Happy New Year Y'all! I know I'm two weeks late, but this has been in my brain and unfinished for a year (thanks adulting). It's a prequel to my Holiday-verse stories "Christmas Came Early" and "This Lovely Easter Morning." I just love imagining how AU Bethyl would spend their holidays, and this particular one gives a little backstory how Beth and Daryl got together. A bonus for me is that Hershel is in this one. Special thanks to Stacey and Brandy for reading my fics! You always help me clear up all the things that make sense in my circus-ring brain but not quite on paper. Oh, and obvi, I own nothing to do with The Walking Dead or Ellie Goulding's songs.
An incessant knocking at Beth Greene's bedroom door forced her to peel one eyelid open, not quite able to voice her protest at being woken. After a brief pause, the knocking began again, this time much louder. Beth shrank down, burying her head under the covers in an effort to buffer her ears from the sound and hopefully send the message that visitors were not welcome.
No such luck.
Just as Beth began to drift back off to sleep in her warm cocoon, the door flew open, making noisy contact with the adjacent wall and rattling all the little trinkets on a nearby shelf. A heavy weight landed on her mattress, abruptly jolting her to consciousness.
"Bethy-Bethy-Beth-Beth-Beth, wake up my little sister!" Maggie Greene—soon-to-be Rhee—bounced up and down, making the mattress springs groan.
"Errggghh, go away Maggie!" Beth's shout was muffled under her sheets and warm blankets. She should've known it would be Maggie. No one else could be as annoying as her older sister.
Maggie gasped in mock offense, "Do you know how early Glenn woke me up so we could drive here this morning? The annual Greene family New Year's Eve party won't throw itself! I swear, I had to guzzle down at least a gallon of coffee to stay awake while Glenn drove."
"How nice of you to stay awake while your fiancé chauffeured you down here," Beth mumbled, pushing back the covers. Her eyes felt gritty, and she still couldn't quite open her eyes in the early morning light.
"C'mon, Daddy already made breakfast downstairs. We have a lot to do," Maggie rose to her knees, resuming the bouncing motion, this time drumming a steady beat on the curve of Beth's butt like they were a set of bongos.
"Screw you Maggie, I stayed up until two in the morning helping Patricia finish up all the baking last night," Beth rolled as far away from her sister as she could without falling off the bed.
"—and Glenn woke me up at three-thirty so we could make the drive from Atlanta. I need someone to be miserable with me!"
"Check with Glenn, I'm sure he's pretty miserable," Beth peeked out of the corner of her eye to see what Maggie's reaction would be.
"Ew, I don't like you when you're sleeping deprived," Maggie's nose scrunched in distaste.
"Likewise," Beth flailed around her for a pillow to cover her head.
Maggie released one long leg out from under her. The mattress shifted as she rose, moving to stand right by Beth's head.
After a few moments of silence with Maggie's stare bearing down on Beth, she opened her eyes to look up at a face she recognized well.
"If I leave you alone and get Daddy to leave you alone so you can sleep in, what's in it for me?" Maggie's mouth curled up. There was the face. The face of the eldest sibling primed to take advantage of some unseen opportunity.
"I ain't even gonna ask Maggie," Beth finally found a pillow and promptly covered her head.
Maggie snatched the pillow away, "If I leave you alone and let you sleep in… will you let me pick out your outfit for the party tonight?"
Beth's response was to turn her back and raise her hand in her older sister's direction, middle finger prominently displayed.
"Orrrrr, I could just bounce on your mattress until Daddy comes up here and yells at us for not gettin' anything done," Maggie ignored the obscene gesture, put one knee down on Beth's bed, and leaned.
"Fine! Just go away!" Beth waved her hand behind her.
Maggie clapped her hands together and gave one final swat at her little sister's bottom, "You better be awake before lunch to help Glenn and me put up all those twinkle lights in the barn." With that she spun on her heel, closing the door as she left.
If it had been anyone else, an early morning exchange with Maggie Greene would've left a person wide awake, maybe a little confused, probably with a little less dignity. Not Beth. She was so accustomed to sibling harassment at various stages of consciousness, that she'd fine-tuned the ability to fall back asleep at the drop of a hat, anywhere, at any time.
