And that's a wrap. I am more relieved than you could ever guess that I was even able to bring myself to reading over this and trying to finish it. But I get how frustrating it is when someone starts a story, you get invested, and then they shelve it, so I had to at least try. Starting a story is a lot easier than finishing one. Huge thanks to all of you that hung in there. Even the ones that nagged the hell out of me, because I obviously needed it. In reality, this story could keep going for God knows how long but there is no way in hell I am taking it any further than this. I know some of you will be disappointed in the way it ended up I really did try! I swear I did! Again, thanks for the reads and such. Much appreciated.

Epilogue

The school year ended with all the flair one would expect. Someone was blaring Alice Cooper's Schools Out and there was much celebrating going on around them. Papers being strewn throughout the hallways, laughing, yelling, rough housing. Lockers slamming shut with the sound of a shotgun blast. Even Daryl couldn't help but grin as they made their way down the hallway for the last time.

Well, for the last time until September rolled around anyway. But that okay because September may as well have been ten years from now. The summer stretched out before them like a long stretch of highway and it was going to be a good one.

"Party at Dixon's place, people!" Shane Walsh yelled at the top of his lungs, his arm going around Carol's shoulders. "Bring your own stash!"

The roar of cheers from the kids close enough to hear Shane's big mouth was nearly deafening. Apparently it was rumored that no one could throw a party like the Dixon clan. Daryl wanted to tell them that he hadn't had a damn thing to do with that last fiasco, and just remembering the trouble that he'd gotten into once Buck came home and found him and Carol had him groaning.

Merle had even called him just this morning before they had left for school and told him that it would be a good idea to throw one last great bash while they had the chance. But then again, Merle would. Sometimes it seemed like Merle was the younger brother and Daryl was the one that had to do the looking out.

They followed the flow of people out the doors and into the hot afternoon sunshine. "Walsh, I swear if eighty people show up again, I'm killin' you," Daryl grumbled, leaning in a little so he could be heard over the chaos around them.

"You're a legend because of that party, Dixon. That party put us at the top of the chain, man," Shane said with an easy grin. He moved his arm from around Carol and then gave her a gentle shove towards him.

Daryl rolled his eyes, catching Carol before she could topple over, and then scanned the yard. He laughed out loud when he realized that it was T-dog that was blaring the Alice Cooper but he wasn't really surprised. Everyone else was already standing near his truck. He couldn't believe he had let these assholes talk him into having another party. Especially after that last one ended so fucking horribly, but he'd be a liar if he said he wasn't looking forward to it this time.

Carol looked up, her eyes bright and excited. "Buck and Karen won't be back for another five days, Daryl. Jo is with Andrea and Merle. Stop being so paranoid," she said right before she was nearly ran over by an over exuberant Sasha.

Daryl just shook his head when Sasha looked up at him. "She's right. Stop being a square, Dixon!"

Maybe they were right. They would have the house to themselves for another five days, it was the last day of a really fucked up school year, and he wasn't as antisocial as he had been. He actually enjoyed hanging out with all their misfit friends.

Merle and Andrea had moved out a few months ago. They were still always at the house because they didn't live a half mile away. Their house was small but pretty damn nice and they seemed to like the privacy but it was odd having them living away from the rest of them. The house just felt a little empty when they weren't there.

He missed his brother and Carol missed Andrea, but he supposed it had been time for them to move out.

"Okay. I'll stop bitchin' about the party that you all planned at my damn house," he said grudgingly. "But if my dad shows up, I'm sneakin' out and tellin' him it was all you guys. I wasn't even home. You know my brother will back me too."

Michonne smiled at that. "I ain't scared of your dad. My aunt tells me he's more bark than bite."

"Where the hell is your old man, anyway?" Shane asked, finally looking a little nervous. His bravado only went so far. Usually at the first mention of Buck it dried up kind of fast.

Carol chirped in then. "Him and Karen tied the knot. Buck's brother owns some property in the Keys and offered to let them use it for a few weeks. So me and Daryl have another five days of freedom and I plan on taking advantage of it."

Everyone looked pretty impressed with that and then Shane's shit eating grin returned. "So it's settled?"

Daryl shrugged. "Fuck it."

Another round of cheers drowned out the last notes of the song screaming from T-dogs truck.

Daryl and Carol headed to Karen's car, the car that she loaned him all the time and the car that she had handed him the keys to before her and Buck left on their trip. She'd smiled and told him to be careful and that was that.

"Are you excited?" She asked.

He glanced over at her and shrugged. "About the party?"

