AN: First of, I don't own Walking Dead or it's affiliates.

Second, I met Michael Rooker in person. I may just have a new favourite Dixon brother. Not gonna lie, I swooned a bit. And he called me "darlin'". Super giddy. But writing evil Merle doesn't inspire me so much... so what if...

-Shazzy

Change of Stripes

"It's jus' you an' me now, little brother. Ain't no one gonna take that away."

The truck engine roared comfortably as the brothers sped down the highway. They'd been driving for hours. They were lucky though, it was well after midnight and there was no one on the roads.

Daryl sat miserably in the passenger seat, eyes glazed over as the codeine he'd taken to numb the pain of his broken arm worked it's magic. Merle had been talking for hours. Cussing and spitting words like acid. Life hadn't been terribly kind to the Dixon brothers, but they did what they could to make it work.

Behind the codeine high, Daryl was a bundle of nerves. He was just a kid, fourteen years old to the day, and he wasn't used to the kindness his brother had shown him.

Merle had been gone for the past eight months. Where, Daryl didn't ask. He'd left his brother at home with their brute of a father without so much as a word. Daryl had tried to be good, going to school, fixing the house, doing the chores, staying out of trouble with well, everyone. Just to keep his father placated in Merle's absence.

It hadn't worked.

Daryl winced at the thought of the beatings, savage and merciless, that he's suffered at his father's hand. The broken arm had been the most recent. It had happened the day before Merle had gotten home. Their father had been pushed into a drunken rage for some reason or another – Daryl wasn't even sure what he'd done to set him off anymore – and had pulled a weapon on him. The closest thing that he'd been able to grab...

Daryl didn't even want to think about it. The crack, the pain, he'd have been hit in the head if he'd been half a second slower in raising his arm to protect himself. The crack of his bone seemed to snap his father partially out of it, and he'd managed to get away. He'd spent the night hiding outside and trying not to cry. Dixons never cry.

Merle had returned the next morning. He found Daryl in the yard, sneaking back into the house when their father was supposed to be at work. His arm was discoloured and swollen and the bruises on Daryl's face and the split lip and eyebrow was all Merle needed. He took his brother to the hospital first, paying in cash for them to set his arm and fix him up. He told them not to let Daryl leave until he came back.

Daryl was stuck in the hospital all day. Merle came back without a word and loaded his brother into his crappy truck. The back seat was full of camping gear and rucksacks with their meagre belongings, Merle's motorcycle was strapped firmly in the bed of the truck.

"What happened?" Daryl asked after a long moment.

"Nothin' you need t' worry about, Daryl." Merle assured him. "Jus' try an' sleep."

And there they were. Driving along the deserted highway in the middle of the night.

"What happened back at home?" Daryl asked finally, his lips feeling strange from the numbing effect of the codeine. "What'd you do?"

"Nuthin'." Merle said gruffly. "Ain't yer concern anyway."

Daryl stared at his brother. "Did you kill Dad?"

Merle slammed on the brakes and whirled on Daryl. "What did you say?"

"I asked if you killed Dad." Daryl said meekly. His brother was 10 years his senior, and he loved him to death, but Merle was scary as hell when he was mad and Daryl, with his broken arm and stoned on Codeine, wouldn't be able to fight back.

"No." Merle said after a lone moment. "No I did not." He frowned. "Although I would have if I had another chance." He stared at his brother. "We're okay now. We ain't NEVER goin' back there."

Daryl nodded slowly. "So where are we going?"

Merle shrugged. "Atlanta?"

Daryl grimaced. "Do we have to?"

Merle shrugged again, a dismissive gesture. "More work in a big city, might not be such a bad idea."

Daryl nodded and grew very quiet. There was no point in arguing with Merle. He stared at the plaster cast on his arm and wondered exactly what his brother had done.

"Hey, Daryl."

Daryl looked up at his brother.

"Everything's gon' be a'right, I promise. I ain't leavin' you for nothin' y' got it?"

A small smile touched the corner of Daryl's mouth and he nodded in reply.

Merle smiled back. It was a rare sight, but it was a genuine gesture. He stepped on the gas, making the truck rumble it's throaty little roar, and they were off again.

Daryl stared out the window as they drove in silence. His fourteen-year-old brain was buzzing, racing with thoughts, and worries.

He was worried about where they were going, but he knew that as long as Merle was there, they'd be all right.

The were Dixons, after all. And Dixons were too tough to die without a fight.