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Every Other Weekend

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                Beth glanced up into the rearview mirror, her eyes met with the bright blue hues of her six year old daughter, Emma. The little girl smiled at her mother, one of her top front teeth missing. Beth’s gaze fell on her ten year old son, Wyatt, sitting next to his sister playing his Nintendo DS. He was the spitting image of his father, deep blue eyes and dark hair—the boy rarely smiled anymore.

                “Y’all ready to go see Dad?” Beth forced a smile as she did every other weekend when the exchange took place. This had been going on for almost six months now, and it never got any easier.

                “Yep,” piped up Emma, “I didn’t forget Bean Bunny this time either!” The bunny in question was mashed to the girl’s chest, looking a little worse for the wear. Beth nodded, smiling to herself. Emma had forgotten the bunny the last weekend, making Daryl drive the hour down to get it from Beth. His little girl threw a fit like the world was going to end until Daddy promised he would go see Mommy to get Bean.

                Wyatt snorted, sliding a glance at his sister. “Well if you wouldn’t be in such a hurry to get to the ranch, you wouldna forgotten him.”

                “Jackson Wyatt Dixon! You don’t need to be rude to your sister! Apologize to Emma right now!” Beth scolded her oldest, using his full name. She saw Wyatt’s face turn red, as a muttered apology was forced out of his mouth.

                “Well I guess we’re ready to go then. Let’s get going. Your Dad’s bad about waiting.” Beth pulled out of the driveway, heading towards the interstate to cross into Wyoming. Beth had taken a teaching job down in Fort Collins, CO since the divorce was put into motion. She didn’t fight Daryl for the ranch near Jelm, WY, as the outfitter business he owned was his livelihood. The skies looked dreary the farther north she drove, by the time she reached the parking lot of the Corral West in Cheyenne they always met in, it had begun to snow pretty hard. Cheyenne wasn’t half way, but Daryl made it easier on Beth so she wouldn’t have to take the state roads in the winter. Daryl drove the longer part from Jelm to Cheyenne. Beth had it easy, it was all interstate from Fort Collins up to Cheyenne.


 

                “There’s Daddy’s pickup!” Emma squealed from the back seat, excited to see Daryl’s truck. She was a Daddy’s girl from the day she was born, had Daryl wrapped around her finger. Wyatt looked up from his game, grinning at the sight of his father stepping out of the four wheel drive.

                Beth parked beside the Ford Super Duty, shivering as the cold air hit her face as she stepped out of the car.  Neither of her children waited long before jumping out of the car, Daryl’s eyes met with Beth’s, the sadness on both sides painfully apparent. She hated giving the kids up every other weekend, rarely did Daryl ever have to reschedule, unless a big contract came through last minute for him to take out hunting.

                Emma attacked her father, wrapping her small arms around his waist, hugging him tight. Daryl ran his hand over the top of her head, as he pulled Wyatt into his side. “How’re you guys doing? Being good for your Mama?” Beth’s heart ached at hearing Daryl call her Mama, it made things between them so much harder.

                “Yeah Daddy we’ve been good!” Emma always aimed to please her father, Wyatt on the other hand was quite a bit different. Emma was a carbon copy of Beth, Wyatt was every bit Daryl.

                Daryl grinned as he opened up the truck, watching his kids climb in and buckle into their respective booster seats. Wyatt was almost tall enough by Wyoming law that he wouldn’t be needing the booster seat next year.  Emma still had a ways to go, in height and weight before she wouldn’t need a booster seat anymore.

                Daryl walked around to the trunk of Beth’s Jetta, taking Emma’s bag out of her hands. His hands brushed hers, it felt like lightning struck him as he pulled away on instinct. His voice softened as Beth looked up at him, eyes watery.

                “I got it. You doing ok? Be careful going back, weather’s turning shit.” Daryl reached into the trunk, grabbing Wyatt’s bag. He knew this same routine every other weekend always hit Beth hard.

                “Yeah I’ll be okay. Wyatt has homework he needs to do before chores. He has a book to read over the weekend and write a report on. Emma’s other front tooth is really loose, and as much as she’s been wiggling it, it will probably come out this weekend.” Beth blinked away the tears, she had to remind herself that the end of their marriage was mostly mutual.

                “Alright. I’ll make sure they get things done. Buster’s been looking forward to Emma riding him. I picked up a new bow for Wyatt, he’s needing a new recurve. I’ll call you if I’m going to be late, or if I decide to just bring them down. Heard it’s supposed to be a pretty bad one this weekend.” Daryl closed the trunk before opening the truck door to toss in Wyatt’s bag.

                “Well just let me know so I know what to expect.” Beth did her best not to start crying in earnest when the kids looked at her from inside Daryl’s truck. They were always so excited to go up to Dad’s ranch, more excited than going to Grandpa’s farm in Georgia every summer.

                “Y’all give Mama hugs and kisses, we gotta get going.” Daryl commanded his offspring as Beth climbed onto the rocker bar to reach into the backseat. Wyatt was the first to hug her, kissing his mother’s cheek lightly. Beth knew her little boy was growing up, and kissing his mom goodbye wasn’t something cowboys did anymore.

                Emma wrapped her arms around Beth’s neck, pulling her down into a hard hug with a kiss. Beth could feel the tears on her neck, Emma hated leaving her mother. As much as she was a Daddy’s girl, Emma was Mama’s baby too.

                “Y’all be good for Dad. I’ll see you Sunday night ok?” Beth wiped the tears from Emma’s eyes, offering her baby a bright smile.

                Both kids replied with the usual ‘yes mama’ as Daryl fired up the diesel. Beth stepped down off the rocker bar, closing the back door tightly. Daryl rolled down his window, nodding to Beth as she looked over at him.

                “They’ll be ok. You be careful. Text me so I know you made it ok.” Daryl’s eyes met Beth’s, she could see the concern. He still cared, that was apparent.

                “I will. Be careful over the pass.” Daryl tipped his chin, acknowledging his ex-wife’s concern. Beth turned to walk away, hurrying for the warmth of the running car. She sat in the driver’s seat, watching the gunmetal silver Ford pull out onto Dell Range Blvd before turning west towards I-80. Beth smiled to herself; knowing the kids would hound Daryl into stopping at Sonic in Laramie for an early dinner, and he wouldn’t say no, just to avoid cooking for the night. Once the truck was out of sight, Beth buckled her seatbelt and headed west on Dell Range, turning south onto I-25 to head back to Colorado and the quiet of her little suburban home.


 

                Her thoughts circled back into memories, when Daryl had brought her out here almost eleven years ago to visit some friends who lived near Jelm, WY. That trip had been a good time, they’d drove, loved and laughed the 3,000 mile round trip. By the time they had reached the outskirts of Sheep Mountain, Daryl had asked Beth to marry him. They had been together almost three years at that point, and eighteen year old Beth saw nothing wrong with marrying twenty year old Daryl Dixon. It broke her parents’ hearts to marry their youngest off so soon, but when she started showing with Wyatt, her Daddy thought it best that they marry. Daryl whisked Beth off to Wyoming, so he could start up a business with his buddy as outfitters.

                Four years of struggling to raise a family, and go to college full time found Beth with a bachelor’s degree in education, and Emma on the way. By that time Daryl had taken the business over fully, as their friends moved back east and sold them the entire spread in Jelm. Twenty two year old Beth was working full time teaching at the tiny elementary school in Jelm, while Daryl ranched and ran the business. They made things work through the struggling years, and if anyone asked Beth she would say those were some of the best times of her marriage.

At twenty seven, and Daryl thirty, things started falling apart. There were accusations of infidelity, arguments over finances and spans of time spent away from home and the family. Daryl shut up and shut down, doing what he had to- to keep the kids from knowing that Mama and Daddy were unraveling at the seams. He slept in a separate bedroom in the ranch house, Beth still played the dutiful wife, but when the kids were asleep, the gloves came off. One warm September day found them in the courthouse in Laramie for the final divorce hearing- Daryl would keep the ranch, Beth would keep her Jetta, and Daryl would pay her child support and alimony. Not that Beth wanted his money, but the courts dictated it. Joint shared custody with every other weekend and every other holiday.  Summers the kids would choose who they wanted to spend it with, usually Daryl would send the kids down to Beth’s folks in Georgia. He would fly with them down to Atlanta and drive them down before flying back himself.

Beth could never let Daryl know she still loved him, little ears heard too much, and they had been through too much to bring all that stress back again. For fifteen minutes, every other weekend they were a family again…

Chapter Text

             “Daddy?” Daryl heard Emma’s sleepy voice call him from the backseat, quiet enough to not wake her brother. This was the usual occurrence on the trip back to the ranch, the kids usually conked out before Buford, and needed to stop in Laramie for food or bathroom.

            “Yeah princess?” Daryl glanced into the backseat, seeing Emma rubbing her eyes. Buford was about two miles away, the trip taking a bit longer than normal with the weather getting worse.

            “I gotta go potty Daddy. Can we stop at the big head and go?” Daryl chuckled to himself at his daughter’s reference to the Lincoln head at the Summit rest stop. He knew she probably couldn’t make it the next twenty miles into Laramie, and not the fifty into the house.

