AN: Hi, everybody! **waves* last chapter, here. I'm so sorry this took so long to get out. What you're about to read is the third complete re-write of this chapter, so I promise I was trying to get it done, but I wasn't happy with the other versions. I'm happy with this, though, and I hope you all are, too. Thanks for sticking with me and reading, reviewing, and alerting. xox
Just to refresh y'all's memories: Daryl, Glenn, and Michonne went to scout out a new place to live because the prison was compromised. While they were gone, the prison was overrun, and Hershel was killed. We left the prison group on the side of the road, preparing to bury their patriarch.
Disclaimer: All recognizable elements herein belong to their respective owners. All other elements belong to me.
Strip down, Missy, it's eleven a.m.
Gonna wake up soon, gonna wake up soon
Missy - Punch Brothers
They'd found a mansion on Skidaway Island, just south of Savannah. Tyreese and Sasha had heard about it from their neighbor in Jacksonville, whose bunker they'd inhabited before finally being forced out in search of supplies. Apparently, there was some kind of survivalist network or something. The owner of the mansion was an old, eccentric billionaire who lived alone, surrounded by palm trees and the Gulf of Mexico. When Daryl, Michonne, and Glenn got to the compound, the old guy, his cook, and his gardener were wandering the halls dead. Otherwise, the property was uninhabited and undisturbed.
After we buried Daddy in a place walkers couldn't get to and marked his grave for later visits, we rode through the rest of the afternoon to our new home. Daryl had pulled me onto the back of his bike before I could climb back in the car, and I burrowed into his back. I cried quietly the whole way—not that anyone could hear much over the rumble of Daryl's Triumph, but he knew. When we stopped in Savannah to circle the wagons, he kept his hand on my knee while he told everyone else what to expect for the last eight miles, then turned and kissed me, sound and firm, before pulling back out on the road to lead the rest of the way on the dark and winding highway.
Nine bedrooms gave us plenty of room to sprawl out with lots of privacy and space in between. We had 5 acres walled in by eight feet of brick topped with a three-foot wrought iron railing. The mere sight of the place took my breath away, but then Daryl gave us all the rundown on what they'd learned on their first trip to the property.
"We got clean well water, land to plant crops, and a greenhouse," he said, as we all filed inside the foyer, having secured the gate and parked the cars. "Runnin' on solar power with a back up generator, but take it easy on the hot water and flushin' toilets." Daryl turned to me and grabbed my hand. "Last room on the south side of the third floor's me and Beth's." I couldn't contain my grin.
That night we settled as much as we could. Daryl and Rick divided out the perimeter checks and watches. We were all still on guard, no matter how safe the place seemed; it was like a dream come true, really, and it was sad that the man who had created the perfect place for this world didn't survive it.
Over the weeks and months, we settled into a routine, still remaining vigilant, guarding our walls. Daryl and Rick went out to hunt periodically, but most of us stayed inside. Daryl would tell me stories of people they met along the way, of how walkers were grouping more and more, of how the world continued to change; but he believed we were safe and undetected inside our walls.
Our first winter on the island, Maggie gave birth to a baby boy. He was beautiful and healthy, and Carol and I worked in tandem throughout Maggie's labor. Two months after Hershel Brendan was born, Rick, Carol, and Andrea came down with some kind of flu. For all the meds the creator of the property had in house, nothing worked; we just had to keep them hydrated and wait it out.
They were quarantined, and Daryl and Glenn went out looking for medicines that we didn't have—more to keep themselves busy, I guessed, and to keep their fingers on the pulse of what was happening outside our compound. I was the only one with basic knowledge to care for our sick family, other than Maggie, and with Glenn out, she had the baby to look after. Everyone insisted that I wear a surgical mask, and I did my best to keep them comfortable.
Slowly, Andrea came out of it, her fever finally dropping, but the cough lingering. "Haven't I heard you cough enough in this lifetime?" Michonne asked one night at dinner. Andrea shot her a look, and Michonne's face immediately lit up with that trademark grin of hers.
"Why don't you move a little closer, Mich?" Andrea teased from across the table. "I can't hear your terrible jokes from this far away." Then she threw a green bean at Michonne's face. If Glenn had been there, we probably would have had a full-on food fight, but as it was, we only lost about three servings of beans to the floor.
