Word count: 5,136
Summary: Daryl reads the ‘Dixon Family Rules’ sign to his two children to get them to eat their dinner. And as he reads he remembers how it was Beth who taught him the meaning of each one. AU. No walkers in this one!
Daryl never thought much about having a family. Not one of his own, with a beautiful wife standing beside him. And a couple of kids. Not just kids, but actual, living, breathing proof of what he and Beth’s love could do. And has done. Twice. They’re the best parts of him and her.
He keeps these mushy thoughts to himself for the most part. Sometimes he shares them with her after they make love and he’s feeling soft and open and thankful for the day she smiled at him. This life they’ve built together, it’s like something that happens to other guys, not to him. But he hasn’t woken up yet, so it’s not a dream. It’s real and he will do whatever he has to to keep it this way.
It’s early evening and Beth is working in the ER. She’s an RN and loves the fast-paced environment. But she only works part-time because her family comes first. They agreed that’s how it would be from the very beginning, even before they had kids. They put their relationship before everything else and he’s pretty sure that’s what keeps them solid.
They also agreed on no daycare. It would always be one of them with their children. Which is why he’s sitting at the table with Elsie and Sam reciting the ABCs for the hundredth time.
“Ain’t ya got another song ya can teach us El?” Elsie likes to be the teacher and Sam and Daryl are her students.
“No daddy, we gotta sing it until Sam learns it!” Elsie says through a mouth full of mac n’ cheese. Sam is two and barely says 20 words correctly let alone the entire alphabet.
“Well daddy needs a break from them ABCs,” Daryl grumbles resting his hand on his chin. He reaches one hand out quickly to stop Sams bowl from sliding off the table.
“Okay, daddy. I know how about you read mommy’s new sign to us. She made it!” Elsie’s pointing above his head. Daryl turns in his chair and sees a new addition to the kitchen wall. What looks like a framed chalkboard is hanging there and in white paint it says, ‘Dixon Family Rules’. Reading through them he smiles because it may say Dixon on it, but this is all Beth. Her influence on him and everything about these rules are wrapped up in the love they share.
“Read it, daddy! Read it!” She cheered and Sam banged his spoon on the table.
“Says, Dixon Family Rules.”
“We got rules at kindergarten!” Elsie says bouncing excitedly in her chair.
“Like wha’? Don’ pick yer nose!” Daryl chuckles.
“Daddy! Big kids don’t pick their noses!”
“Ya think yer big?” Daryl looks at his five-year-old daughter. She’s growing too fast and she looks just like her momma. He didn’t believe he’d ever love anyone as much as he loves Beth and then he held his baby girl, only minutes old and he was a goner. Sam came along and there was still plenty of room in Daryl’s heart for him too. But Beth, well she’ll always be his best girl.
“More daddy!” Sam is jabbing his little finger at the sign.
“Read number 1. It’s next.” Elsie informs him.
“Fine! Eat yer mac n’ cheese and I’ll read.” They both grab their spoons, their big blue eyes on Daryl.
“Number 1,” he reads, “always say I love you.” Those three words are still almost sacred to him. Hearing them and saying them, he’s in awe of what they mean and how it was Beth who taught him.
He remembers the first time, the first ‘I love you’. He and Beth had been dating for a couple of months. The two best months of his life as far as he was concerned. It was July. They were out at the lake with Rick and Michonne lighting off leftover fireworks. They’d brought a picnic and beer and the warm summer night had been perfect.
Beth had moved the blanket to the tailgate on his pickup and hopped up on it. Perched up there in her little white skirt and bikini top, swinging her long legs, Daryl had no problem leaving Rick in charge of explosives. All he wanted was to be as close to her as possible. He spent more time watching her than he did the fireworks. And when she said his name, he remembers how the colors flashed on her face and lit up her eyes.
“Daryl?” She’d slipped her hand into his and smiled up at him before she completely blew him away.
“I love you.” It was breathless and beautiful and he’d froze. Like a big idiot! His heart had been pounding so hard he was sure she must have been able to hear it. But she just kept on smiling at him.
