Disclaimer : The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon, Merle Dixon and the other characters are the property of Robert Kirkman, Glenn Mazzera and AMC. Sadly, I do not own these characters. This writing is for pleasure only. No profit is intended.
A/N: It struck me odd that Daryl would stop looking for Merle in the first season of The Walking Dead and head to the CDC with the group. There had to be a reason. This is what I imagined. Well, except that Daryl's language was a whole lot fouler in my head.
It's been a really long time since I published a fic. Maybe this will make me finish all those half-done stories on my hard-drive. I hope you enjoy.
"You left my brother for dead! You had this comin'!"
Daryl Dixon, Season 1, Wildfire
The moment Daryl touched the tree, he knew Merle was still alive.
Tiny droplets of blood, half dried, led a trail up the wide, weathered trunk of the live oak. Their elongated teardrop shape spoke of dropping from a height. Daryl took a step back and squinted up into the tree top, to the crook in the limbs he knew of a good thirty feet up. It gave a channeled view of the camp on one side and a long view of the quarry pond on the other. There was always a breeze up there. Both Dixon brothers had used this tree as a lookout post, more than once, since setting up camp here.
"Merle... you up there?" Daryl rasped quietly through cupped hands. "Merle!" Louder this time.
The only answer was the dapple of sunlight on oak leaves swaying on a wind that Daryl could see, but not feel. Dropping to a crouch, Daryl searched the nearby forest for anything, anything of his brother. Moving silently, he poured over the entire base. He found two PayDay candy bar wrappers and what looked like bits of bark and lighter, raw wood. Like someone had been carving their name in the tree. Merle liked PayDays, not having much use for chocolate. Daryl felt hope flare in his chest. Merle was alive. He had been here and gone.
Daryl stood up quickly. Too quickly. The world swam. He leaned against the live oak for balance, as he rubbed his eyes. The past day had been hellish and he had been working like the devil himself had been poking him with a stick. Daryl poured all of his energy into smashing walkers and cleaning up the mess to block out the pain of missing his brother. Merle had always griped that Daryl had enough energy to fuel a small city, until the power suddenly cut-off. Pow. Black-out.
In the distance, Daryl could still hear Andrea's cries over the general noise of the camp. When he left the group to find a moment of respite for himself, she had been weeping over the fresh-smoothed grave of her sister. Damn woman had let her dead sister came back of one of them, before ending it herself. Daryl tried to take that burden from her. Make it happen before she turned. He didn't give two shits about Ms Civil Rights Lawyer, but he did deeply understand the pull of family. Amy deserved better than being forced to turn walker.
Glancing back up the tree, Daryl wondered if he had the strength to climb it just now. His ribs ached and burned like hell-fire. His hands shook like he had palsy. He couldn't remember when last he slept. Had it been two nights, or three? Had he eaten today? Yesterday? He sure the hell was thirsty. His head pounded with dehydration.
With a glimmer of memory, he felt his pocket on his low-slung pants. The woman with the shorn hair had handed him something. What was her name? Carol? Yes, Carol. Carol had pressed a water bottle and a sandwich on him after the burial. Said something like 'go sit down before you fall down and that asshole, Shane, shoots you in the head'.
"She didn't say 'asshole'", Daryl muttered to himself, pulling out first the water bottle, then a wad of grease-stained paper towel. He must have stuck the sandwich in his pocket first. Didn't matter. He'd eat dog food at this point. He sniffed at the wad. Peanut butter. Daryl groaned with pleasure. He loved peanut butter.
Daryl let himself slide down the trunk with a thunk, dropping the sandwich in his lap. Glad it was wrapped. There wasn't an inch on him that wasn't covered in thick, black blood and gore. He didn't fancy eating brains, or guts, or whatever the hell that was on his leg, with his peanut butter. He fumbled with the water bottle, uncapping it with unsteady, swollen fingers. Shit, his hands hurt. He had worn right through the thick calluses wielding that pickaxe for hours. The water was very warm, but clean, washing the grit from his throat. He resisted the urge to chug the whole bottle in his thirst. Forced himself to take only six swallows before putting the bottle down. It would do no good to guzzle the liquid down only to puke it back up. After a couple of minutes with his eyes closed, he repeated the process. His stomach gripped in the aftermath, but eventually quieted.
With a sigh of relief, Daryl opened his eyes and reached for the sandwich. Reached, then stopped. Didn't he just have a conversation with his dumb-ass self about eating walker shit? Looking around for something to wipe his hands, settled on some fallen spanish moss. Using a bit of the water, he rubbed the worst of the grime off his finger and palms, wincing at the broken blisters weeping fluid. He picked out a couple of axe-handle splinters and wondered if Carol had gotten splinters, too.
