Burning Right Here in my Heart

by Rckyfrk

It was a rare thing for Daryl to have a day completely to himself to do nothing but what he wanted to do, and he’d been looking forward to this day for well over a month. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the work – he loved his job, in fact – but the last house Aaron and Eric had bought to flip ended up having quite a few surprises that Daryl’d had to work around. It wasn’t just the manual labor that exhausted him, but having to keep track of so many odds and ends and outside companies to make sure the flip went smoothly. Things always went better when he worked by himself. That last house was anything but smooth sailing from day one.

So he felt he had earned a day to sit on his ass, have a couple of cold ones, and just completely veg out in front of the TV. And the only reason he was doing that was because it was too damn hot out to hunt, or to even just walk around through the shade of the forest. Even Daryl had his limits.

So when his phone started ringing (well, vibrating – when Daryl had the day off, he took it seriously), one call after another, he figured something big must have happened, so even though it was technically his “don’t give a shit” day, he picked up and tried not to growl out his greeting.

“Hey, Daryl, we know, we know, it’s your first day off that job, but we’ve got a new property we’d like you to look at and get started on as soon as you can.”

Daryl sighed before agreeing to meet first thing the next morning. Aaron was probably his best friend in the world next to Rick. He’d never been able to tell either of them ‘no.’ 

Although a glance at the weatherman’s “super predictor” for the upcoming week had him seriously reconsidering that particular philosophy.

Aaron was a real estate agent, and a damn good one, at that. When he wasn’t showing and selling houses, he was scooping them up for himself, then handing the reins over to his husband, Eric, who would come up with detailed plans for renovation…which is where Daryl would come in. He’d gone from handyman around town to a full-blown contractor when he’d met Aaron and Eric. Once upon a time, they’d bring him in to help their clients get things up to code to make the houses more sellable. Now, Eric would give him the plan and budget, and Daryl would basically gut the house and turn it into a beautiful, practically new house. He didn’t mind the work, didn’t mind the hours, and certainly didn’t mind the paychecks. He had no idea real estate could be such a lucrative business.

Despite scheduling the meeting at this new property at such an early hour, the heat and humidity were both sky high. Summers in Georgia were basically one continuous heat advisory warning. Daryl should have been used to it by now, never having left the state in his life, but this…this was something else.

According to Eric, the home was in the historic registry, the former home of some long ago senator or something, so at least he wouldn’t be completely gutting it like he had the last one. The job would be mostly updating what they could, fixing what they needed to, all while maintaining the integrity blah blah blah… Daryl was suddenly more focused on a flash of blonde out of the corner of his eye. Apparently the neighbor was a twenty-something young woman who was about to start her morning jog in a pair of shorts and a sports bra that were nothing short of heaven-sent. 

Yeah, as if it wasn’t already hot enough in this old house. 

He forced himself to bring his attention back to Eric’s plan, making mental lists of supplies he’d need, already thankful that he would be able to do most, if not all, of this work himself. He liked it that way – it’s how he knew it was going to be done right. When Aaron announced that he needed to get to the office, Daryl ran to his truck for his notebook and tape measure. He had no sooner closed the door and turned back toward the house when he was damn near assaulted by the biggest, bluest eyes he’d ever seen.

“Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry!” the blonde girl said a little too loudly as she took out her earbuds and lay a hand on Daryl’s chest. “I didn’t see…well, no, that’s not true, obviously I saw you, but I didn’t think you were going to turn around so fast and…God, I’m so sorry!”

Obviously? Did she notice him as much as he noticed her? Not that he thought there was much about himself to notice. Now that she was up close and personal (with her hand still on his chest) he realized how far out of his league she was. Compared to her, he felt older than dirt, and just about as filthy. He forced his eyes down to his work boots and mumbled a quick, “‘S alright. Don’t matter.”

The blonde girl scoffed at him, “It does matter. I could have hurt you!” She fixed him with an angry look when he scoffed a laugh right back at her. “Well, Mr…” she huffed and backed away enough to glance at the side of his truck, finally dropping her arm to her side, “…Dixon, I’ve apologized, so now I’m going to be on my way. I guess I’ll see you around?”

