Chapter 1 - The Tutor

A/N: My muse is being fickle. I know I'm crazy for having 3 stories going at once, but this one just wanted to come out. This is my first go at AU and I want to play with Daryl's character a little bit. Hope you like it. Please review!

"Algebra, Physics, French?" Merle scoffed as he crumpled up Daryl's schedule he'd gotten in the mail from Dawsonville High School. He was sixteen. Merle was twenty-six, dishonorably discharged from the military a few days prior and had come home without another place to go. He was about to go back to prison.

Merle threw the ball of paper at Daryl's forehead, where it bounced off and landed at his feet. "You don't need any of that shit, baby brother," Merle laughed, showing his teeth.

Daryl shrugged. "I gotta take those classes so I can graduate," he mumbled.

"You can do whatever you want," Merle said, crossing his arms. "You don't need a fancy piece of paper, for people to tell you what you can and can't do. Just look at me!"

And Daryl did. He was his only role model. He just didn't know any better.

He worked odd jobs to keep himself afloat, but still lived at home with his old man and only spent money on food and gas to go visit Merle in prison.

"Whatta doin' now?" Merle would ask behind the glass, his voice muffled, dressed in his brown jumpsuit, the black phone against his ear.

"Just things here and there - fixin' cars, bikes - plumbin' jobs, things like that."

Merle would laugh and nod at him. "Look at you, all grown up," he would tease him. And Daryl would tinge pink, slightly glad that Merle was locked up.

When Merle got out a few months later, he moved back in with Daryl and their father. Things were okay for a while - Merle even got a job, but about a year later when Daryl was twenty-two and Merle was thirty-two, Will Dixon had a heart attack and died.

The Dixon brothers didn't love their father in the traditional sense, but he was still family and the only living relative they'd had left. Merle took Will's death harder than Daryl did, and that's when he started using. Merle always drank, smoked pot a bunch, did coke a few times here or there. It never seemed like much of a problem to Daryl. But then Merle found meth and boy, did he fall in love with that drug.

For a while, Daryl considered kicking him out, but he was his brother - he was all he had. He was blood. So he let him stay in the trailer he paid for and lent him money every day to get his fix. And finally, when he thought he couldn't take it anymore, Merle got locked up again.

The next time Daryl saw Merle, he was twenty-seven and had a decent job working at the gas station.

"Whatta doin' still workin' at this piece of shit place?" Merle asked him, cigarette between his lips. They sat inside the small gas station store on a pair of metal chairs. Daryl wondered how Merle thought it was a shit place - he'd only been back for a week and this was the first time he'd visited Daryl at work.

"I need the money to pay the mortgage on the trailer," Daryl said, then as Merle went to light the cigarette, he leaned forward and grabbed it from his lips. "You can't smoke in here, man, go outside."

Merle put his hands up and backed away. "Yes sir!" he shouted, sarcastically. Daryl rolled his eyes.

"You wanna have some fun?" Merle raised an eyebrow.

Intrigued, Daryl asked, "Whatta mean?"

"Blow this popsicle joint? Do some travelin'?" Merle always had a gift of making things sound better than they actually were. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash.

"Where'd you get that?" Daryl asked, his eyes widening.

Merle let out a low laugh. "Don't worry about it. Alls you need to know is that I can take care of you. Get rid of that crummy trailer, quit this dead end job - the Dixon brothers are gonna have some fun!"

Daryl like the idea of not working. He liked the idea of fun. He liked the idea of Merle supporting him for a bit because, what the fuck, Daryl had supported him his entire life. And so, against his better judgement, he followed his brother.

It definitely wasn't as fun as Merle said it would be.

Then ran out of money quick, on account of Merle's drug addiction. Daryl felt like a fool for trusting Merle. When had he ever been a stand up, truthful guy? Never. He couldn't believe he'd talked him into following him around.

So now he was working inside a convenience store where he had to wear a blue visor that said "Guy's Deli" on the front and print lottery tickets for a lot of impatient people who talked to him like he was stupid. The money barely covered rent for the room above the convenience store that Daryl and Merle shared. Merle spent most of the money on drugs. Daryl ate a lot of ramen.

And then, Merle got arrested and Daryl was alone again.

The next time Merle got out of prison, Daryl was thirty-five and Merle was forty-five and Daryl was working at a landscaping company that tended to the town homes in the nice part of town. He was living in a new apartment complex when Merle showed up on his doorstep with a box of whatever still belonged to him.

"How'd you get here?" Daryl asked.

"Took a cab," Merle responded and Daryl looked over his shoulder at the car that was idling in the parking lot. "Can you pick up the tab?" he grinned at his younger brother, pushing past him into the apartment.

Daryl sighed, taking out his wallet and walked over to the cabbie to pay him. He nodded his thanks and took off.

He sort of enjoyed having his older brother around for a while. Merle was clean and relatively neat and actually made a decent steak on the grill, so Daryl thought that things might finally settle down. Until one night Merle didn't come home.

When he finally did, his eyes were glazed and bloodshot. He was on edge and angry and mumbling about somebody stealing something, and so Daryl knew immediately that he'd fallen off the wagon again. It was the saddest thing in the world, to watch someone he once idolized, fall face first into their own mess, but Daryl watched Merle do it time and time again. And he always picked him back up.

"You goin' to meetings?" Daryl asked him over dinner, already knowing the answer.

