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Awakening (Merle)

Where the hell did THIS girl come from? Merle wondered. He was in the kitchen and had heard the singing coming from the cellblock. Maggie and Glenn were on watch, but everyone else was standing around listening to her sing. She was sitting on a blanket with that older one whose husband used to knock her around - the one his dumbass brother followed around everywhere. In fact Daryl was moonin over Carol now while she smiled at the girl. He craned his head to see the blond singing. Voice of a fucking angel comin out of a slip of a girl. She can't weigh more than a buck twenty soakin wet, he thought. Had she always been here? He had barely noticed her, probably because she always had the baby. Her hand was tapping the beat while she sang that sad ass song. Yep, Herschel's daughter and just a teenager by the looks of it.

He was distracted by movement. Rick and Daryl had moved to the cells and were talking low with Herschel. They all looked at him then Daryl looked at Officer Friendly and nodded. Oh goodie, he thought, sounds like more good news comin my way. One day Officer Friendly was going to pay a hand for a hand, but all in good time. He leaned back against the door and let the song clear his mind. Good to hear music again, she's got good pipes. He turned his head to look at her heart shaped face lit up by the lanterns, at her big dark blue eyes and shiny gold hair pulled back into a ponytail. Some of her hair was loose and framed her face with soft curls. A gold necklace shined at her throat and small gold earrings dotted her ears. Aint seen anythin that pretty in a long time he thought as she finished her song. As if she heard him, she turned to him and smiled, still tappin the beat with her hand. He looked away - in his world best not to make attachments to nobody.

In the following days he began to notice her when she was feeding the baby, walking through the field to the watchtower, playing cards at the kitchen table with her sister or her pa. When she sang he found reasons to stick around until the songs were finished. Sometimes she'd stand in the courtyard with her face to the sun and her eyes closed, warming her skin. One night as he shut his eyes to sleep an image of her face lit up by those lanterns appeared. "No fucking way Dixon" he said out loud to himself. "Man in his forties got nothing to do with a little girl. I beat men half to death for less. Now get off it."

The next morning he grabbed breakfast, sitting with Daryl apart from the others. Daryl was reading him the riot act. "You need to keep your fucking nose clean here. You fuck something up and we're both gone" Daryl was saying. "That would break your heart, wouldn't it little brother? Havin to leave your wife". Daryl glared at him. "Fuck you Merle, they're serious. They aint takin chances especially with a baby here." Merle glared back, "I know the score little brother. Me and your best friend will settle our differences after we deal with Woodbury, don't worry." Daryl leaned forward and hissed "You need to drop all this shit Merle. It aint doin' nobody no good." They were interrupted by Beth entering the kitchen with Judith. She walked the baby over to Carol and said, "All fed! She drank a whole bottle". Carol smiled and took the baby for a walk around the kitchen. Beth looked up and her eyes met Merle's. She smiled and blushed, turning away to get her own breakfast. His heart gave an involuntary tug. "I'll take watch", he said abruptly, leaving the table.

That night he sat on his bunk polishing his arsenal of hand blades. If I had my hand back then I could use both of them to strangle Office Friendly and the chinaman too, he thought, though I gotta give the chink credit for the balls he showed in Woodbury. He was interrupted by a soft tap on his cell door. He looked up and his stomach dropped. Beth stood there timidly, a book in her hand. "Hi" she said shyly. "Am I bothering you?"

"Not at all little girl. You need me to take watch?" Merle replied. She came into the room and stood in front of him. "No, I came to give you something." She lightly sat beside him on the bed and smiled. In her hand was a small red bible, bound in leather. The leather was creased and worn. "My momma's bible. Daddy said you miss reading and we don't have any books here. So you can have it."

He looked at her. Her head was slightly tilted and her blue eyes shining. The charm on her necklace was small heart. He'd never gotten a close look before. "That's real nice missy but I can't take your mamas bible" he said. She blinked and said "Oh no, it's OK. I have another one she gave me, she wrote in that one." He looked down at the book in her hand. "Do you mind me askin' you why the hell you have two bibles?" he asked. She looked down. "Oh, well when the herd came through the farm, they're what I grabbed. Well, those and a gun. That's all I brought here." She straightened up and smiled into his eyes. "And now I'm giving this one to you. It might help you on your way. It helps me every day." She pressed the book into his left hand and stood up. "Thank you" he said. "Let me know if you want to study it together sometime" she smiled, and then she left. He looked at the book in his hand and flipped through the dog-eared pages. At least it's somethin to read, he thought.

