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The Gift

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Daryl Dixon was six years old when his mother told him that he had the gift. His mom was long gone by the time he realized what she had meant. He wishes she had explained that day so he could ask who had the dumbass idea to refer to this as a “gift”.

**********

This first time he experiences the gift for himself, Merle is the one who speaks to him. It’s not surprising, since at ten years old, he spends more time with Merle than anyone else. But Merle is constantly messing with him, so it probably wasn’t as unusual as it would have been with someone else. They are sitting on the creek bank with poles in the water waiting for a bite, while Merle regales him with details of his sexual conquest the night before. Daryl remembers not really understanding what Merle was talking about, but feeling embarrassed about it all the same, when he felt the stare of his older brother. When Daryl meets his gaze, Merle stares him down for a few seconds before he speaks.

“One day, you will have to kill me. Sorry about that, baby brother. ”

He stares at Daryl for a few more seconds before turning back around to watch his lure bob in the water and resumes his bragging about Jolene’s ‘perfect tits’ like he had never stopped in the first place. Daryl elbows him in the ribs with his bony arm. “Shut the fuck up.”

“Hey! I’m teachin’ ya important shit here!”

The more time that passes, the further the afternoon gets from the weird moment, the more Daryl becomes convinced that he imagined it. Until he goes to school on Monday morning.

The walk that morning seems completely normal for Daryl, until he makes it to the sidewalk just in front of the elementary school. When he accidentally makes eye contact with the PE teacher who is handling traffic that morning, the old man stops what he is doing to come stand directly in front of Daryl. He bends down in front of him with a stern look on his face. “You look just like your mother did at this age.”

Daryl says nothing as the man straightens up and returns to directing traffic. He looks around at the other kids and their parents and no one seems to have noticed the interaction. Head down, he hurries into the school, heading straight for a bathroom. He locks himself in a stall for a few minutes until his heart stops racing. He takes a deep breath before coming out of the stall and heads to the sink, looking at himself in the mirror. He sees another boy come up behind him and turns to face him. “The only thing I remember is that you are the smelly kid in class,” he says before turning from Daryl and walking out the door.

It takes Daryl about three seconds to think 'fuck this' before he bolts out of the bathroom and heads for the door, fully intending to run home and hide himself in the closet. Running through the hallway, he accidentally collides with his old Kindergarten teacher. She grabs his shoulders to keep him upright and bends down to meet his eyes. She gives him a sad smile and a gentle squeeze where her hands are still on his shoulders. “I was too scared to help you. I’m so sorry.” Never a fan of eye contact, Daryl immediately looks away from her face and he slowly takes in the scene in the hall. All of the other kids and teachers have stopped moving. It seems as if time itself has stopped for everyone but Daryl and Mrs. Fisher as they stand in the middle of a hallway in Andrew Jackson Elementary. He looks back at her and she gives another small, sad smile before standing up and turning to head back down the hallway. As she takes her second step away from Daryl, it’s as if someone has pressed ‘Play’ on a movie and everyone else in the hall begins moving as well. No one even looks in his direction. It’s like they had no idea anything had happened. He feels like he can’t catch his breath, but he takes off running anyway. He heads down the hallway and out a side door before running all the way home. He falls to his knees in the front yard, throwing up all over the grass in front of him. When he feels like he can’t be sick anymore, he goes into the house heading straight into the back of the hallway closet where he stays for two days, even when he hears Merle hollering for him.

**********

He gets used to the gift after a while, which isn’t surprising. Daryl knows better than anyone that a person can get used to anything, no matter how fucked up it might be. It helps that he lives in this shitty, podunk town because the gift only happens the first time he interacts with a person. After a few hellish weeks, he has come into contact with basically the whole damn town and is fully aware of how little they think of him and his family. It isn’t really news to him, and he kind of agrees with what they say about his old man anyway. The most awkward of all these interactions happens when a tiny blonde girl no more than five stops him in the library. “I really wish you would have fucked me in the bathroom that night, Dixon.” Over the next few years, he would occasionally see that kid on the playground across the way and it always made his stomach turn.

Even still, he gets used to it. Sometimes he goes weeks without thinking about the gift at all. But Merle’s words are always in the back of his mind.

**********

High school is a new kind of torture for Daryl. There was only one high school in the county which means the kids from all four towns get shoved into one huge building for four years. For him, this means a whole new bunch of people to give him their unsolicited opinions on his life. It was made even worse this time because it seems like all of them are related to sex. He finds out that most of the girls seem to find his ‘bad boy’ image attractive. Daryl didn’t even know he had an image at all, much less that it was as a ‘bad boy’. He had actually never been in any real trouble and thought he was invisible to most people.

His second day as a freshman, he accidentally runs into the huge senior who is the quarterback of the football team. He expects to get hit, but instead the guy wraps one arm around his neck, pulling Daryl’s face closer. “Damn, I would have sucked your dick like a fucking porn star.” He winks at Daryl before turning to walk away, leaving him there with his face bright red, surrounded by oblivious kids. His English teacher sophomore year felt the need to tell him that she and Merle used to “fuck like bunnies when we were your age”. Junior year, he was sent to the office for a tardy slip and the principal stopped him to say that she wondered if he would fuck her as hard as Merle and his dad had. At that message, Daryl turns and walks out of the high school and never returns. There was no way a diploma was worth this bullshit.

He starts spending his days following Merle around, constantly watching everyone around them. Maybe he misheard and he needs to stop one of these drugged out fuckers from killing Merle. He tries to convince himself that must be it.

**********

For the next decade or so, the gift has little effect on his life. Well, there are a few exceptions. For example, he assumed a person had to have some relation to him, even as small as living in the same town or going to same school. When he is 25 and Merle convinces him to go to a Bass Pro Shop 45 minutes away, he unfortunately learns otherwise. The store is so crowded that a 15-minute shopping trip feels like an eternity to Daryl with a hundred people stopping everything to make awkward comments like “I hope you are having a good day” or “May your life turn out well”. He feels like crawling out of his skin by the time they get back to the truck.