Something in his expression must have given away how nervous he was because she’d squeezed his hand and leaned in close to him.
“You don’t gotta say anything Daryl, I just, I wanted you to know.”
“You love me?” Stupidest thing he’d ever said. But then no one had ever told him they loved him. Not like that, not like her. It was like a story, it couldn’t be happening for real.
He’d felt completely inadequate and a little angry at himself because he should’ve said it first. That’s what he’d thought and there she was smiling up at him, smelling like summer and sunscreen, this beautiful girl. She kissed him all the time, shared his bed, brought him lunch at work and her she was saying the three words he’d never really understood. Until her.
“I, I loved ya from the minute I first looked in yer eyes, Beth.” He was counting his lucky stars it was already pretty dark. Then she couldn’t see the way he was blushing. Had to be just as pink as her sunburned cheeks.
“I love you, daddy!” Elsie squeals as she crawls up into his lap. Sam follows, his face covered in yellow mac n’ cheese sauce.
“Lub daddy!” He talks like the two-year-old he is and Daryl loves it, loves them and Beth more than anything in the world.
“Daddy lubs you both,” he teases, “but if y’all don’ eat yer dinner I ain’t reading no more rules!” Giggling they both scamper back to their own chairs.
“Okay, let’s see, number 2 says be kind.” Daryl reads. Once again when he thinks of kindness it’s Beth that’s front and center in his mind.
“That’s being nice huh daddy?” Elsie asks.
“Mmhmm. Gotta be nice even when it’s hard.”
The first time he met Beth he’d been working for a construction company that was repaving the parking lots at the clinic she worked at.
The job itself was easy. Something he’d done quite a few times, but the crew he’d been on that day had a couple of newbies. Which had been a disaster from start. The director they’d met with had been a complete dick. He’d looked down his nose at them like they were trash. Daryl’s foreman Caesar kept it professional, but Daryl could see how tough it had been for his boss not to pack up his crew and leave.
They’d barely gotten started when Zach, a young punk who didn’t ever listen to directions, had been lugging a metal bucket filled with hot tar across the parking lot. Dwight, another seasoned crewman saw and immediately tried to step.
The tar spilled and Dwight’s forearm was coated with the hot sticky substance. He’d been in pain, yelling and cussing at Zach when the director came out and immediately laid into Caesar.
Daryl had been pissed that no one was doing anything for Dwight when out of nowhere a pretty little blonde nurse appeared with a tub of ice water. She’d walked right up to him and Dwight and had the man immerse his burned arm in the cold water.
“Can you help me, please? I don’t want him to continue to be in pain while these imbeciles argue.” She’d spoken quietly to Daryl as she watched Dwight. Daryl had nodded and taken over holding the tub and the smile she’d given him then had him straightening up and paying attention to his task.
“I’m Beth.” That smile again.
“I’m Daryl, he’s Dwight,” Daryl said answering for Dwight who looked like he was trying his best not to cry.
“Okay, Dwight I know it hurts. Daryl and I are gonna get you inside so I can take care of-” They were headed towards the doors when the dick of a director’s voice stopped them.
“Ms. Greene just what in the hell are you doing?” He’d practically been spitting.
“I’m taking Dwight inside and treating his injury. He’s hurting. It’s my job to take care of people.” She’d started towards the door again and Daryl felt in awe of the small blonde woman.
“Your job is to do things by the book-” She’d completely ignored him. And he was probably her boss but she continued to lead Daryl and Dwight through the clinic to an exam room and had a Doctor and pain meds in there within minutes.
She stayed in there with them and assisted in removing the tar, talking to Dwight and Daryl about their work, Dwight’s dog, anything to try and get him to focus on something besides the pain. She even held his phone to his ear while he called his girlfriend.
“Ya gonna get in trouble for this?” Daryl had asked because he was concerned. The director had been pissed and he didn’t want her to have to deal with him.
“Probably. But it doesn’t matter. If I can help someone who needs it, I’m going too,” she’d said smiling at him, making him feel warm all over.