Everyone at the camp knew that Carol's husband beat her. First night he and Merle were there, he could hear them go at it. Daryl hated wife-beaters. He really hated kid-beaters, having experienced the receiving end of that business most of his childhood. He heard them arguing, heard a ringing slap, a crash and then things got real quiet. Daryl started to fly out of the tent toward the sound, when Merle grabbed him from behind and tackled him to the ground, hissing that he didn't know what was going on and they weren't going to find out. Merle thumped him hard in the ribs and kidneys a couple of times, just to drive the point home. By the time Daryl had gotten his breath back, he could see Carol and her little girl sitting in a folding chair outside their tent. Far as he could see, they both looked fine. Merle came back up behind him and smacked him hard against the back of his head, pointing out that Daryl musta been mistaken. Daryl had been watchful of the pair from then on. Everyone knew, but no one could prove a thing.
Picking up the sandwich, Daryl took a bite. Peanut butter and honey. Damn, that was good. The bread was only a little stale, too. Daryl savored the mouthful chewing thoughtfully.
Carol might have been abused, but she got her own back in end. Daryl had wondered if she could even lift the pickaxe, much less swing it effectively. But like the wrath of God, Carol laid waste to that bastard's head. He stood back and watched her purge her demons, swing after swing. He only stepped back in to stop her when she dropped to her knees.
No, she didn't say 'asshole', Daryl mused. He had never heard her cuss, or even say a harsh word to anyone. Daryl wondered what she had said. Was she warning him about Shane, who was truly an assholde? At least to him.
Daryl finished the sandwich and considered eating the peanut butter smeared paper towel. He was still hungry, but decided it might not feel too good coming out the other end. Snorting to himself, he finished off the water and levered himself to his feet. He felt more steady now. The power grid was back online. He had a damn tree to climb. Maybe Merle left a message for him. If it was Merle. Angry warred with pain as he stared up the trunk. If it had been Merle, he'd been left again. Frickin' left behind. Story of his life.
On a whim, Daryl thrust one hand into his pants. Merle would have had to climb one-handed. That made it a little difficult to get a good wedge on the first step-up, but Daryl managed it just fine. Up he went, clutching with one arm following that spattered trail. It was like the oak was weeping bloody tears. Half-way up there was a good sittin' branch. Daryl paused and took a quick breath. He could see a wide smear of red where Merle must have forgotten and used his stump somehow. Studying the smears, Daryl decided that this why his brother was bleeding at all. Probably knocked the wound open right about here. Damn, that musta hurt.
Looking up to the highest perch, Daryl didn't see any more blood going up and decided that Merle took the knock on his way down. If the knock was bad, there might be a blood trail on the ground for him to follow. Wiping the sweat from his face, Daryl thrust his hand back in his pants and shimmied up the last fifteen feet. It was hard, but not impossible. Two large branches grew upwards so close together that you could use one to brace your back on while you climbed the other. Live oaks were full of knots and gnarls, so there were footholds a plenty.
With a sigh of relief, Daryl reached the top crook and settled himself into the natural depression, one foot bend before him, while the other dangled.. It was hotter up here, but the breeze felt good on his overheated skin. He wondered what the people in camp would think if he crawled under that RV and dug himself a wallow-hole like some country hound dog, cooling himself in the under layer of earth.
Naw, he would just jump in the quarry pond, clothes and all. No need to worry about 'protecting the integrity of the water supply', or some shit like that. Not that these lame-brains really paid attention to what they were doing. He had seen the women washing clothes in the water not ten feet from where one of the men was filling buckets for drinking. Sure, they boiled the water before drinking it, but Daryl was pretty sure that boiling it would not get out soap. Morons. He tended to his own water, just to be safe. And they thought he was just some stupid redneck.
Yep, morons. Assholes, morons and shit-for-brains, the lot of them, Daryl mused casting an eye over the entire camp packing up to go to the CDC. His blood boiled when ever he thought of them leaving his brother handcuffed to that roof. Merle, sawing off his own hand. Gritting his teeth against the agony as he severed flesh, tendons and cartilage. He should have been there. He coulda stopped it. Unbidden, tears welled up in his eyes. Alone, at the top of the trees, he could let a few fall. Maybe mingle with the bloody tears below.