A couple hours later with mid-morning light streaming through her thin curtains, Beth finally forced herself out of bed and down to the kitchen, limbs still weighed down by exhaustion. She was not at all surprised to see the coffee pot contained hardly enough liquid in it to fill a cup. She would've bet a million dollars that Maggie had done that on purpose, just to be a brat.
Beth poured the remains of the lukewarm coffee into a mug then put the carafe under the faucet to refill. As the water ran, she raised the mug up to her mouth and turned away from the sink just as Daryl Dixon stepped into the doorway. Startled by his sudden appearance, Beth emptied the contents of the mug directly onto the front of her shirt.
"Dangit Daryl, Ima tie a bell 'round your neck so I know when you're comin'!" Beth pulled the fabric of the coffee soaked front of her t-shirt away from her skin.
Her father's favorite farm hand remained glued to the spot, studiously staring anywhere but at her. Beth was so preoccupied with wiping at the spilled coffee with a dish towel, she'd forgotten about the very tiny pair of threadbare sleep shorts she'd worn to bed. She certainly didn't notice Daryl's discomfort because well, Daryl always seemed uncomfortable in the Greene's family home. Hershel often insisted he join them for mealtimes, but for the past year he'd been living and working on the farm, it was much the same result as trying to bring an outside cat inside. It had taken near coercion for Hershel to get Daryl to move into one of the cabins, and when Daryl finally relented, he chose the smallest cabin in the most unobtrusive location on their land.
Daryl cleared his throat, bringing his hand up to his mouth to gnaw at a ragged thumbnail, "Your pops sent me up here. He drew some sorta layout for the barn but he told me he left his specs somewhere in the kitchen."
Beth's eyes scanned the area, landing on the set of readers Hershel left anywhere and everywhere, "Oh, here ya go."
"Thanks," Daryl mumbled, turning to leave as quickly as his legs could carry him back out 'where he belonged.'
"Wait!" Beth called out to him, "Do me a favor will ya?" She had to stop herself from laughing out loud at the way Daryl's shoulders hitched up nearly to his ears. It was as if he'd been caught in the act of doing something naughty.
He turned around and shifted from foot to foot, like he was debating whether or not to bolt.
"Would you mind reachin' up into that cupboard and grabbin' the coffee so I don't have to get out the step stool?" Beth asked. To make the situation more bearable for Daryl, she trained her attention back on the now overflowing coffee pot. She shut off the faucet, and poured out the excess water then busied herself with discarding the used coffee filter.
"Figured you'd just climb up to get it like ya do everything else outta your reach," Daryl mumbled, the corner of his mouth tugging up into a crooked smile.
"Hey, it ain't my fault everything on the farm is made for a six-foot-tall 200-pound man!" Beth countered, holding out her hand for the can of coffee Daryl brought down from the top shelf.
Daryl finally allowed his gaze to fall on Beth's face, and there was something about his piercing stare that always made heat flood her cheeks. Lord knew she probably looked a bedraggled mess with her hair sloppily piled up on top of her head and wearing a coffee stained t-shirt with ratty sleep shorts.
"Mmhm," Daryl stepped back and looked at his boots.
"Tell Daddy I'll be out in bout fifteen minutes will ya?" Beth popped the lid off the coffee can and inhaled the glorious life-replenishing scent of the fresh grounds.
"Sure," Daryl backed away another step, and motioned at the can of coffee Beth had clutched close to her face, "Figured you two'd like some privacy anyway." He was down the hall before the dish towel could hit him in the face.
After a hot cup of coffee, Beth was revived enough to help adorn the barn with hundreds of feet of globe string lights. Glenn and Daryl wheeled in propane patio heaters to keep all the guests warm, punctuating the long benches that stretched the length of space. If guests weren't dancing, they could sit down and chat. The barn and the house would both be packed that night, with the Greene family's friends streaming back and forth along a path lined with old gas lanterns.