The tar was coming off, Dwight’s arm beneath was red and raw. The doctor commented on the fact that scaring, if any, would be minimal thanks to Beth’s quick thinking with the ice water.
Beth had been applying a burn ointment and a wrap when the director, followed by Caesar, had burst into the exam room.
“Greene, in my office when you’re done with this-” he’d eyed Dwight and Daryl with a disgusted look and rushed out of the room.
Dwight finally found his voice and it was slurred from the effects of the shot of pain medicine that he’d been given.
“Hey, you aren’t gonna lose your job over this are you?” he’d asked.
“I might. But it’s been coming. He’s just mad because I won’t fuck him.” Daryl choked back a laugh at her expletive. And he didn’t miss how her cheeks burned a bright pink at the word ‘fuck’. He’d had the sudden urge to find that director and kick his ass. Tucking the end of the wrap in and putting a tube of ointment and a bottle of pain meds in Dwight’s hand, she’d smiled.
“That ain’t fair, getting fired.” Daryl had said. He’d already been thinking about what he could do to help.
“Maybe not. But I couldn’t just- being kind is more important than anything else.”
“Who can I talk to- I can’t let you take the fall for my incompetent employee.” Caesar had said.
“I’ll figure it out. Really. It’ll be okay, but-” she’d been looking at Daryl. “I’ll put my number in Daryl’s phone just in case we need to contact each other.” He suddenly found it hard to breathe. Her eyes had never left him as he struggled to get his phone out of his pocket. She’d put her number in and pushed call so she had his too. Then she was gone.
They’d walked off the job site. Caesar had left a recommendation for a competitor who could finish, fired Zach and told Daryl if he didn’t text that sweet nurse who obviously was interested in him, he’d fire him too.
She’d beat him to it though. There was a text on his phone later that afternoon apologizing for her director’s behavior, asking about Dwight and saying they should probably have a drink or something to celebrate her losing the job she hated anyway.
He’d picked her up on his bike and they decided on ice cream and between the laughter (he had no idea he was capable of laughing so much) and watching her lick her ice cream cone, he was already falling hard.
Beth Greene is kind- all of the time. His girl. She’d give away her last dollar if someone needed it. She takes in strays (of all species, the last one was a bird with a broken wing) and teaches their children to always be a friend to others. She can be fierce if she needs to especially when it comes to her family. But her heart is huge and she lets is guide her. His girl.
“Nice!” Sam yells slinging mac n’ cheese across the table. Some of it ends up on Daryl’s cheek and his shirt bringing him back from where he was lost in memories.
“Sammy! Don’t throw food! It’s not being kind!” Elsie says giggling as Daryl picks macaroni noodles off his shirt.
“Kind,” Sam says reaching over to help his daddy.
“That’s right Sammy- be kind, mommy says so.”
Daryl picks up a napkin and wipes Sam’s mouth. He feeds him a couple of bites ensuring the little guy gets some food in his tummy and not just in his daddy’s hair.
“Okay daddy, the next one says be fir- s-…” she’s just learning to read so Daryl gives her some help.
“Be first ta say I’m sorry.”
“Is that like when you get in an argument? But what if you didn’t start it?” Elsie asks.
“Still gotta be the bigger person,” Daryl says. Or saying your sorry is better than having the girl you love disappointed in you. Even though she was kinda mean too.
They’d been together for less than a year when they had their first argument.
He knew she went to church and even though he didn’t share her faith he respected it. She’d extended an invitation to him early on and he’d just kind of shrugged it off. He didn’t really even think about it much.
But then she started staying over at his place. Having her there all the time made his house feel like a home and if she wanted to stay forever he wouldn’t complain.
And he didn’t complain, but he must have made a face or done something. Because that morning, that fateful Sunday morning things got complicated. She rolled over and kicked off the covers and for some reason, on that day it was harder to hide the fact that he didn’t want her to leave. Not that he had a problem with her going to church, but did she have to do it on the mornings when all he wanted was to wrap himself around her and hold her a little longer?
