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Shattered Memories

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Even before the world went to shit, Daryl Dixon has never gone from toe to heel with heavy intent. His footsteps are light, carefully considered and just plain fucking smart. His pa used to scream at him the minute he heard one tread on the stair case; tell him that he was a heavy set goddamn idiot who would scare off game with his clumping feet so he shut that shit down quick. From the age of ten he's been treading softly, balancing all his weight into his feet, feeling the ground through his boots and reading it, listening to the soft pop and crunch of stone. It's easier in grass, if he doesn't let his pants caress the blades and make them sing out his approach.

He had to learn, his pa said or he wouldn't get fucking nowhere. So he learnt. Sometimes he practiced all night, crossing from the splintered wooden door to the hole punched walls of his bedroom, tracing the creaking beams with a held breath and a prayer that his pa wasn't gonna fly up the stairs and beat him silly for interrupting his poker game. First he practiced bare foot, endless hours staring at the sprouting hair on his toes. He tried socks next. They were slippery against the wood and challenged him until the heels of his feet ached.

When he was brave enough to try it in boots, he fucked it up too many times to count, his stomach rolling at his pa screaming through the floor, the vibrations riding from his feet to his teeth, rattling his whole skull. Got more than a few beatings those times. Running was easier because it was adrenaline based, easy to switch off his brain and he had to do it outside so his heart wasn't galloping in his damn chest waiting for a blow to the upside of his head. Running though, wasn't his choice like the walking was. His pa said it weren't good enough, didn't impress him one fucking bit that Daryl devoted hours of his life to transferring between his heel and toes, balancing carefully with all his weight dragging him down.

Had to learn to run, his pa said. Chase the deer when it disappears around the bend, run away from that rabid squirrel that tries to tear his fucking throat out after he kills its furry brother. He knows how to creep quietly, he knows how to disappear without a trace and he knows how to recognise feet after so long of looking at his own, analysing their curves and bends so they mould to the floor. Footprints are easy, animal prints are harder. Not to recognise, once he finds them. Telling a deer and a dog apart is a piece of piss. It's actually finding the little fuckers that's the problem.

Such a problem that he's been hunting for going on two hours now and he still ain't turned up no dinner for him and Aaron. His partner is back in camp, not far from where Daryl's scanning a dry bank of mud, crossbow held out to the side and hair blinding his vision. It's getting long, but there ain't no one complaining at him for it, so he don't see no problem neither. They all expect him to be some wild fucking animal anyhow, no problem in looking like one. Animal prints ain't turning up for him, but human ones are. Solid too, pressed hard into the dirt by sure and quick feet, conscious ones. Not a walker then, but a man or woman. Kid feet ain't as big or wide.

There's someone out here.

He's been seeing their prints for a few miles now, but he can't decide whether to find the human attached them. Whole point of them being out here is to find people, give them a chance; bring them back to Alexandria. Only problem with seeking them out now is he's alone with Aaron back at camp. Aaron's the sweet talker, the trusting face. Ain't no man, woman or child coming with Daryl Dixon when they see his big dirty body and grizzly face with two weeks' worth of beard. He's only gonna scare whoever it is and he only wants dinner right now anyhow.

Sun's gonna be gone in less than an hour and he ain't rooting around in the dark for food. It ain't like they ain't got no meat saved from last night, but it ain't a lot and they're gonna be even hungrier if they don't get more. No fucking animals around here though. Probably scared off or eaten by walkers. Those fuckers don't think it's enough to be a constant damn pain in the ass, but they gotta eat all the food sources too. All these years later, Daryl's pretty damn sick of the sight of them, numbed to their broken jaws and dangling intestines.

He don't let himself think about it much, but sometimes he don't stop the thoughts, can't help them: when is it gonna be over? When will he stop having to heft this damn bow and shoot something between the eyes? He ain't sick of killing, he's sick of expecting to. He's sick of knowing that he won't go a day without getting sprayed with blood and bits of brain. Human, walker; animal, it's all the same now. So fucking repetitive its mind numbing. His whole existence is. Ain't nothing bright and colourful no more, it's just all grey. The grey of brain slush. Daryl rolls his neck and shakes out his shoulders.

He's gonna have to make the trek back to Aaron and let him know they're going without tonight. He fucking hates that. Aaron's the face, the voice, the hope and Daryl's the provider. He's the one that gets the meat, the water, kills the walkers; seeks out the unbeaten path to travel. He's the resourceful one, but now he can't even bring back no fucking food. Pathetic, Merle would say it and he's saying it now. Shame won't let him go back empty handed though. If he ain't getting no meat, he's gonna have to get that person to come with him, the prints he's been seeing for miles.

He ain't the pretty boy with the nice words, but he only seen one set of prints, never two. This ain't someone with a travel companion. They're on their own and Daryl could bet his fucking crossbow they're close to insanity. Hell, he is and he's surrounded by people all the time. He hefts the bow back up and starts actively following the prints, the sun dipping low in the sky and casting darkness over him like an old friend. Daryl walks in silence alot, but there's something about walking with someone else and choosing to be silent that's satisfactory.

The world is s busy. Not in the way it was before, full of cars and people and speech. Now it's loud because of how fucking silent it is. The silence is a heavy, solid thing all on it's own, distinct and tangible. He tastes it on his tongue the way he can taste the odour of the dead. Not something he smells any more, too numb now, too much bad smell on top of wretched smell to distinguish the scent of rotted brain compared to spoilt meat or exposed organs. Being silent with someone walking right next to you is a choice. Being silent because the world is forcing you too ain't something he enjoys and sometimes he presses his foot harder into the dirt than he needs to just to make the dry mud crack.

It's satisfying to hear it breathe new life, new sounds that ain't hungry moans or shattered screams or that fucking song about being good. Now he walks in silence because there's no one to walk beside him anymore. No one to get on his last nerve and no one to make him bark out for them to shut the fuck up. Frankly, it ain't that there's no one, it's just there ain't no one like the one person he's always looking for out the corner of his eye. Sometimes he's not even sure of who that is his own damn self. Sometimes he don't know if he's looking for grey hair and weathered skin or blonde hair and a stupid fucking smile.

Sometimes he don't know if he cares anymore and then sometimes he cares so fucking much he don't wanna care ever again because it fucking hurts and he's tired of hurting. He's tired of the ache in his arms and the hunger in his gut and the itch in his eye because he ain't slept in three days.

He's so damn tired of this shit.

Pulling his focus back into walking, he pays attention to his feet, too lost in the dirt passing beneath his boots. The prints diverge through the trees and he follows, peering closer in the slant of branches lost in shadows. The sun is nearly gone and he wants to be back in camp before darkness reaches him and his new companion. The prints are lost a little in the trees where rain has swelled up in the mud and the branches, raising goose bumps on his bare arms. It takes a while for him to find them again and they trace through the tight corpse of tree trunks before he finally breaks out into the dip of a main road.

Fuck, if they went up on the road he's lost them. But no, there they are, tracks through the bend at the base of the road curving onto a cross and he keeps going, glancing over his shoulders to determine the space he's travelled. It shouldn't be too hard to get back, not if he follows his new prints and the strangers old ones, all the way back to Aaron. He keeps going, chewing the inside of his lip, trying to think of the bullshit Aaron uses to get people to trust him. Ways to stay smart, in case the fucker he's tracking tries to get one up on him. If he has to kill them, he won't tell Aaron. He don't like it, ain't much he keeps from his partner but he ain't ready for it yet.

Whole of Alexandria ain't fucking ready for 'it' yet, but it won't take long. No matter what, tragedy follows and for some reason, it follows Rick like the fucking plague that's taken the world. Daryl always thought he wasn't real lucky, but doom follows that man like a hell hound and frankly, he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. Long as he makes it out with the kids and Carol, ain't too much worry going into the inevitable end. Always been his plan: to get them three. The rest can look after themselves. Hell, Carol can too, but that's the point. She's the kid's best chance, the mother they need.

Tough and strong, someone to look after them because frankly, there ain't no one else he trusts. He'd get Maggie too, but he don't care to think why. He loves Rick like the brother he ain't got no more, but Rick ain't cut out for both. The prison taught Daryl that. When Rick devotes himself to his kids, he's weaker and sometimes downright fucking useless. Survival? That gets Rick going, keeps him alive. Revenge and being threatened too, Rick don't wanna admit it, but it fuels him. More than his kids? Daryl ain't gonna tell him that any time soon, but yeah, it's true. Human instinct. Protect itself.

Especially men, their dick leads them all the damn time and they're always looking for a dick measuring contest with anyone who'll do it. When the shit hits the fan and it will, Daryl's gonna get the kids out because ain't no one got Rick like himself. He stops suddenly, his subconscious rearing up and telling him to look, listen. A new cluster of trees where the footsteps depart through. He follows more consciously, noting the softer prints. Tired. Exhausted. Ready to crash and anywhere around here too. Raising the bow, ignoring that familiar groan in his biceps, he puts one foot out and crouches.

There's a thick nestles of leaves here and he has to fight through to the middle that he sees. When he's through, the first thing he takes in is a thick black material. Sleeping bag. Hair at the top, blonde from what he can see not covered with a baseball cap and spiky. Man then. Feet were small for a dude, so he's thin, wiry, probably a little like Eric. He can take that. He's wrestled with Rick enough times to know he can take a fair amount of weight, this dude ain't gonna be nothing. Daryl steps closer, listening to the dead silence in every step, still feeling that pathetic bubble of pride in his chest followed by the bitter sting of rejection from his pa's lack of interest.

He's too far back in the past today, allowing himself to mull in shit he knows is gonna hurt later. In his brother's dry crackle and his ma's faint smile, in the twinkling jar of moonshine under the glare of its namesake. He circles around the head of the sleeping guy and bends at the knees, trying to find the strangers face. Might actually be dead. He can't see no moving which means this guy could turn any minute and bite him in his fucking foot. Daryl tips over on his toes, raising his foot to nudge the dude with the toe of his boot. There's a sudden eruption of motion and he jumps back, swings the bow up and prepares to aim.

Until the nasty slice of cotton hits him in the face, the zip poking into his eye as he stumbles back and curses, gripping the bow with one hand as he pushes the heel of his other hand into his eye socket; forces bursts of multi coloured stars to flare. He tries to aim with one hand as he blinks his other one back into function, the eye that's actually working blinded by his hair. He's shaving it all off when he kills this bastard and gets back to his fucking house. He growls as the sleeping bag lands on his bow, slowing the arrow down when he releases and missing the dodging figure.

He just about gets a flash of denim as the guy rolls forward across the ground and collides into his knees. The weight weakens them and then a hard chop to the back of his legs floor him.

He goes down like a sack of bricks. "Fuck!"

A body throws against him until he's flat on his back, the crossbow skidding out into the embrace of leaves, leaving Daryl with his hands. He uses them against the waist he feels, grabbing so that he can flip them and noticing the slender figure, the curve where his fingers dig and knowing even before the breasts brush him in the face that he's fighting a woman. The hair threw him off and now he's left dumb struck, even in a fight sent stone still by the soft skin of this stranger's waist under his hands, exposed by her top riding up. Her flesh is hot and despite it all, makes his cock swell hard and fast. He groans as the body above him lifts upwards, bringing a face into focus.

Daryl squints his eyes and feels his gut drop because it might be because he's let his head slide into the past today or it might be that he's finally gone around the fucking bend, but the face he's staring at looks a hell of a fucking lot like hers. She snarls at him and it pulls at the clotted lines on her cheekbone, her head, on the puckered little bullet scar…

His throat convulses and he tries to grip this woman's arms, this woman that might be her fucking doppelgänger, just older and thinner, hair mostly covered by the cap but now a thick rope of braid falling out and whacking him in the shoulder. She slips like a fucking snake though, slamming her hand into his throat and cutting off his air supply. Fuck that. He bucks up with his hips and ignores the tightening of his balls at the roll that felt like the imitation of something fucking else entirely. He heaves her to the side and rolls, shoving his knees over her arms and squeezing them down into the dirt, pinned flat by his weight.

The first proper look he gets at her and his stomach jumps, threatening the lining of it because there's definitely no fucking food in there to throw back out. He can't help it. He's a fucking idiot, but who else wouldn't? Who else couldn't? Who could take the not knowing? Because this is ain't no doppelgänger, that ain't no stranger struggling underneath him and he ain't fucking brain dead, not yet because he would have to be not to recognise them blue eyes he sees every time his own close.

His chest heaves as he fights her, breaking up the name all weird until it sounds so goddamn holy. "Beth?"

She stops, eyes sparked in recognition and fuck, fuck, he's gonna be sick.

"Who?"

Chapter Text

Daryl blinks down at her, heart in his fucking mouth. The girl takes the advantage and pulls her arms out, hooking vicious nails down his cheek. He shouts out several curses that turn into one and falls back, just about managing to slam her back down with his knees before she takes off.

"Answer me, you little bitch," he hisses, though he ain't too proud of it.

Fuck it, there's no way it's her. No way. He's finally just lost it and he's putting a face over whoever the fuck is underneath him.

"Get off'a me! Lemme go!"

Fucking sounds like her though. He hates the feeling in his chest when he thinks it. Shit he ain't felt since he watched that shack catch fire, her warm little hand lifting his so he could say fuck you.

"Girl, don't make me fuckin' hurt you," he growls because it could be, it could.

She keeps wrestling from underneath him, squirming and wriggling until one arm free and retrieves a gun from somewhere. Probably the waist band of her jeans, ain't nowhere else she was hiding it. Daryl smacks it out of her hand and they both dive as it drops to the floor, her thrusting her body upwards and his gut tightening at the brush of her tits. He gets it first and she screams like a goddamn banshee. Ain't gonna last like this much longer, not with it being dark now and her throat releasing a calling to every fucking walker around. He grunts as he fights her and he don't wanna, he really don't, because it could be, it fucking could.

He throws the gun upwards and catches it by the end, aiming the butt of it upwards so he can bring it in a downwards thrust and bash it into the side of her head. His stomach rolls over when she goes limp, when he drops the gun and falls forwards to catch her slack body, cradling her in his arms. So fucking dark now he don't know what he's seeing, but her eyes are shut, her lashes shadows against her cheekbones where the moon falls over her and he swallows, cupping her sharp cheekbone and tilting her face to look at her. Her mouth is slack and he can see the backs of her teeth, looks for the filling she told him about one night.

There.

Top right corner, near the back. Shining silver against the slight yellow of her teeth. Her tongue is dry, a white coating over the top that tells him she ain't had no water in nearly a day. So thin too, probably ain't had food for longer. Her cheeks are shallow, curving into her gums the way walkers do. She looks dead. More dead than she did when he seen her goddamn brain explode. His fingers shake as he pushes them into the knots of her hair, past the twines of her braid, under the cap, cradling her into his chest as he looks and finds the knot of scar in the back of her skull, a slight bald patch.

He can't help it and it don't matter that he ain't eat, because he turns his head to the side and wretches. Nothing comes out but bile. They've been out here longer than they planned and Aaron's packed food ran out quick. He really should have gotten some fucking meat today, but he don't care, God, he don't fucking care because look what he found, look who he found, look at his fucking prize. Daryl Dixon ain't a pussy but there's only three people who ever made him fucking cry and he's cradling one of them. Ain't no one to see anyhow, ain't no one who's gonna know how he curls around her and cries like a fucking kid, soaking her hair and the curve of her throat.

There's a rustle and he jumps away, laying her down quick to find the bow. A walker stumbles through the tree, ripping it's thigh into a jagged, torn gash to fight through. It stumbles and drops to its knees, crawling towards them. Its fingers reach for Beth's foot as Daryl whirs upwards, aiming and his stomach threatens to hurl again at the thought of losing her for the second time, of losing her just as soon as he's got her back. He ain't thinking about that 'who?' Not right now, he can't fucking take it. He can't process it right now because he needs to kill.

He needs to kill anyone and everyone in his path so he can get her back to Alexandria, so he can get her to Denise, to Maggie, to her unborn niece or nephew. She needs her family, she needs them and then it'll be fine, there won't be any more questions. He won't hear "who?" again. He squeezes and releases the arrow straight into the walkers hand, pinning it to the ground. Wasting time, but it's a good feeling swooping in his gut, a fresh bout of vicious satisfaction at stopping the mangy thing from touching her. He takes aim and doesn't waste time on the next one, watching it fall into the hard packed mud as it dies.

He needs to go. He needs to go right now; he can't bear seeing her lying in the dirt from the corner of his eye for another fucking second. He grits his teeth and gets his goddamn shit together. This mushy, emotional shit ain't gonna get him back where he needs to be. He'll sort out his messed up fucking head when she's safe. He storms forward and snatches back his arrows, quickly assessing her little camp. A back pack and the sleeping bag and the gun, kicked in the dirt. He leaves it, don't need it. Picks up the back pack instead; swings it onto his shoulders, rolling the sleeping bag back up and stuffing it into its little bag.

If they were close to Alexandria then he would leave it because frankly, it's just extra fucking luggage, but they've still got a day of driving to do tomorrow. He wants to make the drive back tonight, but he knows Aaron is as tired as he is and he don't wanna be getting into no car that ain't gonna make it back. He needs to get her back. His eyes cut back to her, limp in the grass and he slides his arms underneath her, ignoring the wobble in his knees as her weight sinks into him, churning his stomach. Last time he did this… Last time he did this wasn't the last time and this time ain't either. He…he'll get her back this time.

Daryl pushes upwards and curls her into his arms, tucking her wrists between their bellies so if she wakes up she can't claw him like she did earlier, the scratches still burning on his cheek like the smarting of his pa's belt. He keeps his bow in his hand and readies his body for the weight of all he's carrying. He has to bear through it, ain't no other option but don't make him no super human. This shit fucking hurts. He takes a step forward and then another and keeps going even when his muscles burn. He's sweating by the time he gets back to the dry bank of mud where he first decided to peruse the footprints.

Twenty minutes out from Aaron, but with all this weight and the little breaks he can't stop himself from taking, it's gonna be at least thirty or forty. Fucking pathetic really, since he managed to run his fat ass all night for this girl, but he ain't eating properly and he ain't slept in days, he's close to fucking collapsing and every step is like walking in quick sand. He's always travelled light, using and discarding things as and when he needed them. It's always worked out for him before, but that ain't the case this time around and Beth's so much fucking heavier when she's unconscious.

A weight he ain't never forgot. Shut your fucking brain up, he growls to himself. He can do this later. He needs to get her back. He keeps going, sweat cold on his head and every part of his body burning hot. Finally, fucking finally, he finds the clearing where they've parked and Aaron sat close to a camp fire. He turns his gun towards Daryl as he steps through and he halts, spinning to the side so if Aaron freaks and shoots, it'll hit Daryl's hip.

He doesn't though, lowering the gun as he recognises Daryl. "Who's that?"

Daryl shakes his head. "Someone importan'. Maggie's kid sister."

So much fucking more than that.

Aaron's eyes widen. "Maggie's sister?"

Daryl dips his chin. "Ain't got no food though. No game."

Aaron shakes his head, standing up and stamping out the fire.

"The fuck? She's freezin'," Daryl steps forward like he can do fuck all about a fire going out.

"We're goin' now. This is Maggie's sister, we can't wait, Daryl."

"You ain't slept. You ain't drivin'."

Aaron assess him and Daryl tries not to squirm. Feels like that man can see straight fucking through him.

"You drive."

"Huh?"

"You drive."

He can't. He's so fucking tired, but he trusts himself not to fall asleep. Not if it means putting her in harm's way.

Daryl nods again. "C'mon 'en. She's been out here too long. Shouldn' even fuckin' be alive."

Even as he says it, he feels it, the awareness of that statement. She shouldn't be alive, he carried her fucking dead body. How? He can't take it and he hates that he's had to knock her un-fucking-conscious so he can't absorb that image again, that image of her being alive. Shit like this just don't fucking happen. You're dead or you're a walker. There ain't no third option, there ain't no fucking other door. Worst part is, he ain't even all that surprised because of course; of course she would survive. Of course, if there was ever another option, she would find it. Her, with her songs of being good, with her timid little smile, with her golden fucking heart.

"Thought she died?" Aaron asks as he hurries to the car, opening doors and throwing things in.

"She did," Daryl says a little distantly and then wonders how the fuck he's gonna drive them back.

"How?" Aaron says this with utter disbelief like this is all an overdramatic and entertaining story.

Daryl grinds his teeth and tries not to flip out on one of the only good guys possibly alive today. "She was shot. In the head."

He watches Aaron come to a stop in surprise, eyes huge and Daryl hates that he wants to punch him in his expressive fucking face and leave him behind so he can floor the gas and just get her back.

"Best drive fast. That girl needs a goddamn doctor."

Chapter Text

The drive back isn't long but Daryl's so tired it feels like an eternity, especially with his eyes darting to the rearview mirror every five fucking seconds to check if the girl in the back seat is actually goddamn real. It's still up for debate, his reasoning versus his hope. It don't matter one bucket of piss that he can see her with his own two eyes. He ain't stupid enough to lie about what death does to someone. It ain't easily forgotten and frankly, it ain't something he's ever been able to put away like his pa's belt across his back. Only three deaths ever been worthy enough to hold space in his head and the slumped figure he keeps checking on is one of them.

Ain't no one who can say they watched someone die and just accepted the fact that they've come back. Yeah, he cried back there and if anyone had witnessed it they could say it's acceptance of the miracle that's seemingly entered his shitty life, but it wasn't, it isn't. It's just that it's finally too fucking much. It's that you either die or you live, you don't get a second shot, at least not as something conscious. It's that he's finally fucking cracking under the pressure and it's that he's so close to opting out, no matter how much he scoffed at the idea before, sneered at it, sneered at her because of it. He didn't understand her then, about a hell of a damn lot of stuff.

He does now.

So yeah, he ain't accepting shit right now, even though Aaron can see her with his own eyes. Then again, he could be a hallucination too. This could all be a really fucking weird dream and he could be asleep in camp with Aaron right now. Then why is he so tired? Why is he fighting so damn hard to stay awake? Daryl clenches his jaw and his knuckles. Too real to be a dream, so can someone fucking explain Beth Greene in the back seat? His eyes are tired enough and he's just making it worse by flicking between the road and her. He wants to keep his attention up front but for fuck sake, Beth is in the back seat.

Beth.

"Is it her?"

"Huh?" He looks over at Aaron who hasn't moved his eyes from the road.

"The girl? That you spoke 'bout before?"

He grunts because he's not down for this conversation but he's so far past the realm of fucking exhausted that he might just let it happen.

"She mean anythin' to you?"

Daryl almost snorts. Mean anything? What a fucking understatement.

"Nah, just Maggie's kid sister."

Aaron hums and he grinds his teeth again. These two are gonna get on like a house on fire, he ain't never met two people with the ability to see through another human being the way they do. Fuck, is he already thinking like that? Thinking about her being alive? He's just gotta get her back, that's all he's gotta do.

"You wanna swap?" Aaron asks with a look towards the back seat. "Been nearly an' hour. Think she's gonna be stirring soon."

Daryl nods because he's admitting defeat and he knows they're only twenty minutes out from Alexandria. What can really go wrong? He pulls over and gets out, leaving his door open as he slides into the back seat, lifting her head and laying it on his knee, throat closing so damn tight at all her soft, hot weight. Hot because her blood is pumping, because her heart is fucking beating. He rolls down the window, needing the cold night air to calm the fuck down. It's so cold out and even though he ain't got much nice things to say about Alexandria, they got beds and he's down for those anytime he's got a chance.

Seems Aaron was right because his eyes are tugged down by her stirring and soft moan. He don't wanna do it, not to her, but she tried to fucking kill him earlier and he'd be goddamn stupid to not grip her by the wrists in one of his thick hands so he's not hunched over her face, close enough for her to bite his throat out should she be inclined. She stirs some more before she goes rigid, her big blue eyes blinking up at him from the wispy, baby haired curls breaking free of her thick braid.

"Get the fuck off'a me! Who are you?"

This, again.

Not thinking about it, not getting emotionally involved, he rolls his head on his neck and settles the fuck in for the long haul. "Beth, s'me, Daryl. From the farm."

"Who the hell is Beth? An' I don't know no Daryl, I don't know anyone, you got the wrong girl!"

Here she starts struggling and he grunts, keeping her hands locked and resisting the fuck out of the need to reach over and pin his big hand on her tiny waist, her little belly that he can't stop himself from imaging. Would his palm be brown against her milk bottle skin?

Shut up.

"Hey, calm the fuck down! Ain't gonna hurt ya. Look, y'know me alrite? I'm takin' you back to your family, takin' you back home."

"I don't have any family," she hisses up from his lap and he swallows hard when she throws her head around, rubbing all over his dick.

He jerks up, mostly because he's worried his fucking cock is gonna betray him and go rock hard. "Keep still! Lis'en, lis'en! You got a sister back there, alrite? Maggie, I'm gonna take you to Maggie."

"Look, pal, I don't know no Maggie an' I don't know who the fuck you are, so stop this fuckin' car!"

She throws her hips up and breaks away, falling down by his feet and Aaron swerves a little as she jerks back, throwing her hand into the passenger seat, probably looking for a weapon that she doesn't find. She changes tactics and rears forward, letting loose those wicked fucking nails again as she rakes them over his exposed collar bones.

Daryl curses, throwing himself forward to bear hug her and wrestle her to the floor. "Keep drivin'!" He shouts at Aaron as the car slows.

"Get off'a me you freak!"

He snorts even in the midst of pinning her arms with his knees like he did back in the clearing. Was that today? Fuck, he's so fucking tired.

"I'm takin' you to your goddamn sister, your fuckin' unborn niece or nephew or some fuckin' shit. Stop movin'."

She strains and then flops, her eyes burning fiery hell. "She's pregnant?"

"Yeah," he says a little quieter, panting from tussling with her. "You remember? Beth?"

She scowls. "Stop callin' me that."

He will not be sick. He will not be sick.

"Listen, jus' come back with me, alrite? Meet Maggie, see if you remember. If not…" If not? Someone search him because he's out of fucking ideas and patience. "You can go. We'll let you go."

She glares, eyes hard and burning hot. "You swear?"

He swallows. "Swear."

She huffs and jerks her knees. "Lemme up."

Slowly, Daryl lifts and slides back into the seat, watching her as she gets into the one next to him. "I don't believe you, but I'm curious 'bout whoever the fuck you're talkin' 'bout, so I'll come."

He's never heard her swear so much. He hates it so he's scowling when he says, "don't give two shits either way."

Aaron's eyes are scornful as he catches Daryl's in the rearview mirror. The car is pitifully silent until she says, "who's this guy?"

"This guy is Aaron." Aaron introduces himself when Daryl doesn't offer up his name.

Daryl snorts and Beth glances between the two of them with narrowed eyes. "How long we got to go?"

"Five minutes," Daryl huffs, eyes so damn itchy he might offer to let her claw them out.

"This… Martha-"

"Maggie."

"Maggie… my sister," she says the word like it was made to be laughed at. "She's pregnant? In this?" When she asks this she starts picking at the scar on her cheekbone and Daryl's stomach hurls.

She's been acting so normal. He don't know what he's really expecting but… this? Shouldn't she be messed up? Shouldn't she be rocking and muttering under her breath and screaming at things he can't see? He can't even decide which option is worse. The glazed look of someone who's no longer mentally part of the world or the clear blue steel of Beth's eyes even as she doesn't remember him.

"Yeah," Daryl heaves. "Why?"

Frankly, he can't wrap his head around this fucking conversation.

She shrugs, eyes narrowed as she looks out of the window and seems to contemplate something. "So I guess she wasn't out lookin' for this 'Beth' girl you think I am."

You are. He wants to say it, but he don't even know if he believes it.

"She… she thought you's safe, with me. Looked for Glenn 'cause they got split."

"Glenn?"

"Husband. Your brother in law."

"Beth's brother in law," she corrects irritably. "So she didn't look for Beth? For her sister?"

"She thought you's safe. You's with me."

He don't believe that for a fucking second but that was what he heard Maggie sobbing to Glenn their second night in Alexandria. Walked out of there so fast his head spun, killed every walker in sight with a rock just because he liked the screaming hot pain in his arms and shoulders.

"Did she find him? Glenn?"

He wants to snap at her why is she so fucking interested if she don't believe she's Beth? But if rehashing through the groups fucked up history is what she needs to make something reconnect in her head again then he's down to talk shit all night.

"Yeah."

"How?"

He comes to the sudden realisation that he hasn't been looking at her, letting his eyes seek the darkness of the passing night or Aaron's curious ones in the rearview mirror where he remains silent in the front seat. He ain't too sure why he's doing it, but there's something about acknowledging her presence that just makes it all too fucking real.

"Left signs with walker blood or some shit."

He's down for rehashing their history, but he needs to know why the fuck she can't remember it or why she can't even recall who she is. Except in that moment, he forces himself to actually look her in the face and all he sees is her brain exploding in that dingy little hallway, plastering the walls with the crimson paint of her blood. All he kept thinking as she fell was broken. Broken, broken, broken, like he had any fucking idea about putting her back together but wanting to try. Skull all broke up and brain full of a bullet hole and now he expects her to just be okay?

He just expects her to know who the fuck she is and who the fuck he is and just be normal? She speaks suddenly and he pretends like he didn't jump out of his damn skin. Too goddamn lost in his head today. "She left signs for Glenn? But not her sister?"

He looks out the window and jerks his chin. "Ask her yourself. We're here."

Chapter Text

Alexandria ain't like the prison.

In the prison, if you got back from a run, everyone would run on down to the gates to see who had survived and who had been lost because it was inevitable. Here, no one comes to greet you because they just seem to think that it's all gonna be okay, that no one was lost, no one was hurt and no one is in any kind of danger.

Fucking idiots, the lot of them.

The only one who comes down is Rick and Daryl grits his teeth as he looks over at Beth. "Stick behind me… got some explainin' to do."

She's not frowning like she's interested, but her eyes are narrowed as she looks at the gates, the guards, Rick as he draws closer. "I'm not goin' in there so I can be trapped. You can bring that Maggie down an' then we can clear up this mess an' I can go."

She's all cool and indifferent but he don't believe in it. Beth is too curious and even without the inherent memory of who she is, that base need to know about something is still inside her. She's interested in him and she's interested in the possibility that she might be someone else. He wonders for just a second who she thinks she is. Where did she wake up? When? Who did she meet or did she meet anyone at all? He thinks she must have, met other people that is, since she's not terrified by another human being.

He cracks his knuckles and opens the car door. "Jus' stay here."

She doesn't answer him as Daryl gets out and he casts one more glance at her when Aaron gets out of the car too, leaving her alone. His bow is in the footwell of the passenger seat and he debates going back for it. She don't have her memories no more so any lessons he gave her before are null and void, except the bow is all about muscle memory and she's a decent shot. He still doesn't go for it because it's all one big test and he needs to see what she's gonna do with a weapon alone. Rick stops at the gates, open and waiting for the car to roll through.

Rick frowns at Aaron walking inside with a murmured goodnight and then squints into the back seat of where Beth sits lost in shadows. "Who'd you find? They causin' trouble?"

Daryl shakes his head because he didn't think this through and he's got no ideas.

"Daryl? Somethin' happen? Tell me they ain't walker scratches."

It takes him a second to work out what Rick's on about and piece it with his strained voice. Then as if the mention of them brings feeling back to his body, the cuts on his cheeks and collarbones burn to life.

"S'nothin'. Ain't walkers. Wouldn't have come back f'it was."

Rick nods and then again Daryl's lost. How do you explain this shit to someone? Rick was there, Rick saw it. He seen her skull explode just as well as Daryl did. He's actually kind of terrified Rick's gonna see her face and tell Daryl he's hallucinating. He's saved the trouble of trying to explain though because he forgot how damn impatient she is.

Rick squints his eyes hard as she comes into the light from Alexandria, his pupils freezing wide and muscles locking. "The fuck?"

She's all defiant disinterest but in the glow she's fucking beautiful. Her braid is nearly out now, allowing every baby hair to curl around her face and her hairs so damn long, swinging by her ribs. Hasn't been that long since the prison days. The baseball cap she's got on makes him think of Glenn, in the quarry and he almost smirks at all these little signs she's carrying but doesn't understand yet.

She once told him her ma liked her long hair when she cut a chunk of it out. They were running together and she cried herself sick for too long to count. Daryl didn't understand what the big fucking deal was with cutting out a lump of hair after not being brushed for so long, so he didn't say nothing, just watched her like a fucking idiot as she cried into her upturned hand and pretended like she was asleep.

Rick wobbles and his hand lands hard on Daryl's shoulder, making him hiss. "How?"

"Look, s'a lot to explain an' I don't know shit." He lowers his voice as she draws closer, Rick's eyes on her like magnets. "She's only here 'cause I told her 'bout Maggie. I gotta get her out here 'fore she bolts. I ain't losin' her 'gain, Rick."

Rick nods, levelling him with a look Daryl can't read. "Is she… normal?"

"She ain't fuckin' brain dead."

But God, he kind of wishes she fucking was, even though it's the most disgusting thing he's ever thought. Then this fucking normality wouldn't be so sickening.

"How?" Rick repeats like a damn parrot.

"I told you I don't know shit," Daryl snaps, conscious of her edging closer. "You gonna get Maggie or me?"

She saddles up next to him, crossing her arms over her chest and she's so in the light now Rick can't mistake her for no one else, which means he sees her, which means she's real.

Daryl's knees feel like they're gonna goddamn cave and he stumbles until Rick's hand claps him on the shoulder. "How long you been up?"

Usually he wouldn't banter to this mothering shit but automatically he says, "days."

