being loose, but it was the weight that killed Beth, she could barely lift the weapon above her head and it messed up her aim. She could still hit something, it just wasn't as accurate as it would have been if she had her bow. She wondered what Andrea did with it. 

     She still felt the warm, proud feeling in her chest from when Daryl had let it slip of how fast she was catching on to the whole crossbow thing, that it had taken him a few years to get as good as she had gotten now. She wasn't usually a blusher, but she knew that a compliment like that from Daryl was rare. 

     Beth shifted uncomfortably on her feet, trying her damndest to be quiet and not startle the rabbit that they had been tracking for thirty minutes. That was a part of the hunt she would have to get used to, waiting. She popped the crook in her neck, watching the leaves rustle in the summer breeze above their heads. She could smell pine needles somewhere nearby, as well as hear the sound of a stream somewhere to their left. It wasn't that she was impatient about waiting, she had done this a dozen times with Daryl in the past, nor was she worried about walkers or the Governor - she just felt antsy and she wasn't sure why. 

     She remembered Shawn kicking an ant hill at her when she was little after she had accidentally broken one of his model airplanes while they were out in the yard, except they were fire ants, not regular ants. It wasn't a pleasant memory that she liked to revisit often, but it was the only thing she could think of that even came close to how she was feeling right then. It was like her body was itchy, like the tendons under her skin were on fire every time she moved. She wasn't sick, she knew that - she had been sick enough in her childhood to understand what the symptoms of an oncoming cold were - and this wasn't it. 

    No, she knew what was wrong, she just wasn't sure how to talk about it. 

    Daryl and Tyreese had gone on a run for baby supplies a few weeks after they had settled in, it had been strange to see Daryl walk out of the gates without her - but she had asked if she could tag along and her sister had shut that down real quick. They hadn't taken long, two hours at most, but it was the longest two hours of Beth's life, that's for sure. It was what happened after that seemed to be the cause of her issues, though. 

    Glenn had come into her cell to tell her while she was putting Judith down for a nap that they were back and fine, and as she tried to run at a speed at kept her dignity somewhat intact to find Daryl she had stumbled upon him with his shirt off, hosing the blood and dirt off of his torso. 

    She barely noticed the scars anymore and she told him that when he moved to throw his flannel back on when he noticed her standing behind him. It was true, they were just a part of him now (though she did get angry whenever she looked at them) and they were part of his past - so why would she ever have a problem with that? She had just as nasty of a scar, something she had done to herself, so she was in the same boat, she supposed. No, it was the muscle and tattoos and sweat that caused her to suddenly feel itchy and hot all the time.

   Yes, they had changed in front of each other before, bathed occasionally, but this was different. Now, she knew that she was somewhat allowed to look and admire what had been right in front of her. She had never found herself attracted to anyone before, never felt hot and sweaty at the sight of her father's farmhands washing themselves off after a days work - it was just Daryl.

   "If you take a picture it'll last longer," Daryl grumbled, reaching down to flick a few droplets of water at her face to get her attention. The cold water broke her out of her thoughts, it seemed she had been admiring a little too closely. 

   "Why aren't you in the showers?" She mumbled, reaching around to scratch at the itch that had suddenly formed on the back of her neck. God, she was like an adolescent boy getting caught with a dirty magazine. 

   "Carol didn't want me tracking blood and mud onto her clean floors, apparently," He rung out the washcloth that she assumed must have been given to him, scrubbing at the dried blood on his hip. 

    "What happened?" She was trying to think of the rotting corpses slamming up against the gate right then, Rick frolicking off in the fields somewhere claiming to see Lori, anything to get the blush to disappear from her cheeks. 

    "Our car ran out of gas and got surrounded, I'm okay, just dirty,"  He scrubbed harder at the mud on his forearm as if to prove his point, she laughed a bit at the sight he made. 

    "You're always dirty,"  She grumbled. 

    "I'm the one that cut the knot out of your hair the size of an SUV, darlin',"  He responded, and she cringed at the thought of the rat's nest he cut out of her hair while they had been on the road before the farmhouse. It wasn't her fault she didn't have an adequate hairbrush to tame the bush that was her hair.  She had found a love for the nicknames he had given her over the months they had been together, though, Greenie, blondie, and missy, but darlin' had quickly become her favorite. 

    "Do you need help?" Her voice wavered a bit, but she took a step forward anyway, reaching out to take the washcloth from his hand. 

    "You can if you want,"  He whispered, handing the cloth over and backing up a bit so she could have access to the hose. He wasn't looking her in the eyes when she stepped forward, instead, he seemed to be studying the reflection the water made on the pavement underneath them. It seemed they both were awkward when it came to physical contact now, which made her feel an awful lot better about her inexperience. 

     So she scrubbed, occasionally looking up to and crack a joke and try to make the situation a bit lighter. She was gentle around some of the scars on his back, still raised and pink as if they were still healing. She couldn't imagine how deep the wounds had to go to take it that long to heal. 

    "What do some of your tattoos mean?" 

    "Which one?" 

    "This one?" She pointed to the plain black x that was on his collar bone, the lines a little squiggly. 

    "Merle got into a tattooing phase before he went off into the military, I was his first customer,"  

    "Customer or victim?" She questioned, raising an eyebrow, he laughed, looking off into the woods. 

    "A little bit of both, I guess," 

    They continued, some were personal and some weren't, just things he found interesting that he wanted on his body forever. Some covered scars, others seemed to emphasize them. She liked the small constellation on his right shoulder the best, so she saved that one for last. 

   "And this one?"  She lingered a bit on the lines, connecting them as if she was playing connect-the-dots. 

   "It's the Orion constellation, I could see it from my window when I was a kid sometimes."  She tried to wrack her brain for information regarding mythology, she had a phase when she had been little like she was sure every kid had, it didn't seem like she remembered much about Orion the Hunter though. 

   "Didn't he hunt with a bow?"  She raised her eyebrow in question, wondering if he got his weapon of choice from the constellation he wanted to be painted on his body forever. 

   "Purely coincidence, I'm sure,"  He gave her a small smile, reaching to take the washcloth from her hands and throwing it back into the bucket at their feet. 

   "I think you're more similar to Hades,"  She admitted, smiling a bit, he had always reminded her of the depictions of Hades in her mythology books, all tall and broody. He had been her favorite god, after all. 

   "The God of Hell? Am I that bad?"  He laughed, again flicking the leftover water on his hand at her face. 

   "No! He was one of the better gods in mythology, he never hurt anyone unless they deserved it," 

   "So, if you're Persephone, I stole you?"  He asked, reaching to tug at the ends of her hair. She blushed. 

   "I don't think I'd mind,"  She whispered, trying to control her breathing so it didn't seem like she was hyperventilating. Because she was. He smiled a bit, gently grabbing her by the shoulder and pushing her away, popping the bubble that had been closing around them.

  "I don't know, with that temper I think you're Hades and I'm the helpless goddess,"  Her mouth dropped open, offended, and he started to laugh, going to pick up the bucket of water to dump it out in the grass a few feet away. 

  She formed a plan. 

 "I'll take it, you dry off,"  She said, giving him a gentle smile. He didn't seem too suspicious of her. 

 She waited until he turned back around to reach down and grab the towel that was neatly folded on the bench a few feet away, and attacked. 

  In retrospect, she probably should have prepared to run after she had dumped the bucket of water over his head, but she had been enjoying herself so much and laughing so hard that she didn't see his shocked expression and the moment he bent down to throw her over his shoulder. 

   And that's how her father found them when he stumbled around the corner to see why Beth had squealed, Daryl, shirtless and soaking wet, Beth's tank top riding up her stomach as he threw her over his shoulder with his hand on her butt. 

 

   The feeling of Daryl's hand on her knee shocked her out of her memory, watching her as she stared off into the distance of the trees. His hand was warm. 

   "You okay?" He whispered, making sure not to shuffle the leaves under his feet too much. 

   She nodded, cringing as her hair snagged a bit on the raspberry bush they were sitting next to. She hoped she wasn't blushing again. 

   She remembered a conversation she and Rose had in the snack room the first day they had met, talking about Daryl - what was it Rose had said, she'd jump him without question?  She'd jump him in a heartbeat? It was something like that, Beth hadn't understood what she had been implying at that moment, but now Beth understood. 

    She watched as his head turned a bit, she could hear the rustle of the rabbit too, but she didn't care too much at that moment. 

      She barely registered the rustle of the bush as Daryl adjusted and the THUNK of the arrow that followed, she just saw her hand fly out to grab the back of his t-shirt as he went to stand up to go fetch the rabbit and the shocked expression he directed towards her hand. 

     "What's wrong?" he asked, bending back down and turning on his heel so his face was lined up with hers - which was perfect for what Beth was planning. 

      So she lunged and kissed him. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

      "What the fuck was that, Beth?" Daryl asked, picking out the bits of leaves that were now stuck in her hair. She was quite comfortable, her head laying directly on his chest to where she could hear his heartbeat and her leg laying in the space between his. She played with his hand that was laying on her stomach, wrapped around her waist. 

       "I missed you," She whispered, digging her face into his shoulder blade and breathing in the smell of wood and sunshine - even stronger now that he had been spending more time out in the woods. He tugged on her hair a bit, pulling her face up with it. 

       "So you molest me?"

       "Hardly," She rolled her eyes, but smiled anyway, slapping the hand away that was tugging particularly hard on a twig that didn't want to come out. She had molested him somewhat, launching herself at him like a cat and pinning him to the ground so she could kiss him. And she had. 

       She was still pretty new to the kissing thing, so it scared her somewhat - that voice in the back of her head still told her that he was going to change his mind and push her away, but the feeling of his hand running through her hair and the other pressing into her lower back a few seconds after she had tackled him made the nervousness and thoughts about kissing him like that go away pretty quickly. 

       They had kissed until she felt dizzy and saw spots behind her eyelids from the lack of air supply and had to pull back, and she only got one gulp of air until he pulled her back again. 

       She sat up, throwing her legs underneath her and reaching out to grab the leaf that was stuck to the hair on Daryl's forehead, throwing it over her shoulder with a smile. He was still laying on his back, his legs sprawled out and his crossbow leaning against the trunk of the tree behind the raspberry bush. 

       "I feel used," 

       "You're a drama queen is what you are," 

       She let out a squeal, landing on her stomach with an oompf and grasping at the moss and leaves under her fingertips as Daryl dragged her back towards him, flipping her over onto her back and pinning her hands up over her head without so much as a noise. 

       "What did you call me?" 

       "A drama queen!"

       He pressed down on her harder, his hand carding through her hair and the other caging her in by her ear - he pulled back but stopped when they both heard a SQUELCH!

       "The squirrels!" 

       That was a good day. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

     

    Daryl watched from the fence as Beth trekked her way up towards the courtyard, smiling as Carl handed Judith back into her arms in exchange for the squirrels hooked onto her backpack. He looked at them strangely for a moment, as if he was about to ask why they were so squished, but he chose to scratch Gus on the head instead. Daryl cringed when he saw the number of leaves that were still tangled in the back of Beth's hair - he hoped she could talk her way out of those. 

     He was still in shock from Beth throwing herself at him in the woods, 

     She had shown up in his room the night after he had sewn her up, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders and tears in her eyes. He had been up waiting, listening to the summer thunderstorm rattle the prison walls and metal bars. He hadn't taken a cell, they were too small - they made him uncomfortable, the small spaces. They caused his hands to sweat and his lungs to seemingly collapse. So he took the guard tower that oversaw the cellblock instead, stealing one of the crappy mattresses off one of the bunks and another for Gus. 

     He wasn't sure why the dog chose to stay with him after they found the prison, he had always seemed to like Beth better, but he didn't mind. The nightmares had come back a few nights in, and he had nearly taken Tyreese's head off after the man had shaken him awake one night, Gus slept with his head on Daryl's pillow after that. 

    Beth had been holding out hope that Rick would change his mind and allow Daryl to sleep in the cellblock with the others, but Daryl knew better. He didn't want to break it to Beth, though. 