He’d felt her tense up for a second and then she sighed and got out of bed. While she was in the bathroom he pulled on his sweats and went to start the coffee. He couldn’t lay there listening to her brush her teeth and comb her hair. And he sure as hell couldn’t return the sweet smiles she’d give him like she always did, as she pulled on her jeans and t-shirt that were strewn around the room.
So he made coffee and had a smoke on the back porch.
She’d come into the kitchen and started to make a cup of coffee, but she’d left it sitting on the counter to come out to the back porch.
“I have to go to church,” she’d said and then she just waited.
“I know.” A few seconds passed before she continued.
“You could come-” He’d started shaking his head the minute she began talking because he knew what she was going to say.
“Nah, I’m good.” And he knew when he said t, he shouldn’t have. It came out kind of harsh and he hadn’t meant for it to sound that way. Her leaving was just harder today for some reason.
“I’ll come back after.” That’s what she’d been doing, coming back and they’d do something together, go for a ride or out to eat. Last Sunday he’d taken her out to the woods with his crossbow because she wanted to try it out.
He’d shrugged his shoulders unable to just get over it. Like he should’ve.
“Don’t do this.” It wasn’t pleading, she actually sounded irritated. And that was new.
“What am I doing?” Another dick move on his part. He knew exactly what he was doing.
“Making me feel guilty for leaving. You’ve been doing it for a couple of weeks now.” Had he? He’d tried not to, or at least not let her see how her leaving made him feel.
“Ain’t makin’ ya feel nothin’. That’s on you.”
She’d crossed her arms then. And her eyes flashed. But not in a good way. Not in the way he liked.
“Oh is it?” He’d raised his eyes to her then and that had been a mistake. He didn’t recognize the look on her face because she’d never looked at him like that. The kindness, the sweetness that was his Beth wasn’t there.
“Do you have a problem with my going to church?” He didn’t. It wasn’t church specifically.
“Ain’t got a problem with nothin’.” When she bit her bottom lip and huffed out a breath he felt a fear he didn’t understand settle in the pit of his stomach.
“Then you won’t have a problem if I just go home instead of coming back.” He hated lying but he was committed now.
“Nope.” He was just digging himself in deeper. The breeze kicked up and lifted her hair off her shoulders and she hugged her arms tighter around her body. She looked a little defeated. He hated that, hated that he was making her feel bad. Because he was, he knew he was.
“Daryl, I don’t-” she started but stopped and let her arms fall to her sides. “You know what, nevermind. You’re being an ass! I do this every Sunday and you’ve always been welcome to come… I guess I’m good enough to fuck, but god forbid you do anything for me!”
He’d been stunned into silence and she probably figured he had nothing else to say so she left. He stood out on the back porch until he heard her car going down the drive.
He’d pouted the rest of the day. Because he knew he should’ve handled it differently.
She was true to her word and didn’t come back. She didn’t text or call either. He’d kept his phone right beside him, hoping.
By Monday night he was feeling horrible. But he was stubborn. Or stupid and he didn’t text or call either.
Wednesday evening he heard her car. He was out on the back porch grilling up his one lonely venison steak, feeling like a sad sack. She must have seen the smoke from the grill because she came walking around the side of the house.
And of course, she looked beautiful, Beth always looked beautiful in his eyes.
He sat the tongs down and he met her halfway. They stopped leaving a couple of feet between them. He’d been unsure of what to do next when she spoke.
“Daryl, I, I don’t know, but I’m here to say I’m sorry-” It was soft and sad and so sweet to hear her.
“ ‘M sorry too. I was an ass-”
“I didn’t mean what I said, I know I’m not just- that you aren’t…” Then she’d started crying and he’d closed the little space between them, wrapped her in his arms and swore to himself he’d never ever let this happen again because this is where he wanted her.
He’d told her then that he just didn’t feel comfortable in church and he didn’t believe in all of it but he believed in her and it wasn’t church that was the problem.
“I jus’ hate it when ya leave is all.”
They’d come to an agreement. First, he’d promised he’d go to church with her sometimes and she’d come live with him and never leave.
She hadn’t quite agreed, she wanted him to go to church with her once a month. She wasn’t trying to change him and she didn’t care if he believed in anything but her.
