Hey I'm back with another one. Once again I want to thank all of you who have stuck with me and reviewed. Each and every review you send goes straight to my heart. I'm trying to get back to each of you individually...if I missed you...sorry...next round. I apologize for those of you who think the burn is toooo slow...that's just how I see it. Dont y'all worry they'll be gettin' down soon enough ! To anyone that wants to help, either with the story line, or the betta, or just the smutt...please send me a PM. And to all you readers- please, please, please keep on sending those reviews...I LOVE each and every one.. Especially the long ones. Thanks again.

Penance

Beth found him in the yard, by the old blue pick-up he usually liked to sit on, the one with the wooden crates in the back. He was in a rage, and she stood at a distance, watching quietly as he kicked at the tires and cursed, grabbing crates and throwing them around the yard.

"Goddamn son of a bitch" he shouted as his good hand came up and hit at the side of the truck, three times in quick succession.

"Stop!" she called out, as she picked up to a slow jog, approaching him warily.

"Go on little girl," he called out. "I aint in no mood to toy with ya." And he punched at the truck again.

"Hey!" she called out again, as she approached, "Stop it…please." She'd never seen this type or rage before. The only truly angry person she'd ever spent any amount of time with in her entire life had been Daryl, and he usually just stormed off. No one had ever thought of sending her after him…that was Carol's job.

"Goddamn it girl!" he shouted and slammed his prosthetic arm against the driver's side mirror of the old truck, "leave me be!"

The glass shattered, and Beth caught up the final few steps to grab at his arm, "Merle," she cried out, "You're gonna hurt yourself,"

"Think I fuckin care !" he shouted pulling himself roughly out of her grasp, the blade on his arm coming dangerously close to her face. "Get off!" he snarled, as he laid into the truck again.

"Hey," she cried out, "You almost hurt me…do you want to hurt me? Merle!" She snapped. She had backed off, and there was fear in her eyes. She could tell, he wasn't in his head, and she wasn't sure if she could bring him back. He'd almost cut her face open, and he hadn't even batted an eye.

He stopped and glared at her, his jaws clenched together, his breaths coming out in short gasps. "Go on!" he repeated. Get the fuck away little girl, fore I do somethin, I aint ever gonna be able to undo, he thought.

"Dammit Merle," she said softly, "look at your arm…and your hand…" she reached out tentatively and took his large hand between hers. "Your hand's all cut up," she said, "let me see."

"I don't need no help." He spit out at her. Yanking his hand out of her grasp.

"You only have one hand left," she said calmly, "You ought to be taking care of it. Now come on," she held her hand out, palms out, like one would do to an angry dog, "let me see…"

He stared at her long and hard, he could feel the burning in his knuckles, and the tightening in his hand, but he didn't care…he was so pissed off, so damned jacked up…he didn't give a shit about nothing or no one…almost no one. There was Daryl….this was all about Daryl, just remember you old fuck, aint no one here deserves any mind 'cept for Daryl.

"You know," she started, her wide blue eyes set on his unflinching, "you're not the only one who has someone out there today." She paused for a minute and swallowed hard, pushing down a wave of emotions that threatened to overtake her. "My daddy's out there too, he's older, and he only has one leg…he's not half as fit at protecting himself as Daryl…"

"Well, why in the hell do ya think I'm so damn worried!" he snapped. "They sent an ol' goddamn cripple to watch my brother's back!"

She glared at him for a minute. "Screw you !" she choked out, "That's my daddy you're talking about…and if something happens to him…I….I…just…" she turned quickly and started walking off in the direction she had come from.

Screw him and screw Carol. She didn't know how to handle men like this. Carol should have come out here. Lord knows between her ex-husband and Daryl she'd had plenty of experience with jackasses and bastards. And right now, that's exactly how he was behaving. Maybe, everyone was right…maybe what she had been seeing before had been an illusion…what was it they said about the devil's greatest trick?

Goddamn it all to hell. He kicked at the tire again, this damn group was about to give him a heart attack. First they piss him off, an then they gotta send this pretty lil thing out here for him to chew up and spit out. Goddamn It, now she was pissed off, kicking up dirt in her cowboy boots, her slender arms, folded across her middle.

"Hey, " he called out, "Hey, hold up…" what the hell did he say now. "Aint nuthin gonna happen to yer Pops….he's got Daryl with him…"

She stopped briefly and turned her head; "Oh is that why you're out here kicking tires and smashing windows…cause they're so safe?" she glared, before heading off.

Dammit all, he thought, now he's lost his last ally, an' a pretty lil' thing to boot, "Hey," he called out again, "aint ya gonna look at my hand?"