"You eat?"

"Last night."

Rick curses. "Soon as we're done here you get food and crash."

Daryl jerks his chin, nothing left in him to have this argument. He wants to see her to her sister, take a shower and hit the hay, work out the goddamn mess in his head. It feels like he's just shutting off, like he's finally reached his goddamn limit and his brain has decided to nope the fuck out.

"Wait here with her an' don't let her outta your sight. I'll be back with Maggie. Don't know how the fuck I'm gonna explain this."

"Don't let her outta your sight? That don't sound threatenin'," Beth snarks.

Rick jogs up into Alexandria and the guard slides the gate shut when it's apparent that Daryl ain't gonna follow. Her body weight re-settles at his side after she dances on her feet and he swallows, still that irrational fear inside him that she's not real and that he shouldn't acknowledge a ghost. He don't even wanna say her name in his head, don't even wanna label her like she's back. Yet, his eyes slide to the left and look at her, in the light. That braid is hypnotising, all wired together in frayed little pieces. He can see singed hair, torn strands and other little imperfections that make him curious as to how she got them.

Cuts, bruises over her bare arms and collar bones, the more he looks. How long has she been out here alone? What's she been through out there where she's kinda battered but also clean and normal looking? Tired too, he knew that when he was tracking her prints and he bets she wasn't asleep long if at all before she attacked him.

"Why're you starin'?" She snaps suddenly.

Daryl blinks hard and turns his face with a scowl. "Don't flatter ya'self."

Fucking prick. He's such a fucking prick and he don't know why the fuck he's talking to her like she's shit on his shoe that he inconveniently stepped in while he was out and about. This is fucking Beth, but it's not because she don't even know she's Beth and yeah, she looks the same in a roundabout way but then she kinda don't because she's older and more cynical. Frown lines, stress lines, tired eyes, bags. Beth never looked this down trodden, not even when they was running and she lost her daddy. She was still singing. I sing, I still sing.

Yeah, she's bright eyed and alert but when he looks, when he really looks, there's a deep chasm of emptiness behind her eyes and unlike the crater in his hand, it's not burning. There's no one there. The bullet tore down the walls and they were rebuilt but they missed some crucial things. They missed the picture frames of her family, they missed the heavy scent of her mama's detergent and most importantly they forgot to put the fire back. The one she cuddled around on Christmas Eve in her daddy's lap.

They rebuilt the house, but there's no one home.

He shudders but he ain't gotta look too deep in that empty space for much longer because he hears footsteps behind the gates before they creak and lurch, reeling backwards and bit by bit, revealing Rick and Maggie. Daryl's body goes rock still, everything freezing in him as he realises that he has to witness this. He has to witness Maggie seeing her dead sister again and he's panicked. He don't wanna be involved, he don't wanna be the one to say I found her. I found her like this, empty and cold and weird. Not Beth, not even close and maybe not ever again and he feels sick, gritting his teeth against the bile that it's on him.

It's all on him.

Maggie's face comes into view and it's not at all what he expected, his brain slamming to a stop as he realises that this isn't gonna go like he thought and his gut unclenches a little, thrown in confusion. Her jaw is hard and her eyes guarded, the leader in her that she refuses to stand forward and take because Glenn falls under Rick and she will too. Maybe Rick told her that it isn't really Beth, that it's just a cruel imitation of her but he should have known, he should have known she would crumble because she steps closer, just two steps and she's in the light, her eyes wet and her mouth trembling. Daryl squeezes his fist close when she wobbles like a drunk on her next step.

"Bethy? My God, Bethy is it you? Is it you?"

Goosebumps raise all over his skin as her repeated question rises up into the sky and explodes over them, explodes into the air for the whole universe to answer. Is it you? He don't wanna look but he's gotta look because he needs to know, he just needs to. Beth's not fidgeting or cowering but she looks like she's studying. Her eyes are wide and huge, wired on no sleep like a crack addict. Her head moves once like she went to shake her head and deny it but paused because she wants to be sure, because she wants to know herself. Maggie makes some kind of sob that makes him grind his teeth together and force himself to keep watching.

"I-" she hesitates and when she talks, the words are sympathetic but her voice is not. It's cold and final: the verdict. "I'm sorry, I ain't whoever you think I am."

A torrent of embarrassment and pure agony flares in his chest at Maggie's wail. The moment is too raw, too real and he don't wanna witness it but he's stuck and all he can do is sharply turn his head to Rick whose face has gone white as he catches Maggie's waist. It's like she died all over again, right in front of them. The worst part is she don't get it. She's impartial to it. When he looks at her there's nothing there, no sorrow, not even for a stranger like there's no switch, no humanity. He never thought he would see someone look like that again, not since he found Merle in the middle of OD'ing in the bathtub. Thought his brother was gone the minute he hauled him out the water, limp as a fish in his arms and eyes wide, open; empty. Now all he sees is her, erasing the worst memory he's ever held onto.

It makes him angry, makes him irrationally, roaringly mad and he steps forward on a heavy step, hand gripping her arm. "Don't go," he rasps and her eyes fly up to him, wide and scared. Scared. Flicker of emotion. Flicker of something. He squeezes tighter and feels the panic clog up in his throat and chest. He can't let her go. "Please. Stay."

"I- I don't know who you are. I-" she swallows and suddenly he doesn't wanna hear whatever she's gonna say but she says it anyway. "I can see you love her. I see it, D-Daryl," she stutters on his name like she wasn't sure it was the right one. "But I ain't her. I ain't Beth. I'm sorry."

He keeps his eyes locked with her, trying to find something to say, anything past the bile in his throat, when Maggie speaks, "Rick, I can't lose her. Please, I can't lose her again. I need my sister."

"Daryl," Rick snaps and it's that pissy authoritative tone when he's about to do something he don't like. "Help me."

Daryl's arms go stiff with the request he knows Rick is making and he looks at her again, sees the confusion, the fear and still discards it because he can't lose her either.

He needs her too.

"M'sorry too," he grumbles before he cages her into his chest.

Beth's muffled screams in his chest vibrates all through his stomach as Rick and Maggie hurry forward to grab one arm each. She breaks out of his hold with their tugs on her body and flies back into their chests, her eyes wide and hurt.

"Daryl! You promised!" She shrieks as she throws her body violently. "You promised!"

"You promised too," he rasps under his breath, his throat clamped tight. "An' you broke yours first."

Chapter Text

Daryl's feet are stuck like cement to cracked pavement leading into Alexandria, Beth's hoarse screams dying away the further Maggie and Rick drag her. He rocks on his feet, gut twisting with indecision. All he wants in the world is to shower and crash but she called for him. Even though she was mad, even though she was pissed, even though he broke her trust first, she called for him and he turned her over like a piece of meat. It's sickening, the way his head churns and spins but the fact of the matter is: she would have run. She would have and he wouldn't have kept her with him.

It was his only option. Right? He scowls to himself and goes back to the car, driving it through so the guards can shut the gates behind him. When he's parked up and grabbed the bow, he slams the door and tries to figure out where they would have taken her. Maggie's or Rick's or none? There's the little, empty room they tend to keep unknown people in so he could hit there but he don't feel like Maggie's gonna throw her back-from-the-dead kid sister in there to rot. She'll want her close: that was the whole point in taking her. Plus, wasn't long ago Alexandria got hit up by the Wolves and the shit storm they brought.

Lost a lot of people, lot of walls and a lot of security. Deanna's gone now but her pretty boy sons in her house so that's out, but he knows Maggie and she's not gonna let Beth out of her sight, not with her lack of memory neither. Daryl turns tail for Maggie and Glenn's, his whole body dragging him down into the ground. He's so fucking tired. He hates days like this: where they go on and on and fucking on and don't let him stop. He knows he's gonna be going for even longer too. Ain't no way he's gonna sleep unless she's okay.

It's a ruckus up at Glenn and Maggie's when he gets there.

Rick is silhouetted against the curtains which have been drawn for the first time in all the time they've been there. Must be a real shit show if they don't want no one else to see. People are already struggling to accept Rick as their new leader anyhow. Daryl don't knock even though he would have any other time. The handle turns under his fingers and it's bitterly cold against his skin despite the warm air. Might be the whole fucking atmosphere of the place. Giving him the damn creeps. Voices go silent as he comes through the door until they see it's him.

They swell again and he's lost in the confused, panicked storm they're concocting between them until Carol appears beside him, eyes wary and mouth set thin. "Is it really her? You found Beth?" She whispers.

He continues to stare at Rick, Maggie, Glenn and Carl who's not actually talking but resting listlessly on the sofa with the same thick bandage around his eye, Judith in his arms but nothing about him interacting with her. Daryl frowns over at them and wonders who the fuck dumped the baby with the blind kid. There's no support against her back as she sits facing her brother's chest and Daryl goes over without answering Carol, even though she follows at his side and picks ass kicker up. Carl briefly glances up and then away, none of those same desperate questions everyone is parroting coming out of his mouth like he don't even care. Asshole. Lost his eye not his fucking life, like Beth.

He fixes his scowl for ass kicker, stroking his finger over her fat cheek and curls. "Hey."

The baby squeals and clenches his finger, trying to stick it in her mouth.

"Daryl," Carol whispers again, curling her hand over his bare bicep even though he shudders at her touch. "Is it her?"

He nearly nods but it would be a lie. Instead, he shrugs like he ain't sure, like it weren't him who went out in the wilderness and plucked her from the very air, from the depths of his own fucking imagination. "S'her," he ends up saying as he pulls his finger away from Judith. "Kinda."

Rick looks up then and this stops the whole conversation. "Daryl knows more than me."

Fuck you, he wants to say. Fuck you for throwing me under the fucking bus but he don't say nothing, just keeps holding Judith to his chest like she'll fix everything, like she'll ward off every question burning in Maggie's eyes.

"Where's 'Chonne?" He asks quickly, just to buy time.

"With B- with her," Maggie answers as she hugs herself tighter.

"You can say her name. S'her," he snaps even though he ain't too willing to accept that just yet. "What's 'Chonne doin' with her?"

"Questionin' her," Rick answers. "You think that's gonna be a problem?"

Daryl shrugs. "She did this to my face, so."

So.

So she might flip the fuck out and hurt Michonne. So she might run and grab a gun and kill all the people she loves because she don't recognise them. So she might come back and finish what she started and tear his fucking eyeballs out for breaking his promise.

So, no, nothing to worry about.

"She's tied, so she can't hurt anyone."

Daryl's stomach goes hotter than the sun, heat crawling like a demon up his throat and in his face.

"You fuckin' tied her? What is she? Some fuckin' dog? The fuck, Rick?"

The fuck, Maggie? Is what he really wants to say but he can't even fucking look at her. Since all that Glenn signs bullshit he overhead, he ain't really got much time for her.

Rick frowns. "You said it yourself. She did that to your face. You."

He stresses the word like it's something significant and suddenly the heat in Daryl's cheeks isn't anger but a whole lot of something else and he turns his face away, down to look at ass kicker. Maybe Beth just needs something special enough, real enough to make her come back. Her sister wasn't good enough, so what is? What will be? Rick's wrong, more than fucking wrong with whatever bullshit he's trying to insinuate.

There's nothing there, if there ever was because if she felt something for him? If he was the special thing she needed to come back? Then they're shit out of luck because she don't know him any more than she knows herself. He lifts his face from Judith's slapping hands when Michonne comes into the room and he quickly hands ass kicker to Carol. He needs to be able to fight Beth's corner. Seems like no one else is gonna.

"What'd she say?" He snaps.

Michonne pins him with big, knowing eyes that makes him feel like she reached through his chest and pulled out his fucking spine. "Nothin' we didn't expect."

Daryl jerks his chin but it's not like he really thought Michonne would have been the one to give her a spark of recognition. Maybe Judith will be but he don't wanna risk the baby to any version of Beth that isn't the one he knows. He hates thinking of her like that, but he ain't grown soft. Beth could kill anyone and he don't know her enough no more to say she won't kill ass kicker just to get out of here.

"Lemme see her."

"You just got done seein' her an' it didn't go so well," Michonne answers.

He steps forward with a scowl before Rick interrupts. "Let him. He's the last one she was with. It might help."

They both know it won't but fuck it, he don't care what bullshit Rick has to say to get him in there.

He refuses to look at anyone as he turns to face the hall. "Where is she?"

"The room with the lock," Maggie answers. Daryl nods as he moves to walk past until she grabs his arm. "Please, Daryl, try everythin'."

He's so damn tired he lets her eyes connect with his and he hates everything he sees there. The hope, the belief that somehow he alone can pull Beth from the empty space he saw behind her eyes. He don't even say nothing because anything he can think to say will be a lie. He ain't gonna be the one to pull her back, he just has to make sure she's okay. Maggie lets him go and he climbs the stairs, passing his bow where he left it by the door. No idea why he's volunteering to include himself in this mind fuck but he's gotta. He's just gotta. He owes it to her. He was too late last time and more than likely he is this time, but he's gotta see her.

The stairs are steep but they don't make a sound as he climbs them. Carpet gets dirtier the heavier he puts his foot down, trying to make some kind of noise so she knows he's coming and mostly because he wants it. The voices have gone quiet downstairs and he knows it's because they wanna hear what he's gonna say to her. It's not gonna happen because he's not gonna be some pussy who keeps the door open a crack in case she goes for him. He don't even breathe as he reaches the door, listening out. Maybe he should have bought the bow up with him: she could jump him. Not that it matters since she's even skinnier than she was before. Not like he would use it on her neither.

Not going back for it now so he turns the lock and swings the door open. The lights are on, which he don't expect and throws him a little. Seems like ghosts should only sit in the dark but there she is: on the bed, staring out the window, picking her cheekbone. It turns his stomach, watching her nails dig deeper until it bleeds.

"You're gonna infect it like that, trus' me, I know," he mutters as he closes the door.

She turns to face him and fuck, he ain't gonna tell another soul but she makes his heart ache with the fierce hatred she looks at him with. "Why're you here?"

Picking at his hands is all he can do to avoid her gaze. Strikes him as ironically fucking depressing that they're both picking at scars when he's come to peel back the biggest one they share. "Come to check on ya. Make sure you're alrite."

"No, you didn't. You feel guilty, for turnin' me over like a fuckin' criminal in a place I don't wanna be," she hisses.

Daryl glances up at her through his hair and hates that she's staring so fucking hard at him. Unflinching. The only movement is her fingers: tapping against her leg. Seen Hershel do that so much it's a little bit of a mind fuck watching her do it. Does all these little things mean she remembers something?

"This's your home. Best place for you."

"I'm not her," she stresses. "I'm not some fuckin' reincarnated angel. Beth? She's dead an' you're all fuckin' delusional."

He snorts because she's so fucking right.

"Who're you then? Wha's your name?"

Real question because he wants to know but he don't know if he wants to listen to some make believe fairy tale she's fabricated.

"Ain't got no name," she whispers, little less fierce and she turns her face again so he can actually fucking breathe.

"An' you think tha's normal? That you don't got no name?"

She shrugs, wrapping her arms around her knees and she's so fucking small. Ain't they fed her yet? But yeah, he looks down at the side of the bed and there's an untouched plate and glass. "Don't need a name when there's no one to ask it."

He squints because the light fucking hurts but also because he don't know if she's telling the truth. Could be that she was travelling with someone before, someone she wants to get back to.

He don't step closer but he wants to. "You been alone long?"

"Always," she answers immediately and then she looks at him and he does step forward. "I woke up in a badly dug grave. Been me ever since."

Don't be sick. Don't be fucking sick. Don't look at her. But it's there anyway: her crawling out of her grave, fingers dirty with mud and eyes huge with fear. He dug that fucking grave, with his bare goddamn hands. She's right: didn't dig deep, couldn't. Ground was hard with the thirst and he only had his fingernails to claw it up. Maybe part of him knew and just didn't wanna: wanted to help her make it out when she needed to because wasn't she always gonna come back? Wasn't she always gonna have that third door that no other fucker in the world knew how to find?

"Guess I didn't put much effort into it," he mutters, throws the comment away like it don't mean a goddamn thing.

Her eyes narrow and he hates it, he hates everything about her face; all he can feel talking to her is a rising bubble of hate in his gut for this creature that just wants to fucking torment him by deciding to breathe.

"You loved her didn't you?"

He swallows and presses back against the door like it will trap out all the sounds of the outside world, all the chances that her words could reach her big sisters.

"Maggie loves you an' she wants you 'round. Stay for her an' leave if you don't wanna try no more."

Beth slides to her feet and he's pretty damn sure the doors wood's gonna splinter under his weight he presses his back so hard to it, the handle digging into his spine. The closer she gets the closer he presses, flinching through his hair like he did when his pa stepped closer. Fuck that. He squares up, breathes out, brings himself so damn close to her. When she raises her hand, he tenses, his tired as damn hell brain kicking into gear. She's gonna attack him. She's gonna fucking fly off the handle and he's gonna have to slam her back down again. Except she does something so much fucking worse.

She lays her hand on his cheek.

Daryl flinches so hard embarrassment crawls up his throat in the same moment but she doesn't react, staring at him like an inquisitive child with her empty gaze. "You miss her so much," she whispers and it drifts across his mouth.

Every particle he breathes in touches her first, dancing off her skin and her clothes like he's inhaling her.

"Do you want me to be her? Is that it? You want me to stay an' play house with you? Was she a good fuck? Did she suck you good?" She gasps dramatically and smiles. "I bet she let you hit it from behind, huh? You red neck hicks only know to fuck hard, right? Bent over your momma's couch while your brother snores in the other room of your dirty little trailer? That what you want from me, Daryl?"

Taunt after taunt spills out of her mouth and hits him like a needle in the eyeball every time, that sharp hot pain just under his skin that itches like fuck but you can't reach unless you wanna tear your own fucking tendons apart to get to it. Peel your skin back and dive into the mess to just lightly run your fingernail over it. Ignore it. His ma whispers, telling him to get along with Merle. It's jus' to get under your skin. Damn straight she's under his fucking skin, pulling at his veins and heartstrings like a fucking puppet master. Controls him now as he reaches out violently and snatches at her hand on his face, breathing hard.

Beth gasps and it's sick, so fucking sick watching a spark light up in the empty spaces of her eyes. Excitement. Lust. "I hit a nerve, huh? Must'a been some good pussy. You wanna taste?" The last part is a whisper and she runs her tongue straight over his lower lip.

Daryl throws her wrist away so she stumbles back and rips the door open, leaving it unlocked as he flees down the stairs, her laugh echoing all the way down. Doesn't speak to anyone as he grabs his bow, doesn't turn back when the door flies open and Rick comes out, shouting for him. Doesn't look back as he runs down the porch steps, doesn't glance over his shoulder once at the bright light in the one window upstairs and doesn't pay one ounce of fucking attention to the shadow that splits open on the cement before him, the silhouette of her hair in the window and her grinning mouth.

Chapter Text

He don't sleep.

Don't know why he really expected to. All he can do is think. When he showers, when he stares in the mirror at his battered body; when he gets into bed. Thinking, his brain just ticking over and over like it don't know how to stop. Thinking about before. Not just of her because he's years older than her and he had some kind of life before all this mess. Thinks about Merle. Thinks about when Merle came back for him; when they beat the shit out of their pa. The door had swung open when he was laying into Daryl and Merle had smashed him over the head with his beer bottle.

Was the first time in Daryl's life that he realised how big his brother actually was. Big arms and hands, flexed when he moved. First time in his life he realised how big his own arms were, how meaty the punch sounded off his pa's face. He misses fighting. He misses punching somebody while he's drunk off his ass on shitty beer in shitty bars where him and Merle fucked around. He misses knowing that the guy he's landing blows to is gonna get back up, that he's gonna mop up the mess on his face and get in his truck and go home. He misses turning back to Merle and grabbing a pizza on the way back to the motel. Thinking, all night until he's not sure if he really is awake or he slid into some fucked up sleep full of thoughts because his brain just won't shut the fuck up.

Gets to a point where he's lucid dreaming, lying in the dark with his back burning from his pa's latest whipping.

"Be a fuckin' man. Call yourself a Dixon."

Because he cried. He cried all night long, until he was sick with it, his heart aching for his ma and Merle, someone, anyone. So alone, so lost, so empty and when he shoots awake in the dawn of a new day, he knows he can't leave Beth to rot. She fucked him up last night. The way she spoke to him, the things she said, the total lack of Beth in her: all that shyness gone, all that childish innocence stripped away. Beth would never have said shit like that to him before, not even for a joke. They weren’t like that. They didn't act like that.

What they had… whatever they did have, was pure, was innocent and was entirely her. Now she's gone and all that good, all that whole hearted innocence is gone too. Now she's dirty and foul mouthed, talking like the trailer trash girls he was raised around and he fucking hates it. But point is, he can't leave her alone. Not when he knows that ache deep inside, knows what loneliness is like clinging to the soul. Much as he knows it, don't mean he wants to accept it. He don't wanna be the one that takes her on, he don't wanna be the one she tramples all over because she's gonna do it, he knows she is.

Sometimes it's gonna be just to be a little bitch and sometimes it won't. Sometimes she won't even know what she's doing or how much she's stamping all over his fucking heart. Like when she told Maggie she wasn't the girl they were all looking for and there was nothing there: no guilt, no sorrow, no sympathy, just brutality. He don't wanna see her but his fucking conscience won't let him leave it. He knows she's not there anymore. He knows. He just can't turn his back on her. So he gets up and he goes out.


"Daryl, what'd you do?" Carol asks as she hurries down the porch steps from Maggie and Glenn's.

He frowns up at her through the glare of the sun. "Huh?"

"Maggie, she spoke to B-"

"Daryl Dixon you son ov'a bitch!" Maggie screeches, the sound bracketed by the slam of the screen door off of the porch.

He's come home to words like this before, all his damn life but he's lost track of all the shit he's done wrong since that life fell behind him so he stays still and waits to see what the fuck's going on. Maggie comes storming forward, arm raised and slaps him.

"Maggie!" Carol shouts. "That's enough!"

"That's not nearly 'nough! How could you!? You tryin' to turn her 'gainst me 'fore I even have the chance!?"

He touches his fingers to his lip, which has split. "The fuck you talkin' 'bout?"

"You told her that I left signs for Glenn but not her! Now she doesn't wanna know me an' it's your fault!"

Screw this.

"Daryl…" Carol pleads at his narrowed eyes. "Come with me, let's fix that lip."

"Naw," he shrugs her off, taking a step to Maggie. "If you didn't know how fuckin' wrong you were pullin' that shit, whatever she said wouldn't have hurt you so goddamn bad," he spits.

Maggie's eyes well up and her mouth tightens. Rick comes running down the porch steps with Glenn but Daryl don't even look at them.

"You want her all to yourself, don't you? I had my thoughts but now I know! What the hell happened between you two!?" She hisses.

Glenn grabs her arm and pulls her back. "Maggie, stop. She's watchin'."

In unison, like a pack of fucking wolves, they turn to face Beth standing at the front door.

"You let her out?" He asks, to anyone who will answer.

"It ain't like I'm keepin' her locked up," Maggie says as she walks towards Beth, who slowly descends the porch steps. "Beth, honey…"

"Told you not to call me that," she dismisses Maggie. "I wanna go with Daryl."

"Huh?"

"What?"

He and Maggie ask at the same time and he hates how hot and stiff his face feels. She wants to come with him? What the fuck changed from last night to this morning? Unless she thinks… but he can't say that shit in front of the others.

"We ain't... whatever Maggie made you think we were…" He hesitates and doesn't move his eyes from her.

"I know," she answers. "But I don't wanna be here."

"Beth," Maggie whispers as Beth walks past her and towards him, her throat tight with tears.

"Stop callin' me that!" Beth screeches, spinning on her heel to face her sister. "I'm not her! An' I don't wanna be ‘round you 'cause you won't accept that! Daryl already has an' he's the only person I wanna be around. If you stop me I'm leavin'."

He hates how angry it makes her; how much she believes it. But he knows what it means to detest a name: he's been trying to shed Dixon for years. If she don't wanna be called Beth, he won't call it her. If she wants to come with him, then she's gonna.

He won't let her leave. Rick catches his eye and gives him a firm nod. It's your choice. It's on you. He nods back. He'll be whatever she needs him to be. If it means she'll stay.

Maggie doesn't answer Beth and she turns back to him with nervous eyes. "I can come with you, right?"

Last night is there, between them, but he jerks his chin. She keeps walking and he turns to walk with her, leaving the group behind.

After too long of silence where he stays in his own head and lets his body guide him, she speaks.

"M'sorry 'bout last night. I don't know why I do stuff like that. Sometimes I just… don't know what comes over me."

He wants to grunt and dismiss it because this sounds like some physiological shit that he ain't got no business diving into. Need a degree and a whole other life to know how to fix someone who come back to life but he can't leave her hanging. For some reason, she's following after him and for some reason, she made that decision herself. It ain't really what he wanted -if he even spared a thought to what he wants- out of Beth being alive again, but it means he can keep an eye on her. Last night was just words and even though he knows better than anyone how deep the tongue can cut, he also ain't sure if she can go further.

Didn't seem to mind tearing her nails through his flesh, ain't no one saying she's not gonna pick up a knife and try again. There ain't no real reason to. She ain't trapped here and if she wants to go he ain't gonna stop her, but he ain't letting her walk out alone. That's a whole other fucked up world he don't wanna think about right now but even still it's the option she wants: freedom. Means there no reason to get violent unless she just feels like it and he ain't fool headed enough to think it's not an option for her.

"Been through a lot, Beth or not. Crawled outta your own damn grave with no memories an' shit. I get it."

He don't look at her but she cuts her eyes to him and there's a little smile on her mouth. "You not gonna ask me questions?"

He does glance at her now because he ain't really got a plan as to where they're going but they're in the middle of the square and getting attention.

"Don't need to. Ain't nothin' for you to say. Got no memory, right?"

She hesitates as she shakes her head. "Sometimes…" Nothing else comes out and he don't push her but she tries again. "Sometimes I see… flashes? I dunno. Puzzle pieces, but I can't make the whole puzzle."

He takes a deep breath through his nose and holds his facial muscles in place. He just don't wanna know what it is she's seeing because he don't wanna answer questions he don't have his own answers to.

They died with her.

"Sometimes I see horses and I smell hay. Sometimes I see blurry lights… don't know what that is. Sometimes I hear a voice but I ain't met no one it belongs to. Tellin' me goodnight… doodle… doodle… I dunno. I never know."

She speaks like she's only talking to herself and his eyes hold onto her a little more intensely as she gets agitated at herself.

"I just don't get it! It's not there!" She shouts, hand raising and he slows, wondering if she's gonna hit him, but she don't.

She hits herself.

Hard and sharp in the temple, an instant red mark glaring on her pale skin.

"Beth!" He shouts, gripping her wrist.

"Stop it! Don't call me that! Stop it!" She screeches.

A group of kids look up from their hop scotch and he turns back to Beth, trying to man handle her towards an alley way.

"Hey, hey. M'sorry, I forgot. You scared me, girl. C'mon, s'alright. S'doodlebug. Your daddy called you doodlebug. Mm, Beth. Hershel called Beth doodlebug."

Beth goes still and he's breathless at the light in her eye before it changes into sparkling tears that drip down her cheeks. She stares at him for a long time and when she talks her throat is obviously achy.

"I don't know why I'm cryin'. Daryl, I don't know why I'm cryin'."

Fuck, he don't know how to do this. He don't fucking know what he's doing. He wants to take her to Denise, she must know some shit, but Beth ain't gonna let no one else pick and prod at her like she's a freak show. If he fucks around, she's gonna run.

"'Cause yo-" he corrects himself quick. "Cause Beth's daddy died. He's gone."

She stares even longer and he don't know what to do, he ain't got a fucking clue and he feels useless. After a while he slowly lets go of her hands and she uses them to wipe at her cheeks. Giggles pull him away from her eyes and he looks at the group of kids.

"Look'a her messed up face," one greasy little kid whispers to his friend.

"Hey!" He snaps. "Fuckin' beat it."

They yelp like dogs and scatter. One little girl glances back at him with big wide eyes full of fear and all he sees is him looking at his pa. He fucking hates it. He needs to get her off the streets before one of them blows up.

"C'mon, you hungry?" He asks.

She nods, her face wet but hard. They start walking again back to the little house he took for himself. Not really little, not at all, but it's the smallest thing they had and he didn't wanna bunk with no one. There's a guest bedroom at least.

"Daryl?" She whispers from behind his shoulder where she's lagging.

He grunts to say he's listening as he keeps his eyes on his surroundings. Ain't no little kids making her feel any shitter.

"Why'd you call me 'girl'?"

The question nearly stops him. He ain't really got an idea himself. Got to a point out there when he didn't wanna call her girl no more because she was more than that but he don't wanna go into detail so he shrugs.

"I'unno."

"Well, anyway… can you call me girl 'stead of… her? Please?"

They arrive at the porch steps leading into the place he stays in and he glances over his shoulder at her. Her face is dry and her mouth set but behind the emptiness in her eyes there's something else. Something she needs from him.

"Yeah," he mumbles.

Her smiles watery but solid as glances up at the house. "What're you gonna feed me? I'm starvin'."

Chapter Text

Daryl Dixon's never usually one to bring torture on his own damn self, enough people left in the world to continue what his pa started as a kid, but when he sees the pigs feet in his cupboard it's the first thing he grabs.

He shouldn't.

Not just for his own sanity but because it's sly: Beth’s trusting him out of everyone in the group to not call her Beth, to not put that pressure on her and now he's passing her things that could trigger something. Could trigger that smack she gave herself earlier and he don't want that.

Even still, he takes them and offers them to her with a shaking hand like it's nothing, like it don't mean nothing. He goes to the fridge next for orange juice so he don't have to look at her.

Beth took them straight out his hand like a ravenous dog but by the time he's got the juice in a glass and slid it across the counter to her, she's still staring at the pigs feet. His gut clenches in on itself and he has to keep looking at her, even when he don't want to.

Finally, she glances up at him and gives him a tip of a smile. "Thanks. You don't know how hungry I am."

He don't want it to hurt but it does and he has to look away again. Makes him angry, even though he knew he shouldn't have done it.

Got enough shit for her to eat without offering those red neck snacks that mean nothing to her and everything to him.

"You need anythin'?" He murmurs.

She glances up in the middle of eating and frowns. "You sound like you're goin' out…"

"I am," he says, reaching for his own pigs foot just because he don't wanna look at her. "Got shit to do."

"You don't just… stay home?" She whispers.

He does glance up now, food in his mouth as he answers, "m'on watch today. You don't gotta come. Can stay here. Clean up. Eat. Whatever."

Beth keeps chewing, her eyes absorbing his whole face. "You'll leave me on my own? What if I run? Or hurt someone?"

"I trust you." He shrugs.

"You trust Beth," she dismisses. "You don't know me."

"I will soon, if you stick around."

She hums and he takes another one, lifting it up for her to see as he says, "one for the road."

"Daryl!" She calls.

He turns to face her from the doorway of the kitchen, his whole body itching to get out. "Mm?"

"Can you get me some clothes? Don't have to fit, jus'… anythin'."

He nods and then he leaves.


“How is she?" Carol mumbles softly as she nears him.

Daryl lets her hook her arm in his because he knows deep down he needs the comfort even if his skin still crawls. Old habits die hard.

He squints into the sun. "I'unno. Different. Ain't Beth, ain't nothin' there, jus' a lost little girl. Maggie's gotta stop pressurin' her an' hopin' too."

They walk together to the wall, where he's taking a shift today.

"She reminds me of you."

Daryl jerks his head down to look at her. "The hell you talkin' 'bout?"

But then, Carol don't know about Beth smacking herself because she couldn't get her head to work right and she don't know about him using that cigarette to burn his flesh because he couldn't get his emotions to work right neither.

Carol smiles softly, placatingly. "She's copying you, y'know. Her little chin jerks and 'I'unno's. She's like a baby bird, following her mama."

"You talk to her?" He asks with only mild surprise.

If anyone was brave enough, it would be Carol.

She shrugs. "A little bit. Just to make sure she was okay. Didn't have anythin' that needed stitching or nothing."

Daryl frowns as they draw even closer to the gate, knowing he's gonna have to part soon. "Why would she need summat stichin'?"

Carol let's go of his arm and turns to face him. "Daryl, we buried Beth nearly six months ago. You don't think some stuff has happened to her in that time?"

He frowns, his gut throwing itself. "You think I should ask?"

"I think you should try." Carol smiles. "She don't wanna be Beth, so find out who she is."

"S'just…" he exhales heavily and scrubs a hand down his face. "Fuckin' weird."

"I know." Carol reaches for his arm and smooths her thumb over his flesh. "But you gotta try. You're lucky enough to be the one she trusts."

"Lucky," Daryl snorts, glancing up at the wall.

"Yes. Lucky," Carol stresses. "Find out what she needs and help her."

"M'tryin'."

"I know, pookie." She smiles. "Now go, you're late."

He bumps her with his arm because he don't wanna hug no more. "Thanks." As he turns to leave, he remembers Beths request. "Carol!"

She turns from where she was walking away. "Yeah?"

"Can you find her sum clothes?"

Carol smiles. "Sure. I'll take 'em over."

He grimaces. "Jus'… be careful. Ain't losin' you neither."

She comes walking forward quickly and kisses him on the cheek. "Daryl Dixon, there is so much more to you than you let people see.”


When he finishes his shift on the wall, he turns Malek away and takes his shift too, pulling another four hours on top of his three. He's tired.

