I like replying to all reviews, but a few people review as guests, and some have PMs turned off, so I want to give a shout out to those who I wasn't able to reply to via PM: Huntersgrrrll, Candi, Alexandria104, and MyNamIsNotInga – thanks for reading and reviewing. I hope you ALL continue to enjoy!

Please keep in mind that this is totally AU after the brothers get back to the prison, and this fic is categorized as 'Romance', so I won't be putting anyone in grave danger as a plot point. I've neutralized a lot of the horror aspects of canon TWD in the best interest of exploring a budding romance between Beth and Daryl.

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

Early the next morning after Carol and I had talked and I'd decided that I had everything all figured out, I realized I didn't have anything figured out at all.

I knew I wanted to tell Daryl that he was a good man—the best. I wanted to tell him that I'd missed him when he left. I wanted to say that he meant something special to me, and that I saw him the way that a woman sees a man. That all seemed simple, when I was talking to Andrea and Carol, but as I watched him leave for a hunt, the wings of his vest fading into the misty glow just before dawn, the possibilities of how he'd receive that information twisted my gut into knots.

I had to do it, though. I wanted to and I had to, for my own sanity if nothing else. I thought maybe it was selfish of me to put that kind of responsibility on him—to dump my feelings in his lap, but I had to know what he was thinking.

I spent the better part of the day working over scenario after scenario in my brain. Anybody who knew Daryl knew you didn't take him something that didn't need fixing. The more I thought about it, my biggest fear was that he'd think what I was feeling was a problem to be solved. I definitely wanted him to react, to engage, but the last thing I wanted was for him to shut it down or push me away, thinking it was wrong.

I processed what Andrea had said about Daryl being older than me, and that affecting how he'd react, with what Carol had said about his lack of experience. Those two things seemed to contradict each other, but they also seemed to match somehow. In all the ways I'd seen Daryl react and take part in anything, there was something so raw about it, like every time was his first time, but he wasn't backing down. He was brave and strong, even in the face of things that were new and frightening.

The thought that Daryl had lived his life so far without the love and companionship of a woman made me sad. He was so full of passion, so solid and fierce, and I could not even fathom that I was the first woman to notice him or want him and want to show him what he meant to the world.

Sometimes I wondered why Carol didn't pursue him. Her words of understanding when he left us for Merle shed light on a hidden connection they shared that I would likely never understand. The way they communicated and moved together was almost a mirror image in a way. It was as if they were long-lost twins.

"Ready when you are," Carol said with a smile, popping her head into my cell and pulling me from my thoughts. I nodded in agreement, finishing up with changing Judith. Carol and I had weeding in the garden to do that day, and I needed to be sure Judith's arms and legs were covered so she didn't get sunburned.

"How ya holdin' up?" Carol asked. I glanced at her as I pulled a light long-sleeve shirt over Judith's head and arms and reached for her sling.

"I'm good. Jus' kinda inside my own head today," I replied, and Carol nodded.

Out in the garden, we worked quietly in tandem. Carol was respecting my peace and quiet, I guessed. The simple thought that Daryl was entirely inexperienced in the realm of romance continued to ping in my mind. It made me sad, but it also opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me.

As Judith burrowed into my chest, I let the giddy, wistful corner of my mind float over fantasies of him responding in a completely unexpected but favorable way. What if he took me in his arms and told me he'd been waiting for me to say those words to him—told me he'd been feeling the same way, watching me, longing for me? The thought made me blush out of childish naïveté, dreaming that he'd sweep me off my feet and we'd live happily ever after. I shook my head and sighed at my momentary whimsy, but let myself enjoy it.

Regardless of how he reacted, I was determined to convince him that I wasn't a child. As much as I hoped he wouldn't, I had to accept that was likely where he'd go first, and judging by Andrea's and Carol's feedback, they thought the same. I decided my main objective would be to get him past that roadblock first and foremost.

Judith shifted against me, grunting and cooing, so I decided to take a break from the sun and dirt to get her inside for a midday feeding and change. I told Carol I'd be back in a bit, and she nodded in agreement.

