When Beth walks out of the Grady hospital, it’s with Daryl on her heels. He’s stepping in her shadow, elongating it, while the sun glows in her hair like a halo, and Maggie feels like she can breathe again without it hurting so damn much.
She thought her sister was dead — gone when the prison fell, just like their daddy, just like Maggie thought everyone was gone besides Bob and Sasha because they were with her, and Glenn because god damn it, she wasn’t about to lose him, too. But Beth…
God, she’d given up on her. She never thought Beth would make it. Not a girl like her, not in a world like this.
And she’d been wrong, so wrong, ‘cause there she is, she’d made it so far all on her own. Maggie was wrong, and she’s sorry.
A sob breaks free from deep in her chest. She claps a hand over her mouth to stifle the sound, so used to keeping quiet, to mind every step, and she can’t bring herself to take a step now. She’s rooted to the cracked concrete, determined to watch every inch of ground eaten up by Beth’s sneakers as she closes the distance between them. Like she’ll never be able to take her eyes off her baby sister, so that she won’t ever make the mistake of believing that she’s dead again.
Before that distance can close completely, though, before it’s even halfway gone, Daryl stops her.
He puts a hand on her shoulder and she slows, right in the middle of another step before she comes to a halt. Maggie can hear the scuff of her shoes against the sidewalk. Beth’s chin nudges his knuckles when she turns to look at him. Daryl’s mouth doesn’t move, he doesn’t say anything, but he’s looking at her like he’s got a thousand things on his mind. Maggie can see it from where she stands, several yards away still, but that look is louder than any words she’s ever heard come outta Daryl’s mouth.
She doesn’t know what that look’s saying, not exactly, not over everything else that’s running through her head. She just knows that she can hear it, somehow — can hear it better than most things Daryl actually says, what with all the dirty looks and half-assed muttering.
His gaze is soft now, though, burning as it searches Beth’s face, like he could swallow her up through his eyes and keep her there, safe, where she’s never out of reach.
His hand drops, somewhere low on Beth’s back so he can turn her around completely — not like he’s making her, it’s just a nudge and Beth follows along. He’s still looking at her like that, until he folds her up tight into his arms, tucks his face into her neck and clings.
It takes Beth a moment — she’s as surprised as Maggie is, by the looks of it, because it’s Daryl who would usually shy away from touch, hesitate, never initiate — but then her arms circle his neck and she’s clinging, too. His body heaves, like he’s taken one shuddering breath, deep and starved and all Beth, like he’s holding her in.
Maggie can see her sister’s lips moving, saying something that’s just for Daryl to hear. His face is buried in her hair, and when she whispers, his arms flex and his hands grip her waist. Her fingers flex, too, and curl into the ends of his hair.
What… the hell?
That tightness in Maggie’s chest loosens some, relaxes, only to be replaced by those three words — what the hell? Not angry or accusatory, just… Well, she doesn’t know. There’s a riot of emotions in her head, in her gut, she can barely distinguish one from the other and she certainly doesn’t know what to do with what’s happening in front of her right now.
Beth’s alive and Daryl’s holding onto her like he never means to let that change.
God. Maggie can’t begin to make heads or tails of it; she hasn’t got the energy, the headspace, she’s exhausted from worry and guilt and relief. What the hell happened to them when they were on the run together?
There’s no answer to that, not for her. She watches as, slowly, Daryl releases his hold on Beth — not like he wants to, but like he knows he has to, his hands slip away but they linger on every inch — and the two of them start walking again.
When Maggie catches her sister up in her arms, she pretends not to notice the red spot on Beth’s neck, where Daryl’s scruff had rubbed a little raw, where he’d breathed hot against her skin, or the damp tracks of his tears.
II. ON THE ROAD
It’s not that Maggie doesn’t notice, or even that she’s pretending not to. She doesn’t think that’s the case from anyone’s perspective. They’re all just happy to be together again, relieved to have found everyone alive and as well as you can be these days. That’s what they need to focus on. Anything else doesn’t matter.
Even when anything else happens to be Beth and Daryl and this… pull between them.
There are a few raised eyebrows, when it starts. When they make camp and Beth sits up with Daryl on watch, or when morning comes and the two of them are wrapped up in the same bedroll, wrapped up in each other.
