Maybe it was the fact of how much he respected Maggie, or the memory of her late father. Maybe it was because he didn't just see another dead girl in Beth. Shit, it was probably all those things and more. All he knew after they escaped that hell hole Terminus is that he dreaded explaining to Maggie why her baby sister was just gone.
It was sooner than he hoped. They were on a well-earned break, letting Asskicker have a bottle and a diaper change. He motioned for the only Greene with them to follow him a little way into the woods. He had to tell her, had to explain.
With tears in his eyes and a catch in his throat he told her everything he and Beth had been through since the prison. To Maggie's credit she didn't say a word. Not until he was finished. She didn't blame him or cut him off. She let him say everything he needed to.
"I haven't stopped looking, Maggie. Every minute I'm looking for a sign of her. I won't stop till I get her back for you,"
She had smiled sadly. "It's not just for me, or Rick, or Carol or Ty or Michonne. It's for you, too, Daryl, and for all of us. But especially you."
He wiped his eyes, not giving a rat's ass if he was discrete or not. "I couldn't save your daddy, but I sure the fuck am gonna do everything I can to save Bethy. I owe your family that."
Maggie closed the distance between them and pulled the hunter into a hug, holding him to her tightly. Tentatively he returned the hug.
"You love her and that's okay. You can lie to me all you want but don't lie to yourself or her, when we find her again."
He opened his mouth and shut it quick, dumbfounded.
"Promise me, Dar,"
Shakily, he promised her.
It felt like years passed by until he found some sort of sign of Beth. One of those cars with the cross in its rear window. He didn't waste a second in doing what he had to do in order to follow it. He didn't care if Carol went with him or not. He didn't care that he was leaving everyone else behind without a word.
In a perfect world he would have explained. It wasn't a perfect world, however. He followed the only sign he had, like it was his only reason for breathing.
In a way, it was. It was the only thing that really mattered to him. He had to get his Beth back.
Of course, everything went to hell in a hand basket. That kid stole their weapons, then they saved the kid just for one of those dickholes to run Carol over in their car and take her. He had no choice but to let them. He listened to Noah and his heart, letting them take Carol was the only option. Their group had a better chance of fixing her. He knew in that moment he had to go back and get his family.
With his family, he knew there would be no stopping them from getting Beth and Carol back.
Things went well enough, up until the lead cop, Dawn, wanted Noah back. In the back of his head Daryl knew something wasn't going to work out. He should have insisted the kid stayed back, outside the hospital. Out of sight until it was over.
When he first got his eyes on Beth his heart thundered in his chest and his mouth dried out. He felt like he couldn't breathe. She was alive and in front of him. She was alive. She was hurt, with a cast over her hand, and stitches in her face, but she was living and breathing. He still couldn't breathe right, not until she was back with them, surrounded by their family and safe. He watched her as she pushed Carol's wheel chair up and to one of the other cops, who took her to the middle point. Beth waited, eyes glancing from one to the next of their family until her eyes landed on his. It was like he got sucker punched right in the gut. He forced himself to look away, waiting and watching until it was over.
Daryl watched, as Beth was handed off to Rick. Watched Rick lean over and press a kiss to the blonde's forehead. He wished that it had been him in that moment. He forced himself to relax his grip on his weapon.
His heart slammed against his rib cage.
"Now, I just need Noah,"
Everyone had stopped, deadly still. He wasn't sure that anyone was actually breathing.
He listened, listened to the woman try and lay claim to the kid, so much like the Claimers that he had been forced to join forces with, until he found Rick, Michonne and Carl. Hatred filled him; his blood ran cold. Daryl reached out as Noah started to step towards the cop, and laid his hand firmly on Noah's chest, pushing him back slightly. Daryl stepped forward, barely containing the growl behind his words. "No, he ain't staying," Daryl moved to flank Rick on his left side.
Then, Beth, sweet Beth told Noah to wait, as he went towards the cop again, and threw her arms around him in a hug, they rocked back and forth for a moment before she released him from her hug and stepped back in front of the cop.
For Daryl, everything was in slow motion. He watched her step forward, listened to the quiet venom in her words as she spoke to Dawn. He saw the glint of metal in her hand a millisecond before her hand was raised and she stabbed the item into the cop's neck. He heard the gun shot. It all happened so quickly there was no time for him to try to stop any of it. He watched blood spray.
His heart stopped. He couldn't move. Couldn't breathe. She started to fall, and suddenly he was in motion, catching her before she hit the ground. He felt the tears falling down his face. He cradled her to him. He sobbed. He felt hands on his hands, trying to pull her from him. He forced the word 'no,' out.
