Chapter Twenty-Five. Right by Your Side.

Daryl had built a stage – just like he promised he would. Nothing big or fancy but the kids couldn't stop climbing all over it and when Beth had seen the final product, she had hugged him so tightly, he had thought she was cutting the air off in his throat and he could no longer breathe and he wondered how a little thing like her could hug him so damn tight.

The night of the Harry Potter play, everyone in the prison came – except those on duty in the towers – and they had gathered as many chairs as they could and once they ran out of those, they sat on the ground, spreading out blankets as if they were seeing a play in the park. They had lined the edge of the stage with solar lanterns so there was enough light for everyone to see.

Daryl didn't sit. He stood off to the side with an unobstructed view of the stage with his arms crossed over his chest and once it began, he watched the kids wearing tablecloths tied around their shoulders as wizard cloaks and the kid who was playing that head guy, Dumbledore or whatever the hell his name was, was wearing a black witch's cap that Glenn had found on one of their runs. Beth was on stage, too, playing multiple parts because there were more parts then kids and when one of kids forgot a line – which happened often – she would lean down and whisper it in their ear.

Daryl looked out over to the people and saw all of them laughing and smiling and they were watching this Harry Potter play as if it was the greatest thing they had ever seen. And maybe it was. This was exactly what they all needed. Kids up on a stage, pretending to be wizards and just being kids and everyone else watching with pride and enjoyment. Daryl watched Beth as her smile made her face seem like it was glowing. He had never seen anything prettier than Beth Greene up on a stage.

He still couldn't quite believe that she was with him; that in this world of nothing but shit and death, he had someone like her; that he knew her from the inside and out. He couldn't quite believe that he had been stupid enough to deny her; to deny himself having her. Actually, he could believe that. He was a pretty stupid person more times than not.

They had all chuckled when Nate – who was playing Ron – informed the crowd that these chess pieces were supposed to be the size of statues as he held up a checker board and they could hear Judith beginning to cry from her place from Rick's lap and Rick wasn't able to calm her down once more. Without missing a beat, Beth stepped from stage and took Judith in her arms, bringing her back up to stage with her, the baby quieting almost immediately.

Daryl tried to watch the play and follow the plot, even though he didn't know what the hell was going on, but he couldn't take his eyes off of Beth.

When the last line was said, and all of the kids gathered on stage again, and everyone got to their feet to give them a roaring applause, Daryl kept watching Beth – the way she smiled and laughed and beamed with pride. The way the kids swarmed her like locusts and pulled her to the center so she could take a bow, too. She was laughing more now and she took a bow, Judith still in her arms, the baby smiling, too. Daryl couldn't take his eyes off of her. And somehow, in the darkness of the yard and the faces of everyone else in the prison, Beth turned her head and her eyes scanned the crowd and she seemed to find him without any problem whatsoever. And when her eyes landed on him, her smile seemed to even grow and Daryl found himself smiling in return.

He heard movement beside him and turned to see Hershel coming towards him, the man's eyes practically twinkling as he came to stand at his side. A few quiet minutes went between them as the kids began jumping down from the stage and the group began moving towards the tables where they were having a late dinner. They had found a box of yellow cake mix that used water instead of milk and with the eggs from the chickens, they were able to make an actual cake with chocolate frosting and the kids weren't the only ones completely ecstatic for dessert that night.

Daryl stood there, watching Beth and Rick talk, Beth slowly handing Judith back to Rick, and whatever Rick said to her, it made her break out into laughter. Daryl figured he would never get tired of looking at Beth when she was happy like this. He had been responsible too many times in upsetting her and he knew he never wanted to be the one again who made that smile disappear from her face.

"She does a father proud," Hershel finally spoke and Daryl let out some sort of grunt, finding no argument with the statement.

Beth was brave and tough and Daryl almost felt bad for the person who misjudged her.

"You love her?" Hershel asked.