He ain't slept properly in too long to remember but part of him don't wanna sleep neither. Anytime he's done it before he had nightmares.

Thing is, the nightmares were usually about her. Now she's back, now she's here, he don't wanna see what his brain can make as a fresh hell for him.

He keeps remembering the way she slapped herself earlier today and every time it makes his stomach hurt.

No matter what he said to her about trust, he don't really trust she ain't gonna do something to hurt herself so he was calmed when Carol came back to tell him she left Beth with fresh clothes and a toothbrush.

Said she was fine, normal. Not much for her to do in the house but she ain't ready to be put on the rota for work. She needs time to adjust.

He just hopes all the free time on her hands isn't gonna lead to her testing out how bad she can hurt herself or anyone else.

Later, with no idea how much time has passed, it's dark and chilly. His eyes itch and his stomach's got a mind of its own, so he don't take Rick's two hour shift, but he does stop when Rick touches his shoulder.

"How is she?"

Daryl shrugs. "Ain't been back. Carol said she's fine."

Rick glances over the wall, one hand on his hip and the other rubbing the scruff of his beard. "You think we should give her summin' to do?"

He's thought about it. Keeping an eye on her would stop his attention from wondering every five fucking seconds, but he shakes his head.

"She ain't ready. S'only been a night Rick, an' a rough one too. Maggie ain't helped."

Rick sighs and looks at him with tired eyes. "You don't think it'd be hard if it was Merle?"

"I didn't abandon Merle," he hisses. "I didn't choose some fuckin' chick over my brother. Maggie chose Glenn. I know it, you know it an’ they know it. Beth was left to rot!"

"Keep your voice down," Rick hisses back. "Your opinion, alrite? How many times you think you can lose someone? Maggie's hurtin' an' she's pregnant. Don't stress her out."

"I ain't." He turns his head and spits. "Ain't no one stressin' Maggie but Maggie."

"Jus'… try to talk to Beth. See if they can try again."

Daryl grunts. "Ain't promisin' nothin'."

Rick hums dismissively. "Get outta here an' stop pullin' double shifts. You ain't a machine."

He grunts again as he turns back for his place and the girl who hasn't stopped turning his world upside down.

Chapter Text

When he gets to the front door, hand clenched around the handle, he don't actually wanna go inside. So much energy keeps going to Beth lately.

Her death, her re-birth; what she was and is and will be. He ain't got the first clue how to be what she needs. He ain't no doctor, ain't got no degree.

He don't have the mind or the words for the healing shit she needs and he ain't lying to himself: there's a small part of resentment in his gut that it has to be him.

It has to be him to take care of her because she's latched onto him. Had to do it for his ma when she was beat down. Had to do it for Merle was he was wired on whatever he was sniffing.

Had to do it for his pa when it was just them and his arthritis kicked in. Didn't stop him from clipping Daryl round the ear but that weren't the point.

He's sick of carrying people and he don't have it in him no more. Someone else needs to be the one to help, someone who knows what the hell they're doing.

He just wants to grow old. Let his old soul show on his old body and give in. No one else to fucking do it though. If he don't catch her, ain't got no one else who will.

Daryl sucks in a breath and opens the front door, putting his bow down inside the door as he shuts it. "Girl?"

Silence.

"Girl?"

More silence.

A prickle of awareness rolls down his spine. Not like she's not free to leave when she wants to. She can come and go as she damn pleases, as long as it's not out the gates.

Except Carol said she was fine nearly five hours ago now. That's five hours in which she could have robbed him blind and left.

It'll be his own fucking fault too because all he thought about was his own damn self and how much he didn't wanna be the one to look after her.

Didn't help her settle in or nothing, just left. Maybe she's sleeping. He walks around the curve of the wall and peers into the living room but she's not there and when he goes to the kitchen she's not there either.

The glass from this morning is in the sink and when he checks the cupboards, it's all still there. If she was leaving, he's sure she would have taken something to eat.

Even still, the fridge is as he left it too and no other shit is missing, not that he can think of what she would take. So he heads upstairs.

He ain't got many clothes but maybe she took some. Ain't like there's gender stereotypes no more. If she wanted to grab some of his shirts to run no one would question it out on the road.

He hits his room first, checks his shit, but it's all there. Hits the other bedroom where she might have gone to nap. Not there either.

Then he notices the light coming from under the bathroom door. It's one of those fancy shared bathrooms that connects between his room and the spare one, so there's three separate ways to get in there.

He's already in the spare room, so he knocks. "Girl?"

It's locked.

Fear shoots sharp and painful in his gut. Last time she locked herself in a bathroom she slit her wrist and she wasn't nearly as messed up then.

It's been hours. Hours since he sent anyone to check on her. He's such a fucking idiot. She comes back from the dead and he just leaves her to her own fucking devices because he can't cope?

Piece of fucking shit and he knows it. He tries to run through the inventory of the room. Not like it's a fully stocked bathroom, but it has the necessities.

It has razors and that's all she needs. Bust open the plastic casing and she's got the sharp little blade to slide over her wrists or wherever the hell she decides to slice her flesh.

He bangs his fist against the door. "Beth!"

Still nothing. Sweat breaks out across his head and he flies through the room back to the hallway, rattling the door there, but that's locked to. Skids into his own room and that ones fucking locked.

"Beth!"

It's like it's all happening again. Even his voice sounds the goddamn same. The same strangled fear as when he chased that car all night, screaming her name.

Heart in his goddamn throat, he turns his shoulder and rams the door so it shakes in the frame. 

Doesn't budge but fear overrides the pain in his arm and he goes in again, slamming the door so hard it creaks, shakes and finally: snaps, swinging wide open.

Eyes straight to the bath. Blonde hair, floating. Fuck, she’s fucking drowned. She’s drowned herself. Auto pilot. Brain shuts down.

He don't even think about it, he just jumps straight in it and yanks her out, pulling her up as she jerks against his body, same as he did for Merle when he was OD'ing.

"Daryl!" Beth coughs and hearing her speaking tells him he got there just in time; that he saved her. "I'm not dressed!"

Words go in one ear and out the other as he hauls her straight out the bath, jeans and shirt soaked, her skin pressed all against him as he checks her arms, her wrists, her eyes.

"Daryl!" She shouts and then she slaps him.

He startles to a halt and then finally he takes in what he's seeing. Beth, naked. Creamy white skin but bruises and cuts, some scars that could be old because it's not like he's ever seen her naked before but they look new.

They look really new.

There's a flash of her nipples as she scrabbles for a towel and hastily wraps it around her. "I'm naked you fuckin' pervert!"

"Why the fuck were you underwater!" It's not even a question he shouts it so loud. "I was bangin' down the damn door an' you're tellin' me you didn't fuckin' hear!?"

"I was relaxin'! Don't you just lie down in the fuckin' bath every now an' then!? Shit, Daryl."

She angrily swipes the hair from her face and shoulders where it's wet and tangled. Finally, it sinks into him that there ain't no danger.

She wasn't slicing her wrists or trying to top herself, she was just taking a goddamn bath. He got irrational and broke down the damn door because she was taking a bath.

"M'sorry," he mumbles with hot cheeks. "Thought summat was wrong."

"So much for trustin' me," she murmurs as she turns her face away, squeezing the towel around her body.

"Beth…"

"Get out." She sighs and softens her voice, her eyes as wet as her face as she looks at him. "Please, just get out."

Like a damn dog, tail between his legs, he turns and leaves, face even hotter when he tries to shut the door and it don't click because he bust the hinges.

"I'll fix it tomorrow," he whispers sheepishly.

Beth doesn't answer him and he goes back to his own room, stripping his wet clothes angrily. Fucking idiot. At every turn he keeps fucking up.

Every. Single. Time. He ain't got the fucking slightest clue how to deal with this shit.

His eyes keep glancing at the door that links to the bathroom where she is, but it's not because he thinks she's gonna bust in on him or nothing. It's because he hears nothing. Nothing but silence.

She's hiding.

He tore her up out the bath and made it so fucking obvious he didn't trust her alone with sharp objects. Treating her like a fucking kid, like he did when they was running together.

She died and all they've done is go ten steps back from where they fucking started.

They made it so far past whatever kind of friendship they had before, trusted in each other in ways he ain't never trusted in no one in his life and just like the bullet that tore through her head and destroyed it, all that's gone too.

Back to square fucking one.

When he's changed, he lingers. He lies to himself and pretends like he needs something from his room, pretends that he needs to straighten the cover on his bed even though he's never made the bed in all the time he's been here.

He's listening for her. Listening to any sound that she's moved. He's upset her, he knows he has. Embarrassed her too, looking at her body the way he did.

Probably ain't got no memories of anyone ever looking at her body. Must be a new thing for her, shock to the system.

Like when he was a kid and his ma walked in on him in the bath. He shouted his mouth off in embarrassment until his pa stormed in and beat him with the shower head for being a loud mouth little prick.

Body changes; he didn't want no one to see that. Beth's only got memories as far back as waking up in her own grave. He don't think she's had time to show anyone any parts of her or the inkling to.

Those scars she's got too, bet that's something she didn't want no one seeing. Makes him feel even worse, knowing how much he hates anyone seeing his own flesh and he remembers why he don't like it too, she don't.

She always used to cover that slit on her wrists with her bracelets and her beads. He can't even think back and remember if she's still covering it but he bets there's some part of her that's curling in shame knowing that he's seen. Fuck. He's such a fucking dick. He's gotta do something to make her feel better.

Food.

He's starving, he bets she is too. He thinks about asking her but then doesn't. He don't wanna force her to talk to him, not after he just left her vulnerable and shaky.

Jogging down the stairs, he hunts for the deer meat he's got from his last run. It's about to rot anyway, so he should use it. Even still, it's enough to throw into a stew.

He ain't no Carol but he's been cooking meat since he was ten. He knows how to slap together some hearty deer stew and he's hoping hot food will make Beth feel better.

While he's prepping and slicing, he listens out. The door doesn't unlatch, so she must not have left through his room. No reason for her to anyway but because that's the door he bust down it makes his face hot.

Must have gone through her door instead. Yeah, there's the squeak of the spare rooms floorboards and then the slam of the drawer, muted through the ceiling.

The house is dead quiet so with every movement that results in a sound, he can perfectly picture her walking around. To the drawer, to the vanity where she sits.

Silence for a while, like she's brushing her hair or some shit. Then up again, creak of the bed like she sat down to dress.

Thud of the towel, so he was right. It's hardwood upstairs, which is cold but loud. The brush of the floor like she picked the towel back up and then back to the bathroom.

Probably to the hamper that's over flowing with his shit. Makes him embarrassed suddenly, that he didn't clean up before he went for his shift on the wall.

Ain't had no one living with him for a long time. After so long of the prison and the road, it's creepy as fuck living on his own but he's resorted back to being a pig.

Bowls on the counter and bin overflowing, beds un-made and boxers on the floor. Shit. While he leaves the food to cook, he hurries around the downstairs cleaning up the mess.

More he does the worse it gets and the more effort he puts into it. Takes him longer than he planned and when he's done, he thinks about upstairs.

It's silent so he ventures up and cleans around his room. Thinks about doing the bathroom but he don't wanna intrude on her space if she's left the door open linking to the spare room.

Goes back down the stairs instead, starts up the fire and throws the fresh covers over the backs of the sofa. There. Clean and warm for when she comes down for a hot bowl of food.

Thinking of food, he contemplates having bread with the stew. Carol's taken to baking it lately.

It’s not great, considering Carol is the best cook he's ever goddamn known, but she ain't got a lot to work with and he ain't fussy, never has been.

It'll be better with the stew anyway. Even grabs two spoons to use, even though he likes using his fingers to ferry the meat to his mouth.

Faster that way and the faster he eats the quicker he fills himself up. Always good to be prepared to not eat. Food isn't a guarantee anymore.

Sets the bowls on plates so she don't burn herself and slides some bread on the side before he pads to the bottom of the stairs and listens.

No sounds.

He don't wanna overreact again, so he tries to calm his racing pulse. "Girl?"

Silence greets him and his insides squirm at the thought of going up there and trying to coax her to eat.

He ain't got no patience and he knows he'll flip out, fuck up and tell her to feed her own damn self. His skin’s already itching at all the house husband shit he's pulled.

Ain't never cooked for no one in his damn life except his pa and Merle, but those red necks don't count.

"Yeah?" Her voice calls softly.

Daryl's surprised she answers so he pauses a minute. "You hungry?"

There's the creak of the floor and then she appears at the head of the stairs. "I could smell summat cookin' but I didn't know if you'd cook for me."

"Why wouldn't I let you eat?" He frowns.

Beth shrugs, swallowed up in a t-shirt and sweats. They look like an outfit that's been sitting in someone's garage. Probably Carol's.

Her fingers twist into the t-shirt and even from the bottom of the stairs he can see her flesh going white from how tight she twists the fabric and cuts off the blood supply.

He almost winces. Don't that hurt? She looks like she's gonna pop off her own damn finger.

"Beth, c'mon, I know you ain't eat." He does cringe this time. "Sorry. Girl. Jus' come eat."

Her face twists at the name but she doesn't give him shit for it and she starts making her way down the stairs. "What you cookin'?"

"Deer stew. S'good. Hot."

A smile flickers on her face before it disappears and not just because it falls off her face but because everything goes black.

"Daryl?" She squeaks into the darkness.

He sighs. "Shit. 'Nother fuckin' power cut."

Chapter Text

“Power cuts happen often?” Beth asks from beside him.

Daryl nods, only realising she’s not gonna see him in the dark when he grunts, hand fishing right in the back of the drawer with the aid of flame from his lighter to find some candles. “Runnin’ on a generator. Backs up now an’ then.”

“Will it be out long?” She presses and he takes note of the quiver in her question.

“You scared of the dark, girl?” He asks gently, even though he don’t look up from the drawer.

“Don’t mock me,” she hisses.

Daryl glances up, his fingers closing around two thick candles in the back of the drawer. “M’not. Was scared of the dark ‘til I was ten. ‘Til Merle locked me outta the house an’ I slept in the woods.”

Beth frowns even though he’s told her this story before, she just don’t remember.

“Merle?” Is all she asks.

“Brother. Gone now.”

“Oh,” she breathes softly.

He hates that word. He hates that it mocks him every time he hears it. He turns away sharply and lights the candle, tipping it on the surface of the kitchen counter so it can stay up in its own wax.

“Why don’t you go eat? Food’s gonna get cold. Fire’s on. You’ll be able to see while I find more candles.”

Beth hesitates and he realises she really is scared of the dark. The Beth he knew wasn’t. But then, the Beth he knew didn’t crawl out of her own grave.

“I’ll wait for you,” she murmurs softly, so close he can feel all her body heat.

He don’t know what to say, so he sets the candle and makes his way down the hall with the other one, repeating the process on the table under the mirror at the bottom of the stairs.

That’s when the door knocks.

Beth squeaks and he automatically grabs her. Not to shut her up or hurt her, but to provide some kind of comfort, until he realises that his grip is too hard and most likely alien to her, which is confirmed when her body locks up even tighter, so he lets go almost as soon as he does it.

“I got it. Ain’t no one we- I. Ain’t no I don’t know.”

Leaving her by the burning candle, he crosses the few feet to the door and pulls it open. All the street lights are out so he struggles to see who it is at first, but then the candle illuminates Rick’s face and Judith in his arms.

Damn, that how long it’s been already? Rick had a two hour shift and chance to go home before coming over. He’s been running round cooking and cleaning like a house bitch for nearly three hours?

Having Beth around is pulling loose all his natural fuses and rewiring them. But then, that’s what she did to him before and that’s what he wasn’t sure about, that’s what made him hold back.

I’unno.

Biggest mistake of his fucking life.

“Hey,” Rick greets, his eyes cutting to Beth and drawing Daryl out of the depths of his thoughts. “Brought some candles. Had plenty.”

“Thanks,” Daryl grunts and steps back as he takes the waxy sticks from him.

“Hey B-” Daryl nudges Rick in the ribs before he can put his foot in his mouth and Rick coughs, recovering quickly. “Hey. Daryl feed you yet?”

He glances over at her, sees how huge her eyes are and how gold her hair is in the candle. It’s unbound and wet from her bath, swims like mermaid hair just past her ribs.

With her lips soft and her eyes wide, she looks like a live version of that Disney princess…

Rapunzel.

Learnt about her when his aunt Polly used to come stay. Her old man beat her up too, except they had a baby girl Dana who was getting more than a punch to the face from her daddy.

He always remembers Polly’s big mouth but it wasn’t, now that he’s grown. It was the swelling of another broken jaw.

He liked Polly because when she found out what her husband was doing to her girl, she fought back. Broke his fingers and fled.

When his ma found out his pa was beating him and Merle? She sighed and said, “honey, tha’s jus’ what men do when they had a rough life like your daddy. Don’t get in his way.”

“We’re ‘bout to eat,” Beth answers softly, timidly, dragging Daryl back out his head.

Good, he don’t wanna be there.

Seems she hasn’t had much interaction with Rick bar him carrying her away and she don’t know how to feel about him. Internally, Daryl sighs.

He knows she needs things like this. Can’t keep her cooped up in the house for the rest of their lives.

“We got spare, if you ain’t eat yet,” Daryl mumbles.

Rick glances up at him in surprise. Not like Daryl hosts dinner parties every day of the week.

“You got enough for Judy?” He asks, letting her grip his finger tight.

Daryl nods. “Got plenty.”

“Alrite then,” Rick answers. “Don’t gotta dish it up. I’ll sort it. Here.”

He passes over ass kicker and Daryl takes her, settling her into his chest.

“Damn, gettin’ heavy lil’ ass kicker,” he teases her as Rick surpasses him to dish up more food.

“What’d you call her?” Beth whispers, like she’s scared to raise her voice and he almost forgot she was there.

She blended so well into the candle light. Looks a lot like a candle herself. White t-shirt and light grey sweats, thick gold hair.

Daryl clears his throat. “Ass kicker. ‘Cause she kicks ass.”

Beth laughs and he very nearly squeezes ass kicker too tight. Has she laughed since she’s been back? The little body in his arms wiggles, reaching her hands for Beth and Daryl stomach squeezes.

He didn’t think ass kicker would recognise her. 

His voice is choked, but he clears it best as he can. “You wanna hold her while I get our food?”

His heart is racing when he says it but his face is relaxed. Rick will be nearly done dishing up his food and Daryl will be less than ten seconds before he gets back to her.

If she wants to hurt the baby, which he don’t really believe, then she won’t have time. Beth’s face tightens and he sees the panic in her eyes.

Daryl’s not gonna force her so he opens his mouth to withdraw the offer but she opens out her hands and he steps closer, passing ass kicker into her awaiting arms.

Beth shivers when their fingers brush against each other and he swallows tight. Please don’t let this be the wrong decision.

“Why don’t you go sit down with her? I’ll get the food.”

She doesn’t look at him, just stares at the baby like she’s an alien, which she probably is to Beth.

He clears his throat in discomfort and this makes her blink but she still doesn’t look at him when she wanders off into the living room.

He watches them until she sits in the arm chair by the fire, her hands so delicate with the smiling child in her arms she may as well be handling glass.

Daryl hesitates to leave. Fire is close to her right and ass kicker is in her lap, smiling up at Beth. His throat closes and he don’t even hear Rick come back until he nudges him with a bowl.

“How’s she doin’?” He whispers.

Beth looks up with slightly narrowed eyes and he elbows Rick away, back into the kitchen. “She ain’t gonna be doin’ no good if you keep whisperin’ ‘round her.”

Rick nods, watching as Daryl puts down the candles and uses his free hands to pick up the two plates he set out for him and Beth before the power cut.

They’re luke-warm now which he’s a little pissed about. He likes his food hot enough to burn his tongue but nothing he can do about it now.

He tries not to hurry back to the living room, make it obvious that he’s worried about her alone with Judith, not after the fuck up with the bath earlier and it seems like an eternity before he gets there.

Beth is exactly where he left her: arm chair, smiling toddler on her lap and his chest seizes at how normal she looks. 

With her hair falling in her face he can’t even see the puckered scar in her forehead, let alone the one she keeps picking on her cheekbone and brow.

Then she looks up and his stomach dives because it’s just a façade and he keeps falling into it. He wants her to be her again but he’s gotta learn to want it for her, not for him.

Daryl swallows and nudges his chin at the plate. “Here.”

“Thanks,” she whispers as she reaches up for the plate and puts it on her thigh.

Rick comes past after he’s put his own plate on the table and grabs his daughter with a smile. “Thanks.”

“I can feed her, if you want,” she says suddenly.

Daryl and Rick glance down at her and he hopes his face isn’t as surprised as Rick’s. She flushes under their scrutiny, so it probably is. He internally curses and fishes desperately for something to say.

Rick gets there first: “she’s pretty good at feedin’ herself now.”

Now. Sly bastard. Trying to prod Beth with the memory of all the nights she got up to feed the very child in her arms.

He scowls at Rick who jerks his shoulders in a shrug at him. Really ain’t no one else who’s gonna be there for Beth because they’re all turning out to be fucking morons.

Beth doesn’t answer him and seems to completely withdraw from ass kicker. She’s smart, she knows what Rick was getting at.

She clears her throat and glances down into her food, tearing at the bread until it sprinkles into the stew. Fuck, this is gonna be awkward.

He clears his throat again as he goes to sit by the table and the fire with his plate. Except he don’t make it because the door knocks again.

“Fuck, is it dinner at Dixon’s tonight or summat?” He curses as he puts his plate down again.

Food’s gonna be fucking freezing by the time he gets to it. Rick don’t offer to get it neither but he can’t really blame the guy as he sets ass kicker up with her little bowl and plastic spoon.

Where the fuck he found that Daryl hasn’t got a clue but then again, he doesn’t really dig deep into the cutlery drawer.

When he swings the door open this time, he doesn’t have to squint so much to see who it is: Carol, Carl and Michonne.

“Rick here?” Michonne asks and then sniffs. “You cookin’ Dixon?”

Daryl rolls his eyes. “Come the fuck in.”

“Nice,” Carl comments. “You got food left?”

“Kitchen,” he grunts.

Carol smiles and kisses his cheek. “Hey, pookie.” He don’t have time to answer before she goes after Carl calling, “don’t you dish it up, mister. You’re still workin’ out how to walk with one eye!”

Michonne gives him a sort of smile and passes by him. She turns into the living room where a whole family gathering seems to be going down and he sighs to himself, remembers that he’s doing it for Beth.

She needs this. He fucking don’t. He’s lived in close enough quarters with these people that he’s happy to live in separate houses for the rest of whatever life they got.

He remembers every second of it too. Hand on the door, he goes to shut it and turn back for his food, stomach grumbling in protest when he sees Glenn and Maggie strolling down the road with candles in each hand.

Not far behind them, Tara calls, “wait!” And jogs to keep up.

“Oh for fucks sake.”

Chapter Text

Being around all these people ain’t good for Daryl’s blood pressure.

Don’t really know how to be around people anymore anyway and hell, he wasn’t much good at it before. Just being with her. Easy as breathing, in the end.

Went so long together out there in the wide, empty pockets of the world that he forgot what other faces looked like. Thought of something beautiful and it was just her face.

Her big, blue eyes and golden hair. Same as he sees now, across the room, by the fire. Plate on the floor and he’s glad that she ate everything, but she’s quiet.

Shrunk back into herself in the swell of conversation around the room. The walls are gonna bust soon there’s so many goddamn people.

Like dinner at Dixon’s tonight or some shit. He only done it for Beth so the more she shys away from everyone the more he wants to kick everyone the fuck out and go to bed.

God knows what time it is. Still ain’t got power, he knows that much. She’s staring into the fire like she has been for hours now, mumbling something to herself.

He wants to know what it is, but over the din of the room he can’t hear a thing. Frankly, he’s just happy she didn’t flip out when Maggie came through the door, or Rick for that matter.

Told Maggie she didn’t want nothing to do with her this morning and Daryl’s still got the split lip for backing her. He ain’t as much as a prick as everyone thinks though, so he didn’t turn Maggie away when she showed up.

Beth needs something and if Maggie can do it right, then maybe she’ll get some kind of relationship from her.

Daryl’s just about to head to the kitchen for more food when there’s a lull in the room and it’s like someone reaches into his chest and pulls loose his heart because he can finally hear Beth.

Don’t think anyone else can. He’s used to listening out for small sounds: for the scurry of feet and the beat of a tiny heart.

No one else hears her, but he does.

“Hold on… you gotta hold on… take my hand, I’m standin’ right here gotta hold on…”

He’s punched straight into that memory, in the prison. Beth singing clear and bright under the moonlit windows.

It sucks him in and spits him back out, back into the too hot room, full of fire and body heat. His face feels hot and his chest itchy.

His eyes are pinned on Beth, on the agitated chant of her mouth, of the pucker between her brows, drawing on the scars.

He don’t want her to get frustrated with herself and start smacking her forehead again, not infront of these judgy pricks, but he don’t know how to get to her.

How to stop her before she does something that anyone else sees and decides to lock her up for.

He don’t have to though, because Maggie calls him. “Daryl!” She shoots a smile at Beth. “Why don’t you tell us how you found my baby sister?”

He scowls at her. Is she fucking thick? Beth don’t want to be associated to her name or a life she don’t believe in.

Besides, not like he wants to go into detail about how he cried like a little pussy and knocked her unconscious because she attacked him.

Definitely don’t wanna be sharing with the fucking world how sick he felt when he heard that fucking who? But everyone’s looking at Beth now and he can see her pulse rabbiting in her throat.

Fucking Maggie.

Daryl clears his throat and jerks his head. “Followed some prints.”

The crowd of big eyes stare over at him and internally he cringes. He fucking hates being on the spot.

“Found her an’ brought her back to Aaron. Drove here fast as we could.”

“That it?” Carl asks and Daryl feels a little vindicated in the sly dig Rick gives him.

“Yeah. Wasn’t gonna follow the prints first, so.” He shrugs, like it ain’t nothing. “But I did an’ I found ‘er.”

“What made you change your mind?”

The whole room looks over at Beth who spoke so quietly it’s amazing she even penetrated the thick bubble of conversation all around them.

The words pull tight on his throat muscles because they’re exactly the same as that night.

There’s a twisted sense of sour satisfaction that he knows how this conversation will go. That even before he says, “I’unno,” because he don’t, he knows what her answer will be and he knows the blank look of no recognition will crush him.

Oh.”

He fucking hates that word.

They’re just staring at each other. Through the crowd that is his family and once hers, they just stare at each other and he knows several pairs of eyes are pinging from him to her but he can’t take his eyes away from the shimmering tears.

They fall like crystal down her cheeks and before Maggie can even finish, “honey, what’s w-”

Beth’s choking, “m’sorry. M’sorry.” As she bolts to her feet, trips through everyone on the floor and flies past him out of the living room.

There’s the thump of her feet and then the slam of the spare bedroom door and he feels like he’s been snapped back. Candles and the fire come back into focus, Judith’s small snores and Maggie’s curious eyes.

“What the hell was that?” Maggie asks as she stands, her worried gaze glancing towards the stairs.

He shrugs but she narrows her eyes and immediately whispers, “bullshit.”’

“Maggie,” Glenn murmurs from her side, taking her arm. “S’alright.”

“No, it’s not.” She shrugs off her husbands arm and starts for the stairs.

“That ain’t a good idea,” he rumbles and he blows his chest out a bit when he blocks her way. “You done nothin’ but upset her. You can’t force her back.”

“Like hell I can’t. Get out of my way!” Maggie scowls, squaring right into his face.

He’s never hit a woman. For all his background and history, for his shitty life, he’s never hit a woman but he’s never come so close. Beth just fucks him up.

“He’s right,” Rick steps in. “Someone else should go up, Maggie. Not you, not today.”

Under Rick’s apparent dismissal, Maggie falls back, tears glistening. “Glenn, we’re goin’.”

Glenn looks helplessly between Rick and Daryl but follows after Maggie anyway. The front door shuts behind them.

“I can go,” Tara volunteers. “She don’t really know me so she might feel okay talkin’?”

Daryl shakes his head. “You were there with the governor. That ain’t a memory I want comin’ back for her.”

He pretends like he don’t notice Tara’s shamed face turning to look at the fire, or the tears that shine in her eyes. 

“I’ll go,” Carl whispers. “I’ll take Judith. She’s been lookin’ at her all night.”

“Yeah,” Rick answers. “She was holdin’ her earlier, that seemed okay.”

“Naw,” Daryl cuts in. “Jus’ leave her. She don’t want people chasin’ after her like she can’t be left alone.”

Rick sighs and nods, taking Judith from Carls arms. “C’mon then, let’s head out.”

Michonne and Carol stand, Carl next and one by one everyone starts to say their goodbyes and trickle out the room. He don’t see them all out, they know where the door is and he’s fed up of this hosting bullshit he’s been playing to.

It obviously wasn’t as good for Beth as he thought it was gonna be, so. He thinks about checking on her. It’s still dark and he didn’t light no candles up the stairs.

He don’t want a repeat of earlier though and just like yesterday it’s been a long ass day. 

He won’t knock her door down, but he goes up the stairs anyway with all the damn candles everyone brought him and lights them.

Sets one at the top of the stairs where a little window sits and on the side board outside the bathroom. Lights a few in his room too.

Bed looks comfy as fuck but it’s a mess downstairs and usually he wouldn’t give a shit but after the clean up he did earlier it’s itching at him that the place is a mess again.

Doesn’t wash up though, just collects bowls and cups and throws them in the sink. Heads back to the sofa with aching muscles and heavy eyes like sand bags; collapses down onto it with a grunt.

His eyes barely struggle to stay open as he stares into the fire, let’s the dying heat keep him warm without the cover over the back of the sofa.

Considering how shitty he’s been sleeping lately, he don’t expect to fall asleep, but he pillows his hand behind his head and slides right into it.


Lights flicker around him. Candle lights. He lit some before he fell asleep, he remembers but the arrangement is weird.

The room is weird, the more it comes into focus and his bed is so damn comfy. It’s not a bed though, he realises as he wakes up some more.

It’s a casket.

It’s the same casket and when his eyes look up, there she is: back to him, hair in a ponytail swinging behind her head; grey cardigan as she plays the piano.

And we’ll buy… beer to shotgun… and we’ll lay in the lawn… and we’ll be good.”

The notes fall off like she’s done and he frowns because this isn’t how he remembers this and to be frank he don’t know what the fuck’s going on or why she’s here or why he’s here. He don’t wanna do this again.

He already knows how fucking wrong it goes.

“Girl?” He whispers.

She ignores him and starts playing again. The same notes, the same lyrics, in exactly the same way, like a rewind on time.

And we’ll buy… beer to shotgun… and we’ll lay in the lawn… and we’ll be good.

“Beth,” Daryl mutters. “Look at me.”

Her head slowly starts to turn as she sings the same words again, each fraction of her head bringing her closer until she’s staring at him and his stomach nearly hurtles straight out his fucking mouth, everything swimming in his gut and clogging his throat.

The gun shot in her forehead is leaking. Not slow, not drips but a steady gush like a nosebleed, down the bridge of her nose and to the floor. Each drop is loud in the silent room. Loud and long.

Drip, drip, drip

The more he looks at her the more it fucks him up but he’s frozen, just taking in all the horrifying details.

The torn stitches gushing black blood, the whites of her eye and the clump of crimson hair against her head. He don’t think it can get worse, but of course it can.

Because then she opens her mouth and says, “we’ll be good.”

What she says isn’t the problem.

The problem is the maggots that crawl out of her mouth.


Daryl jerks up and when he hears the same lyrics as his dream his heart squeezes but there’s something about being awake that solidly means he is awake.

In dreams, he can’t tell. But the words, he hears them, he knows he does. When he gets up and follows the sound, he finds Beth at the sink, washing up.

It’s such a mundane thing to do that he can’t help but stare. Eyes boring into the back of her head as she struggles to get through the song she once used to lull him to sleep.

“An we’ll buy… an’ pine for… an’ we’ll be… we’ll be…”

There’s the same agitated hitch to her voice and even though he don’t wanna keep spiralling into this madness, even though he’s fucking exhausted, the dream messed him up and now he feels like he’s been rammed through the chest with a spike.

“An’ we’ll be good,” he whispers.

Beth gasps and starts to face him but he’s already turned his back and walked away.

Chapter Text

What a fucking day.

As if that nightmare didn’t fuck him up good enough yesterday and then waking to Beth mirroring his brains messed up thoughts, Rick hauled him out of his pit to go out.

He spent most of yesterday avoiding Beth. Went hunting. Got some more meat and some breathing room away from whatever the hell is happening to his life.

Rick saw him moping around, skulking our the gate at dawn and rolling in well past midnight. He didn’t even see Beth because he collapsed straight into his bed. 

He knows Rick felt sorry for him yesterday, still feels sorry for him now, especially stuck with Beth and he hates that.

After the uncomfortable silence they all sat in together the night before last, Rick saw how draining it is being around Beth but just because he can’t handle it don’t mean Daryl can’t.

Didn’t matter the reason, they went on the run. Been a while since he’s been on one really. Yesterday didn’t count since it was just a deer hunt.

After the walls went down and they lost Deanna; Rick lost that pretty little girlfriend and her kids, Daryl mostly watched the wall and went recruiting with Aaron.

More people means more hands and he knew how badly they needed a new crew to fix the walls back up.

Looks like all that time he spent avoiding runs came back on him tenfold because they got the rug pulled out from under them today by some smooth talking little prick who calls himself ‘Jesus’.

Rick’s dealing with him now while Daryl turned tail and headed back to the house because he’s been thinking about Beth all day and his arms are fucking killing him.