     If it hadn't been storming, he would have sent her back to her cell - telling her that they didn't need to be caught sleeping together in his cell, lest Maggie's wrath rain down upon him. He had seen the way Beth's older sister had glared whenever he sat with her during meals or helped with Judith, she suspected something, and Daryl didn't want to give her any more evidence. 

     But when Beth had climbed onto his mattress and buried her head in his shoulder and he smelled wildflowers and her strawberry shampoo - he was a goner. Gus seemed to feel better too. 

     He hadn't slept that night, too worried that Maggie or her father were going to suddenly remember that Beth was terrified of thunderstorms and go to check on her - but it never came, and Daryl carried Beth back to her cell before the sun came up the next morning. 

     Daryl missed Beth too, and he knew he was a coward for not wanting to just accept the fact that something had happened between the two of them and tell the others to eat shit and die - but he couldn't do that for multiple reasons. No matter how much he hated her prim and proper older sister. 

    One, Beth's family meant too much to her, no matter what she said - and he wasn't about to tear apart a family for something so stupid. 

   Secondly, he didn't deserve Beth Greene at all. He was a shitty person that had a shitty past, someone she shouldn't even want to be around - but it seemed Beth Greene surprised him more every day. He wasn't even sure if he was emotionally capable of giving Beth what she deserved, yeah, he had girlfriends in high school and college, even a boyfriend or two, but not this kind of relationship. Never this kind of relationship, the one you felt comfortable and happy in like the other was your best friend and not your girlfriend. 

   God, he hated the word girlfriend. He wasn't sure what to call him and Beth just yet. 

 

   And lastly, Hershel Greene scared the absolute fuck out of him.    

   Daryl's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of scuffling gravel from somewhere behind him, quickly shielding his eyes from the sun so he could get a good look at the shadow that was slowly coming towards him - it wasn't Rick, he was still frolicking off in the fields somewhere seeing his wife, and it was too tall to be Glenn. The crutches were a dead giveaway. 

 

    Speak of the fucking devil. 

    Daryl checked Hershel's hands for his signature shotgun because the last time he made eye contact with the man he had his daughter slung up on his shoulder with his hand on her ass. Hershel had laughed at their position, yes, but it was an uncomfortable laugh - and Daryl felt like he knew what was coming. The stay away from my daughter you nasty pervert.

    "Son? Can I speak with you for a moment?" Hershel smiled, leaning on his crutches for support. He respected Hershel Greene, looked up to him, but that didn't stop the fact that he absolutely terrified him. Daryl knew why, he had always been hesitant of older men, but he knew that it was the fact that he was the father of Beth too. 

    Merle's voice echoed in the back of his mind, daddy issues, much? 

    "Yes, sir," 

    "Walk with me? I need to get my exercise in," He didn't give Daryl much of a choice, already moving towards the trail that lapped around the edge of the fences. Daryl swallowed and had to run to catch up, the man moved surprisingly fast for someone who was handicapped. 

     They walked in silence for a while. 

     "Bethie told me you were in nursing school before all this? Where'd you study?" Goddamn you, Beth Greene. 

     "Emory, sir," Hershel's eyebrows raised in suprise, and Daryl let a little feeling of pride creep through. He always liked to see people's faces when they realized he went to a high-level university. 

     "What rotation was your favorite?" 

     "Emergency Pediatrics," 

     "It would have been nice to have you here for a few things," He joked, Daryl tried to laugh along, but it came out more like a cry for help than a laugh. 

      Hershel sighed, looking up towards the prison where Carl was playing fetch with Gus out in the yard, Daryl assumed that Beth was inside with Judith already. 

     "I just wanted to thank you, Daryl," He whispered, stopping suddenly and turning to look directly at him. Daryl was officially uncomfortable. 

     "For what, sir?" For just making out with your eighteen-year-old daughter in the woods?     

     "For taking care of Beth for all those months," 

     Did he take care of her? Yes, he took care of her those first few weeks, but as he had said earlier, Beth Greene surprised him more each day. 

    "I think it was the other way around, sir," 

     It seemed that had been a good thing to say because Hershel gave him an honest smile that emphasized the crows feet around his eyes. 

     "She's strong, I told Annette when she was born that she was going to be a force to be reckoned with, I don't think she believed me." 

      "Is she like her? Her mother?" Daryl was honestly curious, he had heard a few things about Beth's mother while they had been on the road together, but it always seemed like a touchy subject that she never liked to stay on for very long, so Daryl dropped it. 

 

    "She's just like her mother, spitting image of her too." He looked wistfully off into the trees, adjusting the crutches under his arms. Daryl couldn't remember what Beth's mother had looked like after Shane had unlocked the barn, only the rotting corpse he had jerked her away from when it tried to take a chunk out of her shoulder. 

     "I also wanted to apologize for the way you've been treated over the past few weeks," Hershel whispered, looking out into the fields towards Rick, seated on the bridge that led to another part of the fields. 

     "There's no need to apologize -" Hershel shook his head, holding his hand up as if it stop him from continuing. 

     "You've been treated unfairly, and I am sorry. If I could make it better I would," 

      Daryl shook his head, swallowing and shoving his hands into his pockets. 

      "I'll leave you alone, Bethie told me to tell you to hurry up," Hershel smiled, and Daryl smiled back.

      Daryl listened as the crunch of gravel got further away, and the growls of the walkers banging up against the fence got louder. He jumped when the man called back to him. 

     "Daryl?" 

     "Yes, sir?" 

     "Take good care of her," 

      "I will," 

      Hershel nodded, smiling before he turned back to head up the hill when a noise startled them both. 

      They both spun around at the sound of a cuss coming from the woods, watching as the branches parted to reveal two people stumbling out of the woods, seemingly in a fight. He recognized Michonne, her katana still strapped across her back. It was the other that worried him. 

    "Don't touch me you cunt ass bitch!"  Merle shouted. 

     Jesus fucking Christ. 

     

Chapter Text

"Take good care of her."

      "I will,"

      Hershel nodded, smiling before he turned back to head up the hill when a noise startled them both.

      They both spun around at the sound of a cuss coming from the woods, watching as the branches parted to reveal two people stumbling out of the woods, seemingly in a fight. He recognized Michonne, her katana still strapped across her back. It was the other that worried him.

    "Don't touch me you cunt ass bitch!"  Merle shouted.

     Jesus fucking Christ.

 

 

 

     Beth cursed as she slid around the corner towards the entrance of cellblock c, catching herself on the edge of the door and slinging herself around the corner. She heard a leaf skitter across the floor in her wake, she guessed she still had a few stuck to the back of her head. She spotted the group of people gathered around the cell, standing a few feet away, whispering harshly.

     She leaves for ten minutes to put a kid down for a nap and Merle Dixon decides to roll up to the prison? Seriously?

    Daryl was squatted down next to the bars of the cell, an array of medicine bottles, syringes, and suture kits laid out before him. He looked pissed but was seemingly too occupied with threading a needle to pay attention and notice Beth was there now – that or he was so angry that he was forcing himself to ignore the situation around him, that was more likely.

    Michonne was leaned up against the wall behind Daryl, a nasty bruise forming on her temple and holding her arm at a strange angle – she watched, unblinkingly, as Daryl situated the medical supplies. Was she the one that brought Merle here? What was she doing outside of the fences anyway?

    Beth hadn’t really spoken to Michonne since her and Daryl arrived at the prison, but Beth respected her. She had walked up behind Beth while she had been preparing breakfast with Carol to tell her that she was sorry for the little girl’s death, and Beth’s throat closed up at the mention of Melody but thanked Michonne anyway. She hadn’t said a word since.

    She walked up to Carol, whose arms were crossed and lips were pursed – but didn’t seem to be playing the main role in the argument occurring in front of them. The woman gave a forced smile but motioned for Beth to come closer anyway.

    It seemed her dad, Rick, Maggie, and Glenn played a crucial role in the argument – their harsh whispers echoing throughout the stone walls. She hadn’t looked into the cell yet, Merle could wait. She was still pissed at him. For multiple things.

    She felt Carol’s breath on her ear, a hand on her shoulder, “They haven’t let up for twenty minutes, go help Daryl,” Beth nodded, creeping over towards Daryl and Michonne.

     After a few minutes of watching Daryl measure out what looked like pain killer, Beth looked into the cell – Merle was already looking at her, leaned up against the back wall and holding his side. He looked awful.

     “Hey, blondie,” Merle joked, a wheeze followed his laugh, a cough after.

     “Hey, asshole, how’s life?” Beth crossed her arms, the questions she had wanted to ask for days were circling her throat, scratching to get out.  

     “Not doing too good at the moment, who whipped your ass? That’s one nasty cut you got there,” He shot a wink, adjusting his position and cringing as he did so. Daryl shot him a nasty look, obviously, a stop moving.

     “I think you look worse,” He did, honestly, dirty and covered in blood. His knife-hand-thing laid a few feet away from Rick in a pile of a few bags. The skin around his amputation was red and inflamed, obviously from him picking at it too much. He had a few bruises littering his face and shoulders. Beth didn’t even want to look at the nasty wound in his side, the blood clotting and covering his wifebeater in a nasty layer of muck.

    “Sorry I ain’t my usual pretty self,”

    “What happened?” Beth asked, honestly, Merle Dixon had done some shitty things, some she didn’t even know about, but she still cared about his safety and well-being.

     “Got stabbed,” She wanted to know by who, but by the color of the blood on his shirt she knew it had been at least a few hours before he came to the prison. The wound looked too small to be Michonne’s nasty katana.

     “I was hoping Michonne kabobbed you,” She joked, she saw the woman give a small smile from the corner of her eye – mostly to herself, but Beth felt accomplished that she made the woman smile.

      “I gave her a run for her money out there,” Merle growled, a nasty looking finger pointed towards Michonne. The woman didn’t seem to be worried that she faced the impending wrath of the mean Dixon brother.

      “She was dragging you by the back of your shirt,” Daryl quipped, flicking a syringe as he sighed and moved to unlock the cell door. Beth startled as she noticed the shadow laid next to Merle, Gus’s head laying on Merle’s leg. That dog always did like him.

      “This is morphine, it’s probably not as strong as you’re used to,” Daryl mumbled, and Beth cringed at the obvious shot at Merle’s personal issues. Daryl had mentioned multiple times to her just how much Merle’s usage pissed him off, Beth was sure that Daryl was giving him the least amount of morphine possible in retaliation.

     “Hey, I’ve been clean for two years now, get your nasty mouth away from me,” Merle snapped, cringing as Daryl poked the area around his wound – moving and dispersing the medicine.

     “Yeah, ‘cause your dealer is probably a walking corpse,”

     Was all of this just sibling rivalry, or was there something Beth was missing?

     “What’s gotten up your ass? Jeez,”

     “You could have come with us,” Daryl spat, ripping into the alcohol wipes a little rougher than he needed to – Beth moved closer towards the bars, it’s not like she could break up a fight if it happened, and she was sure that Merle wasn’t fighting shape right now – but if she knew anything about him, it wouldn’t stop him.

      Beth felt a little annoyed that Daryl hadn’t mentioned to her how hurt he had felt after Merle decided not to leave Woodbury with them – she was hurt too, but she knew that Daryl sharing things like that with her would take time. The only time he had ever shared something extremely personal with her was when they were fighting or he was trying to make her feel better. It would take time, for him to open himself up completely and she would listen to everything he’d tell her when that time came.

     “I’m sorry I triggered your deeply rooted abandonment issues,” Merle growled, smacking Daryl’s hands away from where he was poking and prodding the wound.

      Daryl threw the suture kit down, getting up from where he had been sitting on his knees and heading back towards the cell, closer to Beth.

     “Fine, you can bleed out, you fuck,”

     Beth had to jump out of the way to make sure Daryl didn’t hit her with the gate, reaching out to grab his arm – gentle, but just to let him know that she was there.

    “Daryl, I understand – he’s here now,” She whispered, and he looked at her then – and she could see just how angry he was. He gritted his teeth, but nodded and pulled her hand off his arm; he squeezed her fingers before he stalked out of the cellblock.

