A/N: I wanted to get this done in time for Valentine's Day but, as always with me it seems, I ended up a little late. Sorry! This takes place in ASZ. AU where Beth doesn't get shot and walks out of Grady with the rest of Team Family. Hey, I can dream. Hope you all enjoy!
"Ya gotta be shittin' me," Daryl mumbled under his breath as he turned away from the assembly and pushed his way past the few people that stood with him in the back of the small auditorium until he found himself outside again. He glanced around, unsure what to do with himself but damn certain he wouldn't spend another second in that building listening to Deanna make another proclamation that did little to keep them safe and everything to distract and waste time. Valentine's Day, of all things! She'd been working on passing out small red, white, and pink cards when he'd bailed on the meeting, anger inside of him rising to a boiling point with every vacant smile he saw on those peoples' faces. It's like they lived in another world where walkers weren't part of their daily reality, where holidays still meant something and their children were safe to play in the streets and exchange stupid paper hearts.
He was striding down the street having decided that maybe it was high time for a hunting trip when he heard the telltale scuff of a shoe on concrete behind him. He kept walking, knowing who was following him and that he was not about to discuss it with her. Of course she came after him. She always tried to set him straight even when he didn't want her to.
"I guess I shouldn't expect a card from you then," Carol's voice called from behind him.
Daryl snorted and kept walking, replying in a growl just loud enough for her to hear, "Ain't got time for that shit."
Carol laughed wryly, her steps quickening as she fought to catch up to him. She appeared beside him, having to jog a little to keep up with his break neck pace, and smiled with patient humor, "None of us do. I think that's the point."
Daryl glanced at her, wondering what she meant, but then remembered he didn't care. He shook his head, letting his hair fall across his face and kept moving, half hoping she'd give up and go back to the assembly with the others.
She didn't, of course. Instead, she placed a calloused hand on his arm and pulled him sternly to a stop, ignoring his frustrated grunt as she explained, "Every day we survive is another day we have to remember what we've lost." He met her eyes then, hearing the brief hint of despair that still clung to her words, even after all this time. She smiled sadly at him and continued, "Something like this, celebrating love and life, it helps us remember there are good things left too." Trusting him to stay put, she released her hold on him and folded her arms. He stiffened, knowing that look usually accompanied a lecture, and sure enough Carol prompted gently, "You need to talk to her."
"The hell you talkin' 'bout?" He replied gruffly, looking down the street instead of into his friend's eyes. When Carol remained silent he forced himself to glance at her, knowing that's what she was waiting for.
"You know," Carol replied evenly, face still patient but also now accompanied with a hint of annoyance in the soft creases around her eyes. When he looked away again, she went on, "After everything you went through to get her back, after everything she did to stay alive, you both deserve this."
"Ain't like that," Daryl argued, folding his arms now and turning half away from her, not wanting to discuss it.
Carol simply followed him until she stood in front of him again, smiling patiently again as she corrected, "Yes, it is."
"Barely see 'er anymore," Daryl pointed out, "Since Atlanta, ain't said more than a coupla' words to each other."
Carol shrugged, unconvinced, "It's different than it was when it was just the two of you. You've both been adjusting to this place, just like the rest of us. Doesn't mean there isn't still something there beneath all that." She took a step forward to peer at him closely as she observed, "I was there, remember? The way you went after her, the way you believed in her. That doesn't fade, no matter how many white picket fences we have around us now."
Daryl met her eyes again and shrugged a shoulder, "Don't mean anythin'. She ain't said shit to me."
"That's why you have me," Carol replied confidently. When he snorted in response, she added, "Women talk, you know. She's confided in me. She knows we're close, asked me some things about you, about how you were after she was taken. Let's just say it's pretty clear to me where she stands." She turned serious again and leaned closer to say in a quieter voice, "The way she feels about you, that hasn't changed for her."
Daryl stared at her, baffled and more than a little terrified at the prospect of getting something he really wanted for once in his life. He shifted his weight, glancing around uncomfortably, before refocusing on his friend. "The hell am I 'sposed to do 'bout it?"