When he comes through the door, the place is quiet but for the crackle of flames. He frowns into the candle lit hallway.

Power came back this morning but maybe Beth likes the softer light. Denise says it’ll be easier on her eyes and reduce the headaches.

He didn’t even know Beth had headaches but Denise thinks it’s more than likely. He had chance to catch up with her today, before he got home.

Apparently she’s been looking for him too, since she heard about Beth coming back. There’s not much she can do to help.

Not just because she ain’t got confidence in herself but because none of them have seen something like this before.

Besides, it’s not like Beth’s really suffering at the moment with much of anything, not something solid he can present to Denise for medical opinion or at least not anything she’s telling him.

Some flashbacks are normal for amnesia but Denise told him to watch out for the ‘self-harming’ after he told her that Beth got agitated and hit herself.

Daryl tried to take her seriously but self-harming seemed like a stretch. Maybe because if he agreed what she was doing was to harm herself, he would have to face the healing burn on his hand.

He kicks off his boots and puts down his bow, rolls his neck on his shoulders and turns the corner to the living room. What he finds stops him in his tracks: confused.

Not confused because he doesn’t understand what’s happening, but confused because he don’t know how he feels about it.

Beth sits crossed legged on a cushion on the floor, her back to Michonne, who sits above her on the sofa with her legs spread to either side of Beth’s shoulders, her fingers sifting through Beth’s hair.

Except they’re not sifting. They’re twisting and turning. Plaiting. He saw his ma doing it as a kid but rarely, only when her hair grew out.

Most of the time she had bald patches from his pa dragging her around by his meaty fist in her brown curls.

No one speaks, even though they both know he’s here and he’s obviously watching them. There’s a soft kind of lull to the room.

The fire crackling, a blanket around Beths legs and Michonnes fingers expertly tugging and twisting and creating braids.

Beth doesn’t flinch once, just sits cradling a cup of something steaming and stares into space. His gut tugs a little, wondering if she’s okay.

She looks distant, maybe a little too distant like she’s out of reach but when his throat is clogged with questions, Michonne looks up at him and gives him a soft smile.

He relaxes back into the balls of his feet but the soft rock on his heels brings Beths attention up to him. With her head out the way, he can see what she’s drinking.

Pine needle tea.

He nearly chokes. Between the braids and the tea, plus every fucking thing that’s happened recently, he’s having to battle down the hope that surges in him whenever he sees Beth honouring little things she doesn’t understand.

When they were running together, it was warm. Blisteringly warm, but some nights it just wasn’t. Some nights it was so cold he couldn’t feel his fingers.

He remembers Beth shivering so bad in her sleep guilt was eating him up inside, so he went down to the river bank they were camping by and filled their one flask with water.

Boiled it over the fire as best as he could without burning the flask and then got a load of pine needles to flavour it. Was something he used to have if he stayed out in the woods as a kid.

When he was ten Merle locked him out and it was the scariest night of his life, but after that it stopped being terrifying and started being his safe haven.

Sometimes he would pack his things and run to the safety of the trees around his trailer, until one night a wild dog found him.

Bit him up pretty bad and he had to limp home back to his pa because he had nothing on him to fix himself up. But before that, in the cold nights, he used to make his pine tea.

So that’s what he did for Beth and when she woke up that night, they sat and shared it and every cold night after that, she used to ask him to make it.

Daryl clears his throat as she jerks her chin up at him and he jerks his back at her. “Better tea than that ‘round here.”

“Oh.” She glances down at the mug, which she’s nearly finished. “Used to make it all the time, before. When I was alone.”

It must make his face spasm because she frowns and looks into the fire, turning her head so sharply he watches the strands of her hair slip out of Michonnes nimble fingers.

She doesn’t say anything, but her mouth tightens as she gathers the hair back and begins to twist it again.

There’s mostly a big mass of hair, but he can already see three quarters of Beth’s head has been braided into thick, small plaits.

They almost look like Michonne’s dread locks, but they’re not tight on her head and they don’t encompass all the free spaces of her scalp.

They’re more like the braids she used to twine herself and he wonders if she asked for them.

“Rough day?” Michonne asks.

Beth doesn’t look up to see his answer, but from the side of her face he can see her eyes darting back and forth in the fire, like she can see him there.

“Could say that. Met some guy out there. Might be trouble. You?”

A small wrinkle appears between her brows. “Rick okay?”

“Rick’s dealin’ with ‘im. Be fine.”

She stretches her legs outwards and binds the braid with a strip of fabric. As he looks closer, he realises that there’s a pile by her thigh of multi-coloured strips.

Looks like she’s using them to hold the plaits in place. The silence isn’t tense like he thought but kinda stretches around them.

He wonders if he should go and mull around the kitchen, find something to do; to cook. He wonders if Beth ate yet or at all.

Pine tea is an illusion, makes you feel better when you ain’t got no meat to put in your belly but soon the hunger gnaws at your gut.

Just as he’s clearing his throat to ask, Michonne slaps her thighs. “Tha’s it, m’done.”

Beth blinks slowly and glances up, reaching a hand behind her hair to play with the mix of braids and loose curls.

Michonnes hand follows behind her, sifting the strands as her dark fingers trail over the bumps and there’s a breathless moment as her finger parts hair and rides over the scar in Beths head.

Daryls chest freezes and Beth goes rigid, the beginning of a smile fixing so harshly on her face it pulls at her brows and tightens her forehead. “Thanks.”

The one word is so weighted he could be crushed under it, is crushed under it and all of sudden he don’t wanna be in the room, don’t wanna see.

He don’t move though and then Michonnes finger falls away and she stands quickly, moves out of the cage of Beths body.

“I best get goin’. Check on Rick.”

He nods his chin and watches her pass him, to the door and out of it without another word from any of them.

When it shuts behind her he feels Beths gaze on him but when he turns to look at her she’s staring into her half empty mug.

Daryl clears his throat. “You eat?”

Beth glances up and shakes her head, fingers clenched on the mug; nail beds so chewed down he almost winces. “Wanna help me make summat?”

He ain’t got a clue why he’s offering for her to join him. All he knows is that he’s been gone all day and paranoia has been riding him.

Wondering what she’s doing, how she’s feeling, where she is, especially after not seeing her all day yesterday. If he can just keep his eye on her for a solid five minutes before he forces himself to sleep again, he’ll be fine.

Beth looks hesitant and she grips the mug so tightly it’s like she’s trying to find an anchor there.

He moves to leave, not wanting her to feel like he’s waiting on her, or that she has to come with him but he doesn’t get very far before she jumps up to come after him, her mug discarded onto the coffee table.

When she stands he stops to wait again and then like an idiot tries to navigate his looming body and hers –small and thin as she is- down the narrow hallway to the kitchen.

Their arms bump together and he notices that even while she flinches, she doesn’t edge into the wall or try to squirm by, in fact she presses closer, their arms riding together the rest of the way.

It ain’t like he’s been around many women or knows how to be. He never really got chance: spending too much time dicking around with Merle.

But even he isn’t frigid enough to get excited by a womans arm brushing his. Even still, his whole body floods with goose bumps like she’s run the pad of her finger over the strip of skin at his waist.

He breathes deep and loosens his chest even as it seizes until they clear into the kitchen and he heads for the cupboards. Carol drops ‘groceries’ around for him every four days, says she’s gotta make sure he eats or he won’t.

He never knows what’s in the cupboards so he takes a moment to clears his throat before he says, “want spag’etti an’ canned meat balls that taste like shit?”

Beth snorts a laugh and he almost stops dead grabbing the can but manages not to. “Can I help?”

“Er’, yeah,” he grunts, handing the cans over. “Opener’s in the draw behind you.”

When he’s got the pasta he turns to face her, watching her surf through the drawer until she produces the tin can opener.

Makes him wonder how the memory thing works: what she can and can’t recall. When you lose your life shouldn’t you come back a dumb kid?

No idea how to tie your shoes and shit But Beth ain’t. She knows how to be alive, she just don’t know how to be a person. Little better than a walker.

He bends for the pot just so he don’t have to look at her and when he comes back up she’s running the edge of her thumb over the can opener.

His gut twists but it don’t look hard enough to cut, the skin still pink and edging towards white.

“How’d you know what I’s tryin’ to sing yesterday?”

He don’t like it when she asks questions because he don’t wanna lie to her but how can he tell her without her flipping out about him associating her to Beth?

Has it not occurred to her by now that she must be? That if all these bits of stories she can connect to, kinda remember resonate with her then there’s no way she’s anyone but Beth?

Except it probably has occurred to her. It probably is something she’s thought of and turned away from in fear.

He don’t think he would wanna live up to the expectations of other people just because they claimed they were someone he knew in a time he don’t remember neither.

Maybe she’s starting to realise Beth was once her and now she has to work that out.

Even still, he ain’t gonna lie to her and if he can give her enough trust and loyalty to prove that while she once was Beth, she no longer has to be, not with him, she might feel better about it.

He clears his throat and rips open the plastic, pouring the pasta into the pan just to buy some time. From the corner of his eye he can see her thumb turning white against the blade.

“Used to sing it. Wrote it too, think. Sang it when we was runnin’ together, got me to sleep when I couldn’t.”

She stares at him for a long moment before she whispers, “it’s your song isn’t it? The one that makes you think about her. About Beth.”

He sighs, tired of that time taking over him. “Yeah.”

“’Cause you loved her.”

Daryl’s managed to avoid this question a few times now. In Ricks: ‘I know you lost somethin’ back there,’ and Carol giving him her knife, telling him to feel it.

In the burn on his hand under the heat of his cigarette. In the tears that soaked his face and the haze that barely kept him alive for so long after. He’s tired of lying.

“Daryl?” Beth presses.

He clears his throat and jerks his chin into his shoulder. “Yeah. Yeah I loved her. Wasn’t enough.”

Beths eyes are sad and he hates it. “Why?”

His face is so hot and his eyes so itchy, throat so tight that he don’t wanna answer but he forces it out, “’cause she made me. ‘Cause she loved the world and it loved her back. Sun shone on her face, wind blew her hair. The trees danced and the grass swayed under her feet. She was…” he laughs bitterly. “Wasn’t human. Was summat else. Summat too good. The song, it’s right. It’s right for her.”

Beth’s smile is watery and his eyes dart away, glance down and freeze, gut throwing as he notices the blood pissing down her thumb. “Beth!”

She frowns and follows his gaze, notices her bleeding thumb and drops the can opener with a clang, droplets of blood flying across the counter. “M’sorry.”

“Quick, c’mere I gotta first aid kit. Good job Carol made me keep it.”

She nods and collapses against the counter, her cheeks bright red. “Gotta clean the wound,” she whispers softly.

He was hurringing closer but he pauses a minute to listen, to watch.

“S’not deep,” she says, observing her own flesh. “Won’t need stitches.”

He’s pushing it, but he still asks, “how’d you know?” As he takes her thumb, popping the kit and grabbing the sterile wipes.

He don’t make it a big thing when he takes her hand, finds it warm. It is a big thing though.

“I… dunno.” She swallows and glances away before she looks back at him, spreading her fingers so she has room to work. “Don’t tell the others. Please.”

He glances up at her under his hair and stares for a moment, knowing exactly how she knows before he jerks his head. “I won’t.”

She’s right: it ain’t deep so he just puts a plaster on it, smoothing it down on her skin. Seems that every bit of memory she has always comes back to Hershel.

Is that part of her pushed so far down it’s screaming to come up? She has flickers or their time together but she lost her daddy just before that.

When his fingers brush the cuff of her wrist she shudders, their eyes on the peak of scar that shows and suddenly he hopes she don’t remember no more tonight.

Beth frowns when he glances up at her and pushes her sleeve down, peering at the silvery white strip of skin under the harsh glare of the kitchen light.

“I was like this before,” she whispers softly.

Daryl swallows. “You was sad. You tried to opt out.”

Beths eyes water and he prays to God she doesn’t cry because he ain’t got a clue how to make her stop. “I don’t feel pain. It jus’ ain’t there. I tried.”

He thinks of the scars he saw when he ripped her out the bath and thinks he might be sick.

Her voice is choked when she says, “I ain’t never gonna be Beth again ‘cause I don’t feel anythin’. But s’all wrong. ‘Cause I get scared an’ sad an’ angry but I don’t feel this.” She waves her thumb at him. “I ain’t right.”

He shrugs and tries to laugh but it’s gritty and choked. “S’cool: no pain. Wouldn’t have minded it some decades ago. Hell, could do with it now. Gettin’ munched on by walkers looks like a shitty way to go. No dignity.” 

She gives a watery laugh and it’s like it shakes the tears loose so they fall down her cheeks. “Why you so nice to me? How can you even stand to look at me, when I look like her but I ain’t?”

He glances down at her, his eyes tracing her face and her wet lashes. “’Cause we had each others back before an’ I still got yours now. You ain’t gotta be Beth, you just gotta be alive.”

Beth smiles softly and grips his hands, cradling them to her chest. “Not one version of me has ever been worthy of you, Daryl.” Her voice drops to a whisper and her eyes are intimate when she says, “I don’t know if she ever told you, but there ain’t no way she didn’t love you back. M’sorry I can’t be her for you. The pain on your face when you said those words… when I do certain things. I feel like I’m destroyin’ you.”

Every word is so painfully accurate it’s like she’s hitting him between his eyes. He glances down at their hands and prays to God he does not fucking look at her and cry like a little pussy. “It hurt to look at you before, ain’t nothin’ changed now.”

There’s movement and suddenly her forehead is pressed to his. “Should I leave? I’ve been so selfish.”

“No,” he spits desperately, panic clutching at him. “You don’t gotta go anywhere.”

He tries to think of something more reassuring to say but his tongue is in knots.

It doesn’t matter shortly after because words are forgotten when their lips slide together and her teeth catch his bottom one, her head tilting to kiss him deeper.

Chapter Text

Daryl would have thought kissing the girl of his literal dreams would be everything he can pretend he never let himself imagine.

Except it’s not.

It’s not because she’s not really the girl of his dreams, just the shell. All the insides: the memories, the laughs, the tears; the pain, that’s all been stripped away from her and he don’t want her to be someone she’s not but also he can’t pretend, can’t lie to himself.

Kissing her, it ain’t right. He knows it ain’t right, like kissing a vulnerable, confused girl who’s latching onto the first person who understands her, if even a little bit.

Yet even though he knows, he still can’t stop his hand from cupping the back of her neck, his fingers from squeezing and dragging her closer.

The kiss is deep and warm and everything he used to see on crappy television shows but there’s an undercurrent of something no movie could ever replicate, no person could ever truly describe.

Loss and pain; anger and sadness. They ain’t two normal people kissing. Before he knows it he’s shoved her into the counter and his fingers are clenched in her hair, fucking up her braids and her curls and all the effort Michonne must have put into it.

Beth gasps as she lets her hands ride his bare biceps, her fingers questing at his skin. Daryl groans against her mouth and lets her tongue slide in, even though he shouldn’t, even though he’s taking advantage of her and his insides are screaming for him to let her go.

In every way possible.

But he don’t, he can’t. He yanks her closer and she’s not complaining. Legs spread, they hook around his hips when he grabs hers and slides her on to the kitchen counter.

Then his hands are on her thighs and dragging her closer, his mouth on her throat as he kisses her there, inhaling the scent of her; tasting the heat that lies there like buried treasure.

Beths moans are addicting: all the little gasps and the hitch of her breath and it’s hard to stop, to stay reasonable, to stay sane, but he finally manages to grunt as he gently pushes her face away from where she was leaning in for more kisses, his heart squeezing at her big innocent eyes.

Beth slides off the counter and then stretches on her tip toes to press soft, butterfly kisses to his lips and he can’t handle it, he can’t handle any of it, but even worse is when she breathes against his mouth: “I feel like I been waitin’ a long time to do that.”

He sighs as he cups her face, his head titled to hers. “Beth…”

“Shh,” she whispers, her fingers desperately covering his mouth. “Don’t call me that. Don’t ruin this. Please.”

Everything aches. He’s so tired. He takes her hands and squeezes them, finds them small and warm. “I don’t wanna take ‘vantage of you. I don’t wanna be that guy. The guy that Maggie don’t like.”

“Forget Maggie,” she laughs breathlessly. “I don’t care what she thinks!”

“I care,” he rumbles, his gut tensing the more agitated she gets.

“So all that bullshit ‘bout ‘you ain’t gotta be Beth you just gotta be alive’ was jus’ that? Bullshit?”

“No,” he dismisses, squeezing her wrists. “I meant it. Mean it. Girl… You’re jus’… you’re jus’ v-”

“Not her,” Beth interrupts, snatching her hands out of his. “I’m just not her an’ I’ll never be good ‘nough ‘til I am. You’ll never want me ‘til I am!”

“Beth…”

“STOP calling me that!” She screams and he doesn’t have time to stop her before she grips her hair and tears.

A clump of blonde just falls right out, the strands caught up in her fingers and fist. He ain’t never felt sicker in his life and even more so because it’s his fucking fault and he knows it.

“Girl!” He grabs her fist and clenches it tight in his hand. “Hurtin’ yourself ain’t the answer! ‘Cause you don’t feel the pain. ‘Cause you wanna. This ain’t the way to do it.”

She blinks up at him with watery blue eyes and a bitter, twisted smile, the same one she wore in that bedroom at Maggies. “Then what do I do, Daryl? ‘Cause this is me, forever, so what do I do?”

He stares at her, at a loss. He ain’t got a clue what to say. Ain’t got a clue how to help her, how to channel that aggressive agitation so that she don’t hurt no one, least of all herself.

Before he can summon up something to say, she yanks her hand out of his. “M’goin’ to bed. Don’t worry ‘bout dinner.”

There’s nothing to say, so he just lets her go.


It’s painfully fucking ironic that the first night he gets a deep, dark sleep without dreams or nightmares or songs, he gets woken up.

“The fuck?” He lashes upwards but the heavy hand on his shoulder stops him.

“Daryl’s, s’me. C’mon, need you over my place,” Rick whispers into the silence.

“S’goin’ on?” He grumbles sleepily. “The kids okay?”

“They’re fine. That Jesus guy, damn near gave me a heart attack. Woke me up. Says he needs to take us someplace.”

“Jesus?” Daryl repeats.

He’s not quite with it but he rolls out of bed and follows Rick down the stairs, his tired eyes looking at Beths door for a second before he keeps walking.

At the front door he grabs his boots and then silently shuts it behind him, shoving his feet into them on the porch. It’s early, butt crack of dawn early and he squints into the bright sun as they head to Ricks.

“Tell me wha’s goin’ on.”

Rick squints into the sunlight too, his hand on his waist as he walks. “Jesus woke me an’ Michonne ‘bout an’ hour ‘go. Said he’s got a place: the Hilltop. People there. Could trade. Could make friends.”

“Could make enemies,” Daryl adds automatically, mind heading to the Governor. He tries to wrap his brain around the rest of what Rick’s saying but he keeps getting stuck on one thing. “You an’ ‘Chonne?”

Rick gives a nervous little laugh and Daryl already knows. “We er… yeah.”

“You an’ ‘Chonne?” Daryl repeats, but it’s not surprised. “How long’s that been goin’ down?”

“Been summat there for a while. Jus’… got let out. Last night.”

Daryl grunts a kind of, “right.”

Rick laughs again and rubs at his beard. “You think I’m crazy?”

He thinks about Beth back home, in bed. About how he’s been building her up with hope that she’s okay as the person she came back as, but how he smashed that hope to pieces last night when he turned her away because she wasn’t the girl he was thinking about.

Finally, he just shakes his head. “Nah, ain’t crazy.”

Gaze trained ahead, he can still feel Ricks sorrowful eyes on the side of his face. “Summat happen?”

“Like what?” Daryl mutters, eyes seeking Ricks porch.

“You tell me.”

They come to a stop before the porch steps and turn to face each other. “S’exactly it. Nothin’ happened.”

Rick frowns up at the house. “You think s’wise? Bein’ in the house together like that?”

He shrugs. “Probably not. But what m’gonna do? Brought’a back, an’ everyone else makes her freak.”

“I get that. But you got feelin’s too, an’ what you went through with Be-”

The front door opens, cutting off everything Rick was saying and Daryl didn’t wanna hear.

“He wants us to go to the Hilltop,” Michonne introduces herself. “Today.”

Chapter Text

“You’d think that when the world goes to shit we could get a lie in.”

“Watch your mouth,” Rick snaps at Carl.

Carl shrugs and collapses onto the sofa by Daryls thigh. He frowns down at the kid. He’s been miserable since he lost his eye and he’s starting to think Beth isn’t the only one around here trying to find themselves again.

Maybe he should say something to Rick about it because it seems like no one else is recognising how lost the kid is.

“So what? We goin’?” He asks, his eyes skipping over to Jesus. “You trust this asshole?”

Rick glances at Daryl and then Jesus, rubbing at his face. “Trust? No. Believe? Yes. He wants to trade an’ help each other out. S’a win-win.”

Daryl rolls his shoulder in agreement. Don’t feel right in his gut but Rick ain’t never led them wrong before, not even back in the prison.

Rick’s revenge fuels him and maybe not as strongly as his family, but it pulls through when they’re threatened. Right now, this mysterious Hilltop place is a threat.

“I’m right here guys,” Jesus interrupts. “Can we get goin’?”

“Wait for Michonne to get back with the others, then we’ll go,” Rick dismisses.

“I’m here,” Michonne answers, stepping through the door with Maggie and Carol. “We ready?”

“Yeah,” Jesus answers for them.

Daryl scowls and glares at the stranger. “Ain’t no one talkin’ to you.”

“Do you really think we have time for your macho bullshit right now?” Jesus asks with squinted eyes.

Daryl steps forward but Maggie steps up and touches his chest. “We’re ready to go. Are you?”

He frowns down at her. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

She smiles as she crosses her arms over her chest. “I saw Beth in the window on the way here. She looked like she was lookin’ for you.”

“Could be lookin’ for anyone,” he dismisses.

Maggie rolls her eyes and looks at Carol, who smiles. “You know she’s lookin’ for you. No one else can get near her.”

“’Chonne did,” Daryl answers. “Got home an’ she was braidin’ her hair.”

Michonne’s tight mouth softens a little into a grimace. “Had a bad day, lookin’ for Deanna. Made me think ‘bout someone else who has havin’ a bad time. She asked me to braid her hair when she seen mine.”

So Beth did ask for those braids. Daryl tries to fight back the excitement that flutters in his gut at the thought of Beth fighting through to the surface.

He still turned her away yesterday. She kissed him and he turned her away like a child trying it on with an adult. Guilt eats the excited butterflies and then he’s left feeling sick and torn.

Should he speak to Beth before he leaves? This could be the last time if anything goes wrong. Still, he don’t want her involved in this, not if it’s something that’s about to go down. He knows Beth.

In the prison, she was going crazy stuck behind the walls. She’s been in his house for a couple of days now. No doubt that agitation he keeps getting glimpses of is stirring inside her.

If he tells her he’s heading out to this new place, her inherent curiosity will mean she’ll fight him on the decision to come with.

He can’t go to her if he wants to keep her safe and if that means possibly not getting to say goodbye? Fine. He’d rather her hate him in the future and be alive to feel it.

“M’ready to go,” he finally says.

Maggie narrows her eyes at him but simply says, “Glenn’s gettin’ the others. Let’s go.”


Hilltop is real.

Hilltop is fancy as fuck.

It’s bad enough being in Alexandria with all its three story houses complete with frill and padded out attics. Then to come here and gaze upon ‘the house’ with its large windows and intricate doors has his skin crawling.

He isn’t from this life. These guys are, even now. Rick was a cop and Maggie went to college, Carol was a married woman.

They’re all fancy and rich in their past life and those kind of ideals carry with a person. All he knows are little more than broken sinks and bare mattresses.

He didn’t go on no school trips to places like this or have packed lunches and he learnt to kill animals to feed himself because his pa spent all their money on cigarettes and beer.

A cigarette is what he’s craving looking at this place, that feeling inside him like when he gutted the possum on the porch in Alexandria, a need to fuck this pretty place up.

To stain it yellow with his cigarette smoke and scuff his boots on the hard wood floor. Reminds him that he wasn’t made for places like this and his body shows him with the tightness of his throat.

The house isn’t their biggest problem though because according to Greg or Gregorio or some shit, there’s another group in town.

Negan and his Saviours. They’re forcing the Hilltop to give over half of what they scavenge and grow just so that Negan doesn’t decide to kill anyone.

Lost a couple already seems like, when they first had altercations with Negan and his men. Frankly, he thinks anyone called ‘Negan’ ain’t no one to be worrying about but it seems Negan isn’t the problem.

The problem is the numbers Negan has backing him. Then again, because apparently they’re now a group willing to do other peoples bidding, Maggie offers Gregdickwadorio a deal.

The opportunity to go into business with Alexandria, if they take out Negan and his men for the Hilltop.

“The fuck?” Daryl interrupts, shoving himself between Rick and Maggie’s shoulders. “We everyone’s whippin’ boys now? You jus’ hire out our muscle?”

“Hear her out,” Rick mutters, settling his hand on Daryl’s chest.

Daryl shrugs him off, squinting his eyes at Maggie as she talks. “Blatant terms: we kill Negan and the Saviours and then you do business with us. Equal trade.”

He hates everything about this but Rick’s behind it and he has to admire the strength of her father’s soul in Maggie.

It makes him feel unexplainably sick in the hot sunlight as he has the realisation that the Greene family are a solid bunch. Makes him kind of hopeful for Beth, that somewhere deep inside, her heritage is fighting through to save her.

“Agreed, Martha,” Greg answers and offers his hand.

Daryl scowls. “S’Maggie fuckin’ Greene you dumb prick.”

Maggie glances at him as she shakes the spineless wimps limp hand and her smile is blinding in the high afternoon sun.


When they get back to Alexandria, he takes Rick’s arm and stops him from going inside. “Need to talk.”

“Look, if it’s about the Hilltop-” Rick starts.

“S’not,” Daryl mutters. “S’bout Carl. He ain’t ‘imself, Rick.”

“I know my son,” Rick answers defensively, shaking his arm out of Daryl’s grasp. “He just needs time.”

“Time, Rick? How much time you got? We’re gonna go an’ kill these guys we don’t even know for some guy we don’t even know an’ we could die doin’ it, do you get that?” He’s breathless when he finishes and he didn’t realise how much it was weighing on him.

Ricks jaw clenches and unclenches in the same second. “Y’right. He needs me.” He laughs humourlessly. “He lost his eye, Daryl. How’d I help him with that?”

“Start by talkin’ to him.” He shrugs. “Ask him what’s wrong.”

Rick licks his lips wet in the dry heat. “You give good advice for someone avoidin’ their own issues.”

“I ain’t avoidin’ nothin’,” he dismisses. “Nothin’ goin’ on with me.”

“Yeah? Tell that to your face. You been miserable all day. Summat happened with you an’ Beth, you just won’t tell me.”

Daryl sighs and swings his bow aimlessly. “She kissed me.”

“Okay,” Rick presses, peering intently at him. “What? An’ you had sex?”

“No!” Daryl shouts before he goes blood red.

Rick raises his eyebrow. “Uhuh. So you mean you wanted to, but didn’t.”

Scowling, he lightly punches Rick in the arm. “Stop.”

Rick laughs and rubs at his shoulder. “So why did you turn her away?”

Daryl swallows and shrugs. “She ain’t Beth.”

“So why’d you sound like you regret it?”

“’Cause I been tellin’ her she can be whoever she wants an’ I won’t walk.”

“What an’ now you don’t believe yourself?” Rick straightens from his slouch against the door frame. “You were lyin’?”

“Nah, I weren’t. Aint. Jus’… felt too good to be true,” he whispers quietly, running his tongue over his bottom lip at the memory.

Rick laughs under his breath. “Yeah, I know that feelin’.” He pauses to smile. “You gotta go back to her. Talk to her. I think you’re the key to bringin’ her back, Daryl. You’re right, she don’t have to be Beth, but she’s strugglin’, we all see that. Thing is? She’s so much better when she’s with you.”

Daryl groans and scrubs his face with one hand. “Thanks.”

Rick claps him around around the neck with his hand and bumps their shoulders together. “Anytime, brother.”

Chapter Text

"Girl?"

"Hey," Beth whispers quietly. "M'glad you're home."

Daryl glances up the staircase at her as he places his bow in the corner of the door. He means to say something, but he can barely formulate words at the sight of her. She looks stunning.

She's taken all the braids out of her hair and it's left it thick and wavy. With all the blonde cocooning her face, her blue eyes are huge and shining.

Paired with tight black jeans and a matching black t-shirt, she looks… like Beth. The most like Beth he's seen her. Not in baggy clothes or with wet cheeks or hitting herself.

Just…

"Beth," he whispers.

She winces a little but she's still smiling before he can hate himself for the fuck up. "Yeah, guess it kinda wasn't fair to make you call me somethin' else."

"Naw," he says quickly. "You asked me to call you 'girl.' M'sorry. You just er…"

Beth raises her eyebrow as she waits for him to answer, her long hair brushing her elbows as they swing about aimlessly, her hands dug deep in her pockets.

The sun chooses that moment to shine through the upper glass planes of the door and rather than getting distracted by how pretty she is in the light, he remembers what it means.

Late afternoon, nearly time for the sun to set. Dinner. It didn't go so well last night but he's starving and he bets she is too, except she's got boots on and he's suddenly wondering if she's planning to leave and his stomach clenches tight. There's no bags on her but it's not like she owns much.

Daryl clears his throat nervously. "You headin' out?"

She follows his gaze to her shoes and then shakes her head, that lions mane of blonde hair shaking around her pink cheeks. She actually has colour today.

"Been out," Beth answers. "Went to see Maggie."

"You went to see Maggie?" He doesn't mean to sound so shocked but he knows how hard he emphasises her sisters name.

A soft smile kicks her mouth. "Yeah. I've had time to think since bein' here, Daryl an' I realised you wasn't the answer."

He's not exactly sure what she's talking about so he stays extremely still because he feels like she's about to land him with a blow he can't handle.

"When I first tried to work this mess out," she starts as she descends the stairs, "I thought you'd bring back the girl lost 'side me. Except you can't 'cause I don't think she is comin' back."

"I don't get it," he admits quietly.

She closes in on him, her scent filling his lungs with soap and he almost wants to duck his head away from the temptation to bury his nose in her throat. "I thought you were the answer but you're not. An' then I thought Maggie was the answer but she's not either. I am. I'm the only one who can work out who I was, who I'm gonna be. I have to do that on my own."

It's completely beside the point but he wonders when she managed to see Maggie. After they got back from Hilltop? Maggie left Ricks only a few minutes before he did, ten most.

Which means Beth was at Maggie's waiting for her. She must have been planning this since she woke up or even maybe since last night… since he pushed her away.

"An so," she continues. "I think I should stay with Maggie."

Daryl baulks. "'Cause a'me? Last night? Girl, m'sor-"

"No, no," she breathes quickly, her fingers covering his lips and he tries not to shudder as he feels each swirl of her fingertips.

Maybe she feels him shudder, just a little bit because she pulls away, still on the bottom stair so she's just about his height.

"Not 'cause of you. 'Cause of these." From behind her, maybe her back pocket, she produces her bracelets and Hershels watch.

Daryl feels sucker punched in the gut and all he can do is keep letting her speak, "I found these in your drawer. I was snoopin', m'sorry."

Fuck. He's not mad that she snooped he's just kinda… he don't even know. Pissed at himself. He should have given them back, just never seemed like the right time.

Never knew how to tell her that he kept them, that he rolled them off her cold wrist as he stared at the bullet hole in her head.

How the fuck do you tell someone that? And deep inside, he knows the biggest reason, the real reason: he just wanted to keep a piece of her to himself, even when she was gone.

He rolls his shoulder. "I get it. But I don't get why tha's gonna make you leave."

She rolls her thumb over both items with a large smile, a smile he hasn't seen on her face since she came back. A smile he only saw on Beth. "When I touched this watch I saw my daddy."

Fuck.

Is this it? Is this the moment she works out who she is? His chest seizes he stops breathing so quickly.

Beth keeps talking, "I saw my daddy when I touched this watch an' I remembered. Not a lot, y'know?" The happiness deflates a little from her shoulders and he hates watching it drain away. "Just enough."

"An the bracelets?" He asks hoarsely. "What'd you see?"

Beth glances down at the colourful bracelets in her hand and rubs them with her thumb. "Nothin'. At least, not physically. Was more like a feelin'. Pain." Her frown deepens sharply. "Lots of it."

He clears his throat and crosses his arms over his chest. He would like to pretend it's not because he feels so vulnerable, but he'd only be lying to himself.

"You covered your wrist with 'em. You covered the cut, when you tried to… opt out," he finishes lamely.

Daryl still doesn't really get it but he thinks the way she's trying to explain things is inherent to the problems she has with a functioning brain, not because he's being thick. He hopes.

Beth swallows and glances up at him again. "So why'd you have 'em?"

Should he panic at that question? Maybe in a time before all this.

Daryl wants to look away when he answers, but he stares her straight in the eye. "To remember Beth. To remember how strong she was an' how hard she fought."

She smiles and hands him the bracelets. "You keep 'em. I don't need 'em anymore. Me, Beth, whoever I am, I'm braver an' I don't need to cover my scars anymore."

The room feels weighted in something. Something new and precious, like a fresh flower blooming from the soil and it's all because of her.

She was nothing but light and laughter and happiness before, as Beth. Whoever she is now: Girl, Beth, something in-between, she's a mixture of something new.

