AN: The idea of Beth and Daryl as a pairing took hold of me after watching the episode The Suicide King. There's a scene with Beth and Carol talking about Daryl's leaving. Beth was bereft, saying they wouldn't even be alive if it weren't for him, and that she was "pissed at him for leaving." Then Paley Fest happened, and Emily Kinney talked about Beth knowing she isn't a warrior but that she has a place amongst their group, watching over Judith, and singing for them—taking care of their home and quality of life. She also said she'd had a dream she was on Daryl's bike and... um, yeah. THEN I saw the s4 trailer at ComicCon and my head exploded.

This story picks up when the brothers show up at the prison at the end of Home, then goes pretty much AU after that. I may incorporate a few details here and there, but basically this fic has its own timeline and plot points.

Disclaimer: All copyright and trademarked items mentioned herein belong to their respective owners. The remaining content is mine.

He'd just up and left us for that no good brother of his, and then came back with not so much as a "sorry", or "I was wrong, and I missed y'all." I guess it was childish of me to think a man like Daryl Dixon would apologize for anything, much less for doing something he thought was right.

Being childish doesn't mean I wasn't fit to be tied, though. Maybe I should've been grateful. We didn't die, after all, and Rick didn't get bit. We were all glad to have Daryl back, but Merle was right on his heels, boasting about how he'd saved Rick—like he was some kind of hero.

"Officer Friendly here was crappin' his draws 'til me and my baby brother showed up," Merle went on. "What you'd'a done, huh, Rick? Those two geeks had you pegged, man."

"Shut up, Merle," Daryl griped at his brother, but it didn't much work. Merle kept yammering on about how great he was.

I could tell the whole thing made Carol uncomfortable; she didn't want Merle Dixon there anymore than Glenn did, and Glenn was chomping at the bit to get back at Merle for beating him up so bad. Still, Carol was graceful, and patient—ready to accommodate the men after their fight. She quietly asked me to help her round up some clothes and towels.

"Who does he think he is, anyway?" I whispered to her angrily, referring mostly to Merle, while feeling like confronting both the Dixons.

"No arguin', now, Bethie—just go grab some a Daryl's and Rick's clothes. And see if your daddy can't spare a few things for Daryl's brother," she said, making a face like she'd just eaten a wedge of lemon.

I nodded reluctantly, glancing over my shoulder at the quarreling men. Something churned my gut when I looked more closely at Daryl's face. He looked as tired and wrung out as Rick, and that was saying a lot. Daryl, as hard as he worked and as much as he never, ever complained, pushed himself harder than just about anyone—and by the looks of things, that was starting to catch up to him.

"Last time I saw Daryl look so bad he'd been thrown by Nervous Nelly, took an arrow to his side," I muttered, looking back at Carol. "And Andrea shot 'im."

Carol furrowed her brow and made a face at the men one last time, nodding at my comment. "Let's get a move on," she said, and I obeyed.

Somehow, Daddy got the men refocused enough for Merle to stop talking about himself. Carol told them all they should get cleaned up, too. Rick was still so shook up, but just having Daryl back seemed to be enough to keep him level; it leveled us all out.

I gathered some towels and clean clothes, then marched myself down to where Rick and Daryl and Merle were taking showers. Carol had asked me to bring them down to her, but when I got there, she wasn't anywhere to be found. So I kept on walking, looking for her, and went straight inside the shower room.

It's not like I'd never seen a nude man before in my life. Before the virus, I'd seen pictures; and since, I'd seen a few of our crew at least partially bare—was bound to happen living in such close quarters. Still, I wasn't prepared for what I saw inside that room.

"Well, hello there, sweet thang," Merle cooed, facing me head on, leering at me like I was the last piece of apple pie at the 4th of July barbecue. "Whatcha got for us?"

He was disgustingly bare and unabashed in his advance on me. I averted my eyes before seeing too much of him, just in time to see Daryl, moving into his path, equally bare, but not even close to disgusting.

I was stunned. I couldn't take my eyes off Daryl, naked and wet and moving with pure intent. The sun-darkened skin of his arms and back stretched over his muscular frame in a mesmerizing way. My gaze wandered down his torso, to his narrow hips, and strong thighs.