“Alright, we’ll stop at the summit. You want to get some Sonic in Laramie to eat on the way to the house?” Daryl knew the kids would ask for Sonic anyway, it had become their thing on his weekends. If Daryl had his choice he would have much rather had a steak from the Calvaryman or Altitude. Getting his kids to sit down and eat a meal wasn’t a problem, the problem was the weather at the moment. Who knew how bad the weather was the closer he got to Lake Hattie?  The weather in Wyoming was pretty unpredictable, winter was the worst. Daryl kept his focus on the road in front of him, the two in the backseat his top priority.  He breathed a sigh of relief when the head of Lincoln peeked through the blowing snow as Emma yawned.

“Wyatt, hey buddy, do you need to go?” Daryl called softly to his son, who stretched and groaned as the truck came to a stop outside the rest stop.

“Nope. I’m good. Are we stopping for Sonic?” Wyatt was all about food, the kid never failed to eat well at the table.  It was nothing for Daryl’s son to pack away a steak, salad and potato at a meal.

“Yeah buddy, we’ll get some Sonic to go. I’m gonna run in with Emma, be back in a minute ok?” Daryl popped his door, coming around to unbuckle Emma out of her seat. Daryl swiped the hair out of the little girl’s face before he scooped her up in his arms. Emma was too sleepy to walk into the rest area, it would be quicker to carry her into the family restroom than wait on her outside the ladies room.

“Okay Dad. I’ll just wait here in the truck.” Wyatt turned his face towards the window, his eyelids heavy.


 

By the time Daryl came back to the truck with Emma, Wyatt was asleep once more. Emma cuddled back into her car seat with Bean, her own eyes looking sleepy. The kids must have had a rough day at school to be this sleepy, Daryl figured they would be up all night.

Both kids were asleep when Daryl pulled through the drive through of the Sonic in Laramie.  Daryl knew his kids well enough to be able to order for them- Emma always wanted chicken nuggets and cheese curds, Wyatt a double bacon cheeseburger and chili cheese fries.  The young girl leaning out the window tried flirting with Daryl, until she saw the kids asleep in the backseat, the advances screeched to a halt. Not that Daryl cared, he wasn’t interested in women after what happened in the spring. There was only one woman he was interested in. He knew telling her that he still loved her and needed her after what happened would be the most painful thing he would ever do.

Daryl pulled out front of Altitude, calling his order in from the parking lot. This wasn’t the first time he’d called in an order like this. The staff knew him and his truck, as he was in there at least once a week eating dinner. It didn’t surprise Daryl when the kids woke up to the smell of food in the truck, Daryl dutifully handing back the bags and drinks, listening to the kids eat as he waited for his dinner. He was never a fan of fast food, if he had no other choice it was okay, but he’d sooner avoid it.

“Here you go Mr. Dixon, your usual of salmon, steak, pasta and potatoes. We went ahead and charged your card on file. Have a good night and drive safe. It looks pretty ugly from what the news says.” Daryl took the bag from the waiter, signing the credit card slip. He left a sizeable tip for the waiter, knowing that it would be put to good use. Tate was a veterinary student at UW, and came from a poor family up near Gillette. The young man had waited on Daryl and Beth many times at Altitude, enough for Daryl to know his story, especially since Beth seemed to care about everyone’s story.

“Thanks, Tate. Have a good one.” Daryl handed the credit card slip back through the open window with a nod. The scent of his dinner made his mouth water, as Daryl turned onto West Jackson, heading towards the house. The trip usually took half an hour in good weather, the snow seemed like it blew in every direction, making visibility shit. Daryl heard his phone ping in the chest pocket of his jacket, ignoring it to concentrate on driving.

“Hey we’re home! There’s Buster!” Emma peeped from the backseat, excited to see her horse. Daryl made a mental note to himself once the kids were settled to check the horses and the fuel tank in the Farmall. If the snows got any worse, he would be out plowing the driveway to the road. If the county didn’t beat him to it, he would be out plowing the road as well.

“Yeah honey, he’s been looking forward to you riding him. If the snow quits tomorrow, I promise we’ll go riding.” Daryl knew his baby girl loved all the animals that called the ranch home. Getting to go riding was one of Emma’s favorite things to do, Daryl figured it was due to ever since Beth was pregnant with Emma, he couldn’t hardly get her off the horses. It was nothing for Beth to have Wyatt in the saddle in front of her while they worked the fences. Up to the point where the doctor made Beth go on bed rest, she was by Daryl’s side working if she wasn’t at class. He missed those days, when things were still good between them, when they still loved each other.


 

Wyatt went up to bed early, after reading half of the book he needed done by Monday. Daryl was curled up in the recliner with a blanket and Emma fast asleep on his chest, the little girl was a furnace against his chest and side. Daryl pulled Emma closer to his chest, her arms instinctually wrapping around his neck as Daryl left the recliner and climbed the stairs to tuck his little girl in. Emma whimpered as she left the warmth of her Daddy’s embrace, to be tucked in bed. Daryl bent down, carefully kissing his daughter’s forehead before turning on the Rainbow Dash nightlight and closing the door on the way to his bedroom.

Daryl pulled a worn pair of flannel pajama pants out of the dresser, his head turning at the beeping sound coming from his nightstand. Stalking over to silence the annoying tone, Daryl realized he’d forgotten to check what the tone was that went off while he was driving in from Laramie. Either way, whatever it was could wait until he got out of the shower. There was a routine to his life, one that Daryl had only broke a few times. Had he not broken his routine, things might be a good bit different than they were now. But sometimes the choices we make change our lives forever.

Crawling into the flannel sheets of his bed made Daryl groan, it had been a long day guiding some folks from California on a photography trip for most of the day. They had gotten some great shots of big horn sheep, elk, deer and antelope. Daryl hadn’t been too talkative with the clients, they had pretty much discussed everything via email before arriving in Denver, and via phone on the way up that morning. It was easy money, and what they paid him would cover his child support and alimony to Beth this month. Daryl wasn’t hurting for money, his outfitting business did well for him, and he just wanted to be sure his kids had everything they needed. He didn’t want Wyatt and Emma growing up like he did; not that they would, he just wanted better for them.

Daryl clicked off the bedside lamp, reaching for his cellphone. Swiping the screen and putting in his password popped up a notification from Beth. Clicking the message brought up the conversation, which began with Beth telling him she had made it home okay, with the second message asking him if he had made it home alright. Daryl sighed, quickly replying that he was glad she had made it home alright and he was home safe and sound, even with the weather making the trip a bit longer.

Within minutes the phone vibrated in his hand, a reply from Beth coming through. Daryl smiled at the screen, Beth had signed off with her usual goodnight and for him to give the kids love for her. If he was honest with himself, he missed her lying next to him, talking through the day’s activities. It was then that his heart ached a bit, reminding him why she was no longer next to him at night.


 

It all started with what happened at the high school in Cheyenne the last semester Beth was doing her student teaching before graduation. Class had just came back in session from Christmas break, and kids were high strung. Daryl had gotten the call to pick up Wyatt and Emma from school, that there had been an accident at the high school and Beth was being admitted to the hospital. Daryl had called the neighbor, Sarah, who took the kids before Daryl high tailed it to Cheyenne. It broke his heart seeing his wife laying in that hospital bed, she had been taken back to surgery while he was on the road. Beth was black and blue, her face a mottled mess of cuts and bruises. The worst part was that his wife lost the one thing that brought her joy in life due to the attack. She would never be able to have children again. Beth and Daryl had been trying for another, as they wanted four children. Now, that was ripped away from them by teenage boys who thought it was a game to rape a teacher. The four boys now lived in prison, by Wyoming law, at age 18 they were tried as adults. Daryl felt no remorse for the boys, they took his wife from him and his children’s mother.

Beth wasn’t the same after that, Daryl didn’t know how to help her. They began to grow apart, fights were normal, any semblance of intimacy was gone. Beth would have flashbacks if Daryl even tried to touch her, if Beth instigated the love making, she would break down in tears the moment Daryl took a sharp breath from her touch. It had been so long since her touch, he couldn’t control the automatic response on his heated flesh. Beth was put on medication after that, Daryl barely recognized her. Some days she was a zombie, barely functioning, others she cried or blew up at the drop of a hat. Everyone in the house walked on eggshells with Beth daily.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was the night Daryl came home from a roping up near Sheridan. Beth shot up in bed when Daryl crawled in next to her, she wasn’t expecting him home until the morning. He had booked a hotel in Gillette with his roping partner, rather than driving straight home after the go-rounds.  Beth curled her body around Daryl, desire pooling in-between her thighs.  She could feel his heart thrumming under her fingertips, a thin sheen of sweat covered his body. It was when Beth went to nip at his neck, she smelled it--the distinct sweet scent of a fruity/floral perfume. Daryl jerked away from his wife as if she had slapped him in the face, turning his back to her.

Beth exploded, jumping from their bed. Hot, angry, tears sprung to her eyes as she glared at Daryl laying in the bed, running his hands over his face. She took in the red rimmed eyes, the beat look on his face, and the tremble to his body. Something was very wrong with her husband, he’d almost never acted like this in the near twelve years they had been together.