Something powerful. Jumping from one end of the spectrum to the other. To pain and heartbreak, to fear and confusion. She's something different now.

Something wise beyond her years. Though overall, it don't matter. They're one in the same with some changes and so what? Everyone changes.

Everyone is reborn.

He questions himself but he doesn't stop his arms from reaching out and pulling her by the neck. Her body falls into his and she hugs him just as fiercely as he hugs her, her hands fisted at his spine as she breathes deeply against his shoulder.

"Daryl, I don't have her memories," she whispers against his shoulder. "I might never get 'em again. But I know how I feel about the man who's done nothin' but look after me. Protected me. Memory or not, you're an easy man to fall in love with."

Squeezing his eyes closed, he buries his face in her throat through the nest of her hair and lets the tears leak. She hums deep in her chest like a cat and in that moment, he lets himself be weak and he lets her hold him.

"You don't gotta go," he mumbles thickly. "I ain't gonna stop you from seein' Maggie."

"I know," she laughs as she pulls away. "I just wanna spend as much time with her as I can. I don't know what it is… yesterday I couldn't bare to be near her, but when I went there this mornin' an' touched this." She proffers the watch with a smile. "I remember feelin's, more than anythin' an' I remember how much I love her."

"Tha's good," he rumbles and he means it, he really does. "Lost 'nough already."

Beth lightly bites her lip as she opens his hand and places the bracelets there. "This doesn't mean I'm gonna lose you, right?"

"Naw," he answers immediately. "That ain't never gonna happen. Gonna be right here."

She laughs and her glistening eyes clear up a little. "Can I stay for dinner? Spaghetti an' meat balls that taste like shit?"

His mouth forms a smile and he nods. "Anytime."

Chapter Text

Quiet.

So fucking quiet without Beth here.

Girl didn’t make that much noise but he listened out for sound she didn’t realise she was making. The drawer shutting; the bed squeaking when she was tossing and turning.

The occasional whimper which he would get out of bed for. Check on her through the crack of the door, make sure her nightmare didn’t get too bad.

Watched her settle before he headed back to bed. Now everything’s silent. Not even the roar of the fire since there’s no one to build it for.

He’s fine on his bed or the sofa in the dark, nothing but the moonlight from the living room window. He keeps thinking about her at Maggies.

It’s only been three days but he checked in with Glenn. Seems she’s doing well, asking about the baby, about life before, seems she’s brave enough for it now.

Glenn says she’s blooming, that being with Maggie and their unborn child is exactly what Beth needs, Maggie too. Must be real fucking good getting your baby sister back.

He knows getting Merle back would be something he’d sell his soul for. Not that here’s a very nice place to come back to, it’s selfish to want him, Daryl knows that.

Always thinks about it though, dreams. Maggie must have had those same sleepless nights, imagining the one you miss so bad calling your name again.

Even if it’s a shitty joke or a nasty insult. Just something, anything. Harder to grieve now too. No recordings or DVD’s. No videos.

Just gone, sucked from your life and never coming back. It’s the biggest reason he kept the bracelets. Not like there’s any other mementos he could have kept. 

Memories fade through time, although he don’t think he would have ever forgotten Beth. Not her goodness, not her pure heart and not her smile.

It’s burnt too deep in his brain, reflecting on the back of his retinas whenever he closes his eyes. How Maggie must feel, looking over the table and seeing her dead sister living; breathing.

Does something funny to his heart, trying to imagine it. Come early sunrise and he’s running out his house trying to escape his head and the quiet.

He turns up at Aaron’s door, though he didn’t plan to come here. He’s soft when he raps it with his knuckles because it’s still early and Aaron ain’t got nowhere to be.

Another minute later and he’s about to turn away when the door swings open and Aaron stands behind it, hair mussed and gown half covering his morning wood.

“Nice get up,” Daryl greets.

Aaron squints at him through the glare of the sun and then raises his hand to help. “Daryl, what time is it? Think I been ‘sleep five minutes.”

Daryl grimaces, turning his head away as he swings his bow. “Thought you might wanna head out. Find some new people.”

“You wanna just ‘head out’?” Aaron asks in surprise. “We never know how long we’ll be away. What about Beth?”

“What’a ‘bout her?” He asks.

Aaron stares at him for a really long moment without blinking and Daryl feels his curiosity; the question hanging in the air between them before finally he says, “let me tell Eric an’ then we’ll go. Come in.”


The sun is shining so bright in the sky Daryl feels like he should be skipping through the high grass and offering to plait Aarons hair with flowers.

It’s that kind of atmosphere: sun, gentle breeze, soft grass and the smell of good things. Happy things too. Reminds him of being younger, real young like six.

His ma used to take him to the fields far from the trailer park after her shift was done at the store. Merle wasn’t interested, was older and meaner.

Daryl was though. He liked seeing her in the sun. She was a beautiful woman. He knew it as a kid and he knows it more now as an adult or whatever constitutes as one.

Thick brunette curls and large blue eyes meant she was gorgeous and his old man knew it. 

Her hair was so long all Daryl used to do was touch it, run his chubby fingers through the ends to watch the natural curls bounce back.

His old man knew she was beautiful but it wasn’t enough for him. He wanted her to be slutty like the other hookers in the trailer park.

Big, blonde hair full of hairspray and red lipstick, said everyone was doing it so she should. Fluttering eyelashes slick with make up, he wanted that too.

She never conformed to him though. No matter how much he beat her down: mentally, physically and emotionally, she held tight and didn’t let him change one thing about her appearance.

Apart from the bruises.

Of course at the time Daryl didn’t understand any of this. Only as he got older, only after he lost her and thought about her every day, did he realise how strong his ma was.

Sometimes she let him down like staying with his drunk of a dad and trying to change his and Merle’s behaviour to suit his violent outbursts, rather than having the courage to leave him.

She was good though, deep inside. She loved her boys. Just not enough it felt like, still feels like sometimes when the wounds are open; pulsing hot with hatred and shame.

This place reminds him of her so much. It’s different, the pain he has for her. Before he would think about Beth and Merle. Now he’s kinda got Beth back, there’s room for more loss.

Been so long since he had the time to think about the woman who birthed him and now that he can, here in this open field today, it hurts so bad his chest feels split open.

His eyes close against the rays and make his skin feel too tight. When he opens them again he thinks he’s hallucinating, thinking about his ma too much.

There’s a horse right in front of him.

A brunette beauty with big eyes and slick hair. His throat closes tight and his hand clenches on the bow. Could feed the whole of Alexandria with that thing.

Makes him feel sick to think it but it’s true. He ate fucking dog before, he can manage horse. He’s not gonna though, he knows he’s not.

Maybe if the horse had been any other colour but brunette. 

He’s still a little lost in himself as Aaron talks to him and he thinks he manages to reply with some kind of conversation but seconds later and he can’t recall anything they’ve spoken about.

All he knows is he wants that horse safe.

He knows exactly the person who would look after it. Just as he thinks it, the walkers encroach. It’s like they sense the deep seated need to save something, to love it and all they want is to tear it away.

Anger surges dark and sickly in his gut, in his veins and the bow becomes like an extension of his arm rather than a weapon, like he’s controlling it the same way he walks.

Aaron helps silently since it’s clear Daryl’s on a mission and when all the walkers are squirming on the floor, brought down by his arrows, he stamps on every single one of their fucking skulls.


“What the hell is that?” Glenn gapes.

Daryl jerks as the horse tries to nose at some grass and tugs on its rope lead. “Close your mouth chinaman, s’a horse. What’s it look like?”

“Erm, yeah, I see it’s a horse,” Glenn answers sarcastically. “Where the hell did you find it?”

“Better yet,” Maggie interrupts, her eyes staring intently at the beauty. “Where’d you intend to keep it?”

Daryl shrugs nervously, dipping his chin in to his shoulder. “Was gonna give it to Beth.”

Maggie’s brow raises as she looks around at the garden. “So here?”

“You got the space. I’d keep ‘er at mine but I ain’t. Grass is all dead,” he mutters as he strokes his rough hand over the soft hairs of the horse’s neck.

“Grass is dead ‘cause you don’t garden,” Maggie replies with an eye roll. “Lemme see her.”

He clears his throat and tugs the horse a little closer to Maggie who smiles and wraps her arms around its thick neck. “She’s stunnin’. She got a name?”

”Button,” he rumbles and at Maggies raised brow he adds, “don’t ask.”

“Oh my God,” a voice suddenly speaks, interrupting Maggie before she can reply. “Is everyone aware there’s a horse in the garden?”

Daryl looks up at Beth on the back door step, barely dressed from sleeping, red cheeks and mussed hair to match. He and Aaron only got back a few minutes ago but with the horse it took them all night to get home.

Looking at Beth having just rolled out of bed makes his bones ache for his own and another part of him wish to curl around her in bed too, feel her warm little weight against his chest as she sleeps; keep her safe.

He escaped his house because of the quiet but he’s ready to embrace if for a few hours of shut eye.

Beth comes down from the back step and grins as she strokes the horse, squeezed between him and Maggie. “So beautiful. Where’d you find her?”

“Out with Aaron,” Dary murmurs softly, his hand nearly touching hers on the horses sun warmed hair.

Beth looks at him with a smile so big his chest squeezes. “You saved her?”

He ducks his chin, his mouth dry as he whispers, “yeah, an’ she’s all yours.”

Chapter Text

“What?” Beth gasps, her head spinning to face him and eyes widening so much it’s like she’s taken a gulp of strong coffee. “Mine?”

“Yeah.” Daryl shrugs. “Farm girls havin’ a horse. Seems right.”

Maggie moves to stand by Glenn and while Beth beams at him he pretends not to notice those two watching them. Even from the corner of his eye they look like an old married couple, hands entwined and heads pressed together as they watch him and Beth interact over the horse.

“But…” Beth hesitates and flicks nervous eyes to Maggie, seeking her guidance. “I don’t know how to ride a horse… anymore.”

Maggie scoffs and waves her hand through the air. “Like ridin’ a bike, Bethy. You’ll remember when you get on.”

“Get on?” She barely manages to finish the question before Maggie pins him with a silent command and he indulges her, taking Beth by the waist and lifting her up.

She squeals, gripping the horse anywhere she can as it stamps and shuffles a little, knocking her around. “M’not even dressed!”

“Look fine,” Glenn inserts, the corners of his mouth tipped up.

“Wanna go for a ride?” Daryl smiles.

Beth looks down at him, her skin so light against the dark horse and yet bracketed by the glow of the sun, a happiness on her face that makes every aching muscle worth it.

“Oh, lemme get my shoes!” Maggie says suddenly and then before she turns to go she adds, “I’ll get yours too, Bethy!”

Glenn follows behind his wife with an indulgent smile, leaving Daryl and Beth alone. He turns back to her and finds her watching him, her smile still huge but her eyes more serious. “Have you slept?”

“Yeah,” he lies, ducking his chin into his shoulder. “You?”

“Yeah, s’real quiet here,” she says as the horse shuffles a little, swaying her.

Daryl hums in agreement. “Know the feelin’.”

Her eyes pin to him and she pauses before she says, “kinda miss your snorin’.”

Snorting, he tugs on the horse rope lead to still it. Looking back up at her, he goes for broke, “girl… I los’ Beth Greene but whoever you wanna be, I’m ready for her.”

Beth’s smile is wobbly when she glances at him from the horse. “I didn’t leave to punish you for not ‘cceptin’ me.”

“I know,” he mutters, even though he’s thought the same thing. “S’jus… gotta go out tonight an’… could go wrong.”

“You talkin’ ‘bout the huge run you guys are goin’ on later? The whole of Alexandria is buzzin’ for it. S’bigger than a run.” She licks her lips, her eyes flicking up as Maggie’s voice drifts to them. “I have amnesia, I ain’t stupid.”

Daryl clears his throat and shrugs his shoulders. “Nothin’ for you to worry ‘bout. We’re gonna sort it.”

She opens her mouth before Maggie and Glenn join them and she seems to change her mind, quickly saying, “be careful. All a’you.”

“I’ll be back for breakfast,” he throws out loosely like he ain’t bothered.

Truth is, he is bothered. He’s bothered that they’re going to massacre sleeping people to feed their bellies with Hilltop’s trade. The way Daryl sees it though, it always fall into two options: his people or their people and his people are his. They need the food and Daryl doesn’t plan to let anyone go hungry. Especially not Beth. She’s too skinny as it is.

Mostly, he’s bothered that he’s gotta leave Beth behind with the kids and therefore treating her like a kid too. He just don’t wanna worry her. She’s getting stronger, but she’s fragile still. He knows how much energy it takes to be strong and sooner or later it fails you. Especially after a running streak.

“C’mon then!” Maggie interjects enthusiastically. “Let’s take you for a whirl, Bethy.”

Beth snorts and Daryl throws the ropes up to her. She smiles thanks as she splits it down the middle like reins and wraps the rope around her knuckles. A warmth grows in his stomach at the natural control she has over her situation and the base memory of how to ride. It makes him wonder what else she could remember if she tried.

They venture out the back gate of the garden and watch from afar as Beth trots ahead on the horse, her hair bouncing in the wind and her top riding up her hips, her shorts peeling back from her thin spine. She looks so much better but she’s still too skinny.

He’ll be sure to get some fatty meats for her next time he goes out. Stuff her full of hearty stew and Carol’s baked pies. She slows down after a while in a group of awed children, in the mix Carl holding Judith and guiding her small hand over the horse’s hair.

A smile touches at Daryl’s lips. Looks like Rick spoke to him. Kid seems less doomed and more cheerful. Makes him think about how much Rick loves his kids and how much he loves Rick for it. It’s one of the biggest things he likes about the guy.

Daryl, Glenn and Maggie draw nearer to Beth as she descends from the horse to the ground like a natural, her leg muscles pulling taut and making his throat dry. He clears it and glances around, notices that dickhead Spencer with a loose grip on the neck of a whisky bottle.

Scowling, he draws in tighter to Beth and the kids. Maggie picks up on his vibe after she looks at Spencer’s unshaven face and scruffy clothes. “Hey, kids! Who wants horse ridin’ lessons? Her name’s Buttons!”

Beth’s gaze catches his before they swing between Maggie and Spencer with a frown. Spencer draws closer to them and Daryl hates the foul stench of drunk written all over him. Gives him too many flash backs, both visual and physical.

The belt slashing across his shoulders. He rolls the shudder away before it can become too intense, half standing in front of Beth.

“You look wrecked, man,” Daryl warns.

Spencer snorts, stumbling as he violently untwists the cap on the bottle. “Yep. Happens when you lose all your family.”

He narrows his eyes as the bottle swings upwards and Spencers throat works at swallowing down the liquid he’s hoping will numb him. “‘Norin’ it s’only gonna bite you in the ass later.”

Lowering the bottle, Daryl feels his gut clench at the familiar mean look in Spencer’s eye. “Like you know anythin’ ‘bout pain. People come back to life for you.”

Daryl growls and intercepts Spencer’s line of sight. “Back off.”

Laughing Daryl’s warning away, the drunk dickhead leans against the low wall of someone’s garden and stretches out, his shirt stretched over his body sickeningly tight. “You was good on that horse, honey. Think you can ride me like that?”

“You dirty fuckin’ pric-”

Before he can finish what he was about to say, Beth lunges.

Chapter Text

“Beth!” Maggie screams.

The shrill tone wakes him up like a bucket of freezing cold water.

Daryl springs into action, diving forward to grab Beth as she screams like a banshee, her arms flying about wildly. It takes him a moment through the chaos to work out what she’s doing.

Her nails are tearing his face apart. Not light scratches like a child or even deep ones like the scratch of a cat.

They’re gouging chunks of Spencer’s flesh, filling up beneath her nail beds as red crimson pours down his face and covers her hands, fills Spencer’s gaping mouth as he howls in pain.

She fights him as he clasps her by the waist and he nearly drops her back down to confine her attack but Maggie arrives, Glenn too and they all pull at her.

Beth continues to scream and he has to wrestle her down to the concrete ground and practically sit on her.

“Glenn, get these kids outta here!” Maggie orders as she grips her sisters shoulders. “Bethy, c’mon, look at me! You’re okay, c’mon, you’re okay.”

“Get off’a me!” Beth hisses. “Don’t touch me! I’ll kill you, I’ll fuckin’ kill you!”

Daryl seizes her by the cheeks and squeezes her face. “Beth! Look at me!” He shakes her a little, her head rocking on her shoulders. “Stop, Girl! C’mon. Stop.”

The scream rattles in her throat before it shudders to a stop and she blinks long and slow. “M-Maggie?”

He swallows a little as her eyes search for her sister, his hands dropping from her face as she finds her and falls into her arms sobbing.

Daryl stands up shakily, heart squeezing tight as he mutters, “take ‘er to Denise. Be there in a bit.” Then he turns and leaves them.


 

After Maggie and Glenn went ahead with Beth to Denises, the horse in tow, Daryl picked Spencer off the ground and forced him up.

Part of him had wanted to punch him but once he got a look at the guys face, even he couldn’t find enough sickness inside himself to do it.

Beths nails wreaked hell on his skin. Daryl still don’t know what could have caused such a strong reaction but the fact that she went from childishly happy to a screaming flash back or hallucination or whatever the hell she went to, makes him so mad he can’t think straight.

Even though he feels sorry for Spencers face, especially the swollen, red left eye that must have gotten some serious nail treatment, Daryl still grips him by the scruff of his neck.

Leaving the bottle behind smashed on the floor, he takes him to Carol. Usually he would have dragged Spencers sorry ass to Denise but Beth’s there and she needs her more.

Denise knows some kind of something that could explain that fit of vicious rage and Spencer just needs stitches. Carol knows how to do those.

She’s a pro for all the wrong reasons. He never learnt because he never patched himself up when he got beat. Felt like he deserved the pain of the unhealing, infected wound.

While he sits and watches Spencer get sewn up, he stews. He don’t wanna be here but he don’t wanna leave Carol either.

Beth has her sister and Glenn right now but Carol only has him. Carol’s a bad ass but he’s not dumb enough to not recognise Beths reaction today and neither is she.

Sexual assault. PTSD. She was trigged by Spencers sexual innuendo and Daryl knows it. If he leaves the drunk around Carol, her new found worth might waver under Spencers biggest advantage over her: being a man.

Daryl can see something’s wrong, he can see she’s in pain, even if he don’t know why. The more he thinks about it: what Spencer did to Beth and what happened to Carol, how uncomfortably familiar this situation is for her, the more he wants to lunge over the table and shake Spencer up.

He doesn’t have the chance though and he somehow finds the sanity to stop himself when Sasha offers to take over from him and make sure Spencer gets home with the help of Tara.

Daryl don’t like it but there’s two of them and they get their guns out before they go.

When they leave, Carol takes his arm. “Beth okay? You?”

“M’fine,” he dismisses. “Need to check on her. Prick shook her up pretty bad.”

Carol hums and it’s dismissive like she don’t care but Daryl knows she does. “What’s wrong?” He asks immediately.

“Huh?” She glances at him from the window before she quickly looks away. “Nothin’.”

“Carol,” he presses. “Might not get ‘nother chance tonight.”

“That’s exactly my point,” Carol sighs and Daryl frowns in confusion. “Just feels… wrong. Doesn’t it? Don’t you feel wrong?”

Carol’s his best friend and right now he don’t wanna tell lies. “Yeah, but it’s gotta be done.”

“Why?” Carol laughs miserably. “This isn’t right, Daryl. You know it isn’t. How many people will we kill before we learn this isn’t right?”

He swallows at her watering eyes, overwhelmed by the pressure to say the right thing.

Nothing comes out and Carol frustratedly wipes at her eyes with a fake smile. “Sorry, ignore me. Go to Beth, she needs you. Like you said, might not be anythin’ after tonight. We don’t know what the hell we’re walkin’ into.”

Daryl swallows and with a choked voice says, “I got your back.”

It’s not what he was meant to say, he knows it’s not but sometimes even with Carol he feels his social barriers box his voice deep inside.

She smiles and presses a soft kiss to his cheek. “Go see your girl.”


When he gets to Denises, it’s quiet.

Daryl’s spine prickles as he walks through the front door but there’s nothing wrong by all appearances. The atmosphere is wrong though.

Heavy and sickening, full of something ugly. Maggies face is ashen and Glenns is too, a shared memory or pain.

Beth is bundled in a blanket and sat on the bed, tired and withdrawn, so different from this afternoon when he put her on the horse. “Hey.”

“Hey,” he whispers without intention, his tone forced by the feeling in the room. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” she whispers back, the word trembling a little. Tears bead in her eyes and her voice cracks when she follows up with, “I remember the hospital.”

A brick drops in his gut and all the things ‘the hospital’ could mean makes him sick. He don’t have to ask which part though. It’s written all over her face. Over everyone’s face.

“W-when you rescued me.” She hiccups a sob into her tissue. “Before that. When I killed someone.” Her voice rises to a shrill and that combined with her next words make his knees go weak. “When he tried to rape me.”

Maggie chokes on a sound and looks at Glenn with such pain Daryl feels like the floor is falling out from under him. He thought he knew what Glenn felt with the governor.

Truth is, he didn’t have a fucking clue. Worse still, even this is his fault because it was his brothers fool involvement with the governor that led Maggie into that shit show and Glenn too as the audience to her pain.

Even now though, even seeing the backlash of that time, of what Merle helped create, he still misses his brother so bad it nearly chokes him.

Before he can submit to the pressure of the grief Beth sobs into her tissue and his pain doesn’t matter anymore. Before he knows it, before he even consciously thinks it, his feet carry him across the room to her.

Wrapping his arms tight around her shoulders, he presses his lips to her hairline, taking a deep shuddering breath of her scent.

Shushing her under his breath like it will make it better but no idea how to actually do that.

“I was r-rememberin’ what h-he tried t-to do,” she gasps breathlessly. “An’ then, I-I r-re-re,” she trips over herself so much Daryl’s heart squeezes.

“Girl, stop. Stop,” he whispers. “Ain’t your fault.”

“I felt the bullet,” she wails hysterically. “I felt the bullet tearin’ into me an’ then I was tearin’ into Spencer’s face. Oh G-god!”

He can’t stand seeing her in this much pain and he grits his jaw in agony as she presses her face into his chest and screams, “just make it go away, please, Daryl. Please!”

Hot tears burn his eyes and he squeezes them before he glances at Denise. “You got summat to help ‘er sleep?”

“Er,” Denise hesitates, looking between them. “I got sedatives or erm, sleepin’ pills?”

“Sedative,” Beth begs. “My head hurts, Daryl. Please, my head hurts so bad,” she sobs.

He shares a look with Maggie and she nods before she comes closer, her eyes filled with tears as she wraps her arms around Beth. Between him and Maggie, Beth is held securely while she’s injected with the sedative and when she passes out.

“I’ll take her home,” he whispers as he bundles her up and lifts her in his arms. “I don’t want her wakin’ up here. I’ll meet you guys out front.”

Glenn clutches Maggie to his side and nods. “See you in a bit, man.”

 

Chapter Text

There's something about the stench of the dead that doesn't register with Daryl anymore. The world stinks. Fabrics, open spaces and especially confined spaces. Cars, trucks; buildings. He don't really notice it anymore. He don't really care. He notices it now. With all these dead people around him, all these bodies pouring out blood with gaping eyes and twisted mouths, he smells them. They stink. They stink so bad all he wants to do is vomit. Through their smell, all he hears is Carol's voice.

This isn't right, Daryl. You know it isn't. How many people will we kill before we learn this isn't right?

She didn't wanna do this. She didn't wanna come with them and take out the outpost. He should have seen it. He should have been there for her. Then maybe she wouldn't have been lingering outside, then maybe she wouldn't have been taken. Maggie too. Fuck. Maggie's with her too. What more of a test could this be? His best fucking friend and Beth's sister. What if he can only save one? They just went in and killed all these guys and now they're gonna kill two of his people.

Worst part is he gets it. Of course he fucking gets it. He lost count of the amount of people he just killed in there. Rick's, Carol's, Beth's. Those people meant something to other people. Those people meant something period. Don't matter. Good guys and the bad guys. Except how can they be sure they were bad? Yeah they killed some guys at the Hilltop, but his people have killed people too. Hell, Rick beat that blonde girls husband to death for slapping her up. People kill people. Whatever they were before? Good, bad, don't matter. Never mattered.

Not once they took Carol.

In the end it's his fault. His attention was torn by Beth and he left Carol in inner turmoil because he had other stuff going on. He didn't even see her after he tucked Beth into bed at Rick's where Carl and Judith were. He just got on the bike and followed behind Maggie and Glenn's car. He's such a fucking prick. His best friend needed him and he threw her aside for his own problems.

"Fuck!" He shouts, his hand punching into the wall.

"Hey, that ain't helpin'," Rick says with a levelled tone.

Don't even have to shout and Daryl listens. There's something about Rick that demands authority and Daryl's not down for that alpha male bullshit but ego aside, Rick has earned Daryl's respect and trust. Enough trust to listen when he says the emotional rage he's being churned in isn't gonna help him. He needs his thinking head on, he needs to find Carol and Maggie and get them the fuck home. Thing is everyone's exhausted. Hell, he can't remember the last time he slept himself. Tara and Heath have left for their big run and that means they're two people down. Don't seem like a lot but he knows they could use all the numbers they can get.

"So what the fuck is gonna help?" Daryl ends up shouting hoarsely. "How the fuck do we get 'em back, Rick? You got any bright ideas?"

"Daryl," Michonne starts but then stops when Rick steps closer.

Inside Daryl knows he's being fucking stupid but his body is burning for a fight and if it has to be Rick then so be it. Rick don't swing a punch though, he hooks his arm around Daryl's neck and pulls him in. "Look, we got this guy, okay? One of their guys. We'll get 'em out. If they want their man back, they'll give the girls up an' they'll be safe. I promise."

Daryl looks up at the man he trusts through the fringes of his hair and shakes his head. "Every other time, yeah. 'Cept do you ever think our luck's just gonna run out?"

He hates how troubled Rick's eyes are as they bore into his. "Probably one day soon, but not today. Those girls are smart. We'll find 'em." He shrugs.  "Or they'll find us. They're smart."

Daryl shifts and pulls out of Rick's embrace. "Yeah, we better."


 

Carol's shaking.

Curled up next to him on the sofa, she can barely talk through her shivers. Daryl squeezes his body in closer and tightens her blanket around her shoulders, his eyes drifting to the fire to see if he should put more wood on it.

"You alrite?" He mumbles.

She blinks slowly and looks up at him with cloudy eyes. "Yeah, just tired."

The smile on her face is so fake it hurts his heart. She's lying to him. She never lies to him. Seems she's been keeping stuff from him for a while though, since he let his friendship with her slip to deal with his own shit. She's had it rough today. Turns out all the worrying he was doing about saving her and Maggie was for nothing because they saved themselves. There was nothing for him or anyone else to do other than show up and witness the final showdown of Negan's death. Turns out their hostage had been the prick all along.

Fucking slime ball. Everyone else is full of smiles and relieved eyes, so happy to have won out through the past couple of days, weeks really, since they lost the prison. Rick hasn't stopped kissing Michonne and Carl hasn't stopped making Judith laugh. Everyone's in high spirits, crammed into Rick's house this time. Negan and his men are dead and they've found a new alliance in the Hilltop. Yeah, could be a friend or foe situation soon but for now they're all happy. Except deep down, no one is. He sees it on all their faces. Masks, to cover the emotional scars beneath their skin.

Killing hurts the soul. If humans were meant to kill each other then the world would have never populated, it would have always been like this, with the walkers. Everyone he loves is burning deep inside with the blood on their hands, with the people they've lost and with how bone deep tired they are. Everyone's been through so much, too much. Enough to make anyone crazy. It's not fair to compare how shitty one person's life has been compared to another's, but Carol is all she has now. Rick's got his kids, Michonne's got a new family. Maggie and Glenn, now Maggie and Beth. Carol has him and he abandoned her.

It makes him feel like the worst mother fucker alive and as much as his chest is aching for him to go and check on Beth's sleeping form, he's not leaving Carol tonight. Not again. So he stays. He helps make food so she don't have to and fills her with hot tea. Keeps the fire going and the blankets piled on top of her. The later it gets the quieter it gets but no one's heading home. Finding places all over the house, they all bed down and find somewhere to sleep just like their first night and when Carol falls asleep his head falls down to rest on top of her short, spiky hair. He needs to be there for his friend rather than himself. Glancing around, his heart pangs at every familiar face spread out on the floor around him.

Tara and Heath are fine, he knows that. They're too good to get in any trouble. He just wishes Tara was here. She's earned her place in this family and no one tells her enough. She feels disposable and that's why she did that run with Heath. If he wasn't so lost in his own damn head lately he would have let that be known. That she's accepted. Letting his eyes fall closed, he settles down with his family, thinking about Beth upstairs sleeping comfortably and for once, peace washes over him and he falls asleep.


 

"Daryl?"

He jerks in his sleep from the hand pressed to his arm. When his eyes peel open he finds Beth's flushed cheeks and wide eyes, hair hanging tangled and thick in her face.

"Beth?" He mumbles thickly.

"Shush," Beth whispers back, glancing around in the dying light of the fire. "You'll wake the others."

With blurry eyes he looks around the sleeping bodies and clears his throat, finding Carol tucked into his arm. When he lifts his head he finds his neck aches having had it balanced over the edge of the sofa.

"You okay?" He mutters. "Feel better?"

There's no sun through the curtains so he don't think he's been asleep long but the fire's struggling so it's probably been a couple hours. The sedative must have wore off for her but she doesn't look wide awake, if anything she looks as tired as he still feels.

"Yeah, was just a little lonely up there," she mumbles, kneeling on the floor beside the sofa.

"Get up here." His voice is so thick with sleep it's embarrassing. "Room for you."

Beth glances around at all the sleeping people in the room with nervous eyes. "This is…"

Daryl waits for her to answer and it wakes him up a little, squinting at her as he flexes the numb arm Carol's laying on. "What?"

She flushes as she looks back at him and then Carol curled into his side. "Private. Family bandin' together. Summat happened, I can se-"

"You are family," a voice suddenly interrupts and it takes Daryl a moment to realise that even though he thought the words he never spoke them.

Squinting down to the floor, a lump lifts up and reveals itself as Rosita, barely dressed. Daryl doesn't even avert his eyes because he's so intrigued to find out what she's planning to say.

"Hell, I'm family now. An' you was here a hell of a long time 'fore me." She shrugs and it nudges Abraham.

"I second that," Sasha suddenly says from across the room, resting her head in her hand. A smile warms her face when she continues, "you're Beth. You're family."

Abraham groans suddenly, distracting them all as he cuddles Rosita's half naked body tighter, rolling his face in her neck before he lifts a head of hair that sticks up in every direction but the right one. "What'd I miss?"

Beth smiles at him before she addresses the girls, "I 'preciate what you guys are sayin', I really do, but I don't remember bein' Beth."

"You don't have to," Rick mutters from his face full of pillow. "We love you as you are now."

"Jesus, is everyone awake?" Daryl finally asks, his head aching from swinging it all over the room with each new person who pops up.

"I am," Carl says.

"Me too," Michonne adds.

"I third that," Eugene inputs.

"I think that makes all of us," Glenn laughs.

"Fuckin' hell," Daryl mutters and then he jumps as Carol jabs him in the side.

"Language, Daryl."

He groans and Beth laughs, looking sheepish under everyone's eyes. "Is anyone sleepin'?" She asks with a smile.

"Judith, I think," Maggie supplies helpfully with her chin resting on her crossed arms. "Bethy, this is your home. I know you don't remember how, but I know my sister an' I know you feel it."

Beth's eyes fill with tears and he's suddenly terrified that this kumbaya get together is overwhelming her. He's instantly soothed though when she wraps the blanket tight around her shoulders and curls into Daryl's free side, tucking her feet up underneath her.

There's a pause in the room where they all look at each other one by one and Daryl's never felt more at home.

Chapter Text

“Mornin’.”

Beth glances over her shoulder at Daryl from where she’s stood stroking Buttons. “Mornin’. How’d you sleep?”

Daryl laughs with pure disbelief at his own words as he passes her a mug of hot tea. “Real good.”

She cups the mug between both palms and takes a deep breath, a smile warming her mouth. “Me too.”

The light reflects on her face and it takes him a moment to realise why she looks so different. It’s her scars. He never sees them when he looks at her, he just sees Beth but in this moment, they shine translucent on her skin. He’s barely seen them lately because she’s been letting them heal. She stopped picking them.

Daryl swallows and glances towards the house. “There’s talk of restockin’ today. Drug run. Why don’t you come?”

“Me?” She asks in surprise. “You think that’s a good idea?”

Daryl shrugs. “Why not? S’safe. I’ll be there.”

Beth smiles and hugs the mug closer, her eyes hopeful. “Okay.”

“Yeah?” He half smiles to himself. “I’ll c’men get you ‘fore we go.”

Her eyes are averted to the sun but her grin is amused when she says, “it’s a date.”


A few hours, a hot shower and a nap later, he’s trekking along with his small band of misfits that consists of him, Rosita, Eugene, Beth and Denise.

Beth isn’t as quiet and anti-social as usual. Not bold but not shy and he can see she’s trying to make conversation no matter how halting.

Denise is the quietest one, speaking only when he makes the effort to start conversation. Apparently, he reminds her of her brother and that’s why she feels comfortable speaking to him.

He don’t know how he feels about that statement, only that it leads him to think about how all the people who rely on him and who he in turn relies on are women, with the exception of Rick.

