Trust me, as a Mether this story is killing me. But it's silksteel's fault for breaking my heart in the first place with her implied Karen-Merle pairing. Trust me our Bethy isn't going to fade away. I OWN NOTHING RELATED TO THE LIVING DEAD OR TO TAYLOR SWIFT.

Trouble

Beth's eyes widened to the size of softballs and she struggled not to let her mouth hang open. She stared at Karen. "Congratulations," she murmured as she swallowed the lump in her throat.

He kissed me. He made me feel special. And all the while he had his baby momma at Woodbury. The thought of Merle having sex with Karen made her want to vomit.

Beth roused herself and asked, "Pop song?" without looking at either of them. "That would be great," said Karen. "I miss the radio."

Beth cleared her throat and looked down at her guitar while she strummed a few notes. She drew the guitar close and slumped her shoulders over it as if it would protect her bruised heart. She started softly: (From I knew you were trouble when you walked in by Taylor Swift)

Once upon a time a few mistakes ago

I was in your sights, you got me alone

You found me, you found me, you found me

I guess you didn't care, and I guess I liked that

(Beth raised her eyes to look at Merle who returned her gaze unflinchingly)

And when I fell hard you took a step back

Without me, without me, without me

(Beth looked back down and sang to the guitar)

And he's long gone when he's next to me

And I realize the blame is on me

(Beth raised her eyes to meet Merle's and strummed with more emotion, her boot tapping on the bench)

'Cause I knew you were trouble when you walked in

So shame on me now

Flew me to places I'd never been

'Til you put me down, oh

I knew you were trouble when you walked in

So shame on me now

(she looked back down at the guitar)

Flew me to places I'd never been

Now I'm lying on the cold hard ground

Oh, oh, trouble, trouble, trouble

No apologies, he'll never see you cry

Pretend he doesn't know that he's the reason why

You're drowning, you're drowning, you're drowning

(Beth caught Merle's eye and sang the next two lines with quiet conviction)

Now I heard you moved on from whispers on the street

A new notch in your belt is all I'll ever be

And now I see, now I see, now I see

He was long gone when he met me

And I realize the joke is on me, yeah!

I knew you were trouble when you walked in (chorus)

(She sang without playing for the next two lines, fixing her eyes on Merle's)

And the saddest fear comes creeping in

That you never loved me or her, or anyone, or anything, yeah

(She looked down at the guitar to hide the tears pricking her eyes but her voice didn't quaver)

I knew you were trouble when you walked in

Trouble, trouble, trouble

I knew you were trouble when you walked in

Trouble, trouble, trouble

Beth shifted on the table to pick up her notes without looking at either of them. "Excuse me," she said abruptly and retreated to the cellblock with her guitar. Karen had not felt Merle stiffen when Beth started singing the song. He was standing like a statue and his eyes were flinty. She looked up at him and said, "That's so great she can do Taylor Swift! I wonder what else she can sing?"

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When he and Daryl had arrived at Woodbury just a couple days ago Karen had urgently wanted to talk to him. She boarded the bus first and they went to the back. "What's so damned important?" he asked impatiently. "I'm pregnant," she said. "And it's yours. Isn't it wonderful?"

Pregnant? Merle's mind reeled. I only hit that shit a few times, didn't even hardly talk to her. He remembered that it started as a couple of knowing looks and there wasn't much conversation. They had both got what they needed and gone on their way. It had only lasted a few weeks.

He rolled his tongue around his mouth and fixed her with his gaze. "And how ya know it's mine?" he asked, "I wasn't the only one you was with". She beamed at him. "Because I know. I know who I was with when, and there's no doubt this is yours." He thought back. He had been with her months ago before the governor went ape shit. He knew that because after the governor went ape shit it became a full time job dealin' with him and Merle didn't have the opportunity for recreation time.