“Yeah, guess so. Bye.”

“Ugh,” she rolled her eyes and grinned at him as she put her earbuds back in place. “I hate goodbyes.” 

Daryl stood there for a moment in a kind of daze…the kind of daze you fall into when the world’s most perfect ass is jogging away from you, just begging you to watch it. He realized how much of a creep he must look like, reluctantly tried to shake the image out of his head, then went back up the walkway to get Eric’s plans all written down.

Daryl had asked about installing air conditioning in the property, but something about it being in a historical status meant that would be taking away from the integrity of the structure, so Daryl borrowed every fan he could get his hands on to at least get some air flow while he started his work, not that any of it made much of a difference in an old house that had been shut up for who knows how long. 

It was just as well, though. Being on the ground floor gave him plenty of opportunities to keep an eye out for the blonde neighbor girl. 

He didn’t see much of her, really, and he didn’t blame her. It was hotter than blazes; he wouldn’t venture outside unless he absolutely needed to, either. Of course, when it came to refurbishing the tilework in the kitchen and bathrooms, he worked on the back porch with the tile cutter.

And what do you know? There was Miss Blondie laying out on her own back porch, soaking up some rays with her legs that went for days and her too-big sunglasses covering most of her face.

The second day of working on the porch, he was half-hoping, half-expecting her to be outside again, but there was no sign of her or her chaise lawn chair. He wasn’t disappointed, exactly. It didn’t matter. Nothing would ever come of it, because he damn sure wasn’t going to approach her, not an unworthy cuss like him, and she certainly wasn’t going to…

“Hello, Mr. Dixon,” her bubbly voice caught him off guard. “How’s everything going?”

“Uh, fine,” he responded with as much eloquence as he could muster when trying not to stare at her cut off jean shorts and bright yellow crop top – the picture of a summer’s day. 

“I’m Beth, by the way,” she introduced herself with a smile that put the sun to shame. After a beat, she went on, “And you are…”

Oh. Shit. “Daryl.” He was a little surprised his voice didn’t squeak like he was going through puberty all over again, because that was sure what he felt like.

“Daryl Dixon,” she said softly to herself, her smile softer now, but still just as dazzling. “Well, Daryl Dixon, I just made a batch of my mama’s famous sweet tea, but if I drink the whole pitcher by myself, my dentist is gonna have my hide. Wanna take a break and have a glass? With me?”

Daryl didn’t quite know what to do. One head was certain she was just being polite, that she didn’t really want him in her house, dirtying up her kitchen table. That or she had some work that she needed done and was looking for someone to take care of it for her. He should do the right thing and politely decline, unless she actually needed help, of course.

However, his other head was thoroughly convinced that she was genuine, and wanted him to take care of something for her that had nothing to do with renovations. 

Somehow, he mustered up the wherewithal to nod and, miraculously, his feet started leading him to follow her. She led him to her tiny kitchen, which was neat but certainly lived in. There was a laptop and papers strewn all over her kitchen table, a vase of fresh cut flowers he recognized from her flower bed out front. She offered him a cold glass of tea the color of gingerbread, already slick with condensation in the unforgiving humidity that even central air couldn’t compete with. 

“Sorry about all the mess. I’m working on my masters,” she said as he took a sip from the glass. Once the liquid danced over his tongue, he didn’t want to stop drinking. Growing up a poor redneck out in the woods, he knew he’d missed out on certain pleasures in life, but this…surely this was nectar of the gods. 

The head that had convinced him to follow her into her house now had him imagining that she would taste even sweeter, but he tamped that shit down right away. Christ, the last thing he needed was to get a hard on while sipping tea at the neighbor girl’s house.

“Holy shit,” he exclaimed after downing nearly the entire glass, realizing too late he wasn’t exactly behaving like a well-mannered guest in her home. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Your, uh…masters?”

Beth’s giggle danced in his ears like wind chimes on a spring day. She refilled his glass without him even asking as she explained, “Yeah. I figure I’ve got the summer off, might as well take some actual classes along with professional development.”

“What, uh…” he stammered, taking the glass back from her, “what do you do?”

