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The Perfect Gift

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Beth had made herself one promise when they moved in together: she was going to give Daryl the Christmas he never had growing up.

He’d spent the past two Christmases with her and the rest of the Greene’s at the farm, but this year they had a house of their own and he was going to get all the holiday joy she could force on him.  

Once Christmas decorations started popping up in stores, she would buy a few things of lights or ornaments every time she went. After a few weeks, she had a pretty decent collection. She had the perfect spot in the living room picked out for the Christmas tree and she had finally convinced Daryl to go with her to pick out a tree from the lot, also convincing him that he should bring Merle along as well. If Daryl had never had a Christmas, that meant that Merle had never had one either, and she wasn’t one to hold back on holiday cheer. Beth and the older Dixon had developed an unlikely friendship and she could usually talk him into just about anything, anyway.

Beth laughed to herself at the memory of the time she had convinced Merle to make cookies with her. She had even put one of her flowered aprons on him. Daryl had come home to find them both covered in flour while cookie dough covered the counters and ceiling. He’d just stood in the archway to the kitchen, shaking his head and muttering about Beth needing to make better friends.

Convincing Merle to join them to pick out a tree had been easy. She offered him dinner and a new bottle of Jack Daniel’s if he would help Daryl get the tree loaded on the truck and set up in the house. She also planned to get him in on the decorating, but he didn’t need to know that part yet. Merle was all bad words and crude phrases, but underneath it - when he let down the guard he’d built up - you could find the child that still lived inside of him.  

She’d baked him a birthday cake not long after they'd met and when she placed it in front of him with an array of lit candles, his eyes had widened and there was a sense of wonder on his face. Then he made a comment about how if he was going to eat something pink, he would rather it be a 'nice wet pussy.’ And the moment was gone. 

That was typical Merle, though. He had earned a slap to the back of his head from his brother for that one and when Daryl noticed how red Beth’s face had turned, he got one more for good measure.  

Beth had also grown accustomed to the nicknames Merle liked to give her, like Blondie, Princess, Barbie, and his current favorite: Tink. The Dixon’s had never seen the animated Disney classics before and Beth had enjoyed introducing them. Apparently she reminded Merle of the stubborn and snarky fairy in Peter Pan. She didn’t argue with that one. In fact, she kind of liked it.

“That’s not gonna fit in the room ya want it to, Tink,” Merle told her when she showed them the tree she wanted to get.

“Yes, it will! I measured the room an’ I’m lookin’ at the height of this tree and it’s gonna fit just fine.” She had tried to measure the room, but she couldn’t really get it with the ruler she was using. She’d estimated though, and she had a pretty good idea. She reckoned these trees were all about the same height and they should fit in any room. It would be just fine.

“Hey, baby brother! Ya know this tree ain't gonna fit. I know she’s got ya whipped, but what ya gonna do when ya can’t fit the damn thing inside the house?” Merle was standing next to the tree, gazing up at its towering height, and Beth did think he looked small next to it. And Merle always looked normal-sized in the room.

Maybe it was the wrong height. It was so perfect, though; symmetrical, full, and the branches were shaped just right to hold ornaments. This was their tree. It was coming home with them whether Merle liked it or not.

“Shut it, Merle,” Daryl said. “If this's the tree she wants, this's the tree she gets.” He gave his brother a look that told him to stop arguing and start helping him get it loaded.

Beth resisted the urge to stick her tongue out at Merle.  

“We just have to go up an’ tell 'em which one we want and they’ll wrap and tie it for us,” she explained. “Then you two get to load it for me!”

Beth leaned into Daryl and smiled up at him. He returned her smile and bumped his forehead against hers. This was all the PDA she would get from him and she was perfectly happy with that. He was affectionate with her when it was just the two of them, but he wasn’t comfortable with it in public and she had learned to take the small gestures as they were intended.

“Well damn, girl. Go tell ‘em then.” Daryl lightly pushed her towards the front of the lot. But just as she was turning to go, he grabbed her arm and pulled her back.

“You plannin’ ta pay with yer blue eyes an’ pretty smile?” Daryl joked as he pulled his wallet from his back pocket.  

“Worth a shot!” She grabbed the bills he extended to her and quickly made her way up to the small wooden trailer that housed the family that set up the lot every year.

Once the tree was paid for, covered, and tied, the brothers got it loaded quickly and headed toward the little house Daryl and Beth called home.

