Merle Dixon prided himself on a lot of things, but the one thing he prided himself on most was that he was a survivor. Come hell or high water he knew how to come out on top. But Merle knew that he was also a protector. Once a Dixon staked a claim there was no going back. An instinct he passed onto his younger brother with pride. So, despite the fact that it intrigued the older Dixon when Daryl came speeding back into camp in his old Ford truck yelling his name at the top of his lungs, a passed-out girl in his arms covered in blood, it didn't necessarily surprise him.

"Merle!" The younger Dixon yelled out to his brother, his voice frantic, as he rushed towards their tents, his upper body covered in another's blood. "Merle!"

The elder Dixon stood up from his position near their shared fire pit. He had been imagining what the venison Daryl brought back would taste like, his mouth salivating at the thought of sinking his teeth into something other than squirrel. From the looks of it, however, that was exactly what he was going to get.

"Send you out huntin' and you come back with a dead chick?" Sarcasm was Merle's best weapon., especially now that they had an audience. The commotion had sent the entire camp out of their tents to see what had the Dixon's all riled up. Daryl ignored his older brother's comments as his eyes darted around the gathering crowd. He was looking for someone in particular.

"Old man!" Daryl continued to search the crowd, pushing down his insecurities at having so many eyes on him. "Old man!" No one needed to ask who Daryl was referring to. Although certainly one of the oldest of the group of campers, the younger Dixon and his brother were the only ones to refer to him as 'old man', and despite the fact that Dale normally refused to answer to it, he had heard the desperation in the young man's voice.

"What happened here?" Dale asked, stepping out from the small crowd, his forehead creased in concern.

"You got any stitching supplies?" Daryl asked the older man, who nodded. "Can ya bring 'em back to ma tent?" Dale didn't hesitate, running back to his prized RV as fast as he could. The younger Dixon pushed passed the murmuring crowd making his way towards his tent. He caught a quick glimpse of Shane's face. Their de facto leader's brows were furrowed, eyes scanning the girl, holding what looked to be a spark of recognition. He didn't have time to worry about that. Right now, all Daryl was worried about was the young girl in his arms.

Merle was hot on his brother's tail, holding Daryl's tent flap open as they stepped inside. The young hunter carefully set the girl down on his cot, adjusting her so that she lay on her stomach, head facing towards them.

"Where'd ya find this one?" The older Dixon asked, inspecting the girl laying on his brother's cot, unconscious. Her entire backside was covered with blood, ivory skin marred by dirt and bruises.

"Looks like she been through tha' ringer." Merle reached down to touch the girl's forehead frowning. "She's got a fever, brother."

Daryl grunted his acknowledgement as he pulled out a pair of his black hunting scissors, cutting up the back of the girl's shirt. He didn't want to pull it off entirely, trying to give her some sense of modesty. Merle let out a low whistle as Daryl removed the makeshift bandages that he had applied in an attempt to control the bleeding. The girls back now fully exposed to the two brothers.

"How long she been like this?" Merle crouched down next to her. Now he understood why his brother had been so desperate. The older Dixon didn't have guilt over much, hell, most would say he didn't feel guilt over anything, but Daryl knew better. He could see it on his brother's face now as he peered at the girl's beaten body, lips drawn back in an angry snarl. Merle was caught up in a time when he hadn't been able to protect Daryl.

"A couple of days, maybe more." Daryl sighed, running a hand down his face. He watched intently as his brother poked his head out of the tent to bark orders at someone nearby. A few moments later Dale entered the tent followed by a meek and quiet Carol who was holding clean water, rags, and a bottle of her husband's finest alcohol. "I bandaged her wounds the best I could, but the damage was already done."

Merle nodded, squeezing his brother's shoulder. A quiet gesture that he had done good.

The older man knew that even though Daryl loved him, he was a bit of a disappointment to him. Even now, at the end of the world, Merle Dixon still clung to the safety of his old habits, but this was one thing he could do to help his brother.

"You got that stichin' stuff, old man?" Merle snapped, holding out his hand impatiently. There wasn't quite as much bit to his tone as normal. Dale handed over the fishing line and needed. It was the best the camp had to offer. "Hand me the alcohol." Carol passed him the bottle. Merle shook his head. It was a damn shame such a fine bottle of booze was going to waste.

He quickly twisted the cap off, resisting the urge to take a swig.

"Yer gonna need to hold 'er down, baby brother." Merle's eyes bore into Daryl's, getting him to understand the important of the job. Daryl gave his brother a sharp nod before arranging himself around the girl.

Carol and Dale watched from the opening of the tent utterly fascinated. No one had known the Dixon brothers long, but each member of their camp had pretty solid opinions of who they were. Gruff rednecks. Although most didn't mind Daryl, who was usually the source of their food, many didn't have high opinions of Merle. The older Dixon was brash, crass, and mainly a pain the ass, often not contributing anything but a string of curse words. So, to see him selflessly aiding his brother, when others in the camp were sure to turn away, was somewhat shocking to the pair.

"Ready?" Daryl nodded, tensing as his brother braced his forearm against the girl's lower back to keep her in place.

