R_S: Ok, so here it is: where the story really starts to get to the point. This is the first chapter that focuses on Daryl and Beth's interactions and the potential growth for their relationship... I'm super nervous, and I hope you guys like it. Please let me know if you do!


Bittersweet

Chapter 8

The reunion of the Greene family could not have been a happier one. Sobbing tears of joy, Maggie enveloped her baby sister in the most smothering hug imaginable, and when he saw her, Hershel had started to cry. Carol hurried after with a warm blanket to hide her relative nakedness before many others saw. Glenn had insisted in covering his 'little sister's' legs during the ride back, so her lap had been wrapped tightly in Daryl's vest, the sides tucked beneath her skinny legs, but she had still shivered. Daryl only had to threaten Merle once to stop his offers to 'warm' her. Instead his brother busied himself observing the both of them and even offered her a cigarette. He was uncharacteristically tame, but everyone was too tired and too relieved to really question it. With Beth home safe and the Governor dead, blown up along with the hole he was hiding in, the atmosphere of the prison was one of celebration and revelry, only tinged by the somberness of mourning the dead.

But not for Daryl. Heaviness filled his gut, the image of Beth's tiny blond form defeated and nude preoccupied his thoughts. Merle's usual raucous brand of humor did not help, bringing his mind back to the reason he had such an exciting night in the first place. He really should have moved the li'l ass kicker and her to a safe area when the Governor showed up. He knew it, but he had been so caught up in delusions of revenge that he had put them both in danger. Look where that had landed Beth.

The night found him wandering through the halls of the prison, looking for anything to distract himself from such thoughts. It was late, so most were in their cots asleep or at least resting. The only person he came across what Michonne, her lithe body stretched out against a wall and her smooth skin glistening in the moonlight. She stared at him as he approached, and he stared back.

"It'll be hard for her, no denying that, but Beth will be alright someday." She said simply, "What happened ain't yo fault." The way she cut to the point was unnerving.

"What d'ya want?" He snapped.

"Don't want nothin' from you, but you gotta stop the way you're thinkin' right now."

"How would y' know, you don't know nothin' about me."

Uncharacteristically, she placed a hand on his shoulder. "When we found Beth, the way you reacted… Carol is right; you're a good man, Daryl Dixon." Removing her hand, she turned and walked away, "Don't let the world take that from you."

"You don't know shit!" He called after her, but she didn't look back. Her voice, however, did drift through the hall.

"She's sittin' in the canteen if ya wanna talk to her n' see for yourself."

No, he decidedly did not want to see for himself. He had already royally screwed his one responsibility of keeping Judith and her safe, and once they were back home, they were none of his concern. He did not do pussy emotional shit. What did he have to offer her at that point? Going to the cafeteria would be stupid, utterly pointless.

But his feet had carried him there. Seeing her sitting by herself, blond hair shining in the dull light, she looked utterly lost and alone. He felt compelled to seek out her company.

"Mind if I join ya?" Beth jumped at his unexpected voice, looking up at him curiously. A moment later she turned back to the nothingness she had been staring at and shook her head.

"Not at all." Daryl leaned up against the wall and looked out the window at the night, but her stillness was oddly unsettling.

"Hey," He called to her, voice low and gruff, "you ok?"

She nodded, "Yeah… yeah, I'm fine."

"I find that hard to believe."

"I'm doing as well as can be expected, then."

He looked at her from the corner of his eye, "That ain't really settin' the bar so high."

"I dunno," she shrugged, avoiding the line of questioning, "I never thought you were one for talkin' about your feelings."

"'Not, but you're no good to us if you don't feel safe 'nough to focus."

"Believe me, Daryl, I'm gettin' enough talks about feelings from Maggie. I'm fine."

"People only say they're fine when they ain't."

She sighed, "Really, it wasn't so bad… for the most part he saw me as his dead wife somehow come back to him and treated me like that. When he was delusional, it was creepy but not too bad. I'm thankful, really. It could'a been a lot worse."

"Were there times when he didn't think you was her?"

"Sort of… not like he thought I was me but like he was upset at things that were wrong, things that were different about her. I saw a picture of her, tried to look similar to keep from settin' him off. But my hair's lighter than hers was, and my face is rounder. I couldn't let him look me in the eyes too long or he'd get agitated. They weren't the right shade, I guess; not blue enough. Hers were bright, like yours…" She stared distractedly into his eyes. He shifted uncomfortably but made no effort to break the eye-contact, feeling too guilty to turn away from her first. Finally her gaze dropped, and he was no longer staring into their steely grey depths.

She shrugged, "At least I got a nice hot shower n' a soft bed."

"I think I'd still have rather been here with our family."

"Well that wasn't really an option, was it?" She snapped with uncharacteristic shortness. "Sorry… that was uncalled for. I'm just… on edge."

"Y'got a right to be."

"… Is it crazy that I right now all I wanna do is talk to Sasha? I was never really close to her, but now that she's gone, I just want some low-key girl talk. I'm real sorry she's gone."

Daryl shook his head, "That wasn't your fault. You saved a hell lot more people that day, never doubt that."

Beth shrugged, looking around the room, "Maybe…" He followed her eyes around and suddenly realized they were in the room where it all happened. This was where she had been taken.

"Maybe ya shouldn't be in here."

"It's where we eat, where I usually take Judith to play… I gotta get used to bein' here, and I figured now was as good a time as any."