     She suddenly felt grateful for her relationship with her siblings

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

    Fifteen minutes had passed by the time Rick stumbled out of the huddle, his eyes following the cracks in the cement floor.

   Beth had helped Michonne patch up a few cuts on her hands after Daryl left, quietly whispering to her what she was doing while she did it – it seemed the woman was grateful.

   She hadn’t spoken to Merle. She had stolen a few glances here and there, just to make sure that he was still conscious. He seemed fine for now, but even if Beth did want to work on his wound she wouldn’t know where to begin.

   Beth saw Rick steal an odd glance at her, she wasn’t sure if it was for helping Michonne or being in the cellblock altogether. It seemed she had become a permanent babysitter to Judith in his eyes, unable to separate her as a person from the baby.

    “You can stay, but you’ll stay in this cell for a few days and stay with Daryl at all times afterward, you hear?” It seemed to pain Rick to say it, that he was actually allowing Merle Dixon to stay in the same place as his family – Beth was shocked.

    “Don’t think we won’t throw you back out to the Governor the first chance we get,”

     He stalked out the same way Daryl had, Glenn and her father slowly following behind him, whispering quietly. Maggie seemed to shuffle her feet back and forth, glancing between Beth and Merle, before nodding her head and following after the others.

     Beth was glad.

     Carol must have left without Beth realizing because before she knew it, it was just her, Merle, and Michonne within the empty cell block. The other woman seemed uncomfortable but stood vigil next to Beth. Beth wondered why but had more important things to get to.

     Beth hurried over towards the metal bars, they were cold and harsh on her palms, sending a slight shiver down her spine. Even with the sun shining through the huge windows the prison always felt cold, unlived in. Gus still had his head in the man’s lap, seemingly asleep.

    “What happened after we left?” She whispered, falling down onto her knees so she was eye level with him – he looked worse for wear, the dark circles under his eyes a deep purple and his frame a bit smaller than she remembered. It had only been what, two weeks since Woodbury fell?

      He smiled, but it looked a bit more like a grimace, “So you had to wait until the others left to be buddies with me, huh?”

      Beth rolled her eyes but stayed silent so Merle could continue.

      “I had a surprise for you, Mr. Sheriff took it from me,” He raised his arm, shaky and unsteady, and pointed towards the pile of bags a few feet behind Beth, “It’s over there,”

      “For little old me?” She joked, but her mind scrambled for what in the world Merle would have wanted to surprise her with - the Governor’s head in a box?

       Beth quickly stumbled over towards the bags, carefully setting Merle’s knife-hand to the side, being wary of avoiding the nasty blade. It was covered in blood and muck, she wondered how much was human and how much was walker.

       Beth’s hand hit something hard and cold, the familiar grip causing her heart to constrict and beat faster.

       Her bow.

       It was the same as the last time she had seen it before Andrea stole it from her and knocked her out with her gun. She found the quiver of extra arrows soon afterward, a mixture of hers and Daryl’s.

      Merle piped up from behind her, “I went into y’all’s apartment while everything went to hell, got a few of Daryl’s things too.”

      Beth found the pack of bowstrings Daryl was griping about leaving, a little dented and dirty, but there. The angel wing vest was neatly folded at the bottom of the bag, something hard hidden within the folds of leather.

      A tear spilled out of the corner of Beth’s eyes when she saw the picture frame, with the happy face of the little girl and their Gus – her arms wrapped around the Golden Retriever’s neck. It had been on the kitchen table, Beth had cried in her cell when she was unpacking her backpack and realized that it wasn’t there, that it had been left behind.

     She quickly wiped the few stray tears away, spinning on her heels to give Merle a small smile.

     “Thank you, really,”

      He shrugged, it seemed he wasn’t too good with emotion either – one of the only things Beth had found that the brothers had in common.

     Beth settled all of her and Daryl’s stuff in a small pile, careful with the picture frame.

      "The Governor abandoned Woodbury, they're living in the woods off the highway about twenty miles from here - mostly men," Merle sighed, scratching at the skin around his amputated arm - seemingly naked without its signature knife. She supposed Rick took that away from him as well.

      Beth saw Michonne on her way out at the mention of the Governor, maybe thinking that she wasn’t supposed to be part of the conversation – but Beth stopped her.

     “Michonne, stay – you need to be part of this conversation too,”

     She saw the dreadlocks sway back and forth in a nod, and she moved back to her spot. Merle rolled his eyes at the woman, but a nasty look from Beth caused him to look at her instead.

     “You were there when I shot him, you hate him just as much as we do – so you should know what is going on,” Beth said, quiet and calculated.

      Michonne nodded again, but Merle held up a finger – his mouth hanging open, “I’m sorry princess, you what?”

     “You fucking what?” They all spun around at the sound of Daryl’s voice, another clear bottle of medicine and a clean syringe in his hands. His eyes were on Beth, shocked and a bit angry.

      She hadn’t told Daryl, had she?

      Fuck.

     “I shot the Governor in the eye, with an arrow,”

     “Why?” Merle and Daryl said, in unison, “When?” Daryl added.

      Michonne stepped forward, her voice quiet, “She was helping me, I thought I could take him on my own while the others got out, he overpowered me; she saved me,”

      Beth shot a small, grateful smile at the woman and Michonne nodded, slipping back to her spot on the wall. She listened as Daryl walked closer to them, preparing herself for the shit show he was about to rain down upon her.

      “That’s why he’s got an agenda against you, huh?” Merle whispered, nodding – he almost looked like he approved of her actions. She wasn’t surprised.

       She turned to Daryl then, meeting his eyes, which were squinted and calculating. He held his hand up to her face, giving her a small smile.

       “I’m mad at you for being so stupid, but nice shot,”

       They high-fived, and Beth felt a bit lighter. It seemed they both remembered one of Daryl’s first lessons with her, that the eye was the best place to shoot so it didn’t mess up any of the meat of the kill – hard, but worth it. Who knew it worked on humans too?

       “Where did all of the women and children go? You said that the camp was mostly men,” Michonne asked, her hands crossed and her face a bit pinched when she looked at Merle – Beth wondered what all had transpired between them.

        “Governor sent them away, I think they’re living at some old church a few miles from here – they ain’t doing too well apparently, not used to living outside walls.”

       “So, Woodbury is scattered right now? That’s good, right?” Beth asked because if they were scattered, that meant the Governor’s attention was elsewhere, besides the prison? She hoped she was right.

        “No, everyone at the wall talked about how he wanted this place for an outpost, that he was getting supplies and weapons, I can’t imagine us attacking and destroying that place helped stop that,” Daryl added.

       Merle nodded, “He wanted this place long before y’all came, and now that he knows you three are here, and me – he’ll be out for blood.”

       Beth spun around towards Michonne, curious and confused, “What does he have against you?”

       “You saw the room we were in when you shot him, he was keeping that little –“ she stopped, pursing her lips, “thing, in a cage – I think it was his kid.”

        “And you attacked a few people, threatened to kill him, but who cares about any of that?” Merle quipped, sending a nasty smile towards the woman. Her hand gripped the handle of her sword.

         “And then you shot me,” She spat.

         He shrugged, “Hey, I was aiming for your head, you moved,”

         Michonne growled, but stalked closer to the bars of the cell, “You shot the others that were with you, then you told him I killed them – I heard you,”

         “And there ain’t nothing you can do about it, missy,”

          Beth opened her mouth to tell them both to shut it, but Daryl beat her to it.

         “Can y’all shut the fuck up? Why was he keeping a walker?” Daryl asked, setting the bottle of medicine – it looked like antibiotics, on the floor next to the cell Merle was in.

         “He had a whole wall of walker heads, like trophies,” Beth said, shivering as she remembered the grimy fish tanks filled with walker heads – she had a dream a few days ago that Daryl’s head was one of them – yellow eyes staring lifelessly back at her.

         Everyone quieted at that.

        “I tried to spy on the camp they’re at, got caught,” Merle coughed.

        “Obviously,” Michonne grumbled, “I found him bleeding out, stumbling down the road,”

         Merle struggled to sit up, disrupting Gus and pointing a grimy finger at Michonne’s face, “Listen here you ni- “

        “Don’t you dare finish that sentence,” Daryl warned, voice low, “I am not in the mood to deal with your racist bullshit,”

         “Fine,” Merle spat, like a small child being yelled out by their mother, and Beth nearly wanted to laugh – she had forgotten the mess that was the Dixon family.

          “Anyway,” Merle emphasized, shooting pointed glances towards all three of them, “They had a tank, y’all only have a few days, at least,”

         “Did you tell Rick?” Michonne asked, uncrossing her arms. It seemed they all understood how dire it was.

         He let out a dry laugh, “You really think he believed me?”

         “We have to tell them again,” Daryl said, he looked at Beth then, his voice low, “Maggie and Glenn will believe us, you know what he did to them,”

        She nodded, and goose flesh rose up on her arms at the thought of what the Governor had done to Maggie – that could have been her, if the situation had been different. Maggie had whispered to her over a basket of laundry and Beth had told Daryl – what Merle and the Governor had done to them while they were held, hostage.

        “We’re going to have a talk about what you did to Maggie and Glenn, you hear?” Daryl spoke, pointing his finger in the same manner Merle had earlier, “I might let Maggie in there with you,”

        Merle rolled his eyes, but Beth saw she saw a glint of ashamedness at being told off by his brother, that they knew what he had done.

       “I thought you didn’t like the Chinese kid?” Merle grumbled as if that made it better.

       “He’s Korean, jackass,” Daryl spat, and Beth did her best to hold back a laugh, Michonne looked like she was struggling with the same problem.

       “Maggie is my sister,” Beth whispered, she had never told Merle about her family, had she? She always felt that talking about her happy-go-lucky childhood would anger the man, so she never did.

       Merle didn’t look her in the eyes after that.

       Daryl went to start where he left off on Merle’s stab wound, ignoring the man’s cursing as he attempted to sew it up. Michonne left without a word, only a nod in Beth’s direction.

        What were they going to do? Fight?

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

      Beth watched the walkers stumble towards the fences, only four or so were currently leaned up against it anyway. For some reason, seeing the walkers bend the barbed wire back and forth made her heart race. She wondered if they were planning on reinforcing it anytime soon.

     Beth didn’t turn around at the sound of footsteps, she knew the sound of Daryl’s steps by now – no matter how quiet they were.

     “You okay?” He whispered, and she nodded.

     “Just thinking,” About what, she wasn’t sure. She was still trying to piece together everything that had happened during the past few weeks.

    “Don’t strain yourself,” He joked, she could see the dimples from his smile out of the corner of her eye when she turned to glare at him. She laughed soon after, and it felt really good, the warm feeling in her chest.

    “Okay, you made me smile, you’ve completed your daily mission,” Every day, no matter what, it seemed Daryl said something to make her smile. She was beginning to look forward to it every day.

    “What are you thinking about?” He whispered, following her gaze towards the fences – it seemed no one was on fence duty yet.

     “We can’t let those kids rot and starve in that church, the Governor pretty much left them to die,” She said, but she wasn’t sure what they could do – if Rick would even discuss such a thing, bringing the wives and children of their supposed enemy into their home.

      She had asked Merle how they were, if he had seen them while spying while Daryl sewed him up – he said that they were left with a few weeks of food and no one had come to check on them yet. He said that the women were always wary of him, so he didn’t even try to help.

     “I took care of those kids, Daryl – I don’t want them to die like –“ Her words caught in her throat, hard and unforgiving. She felt tears unwilling spill into her eyes, blurring her vision.

     She didn’t want them to die like Melody.

     “I want them to have the chance Melody never got,” She finished, shaking her head as if that would will the tears to go away, they didn’t.

     Daryl didn’t say anything for a bit, they hadn’t spoken about Melody since they were headed towards the prison. Beth had dreams about her sometimes, dancing around her feet, happy and alive, or stumbling towards her as a rotting corpse – she wasn’t sure which version hurt her more.

      “How would we even get them here?” Daryl asked, but Beth had already thought of that – and she had a solution. Beth pointed a finger towards the buses parked by the gate, parked like a barrier against the fences.

      He gave a small laugh, “You’re getting really good at that, you know?”