Rick was the next to drop his fever. Carl was ecstatic when he finally came out of quarantine. "You look like Hell, Dad," Carl said, wrapping his dad in a hug before the door to the designated sick-ward could even close. "But it's good to have ya back."
Sasha sauntered toward them with Judith on her hip and a pretty smile lifting her lips. "Judith said 'Da'!" Carl said, as if he'd just remembered. "Didn't she, Sasha?" Sasha nodded, laughing lightly with tears rimming her eyes. As she drew closer, she reached for Rick and Carl with the arm that wasn't holding Judith.
"She did, indeed," Sasha answered. "Hello, handsome." She kissed Rick with her hand resting on Carl's shoulder. "I missed you," she whispered to Rick, and he wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her in to deepen the kiss.
"Missed you, too," he answered. Judith reached for him, and he gladly took her before the four of them walked back toward Rick and Sasha's room. After I last spoke with Sasha, I knew they had a lot to talk about.
I turned and opened the door to the room we'd sectioned off as the infirmary. Memories of Daryl and me in the prison infirmary threatened my will to face Carol's weakening form; I wanted Daryl to come back and have a cure for this sickness, then take me away from all of it. I heard her coughing again—gagging and gasping for air. I pulled my surgical mask back over my nose and mouth and braced myself.
When I rounded the corner, Carol was doubled over the side of the bed, shaking and dry-heaving. I reached for the water pitcher and switched the humidifier on again. "Bethie, that humidifier's just makin' things sticky in here," Carol rasped as she pulled at the collar of her soaked t-shirt then rolled flat to her back on her bed.
I switched the machine back off and walked to her side to fill her water glass. She'd grown so gaunt and frail; she was pale as the sheet she laid on. While Andrea and Rick got better, Carol had gotten worse. She slowly dragged her eyes up to meet mine, and her sweat-dampened brow furrowed. "You feelin' all right?" she asked, and I let go a huff of ironic laughter.
"'Course I'm all right," I answered, filling her drinking glass and setting the pitcher aside. I reached into the bowl of cool water with a rag and wrung it out. "Why wouldn't I be?" I asked, folding the rag and using it to dab the moisture from her forehead.
Carol shrugged half-heartedly. "Just lookin' a little peaked's all." She stared at me as I shifted her pillows and kept wiping her brow. I thought maybe some good news would brighten her day.
"Sasha's pregnant," I said, smiling. "She's tellin' Rick right now, I'd guess." I ran the cool cloth down the side of Carol's face and across her sharp collarbones.
Carol smiled and sighed. "Good for them," she said, closing her eyes and steadying her breath. We sat in silence for a few minutes until she spoke again. "And you?" She opened her eyes slowly and looked at me dead on.
"Me, what?" I asked, dipping the rag in the cool water again.
"When was your last period, Beth?" Carol asked quietly, and I froze.
I couldn't remember. "Umm…" I dropped the rag into the cooled water, as Carol watched me. I could feel the blood drain from my face.
"Take a deep breath," Carol said, then coughed heartily, her eyes watering as she did.
I took her advice and let the gravity of the situation settle around me.
"Have ya told him?" Maggie whispered over baby Hershel's head, as I wrestled with a half-clothed Judith and her will to hop off the counter and run after her brother.
"I haven't, but," I paused looking out the window, where Rick and Daryl were standing behind Carol, where she sat in the sun, watching Glenn and Andrea spar. "I can't imagine he doesn't know, what with my mood swings and hormone spikes. I flat out attacked him in the shower the other night."
Maggie chuckled then rolled her eyes. "Enjoy it, Sis, 'cause it won't last long once ya start showin'," she said. "I felt like a whale most days—didn't want Glenn to even look at me, let alone touch me."
The thought of my belly plumped with Daryl's baby suddenly made me flush. I wasn't used to being pregnant yet. I guessed I was about seven weeks along, but my periods had been so irregular the past few years, I couldn't be positive until Carol said what she said and it all clicked into place.
Just then Daryl turned, catching my eye through the thick glass of the window, like he could hear my thoughts or Maggie and my whispered conversation. He didn't miss a thing.
"Ya need to tell him," Maggie insisted, bouncing her beautiful baby boy in her arms.
I knew I needed to talk to him about it, but I was waiting for just the right moment. The fact was that it was a surprise, no matter how much I'd wanted it. The times I'd tried to talk to Daryl about not using condoms—that I wanted a baby, his baby—he'd resisted. I knew he was just worried about keeping everybody safe; anyone who saw Daryl with Judith and baby Hershel knew that nurturing and caring was in his blood, even though he'd never give himself credit for it.