Bath paused, the arms that were folded protectively against her middle were now crossed across her chest. She let out a long slow breath. No matter how much of a jack ass he was being, no matter how pissed off she was…she understood…his hand, it wasn't about medical care, it was about offering up some sort of peace treaty. She realized all at once , why Carol was the only one who could truly handle Daryl, she never asked, demanded or pushed….she just gave him the notion of what ought to be done…then walked away and let him think he'd come up with it all on his own.

She shook her head, wondering slowly, about how those two must have been raised as boys, if they couldn't face a simple apology, an act of kindness…nothing but disdain or indifference found an easy route into their hearts.

"Come on then," she said with a nod of her head, without slowing her gate. "Let's get inside."

Merle breathed in hard and lowered his head. He wasn't no dummy; he knew what she'd done. What so many had attempted in his life and very few had accomplished. She'd managed to diffuse him. He shook his head in wonder, not knowing whether he should be pissed off or amused. Damn little thing was worming her way in, if it wasn't with sweetness, it was with shyness, if it wasn't with that she'd tap in on her looks, when all else failed she acted indifferent and walked away…had she figured him out so dammed soon. Maybe he was more like Daryl than he'd ever cared to believe.

"If that Chinaman says a word to me," he grumbled, as his long heavy strides came up behind her, "I'm gonna kill him."

"His name is Glenn," she huffed softly, "and he's practically my brother…he may be acting like an ass now but…he's still family."

"He aint my family," he snapped. Catching up, and standing behind her, as she pulled the heavy metal door open. He didn't want to admit it, but his hand was throbbing.

"Well," she answered softly, stepping in before him, "not yet anyway."

He paused for a moment, and his eyes narrowed out of instinct. Wasn't usual, he heard that type of talk, especially not after the scene he'd just thrown today; alienated her family, and almost took her damn face off with his knife. Certainly wasn't expecting this type of reaction. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?" he grumbled softly.

"We're all family here." She answered with a slight shrug. That's all she had meant really, but I guess the implications had been clear enough. At least he understood now, that she cared about him, included him, in her heart. "In one way, or another." She added softly.

Those last words that she added, hit him like nuthin had in a while. His head hung a little as he followed her down the long hall, there was somethin happenin inside his chest, somethin he didn't like…a feelin he had learned through years of being an asshole to keep boxed away. He was pretty sure that for the first time in a long, long while he felt slightly ashamed of his behavior.

"Well….I aint." He whispered, not really knowing what else to say.

"You're Daryl's family," she answered firmly, "and he's ours so…" she turned to face him for a moment, and offered a slight smile, "Come on," she motioned with her head, "let's go to Daddy's cell, he keeps all the medical supplies in there."

Damn if that girl wasn't driving it home, he thought with a smirk. Here she was, makin him sit in her Pop's cell, when he hadn't but pretty much called him a useless cripple not ten minutes before. "Ya can take the stuff out," he said, "do it in the main room if'n…"

"No," she cut him off, girl knew exactly what she was doing, "It makes me feel better to be in his cell, you know when he's away…I sit in here sometimes." She led him in, and motioned towards the small table he had in the corner. "Why don't you get on up there, and take that…thing offa your arm, I'll go get us some water."

She left him in there. Girl was making him do penance for his asinine comment about her Pops. Leavin him in here to stare at all of the old man's stuff, thinkin' about how she would feel havin to pack it all up if he didn't come home.

Slowly he started at the straps of his apparatus. There were shards of glass all up inside the thing, that had been a fool move. He'd trashed the truck and his arm…and almost wrecked his damned guard, all for nuthin. And his goddamn knuckles hurt so much, he could barely undo the straps himself, he'd be surprised if he hadn't broken a bone.

Beth came back in silently with a large metal bowl filled with water and a towel draped over her arm. She had Carol coming up behind her with two big water bottles in one arm and a now calmed down Judith in the other. "Sure you're all set?" she asked as she tossed the bottles on the top bunk, giving Merles hand a quick once over.

I can manage; the girl answered, as she walked up to him and draped the towel across his lap, and placed the large bowl on top. "Hold this," she instructed, before reaching for one of the bottles on the bed, and holding it out to him. "Want some?" she asked, "Being angry usually makes me thirsty something awful."

He eyed her warily, and gingerly wrapping his sore hand against the bottle and raising it to his lips. "I usually like the taste of liquor, after I'm good an pissed." He said when he was done, placing the bottle besides him.

"Well, you aren't gonna get any of that," she smiled softly reaching for his wrist, and dunking his hand into the bowl of water, "You're bad enough as it is…last thing we need is to have you drinking."

"Bad enough huh?" he smirked shaking his head. Wouldn't be nothing better than a tall glass of whiskey right about now, he thought

"Wish I had some ice," she said, resting her hand gently on his forearm, and stroking it up and down, "But this'll have to do. Let's leave it in for a soak." She reached and adjusted the bowl, so it sat comfortably on his legs. "Now let me see your other arm." She said reaching for his bandaged stump.