      “I’m learning,” she smiled, “I had the best teacher, you should meet him sometime,”

      “We’ll talk to Rick together, okay?” He said, and she smiled as she nodded. She knew Daryl would agree with her, that his soft spot within all that roughness was children – she just hoped the others did as well.

       Then there was the thing about the Governor – but they would deal with that when they got to it.

      “Can I sleep with you tonight?” She asked suddenly, she finally looked at him, his head turned curiously to the side. He was already looking at her. The sunset shadowed his frame, the stretching darkness falling far behind Beth.

      “Are the nightmares keeping you awake?”

      She nodded.

      “They do me too.”

       She couldn’t even begin to imagine his nightmares.

       She jumped at the feeling of his hand on hers, watching as he gripped her fingers and swiped his thumb over her knuckles. They stood there for a bit, in comfortable silence before they both had to head back into the mess that was going to be dinner, especially after the arrival of Merle Dixon.

        "What was my dad talking to you about earlier?" She had seen her dad walking up to Daryl out of the corner of her eye before she had followed Carl into the cellblock, but hadn't had time to stop and watch before Carol had shoved the baby into her arms and her sister had attacked her for leaving without telling them. She guessed it was something to do about hunting, or maybe even getting onto him for taking Beth out past the fences without his permission - but her dad always surprised her.

         Daryl looked down at their joined hands, a blush reddening his cheeks, "He told me to take care of you,"

         Beth felt a small smile forming on her face, followed by a lump in her throat - her daddy knew, he always knew - and he approved. That meant more to her than her father would ever know.

         "Good, I thought he was threatening to shove a crutch where the sun don't shine," She joked, swinging their hands back and forth between them like she had seen the couples in the parking lot of her high school do - was that what they were, a couple? She didn't know if she could ever call Daryl her boyfriend with a straight face, no, he was more than that to her.

         "I think the threat was there, even if he didn't say it to my face," He admitted, a small smile on his face - he was looking at their swinging hands too.

         "You would never hurt me," Beth whispered, and she felt like that was true - Daryl would never hurt her. She trusted this man with her life, with every fiber of her being, she just hoped that he felt the same way.

         "No, I wouldn't."

         Beth raised an eyebrow, "Do I need to go get Merle's permission too?"

        "Shut up and kiss me, Greene,"

         Beth laughed, before reaching up to throw her hands around his neck and pull his head closer to hers, running her hands through his curls and pressing herself up against his chest. For someone who was always so cold, he was so warm to her. Her own personal sun.

        One of his hands cupped her cheeks, the other tugging on her hair - which she usually wore down now, just for him. The kiss was soft and slow, unlike their kisses in the woods only hours earlier - Beth savored in it, scratching her nails down his arms; she wondered if the person in the guard tower could see them, but the feel of Daryl's hands on the small of her back stopped her from really caring.

        She desperately wanted to pull back and say it, the words that were always in the back of her mind and on the tip of her tongue whenever she was talking to him - ready to burst out at any moment.

        I love you,

        For once, Beth didn't really care who was watching.

Chapter Text

        She desperately wanted to pull back and say it, the words that were always in the back of her mind and on the tip of her tongue whenever she was talking to him - ready to burst out at any moment.

        I love you,

        For once, Beth didn't really care who was watching.

 

 

      Beth stretched her arm out to slap Merle Dixon's fingers away from the skin around his amputation, cringing as a small stab of pain etched her way down her arm from her sore shoulders. It had been nearly a month since she had last used her bow in Woodbury and her muscles had not taken the sudden reintroduction well. She had started small, shooting bottles and targets Carl had drawn for her towards the back of the prison - Daryl practicing with her, even if she knew he didn't need the practice, it was nice to have the support. She wasn't hitting near as many bullseyes as him, she wasn't sure if she ever would, but he looked prouder than ever when she managed to do so. Carl begged both of them to teach him how to use a bow - and it was sadly hilarious trying to watch the tiny kid lift and pull the bowstring back. She had been there too, so she tried not to laugh too hard when he toppled over. 

      "Don't slap at me, woman," Merle growled, jerking his hand back and hiding it beneath the table. She heard Carol laugh quietly from somewhere behind her, doing God knows what in the depths of the kitchen. The kitchen seemed to be the only place Merle could sit peacefully - as peacefully as that man could manage - without being glared and talked about by other members of the group. No matter how much Beth thought he deserved it, the bags under his eyes were becoming worrisome. Carol tolerated him enough, even including him in conversations sometimes while she cooked and did dishes. She didn't ask many questions about his life before everything, though. 

      Merle being excluded meant that they spent a lot of time in the kitchen now, helping Carol fix meals and do laundry. A lot of the times it was just Beth, Merle, Judith, and Carol - because Daryl was still asked to work the fences and guard towers. It seemed Rick's you'll stay with Daryl at all times also extended to Beth. She didn't mind, she enjoyed his company, but she would be lying if she said that she didn't see him beating up her sister and Glenn whenever she looked at him for too long. It's not like she could do anything about it, she knew, it was in the past - and from what he had told them about the Governor, it seemed that it was follow orders, or die in a horrible manner. It was still her big sister that was on the receiving end of those orders, though. 

      A sense of unease had settled over the prison. Beth, Daryl, and Michonne had cornered Rick the morning after Merle had shown up, dragging Hershel along with them so he could listen, telling him that the Governor was not finished with them - that he would want revenge for what happened in Woodbury. They used all the evidence they had, the tanks, the men separating from the women and children, the awful things the Governor had done - and it seemed like it was received by deaf ears. She didn't want to admit that they made a scene, but they definitely had. Nearly everyone was in the cafeteria eating breakfast when they cornered him, and they heard everything that was said. Even if Rick had loudly stated that there was nothing to worry about, everyone seemed to disagree. Glenn and Maggie quietly added more shifts around the fence and longer hours in the guard tower. Carol suggested that Beth make a bag for Judith and place it in her carrier, just in case - even her father seemed on edge, looking out into the woods, past the walkers that were scratching to get in. 

     Beth hadn't even brought up the idea of bringing the women and children to the prison to Rick, not even to her father. She had thought it over during the week since she had mentioned it to Daryl, and she was beginning to doubt herself. Would it urge the Governor to attack sooner? Would they even want to come? There were so many what-ifs to think about, and Beth wasn't even sure if those goddamn buses in the yard ran anymore. 

     She heard the checkers settled on the table in front of her shift and caught the end of Merle's move, watching as he took a long drink of the musty tea Carol sat out for them earlier. Judith cooed from her portable crib, she was getting more vocal as the days went by, Beth just wished Rick would look at her directly. He had held her, which was an improvement - and it seemed he had recovered from Lori's death, as much as he could, at least. Beth thought that Merle showing up shocked him out of his stupor. 

     "Your move, blondie," He yawned, tapping his heavy boot on the cement floor loud enough so Beth could hear over the baby's gurgles - it annoyed her. 

     "I'm thinking," She spat, moving one of her checkers in a way that she knew was bad, but she was too deep in thought to really care. Would Merle tell her where the church was? She was sure Daryl and she could find it just fine, but it would be helpful to know where to start. Did they have enough food? Were they all already dead? It had been a week since Merle had shown up, was it already too late? 

     She heard Merle let out an exaggerated sigh, picking up one of his checkers and knocking hers off the board, sending it scuttling onto the floor. She didn't have any checkers left. 

     "Checkmate," He leaned back in his chair, an eyebrow raised, "You suck at this game," 

      She watched as Judith wriggled around on her blanket, the pink teddy bear Daryl had found her on a run held tightly in her mouth. Carol had done a good job at washing the blood off of it. 

      "Sorry, I'm tired," She was tired, but not because she hadn't slept the night before. She was just tired. Tired of not being listened to, of her sister avoiding her, of having to sneak off to relearn to defend herself so her daddy wouldn't look at her differently - she was even tired of taking care of kids that weren't even hers. 

      "I'm sure you are, heard you and Daryl up in the loft giggling 'till the crackass of day last night," Beth blushed at this, picking at the skin around her fingernails. Daryl had been telling her the story of him getting stuck on the back of the garbage truck with his skateboard and driven to the next town over when he was a kid. She guessed she had been laughing a little louder than she originally thought. 

      She heard the sound of Carol's light footsteps but didn't look up from her hands. Carol giggled quietly to herself, "Hey, you could have been hearing moans and the bed creaking, let's not complain," 

      Merle let out a laugh so loud it startled Judith from her wriggling and Beth felt all of the blood in her body pool in her stomach. Oh, God. 

      "No," He started, dramatically wiping a tear from the corner of his right eye, "The day I hear that coming from their room will be the day Hell freezes over." 

      Beth cringed, clenching her fists. She stood up from her chair and started towards the door, trying to ignore the quiet conversation between the two of how innocent Beth and Daryl acted with each other and if that meant they would be rougher. She made sure Judith was still alive and well in her crib before she left, of course. Carol would take care of her. She needed to go, though. 

      She saw Carol's hand wave at her from the corner of her vision, causing her to stop.  "Oh, honey - take Daryl his lunch? He's in the guard tower, I think," Carol said, throwing Beth the small paper bag of what everyone had eaten for lunch, leftover turkey and some tomatoes grown in the garden. Beth nodded tightly, hearing the crunch of the bag in her fist. She tried not to break into a run, sliding her way out the kitchen door and into the hallway. 

      "Don't come back with no baby, ya hear?" Merle shouted after her, Beth withheld from shooting a nasty comment back at him - who knew who was within earshot. 

      Beth grumbled as she continued down the hallway. It wasn't that she was embarrassed, far from it, she was frustrated. 

      She had lost count of how many times she had tried to initiate something other than a kiss, how many times he had pulled her off his lap or pushed her away - gently, of course. She had even had this big plan of only wearing her underwear and one of Daryl's t-shirts to bed one night, but her confidence was lost when Daryl turned around while she unbuttoned her jeans, turning off the light before getting into bed. She hadn't brought it her frustration up with him because she was embarrassed to - she could sit there and not be at all embarrassed while Merle Dixon and Carol made fun of her lack of sex life but she couldn't even talk about it with the person she would be having sex with. She wasn't from a family that talked about these things - she was sure her mother would have rather slapped herself then talk to Beth about safe and consensual sex. Everything Beth knew was from her friends at school, and eavesdropping on Maggie, of course. 

       She wasn't sure how to express these kinds of feelings, and it wasn't like she had a partner that seemed to know or want to express them either. She had woken up a few mornings before with her back pressed against Daryl's front, his arms wrapped around her stomach and their legs intertwined. His... God, she couldn't even put it into words without wanting to blush and curl into a ball. He was hard, and she remembered in her health class the teacher talking about how men woke up like that occasionally. They didn't really tell you how to react when it was pressed up against your legs, though. She snuck back into her room before he woke up, thank God. She swore she spent the entire day with her thighs clenched together and refusing to meet anyone's eyes. 

      "Beth?" Came from somewhere behind her, and she jumped, nearly dropping Daryl's lunch onto the floor. Beth sighed, Maggie had to choose this moment to stop ignoring her? Really? It had been nearly a week since she had spoken to her, seemingly angry with her for staying and being friendly with Merle Dixon.

      She slowly spun around, coming face to face with her sister who was standing in the middle of the hallway, she looked a bit lost, if Beth was being honest. 

      "Hey, Maggie," She smiled, shifting the bag from hand to hand. 

      "I didn't mean to scare you," Maggie said, returning her smile, "Where are you headed?" Should she be honest? Yes, she needed to tell the truth. She wasn't hiding what she had anymore, even if it meant she was going to get yelled at. 

      "I'm going to give Daryl his lunch, I didn't get to spend a lot of time with him at breakfast this morning," 

       Maggie's mouth opened for a second, but she nodded her head. She shifted from foot to foot, "You really do like him, don't you?" 

       Beth let out a nervous laugh, "He's my best friend." 

       She waited for a response, but after a minute or two, it seemed like Maggie didn't have one. Beth gestured toward the bag in her hand and spun around on her heel, intent on running away before this conversation could get any further. Her sister had never been this awkward before. She had nearly made it to the door leading to the courtyard when Maggie spoke again. 

