Days Gone Bye
This takes place in S3 when Merle is still at the prison.
The prompt came from abbyli, and I hope she loves it! Thank you for sharing theories and keeping Beth alive :)
She asked for a little time between Merle & Judith with Beth, and some insight into what life had been like when Merle was a boy and Daryl was born.
It sorta snowballed other directions because I love Merle, and I wish he were still around.
This hasn't been seen by my editor, so all mistakes are mine.
Judith lay sleeping in the crook of her arm as she walked around the small cell.
She had left the main area of the cell block nearly an hour ago to try and get her to nap and had only just succeeded. Beth sighed and tried to relax her shoulders, but her muscles still burned. She had never known that just holding a baby would be such a work out.
"She finally give in, blondie?"
His gruff voice would have surprised her a couple of week ago, but she had heard the scrap of his boots seconds before he was at her cell.
That's what Daryl had been teaching her to be.
"Hey there," she said with a welcoming smile. "I's just about to lay her down."
Merle stepped through the cell door and held out his arms. "Why don't ya let me hold her for a minute?"
Beth looked at him closely before nodding. "Sure. Why not?"
Merle grinned and looked down at the baby. She knew that he was a tough, hard man, but sometimes she would catch a hint of something else in his eyes. Especially when he looked at Judith or Daryl.
After handing her off, she stood awkwardly for a moment before sitting down on the bottom bunk. She wanted a nap, but knew that would never happen, so she settled for resting her elbows on her knees and watching as Merle swayed a little with Judith in his arms.
Daryl had just gotten off watch, and he decided he would go find Beth for some training exercises, if that's what anyone else who knew would call it. He wasn't even sure what made him offer to give Beth pointers, and he didn't want to admit to anyone that he really liked spending time with her away from everyone else either.
That would mean there was something there besides feeling the need to help her learn to protect herself, and Daryl wasn't ready for that.
He made sure to quiet his steps as he reached the area of the cell block she usually went to during Judith's nap time. Just a little test to see if she was on her guard. He paused suddenly as he heard her speak.
"Ya hold her like a pro," she said in a quiet, happy voice.
Daryl wondered who she was talking to, and when he heard his brother's voice, he had to stop himself from storming into the cell. Merle was a good guy, but he could be crude as hell, and Beth didn't need to hear his nonsense.
When he actually heard his brother's words, though, he stopped and gripped the strap of his bow. He wasn't sure what it was about her, but Beth Greene made people feel like they could open up, and for some reason, that's just what Merle seemed to be doing.
"I's almost eleven when they brought Daryl home. Spent most of my time takin' care of his ass."
"What about school?" She asked and Daryl wished he could peek around the wall and look into the cell and see her face. Her voice never gave anything away, but her eyes spoke exactly what she was feeling.
He didn't like her knowing about his shitty family life. Didn't want her pity at all. Not when she sometimes looked at him like he was one of the best men she had ever known.
"Didn't care too much for school," Merle answered. "Got my GED the first chance I got. I ain't stupid or nothin'. Just hated bein' all cooped up, so I ditched and took care of Daryl." He paused, and Daryl let out a breath slowly, hoping he was done, but as he continued on, his chest started to ache a little at his words. "Momma worked durin' the day, so she had to leave him with our old man. He wasn't worth a shit, and I came home one day and found Daryl just a wailin' in his crib, only a couple months old. I asked if he'd fed him yet, but Pops just socked me upside the head, and said it wasn't none of his concern then went back to drinkin'.
"I made him a bottle like I'd seen momma do, and then I never left him again. I've been there for all of it really. 'Cept for those few years I went off to the military. Daryl was old enough then to take care of himself, or I thought he had been."
"Wow," Beth whispered. "I'd've never thought—"
"Thought what?" Merle asked in a rough voice. "That I'd give a shit?"
"No," Beth said quickly. "That's not what I was gonna say. I just—I never thought about how y'all grew up. Just figured y'all were the rough and tumble type naturally, but not because ya had to be that way since ya were born."
"It was either that or die," Merle said quietly.
Daryl's breath was starting to come out in soft pants, and he closed his eyes. He tried not to think about growing up in that house with his old man. How his brother, who he thought was his best friend in the whole world, left him to fend for himself. He had known that Merle was the reason he was alive to begin with, but it had always stung to think about him leaving like he had.
"Ya must love him a lot to come here, knowin' that ya wouldn't be treated all that well," Beth said quietly.
"He's my blood. I'd do anythin' for him."
He almost snorted. They always broke it down to the most basic reasoning for them to look out for each other. Maybe Merle was like him and thought they couldn't really love anything. They just weren't built that way; so instead, they just chalked up caring to their DNA, which in itself was shitty.