That first morning, Rick took Daryl aside and they talked — Maggie doesn’t know what they said, she was too busy watching Beth for some sign, but Beth acted like this was normal, like Daryl’s arms around her was nothing new (and it’s certainly old news by now) — and when they came back, Daryl tucked his hand into Beth’s, and Beth interlaced their fingers like a habit.
Rick was smiling, that soft know-it-all look he gets sometimes, so nobody else kicked up a fuss. Maggie’s still not sure if she should have, or if she should have at least said something, but she couldn’t figure out what to say and if she didn’t bite her tongue, she’s pretty sure she would’ve finally just burst what the hell? out loud, and it was going to sound combative whether she meant it to or not. She doesn’t wanna start a fight, especially not if she can’t get her thoughts straight enough to win.
It’s not a hard thing to wrap her head around. It’s all sort of obvious — okay, really obvious. But. Still…
Well, apart from what the hell?, but still’s about all she’s got.
She keeps an eye on them, partly because that overprotective urge has kicked into gear since they found Beth alive, and partly because she just wants to know. She could ask — she does, once, but Beth only smiles and shrugs and gets bashful, which isn’t like her, but she says I’unno, Maggie, jeez, and bites her lip and looks away, so clearly Maggie’s not getting anywhere by asking, so she watches instead.
What she winds up seeing is that Daryl takes care of her.
Not like he takes care of the rest of them, in that quiet, sort of unassuming way, where he’s shouldering some facet of responsibility, like hunting or keeping watch more often than the rest of them. No, the way he takes care of Beth is loud, just like the way he looked at her when they got out of Grady.
It’s the touching, Maggie thinks. It’s not like how he hugged her, she could understand that, because they’d found her, finally, and that was enough to make any of them act out of turn. But Daryl doesn’t touch anybody if he can help it, and he definitely doesn’t let anybody put their hands on him. Beth, though…
Sometimes Daryl takes her hands just to put them on him, to intertwine their fingers or to pull her arm around his shoulders, his waist, sometimes just to press her palm to his cheek, like he needs to feel the warmth of her skin. He presses his mouth there, too, to the middle of her palm, down to the pulse in her wrist. Beth does the same to him just as often, and when the corners of her lips twitch up, so do his.
Maggie usually stops watching by then, not necessarily because she disapproves, but just because it feels like she should give them that moment alone.
She wears his shirt, too, when it gets cold. Maggie’s seen him strip off his top layer before Beth’s teeth can chatter, watches as Beth protests when Daryl drapes the flannel over her shoulders and grumbles at her as he shoves her arms through the sleeves.
“Daryl,” she says, like they’ve had this argument a hundred times before, “I’m fine, I swear —”
“Beth,” he bites back, in the same exasperated tone of voice, rougher because he’s built that way, “shut the hell up.”
That makes her smile, and do what Daryl says when he tells her to button the fuck up, it’s cold. It sort of makes Maggie smile, too, just because Beth looks… happy.
That’s the thing of it, too, Maggie’s noticed — just about everything Daryl does gets Beth smiling. None of the rest of it’s so surprising, on Beth’s end, because she’s always been the sort to give comfort, to put her arms around you, give you what you need; but when she smiles like that, it’s because Daryl’s giving her something she needs.
As the days bleed into nights into weeks, Maggie’s still trying to suss this thing out. If she had to put a name to it, she guesses she’d call it love, but if she’s being honest she never expected her little sister to find love at the end of the world. And she never would’ve put two and two together at all, in any state of affairs, if two and two were Beth and Daryl.
Jesus, she just can’t get her head around that — around the Daryl of it all.
It’s not that he’s a bad guy. Far from it. But Maggie’s known him as just that, as just Daryl, since he and the rest showed up at the farm when all this started. Sure, her perception of him’s changed over the years, from lousy redneck to begrudging team member to something like a brother, but she never would’ve looked at him and thought it’d be all right if he started holding her sister’s hand.
Not to mention whatever else it is they get up to — when they stay up on watch, in the depths of their shared sleeping bag, when they head for the woods to track a deer because, oh, yeah, Daryl’s even let her handle his crossbow. He’s more likely to let someone touch him than his goddamn bow, but all those rules are shot to hell when it’s Beth’s hands reaching out. Maybe that’s why Maggie’s so inclined to call it love in the first place.
Which is… fine, that’s all she can say for the time being, is that it’s fine. Or it would be, if she didn’t actually know what else they get up to. But she’s been with Glenn long enough to have that figured out and she’s never been stupid, besides.
