A/N: So this is it! The last chapter. Thank you so much for sticking with me! Special thanks to arrowsandangels. You are amazing! This has been a journey for me, one I hate to see end. I'm sure the majority of you reading this are also writers. You know what it's like to pour your heart and soul into a story, and how scary it can be to put it out there for anyone and everyone to see. I so appreciate you reading and reviewing!
Chpt 20: Full Circle
"Hey," Daryl called quietly to Rick from across his desk.
Rick's head popped up, eyes abandoning the file he was reading. He frowned at Daryl expectantly.
"Wanna' show you somethin'," Daryl half mumbled.
"A'right," Rick said, curiosity written all over his face.
Daryl opened the top drawer of his desk and peaked at Rick through his bangs. Rick circled the desk and burst into a wide grin when he saw the black velvet box perched in Daryl's hand. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Open it," Daryl grumbled and held the box out for his closest friend to inspect.
"You know I'm already married, right." Rick teased.
Daryl scowled at his partner. "Dumbass," and promptly started chewing on his thumbnail when Rick opened the box and whistled his approval.
"You pick this out yourself?'
"Mmmhm," he said, wide eyes bouncing back and forth between Rick and the ring. "Think she'll like it?"
Rick smirked at his typically stoic partner standing there anxiously awaiting Rick's two cents on the matter. "She'll love it, brother. You did good," he said and handed the box back to Daryl.
"Hmmm," Daryl mumbled and studied the single solitaire shining back at him.
"Hey, what's up," Michonne asked as she joined the men at Daryl's desk. Daryl clamped his hand over the box and tucked it behind his back. Michonne looked back and forth between the two men and frowned. "What's that behind your back there, Detective?"
Daryl glared at her, but Michonne merely lifted her eyebrows expecting an answer.
"Damn it," he said and deposited the box in the middle of his desk.
Michonne reached for it immediately, snatching it up and popping the lid. She gasped and one hand floated to her chest. "Daryl it's gorgeous," she approved emphatically.
Daryl couldn't help the upturn of his lips at her reaction. "Yeah?"
Michonne drug her eyes from the ¾ karat, princess cut diamond to Daryl's. "Oh, yeah. She's gonna' love it." She passed the box back to a suddenly shy Daryl, nodding and smiling her approval. "When are you gonna' ask her?"
"This weekend. We're goin' campin."
"Smart move." Rick said. "Drop her in the middle of the woods so she can't run away. Got no choice but to say 'yes' then."
"You're funny, huh. Shut the hell up."
Rick clapped his friend and brother on the back. "I'm happy for ya', man."
"She gotta' say yes first."
"She will. No worries there."
Daryl sat and studied the ring intently, a thing he'd been doing a lot of in the last couple of weeks. He'd almost been caught twice already, but damn if he didn't get lost in the thought of asking Beth to marry him and thinking about her saying yes… or maybe no. A part of him just couldn't fathom a girl like Beth ever wanting to marry a dumbass like him. But each time he found his thoughts headed in that direction, his doubts were drowned out by the melodic sound of her "I love you's". He would picture that sweet, burn him to the ground smile of hers, and he knew she would never lie to him. He didn't understand it, but who was he to question it.
Tent set up and secured, Daryl turned his attention to Beth. He watched her gently blowing on the small flame, spreading it through the brush and wood in the fire pit she built. "How ya' makin' it?"
"I'm good," she said and sat back on her heals satisfied with the growth of the fire. "You've never brought me here before. You know this place?"
Daryl squatted down beside her. "Yeah. Me and Merle used to camp here. Long time ago, 'for things between us went to shit."
"That was the drugs. You know that, right," she asked and turned toward him, eyes shining.
Daryl nodded. "Yeah. I don't really miss him anymore. Not like I used ta'. I think maybe I missed him more when he was alive than I did after he died." Beth nodded, and Daryl knew she understood. He reached for her, it was automatic now, and ran his fingers the length of her hair. She smiled up at him sweetly and warmth, independent of the fire in front of them, settled in his heart. With a certain burst of energy, Daryl popped up off of the ground and offered an outstretched hand to Beth. "Come on. Somethin' I wanna' show ya."
Daryl guided her up a small ridge and into a clearing, the woods fading behind them. The sun was just making its way over the horizon leaving behind a painted trail of oranges, blues, and purples across an otherwise clear Georgia sky. Beth could see the Chatahoochee racing a hundred feet or more below the plateau where they stood, fingers laced together as they most often were these days. "Daryl, it's beautiful," she whispered. "Why haven't you brought me here before," she asked dragging her eyes from the sky to him.