It was Carol's turn to shrug and she replied, "That's up to you, Pookie." She smiled mischievously and suggested, "This Valentine's thing might just give you the right opportunity to do something for her, let her know what you really want." She stood in front of him a second more, eyebrows raised in suggestion, then she turned away, heading back towards the assembly as she called back to him, "Don't blow it!" Daryl watched her go, still trying to sort through this new information.
After walking out of Grady with Beth at his side, his hand on her back as they stepped into the sunlight, he realized he didn't need anything else in life, that girl being alive and with him was enough. Even if the closest they got ever again was her sitting across the campfire from him, the flames between them as Maggie kept her close, she was alive and she was safe. He'd kept his distance, not sure if after everything they'd revealed to each other in the candlelight of their last night together that she'd want to be around him again, if she regretted what had been left unsaid, as he did, or if she felt relief to have been spared the days she might have spent alone with him in that place.
The first night on the road, she had found him silent and dark in the trees while the others slept, and wordlessly she'd approached slow and calm as if she might scare him into running. She'd gently wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him close and threading her fingers through his hair before finding more sturdy purchase on his jacket, clutching it tightly in a fist, holding on if he were the only solid thing in the world. His own arms soon found their way around her back, her waist, his hands in her hair and on her skin, her smell all around him and he tugged her even closer, even tighter. She'd pressed her face into his neck and he'd felt damp tears cooling his skin, his arms tightening impossibly more around her in response. They'd stood like that for an eternity, or perhaps a second, silent in the dark, relief making them weak at the same time simple joy made them strong.
When a walker had staggered through the trees they'd been forced apart, Daryl dispatching the corpse quickly with an arrow and Beth standing wide- eyed and ready with her knife clutched firmly in her hand. Their eyes had met and she'd smiled softly in the orange firelight, his memory going to another time when they'd stood before a shitty house and raised their fingers to the sky in defiance. Her smile had faded and she'd turned away, the moment gone, heading back to her sleeping place next to Maggie, laying down facing him, her eyes meeting his again in the orange haze.
Nothing had been said, they'd been distant and busy in this new place of refuge, both with their own jobs to do. She was changed, he noticed. She didn't smile as much and even Maggie realized after a point that she was more than capable of looking after herself. He'd known that already, of course, but seeing her now prove it to everyone else made him feel a surge of pride for her. She'd taken care of herself all this time, just like she said she could all those weeks ago. He watched her from a distance, something in him always prepared to take her hand and run again, only his bow and her knife between them and the world. He expected he'd always be waiting for that other shoe to drop but the difference now was he didn't want to face that world again without her. If, when, the time came he wasn't going anywhere without her and somehow he'd get to her, get her out, together just as before.
He realized he didn't know how to be near her after everything, how to breach this space between them after their weeks apart, especially now that they were in this new place with all these people surrounding them. Unsaid words seemed to hang over them, though he didn't know what they were, and he didn't know where to even start to put everything back to the way it was, the way they had been together. Now he was faced with this new knowledge Carol had unceremoniously dumped in his lap, a sudden, unexpected way to close the gap between them and start again, a small window that could maybe lead to a new start for them both.
He walked slowly back to the house he stayed in when he wasn't out recruiting or hunting, a small two bedroom on the outskirts of the Safe Zone he'd claimed once he'd realized they'd be staying here awhile. It was close to the rest of the family but still distant from the center of the compound, which suited him fine. These days Rick was changed, different, and most days Daryl decided it'd be easier to stay away and keep his head down rather than deal with him. His brother was lost, though he didn't realize it, and it was only a matter of time before Rick's grasp on reality slipped again as it had at the prison. This time would be different, not grief driving him over the edge but a fear driven power trip, more dangerous than anything he went through after losing his wife. Daryl stepped inside the house briefly to grab his bow then headed for his bike, deciding he needed to get out in the open to clear his head before he could decide what to do with what Carol had told him.
Across the compound Beth accepted a dark red card and envelope, turning it over absently in her hands and knowing exactly who she wanted to give it to but uncertain what to write, if anything. She missed him, could feel his eyes on her through the day and knew he missed her but unsure how to get through to him, how to explain that she wanted things to be what they were before when it had been only them. She had changed and so had he but deep down they were still the same at their very core. She missed being that person for him that could hold him when he wept openly or listen to stories about his past. He'd let her act the silly girl as she explained what she'd imagined for her father, not a gruesome death at the hands of a madman but a quiet passing surrounded by family. He'd listened patiently while she'd sung her songs and helped her take her first drink of terrible moonshine.
