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Sharing Sandwiches

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Daryl Dixon was nine years old, and in 3rd grade. He was supposed to be in 4th grade, but they’d already held him back once. His Dad didn’t even care; said only sissies did well in school, after all he’d never graduated, and hadn’t Merle dropped out after only a year of high school? He was still there, for now anyway, and pretty much every day he sat by himself in the corner of the lunch room without anything to eat. His Dad refused to sign him up for free meals, since there ‘ain't no way’ he was gonna accept ‘hand-outs’ from anyone. The problem was that most days his Ma was too drunk to remember to get groceries let alone pack him a lunch, and so Daryl went without, spending each day hiding at a table in the corner trying to act like he was stronger than the gnawing in his belly, trying to act like it didn’t bother him that the teachers don't pay him any mind or show even the slightest bit of concern. No one did, and he was used to that.

Then one day he was sitting there studiously ignoring the rumbling in his belly, and someone came up to sit beside him. She was absolutely tiny; something like half his size if that. She had hair like sunshine tied into two little perfect pigtails, each tied off with a shiny blue ribbon that matched the little sundress she had on. She was without a doubt the prettiest thing he'd ever seen and she was blinking up at him with big, impossibly-blue eyes and he had no idea what to do other than blink right back at her.

And then she offered him half of her sandwich with a simple and polite, "Here."

Of course he just grunted back at her and shook his head and waved her off with a low, "Ain't hungry."

"You sure? Cause my Mama packed me this huge sandwich, and I'm too tiny to eat all of it, but I don't wanna throw it out!" He found himself looking back down at her, at this tiny little girl who looked every inch like the girls who had always ignored him or thrown him dirty looks. By all rights he’d have expected her to be just like them and yet she was sitting there beside him like he didn’t scare her at all, and he just kept blinking as she went on, "You'd be helpin' me out, eating it! I don't wanna have to throw it out."

It made sense to him, after all. She was pretty tiny and he doubted she could eat the whole thing, let alone the yogurt and apple and three chocolate chip cookies she had in the lunch box she’d opened next to him. It would have been a waste to let her throw it out, and it wasn't charity if he was stopping her from wasting it, right?

So he took the sandwich half and did his best not to devour it, just like he did his best not to scarf down the cookie she slid towards him later, or the three apple slices that also managed to appear in front of him as she brightly chattered away, "I'm Bethany Anne Greene, but everyone calls me Beth or Bethy. My Mama only calls me Bethany Anne when I’ve been bad, like when I sneak a cookie off the tray before they’re done cooling, or that time she caught me trying to ride one of the cows. Did you know you’re not supposed to ride cows? I didn’t but now I do. Anyway, I'm six and three-quarters years old and I'm in 1st grade and my favorite color is yellow. What about you? What's your name? How old are you? What's your favorite color? Do you like horses?"

And so it went every day for the rest of that week, with Beth Greene sliding up next to him at the table and handing him half of her meal, insisting each time that her Mama just kept packing her too much and she couldn't manage to eat it all without his help.

He'd thought she'd get bored of him, or find someone else to share her lunch with, but she never did. She never stopped chattering either, though he had to admit he kinda liked her chatter, and the fact that she never got annoyed like the teachers did when he only grunted back at her. She would just brightly smile at him and nod like he’d contributed something to the conversation, and then she’d be off again, babbling away.

The next week when she showed up with two sandwiches, Daryl was sure she was messing with him. But she looked like a tiny angel and so it was easy to believe her when for three days in a row she had an excuse at the ready:

"My Mama must've packed my brother's lunch with mine!"
"Oh gosh, well my Daddy made my lunch this morning and he's always forgetting I don't eat as much as my sister Maggie, see, he gave me six cookies, too!"
"Oops I must have grabbed Shawn's lunch by accident, gee, I hope he's not mad!"

It wasn't like Daryl could complain... for the first time in weeks he wasn't spending the second half of the day with his stomach cramping on him, and he actually got to go home with the taste of homemade sandwiches and cookies and fresh fruit in his mouth. Sometimes it even lasted him through the night when his Ma was too drunk to cook dinner and his Pa was out at the bar. He was grateful for those sandwiches then when he was tucked into the corner of his room with only a faint rumble in his stomach, listening for the sound of his Pa coming home so he could hide if he needed.

