A/N: I don't post my stories to FFN right away anymore, plus I prefer AO3 nowadays. So if you can, please go read this fic on AO3. It includes photos for every chapter and links to the Spotify playlist and the Pinterest board. Thank you! (I will continue to crosspost all my new fics and chapters here. But it may be months after posting on AO3.)
This fic was originally written for Bethyl Smut Week 2k18 but it took me a year to complete. Yes, there is an explicit smut scene.

never Alone again

The funeral home became… blurry. That was the only way Daryl could think to describe it. The graveyard, the grass, the trees, even the night sky. It all blurred, grew foggy, jilted and jumped like some old VHS tape that wouldn't play right. Scattered murmurs of playbacks that mimicked the sound inside his chest, where his heart hammered away at the inside of his shirt and his lungs struggled to expand.

Pay attention, Daryl.

It was a moment. A blink, a snap of the fingers. One second, he was bursting his way free from the funeral home, hot on Beth's heels. His vision was crisp, clear, bright. He was focused, intent, full of adrenaline and the will – no, the need – to survive. Beth's face was solid in his head. She was the goal. She'd promised not to leave him. He'd told her to meet him by the road. He had to get out there and make sure she was okay, he had to make sure she was safe.

The next second, there was a gunshot.

(Or was it two? He wasn't sure. Still couldn't figure it out.)

And then everything had gone blurry. Or foggy. Or like some kind of wistful nightmare, the likes of which Daryl Dixon had never experienced, either in sleeping or in wake. The likes of which his limited vernacular did no justice. Nothing physical about himself had changed, and his goals were certainly no different. He didn't even slow down. Not for a second.

But something changed.

Snap out of it, Daryl!

The shot was so sudden, so shockingly loud that it pierced the silence, which had previously only been broken by the low groans and growls of approaching Walkers. It was a frightening and foreign sound in Daryl's ears. He and Beth hadn't fired an actual gun in weeks, maybe months. They moved silently, using his crossbow and her knife, always avoiding drawing any attention from unwanted passersby undead or otherwise.

And… Beth didn't have a gun. So what the fuck caused that sound?

His first thought was dark and ominous and sent a cold jolt of dread through his very bones: People.

He ran as fast as he could, sprinted across the grass and the dark, weaving his way between staggering straggler geeks. It was so dark out, he could barely see ten feet in front of him in the dim moonlight. But his legs wouldn't allow him to stop, his feet kept pounding against the ground as he raced toward the road, where he'd told Beth to meet him.

And his mind kept repeating, like a ticking clock urging him faster and faster forward: Beth. Beth. Beth.

"Beth!" It burst from his mouth in a dry-throated cry, desperate and reassuring at the same time. I'm coming for you, just tell me you're okay!

He hadn't even begun thinking about what he'd do to whatever people he came across when he finally reached her… until he did.

Daryl halted in his tracks, panting as he struggled to catch his breath, eyes searching the scene wildly. He took a wary step forward and his stomach turned as he reached down. He picked up Beth's bag from where it lay abandoned in the dirt and fought back the urge to scream out in rage. Instead, he began looking around wildly.

"Beth!" He called out again, his voice cracking with fear.

"Daryl – I'm over here!"

Her voice rang out like music and filled Daryl with overwhelming relief. He dashed toward the direction the sound had come from and slowed when his eyes adjusted and he was finally close enough to see the car in the middle of the road, less than two yards from where he'd found the bag. He exhaled the breath that had been subconsciously hitched in his chest.

But the car was practically invisible to him at first, as were the two fresh corpses on the ground. All he could see was Beth.

She stood there in the dim moonlight, one hand pressed to her head and a blood-soaked knife in her other hand. He could see the look of distress, fear, and pain on her face even before he closed the remaining distance between them and gently grabbed her. He fought the urge to tightly wrap his arms around her and never let her go.

He searched her up and down for wounds, but it appeared she was mostly covered in the usual Walker blood. Then his eyes were quickly drawn to the small trail of fresh blood trickling down the side of her neck, slowly seeping from the spot on her head where she had her palm tightly pressed. Lastly, he searched her face only to find tears in her wide blue eyes and fear deeply ingrained into her features.

For the first time since they'd fled the prison together, Daryl was almost positive he was way more terrified than Beth was at the moment. Even though he could feel her entire body trembling beneath his hands.

