Disclaimer: I do not own anything belonging to The Walking Dead in this story!
~ Author's Note ~
This was written for UltimateBethylFicList's 'First of Many' contest where it came in 2nd place, so thank you to all the lovely people who voted!
I hope those who haven't read this yet will enjoy it!
Stepping Stones to Happiness
~ Hershel ~
Being a patient man had not come easy to Hershel Greene, especially during his troubled youth, but running a sometimes struggling farm and raising three beautiful children while fighting an alcohol addiction gave a man a lot of practice with that particular virtue and he considered himself an old pro at it by this late point in his life.
Even more so now that the world was inhabited by the walking dead that had an insatiable hunger for the living.
But there was one thing in this new world that had repeatedly frayed at his once unlimited patience, and that was an injured Daryl Dixon.
The man had very little regard for his own well-being, so much so that he had nearly died twice over because he refused to rest and heal after a serious injury, and by this point Hershel had grown tired of trying to make him listen to his medical advice of eating a full meal and resting for more than a couple of hours. If Hershel had his way, whenever Daryl got hurt he would be bedridden for two weeks at least.
He didn't think he would ever refuse to treat him however, as Daryl was a good man who worked himself to the bone to provide and protect their family.
That was until Daryl became really sick with the flu.
Daryl Dixon sick with the flu was something none of them had had to deal with previously and everyone hoped they never had to deal with his surlier than normal attitude again. It was clear that Daryl was not a man that enjoyed being made to look and feel weak.
Hershel didn't exactly refuse to treat him as that would be very selfish and dangerous to Daryl's life, but he did just enough to help him heal. He had tried to get Daryl to eat and rest the first two days he'd been sick and after Daryl once again refused to listen, Hershel had let him be.
Everyone had, until his Bethy had decided enough was enough, and he'll never forget the look on Daryl's – and everyone else's – face, when his youngest went toe to toe with the sick and surlier than normal redneck for the first time.
(1 Week Earlier)
Everyone was in the common area eating a meal of deer stew that Carol and Beth had prepared earlier in the day when Daryl refused to eat more than three spoonfuls of the hot and flavorful dish. Everyone including Hershel knew that it wasn't out of disrespect to the girls or their cooking, but because Daryl still didn't have an appetite five days into the sickness that seemed to refuse to let up on him even a little and you could feel the anger and annoyance rolling off him in waves, saturating the room and everyone in it with his dark aura.
He outright refused to force himself to eat the nutrients he needed or to stay in bed, and no matter how many people told him he needed rest if he wanted to heal he had declared he was taking watch in the guard tower since he couldn't leave the prison grounds to go on a run or go hunting.
This had been going on for days and people had given up trying to convince him that his belief that he needed to be active and just work through the sickness was wrong, he thought it was just what he needed to heal since that was what he had always done and he was still alive and kicking because of it.
Hershel was sure his doodlebug was the only one to not pester him about it yet, which wasn't surprising as she and Daryl interacted the least out of everyone and people just assumed Beth might be a little too intimidated of him to try and push him while he was in the mood he was in.
If that had been the case, her own patience seemed to have snapped when she suddenly stood up from her table and marched over to Daryl who sat between Carol and Rick who were quietly eating.
"You better listen to me Daryl Dixon," Beth spoke into the silence, shattering it. Her hands were resting on her hips with her shoulders squared as if for battle and in that moment Hershel saw his second wife Annette shining out of his little girl, and at the sound of her strong voice every head snapped up from their food to stare at her in confusion which quickly turned to shock the more she spoke.
"S'cuse me?" Daryl blinked at her.
"I don't care how much you don't want to eat the food; you'll eat every last bit of it. Right. Now," Beth commanded with a fire burning from eyes that never strayed from Daryl's rapidly darkening ones.
The hunter scoffed before replying in a dangerous tone that would make even Rick's knees wobble. "The hell girl? What's got your panties in a bunch? I'll do what I damn well pl-"
But Beth interrupted with a growl to her voice Hershel had never heard before. "Don't make me have t' tie ya down and spoon feed ya, because I will. I may not be strong enough to do it by myself but I'm sure Rick will help me."