"Daryl," He couldn't take his eyes from her face, couldn't figure out who was saying his name. "Daryl, let go. Let me take a look at her,"
He looked up, his eyes meeting Carol's. She looked as wrecked as he felt. He slowly forced his hands to let go of her. As Carol took her from him, he fell backwards, not able to hold his own weight. He felt Rick behind him, giving him something to lean into. Rick's legs. Carol laid Beth down on the floor and began looking her over. Looking for the bullet hole.
He was sobbing. He looked up from the floor.
"It's her arm. She's going to be okay."
He couldn't believe what he was hearing. It had to be a sick joke. Rick moved from behind him to next to him. He felt Rick's strong hands on his shoulders. Steadying him. He focused his attention to Rick, not on the floor or on Beth, laying there, not moving, covered in blood.
Rick leaned into him further, his breath against Daryl's ear. "She's going to live, Daryl. The bullet, the bullet hit her arm."
He lifted his head and locked his eyes on Rick's. He searched for any sign of a lie, or a joke being played on him. He couldn't find any sign of it being anything but the truth. He inhaled, loud and raspy. He wiped his face of the tears that were still falling. He nodded and knee walked the little ways to Beth. He took her hand in his and held on tight.
When her arm was bandaged and she groggily woke up, it was like the world started moving again for him. In all, it had maybe been an hour. The Grady peoples doctor helped bandage her, gave them antibiotics to keep her from getting an infection. She looked around the hallway, took in the faces of everyone around her, until her eyes landed on his face.
"Hi," She smiled at him. Her face was covered in a layer of sweat.
"Hi," He matched her smile with a smile of his own. He didn't know what else to say, but to echo her greeting. It felt inadequate, but it was all he could figure out to say.
"Is Noah," She cleared her throat, "Did Noah go with them?"
"Nah. He's fine."
"Then this was for something,'" She nodded to her arm. "Good."
"Was stupid, what you did,"
"I know," She nodded.
He stood up and took another look at her. "Long as ya know." He walked down the hallway. He paused at the swinging doors before he continued to walk out of them. He left the hospital, taking care of the few walkers roaming around the doors directly outside. He took a deep breathe and leaned back against the doors, letting his head droop forward, like he had no strength left.
He only looked up when he heard a large vehicle pulling up to the outer gates. He didn't move as he watched Glenn and Maggie, Abraham and the rest of them come running up to him. Maggie didn't take her eyes from him, silently asking him a dozen questions.
"She's alive. Upstairs." He gave them directions and moved away from the door. He walked away, again. He went to their vehicle, a fire engine. A part of him was amused by the choice of vehicle, somewhere deep inside that wasn't rejoicing in Beth being alive, or heart broken that he had almost lost her again.
He distanced himself as the group made their way down to the fire truck. He stayed apart while they made their way back to the church. He watched and he kept his guard up. He got into the driver seat of one of their cars. He expected to drive back by himself at the rear of their caravan. Instead, Maggie climbed into the passenger seat. He nodded to her once and started the car. Five minutes of driving in silence. That's how long she gave him before she started talking.
"You got her back, Daryl. Like you said you would."
"Don't blame yourself. Rick told me what happened. He told me everything. Beth has always been stubborn. She did what she had to do. She did what any of us would have done, to save one of ours. She saved him like he saved her. It's over, and we have her back."
He grunted in acknowledgement but didn't reply. She chose to leave him alone and let him think. He was grateful that she finally fell silent again.
He pulled in to the church and shut the engine off. He grabbed his bow and his pack from the back seat and climbed out of the car. He shut the door and leaned against it. He watched as their friends took turns in hugging Beth, like they hadn't done at Grady Memorial. Beth hugged them all with only one arm, she smiled at them all. Then those big doe eyes looked around, searching. Her eyes landed on him. She half ran towards him. His mind couldn't quite catch up with his eyes. He couldn't figure out why she was coming towards him. After everything, he had let her get taken. He had let her get hurt. Again. Everything that had happened to her since the prison was on him.
Beth didn't stop until she was inches in front of him. Her eyes didn't leave his. She threw herself into him, hugging him with a strength that seemed impossible for someone so small, and hurt. In shock he hugged her back. He buried his face in her blonde, wild curls. He let himself feel the heat of her against him, the hidden strength in her. The feeling of her heart beating against his chest. Her breath right below his throat, where the V of shirt hung open. He basked in the feeling of her, before he forced himself to pull back. He looked in her eyes and saw unshed tears.
"I missed you so bad, Daryl Dixon."
He didn't break eye contact as he nodded, "Yeah," He almost blurted that he missed her too. So badly. Just like she had told him he would, back at the cabin in the woods, after all that moonshine. Right before they lit the place on fire; Middle fingers raised in a farewell salute.