So by Thursday, when Beth just said that her Mama must have figured that since she was polishing off two sandwiches every day she might as well keep sending them, they both settled on that excuse and never questioned it again. It became routine, him and Beth sitting in their corner lunch table sharing out her lunch between them. (Which, by a few weeks later, had really turned into her bringing two full lunches; including two sandwiches, two juice boxes, three cookies each, and a piece of fruit for both of them. Sometimes if her Mama had baked, there were fresh cookies, or brownies, or even a big slice of pie to share; those days were his favorite.)

They were the oddest friendship at the school but they were friends without a doubt, and to everyone's amazement (including his own) it stuck. For three years they shared every lunch and stayed after school in the library, or walked out together to wait for Beth’s ride to pick her up. They were inseparable and there was no denying that he adored her. Beth was kind and sweet and funny. She never called him stupid; in fact she insisted he was smart, and set out to prove it to him. She did her homework with him and helped him find books in the library that he’d like and then later, she showed him how to find things in the library itself, making it an adventure so he never once felt dumb for not understanding. She shared her lunch with him every day and never once asked why he was hungry, and she never once commented on the fact that he only had two outfits and that one strap on his backpack was permanently broke.

(It wasn’t until high school that he’d found out she’d learned to sew just for him, but he’d never forget the image of that tiny little girl with her felt-strawberry pin cushion, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth as she used that giant, ‘kid-sized’ needle as she called it, to raggedly sew up the holes in his shirts.)

She also never said too much about the bruises he sometimes had, or the cigarette burns on his skin, although he didn’t fail to notice that she started carrying bandaids with her in her pockets; first bright pink barbie ones and then, when he grumbled about it, simple beige-colored ones.

Beth never pushed. She was just Beth. She was his best friend. So it was no surprise that for Daryl, the hardest part was when he had to go off to middle school without her. Beth was only a year behind him at that point, because in second grade they'd skipped her ahead a year to third because she was so smart. He wasn't sure what he'd been happier about; the fact that she was so smart or that now she was only one grade apart from him.

But she was still a year behind him, and that meant a year at two different schools. A year separate, a year without his best friend, his only support. That first year of middle school was the worst, without her there; not only to share lunches, but to just sit with him and be his friend and help him with his homework (which she'd done, even though she was younger than him) and tell him stories and make him forget what it was like at home for him.

He failed most of his courses that year and the only thing that kept him from turning to trouble like his brother Merle (who was currently far from the best role model, on what had to be his 3rd stint in juvie), was Beth. Little Beth Greene, who would call him sometimes at home and pretend to have the wrong number if anyone else picked up. (If he picked up, though, she’d talk to him for a half hour every day, telling him stories about school or encouraging him to give his homework a try.) Little Beth Greene, who started asking him if he'd wait with her for her ride after school because she was ‘worried about bullies’. She wasn't, but the elementary school got out after the middle school did, which meant that once he had an excuse he had plenty of time to walk over there, plenty of time to sit next to her and wait for her Dad or Otis to make it there from the farm to pick her up, plenty of time to talk to her, and for her to pass him the extra snacks she'd kept in her backpack for him all day.

By the time she finally started middle school, they were in the same grade, since he’d been forced to repeat yet another year. He knew he should have felt bad, but in some ways he didn’t. Maybe it was wrong but a part of him was glad that now they were in the same grade as each other. Of course, that first day he'd still thought for sure that things would change; it was her first day at middle school and there was no way she'd wanna be seen at his side on the day when everyone made all their first judgments. There was no way perfect Beth Greene with her pretty dresses and skirts and neat braids and ponytails would wanna be seen with the poor kid who only had one pair of jeans, glared at everyone, and had flunked all his classes last year.

But there she'd been waiting for him outside the school that first day, and they'd walked right in side by side with her chattering away as if nothing was different. If his teachers were amazed at how much better he did that year, none of them said anything to him. But he did do better without a doubt, and it was all thanks to Beth. They only shared half their classes, but in the ones they shared they always sat together, and Daryl even took notes in between sneaking glances at the sweet little blonde beside him. They sat side by side in lunch every day and were often seen in the library after school, her blonde head right against his dark-haired one as they bent over their books and notes, or giggled over his little doodles or the comic books Beth 'borrowed' from Shawn to share with him. (Originally Beth had just thought Daryl might like them, but they’d both ended up being fans of certain comics; their favorite was X-men, and they’d had numerous conversations about which ‘mutant’ powers they’d want if they could choose.)

