"Really dude," Rick smirked," you could've left the bow in your damn truck at least."

Self-consciously Daryl glanced down at his obviously dirty apparel. He'd been in such a hurry to get to the venue on time that he'd raced off set after filming his last scene, still in costume, bow still slung over his shoulder, and blood, dirt, and grime still smeared all over his face.

Shrugging his shoulders carelessly and dumping the bow on the floor next to his seat he grunted," Filming ran a lot later than we expected. It was either leave immediately or miss this and I wasn't going to miss this. I promised her. "

Easing onto his seat he glanced around the dark room scooting back into the shadows a bit more and lamenting," Sides maybe it'll act like camouflage."

Unable to hold back a sharp bark of laughter Rick moaned in commiseration, " Dude that isn't camouflage if anything it will draw them in like flies to honey."

"Yeah well," Daryl shrugged reaching for the ball cap he'd snagged off his front seat and donning it with the hopes it would help conceal his features some," like I said I wasn't going to miss tonight."

Gesturing to the two beers sitting on the small table between them Rick informed Daryl," Little one's mama figured you might need that after your day today. Said you were texting her earlier that filming was behind but, that you'd be here no matter what."

Reaching for the closest glass Daryl noted that his hands were dirtier than he'd thought because the minute the digits came in contact with the condensation that had formed on the beverages container rivulets of muddy water began to slide down the sides.

Grimacing he took a deep pull of the amber liquid before replying," Tons a technical difficulties today and it was hot as hell on set. Thought Glenn was gonna bust a gasket at one point when they told us the one delay might be a much as ninety minutes. He had shit of his own he wanted to do tonight. I told Greg though that I was leaving when I'd said I had to and he got it at least."

Daryl had risen and was wiping his now muddy hands on his dirt smeared jeans when Rick inquired," Thought Greg was coming with you tonight?"

"He was going to but, late filiming," Daryl sighed," you know how it goes. Told me to pass along his well wishes to her and that he'd see us all for dinner tomorrow night," then gesturing towards the bathrooms," Gotta go wash my hands. I'll be right back."

Upon his return Daryl gestured towards the bundle resting peacefully in Rick's arms," Give her here. I am as clean as I think I am going to get at this point."

His arms tightening a bit around the bundle Rick smirked wickedly," Her mama told me I better keep the little one safe and happy. That is my job as her god father after all," eyeing Daryl ruefully," I am not sure turning her over to a filthy degenerate was what she had in mind."

Raising an offended eye brow in mock outrage Daryl murmured with the same lethal intent of his television counterpart," You gonna make me use that crossbow Rick. Give her here now."

Laughing good naturedly Rick moved to transfer the bundle from his arms to Daryl's chastising," You get that little girls pretty little dress all dirty you're gonna answer to her mama not me," then to the bundle in his arms," Daddy's getting violent Ava. We better do what he wants before he goes all crazy zombie killer on us."

Rick reached for his own beer as he sat back, watching his friend as he settled his child in his arms. Even still in costume and covered in dirt and fake blood he made quite the stunning picture cradling the beautiful little girl. A deep contented sigh escaped Daryl as he leaned down to kiss the baby's forehead. The little girl gazed up at him with stunning blue eyes that were a cross between his own and her mothers and her auburn hair stuck out in all directions refusing to be tamed.

Attempting to smooth it down with a gentle hand he crooned," I missed ya baby girl. Were you being good for your uncle Rick?"

"Girl was an angel as always," Rick reported," besides I haven't had her all that long. You know how Beth is. She didn't put her down until she absolutely had to and since you weren't here yet she said I would have to do."

Catching a note of something in his friends tone but, not able to discern what it meant Daryl questioned," Something wrong?"

"Naw not at all man," Rick replied with an easy smile," just get a kick out of watching you two with her is all," then with more seriousness," You both deserve this man. You ain't had an easy time of it and it's just nice to see you both so settled."

"Mhmmm," Daryl grunted not exactly wanting to focus on the fact that the last few years had been anything but easy. That was over now and as his friend had pointed out the end result had been worth it.

The lights dimmed then indicating that the show was about to begin and Daryl settled back to watch as Beth stepped out onto the stage with her band. Ava was asleep after the first few songs lulled to the land of dreams by her mother's familiar voice but, Daryl was loath to put her in the carrier by Rick's feet. So he cradled the sleeping baby in one arm and used the other to occasionally reach for his beverage. After the first refreshing beer he'd switched to soda knowing that he would be driving Beth and Ava home later and not wanting to be unsafe while doing so.