She cocked her head to the side, like she was reading him. She nodded once and pivoted to stand next to him, her shoulder against his bicep. She reached out, taking his hand in hers. His head whipped down to look at her hand in his. His heart constricted at the sight. He was conflicted. It felt right to have Beth holding his hand, standing there next to him. At the same time, he felt wrong, like he shouldn't have something so pure that he had almost lost for good there next to him. He looked from their hands to the faces of his friends and family.
It was amazing to him. His family- Rick, Michonne, Carl, Maggie, Glenn- and their friends just smiled towards them. Some of them nodded. But not a single one of them frowned or looked pissed.
His trigger finger twitched against Beth's hand, the only outward sign of everything he was feeling. She squeezed his hand and started walking forward. He followed, knowing he would follow her to the ends of the world if she asked.
It was dark out, and she hadn't left his side, even when he took up residence on the steps of the church. Everyone, including her sister, had long since gone inside. Rick had patted him once on the shoulder as he went inside. Maggie and Glenn had both hugged Beth before following Rick in.
He kept looking at her from the corner of his eye, not really believing that she was still really sitting there beside him, close enough that he could almost feel her thigh against his.
"I never stopped looking," He finally spoke.
"I know. I never stopped trying to get back to you."
He side eyed her. "What you did there. At Grady. It was stupid,"
"Yeah, not my best moment," She laughed.
"Ain't funny. I thought you were dead. I just got you back, and then you did that, and I thought you were gone,"
"Daryl." She reached over and placed her hand on his knee. "I had to do it. You don't know what Noah and I went through. You don't know what I went through once Noah escaped. Dawn wasn't good. She pretended to be. She acted like she was a good guy, but she wasn't. She let things happen."
"I won't make you tell me what happened there," He took her hand in his. "But you can't do shit like that. Not if it means they'll lose you. We need you. I need you."
Beth squeezed his hand. "Some day I'll tell you. I'll tell everyone, but I'm not ready, yet and I don't know when I will be. You know, I wasn't ever strong. We talked about that before, back at that stupid shack. We both said things we didn't mean. Then when we were at the mortuary, and things changed, didn't they?"
"Yeah, they did." He agreed. He looked out into the darkness.
"What does it all mean, for us?"
He didn't answer right away. "I guess, it's what you want it to be,"
She laughed. "That isn't the most helpful of answers, you know,"
He glanced over at her, again. He pulled his hand away from hers and quickly moved to put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to him. He hadn't ever been one for many words. He didn't know how to tell her everything on his mind. He didn't even know for sure what he was thinking. She relaxed into his side and let her head rest against his shoulder.
"I can tell you the exact moment I knew I loved you," She nudged him before continuing. "When you were laying in that coffin, and you asked me to keep playing the piano. You told me 'there ain't no jukebox,'"
"That why you were singing that particular song?"
"You remember the song?"
"Mhm, I remember all the songs I heard you sing since I met you back on your daddy's farm."
"So, you never hated my singing, huh?"
"Nah," He smirked and nudged her.
"You want to be my boyfriend now?" She giggled, "That word seems so ridiculous, doesn't it?"
His heart had done some sort of crazy dance inside his chest when she had said she knew the moment she had fallen in love with him. It was surreal, that whole day. He had thought he lost her, again. He had expected a lot of things, but not even one of them was that she would love him. He wasn't prepared for her to ask him if he wanted to be her boyfriend. He didn't know if he was capable of being that, or even just being someone good enough to be near her.
"Dunno if that word fits, but I want to be something to you," He began to chew on his cuticle. He felt like he had just thrown himself under a bus and laid his heart on platter specifically for Beth.
He continued chewing on the cuticle of his thumb, but he watched her from under his bangs. Her smile was instantaneous. "We'll figure that part out, then." She leaned up and pressed a kiss to his cheek. "Let's go to bed. I don't know about you but I'm really tired,"
He chuckled as he stood up and followed her into the church. She moved around and over their family and friends until she made her way to the other side of the church, near a wall. She had grabbed a pile of blankets on her way. He had stopped half way through and watched her. She laid out the blankets and then stood to look at him. She cocked her head to the side, like she was asking him if he was going to come or not. He hesitated but ultimately, he made his way over to her and laid down under the blankets she set out. She laid down right next to him, and then scooted closer to him until their bodies were touching. He moved from laying on his back to laying on his side and wrapped her in his arms, pulling her tightly to him.
He listened to her breathing even out as she eventually fell asleep, her head cushioned on his arm and nose pressed into his neck. He had no idea what he was doing, and it scared the shit out of him. He didn't know how to be anybody's boyfriend or how to show her his feelings. He didn't have a clue if he was even a good enough man for her. But he was willing to try. For her he was willing to do anything.