Hershel presided over the whole set-up, reading glasses perched on the bridge of his nose as he tried to decipher his sharp scrawl on a blueprint he made of the barn. The days were long gone that he could shimmy up into the rafters like Beth could. Hell, he probably wouldn't be able to keep his balance on the extension ladder Maggie and Glenn used to anchor the twinkle lights to the center of the barn ceiling. The doctors' most recent diagnosis was that he could go in two days or two years. When they began spouting off about experimental medication and trials at world-renowned research programs in Florida and Texas, Hershel shook their hands and told them he was going to spring for a bigger grill, and everyone was welcome at the Greene farm for the first barbecue of the season. He let Otis go a little overboard with the fireworks that 4th of July, Patricia and Beth cooked for a week straight for Thanksgiving, and the furniture in the living room had to be rearranged three times to fit the oversized Christmas tree in the front window. Every time Hershel made it to another holiday, it was another reason to celebrate. Maggie and Glenn travelled down from Atlanta to the farm nearly every weekend if not more—one of the perks of owning their little chain of pizza parlors.
Seeing Daryl quietly and diligently untangling the lights, working on New Year's Eve, and just going along with Hershel's hair-brained schemes and Beth's bossiness in general made her heart swell with affection for him. For days she'd been reminding herself that Daryl never participated in Greene family traditions, but she couldn't help but wish he would come back that night for the party. New Year's Eve had been Beth's favorite holiday since she was a little girl. The farm looked magical, and the air was charged with a hopeful excitement for fresh starts and new beginnings. When she looked at Daryl, there was something in his eyes that made her wonder if he'd ever been surrounded by people who loved him, if he'd ever looked forward to what the future had in store for him. For all he did for her family, Beth wanted his faith in them—faith in good people—to drive away the darkness that cast shadows across his features.
"No. No-no-no-nooooo, Maggie are you serious?" Beth stepped out of the bathroom plucking at the material of the shimmery gold mini dress. It hugged every curve of her body so tightly, she swore she could see the outline of the fried pork chop she'd eaten for dinner the night before.
"Yes Bethy, no one's gonna kiss you at midnight if you're dressed like an extra from Little House on the Prairie!" Maggie argued from her seat atop Beth's bed.
"No one's gonna kiss me if I die from exposure either," Beth muttered at her reflection staring back at her in the full length mirror off to one corner of the room, "And I do not dress like an extra from Little House on the Prairie!"
Maggie ignored her little sister, sliding off the bed, and coming around to stand behind Beth. She slapped Beth's hand away from the hem of the dress, "I had Glenn invite as many of his single friends as he could think of, and Zach and Jimmy are gonna be here tonight. Any one of those guys can keep you warm, and maybe they'd actually be motivated to if you weren't wearing a sleeping bag. 'Sides, a deal's a deal. I let you sleep in, you let me dress you!"
"Ugggghhhh, fiiiiine," Beth rolled her eyes, "And what the hell possessed you to invite all these guys in the first place? I didn't ask you to do that."
The two sisters' eyes met in the reflection of the mirror. "Because," Maggie sighed, "You've been by Daddy's side day in and day out for over three years. You became a farmer before I even realized it. I jus' don't want you to be alone to deal with it all."
Beth turned around to face Maggie, wrapping her arms around her sister's shoulders, "I ain't alone Maggie. I've got you, Daddy, Glenn, and a whole mess a'people who are bangin' down my door to check up on me."
"But I'm gettin' married in the spring, and Daddy…" Maggie trailed off. Neither of them wanted to verbalize the simple truth that one of these days Hershel Greene would no longer be physically present in their lives. The thought of that hole in their lives threatened to engulf every shred of happiness and every memory they'd shared as the Greene family.
"Well I'm not ready to get married," Beth shrugged, "I've got plenty to do 'round the farm to keep me busy for the next lifetime."
"I'm not tryin' to marry you off tonight, but you could have some fun with one of Glenn's friends. When's the last time you sang besides with the choir at church? The youngest person you spend your time with is Daryl, and he hardly says but two words," Maggie dug past several pairs of worn boots and Converse chucks and unearthed a pair of high heels suitable for the dress.
An ache settled in the pit of her stomach. It was one thing to deal with Jimmy and Zach's shy flirting and puppy dog glances. It was something else entirely to meet a bunch of Glenn's rowdy friends who hadn't quite left behind the college party life. They were used to girls from Atlanta, not some country girl who spent every day wearing jeans and arguing with a surly redneck.