“Oh! I’m a teacher. Third grade,” she answered. “I have to get so many hours of PD in to keep my certificate, but taking actual classes…that’s where the real money is,” she said with a grin. “Because, you know, us teachers are only in it for the money.” She winked at him with a grin before raising her glass toward him and taking a sip herself. Daryl found himself easily grinning back at her. 

After a quiet moment of them both enjoying the refreshing but not overly sweet beverage, she blurted out, “Goodness, I’m so sorry.” Daryl jumped a little, wondering what she’d done that was so terrible. “Would you like to sit down?” she set her glass down and began to clear the table.

“No, no,” he argued. “You’ve got a whole system set up here. I gotta get back to work, anyway.” He polished off the last of his glass and set it on the counter. “Thanks. Your mama’s right – that’s the best tea I’ve ever tasted.”

Her smile was just as bright inside, lighting up the already sunshiney room. “I’ll let her know you said so.” 

He pulled the door open, but she held it for him as he walked out onto her porch and back to the job. Daryl felt her eyes on him as he crossed the yard and turned to find he’d been right. He must have surprised her, and laughed to himself when she jumped a little from where she was still standing in the doorway and rushed into the kitchen, shutting the door quickly behind her.

Hmm. That was interesting.

From that day on, Daryl decided that 8:00 am was just too darn late of a start time – it gave the sun too much time to burn its way into the house, especially now that he was working on repairing the roof. He might as well make a habit of getting to work a couple hours earlier to get a jump on the list of repairs and renovations. And if his arrival time just so happened to coincide with Beth’s daily morning run, and it just so happened to give him an excuse to exchange a few words and hopefully earn himself a smile or two from the beautiful blonde, well, so be it.

More than a wee later, and he was finally, finally finishing the fucking grout in the kitchen floor tiles, when he heard a soft knock on the back door. Pushing himself to his feet, groaning at his protesting back and knees, he pulled the door open to find Beth again, this time looking nervous. “What’s goin’ on?”

“Hey, I know you’re super busy and everything, but, I’ve got some errands to run in town soon and my car’s got a flat. Can I bug you for some help?” 

Daryl nodded, pausing to set the grout float on the lid of the bucket, then wiped his hands on a rag before following her to the driveway. “I know how to do it,” she explained as they walked, “but I can’t get the jack in the right spot to even get started.”

He saw everything he needed waiting next to the car, even the spare, which impressed the socks off him. He worked quickly, insisting on finishing the job for her. “Payment for the tea,” he reasoned with her as he switched the tires and tightened the lug nuts. A quick examination revealed a screw sticking out from the treads of her old tire. It wasn’t like he had all of his materials numbered or anything, so if a screw had fallen out of a bucket when he was hauling stuff in the house, he never would have noticed. Now he had a fairly decent idea exactly what happened to her tire. “Shit, Beth, I’m sorry.”

Beth shook her head, “There is no proof this came from your truck. Honestly, it could have come from anywhere. I was just out at Shawn’s yesterday, it could have just as easily come from his driveway. He’s been fixing his house up too, trying to get it finished before the wedding.”


Her mention of another man’s name certainly did not escape him, nor did her bringing up a wedding. Well. That was that. It wasn’t like he had real high hopes of this going anywhere, anyway. She was just the friendly neighbor girl. Nothing more.

It’s just that she happened to be the most beautiful creature Daryl had ever seen. 

And his stupid screw had popped her tire. A teacher salary stretched to cover new tires, masters classes, and upcoming nuptials? 

He had to make this right.

“Take it easy on the donut. After your errands, head to Merle’s Garage over on 10th and Elm. He’ll cut you a deal on a new set of tires.” And by deal, he meant he was going to pay for it himself. 

Lord, was he going to pay for it once Merle got the whole story and saw just who Daryl was picking up the tab for. He could already hear his older brother’s taunting words. “One hell of a screw she picked up, brother.” Another bright smile from Beth when she got back home later that evening as she climbed out of her car, and he figured it was all worth it. 

Until she opened the back door to take out what could only be a dress hanging inside a long garment bag, and had a noticeable skip in her step as she went into her house.