Daryl backed the truck into the driveway and Beth jumped out to open the door and move anything out of the way that they could trip on. She could hear Merle loudly telling anyone within earshot that dinner had better be amazing for all the work he had to do.

She got to the living room and looked around, suddenly thinking that Merle might have been right. She had forgotten to take into account the couch and coffee table and of course, her piano. The room might not even be wide enough to fit the tree.

Nope, that wasn’t an option. The tree would fit in this room because it was perfect and it was for Daryl’s first real Christmas. She was determined. It had to fit!

The tree didn’t fit.

Well, it would fit if they moved part of the furniture out and forced the top three inches of the tree to bend at a right angle. Merle had probably said he’d “told them so” twenty times now and Beth was on the verge of tears. But she wasn’t going to cry because she knew Daryl didn’t handle it well and this whole thing was supposed to be for him so she wasn’t going to ruin it with her tears. She walked over to the window that looked out over the backyard. That’s when she had an idea.

“Let’s put the tree up outside!” She startled the brothers, who’d been trying to figure out how to make the tree fit without putting a hole in the ceiling.  

“Outside?” Merle frowned. “Doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of gettin’ a tree, Tink? Shit, you got a dozen trees out there an’ you wouldn’ta had to pay fer not one of ‘em!” 

“Shut up, Merle,” Daryl said. “Beth, if ya want the tree outside, then we’ll put it out there. But uh, I don't think we’re gonna be sittin’ around it like you wanted. ‘Specially when the temps drop at night.” He was looking at the tree and then to the backdoor and the look on his face told Beth that he was trying to gauge if they could even get it out the door.

After a few long seconds of contemplation, Daryl decided, “Let’s set it up in the middle of the yard. We can run a few extension cords from the panel on the side of the house and hook up the lights. The ornaments are plastic so they can be outside. It’ll be perfect.”

Beth ran over and kissed Daryl on the cheek.

“Has anyone told you lately that yer a good man, Daryl Dixon?” She asked while throwing her arms around his waist. She rested her head on his shoulder and gave herself a few moments to appreciate how lucky she was to have him.

“Yeah, he’s great, best man in the world. He was always the sweet one. Can we get this tree moved so I can have the dinner I was promised?” Merle called from the other side of the room. He had cracked open the bottle of Jack and was taking liberal pulls straight from the bottle.

Daryl rolled his eyes at his brother and jerked his head towards the tree, “Just waitin’ on yer ass. Like always.”

Beth held the back door open for the brothers as they fought the tree through the door. She followed behind them quickly with the tree stand she had remembered to grab from the living room. The tree actually looked pretty good in the middle of the yard. It might not have been her perfectly thought out Christmas plans, but in a weird way this was even better. Daryl was happier in the outdoors so it made sense to have his first real Christmas tree out here.

“Once we get it decorated, you’ll get your dinner. Maybe slow down on the whiskey… we don’t need you gettin’ drunk and falling into the tree an’ knocking it over,” Beth said, giving Merle the hardest look she could manage while pointing to the boxes of lights and ornaments that Daryl had brought out to the back porch.

The three of them had the tree decorated in less than an hour and Beth could tell that even though the brothers were both trying to act like this was all for her, they were enjoying the tree as well.

Beth made Merle's favorite dinner: fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and homemade biscuits. Merle was so happy with his meal, he was able to admit that all the work he’d done was worth it. He even offered to share some of his whiskey when they went outside to see how the tree looked lit up at night.  

Beth and Daryl were finishing up the dishes when they heard the backdoor open and Merle’s boots echoing on the wood of the porch.

“I told ya he’d like bein’ part of this,” Beth told Daryl knowingly, a bright smile on her face.

“Yeah, the cranky ass seems to be enjoyin’ himself without hurtin’ anybody else for once,” Daryl agreed as he came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. “Thanks fer includin’ him in all this.” He ducked his head into the crook of her neck and dropped a kiss behind her ear.  

Beth finished drying her hands on the towel and threw it back on the counter, leaning back into Daryl’s chest.  

“Maybe we should get out there with him. He’s still Merle an’ he’s unsupervised with our Christmas tree…” She giggled and turned toward the door, reaching her hand out behind her to grasp Daryl’s and lead him outside.

When they stepped out, Merle had moved three of the wicker chairs that Beth had found at a flea market around the tree and he seemed to be occupied with doing something on the back side of the tree. She’d been camping with the Dixon’s enough times to know that if they were behind a tree, you should just let them be.You never know what you might end up seeing.  