And yet, she actually preferred that surly redneck rolling his eyes at her to some city boy who expected mini-dresses with plunging necklines every day. At least Daryl was used to the constant madness. He was used to her being a mess, calling him a grump, breaking his back doing whatever Hershel was instructing him to do from the driver seat of his mule golf cart. There was something in that crooked smile he'd give her. There was something in the way she felt warm and happy to bicker with him. And even though he'd called her ridiculous on countless occasions, he helped take care of her family in a way that made her feel safe and very much not alone.
Beth hardly heard a word Maggie was saying as she babbled away about one guy in a band, another who was a dj. She was too busy feeling self-conscious being dangled like a piece of meat in front of all these guys. For all Beth knew, they were expecting another version of Maggie Greene, not some pale girl with owlish eyes who abandoned her brand new music business degree to muck around with cows and chickens.
She felt herself deflate a little more when she and Maggie descended the stairs to the living room, discovering Hershel, Otis, and Patricia chatting but Daryl Dixon nowhere in sight.
"Aww, well don't you girls look beautiful!" Patricia stood up to give each of them a hug.
"Thank you Patricia. Bethy, come on out with me, Glenn just texted and said his friends are here," Maggie shrugged on her jean jacket and waited for Beth to cross the room and follow her.
Panic surged up her spine, and it must have been written all over her face because Hershel stood up from the couch and handed her the keys to his truck. "Actually, Beth, I forgot to send Daryl earlier, but we need to pick up ice for the party down at the gas station."
Beth was pulling on her wool peacoat and out the door before Maggie could call after her. The errand would take no more than fifteen minutes, but it just didn't seem like enough time to mentally prepare herself for a barn full of eligible men. When she pulled into the little gravel lot, she cut the engine and just let herself sit in the driver's seat singing along to a couple songs on the radio to buy a few more minutes of peace.
The words of a song floated out from the speakers, sending flashes of shaggy brown hair and unexpectedly blue eyes through her mind.
It's a little blurry how the whole thing started
I don't even really know what you intended…
And I know I shouldn't say it
But my heart don't understand
Why I got you on my mind
Why I got you on my mind Daryl Dixon. Beth screwed up her features, trying to force out images of broad shoulders toting sacks of feed or the flex of muscle working on their temperamental machinery in the summertime. She shuddered, flinging herself out of the truck, the cold air sending a shock through her bare legs, and propelling her forward into the bright fluorescent lighting of the convenience store.
"Hey Beth, was just waitin' for you to come pick up the ice, then I'm headin' on over to the farm," the familiar face of gas station owner Morgan Jones greeted her from behind the counter.
"Sorry I'm late Morgan," Beth gave a shaky smile, "Ice in the cooler?"
He nodded, and she made her way to the long row of glass door freezers lining the entire back wall. She reached in and grabbed two thirty pound bags of ice, knowing she would have to make multiple trips. Her narrow three-inch high heels and the feel of her dress creeping up the back of her legs did not help as she wobbled back through the store and outside.
When Beth made it to the truck, she immediately dropped the unwieldy weight and yanked on the hem of her dress to keep herself decent. Unlatching the tailgate, she was about to crouch down and pick up the bags when she saw them swing past her face and into the bed.
"Oh, thank you!" Beth turned and came face to face with Daryl Dixon, "Oh, it's you—I mean— it's you Daryl. Dixon. Daryl Dixon….Hi." Thank God for the cold, that's obviously what was making her face beet red. That, and the exertion of lugging the bags of ice. Yup, that's what it was.
"Saw ya walkin' by in the store carryin' the ice, and thought your legs were gonna snap in two," Daryl rumbled, a carton of cigarettes tucked under his arm.
"Ha, it's these damn shoes," Beth explained lamely, sticking her foot out for good measure.
"That it?" Daryl asked.
"Oh yeah, well I basically had to sell my soul to Maggie this morning for her to let me sleep in, which in her world means dressing me up like a slightly more respectable hooker. And since I had to wear this dress, I couldn't exactly wear my cowboy boots—"
"Naw, I meant, is this all the ice ya pickin' up?" Daryl asked.