"Ya told me you was covered," he said. "I was," she said, "It's like our little miracle." She was clearly thrilled to be having a baby at her age and in this world. "Don't worry," she said. "We don't have to get married right away. And you don't have to adopt Noah."

Married? Adoption? Not on Merle Dixon's watch. Unless that kid is my blood. No way to tell these days neither. His thoughts ran as she chattered away on the way to the prison. "Ya keep it quiet for now," he ordered Karen as they approached the prison.

As they went through the prison gates he thought of Beth waiting for him and he worked his jaw. Gotta clean up this mess with Karen and make another one with that little girl, he thought. She don't deserve to be collateral damage for my fuckup. Best to pull off the bandage quick and learn her I'm no good.

When he got off the bus he made sure to use Karen's name in front of Beth and to sit with Karen at meals. Later he sealed the deal in the watchtower by laughing at her when she confessed to liking him. Her last glance at him as she went down the stairs was like that of a kicked puppy, pain and confusion in her eyes. Get away from me angel. I'm a bad man.

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How many tears have run into my ears since that group of strangers showed up at my daddy's farm? she thought. Hundreds? Thousands? She was laying on her back in her bunk while Hershel watched Judith and the tears rolling out of her eyes trickled straight down from the corners of her eyes to her ears. I can cry all I want here but I will NEVER EVER let him see me cry again, she vowed. She sat up and wiped her nose. Her fingers were sore from playing the guitar all day but she only had the rest of the night until she had to return it.

After dinner she cleaned up for bed and fashioned some guitar picks out of pieces from plastic containers. This will save my fingers a few layers of skin, she thought. The others in the cellblock asked if she could play before they bedded down and she complied, sitting against the wall in the soft lantern light. Merle wasn't in yet. Good. She sang several gospel tunes and hymns and everyone thanked her. They all bedded down and soon the lights were off. She heard Merle come in late and waited another thirty minutes to make her move. She had on a pair of soft flannel boxers and a worn pink tank top and her knife was belted around her waist. She threw one of Hershel's old button up shirts on and decided on a pair of thick fluffy socks instead of her boots to muffle the sound of her walking.

She carefully grabbed the guitar and made her way through the kitchen, past the bathrooms and to the warden's office around the corner. She could make a lot of noise here and no one would know. She softly shut and locked the door and walked in the darkness to the desk. Glen and Maggie had been using this as their love shack so there was a blanket on the couch and a couple of lanterns on the warden's desk, which she illuminated. Ew, she thought as she sat on the couch. Don't think about it.

She strummed absently for a few minutes and thought, there's only one thing that's good for a broken heart and that's country music. She picked up a country beat and sang until the anvil crushing her heart began to lighten.

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What the fuck is she doin' walkin' around by herself at night? Merle thought. He was tired and cranky. It seemed no matter where he went Karen found him always yappin' about baby stuff. She had to ask for a fuckin' song then open her mouth about the kid. Fer sure everbody knows now. And little miss looked like she was hit by a freight train. He smiled to himself when he thought about the song she sang. Handed it to me good. Little thing does have balls, he thought.

He lay half asleep for thirty minutes waiting to hear her walk by so he could go to sleep. She never did. "Fuck," he swore to himself and put on a pair of pants. He walked to the bathrooms and didn't find her there. He continued down the hallway and heard guitar sounds coming from the office. He sighed and leaned his back on the wall opposite the office door. She was in there strummin' and singin' her heart out: Your Cheatin' Heart, He Ain't Worth Missin', Crazy, Linda on My Mind, I'm Not Lonely (I'm Lonesome for You), You Win Again, Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under, D-I-V-O-R-C-E, Lonely Won't Leave Me Alone. Every possibly country heartbreak 'he did me wrong' song in the catalog. Merle pursed his lips. She was alone and making noise. It was a bad combination with walkers around.

Beth was getting hoarse. Her throat got scratchy at the low and high notes and she began to cough a little bit. She finally had to admit that she had squeezed as much use out of the guitar as she could in the few hours she had it. She was eternally grateful for the experience. She would play a few songs for the old man tomorrow to thank him.