She’d have to force herself into willful ignorance, if she really wanted to pretend not to know where that dark purple mark behind Beth’s ear came from, or why it seems to bloom fresh whenever it’s just about faded, when Maggie can pretend she never saw it to start with. It’s like Daryl wants everybody to know that he’s sucking on Beth’s neck whenever he’s got the spare time, or maybe he just doesn’t give a shit anymore. Like he wants everybody to know that she’s his.
Daryl’s always done what he wanted, sure, but Maggie’s willing to bet it’s not like that when he’s with Beth. No, she’d have to venture that it’s just as it is with the rest of their family — they’re too relieved to be together again to worry about the things they used to. The end of the world put most things in perspective, and losing each other after the prison fell took care of whatever was left.
Turns out that, for Daryl, kissing Beth’s neck must be one of those things. Maggie doesn’t like to think about it too much; that’s still her little sister, after all, so she’s gonna have to draw the line somewhere and this seems like a pretty good place for it.
She wonders, though, if things were different, if they were like they used to be, if Beth would talk to her about this. If they’d sit down over too many sodas and licorice whips late at night, snuggled into the deep cushions of the couch in the den, when their parents were sound asleep and couldn’t listen in, and talk about how she’s in love.
Sometimes — okay, most times, Maggie thinks when she sees Daryl put his arm around her, when he kisses the side of Beth’s head in front of their campfire — she wishes that’s the way it could be. She wants to figure this thing out, and more than that she wants Beth to tell her.
That’s not really the way things work these days, though. This is their everyday now — taking the good they can get, not analyzing it half to death before they decide whether it’s the best thing for them. If Beth’s made up her mind about Daryl, there’s no talking her out of it or getting her to explain.
“You doing good, honey?” Maggie asks her one afternoon, when they’re picking their way through the woods. She smooths a hand down Beth’s ponytail, and her thumb brushes over the mark on her sister’s neck. God damn, who knew Daryl Dixon could hoover a girl like that, Jesus.
Beth turns that sunshine smile on her. She’s got dirt on her cheeks and shadows underneath her eyes and there’s no getting rid of that scar, but that smile — god, that smile’s brighter than the streaks of golden yellow sifting through the treetops. Every time that pretty smartass mouth of hers quirks up these days, Maggie swears she could cry.
“Yeah,” Beth says, as sweet and simple as that. “Yeah, I’m real good.”
A few feet ahead, Daryl turns his head from whatever Rick’s saying to look over his shoulder at them. He must’ve heard, or maybe it’s just because he’s looking at Beth, but there’s something like a smile around the edges of his usually rough mouth, too.
Well, it’s no late-night sodas and licorice whips, but — Maggie throws an arm around her sister’s shoulders, the worn flannel she’s always wearing nowadays soft under her arm — she supposes it’ll have to do.
The first time Maggie sees them kiss — really kiss, not just the aftereffects of it or a press of lips to knuckles, because for all she saw on the road, that was one thing they’d somehow managed to keep from her — it’s right out there on her damn front porch.
They’re out there a lot, the two of them. Whenever they’re not doing something else that means keeping them apart, like hunting or sleeping (Beth in the second bedroom at Maggie and Glenn’s place, and Daryl a couple houses down with the Grimes’), and that’s pretty much the extent of it, they’re out there together.
Sometimes they take a walk, but Maggie gets the feeling that they’re letting her keep an eye on them — Beth to keep her from worrying, and Daryl because maybe he wants to prove something to her, prove that they’re not doing anything wrong. Logically, Maggie knows they’re not, but there’s a part of her that still isn’t quite sure about this, still needs to get used to it, so she appreciates the sentiment all the same.
It’s almost strange, almost like they’re… courting, or he’s wooing her or something, like these little sit-downs on Maggie’s porch steps are the equivalent of chaperoned iced teas on the terrace. It sounds hokey and corny and just plain dumb, but Maggie’s been reading a few too many old romance novels these days — because if there’s one thing besides cockroaches that’s gonna survive the end of the world, it’s those paperback bodice-rippers with the cheesy cover art, apparently — and maybe they’re going to her head.
That’s what she’s doing when she catches them at it. She’s sitting in a chair by the front window, book forgotten in her lap almost as soon as Daryl showed up to sit with her sister. Maggie’s mostly okay with it by now, it’s just that she still… She wonders, that’s all.