"Fuck AA," Merle responded with a snort. "Nothin' but a cult of goodie-two-shoes. Not my crowd."

When Daryl brought home pamphlets for a rehab that was only an hours drive away, Merle shook his head and threw the pamphlet in the trash. "Fuck rehab," he said. "I don't wanna go to no fuckin' rehab."

And then he left. And Daryl told himself, that was the last time he'd ever help him.

He worked for a few months, saved up a good amount of money and then drove away towards a new town where he didn't know anyone. He wanted to start over. He wanted to be away from all the messes Merle had created.

Daryl got a new apartment and a job at the grocery store and things seemed to be going really well. He thought he might make it here. He thought he might build a life.

Glenn, the owner of the town's grocery called Daryl into his office one Thursday afternoon when his shift was done. Nervously, Daryl went into the back and opened the door slowly where Glenn was sitting behind a desk. When Daryl came in, he smiled. Daryl liked Glenn. His smile always reached his eyes.

"Come on and sit down," Glenn offered, pointing to a seat opposite from himself.

"Thanks," Daryl muttered.

"Daryl, you've been a wonderful employee here for the past few months. I wanted to see if you had any interest in a management position?" Glenn questioned and Daryl looked up at him, surprised.

"Management?" he asked. "Me?"

Glenn nodded. "Think you'd be a perfect fit."

"Wow," Daryl said. "I'd like that a lot." Man, what Merle would think of him now.

"I'd like to put you on a path to get you there - only thing," Glenn paused now, "is, we require a high school diploma or a GED for the position."

Daryl's face fell and he felt like he'd gotten punched in the gut. "Oh," he said a little sadly. "I ain't never graduated high school. Dropped out my junior year."

Glenn gave him a knowing look. "Well, I want you to finish. Get your GED. My sister in law, Beth is a tutor at the high school down the road. I've already asked if she'd be up to tutor you, so you can past the test. She's a great teacher."

Daryl turned the offer over in his mind. "That sounds great," he breathed, meaning it. "I sure would appreciate that. I don't know what to say."

Glenn waved his hand. "Don't say anything. It's nothing. We want to keep guys like you around. I want to see you succeed."

He felt better than he'd ever felt before. It was a real goal - something he'd wanted for a long time. And now, he felt like it was finally possible.

His first meeting with his new tutor was on a Saturday and Daryl got dressed hurriedly, not wanting to be late on his first day. He was tingling with excitement as he climbed onto his motorcycle parked in the lot next to his apartment.

The school was just down the road, as everything was in the small down he lived in. He loved this town, for the sheer fact that it was nothing like where he had come from. There wasn't a trailer in sight.

He'd always felt slighted for not graduating high school. He knew he wasn't stupid, but a little piece of paper meant a lot when he was out looking for a job. But now, someone believed in him and he was determined to make them proud.

His bike was loud and some of the kids who were on the playground for a bit of weekend play, pointed as he drove by. He smiled at that, remembering how fascinated he always had been by bikes when he was a kid. He thought one day he might have a kid and show them the ropes around motorcycles, but as the years had flown by, it seemed like much less of a possibility.

Parking the bike, he grabbed his helmet off his head and tucked it under his arm, straightening up a little bit and walking towards the door.

Glenn had told him to meet his sister-in-law in the cafeteria, so he followed the signs there. He wasn't sure what he expected, but he didn't expect her.

Beth was petite and blonde, smiley and giggly, talking to someone on her cell phone animatedly. Daryl stood in the door and watched her for a minute, unsure if that's who he was meant to be meeting, so he looked around the room to make sure it was just her in there.

It was.

Gathering his courage, he entered the room and cleared his throat as he came forward towards the table where she was sitting.

She spun around in her chair, her eyes meeting his - big, blue and gorgeous, and Daryl swallowed. Hard.

"Oh shoot," she giggled. "Gotta go," she said to whoever was on the other line and hung up the phone. Then, she stood up and offered an outstretched hand to him. "Daryl?" she questioned.

"Yeah," he grumbled nervously, shaking her hand. Daryl wasn't necessarily bad with women, he just didn't go out of his way to talk to them. "That's me."

"Nice to meet you," she said with a grin. "You ride?" She pointed to his arm.

Daryl looked down at his helmet. "Oh," he said, surprised that she noticed. "Yeah."

"Cool," she said with a nod, sitting back in her seat. "My brother does too."

Daryl sat down in a chair next to her, placing his helmet to the side, looking at what she'd spread out. She'd thrown her purse across the table haphazardly and Daryl saw her phone sticking out of it, covered in a hot pink case. She had a "Preparation for the GED Test" book on the table, along with a few notepads and pencils.

He looked at her next, long, milky white arms, sprinkled with freckles and thin fingers. He couldn't help but notice that she had an engagement ring on her ring finger - he couldn't miss it. He felt initial disappointment and then scolded himself. He could never give a girl something like that - he could barely pay his own bills on time, so who the hell was he kidding.

Get a hold of yourself, Dixon, he said inwardly, as he picked up a pencil in his hands.

"So," Beth said. "Glenn tells me you're his best employee. He must really like you!"

"That's awful nice," Daryl said with a nod. "I just try to do my best."

"Well then, this will be easy. If you do your best here, I'm sure you'll pass this test in no-time." She placed her hand on his arm and he almost jumped out of his seat. "Ready to get started?"

Daryl nodded slightly, taking a deep breath. "I am."