Carol was the first one and then Beth and now Denise is trying. Makes him think about when he was young, how Merle would tease him for hanging around with girls like their little cousin Kelly who was three years younger than him and his favourite person: his ma.

Merle used to tell all his friends Daryl was a closet puff who liked talking to girls instead of shagging them. There was a time in his life Daryl thought Merle might have a point.

Hell, he’s still not too far from the conclusion. He got his dick wet when he was younger like all horny boys and yeah, some tits really got him going but he never really felt for it, wanted it.

Hell, sometimes he didn’t even enjoy it. Even Beth… he still struggles to say it to himself but he’s said it to her so he says it now: he’s in love with Beth, fell in love with her quietly and softly.

It was innocent, magical and nothing like anything he’s ever experienced in his old life of back alley blow jobs. Even with her, he’s never allowed himself to taint what they have and so he’s never imagined… that.

But lately, there’s certain things he thinks about when he looks at her, notices. The pull of her thigh muscles on the horse yesterday, the sun in her blue eyes, the ends of her hair when they spiral down her back.

He imagines things. The flex of his fingers in blonde strands, the way her legs would support her on top of him. His fingers around her slim hips. He swallows and tries to listen to what Denise is saying.

Whatever it is it’s going in one ear and out the other as he glances up under his lashes and sees Beth’s jeans wrapped tight around her.

They’re Rosita’s and that girl wears clothes like they’re second skin. The tightness on Beth highlights the firm, roundness of her, lending a peachy quality to her ass.

The ends of her hair swinging at the base of her spine makes his own tingle with hot needles. Daryl’s eyes climb the curls of her hair to her favourite base ball cap pulled down tight.

Glenn’s old shirt is loose around her top half but somehow the mystery of it is what makes his stomach jump. Jesus, the fuck is happening to him? As his eyes are snapping away, he sees him.

The stranger and he’s got a gun.

“Beth!”

She whirls around and the bullet goes spinning past her ear, ruffling her hair with the breeze.

“Get down!” Rosita screams, dropping to the floor and retrieving her gun. “Daryl, cover me!”

He jerks his head and lifts the bow, the familiar whistle of an arrow whispering in his ears. Someone’s firing arrows.

Fuck.

He drops lower in a crouch, aiming for another shot when Denise suddenly rises and it all slows down. Time. The sun. The arrow. The way Denise looks at him.

They’re locked in that moment together, in the sorrow in her eyes.

Time speeds up again and the arrow pierces her smack in the centre of her forehead and then her body drops to the ground, gone.

Daryl roars as he snaps an arrow into place and sends it screaming through the air. It thunks clean into someone’s eyeball and their scream is music to his ears.

Rosita fires off round after round and Eugene whimpers to the floor, curling his arms around himself. Together they take down the remaining men despite some fleeing.

He looks down at Denise’s corpse and feels his stomach lurch at the flat dimension of her open eyes, forever unseeing. It takes him a moment to realise they’re one more down.

He shoots up from his crouch, his hands tense on the bow. “Beth!”

“Daryl?” She whispers.

He turns and there’s an arrow sticking out of her shoulder.

“Help me.”

Chapter Text

“Maggie! Glenn!”

“I’m here! Daryl? Oh God, what’s wrong, what happened?” Maggie shouts as she throws down her dishrag and hurries out of the kitchen.

He glances up and indicates Beth in his arms, hurrying over to the dining room table. “We got attacked. Beth got an arrow in the shoulder. Denise is gone.”

It’s unreal how cold the words sound coming out of his mouth like that’s it. Denise is dead and they’ll never speak about her again. It’s not like that.

Not at all but he can’t find anything inside him past the numbness. He’s so sick of death. The most emotion he can scrounge up now is terror for Beth and the arrow sticking out of her.

Beth is sickly pale. It’s not like she got much colour back anyway but now she’s whiter than the clouds. The spreading patch of blood is glaringly red against her white camisole after Rosita helps Maggie and cuts Glenn’s shirt off.

Beth’s eyes are nearly rolling back into her head, spacing out and it’s like seeing Merle drugged up on whatever he was shooting up that week.

He grimaces, pushing the memory away. It’s not a happy one. He hates seeing her like this but better drugged out of it than present for what comes next.

Cradling Beth’s jaw and one shoulder with blood soaked hands, Daryl turns to her sister. “Maggie.”

“I know,” she snaps, pinning him with eyes full of fear. “Help me.”

Help me.

It’s what Beth said before she stumbled down to the ground. It’s what she’s been repeating all the way back here in the car while Rosita screeched around corners and Eugene was scrabbling for purchase of the dash board.

In the back, he held Beth’s head in his lap, his eyes blurry and unfocused. The whole time his mind went back, kept going back, to the woman they left behind.

He barely knew Denise but for fuck sake, she didn’t deserve that. She didn’t deserve any of it. She was trying so damn hard to be good, to help people, to learn a whole fucking degree on the spot and save all their fucking lives and she was just taken out, erased.

“Honey, can you hear me?” Maggie asks thickly, her throat clogged with tears. “I gotta get it out.”

Beth blinks slowly and looks between them all: him, her sister and Rosita. “I know.”

“Okay,” Rosita breathes shakily, taking Beth’s hand. “You ready?”

Daryl grits his teeth and squeezes her jaw beneath his hand, pulling her face into his chest as Maggie moves her shoulder back.

Beth’s breath is erratic and hot through his shirt, panicked. He squeezes his eyes closed and doesn’t look as Maggie sniffles tightly, the tears choking her until she’s gasping as wildly as Beth.

“On three,” Rosita coaches, squeezing Beth’s hand.

Beth doesn’t squeeze back.

“One.”

Fuck, he don’t know how to do this. How to watch this. Stay calm. His insides are spilling out of his mouth and his mind is split clean down the middle, still back there on the train tracks where Denise’s body is sprawled out, probably already walker feast.

Where the fuck is Carol? He needs her. He needs someone. What the hell is happening? How the fuck did any of this happen?

“Two.”

He can’t believe he left Denise back there on the floor like a piece of shit. Left her to rot, to be easy food for the next walker that comes across her.

She was already dead but he left her and it’s wrong, it’s so wrong but Beth was hurt and Beth’s alive and Beth needs him.

“Three!”

In one big pull, Beth’s body jerks and when she screams it’s devastating. Earth shattering. So much pain. So much agony.

The scream is intercepted with her sobs and suddenly he realises why it’s resounding inside his head, his gut. Beth doesn’t feel pain.

At least she didn’t when she cut herself in the kitchen. Said she couldn’t anymore. Said she tried. What changed? Was it the emotional purge she went through when Spencer sent her spinning into the past?

Was it when she touched her daddy’s watch and remembered him? Was it time spent with her sister as she learnt to love her again?

Remembered how to? Was it when she placed her hand against Maggie’s belly this morning? When? When did she start hurting like this?

“Get away from me!” Beth screeches. “Get the fuck away!”

Maggie drops the arrow to the table. “You’re okay, Beth,” she whispers as she wipes her wet cheeks with shaking hands, leaving blood stains on her skin. “You’re gonna be okay, I promise.”

Beth collapses into his chest sobbing and Daryl’s head won’t stop ringing. It won’t stop splicing three ways and trying to stick itself back together again like a newly cut tongue because it can sense the wrongness of everything that’s happening.

Self-preservation. Shutting down. It’s too much. He can’t take no more. He can’t watch people he loves be hurt and his own hands murder strangers anymore.

He feels like he’s going fucking crazy and with every sobbing shriek that rattles through Beth’s throat and straight into his chest, he feels like he’s cracking.

Splintered lace spider webbing through his muscles until he feels like if he moves he will completely come apart. The hell is happening to them? To all of them?

They’re not people anymore, they’re nothing but survival wearing skin. Their mission is to stay alive and stay alive as long as fucking possible because they deserve it, dammit.

They’ve lost so much and seen so much and it’s not fucking funny anymore. Every step of their lives is one dramatic plot line after the other, another story full of shock and horror and grief.

So much shit has happened in such a compressed amount of time and they’re just expected to roll with the punches because this is their life now.

This is who they are.

This is who he is. 

Deep inside he feels like he’s stood on the precipice of a swirling black vortex echoing the drum beat of death. He’s been here before many times in his life.

Started at the far back of the ledge the first time and every time he’s come back he’s taken one step closer to the drop off. Last time he was here he was bent over with a blade to his neck.

Lined up like pigs waiting for the slaughter. He didn’t think they’d make it out that time, thought their number had finally been called.

Ticket punched. Time to clock out and get the fuck out of dodge. Survived though, course they fucking did because some grand puppet master is out their twisting the strings of their whole damn lives.

Daryl stares down into the abyss and he knows he will find peace inside. He will find his ma and he’ll find Merle. Beth’ll come too if she’s not already there, at least some part of her.

She’s right here to look at every day but he misses her. He misses her so bad and it’s not fair, he’ll never be fair with these memories so he should just jump.

Jump.

“Daryl,” Beth whispers quietly.

The vortex slides away and his eyes flicker open in the mid afternoon sun. How can it be so bright when he feels like the darkness that will swallow the earth whole?

“You can’t go after them,” she chokes. “Don’t leave me.”

Somehow she found the thing that was churning inside him, the something that was forming into an idea. She’s always known him better than he knows himself.

For a long moment he just stares at her baseball cap knocked askew on her head and can’t think of what to say.

“I ain’t goin’ nowhere,” he promises finally as he pulls back to look at her, his eyes now sliding to his bloody handprint on her shoulder.

He must have really zoned out because Maggie is pulling stitches through Beth’s wound. Tears are dripping silently down her face, her crimson hands still shaking as she fights hitches beneath her breath.

When he really focuses on Beth, there are tears there too, sliding down her cheeks and rolling off her chin.

“S’it hurt?” He whispers softly, rubbing his hand up and down her good arm.

Beth nods, her chin wobbling and her wet eyelashes shining. “Real bad.” She takes a moment to sniff. “Haven’ felt pain for… a really long time.”

There are some theories he has on that but he doesn’t want to share them because he doesn’t understand them. Instead he says nothing and he lets Maggie work on Beth’s wound.

After she wraps it Rosita comes back with Beth’s painkillers and then Rick and Glenn flood through the door.

Glenn takes one look at Beth’s tear streaked face and rushes to her, embracing her in his arms, gentle as he can.

Beth’s chin wobbles as she melts into the hug and begins to cry again, Rick and Rosita’s voices background noise. Fuck, he should have hugged her tighter.

She needed it, clearly. Instead he was squeezing her jaw so hard he can see a bruise forming. When he glances at Maggie she’s crying again though maybe the better word is still, since she never stopped.

A hand covers her mouth and he can see she appreciates Glenn even more for comforting her sister first even though she’s clearly falling apart.

Carol doesn’t show even though he’s looking out for her. He doesn’t have time to mention it though because the pain killers kick in and he scoops Beth up as gently as he can to take her to bed.

She winces and he does in return. “Fuck, m’sorry. M’tryin’a be slow.”

“I know,” Beth breathes on a hiss. “S’not your fault. Just hurts.”

He reaches her room and pushes open the door with his shoulder, passing through it soon after. Holding Beth balanced in one arm, he uses his free hand to flip back the covers and lay her into bed.

“You want some flesh clothes?” He asks, looking at her ruined camisole.

“Yeah. Can’t put ‘em on though. Help me?” She whispers softly as she uses her good arm to pull her cap off and throw it to the floor.

Daryl shudders. He can’t take it if he hears that again, not in her voice or Denise’s. Crossing to her drawers, he finds scarcely any clothes. A t-shirt and some yoga pants.

He turns to her and holds them up. “These?”

Beth nods weakly. “Not the pants, I can’t take all that jostlin’. The shirt’s Maggie’s, s’huge.”

“Need to get you some clothes,” he mumbles absently as he puts the pants back and shuts the drawer.

“Yeah,” Beth laughs weakly as he crosses to the bed.

Lifting her up with his hand on her lower back, he uses his other one to lift her camisole. There’s a sweat forming on his brow as his knuckles brush her sides but this isn’t the time so he puts that shit away.

It springs back to life though when they go on to brush her bra, getting lost in the strands of her hair as he loops it over her head.

Beth groans as he pulls it off her injured shoulder, holding her by the waist. She plants her good hand on his shoulder to help stay balanced as he chucks it to the floor.

“Ready?” He mutters.

She jerks a terse nod and he throws the new t-shirt over her neck, spreading the sleeve hole for her to slide her good arm into.

When it’s through she cups his bicep, her fingers so erotically soft on his skin that he swallows. Sliding his arm around her small waist, he helps pull the other sleeve over her bad shoulder and then tugs at the hem.

The bottom of the t-shirt pools into her lap and he lays her back down gently, grabbing the spare pillow to prop her arm.

Beth winces and he mutters an apology as he reaches down for her jeans, flushing as he pops the button and tugs on the hips.

She twitches her waist up and as he pushes his fingers down her jeans to pull them, his knuckles brush her skin again.

A shudder rolls through her and in turn through him but he shakes it off with gritted teeth as he clears the jeans down her legs and throws them to the floor too.

“Better?”

“Yeah,” Beth gasps. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” he answers, clearing his throat. He lifts the covers over her good arm and leans back. “Get some rest.”

“Daryl,” she calls quickly, her bad arm automatically trying to reach out and then realising it’s injured as she hisses sharply.

“Hey,” he responds instantly, stilling her. “What’s wrong?”

“Don’t go,” she chokes. “Stay.”

He swallows and glances over to the empty side of the bed. “In the room?”

“In the bed,” Beth corrects him. “With me. You need rest too.”

Daryl swallows but nods and heads to the other side of the bed with long, panicked strides. As he kicks off his boots and lifts the quilt, he darts a look to the door and wonders what someone’s gonna say when they realise he hasn’t come back downstairs.

“Don’t be uncomfy ‘cause me, Daryl. Take off whatever.”

“Naw, I’m good.”

Beth frowns but watches him expectantly anyway and he doesn’t want to upset her when she’s in so much pain so he pops his jean button and slides them off.

Beth’s eyes flare and his stomach drops but he’s already here so he climbs into the bed and pulls the covers over him.

“Thank you,” she mumbles, glancing at him.

He’s only just realised how close together they are and his next words mist across her cheek. “Any time.”

Her eyes flick to his lips and everything in his groin tightens. “I think I’m high off’a those drugs.”

Daryl snorts. “Why?”

“’Cause I wanna tell you that I’m thinkin’ ‘bout kissin’ you,” she breathes.

“Beth…” he hesitates, his heart crawling up his throat. “You need sleep.”

“I need you,” she whispers and it’s so intimate it prickles his spine. “I haven’t stopped thinkin’ ‘bout that kiss in the kitchen.”

Jesus.

What the fuck is happening? She licks her lips and he lifts up onto his hip, his shaking hand cupping her face and tilting it. Her hot breath moistens his mouth and his lips slick apart, his head bending to kiss her.

Chapter Text

Kissing Beth again is like coming home and all the seething, raging thoughts cresting in his mind dissipate in awe of her.

Her lips glide beneath his like she’s showing him how to move them for the first time and really, she is. Kissing ain’t never been top of his to do list if he ever made it to a bed with a woman.

A couch, back alley or car didn’t get him any neither. Now Beth’s tongue is sliding into his mouth and he don’t know who he is anymore, like she’s remaking him.

Excitement clenches in his gut like he’s never felt. Daryl presses closer, working his elbow into the mattress where his pillow was before he gave it to Beth for her shoulder, essentially curling his body around hers.

The closer he gets to her the more she seems to strain for him, her mouth eager as his head leans in closer. Her skin is so warm beneath his hand and he wonders if it’s because of her injury and the pain meds rather than simple heat.

Her skin is tantalising against the rough pads of his fingers but with the thought that her flesh is hot due to being doped up, he pulls away. “Girl, you need sleep,” he whispers softly, moving his head back from hers.

She whimpers, her eyes heavy lidded and her mouth swollen from kissing him as she chases after his lips. “Don’t stop.”

“Beth,” he mutters breathlessly. “M’tryin’ real hard to do the right thing. You ain’t sober. This’s takin’ advantage of you an’ that ain’t me.”

She sighs but smiles a little loosely, her eyes milky with sleep. “Sorry. I am sleepy,” she mutters thickly. “I know,” he whispers, his hand stroking over her hair. “Go sleep, girl. I ain’t goin’ no where.”

“Swear?” Beth asks almost desperately but her eyes are already closing.

“Swear,” he promises.


“Fuck!”

“Beth?” Daryl murmurs groggily, his face buried in a pillow that smells like her.

“Don’t come in!” She screeches.

Come in? Come in where? He groans as he lifts his head, coming to the conclusion that he had his face buried in Beth’s pillow but she’s not in the bed with him.

Pushing up on his palms, he blinks the sleep out of his eyes as he muscles his way out of the bed. The sleep he had, for however long he had it, was deep and dark, blissful.

No dreams. No nightmares. No voices. Ghosts, even. Just darkness. Peace.

Seems like sleeping in the same bed as Beth knocked him out cold and now he stumbles like he’s the one who was doped up on pain meds.

“Beth?” He asks again, a little more awake this time.

There’s a muffled curse and a clatter from the bathroom before she yells, “hold on!”

“You need help?” He asks through the door.

“Kinda,” Beth grunts back and then she sighs deeply, like she’s given up. “Come in.”

Grasping the door knob, he turns it beneath his hand and then lets the door swing open. As it does, it reveals Beth sprawled on the floor, hastily covered by a towel that’s crooked and barely covering the most intimate parts of her.

Beside her sprawled body on the bathroom floor, the bath is running and the towel cupboard door is hanging open.

“The hell happened in here?” Daryl asks quickly as he bends down to scoop her up.

“Oh, ow, careful. This towel ain’t secure,” she grumbles and he snorts because that’s a hell of an understatement.

The towel slips the minute he slides his arm underneath her to lift her to a sitting position and with one hand she can barely scrabble for it.

Helping her out, he grasps the two edges of the towel and grips them tight against her spine, grunting as he lifts her up by his arm around her waist.

“Why didn’t you jus’ ask for my help?” He mutters darkly as he helps her stand.

Beth gets steady on her feet and starts to twist the towel on her body so she clasps the bits he’s holding closed. When she has them in a fist he lets go and takes a step back, getting a full look at her.

Her hair is a chaotic mess of curls, settling against her sides and her chest and her eyes are wild with desire. He never thought he’d see a woman look at him like that and he swallows, nervously glancing away from her gaze.

When he does he finds faded, half formed bloody handprints on her chin, jaw, neck and her uninjured shoulder. The injured one is patched up but even that looks like it needs cleaning.

He’ll have to take the dressing off and wash it for her but first he needs a fresh dressing.

Clearing his throat, he turns the bath tap off just to avoid Beths watchful eyes. “Think you can manage?” He indicates the bathtub.

She nods slowly even though getting in the bath seemed to have been her previous problem. Nodding in return, Daryl closes the towel cupboard door and heads out.

Beth doesn’t call after him and he doesn’t explain where he’s going. He jogs down the stairs with a question on his tongue about where the first aid is kept to be met with darkness.

It’s not another power cut judging by the street lights so he ventures into the dark kitchen and flicks the light switch. The bulb sparks to life and he squints at the clock hanging on the wall.

It’s four am. Nearly sun rise. He and Beth must have napped a little too hard but whatever, they clearly both needed it. All he’s wondering is what the others thought was going on up there alone together.

Not that they could have assumed much since Beth was nearly zombified by her pain meds. Maybe someone put their head around the door and saw them both sleeping together.

A cold wind whips his legs and when he glances down he remembers he ain’t got pants on. Damn, he needs to get this dressing before someone wakes up and sees him half naked.

How the hell would he explain that? Squatting under the sink, he rummages through the various items until he finds the first aid kit.

Popping the top, he retrieves the large dressing he needs and quietly shuts the cupboard door. In the next few minutes he flips the light switch, slowly climbs the stairs and enters back into Beths room; discarding the dressing on the bed for after.

Softly knocking the bathroom door, he asks under his breath, “girl, can I come in?”

There’s a splash like she slipped or sat up and his hand grips the door knob for a tense second before she calls out, “okay.”

Opening the door, Daryl steps inside and closes it behind him, finding Beth with her back facing him and her toes stretched up the taps.

He circles around her slowly and finds that she’s pretty much covered all of her flesh with bubbles. The hot tap is still running and it just fits.

Fits the damp ends of bed hair and her flushed cheeks, the quiet calm and air balmy. Like another world. Just them two here together. 

“You gonna lemme clean that?” He jerks his chin at her shoulder.

Beth glances down to it and nods, reaching with her free arm to peel off the dressing and medical tape. When she does, some bubbles shift and the heat in the room infuses the very fibres of his flesh.

Milky, quick flashes of her thigh and rib twisting in the tub and Daryl’s mouth is drier than the cracked earth of the dessert. Fuck, why now?

Swallowing, he takes the dressing she offers him and bins it, glad for some kind of distraction as he bends to his knees beside the tub.

There’s a wash cloth folded on the edge so he takes it and wets it in the space between Beth’s arm and the bath. Being as gentle as he can, he presses the cloth around the edges of the wound.

The stitches can handle getting wet but he doesn’t want to soak them, just clean up some of the mess. Beth automatically grits her jaw but then slowly relaxes and unwinds as he gentles the cloth.

He watches her eyes slip closed, fascinated by the shadow of her eyelashes on her cheekbones. It feels like it should be weird, kneeling beside her as she lies naked in the tub, scarcely covered by bubbles, but it doesn’t.

It doesn’t because it isn’t about getting naked for each other’s viewing pleasure. All the morality crap gets screwed over when the world ends.

She’s injured and she hasn’t explicitly asked him to be her on call nurse but she hasn’t declined his help neither. Besides, he wants to help her.

So long after she was gone he blamed himself for everything that he did wrong. All his failings, starting with the hesitation he felt about her with his I’unno, even when she gave him a second chance to be truthful.

The next time was when he let that car drive away with her and soon after how he failed to catch up with it or even track it. There’s been plenty of times he’s let this woman down and he won’t do so again by letting her suffer.

She hasn’t asked him to wash her but he’s already cleaning up the wound so he pushes his luck and slowly rides her collarbones to her other shoulder, cleaning up the first bloody handprint.

Beth hums softly deep in her throat, her eyes still closed and her head lolling in the water, futher soaking the ends of her hair.

At the bottom of the bath her toe is turning the tap so it slowly recedes its flow before completely cutting off. It leaves them in roaring silence and suddenly all he can hear is how deeply Beth is breathing.

Daryl licks his lips and moves the cloth up her neck, wiping at her jaw and chin. Beth's lips part and her chest rises a little too high, her nipples poking through their protective layer of bubbles.

Holy fuck. He clears his tight throat, his cheeks hot and stiff. Beth’s eyelids flicker and when they open they’re completely dilated.

Shit. He remembers Merle saying something about this, something about knowing how a girl likes you because of their eyes.

He always thought it was pure bullshit that Merle had been conned into believing but now he’s starting to reconsider.

The cloth in his hand pauses on her skin, hand heavy and rough, scrapped knuckles pressing into her. Beth won’t take her eyes off him and in turn he can’t move his away either, even though his heart is jack hammering and his head is screaming for him to get out.

Something’s happening that he don’t know how to stop, that he don’t know how to fight and he’s never been in this position before, never felt this way.

The air in his throat rattles to a halt and he squeezes the cloth in his hand, wringing out a rivulet of water that he can’t help watching as it cuts a path down Beth’s chest.

His eyes cut up to hers licking her lips. “Come here,” Beth breathes.

Daryl swallows and leans closer, the elbow of his shirt getting wet. “Wha’s wrong?”

“Nothin’,” Beth whispers as she lifts closer. Just as her lips touch his, she finishes with, “nothin’ at all.”

Chapter Text

Daryl groans into Beth’s mouth, his hand cupping her jaw and tasting everything she has to offer. Beth moans back, her dripping hand reaching up and fisting in his hair, wet chest straining against his shirt and soaking it.

When her teeth sink into his lip he growls, reaching down to wrap his arm around her waist and squeeze her body to his.

A gasp rattles past her lips and into the air as they drag themselves away from each other, his mind a burning ruin as he ducks his head to her throat and kisses her there instead.

Beth's head falls back to where he can see her face and she is a vision. Eyes rolling into the back of her skull and cheeks flushed red, mouth slick and swollen.

Fuck.

He presses his face even deeper into the junction between her neck and shoulder, tasting her there. She moans again and it punches him straight in the gut, leaving a flurry of feelings he can’t describe as he clenches his arm around her waist tighter.

Beth begins to slip with the force of his mouth and then she hisses as her injured shoulder hits the edge.

“Shit,” he mutters breathlessly, pulling away with a fully soaked shirt. “M’sorry, girl.”

“S’okay,” she whispers with eyes still as dilated as before. “M’ready to get out. Gimme a hand?”

Daryl nods, swallowing as he sinks his hand into the warm water and wraps his fingers around Beth’s bare waist.

His other hand takes her proffered hand and as she starts to hoist herself up he releases her hand to grab the towel on the side. Keeping his head turned, he offers the towel to her silently.

“Er, I can’t do it one handed, Daryl,” Beth murmurs. “Kinda need you to look at me.”

Okay, here goes nothing. He turns his head back to her and thinks his heart may have stopped. He’s eye level with her chest and throat so his first view of her is her small, rosy nipples.

They’re hard and puckered but they’re such a shade of pink that he feels like they would still be incredibly soft.

He’s never done anything artistic in his life, all he was taught was how to kill but he wishes there was some kind of creative bone in his body right now.

If there was he would stand here with a pad and pencils, sketch Beth for as long as she would let him. The soft roundness of her breasts, the small curves of her hips and her long legs.

With colour he would add the shining blue of her eyes, the excited splotches of pink across her cheeks and chest and then the soft gold of her wet curls.

They stick all over her, clinging desperately to her throat, her collar bones and her shoulders. Some strands even stretch right down her sides, stuck to her waist line.

The wet lock of hair falling in front of her eye makes him want to find a clip to pin the rest of her hair back, to watch it spiral and gather at the back of her skull.

Nothing creative about him but he imagines harshly drawing in the lines of her cheek and collar bones which still stand out in sharp relief from her time alone.

Thank God her ribs are not sticking out violently or he may have been forced from this warm cocoon of another world to run outside and shoot down the fattest deer around.

Hand feed her the whole thing until she was swollen and plump with soft fat. Never understood society’s need to be skinny, especially women.

If he looked down and could see his ribs as a kid it meant he wasn’t eating but when he looked at his dad's pot belly he knew how well fed his old man was.

He swallows at the thought and blinks his way out of his lecherous staring, his cheeks flushing pink when he realises how obviously he was mapping her body with his eyes.

“Sorry,” Daryl splutters quickly, wrapping the towel around her.

Beth clenches it with one hand and a smile. “No one’s ever looked at me like that before. I mean, at least from what I can remember.”

Shame twists him. “M’real sorry gi-”

“No,” she laughs with a shake of her head. “You want me, it’s okay. It’s all over your face. An’ I want you too, Daryl. That’s okay too.”

Fuck it. It’s just them.

“I’ve wanted you for a real long time,” he breathes, scared to hear it out loud.

The smile stretches wider and she takes his hand as she steps out the bath. “Go get that wet shirt off, I’ll clean up.”

“Your shoulder,” Daryl hesitates.

Beth winces as she tests it. “You’re right. Do you mind?”

“Naw,” he says quickly. “Be in’na sec.”

Pressing a kiss to his cheek, she quietly opens the door and leaves as Daryl empties the bath. Clearing the washing off the floor after, he follows after Beth back to her room, shutting the door behind him.

He drops the washing to the floor, watching Beth as she rolls her neck on her shoulders and he unbuttons his shirt.

“You in pain?” He asks.

She turns her head to look at him just as he drops his shirt and the air is sucked from his body. He’s never been this naked before.

Stripped down to his boxers and he’s got goose bumps from the hot gaze Beth is raking over his body.

“Delicious pain,” she finally answers huskily before she turns a little more serious. “An’ really painful pain. S’my neck.”

He thinks back to how he attacked her throat with kisses earlier and grimaces. “Sorry, girl. Lemme fix it.”

“It’s not your fault,” she dismisses as he climbs on the mattress behind her and lays his hands gently on her neck. “S’caus’a my shou- wow. Where the hell did you learn that?”

“What?” Daryl laughs as he digs his thumbs into her neck. “This?”

Yeah,” Beth groans throatily. “S’like… just… wow.”

He laughs again, slightly embarrassed. “Some chick showed me once.”

“Oh yeah?” Beth asks teasingly. “This chick a girlfriend?”

“Nah,” he snorts. “Never had a girlfriend. Was just wanna Merle’s druggy friends. She knew Merle had a stash and thought butterin’ me up would get her some free.”

“Charmin’,” Beth mutters sarcastically.

Daryl snorts again as he pulls at her neck muscles. “Could say that.”

“That feels so good,” she praises and he squeezes his eyes closed at the want wrapped all around it.

“Yeah?” He murmurs just for something to say. “How ‘bout this?”

Keeping one hand on her neck, he slips the other one to the uninjured shoulder and massages the muscles there. Beth groans and becomes liquid, all her weight pillowing into the hand cupping her neck and her head lolling to the side.

He smiles while she can’t see, glad that he can help her when she’s in pain. “Good?”

Yes,” she hisses softly. “Your hands are so nice on my skin.”

Personally, he finds himself agreeing. His hand is huge against her small frame and the tops of his finger keep brushing the knot of her towel.

Each time he accidentally nudges it, it becomes looser and he’s steadily been watching the fabric unknot. He’s sure Beth can feel its restraint fumbling too but she hasn’t done anything about it and that makes excitement tug in his gut.

He keeps massaging her, pressing his fingers down into the flesh of her collar bones.

Beth moans and her chest expands on a deep breath, the last pass needed to make the towel bust apart and slide down to her waist.

Beth does nothing at all but tip her head back, brushing her cheek over his swelling cock. Jesus, it feels like a hand wrapping around the thick root of him and a sweat busts out across his forehead.

His fingers dip further without the barricade of the cotton and his spine hunches as he bends down so his fingers find her breast.

Beth gasps heatedly and turns her head into his thigh, her lips pressing to his skin. Daryl chokes, his balls drawing up tight as her mouth nuzzles at his inner thigh, a sensitive part of him he didn’t realise he had.

His hand dips lower and then he’s found it: her hard nipple and it is soft, just as he knew it would be. The calloused tip of his finger swirls and it must feel as good to Beth as it does to him because she moans deep in her throat.

Is this really happening? He feels like the world stopped turning and kept them suspended in this moment, hovering in the in-between of time and space so he can have everything he didn’t realise he was craving.

Beth tips her head even further back, distracting him as her mouth falls away. Her head lands on the bed and her mouth presses to his knee.

Daryl shudders, his eyes squeezing tighter closed as her tongue appears to trace the scar there. When he was seven, Merle cut the brakes on his bike for a dare and Daryl had gone straight into a fence.

He thought he escaped unharmed only to find a thin metal rod had sliced the inner curve of his knee in the shape of a C on its side.

It was his first scar of many to come but he didn’t know that then. The second one is higher up: his hip, from when he thought he needed pain to fuck and agreed to a dominatrix using the belt.

It sliced him deep repeatedly and he never let it heal right, used to stretch his leg just to feel the pop of the scab bursting.

When she licks a line up his thigh he spasms and hunches over her injured side. Beth giggles beneath him and shimmies onto her belly.

Over her shoulder he looks at her naked ass and feels his dick thicken at the dip in her spine. She’s a goddess and he feels like nothing more than a mere mortal in her presence.

“Somethin’ ‘bout my lips in this area turns you on, huh?” She whispers playfully.

He feels so drugged up, drugged up on her and what she’s doing to him that his smile must look as dopey as it feels. “Sensitive.”

“Is that right?” Beth grins as she reaches up on one good elbow to lick his waist line. “Come closer, I can’t stretch.”

Her smile is embarrassed but all he feels is the spinning excitement in his gut. Her mouth settles against his stomach as he leans closer, her lips parting to clench his underwear between her teeth.

Daryl grits his jaw as she tugs on the fabric, rubbing it over the swollen flesh of his cock. Beth grins wider and he bites down on his lip as he helps her and draws down his boxers.

His dick bobs free, hard and proud and suddenly Beth’s eyes are so dilated they’re almost black. Holy shit. Her lips part and her tongue pokes out, tracing the vein crawling along the underside of his cock.

Daryl groans and lets his head fall back, straining and panting as she leaves his pulsing dick to lick at his hip. With her lips and tongue she kisses and bites her away across the lines of his hips and then back down to his throbbing cock.

All he can think about is her hand clenching around him but she won’t be able to do it with her injured shoulder unable to hold her up.

Frustrated, he growls against his teeth and falls back to his ass. Beth sits up with a little struggle and guilt eats at him. He keeps getting so long in himself he ain’t keeping an eye out for when he should be helping her.

“Beth, m’sorry,” he mutters.

She shakes her head, pinning him with her hot gaze. “Don’t be. Just gimme a hand.”

He reaches his hand out to her and she pushes up on her knees. Thinking she’s going to turn to sit on her ass, surprise chokes him as she shuffles forward and hovers over his raging hard on. Daryl swallows, hands falling to her hips out of instinct.

“Girl,” he gasps. “We ain’t gott-”

“I wanna,” Beth cuts him off. “I wanna be with you. Please, Daryl.” 

 

Chapter Text

Jesus, sweat is beading his brow each time his fingers clench around Beth's hips. She's still watching him expectantly, waiting for his answer even as she's butt naked and hovering over his aching, straining cock.

