OK - sorry for the long intermission folks. Real like can really kick your ass sometimes . Here we go...read em and weep. (and review)

FIRE AND ICE (part 1)

There wasn't a single thing about this situation that Herschel Greene was comfortable with. He'd seen the Dixons come back from their impromptu run and unpack their spoils; a large part of which was alcohol, cigarettes and condoms.

He'd watched Merle Dixon strut off with a bottle tucked up under his arm, and a bar of soap clenched in his hand.

And now here was dinner, and he sat at his usual spot, on the steps, set apart from everyone, but this time he was fresh shaved and scrubbed clean. A new pair of Cargo pants and a black t shirt stretched across his chest. He had a glass set besides him with three fingers of whiskey in it, the bottle right beside.

He could practically feel the heat rolling off his daughter. She could barely keep her eyes off the man, and the way he was sippin away at his drink, and flitting his eyes up towards her Herschel knew he was in trouble if he planned on keeping them apart.

After dinner he watched Dixon stand and hand Carol his plate, he scooped up the bottle and his glass and headed out towards the yard, his daughter's eyes were glued to his back.

"I think I'll join the man for a drink," he grumbled, as he stood up slowly and balanced on his crutch.

"Daddy?" Beth asked, raising her pale blue eyes to his.

"I'll just have one," he winked, thinking that her concern was for the fact that he was raising a bottle, instead of the fact that she knew he was carefully trying to step between them.

She knew her father, she knew what he felt and how he felt….and right now seeing Merle Dixon back in the prison ,after a night of fighting and then finding herself tucked into his strong arms. After a long day of waiting for him, in the hot prison yard, worried and praying that he'd make it back alright.….seeing him all fresh and clean with a shirt that barely stretched across his bulging muscles, all she knew was how much she wanted to be near him. How much she wanted to be with him. But her father's warm steadying hand pressing down against her shoulder, and the slow gentle shake of his head "no" told her she had to sit still, instead of chasing the man out into the darkness.

"Fuck," Merle Dixon huffed low and steady as he heard the recognizable stumbling gate of the old man coming out to meet him in the courtyard.

He looked up and narrowed his eyes, "damn old man," he said through a wry grin, "I was hopin for ya daughter….not her old man."

"The liquor's loosened you up." Herschel noted with a nod, as he approached the man, "you aren't usually so frank."

"Hehehe," Merle huffed, "my true self…."

Herschel shook his head, "I've seen your true self….this isn't it."

"Hell," Merle mumbled, "Ya known me all of what….a fuckin month…and ya think ya know…"

""I think I've seen an honorable side of you…." He paused and looked up, fixing his eyes on the man, "and I'm hoping it will stay that way." Herschel paused for a moment before reaching his hand out and motioning for the glass. "At least where my daughter's concerned."

Merle nodded and shook his head. "Christ old man, "he muttered, "How long ya gonna keep me to my damn word?"

"Forever." Herschel answered. "Forever."

Merle Dixon laughed out loud, and raised the bottle to his lips. "Well that aint gonna happen." He said taking a long slow sip.

Herschel raised the glass and took a sip – "she's my daughter."

Merle nodded, "Don't I fuckin know it."

Herschel took another sip and grimaced hard when he swallowed, "What in the hell is that supposed to mean son?"

Merle shrugged and turned his back, He wished he'd never made the promise to the old man to begin with. Hell he was only tryin' to be neighborly, tryin to fit in. And sure the old man was amongst the finest he had met, but hell…so was his damn daughter.

He shook his head and sipped hard on the bottle. "I spent a lot of time with the Governor," he started slowly, "treated me like one of his generals. I was his right hand man, and the whole town knew about it." He nodded his head and shut his eyes. "Respect" he said slowly, tasting the word in his mouth, "that's what I had from every damn person in that town, cept for that son of a bitch." He snorted before spitting on the ground. "Called me 'a hammer', I knew I was nuthin more than a damn piece of muscle to him. He didn't respect me for nuthin….and when I came here; I saw the same look in officer friendlies' eyes." He laughed to himself and shook his head, "surprised all y' all when I was quotin' the bible. Didn't one of ya think I could even read a damn book." He tilted the bottle back and held it to his lips. "Just a dumb redneck fuck….just like my brother but worst." He snorted again, "least Daryl keeps his mouth shut and his head down….." he paused again and fixed his eyes long and narrow on the old man, "Keeps his hands off ya women….ya daughters."

Herschel took a step forward, "Now that's not what I meant ," he started, "I never…."

"I know you never!" Merle cut him off, raising his voice, "Ya never once treated me like the rest of them did." He shook his head and scowled, "even after what I done to ya daughter…the beatin I gave that boy." He took another swig off his bottle, and lowered it again, turning to face the man. "Ya know what it's like for me livin in this place?" he spit out, "These people, yer people….they look at me like I'm the goddamn devil…..….but ya daughter," he paused and took another sip of whiskey… "Beth…..she aint like none of the others….." he paused and raised his head, "she's like you…."

Herschel looked at him and exhaled deeply. Half the bottle was gone, and despite the man's obvious tolerance for alcohol, he could tell he was being hit hard. This was the most he'd ever heard the man say concerning his past. "You're drunk." He said simply, draining the last of his glass.

"Might be." Merle shrugged, "but it certainly aint keeping me from knowin what I want….what I been wantin…."

Herschel Greene clenched his teeth together slowly, he knew he would lose his daughter to this man eventually, but this wasn't what he'd had in mind. The man coming back from a run loaded up on liquor and condoms, his eyes burning deep into his teenage daughter; his desire so strong and clear in his fiery looks, in his drunken words. This wasn't what he wanted for Beth.

He held his glass out towards Dixon and the man re-filled it slowly. His eyes fixed on the old man.

"I aint wantin to be keepin my word no more." Dixon said, as he watched Herschel drain his glass again, "Don't want that shit hangin over my head like a damn noose."

Herschel fixed his eyes on the man and stared him down hard and cold. "Are you telling me you're breaking your word son ?" he asked.

Merle snorted once through his nose, and shook his head slowly. He felt the liquor slow and hot burning through him….and without even giving a second thought to who he was speaking to he opened his mouth, " Do you know how goddamn hard it is havin ya daughter in my bed night after night and not putting a goddamn hand on her ?"

Merle never saw it coming, never expected it or even thought it could be possible, but the old man shot out a right hook that came hard and fast and caught him square in the face.