“Daryl Wyatt Dixon! How dare you come into our bed smelling like another woman! After all we’ve been through together, you disrespect me like this? We promised forever, and now you’ve thrown it away for some buckle bunny? Get the fuck out of my house!” Beth rarely ever swore, she was too good a girl for that, her parents had raised her right. The angry words came out a hiss through clenched teeth as she stood naked at the foot of their bed.

Tears welled in Daryl’s eyes, Beth and the kids were his whole world, and he didn’t want to be apart from them. Beth was now throwing him out of the house, his only option was his hunting cabin out in the Medicine Bow.

“Babe, please. I can explain. It ain’t what you think it is.” Daryl heard the crack in his own voice, seeing the fire in Beth’s eyes. He knew this wouldn’t turn out well, not with how she had been acting and feeling as of late.

“Oh it is what I think it is. I’m sorry I can’t fuck your brains out every night, I can’t do it. Can’t you understand why? Those boys raped and beat me Daryl, they took my soul away and I can’t ever be whole for you, for us, for the family. Just pack your shit and get out. This has been a long time coming. We’ll figure out the logistics of it later, right now I just want you out of my sight!” Beth could feel her heart breaking at kicking the man she loved out of her life. She’d spent almost half her life with Daryl Dixon. Even when other guys came around asking her out, she pushed them away for Daryl. When people warned her he was no good, she saw the good in him. Now she felt the fool for not believing those people in their hometown.

Daryl loved Beth enough to set her free, even though it hurt like hell. She was the only woman he ever let love him, and the only woman he ever loved. He’d do anything for her, and if it meant divorcing her, then that was what he would do. It was always about Beth and the kids for him, he could care less about himself.

Chapter Text

            “Hey Dad, look who I caught red handed in Grandma’s cookie jar!”

            Hershel Greene turned around at the sound of his son’s voice, seeing Sean with Emma on his hip and Wyatt trailing behind with a cookie in his hand. Confusion set in the old veterinarian’s heart, he knew it wasn’t a break from school and it wasn’t a holiday. Something must not be right in the Dixon home, for the kids to be in Georgia.

            “Papaw!” Emma hollered, wiggling out of her uncle’s grasp to run into her Grandfather’s open arms. Emma wrapped her chocolate coated sticky hands around Hershel’s neck, (not that he cared one bit) giving a big squeeze. Wyatt wrapped his little arms around the both of them, greeting his Grandfather with a warm hug.

            “Well hello strangers! What brings you to the farm? Everything okay at school and on the ranch?” Hershel spoke softly, as to not clue the children into the worry in his voice. The children didn't need to be worked up any more than they already were from the journey down from Wyoming.

            Wyatt was the one to answer around a mouthful of cookie. “Nah Papaw. Things ain’t good at home. Mom and Pop’re fighting. School’s okay though.” Wyatt was always the one to tell it like it was, even at nine years old. Emma sniffled, burying her nose farther into Hershel’s neck and shoulder. Grandpa rubbed his large hand over her back, trying to soothe the youngest of the family. Emma was so much her mother's daughter, tender hearted but strong.

            “Hmm. Is that so? Well, let’s go find your Aunt Maggie and see if she can get you all fed while I look for your Mama. That sound okay?” Hershel needed to locate his youngest and see what was going on, he knew things had been tedious since Beth’s accident, but he was hopeful it was getting better. Maggie and Sean would keep the kids occupied on the farm while Hershel sought out Beth.

            Wyatt nodded; following along beside the Greene patriarch, Emma bobbing along on his shoulder with her thumb in her mouth, nearly asleep. The trio found Maggie in the chicken coop, collecting that days eggs. Maggie’s smile of joy at seeing the youngest of the Greene/Dixon clan turned to a concerned frown at the sight of Emma’s flushed face.

            “Daddy, what’s going on? Why are the kids here? Where’s Beth and Daryl?” Maggie handed the basket of eggs to Wyatt, taking Emma from her father’s gentle grasp. Emma wrapped her arms around Maggie’s neck, gripping into her aunt’s hair tightly.

            Hershel waved his hand, keying Maggie into not discussing it in front of the children. “Can you get them something to eat? I’m sure they are hungry and tired after their trip. I’m going to find your mother and your sister, and try to find out what’s going on at the very least.”

            “Sure Daddy. Come on Wyatt, let’s get those eggs in the kitchen and maybe see about some scrambled eggs and bacon ok?” Maggie gave her father a watery smile as he smoothed down Emma’s hair with the palm of his hand. Wyatt followed along silently behind his aunt, the promise of food keeping him appeased for the moment.

            Hershel found Beth and Annette upstairs in the bed he built for his new bride the beginning of their marriage. Beth’s head was in Annette’s lap, the rest of her slim body curled into itself as Annette stroked her hair. Tears stained Beth’s cheeks and her mother’s apron; from the puffiness of Beth’s face Hershel could tell she had been crying for a long while. Sighing softly, Hershel sat down at Beth’s feet, patting his daughter's leg gently. His heart breaks once more seeing the once vibrant blue eyes that were full of life, now a dull, lifeless grey.Hershel is not entirely sure if it’s the drugs they put Beth on, what’s going on between her and Daryl or a combination of both. If he was a betting man, the latter was his safe bet.

            “Honey, I know things haven’t been the best for you lately. What’s going on with you and Daryl that you came all the way from Wyoming without notice?” Hershel and Annette had taught their children that with a little bit of faith, hope and try that they could work through anything. For Beth to up and run from Wyoming, it had to be something pretty bad, and he feared the worst.

            Beth shuddered as she took a breath; her eyes bored into her father’s as the words came out deadpan from her trembling lips, tears streaking down her cheeks:

            “Daddy, Daryl cheated on me.”

         


 

            Beth woke up Saturday morning, seeing new snow blanketing the ground outside her bedroom window. By her best guess using the tree outside in the back yard, there was easily ten inches down. Grumbling to herself, Beth shrugged into the fuzzy robe her parents gave her last Christmas. Going down the stairs, she smelled the Keurig Daryl had bought her making a cup of vanilla Kona. The sweet smell filled her senses, but didn’t drown out the silence of the house. Beth clicked on the TV, the Denver 9 news going through all the road closures for weather. I25 was closed from Denver to Cheyenne, US 85 from Greeley to Cheyenne and US 287 from Fort Collins to Laramie. Almost every route in and out of Wyoming was closed due to weather. At least the TV killed the quiet, even if it made Beth worried about the weather and Daryl getting the kids home Sunday evening. Daryl would find a way to get the kids home, one way or another. If Daryl was anything, he was resourceful.

            Sitting down at the kitchen counter with a plate of bacon and eggs, Beth started in on grading that week’s homework. She couldn’t bear to teach high school, but third grade was a good pace for her. There were a few bright minds in her class, that she enjoyed challenging a bit more than the others. Children were resilient, eager to learn more and easier to deal with. Beth loved teaching, it was her passion in life other than being a parent. The kids she taught helped to fill the void that would never be completely filled.

            Beth heard her cellphone ringing from downstairs, she took the stairs by twos to get to it. She heard the beep of a voicemail before she swiped at the screen. Seeing the call was Daryl, Beth quickly dialed into voicemail.

            “Hey Beth, it’s me. Can you give me a call back? Thanks.” Daryl’s no-nonsense voice made Beth’s stomach flip flop. Hitting redial got Beth into Daryl’s voicemail, which made her leave a message. She wasn’t worried about the kids being with their dad, it was typical for them to call her when they got around in the morning. Beth sighed as she set the phone back down on the nightstand. She breezed through the cozy bedroom, pulling clothes out of her closet for the day’s errands. These Saturdays without the kids were the best time to grocery shop as well as any other errands that were time consuming. Today’s list was a bit longer, as Beth was planning on making the plans for the trip to Georgia for Christmas. The kids didn’t know they were going down to the farm yet, and neither did Beth’s parents.

            Hot water cascaded down her shoulders and back as she washed her hair, singing along with the Bluetooth sea creature speaker the kids got Beth for her birthday this year. It was a handy contraption, the sky blue octopus was stuck to the tile of the shower wall and was voice activated. Beth had mentioned she wanted one, and the next weekend the kids were with Daryl the box arrived in the mail.

            “Hey Beth.”

 Beth didn’t realize the phone was ringing until she heard Daryl’s voice break through waterfall, her skin instantly heating in a deep blush. Beth’s hands instinctually moved to cover herself, for a moment forgetting the man she had children with wasn’t really there to see her naked.

            “Um hey Daryl. How are you and the kids?” Beth took a deep breath before continuing on with her shower, she was sure Daryl had no idea what she was doing anyway. Not that he would care really, there was plenty of times in their marriage she had him on speakerphone while doing something else.

            “We’re good. Took the kids out for a ride this morning, Emma’s tooth came out with breakfast. So she’s gonna get a visit from the tooth fairy tonight. She’s laying down for a nap while Wyatt finishes reading his book and writing that report. What’re you up to?” Daryl’s voice echoed in the shower stall, making Beth’s body react as it used to when his voice would vibrate off her skin when they were making love.