He does run into that little blonde girl again at a bar one night. But this time he is thirty and she’s twenty-five and looks like a god damn Playboy bunny. He fucks her in the bathroom like she apparently always wanted and doesn’t feel the least bit guilty. It’s about time the gift worked in his favor anyway.

He sometimes wonders which of the horrible things his old man said to him was actually the gift versus an alcohol fueled rage. He supposes he’ll never know.

**********

When the whole world goes to shit and the dead start walking, it actually gives Daryl a small sense of relief. Merle’s words make sense to him now. And while he is still diligent, hoping that it doesn’t happen for a long time to come, at least he no longer worries about accidentally murdering Merle in his sleep or some shit.

**********

When he and Merle happen upon the people at the quarry, most of their messages from the gift are cryptic, reminding him of that first message from Merle all those years ago.

They find the Korean kid in the woods, fighting off half a dozen of the dead on his own before they step in to help. Of course, it’s really awkward when he meets the kid’s eyes during the fight and time stops in order for him to make his way over to Daryl. It’s always weird when this happens, but the whole ‘fighting for your life’ element makes it even more weird. Daryl has a passing thought that maybe none of this is real and they are all characters in some kid’s video game but before he can really consider it the Korean kid is in front of him, wrapping both arms around Daryl’s shoulders and squeezing. He pulls back slightly and looks Daryl in the eye. “I want you to really listen to me: it was in no way your fault, Daryl. I need you to stop blaming yourself. And take care of Maggie and peanut.” He claps him on the shoulder and pulls away, returning to his fighting stance a few feet away before time presses forward again.

He’s stunned for a few seconds and almost lets a decaying man in a suit get the drop on him. When it’s over Daryl just stares at the kid while he tries to catch his breath. Who the hell is this guy? And who the fuck is Maggie?

**********

He meets Shane and Lori at the same time, with Shane telling Daryl that he will never be able to replace him, whatever the hell that means. Who the fuck wants to be that douchebag anyway? Lori steps forward and takes his hand in hers. “Thank you for taking care of them. And contrary to what everyone thinks, I love the nickname you gave her.” She has tears in her eyes, but she smiles at Daryl. “She will live up to that name in ways you can’t even imagine.” She squeezes his hand before stepping back and everything is back to guarded questions and vague answers about the group they are with. He knows it’s a mistake to let Merle answer for them both as he is an ass and sure to get them uninvited from this group, but Daryl’s head is reeling. What happens between him and all these people?

**********

At the quarry, Daryl very much keeps to himself and tries to avoid eye contact with anyone. Sometimes it can’t be helped of course and the messages are no more enlightening than the first ones. The old man, Dale, shakes his hand, thanking him for something and calling him ‘brother’.

They haven’t been at the quarry more than a day before a brown-haired little boy runs up to them, asking about the squirrels they are carrying. When his eyes swing to Daryl’s, his face seems to lose its innocence and his eyes seem harder. “You made me stronger, better; a survivor. We were all better because of you.” Then everything rights itself and he’s just a curious little boy again.

The fat fuck who sits around the fire drinking beer all day and ordering around his timid wife merely stops time to just stare at Daryl before muttering “Fuck you,” and going back to normal. At least that one makes sense to him.

The Mexican guy comes over to introduce himself telling Daryl that he made a mistake and it cost him everything. After a second or two of sadness, his eyes clear and he’s telling Daryl about his wife and kids. For some inexplicable reason, he wishes the man had told him what the mistake was that he had made. Maybe Daryl could have warned him somehow.

He ran into Jacqui for the first time when he was heading down to the water to clean off several days of dirt and sweat. She merely raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t regret it.” He shrugs and keeps on his way.

The older of the blonde sisters tells him that she’s sorry, that she should have stabbed him. Whoever ‘him’ is. The younger one just looks at him for a few seconds before loudly declaring, “This whole thing fucking sucks!” He can certainly relate to that.

One morning the second week they are with these people, he automatically looks up when he hears a noise and finds a young girl crawling out of a tent. Her eyes light up when they meet his and time stops as she barrels across the campground toward him, throwing her arms around his waist while she yells his name. Daryl immediately goes still with his arms hovering in the air away from the girl. When she pulls away, she looks up at him with earnest eyes. “I’m sorry I ran away. Don’t try to find me though. You and Carl both get hurt. It was too late anyway. I was in the barn before dark. Take care of Momma, okay?” She pulls away completely with a wave and returns to her side of the camp where she gives him a small smile before half crawling back into the tent as time starts back up.

He watches her for several minutes but she never looks toward him again. Daryl grabs his bow and heads into the woods. Seriously, who the fuck are these people?

**********

Daryl and Merle have been with the quarry people almost a month before he actually interacts with Carol. He knows it has everything to do with that fat fuck loser and he understands better than most. In fact, he has no specific desire to see what she has to say after that weirdness with her kid.

The inevitable finally happens one afternoon when he brings some rabbits over to the fire to be cooked and Carol is the one on food duty. Her scared eyes jump up to his before skittering to the ground again. Then suddenly everything stops and it’s as if someone totally different is standing in front of him. She seems confident, assured and, most of all, glad to see Daryl of all people. “Pookie!” She comes forward and kisses his cheek before hugging him close. “You are the best friend I have ever had. Thank you for everything.” She pulls back to look at him with smile. “Take care of that girl, you hear me?” She raises her eyebrows at him with a smirk. “And let her take care of you, too.” She pats his cheek before resuming her scared position by the fire. He silently hands her the rabbits and walks away.