       "Best friends who sneak around and sleep in the same bed?" Beth could hear the small chord of anger strumming through her words, but she sounded more defeated than angry. She had never heard her big sister be so quiet and calm before. 

       Maggie seemed to analyze her face, quickly looking back towards the floor, "I've watched you sneak out these past few nights, I followed you one night just to make sure my assumption was right," She explained, she had the audacity to look embarrassed. Well, damn. Beth guessed her survival skills had been thrown out the window these past few months - or else Maggie was way too quiet for her own good. 

       "We both have nightmares -" Maggie held her hand up to stop her, and the words died in Beth's throat. 

       "You don't have to explain anything, Bethy," Maggie sighed. Beth was a bit too shocked for words, where was the yelling? The threatening to beat up anyone that dared touch her? 

        They both looked at each other for a while. Maggie looked tired. 

        "What made you...?" Beth wasn't sure what her question was, but she knew Maggie would understand it. What made Maggie see? 

        Maggie looked up to the ceiling and then back to Beth, there was a small grin on her face - it made her dimples show. 

        "He looks at you the way Daddy used to look at your mother, like you're the best thing he's ever seen." She said, nodding her head, as if she was still trying to make herself accept that answer. Beth's shoulders sagged and it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off her shoulders. She had been waiting for this moment for months, though she had expected a bit more yelling and screaming, it seemed she needed to have a bit more faith in her big sister. 

        "So you're not going to shoot him?" Beth joked, trying not to smile too big. Her sister was being... accepting? 

         Maggie laughed, "I don't think so, not yet, at least," 

         They both laughed to themselves, Beth watched as Maggie shifted a bit closer. 

         "Do you love him?" 

         "More than I thought I could ever love anyone," Beth said, honest. 

         Maggie nodded her head, "Does he love you?" 

         "I hope so," 

         Maggie reached out for her free hand, gripping tight like she always had, "I'm sorry you felt like you couldn't tell me," 

         "You're scary sometimes, Daryl agrees," Beth whispered, smiling up at Maggie. She felt lighter than she had in months. 

         "That's good, that he's scared of me, I mean," Maggie said, letting out a small laugh. "He's good to you?" 

         "Better than I could have ever asked for," Maggie smiled at that, swinging their hands back and forth. 

         "If eight-year-old Beth had known that her dreamy prince charming was a redneck with an attitude problem I think she would have cried," Maggie joked, it seemed she remembered her obsession with prince charming just as much as Beth did. 

         "I secretly always preferred bad boys," Beth responded, elbowing her sister in the side. 

          They both went quiet, and Maggie let go of her hand. 

          "He's a good person, I think, once you get past everything else," Maggie whispered, she cringed a bit - which made Beth laugh. 

          "I think Glenn is too," Beth admitted, and Maggie seemed shocked, "It's not like you two have hidden it very well, even Judith knows by now," She admitted, shrugging her shoulders. 

           Maggie smiled, nodding her head for what felt like the thousandth time. Beth adjusted the bag in her hands, and Maggie seemed to remember that it was there finally. 

           "I'll let you go feed Daryl, see you at dinner?" Beth nodded and she seemed satisfied - Beth felt her eyes on her as she moved towards the door. She tried to blink the tears out of her eyes, the fact that Maggie knew and accepted that Beth was happy was overwhelming to her. 

           Before her hands could grab the knob on the door she felt two hands spinning her around and jerking her into Maggie's chest, her sister's head on her shoulder. Beth felt the tears drop onto her cheeks, wetting Maggie's green t-shirt. 

           Maggie held her for a long time, and it felt good. 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

           Beth groaned as she made it up the ladder of the guard tower. It seemed like it was taller each time she tried to climb it. She wiped her cheeks again to make sure there were no leftover tears, the last thing she needed was for Daryl to worry about why she had been crying. She hoped her eyes weren't red. 

           She knocked before she slung open the hatch, pulling herself up onto the floor and swinging her legs up underneath her. She caught the tail-end of Daryl spinning around to check and see who it was, and the smile when he realized it was her. She closed the hatch but stayed settled on the floor, sliding the bag of food towards the open door leading out to the balcony where he stood. 

          "I bring rations," She joked, smiling up at his tall frame. She wondered if he could tell that she was in a good mood. 

          "Is it squirrel and peaches?" He asked, reaching down to pick up the bag and sliding down in front of her criss-cross applesauce. She leaned her head back to laugh, thinking back to the weird mixture of food they discovered tasted really good together in the farmhouse. 

          "I crave that every day," She admitted, she honestly did, who would have thought that tough rodent meat and syrupy peaches tasted good together? 

          She watched quietly as he picked through the bag, laughing as he cringed - he must have spotted the tomatoes. She held out her hand, "I'll eat them so Carol doesn't get onto you," 

          He handed her the small batch of tiny tomatoes gratefully, along with the napkin, "Thank you," 

          They ate quietly, only asking how the other's day had been. Beth couldn't seem to wipe the smile off her face. 

          "What has you in such a good mood?" He asked, throwing the fork into the bag to take back to the kitchen for Carol to wash. He wiped his hands on his jeans and moved to stand up, groaning as he did so. 

          "Maggie knows," She smiled, throwing the napkin into the bag as well. 

          Daryl froze, his eyes going a bit wide, "And you're happy because you'll finally be rid of me when she kills me?" 

          Beth laughed a bit at her reaction, reaching out her hands to signal that she wanted help up - he reached down to grab her hands and lifted her up with ease. She shook her head, smiling, "She seemed... okay with it, with everything," 

          Daryl didn't look sold. 

          "That's code for she's going to off me in my sleep," He mumbled, a bit jokingly. He kept a hold on her hands, they were cold, so Beth rubbed them in between hers. 

          "I'm serious, it seemed like she had accepted that whatever her opinion was really didn't matter to either of us." She decided to leave out the whole 'love him more than anything' part, that would be on their own time. 

           Daryl seemed to be thinking about it, his eyes flicking back and forth from her to the wall. He nodded, smiling a bit, "That's good, I guess, I'll believe it at dinner," 

           "What, waiting to see if she poisons your food?" They both laughed at that, and Daryl let go of her hands, heading towards the door and looking out over the fields. 

           "Did you leave Merle alone?" He asked, picking at the peeling paint of the railing. He always had to do something with his hands. 

           Well, shit. She forgot about that rule. 

          "Carol can handle him for a few minutes," She sighed, when was the last time Rick came into the kitchen? Merle would be fine. 

           Beth watched Carl and Gus wrestling in the courtyard, they must have come out after she climbed the ladder. Carl and Merle seemed to be the only other people he liked besides her and Daryl - he occasionally sniffed at Michonne, but she didn't seem to be much of a dog person. He seemed to despise Judith, and Beth couldn't blame the dog, the kid had a set of lungs when she wanted something. Beth sighed, shifting from foot to foot, she was stalling, she knew. 

           "I had something I wanted to talk to you about," She swallowed, blushing. He turned to look at her, his eyebrows furrowed in question. It seemed he could sense her mood shifted rather quickly. 

           "What's wrong?" 

           Goddammit. How would she start this? She was going straight for the question that would get his attention, she knew. 

           "Do you find me attractive?" She knew he did. He had told her before, but what if he still saw her as a teenage girl? Just a kid? She wasn't as curvy as Maggie, or as regal as Michonne, what did he see? That always seemed to lurk in the back of her mind, whether or not he viewed her as an adult. She knew there were smarter ways to ask this question, better ways, but she needed to get him to listen - this seemed the most logical way to do so to her at the moment. 

           "What do you mean do I find you attractive?" He relayed, crossing his arms and leaning up against the railing, there was a good distance between them. She hoped he couldn't see how pink her cheeks were. 

           "It's just..." Her shoulders seemed to sag, and she walked over to the window across from her, trying to think of what to say - she watched as Gus tackled Carl and licked his face, she could hear his laughter from where she stood. "You always seem to push me away, or tell me no, I'm just wondering if I'm doing something wrong," 

            She could hear his boots on the floor of the tower, walking closer. She looked over her shoulder to see him standing directly behind her, only a few feet between them. He looked concerned now, the line in between his brows prominent. 

            "When do I push you away?" He asked, he looked as if he was searching his mind for when he pushed her away, and she watched as the lightbulb went off. "Oh," 

            She began tapping her foot, something she seemed to pick up on from the man standing in front of her, he did it when he was nervous. She turned around to look him in the face, watching as the realization of what conversation they were having came over him. The last serious conversation they had, she had slapped him - that wasn't happening again. They were going to discuss this like adults. 

           "I just wonder sometimes if you don't want to - with me," She admitted. 

           He looked overwhelmed. That made two of them. 

           "You don't think I'm attracted to you?" He asked, he rubbed at the back of his neck, another nervous tick she had noticed he had. 

           "Sometimes," God, that was a horrible answer. 

           They both looked down at the floor, Beth felt like he was choosing his words carefully. It seemed like they were both blushing, though. 

           "No, no, I mean - Beth," He stepped forward a bit, reaching out for her hand. She took it. "I don't think I deserve you," 

           Her eyes widened, she was sure almost comically. 

           "It's not because of my age? Or me?" She had to be nearly nineteen now - he was only thirty, at most. 

            He shook his head, "No, you're more of an adult than I am most days," 

            That made her feel loads better. 

            "Why don't you think you deserve me?" She whispered, squeezing his hand gently, he was looking down at the floor. 

            "Lots of things," He admitted, mumbling. She knew he had a more definite answer, he just didn't know how to talk about it. 

            "It's funny, I told Carol that I didn't deserve you," She admitted, watching as his face screwed up a bit in confusion. 

            "Think about it, I didn't want to be alive - and then here you come messing that all up and forcing me to keep going - to see that giving up was letting this world win. But, if this world would have wanted to win, it wouldn't have given me you. I don't know how I deserved you in all of this," She swallowed, trying to keep the tears at bay, luckily, it seemed she had cried most of her tears out on Maggie's shoulder. He looked at her a bit in disbelief, but it was true. 

            She waited for his response, looking down at their feet - her feet looked tiny compared to his. She still had on the boots he found her on the highway. He shocked her by grabbing the back of her head and pulling her into a kiss, his hands covering her cheeks. She threw her hands over his shoulders, every time she did this her feet came off the ground a bit. His hands ran through her hair, down instead of up in a ponytail. They kissed until her lungs burned, and when he pulled back she reached up to make sure he didn't go too far. She nearly wanted to laugh, Georgia summer and he was in a hoodie. 

            "If I hadn't have pushed you away every time, I wouldn't have wanted to stop," He admitted, tugging on her hair a bit. Her heart rate picked up at that, and she worried that he would be able to hear it. 

            "Prove it," She dared, gripping at the shoulders of his hoodie. His pupils were blown out, a small ring of blue left in a sea of black. she was sure if she could have seen her eyes they would have looked the same. 

            His hands found her waist when their lips met again, lifting her up from the ground and towards his chest. She wrapped her legs around him instinctually, it seemed, making sure to hold on tight to his shoulders. She heard the sound of him slamming her back up against the stone wall of the tower before she felt the sting - but it was the furthest thing from her mind. His hands explored her arms and her chest, finally warm, but they still made Beth shiver. Beth thanked any god that would listen that the glass windows were tinted and nearly blacked out to the outside. Her hands left his shoulders and moved towards his chest, slipping under his shirt - something she had been wanting to do for months. 

            He nearly had her shirt over her shoulders when the loudest noise Beth had ever heard echoed throughout the fields - causing Daryl to nearly drop her. They separated, Daryl quickly dropping her on her feet. She could see out the window behind him, out into the fields contained within the fence. A truck had broken down the fences - the metal bent and warped around the front of the truck. The edges of the hood leaked steam. 

            The back door opened, seemingly on its own, and walkers began pouring out into the yard. 

            

          

           

 

 

 

 

 

      

Chapter Text

 He nearly had her shirt over her shoulders when the loudest noise Beth had ever heard echoed throughout the fields - causing Daryl to nearly drop her. They separated, Daryl quickly dropping her on her feet. She could see out the window behind him, out into the fields contained within the fence. A truck had broken down the fences - the metal bent and warped around the front of the truck. The edges of the hood leaked steam. 