            “Honestly? I’m in the shower, talking to you through that little sea creature Bluetooth you and the kids got me for my birthday. I’m just about done though.” The blush was rising higher on Beth’s skin, thoughts turning through pages of memory that were of the more erotic kind than clean.

            She heard Daryl chuckle, knowing more than likely his brain was in the same place as hers. Daryl wasn’t known for having clean thoughts all the time, one of the reasons she fell for him so long ago was his particular flavor of smart ass.

             “Oh yeah? How’s it working out for you?” The smart ass in his voice was strong at the moment, he never let anything get past him.

            Beth swallowed hard, scrambling to gain control over her hormones and voice. She reached over, inching the temperature knob to cold, forcing her thoughts to the cool water rushing over her skin.

            “It works really well if you can’t tell. Do you think you and the kids will make it back Sunday night? I can meet you in Tie Siding if it’s easier.” Beth grabbed for a towel, moving quietly through the bathroom setting her things out to brush her hair and put on a bit of makeup.

            Not only did she have errands today, but she was meeting a friend for lunch after errands. Stephen was an English teacher at one of the middle schools in Fort Collins, they had met by chance at Old Firehouse Bookstore when Craig Johnson was doing a book signing for his latest Walt Longmire mystery. They went to plays together, book readings, dinners and concerts, but Beth wouldn’t call them a couple. Not even dating. Stephen was a really great guy who deserved someone so much better than Beth, and Beth was still licking her wounds from her divorce with Daryl.

            “Yeah seems like it works alright. Nah, don’t worry about trying to meet me halfway through the mountains. I’m sure 287 is closed. I’ll get the kids back down, don’t you worry about it. Hey Emma, wanna say hi to Mama?” Daryl was always looking out for Beth’s safety, even when he really didn’t need to anymore. It was just how he was, protecting everyone he held dear, which probably stemmed from his rough childhood.

            Emma was delighted to get to chat with her mother, telling Beth all about the morning’s ride and the animals they had seen. When Emma hung up the phone, Beth felt a pang of longing in the pit of her stomach. She missed riding the horses, but most of all she missed enjoying the experiences like Emma described with her children. It made Beth remember why she wasn’t with Daryl anymore, and why things were the way they were. As painful as it may be, Daryl wasn’t hers anymore, and Beth had to move on in life without him.

Chapter Text

            Daryl bit at his thumbnail as he sat outside the courtroom, waiting for his case to be called into session. He’d much rather be outside on the unusually warm late September day; there was work to be done on the ranch, as well as errands to be ran. But being in court today, for the final hearing for his divorce from Beth was more important than being outside. As much as he didn’t want to divorce her, it was something she wanted, and he wasn’t about to tell her no. The bailiff came into the hallway, calling his last name, making Beth and Daryl both jump.

            Seated on opposite sides of the courtroom; Beth beside her lawyer, and Daryl beside his, Daryl couldn’t help his knee from bouncing nervously. Ever since he was a kid, anything to do with the law made him nervous, even with him being a law abiding citizen. He led an honest life compared to his brother, and while Daryl did love Merle, he didn’t want to be like him.

            The weathered, grizzled, white haired judge took a seat behind his desk, looking over half glasses at the distressed and nervous couple in front of him. Walt Hostetler always hated presiding over the divorce cases, there was never any winner, especially if kids were involved. Back in his day, you fought for your marriage and you worked things out, you didn’t just give up. These modern families had things way too easy in his opinion.

            “So let’s see, we’re here to dissolve the marriage between the petitioner, Bethany Marie Dixon nee Greene and the respondent, Daryl Wyatt Dixon. Is that correct?” Walt cleared his throat, glancing at the attorneys.

            “That’s right your Honor.” Daryl almost snickered at both attorneys answering in unison. These guys were way too used to this kind of thing, as bad as it was.

            “Alright then. I’ll speak to your clients from here on out if you don’t mind barristers. Their answers are what will sway my decision, not yours. If either of you make a peep, I will have you thrown out. Is that clear?” Walt wasn’t a fan of lawyers, he wanted the story from the people living it, those emotions were hard to hide from his keen ears and wise mind.

            “Have both parties been living in separate dwellings the past ninety days as specified in the petition?” Walt’s gaze bounced between Daryl and Beth, seeing both nod before answering him.

"Mrs. Dixon states irreconcilable differences as the cause of dissolution. Is this still correct Mrs. Dixon?" The judge questioned Beth directly, hearing a 'yes Sir' come out on a breath. The poor woman was a wreck of emotions, court was daunting for anyone, especially an emotionally strung out mother.

            “Mrs. Dixon states that she has moved into a rental home in Fort Collins since the separation with the two minor children of this marriage. She wishes to keep her personal items and her 2011 Jetta. Are there payments owed on the Jetta? Are these terms acceptable to you Mr. Dixon?” The Judge stared at Daryl, awaiting a response.

            Daryl swallowed hard, Beth wasn’t asking for any property, household items, or money. She would be walking away from the marriage with virtually nothing. “No your Honor, the Jetta is free and clear hers. And the terms are acceptable to me.”

                        Daryl glanced over at Beth, seeing her head bob slightly. She wanted out, and as much as he hated letting her go, he loved her enough to set her free.

            “It is stated here in the documents that Mrs. Dixon holds a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Wyoming. Graduate of 2012. Are you working yet Mrs. Dixon? Do you have a means to support these two children that you desire custody of?” The harder questions were coming, Walt noted the ages of the children in question in the documents. He couldn’t ask them who they wanted to stay with, they were too young to make that decision, and they probably had no real clue as to what was going on.

            Beth took a deep breath, willing her voice not to waiver when answering the judge. She had to remind herself that this was what she wanted, this was her doing, and she had to live with the consequences.

            “I just found a teaching position about a month ago in Fort Collins your Honor. Once I catch up from my losses of the move, I will be able to support the children.” Beth wasn’t lying when she said she was recouping from the moving loss still, moving was not a cheap process.

            “Mr. Dixon, you own 4D Outfitters and have for quite some time. Your business is well known in these parts and is rather lucrative. It would be within my best guess that you are, and have been, the bread winner in the family?” Walt had used Daryl’s business before to have some of his game processed out and mounted, Daryl did spectacular work for a decent price compared to some of the outfitting companies that ran locally.

            “Yes, sir. That would be a correct guess.” Daryl kept his answers short, there was no reason to lie about his assets when everyone present in the courtroom had probably been a client of his at one point or another.

            “You have two minor children produced of this marriage. Mrs. Dixon states that she would like to retain primary custody of said children; retain the every other weekend visitation, alternating holidays and summer breaks as you both have agreed upon. Is this agreeable Mr. Dixon?” Walt saw the man stiffen, sitting straighter in the hardwood chair.

            Daryl hated being away from his kids, the quiet was driving him crazy the last three months. He wanted his family together, even with Beth broken as she was. He needed his wife, his kids needed their parents and Beth needed Daryl to heal. Even within her hurt, he knew down deep she still loved him, Beth just wasn’t herself.

            “Yes your Honor, that’s agreeable.” Daryl wrung his hands under the table, he didn’t think this could get any worse. At least the kids weren’t witness to this, Sarah had been a lifesaver and taken them for the day. Beth planned on picking them up after the hearing he supposed.

            “Well then, I guess we are just about done here for the day. I’ll set my ruling at the minimum state standard for child support, at $700 per child, and $400 in alimony per month for a maximum of four months paid to Mrs. Dixon. Visitation by distance stands, every other weekend, rotating holidays and summer breaks.       I grant Mrs. Dixon the right to revert back to her maiden name of Greene. By the power vested in me by the State of Wyoming on this, the twentieth of September two thousand and twelve, I, Judge Walter Hostetler hereby dissolve this marriage. Please see the clerk on your way out to collect your paperwork. Have a good rest of the day folks.” Walt swore he saw the light die in Mr. Dixon’s eyes as the verdict hit home, while Ms. Greene stared ahead, seemingly lost in thought. The elderly judge would never understand the younger generations and their choices.

            Daryl stood up rather numbly, venturing to look over at Beth. Her eyes caught his, seeing Beth mouth the words: “I’m sorry” as a tear rolled down her cheek. Daryl’s heart ached, he wanted to pull her into his chest and tell her it was all a mistake. He watched Beth leave the courtroom, feeling his lawyer pat his shoulder.

            “It could’ve been worse Daryl, Beth could have gotten a lot more out of you. You were lucky Judge Hostetler was in a good mood. I’ll see you tomorrow in the office to finish up,” The lawyer didn’t give two shits about what he just saw, or how Daryl was feeling, all that mattered was he got paid.

            Daryl stepped out into the crowd waiting in the hallway of the timeworn courthouse, his body and mind distant as he worked through the paperwork at the clerk’s desk. It wasn’t until he was in the parking lot, inside the tinted windows of his truck that he finally broke down. All the months of pent up emotion came rushing back, tears falling from his eyes. His marriage to the one woman he loved was over, with just a few words from a judge. He would never stop loving Beth, she was the mother of his children, but he knew he had to move on.