"What happened – are you alrigh'?" He asked frantically, reaching up to gingerly pry her small hand away from the wound so he could see it.

She winced but didn't pull away, slowly nodding and responding with a shaky voice. "They – they came outta nowhere, an' they tried ta ambush me. But I-I fought back. I thought they were Walkers, I-I stabbed one in the neck. An' then the other one, he – he had a gun… He almost blew my head off, Daryl."

A fat knot formed in Daryl's throat as he gazed down at the bloody wound on Beth's head, just behind her left ear at the base of her scalp. The bright red blood slowly trickled outward, seeping down the side of her neck and soaking the collar of her yellow polo. The gray cardigan he'd found for her less than a month ago was splattered in someone else's blood, and he slowly realized it wasn't the usual Walker blood. His fingers gingerly prodded the wound and Beth hissed in pain, wincing away slightly.

"Sorry," he grumbled, squinting down and inspecting closer. Once he was satisfied, he pulled away and grabbed the bandana from his belt, wiping away some of the blood on her neck before pressing the cloth to her wound. "Jus' grazed ya, ain't no bullet there."

Thank God, he wanted to say.

What would he have done if he'd run out here to find Beth lying dead on the ground, right alongside the two assholes that tried to ambush her? He couldn't even think about that right now. Or ever. That sad and lonely train of thought always wound up taking him to the same destination, and it was the same place he'd have ended up if he hadn't encountered a bit of blind luck and escaped with Beth from the prison.

Daryl had lost enough already. If he lost anymore, he was pretty goddamn sure he'd lose himself right along with it.

"I – I was so scared," Beth breathed out, still trembling all over, still staring up at him with those big watery eyes as she gently placed her palm over the bandana to hold it against the wound so he could pull his hand away. "I think – I think they wanted ta kidnap me or somethin'."

"Yeah, well I wouldn'ta let 'em. If you hadn't killed 'em, I would've." Daryl's blood boiled at the very thought of Beth being snatched up and he finally took a step back just long enough to glance at the fresh corpses lying on the ground nearby.

They were dressed in police uniforms. It was the weirdest goddamn thing Daryl had seen since the dead had begun to walk. What the hell kind of "cops" were these, what kind of cops were even still around? Even Rick had retired his uniform months ago, and it had been impossible to keep it as impeccably clean as the uniforms on these guys were. And the car that sat idle in the middle of the road, motor quietly humming, was well-maintained with a bright white cross painted on the back window.

"You sure yer okay? They didn't do nothin' else?" He asked, giving Beth another once-over before staring intently into her eyes.

She looked down at herself and at the bloody knife in her hand, as if she'd forgotten she had a body. And he saw her tremble a little harder, but only for a brief moment, and then she met his scrutinizing gaze again and nodded weakly, lips pursed tightly together and defiance flaring to life in her eyes.

The survival switch flipped back on inside Daryl's head and he immediately began thinking of all the possibilities and dangers that could be coming their way. Without hesitation, he moved toward the bodies of the dead cops and unsheathed his knife, making sure there was no possibility of reanimation from either of the corpses. Then he scanned the surrounding area, taking into account the few remaining geeks that had detected his and Beth's presence and were leisurely ambling towards them. Double-checking for signs of any other living humans, any people who wanted to try and steal what remained of his will to live.

But he wasn't about to let her out of his sight right now. Or ever again, for that matter. He couldn't risk another accident, or an ambush, or a kidnapping, or what the fuck ever could and would happen. Beth was far from helpless, but with a bum ankle, the odds weren't exactly stacked in her favor either. He wasn't sure who he had to thank for her lucky brush with the asshole cops, but if it was God, he reckoned he might just become a man of faith.

Daryl circled an arm around Beth's middle and guided her toward the passenger side door of the car. "C'mon – gotta get this thing outta sight an' get rid a those bodies. Might have friends that wanna come lookin' for 'em."

"Ugh, I hope not," Beth remarked as she went along with him, sliding into the passenger seat without resistance and letting out a sigh of relief once she'd sat down.

"Yeah – me either."

Dispersing the nearby geeks, parking the car, looting the cops' bodies for any useful items they might've had, and then dragging them out of the road and into the grass had been another blur of adrenaline and wistful fog for Daryl. He was flooded with relief, but his muscles were still tensed and his nerves were still on edge. He felt anxious and panicky to the point that he was barely present inside his own head during the process.