It was being in the same grade that finally broke down the barriers between school life and home life for the two of them. Beth used group projects or studying or homework as an excuse to get him to come home with her some times, where they'd sit together at her kitchen table and do their work. He'd never forget his first glimpses of true family life in the Greene household; the warm sunny kitchen, his mother with her sweet smiles and her gentle hands, sliding plates of fresh-baked cookies or brownies or slices of pumpkin spice bread between them and nudging over glasses of lemonade or iced tea with perfect square ice cubes inside. Every time they'd insist on him spending dinner with them and he'd never eaten so well in his life; baked chicken and turkey and ham and potatoes and sometimes, when Beth insisted for fun, pancakes and eggs and bacon even though the sun was setting.

He had his first Thanksgiving dinner at Beth's home, staring wide-eyed over the table at the massive turkey that Mrs Greene set down and Mr. Greene carved, carefully and slowly. His plate had been loaded up with mashed potatoes and corn and stuffing and turkey, and he’d never been so full in his life. (The Greenes had gone around the table giving thanks, and no one had minded when he just shook his head and didn’t say a thing. But later that night when Beth had walked him out to her front porch so her Dad could bring him home, he’d whispered to her in the safety of the darkness: I’m thankful that you’re my friend, Beth. She had smiled right back and reached out to squeeze his hand as she’d whispered back: Me too.)

Daryl had his first Christmas there, too. Beth had kept him late studying one night (they were in eighth grade, then, with high school looming), and insisted he'd stay the night. It wasn't like his parents would notice he was gone, and he couldn't help being lured by Beth's big sweet eyes sparkling in the glow of the Christmas tree. He'd never ever forget waking up to see all those presents under the tree, and how Beth had banished the twisting feeling in his gut before he'd even had five minutes to feel anxious about the fact that there was no way a single present under that tree was for him. He'd never gotten a gift from Santa before in his life... until that day. Until Beth, picking up a perfectly wrapped red present with a big gold bow on it and holding it up as she brightly exclaimed, "Daryl, look! To Daryl Dixon, from Santa! Oh he's so clever, to have figured out that you were here!"

She had plopped that present onto his lap and giggled at his wide-eyed expression, her hands fluttering like little doves as she urged him to open it. He’d taken his time, reverently peeling back the perfect wrapping paper, oblivious to the soft clicking of Mrs. Greene’s camera as he pulled out the box that lay beneath it. After a second he opened the lid, revealing a hunting knife he remembered pointing out to Beth in a catalog once a few months ago as the one he'd wanted for years. It was simple, like him, but it was perfect... though not as perfect as the excitement he'd seen in her eyes when he'd looked up at her. That was the first time that he'd felt something beyond just the warmth glow he always got around her... like a fluttering, low in his belly, something he'd never felt before.

He'd have thought he imagined it but he got it again later out in the barn, when she came up to him with another present wrapped slightly less neatly in simple yellow paper. When he protested that he'd already gotten a present, she remarked shyly, "That one was from Santa. This one is from me."

Inside was a simple framed photo of the two of them sitting on the swing on her porch, side-by-side with his arm around her and a laugh lighting up Beth's pretty face. Burned into the frame was the words: Best Friends, and written on the back in a silver paint-pen was Beth’s loopy handwriting: Forever, with a little heart beside it. Looking down at it and turning it around in his hands, Daryl’s stomach did that fluttering thing again, and all he could do was scuff his foot on the ground and breathe out, "Thanks."

"S'nothing," she murmured back, in an amusing impression of his rough drawl. But it wasn't nothing, and they both knew it. Just like it wasn't nothing when she leaned up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his cheek.

He gave her firsts, too, just like she gave him. Like the first time he took her hunting. For awhile he’d been bringing her out with him into the woods around the farm, teaching her how to read signs and navigate and then eventually, to track. She was good at it, which actually hadn’t surprised him. The girl had always been observant, since far before she was a sweet little six year old who’d noticed a lonely, hungry boy in the corner of the cafeteria. It had taken longer to get her Daddy to agree to let her use his crossbow to hunt with him. She was fourteen and he was sixteen when her father first gave permission, and even then it was only for a few hours and not all night. But that was yet another memory he’d never forget; the sight of Beth striding in front of him through the woods, holding his crossbow. She wasn’t strong enough to load it, but she could carry it and in time she learned how to fire it pretty damn well, too.