 

 

            “Breathe out easy. Just cause it’s a different bow than your old one don’t mean you shoot any different.” Daryl watched as his son sighted in the doe walking across the pasture. It was still deer season in Wyoming, and this was one of the moments in the year that Daryl and Wyatt bonded. Ever since Wyatt was six, Daryl took him out hunting. “A Dixon male is meant for the woods, meant to hunt.” Daryl would tell Beth as father and son suited up to head to the woods. At age six, Wyatt got his first bow, shotgun and rifle. Daryl made sure the boy was taught to respect the weapons, their proper use and cleaning. Beth knew she couldn’t argue with her husband, it was in the boy’s blood, undeniable.

            Wyatt breathed out slowly, the warm air leaving his lungs created mist as it reacted with the cold air of the environment. Daryl heard the faint click of the release, feeling his son’s body move against his own. The arrow shot[1]  straight and true, hitting the doe in the side near the breast. Father and son watched the doe lope off, knowing there would be a blood trail to follow. Not a word was spoken between the two, enjoying the gentle silence of nature as they followed the last moments of the doe’s life.

             Wyatt was so much like his father- quiet, alert, straight to the point and somewhat aloof. If Merle saw Wyatt now, Daryl’s older brother would probably call the boy a carbon copy of his old man. But Merle was in the hoosegow in Florida on drug charges, and it was probably the best thing for him. Daryl didn’t want trouble like that around his family, it was the reason he left Georgia in the first place. Daryl wanted better for his little family. Georgia wasn’t big enough to hide from the Dixon name, no matter what corner Daryl ran to.

            Daryl’s chest puffed with pride as he watched his progeny kneel down, stroking the doe’s neck softly as Wyatt thanked her for her life, slitting her throat to ease her pain. The boy had done it just as Daryl had taught him, just as Merle had taught Daryl so many years ago. Field dressing the deer was a solemn occasion, father and son working in silence as they tied the deer to a pole to carry back to the truck.

            “Can you send Mom a picture? I want her to see what I got today, I think she’d be proud.” Wyatt spoke softly from the backseat, looking out the window at the snow falling gently. This wasn’t his first deer, but it was the first deer his mother missed out on seeing come home with her baby boy.

            Daryl glanced back in the mirror, seeing Wyatt’s far off gaze. He knew Beth would be so proud, this was the second deer Wyatt had gotten in the last four years of hunting. “Sure buddy, after we get it hung up. Before we pick up your sister from Sarah’s. Sound good?”

            All Daryl heard from the back seat was a soft grunt. Wyatt was so much like his dad, Daryl smirked.

            Daryl pulled into Sarah O’ Brien’s driveway, paying no mind to the dogs barking around the truck as he parked beside the house. Sarah had been a lifesaver since his divorce, they helped each other out. Sarah would watch the kids and clean the house for Daryl, he would do the ranch work and man chores for Sarah now that her husband Doug was passed away. It was unexpected and tragic how Doug passed, Daryl thought Sarah would never recover. Everyone in the county who knew the O’Brien’s were stunned, many coming to the aid of the young widow to help out anyway they could.

            Knocking on the solid wood door of the main house, Daryl blushed at Sarah answering with flour sprinkled from one end to the other. Her red hair shone in the early afternoon sunlight, her chocolate eyes bright with the smile painted on her features. He could tell she was embarrassed as well, the tips of her gently pointed ears were pink. The pointed ears and dark eyes with natural red hair gave Sarah an almost exotic quality that Daryl had never seen before. While they were friends, he never thought they would ever be anything, what would Sarah want with a man like him?

            “Hey Daryl, hey Wyatt! Come on in! Emma and I were just starting to make cookies.” Sarah couldn’t help the laugh in her voice, she and Daryl’s daughter had made quite a mess of the kitchen with the ingredients for chocolate chip cookies. Sarah enjoyed helping Daryl with the children, she never got the chance to have children with her husband before he lost his life. Emma squealed in delight at the sight of her father, running and jumping into his arms. The alluring scent of cookies made Daryl’s stomach rumble, he was never one to turn down home baked goods. He still couldn’t quell the ache in his chest that came with the memories of a house a few miles down the road and a family of another time.

 [1]

Chapter Text

              Beth heard the heavy drone of a snow blower running outside the house. She was hoping it was the neighbor kid, who also mowed her lawn for allowance money. Beth grabbed a $20 out of her purse, slipping into her Sorel slippers to trudge out into the snow to pay the kid for his work. Shielding her eyes from the glare coming off the snow, while internally cussing herself for coming outside without her sunglasses, Beth stepped out onto the front porch. She laughed in surprise when the face underneath the skullcap and sunglasses grinned at her, stopping the snow blower before walking over to her taking off his gloves. The grin on his face lit up the world around the guy, making Beth smile in return.

            “Hey Beth, I thought I’d come over and help you get dug out. You really don’t need to pay me, lunch would be great though.” Stephen’s deep voice cut through the silence of the morning, making Beth smile even more. The guy was always happy, Beth couldn't think of a time she had ever seen Stephen the least bit angry.

            Beth felt like an idiot standing there holding a $20 in her hand, knowing Stephen would dig her out just out of the goodness of his heart. Guys like him were really hard to find these days, Beth was glad they were friends. But she just couldn't really see them being anything, she wasn't good enough for Stephen.

            “Um yeah, I can handle lunch. Whenever you’re done come on in. Thank you so much for your help.” Beth’s slim arms wrapped around Stephen’s trim waist, he was a good seven inches taller than Daryl—Beth’s head fell on Stephen’s ribcage, whereas on Daryl she could almost put her head on his shoulder.  She could feel the warmth in Stephen’s arms, it made Beth’s heart ache in her chest. She missed the closeness of a man, any woman felt safer when a good man was near her.

            Stephen let go of Beth seeing her breath turn misty in the cool mountain morning air. “Better get on inside, before you get sick. You can’t miss any school, those kids need you.”  He playfully swatted at Beth’s arm, seeing her smile.

            “Ok, but don’t stay out here too long. You can’t miss school either.” Beth chided before heading back inside. She heard the chuckle from Stephen before the snow blower kicked back on. Heading into the kitchen, Beth mentally started going through what she had to make for lunch. Cobb salad called Beth’s name as she started pulling things out of the fridge to chop up. She heard Stephen stomping off on the porch, as the front door opened while Beth was finishing up chopping the bacon.

            Stephen sat at the kitchen bar, watching Beth move around the cozy space, and singing to herself. He admired Beth for being a single mom of two amazing kids, he loved spending time with Beth, Emma and Wyatt. Stephen knew the kids were at their Dad’s in Wyoming for the weekend, it worried him on how they would make it back with the snowfall. He’d only met Daryl a couple of times, but the man seemed to be knowledgeable when it came to the outdoors—a man like that was resourceful if anything.

            “You think Daryl and the kids will make it back this weekend? I heard on the radio that all the roads into Wyoming were closed. If you don’t feel like going out for errands I’d understand. But if you want to go out, I’d be happy to run you around. I didn’t have any plans today past lunch with you.” Stephen pulled up a forkful of salad, happily munching while Beth talked. He liked listening to her talk, she had one of those soft voices that any man could listen to for hours, even if Beth was only reading the damn phone book.

            “He said not to worry when I talked to him this morning. I’m sure he will just wait it out until last minute, when they pull the gates up and get a room in town before going back up. He wouldn’t risk the kids if he didn’t have the upmost confidence in himself. They’ll get here even if they have to miss school on Monday. Their safety is more important than school.” Beth smirked at her own choice of words, kind of an oxymoron for a teacher to say that, given their profession.

            Stephen chuckled, wiping his mouth with the paper towel before taking a drink of the strawberry tea Beth had set on the table in front of him. “You know, being teachers you would think that education is more important than anything else. But we’re human just like everyone else.”

            Beth cleared off the table once the salad bowl and plates were empty. She was pleasantly surprised when Stephen began rinsing the dishes before loading the dishwasher and setting it to start. His folks had raised him right to help out in the kitchen, among other places in the house. The woman who snagged him would be a very lucky lady that was for certain.

            “Oh hey, I found this nice little mom and pop grocery up in Wellington near the interstate if you ever want to go check it out. They have a great produce section, the meat looks really fresh and they make their donuts in house every morning. I indulged one morning before class, and I have to say that they are probably the best donuts I’ve ever had.” Stephen’s grin was infectious; Beth beamed back at him, thinking a warm, gooey donut would hit the spot right about now.

            “Sure sometime we should go up there. As far as running errands, I’d rather stay in and catch up on my grading. Do you have any you need to do? If you’re anything like me you have some hiding in the car somewhere.” It wasn’t so much a lie, Beth did have some grading to do, but nothing to fill an entire day. Her third graders didn’t get the work load that Stephen’s freshmen did.

            “Nah. I don’t carry work around in my car. If you feel like staying in, I think I’ll head out and get my driveway plowed out. I’ll see you next week for the play still right?” Stephen made for the front door, Beth following close behind. He sat on the bench beside the door, pulling on his boots. Beth reached for his jacket, their fingers brushed as Beth jerked away.