On my way inside, I saw Rick and Tyreese, walking the fence and talking. It reminded me of what we all saw slowly building between Rick and Ty's sister Sasha. I was happy for Rick. We all missed Lori something awful and I was beyond worried about him after we lost her; I thought we'd lose him, too. Sasha seemed to be bringing him back, slowly but surely.

I was also reminded of the tiny peeks I'd sneaked of Ty and Carol. After all the words Carol and I'd exchanged over my feelings for Daryl, we hadn't talked about her and Ty, but I was following her lead on that. I thought maybe she wasn't ready to talk about it, or maybe I was off base with my assumption, but I didn't think I was.

I sat down in the main room once Judith's bottle was ready and I had her out of her sling. She settled in my arms and I worked the nipple of the bottle between her warbling lips.

"C'mon, now, darlin'," I said. "Take your lunch." She took to the bottle almost immediately.

I watched Judith eagerly drink and thought to myself that not a one of us were getting rid of the virus any time soon, and the world wasn't getting any less dangerous. Every minute that passed and every thought and image that crossed my mind that day reinforced the feeling that I was just wasting time avoiding Daryl.

Andrea was right; life was too short, and Daryl and I both had a lot of living to do.

Just around sunset, the rumbling of Daryl's Triumph rolled through the haze of the late afternoon sun and lush green of the trees for a good five minutes before he appeared. I'd asked Sasha to take Judith for me, not telling her that it was because I didn't want to be interrupted while Daryl and I talked, and she gladly took her from me without needing a reason.

I was familiar with Daryl's after-hunt ritual; he'd come through the gates and hand his kills to Carol or me. That night, I made sure I wasn't available for the hand-off, though. After I watched Carol take the meat from him, I slowly trailed behind him as he headed down the corridor to the yard to clean his bolts.

It was almost dark and he was alone when I finally joined him. I couldn't believe my luck, and I took it as a sign that it was now or never.

"Hey," I said by way of greeting, and Daryl looked up at me with his usual expression of concentration, intensely furrowing his brow. Recognition dawned on his face, the tense ridges smoothed, his shoulders relaxed, and his eyes… God, I could almost feel them caressing my collarbones and arms and hips. "How's the hunt?" I asked quietly.

Daryl didn't talk much to anyone, but it had always been easy for me to talk to him about things like his hunt or the weather. The past couple of weeks, since he'd been back with Merle, had been slightly strained, though, and I blamed myself for part of that, obviously. I didn't want things to be strained between us anymore, which was just one of the reasons I'd gone out there.

Daryl's eyes fluttered slightly as I drew near, but he refocused his attention to his bolts as he shuffled his feet and cleared his throat. "Not bad," he replied, flicking his gaze to where I came to a stop at the opposite side of the table. I absently acknowledged that it was the same table Carol and I had talked just the day before.

I nodded. "Been a lot less bugs t'clean from the meat lately," I said with a soft huff of laughter.

Daryl pursed his lips and bobbed his head. "Cooler weather," he said, his eyes scanning the yard. I wondered what he was looking for. He had the posture and appearance of a wary, cornered animal. I didn't know what on earth I could be doing to intimidate Daryl Dixon of all people, but I decided that moment was as good a time as any to do what I went out there to do.

I drew in a deep breath. "I was pissed at you, ya know," I said, watching him closely for his reaction.

He shot me a startled glance that quickly shifted to amusement. His brow slowly arched and he chuckled. "Yeah?" He shifted his weight from foot to foot as he dropped the newly cleaned bolt to the table and picked up another to clean. "Wha'for?" he asked with a smirk and a sideways glance.

"Ya just up'n left without sayin' a word to no one," I answered.

"Went huntin'," he said, clearly confused. "That ain't nothin' new, darlin'."

"Not today," I said with a tone in my voice that I could tell conveyed my annoyance. "Before—after Woodbury."