They’re sitting on the topmost step, Daryl facing out and Beth facing him, leant against the railing with her legs bent and feet tucked onto the step next to his hip. The window’s shut so Maggie can’t hear what they’re saying, but she can see their lips moving as they talk and she resolves, next time, to get a nice breeze coming through the house.
Beth nudges his thigh with her foot, and smiles softly when he looks at her. He slides closer then, so she has to slip her feet into his lap to accommodate him. His hand, work-worn and tan against the smooth pale skin peeking through the holes in her jeans, finds her crooked knee, slips further down onto her thigh.
Maggie stiffens at the sight, but it’s not predatory, the way Daryl touches her sister; it’s just like he wants to hold onto her. She plays agitated fingertips along the pages of her book, ruffling them, and keeps watching.
The sun winks the clouds apart as Beth props her chin up on her knee, too, effectively trapping Daryl’s hand between their bodies. He leans closer, presses his lips to her calf, then again to her knee, and Maggie sees her giggle. Can just hear it through the glass, because Beth’s always laughed high and bright and infectious and everybody’s always loved it.
Daryl’s no exception — odd, maybe, because he’s the exception to most things like this, but, then, Beth seems to be his own exception to every rule he’s ever learned to live by — and he tilts his head to catch her lips, right at the height of her laugh like he wants to taste the way he makes her feel. He kisses her full right on the mouth, right there on the front porch where anybody could see. Like it’s easy. Like they’ve done this before.
And, okay, Maggie knows they have, but it’s something else to watch it happen.
His free hand comes up to stroke across her cheek, thumb paying special attention to the scar underneath her eye. It’s not a hard thing to miss, that scar, but Daryl finds it like he’s got the curves of Beth’s bones marked in his muscle memory.
Lord Almighty, but are they in this deep.
Maggie hears Glenn shuffling around behind her, hears him ask what she’s doing, but she’s not embarrassed to be caught snooping so she doesn’t stick her nose back into her book and pretend she wasn’t.
Instead, she jerks her chin towards the scene on their front porch and asks him, “Have you seen that?”
Glenn, who’s bent over her chair to peck her cheek, which he does, because he never misses out on laying a little love on her, looks at her like he’s confused. Maggie gets that, she does, because Beth and Daryl have been in each other’s damn pockets for weeks (months?), but —
“Have you seen them kiss, I mean.”
“Uh. Might have caught them a couple times…” He grins a little, sheepish. “Or like, more… than that…”
Oh, god. That means it’s been a helluva lot of times. Maggie would feel sorry for him, if she hadn’t wanted to know about it herself.
“The one time you can keep your mouth shut,” she says, mostly joking but, damn it, he should have told her, “and it’s for this?”
“Basic survival instinct?” Glenn offers up by way of explanation. It’s not a bad one, as far as excuses go. “I mean, if I told you, Daryl would’ve killed me and you’d’ve killed Daryl, not necessarily in that order.”
“Are you saying Daryl would, what, come back as a ghost?”
“To kick my ass? Yeah, he would.”
Maggie rolls her eyes. “No one’s killing anyone.”
“Well, either me or Beth or — you know, probably both of us,” he decides, “would’ve ended up crying, at least, so. Keeping a secret was the easier, uh, way to go, I guess.”
He still looks sort of sheepish, like he’s sorry, so Maggie figures it’s no use ragging on him about it. Wrapping her mind around this Beth-and-Daryl thing’s been weird enough. She probably couldn’t have handled seeing them actually… make out…
Shit, that’s really what they’re doing, isn’t it?
God, Maggie thinks, that’s so weird.
She slants another look out the window, enough to know that Daryl Dixon’s feeling up her baby sister’s thigh, Jesus, Mary, Joseph — she sucks on her front teeth, tries to count to ten before she only makes it to four and says to Glenn, “I should do something.”
“I dunno.” She thinks about what he just said, about what Daryl probably would’ve done if Glenn ratted him and Beth out for kissing. “Kick his ass?”
“You always wanna kick someone’s ass. You guys have that in common.” It’s Glenn’s turn to roll his eyes, just a little, and he shrugs, like this whole thing’s a foregone conclusion and they’ll have to grin and bear it, if nothing else. “What can you do? I mean, really. Tell her she can’t see him anymore? How’s that gonna work?”