**********

Merle is pushing for them take what they want and leave these people, but Daryl keeps making excuses in order to buy time. He still has no idea what most of the messages mean, so he can’t leave, right? Or maybe they should have left weeks ago. Maybe staying because of the messages is what makes them come true in the first place. Some sort of self-fulling prophecy bullshit. God, his head hurts just thinking about what all of it means. He can’t hold off Merle forever though and he’s getting closer to giving the gift the finger every day. He can’t be responsible for these people! Why the fuck does he get these fucking messages anyway? No one ever gave a rat’s ass about helping him, but suddenly he’s supposed to be concerned about other people? Helping others? Fucking karma or some shit?

He herds the buck he’s chasing back towards camp, knowing Merle is likely already back from the run. He was planning to stash some things back in the city so he and Daryl can back for them later. Daryl knows he’s out of time.

**********

If you had asked him before, he would have told you that he knew what a cop like Rick would say about him. But the gift has been anything but predictable lately.

Rick stands tall and gives Daryl a big grin. He comes right up to him, putting his hand on the back of Daryl’s neck, bringing their foreheads together. After a few seconds, he pulls back, moving his hand to clasp Daryl’s shoulder. “You were always the rock for us. You saved me, saved everybody more times than I can count. Never doubt yourself. Or what you mean to people, to this family.”

**********

A few weeks later, Merle is missing (JUST missing, though. Right? He can’t be dead, because Daryl is supposed to kill him, isn’t he?), several of their people are dead and the CDC proved itself to be a bust. Though it was a pretty decent sleepover before it escalated to a shit show.

For now, they seem to be slowly making their way to Fort Benning, but with the roads blocked and gas scarce, it seems to Daryl that they haven’t been outside of a fifty-mile radius of the quarry they started at in the first place. Regardless, Daryl remembers what Sophia had told him all those weeks ago and he makes sure she stays in the RV when they stop or he hovers awkwardly beside her when she doesn’t. He’s probably freaking people out, but he can’t seem to make himself stop.

They are stopped on a highway, searching the cars for gas and supplies while Dale fixes the RV again, when a herd shows up seemingly out of nowhere. Daryl being the closest, grabs both Sophia and Carl, shoving them into the car he was searching, telling them “Stay the fuck here until I getcha, got me? And shut the fuck up.” Then he slides under the car himself. From there he sees T-Dog make a dumbass mistake, getting his arm sliced open. He rolls his eyes before quietly making his way over to help him. They wait out the herd and Daryl swiftly wraps the cut, though he knows the wound needs more than that.

He hears Lori raising cane about Carl and tells her to pipe the fuck down as he makes his way back to the car he hid the kids in. He opens the door and Sophia basically tackles him. She’s mumbling something into his neck while she clings to him, but Daryl is momentarily distracted by the fact that Carl is frozen mid climb out of the car. He glances around to see time stopped but no new faces.

Suddenly he realizes that Sophia is still talking. Talking? Is it her again? But Daryl already heard her gift? He stands her up and bends down in front of her, wiping the tears from her face. “You did it, Daryl. You saved me.”

“Saved you from what, girl? I ain’t done nothin! What the fuck’s goin on?”

“You changed it. You saved me.”

“Changed what? What the hell’s that mean?”

“No one knows. Everything is different now.” With that she pulls away and moves back over to the car as everything kicks off again. Sophia runs to Carol while Carl is smothered by Lori, as if nothing had just happened.

He’s never had more than one gift from anyone in his life. Why her? But if what she says is true, maybe he doesn’t have to watch her like a hawk anymore.

Nah, better safe than sorry.

**********

Two hours later, he’s in the woods tracking a doe when he gets shot in the chest.

Fucking karma. He knew that shit wasn’t real.

**********

When he comes to, Daryl has no idea where he is or what is happening. But he does know that he is high as a fucking kite. Suddenly an old man in suspenders is leaning over him with a smile on his face. “Well, there you are, Daryl. Just so you know, you are the kind of person any man would be proud to call their son. I know I would be proud to call you my son.”

Honestly, Daryl doesn’t know if this is a gift or if he’s dead or been kidnapped by an old pervert, so he decides to cover all his bases.

“Fuck off, Santa.” And he blissfully slides back into nothingness.

**********

The next time he wakes, the old man seems to be gone. But there’s a blonde girl standing beside the bed and he turns to look at her. She smiles at him with tears in her eyes before carefully laying down on his good side, head softly laid upon his chest. He wraps his around her, hugging her close as she gently lays her palm over the bandage of his gunshot wound. He feels her place a kiss on his chest where she is resting before she whispers, “You are the best thing that ever happened to me, Daryl Dixon. I hope I’m your best thing, too.”

He hums, burying his nose in her soft hair as sleep takes him again.

**********

Daryl has been awake and aware for three days now. And he is dying to get out of this room. He hates feeling like an invalid, not to mention having strangers looking at him and touching him. He remembers the old man from the first day, but he doesn’t remember a gift from the girl who brings him food each meal. He’s not sure if that is what’s to blame for the weird feeling he has whenever she’s in the room, but he hates it regardless. This uncomfortable churning is making Daryl lash out, but the girl just smiles and tells him to enjoy the food.

The soup does smell good, though. He eats it first before sneaking out of the house and down to the safety of the camp in the yard.

**********

Two days later, he finally meets the man that shot him. As his wife stops mid-step behind him, Otis turns to Daryl with panicked eyes. “Two weeks from now, Carl has an allergic reaction and Shane and I go to get some medicine. While we’re out there, Shane kills me. Sophia said you could help.”

Daryl just stares at Otis as Patricia resumes making her way to them. Otis apologizes a few times for inadvertently trying to kill him and Daryl just nods, wishing they would go away so he can freak out in fucking peace.

**********

The next day Sophia sits with him as he takes a Rick-mandated rest in his tent. She’s telling him about the horses she and Carl had been caring for the previous day, when Daryl interrupts to ask her if she had ever talked to Otis.