And she’d come live with him and never leave. That one they both agreed on.
After that, he apologized first for everything. Because nothing was worth hurting her feelings and not having her with him.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry…” Sam chants as he scoops up mac n’ cheese and dumps it on the table.
Shaking his head, bringing himself back Daryl shoots a glare at Elise who’s giggling. He reaches over and takes Sam spoon.
“Sam mac n’ cheese goes in yer mouth!” Daryl growls scooping up the noodles and putting them back in the bowl. The kids spends more time playing with his food than he does eating it.
“He said he was sorry first daddy.” Elsie is looking up at him with her big blue eyes. Beth’s eyes.
“Ain’t quite how it’s supposed ta happen.”
“But it’s funny,” she giggles.
“Ain’t funny. Com’on now. Finish up. Whas’ next?” Daryl looks up at the sign. “I like this one!”
“Cause I like ta play with my little stinkers!” Sam laughs like he knows what Daryl is talking about.
“Read it, read it!” Elsie points.
“Work and play.” Daryl likes to play with his girl too.
They’d been painting all day with only a break for lunch. Two bedrooms, another bathroom, and a family room have turned their little house into a much bigger one. The painting is the last thing they need to do before they can move everything out of their current living room and they’re both eager to finish.
It started when Daryl couldn’t resist the way her t-shirt rode up over her hips when she stretched to reach a high spot on the wall. He’d taken his finger and dipped it in the soft green paint and ran it along her along her back right above her jeans. She’d gasped at the cold paint, then twisted to look at what he’d done.
“Daryl!’ She turned and looked at him as she climbed down the ladder, a mischievous glint in her eye. He hadn’t moved a muscle, stood there waiting, hoping she was gonna kiss him.
Instead, she ran her brush across his cheek and down his neck leaving a cool trail of green paint. He growled and pulled up her t-shirt and left a bright splash of green paint across her belly. She’d screamed and lashed out with her brush leaving a mark on his bicep. He’d wrapped his arms around her then, pinning her. Her giggles turned breathless and he wasn’t sure who initiated it but suddenly they were kissing.
“Beth…” He’d whispered her name like a mantra and then the brushes were on the floor followed by their clothing. He’d laid her down right on top of the plastic tarps. Their bodies were streaked with paint as they made love.
Daryl didn’t think anything could ever be that erotic. And even better was the exhausted laughter afterward as they explored the art that sex and paint had created all over their bodies.
He’s also pretty sure Elsie was conceived that day.
“What’s going on here?” Beth says coming in the back door. She’s in scrubs, hair in a messy bun and even though she looks a little tired she’s still the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen and she’s his.
“Momma, momma!” Sam slams his spoon on the table.
“Daddy made mac n’ cheese and I helped!” Elsie exclaims.
Beth sits down in the chair beside Daryl smiling at him for a second before she asks,
“What?” He realizes he’s been staring at her since she walked in. Probably with a goofy grin on his face.
“ ‘S nothin’, I jus’ been thinkin’ ‘bout you.” The smile she gives him is like a flashback from the past. Like all the memories the ‘rules’ on her sign have been bringing back.
He’s still not quite confident enough to believe that only he can make her smile like that. But it’s true.
“You have?” Does she really even need to question that? Doesn’t she know that she’s the first thing he thinks of when he wakes up and the last thing that’s on his mind when he falls asleep? She’s right there with him in that bed every morning and every night. Legs tangled with his, her hair spread out on his chest.
When he’s not with her, he wants to be. And when he is, he never wants to leave. She’s his best friend, all the best parts of his life are because of her.
“There’s another one daddy!” Elsie exclaims.
“Another one?” Beth questions as she moves over to Sam’s chair taking him on her lap.
“Daddy’s reading the rules mommy, on your sign.” Elise jabs her finger in the direction of the little chalkboard sign on the wall.
“Oh, he is?” Beth is looking from Elsie to Daryl and he shrugs under the scrutiny of her gaze.
“Yes.” The little girl names off the rules they’ve read so far. “We’re on number 5!” Daryl reads number 5 and that one is simple. So very simple.