Both Daryl's eyebrows shot upward and he popped his tongue into the side of his cheek, eyeing me speculatively. After a few beats, he leisurely shrugged one massive shoulder then turned his attention back to his task.

"Said plenty t'Rick," he grunted, surprising me. For a minute there, I thought he was going to ignore my confrontation, or tell me to mind my own business. The fact that he wasn't outright dismissing me bolstered my hopes that going out there to once and for all lay to rest his treatment of me as a child might not be the mountainous challenge I'd assumed it would be.

"Maybe you did," I said. "But ya never thought about us back here. Didn't even s'much as come back t'say goodbye."

He slowly shook his head and gnawed at the inside of his bottom lip, seemingly limiting his concentrating to the cleaning of his bolts, but he was uneasy. He kept shifting and fidgeting, and looking around us like we were out in the open instead of safely inside the prison fence.

"And how d'ya know what I was thinkin'?" He shot his gaze up to meet mine, and I shivered. His eyes were intense and laser-focused. His body may have been doing all kinds of nervous twitching, but those eyes…

"Well, I…" I paused, letting his stare pin me in place and almost letting it deter me, but I swallowed down my hesitation and pushed forward. "I guess I don't know for a fact, but ya just ran off with that brother a yours-"

"Hold your tongue, girl." His voice was calm and quiet, and his gaze swept over me for a brief second, making his point. "Tha's my brother you're talkin' 'bout, and we both old 'nough to be your daddy." His eyes met mine and trapped me once again. "Turn you over m'knee."

He shook his head again and looked back down at the rag and bolts in his hands, and it was like a bomb went off in my head. His shallow threat of punishment for disrespecting my elders was a deflection, and I was suddenly so angry that he insisted on reverting back to treating me like a child.

"You'll do no such thing," I insisted, and his posture faltered. "I ain't a little girl, Daryl."

He scoffed and rolled his eyes, grabbing for another bolt, then shot me another sideways glance. He was clearly uncomfortable, but I didn't care. I went out there to make a point, and I wasn't going to let him brush me off.

"One minute ya trust me with important stuff, praise me for doin' somethin' good, and the next minute ya just write me off as a child!" He nervously shifted his gaze, watchful and cautious, but he didn't respond. I braced my hands on the table. "Turn me over your knee?!" I was outraged. "No. Ya can't keep treatin' me like a child. I'm a grown woman, and I have an opinion-"

"Damn it, girl!" He tossed the filthy rag to the table and gritted his teeth. "I don't gotta answer t'you 'bout nothin'." His brow was furrowed and his chest was heaving when his eyes met mine again. "I came back, didn't I?"

I stood up straight as he started to pace, hands on his hips, and staring me down. He looked angry. I thought maybe I'd pushed him too far. I watched until he was done pacing, when he stopped and stared down at his dirty hands resting on the tabletop.

After a few moments, I spoke, breaking the tension a little. "Ya did," I replied to his insistence that he'd come home. "And I'm glad, but, like I said, I'm not lettin' ya treat me like a kid anymore. What I think and how I feel is important."

Daryl hung his head, turning it back and forth as he exhaled slowly, and I walked around the table to stand next to him. "And so are you. I wish ya'd take my word for it."

He cocked his head to the side and stared out toward the fence where a walker was pulling on the chain link in a vain attempt at getting inside. I followed his gaze and we were both quiet for a minute.

"Carol's right," I said after we'd relaxed a little. "World needs more men like you."

Daryl scoffed and stood up straight, turning his defeated gaze back to me. "Dixon men weren't never nothin' the world needs more of."

"You're wrong," I argued, facing him, almost toe-to-toe. "We wouldn't be alive weren't for you. We'd all've starved to death by now."

Daryl shrugged again, never looking away. "Jus' did what needed t'be done," he told me. He looked so tired. All I wanted was to comfort him, let him rest, and make him believe that he deserved it.

"Maybe you need some convincin'," I said, holding his gaze and angling closer to him.