Beth was exceptionally bubbly and on and the crowd was so focused on her that no one seemed to notice the two men tucked away in the dark corner. Or if they did they chose to leave them in peace for which Daryl was very grateful. It wasn't often that he had the chance to enjoy events like these without being swarmed by avid fans of the television show he was a part of. Beth was just finishing up her second to last song when Daryl noticed a familiar figure lurking in the crowd.

Sitting up ramrod straight and narrowing his eyes he zeroed in on the person in question his blood beginning to boil. His behavior caught Rick's attention and his head swinging towards his friend he asked," Everything all right man?"

"Maybe. Maybe not," Daryl growled watching as the man turned in circles surveying the crowd as Beth began the opening notes of her cover of Katy Perry's Rise. It was a song that she had covered for the show they were both a part of and it struck a deep emotional cord in the part of him that was and would always be his television counterpart. Momentarily blocking the interloper from his thoughts Daryl turned his full attention on Beth as she belted out the lyrics on stage. In her fashionably ripped jeans, flannel shirt, and combat type boots, with her hair pulled back into a loose braid, she was the image of the character she played in the show they worked on together. In that moment her character called as strongly to his as Beth Greene called to the part of him that was Daryl Dixon.

It was funny how that worked, how over the years a fictional character could become such a large part of you. There were times that he could no longer discern where he ended and where his fictional counterpart began. It was almost effortless to slip into the role at work and sometimes he actually had to focus to remember outside of filming that he wasn't actually the character he portrayed.

Beth finished the closing notes of the song and the house lights rose a bit as the crowd burst into applause. Daryl's attention was drawn from the bowing blonde by Rick shifting uneasily next to him. Following his friends gaze he looked to his left to see the interloper from earlier gazing at him arrogantly.

The man's smarmy looks and ridiculously preppy attire had Daryl growling in a truly uncharacteristic tone much more reminiscent of the role he was so used to playing," What the hell do you want? Got some nerve showing up here."

"I was in the area with a band I manage," the interloper replied arrogantly," heard Beth was playing and figured I'd stop by and look her up."

"She isn't gonna be interested in you looking her up," Daryl grunted in a tone so harsh it caused the baby in his arms to start awake and begin to fuss.

Ignoring Daryl's comments the interloper sneered, "Figured you would be here Dixon. So wasn't surprised to see you lurking in the corner. You never could stay away from her."

Bristling and unable to help himself Daryl shot back," She wasn't ever interested in me staying away from her, even when she was dating pathetic losers."

It was obvious to all parties that Daryl considered the interloper to be one of those pathetic losers.

The slimy manager didn't even appear fazed by Daryl's remark and without missing a beat he shot back," Well pathetic is relative isn't it Dixon. I mean some might consider a man your age's inability to back off someone Beth's age as pathetic. I mean here you are lurking at the back of one of her shows with a baby in your arms so I am going to assume you've found some other poor woman to tolerate your crazed fan girls and yet you're still here panting at her feet like a pathetic puppy."

Rick was half out of his seat before Daryl could shake his head firmly at his friend. The other man sank back down as Daryl tilted his head and examined the interloper. He wondered if the man had been living under a rock for the past couple of years. Must be he had been paying more attention to chasing after half naked woman than he had been following Beth's career. While they had kept their relationship as low key and under the radar as possible anyone that knew either of them well knew the details. They had chosen not to make it public because of social media and the hassle it created. Neither of them wanted that in their lives and therefore they had chosen to keep their personal life personal. But, still even without publically announcing it most people had put the pieces together even as he had striven to shelter Beth from the limelight as much as he was able. She hadn't needed or wanted that level of stress in her life and he hadn't wanted her to have to deal with it.

The tension between the two men could have been cut with a knife and it was broken quite suddenly with Beth's elated," Daryl you made it." The vivacious blonde was literally bouncing towards them, post show endorphins clearly adding some extra spring to her step, her gaze focused solely on the man she had called out to and the child in his arms.

As she converged on them so did the wall of security that Daryl insisted be employed for events such as this effectively blocking them from the curious gazes of event goers.