As quickly as it began, Daryl shoved the grief back down. No time for being a pussy. He had to make a decision: Go with the group, or leave to try and find his brother. And he had to pack his shit either way. He opened his eyes and prepared to climb back down. He shifted his weight dropping the bent leg when he saw it. Carved deep into the branch, right between where he was sitting and the view of the camp, was the word 'VENGEANCE'.
Vengeance? Daryl reached out and traced the letters one by one. Merle climbed this tree, one handed, to sit thirty feet up and carve that word into the live oak?
Daryl looked over the camp with fresh eyes. He could see everything from up here. He could see the smoldering pile of burnt walkers and the burial mounds. He could see Dale standing on top of the RV under that stupid, striped golf umbrella scanning for danger. He could see Rick holding a crying Carl infront of a half-pitched tent. He could see the Glen sitting dejectedly on his gutted, stolen car. He could see Carol carefully wiping the dirt from little Sophia's face. He could see everything.
A wave of despair overcame Daryl, blinding him with clarity. Holy shit! Merle had done it. His brother had heaped vengeance on the camp, to pay them back for leaving him on that roof. Take from the ones responsible what they most loved. Make them powerless to stop it. Merle had brought the herd. Then he climbed up here to watch. He ate Payday candy bars, carved on the tree and watched.
Daryl looked frantically around him for any sign of Merle in the woods, almost losing his perch. Merle had sat up here and watched, cold-blooded. Watched Amy get bit, and the others. Watched the men rush in to save the rest. Watched his brother wade into thick of things right next to the men who had chained him on the roof. There was not a doubt in Daryl's mind that Merle had watched and judged his own brother a betrayer. Had probably already made up his mind when he saw Daryl with the others back in the city.
Would he be next?
Merle was mean, vindictive and cruel and he always, always got even. Always got one up. He wouldn't kill him, not his own blood. It would be eye-for-an-eye punishment. It would hurt worse than any beat-down he had gotten ever in his sorry life. If Merle felt betrayed and abandoned, then that's what he'd do to Daryl. He'd set Daryl up, betray him and leave the broken pieces in his dust.
Waves of guilt and shame roiled through him. It was his fault. His! Merle done had his vengeance on Rick, T-dog and the rest. He set the walkers on them. But the tree, the carving, the dropped candy wrappers. That was for Daryl. That was the center stage. Merle wanted Daryl to know he had been here. Who had been responsible.
Merle had destroyed the camp, heaped death and destruction and then he left his brother behind. Broken. Abandoned. Worthless. Merle probably expected that the group would turn on Daryl and blame him. Cast him out, too.
Daryl choked back a sob as he clambered down the tree. Blisters broke against the rough bark in his haste. The trail of bloody tears smeared under his clutching hands as he lost his grip and fell the last ten feet to the forest floor below.
His ribs seared with pain at the impact. They were already bruised, maybe cracked from the Vatos' booted feet and lead pipe. Daryl tried to catch his breath and wondered if they were broken. No matter. He could bind them. He'd had worse. Slowly, he rolled to his side, and then slowly pushed up on his knees, breathing hard. Hoped no one had seen him fall. Didn't want to explain. Didn't want them to see the tree, Daryl's guilt.
After a minute, Daryl lurched to his feet and got his bearings. No one had noticed. No one cared. Story of his life. Again.
Daryl hawked up and spat a mouthful of bloody spit. At least one thing was now clear. He knew what his choice was going to be.
Merle had left his sorry ass behind. There was no finding Merle until Merle wanted to be found.
Merle might be satisfied with the walker attack on the camp, but Daryl doubted it. Rick and T-dog were still standing, their body's whole. Merle would go and lick his wounds. Heal up. Then Merle would be back with more vengeance on his mind.
Daryl didn't have to go find Merle. The son-of-a-bitch would find him. The real question was, what was Daryl going to do when that happened. Daryl spat again. It was time to pack up his shit. And he was taking his brother's bike. That would piss Merle off to no end. Wouldn't matter if he couldn't ride it one-handed,or not.
And when Merle came back and vengeful and pissed, Daryl would be ready for him.
Left behind? Naw. It would be different this time.
Someone had to look after these assholes, morons and shit-for-brains. Daryl was going to be different.
Daryl shoved all his wounded anger deep into the furnace in his chest as stalked back through the center of camp. Everyone was still going about their business, some packing, some still burning bodies.
"You people had this comin' leaving my brother on that roof!", he shouted. Only Rick raised his head to meet fiery glare with muted apology. Daryl spun away, packing his emotions down tightly.
He'd look out for these people, keep a watch out for his brother. But damned if he was gonna make it easy for them. Or Merle.
It's been a while, please let me know what you thought. Please review. Thanks!