A/N: Alright, so this is another one of my seriously messed up one-shots into the Dixon brother's early lives, this time from Merle's point of view.

Warnings: Implied physical and sexual abuse of children

You're a Dixon, an' Dixons don't cry, boy.

That phrase had been literally beaten into Merle's head, almost from the time he'd started walking. There was a long list of sins that could be committed in the Dixon house, but crying... That was the ultimate sin. The one that made his daddy pull out all the stops when it came time to atone for the day's transgressions.

That hadn't mattered quite as much before Daryl had been born. Merle had let himself cry in the little seven by five pantry that served as his bedroom, long after his daddy had gone to sleep. It was the only time he'd ever let those damn water drops leave his body, was when no one could see. No one to punish him, or tease him. Those blessed few hours when he could let his guard down a bit, and let the day's tears fall.

But then, Daryl had been moved into the pantry with him.

He couldn't cry in front of Daryl. The damn kid cried enough on his own. Didn't need him thinking that because Merle cried on occasion – and only on occasion, after particularly brutal sessions with their father – that it was alright for Daryl to cry.

He let his eyes drift over to where the kid was sleeping. At four, Daryl was getting close to that age. The age Merle had been almost seven years ago. He wondered if that mattered at all to their daddy. He'd seen the way their daddy had been looking at his little brother lately; the way those clouded over eyes would search the youngest Dixon out, wherever he was.

Which was why Merle had started keeping the damn brat at his side, no matter what, and no matter how much the kid annoyed him. No matter what their daddy threatened, Merle made sure Daryl was never left alone with their old man. Even if it meant a worse night for Merle at the end of the day, he couldn't leave the kid to their father's 'tender care'.

At eleven, Merle knew that he was already done for. Some distant part of his brain knew that he wasn't ever gonna be 'normal'. That he'd never turn into a 'well-adjusted, productive member of society', as the school counselor tried telling him. Hell, at eleven, he'd seen and done more than most of the cons that frequented their house. He knew he'd be lucky to make it to eighteen, the way he was going.

But there was still a chance for him to keep Daryl from that fate. There was a chance that Daryl could be normal. There was a chance that, one day, his baby brother could walk out of the dilapidated old farm house they lived in, and never look back. Maybe even finish school, instead of dropping out or flunking out like every other Dixon had ever done, like Merle was already well on his way towards.

Hell, maybe the kid could even go to college one day, he thought, gazing across the room at the small mash-up of old clothes and sheets that made up the kid's bed.

Already though, despite his best efforts, it was becoming more and more obvious that the kid wouldn't walk away completely unscathed. Already, glancing over at Daryl's sleeping form, Merle could see the kid twitching in his sleep, face pinched in phantom pain, his back pressed against the wall, and hands tightly wrapped around his waist.

A waist that was too damn skinny, Merle noticed with sad acceptance. While Merle got free lunches at school, the preschool that Daryl currently went to only had 'snack-time'. The little bit of food that Merle managed to steal from the grocery store, or even from people's homes if he was desperate enough, wasn't enough to support his brother's growing body. And there just weren't enough hours in the damn day to watch after Daryl, and make sure they both got enough to eat.

He knew better than to whine about how unfair it was, that he had to feed his baby brother. At an early age, Merle had learned that life wasn't ever 'fair'. His pervert ol' man, and druggie whore mother had taught him that lesson real early on in life.

And he knew that despite his best efforts, despite what he may tell himself late at night, that there was no making things 'right' or 'fair' for Daryl. He knew that no matter how hard he tried, one day, their daddy would catch Daryl alone. Knew that one day, he wouldn't be there, and Daryl would go through the same hell that Merle went through on a regular basis.

Knew that once that happened, Daryl would start down the same path that Merle was on. The path that would ultimately lead to his end. Just like it had for Merle. A path that could only end in a dark, dank prison cell, or an early grave.

He felt his hands clench into fists at that thought, the inevitability of it all crushing him with its weight. He'd accepted his lot in life; figured he had probably done something to deserve it at some point. He'd never really been a 'good' kid, per say; he'd always been loud, and rude, and just plain obnoxious. So maybe he did deserve the crap-hand he'd been dealt.

But Daryl was different. Kid didn't have a mean bone in his body, and a heart as big Texas to boot. Always so quiet, baby-blue eyes staring at the world with wonder. Even the four years with their daddy hadn't taken that wonder from him.

Not yet, at any rate.

And as much as Merle would try his damndest to keep it that way...

He knew that sooner rather than later, that spark was gonna leave his baby brother's eyes. That their mama and daddy would leave Daryl as screwed up as Merle was.

It was only a matter of time.