Not having noticed the interloper yet, her gaze locked on the baby as she crooned reaching for the child," Mommy missed you Ava," then pulling the child into her arms she examined Daryl critically for a moment before wrinkling her nose a bit and teasing playfully," Babe you don't just look like your character right now you smell like him too." Then in a sing song voice to the baby," Did daddy get fake blood all over your pretty new dress princess? Auntie Maggie isn't going to like that one bit."

Then suddenly picking up on the tension of the men around her Beth looked up and for the first time noticed her ex standing off to the side a stunned expression on his face.

Her frame going rigid almost instantly she bit out coldly," What are you doing here?"

Before the man in question could answer Rick snorted," Apparently having a field day insulting Daryl but, hey if that's what he has to do to make himself feel better."

Beth's gaze swung back to her lovers assessing his face for a moment before stepping closer to him and turning to her ex," I think I made myself pretty clear the last time we spoke. It was something along the lines of if I never saw your face again it would be too soon."

Holding his hands up in placating manner the manager answered in a sugary sweet tone," I was in the area Beth and heard you were doing a show. Figured I'd stop by and look you up. Wanted to see how you were doing. Figured it might be time for us to reconnect," then shooting daggers towards Daryl," Seems like I didn't have half an idea what you've actually been up to. What's the matter sweetie he's still not willing to go public even after he's obviously knocked you up? Fan girls still more important than you?"

Beth's ex had barely finished speaking before Daryl was lurching out of his seat. His television characters persona was at fore as he stepped in front of Beth and snarled viciously," You piece of shit. If I wasn't worried about going to jail right now I'd use that damn thing," he paused to gesture towards the cross bow," to put a bolt through your useless skull."

As security crowded closer clearly sensing that this could go badly at any moment Rick moved to Daryl's side ready to stop his friend from doing something stupid if need be.

Turning to the younger man Rick cautioned, " Dude now would be the time to leave. Your presence isn't welcome and your upsetting my friends and my god daughter. You say something else as offensive as what you just did and I won't be stopping this guy from channeling his inner zombie killer in order to deal with you. Leave. Now."

At the same time Beth stepped forward to put a hand on Daryl's shoulder," He isn't worth it babe. You know he isn't worth it."

Then doing the one thing she knew would prevent further violence on Daryl's part she thrust their daughter into his arms. Without thought he pulled the baby against him and Beth had no doubt that he would instantly put Ava's well-being above anything else. She saw Rick relax as he had that realization as well.

Turning to her ex Beth stepped around her lover putting a gentle hand on his arm," You have a lot of nerve coming here . You used me at a time when I was vulnerable and you acted like a creep. You tried to force my friends out of my life because you were jealous of them. You sent disgusting texts to Daryl because you were jealous of our friendship," seeing the surprised look her ex's face Beth clarified," Yeah he told me about that." Then waving her arms emphatically," I got disgusting messages from people telling me about what you were doing behind my back. The last straw was that singer in New York calling me to tell me how much fun she'd had with you that one weekend." Leaning back against Daryl for support she breathed," I can't believe I let you do that to me for as long as I did. You're a creep and I've learned my lesson. Now get out of here before I have security throw you out."

The interloper looked like he might argue for a minute but then receiving a nod from Daryl one of the men from the security detail stepped up and Beth's ex clearly realized the better decision would be to just leave. Turning on heel he stormed off as security made a path for him to pass through.

Reaching for Beth Daryl pulled her into his side as he leaned down to murmur in her ear," Let's get out a here."

Embracing his girls protectively Daryl made a path for the back exit knowing his Jeep was parked and waiting as security moved to create a wall around them.

The three adults parted company with murmured goodbyes and promises to see each other the next day as Daryl expertly buckled Ava into her car seat. The baby was sound asleep by the time they were pulling out of the parking lot.

Later after Beth had put the baby down for the night she padded into their living room dressed in one of Daryl's button down shirts and a pair of sleep shorts her hair loose over her shoulders. She found Daryl sitting on the floor, the cat curled next to him, as he sorted through a stack of photos.

He was wearing flannel sleep pants and nothing else, clearly having showered away the days dirt, grime, and make up, and distractedly he murmured," She go down okay?"

"Never even woke up," Beth shifted from foot to foot for a moment," What are you doing?"

Chewing on his thumb in a manner startlingly reminiscent of the character he played Daryl grunted without looking up from the photo he was studying," Trying to narrow down what I am going to include in my next book."