“Number 5, be grateful,” he says looking at Beth holding Sam. Mac n’ cheese drying on his face, eyes droopy with sleep. His belly is full and he’s in his momma’s arms. Life can’t get much better than that.
“What’s grateful daddy?” Daryl’s still watching Beth and she gives him a little nod. This is his deal and he’s pretty sure she wants to see what he’ll say.
“Hmmm, grateful is when you get home from Kindergarten and ya wan’ a snack an momma just made cookies,” Daryl says.
“Oh, I like momma’s cookies!” Elise claps her hands. Daryl looks over at Beth gently rocking a sleeping Sam. She smiles at her daughter.
“Grateful is when you’ve had a hard day and you come home to find the people you love most in the world waiting for you.” Beth glances at Daryl.
“That’s us, momma!”
That’s us baby girl, he thinks to himself. How different the world was when he was her age.
Grateful was when his daddy was too drunk to take off his belt, or when his momma managed to hide enough money to get groceries.
Grateful was when the snooty church ladies left a box of donated clothes and he didn’t have to wear too-short jeans with holes in the knees.
Grateful was when he was big enough and strong enough to fight back.
Grateful was when Merle came home and they buried the man who should have loved them but instead chose to pound all his own anger and hurt into their little boy bodies.
Grateful was knowing that biggest, meanest, monster was gone for good and would never touch them again.
Grateful is knowing that he grew up to be a better man and that he would never lay a hand on his own children and that his wife, the woman he swore to love forever on their wedding day and even long before that, would never huddle in a closet bloodied and bruised by his fists.
They’d agreed she’d move in and never leave. And a year later on a sunny spring morning in June they went to that little church she spent her Sundays in and they got married.
When the preacher said “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” he did. He took her hand and didn’t let go. They had a reception out on the farm and while friends and family celebrated their love they smiled at each other, blushed like they we brand new and whispered ‘I love yous’ when they thought nobody was watching.
But everybody had been watching.
When the sun started to set they said their thank yous and he carried her piggyback to his truck, her broken shoe in his hands. With their bags already packed and in the back, they set out on a honeymoon of sorts, camping in the Blue Ridge mountains. That was her wedding gift to him and he’s not quite sure but he thinks she may have had more fun than he did.
They opened all gifts and read all the cards when they got home. And he’d chuckled at the cards that congratulated them on the start of a ‘brand new life’, His brand new life started the day he met her at the clinic. And she smiled at him. That was the day it all began and he will always be grateful for it.
“Daddy what are you grateful for?” Daryl looks at his little family sitting around the table, both of his girls with their blue eyes on him. Looking at Beth he smiles,
“I’m grateful for yer momma, cause without her none a this woulda happened.” A soft pink colors Beth’s cheeks. He loves it when he makes her blush.
“Took two Daryl, me and you.” She reaches out and takes his hand, still rocking Sam gently in her lap.
“Momma’s your first girl huh daddy?” Elsie hops off her chair and climbs up into Daryl’s lap.
“Mmm hmm.” But he doesn’t take his eyes off Beth.
“I’m your girl to daddy.” Reaching out a small hand she rubs the scruff on his cheek and he turns his attention on her. Her little brow is furrowed and he knows she’s got something on her mind. She’s thinking hard.
“How did you and mommy get me?” Daryl freezes and his eyes cut to Beth, who is biting her lip, trying not to laugh.
“Uh, rule number 6 ask yer momma,” he grumbles. Elsie is twisting in Daryl’s lap trying to see the sign.
“There’s no number 6! See daddy?” Daryl shakes his head.
“Yeah well, we gotta add that one then.” He’s uncomfortable and he can feel the heat on his cheeks. To make it even worse, Beth is laughing.
“Still grateful Daryl?” Beth asks grabbing his hand again. “Cause I am.”
With Elsie sufficiently distracted by Beth’s stethoscope Daryl looks up at the sign again, ‘Dixon Family Rules’. Every single one is him and her and this. This life. Yep, he’s still grateful.