This is slightly disjointed, and kind of like a ramble. But I like how it turned out. Read ahead, but beware of spoilers and language.
Disclaimer: I don't own The Walking Dead TV show or the comics.
In the zombie apocalypse, no one is the same as who they were. Decent people become selfish, looking out for themselves before anyone else. They turn in their own way, different from the turns that are so commonplace in this new world, but almost as destructive. A stable man, who never even would have stolen a pack of gum from the grocery store before shit hit the fan, becomes a murderer of both the living and the dead. A woman, so excited after the birth of her child back when everything was normal, ends up leaving the child behind as she runs for her own life. In the beginning, some were able to retain who they were. They held onto their goodness, their humanity. Others enhanced what they did before, trading in afternoons of golfing with the guys for clubbing zombies to death. Everyone changed.
Some changes were better than others, however. The lone wolf who learned to become part of the pack. The wallflower who found that if she let things out she would feel better, would be part of something instead of on the outside looking in. The new families that formed after the old were ripped apart. Change is a natural part of nature. Winter turns to Spring, Spring to Summer, Summer to Fall, and Fall turns again to Winter, before the cycle repeats again. A caterpillar turns into a butterfly, a puppy turns into a dog, and a body turns into dust. Change is necessary. Change is normal.
He was a redneck hillbilly who never had a decent home to call his own. A man who was hurt by those who should only have cared about him. A man who relied on an older brother who frankly, wasn't always there for him.
She was a spoiled farm girl who was always the pretty baby of the family, and who was always protected from the harsh realities of life. Until she wasn't. Until she couldn't be protected anymore.
They met under the worst circumstances. One kid shot, another missing. Secrets rampaged through the too-small farm, exploding and twisting and making their own path, not caring who they touched or who they hurt.
Both of them felt the pain of loss on the farm. When the walkers spilled out of that barn, she watched as he collapsed to the ground after finally finding the little girl. The missing girl. The girl he tried so hard to protect. She, she was grieving the death of her mother, the woman who raised her, the woman whose cold hands used to chill a fever and make everything all right. They both felt pain. They handled it differently.
He reverted back into the same jackass he had always been. It was what he was comfortable with. He wasn't ready to change, he wasn't ready to deny who he had been to become what the people he was with wanted him to be. He was Daryl Dixon. He was indestructible. He shouldn't have gotten involved anyways. It only caused trouble.
She handled things differently. She collapsed in on herself like a building full of dynamite. She wanted escape, craved it, dreamed of it in her sleep. Of course everyone else had to get involved. No one would let her take her escape, wouldn't allow her to choose her own path. They were still trying to protect her. Take care of innocent Beth. Only this time they were trying to protect her from herself. She was the only one who could save herself that time, and she did. She didn't cut deep enough. She chose life. She did it by herself. That is when the change in her really began.
He started changing when he began to look for Sophia. He changed even more when he decided to become a true part of Rick's group. He became someone people could rely on, someone people could count on. A man with a purpose. A man who was needed.
She became needed in a different way. She ended up being the mother figure to a young child. She was a peacekeeper who would shoot off a gun if necessary to stop people from arguing. She became the girl who hated goodbyes, who stopped feeling emotions, who hid everything under the shell of a happy teenage girl, despite the wasteland that was her life. She became, in a way, selfless. In another way, self-destructive.
When Merle came back, Daryl began to revert into who he was before. He left his family by circumstance to join his family by blood. He revealed the scars, physical and emotional, to the brother who spent more time in juvie during Daryl's childhood than actually at home. The older brother who escaped and left the younger at the hands of a bastard of a father who didn't give a shit about anything except his next drink. When Merle died, all that was forgotten. Daryl broke down, crying by the edge of a building after he stabbed the shell of his imperfect brother, a man who died trying to earn his merit. Trying to prove he wasn't the ass everyone thought he was. No one but Daryl would really miss him.