"Aint nuthin wrong there." He mumbled, trying to pull it away.

"Well, except for its covered in glass," she said, "come on, give it here, I'm going to re-wrap it, and make sure there's no glass."

"Come on," he huffed, "I don't need ya messin' with that thing…it's nasty." Christ, the thing was nasty, I mean he'd cauterised it on an old rusty burner…it certainly wasn't gonna sell him none.

"I help my daddy with his leg every night," she said as she took his arm, and began to unwrap it, "and I mean Rick cut that off with a hatchet….there's nothing under here I haven't seen."

Merle sat perfectly still. His lips clamped together, and his face set in stone, and watched in dead silence as she unwrapped his bad arm, washed it clean, drying it gingerly before she re-wrapped it. She then moved on to his good hand, she removed it from the water and dried it gently before applying some antibiotic lotion to his split knuckles. She wrapped it tenderly with light gauze, and then wrapped it with an ace bandage, making sure it wasn't too tight. Then she removed the towel from his lap, and the stacked everything neatly besides him, holding out two pills, and the bottle of water.

He shook his head, "save em," he said. "someone'll need them."

She held the pills up towards his mouth. "You need them," she said gently, "They're anti-inflammatory… and if that hand swells up you aren't gonna be much use to anyone…not even yourself, now open."

He swallowed hard and opened his mouth, his eyes never leaving hers, as her fingers slid first one then the other pill passed his lips. If he hadn't of been such an ass earlier, if he hadn't flown off the handle, maybe he wouldn't be sittin here with a bandaged hand and a pissed off girl, he thought as he raised the water she held out to him towards his lips. Maybe he wouldn't have smashed up his favorite truck. Hell he could've been sittin' out on that back tailgate right now with this angel in his arms. He knew he'd tried to pull the plug on that last night, but with her daddy gone, today might have been the perfect day to just have her in his arms. Instead here he was in her daddy's cell, with a banged up hand, lookin into her disappointed blue eyes. And nuthin he'd done today changed the situation they was in, 'cept for takin one good shooter outta their ranks for a few days.

She took the water from his hands and stood across from him, her hands resting lightly on his knees, "I'm worried about my daddy." She said simply.

He nodded once, "He's got Daryl…he oughta be all right."

She nodded once and kept those wide eyes looking at him.

"Look darlin'," he started uncomfortably, this girl was putting him through the ringer. "I was pissed off before, I shouldn't of said that about yer Pops."

"No," she shook her head, "you shouldn't have. I know he's old…but he's a good man…and he'd do anything to keep your brother safe…"

She was scared. There was no denying it. Her Daddy and Rick and Daryl were out there, and the prison had fallen apart not two minutes after they had left. Carol was angry with Glenn, Maggie was angry with her, and Glenn and Merle, well suffice it to say they probably couldn't be left alone together. If that group didn't make it back, the fight for the role of leader would kill them faster than the Governor would. And if her daddy didn't make it back…she didn't know if she'd survive that.

Merle could see it all. Girl had the most expressive eyes he had ever seen. Was like lookin inside of a window and seeing glimpses of everything that was happenin inside her head. "Hey," he called out softly, reaching out his arm to pull her close, "C'mere."

She stepped right into his embrace, right in between his knees and pressed herself up against his chest. Him sitting, her standing, both his arms bandaged and wrapped around her. She leaned in against him, against the warmth of his wide, solid chest and shut her eyes.

His arms came around her and pulled her even closer, he was practically smothering her, she could feel the solid strength of one of his biceps up behind her neck, and she felt the warmth of his breath against the side of her head. "Don't you worry darlin'," he whispered into the side of her head, "My brother's gonna make sure everyone makes it back all right."

She nodded slightly, she could barely move in the tight hold he had on her, but it felt so good, She hadn't had this feeling in so long she thought to herself, totally warm, and totally safe, hearing only the sounds of a loud steady heart.

She felt him shift for a moment, his arms loosening a bit, and she tilted her head up to find him looking down at her. His eyes were impossibly blue, impossibly clear; they were Daryl's eyes coming from a worn, tired face. "This too tight?" he asked quietly.

"No." she whispered resting her face into his chest again.

"Ya still pissed?" he asked, resting his chin on top of her head.

"A little." She answered.

Fair enough. "Want me to go?" He asked.

"Never." She answered pressing a kiss to his chest. "Never."

He tightened his hold around her again, this time even tighter, and his lips came down to the side of her head. He didn't care that his brother's woman walked by, and peeked inside, he didn't care that he probably had a million other things he should have been doing'. He didn't care about anythin' but holding onto her right then, cause her body…right there in his arms, felt so damn good, he wasn't ever gonna let her go.