It wouldn’t. Maggie knows that already when Glenn adds, “And, y’know, why would you?”
“He’s too old for her.”
Even as she says it, Maggie knows it’s bullshit. A matter of fact, sure, but does it, in fact, matter? Maybe if Daryl were any other man, or a particular kind of man, but he’s not. Whatever he’s feeling for Beth, whatever they’re doing, they’re doing it because Daryl means for it to last and because Beth wants it to be like that, too.
They’re a unit if Maggie’s ever seen one, all give and take and both of them are always trying to give more. It’s not a conversation; it’s just the way they are.
Glenn must be thinking along the same lines, because he actually scoffs at her. “Maggie, c’mon. I’m pretty sure Daryl doesn’t like her because she’s younger than him. You know him.”
Yeah, she does. Daryl’s one of the good ones — maybe one of the last good ones, and certainly the only man left she could trust with her little sister, the only tie she has left to their old life. And Beth deserves a life like that; she deserves whatever’s gonna make her happy, keep her safe.
Maggie failed her, then. She thought Beth fell with the prison, and that had been that ‘til their family started to piece itself back together. Daryl had been the one to take care of her then, when they were on the run, and he’d been the one to track her down when they thought she was gone again, no matter how long it took. He’d been consumed with finding her, just like Maggie had when she’d left messages for Glenn in walker blood clear across the damn state.
Maggie knows what it looks like, when you think you’ve lost the one you love, when you can’t think about anything else but getting them back. And she sees that in Daryl, sees it every time he looks at her sister, every god damn day.
It should be enough. It is enough, really, but Maggie feels like she’s missed too much of Beth to ever be satisfied now.
So she asks her husband, “What d’you think he likes her for, then?”
“Ask him.” Glenn’s smile is full this time, genuine. “I’ll give you ten bucks if you let me sit in on it, too.”
“Babe.” Maggie levels him with that deadpan sorta look that, god knows why, tends to drive him a little crazy for her. “What the hell am I gonna do with ten bucks?”
“I don’t know,” he admits, all good-naturedly as he leans in to kiss her cheek again. “I just wanna hear Daryl talk about his feelings.”
Maggie snorts. “You can see Daryl’s feelings just fine if you look out the window.”
“Uh, I’ve caught them making out eight times,” Glenn points out, determinedly not looking out the window, which Maggie can’t blame him for because she’s not gonna look anymore, either. “You happy now? Eight times. I’ve seen enough. I wanna watch you make him squirm.”
“That might be more voyeuristic than what I was just doing.”
“Maybe.” Glenn takes her hands and hauls her up out of the chair, so that her book clatters to the floor with a soft fwump! of well-read and dog-eared pages. “Either way, let’s call it a day and make some instant coffee, huh? Who knew I would’ve missed it so much?”
“You and me both,” Maggie agrees, and lets her husband drag her off into the kitchen with all the excitement of a kid on Christmas morning.
Because this place is still new, this house still not quite home, but they’re starting something here. For them, it’s just a pot of otherwise shitty coffee, but it’s better than anything they’ve had in a long time.
And maybe, Maggie has to concede, maybe for Beth and Daryl, it’s something a lot more than they’d dared to dream up ‘til they had it now.
IV. WHERE WE START AGAIN
It doesn’t happen right away, and actually it’s later than Maggie should have expected. She’d seen it coming, of course — seen it for awhile now, maybe ever since that morning at Grady when they brought her home — but she hadn’t looked hard enough to surmise when, exactly, Daryl would show up with the express intent to talk to her.
It’s late morning when he drops by, something like ten o’clock when Beth insists she’s awake and then curls up on the couch, droopy-eyed and out, about fifteen minutes later. Daryl must have her timestamps down to an art, because he comes knocking about halfway through her habitual nap.
Plenty of time to hash this out, Maggie thinks as she joins him on the porch steps, because she already knows what this is.
He lights up a sure-to-be-stale cigarette when she sits down, inhales deep and gets straight to the point. She wouldn’t have expected anything less than what he does, which is to flick ash onto his boot and say, “I want her to stay with me.”
Yeah. That. “I can’t stop her.”
Daryl huffs, almost like he thinks that’s funny. “You wanna, though.”
Maggie just shrugs.
It’s not that she wants to stop Beth from living her life, from taking it and doing what she wants with it. That’s not it at all. Maybe she’s just not ready to let her go yet.