Daryl had his hands shoved in his pockets and he looked… nervous? Beth frowned at the notion of a nervous Daryl, but before she could ask him what was wrong, he shrugged and said, "Guess I was savin' it."
Beth tilted her head and patiently waited for an explanation.
Daryl turned toward her, squaring himself in front of her and drawing in a breath. He pulled the little box from his pocket and placed it gently in the palm of her hand. "I want ya' to have this. It's a promise, from me to you." Beth's eyes shot from the box to his. They were as blue and wide as he had ever seen them. "I promise to spend the rest a' forever doin' whatever I can to make ya' happy. You're everythin' to me, Beth. I promise to take care of ya' and to let you take care a' me. I'm always gonna' love ya'. Reckon I always have." A single tear escaped Beth's eye and wound its way down her cheek. Daryl swiped at it with his thumb, and settled his hand behind her neck gently pulling her forward and pressing his forehead to hers. "Will ya' marry me, Beth?"
A nervous giggle bubbled from her throat, and Beth started nodding her head before she could even speak. Tears bathed their joined hands and Daryl honestly wasn't sure if they were hers or his. He took the smallest step back and opened the delicate little box perched in Beth's trembling hand. The softest hiccup escaped Beth's lips when Daryl slipped his promise onto her finger. She launched herself into his arms, Daryl catching her easily and snugging her tightly to his chest. Beth whispered in his ear. "I love you, Daryl Dixon, and there is nothin' I want more than to be your wife."
"Looks like your gonna' need a new journal," Daryl said as he settled in next to her by the fire. Beth had been writing since dinner, a smile firmly planted on her sweet face, while Daryl cleaned up their mess and double checked the tent.
"No, this is the last entry. I don't need it anymore."
"Yeah," she said on a sigh. "Would you mind if I read you a few entries?"
"You sure?" he asked. She had been writing in that journal since she was released from the hospital. When she told him that the therapist she had been assigned to by the bureau had suggested she keep a journal, he had rushed right out and bought her one. It was constructed from soft leather, plain, with a single decorative stitch running up the spine. He would see her sometimes writing in it furiously, tongue just visible at the corner of her mouth, tears streaming down her face. That was especially true in the beginning. Other times he would catch her smiling and relaxed as she wrote. Sometimes she would crawl out from behind the pages and peak at him with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin that made him squirm, but never had she offered to share.
When she nodded, he scooted behind her and leaned against the log, pulling Beth against his chest. She cleared her throat and drew in a deep steadying breath.
Where to start? Dr. Morgan insists that a journal will aid in my recovery, my mental recovery that is, but I haven't kept a diary since I was little. I understand the theory behind writing everything down, and I really like Dr. Morgan, so I promised him that I would give it a try. Poor Daryl. He's ben amazing. My aunt and uncle left yesterday. They stayed here at the house for a week, sleeping upstairs in the spare bedroom. They told Daryl that they would be fine in a hotel (Daddy having only the one bed in his little cabin-like home), but my hero insisted. For now, I'm stuck down here in Daryl's room, by myself I might add. My foot is healing where Bull sliced it open. It was infected so the surgeon had to debride it and let it heal on its own without stitches. Daryl has been doing the bandage changes because it still hurts too badly to bend and do it myself. My left hand is useless right now anyway. Bull had me hanging on a hook by my wrists, like a piece of meat. Evil bastard. It isn't broken, but it's badly sprained and it hurts. What doesn't hurt right now? Surprisingly, the answer to that question is my ankle. The doctor said it snapped back in place like a Lego. This big stupid cast is a pain, but it doesn't hurt. The jagged cut across my ribs and down my side is healing well too. The surgical incision down my middle is straight, almost artful in comparison. The stitches from both pull, and my ribs hurt worse than anything, but I'm alive. Nine days in the hospital. I thought I would lose my mind after the first four. I would have if it wasn't for Daryl. Guess it's safe to say that he has seen me at my absolute worst. The ugliness seems to cling to me sometimes. I especially hate the cut across my cheek, but Daryl says its "badass". I couldn't do this without him. I don't want to do anything without him.
Daryl sat perfectly still thinking on the words she just shared while Beth flipped to the next dog-eared entry. He still found it hard to breathe when he thought back to those horrific days without her. The first few days after her rescue weren't much better, but his girl was tough, and she had the scars to prove it.
Went in to work today. It was a little awkward to say the least. Even Hines kept his snide remarks to a minimum. Agent Blake was arraigned a few weeks ago. His wife posted bail, and promptly filed for divorce. Aside from that, no one has heard anything from him. Don't expect that anyone will either.