A strong summer storm cleared the air of most of its humidity, and dropped the high temperature by at least ten degrees. It was enough of a difference to make working in the upper levels of the home almost bearable, and there was quite a bit of work to be done in the master bath upstairs. Namely, taking out the old vanity, all marble and wood, all one piece, all chipped and warped, and maneuvering it down the narrow staircase. 

“Moving day already?”

Daryl turned from the bed of his truck where he’d been unloading the dolly, and the box that held the new vanity Eric had picked out, to see Beth coming back from her morning run. 

He’d seen her nearly every day since he started this job, stretching those long legs of hers, bending over to make sure her laces were secure in just such a way that Daryl would swear was on purpose, just to mess with his head. Then she’d toss her head back, reaching up to tie her hair up in a bun, showing off her neck that was made for nibbling on. It was a serious feat of moral fortitude to tear his eyes away from her.

And every morning, she’d greet him with the same bright smile that rivaled the rising sun. Almost every time he was working outside on one thing or another, she’d end up finding something that required her to be outside, too. He’d never met anyone who weeded or watered their garden more than Beth Greene. She’d offer him a glass of tea or lemonade at least once a week, sometimes even a freshly baked plate of cookies. They’d end up chatting for a bit, talking about her school, or his progress on the house, (he’d even given her a tour one day when she’d asked…as if he could deny her anything, god, he was so fucked), or weekend plans. Come to think of it, she was always asking him about his weekend plans, and he’d be damned if every week she didn’t look…hopeful. Like she wanted to be included in his…

God, he needed to knock that shit off. She was with that Shawn guy, though he was pretty certain he’d never seen anyone coming by to her house. Not that it was any of his business if she had visitors or not. Besides, she’d mentioned helping him get his house ready, so she was probably going to be moving soon anyway. Well, he could at least recommend a good realtor for her own house. 

He realized he still hadn’t answered her question about moving, so he grunted out a “Somethin’ like that.” He didn’t want to be brusque. Hell, Beth was about the only person he actually wanted to talk to, but there was no sense in pretending something was going on between them when there clearly wasn’t anymore. Especially now that he was almost finished with the house. They weren’t really neighbors. Hell, they were barely more than acquaintances. No, he needed to start cutting ties so they could both move on. 

Like she would ever need to move on from knowing him. Beth had to be the sweetest girl in the county, maybe even the state. She was polite and generous, and he was convinced she was only putting up with his dumb ass because she was too nice to just ignore him. 

Like it was even remotely possible to ignore her. God, he was so fucked. He was basically nursing a break up from a girl he’d never even dated. Never gotten close to even having a chance with her.

“Is that one going upstairs? Do you need some help?” she offered. 

Daryl couldn’t hold back the scoff of laughter. “No offense, but I don’t think there’s much you could do to help. The sumbitch that’s coming out is a good 300 pounds and all in one piece.”

“Hey,” she said, almost indignantly, “I’m strong. Let me help.”

“I got it,” he said, pulling the box onto the dolly and up and over the curb, with what he hoped was a tone of finality. He didn’t think he had it in him to tell her no one more time.

Damn he wished he’d accepted her offer to help. The steps leading downstairs to the kitchen weren’t deep enough for his feet, so he felt like he was going to slip each step of the way. He wasn’t sure exactly what he’d ask her to do, other than stand there with 911 ready to go if he did actually fall, but at least it would be something. 

He let out another breath of exertion, braced himself, and took another step. And another. Reminding himself that there was no rush, he checked to make sure the corners were clear of the wall and the railing for the millionth time, and took another. Daryl checked behind him; surely he had to be getting close to the bottom by now. 

Three more steps. He could do this.

Apparently, what he couldn’t do was count. He’d gotten to – what he thought was – the bottom step, moved his foot back to brace on the tile kitchen floor to guide the dolly down the rest of the way, but there was nothing to brace against but open air. He caught himself in time, reacting quickly to keep the vanity from toppling over and landing on top of him, or worse, cracking the tile he’d just laid a few weeks ago.