            The back door opened, seemingly on its own, and walkers began pouring out into the yard. 

 

 

       Beth stumbled down the ladder, nearly jumping out of her skin when Daryl's hands caught her waist to steady her. She was being spun around and something cold and harsh shoved into her hand before she could adjust to being on the ground again. It was Daryl's hunting knife. 

       "Do you remember how to use it? Like I showed you?" Daryl whispered and Beth nodded frantically, a few curls had sprung up around her face from the humidity, but she refused to reach up to push them back and away from her face. She twisted the blade in her hand and shoved her smaller pink one back down in its holster - she hoped she could get it out if she needed it without dropping it. She wasn't sure if it was the fact that they were being attacked or the fact that Daryl just had her pinned up against the wall that had her shaking so bad - she was beginning to think it was a mixture of both. When was the last time she had used a knife? The farmhouse? The woods afterward? The woods. The man's breath in her face, the scent of wet leaves and cigarette smoke, the sound of Daryl shouting for them to stop...

       Bad memory, Beth, focus! 

       Beth took a deep breath in, her lungs straining a bit from the effort. She could see through the small window in the door of the guard tower leading out into the yard, a little weathered and cracked down the middle, no one had made it to the walkers yet, but they were close. Carl and Gus were nowhere to be seen, and Beth silently thanked the world for letting them get inside because the walkers were stumbling around in the same area she had just watched the two wrestle in. How many walkers could have fit inside that van, for crying out loud? It looked like there were at least two dozen, a few heading towards the guard tower. She jumped when she felt Daryl grab her wrist. 

       "Ready?" Daryl asked and she met his eyes and shook her head. She didn't like feeling unprepared for something, a test, an argument, anything really - and it had been a long time since she had been out in the open surrounded by walkers. Yes, she had been out beyond the fences with Daryl hunting, but they had never come across walkers. She felt like her skills were a bit rusty, and with her bow, the weapon she was most comfortable using, sitting in her cell, it was the worst time to feel that way. It seemed she needed to make a habit of always carrying the bow with her, like Daryl. 

       She saw a brief spark of concern glaze over his eyes at her admission of not being ready, but he went to grab ahold of the door handle instead of wasting more time, whispering, "Stay behind me until you get used to it, okay?" 

       She nodded, backing up so he could open the door, holding the knife in a ready position. He looked at her one last time, nodded his head, and slung open the heavy metal door. 

       We'll be okay, that last look said to Beth. 

       She watched as an arrow pierced the forehead of the closest walker, cringing as its head collapsed like rotten fruit. She thought back to the farm suddenly, of wondering to herself if there was still a person inside of the walker - crying and scratching to be set free. Beth hoped that was the case, but she didn't know if she still believed it herself. 

       Daryl continued to fire off arrows, while Beth planted her feet and waited for the one walker that had stumbled past him towards her to close in. Its hands reached out for her shoulders, but Beth had a hold of the sleeve of its dress and stabbed the knife through its eye before it could get a good grip. Blood splattered onto her neck and shirt, lukewarm and smelling like rot. She pushed the walker backward before it could fall towards her, watching as it collapsed to the ground. 

       Only five or so walkers had stumbled towards the guard tower instead of the courtyard, which she could see in the distance. She could make out the tops of Maggie, Glenn, Rick, Michonne, and Carol's heads, picking off the walkers one by one. They had cleared out most of the ones that had come from the van, only a lone straggler that was slower than the others to take care of. There was a bigger problem, though - part of the fence had been taken down by the van, and the noise had attracted more walkers. They were stumbling out of the woods and towards the gap faster than she could count. She scanned the treeline, but she didn't see any other cars or people, or that infamous tank. Was this it? Did the Governor just want to put the prison in disarray before he attacked? Why just this? Was it a test to see what kind of car could get through the metal of the fences?

       "We need to close off the fence!" Beth cautioned, gesturing towards the gaping hole in the barbed wire with the bloody blade of Daryl's hunting knife. She tried to ignore the smell of rot and decay around her, it seemed you never got used to it.

       Daryl nodded, but shouted back, "What should we use?" 

       "One of the buses?" Beth offered, but worried because she still didn't know if the buses even started. They looked older than she was. 

       "They'll be able to crawl under it," 

       Damn. 

       "We could draw them away?" Daryl perked up at that, nodding and pushing her towards the main gate where they kept the cars. 

       They both broke out into a run towards the cars, but Beth slowed when she felt as if something was off. She reached her hands up, over her shirt, and nearly let out a very loud laugh when she realized her bra was unclasped. When did he manage that? Sneaky little bastard. She quickly redid the clasps and adjusted her shirt, sprinting to try and catch up. 

       By the time they made it to one of the cars, at least a dozen more walkers had stumbled into the field, spurred on by the others. More were coming from the woods. 

       "I'll drive another car," Beth said, out of breath, but loud enough that it caused Daryl to stop cranking the truck he had jumped into. 

       "One is enough," He cranked the car, the engine grabbing the attention of a few walkers heading towards the courtyard. 

       "But two is better," She countered. 

       He held her stare for a few seconds, looking as if he was really close to telling her to shut up and get in the car with him, but he sighed and nodded. She spun around to head towards the SUV when he grabbed the back of her shirt and spun her back around to face him, a finger pointed towards her chest. 

       "Don't be stupid," He threatened, his face serious and his hand still gripping her shirt, she nodded. 

       "I won't, besides, I'm apparently the adult in this relationship," 

       He rolled his eyes at her jab, but gripped her shirt tighter, "Promise?" 

       "Promise," 

       He still didn't look sold, but smiled when she held up her pinky finger. They hadn't pinkie promised since the pharmacy when she was sick and bargaining with him, but she thought the situation was appropriate. They shook on it, and he pulled her close and placed a kiss on her forehead, his lips warm and rough. 

       "Drive 'till the highway, get them mixed up in the cars and then drive like hell back here, okay?" He explained, pointing towards the road near the back of the prison, she knew it led to the highway. When she nodded and he knew she understood, he pushed her towards the car closest and she flung open the driver's side. Who knew her dad letting her drive through the fields when she was a kid would ever come in handy?

       She watched as he took off into the fields, swerving around the larger groups of walkers and instead hitting the lone ones - when he got to the gap in the fence, he turned and went right. She guessed that meant she went left. She cranked and pressed on the gas, thanking God that she didn't jump into one of the manual cars. She'd be screwed if she had. 

       When she made it to the fence, she swerved left, heading towards the road Daryl had pointed towards and laid on the horn. 

 

 

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         Beth could see the exit to get onto the highway closing in, free of cars, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of a song she had forgotten the name of. She had realized pretty quickly that in order to get the walkers to follow her, she needed to drive at a slower pace than she usually would. It was also really hard to look in the rearview mirror and see a pack of rotting humans that wanted to eat you and willingly slow down the car, but she was doing it, and that was enough for her. 

         She pulled off the exit, pulling as far as she could into the jumbled mess of cars lining the highway, people's belongings strewn across the pavement, the glass in the cars taking on a creepy, musty color. She pushed back the memories of the highway close to the farm, that sense of abandonment she had felt when she realized everyone had left. She hoped to never, ever, feel like that again. 

        She took a deep breath before she stopped completely, shutting off the engine and triple checking that the doors were locked. She had a good two or three dozen walkers following her, of course, she had been laying on the horn pretty heavily, so she had expected it. It was still pretty gut-wrenching to see that many coming towards you, though. Beth waited, trying to ignore the sound of them slamming up against the glass of the car and the growls coming through the windows. She waited until they had filtered into the cars surrounding her, trying to wait for them to thin out behind her so she could back out without hitting a dozen at once and somehow damage the car beyond repair. She turned the key, nothing. 

        The engine sputtered, a pitiful little whine that caused her stomach to drop out of her ass. No, no, no, no, no! 

        "Are you fucking kidding me? Come on!" She shouted, turning the key again and again - getting nothing but a sputter. She heard a crack next to her head, watching as the driver's side window spider-webbed from the weight of the walkers throwing their weight against it. Glass sprayed into her hair, a few pieces knicking her cheek. She screamed when she felt the hands on her shoulder and in her hair, smacking them away with her free hand and turning the key to the car with the other, nearly sobbing when she heard the engine sputter and come to life. 

        She put the car in reverse and slammed on the gas, ignoring the thumps of walkers she was pushing out of the way and the bumps she hit, causing her to jerk in her seat. She guessed she was running over a few of them. She got just clear of the horde of walkers, spun the car around, and drove like a bat out of hell. 

        She slowed down when she couldn't see the highway anymore, her hands shaking on the wheel, her knuckles white. She tried to blink the tears out of her eyes, angry, she was alive, so why was she crying? She felt the sting of the tears flooding the tiny cuts on her face and she reached up to wipe them away, her hand coming back wet with blood. She could barely see out the windshield, it was so covered in dirty and bloody handprints. She wanted to turn the wipers on, but she could just imagine watching the muck smear across the window instead of coming off. She gripped the steering wheel a bit tighter, taking a deep breath to try and calm her breathing. She ignored the glass shards in her lap. 

        Goddamit, why was she still crying?

        She leaned her head back, trying to keep the tears from reaching the knicks from the window. She could feel - and smell - the blood dripping down her face. She hated the smell of blood. 

        "I'm okay," She whispered, hitting the steering wheel a few times with her palms - not too hard, she didn't want to swerve off the road. 

        Beth had been afraid, afraid that she wasn't going to make it out alive, and she didn't like that.

        Would Daryl or Rick have cried in that situation? No, you baby. You're fine. 

        Beth tried to repeat that to herself, that she was fine, but she knew that she wasn't. That was a close call, too close of a call - and it would be expected that Beth would be crying. You're just a kid, no matter what you or Daryl think, it's okay to cry still - you almost died.  A voice said, and if Beth was being honest, it sounded like her mother. She let the tears fall. 

        She also realized that the only thing that had been going through her head when the window shattered and the car wouldn't start was that she was breaking her promise, that she wouldn't be coming back to Daryl and her family. That was a scary thought. 

        She wiped the tears again, looking down for a second to flick some of the glass off of her lap. 

        When she looked back up, coming from seemingly out of nowhere, a woman and a man stood in the middle of the road, waving and definitely not dead. 

        Beth slammed on the breaks and screamed. 

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

        Daryl tapped his boot on the pavement of the courtyard, ignoring Gus, who was pawing at his hand for attention. He hadn't taken his eyes off the road he had sent Beth down and he wasn't planning on doing so until he saw the front of a silver SUV. It had been nearly twenty minutes since he had made it back, so she should be back too. He was giving her ten more minutes and he was going after her - along with her sister, it seemed, since she was glaring at the back of his head like a motherfucker. 

       "I still can't believe you let her go by herself," Maggie snapped, slamming herself onto the bench of the picnic table so hard it shook the entire thing. She had so much blood on her shirt that she smelled like she was rotting. 

       "She wanted to help, she would have thrown a fit if I hadn't let her go," Daryl growled, and it was true, Beth would have thrown an entire fit right there if he had said no - and he nearly had. He knew she could handle herself, she had his knife and hers, as well as the gun they kept in the cup holder of each car. She'd be fine. She was fine. He was also uncomfortable with the idea of telling her what she could and couldn't do, even thinking about telling her what she was allowed to do made him want to throw up. It reminded him too much of his mother and father. 

       "She doesn't even know how to use a weapon!" Maggie shouted, she used her hands a lot when she talked, Daryl noticed. 

       "Yes, she does. I taught her how," Daryl sighed, blinking the sun out of his eyes. It seemed Maggie had chosen to ignore Beth's shooting practices. 

       "Oh, that makes me feel loads better," She snapped. 

       "Blondie'll be back in a hot minute, she probably got busy taking care of a heartbroken raccoon or something," Merle joked, leaned up against the wall to the left of Daryl, flicking the ash of his cigarette to the ground. Daryl didn't even want to know where he found it. 

       "And if she's dead?" Maggie asked. 