Yes, I'd seen the men in our group half-naked, but I'd never seen any man that naked. My eyes came to a full stop right at the top of his thighs. I had definitely never seen a real, live dick before. It didn't just hang there like a bunch of grapes, like the ones I'd seen in science books, but it wasn't all blown up like a balloon, either, like the images my girlfriends and I giggled at online. It was thick and it looked so smooth, jutting out from his hips ever so slightly… There was nothing funny about Daryl Dixon naked—at all.

I blinked away the image and tried to look everywhere but there, and my brain spun with the immediate panic that I was checking him out. Daryl Dixon of all people—twice my age, impatient and surly, and usually not very clean Daryl Dixon. Jimmy was much more my speed, wasn't he? But I never stared at him this way.

"Shut up, Merle," Daryl said, while attempting to keep Merle under control.

I took a deep, shaking breath, then turned to set their towels and clothes to the side.

"Thank ya, Beth," Rick said, subtly dismissing me.

"Run on, now, girl," Daryl said, backing up Rick's order, his eyes staying on his brother, continuing to block Merle's line of sight.

I didn't question the men, but Daryl's tone of voice rubbed me the wrong way. I stood for just a beat longer, thinking about confronting him, telling him I wasn't some little girl to be dismissed, but I didn't know quite how to say it. I turned tail and ran from the shower room, flustered, smacking right into Carol on my way down the hall.

"Bethie, where you off to in such a rush?" Carol searched my face, hers half-smiling and half-concerned. My hands itched and my belly flipped.

"Daryl, I…" I stuttered over my words with images of Daryl's bare, wet, solid skin and everything else teasing my mind, and I was further upset by the contrast of his gentle but firm voice, telling me that I was just a little girl in his eyes. Before he'd left, I felt like he trusted me. He'd asked for my help with Carl after we lost Lori, but now...

"They have clothes now," I finally blurted out.

Carol blinked, looking even more bewildered by my sudden admission. "Well, that's good," she said with a slow nod of her head.

She and I both looked up when we heard whooping and hollering coming from the shower room followed by another, and more vehement, "Shut up, Merle!"

Carol suddenly got that protective Mama Bear stance, her narrowing gaze focused on the shower room door, her lips set in a hard line. "You go check on your daddy, Beth." Then she moved with purpose toward the entrance to the showers.

It dawned on me that Daryl's stance was similar to hers—that he was trying to buffer me from his brother's onslaught—so I thought maybe he wasn't treating me like a child after all and maybe he was just looking out for me.

I did what Carol asked and made my way down the hall, pausing just at the end, when I heard her voice, low and scolding. "She is 17-years-old. You best keep that brother a yours in check, or I will."

I peeked back around the corner to see Daryl looking down at his loosely booted feet as he awkwardly buttoned his sorry excuse for a shirt. He was nodding faintly, his shaggy, wet hair dripping water all over his mostly bare shoulders. He avoided Carol's hot gaze when he quietly replied, "I got 'im."

I slipped away unnoticed.

There was so much commotion after the Governor's attack on the prison that we were still reeling when Andrea showed up one afternoon. She had a walker on a catch pole, just like Otis and Daddy used to do back on the farm. She pleaded with Rick to let her help smooth things over with the Governor, disbelieving and condemning us all for not trusting her and shutting her out, while we let Michonne and Merle in.

In a way her objections made sense, because she was family and we were all torn about not letting her stay, but she didn't see it from our side. She was trying to get us to surrender to a man who had held Maggie and Glenn hostage and ordered his men, one of whom was Daryl's own blood, to torture them for information about how to find the prison. I honestly could not understand, as a woman, how Andrea could lay down with such an evil man.

When Rick finally gave her a car with a full tank of gas and a gun, we were all a little confused, but I thought maybe it was a sign that she'd come home. I thought maybe she and Rick had an understanding that we weren't all privy to; and I hoped we'd be a family once again.

"I think Rick was right, don't you?" I asked Maggie, curious of her thoughts on Rick's decision.

Since Maggie had come back from Woodbury with Rick and Glenn and Michonne, she hadn't been the same. Me and Daddy were keeping an eye on her, praying she'd pull out of it, but there was a space hanging around her, pushing us all away. I wasn't going to let her disappear, though.