(Her first kill had been a rabbit, nothing shabby at all. Not only had she helped him skin it without getting grossed out once, but the look of pride on her face when she’d brought it home to her Mama had been absolutely adorable. Just as much as her reaction when her Mama professed it the best rabbit she’d ever seen, cooked into a stew, and eaten. Funnily, it tasted like the best rabbit he’d ever had, too.)

Eventually, the Greene farmhouse felt more like home than his own did. He spent more time there, all his happy memories were there... and the Greenes never made him feel unwelcome. Mrs. Greene always seemed happy to get to feed him more and, in time, even give him hugs sometimes when he stopped flinching away from them. She gave him Shawn’s hand-me-downs but it never felt like charity; plenty of things in the Greene home were handed down like that. They didn’t like to waste. Half of Beth’s clothes had once belonged to her older sister Maggie, and so Daryl didn’t mind much when Mrs. Greene would offer him a pair of jeans or a soft, worn shirt that no longer fit Beth’s older brother anymore.

Mr. Greene called him 'son' and taught him (with Beth at his side of course) how to do things around the farm like taking care of the cattle or the chickens. He found he actually really liked the farm; it was peaceful, but there was always work to do. His skills at observance, honed in hunting trips with his Dad and brother, helped out more than once at the Greene farm to spot a wayward cow, or once to see the signs of a coyote sneaking around the chicken coop. Once they figured out he had a knack for fixing things he could often be found working on the machinery, especially the fussy tractor. He’d spend hours covered in dirt and grease as he fiddled away, with Beth always close by, perched on a bale of hay or a stool, flipping through a book and reading aloud to him or singing out whatever sweet tune that was her current favorite song. (A few times she’d even helped him out, getting smudges of oil on her cheeks that had him feeling that fluttery sensation in his belly all over again. He got it a lot, lately, when she was around.)

If he'd been anxious going into high school that things might change again, it didn't last long. Beth didn't let it. Even when he noticed everyone around them beginning to pair off in new ways, Beth was still right there at his side. But he wasn't oblivious. He saw the way all the boys in the school eyed her, the way sometimes he'd come up to her locker to find one of the football players propped up beside her. Sometimes they were in her space looming over her and he saw the discomfort immediately. It made him growl low in his chest and he'd slide right in there to her side with a fierce Dixon glare that would instantly have whoever it was backing away and Beth pressing against his side with a sigh of relief. (He kept noticing how nicely she fit up against him like that, the way her slender body curved right against his in a perfect fit.)

Other times it was different. Other times he'd hear her laugh or he'd see her smile up at some handsome football player and he'd feel something twist at his gut... but then she'd spot him. She'd look right at him as if she had some kinda sixth sense for him (and hadn't she, always?), and the smile that would curve up her lips would put the previous one to shame-- not the least of which because it was all for him. It took him awhile, stupidly, to realize that. To see that she always smiled brighter for him, that her realest laughs and the brightest flush of her cheeks was reserved 100% for him. That Beth was sweet with everyone, but she was happiest when she was with him.

Despite all her help in school, he wasn't always the brightest guy around when it came to her. Or maybe it was just because she smiled so bright it was blinding, and he had to blink quite a bit before he could see clearly enough to make sense of why she was smiling so bright. Maybe that was why it wasn't until their sophomore year that he got around to asking her out. He'd never been more grateful in his life for how patient Beth was. She could have asked him out herself but she never had, and he knew it wasn't because she wasn't interested. He'd seen the shift in the way she looked at him, the way she would lean up against him or take his hand when they walked, or the way her cheeks would flush when they looked into each other's eyes a bit too long. She could have asked him out but she seemed to know, instinctively, that he wanted (even needed) to be the one to do that. So she waited, and she never dated anyone else (and neither did he) because neither of them wanted to. Because they both just knew.

He'd just needed time, that was all. Time to work up to it, time to cross that line between friendship and whatever else this could be. Then one day they were sitting at her kitchen table, and Beth was going on about something to do with their biology homework: "Mitosis is the process in which a eukaryotic cell nucleus splits in two..."

"Beth?"

She looked up at him, blinking those impossibly-blue eyes as a smile curved across her soft pink lips. "Yeah?"

"Would you like to go to a movie with me tomorrow night?"

"Sure! I think they're showing-"

"I mean as a date." He cut her off sharply, his voice low and gruff. He could feel the tips of his ears burning where they were exposed by his short dark hair, and he felt his stomach churning away as she just blinked over at him, for way too damn long. Blink... blink... blink.