       Daryl had heard enough, and saw red. He shot up so fast it caused Gus to stumble a bit to get out of the way, spinning around to bend down and look Maggie in the eyes - he hadn't noticed he had slammed his hands on the table. It caused everyone in the courtyard to fall silent. 

       "Beth's fine!" 

       They held eye contact for a few seconds, both fuming. Maggie had leaned back a bit in shock, but still looked pissed, clenching her fists on her lap. He wasn't the only one in this goddamn prison with anger issues. 

       "Both of you need to calm down," A voice stated, followed by the clatter of crutches being shifted around and leaned on. Daryl felt Herschel's hand fall on his shoulder, his grip gentle but strong, "Beth is just fine," He concluded, nodding his head. Daryl nearly sneered at Maggie, because Herschel had taken HIS side, but Rick interrupted him. 

       "We need to fight back," The man announced, pacing on the pavement in front of the group. A sheet covered Axel's body a few feet away, shot by a sniper in the woods that had set the van off. Daryl wasn't too heartbroken, that asshole had been the one to aim his gun at Melody's head. He had also tried to come onto Beth multiple times, but that had been dealt with in private. 

       "We need to fix the fence first, that wire isn't going to hold forever," Glenn argued, sweat glistening on his brow. His hands were bleeding from twisting the barbed wire through the fence, a makeshift one until they could fix the hole. 

       "Y'all should have left yesterday, like frick and frack did." Merle grumbled, tossing his cigarette butt on the ground and stomping it out - Daryl tried not to notice Carol glaring at his actions. 

        Tyreese and Sasha had left sometime during the night, apparently, they had discussed with Rick a few days prior that they were moving on - Daryl knew the truth, he had heard them discussing in one of their cells that Rick had gone mad, that it was safer outside. Daryl didn't know whether or not to agree with them. 

        "We're not leaving the prison, this is the safest place for us," Rick countered, pointing a finger at Merle's chest. His brother laughed. 

        "And when he comes in with the tank and automatics? Y'all ain't got a chance in hell, he'll have this place by tomorrow," 

        Rick stomped over to Merle, getting in his face, "Is that what you're here to do? Scout us out and let him know where the weak spots are?"

       Merle laughed again, while a few shouts of protests broke out at Rick's accusation, Daryl's included. The two men stared at one another, glaring. 

      "How about we discuss this like adults for a change?" Herschel offered, his eyes closed as if he had a headache - Daryl felt the same. 

      Daryl nearly let out a laugh when everyone stayed silent, as if they were confused at the idea of talking like adults. 

      "We should fight," Rick emphasized, finally looking away from Merle and towards the group, "This is our home and we'll fight for it," 

      "Funny, I was saying the same thing to deaf ears a few days ago," Daryl snapped, getting up to pace. Where the fuck was Beth? 

      "And I'm sorry, I should have realized how real the threat was," Rick offered, Daryl couldn't tell if he was serious or not. He didn't really care, either. 

      "Y'all are going to die trying," Merle grumbled, kicking at a pebble that skittered across the pavement. 

      "Can you shut up?" Daryl whispered harshly, but Rick was already making his way towards Merle. 

       "How 'bout you leave then? Might as well not be here when we all die, you seem to be the type to always crawl back to the winning side begging for scraps," 

       "Hey!"  Daryl and Merle both shouted, both offended, and Daryl saw Glenn move to get in the middle of it all when Merle reached out for Rick's shirt. 

        "Guys! Beth's back!" Carl shouted, pointing towards the gate and breaking out into a run. Daryl wasn't far behind him. 

        Beth Greene, you're about to get the yelling of your life when they open those gates.

        But Daryl could tell the closer he got that it wasn't Beth, this woman was too tall, her hair darker - and Beth had left in a yellow shirt, not a black one. 

        Andrea. 

       

        

         

Chapter Text

    "Guys! Beth's back!" Carl shouted, pointing towards the gate and breaking out into a run. Daryl wasn't far behind him. 

        Beth Greene, you're about to get the yelling of your life when they open those gates.

        But Daryl could tell the closer he got that it wasn't Beth, this woman was too tall, her hair darker - and Beth had left in a yellow shirt, not a black one. 

        Andrea. 

 

      

 

     Maggie hated the prison. It was cold and harsh, with the ghosts of criminals and thugs following you around every corner - at least that's what it felt like, as if you were being watched. Yes, it offered their group much-needed safety and refuge when they had desperately needed it - it had been their home for nearly a year now, after all. It had offered them supplies and a fence to watch their backs, but that didn't mean Maggie had to feel comfortable here. 

     She missed the farmhouse; the rolling pastures and the view of the sunrise from her bedroom window. She missed the sounds of chickens clucking and horses neighing in their stalls - she just missed her home. She hadn't gotten a chance to mourn the loss of her childhood home and now with more time to think, she realized that it had hurt to watch it burn, a lot. 

     But her family had made it out, Beth had made it out - and that was all that mattered, wasn't it? What was that corny phrase Annette used to ramble on about, home is where the heart is? Home is with you? Some soppy shit like that. Maggie had usually put her headphones before Beth's mother could start a conversation about family values. 

     She hadn't hated Annette, but she had come close. When she looked back now, after watching the world fall apart - she really was mean to that woman, and she wished that she could have apologized before the fever had taken her. 

     Used to, Beth looked so much like her mother, with her facial expressions and her overall personality that Maggie's anger towards Annette tended to come out during their conversations, even if she was long dead.  Maggie had never been able to truly explain why that was, especially not to Beth. Now, Maggie looked at Beth and saw someone else, someone different. 

     Maggie still liked to think that when she looked at Beth she was still the little girl that liked to play dress-up with Annette's clothes and makeup, a little girl who was curious and trusting of the world around her, knowing that her family would keep her safe from all of the monsters. But they hadn't held up their end of the deal, had they? Daryl Dixon had stepped up. 

     He got more of Beth than he bargained for, apparently. 

     Maggie did not know what had happened during their two years together, she honestly didn't really want to know, because Beth was her little sister and she didn't want that image to be tainted, but it was just so interesting to watch them interact. Beth moved, Daryl followed. Daryl smiled, Beth smiled. It was like they knew what the other person was thinking, they even made the same facial expressions, for crying out loud! 

     Dixon had kept her safe, safe until Beth had the ability to protect herself - and Maggie didn't know how to repay him for bringing her little sister back. Maggie had honestly thought Beth was dead, torn apart by walkers and rambling through the woods as a rotting corpse. But Maggie knew now that she had underestimated her sister, she still had to work on seeing the new Beth, not the one that needed shielding from the world and all of the kitchen knives out of sight. She knew that she had been an ass in the beginning, when Daryl and Beth integrated into the prison. But that was because Maggie could see it, she could see that they loved each other, would fight tooth and nail to keep the other breathing - and Maggie felt jealous. She felt jealous because Daryl Dixon had been there for her little sister when she hadn't. Maggie also had a hard time thinking about the consequences of her words, but that was a different issue for a different day. Beth had told her that the man was her best friend, that she loved him more than anyone, and Maggie believed it.

     It didn't mean she had to like the guy, though. Actually, Daryl Dixon annoyed the piss out of Maggie. They just weren't compatible as human beings, both too stubborn to relinquish control. They worked well together occasionally, but they always seemed to end up yelling at each other. It seemed they both had unresolved anger issues. 

     Maggie was making her way into the other cellblock, trying not to look into Tyreese and Sasha's empty cells. She wondered how the two got out last night, where they were planning on going. They were good people and Maggie hoped that they found somewhere safe together. Because if she hadn't have been here through it all, Rick's breakdown, Judith's birth, her sister coming back alive - she would have left too. 

     Glenn was the only one outside of the cells, tossing the hunting knife he kept strapped to his thigh back and forth in his hands. They were bandaged, ravaged from his hurried attempts to seal the massive hole in their fences with barbed wire. She made a mental note to ask her dad to give Glenn a round of antibiotics from the infirmary later. 

     He hadn't noticed her presence yet, neither had the man slouched up against the bars of the only locked cell in the entire prison, handcuffed to the metal bars. 

     Daryl Dixon looked tired, and Maggie actually felt a sliver of guilt for the man. 

     She finally laid a gentle hand on Glenn's shoulder, careful not to scare him too badly - he was a jumpy person and had a knife. A smile lit up his face, making Maggie's heart flutter a bit, and he opened his mouth to speak. His swollen lip made speaking a little more difficult, she could tell, and he faltered at seeing her eyes rimmed with red. She guessed her trip to the bathroom to splash cold water on her face before coming here was unsuccessful. 

     "Is he okay?" She asked, tilting her head in the direction of the hunched shadow in the cell. 

     "The real question you should be asking is if I'm okay, he hits really hard," Glenn joked, shooting an obviously faked glare at Daryl's back, covered with angel wings. Glenn's jaw and lip didn't look too bad, but Maggie had seen the tumble go down outside and knew that most of the hard hitters had been taken by Merle Dixon. 

     Daryl's voice echoed from the cell then, harsh and worn, "I didn't hit you that hard, Rhee," 

     Glenn looked shocked for a moment, this was obviously the first time Daryl had said something since he was put in the cell, "I saw Jesus for a second, I think,"

     "I thought you guys worshipped crocodiles or some shit?" 

     "That's in India, not Korea, you jackass," 

      Maggie nearly wanted to laugh at their banter, but she knew why they were doing it - the worry, the anger, was consuming them too. 

      It was silent for a while, only the sound of their breathing and Glenn's occasional sniffing - he had a summer cold, apparently. He wouldn't kiss Maggie because of it, in fear of getting her sick. She thought it was cute. 

      "What did y'all do with Andrea after I left?" Daryl asked. 

      Maggie heard Carl's voice, confused and disappointed, before she even made it to the fences. How the fuck were Carl and Daryl so fast?

      "Andrea? What are you doing here?"  Carl asked, and she watched Daryl make it to him, grabbing him by the shoulders and pushing Carl behind him as if Andrea had a gun held to the boy's head. When she finally made it to the gate, panting and holding her side, he looked furious. She never wanted to be on the other side of that look. Ever. 

      "What do you want?"  He spat, but Maggie could see his eyes flashing back and forth through the treeline, still looking for any sign of Beth. 

      Andrea looked righteous - as if she had the right to be there, it made Maggie want to punch her.

      "I came to make a deal,"  

      Rick had finally made it to the scene, panting like Maggie, "What kind of deal?" 

      Andrea looked around, as if she was looking for someone, she looked relieved and then turned back to Rick, "You give us Michonne, Phillip will leave you be," 

      Ah, Michonne was the only one not standing there. That explained the relief, Maggie thought. 

     Rick shuffled, grabbing onto his belt buckle, Maggie had noticed he did that when he was stressed or thinking, "How do we know you're being honest? That you'll leave us alone?" 

     "There's a church a few miles from here, some of the people from Woodbury we're there but we've rebuilt - he'll be there tomorrow at sunrise, you can discuss honesty with him," She shrugged her shoulders, as if this was a normal thing. Glenn had opened the gate while they had been talking and Andrea scuttled in before it closed again, just missing a small group of walkers that were heading towards her. Maggie noticed Glenn had his hand on his gun. 

      Merle Dixon's voice suddenly came from over Maggie's shoulder and she flinched,

     "You ain't rebuilt shit, blondie. Woodbury was nothing but a graveyard a few weeks ago," 

      Andrea rolled her eyes and ignored the man, but Maggie wondered if what he was saying was true. It had only been a few weeks since Woodbury had fallen, had they rebuilt those walls that quick? 

     "Have you seen Beth?" Carl blurted suddenly, stepping out from behind Daryl. He grabbed him and shoved him over to his dad, eyebrows raised. 

     Andrea seemed amused at the dynamics of their conversation, a small smile on her face. 

     "I haven't seen her, how'd you lose her?"  She asked, looking towards Daryl like he was Beth's keeper. 

     Hershel spoke up then, having taken longer than the others to make it down the hill.