He coughed uncomfortably as he searched for the right thing to say, "But if y' ain't ready-"

"Look, I'm ok." She told him, "I'm really ok." He shrugged.

"Your call."

"I can't live my life in fear. I'm no use to anybody that way… least of all Judith."

"I, uh, I didn't mean what I said 'bout you bein' no good to us," he stuttered, feeling guilty, "shouldn't'a said it."

"I know you didn't, but that doesn't make it any less true."

Daryl turned to look at her, "What you did for her was great, Beth. Don't go sellin' yourself short. You put yourself at risk n' prolly saved her life. You made some tough decisions, and ain't nobody can fault you for them."

"Huh… that's what Rick said, too… was kind of him, considering I lost his daughter. She would'a been better with someone else."

"We're both sayin' it cuz it's true. Yer tougher'n ya think, I think you showed that this week. With a li'l work, you could start takin' on some new stuff round these parts- when you're ready. I can, uh, I can train ya with the guns some more, when you're feelin' up to it, get you ready to take on more walkers. You think ya ain't good enough to protect the baby, but you could protect this whole family."

"I think we both know that's not gonna happen."

"What makes ya say that?"

She shrugged, "I'm just not made to go on runs. Some people can do that; lay their lives on the line for the greater good and stare death in the face without hesitation. I'm not like that. I'd get myself and my friends killed at some point, I know it." Daryl shifted uncomfortably and opened his mouth, but she cut him off. "You don't need to say anything; we both know it's true. It's fine. We can't all be warriors like you and Michonne. I can be useful here, helpin' you all so you can focus on keepin' us safe. That's how I can make a difference, the only way, but I'm ok with that. Really."

He stared at her for a moment, taking her in. She was so blasé about it, the way she stated her purpose so simply and the resigned expression on her face. On anyone else it would seem defeated, but not on Beth. She accepted things, understood them. She did not have some inflated sense of worth or seek validation to the point of risking her life and others' when someone else was more suited to deal with it. It was funny… he had judged her as weak and pathetic back on the farm for giving up, considering ending things after she had led such an perfect life up to that point. But now, sitting before him, she was the most well-adjusted person he had ever met, especially compared to him. It was a stark juxtaposition.

Daryl had never met anyone more different than him than Beth Greene. Where he was blunt, she was gentle; where he was aggressive, she was passive. She was blessed with a fairytale perfect childhood on an idyllic farm, while his was a nightmare. Her accent was a lilting, just barely there southern edge that delicately colored her words and could probably be lost easily. He spoke like a backwater redneck. He was rough around the edges and had a bitch of an attitude problem, but she was soft and sweet. He was on the front-lines, killing walkers and going to war with the Governor, while she held the fort back home, caring for the sick, the young, and the wounded and preparing things people like him might need.

"I'm happy to stay here." She reiterated.

He licked his lips. "Well… we can still train a bit if you'd want to, if it'd make ya feel safe." She looked up at him and a tired but genuine smile grew on her pretty face.

"I'd like that," she said, "but you better make sure not to train me too well. If I don't need you to rescue me, you might be out of a job." He snorted, and she giggled.

"Somehow, I ain't too concerned."

"You shouldn't be… thank you, Daryl, for coming for me. I didn't wanna get my hopes up, didn't count myself as important enough to warrant risking everybody's lives."

"Don't thank me. You shouldn't been taken in the first place."

She shook her head, "I won't be the last to face something like this in this world, and others have faced so much worse." This girl was so much different than the child that had tried to kill herself at the farm. She was all grown-up, and the realization did not hit Daryl like he thought it would. He thought he kind of always knew she was, just never really thought about it. Beth was still his to protect.

"That don't make it ok… I should'a watched you better, stopped him from taking you."

"It's not your fault. There was nothing you could do."

"But I'm sorry-… I'm sorry that happened to you." His voice was low and heavy, a guarded mix of practiced aloofness and guilty emotion he could not keep from seeping in. His eyes found hers in the darkness and found them looking through him.

"It's not your fault." She said again. "It means a lot that you would come get me at all."

"Like I said, ain't nothin' to thank me for- I wouldn't'a left you, girl. Yer needed back here, by your sis n' yer daddy, by the li'l ass kicker… by all of us. You make a venison stew better'n anyone else in this god forsaken shithole." That earned a laugh.

"I think I knew that." She admitted. "I hoped you'd come, cuz if anyone came it'd be you, and I kinda knew you would. You're good like that, always have been. We'd be lost without you… I'd have been lost without you."

She was needed on the homestead, and it sunk slowly into his gut that Beth needed him just as much as he needed her. It was the first time in his life he had been depended on, and this group very much depended on him. That baby, his li'l ass kicker, she would have died if not for his efforts, or Beth's for that matter. And this tiny blond woman, she needed him almost as much. She could maintain a base just fine, care for everyone there and plan and prepare for a lot, but she needed someone like him to keep her safe. Judith had Rick and Carl and plenty of other people she could depend on. She was the camp's pride and joy. But Beth? Beth only had her daddy and her sister, and they could only do so much to help her. Half the time, he kind of figured they did more harm than good, downplaying her potential and dismissing her input. Glenn just followed their lead. Only Carol and he seemed to foster any grit, and Carol was in no position to offer support those days. There was only him.

Being needed like that, it was addictive, and some part of him resolved to spend more time with Beth for just that reason. Merle had his drugs, Daryl had this.