AN: Finally figured out the ending for this one. Yay! I'm not gonna lie, I'm disappointed with the way Merle has been treated in Season 3. I sincerely hope that he doesn't die because there's SO MUCH POTENTIAL with him, and it's being squandered. Okay, anyway, enjoy.
-Hell in a Handbasket-
The first reports that came through the old radio didn't make any sense. Violent attacks on people in the core of Atlanta. Reports of cannibalism in Savannah. Panic, devastation. Hospitals were filling up faster than anyone could imagine and the casualties were piling up quicker than clean up crews could keep up with.
"They're calling in the military." Daryl drawled as he packed his few belongings into his rucksack.
"We'll be long gone before the tanks show up, little brother." Merle replied casually, checking his guns nonchalantly.
Daryl watched his brother warily. He knew Merle would never shoot him; not even in his worst frame of mind had Merle ever used a weapon against him. Fists and boots, sure, but that was normal for them. Merle would never seriously injure his brother. Still, Daryl couldn't help but feel a tug of uncertainty as he watched Merle load his handgun.
"They say that there's dead people up and walking about." Daryl continued roughly, hiding the fear he felt behind skepticism.
"Dead people don't get up an' walk around, Daryl." Merle shoot back, tucking his handgun into his belt. "These people are sick and the government is overreacting."
"But what if it's true?"
Both brothers stopped as a new report started to filter through the air.
Hospitals are now red zones. Stay in your homes. Do not engage the infected. Do not leave your home. Do not panic. If you suspect someone you know is infected, quarantine them in a separate room until help can arrive. Do not engage the infected.
Merle turned the radio off and stared at his brother.
Daryl stared back.
Fear was evident behind the blue eyes, but neither brother would admit to it.
"We'll be okay, little brother, jus' you an' me." Merle said, a halfhearted attempt to reassure them both. "We were built for living it rough, right?"
Daryl nodded, less confident than he felt.
"Got everything?" Merle asked.
Daryl nodded again. "I think so."
Merle smiled. "Good. Let's go."
Merle led the way out of their ramshackle little trailer and into the scorching mid-afternoon light. Screams and the smell of smoke filled the air. The little neighbourhood that the Dixons had called home for years was filled with panic and terror.
"Jesus Christ..." Merle hissed.
The reports had been right, there were dead people walking around. The little trailer park had been undefended and one infected person up the road spelled disaster for the entire community.
The brothers exchanged horrified looks.
"Get in the fucking truck." Merle demanded.
Daryl nodded and Merle handed over his own rucksack as he drew his handgun. A tense moment passed as Merle sized up exactly what he was going to do. So far, no one had noticed the Dixon boys.
Ain't that always the way of it? No one notices us Dixons until it's too goddamn late. Merle thought bitterly.
He shot another look at Daryl and nodded. "I got your back, little brother."
That was all the signal Daryl needed. He made a dash across the small lawn, heading for the relative safety of the truck. Merle followed, making a beeline for the driver's seat.
Merle was a few steps behind and his brother's cry filled him with dread. There were shambling corpses against the fence by the truck, neither of the brothers had seen it and they were pushing against the rotting wood, mere inches away from Daryl.
The gunshot echoed across the trailer park.
Merle was a good shot, when he was sober, and the bullet hit it's mark. Grey matter and thick black blood spattered onto the pavement as the walker fell over, only to be crushed by its companion sin their unending attempt to claw at Daryl.
"Get in the truck!" Merle screamed as he fired again and again, spattering gore with his shots.
Daryl didn't need to be asked a second time. He clambered into the familiar truck and slammed the door.
Merle climbed into the driver's seat and gunned the engine. The familiar throaty roar filled the air as more of the dead things appeared, drawn to the noise and the smell of blood.
"Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit..." Daryl breathed as Merle's eyes lit up an a malicious delight that he'd seen all too often. Merle slammed on the gas pedal and the nigh on indestructible truck tore through the rotten fence and onto the main road.
"Merle!" Daryl shouted over the growling engine as his brother sped up, heading right for the group of walkers that blocked the way.
Merle laughed and whooped as the truck bowled over the walkers, spattering gore and breaking bones as it trundled on.
Daryl felt his stomach turn as Merle drove on. He dared not say anything, he'd seen the glint of malice and insanity in his brother's eye before. He stared blankly out the front window as Merle drove on, mindless of the horrors unfolding around them.
They drove without stopping.
Daryl sat mutely in the passenger seat, watching the world fly by in bits of gore and horror. He watched as the infected tore apart the living. He watched and children ran screaming from their parents. He watched as cops tried desperately to rein in the infected. And Merle simply drove.
Merle knew all the back roads, all the shortcuts and they made good time getting to the edge of the city.
They didn't stop until the city lay behind them.
They didn't stop until the road was too blocked for them to go any further.
Merle parked at the edge of the road. He reached over and grabbed Daryl's arm, pulling his brother over. He pulled Daryl's arm out, stretching it out. He pushed the fabric of Daryl's shirt away from his neck, checking the soft flesh there. He checked his other arm, his shoulders, his hands. Merle grabbed Daryl's face and held it, forcing Daryl to stare at him as his pale eyes checked his younger brother, looking for something that Merle didn't disclose.
When he was satisfied Merle shoved Daryl away and got out of the truck. He checked his motorcycle in the truck's bed, making sure nothing had damaged it. Daryl got shakily out of the truck and stumbled into the small ditch next to the road.
Merle didn't say anything as he heard Daryl throwing up. Instead, he reached into the back of the truck and produced a beer from the cooler he kept constantly stocked, waiting for Daryl to come back to the vehicle. He handed the cold drink over.
Daryl eyed the alcohol in distaste.
"Just drink it, ya pussy." Merle said, more amiably than aggressively. "Slow, it'll settle your guts."
Daryl huffed a sigh and did as his brother said, sipping on the crappy beer. "What the hell was that?" Daryl asked after a long moment.
"Ain't got a clue." Merle admitted. He looked Daryl over.
"Quit lookin' at me like that." Daryl grumbled uncomfortably.
"Had to make sure you ain't infected, little brother." Merle said slowly.
Daryl gulped, he hadn't realized that his brother had actually cared. He hadn't realized that the almost-assault in the truck a few moments ago had been Merle's way of making sure that he was all right.
"Thank you." Daryl mumbled.
Merle nodded as the sound of helicopters filled the air.
The Dixon brothers looked at each other and moved away from the truck, attempting to get a better view in the dark. The helicopters flew overhead and towards the city they'd just left behind.
"What d'you suppose they're doing?" Daryl asked.
Merle didn't need to answer as the brothers watched in mute terror as napalm poured over the city. The beer dropped from Daryl's hand as they stared as the assault on the city continued, lighting up the night sky in fiery waves.
Daryl barely registered the change in pressure on his shoulder and Merle's hand rested against it.
"It's jus' you an' me, now, little brother." Merle said quietly into the night. "Ain't nobody gonna take that away."