I haven't watched this show since season 6 (I think) and my Daryl/Beth muse is really starting to wane again, but I had this idea looking at the pictures of Daryl with his dog by the river and I wanted to write something. This isn't good at all - that is your warning.
"There was this bakery in town-"
The instant Beth began speaking, Daryl lifted his head from his plate to look at her on the other side of the fire, sitting on the stool he had brought over for her. She had finished her own plate of fish and was now giving Dog so much attention and ear rubs, the dog's eyes looked damn-near glazed over in pleasure. Daryl didn't doubt that Dog would now blindly follow Beth to the ends of the earth.
The animal wasn't the only one.
"- and I always tried to not go, but sometimes, I wasn't able to help myself and whenever I had a few extra dollars from babysitting, I would go in and tell myself that I was only going to look. And smell."
She smiled as she talked and Daryl found himself smirking a little at that.
"And this baker made the most amazing chocolate chip muffins – extra chocolate chips. They were four dollars and as big as my face, I swear, and about two days' worth of calories, but whenever I broke down and bought one, I had absolutely no regrets."
Daryl was quiet as he imagined a younger Beth – the Beth he first saw when they first got to her family farm all of those years ago – sitting at some table in some little bakery, eating a chocolate muffin with a smile on her face.
It wasn't hard to imagine at all. And as he imagined, it made him smile down to his plate. For some reason, he didn't want Beth to see him smiling because she would then ask him what he was thinking about and he would truthfully answer with "You" and Daryl didn't know if he was ready for that.
"You used to worry about somethin' like that? Calories?" Daryl wondered out loud.
She had always been a little thing; especially when he first met her and he can't imagine her ever worrying about clothes or scales. Then again, she was a teenage girl all those years ago and don't all teenage girls worry about stupid stuff like that?
Beth's response was a light laugh and through the flames of the fire, he swore that her cheeks were pink; as if embarrassed about that.
"The things we used to worry about," she replied quietly with a soft shake of her head.
Daryl was quiet, finishing the rest of his fish, his head bowed to his plate because if he didn't look down, he'd be looking at her and nothing else. He still couldn't believe that she was here. After all of this time, Beth was here. With him. She had tracked him down. It had taken her a long time and he could allow himself to hate himself for that because he hadn't even thought of going back to Atlanta to look for her. He had thought… she was dead. Or so they had all thought.
But he should have known better and he would always hate himself for not knowing better. Beth Greene was one of the toughest people left in this world and to prove that to him, she was sitting across from his now, with Dog, at his riverside camp, eating fish and humming a song as she worked a snarl in Dog's fur.
He scraped up the last bit of fish and shoved it into his mouth, allowing his eyes to lift to look to Beth again. He couldn't help, but look to the scar on her cheek. It had faded after all of this time, but it still looked so out of place; an ugly scar on such a pretty face.
And at that though, Daryl lowered his eyes again, focusing on chewing and swallowing.
Finally done and not able to pretend he wasn't, Daryl stood up with his plate and came around the fire, holding his hand out, silently telling her what to do. Beth picked the empty plate from off her lap and held it out to him with a smile.
"I can wash those. You cooked," she offered.
"Nah. I'll get to 'em tomorrow," he said and went to go put them away in a plastic bin.
He was trying his best to distract himself because he didn't know what else to do. He knew what he wanted to do, but he couldn't sit down next to Beth and take hold of her hand and never let go. What had happened between them – or what hadn't happened between them – in that funeral home, another lifetime ago, it had long ago passed them by. They couldn't just pick up again from some random spot they might, or might not, have shared together.
No, Daryl answered himself silently.
Too much time had passed. Too much happened. Too many people had been lost and there had been too many changes – with himself and with her, too – and they couldn't just pretend that nothing was different.
He knew he should take her to Alexandria or Hilltop. She should sleep in a bed tonight behind a fence; not out here on the ground in his tent with just him and Dog for company. She had said she wanted to be here, but that didn't mean that Daryl should listen to her. This girl had walked hundreds and hundreds of miles, following a trail that had long gone cold, and she had still managed to find him. She was probably just too exhausted at having finally found him to be thinking clearly. Once he took her to some other place with a bed and a roof and a door, she would never think of sleeping with him next to his river again.
Daryl jumped, but only from basic instinct, when he felt a pair of arms slip around his waist from behind.
And Jesus Christ. In just a second, he was rushed back outside to that moonshine shack with the sun shining down on them both as Beth hugged him and he cried in her arms.
Beth stood behind him now with her head turned and her cheek resting on his back. He didn't tense and he didn't try to break away from her. For the first time in a long time – years – Daryl felt his body unwind.
"Is this alright?" She then asked him in a quiet voice.
"Yeah," Daryl didn't even pause to think it over.
He lifted a hand and rested it over her hand and he was the one this time to link his fingers with her.
When was the last time someone had touched him? Carol, but he never counted that. And even if he did, Carol - and no one other than Beth - ever got his skin to feel warm like it was feeling now. It had been years since he felt warm like this and it had been so short-lived, but his time with Beth, he had started to get used to it.
Tonight, he would let Beth sleep here in his camp by the river with him and Dog and then tomorrow, he would take her to one of the other camps. He'd take tonight though. He'd give himself this one night, listening to Beth Greene alive next to him, breathing as she slept, before he'd take her to others in their family because wasn't that what he was always trying to do for her? Find her others in the family that she could be with besides him because this girl had tracked him hundreds and hundreds of miles, but he couldn't believe that she actually wanted to stay with him.
Who the hell wanted to stay out here with him? No one stayed. And Beth was here now, after all of this time, but she had actually been the one to teach him this more than anyone in his life. No one stayed. Because of her, he'd come to expect everyone to leave him eventually.
Thank you very much for reading.