Everyone in the common area suddenly looked at Rick who immediately held his hands up and looked at a glowering Daryl hesitantly, "I don't think I could-"
"Seriously?" Beth snapped at him and Rick immediately appeared scolded. He looked down from a glaring Beth before quickly spooning some stew into his mouth. "It's real good stew Beth," he mumbled after swallowing but Beth ignored him and looked over at Carol.
"Carol then," Beth declared, to which Carol's lip twitched in a smile before giving a confident nod to Beth and looking back at Daryl while Beth finished her statement. "I'm sure the two of us could handle you, especially in your current state, you look half dead!"
"I'm fine, I'll be fine. And you're sure as hell not my caretaker, I can look after myself just fine Greene."
Beth scoffed making Daryl's brows raise. "Look Daryl, I know providing for and protecting this family is the most important thing for you, and you do it so well most of us would likely be dead if it wasn't for that, but how the hell do you think your gonna do that if your dead from pneumonia because you refused to listen to every single person here telling you that you need to rest and eat so you can heal!" Beth enunciated each word as if she was talking to a child instead of a surly redneck who was looking increasingly more angry and scolded by the second.
Any other time Hershel would have admonished Beth for cursing but he felt so proud of his sweet child that he couldn't bring himself to care in the slightest. Sometimes a cuss word was needed to get the point across, and Hershel was sure if Beth cussing at Daryl didn't do that then nothing would.
"Just because you had to tough it out before doesn't mean you have to do it now. So, eat your food, say thank you, and then go to bed. And the only reason you're allowed to leave that bed for the next few days is to use the toilet. Do you understand?"
As Beth stood before Daryl, hands on her hips with a fire burning from within her, Daryl seemed undecided on how to react. But then suddenly his back hit the support on his chair as if wishing he could back away from that surprising fire but was impeded by his weakened state. He sighed before shaking his head and looking away from her intense gaze, apparently finally reprimanded.
"Christ girl, fine. I'll eat the damn stew," he grumbled before sitting forward once more and slowly spooning food into his mouth. After swallowing with a wince, Beth went and got Daryl a glass of water before placing it in front of him and standing back into a watchful stance with her arms crossed in front of her chest stubbornly.
"Y' gonna stand there and watch me eat?" Daryl asked incredulously.
"Yep, and then I'm gonna escort you to bed and sit outside your cell until you fall asleep," she replied with a satisfied smile before indicating with a nod of her head to continue eating.
As this back and forth occurred everyone in the room was silent and watchful, completely stunned not only at Beth standing up to Daryl; who over the past few days had been the surliest and angriest the group had ever seen him. But at the fact that instead of blowing up and intimidating Beth into just letting it go like he had with everyone else, Daryl had seemed scolded and was now doing exactly what sweet little Beth had told him to do.
"The hell happened to you anyway?" Daryl grumbled at Beth while still continuing to force down the food he desperately needed. "One time ya were terrified of a spider I had to get out of your room."
"I've had to watch you hurting yourself day after day and no one hurts anyone in this family, including themselves." Beth stated, making not only Daryl pause to look at her: to look at the woman she had somehow become without anyone noticing until now.
"And you've been a pain in everyone's butts," Beth said hurriedly after seeing Daryl's gaze rake across her whole form as if reevaluating her in his mind, and a blush spread across her cheeks making Daryl smirk into his spoon.
Hershel filled with pride for his youngest and then had a sudden thought that almost shocked him into jerking from his chair.
He was always worrying about who would look after Beth once he was gone. Maggie had Glenn, and Rick had his children to look after but if this ember between them he was sure he'd just witnessed spark to life was real, he knew there was no one stronger or kinder he would want to look after his baby girl than Daryl Dixon.
~ Beth ~
"That's a real first drink right there," Daryl drawled just after pouring a dash of moonshine from the jar into a dusty glass for Beth. Even though Daryl had blown into the glass to remove some dust it was still pretty dirty but Beth didn't care, she had gotten past needing to eat from sparkling clean cutlery a long time ago, plus she was about to drink moonshine made by some stranger who'd lived in a place like the rundown shack they were now occupying, and who knew how long ago he had actually made the stuff.
As that thought flickered in her mind she recalled a memory of her dad joking about bad moonshine and going blind. The memory brought not only the pain of grief but the worry that he was right in his thinking.