Maggie gave a half-hearted scoff in response to my question. "Lotta good that car 'n gun'll do—still, more'n I'd'a given her."

I knew what was in her heart, knew for a fact that she'd have given Andrea anything she needed, and not before she begged Andrea to stay. I thought maybe she needed to be reminded that we were all in it together, and that we all needed each other, right down to Little Ass Kicker.

"Can ya watch her for a bit?" I handed Judith over to Maggie. "I just wanna rinse off—get into some fresh under things."

Maggie hesitated taking Judith from me, but I gently pushed her into her arms and handed her the bottle. "Be right back," I promised, watching Maggie closely, her hardened expression crumbling into the sister that I knew so well.

I left her alone with Judith, grabbed a clean pair of underwear and a towel, and headed down to shower. I wished I could tell Maggie about what happened the last time I was down there, but something told me she wouldn't much like what I had to say.

She and Daddy were always on my tail about Jimmy and me kissing behind the barn, as if I'd have let things go farther than that—no way was I ready. I could just imagine what she'd say about my mixed feelings after seeing a grown man naked—especially when that grown man was Daryl Dixon. Even I was a little ashamed of my own self for thinking about him the way I was.

A lot had changed, though. After Jimmy moved into the house, and Rick's group showed up with a couple of near fatalities for Daddy to look after, we all saw the world through a different lens. Daddy tried to keep us preserved from guns and brutality and growing up too fast, but even he had changed his point of view on the way the world works. I loved that he openly accepted Glenn as his own son instead of "that Asian boy."

I wasn't alone in honoring and respecting Daryl as a valuable member of our group, either. Rick looked to him for counsel and support; Daddy reminded us all every day that Judith wouldn't have survived a night if it hadn't been for Daryl; and Carl, Rick's own son, was saying Rick should hand over the group to Daryl and Daddy.

I was feeling something more, though—something that stirred in my gut with the heavy emotion from Daryl leaving the group, then the relief when he came back, then being sent spinning when I saw him naked in the shower. The closest I could liken what I was feeling was to the jitters I had waiting for Jimmy to ask me to his senior prom before he ended up asking Sally Kaye Templeton instead.

But Daryl was no boy, and there were no more high school dances to fret and flail over. I couldn't wipe the images of him naked and moving into his brother's line of sight from my mind. The thought of him considering me important enough to risk harmony with his brother and to put himself in a physically vulnerable position sent me spinning extra hard.

I cleaned up as quick as I could, wishing the shower could clean up my mind and give me some answers. Once I was dressed again, and had hung my freshly washed unders to dry in my cell, I found Maggie fast asleep with Judith in her own bunk. The sight warmed my heart.

I quietly snagged the empty bottle from where it lay forgotten by both Maggie and Judith, and left them to rest. I was due to meet Carol and help with some other laundry duties, so I picked up my pace, not wanting to make her wait.

When I rounded the last corner on my way to the laundry room, I almost collided with Daryl and his brother.

"Hello again, girly girl," Merle said, making my skin crawl. I saw Daryl move in my peripheral vision, much like he had just a couple of days before in the shower, and I was thrown back to that moment once again, thinking about him wet and bare and half hard. I felt my face flush and I dropped my gaze to the floor.

"Merle." Daryl's voice carried a warning that calmed my nerves and stoked the blush on my cheeks and throat and chest. He was protecting me, just as he did all of us, but this particular effort made me feel drawn to him in a way that I would never have expected.

What I had assumed was him dismissing me as a child a few days ago could not be more wrong; instead, his action—stepping in between his brother and me—was recognition that I was a woman in his eyes, someone to be desired, even if it wasn't him doing the desiring.

"Leave her be," he continued.

"Aww, come on now," Merle said, never taking his eyes from mine. "Ol' Merle's jus' havin' a little fun. Wha's your name, sweetheart?"

The fact that I found a human being so physically repulsive in the world we were left to live in spoke volumes about the kind of man Merle Dixon was, and the dichotomy between him and Daryl was shocking. Before I answered Merle's inquiry, I looked to Daryl for guidance. He knew more about how to handle his brother than I ever would—thank the lord.