She shakes her head and goes back to her story. Daryl doesn’t think she’s lying. What reason would she have to lie anyway?

Fuck.

**********

Two weeks later, Carl is bitten by a spider and his entire arm begins to swell.

Double fuck.

**********

He volunteers to go with Otis to the hospital for the drugs Herschel needs. As soon as the truck turns out of the driveway, everything stops. He turns toward Otis, who is looking at him with a huge smile. “You did it! Sophia said you would!”

“The fuck do you mean? When did you talk to Soph?”

“Oh, not your Sophia; my Sophia. On the other side.”

“Other side of what? None of this makes any god damn sense!”

Otis shrugs his shoulders. “You’ll understand one day.”

Daryl turns his head toward the window instead, rolling his eyes at this ridiculous bullshit. “This is bullshit, ya know. Ain’t your errand boy.” Just then he realizes that truck is moving and he swings his head to see Otis glancing curiously between him and the road. “Nevermind. Just drive.”

**********

Carl recovers fine and Otis is still living so Daryl counts it as a win. Despite all the ‘son’ talk when he was recovering, Herschel doesn’t seem to think too much of Daryl. Or of the group as a whole. Now that Carl is up and about again, the old man seems to be pushing for the group to move on. The one saving grace is the farmer’s oldest daughter. He was surprised to find her with Short Round coming out of the stables with straw in their hair. (Of course, he was even more surprised when everything stopped so she could hug him as she whispered in his ear, “I couldn’t have asked for a better brother. But if you don’t take care of all of ‘em, I’ll gut you like a fish.”)

Once he realized the daughter’s name was Maggie, things made more sense. But Daryl felt almost nauseous, like a clock had started ticking for Glenn. But the burgeoning romance may buy them all some time.

**********

For some reason, he wakes the next day with Sophia’s voice in his ear, from her first gift back at the quarry.

I was in the barn before dark.

He waits until Rick has the group out shooting in the west field, with the ones that remain distracted by watch duty, laundry or other chores (or Shane’s dick in the case of Andrea). He quietly makes his way up the hay loft ladder on the back side of the barn and slips inside. He hears them before he sees them. The hissing and groaning of about fifteen walkers as they wander about.

When he makes his way back down the ladder, he finds the blonde girl waiting. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” When he turns to face her, everything stops and her face transforms from anger to sadness and she takes a step forward. “It’s the right thing to do, Daryl. I’ll be sad for a bit, but one day I’ll realize how grateful I am that it was you.” She steps back and the anger returns full force. “Well? I thought Daddy was clear that the barn was off limits?”

He has a weird feeling of déjà vu and he’s not sure why it took so long for Beth’s gift to happen. But he can’t dwell on that now. “Ya can’t keep those walkers in there. It ain’t safe.”

“Those walkers are people; friends, neighbors.” She stops to blink back her tears. “My mom is in there. And my big brother, Shawn.

“They ain’t people anymore.” He takes a breath and thinks about what he wants to say, feels like he only has one shot to get this right. “You and your family are lucky. Ya been here, protected from these things. But we been out there and we seen lots of ‘em first hand. The bodies are deteriorating; skin fallin’ off and limbs dangling the wrong way. Ain’t no coming back from this.”

He takes a step closer and tries to put sincerity into his words. “Do you really think your family would want ya to risk it, havin’ ‘em this close? Cause I’m tellin’ ya now, if that happens to me? But a bullet in my head. Please. Don’t let me put everyone else at risk. I couldn’t stand the thought that I might get out and hurt Sophia or Carl.” He takes a deep breath. “I can’t stand the thought that I might hurt you.” They stand there staring at each other. He assumes the tension around them is due to the emotion of the conversation, but it’s giving him a weird feeling in his stomach.

“I’m sure your momma would never want to risk that she might hurt any of ya either.”

She breaks his gaze to stare at the ground for a moment, reaching up to wipe away tears. She takes a deep breath and blows it out before returning her eyes to his. “And you’ll be respectful when you take care of ‘em?”

“Course. And tomorrow we’ll dig some graves and lay ‘em to rest all proper like.”

“Daddy won’t like it. Can you do it quietly? Like it just happened naturally?” Daryl thinks for a minute before giving a small nod. “He checks on ‘em every morning around 6:00.”

“Rick and I’ll handle it.” This time she’s the one to nod, before turning to walk away. “Hey,” he calls to stop her before she gets too far. “What’s your name, by the way?”

She gives him a small smile. “Beth. My name is Beth, Daryl.” She walks away without looking back.

**********

Rick and Daryl come up with a plan. They cover themselves with lots of layers and take several knives as well as a few rabbits to distract the walkers. They carefully drop some hay bales from the loft to create barriers and tag team the walkers with one holding and one gently sliding a knife into the ear, hoping to mask the wound.

The whole thing goes faster than expected and Daryl feels like they did the right thing in the best way they could. It still drives Herschel to drink which leads to an altercation at the bar which leads to a prisoner on the farm.

He would probably feel more guilt about holding the kid hostage if he hadn’t given Daryl an evil grin when they came upon him outside the bar and everything stood still. “I hope we get to take both those Greene girls this time. I bet they’ll beg so pretty.”

Jesus H. He’s going to kill this fucking kid.

**********

In the end, Shane kills he kid, but not before the kid manages to pull a gun and shoot Shane in the abdomen. When he and Glenn come upon them, Shane has already accepted his fate. But he has them find his gun and make sure the safety is off, before placing it in his hand with the hammer cocked.

They aren’t more than ten steps away when they hear the shot. Neither of them turns around. In hindsight, he wishes they had.

**********

They lose the farm. They lose Andrea and Patricia and Otis and Jimmy. They almost lose Rick and Lori both to the madness of losing Shane. They spend weeks traveling from place to place in the dead of winter, hungry and unable to find anywhere safe for more than a night or two and it feels like they are losing hope.