"Wha's the matter?" Daryl grumbled when she hesitated, they had gone through a lot to get this for her after all.
"Nothin'. It's just… my dad always said bad moonshine could make you go blind," Beth replied while looking up at a hovering Daryl.
"Ain't nothin' worth seein' out there anymore anyway." Daryl shrugged as he stood there waiting for her to taste her first sip of alcohol.
Beth was suddenly nervous, not only at the blind thing but at the thought she would embarrass herself and puke the minute she tasted the no doubt strong drink. But she pushed through it and brought the glass to her lips and took a tentative sip. The liquid hit her tongue before sliding down her throat and when she swallowed, the taste burst inside her mouth before burning the whole way down to her belly. She forced herself not to cough and show any sort of weakness in front of this strong man who had just about gone to hell and back with her to get this stuff, but she couldn't help but wince at a taste she could only imagine was similar to what it would be like to drink nail polish remover.
"That's the most disgusting thing I've ever tasted," she responded, part disbelief lacing her tone at the fact that people actually drank it, making Daryl shrug. Beth was determined though and took another sip, a bigger one that drained the whole glass. She smiled after – even though the drink was scorching her throat – as it began to make her feel warm. "Second round's better," Beth admitted with a laugh as she reached for the jar of moonshine with the plan to add more to her glass for Daryl.
"Wanna slow down."
"This one's for you."
"Naw, I'm good."
"Someone's gotta keep watch." Daryl replied and while Beth knew he was right she didn't like it, she wanted him to share a drink with her.
"So what you're like my chaperone now?"
"Uh huh jus' drink lots of water," Daryl said before walking away clearly done with the conversation which only annoyed Beth further, it made her feel like he only saw her as a child needing to be watched.
"Yes Mr. Dixon." Beth snarked in annoyance.
Over the next few weeks after they burned down the moonshine shack, Beth could see and feel the difference in not only Daryl's manner towards her but in herself and how they interacted. It felt like a fresh start for them, they would never stop looking for their family – Beth would definitely never stop looking for Maggie and Glenn, or Judith – but if it was just the two of them for however long she got to be alive in this dangerous world, then she felt that that would be okay and she had a feeling Daryl did too.
She began noticing how Daryl would reach out to touch her, when before he always stayed feet away from her. Now he would lay a guiding hand on her arm or back as he taught her to use his crossbow and track game, and then those touches began to last more than a second or two. Beth didn't think Daryl really noticed and he certainly didn't notice how sometimes when he would look at her his eyes and face would soften at the sight of her.
Beth had no clue what it meant, the only thing she could guess was now that he knew her better he was seeing and caring about her as an individual instead of Hershel's little girl or Maggie's little sister.
The thought of him having romantic ideas never even crossed her mind, she just didn't believe Daryl worked like that, and if he did, it certainly wasn't for her. She didn't think a strong attractively masculine older man like Daryl would ever see her in that light.
That was until a redneck brunch, being picked up bridal style, Daryl making her laugh, a soft hesitant request for a song, a candlelit kitchen and a confession not in words but in the soft revealing look in his intense blue black eyes.
Not until a heart pounding, breath stealing revelation … "Oh."
And then everything went to hell.
~ Carol ~
Carol knew the only reason she was standing, the only reason she had made it back to her family alive was because of Beth Greene's bravery.
And now Beth lay on this damned hospital hallway floor… dead.
The shining light at the prison and on the arduous journey to the prison had just been snuffed out by some bitch who thought she was better than them, better than Beth.
After Daryl cried out in shock and anger he pulled out his gun and fired a single deadly bullet into the bitch's shocked face making her head snap back, her body fall to the floor and her blood to spill across it's gleaming surface just as sweet Beth's had.
As tears gathered in Carol's eyes to spill down her face thoughts raced across her spinning mind. It isn't right, none of this is right.
Even after the cop who had just murdered Beth was dead Daryl continued to point his gun at the people gathered at the end of the corridor, his broad shoulders rose and fell as he gasped and cried his anguish. That obvious pain was the only thing to get Carol to move, to touch her best friend in comfort causing him to lower his arm and look down at the girl he had fought so hard to find – fought tooth and nail to return to the family she belonged with.