"And he did anythin' for you, too. He left with ya," she said, and he heard the bunk squeak and wondered if she was sitting down or standing up.
"Hung my ass out to dry in Atlanta, though."
At that, Daryl took half a step before Beth's voice caught him. "Daryl said he went back for ya."
He finally peeked around the wall and watched as Beth ducked her head. Merle's eyes were glued to her face as he smirked. "Well, well, well, that's interstin'."
"What's interestin'?" She played off and picked at her jeans.
"Just that, ya say it like ya know for sure."
"I can read people really well most of the time," she lied and a pink tint lit her cheeks.
"Uh huh," Merle said and started to walk toward the crib to lay down Judith. Once she was situated, Merle stood straight and looked back at Beth who was looking at her shoes. He had his arms crossed over his chest and was staring a hole straight through her.
"What?" She asked and looked up at him, her eyebrows were pulled together.
"He's always been the sweet one, my baby brother. Ya couldn't do no better," Merle said, and Daryl pulled back a little at the pride in his voice. He had never heard him talk like that before.
"I know that," she whispered back.
Daryl's heart started racing, and he took two steps back and leaned against the wall, trying to figure out what he had just heard when Beth started talking again.
"No one really pays attention to me around here, so I hear things." Beth cleared her throat.
Merle chuckled, and Daryl heard the creaked of metal as he leaned against the writing desk maybe. "Just what the hell ya think ya know, blondie?"'
"Don't take Michonne anywhere," she spoke in a quiet, determined voice. "I knew the moment ya said that Rick didn't have it in him, that ya meant to do it yaself."
"Ya don't know shit," he muttered. Daryl could imagine Merle's jaw ticking as he worked on keeping his anger in check, but he couldn't step forward. He wanted to hear the rest.
"Whatever it is ya think you need to do to prove yaself, ya don't have to. I think we both know this is a suicide mission, and even if the Governor gets Michonne, that doesn't mean he's gonna stop. He wants this prison."
"That's the truth."
"Then we need ya here when that happens. Daryl'll need ya here."
"He don't need me no more," Merle argued. "He's done well for himself."
There was a few seconds of quiet, and Daryl tried to figure out who to be more pissed at. Merle for thinking he could pull off something like that or Rick for putting the idea in his head to begin with. He was no closer to the answer when Beth's voice broke him out of this thoughts.
"You'll break his heart, Merle. You'll die if ya go, and we both know it. Don't do this to him. Ya said ya been with him every step of the way, so keep on bein' there beside him. Ya ain't got shit to prove to anybody here."
Silence filled the cell again, and Daryl was sure that Merle was about to storm out, so he took another step back, continuing to try and process what he had just heard.
"I'll tell him," she threatened. "I'll tell him everythin', and the minute your ass is out those gates, he's gonna be on your tail. Ya wouldn't want anythin' to happen to Daryl."
"Neither would you," he argued back.
"I don't want to see Daryl hurt," she whispered, and he felt his heart skip a beat. "He's my friend."
"Friend, my ass," Merle with a snort. "I'll keep an eye on it for ya," he said quietly.
"Nothin', blondie. Ya ain't gotta worry about shit. I ain't takin' Michonne nowhere. Governor'll come this way with or without her, and I ain't gonna get my hand dirty for Officer Friendly, no matter how nice this prison life is. When he comes, though, I'll do what it takes to keep my brother safe."
"I'd never ask ya to do less than that. Ya ain't stupid, ya know a trap when ya see it, and regardless what people think of my survivin' skills, I'm not just another dead girl. I can read the signs."
Merle laughed out loud and Beth shushed him. "Sorry. Sorry" His brother said, and Daryl could hear his steps toward the door. "Who taught ya?"
"Taught me what?" She asked and Daryl backed away some more.
"How to read the signs?" Merle asked then laughed again. Daryl could only picture the blush that took over her face.
At that moment, Merle stepped out of the cell and locked eyes with his brother. There was a moment of shock, but quickly covered up with a smirk and wink. He walked past him and clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"That one's just ready for the pickin', baby brother. She'd do just about anythin' ya ask her to."
"Oh, I know, but I'm tellin' ya, this is your shot, boy."
Daryl felt the tips of his ears heat up, and he tried to shake it off.
"There ain't no sense in tryin' to be noble. A girl wants ya, ya want her back."
Merle took a step past him, and Daryl decided to ignore him talking about Beth and all those unnamed feelings balling up in his chest. "Ya ain't gonna do shit, are ya?" He asked before Merle turned the corner.
"Not today." He caught his eye and kept walking.
Daryl heard all the words that went unspoken, though, and he decided real quick that maybe it was time to return the favor and keep an eye on his brother.