She nodded, trying, and failing, to hide a grin.

"I guess so. I'm more excited about getting you drunk again though," he deadpanned, starting the car and backing out.

She laughed at that but from the corner of his eye he could see the blush on her face. By the time he pulled out onto the street he had one to match, remembering that last party and everything they had done that night. Not that there would be a repeat of that. He wasn't going anywhere near Buck's room, that was for damn sure.

He kept glancing over at her but she looked to be deep in thought so he didn't say anything, not until they got all the way into the house and he closed the door behind them. "You having second thoughts?" He asked, almost hoping she wasn't. He hated to admit it but he was looking forward to cutting loose a little bit.

She turned and smiled. "Of course not. I was just thinking. This year has been... I can't even explain it."

The corner of his mouth turned up. "Yeah. Pretty fuckin' crazy. I already know." He followed her to his room where she threw her bag into the corner and then flopped down on the bed.

She crossed her arms under her head and stared up at the ceiling. "Andrea and I lived in a car. We starved most of the time and neither one of us really believed that we would make it out of Atlanta alive. It was bad."

He moved in next to her. "I know. But you did." She had told him horror stories about their life before Merle had found them in that alley.

She grinned and then shifted so she could grab his hand with her own. "We did." Her smile faded. "But here lately I can't help but think about how things were. If you think about it, it was nothing but dumb luck that Merle happened to be walking past right when Andrea was running from that guy. You know, if he would have been just a few seconds later, the two of them never would have collided, she wouldn't have stolen his wallet and then me and her both would likely be dead by now. At the rate we were going, it would have happened and I know it."

He thought about that for a moment, his brows coming down in a frown. The thought of never having met her wasn't really something that he had put much thought into, but she was right. It was either dumb luck or sheer fate that brought her and Andrea out to that cabin that day.

Her hand tightened in his and he turned his head to look at her. Her eyes were clear and the smile was back. "You're the best thing that's ever happened to me."

He smiled at that. "It goes both ways."

~H~

"Should we call and tell them we're coming home early?" Karen asked as she shoved the rest of her clothes into her suitcase.

Buck shrugged. "I told Merle this morning. He'll tell them. Knowing them they won't be home tonight anyway. Last day of school and you know they were invited to every damn party the rest of those kids are gonna be throwing."

Karen grinned at that. "Maybe they'll throw one of their own."

He zipped up his suitcase and shook his head. "Not those two. That last one was a fluke. That was all Merle's doin'. He admitted as much. Daryl and Carol are too mature to pull off a party like that on their own."

Karen made a face. "Well, just in case, I really hope they stay the hell out of our room."

He grimaced. "Don't remind me."

She shrugged. "You're right, though. The two of them are like two responsible adults. They even offered to keep Jo instead of leaving her at Merle and Andrea's. If they had anything up their sleeve then surely they wouldn't have offered. But just in case, may I suggest taking it easy on them?"

He started getting a strange feeling in the pit of his stomach the more she talked. He glanced at the phone but then shook his head. They would be home by tomorrow morning. Surely the two of them were minding themselves.

"Besides," Karen went on, hauling her suitcase off the bed, "You called Merle this morning and he would warn them against a party to keep them from getting busted."

He laughed. "No he wouldn't. Knowin' Merle, he's tried to talk them into throwin' one. They're too smart to take the bait though."

She hummed her agreement and then looked up at him, hands on her hips. "Well, we have a hell of a drive ahead of us. You ready?"

He kissed her quickly and then grabbed both their suitcases, heading for the door. He had a nagging suspicion that, just like last time he had left, things were going to be a mess when he got home. Even if he tried like hell to tell himself that they wouldn't.

He smiled slightly as he loaded up the car. Karen gave him a questioning look but he just shook his head.

"What?" She asked when he slid in behind the wheel.

He chuckled. "I've changed my mind. When we get there in the mornin' the place is gonna be wrecked and they'll be drunk teenagers passed out in the yard."

She raised her brows. "And this is funny?"

He shook his head, the smile lingering on his face. That was happening lot here lately. "If you'd met either of them back in Atlanta, you'd think it was somethin' to smile about too. Both of them quiet, withdrawn, jumping at every damn sound. Both of them were wrecks in their own way. Now I gotta worry about them pulling some shit any time I leave the house."

"You came along and saved them," she said firmly.

He sighed. "I'd like to think so. I really would. But I didn't have a damn thing to do with it. Whatever was broken in them two kids, wasn't somethin' I could ever fix. Those two, they fixed each other. Didn't anybody else play a hand in it but them."