Oh, and Lori’s pregnant.

**********

In a world where the dead come back to life and try to kill you, and Merle chopped off his own hand to escape a roof and Daryl is a leader in a group of strangers that have become like family, the weirdest thing that happens to him is Beth. In the months on the road, he’s had four more gifts from her. The gift has never been like this, with the exception of the Sophia/Otis situations but those were life and death. Beth’s gifts are generally inconsequential. The most recent one occurred about two weeks ago, when Daryl came in front hunting to find the whole group in the living room of the house they had chosen. His eyes meet Beth’s and everyone else freezes. She makes her way to him and takes his hand. “Hey. We all know how hard you are working to take care of us. And everyone’s grateful, even if they never say it. But you haven’t slept in three days. So give me the squirrels and get your ass to bed.” She squeezes his hand with a smile before going back to her seat and everything starts back.

He stares for a few seconds before making his way to her and dropping he squirrels in her lap. “Goin’ to bed.”

Not because she said so, though. He’s just tired.

**********

With the exception of the gifts, he has basically no interaction with Beth. She’s seventeen after all. Why would he need to acknowledge her?

**********

They decide to give the prison a try. Ironic that Daryl spent his life trying to stay out of prison and now he and the cop are hoping to get in.

**********

The first full day in the prison, Beth comes up to him after they’ve cleared out the courtyard and one cell block. He honestly doesn’t realize it’s a gift until she grabs his hand again. Real Beth never touches him. Not that she should. He doesn’t know why gift Beth does either.

“Today, Daddy steps over a body he thinks is dead, but it’s not. It doesn’t turn out that great, so let’s try to avoid that. Especially because he needs to stay by Lori’s side until the baby is born.” She gives Daryl a soft smile. “She’s gonna be amazing.” Again, she squeezes his hand before turning to walk away.

Daryl continues his cigarette, wondering again what the hell it is about Beth that’s screwing with his head.

His gift, he means. She screwing with his gift. He doesn’t feel anything about Beth herself. Just how she’s causing chaos inside him.

Chaos with his gift, he means.

Ah, fuck it.

**********

He warns everyone about dead bodies lying about that may not be so dead, but he still walks in front of Herschel checking to make sure everything on the floor is dead twice over. He finds one that turns toward him as he stoops to stab it in the doorway to the cafeteria. He assumes that’s the one Beth is referring to but it never hurts to be safe.

The find a ton of food in the kitchen. Along with five inmates.

Jesus, Beth. You couldn’t have mentioned that yesterday?!

**********

Daryl essentially forces Herschel and Lori to spend the next week in the cell block waiting on the baby. Though neither of them seem very happy with him, when Lori goes into labor during the whole Andrew clusterfuck, Herschel and Beth are both there to help her through it. Little Asskicker brings more life to the prison than all of them combined.

**********

They end up losing Lori that next winter. Her body never seemed to recover after Asskicker was born. And what would have just been a nasty flu for anyone else, was devasting in her state. She lingered for two weeks before they lost her. Rick stayed by her side the entire time, giving her permission to go when it was clear that she couldn’t fight anymore. And he personally made sure she would not rise again.

Daryl wondered why Beth hadn’t tried to stop it. Maybe sometimes, nothing can be done.

**********

Over the next few months, they meet Michonne (“You know you’re my favorite white-trash redneck, Dixon.”) and the Governor (“You have no idea the horror I will bring down on your family.”) and find Andrea again. And most surprising of all, they find Merle Dixon.

They try to negotiate with a madman and it costs them Andrea and Merle, with collateral damage affecting Maggie and Glenn as well as Daryl himself. He does end up having to kill his older brother as Merle had predicted all those years ago. Daryl is heartbroken.

**********

After the Governor, they bring the Woodbury people to the prison. There are more mouths to feed and Daryl has to awkwardly listen to their opinions as he meets them all for the first time, but his family blossoms. And most of the awkward opinions are positive now, which is so different from when he was a boy.

Occasionally, he’ll run into Beth in passing on the way to the library or leaving the bathrooms and she always has something to say. “Patrick really looks up to you, Daryl. It’d mean a lot if you would just acknowledge him.” Or “You need to slow the fuck down Dixon; let other people help out once in a while.” Even, “Trust me, you don’t want to go in there right now. Glenn and Maggie are um, doing some reading.”

If it wasn’t for the foul language, he’d never know who was gift Beth and who was the real thing.

**********

The Governor returns to finish the job. He makes them watch as he kills Herschel and it fills Daryl with rage. He takes down everyone in his path until suddenly she’s there in front of him. Together they manage to make their way from the prison, trying to find some sort of safety. While he’s fully aware of how much they’ve lost, as he turns to look at Beth lying beside him trying to catch her breath, he feels unbelievably lucky.

**********

As they travel on their own, looking for somewhere to lay low, while keeping an eye out for their family, Daryl feels incredibly awkward. He’s pretty sure he’s talked more with gift Beth than real Beth and it feels like he’s lying to her somehow. Even though he has no idea how this whole thing works anyway.

Of course, when he feels awkward or embarrassed, he turns into an even bigger asshole. So, things are going great.

**********

Yelling at each other seems to break the tension. And it probably helps that he hasn’t seen gift Beth the entire time they’ve been together.

With the group, he never let his gaze linger on Beth for too long. But now all he sees is her.

**********

They have spent the last day or so holed up in a funeral home. Daryl feels like a different person here, with her. He imagines they could stay here together; that they could be happy.

He sits in a chair by the window, watching Beth sleep. She had chosen to stay downstairs by the fire with him. She had looked up at him with her big blue eyes, saying “I don’t want to be that far away from you,” like this was a normal reaction people had to Daryl.