Daryl had settled into one of the chairs and lit a cigarette. He waited until Beth sat down in the chair next to him before holding up the bottle that was at least two-thirds empty now.  

“He’s gonna be all kinds of fun tonight, isn’t he?” She commented with a smile. “Remind me to bring down the extra sheets and pillows before we go to bed.” She already knew that Merle was going to be sleeping on their couch tonight.  

“He was prolly jus’ hopin’ to get some breakfast outta the deal, too,” Daryl told her with a smirk.

A few moments later, Merle ambled out from behind the tree and smiled when he saw the two of them sitting in their chairs.

“The hell were you doin’ back there?” Daryl asked his brother.

“I was addin’ a li’l more decoration. If you must know, dickhead!” He shot his younger brother a middle finger as he took the vacant seat. “Tink went ta all this work ta do this and I wanted to add a li’l somethin’ myself. I put it in back so it wouldn’ mess up all her pretty work. Try an’ do somethin’ nice and I get you crawlin’ up my ass.”

He scoffed and shook his head at his little brother. Merle’s eyes were a little glassy, showing that he was feeling pretty damn good at the moment. Thankfully, whenever Merle drank a little more than he should these days, he became a happy drunk. Even if he was still a slightly crass companion.

“Merle, if you wanna add somethin’ to the tree, you can put it wherever you want. I’m happy to have your contribution,” Beth smiled, reaching over and patting his hand. She looked up and smiled at the tree that they had decorated together.

They sat there and enjoyed the quiet and surprisingly warm Georgia evening.  

Daryl was looking around and, for some reason, sniffing the air. Beth shot him a quizzical look. 

“You smell somethin’ burnin’?” He asked, looking at Merle to see if he smelled it as well.

“We are outside, babe. People are prolly usin’ their fireplaces, or maybe somebody was burnin’ some brush and the breeze carried it,” Beth answered him, relaxing back into her chair. If the nights stayed warm like this, she might try and talk Daryl into a backyard camping trip so they could sleep under the stars and the tree.  

“One a yer neighbors might have one a those fancy fire pits. Y’all do live in the ‘burbs now,” Merle laughed from where he sat lazily slumped in his chair.  

Beth did smell something burning though, and it wasn’t a fireplace. It was definitely wood, but there was the scent of plastic underneath it. Daryl and Merle must have caught the smell as well because Daryl was jumping up from his seat and Merle was looking around with a very strange expression on his face.  

Daryl quickly made a trip around the tree and stopped where Merle had been earlier, backing up quickly.  

“Beth! Go grab the fire extinguisher!” He yelled to her as he raced over and started moving the chairs away as fast as he could.

Merle stood up, but he was just staring at the tree with a perplexed expression on his face. Flames had begun to emerge from around the front of the tree.

“Merle, get yer drunk ass outta the way. Beth! Fire extinguisher. Now!” Daryl was sounding agitated and Beth was feeling the same way, especially once she remembered that there wasn’t a fire extinguisher.  

“We don't have one!” She yelled back. She automatically went to grab the hose they used for the backyard until she remembered that she had accidentally run it over with the lawn mower and they hadn’t replaced it yet.  

Daryl was staring at her like she had lost her mind and Merle was still looking confused, but he had moved back toward the porch where Beth was standing.

“Tink… I think I mighta set yer tree on fire.” Merle gave her a look that reminded her of a dog that just realized he’d been caught digging in the trash can.

Beth looked at Merle with wide eyes. She was pretty sure that she could hear Daryl yelling in the background about a fire extinguisher and why the fuck they didn’t have one. Hearing him jolted her brain and she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket and dialed 911.

“911, what’s your emergency?” The voice on the other end answered right away.

“My Christmas tree is on fire,” Beth replied as calmly as she could.

“Well yeah, no one’s in the house but my tree is outside. And before you ask, no I don’t have a fire extinguisher or a hose… Our address in 3763 Redwood Drive… Is anything else in danger of catching fire? No, I mean - just our house and the neighbors’ houses.” Beth always wondered how these responders kept their cool because she was panicking, but the calming voice on the other end had kept her from turning into a crazy person.

Beth heard the sirens from the fire truck then. Good thing they lived in a small town and the firehouse was only about a mile away. Merle hadn’t moved yet and was still gazing at the tree with the most perplexed look on his face.