His eyes glazed over for a second before slowly dropping to my mouth and lazily traveling down over my body. Then he nodded, bringing his gaze back up to meet mine, as his middle finger came up to tap at his bottom lip. "What kinda convincin'?" he asked, his voice low and his eyes unexpectedly narrow and hard. "'Cause I ain't playin' no games, little girl."

I drew in a shaky breath. "Told ya I ain't a little girl," I said.

Daryl's eyes heated, and I felt a sense of pride. Then he shifted into something feral and predatory. With the full-force of his gaze on me, I felt myself back into the table behind me.

"That right?" he asked, advancing on me. ""N wha'do ya gonna do t'convince me?" He came to a stop just a hair's breadth in front of me, heating my skin and chilling my bones. "Hmm?"

I tried to shrug and meet his gaze directly, but I felt myself trembling under his stare. He was trying to intimidate me, and while I was committed to seeing my plan all the way through, I was definitely starting to second-guess myself.

"We owe ya our lives," I repeated my earlier mantra, breathing heavy as his eyes roamed my face and down again. I closed my own eyes before I could determine exactly where he was looking or what he might be thinking.

"And ya, what?" He braced a hand on the table next to my hip, leaning in, his knee barely brushing in between mine. "Wanna repay me, is that it?" I couldn't speak to answer, and he was so, so close. I felt my hair standing on end. Then his voice got even quieter. "I'ma ask ya again," he said, and I opened my eyes to steel-blue. "What're ya gonna do?"

I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders. "You're a man," I said, and he smirked and nodded. "A good man, and ya deserve someone to honor you and make this a life worth livin'," I said, setting my jaw, determined to finish what I started.

I glanced down at his hand beside my hip and slid my fingers over his on the table. He dropped his gaze to where our fingers were now loosely entwined, and I turned my face into his—my instincts telling me to lean in, our lips drawing closer.

But before we could connect, Daryl jumped back, eyes wild and mouth agape.

"Ya wanna play house, that it?" he asked, pacing in circles again, and shaking his head like mad. "Shit, we're talkin' teenage girl fantasies."

He snatched up his clean and dirty bolts and turned his back to make his way toward the prison door.

"I told ya," I said, following him across the courtyard. "I ain't a little girl." He shot me a withering look, but I kept after him.

He stopped dead in his tracks and I ran smack into his back. He let out an exasperated sigh and clenched his fists. "Beth," he said, his voice quiet. He slowly drew in another breath, as I came around to face him. "Darlin'… I know y'ain't. But you're half my age—less than—and I-"

"Then what was that about back there?" I demanded, catching his eye, and jutting my thumb over my shoulder, referring to him pinning me to the table like prey. "Y'were gonna take me up on my offer, if I just wanted to…?"

He stared at me like I was an idiot for a beat. "I wa'n't gonna take you up on nothin'," he insisted. "You're damn crazy, girl—just a baby. Your daddy'd beat my ass from here to Alabama with jus' his one damn leg, and I'd let 'im." He stood staring at me, breathing hard.

I shook my head at his blatant denial. "But ya've thought about it," I said, and he grit his teeth. "Daryl, I'ma be 18 next week, and even if I wasn't? This world we're living in—ain't no one a helpless child anymore."

Daryl crossed his arms over his chest, one hand full of bolts and the other pushing a thumbnail tightly between his teeth as he listened. "How can ya think I'm a baby after everythin' I've seen—everythin' that's happened?" I shook my head, never breaking eye contact. He needed to know I meant what I said and that I knew what he was thinking. "No more games. I know ya've thought about it. I know ya have."

He ripped his thumbnail with his teeth and spat it to the ground, dropping his arms back at his sides. He took one last look at me, up and down, then shook his head and turned his back to storm off, leaving me in the yard to stew. And I fully realized with utter clarity that he was feeling the same things I was feeling, and he was just as scared as I was.

Thank you Leiah and Brodie for once again supporting me in finding the right balance with exactly how far Beth will go to get what she wants and needs. Thank you MsKathy for everything. xox