"Her name's Beth and ya know it," Daryl said, his sheer annoyance with his brother's games apparent. "Got no reason to talk to her or look at her, so back the fuck off." Daryl glanced at me over his shoulder, furrowing his brow. "What're ya doin' down here, anyhow, girl? Where's the baby?"

"I'm lookin' for Carol," I said, trying to catch my breath that was growing rapid from the fire in his eyes. "Laundry duty. Judy's with Maggie up in her bunk."

Daryl nodded his head once and pursed his lips before darting his eyes back to his brother, as Merle leaned back against the stone wall and rolled his eyes at Daryl's and my exchange like it was trying his patience. Daryl's gaze returned to mine for a brief second, then quickly skimmed my face and shoulders before slowly dragging down over the rest of my body.

My belly started to flip and twist in every way I never knew it could and my skin felt hot and tight. Daryl was looking at me like he'd never looked at me before. Merle's leering gaze made me feel dirty, but Daryl made me feel like I was floating and on fire at the same time.

"Get goin'," he said, tearing his eyes from mine. "Carol's waitin'." Then he turned his back, effectively dismissing me.

Three days after Andrea's odd visit to the prison with her walker in tow, she reappeared with Tyreese and his sister Sasha. We all joined in the main room for a meeting, where they declared that the Governor was dead at Andrea's hand, and that they wanted to join our group.

Merle snorted from the doorway across the room from me. "Tryna make us believe Martinez don't have some kinda retaliation in mind?" He rolled his eyes and shifted his weight and his rifle.

"Martinez is dead," Andrea said. "None of the survivors have any allegiance to Phillip. They've divided and scattered, just like we did when we left the quarry."

"Yeah, see, I don't 'member leavin' the quarry with y'all, 'cause I was stuck up on a damn roof in the middle of Atlanta," Merle sneered.

Rick all but rolled his eyes, ignoring Merle's jab, and Daryl narrowed his gaze, keeping Rick, Tyreese, and Merle all in his sight.

"Rick, we loaded up what supplies we could in the car you gave me," Andrea appealed to him. "We came here as soon as we could get away. Woodbury's overrun. It's done."

Rick cocked his head and brought his gaze back up to meet Daryl's for a few beats. Then they did that quiet nodding thing they always do, before Daryl looked back to Sasha, Tyreese, and Andrea, and picked up the conversation where Rick left off.

"Get that car cleaned out—take stock a supplies," Daryl said, then turned to Carol and me, his eyes quickly scanning my face. "Get 'em some food, some clothes—whatever they need."

I had accepted a long time ago that I wasn't a soldier, but I did everything in my power to keep our hearth fires burning. At that moment, the way Daryl looked at me, like I was an equal and valuable member of our group, made me wonder again why he ever left, and I was pissed at him all over again.

He looked at me like he trusted me, and I knew his trust was hard won. Having that trust filled me with pride and reinforced my hopes that I was delivering on my promise to make this place the kind of place that they would all want to come home to, and no one would ever want to leave again.

I pushed down my anger at him and started to do what I was told.

"We've got clothes, Carol." Andrea crossed the room and immediately reached for Carol's hand, halting us both.

Carol didn't hesitate to pull Andrea into a hug and they each held on tight, something intense passing between them.

I dropped my eyes away from the private moment and glanced across the room, from where Daryl was eyeing them sideways, something resembling satisfaction crinkling the corners of his eyes. The way his whole face transformed with that tiny, simple expression gave me pause; it was downright beautiful. I never would have thought I'd say any man was beautiful, least of all a man as rough as Daryl Dixon. I guessed that it was the contrast of light and dark that took my breath away.

I pulled my gaze from him before anyone caught me staring. "I'll get y'all some linens," I said, my voice quiet, so as not to disturb Andrea and Carol.

When I turned to leave the room, Andrea reached out and wrapped her arm around my shoulders to pull me in for a hug. "Thank you, Beth," she whispered. "Thank you for welcoming me home."

I relaxed into her embrace and hugged her back, closing my eyes and giving in to the feelings swirling around the room as they settled over us all. When I opened my eyes again, they landed on Daryl, his glued to mine, and a small beginning of a smile, softening his hard face.

Thank you to OneLilHopeful for the thumbs up, to Leiah and Brodie for the pre-reads and helping me find Beth's voice, and to MsKathy for the redness of her beautiful pen. I love you girls!