“I hear the trucks comin’ now,” Beth told the person on the other end of the line.

“Okay, ma’am. I’m going to disconnect the call now.” The line went dead on the other end.

Daryl had walked over to her and put an arm around her shoulder. She looked up at him and he was looking down at her with such concern that she felt tears beginning to form in her eyes. She had to run into the house before she burst into inconsolable sobs.  

Daryl had gone to open the back gate and was standing back as the firefighters came in the yard. Merle had apparently been jolted out of his weird trance and was laughing harder than she thought she’d ever seen him laugh.

He threw his arms up in the air and yelled, “Burn, baby burn!” 

Beth had to hold back a laugh as Daryl slapped him on the back of his head and pointed towards the house, apparently telling him that he needed to join her.

Merle walked in and joined her at the window. He silently put an arm around her and tugged her closer to him.

“Sorry I burned down yer tree, Tink,” he muttered. “I was just tryin’ ta add somethin’ special. I saw it in a movie once, I think. ‘M pretty sure they didn’t realize what coulda happened.” He rubbed his hand up and down her arm in an attempt at comforting her.

Beth had learned that in moments when no one could witness him, Merle was happy to show some brotherly affection towards her. He and his brother were alike in so many ways.

“What did you do?” She asked him.

“In one a them boxes, ya had this tiny box a candles. Little ones, like the ones you put on that cake ya made me. I thought they were fer the tree. I got ‘em to stick by drippin’ a little of the wax onto the branch an then stickin’ the candle on it.” Merle looked confused as to why this hadn’t turned out well.

Once she heard this, Beth started laughing and she couldn’t get out the words she’d wanted to say. He looked so sincere in that moment and she knew that he was just trying to help and add a little bit of Merle flair to the Christmas tree.

“Please… don’t ever change, Merle.” She turned and hugged him before walking away to speak with the firefighters and Daryl.  

A few hours later and the tree was extinguished, leaving a scorched patch of grass and a muddy mess. Beth had made a pot of coffee and they used what was left of Merle’s whiskey to spike each of their cups. The brothers were sitting on the porch, staring at the spot that had once housed the tree.  

Beth walked out the door and handed a mug to each of them before settling in between Daryl and the railing. She laid her head on his shoulder and sighed. This definitely was not what she had hoped for.

“I’m sorry yer tree burned down. I know how important it was to ya,” Daryl murmured to her while turning his head to kiss the top of her head.

“It was only important to me because I wanted your first Christmas tree to be something you would always remember,” Beth explained.

“I don’t think any of us are forgettin’ this tree anytime soon, Tink,” Merle remarked from the other side of Daryl. He’d finally figured out what happens when he made smart-ass remarks today and casually ducked the hand that was coming to slap his head.

Beth felt the laughter start again and couldn't ’t hold it back. Soon, all three of them were laughing and shaking their heads at the lifelong memory that had definitely been made tonight.

--- --- Three Weeks Later - Christmas Day --- ---

Beth had purchased a small, 3-foot fake tree for the living room and it fit nicely into one of the corners. They had decorated it with ornaments that Annette sent over that had been passed down in the Greene family for generations. This tree was starting to become what she had hoped the original tree would be.

They woke up that morning and made some breakfast and exchanged the few gifts they’d purchased for each other. Dinner would be at the Greene farmhouse, like it always was, and after they got ready for the day, they’d sat down on the couch to enjoy another cup of coffee spend some time with each other.

A knock on the door broke the calm that had settled over them and Daryl jumped up to answer it. When he came back, he had Merle trailing behind him.

“Hey Tink, I know we’re all goin’ to yer daddy’s house fer dinner, but I found the perfect gift fer the two of you,” Merle grinned mischievously. “I wanted ta bring it over early.”

He set a long, medium-sized rectangle box down before her. His grin grew wider as he backed away and sat down on the piano bench.

Beth looked up at Daryl and he gestured for her to open the present. He sat down next to her and watched as she ripped the paper off the box. Once she was able to see what it was, she rolled her eyes and showed it to Daryl. Merle burst out laughing from where he sat.

Beth joined in on the laughter and Daryl joined in as well. She looked down at the box and knew that this was the best gift that she would ever get: Merle had bought them a brand new fire extinguisher.

“Keep that close,” Merle exclaimed. “I plan on helpin’ ya decorate again next year!”