"Hmmmmm," she hummed looking down at the photos scattered all around him. Then reaching for a candid shot of her standing on the Belmont Veteran's Memorial Pier, the breeze blowing her hair behind her, tears streaming down her face, and the sun setting in the distance, painting her varying shades of yellow and orange she murmured," I think you should use this one."

Looking up at her he glanced at the picture quickly and then did a double take his distraction fleeing immediately as a pained look crossed his face.

"Come here," he rasped tightly taking her hand and pulling her down between his legs. Wrapping his arms around her he took the picture and stared at it a long moment as he rested his chin on her shoulder. Then quietly he asked," You serious about that?"

"Yeah," she breathed out on a long shuddering sigh," It was the day the sun set on me being a girl. Pretty poetic if you think about it," she snorted softly," I learned how to be a woman after that. Learned who I really was. Who I was meant to be. I am glad you were there. I am glad you came to talk some sense into me even if it didn't seem like it at the time."

His arms tightening around her he admitted," Didn't know if I should. Didn't know if you'd appreciate my interference. But, I couldn't stand you pulling away from me anymore and after he sent me those messages I couldn't just sit back and watch any longer. Felt like I had to do something even if you'd resent me for it." Nuzzling into her neck he confessed, " You about broke my heart when you ran away from me like that on the pier that day. I figured I'd pushed you too far. Probably wasn't right to take your picture like that but, …..it was just one of those moments. "

"You didn't push too hard," Beth sighed snuggling back into him," That singer had already called me by then. She'd wanted to gloat and the worst part is that what he did didn't make me sick. It was what I'd allowed him to do to me that made me sick. I was embarrassed, disappointed in myself, and hurt, and when you told me what he'd said to you in those messages. It was just too much. I needed a minute to be alone. I wasn't trying to hurt you by running down the pier."

"I know," he soothed immediately," I knew the minute you turned around and threw yourself into my arms," he kissed her shoulder gently before recollecting," It was a rough weekend but, we made it through. It made us stronger. Probably got us where we are today."

"You're probably right," Beth agreed happily before turning her head so that she could kiss him softly.

They were quiet for several long moments just enjoying the feeling of finally having found home and peace when Daryl began tentatively," Beth I think it's time we made this official. Put it out there so people really get it. I know you wanted to keep things between us up until now and I get it, really I do but, I don't like that people might make assumptions, assumptions like your ex did. Nothing matters to me more than you and Ava. The fame, the show, I would give it all up tomorrow for you two. It's important to me that people know that."

"Are you proposing to me," Beth teased him turning her head to look into his eyes her own dancing with mirth.

"Maybe," he breathed out softly the seriousness of his tone causing her to still immediately.

"You're serious," she gasped completely taken by surprise.

Suddenly beyond reticent Daryl ducked his head before peaking up at her with that looked she'd come to know was a sign of him putting himself out there emotionally. He was afraid of rejection, having experienced it more than a man like him ever should have. The look was part and parcel with a piece of him that he rarely showed to people. The vulnerable part that made her want to wrap him up and protect him, which was silly because he was more than capable of protecting himself and her as well. But, there were times, times like this, times like when he'd spur of the moment hopped on a plane and flown to LA to be with her, times like the day she'd told him about Ava that she knew she could destroy this special part of this extraordinary man with just a few badly chosen words.

The idea that he trusted her that much, so much that she got to experience this special fragile piece of him, filled her with both terror and elation. She knew she'd hurt him in the past, knew he'd worried and fretted about her, and she knew she never wanted to hurt him like that again.

Cupping his cheek gently with her palm she whispered," You know what my answer is."

"Do I," he wondered clearly still uncertain.

Turning fully so that she was sitting on her knees she took his hands in hers and cupped them in her lap. With tears gathering in her eyes she blinked fiercely fighting them back as she half sobbed," You silly man. I can't image living the rest of my life without my best friend. You came after me when no one else did and risked everything because you thought it was the best way to try to help me. You're the most selfless man I've ever met. You told a room full of people once that you'd take a bullet for me and I have no doubt you actually meant it. You're my best friend, the father of my child, the love of my life, of course I want to marry you."

He was crying too then as he pulled his hands free in order to crush her to him," I love you Beth. God I love you so much."

" I know you do," she soothed as he rocked her, " I love you too and I know how much you love me because after all," she paused to kiss his forehead gently, "you're the one who taught me what it really means to love someone and that's a gift I promise I'll never take for granted again."