As Daryl fell to his knees Carol followed and looked up to see Rick staring down at Beth's scarred but peaceful face, his own face ashen from shock with her blood splattered across his distraught features. She could hear Sasha, Tyreese and Noah crying; gasping, unable to comprehend what had just happened in that split second it took for Dawn to pull the trigger.
Beth was gone.
Oh God, oh God… Beth… Daryl… oh my God Maggie.
Carol's thoughts spun to each person who had just lost this sweet girl from their dark turbulent lives and she knew it was a loss they would all feel so deeply.
Carol watched in anguish as Daryl began to gather Beth's limp form into his arms to cradle against his chest, and she heard through his heavy wet sobs words only she and him could hear.
"I'm sorry girl, s'all my fault. Please don't leave me Beth. I shoulda told ya…" He couldn't seem to finish as his breath left him.
Carol instantly knew in that moment; she knew that Daryl's quest to find Beth wasn't just about returning her to her family, it was so much more than that, and she didn't think it was possible but her heart shattered further at this realization.
Daryl Dixon had fallen hard for Beth Greene.
That was what had changed him, that was the thing that pushed him from a child into a man in Carol's eyes. She had wondered what had happened out there and had foolishly chalked it up to him having to care for a vulnerable girl while being completely alone while doing so. She remembered he had tried to tell her, 'Beth had saved herself', and Carol realized she had not only saved herself but Daryl too. But in doing so, Daryl had now lost the girl he clearly loved and Carol strongly suspected she was the first girl he had ever loved.
As they all walked down the flights and flights of stairs Daryl ignored anyone asking if he needed a rest, if he needed help in carrying her. He kept her close to him, all the way down and out into the courtyard were Carol saw a fire truck through a shocked pain filled haze, and then she saw them; the rest of her family and their new comrades.
Carol felt her throat tighten as she watched Maggie see Beth's limp form in Daryl's strong arms, as she heard her grief stricken cry of pain and shock at the sight of her sweet baby sister dead. She watched as Daryl once again fell to his knees, uncaring who saw him show this strong emotion, who saw him sobbing in grief.
Carol was terrified this would destroy him. That this would be the thing to break him, and she suddenly knew she would never leave him or her family, not after this, not after Beth had risked her life to save hers and get her back home.
Helping Daryl heal was now Carol's main mission in life. If not for him, then for the girl he had fallen in love with.
~ Rick ~
It had been three weeks, three long weeks of driving, running, and now walking since the terrible incident in that God awful hospital, and everyone including him was still feeling it as if it had just happened an hour ago.
Especially Maggie and Daryl.
It seemed like Maggie had not stopped crying since that day, but she had Glenn by her side comforting her through it. Daryl though, Daryl's reaction filled Rick with a deep worry for his friend, for his brother.
He knew Daryl's main mission before the hospital had been to find and save Beth, to return her to her family. He knew Daryl had felt responsible for her being taken, and Rick didn't know if that was true or not as Daryl refused to talk about what had happened, but Rick highly doubted it had been his fault.
He knew Daryl had cared for Beth but his reaction to her death – especially now after a couple weeks of his family struggling to get by – was surprising to Rick. Even after his own brother's death Daryl hadn't reacted this way afterward. He was always one to lash out in anger before beginning to push through the grief so he could be there to protect and provide for his family.
He still went out to hunt and find them water and shelter but Rick couldn't help but feel that Daryl was off his game, that he had lost the will to fight through this world and was only walking by their side because Beth would have wanted him too.
He was now like a shell of the man Rick had fought and lived with before Beth's death.
Daryl was never a talker but Rick honestly couldn't remember the last time he had heard his brothers voice. He had reverted to a shake of his head when he found no game or water and a glare if anyone tried to comfort him or ask him about Beth.
But Rick finally figured it out when they stopped for the night at a farmhouse eerily similar to the Greene's home that Abraham had scouted out.
Their group had been struggling to get by for so long now and he felt like a failure of a father and leader, and Daryl's apparent numbness; how he seemed uncaring of anything that happened lately made Rick snap at his friend – it was caused by part desperation in needing Daryl's strong presence back at his side and part anger that he was shutting himself down when they all needed him now more than ever.