And then she just smiled, wider than he'd seen all day. "Oh. I'd love to go to the movies on a date with you, Daryl."

Wait. "Really?"

"Yes, really." And that was that. She'd squeezed his hand just once, and he'd watched her drop her gaze back down to her book, but as she picked up again, "Mitosis is..." He hadn't failed to notice the way the flush lingered on her cheeks or the way her smile never faded.

Their first kiss was on their third date. The first, movie and dinner at the local diner, had been perfect even if his palms had sweated the entire time. He’d rested his arm over her shoulder through the whole movie and after they’d shared a plate of fries and she’d smiled every time their fingers touched. For their second date he'd taken her to the bowling alley, where they'd given up on their serious game halfway through and spent the night eating pizza and nachos and inventing ridiculous ways to roll the ball down the aisle. (His favorite had been Beth turning around backwards and slinging it between her legs, though he’d also enjoyed her little victory dances she’d given every time one of them knocked down even a single pin.)

For their third date Beth had made them a picnic and they'd ridden some of the family horses out to one of the empty pastures. Beth was on her house, Patsy, and he was riding Nelly, who had become his in a way since Maggie had gone away to college. He loved that horse, even if she was way too damn skittish. They'd spread out the blanket in a field full of wildflowers, and as soon as their lunch was done Beth had started weaving the flowers into little bracelets and crowns. That was how it had happened. She'd been settling a daisy crown on his head, and her face had been just inches from his, and all he could think about was kissing her. So for once, he just did it. He leaned in and brushed his lips against hers, and he was pretty sure he'd never tasted anything so sweet. He was sure of that every time he kissed her, and after that there were plenty of kisses.

They were just as inseparable as a couple as they'd been as best friends. They had pretty much all the same classes in school now thanks to Beth's help studying through the years and the fact that, as she said, Daryl was far smarter than he seemed to want to believe. He spent five out of seven nights a week at the Greene home, sleeping in Shawn's old room, which had been offered to him when Shawn followed Maggie down south to college last year. Of course there were rules about him and Beth and not being in each other's rooms with the doors closed, and they stuck to those rules... mostly. Because she was good and so was he when it came to her, but at the same time both of them liked the feeling of being curled up on one of their beds together, making out until they were breathless.

The only thing that filled him with dread was college and the looming deadline of applications growing near... which in his mind, filled him with the dread of being separated from Beth. For as long as he could remember, she'd always been there beside him, just like he'd been there for her. She'd been there when his mother had passed away years ago, burning up their home along with her. She'd been there when his father had begun to beat him harder, tending to his wounds every day until one day it had gone too far.

He would never forget the way she’d looked that day, when he’d thrown rocks at her bedroom door until she’d come downstairs in her pajamas and little bunny slippers to let him in. She’d seen the bruise on his face, but just as quickly she’d noticed the way he was walking all hunched over as if the simple feeling of his shirt against his back was stinging him. Because it was, of course, and once she’d gotten him up to her room and shut the door, she’d insisted on him stripping the shirt off to let her see.

He was fourteen and she was twelve and a half then, but she faced down the bleeding lash marks on his back as if she were twice that age. She tended to him with gentle touches, cleaning his back up as carefully as she could and dabbing ointment across the cuts. It wasn’t until he heard her voice waver that he realized how upset she was. Only then had he noticed the tremble in her hands, only then had he turned to see those tear-bright eyes staring back at him as her lip quivered. “Please,” she’d breathed out, holding his gaze. “I can’t let him keep doing this to you, Daryl. It’s not right. You deserve so much better. Please, let’s go get my Daddy.” And he’d said yes. Not because he wasn’t still scared- he was terrified- but because of her and the way she managed to look so strong but vulnerable at the same time… and because she had been afraid. Beth Greene had been afraid (for him), and if there was one thing he couldn’t tolerate, it was that.

Trusting her had been easy. He’d trusted her he’d been nine years old and she’d started sharing her lunch with him without ever saying a single judgemental word. Together they’d gone to Mr. Greene, and just like his daughter there had been no judgement there. Only kindness and concern, and a hint of something like fire, distant in the man’s eyes for just a second when he turned around from showing him the wounds on his back. The next day he had stayed with Beth while Hershel and Otis had driven out to his Pa’s trailer. He didn't know what Hershel had done but whatever it was, he'd put the fear of something into his Pa, cause the man had barely raised a hand to him since. The few days Daryl did go home, his Dad was never around and that was fine with him. It was thanks to Beth that he had that; thanks to her kindness and her warmth and the trust he had in her.