His voice shakes when he speaks, "ain't got a rubber."

Beth frowns, her good hand resting on his shoulder. "Just… tell me?"

Tell her? They're really gonna do this. He's gonna do this. With Beth. With the only woman he's ever loved. Loves still, deeply. Sometimes too deeply, too much, too chaotically. He swallows and holds her tighter, flattening his palm against her spine to hold her waist.

"Okay," he agrees on a rattling breath.

Beth takes her own deep breath as she lifts her hips and then rocks them down. Daryl hisses as her damp slit slides over the head of him until he notches in her opening. Hand squeezing her tighter, he presses their bellies flat together and forces her spine into an arch. With his free hand he reaches under her, his knuckles brushing her clit as he grips his dick.

She hisses back at him, right against his cheek where her face is pressed, his hot breath rustling the hairs around her ear. Taking a grip on himself, he licks his lips as he nuzzles his way inside, his fingers brushing back her inner lips. His belly jumps when the head of him pops through and Beth cants her hips forward with a breathy moan.

The movement brushes her clit over his public bone and they groan in unison. Doing it again, he uses her pleasured distraction to push deeper. Beth whimpers as she loops her good arm around his neck and dips her face into the crook of his shoulder. The surrender of her body in his arms makes his throat tighten and he's gentle as he slides the rest of the way inside her.

Inside her.

He's inside Beth.

The room must have warmed up by several degrees because his lap already feels soaked in sweat, Beth's skin sweaty against his as she settles like she was made to be there. He holds her up as best as he can, trying to support all her weight so she doesn't hurt her already messed up shoulder even worse.

"Jesus," she hisses into the silence, startling him. "You're so thick."

He's so out of it, is what he is. His eyes are drooping and his head fuzzy, every thought narrowed down to Beth, to being inside her. To the unrelenting warm, wet heat swallowing him whole, not just between his legs but all over his entire body, dampening his skin and his hair. His hands rearrange themselves, one arm wrapping around her waist and one cupping her neck.

"This okay?" He asks breathlessly.

She traces her tongue over the throbbing pulse in his throat and his eyes roll in his head. "More than okay."

Turning her head further into his shoulder, she pants hot breaths there as she lifts her hips and slowly slides back down him. Daryl's eyes roll into the back of his head once more, a common occurrence it seems and therefore close against the stark bedroom lightbulb. He wishes he turned it off because it just makes everything so much harsher under its glare.

Even lost in her he keeps thinking about all his scars on show and how much of them she can see. He knows there's a mirror behind him and honestly he would rather it be Beth to watch what they're doing because he's not sure he could take it. The image of him sinking deep inside her, her ass and thighs bare for his viewing pleasure?

He's having enough of a difficult time trying to keep his head on straight as it is without adding that visual to the mix. Swallowing away his dry mouth, he crushes her tighter to him as he lets his cheek fall against her hair, her soft scent filling his nostrils. Beth moans thickly into the skin of his neck, raising goose bumps and he can't resist pumping his hips back.

She mewls, her free arm clenching around his neck and her nails digging into his back as he rocks his hips and she rocks hers, both of them fusing back together in the same moment. It's surreal, pleasure this intense, this harsh because he's never really had small pleasures let alone pleasures that light up his entire body. He's known a lot of pain and that's not to be self-deprecating but truthful.

"Jesus, Daryl," Beth gasps.

He groans deeply, mind lost. As much as he struggles to think about it, he knows his life wasn't picket fences and a cute mailbox. It was a trailer park and a crossbow to kill animals, to eat. He can't remember the last time in his life he stopped to think about how much he was enjoying himself in the moment until now.

Maybe at the funeral home. When Beth sang him to sleep, when he was cocooned in her voice and presence. He's never felt safer, didn't matter that she was shorter and smaller and younger. She had his back and that's all that mattered, that was all he needed. She would be there for him, she wouldn't let him down.

Now he feels all that again but more intense, more real. She can look at the scars on his back, all over his body because she won't judge him. He almost laughs in the middle of sliding home again, a strange bubble sticking in his chest. He can't believe he had to wait for the world to end to find her.

To love her.

They're paths may never have crossed otherwise. He may never have gotten to know her. Their worlds were so vastly different before and in modern society ending, they were thrown together. She's the silver lining to the end.

Beth gasps into his ear and digs her nails a little deeper into his shoulder as she swirls her hips. Daryl chokes, his hands scrabbling for purchase against her spine, squeezing her so tight as the plump head of his cock presses deep. So deep that the breaths rattling out of her mouth hitch every couple of seconds in his ear like she's sobbing.

There are no tears though, only the tightening of her pussy on his cock. The stretch and release of her inner walls like a clenching fist. Jesus. Whatever they're doing, it's not fucking. It's not that basic. She's unravelling all that he is, spinning him up in a web of light and safety.

In a world of good he didn't know how to find on his own. At the thought, the hand cupping her neck sinks into the hair at the back of her head and rests against her scar: the knot there. Maybe it's not the right thing to do but he's following his gut and he massages the scar gently, his thighs flexing as he hits a little deeper and pleasure pounds down his spine like a drum beat. Beth sobs into his throat but it's still not pain and it's louder. He even notices that her next thrust down is a little harder too.

"Daryl," she gasps against his throat. "Oh, God."

They've been soft and gentle together like a wave in the ocean but as the heat gathers in his heart, it does so in his belly too. God, he's there already. It's been years for him so really he's surprised that he made it this long, especially because it's Beth wrapped around him, Beth moaning in his ear; Beth dropping her hips breathlessly.

He growls on the next thrust up and Beth's nail sting his back. "Oh, fuck."

Sweet Jesus, she sounds like she might like that. That she might want that.

"Yeah?" He mutters without much thought.

"Unh, Jesus," she groans low and quiet.

Daryl pants and throws his head back, eyes squeezing tight as his hands fall and grip her by the thighs, physically lifting her until she violently drops back down. Holy shit. He does it again and Beth tightens around him dramatically, sucking him so deep inside his stomach squeezes. Beth clenches his shoulder and pulls back.

As she does he peels his sticky eyes open, taking in her wild hair and flushed cheeks, lust blown eyes. "Harder," she begs softly. "Like this."

He's pretty sure he dies in the moment that she grinds on him, churning her hips so that his dick rotates around every inch of her pussy walls. Daryl hisses and his nails dig into her ass, pulling her up and fucking into her harder.

"Yess," she cries. "Don't stop!"

With each slam between her legs she tightens even further. It wouldn't be so mind blowing, so fucking devastating, if she wasn't staring straight into his eyes on every plunge. Fuck this angle. He pushes up on his knees and Beth squeals but he's still gripping her by the ass. Her legs spread further in the air and he uses all his strength as she hangs onto his shoulder.

Licking his lips, he repeatedly lets her drop down on him and picks her back up, slamming his hips at the same time. As he does, his arms flex with the weight of her body, his chest straining and stomach jumping. Even harder to deal with is Beth's desperate scrabbling at his back and shoulders, her nails tearing his skin to shreds. It's perverse to realise how much he fucking loves it.

Her lips part and she pants desperately, eyes rolling in her head when she says in a strangled voice, "Daryl, I- shit, I-"

"I know," he interrupts her, his stomach tightening unbearably. "I'm gonna too."

"N-no," she gasps on a hard thrust.

"What girl?" He grunts when she doesn't answer.

Her eyes lock with his and burn him from the inside out, twisting up his insides. "I love you."

Heat like nothing he's ever felt before splinters him in two and he roars so loud Beth slaps her hand over his mouth when he yanks his cock out of her, spraying thick ropes of cum against her lower belly. He's out of it at that point and he only has enough sense to wrap his arm around Beth's waist as he falls back on the bed.

She giggles as she tumbles down with him, her good hand catching her against the bed. "Easy, tiger."

"Shut up," he mutters good naturedly. "You didn't cum?"

She shakes her head but her face is relaxed. "S'okay, wasn't 'bout that."

Her eyes are swimming with emotion and he narrows his, wondering what she means, wondering what this was about for her but he can't find his answers when he searches her face. "But still…"

Covering his mouth with her hand, she shakes her head. "No, Daryl. Seriously. I'm fine. Though," she pauses to wince. "My shoulder ain't."

"Fuck," he rumbles as he gently sits up. "Forgot 'bout the dressin'. Hold on, lemme find it. Here, get into bed."

Beth's smile is amused when he pulls the covers back and helps to tuck her in as she crawls over, his eyes slipping to her bare ass. Having a piece of Beth just leaves him wanting more and when she's tucked in he can't resist sliding his fingers over her lower lip.

"Better?"

"Yeah," she whispers sleepily. "Comin'?"

He nods. "Dressin' firs'."

Squinting around at the messed up bedsheets and strewn clothing, he finally locates the dressing. As he picks it up, he realise he didn't pick up medical tape.

Sighing, he shows Beth. "Got any up here?"

"Actually I think I do. Check the bathroom cabinet," she instructs a little sleepily.

He does as he's told, heading to the bathroom to source the tape. When he's found it he heads back and sets to work on her shoulder since he can tell she's barely holding on as it is. When the dressing is smoothed down on her clean skin, her eyes are already half closed and he places a kiss to her forehead just because he feels like he can.

Beth doesn't scold him for it and a smile twitches at his mouth wondering if that's okay now. If it's okay for him to kiss her whenever and wherever he wants. To look after her. His smile grows when he stands to turn off the light switch, hidden in the dark now before he fumbles to the bed and slides into it.

Beth hums as she turns her head to look at him. It's nearly dawn so he can see a little of her face even without the light. "That was amazin'."

Daryl laughs as his cheeks heat. "Yeah, was."

"Minute I open my eyes," she stops to yawn and then laughs. "I'm… gettin' a piece of… you."

His mouth twitches into a smile as her head lolls and her eyes slide closed. Not even two minutes later she's breathing deep and soft, leaving him stroking her throat and watching her in the early morning light. For a moment he's completely peaceful and could slide into sleep himself but then his gut tightens and his mind churns.

This changes everything. He just... he don't even know what he just did with Beth because had sex is not it. She said she loves him and the scariest part about that is he believes her. He believes her whole heartedly and he doesn't know how to do that, he doesn't know how to be that vulnerable.

Swallowing, he lightly rests his hand on her cheek and kisses her forehead. He needs two seconds to himself, to breathe, to think. He's not running out on her, not by a long shot but he just wants to talk to someone else, someone other than himself. Carol. He wants his friend. He'll be back before Beth wakes up because mostly especially, he wants her again too.

More than he can cope with.

Being as quiet as he can, he finds his clothes and puts them on, leaving the room just as the sun crests. He don't plan to be gone long but he takes his bow anyway and silently heads out the door into the light. Carol's is barely ten houses from here so he's there in less than two minutes.

It's early so he doesn't knock. Carol wakes up with the birds so he heads straight to the kitchen where he knows she'll be making coffee. He doesn't make it though, distracted by a note left to Tobin. He frowns. She mentioned something about seeing him when Daryl came over recently, in the days where Beth had moved in with Maggie.

He didn't want to over crowd Beth so he spent most of his time with Carol, being there for his friend. He knew something was going on between her and Tobin because she told him so but he didn't think it was that serious. Why leave a note for him in her own house? He shouldn't read it but when he calls out, Carol doesn't answer.

A hot prickle dots his spine at all the clues. Carol's not home and she left a note for Tobin. She doesn't go out on her own and especially not without him, not when he can go with her. He swallows and gently opens the note in case he has to put it back, staged. That doesn't happen though. The letter tears beneath his hands as words spring up and flash in his mind.

Can't do this anymore.

Had to leave.

You'll be okay.

Explain to the others.

It's for the best.

Thank you.

There's nearly two pages of handwriting but that's all he can keep thinking about. She left. She left and she didn't leave him a note. She left Tobin a note, but not him. He storms out of the house with no real clue what to do, no idea how to start finding her and then he glances down the street and he remembers Denise.

It disgusts him to think he even temporarily forgot her wrapped up in Beth's world. Denise is dead and Carol is gone and all he's been doing is give into his selfish desires. It's staring down the street that his eyes focus and he picks up on Rosita.

She's running.

He pounds down the porch steps to meet her. "Carol's gone," he says quickly.

"So has Tara," she fires back even faster.

"Tara?" He pauses. "She left with Heath."

"No, no," Rosita rushes breathlessly. "It went wrong. Heath's dead. Tara barely got back. When she did she found out about Denise…"

"An' she's gone," he finishes for her.

How the fuck can stepping out of Beth's embrace bring so much stinking shit back into his life?"

"We've gotta get her, get them both back," Rosita stresses.

"'Kay. You get the others," he instructs as he begins to pass her.

"Wait!" She shoots her arm out and clenches his shirt.

It's still slightly damp from Beth's bath and he swallows, wishing he can claw those moments back to escape these ones.

"What about you?" She adds.

"M'goin' to find 'em. Rick'll know where to look for me."

Shrugging his arm out of her grip, he clenches his bow and takes off at a run. His eyes are on the gate but his mind is back in bed with the girl he loves. He hopes he makes it back to let her know that he didn't just run out on her, to explain.

To tell her he that he loves her too.

Chapter Text

“Beth! C’mon, girl, c’mon.”

“Oh God, oh my God she’s dead. Daryl, she’s dead! Oh God, oh Maggie, oh g-god,” someone sobs.

“Stop it! Stop sayin’ that! Help her! Carol, fuckin’ help her!”

A chorus of screams rock her temples and split her mind clean in two.

“Daryl! Put the gun down! She’s gone! Dawn’s dead an’ Beth’s dead an’ we don’t need NO MORE DEAD!”

Pain sharp and hot and white whistles between her ears and explodes. Why is everybody screaming? Don’t they know how much it hurts? Don’t they understand the fucking pain? Why don’t they just stop hurting her?

“I ain’t lettin’ em’ have her! Stay back! Get off’a her!”

Her body is ragged around and she’s sure her head is gonna roll clean off her shoulders. If not she’ll rip it off because it feels like the universe is breaking through her brain and shredding her insides apart.

“Daryl! They can help! Let them help!”

Daryl.

Daryl.

Daryl.

Help me.

Hot air by what she thinks is her ear but could be anywhere, could be anything, she don’t even know what she is anymore.

“S’alrite, Beth,” someone chokes in a whisper that her whole world narrows down to. Wet droplets drip down and soak her inside out. “I’m gonna save you. I ain’t lettin’ you go. I promise, girl. I promise. Please don’t leave me.” A sob breaks over her. The whisper gets even quieter, slowing down and spiralling out and rewriting her DNA. “I love you.”


 

“Daryl!”

Beth shoots up in bed and throws her arms out to the sides, her fingers questing for another body and not finding one.

Turning her head to look down, she barely has time to confirm that Daryl isn’t there before a lightning bolt of pain strikes in her temples.

Crying out, she tumbles from the bed with no grip on anything stable, the whole room swinging. The sheets tangle around her body, caging her to the floor and she’s propelled back.

Back to the grave.

Dirt and earth, worms and spiders.

Everything dark and cruel and confusing.

Groaning as her temples spike with intense pressure, she barley manages to crawl to the toilet before she throws up.

She knows it’s all just bile and whatever she ate last but when she looks into the toilet bowl she sees maggots and mud, blades of grass and worms stuck to the sides.

Squeezing her eyes closed as her belly rolls, Beth hurls up the contents of her stomach and cries, her head hurting so bad there’s not a good enough word to describe it.

Torture.

Pure torture.

Every memory strikes her between the eyes, forcing her wracking sobs between retches.

“Daryl!” She shouts through tears.

Just the name produces a thousand images. The farm. The prison. The shack. The dog. The song. The casket. The hospital. The fight. The bath. The dinner. Last night.

Last night.

Oh, God.

Like an arrow flying, she slumps against the toilet bowl, hugging it as she cries against the seat. She was so horrible to him, to all of them.

When she was someone else. When she was Girl. Where is Daryl? She needs him. She needs stability, structure. To explain where the hell she’s been since she woke up, since she came back to fucking life.

It’s like being possessed or more appropriately possessing because that’s what it feels like is happening. She’s possessed the body of Girl, her memories, her life, her emotions; her head aches.

Everything she was is now Beth and everything Beth was used to be her. Confusion is stamping all over her and she’s lost in a drowning sea of her own memories.

It’s only as her shoulder starts burning that she’s yanked out of her mind and she has to squint to focus because the air is swimming.

With a shaking hand she rips the bandage down and sniffles her sobs back to focus. There’s a gaping hole and torn stitches, a lot of blood. She needs Maggie.

Oh, Maggie.

The things she said to her sister the first night here:

I don’t know you.

You left her, you left Beth.

You failed your sister you pathetic little whore.

Are you a fuckin’ idiot, gettin’ knocked up by the chink in this?

Oh, God.

She was so fucking horrible, so vile and nasty. Girl was so cruel and unforgiving. Of course she understands Maggie’s decision.

She was with Daryl, she was safe. Beth needs to see her. Now. Except thinking of Maggie makes her think of her Daddy and then Shawn and then her Mama and names keep hitting her in the heart.

Jimmy. Lori. Otis. Patricia. Andrea. T-Dog. People from school, people whose names she forgot years ago. As if by remembering who she is from the dead she’s reawakened her brain with a jolt.

All her short term memory is flooding back in and with her long term memory engaged so hard in reboot it’s overwhelming.

The band stretches and stretches with times and dates and birthdays and names. Faces and memories, things that overwhelm her with senses and emotions.

Last night. God, last night. So much memory, so much vision and colour. Smells and touches, sounds. Jesus, the sounds he made.

Stretching and stretching tight, too tight and then it snaps.

Chapter Text

Beth groans herself into consciousness.

Everything is cold and clammy beneath her arms and bare shoulders, her naked thighs. When she turns on her side and blinks awake, she finds late afternoon sun that pokes into her eyes.

Beth knows immediately she’s been lying down for a while. Her whole body aches and is frozen from the bathroom tiles. Her head is still ringing but thoughts come a little slower now, a little less overwhelming.

The worst part of her is her shoulder, which is pulsing with its own heartbeat. Blearily gripping the sheets back around her, she pushes herself to standing and flushes the toilet with a grimace.

Groaning softly, she shuffles into her bedroom. The door is still shut and everything is as she left it, so she doesn’t think Maggie has been in here.

If she had she’s sure her sister would have come to find her in the bathroom and helped. She wonders why Maggie’s let her sleep this long though.

A glance out of the windows tells her it will be evening in less than two hours. Gingerly sourcing some clothes, she pulls them on as quickly as she can bare before she hurries down the stairs.

Her heart is racing with excitement and her stomach a mixture of that and anxiety. She can’t wait to see her sister, to really see her.

She prays to God that Maggie can find the forgiveness Beth is so desperately craving from her. Daryl too. Some awful things were said and last night was magic.

She needs to see him, to know he’s okay, to know where he is. She’s excited to see her sister but she’s just as ecstatic to see him again.

As she rounds the corner into the kitchen she finds Maggie there with Enid who is slowly cutting the ends of Maggie’s hair off.

Beth comes to a halt, her eyes darting to Enid cautiously. She’s a lovely girl, Beth doesn’t mean to be so suspicious of her and it takes her a moment to analyse why her gut has twisted sharply.

Jealousy.

As Girl she observed how close Maggie and Enid’s bond is but as Beth she slightly resents it. She should have that bond with her sister but as Girl she damaged it so harshly.

Horrible words and insults that she knows would have torn her sister to shreds. Looking at Enid feels like looking at the life she should have had, had she continued on its path.

Beth’s thoughts are interrupted when Maggie glances up with a smile. “Afternoon. You feel any better?”

“Depen’s on your perspective,” Beth mutters.

Maggie frowns as Enid snips a lock of hair. Beth watches it tumble as she whispers, “it’s me,” she pauses to look her sister in the eye. “Beth.”

Her sister smiles with confusion. “I can see that, honey. Are you okay? Do you want some breakfast?”

“No, Maggie,” Beth presses seriously and Maggie’s smile falters. “It’s me. I remember.”

Maggie gasps into the oncoming silence, her hands flying to cover her mouth as she sobs. “Bethy?”

Enid glances at her with wide eyes and then steps back as Maggie shoots from her chair, colliding with Beth in a hug that sucks the breath out of her.

She cries the minute her face falls into Maggie’s shoulder but the sobs are happy, filled with laughs and then Maggie is laughing too, looking at Enid with a huge smile.

Glancing back at Beth, she takes her face between her palms and smothers Beth with kisses. Beth laughs, her face wet from her tears and Maggie’s mouth.

“Oh, God. Oh, thank you,” Maggie cries as she squeezes Beth tight. “Come over here!” She says to Enid a little hysterically.

Enid laughs nervously and they all fall into a messy three way hug full of laughs and smiles. The happiness deflates a little though as Beth pulls away and sobers up. “Have you seen Daryl?”

Maggie’s face sobers and she opens her mouth to say something but then glances at Beth’s shoulder. “Beth, you’re bleedin’!”

“Huh?” She glances at her shoulder which has bled through her t-shirt. Glancing back to her sister she shakes her head. “Don’t avoid the question.” She narrows her eyes at her sister. “Where’s Daryl?”

“Enid get me the first aid kit,” Maggie instructs.

“Maggie!” Beth snaps. “Don’t keep secrets from me.”

Maggie sighs and waits until Enid comes back with the box. “Sit down an’ I’ll tell you.”

Beth sits stiffly and lets Maggie pull her sleeve over her shoulder so she can access it. “Rosita came by. He’s gone to find Carol. She left.”

“Oh no,” Beth mutters miserably.

Part of her is sad because she knows how much Daryl needs his friend. His best friend in fact but there’s also a part of her that wouldn’t have wanted him to go, had she gotten the choice in the manner. She doesn’t want him to be gone, doesn’t want to be worrying the way she is now.

“Why?” She continues.

Maggie grimaces as she wipes up Beth’s shoulder. “She’s had enough of killin’. Like the rest of us.”

“But Daryl needs her,” Beth says immediately.

Them having sex last night was huge. Emotionally revealing too and Daryl will be feeling vulnerable. He would have wanted someone to talk to, someone to help him stop beating himself up for finally having what he wants, for being selfish.

“Why?” Maggie enquires as she takes up the needle. “Somethin’ happen?”

“No,” Beth answers half-heartedly. “Nothin’ bad.”

“Beth…” Maggie hesitates as she takes a hold of her shoulder.

“There isn’t time, Maggie! I can’t lose him.” Beth presses as she agitatedly thrusts her hand through her hair. “Anythin’ could happen to him.”

Maggie sighs and smiles sympathetically. “I know you’re worried ‘bout him, but Daryl’s a big boy. He wouldn’t have gone if it was really dangerous.”

“What Daryl thinks is dangerous an’ what’s ac’ually dangerous are two very different things,” Beth laughs without humour.

“He was wrecked over Denise but I held his attention. Just like I have since I got back ‘cause I’m selfish.” Her hand automatically raises to pick her scar and she swallows, dropping her fingers in disgust.

“Hey,” her sister says sharply as she tugs the thread through. “You are not selfish. You had amnesia, Beth.”

Beth sighs bitterly. “He’s done nothin’ but look after me since the prison. I know he’s tired, Maggie.”

Maggie glances through her uneven hair at her. “I know, honey. He’ll be back.”

Beth nods and then falls silent as Maggie stitches her up again. After that she worries restlessly as Maggie finishes getting her hair cut.

“How ‘bout you, Bethy? You wanna trim?” Maggie asks when she’s done.

Enid looks to her with a smile. “I don’t mind.”

Beth considers her hair. Most of it is tangled together, some parts beginning to dread.

Glancing back to Enid she sheepishly says, “if you can get the scissors through it then go ahead.”

Enid laughs and beckons her to the chair Maggie vacates. “I’ll give it a try.”

Sitting down, Beth closes her eyes and thinks about Daryl, where he is, if he’s okay. She knows deep in her heart that last night was something that was brewing between them.

Brewing from that first time in the trunk, squished together and breathing so tight. Breathing through the attraction, the adrenaline. The need.

Beth also knows that Daryl feels that way too and he wouldn’t have left her to wake up alone if he wasn’t helping someone. If he wasn’t helping Carol, a woman they all love.

She loves that about him. He’s so selfless and honest. Loyal to the bone. She told him that too: that she loves him. He’ll be back. Beth knows it.

Sometime later and Enid is on the top layer of her hair when Maggie howls out in pain, bursting the calm atmosphere.

“What’s wrong?” Beth and Enid say in unison.

“Oh, the baby!” She cries as she falls to her knees.

Beth’s stomach nose dives as she hurries to her sister. “Enid, help me! We gotta get help!”

“We don’t have a doctor anymore,” Enid responds on the edge of panic. “Denise is gone. Wait!” She glances at Maggie quickly. “The Hilltop?”

“Yeah,” Maggie agrees. “We need, agh, a car,” she hisses, cradling her belly.

Just then the sliding doors rattle and Beth glances out to Buttons big face pushing the glass. An idea strikes.

Turning back to Enid, she instructs, “you take Maggie, I’ll follow.”

Enid nods with a tight face and hugs Maggie to her as they leave. Just before they exit the door way, Maggie turns back to her and whispers fiercely, “hurry.”

“I will,” Beth promises vehemently. “I ain’t losin’ you. I ain’t losin’ anyone ever again.”

Chapter Text

The wind is harsh and painful against Beth's cold cheeks and panic makes her almost dizzy.

The result is her hanging onto the horse with a grip that she has to consciously loosen so as not to hurt Buttons. She hasn't got a fucking clue what's going on. She woke up this morning to all her memories, all her being and an empty bed where she made love with a man she's fallen in love with twice.

She doesn't know where he is or if he's safe and she doesn't even have the time to worry to that extent. Something's wrong with Maggie, with the baby and now all Beth's rational thought and emotions are tied to her sister. To the unborn life growing inside her already fighting such unfair odds.

The most frightening thing is something is happening. Cars are blocking off the RV. People are hunting them. They never did tell her who or what it was they got involved in. Perhaps they thought she was too fragile to handle it which at that point, she can't blame them. Though it does sting a little, knowing they kept secrets.

It's unfair to think like that since it's not like Maggie had time this morning to clue Beth in on what's been going down but it still hurts all the same. Regardless, she's not thick enough to join the open road. On Buttons, she surfs through the trees, silent in the mud. Before long the day fades away and darkness comes.

The others are trapped, she sees and feels it like someone rattling her silent by a death grip on her throat. The fear is so oppressive it weighs her down, it forces her still. Even hearing the voices, seeing the terror on her family's face, she's frozen on the seat of her horse. The baby. Jesus, God, the baby.

Maggie. They need help. They need her help but she can't move. She hasn't felt fear like this since the hospital, claustrophobic to the point of insanity even in all this open air. The tight corpse of trees around her feel like they're closing in and for a moment she sways on the edge of passing out.

She keeps thinking about the hospital. About how brave she was there, about how she stood up to Dawn, tried to be somebody and look where that got her. Dead. Reborn into something worse than a walker. Something broken and sad. She doesn't want that again. She won't survive again.

To their knees they fall.

She sees them all, surrounded, closed in, their bodies bent but their eyes fierce. Something is happening. The answer is swirling in her mind somewhere, pushing up from the dregs of terror and uncertainty. There's one man she sees, one man she knows and the answer is there.

The answer was always there, she just wasn't looking hard enough.

"Well, look-e here boys, we caught ourselves some goddamn entertainment!" He crows and his smile feels like it's made for her, like it's reaching out for her.

"Negan," she whispers numbly.

It's barely a word really, barely speech but it feels too loud, too obvious, too much, ringing in her ears. Buttons whines a little, pacing and Beth's stomach clamps tighter with panic. Idiot, idiot, idiot. What is she meant to do with a fucking horse right here and now? She can't go charging in there, they'll kill her.

Except she can't leave her here either because the walkers will kill her. Fuck. Sweat is beading her forehead and upper lip, nearly going cross eyed with her own internal thoughts.

Negan is still speaking. "Though s'not really entertainment is it boys?" His manic grin slides away, replaced by a smirk that makes her skin crawl. "'Cause not only did you kill EVERYONE in one of my fuckin' outposts! No, no," he laughs but its mirthless, it's hard, it's scary. "Little birdie told me you got one of mine."

She sees her family swap glances, frowns, murmurs. Jesus. Why was she so fucking selfish before? Why did she think she could just blend into their life and be forgotten? As if she could run from the Saviours, as if she could even try with her pulse still rabbiting in her throat.

Admittedly, at first, she was forced. Maggie and Rick took her without her say so, without her consent but then she had a whole night to think about it. New place, new people, new life. Of course she didn't realise she fell smack dab in the middle of her family.

All Girl cared about for a while was being safe, being hidden but then her heart opened and her memories started coming back, her emotions. She should have told them and now they're in this mess because of her. Crickets sing into the silence and Beth glances around in the darkness.

She can't leave Buttons here and she can't ride in with her. There's only one other option. She swallows as she watches Negan grow more agitated, pacing as he eyes each one of the group, as he menacingly swings his bat. Even poor Aaron is down there on his knees, swept into something he didn't ask for.

Taking a deep breath, Beth carefully disembarks from her horse, sliding to her feet in the leaves. They crunch a little and she freezes but Negan keeps talking, keeps provoking and she hurries. Stroking Button's face, she feels tears clutch her throat.

"You gotta go, 'kay?" Beth whispers hoarsely. "You gotta go home."

The worst part about this is rationally she knows Button's doesn't understand, that she won't go home, that'll she'll run off somewhere, somewhere she could be hurt, killed, eaten. Tears squeeze her throat and she can't even manage words again. She pats the horse on her neck and Button's just turns and runs.

Beth stares after her, stomach hollow and heart carving its way out of her chest. Then she swipes at her face and she turns back to the tight copse of trees.

Negan's voice rises in pitch, to a point where he doesn't quite shout but the bass of his voice reaches through the body and grips the spine. "I won't ask you again. 'Cause you see, Lucille here gets damn thirsty! S'hard work bein' a mighty fine little piece! So let's do a little swap, shall we? Simon!"

Beth's eyes flicker to Simon, a man she knows too well. A man she's shared breakfast with, laughed with. It's hard looking at him, at Negan, at all the familiar faces because it's like two parts of her life splitting down the middle. Her family mean everything to her, to Beth but in those dark months this other family meant something to Girl.

Simon turns the handle on the back of a van door and Beth's whole body goes icy cold when out stumbles Daryl and Tara. Carol's not with them. He doesn't look hurt but it's only a matter of when not if. Negan lashes out when he doesn't get what he wants. Beth is frozen again, these two personalities inside warring together and tearing her apart.

Beth and Girl.

Beth's family versus Girl's family.

Except the Savours were never really her family. They were just a place to stay, to eat and lay her head. To be safe in her confusion.

"I am givin' you TWO MORE fuckin' seconds before your beloved red neck here meets the love of my life. An' then the pretty little lesbo's next," he pauses here to turn to Tara. "Sure you don't want some of my dick, sweetheart? I really think it could turn ya."

Tara coughs up a thick mucus and spits it to the ground at his feet. "Go to hell."

Negan sighs like he expected this and turns back to the group on their knees. "S'always the hot chicks that're gay, am I right?"

No one answers. Probably the absolute worst part about Negan is that he never really has to use force. His voice; his charm, his smirk, his jacket and that fucking bat, they do all the damage they need. They leave you shaking and vulnerable, so scared you can't remember how to talk. Her poor family, they don't know what the hell is happening.

"No?" Negan presses.

Daryl is on his knees, head hanging, mouth bleeding and Negan is raising Lucille. Beth's frozen solid, hands pressed to her jeans, sweating and sick building in her throat.

"Are you really gonna let him die!?" Negan shouts.

"Please!" Rick responds, surging on his knees until someone knocks him back down with the butt of a gun. A spray of blood makes Beth woozy. "We don't know who you're talkin' 'bout!" He finishes in a pained grunt.

Negan laughs, that chuckle that as Girl she once thought was sexy until she watched him beat someone's head in, until she fled. She's about to watch him do it again, to Daryl.

"You expect me to believe that?" Negan asks with a mocking smile, a placating one like Rick has simply lost his toy in the park.

When no one responds, Negan's face goes hard and there's no pre-amble, no warning, the bat goes up and his arm swings down and everyone is screaming and Beth is falling through the thick bramble, stumbling, jostled by a thousand arms as her eyes pin on Daryl.

"Negan!" She screeches as someone snaps her up, bands her arms together behind her back and wrestles her against their hard chest.

"Beth!" Maggie shouts and she almost turns her head, almost. "Get away! Let her go!"

The bat stops an inch from Daryl's bowed head and that steals all of Beth's attention until she remembers the brutality of these men and looks over her shoulder at the guys lined up behind her family.

"Don't hurt her," she hisses in a voice that vibrates with fear, stinks of it. "She's pregnant."

When no one replies, retaliates, she turns back to Daryl. His head is lifted now and so immediately their eyes catch, hold. There's so much there. So much. For a moment he looks confused to see her, until his eyes flicker around the circle, the family, the Savours and when he looks back at her he looks terrified.

The worst part is Beth knows it's not fear for himself. Its fear for her, poor damaged Girl. He doesn't even know that she's back, that she's Beth again and in order to save them she's gonna have to go with Negan. Maybe it's better that she never tells him, wait until he goes home, safe, for Maggie to tell him.

Negan stops and lifts his head too, slower than Daryl but more deliberate and with a satisfied little smirk.

"Oh-ho, I missed you sweet thing."