Daryl felt the tips of his ears turn red as if he was embarrassed but he knew he should have been expecting Hershel to ask something like that to him. Hershel loved his daughter and he was a good man who would want a good man for his youngest daughter. And Daryl knew that Hershel wasn't against him and Beth being together. The man had had plenty of chances to speak up against them but the man had done nothing but smile. Still, that didn't mean that he still wasn't going to be protective of Beth and make sure that she was with a man who actually wanted something from her more than just keeping his bed warm.

And it wasn't a question Daryl necessarily had to think about; not at all. He wasn't sure when he had developed such feelings for Beth but he knew he didn't feel surprise when he realized that that was what it was. She loved him and he had never loved anything in this world before – except his mama when he was still a little kid and Merle – but that had been changing over the past year. This family and this life they had made for themselves, he loved them as much as a person like him was probably capable of loving.

And amongst all of that, he knew he loved Beth the most.

"Thought you had eyes," Daryl grunted, looking towards Hershel, and the man looked at him for a moment before breaking into a smile.

He clapped a hand on his back and squeezed his shoulder for a moment before he walked away, heading towards Rick and Beth. Daryl watched as Beth and her father hugged tightly and he said something that made her laugh and then her eyes moved towards him and locked with him. He wanted to go to her but at the same time, he wanted her to bask in all of this attention she was getting from everyone. She deserved it.

Beth came to him a few minutes later, practically skipping, and she was beaming. He dropped his arms from across his chest as her arms slipped around his waist. He put his own arms around her shoulders and held her to his chest and she snuggled happily into him, turning her head and resting her ear over his heart.

"Was good," he said.

She laughed softly. "I think our next play needs to be something much smaller. Harry Potter might have been too ambitious for us on our first go around."

Daryl just smirked and didn't comment.


Both turned their heads to see Mika standing there, holding two plates with a slice of cake on each, still wearing her black tablecloth tied around her shoulders from the play.

"Can I take this piece to Lizzie? Carl offered to take me," she said.

"Of course, Mika," Beth smiled at her. "You don't have to ask me if you can go see your sister. Tell her all about the play. I'm sorry she wasn't able to come and see it."

Mika gave her a small smile and nodded, turning, heading where Carl was waiting for her.

And once she was gone, Beth sighed softly and Daryl gave his arms a squeeze around her. The council had decided they wouldn't turn Lizzie out from the prison but she was basically kept in her cell all of the time unless Carol or someone else was escorting her somewhere. The girl wasn't allowed to be on her own anymore at any time for anything. It was the only thing they could think of to do. The girl obviously had a screw loose in her head and they couldn't do anything to help her but they could try to keep her – and everyone here – safe.

"You're on duty tonight, right?" Beth asked, tilting her head up to look at him.

"Yeah. Takin' over for Bob in tower four," he said.

"Is our blanket still up there?" She asked with a twinkle in her eye that made him smirk.

"Saw no reason to bring it down," he answered.

Beth stood on her toes then and kissed him lightly on the lips, keeping it short before she was pulling away again. "I'll meet you up there. I'm going to get us some cake first."

Daryl nodded and watched as she turned, walking away towards the tables of food. He turned himself and headed towards the tower, Bob already coming down the stairs. Daryl couldn't help but frown at the sight of the man, not saying anything to him or even acknowledging him with a head nod. Daryl wondered if he would always be pissed at the man. Probably. He knew he couldn't trust Bob and if he couldn't trust a man, Daryl didn't know if he was capable of liking him.

Up in the tower, he pulled his crossbow from off his back and swung it into his hands, surveying the dark landscape but he didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

It was getting colder and he thought of how their supply of coats and hats were. He was pretty sure they had enough for everyone but they might have to go out and find some more blankets; maybe a couple of space heaters, too, if they were lucky to come across any. And though winter was hard, he was looking forward to it. Walkers moved a lot slower in the cold weather and with their pits dug in the ground and limbs tied to the fences and no one feeding them mice anymore, Daryl didn't worry about the fences nearly as much as he used to.