She was so sick of being sad. She tried as hard as she could to hate Merle but hate didn't come easily to her heart. She realized that there was nothing she could do to change Merle's actions. She had to work on herself, bury herself in other things until she forgot him. She played 'shave and a haircut' on the guitar and loudly said, "Buck up Beth! He's just a stupid man." She took a deep breath and felt a little better.

She shut off one of the lanterns and grabbed a metal hanger from the coat closet. She unwound it and crouched to look under the door. It was dark and she couldn't see much so she stuck the wire under the door and moved it back and forth to detect any feet. It was clear. She held the guitar by the neck with her left hand and unsheathed her knife with the right. She put the lantern she brought with her on the floor and cautiously opened the door, gently sliding the lantern into the middle of the hallway with her foot so she could see. She looked left and right then gently shut the office door behind her.

She proceeded towards the corner where the hallway turned towards the bathrooms pushing the lantern ahead of her with her foot. She hesitantly stuck her head around the corner and jumped with her knife raised when she saw Merle standing there with his arms crossed. "Tryin' to draw every walker within a mile?" he growled. She looked at him defiantly trying to copy his cold gaze then picked up her lantern and walked past him. Ten different nasty retorts came to her lips but a small mature part of her brain cautioned, He's got a woman. Why bother? Aren't you tired enough? She walked back to her cell without a word and thought of music until she fell asleep.

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"We ain't here to play," warned Tyreese, "I expect you to work." Beth nodded her head, ready to start training for self defense. Rick had devised a weekly watch schedule in which both Woodbury residents and Rick's group participated. He and Merle had Tuesday morning watch mainly because he didn't trust Merle and wanted to keep an eye on him. Tyreese and Beth had Tuesday afternoons so Tyreese decided that they should train for the two hours prior to their watch and another two hours on Sundays after Hershel read scripture for the group.

Today was Tuesday and it was their first session. "Do a warm up lap," he said nodding at the inner fence. Beth nodded and began to jog around the perimeter. She stayed about 10 feet away from the fence to avoid riling up the walkers. When she finished she returned to him panting. He stood in front of her with his arms crossed. "Hit me," he said. She looked at him questioningly. "Hit me. With all you got," he added. She ran at him and pushed at his chest. "That's what you got?" he asked. She went at him again and again. She didn't move him an inch. When she was good and tired Tyreese said, "Right now I think your best offense might be your defense. Don't worry, I'll teach you offense but I think you need to learn how to get away as your first plan of attack." Beth was disappointed but nodded.

He set out three evenly spaced tin cans. The two on the ends were about sixty feet apart. He placed her so that she was facing the middle one. "Down," he said. She crouched down slightly. "Butt lower, hands higher," he instructed then he nodded when he was satisfied. "Now crouch so you got one hand on the ground like a quarter back." He checked her from the side and nodded. He continued, "This is how you're gonna touch the ground. You'll alternate hands because you always want the inside hand to touch. Now you're going to shuffle back and forth between the two ends and you'll touch at each end. Go until I say stop."

Beth acutely remembered doing something like this in gym class and hating it. She took a deep breath and started. Tyreese watched her a couple rounds from each of four sides then told her to stop. "You're agile," he said. "We can work with that." He let her walk it off until she was breathing normally. Sweat was already dripping out of her hair. He put her in front of the middle cone again. "This time we'll do it again but when you reach the middle cone I'll tell you which direction you'll go. This will help me gauge your reaction time." He drilled her switching the directions at the last second.

Finally he let her rest. She got water and he nodded at her. "Sunday we start with you breaking holds." She smiled brightly, mostly because she hadn't thought about Merle for two whole hours.

Now we know the hold Karen has on Merle and how Beth is trying to handle it. But as we know life in the prison is never predictable...