Forget blaming the cold. This time it was just the fiery humiliation Beth felt flooding her whole body. "Oh, no, I've got four more bags to bring out, but don't worry about it, I'm just making multiple trips."
Daryl didn't even hear the last part because he was halfway across the parking lot already and back in the store. Between the two of them, it only took one more trip back to the truck.
"Thanks again," Beth found she couldn't stop staring at him, or stop the ensuing word vomit. It all just came tumbling out. "Well if you're helpin' me load the truck, you gotta come back to the farmhouse with me. And then y'know Daddy'll wanna say hey, and there'll be beer, and you should meet everyone cuz Daddy's always braggin' bout ya."
Beth's face almost melted at the sight of the bewildered look on Daryl's face. Her mouth floundered for more words but finally, she just clapped her mouth shut. Daryl chewed at the inside of his cheek looking down at the toes of his boots, before nodding once.
"Great, I guess ya can follow me back, or you know how to get there cuz you live there… and work there," Beth spun around and jumped into the driver's seat just to stop the verbal diarrhea.
The glare from the lone headlight on Daryl's motorcycle obscured his face, and she could only hope he didn't catch her looking at him from the rearview mirror. She wanted to speed off and drive the truck off a cliff, she couldn't remember the last time she felt like such an idiot. He was probably following her back to the farm because she was making about as much sense as someone who'd just had a stroke. How'd she go from poking fun at him that morning to barely able to put together a sentence in front of him? She immediately blamed Maggie for derailing all of her thoughts with a potential love life. She needed to keep her focus on Hershel and the farm, not be distracted by someone who saw her as the pesky farmer's daughter.
Beth found her anxiety of living up to her would-be suitors' expectations was replaced by the rising disappointment that Daryl would help her get the ice back inside and then retreat to the safety of his one bedroom cabin on the farthest edge of the farm. She knew at that moment that her New Year's Eve would be just another night if she couldn't get Daryl to at least stay and have a beer.
With the equivalent of an igloo's worth of ice stowed away in the garage deep freeze, Beth somehow got Daryl to follow her back up to the house. She hated the fact that she held her breath till they were nearly to the door, wondering if Daryl would try to make a break for it back to his bike.
Daryl visibly stiffened when he and Beth entered the cheery bright kitchen. Beth put a hand on his shoulder, and tugged at the fabric of his worn grey denim jacket to get him to remove it. She hung up both his coat and hers on a couple of hooks by the door and turned around to find him shifting from foot to foot, unsure of which direction to go. Seeing all the guests spilling through the living and dining room into the kitchen had Daryl doing an about face and charging right into Beth.
His head ducked down, but snapped right back up, and only then did Beth remember what she was wearing. Her hand swept under her hair, pulling it over her shoulder.
"Your Pops looks busy, I'll come by to wish him Happy New Year in the mornin'," Daryl cleared his throat and tried to sidestep around her.
Beth put a hand on Daryl's chest to stop him, "I owe you a beer, it's the least I could do for helping me haul all that ice," She reached into the fridge and pulled out two cold bottles from the fridge.
"Hey Beth, mind if I sneak by and grab one a'those?" Rick Grimes appeared at her side and placed a warm hand on her shoulder as he pulled at the fridge door.
"Happy New Year Rick," Beth smiled at the man. Just as she was about to inquire about Rick's wife Lori and their kids, Maggie's shriek pierced the air from across the room, finally seeing her sister in the crowd.
"Bethy, get over here!" Maggie called out, waving her arm so vigorously it was like she was trying to direct air traffic.
She could feel her heart sink. As soon as she left Daryl's side, he'd slip out the door on his silent hunter's tread. "Rick," she stepped forward so quickly to grab the sheriff's attention she stumbled on her heels, and Daryl's hands had to circle her waist to keep her on her feet.
"Yes Beth?" Rick turned around.
"You haven't met Daryl yet. Daddy's always braggin' bout him, I can't believe you two haven't crossed paths," Beth pulled Daryl forward by the front of his shirt, "Daryl, this is Rick Grimes, our sheriff."
As Beth scurried over to Maggie's side, she kept an eye out on the two men, seeing Rick's easy smile and friendly demeanor help put Daryl at ease.