He is supposed to be on watch, keeping an eye on things out the window, but he keeps losing time staring at her. So, he sees when she turns his direction with her eyes open, rising from the couch. He realizes as she makes her way toward him that this is not his Beth as she seems to have lost the limp from her twisted ankle. He definitely knows she is not his Beth when she kneels in front of him, placing her hands on his thighs; his Beth would not touch so intimately without a thought.

“I know you want to stay here, and I wish we could too. But Daryl, you have to get us the hell out of here. If we stay,” she stops talking and looks down to the floor. “Well, we just can’t.” She takes a deep breath and brings her eyes back up to his. “Everything will change now. I won’t be able to help you anymore. At least, not about these kinds of things.” She gives him a sly grin. “But I’ll still help with the emotional bullshit.”

She uses her hands to push back up to standing and gives him a wink before turning back towards the couch. She resumes her position, but turns back to face him again. “Head northeast, moving parallel along the train tracks. He needs you.” And with that she turns her back to him and soon goes back to the deep, even breathing of sleep.

He watches her for a half hour, thinking of what she had told him. Then as quietly as possible, he packs as much as they can carry and waits for first light. As soon as the black sky starts tinting toward blue, he wakes Beth. He tells her he has a bad feeling and they need to go. She’s clearly disappointed, but she trusts him so she agrees without hesitation. He feels like a lying douchebag.

Three days later, he’s beginning to doubt the message and he can see Beth is confused by his determination. But when they happen upon Rick, Michonne and Carl at the mercy of vile humans, he feels devastatingly grateful for the gift.

**********

They survive Terminus and are rewarded with more of their family and Beth is overjoyed to be reunited with Little Asskicker.

They survive the church and a tornado in a barn and are rewarded with Alexandria and hot running water.

Since the funeral home, Beth has been by his side, often with her hand in his. His knows what his family assumes, but they don’t ask and he doesn’t feel the need to clarify. As far as he knows, Beth doesn’t either.

Somedays he imagines taking her in his arms, kissing the breath from her lungs. Maybe even more. But other days, just her hand in his steals all his air and makes his heart jackrabbit. It’s enough for now.

**********

He draws the line at sharing a room with her in the big house Deanna assigns them. Beth is obviously hurt by it, but she doesn’t push him. One night, he’s on the porch after everyone else is asleep, chain smoking some cigarettes he found in one of the bedrooms. When the door opens, he’s not surprised to see it’s Beth. He is surprised when she crowds right up in his personal space, wrapping her hands around the back of his neck and giving him a stern look. “Get your head out of your ass and go up there.” She gives his neck a shake before she turns and heads back in the house.

He’s still mulling over how bossy gift Beth has become when the door opens again. Rick comes to lean against the railing beside Daryl, staring out into the dark night. “Ya know, if the woman you love invites you into her bed, you should probably go. Particularly a beautiful one like Beth.”

Daryl just sighs and pushes off the railing, heading inside to go upstairs to Beth’s room. “Yeah, yeah. Everybody’s a fuckin’ critic tonight.”

**********

He and Rick both have a gun aimed right at the face of the cocky stranger, who stops everything to swagger over to Daryl, pushing his gun aside with one finger. His eyes sparkle as he gives Daryl a warm grin. “It will take a lot of years, but one day you will admit that you have been jealous of my hair since the day we met.” He actually wiggles his eyebrows at Daryl before he starts walking backwards to return to his spot a few feet from them.

He stops with a step or two remaining to add, “Plus, I’m your kids’ favorite uncle so you have to love me.”

That shocking bit of news is the only reason this Jesus jackass gets the drop on him. Not that he can tell anyone else that.

**********

They somehow manage to survive Negan and the saviors, but the price is higher than anyone could have predicted. They lose Glenn and Abraham and Eric and Denise and countless others. While Daryl never knew all their names, Beth did. And she mourns them all.

When they lose Carl, it feels like an end, at least to the original group members. Like maybe they should just lay down arms and surrender to whatever comes. Beth is the light that brings them back around. She tells them Carl would not want this, he would want them to fight for peace and a life for themselves, for Judith.

In the midst of the last stand, while Rick is saving Negan’s life, waxing poetic about living in peace and starting over, Beth raises her gun and fires a single shot into Negan’s forehead. Maggie whips around to see Beth is the one who fired. She gives Maggie a single nod before turning to Rick. “Now we can start over.”

That night, she cries in Daryl’s arms, asking if he’s upset with her for killing Negan. He scoffs and pulls her closer, whispering to the top of her head, “Don’t give two shits about that dick, only care about you. Be upset about it tonight if ya want, but after, I don’t want ya to ever think about him again. Gotta get up tomorrow and start livin’.”

**********

He went to Rick the next morning, not to apologize for Beth’s actions, but to inform him that he was taking her to the Kingdom for a few weeks and then to the Hilltop to see Maggie. He wanted to give Rick some space.

They spent some time at the Kingdom with Carol, Sophia and Ezekiel, Daryl helping with construction and Beth with the gardens. Daryl had originally hated the self-proclaimed ‘King’ as he used the gift to say “Thank you for taking such good care of her for me,” when they had first met. Daryl’s immediate thought after ‘Holy shit is that a damn tiger?’ was ‘Ex-fucking-scuse me?’ It wasn’t until months later when her realized that Zeke was referring to Carol instead of Beth that he let the wariness go.

After two weeks, he could tell Beth was anxious to get to Hilltop and check on Maggie, so he borrowed a horse and they set off. He put Beth in front of him, because he didn’t want her exposed from the back where he couldn’t protect her and not so he could spend the ride with his arms wrapped around her. It was just an added bonus. They spent the time mainly in silence peppered with innocuous random comments. It wasn’t until they were coming to a stop on the other side of the Hilltop gate that Beth turned to him with a whisper, “By the way, I’d like to start having sex. Just let me know when you’re ready.” Then she slid off the horse, running straight to Maggie.