            “Sorry.” Beth could feel the blush rise in her skin, from her neck to the tips of her ears. She was a grown woman for God’s sakes, why was she embarrassed to bump into Stephen’s hand.

            “It’s alright, was my fault.” Stephen cleared his throat as he shrugged into his jacket. “I’ll pick you up on Friday. Text you before I head over.”

            Beth unconsciously bit at her thumbnail, nodding absently. “That sounds good. Be safe getting home.” She opened the door, Stephen careful to slink around her. Beth stood on the porch in her bare feet, watching Stephen drive away. Beth shivered at the cold, reminding herself to get inside.

            Trudging up the stairs, Beth went into her bedroom, pulling out a photo album from underneath her bed before sitting down in the overstuffed recliner that took up a large part of one corner of the bedroom. She’d forgotten the book was there for the longest time, until Stephen started talking about Daryl and the kids at lunch. Maybe Beth hadn’t really forgotten the faded book of photos was there, more likely she had forced herself to forget. Opening the book to the first page brought back so many memories. The pictures told their own story of her life, but this one photo spoke volumes to her heart. Daryl had a smile on his face, a genuine smile, with his arms around Beth’s waist, head on her shoulder. The tiny diamond on that finger sparkled in the setting sun near Sheep Mountain. Beth remembered how happy she was that day, it had been perfect weather for a perfect moment.

            “Shit!” Beth scolded herself, quickly wiping the fat, wet teardrops off the photo. She hadn’t even been aware that she was crying, her heart and mind were lost in memory. Beth sat there staring at the various photos of their wedding, Wyatt’s birth and baby pictures, Emma’s birth and baby pictures, clear up to Beth’s graduation from college. That was where the pictures stopped, sending Beth’s emotions into a tailspin. Everything came crashing back—the attack, Daryl cheating on her, Beth moving out of the ranch and the divorce hearing. Looking back, she realized why things happened the way they did. Beth was an emotional wreck from the attack, the trial concerning it, and the ongoing incompetency of the doctor and therapist she had been seeing in Laramie prescribing her the wrong medications.

            Things could have been so different had Beth known then what she knew now. Wrong meds threw her entire world upside down, Beth could only imagine how terrible she could have been to make Daryl just give in and end their marriage. There had to be some way to fix this, some way to bring their family back together. She wasn’t about to make excuses or beat around the bush, but it would take time and patience to heal the wounds on both sides. It would be hardest for the kids to accept, the back and forth every other weekend was hard enough, seeing their parents reconciling would be just more confusion added to the mix.

            Beth tucked the photo album into the magazine holder next to the recliner, reaching for a tissue to blow her nose. She startled at her phone vibrating in her pocket, dropping the tissue into her lap. Beth swiped the screen, seeing that it was a text message in the notification bar. Flicking the screen down, she clicked the icon, opening up her inbox.

            Her heart stopped for a second at the words on the screen…

                                    “I’m on my way down. See you in a couple of hours.”

Chapter Text

                “Come on guys, we gotta get going. I want to have you back to Mama’s before the storm hits hard.” Daryl herded the kids along as he threw a bag of his own into the truck. The storm wasn’t bad enough to stop him from getting the kids back to Beth, especially with the truck in 4 low. When Daryl had looked at the road closure map on WYDOT, 287 into Fort Collins was still open, although slick in spots. It was his best chance with 80 closed at the summit, as it usually happened in bad weather. Too many deadly accidents happened along I-80 between Cheyenne and Laramie in the winter. Just this winter alone, the interstate was closed for almost a month straight due to two accidents that happened nearly back to back. Many tractor trailers caught fire, cars were trapped and crushed, in the fog and blinding snow. Thank God, only a few died. Many were very lucky to walk away or be injured, able to recover. Daryl hoped people were smart on the roads, he was transporting precious cargo.

            “But Dad! I don’t want to go back to the house early! I want to stay here on the ranch with you and the horses!” Emma stamped her feet in the snow, handing her Hello Kitty suitcase up to Daryl to put in the toolbox. Tears threatened to stain her rosy cheeks, her bottom lip quivering as she sucked in a shaky breath. Daryl tried his best not to grin at his daughter's frustration, but damn if she wasn't so cute pissed off. Just like her mother. Time reversed in a moment, and Daryl remembered the last time his ex wife got mad at him. It was the night he had came home from the roping smelling like another woman. Beth hadn't given him an inch to explain. It was pack his shit and get the fuck out right now. At least they were on better terms now, and that was more than he could ask for.

            "Crimney Emma, it's not like we can't come back! Dad's just wanting to get us back in time for school before we get snowed in. Get in the truck!" Wyatt admonsihed his sister, in return getting a tongue stuck out as a door slammed in his face. The boy cringed at the slam, handing his duffle bag to his dad, "She's mom's mini me for sure." A knowing sly grin spread across father and son, before Wyatt jumped in the truck. Daryl locked down the toolbox, checked the kids were buckled in before getting in himself.

            "Alright guys, let's get on the road. It's gonna be slow going, so if you want to nap it will make it go faster." Daryl glanced back in the mirror, seeing Emma cuddled up with Beans, head on the pillow aganist the window. She would be out before they reached the state line. Wyatt nodded to his father, his attention on the DS in his hands.  Daryl pulled out into the one lane driveway, knowing full well by the time he returned to the ranch in the morning, the drive would be blown closed with snow. That is if the roads were still closed, he hoped not, but Daryl had no choice over the weather.


 

            The problem would be finding somewhere to stay the night in Fort Collins, as travelers would be scrambling to find hotel rooms, to wait out the storm. While Fort Collins was a fairly good sized city, even with the bedroom communities of Northern Colorado close by, it would be hit or miss finding a bed for the night. While Daryl knew Beth would probably let him stay with her, it would be pushing things in the wrong direction. Daryl knew Beth was seeing a fellow teacher, the kids seemed to like the guy, and Daryl had no complaints as long as the guy was good to Beth. Beth moved on, Daryl was struggling to move on. Things with Sarah were friendly on the best day, while Daryl could see that Sarah wanted to pursue things further, his heart just wasn’t ready. He could understand the pain of being alone, sometimes the ranch got too quiet when the kids weren’t there, but that was when Daryl disappeared into the woods to his hunting cabin, or out with friends to a roping. But Daryl could never fathom the trauma of losing a partner too soon, like Sarah had with Doug. He never hoped to be put in that situation, ever. Divorce was hard enough; death would be the end.

            Pushing those unwanted thoughts aside, Daryl took a long swallow from the cup of coffee that sat in the center console. Grimacing, he set the cup back down, reminding himself to pour the cold cup out when they got to Beth’s. The cup had been steaming hot as they left the ranch, cluing Daryl into how long he had been lost in his thoughts. Daryl slowed down to a stop at the three way, turning left onto what would become N. College Ave through Old Town. He could hear Emma lightly snoring, as well as Wyatt’s fingers clicking buttons furiously on his DS. Passing some of the local hotel/motels, Daryl could see the parking lots full. Things were not looking promising, gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, among other places to get supplies were closed. Even both JAX locations he passed were closed, parking lots empty.

            Wyatt whistled low from the backseat, “Dang Dad, you’re gonna have a hard time finding somewhere to stay and eat. Maybe you should ask Mom if you can take the couch? You can’t drive back home tonight.”

            Daryl cringed at his son’s words—boy was wiser than he let on, but Daryl knew that Beth wouldn’t let him stay. That was asking too much. As crazy as it would be, Daryl was sure he could make it back home to the ranch, it would be slow going in 4low, but he could do it.

            “Naw, that’s asking too much. Ain’t right with your mama seeing Stephen now, she ain’t mine no more.” Daryl saw his son’s chin dip just a bit in the rearview mirror, like father like son. Daryl turned onto Silverleaf Ct., seeing Beth’s driveway shoveled out. He hoped she hadn’t done it herself, woman had never adjusted to the winters up here just right, cold made her ache for days.

            Wyatt hopped out of the truck, immediately going to the toolbox to help Daryl dig out their bags. Beth came out of the house and around the passenger side, opening the door to pick Emma up in her arms. Arms came around Beth’s neck, mother pulling her daughter into her chest. “I’ll put her down for a nap. Do you need me to come back out and help with the bags?” Daryl could see the relief in Beth’s eyes, she knew how dangerous a drive it would be.

            “I’ve got the bags, just get her laid down. I’ll be in in a minute.” Beth nodded trotting for the house. Daryl smirked, shaking his head. The fool girl didn’t have a jacket on, no hat, no gloves, only slippers and a UW hoodie.

            Wyatt carried his bag into the house, heading up the stairs for his bedroom. Daryl shook off his hat and jacket in the front hall, toeing out of his boots before walking into the kitchen. A hot cup of coffee was calling his name; he could smell it brewing through Beth’s Keurig.

            “She’s down and Wyatt is crashed out in bed with Percy Jackson on the tv. You really didn’t have to bring them down. You could have just kept them up there and waited out the storm. But I know you, you’re going to do what you say come hell or high water. And I wasn’t worried about them being with you, I knew you would be careful.”