"Beth, this is Spencer Monroe," Maggie elbowed her sister to bring her attention back to the small circle in front of her, "Spencer, this is my baby sister, Beth Greene." Before either could say a word, Maggie turned and walked away, leaving the two of them alone.
"Hi Beth, it's nice to meet you," Spencer extended his hand, "Maggie's been telling me all about you."
"Oh God, has she?" Beth immediately brought her bottle of beer to her lips to brace herself for whatever embarrassing anecdote she'd shared with the man.
"Yeah, she said you like to sing, and you play a few instruments. I think at some point tonight, she's going to try and get us to sing a duet or something," Spencer winked, "I promise, I won't let it happen."
Maggie's description of a really cute guy in a band came back to her, and she laughed, "Yeah sorry, I only sing duets if it's Johnny Cash and June."
Spencer feigned relief, "Oh well good, then it obviously wouldn't work, I only sing duets if it's Beyonce and Lady Gaga."
Beth nearly choked on a mouthful of beer, "Oh, well I don't have the pipes like Beyonce, although Maggie did steal this dress from one of her backup dancers and make me wear it tonight."
After a few minutes laughing over their mutual embarrassment at the blatant set-up, Beth realized that Maggie was a terrible matchmaker. She wasn't sure if she had a type, but Spencer was not it. Just walking in through the front door, she spotted her friend Rosita, and she suddenly knew exactly what to do. Within moments, Beth had introduced the two, she was dumping her empty beer bottle in the recycling bin, and reaching into the fridge for a refill. If Maggie had men lined up to throw at her, she was going to need something to get her through the night.
Just as she used the hem of her dress to twist the cap off her beer, she caught the tail-end of Rick and Daryl's conversation, Daryl offering to help Rick the following weekend with some car trouble Lori had been having.
"Speakin' of Lori," Beth rejoined the two men, "I think I saw Lori headin' off to the barn. You better dance with your wife tonight."
Rick reached out to shake Daryl's hand, "Well I think that's my cue to track her down. Wouldn't want some other guy stealin' her away."
Leaving the two of them leaning up against the fridge, they stayed side by side, sipping their beers in companionable silence. Finally Daryl cleared his throat, "So how'd yer date go?"
Beth schooled her expression into mock-breathiness, "Great, we're gettin' married in the spring."
Daryl snorted, bringing his beer back up to his lips, "I'll give my condolences when I see him." He grunted as Beth's elbow connected with his ribs.
"Talkin' for five minutes in your daddy's livin' room hardly qualifies as a date Daryl," she rolled her eyes.
"Hmm," Daryl nodded finishing off his drink and tossing it neatly into the bin across the kitchen with the same accuracy with which he could snipe a squirrel in the woods, "Guess you're the type that needs flowers n' chocolate n' all that other bullshit."
Beth shrugged, "Nah… although I'd never turn down chocolate." It dawned on her she hadn't eaten anything except a handful of almonds and a gallon of coffee that day. She'd downed two beers in ten minutes, just quick enough to make her feel a little fuzzy around the edges. Just enough to decide it was the best idea in the world to pour a couple mason jars full of Carol Peletier's infamous New Year's punch. No matter that her first proper drunk experience included the potent stuff and a night cryin' on the bathroom floor that bad moonshine made you go blind.
When she returned to Daryl's side, she pressed one of the jars into his hand while taking a small sip from the other. Daryl shook his head, "Naw, somebody's gotta keep watch."
"So what, you're like my chaperone now?" The look Beth fixed him with had him accepting the jar, his expression halfway between humoring her and challenging her by gulping down nearly half of the liquid.
"Come out to the barn with me," Beth was almost surprised that her command sounded like her normal self, not some breathless sixteen-year-old girl. She glanced down at her mason jar, still nearly full in comparison to Daryl's half empty one, and if she was already feeling the effects of Carol's punch from two dainty sips, she wondered what he was feeling right at that moment.
"Why?" he grumbled, taking another swig from his jar as if he was tossing back water.
"Cuz we've been talkin' for five minutes in my daddy's kitchen, so by your definition we're on a date," Beth quipped cheerily. The words flew out of her mouth unbidden. That should've been the sign she was in trouble. It was like her verbal filter was slowly slipping. The hiccup which punctuated her bold statement didn't help either.