     "We haven't lost her, she's just not back yet," 

     "I'm sure she'll turn up, she's a stubborn girl," 

      Rick and Andrea continued to discuss the rules of this so-called meeting while Maggie watched Daryl stalk over to his brother, they were whispering about something, but she couldn't tell what it was about. 

      All of the sudden Andrea's radio crackled, a deep voice coming from the other side, "Hey, we have the blonde girl - we used the kids we found like you said, Luke's got her, over,"  

      Both Daryl and Maggie's head whipped towards the radio, and as if on cue, two gunshots rang out through the woods. Then, a few seconds later, two more. 

      Daryl took a small step forward, as did Maggie, Merle reaching for his little brother's shoulder, but Daryl had already lunged towards Andrea and all hell broke loose. 

      Maggie shuffled her feet before answering, looking down at her fingernails so she didn't have to meet his eyes, "Sent her back where she came from, to tell him that we agreed." 

      "What did the bitch say before she left?" Daryl asked, there wasn't any humor in his voice, and Maggie thought bitch suited Andrea well. 

      "She said Beth wasn't planned, that they saw her leading the walkers away and couldn't resist. She called her an insurance policy, to make sure we hold up our end of the deal and go in politely tomorrow," 

      The words sunk in, that someone was considering her little sister an insurance policy, and her fists clenched. 

      "Rick isn't going to let me come, is he?" He sighed, leaning his head against the bars. Maggie didn't think it looked too comfortable. His knuckles were bloodied, she could see. Merle had caught him before he had laid a hand on Andrea, Glenn helping drag him back into the prison. 

      She shook her head, "You're too valuable to leave behind," It hurt saying it, but it was true. 

      Daryl laughed, strangled. He sounded like he was about to cry. Maggie shocked herself by stepping forward, grabbing the keys hanging on Glenn's belt loop and letting herself into the cell with him. She cracked the door behind her - because Daryl couldn't escape anyway, and sat down on the dusty floor next to him, leaning her head back the same way he had earlier. It wasn't comfortable. 

     He hadn't looked at her, taking to staring at the blank wall in front of them. He took a deep breath, shaky. 

     "I shouldn't have let her go alone," 

     "You had no idea they were watching, that they were going to take her," Maggie answered, her voice sounded harsh even to her own ears, but she was keeping herself stiff to keep from crying. 

     Daryl went to open his mouth to say something else, but Maggie held her hand up to stop him. She could feel his glare, but she was this close to crying and she didn't want to cry in front of Dixon. 

     She couldn't help herself, though. 

    "Do you love her?" 

    He looked as if he had to process what she had just said, they had changed topics pretty quickly, after all.

    "What?" 

    "Do you love Beth?" She said again, she made eye contact with him, finally. He looked like a caged animal - which ironically, she guessed he was. 

    "I - I don't know," He looked away from her, eyes stuck on the wall again. But she persisted, a tad bit angry now. 

    "What the fuck do you mean you don't know?" It was louder than she originally planned, echoing throughout the entire cellblock. Maggie was shocked that Glenn hadn't said anything yet, but when she looked over her shoulder to see what he was doing, he was gone and the door to the cellblock was closed. When she turned back, Daryl was still looking at the wall, but he didn't look caged anymore, just... confused. 

    "I don't know, okay? I've never had someone that I've felt - felt like that with," He looked down to pick at the skin around his fingernails, his eyebrows scrunched up in thought, "She's - she's everything to me," 

    Maggie gave him a small smile, "She is me too,"

    "I never said it to her, I should have said it to her," He whispered, and Maggie finally felt the tears track down her cheeks, hot and awful. 

    "You'll get to," 

    "We don't know that," He sighed. 

    "No, we don't." 

     Maggie was beginning to realize that she and Daryl Dixon had a lot more in common than she originally thought - one thing, in particular, they were both honest. 

 

      

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      The screech of Beth's tires seemed to reverberate throughout the car at such a volume that she had to grit her teeth to keep from scrunching her face up in pain. She could not imagine what the noise had sounded like to the two people currently staring at her through the windshield, only a few feet away from being warm speed bumps. Beth really wanted to see her mother again, not just because she missed her more than anything or because she was just her mom - she wanted to see her so she could thank her for always nagging her children to wear their seatbelts at all times, because Beth would have been a bloody hood decoration on the front of her car just now if it weren't for her. 

      It also would have helped if there weren't two complete and total idiots standing in the middle of the road trying to flag someone down.

      Her hands ached from slamming them onto the steering wheel so hard whilst in the middle of her breakdown and she suspected the harsh, stabbing pain in her head was from the stress of seeing the window crack and shatter right next to her face - at least she hoped it was, her head did hit the headrest pretty hard just then. She hoped her whiplash wouldn't be too bad. 

      She didn't move to unbuckle her seatbelt and the two strangers didn't move either, to say something or to kill her, she wasn't sure. She almost looked over to check and make sure the doors were locked, but then remembered that there was literally not a window on the driver's side and that it was useless if the door was locked or not. 

      She did, however, eye the twenty-two pistol nestled in the cupholder. Also, both of her rearview mirrors were hanging by a few wires, pitifully hitting the side of the car in the breeze. She sincerely hoped this wasn't an ambush situation. 

     Then she realized the two people standing in the middle of the road were kids. 

     Their clothes were worn, covered in mud and grime from constant wear. They looked emancipated and sick.

     The boy moved towards the driver's side of the car. His hands were up in surrender and she couldn't see the telltale sign of a gun anywhere on him - unless he had it tucked into the back of his pants. The closer he got, the younger she realized he was - his face still had some baby fat and his gait was unsure and unsteady. He was just a kid, just like Carl or Melody. 

     He got about five feet away from her door, then stopped, "We don't have any weapons, I promise!" He held eye contact for a moment and when Beth hadn't made a move to get out of the car he pointed to the girl, who looked eerily similar to the boy standing in front of her, "My sister is hurt real bad, ma'am, please." 

      Now that he mentioned it, the girl did look pretty pale. She was holding her side, her flannel shirt dark red with dried blood. It looked like it was a couple of days old. The bloodstain looked so much like the one on Melody's pajamas that Beth had to swallow down a wave of nausea that crept up her throat. It was almost like she could smell the tear gas and hear the screams of terror they had experienced when Woodbury had fallen, but she shook her head to make it go away - it did, eventually. 

      Beth moved to unbuckle her seatbelt, slowly, but she still wasn't going to get out of the car - not yet, at least, "Was she bit?" 

      "No, she's not! This man - he tried to take our bags. She got stabbed." He looked hopeful, but not too hopeful, like he had been through this before and turned down - but Beth still didn't want to get out of the car. She had learned her lesson a few times now, to not trust anyone, no matter what they said. 

      "I can give you the first aid kit I have, but I can't help you more than that; I'm sorry," She hoped she sounded sincere and not terrified, because she was terrified. Something didn't feel right and Beth didn't like it. They were too calm, they didn't constantly look to their sides and behind them to check for walkers, and their faces were void from emotion - like they were performing a task. 

      The girl spoke up now, "We'll take anything," 

      Beth nodded, reaching down to open the glove compartment, she tried not to take her eyes off the two, but it was hard when she was trying to find a tiny box mixed in with all of the old car paperwork and rotting fast food condiments. She threw a half-filled water bottle she found crushed in the back of the compartment onto her lap. 

      "Come up to the window, I'm not getting out of the car," Beth gestured for the boy to come closer and she held out the tiny first aid kit and water as far out as she could manage without fully hanging out the window for him to take. 

       The kid's hands were shaking as he took them from her hand, they were covered in dried blood and what looked like mud. 

       We're they alone? They looked worse for wear, and Beth could barely stand to look into the boy's eyes without seeing Carl looking back at her, just a kid forced to survive in a world no one understood. Should Beth tell them about the prison, give them somewhere safe? She wanted to cry because she couldn't do it, she knew she couldn't, she couldn't offer them any safety or refuge, because who says the prison would still be standing when she got back? Who said that the Governor wasn't going to come in and kill them all in their sleep tomorrow? She couldn't see any more people die around her, especially two kids that didn't look a day over thirteen. She couldn't see them die because she had brought them into a mess they hadn't been a part of in the first place.

       An even worse thought danced across her mind just then, without her permission. Who said these kids weren't dangerous? 

       And Beth hated the world just then because if she couldn't trust a kid, who could she trust? 

       "Let me give you something else," Beth whispered, because if she couldn't offer them refuge she would find something else to give them, leaning back to grasp a box of old granola bars that were kept in the backseat, she took a few out and went to give them to him - but he was a lot closer to her than before. He was nearly in the car. 

       Beth made a shocked noise and he was whispering harshly in her ear then, "They said they'd kill my sister if we didn't wave you down, I'm so sorry," He whispered, his voice was shaky with unshed tears. He didn't look like he was performing a task anymore, monotone and polite, he looked horrified

       Beth felt the granola bars drop into her lap, her breath hitched, catching on the lump in her throat leftover from her breakdown earlier. She knew who they were. Merle's voice suddenly rang through her head, rough and scratchy from years of cigarettes and God only knows what else,  he’s got an agenda against you, huh?

       "Where are they?" She whispered, slowly moving to grab the granola bars and shove them out the window into his hand. She was going to punch it when they moved out of the way. 

       "On both sides of us, they have guns," He answered, his eyes not leaving hers, they were the same color as Daryl's. 

       Would she get to see Daryl again? Is this how she died? Pulled over by two threatened kids and taken into the woods and shot for revenge? 

       No, she wasn't going to die. Not yet, at least. 

       Beth pushed his shoulder, causing him to stumble away from the car, "Both of you need to go." 

       She wasn't going to take two kids down with her. 

       The boy said he was sorry again and Beth nodded, and she watched as he ran off into the woods with his sister, taking care to not drop the supplies he had been gifted - looking back at her apologetically as he went. 

Then, Beth realized there was a car parked a few hundred yards in front of hers. Waiting.

       She didn't move to get out of the car, and it seemed like an hour had passed before she saw a man appear from the treeline. He looked somewhat familiar, blonde and stocky, but she saw so many people in Woodbury that she would never be sure where exactly she had seen him. He stopped when he got a few feet away from the car, but he was close enough that Beth could tell he had freckles covering his face. 

       He smiled at her, but she didn't like it, "You're name is Beth, right? I think we met a few times at the wall, with Daryl?" 

       When she didn't answer after a few seconds, he took another step closer. Beth's hand slowly crept towards the gun in the cupholder. 

       "My name is Luke, I don't want to hurt you," 

       That's bullshit and you know it, Luke. 

       He took another step closer and her body jerked without her consent, her hands flying up to the steering wheel and her foot about to press on the gas pedal.

       She could hear her own voice, quiet and shaky, "Don't come any closer or I'll run you over," 

       Luke let out a small laugh, his smile crinkling his eyes up a bit. His smile made Beth angry. 

       "How about we make this easy and you just get out of the car? We don't want to hurt you, just want to talk," 

        Beth shook her head. 

       Luke opened his mouth to say something else, probably a false promise he was going to break anyway, when a scream echoed down the road, from the direction she watched the two kids disappear to. She just knew that it was the boy she had sent off into the woods. 

       Two gunshots went off, and the road was silent. 

       Beth felt the burn of tears in her eyes, the guilt blooming in her chest of knowing that two kids had just died because of her - because some stupid old man wanted something he couldn't have and was so desperate for revenge that he didn't care about human life anymore. Beth was tired of people dying around her, of being the reason someone died. She was just tired. 

       Luke looked off into the woods, alarmed as she was, it seemed, but Beth scrambled for the gun in the cupholder and aimed it through the windshield right at Luke's forehead. When she heard the click of the safety she jerked her finger back, flinching at the awful sound the windshield made when it shattered into pieces, but she heard another gunshot besides hers, somewhere to the left of her. 

       There was a fiery pain in her shoulder, a pain she never imagined someone could feel, burning and aching and awful. 

       She watched Luke slump to the pavement, a blossom of blood spreading out across his shirt. A similar one bloomed across Beth's as well, hot and slippery underneath her fingers. 

       Her vision tunneled at the sight of her own blood, so much blood. 

       She had never gotten to tell Daryl that she loved him, had she?