After we'd found out that Maggie was pregnant, I told him that we should be thinking about rebuilding. I told him that he was a good man and I was proud to be with him, that Daddy had approved of us being together. I had tried to quell all the fears and reservations I saw dancing in his eyes.
"You're a good, strong man, Daryl-"
"So, I'm what, a bull now?" He shot me an arched brow as he cleaned the chrome of his bike. "Nuh-uh. Let's leave the procreatin' to your sister'n Glenn. They got that down pat." He was gnawing furiously at the inside of his lip, which was a consistent habit of his, but more prominent when his brain was spinning. I thought maybe we was worried about diaper changing or something.
"Is this about carin' for babies?" I asked. "'Cause I've seen ya with Judith. I know you're good with babies, so stop makin' excuses."
"Darlin'." He held his hand up like he was using it to make his point. He really just came across as condescending. "I ain't good with babies, and don't go misbelievin' that I am." He tossed his rag to the side and stood up and approached me, that nasty, defensive edge to his voice that I didn't like. "I'm good with keepin' people alive and safe. I'm good with killin' walkers, trackin', huntin'—that's it. I ain't nobody's daddy or husband or nothin' like that, ya hear?"
I blinked twice and he walked away.
That was the day I knew I'd pushed him too far. That was also the day he hurt me more than he ever had before or since, with one simple phrase. If he wasn't essentially my husband, then what was he? I missed Carol more, then, because I knew she'd know what to say to ease my mind. I knew Daryl had been speaking from a place of fear, but I craved hearing those words of reassurance from someone else—someone who knew that side of him, too, who would tell me that he hadn't meant what he'd said.
A few days later, he and Ty and Michonne went out on a long hunting trip, giving me a lot of time to think. I chose to think about the good things, like the first time he kissed me and the first time we made love. I thought about my 18th birthday, when he gave me the pearl handle buck knife, then taught me how to use it—how he told me he was proud of me when I carried it in my boot. I thought about how much those of us inside the walls had truly settled into life at the mansion, a place where we all felt safe. Meanwhile, Daryl went out into the brutal world almost daily. It hit me then that our realities were very different from each other's. He'd promised to take care of me, and I was asking him for more than he thought he could handle or deserved.
By the time he came back from his trip, I had made up my mind that I was not going to let him pull away. We had been through too much, and I loved him to the ends of the earth. I wouldn't push him into anything he wasn't ready for, but I wouldn't let his insecurities get the best of us, either.
"Baby?" He climbed into bed with me early one morning before the sun had even come up, smelling like soap and water, and fresh air. He curled behind me like the big spoon and buried his face in my neck. "I'm sorry—'bout what I said. I didn't mean," he paused and breathed deep in my ear, holding me tight, squeezing.
I closed my eyes and let him grasp for the words he needed to say and I needed to hear. From what I knew of Merle Dixon, and the scars on Daryl's body and his spirit, I knew what he was trying to say to me wasn't easy for him, but I wasn't going to give him an easy out by interrupting and not letting him say them, either.
"Beth, you're mine, and I'm yours. I was just…" His breath shuddered as he nuzzled into the crook of my neck and pressed his lips to my skin. "Dixons ain't the best men to be repopulatin' the planet is all I was sayin'."
He slipped his hand up under my arm and wrapped his own across my chest, anchoring his hand on my opposite shoulder. I felt safe with him despite his own insecurity, which was the baseline with all of us regarding Daryl. I could feel tears stinging my eyes. I dipped my head and kissed his forearm, then drew in a deep breath, wondering if he was done speaking, hoping that he wasn't.
He was done using words, but he used his hands to touch me in a way he never had before—bolder and with more confidence and passion than ever. We reconnected in the best possible way, reestablishing things between us, and he showed me a side of himself I always knew was there, but had never seen. I was the one who stopped long enough to find and utilize the condom, though. He didn't argue, and I could see the relief and regret warring in his eyes.
There was no denying the condom we'd used that morning had no defense against what was meant to be. Daddy always said that God had a plan, and my pregnancy was the epitome of why I had faith that he was right.
"I'll talk to him," I assured Maggie, finishing up with Judith's shoes and setting her on her feet. "After dinner."