Before she could add anything else to make herself look even more of a fool, she teetered out of the kitchen, smiling and greeting all the familiar faces she passed on her way to the front door. She kept a firm grip on her jar, careful not to let any of the punch slosh out.
Once Beth got down to the gravel path, she could hear the sound of music floating out of the barn. Lantern light cast a hazy glow along the curvy path before her and she felt it—that magic—all over again.
"What're y'doin' standing there with that shit-eatin' grin for?" a gruff voice sounded beside her, and for the second time that day, Daryl Dixon made her spill her drink.
"I'm sorry, am I not allowed to smile Mr. Dixon?"
"Ya look deranged," Daryl clarified.
"You'd go on a date with a deranged woman?" Beth asked turning to look at him.
"Dixons don't date. Like I said, someone's gotta keep watch," Daryl looked straight ahead. In the dim light, Beth couldn't tell if the tips of his ears had gone pink or if it was just the cold, "Didn't even bring your jacket."
She fought the urge to say her drink was keeping her plenty warm and instead gave in to the urge to tease him, "Not really my kinda date where the man just watches."
"Ain't a date," Daryl harrumphed.
Two beers and half a jar of punch and even outright rejection rolled off her. At least she wasn't blushing furiously just to be in his presence. She was even moderately impressed with her witty retorts and booze-infused confidence. No doubt he would give her shit about it in the morning, but she'd worry about that later. Beth ignored Daryl's blunt brush-off and began teetering her way –slowly— to the barn. And Daryl stayed by her side, even if he kept a couple feet of distance between them.
The barn was just as packed full as the house. Even with the doors flung open wide, the heaters and the combined body heat kept the space comfortable. Daryl made a beeline for Hershel as soon as he spotted him. The white bearded old man sat alone on one of the benches with a mug clasped between his hands and tapping his feet to the music.
"Hey Daddy, I knew you'd be in here!" Beth leaned down and kissed her father's cheek, "Look who I talked into joinin' the party!"
Before Hershel could get in a word, Maggie appeared at Beth's side with a hand on her arm, "There you are! I saw Spencer walk in with Rosita ten minutes ago, but c'mon, we'll get you on stage to sing with him!"
"Actually Margaret, I'd love if Beth could sing your mom's and my song. I can't dance anymore, but it'd bring me so much joy if I could see you and Glenn takin' a turn."
"Oh Dad, Elvis?" Maggie lips formed a tight smile, before reluctantly acquiescing to her father's request, "Alright, well I'll ask Spencer to accompany you Beth."
Nowhere in this exchange did Beth get in a word of her own. Instead she glared at Daryl's amused expression. Daryl's smug smile said it all. Seemed like he wasn't the only one cornered into doing something he didn't want to do. It was far more amusing to watch her dad and sister try to outwit one another when she wasn't the pawn they were moving around the chessboard. Without breaking eye contact with Beth, Daryl emptied his glass, stood to get a refill, and asked if Hershel needed anything.
Practically shoved onto the little makeshift stage, Beth saw Daryl watching her from the corner of the barn, even as he poured himself another drink. She wasn't sure if she had ever seen him drink, let alone drink that much. Spencer nodded at her before queuing up the band, and the opening chords of "Can't Help Falling in Love," began.
If she was supposed to be singing with Spencer, she was failing, because she couldn't take her eyes off Daryl. Something about the words of the song made all their teasing and playful jabs at one another fade into the background, it was just his eyes and his lips and the way his hair fell across his forehead. Dimly, she recognized Hershel lean in to say something to Daryl when he returned, but he wasn't looking away either. So often he dismissed her teasing or looked anywhere but her, but his guards were starting to slip away too.
After she sang the last note, the barn erupted in applause and the spell was broken. Beth looked out on the crowd and she beamed out at them, the feeling of getting to sing for the one—ones— she loved filled her with a joy she hadn't felt in so long. The cheering died down and she skirted the dj stand to get off the stage.
Too bad Maggie was ready and waiting with another attempt at playing Cupid. The older Greene girl introduced her to a dj named Noah and forced the mic back into her hand demanding Beth sing a song with him too.
"Something I can really dance to," Maggie gave her a little shove.
