Rick knows it's a mistake, letting Merle into the prison. He knows it can only end badly, put the group at risk, put 'em on edge. He's doing his level best to keep both to a minimum, but it's a losing battle. And that ain't even his biggest concern doing this.
It's Daryl. The man's made worlds of progress since Atlanta, stepping up to become a valued, loved member of their group, and he more than lives up now to the trust they've put in him. To the trust Rick's put in him. And he doesn't want to see him piss that all away for his asshole brother.
There's more to it than that, though. He's not just worried about Daryl's place in the group; he's worried about him. He's seen some serious shit, and tough as nails as Daryl is, it shows. All the scars all over him, the way he flinches away when you make for him, even if it's just to shake his hand….It's gotten better, the flinching, but there are still times when his adrenaline's pumping or his mind's someplace else that Rick'll catch him spooking, and it makes his heart wrench, because he knows why.
Rick's not blind. Never has been. He knew soon as he saw all those scars criss-crossing his front and back that someone had made Daryl's life hell. He just never saw fit to ask; Daryl wasn't the type to share his demons, and Rick had never been much for talking himself.
Only, it's different, now. Lots of things are different, now, and he's not real sure how it started, how they started, him and Daryl. They just kinda…did.
Since then, he's learned. He's seen Daryl through enough rough nights, tossing and turning and muttering in his sleep, seen him through enough long watches with nothing to do but talk, and he's learned. Merle may not have put as many marks on him as his old man did, but he made his share.
That right there's enough reason for Rick to want to see him rot in hell, or at least leave the son of a bitch standing out with all those walkers. Shame that hadn't been an option. Daryl had shown up just in the nick of time today; if it wasn't for him, who knew how many of them would still be alive. God only knew Rick wouldn't. No, the team needed him to stay, and Rick…Rick couldn't bear to let him go again. If that meant taking Merle in, well then he reckoned they'd just have to take the bad with the good.
'Sides, at least this way he can look out for him. He never needed it before, with the zombies. Daryl could take care of himself – hell, Daryl took care of all of them, in one way or another – and Rick just had to let him. But seeing him with his brother again, seeing the way he won't meet anyone's eyes as they clean up after the attack, it's a different ball game. He watches him, and there's this almost visceral need to protect what's his making his jaw clench and his gut churn.
'Course, it gets hard later on in the night to tell how much of that's protectiveness and how much of that's the overwhelming urge to knock that son of a bitch Merle flat on his ass. He deserves it. In the couple hours since they got in, Merle's shot off his mouth enough to get Maggie, Glen, and Beth all three to retreat to their cells. He's tried his level best to ignore him, for Daryl's sake, but when he starts on harassing Carol, askin' about Ed and swearing up a storm with Carl and Judith in the room, he's got to draw the line.
When Merle gets up to go relieve himself – and he's paraphrasing, 'cause there's no need for the sort of language and detail Merle uses – Rick stands, Judith cradled in the crook of his arm. "You mind?" he asks Carol. He's not thinking this is gonna be the sort of conversation a man wants to have with a baby in his arms. He figures there's a solid chance someone's throwing punches, and he can't rightly say who; he just knows it's best the others are kept out of it.
Carol looks up at him, and her eyebrows are furrowed, but she manages a smile. "Of course." And she takes Judith all careful, like she's made of glass, and even though she fusses a little bit, his little girl settles right back down. She knows who her family is. If he wasn't so fired up, he'd probably smile, too, but instead he just nods. He's got some business to see to before things start getting out of hand.
He starts in the direction he saw Merle take, figuring it'd be best to do this away from the others. He barely makes it more than a few steps, though, before he sees Daryl coming down the stairs. He's been sitting up there the whole time since they got back, hardly said a word, but he's coming down now, and Rick can see the decision in his eyes.
He doesn't say anything; he doesn't need to. His looks says enough. I got this.
"You sure?" Truth be told, Rick doesn't much like the idea of it.
"He's my brother."
Rick hates how guilty he looks when he says it. Like it's some sort of apology. Like he needs to apologize for his brother being a dick. And as much as Rick wants to tell him it ain't like that, that he's not responsible for Merle just 'cause their blood, he doesn't. It'd just be a waste of breath, and Daryl doesn't need another weight on his shoulders, another voice tellin' him what to do.
So, instead, he just grits his teeth and nods, and Daryl nods back, a little jerkily, before walking off same way his brother did. Rick watches him go, swallowing back the urge to go after him, to at least stand by and make sure nothing goes south. Daryl'll do what he's got to do; he always has. Rick trusts him.
He just wishes like hell he could help him.