"Ready for bed already?" Daryl's voice floated softly behind me, as I turned our bedding down for the night. He was leaning against the doorframe, watching me, arms folded across his chest, one knee bent and his hip cocked—always ready to spring into action, never truly relaxed.
I smoothed my hand over the soft cotton top sheet as I walked to the foot of the bed, holding his eyes with mine. "Been tired lately," I answered, and he nodded, pursing and gnawing at his lips.
"Bet ya are," he said.
Daryl pushed away from the doorway and wandered into the room, slowly unbuttoning his shirt then tossing it over the back of the chair before sitting down and unlacing his boots. I watched him quietly, randomly drawing patterns on the pristine, white sheet. I didn't know why I couldn't just say the words. It felt like that time I'd taken a tube of lip gloss from Sandy's Drug Store and Mama knew, but I had to confess it. Being pregnant wasn't a crime, though, so I wished it weren't weighing so heavy on me.
I was reminded of the day I looked at Lori and asked her how she could bring a baby into this world. I had wanted to die then, and I didn't see any hope. I accused her of doing something awful. Things were so different two years later. We'd survived and found a place to live and grow, and I had Daryl.
"Gonna read?" I asked. The mansion had an impressive library, and Daryl had taken to reading at night, while I slept. I was surprised that he was lying down with me so early, but I had a feeling he was doing it for a reason.
Daryl shrugged in response to my question, holding my gaze while he unbuckled his belt and unfastened his pants. He left the belt in the loops as his pants easily dropped to the floor and he kicked them aside. I was already in my sleeping shirt, so I followed his lead, crawling under the covers of our bed. Before I could settle into any position near or far from him, Daryl pulled my back against his chest and wrapped his arm across my shoulders—and then he started to talk.
"Sometimes I think it's gettin' more dangerous out there," he spoke quietly in my ear. "Walkers always in herds, can't trust the people ya meet, gotta step light for fear of traps or worse. Makes me not even wanna go outside our walls, ya know?"
I nodded, letting him know I was listening, and knowing he'd said none of this to anyone else besides maybe Rick—knowing he needed to say it; Daryl never wasted words. He took a deep breath before continuing.
"But it ain't more dangerous. Just got more to lose now." He lightly circled my nipple with the tip of his finger through the thin cotton of my shirt, then slowly skated his hand down my torso. "I ain't losin' nothin', though—not you, not ours." He pushed his hand up under my sleep shirt and rested his palm over my belly, his thumb brushing my sensitive skin rhythmically, and I closed my eyes and relaxed into him fully.
I almost laughed. "I knew ya knew," I said, turning my head to kiss his bicep and laying my hand over his. "I wanted to tell ya, I just didn't know how." I felt him nod behind me, shift his body closer, and gently grind his hips against my backside. He kissed my neck, and his hand slid from my belly down between my legs, his fingers stroking me through my underwear.
I immediately felt ravenous and wanton. My nerve endings were hypersensitive, and his touch set me on fire. He pulled my sleep shirt over my head and tossed it to the foot of the bed, as I twisted in his arms to face him. I needed to look him in the eye; when I did, I could barely breathe. There before me, my strong, beautiful man's clear blue eyes were rimmed with tears.
"Daryl..." I cupped his jaw.
"I made ya feel like ya couldn't tell me, or like I wouldn't be happy." He shook his head. "Couldn't be more wrong, Beth." He dipped his face to kiss me. "I want this," he whispered, pulling me closer and dragging his hand down to my breasts. "Want you." He kissed me, slowly pushing his tongue inside my mouth and twisting it with mine, as his hand brushed my sensitive nipples. I felt so full and hot and ready to pop, and we were just getting started.
"Gonna take it nice'n slow," he muttered, thumbing my nipple and skimming my neck with kisses. "Savor ya, how warm y'are, and open."
I sighed and pushed my hands up into his hair, and he rolled me to my back. My legs fell open, and I swore I could feel sparks snapping wherever he touched me, as he climbed between my legs. And his voice was killing me. "Been right on the edge all damn week, haven't ya?" He braced a forearm on either side of my head, his fingers tousling my hair, and his knees between my thighs, pushing them open wide. I trailed my fingers everywhere in random patterns, from his scalp over his shoulders and his collarbones, down his chest and up his back. "Don't know how ya thought ya could keep it from me." He chuckled low and dark. "Can smell ya. Fuck."