They were all hunkered down in the front room of the farmhouse, preferring to stick close to one another, and they'd just finished a measly dinner of canned peaches, beans and one sip of water each when Rick noticed Daryl staring at the wall. Before, he would have volunteered for first watch, or have organized a run or a hunt for the next day, but now his eyes were unseeing, dead.
And Rick lost it.
"Daryl…." Rick spoke clearly but no reply came from his quiet friend and this only caused the fear of losing him to begin to make Rick's heart slam against his chest, igniting a flare of anger to begin burning within him.
"Christ brother snap out of it!" Rick shouted as he got to his feet while everyone looked up in shock at him.
Daryl blinked before slowly looking up at him too, as if emerging from a deep fog choked full of his grief, guilt and pain.
"We're barely gettin' by, we need you here with us, I need you here with us. Not stuck in your head feeling sorry for yourself!" Rick knew it was the wrong thing to say as soon as the words left his chapped lips.
"Feelin' sorry for myself? Fuck you man! You know nothin'!" Daryl exploded as he rose to his feet to glare across the heads of his family into Rick's desperate eyes. Although Rick was sorry for what he had just said, he was glad to see his friend again, glad to hear his gravelly unused voice, to see that fire ignite within him for the first time since he lost Beth.
"We all lost Beth, we've lost people before and pushed through it. Y' can do it again!" Rick pleaded.
"I can't! It ain't the same man, so jus' leave me be!" Daryl threw his arm out in anger before stalking to the window.
"Why isn't it the same? What the hell happened with you two? You weren't this bad when your own brother died."
There was a silence then as Daryl once again refused to talk about it, but the silence was broken by a soft voice that cracked as it spoke into the thick tension that was beginning to smother the room.
"Please Daryl, what happened with you and Beth?" Maggie voice was raw emotion, and Rick saw Daryl instantly react to its thick sound.
"Christ, stop sayin' her damn name! I don't wanna hear it!" Daryl glared at the whole room who were looking at him with sadness and curiosity shining in their eyes.
"It wasn't your fault man, you're not to blame," Rick reassured.
"The hell you know about it. The only reason she was in that hospital was because I let her get taken by those pricks!"
"I don't believe that. You'd never let that happen!" Now it was Maggie's turn to stand and raise her voice, a fire shining in her eyes for the first time in a long time.
"If you'd just tell us what happened, we'll help you understand man, we'll help you get through this, please," Rick urged.
Daryl shook his head before pushing the heels of his hands into his eyes and running his hands through his hair. "I let them in the house, I was stupid. I opened the goddamn door to a herd of walkers. I told her t' run, that I'd meet her but they… " Daryl's voice was thick with guilt as his eyes began to glisten. "So y' see, it is my fault." His hands fell as he looked at Rick before looking over at Maggie, anguish plain on both their faces.
"I don't understand… why would you open the door? Didn't you hear them?"
"Maggie…" Carol interrupted gently.
"No, I need to know. Please Daryl." Maggie's eyes were full of need.
"I… I was distracted." Daryl's head hung in shame, unable to look anyone in the eye. "She… Christ… she was so good, I wanted to tell her… to tell her…"
"What?" Maggie urged.
"I don't know alrigh'!" Daryl's eyes were big with confusion and anger as he stared straight at Maggie.
"If you didn't know then, you must know now… please tell me."
Daryl's answer suddenly burst from him as if he had been holding it safe inside his chest until this moment. "That if it was jus' gonna be the two of us together, that if we never found any of you it would be okay! We'd be okay because she was so good, so filled with hope and it made me wanna have that with her, cause she was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen!"
Rick whole body deflated as Maggie gasped before the room when quiet with shock while Daryl stood there staring at the floor, his chest heaving with heavy breaths.
"I'm sorry brother, I didn't realize…" Rick had no idea what to say.
"Daryl… oh God I'm so sorry Daryl." Maggie had tears trailing down her cheeks as she stared at her friend in astonishment and guilt.
"Naw, I'm the one who should be sorry, was my fault. I shoulda been payin' attention, not givin' your sis puppy eyes like a sap."