Came home after lunch, exhausted, but I feel like writing. Seeing Hines today forced me to think about Gareth's death. He bragged about the single shot that ended Gareth and Nana's life. All I could do was thank him for being a part of my rescue. How could I tell him that a small part of me will always hate him for what he did while a bigger part of me will always be grateful? I've been actively avoiding that train of thought since it happened. I have forgiven myself for wanting him to die, wanting a part of him to die anyway. I wanted Bull to die. I can admit that. I wanted him to die a slow and painful death full of unimaginable suffering. I wanted him to feel what I felt, what all of those women suffered before he killed them. The paralyzing fear and overwhelming helplessness that all twenty-two women felt at his hand. Twenty-two women. That is such a small number when applied to most things, but not when referencing death. Twenty-two. One man. That's huge. The thing I struggle with the most is that, in wishing for Bull's death, I was also damning Gareth, Gareth who remained scared and innocent till the end. He was weak and insignificant in this world, abandoned at three, barely a blip on anybody's radar. The only man that maybe could have helped chose instead to send money. Monetary penance that actually cost him very little in the grand scheme of things. It certainly did nothing to help Gareth. Poor Gareth, forced to create Nana in order to have someone in his life that cared. It is because of Nana, at least in part, that I did not die. Add Gareth and Nana to the list of victims and the number grows to twenty-four. That's unfathomable. I will carry that number in my heart, always, but I will not let it destroy me.
Beth swiped at her eyes and leaned harder into Daryl. He ran his hands up and down her arms, squeezing once in support.
Today was particularly bad. Dr. Morgan and I have talked about my fear and my anger. We've beat it to death actually. I think I'm good. At least I thought I was until today. He asked me why I'm sad. I told him that I wasn't sad. How could I possibly be sad? I'm alive. I'm loved. I'm healing. I'm also a liar. Gareth's death affected me. Nana's death affected me. I don't know that Gareth could have been helped. Perhaps his life ended the way it was supposed to, quickly and without pain. There is some measure of blessing in that, I know. Perhaps I am mourning for his life, for the emptiness, rather than his death. The sadness that I feel will fade. I know this because I have been here before. I carry a scar that daily reminds me that this too shall pass.
Daryl surprised me today with my mother's piano. I wish that I could tell him how much it means to me to have it here. I wish that I could tell him how much he means to me, but there are no words. The simple truth of the matter is, I don't think my heart could beat without him at this point.
We went out with the team last night. It was Michonne's birthday. We went to JP's Downtown. Nothing says happy birthday like bar food. It was delicious, everything fried and dipped in ranch. Mel and the Party Hats were playing. Best cover band ever! Daryl and I danced, well as much as I could dance with this big ol' boot on my leg. They covered "Free" by the Zac Brown Band and as corny as it sounds (my only excuse is that I am hopelessly in love), I felt completely free cocooned in his arms. How can one feel so free when one is wrapped up so tightly that breathing becomes an issue? I don't know, but I did. I do. I whispered in his ear, "I love you." He smirked (I do love that barely there smirk of his) and whispered back, "I know." That's sort of our thing now. One of us says "I love you" and the other says "I know". It's good to have a thing. Daryl's snarky, unexpected humor is just one of the many reasons that I fell in love with him. I wish he could see what I see when I look at him. He fills my soul to bursting with the way he loves me. I had hoped that he might stay downstairs with me tonight, but no such luck. When he kissed me goodnight, I did everything I could to keep him down here with me, but his resolve is unwavering. Stubborn cuss! He won't lay a hand on me until I get my medical release. Thank goodness I see my surgeon in three days.
Beth felt as much as she heard the amused rumble that shook his chest. "Took a lot a' damn cold showers back then"
I hesitated before entering the apartment. I tried so hard not to, but my feet felt like lead, and I started to shake. Daryl went in ahead of me flipping on lights and clearing each room. I made it into the living room by the time he finished. There were no signs of a struggle, no evidence that anyone uninvited had been in the apartment. I didn't even realize that I was crying until Daryl wiped a tear away with his thumb and pulled me protectively to him. He said he would stay either in my bed or on the couch, whichever I preferred, but he wasn't leaving, not tonight. I think I may have argued, but only half-heartedly at best. To be honest, the thought of being alone was terrifying. I closed the bathroom door and locked it, a new habit for me. It used to be that I never even closed the door. I suppose a large part of my innocence is gone now. As much bad as I have seen in the world, I think I still maintained a certain level of naiveté when it came to my own life. Not any more. After my shower, I opened the door to find Daryl sitting on the floor across the hall. He stood and waited for me to take the lead. I know that wasn't easy for him. I held my hand out and let him pull me to him. He tucked me in, told me he loved me, and backed away. I squeezed his hand trying desperately to reassure us both. I tossed and turned for hours, finally drifting into an uneasy sleep. My nightmare pulled Daryl from the couch and down the hall to my room. He stayed with me, held me close, and I finally slept. I tried again the next night, but Bull was there to greet me again. This time, however, I didn't wake up screaming. It's an improvement.