Beth could only think of one other song to sing, which she whispered to Noah. He nodded his understanding, and within moments the familiar beat of the Ellie Goulding song she heard playing earlier on the radio had her swaying her hips. Her gaze briefly flicked over to Daryl, and she couldn't help but wink at him before looking back out at the crowd. The song made all the same images flood her mind again, and she didn't trust her facial expression if she stared too long at him. If she had no verbal filter, she imagined her face wouldn't be able to mask her'shit-eatin'-grin' as Daryl called it.
As Beth hurriedly requested before Maggie could pull another puppet string, Noah finished her song and immediately transitioned to another dance hit that kept their guests moving. It was enough of a distraction for her to hop down from the stage before Maggie could hold her hostage up there the whole night. She didn't even care if in the process she'd flashed her underwear to everyone at the front of the crowd, so long as she made her escape.
She was so focused on avoiding all the moving bodies on her way back to her dad and Daryl, but before they came back into view, someone hooked an arm around her waist and spun her around.
"Heeey, you're Maggie's sister Beth!" a foreign face slurred and dipped down way too close for her comfort. She grimaced at the reek of cologne, hair product, and alcohol oozing from his pores. His hot breath made Beth's skin crawl.
"I'm Aiden Monroe," the man grinned stupidly, tightening his grip around her. The beer he was holding dug into her back and as Beth tried to pull away, some of the bottle's contents splashed onto the back of her dress. "My brother dragged me to this party because he had to meet Maggie's hot sister, and now he's off with some other chick."
This guy was obviously far too drunk for how early into the party it was. Beth attempted once more to extricate herself from the sloppy douchebag's grasp, but he was just as tall and big as Spencer. Too bad he was a fraction as nice.
"Well, you seem to be havin' enough fun without your brother," Beth placed her palms on Aidan's chest to try and create enough distance between them to slip away. Every second he was delaying her meant Daryl could be gone in the wind.
"Yeah, but since I know you're not taken, I could have more fun with you," Aiden hauled her up so she was flush with his body.
She felt him trying to lead them away from the group, but before she could raise alarm suddenly Aiden was ripped away from her and thrown onto his back. Daryl had flown in out of nowhere and had unleashed a series of blows on Aidan's face that took everyone, including Beth, by surprise. When Aiden recovered from the shock and attempted to strike back, Beth was overwhelmed with relief to see Rick approach and pull Daryl off of him.
"Don't do this right now brother," Rick grunted into Daryl's ear as the hunter continued to thrash. Daryl broke out of the sheriff's grasp, chest heaving with anger and the exertion of the brief altercation.
Aiden had recovered his now broken beer bottle and began directing his belligerence unknowingly at the police officer. In all the commotion, Daryl went completely unnoticed as he stormed out of the barn. Hershel tried to pull Beth to him as Rick got the scene under control, but she shrugged out of his arms, trailing after Daryl.
The shocking events and the cold air were quickly dampening Beth's buzz as she looked for which direction to go next. It was only when she turned the corner of the barn that she found Daryl's hulking form trying to light a cigarette with shaking hands.
She crossed her arms over her chest and walked over, "Well I guess the situation calls for a cigarette, but for the record, those'll kill ya."
Daryl simply snorted around the cigarette, smoke puffing out his nose and the sides of his mouth like he was a bull ready to charge. His hand clenched around his lighter squeezing and releasing out the pent up energy.
Before Beth could open her mouth to speak again, Daryl turned and walked away, trudging in the direction of his cabin. She tried to keep up with him, but damn the most impractical shoes ever to go trotting through the woods in the dark.
"Daryl—ugh— wait up!" Beth hopped on one foot, then the other, slipping her shoes off to catch up with him.
He whipped around and looked her up and down, annoyance clearly written all over his face, "Get outta here Greene. Go home."
Instead, Beth tossed her shoes over her shoulder and clasped her hands in front of her, giving no indication she would move from her spot, Daryl rolled his eyes, pinched his cigarette between his lips, and presented his back to her, "Hop on."
"Are you serious?" Beth reared back.
"Yeah, it's a serious piggyback. You're walkin' around barefoot in December. Fuckin' ridiculous."