A few days later Beth and Merle were put on evening watch together. They stood on opposite sides of the watchtower, looking for breaches in the fence and keeping an eye on walker movement. There was no sign of vehicles on the road but they were attentive for any signs that the governor's crew was nearing. This was the first time they had been alone together and Beth tried repeatedly to make conversation, but Merle merely grunted back. After a few hours she said, "I guess you don't like me much". He looked at her in surprise; she was staring out of the window sadly. "What in the hell are you talkin about girly?" he barked. She shrugged and he cocked his head to get a better look. She was crying. Fuck, I'm stuck up here with a crying woman he thought. Wonder if I'd make it if I jumped out?

He sighed. "What gave you the idea that I don't like you?" he said accusingly. She shrugged again. "You don't want to talk to me," she said. "Hell, I don't talk to nobody" he rasped, louder than he meant to. She compressed her lips and fought the tears back. After a few minutes she took a breath and said, "I'm goin to check the gate. I'll be back". She went down the stairs and opened the door to the field. He watched her from the tower as she checked the inner gate and walked the front perimeter. He saw her stop, wiping her eyes and blowing her nose. Then she squared her shoulders and came back into the tower. She silently took her place on her side of the room. "Everything clear?" he asked. "Yep" she said huskily.

Merle turned to his window. Worthless fuckin redneck, he thought. Kickin a kid in the teeth, can't seem to get to hell fast enough. Minutes passed. He kept his gaze on the field then he cleared his throat. "Military makes men out of boys." he started thoughtfully. "The ones that can't cut it get broke. I guess the ones that do cut it get fuckin broke too, just in a different way. They say they break ya down to build ya back up, but what they're really doing is turnin you into a machine - their machine. Trained to do and not ask questions. No conscience, no feelings. They first thing they beat out of you is feelings."

He glanced over at her, her back was to him but she was listening. "One day a local got past our lines - an Iraqi who had lost his house to a bomb. Whole town was scattered. His family was hidin nearby, he was trying to get some food. Someone was sleepin on watch and he got in. CO held a gun to the guys head to get the family out of the bushes, rounded them up 10 feet inside the line, pronounced them all trespassers, then shot them one by one in front of us. Wife, kids...We had to dig the holes to bury them in as punishment for screwing up the watch. As far as their family knows, they just disappeared." Merle paused and glanced back at Beth. She was looking over her shoulder at him, her face pale. He turned back to the window and said 'So I don't talk much on watch."

She looked down at the gate, watching the walkers mill around the fence. She thought the world had gone bad when the dead started walking around. Maybe she was wrong.

Fifteen minutes later Merle walked the perimeter and returned to his post in the tower, noting that Beth's chin was lifted and she was watching the line intently, affected by his story. He looked at her straight back and said softly, "Why don't you sing me somethin missy?" She thought for a moment. "Do you like Celtic Woman?" she asked. "I haven't met her but I'd probably buy her a drink" he said drily. She laughed, "This is 'The Last Rose of Summer. It's one of my favorites'". Beth's clear voice rose above the groans of the walkers:

'Tis the last rose of summer left blooming alone

All her lovely companions are faded and gone

No flower of her kindred, no rosebud is nigh

To reflect back her blushes and give sigh for sigh

I'll not leave thee, thou lone one, to pine on the stem

the lovely are sleeping, go sleep thou with them

Thus kindly I scatter thy leaves o'er the bed

Where thy mates of the garden lie scentless and dead

So soon may I follow when friendships decay

And from love's shining circle the gems drop away

When true hearts lie withered and fond ones are flown

Oh who would inhabit this bleak world alone?

This bleak world alone

She finished the song and look back over her shoulder at him, her hair flipped over her shoulder and a soft smile on her blushing face. "Was that OK?" she asked. Prettiest thing I heard in my life, he thought. The hair on the back of his neck rose and Merle Dixon knew that he was in serious shit.