And that’s selfish, Maggie knows it is, but all things considered, actually, she thinks Daryl can understand that better than anyone. He doesn’t wanna let her go, either. Not after everything they’ve been through. Not after they almost lost her, or could have, for good.
“Don’t wanna let her outta my sight again,” he continues, like he knows Maggie needs to hear more.
“I feel the same way.”
“Ain’t your fault, what happened.” Daryl tries to shrug it off. That’s just about the thing he does best. “I thought the rest of you were good as dead, too.”
“Is that why?” Maggie wants to know because, god, she’s gotta. She looks at Daryl, but he’s not gonna look at her when they talk about this, she knows that. “You and Beth, I mean. Is that how it started, ‘cause you thought you were the only ones left?”
He ashes again, shakes his head as he takes another drag and says on the exhalation, “Nah.”
It takes a minute for him to answer her, but Maggie can be patient. It’s eating her up inside but, damn it, she can do this. So she gives him his minute and Daryl follows through on the time she lets him have.
“‘Cause even if we were… it was still somethin’. Still mattered. But she was never gonna let me give up on the rest’a you. So it’s that, too.” He sucks on the filter, blows another stream of smoke out between his lips, punctuated by his muttered confession. “‘S a lotta things.”
Okay. Maggie doesn’t say anything, just mulls that over, but she’s getting it now.
Beth made him believe in something. Maybe that something was her or himself or the notion that the world hadn’t completely gone to shit, but whatever it was, she gave somethig to him that Maggie figures Daryl’s never really had before — not enough for it to count, anyway, in the long run. Not enough to keep him going if things fell to shit even further. Beth gave him a reason, and then he’d gone and fallen in love with her.
That sounds like her sister. That makes sense.
Okay, Maggie thinks again. Okay, so maybe this thing isn’t so much to wrap her head around, after all.
“I ain’t good enough for her,” Daryl keeps going, like he’s needed to say this and Maggie’s giving him the space to do so now. “I know that.”
“I didn’t say that.” She didn’t, she never would, because she doesn’t believe it, not for a second. That’s never been what this was about.
Daryl must think that’s it, though, because he snorts. A stream of smoke trickles out through his nose. “You’re thinkin’ it. Ev’rybody is.”
She knows he’s not talking about her, really, not about their family. It might take some getting used to, but it’s like Glenn said — they know Daryl, and they know this thing he’s got with Beth, it’s not what it looks like to the people who don’t know him. But Alexandria’s still new, still not quite home, and they all learned pretty quick that it’s not the place, but the people in it, that make anywhere safe or not.
Maybe it was like that before the world ended, too. Maggie wouldn’t know so much about that; she and Beth had the best of it, then. And if Daryl’s the best thing for Beth now, well, Maggie’s not gonna let him go and fuck that up.
He wouldn’t do that, not on purpose, but they don’t have the time for him to get wrapped up in his insecurities when it’s so much easier, so much better, to wrap yourself up in the arms of somebody who loves you. Somebody who’s not gonna let you talk about yourself like that.
“You said she wasn’t gonna let you give up on the rest of us,” Maggie reminds him. She casts him a sidelong look. He’s toying with his cigarette like it holds all the answers, but she knows he can feel her eyes on him. “She’s not gonna let you give up on yourself, either. That’s sort of her whole thing. And she was like that long before you showed up, so don’t go gettin’ a fat head about it.”
Daryl huffs again, and it’s a little lighter this time.
They sit in silence a little while longer before she poses her next question. Her only question, really.
“You in love with her?”
He still doesn’t look at her, just rolls the smoldering Marlboro between his fingers. “Yeah.”
“You should tell her.”
He sticks the cigarette between his teeth, takes another hit as he stares off across the lawn. “She knows.”
Whether it’s because he’s told her or because he just figures she knows, Maggie couldn’t even guess. She doesn’t reckon he’ll tell her, either. She’s lucky to have gotten this much out of Daryl. It’s simple, understated, maybe not enough to go on for most people, but that "Yeah” tells Maggie all she needs to know about the way he feels about Beth.
She’s seen it for herself, too. She’s just gonna have to be good with what she’s got.
It’s a good thing, too, because speak of the devil, but the screen door squeaks behind them and the soft tread of Beth’s bare feet disrupts their stilted heart-to-heart.