No nightmares, not since the third night back in my apartment. My dreams are still sometimes scary, but they are only dreams, not the gripping nightmares that plagued my sleep in the months that followed the attack. Daryl and I had dinner out tonight. He asked me to come home with him, to stay. He said he can't sleep without me. Tomorrow I will go and talk to my landlord. We made love tonight, downstairs in Daryl's bed, our bed. It was slow and languid, familiar and all consuming. Daryl fell asleep quickly, wrapped tightly around me. It's late and I'm spent, but sleep eludes me for all the right reasons. I look at Daryl sleeping soundly next to me and I wonder how I ever took a breath without him. I am not well yet, but I am whole with him beside me. And isn't that the greatest blessing that love affords?
Beth flipped through her journal, skipping nearly to the last page.
Last appointment with Dr. Morgan today. He has declared me officially sane. It's nice to have that reassurance, I suppose! We've mostly talked about Gareth for the last month or so anyway. He would have been a fascinating study. Schizophrenia complicated by multiple personality disorder is extremely rare and incredibly sad. I still hurt for Gareth, but I feel nothing but relief in knowing that Bull is dead. I take comfort too in knowing that Gareth is finally at peace. To say that my life is good would be a profound understatement. It's not easy, but it is better than anyone deserves. I worry about Daryl working in violent crimes, doing the job that he does so well, but I would never ask him to change. His fearless pursuit of what is good and right is what first drew me to him. He is fierce and gentle and his capacity to love is endless. He says that I changed him, that I taught him how to love. I don't know that we can change who we are deep down, but I do think that we can grow and evolve into the best version of ourselves. I believe that Daryl and I are our best selves when we are together. We make each other better, stronger.
This will be my last entry in what I have come to refer to as my "recovery novel". Daryl just asked me to marry him! I still can't quite believe it. Turns out he asked my dad for my hand weeks ago. He even sought my aunt's advice about the ring. It's perfect. Simple and sturdy, just like us. I can't wait to be his wife, to have his babies, to grow old together rocking side by side on the front porch. So much has happened since last fall. I have been blessed with two second chances. I am alive and I am in love. I will thank God every day for His blessings, and I will do my best to make Daryl as happy as he makes me.
Beth closed the journal and caressed the front of it fondly before tossing it unceremoniously into the fire. Daryl scrambled out from behind her and dove for it. "Shit, Beth."
Beth grabbed his arm and pulled him back down to her, cupping his cheek and forcing his face to hers. "Let it go," she said resolutely.
"What? But that's your journal."
"Daryl, I don't need it anymore. I have you, and I have your promise. I have the memories that I want to keep locked in my head. The rest is just baggage. Let it burn."
Daryl shook his head and stood, pulling Beth with him. "Damn, girl," he said, eyes dancing back and forth between hers. "I love you."
"I know," she replied, fingers locking behind his neck, that shame-the-sun smile of hers spread wide across her face. "I love you too, Mr. Dixon."
His hands rested heavy on her hips as they swayed back and forth to the tune of the woods around them. "Reckon I'll be wantin' to marry you soon. Make it official and all."
"How soon," she asked, bouncing on her toes.
"I's thinkin by the end a' the summer? I know you'll need time to plan… What?" he asked, brow furrowed, when Beth began shaking her head, 'no'.
"I want to marry you now," she said, eyes as wide as saucers and sparkling, "tomorrow, as soon as possible."
"I mean it Daryl," she said pinning him with her eyes. "All I need is you. The rest is bonus."
"You're crazy, girl. You know that?"
Beth giggled, rising to her toes, placing a soft promise on his lips. "I'm gonna' make you so happy, Daryl Dixon."
A rare, happy smirk pulled at Daryl's upper lip. "You already do, girl."
A/N: Soooooooo, I hope you enjoyed reading my little story as much as I enjoyed writing it. The end is always bitter sweet for me. Please be kind and leave a parting word if you don't mind. I would greatly appreciate knowing your thoughts!