Daryl had hoped that Merle had changed since he'd last seen him. That maybe having to cut off his own hand was a humbling experience, and he had a new found appreciation for the preciousness of life.
God knew Daryl had done his fair share of changing in the long months since civilization fell.
That wasn't the case at all, though. If anything, Merle had become more twisted since they lost him on the roof. The group he'd fallen in with encouraged his sadistic side, let him torture people- including Glenn. That was the part that stung the most. Merle had brutalized someone that Daryl now considered family.
Leaving Rick and the others hadn't felt right at all, but Merle was his blood. And after what went down in Woodbury, he was the only person his big brother could rely on. It was only with great reluctance that he left his group on the road and followed his brother into the woods. Followed him blindly, just like when they were with kids. Blood was blood, after all.
But what happened on the bridge… That was Daryl's breaking point.
"What's happened to you, man?" Merle asked, incredulously. "You a fuckin' softie now?"
"There was a baby."
" You piece of shit. Holding a crossbow to your own brother's head. I don't even know you anymore."
"Yeah, you know what? You don't. You really fucking don't, Merle." Daryl spit on the ground between them. "This was a mistake. I'm going back to the prison, where I belong. With my family."
Merle lashed out suddenly with his prosthetic. It connected solidly with the side of Daryl's face, splitting his cheek wide open and knocking him to the ground. Daryl rolled over to his side groaning, spitting out blood as he struggled to catch his breath. He brought a hand to his face and felt the blood flow over his hand.
"After all I done for you, you try to leave me again?" Merle kicked his little brother in the stomach, causing Daryl to retch. "Bad enough your sheriff boyfriend left me to die on a roof, made me cut off my own goddamn hand to survive. They treat dogs better than that. Shit. I'm your family, boy." He kicked him in the ribs, the legs, the abdomen. Again and again and again, caught up in a blind rage. Daryl desperately curled into a ball on the ground.
"You try running back home after this you little shit. Try running back to them, see what they say."
He grabbed Daryl's hair and hauled his head up. Daryl was still stunned from the initial blow to the skull. He tried to bring his hands up to protect his head, but Merle brought his metal arm down hard, connecting with Daryl's left wrist. It broke with a snap. The older man backhanded Daryl again, cracking his temple with enough force to knock him out. Finally, he stepped back.
"That's what you get, shithead. That's what you fucking get. Fuck you and your new family. You were always the weak one anyway." Merle spit on his brother's prone form, before grabbing his pack and heading off deeper into the woods.