His lips closed around one of my nipples, and I gasped and my back arched off the bed. I didn't want him to stop talking, but if he was going to use his mouth for something else, I was glad it was on my nipples. His mouth was almost cool compared to my heated skin. He swirled his tongue around the sensitive peak then took it into his mouth again, pulling gently with his lips and causing the best kind of pain. I held his head in place, where he continued to work with his lips and tongue, as I reached down to cup as much of his hardness in my hand as I could through his briefs. I bucked my hips on instinct and he chuckled again.
"Told ya we're takin' it slow, girl." I could hear the smile in his voice as he dropped kisses to my chest and shoulders, balancing on one forearm to use his other hand to tease my tingling skin. Then he was sliding two fingers inside my mouth, his thumb caressing my cheek and jaw. I closed my lips around his fingers and used my tongue to get them wet.
Sex for Daryl and I had become about connecting and expressing our feelings over the past year. Usually, those feelings were tender and loving; sometimes desperate, when we'd lost someone or there was a close call outside our walls; sometimes a reconnection because he'd been gone a while, hunting; sometimes an apology for saying something one of us didn't mean. The feeling at that moment was passion and need. I hadn't ever thought that I just wanted him to fuck me before, but right then I felt out of control and hungry—animalistic.
Daryl used his wet fingers to circle my nipples then lightly blew puffs of air over them. I was writhing under him, trying to get some kind of friction against the burn between my legs, where he had me pushed wide open. "Needy, baby?" he asked quietly, pulling my earlobe between his lips. Then he was slowly, mercifully, pushing a single finger inside me, but not far and not for long. He simply pulled it out again to spread the wetness he'd gathered along my slit and up over my clit. He slowly and gently circled the swollen bundle of nerves until I tightly gripped a handful of his hair.
"Please, Daryl." My breath was shaking.
"What?" he asked, teasing me further, nuzzling. He'd never been so playful, and I couldn't decide whether I loved it or hated—or if I loved hating it. He pushed his finger back inside and started to move it in and out, sliding his thumb along the side of my clit. "Tell me." He kissed my throat and my collarbone, then started to move farther down with his entire body.
I loved his fingers inside me, but I wanted to feel his weight and power, thrusting into me. I wanted to be connected to him fully. "Please," I whispered. "Fuck me."
His body stilled for a brief moment on his way down between my thighs. I could feel his breath on my belly as he whispered, "Jesus," then continued downward. I rarely swore, and I had never asked him to fuck me. If I hadn't felt his dick jerk next to my thigh, I might've thought I'd upset him.
"I will," he said, continuing to kiss his way down my body. "But I wanna do this first." He settled between my legs, slowly pushing them as far open as they'd go and keeping them there with the broad set of his shoulders. I looked down in time to catch a glimpse of his wild eyes as he slowly dragged his tongue up my slit. At the top, he pressed and rubbed the flat of it against my clit, then slid his long middle finger inside me again. "Lay back," he said, holding my gaze.
My eyes rolled back in my head, as I lay open and exposed, Daryl alternating his fingers and tongue inside me and against my clit. He even slid his wet pinky down between my cheeks a few times, making me squeal and kick. Everything was wet and slippery and sounded sinful and perfect. He smacked his lips and hummed, snagging my eyes with his. "G'on, baby, get loud as ya want," he said, pushing himself up on his elbow to watch, as he finally hooked two fingers inside me and pressed the heel of his hand over my clit—that always did it for me, and he knew it. When I came, it was long and loud, and I was almost in tears.
I breathed heavy and felt him moving me, shifting his weight between my legs and hovering over me. "Open your eyes," he said, and when I did, he kissed me. I could taste myself on his lips and tongue. He hummed. "Tastes good. D'ya like it?" His voice was soft as he kissed me and licked my lips, letting me taste more. I did like it; it made me feel closer to him and like we were part of each other. I nodded, eagerly kissing him back, and bringing my legs up around his hips. "Me, too," he said.
We kissed for a while longer, but he was so hard against my thigh that I didn't want to wait anymore. I wanted to feel him thick and bare inside me, and for him to feel as good as he'd made me feel—always. I bucked up against him then wrapped my legs around his hips, hooking my ankles together at the small of his back. "I love you," I whispered into his ear before raking my teeth along the shell.