She'd spent so long in that hospital worried about him, wondering if he'd gotten out of the funeral home, if she'd ran and left him behind to meet his death. When he'd appeared in that hallway she'd been so relieved, though in the moment she'd been unable to tell him. It wasn't until they were on the road that she'd been able to approach him alone without Maggie's eyes watching her every move and in that moment when it finally came down to facing him and telling him everything she'd been holding back the words had frozen in her throat. She'd been forced to let her actions speak for her and the feeling of his hands tight on her in response had told her everything.
Frustrated with the swirl of her thoughts, she left the assembly and walked absently through the streets, the red card clutched in one hand. Somehow they'd grown distant, both unsure of what the other was waiting for, what the other needed to say, and as Daryl had pulled back she'd let him, not wanted to force him to go back to that moment with her when they'd been on the verge of something more. Now was the time to end this, she knew, but how to put it into words? How to tell him how much she'd thought of him when they'd been apart, how believing he was still alive had kept her going, even when everything seemed bleak?
She went to the house she shared with Maggie and Glenn, climbing the stairs to go to her assigned room and closing the door behind her. The pale pink walls made her nauseated, like she was in a sea of Pepto, but she appreciated the white desk tucked against one wall. She opened a window to let in the slight breeze that drifted aimlessly through the streets and sat down with the red card before her and a ball point pen in her hand. She wrote for hours, eyes drifting absently towards the window as she struggled for words, the sun fading as she turned the card and finally finished with a small signature.
Beth left the house, walking past Glenn and Maggie in the family room without a word, and headed for Daryl's house, determined to have the courage to hand him the letter she'd written and not lose this opportunity because of fear. They needed this push and she was going to go through with it because she couldn't bear one more day with things like this between them. She needed him back and she needed to be more to him than a passing acquaintance that only nodded a hello and never had any meaningful conversation. In this world they only had a handful of chances to be truly happy and she wasn't about to let this chance slip through her fingers.
She climbed the few steps to his front door and knocked loudly, listening for sounds of movement inside. All was silent so she knocked again, opening the door and calling for him softly. Everything was dark and no movement came from the couch where he slept. Feeling disappointed, she closed the door again and looked around her, half hoping he'd be there when she turned around. Finally she placed the red card against the door and walked back to her house, hoping he'd come find her once he returned.
It was dark by the time Daryl made his way back to his house, so dark that he almost missed the tiny red square on his doorstep, nearly stepping on it before he turned on a light just inside the doorway. He frowned a little, bending forward to reach for it, and turned it over to study the signature, his heart starting to beat hard at the sight of the neat letters written carefully without flourish, "Beth."
He immediately took the card inside, sitting on the couch to read the letter four and five times, his brain still fighting for comprehension as he turned it slowly in his hands, the thick card stock a solid anchor that reminded him that this was real. He knew what he had to do, if only he had the courage to do it. Carol's words rang loud in his head and he stood suddenly, almost before he'd consciously decided to, and walked out the door, tucking the tiny red square into his jacket carefully. He went to his bike and retrieved something he'd brought back for her and found a space for it in his jacket too, walking through the darkened streets with his mind on the card she'd left for him to find.
When he knocked on the door Glenn opened it with a look of surprise and before Glenn could even say a word Daryl asked gruffly, "Beth here?"
Glenn nodded and Daryl noticed Maggie disappear up the stairs behind him, obviously having heard the question. And then she was there, blonde hair pulled into a ponytail that curled around one side and rested on her shoulder, eyes wide as she went down the stairs but a small smile on her lips.
"Hey," She greeted softly, tilting her head silent in an unspoken question.
Daryl felt like he was attached to a live wire as he stared at her, his whole body fighting the need to be still. He jerked his head a little towards the street and asked, "Wanna take a walk?"
