Author's Note: I want to apologize for completely abandoning my Caryl fics. I do plan on finishing most of them, starting with this one. But I have been focusing on McReedus fics for the most part. I'm writing them, but not publishing them. The only way to read them is through my private e-mail list. So if anyone is interested in reading my McReedus RPF please contact me at mcreedusfics at gmail . com (It won't allow me to type the email properly)

Thank you for your patience and understanding. If you're reading this after such a long break - I love you!

This one was essentially finished, ie the story I wanted to tell was told, but it just needed that last chapter to wrap it all up. It was important to me to finish this one before the show starts back. I hope you enjoy the conclusion. And again, thank you for your dedication. Lots of love!

The best year of his life had flown by and Daryl felt very nostalgic all of a sudden. He honestly didn't think he would ever get used to the normalcy of being a family with Carol and Sam but it happened far quicker and easier than he ever expected.

It took a bit longer for Carol, but not much. As painful as it was for her to be constantly around a child, with the reminders of the three she'd lost, it was also good for her. Sam helped her heal in a way that no one else could. He didn't have to do anything special, he just needed to be there to love her and be that person that Carol took care of.

But Sam was special. He had been through so many horrors in his short life and in a ridiculously short amount of time. Yet he overcame all the bad with happiness, gratitude and a big smile for the world. He would always grieve his family but Daryl knew that Sam was grateful and felt blessed for his new family.

They were all blessed. And they were all tested - often. The family life was normal, yes, but the world they were living in was not. Sam had every right to be scared when Daryl left on a run. He had every right to want the people he cared about to stay behind the walls. But they knew even the sanctuary of the safe zone could be compromised, which was why Daryl didn't like leaving them there without him anymore than Carol and Sam liked him going. He knew Carol could take care of herself and would protect Sam at any cost, but it still left him with a knot in his stomach until he returned to them.

Eugene had fixed up a couple of Walkie talkies and Daryl and Aaron could contact Alexandria in the case of an emergency. They tried to use them only when necessary but Daryl would never forget the one night that Carol and Sam contacted him. Sam had been having a really rough day and Daryl being away only made it worse. It had come at a time he really needed it too and it was hard not to hope it might happen again sometime, even if Aaron had teased him and called him Pookie for weeks. But Carol wouldn't contact him unless absolutely necessary, he knew that. But 5 days into their trip it would have been a very welcome luxury just to hear her and Sam's voices.

The next morning he got his wish - sort of. The walkie talkie crackled and a voice spoke to him. But it wasn't Carol or Sam, it was Rick. "Daryl, Aaron. Come back… quick. We need you…"

"Rick? What the hell is going on?" Daryl asked, already starting to pack up, giving Aaron a light kick to wake him.

"Gotta…. come…ba…" the walkie talkie crackled.

"Rick? RICK," Daryl yelled. "We're on the way. What's going on?" There were a couple more crackles and then nothing. "Fuck, we gotta go. Something is wrong," Daryl hissed. Aaron was already on his feet helping to pack things up. Within 15 minutes they were on the way, flying back towards Alexandria.

Daryl was terrified that something had happened to Carol or Sam… or some of the others. He had a huge knot in his stomach that tightened the closer they got to the safe zone. It was the longest two hour drive of his life. The bike was running on fumes but he didn't want to stop and take the time to gas it up. Luckily he made it to the gate with only a few sputters. Carl and Michonne let them in. "Where's Carol, what's going on?" he asked jumping off the bike and scanning the area. "What the hell…" he muttered, taking in the scene before him.

Carol and Sam came running with a smile, followed by Rosita, Tara and Olivia. Before either Daryl or Aaron had fully clued into what was going on the three ladies were dragging Aaron away. Something about getting him ready. It was pretty clear though, as he took in the scene laid out before him, that there was a party about to happen. No, not a party… a wedding.

The knot in his stomach had eased significantly but it was slowly being replaced with anger. "Eric and Aaron are getting married," Michonne announced.