            Daryl grunted in reply, his hands busy doctoring up the coffee in the mug on the counter. He figured after the coffee, he would have Beth check the road closures, and if 287 was still open he would shoot for home.

            Beth leaned against the counter, the white skin tight thermal shirt and dark skinny jeans not leaving much to the imagination, as she watched Daryl make his coffee. Sure, he’d taken a chance bringing the kids back, and they made it safe and sound. But the problem was Daryl getting back to the ranch. They had just made it before 287 was closed, and the odds of Daryl finding a hotel room for the night, much less food, was slim at best.

            Daryl eyed Beth out of the corner of his eye as he took a sip of the burning hot coffee. She looked good, that was no lie. The coffee burned his tongue, taking his thoughts off the woman standing next to him. Saved by the coffee before he did or said something completely inappropriate.

            “So hey, um, 287 is closed. And I know it’s going to be really hard finding somewhere to stay and eat for the night. I was, uh thinking you could stay here just until the storm blows over. The guest room is clean and all.” Beth stuttered a bit through the offer, it was kind of odd making an offer like that. Especially with all the little things that had happened between her and Daryl after the divorce. Awkward was a really good word to describe the air between them in the cozy kitchen.

            “I’ll take the couch, no sense in me taking up the guest room.” Daryl was half shocked by Beth’s offer, he knew she would offer something, given how she was raised, but this was unexpected.

            “Please Daryl, take the guest room. I’d hate to put you off the couch in the morning. I insist.”

            “Fine. But I’m only staying until the roads open back up.” Daryl gave in for now, but he didn’t know how long he could keep the walls up, being snowbound in the house with Beth and the kids.

            Beth knew all too well how stubborn Daryl could be, but she could be more bull headed then him sometimes. It was going to be a tough few days keeping her emotions in check, struggling to keep Daryl at arm’s length, given the good cry session she had after Stephen left. The night hours would be the worst, knowing that the man she loved was just across the hall from her bedroom. The night would know their secrets, and never tell the morning light.

Chapter Text

            Beth was tucking Emma into bed, after the girl’s nightly bath, when she heard the shower come on in her bedroom. Wyatt had probably told Daryl where the shower was, so he wasn’t having to share a bathroom with the kids. Beth kissed Emma goodnight, reassuring the girl that Daryl would be in to tuck her in shortly. The kitchen sink was running downstairs, Wyatt singing his favorite Chris LeDoux song as he got the dinner dishes done and filled the dishwasher before he would get ready for bed.

That was one thing Beth was thankful for, the boy wasn’t afraid of chores or a hard day’s work. Ever since he could walk, Wyatt tottered out after Daryl to learn how to work the ranch. Beth smiled remembering when Wyatt was five and she couldn’t find him anywhere in the house or the yard, places he knew he was allowed to be without supervision.


Panic gripped her heart, yelling for Daryl and Wyatt both, as she ran for the backdoor, heading for the machine shop. Daryl met her halfway, running from the shed at the sound of his wife’s concerned voice. Beth bent over, hands on her knees to slow her breathing, trying to calm herself down. The burgeoning belly between her arms and knees made the position rather difficult.

“What in the hell are you hollering for woman? You alright?” Concern laced Daryl’s timber, seeing the tears streaming down Beth’s face.  The doctor had put Beth on bedrest with the complications from her pregnancy, stress was not a good thing for her at the moment, and stress was evident in her voice.

“I can’t find Wyatt. I looked all over the house, called his name, no answer. I thought he would be with you.” Beth could feel the fever in her cheeks from crying, the baby flip flopped against her bladder, making Beth groan out loud. She looked up, seeing the expression written all over her husband’s face. He was worried as hell, not only for their son, but her as well, and doing his damndest not to show it. But Beth knew better, Daryl could never hide from her as much as he tried.

“He ain’t with me. Come on, let’s go look for him. He can’t got far, and no one is stupid enough to come up the lane and run off with him either.” Daryl took Beth by the hand, helping her up. After an hour of looking, Daryl was heading into the barn to saddle up Titan, thinking Wyatt had wandered off into the pasture, lost in the sagebrush. Sadie, Beth’s bomb proof mare, nickered at Daryl from inside her stall. Usually when Daryl came to the barn, the old mare would come to the stall door and beg for treats, but not this day. Titan whinnied from the neighboring stall, tossing his massive head at Sadie’s stall.

“What’s going on with you two? Ain’t like you ain’t been fed, I can smell fresh feed…” Daryl stopped at that thought, knowing Sadie never turned food down. “Aw shit Sadie, you’ve ate yourself into a twisted gut!” Daryl went to slide the lock on Sadie’s stall, finding the lock open. That was odd, he was sure he had locked it that morning after feeding. Throwing the door open, Daryl found the mare laying down in the stall. Sadie nickered again, nodding her head vigorously, getting Daryl’s attention.

“Easy girl, just gonna come check ya before I call the vet. Easy.” Daryl put his hand out, palm up and open. As he got closer, he realized the mare was protecting something. It wasn’t until he knelt down next to her that Daryl saw Wyatt curled up on Sadie’s other side in a pile of hay. Daryl reached behind Sadie, picking his sleeping son to cradle against his chest. Relief flooded him, holding Wyatt close before reaching out to stroke the mare’s soft nose gently.

“Good girl Sadie keeping him safe and warm. Good girl. I’ll get you a special treat when I get him to his momma.” Sadie snuffled Daryl’s hand, carefully getting to her feet to watch father and son head for the house. Daryl found Beth in their bed, half asleep from crying it out. He laid Wyatt next to her, stroking the hair out of his wife’s puffy face.

Beth’s eyes flickered open, as the realization set in, her eyes set on Wyatt’s face. The boy was asleep, contentedly sucking his thumb. Tears of joy streaked down her face, Beth pulled her son into her chest, hugging him tightly.

“Momma, you mush me.” Wyatt squeaked at Beth, waking up to wiggle away from his mother.

Daryl sat down on the hope chest at the foot of the bed, weary from searching the ranch for his mini me. He knew the boy wouldn’t have gone far, and people rarely came to the ranch on the weekend unless they had an order to drop off or pick up.

“Where were you young man?” Beth tried not to let anger light her voice, but it was hard not to with how scared she was for Wyatt.

“Sadie and Titan were hungry. I fed them. Sadie let me take a nap with her.” Wyatt smirked at his mother, Daryl snorted, the boy was too much like him.

Beth looked over at her husband for confirmation, seeing his chin tip sharply. “He ain’t lyin’. He was cuddled up in Sadie’s stall, next to her. She was protecting him, her and Titan.”

After that day, until Wyatt was old enough to know the boundaries and mind them, Beth kept the boy in the house with her.


 

 Beth was changing into her pajamas when the shower in her bathroom cut off, hearing the glass door open and close. The silky tank top was slithering over her nipples when Daryl broke the silence.

“Ya still look good Beth.”

Beth looked over at Daryl, seeing his hair wet from the shower sticking up at crazy angles, drops of water reflecting the light in the bathroom on his tanned skin, contrasting with the pale blue towel hitched around his hips. She swallowed down the moan sticking in her throat, this man still had the audacity to tell her that she looked good, after all they had been through. She couldn’t ignore the fact that heat pooled in her panties with the blood racing in her veins.

“Um, thanks. I set out the extra blanket in the spare room for you. When my folks visited last winter they said that room was bit unusually cold. Don’t worry about getting up early in the morning, no one is gonna make you get up.” Beth struggled to find something to say, knowing Daryl knew her hormones were running amok.

“Your folks never liked the cold up here anyways. I’ll be fine I’m sure.” Daryl stepped over to Beth, taking her jaw between his hands and planting a chaste kiss on her forehead. “Goodnight Beth. Sleep well.”

Beth nodded, feeling empty when Daryl broke contact to walk away. She blew out the breath that she had been holding, pulling back the covers on her queen sized bed. How the hell could she sleep knowing Daryl was across the hall naked in her guest room? The man never slept in clothes as far as she was aware.  Beth huffed, pulling the blanket up and over her shoulder. The hormones were still flooding her system, as the buzzing in her clit was nearly painful. She knew that resorting to handling it herself wasn’t going to get the job done, even with the rabbit vibe hidden in her nightstand.

Beth took a deep breath, shucked off her pajamas and tiptoed across the hall, hoping beyond hope she wasn’t making a fool of herself…

Her heart just couldn’t handle that kind of hurt right now.

Chapter Text

Daryl tucked an arm behind his head, blustering out a breath from deep in his chest. He couldn’t deny the fact that Beth looked damn good, watching her get dressed after he was out of the shower. Sure, it was weird watching her for a minute, until the weird wore off and deep seated desire took control. The skimpy tank top reminded him of the nightie Annette had bought Beth for their wedding night so many years ago now.