She nodded, following him out the door and down the steps, eyes focused on the ground or the road ahead as they walked. He kept his eyes focused elsewhere too, although occasionally he found himself watching the way her hair picked up the lights from inside the houses as they walked past or the pale glow of the moon, turning silver and gold. She glanced at him occasionally too but he couldn't read her thoughts, didn't know why she looked away each time, why she seemed to be hiding as much as he was in this moment.
They walked in silence for a while before she asked quietly, "Where are we going?"
Daryl glanced at her, meeting her eyes for the first time since he'd shown up at her door, hands tucked into his pockets, and then shrugged, "Hell if I know."
Beth smiled then and something inside him loosened at the sight, her expression patiently amused, "This was your idea, you know."
"Yeah," he acknowledged, looking around to see where they'd ended up. They were headed towards the main gate, walking along a road free of houses and lined with trees, private and as secluded as life in this place could get. He flicked a wrist towards the curb and asked, feeling a little embarrassed with how this had turned out, "Wanna sit?"
Beth smiled, heading to the curb and sitting with a small sigh, pulling her legs up before her as she watched him collapse clumsily next to her. As he let out a groan she chuckled quietly, "You okay?"
Daryl shrugged, "Ain't a kid no more. Ground's a helluva lot further down than it used to be."
Beth nodded seriously, "Someone should really do something about that."
Daryl felt his lips twitch slightly as he glanced at her, meeting her eyes as she smiled at him in the dimness. He felt warm despite the faint nighttime chill and for the first time since their hug in the woods after leaving Grady behind he felt like they could get back to the place they'd been in right before the walkers had ruined it all, before Beth had been taken from him and he'd torn the world apart to get back to her. As long as she could still smile at him like that he knew, somehow, they'd make it through.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out what he'd brought back for her, holding it out to her as he fought to find the words he wanted to say, "Here, got this for ya today. Reminded me of ya, of… you playin' piano and singin'… back then." His voice trailed off as she took the present from him, her face brightening as she held the small yellow music box up to her eyes, her smile growing wide with delight.
She looked at him suddenly and asked, breathless with excitement, "Does it work?"
Daryl flicked a wrist towards it and directed, "Try it."
Beth twisted the key gently as if it would break and inhaled sharply when gentle music flowed from it. She listened without breathing, face enraptured, then looked at Daryl with wonder, her smile soft now. "Clair de Lune," She whispered.
"What's that?" Daryl muttered, eyes fixed on her face in wonder. He'd given her something that'd made her truly happy, had made her smile and feel amazed. No matter how bad this world could be, no matter what had forced them apart, he was still able to make her smile, to remind her of the good things just as she had done for him.
"The song it's playing, it's called Clair de Lune," Beth replied, voice quiet as the music box tinkled on, slower now as it wound down. She looked back at the box and went on, a soft far away look on her face, "It was my mama's favorite. I grew up with it playing all the time in the house, you could hear it everywhere, no matter where you were. It was one of the first songs I learned how to play on the piano. I was terrible of course but Mama was so happy."
Daryl watched her as she remembered, completely overwhelmed with the feeling that he wanted Beth to always be this way, happy and full of wonder. She deserved to be able to sit and play piano all day if she wanted to, just as she deserved to only have beauty and good in her life instead of all this pain and death. He wanted that for her, wanted her to feel safe and free, wanted her to always be happy. Even if that was stupid and unrealistic he could still strive to make that for her everyday.
They listened to the music until it faded away and Beth turned to smile up at him, a different smile than before. "Thank you," She whispered, eyes meeting his, "It's the most beautiful gift I've ever received." Daryl felt his face warm but he nodded, grunting noncommittally. "You said it reminded you of me… from then?" She asked, voice hesitant even as she met his eyes.
Daryl shifted his weight a little and pulled his legs up towards his chest, resting his wrists on his knees. He stared straight ahead as he replied, "Yeah, the music… reminded me of when ya sang and played that old piano."
She watched his face as he spoke, smiling almost sadly at the memory, and replied, "I remember. I sang and you listened, then we had a meal of jelly and soda and lit candles all around."
He nodded then glanced at her, feeling his lips pull into a faint smile, "White trash brunch."
Beth laughed softly and nodded too, rolling her eyes a little, "Yeah, with pig's feet too and peanut butter."