Daryl watched her for a moment before he turned to find Jesus standing beside the horse, already holding the reins in his hands with a smirk on his face. “Nice ride, I bet.”

Damn hippie.

**********

The next six months are the best of Daryl’s life. The family he has left are relatively happy and safe as can be in the world they live in now. But more importantly, Daryl goes to bed with Beth each night and wakes up with her each morning, usually with a lot of fun bits in between.

They are staying at Hilltop since it seems like Maggie is going to pop any day now and Beth doesn’t want to miss it. One afternoon, he wanders over to the blacksmith, and begins rifling through his stall as he works up the courage to bring up the reason for his visit. Earl doesn’t even look up from the horseshoe he’s fashioning. “No reason to muck up everything. They’re in the black bag hanging on the back wall.” Daryl steps to the wall and removes the bag, tipping it into his hand to find two silver bands. He looks back to Earl with his eyebrows raised in question. “What? Jesus asked me to make them for you.”

Damn nosy hippie.

**********

The only thing holding him back from slipping that ring on Beth’s finger is the gift. It feels like Daryl is lying to her; like she’s missing a part of their relationship. Though he rarely sees gift Beth anymore (usually just when he’s being a horse’s ass about something), he still feels like she’s very much the reason for where they are today. If you ask him, Beth saved this group, saved Daryl. And gift Beth and real Beth aren’t that different for him. But it still feels wrong.

He has never considered telling anyone about the gift. How would you describe it? Why would anyone believe you? At least there are no such things as loony bins anymore, but he supposes they could lock him in one of the prison cells Earl had made. Beth wouldn’t do that. Right?

He doesn’t really sleep that night, leaving Beth in the warm bed while it’s still dark out, hoping to silently throw some clothes on and slip out to hunt for a few days. An added benefit to staying in one of the old trailers instead of Barrington House is he doesn’t have to explain himself to anybody when he runs away like a pouting child. He’s so busy berating himself internally, that he doesn’t hear Beth make her way from the bed and over to him. She grabs his shoulder, turning him around and shoving him into the wall beside the closet. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, Daryl.”

Ah. Gift Beth tends to cuss like a sailor when she’s mad. But it’s hard to concentrate when she stands in front of him stark naked with her hands on her hips.

“You really think I care about that shit? Think that’s gonna change how I feel about you? Clearly, I already know and I keep coming back to help your sorry ass, don’t I? So, I obviously still love you, you big, dumb idiot. What if the situation were reversed and I told you something like that? Would you call me crazy and walk away?”

Daryl is working hard to maintain eye contact and not look down at her perfect little tits. Oh, she seems to be waiting for an answer. He shakes his head.

“Exactly. So just man up already and fucking do it.” She turns and climbs back in the bed. She’s closed her eyes and is settling the blankets over her body. “And Daryl? The least you could do is fuck me before you run away to the woods for days.” And then she’s out.

Sometimes gift Beth reminds him of Merle, which is just wrong.

**********

He does man up and tell Beth. He had decided against running away and instead laid beside her, patiently waiting until she roused from sleep. She opened her eyes to find him staring at her and his expression must have given something away, because she scoots closer and lays her arm over his hip. “What’s goin’ on?” And so he tells her. He tells her about his mom and the first time he had heard a message from the gift. How overwhelming school was and how bizarre it is meeting new people to hear their weird commentary on his life. He tells her about Sophia and Otis and then he tells her about gift Beth. How she’s the only one who comes to him consistently. Even during all those years with Merle, he had never gotten another gift from him. Just her.

She listens intently, thumb softly brushing back and forth over the skin on his hip. When he’s done, she gives him a small smile. “What do I say, when I come to you?”

He pushes some hair back behind her ear and lays his hand against her cheek. “Ya mostly boss me around.”

She giggles. “I’m sure you deserve it.” She bites her lip and then takes a deep breath. “Do you remember when we met? I always thought it was so weird; I remember walking into the room, carrying a bowl of soup in case you woke up hungry. Then suddenly, I was waking up, cuddled in the bed with you.” She reaches out to push against Daryl, so he rolls over on his back. She lays her head on his chest, with a hand over his heart. “We were laying like this and you had your arm around me.” He lifts his arm around her and closes his eyes. “Do you remember?”

He hears it like a whisper in the back of his mind. “You said I was the best thing that ever happened to you. And you hoped you were my best thing, too.”

She presses a kiss to his chest with a hum. “That seems about right.”

“You are, Beth. Always.”

The lay in silence for few minutes before she lifts her head to look at him. “Hey, next time we meet someone new, will you tell me what the gift says?”

“Absolutely.”

He asks her the next day. She says ‘yes’.

**********

Baby Herschel comes into the world screaming after almost a full day of labor. While everyone can’t help but feel Glenn’s absence, they are also ecstatic that mother and baby are okay. Its another day later before Beth returns to the trailer ready to fall into an exhausted slumber, leaving Enid to watch over Maggie. Just as she drifts off, a thought occurs to her. She sits up and turns to him. “Daryl, do babies have a gift for you? Did Herschel actually talk to you?”

He snorts and reaches up to pull her back down to the bed. “Nah, doesn’t work on babies, I guess. Assicker never said nothing either.”

“Oh, good. That would be so creepy.”

**********

Two months later, Daryl happens upon a teenager while he’s out hunting. The kid was making a horrible racket when Daryl found him, in a full-blown panic because he couldn’t find his sister. Of course, when Daryl approaches, the panic recedes so the kid can give Daryl a hug (Seriously?) and tell him that Sophia will always think of him as her dad. Then the kid swears he will love and protect Sophia always.

What the fuck is he supposed to do with that?

Later after passing off the boy and his sister to Michonne, he goes to find Beth. He has to admit, it’s nice to be able to talk about the messages with someone else. Of course, his wife is a hopeless romantic and practically swoons when tells her what the kid said.