"I fucking figured that out," Daryl snapped, feeling immediately guilty for the language with Sam standing right there. "You couldn't have told me that before I left? I could have made sure Aaron was back whenever you needed him."

"You would have told him," Sam piped up. "You aren't good at keeping secrets." Daryl turned his eyes on the little man that he was so happy to see. He wanted to be angry, but unfortunately Sam was right.

"I can keep secrets," Daryl grunted.

Sam rolled his eyes. "You told Carol about the birthday gift I made her."

"She was asking too many questions," Daryl shot back. He knew everyone was smirking at him. "Okay, fine. I can't keep secrets. But still… We were terrified…" His voice cracked and it made for an awkward moment in front of Michonne and Carl. She grabbed Carl's shoulder and led him off to give them a moment alone.

Carol and Sam both walked over and hugged him. "I'm sorry," Carol whispered. "But we're fine."

"I'm glad you're back," Sam added, squeezing him tightly. Daryl never thought he would be standing out in the open allowing himself to be hugged, and hugging them back just as desperately.

"Come on," Carol said, pulling back. "The ceremony is in two hours. We need to get ready… and you definitely need a shower," she teased him.

Two hours later they were watching Aaron and Eric exchange their vows in the middle of the little town. Some were dressed up, others weren't. But it didn't matter - they were all there. Aaron and Eric were both in suits and looked deliriously happy. Daryl really hadn't been to many weddings but he was quite sure this would be the best one he ever attended.

He was right. The ceremony was beautiful and had even made him tear up, which he tried unsuccessfully to hide from Carol. The food was incredible and he was sure that Carol had likely made most of it which made it even better to him. When it got dark they lit candles all over the place and the dancing and fun started. There was alcohol, a lot of it. Clearly the stores of booze in Alexandria were vast. Daryl drank a bit of whiskey and Carol had a couple beers, but they left plenty for the others. Neither of them had any desire to get wasted.

Rick was a write off. Thankfully Michonne wasn't drinking at all so she would make sure he got home safely and likely take on the policing duties for the evening. Abe and Glenn seemed to be having some sort of drinking competition that clearly was not going to end well for Rhee. But the best part of it all… everyone was happy and it felt like real life. It felt normal.

"You look beautiful," Daryl whispered to Carol when they took a seat alone, off in the background of the festivities. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner." When he first saw Carol in the yellow sundress he'd been too stunned to speak and the next thing he knew they were gathering up Sam and rushing off to the ceremony. She looked incredible. He'd never seen her in a dress before and everytime he looked at her he fought back the arousal that stirred inside him.

"Thank you," she replied, moving closer and slipping her hand into his. They silently watched the scene before them for a few minutes.

Finally Daryl spoke up. "So, uh, do you think you might like to do this someday?" Daryl asked softly. He had never imagined getting married even when the world was normal, but he didn't know Carol back then. If she wanted a wedding he wanted to give it to her.

"Is that your way of proposing?" She teased. Daryl knew she was joking but his cheeks still flushed. "Nah, I'm never getting married again... Um, I mean, unless it's something you want?" She changed her tune quickly, clearly worried she'd offended him.

Daryl shook his head. "It's not the getting married part... It's just..." He hesitated unsure of whether he wanted to admit something petty. "It's always bugged me that your last name is still Peletier." He blurted it out and blushed immediately. He knew it was stupid but it bothered him that Carol was his now and she still used Ed's name.

"Then Carol Dixon it is," she replied easily.

"What? Just like that?" Daryl eyed her, somewhat shocked.

"Look, I get it. Ed was an asshole. We don't need any reminder of him in our lives. But we don't have to get married to change my name. We're practically married anyway," she added with a smile, kissing him softly.

"Carol Dixon," he repeated after they parted. "Yeah?" He looked at her again for confirmation and she nodded. "I like it."

"Me too," she said with a beautiful smile. Daryl was about to kiss her again when someone jumped out from behind them.

"Sam Dixon," the voice said excitedly. "I want to change my last name too. I want to be a Dixon."