He knew he’d fucked up immediately. He could feel the muscles in his lower back tightening, knotting, burning in pain. Despite the sheer agony at the base of his spine, he refused to just drop the dolly, and fought against the reaction to just let go of the handle and reach back to support his back, yelling out basically every expletive he knew just on sheer instinct. 


Christ. He should have known she’d be outside, like she had a sixth sense as to when he was on his way through the patio door to join her. He answered her, and the universe at large, with a loud, “Mother fucker!” as his knees gave out from under him from the pain.

“Oh, my god,” Beth rushed to the screen door, yanking it open when she saw him sprawled on the tile floor next to the dolly, writhing in pain, even though every movement sent a burning electricity through his spine. His eyes squeezed shut, he could sense her walking toward him, standing over him. “Think you can crawl to the steps?” 

He’d honestly rather not move. Ever again. 

“Daryl, we can either do this here on the hard tile or, if you can make it, on a comfortable sofa. If I get you to your feet, do you think you can walk?” He had to take a couple more deep breaths so he could think clearly before nodding his head yes. “Then quit being a stubborn, bull-headed man and let me help you.”

Her no-nonsense teacher voice had his eyes snapping open to look at her. If he didn’t know any better, he’d swear she was an angel. She’d obviously changed while he was working, her golden blonde hair now falling in waves around her shoulders; her normal running outfit had been exchanged for a white sundress, exposing the freckles that graced her shoulders. Some corner of his mind wondered what they would taste like.

Shit, he really must be delirious with pain. 

She lifted his knees until his feet were flat on the ground again, then started to roll him, not hesitating at all as she pushed on his hip and shoulder. “I’m gonna lift your shoulder so you can get to a crawling position. Are you ready?” She waited for another nod before she maneuvered him to where she wanted him. He crawled gingerly the short distance to the bottom step, trying to ignore how her hands felt on his back as she guided him to stand. The second his feet were under him, she fit herself against him, pulling his arm across her shoulders to support his weight. 

“One step at a time,” she told him gently. “I’ve got you, and I told you, I’m stronger than I look.” 

Daryl was in too much pain to feel even slightly embarrassed as Beth helped him into her house and onto her couch. She lifted his feet onto the cushions, helping him turn to get as comfortable as he could. When he tried to toe off his work boots to avoid getting her couch dirty, a whole new shock of pain zapped through his leg, catching him off guard. He groaned in pain before he could stop himself.

Beth returned from the kitchen with a glass of water and a bottle of Advil and tsked at his failed attempt. “Will you please stop trying to do everything yourself and let me help you?” she admonished him with a smile as she untied his laces and eased his feet out of their boots. 

“Now, don’t move,” she fixed him with a look he was sure made her 3rd graders pretend to shake in their shoes, knowing full well there wasn’t any real threat behind her warning, yet he found himself not willing to dare disobey her. Moments later, she returned with an extra pillow and a heating pad. With firm but gentle hands, she helped him roll onto his side so she could arrange everything behind him, checking to make sure he was comfortable.

Once she seemed satisfied that he was okay, at least for the moment, Beth asked for the keys to the house so she could lock up for him. He gingerly dug into his front pocket and handed the keys over, hoping that the Advil would kick in sooner rather than later. When she came back, she set the keys on the coffee table near his boots and perched herself on the edge of the sofa so their hips were nearly touching. “Do you need to call anyone? Let them know you’re gonna be here a while?” 

Daryl shook his head no. It wasn’t exactly true. He could call Merle or Rick or Aaron…but he’d never hear the end of it from his brother, Rick would probably be working anyway, and he damn sure didn’t want to crawl into the back seat of a police cruiser, nor into Aaron’s mini cooper. 

“Really? Your wife…girlfriend? Won’t they want to know you got hurt?” Daryl frowned at her, confused. “I’m not trying to get rid of you or anything. You’re welcome to stay as long as you need, I just thought…”

“I’m not…married or anything,” he interrupted. 

“Oh,” Beth sat back a little and looked like she was trying to work out a puzzle in her head. “Oh,” she said again, softer this time, then shook off the sad expression on her face. “Is the heating pad set okay? I put it on low, didn’t want it to get too hot.”