Chapter Text

Beth feels as if roots have sprung from her feet and embedded themselves into the ground, entangling with the grass and the mud to keep her still. She's captive in the literal sense of the word too, arms twisted up behind her back so painfully tears have sprung in her eyes.

Not to mention her shoulder is still fucked. The white hot agony screeching through her veins feels like the kind of damage that never quite heals. From the scent around her she knows it's Simon and she can't bare to look back at his smirk.

It's always been more haunting than Negan's, always more dangerous and manic. Negan has methods that he genuinely believes saves people. Simon would obliterate the world and run with the remains if he could. If he was brave enough to take on Negan that is, which he's not and never will be.

Beth licks her lips, her eyes flicking between Negan and Daryl. Each time she does it's that split in her mind again. Beth's man versus Girl's. The shame makes her face want to explode.

"Leave 'em alone, Negan," she finally manages in barely a whisper. "I'll come with you."

"No!" Daryl roars, rearing up on his knees to his feet and Beth shouts when he gets the butt end of the bat and collapses to the floor in a unconscious heap.

Others are screaming behind her as Negan pants in rage and flips the bat in hand, raising it over Daryl's body. She struggles in Simon's arms, throwing her head back to hit his nose and connecting so hard she feels the wet, warm blood spill into her hair. Negan turns at the commotion and grabs her before she can fall to Daryl's side.

"Sweetheart, c'mon, that's a bit dramatic, don't you think? S'just some scruffy red neck," Negan laughs, his fingers digging into her arm.

Beth's heart crawls up her throat but she still manages to crowd her face into Negan's and hiss, "he's my red neck you fuckin' asshole!"

A chuckle bursts out of his mouth: disbelieving, humorous until it comes out again more convinced, confused. "Suck my nuts, you're serious?"

Beth says nothing and doesn't move her eyes when she responds, "ask Simon how serious I am."

They both look to Simon whose nose is crushed beneath an onslaught of blood and goo.

Negan winces though it's more mocking that sympathetic. "How you holdin' up there, Simon?"

Simon tentatively dabs at the mess with the edge of his shirt, a fake, cruel smile twitching his moustache. "Peachy. Can I kill one of 'em?"

"No!" Beth shouts as she whirls back to face Negan. "I swear to fuckin' God I'll kill myself before you have me if you lay one finger on 'em."

Negan raises his brow. "Somethin's changed 'bout you little duck. I don't remember you bein' so…" he curls his lip. "Fragile."

Beth's pulse rockets and she tries to remember who she was in that time with Negan and his family. If she's not the woman he covets, the wife he covets then she has no leverage. She watches the people she loves die and she has nothing, again. Her eyes drop to Daryl, still unconscious and she steels herself.

Looking back at Negan, she channels her other half, her split half: Girl. "Don't play your power games with me. I come with you an' we walk away, that's what you want right, for me to finally give in? Stop workin' the outpost an' be your wife?"

Negan stares and then he laughs and laughs and laughs. Soon everyone else is laughing and she's lost in grinning mouths and manic cackles, in the fear swimming beneath her skin and through her veins, in the prickles that dot her spine where her family are watching her.

When he's done, when he's got it all out, he swings Lucile over his shoulder and smiles at her. "Sweetheart, you ain't got so much of an' ego that you think I'm only here for you, right? I mean, yeah, you're great in the sack an' all-"

He pauses here to let everyone absorb his words, to grin in victory and her face flames as Simon chuckles, as the silence grows deafening. She wonders what her family thinks and she's suddenly so glad that Daryl's unconscious.

"I was a different person," Beth spits. "I didn't know who I was."

"What? An' now you've had a wake up call, darlin'?" He smiles and looks down at Daryl. "'Cause'a this lump?"

Yes.

"No," she answers calmly, as much as she can manage. "Y'know how I couldn't 'member anythin'?"

Negan chuckles and pulls her into his chest even tighter. "Course I do sweetheart, s'why it was so much fun."

Beth scowls but doesn't jerk out of his hold because Daryl is at their feet and one swing of Lucille means he's dead. "I got my memories back. Who I am. Who I was. An' this was my family. From before."

Negan looks up and around before spinning Beth in his arms, pressing her flat against his chest so she can see her family too. His scruffy mouth brushes her ear like he intends to whisper but quite loudly he says, "this rag-tag bunch'a homeless lookin' dickheads are your family?"

When she doesn't answer he shakes her and she whimpers in agony, her shoulder flaring pain right into her jaw, looking no where but Maggie when she finally says, "it was."

She won't let anyone die today but she can't let Maggie die, not with hers and Glenn's unborn child growing in her belly. Glenn. She looks to him and sees how terrified he is, how he's straining for Maggie, how he needs to keep her safe but he's helpless.

Beth isn't helpless.

Beth has the power to make Negan walk away.

Beth is the one who will save them.

Beth is the one who will fix this mess.

"So, what? I just kill 'em all an' you got no problem with that, darlin'?" He mouths against her ear, his breath sending shivers down her spine.

Where his arm is wrapped around her waist she reaches up to grip it, tilting her head back into his shoulder. "Not dead. They have a community. Alexandria."

"Beth!" Rick barks, his eyes raging blue as he looks at Carl. "You're puttin' my fuckin' kids in danger. Don't tell him anythin'!"

"Hey!" Negan shouts. "Shut the fuck up before the boy loses an' arm or some shit."

Beth refuses to let her eyes water as Rick pins her with hatred. Maggie didn't tell them that her memories are back. She didn't get the chance. They all think she's Girl, that she's selling them out. Each face is full of anger, distrust, distain. She remembers not long ago when she didn't have her memories and they still called her family and it hurts like a jagged knife.

She prays they forgive her.

Chapter Text

Negan’s laugh makes her jump.

“Hold on, back up here.” He chuckles again, nuzzling her hair away from her throat. Thankfully on her uninjured side. “Beth, that’s your name?”

She nods stiffly. She didn’t know her own name when she was with Negan, didn’t think she even had one and in turn he never knew it either.

“Well, Beth,” he murmurs softly. “I have a problem.” He pushes her and she stumbles before he yanks her back, face to face. “I just don’t believe you sweet cheeks. Convince us. No, no. Convince me.”

Beth prays he doesn’t notice the sweat that beads on her forehead or the way her heart triples in speed.

Licking her lips, she presses closer, curls her fingers in his hair and takes satisfaction in his pleased hum. “We save people right? Look,” she pauses to affect her voice into a bored kind of tone but it shakes. “They used to be my family, before you. They used to mean somethin’ to me, y’know?” She shrugs. “They don’t anymore.”

Negan raises his eyebrow before nodding his chin down to Daryl’s sprawled body. “An’ him? ‘Your redneck?’ Tune kinda changed there pumpkin.”

Fuck.

She blinks slowly, refuses to look down at Daryl. “A bit of fun, emotions got a little high s’all. I mean, I had to put on a show for these guys, right? Survive, like you taught me.” She smiles, her fingers stroking his jaw. “M’not the dopey little bitch they lost. M’still one of you. M’still your girl.”

“Oh, really?” He grins and her cheeks burn when his hand slides down to her ass, in front of the people she cares about, in front of this huge clearing of perverted men who probably got hard dicks just looking at them.

“Really,” she breathes softly and then she does it.

She kisses him.

Whatever silence there was before is nothing compared to the sucking black hole in the wake of her actions. She doesn’t just peck him, she sells it.

The worst part is some tiny, horrible piece of her likes it. Wants it. Enjoys it. Remembers it. She feels like a dirty piece of ass though, in majority and she tries to focus, remember why she’s doing this, who she’s saving.

When she pulls away she smiles at him and he grins back, his hand raising to touch her face. “I always did like your messed up scars, sweetheart. They’re just soooo… BAD. ASS.”

The words spark something among the Saviours, the men because they cat call, they holler, they rejoice in their apparent victory.

Beth can’t stand to look at them when Negan lets her go, apparently not seeing her as enough of a threat to keep her contained.

Her eyes fall to the ground and her breath hitches in her throat.

Daryl’s looking at her.

Negan notices her small sound and glances down too, following her line of sight. Straight away he laughs, scoops Beth by the neck and tugs her in like they’ve been a couple for decades.

She yelps but he doesn’t notice or care. Her shoulder’s been fucked with so much she feels it going numb in surrender.

“What you gonna do ‘bout your little piece down here then, Beth?” He whispers softly.

It’s horrible hearing him say her name, like every time he forms the letters they’re tainted, just like her body and her mouth was every time she got into bed with him.

After the grave she was on the road, barely surviving, not knowing who was she at all. Simon found her on the side of the road.

She’d been alone for weeks, feral nearly and he knocked her unconscious when she fought him. Much like Daryl did. She woke up in the sanctuary and it was exactly that for Girl: a sanctuary.

Negan’s charming smile and good looks was a calling for her and she fell into bed with him.

He was more than interested and happy to take her up on her advances but he swore by ‘marriage’ not freebies so he told her be a wife or stay out his bed.

She chose the outposts and a bed to herself. A life cooped up in a room waiting for Negan wasn’t gonna happen. She knows now the panic then was repressed anxiety about being held inside.

She was caged in the prison and later in the hospital, leaving her with tremors she didn’t understand, nightmares she couldn’t interpret. Negan started to get frustrated with her and quite simply: she ran.

“Nothin’,” she answers as she stares into Daryl’s eyes. “I’m done slummin’ it.”

The hurt that flares in the blue pools behind his lanky fringe of hair makes Beth want to grab a gun and put it straight in her mouth.

She would rather die a thousand times over, in the hospital, on the road, now, than see him look at her like that.

A sensation like a jagged knife pierces her chest as she wonders if he’ll always look at her from this point, if this is the price she has to pay to keep him alive.

She looks away when Negan chuckles. “Did you enjoy the show asshole?”

Fuck, why does he enjoy hurting people so fucking much? Negan’s all about emotional pain, trauma that makes you strong, thinks it saves people, thinks it’s the right way to do things.

In one sense of the word, Beth can admit that he’s right. A thick skin is needed to survive this world and Negan will provide that for you.

There’s just one catch. Running with Negan means leaving behind emotions: compassion, sensitivity, love.

It means forgoing the heart and working with only the head and the body, becoming a machine. Beth was a machine, for a while.

She didn’t like it.

Daryl doesn’t answer and Negan sighs dramatically. “Shall I give the poor guy another show boys!” Negan shouts. It’s a statement, not a question. No one tells Negan anything other than what he wants to hear.

The crowd cheers and Beth sucks in a breath as they get rowdy, their blood pumping and adrenaline heavy in the air. Her family are still on their knees, shaken, tired, scared.

They still don’t understand, still don’t have all the pieces and there’s no way she can give them what they need.

Negan glances to Simon and chucks Lucille. “Hold my baby, Simon! My fine ass wife needs some lovin’!”

Beth barely has time to prepare herself before he turns back to her and grips her tight, palms her ass and her waist.

He’s taller than her and the stretch burns when she goes up on her toes, staring at his face. Such a handsome face for such a fucked up mind.

She refuses to look at Daryl.

“Y’know sweet thang,” he smirks. “I know you tried to run from me. I mean, hell, you got away! Good for you!” He says boisterously. “But now that you’re not all messed up in the head an’ shit, I’m thinkin’ you can make it up to me tonight. Gimme a baby like a good little wife, hmm.”

Beth’s skin goes icy cold as Negan buries his face in her throat, inhaling deeply. Her eyes flick to Daryl on the floor, to his bowed head and hunched shoulders; his nails digging into his palms, to the hazy pain on his face as he forces himself to stay down. The tension trembles visibly in his body, his muscles jumping like snakes live under his skin.

Negan’s voice pulls her attention away. “Mmm, you do smell good, sweetheart. Always liked that ‘bout you, left my bed an’ my dick smellin’ so fuckin’ good. Damn!” He leans on the last word, pulling her in tight.

Daryl’s still on his knees, not even two feet away from them. Beth hates it. Not just because he can hear every word and not just because he never, ever deserves to be disrespected the way he’s being, but because he’s growling.

Under his breath but loud enough for her to hear and therefore loud enough for Negan to hear.

He’ll find it amusing for a while, put up with it so that Daryl hurts but then he’ll get bored, then he’ll want to teach Daryl a lesson and it’ll be game over.

Daryl will meet Lucille.

Beth tries to turn Negan’s attention away before it’s even snagged, cupping the back of his neck with a firm hand. “You missed me, huh?” She smiles.

Negan laughs, looks at Daryl who Beth can’t bare to look at and then turns back to her. Beth kisses him again, taking charge, pressing deep, pushing his mouth open.

He groans and palms her ass, lifting her up so her hips roll against his. Beth flushes and slides her hand down his jacket, her fingers playing over his spine.

Before she can reach her goal, Negan pulls away with a dramatic gasp for the sake of their audience. “C’mon then boys, let’s pack ‘em up! I got me a marriage to consummate an’ a baby to make!”

Beth’s stomach rolls and she does look at Daryl this time who can’t even look at her anymore she’s destroyed him so throughly.

“Hey, hey, hey. Woah there! Negan,” Simon laughs nervously. “You just gonna let ‘em walk away? After what she did to my face!?”

She is my wife to be, Simon. As for these,” he pauses to wave a hand over her family and Beth holds her breath for his verdict. “They already lost her, didn’t they?” Turning his attention to Beth, he takes Lucille back from Simon. “Hey, sweet-cheeks. You actually related to any of these fuckers?”

Beth swallows. Why? Who are you gonna hurt? She can’t speak, scared stiff. Negan’s eyebrows raise and so does her heart rate as they just stare at each other.

“Yeah, she is,” Maggie pipes up. “She’s my little sister you ass wipe.”

Beth’s stomach flips, her eyes connecting to her sisters. Please, Maggie. I’m trying so hard to save you.

Negan chuckles again and looks at Glenn who strains towards Maggie in ever way but physically, his whole being orbiting to hers. Please, God, Beth begs silently. Please, please, please. The silence gets more and more tense until Beth snaps under it.

“She’s pregnant,” she breathes in a rush. “Last time I checked you weren’t interested in killin’ unborn children, Negan.”

His lip curls for a second before he jerks his chin. “This is enough loss for them. Beth here will tell us how to get to this Alexandria place tomorrow.” He takes her arm, pulls it around his waist like they’re cuddling. “Let’s move!”

Beth grips his hip and starts to walk, her eyes glancing to Rick who’s frowning. She can’t begin to imagine what he’s thinking of her. The group shifts, Simon stays still until Negan stares at him and he moves too, sniffing at the dried blood.

“You can’t have her.”

Negan stops and in turn she stops too. She knows who said it. Her eyes close in sheer exhaustion. She’s so fed up of being scared.

Slowly, dramatically, deliberately, Negan turns. Her on one arm, Lucille over his other shoulder and a cocky smile on his face. “I’m sorry?” He laughs. “I can’t have her?”

Beth looks at Daryl who has risen to his feet and her throat clutches at how tall he stands. “You can’t have her,” he repeats.

Negan smiles, hard and cruel. Without taking his eyes from Daryl, he asks, “who are you Beth?”

Her stomach clenches. She looks at Daryl when she says, “I’m Negan.”

Negan tilts his head to her like a bird, his head brushing hers. Her hand clenches on his hip. “You heard my wife.”

“Daryl,” Rick says as he cautiously gets to his feet, the Saviours moving back towards their vehicles. “She’s already lost.”

That stings.

It stings so bad tears spring to her eyes and for the first time in all the time she’s ever known Daryl, he grins.

“Naw, she’s not.”

Beth gives him a watery smile as she yanks the gun out of Negan’s waist band, presses it to his spine and fires, all in the same second.

Her voice shakes and her throat rattles as spittle flies past her lips with the force of her words, “I ain’t Negan. I’m Beth fuckin’ Greene.”

A second gun shot rings through the clearing and all is silent.

Chapter Text

“MOTHERFUCKER!” Negan roars.

The second bullet pins him in the leg, just in case the first didn’t do a good enough job of paralysing him. Beth continues to clutch the gun, aiming it at Negan when another gun presses to her temple. She almost smiles at the irony of it all as Simon rounds her, keeping the gun pressed to her forehead.

“You know I survived a bullet to the brain once, what’d you think my chances are of surviving again?” She asks shakily.

Simon smiles, twisted and cruel. “Not big, sweetheart.”

“You kill her, he dies,” Rosita speaks, her voice ringing in the clearing.

The Saviours are frozen, all of them paused at their vehicles. Negan ordered them to pack up and leave meaning Beth’s family got to raise to their knees, got their weapons back.

Now Simon has taken charge and some of them are hovering back to the middle of the clearing, violence eager in their eyes.

They’re too late though because both Rosita and Tara are pointing their newly retrieved guns at Simon while Maggie aims her gun at Negan.

Beth’s heart stutters as she surveys the scene. This place could light up with bullets in less than a second because there’s no way in hell the Saviours are getting her family back on their knees.

“Well,” Simon chuckles. “Looks like we got ourselves a hostage situation here boss,” Simon says to Negan.

In turn Negan groans, face down in the mud and no where to go. She shot him pretty low on his spine and she’s sure she paralysed him.

Even with a bullet in the leg he would try to hop away. Unless he’s playing. Can’t fake the bullet wound though.

“Let her go,” Daryl rumbles and when Beth looks to him he has Lucille. “I got pretty good aim, asshole an’ the minute you shoot her, I got nothin’ left to lose.”

Beth thinks this might be the last straw for her already shattered heart. After everything he just heard, he would still die for her.

After hearing she was done with him, that he was just a piece on the side, he still had the strength to rise to his feet.

After watching Negan’s hands run across her body, caress her like Daryl did himself, he’s still willing to do whatever it takes to save her.

Even if it means dying or avenging her, if it came down to it. She knows he killed Dawn. Maggie told her, when she didn’t have her memories.

She didn’t care at the time, didn’t understand what it meant. Now she understands. She understands all too well, the lengths he will go.

She’s died before; she knows how it tears the fabric of the soul and scatters it to the four corners of the world and yet he would still do that for her.

She wonders if he knew that would he still be so willing and yet even as she thinks it, she has her answer. Would there ever be anything in this world or the next to stop him fighting for her?

He must be so exhausted, so beaten down and yet he always, always gets back up. What the hell did she ever do to deserve this man? This beautiful, beautiful man. If they survive this she will never, ever leave his side.

“You take one step closer, mutt an’ I blow your girls brains out,” Simon hisses, eyes darting around at the Saviours that are frozen. “What’re you doing!? Light ‘em up!”

“We don’t take orders from you,” Dwight answers him. “We’re Negan.”

“Oh yeah?” Simon asks with a curled lip, even more grotesque because of his fucked up nose. “Let’s fix that, shall we!”

Beth jumps in her skin when the gun shot rings, her eyes flying around wildly to see who went down. It takes her a while for the images to piece together and then finally, she works out what’s happened.

Simon just shot Negan in the back of the head.

Icy fear trickles in her gut. Simon is not one to fuck with. Simon is not a man she can beguile or sway. Simon would love to watch the world burn and see her and everyone she loves go right along with it.

They’re fucked.

“Who do you answer to now!?” Simon shouts, his grin so wide Beth can see his gums.

“Not you motherfucker,” Daryl grunts and then he swings Lucille.

Beth screeches in her throat as the barbed wire connects with Simon’s face and takes away a chunk of his skin.

The sound he makes is horrendous, does things to her ears and her belly she can’t begin to fathom. Daryl goes in again; swings the bat around Simon’s head.

Simon drops like a heavy stone to his knees, the gun falling out his hand and flops down on to his face. His chest still moves, he’s still breathing and Beth is almost terrified to look at Daryl.

She’s frozen again, stuck in the knowledge that she should do something but not wanting to.

Rick saves her by turning his gun and landing a bullet to Simon’s head. Beth sways on her feet and she’s surprised to find Dwight is the one who catches her.

When she looks to him she almost smiles but her face is still frozen, stiff and all wrong as she slides the gun from her shaking hand to his. “Go get Cherry back. Don’t fuck up an’ don’t come callin’, understand?”

He nods, glances around the clearing and whispers so only she can hear, “it was me who shot you. I’m sorry. He said-”

“I know,” Beth cuts him off. “You did what you had to.”

He nods and steps back a little as Daryl comes closer, cups her waist gently and pulls her into his chest. “You okay?”

Beth takes in a deep, shaky breath as she leans her weight into him, the adrenaline seeping out of her and everything becoming loose. “No. No I’m not.”

His arms tighten around her and his face buries itself in her hair, inhaling deeply. “You’re safe now.”

She smiles softly. “How’d you know? That I was lying?”

”I didn’t,” he rumbles softly. “I just saw the good in people. Saw it in you like you taught me once.” 


Staring in the mirror later on, the morning after the night before, Beth looks at the vicious wound in her shoulder.

It burns to know Dwight did it and he wasn’t punished for it but she meant what she said to him: he did what he had to do.

What also burns is knowing he killed Denise and that Beth can never tell anyone. Especially not Tara.

It’s a shame that builds inside her then, a dishonesty she’s not comfortable with but Tara would never understand, would never forgive, would never stop looking for revenge.

Beth told her it was Simon and Dwight confirmed it, that Negan sent them out after the outpost incident. Dwight thanked them all for what they did, for releasing the Saviours and their family members from Negan.

Beth doesn’t know if she believes all of them, some of them like Simon, flourished in such a system. She knows that Rick knows that too.

They still need to be on guard as always. For now, talks of trade are being discussed between Hilltop, Alexandria and the Saviours, not to mention that Beth and Dwight clued them in on other communities that are around too.

That’s discussions that Beth doesn’t need a part in though because her place is right here: with Daryl.

She looks at him in the bedroom from where she’s stood in the bathroom, head hanging between his shoulders and picking at his fingers.

Beth’s cautious when she approaches him. “I’m so sorry, Daryl.”

He glances up with unfocused eyes. “Why?”

She laughs disbelievingly. “Are you kiddin’? Everythin’ you heard, everythin’ I did-”

“Don’t,” Daryl growls as he shoots to his feet and turns his back on her. “I don’t wanna hear it again.”

Beth’s heart clutches and her throat closes tight as she leans her forehead between his shoulder blades. “I didn’t have my memories then, I wasn’t m-”

What?”

Beth jumps. Not because she didn’t expect a response from him but because his question is so powerful, a bark of authorisation that she feels down her spine.

She stands back as Daryl turns to face her, a frown on her face before realisation dawns on her. “Oh my God, you don’t know. I didn’t have a chance…”

Daryl keeps watching her, frowning now himself and Beth swallows, smiles a little wobbly. “I… er, I got my memories back. Some stuff is still fuzzy y’know? But I remember everythin’. I remember the prison and my childhood an’ the shack an’ us an’ the hospi-”

Her breath cuts off in a rattling gasp as Daryl tears her up and kisses her, dragging her so high up his body Beth has to wrap her legs around his waist just to stay in place.

“Beth,” Daryl moans against her mouth, his hand reaching to her hair and tangling. “S’you. Jesus.”

Beth moans back, tears sliding down her eyes with emotion she can’t begin to decipher, her hands in Daryl’s hair and her mouth sealed over his.

When she needs air she pulls away and presses their foreheads together. “Don’t leave,” she whispers softly. “Stay.”

Daryl’s eyes slide to the bed and she nods when he looks back at her. With a trembling sigh, he presses his mouth to hers with more desperation than the first kiss, his knees bending so that she falls to the bed.

Beth giggles and he smiles, allowing her to tear at his shirt and titling her head back so he can kiss her throat.

There’s something desperate about his hands, about the way he pulls at her clothing but something so lustful about his mouth on her skin.

The actions are so contradicting Beth’s head swims and all she can do is cling to his body, blasting heat through his clothing.

“I don’t want slow and sweet this time,” she breathes in his ear, rolling her hips against his. “I want you to fuck me.”

Chapter Text

Beth gasps as Daryl’s large palms, so hot and rough on the strip of skin at her waist, grip her and flip her simultaneously.

Her body jerks as he tears her jeans down, her breath panting into the blankets and her cheek pressed tightly to them.

Jesus, her jeans are already at her ankles and his fingers are pulling at her panties violently. Excitement worms dark and heavy in her gut, clenching her insides. When they had sex… Jesus, only last night… it was beautiful, magical.

It did something pure and wholesome to her, something that healed the fractured parts of her brain. Now this is exciting, wild and untamed, the air heavy with lust as her heart gallops inside her chest.

Daryl’s large body looms over her when he’s stripped her lower half of clothing, his weight balanced on his folded knuckles at her hip. “You gotta say my name, girl.”

Her heart clenches as the guilt steals her breath. “Daryl…”

“My name, Beth. Mine. Only mine.”

Beth whimpers, her eyes sliding closed as his mouth nuzzles at her throat and ear. “I’m yours. I swear, I’m yours.”

He hums and it vibrates all along her back and spine, spreading like sweet smelling lotion between her legs. Her mouth has gone dry but her pussy is soaking wet, slicking her inner thighs and dampening the covers beneath her.

Daryl’s hard cock is pressing between her bare ass cheeks, nuzzling her at the same time as his mouth. The arousal whipping her is overwhelming, her eyes rolling in her skull as he rags at his belt, his torn knuckles brushing the soft skin of her ass.

She would just about die if he spanked it, turned the pale skin flush… she thinks it might be too soon for that though, too close to the violence they just escaped but some day…

There’s time to teach each other about their bodies later, time to be creative and maybe even a little kinky but for now she just wants to feel him inside her, over her. Feel him take his claim on something that she wants him to have.

Not something that he takes because that’s not who Daryl is but something that she wants to give to him. She leans more heavily on her uninjured arm and smiles when she notices Daryl leans to that side too, baring as much of his weight as he can.

His shirt rustles now as he gets his belt through the loop and the leather in the crowded space whips her, just beneath her ass cheek.

Beth moans high and thin, a sound she’s never made before and never imagined she would. It’s almost embarrassing and she just about starves off the red cheeks by focusing on the desperate clutch of her pussy, of the drumbeat in her clit.

Her body feels heavy, full of want and it’s amazing that Daryl lifts her, cupping her waist and pulling her to her knees.

Maybe she shouldn’t worry too much about needy sounds though because the one Daryl makes is akin to hers in its pitch, shocked and eager as her thighs spread.

The wetness of her pussy lips makes a noise as they peel apart and she does flush then, wondering if he’s ever seen a woman so wet, whether that embarrasses him too.

“Holy fuck,” he breathes.

Beth flushes even deeper, feels the fire in her toes after it travels through her chest. Her fingers scrabble at the cover as she presses her ass higher.

Daryl grips her ass cheeks for a moment, doing nothing more than cupping them. His hands are so big on her his thumbs meet and his fingers spread right to her hips.

It makes her even more delirious and she half raises on her knees with her driving urge to take him inside her. One of Daryl’s hands disappear and then his knuckles brush her spread pussy lips, nudging her clit.

Beth whines again and pushes back, impaling herself on the head of his dick as he lines it up to her opening. Daryl sucks in a shocked breath and presses deeper, spreading her inner walls wider with a delicious stretch.

Beth simply closes her eyes to relish in the feeling of it, in the way she expands to accommodate his size, stretching to the point of delirious pain.

With a jerk in his hips he pulls out to the tip, just resting as he pants deeply above her neck, having raised when she did. There’s a breathless moment where they stay like that, curled around each other and the juicy head of his cock just piercing between her legs.

Daryl’s face is pressed into the space between her shoulder and throat, his breath fast and hot on her skin. Each time he exhales she can hear the tremble in his throat and her clit is throbbing by the second, swelling out from beneath the hood, seeking attention.

She has half a mind to rub it but not enough arms to balance with in order to do so. She stays where she is instead, turning her head into Daryl’s face so his mouth lines up with her cheek. He kisses her there softly, his beard scraping her skin as he moves to her jaw.

When he reaches her neck he lightly nips her in the sweet spot beneath her ear and Beth melts to the core. Breathing in deep, on her exhale he thrusts and Beth goes down to her chest with the violent force behind it.

Her pussy pulses in shock and Daryl howls something low and wounded, his hands falling back to her ass and spreading them high, digging his nails in.

Beth lets the blankets absorb her scream when he does it again, harder. It’s so deep it’s nearly painful and she tucks her hips back for a moment before she pushes them back out, swallowing up more of his cock.

Daryl pants as he fucks her again, faster but not deeper and it makes Beth sob, her toes curling as her pussy walls tremble dangerously.

The air is moist with the scent of sex and them and Beth revels in it. She gasps again when Daryl sets a pounding rhythm, his balls smacking into her sensitive, swollen clit and his hips slapping off her ass.

The sounds and the smells combined are enough for her to feel the first wave of her orgasm and she almost cries. She can’t decide if she’s disappointed or relieved.

She doesn’t want it to be over but she also needs it to be over because nobody should be able to withstand the pleasure.

The maddening pleasure Daryl’s heavy, thick cock is bestowing upon her. Her nipples screw up tight and every brush of them against her t-shirt makes her want to scream. The wet squelch of his flesh in hers is so obscene it’s pure eroticism.

“Say my name,” he pants as he fucks her particularly hard.

Beth shrieks against her clenched teeth, delirious tears soaking her eyelashes. “Daryl!”

Yes,” he grunts.

He slows before he just stops and Beth’s tense body collapses listlessly, the bitter edge of unfulfilment tainting her system. “P-please don’t stop.”

It feels like it should have been a scream but it’s a quiet whimper, a solid desperation pounding between her legs. Daryl hums as he slides out of her with a dirty wet pop.

Beth’s moan catches in her throat as her walls fight to keep him before they give up with a sharp snap back.

The edge of pain is like a drug to the system and she’s boneless as Daryl turns her on her back, staring down with dilated, wild eyes at her pussy.

His fingers play through her pubic hair moist with her arousal and she gasps, her own eyes falling to his raging hard dick, swollen and purple with need.

“Please, Daryl,” she begs. “God, please!”

There’s a frigid breeze in the air and it makes her shiver, the tips of her fingers going cold as her pussy burns hot. Daryl licks his lips as he lines back up with her soaking wet cunt, shivering himself as he brushes her pubic hair.

Beth holds her breath and forgets to release it when he slides back inside and her walls clutch him like an old friend.

He whines and falls down heavily to his elbows, choking into her ear as he pumps between her legs, his sharp hips pressing into the soft skin of her inner thighs.

Beth uses her one good arm to cup his neck, to wrap her fingers in his hair and tug. The gasps coming out of their mouths almost covers up the vicious slap of their skin.

“Daryl,” she pants wildly. “Fuck, Daryl.”

In response Daryl’s hips become wicked fast and he pounds her so deep and hard she can barely breathe. His breaths are getting sharper and quicker and as her walls tighten his dick grows, stretching her so slowly and breathlessly tears leak in her eyes.

When Daryl sees them his own eyes go dark and he cups her jaw, pressing his thumb into her mouth and on her tongue.

Beth moans deliriously, her cunt clutching as a thousand scenarios flash through her mind. All the things they could do together.

“Daryl,” she sobs with her eyes rolling in her head. “Fuck, so good. So good.”

She thinks of all the ways they could touch and fuck, learn how to please each other and make each other cum. She thinks of it and she wants to scream with how it makes her body feel.

All the love they could share on late nights and early mornings, in high grass and on soft beds. All the ways she could see his skin.

In the brightest sunlight and the softest glow of the moon. All the ways she can taste him. Her eyelashes flutter and her belly tightens, her thighs shaking as her orgasm slides through her like warm caramel, spiralling in her clit and exploding through her pussy lips, fattening them.

The friction is amazing and her mouth hangs open in silent pleasure as Daryl slams home in three quick thrusts, heightening her orgasm to unbearable levels.

He barely manages to pull out in time to squirt his liquids against her lower belly and the start of her public hair.

Unh,” he grunts straight into her ear and Beth melts away.

They stay like that, exactly like that with Daryl curled around her, dick limp in his sticky mess and arms sliding under her body, curling her into his chest. Exactly like that, until they fall asleep.


Later on, they shower together, a shower full of smiles and giggles, soap fights and wet kisses. After, Daryl asks her to cut his hair.

It’s not a big thing, it’s not really anything and she does it without comment, but he looks so much younger when it’s all gone that she’s reminded of when she first saw him.

Thinks of the farm and how long ago that was and how many people they’ve lost since then. Stood watching Daryl wipe away the bits of hair, wrapped in a towel and smiling softly, she begins to cry.

When Daryl glances up in the mirror, he sees the tear roll down Beth’s cheek and he frowns, turning into her space so he can reach out and sweep it up with his thumb. “Hey, wha’s wrong?”

She turns her face into his hand and lets some more tears come loose, her eyes slipping closed. “I just can’t believe I’m back. I’m so lucky. S’a miracle. An’ I ain’t believed in miracles for a real long time.”

When her eyes flicker open Daryl’s staring at her with eyes full of understanding. His fingers spread wide where his hands cup her face and a tiny smile kicks his mouth. “Me neither.”

Beth laughs softly and sniffles, wiping her nose. “Sorry, I’m gross. I guess I’m just freakin’ out. I don’t really know where to go from here.”

Daryl is silent while he considers and then he pulls her into his chest, bear hugging her. “We’ll work it out together.”

She smiles into his t-shirt, little pieces of hair scratching her cheek but not enough for her to move. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Beth. Memory was shattered an’ s‘never gonna be perfect but you got me an’ I’ll help you.”

Another tear collects on her lashes and then drips. On its way it down it surpasses her grinning mouth and rolls between their chests, over her heart bursting with love.

It’ll be okay. Whatever comes next, she has family, she has Daryl; she has life.

No longer is she shattered.

She’s finally whole.