People on guard duty were usually assigned to the same towers and Daryl's was tower four. He had a blanket rolled up in one corner he sometimes used – usually when Beth came up to keep him company – as well as her worn copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone he was attempting to get through though when on duty, he wasn't the sort to just sit and read when he should be keeping watch. And as his bookmark, he had that picture of the blonde-haired woman and the dark-haired man from the chicken house he had taken that one day.

He knew Beth had seen it. She had been flipping through the book and had found the picture and had looked at it for a long moment, studying it. She had looked at him then and had waited for her to ask him about it but she didn't and just placed the picture back in the book without ever mentioning it. And Daryl was glad for it because he still didn't understand, himself, why he had taken that picture in the first place.

Maybe he knew that he and Beth would never have a picture of themselves like that. They were here and then they would be gone and no one would ever know that they were there in the first place. No one would ever know that they had been together and had loved each other and had been happy with each other. Long after they were gone, maybe more people would be at this prison, living their lives and never even knowing their names.

And that didn't matter much to Daryl – no one knowing about him – but for some reason, he wanted people to know that someone like Beth, someone good and kind and the best kind of someone, had existed in the middle of all of this and that someone like him had loved her.

He could always ask Glenn for him to take a picture with his instant camera but he didn't have that much film for it and Daryl wouldn't want him to waste it. There might be something further on down the road that they needed a picture a lot more than of him and Beth.

He heard the creak of the stairs and he turned his head to see Beth coming through the door holding two plates of cake each with a plastic fork.

"Carol made sure she set these aside for us. The cake was going fast," Beth smiled.

She held out the plate and Daryl took it from her with a nod of thanks. She went to the corner and spread the blanket out on the ground and then sat down on it, leaning her back against the wall. Daryl took one more glance out past the fences before he came and settled down next to her. He didn't wait in taking his first forkful of cake into his mouth and Beth licked chocolate icing from her fingers.

"Can't really believe that we've built a life enough for ourselves here where we can eat cake," she commented with a faint smile across her lips.

"We've done a'right," Daryl agreed and she laughed softly because they had done more than alright with all things considering and they knew he was understating. He smirked a little.

They ate their cake in a comfortable silence between them and once they were done, Beth set their plates aside and she settled more comfortably against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Daryl stretched his legs out beside her and tilted his head enough to the side for his cheek to rest on top of her head.

"I spoke with Rick. I told him I wanted Judith in my cell tonight," Beth spoke quietly.

"He agree?"

"Quite eagerly," Beth said, a smile in her tone. "I think Rick and Carl are still getting used to her and still get a bit overwhelmed. And I've told him that I miss not having her as much and Rick said we'll sit down and figure out a sleep schedule for her. He says she misses me a lot, too."

"Lil' Asskicker ain't stupid," Daryl replied. "Only an idiot wouldn' miss you."

He couldn't see her face but he could hear her smiling and she snuggled in closer to him.

They didn't talk much after that. The crossbow rested across Daryl's lap and Beth pulled her head back eventually and pulled out her own book that she had brought with her. She was reading through The Ice Queen for, what had to be, the fifth time. The night was quiet around them but Daryl's eyes were still sharp as always, not missing anything. The few walkers gathered at the fence, rattling it but not posing an immediate threat. The few walkers growling from the pits that would have to be killed and burned tomorrow. He could hear the laughter and talk of the other people as they all ate their dinner and dessert up the hill and he heard Beth humming a soft song beside him.

This was the world now and this was what was normal.

And tonight was a pretty damn good night.

Daryl turned his head and looked at her and after a moment, sensing him stare, Beth turned her head and looked at him in return. She gave him a soft smile and Daryl gave her a little smile in return.

"What are you thinking about?" She asked.

"You," he answered honestly – knowing there was no reason to lie about it. "Usually always thinkin' 'bout you."

Beth smiled at that and leaned into him, tilting her head up and brushing her lips along his.

"Wanna read to me a lil'?" He asked.

Beth nodded and her smile grew a little wider and she turned back to the chapter she had just begun. And as her soft voice rolled over him like gentle waves, he leaned his head against the wall behind him and for the first time when on duty, he closed his eyes and concentrated on just her voice. He knew with Beth, she would keep them both safe.

The End.

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