“Yeah, it’s fine.” What was with the sad look? Had he said something? Done something? “Uh…thanks for haulin’ my ass over here and everything.”

She smiled softly, “You’re welcome. And I meant what I said, as long as you need to stay, you’re welcome to.”

“Ain’t Shawn gonna be pissed when he finds out?” He couldn’t hold the question back. 

Beth frowned in confusion, “Shawn? I mean, he might be a little protective, but…no? He’s going out with Amy tonight, anyway.”

So. Whoever this Shawn was, he was a fucking idiot if he was engaged to a girl like Beth and was leaving her at home to go out with someone else. Why would Beth settle for a moron like that? 

He must have made some kind of face that prompted Beth to ask what was wrong. He was never one to bring up drama, or get into anyone’s business, but it was driving him insane. “Why the hell isn’t he taking you out?”

“Me?” she asked incredulously. 

“Well, yeah, you’re dressed all nice, and your hair’s all curled and everything. Like you’re ready to go out or something. Who the hell is he to take some other woman out?”

“My brother.”

“Your…what?” Daryl couldn’t believe his ears. “You’re not engaged?”

He could tell Beth was trying like hell not to laugh at his stupid ass. “No, Daryl. This may be the South, but I’m pretty sure marrying my brother would still be frowned on pretty heavily.”

“Fuck…” he moaned as he let his head drop to the pillow behind him. 

“Are you telling me that…when did first you think I was getting married?” She scooted closer to him, letting her hand rest gently on his chest. He’d normally shy away from any kind of contact, but he found himself relishing the warmth radiating from her and all through his chest.

“Since you got the flat tire,” he sighed heavily, covering his eyes with his forearm as he realized just how much of an idiot he’d been. The last couple of weeks, she’d been inviting him over and bringing him snacks and everything else, and he’d just chalked it all up to coincidence. He’d had no idea…

Her fingers drummed an excited rhythm on his chest. “So, you thought I was marrying someone else, and still paid for my tires?”

“Yes…” If only the couch would just swallow him up. He began to wonder if he could get himself back up so he could go find a hole to bury himself in.

The giggle he’d become so accustomed to bubbled out of her. “Huh. So that’s what a real Southern gentleman looks like.” Well. That certainly gave him cause to look up at her from under his arm. “Daryl Dixon, I think you’re the last decent man in the state of Georgia.”

He seriously doubted that. If she knew the thoughts that had been spinning in his head about her, she’d agree with him.

“So this whole time, I’ve been making all that sweet tea and cookies and inviting you over…what did you think I was trying to do?” she wondered out loud.

Daryl shrugged, “That you were just bein’ nice.”

“Being nice?!” Beth shrieked with a sardonic laugh. “Do you really think I’d be standing over a hot stove to make all that simple syrup…running my oven in the middle of a heat wave to make cookies to bring you…just to be nice? That’s one of the reasons I’ve been going to Shawn’s so often, is to drop off the leftovers. He can eat and eat and never put on a pound…and he doesn’t have to fit in a bridesmaid’s dress.”

Holy. Shit. Well, yeah, when she put it all that way…

She shook her head in disbelief, leaning over him to take his hand to pull his arm away from his eyes. “I have never gone through so much sunscreen in one summer. You think I like weeding my flowers that much? Daryl Dixon, I don’t know whether to kill you or…” 

She cut off the end of her sentence as she pressed her lips against his. It didn’t take half a second before he was kissing her back, licking the candy flavored gloss off her lips. He reached up to thread his work-worn fingers through the soft blonde curls draping around them, still not feeling worthy enough, but more than grateful that she didn’t feel the same way. 

She pulled back a fraction of an inch, pecking his lips once more before asking, “So, think you’ll be back on your feet to be my date at the wedding next month?”

Daryl took a second to think. “If you tell me why the hell you’re all dressed up if you weren’t going anywhere.”

Beth let her forehead drop to his chest for a beat before looking back up at him to answer. “I was going to try my hardest to convince you to go out to dinner with me. I was going to ask you to be my date then.”

“Convince me?” In what universe would she be the one begging him to be together. He answered by pulling her back, sealing his lips over hers. They’d work out the details later.