"Don't say that! It wasn't your fault, and I know Beth would never blame you. She would want you to be okay, she would want us both to be okay…" Maggie trailed off as she tried to hold back the sobs it was clear she was fighting.
Rick could only stand there and watch as Carol stood and walked Daryl out of the room for privacy, but as he passed him he caught Daryl's eyes and they nodded to one another, and that was all he needed to know that they were okay again.
Later that night as everyone tried to sleep, Rick lay awake and turned this new revelation over in his mind. He never would have guessed that the reason his brother was so distraught the past couple of weeks was because he had tragically lost the woman he had been falling in love with, and not only that but he blamed himself for all of it. Rick knew all too well what that felt like and his heart went out to the man and what he had lost before it had even begun.
He wondered if Beth had known how Daryl felt, if she returned the deep feelings he had for her. She had been a smart girl, an observant girl and Rick felt sure she would have at least suspected how Daryl felt. That man wore his heart on his sleeve and Rick doubted he had hidden – or even had thought he needed to hide – what he was feeling for the young girl. It also seemed like he hadn't even fully been aware of the depth of his feelings until she was taken from him which led Rick to believe Daryl had never been in love, or even been close to being in love before.
That thought fit in his mind with the kind of man Rick had come to know Daryl to be. He was not a man that flirted with women – or men – he was not a man that looked for sexual gratification or checked out a woman's ass. Rick may have thought he was all those things when they first met but Rick knew better now.
As he thought on it some more, he could definitely see Beth winning Daryl over with her faith and hope. With her big smiles and sweet nature. And then he remembered that moment at the prison when Daryl was sick and refused to take medical advice and Beth had gone toe to toe with him and forced him to heed her command.
Rick wondered what Hershel would think, if he had known even back then that surly Daryl Dixon would fall for sweet Beth Greene.
Over the next few days things got a little better, Rick could see both Maggie and Daryl emerging from their haze of grief enough to fight to live another day. And although they weren't who they used to be, and maybe never would be, it filled Rick with hope that they would all make it.
And little did they know what lay ahead of them; a home to make their own, a home that Beth Greene would have had faith in them one day finding.
~ Daryl ~
Daryl, Carol, Ezekiel and a few others were just getting ready to leave Alexandria and journey to Hilltop and the Kingdom when the signal went up that they had a stranger at the gates. Daryl planned on visiting Maggie to see how she was doing after Rick had decided to let Negan live instead of killing him like Daryl thought he should have. He still couldn't believe what him and Michonne had decided, without even discussing it with anyone. If Daryl had his way Negan would have been left to Maggie's mercy, and Daryl knew she hadn't an ounce of it for that asshole.
As they walked up to the gate that was slowly being opened he spotted Rick, Michonne and Aaron standing around the cars they planned to use, obviously there to say goodbye.
Daryl walked up beside Rick to greet the stranger and looked over to see him nod at him before looking ahead but Daryl kept his eyes on his old friend wondering what had possessed him to let Negan live, although Daryl knew it had a lot to do with Carl's last wishes.
Daryl still couldn't believe that the kid was gone, he had been sure he would have been the one to make it to the end.
Daryl's thoughts were interrupted when he noticed Rick's face morph into one of complete shock. His skin paled as his eyes widened and his jaw dropped at whatever he was looking at and that was when he heard Michonne gasp from behind him.
"Oh my God!" Carol cried.
Daryl whipped his head around so fast his neck cracked; he expected some kind of threat but what he saw was the slight figure of a girl with light hair. But then her face became clear to him and he felt his own eyes widen in shock at what he was seeing.
The big blue eyes of Beth Greene staring out at him from a scarred but beautiful face.
"Daryl?" Beth's sweet voice cried out in question, obviously as shocked as he was.
And then her big smile broke across her face as tears filled her eyes before she was suddenly running at him crying his name in elation while all he was capable of was standing there in complete shock, sure he had just lost his mind or died and not even noticed.
She hit his chest with a cry before wrapping her arms around his neck and tucking her head into his shoulder. The force of her hit caused him to back up a couple steps to catch his balance and he stood there unable to comprehend what was going on. He looked over at Rick as his hands hovered at her back unsure on what to do.
Is she real? Is this actually happening?