The only details he remembered clearly were the sounds of a murder of crows loudly squawking nearby, ringing in his ears. And then how soft and warm Beth's hands were when she reached over and grabbed his while they sat together in the car and silence surrounded them once more.

"You did good, Beth," he muttered, gazing into her eyes, recognizing the traces of fear and doubt that lay there.

She'd killed two men – two living men. He knew it was nothing to be taken lightly, not for Beth. She'd never had to do such a thing before tonight. But she had. She'd fought back, she'd proven how strong she really was. How strong Daryl had known she was all along.

Pay attention, Daryl.

"Did what ya had to," he added.

She nodded, lips pursed tightly. Then she glanced away, gazing out the window thoughtfully. As he furrowed his brow in confusion, giving her small hands a light squeeze, she looked back to him and smiled. Soft and kind. Reassuring.

"So did you," she said.

He wasn't sure what she meant. He hadn't done anything – she'd saved herself. But he didn't say that because he knew that she was already well aware.

The cops had two guns on them, as well as two full clips of ammo – minus a couple of rounds, just as expected. Once the car was parked amongst a thick shroud of trees across the road from the funeral home, Daryl had given Beth one of the guns and tucked the other into his waistband. But Beth only held it for a moment before setting it on the small end table in the entryway of the house and leaving it there beside her dirty bag.

She didn't offer to help him clear the bodies of all the dispersed undead from the small house, but he didn't ask either. In fact, he didn't want her to help. She needed to rest, which he told her right after cleaning her wound and wrapping a makeshift bandage around her head. To his surprise, she didn't argue.

By sunrise, the corpses of the men who'd tried to take Beth were reduced to smoldering ashes beneath a larger pile of burnt Walker bodies, the traps and alarms were once again set up around the perimeter (and elaborately lengthened), and the funeral home was back to being an undisturbed refuge. Daryl was exhausted and dripping with sweat, but Beth was alive and with him, and that was more than enough. His entire body had been so wracked with anxiety and fear throughout the entire night that he could barely recall going through all the motions of clean-up and disposal and everything else.

The only thing he really remembered was talking to Beth. Watching her from the corner of his eye as she smiled and cracked a light-hearted joke while he dragged the heavy body of a decayed corpse across the porch. Sending a warmth through his chest that only she was capable of conjuring. She was always there, nearby, standing off to the side and offering a smile and a teasing tilt of the head, blonde hair glowing in the candlelight. Blue eyes dancing with mischief in Daryl's periphery.

When he finally sat down beside her at the table, as if they were picking right back up where they'd left off hours before, it felt like he was taking his first real breath after being underwater for too long. The air filled his lungs in an entirely new way and he almost became light-headed for the briefest moment. All of his muscles relaxed at once and the tension seeped outward from every limb. He felt himself sliding into a place that was made for him, crafted specifically for his figure and molded with no one else in mind.

His place beside Beth.

Where she was gradually scooting her chair just a little closer. Slowly and barely closing the distance between them. Ever-so-carefully reaching across the table to grasp his hands in hers once again.

He wondered to himself why it took almost losing her for him to realize how much he needed her.

Snap out of it, Daryl!

When she opened her mouth to speak, he momentarily thought she might ask him what changed his mind again. She had a similar look in her eyes and an oddly familiar expression dancing across her face. But when she spoke, her tone was vastly different, and he quickly realized that their little conversation several hours ago was a far-off memory.

"You must be starvin' after all that – here, have mine," she said, sliding the half-eaten jar of peanut butter toward him across the small tabletop.

He furrowed his brow and gave her hand a light squeeze. "You need ta eat, too. We had a long night."

Beth shrugged and glanced away, eyes drifting toward the small window at the other side of the room. She gazed thoughtfully at the early morning sky and replied softly, "I didn't do much. 'Sides, I'm too tired ta eat. You need your strength."

Daryl watched her for a moment, studying the wistful expression on her face and trying to make sense of her odd behavior. But he quickly resolved that she was still reeling from the events of the night, probably struggling to process everything. He had to remember that being a killer wasn't in everyone's nature.

Or maybe she was worrying about who might come looking for them next. If that were the case, he had to admit that he was pretty worried, too.

Whatever it was, he reassured himself that she would eat after she got some good sleep. He'd make sure of it.