**********

When Beth tells him she is pregnant, Daryl freaks out. What if something goes wrong during the pregnancy? Or during the birth? Or what if she never recovers like Lori? He can’t watch Beth waste away like that.

He is basically running at almost 48 hours in internal panic mode, when he realizes that Rick isn’t walking beside him anymore. He looks back to see him frozen two steps behind him and then glances around to see other people are frozen as well. Suddenly the door to the school house down the road opens and Beth comes striding toward him. He makes no move toward her, but rather makes her come all the way to him. He hasn’t seen gift Beth since before he asked Beth to marry him. He wants to savor it.

“Jesus fucking Christ, Daryl. Are you trying to give yourself a heart attack or something? Calm the fuck down before you stroke out. Why are you worried about this anyway? You heard what Jesus said: ‘kids’. Plural.” Her cheeks are red and she’s aggressively using her hands for emphasis. “Besides, even if the worst did happen, would this be how you want to spend our last months? Freaking out and avoiding me? Come on, Dixon. Get your shit together.”

Gift Beth spins on her heel and starts back to the school. “Hey. What if Jesus didn’t mean ‘kids’ plural. What if he meant kid apostrophe s? Like the favorite uncle of one kid?”

Beth never stops, just flips him off over her shoulder.

Daryl does actually feel better.

**********

The pregnancy goes surprisingly well. Beth is rarely sick and glows the entire time. She really only starts feeling bad the last couple of weeks. And that’s more to do with her size and inability to be more than three feet from a bathroom.

Daryl hates the entire process of childbirth, standing there helpless for hours while Beth struggles. When its finally over, everyone leaves the new family alone for a few minutes and Beth passes the tiny baby girl over to Daryl for the first time. He stares at her, mesmerized that this is actually a thing that has happened to him.

“So, names. You know that’s gonna be the first thing everyone asks when Maggie lets ‘em in here. I have my heart set on one and I hope you like it.” Daryl doesn’t look up at Beth as she speaks, just continues staring at his daughter. His daughter. He’s spreading her little fingers out, completely smitten with her tiny little fingernails. “I really want to call her Cinnamon.” It’s so amazing that humans start so small. But she’s got a pretty good grip, the way she’s wrapping her whole hand around his finger. “Or Bambi, like from the movie.” This little girl is going to be a fighter just like her-

“The hell’d you just say?” When he looks up at Beth, her eyes are dancing with laughter and she finally breaks down in giggles. “It ain’t funny. We’re parents now. Supposed to be adults.”

Beth wrinkles her nose at him and waves his words away. “Nah, that sounds boring. But seriously, I do have a name I like. What do you think of ‘Jesse’? It means ‘the gift’ in Hebrew.”

He gives her a smile and leans forward to rest his head against hers. “Sounds good.”

**********

Life moves forward as it always does. As Jesus predicted, their world does get bigger as more communities pop up; good people just trying to survive. The number of dead decreases as was bound to happen at some point. Regular trade gets established and families flourish. Beth gives birth to two more babies, both girls and Daryl wonders what he has done to deserve this punishment. He already met the kid that he knows will come sniffing after Jesse when they’re older. He found out from the kid’s mom who used her gift to say he and Beth were the ‘best in-laws they could ask for’.

For fucks sake.

Now Daryl has to see this kid around town knowing one day he’s going to lay hands on his daughter. Beth of course thinks it sweet and says that since the boy is only seven, they should focus on making sure he grows into a man worthy of Jesse.

Whatever. Daryl’s going to focus on making the kid piss his pants every time he even catches a glimpse of Daryl.

Three daughters, holy hell.

**********

He’s having a tea party with his youngest, Bella, when he hears a knock at the door. Jesse along with her younger sister Faith, goes running down the hall towards the door. “I’m gonna open it!”

He swings Bella up on his hip and heads that way himself. “No, you ain’t.” He rounds the corner and grabs the back of Jesse’s shirt to keep her from opening the door. He peers through the glass to see Rick and another person on the other side. He pushes the kids back and opens the door, letting both men in. As soon as the stranger steps over the threshold, everything freezes and he turns to Daryl. He’s saying something about Alexandria changing everything for his family, blah, blah, blah. But Daryl’s attention is drawn to Bella in his arms, who is sucking on her finger and twirling her other hand in Daryl’s hair, completely unaware that anything is out of the ordinary. He looks to Jesse, standing beside him swinging her arms, waiting somewhat patiently to be added to the conversation. When he turns, he sees Faith is frozen behind him in mid twirl.

Before he can process what happened, everything is speeding back up. Rick is introducing the stranger and Jesse is introducing herself, while Faith spins her tiny body into the coffee table making a huge mess. And Daryl suddenly realizes how his mom knew that he had the gift.

**********

When Jesse is nine, he sits her down and explains the gift. He tells her that he doesn’t know when it will start for her, but he talks about how it works for him. Then he answers all her questions and explains that other people won’t understand so we can’t tell them. When he feels like she grasps as much as possible, he goes to the kitchen to pick up the cookies Beth made and forces Herschel and Faith from in front of the TV and all four of them trek across the street to meet the new neighbors. He watches Jesse’s face when she looks at her sister and cousin as they freeze while Daryl gets the gift from the woman who answered the door. Her grip on Daryl’s hand tightens and he looks down to give her a reassuring smile and wink.

He doesn’t want his girls to be scared of the gift or to hate it as he did as a boy. Their childhood is already so different than Daryl’s and he doubts the gifts will be as hurtful to them as his were. But if they are, he’ll be right there. And he’ll know which of the tiny little shits to keep an eye on.

He hopes gift Beth knows about the girls. While he thinks it would be hilarious to hear Bella yell ‘Jesus fucking Christ’ across the playground, he doubts her mom would agree. Even if she has no one to blame but herself.