He was afraid if he gave in and hugged her and accepted this miracle it would turn out to be a dream or a hallucination, but when he looked at Rick and Carol's faces he saw not only shock but complete joy. Rick nodded to him, saying without words that it was real, that she was really against his once broken heart, sobbing into his neck about how much she missed him and how she had been afraid she would never find him.
Daryl gave in and wrapped his shaking hands around her and held her tight to his chest as what was actually happening finally hit him.
Beth Greene was alive.
He felt his throat tighten as tears welled in his eyes and he buried his face into her neck, her soft hair brushing his cheek as he inhaled her perfect scent into his starved lungs. He felt himself shake before a sob broke out of him and he could feel her arms tighten around him as if to comfort him or reassure him that she was really there pressed against him.
After a minute she pulled back from his neck though her hands never left him as she looked up at him with tear filled eyes and the most beautiful smile he had ever seen. He felt a tear trail down his cheek and she reached up and stroked her thumb across his skin to wipe it away. He studied every inch of her perfect face, his hands never straying from her either, he didn't think he ever wanted to take his hands off her in case she disappeared on him, and he knew if that happened there was no getting past that.
"How're y' here Beth?" Her name felt odd but familiar in his mouth, he had refused to say it all these months, refused to let himself think of her lest he actually break from it and he hadn't been able to afford letting that happen, he needed to look after his family, Beth's family.
His own hand raised to touch her cheek, to stroke along the faint scar there, the one that had not long been stitched into her porcelain skin when he had placed her in the trunk of that car, leaving her on the grounds of that hospital he thought she had died in, and it had nearly killed him to do it. But it was either that or let the herd that came after them have at her and there hadn't been a chance in hell he would've ever let that happen.
"The shot didn't kill me, and some of the people at the hospital thought they should bury me but when they found me they saw that I was still alive, and they saved me."
"I left y' there." Daryl realized after the words left his lips he had left a dying Beth alone shut inside a trunk of a car, and he suddenly felt nauseous. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be, it's okay, I'm here now. Besides, I should be the one that's sorry, I never should have done what I did, I wasn't myself. I'm so sorry Daryl," Beth cried, her big eyes filled with guilt and sorrow searing into his own.
"God Beth, don't apologize. You've nothin' to be sorry about sweetheart." Daryl took her pretty face in his calloused hands and kissed her scarred forehead as his family watched in happiness.
"I missed you so much Daryl." Beth smiled before she suddenly raised onto her tip toes, held his face with her delicate but strong hands and pressed her soft lips against his own.
Daryl immediately stilled in shock, but once his mind caught up to what was happening and he realized Beth was pulling away he took her head in his hands and pressed his lips back to hers and kissed her like he had only ever dreamed about doing. She pulled him closer by his shirt as their lips caressed one another and he felt as if he was in heaven, the fact that his family was watching in shock and happiness didn't even enter his brain, his only thought was the most beautiful girl in the world wrapped in his arms, smiling against his lips.
They eventually pulled apart and Daryl saw Beth's cheeks flush and a happy smile on her face as she gazed up at him in surprise.
"I've been wantin' to do that for so long." Beth giggled cutely and Daryl felt his ears burn when he heard his family laughing and sniffling around him.
Beth was then pulled into hugs by everyone, even Aaron who had never met her hugged her to his chest with tear tracks on his face as he smiled over her head at a still stunned Daryl.
His life changed that day, everyone's did, all because Beth Greene was back in their lives once more.
They stayed in Alexandria for a few days before travelling to Hilltop where another tearful reunion happened in front of the whole community. Daryl could only imagine his face looking exactly as Maggie's had when she first laid eyes on her alive little sister. And Daryl will never forget how Beth's face glowed when she noticed the baby bump pushing against her own stomach as she hugged her big sister.
Of course it wasn't all good news as Beth was informed of all the people they had lost along the way.
Beth stayed by Daryl's side even as he walked to his room to sleep that night, even as he got into bed with her. He then held her to his chest as she cried her grief into his soaked shirt.
And every night after the first, she never left his bed, their bed.
They had had a hard journey here to this happiness they now lived with, and in the end they both agreed that it had all been worth it, because they got to spend the rest of their lives together.
They even got to watch their first child take her first steps while leaving her little footprints tracked across the pearly white snow.