In the prison, Beth began to date a boy she didn't really care about in order to feel alive. It worked, a little bit. She forgot about Jimmy, she forgot about her life before everything went crazy, even if it was just for an instant. Then Zach was gone, and she remembered. She couldn't care. She didn't really, not that much. Zach was nice, he was sweet, and he had soft lips. But he couldn't mend the rip in her. And maybe it was good he was gone. It proved she didn't cry anymore.
After Rick backed down, Daryl ended up being part of the council. He went from a man that most didn't seem to think belonged to a man who held a position of authority. He went on raids, he provided food, and he became a hero to many people from the prison. A hero who wore a torn leather vest and carried a crossbow. Beats tights and a cape.
Even in the prison, she was protected. She was sent into quarantine with the children when the outbreak hit, even though she was likely eighteen by then and left childhood behind long ago. She sat in a room singing songs to a baby who wasn't even hers and trying to help keep everything calm. To an extent, she understood. Everyone has their job to do. She told herself that all the time. It was the only way to keep calm.
When the governor attacked, Daryl was on the frontlines. He was fighting for his home, for his people. He wasn't going to let the governor take something else that he cared about from him. These people were his family. He was going to protect them. No matter the cost.
The cost was huge. The prison fell, and many died. He and she escaped together. They ran, and they ran far, away from the prison that protected them and those they cared about for months. They escaped, but they didn't know who else did. Her father sure didn't.
He ended up reverting again, taking himself mentally away from the only person he had left. Honestly, he didn't think the blonde haired princess could make it in the big scary world by herself, with only a wolf in sheep's clothing to rely on. He was an outdoor cat who tried to live in an indoor world. He thought she was the opposite. He was mistaken.
She called him out on his shit. She rampaged through the woods and didn't give a crap if he came with her or not. She had to see if the others had made it, had to know for herself. And then she decided she had to have a drink. She didn't need protecting. She felt she could protect herself, and she might have been able to. But he became curious, and he felt responsible for her. He wouldn't leave her on her own.
After they burned the cabin down, after their fight and their yelling and their chaos, he realized that he was treating her like everyone else had. She wasn't something that needed protecting, she was someone who could carry her own weight. So he began to teach her, to give her the skills no one else thought she needed to learn. Everyone else seemed to assume that the girl would always have someone else to care for her. But she wouldn't allow that, she was tired of others protecting her. She was stubborn. So he taught her to track, and how to shoot a crossbow. He also taught her more effective ways to kill the walkers.
She taught him how to lighten up. How to allow someone to get close, how to hug and hold hands and just be with a person, without awkwardness or self-consciousness. She sang for him, him alone, and she taught him that there were still good people in this hell-hole of a world. And then she was gone, like the last wisp of a fire in the dawn of morning.
After Beth, he went back to who he was, went back to the default setting that got him through life before the apocalypse. He met guys like him, guys who taught him that who he was wasn't so bad. That he just had to embrace it and follow a couple of rules. That he was meant for this world, and that this world and everything in it was his for the taking.
When he found Rick, Michonne, and Carl, he had no clue how to put everything that had happened in the weeks following the prison into words. He told Rick that he escaped with Beth, but he didn't tell him everything that happened. That was between him and her. She was gone, but she wasn't necessarily dead. He still had hope.
Overall, when the world ended Daryl Dixon changed from an ignorant jackass into a decent man that a cop who would have arrested him in the past now called a brother. He went back and forth frequently, yo-yoing from his past to the new man, but when it counted he did what was right. He was a good man. He was a changed man. He had the apocalypse to blame for that.
Beth Greene changed from an innocent farm girl into a headstrong woman who wouldn't let anyone get in the way of what she wanted. When she escaped with Daryl, she finally let a part of herself out that no one else got to see. She yelled, she screamed, and she broke the mold she hid in for so long. Her own sister probably wouldn't even recognize that part of her.
Change is a part of nature. Humans change in many ways, whether it be by circumstances, time, or other people. This is a story of two unlikely people who went through changes together and apart. This is a story of change.