He watched her smile, watched how her eyes crinkled when she laughed, the way she shook her head as she rolled her eyes at him. He wanted to trace the curl of hair that fell into her face, push it away and feel the softness of her beneath the rough pads of his fingers. Instead he settled for just watching her, committing every inch of her face to memory. She met his eyes and her smile slowly faded away as the silence loomed between them, the moment building into something different, something more.
Daryl took a breath hard through his nose, not looking away, and then let out a sharp exhale before stating simply before he lost his nerve, "Couldn't breathe some days, missed ya so damn much."
Beth's lips twitched into a faint smile, sadness and longing tinged with relief, and she blinked slowly for a moment before she replied, "Some days believing you got out of the funeral home alive was the only thing that kept me going, kept me fighting. I wanted to live so I could see you again." She paused, her smile turning away from the sadness of their destroyed past, and added, "I knew you were alive. I never even questioned it."
Daryl felt a tightening in his chest, not painful but warm and aching, and he slowly stretched out a hand to finally push that stray strand back from her face. Beth closed her eyes as he did, smiling softly with the moonlight on her skin, and she opened her eyes again when he withdrew, staring into him just as she had that night with all the candles around them and the pigs feet and warm soda between them.
He reached into his jacket then and pulled out her card, rotating it slowly in his hands as he spoke, "Ya asked me in here what it was I was gonna say before…" He swallowed hard, looking at her again, and continued, "You. Was gonna say you're what changed my mind, made me believe in good people." Beth's smile widened in acknowledgement of the revelation and he added, "Never needed no one before, not for nothin', but I need you, Beth. Need ya to keep me breathin' everyday."
Beth leaned forward a little, reaching out to grasp one of his hands in hers and answered, "I need you too."
Daryl shook his head at that, staring down at her small hand on his, "Nah, you took care of yourself alright. Don't need nobody for nothin'." He glanced up, meeting her eyes and added, "You're strong, Beth, stronger than me."
Beth tightened her grip on his hand and inched forward a little, brows furrowed as she insisted, "I can take care of myself, I did, but what I mean is… I need you because you're what makes staying alive worth the fight for me."
"Don't ya ever give up, even if I ain't around. I ain't worth it," Daryl replied quietly, voice rough as he thought about Beth giving up if something happened to him. He didn't want her to rely on him in that way, didn't want her to ever give up and especially not because of him.
Beth smiled patiently and clarified, "I just mean that what you've done for me, the goodness inside of you that you've let me see, that's what'll always keep me going. You gave me that, Daryl. That ain't, you ain't, worthless." A small hand came to rest against his shoulder and she leaned closer as she spoke, her breath skirting across his face, her eyes boring into his.
He watched her for a long moment, searching her face for the answer to some question he didn't know how to ask. Finally he replied in a low voice, "Can't lose ya again."
"You didn't," Beth replied softly, her voice firm in the cool night air, "I knew I'd get back to you or that you'd find me. That's what you do when you love someone. You never give up on them."
Daryl turned himself to face her, stunned beyond words but knowing she'd just done what she did best, she'd explained something to him that he'd been yet unable to understand. They loved each other, of course they did, and something that true, that real, would always be there, always be worth fighting for. He risk everything, his heart and his sanity, if it meant having Beth with him here and now, seeing her smile, knowing she felt the same way he did, that she loved him as he realized now that he loved her.
Unable to express this new revelation in words, his hand found its way to cup her face gently, the other on her shoulder lightly, so close to her he could see the bits of green and gray in her eyes. She smiled at his awkward approach, her eyes closing slightly as she met him halfway, her lips meeting his in a gentle slow press, soft and warm, tasting of sunshine and sweetness, the most wonderful thing he'd ever felt. He pulled her closer to him, his hand sliding to her back and his thumb slowly moving across her cheek, feeling the ridge of scars he'd grown to love on her face. Her arms twisted around his neck, fingers in his hair at the base of his neck, tugging and pulling him closer as her lips moved against his. When they separated Daryl could feel his face warm as his lips tingled at this new use, Beth's eyes fluttering open as a soft smile made her face seem to glow in the moonlight.
"Happy Valentine's Day," She whispered and Daryl felt his mouth tug into a smile as he reached for her, never wanting to let her go again.