Hey friends!

I've been noticeably absent from writing for awhile, so this little oneshot may seem rough.

However, I do hope you guys enjoy this! I do want to warn you: this fic is of a dark theme, including domestic violence. It is also a songfic, inspired by the song "Pet" by A Perfect Circle. The lyrics I have used and moved about to fit the feel of the story.

All rights for the song, show, characters, etc, belong to their respective owners. I claim nothing!

Eyes open and wide, he waited.

Lip trembling, palms hot, skin cold, he waited.

Sweat rolled down one side of his forehead, his chest was tight, and his heart pounded within it, echoing in his ears, throbbing in his neck.

He waited, silent, listening to the noise on the other side of the wall.

Waiting for someone to come inside and take the fight to him.

Because in the end, it always did.

In the end, he was always the next (and last) to be hit.

Don't fret precious I'm here, step away from the window
Go back to sleep

Lay your head down child
I won't let the boogeyman come

The little house shook, the quake of drunken anger rattling the walls.

Shouts and cursing interrupted screams and cries.

Daryl bit his lip and waited.

And waited.

Maybe they'd leave him alone this time.

Pay no mind to the rabble
Pay no mind to the rabble

His father was the usual visitor on these nights, the drink too strong in his blood and his brain too fried to reason beyond an apparent hatred for his children. His mother, too, could bring a lashing to his behind for no good reason; but he thought, maybe, she only did it because his dad told her to…..

Maybe she only did it to avoid getting hit herself any more than she already had….

Maybe she really did love him like she said she did when no one was around to hear.

Pay no mind what other voices say
They don't care about you, like I do, like I do
Safe from pain and truth and choice and other poison devils,
See, they don't give a fuck about you, like I do.

His chest was hurting, his stomach in knots. The familiar feeling of nearing a good vomit was closing in. His small voice found him in a whimper as the bedroom door opened. As his mother would say, 'His nerves were shot'….

As his father would say, 'I'll shoot somethin' more important than your nerves, if you don't start shuttin' that trap…'

His lips tightened and his eyes slammed shut.

Quick steps closed in on his bed.

And then a body threw itself underneath the blanket.

Daryl blinked in the darkness.

Larger than his own, but not large enough to be his father, and not soft enough to be his mom, Daryl knew this body belonged to his brother.

He released a torrent of breath before the young man in the bed shushed him.

"Shut up, Daryl. Don't make a sound, ya' hear?"

He nodded to the black form in his bed, and kept quiet despite the question that scratched at the insides of his teeth:

'When'd you get out of Juvi?'

Just stay with me, safe and ignorant,
Go back to sleep
Go back to sleep

Lay your head down child
I won't let the boogeyman come
Count the bodies like sheep
To the rhythm of the war drums

He scooted closer to his brother in the stifling air of the tiny room, the war-like noise in the house growing louder as their parents fought, one drunk, the other desperate.

The crashes were more frequent this night, the screams of pain from his mother longer to last.

Daryl reached out and sought the large hand near his.

Fingers clung to each other and he heard Merle grunt in a tone that sounded disappointed.

But he did not push the little hand away.

I'll be the one to protect you from
Your enemies and all your demons

I'll be the one to protect you from
A will to survive and a voice of reason

The gunshots rang out on the other side of the wall, just behind their heads.

In an instant Merle was on his feet beside the bed, and Daryl could not help but feel the chill of fear run down his spine at the thought of his protector leaving him (again…)….

A finger rose in the shadows and he heard his brother shush him again, even though he hadn't spoken.

"I'll be right back. Don't move, Daryl. Don't move, you hear me?"

He nodded.

And Merle disappeared.

I'll be the one to protect you from
Your enemies and your choices son
They're one in the same
I must isolate you
Isolate and save you from yourself

The second round of shots came from another area in the house, and if could think clearly enough, he'd know it was the kitchen. But fear was a consuming monster in the dark violence of their home, and never did it let him think past its existence.

Not unless the wall of rough-and-tough that was his brother was between him and whatever it was that had him terrified.

Daryl felt his back hit the wall across his bedroom, only then realizing he'd disobeyed his brother and moved from the bed. In a moonlit corner, he crouched.

For several long, quiet, miserable seconds, he waited.

And the fear was so strong that he barely even felt it anymore.

Stay with me
Safe and ignorant
Just stay with me
Hold you and protect you from the other ones
The evil ones
Don't love you son,
Go back to sleep

The quick steps broke the silence again, pausing at the bed in front of him before turning to look at him in the eerie white light fighting through the tiny window.

He watched as Merle crouched down in front of him, could see the blood on his hands and shirt, could smell the sweat in his hair.

Those blood-stained hands grabbed him then, squeezing his shoulders tight, shaking him once to make him pay attention.

"You listen to me, little brother. I'm all you got now. And you're all I got. It's just us, from now on. Pack some clothes and head straight for the back door. Don't go lookin' around, Daryl. You listen to me, and pack your shit. Do it quick, I'll be right back to get ya'."

Daryl nodded again in silence.

And dared not turn on his light as he scrambled toward his closet to start pulling down what few clothes he had.

It was two years later, at a cousin's house that Merle found him again. He'd wanted to ask his brother where'd he been the past year and a half, ask him why he'd disappeared after promising a life of 'roughin' it' with just the two of them, ask him if he'd been in prison again, and, more specifically, as him if he'd been serving time for whatever had happened that night in the smothering dark of their parents' home.

But Daryl did not ask any of those questions.

Instead, he looked at his brother, took note of the early-thinning hair, the busted lip, and the cold, dilated eyes, and asked:

"You still love me, Merle?"

It sounded stupid, the moment he'd said it. But it'd been said, and he'd face a backslap if he had to.

Daryl jerked back a bit when the large man crouched down in front of him, their heads now even in height, their eyes level. The older man blinked slowly, and reached out to grasp his brother's shoulders.

"Yes I do, little brother. And you know what? I'm the only person in the world who does. And I'm the only person in the world who ever will. I'll always love you, Daryl. You're all I got, and I'm all you got. You don't forget that, you hear me?"

Daryl felt his heart lift and sink and lift again. He nodded.

He had his brother's love.

And that was all he needed.

Swayin' to the rhythm of the new world order and
Count the bodies like sheep to the rhythm of the war drums

The boogeymen are coming
The boogeymen are coming

Keep your head down, go to sleep, to the rhythm of the war drums

"You're all I have now."

The whisper jolted through him and Daryl whipped his head up to peer at the woman sitting on the other side of the dying fire.

They'd been frozen in silence for over an hour by this point, the others long since retired to their tents. They'd stopped on this hilltop for the night, on their way forward to Fort Benning, the chaos and terror and loss of the farm now miles behind them.

He met the shining eyes of Carol and she surprised him by not breaking his hard gaze.

She wanted him to know that she meant her words, and Daryl felt his stomach flip.

He wanted to tell her that he wasn't much to have, and even if he was, she didn't have the right to just lay claim on him like that.

He wanted to tell her that, but his mouth wouldn't form the harsh words.

After all, she was the only one left that acted in the least like they gave a rat's ass about him dying or living, and in this world, wasn't that just about enough to make him hers?

The hardened man tightened his lips at the soft eyes in front of him.

And nodded.

You're all I got now, too.

Stay with me
Safe and ignorant
Just stay with me
Hold you and protect you from the other ones

Counting bodies like sheep
To the rhythm of the war drums

Pay no mind to the rabble
Head down, go to sleep to the rhythm of the war drums