Daryl nodded and firmly planted a hand on the mattress beside my shoulder, then used his other hand to guide himself inside; he rarely said those words to me, but he showed me every day. He felt so hot and slick and hard. His jaw was slack and his eyes were half-closed as he pushed inside. The way he stretched me was exactly the sensation I wanted—the fullness and intensity.
"Yes," he hissed, once he was fully inside. He settled over the top of me, digging his knees into the mattress, and bracing his forearms again. He looked so beautiful above me. I wanted to touch and kiss him everywhere; I started with his chest. We took a few moments getting used to the feel of being so completely bare and connected. My ankles were still hooked around his back, so I used them as leverage to pull him into me as I rolled my hips, and we both groaned.
"Kiss me," I breathed, and he answered with his own roll of his hips and pushed deeper inside, as he dipped his head to take my lips. Daryl started to swivel his hips, which felt really good—the pressure, his weight and heat—but I wanted him in and out. I bucked up against him hard. "Fuck me," I whined.
He groaned loudly and gripped the side of my hip. "Jesus, Beth, I'ma come right now if ya keep sayin' that." His eyes were burning and he was gritting his teeth. I whimpered and squeezed around him. He gasped and closed his eyes, tilted his head back and drew in a deep breath through his nose and out through his mouth. He did that a few more times, as I lay beneath him, trying to be patient, wanting all of him, full force. He finally opened his eyes again and looked down at me. He looked more in control, then. He held me in place by my hip and pulled back a few inches, making me groan and curl my fingers into his chest, but it was nothing compared to him pushing back into me.
I let my legs fall back open, my feet flat to the mattress, and I reached up to grab hold of the headboard, as Daryl did just what I asked him to do. Each thrust was slow and hard, forcing my breath and a soft cry from my chest. "Good, baby?" he breathed heavily and kissed my throat, then gripped the headboard above one of my fists, entwining our fingers. His other hand slipped between the pillow and the back of my head, his fingers tangling in my hair.
"Yes," I answered, feeling my face split with the widest grin and my insides shiver and shake. "Oh, my god, yes."
He smiled and nodded, solidly giving me every single inch of him in the perfect rhythm and depth. "I wanna feel ya come," he whispered, dropping his forehead to mine, using the headboard as leverage. "Love it when ya come on my cock. Feels so good. C'mon, please." Then he brought everything together in one big motion of swiveling and thrusting and gripping my hair hard.
I whined and met his thrusts, dragging one hand down between us to press lightly on my clit. On Daryl's third pass, I exploded, calling his name and tightly gripping his fingers with mine around the wrought iron of the headboard. Seconds later, he was coming, gasping for air, and kissing my mouth; both of us were smiling.
"Christ," he breathed, rolling to my side then pulling me with him. He eyed me sideways. "Girl, ya got mouth on ya." He smirked, and I giggled.
"From now on, I'm blamin' everythin' on my hormones," I said, and he rolled his eyes, tucking me into his side.
We talked for an hour or more about how long I'd know without telling him, how I really wanted a girl and he didn't care "as long as there's 10 fingers and 10 toes", and how far along I probably was. He agreed with my assessment of the morning we'd conceived; we'd both felt something that morning. Eventually, Daryl worked his way back down my body with kisses. He rested his head on my belly, like he was listening to a heartbeat.
"Ya can't feel anythin' yet. Not for another couple months," I said, pushing his hair to the side and watching his eyes droop, looking like a sleepy little kid. I thought to myself that maybe I did want a boy, if he was as precious as his daddy.
"Ain't too early to appreciate," he mumbled, laying a hand on my hip and turning his head to kiss my belly before drifting into sleep.
Not a day went by that I didn't realize how lucky I was to have the family I had, to have my life and my health, to have Daryl. Even as a young girl in the old world, I never dreamed of the way I felt with him, and especially knowing that we'd have our own family soon. I was grateful for it all, and I looked forward to each day with the hope in my heart that Daddy always had.
Thank you, Leiah, Rhanon Brodie, and OneLilHopeful for keeping me on track, supporting me, reading my words and giving thoughtful feedback throughout this process. I would never have written this fic if it hadn't been for Leiah's nudging and Brodie's pretty pom poms and OneLilHopeful's enthusiasm. And this fic would not be what it is without MsKathy's keen eye and gentle heart because I'd probably be a shriveled old hopeless grinch without that lady. I love all of you girls!