Alex woke screaming, pain erupting from her back as the liquid sloshed down into the deep lacerations. Daryl held her strong, his arms secure beneath her armpits, wrapping around the back of her neck. His head was lowered next to hers, whispering in her ear that everything was going to be alright. Alex couldn't help her body's reaction. She wiggled and twisted, clenching her teeth harshly as she sobbed into the nook of Daryl's elbow.

Recognizing what needed to be done, Carol threw herself on the girl's flailing legs, before they had a chance to kick Merle in the face. The older man shot her a grateful grunt. Daryl's arms were unyielding as they held her down. All she could do was grip tightly to the cot beneath her as the onslaught of pain continued.

After a few minutes, the sharp pain that was racing up and down her body started to ease up. Alex took a shaky breath, inhaling Daryl's unique scent. He was still whispering in her ear, his breath tickling the side of her face. Alex couldn't help but blush at how close they were and how exposed she was. No one else seemed to care.

Leave it to me to have a hot guy whisper sweet nothings in my ear when I'm mangled. Alex internally sighed, attempting to distract herself from what was coming next. She swallowed thickly, forcing herself to 'box breath'. It was something she had learned long before becoming a medic.

Breathe in for four seconds.

Hold for four seconds.

Breathe out for four seconds.

Hold for four seconds.


"Hold onta me." Daryl's thick accent was low in her ear. Alex lifted her head to stare at him, surprise flooding her body at the small gesture. Swallowing the lump of anxiety in her throat, she reached out and gripped onto his bare arms.

Damn those arms.

Alex hoped that Daryl didn't notice the heat that was spreading on her cheeks. The two stared at each other, her fingers gripping his biceps tightly in anticipation of the pain.

She considered his face for a moment. He was ruggedly handsome with shining Georgia blue eyes that stared back at her unwaveringly as his brother prepared her for the stitches. His brown hair was short and tousled. Sweat dripped down his forehead that he cleared with his shoulder every now and again. Her brother would have called him a redneck, a hick. Alex didn't see any of that. She let her eyes dip down the slope of his neck towards his chest, admiring the bold outline of his muscles through his dirty shirt. He was stunning. She felt his muscles under her arms. God—those muscles—

Alex screamed as the needle glided easily into her skin. Merle was doing his best to make the process as smooth as possible. She tried to shift away from the needle, but the older brother pressed firmly into the uninjured part of her lower back briefly before continuing. Her breathing became erratic as she ground her teeth together trying to focus on anything but the needle currently piercing her flesh.

It wasn't long before another wave of drowsiness washed over her. Daryl watched carefully as her emerald eyes disappeared beneath heavy lids. A small sigh of relief washed through him knowing that she wouldn't have to endure any more pain. His chest felt heavy as he watched his brother stitch up wound after wound and he could tell the others felt the same way. No one should have to endure such agony. Such cruelty.

Dale's eyes flickered to Carol who still sat on the girl's legs. He could see the sadness in her eyes as she looked at the cruelty the girl had endured. It was no secret in the camp that Carol's husband abused her, and the older man wondered how long it would be before she too ended up with similar marks. Dale wanted to believe the best in people, but people like Ed, Carol's husband, would only get worse without the law around.

His gaze shifted to the Dixon boys. Merle was transfixed on his job, seamlessly sewing up the girl without a hitch as if he had done it a hundred times. Dale wondered which of the brothers had received similar abuse; if not both. The camp all knew that Daryl Dixon was not the affectionate type. He didn't like being touched and he barely spoke, but Dale had heard every uttering he had made to the girl and his willingness to let her hold him even when it made him uncomfortable.

Maybe there was hope after all.

Lori Grimes sighed as she removed the cloth from Alex's forehead, dunking it in the clean water before ringing it out and resuming her ministrations on the young girl's forehead. Her fever had come down with the antibiotics Merle Dixon had provided her and the wounds on her back appeared to be healing, but the young girl had yet to wake.

The older woman had been skeptical when Shane approached her the day Daryl had come back from his hunt carrying the girl in his arms. The Deputy insisted that the girl was Alex-her late husbands' sister, but the widow had thought it too good to be true. No one was that lucky anymore.

Now she sat next to the young girl, eyes wet with un-shed tears, wishing that her husband was alive to be with them. Lori Grimes knew it was wishful thinking and that there wasn't a place for such things nowadays, but she missed her husband. Fiercely. Carl was all she had left of him.

"Please wake up." Lori whispered as she stroked the young girl's unkempt copper curls. Shane had told her to simply be patient, but it had already been two days. Lori was not known for her patience. The young widow let out a choked sob, the few tears she had left gathered at the corner of her eyes, threatening to spill. She knew that things weren't going to be easy when Alex woke. The trauma her sister-in-law had suffered, both emotionally and physically, would no doubt be damaging. Lori knew she would need to be strong for her, but she was tired of being strong.

Lori took a long breath, slowly letting it out as she abandoned the wet rag and water next to the cot. She gazed down at the sleeping girl and smiled before exiting the younger Dixon's tent. Shane was right, she would wake up when she was ready. It was best just to leave her for now.

A/N: Thank you to everyone who has reviewed thus far! Always appreciated. Hope you enjoy!