And just like she had always been there for him, he'd been there for her too. Like when Shawn had gotten in an accident, hit by a drunk driver that had caused his truck to flip and nearly killed him. For five days straight he had sat with her in the hospital right at her side, his arm around her or her head cradled against his chest as he let her cry out all her fear. He'd been right there, too, when Shawn had finally woken up and the whole family had swept him right up in their hug as if he belonged. The amazing thing was, he truly felt like he did. He felt like they were his family, too. He’d felt that same connection a year later when Annette had sat them all down at the table and told them she had cancer. He had been right next to Beth at that table as if he’d belonged there, and he’d been with her every moment he could be for the six months that followed; through Doctor’s visits and treatments, to the time Mrs. Greene was on bedrest and he and Beth had taken over cleaning the house and cooking dinner every night, right up until she had finally gotten better. He was right there next to Beth when they held their first ‘remission dinner’, an event that was repeated every year after that on the anniversary of the day Annette’s doctors had declared her cancer-free. Of course he’d been there. They were his family, and Beth was his… well. Beth was his everything. His best friend, his girlfriend, his partner-in-crime, his sunshine. Everything.

Which only made the thought of being separated from Beth that much worse. But Beth- sweet, observant, clever Beth- figured it out the way she always did. One day she just came into his room (some time over the last couple months it had become 'his' room and not just 'Shawn's room'), and plopped down onto his bed to stack neat piles of brochures across the bedspread. "So I was thinking, we should apply to these schools. All of them have great music programs and great agricultural programs. Which makes sense, I mean it's Georgia so a lot of schools have great agriculture programs. Works out well for you, which works out well for both of us, right?"

It had been a year ago that Daryl had decided he wanted to study agriculture. Next to Beth, the Greene family farm was the source of most of his happiness, and of course he just plain liked working there. With Shawn haring off on some plan to travel the world, and Maggie living in Atlanta with her boyfriend Glenn, Hershel had seemed more than happy to have Daryl- his ‘second son’, as he affectionately called him now- take on the family business. So he was gonna study agriculture and Beth, of course, was gonna study music. She’d known since she was in middle school that she wanted to study music; it had only been in the last few years that she’d decided she wanted to focus on teaching music to little kids.

That was how he’d always thought about it: Daryl, agriculture. Beth, music. Separate. And yet there she was sitting among a pile of college brochures and talking about ‘both of us’, so simply that all Daryl seemed capable of doing was to just sit in his desk chair and blink over at her in amazement and disbelief. "We?"

And she just smiled up at him, sweet as pie. "Yes, we. Did you think this was gonna go any other way?"

The funny thing was, looking at her right then, he couldn't see how he'd ever imagined it might be any different.

(Sometimes he really could be blind and silly.)

They ended up both getting into their top choice. Of course the big envelopes had been a giveaway, but they'd made a show of it anyway, running away with them to their favorite field and sitting amid the wildflowers to open the envelopes at the same time and read aloud:

"Bethany Greene, we are pleased to accept you-"
"Daryl Dixon, we are pleased to accept you-"

Their squeals (or hers, at least) had been enough to scare several crows out of the grass and into the sky but Daryl barely noticed when he had Beth Greene on top of him, pinning him beneath her and kissing him until neither of them could breathe.

When she pulled back and he looked up at her, a halo of blonde hair framed by a pristine blue sky that still couldn't hold a candle to her eyes, there was only one thing on his mind. Or five things, really. Five words that he breathed out as he brushed his fingers across her cheek, "I love you, Beth Greene."

He had a long list of the most beautiful sights he'd ever seen and every single one of them involved Beth. But the smile she gave him right then topped them all as she looked down at him and breathed right back, "I love you too, Daryl Dixon."

They had so much ahead of them, even just that night. Soon they'd have to go back and tell her parents (their family), and he knew they'd want to celebrate for the both of them. He looked forward to that just as he looked forward to graduating together, to heading off to college and the future ahead of them. It should have seemed daunting, but it didn't. Nothing seemed daunting when he knew he'd be experiencing it with Beth Greene right at his side and holding his hand.

But right now all he wanted to do was spend as long as he could just like this. With the wildflowers swaying in the breeze around them and the clear blue sky above them, and Beth Greene, his best friend and the only person he'd ever loved (the only person who'd ever loved him just as much) curled up on against his chest with her hand twined into his.