"Sam," Carol said in her best mom tone. "How long have you been there listening to us?"

"A while," he admitted with a grin and a shrug. "You taught me to never interrupt when others were talking."

Daryl gave her a half smile. "Kid has a point," he said.

Carol glared at them both, but couldn't hold back her own grin. "So you want to be a Dixon, huh?" She said to Sam.

"Yep, my dad was an asshole too. I don't need his name," Sam replied eagerly. Daryl was way too happy to warn Sam about his language. "So can I? Can we change my name? Please?" He pleaded.

Daryl looked at Carol and she gave a little nod. "Of course we can," Daryl replied, feeling that swelling of pride fill his chest like he often did when Sam was around.

Sam was beaming and talking very fast in his excitement. "So we're a real family now with the same name and everything. Does that mean I can finally call you mom and dad?"

Daryl was startled by the question and looked immediately to Carol to answer. If it were up to him Sam could have called them mom and dad months ago. "Well um... I guess this might be a good time to start," Carol got out, though she looked a bit teary eyed and Daryl wasn't quite sure what to make of the tears.

"Ok great," Sam beamed. Clearly he wasn't picking up on any of Carol's non verbal cues like Daryl was. "So mom," he looked at Carol. "And Dad..." Sam smiled at him. "A bunch of the older kids are going back to Carl's to play video games and they asked if I want to come. Can you believe it? They never ask me but tonight they did. I know it's late but can I go? For a little while? Please?" Somehow he managed to get all that out in a single breath.

Truth was, it was way past Sam's bedtime. And ordinarily they didn't budge much on that. But tonight was a special night for many reasons. Daryl didn't even look at Carol for confirmation. "You got an hour. See you at home," he said, watching Sam take off as if they might change their mind yelling "thank you" behind him.

It wasn't until Sam was gone that he risked a glance at Carol hoping she wasn't mad. She wasn't mad but she was crying. "Hey, you ok? Talk to me," Daryl said gently.

"Oh," Carol sighed, brushing away the tears and smiling. "It's just been a long time since I've been called mom other than a few slips. But this is the real thing. We're parents Daryl. We have a child. He's really ours."

"He's been ours since the second his ma died," Daryl said gently. It was the truth. Looking back they both knew it. Their little family had been destined to happen, even though it took far too much tragedy to get there.

Carol nodded silently and leaned against him. They watched the others dance for a bit and then headed home to take advantage of the alone time they'd been given with Sam off playing video games. They made love like they hadn't seen each other in months, rather than only a few days. It was passionate and even desperate at times, like they just couldn't get enough of each other. It was true for Daryl. He could never get enough of her - not for as long as they both breathed.

The next morning the three of them went to visit Deanna. There was a bound book in her office, a list that she kept of every member of the community. It had their full names and their date of birth. And for some, far too many, the date they died.

Coincidentally, Daryl and Carol's names had been the last two names at the bottom of a page, one right after another. With a smile Deanna added Sam in the little space at the bottom of the page so all three of them would be together. Then she crossed out Peletier and wrote Dixon above it.

She turned it towards them and the three of them looked at it. Daryl Dixon. Carol Dixon. Sam Dixon. One right after the other. It was perfect. "Thank you for your help ma'am," Sam piped up. "I think my mom is gonna bake you some cookies now, right?" He looked hopefully at Carol.

She cocked her head to the side. "Actually I was thinking of a tuna casserole."

"Oh gross," Sam commented. "Cookies are better. I think she'll like cookies, right Ma'am?"

"Get outta here goof," Daryl said, giving Sam a playful shove. They all knew that Sam just wanted to sample Deanna's batch of cookies. Daryl also knew that Carol would bake those cookies and a second batch for her boys. He was very much looking forward to that.

He looked at the page again and felt his chest inflate with pride. Daryl had never believed he would have a family, but he did and they were perfect. The story of us, Daryl thought. Us, he repeated in his mind. It wasn't just 'me' anymore. He would never be alone again. Us was forever - however long or short that may be…