It was a reversal of tonight—Daryl had been pulling off his boots sitting on the deck chair at that guest cabin in Rocky Mountain National Park. The wedding had been a small affair with close friends and family at the Greene family farm in Georgia. Beth had been radiant in her mother’s wedding dress; neither had ever been so nervous in their lives as they stumbled through their vows. Maggie had done an excellent job of embellishing the dress to hide her sister’s growing belly, none was the wiser that petite Bethany Greene, the preacher’s granddaughter, was three months pregnant. Beth stepped out of the cabin, leaning against the porch rail, watching Daryl shed the clothes he’d been in all day. Beth had changed from her mother’s wedding dress before they left the farm for the airport in Atlanta, but Daryl had opted to stay in the jeans and dress shirt that made him look so very handsome. Daryl glanced over at hearing Beth sigh in the cool mountain evening air. The moonlight hit his bride just right, the lacy negligée leaving nothing to the imagination, Beth’s hair glittering like gold.

Daryl’s pulse quickened remembering that night, his heart thrumming against his chest, as blood ran southward. It was no lie that it had been quite a while since he’d last been laid, the urge hadn’t struck him. His keen eyesight caught movement in the dark, the doorway slowly filled with Beth’s presence. Daryl scrubbed a hand over his face, there was no way in hell that was really Beth standing in the doorway naked. Daryl lifted the blankets, which Beth took as a sign to come to bed. He watched her like prey, her movements fluid and sure. Beth slid into the bed, turning on her side facing Daryl, seeing the hunger reflecting in those hooded sky blue eyes.

“I’m sorry babe, for letting things get to the point that they tore us apart. Wasn’t what I wanted. I just didn’t know how to deal with everything going on. I just shut down. I miss you and the kids at the ranch with me.” Honesty from Daryl was a given, but baring his soul like this was rare. Beth blinked back the tears, running her fingertips over the white line scar that encircled his left eye. A near fatal winter hunting accident had almost blinded Daryl when Wyatt was two. Beth had almost lost it when Daryl had ridden into the paddock hunched over Titan--when she reached Daryl blood was streaming down his face, soaking through the cloth he had tied to his head. Wyatt had been scared to death of Daryl for nearly six months while the wound healed from surgery. They’d been lucky Daryl hadn’t died in the accident, it was as if the man had nine lives.

Beth knew touching Daryl in this way was intimate, as well as soothing. The two of them lying in bed together naked felt natural, comfortable, easy. These were the times they could talk to each other best, nothing to disturb or distract them. Beth linked her fingers with Daryl’s hand that rested on her hip, gently squeezing.

Daryl focused on Beth’s face, she was watching him intently, her eyes full of questions.

“What are you sorry for? We both made a lot of mistakes that ended our marriage. Don’t apologize, we go forward from here. We heal.” The words came out a whisper in the night, Daryl swallowed hard at Beth forgiving him.

“I got to tell you what happened. I gotta get it off my chest. It’s ate me alive the last year or so.”

Beth watched Daryl take a deep breath and blow it out before he started in explaining what was killing him.


The roping had gone well, Daryl and Teeter had both won a good chunk of money and were at the local bar celebrating. Teeter knew that Daryl and Beth were having problems, he’d been teamed up with Daryl for the better part of three years now. Daryl was pretty well and hammered on the rounds of whisky Teeter kept buying, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, since he had a hotel room in Sheridan for the night and it wasn’t Daryl’s money buying the drinks. Daryl lurched to his feet to head for the men’s room, and pay his tab up. Teeter pushed Daryl back down into the chair, it didn’t take much to get it done.

“Come on Dixon, just a couple more before we go! You ain’t driving home. You ain’t got to deal with Beth bitching at you, let’s just chill.” Teeter guffawed, making Daryl grumble in disagreement. He was more than done celebrating, needed to take a piss and go to bed.

“Fuck you Teeter. I’m outta here. Goodnight.” Daryl handed a fifty to the waitress, stalking off to the parking lot to grab a waiting cab. Daryl’s vision swam in and out as the cab sped through the streets of Sheridan towards the hotel. Daryl struggled getting the keycard to recognize, until the young girl at the desk came to his rescue.

“There ya go Mr. Dixon, have a goodnight.” The girl smiled at him before she turned to walk away, legs that went all the way up, smooth muscles in a lithe body. Blue eyes and a blonde ponytail. Daryl mumbled his thanks, knowing she was trouble in the state he was in at the moment.

Daryl kicked his boots off at the door, tossing his wallet, keycard and truck keys into his ball cap that he threw onto the desk. Fuck getting out of his clothes, he was too drunk and too tired to care. Within minutes Daryl was curled up on his side asleep.

Daryl woke up some time later, wrapped up in the bedsheets, naked. Even with the pounding headache, he knew something wasn’t right. Reaching across the bed to turn on the lamp, Daryl’s hand skated across warm skin. He flipped on the light, seeing the front desk girl naked as the day she was born in the bed asleep.

“What the fuck?!?” Daryl roared, waking the sleeping girl up. The puzzles pieces were not fitting together as they should, through the fog of hangover.

            The girl startled awake, tossing out of the bed to grab clothes at the side of the bed, hustling to get dressed. She wasn’t shy at all, not caring that Daryl was in the bed with her, his head hanging in his hands.

“I thought you looked like you needed some company, Daryl. So I let myself in and got us ready for bed. You kept calling me Beth. I’m guessing she’s your wife? I’m just gonna get going. Um, sorry?” The girl was honestly trying to apologize, even though it wouldn’t make any of this right.

“Just get the fuck out, and get my checkout ready. This is a fucking mess.” Daryl was livid, this was not looking good at all. How was he going to explain this to Beth? With how strained things were at home already, he knew this was going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Daryl heard the door click behind the girl, hauling his weary body out of the bed to take a piss and get dressed. Stepping into the bathroom, Daryl noticed a used condom in the bathroom trash, whether it was his or not, he didn’t know, and if it was the damage was now done. He dressed quickly, grabbing his bag before stalking out into the front entryway. The desk girl was nowhere to be seen, as there wasn’t a person behind the desk.

“Fuckin’ figures.” Daryl griped to himself, turning to walk out to his rig. Daryl checked on Titan while the diesel warmed up. Satisfied that Titan was ready to go home, Daryl jumped in the truck, turning south in the cool Wyoming summer night.


Beth kept her attention on Daryl and his body language, feeling his body shake with anger and shame. This was the truth she refused to let him breathe of nearly a year ago, the final stab of the knife in her heart that tore their family apart.

“I’m so sorry Beth. I never meant to hurt you. Was so drunk I didn’t know if I fucked that girl or not. I don’t think I did. I’ve always been faithful to you. I love you honey, that ain’t never changed.” Daryl’s voice trembled, expressing feelings was never his strong suit.

Beth wiped at the tears falling down her cheeks, her emotions a jumbled mess. She felt like an asshole for not not letting Daryl tell her this before, anger at the girl for messing with her husband, relief for now knowing what happened, but under it all she still loved Daryl. She needed to make things right in her world, needed to live again.

Beth pressed her lips to Daryl’s, catching his bottom lip with her teeth. Beth heard the whimper in Daryl’s throat as she nipped on his neck, feeling him shiver under her fingertips.

“Beth we ain’t gotta do this, you’re with someone else.” Daryl struggled to keep his blood from heading south, but he was failing miserably. Beth was gasoline to his flames, he couldn’t deny her.

“Sssh, I want to, I need to.” Beth whispered against Daryl’s chest, trailing her fingers down his abdomen, gripping him tightly within her small fist, slowly gliding over the head, causing Daryl to groan out loud.

Beth swiftly took Daryl into her mouth, his hands fell into her soft tresses, her name a prayer on his lips. Beth missed this, having this control over Daryl as she sucked cock with fevered wanton lust. Hearing the sounds coming out of Daryl nearly brought Beth to orgasm, but it wasn’t what she wanted.

Daryl could feel himself losing control, Beth knew what she was doing when it came to his pleasure. This wasn’t all about him, he took the greatest pleasure from seeing her come undone underneath him. Daryl rolled Beth under him, his fingers finding Beth slick with want, teasing her clit with his thumb, fingers stroking in and out of her wetness.

Beth tossed her head, gripping hard at the sheets, trying to keep some kind of control over her breathing. She didn’t want to wake the kids, and have to explain something long before she was ready. Daryl sped up the motion of his fingers, reaching up to tweak a nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Beth bit her bottom lip, her back arching with the orgasm crashing through her system. Daryl never failed in making Beth come, usually more than once.

“God Daryl.” Beth didn’t have time to gather a coherent thought before Daryl took her hips in his hands, his thickness stretching her like she remembered. The feeling of being filled was delicious for Beth, the moan nearly a purr of pleasure as Daryl stroked in and out of her. She wrapped her legs around Daryl’s ribs, locking her feet on his lower back.

Daryl groaned at the feeling of Beth wrapped around him, he missed this, making love to the woman he loved. Daryl buried his face in the crook of Beth’s neck and shoulder, gathering her into his chest as he buried himself in her. Daryl came quick, Beth felt too right around him, his body shuddering violently as he made her his once more.

Beth shivered under him, whispering against his neck, while her body came down from the adrenaline high. Daryl was fairly certain he heard her say “I love you” but how was he to know it wasn’t just hormones talking?

Would this night change everything between them? Would they become a family again or would they fall back to every other weekend? Only the morning light would know.