“Hey.” The right side of her mouth twitches when they both turn to look at her. “Y’all talkin’ about me?”
“Always the modest one, Bethy.” Maggie smirks, and Beth sticks her tongue out at her.
She pushes up onto her feet, grips Beth by the elbow and plants a big sloppy kiss to her cheek, blowing a little bit of a raspberry there because, screw it, maybe Beth’s all grown up and in love, but she’s always gonna be Maggie’s baby, too.
That’s one piece of their old life she’s not willing to give up, especially now that she’s almost lost Beth more than once, and for real. Maybe she’ll go off and stay with Daryl now, but it’s only a couple houses down. It’s not a lifetime of losing her, and god knows Daryl’s not letting her go anywhere, either.
So Maggie snickers when Beth yelps, when she wipes away the raspberry on her cheek and giggles.
“I’ll get the coffee goin’,” Maggie says, and heads into the house. And she will put the coffee on, but first…
This time, just like she promised herself, Maggie leaves the window open a crack so she can hear them. It’s the only time, the last time, she swears. She just needs this one thing and she’ll leave them to it.
Beth ruffles her fingers through his hair, like she’s teasing him, but Daryl cuts that short pretty quick. He catches her hand in his, pulls her down into his lap, so she’s sitting sideways with her legs slung over his thighs. He takes a drag of his cigarette and exhales in the other direction, careful to keep the smoke out of Beth’s face, but his free arm loops around her waist, hand on her hip to tuck her in close.
“What’d Maggie want?” she asks, not upset or suspicious or anything. Beth would never think about the people she loves like that. She just wants to know.
“Nosy.” Daeyl tugs at the end of her sleep-mussed ponytail. “Wanted to know when I’s gonna make an honest woman outta you.”
That makes Beth giggle again. “Did she really?”
A fair question, actually. Maggie wonders if she should’ve asked him that, but like hell would she have gotten a straight answer to it, so it’s for the best that she didn’t think about it.
“Somethin’ like that.”
“Uh-huh.” Beth’s teasing him again. “What’d you tell her?”
Another puff of smoke escapes Daryl’s mouth when he replies, “Told her to mind her damn business.”
“Now I know that ain’t true, or else she woulda kicked your ass clear across the yard.”
Maggie can see Daryl’s hand tighten on her hip. “Girl, you best watch that goddamn mouth’a yours.”
“Or ‘m gonna kick your ass clear ‘cross the yard, ‘s what.”
Beth sighs, this put-upon thing that makes Daryl sigh, too, but it’s like another one of those laughs that carries on the breeze, another one of those things that Maggie’s come to recognize as some kinda sign that spring is here and love is in the air, like nobody's dead and walking and instant coffee’s somehow their sweetest luxury.
Times have changed, yeah, but turns out that maybe it’s not all that bad.
“You always say that.”
Daryl drops his cigarette, crushes it beneath the heel of his boot. “Quit mouthin’ off at me an’ I’ll stop.”
“I’m flirting with you.”
“Gotta knock that shit off, too.”
Even from a distance, albeit a short one, Maggie can see the tips of Daryl’s ears heat up like he’s been sitting in the sun all day. Then again, that’s pretty much what it’s like, when you’re around Beth. Maggie gets that.
“No, I won’t.” Beth rubs circles across his shoulder blades, before she holds steadfast and tight to him. “I love you, remember that?”
“Yeah.” Daryl doesn’t even hesitate. He nudges his forehead against Beth’s temple, and Maggie feels that squeeze start up in her chest again — heartache and happiness, all in one, she can’t explain it but, god, does it feel like it’s right.
And, suddenly — or maybe it’s just time, maybe it’s all clicked into place, maybe this is normal now, maybe it’s just what it should be — it feels right, too, when Daryl mumbles in Beth’s ear, when the whip of the springtime breeze catches the words —
“Love you, too.”
Maggie shuts the window then. She clicks it back into place, a slight squeak in the hinges but it seems like she’s the only one who notices. Because Beth’s too busy kissing the corner of his mouth where there must be a smile, and Daryl’s too busy holding her tight, like she’s the best dream he’s ever had and he’s not gonna let her slip through his fingers like running water the way dreams do, when tomorrow breaks open, brand new.
Because tomorrow will, but they’re not gonna lose anything this time around.
Now that, Maggie thinks as she leaves them be, that’s something she can get her head around, no questions asked.